Sunday, December 27, 2009

Film and Cinema Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at the Picturehouse Cinema, Kaiapoi, New Zealand

It's a frustrating truth that having devoured the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson, Cloud and I were desperate to see the film version(s) once we realised that the Swedes had quickly gotten films made of the hit books.

We scoured the net, watched the trailers and groaned in disbelief that UK/US screenings were being delayed because English language versions were being developed.

We lost track of the release dates a bit then, but when we arrived in New Zealand we were delighted to discover that Boxing Day saw the release of the first film in NZ. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be out in New Zealand during our stay - and screening at local cinemas!

So today (27 December) Cloud and I drove out to the Kaiapoi Picturehouse Cinema to see the movie.

This has to qualify as one of the most LOVELY cinema going experiences of our life: plush comfy sofa seats, no stinky popcorn smells, a welcome from the owners and a lovely fair-trade cafe-bar to relax in before and after the show.

The film stays true to a lot of the book's violence and horror, which some may find gratuitous, but overall the tone is both fair and honest to the depictions of the text. Sure, Rapace isn't quite gawky enough to convey the full vulnerability and strength of Salander, but it is hard to imagine how anyone could capture her physique as written in film terms. The sort of short-cuts one would expect appear in the film, but nothing so glaring as to detract from the narrative, and those not as familiar with the book(s) won't be left too baffled.

It's ultimately an efficient thriller, which is exactly what the book is, but with a central figure in Salander who captures the imagination.

Strange and weird we had to travel half the world to see it!! But what a fabulous cinema experience it allowed us.

If anyone is in the South Island area of NZ, make a visit to the lovely Kaiapoi Picturehouse Cinema and relax into your film.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Xmas Eve in New Zealand - sunshine and warmth!

Rullsenberg in the sea at Woodend Beach, South Island New Zealand - Xmas Eve 2009
Rullsenberg paddling in the sea at Woodend Beach New Zealand on Christmas Eve, 2009

Rullsenberg in the dunes at Woodend Beach Xmas Eve 2009Rullsenberg on Woodend Beach dunes Christmas Eve 2009

Rata Street - garden and cloudsThe restful view - Rata Street's best garden and NZ clouds

It really is hard to complain when you are sat in temperatures of approx 23-28 degrees on Xmas Eve. Lashings of lemon ale and plenty of rest.

I'll be in touch, but avoiding Doctor Who news over the coming days til we return to the UK is likely to mean a fairly enforced absence online.

See you in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Arrived in NZ

Heaven knows what time it is in the UK (1.30am ish? 11.30am ish? - I get lost on the forward and back of time crossing the date line!)

Still, we are here and the sun is out and the neice and nephew have welcomed us and we're generally acclimatising to the sunlight and summer.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In San Francisco

My word - that Hotwire deal we got was a BARGAIN.

We're staying at the Intercontinental on Howard Street in SF and it is brilliant. Views are spectacular and the food is awesome.

Almost a shame we are here for such a short time.

Been to City Lights and are now off to Golden Gate Bridge and to Amoeba records in Haight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Xmas greetings

Follow this link for reindeer fun -

I tried to mail it and made a COMPLETE muck of it.

I am tired.

I am going to collapse tonight and watch Buzzcocks and then fall in bed and stop caring if everything is packed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hamlet Preview screening BFI Monday 14 December 2009 (RSC/BBC/Illuminations)

Wow! I mean, WOW.

It has to be said that the RSC/BBC/Illuminations production of Hamlet, due to air on Boxing Day 2009 in the UK, is a total treat: it is a stunning rendition of the stage play performed in Stratford in 2008 (and in London with Ed Bennett/David Tennant in the lead role over December 2008-January 2009). The delight of seeing it broadcast on a big screen was breathtaking.

I'll try to review the production without spoiling it too much, though I suspect if you are here, a goodly number of you have already seen it. Some of you several times (Helen, I am looking at you as supreme leader of the LBP*)

Mostly this will be a review of the day as well as the experience of the screening (with its Q&A). But with some background as well.

Sunday 13 December 2009
In the midst of packing for the holidays, I also had to juggle packing for this short break. My brain is almost fried by the time I get to London to meet Helen Lisette who had just ensured her mum is safely home following a visit to see Spacey/Troughton doing 'Inherit the Wind'. I would have loved to have seen that production: by all accounts it's awesome.

A quiet evening, especially as I had had to break it to Helen earlier that day that David Tennant was unlikely to be at the Q&A** (I'd never banked on his appearance being more than a long shot but I'm nothing if not empathetic to the idea of living in hope). Personally, given I will miss the TV airing in the UK at Xmas, I was just glad to have the communal watching experience of the BFI screening. If I'd been at home, I know the even would have been preceded, interluded and follow-up with innumerable texts!

Monday 14 December 2009
Up at a reasonable hour from our beds in the Novotel on Euston Road. Since breakfast on Tuesday would be too difficult to schedule before our train, Helen hasn't booked anything which means I can take her to Brunos! Hurrah! Following long traffic snarled journey by bus we have breakfast about 10.45am/11am.

Off to the BFI via the RV1 bus at the Novello theatre: enjoyed the scenery to the Tower and back again (on the same bus). Meet Helen's contact, the lovely V, outside the BFI. Have a VERY leisurely lunch discussing proof-reading and punctuation: Neil would have been proud of us!

Decide to head back to hotel to 'rest and change'. Oh dear. As we walk in, the lifts are all out of action. We sit down to wait and then the alarms go off. Evacuate the building! Over in Starbucks, we watch the fire engines arrive and people in High Vis jackets coralling staff/guests etc. No hope of returning even if we wanted so it's the bus back to the BFI. I'm now starting to get texts from attendees -- Poly will be there eating, Anna is struggling to get away from work.

Once there, we snack in the Riverside bar section only to find Poly is in the other bar (where HLW, myself and V had dined at lunch). Rosby - formerly wild and wandering but now twittering from Lancaster - texts to say she's on her way. I'm getting excited but know I haven't been able to check mail since Sunday around 3.45pm so there may be problems with meeting everyone. As it works out, poor Marie is ill so despite keeping a careful watch towards where I knew she would be sat, we were unable to meet her. Sniff.

It is really lovely though to finally - albeit very briefly meet with Anna and with Rosby and Tara. Big hugs and me being totally gushy. Thankfully I was wearing stripes so I think I was visible enough!

The screening was full-ish, but I suspect that winter weather and awareness that David Tennant is filming in Los Angeles*** scale back a few attendees. There's a nice introduction and from our seats we can see all the extra guests attending: Greg Doran is there is Sir Anthony Sher, Sam Alexander is present, Michael Boyd and obviously Patrick Stewart.

Once the screening starts you're straight in: and you can already tell it will be a clever and visual treat. Lots of nifty camera stuff happening; wonderful use of the spaces used to stand in for the stage. The first of the audience questions at the end praised the way it still managed to 'involve' the audience (in the way the proscenium stage at Stratford had especially done), and it is true that you do feel a sense of spying and being in the space with them.

There are a few cuts - the graveyard scene loses a few bits, and since Doran finds Fortinbras boring anyway it's not a shock that his presence suffers yet more cuts in the transition from stage to screen. But mostly it is odd lines, and afficiandos aside, I think we cope with it. As the Q&A contextualised, any version is inevitably editorialised: even Branagh's use of all the versions is in itself an editorial decision. On which note, Doran seemed genuinely thrilled by what filming especially enabled him to do which was editing: focusing the audience's gaze in a particular location and in particular ways.

Let's just say that I doubt there'll be much dispute with his choices: there will be plenty of screen caps doing the rounds. (Does Tennant laying on his back, legs up on a chair count as sitting? Of course it does...)

The Q&A was also nice for showing what a superbly nice blocke Patrick Stewart is: not only is he self-effacing and charming but he could also put down Mark Lawson (a thing of beauty to behold was Stewart's emphatic 'No' in response to one of Lawson's uninsightful questions). Stewart also made an impassioned call to expand on the oft-cliched comment that 'if Shakespeare were alive today he would be writing for Eastenders' (guess who first bought that up? *cough* Mark Lawson *cough*). Stewart declaimed that Shakespeare may well write for Eastenders, but only because Play for Today, the Wednesday Play etc no longer existed. Quite QUITE true and well put.

