Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 4

Another Thursday, another episode of Ashes to Ashes! This week’s episode, while far from perfect, was a vast improvement over last week’s snoozer. This episode almost had it all: murder, adultery, spies, nuclear weapons… and angry female communists! Let’s get right to the recap, shall we?

A body is found in an abandoned warehouse in the Docklands area of London. At first, DCI Hunt and crew think that they’ve discovered a suicide, as the man appeared to fall from the top of the warehouse’s giant staircase. This notion is quickly dismissed by Ray, who finds blood and scuff marks on the floor upstairs, and also by a forensic examiner, who notes blunt force trauma to the man’s head and green wool under his nails, as if he’d grabbed someone’s clothes to try and stop his fall.

The man had no ID on him, so Hunt and crew take the man’s diary back to the station, where Ray notes several references to something called “RWF”. Drake takes the diary and finds a hidden compartment, where she finds a small piece of paper with some type of code on it… as well as her mother’s phone number, which she stealthily puts into her back pocket. Drake then goes to have another look at the body, only to find that it’s already been picked up by the coroner. The lab technician said that the men from the coroner’s office have only just left, so Alex rushes to the loading dock to find several shady men loading the body into a white van. The men seem to be led by a creepy-looking guy in a black Mercedes. None of them reply to Alex when she tries talking to them – they simply finish loading the van and drive away. Come to find out, the quick removal of the body was ordered by the Home Office. Alex thinks that this is strange, but Gene Hunt isn’t worried. In fact, he doesn’t really think much at all about it. While Alex and Gene are arguing about what Home Office involvement means in the case, Chris enters. They’ve identified the body as one Martin Kennedy.

Alex then has lunch with Evan White at Luigi’s. Amusingly, Luigi doesn’t know that White is Alex’s godfather, and thinks the two are on a date. He lavishes them with attention, and gives Alex knowing winks and free drinks. Alex asks White if he knows Martin Kennedy, or if Kennedy was a client of his firm. White denies any knowledge of him. Alex asks if he thinks Tim and Caroline Price (her parents, and the two main partners at the firm) know Kennedy. White tells Alex to ask Caroline herself.

Back at the station, Hunt sits in his (strangely quiet) office, carefully examining a key that was found on Kennedy, as well as the piece of paper with the code on it:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 1)

Hunt knows that Desk Sergeant Viv James (Geff Francis) is constantly doing crosswords and other puzzles, so he hands him the code and asks him to have a whack at it (by the way: thanks to Francis and the writers for not making Viv another magic negro character). As Drake walks with Alex back to his office, he tells her that Kennedy worked part time as a security guard at a secret nuclear weapons research site at Edgehampton. This sets Alex off: Home Office involvement, secret weapons research sites, codes… just then, Chris and Ray walk up to Gene and Alex. They’re really happy with themselves, as they’ve figured out what “RWF” stands for. Just as they’re about to reveal what it is, Shaz says “RWF? The Revolutionary Workers Front?” – thus spoiling Chris and Ray’s big reveal. Chris and Ray say that RWF are having a meeting today at the Red Lion pub, so the boys take off to see what they can find out.

Alex decides to instead visit her mother to see what she knows about Kennedy. It’s a touching scene, as it’s the first time she’s been “home” since she traveled back in time. There are a lot of soft-focus shots of a young Alex playing in the front yard (including lifting a rock to get a key – will this be important later?). Caroline leads Alex to the family room, where Caroline and Evanare enjoying glasses of wine and (how’s this for early 80s) Danish blue cheese. Caroline reveals that she hired Kennedy to do some odd jobs – and nothing more. Alex asks Caroline if she knew that Kennedy worked at the Edgehampton weapons facility. Caroline says that “he might have mentioned it”, but doesn’t seem to know much more than that. Caroline’s spidey sense is tingling though – as one of Britain’s most prominent left-wing lawyers, Caroline is quick to assign anything awful to the government. She tells Alex to “tread carefully”.

Alex thanks her and excuses herself to go to the toilet. However, she instead goes up to her room, where she has a loving reunion with some of her old possessions – a book, her roller skates, a Shakin’ Stevens cassette… and her diary. Here’s another possible plot twist: young Alex hid her diary in the fireplace of her bedroom. Older Alex knows this, and she pulls it down and starts reading it. Caroline then walks in on older Alex, who stammers and apologizes for being nosy. Caroline seems surprised to see the diary, as if she had no idea that it even existed. Although she swears to Alex that she hasn’t read it, we’re left wondering if Caroline’s “discovery” of the diary will have implications in the future. Or past. You know what I mean.

Meanwhile, the boys have reached the Red Lion. At first, they stand in the back of the room quietly as a female speaker rails against neutron bombs, Ronald Reagan’s research into them, Margaret Thatcher’s approval of them, and their inevitable appearance on British soil. The crowd, consisting only of women, cheers with delight as the speaker asks them to “join our European sisters” against the weapons. A woman at the front of the crowd tells the speaker not to bring gender into it, and she doesn’t see the need to “make it some petty bourgeois ‘Mothers Against The Bomb’ crap”. The speaker continues on with her left-wing gender politics, at one point saying “woman have a voice that needs to be heard!!!” In one of the funniest moments of Ashes to Ashes so far, Hunt then yells “Don’t we get enough of that?” over the crowd, flashes his badge, and starts rounding up the women… as Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” starts playing in the background.

