Friday, February 29, 2008

Puffed Up Or Dragged Out - The Pros And Cons Of The UK Smoking Ban

On July 1st in the UK, it will be a day like no other day - the smoking ban will hit with a vengeance, but who will benefit? You would think all of us, but you would be wrong

In the UK, we will take our final puffs of 'fresh air' as many smokers call it and stub out the very last of the ciggies in ashtrays around the country confined within four walls of any public area. For that day, smoking will be banned in all indoor public areas. The ban will eventually take us to the comfort of our own homes for a drag with very little else where to go.

Surely the results should be good, and as an ex-smoker myself (it still feels odd to say that, personally) I kicked the weed a year ago after twenty years of the addiction. I know, I can feel the slaps on my back and the warm hand shakes from here thank you, but we have to ask ourselves is getting people to pack up really the answer?

It will effect us all, man, woman and child, smoker and non smoker and anyone who thinks different should take a second look. It is an addiction we fell in love with during the War years, when the silver screen was glamorous and lovers lit up to a back drop of air raid sirens and flashes of doodle bugs hitting the streets. We read books on the subject and our pitted love affair with the cigarette lingers like the very last drag still wafting through the eternal air. Yet are we know living in a dictatorial society, where a futuristic vision will be of secret smoking and search lights after dark hunting out smokers like smoke seeking missiles and loud hailers ready to shout something similar to, "come out with your hands up!" It is certainly not as extreme as I had already thought.

Yet we are fascinated with the small stick which is becoming increasingly untouchable, like Eve and the Forbidden fruit, there are still many of us who will crave that pleasurable inhaled cocktail of chemicals - sad, but alas, true.

Yet the UK government has decided to call time on our rendezvous with rat poison and bring the final nicotine stained curtain down once and fall all. The men in black suits are the people who govern our lives and tell us what is right and what is wrong. After all, most of the time, we just take their word for it. We understand what the ban means for us as a nation and how much it will save on taxes, the NHS and medical science, but what will it mean for us as individuals. As one BBC reporter put it, "nothing in life is exempt."

How about thinking about it in a different way. If you have been or are a smoker, how did you start? The law, as it stands in the UK will force smokers out onto the streets, in the face of the passing public. Suddenly - smoke and the cigarette is now on show.

Picture this; you are with your friends at the bar, they step outside for a fag which leaves you alone with your drink. Do you go out and join them to save yourself from looking like a nerd all alone? Many would, and this is how most of us started in the first place, because our mates were doing it.

One man, Andy Hughes from the already smoke banned Scotland, had this to say,

[quote]"If the smoking ban in Scotland had not been introduced I would still be a non-smoker. I started because I was being left in pubs and clubs alone for long periods of time, while the rest of my group were outside chatting and having a smoke. I put up with it for a few weeks but in the end I decided to join them. Being an asthmatic, I had always been against smoking. I never used to let anyone smoke in my car or house. When someone smoked in my company in a pub, I couldn't wait until they had finished their cigarette. It was still something I had a real dislike of and a habit I considered to be disgusting. Now I'll regularly smoke up to 20 cigarettes on a night out. I still don't smoke when not out having a drink and I hope it stays that way. There's no doubt a lot of good has come from the smoking ban, it's a lot more pleasurable having a drink in a smoke-free atmosphere and I'm sure healthier for bar staff and non-smokers, but for myself it has come at a price." [/quote]

It is certainly worth thinking about. I guess most of us would not want to believe that man's story and yes, there will be the very few who will probably be the same as him. Very few, I say again, but all the same, an added number.

We go back to the previous idea of the vision of the future of people being reduced to smoking at home. Instead of waiting until the baby sitter has arrived, they will light up at home, where many of them have children. The dangers of passive smoking then irrupts from within the home instead of the confines of the local boozer. What do you make of this theory? True? Surely if we are to protect anyone with this ban, it has got to be the future generations, never mind ourselves. We are all adults with our own minds. If someone wants to go to an early grave, then let them. Just don't take the children first.

What will the ban do to Global Warming? There seems to be now where to run to in conversation without someone bringing up the GW words. We can't turn on the TV without something like the polar caps melting or increasing hot summer weather to deal with to make us all feel bad. As if we have enough to deal with on a daily basis anyway, so again, we look at the effect of the future generations - picture this again; everyone is at the same pub. You have either joined your friends inside or out, it doesn't matter right now, so the entire pub is outside smoking away and puffing up into the atmosphere a cloud big enough to send vast communities for miles around into a sea of panic. Need I go on?

Would we really think that it would have any effect on jobs and employment other than a few thousand Benson and Hedges workers finally throwing in the towel and walking out. Chefs, yes chefs are cashing in on the ban. According to one UK employment agency,, the demand for chefs has increased around the pub circuit since the ban was announced last Christmas.

