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.