God’s gift to the candy industry

When I got my first dose of the COVID vaccine this week, I was sad because I didn’t get a sticker or a lollipop afterwards.

So I bought myself a box of 50 Dum-Dums.

A collection of Dum-Dum Lollipops, scattered in a box, with a couple of rolls of Love Hearts hiding among them.
Ignore the Love Hearts – they came with the order

Dum-Dum Lollipops are an American wonder. In production since 1924, they are small hard candies on a stick, around 2cm in diameter, and come in a wild variety of flavours.

In the box I bought on eBay (and, by the way, will probably be buying again, because I love Dum-Dums), I received 50 in a range of flavours, including Root Beer, Hawaiian Punch, Mango-Peach, Lemon-Lime, Watermelon, Butterscotch, Cotton Candy, and Mystery Flavour.

Dum-Dum Lollipops organised by flavour, in order of preference.

Yeah, you read that last one correctly. Mystery Flavour.

See, the factory does something that makes Dum-Dums unlike any other lollipop out there. When it comes to the end of a flavour run, rather than let it just run out and then replace it with a new flavour, they put the next flavour in, and then whatever mis-mash you get is the Mystery Flavour. Is it Orange-Lemon-Lime? Maybe. Is it Cotton-Candy-Watermelon? Possibly.

Are you going to get lucky and have the flavours work perfectly in a blend that you never thought was possible? Hopefully. Are you going to be unfortunate and have flavours that are just weird together? Probably.

I have seven Mystery Flavour lollipops waiting for me. While I might go straight for the Hawaiian Punch, Mango-Peach, and Root Beer (because the Root Beer Dum-Dums are absolutely the best), I will also savour those Mystery Flavours.

Because the mystery is what makes everything better.

Watch Free (Bad) Movies

I love old movies. I should love classic old movies, but, really, if it’s old and terrible and out-of-copyright, I go “Yes. That is what I’m going to watch today.”

Seriously, you should see my TiVo. I keep going through the listings for Talking Pictures TV and hitting the “Record” button over and over again. Not that I’ve watched all of them yet, but, y’know, I have them. That counts, right?

I also really love the Cult Cinema Classics channel on YouTube. Honestly, one day I should just wake up early and spend all day watching films on that channel.

Here is a list of films I’ve found on the Internet Archive. I stuck with actual films rather than the other weird stuff I love to find on there, like public safety films, old public-access shows, trailers, ads, etc. Nope, real films this time.

Horror Classics

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

A troubled young man discovers that murder can make him into an acclaimed beatnik artist. It makes fun of beatniks, it makes fun of the art world, and it’s just a treat.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The William Castle classic. Vincent Price snarkily chewing scenery, skeletons running around, and just catty horrible people living catty horrible lives in a haunted house. Such a delight!

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Do you want lingering dread, uneasy imagery, and a film that obviously influenced David Lynch? Carnival of Souls is all that and more.

Spider Baby (1964)

The song over the opening credits is much much better than the rest of the film deserves, but it’s still a lovely little nasty horror film with plenty of great and funny moments.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

What honestly can be said about Night of the Living Dead that hasn’t already been said? This really is a classic. It gave us everything. And the ending is still a sucker punch.

Silent Wonders

Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)

Honestly, I just want to get out a projector and have this running nonstop across any large blank surface I can find. The sides of houses. Hangars. Hell, even the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s just so beautiful and imaginative.

Das Kabinet des Doktor Caligari (1919)

Do you like Tim Burton? Now you can see where he gets it all from. And enjoy a much better story than some of his later work.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Another wonderful German silent film, the creeping shadow of Nosferatu has been so influential over so much created afterwards, and it still works so well after all these years.

Häxan (1922)

Strange and wonderful, Häxan makes itself out to be a scholarly study of witchcraft, while also keeping everything lurid enough to keep your attention. I really loved the combination, and I love the tinting on this version.

Suspenseful Noir

Scarlet Street (1945)

A mix between noir and black black comedy, Scarlet Street totally changed my mind about Edward G. Robinson’s acting. All the imitations of him had convinced me he could only play tough gangsters, but he blew me away as this ill-fated milksop.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Beautiful to watch, it’s not the darkest of noir, but it has Barbara Stanwyck looking amazing and I’d say it’s Kirk Douglas playing against type, but this was so early in his career I suppose it’s just experimenting with his type.

