Monday, 23 December 2013

The Run Up To Christmas List-o-Fives

Well it's nearly that time of year and Santa has come early to our house - or at least to a member of our household.

That is to say that one of our presents this year was a box of goodies that we cleared out to make space on the floor - only for Giles to decide that the box was a fantastic new place to sit.

And so it is that several days later the empty, decorated box is still in the centre of our floor - only now it is slightly more of an obstacle because of the semi-resident cat.

So whilst Giles prepares himself for Christmas how are the rest of the Pixie Clan getting ourselves in the mood for some Chrimbo Cheer whilst working ever-so-hard (honest) in our jobs in the run up to some much needed time off?

Well, as the long suffering readers of this blog will know I am rather fond of creating List-o-Fives (none of which ever add up to only five) and so here's a list of things that we often share to get us in the mood:  

Christmas Televisual Feasts (available on "terrestrial" TV - ie non-subscription channels): 

#1: Doctor Who (Christmas Day)
Back in the 1960s a single episode of Dr Who aired on Christmas Day.  It was, for the officianadoes out there, a middle episode of The Dalek Masterplan (13 episodes long) called "The Feast Of Stephen" - it was the last time the show would air on Christmas Day for 40 years.  However, ever since the re-boot of the show about 7-8 years ago it has been an annual thing.  This year sees the final story of current incumbent in the title role Matt Smith running around yelling a lot and waving a sonic screwdriver at anything and everything - threatening to assemble ad-hoc furniture at every turn (presumably).  The last few have been a bit disappointing so I am hoping for a return to form this year as we see the arrival of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor...

#2: The Sound Of Music
Some time in the 1980s they passed the Von Trapp Law meaning that it was illegal for The Sound Of Music to be left out of the Christmas schedule from thereon - or so it feels as every yuletide the screens fill with what feels like six hours of tap-dancing nazis.  After all: what could be more festive?  The way that most people watch this film is in bits -the first hour one year, the last hour another year and the twelve hours in between in odd bits whilst avoiding the Queen's Speech.  Very few people watch it in a single sitting unless they are really, really bored.

#3: Cassablanca
Don't ask me why this is part of the festive programming but as with Sound Of Music it is now on every year.  A fascinating fact is that Ronald Regan was, at one point, in line for the role of Rick so we must be eternally greatful that they elected him President instead...err.....

#4: Father Ted Christmas Special
The hapless residents of Craggy Island get lost in Habit-hat (a specialist shop for Priests...) and narrowly avert a scandal thanks to the quick thinking of Ted: who is awarded a Golden Cleric award as a result.  Father Ted was a fantastically daft and funny sit-com, cut short too soon by the death of it's star. 

#5: Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Ebeneezer Blackadder, the white sheep of the dastardly family, is visited by the spirit of Christmas who inadvertently shows him how much better off he'd be if he were evil.  Blackadder is still one of my favourite all time sit-coms and this subversive version of Charles Dickens is amongst the best on offer.

#6: It's A Wonderful Life
So it turns out that my mother has never seen It's A Wonderful Life and, when i described it to her, she said "well that doesn't sound much fun" (or words to that effect).  She is, of course, wrong - the film is rather odd because it's mostly slightly depressing until the uplifting bit where if you don't cry then, quite frankly, you have no soul.  James Stewart is, as always, a joy to watch - but be warned: if I find out that if you watched the colourized version instead of the original black and white i shall be severely disappointed with you to say the least.

#7: The Box Of Delights
A children's TV series that first ran in the early 1980s about a magic box, an incredibly posh young boy and a ripping adventure yarn that could only ever be written in England.  True some of the special effects were naff even then but it still has a certain sense of magic.  The best way to watch this is episodically so that the final episode falls on Christmas Eve (which is when it is based to happen)

Some other films for your consideration:
The Wizard Of Oz (Herself insists its on at Christmas - not aware of it myself but it wouldn't surprise me in the least)
Scrooged/The Muppett Christmas Carol - one or the other of these is always on and both are worth your time

Merry Christmas to all bloggers

Saturday, 23 November 2013

An Unsung Hero: Terrance Dicks (Dr Who 50th Anniversary Post)

I've been thinking a lot over the last week how best to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of science-fiction phenomenon Doctor Who.

