Sunday, December 21, 2008

I got sunshine!

Hi folks - well, after some grey cloudy and damp skies yesterday, we finally got a dry spell and went for a walk around Oxford (New Zealand).

Today, the sun is up and we're off to Christchurch Xmas shopping.

Over and out falks. Hope things are good in the UK

In LA - Xmas 2008

It's raining here. It was bucketig down when we arrived and didn't stop all day. Today it has been mostly cloudy and raining.

Yes, it IS summer.

*sigh*

Still, nice to have the family with us so that's good.

Will be online a little.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In LA

En route to NZ.

We have a room with a balcony over the pool.

I know its December, but this still strikes us as very fabulous.

Will be in touch when we make it to NZ folks. Hope you are having a great run-up to Xmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A sweet prince (if not the one expected): Hamlet RSC Novello Theatre 13 December 2008

Well, we all know the story of Edward Bennett - how he has pulled rabbits from a hat to dazzle audiences with his very own playing of Hamlet.

And it IS a fabulous performance. By 'losing' its mega-star, this RSC production of Hamlet has proven that their particular way of constructing a show can work to amazing effect. It was always possible to see and feel how well this works as an ensemble piece, even with the deliciously distracting Tennant in the role (1). But shorn of this particular bright light, it allowed the overall production air to breathe in a different way -- one that allowed the audience to experience the full array of stars in ALL the glory, as full constellations.

Stewart is brilliant, and seeing his performance from (literally) a different perspective (2), lends even greater appreciation to his re-visioning of Claudius/the Ghost. Downie is equally astonishing as Gertrude: a role I do understand is limited but yet so central to the play. Her freezing fear when Claudius approaches her after Polonius' death is palpable; her decision to drink the poison even more desperate and touching in the realisation that her 2nd husband is the murderous soul that her son took him for being. As the cast shuffles up, Ricky Champ gets to take on Guildenstern, bringing a different sort of humour to the R&G double act (it remains brilliantly and sharply funny as these 'friends' try to take in Hamlet, failing so dismally it hurts). Mariah Gale's Ophelia again broke my heart, at heart turns terrifying in her shrieks of madness and tear-inducing in her bereft, muddied flower-hugging confusion. And Oliver Ford Davies remains a heartbreaking Polonius, full of drifting repetition.

But of course the show now belongs to Bennett, and with a few tweaks to the production he makes this is own show. Every Hamlet is different: even every actor's performance is different each time. It is in the nature of theatre.

Ed Bennett brings a teenager's temperament to the role, though that makes it seem more immature than it is. There is certainly a youthful frustration to his manner, a desperation to his soliloquies, delivered mostly centre stage. I liked the fact that, when he spits on Ophelia - something that HAS been done by other actors in the role - it is not done with venom but with an almost casual distain: a 'what are you to me? nothing' kind of response. When he re-reads Ophelia's letters, the 'I did love you once' seems more astonished, as if reminiscing from another lifetime, and it is again just that tiny bit different to other readings of this role I have seen or heard [and I can also draw on the experience of my friend Helen who counts this as her 11th Hamlet on stage].

By the end of the production, the audience was thoroughly convinced this had been worth seeing. The cast as a whole were gloriously applauded and Bennett again got a loud and vigorous ovation. The touch on his arm from Downie was affectionate and offered reassurance: 'see, you can do it and it's going so well'. Not as I think he needs that, but it demonstrates how the RSC family works as a whole.

Now for the big question.

Did we miss Tennant? That's a harder one to answer: unlike Marie and JH, myself and Helen had been lucky enough to see the production before. "You don't know what you've got til its gone" seems a harsh line to have running through your head when you know you still feel thrilled to have seen such a great performance as Bennett gave. As Marie put it, she doubted that Tennant could have been better - he would simply have been different. And that's an important distinction, because identifying performances as better/worse is terribly difficult to do - especially when you are comparing something unseen with something seen. We 'know' that various actors in the past have offered up iconic Hamlets, but the ones we see will always be closer to us.

So I feel deeply privileged to have seen this production twice and to see/experience two quite different Hamlets. I doubt I will be able to shrug off that Tennant's was particularly special to me, because it was my first stage Hamlet and it was such an iconic performance. But I want to take nothing away from how much Bennett succeeded on his own terms in his own way in circumstances that would have truly tested the metal of any actor on the rise. Certainly he is one to watch and I hope that one day he gets a production of Hamlet built and not just adapted to his own way of performing, because he truly deserves it. (3)


And with that, I depart. I'll be with you again I hope a little before Xmas and then again in the New Year. Cheers for 2008. Here's to 2009.


(1) personally, I blame the underpants debacle. It really was difficult to think straight sometimes... Yes, I am THAT shallow. I'm sorry.

(2) Our seats, thanks Poly, were on row B of the dress circle facing centre stage. Frankly, I'm not sure if it wasn't a good thing that BOTH David Tennant and friend Christine were poorly (not as I wish either ill) since I suspect that we may well just have squeed ourselves into oblivion at having such a vantage point.

(3) Edited for typing errors with assistance from Pers... Ta!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blagging

As if laughing at Marie's gallant efforts at bolstering her enthusiasm were not enough to cover my screen in hysterical spittle from laughing, then this gem comes up from Crockatt and Powell.

Hilarious.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas e-Cards

Hopefully everyone who I have thought I should send a card to has at least had an e-card by now. Do shout up if you feel deprived of one -- I've probably not intentionally missed you off, its just I didn't really do a list this year. A few peeps have had/got hard copy cards as well.

I'm also sending e-cards because Care2 cards saves a bit of the rainforest for each card sent. Yeah, its not much and there are lots of other good causes but I've not really had time to think this through. Especially as I HAVE sent actual cards too.

I kinda suck at Christmas - this year especially.

*sigh*

One more day at work...

In praise of The Devil's Whore - and John Simm

Come on: admit it.

You cheered when Sexby finally dealt with nasty slimy Christian as he was about to do something horrid (keeping it spoiler free people, for late viewers)

You cheered when Sexby finally got what he had always wanted from Angelica.

You cheered when Angelica finally dealt with Joliffe.

You cheered when you saw the heavily veiled woman at the funeral exchange a hidden look at Angelica.

You cheered at the cross-dressing encounter.

And you sighed, sadly and mournfully when Cromwell's 'coronation' bells rang out.

Brilliant. Melodrama? Undoubtedly. But wonderful stuff all the same. So, the history and politics were a little off in parts. But dramatically it worked brilliantly.


For spoilers and praise, see Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian.

Sigh - life conspires and the upside

Life Conspires

Work overload

Poorly friend who was due to go to theatre Saturday

David Tennant out of action til at least Xmas

Any more woes?



Upside

It will soon be the longest day (guess where we will be for Xmas and New Year*)

I will STILL be seeing Hamlet this weekend

I will STILL get to see my poorly friend

I will get to spend a night in London talking till the early hours with my other friend (yes, I do almost only have the two...)


Life is (bitter)sweet.


* hope link works

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Be fair

I have to say, whilst I understand the frustration, I'm really hacked off at the Telegraph piece this morning presenting the "anger" expressed by 'fans' at David Tennant temporarily pulling out of his role as Hamlet on Monday and Tuesday so far this week. Some even went so far as to not bother with the production at all because he wasn't going to be in it. (I use the term 'fans' here with quote marks deliberately).

In the vast majority of theatre productions, there are few understudies and very limited opportunities for them to fully practice the role. The RSC is both lucky enough to be able to afford to prepare understudies AND is passionately committed to building talent to take up significant role. It is also crucially an ensemble company. Yes, I too would be gutted to not see David Tennant in the lead role he has nurtured these long months, but to turn away and not even bother going in... it just baffles me.

Besides which, the poor man is ILL: back pain, as anyone who has ever experienced it, is utterly merciless and difficult to predict. Tennant has previously only missed one stage performance in his career to date: he wasn't going to be missing TWO in a row, let alone a Press Night, if he could at all help it. So the 'late' announcement was fair. Remember as well, this is the man who after 9 months of filming Doctor Who - not the most laid-back of roles - immediately went off to do MORE work. When the break came up between the RSC Stratford and London runs, he didn't have a full holiday but instead slotted in work on the film 1939. He's addicted to acting: it's his life-blood. And given how physical Tennant is in his acting, coming back too soon could do long-term lasting damage. Nevertheless, I suspect he will be itching to come back to the role as soon as he is able to do so.

I desperately WANT him to be well in time for Marie/Jane Henry and myself/Christine to go this Friday and Saturday respectively, because they haven't had chance to see the production already (though JH has been able to see the charasmatic Tennant in Love's Labours Lost). But most of all I want Tennant to be well. The rest of the cast are astonishingly good in Hamlet and I will be delighted to see them all regardless.

