Archive for October, 2008

I want this plate

Posted in Life with tags , on October 30, 2008 by richardblandford

Jonathan Ross: Remember him this way

Posted in Film, TV with tags , , on October 29, 2008 by richardblandford

As Jonathan Ross looks set to go down in history as a granddad-bothering phone pest, it’s easy to forget that away years before the bulging pay packets and the mainstream talk shows, a lot of his output was dedicated to shining a spotlight on obscure subjects that would otherwise never get any TV coverage at all, such as in his masterful Incredibly Strange Film Show series from the late eighties, highlighting the work of Russ Meyer, Ed Wood, John Waters and the then-cult figure, Jackie Chan.  Just last year, Ross presented a fascinating documentary on the comic book artist Steve Ditko.  Maybe it’s time for him to stop showing the outline of his penis to Sarah Brightman in the name of entertainment (a service that could be more than competently provided by Anne Robinson) and get back to what he’s best at – communicating his passion for the weird fringes of culture to a mass audience.

Sting

Posted in Language, music with tags , , on October 27, 2008 by richardblandford

I’ve often been made to feel frustrated by the song Fields of Gold by Sting, the reason being that he never finds a rhyme for the word ‘barley’.

‘You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley,’

it goes, only to be followed by the couplet,

‘You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold.’

The rest of the song is much the same with us being told of various things happening in the fields of barley, but each and every time, Sting cops out and instead of completing the rhyme, rounds things off with, to my mind, the poetically unsatisfying phrase, ‘fields of gold’.

This mystifies me, as there numerous ways he could have resolved it better. For instance:

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley,
You’ll think of the time I played football
With Bob’s son, Ziggy Marley.

Or,

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley,
You’ll be reminded of the time I tripped
On a tree root so old and gnarly.

Tamali, Kali, Salvador Dali, Joe Pasquale – there are so many ways Sting could have gone with this. But no, he bottled it, and went for the safe option of ‘Fields of Gold’. For this reason I have nothing but contempt for the man, indeed, hating him with the same passion I would normally reserve for a war criminal. Which I think is only fair.

Libraries

Posted in Books, Life with tags , , on October 21, 2008 by richardblandford

The future role of libraries has been a topic of discussion recently, with Culture Secretary Andy Burnham urging that, in an effort to raise levels of inclusivity, the use of mobile phones, snacks, computer games, chatter and general plebian behaviour be embraced rather than stamped under the sensible shoes of library assistants.  

My views on the matter are inevitably informed by my own personal experience of not so long ago, at what was until recently my local library.  Said library, which will remain nameless, had recently undergone significant refurbishment and, upon reopening, had followed the new noise-loving path advocated by Burnham.  

I went there one afternoon to do some research.  Outside on the courtyard was a drum ensemble giving a performance.  I presumed this was part of some horrible cultural festival thing that I ought to pretend to be in favour of, but no, it was actually a promotion for chocolate.  Once inside the library, the noise was only slightly dulled by the building’s glass frontage.  Although I’m sure what the drummers were doing was lovely, I found that try as I might, I couldn’t even concentrate enough to select the books I needed from the shelves, let alone sit down and try to use them.  I approached a member of staff and asked why this was allowed to be happening, and she told me that it was just something different and fun.  I begged to differ, and she gave me a complaints form to fill out.  I did so, gave it back to her, and as I walked away, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, her sharing it with a colleague and sniggering.  The effect of all this was that I was made to feel about eighty, isolated for actually trying to use the library for the very purpose I had up until that point presumed they existed for in the first place.

Now, I recognise that many find libraries intimidating.  It’s annoying and inconvenient that they do so, but they do.  This is a fact that has to be taken into consideration when thinking about how libraries are arranged and what goes on in them, or else they will not serve their communities, and they will indeed become a publicly-funded resource for the few.

Equally, however, those who want to carry out in-depth study, some work involving concentration, who want to read, or maybe even just need a bit of quiet, can’t be made to feel victimised and unwelcome. For many years, the studious, the quiet, the introverted and socially awkward, the marginalised and the plain mad have found solace in libraries, and to take away this one place they can truly call their own is an act of such cruelty, bordering on psychological violence, that only a New Labour minister could be so insensitive to actually be capable of it.