Terrible. Just Terrible.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Another film where the song over the opening credits is so much better than the film, but definitely a movie so terrible that you have to watch it every Christmas. I first saw the MST3K version, but I’ve grown rather fond of making my own terrible commentary.

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

I adore how terrible this film is. How it tries to be a serious science fiction suspense film, but has appalling dialogue and terrible direction and bad acting and everything comes together to just be so bad. It’s pretty racy, so I wouldn’t show it to the kids, but if you’re having a drunken movie night, it’s totally the best.

The Man Who Saved The World (1982)

Another movie that is absolutely ideal for drunken movie nights, this Turkish film wants to be a space epic, but with pirated scenes, stolen sound effects, terrible props, and a plot that still makes no sense, it is, instead, a wonder of cinematic history. You might have heard of it titled Turkish Star Wars, which makes sense, since like a good 10% of it is just Star Wars clips.

The greatest cooking tool I own

A coffee mug sitting on top of the stove, with a picture of Gandalf the White and the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers logo on it.

Meet Gandalf the mug.

Single-handedly (because it’s a mug and you hold it in one hand, get it?) the greatest kitchen utensil I own.

Need to melt some butter? Gandalf.

Need to set aside some flour? Gandalf.

Need to strain some liquid from a slow-cooking stew? Gandalf.

Need to poach an egg in the microwave? Gandalf (with a takeaway container on top to stop the egg from getting all over the microwave).

Need some milk at one part of a recipe, then the rest later? Gandalf.

Need to trap a spider and take it outside? Well, no, we have a spider cup. But Gandalf would be there in a pinch.

Need a cup of tea? Okay, if I liked you, I’d use my Morris the Cat mugs, but, if, like, I had a lot of people over? Gandalf.

Need to make a double-boiler for melting chocolate? Gandalf will sit in the pot of boiling water happily.

And if Gandalf the Mug breaks, that’s fine! I have another one just in case!

Everyone needs a Gandalf in the kitchen. Find yours at any good charity, pound, or discount shop today!

The second-most magical place on earth

I am a gigantic Disney nerd. Well, okay, let me amend that.

I am a gigantic ridiculous Disneyland nerd.

You want to hear about the Jungle Cruise? Why Pirates of the Caribbean was better before Johnny Depp got involved? What used to be where Star Tours is? Or do you want to hear in great detail over and over about the Haunted Mansion?

Yeah, that’s me. I nerd hard for Disneyland. I have been ever since I was a little kid, because I grew up in the L.A. area, I was around when a California ID and 20 bucks could get you in all day.

Which is why, for our 19th wedding anniversary, we went to Disneyland Paris.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland Paris

And it was same but different. Of course it was, but it was in weird ways.

Actually staying in a hotel

So this was the first time I actually stayed in a Disney hotel, and we stayed at the Sequoia Lodge.

I knew it was based on the big forest lodges like The Stanley Hotel or Yosemite Valley Lodge, but, holy smokes, I was not ready for exactly how much the hallways reminded me of The Shining.

The hallway of the Sequoia Lodge hotel
Come play with us, Danny. Forever and ever.

We went for it because it was mid-range and fairly close to the parks. Then we went for the slightly fancier option, where we’d be in the hotel itself rather than one of the side buildings.

And let me tell you, if it’s only like a hundred quid more? Go for it. Special check-in, special breakfast place, specialness all around.

The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness

We also had Fastpasses for one ride per day for all four days we were there (even though we got there late on the first day and were leaving early on the last day). But having a Fastpass for that first day did mean we got to Big Thunder Mountain before the park closed.

Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster

When I was a little kid and my brother and I were finally tall enough to go on Big Thunder Mountain, Dad got us in the line and kept telling us it was “a little train that putts around”. That the bit we could see from the line was the only fast part, honest, it was just a slow train.

It was not a slow train. We were a little terrified.

But I’m still deeply fond of it.

So going on this version was absolutely fantastic. It’s very similar, but has some fantastic underground bits that really shine.

Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialise

We had “Magic Hour”, which meant we could get in the park at like 8:30, but we’re also tired old adults, so we never took advantage of it. But since we were going on a Monday and a Tuesday after school holidays, we weren’t exactly drowning in people either no matter what time we went in.

And that’s when I got to discover Phantom Manor.

Phantom Manor

My Disneyland nerdiness really focuses on the Haunted Mansion. When I’m at my most stressed out, I listen to that slow and low version of Grim Grinning Ghosts and I’m suddenly calmer.

