Thanksgiving Tis the Season to Reflect

Thanksgiving

Well hello there! Time has shot by faster than a speeding super train and it is the day after Thanksgiving, or as I like to think of it, “Tis the season to reflect.” Soon enough it will be “Tis the season to be jolly,” but since I really feel I am here on borrowed time, I am a much jollier person all year round.

As I am not out and about today, Black Friday…shudder, I felt that a short visit to my poor neglected blog was in order whilst I put off cleaning my portion of the house. Procrastination added to recovering from Turkey day illness equals blog time…Apparently.

I feel quite guilty really, this whole blogging lark started a few years ago and now that I write full time for a living, Deputy Managing Editor/Senior Entertainment Editor for the Guardian Liberty Voice, I mostly link to articles which I post to the paper, since I do interviews and reviews of both film and television,there is not a lot of time left over for my little friend here.

I do have mates here who stop by and comment on my reviews (And to them I say a hearty, “Thank you!”) I am sure that at some point in the near future I will be spending a bit more time on here, but I cannot really say when.  Dealing day-to-day with getting used to my new life after almost dying is interesting, frustrating, fascinating, and time consuming.

So…where was I?

Oh yes, Thanksgiving and “Tis the Season to Reflect.” This has been my first Thanksgiving in the USA for a very, very long time. I have been back in the land of my birth since January 15 this year. Thankfully, (I need to mention the things I am thankful for, it is that time of year, after all.) my medical needs are met by the Veterans Administration folks and apart from not having a dental plan, as well as contemplating suing the dentist who messed up my mouth when he extracted on particularly painful tooth, health wise everything seems to be okay.

Thanksgiving

I do feel very much like a stranger in a strange land. Nothing is more puzzling and confusing than to have spent the majority of one’s life in another country (And becoming a citizen of said country.) and then returning to your home country to find you don’t particularly fit any longer. Having spent a lifetime learning how everything works in the United Kingdom has left me ill prepared for life in the United States.

Everything has changed, as I have, and even the food tastes different. I have become a supermarket ghost. Wandering aimlessly up and down aisles looking for something tasty, which in my case equates to the Brit food I’ve ingested for over 31 years and not finding any. I am not a noisy wraith while I shop for something that looks appetizing, although I do sometimes mutter under my breath with frustration…

I am counting down the days till I start writing about my time as a Prison Officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. I have had to wait as there is a rule that one cannot divulge anything for a two year time period after leaving the Queen’s employ. There is a certain amount of excitement attached to this upcoming project, I had some very interesting and entertaining times working with the juvenile criminals of Britain. I also had to stop working with some very special and dear people.

As yesterday was Thanksgiving, a day that I spent mostly either  dozing in my chair in front of the laptop or sleeping properly in my bed, today tis the day of my personal reflection since I pretty much missed the festivities. I had a lovely meal to attend and had to beg off there apologies all around and a bucket load of guilt was in order. My solo “sickbed” thoughts yesterday were about how odd life is and how diverse the path is to where we are at any particular moment.

Thanksgiving

Most prevalent in my musings was, and is, the thought of just how surreal this whole thing has been. My life recently has been full of dealing, meeting, interacting and writing about people that, until recently, I had no chance of seeing apart from on television or the big screen or the pages of a magazine. Speaking with wildly talented people whom I admire greatly has been a dream come true and funnily enough a dream that was never at the forefront of my mind.

My dreams, apart from wanting to be a writer from age 11 (Which has come true via the auspices of journalism.), have always been to be a professional actor, I have done this infrequently, last year working in a fellow blogger’s first professional film for festivals, but would love to do so more often. I may still get the chance, this is, after all, the land of opportunity (I should know, I was born here.)

At this point in time, I count myself successful, although sad that thousands of mile separate me and my lovely talented daughter and her fella as well as being closer to my son, who is very busy leading his own life so contact with my children is, sadly minimal. I am, however, doing a job I would do for free (“And getting paid!’ he said, cackling wildly) and everyday, I count my blessings and am very thankful that the “Big Guy” decided to keep me around that little bit longer. I missed the old “tis the season to be thankful” chance to have a spot of holiday refection “on the day,”  but since surviving my two close brushes with death in 2012, everyday is Thanksgiving to me.

