Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Apple Cider Trip

Reading my last blog, I realised that I had not written about my friend Vinnie’s funniest moment at the lake called Wedington. This moment will always be burned into my memory as the apple cider trip.The town we lived in was called Lincoln. Obviously named after Abe. In fact my grandfather on my mother’s side played Abe Lincoln in a Fourth of July town parade. As you drive into the town limits of Lincoln from the north you will pass an apple orchard. This orchard has been there for as long as I can remember. The folks who own it sell apple produce in the shops by the road. One of their biggest sellers has always been their ‘preservative free’ apple cider.

Now this cider is not hard cider aka alcoholic cider. No, that would be illegal  for them to sell as Lincoln is a “dry town” and alcohol for human consumption is not allowed to be sold within the town limits. In other words this cider is really apple juice. It is mighty tasty regardless of what you call it.

On this particular day Vinnie’s dad, and Vinnie of course, had invited me to go fishing at Lake Wedington. I have to explain that our family did not “do” lake fishing. We had always gone “creek fishing.” This meant driving until you found a farm or ranch where the owner did not mind you crossing his land to get at the creek  running through his property. Most farmers/ranchers readily gave permission as long as you closed gates behind you and did not litter up the place. The most important of these “understood” rules was closing the gates. If the owner’s cattle got loose and had to be rounded up, then the next person who wanted access to a good fishing hole was not welcome. After getting the required permission you then “walked” the creek. This involved sometimes walking for miles to find the best spots where the fish were “biting.”

To get a chance to go on an actual boat and fish in the middle of a lake was something I wasn’t going to pass up.

I got to Vinnie’s fairly early in the morning. But his dad had been out even earlier and bought two plastic gallon jugs of delicious apple cider. Vinnie was in the kitchen drinking glass after glass of the stuff. It was a little like watching an automaton. He would go to the fridge, open it and extract a plastic jug of cider. He would fill his glass and state, “Boy! I love apple cider!” He did this each and every time he drank a glass of the stuff. He did not stop until he had emptied an entire plastic gallon jug.

Apparently Vinnie was not affected by this massive consumption of fruit juice. We got all our fishing equipment loaded in the car and went to the lake. It is a fairly good distance, if memory serves me correctly, it is about a forty-five minute drive out to the middle of nowhere. During the longish trip Vinnie and I talked with his dad about fish, girls, school and other things. There was no sign of the problems that would soon erupt.

We all got to the lake, got our boat, loaded it and put it in the water. Vinnie’s dad took us right out to the middle of the lake. We got our poles baited and cast into the water. Then we sat and waited.

Well, we would have sat and waited except that now Vinnie was starting to act very strangely. I noticed that he had started squirming the minute we cast our lines from the boat. His dad had so far not left the meditative state that was required for lake fishing. Suddenly Vinnie bent over so far that his face was within kissing distance of the boats bottom. Then he started groaning.

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom…NOW!!”  This was said with an almost hysterical edge to it. “What’s wrong?” Vinnie’s dad asked. Vinnie just looked at his dad, his eyes bulging and veins throbbing in his face. “I’ve got to go, NOW!!! “Just get me to the restrooms!” Vinnie’s dad was completely nonplussed. “I told you to go easy on that cider. Well, I’m not going all the way back to the restrooms. You’ll have to go into the woods.” With that pronouncement he started the motor up and went to the nearest shore.

Before we got within ten feet of the shore, Vinnie vaulted out of the boat and legged it for the tree line. From where we sat, it sounded like an elephant on a rampage. I swear he even knocked down small trees in his rush to go for a “dump.”

“Where’s he going? Texas?” Vinnie’s dad asked. We waited for what seemed like ages. Finally Vinnie came staggering back out of the woods. His face was pale and he was sweating like a racehorse. He climbed slowly and creakily back into the boat. Vinnie’s dad started the motor and took us out into the middle of the lake again. He had just shut the motor off when…”Goback,goback,goback!” Vinnie was yelling this as if it was one word. He was doubled up again. Only this time he was rocking up and down, as he tried valiantly to keep his bowels under control. His dad dutifully started the motor and back to the shore we went.