It's hard to believe that fifty years ago this weekend William Hartnell first appeared on screen in the TARDIS, the programme delayed in transmission by the incoming news of John F Kennedy's assasination and I doubt that anyone involved in that first story could have had any idea that it would still be going half a century later.

I only really started watching in the late seventies when the great almighty Tom Baker was Doctor - and in his portrayal I found a character that would be my hero for all the years to come: strong, corageous, vulnerable, always a pacifist and with a great sense of wonder at the world.  Tom would always enter a room as if it were the most fantastic place he had ever been to and his childish joy was infectious.

But every bit as much as I loved the TV series I was even more hooked on the novelisations.  Back in the days before home video recorders (or when they were too expensive for most people to own) reading the adaptations of the old stories whether borrowed from the library (I think my first novelisation was Meglos, with a picture of Tom Baker covered in cactus thorns on the front), found at a seaside shop, in WH Smiths or, later on, at a second-hand book shop where I spent all of my meagre weekly income they were a window to a world of imagination where anything was possible.

So on the anniversary of the first broadcast of what is now a TV icon I would like to celebrate Terrance Dicks.  Dicks was script editor from Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor), Jon Pertwee (3rd) and into the early 4th (Tom Baker) and would continue to write occasional scripts into the Peter Davison era (5th)

However it was in the 70s that Target Books first acquired the rights to novelize old stories and it was to Dicks that they first turned when individual writers were not interested in amending their scripts for the meagre salary on offer.  This meant that Dicks would eventually write about 70% of the books published during that period.

The books had a strict remit: no more than 120 pages per book: meaning that Dicks was forced to take stories that had been padded out into ten episodes and strip them down to the bone, so that you got all of the story, all of the action and none of the boring bits.  This made the books tremendously exciting to read for a young boy and lead to a lifelong love of reading, as well as influencing my own writing style.

So whilst there are many names that contributed to the longevity of the show it is to Terrance Dicks that I give thanks.  Long may his contribution be remembered and celebrated: and long may young people across the world be encouraged to read and to find doing so as genuinely exciting as I did. 

Monday, 11 November 2013


We weren't initially sure about adopting Willow.  Not that we didn't want her: I think we both fell for her charms the first time she wandered into the house and ran past us, we just weren't sure that she would settle somewhere new.

She was so nervous around people, running for cover if you approached, complaining loudly if you picked her up: so when we first agreed to adopt both her and Charlie we took him in first and waited for him to settle in...and waited...and waited.  

The truth was, however, that he just wasn't happy without her and so we opened the door and let her in.  For about the first half hour she stood and miowed at the door asking to go out and then, without any further complaint, came and sat next to me on the chair, asking to have her belly rubbed.

From then on she became famous for her loud demands for fuss and attention, poking her nose into my food, even starring on many of my conference calls for work where the inevitable question "Have you got a baby there?" would be met with my, "No, that's just Willow"
Willowpuss had a very distinctive method of going down stairs, two paws at a time in a bunny like lollop which always  caused her bell to jingle as she went.  On a hard surface her constant tap-tap-tap was like a woman walking in stilettoes and she had to fight Charlie for food: choosing to pick and return later.

When Charlie died in 2010 she took it as a signal to take over the rest of the house and would come and join us on the bed, or sometimes be found hiding under the covers looking for warmth.  She was much more of an indoors cat, being somewhat elderly, but on a good summer's day she would venture out into the back garden and sit in the sun by the shed or, in the winter, she would be found in her bed by the radiator.

When Giles first arrived she was not overly impressed, and objected several times by weeing on the bed until we were left with no laundry other than a sleeping bag to huddle under and she finally realized that he was staying.  On the whole they got along after that, although Giles would sometimes chase her around the house and she rarely came onto the bed again after he made it one of his places.