It was also nice to hear at least one of our number have courage enough to ask a question: I hope she doesn't feel too bad about it because it was a well put question about awareness and influences and how directors respond to them. And she didn't lose focus unlike one poor gentleman at the front who on first attempt just blanked out and had to have a second attempt later when he had written out his question!

Overall, it was a great experience: the bum-numbing 3 hour screening was worthwhile and the Q&A a delight (like missing DT due to back injury last Xmas, I suspect it would have been just too squee-tastic had he been able to attend so it 'took the pressure off' one may say!)

Afterwards, we had wine and chat - just missing Patrick Stewart leaving, well wrapped up against the cold - and then got the tube back to the hotel. At which point - well after midnight we find the lifts still not working, no proper guidance to the service lifts, a smell of smoke, water outside the service lift, and then water on the carpet in our room (the sprinklers must have gone off - thankfully H's bag was not drenched). the room hadn't been serviced. bah. Stern email from the H I think, because the lack of information was worse than the experience and at after midnight we were in no state to press for a room change (tho the reception next day seemed convinced we had been moved: not if you don't tell us we ain't!)

It was a shame to have the hotel put the (literal) dampers on things. But it was a great experience and I now won't feel QUITE so bad missing the Boxing Day screening. And the DVD comes out before I get home! Hurrah!!!

* LBP - Lucky Bitch Party. Yes, I am still seething at the half time text I had last January declaring "SQUEEE! DT back! Aren't we lucky?" [answer from me "You have to be fucking kidding me!" - it was David first performance after his back treatment]

** In light of David having been unable to attend the BFI screening, perhaps Helen has let her membership of the LBP lapse. Then again, we both felt extremely privileged to have been enabled to attend the BFI event.

*** From Patrick Stewart's gracious praise for David - reported all over the net ("heart, centre and soul" was I think the phrase he used) - I suspect that at some point it may have been hoped that David could make the Q&A but the schedule for filming Rex put the kibbosh on this. The way that pilots usually work, and are filmed, and are usually taken up in the USA, certainly seems to be functioning differently for Rex.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Blogging and not blogging: plans for the New year

Looking at my Blog Archive figures, this has been a truly rubbish year for blogging on my part. I mean, look at the decline!

► 2009 (166)
► 2008 (245)
► 2007 (478)
► 2006 (824)
► 2005 (762)
► 2004 (47)

What does this tell me/us? Am I less committed to blogging? I don't feel I am, but clearly something has changed. I'm certainly getting less time mornings, lunchtimes and evenings for blogging (some of this reflects a positive change in circumstances in that Cloud is more likely to leave work on time and collect me not long after 5pm - whereas certainly pre-2008 I was very likely to be still in the office after 6pm). I used to be good about using up odds and ends of time to jot in a quick blog thought - now it seems to drift in and past my brain and the moment is lost. Things are generally MUCH busier and I'm getting more tired.

So if I'm to continue with this blog I need to have a change in tactic.

I'm going to put my thinking cap on over the Xmas break (away from technology for a while!) and see what I think can/should be done.

But in the meantime, let me know what you have liked/disliked about Rullsenberg over the time you've been reading. Is there something you want more or less of, or any topics you'd like to see return?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wardrobe heaven and brocade

Rullsenberg and Cloud's wardrobe set
New wardrobe set

Rullsenberg in brocade

Rullsenberg in brocade (still looking poorly from dreaded cough)

Meh. Still fighting cough. Fed up beyond belief now. Still, we have new wardrobes. Hurrah!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Television Without Pity - an open letter/review of Season 4 of Doctor Who and the wonderful Donna Noble

Just spent a late lunch reading Jacob's 'review' of the Donna Noble season of Doctor Who written for Television Without Pity. (It's written TO Donna.)

These are just stories. I'm sitting here in my army man pajama pants wondering if you're even going to read this, or if you'll even care, or understand what I'm trying to tell you with these stories. Because I love you, and I know that wherever you are, you could be doing better. You could leave the Library. You could be living.

I just wanted you to imagine that you met a man, the most wonderful man in the world, and that he showed you the stars, wonders and terrible things, all the majesty our world can muster. All the kindness and the brilliance and the bravery that lies in you. That he, among all of us, was capable of teaching you how wonderful you are, every second of the day. That you have a better choice than to turn right, or left. Look up at the stars, or laugh. Or jump.

I want you to imagine that you were chosen, of all the women and men in the world, to go on a wonderful adventure. Because of who you are, and what you can become.

And then I want you to forget that he never existed. In story school they teach you a very simple thing. First there are facts: "The King Died." Then, there are plots: "The King Died, The Queen Died." And then there are stories: "The King Died, The Queen Died Of Grief." But this isn't a story, it's your life. That's not how it works in the real world.

Dear Donna, the real world sucks. The world is wrong. So fix it. The Queen Lived.

So live.
Worth reading in full --- it's somewhat elliptical in tone at times and I don't always agree with the opinions about episodes, but it has to qualify as one of the best paeans to a series and character I've read in a while. There is also a lot said about Rose and Martha, which also give an interesting take on the changing dynamics of the Companion role.

Worth investing some time on reading.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rubbish blogger and thoughts in editing TV for different broadcast markets

I'm trying to ignore that I still don't feel fabulous, though at least I have now completed two full weeks - assuming I make it through this afternoon! - without completely falling over.

I've had a brief fainting fit at work (relieved by quick purchase of a sugar and lemon pancake) and was barfaliciously ick after tea the other night. Meh. I need to get better quick: I'm running out of weeks.*

Anyway, having responded to Persephone's positive enjoyment of Collision, I thought I'd repost and expand on some of the points I made there.

**SPOILER NOTE: If you haven't yet seen the drama, it may wise to avoid these discussions.**

But empathies on the sometimes shoddy editing practices; that ALWAYS really concerns me regarding dramas moving countries for broadcast and I do think its a problem. Rather like word limits for essays (sorry, I have my work hat on), they're obviously important but it can feel like you're making something fit the limitations of format rather than allowing it to breathe its natural shape/structure. Personally, I think if another country wants something originally made/broadcast elsewhere they should as much as possible adapt to accommodate it - rather than hacking about to make it fit their quirky schedule structure.

And that POV applies just as much for imports TO the UK as it does for exports from the UK to elsewhere. Respect the makers structure! they made it that length for a reason!

there probably are examples, but I'd be amazed if it was so extensive in happening in print fiction as it does in TV ("sorry, we decided to chop chapters 4-6 and edited the ending accordingly because we haven't got room for those characters in the X pages we need this book to fit in for our US edition" GRRRRRRRRR)

I think the point I wanted to convey is that TV seems particularly prone to being messed about with, and apart from perhaps the chronological version of the Godfather parts 1 and 2 that used to air on TV (combining in chronological order the events from the two films), I can't think of any examples where such editing/restructuring has a purpose or even vaguely positive impact on the material.

Am I right in my thinking regarding literature? Are there precedents for cutting sections, scenes, plotlines when a text is republished in another country? (I'm trying not to think about more straightforward censorship issues about why texts may change from country to country, but maybe that is relevant in the example of Collision as Persephone suggests that it was perhaps the refugee storyline that suffered in editing).

I'm going to try and press myself to not launch into yet another tirade about aspect ratios as I know its a topic I can easily get worked up about, but as my comment quoted above hints, respecting the original version is surely important? If a country or broadcaster likes a piece so much that they want to broadcast it, why would they want to broadcast as different from the original?

Or am I getting irked about a minor issue? Are such editorial cuts much less crucial than I am attributing? Are they likely to just be very minor seconds worth of edits to cumulatively add up to enough of a reduction to fit the time schedule? (That actually seems like a lot of complex work for relatively little reward? it probably is easier to cut whole character/plot/storylines than fiddling at the seconds... *sigh*)

Anyway, I'd be interested in your thoughts...

*I mean running out of weeks efore Xmas and the hols: that wasn't intended to be a life length notice (unless someone somewhere knows something I don't)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cultural highlights: Shooglenifty and The Caucasian Chalk Circle

After a ropey few weeks, and inspired by the dark delights of Doctor Who at the weekend, it's been quite a culturally active week.

Firstly we had Shooglenifty at Nottingham's Lakeside venue. After a typically hesitant audience start, the band soon persuaded the audience to dance with abandon and it was a delight to see such a mixed age audience respond so vibrantly. That Angus R Grant though is a bit of a card though: strutting and posing on the stage with his fiddle as a hirsute lothario.