Like before, Vinnie did his rampaging elephant routine. After we sat there for awhile with no sign of Vinnie, his dad looked at me and sighed. “I didn’t come all this way for Vinnie to go into the woods and shit himself to death.” He looked in the direction we thought Vinnie had lumbered, “Vinnie! We going back out to fish! When you get done, come out to the edge and wave. We’ll come get you!” Without waiting for an answer, he started the motor up and we went out to resume fishing.

I’d like to say that Vinnie finished voiding himself of all that cider and continued fishing, but he did not. We checked the shoreline repeatedly looking for him with no sign. After awhile, we just sort of forgot to keep looking. Hours later, we remembered and there was Vinnie waving weakly from the shore. Vinnie’s dad mumbled something under his breath and we went to pick him up.

As Vinnie got back into the boat, he had gone through some kind of transformation. He looked and acted like he was about a hundred years old. His face had gone a horrible shade of white and he was now drenched in sweat. That pretty much ended the fishing trip.

I was, of course, very sympathetic towards Vinnie’s plight…NOT. All the way back to his house, I was in literal hysterics. I kept saying over and over, “Boy, I LOVE, apple cider!” And each and every time I said it, Vinnie’s dad and I laughed until we cried. I can honestly say my face hurt from laughing so much. Vinnie took all this in good spirits considering.

As far as I know, he does not drink apple cider any more.

I was also never invited to go fishing again.

Lake Wedington or The Tale of the Dead Fish

When I was old enough to drive on my own, summers were spent with various friends at Lake Wedington. I cannot remember ever laughing so hard at any other spot. So many memories and so much laughter. Once, a friend and I rented a canoe. I’ll call this friend Vinnie, as I do not know his whereabouts to ask permission to use his real name.
Vinnie was one of the funniest guys I have ever known. He had a knack at spontaneous humour that has never been matched by anyone else I have been friends with. Vinnie also had a knack of having funny things happen to him. Not because he was stupid (he was not, that spontaneous wit was the result of being incredibly smart) but, because he liked to try different things. Whether it was shooting buzzards from his bedroom window, or making a bomb to explode on his parents property, Vinnie was up for anything.
So Vinnie and I rented a canoe at Lake Wedington. Our aim was to do a sort of Deliverance trip, without the inbred dangerous yokels. We were going to traverse the many creeks that fed into the lake. Whereas this plan had seemed brilliant when we were discussing it, we had failed to plan for the narrowness of the creeks. We had also failed to take into consideration the lack of sufficient water in the creeks. And the wasps. These angry creatures immediately dive bombed the canoe the second we stopped because the creek had run out of water. This made navigation of the creeks almost “too dangerous” to continue. After almost being stung repeatedly while turning the canoe around, we gave up.

We decided instead to explore the lake’s shores. Of course while we did this we splashed one another with oar backlash and and generally tried our best to over-turn the canoe. While we were engaged in this horseplay, one of us spotted the fish.

The fish was huge. It must have been a carp, my memory is a bit hazy on this detail. I do remember it was about twenty-four inches long. It was also at least eight to ten inches high and about three inches wide. Like I said it was a monster fish. It was also just floating on top of the water. *this should have warned us immediately, but we chose not to think about what would cause a dead fish to float*

“Wow!” Vinnie was super impressed by the size of it, “That sucker is huge!” I agreed and we sat looking at it for at least ten minutes before one of us had, what we thought, was a brilliant idea. I cannot for the life of me remember whose idea it was. But the gist of it was this: We would get the fish into the canoe and row ashore. Once ashore we would tell all and sundry that we had caught it with our bare hands. Of course it never entered our juvenile heads that folks might just not be interested in this fact.

I was in the front of the canoe and closest to the fish. I put my oar under the fish and lifted it straight up and over my shoulder to land in the middle of the canoe. This is precisely what it did, hitting one of the canoe’s struts as it came down. As it hit the strut, it exploded. The fish suddenly turned into a green watery mess of fish guts, maggots and the foulest stench imaginable. Vinnie “feaked-out,” and leaning over the side of the canoe he began helplessly dry heaving into the lake.

After what seemed like ages (it seemed a lot longer due to the overpowering smell this mess made) He straightened up and in a strangled voice said, “Oh my God! If you had flung that fish back any further it would have landed on me!” He stopped and thought for a moment and then said, “And if you hadn’t thrown it far enough it would have landed on yourhead!” That was my cue to lean over the edge of the canoe and dry heave for a spell.