The answer surely, is just sensible division of space.  An inner study area, where most of the books are kept, and where the old ways of quiet and extreme sexual tension still rule.  Outside of this, an outer, more informal area, with music, computer games, coffee, mobile phones, klaxons and road drills, and a smaller selection of books and magazines for casual flicking, where the desired  social interaction and communal hubbery can take place.  If the noise from this area penetrates the inner sanctum of silence, however, then it can be considered to have got too loud.  In this way the socially awkward who are intimidated by people can maintain their sacred pace in the books and silence, and the socially confident who are intimidated by books and silence get to have a livelier place of their own.  Both will be intrigued by the other, and tentatively step into each other’s spaces, so that the jocks will get literature, and the nerds will get dates.   The cool kids will get with the squares, and throw a big high school prom right there in the library.  World peace will then be attained.

Revolt into Kitsch

Posted in Life with tags , , , on October 21, 2008 by richardblandford

The Corridor People

Posted in TV with tags , on October 20, 2008 by richardblandford

The Corridor People was a short-lived and rather odd TV series from the mid-sixties, in the vein of The Prisoner and The Avengers (although notably cheaper than both). Only four episodes were made, and apparently still exist in a vault somewhere, although no one seems in that much of a hurry to dig them out. Here are the first ten minutes of episode one.

Vertigo (the novel)

Posted in Books, Film with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2008 by richardblandford

Over the past decade or so, there have been a number of reissues of books that have been overshadowed by their film adaptations. Several years ago, I very much enjoyed reading The Bad Seed by William March, a slightly kitsch but nevertheless fantastic slab of American Gothic from 1954 about a psychopathic young girl who embarks on an orgy of murder. This story inspired a watered-down film version several years later and presumably the name for Nick Cave’s backing band.

I recently went to Bexhill to look at the Pavilion, and desperately trying to find something else to do in Bexhill afterwards that didn’t involve going to church or a funeral (the only other forms of entertainment there), I stumbled across a rather brilliant second hand book shop, which had a lot of these reissues at a very reasonable price. I bought a handful along with a whole load of other stuff, raising my reading pile to a daunting height in the process.

First off the pile was Vertigo by Boileau & Narcejac. Originally in French under the title of D’entre les Morts, and then in English as The Living and the Dead, it’s a good, dark psychological thriller of the old school, very tightly written, and indeed, tautly plotted (although why it took two people to write it I’m not sure, as it’s very short). The film version is surprisingly faithful, except on a few points which I won’t reveal here, but it was very strange following such a familiar story in its original setting of war-time Paris. Also, even though James Stewart’s performance was about as dark and twisted as Hollywood got in the fifties, the protagonist here descends still deeper into a state of disturbing obsession, to the point of creepiness. Well worth checking out if you ever come across it, and you can probably read it in an afternoon if you’ve got a clear schedule.

Still sitting on my pile, The Graduate by Charles Webb (who now lives in Hove of all places), and Odd Man Out
by F.L. Green. Before that, however, I’m finally going to tackle Catch-22, something I’ve been putting off for about fifteen years.

Eurovision injustice (Finland 1973)

Posted in music with tags , , , , on October 17, 2008 by richardblandford

As any Gina Gee fan knows, there are many travesties in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, with truly great songs receiving negligible placings whilst far more tedious offerings go on to win.

Perhaps the greatest injustice, however, was in the selection for the song to represent Finland in 1973. There was no shortage of talent. This song, Super-Extra-Wonder-Shop by Nina (not of the 99 Red Balloons fame), a great slice of whimsical psych pop performed by young Nina and a a chorus of Finnish children, scandalously came last.

Next up was Seija Simola and Paradise, a glorious Free Design-style soft pop act, with their song 1, 2, 3.

Maybe that would stand a chance of winning and representing Finland in the grand final? No. They voted for this. Tom Tom Tom by Marion Tung. Bollocks.

