Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It is a dead computer. Dead I tell you.

Yep, the old computer is dead. Need to wait till after pay day to get new computer.


Posts planned now on hold as Cloud's laptop is only functional puter in house. Damn.

I was going to review a couple of books, the first Hellboy film (I only just watched it: yes, late I know) and my rewatch of s1 of NuWho with Eccles-cake. But that is all now waiting in the pending tray of life.

And yes, guess what. I hadn't backed up everything so some of the music will be lost and some pictures. And some general files.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Summer Sundae 2008 review


Arrived early-ish in good sunlight.

Wandered and had some food (the first of three burritos) and the first of several plastic glasses of scrumpy. I then went into the new Phrased and Confused tent to watch Aoife Mannix and June Armour perform "Different Words for Snow, which fuses live voice and accordion with pre-recorded text, piano, mandolin and percussion and other samples".

I popped back for a bit more from this tent with King Creosote's Kenny Anderson and former Delgado Emma Pollock doing their own bits before coming together to do a lovely cover of Squeeze man's song about getting out of New York on the morning Greyhound bus (which damn me I know but can't find anywhere!)

Anyway. Following a bit of background from The Heroes (winners of a local band competition to open the main stage of the festival - hey, they're not The Displacements so they're okay by me!) and from Fight Like Apes (very sweary: radio6 won't have liked that!), I finally collected the first of my companions: the lovely George and Sonia. We ambled in to see The Errors - darn fine eclectic noise makers who are of course from Glasgow and signed to the Mogwai label. NeilCloud joined us towards the end and we had a bit more background from Royworld as we guided them round the site - small but perfectly formed! We then went in to see Noah and the Whale who were rather enjoyable (if diminished somewhat for Sonia by missing former collaborator Laura Marling). It was a packed tent for them so no chance to skip out to see what Emma Pollock is now up to following the demise of the Delgados.

Still, after a passing listen to King Creosote, we headed indoors for the consensual highlight of the festival: Nina Nastasia. Nastasia is divine, in both beauty and voice. We planted ourselves firmly in the front row, delighting in her presence. She performed a diverse range of her songs from across her various albums and though stripped down they were as beautiful as ever. Of course, when she struck up "Settling Song" - one of the highlights of any year - there was a ripple of pleasure through us on the front row. And as ever I cried to it. She was very lovely and when she caught people photographing her she asked us to not photograph her "ugly knees" (they're really not ugly!). In the same exchange as we cheered her I yelled out "we love you!" and she blushingly replied "awh, thanks" which made us all feel very giddy.

After that it was out for a fine Italian meal - with the immortal line "Would you like cheese on your.... cheese?" - before heading back to the festival for one last looksie on day one: given that Powerplant had no power (too little cable: doh!) we gave up on that and staggered the George past Supergrass (we got him to restrain from taking up arms against them!) and onto a train home.

Well, it was eventually a train home.


Friday had been sunny. Saturday was not. Boo-hiss. Still, at least G liked his new t-shirt, and following tea and cakes we headed over to Leicester. We caught Dan Arborise whose guitar-playing was impressive but whose songs were overall less so (IMHO)

I wandered off to see Kyte - a very pleasant bit of post-rock noise and harmony - whilst G and S hung out at the Leciester Ska and Jazz Ensemble.

After a bit of Dengue Fever - who were mostly pop but with a Cambodian girl singer - we headed in for a bit of Zombie Zombie who did a fine bit of electronica. But what we were really waiting for was Camera Obscura. On the big stage. And with their own instruments this time! We planted ourselves close to the front - missing the muddiest patches that had formed from the now (thankfully) ceased rain - and wallowed in the loveliness that is Camera Obscura. I was especially pleased to be placed in front of gorgeous keyboardist Carey Lander.

Traceyann was in quite a smiley mood - she is notoriously glum and serious - and their harmonies were as lovely as ever. Hurrah! There are some more nice pics here.

After that we ducked inside for Rachel Unthank and the Winderset whom I had heard a little by and much of and was really looking forward to seeing them. They did not disappoint with a fine audience winning set of their delicious Tyneside folk narratives. We sang along and delighted in their fine musicianship -- including some (cardigan required) clog dancing!

There's a nice bit of video of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset in the 6Music Hub tent at the BBC site.

