Sunday, 2 April 2017

DMZ Book 1: On The Ground (#1-5)

"I'm holding a camera!  It's just a camera!" - Matty Roth

So this month my blog celebrates it's third birthday.  Many thanks to all who read and comment, you are loved.  Anyway this blog started out loking at a series, with my posts on Cerebus the Aardvark, so I think it's time to do another one.  This time it's DMZ, a comic that ran between 2005 and 2012 for 72 issues, collected in 12 volumes, by writer Brian Wood and artist Ricacardo Burchielli (although he doesn't draw every single issue).

The big idea behind DMZ is that in the near future, five years previously a movement rose up in the south of the USA that became the "Free States" Movement, it formed its own government in Montana and it soon came into conflict with the main government.  War broke out and garnered much support as it swept up through the country, absorbing defecting National Guardsmen and their armouries as it went.  Soon it reached New York where it finally came to a halt at the island of Manhattan, which had been hastily and disasterously evacuated.  Unfortunately around 400,000 people were still left inside there when it was sealed off and with the Free States at one end, and the US army at the other, both stalemated there, the people of the DMZ struggle daily for survival in a warzone more familiar to us as being in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Our main character is newbie journalist Matty Roth, dropped into the DMZ and left there by accident who decides to stay and chronicle the lives of people inside there, and he remains the viewpoint character for most of the series.  Without further ado then, let's start with the first volume "On The Ground".
The story starts with a broadcast from USA biased Liberty radio on the current uneasy ceasefire in the DMZ.  Taking advantage of this fact they are flying in a veteran journalist called Ferguson to cover it, with military escort.  Waiting at the office is intern Matthew Ross, he is swept up by the journalists and soldiers, with Ferguson saying Matty's dad pulled soe strings to get him in on the ground with this piece.  Matty is given a press pass and told, "have this with you at all times. With a little luck it'll keep you safe."  He also has to sign contracts that make him liable for the gear he is given then he is on the chopper heading for Manhattan.

As they fly in he is given the situation in there by a friendly soldier called Colbert.  The DMZ is a "fucked up place".  There is "zero fucking security... except what the locals set up on their own." Rules change, from block to block, from neightbourhood to neighbourhood.  And as for the Free Staters:

Colbert: "Don't assume nothing. 'Cause everything you've heard is true.  All those rumours and urban myths about the enemy.  It's all fucking true".

They land and Colbert grumbles that it's the first time he's seen his block in five years.  Now it is burned out and covered in grafitti.  They all disembark, but before Ferguson can start his interviews, someone opens fire on the group.  In a panic they all scramble for the chopper, but Matty who was some wayaway is left behind.  But he's actually lucky because the next thing that happens in the chopper explodes.
Matty and the exploding helicopter.
Matty somewhat panic stricken goes to find the downed chopper and finds a smoking heap.  Then someone shoots at him and he hides behind some wooden pallets. "Yo! What the hell are you doing here?" comes a woman's voice.  Matty sees a punky looking black woman looking down the barrel of a pistol and faints.  "Huh, wasn't expecting that to happen" she says looking thoughtfully at him.

Later he wakes up, he's in a warm comfortable room and food is being cooked.  The punky woman took him home to her place and he was out of it all night, she was kept awake by his work phone which kept ringing.  Matty snatches the phone off her and answers the call.  A frustrating phonecall ensues.  He tells them what happened to Ferguson and the helicopter and is grilled on whether their equipment and bodies are still there.  Matty demands to know how they'll get him home.  They tell him to get to the extraction point.

He's told where to go, it's only a few blocks away and to be careful, "the ceasefire is probably blown to shit so you're now in an active warzone".  It goes on to tell him "anyone you see is a potential hostile" and he needs to get to the extraction point pronto.
Matty gathers up his things, the punky woman insists on coming with him.  She's known locally and so he'll be safe being seen with her.  She runs a little clinic here.  They arrive at the downed chopper to see it being looted.  Matty wants to know why, she says they'll sell it back to the US Army, or the Free States.  Matty is surprised, "they'd just help the enemy like that?"  She responds that "your sides don't mean much around here.  Everyone feels like the enemy to us."

He starts snapping photos which gets the attention of a scary looking woman.  She gives the punky woman a name "Zee" and she asks why Matty is taking photos.  Zee tells him to stop and snatches his camera away saying he's being disrespectful. He explains he was part of a news crew and she pshaws him, they didn't want attention from the likes the mainstream media.

Matty tries to explain that they get told so much stuff about life in the DMZ, people accept it without question that it's mainly insurgents. 

Zee: "That figures. Ignorance wins everytime. That's why your stupid fucking war will never end."