The leftists are taken back to the station. Ray, clueless that a woman can be smarter than himself, becomes furious as he goes ’round and ’round in questioning an uncooperative leftist. Chris, on the other hand, is having an earnest conversation with another of the leftists, and quickly becomes convinced that he’s a part of the “capitalist patriarchy stained with the blood of oppressed women”. Or some such. Those two are so funny! Hunt isn’t having much luck either. As he questions one of the women, she calls him a fascist for threatening her. Hunt, in one of his classic lines, says “I’m trying to find out who murdered this man. If that makes he a fascist then Heil bloody Hitler!” The women then begin an anti-Thatcher rally inside the police station. Not much has come from all this, aside from a frazzled Gene and Ray… and some photographs of an RWF meeting held the same night as Kennedy’s murder.

Later that night, Alex gets a phone call at home. The caller doesn’t say anything, and only a crackling can be heard on the phone line. Alex immediately suspects that he phone is tapped – which is interesting because: a) you’d think that spy agencies would be more subtle than to call someone who’s phone line they’ve tapped, and b) Alex immediately thinks “wire tap” and not “contact from 2008”, as Sam Tyler might have in Life On Mars. In any case, she returns to work the next day, more certain than ever that some huge conspiracy is afoot. Alex and Gene then have this classic exchange:

Gene: There is no conspiracy. Contrary to what commie nutters believe and what you’ve seem to have forgotten is that this is the home of bloody democracy, Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, roast beef and Yorkshire pud and a square deal for all. If the government are keeping secrets, it’s probably for our own bloody good.

Alex: You are so naive.

Gene: And you are really pissing me off. The British government does not go around throwing people off the tops of buildings…

Alex: Kennedy worked part time at a top secret weapons research center, joined a left-wing group… suddenly he’s murdered and his body goes missing…

Gene: Spies do not wear camo and keep girlie mags under their beds. They’re too busy sipping claret and touching each other’s posh todges. You probably know some of them. This is a murder inquiry.

Alex: One that could already be compromised. They could be watching us right now!

Gene: And when they come, they’ll be wearing white coats and carrying a straightjacket and it won’t be my bloody size!

Chris then enters Hunt’s office and announces that Kennedy was indeed a spy… because he was broke. I’m not sure I quite follow that. Anyway, Sergeant James finds Drake and tells her that the “code” is a cipher, and that he’s figured out a word from it: Artemis. Alex mentions that Artemis was the “goddess of the hunt”, which makes Ray ask if “that’s who you are – the goddess of the hunt?” Chris, still under the influence of the leftist feminists mentions that it’s a “potent symbol of female power”. She asks Ray and Chris whether they’ve noticed anyone following them. The two seem confused, so she gives them a crash course in surveillance.

A few minutes later, Alex finds Hunt, who has found out about Kennedy’s odd jobs work. The two decide to check out Kennedy’s workshop… but are “tailed” by Chris and Ray, who do such an awful job tracking Hunt and Drake that Gene knows from the start that they’re being tailed:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 2)

At the workshop, Gene uses the mysterious key to open a locked chest. Inside he finds some garden variety porn… and pictures of Caroline and Evan having sex! They’re blackmail pictures, apparently. The gang decide to pay Caroline a visit. Alex, as you might imagine, is furious with her mother for cheating on her dad. But of course, she can’t tell her mom why. Caroline denies paying Kennedy any hush money and also reveals that her husband still does not know of the affair, since he is away in America. How convenient, Gene thinks, that Kennedy ended up dead before he had a chance to contact Caroline’s husband. Alex then screams herself red at Caroline, then storms out into the hallway to try an to calm herself down. There she suddenly remembers, as a child, seeing Caroline and Evan embracing. Alex returns to the parlor, where Caroline mentions that Kennedy might have tried selling the pictures to “another buyer”. As left-wing, anti-government lawyers they have many enemies… especially at MI-5. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

Back at the station, Evan shows up for questioning. Hunt begins with his standard “bad cop” schtick, when Alex suddenly jumps in on a more personal level. Alex keeps “chatting” with Evan as she escorts him out of the building. Evan assures Alex that he and Caroline’s “relationship” is over. He begins to walk away, and, as Alex turns to walk back into the building, she sees the “Mercedes man” leaving. Alex rushes back inside and asks Viv what the man wanted. He says that the man identified himself as “DC Baker from Kennington”, and that he picked up some evidence related to the Kennedy case.

Alex rushes to the evidence room, only to find Kennedy’s diary gone. She hightails it to Hunt’s office, and asks if he has the diary. When Gene says that he does not, Alex closes the blinds and cranks up the radio (as an anti-surveillance measure). She says that she now has proof that something’s going on: DC Baker from Kennington is a 25 year-old female, while the person that picked up the evidence is a man in his 40s. Gene is finally convinced that a conspiracy is afoot. The two move to the kitchenette, where they talk over a running tap (running water camouflages conversations). Shaz interrupts them to tell them that the RWF had several charges against them, and all were handled by… Tim Price.

As an amusing sidenote… does anyone else remember the poster behind Gene in this scene:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 3)

Gene and Alex decide to question Sara Templeton, the leader of the RWF. With Kennedy now connected to them by Tim Price, Alex notes that Kennedy – a worker and a secret weapons lab – could be quite valuable to a left-wing group. As the two are leaving, Viv stops them to tell them that he’s cracked the code. The paper is apparently a list of old Tube station names. Sara then meets Gene and Alex at a pub, where she readily admits that she used Kennedy to get information about the weapons lab. She says that they found a document called “Artemis” that would prove that the British government was working on a neutron bomb, but that Kennedy was killed before they could actually get their hands on the document.

