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Sunday, 19 October 2014

cabin in the country and a few musical numbers


I could tell we were in the countryside.

"Do you have any hunting guns with you?" came the request from the check-in desk.

...or maybe I'm in an episode or Eastenders?

No, we were in West Sussex, about to stay in some wooden cabins before heading to a show in a nearby Chichester.

The potentially rustic room had a modern twist, and gave us a sound base for our evening.

Then to Chichester Festival Theatre, where we watched the show 'Gypsy', featuring Imelda Staunton excellently playing the Momma Rose mother
to Gypsy Rose Lee. I had to admit that I've never seen any production or movie so it was an entire surprise to me.

I last saw Imelda Staunton in that recent Brit-com Camden Town gays support Welsh miners movie "Pride" where she played the Welsh town committee ringleader. In Gypsy she gets some really big songs and plays them for keeps. The other cast members, which includes Kevin Whatley as Bernie the agent, play well but are at least a notch or two below Staunton's performance.

I think the original treatment is from 1950-something. To my mind there were a few curious jumps in the logic of the production, which I suppose is in the nature of musicals, but here somehow mildly confused my sense of the story. That's not to say it wasn't easy enough to follow, but it did feels as if the main Acts had been somehow gaffer-taped together.

None of that detracts from the wisecracking Sondheim lyrics and the surprisingly elaborate staging, with West-End level false perspective rotating rooms and stage entrances via whizzy platforms.

There was also a very strong orchestra and a less common nowadays overture at the start of each half.

So, an evening's entertainment, and a cracking performance from Staunton, before we headed back to the far from silent wooden huts in the countryside.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

caught in the act


It's not really the bird feed that is attracting the squirrels.

It's my neighbour's pear tree which still has 30-40 pears on it.

They launch themselves into the tree from an adjacent roof.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

under the skin


With BFI running a sci-fi season at the moment, I thought I'd get in some of the movies.

The first one was the old school Capricorn One. Made in the 1970s, it is the conspiracy movie about three astronauts having to pretend to land on Mars whilst stuck in a tin shed in Utah. It's the one with the two black chase helicopters...Definitely one to re-watch.

The other one is 'Under the skin'. It's modern 2014, has Scarlett Johanssen as a alien 'woman who fell to earth' roaming the streets of Glasgow in a white van to select male prey.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer of the Guinness surf commercial - which even gets a short nod in one of the scenes.

Although based upon a novel, it feels like a simple short story with an alien glimpse of Glasgow through the eyes of an icily cold well-spoken killing machine. The victims end up in a room similar to the 20:50 Richard Wilson art installation.

There's rangy filming around Glasgow's streets and suburbs and what seems to be a frequently improvised dialogue. Scarlett the A-Lister can dress down as well as scrub up for red carpets. The Mica Levi soundtrack music creates an immersive alien environment, like we are hearing the alien's thought waves.

Compared to Species, the Hollywood movie where Natasha Henstridge's alien woman is hunted through L.A. by Ben Kingsley, 'Under the skin' seems so much more matter-of-fact in the way that Johanssen goes about largely undetected business.

There's more, in what proved to be a surprisingly thought provoking indie sci-fi movie.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

its often the lock nut on a leaking radiator



I've been somewhat underwater today.

Not in the usual work sense, but because a radiator somehow sprung a leak.

My short term fix used that stretchy self amalgamating tape. It helped whilst I waited for the plumber, but for a while the living room began to resemble the inside of a whale.

We are two mariners
Our ship's sole survivors
In this belly of a whale
It's ribs are ceiling beams
It's guts are carpeting
I guess we have some time to kill


It reminded me of a recent conversation about choosing one Decemberist song to use in a "best-of" list.

The Mariner's Revenge Song had been short-listed; my own choice was Chinese Acrobat, but I think we settled on the excellent Bagman's Gambit.

The knowledgeable plumber agreed as he tightened the errant lock-nut.

By now the lounge is back to normal, aside from a tropical ambience whilst the carpet dries. No mariner's revenge, so instead here's Colin Meloy singing 'We both go down together', in an elevator.