Then when Matty says they are coming to secure the crash site and pick him up.  She starts to run saying that's not what securing means.  He runs after her and choppers hove into view and bomb the shit out of the crash site killing several people nearby.

Zee: "You people don't know shit about us.  You punish us for your own fuck-ups.  We just live here! Why can't you understand that?"

On the phone the person at the other end asks he is at the extraction point?  Matty looks at the phone and silently discards it and walks away with Zee as the phone plaintively asks where he is?
Things that make you go Boom.
We start the next chapter with an look inside Matty's mind.  Over an image of destruction he thinks that "I just wanted a ride home, and look what happened."  Zee arrives and starts working as Matty's official tour guide to her small section of the DMZ.  She starts with the downers, all the touristy bits of the city are gone, "I mean the locations still exist, but they aren't places you'd wanna visit anymore."

But the Empire State Building is still standing.  No one knows how, intruders get tossed out of the windows.  The parks are "fucking gauntlets"  Shopping malls are black market areas.  "But life goes on ya know?  You hungry?" she asks him.  They visit a roof garden and restaurant, everyone is eating delicious vegetarian food.  When Matty confesses people outside of the DMZ think they live on rats and pigeons Zee is outraged.  She says this is the type of thing he should be reporting on.

She then takes him to an apartment with a bed ridden kid minus his arms.  Zee tends to him while Matty realises the boys wounds are fresh, and they probably came from his rescue attempt. "I feel like throwing up" he thinks.  As they leave, Matty asks why the arene't in hospital.  Zee says the insides of the hospitals are "like something out of a fuckin' horror film".
Healthcare in the DMZ.
Matty asks of there is a lot of homecare, and Zee says yes.  There are a lot of sick kids from the bad water although they have people working on that. They climb the fire escape up another building, Matty asks why they aren't taking the stairs and Zee says they are booby trapped.  Matt has a lot to take in as he climbs and ruminates on what he has learned:

Matt: "'Life during wartime' might as well be in another country.  I'm fucking lame. How do people deal with this shit so well? ...People back home seriously have no idea."

They enter an upstairs room and Zee introduces Matty to a sniper.  He is jovial as he tells them he is ex-US Army who watches over his patch and if he sees bad things happening he can warn the locals.  He also exchanges fire and flirtatious messages written on signs with a Free States female sniper who is also his long distance girlfriend.  Matty realises this would be great interview material and the sniper agrees to talk to him. "Pretty cool right?" grins Zee.

Later Matty wonders to himself about how love made "both of them traitors. Neither of them cares."  It would be a cliche if it was true, "love bridging the gaps of war."

Matty: "I've only been here two days. What else is out there? And what's that information worth?  The real question is, will the network accept what I send them.  Or with they just call in another air strike?"

He realises he is the only journalist active in the DMZ, he's sent two stories to Liberty News.  One about the lovestruck snipers and one about Zee, "the human face of the war".
Matty has the worst boss.
He tentatively calls the network.  They asks if he's a hostage and he says of course not.  Then they tell him it's not actually his job to be reporting in the DMZ.  He was Ferguson's assisstant and obviously that job has been cancelled.  He yells at them a bit and they agree his two stories have potential, but maybe something with more "omph" could be reported on.  They then tell him that the US Army is going to invade Lower Manhattan, "You really think you can do this?  Here's your fucking shot."

Off the coast the missiles fly as the US Army get ready to land.  Watching from a secure location close by is Matty.  But the army find him and strip him naked, before telling him he looked like a sniper and they weren't made aware of friendly press in the area, "get dressed and hurry the fuck up.  You're coming with us."

Squads of soldiers move through the streets, one squad murders a family of four that Zee tries to attend to. She sarcastically sends "compliments to your bosses."  She starts writing and one of the soldiers  gets in her face, but is told to back off.  Matty is thrust forwards and told, "This is: 'insurgent cell defeated en route to engage Amercian forces' or something, whatever.  And crop out the small bodies."  Then a bomb hits, knocking Matty, Zee and the soldiers flying.
Matty gets blown up a lot.
Matty recovers and starts taking pictures.  One of the soldiers comes out of cover and yells "Hello Manhattan! Remember me, you ungrateful fucks?  I'm the motherfuckin' king of New York!"  The sergeant tells Matty the soldier won't be shot at until one of them goes to get him, so Matty will go out there because he's press.  He spray paints "PRESS" on Matty's jacket in white, then sends him out on pain of death.