Miss Willow had been having kidney problems for about three years: had been on special food, when we could keep it away from Mr Giles and, more recently, on nightly pills for her blood pressure and kidneys: but other than that her health had mostly been good until this last five or six days when it became obvious that she was not eating properly.  She even turned her nose up at cheese, when she had previously been famous for hearing a slice of cheese being cut from forty paces.  Also she was spending a lot more time sitting on laps, something which had always been a rarity.  She even sat on Herself's lap, which was almost unheard of.

Finally it became obvious that she was losing weight and having some trouble climbing onto the sofa.  Then on Sunday, yesterday, she was struggling to walk in a straight line and this morning it was clear that she had been distressed and over-preening herself.

We took her to the vets first thing, realizing it would be cruel to make her suffer any longer, holding her and stroking her until it was over.  Herself and I stood in the car park afterwards, holding each other in the rain.

Goodbye sweet Willow puss, we love you x

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Combat Rock

Oxford Street is never quiet.  Even at 8pm when most high streets would be closing, the barriers coming down whilst tired shop assistants trudge towards a distant bus, it is frenetic: the coffee bars showing no sign of bringing in their seats for the night, the loud music still blaring from the speakers of the fashion establishments.

At lunch time it is worse: the crowds closing in on the pavement, making it impossible to move without playing a never ending chess game of manoeuvre, take and retreat to reach your destination.  

I only have about half an hour so I'm moving fast and trying to think ten steps ahead as I cross the road, turning right into the edge of Soho.  Immediately it's a different world.  The paint on the buildings seems more worn, the streets narrower and the tone of the shops changes from chain store to struggling business.  As I pass the travel agents, the hairdressers and the eateries here I feel sure that if I were to step inside and ask the right questions I would be directed towards the Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue waiting on the upper floors to deal with my enquiries (1)

Just down the road is the shop I'm looking for.  Apparently it was once a hang out for the disassociated youth but now it looks like it is mostly between jobs: taking whatever temporary trade comes its way.  I step inside and am pleased to see that there are others present and that they are more genteel than perhaps I was expecting.  On the left as I enter is the inevitable Over Priced Merchandise store with an array of T-shirts, mugs, albums and other purchasable paraphernalia whilst at the back I can see some evidence of what is to come in the shape of two elderly, battered and yet still inviting electric guitars.

Behind the counter where the shop assistants stand is a flight of stairs heading down below the ground and again I can hear murmured conversation from beneath.  There is a good crowd down here too despite the fact that the exhibition has been open for more than a week: mostly people who are a) slightly older than me and b) in my youth I would have steered clear of.

There's a coffin like container against the far wall, in which lies the shattered remains of a bass guitar that was smashed into three large pieces by its owner, generating one of the most iconic rock images of all time (see above), to the right there is a wall of perspex and through the letters of the name of the band I can see the other items on display.  Some are more interesting than others: the gold disks for instance are perhaps inevitable,  but the hand written set lists, type writer containing lyric sheets and even a chord diagram drawn by one of the members hints at much more.  Scattered in between the rare 7" singles are jackets and boiler suits worn by the band and just the occasional hint of the wider scene that they were a part of.

The only shame is that I have so little time and before I've really had a chance to look around I have to be going: heading back up to the ground floor where I take a brief second to wonder whether spending £20 on a Punk Rock T-shirt is a sensible decision for a Man Of My Advancing Years (yes, I decide, it is) and head out.

Across the road I catch a glimpse of an independent record shop called Sister Ray, which tells me all I need to know about the establishment (2) and I take a brief look inside: sure enough it is a dimly lit rabbit warren filled with nervous looking men in long jackets spending their days looking in vein for an original pressing of some deleted Frank Zappa album.  I know I will have to come again.