Pretty soon after they finished, Henry Rollins burst on stage. He was funny, he was satirical, he was polemic and political and incisive and utterly exhausting. George and Sonia nipped out to see Dawn Landes in the Rising Stage tent and were suitably impressed - as it seemed was Romeo from the Magic Numbers who was in the audience watching, just hanging out. Cloud and I stayed with Rollins a little longer before nipping in for the closing part of Landes set and then heading back to Rollins.

Yep, as expected Rollins still had not stopped for breath. He took especial 'pleasure' in excoriating the UK for bumping the USA off top spot for one of the big bad issues polls -- we waste the most food per year: good work UK. So, a good 80 minutes since he had started up - and keep in mind he normally does 180 minute sets - Rollins FINALLY took breath and left the stage. It was an awesome performance: thought-provoking and smart and laced with barbed wit. Someone who travels the globe and then tells us about it, not just for the hell of it but to change us.

After that there was only one place to go; past sparkly-dressed Roisin Murphy and straight to the Musician Stage to watch El Mahico headlining there two years after their brilliant afternoon performance at Summer Sundae. Their brand of ska-Cuban-hip-hop dance is infectious and thoroughly charmed the full tent. The only shame was that with such a low stage in the tent, and the front guy and girls all being quite short it was hard to see them (there are some good pics here)! George and Sonia enjoyed their liveliness and I got high-fived by a nearby dancing couple who grooved through most of the set. It was a thrilling end to the long day of music.


First up, the sad news. With lead singer Blaine Harrison in hospital there was going to be no chance to sing in the festival's second bout of sunshine to the Mystery Jets' cracking cheesy pop "Two Doors Down". Boo. Here's hoping you recover well Blaine.

Still, there was much more to enjoy today even if we would only have the G & S company for short time. We passed by some Rook and the Ravens, were baffled but amused by the Oulipo Poets and caught most of the Tom Waits-esque Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir who got the chance to play the main stage in the absence of the Mystery Jets. We parted company with our long distance visitors and headed indoors for Jeffrey Lewis (he of the 12 Crass Songs covers album). Jarvis likes him which just confirms that he's brilliant AND he did an amazing song "The History of the Fall". His set included the visually accompanied "Creeping Brain" - videos give some sense of the live performance but at Sundae he showed the visuals on a big screen projection which was less lo-fi but very effective. And he also did the breathtaking "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane", which went down very well.

We had a quick stroll after this and then took in Efterklang - a very odd band from Denmark who were dressed in white Morris Dancer type outfits.

There's some nice pictures by andycook over at Flickr which truly show what the band looked like (including the hot girl playing keyboards and dancing on stage). Their ethereal sounds and noise were a joy to experience.

Following that was going to be hard so we headed to the security of a Mitch Benn musicalcomedy performance which though broadly the same show as last time was still bloody hilarious and came with added Doctor Who comments ("I've been to conventions now: I used to think I was a Doctor Who fan - I now realise I am NOT a Doctor Who fan. They live in houses with a full-size replica Dalek that they made themselves". I suspect that Benn has or is in the throws of reading Wiffle Lever to Full!)

After that we took in some background of Reverend and the Makers. But then we then faced a hard choice: do we follow our heads and recommendations and listen to Joan as Police Woman, or our feet and hearts at the end of Summer Sundae and go for Special Ed and the Short Bus? We went for the latter and had a rip-roaring end to our festival in true hoe-down style with bango, fiddle, bass and guitar and some heavily innuendo laden tunes. Old and young danced happily with each other and a good time was had by all.

Sorry, Simian Mobile Disco - even though your light show looked great you still hit us as merely the Chemical Brothers de nos jours.

A good festival? You bet. We've already booked our tickets for 2009.

And, oh yeah. Lethally the Folk Devils tent was back this year. Thanks to that and the CD sales desk in the De Montford Hall itself we came back with 14 CDs...

