Friday, July 30, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club: doing the rounds

Via Medium Rob, who got it via The F-word, who got it via... well, you get the picture.

Stealing Shakespeare: poverty, debt and delusion

Anyone else watch the Stealing Shakespeare documentary last night on BBC1?

Okay, the reason I ended up watching was thanks to a timely tip-off three mins in from Chrissie to say David Tennant was doing the narration, but it was a fascinating programme.

The central figure, Raymond Scott, was by turns eccentric, lavish in his performed lifestyle ("it is possible to live a champagne lifestyle on a larger budget" - yes, if you get yourself nearly £100,000 GBP in debt) and utterly deluded.

Scott, from County Durham, claimed to have acquired a book in Cuba which he then took to the Folger Shakespeare Library... The narrative from that point got more confusing with Scott being proven to have not even been in Cuba at the time he claimed (though he'd certainly lived the highlife there on several previous occasions). The book he presented for investigation? A Shakespeare First Folio - minus its covers, frontispiece, final page and with its binding significantly damaged.

The programme was a curious beast: Scott, happy to have more than his Warhol allotted 15 minutes of fame, appeared throughout the documentary, in his Tiffany sunglasses indoors and outdoors. At first he just appeared to be a rather odd wealthy Brit, with ostentatious taste in clothes, decor and accoutrements (his Ferrari car). He travelled the world, spending freely. But the reality was he was unemployed and living with his elderly mother --- I couldn't help thinking what his mother thought he was doing and whether her parts of the rather ordinary house they lived in were equally lavishly decorated? What is it about credit companies that can allow someone someone to get into such levels of debt?

Anyway, Scott was eventually cleared of stealing the Durham copy of Shakespeare's First Folio (which had been stolen in the 1990s), but was found guilty of handling stolen goods. The Durham edition, mutilated as it was by the time Scott tried to have it authenticated, is hopefully heading back to Durham. Scott faces time in prison, where I really hope someone can helpfully temper his delusions of grandeur (and lying). I'm all for people looking at the stars, not being constrained into misery by poverty and circumstances, but delusion - and corresponding indebtedness - are not the way to dream of a better life.

Return of the Poor Law

According to Iain Duncan-Smith on the Today programme, benefit levels could be set locally.

Has IDS been reading 19th century novels again? Did he not grasp that these novels - such as Oliver Twist were (by and large) pointing out the iniquities of 'Poor Relief'?

Truly, the another Victorian age is upon us.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Simple pleasures: being grateful

The love of a good person.

Friends to keep me sane, and to tease me when I need it.

Food on the table.

A roof over our heads.

Employment I love and am good at*

The ability to read and access to books and other reading material.

The ability to enjoy music.

Access to visual stimulation: art, film, television.

It's a good life.

* On a good day, I do recognise these things. In a low mood, I think I'm rubbish.

Rolling my eyes at the "I write like..." meme

Okay: first up I put in the review I wrote for Maureen Carter's "Death Line".

Turns out I write like Edgar Allan Poe.

Then I put in my review for the recent Doctor Who season finale.

Turns out I write like David Foster Wallace.

Then I tried my review for 'The Silence'.

Seems I'm H.P. Lovecraft.

I tried my piece on reading and not reading.

I'm actually Cory Doctorow.

If I put in the Big Session 2010 review...

I'm back to being H.P. Lovecraft again.

So here's the thing:

How many famous authors is it actually drawing on to be able to 'define' writing styles? There is a nice critique at Tea Berry-Blue which neatly quizzes the 'analyzer' with extracts from a variety of authors - including a range of female writers.

Who'd have thought? Turns out they mostly write like white male authors.

An interesting exercise, but perhaps not one to take too seriously.

TV Review: The Silence BBC1 Monday 12th July-Thursday 15 July 2010

I'd wanted to review the recent BBC drama 'The Silence' quickly. However, thanks to a temperamental work-based computer defying my efforts to write a review at 8.30am on Friday, I'm now having to complete this review on Sunday.

Nevermind. My thoughts are still fresh.