And I will be sending my love and healthy best wishes to Tennant whether he is able to be there or not. Sure, my heart would break a little to miss his presence, but I would never dream of insulting the overall talents of the cast and crew by walking away from their efforts. I think the standing ovations the cast have received at Monday's and last night's performances* are testament to the quality of the RSCs productions - and this Hamlet is no exception.

Cross everything whatever happens.

* I could certainly appreciate what was said in the Times review of Bennett's performance. It cetainly takes some nerve to make an entrance and then stand still holding a glass for quite some long minutes. And I'd probably echo the thought that Bennett does do silly very well (he was brilliant in Love's Labour's Lost) - so it was nice to get the acknowledgement that by the second half he had nevertheless brought something to the role Tennant had made his own in this production. This seems echoed by other papers - and I was especially glad to read a more neutral tone in the Guardian comment and Guardian review which challenge the reasonableness of people not attending the performances if Tennant is no longer in them and find room to praise Bennett's turn.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Clangers rule! Oliver Postgrate RIP

Especially given my fondness for this weird conspiracy theory expose on the Moon Landings*, I was much saddened by the death of Oliver Postgate whose work shaped my childhood (an ongoing childhood many would argue).

And don't get me started on the wonderfulness of Bagpuss...

*I love the feeling of scrolling through the images and yelling at the screen 'never mind the flag blowing, there's something else to spot!!!

Get well soon

You know who I'm referring to - but let's send healthy best wishes to him. I did try to tell Marie not to jump on him...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Saving Bromley House in Nottingham

Bromley House is the most incredible place - it houses Nottingham's Subscription Library in an 18th century town house and has an amazing little garden. It is an oasis of calm in the midst of the city centre. Surrounded by far too many rather tacky buildings, it is under threat from a number of things and has been fighting a variety of inappropriate building plans for the nearby derelict former Odeon cinema site for some time.

There have long been problems with developers proposing multi-storey developments in close proximity, and now we find out the Council failed to notify anyone - including the library - of changes to the latest developers plans despite a meeting at the committee being due just next week (17th Dec). To top it all, English Heritage in its infinite wisdom has now decided to withdraw support for our campaign of opposition saying it now believes the development will do 'no harm' (how can they POSSIBLY tell?!) and that they no longer require any consultation from the Council with them. Yet even EH admit that there are still problems with the plans and that there are 'missed opportunities' for improvement of the overall site which is very close to a large number of multi-storey buildings on Maid Marian Way which the Council itself admits should NOT be added to and that have been to the detriment of the cityscape.

I don't get it.

If any of you are interested in adding weight to a campaign for a brilliant local site of historic interest, let me know. if you are interested in libraries and their preservation, let me know. If you care about city centres not being over-run with more unnecessary high-storey buildings then also join us.

iTunes top played - updated Dec 2008

Not a fully reflective listing of what gets played a lot in chez Rullsenberg and Cloud since stuff also gets played on the CD player, we listen to the radio a lot and of corse Neil has his own iPod and computer.

But still...

I have omitted the duplications from the last listing

Am I Ginger? 0:02 - Doctor (DW Soundclip)
Annie Waits 4:17 - Ben Folds (Rockin' The Suburbs)
It's like when you fancy... 0:03 - Doctor (DW Soundclip)
I See How You Are 3:18 - The Broken Family Band
Stormy Weather 3:00 - Nina Nastasia (Dogs)
A Relatively Famous Victory 6:22 - Ballboy (I Worked On The Ships)
James McCrimmon 0:04 -Doctor (DW Soundclip)
A Good Reason 4:12 - Broken Records (Gig EP)
Bandit Queen (w/TD) 4:27 -The Decemberists (Picaresqueties)
A Grand Occasion 2:07 - Modified Toy Orchestra (Toygopop)
Dream Machine 4:50 - Stephen Duffy (They Called Him Tintin)
The Mariner's Revenge Song 8:46 - The Decemberists (Picaresque)
Cross Your Fingers 2:24 - Laura Marling (Alas, I Cannot Swim)
Start Something 6:11 - Maps (Start Something)
Frontline 3:59 - Captain (This Is Hazelville)
No Brakes 3:28 - Declan O'Rourke
The Other One 3:44 - Lisa Germano (On The Way Down From The Moon Palace)
mydoctor 0:05 - Doctor (DW Time Crash Soundclip)
Gold In Them Hills 3:33 - Ron Sexsmith
Only Bad Signs 3:11 - Billy Bragg (Talking With The Taxman About Poetry: disc 2)
TARDIS 0:03 (DW Soundclip)


Yes Joe - I hear ya...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Books I have been reading

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke - I picked this up a while ago and read it with great delight over the past week. It's about books and reading and the power of words. Yes, it's for children, but I enjoyed it!

The Seance by John Harwood - a thrilling Victorian mystery full of family histories and tangled narratives. A really good page turner.

London 29 Nov-1 Dec 2008: in bullet points

Saturday 29 November 2008

Books
  • Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book - with drawings by Dave McKean (I was very tempted to also get the children's edition which also has beautiful illustrations but could not justify both!)
  • Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad and Sad
  • Geoffrey Nunberg's Talking Right: How Conservatives turned liberalism into a tax-raising, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving,New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing Freak Show
  • 500 Essential Graphic Novels
  • Buffy comics Omnibus 5
  • I, Who 3 - a compendium on the novels and audios etc surrounding Doctor Who
Exhibitions
The Estorick Collection and its show Cut and Paste on photomontage (runs till Dec 21st 2008) - brilliant little collection and a fabulous exhibition.
Taking Liberties, The Golden Generation of British Theatre 1945-1968, and 1968 on Record: A year of Revolution - all at the British Library. A fabulous trio of exhibitions at the BL - Taking Liberties is a rich and interactive exhibition of ideas about history, politics and identity; the Theatre exhibition puts into context the work setting up the National Theatre and other post-war developments in British stage work; and the 1968 room brings together a very diverse range of sound clips and visual images to construct the narratives of 1968 (a classic bit being the sound review of the opening of an extended line on the Tube system. "Going to Walthamstow - wherever that may be" says the commentator.

Food
Bar Bruno - for breakfast
S&M Cafe - for Sunday breakfast
Ristorante Paradiso, Store Street - for good Italian food
Brick Lane - for a pimped up curry (Sunday night)

Music
Rough Trade, Truman Brewery -- nuff said. Listing to follow

Walking
Late night through from The Bank of England, via St Pauls, The Daily Express Building, through Covent Garden. Delightful walking in the rain.

Shopping
Spitalfields Market
Tabio - footwear pR0n

All of this in the company of the Time Out Guide... (follow links to the photos and magazine cover section for 2008)

Thinking about a mug of pens where none of them work -- and other thoughts of Writers' Rooms

The Guardian's series of photographs called 'Writers' Rooms' has long been one of my favourite bits in the Review section. This weekend I caught Clive James talking about his thoughts on his own writing room, and frankly I giggled frequently throughout.

Now, Clive James is undeniably a bit of a berk, albeit an interesting and provocative writer and broadcaster. But it is hard not to laugh in recognition at tales of having a mug of pens for taking important notes -- only for every pen not to work. Nor the image of a desk of papers all unsorted and out of date. Nor bookcases so disorganised that the reader ends up buying another copy of a book they know they own because they cannot locate the original.

Though I hasten to add that that last issue is not one that affects me because I am scrupulous in organising books!

Rullsenberg Rants: Social Services reorganisation

I don't lightly criticise the government - I know there are plenty out there eager to do so - but the latest edict from Ed Balls has had both Cloud and I cursing loudly at the radio this morning. Heads of Social Services for Children must now be required to have experience of both Social Services and Education - given that it has been deemed that one of the failings in the baby P case was that the head of Social Services for Children only had experience of Education.

Well there is a F$@*ing good reason for that you complete %*$@! That is because until very recently local authorities were organised into Education departments and Social Services departments - with Social Services covering everyone from 0 years - death. Which was fine, except that anything that was happening under the edicts of Education was getting missed by those working with children under Social Services care, and vice versa.

So, not entirely unreasonably, the departments were reorganised to split Social Services into Children and Young Persons Services (bringing together Education and Social Services) and Adult Social Care and Health Services.

HOWEVER: what happens when children turn 18 years old? Hmm...

Anyway. With the reorganisation, there was obviously a need for new heads to be appointed to the amalgamated services for CYPS. You were always therefore going to be appointing someone without experience of half of the new service because someone with Education experience was likely to not have experience of Social Services and vice versa.

