Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Off to Hereford for a few days soon to get cold cheeks, have fun, be hale, hearty, rusticated and conspicuously Northern. We may even make it over to Hay if the sun shines.

Hope to return with ideas clever and/or useful as available a bit later in Firework Fortnight, the traditional British festival of being fourteen, drinking cider on street corners and messing with pyrotechnics to show just how invulnerable you are.

Until then, play nice and don't get in the papers like last time. Oh and forget about house-breaking too- we are protected and have nothing you want.


There we go, that's that there radio series over and done with for the mo, and Alex Riley has spoken to the nation-

"I’ve really enjoyed that. I think it’s good... More please."

Dare anyone disappoint the mighty voice of the Doctor Who series 1 boxset extras, he who told us about Destroying the Lair?

It would seem unlikely. Could happen though.

I was pleasantly surprised by episode 6 last night, it hung together better than I recalled (just needed about another two seconds or so of silence scattered around in it really). I think the struggle to complete the edit at the end made the compromises, fudges and rushing stick in my memory more than any of the jokes.

If there's a series two I think I'll put the silences in first and edit around them. You need breathing spaces, not quite as much as you need material, but I suspect 4 gags and some thinking time beats 5 gags and no time to digest them almost every time.

Right, I'd better get on with trying to earn some money, now.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Remember (Walking in the Sand (You're A Womble))

I've just dug out an old VHS to find a film for someone which is in large part about the unreliability of memory and the fictionalising of your past. It took me some time to find it, largely because my memory of where it was and what the side of the tape might look like were both seriously at fault.
Not at all surprising, of course, a recentish New Scientist article suggested that memory and imagination are essentially the same thing, coming out of the same bit of brain stuff- we confabulate stuff about the past, present and the future and treat one as fact, one as speculation and the one in the middle as opinion.

When I found the tape (in the last place you'd look- obviously, because when you find it you stop looking) as well it not being where my mental image had put it and not looking like I'd imagined it, it was interesting to see what had been on the tape before and then wiped and scribbled over-

Hearts and Minds, the Jimmy McGovern and Christopher Eccleston school drama,
those compilation repeats of Not the Nine O'Clock News which I think they've since put on DVD that don't really give you a sense of what the show was actually like at all but do give you the canonical Good Bits,
and, intriguingly, something listed only as Potato Thing.

I'm not sure but this may have been that "all the McGanns" drama set in Ireland possibly really called The Hanging Gale, and only called Potato Thing on the side of the tape to annoy my other half within agreed safe limits of co-habiting teasery.

My memory was patchy but willing to supply details when given the cues and clues from the scrawl on the tape label.

I then had a quick peep at the tape to check there was nothing dreadful on it. It was leaving our house as an ambassador of our past viewing and intending to view, after all, so it was important to see if it had a fairly good human rights record.

Pleasingly, it came out pretty clean, having the film version of The Plank (unbilled on the tape label), which I had no idea at all I had on VHS, and Orson Welles' film of Othello, which I've watched bits of several times but never sat right down and gone for properly.
I still believe I will watch all of Welles' Othello some day, by the way, despite it having a) spent years in an old monitor box with some hats on top of it in a cupboard we rarely use and b) just been parcelled up to loan out.

One thing that interested me was seeing some of the dreadful old adverts on the tape and remembering them in hideous detail- though crucially only as I viewed them, not beforehand. It was a sort of deja vu experience, where recollection and experience seemed to be happening simultaneously. I was either unravelling every detail of these long forgotten ads from some kind of compressed zip files somewhere in my head as I watched, or else convincing myself I was.
Probably a bit of both, because, as we've established, memory is unreliable and capricious.

You search actively for a name you need to know right now, only for it to pop unbidden to mind a day and a half later when safely irrelevant, past embarrassments crash unbidden into vivid life when you least expect, talking heads on popular TV list shows all remember the same iconic moments no matter how old or young they are, almost as if they'd just been shown the excerpt on a monitor by a researcher a few minutes ago. "The memory cheats" as I think RTD once said.

To illustrate from personal experience, I was knocked down by a car as a child, and most of my recollections of the event actually come from my later retelling of it to others, I've largely erased the actual moment and replaced it with my subsequent explanations of it.
However, for many many years when falling asleep I would sometimes have a sudden sense of my face collapsing and smashing inwards which would cause me to leap upright and then struggle to get any rest for a few hours. It occurred to me, just as suddenly, in one of these spasms in my late twenties that this might be some kind of raw, unprocessed "muscle memory" of the impact with the road where I lost a couple of teeth, breaking through when my guard was down.

