Monday 26 December 2016

The Vintage Ambulance and Miss Ducktail

Miss Ducktail is crazy about anything vintage. She sports a Grace Kelly hairstyle and wears vintage negligees to bed. She also does the artwork for my books. I recently asked her to redesign the cover art for Man in a Zen Ambulance; go back and refine an earlier version. Basically, I needed to better showcase the book’s mean-streets cool, hints of Zen and early rock and roll music. So, a gritty grainy image with low tones. Rays shooting out like the Japanese Setting Sun flag from left to right. Shadowy guitar. An ambulance packing plenty of chrome in the foreground.

And that building it’s parked outside of?
Hell, maybe that’s a recording studio just like good old Sun Records!

Sunday 27 November 2016

Robert Mitchum and the Monkey in Zen City

It was some time before he (Robert Mitchum) saw Huston again, crossing paths with him again in a hotel bar in London. John gave him the reproving fish eye.

    “I’m pretty disappointed in you, Bob,” he said. “Turning me down like that.”

    Mitchum said, “What are you doing with that creature, John?”

    Huston had a little pet monkey with him at the bar. The monkey’s red-striped penis was extended and the director was plucking at it as he stood there, a drink in the other hand.

    Huston smiled. “Well, kid, I think he likes it.”

    All was forgiven, the friendship continued. Huston soon
offered him another role –  

That bizarre meeting between the two heavy drinking swashbucklers is described in Lee Servers’ brilliant bio of Mitchum, Baby I Don’t Care. 

It inspired me to pen an unlikely encounter in Zen City, Iso:  

“Evening, Baron,” I say, nonchalantly. “What’s up with the monkey?”

     The Baron goes to fetch a schooner in a proper thin glass. “Bernard?” he says. “He’s still traumatized. So, I’m trying to coax him back into normality.”

     “Bernard the monkey is traumatized?”

     “Last night we had two blokes in here,” he explains. “This Dutch roughneck from an oilfield down Java way and this Cochin gunrunner. They started arguing over our cigarette girl. Next thing you know they got into a terrible argument here at the bar and started knocking seven bells out of each other. Then there was an awful scream as the Cochin bit off the Dutchman’s ear. He ran outside, clutching the side of his head and blood everywhere. Like Vincent van Goff. Next thing, the Dutchman roared back in with this bit of piping in his hand and knocked out the Cochin who’s still got the ear between his teeth. The Dutchman grabbed his ear, carefully wrapped it in a hankie, put it in his pocket and staggered out. The monkey was sat here the whole time and saw it all.” 
     "And now Bernard is completely traumatized?” 
     “Yeah, hasn’t spoken a word since.”       
     The monkey looks up and I swear to God the little blighter is smiling at me.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Jack Fielding does Something Stupid

'Recently found a long-lost video on YouTube. Back in the 80s a guy took some photos of me in a rock and roll club in north London. Weeks later I found myself making a full-page appearance in trendy mag The Face. I led the Teds in an article on urban street styles, alongside rockers, mods, punks and skinheads. It was all very tribal then.

Amazingly, the article led to part-time modelling work for 'Z', an agency working out of Gee Street. Specialised in models with a non-classic street look. A few years in, Z asked me to go to a casting for a pop video. A German singer called Inga Humpe doing a cover version of Frank Sinatra’s fine song Something Stupid. They needed a lead who upsets his girlfriend then flirts with Inga. I said I could manage that. 

Filming, I think, took place at the Brixton Academy. A day’s shoot, cash in hand and the chance to demonstrate my complete lack of acting talent to the world. One of the other part-time models, a thick-set, silver-haired guy, claimed to have been a plumber who once fixed an outside lavatory belonging to the Krays. 

To be honest, Inga’s song didn’t do particularly well when it was released – nor did two other videos I did for Boy George and Pete Burns. The Jack Fielding kiss of death. Looking at it now, I reckon one of the best scenes in the video is at the end when Inge pays homage to Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Or is Marilyn? My performance at the beginning is vaguely reminiscent of Ronald Reagan in The Killers...

