Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top Four New Year Films



Frankly, 2013 sucked.  Not all of it all the time, and clearly it could have been worse, but overall it was, compared with many other years, a big pile of poopy, topped off by the fact that I have food poisoning. 




So bring on 2014, which will magically be wondrous and new and lovely.

And here’s The Guide to celebrating New Year the same way I showed you how to celebrate Christmas (by watching films).

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary [2001]

New Year is a time for resolutions.



Bridget is discarding the chaff of the past year and going to try not to make quite as big a tit of herself this coming year.  Well, some hope.

3. Ghostbusters II [1989]

New Year is a time for some humanity and brothery love.


That’s right, even the biggest jerks in the world (New Yorkers, apparently) can come together with some brotherly love at New Year and that kind of thing totally counteracts evil ghost overlords and mood slime.

2. The Hudsucker Proxy [1994]

New Year is a time for second chances.


Norville is spending New Year’s Eve looking back at the year and all that went wrong and has ended up on a ledge, but everyone deserves a second chance (even after they fall).

1. The Apartment [1960]

New Year is a time to set your life on track.

This is one of The All Time Favourite Films.  But the trailer starts by showing you the ENDING, so I refuse to post it here since it is one of The All Time Favourite Endings and I CANNOT BELIEVE THE TRAILER SPOILS IT!

So instead here is a random clip from the film (it's a little late on, but at least it's not the final lines, dammit):


It’s time for C.C. Baxter to be a mensch and Miss Kubelik to try falling in love with someone nice.


(and yet again, half this list include plots about suicide!)


So go, go happy and new and year, all of you.



Can you think of a 5th film about New Year?

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Top Ten Christmas Movies

Not everyone enjoys Christmas. There are lots of reasons why. Stress, monetary constraints, family issues, being a Christmas-hating freak. Personally I tend to get a bit lonely this time of year. Spending most of The Life in close proximity with something



makes it unfortunately starkly apparent when it is missing.



And The Housemate spends most of this month missing, what with ‘work’ and ‘family’ commitments and other lame excuses like that.

So, for any of us who find it lacking, I have help at hand to get into that Christmas Spirit.

Yes, that’s right. The answer to most of life’s issues is live vicariously through fiction.

So I have made especially for you a list of The Top Ten Christmas Movies. Whenever you feel that seasonal pluck ebbing away, plonk yourself down in front of one of these babies and you’ll soon be overflowing with Xmas cheer.

NB: this list is currently in the wrong order, but I'll have to watch all the films again before I can fix it.

10. Iron Man 3 [2013]


'When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution' (at Christmas)

– the end of the Iron Man story, following on from the events in Avengers Assemble, Tony hits rock bottom (again) and nothing says Christmas like watching a hero build himself up again.  If you're down, then take inspiration from Tony.  If you're looking for witty lines, charismatic actors, exciting action sequences, cool special effects and lots to warm the heart, then this is the movie for you.  Plus watching Iron Man save the day against impossible odds is definite much needed cheer at this time of year.  


9. Catch Me If You Can [2002]

'A true story about Frank Abagnale Jr, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars' worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor' (the leads talk every Christmas)

– if you're feeling lonely this Christmas, then you'll definitely identify with Frank.  Tracking the relationship between con artist and FBI agent, the heavy juxtaposition of their lifestyles will make you laugh, the thrill of the chase will keep you excited and the empty tragedy of Frank’s life will probably get you teary-eyed, and what more can you ask for for Christmas.

8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]

'A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor' (at Christmas)

– definitely looking for something a bit exciting then? Probably best to watch this one before you eat Christmas dinner so you’re alert enough to keep up with the twisty plot. Now it’s not going to be for everyone, for a start, it’s violent, profane and is way too gratuitous when it comes to female nudity, but it’s deeply witty, very refreshing and it's another one with Robert Downey Jr, and are you really going to suggest that Christmas + Robert Downey Jr is going to be worse than Christmas without Robert Downey Jr?

7. Scrooged [1988]


'A selfish, cynical T.V. executive is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve'

– okay, okay, let’s go back to something more traditional, right? You want A Christmas Carol, huh? Then settle down and try this jazzed up version, because it's a hell of a lot of fun, plus it’s 80s Bill Murray so you’ll be laughing all night.

6. While You Were Sleeping [1995]
'A ticket-collecting romantic pretends to be engaged to an unconscious man but can't fool his brother' (at Christmas)

– a schmaltzy film that will make you vomit at any other time of the year, but stick this on when you’re alone at Christmas and you’ll be sobbing into your sweater sleeves that if lonely Lucy loser can get rugged carpenter Bill Pullman all moony-eyed over her while she creepy-stalkers her way into a family that doesn’t belong to her, then maybe you can too.