Then last night I finally got to see the Shared Experience production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, currently on at Nottingham Playhouse. Neil and I had been scheduled to attend the opening night a few weeks ago, but ill health meant Neil went on his own. Determined I should see this excellent production, he booked for us to go again and this time I was well enough. I was so glad not to have missed it, as the show is a real treat: moving, funny, scathing and wonderfully staged. In particular, reviewers are fully justified in giving praise to the wonderful Matti Houghton in the central role of Grusha. But this ensemble piece should not be underestimated: everything about it - the staging, the music and all the performances - are really superb. If the first half is stark then the second is increasingly humorous, albeit in a typically scabrous Brechtian manner. And by including local people in the chorus for each different run of the play, there is a real sense of community involvement to the production.

(And a note too that it took me til the second act to process why I kept getting a fleeting recognition buzz from the woman playing the Governor's wife. Eventually I suddenly heard her voice in my head in a different context and I realised she'd played the role of Leah in Lawless Heart. She's also very good.)

If you get chance to see it in London next week (Unicorn Theatre 24-29 Nov), then do go as it is well worth seeing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TV Review: Doctor Who - The Waters of Mars: without spoilers / with spoilers

Last week would have been a real treat if I hadn't been poorly: Collision across 5 nights with lovely Douglas Henshall, a cello concert, a weekend away in Stratford with friend Helen Lisette, and topped off nicely with a dose of old-fashioned Doctor Who with David Tennant.

Still, all appreciated, including that last treat on Sunday night.

Spoiler free comments
Others have already added their remarks to the newspaper reviews etc: Medium Rob gave it a thumbs up, as have Stuart Ian Burns and Frank Collins over at Behind the Sofa (the two who are most inclined to be excitedly positively in their analysis and delight of current DW episodes).

For me, I liked that we got a rather successful echo of a Troughton-esque 'Base Under Siege' storyline, but with the added bonus of a brilliantly strong central female character. There was lots of running around - padding for the episode or homage to days of yore? - and even a 'cute' robot (I'd say WALL-E should sue but really it should be the designers from Short Circuit taking up the lawsuits). Since I utterly HEART Lindsay Duncan, she was of course awesome, taking the Doctor to task appropriately and with measure. Was the water scary enough? Yeah, and watching the Confidential afterwards it was interesting how smiling made it work better on every level. *Shudder*

Did the Doctor have quite enough to do? There was some loitering, but he more than made up for it by the last 15 mins. We're getting ready to say bye-bye to the Tenth Doctor and I'm already in pieces at the thought of what's to come.

Spoilers ahead










Spoiler alert!!!!!!
Scary, scary water monsters took second fiddle to the big darkness of the episode. Namely, Ten realising the significance of being 'Last of the Time Lords'. Who says he must be subject to the laws of time? The Time Lords, surely. 'And that's me' he thinks. And my word, on that realisation Ten lost the plot didn't he? Fantastic acting by Tennant as he tweaked the nuances of saying the same phrases he often uses - 'come on!' and 'I'm good' - and made them chilling and unnerving and scarily arrogant. Sidelined for much of the early part of the story - trying to pull himself away from the doomed Bowie Base and crew but not quite able to do so - he ends up ripping apart everything he has previously told himself he cannot, must not do. Definitely no one to hold him back; Adelaide Brooke hasn't enough personal history with him to do that. The Doctor saves the day and we feel cold and scared because we know it's just WRONG.

Is he even rid of all that 'Time Lord Victorious' power-rush when he tries to outrun the cloister-bell at the end? Never mind the knocking....

And the trailer. Blonde Master / evil skeleton Master? Rusty unable to leave the Noble family narrative alone. All manner of doom. Here's to January!

TV review: Collision reviews - first without spoilers, then scroll for spoilers

Spoiler-free comments
Collision had very distinguished cast, led by lovely Douglas Henshall (John Tolin), and with fine work as well from the likes of Paul McGann (Richard Reeves) and Lucy Griffiths (Jane Tarrant). With multiple storylines centred on a crash, tracking back and forth from before the crash to the event itself and then its aftermath and the investigation, it was of course a very British take on the Oscar-scooping film, Crash. I rather liked that film, but acknowledge its weaknesses and that it was very unpopular for winning the Best Picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain.

Perhaps my liking of 'Crash' and my love of Dougie's performances meant I was more inclined to go with the narrative structure of this 5-part ITV drama (aired in other countries in two parts). With Horowitz in the driving seat - I've recently been watching some of his earlier work on Poirot - there were plenty of twists and turns, but I'm not sure how convincing it was in the end. Still, Cloud watched it with me quite eagerly, was keen enough to do a double-back on the ITV catch-up on Thursday when we missed the start due to having been out at a cello concert, and watched the finale in my absence. So that has to be worth something.

Personally, episodes 3 and 4 were the high points, but with one of the central storylines wrapped up by the end of ep4, there was a certain degree of anti-climax to ep5.

Anyone watching the show since it first aired a few weeks ago outside the UK (and that includes US viewers who get it on PBS Masterpiece Contemporary) will doubtless note that one core element of the plot from the ending would have made MUCH more sense had the drama been screened in Spring 2009 as originally scheduled*. That alone had me groaning slightly at the ending. But the explanation for the crash...? Sigh.

*I do try to not rant on about distribution issues, but there is something wrong about a UK developed drama starring UK actors not airing in the UK first (though I'd personally be happier with worldwide airing on simultaneous dates as much as is feasible).

My overall reaction: good. Not excellent, as 'Place of Execution' had been (or even 'Whitechapel') but a solid narrative that kept me watching to follow each storyline to its conclusion, even if some were more satisfactorily concluded than others.












Things I liked:
Dougie and his performance - nicely nuanced, though the relationships with both Ann (Kate 'WHAAAAT?!' Ashfield) and his daughter Jodie (Jo Woodcock - excellent performance from her) were a bit sketchy. Not having Jodie reappear in ep5 after the intense conversation with her father seemed odd. Felt the punch to the drunk driver when he forgave Tolin was very 'true' as a reaction as was Tolin's eventual remorse and moving on.

Lucy Griffiths getting on the train - hurrah. McGann may have been playing a fantasist shit but he gave her the inspiration to try to reach her dreams. As Jane tearfully tried to convince the hapless Dave, they wanted different things: in many respects it wasn't even really about handsome Richard whisking her off her feet with his riches and fancy opportunities. She was already not happy before the crash, bulldozed by circumstances into marriage, so it was nice to think she had a chance of breaking free.

Zoe Telford as Sandra Rampton the snooty wife taking no shit from the dodgy garage-based people-smugglers - contrasted with poor Naomi's attempts to get them to talk to her about her husband. Am convinced that Mrs Rampton knew full well the crash driver brother-in-law Danny would not be going further than the scrap yard.

The refugee Tsegga (Cornelius Macarthy) - scathingly noting his English language skills to those transporting him to England.

The Christine/Brian Edwards storyline with the obnoxious mother-in-law (respectively Jan Francis, Phil Davis, and Sylvia Sims) - I was fine with this until ep5 when there was a virtually word for word replay of dialogue from the previous episode (unless I was mistaking a flashback for a new scene). And that annoyed me so much.

Things I disliked:
Tolin ditching the 'journalist' to his fate - it felt somewhat out of kilter that despite 'Taylor' using Karen (and therefore leading to her death), Tolin would willfully leave him be killed.

The wasp ending - oh pur-lease! I get this was about randomness, the small things in life that have big rippling effects, but really. And tho I'll watch it again I'm pretty sure the presence of wasps wasn't there in 'casual' scenes until ep5 which feels like a tag-on for the narrative explanation. UPDATE: apparently there were wasps. I am Ms unobservant.

The heavy-handed 'misdirection' on the Sidney Morris/Norris story - it was actually a nice twist they had (would have been even better if they'd screened in Spring as planned before Star Trek came out) but my God, could they have laden on the paedophile misdirection story any thicker?

Dropping the black characters' crash story first - not racist, just disappointing to see it dismissed first of all the storylines. Just about compensated by the intelligent refugee engineer Tsegga, though it would have been better to see his wife Naomi get some justice from the people smugglers come-uppance.