So for the next ten years I popped up in various modelling assignments. Mostly in the poorer parts of London but also Japan, Paraguay and what was then Czechoslovakia. Zane was my booker and he tended to give me the assignments nobody else wanted. I never really came to terms with being a fashion model. There was always the uncomfortable feeling I was going to be arrested for fraud. Zane also kept asking me back to his place. To see his imported water lizard.

The last assignment of my unlikely career was a commercial for German TV about the wonders of Thailand. I flew out with a plastic dinosaur in my pocket – I’d become very superstitious by then – to work with a snobby French model called Adrianna. Between takes she drank mineral water, ate delicately sliced avocado salad and complained about the heat and dreadful locals. To piss her off, I wore my retro England footie shirt, wolfed down hamburgers, drank bottles of Amarit beer and yawned a lot.

The first day of the shoot involved a scene sipping pretend cocktails watching the spectacular sunset. The next day was a bummer. We were filmed in the annual Songkran parade supposedly enjoying the Thai New Year. In fact, a group of lanky transsexuals in high heels took a dislike to Adrianna and assaulted both of us; they broke eggs on our heads and threw powder in our faces. Adrianna became hysterical and we had to escort back her to the van. I lost my hat.           

No one was more surprised than me. 

Anyway, here’s the link to the video on YouTube (I’m the one who looks like Ronald in a drape jacket). Actually, a nice version by Inge, I'm sure you'll agree:

Saturday 20 August 2016

Vintage Bangkok

Street scene from Bangkok sometime in the 1950s.

I was delighted to discover those three-wheeled rickshaws can still be found plying their trade on the Chao Praya. Check them out at the terminus of the express river boat route, Nonthaburi  Pibul 3.  

Neville 'Palm Trees' Palmer had a lot of respect for those guys. Always tipped big.

Oh, and BOAC stands for the British Overseas Airways Corporation which later became British Airways.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Lao Border Boogie Blues

Back in the very early 90s I used to escape Bangkok by taking the overnight submarine-train to the end of the line at Nong Khai. Buffalo grazed by the tracks. There wasn’t a backpack in sight. I remember taking a perverse pleasure in being the only foreigner to get off the train, and wearing brogues and a suit. I would then cross over into the People’s Undemocratic Republic of Laos by boat (they hadn’t built the bridge then) to a) try and sort out my tangled business affairs and b) make a bit of extra wedge by delivering consignments of Physignathus Cocincinus or Thai Water Dragon on behalf of an Austrian ex-con called Otto K (who makes guest appearance in Zen City).  I used to carry the little blighters in specially converted egg boxes. Vientiane had a curfew on those days and militia would prowl around on motorbikes searching for foreign miscreants. The “Russian Club” was a wonderful restaurant overlooking the Mekong that once hosted Soviet advisers; in my day it featured an enormous blue parrot, a beautiful head waitress with very long black hair called Bernard and I was locked in the toilet (but not with the parrot or, thankfully, Bernard) by a heroin-addicted friend of mine who was being very silly. Men in white coats used to inspect the Vientiane watering holes, Joan Jet and the Blackhearts were on at the only nightclub in town and all the girls wore traditional pha-sin. I should add that Bier Lao on draught, not the bottled stuff, is – was – excellent.

Anyway, after returning from the PUR Laos I would normally ended up spending a few days recovering in Nong Khai at a guesthouse called the Meeting Place. This was a sort of Rick’s Place – but on the Mekong not in Hollywood
Nong Khai Ferry,1897
Casablanca – full of nefarious characters with activities to match. It provided the inspiration for the Double D guesthouse in my second novel,
Neville Changes Villages, and the sequel. Many of the characters in the Double D are based on real people, including Ivan the Mexican, the CIA folk in their natty shorts, the humourless Dutch SS helicopter pilot and, of course, the Aussie proprietor: the much lamented Alan P. In the story, Neville meets a weird character called the Prince of Enigma. He’s based on a guy I think I met over a series of Mekong whisky-fuelled nights when Alan unwisely left me in charge of the guesthouse while he went on a trip to the Plain of Jars. The POE told me he was staying in the temple opposite the Meeting Place but later, when I asked the abbot, neither he nor his monks knew anything about him. Still, the hugely entertaining tale POE related to me over the course of those nights provided the basis for Shadows and Pagodas. Oh, yes, he also makes an appearance as a barman in the R n’ B club in Zen City. Like the characters, many of the details of the Double D and surrounding area – the Kangaroo Bar, Pappaya Girl on the poster, the limes in the urinals, the non-PC jokes, etc, etc. – are based on what I remember, and as good I can get ‘em. The Meeting Place was –if I may paraphrase Junior Parker and the Blue Flames – a great place to sit, drink, think and write. I probably overdid it on the whisky, though.       