Hunt and Drake go back to Caroline’s house, where she admits that she knows about Kennedy and Templeton’s shenanigans, and that Kennedy’s connection to the RWF might have made him a target for British intelligence services. Alex shows Caroline the list of Tube station names. Caroline says that Edgehampton has many underground levels, and each named after a former Tube station name. Later on, at home, Alex wonders if she’s been sent back in time to save her parents, who were killed in 1981 when a bomb was planted under their car. Poor Alex – she really doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, does she?

And so – Gene and Alex do the only logical thing… infiltrate the weapons lab! Gene takes Kennedy’s ID and pastes his picture over it. Which is kind of amusing, if you think about it. Nowadays, “modern” identification cards use watermarks, holograms, RFID chips and such… and yet, all Gene needs is a photo booth picture of himself and some glue to get into a top secret military base! Anyway, Gene and Alex are successful in infiltrating the base – mostly due to Gene’s purposeful gait, I’m convinced – the two find the “Artemis” document. However, they’re almost caught when a soldier passes by. Alex, in a panic, closes the airtight vault, thus locking herself in with Gene. The two are trapped for some time, and it begins to get hot in the vault. Gene starts sweating like a pig, so he starts unbuttoning his shirt. Alex is initially repulsed, but as it gets hotter, she does the same.

INSERT GRATUITOUS KEELEY HAWES CLEAVAGE SHOT HERE:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 4)

While Gene and Alex are locked in the vault, Ray comes back from a date with “one of the commie girls”… and he’s carrying a green jumper (sweater). On his date, Ray found out that Sara had borrowed the sweater from his date, and that she (Sara) was late to the meeting the night of Kennedy’s murder. In the photographs taken of that night (which we’d seen earlier), Sara is the only one not wearing a heavy sweater or coat, as she’d given the sweater back to its owner.

Chris and Ray bring Sara in for questioning, and she breaks under their “good cop, bad cop” routine. Ray then notices the time. Knowing that Gene should have been back by now, he and Chris go to the weapons lab. Somehow (it’s never shown how) they infiltrate the lab and free Alex and Gene. They all then go back to the station, where Sara admits that she killed Kennedy, but says she did it in self defense. She slept with him to get the information about “Artemis”. He then demanded money, and when she refused he raped her. Caroline comes to the station, ostensively to defend Sara. During a talk with Alex, however, Caroline admits that the whole thing was a set-up, and that she was one that wanted the information. Which makes sense, really. Who’s the average person going to believe? A bunch of hippy-like left-wing radicals, or a well respected, but anti-establishment, lawyer? Alex, disgusted with Caroline, gives the incriminating pictures (with negatives) back to Caroline for some reason. As Alex is leaving the building, Evan comes to her and says that it’s “completely over” with Caroline. He seems to be telling her this so he can get a date with Alex, but she quickly cuts him off.

Alex and Gene meet up at Luigi’s… where they’re joined by the mysterious “Mercedes Man”, who, in fact, does work for the Security Services. The man said that he’d had his eye on Kennedy for a while, and that “something is missing” from the vault. Gene doesn’t admit to taking anything, only that they’d better fix up security at the site. The man asks Gene to return the “thing” if he comes across it. Gene locked the “Artemis” file in his desk as he was leaving for Luigi’s. Will it still be there in the morning?

MUSIC HEARD IN THIS EPISODE:

Spandau Ballet – “To Cut A Long Story Short”
Shakin’ Stevens – “Green Door”
Duran Duran – “Girls On Film”
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Enola Gay”
The Clash – “London Calling”
Human League – “Love Action”
The Teardrop Explodes – “Reward”
The Clash – “Police and Thieves”

News for 02/28/2008

Canal Street in New York City was (in)famous for being the city’s “ground zero” for counterfeit goods. Shoppers – some from out of town on organized “counterfeit shopping trips” – greedily snapped up fake Prada handbags, Patek Philippe and Rolex watches, and Dolce & Gabbana accessories. It was all there out in the open. Was. At the order of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the city has decided to crack down on the shops, closing down 32 of them. I’m certain that the fakes peddlers will just end up selling somewhere else… though I have no idea where exactly.

Good news for Type 1 diabetics: researchers at Harvard have “cured” Type 1 diabetes in mice with a cocktail of four drugs. As the linked BBC. article notes, “previously the same team at Harvard University had only been able to stop the destruction of the cells which make insulin, not regenerate them”. By adding a fourth, they’ve found a way to make mice generate their own insulin. Let’s hope that the drug combo works better than smoking-cessation drug Chantix – which has led to 37 suicides and “more than 400 reports of suicidal behavior”. There’s a disturbing account of the drug’s effects in the linked article, but I’ll post only an except here:

By night four, my dreams began to take on characteristics of a David Cronenberg movie. Every time I’d drift off, I’d dream that an invisible, malevolent entity was emanating from my air conditioner, which seemed to be rattling even more than usual. I’d nap for twenty minutes or so before bolting awake with an involuntary gasp. I had the uneasy sense that I wasn’t alone.

I think I’ll stick with smoking, thanks.