That might have been a totally unscientific rationalisation of an unrelated problem of course, but since making that mental connection those imagined face collapses seem to have stopped. Whether it was true or not, I'd found an explanation that made sense for me, and tidied it away.

I think this is also relevant to the ongoing Diana blah going on in court at the mo, and for the rest of time, I imagine. After a while, you don't really remember most things, so much as remember what you remember remembering, and can often replace actual memory with a later rationalisation of what you've experienced, so it's hardly surprising testimony now doesn't match that of ten years ago.
The tapes have been written over with new versions of the programme a few too many times since then, and there's only little flashes and snippets left where the old stuff pokes through.

As Leonard Cohen definitely sang in the song I may have misremembered slightly in an earlier post- "I can't forget, and I can't forget. I can't forget but I don't remember what."
I think.

Second hand and possibly apocryphal trivia

Pudsey, the cartoon bear who turns up shortly after Samhein each year allowing advertising on the BBC and shyly exhibitionist adults to dress up in silly costumes and sit in baths of custard and/or beans while pretending they didn't want to anyway and are just doing it for a good cause, has had a makeover.

He now looks a lot less like Theo, the similarly eye bandaged bear that is the mascot of Sheffield's Children Hospital. The resemblance of the two icons in the past is reputed to have caused a bit of friction between BBC and hospital, with BBC lawyers apparently writing to the hospital complaining that the hospital's bear could be seen as an infringement of the BBC's copyright.

The hospital, so Sheffield-lore relates, wrote back agreeing that yes, the two images were remarkably similar, and they'd noticed it themselves when the BBC adopted the logo very like the one they already used, a year after filming at the hospital for the appeal some years back.
The correspondence then ceased apparently.

I think the new Pudsey looks a bit Pooh, let's hope the BBC lawyers don't get any letters from Disney...

Morning: A Summer Long Since Past

I've been struggling with the 6.15 alarm clock a bit over the last few weeks, often grogging back into collapsitude within an hour or so and not feeling together until about 10 am.

In fact, I've been so knackered of late I've had to go to bed before I came on the radio for me to cringe at on the last few Monday nights and have just checked what Alex Riley has been saying about me the next day (he was in the Crucible Youth Theatre both before and after I was apparently, as if he was hiding until I was safely out the way). That all ends tonight, like Summer did this weekend, until the inevitable reruns. We've pitched series 2 now, which may be a little different if it happens and ideas are queueing up nicely to be considered. We'll have to wait and see.

Today though, I felt terrific and full of beans and properly rested as the alarm went off at quarter past the Today programme. Good news. The feeling, not the Today programme

I've picked over a hundred apples of the tree, picked the last of my tomatoes (a peculiar mix of the big, the manky, the pathetic, the malformed, the perfect, the under and over-ripe, much like my No Tomatoes in that respect) and am preparing for a winter full of exciting mucus and thrillingly stung cheeks, stop that you.

"Summer's gone but a lot goes on in Autumn" as Saint Lenny very nearly says. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


"I love a party with a happy atmosphere," sang Russ Abbott in a tribute to Joy Division almost as wonderfully wrong as The Wombats annoyingly catchy Let's Dance to Joy Division with its cry of "celebrate the irony" which for me encapsulates all that was wrong with poncy student discos, back in the day when we didn't even say "back in the day" to mean "when we were young".

I went to see Control, the Ian Curtis biopic last night, at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield.
There's probably a cinema like it near you- it also has lots of carefully styled urban bohemians in it, in hand knitted lumpen jumpers, big coats and thick framed spectacles you think may be an affectation of the perfectly sighted, an exhibition space, wi-fi hot spots and tapas in the bar and conference rooms in which terrible seminars can take place complete with flip charts, power point presentations and grim awkward coffee breaks.

It's an independent cinema affiliated to the bunch who run a little trailer at the start of each screening saying how they support European film.
I like it a lot, particularly the veggy tapas.

Our screening of Control due to begin at 5.45pm began perhaps 5 minutes late, which was fine. We were kept fully informed by staff, who let us know the previous screening was over-running and were told a few minutes before we went in that "it wouldn't be long now because the credits had started".
This only made it more infuriating when at around 8pm the film stopped abruptly on a slide



detailing the birth and death dates of Ian Curtis (he dies in the end I'm afraid), the music fizzed out and the house lights came up.

I laughed and then swore, and quite a few others around me did similar things, we'd been totally jolted out of the film's mood.
Nothing happened for a bit, we whinged, and then, like the good English customers we are, we started filing out.