And I knew that Phantom Manor was incredibly different from the original, that rather than just a motley crew of motley spooks, there was the story of the beautiful bride and the mysterious phantom. I also knew that the refurbishment that it had recently underwent brought back the Vincent Price narration that had been created originally for it, so, let’s just admit it, I was a bit hyped up.

The stretching hallway in the Phantom Manor

And it was wonderful. I’m not going to say it was perfect, just because it’s not the original, but it was still a wonderful, beautiful thing that I absolutely adored.

The bride at the omnimover boarding area in Phantom Manor

(I will complain, however, that the “ghosts” shaking the omnimover from time to time? Really messes with your photography. I wanted to take so many pictures and right when I tried, it shook.)

On board your Starspeeder 1000…

Aside from Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain, the other ride I wanted to go on was Star Tours.

X-Wing in front of Star Tours

And this isn’t because it’s different (well, okay, it’s in French), but just because I’ve always loved Star Tours.

When it first came out at Disneyland, there were two-hour lines. And my brother and I would ride the Peoplemover (which, by the way, still the best ride ever), and shout at the people down in the line, telling them how much it sucked, because we really really wanted to go on it, but we couldn’t wait two hours.

(It didn’t work. And eventually we did wait.)

And I like the new version a lot – the 3D bit kinda irks me, but to be honest, 3D anything kinda bothers me – but the multiple routes, the different bits, all of that is absolutely fantastic.

One of the weird things about our trip was that nobody was on Star Tours. Like, ever. Most of the times we went, it was a 5-minute queue, which meant that, really, you were walking through the queue right up to the ride itself, because it took you around five minutes to get up there.

I did get to see my two favourite bits, though. I’ve always loved the Mon Calamari traffic controllers.

Mon Calamari Traffic Controllers

And they have Captain Rex about to be shipped back. As much as I love C-3PO (and would you believe he’s even prissier in French?), I love Rex so much more.

Captain Rex reporting for duty!

So we kept on going on Star Tours. Over and over. Because it was there and we knew we’d have a good time.

But where are the snacks?

One of the pretty disappointing things was the lack of snacks. Okay, there was popcorn, proper Disneyland popcorn served from the little carts, and while I didn’t get any, I got to smell it and be instantly taken back, but no churros, no pretzels, no Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, none of the stuff I get to hear about that exists at the other parks.

(Really, it was the lack of churros. God, I miss those big ol’ Disneyland churros.)

On the other hand, I think only Disneyland Paris could have a champagne cart. Which would be right in the middle of Main Street every evening.

The animatronic under the stairs

Another thing I really wanted to see was the dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I had seen videos of it, and I knew it was one of the largest animatronics built, so I knew it’d be a really neat thing to see.

And it was. A great big ol’ sleeping dragon that’d wake up, snap at you, grumble, and then go back to sleep.

So of course I loved it.

The animatronic dragon under Sleeping Beauty's castle

I didn’t love the fact that it was being closed for parades (and it seemed like there was always a parade about to happen or happening now or just finishing up), and I also didn’t love that people kept on using their flash, since it’s a pretty dark space and I hate flash photography in general.

(You know that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Itchy & Scratchy Land and the animatronics turn evil because of flash photography? I’m Itchy. Or Scratchy. Or maybe one of the Presidents.)

Another animatronic I was delighted to see, even though it’s tiny and most people don’t notice it, but it makes me giggle – in Discoveryland, there’s a giant airship over the Hyperion Cafe. It was part of the Jules Verne-esque theming they had when they opened up the place. (It’s still there, but it’s kinda faded, especially since Space Mountain’s become Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear brought in media-based rides, and when we went, the pond holding the Nautilus was drained and we couldn’t go in it.)

The airship has animatronic pigeons. You go to Hyperion Cafe (maybe for a BB-8 burger), and you’re like “Do you hear pigeons?” You look up, and there they are.

The pigeons on the Discoveryland airship

One I wasn’t expecting was in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. I’ve always liked the Disneyland version of this ride, because it does have some pretty creepy parts, but everything is done in a lovely style based on the film, so it’s beautiful to look at.

Except at the end, when suddenly you’re faced with human versions of Snow White and Prince Charming. Now that’s the scariest part.

The scary Snow White and Prince Charming animatronics

Now I know how everyone felt about the early days of California Adventure

We tried to go to Walt Disney Studios (the second park), but it was just terrible. There weren’t many rides, which meant each queue was well over like 45 minutes, even for little rides.