By Michael Smith

Living Alone after a Lifetime Living with Others

most-beautiful-small-islands

Writing the other day of my thoughts on mortality and the avoidance of becoming consumed by the fear of death in the wee hours of the morning, I got a comment from my good friend Tash over at Films and Things. She mentioned that when she was younger she had the irrational fear that she would die old and alone. I could relate.

For years I suffered the same fear. In fact it was this fear that lead me to leap into my second marriage; an act similar to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Despite the fact that I was drawn to the young lady in question, and she was young at a staggering seven years my junior, I should not have been thinking in matrimonial terms at all. I’d only just met her.

But in those days, it was unusual for me to not be thinking with my smaller more hormonally driven brain and the fact that I wanted to just talk to the girl put her in a special ranking. I thought, in my infinite wisdom, that this meant she was special. Special enough to marry. Which I did.

Now many years later, I am living my younger self’s nightmare. I am old-er and living alone. Well and truly the master of all I survey and answerable to no-one except my creditors and the taxman. Amazingly, I am happier than ever before in my life. The young me’s fear of being all alone and dying alone never rears its ugly head. Except in wee hours as I mentioned in my last post.  We all die alone, whether surrounded by loved ones or not. Death is meant to be lonely, it is our own journey that has to be taken in solo status. We can invite no one else to accompany us on this final trip. Hence, we die alone.

But this post is not about dying, sorry to have strayed off the path there. I am back now and moving on to less morbid musings. The post is about living alone after a lifetime of living with others and just how much my life has changed.

The realisation came to me yesterday as I struggled to find enough clothes to make it worth my while to wash one of my summer uniforms (said uniform, donned  the second the sun comes out consists of my speedo shorts and what ever shirt I first grab in the morning); after wandering through the house and realising that all I could add was the two kitchen towels, I realised that this was another symptom of living alone.

On the same day  (busy day yesterday) I filled the kitchen sink with about nine small bits of dishes and cutlery to do the washing up. Another “symptom” of being a loner at home. Probably a bit wasteful of water, but I really cannot stand seeing washing up staggering about the otherwise clean kitchen. One of the things that my long second marriage instilled in me.

Image created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkII

But those two similar acts got me thinking. I am now truly alone. I have no one to work around, move around, stumble around. My daughter moved out earlier in the year to share a flat with her boyfriend, a lovely chap that I keep referring to as my “almost son-in-law,” and I have, since that time grown accustomed to being a solo act.

It has been a learning experience this living alone. I have learned how to “downsize” my weekly shop for groceries. That particular task took ages. The amount of times that I had to throw out food that had gone off makes me cringe. Learning to schedule my house cleaning chores by levels. *Said levels are made up of dust accumulation and floors of the house.*  Struggling to make the time to cook my meals so that I do not live on the unhealthy option of constant take-a-way.  That one is the most difficult.

I said to my boss just the other day that I wanted to earn enough money at the paper to pay for a cook and housekeeper…oh and to pay all my outstanding bills of course. I could stand someone coming in occasionally to clean the house and to cook me my healthy heart meals. Even, perhaps, to buy me the groceries needed to set up my meals. I add this last part as I consume my late breakfast of strawberries with unrefined sugar that I threw together since the fruit was  due to go off today.

I love living alone. The freedom it gives me is heady. If I want to walk through my house all day in my birthday suit I can – sorry if that dredges up unwelcome images, if it makes you feel any better, I have not succumbed to that particular temptation just yet.  If I want to hoover (vacuum for those of you in America) my house at nine o’clock at night I can.  These two examples of my freedom are not indicative of everything I love about being gloriously selfish for the first time in my life, but they’ll do for right now.