But Zee gets there first.  She declares she is not armed and starts checking the soldier's wounds.  When Matty gets there she tells him to bugger off, "I leave you for ten minutes and next thing I see you've hooked up with these psychopaths."  Matty says it wasn't his choice, he has a literal gun to his head. Zee and Matty start walking the man back to cover when his head explodes, much to the distress of the other soldiers.  Disgusted Zee walks off and her parting words to Matty are "Go back home!"

The next couple of pages take place in Matty's churning thoughts.  He stayed in cover until dark and thinks about turning on his cellphone and asking for them to get him "the fuck out of here".  He is totally alone here and could be back home in a couple of hours. He sits at thinks...

We then get a report from Liberty News on the invasion.  They talk it up as a great success, as well as admitting they have been getting "anonymous" text and pictures from inside the DMZ.  Then we cut to Matty thinking, he "got the job".  He is now an offical reporter on life in the DMZ.

Matty: "Tomorrow there'll be more fighting, but right now, even after hours of shooting, it feels like a million miles away.  This city has a way of changing every few blocks.  Something new around every corner... I'll worry about tomorrow when it comes."

Next chapter sees winter come to the DMZ and Matty goes to Central Park to investigate.  The place is almost devoid of trees, then a group of men in winter gear appear and shoot him with a traquilizer dart and carry him off to their base. Matty wakes up in a bamboo forest and with a panda for company.  He's let out of the pen and goes to meet with the leaders of this mysterious group.
The mystery men of Central Park.
They are "caretakers", many of them groundskeepers, many worked for the parks department and the zoo itself.  They want to know what Matty was doing stumbling around the Park.  Matty turns on his recorder and says it's because he heard rumours of "ghosts" of soldiers wandering the city and carrying out vigilante actions.  He knows ghost aren't real, but soldiers might have gone AWOL and where better place to hide than Central Park. The assembled men burst out laughing, then tell him to turn the recorder off.

The leader - Soames  - say they are, "enviromentalists.  Outdoorsmen.  Scientists.  Some people would even call us Treehuggers".  Matty is then given the official tour which he can photograph.  They are a fully independant community, all gas, electricty and plumbing is generated on-site.  They are underground because when the shit went down during the evacuation of Manhattan and afterwards they pulled the roof in over their heads and with a combination of solar panels, natural light and instant greenhouses it works brilliantly.
How to make a zoo self sufficient.
They grow peat to burn in the winter, they have a chicken nursery, eggs, cheese, milk, even meat on special occasions.  All fully organic.  The "biggest breakthrough has to be the bamboo" the Soames says.   They grow tonnes of the stuff.  They build  with it, barter with it and even eat it, "it's fucking amazing".  He tells Matty that he could spread the word about the bamboo, they have more than they need, "we want the world to know someone is taking care of the park and the animals and maybe we'd get some help."

Matty is resistant to the idea of making a "commercial" for them.  Soames says one day the war will be over doesn't he think people will want the park to still be there when it happens?  Matty says will do a deal, he'll do a story on them with no inteference and they also take him out on patrol.

The patrols are to try and protect what's left of the trees in the park.  People have been burning them for fuel.  How long will it be before Soames expands his patrols to try and protect more than Central Park thinks Matty?  "How do you sweet talk a person into freezing to death for an idea?" he wonders to himself as he walks the park with some of Soame's men.

As they walk, Matty's guide fills them in on where they are and what gangs they have problems with.  Then foragers are spotted, and the Outdoorsmen send in the drones which fires on the people trying to cut down a tree.   Then it drops a clusterbomb which outrages Matty. "They kill us, so we kill them" responds Soames.

Then the foragers retaliate by riding up on snow-skis and firing at them. One of the men tackles Matty to the ground to keep him safe but gets a bullet in the back for his bravery.  The foragers leave, and the dying man, Miller, gives Matty a key to his mother's old place.  It's empty but secure.  He pleads with Matty to just tell their story but:

Miller: "Don't put this.... in the story, OK? ... but Soames lied to you... we are the ghosts..."

Matty says quietly, "I know you are" as Miller dies.  Another victim of the kill or be killed mentality of some of the DMZ.
What a senseless waste of human life.
The final chapter in this volume starts with Manny monologuing internally again.  It's three weeks since he took up residence in Miller's mother's apartment. It's in a place called "Stuy Town", it's a closed community that sometimes gets power rerouted from the city grid. 

When the lights come on he juices up his gear and tunes in the radio.  Not to listen to Liberty News, but "the pirate station's where it's at".  There is also Radio Free Jersey, "but there's only so much Springsteen I can take."  The hour of power is the greatest thing, if they could do it with the water he'd have nothing to complain ab... he turns and someone kicks in his door hitting him in the face and knocking him down.  When he comes to he realises his most valuable item has been stolen.  His "PRESS" jacket.

