Friday, 31 August 2007

Let Me Out

According to all the news headlines today, something momentous has happened. Yes, it's true. Princess Diana is still dead!

I'm not quite sure what all the fuss is about. When someone dies, you mourn their passing and celebrate their life with a funeral and maybe a memorial service. Then you get over it. It may be sooner or later, depending upon how close you are to the person, but "time heals all wounds" and all that.

And to keep their memory alive you visit their grave, or look at keepsakes, on important anniversaries, like their birthday, or Christmas, or the day they died.

But these memorials are private. They are to remember how this person made you feel personally. To remember the things you did together, and to pay tribute to them as a parent, child, lover or friend.

So what I don't get is, why the big public fuss over the anniversary of Diana's death? There was a big enough fuss when she died. Too big. The country became hysterical and people who normally found it impossible to get worked-up or emotional about anything were screaming, sobbing and hurling flowers onto hearses like the world was about to end.

But it didn't end. We're all still here.

I'm sure that, to her friends, Diana was a warm and lovely person. But it's also obvious that she was a very shrewd and powerful manipulator of the press. And the world media simply lapped it up. That's why, 10 years on, we've got yet another memorial service. And let's not forget there was a memorial concert a couple of months ago. So, TWO memorials in one year. Geez!. Looks like her sons may have inherited that talent for self-publicity...

[Yeah, I know, when you're an heir to the throne it's not like you have to beg for publicity, but...]

That's why today I won't be remembering Diana and I won't be celebrating all the things she did for me, because, well, she didn't do anything for me and I didn't know her.

Oh, bugger! Does posting this mean that I am now ON the bandwagon? Have I fallen for it? Damn!

Now What The...?

Ooh! Video blogging has arrived. That's good. It gives me an opportunity to share a short clip we shot in Dublin. The preamble: while we were mooching about the city we kept seeing the same 'busker' over again. Well, 'busker' is not really a good description, because this, erm, thing, wasn't exactly a musician or juggler. More a person covered in a sheet, with rudimentary ears and a mouth made of two pieces of wood which they click-clacked together. Snapping at young children or unwary Italian tourists. Chomping with joy if you put more than 1 Euro in its basket. If the Egyptian god Anubis ever came to life, but found it had no arms or legs and was blue in colour, it might look like this. Quite the oddest street entertainment I (or MLYW) have ever seen. Only in Dublin...

Tried using the new Blogger video embedding thingy - but it doesn't actually seem to work!

Didn't get a video of the gold coloured fairy whose entire 'act' was to wiggle her fingers and blow on passers-by. She really was rubbish. She didn't even have bizarre novelty value to fall back on!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Bo Selecter

It appears that Bo Diddley is very ill.

It won't be long before he's Bo Deadly... Let us honour him by singing his greatest hits. Altogether now:
"chng-a-chng-a-chng, a-chng-chng,
chng-a-chng-a-chng, a-chng-chng,
chng-a-chng-a-chng, a-chng-chng,
chng-a-chng-a-chng, a-chng-chng"

Baile Átha Cliath - Part 2

In which I tell the 2nd half of our "we went to Dublin for a few days" tale. Yes, it's riveting, isn't it?

[In other words, you need to be stuck in place with hot metal nail-things or you'll wander off and do something else...]

So Sunday turned out to be a glorious sunny day. How appropriate. After buying some fruit for breakfast and unsuccessfully trying to find an open internet café in order to check-in for the next day's flight home, we wandered down to Eden Quay to catch the bus out to Blessington in Co. Wicklow.

Dublin - O'Connell Bridge

Once there we meandered over to the In-Laws residence where MLYSIL picked us all up in her shiny motor car. Poop, poop!

Now, Angela's recently learned to drive and Ireland's learner driver laws are a little idiosyncratic. For the first year on a provisional licence you have to have a qualified driver next to you. Just like over here. But for the 2nd year, you don't. Apparently. Which worried MLYW a bit. Not to worry though because MLYSIL is a very good driver indeed.

We drove up into the Wicklow mountains and along winding roads where MLYSIL bravely kept us on the road so that we didn't plummet to our deaths in a ravine.

It was chilly up on the mountains, so I was glad to have brought a jumper, but worth it as the views were spectacular (and not very well captured in the camera, unfortunately). Landscapes I need to work on.


We continued on to Glendalough, which is a gorgeous part of the world. There are plenty of long walks to be taken around here, but we didn't have time to take them. It's the sort of place you need to go camping for a week to truly appreciate.

Then on to Roundwood. The highest town in Ireland, apparently. And a lovely meal and a refreshing Guinnes (again!) in one of the pubs there. Oh, and an indoor market was happening in the local church hall, so we bought homemade biscuits, fruitcake and soda bread. These last two were consumed for tea recently and were indeed fantastic.

Drove back to Tallaght where MLYW and I said farewell to the rest of the family and caught the LUAS back to Dublin. The LUAS is a great tram system. Dirt cheap, fast and efficient. I'm at a loss as to why other countries manage to do good, affordable public transport, but we in Britain manage to balls it up most of the time.

Monday was our last day in Dublin and after packing and checking-out of the hotel we didn't have a lot of time or inclination to do much exploring.