5. The Muppet Christmas Carol [1992]


'The Muppets tell their version of the classic tale of an old and bitter miser's redemption on Christmas Eve'

– fine, it’s Christmas, you want something traditional and cultured, so it’s time to reel out that most famous of Christmas stories again, no not Jesus - Scrooge. But if you must endure this story yet again, then the addition of Michael Caine, muppets and musical numbers can only be an improvement.

4. About A Boy [2002]


'A cynical, immature man is taught how to act like a grown-up by a little boy' (he's living off the royalties of his father's Christmas song)

– this one’s for those of you who think you’d rather be alone instead of going through the family rigmarole - just remember, no man is an island. Also, see here for why suicide is bad.  Plus Hugh Grant is brilliant in this.

3. Gremlins [1984]


'A boy inadvertently breaks 3 important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town' (at Christmas)

– looking for something a little less schmaltzy than the last few options? How about a tongue-in-cheek monster movie. It’s funny and it’s dark, and it’s cheesy and cute and scary, a weird mix that’ll get your Christmas going with a zing. This is probably why they say you shouldn’t give pets as Christmas presents, but everyone wants a Gizmo. And hey, how about Kate's tale of Christmas woe?

2. The Shop Around The Corner [1940]


'Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they're falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal' (at Christmas)

– and if you like to laugh and who the hell doesn’t, then you can’t top this sublimely funny film. Also, James Stewart. You really can’t do better than that.

1. It’s A Wonderful Life [1946]


'An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed' (at Christmas)

– seem like an obvious number one? There’s a reason for that, you know. George Bailey’s a bit down this Christmas.  He's on a bridge contemplating suicide. See his life story, learn how things don’t always turn out how we want, but why that’s not a bad thing; it’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s brilliant, it’s your own Guardian Angel right there.

And if you don’t feel Christmasy after those ten, then you clearly didn’t watch them, so go back and try again.

(Wow, at least four of these films contain suicide plots, but don’t worry, only one of them is successful.)



The important thing is, they all have happy endings because CHRISTMAS.

What are your favourite Christmas movies?

Monday, 23 December 2013

Musical Monday #40



Welcome to the fourth and final Musical Monday of Advent.

That’s right, the event that all the hysteria has been building up to is nearly here and therefore nearly over with already and then it’s back to borington times all over again.  Isn’t that depressing.



I have decided to make Santa less terrifying by editing some of the things I find most disturbing about him.




There.  Now he is a pleasant older gentleman rather than a creepy old fat man who hides behind a beard of evil.

So anyway…

Christmas In Heaven from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life


How do you think Father Christmas could be improved?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Musical Monday #39

It’s the third Musical Monday of Advent!



And it’s time for some warming of the heart (so long as that ghost doesn’t freak you out as it does me):

It Feels Like Christmas from The Muppet Christmas Carol

Is there anything that's supposed to be loveable that freaks you out?

Monday, 9 December 2013

Musical Monday #38

Welcome to the second Musical Monday of Advent.



Christmas has finally even reached The House – in as far as I bought a tree.  It’s no bigger than The Hand, but a tree’s a tree.  So today’s advent musical number actually IS about Christmas:

What’s This? from The Nightmare Before Christmas 

How do you decorate for Christmas?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Musical Monday #37

Welcome to the first Musical Monday of Advent.


But it’s still way too early for all that, so today’s musical number is going to be December-themed, rather than Christmas-themed.  And by ‘December-themed’ I mean ‘the word December is used in the song’.  So... ENJOY!

Once Upon A December from Anastasia


Are you ready for Christmas?

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Top Shelf Books #7 - The Animals Of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann



Next up to The Top Shelf is:

The Animals Of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, 1979


‘For most of the animals of Farthing Wood a new day was beginning.’
                   
Colin Dann was The Favourite Author when I was a kid.  As an animal-lover, he was exactly right for me.  I first came to this children’s classic in a bit of a roundabout fashion, first I saw the cartoon (which I eventually learned to loathe), then got one of the sequels (which having read again as an adult I kind of disdain), but finally I experienced the original novel, which I still enjoy now.  The text is occasionally a little clunky, but the drama more than makes up for that.  The Animals Of Farthing Wood is exciting and heart-breaking and funny.