Monday, August 11, 2008

100 books half-read

Via EineKleine Rob (who came via Phil)

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or were forced to read at school and hated. (I see no reason to restrict ‘books I hated’ to school - there are only a couple of books on the list I really disliked, and neither of them was a school text.)
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - life is too short
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible - what can I say: my dad was an evangelical christian..
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - is it possible to DOUBLE underline one that you really love?
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - Blimey, I mean, I've read a LOT of Shakespeare but not all of it although I have loved pretty much all I have read...
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - phew, just got under the wire on that!
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac - no desire to read that in a hurry again...
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - tried and failed. God, it's miserable.
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce - life is too short, sorry.
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - could not get on with it
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Hmm, I think there are 50 I think I can lay fair claim to - some I haven't read for a long LONG time. Others: meh. Not much I hate, though several I really haven't got time for in this lifetime. For shame.

Summer Sundae review forthcoming

Summer Sundae review will be forthcoming over at Music...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Review comment for Chick Flicks article

“A Soundtrack for Our Lives” was for me one of the most pleasurable chapters for its analysis of paradoxes and contradictions inherent in choosing music for a soundtrack.


Sorry, had a bit of a "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" moment then when I was forwarded a long review essay from a New Zealand journal [scroll to bottom] about a book on Chick Flicks to which I contributed an article to last year.


The psychedelic bumblebee is off again to summer sundee

That should of course be 'sundae' but it rhymes better spelt as sundee.

Wish us not too grim weather and safe arrivals for our compadres George and Sonia, plus safe entry through the god awful e-ticket system which is making me have nightmares about Cloud getting in.

This is not helped by me not having a printer at home.

ANYWAY. See you all soon after the Summer Sundae festival.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Late to the party: Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

It's taken some time to get a chance (and to find it available online on a computer I could actually watch it on), but finally I have seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Good grief it is fantastic. The songs are brilliant and sharp, the narrative typical Whedon (melancholic, soft-centred and harsh on its viewers in its finale).

Watch it, for your own good.

Hamlet schedule and reviewers

Back in June I asked for your dates of seeing Hamlet (and Love's Labours Lost).

Here's the schedule and updates with reviews as they come in.

Last updated 19 October
I have added some updates

Hamlet: Stratford

4th August - Mr Wongablog who found space in his review for the word 'geekgasm' and Anna Waits who makes a good case for this Hamlet bringing great wit to the production and plenty of first-time vistors

8th August - Poly Gianniba

28th August - my new work colleague! [and she likes Dougie Henshall: needless to say, I think I like her!] - she came back reporting the humour, the rockstar levels of applause and plenty of 'he is SO sexy".

1st September - Rosby - whose fair phrase "dear LORD he's good looking" pretty much sums it up...

5th September [after show talk] - Poly Gianniba

6th September - [matinee] Helen Lisette and her mum. The summary text I got read 'Hamlet totally fab. DT brilliant and nice arse". Again, sums it it.

23rd September - Magical_M - awaiting review and return from Europe trip

26th September - juramcleod

18th October - Rullsenberg and Helen Lisette

Love's Labours Lost: Stratford

October - Jane Henry (she can't recall the date!)
Postscript - Jane Henry attended on Saturday 4 October. I think we can say she enjoyed it!

10 October - Poly Gianniba Note to self: this is my birthday...

17 October - Rullsenberg and Helen Lisette (plus, if we can get returns the following day's matinee... well, why not!). This weekend is between our two birthdays so we are seeing it as a treat.

Hamlet: London

5th December - Stu_N

12th December - Jane Henry and Marie Phillips

13th December - Rullsenberg and Chrissie

Let me know if there are more visits or dates I have missed. And do let me know if there are reviews to link to!

Book Review: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Yes, I know, several years and a few episodes of 'Moffat does Niffenegger in Doctor Who' too late.

But, but, I have just finished reading Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveller's Wife and it WAS lovely.

I've been meaning to read it since it came out, and then as everyone kept going on about how it was being ploughed in Doctor Who I felt I both should and wondered if one or both of these things would be diminished by reading it.

I'm kinda glad I left it till now, partly because it gave me space to enjoy the book for what it was and partly because I could come to it after starting to read the effortlessly wonderful work 'The Night Bookmobile' in the Guardian Review.

For those who still haven't read Niffenegger's novel, it's a delight. A rollercoaster ride through time and life, full of wit and passion. It's sexy, sensual and deeply moving. I sniffled several times and was reading the final sections through fought-back tears. Hell, I'm soppy. But by the end I felt I knew them so well - Henry and Clare and everyone around them. So of course the inevitability of events was going to catch up with me and them.