Another sign Britain is heading down the toilet: it seems that many female Muslim medics are refusing to wash their hands and arms properly in Britain… because it exposes their forearms, which is considered “immodest” in Islam. MRSA is running rampant at many British hospitals… and now some Islamic Neanderthals have decided that their religious beliefs are more important than the safety of their patients! And worse yet, “managers at Liverpool’s Alder Hey hospital are trying to negotiate with the students”. Jesus – whatever happened to the British Empire that woulda smacked this stuff down with a stiff upper lip and dry wit? Why not just throw in the towel and submit to Allah already? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the refusal to wash their hands, though – after all, this is the same religion that is going to execute a woman for witchcraft. In 2008. In Saudi Arabia – a country that has running water, electricity, Internet access and HDTV.

Big box stores like Home Depot and Lord & Taylor are hiring law firms to sue people accused of shoplifting in their stores, regardless of whether they’re convicted of anything. An example: “Miami handyman Glenn Rudge was accused of shoplifting an $8 set of drill bits at Home Depot. He thought he’d settled the matter when he showed his receipt to prosecutors and they dropped the charge. But a few weeks later, a law firm hired by Home Depot began sending him letters demanding first $3,000, then a total of $6,000, implying he’d be sued if he didn’t pay it”. It seems that Lord & Taylor took in $1 million in “civil recovery” from suspected shoplifters in a recent year. Nice to see these stores coming up with new profit centers!

And lastly for today… my favorite British tabloid, The Sun, has posted pictures from what it claims is the world’s first eyeball tattooing. As you might guess, the pictures can be considered a bit gruesome if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, so I’ve embedded a pic after the jump.

Continue reading “News for 02/28/2008”

Big Death Wednesday!

Gosh! What’s with people dying today?

First, the news hit that Myron Cope, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers broadcaster, died this morning at the age of 79. Cope was a Pittsburgh icon – as known and loved around the Steel City as Larry Munson is beloved by UGA fans. He was known for either inventing or popularizing many phrases including “the Immaculate Reception”, the “Cincinnati Bungles” (a take off on the “Bengals” football team), “Bee-uti-ful!, “Okel-dokel,” and “Double Yoi”. He is also known as the inventor of the Terrible Towel, a popular Steeler fan accessory and NFL icon. Cope was convinced that Steelers needed a gimmick for a 1975 playoff game against the Baltimore Colts; thinking that everyone could find a yellow dish towel, he urged fans to bring them to the game and wave the team on to victory. The Steelers won the game 28-10, and fans continued to bring dishcloths to the games until the Steelers released the “official” Terrible Towel just in time for Super Bowl X. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl, and many Cowboys said it was because of the towels. Cope’s son was born with autism, and so Myron gave the rights to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School in 1996. The towel has raised over $1.1 million for the school, which provides care for more than 900 people with mental retardation and physical disabilities. R.I.P. Myron!

William F. Buckley, Jr.Noted conservative commentator William F. Buckley also died today at his home in Stamford, CT. He was 82. Buckley was notable for publishing National Review, a conservative magazine I read religiously as a teenager, and hosting the show Firing Line, which I watched religiously as a teenager. He also played an important part in getting the “right-wing nutjobs” out of the conservative movement, thus making modern conservatism acceptable for mainstream America. Without Buckley’s work, it’s doubtful that Ronald Reagan even would have been elected. It’s also doubtful that politicians would see tax revenues as your money and not their birthright.

Lastly, Paul Tilley died of an apparent suicide last Friday. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his work definitely will: he was in advertising, and his “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” was one of the most popular and talked about campaign ads in the history of the IT industry. He was co-creator of McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign as well. Sadly, Tilley apparently jumped from the roof of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. No reason was immediately known for the suicide. He is survived by a wife and two children.

Hotel Babylon (Series 3, Episode 2)

Last night’s episode was all about on Valentine’s Day. Love was in the air at Hotel Babylon… as were some truly massive problems.

The episode started with Charlie, in his office, reading a damning review of Babylon’s restaurant from critic Alexander Crawfield (Nathaniel Parker). The review is all the talk of the hotel staff, and is the main topic of discussion at that morning’s staff meeting. But there’s a problem: Emily, the hotel’s new PR manager, is nowhere to be found. The staff joke about what a great job their (absent) PR person is doing. Emily is apparently running late that morning, and just when Charlie is about to get angry at her absence, she bursts through the door. She’s been doing research, you see. She has a gigantic stack of charts, graphs and data – not just about Babylon, but other restaurants, too. Charlie, impressed at her thorough research, temporarily forgets her tardiness… until she proudly announces her “solution” to the restaurant problem: hiring a celebrity chef. Charlie has always been loyal to the staff, and current head chef Adam Price (Jeremy Sheffield) has given the hotel eight years of loyal service (NOTE: mentioned repeatedly in Hotel Babylon the book, but rarely mentioned on Hotel Babylon, the TV show: Charlie got his start in hotel restaurants, so he’s sympathetic to kitchen staff). Charlie dismisses outright the idea of a celebrity chef, and also becomes furious to Emily for arranging interviews with such chefs behind his back. He dismisses the staff meeting, but tells Anna to stay.

