Blonde woman misplaces her pet gorilla: “Oh, Gaylord? Where are you Gaylord?”

I’ve just bought King Kong Ultimate Edition because I used to own a version of King Kong that didn’t come with all the fancy trimmings. And there’s a reason for doing so:

Back in 2005, I had the audacious opportunity to travel to New York to attend Universal Picture’s updated version of King Kong. Written by the team that brought you the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and directed by Peter Jackson, this would turn out to be an eventual trip.

Kong talk

I was a member of a community called Kong Is King (kongisking.net) where we discussed all things Kong, but particularly Peter’s vision of it. Fresh off the Lord of the Rings, many of us were fans of both LoTR and Kong. It was a great place to hang out, and I met some truly interesting people.

Time to break out the tuxedo…

A fellow Kong Is King community member who knew somebody at Universal managed to persuade them to get tickets to the premiere in New York. It also seemed a good opportunity for the community to meet up in real-life, so we made it a proper event.

Central Park and The American Museum of Natural History

Our first adventure as a group was to the American Museum of Natural History – the US equivalent to London’s Natural History Museum. I made my way through a very snowy Central Park and met up with my fellow Kong fans and went for an explore around the museum’s many interesting and often awesome exhibits. After a pleasant wonder, we eventually all went our own way until the next event. I had a stroll. To this day I still cannot get how stunning New York is.

Eat and greet at over a thousand feet?

We all arranged to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. This was my second visit (the first was back in 2000 when I travelled across the US from coast to coast by coach) and it was much more fun because there was somebody up on the viewing platform dressed as Kong. Of course we had a group photo, which I’ve sadly lost over the past 15 years. It may still be out there, but the photo library at KongIsKing.net seems to be a little fragile.

The night was spent at a bar drinking and talking shop and awaiting for other members of the community to turn up who couldn’t make the earlier trip up the ESB.

The following day saw us make our way to Stout NYC, a bar at 133 West 33rd Street for a sit down menu, plenty of booze, and to generally socialise. The strangest moment was when I was asked to call Oscar-winning creature effects/model effects/costume designer/supervisor Richard Taylor from the Weta Workshop to invite him to the meeting. I couldn’t get through, so that never happened. But what did happen is the team that was responsible for the production diaries (included with the King Kong Ultimate Edition) turned up and shot a short piece.

A menu fit for a King.. Kong.

We headed out afterwards for a bit of stroll, and noticed the preparations underway for the premiere.

I saw Kong completely naked!

As preparations for the premiere got into full swing, a group of us discovered Bob Burns out and about with the original 1933 armature of King Kong as used by Willis H. O’Brien in the film. He had no fur and was completely nude. Kong, not Bob Burns. To look at this piece of cinematic history was a true privilege.

Here’s what I saw – being handled by Andy Serkis and Rick Baker:

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Wearing my fancy Debenhams rental Tuxedo and wondering about a cold New York, I spent some time hiding behind a massive stage where the stars of the film and other celebrities all gathered behind a massive sculpture of Kong and had their photos taken. It was all rather surreal.

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It’s only George bloody Lucas?!

You must understand that when we were invited to this event, we’d thought we’d just get tickets to a spare screen somewhere within the many cinemas in NYC.

Oh no. No, no, Universal Pictures had pulled out all the stops for us. We sat in the primary cinema where the cast, senior crew and celebrities were all going to watch the movie. A big group of us sat in the first two/three rows of the cinema. Behind us, the seats went up a bit further and lo and behold there was George Lucas with his son. It’s not often I do double takes, but I probably did quadruple takes. And though we were told not to approach the VIPs, a few people did and he was extraordinarily nice and obliging. Also spotted: Rick Baker, the special make-up effects maestro whose work on An American Werewolf in London won him an Oscar. Stephen King. I can’t actually verify he was there, but I’m pretty damn certain it was him.