Once you are into the flow of the narrative - and it takes no effort for all its twisting timeline crossings - you are swept along with the characters.

Does it matter that Moffat has seemingly appropriated elements from this tale for his own work? No, because neither the possibility of love nor the impact of time travel are new types of tale. The inspiration is used well but I would say that looking back on the episodes from having read the text I don't feel they diminish them or my experience of the book.

It's too beautiful a tale for that to happen.

Ending our London trip 4th August 2008

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Ending a visit on a Batman Bang

I love visiting London. Here in Nottingham, as much as I appreciate the place, I can see its limitations. I know London has its own faults, but one of the ones oft-proclaimed that drives me to despair is that surrounding the transport system. True, I don't travel daily at peak times, but I am often around on week days, and frequently on Fridays and Mondays during at least one of the peak periods. And I have never found the buses and underground to be disappointing. Please remember people that outside London transport runs mostly every 10-15 minutes during PEAK PERIODS. I use public transport enough to know that it can be pretty crap, though our Nottingham tram system is largely darn good (however during university term time at peak times it is probably the closest that Nottingham gets demonstrations of tube-crushes).

Rant over.

Anyway. We pack our bag and leave this at reception carrying with us only those books we can't squeeze in the suitcase. We return to Bar Bruno and then go and enjoy the sun in Trafalgar Square.

We then dive into the Odeon Leciester Square for a big screen showing of The Dark Knight. I love the Odeon in Leicester Square, not just for its star-studded associations with premieres but for the space itself. The gorgeous Deco details.

The ads and trailers nearly killed us both off (do they have to be quite so crap?) but the film itself more than rewarded our efforts.

Yeah, it's clearly NOT a 12A certificate film (it's a 15, no doubt). But certificate issues aside this is wonderfully adult - whilst rooted firmly in the unreality of comic book heroes and villains - and thoroughly dark and dangerous. It is a bleak film, shot through with the scarred red-mouthed and compelling performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. He glimmers and glowers throughout the narrative, endlessly reinventing his history to suit each conversation he has, playing with and against every expectation. It looks fabulous, the sound is fabulous, and Nolan provides a pacey continuation to his opening shot at the Batman story which makes best use of the cast and the budget available.

Does Ledger deserve an Academy nod for this role? Well, it's clearly not Brokeback Mountain which most agree is where he should have won. And it is what is known as a 'genre flick' (a label that makes me despair even as I know it is the industry parlance for such works). Will sentiment be enough to win a nomination? The performance is certainly worth consideration but it's a long time till January 2009 and given he died in time to be lauded at the last ceremony amongst the 'remembered dead' there's a possibility that memories won't carry that far. It's a shame because it really is a fabulous portrayal and one deserving of attention. Would we be saying this if he hadn't died? I'd like to think yes because it really is the dark soul of the movie.

After that we needed some air and a general meander to clear ourselves. Then it was back to Paradiso before heading to get our suitcase and sit and gaze at the glories of St Pancras.

And so it ended.

A Sunday in London 3rd August 2008

Ah, if it is Sunday it must be....

Start the day in Spitalfields!

With Bar Bruno shut on Sundays, we headed up to Spitalfields where we have now located an enjoyable Sunday alternative to Bruno: the S&M cafe.

Yes, the Sausage and Mash Cafe bar on Brushfield Street. Reviews on the net are unfortunately more negative than our experiences. I love having mash with peas and cabbage in it and the toast is lovely. A nice alternative and local to the market.

Ah, the market.

Home to all manner of Lika-ish things like beautifully made bags and clothes (I lusted after an especially gorgeous tailored green coat with fuschia lining but even though the £300 price tag was a bargain for the quality of materials and workmanship I wasn't foolish enough to belief I could afford it). And we dodged the showers nicely. An always lovely experience.

We then wandered over to the South Bank and drifted through the various bookshops and more along there. We spent a great deal of time watching the hilarious experiences of people with the Jeppe Hein's 'Appearing Rooms' Hayward Gallery fountain (which was originally there two years ago but seems to be back again) - it was especially fun to see children deliberately standing over where the jets of water would come up to get themselves wet, whilst largely the adults desperately tried to avoid getting caught [this didn't work when the wind blew!]