Over at Temple Bar we discovered a great free exhibition of photographs by ... and then we noticed that the Irish Film Institute was showing Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It's a film with a huge reputation that I've never seen (though I thought I knew it from having seen the myriad homages and spoofs). Noting that it started in just 10 minutes time and that it ran for a very lean 96 minutes we decided to watch it. So we did. And I think my review of the film will have to be part of another post.

After that it was time to head off to the airport on the bus. Aer Lingus check-in was remarkable. No queues. Efficient. And the security people were not the humourless drones that you get in other airports. They actually conversed and joked with you. What a hugely refreshing attitude. These human beings have realised that while their job is to stop terrorists and idiots smuggling banned, illlegal or dangerous items onto planes, they also know that 99% of the people they meet are law-abiding and, for the most part, sensible. So they treat us with good humour and dignity, unlike the humourless, surly drones you get in most international airports (particularly Heathrow and most US places). A very refreshing end to our stay in Ireland.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Baile Átha Cliath - Part 1

As I noted the other day MLYW and I have just returned from a long weekend in Dublin for some R&R and to visit MLYSIL [My Lovely Young Sister-In-Law].

We flew out on Thursday evening on an Aer Lingus flight which was only slightly delayed. Then from Dublin Airport onto the fast airport bus direct to the city. Well, I say "fast", though the driver never seemed inclined to go at more than 30 mph, even on the motorway... However, we were soon dropped off in O'Connell Street, a short case-dragging amble from our hotel.

Dublin - Spire

[More news on the accommodation in a future post when I shall extensively document the long list of complaints...]

By the time we'd unpacked it wasn't too late to hot-foot it down to a bar for a refreshing pint of Guinness. Ah, lovely!

Up early-ish the next day - Friday, my birthday - and stumbled bleary-eyed to Temple Bar in search of breakfast. This we found in the highly agreeable Maisons des Gourmets in Castle Market, where we also spied The Bistro (at which we breakfasted the next day).

After some window shopping (I now have some new sash-cord and several panes of glass) we walked down to the Guinness Storehouse in the west of the city.

[This is a great thing about Dublin - it's got lots of things to see and do and they are all within easy walking distance of each other.]

You can easily spend 3 or 4 hours at the Storehouse. The advertising exhibition itself could while away a few hours on its own, as it contains several multimedia screens which allow you to watch any one of the TV and cinema ads for Guinness shown in the last fifty years or so. Believe it or not, I would also recommend spending 15 minutes watching the fascinating film of a cooper making Guinness barrels back in the mid-1950s.

After our fill of Guinness we repaired to the Porterhouse in Temple Bar for more stout and ale and a light tea (bread and houmous for me, oysters for MLYW).

The next day we again went to Temple Bar to meet up with MLYSIL and the PILs (parents-in-law) who stay in Co. Wicklow over the summer months. Then a quick walk over to the Smithfield part of the city for a tour of the old Jameson distillery. It's no longer a working distillery, so I found it less interesting than the Scottish distilleries I've visited, and the films they show are more advertorial than informational, but it was still entertaining for all that. While I do like smooth Irish whiskey, I prefer a peaty, smokey Highland malt any day.

Dublin - Ard Righ Road

Fortified by our whiskey tasting we stretched our legs for a historical tour of the Ard Righ Road and the surrounding area, as this was where Bill, my father-in-law grew up. Despite spending each summer in Blessington, just outside the city, he hasn't visited the area of his childhood for over 30 years.

A long, looping walk back to the city centre and we found ourselves back in the Porterhouse for some substantial food and even more substantial stout, brewed on the premises. It's not Guinness, but it's mighty fine. We can recommend the Plain Stout or the Oyster Stout particularly.

In the evening MLYW and I took ourselves off to the Project Arts Centre to see Fewer Emergencies, a play by Martin Crimp. Only 45 minutes long, it was a very powerful triptych of scenes in which 4 actors played out the thoughts and emotions of 3 different characters. Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, but it's the sort of piece that you really have to see... It was played in a very small space and there was an incredible connection between the actors and audience; often you found youself being addressed directly by one of the actors - an experience which was both disconcerting and thrilling.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Thanks Olé

Today we heard the sad news that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to retire from football.

OK, so he's only a footballer, and he hasn't died or anything, and to be honest, I didn't think it would have much of an effect on me. But Ole has been one of the most important figures in the revival of Manchester United's fortunes since the inception of the Premier League.

If nothing else, he will always be remembered by Red Devils fans for that goal, scored at the Camp Nou stadium in 1999 which (rather fortuitously, let's be honest) brought the European Cup back to Old Trafford.

I'm not an emotional person, but I did shed a tear that night. And I've got a lump in my throat knowing that never again will the 'baby-faced assassin' come on with 12 minutes to go and score four goals. OK, so it was against a relegation-bound Notts Forest, but still. Genius.

It's going to be difficult finding someone to fill the number 20 shirt. Thank you for the entertainment, Ole.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

And THAT's Magic!

To the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin a couple of days ago. An excellent interactive museum-y thing which was great fun to look around. And a free pint of the black stuff in the Gravity Bar at the end, with fantastic views around Dublin to the Wicklow Mountains.

However... The signage at the entrance to the exhibition invites you to enter and marvel at how Guinness stout is made by "the magic of fermentation".

Fermentation is magic is it? I could have sworn it was simple chemistry. And it must be because there was no mention of Arthur Guinness' magic wand at any stage of the tour.