It's a shame that, at the moment at least, there are no plans to release the 4 part story on DVD. I'd certainly watch it again - and not just for lovely Douglas Henshall's delicious Scottish accent and visual appeal.

Interestingly, I'd say the key highlight was the performance and depiction of the central character: not Henshall's furiously angry and harrassed policeman Jim, but rather Genevieve Barr as his niece Amelia.

Amelia is caught between the hearing world (she has recently had a cochlear implant) and her more familiar world of silence, and credit must go to everyone concerned for making her such a rounded character. The use of sound, and silence, and all the guff of noise in-between, was beautifully conveyed. More importantly, not all the behaviour Amelia expresses was (just) about her being deaf. When she yells at her mother (Gina McKee) that "You're the problem!" it's done because Amelia is a teenager, with all the furious righteous indignation that virtually all teenagers express. Amelia smokes, drinks and flirts, likes clubbing (getting high off the speaker vibrations). She's certainly up there fighting out top spot as this year's best Amelia.

Though the series maintained a fairly consistent audience (4.7 million to start, 4.3 million on the finale) reviews have been erratic, and I can understand why. The Radio Times - in a fierce burst of independence from praising BBC programming - absolutely hated it, finding it slow and dull. However, Cloud and I remained gripped across the week - indeed positively giddy about the episodes as the story unfolded (a nice bonus for me which meant I didn't have to feel bad about indulgently watching Henshall). Even so, I can see how the positively insane level of coincidences upon which the frontline narrative depended would have turned off many potential viewers. As Euan Ferguson in today's Observer points out, the frontline 'plot' - Amelia sees the murder of a cop and can identify those responsible - isn't especially great. The bad guys come with signs on their faces saying 'bad guys' (the clue is in the facial hair) whilst the good guy (her uncle Jim) is suitably angst-ridden and anxious. But the delight was in the detail.
"Jim juggled brilliantly, got more right than wrong, yet everyone at one stage hated him. Par for the course in the average week for every fortysomething Scot. Henshall was just the very dabs here, always perfect and often magnificent: he looked so tired, and nearly-bearded, by the end of this successive four-night run, it was as if he'd stayed up all nights in between, waiting for us to return.

Which we did. Not for the plot, not even for Henshall, but for Amelia. Genevieve Barr's quite absurdly enthralling portrayal made this entire week's viewing. Forget the "real" plot: the story here, all four nights, was of the drama playing inside deaf Amelia's head: whether she "accepted" deafness, used her lip-reading skills and got the hell on with it, or persevered with the cochlear implant, and the bizarre terrors of learning – while not a baby, in the innocent and correct days when we can – of learning suddenly to hear, and make sense of it. She had done so much growing up and then, hearing, had to do it all again. The intrusiveness, the pomposity, the meanness, the tensions, the game-playing, of words, and shouts, and implications. Her character, Amelia, often preferred the thump of the bass in nightclubs, the tinglings and tremors, to the actual music, and chose to go back to deaf. When people argued around her, stupid go-nowhere arguments, she tugged out the implant's ugly grey antenna. "It felt like having a dirty room inside my head." She needed to escape. I know exactly how she feels.

Genevieve the actress – honestly, she was fabulous, wise, difficult, mesmerising, in 10 years' time I'll be able to have her as a pin-up beside Joey Lucas from The West Wing, if I was going to have a wall of pics of clever deaf actresses, which would be only a little worrying – has said: "When I was 16, the boy I was going out with said to me, 'Stop staring at boys' lips, it makes you look like you want to kiss them.'"

If there was anything else that was open to criticism, it was also the ending - which was, shall we generously say - oblique. Check out the debate on CiF at the Guardian which followed up a deaf writer's comments on the first episode with a series of comments about how the narrative progressed. Personally, there was something to be said for a 'less-than-neatly-tied-up' ending with the bad guys being dragged off for punishment, but this was perhaps more disturbingly inconclusive. I'd possibly forgive them for it if I knew there was a follow-up...

Anyway, for those wanting to know more about Genevieve Barr, there is a nice piece Barr wrote for the BBC about making the transition from teacher to actress.