We also took in the over-scale (fake) grass furniture.

Come evening we were hungry so we headed back to Brick Lane for a curry - very nice - at Papadoms. Then we had a drink in the Ten Bells Pub at the corner of Fournier Street - very nice place to drink as it's clearly a chatterers pub but the clientele is easily 10-20 years younger than most chatterers pubs! I think we upped the average age a fair bit! We spied on a walking tour - inevitably calling on the Jack the Ripper tales - before we braved the night air and the spooky sight of Hawksmoor's Christ Church in moonlight. Yeeks, that place gives me the hee-bees. I re-read the excellent From Hell when we got back home and it reconfirmed my thoughts!

Book Review: Wiffle Lever to Full by Bob Fischer

Neil Perryman has already done a review of Wiffle Lever to Full over at Behind the Sofa, but here I am doing my stint anyway.

I have to say I laughed like a drain through most of this book: it is, above and beyond any nostalgia trips it provides, utterly hilarious.

Or, maybe, you have to have been of that time and have at least enough of an interest in sci-fi/fantasy to connect with the narrative.


Now I have to confess that despite Cloud's belief that I am a geek of high order, I am in fact merely a fringe-geek. For a start I have never been to a fan convention/event (tempted many times but way too shy and way too aware of the higher geek quotient I would encounter). You see, I'm actually terrified that I would be found out for not actually being as informed as some pretend me to be. Sure, I'm a fair bit over the level of geek-ness in my immediate circle and can reasonably stand my ground in certain company. But in amongst the hardcore I would be a lightweight. A feather duster of shallow and faux geekness that would have me drummed out before I could say, well anything remotely amusing really.

So although I really enjoyed reading this book it was a rather strange experience as well. One reason for this is that I am clearly just that little bit older than the author: blimey, nostalgia written by those younger than me. So I come into the game with a different Doctor regeneration and a little more proximity to some of the earlier works discussed.

The book is also resolutely blokey, despite the intermittent presence of author Bob Fischer's partner Sorcha and muttered stunned comments of "there are a lot of women here" (from the Blake's 7 convention). Now this is not a criticism since the humour is that of the fan as much as anything else. Nevertheless I'm unsure how a female version of this book would play out and it did keep crossing my mind to think about my own life with sci-fi [indeed, Cloud suggested I write my own 'woman on the edge of time, space and all things geek' companion book].

Still, as I say, it is very funny. It's also a very quick read, enjoyable digested over the weekend (I finished reading it in Trafalgar Square in the hot sun of Monday late morning). Recommended for anyone with childhood/youth memories and semi-suppressed obsessions with Doctor Who, Star Wars, Blake's 7, Red Dwarf, The Prisoner and much more.

Bob Fischer's MySpace book page

Bob Fischer's Wordpress book blog

A book splurge in London - August 2008 (plus one)

In no particular order...

    Travis Elborough presents The Long Player Goodbye: The album from vinyl to iPod and back again

    Wilfred Sheed: The House that George Built - with a little help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty

    Nick Griffiths: Dalek, I Loved You

    Jane Espenson (Ed): Serenity Found - more unauthorized essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe

    Angela Carter: The Magic Toyshop [Virago 30 hardback edition]

    Lavinia Greenlaw: The Importance of Music to Girls

    Kevin Brockmeier: The Brief History of the Dead

    Marina Warner: Phantasmagoria - Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century

    Lawrence W. Levine: Highbrow/Lowbrow - The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America

    Mark Jancovich/James Lyons (Eds): Quality Popular Television

    John Tulloch/Henry Jenkins (Eds): Science Fiction Audiences - Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek

    About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who - Volumes 4-6

    Bob Fischer: Wiffle Lever to Full - Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy-Eyed Nostalgia at the Strangest Sci-Fi Conventions

PLUS (after London)
    Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveller's Wife

A full day in London 2nd August 2008

Main action for the day - getting to see Under the Blue Sky at the Duke of York's theatre. But first...

Begin the day with Breakfast at Bar Bruno

Really, there is no better way to start a day than with brekkie at the marvellous Bar Bruno. The only down side is they do not open Sundays (thank heavens for the newly located S&M cafe for that then!) but with eggs and bacon to die for and a great atmosphere - lots of construction workers and a generally genial air of London-ness - it is a fabulous place to start the day.