Admittedly, the cover of the edition I have is utterly naff and I have never liked it.  It's a faux-cartoon cover.  It's trying to look like the TV series edition (spit spit) but isn't even authentic.  It's just cartoony, cutesy and totally wrong for the tone of the book.  The drawings inside, by Jaqueline Tettmar, are quite different.  I’m not keen on illustrations in novels because they tend not to add anything the text isn’t already adequately achieving, but here, used very sparingly, they are realistic depictions of the creatures in the story, creating little reality checks.  Since the characters can seem so human it’s useful to have these illustrations to remind us how different they all are.

I’ve already covered some thoughts on this book here and here but I’m going to attempt to have some new ones.

The story is reminiscent in some ways of The Hundred And One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, which is no bad thing.  The main characters have to travel across country (becoming famous in the animal community) in order to save lives from the cruelty of man.  The main characters are animals who can converse with each other but can’t be understood by humans and who despite some anthropomorphism are still realistic animals only capable of feats an animal could physically achieve.  Also Fox is a similar character to Pongo, both strong and determined, dashing hero types, but able to be weakened by flagging spirits.  Pongo is more pompous though.

 Anyway, enough of that. 

The story is enthralling.  A band of very different animals join under an oath of mutual protection to flee the destruction of their home in hopes of a better life.  They make different friends and enemies as they travel, in constant danger until they reach the fabled animal reserve.  Due to the oath they have to travel at the pace of the smallest, weakest creatures, which places the stronger animals in more danger but strengthens the brotherhood between them.  The entire journey is fraught with general jeopardy, but they face a few particularly major perils, some natural like a surging river and a vicious bird of prey, but mostly from man, including a fire started by a cigarette, a vengeful farmer, a fox hunt, a motorway and pesticides. 

‘‘Hurry up, Fox!’ Kestrel called, as he hovered above them, his eyes turned towards the fire.  ‘The flames are racing this way!  Quickly, quickly!’
Weasel, having watched the plight of the rabbits, knew that the water would completely cover his low-slung body if he endeavoured to walk across.  So, with grim determination, he entered the dark water and began to swim towards the island.

Toad and Adder were quick to follow him, and, keeping their various pairs of eyes fixed firmly on the little island where their friends were cheering them on, they struck out bravely.

Adder undulated swiftly through the water, only his small head above the surface, and as he neared land, Fox and Badger were running back across the causeway for their third load.

While Badger carried the young rabbits, Fox managed the small hedgehogs.  As they stepped towards the brink again, the fire was roaring at them from both directions.

‘You’ll have to swim for it too!’ Fox panted to Hedgehog and the other adults.  ‘No time to come back again.’  As he and Badger raced for safety, the flames burst upon the hedgehogs, who leapt in one bunch for the water.’

There’s no defined bad guy (just one reason this book is far superior to the sequels) but thoughtless and cruel humans are figures of fear to the sometimes-bewildered animals, even those without malicious intent (though not all humans are bad, fire-fighters have their uses and naturalists are perceived with awe).

These perils lead to the occasional death within the band of animals (although the deaths are not so gratuitous as in the sequels – okay I’ll stop griping about those now) which heightens the urgency of the drama and gives a realistic tinge back to what is a fanciful conceit.  The most arresting part of the story (says me) comes towards the end of the first section and at the start of the second, in which Fox is separated from the rest of the band when struggling to cross the river.  This whole sequence is breathlessly dramatic and heart-breaking, but the most chillingly gripping moment of the entire book has to be the fox hunt.

Some of the characterisation might appear a bit obvious on the surface – the pompous owl, the cunning fox, the timid mole, but it’s very sharp and the main cast are rounded and it’s a joy to watch them interact.  They each have weaknesses and personal agendas, they bicker and mock each other but throughout they always come back to their oath, showing that heroes take all different types.  Particularly enjoyable is the balance of power between the leader Fox, unofficial deputy Badger and thinks-he-should-be-deputy Owl.  Fox makes an interesting lead.  He dedicates everything to the oath despite it being so recent.  This willing and dedicated self-sacrifice is entrancing.  But without any doubt, Adder is the best character.  Acerbically witty and clearly intelligent, he deliberately advertises his own cold, heartless and sarcastic nature, but is revealed on several occasions to be selfless and gallant, a fact he is quick to hide.

The Animals Of Farthing Wood has a strong conservation moral, though it isn’t overbearing, it’s the drive behind the story.  It also has a lovely theme of tolerance and friendship.  All in all, it’s pretty much a must for every child’s reading list.