Shortly thereafter, a “Lord and Lady Hamilton” check in to the hotel. Ben sees a note that Charlie wanted to be notified when the Hamiltons arrived, so he goes back to the meeting room – where Charlie had been making Valentine’s Day plans with Anna. Well, sort of. He was getting to that point just as Ben burst in to tell them that the Hamiltons had arrived. Charlie, trying to save face, tells Ben that he and Anna were just discussing the Hamiltons, and, to make this point, he “appoints” Anna to be the Hamilton’s “customer service executive”. Anna, needless to say, is pleased:

Hotel Babylon (S3, E2 - 01)

Anna and the rest of the staff fawn all over the Hamiltons as Charlie has a talk with Adam. It’s obvious that Adam’s in a rut (as it happens with chefs sometimes). Instead of taking the blame and promising to do better, Adam gets teary-eyed as he talks about how he has to support his wife and kids. Charlie says that although they were (are are still) mates, he’s now Adam’s manager and the Adam must do better. Adam continues to whine, thus planting the seeds of doubt in Charlie’s mind.

Meanwhile, a buff and bronzed couple check in to the hotel. Gino is convinced that they’re a “porn couple”. Tony agrees, but Jackie thinks otherwise. Yet another couple check in a few minutes later. The couple appear to be there for Valentine’s Day, but have requested a room with double beds. They are, apparently, “abstainers” and are waiting for their wedding night to have sex.

The hotel instantly fills with buzz as celebrity chef Otto Clark (Alan Davies) suddenly walks through the front door. He is there for a meeting with Emily and Charlie… which Charlie wasn’t aware of. He’s instantly mad at Emily again, for going so far as to actually have Clark in the hotel after he specifically told her that he was sticking with Adam. At the last minute, Emily, in order to save face, offers a proposal: a “cook off”. Both Adam and Otto will make up a range of dishes that the staff will judge. Whomever’s cuisine reigns supreme will get the head chef’s job. Charlie, still livid at Emily, nevertheless sees such a challenge as a good idea. Either Babylon will get a new celebrity chef, or their current chef will get the kick in the ass he needs.

As Charlie meets with Clark, Anna meets with the Hamiltons. She brings them champagne. She offers to swap mattresses for them. She’ll do, apparently, whatever it takes to make them happy – especially if it involves their young and handsome son, Gene. Anna has always been attracted to money, and when Lady Hamilton takes a shine to Anna, she becomes blind to anything else but the Hamiltons and their money.

Next up? The cook-off. And sadly for Adam, it’s simply no contest. Otto Clark’s dishes are greedily wolfed down by the staff, but Adam’s dishes sit there barely touched.

Hotel Babylon (S3, E2 - 02)

Charlie goes to have the inevitable “talk” with Adam. He doesn’t want Adam to leave, though. Otto Clark is a celebrity chef that is forever appearing on television or going on book tours. Charlie wants Adam to stay, learn from Otto and run the kitchen in his absence. Adam is almost too proud to accept the offer, but feels that he has no other choice.

Geno, still convinced that the bronze couple are in porn, offers a £50 wager to Jackie, who accepts. Geno then uses a hotel computer to search for the couple on porn websites. When he finds a live feed of a couple apparently having sex in one of the hotel’s rooms, he alerts Tony, Ben and Jackie. Sadly, the couple are wearing S&M-style masks, so they cannot be positively identified. Although the bet began as a lark, it’s now serious: Hotel Babylon cannot be known to allow people to film pornography there.

The Hamiltons stop for a rest in the hotel lobby. Lady Hamilton convinces Anna to sit with them, and Charlie spies the group, convinced that Anna is trying to flirt with Gene (she isn’t). He walks over to the couple, tells them that he’ll be their hotel contact, and orders Anna back to the front desk. The Hamiltons get up to go back to their room, but not before Lady Hamilton stops at the front desk and the two have a brief conversation about Anna’s unhappiness with Charlie. To cheer Anna up, Lady Hamilton offers to take her along on her shopping trip the next day. Anna, who loves to go shopping, happily agrees.

The next day, Otto Clark takes over the kitchen. Emily, it seems, has invited restaurant critic Crawfield back to give Babylon another chance. Charlie, as you might guess, is completely gobsmacked that Emily would do such a thing on the new head chef’s very first day. I can’t say that’d I’d argue there. Emily and James then go ’round and ’round over the restaurant’s decor, then where Crawfield will sit that evening. James wants to put Crawfield in the corner, away from the attention. Emily says that the corner is near the kitchen, and that Crawfield hates sitting by the kitchen (remember this detail, it’ll be important later). At the same time, Otto takes over the kitchen just as a new general would take over a battlefield – shouting orders and calling people names. Otto is particularly hard on Adam, so much so that when Crawfield arrives, Adam sabotages Otto by sending out rancid lobster to the restaurant critic. As kitchen staff begin to fall ill, Charlie and Otto figure out that Adam has used the bad lobster, and James is alerted just in time to divert the plates back to the kitchen. Otto has no idea of what else, if anything, Adam has sabotaged, so he starts that evening’s dinner service all over again from scratch. Even Charlie is pressed into service in the kitchen! Of course, doing this takes a lot of time, and the diners (especially Crawfield) are getting angry.

Anna, back from her shopping trip – where Lady Hamilton bought her a £4000 necklace – is over the moon. She dishes with Ben, and eventually makes her way up to the Hamilton’s room to see if there’s anything they need. She knocks on the door, but no one answers. She uses her key card to open the door… only to find the room completely empty. All of the furnishings the hotel has supplied for the Hamiltons during their stay – the fancy widescreen plasma TV set, the jewelry, the luggage, all charged to the room – is gone without a trace. Anna rushes downstairs to see if they’ve checked out. They have not. She tries running their credit card; it comes back as stolen. The Hamiltons, it seems, were con artists, and they’ve just dinged the hotel for almost £45,000.