Of course the entire time these histrionics were occuring the stench seemed to build. We then started power rowing to the shore. We headed for the stall where we had rented it. Reaching the shore, we jumped out of the vessel and threw our life-vests and oars at the vendor. We ran all the way to the car.  We drove back to our respective homes with all the windows open. We also avoided going to the lake for about two weeks for fear that the vendor would remember the state of the canoe we had turned in

Of course having Vinnie as a friend meant that the next time we got together we would be doing something exciting. The next time we met it was to make a bomb.

Of Just Being…


I remember watching the last film that Peter Sellers starred in. It was called Being There, I don’t really rate the last film he did which was The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu. No, in my mind at least, the last really good thing he did was to portray Chance the gardener in Being There.

The plot of the film was fairly simple and straight forward. Chance has been in an isolated life from infancy. His only contact to the outside world has been through the television. His sole purpose in life has been to maintain the gardens of his employer/guardian. When his employer dies, he is ousted from his lifelong home and meets a lady who will be instrumental in getting Chance involved with politics.

Throughout the entire film Chance is just there. He offers nothing in the way ofreal interaction with the people he meets. They all read intoChance what they need to. He is merely a mirror that they use to get the answers they seek. For Chance is in an almost holy sphere, the sphere of just being. The holiness is hinted at in the last few frames of the film where we the audience see Chance walking across water. This Christ-like ability is possible because Chance doesn’t realise that he cannot walk on water.

The point of all this film plot musing is this, Chance had reached (through no fault or endeavour of his own) the ability of just being. I have mixed feelings about this. One part of me feels that it would be truly wonderful to just be. Not influencing or affecting anyone or anything else. A truly Zen-like existence that doesn’t hurt, or please, or disturb.

The other part of me is horrified at the very idea. How horrible to be in this world and accomplish nothing but just being there. That would surely be like living in some sort of Hell. You would feel almost like a ghost. For in reality, unlike the story in the film, if you did not interact with the people who surround you; you would be ignored.

I had this thought yesterday. I was attending the funeral of a comrade. It was a lovely service and it was the first time I had seen many of the folks that I usually work with in a couple of months. I have been “off-work” due to a work related injury.  The event was a sombre one with everyone wrapped up in their own thoughts and memories of a lovely chap gone too soon.

It was not until I reached home that I realised that I had only spoken to four people. Apart from being told where to stand after I got there, I instigated the other (extremely short) conversations that occurred. I did not think anything of it at the time. I was under the influence of “heavy duty” painkillers and suffering muscle spasms down my right leg. So I was more than a little bit preoccupied myself.

It was this morning when I woke up that I had a momentary feeling of just being there. I felt that I had been a ghost at the funeral and was still a ghost. I felt that my presence anywhere was minimal.  But rather than this idea or feeling depressing or upsetting me, it just felt right. I am at this point and time in my life happy at the thought of just being here.

I don’t have the energy to be anything else.

The Ice Factory

I had a sort of word association moment when I saw this image. I had a flash of memory that had to do with a red wagon, my Mom, a magic slate, and getting a block of ice from the ice factory.

When I was about four years old, we lived in Springdale, Arkansas.  I am not sure, but I think it was on Cedar Street. It was a small bungalow style house with a chain link fence around the back yard and a built in garage. We had a Lassie-type dog who was my best friend in the whole world. I am told that when I had begun to walk, that I would sling an arm over the dogs back and “explore” the neighbourhood. I had that child-like capability to disappear the second my Mom’s back was turned for these jaunts. But I digress.

I remember a hot summer day. We needed a block of ice, I cannot remember why. I get a mental picture of watermelon, but, I think that is a false memory. What I do remember is Mom and me getting my red wagon and taking the long walk to the Springdale ice factory.I do not know why we did not take the green and white Chevy.

I remember us walking down the sidewalks trying to stay in the shade. It was very hot. I pulled the wagon all the way to the factory. I can also see the ice factory. It was right across the street from a “Mom and Pop” store. Mom said we would stop there on the way back from the factory to get something cold to drink.

In those days you could get blocks of ice, or if you wanted to pay a little bit extra, crushed ice. It was generally cheaper to get the blocks and you got a free wooden handled ice pick. It was a lot more frugal to chip your block into pieces than to buy the expensive crushed stuff.