Next up was a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, with unexpected pleasures beyond the always interesting images that the portrait competition exhibition throws up. Yes, we got into the NPG rooftop restaurant - and got a window seat!

We then headed over to Marylebone High Street, and dodged into Daunt Books. This was a very pleasant bookshop indeed, and given how much we spent we were even more pleased to get a gorgeous canvas bag thrown in. Yippee! We then enjoyed a meander through the red brick streets of this end of London. Looking above street level is always fascinating but there were some real gems here.

After a bit more book-buying, we dropped bags back at the hotel, I continued giggling furiously at Wiffle Lever to Full, and we then headed to the theatre.

Post performance I would have happily waited to see Catherine Tate, but Cloud got a fit of the shys and given I hadn't eaten beyond snacks since the big breakfast we instead headed into Covent Garden and to Cafe Pasta. We had a very nice late meal and then mooched back to the hotel.

End of day two.

Under the Blue Sky - Duke of York's Theatre, London Saturday 2nd August 2008

The plan HAD been for me to book tickets for the Duke of York's staging of Under the Blue Sky as a surprise for Cloud. That got blown when he asked for me to book some: damn.

Anyway, this play came at the end of a long day's mooching but nevertheless it kept us attentive.

MediumRob pointed out the "awkward and incongruous" nature of the middle third of the play. Most reviews have tended towards a 3/5 rating, with several commenting on Dominic Rowan being miscast as the nerdy Graham (and more) foil to Catherine Tate's Michelle.

WARNING - depending on your POV you may consider the following review to have spoilers

Three pairs of teachers each have 30 minute scenes, with the characters from each reappearing in the dialogue of the subsequent tales which take place over around 18 months. Each pairing has a relationship of some sort which is being misjudged or misunderstood by at least one of each pair.

Nick (Chris O'Dowd) says he is "confused" about his friendship with Helen (Lisa Dillon), but really Nick is too squeamish about relationships to actually be truly honest with himself or Helen: for all that his inept remarks are like knife wounds to Helen, Nick can't quite make the final cut, weakly succumbing to compromise after a flashing turn of violence between them. Despite this dark undertone, the segment is largely played for laughs, with O'Dowd using his genial comic persona to good effect. Dillon has a rawer deal - both as actress and character - being rather too poorly written to have the searing impact she should have given her role in the subsequent narrative. Overall I'd argue this is the weakest of the two-handers but it's an appropriate foil to the later two and eases in some sharp laughter points.

The middle segment concerns Michelle (Catherine Tate) and Graham (Dominic Rowan). This is the dark heart of the play, where the sense of potential violence hinted at in the first segment is made brutally and vividly real. If act one is threat, then act two is the actual violence. Tate gives a truly stomach-turning performance as the sexually greedy Michelle exacting revenge on being dumped by Nick by attempting to have sex with her nerdy confidante, Graham. But what seems to have been largely missed is the tone of damage and need that underpins Michelle's sexual appetite -- an appetite for destruction one might say. Is Michelle misunderstood? Perhaps; I'd certainly make a case for her misunderstanding herself, wilfully playing to her voracious persona. And she certainly makes a misjudgement about Graham, whose sexual competance starts the segment in failure and ends in a horrific revenge.

This was perhaps the moment where I was most uncomfortable with the audience's reaction which had far too much laughter still than I felt was appropriate. Time Out said "it’s hard to care when [Graham] duly turns on her". Well, we should care; I cared. Graham is revealed to be a far more complex, manipulative creature than his initial stumbling appearance would suggest, and his eventual overpowering of Michelle is both emotional and physical -- and utterly terrifying. I'm not sure the audience really got what was going on in this segment - certainly with the ending - too dazzled were they by Tate's comedic skills and perhaps distracted by Rowan being a tad too attractive to convince as the seemingly hapless Graham. I'd personally make a case that given how Graham's character turns as this segment develops, it actually works to have someone who initially only sort-of looks the part of a hapless figure before revealing himself to have controlling depths. Maybe it was the angle we were sat at to the stage, or maybe Rowan has eased into the skin of Graham, but I didn't feel I was watching someone too handsome to convince me of the character's nerdiness.