What are some of your favourite books for children?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Before I Could Write – Part 12

Welcome to the next instalment in the series in which I chronicle just how bad I was at writing before I was struck by The Epiphany.  Because for some reason putting up examples of bad writing seems like a really good idea.



So by this point in my pre-epiphany days, I was 17.  I now spent most of my spare time writing (rubbish) but hadn’t decided that I wanted to actually be a writer ‘when I grew up’ because I was still flirting with the desire to be an actor (see the Why I Never Became An Actor series of posts for more opportunities to laugh at my failures). 

Me aged 17 in one of my few successful writing and acting endeavours.

So, here is an awful story I wrote at 17, which The Stantz still reminds me of today as an example of ‘good writing’ I did once.  Uh... he may be disappointed if he reads it again.

The end of the Quest 

I had sat for a very long time in just one place, waiting. I had nothing to do but remember.  Remember the times when I was young.  It seemed so long ago, it was so long ago, when his lips touched me.  He had held me and I knew as well as he it was the last time.  One day it is true he will come back but not to me.  To him I am of no importance, and yet to others I am immensely important, simply because his lips had touched me.  They sought me (and still do) but I had hidden away.

As I sat there in the dark, all alone, elsewhere a great search started for me. I knew this for I could see everything even though I had no sight.  People had been looking for me for what seems forever but this was the biggest search yet.  It was sparked by one boy alone, the purest ever to be seen, to ever live.  He sparked it just by his existence and managed to cause the hardest adventure that any man had yet or since set out upon.

This search was destined to span a long time, almost two years.  It was not that I alluded them deliberately, I had no choice but to stay where I was as I could not move.  I stopped remembering, I did not forget but now my time was consumed with longing.  I longed for this boy.  I guided him with my thoughts, felt what he felt, shared his wonder.  One day my guidance drew him close so I set an unearthly peace about him as he neared, but others felt it too.  They came from all over the world to my castle on the edge of the cliffs by the sea where no one knew I hid.  The King there invited them in.  The boy and his two companions felt my peace stronger than the others and stayed at the castle, so it was to the boy and his two companions only that the King told of the rumours that I was there.  Hidden in that very castle, where even he knew not where.

Left alone, no other men so strongly tied to the search, the three explored everywhere they could in the castle and even the boy’s hope began to fail.  Then finally I found I was not alone any more or condemned to an eternity in solitude for the boy kneeled in front of me as I stood upon a table of silver.

His clothes were of finest red, his crest a red cross, his face was beautiful, he was of the fairest hair and bluest eyes.  Looking in upon his soul I saw the goodness, the kindness, the virtuousness.  Then I felt pain, but it was not his, it was mine alone.

It hurt me, being divine, to feel the nearest to his decency, a man whom many had mistaken for the most virtuous was not and never could be so, ruled by his own lust and the jealousy he felt tainting the air.  It hurt me this man should live longer than the rest when so innocent a boy must have his life savagely cut short.  It hurt me to know this boy was too decent for this Earth, he never felt pride or resentment and he strove to do good continually, yet he was fated to die, to be united with his reward as soon as possible.  Brought up in holiness, two years on his own, now it was time to return to it.

That night as he slept close by me, my love for him led me to convey what he must do.

“Take me to the city of Sarras, far away from those here who are not moral and have turned to vanity and greed so we can be amongst those who are moral.  I will guide you there.  No one will accompany us except your two companions, for only they are deemed worthy and once this is done... two of you shall die but you never need be afraid.”

I would have trembled if I could, I could not bring myself to tell him it was he who would perish.  So young and so devout, his eyes showed he would obey to the last.  The three followed my words, travelled as my bodyguards and protected me always.  We sailed and the danger and length of the journey wearied us all.  The perils they faced made me sicken in horror but at every turn, every step of the way, every hazard they had me and with this power they won through and completed what they had been born to do.



There Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale, the truest knights died and since then, until a purer soul is born, I have made sure no other human being has seen me, though new stories and quests still abound.

I, the Holy Grail.



Oh, that was bad.


So moving on from that (shudder), here are two letters I wrote from the point of views of World War I soldiers, which if still incredibly clumsy are at least better than the above.

Hetta,

I’ve never understood you and your writing and books.

Never saw the need in it.  Don’t have much time now.  Hate writing.

Let me tell you about war and how lucky you are to be a girl at home.

I joined this army, I was so wanting to fight for King and Country and God.  And I still do.  Still do.

Just not here.