Would I have watched this without the ever-compelling Douglas Henshall in a key role? Possibly, but also possibly not. There was enough to keep us watching anyway, but I'm not sure if we would have been quite so interested in watching from the start without his performance to pull us in. And if we hadn't watched the first ep, I doubt we would have involved ourselves in the rest. Worthwhile, but perhaps adding up to less than the sum of its parts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reviews to come

Sorry. Been ill. Still not fabulous.

Bah humbug.

So, reviews to come on Collision and Doctor Who. Even if I'm feeling rubbish, having such a treat within one week ain't so bad.

Let's hope I recover to full throttle soon. And after all, there's the Hamlet screening in December.... At least I won't be sitting in New Zealand grumbling I've missed seeing it. And the DVD will hopefully be waiting for me on my return.

Just the Specials I'll miss on their initial screening, and at least the DVD boxset looks due to come out early January. Hurrah!.

Friday, November 06, 2009

No voice - now stop laughing all of you!

No voice at all. Had to type to communicate with students. Bonkers.

Doc says not infection - just recommended fluids and voice rest. I teach. Which bit of voice rest does she think is possible in my job?

After one day of being croaky I am now effectively unable to communicate by voice. Lots of hand gestures though!

Wish me recovery.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Twelfth Night: RSC Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Saturday matinee 31 October 2009

Courtesy of the lovely Helen Lisette, Neil and I with Helen headed to Stratford yesterday to see the current RSC production of Twelfth Night. In the wake of having been ill last weekend, hauling myself to work from midweek, and surrendering to the laughter of Mitch Benn on Friday in Nottingham, I was rather running out of steam. However, the prospect of the play and getting to meet lovely Poly G was more than enough to get my energy levels boosted to make the trip (on which note, Poly is just as chic and delightful and Italian Greek* as I had imagined, and it was a real pleasure to finally meet her).

I'd tried, as ever, to stay away from play reviews, but had nevertheless caught a sense of the response to this production of Twelfth Night which seemed to be at best mixed. A colleague from work, a long-standing attendee at RSC Stratford productions, hadn't been best impressed - though her reaction certainly wasn't helped by a dislike of Richard Wilson (even though his character Malvolio makes a very particular contribution to the play, he really can't be called the central character).

So how does this production work? Well, the setting is beautiful - opulent, evocative - and thus Illyria magically conveys its Greece/Turkish/Albania origins. The costumes too, as ever, are delightful - even the 'Joseph-and-his-Technicolour-Dream-Coat' that Miltos Yerolemou as Feste wears works in the context. The music is also entrancing, though perhaps sometimes a little too intrusive: the musical numbers within the play, however, are handled well and with a sensitivity benefiting from a less grand-standing tone of performing from Yerolemou (something which he doesn't consistently manage throughout the play).

Which brings me to the performances. Nancy Carroll as Viola/Cesario is wonderful, and is a stunning twin match for the sweet Sam Alexander as Sebastian (the latter still fondly remembered from his performances in last year's Hamlet and LLL). Alexandra Gilbreath is similarly breathtaking as her Lady Olivia moves from closed off mourning to giddy love, and it is hard not to follow her imaginative leap when Olivia is confronted by the visual delights of the twins: "most wonderful!" The biggest shame is that I really didn't feel Count Orsino (as played by Jo Stone-Fewings) was that big a deal: he seemed a bit 'meh' in terms of any real passionate pursuit of Lady Olivia, and too bland to justify true appeal to Viola. But maybe that's more to do with my limited familiarity with the play - perhaps he's meant to be rather pointless.

Elsewhere, Pamela Nomvete makes the role of Maria neatly spikey and sparky, yet also misguided in her edge of malevolence conducting the downfall of Malvolio. The comedic contributions of Richard McCabe and James Fleet as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek respectively are as light as they should be, with appropriately suitable shades of darkness and dim-wittedness also respectively. How were Belch's farts done? I really don't want to know... and Fleet really needs to be on his game to nonchalantly place himself in exactly the right spot to not be concussed by a tree.

But I felt less certain about the aforementioned Yerolemou as the Fool: he's clearly massively talented, stature being no inhibitor to graceful movement, sharp physical or verbal comedy or to possessing an incredible voice. But the pacing of Feste's humour sometimes felt too rushed/manic: I know that without familiarity, Elizabethean wit can by-pass modern audiences but I did sometimes wonder if I had just missed something in the direction or delivery of certain lines.

Moreover, whilst Wilson is indeed a fine actor, but I can't help but feel that his Malvolio is just a little too old and Wilson's physique does not lend itself, as perhaps other actors may be fortunate in managing to convey, an inner youthfulness set free when made to be so foolish in love. The ludicrousness of Malvolio's hoodwinked passion is not just that his dour demeanor is replaced by an uncomfortable and unfamiliar use of smiling but that some longing is released by the possibility that the Lady Olivia loves him, and that this possibility is enough to drive him to acts against the grain of his previous tone of behaviour. Though Malvolio indeed cuts a tragic furious figure by the end, I wasn't quite convinced of the journey his character had undergone. And that felt like a slight disappointment. (I also couldn't help but think of the eloquent way Wilson played Eddie Clockerty and his simultaneous tolerance and loathing towards the cantankerous Janice Toner [Kate Murphy] in Tutti Frutti, though that may be apropos of little).

But, overall, this was a really great way to spend an afternoon. I'm slowly clocking up Shakespeare productions (I'm planning to see Winter's Tale when they bring the production back next year, and the new productions of Romeo & Juliet and Anthony and Cleopatra, plus Morte D'Arthur if I can), so it was rather exciting to get another under my belt. And it was good to see another comedy -- Julius Caesar may be good, but it's not known for its laughs and Neil especially was glad on an autumnal day to get some giggles in place.

Anyway, Twelfth Night currently runs at Stratford until 21 November before hitting London from pre-Xmas until late February 2010.

*Clearly my European identification abilities are currently scrambled along with my vocal system. ARGH!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Collision! Who?!

Nice! Not only do I get 5 days worth of Douglas Henshall in Collision on ITV from Monday 9 November, but I also get a Sunday Doctor Who special (hmmm... not a Saturday? Ousted by the 'might' of reality star-making shows... *sigh*)

Hat tips to the Douglas Henshall fansite and MediumRob's daily news digest respectively!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bets on the BFI increasing its membership over the next few days?

Hamlet - yes, THAT one - is to be screened at the BFI Southbank London on Dec 14th.

Tickets by ballot to members., with any left-over (pah!) open after that. As MediumRob alerts us:

Members' ballots
This seems to be a new thing designed to cope with the fact that certain events are going to prove to be very popular. Members can enter the ballot for tickets by emailing with the title of the event or screening as the subject. You'll need to include your membership and phone numbers and let them know how many tickets you want. Alternatively, you can fill out the form in your brochure.

If you're successful, they'll get in touch for payment for all tickets except for up to one free ticket to each of the screenings. You'll need to apply by November 6 to be in with a chance, and you'll hear by November 10, when any remaining tickets will be released for sale to the public.

Lordy. Oh to be a member. Oh to be in easier reach of London. Oh to be there.

Ah well. I expect there will be a heavy presence even if the Q&A guests are not yet announced...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questions, Strikes and Benefits: a Rullsenberg Rant

Three areas to exercise my political muscles this evening. The inevitable Question Time debacle; the current postal strike; and the think-tank proposals to scrap universal benefits.

Question Time
QT is many things but it is not a rational interrogative forum for unpicking political party policies, ideologies or public attitudes. It is an arena, not unlike the Coliseum for spectator sport mouthing-off by participants and audiences for the usually non-edification of the viewing public. A sense of legitimacy is lent to all manner of opinion in this faux-serious programme (as Neil Postman discussed, TV is never so dangerous as when it thinks it is being serious). More lightweight panelists are perhaps unlikely to take certain opinions to task enough, whilst simultaneously including more heavyweight participants would lend further legitimacy. Unless I feel happy at throwing things at my TV I suspect I will not be watching this evening, pretty much the same as any other week.

For latecomers to this discussion: a bunch of racist fascist exploiters of white-working class poverty are participating in Question Time. Support 'Hope not Hate'.

Postal Strikes
The UK is a small place. We need and benefit from a national postal system for letters and packages. The Post Office is a fine institution which knows it needs to update its structures, technology and processes.