Pubs are feeling the need to keep the drinkers. Smoking and drinker are old friends and such friends will never part, or will very reluctantly, so pubs can't get enough chefs to make dishes wonderful enough to entice the drinker back in to the bar. Many heavy smokers will give up on the pubs all together and reach for the local 'off licence' instead for their booze.

And finally, the worst of all cannibal predators - the paparazzi.

Many celebrities smoke, either to keep their weight down, look cool (still, it works for some) and generally cope with the pressure of the press, and it is the latter who will be waiting for them when they step outside their favourite haunt for a few puffs. Click, click, flash, flash. There's another scoop for the front page, and no doubt, it will keep the likes of us employed for a few more years before these wondrous stars kick the habit and step instead to join the rest of the world who have long since given up on the weed....

Happy writing everyone...

PJ 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Wizard Of Oh! The Life And Writings Of Christopher Lloyd

It occurred to me only the other day that we don't give our writers enough credit these days. If I have to hear my husband go on about how Bob Monkhouse should have been knighted, I may have well thrown up, yet he has a point. Sir Bob is not the only one who has popped off to the great Sunshine Club in the sky - we should have had Sir Peter Sellers, Sir Tony Hancock and even Sir Graham Chapman, so why is it that we just don't give our writers the attention we deserve? Notice there is a link between these great men, and not just the fact they are men - they are comedy writers and it's the word "comedy" that we have such a problem with...

I was trying to think of a similar comic genius from the States, with regard to writing capabilities and it hit me - as a avid fan of the long suffering Frasier, I had know from an early age that behind the cross between Seattle's elite and an English Country Estate who is Dr Frasier Crane, there is a Christopher Lloyd itching to jump out - no surprises there, but would we be surprised if we realised that it is the same man who was behind the silver haired dollies, we loved as The Golden Girls? Surely that takes some sort of genius - or at least be in touch with his feminine side - the same man, writing for men and then for women - can you find a similarity between Frasier and the Golden Girls? I'm buggered if I can....

Christopher Allen Lloyd was born in Stamford in Connecticut in 1938. He has starred in over 60 films between the years of 1975 to present date. He is a phenomenon – he appears to us like a friendly made scientist who has the childlike charm and inquisitiveness of a baby yet has all the wisdom of a wizard – all knowing and all giving. He makes you feel safe when flying around in a time machine and you believe him that everything is going to be okay and that Marty McFly will always get back to 1985, time and time again, no matter what happens. He is a showman, a craftsman who has given us magical and timeless characters on screen himself or as ones of equal importance he has created himself to be played by others. He is a tireless figure in Hollywood, constantly working and creating more magic than Jim Henson.

Tall, lanky and with arms almost as long as his legs, he has inspired all those over the age of fifty to keep working and most important of all – keep dreaming. His wide-eyed gasp of shock, bewilderment and sheer disbelief about everything known to man is how we are presented with Jim from the hit series, Taxi.

He has played them all – the very good and the very bad, but when you have trained effortlessly in theatre before being eclipsed in film, you know how to work an audience, steal the best shot and covert the best line – the lights upon you will light you only – you have to do the rest and that is what we get from Lloyd.

Following acting at the tender age of 14, he had decided then that to do another job for the rest of his life would be criminal. He was shy and painfully at that so that act would be merely a cover up. He is outrageous both in himself and in his characters; he also projects this into his writing which, in my mind has given us the very bets of him. He drudged around the local theatres working for a dime most nights, finely tuning his craft of improvisation and technique. Eventually moving to New York where all the greats felt drawn and to the Actors Studio in particular, he studied and eventually landed himself a place on Broadway in Red, White and Maddox, in 1969.

He ventured into Shakespeare, where he found his voice – he boomed to the back row with such vigour that this soon landed him roles were he would utilise his voice just as much as he would use is body. In 1973, his work paid off and he won an award for his character in Kaspar.

Perhaps his finest moment to date might have been his very first – working his way into the depths of film, he landed himself a supporting role in 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson. Playing in front of the camera is hard enough for an amateur but when the part is of a mental patient, the weight is really on the shoulders. This, over the nest couples of years landed him the regular role of Jim, the driver you wouldn’t get in a cab with and ex druggie still hallucinating all these years later, in Taxi in 1978 and the rest was history, at least until 1983, and two Emmys later.

Two years later he was cast as Doc Brown in the BTTF trilogy along side a fairly unknown Michael J Fox. Since then he has remained as private and has shied away from interviews and will only work with companies who will not insist on him appearing in public. He is still the wizard of the movies and we still love him....

2008 mduffy

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Stack Another Orchestral Layer On Top, Why Not!

