That was the Two Thousand and Thirteen that was

It is one of those days when you are white-knuckled and sweaty just from holding on. As December waxed and now wanes I find myself fighting off all manner of bastard bacteria, sniffing and coughing my way through the days and hoping that the holiday really is just over the crest of the hill and not some elaborate deception created by the government to heap more misery on the already bedraggled.

It is December and I am tired.

Not that it should matter one jot to you out there along the hills and dales of the internet. You are most likely sipping mojitos served to you on a platter made of dreams by a bevy of beautiful men and women who not only find you simultaneously exciting, attractive and inspiring but think your joke about the fridge and the Bolivian ambassador could just be the funniest thing ever uttered in the long and tattered history of this thing we call humanity.

Or you could just be on your sofa munching on a mince pie. Either way the numbers that have any interest in my health are significantly less than significant and so I will press on to matters less dull.

There is something irresistibly summative about this time of year; something about the approach of a, let’s be honest, relatively arbitrary sub-division of infinity that pokes all of us into the type of largely vacuous self-evaluation that was forced upon us at school. Everywhere you look, or at least read, at the moment you are greeted with an endless dance of Top 10s (I blame the internet): Top 10 films (and I was very pleased to see Before Midnight quite so high up the Guardian list, as indeed was the utterly splendid Behind the Candelabra); Top 10 albums, Top 10 idiotic remarks made by politicians, Top 10 sits down, Top 10 underpant adventures . . . . I’m not quite sure why we feel the need to be such compulsive listers but I suppose, like time itself, we find it comforting to impose some sort of order on the spiralling chaos of life. So in the face of such overwhelming cultural hegemony I am not going to do what any self-respecting artist should do; I will not be cocking-a-snoop and purring smugly to myself as I sing snide songs from the sidelines, I am just going to don my trunks and dive into the pool like everyone else. In other, less absurd terms, I am going to bash out for you a festive Top 10.

But whither Top 10? I could give you my ten greatest moments of personal idiocy from 2013 (and God knows there are plenty of contenders from which to choose); I could give you the top ten times when one drink fewer should have sufficed; or my top ten text messages to Jimmy (and that is a list packed to the gills with quality) but I suspect none of these would propel you willingly towards the end of this article SO instead with some pride, modest fanfare and a fair amount of bronchial crisis I will now unveil:


Number One

It was bloody freezing and it was February and we were standing on the beach in Swansea. Jimmy had a piece of gaffer tape stuck over his mouth and I was embarking on a not-very-funny reference to nineteenth century miserablist Thomas Hardy. This was the filming of the video to launch our crowd funding campaign for our debut feature film High Tide and we’d dragged DOP Chris out into the freezing wastes to film us. We’d watched a lot of other such begging videos and so we hit on the brilliant wheeze of asking you to give us money by telling you NOT TO GIVE US MONEY. Brilliant. What a pair of knobs. For what it’s worth here’s the video in full:

Number Two

For about two weeks in May 2013 we seemed to upset large numbers of the entertainment industry on a daily basis. We didn’t mean to. It just sort of happened. But we were called “unprofessional”, “idiotic” and “utterly misguided”. And that was just from my Mum – not a bit of it, my Mum is ace. But yes, we upset a lot of people and were told we’d never work in this town again. Luckily we were in Newton Abbot at the time. At one point I had to physically restrain Jimmy from “going round to sort out” someone very famous and powerful. Looking back now, I should probably have let him.

Number Three

The realisation that some people are absolutely bloody marvellous. At times we felt like a right pair of pricks when repeatedly asking for donations to help us make our feature film. It was something that neither of us enjoyed doing, although making the repeated videos did turn out to be rather fun. Some of our friends resolutely kept their wallets shut (and fair enough too) but some people, some wonderful, beautiful people, some of them complete strangers to us, were generous beyond reason and as the counter ticked down to our crowd funding deadline we sat at our computers feeling blessed and somewhat astounded by people’s faith and generosity.

Number Four

It was a good few days into the High Tide shoot; the days were long, the pay was awful but thankfully the actors and the locations were simply astounding. This update from the beach at Three Cliffs captures some of the magic of the shoot and I think you can tell that I felt somewhat blessed to be alive and making our film.

Number Five

Before Midnight was released. There was much rejoicing.

Number Six

We’d set up base-camp for High Tide in an extraordinary house that we’d rented for the duration of the shoot. We were using the house for several important scenes in the film and we decided that we may as well live there too. This turned out to be a very good idea. On the first official day of the shoot, I sat in the sunshine with acting coach Tom Walker whilst Melanie Walters and Sam Davies read through the script that we were about to shoot. You know those moments when you can scarce believe something is happening? Yep, it was one of those.

Number Seven

Jimmy and I sat outside a cafe in France and drank some coffee whilst watching the rain. This was better than it sounds.

Number Eight

Our friend Tom made this. It is better than the the film it was trying to raise money for.