Now, I'm all for bringing people in who have experience of both Education and children's Social Services - but the recent reorganisation was hardly likely to have produced anything other than the likes of the Haringey Childrens' Services Head who had mostly/exclusively experience in one or the other due to the way in which the systems had been previously organised.

Similarly, I'm all in favour of people having more hands on experience before they have their own caseload of Social Services cases. BUT: how to achieve this? One of the key things affecting the delivery of good social services is that many social workers are just overloaded with work. This can never excuse poor choices and failing to follow the systems that are meant to protect, but when priorities have to be made between one horrific case and twenty-five, one hundred, or several hundred horrific cases it is easy to see how those failings can occur in the cases that capture the public imagination. All too often good social work goes unnoticed. That doesn't mean that the few failings that come to attention are only a small number - nor does it mean that they are guaranteed to be the tip of an iceberg. But the structures are failing both the workers and those needing protection. And making 'sweeping changes' yet again to the structures will not in itself prevent further tragedies occurring.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Devil's Whore - TV reviewing belatedly arrives

Isn't The Devil's Whore just brilliant? I mean, everything about it is just brilliant: the costumes, the history, the narrative... yes, yes, I know it isn't (exactly, remotely) what really happened, but it FEELS right.*

I sometimes think that with historical dramas that what you're after is something that feels right even if it may not BE right: the sense of doing more than just conforming to our expectations and errors of history whilst hitting the nail of conviction.

Maxine Peake once again proves herself an incredibly adept actress, far more than just the comedic turn she started out being in the public imagination, whilst Riseborough continues to impress as a relative newcomer. And as for John Simm... it's a fabulous turn as Sexby. In fact, even allowing for the occasional dodginess of Dominic West's accent as Cromwell (Cambridge via... wherever) it feels damn accurate to the recorded dialogue and tone of the times even when it takes obvious dramatic licence.

I'm also pretty damn pleased that the series is 4 parts - not because I don't want more but because it means we get to see it all before we won't be able to watch any more UK TV for a while.

DVD release in the New Year anyone? I'd happily rewatch this again...

* Rather like anecdotes that you probably suspect are apocryphal but they just seem so true to the person!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shuffleathon 2008 - CD from Jamie Smitten

How can you resist a compilation that is entitled "As a matter of fact I am the F****** Queen! - Smitten Songs for Lisa", as prepared by Jamie Smitten?

Especially when it includes the likes of Nerf Herder and REM. Mind, there isn't much else that is familiar to me...

So here's my review:

1) 100 Yard Dash - Raphael Saadiq
A gentle bit of funky soul to get the party started.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - new to me. Jamie described it as "kind of like the warm up at the start of exercise class" - that's a neat and accurate summary.

2) The Good Life - Cracker
Awh, Jamie you just made me want to watch 'The Prom' all over again (and failing that to re-read the awesome recap review on Television Without Pity).
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Yep, but not in full. Fabulous. I'll be playing this track a lot.

3) Sorry - Nerf Herder
Hee hee - this is a classic frat boy apology song. Very funny. Too many hilarious lines to count.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Heard of the band obviously. I'll be giggling at this for some time to come.

4) Banditos - The Refreshments
There's a definite feel of US college rock to this compilation. No bad thing in itself, though I probably haven't pursued much of the material myself in the past. Some fine guitar riffing though! "Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people" - oh so true.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - nope, apologies.

5) Everything's Cool- Lit
Party on dudes! This makes me think of the Bill and Ted films! Very cheery.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - again, apologies.

6) Fighter Girl - Mason Jennings
I can't quite put my finger on who his voice reminds me of: it's not Sir Leonard of Cohen, it's not quite Jonathan Richman either. But it reminds me of someone. Any clues who I may be thinking of?! It's starting to drive me mad!
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Apparently I had two tracks by this artist already: two covers of Bob Dylan as appearing on the I'm Not There soundtrack collection. That reminds me: that IS a rather fine collection of covers.

7) 27th Ave Shuffle - Foxboro Hot Tubs
Here comes my 19th nervous breakdown... This could be the last time... Oops, sorry, I'm sure that's some very well inspired Stones ripping...
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Again, nope, neither song nor artiste have previously hit my radar.

8) Story of My Life - Social Distortion
I love a bit of la-la-la-ing. This is apparently Mike Ness on 'nasal introspection'. I'm hearing a bit of early Stone Roses via the Clash in influences. Doesn't beat the classic track by Pere Ubu of a similar title, but then little actually could.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - God this is embarrassing: again, sorry, all new to me!

9) Living Well is the Best Revenge - R.E.M.
The barn-storming opening track to latest album 'Accelerate' and I'm very happy to get this track to myself at last (it's a complex story).
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Phew: I'm not as out of touch with popular music as I thought. I have actually heard of this band. Mind, given how long they have been going that probably doesn't reflect well on me!

10) Do ya - Matthew Sweet
A fuzzy guitar and some nice R.E.M. links for this artiste. I like the middle section especially. I think I could be playing this track a fair bit - it has a lively feel and some frenetic oomph on the vocals, guitars and percussion. Like the 'thank you, both of you' muttered at the end.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - a passing awareness of the R.E.M. connection from reading too much about that band over the years (hanging with the George probably encouraged this!)

11) The Stoop - Little Jackie
Hell yeah, Jamie says this brings on the 'finger-snapping' and sheesh does it ever. I feel my shoulders move to the rhythm to the beat.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - *blush* How did I miss this cracking track?

12) A Change is Gonna Come - Seal
A Blue State anthem? This is a classic track - and is pretty much impossible to spoil. I've most recently heard Billy Bragg doing this track - and though Sam Cooke pretty much provided the definitive version, this lush version doesn't detract from its power.
Heard of before? (Track/Band) - Not heard this version before, but in the current context, it's mighty fine to hear.

Overall verdict:
The middle songs probably won't prove very memorable sadly, but there's a good handful of welcome tracks here that I'll be playing again for sure and looking into more from the artistes. So thank you! And I LOVE the CD cover (makes me feel so ashamed that my CD cover skills went belly-up when my printer died...)

Here's to Shuffleathon 2009!

Mini update: London and forthcoming

Apologies: we were in London last weekend (very nice thanks) and since then I've been battling with work overload and general lurgy.

Still, just to give a quick preview of what's coming up:

  • review of the shuffleathon CD received from Jamie Smitten - a fine looking beast it appears too
  • London visit review
  • The Devil's Whore - one of the best TV dramas of this year IMHO
  • books I have been reading
  • what's happening in December/January
Just a reminder on that last item folks: I will NOT be able to watch the Doctor Who Xmas Special this year. Anyone able to set a video or similar to record this and let me watch their recording will therefore be gratefully adored and acknowledged.*

Just as a forewarning as well, and partly as I don't really trust myself, I will probably be largely off-line between Xmas Day and 6th January.

As Professor River Song said: "Spoilers!"

* The iPlayer will be of no use to me here UNLESS the show is repeated and (or) is available via the iPlayer for viewing after 6th January 2009. Meh.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Measles

The measles rates have rocketed up over the last three years; something that's attributed to the MMR scare stories.

I'm just intrigued though as to why there was a rise in 2002 and 2003 - followed by a significant fall again for the two years after?

Personality blog

Hmmm.

According to Cloud my blog is that of an ESTP - a doer.

Hmmm. So how to explain that a Myers-Brigg test earlier this year came up with me as an ENFJ? [Note: it actually came up with me as an INFJ but that was acknowledged as an aberation arising from my not having answered an number of questions, and the course runner coming down on the 'wrong' side.]

Extraverted feeling types seek continuity through harmonious relationships and collective values. They excel at picking up on the tone of a situation and acting accordingly, adding warmth to a cool setting or turning sour into sweet. They naturally seek to know what people do well, what they enjoy, and where and how they work. They seem to have an infinite number of acquaintances from all walks of life and are always on the lookout for people in need and those who can help out. ENFJs weave and strengthen the collective fabric of social conventions and interactions. Inclusiveness is important and they are particularly sensitive to those who are excluded.

ENFJs focus on others, feeling a glow when those around them are happy, and troubled when something is amiss. They are natural cheerleaders, often expressing support, gratitude, and encouragement, and heaping praise onto those they appreciate. They take note of what is being done and what needs doing, offering their assistance wherever necessary.

ENFJs enjoy organizing group activities and tend to take their commitments seriously. In general, they are reliable and do not like to disappoint others. As team players and project leaders, they have a gift for rallying their players, focusing on what is being done right and each member's strengths. They are loyal and they expect loyalty. They carry conversations well, finding common ground with their speaker. They tend to find the correct and gracious way to respond in any given situation, no matter how tense or uncomfortable it is.