Unfortunately, it is ostensibly owned by the government (we, the taxpayers) but systematic failures to defend it properly have left it and its employees ragged and bruised. Shifts are too long, involve too much work and place workers under enormous stress. Post Offices are closing, deemed to be economically unviable with little heed to their broader social purpose. One of the failings overseen by consecutive governments was the way in which the company was allowed to plunder its pension pot by reducing employer contributions during the 'good times'. Guess what? We now have 'bad times' and the pension pot is screwed.

I support the strikes, despite the impact it has on individuals because the workforce has been left with few other options. I wouldn't trust Adam Crozier to take care of a pet for 5 minutes for fear he'd be 'modernising' how it looks by losing a few limbs (hat tip to Steve Bell who nails this mentality).

Plus, courier services are SHITE. Whenever a mail-order supplier DOESN'T use Royal Mail, I get a note through saying the parcel is in a safe place. So far these have included in my bin (on a bin-day) and thrown over my garden gate. If you too have had crap service from Home Delivery Network Ltd then do write to them at Customer Services, Home Delivery Network Ltd, Phoenix House, Moorgate Road, Knowsley L33 7RX.

Universal benefits may not target those in greatest need, but they are easy to deliver for everyone involved. Means-testing places the responsibility to get what you are entitled to on the most vulnerable of society. It costs to decide whether people meet the criteria or do not. It depends on usually fairly arbitrary boundaries as to what marks a person out as poor enough to deserve the benefit. Sliding scales to avoid immediate loss of a benefit when they earn above a limit only succeed in making the system more complex and costly to operate. And anyway, since when has middle-class been just about income? (That's even before you get to the figures proposed as being a 'middle-class income').

I would argue for the abolition of all targeted benefits - universal or means tested. Instead let us have a guaranteed income, sufficient to cover the sorts of income benefits, housing benefits, child benefits etc etc, and set up alongside it a proper and rigorous tax system. There would be little to gain from 'fiddling' the benefits system - the figures scarcely acknowledge the millions that are not taken up from benefits by those who would probably need them most.

Additionally, any attempts to dodge paying tax on all income above the guaranteed income would be easily visible - loopholes would be highlighted more quickly (and it would be hoped could be closed more swiftly and diligently than any recent governments have attempted).

Think tanks such as Reform look at the cost savings, but I don't think they look enough at the big picture. At the social picture. At how we live alongside each other paying fair taxes on fair earnings. We need to stop ignoring the widening gap between the haves and have-nots and look at makes the situation more even-handed for all. More universality, not less.

Bullies - viewable via Portable Film Festival

There is a really wonderful short film called Bullies which is now available to view at the Douglas Henshall fan site, courtesy of Portable Film Festival.

Starring Dougie and Tena Stivicic, it's a rather moving narrative of a relationship and its place in the world and experience.

David Tennant or John Barrowman - a MediumRob competition

Shoot. I'm knee deep in work and I only find out about this from lovely Chrissie who tips me the wink that Marie has forgotten how to spell Douglas Henshall's name.

Anyway: confronted by the question of 'David Tennant or John Barrowman? And why?' in the MediumRob competition (deadline 25th October 2009) I can only fall back on some trite thoughts:
  • because he made my heart skip and my stomach turn when I saw him on a billboard poster
  • because his physique is the kind that makes me smile inside
  • because he has great hair
  • because his native accent makes my mouth go dry and moves my womb
  • because... I can't even say how other parts of my body react without getting obscene
  • because when he smiles, honestly, perfectly, it is enough to dazzle my eyes
  • because when he meets fans he is nothing less than kind and frequently generous
  • because he seems to have a genuine affection and understanding of people's affection for him
  • because he can turn emotions on the edge of a sixpence, from joy to despair
  • because he knows just how to choke a line of dialogue to rip your heart out
  • because when he laughs you never feel it is anything less than real
  • because he believes in social justice and fairness
  • because he loves what he does and can't get enough of it
So far, this could, reasonably be applied to either of these lovely males. But....

.... I don't need life to be a song and a dance, a show-stopping spectacle, a confessional, heroic demonstration - as much as that excites me.

My choice? He's the Doctor, MY Doctor, and much more besides. John Barrowman is a perfect companion, sexual tease, and flirt. But my choice would be: David Tennant.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Belshazzar's Feast / Bellowhead, Nottingham Trent Uni Sunday 18 October 2009 Live Music review

Belshazzar's Feast were already underway when Neil and I arrived at Trent Uni last night: a shame as Paul Sartin of the duo is one of the brilliantly humourous string section of Bellowhead. Anyway, what we caught was great and I'll be muttering Owestry in a drunken accent for quite some time (it sounds the same as when sober), and chuckling over he and Paul Hutchinson's 'argument' about whether a song came from Denmark or Portugal for even longer (you probably had to be there)!

We first saw Bellowhead approximately 1 year ago over at the Derby Folk Festival 2008. It was a wonderful experience, so it was with a certain expectation and trepidation we headed to see them at Nottingham's Trent Uni. Would we have room to dance? But would it nevertheless be full enough to raise a ruckus? In almost perfect balance, yes to both.

I mentioned in my previous review that frontman Jon Boden is a powerfully charismatic presence: he has slightly gaunt features, an intense gaze and a performing style that is utterly theatrical. Somehow even when busy playing the fiddle he manages to engage with the audience with dramatic gestures; when free of such strings commitment, his tambourine playing keeps a rhythm that involves both his body and hands. With 11 people on the stage, it almost seems unfair to attend to him, but dressed in his stark three-piece black suit and short -- and shocking pink tie -- it can be difficult to take your eyes off him.

Still, as I say, this is an 11-piece collective and it's worth remembering that it is Bellowhead that is the side-project rather than the individual performers who make up the band. So in a strange twist of typical group dynamics it is Belshazzar's Feast (the support act on this occasion) who are actually the real thing - alongside such acts as Spiers and Boden, strings player Rachael McShane, Kerfuffle with violinist Sam Sweeney, and Faustus and Boomarang with Benji Kirkpatrick.

What makes a Bellowhead concert so memorable is how they get audiences dancing: Nottingham took a while to warm up (though we were personally early adopters of jigging enthusiastically) but by the end there was plenty of full blown bouncing taking place (I even spotted the lovely Mike heartily bopping away). With tracks to sing along to - Jordan, London Town, Kafoozalum (with kazoos!) and lots more - plus all the instrumental boppy stuff too - Frogs Legs and Dragons Teeth especially has the 'boing!' factor - there was a lot to keep us going. And with their posing and their dancing on stage, the band themselves scarcely let a moment pass for the audience to rest up.

A thoroughly wonderful evening which left me so drenched from sweat that I washed my hair under the taps at the venue afterwards!

Belated news on worst architecture award

Oops. Seems word travels far more slowly when the 'award' is one for a negative opinion. After one of my contacts chucklingly informed me of this delightful information, I had a nosey and sure enough confirmed that the Building Design Architect's Website has decided the new Amenities and International House buildings at Nottingham University's Jubilee campus have been selected as the second worst new architecture in the UK. Beaten by Liverpool's Ferry Terminal, Nottingham's lego-block buildings (scroll through pictures: you can't miss them) gained second place in the 2009 Carbuncle Cup.

The Telegraph included a piece by jury member Ellis Woodman which stated:
Yet give us tedium any day over the witless antics of the runner-up. Make Architects’ expansion of the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus incorporates a pair of buildings so wildly aggressive (they look like enormous Sherman tanks), blazingly camp (they are clad in lurid pink terracotta tiles) and punishingly inane as to leave one trembling. To top it all off they have contributed a 60-metre tower, billed as the tallest free-standing sculpture in the UK, that goes by the revealingly vacuous name of Aspire.
Did the judges know that locally Aspire is referred to as the largest and most useless waste paper basket ever?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Proclaimers: Nottingham Royal Concert Hall 16 October 2009

A Friday night gig with a long-established pop rocking band like The Proclaimers should be utterly life-affirming and delightful. It was, really it was -- but part of me knows that was in spite rather than because of the venue. Torch-song performers like Rufus Wainwright can get away with this sort of venue, but others may find it more of a battle.

It's rather a shame really but the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, bless its heart, is a bit of a quirky place not least for being a completed seated auditorium for 2499. Since opening in 1982 it has served a multitude of functions as a sister venue to its neighbour the Nottingham Theatre Royal: the RCH operates as a venue for classical and diverse forms of pop music, comedy, musicals and other sundry events includes conferences and graduations.