Anyway, it's undoubtedly a very uncomfortable middle to the play, but I would argue that it needs to be. It needs to take the hints of brutality from the first part and make them concrete. Isn't a bright morning always better after the darkest of nights?

And what a bright morning.

Most of the praise for this show has been heaped on the performance of Anne (Francesca Annis*) who is simply incredible. Underpinning the segment is, at first, further skirting around the real issues and relationship that is being misjudged/misunderstood. Nick and Helen certainly skirted around each other, Nick especially shirking any honest confrontation with Helen's 'lack of confusion'; Michelle too, despite her brutal and vile 'honesty' about her sexual activities, seemed to be skirting the real issue of confronting her own self-esteem and seriously misjudges her initial perceptions of Graham. Here, in the final segment, the misunderstanding is played with far more subtlety as the age gap between Anne and Robert (Nigel Lindsay) is cautiously danced around. A diversion into a tale of the First World War - highlighting the age gap - plays an allusive part in the narrative as the relationship seems to falter without having come to the boil. But this is where the play ultimately soars as the pair take a chance on being more honest, overcoming possible misreadings, finding hope under the blue sky.

I have to admit, I did let some tears fall during the final act. What can I say? I'm a softie. But this was a very adult and intense evening's theatre. Not quite brilliant, but very worth seeing.


* Foolishly trying to retrieve from whence I would have first seen Annis on screen, I grabbed at Poldark elsewhere which is of course completelt wrong as that was Angharad Rees. What I was trying to retrieve from my memory was that other great 1970s costume piece, Lillie.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Things I did over the last few days: August 2008 - Going to London 1st August

This will be the first of four posts - plus some subsids - outlining our recent visit to London. And therefore, unimaginatively, this first post will be

Arriving London Friday 1st August

We love visiting London. And after a valiant attempt at resisting the book buying urge we decided this time there would be no such efforts. Screw it! We like books! So we first made a trip to Judd Street books and then dropped these at the hotel whilst snacking on the contents of our snap bag - dried fruit and cereal bars and buttered fruit loaf.

Anyway, after topping up our Oyster Cards we headed out to the Royal Albert Hall. We had already decided that we would skip a Stockhausen weekend (worthy but a better idea than a practice) and though tempted by Paul Lewis playing Beethoven we thought we would probably need an early-ish night.

So we instead headed past the RAH, past the Albert Memorial, and off into the park

wandering our way to the wonderful Frank Gehry summer pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery.

It's fabulous and we had a nice little chat with the young lad manning the donations box. We then meandered through the park, pausing to take in the now fully in place New Zealand memorial at the Hyde Park end. Very moving.

We then headed into town, taking in a stop at the Photographer's Gallery, being especially enchanted by Hans Aarsman's exhibition of photos of things thrown away and things desired but not bought.

We picked up our reserved tickets for the Duke of York's theatre production of Under the Blue Sky (which will get a separate review) and then mooched about, picking up the fabulous Wiffle Lever to Full from Charing Cross Road. Neil had texted me whilst we browsed around independently saying 'I've found just the book for you'. Poor boy then had to put up with me giggling furiously as I read it over the weekend. There will be a separate review for that as well.

We dropped back at the hotel and changed before eating out at our favoured restaurant Risorante Olivelli Paradiso (Store Street). Most of the staff recognise us by now and the food is always lovely. It's a nice atmosphere despite/because of the inevitable proximity to academics it gives. Food was excellent, including some VERY delicious sardines.

Had a walk, meandered about town, and then quit for the night.

Things I did over the last few days: August 2008 - the fall

The next fews posts will hopefully catch up on my actions from the last few days. And this first post is known as ...

Falling flat on my arse, banging my arm and giving myself a whopping great bruise all in the name of David Tennant

Yes, just what you want to do when it's summer (short sleeve weather) and you're about to go on holiday.

Cloud called me into his study Thursday night to show me the photos from Hamlet. Scrummy, but sweetie I am SO ahead of you. Walking into the room proclaiming wearied nonchalance I unfortunately put my foot down on a pile of papers he had dropped to the floor for later recycling. Some of the papers were glossy...

Cue Lisa actually falling on her arse at merely approaching David Tennant.

This does not bode well for later in the year.

Nice bruise though.