Before the film, Stacey Snider who was the chairman of Universal Pictures at the time came out in front of all of us – only a few yards from where we were sitting and introduced the film’s stars and director. All of this was being filmed and beamed into other cinemas participating in the premiere. Some of this footage should be on the King Kong Ultimate Edition Blu-Ray. But it was remarkable of seeing Peter Jackson, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis, etc. all up close. And another star from the film, Jamie Bell, was sitting in the row behind all of us – with what appeared to be a bit of an entourage full of women with him.

All of this was quite surreal, but I am glad I came dressed up for the occasion. I was staying at the YMCA Vanderbilt which is cheap for New York, and pretty decently located. The pipes in the room were rather nosiy, but for the price I wasn’t going to argue. I had my own private room, though the showering and toilet facilities were shared.

I got a King Kong goody bag after leaving:

It includes the PC game, a comic book, a book and a Universal bag. But most importantly it was a tremendous experience and I have many people to thank for it – least of all my ex-wife who bought the flight for me for Christmas.

And the strangest thing about all of this was that the associate producer of King Kong would come to work with us at MPC for a short while. I had just come off this little beauty which deeply divided the critics, but I appreciate and love because it felt closer in tone to the original Roald Dahl book:

I went into the production office one day and the AP of King Kong (Annette Wullems) saw my Kong Is King T-Shirt and remarked that we both at the same premiere. The film industry is huge, and yet is it really?

Bargain price!

King Kong Ultimate Edition is only £7.99 on Blu-Ray and contains 2 discs. The entire Lord of the Rings and Hobbit extended trilogies containing all the audio commentaries and more documentaries than you’d ever want to see in your life comes on 30 discs and a whopping £55 – though I am very tempted to buy it because it’d take years just to go through everything. We joked on KongIsKing.net that Peter Jackson intended releasing a 10,000 disc edition of King Kong at some point.

So get everything on 2 discs is quite an achievement.

I work for an employer who is, thankfully, sympathetic to working from home. And especially during this period where keeping tabs on this coronavirus outbreak is a necessity. And whenever I work from home, I continue to monitor South Western Railway’s performance. Pretty much every single day there is some incident which brings about major delays to the network.

Photo by Javon Swaby on Pexels.com

Over the past week there has been several train faults, signal failures, track circuit failures, and passengers taken ill. Some, like today, come in pairs (faulty train at Wimbledon – passenger taken ill between Clapham Junction and Surbiton). Or was it the other way around?

Yesterday I was due to work in the office, but as soon as I got to Woking there were problems with overrunning engineering works followed immediately by a train fault at Woking and a signalling problem at Vauxhall. So I turned around and went home.

Photo by David Bartus on Pexels.com
Britain’s Worst Nightmare – Leaves on the Line

It takes me between 90 minutes and 2 hours to get home “normally”, and up to 3 hours if there is major disruption on the network. This is to travel less than 35 miles from where I live.

All of this is absolute rubbish – and especially so in this time of the coronavirus. You don’t want to be stuck on a train with potential carriers – especially when they’re busy. When I was travelling on the Tube about a week ago, the trains were rammed-packed to the gills with people almost touching nose to nose. How is that going to contain this virus? It was made worse when there are signal/track problems on the Central line – which happened at least once during that week.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Public transport must do better, otherwise gas guzzling cars are going to be the only way to get to where you want to go in a reasonably reliable way. And we’re supposed to doing our bit for the environment.

GAH!

(P.S. – I use stock photos now. I am that guy. Also: free with WordPress.com plan.)

For the love of all things holy, I cannot believe this company. 5 days compensation is better than nothing, but when you consider it was a full 27 days, it still feels rather stingy. But that’s not what’s got my goat. After reading the initial blurb, there’s a link to an update site which allows you to put in your name and email address.

ALAS!

They’ve not put a valid SSL (or TLS, if you prefer – technically it should be referred to TLS these days, but people are set in their ways) certificate on their site. Which means that any form data transmitted will be sent unencrypted between the user’s browser and the server. This could (unlikely, but still possible) for data being sniffed and captured by a third party.