Other reviews:
The Arts Desk
The Herald

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Racist Fringe of the Tea Party

Thanks be to Shakespeare's Sister - and specifically Melissa McEwan - for this gem of a line:
Racism, they [the founders of the Tea Party] claim, exists only on the fringe of the Tea Party movement. Sure it does. The Tea Party movement just has more fringe than the costume department for a community theater production of Hair.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On reading - and not reading

Thanks to Norm I got directed to Karen over at Cornflower books, pondering a life without reading. I think Norm's thoughts - that it would be about missing the ability to enter other worlds, ways of thinking, is very true but I wanted to add my own thoughts on this.

Short term, I would manage by revisualising and recalling favourite quotes, passages and the pure texture of books (I love the hard copy and as much as I love my iPod I wouldn't want to feel I hadn't got the physical object of anything - too tactile I guess).

But long-term loss of reading: that's a harder one to envisage managing. I would miss the sight of book spines, the pleasure in taking one down, browsing, scanning, remembering where I first read it, when I bought it and why (or, if a gift, who bought it for me). The physical object of the book, turning of pages, the shape and size of fonts and layouts, all of these things mean something to me -- and that's before we get to the actual content: the words, the narrative on the page.

I'd be devastated to not have words in my life: would I manage if there were other means of 'reading' available? Audiobooks, text-readers? I don't know - maybe. But I would still miss my interaction with the written word.

Mac advice/help wanted!

I have a lovely mac mini. But I want to gets its hard drive expanded (I can get this organised).

At present I have an external drive which backs up 'time-machine' stylee all my stuff.

If I get the hard drive expanded/replaced, how does it work to get the stuff transfered back to the newly expanded mac mini?

And how would all this change affect iPods registered to my mac mini once its had its hard drive expanded/replaced...?!

Answers please!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Missed posts

Sorry folks: I meant to blog honest I did. I meant to post about us going to cricket at Worcester - but Cloud has all the pics on his camera. Still we had great sun that day, the lovely view of Worcester cathedral (which we also did a visit to before the match) AND the company of good friends (and thanks to a friend of a friend, sat in the member's section). A good day.

But now, the lovely - if draining - sunshine we've had has promptly disappeared. Poor George and Sonia and plus 1 turned up only to find the Vic beer garden freezing and a distinct drizzle of rain; Helen found Stratford to be raining AGAIN; and I have even been reduced to buying a handbag sized pink umbrella.

Bring back the sun!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Theatre Review: Simon Callow is 'The Man from Stratford' - Sheffield Lyceum Saturday 3 July 2010

As a bonus to HLW and I going away to Sheffield, we found that Simon Callow's one-man show 'The Man From Stratford', about William Shakespeare, was on at the Lyceum.

Both Shakespeare fiends, we booked in.

Jonathan Bate, professor at Warwick, has written the play, drawing on his own scholarship and expertise about Shakespeare but also including quotations from the works of WS where illuminating of human nature and 'the seven ages of man'.

The show is still due on for approximately 3 nights per venue at Windsor, Brighton, Malvern, Taunton, Richmond and eventually Edinburgh (for most of August). According to Jonathan Bate's own Warwick site, the play will then run in London (Riverside Studios 2-12 Sept), Cardiff (15-18 Sept) and Glasgow (21-25 Sept), with possibly more dates after. I'd definitely see it again if I get chance - Neil, watch out!

Well worth seeing, if only to cross off how many quotes you recognise.

Retro Post: Sheffield's loveliest hotel

Last weekend - Friday 2nd July to Sunday 4 July - Helen Lisette and I stayed in Sheffield. Helen took over booking a hotel and by gum, she yet again proved her worth with finding the most lovely hotel in Sheffield.

The Leopold Hotel

Exterior of the hotel

A sample photograph of a bedroom

Sample bedroom twin - similar to what H and I had

Even the corridors are lovely

Overall, I could HIGHLY recommend this hotel as the staff were lovely, the environment charming and the rooms an absolute treat.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Silence is Coming - no, not that one...

No, no. We know that Silence Will Fall but I rather mean instead 'The Silence' is coming.