So cold, colder than winter nights back when we was little and shared a bed with mam.  The mud is so high, I swear to Gold Almighty that I saw a man drown in it a few days ago.  It is like sitting in ice.  Real dirty, foul ice.

Some mornings I have to stand there, not moving, ready for them Fritz.  It is dull.  My helmet and gun and boots are so heavy.  But can’t take them off.  And me boots stop the mud getting me.  God, girl, pardon me language, the size of the rats.  In front are evil Fritz waiting to kill yer.  Behind death for cowards.  Underneath, death by mud.  And with us, all us so scared in this daily grind are rats.  Rats and lice, eating our food—and our dead—and us.

Rats are bigger than Little Troll, your dog!  We hate them as much as Fritz.

I don’t want to say this.  I didn’t tell mam in the letter.  But I cry.

We are all here, it is noble like.  I’m a patriot.  But I’m so scared.  I’ve seen my friends die.  At night I cry.  Are we all for it?



I’m fighting for God.  So why has he sent me to hell?



Signed, your brother —

Peter


To my dearest Elizabeth,

There is so much I want to write, I want to ask you how you are and all about those I’ve left behind, I want to tell you how much I miss you all, and dear old Blighty, then I want to tell you how I am and everyone you know but that’ll lead me on to this damned war.  Oh yes, I want to tell you all about that too but there is not much I can say without being censored.  I am an officer in this army, I have to set examples.  I must not behave like a little boy lost in London, unaware of anything else around him, only his desire to go home, like some of the young lads under me.  Only this isn’t London, and the little boys are all grown up—in body at least, and fighting for their lives with some misplaced faith in God bringing us through.

It can be hard having a different background to these children (because that’s what they are).  They don’t get hampers from a privileged family and talk eloquently about their educations.  Some of them can hardly string a sentence together.  However, that may not be their backgrounds; that could be attributed to the shells exploding in their ears every day.

I enjoy the better food than that which their rations consist of, but guilt is enough to drive a man like me insane.  I could share it with them, but then who to share it with?  There certainly isn’t enough to go round.  If all those who got hampers shared, but they do not.  I give some fish or chocolate to those who really need help.  However, it is not food they need, it is a warm bed and a mother.  I admit I keep the vegetables for myself, to keep my own health up, and sometimes the cheese.  It is mine after all.

I have been coming back to this on and off.  I cannot sit and write it all in one go.  If I am not on duty, I look after my men or sleep.  I write about things as I see or think of them, a lack of coherence.

I know you won’t wish to hear about this, but I feel I must tell you everything.  There are rats here.  An extraordinary, bloated size.  Paddling in the water of the trenches, infesting the dugouts.  Loathsome creatures, the men seem to hate them more than they hate the Germans.  They do steal our food and eat corpses of freshly slaughtered young lads.  Between them is a kind of competition to see how many rats they can kill.  Things are much worse than a lack of food and infestation of rats.  We are bombed, shells fired at us—the explosions are impossible to recreate within the mind of one who has never seen horrors such as these.  One of my men was shell shocked this afternoon.  Shell shock is an illness, many of the officers say it is an excuse for cowardice but it is not.  The men cannot fight in a condition like that and they must be helped, before they go completely mad.  Shells lead me on to gas.  There are gas attacks; we scramble for our masks to save our lives.  There is chlorine gas—kills you by asphyxiation, leaves its victims in agony for five days before it finally kills them.  But what scares me, yes actually scares a grown man, is mustard gas.  I’ve seen it happen.  A man about the same age as me was got by it.  Once they are in it, there is nothing you can do to help but pray.  I swear he was rotting.  He blistered and screamed, scratching out with his hands.  His pain must have been excruciating, he almost vomited up his lungs.  They took him away, took him a month to die.  Now that is a true horror of war.

There is so much more to say, I have barely begun but I do not want to upset you too much.  Perhaps you should rest awhile before continuing.

All those young men came here for noble cause, ready to fight and die for King and Country but then they were mercilessly cut down.  Lives loyal to their God destroyed for no reason at all, like in an irrational nightmare, the reality of battle not sinking in until the bullet, the likely fate in a split second dead all because of patriotism, all because of their innocence.

These boys are miserable and frightened.  They are wet and exposed, not just to bullets, bombs, gas, the shell shock, the desperate need of rest, the cramp, the appalling conditions and natural hardships.  I do not really care so much for officers of the army or the older men, though any one of their deaths is a tragedy.  The young men I have been telling you about all along upset me.  The ones who joined, signed up in a frenzy of eagerness when the war started.