I am not yearning for physical contact with anyone, be they of the opposite or same sex. I don’t miss hugs or caresses or the other messier types of physical demonstrations of affection/love.  A fact that I was shocked to discover.  I have always been a very tactile person. Sex, to me, was the most fun I’d ever had that did not cost me huge amounts of money. It was also the way I could show, in a physical sense, just how much I cared for the person I was with.

When I was younger, sex was a very important part of my “big game plan” it was something that I knew with utmost certainty that I could not live without.

Right.

Turns out that, like so many things I thought I knew when I was younger, I was wrong. I have written about my feelings about “grown up” love and attraction before. I think the reason that I do not miss the physical act is because the age of my potential playmates match my own. My girlfriends, wives, lovers were always much younger than me, not indecently so, but around the three to seven year mark. There were two exceptions to that rule and both were wonderful experiences.

My circumstances may change in that area, but I do not think so. I have no time for the intrusiveness of a proper relationship and all its incumbent baggage. I write full time for the paper and on my blog whenever I can.  I do my healthy heart walks daily, if at all possible, and write. It is difficult to find the time to clean the blooming house! I certainly do not have the time required to “cultivate” a relationship and like I’ve said before, I may have wrinkles but I don’t find them attractive in potential “mates,” And yes I am aware of how shallow that makes me sound.

But I can say with  certainty that I do love living alone after a lifetime of living with others. I am comfortable with my own company and do not feel the need to find another person to make me complete. I have come to the realisation that, in terms of living space, I am happier flying solo. Besides as my list of friends and colleagues continues to grow, I am never truly lonely.

Michael Smith

Cheers!
Cheers!

United Kingdom

27 August 2013

South Africa My Personal Journey: Day One

johannesburg-airport

I arrived at Johannesburg International Airport roughly between 21:15 and 22 :10 (9 p.m. and 10 p.m. respectively); the large gap  in time is due to my lack of sleep and forgetting to double check it. Arriving at the airport, I was pleased to find that the staff were welcoming and friendly and not above having a joke with you. British and American customs take note.

I meet my contacts D and L.  Before they came to meet and collect me at the airport, D’s shed was set alight by someone. The car they used to transport me had  a broken window; crime is so rampant that they had to hire an airport car park chap to watch the car. If they had not done this it would have been stolen.

*Note: Because of the nature of my trip, I will refer to my contacts by initials only.  Reprisals against any who have helped me to uncover information are a very real threat.

I was taken to where I would be staying for the next four days via the scenic route.  L was the driver and took us along the back streets to show what the area looked like and past a local “government” hospital. I was told that if you go there to be treated, you’ll probably get worse or die.  Everyone has to go private for their treatment and not use the government hospitals

We drove through a section of town where some  drug dealers and prostitutes live.  All the houses  have bars over the window’s and doors and are behind gates and fences with sharp spikes on the top of the fences or razor (concertina) wire strung across the top.

While we drove through the neighbourhood, we reached a couple of blocks where there were prostitutes hanging around on the sidewalks. Some were in pairs, but most stood alone.  One young girl was standing by herself on the corner of a sidewalk and she looked about twelve. All of the young woman, and at least one obvious young man, were black.  I was told that as it was almost eleven o’clock at night, it was too late for the while prostitutes to be out. Apparently the white ones get picked first.

The house where I am staying is right next door to a drug dealer and prostitute “den.” The drug dealer is Nigerian and the Nigerians are not well liked in the Johannesburg area. They are the new “crime lords” of the area. In a short time they’ve taken over as leaders in the drugs trade. C and L have no problems with the neighbour. L is a huge intimidating sized chap and the drug dealer is actually afraid of him.

Like most of the houses in this area, the one I will be staying at is a bungalow style house (single level) and it is surrounded by a high fence with sharp implements on the top to discourage thieves. All the houses have this type of wall topped with razor wire, electrical fencing or sharp metal stakes, et al.  They have also put bars over every window and door.

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All houses have high fences except for those who don’t worry about theft. Author Photo.