I can only conclude that the Showroom staff now felt a punctual start for the next film was more important than the artistic integrity and enjoyment of the previous one, I don't know that for sure of course because, unsurprisingly, there were no staff around to explain the decision.
Really shoddy I thought. Even the biggest commercial multiplexes run the credits, even BBC1 gives me 30 seconds of them rammed into a tiny box in the corner of the screen.
So I've written and complained, which really isn't like me.
No, really, it isn't.


I've now received a very nice explanation and apology from the Showroom which is both reassuring and slightly interesting if you're a bit geeky (oh come on, you're reading a weblog, you must be).

The abrupt halt was caused by a sync pulse on the print which multiplexes use to automatically raise the house lights apparently. Unfortunately, with the Showroom's system it also has the effect of stopping the projector! Their projectionists usually hunt these sync marks down and remove them when they make up the films but this one got missed. It seems their earlier Control screenings had been digital so this first film print showing was the first they knew of it.
Nice to know it was a mistake rather than a deliberate act and get some background on the problem too, and even nicer to be offered comps with the apology as well.

DOWNDATE DOWNDATE DOWNDATE. We now return you to your previous webloggery.

The film itself was very very good, occasional clumsy biopicitis where you have to put over career developments and historic info rather baldly, but surprisingly funny and genuinely moving. It's also extremely nostalgia inducing, accurately depicting a time and place 25 years back that looks more like 50 years back now (there's even a Williams and Glynn Bank!), furthermore, everyone has terrific record collections, we get to watch the pulsating of a run out groove (a teenage pleasure I'd forgotten) and our old gas fire is even in it too.

In terms of performances, John Cooper Clarke is pleasingly still alive and doing a pretty damned convincing version of himself (His Snap, Crackle and Bop album is an absolute work of art that you can get very cheap nowadays, greatly recommended) and Sam Ryan's Ian Curtis is an impressive piece of work that goes beyond Stars In Their Eyes mimicry (how Granada music TV fell from So It Goes glory), Samantha Morton breaks your heart, I could go on.
You really do feel you're seeing the real band a lot of the time.
There's a nice in-jokey reference to 24 Party People too by the way, when they attempt to tell Curtis that things could be worse and he could be lead singer of The Fall (the role Ryan played in that film).

In terms of sound, there were three sequences in which I wondered whether they were doing something tricksy with the wildtrack noise, making it pulse rhythmically as if foreshadowing the effects in the later hypnosis and suicide scenes, but I don't know if that was just the facilities at the Showroom now.
Anyway, some of the Macclesfield traffic rumble, the background noise at the maternity hospital and at the Labour Exchange when Debbie looks for bar work and of course the grasshopper sounds on the hillside near the start all seemed to have a curious alienating pumping quality to them to my ears. Maybe that was just me, grasshoppers sometimes have that quality anyway if they're in large numbers, as their chirrups go in and out of phase with each other.

The one sad thing is you get a sense from the film of Curtis as a rather immature selfish individual incapable of feeling proper empathy with others, and although you feel for his pain, you end up feeling more for those around him who loved him despite and because of his empty coldness.

The band's flirtation with Nazi imagery is acknowledged but essentially ignored leaving one feeling as uncomfortable as ever with this aspect of punk and post-punk music. Obviously, we've all forgiven Bowie and Siouxsie for playing with the swastika back then (interestingly, we forgive Kula Shaker a lot less speedily for being slightly more intellectual about the symbol's history in the 90s because they were pants basically) and lounge lizard pop dad Bryan Ferry is now excused for his attraction to the aesthetics of fascism, but it all feels like a dirty secret we're not talking about from the 70s and 80s.

How much of it was just seizing onto iconography designed to upset an older generation, how much was based on a failure of understanding (the Second World War played out like Cowboys and Indians* on our screens and in our comics back then- Dad's Army never dealt with the Holocaust), how much of it was genuine neo-Nazism?
I feel sure all three things were going, and I think that's worth admitting. Young people, even very clever young people, can be incredibly stupid, that's why some of them "celebrate the irony" when they go dancing, of course.
In fact young people being stupid is pretty much the Joy Division tragedy. In retrospect, all so obvious, but, back in the day, unimaginable.

*Not that with hindsight you can be particularly comfortable with the morality of those Cowboys and Indians stories either... So it goes.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Message

As some of you may know I'm something of a late developer. I've only recently developed emotional maturity, a sense of self awareness, the skills to display proportional and appropriate behaviour in public, the honesty to tell people just how great I am in anything other than a faux self-deprecating way and suppressed the obsessive instinct in me which has led me to watch and listen to all of Doctor Who in order, even those large swathes of it when it was undeniably rubbish beyond redemption (and that's the more socially acceptable face of obsessiveness).
It was last Wednesday all that developed.