They don’t have drinking water.  Only yesterday, I sent out a group to get rainwater from a shell hole.  Standing around for hours, I mainly sent them so they had something to occupy their minds with.  The tedium wears them down, no matter how blindly patriotic, hardy or eager they were.  Their lingering enthusiasm gradually dwindles and dies out.  Their parents are worried, now they understand the cries of ‘you don’t know what you’ve done’ they mocked at first.

These men are going to die.  Maybe for their God, maybe for no good cause at all.  Nevertheless, they will still be crawling with lice, buried in mud, mourned by a few comrades and eaten by rats.

But I’ve told you now.  Now you know.

I do not know if you will understand this, I do not know whether I will survive this war.  All over by Christmas two years ago, it was meant to be.  The whistle will come; it may be me who blows it, making hearts pound, leading to hearts stopping.  But I am wandering away again.

I know you had two beaus.  You had more than that, a beautiful young lady like you, but just two you liked.  We are from good backgrounds so marriage and money are not a related problem.  You engaged yourself to me on my request because I was going to war.  However, that does not mean Charles deserves you more than Arthur does.  He is a good man, is Arthur.  He cannot be a soldier due to his leg but he is a younger man than I and very much in love with you.  Most men struggle to express their feelings in these cherished letters so this is important.  He loves you as much as you love him back.  He will never leave your side for war, he cannot.  He would be a good husband and a good father.  I could never be a father, not after seeing so many send their boys to a certain death, how could I punish another child by bringing it into THIS world?

If and hopefully I survive all this I expect to come home to my rich father and mother and four little sisters and be set up with a wife of their choice, as with you.  Perhaps a beautiful lass who lost her brother in the war who I can sympathise with.  And I expect you, safe from the horrors of war, to be married to Arthur.  These are my wishes; my last if a bullet finds me.  Honour them like you would honour the engagement.



Charles Edwards



We will win this war; too many soldiers have their faith in a God who leads them astray.  If we win, maybe they will see the folly in it all.

Elizabeth, marry a religious man in times of peace and he will save your soul.  In time of war, he will damn it.


Well… wasn’t that fun…





Monday, 25 November 2013

Musical Monday #36

I have some job interviews this week, so I’ve been doing the usual prepping, which always seems to go the same way.

Prepping, going well, learning, practising questions, going to ace this interview, oh yeah no questions I can’t answer, prepping, prepping, so smart and then BAM.  The Brain reaches capacity and I forget everything I’ve ever known, including my own name.



So anyway, whoever you are, here’s a Musical Number set during a job interview.  I may not know who I am any more, but I can still pick a theme.


Baby Face from Thoroughly Modern Millie


Sunday, 24 November 2013

A History Of The Hill And Doctor Who

Yesterday marked the 50th year since Doctor Who first appeared on our screens.  Which is kind of a big deal in that it's such an intrinsic part of British pop culture.  Even when it wasn't on, it was still part of our lives.  I was always scared of Daleks growing up and I can remember the astounded silence in a classroom in The First Year of uni when the German amongst us asked 'What's a Dalek?' as if it were possible that someone could not know.


But while I consider Doctor Who a simple part of being British, I’ve never really watched the show with zeal.

The Relationship has been something like this:

Sylvester McCoy was *my* Doctor (as people say) and I still feel an overwhelming gladness whenever I catch glimpses of old seveny.  It was his slyness that I liked, the way he was like your uncle who you knew would keep you safe, but there was this sharp, dark side to him that was thrilling.  ‘Sharp as a razor and just as dangerous’ as I said to someone recently because I say things like that.


But I didn’t like the repeats that were on after school, after Stingray (Stingraaaaay, STINGRAY, budernerderner!) because they just seemed to always be about soldiers and aliens shooting at each other and nothing bored me like soldiers (I believe these were Third Doctor episodes).


I watched the TV movie with The Mother when it was brand new, and was TRAUMATISED FOR LIFE because they killed the Doctor.


So I pretty much went off any concept of the show at all from then on.  But I went to school and college with a massive Doctor Who nerd (The Stantz) and he lent me some Doctor 7 episodes, which cheered me up.


Then I went to uni and watched The Last Detective and got a massive crush on Peter Davison, so The Stantz lent me some Doctor 5 episodes, which never really did it for me, although the Daleks were still cool.  I’m not sure Peter Davison really got *it* until he was Campion.  Mmmmmm, Campion.


Then 2005 rolled around and The Mother, who can remember seeing the very first episode of Doctor Who when it was new, was excited about the return of Doctor Who and I was not.  I would deliberately ignore it whenever she was watching it.