The problem with such adaptable venues, even with its adjustable acoustic canopy, is that it can prove itself just not quite right for anything. And pop music has often proved an especially awkward form to accommodate.

The Proclaimers did everything to make the place swing and sway with their range of sweet, bittersweet, acerbic and anthemic songs. It was the first time ever the Reid brothers had played Nottingham in their long career and they were assiduous in dedicating songs to their loyal fan-base from notes of requests. But the place just didn't quite take off as this sort of gig could and should have. Maybe Nottingham folk, once they feel they've moved away from the Rock City / Rescue Rooms / Bodega Social triumvirate of standing venues, lose faith with how to be enthused. Even crowd pleasers like "I'm on my way"* didn't seem to sparkle with the audience as much as I would have hoped.

It's odd, because when we last saw the band (Summer Sundae 2006) they practically took the roof off de Montford Hall which had to run a one-in/one-out policy on the door for their set. DMH has at least the benefit of its downstairs section being standing, even if its upper section is a tiered seated area, and maybe that was enough to make a difference.

With new album Notes and Rhymes out, the set inevitably drew more heavily on that than any short festival set would do. Neertheless, the brothers and their able band members know how to mingle old and new, bringing in tracks from their back catalogue with ease and this of course included several from the Leith album ("Cap in Hand", "Then I Met You", "Sean" and "My Old Friend the Blues" as part of the encore). Yet it is testament to them all that new songs feel like friends to the established tracks with their talent for sharp, well-observed lyrics and heartfelt sentiments with memorable hooklines. They also bought on a very lovely female violinist who brought that special dimension to "Sunshine on Leith" as well as another couple of tracks (and whose distractingly stunning black and red halterneck dress had my heart skipping to acquire one just like it).

Ending on a full-bloodied version of The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues, the evening was almost certainly nothing special for the band (neither especially memorable or disastrous): their thanks for our attendance did nothing so crass as to suggest this had been 'the best night of the tour' or anything like that. But it is still a shame that they didn't leave their first visit to Nottingham with any real sense of the passion and enthusiasm with which (some) local fans hold them so dear.

* the brothers acknowledged the need to rejuvenate the fan-base and inclusion on a successful film soundtrack like Shrek certainly has done them no harm in that regard! It was quite amusing to see some younger attending folk who looked the right generation to have grown up on Shrek debating whether to join in with standing up to join the largely 'dad-dancing' style boppery going on during "I'm on my way'!

NaNoWriMo in publication: Rashbre's 'The Triangle' (book review)

It's one thing to actually complete a NaNoWriMo writing project successfully. I've never managed it, not even dared try it - my commitment is not helped by the nature of my work and the busy-ness of that time of year; plus, ya know, lazy as F*** - so I am in awe of those who manage to remain on course with the task.

To complete it AND see the product through to publication, by whatever means, is quite another scale of achievement.

So it's both cheering - and if I'm honest, rather galling - to see a fellow blogger be kick-ass organised enough and committed to their writing project to see it through to appearing in print.

Rashbre: step forward dude and collect your reward.

The Triangle is a ripping yarn of everyday folk caught in extraordinary events and attempting to turn them to their advantage. I doubt that my first reaction to the murder of someone I know would be to engage in investigation and identifying those responsible, but then I'm a coward as well as a lazy-arse! But I don't want to say too much more about the storyline because I feel there is a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had in coming to the text 'raw' if you like. So I'll just say there's that death at the start and then lots of political and economic international intrigue added into the mix for good measure. Oh, yes, and a neat reminder about backups for computers as well.

Rashbre is boldly (foolishly?!) intending to work on a sequel - and maybe further??? - so hats off for getting hooked on the writing gig. As the narrative progresses there is certainly a sense of developing mastery over both the characters and the momentum of plot (it IS absolutely an engaging and driven storyline). By the end, I therefore felt more in tune with the central characters than I had at the start -- initially, they had felt a bit too drawn from life. Bizarrely, those quirks and character descriptions that we litter about everyday real-life actually work less convincingly on the page, but as I say, by later in the text, some of this does gain in subtlety.

With a few further tweaks there would be even greater potential in showing how the text could shed some of its online writing origins and become a more independent publication.

(1) get some copy-editing in place from a helpful and critical friend if professional advice isn't accessible within the budget. A NaNoWriMo text will perhaps inevitably wear its origins of fast writing, and all those niggling things like tenses, punctuation and thesaurus-itis in phrasing will sneak through the first draft. But they shouldn't still remain in the final printed version.

(2) if it doesn't feel like contradicting the NaNoWriMo principle, schedule a rewrite period at least equivalent to the original writing period. Preparation before writing is one thing; I know some online writers who plot and plan for their NaNoWriMo most of the year before finally embarking on the writing project itself. But allowing time for the text to settle a little and reviewing it, not just in terms of plot momentum but also tone and style of language, would also likely improve the finished product.

But who am I to comment? Where is my novel? Well, let's not answer that. I have enough to contend with from the nagging prompts that I should have long since got the PhD into book form, and all the 'why the hell don't you just write a book about Doctor Who / Buffy / whatever cult TV I'm obsessed with?' So three cheers for bringing me a great evening's pleasure tearing through the thrilling narrative of Jake, Clare and Bigsy and here's to the next installment!

Waterstones has it listed, and you can always contact Rashbre via the blog for further advice on getting hold of a copy.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogs I owe you all: book reviews, music reviews etc

Gah, rubbish rubbish blog person. I owe you all a lot.

Book reviews of Stieg Larsson (yes, I too am now a fully paid up convert to the 'oh-my-god-Lisbeth-Salander-is-awesome' club), a book review of Rashbre's highly entertaining book version of his NaNoWriMo production The Triangle (see Rashbre for copies!), commentary on Spiral, thoughts on gigs I will be off to soon (The Proclaimers this evening; Bellowhead on Sunday) and much more.

Apologies as ever for not reading or writing much. Start of term, blah, blah.

Plus, one year ago this weekend... Sigh

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Now everyone is talking about books, and reading and storage!

Blimey. On the back of my last post about bookshelves, I get home and find Charlie Brooker has wailed about his heaving shelves; Lucy Mangan is singing the praises of the Billy bookcase (if she has 21 of them in her house this may suggest LM has more books than we do: this feels wrong); and then Susan Hill is on Front Row 5/10/09 on about her new book on not buying new books for a year - and reading/rereading her existing provisions (Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home).

Charlie Brooker points up the dangers of ending up not reading the same book twice (on which point, Neil have you even read one of the editions of Milan Kundera's Immortality that you ended up owning?); being oppressed by choice and by commitment - how do you justify watching comforting crap when you haven't yet watched that worthy drama? and DVD boxsets, we're looking at you; and the potential benefits of being limited in what you can watch and read.

The first comment ties up nicely to Susan Hill's point: that it is all too easy to end up just accumulating more rather than dealing with what we have. Indeed, although we're prodigious readers in our house, I suspect there may be far more unread tomes lurking on our shelves than Neil or I would like to admit. But Charlie's second point then kicks in: virtue over pleasure. I know there are things I should watch/read, that I am even fairly certain I would get something out of, but when time is short it is hard to justify finding enough time to appreciate. Movies of 3 hours plus? That's either an early start to the evening or a very late night. Long books, or worthy books? That's concentration and a lot of hours. Multiply by X for those seductive boxsets. Which of course ties up to Charlie's third point on choice: would it be better to have less choice?

It can be too easy to take for granted the freedoms we have in what we can watch and read, but that doesn't mean that aren't benefits in more controlled activities. I don't think I'd want to have 'the man' knocking at the door each month with my regulation text, but there is a lot to be said for the 'guided reading' of doing a course or joining a book/film club. Not least the communal aspect of communicating about the text with others.

And what of Susan Hill's ideas? Well, I was certainly reassured by her attitude on Jane Austen (not a great fan, likes Northanger Abbey best), especially since the most enjoyable Austen I've read recently was the hysterical re-visioning of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Definitely Austen's best work (with Seth Grahame-Smith making a significant contribution). And I liked the idea of re-evaluating works to see if they hold up to the passion and enthusiasm they instilled first time round. Or even just finding time to get into the rhythm of reading at length - something I've been trying to do more of recently, with some degree of success.