And a bunch of the rides were for all ages, which means that every possible annoying family was in the queue, and being surrounded by screaming children for 45 minutes meant that even the five seconds of a nice ride wasn’t good enough.

Also, the idea of a “studio tour” where there’s no actual filming just seems ridiculous. But I also grew up going to Universal Studios (back when they’d regularly use the backlot), so I might be biased.

We spent the morning there, and promptly went back to our five-minute Star Tours queue.

(Although the food stands by the Ratatouille ride did look fantastic. Maybe we should have gone back for lunch.)

I think I earned my British citizenship

Something that I couldn’t believe was happening was the sheer lack of respect for queues. People kept on cutting in, pushing past other people, or let their children run around. Even for rides that didn’t have really long queues.

C’mon, people. The Disney imagineers take a hell of a lot of time to make sure that even if you’re stuck in a queue, there’s something to look at and be delighted by. Take the time to admire it.

Also, I was really surprised by how often I saw people smoking outside of the smoking areas, using selfie sticks, and pulling along those giant wagons. In the US parks, I know that you’d be jumped on by a firm but polite cast member almost immediately, but here, it just seemed like they ignored it.

It was more or less the off season, so maybe they get a little more lax, but it was just frustrating, especially when you’re tripping over a wagon while breathing in cigarette smoke because you’re having to evade a selfie-stick crowd who have stopped right in the middle of the road.

I was so angry I almost started having a dance party on the rides. Yeah, that’ll show the park!

No raving on the ride, please.

Where’s all the merch?

Another thing that was different was the lack of merchandise.

Now, I gotta point out, I don’t mean there wasn’t merchandise at all because, obviously, every inch of ground is potentially a place to sell things, but I mean the variety.

I’m not going to lie, I was looking for Phantom Manor merchandise. I’m used to there being an entire store filled to the brim with spooky delights, and my husband looking at the pile of things I’ve picked up and saying “Are you sure that’s going to fit in our suitcase?”

I found a shirt that didn’t come in my size, a dress that also didn’t come in my size (and that pretty much broke my heart because it had the wallpaper on the skirt! My HEART!), a figurine of the Hat Box Ghost (who isn’t in Phantom Manor), and a couple of pins.

Three Phantom Manor badges and a lanyard

As you can see, I came home with pins. And a spoooooky lanyard to put them on. But on the Disney Store right now, I can get the gargoyles or a foam Madame Leota tombstone or oh God I want it so much the grandfather clock. (And that’s just on the UK store – I won’t even get into what you can get in the US because that just kills me.)

It all just seemed to be character-driven, which, I suppose, makes sense for the park, but come on, there’s so much possibility there.

Also? They don’t do the mouse ear hats where you get the name embroidered on them. Just headbands. I suppose it’s an effective cost-cutter, since you don’t have to have staff on hand to embroider everything, but it was always a great gift for kids who didn’t go with you or a gag gift for friends.

On the other hand, at the Rainforest Cafe outside the parks, I did pick up the greatest Parisian souvenir in the universe.

A snowglobe with a Tyrannosaurus Rex next to the Eiffel Tower

Yep. That’s the Eiffel Tower. And a T-rex. In a snowglobe. Definitely a winner.

So would I go back?

Of course I would. I’d love to have a longer stay, where I could spend maybe a day just exploring the hotels and enjoying the pool and chilling out. I’d love to actually see Walt Disney Studios (maybe with headphones so I can drown out the screaming children while I wait in queues). And there were plenty of rides that were under refurbishment that I’d love to go on. (The Disneyland Railroad was closed. The single most perfect ride for just chilling out and ignoring everything around you for like a good 20 minutes. The easiest way to avoid parades and people. And it was closed.)

Plus, they’re turning the New York-themed hotel in a Marvel-themed hotel, and they’re apparently doing Jack Kirby-themed rooms. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was gonna drop acid and hang out at the park? It’d have to be in something straight out of a 1960s’ Kirby-designed issue of Thor.

But it’s not Disneyland. It’s a decent substitution, but it doesn’t have the same feeling.

Decorating a home office when you’re a gigantic nerd

I’ve been working at home now for a month and a half, and part of the deal was turning the attic into my home office. We put up shelves, reorganised all my books, and then I started pulling things out of boxes, moving things around, and although it’s still a work-in-progress, it’s still filled with things I like.

See, I really like having things around me. They give me something to look at when I need a five-second break.

Other people keep on complaining about how cluttered I make things, but it’s not clutter to me – everything has a place, and it’s all a good place.