One day I decided to give it a go, and it was The Long Game, so that killed any more interest.


But by this time I was friends with The Housemate, the second massive Doctor Who nerd in The Life, and one day The Friends and I decided to stop banishing him when he went off to watch Doctor Who and share it with him, only it was Rise Of The Cybermen, which was hysterically bad.


However, I did think David Tennant was cute, so I started tuning in and I guess by Army Of Ghosts I was a bit of a fan.


Then came series three and the Doctor stopped being cute and became a total git and I couldn’t bear watching him any more, so after series three, I quit watching.


Around this time I got it into The Head I wanted to watch all of Doctor Who, to decide who was the best companion (since I had loathed Rose so much, and felt so sorry for Martha), so The Housemate and I started right at the start.  I really enjoyed the early stuff, but this turned out to be a problem.  How was I supposed to know that the best companion was the first companion?  Ian. 


So once we got past The Chase when Ian and Barbara left, I just didn’t see why I had to watch another fifty years of this stuff, and then after The Tenth Planet when William Hartnell was horrifyingly replaced by Patrick Troughton I had just lost the desire to go on.


At some point after this, eventually, catching the occasional new episode, all awful, I saw the worst one yet with The Mother, both stuffed with Christmas Dinner, The End Of Time Part 1.  Neither of us had any idea what was going on.


But series five started and I had to record it for The Housemate who was at work, and so I saw bits and at some point, I started being unable to walk away.  Matt Smith was so good.  By the end of series five I was a bigger fan than I’d ever been before and I was really excited about the next series.


But then came series six, which I watched and I regret and so I gave up again, especially when I heard that Amy and Rory were going to leave.


And I have managed to avoid it pretty well until now.  When the Housemate asked me to celebrate the 50th Anniversary with him by spending all day watching Doctor Who. 


So tune in to his blog Neil Is The Best Dalek to see how that went.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Top Shelf Books #6 - The Jolly Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg



The next book to make it to The Top Shelf is another picture book.  Never underestimate the power of a good picture book:

The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters by Janet & Allan Ahlberg, 1986.


‘Once upon a bicycle,
So they say,
A Jolly Postman came one day
From over the hills
And far away…’

This was one of the best pictures books I ever read as a child and looking at it again now, it’s still witty and inventive.



If you don’t know this book, let me explain.  It’s a simple rhyming story about a postman delivering letters to various nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters, and every other page is actually an envelope containing the letter he is delivering.

So, while one of the best picture books (nothing will ever outshine Graham Oakley’s Church Mice books in that category), this is the best interactive book I’ve ever handled.

When I was a child, this book opened up The Imagination every time I picked it up.  It is simply ingenious.

‘So the Witch read the letter
With a cackle of glee
While the Postman read the paper
But left his tea.  (It was green!)’

The writing is very sharp, which is hugely impressive given the restrictive rhyming structure.  The illustrations are attractive and detailed (I’m a sucker for all the little details) and always add more than the text describes, creating re-readability.  So it’s a great book before you even get to the interactive part.

And what an interactive idea.  The thought and detail here is astounding.  The envelopes are realistic, with stamps and postmark detail, so for a child this really does feel real.  And there is a huge variety of letters.  A handwritten note, a catalogue circular, a postcard, a formal printed letter with tiny sample book, a solicitor’s letter and a birthday card with money…  There’s got to be educational value here introducing children to different writing styles (and illustration styles in some cases), but more importantly, there’s no chance of getting bored.  To be able to physically handle items being described in the story makes the reader part of the story in a way no other book can achieve.  It’s like some kind of magic portal.

The Favourite Illustration is in the letter from Goldilocks to the Three Bears, in which she has drawn the sky as one thin blue line at the top of the page.  This is exactly how The Friends and I used to draw the sky.  This attention to detail and clear understanding of the child mind is both impressive and what’s so appealing about the book. 

Another classic in its own right is the sequel:

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg, 1991


‘Once upon a Christmas Eve
Just after it had snowed,
The Jolly Postman (him again!)
Came down the jolly road;
And in the bag upon his back
An… interesting load.’



This one’s set at Christmas (duh) but otherwise follows the same format as the first book and revisits a lot of the same characters and shows how their lives have progressed since last time.  Considering that the letters are already set after the happy or not-so endings of the fairy tales, this continuation of life really challenges the finite endings children are surrounded by, helping develop both the imagination and a sophistication in story telling and understanding the world around them.