Number Nine

(taken from my blog entry written just after the shoot)

It was the day of the party scene. We’d always planned for this to be the final day of the shoot but for various reasons this turned out to be entirely inaccurate. However, it was still a big day and our house was filled with crew and actors and friends and family from about eleven in the morning. And then the band turned up. Sam Green and the Midnight Heist unpacked their vans, lugged their equipment up the tiny lane to the house and then set up in the garden. And then they played. And it was brilliant. A few hours later we shot a scene where the host of the party introduces the band and everyone begins to dance. Jimmy and I watched this scene from the back of the garden with tears in our eyes: if ever on the shoot there was a moment where we allowed ourselves the briefest moment of pride, this was it. The sun was shining, the garden was full, the band were brilliant and the whole thing was being recorded for our feature film.

Number Ten

It was day after the High Tide wrap party and it was time to go home. I looked at Jimmy and my hang-dog-tired face was reflected in his. We muttered a few “well dones” to each other, yawned and then hugged. Nothing more to be said. We’d done it.

And there you go. Ten moments from dozens that helped to make 2013 not too shabby at all. Sadly I didn’t have space for High Tide’s Charlotte Mulliner’s stunning punditry about Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory . .  oh sod it, here it is in full:

(Apologies Mullinator).

Thank you to everyone. Thank you to our friends, our families, to those that we love and have neglected, those that have helped us by giving us a few quid or just by caring enough to ask how it is all going. Thank you to the wonderful High Tide crew (who, thrillingly, will be reunited early next year – more news on this to follow anon) and finally, thank you to my pal, my partner, my brother Mr Jimmy M Hay. It has been a hell of a year for us. And just you wait until the next.

I might text him and say cheers. Not that he’d reply.

Happy Christmas to you all. Eat, drink, love and drink some more. And then do a bit more eating. And definitely some more loving. This blog will return in the new year (or maybe before; it rather depends on how the new script is going – if lots more blogs appear in the subsequent three weeks you can assume that the script is in all sorts of trouble) but in the meantime thanks for reading in sufficient numbers to have kept me motivated to keep at it all year.

With love,

James / Jim / Gill / Badger / The one in Long Arm Films that is not Jimmy

The Advent Film Quiz (eventually); providing succour in a world of idiocy.

So then, December has arrived like a fat uncle who has taken up residence on the sofa and is demanding booze. And mince pies. He’s knocked off his shoes, unbuttoned the top button of his trousers in anticipation of the Romanesque onslaught of feasting that is to follow in the next few weeks and has nicked your remote control and is insisting on watching “family” (and rarely has there been a more damning adjective) films on ITV. In short, he is a terrible guest and heaven forfend that the bastard stays for the full thirty one days.

Actually such fanciful similes belie a more straightforward truth. December is largely jolly, save for all the myriad shite lining shelves and screens depicting Christmas as an orgiastic celebration of the very worst kind of commercialism (not that there’s really a best one). I love my family and my friends; I like good wine and excellent food; I’d probably rob a bank for you if you paid me in really good stilton cheese, but all the rest of the nonsense (c.f. the current, vomit-inducing Marks and Spencer ad) I would happily pile into pandora’s box (not a euphemism) and lock away for eternity – if you’ll allow such wanton mixing of one’s cultural reference points.

In recent weeks all things Long Arm Films have been a little quiet. At least publicly. Although Social Media captain Nat fired off a pleasingly enigmatic tweet last week:

In fact it was so enigmatic I had to call her up to ask her what she was talking about. But it’s okay, Nat remains “on message” and when she told me that which I had forgotten I was keeping secret (does that work syntactically?) I was excited afresh and all the more so for having forgotten about it and then been reminded of it for a second time. So yes, we’re working on some stuff that we can’t talk about yet. But it is good. Or at least it will be. We hope.

Dan the Editor has been very busy in his edit bunker in posh end of Swansea and large swathes of High Tide are emerging, rough and battered like a newborn calf (although with less amniotic fluid) blinking at and mooing at the fragile light that seeps into the pen and throws the attending vet into sharp silhouette. Which is of course a frankly ridiculous way of saying that there’s some way to go but things are looking good. And not at all bovine. Apart from my brief cameo as “Doris”, udders akimbo, during the party scene.

What else? Oh yes, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has surprised no one by being an odious, fascistic toss-pot in a speech he made last week. I was so angry but such barefaced idiocy, such smug and dangerously ill-informed attempts fellate Right Wing voters that I seized the digital reigns of the Long Arm Twitter account and made this dazzling declaration:

That showed him. Amusingly we were tweeted back (is that the correct phrase?) by a Johnson PR monkey who’d obviously been given the almost divinely onorous task of replying to everyone on Twitter who’d called their master a dick that night. This tweet pointed us towards an article published elsewhere suggesting that BJ had been misquoted and misrepresented by an evil left-wing press. Which was of course utter nonsense in itself. Still it did allow me to add to my infrequently attended to list of the “world’s worst jobs” – to wit, the poor bastard charged with dashing around the internet with a digital mop and bucket in an attempt to stem the tide of political excreta deposited from the mouths of powerful idiots.