Magic, my arse. But it was a great pint!

Saturday, 25 August 2007

PhotoHunt: Happy

Kathleen Coffee

MLYW on our wedding day, June 24th 2005, snapped by my nephew Thomas, then aged 9. She looks really happy. Though maybe it's just a great cup of coffee!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

When You Wish Upon A Website

I mentioned my Amazon Wishlist quite a few times recently. Just in case you really, really wanted to buy me a birthday present and were stuck for ideas.

I use my Wishlist for two purposes. Firstly, so that people can see what I'd like for birthday, Christmas, Yom Kippur, Diwali, Eid, etc, etc. However, it's also a useful aide memoire, allowing me to note down those items I find, that I fully intend to buy for myself, but which I currently can't afford, or can't justify buying right now.

My Amazon Wishlist has now been running for almost seven years now and I thought it would be fun to examine some of the items therein to see what they say about me and my changing tastes.

Most Recent Item
CD: A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck by Wire. £4.47.
Added on 16th August 2007.
While reading Tony Wilson's obituaries recently, I became interested in bands like Wire, A Certain Ratio and Gang of Four, which emerged from the Manchester scene in the 1980s. I've never really heard any of their music and I thought it was time to educate myself. I've been fascinated with A Certain Ratio for some time now (without actively seeking them out) as they got their name from one of my favourite Brian Eno songs: The True Wheel, from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).

Oldest Item
CD: Pin-Ups by David Bowie. £9.98
Added on 18th September 2000.
Lord Bowie's album of cover versions from the mid-1970s. Featuring Twiggy on the front cover, she looks remarkably like him, or vice versa. At some point I've owned all of Dame David's work but this is, I think, the one album that I've never got hold of.

Cheapest Item
DVD: Buster Keaton - Vol. 2. £2.99.
Added on 16th August 2005.
There are a slew of Buster Keaton DVDs on my Wishlist. This one just happens to be the cheapest. This is the sort of stuff to show to those empty-headed sorts who think that just because something is old, black-and-white and silent, it must be rubbish.

Most Expensive Item
Creative Zen Vision:M - 60Gb Multimedia Player. £159.99.
Added on 15th January 2007.
Drool. I want one badly. I listed this at the beginning of the year when it cost around £199. The price has dropped by almost 20% since then, but I've still not been able to justify buying it for myself, not with a new house to decorate, etc. Anyway, this is the MP3 player of my choice. Byte-for-byte, it's cheaper than the iPod and you're not locked in to using a single media format and installing iTunes. And I think it's prettier too.

Highest Priority
DVD: The Nightingales - The Complete Series. £7.97.
Added on 13th December 2006.
A fantastic, rarely seen sitcom from 1990 and 1993. A dark work of comic genius (one of the four main characters was a dead body) set in a Beckett/Pinter influenced universe inhabited by werewolves, gorillas and Christmas allegories.

Lowest Priority
DVD: Law and Order - Series 4. £20.48.
Added on 27th June 2006.
Law and Order is supposed to be great. But I've not yet watched Series 1 and series 2 and 3 are on the wishlist, so this one is at the bottom of the pile.

Most Recent Item NOT Added to Wishlist
CD: Eternal Nightcap by The Whitlams.
Not added on 20th August 2007.
This album was recommended to me by a good friend and I fully intended to add it to my Wishlist. But then I noticed the 4-6 weeks delivery time quoted by Amazon. So I ordered it from one of the Marketplace sellers instead. Should be 5 days delivery from California and then I can see what the fuss is about...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Number Ones: Part 5 - The Noughties

As I'm forty-one years old in 2 days (you can see my Amazon Wishlist if you want to buy me a pressie!) I thought I'd take a look back at the songs which were number one in the UK chart each year on my birthday.

Today it's the turn of the 2000's. Or the Noughties. Or whatever you call them. I don't think we've reached a consenus on what to call this decade yet, have we?

The defining feature of this decade is that, in the main, we've had more and more songs reaching number one as the average stay at the top shrinks down to only one or two weeks. Though this trend seems to have reversed very recently. Somehow, the fact that downloads are counted in the chart seems to mean we're getting songs at number one for 5 or 6 weeks at a time again.

I've got a horrible feeling that all these songs will either be awful, or I won't recognise them. Let's see what's in store...

2000: Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)"
August 20 for 1 week

Hooray! A song I know. And like. Yes indeedy. One of the few that would stand a chance of getting me on the dancefloor sober.

2001: Five - "Let's Dance"
August 19 for 2 weeks

Nope. Sorry. Drawn a blank on this one. Which at least is preferable to Bob The Builder who was number one two weeks after my birthday.

2002: Sugababes - "Round Round"
August 18 for 1 week

Errr... Well, I've heard of the group, at least, but the song escapes me.

2003: Blu Cantrell feat. Sean Paul - "Breathe"
August 3 for 4 weeks

Crikey! I've never even heard of "Blu Cantrell". Blu? Is that a real name? Is it related to Blu-Tac in any way?

2004: Natasha Bedingfield - "These Words"
August 22 for 2 weeks

"These Words" presumably being "bugger off and leave us alone, Natasha".