Mom and I took the wagon to the back of the factory where you got your blocks. The nice “ice-man” put a huge block of ice into my wagon and gave my mother two free ice picks. I guess the bigger the block the more picks you got. We then pulled the wagon across the street to the shop and Mom not only got us an ice cold coca-cola a-piece, but she also got me a reward for helping to get the ice.

It was a magic slate. Magic slates were a piece of cardboard about the same size as a sheet of A4 paper. It had a plastic sheet over the front of it. You drew on the sheet with a stylus (a piece of plastic shaped like a small pen). When you had finished your drawing you lifted the sheet and it “erased” your picture. I can still remember my delight at getting this magical toy.

I have written about memory and it’s reluctance to leave our minds. It is amazing that something so trivial as a picture of an ‘old fashioned’ ice cube tray can bring such a strong memory out of hiding.

Portents and Signs…

Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Passoria, Ne...
Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Passoria, New Jersey Edited version of Image:PurportedUFO NewJersey 1952 07 31.gif. By Bach01. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is a lot of strange things going on at the moment. I had “googled” a few things for my last blog, mostly to do with UFO’s and the loud “humming” noises reported around the world. While doing that I then remembered the phenomenon of birds falling out of the sky…dead. This led me to articles about dead fish.
Of course if you look at both of these occurances, you will find references to the weather.Just last week the thriving metropolis of the Dallas/Fort Worth area had seven or eight tornadoes go ripping though their suburban streets. I was thunderstruck (pun not intended).Seven or eight! When I was growing up, you might just get two, but not at the same time, or one after the other. It almost seems like some sort of “following the leader” game that the weather has decided to play.
When I first moved to the United Kingdom in 1980, I was informed, with wry amusement, that England “doesn’t have tornadoes old bean.” That information was not totally correct, but pretty close. There were the occasional ‘twisters’ but they were small and caused little damage. Now it seems, we have several a year. Still not doing too much in the way of damage, a roof here and a tree there, with the odd wall blown down. But still much more than the odd one that occurred when I first moved here
.I first became aware of the “dead birds” in 2011. That was also the year that “thousands” of dead fish were discovered in an Arkansas river. Now I think about it, Arkansas also had their share of dead blackbirds. If you google the phrases ‘dead birds’ and ‘dead fish’ you will find a lot of reports of same all over the USA. More importantly, it also happened again this year in Arkansas. Dead birds fell out of the sky as recently as February this year. Just what the hell is going on?


I wrote about the multiple UFO sightings last year, and by multiple I mean more than one ‘bright light’ or ‘flying object’ at each separate sighting. Some of which occurred in broad daylight and witnessed by thousands of people. I also wrote about this new phenomenon, the “loud humming” noise that is being reported all over the world.

Is someone or something trying to tell us something?

My daughter and I watched the film Signs again last night. It is a  permanent favourite in our house. M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant tale of a Reverend coming to grips with his wife’s death and his subsequent loss of faith. I only mention the plot because it also revolved around signs or portents if you prefer. The final message of the film is thatnothing happens by chance. We are given clear signs of what is going to happen. Unfortunately we don’t always recognise the significance of these when we are shown them or even realise that we are being given a “heads-up”

Cover of "Signs [Blu-ray]"
Cover of Signs [Blu-ray]
After we had watched the film, I got to thinking about all the strange things that are going on in the world right now. I started surfing the net and found references to HARP, that stands for High Altitude Research Program. In a nut shell, the articles I read indicated that this program can change the weather. It also intimated that they are indeed using the program for just that.
Now I don’t know, I am not a rocket scientist – hell, I am not even scientifically minded – but if I was running that program, I would start to get a little worried about all the strange things that are happening world wide right now.I know there are a lot of people who will see these happenings as religious portents that have been written about in the Bible.

I don’t know whether they are right or wrong, and I am not part of the HARP program, but, my “spidey-sense” is tingling and I think something life-changing might just be around the corner. The only problem is this, I don’t know if I should be excited or scared.


TIME WILL TELL.

The Big Bang Theory…or is it The Big Noise


As long ago as last August there have been reports of strange loud noises. These reports have come from all over the world. The USA, Norway, China, Puerto Rico, well the list is pretty widespread and for lack of another word worldly. If you don’t think this is a world-wide phenomenon just go on YouTube and type noises in the search bar. Scroll down on the suggestions that appear.