The more “expensive” homes have electric all round and D’s house is a combination of electric and wire topped fence as well as the bars over the windows and doors.

The only houses that do not have the high fences and bars are the ones belonging to the drug lords.

Just before you drive onto the block to get to the where I stayed during my short trip, there is a fairly big house that has been vandalised and burnt. It is full of squatters and nothing can or will be done about it.

On the drive from the airport to the area that I will be staying in, D and L tell me the rules for driving in Johannesburg. These are especially important if you are a female driving or you have females in the car with you.

The rules for driving in Johannesburg: 

Lock all your car doors.

Keep all your windows rolled up.

Do not slow down or stop if a car (or two, or more) are stopped by the side of the road and people are standing by them.

If you are a woman, you never drive down the road with your purse or handbag in plain sight most will put them on the floorboards out of sight to stop smash and grab theft.

If you look ahead and see rocks stuck in the road, do not approach them, as it is a trap. If you stop or attempt to drive around the rocks you’ll become the victim of a smash and grab or car theft…or worse.

Remember to check.

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Pictures through rolled up windows is the order of the day. Author photo.

We finally arrive to our destination. The bungalow style house I am staying in is lovely. It has huge rooms and high ceilings. The bathroom is actually bigger than my kitchen back home in England, and I have a good sized kitchen. My bedroom is also quite large and ready for me to occupy.

C and L are lovely people who immediately make me feel like a long lost relative. Like everyone, it seems, they have dogs. One is the size of a small shetland pony, or at least in my tired state he seemed that big, and all the dogs take to me instantly. The couple were afraid that the dogs might overwhelm me. But they weren’t a problem.

It is winter in South Africa. Their winters make me think of Southern California winters; warm, sunny days and chilly nights. I am glad I packed a short, light jacket along with my short-sleeved shirts and trousers. The daytime temperatures get up to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but drop down quite low once the sun goes down; around an average of 41 degrees. As typical in winter, the days are shorter and the nights longer.

I have a cup of coffee with my hosts and soon amble off to bed. I am too excited and tired to sleep so I start making notes on my Macbook about the first leg of my journey. After an hour and a half, I finally drop off to sleep.

My first day in Johannesburg has been electric, edifying, and enjoyably adrenaline filled.  My first impressions are of a people who are friendly, welcoming and adaptable. I will meet my first “interview” the next day and I’m anxious that all goes well.  As I was a “last minute” substitution for our World Editor (his flight cost was extortionate) I am concerned that I get all the information I came for.

I’ve been told to take lots of pictures so that our paper’s critics realise that I am really there. As I lay in bed still feeling ill from my Hepatitis A injection I’d had the day before, I sunk slowly into a deep dreamless sleep that ended as the rest of the house woke up at seven in the morning. Looking at my iPad, when I opened my eyes, I saw that I’d had just over four hours of sleep.

My first “full” day in Johannesburg as an investigative journalist had just begun.

(To be continued)

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Author Photo.

South Africa: My Personal Journey Schiphol and Beyond

KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam
KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam. Photo by author.

During my 11 hour lay-over in Schiphol,  thoughts of South Africa trudged through my mind like a tired Army marching resolutely towards the battle line. My personal journey was taking a very long time. While I was there, my boss contacted me on the intermittent “free” broadband via Skype and asked  me to take pictures. That was easy and you can see them on my previous post. I wandered the airport and attempted to sleep in-between pictures while I waited to go beyond the airport’s restraints and fly out to South Africa.

The Dutch are a very friendly nation, the airport’s employees in each of the shops and restaurants (that were open at that un-Godly hour) were helpful and easy to speak to. In the Netherlands English is taught from grade school and their versatility in the language still impresses me. When I lived in Holland, I would be asked if I spoke Dutch. My answer, in their language, was “Een klein beetje.” Which means, “a little bit.”

And I meant that literally.