Matty: "That jacket's my life. Something that stops sniper fire is worth way the fuck more than a laptop." 

And he leaps into action chasing after the guy, especially when he realises his press badge has also be taken.   As he runs, he thinks on how screwed he is, the jacket can be faked but the badge, "the badge is what keeps me alive.  Gets me access, gives me cred".
Yes fucked indeed.
There then ensues a long chase sequence as Matty bumps into various colourful characters of the DMZ.  Finally he runs into Zee after being punched by a man who was told by the thief that Matty was the imposter.  Zee confirms his identity but she is still pissed about the incident with the soldiers and Matty leaves.

He gets back on the tail of the thief who is heading north-west.  Soon he end up in no-mans-land and the theif is sat there mocking him as Matty gets fired upon.  Then a huge explosion knocks the thief of his perch and Matty finally gets to him.  But the theif panics and runs to the Lincoln Tunnel which just so happens to be held by the Free State Army.
A thief and a dick.
The thief tells the men stationed there that Matty is crazy and chasing him all over the city for no reason.  The leader addresses him as Mr. Roth and asks if this is true.  Matty is surprised they know him, the man says they get Liberty News there as well.  He tells the thief to give Matty his jacket and badge back or he'll have five snipers fire on him. The leader invites a grateful Matty to come do a story on them one day, "do a story on some genuine, home-grown, flag-burning, good ol' American turn-coats, you're welcome.  We ain't going nowhere."

And that brings the first collection to an end.  So in five issues we have had deftly set-up life in the DMZ, the range of characters living there, been introduced to characters we'll be finding a lot more about as the series continues and been provided a political situation with a history still to be properly told. We#ll be finding out more about just how the Free States were able to make such headway against the US Army and what their political principles are. Of course the whole notion is preposterous.  I mean imagine an America where people are so disillusioned with the mainstream political establishment and it's Presidential figurehead that they rise up in protest and civil unrest.  Aahahahahahaha, haha, ha.  Look honestly I had this series written into my schedule long before the Mango Mussolini was even elected the Republican candidate.  I'm not trying to be precious with my timing of this or anything.  Anyway, Brian Wood has created a world that already feels very "lived in" and a lot of that can be put down to the excellent artwork of Riccardo Burchielli.  He has a very slightly cartoon style that gives faces lots of depth of emotion but not so cartoony that it makes light of the heavy subject matter.  It's a great and gritty combo the two of them make and an excellent way to kick off the series.  Join me in a few days for volume two.


  1. Was 75 issues some kind of Vertigo standard? Example Sandman, Lucifer, The Unwritten (I think), Shade the Changing Man was around that too. O.o

    I know... My priorities are strange.

  2. Yey, new post!

    Whilst I'm digesting this you may be interested that theyre discussing suicide squad and the darker edgy thing over on Mammoth.

  3. @Malitia: between 50 and 75 seems the default Vertigo length. Ex Machina ran for around 50 issues plus minis, Preacher for 60 odd plus minis.

    @Alan: Yes, my fingers stopped hurting finally. I checked that discussion on Mammoth, don't have a huge amount to contribute that hasn't been said. I did enjoy Suicide Squad more than most, but mainly as a way to get us a Harley movie that hopefully takes a leaf out of Deadpool's book. Otherwise I am waiting on Wonder Woman to save the DC Cinematic Universe for me.

  4. @Alan

    Just my luck. I checked on the conversation and what greeted me?


    The Spider-Woman ass cover!

    So I take it, fake geek trolls still didn't let it go despite that it happened two years ago. *facepalm* Even the relaunch of that series is finished by now... can't they find something newer and more relevant?

  5. @Malitia, who did that cover? It looks like a Greg Land one, but the hips are a bit more generous than he usually likes to draw them. I just look at that image and think about how painful it must be for her having her costume ride up her crack that badly.

  6. @varalys.
    Milo Manara. He is an erotica artist, who was an incredibly tonedeaf choice* for one of Marvel's "let's appeal to women" books... even if it was just a variant.

    Also the actual cover was Greg Land. Yeah. ^^; I'm sorta surprised that book lasted as long it did.

    * Actually the only mainstream book he was ever a good fit for was the Desire one shot in Endless Nights.

  7. The series was these (two because a damn Secret Wars relaunch happened):

  8. @Malitia, cool thanks for the info. I must admit I am only familiar with Land's work via the tumblr "Fuck No Greg Land". He's an artist I loathe not as a feminist, his porn faces and bad poses affect his drawings of men just as much, but as someone who deeply appreciates comicbook art. At least Liefeld's stuff is genuinely funny.