Just on the search ‘Noises In The Sky’ you’ll find twenty-one suggestions on the first page alone. Now listen to some of them. You’ll pardon me if I don’t join you in this exercise, it kind of creeps me out.

Have you noticed how much alike the noises are yet still different? I know some sound likehuge metal objects being ground against each other. Some of the sounds resemble wind rushing, akin to a tornado  – which one family thought it was. Other times it sounds like giant cannons going off. Sometimes the sound seems to emanate from the sky, other times from the earth itself.

There seems to be no logical explanation about this phenomenon. More importantly it is not being widely broadcast.

2011 was the year of the ‘multiple UFO sightings’ with UFO’s being sighted in broad daylight and at night all over the world. The most famous – or infamous, if you prefer – was in China. Now it is 2012 and we are hearing (pun intended) about the Big Noise. Okay, I know that the noises were reported as early as August 2011, but I am sure that the same goes for the UFO sightings.

So, the big question has to be this. Are the two related? Will we in 2013 be the world’s witnesses to something that will change the way we see things…forever? Years ago I read Whitely Strieber’s Communion. It was (allegedly) a non-fiction account of him being abducted over the years repeatedly by a group of aliens referred to as “The Greys” and it scared the shit out of me. I only read it once. I then sold it in a car boot sale and I have never felt the urge to read it again. But the sightings and the noises immediately made me think of the book again. I don’t necessarily believe that Strieber was abducted by aliens, I also don’tnot believe it.

I do think though that the two things are quite probably related. UFO’s + Noises = What exactly? I think we will find out very soon. There are more things in heaven and earth than ever figured in our philosophies.

I’ll leave you with a story. In 1976 I lived in Houston, Texas. I was dating a girl who lived in New Caney, Texas. New Caney was roughly thirty miles to the north of Houston. After one date with my girl, I drove home very tired. On the way to her house there was a stretch of road that for ten miles was being re-worked by the road maintenance crews. At both ends of this stretch of road, was a set of scaffolding that went over the road. This scaffolding had flashing yellow lights over both lanes. You really could not miss it. That night as I drove home, I nodded off to sleep while I was driving. I was jerked “awake” by the flashing lights of the road works. I stopped and got out of the car and walked around a bit to make sure I was fully awake. There was not another car visible for miles in any direction. I got back into my car and finished the trip home. It was not until I got home that I realised I  never saw the other set of flashing lights.

I had driven ten miles as straight as a string through the roadworks while I slept.


And before you say it, I can tell you that the next time I went to see my girl the roadworks were still there, exactly ten miles apart. I told that story to an Air Force buddy. He looked at me and said flatly, “That’s impossible.” He then told me about Whitely Strieber and his greys. He believed,and  as far as I know still does, that I was abducted that night by aliens. I don’t believe that, but I also don’t believe that I drove ten miles asleep and never even scratched my car. All I do know is that I apparently did just that. 

I’m just saying that as far as these mysterious noises go…anything is possible.

YouTube…The new TV?

 

I am a huge fan of YouTube. My daughter got me hooked on it, years ago. Channels like Failblog.org and others have become necessary viewing for me. So much so that I don’treally watch television any more. But I am of the belief that YouTube is the new television.Let me explain.

There may be some folks out there who have never heard of or even experienced YouTube. But the basic principle is this. Anyone who has access to a video camera and a computer – or a combination of both – can make videos and post them on the web via their channel on YouTube .

This can and does lead to an astronomical amount of videos featuring cute pets, babies, and toddlers. These type of videos tend to go viral. *viral basically means that HUGE amounts of people click on the video to watch it* The other type of video that usually heads into viral territory are the funny ones. You know someone falls, trips, screws up…well you get the idea, I am sure.

What fascinates me are the different kinds of videos available. Make-up channels, alone, with their self-styled guru’s must run into the thousands. Movie review channels, Game review channels, in fact just about any subject you can think of crop up as multiple channels. Comedy is very popular. Guys like raywilliamjohnson, kevjumba and nigahiga all use comedy as their channels format. All channels have subscriber counts that range from none to the millions. The highly popular channels (the ones with the most subscribers) propel their presenters into “celebrity” status.

But the principle of YouTube is the same for everybody. You film your stuff and people watch it, hopefully, and then subscribe to your channel. A lot of channels on YouTube seem to be trying to get partnered. Getting partnered, I understand, is a lot like getting into heaven; lots of folks want it but only a few get it.