Extraverted feeling types will uphold a wide range of values, simply because shared values are what create harmony. Some will profess the importance of tough-minded logic, justice and scholarly debate because their environments have these shared values. They tend to adopt the collective values of those they love and 'belong to'.
I am, at the very least, confused.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ITV 2008/2009

Well, the ITV Winter 2008/Spring 2009 drama strand looks to have some goodies in it for sure... [watch Showreel]

I'd have shunted Primeval up the running order and its a shame that Collision doesn't get a mention, but hey, I'm gonna be pretty happy!

Hat-tip to the fansite for Douglas Henshall with thanks.

Anyone got Sat 22 Nov 2008 edition of the Telegraph magazine?

No particular reason (she lies), but it would be nice to have a copy of yesterday's Telegraph magazine in the flesh, so to speak.

In defence, I haven't been well and was only just well enough last night by 9pm to watch BBC2...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Billy Bragg - Rock City Nottingham 19 November 2008

Post started Thursday 20 Nov 2008 - delayed by work and health!

I could cheat on reviewing Billy Bragg in Nottingham by just saying 'what he said' and pointing you to Swiss Toni's spot-on review of the night.

But that would be a cop-out wouldn't it?

I've actually only seen Billy perform twice, and only one of those was an actual gig. The first time was at an anti-war demo in Hyde Park in 1991: with his charming self-deprecation he announced that they hadn't been given a music licence, but that was okay because his performance wouldn't count as music. Then proceeded to sing out the wonderful 'Tender Comrade' which echoed across the breadth of Hyde Park as we stumbled, reluctantly, to the waiting coaches back to Wolverhampton.

I next saw him only later that same year, when with the backing band he ended a raucous night with a cover of Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart". I know: madness. But somehow it worked. [I also fondly remember the day as when I took my final exam for my A204 OU course -- after the exam I ceremoniously tore down my revision schedule poster to the turned-up-to-11 volume of "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward".]

So, as a non-festival attendee, I'd been a good while between Billy experiences. And in truth given how wiped I am by work I was hardly woo-hoo excited. It had been on the radar for months but we hadn't got round to booking. This didn't help make me feel I could drag myself out. But, bless him, Cloud pulled things round and demanded that we go. Once there of course it was brilliant.

Otis Gibbs provided charming support - a kind of Indiana version of BB - though I was less than impressed by the constant chattering behind me which (in my terribly British way) I just seethed about and ignored.

Thankfully when the main man appeared most of the chattering stopped*. And from first raucous guitar strum to the throw of his tea-bag, we were captivated. With such an extensive back catalogue to pick from there's a great mix of recent and older stuff to enjoy. I was particularly delighted to get "Accident Waiting to Happen" and even though excitement got the better of BB and his vocal power, there was usually enough energy and enthusiasm to carry the songs from the audience. I especially loved the audience not just singing along to "Sexuality" but also adding in a perfect replica of the Kirsty MacColl descant echo ("weighed dow-n" "informat-ion") which sparked a "you've been practising!" from Mr Billy.

A raconteur as much as a songster, any BB performance is always going to be a rallying call to action and an anecdote-laden engagement with the crowd. "What about those BNP c***s?!" yelled one; "Quite" replied Billy, "what you said". Despite attempts to moderate language ("my mum listens to the bootlegs!") there was little chance of him not using some appropriately excoriating language to describe the actions of the BNP and Red Watch for getting some come-uppance about releasing names and addresses [something they've been more than happy to do against left-leaners like BB).

Additional thoughts Sunday 23 Nov
Listening this weekend to some of his back catalogue, Bragg certainly has a knack for writing both sharply observant 'love sings' as well as his social commentary and more political pieces. But what is beautiful about his approach is that he brings the same passion to both types of song. He remains his own man and I for one am grateful he's around.

Even though I don't like Marmite, I love Billy Bragg.



*though the latter part of the gig did produce two yaddering middle-aged blokes behind me who would not shut up -- I couldn't take any more and between songs went over to tell them to 'please shut up: why do you come to a gig and talk? All I can hear is your chattering through the songs' to which their reply was 'at least we're talking sense'. Right. THOSE sort of BB gig attendees, the sort who you wonder if they're actually listening and get what's being sung...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP membership

Aside from some of the weirdness identified by Cloud last night, there are a range of things that strike me about the current BNP membership list row.

1) Nick Griffin has stated that the person they believe leaked the document was "one of the hard-liners I'd inherited from my predecessor who didn't like the direction the party was going, regarding us as too moderate"

-- how bloody worrying is it that the current BNP is actually a moderate (and by implication therefore perfectly reasonable) party? I know it's all a scale and that in the past there really were some seriously barking fascists in the party, but I'm not convinced they can't still be defined as fascists. In my book, that doesn't mark you out as a good thing.
2) The BNP describes it only as "ironic" that they are using the Human Rights Act to defend their members privacy.

-- No. You cannot have it both ways. If you believe that the European Union, and its legislation, has no business interferring with UK rights and attitudes and actions then surely you are giving such Acts of law legitimacy in your use of them? For whatever purpose you may want to use them? Seeing it as reasonable to use for "privacy" but not for "freedom" also seems like a rather strange distinction.
3) As a legitimate political party, members have a right to keep their political affiliations private....

-- Hmm. I'd personally dispute seeing the BNP as a legitimate political party, but within the scope of them being currently defined as legitimate, fair cop: their members do deserve to be able to keep their affiliations private.

Of course, the fact that some would prefer to keep that affiliation quiet because it demonstrates they hold some fairly dodgy political opinions is another matter. Which brings me to ...
4) Griffin spoke of the intimidation of BNP members being a consequence/part of the "Labour regime". When presented with the statements of the Prison Service about the problems they felt legally existed with serving officers being members (and similarly the Police Force), Griffin added that the restrictions being placed on these groups were themselves arising from the "Labour regime" as "this rule was forced on the Prison Service by the Labour Government". He described the restrictions on membership of (racist) parties like the BNP* within the civil service as akin to those of "Nazi Germany or the liberal totalitarianism of modern Germany".

Moreover, when told that the Association of Chief Police Officers believed that membership or promotion of parties like the BNP "would be incompatible with our duty to promote equality uner the Race Relations Act..." Griffin again disputed that such thinking wasn't imposed by the Labour regime as "parliamentary legislation is passed by the main liberal parties", and therefore reflects the agendas for political correctness etc etc etc...

-- I almost don't know where to begin taking apart this nonsense: its (incipient) racism, the fall-back onto 'political correctness' as the bogey of modern society, the 'they're all against us, the proper white British folk!'... there's just too much to choose from.
5) One small point in his defense (though not for the reasons he implied): YES, Hizb ut-Tahrir doesn't really have any place being tacitly tolerated as a representative group on behalf of Muslims. Sorry, but it really doesn't.

* BNP as a racist party: a definition I note Griffin did not deny

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Funniest thing I read today (regarding fan-fiction)

Hilarious
I guess I was put off Fan / Slash Fiction slightly when someone sent me a link to a story that turned out to be a highly improbable piece of magical realist porn featuring several Man United players. Shudder.
*snort*

It DOES sound grim doesn't it!?

On a more serious note, the original piece by Jessica Reed does raise some interesting points about fan-fiction. I'd only make one proviso and that is 'why does it have to be the preserve of teenagers'? For sure, she's starting from a standpoint of reading RL/character or celebrity fic which generally runs to different expectations. But where writers online take existing characters and build new narratives, these can often be incredibly well produced: polished, edited, copy-checked, and critiqued giving eager readers extended scenes, alternate universes (not just as a sci-fi concept but, if you like, stories outside of the original realm of the story canon) and answers to 'what if?'

There's bad writing everywhere - much of it legitimately published. Just because its online doesn't make it bad, in much the same way that we may defend blogging...

Monday, November 17, 2008

My blogging pace

My year by year stats are a bit revealing aren't they?

2004 - I started in Sept and I managed 47 posts
2005 - hitting my stride, I manage 762 posts in my first full year
2006 - keeping up the pace, I squeeze out a ridiculous 824 posts
2007 - then it pretty much halves, offering up just 478 posts
2008 - and with only around another month of blogging to go, this year is halved again to a pathetic 217 posts so far

Someone tell me that its quality that quantity that counts?!