  9. You're welcome.

    Yeah. I had some more run-ins with Land's "art" and the only place I didn't feel it was insufferable was Ewing's Mighty Avengers run for some odd reason (thank gods he left that title after one arc anyway).

  10. I've only just forgiven you for introducing me to that site where people try to replicate those comic covers. I can only presume you get kickbacks from osteopaths.

    But, to the story at hand: took me some time to marshall my thoughts. I really liked this and I know why but it's hard to articulate. I'll give it a go though. It's a 'realism' thing again, but a particular aspect. What I like in fantasy military stories is when they accurately reflect the nuances of what actually occurs in war zones. So not everything is black and white. There's not necessarily an 'always evil' big bad. What especially resonated here then was that his press pass actually counted for something. There were people who'd shoot him on sight, but most people respected it. He was sort of abandoned by his own side, but that was just an exigency thing, it wasn't the classic 'mwahaha betrayal' and they did sort of show some concern for him afterwards. And just generally it's a sort of apocalyptic hellhole but it's not an absolute one where everything can kill you instantly so all your escapes are miraculous.

    I'm probably rambling a bit, but it's like how after Stalingrad the population emerged from the rubble. They had been having lives of a sort whilst all the fighting was going on. It's always almost unbelievable that people can survive in war zones, but they do. People in Somalia still managed to buy stuff and take care of themselves and their families. This story really gets that, and indeed it's expressly a plot point in the narrative. It's a very convincing account of how such a scenario could play out.

    That's what I like about this. I'm less bothered about 'how they got there'. We could have an interesting discussion about the probabilities of the U.S. getting to that position. But that's almost irrelevant. It's how they actually cope assuming somehow that had been the case.

    Everything just seems so authentic. Even the way the media operates (both 'mainstream' and 'pirate'). I'd love to see a review of this by someone who'd worked as an embedded reporter or just a war correspondent generally. See what they think.

    I like the characters too. They're just so plausible. And of course it's the classic 'you want to know what happens to them'. So they tick a very important story telling box.

    Yeah, so nicely written and plotted and complemented by pretty decent artwork that really suits the tone of the story.

    9/10 Would forage on the black market again.

  11. Cool glad you like it because it's all I'll be writing about for 2 months!

    Yeah the Second Civil War and the ideology of the Free States stays pretty nebulous, it really keeps the focus on the inhabitants of the DMZ the different ways people have of coping, both good and bad and it's also a story about how long a journalist can stay embedded in a conflict zone before he/she starts losing their objectivity.

    From what I have read Wood initially wanted to do a sort of non-fiction comic set in Afghanistan or Iraq but knew (sadly) that it probably wouldn't be an easy sell. So bringing it to the USA's doorstep of course makes readers more likely to empathise and wonder how they would cope in that situation, while simultaneously making the points about life in foreign conflict zones he originally wanted to make.

    Also I love the self sufficient Central Park Zoo. I know you don't approve of zoos but at least the men, who are blatantly AWOL soldiers, took responsibilty, dug in and are trying to make a difference by trading bamboo. We'll meet quite a few communities that sprang up after the DMZ was sealed off, some scarier than others.

    Of course you can tell this series started before Youtube and social media and everyone having photo and net connected phones. Makes Matty more unique as a journo there. It would be hard to believe him being the only source of news inside the DMZ a decade later....

  12. Re: zoos and war

    There's a tale of a famous mathematician (so famous I can't remember his name) during WW2 who never bothered going into the air raid shelters. When asked why he always responded "There are 4 million people in this city. What are the odds of me being bombed?"

    One night though he did turn up and was asked what had changed his mind. "There are 4 million people in this city and one elephant. Last night they bombed the elephant."

    But people keeping zoos running in wars is a good example of the 'normality' thing I mentioned. Whilst not keen on zoos, my animal rights circle does make a point of supporting people who keep looking after animals during conflicts. So I found the scenario in the comic quite authentic. There's a zoo in Gaza for example.

    Yeah, now it would just be people Tweeting what was going on. You may recall that paper I sent you though that referred to the US military acknowleding the potential for real time non controlled reporting as early as the 70s.

    Journalistic objectivity is another interesting factor. I could harp on about that for ages. Remember all the controversy over the 'collateral murder' video and the French team who filmed the Taliban launching a rocket attack on coalition forces?

    So the comic does reflect the reality of such situations very well, and I think that's why it's so appealing.

  13. They bombed the elephant?! The cads. Bad enough my poor old grandmother and her husband were stuck in London during the Blitz, but the zoo got bombed too? Bet that hit morale. And my Granny told me once that Blitz Spirit was something invented later on. At the time they were miserable, stressed, she even said she lost hope herself that we would win. And rationing was worst for Londoners, she said it might have officially been one egg a week, but one time she didn't see an egg for six months. I also thought psychologically it was why she had such a sweet tooth, you couldn't open a draw without some sort of box of chocolates or bag of candies falling out. So having heard her stories of that time (sadly she is deceased now) does make for an interesting comparison to living in a DMZ.

