Monday, July 31, 2006

Getting the movie. Then and Now

  The proliferation of bootleg DVDs of very new movies (many of which are still showing in the cinemas) got me thinking of how far Uganda has come in terms of accessing the latest entertainment. My mind went back over the years, thinking over how things have really changed.

I can’t say I remember when I watched my first movie, although the earliest clear memory I have of a movie is of Clint Eastwood’s A Fist full of Dollars which I must have watched around 1983/4 at an aunties place. Back then I wasn’t sure whether it was TV or not.

We got our first VCR (along with the first colour TV) in 1985 and with it came 3 movies Live and Let Die, Assault on Precinct 13 and All Quiet on the Western Front. Owning a VCR meant having a constant supply of tapes to feed it. This is where the problems begun. The likes of Darlyne and Inktus might not believe that there was a time when there was no real Movie Library in Kampala (and Uganda for that matter).

I remember my old man used to bring home tapes with the words Whittaker’s (or some such name) video library written on them. Now before you start saying “but I thought there were no video Libraries” let me explain.

Mr. Whittaker (if there was ever any such person) had come up with the ingenious idea of having his friends in the UK record stuff for him off the telly, which they could send over to be lent out to the likes of Jay’s dad. But because the recording was off TV and the people doing the recording probably just set the timer and headed on down to the pub, the tapes would come with commercial breaks, public service announcements, breaking news etc. We would go some minutes into a movie like the Far Pavilions and have a ketchup ad thrown in before reverting to the “regularly scheduled programming”. Something like that would probably piss me off now but I was six at the time and even the ads were fun.

The other good thing about these tapes was that Mr. Whittaker felt that the entire 180 minutes of the tape had to be filled. Along with every movie came a few episodes of some sitcom or series. These were mostly british programmes like Fawlty Towers, Not the 9:00 o’clock news, Top of the Pops etc. and sometimes the American series like Miami Vice (somehow I do not see Collin Farrel and Jamie Foxx, in the soon-to-be-released movie, having the kind of chemistry Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas had in the TV series)

Thanks to Mr. Whittaker I developed a love for British TV, which has remained to this day.

We moved to Jinja in January of 1987 by which time VCRs had spread all over the land and the movie rental business had started developing. We soon became members of Bashir's Video Library, which was next to Town Talkies video hall.

Bashir did have the movies (the proper ones without commercial breaks) but the problem was the variety wasn’t that great. The movies were generally categorised thus;

-“You kill my father now I kill you too” old style Kung Fu flicks with titles like Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow. Closely related were the latter day versions of previously mentioned flicks. High-octane Hong Kong martial arts kickfests all based on the same cop drama/revenge script Police Story.

-Vietnam flicks. You remember the type where some badass GI would mow down a whole battalion of Gooks (their words) and not somehow not get hit by a single bullet shot at him. Case in point, Leathernecks.

-Those good old shoot ‘em up plotless B-Movies with titles like Exterminator.

On top of that the newest movie was two years old.

Did we mind? Heck no. That is until we were watching the movies faster than Bashir could stock them up. One thing I remember that stood out of place at Bashir’s was 30 something tapes of Dallas (they just didn’t fit in with the rest). We watched them all and this was the interesting Dallas (up to the point Jr Ewing dies). It’s funny when you consider that all that can now fit on one DVD.

By now the eighties were ending and we were back in Kampala. The good news was that real video libraries were opening up like Bimbo and Ripples (which was the video library to be a member of), but the bad news was that the membership and borrowing fees were way to high. This led to the emergence of a coordinated network of lending and borrowing movies among friends.

If person x had that movie you had to watch like Terminator 2, Rambo 3 or Die Hard you had to find him an equally interesting movie or trade him something just as cool (like an Asterix/Tintin comic book, The Newest Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew novel). Lunchtime at the Rocks in Kitante was the time most of these exchanges could go down. It had the feel of some kind of stock exchange with young boys haggling over what movie was worthy to be exchanged for another or one guy promising to lend movie to another for an extra day on condition that a certain comic book was thrown into the bargain.

It wasn’t long before the Ugandans hooked up with bootleggers from around the world and swamped the market with the latest VHS movies there were to offer. Soon the bootlegged copies started getting bootlegged and every other neighbourhood had a video lib stacked with 5th and 6th generation bootlegged VHS tapes.

Then there came the shortlived VCDs followed by the DVDs. Since these days everybody and their uncle has a DVD player, VHS has all but disappeared. The DVDs are ubiquitous on the streets of Kampala and boy are they cheap. For the price of an “original” tape of back in the day you can have yourself 5 full-length movies on one DVD. Nowadays the only movies you cannot get in Kampala are those you have a hard time finding in regular outlets anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kitante Petition

Some of the almuni (like yours truly), friends, parents and wellwishers of Kitante Primary School are seeking signitures for a petition preventing the the illegal apportioning of the School's land. If you feel the cause follow this link and add your signiture to the petition.