2005: McFly - "I'll Be OK"
August 21 for 1 week

You won't be OK for long if you keep singing your pretend rock/punk pop rubbish at me.

2006: Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean - "Hips Don't Lie"
July 30 for 4 weeks

Shakira. Sexy lady. But a bit thick. No, hips don't lie. Because hips can't speak. Duh!

2007 : Kanye West - "Stronger"
August 19 for 1 week so far

He's been all over the TV and radio in the past couple of weeks to get his first UK number one. And he's done it. Well done Kanye. I still haven't heard the song myself. And it's going to stay that way!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Number Ones: Part 4 - The Nineties

As I'm forty-one years old in a few days (you can see my Amazon Wishlist if you want to buy me a pressie!) I thought I'd take a look back at the songs which were number one in the UK chart each year on my birthday.

Today it's the turn of the 1990's.

This is the decade when, I'm afraid, the singles chart became more or less irrelevant. I've been wracking my memory to recall the last single I bought. it was either "The Race" by Yello or "Headlights On The Parade" by the Blue Nile. And I think they were both in around 1989 or 1990. Since then it's been albums all the way for me. And mostly on CD. I still haven't got around to buying downloads. I think I prefer to have a real "thing" to own, rather than an intangible set of bits and bytes sitting around on my hard-drive.

Right - let's see what the decade had to offer. What tasty morsels did the British music industry serve me up on my birthdays?

Bombalurina with Timmy Mallett - "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"
August 19 for 3 weeks

Argh! No!

Bryan Adams - "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You"
July 7 for 16 weeks

Crikey. That's just as bad.

Snap! - "Rhythm is a Dancer"
August 2 for 6 weeks

Oh, for heaven's sake...

Culture Beat - "Mr Vain"
August 22 for 4 weeks

What? What? Am I going to go the whole decade without a decent song at No.1 on my birthday...?

Wet Wet Wet - "Love Is All Around"
May 29 for 15 weeks

Flipping 'eck. It gets worse!

Blur - "Country House"
August 20 for 2 weeks

Phew! Finally. OK, it's not one of their best, but those lovable pretend cockneys from the posh bit of Essex at least won the "Britpop battle for number one" and stopped those naughty Northern monkeys from Oasis from being no.1 on my birthday.

Spice Girls - "Wannabe"
July 21 for 7 weeks

Now, stop it. A brief respite and now you're off again. I can't believe I actually thought that Posh was the sexy one back then...

Will Smith - "Men in Black"
August 10 for 4 weeks

The Fresh Prince gets totally fresh on some alien butt. Loses musical credibility in the process (if he ever had any... Yeah, "Summertime" was great).

Boyzone - "No Matter What"
August 9 for 3 weeks

Boyzone. Please, please just stop it. Stop it now!

Geri Halliwell - "Mi Chico Latino"
August 22 for 1 week

Right - that's it. Hang on. Which song was this? The only Geri solo number I remember is the one where she was very lithe and toned and rolling around in a speedboat. There might have been dwarves chasing her... Then again, that might just have been my sordid fantasy. Ah, poor Geri. Rubbish songs, but she was quite sexy for a couple of months, until she got too thin.

Is that it? The 1990's are over? Thank heavens. Will the new decade bring any decent new music?

Monday, 20 August 2007

Number Ones: Part 3 - The Eighties

As I'm forty-one years old in a few days (you can see my Amazon Wishlist if you want to buy me a pressie!) I thought I'd take a look back at the songs which were number one in the UK chart each year on my birthday.

Today it's the turn of the 1980's. For me, this was the decade of the biggest changes in my life. At the start, I was in school; by the end of it I was going out with the woman who was to be my first wife.

In the 1980's I discovered music properly, went to university, got chucked out of university, met the first real love of my life, tried auditioning for drama school, got my first full-time job (night-cashier at a petrol station - I was sacked, eventually, for being late too often), and embarked on my current career.

This was the decade that defined me as a person. And, you know, I think I did OK. If I had to go back and talk to my younger self, I think I'd have one or two notes for the silly sod, but mostly I'd be telling him that it would all work out and to carry on enjoying himself and learning as much as he could about people and the world.

If I were to write a dictionary, under "Nostalgia" it would read "See: The 1980's".

David Bowie - "Ashes To Ashes"
August 19 for 2 weeks

Fantastic. We kick off with a bona fide, five star, 24-carat classic. From Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, the entire album is a work of genius. David Bowie is a national institution (why hasn't he been knighted?) and I would forgive him anything - even Tin Machine and having tea with MLYW.

Shakin' Stevens - "Green Door"
July 28 for 4 weeks

Oh, good grief! Read what I wrote about David Bowie and then imagine the exact opposite.

Dexys Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express - "Come on Eileen"
August 3 for 4 weeks

It's taken over 20 years, but I think I'm finally sick of this record. But for those 20 years, this really was a fantastic party song. The slow build up to the final chorus - just enough time to grab some breath before launching yourself into mad, arms-and-legs-everywhere dancing - was a masterstroke. Kevin Rowland is another national institution, for that voice alone.

KC and the Sunshine Band - "Give It Up"
August 9 for 3 weeks

Ironically, the original band had split up in 1981. They really had given it up.

George Michael - "Careless Whisper"
August 14 for 3 weeks

George Michael? One hit wonder. Does anyone know what became of him?