Another thing I came late to was Seinfeld. I spent years paying a great deal of attention to UK produced TV because that was what my job as a TV curator focused on and devoting a disproportionately smaller amount of time to US TV, particularly if it was on way too late at night. So, it was only after I resigned from that job last year and was spending much more time thinking about the mechanics of comedy I decided to give the show some serious attention. I'd become a great fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm and kept being told Larry David had been the driving force behind Seinfeld and I really should watch it.

Obviously, I'd seen a few early episodes before, but hadn't really taken to the show. There was a man who got applause for coming through a door, and the lead seemed stilted and wooden interacting with the rest of the cast and slickly insincere when doing his stand up bits and, you know, it didn't grab me.

However, starting to watch the show in order it became clear the hero of the show was George Constanza, a neurotic over-reaching little man painfuly aware of both his best and worst impulses, struggling between facing the world with a sense of himself as he feels he should be and a sense of who he really is, and thus determined to save face even if it destroys his dignity to do so.

I like George, he's like me only not as brilliant.

Here's the weird thing though, I've just finished watching Seinfeld Season 5 and watched in order the extreme physical clowning of Kramer (in a show of his own), and Jerry's passive protagonist have begun to make sense (and his acting has definitely improved) but George has quite suddenly undergone a horrible change.
His self awareness and battle with his sense of morality have literally vanished, he has become a butt of jokes, moved in with his parents and become a caricature of himself. He is just nasty George now.
This happens with sitcoms over time, the writers play to actors strengths and what gets the big laughs and the character gives way to the sit. This is particularly notable in Seinfeld which was initially quite plot light but by Season 5 has become driven by fast interlocking storylines. It's almost as if the rest of the cast have moved into Kramer's world.

Now apparently this is considered the season (number 5 of 9) in which Seinfeld comes into its own and becomes one of the great sitcoms of all time, but watching it now I can't help feeling I'm watching a show throwing away all its most interesting aspects.
As a mature adult, I think it's time for me to quit Seinfeld now, and remember my friend George as he was rather than persist with him now he's become a monster. There again I'm over half way through and it would be great to watch the whole show in order, and see what develops later...

I am rubbish, but at least I'm not as bad as Newman.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Today Ofsted has expressed concern over behaviour, which was "just satisfactory" in secondary schools.
When was there anything "just" about satisfactory? Will these people never be satisfied?
Not until everyone's above average, I suspect.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Like a Rolling Stone

If your life is anything like mine you’ll be wanting comfort from the fact you’re not alone, and more importantly, it’ll be pretty much a rock rolling down a hill side.
There’s a certain amount of what happens to you which is just a natural result of how the land lies, a certain amount that’s influenced by your spin and how fast you’re travelling, and most of the rest is a result of the direction you were pushed at the hill top.

Basically, the filters you put on the world and your reactions to it are in place from pretty early on. I’m a lefty, a veggy, a Doctor Who fan, a Liverpool FC supporter and a BBC boy, because I have been ever since, and I’ve been a creature of habit since shortly after, and it takes a lot to break that conditioning
Which is why when the organisations I instinctively trust let me down I feel particularly torn.

This isn’t about Liverpool FC playing like a drain in Europe*, the BBC having shown a misleading trailer to journalists and having spoken in ignorance and error about the contents of the programme the trailer was promoting**, Doctor Who being given back to a general audience away from the sweaty over-possessive hands of loons like myself, the Vegetarian Society allowing a product using non-free range eggs to get its green tick *** or a Labour government doing the kind of things I always hated the Tories doing.

Basically, someone I rate in an organisation I rate is losing their job and there’s not a sausage I can do about it. Broadly, I think “Yeah, great outfit," specifically, I think “Dumb arse decision”. In the past I’ve been able to take my bat and ball away when this happened in organisations I had some stake in, but in this case I don’t think I have a bat and ball to take. You can’t help but feel a bit muddied and compromised.


Got to find a way to take some control, got to get me some bats and balls.

* I know the usual form would be “playing like drains”, but a team should be treated as a single entity grammatically, even if it's not playing like one.

** Clearly, a sacking offence and not just the ordinary nature of broadcasting. Oh hang on, it involves our constitutional monarch, fair does, a heinous act.

*** Quorn, I’m told, got its tick before it should have. It deserves it now, but I believe it was given it on promises of becoming truly veggy down the line. This may be FOAFlore but that’s what I was told.