If you asked them about speaking English, they would respond in kind. But their version of “a little bit” was vastly better than my poor efforts. The only difference being that they spoke the Queen’s English instead of the garbled “bastardised” version that we American’s usually speak. I could speak both versions of English having lived and worked in both the US and the UK. There is a difference between the two countries in the area of English language!

When it was time to board my flight to South Africa, I left almost reluctantly. I’d not been back to Holland since I left it in 1990 and I was reluctant to leave. I have many fond memories of the place and its people. I will go back one day and walk the streets of the places I lived and worked. And visit the hospital where my daughter was born.

On the last flight, I managed to find sleep at last. I fell into a fitful dozing state that eventually led me into a deeper sleep that lasted roughly an hour and a half. My mind would not stop long enough for more rest than that. I was excited to be travelling the world again after such a long break.

When I was much younger, my plan was to visit many countries and learn about the people who lived in each one. I got off to a good start, but getting married the second time made me sedentary. Having a wife and child makes the aspect of travel an unlikely option. Too many responsibilities and bills to pay.

After the plane had landed at the Johannesburg Airport and taxied up to our disembarkation area, I walked slowly towards the passport control area. I silently thanked whoever had put in the moving sidewalks, or paths, as I could stand there immobile; clutching my now overly heavy backpack that was full of laptop, iPad; various work tools and my heart medication.

Finally I joined the line of international and local passengers waiting to get permission to enter the country. Luckily, the staff that manned the control area, never trained in the UK or the USA. They were friendly, welcoming and ready to smile or joke with you. Perhaps the best advertisement for the country of South Africa “man” those passport control kiosks.

Life saving moving sidewalk
Life saving moving sidewalk at Johannesburg Airport. Photo by author.

After chatting with my passport chap, I made my way to the luggage collection point and was delighted to find my bag already going around the carousel. I grabbed it and went to find my local contacts. The paper’s local correspondent had said that her son would meet me at the airport. I started looking for signs with my name on.

As I moved around the throng of people waiting for loved ones to greet, or business contacts to pick-up, I heard my name called and as I glanced over I saw our correspondent.  I’d arrived at last.  Safe, exhausted and jet lagged, but so excited that I could hardly stand it.

My personal journey was about to begin, while I investigated and learned about a country that has fascinated me since learning of the Livingstone expedition as a boy in school.  My latest job had taken me to Schiphol, in Amsterdam, and beyond. I was now in South Africa, a country often depicted in films as dangerous and deadly.

I was there to learn what I could about a specific news event, but before my short four-day jaunt had finished, I learned much more and made a number of new friends and contacts.  I forgot all about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and slogged through the world of investigative journalism.

I am now addicted to this world. My boss declared me an adventurer by nature and I have to admit being hooked on the adrenaline surge and I’m constantly looking for ways to replicate it. With all my senses cranked up to the uppermost level on the dials, I left the airport with two people who would become fast friends and comrades in our search for the truth.

To be continued…

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Johannesburg, ZA. Photo by author.

1000 Posts! Blimey, That Was Quick

The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was literally a few days ago that I looked down and saw that I was at least thirty some odd posts from hitting a 1000, I look down this morning and I see that I’ve now hit 1002! Of course it looks more impressive than it really is. But the first thought that jumped  immediately into my head was, ‘Blimey, that was quick.”

There will be those of you who read that last sentence and think, where does an American pick up the word blimey from and why would it be his first thought? Sure he lives in England, but he’s just being cute, or thinks he is.

Muppet.

Well, I have my late mother-in-law to thank for that. She didn’t use the word a lot, but enough for my magpie mind to grasp hold of and  still not let go. Even years after her death and the end of my marriage to her “step-daughter” when anything surprises me, it is the first word out of my mouth, or in this case brain.

I guess I should explain the ‘muppet.’

For over ten years, I workd in Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Working in the volatile environment that was the Juvenile prison estate. I started as an OSG, which stands for operational support grade, I only had contact with the “little darlings” via the library where I worked as one of my OSG duties. [the little darlings, were murderers, rapists, and other  creatures from the ages of 15 to 18, one day when I’m allowed, I will write about my time “behind bars.”]