Madonna - "Into the Groove"
July 30 for 4 weeks

Madonna? One hit wonder. Does anyone know what became of her?

Boris Gardiner - "I Want To Wake Up With You"
August 19 for 3 weeks

This song just about rings a bell, but I don't remember it being anything special. At the time my then girlfriend (the lovely Eve) had just returned to the USA, breaking my heart ever so slightly. OK, I confess, I was moping and miserable for about 2 years and I'm sure my friends got sick and tired of me mooching around glumly making plans to run over to San Francisco and whisk her off her feet, but never actually doing anything about it. To their credit, none of them actually said "well why don't you piss off and do it then" but I'm sure they all thought it!

Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett - "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
August 11 for 2 weeks

Is it pronounced "Cider" or "Shadeah"? The latter, I would imagine. I've never liked Michael Jackson, even before the Christ complex and the Chris Langham-alike accusations, so this single has completely evaded my memory banks.

Yazz and the Plastic Population - "The Only Way Is Up"
July 31 for 5 weeks

This was a big hit when I started working for Intourist. I remember it well as we went to the pub on the Friday of my first week in their (now defunct) Regent Street office and we saw Yazz herself, presumably refreshing herself after popping into the BBC just up the road. No sign of her plastic population though.

Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers - "Swing The Mood"
July 30 for 5 weeks

Oh, Good Lord. This was the 2nd of 3 number ones for the annoying animated-rabbit/person-in-a-furry-suit in 1989. Who the hell bought these records? I didn't know back then and I still don't know now. The same people who got Mr Blobby or Bob the Builder to the top of the charts, I suppose. The same idiots who got Joe Dolce to pip Ultravox to the pinnacle. Damn! When I was doing my acting course recently we were asked to recall some event which made us angry - an exercise I was unable to complete as I don't really do big emotions; peeved, vexed, annoyed - those I can do. But not 'angry'. If only I'd remembered bloody Jive Bunny at that moment. You'd have seen some sodding acting then, I can tell you!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Number Ones: Part 2 - The Seventies

As I'm forty-one years old in a few days (you can see my Amazon Wishlist if you want to buy me a pressie!) I thought I'd take a look back at the songs which were number one in the UK chart each year on my birthday.

Today it's the turn of the 1970's.

1970: Elvis Presley - "The Wonder of You (Live)"
July 28 for 6 weeks.

Seven years before he died, Elvis was starting to shake off the doldrums of the mid to late 1960s and was entering the Vegas years when he started to revive his credibility. This is one of the most powerful songs of his late era.

1971: Diana Ross - "I'm Still Waiting"
August 17 for 4 weeks.

I can't for the life of me remember how this one goes. I'm afraid Miss Ross has never been a favourite of mine. I'm sure she'd be gutted to know that I spent my fifth birthday totally oblivious to her.

1972: Alice Cooper - "School's Out!"
August 8 for 3 weeks.

This single would become an anthem to a generation of us kids on the last day of the school year. On that occasion we'd sing this as we tore out of the school gates. The other two end-of-terms were greeted with the "no more rulers, no more books" chant which was also incorporated into this song.

1973: Donny Osmond - "Young love"
August 21 for 4 weeks.

I was, I am ashamed to say, a bit of a Donny Osmond fan when I was seven years old. I even had a t-shirt with the toothy Osmond fizzog imprinted thereon. I still wake up in a cold sweat even now.

1974: The Three Degrees - "When Will I See You Again"
August 13 for 2 weeks.

Famously Prince Charles' favourite "pop group". A nice enough song I suppose, though a bit syrupy. Sheila Ferguson, lead singer (or the first degree, I suppose) was the entertainment at a company function I attended a couple of years ago. She was rubbish!

1975: The Stylistics - "I Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)"
August 16 for 3 weeks.

Another song title that I don't recognise. Sorry Stylistics.

1976: Elton John & Kiki Dee - "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
July 24 for 6 weeks.

Ah! Elton and Kiki flirting all through the video (though they weren't called that then) to this record. Would they get together, we thought. Strangely, they never did marry...

1977: Brotherhood of Man - "Angelo"
August 20 for 1 week.

A song which was a complete rip-off (or "fond homage" if the writers' lawyers are reading) of ABBA's Fernando. Oddly, I remember the Barron Knights' spoof of this better than the original. Altogether now: "Long ago, outside a chip shop in Walthamstow..."

1978: The Commodores - "Three Times A Lady"
August 19 for 5 weeks.

This was the song that was played at the end of school and youth-club discos for the next 5 or 6 years. As a hormonally unbalanced teenager the entire evening was spent trying to pluck up the courage to ask the girl you fancied to dance with you to this.

1979: The Boomtown Rats - "I Don't Like Mondays"
July 28 for 4 weeks.

A brilliant song, even before Live Aid came along. I remember learning to DJ when I was in the Reggae Soc at university. For some reason this single used to fit in very well alongside the dub, ska and Smiley Culture records we played.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

PhotoHunt: Two

I had trouble deciding which one to submit. Something subtle, or really in-yer-face. So here's both of them. I hope that's not cheating.

Evening Walk
Kathleen and Maryam walking through Denby's Vineyard


Battersea 009
Battersea Power Station

Hey, hang on, the theme is "Two" so I think that posting two pictures IS entirely valid!