Another method is by spoofing the southwesternrailway.com domain. I could register a domain such as southwestermrailway.com (as an example) and duplicate the same hostname and the site contents (changing the form details so that anything is sent to me or a file on the server), leaving out the SSL certificate. I could potentially hoover vasts amounts of data as people don’t bother to check the URL or SSL certificate.

In any event, putting an SSL/TLS certificate on your site is vitally important these days, and it’s not difficult to do. I’m still amazed that Bafta.org hasn’t put its entire site behind SSL/TLS (try going to https://www.bafta.org, and it’ll redirect you back to non-SSL content), nor Milk VFX which solicits job applications to submit entries via an unencrypted form. Bad, Milk VFX, bad!

Update: Looks like they’re using external Salesforce CRM to capture the information. The Javascript form code is hosted securely – thank goodness – and it looks like the form data is also submitted securely to Salesforce servers. Even so – I’d still be pretty weary about any site without a proper SSL certificate and encrypted traffic between the browser and server, and not everybody is going to want to scour the page’s source code to determine what’s going on.

“Oh good,” I thought to myself, “the trains are running normally. Storm Dennis hasn’t affected trains heading into or out of London Waterloo.”

Got to Woking station. Train fault around the Surbiton area.

Fun Quiz: There are 200 people on platform 2. Name them all.

It started off with the trains being about 10 minutes behind the regular service, then they started cancelling the stopping service to cater for all those wanting to head directly to Waterloo (see photo above). At that point I gave up and went to work from home instead.

I like Wimbledon. It’s a nice town. I had no idea that I’d be working here, though. Back when I lived and worked in Norwich for an ISP, we had a client in Wimbledon who needed on-site support. So I came down and spent the day helping them fix the issue.

Then, when I went to work for MPC in London, we were tasked with providing visual effects for the film Wimbledon in which we had to make Paul Bettany look like a world-class tennis champ by replacing his balls with CG ones. Oo-er missus. I mean tennis balls, of course – when he’s lobbying the tennis balls back and forth during the matches. The film also features one of the catchiest end credits tunes – Grove Amarda’s But I Feel Good.

But I digress.

Many years later I now work for an e-commerce in Wimbledon. I’ve been working for them for over two years and we’ve just moved into brand new offices (literally next door!). The view from the terrace is pretty good.

Peeking around the corner, on a clear day you can see the unmistakable outline of London:

In short – not a bad place to work. Not bad at all. If only South Western Railway and Network Rail didn’t keep breaking/fixing things every 30 seconds. Took me two and a half hours to get home last night thanks to a broken train at Surbiton. And the journey between Wimbledon and Surbiton was horrendous. Absolutely packed. Not helped with two lads pushed their way on before the doors closed and one had a backpack which took up so much space and kept hitting me..

Ever since I changed jobs back in 2017, it was at the exact same time when South Western Railway took over the franchise from South West Trains. As such, I’ve been constantly late or have had to work from home due to significant delays and cancellations due to a combination of South Western Railway and Network Rail problems. And don’t get me started on the Smart Card ticketing system.

This is in stark contrast to my days working at Memset with South West Trains and travelling between Woking and Guildford. I had to take one of two scheduled company-paid taxis to Dunsfold which, if I missed it, meant forking out £25 extra on a regular taxi to get to work (or turning around and going home – wasting time). I never had to do that because I rarely had any issues with SWT. I can count on one hand the number of times South West Trains had any substantial problem which meant I had to turn around and go home.

The past two years with South Western Railway has been extremely annoying, stressful, and with constant 2-3 hour journeys door-to-door (from Woking to Wimbledon), exhausting. Last month’s strike by the RMT was exceptionally stressful and totally unpleasant. Wimbledon may well as be as far as Mars with SWR in charge.

So I’m not surprised to hear that SWR could lose the franchise as they’ve “been affected by issues including strikes and infrastructure reliability”, and has posted a loss of £136.9m back in March 2019.

Let’s hope something good eventually comes out of this and gives us commuters something better than what we’ve been used to for the past couple of years.