Continue reading “Hotel Babylon (Series 3, Episode 2)”

RIGHTING THE WRONGS: Van Halen and M&Ms

The 1980s were decadent times for rock stars. Stories of bad behavior by some of rock’s finest – from trashing hotel rooms to over-the-top prima donna demands – were splashed all over the headlines. And few of those stories were as famous as the “Van Halen M&Ms” story.

In case you weren’t around during the 80s, the rock supergroup Van Halen had a clause in their concert contracts which stipulated that the band would be provided with one large bowl of M&M candies with all brown candies removed.

Once the “M&Ms” story leaked to the press, social commentators jumped all over it. Some called it an egregious example of the spoiled behavior of rock artists. Some saw it as yet another sign of the decline of Western Civilization. And to this very day, any time a story about a celebrity acting like a diva surfaces, my mom rolls her eyes, clucks her tongue, and asks if “she wants the brown M&Ms taken out of the bowl, too??”

Here’s the thing, though: the band put the “no brown M&Ms” clause in their contracts for a very good reason.

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Van Halen was one of the first rock bands to bring truly massive concerts to mid-size cities like Macon, Georgia or Tempe, Arizona. Arena staff in smaller cities were used to bands coming to town with, at most, three tractor-trailers full of equipment. Van Halen’s equipment took up nine tractor-trailers. It was a lot of stuff, and staff at these venues were frequently overwhelmed. And when people are overwhelmed, they make mistakes. At a concert, “making a mistake” during setup can make the band sound bad or it can kill someone… which is exactly what the band was afraid of.

*     *     *

At the heart of any major concert is the contract. Most of these contracts are standard legal text that varies little from performer to performer. In fact, if one were to take the core contract from a Katy Perry concert in Nevada and a Foo Fighters concert in Florida and switch the artist and state names, there’s little chance anyone would even notice.

Each band “customizes” their contracts by attaching specific demands via something called a “rider”. Each contract can have hundreds of riders, which you’ve probably heard about from some of the more outrageous requests artists have made over the years. For example, Willie Nelson requires that all his shows be smoke-free (don’t ask about Willie’s own type of “smoke”). The Beach Boys demand several Bic lighters in the backstage area, but absolutely no green ones. Country group Alabama demands that NO ANIMALS OF ANY KIND be allowed backstage. Meanwhile, animal lover Paul McCartney not only “bans” leather furniture backstage, he’s also “banned” all types of synthetic leather as well. And Prince still requires that EVERYTHING in his dressing room be covered in plastic wrap (yes, really).

Most of the riders you hear about – the bizarre or funny demands from the performer – make up a tiny percentage of the overall riders. Most riders are actually technical in nature. They’ll include the size and weight requirements for the stage, electrical and lighting needs, data and fiber optic cabling specifications, sound and video board requirements, office space requirements for tour personnel, minimum number of security personnel, etc. For instance, a rider might say something like

“Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, spaced evenly, providing nineteen amperes total, on beams suspended from the ceiling of the venue, which shall be able to support a total gross weight of 5,600 pounds each, and be suspended no less than 30 feet, but no more than 37.5 feet, above the stage surface.”

Van Halen’s concert contracts would have several hundred such demands, causing lead singer David Lee Roth to quip that the band’s contracts looked “like a Chinese Yellow Pages”.

The staff at large venues in big cities were used to technically complex shows like Van Halen’s. The band played at Madison Square Garden in New York and The Omni in Atlanta without incident. But the band kept noticing errors, sometimes significant errors, in the stage setup in smaller cities. The band needed a way to know that their contract had been read fully. And this is where the “no brown M&Ms” came in.

The band included a request for “a large bowl of M&M candies” with their backstage demands for typical things like Coca-Cola, whiskey and sandwiches. But, hidden deeply in the technical riders, the band added this clause:

“Article 126: There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation”.

That way, the band could simply enter the backstage area and look for a bowl of M&Ms. No brown M&Ms? Someone read the contract fully, so there were probably no major mistakes. A bowl of M&Ms with the brown candies? No bowl of M&Ms at all? Stop everyone and check every single thing, because someone didn’t bother to read the contract. Roth himself said:

“So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.”

The “no brown M&Ms” clause became a national news story after an “incident” at Colorado State University. The national press told a story of unacceptable behavior from the band, and how they caused $85,000 worth of damage to the arena. David Lee Roth remembers it a bit differently:

The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the contract rather kinda casual. They had one of these new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena. They hadn’t read the contract, and weren’t sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747.

I came backstage. I found some brown M&M’s, I went into full Shakespearean “What is this before me?” . . . you know, with the skull in one hand . . . and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars’ worth of fun.

The staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M’s and did eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the backstage area.

Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?

SONGS I LOVE: “Melody of a Fallen Tree”

Marie Antoinette SoundtrackI don’t remember exactly how I came across the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. I do remember looking at the track list and thinking “OK, mostly 80s music, with some baroque pieces thrown in, as well as a few tunes by new bands… It’s worth a look!”