Friday, 17 August 2007

Not Shoaling

Last night I went to an audition for a TV show. It was a very slightly odd experience. News of the audition was distributed to a few local am-dram groups, so around 30 people arrived at a local village hall wondering what to expect.

We were met by two guys: one from the production company and an actor who has written the show. The actor greeted everyone and explained that they were making a pilot for a sketch show, to be filmed over about 10 days in September. Because their budget was non-existent, they were unable to pay actors anything more than expenses, hence they were looking for amateurs. Is this false economy? I keep saying that there are plenty of amateur performers who are just as good as the pros, but surely you need people who can slot straight into the filming? And I assume that if the show is picked up the amateurs would not be involved.

We were also told that TV doctor and vet Christopher Timothy was signed on for both the pilot and the full series. Right then, vitnary. Happen.

Anyway, the evening started off with some exercises that were quite familiar to anyone who has done the slightest bit of drama training. First off was a movement exercise which is, I believe, based on some Laban theory, though I know it is also used in Complicite work. Everyone in the group stands waiting and then starts moving when they think the time is right. Each person moves in a straight line, though you can turn when you get to the edge of the space. When you feel the time is right, you stop. The idea is to keep starting and stopping in a group as one. Then we did the same exercise, but we were allowed to move in curves. Much more freedom to fill the space.

We also went through a short Stanislavsky exercise of emotional scaling. We were asked to think of an emotion which we associated with a particular event in our lives. Lying down quietly we thought of how that emotion felt. That feeling was given a value of 5. Gradually, the group leader counted down from 5 to 1; as he did so we were to feel the emotion more and more strongly until it was almost overwhelming. Then we counted back up to 5 and further up to 10, where the emotion was almost totally absent. Finally, we went back to 5 to re-create the feeling.

It was interesting that, in the subsequent discussion, most people said that they had chosen a 'negative' emotion; usually anger. I had some trouble with summoning up an angry state of mind during a similar exercise early on at NODA. I think that in the rest of the week, I started to learn how to access those areas of my emotions more easily, but I wasn't confident of doing that, so I decided to choose a positive emotion for this exercise. So I chose the exhilarated happiness that I felt after we had performed our devised play at the NODA summer school presentations, just a week ago. I felt like I was 'cheating' slightly. It was a great emotion to choose and very recent, so I was able to recall it easily, but I was still surprised at how intense the feeling became when we counted down to number 1. I wanted to get up and run about and shout!

Finally, the evening concluded with some improvs. Some props were put in the middle of the room and people were invited, one at a time, to pick one up and impro a short scene around it.

Unfortunately, by the time we got around to this section, time was very short and there was only time for 4 or 5 people to do something. Now, the producers told us they were looking for 10-12 people for their show, so I'm not sure how they will achieve that, given that they only saw a few individual 'performances'. But maybe there's just a 'look' or 'attitude' that they want from some people and the earlier exercises were enough for them.

Anyway, the evening ended there and we were told that we would find out by Monday if we were wanted for the show.

It was difficult to tell how serious and professional the whole effort is. No offence to the producers, but I do wonder why a 'real' show would need to use amateur actors. I also felt, as I said above, that they spent a long time on warm-up type exercises and maybe not enough on looking at the capabilities of each actor there. But 90 minutes is, I think, the bare minimum you need to do some serious group work and to get some of the more self-conscious people comfortable with moving out of their usual zones. Then again, I think the producers were suprised by the number of people who turned up, so it's possible that they will just be have to make the best out of the situation.

All in all, it was a fun evening. I don't usually have the chance to do 'serious' drama exercises outside NODA summer school, so to do some less than a week after this year's school was great. It was like pulling on a big, warm, woolly jumper and enveloping myself in a safe, comforting environment once more.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Number Ones: Part 1 - The Sixties

As I'm forty-one years old in a few days (you can see my Amazon Wishlist if you want to buy me a pressie!) I thought I'd take a look back at the songs which were number one in the UK chart each year on my birthday.

Today I start with the 1960's.

1966: The Beatles - "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby"
August 18 for 4 weeks

They ruled the charts for the whole decade, but they were only ever number one on my birthday once. Eleanor Rigby is a marvellous song. Short and redolent of lost lives with those mournful, stabbing cellos throughout. Yellow Submarine is a silly, sing-a-long for kids. Only The Beatles could have a hit with a kids song and remain cool and relevant, and only they could get away with such a sublime combination of styles on a double A-side. It wouldn't happen today.

1967: Scott McKenzie - "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)"
August 9 for 4 weeks

Here's a hit which sums up the state of the world at the time. If you watch a documentary about the 1967 'Summer of Love' you can almost guarantee that this song will be featured in the soundtrack.

1968: Crazy World of Arthur Brown - "Fire"
August 14 for 1 week

Now, Arthur really was a bit crazy! Set himself alight several times performing this number. Not sure what he's up to now, though I know he did sing one of the tracks on the Alan Parson's Project debut, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination".

1969: Rolling Stones - "Honky Tonk Women"
July 23 for 5 weeks

This song has one of the great drumbeat intros. A lazy, laid-back, loping figure which totally gives away Charlie Watt's jazz roots. And it's got a cow-bell in it, yet it's still good to listen to. Mick Taylor changed the arrangement from country to blues and Keith Richards "borrowed" an open-G tuning from Ry Cooder to come up with the distinctive riff. A top song, though many involved with the Stones don't like it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Soul Rollers

Well, we've chosen the colour that we are going to paint our living room. It's a lovely shade from the Fallow & Bell range of colours based upon popular soul and R&B singers.