(1) I think Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue is a much nicer phrase than Prostitute don't you?  Plus it also sounds like a good name for a band.
(2) Sister Ray - a Velvet Underground/Lou Reed tracks

NB: For all those not familiar with the British punk rock scene of the 1970s let me bring you up to speed by telling you that The Clash (whose pop up exhibition this post is about) were probably one of the most important and influential.  If you don't believe me watch the below

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Barry (With Apologies To Leonard Cohen)

Barry takes you down
To his place above the chip shop
You can hear the trucks go by
You can smell potatoes frying
And you know that he’s half crazy
And you’d really like to leave now
But he feeds you bread and marmite
That came all the way from Tesco’s
And he shows you his apartment
And it really is quite grotty
And just when you mean to tell him
That you’ve got to catch the late bus
He offers you some biscuits
That have chocolate on one side
That just seem so very tempting

And you want to call a taxi
When he tells you all the time
He’s been wearing womens’ undies
Now you’ll never wipe that image from your mind

Barry used to be a sailor
At the local water centre
And he used to own a speedboat
That he won on some old game show
But when he knew for certain
He was moving to the chip shop
He swapped it for a Rover
Which came all the way from Luton
And he gets out some more biscuits
With some jam in and rice paper
And he’s got a stamp collection
That could clearly last for hours

And there’s no sign of that taxi
And you’ve lost track of the time
And you’re thinking of those knickers
Yes you know you’ll never get them off your mind

Now Barry takes your hand
And he leads you to the chip shop
But the food is far too greasy
And your ulcer is complaining
And he really is depressing
As he talks of stamp collections
But he gets out some more biscuits
And this time they’re digestives
And you start to feel quite guilty
That you find him oh so dreary
He is leaning out for love
And will be that way forever
So you eat another biscuit

And you finally hear that taxi
And he chases you outside
Still wearing women’s knickers
And that image never fades within your mind

By the way - my blog is only allowing me to create posts in HTML - does anyone have any ideas what i can do about this?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

It Must Be Thursday: Sleeping On The Job

“Sleep, those little slices of death: how I loathe them” I can’t say that I entirely agree with the above quote from the Godfather of Horror Edgar Rice Burroughs, I mean – who doesn’t like a nice kip? But then Burroughs was an odd man, always banging on about scary birds squawking “nevermore” and dying in circumstances that could barely have been more mysterious if Scooby Doo and the gang had been investigating them. But if there’s one thing that I DO hate about sleep it’s the way it tries to creep up on you at inappropriate times. As far as I’m concerned sleep should come a) when you have put your head on the pillow at night or b) when I call upon it to do so – IE when trying to sleep on the train in the morning. I do so envy those people who can fall instantly and on demand into a deep sleep when on the move – myself I find myself jerking endlessly awake at the merest movement of the track, with my head lolling forward or my neck twisted at an angle that should only be possible for owls or at the endless loud clanking of the doors of the train. As I have previously mentioned: public transport seems to be deliberately designed to make the action of sleep impossible. Bus windows vibrate whenever the vehicle draws to a halt, train window ledges are too narrow to perch an elbow and there was, believe it or not, talk of transmitting adverts through the windows of trains that would be amplified by the bones in your head when you leaned on it But the type of sleep that I have no time for is the one that comes in the mid afternoon when your head starts nodding as your brain decides it wants to switch off. Sometimes there is just no fighting it and the only option is to sink down into your chair and let your eyes close, but at others it is a constant battle not to be overcome. Every time this happens to me Herself always says “why don’t you just go and lie down for a while” and the answer is actually very simple. What I hate isn’t so much the fact of falling asleep during the day, although it is a classic sign that I am Getting Older – what I hate is the way I feel afterwards. Every time this happens to me I wake up feeling sick to the stomach, my head full of shadows that take at least 20 minutes to clear. A Hot Beverage (being British this has to be Tea) will sometimes help, but mostly there is nothing to do but ride the wave and try to come out the other side with your shower cap still firmly in place (so to speak) It makes me dread the day when I am truly old and have nothing to do but sit in a chair and snooze in between being patronised by people - although given this possible future I might have no choice but to become a Rambler or, even worse, a Morris Dancer in my dotage (old age is the right time for growing scraggly beards and dancing around a maypole bashing sticks together and waving handkerchiefs in the air) So if anyone has a good tip to avoid falling asleep during the day, or even for waking up without feeling like one has been dragged through a cess pit – please do let me know PS - my apologies for the formatting of this post: i seem to be having account problems

Thursday, 18 July 2013

It Must Be Thursday: A Review of Some Things

The ongoing saga of a weekly That-Was-The-Week-That-Was posting.
Commenting on things that caught my attention for better or for worse and left me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting "Whyyyy!!!" 
After all: until science brings us a better use for Thursdays - what else is there to do?