Norm speaks the truth on online friends

Norm is a wise man on many topics, not least in this brief but astute comment about online/real-life friendships:
[what about:] how you can make friends on the internet with people you otherwise would not have met; how you can then consolidate and extend these friendships offline; how, even if you don't (because of distance, say), having electronic friends can be a rewarding experience in itself; how old (real-world) friends who live far apart can now be in touch with one another with much greater facility and regularity than formerly; how, the internet being (when all is said and done) part of the real world, friends can also cease to be friends because of what happens there; and how anyone whose friendships are wholly confined to the internet probably has problems aside from an addiction to their computer.
Of course you do have to factor in that he was taking Roger Scruton to task for pointing out that online friendships differ to real-life ones in somewhat simplistic terms (finding fault with Scruton: fish, barrel). Even so Norm offers some wise distinctions and complications of the argument.

I'd certainly back up most, if not all, of these:
1) I've made friends with people all over the world whom I almost certainly would never have gotten chance to meet otherwise;

2) through blogmeets and just general encounters (especially with local bloggers) I've gotten to know some smashing people;

3) some of the people I know online I only know online - but through blogs, forums, emails and chats I can exchange thoughts and views on a whole range of life, the universe and everything topics;

4) the same works too for some of my more distant real-life friends -- without the internet I doubt I would have been able to sustain contact with Rita or Chrissie even though I do speak to each by phone (and yes, Chrissie, I know we keep talking about Skype!);

5) I've certainly made and subsequently lost friends through online contact - there is something raw in words on the page, written with an immediacy that may remove tone and gesture - but that isn't to say that I haven't screwed up real-life friendships too;

6) and I would (broadly) concur that to only have online friends may be indicative of bigger issues (with the proviso that for some, perhaps those unable to interact as easily with the physical/real-world through disability for example, an online life may be far more productive as a source of friendship. Arguably, that too is suggestive of bigger issues, though not necessarily 'problems' as Norm phrases this).

How do you feel about your online/real-life friendships and their similaries and differences? Is it different if you're on Facebook, rather than writing blogs?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

iPhoto help - thumbnail problems - resolved

What I said:
Grr - I was doing SO well. I've been transferring my photos to the mac and going reasonably great guns. When I was looking at images in events or photos the size of the image would be approximately the same size (about 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch) as the images on the Events list.

And then something happened. I probably clicked something unintentionally - yeah I know...

And now all my photos are automatically showing up as teeny-weeny thumbnails of about 1cm x 1cm! ARGH! Unless I click on each image I can hardly see WHAT the picture is!

I have tried searching for information - nothing is coming up that resolves this let alone helps me understand what the hell I did wrong in the first place. As usual almost all the info assumes I know what the heck I am doing so I can't ask an intelligent question.

Thumbnails doesn't even show up as an option to resize on the menu lists.

Any help GRATEFULLY received. Even just telling me how to phrase the question on a forum so I can actually get a useful answer would help (previous efforts in this regard have mostly resulted in nerd brush-offs).

Despite this can I still say that my mac is very shiny and I love it...
What I know now:
Doh: just click on the bar which changes the size of images at the bottom right... of course, I learnt this by accident rather than design!
Officially of course I am an idiot.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shuffleathon 2008

Yes, you can hopefully look out for a new review of a CD I made and one of one I receive. Woo and indeed hoo!

It's Shuffleathon time again and if you want to keep up with the receipt and reviewing of CDs then keep an eye on Swiss Toni's place.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fun with 'Auto-Summarise' in Microsoft Word

Why, when I was struggling to write an abstract of my PhD, did I not just use the 'auto-summarise' tool within Word? Oh, right, yes, because it comes up with complete nonsense as soon as you try to make it short!

For example, the following is a summary (selected as 100 words or less from an original document of just over 7200 words) of an article I wrote a few years ago:

Guggenheim provides a particularly problematic character for art history to consider. [27] Laurence Tacou-Rumney, Peggy Guggenheim: A Collector's Album (Paris and New York; Flammarion, 1996); Vail, Peggy Guggenheim.
Maybe I am being harsh, since the first sentence - actually the only sentence - is a reasonable summary of my point. But how did it decide that reference 27 was the one to select as the key summary for the whole article!?

Anyway, here is a link to the original article: A Biographical Pursuit of 'Peggy Guggenheim'.

I'm on a reading list!!!

I never google myself, but Cloud searches for me - and I'm on a Reading List! Yes, some poor students are required to read something written by me for their course at Arizona State University's Herberger College of the Arts. And hilariously it's alongside some writings by Griselda Pollock!

How damn freaking amazing is that?!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

William Shakesbeare

Cute Bear Alert

Cute teddy bear alert...

Dragged myself to town yesterday as needed to do some errands. When feeling a bit ropey it isn't unusual for me or my heart to be captured by a teddy bear* and so it proved yesterday when I spotted a lovely cuddly bear in WHS just crying out to be given a home. I think he's an cast-off from the Waterstones teddies (he came free with any purchase). So how could I resist!? With the W on his foot I couldn't help but call him William, as in William Shakespeare -- and from there it was but a small New Zealand pronunciation step to calling him William Shakesbeare.

He's very cute.


* No sniggering at the back there HL and Chrissie.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

How did you sleep? Reflections on US elections 2008

I couldn't cope with the TV coverage on BBC1, so we quit to bed and had radio 4 on through the night.

I dozed through some of the sections, but was awake when things were getting interesting as some of the crucial states started to come through.

Hearing McCain's gracious concession speech - and the appalling boos that greeted mention of Obama not once but twice during it - and hearing Obama's own victory speech were special events indeed.

Yes, we hoped [this is a good piece with Professor Richard King from Nottingham University talking about Obama and the Democratic hopes he carries: it was produced a few days ahead of the election]. However, we also feared the impact of the queues, the voting problems with technology and claim/counter-claim for voters, and the dread we now have of pollsters getting things wrong.

In the end, all that was swept aside in a flurry of states opting to take their chance on the oratory and possibilities held forth by Obama.

To quote a phrase, "what's next?"

Monday, November 03, 2008

USA future

Many moons ago I was an A level politics students: for our second year we did 1/2 UK politics and 1/2 US. We had an election in the UK in 1983 (just before we started) and an election in the US whilst doing the two year course.

I've been fascinated by US politics ever since.

All of which is by way of saying that the next 48 hours as the US goes to the voting booths - and dear god we hope we won't have another recounting fiasco like 2000 - have got me very nervous.

I dare not believe that Obama has it in the bag, however much it feels momentous and dazzling; the prospect of Palin anywhere near real power scares me far more than words can express; the idea that pollsters could be wrong, so wrong, gives me the shakes.

And on top of this, a man has lost his grandmother, the person who bought him up. And whatever happens next, that loss will bite at Obama and his family for all of his future.

Whichever way you are thinking of voting dear US readers, at least vote. Don't be put off by polls, or queues. Vote.

And change will come. For better or for worse.

Fleet Foxes - Nottingham Trent University 2 November 2008

Fleet Foxes in Nottingham Nov 2 2008
Fleet Foxes mix Beach Boys and CSNY harmonies and produce their own special folk-inspired narratives to beautiful effect.

After booking for them at Birmingham (Friday 31st Oct*) we then found they would be coming to the more convenient location of Nottingham Trent Uni (Sunday 2 Nov). So, up went the Brum tickets for sale [Hi Adam!] and off we were planning for Nottingham.

Arriving mid-way through J.Tillman's set was a semi-dispiriting experience: though this was no particular fault of the singer. He was fine enough but battled with a hideous amount of audience chattering - I couldn't tell for sure if he was being ironic but he did at one stage thank the audience for being so attentive. Hurrumph: they bloody well weren't from where I was (at the time, the fringes to one side of the stage about 6-10 people back). A real shame because as a side project this was lovely work, but it was overshadowed by the audience's reaction.

Once he'd finished - and he'd even had accompaniment from the rest of the Foxes on a couple of tracks to almost zero interest from the crowd - I made sure I loudly declared my murderous intent should anyone consider spoiling the main act. Yaddering during a support is pretty unforgiveable: during the main act deserves serious action.

We moved forward, planting ourselves on row two near to speakers. I needn't have worried because whether it was down to my location or a genuine attentiveness from the audience, when Fleet Foxes came on, tuned up and began their giddying harmonies, the place fell to silence. It was a wonderful feast of choral beauty.

And boy do these guys rock!