For those of you who might have gone through Kitante Primary School try and imagine no cops and robbers "in the rocks" and all the other games that could only be enjoyed because there was enough space to run around. Those of us who went through the school when corporal punishment was the norm might have also wished that that bamboo grove by the Museum fence had never existed but this wouldn't have been the way to get rid of it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Car trouble: Two words you won't hear from Jay in a long time

 The gods have conspired yet again to prevent me from ever owning an automobile. Just when I was putting together the last bits of the ingenious scheme that would somehow get me to purchase a car out of the loose change that is inappropriately called my salary, cars are about to get really expensive (the used ones anyway).

Actually, between you and me, I am smiling inside. Now I have another excuse to give those who keep asking me why I do not have a car. That’s not cause enough for a smile, I hear some of you say. Just hang on a second.

I am the only guy my age I know who has almost no interest in owning a car. The only times I get to wishing I had a ride are:

a) When there is that ballistic date looming and I know I have well nigh to no future with said date if I do not pull up to her crib behind the wheel of a car (preferably a fancy one).
b) When I have over indulged in the pleasures that are only to be found in Club Pilsner and a quick account balance inquiry (hand in pocket) reveals I have only 5,000 and the cheapest taxi cab to Bugolobi is 10,000 and everyone I know who owns a car seems to have vanished.

However these two scenarios are not that common because, being somewhat socially dysfunctional (if this phrase means something other than what I think it means, don’t tell me), I do not date that often and when I do my dates do not mind sharing the comfort of the 100s of “specials” I part own (by virtue of regular use). I have also developed a nearly superhuman ability to keep tabs on my dimes even at my most inebriated (granted sometimes barmaids ‘forget’ to give me my change or threaten to call Mukiibi, the barrel-chested bouncer, if I don’t stop accusing them of cheating me of change).

I have no problem using the blue-striped taxis and I do not go through the agony of my housemate when cash is tight and he has to part with 20k for 3 days worth (curtailed movements and all) of premium petrol.

Besides having read the, ridiculously few, minimum number of Club Pilsners that can set off a breathalyser, I do not think I would be using my car on weekend evenings when I need it the most.

Museveni has done it again

Museveni has just offered another investor prime property in the city without the courtesy of consulting or informing the major stakeholders. Is it just me or is our President's dishing out of public land getting out of hand.

For all the reasons I had for wanting Kaguta's son out of State House in February, my major peeve with him is how he micromanages everything and the way he is running the country like a personal homestead. He is convinced(actually tries to convince everyone) that nobody else has the the good of the country at heart and therefore he has to perform the thankless task of being in charge of everything-setting university tuition fees, deciding who builds where, offering land to investors (99 year leases and all) et cetera. What hubris!!

The thing that ticks me off most is not so much that the land was offered to an investor (to build an IVF clinic) but the fact that everything was done as a personal directive from the president.The Uganda Investment was directed to facilitate the process. Kitante Primary School, The Ministry of Education (Kitante is a public school) and other actors like the land board were not consulted.

And some people wonder why some of us never believe in his "one more term to consolidate achievements and strengthen institutions" speeches.

Its bad enough that all the wetlands around the city are being gobbled up by bigshots in connivance with corrupt City officials, but having a President who seems intent on ridding Kampala of any open spaces is a bit scary.

Land belonging to, a national broadcaster, two of the biggest free primary schools in the city, a public park and God knows what else, all given away just like that. Its just not right.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Where is this? K'la back in the day

These are pictures of K'la back in the day. I'd like you guys to tell me from which parts of town they are and what is there now (if anything has been changed).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Uganda Oyee. 2 out of 3 aint bad

It has been a weekend of mixed results sportswise for yours truly.

On the world cup front England was sent packing after a penalty shootout with Portugal. This was bad news for me because as I have indicated somewhere in these pages I have been a supporter of the English team for years now.

In an attempt to get away from the England-haters that were making my life miserable at the Kampala rugby club I decided to relocate to quieter environs to watch the France-Brazil match hoping that the samba boys would be sent packing (I am one of a minority of people who do not feel Brazil, but its for reasons outside their football prowess). Les Bleus did not disappoint and they beat Brazil. I was one of the few very happy people at the end of the match, which "cost" me some friends (people do get overly emotional about football).

The win brought back memories of the 1998 World Cup final where I was one of a handful of France supporters in my local pub. I got into an altercation with a (very drunk) Rwandese patron, who had spent the whole match calling the French "genocidaires", when I told him to lose gracefully and leave irrelevant politics out of football.

HOWEVER, the highlight was being present to watch the grand mauling the Cote d'ivoire rugby team suffered at the hands of the Rugby Cranes (Uganda's national rugby team) at Kyadondo Rugby Football Club on saturday. The scoreline stood at 30-7 by the time the final whistle was blown. This brings Uganda a small step closer to qualifying for the rugby world cup in France next year.

A lot of work still has to be done considering we have a very poor away record (the cranes had lost to Morroco 36-3 a few weeks earlier). But considering the Ivorians held Morroco to a 9-9 draw in Abidjan recently, we stand a chance of putting on a better show against the Morrocans when they visit this sunny city in September.

Uganda wins, France wins and England loses.

Like they say 2 out of three aint bad.