The pay for OSG was, and still is, Draconian in its meanness. In order to pay off all your bills and feed your family, overtime was a fact of life. I made the switch over to Prison Officer as quickly as possible. The pay was better and, if anything, the job more interesting and definitely adrenaline inducing.

Although, future Governor’s of the prison that I worked in would change it, the vernacular of a juvenile prison officer was sprinkled with sayings and “nicknames” for the criminal youngsters we dealt with. All of these were incredibly funny and never meant maliciously. The lads we watched over usually used these same terms that someone had invented on or to each other.

I loved it.

It allowed the staff and the lads to have a chuckle and although I’ve only mentioned a few of the terms, they were a part of everyday life inside. But to explain the terms I’ll start with muppet.

A “muppet” was a lad who just didn’t get it. Not a fuzzy cute puppet with a hand up his/her backside. Someone who was a tad, thick and who had  no common sense.

You would often hear a lad being told off for breaking a rule, followed by the phrase, “Ya Muppet!”

Another favourite was, Fraggle. For those of you too old, or conversely, too young to remember them, Fraggle’s lived in Fraggle Rock and they were idiotic and, in our opinion, slightly mad creatures who just did not have a clue, worse than a muppet by far. The main characteristic of the prison Fraggle was their propensity to hover around one, or sometimes more, prison officer rather than mingle with the other lads.

When a prison officer found himself surrounded by a small group of Fraggles, he was known as the Fraggle Magnet for that day.

There were other words used to signify a lack of smarts or common sense, Numpty was another one. “Ya Numpty'” still erupts out of my mouth unbidden, much like blimey, because it’s another word that I fell in love with and my brain immediately latched onto. I have no idea where that particular word originated. But it too was a favourite.

Blimey! I’ve just noticed that I’ve written well over 500 words and only a few of them are actually about the 1000 posts and how quickly it got here!

What a muppet!

I do have to say that having that many blog posts isn’t all that impressive. Of late, I’ve been providing a lot of links to articles I’ve written for the paper I work for, which is about the laziest thing I can think of. But I am proud of what I’ve written for my guys and gals over at the Guardian Express and I want to share.

It is still writing, which is what blogging is all about and I hope you’ve all enjoyed the links that I’ve posted. I know this little act has driven a lot more views of my little ramblings. Sure it’s a little disheartening to realise that the most popular link post so far seems to be the one dealing with Kate Upton‘s nudity, but hey, you have to share.

I do try to share all my links with you, the lovely folks who follow, like, comment and, most importantly, make no demands of me or my little blog. So I have to say, I’m pleased that I’ve managed to hit over a 1000 posts, even if it was by re-blogging and linking a lot the last couple of months.

But I’ll still say thanks to you guys and gals for reading and putting up with my diminished in the area of  “purposefully” written input and my horrid lack of visiting anyone else’s blog’s at the moment. I’m still working on a schedule of my day that allows it. I won’t go into all the things that one has to do when living alone, I’m sure most of you don’t need me to point out all the things that a couple or a family take care of get done by one lone chap.

But I do appreciate you all and I will continue to share my links and re-blogs. I am also still attempting to increase my written output and to visit you guys more often, and I will get there. I know I will.

Hey! I’m no Fraggle, ya know!

Cheers,

July 21, 2013

United Kingdom

Fraggles!
Fraggles! (Photo credit: arbyreed)

V/H/S (2012) Fantastic Found Tape Fear

vhs

I had thought that I was pretty much burnt out on “found footage” films. But my excitement levels rose after this film got into its second vignette  out of the six “mini” films on offer here.

Although the film really falls into the anthology genre, a few horror films do this really well but the ones who can really pull if off are all Asian film makers, who have yet to make an anthology film that could be classed as a stinker.

This anthology of “found” footage horror films had been written and directed by some of the most impressive new names in horror today:  Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the directing quartet known as Radio Silence.