That was a diversion. Let’s get back to being festive. Jingle bells not jangly balls – a complaint for which you must seek medical help. Next weekend, some of my dearest friends and myself are gathering for our annual christmas dinner. This event has happened for over a decade now and represents the single occasion in the year when all of us are in the same room at the same time. There was a time, back at university when we’d spend most of every day together, writing, performing shows, drinking (a lot) and generally not working as hard at our studies as we should have done. Here is a  photograph of some of us taken more years ago than I would care to divulge:

Showreel Group Photo copy

These days we see each other much less frequently and so our “Gentleman’s Christmas Dinner” has become one of the sacred, immovable dates in our year. Jimmy has been to a few over the years but although I am clearly the fresh-faced good-looking one in Long Arm Films, I am actually a few years older than my pal and so our friendship groups don’t really overlap. Plus he’s busy (so he says) and he’s in Swansea so this year he won’t be there. And so he’ll miss the four course meal cooked by me (see, all those many hours camped out in front of Masterchef are not a waste of time), he’ll miss the sight of eight ageing men drinking far too much wine and he’ll miss, and this will really smart, the annual quiz.

I bloody love a quiz. Years ago back in Devon we’d go to one in our local town in a pub called The Jolly Farmer. This was pre-smoking ban so the place was pretty disgusting, its air thick with fag smoke, its wooden floors paying potent testament  to the decades of spilt beers and ciders that had seeped into its fibres, and once a week the landlord would host a general knowledge quiz. I can’t remember what our team name was but I am certain it didn’t match the punning brilliance and often downright filthy sobriquets of our rivals – “Norfolk in Chance” was one example I remember, as was the at least a little more highbrow “Les Quizerables” and I am pretty sure there was one, boastfully or otherwise, called “I Have a Lovely Vagina” which may have been just a ruse to get the cheapest of laughs as the landlord summarised the scores or, who knows, it just could have been a statement of fact. Although the team was comprised of a lone, male participant so the idea seems fanciful.

Many years later some friends and I, now in London, found a pub quiz that became so much of an obsession that we didn’t miss a single week in two years. Our team was called The Ploughmen, after our preferred menu choice and, due largely to our brilliant friend Chris who has been on Mastermind and Only Connect, we did very well. We developed a fierce rivalry with another team of never-miss-a-week-ers called “The Whirlybirds”. They hated us. We hated them. It was like Fight Club but with knowledge of the hits of Wizard rather than bare-knuckle barbarism. Week after week we traded obscure knowledge, one team edging the other out only for the reverse to happen the week after. Month after month this rivalry played out and intensified only for one day, after twenty four long months of battering each other with esoteric facting UNTIL (and in a moment of clunking bathos from a narrative perspective) the pub closed for refurbishment and reopened a month later as a terrible gastro abomination. In the words of the landlord / quizmaster and our supposed FRIEND the pub was now “more fine dining” and there was no place at the polished table and needlessly high stools for quiz. Shame. Shame on them.

Quiz lives on, mercifully, at the Gentleman’s Christmas Dinner and as a reward to you for making this far down a wilfully arcane addition to the blog canon, here is a WELL IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS SO LET’S HAVE AN ADVENT FILM QUIZ quiz.

ROUND ONE (of one) –

Yes, we all know the LAST lines. But how about the first? I give you the line. You give me the film. One point per correct answer.

1 – I believe in America.

2 – Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure.

3 – Officials at the Pacific Nuclear Research Facility have denied the rumour that a case of missing plutonium was in fact stolen from their vault two weeks ago.

4 – Alright Curly, enough’s enough. You can’t eat the venetian blinds; I had them installed on Wednesday.

5 – There’s an old joke.  Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of ’em says: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and such … small portions.”

6 – Alright. I’m going to turn over the next card. Concentrate. I want you to tell me what you think it is

7 – I’m going for a cup of tea. Do you want one?

8 – Somebody asked me today, “Phil, if you could be anywhere in the world where would you like to be?

9- With the coming of the Second World War many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately towards the freedom of the Americas.

10 – How you doing Keaton?

And yes you could look them up on the internet but what would be the point? You’d only be cheating yourself and your soul would shrivel to the size of a walnut and then you’d spontaneously develop a nut allergy and your soul would cause you to go into anaphylactic shock and you’d have to epipen yourself but in the HEART like in Pulp Fiction. None of which sounds much fun. So, like just don’t cheat kids.

I will send a Long Arm Films badge to the first person to correctly name all ten in the comments box below proving you provide some sort of sworn affidavit that the answers have come from your brain not your iPhone.

Round Two will happen as soon as is likely.

And with that rather I wish you a happy advent.

Ending these things is harder than starting them, isn’t it?