You can still visit the Meeting Place and even the temple opposite (the latter is a good place to do a bit of mindful walking meditation). But Pappaya Girl has long been taken down, Alan P died of cancer back in Oz, they’ve built a bridge
across the Mekong and you can buy organic fruit juice in Vientiane. The Russian Club was demolished some time ago to make way for a concrete promenade, which looks rubbish.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

The gold-painted corpse

Step One: Actress Shirley Eaton is cast as a gold-painted corpse in Goldfinger.

Step Two: Miss Eaton is assured that death from “skin suffocation”, (although probably not entirely certain about it in 1964), is not a likely outcome.

Step Three: Just in case, a doctor is hired to be on set at all times in fear of possible skin suffocation and her stomach is left bare for the same reason.

Step Four: Miss Eaton spends two hours in make-up … (two hours that the painter will never forget as long as he lives).

Step Five: Although the myth of skin suffocation is based mainly on the incorrect belief that ‘respiration occurs, at least in part, through the skin’, there is the worry that skin is the main surface for temperature exchange, and if heat accumulates for too long, locked under the skin, death is a very real possibility. The crew films Miss Eaton’s scenes very, very quickly. It’s a wrap in a morning’s work.

Step Six: After filming, Miss Eaton is scrubbed down by the wardrobe mistress and the make-up girl, and sweated off the remaining gold in a number of Turkish baths…

Step Seven: Presumably for good publicity, a rumor is spread that Shirley Eaton tragically died on set from asphyxiation due to the gold paint, (just like in the movie plot).

( by David Hurn / trivia from IMDB via Imgur)

Sunday 6 March 2016

Lost Movies: The Shadow of Siam

Rare publicity shot of Henry Rome. In long-lost The Shadow of Siam he played gritty merchant seaman Bert Bulger who jumps ship in pursuit of necrophilic elephant hunter Adolf Kublewagon. Ethel White played Ginger, the idealistic Brighton waitress with a club foot and severe hearing impediment Bert saves from a life of white slavery. Ethel claimed she based her character on Anna May Wong in the classic British movie Piccadilly. Local actor Tongchai Tong was badly miscast as Bert’s plucky cross-eyed sidekick Chalky.  

A silent movie with expressionist pretensions, The Shadow of Siam was made some time in the late twenties. It was never released. Empire Gryphon Films collapsed shortly after the cast returned to England and the owner mysteriously vanished. When interviewed by the Daily Standard about his experience filming in Siam Rome simply said: “I never want to see another bloody mango again.”   
Anna May Wong

Shadow remains the only British silent movie to have been made in Siam (now called Thailand) and was apparently mired in scandal. Originally called the Metropol, the hotel used in the production of the movie might still exist in Bangkok – check out the Pulp Zen blog: 

Both The Shadow of Siam and the Metropol feature in the dystopian crime novel Zen City, Iso.
The infamous mango incident 
For more on Henry Rome and The Shadow of Siam see my British Babylon blog.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Brit Crime from the Big Z

What do you get?

One of Britain’s greatest actors, greatest  cities, mean Geordie streets, freewheeling camera work, lighting and a killer script…
Geraldine Moffat
Excellent retrospective (a few years ago) from Tyneside Cinema about Mike Hodges’ masterpiece:
A class act - Michael Caine sporting three-piece bespoke suit and shotgun

Thursday 7 January 2016

News from the Big Z

Spent the last few nights working hard to upgrade my website with a new image on the homepage, revised book descriptions and new cover art / concept for Man in a Zen Ambulance. 

I’ve also emphasised the speculative and pulp elements in both my crime books. 

Check it out:

Next thing, I'm going to get back to completing a collection of retro short stories. Inspired by pulp comics like Creepy Worlds and Uncanny Tales, and the classic Twilight Zone TV series, but with an Eastern twist...