The film opened January 2012 at the  2012 Sundance Film Festival  and was then  released on demand on August 31, 2012. V/H/S then had a limited  theatrical premiere in the United States on October 5, 2012, in the UK on January 18, 2013, and in Argentina on February 7, 2013.

I will not go into any of the films except for the one that ties all the segments together. A group of young men are hired to steal a video tape from a house. They accept the job and find that the house is full of video tapes, video players and a dead man. As the film moves forward, the action keeps cutting back to the room with the dead (?) man and all those tape players.

Tapes are put into a player and watched, by both one of the young men and us. The dead body on the chair behind the film’s video watching character appears and disappears. It is a brilliant way to segue the different films together in a cohesive manner.

Each of the six films are entertaining. Each one has a separate theme and they all feature a type of almost “guerrilla” film making. The other thing that the films all have in common, is that they don’t don’t suffer from what I like the call, “The Cloverfield Effect.”

In the 2008 film, Cloverfield, when the character in the film who was “filming” the events put the camera down, even in a stressful or scary situation, the camera was always right side up and always in focus. The found films in the anthology don’t do that. Cameras seemingly wind up where they, “wind up,” if you get my meaning. It doesn’t feel like a “movie” so much as actual found footage.

The news that a sequel is due out this year, actually has me quite excited. As I said above, I thought I was burnt out on this particular genre, but apparently,  a well made “found footage” film can still get me excited.

This is a real 5 out of 5 stars as all the stories were original and in most cases, I couldn’t see the twist coming. Of course I might be too obtuse, but as a rule, I can usually see the twist a mile away. Great little film here that won’t disappoint you.

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Burning the Middle Ground by L Andrew Cooper A Battle for Control

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Written by L Andrew Cooper and published by Blackwyrm Publishing, Burning Middle Ground is a supernatural cum horror cum occult novel. Featuring a religious zealot that will make you think immediately of that Westboro bunch, the book disturbs as much as it scares.

The book’s prologue deals with the murder/suicide of and entire family sans one, Brian. After the events on this tragic and horrible day, Brian doesn’t speak for an entire year. When he is released out into the community and he decides to move into his old house, feelings are mixed in the tiny burg.

The story is about small town USA and it’s a town split by two very different Christian factors. Investigative internet reporter Ronald Glassner goes to the small town of Kenning, Georgia to cover Brian’s return and besides fall for one of the local sheriff’s deputies, he gets caught up in a battle of wills between two churches. One of which is practising a religion older than Christianity and it’s very powerful.

Once Ronald arrives in the small town, strange things begin to happen. Animals run wild, impossible events become common place and people are acting very weird.

All the characters in Cooper’s book are likeable. I felt like I could identify with each and every one and they did a brilliant job of not just representing the denizens of the southern hemisphere of America, but they also had enough quirks and foibles to seem real.

Ronald has the acerbic wit and a sort of radar that helps him to sense when things are not right. He also tends to joke too much when he is stressed. As the third person narrator of the story he is charming, funny, scared and sensible.

The books main “bogey-man” Deacon Jake Warren is an outsider who has made Kenning his home and base of operation. He soon enlists the aid of Reverend Michael Cox a local “fire and brimstone, eye for an eye” man of the cloth. Soon Cox’s wife and the local sheriff are part of his plans for Kenning as well.

In the opposite camp you have Jeanne Harper who runs a church that practices a more peaceful and loving religion she counts, among her flock, Brian and his girl friend Melanie and a small handful of locals who don’t like what Rev Cox preaches. Especially as it was one of his sermons that appeared to have set off the stream of events at the beginning of the book.

With imagery that would not look out of place in a Stephen King or Peter Straub book, Cooper has created a world that, despite its nightmarish aspect, is very cinematic and easy to picture in your mind as you encounter it. I became quite attached to all the main characters and as they struggle to the conclusion of this story, I felt bad when bad things happened to them.

This is obviously the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant series and I cannot wait to see what Mr Cooper has in store for the survivors of Kenning.

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