Despite being souped up on cold medicine ("robo-tripping" as in Robutussin children's medicine) they were as tight as on record but with added lustre, knowing this was live. By the time they struck up the tear-inducing White Winter Hymnal it felt like being chorused by angels. And they were happy to engage with the audience too: there was plenty of banter (Meadowlarks got an airing to great acclaim following a request), a good deal of political mutterings, and some giggle-inducing rambling asides (socio-political). That said, we were there for the harmonies and the tunes and we got them in joyous abundance. Robin Pecknold offered up additional covers (Judee Sill for the 'Mojo audience' which mostly met with silence as an audience identifier though the song was lovely) and pretty much burst his cold-afflicted lungs with a heart stopping version of Oliver James. This was a very decent hour and 10 mins set - possibly longer as I wasn't looking at my watch - and given those colds, a heroic achievement.

This track, He Doesn't Know Why, possibly presents their harmonies - and the band - to best effect.


* the pictures pretty awful but to get a flavour of how well they sound live, this from Brum gives a good impression.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hallelujah by Brigyn: a Christmas Number One?

Tom Robinson has just suggested that the now approved for release cover by Brigyn of Cohen's classic Hallelujah would make a lovely number one record in the UK (hell, I'd say everywhere).

Yep, seconded!

You can catch a listen to Haleliwia on Brigyn's MySpace page. Lovely, lovely! Let's campaign!

Update: Thanks to Ed's link (from comments) I've had chance to see Brigyn performing Haleliwia. Lovely!



Extra Update: catch a Radio 2 programme 'The Fourth, The Fifth, The Minor Fall' on this most beloved of songs on Radio 2 tonight [1 Nov 2008] and on Listen Again for the next seven days -- if we're in luck...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life, the universe and beyond

Work's overloaded.

Cat is poorly.

A New Doctor in 2010.

I want to be excited about the last one, but in the context of my current week I only feel melancholy.

So long, it's been good to know you...

Women's pay

Hat tip to EineKleine Rob for this excellent redirection.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In the name of friendship... I give her David Tennant

David Tennant's autograph on my friend's Hamlet programme
A signed programme from David Tennant for my friend's birthday. Sure, she would have liked actual David Tennant but I felt getting that was pushing it a bit - even my witchy powers don't extend that far - but hey, for a little humiliation and pleading, I'm more than happy to obtain this for her. [I have got the lovely Helen's permission to post this here: though I have been squeeing all day since yesterday morning]

HL has her birthday next week, and though she proclaimed she was 'not bothered' about not having got something signed at the stage door last week, I knew at heart she was a little sad inside [the unexpressed term 'gutted' would probably cover it].

So, throwing caution to the wind I took my last shreds of dignity and organised the deed (no laughing at the back: I'm maintaining the myth that I had some dignity before doing this whatever you may say).

When I got the package back it was definitely a case of cue SQUEE!

I confess I did do a big dancing jig in my nightwear, screeching to the ceiling 'thank you!!', before plotting how I could oh so casually drop this around to H's.

I went for the classic 'dropping your birthday card off early' technique [since our Stratford trip had effectively been our presents to each other]. I put the card into a carrier-bag, carefully making sure that it covered the centre of the programme where the signature was written. I passed the bag on, mentioning as calmly as I could 'there's your card, and I think that also belongs to you' before turning away silently squeeing in advance of her response. I sensed her puzzlement. Pause.

Squeal: 'oh MY GOD!! - how did you... what did you do?!'*

Needless to say, she's a bit chuffed. And so am I on her behalf. Is it wrong to feel self-indulgently virtuous?!

* Cloud said I should have said 'David stayed over and I got him to sign it before he left this morning'. Hurrumph. Honestly, the things my boy says to me...

Following blogs

I have Bloglines as my main RSS feed and alert to blogs - though I'm erratic at best regarding who is on it and who gets read on their actual blog - but this new-fangled Blog Followers thing is now fuddling me.

How do I add myself as a follower? And can I only do this for those who have moved to the new template thingie? It's all baffling.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bellowhead - part of the Derby Traditional Music and Arts Festival 24 October 2008

Bellowhead in Derby

The buzz on Bellowhead has reached us perhaps late compared to many, but my word what a band to see live!

We caught some last minute tickets for their performance as part of the Derby Traditional Music and Arts Festival (on this weekend and back next year at my birthday weekend). So in advance of them we caught the fun of formation folk dancing (believe me we watched from the sidelines rather than joining in as we know what our dancing skills are like!) but it was clear many had come to see them specifically.

The audience was broadranging - from 60s down to under 10s - and all were swept under the magic of this spell-binding 11 piece collective. You have to admire a band that can accommodate pop posturings (the image of the string section playing off each other in various poses will have me giggling for a long while), funk influences (really, funk played by strings and horns in a folk-stylee has to be seen/heard to be believed), and even reggae... total madness with kazoos and everything.

Here's some cracking pictures of Bellowhead from various gigs and I will aim to add a couple of my own over the weekend.

It's also worth checking out the individual band members - many very active in lots of other projects - and like many events it's irksome to be reminded of how much we have missed in recent weeks (with both Faustus and Spiers and Boden in Nottingham recently Grr).

PS Can I just add that Jon Boden is a very compelling frontman and had the audience eating out of his hand. He also reminded me of an American Studies Professor I know who has a similar degree of intensity in his glare. Very odd. It may also be to do with the dark suit thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blogger updated template

Does anyone know how to rid Blogger of the hammer and sickle 'being edited' symbols AKA the screwdriver and spanner symbols?

Or are they now a permanent feature? Cos it makes it look like my page is never quite fully ready for readers...

Anyway, the pages now have the shiny new gadget of an in action blogroll. If you post, a taster will appear here. I've not added everyone to the list at present so if you're not on there and you're updating, let me know. Likewise if you want to come off my list, then do so!

I'm also not sure about the followers business? What's that about?!

Yet another Norm profile of one of the blogroll friends

I'm beginning to lose track of all those who've had profiles over at Norm's (or indeed elsewhere - e.g. Mars Hill). Anyway, yet another illustrious companion in blogging has been given a Norm slot so speed you to read Wongablog's contribution.

Blog profiles so far from amongst those whose blogs I read (add yourself to the comments list if I have missed you!):

Anna
Clare
Darren
Hak Mao
John
Marie
Martin
Matt

And do keep in mind that time has passed on since some of these were written: some favoured blogs are now deceased, or things have moved on but they're still a good overview of our interests.

Belated congrats and welcome to the Inveresk offspring

Congratulations to Darren and Kara (blimey, I remember them getting hitched!). They are now proud parents to Owen Eugene Youngs-O'Neil.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oh this too, too solid flesh did melt...: Hamlet - RSC 18 October 2008

Helen had already had her fun with seeing this a month ago, but was well up for seeing this again, her most favourite of Shakespeare plays (she's seen it around 10 times now, with we think 7 different versions/actors in the role). For me, it was a virginal visit: my first Hamlet on stage (though not radio/audio/film). Beat that next version.

After the heart-pounding activity surrounding our visits to LLL, Hamlet was a bonus in a way that couldn't have seemed possible before the weekend. But it WAS our focus and our prime reason for coming for all that LLL had offered such delights. Hamlet is undeniably one of the most brilliant works of writing ever.

We took our seats on the front row of the circle, to the left side of the stage and befriended an older couple from Lichfield who engaged in banter with us in spite of easily spotting that we were there for Mr Tennant (they were delighted to say they had seen him performing there several times before he garnered the rock star status he now experiences). The audience also had further visitors with Robert Hardy and Jeremy Paxman as just the two we spotted in the audience.

Saturday - Hamlet - the play
This is undeniably a brilliantly dark humoured Hamlet, full of madness, stark wit, and glinting wit coursing through the production thanks to Tennant's natural ability to access and stir laughter with one raised eyebrow and flashing delivery of text. But it remains the tragedy we know it to be and the cast are, as with LLL, fabulous each and every one.

The production is atmospheric despite or because of the simplicity of the set (mostly stark dark marbled floor and mirrors). The torches at the start make brilliant use of this, and are easily appreciated from higher up than stalls level. There's also plenty of noise - the ghost scenes are especially terrifying, with lighting to pick out the reverberation of lines. And it's a pacey performance: edited for sure but with attentiveness to the overall impact so that you would scarce miss the lines cut save for those folk who know each line by heart from full-length versions or if you have a particular one lost in this production.

I stifled tears as ever at Ophelia's descent into madness and her truly tragic death - a speech I know too well from my long love for Pre-Raphaelite art, and marvelled at the way Rozencrantz and Guildenstern were brought to life (hot on the heels of seeing both actors as the other two companions of the King along with Berowne added an extra layer to their 'false friends' performances). Polonius, played as a distracted, over-thinking observer of court life, was masterfully brought to stage by the ever wonderful Oliver Ford Davies (who does this type of thing so well), but to pick on performances almost seems unfair when such overall brilliance is achieved. The play was certainly breathtaking, causing gasps at its playfulness and inventive take on this most well-known of texts.