    As for zoos and war, I am always heartened by stories of people banding together to keep everything fed and cared for and not let the animals be slaughtered for food.

    I don't want to get ahead of stuff that I'm going to cover soon, but it was an astute move by Wood making Matty a newbie and a originally just the photographer only on the mission because his dad, a high up at the Liberty network, got him on the team. He's literally learning how to be a journalist as he goes. On the one hand he's not jaded and has an insatiable desire to improve himself. On the other hand his objectivity does lose its way in places when forced to make deals with devils in pursuit of a story.

    There are also single issues sprinkled through the series that provide background on other characters he meets like Zee who we find out the backstory to the disastrous Manhattan evacuation through that'll be covered in my next post when Biff will allow me to write it up, he's a real laptop keyboard hog right now.

  14. In all fairness I don't think they were aiming for the elephant, they're just a big target.

    Yeah the spirit of the Blitz is a bit of a myth. Unsurprisingly people were terrified and there was a lot of what we'd now call PTSD. Also plenty of people took the opportunity for crime. Looting was rampant. But myth often becomes the collective consciousness afterwards. (WW1 wasn't all trench warfare, Vietnam wasn't all jungle fighting etc. Even today you have more chance of being killed as a member of the US Diplomatic Corp than in the US military.)

    Even rationing to bring your gran into this. It's true that the UK population was at its healthiest and a lot of that was down to the enforced cleaner diet, bit what's often forgotten is that for a lot of the population rationing meant an *increase* in calories. This was just after the great depression remember. Malnutrition was a major problem with new recruits.

    And to tie back into our actual topic of war reporting. Remember the iconic picture of the monk setting himself on fire in Vietnam? For five points, what was he actually protesting?

  15. Granny was born in 1913, so she grew up during the depression. I think she was from quite a poor family and married up. She loved her husband very much, he died suddenly from brain cancer when my mum was twelve and she never remarried. By the time I knew her she had a small mansion on the edge of Dartmoor. So many happy memories playing in the three gardens and on the moor. She spoke in a very RP accent, as does my mum and as does me. But not my sisters who are all right northern lasses. I got asked what my accent was the other day, the person asking was quite surprised when I said I'd spent 38 of my 42 years on this earth living in the north-west.

    Now I shan't google it you can fill me in re: the monk. My hazy memory of reading about it ages ago was it was something to do with the persecution of Buddhists but I can't recall who was doing that.

  16. Five points to Varalys!

    My accent is all over the place. It varies, sometimes deliberately, depending on circumstances. Apparently I'm 'posh Yorkshire'. I can go RP. That's my telephone and radio voice. My military colleagues think my posh voice is a bit 'gay' (but of course in the military 'posh =gay' generally. There's an annual football match between the pilots and the groundcrew at our local airbase and it's actually advertised as 'menders vs benders') But anyway, when I'm being posh my military nickname is 'camp bastion'. Must confess, do find that a bit funny. Normally I'm Al-Jazeera. I like that too.

    When I practiced I'm London I played up the Northern accent a bit. 'Straight talking Yorkshireman' was my USP. lot of RP accents at the bar as you can imagine.

    I can do a London accent that passes for native, but I did live there 15 years. Apparently my scouse accent is pretty good too. When we meet you can pass judgement on my Manc accent. Ironically the one accent I can't do is Irish. Despite actually being Irish and growing up in a family where a lot of folks spoke it all the time. I'll practice though for post Brexit.

  17. Cool, I did a lot of reading up on Buddhism when I thought I might be one, so it must have stuck in my mind then.

    The one thing kids prior to secondary school tried to bully me over was my posh voice, especially when I attended one in Glossop which was ridiculously working class. And we were too, we live in a red brick terrace, dad worked shifts at a plastics factory and mum was a housewife. However as I mainly rolled with the "bad" kids (the funnest ones) the bullying didn't last long. Actually we were a very democratic bunch of urchins and the only black kid in the school was part of our gang. We soon made the N-word verboten in the playground, guess we were early 80's SJWs in training!

    The one thing that gives my northern roots away is using the words like "aye" and "summat" and so on. I actually can't fake any accent though but I have quite a good ear for them. One thing I have never really got is where my dad's RP accent came from. Mum's was a combo of upwardly mobile parents, growing up in India, going to a fairly prominent Boarding school. Dad grew up in rural Oxfordshire and his mum had the most Colchester accent I have ever heard. I think he got rid of his accent because he was abit ashamed of his humble stock. I'll have to ask him next week, I am seeing him for the first time in three years (not my decision for it to have been so long).