The popular channels result in the presenter getting partnered. These partners then get money from advertisers (like television) and grants from YouTube. Not to mention freebies from companies who want the presenters to feature their products on their channel (like television again).

A channel’s popularity is judged by the amount of views each video gets and the amount of subscribers the channel has. Also each video has a “thumbs-up or down” to show how many folks actually liked or disliked the video. There is a comment box for viewers to say what they think about the video. This can result in trolling. Trolls are disagreeable folks who put nasty, mean, or just plain rude comments on channels. They will also give all videos they watch a thumbs-down.

Unfortunately because anyone can use YouTube it also has it’s fair share of strange, nonsensical, garbled, and offensive videos. These videos are the ones where the channel presenter cannot talk without swearing every other word or shouts so loudly you cannot really understand what they are saying. Of course mumbling or talking in an incoherent fashion also fall into this category. There do seem to be more of these channels than the really good ones.

That is where the problem of communication or the lack of it comes into play. If the presenters can’t communicate the point they are trying to make it becomes a waste of time to watch. Of course for a lot of presenters, practise does make perfect. But these channels generally never reach the dizzy heights of nigahiga or raywilliamjohnson.

Some of the popular presenters go on to do other projects. Projects that became open to them because of their status as a YouTube celebrity. It also leaves presenters open to that dual edged sword of fan/subscriber identification. Because the subscriber sees the presenter on a regular basis and in a more intimate setting than they would on the ‘box,’  they feel like they know them personally. Again a lot like television, where soap opera stars are accosted on the street because the public feel like they know them personally.

I implied that YouTube is becoming the new television in my title. I think to an extent it already is. With copyright issues becoming more prevalent and intrusive and lawmakers trying to control what we, the public can watch or post on the internet; I fear that soon, just like television, YouTube will be so controlled that we will no longer have a choice of channels we want to watch.

Just like television, YouTube will be controlled by governments and sponsors and we will have to watch what they deem fit.

Name dropping pt 6 Stanley Kubrick

My biggest break came after we moved back to the UK. I had been fronting videos and was trying to find work as a VO artist. I also was doing the odd supporting artist gig. From BBC’s Lovejoy

to  ITV’S The Chief I did a few. Then I changed my agent, or rather agents. While I was doing extra work I had two agents, both from Norwich. I then had a chat with actor and vocal coach John. Sorry, another of those “I can’t remember his surname” deals. He told me off for doing extra work. His view was if you are an actor then act, don’t stand in the background and watch other people do it. “And for God’s sake, go and get a proper agent…one in London!”

So I did.

It took a while as it seemed there were a lot of “me’s” out there already. I got a lot of notes back thanking me for asking but they already had someone like me on their books. I then lucked upon Ronnie. Ronnie was an ex-juvenile actor whose wife had been a regular on the old Archers Radio programme. They were both delightful people and Ronnie took me under his wing.

I got my CV aka resume and picture put in the casting “bible” Spotlight. I did not get any work after I shifted to a London agent. But I did get  more auditions. I got a call from Ronnie who told me that Leon Vitali the casting director for Eyes Wide Shut (and Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man) was sending me a script. The part was for a gay hotel desk clerk who interacts with Tom Cruise. The part was played eventually by Alan Cumming, an excellent actor that I did not mind losing out to, even if he did get the part because (as rumour had it) he had worked with Nicole Kidman before.

Cover of "Eyes Wide Shut: Music From The ...

The script was about three and a half pages long. I dutifully memorised all my lines and Tom Cruise’s. I also did a bit of groping around for a character. Was the clerk to be uber camp? Or just a hint of camp? Or not camp at all? I had to wait for my audition with Leon to find out.

Leon was terrific. Even though I was the last audition of the day, he was full of energy and suggestions. He finished by saying that just a hint of camp would be great and was I ready? With Leon playing Cruise’s part we started. I have to say here that the fact I was able to audition at all was quite remarkable. I was waiting for back surgery and on so many pain pills, it is a miracle that I was able to memorise anything, let alone three pages of dialogue. Still everything went well until the last paragraph of my spiel. I kept messing it up and after three attempts, I lost my temper. Slamming down the paperback romance that had been my prop during the audition and filling the air with expletives that would have made a sailor blush. All of this while the camera rolled on.