And as Anna noted, for someone whom so many had come to see on stage, Tennant magnificently captures the gauche, heart-wounded grief of Hamlet from his first moments on stage - paralysed in almost unnoticed watchfulness for the horror of seeing the speedy progression of time from his father's death to his uncle's ascension. From this frozen beginning to his early breakdown on stage, through his delivery of the all the most well-known soliloquies which are informed with equal measure of tenderness and sharpness, this Hamlet is nevertheless caught in his actions: he is unable to stop the consequences of his 'madness'. Tragedy for himself yes, but more for others.

By the call at the end, most of us were on our feet and the applause was deafening when Tennant came on his own on stage - he clearly relishes this sort of acting challenge and the reaction he garners. And who can blame him?!

Highlights (everyone): Penny Dowd's Downie's* clothing (God, her wardrobe is stunning) and her utterly focused final actions as Gertrude; a brilliant Horatio; every scene with the ghost; everything coming together as a beauteous whole.

Highlights (Tennant): the perfect delivery of "country matters"; and sorry, but to echo Rosby's admission of his handsomeness, can I just say dear God, that arse. It will be a long time before my brain even wants to let go of the haunting appeal of his lower back and the red underwear. [Note, this was a bonus of being on that particular side of the stage. God, it was almost distracting].

A good weekend? Hell, yeah.


* apologies for name erros. I was rather exhausted by the time I was trying to write this and things got away from me.

By heaven, I do love...: Love's Labour's Lost - RSC Stratford 17/18 October 2008

Rullsenberg in Stratford 2008
Lisa in Stratford: proof we did walk and wander the place more than the theatre environs.

Dear God, where to begin?

Friday 17 October
9am I'm in the hairdressers.  I've had no breakfast - time and high anxiety preventing me from consuming anything.  The hairdressers ply me with tea and biscuits all morning as I sit have redlights added to my usual colouring. I come out with some very red sections and a heightened sense of excitement.

Post-lunch, HL and I depart for Stratford.  By and large the sun is up, skies are clear and bright.  I hope for fine weather and a healthy David Tennant.  Anything else is bonus.

Friday - Love's Labour's Lost - the play
We arrive and eat - sortof - and sit outside in the chilling air.  We take our stalls seats in row K to the side of the stage near an aisle and immediately befriend the four people in front of us.  The company of fellow fans, mother and daughter, wife and tolerant husband, takes some beating in situations like this so there is much giggling, and aptly, bawdy humour from us all.

The setting is simple and well used - basically, a tree.  The humour, as mentioned above, is naughty - sometimes very naughty indeed (dairy churning).  And you can't help feel Shakespeare would approve of this production, and not just because of the impressive Elizabethean costumes.  There are a LOT of opportunities for audience reaction, with far more applause between scenes, even within scenes, than is usually allowed or encouraged - at least in the UK theatre.  And there is also interaction.  To be on either side of the stage in the front row (around seat 5-8) is to take your life in your hands, male or female, as there are couple of key moments where you will be gestured to as evidence for Berowne's dialogue.

Of course, it was inevitable that at least one of us would lose it at some point: cue, on one re-entry to the stage by Tennant, an exceptionally audible whimper from the row in front of us.  (I chuckled inwardly, grateful that it wasn't me).  Sure, the doublet and hose doesn't do the lanky physique of Tennant many favours (bulking his hips shortens him in a way that scarce seems possible), but there's a rather fetching moment when he unfastens the ribbons of his top to demonstrate his being "sick at heart" which probably caused a fair amount of drooling.  And his wit, his gait, his bewitching eyes are only overcome in beauty by the - for me - sheer delight in hearing his native accent.  Forsooth, I did swoon.

As Jane Henry indicated though, this is a lovely ensemble piece - albeit that Tennant as Berowne has the greatest number of lines.  There are fine performances from all: with Joe Dixon's hysterical turn as Don Armado capturing special attention and Edward Bennett's widening eyes perfectly conveying the haplessly heart-struck King of Navarre.  Nina Sosanya is, of course, stunningly beautiful, but this is such an attractive production in every sense.  And then there is the language: it is almost breathtakingly fast in its pace of verbal play and sparring.  Keeping up, understanding all of the puns, the rhymes, the Latin, would be hard work for most modern audiences - but rather brilliantly we mostly keep up thanks to gestures, subtle movement of eyes, and intonation guiding us to interpretation.

Having said that though, the timings got well lost on Friday night thanks to extended giggling both on and off-stage: scheduled to be 2 hours 45 mins in the programme including a break, even the website admits to 2 hours 55 mins and Friday ran well over 3 hours (my estimate is to 3 hours 5 mins).  It never dragged. By the bleak, unresolved ending the audience had been enchanted and moved to all emotions.  The handling of the moment on which the narrative turns from action and bawdy humour to dark news happens in the blink of an eye [and even second time around, aware it was coming it was hard to see how the figure arrives on stage].  And with a magical captivating final scene, the delight of the audience for the applause was palpable.

Highlights (everyone): Don Armado's clothes and florid communication; the music and dancing (brilliant choreography); the language, the language, the language.

Highlights (Tennant): Berowne throwing his hat towards a tree branch (didn't make it, shrugged with that keen wit and nonchalance Tennant masters so perfectly) - more on that with the review of our second viewing of the play; the King, Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine in and around the tree - and especially Berowne's critique of hypocrisy and subsequent being 'busted' by his three companions; and the declarations of love.  *swoon*

Friday - Love's Labour's Lost - after the play
You have to understand that for years, long-time friend HL has been unable to break her habits to do 'the stage door'.  The nearest she got was once when I had ran up past the Lyric Theatre stage door to talk to Dougie Henshall and she later appeared on my shoulder as he and I exchanged conversation (she scared me half to death).  But she has usually backed away, regardless of my careless devil-may-care actions.

Not this night.  No, she was determined to break her duck and despite heels she scuttled out as the theatre emptied and was running - yes running - towards the stage door.  Of course, as previous visitors will well know, smart people do the show and do the stage door as a separate event, bagging their spot the instant the barriers go up well before the end of the performance. Thus, although we were swift, the crowd was already three-four deep and there was no hope of getting to the front to speak properly or get an autograph.  Especially with Helen being far shorter than I.  Damn it though, I wasn't going to let that stop us attempting.  Not quite thinking straight, especially once he galloped out - all lanky of frame and smiles - I stuck with making my long arms work overtime to have a half chance of a signing whilst H, bless her despite being unable to see a thing (though she swooned at just hearing him) gamely pointed and clicked her camera in the general direction.


With heart pounding, I kept my arm thrust out - more in hope than in expectation that my programme would get signed.  So when his hands reached up and mid-air balance on my own copy wavered with the weight of his signing, I couldn't help but gasp and say "thank you so much for this!" His reply, "It's a pleasure, thank you for coming", with a smile and eyes darting to capture more programmes for signing, was enough to sate my determination.  And I delighted when he dropped suddenly to his haunches to talk to a young girl - Amy - and charmingly made her day with his brief words before wishing a happy birthday (I think also to her) and then, with a wave he was gone.  As others have reported, he's inevitably brief in his time - hell, he could easily spend more time signing than performing.  But oh, to be able to say we had done it.

We glided back to the b&b, high on adrenaline and fiercesome in punching the air with glee SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.


Not the best pic took of me and my programme but by far the one where I look least awful.

Saturday - Love's Labour's Lost - the play
If souls are to be bought and sold, then ours are in hock forever.  No matter.  For the first time, contacts were approached and against the odds can also attend the Saturday matinee.  It's bright sunny day and we are in fine humour as we once collide with two of those from the previous night and chat before the show.  We have good stalls seats just in from an aisle.  Again, we easily befriended those around us: the two girls to our left asking if we were David Tennant fans (to which we unconvincingly lied in high mocking tones before falling into giggles), and best of all a trio of female family relations behind us - mum, daughter and grand-daughter.  Aged just seven, with ted in tow, she keenly passes admiration for my stripes and we quickly strike up fond conversation with the family including this smart-as-button girl (she was already reading Shakespeare and was well versed in the plays and play-going in a way that was admirable to the point of being breathtaking).  Course, she was also keen to point out she 'loved David Tennant' in tones of swooning adoration that only just beat our more adult intonations.

And then, just a couple of minutes before the play began, the final seat on their row behind us was filled: by Patrick Stewart.  Cue gulps, gasps, and resolute attempts to not embarrass ourselves (though the grandmother managed to exchange a few remarks despite her own giddy delight in this bonus encounter).  It was certainly interesting to hear his laughter amongst ours during the performance - and hear the reports back of his attentive listening to the overflowingly playful language.