As it turned out, the soundtrack was mostly a bust. I, of course, already owned all the 80s songs on the 2-disc album, and thanks to a “baroque phase” from a few years ago, I’m pretty much “done” with the whole pre-1750 genre. Most of the songs by “new” bands were OK, but didn’t leave much of an impression on me… most of them that is, except “Melody of a Fallen Tree” by Austin, Texas based post-rock band Windsor for the Derby. It’s one of those rare tracks that I instantly fell in love with. I threw it on my iPod Shuffle and listened to it over and over while walking, doing the dishes, etc. But my favorite story involving the song had to do with my last trip to Isle of Palms, South Carolina:

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and it was hot – not so hot that it’s not comfortable, but hot enough to remind you that you’re at the beach. Relief from the heat was provided by a constant, gentle breeze from the ocean. I was lying down on a beach towel with my back to the sand. I had my Shuffle on, but not so loud that I couldn’t hear the occasional roar of the surf or seagull overhead when the music hit a quiet point. I had been lying there for some time, and my iPod had worked its magic, randomly playing a whole bunch of tunes – mostly mellow tunes – that I wanted to hear.

You’re probably heard marijuana smokers talking about “zoning out” to a song; well, that’s exactly what I did when “Melody of a Fallen Tree” came on… only I was completely sober. I relaxed, then relaxed some more, then relaxed even more. I was completely awake and fully aware of my surroundings, yet I was so relaxed and calm that I almost feeling as if I were in a different state of existence. As the song played on, I felt my earthy cares fade away. I became fully aware of gravity pulling my back onto the sand. I could feel the existence of everything. There was everything yet nothing from the very tip of my nose, up through the sky, all the way to the very end of the Universe. I wasn’t simply a person on vacation on a beach, I was part of the everything that made up God’s creation. I felt the earth rotate through the aether, and it seemed to me that I should feel like I was on a roller coaster… but I was too calm to worry about it. I was too busy visualizing all of the uncounted trillions of atoms of everything that had made up not just me, not just the beach, not just the hotel… but all the atoms that made up Jupiter, Europa, Neptune and all the other planets outside our tiny galaxy. I saw how beautiful it was that that which made up which made the Sun and all the stars was the very same thing that made me me. Every part of me – every tiny little atom – was once nothing but dust floating through space. Though I was only 36 years old, the teeny, tiny bits of carbon that made me could have been spewed from a dying star billions of years ago and traveled across all the light years of the universe… just to make me me. And those tiny bits of carbon have been recycled over and over and over again. Perhaps one day, those bits of carbon would play a part in forming a mighty mountain. Perhaps they’d sit at the bottom of the sea for millions of years, until our Sun finally spent the last of its fuel and exploded, sending the parts of me back out into space, to float around for aeons… until those parts became someone else, somewhere else.

Right about that point – just when heaven and earth were merging into a perfectly beautiful synthesis of all things and nothing… Lisa tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m hungry! We should get lunch.”

The beautiful moment I was enjoying – a moment that felt as if it could stretch out into infinity – suddenly came crashing down around me. I snapped at Lisa – not because I was mad at her, exactly, but because I had been ripped away from such a beautiful place. But then I thought.. “you know, a fried grouper sandwich would be good right now.”

And so I left that moment on the beach, where it will stay… forever and ever.

[audio:windsor.mp3]

COOL WP PLUG-IN: Sidebar Page Sections

WordPress comes with several interesting and helpful widgets built-in. A WordPress site owner can log in to the admin panel of his or her site and click on Presentation > Widgets and add, remove or reorder several available widgets. If you don’t want the “Categories” widget on your blog’s main page, simply drag it from the sidebar mockup to the “Available Widgets” bank at the bottom of the screen, and it will no longer appear in the sidebar. If you’d prefer to have the “Recent Comments” widget appear above the “Recent Posts” widget, simply drag the Comments post above the Posts widget, and they’ll be reordered the next time you load your home page.

Perhaps the handiest widgets are “text widgets”, which, despite their name, can contain HTML code. You see the pic of Arthur Guinness at the top of the sidebar? That was created with HTML code typed into a text widget. The WIMZI widget? HTML code that was copied from AOL’s site and pasted directly into another text widget. The “I’m listening to:” and “I’m reading:” widgets? Both are single lines of HTML code pasted into text widgets.

There are two problems with text widgets, however. The first is that WordPress doesn’t give you any way to give each widget a meaningful name, so you’re stuck with widget names like “Text 1”, “Text 2” and so on. Is the WIMZI widget “Text 5” or “Text 6”? The only way to know is to actually open the widget and look at the code inside. The other problem is that WordPress, by default, only allows you to have a maximum of 9 text widgets. This may seem like a lot, but once you start playing around with things, you just might find yourself bumping up against the maximum number.

The Sidebar Page Sections plug-in fixes both of these problems, albeit in a clumsy way. You install the plug-in the same way you install any plug-in. Then you click on Presentation > Sidebar Page Sections. You’ll see three text boxes on the page that opens: the first is marked “Title Tag”, the second is “Page Sections” and the last – the one we’re interested in – is called “Named Text Blocks”. Just type in the names you’d like to give each widget (one per line, please) and click “Save Options” when done. Then click the Widgets link, and you’ll see a bunch of new widgets in your “Available Widgets” bank. Unfortunately, there’s no way to automagically copy the text from the widget “Text 5” to your new “WIMZI” widget, so you’ll need to drag the “WIMZI” widget to the sidebar, open “Text 5”, copy the text therein, paste it into “WIMZI”, then drag “Text 5” back to the bank. Oh, and you’ll also need to repeat this for all your other widgets. Like I said, it’s not pretty, but it beats constantly opening “Text 4” to see which widget it is. Oh, and you can have as many “Named Text Blocks” as you’d like with this plug-in; the 9 widget limit does not apply.