So here are just some of the things around me.

A shelf with graphic novels. In front of the books is a card with a magikarp on it, a small toy catbus, a small lucky cat, a small elephant, a knitted pumpkin, and a cone made from resin with glitter and rocks in it.

A Magikarp card from Joshua Dunlop, a catbus from My Neighbour Totoro, a maneki neko, a little fuzzy elephant, a knitted pumpkin, and a cone of orgonite, in front of my Ernie Bushmiller Nancy compendiums, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, and a bunch of Love and Rockets compilations.

A stuffed toy Naga and a stuffed toy Magikarp tucked between shelves

A stuffed Magikarp and a stuffed Naga.

Two Barbie dolls still in their boxes, next to a container of knitting needles

Game Developer Barbie and Computer Engineer Barbie next to a jar of knitting needles, with “steampunk” goggles in front of them.

A bookshelf with a Funko Pop of Jaws next to a drawing of Godzilla

A Funko Pop Jaws with an air tank in his mouth and a drawing of Godzilla by Anson Aguirre Firth.

Four Twin Peaks Funko Pops next to a picture of the Black Lodge

Twin Peaks Funko Pops (The Log Lady, Audrey Horne, Dale Cooper, and Bob), in a laser-cut box I made, next to a print of the Black Lodge, from Cult Locations Ink.

A comic board with a hand-drawn sketch by Evan Dorkin

A sketch of Bill from the Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin, that he did for me at San Diego Comic Con in 1995. Behind him is a Funko Pop of Deckard from Blade Runner 2049.

A collection of Star Trek novels on a bookshelf

Star Trek novels, some of which are from around 1990 and still have “property of Katie Bolin” on the inside front cover. (Come on, I was 13.)

A tape dispenser in the shape of a unicorn and a mug filled with small keychains

A rainbow tape dispenser in the shape of a unicorn and a Jeff Goldblum mug currently filled with keychains.

A photo and a postcard hanging off of clips with a skull on a shelf behind them

A postcard of Miss Atomic Bomb 1957 and a photo of my dad and my husband, with a skull behind them. The eyes have LEDs that glow. (The skull, not my dad or husband. Although I wouldn’t put it past them.)

A picture in an embroidery hoop and a calendar hanging on a wall

A Pikachu t-shirt I turned into a wall decoration, and a Poundland Kitten calendar where I’ve been decorating all the kittens to match the season. Being August, this kitten likes festivals. Obviously.

A mirror ball hanging from the ceiling

And, finally, the obligatory mirror ball.

The Talking Pictures TV podcast

You already know how much I love Talking Pictures TV. And you know how much I love the podcast.

Well, I’m happy to say that I am now a reviewer on the podcast, and you can find me on the July episode talking about Dilemma, a delightful little 1962 thriller about a man who discovers his wife missing and a dead guy in the bath.

So if you want to hear my annoying American accent talking about a random film, you can listen to that. And then you can subscribe, because I’ll probably do more over the coming months.

You, me, and Talking Pictures TV

Talking Pictures TV Logo

I adore Talking Pictures TV. It’s a bastion of independent television, an treasure trove of oddities and wonders, and a place where I can watch a lot of bad movies.

It’s the kind of station where you can watch a 1960s’ kitchen-sink drama, a 1930s’ murder mystery, a 1950s’ giant radioactive insect B-movie, a five-minute film-reel of someone riding the Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and then finish off with an 80s’ psychological horror, all in the span of a lazy Saturday afternoon and evening.

It’s where I saw Seance on a Wet Afternoon and Spellbound for the first time, as well as The Trollenberg Terror and Nomads. Not to mention regular rewatchings of The House on Haunted Hill and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

It also has one of the easiest-to-read online schedules I have ever seen. No need to navigate around complicated tables! No fancy scripting or barrages of advertising! Just clean, clear, and understandable listings I can go an entire month ahead and plan out what I want to record.

(I have a lot of movies from TPTV on my Tivo. I can quit any time. Really.)

I just don’t love it because it gives me a chance to catch movies I’ve heard about but have never seen. I also love it because it reminds me of my childhood, sitting around watching old movies on AMC or TCM or the local UHF channels, where you got weird local ads and weirder random films. Or the late late movies my dad would tape alongside Popeye cartoons and random music videos.

It’s obviously run with love, and it also has the only podcast I’ll listen to that runs over two hours per episode.

So there we go. You, me, and Talking Pictures TV.