The main colour we've chosen is Al Green. Here are some of the other paint colours available:

James Brown
Alexander Eau De Nil
Otis Reddish
Marvin Graye
Luther van Gloss
Reddie Floyd
Corinne Beigey Rae
Diana Russet
Barry White
There's another soul colour hidden somewhere in this post. First to find it wins a match-pot...

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

PhotoHunt: Row

Shanghai Huangpi Road Bicycles 3

Ooh, I've just discovered PhotoHunt, so here's my first entry. It's a row of bikes on Huangpi Road in Shanghai.

And below, an alternative entry. A row of ropes at the Eden Project in Cornwall:

Eden Ropes

Massage Daydream

While looking for a local masseur (no, not that sort of masseur), I discovered that David Bowie lives locally to me and is happy to come over and give you a massage in his spare time.

What a lovely bloke. Though I think I'd forego the happy finish...

MLYW had a dream about David Bowie the other day. He invited her round to tea, which they had in the company of another, unknown woman (it wasn't Iman) who scowled a lot. Apparently he serves battenburg cake and fondant fancies. The battenburg is specially coloured to match his eyes.

That is all.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Bike Ride 20070813

Less than a month to go until my (gulp!) 55 mile charity bike ride, so after the excess of last week (hey, it's only red wine!) I thought I'd better jump back on the saddle.

And as my last ride before NODA turned a little dodgy (I was aiming for 14 miles, but got lost and did over 20. It hurt!) it's probably not a bad idea to start recording my distances, times, etc.

Tonight, a favourite route along the Blackwater Valley Path. Nice and flat, which is nice after a short lay-off, but when the sun goes down there are thousands of midges. I have a feeling my face will be bitten to buggery. Mental note: buy a bandana...

My average speed was a bit slow. I want to get up to around 13 or 14 mph average on the flat. Otherwise I'm going to be a bit too slow on the hilly course that we'll be riding.

Time - 1:29:39
Distance - 15.61 miles
Ave - 10.1 mph
Max - 21.3 mph

NODA 2007

Summer School in Loughborough again. This was my fifth year in succession and, undoubtedly, the best experience I've had. I don't believe I've ever written about it in depth before, but this year's experience was so intense that I feel that I need to do it justice.

The NODA summer school is a week-long opportunity to stay at the Loughborough University campus, studying one of the many courses which are scheduled for the week, along with around 200 other like-minded actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, directors and musical directors. All amateur, save the tutors who are all professionals in their relevant fields.

I was very lucky in that on the Contemporary Drama course this year -- my chosen field of study -- there were 3 people (Karen, Kevin and Vanessa) who I knew from previous years and I had been on the same course with Kev and Karen 3 years ago, so I knew that we worked well together.

The course content was excellent. Our tutor, the wonderful Paul Milton, asked us to bring 2 plays with us; Amy's View by David Hare and How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Fin Kennedy. We spent 2 days studying scenes from Amy's View, 2 days on How To Disappear... and 2 days devising an 'original' piece based on themes from the plays. This last piece was performed in the Friday evening presentation, which is a chance for each group to show a work-in-progress, if they want to.

For me, there were several revelations during the week. The first, from an acting and directing perspective, was that I finally grasped how to use one of the main tools of the modern actor. This is a technique called "actioning", by which one asks oneself what reaction the character is trying to get whenever he says something, and thus to decide upon an "action" associated with their line. Let me give you a simplistic example. Say that I'm playing a character called Bert. Bert has a line in the play as follows:
Bert. Will you please give me the book, Sandra?
We ask ourselves, what reaction does Bert want from Sandra (possible answer: he wants her to give him the book) and so what action does he perform (possible answer: he demands the book from Sandra).

The reason that I've put "possible answer"s in brackets is that the action and reaction depend on the subtext, not necessarily on what is actually being said. When Bert asks for the book, maybe what he really wants is for Sandra to kiss him as he has been in love with her for years. Maybe instead of demanding the book from her, he should be coaxing it from her?

Actions are always transitive verbs. Though I never took English Language 'A' level, nor took Latin, so what 'transitive' actually means has passed me by somewhat! I'll be happy enough to think of a verb when I study a play-text in future.

I've never quite understood the concept completely before, despite having read about it several times and it really was a huge eye-opener to finally grasp this key piece of acting theory. And, of course, as an amateur director (a role I prefer and which, I hope, I am more suited to) a grasp of this is even more crucial in amateur theatre, where the majority of your actors whill have had even less training that the odd NODA summer school and will need spoon-feeding with their actions somewhat.

Throughout the week we were introduced to several interesting (and sometimes very hard) exercises on Complicité. This is a theatrical technique which explores the way a team or company of actors can become 'tuned' to each other in order to better explore a piece. There was a lot of work involved which may sound a bit pretentious to some who have not come across things like this before - it's all about letting go of your ego and becoming a part of the group.