The plug-in also has a nifty feature that allows you to gather WordPress pages into “groups” that only appear when certain conditions are met. For example, let’s say you have a “Cars” page on your blog where you talk about how much you love cars. You also have several “sub pages” for each make you like, such as “Chevy”, “Nissan” and “Toyota”. If you don’t want the “make pages” showing up in your main pages list, you can create a “sub group” and tell it to only appear on the “Cars” page. That way, your front page remains clean and the make pages only show up where appropriate. Note that I haven’t tested this functionality at all.

Site Update: Plugoo Gone, WIMZI In

Just ten days I ago, I permanently swapped out the old IM Online widget for the Plugoo instant messaging widget. In the post announcing the change, I badmouthed AOL’s WIMZI, a similar widget. With egg on my face and crow in my belly, I hereby announce that I’ve swapped the Plugoo widget for WIMZI. The Plugoo widget simply took forever to load at times; although it didn’t affect the load times for the jimcofer.com home page, it still annoyed me that the widget would sit there doing nothing for (at times) up to 5 minutes before loading. I’m not a fan of AOL (or AIM, for that matter), but at least the WIMZI widget loads much faster. Again, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.

Juno Robbed!

Well, my favorite movie of the past year – Juno – was nearly shut out of this year’s Academy Awards, with Diablo Cody winning for Best Original Screenplay as its “only” award. As I predicted, No Country For Old Men mopped up: the Cohen brothers took home awards for Best Movie, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay while Spain’s Javier Bardem took home the award for Best Supporting Actor. Frankly, I’m stunned. Gobsmacked, even. In my “picks post” I said that I “needed 20 cups of coffee to make it through the movie”. To be honest, that was a bit of an exaggeration. The movie is OK, I guess. But bleak, very bleak. Juno was, in fact, the only “non bleak” movie in the running this year, and was also the only movie up for Best Picture that I’d encourage my friends to go see. Oh well…

I managed to go 9-10 this year, which doesn’t seem that bad until you realize that three of my wins are due to The Bourne Ultimatum sweeping the technical categories. Taking Bourne out of the equation, I went 6-10, which is pretty awful. But not as awful as the Tilda Swinton’s acting in Michael Clayton. Didn’t anyone in the Academy see Gone Baby Gone? Sure, the film’s ending was pretty stupid… but Amy Ryan nailed that part. I absolutely loathed her in that film, almost to the point of wanting to hit her… and that’s exactly how her character should have been played.

Daniel Day-Lewis winning for There Will Be Blood? I guess. I didn’t dislike the film, or Day-Lewis’s acting in it… It just seems that he took the “Bill the Butcher” character from Gangs of New York and toned it down a little. Viggo Mortensen, on the other hand, was incredible in Eastern Promises. Hey Academy! You realize that Viggo is American, right? That he was born in New York, right? I guess it doesn’t hurt that Viggo’s co-star in the film was Naomi Watts, who I think is just as cute as a button. Hey – you know who Naomi Watts reminds me of? Imagine if Claire Danes had grown up to be pretty… I think she’d look like Naomi Watts. Instead, Danes got uglier as time went on, then went and had some weird plastic surgery or something. Ewwwww..

Javier Bardem beat Casey Affleck for best supporting actor? Meh – I saw that one coming from a mile away.

What I didn’t see was Marion Cotillard winning for La Vie en Rose. I didn’t see the film (is it possible to have negative interest in seeing a film?), but if Ellen Page wasn’t going to win, and if Cate Blanchett wasn’t going to win, then I don’t give a damn who wins.

Is it just me, or is Helen Mirren kind of hot for a 63 year-old?

Why no Brad Renfro in the “In Memoriam” tribute? Was he not a member of the Academy? If not, what do you have to do to get into the Academy? Renfo was in 21 films, exactly 1 more film than Heath Ledger, who was included in the tribute. Hmmmm. At least ABC muted the audience applause this year. It seems like in past years the “In Memoriam” tribute had turned into “The World’s Least Tasteful Popularity Contest”.

Oh well, enough of all that. With TV getting better and better these days, I’m kind of looking forward to the Emmys on September 21 more than the next Oscars.

More on the US Anglican “deal”

On Saturday, George Conger reported that Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the United States (thereafter referred to a KJS… or “Satan”) is “backing” the proposed deal where a “conservative enclave” would be established in the United States for conservative Anglicans. However, Brad Drell is reporting that all is not what it seems with the so-called “deal”. First of all, KJS isn’t exactly “backing” the deal. She met late last week with several conservative American bishops, who essentially told her what they were doing, asserted that it violated no canon or law of the Episcopal Church, and essentially dared her to challenge them. And not only that, while this deal might be a good stopgap measure for people in conservative dioceses like Fort Worth or Pittsburgh, it does absolutely nothing for conservative Anglicans trapped in liberal dioceses (like, I don’t know… the diocese of North Carolina?). This would be a temporary solution (at best) until a new province could be formed.

Sigh. It’s lonely being an Anglican in North Carolina.