Cast your minds back a while to my most recent film review will remember that I promised to bring you my thoughts on Man Of Steel which I had every intention of getting to see whilst it was on the big screen

Sadly time and tide have defeated me and I just haven't had the time to get to the flicks and now it seems to have finished.

My life has been rather hectic as of late: spent travelling, working, travelling and then recovering with hectic weekends trying to squeeze some free moments into - hence my current absence from blogland, which i hope to solve once i get a computer that i can use on the move

So instead of the aforementioned review of MoS I will attempt to bring you some other reviews.  There might be five of them but then again probably not.

#1: Bruce Springsteen Live (Concert)
A couple of years ago I made the decision not to go and see Brucie when he toured with his Seeger Sessions band firstly because I hadn't heard the album and knew that he was mostly doing songs from that period and secondly because I wanted to see him with the full E Street Band.  This, having heard the live album of the tour, was a mistake as the tour was definately unmissable - only I did.

So when The Boss announced a gig in my hometown with the full E Street ensembe I knew that I had to go regardless of the extremely steep charge of the ticket

It was a day where the weather was busy ominizing: dark clouds scudding across the sky and threatening to let loose their heavy load - indeed as we walked down towards the open air arena it was already trying to rain.  Fortunately it held off and even threatened to clear entirely.

On this particular tour, The Wrecking Ball tour, the evening is divided almost equally into three: the first hour is a combination of a set list and a requests section, with Bruce picking signs requesting specific songs from the audience and showing them to the band - which they then proceeded to play.  The second hour was an album from start to finish (we got Born To Run) and then finally a third hour of mainly greatest hits

Having just looked up Mr Springsteen on wikipedia I find that he is only a few years younger than my dad and should probably be requesting his free bus pass - and yet where many older rockers seem to be going through the motions of a pre-ordained "this is the bit where i pick someone out of the audience" ritual (U2 and The Rolling Stones I'm looking at you) Brucie managed to make all the improvised bits look, well...improvised.

I'm a big Bruce Springsteen fan and consider the man to be a poet so am naturally biased, but Argent (who went with me as more of a Springsteen virgin) was suitably impressed and remarked both on the tightness of the band, the energy and the accessibility of the music.

True - with it being a stadium gig the sound quality wasn't great, but if you get a chance to see the man in action then you really should take it whilst you can.

#2: Bruce Springsteen: Tunnel Of Love (album)
Whilst on the subject of Brucie I've been enjoying something of a Springsteen-a-thon on my way home recently, listening to each studio album in chronological order until I have reached this mid 80s effort which was the first Springsteen album I ever heard, but equally had not heard again since.

I was lent it by a friend just shortly after it came out and can remember not being that impressed and I have to say that time and a revisit have done little to change that opinion.  The problem is that for some reason at this point in his career he decided to ditch his trademark sound of guitars, gutsy saxophones and working man lyrics and go for an almost entirely keyboard led album that reeks of the sort of over production that makes the 80s infamous.  The best song of the album is Brilliant Disguise, but the work as a whole lacks soul and depth and is a million miles behind any of his high water marks.

Still, and possibly inevitably, whenever i think of Springsteen it is always the cover of this album, with him leaning on the bonnet of a white cadillac resplendent in suit and bootlace tie, that comes to mind.

#3: Much Ado About Nothing (film)
What do you do when you've just finished the biggest blockbuster special effects movie of your career and have two weeks off before you start making the TV series?  Well, if you're creative genius Joss Whedon then the answer is that you call up all your friends and say "Hey, come round to my house and we'll make Shakespeare with the iambic pentameters and everything"

The result is a black and white, slightly out of time rendition of one of The Bard's better known comedies in which any fan of Whedon's work won't be able to resist pointing at the screen and saying "Eh, isn't that whats-his-name from Buffy/Firefly"

As with all my reviews I shall try not to give any spoilers away other than to say that after 5 minutes or so you get used to the dialogue and find yourself immersed in an entirely believable and slightly claustrophobic world.  Top plaudits should go to Nathan Fillion who steals every scene he appears in as well as to the two main leads of Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof who hold the piece together extremely well.