“Don’t break character,” Leon quickly shouted. I immediately shot him a look that would have withered rock. Veins were popping in my forehead and throat, I must have looked homicidal at the very least. I calmed down while Leon handed back my prop and we started again. This time I nailed it. Although, as I said before, Alan Cummings got the part.

But…

Six weeks later I got another call from Leon. He said that Stanley wanted me to audition for another part. I was a bit confused as I knew that Eyes Wide Shut was going through post-production. It turns out it was for another film, that Stanley would be doing later. I said sure, send me the script and we’ll do it. Leon said there wasn’t one yet. So I said okay just call my agent and set something up. My agent did not set anything up. It was his opinion that as Stanley already had me “perfoming” on tape he knew I could act. His response was, “So hire the man already.”

Leon told me all this on the phone. He explained that Stanley did have the  audition tape that had been sent to him. But Stanley’s method of filing was to put the tapes in boxes and wardrobes. This practice meant that the tapes were hard to find. So in effect Stanley had lost my tape. I said okay, forget Ronnie, just let me know where and when I have to show up. We left it at that. Time passed and I would occasionally ring Leon to see what was going on. The last time I talked to Leon, he told me that the project had been “put on the back burner” for the moment, but that he would call me as soon as the project was hot again. Time passed and one day I turned on the television to find the news was full of Stanley Kubrick’s death. I was gutted.

I felt a little like the female actress who finally gets an appointment with a huge casting director because he has found a part for her. She shows up in his office the next day for their appointment only to be told by a tearful receptionist that he died the night before. “But we had an appointment today. He had a part for me.” The receptionist apologises and explains that they are all very shocked. “Well,” the actress asks tearfully, “Did he leave any messages about me?”

Years later, I am reading a book about Stanley Kubrick. It talked about Leon and about Stanley’s filing system (it really did consist of wardrobes and cardboard boxes). It also pointed out that if Stanley was interested in you he would have you come out to his house with Leon and he would do an audition tape of whatever improvisations he and Leon could come up with. I also found out what the next project was that Stanley would have been casting for…A.I. Artificial Intelligence. So when I talk about the folks I’ve met and almost met, I always tell the Stanley Kubrick story.

The “I got this close to auditioning for him” story.

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tower Heist…Ocean’s Five?

As I am a huge Ben Stiller fan I was really looking forward to his latest effort, Tower Heist. I will say up front I liked the film. I could have loved it, but the ending let it down a bit. Stiller who is the son of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara has never failed to deliver in the comedy field. Must be something in his genes.
Now unlike  Tropic Thunder and Zoolander, Stiller is not at the helm of this film. I can’t help but feel that if he had written and directed Tower Heist it would have been great instead of just good.One of the things that let this film down was the way the studios marketed it. The teasers and trailers that hyped the film made it seen like an outright comedy. This was not the case.
Cover of "Tropic Thunder (Unrated Directo...
Cover via Amazon
The film was a “genre bender” as my daughter likes to put it. It fell more into the range of a funny Action/Caper film.  It was not an outright comedy.  I know this because when I watch a comedy, I usually have to watch it at least twice.  Because if it is a good comedy I have laughed so much while watching it I have missed huge chunks of dialogue. I did not have that problem with Tower Heist.

English: Ben Stiller at the 2010 Toronto Inter...

The cast list is impressive. Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, and Judd Hirsh. It seems like ensemble films are all the rage at the moment. All the actors acquitted themselves wonderfully with their respective performances. Ms Leoni in particular showed a flair for comedy that was surprising.

English: Eddie Murphy at Tribeca Film Festival...

The plot revolves around an exclusive apartment building that appears to be a thinly veiled version of Trump Tower. The folks who live in this building are near the top of the Forbes list. Stiller plays Josh Kovacs the manager of the apartment building. Casey Affleck plays Kovacs’s brother-in-law Charlie the bumbling concierge. Matthew Broderick is the hapless Mr Fitzhugh who has lost everything and is being evicted from his apartment.

English: Alan Alda (born January 28, 1936) is ...