Monday, 13 October 2014

emergency swimwear and zombies

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Another weekend activity involved obtaining emergency swimwear...so that we could use the fancy spa at the Corinthia, obviously.

We tripped around the corner to Lillywhites, which has huge quantities of swimwear on the 6th floor. Now Lillywhites is right by Eros* in Piccadilly Circus. The well-known meeting place for out-of-towners.

So far, so good.

Then I noticed the first one. Corner of eye. A fella who looked as if he'd been in a recent accident, but still seemed mobile enough.

Glance across again to the statue. A slight change in its population. They seemed to be getting more, er, gruesome.

A few moments later one flitted right across my field of vision. Yes this was turning into a full-on zombie attack.

They say you never see the one that gets you.

* I know it's not really Eros - It's Anteros who was Eros brother - note the plumed butterfly wings and long hair.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Book of Mormon


The cab driver looked slightly quizzical.

"You know what it's like?"

We said we did.

"Only some people really like it and others really hate it"

He sniggered. He was one that liked it.

"It's really raw. really raw."

What wouldn't be fun about the sell-out show about Mormons leaving training camp to go doorbell ringing?

That they advertise the show on buses with the line "Can someone get me a ticket?!" indicates its popularity.

That we were somehow front row circle is still a mystery to me. The safety curtain is a star field, before being transported initially via Disney-esque animatronics to the All-American Prophet Joe from Rochester, New York as he discovers the golden plates of the Third Book.

I won't mention the main plot or setting, because it's better to see it the first time without knowing too much. What I will draw from the liveliness of the audience is the conclusion that most people were the 'likers'.


Slick, multi-dimensional, bawdy, a starkness to contrast the cheesiness of the cheery Salt Lake City. Rather more cultural references than it would seem possible to include. Even the dancing paper coffee cups were in the right place.

The bimodal distribution of the reviews is quite understandable. Most will give a five or a one.

And, yes, having a saying does make it all seem better.

And the real Mormon missionaries outside the theatre afterwards were doing a roaring trade harvesting email addresses.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

days of fear and wonder


I've enjoyed the trailer for the new BFI Sci-Fi season: Days of Fear and Wonder.

The trailer provides a fun opportunity to play 'spot the sci-fi movie' and the season isn't just showing on the South Bank. There's screenings all over the country as well as via BFI Player.

I shall need to make a list.

30 million minutes with Dawn French


I've just been to see the Dawn French solo show which was funny, poignant and like a very entertaining and somewhat personal conversation.

It'd be unfair to call it a stand-up show and was constructed as a series of carefully crafted segments from Dawn's life.

The 30 million minutes of the show's title refers to her time alive (around 50-something of our earth years) and she talked and acted her way through some of the significant moments. This was story-telling rather than gag-driven humour in a way that creates its own niche.

Completely by chance we were in the front row for this show, set on a simple black stage with AV back projections mainly comprising family photos and a few short film clips. The simplicity belied what was actually an incredibly slick set of production values. It all worked, giving bitter-sweet insights into being Dawn French, bundled with some life affirmation for the audience.

Of course Dawn also acts for a living and was able to bring in a level of emotion beyond that of many comedians. There was also good physical humour all of which added to the way that Dawn owned the stage. The audience were engaged from the very first minute of the show.

I didn't know much about Dawn French's past: her childhood as an RAF child partly spent in Cyprus; the sadness of her father's suicide; Billie, her adopted child with Lenny Henry. By the end of the evening I knew the difference between her two grannies (the naughty one and the nice one) and where to sell jewellery in Plymouth.

The show's focus was on personal life and there were only passing references to many of her show-biz exploits and friends. This wasn't tittle-tattle from the set of Vicar of Dibley or how French and Saunders got along.

So, two excellent helpings - another 120 added to those minutes, with a toffee ice-cream in between. A ten-finger point back to the stage. Yeah.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

conkers and a roundabout


Yesterday's woodland walk may have been away from the main road, but when I descended the last hill, the highway and its agents reasserted themselves.