The only negative i can find is the two perplexing flashback sequences, which at least on first viewing leave you wondering exactly when they are happening and what they are supposed to signify.

#4: The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World (book)
I feel sad for those of you in other countries that have never had the joy of watching the TV game show "Pointless"

The formula is this: comedian Alexander Armstrong (and why is it, btw, that game show hosts are always comedians here?) and all round clever person Richard Osman invite four teams of two to answer questions on a number of topics - with the twist that they must find the answer that the least people thought of, thus showing that they know something more than the average Joe Public whilst aiming to score the lowest of the contestants or achieve finding something that no one else knew - ie a "pointless" answer

It is arguably the Blockbusters of the 2010s - IE a game show at approx 5pm that has gathered a cult following and deservedly so

So when I saw the book on sale during a low moment at the train station I picked up a copy expecting good things - however, it was not what I had hoped for.

What I had hoped was that I would find some of the topics that people had known the least about listed inside accompanied by an interesting, but ultimately useless, fact about said thing.  Instead it was a list of 100 things that Alexander and Richard found irritating or pointless that, whilst amusing in its own right, was ever so slightly pointless (to coin a phrase)

#5: The 3G Apple I-phone
One of the things that came with my new job, along with endless commuting, was a works i-phone. 

I've never owned anything by Apple before unless you count a couple of cans of Strongbow (cider) and a few Beatles albums...(yeah, ok, you got me - both different kinds of apple) - largely because I don't use my phone anywhere near enough to justify the exorbitent monthly charge of having any i-gadgets

The main reason I have it is to call/receive calls from people who I am working with and to receive emails on the move thus making me a "modern and dynamic employee" and as far as it goes the i-phone is perfectly fine.  It has a much longer battery life than most phones i've used, possibly due to the 1-D graphics and seems to be of comparable quality to other phones and has even led to me listening to podcasts for the first time

But the one area where it annoys the hell out of me is the amount of things that need to be done in co-ordination with other i-gadgets.

Take, for instance, putting a favourite song as a ringtone.  Now this is something that i expect to be able to do as a standard thing on my phone - with my personal phone I can go onto any tune-purchasing website, download the song to my phone, stick it in a certain folder and then set it as a ringtone - done in two seconds without any fuss.  With the i-phone i can still download, albiet grudgingly, from any site i want - but i then need to get a ring-tone converter from i-tunes, chose which 30 seconds of the song i want to set, go home to my PC and log into i-tunes, connect my phone to my PC and somehow (i still haven't figured this bit out yet) co-ordinate the i-tunes on my computer with my phone and ONLY THEN somehow magically get a small fragment of said song set as my ringtone.  Call that technology on the move?  I don't.

#6: The Chap Who Delivers The Metro Newspaper To The Train Station (usually about 2 minutes after I've crossed to the other side)
Aah The Metro - a kind of smorgasbord of news that no one else could be bothered to print, available in train stations and busses across the land for free and then, shortly afterwards, abandoned on seats and floors for people to trip over.  Full of worryingly adult content for something that is readily available to be picked up by any given five-year-old travelling on public transport and an endless source of unintentional humour

About twice a week the aforementioned Chap manages to deliver the magazine before I cross over, meaning that I can flick through the pages just quick enough to a) catch my train and b) avoid losing too many IQ points and his method of delivery is to screech to a halt at the station, climb out with two big bundles in hand and throw them with abandon at the locked door of the station master not even pausing to remove the two strips that keep them bundled together.

This has been causing me endless frustration as it meant that I had to prize out my copy from underneath the straps, often ruffling or even tearing it (both of which stress me for reasons I can't quite explain) until this morning when - late as ever - I watched from the other side of the tracks as another passenger inadvertantly showed me how to remove the straps without a pocket knife or the necessessity of losing fingertips.

Still, come on mate - would it really hurt you to put them down carefully and remove the strap?  Probably yes...