Alan Alda portrays shyster Arthur Shaw  with his usual sense of style. Shaw is a financial investment  whiz who has a close relationship with Kovacs. Kovacs asks Shaw to invest the apartment buildings staff retirement fund for them with the hopes of improving their pensions. Enter Tea Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham who arrests Shaw for fraud. It seems that Shaw is only a whiz at taking people’s money and investing it into his own pocket. Kovacs then decides that the money must be in Shaw’s apartment and that he needs to get it back.

Kovacs then coerces his brother-in-law, Mr Fitzhugh, new employee Enrique Dev’Reaux (played by Michael Peña) and his criminal neighbour and one-time school mate Eddie Murphy into entering Shaw’s apartment and retrieving the stolen pension fund.

The film is clever and it did make me laugh in all the right places. The misguided marketing campaign used by the studios though did not do the film any favours. As I mentioned before this is not an outright comedy film. It was an Action/Caper  film with a lot of laughs in it. It was a definite winner and a film I enjoyed watching.

So if you watch the film think  ’Ocean’s Five’  and you will most likely not be disappointed.

Name dropping Pt 5 or Van der Valk pt 2

After my huge disappointment at not having  Peter Snow write a part for me in that episode of the New Van der Valk, life went on as normal. I kept doing adverts for the AFN guys and presented (for a very short time) a program called Why and How. But I was no longer having to rely on the chaps at AFN for acting work.

I had done a commercial for Tonka Turbo Tricksters with the production company Fireside Productions. I had gotten that job because the casting folks were the same ones who had hired me for Murder Story. I had been cast as a motorcycle cop even though I had shown up late on the day of the Amsterdam auditions. The train was late, something unheard of in Holland,  which in turn made me late, an unforgivable sin in the entertainment industry. I know, it cost me a job years ago when, despite running at the speed of sound, I was late by two whole seconds for an interview in an office building just off Sunset Blvd. But regardless of that obvious faux pas, I was the fair haired boy and I was given another audition in Rotterdam the next day.

My champion at the casting company was Patricia. Patricia called me to let me know of work on another Van der Valk. I rang and talked to Ian, the chap who I had dealt with on the other audition. The pay wasn’t very good, but I did not have to perform for anyone this time. It involved about a half days work so I said yes.

When I arrived I met the other two chaps I would be working with. The first was Ian Gelder another jobbing actor who I have seen in many other shows. He was friendly and welcoming, not mention good fun to work with. The second was Frank Vincent Ogilvy a Scottish actor working mainly in Holland. We would also be working with Melanie Thaw, the adopted daughter of that great actor John Thaw, and Richard Huw, who was making a name for himself in the UK.Ms Thaw was lovely. A stunning blonde with a willowy figure and full of grace and charm. She came up and introduced herself to the three of us. “Oh, you must be the actors I’ll be working with today. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure we’ll have a good time today.” Frank and I were stunned as she shook our hands and then wandered off to find the director Jim Goddard. The reason we were so surprised by her actions is that in this particular episode we were literally part of the furniture. Ian was a gangster type and we were to be seated with him in a disco. That was it. Now Richard Huw’s attitude towards us was more in character. He ignored us completely. If he did spare us a look, it was one of utter disdain. Not so nice.

It was on this shoot I discovered the joys of continuity. I had been given an option of smoking in this scene. There was already a huge cloud of smoke from the dry ice machine. This was a dance floor in a bar in the 90’s. Smoking socially had not yet been banned. I thought, hello! No waiting for set-ups, filming, or anything else to have a smoke. How wonderful, I thought.

I was wrong.

John Thaw
John Thaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Due to the number of re-takes required because young Richard kept fluffing his lines, every time they started filming again, the continuity lady stopped everything. The reason was my cigarette, or rather the length of it. When she checked the monitor, she found that it was at the wrong length. Either too long or too short. This turned out to be real pain, until someone found a pair of scissors so I could cut the cigarettes into varying lengths.

Despite this setback, the day was great fun. The director had a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush and made Melanie fall about laughing every time he gave a “blue” direction. Because the location was in a real bar and it was Franks birthday, we got given real single malt Scotch whiskey in our glasses instead of the usual apple juice. Ian was paranoid in case the director found out. But as far as I know he did not.

By the end of the day, I was barely able to breathe, my back was killing me from the awkward position I had sat in for the scene and I was slightly tipsy. Just as well I had taken the train down. I also had two new contacts and their phone numbers for future work opportunities. Jim Goddard had graciously given me his and I had gotten the assistant directors number as well.