‘The Postman gets back on his bike
And rides another mile.
A crooked mile, in actual fact,
It takes him quite a while.
He never finds the sixpence, though,
Or, come to that, the stile.
And, besides, the crooked man has it.’

This is part of the beauty of these books.  It shows recognisable fantastical characters in a setting that’s familiar to the child audience.  First the child will get a kick out of recognising all the references to the stories in both the rhymes and especially the illustrations, which is always going to be fun and rewarding.  But second, the idea that wicked witches and big bad wolves receive mail from the postman, and newspapers and solicitors and advertising and milkmen and removal trucks and ambulances and hospitals and all sorts of everyday normality exists in this fantasy world is far more interesting than the original fairy tales.  It makes the unfamiliar recognisable and again opens up the imagination – does this mean these characters actually live in our world? – if these fairy tales are connected, are all stories connected?  There are endless opportunities here for the child to go on to make up their own stories, to get so much more out of the old fairy tales they’ve heard so many times, or to just play with some toy letters.

Like I said above, ingenious.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Why I Never Became An Actor #3

Teenhood and Senior School offered a greater chance of roles than The Previous Schools, through After-School Drama Club.  

Unlike in previous school productions, we actually got proper auditions (rather than just being randomly picked from a crowd).

Not that this helped me much.


The teacher interrupted (again).

I repeated the line, but again didn’t finish.

He sighed. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Musical Monday #35

I’m kind of busy right now, but there’s just time to give you Musical Monday.

And I guess I’d better do a picture for you too, so here’s a bat in a leotard roller-skating.



And no, I didn’t just pick three words at random out of The Dictionary.  If I had done that, you’d have got a batiste in a leopard frog Roman holidaying.

And now a song that’s very close to The Heart right now:

If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler On The Roof




Friday, 15 November 2013

THE 200th POST!

This post, yes this one that you’re looking at right NOW, is my 200th post.

Ooh, 200.

You may (not) remember that for my 100th post I did nothing at all, so I thought in a reverse of tradition, I’d do an extra super special post for my 200th.

Be sure to tell your friends.

So here it is, just for YOU, a little story about The Hill having writer’s block and asking all my many many friends who are real and not a collection of action figures if they have any good ideas to progress the plot.



(besides which, what kind of a stupid place to land is the damn MOTORWAY?)


Well, there’s Paul Metcalf and Adam Svenson, obviously.
But they weren’t too helpful.

Heathcliff and the guys of Spectrum, Wile E Coyote, Marvin, Ariel, Loki, Sebastian, Daffy, Marion and… friends, Captain Scarlet torch, Snoopy, Little Bagpuss mouse, Indy, Mini, Daffy, Jeremy, Little Mermaid guys and two of Amy Pond, Feathers McGraw, Martha Jones, Milo Thatch and two Timons, Doc Emmett L Brown, Woodstock, Rory Williams and Sherlock Holmes, Victor, that dog of Victor’s, Wario and two of Smithers, Philip, some of the Doctors, Pumbaa and even more Doctors, Bugs Bunny, the Master, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Bugs Bunny and Professor Snape, Wario, Twink, Rainbow, Wario and Leonardo, Tiny Captains Black, Scarlet and Blue, Wario and Zazu?

...No ideas.


Groove:
He said ‘How hooby groovy is that?’


Creepy Snoopy with no eyes that I got out of a giant Kinder egg in Germany?
No?
What about you, McDonalds Snoopy?  Any good ideas?

Mufasa and Simba, any ideas how to make my story more…
I guess you’re busy, I’ll come back when you’re alone. 

Simba, right, ready to hear your idea.
No?  Still thinking huh?  That’s all right, I’ll come back later. 

Okay Simba…
seriously, still nothing? 

Narla? 

Gabriel, any ideas? 


Oh that’s great.

Thanks.

You know you’re only here BECAUSE THEY DON’T MAKE NATHAN TOYS.


Kurt?

Tails?

Thomas and James?


Tom, you’re creative, any ideas…
uhhh, actually never mind. 


Egyptian cat God, anything? 

Disgruntled Bear? 
Uh, I’ll come back when you’re more… convivial. 

Jeff? 
You’re always good for a story.  Remember that time at university when I was blocked and you came up with that idea for that poem?  Of course, I can’t write poetry so that wasn’t actually helpful at all, I mean THANKS A LOT FOR THAT WHY AM I EVEN ASKING YOU FOR…
 awwww, I couldn’t stay mad at that face.



(the following video is appalling quality – I blame blogger)

Brainstorming with Woody:



I have got to get some new friends.