    I generally like most accents, one of the hardest ones I grappled with understanding was Afrikaans. When I did my MA one of the women was a lass from South Africa, her parents were Indian but she was born and raised in South Africa and she had some interesting tales about the odd place in the Apartheid power structure they occupied. Anyway, very hard to understand at first and she talked very fast as well, but soon I could talk to her easily and we were good friends although sadly we lost touch when she returned home.

    One of the UK accents I like best is Welsh. During my BA I was mates with a welsh lesbian ex-soldier. Not her choice to be an ex-soldier she got kicked out for being gay. She was one of the movers and shakers in getting the European court of Human Rights to overturn the British army's ban on gays in the military so you might know of her.

  18. Oh and in other news, I bought Sword of Sorrows today on Amazon with the Easter present money mum gave me. So I'll be pencilling that in for later this year :)

  19. Aye, 'appen it is like.

    I sometimes slip that one in, especially when I'm trying to recover from accidentally saying something really Cornish (I remember the shock the first time down here I came out with "Where's that to?")

    Ah, Indians in Africa. People forget that Ghandi started out as a barrister there arguing against black people having the same rights as Indians. One thing that's interesting is there's a sort of S African 'great politics mess up' in sci-fi. Generally it was always imagined everything would end in fighting. Arthur C Clark thought he was being optimisatic in assuming it would just be the whites sabotaging all the infrastructure and running off with the money. Glad it was somewhat less drastic, but who'd have predicted it?

    Don't know your friend, but do know the people who did that case. I remember at some military legal soiree a ruddy faced bushy moustached officer came up to my friend, gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder, and said "Thanks for fixing it so we can give each other a bloody good buggering now and then!". I just stood there looking around like Tim in The Office.

    Ooh, sword of sorrow. Can't wait to see what you think. But I'm enjoying this in the interim. Is the twist he turns out to be Jimmy Olson?

  20. I spent two years living in Bristol and two years in Plymouth but I don't think that was long enough to naturally incorporate any south-westernisms in my speech. Macclesfield is in Cheshire so sounds fairly similar to the south Manchester accent.

    It is amazing looking back how fast Apartheid fell apart. I have read on TV Tropes all the examples of people thinking it would last way longer and with a lot more bloodshed. Most extreme one was a comic called Camelot 3000 which still had it in place in the year 3000.

    Heh, sounds like not everyone had a problem with gays in the military. I remember the objections being pretty silly, most memorably satirised on Brass Eye when a military spokesman insists gays are lazy and show up on radar :D

  21. I'm still pissing myself at that line. Brass eye was so brilliantly funny. Of course there have been almost as daft beliefs. Like gays can't whistle. You could wrote a book about gays in the military though. There probably already is one. But one of my favourite stories is from the liberation of Paris where the crowds were rushing up to welcome the French troops (for political reasons the French were officially the first in) and the commander was heard to say "Ladies, you are wasting your time, I'm homosexual". Two of the five founding members of the SAS are generally believed to have been gay. Some people also say that about my hero Orde Wingate, but sounds more like he was asexual.

    I always associate the Macc accent with Cheshire charmers the Macc Lads. My late drummer friend Robb had the posh Cheshire accent but he was from Holmes Chapel. Bristol is weird. People either sound quite posh or that they're auditioning for the Wurzels. I suspect it depends on how close you live to the train station and pick up on the London commuters.

    Do you remember the Quatermass series in the late 70s. Set in a near future where the UK had gone to the dogs (not much of an extrapolation from the time it was written) but in that the police force is mainly white South African refugees. Come to think of it, that series has similar overtones to the DMZ story. Sort of 'functional dystopia' vibe.

  22. My favourite bit of Brass Eye was his one word opinion of Michael Grade. I like the quote of French Commander if only for the fact I had to rather harshly break the heart of a male admirer (and he was an admirer, he kept writing me poems and stuff) with the rather flat "You're wasting your time ducky I'm a lesbo". He left that semester, I felt a bit badly for around 47 seconds then moved on.

    Ah yes the posh Cheshire accent, my first girlfriend lived in Knutsford and we've stayed good friends even though we only dated a few months. It's round there and places like Alderly Edge that all the footballers who played for Man U lived. Now when I lived in Bristol I lived in Easton, so the accent I was most exposed to was Bangladeshi, hurr hurr.

    Now that 70's Quatermass is the one I haven't seen, but I heard it was a bit curmudgeonly and blamed everything on the hippies.