Above all, as much as I sympathise with the frustration of Brooker, I'm leaning more to the bookshelf filling enthusiasm of Mangan and the 'ways of re-evaluating' of Hill. I don't want to stop getting hold of new stuff, but I do want to find ways to keep up more with reading what I already have - or making the valuable decision to allow someone else to have the pleasure/pain of the item. I'm still seduced by the boxset and the appealing cover/title, but I don't want to be beholden to the new and yet more.

There has to be a middle way of appreciating what there is already whilst allowing the self to offload or admit defeat on all the things that we haven't got around to reading/watching.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bookshelves and storage

As we continue to succumb to the allure of new books (I've had a reading fest of books this month actually), I couldn't resist being interested in this BBC piece on bookshelves.

So why do we display rather than store away?

Well, for me at least, to be honest if I can't see it I struggle to know I have it. Visibility is everything for me. If it is visible, I can usually relocate it. If it is behind cupboard doors or in a drawer, it may as well not exist. I will completely forget that I have it.

This creates a number of storage problems, not just with books, CDs and DVDs but also clothes (since our stupid wardrobes have the bar from the back of wardrobe to the front rather than from side to side).

Anyway, I digress.

For us, display is not about ostentation - not really - but more about being able to easily pick things up for a second read or more. Lots of stuff in our collection gets read and re-read: not just practical stuff like computer book or recipe books etc, but also academic writings (for when we're writing, and sometimes that includes blog posts). And fiction will often be re-read as well, as will poetry. And I have great fun reading books about film and TV for fun, even if they are theoretical/historical texts.

Yes. We are just weird book readers.

In Praise of Spaced: 10 years on

I love Spaced. It remains one of those series that I can conjure in my mind's eye with ease, my brain cluttered with lines and images from its two short and glorious series.

It's 10 years on apparently since Space started. And I'm not alone in my love of Spaced as Anna proves.

Show your love for the show: what are your favourite moments?

Some of mine would be:
  • the Job Centre scenes about "the Phantom Menance" (in fact any mentions of TPM have me in fits -- "Sarah?" "No, George Lucas" and cue bonfire clip)
  • Amber leaving the house ("Buffy!")
  • the expressions of love for a fictional FBI agent
  • the dinner party
  • "too fruity for crows"
  • The Matrix spoofs
  • going clubbing and the A-team dance
  • Tim's drawings
  • "Hawk the Slayer's rubbish!"
  • Twist's affect on Brian's art and Marsha's moment of inspiration
  • the tank

All utterly brilliant and more besides.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being Human at Mayhem will be missed - I'll be doing Shakespeare


Had tickets booked for months to see Twelfth Night at RSC Stratford on 31st October.

And what gem does Nottingham Broadway give me at the same time?

Flipping fest of Being Human no less! ARGH!!!! Couldn't they have scheduled it for the evening so I could rush back and do both?


Sunday, September 20, 2009

MediumRob's Meme - fantasy scheduling

Inspired by Rob's latest meme on fantasy scheduling, here are my thoughts. I've not been able to focus in on a single night or channel, so these are more overall mutterings and suggestions:
  1. Extending Tobe's thought, a pox on reality TV -- sorry fans, but this also includes all Strictly-come-slit-my-throat-rather-than-vote shows too. I appreciate the banter of others who love this sort of thing, but the incessant media ravings over the schedule battle of X-Factor vs Strictly had me screaming "fighting the battle of who could care less" (apologies to Ben Folds Five)

  2. Saturday nights in the wintertime = Doctor Who. Where it belongs. It should air from October to Xmas or January to Easter. I have loved having a Xmas Special but they've not all been special enough to justify the Spring starting time (with the Xmas ep as a taster/teaser/one-off story).

  3. Saturday evenings in the spring OR early autumn = Merlin. This depends on DW gets that post-Xmas to Easter slot. Saturday evenings should have at least half the year with some supernatural/spooky/sci-fi entertainment. And no, I'm not wanting 'Demons' back thank you.

  4. Be consistent with schedules/slots -- we all remember debacles about scheduling 'Seinfeld'/'Arrested Development' etc. Bumped around the post-'Newsnight' schedule, going AWOL for a week or more. Whilst digital channels are sometimes erratic about screening things in order, they are often more predictable about screening the same programme or type of programme in the same slot. Five is the nearest we have on terrestrial for managing this most of the time. I might not like or always agree with its programming but I know that 9pm on Tuesday is pretty likely to be CSI-ish in nature.

  5. New dramas -- ITV1, BBC1 and BBC2 at the least should be compelled to regular commission, produce and then schedule within 6 months of completion* one-off single (short) series dramas of 3-10 hour long episodes. These should not be then endlessly recommissioned until the lustre of the original gem is utterly diminished (especially if they were designed as a one-off originally). Use the 'strip-across-the-week' technique if you must.

  6. 11pm onwards every Saturday night on BBC2 = classic film slot. I want a decent film commentator to front the screenings. A five minute intro will suffice. I want black and white and classic art house. Nothing more recent than 10 years old. At least one in every three films not in English.

  7. Post-Newsnight Review on Fridays BBC2 = cult film slot running til at least 2am. Again, with commentator introduction. You may have guessed I am of the generation that grew up on Alex Cox and b-movie/cult/sci-fi screenings.

  8. Terrestrial TV repeats -- that digital switchover is still a few years off yet. In the meantime let's give people who don't want to clutter their houses with DVDs or fill their computers with downloads (illegal or otherwise) the chance to see some classic dramas of all kinds of genres. I'm quite happy for this to be run in tandem with...

  9. ... themed nights. After the initial effort of BBC2 linking with radio, themed nights got terribly carried away with themselves until they littered the scheduled with barely connected works. There's an opportunity under the Rullsenberg schedule to give this all another chance. Why not use themed nights - approximately 5 weeks apart - to bring out the context of contemporary or recent TV productions? Link 'Spooks' with 'The Sandbaggers' and le Carre dramatisations (even films); link dramas like 'Shooting the Past' with documentaries on photographers and 'Who do you think you are?' style family histories focusing on use of photographs as historical documents; link appropriate episodes of 'Coast' with 'The Onedin Line'/'Poldark'; re-air those dramas about comedic actors private lives with examples of their works and the legacy in contemporary comedy (sadly I think some legal restrictions may apply to these).

  10. Stage dramas and Shakespeare -- I want them on TV at least once a month. I'd prefer once a week, but recognise this may be unrealistic. However, full play-length dramas / filmed versions of stage shows can work. If live projections to cinemas can work (as the National Theatre has been experimenting) then why not TV screenings for broadcast as a play run comes to its end? It may encourage revivals. And if we're talking true fantasy, then I'd like screenings of plays starring Dougie Henshall and/or David Tennant on a regular basis please.
Bit random these thoughts. I couldn't reign myself in a channel or for a day. But this nostalgic approach would certainly make me happy.

* ITV1 -- I am so looking at you for commissioned and even promoting stuff only to faff about with actually airing things.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I feel that in honour of 'Talk like a pirate day' (LibraryThing is having great fun with its text today 19th September to mark the occasion) I should recommend reading -- or even better, listening -- to 'How to Be a Pirate by the lovely Cressida Cowell.

Why should you listen?

Well, because there's a nice man reading it of course, complete with entertaining voices!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ten Years On: on bereavement

Ten years ago my mum died. It was also my dad's birthday. And their wedding anniversary. She wasn't conscious that day and life support was turned off that afternoon.

In the intervening years:

  • I started and completed a PhD
  • Neil and I travelled to New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and New Zealand
  • We bought a house

My dad died a few years later: he'd initially rallied after mum's death, far more than any of us had anticipated, before declining swiftly and begrudgingly.

I mourn the loss of my dad as a man who could have been great, whose life had seen events I have only read in history books and who never got the chance to fulfill all the promise I can see he had looking back on his life. (And who was only just well enough to be around for some of my achievements).

But I miss my mum: I got my dad's Germanic nose and what intellect I possess probably comes from him. From my mum, I feel I got the curiosity to do something with whatever brains I possess, and her heart and empathy. At least, that's what I hope.

Sorry for the self-reflection; I do occasionally indulge in thinking about what I'm like and my life, and thinking about loss.