A £10 million road improvement scheme, no less. Yes, ten million quid buys you a replacement roundabout nowadays. This one being constructed over the next year.

More lanes and one of those cut across the middle things, in this case featuring an inserted merging junction. A roundabout short cut, maybe?

I don't think there is a proper word for this complicated formation yet although I expect the commuters will soon come up with an improper one?

In fairness to the road builders, they have done a pretty good job along parts of the A30 where they thinned it down to a single track, added white safety markings and a space for cycles and in some areas an uninterrupted extra dual-use paving for pedestrians and cyclists.

It's all far more low key than the CS routes in the centre of London, but does start to provide clear and improved stretches for cycling.

The replaced dual carriage way sections were often illusory on these stretches in any case, with insufficient distances to make the apparently faster vehicles gain any real time advantage.

A case of 'catch them doing it right'.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

a short walk in woodland Basingstoke


We usually refer to this area as Checkpoint Charlie. The entrance to a small woodland starts a walk towards Basingstoke, alongside the A30 which provides the ancient and once direct coaching route from London to Penzance.

Step into the woods and after a few metres, the ghosts of cars subside and you'd hardly know the area was within walking distance of the neon Basingstoke shopping mall.

Today the autumnal leaves are still in place, occasionally and ever so softly fluttering to earth. Some playful sunshine, although underfoot it's wet and there's that damp mulch smell of the season. Autumn has an altogether more earthy smell than the electric rain tang of Spring.

This route leads right into the middle of the town, although today I'll enjoy the sunshine and sharp breeze instead of the air-conditioning of the mall.

Monday, 6 October 2014

logging the return of Twin Peaks


Laura Palmer's statement about being back in 25 years is about to happen, with Twin Peaks returning in 2016, directed by Lynch.

A few of us even visited the real Snoqualmie Falls Lodge, which was the real name of the Great Northern Hotel, in Washington State. I remember the walk to the foot of the falls and the alarming sign that says 'Trail Ends'. Just before we had to hit it back to the airport.

I know the second series had some pretty weird and somewhat undirected episodes, but it still created a bunch of new television ideas in the days when most UK folk only had a few channels and common viewing would include the show.

My most recent TP fix was that recent episode of Fargo which tipped several hats towards Twin Peaks.

Cherry Pie, anyone?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

pod bay door management with ZigBee


It's a few years since I attended a conference in Westminster about energy management, smart metering and the like. The sessions included a selection of technology suppliers as well as a few politicians but relatively few 'end users' of what was then still an emerging technology.

The discussions included the catchily-named IEEE 802.15.4, which is a kind of wi-fi for homes, operating at very low power levels.

Nowadays there is a kind of Betamax/VHS war going on with various suppliers each wanting to use their preferred technologies in order to become king of the home castle.

Z-wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth 4, ye olde X10 are a few examples. Google, Apple, Samsung and a slew of currently less well-known companies are pitching to get control of the home hub.

Imagine Siri, Cortana and 'OK Google' on the wall...

"Open the pod bay doors, Hal"


It is still a bit fiddly to connect everything together and not everyone has a home 24-way gigabit ethernet switch to hook up the multitude of mini-hubs.

If I count my own example of the little extra pack-of-playing-card sized hubs requiring connection into the network, there's the one for the recently installed thermostat (Google Nest), one for the smart meter analytics (Efergy Engage), one for the lighting (Phillips Hue) one for the HDMI switching and upscaling to the telly (Denon) and one for a domestic remote control (Logitech Harmony).

Oh yes, the bathroom scales use Wi-Fi and my bikes still use ANT+ via Bluetooth 4. Come to think of it the loudspeakers using Airplay are quite passé in this mix.

Surprisingly, it all works and the various units generally commune with one another endearingly well. For me, it's all something of an experiment, so if one piece or another temporarily breaks there's always another more manual way to make whatever it is work.

An obvious question is whether we need all this stuff, but in the way of the march of smartphones, the automated home is increasingly a marketing target.