Emotionally, it was a really hard week for me personally. I found How To Disappear... a fantastic play and was delighted to read the main part (Charlie) in an informal read-through that some of us organised one evening. The next day, Paul picked me to act a very long speech which Charlie makes at the heart of the play. The rest of the group directed me. The whole session lasted an hour and left me totally drained and maybe identifying with the character more than maybe I should have done.

That was my second revelation, that I could access (or at least, start to approach) the emotional core of a character, given some very skilled encouragement and direction. Before this week, every part I have played has been very much a cipher, or a sketch. From now on I think I have a responsibility to play the truth of the part as far as possible.

Along with that, I found myself playing a rather crucial central role in our devised piece of work, which basically took up the last 2 days of the week. I'm happy to assume that I was picked to play the role as it was a good fit initially and that the fact that the piece ended up growing around this character was a sheer accident. Certainly, in the end, I ended up playing a role which was responsible for holding the entire piece together, which was both terrifying in its responsibility and gratifying that people kept on encouraging me, saying that I was doing a good job. It would be nice if this was really true and that I did put in a good performance, supporting (and very much supported by) everyone else in the group, but my inate lack of self-confidence means that I'm a bit suspicous that these remarks were just a bit of flannel and ego-massage for me. Oh god - now it sounds like I'm fishing for compliments. I should be happy with the work I did and learn to take a compliment, I know!

I think I identified a bit too closely with both of the roles and it somewhat affected the way I related to some of my colleagues in the group. I have to stress that my self-deceptions were all in my own head and hopefully did not change the way that my NODA friends thought of me, but at times it was unsettling and scary, until I finally sat-down and talked it through with a trusted and very supportive colleague. It's odd that one's own mind can conjure up unwanted ideas on its own. It's something that makes me wonder how some actors, with a lot more talent than me, who work constantly, ever manage to have long-term and stable relationships. Then again, many don't, so maybe it's good that I haven't managed to have a career in acting!

Another positive note though is that I now have a much stronger love and appreciation for MLYW and I am ever more grateful that she loves me back. She is an incredibly kind, beautiful and endlessly patient woman.

So - today was back to earth with a bump. Actually, it was less of a bump. In fact, I don't feel like I've even landed yet. I think I'm slowly drifting back down like an autumn leaf, but some day this week I shall arrive back in the real world. One of my friends from the course described her feelings on arriving home as ones of "sadness and dislocation" which really sounds right to me. I'd add that I have a real feeling of loss. That small group of like-minded people, working together for a common aim, all doing something that we LOVE to do, and striving to do it well. At the moment I really miss being there and that sense of loss is both compunded and also alleviated by the fact that I know there are another 51 weeks until I can go back and do it all again...

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Me? No, me!

Hello. I've been away at acting school for a week; learning to be schizophrenic. I think.

I'll catch up with comments and all your blogs asap.


Friday, 3 August 2007


Brockham Fireworks 16

The other day I realised that I've been blogging for over two years now. And it's not the only anniversary that the summer brings.

Two years ago MLYW and I had just got back from our honeymoon in Shanghai.

Two years ago I was thinking of a new play to direct after having done Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Two years ago I was looking forward (sort of) to my last birthday in my thirties.

Two years ago I was about to go to NODA Summer School for the third time.

This time of year always makes me realise how much more quickly time shoots past as one gets older. But I also look back over the past two years and wonder how much has changed in my life.

We've bought a new house which is slowly being tidied, re-organised and decorated and I've changed jobs (but not careers, unfortunately) - though I really miss the guys I used to work with.

Overall, I'm really quite happy and more or less contented with my lot. I could be fitter, but the regular bike rides are pushing me in the right direction. So I think that those feelings of not doing enough new things are probably just the usual middle-age uncertainties that everyone is plagued by.

Certainly MLYW would say that I do lots of things and that I'm not at home enough for her. And she may be right -- when I have a hobby or an interest, I tend to devote all my resources to it and find it hard to say "no" to people.

So the chances of taking that photography class, or signing up for guitar lessons, are pretty slim while I keep devoting all my time to local drama and not enough time to re-painting the living room, or fixing the shower!

That's another reason for winning the lottery: there's not enough time to do all these leisure activities when you have to work for a living!

Tomorrow I'm off to Loughborough for a week, taking a class in 'Contemporary Drama' at this year's NODA Summer School. No doubt when I return I will be bursting with even more ideas for productions with Ottershaw Players. I will also be completely knackered after a week of hard work during the days and too much cider in the evenings. If you're the religious type you may want to say a prayer for my liver.

See you all next Saturday!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


...I Won The Lottery

That's what this game is called. Let's imagine there was a rollover one week and you won £10,000,000 ($20m) on the lottery, tax-free. What would you do with the money? You need to tell me 5 things. And if you DO ever win, we'll be checking up on you to make sure you do what you say you'd do!

1. Sort out the accommodation. Specifically, pay off the mortgage; buy somewhere new to live in our ideal location; completely refurbish the old house and rent it out to provide an income 'just in case'.

2. Buy a new car for me, plus one for my Lovely Young Wife to learn to drive in.

3. Give close friends and family enough dosh to make their lives more comfortable.

4. Spend some time travelling the world. On the list of places to see is: India, Iceland, Costa Rica, diving in the Red Sea, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Mongolia, China, Russia.

5. Buy or build a small theatre and run it as a resource for amateur theatre companies.