But mostly, as further birthdays approach, I want to reflect that I have been incredibly lucky and have the love of a good man and good friends. I have a lot to be happy about and mum (and dad) would want me to celebrate that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vote Vote Vote for Maureen Carter's "Blood Money" in the People's Book Prize!

Some of you will know that I've become a huge fan of Maureen Carter's series of novels about Detective Bev Morriss, published through Creme de la Crime. Shamefully though, I've only just managed to shift my ass over to The People's Book Prize website to cast my vote for Maureen's latest book, Blood Money.

If you haven't already picked up on Creme de la Crime's excellent catalogue of publications, then you are missing a treat, because they are wonderful. Something for pretty much every taste, regardless of whether crime fiction is really your bag or not: sure, there are obviously 'crimes' to be resolved at the heart of each book, but these are so variable in scale and context that I would think most readers would find something they like (I'm hugely impressed by Roz Southey's series about musician Charles Patterson, set in 18th century Newcastle-Upon-Tyne which has an incredibly different tone and style compared to the gritty contemporary narratives of Carter).

The People's Book Prize is a small operation, aiming to bring to public attention works from independent publishers via public libraries and the web. Having been lucky enough to discover the likes of Creme de la Crime publishers, I am very aware that many smaller independent publishers can have a hard time getting shop space and reviews for their works, so I'm all in favour of anything that helps improve awareness.

Anyway, my voting's done for August and September books: I was rather persuaded by the blogger whose comment was used in praise of Carter's book...


[You can read the full review I did on Blood Money here]

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Disheartening or encouraging? How many books to read in a lifetime

Norm picks up on the calculation that 14,000 books is a reasonable calculation for a lifetime's reading based on 4 books per week for 70 years.

I really do not know whether to be disheartened by such a calculation in light of all the books published (it amounts to a measly 0.008324477724 per cent of books), encouraged by the idea that I could reach such a level of reading, or further disheartened that there remain so many people who don't have access to literacy skills or reading materials.*

Have I read enough? Never enough.

*I'm going to try and not think too hard about those who have the skill to read but do not use it.

Bloody slow internet today


Typical. I get a day at home and I can't even make distracted use of the internet whilst I do other things.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Live Music Review: Jeffrey Lewis at Bodega Social, Nottingham Wednesday 2 September 2009

It was incredibly pleasing to see a healthily substantial crowd attending the latest Jeffrey Lewis gig. It's out of term-time so it possibly wasn't as crowded as it could have been (it wasn't the sardine experience that was Camera Obscura at the gig in 2006) but was all the better for that. Heck, some people even danced!

Anyway: we were a little later than usual arriving so didn't catch the entire set of The Fishermen Three, and completely missed the first support (was there a first support? I think I grasped he was from Derby. Sorry for missing you). Still, we were so swept up with hearing The Fishermen Three, with Jack Lewis (yes, brother of Jeffrey and equally wonderful) that we felt very well treated in terms of a support act. As you will know from other reviews here, support acts can be variable. Some, like Broken Records supporting Twilight Sad can blow the main act away somewhat; others are The Displacements (*spit*).

It was also nice to see some familiar faces in the audience: there was a good Nottingham Uni American Studies contingent which was very reassuring as I do like to see young people with good taste in music. I should have known I could trust them.

Anyone who has seen Jeffrey Lewis perform live will know that his shows are a mix of songs, chat and multi-media activity. In this case we got a couple of 'films' (his illustrations with commentary for narratives and/or history): one was as yet incomplete on the early years of European settlers in the USA, focusing on the Mayflower, and one (clearly well thumbed) noir tale of disguises and deception. Both utterly brilliant. Both hugely difficult to convey in writing (I hope to add Neil's pictures to help, but check out Lewis's site for further visuals

Quirky, funny, sincere, heart-rending: listening to Lewis is a wonderful and unique experience. It seems hard to believe that a folk (anti-folk?) artiste could produce a musical set where one of the highlights is a rap about being a mass murderer of mosquitos in Maine, but with Lewis, anything is possible!

One final note: you really REALLY have to hand it to an act whose merchandise stall not only has CDs and T-shirts but gives space to promote the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies). A local IWW branch has been set up in Notts. Very pleasing. It also provided a nice reminder that Lewis contributed artwork to the graphic comix book history of the Wobblies that I had picked up in New Zealand a few years ago! This seems to be pretty rare in the UK now and not exactly easily accessible in the US, which is a real shame. It's a great text about the great Union.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Newstead Abbey in the sunshine

Mad, bad and dangerous to know --- but inexplicably Newstead Abbey, former home of the local bad boy of Romantic Poetry, Lord Byron, does not actually sell t-shirts with this famous description of the man himself.

It was nice to finally go around the remains of the abbey and the later Byron family house as a grown-up: I'd been to the gardens as a kid but not in the house itself. It's actually a rather good visit with some interesting displays and there was certainly more to see than I imagined!

Anyway, we had a lovely day in the sunshine, watching waders and enjoying the gardens. Photos below...

Cloud at Newstead Abbey, NottsCloud outside the grand entrance to Newstead Abbey.

Newstead Abbey gardensGardens of Newstead Abbey

Rullsenberg at Newstead AbbeyRullsenberg standing in the sun at Newstead Abbey

Wader at Newstead Abbey garden lily pondWader at Newstead Abbey garden lily pond

Boatswain the dog - memorial, Newstead AbbeyMemorial to Boatswain, Byron's dog

Shady trees at Newstead AbbeyA shady area at Newstead Abbey gardens

Final Monotonix pictures - I'll shut up now...

Just a final few pictures, courtesy of Neil's camera, of the Monotonix experience of Summer Sundae (inexplicably unmentioned in either the Observer or Morning Star* reviews!)

MonotonixAnd the madness begins...

MonotonixHead over heels with Monotonix

Monotonix"Everybody say 'Ringo!"

Monotonix"Am I crazy?" says Monotonix frontman....

JMonotonixSinging on the balcony before that infamous jump....

* However, the Morning Star did have a very fetching photo of some impromptu musicianship on the main stage grassy bank. And to the far side of the image you could just see my t-shirt sleeve and part of my handbag. National press fame at last!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food and drink and other Summer Sundae treats

Summer Sundae is a nice moderate sized festival: a bit too big to be truly boutique now (I would say) but then I am comparing it to the titchy-tiny T'IndieTracks.

Anyway, one of things I love about the festival is that it has a nice range of stalls and food available. This continued this year and we certainly enjoyed availing ourselves of the Summer Sundae Burritos, the Northfield Burgers (minus extra fly protein) and the real ales.

Neil and George - pints at Summer Sundae 2009
Neil and George enjoying pints.

Having said that though, with the loss of 6Music as a main sponsor, it did seem that Summer Sundae had been forced to take on a bit more in the way of corporate sponsorship affecting their food/drink ranges.

Gone were the delightful made to order proper pizza oven pizzas, and in came Pizza Express: now I like PE, but even so the loss of the independent provider was annoying.

More annoying was the impact that Bulmers had. Now again, I like Bulmers cider ... (NO ICE THAT IS AN ABOMINATION! -- sorry, I've finished shouting now...)

... but I was bloody annoyed, furious in fact, to find that thanks to Bulmers sponsorship and huge stall the sweet little beer tent was no longer allowed to sell any other type of cider!

What??! You can't even let the beer tent sell Scrumpy Jack - which you make?! And also you're so scared your product won't sell that it can't cope with some competition from Westons???!

Meh. I was quite cross.

Not as you can tell.

And the sun was shining much of the weekend.

So it wasn't all bad.

Nevertheless, despite this corporatisation, there were some independent treats at Summer Sundae 2009: these included the wonderful performances put in at 'The Hurly Burly'.

It really is quite something to think through the ads for new staff with Hurly Burly:

"can you cook and serve food?"
"can you also sing, dance, play a musical instrument and be prepared to mime along to songs to an audience?"
"...erm.... what kind of food do you serve again?!"

Seriously though, this lot were great. Not only was the food fab but they were also jolly entertaining. It certainly takes something to persuade hungry festival goers to delay their requests for food whilst you do a few tunes!

They also did a wonderful performance along with Talking Heads 'Once in a Lifetime' which not only had the women performing but also the guys from the kitchen at the back! Utterly mad but totally delightful. A festival treat to prove it wasn't all corporate.