Anyway, at second indulgence, knowing the play far better now it sparkled with extra lightness and the different location meant we saw things previously missed (I'd only half read it before attending Friday's performance - and since our young friend behind us had got as far as that this didn't make me feel as if I had got as far as I should!).  Hysterically, the early hat throwing scene was successful this time around which garnered extra applause before he inevitably blew it by mischievously shrugging and saying 'every time' to which there was further laughter and vehement giggling cries from me and Helen L of 'liar!" [which we later thought were frightening liable to be reported back by Patrick Stewart: oops].

Delightfully, our young friend was more than wonderful company for the play - not only did she laugh with vivid pleasure (though heaven knows that she would be a good few years yet to get all the jokes we hoped!) but she also easily expressed the wonderment that the play presents with the lanterns used in the final scenes, and the swooping owl, garnering special gasps of enchantment.  A very special occasion.

Saturday - Love's Labour's Lost - after the play
During the interval, we had gotten into further conversations with our new friends behind us and suggested that, hot on my observations of the previous night regarding Amy, our smart seven year old should go to the stage door (despite her already having been in receipt of a signed programme from DT by postal request). Knowing that, however much we might want to, the likely chance of getting something signed for H - let alone the legions of friends we knew to be in high lust for something - was doomed unless we could magically get a place at the door AND attend the play, this plan now became my mission. I wanted this to work for our young companion for a million reasons but mostly because I knew it was do-able. For who would refuse a child to squeeze between and take up some of their hard-fought-for barrier space?

Despite swift movement, I didn't manage to move quick enough to catch Mr Stewart as he left the stalls (Caroline - I'm sorry!) but we moved at pace toward the stage door and again hit row 3-4 in the barrier pile-up.  When our small friend arrived at the stage door scrum, clutching ted and programme, I ignored the mini grumbles that had greeted any adult attempts to force a way in nearer the front and shouted up "there's a small girl here who would really like to get to the front".  And as expected she was duly wheedled past even the most stubborn of fixed feet to the barrier.  Task one complete.  As David came round, he again expressed his astonishment at there being so many of us there - though it was remarkably good humoured and without shoving (which has marred some signings).  But as he worked his way round - gawd how I wished I had been able to get to the front - I realised he must have by-passed our young friend since she would scarcely have reached the height of the barrier.  

I wasn't having that: "there's a young girl right down at the front" I yelled and he immediately dropped to his haunches again.  I could have punched the air with glee as I exchanged grins with her grandmother.  

We had had brief hopes that the Friday gang who HAD bagged front spots may be able to get something for H, but with regulation one signing per person this fell by the wayside (David was really apologetic and if I had brains I'd have yelled up 'but it's for someone who can't reach the front!' - damn. Still, with me now on camera duty, I was able to shoot higher angled shots, thus bagging this gem.


Still, whatever delight we got from our photos, when our young friend emerged, eyes glassy with delight, clutching her programme neatly signed and smiling, our pleasure was replete.  When we asked what he had said, she paused and with perfect dramatic flourish zipped her mouth and replied "I'm not saying!" (We joked that she may be on a promise for 10 years time).  Hugs and thanks were exchanged and photos shown to each other.  Could the experience have been bettered?  Under the circumstances, scarcely.

For pretty much the first time all weekend, we went to eat a proper meal before Hamlet.

UPDATE 22 October - Ta Persephone! There's a link to a video from Saturday afternoon, and yes, the first voice shouting up is me...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Review: Company of Liars - Karen Maitland

I first spotted this book when at the Lowdham Book Festival this summer. It caught my eye but, as we were already laden, it stayed behind. Left, but not forgotten.

After a terrifically embarrassing turn at Blackwell's Oxford the other weekend (yes, I really was the person who says 'it had an X cover and was about Y'), Cloud did a rather more focused internet search using our recollection that it had been on the back table of publications at the Lowdham Book Festival -- meaning it was by one of the appearing authors. And I did remember it was about the plague.

This pinned down Karen Maitland's novel 'Company of Liars' and it was promptly added to my birthday pressies.

I finished reading it last night and have to say it was a breathtaking read (albeit a whopping 576 pages). Set in 1348 - it is subtitled 'A Novel of the Plague' - Company of Liars presents a fascinating collection of characters, bound together by circumstance and travelling through pestilence ravaged England in pursuit of safety, refuge, home and solace. Liars all, their secrets are uncovered as the novel progresses and we are drawn into their desperate attempts to outrun their lies and the who/what that will uncover their secrets.

Our guide through the narrative is (a) camelot, a relic seller (there is a neat glossary at the end) whose sharp observations nevertheless hide lies. Its a complete page-turner, full of rich historical detail and characters - even the ones you dislike are portrayed as rounded figures.

There's murder and dark humour abounding in the text. And its a handsome hardback book as well. Well worth paying full price for a thoroughly enthralling read.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Review: Strictly Love by Julia Williams

Confession time:

1) I don't watch Strictly Come Dancing (sure, I may catch a bit on occasion, but I'm NO devotee). I know that is virtually sacrilege but there it is.

2) As most of you will know, Cloud and I share four left feet and the dancing skills of untrained elephants.

3) I recently won a copy of Julia Williams's Strictly Love via the wonderful MediumRob's competition thanks to recounting the efforts Cloud nevertheless made to inject some romantic dancing into our lives.

4) The genre of 'romantic fiction' really only exists on my bookshelves in the most broad sense.

But, here's the thing. I love reading. I devour books. If I'm on a roll I can gallop through a book in a sitting (pace 'Love is a mix tape' last week - NB I cried through a good bit of it). And I'm especially partial to romance and interwoven lives come autumn months (sure there is a psychological reason for that)

So I was REALLY excited to get a copy of Julia's book and really looking forward to reading it.

I had the annual meeting with my former Wolverhampton students and colleagues (much fun: the plan is for a cultural, theatre-based trip to the RSC at Stratford next summer. There was a bit of envious muttering about me going twice next weekend but I brushed past it...). So I knew I would have a good couple of hours of trains there and back to sit with the iPod and read.

I finished the book about 15 mins before arriving back in Nottm.

It was LOVELY.

The interweaving of the four key characters' narratives pulls you in easily. They're convincing as people, despite the artificial setting of celebrity law-suits and publicity scandals (come on, that's not where most of us live but that's fiction, right???). It's in the little details that convictions come completely to life - the repression, the public personas, the ambivalent emotions about family and self-expectations. There is real forethought and acute observation in the constructions of these figures and their actions. And that's before we get to the dancing which reads vividly as the lived experience of someone who has gone through learning to dance.

Still, as a resolutely non-maternal type, I did feel my heart sink a little at the early screaming body clock scene. And though I understood that the characters may well react as they did to finding certain secrets, there was a bit of this liberal heart of mine that sank at certain expressions. But in the former, the issue of body clocks seemed to be dropped very quickly, almost undermined at some points - and regardless of your status as a parent I defy you to not be moved by the handling of parental love and bonds which Julia writes so well. And however my liberal heart may have felt at first, tolerance and balance do emerge to temper the sharpness of responses and stereotypes in a nevertheless realistic fashion.

So all in all, a bravo. I really enjoyed reading this and its rekindled my love of the broadest definitions of 'romantic fiction' - both contemporary and historical. I think I'll be indulging some more over the coming weeks.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Don't forget the Fleet Foxes tickets offer! These could be yours if you want them!

Contact me for details as per the original post offering these for Friday 31 October 2008 in Birmingham.

UPDATE - They've hopefully reached their new home.

Neil Gaiman's Mr Hero

I picked up from Booklover in my trip to Oxford the first 6 issues of Mr Hero: The Newmatic Man - a comic by Neil Gaiman.

I've devoured the first few issues already so am now biting to get the next bag of issues from the store! Hope I can get them!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Two Fleet Foxes tickets available for Friday 31 October in Birmingham, at Custard Factory

Due to a variety of complicated reasons, and despite efforts to distribute already, we find ourselves in possession of TWO tickets for Fleet Foxes that we cannot use.

DATE: Friday October 31st 2008
LOCATION: Custard Factory, Birmingham, England UK
COST TO YOU: negotiable, but we'll mostly be glad to have them used by someone

Interested?

Please email me.

Cross-posted on Music is Our Hot Hot Sex

UPDATE: the tickets have hopefully reached their new user

In Praise of 'Place of Execution (ITV drama starring Juliet Stevenson and Greg Wise)

Just brilliant: what a fantastic set of performances Place of Execution gave us and what a compelling story.