Journey’s tour of duty from progressive rock to pop rock didn’t reach its peak until the mid eighties when after the heights found by the release of ‘Raised On Radio,’ (May 1986), the band suddenly and very surprisingly split deciding individually to follow solo pursuits. The beginning of their ‘journey’ started with the release of two albums. The self titled, ‘Journey’ in April 1975 and the quickly followed ‘Look Into The Future,’ in January 1976. The birth of the rock band from San Francisco, California was introduced to the public with strong ‘art rock’ themes. A swathe of guitars and mixed strangled keyboards were the fore front of frightening fast drum rhythms that were the basis of their primitive progressive roots. Using experimental guitar riffs and collaborating different textures of sound, it was doubtful, at first as to were the band was heading musically. Their ‘Look Into The Future’ album was a definitive soup of grungy, depressingly loud hard rock and light ,airy soft rock pop.

Formed in 1973, a few line up changes had taken place under the guidance of manager Walter Herbert. Once a road manager for Santana, he had not been a strange, unknown face to the band as vocalist, Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon were both ex Santana members, in fact it was Rolie who had co founded Santana with Carlos Santana only a couple of years previously. By the time ‘Look Into The Future’ had been released, guitarist, George Tickner had left the band. (The rather famous vocalist Steve Perry didn’t join until 1978, the man who gave the band their supreme, unique sound.) Liverpool born Aynsley Dunbar replaced Prairie Prince on drums who subsequently went on to a successful career with The Tubes. Ross Valory, however, remained sturdy on bass who, incidentally once was a firm member of The Steve Miller Band.

Originally named ‘The Golden Gate Bridge,’ an unusual rock band title, they were advised shortly after forming to change their name by Herbert who decided on a public vote through a local radio station. A name for a rock band should be just one word, but never more than two. With one name, they could be easily remembered and recognised, and besides, ‘The Golden Gate Bridge’ sounded ridiculous, thus, Journey was born. Not, however, the only time that the music industry has called for the help of the viewing or listening public. More recently, Wet Wet Wet asked the public’s help when choosing the name for their album which was decided upon someone calling in with ‘Popped In Souled Out.’ I now promise not to mention Wet Wet Wet again in this review…(!)

So here’s the ‘Look Into The Future’ album, and we start off with the cover. Brightly orange with a large paperweight in the middle, the scene is looking through one doorway after another (the same effect when looking into a mirror in front of another.) Our four members are in a hazy blue as though Scotty is about to beam them onto an unknown planet to save the world from the dreaded cling ons. With all the visual trappings for a progressive rock group stuck in the mid seventies, our members are splendidly clad in enormous perms and somewhat shiny jumpsuits. Hoorah for prog rock fashions…!

Released by CBS, we will only encounter eight tracks on the entire album. This is pretty much a standard role call for a progressive rock album. Not very well known in the U.K, this particular album doesn’t seem to be noted as being a position holder in the U.K chart at the time of release. In fact, British releases didn’t appear until 1982. Albums up until now had only been recognised by the U.S charts. Only four albums released between March 1982 and May 1986 managed to swim across to our shores and only a pathetic two singles appeared over here throughout their career. The first one, ‘Don’t Stop Believen’.’ only scraped in at number 42 and stayed in the charts for a very short month. It will probably be not surprising that a lot of you will wonder who on Earth Journey are…

Despite the efforts of Journey to please the crowd around them in the seventies, it wasn’t until their album, ‘Infinity’ released in 1978 that they finally found superior rock band status. When this album went platinum, they thought that they could go no further and the future was bright. Actually it wasn’t, when celebrating their good fortune on this album, Aynsley Dunbar was escorted, shall we say, out of the studio due to indifferences with other members of the band. I felt that there was always an underlying resentment for Dunbar as his career to date when joining the band read more like a Who’s Who in the rock world. Journey’s and Herbert’s financial asset, Nightmare Productions took Dunbar to court over overpaid wages to the tune of sixty thousand dollars, but Dunbar shot back and managed to successfully sue Nightmare Productions for 3.25 million dollars for a long list of angst’s including unfair dismissal from the band. Nightmare productions, in every sense it would seem…

Although Journey are now far from our minds, their influence is still felt in rock bands today. Very much of their time, their biggest followers were bands around in the mid seventies to mid eighties the same as them. It is quite a debate as to what might have happened if Journey had stayed together. Perhaps not quite the same status as Pink Floyd, but they wouldn’t have been far away from it. For those who dote on their aging progressive rock, you would certainly not need to be told about this album. For those who fancy finding out where Spinal Tap came from, then move the dusty records up an inch and make room for a rock band who needs to be remembered…

©M.Duffy originally published in 2006 at -