  23. Brass Eye doesn't look as whacky now that real news pretty much follows that flashy graphic format.

    I think it's right you should attract poets, and maybe get a trireme or two launched in your name. But you old heartbreaker you. I've never written love poetry. Apparently I do a nice letter though. Albeit in my usual rambly style "I've never been wooed by a Spectator article before..."

    Quatermass is a bit of a grump in that one. Although he's not exactly charming in the earlier stories. It's funny that Kneale used hippies which were already a decade out of style when he wrote the work. But then he sort of accidentally turned prescient in predicting the New Age traveller movement. There's a bit in there that's the Battle of the Beanfield 20 years before it actually happened. That story does have all my favourite combinations though. Radio telescopes and standing stones. Science and magic. Clarke's third law. Truly alien aliens etc. You probably know about Goonhilly. That's the big satellite dish place down here, but that's got standing stones too. I love the 'continuity'. 5,000 years of man trying to communicate with the unknown.

    Bluergh, I've caught a lurgy that's going round here. I hate being poorly. It's a nice day though so I might bunk off work and go sniff the sea air to clear out me nose. Suppose is should go for a swim. That usually does blow away all the germs. Sea temperatures are three months behind air temperatures though, so in the water it's still Christmas.

  24. Sorry you have the lurgy, never fun being ill. Hope you did do a bunk and had a nice walk and feel abit better. I'm trying to write my next blog post but have been binge watching "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver and it's very distracting >_<

    It was The Day Today that was really prescient, it first aired when I was doing my media studies BA. Hilairiously one of my friends sheepishly admitted when we were discussing it during a seminar that he has watched nearly a whole episode thinking it was real. It was the episode where John Major and The Queen have a fist-fight. Yeah. In his defence he spent most of those three years completely stoned.

    As for my admirer I have to admit it was the first time since I realised I was gay that I had formed a friendship with a man. It was useful because it really stamped into me the need to be completely out of the closet right from the start, and thankfully I every straight male friendship I have had since never resulted in that awkwardness ever again :)

    I'll have to check on that last Quatermass, sounds interesting. I have the black and white ones, but obviously that set doesn't include the last one. Though having said that I was looking for a book earlier and found a novelisation of that last story which I must have last read probably more that a couple of decades ago.

  25. Had a lovely skive thank you. Think it's peaked now. Just the occasional monstrous random sneeze. I quite enjoy them though.

    I've always been lucky with girl friends (note the space). When I first came to realise girls weren't icky I was as bewildered and awkward as I suspect a lot of people are. But our little gang at school was pretty mixed. Just a bunch of buys and girls who shared a common mindset. So we'd do stuff together as mates, camping, visiting galleries, bunking off school and gate crashing university lectures (such rebels) etc. Also there was a lot of overlap between the various cliques. Quite a Venn diagram really. My big thing was live music so I'd go to gigs a lot with girls as mates. Not saying I didn't fancy some of them but it would usually be "Actually Alison is pretty fi.....Oh, Hawkwind!". So I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of girls just being friends. Obviously sometimes things evolve but I'm perfectly happy if they don't. It's like some girls might share an interest with me, others may be happy to tag along and yet others would rather stick needles in their eyes. Just because there's one area you don't have the same feelings about doesn't mean you can't be friends generally. And that's the same with romantic interest. There is a bit of an FWB thing in my circles but it's very much not the be all and end all. It's also quite nice to have a bit of a frisson with someone but not act on it. It's like Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. But I've never subscribed to this thing that guys only hang with girls cos they want sexytimes. Even if it's someone you do have that sort of a relationship with there's, for me, got to be more to it. All the people I've been in relationships with are people I enjoy hanging out with anyway. You could be at it like rabbits three times a day; but there's still the other 23 hours and 51 minutes to account for.

    That Quatermass book was the first time I realised that novelisations weren't necessarily identical to the TV/film plot. It confused me at first. The book is very good though. I now know Kneale wrote it to tidy up some stuff he wasn't happy with in the dramatisation. Interestingly the TV version was put together by someone called Verity Lambert. Now where have I heard that name before?

  26. Glad you're feeling better :)

    I'm pretty lucky in general with my friendships as well. I've always tended to get along with straight blokes all my life starting from childhood as a tomboy. I have managed to gain a few female friendships including my first girlfriend who we had a sort of FWB situation for a while before drifting into just being friends. I quite like flirting a bit as a joke with people who know there is no chance. I need to meet more lesbians though, once I am at a weight I am happy with I might throw myself back into going on the prowl for sexy times.

    I've got quite afew novelisations of famous sci-fi. But it's been yonks since I read them, alas.