Granny from Metal Mickey’s novel

Posted in Books with tags , , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

The other week I was browsing in a charity shop when I came across something rather unexpected. It was a novel called The Sioux, and it was written by none other than Irene Handl. Handl, of course, was a great British character actress, starring as Lady Bracknell on the stage, and featuring in films such as I’m All Right Jack opposite Peter Sellers, and The Rebel with Tony Hancock. She also turns up in psychedelic oddity Wonderwall and of course, The Italian Job. For my generation, however, she will be best remembered for playing Granny in Metal Mickey, a children’s comedy series from the early eighties produced and directed by Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees in which an hilarious robot lives with a Haircut 100-loving family. Metal Mickey’s catch-phrase was ‘boogieboogie’, putting him in direct competition with Tweeky from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, whose catch-phrase was ‘bidibidibidi’.

Not only was it a surprise to find that Handl had written a novel, but that it came recommended by a whole host of illustrious literary figures – Doris Lessing, Daphne du Maurier, Fay Weldon, and Margaret Drabble. Indeed, it was highly regarded enough for this copy to be a mid-eighties reprint, twenty years after its original publication. I obviously had to buy it.

Buy it I did, and read it I did, and reasonably liked it I did too. It’s about a wealthy French family living in New Orleans, who have an invalid son referred to as the Dauphin. An Englishman marries into the family, and is unamused when is new bride turns out to be a child-damaging monster. The book’s very stagey, with characters just sort of entering scenes, engaging in frivolous conversation, and then exiting again, and there’s a general lack of incident and repetition of phrase (‘Oh, Monsieur is droll!’)that would probably drive most contemporary readers up the wall, but nevertheless it has its own strange atmosphere and style, with some startling moments camouflaged underneath the charming, directionless banter. It’s very dated, however, relying too strongly on the idea that the eccentricities of the upper classes are inherently interesting, something that people stopped believing some time ago, and Handl tells (not shows) with the best of them. Despite all that, it was actually refreshing to read a book that was in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere fast, and was instead content just to hover round a situation while you took it all in. So in short, I quite liked it. Enough to read Handl’s only other novel and sequel to The Sioux, The Gold Tip Pfitzer ? Ah, no.

Compare

Posted in music with tags on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Dempsey and Makepeace

Posted in Life, TV with tags , , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

I have just moved flat, an event that has many benefits. Firstly, I’ve escaped the sound of the people downstairs’ borderline child abuse and the dilemma of whether to phone the NSPCC again on any given morning, a burden that the next tenants will be overjoyed to inherit, I’m sure. Secondly, I can now pick up Freeview and therefore have a use for the Digibox I bought from Argos and tried to return when it wouldn’t work in my old flat, only to be refused by a woman with no sense of humour and dead eyes, telling me that I was at fault because I didn’t read the small print on that tiny pale piece of paper that prints out and you take to the counter, and insisting that I’d probably bought it only to watch a premium pay-to-view sporting event and return it the day after. Because that’s what you can do with a FREEVIEW box isn’t it, pick up stuff you have to pay for.

Anyway, I now have Freeview and can delight in the pleasure of repeats of reality TV shows of yesteryear I have known and loved (Coach Trip anyone?) and the chance to see music videos for the first time since the Chart Show ended. But also, to my delight, ITV3 are rerunning episodes of the classic 80s cop show, Dempsey and Makepeace. Very much The Wire of it’s day, D+P combines gritty storylines, razor sharp dialogue and radical editing to create what was, for its time, a step into a whole new dimension of programme making, heralding the coming of age of TV drama as an art-form. Ok, it doesn’t do that. In fact, it’s not even the right side of competent , with a set-up I can’t even get my head around. He’s an American cop strangely working in London. She’s a British policewoman who’s also his chauffeur. Why would he need a chauffeur? He’s only a policeman. He lives here now. Couldn’t they have just given him a London A-Z and told him to get on with it? But for all that it’s a joy to watch. In last night’s episode, Dempsey was stalked by Suzi Quatro in a safari suit and sporting Limahl’s haircut. If you went to the head commissioner of ITV now and said, ‘I want to make a TV programme about an American cop who’s in London for no reason who works with a British policewoman who’s also his chauffeur and he gets stalked by Suzi Quatro in a safari suit and a Limahl haircut,’ they’d probably tell you no. And that’s a pity.

Lidl’s

Posted in Life with tags , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Has anyone ever shopped in Lidl’s? It’s a crazy place. All the food’s from Northern European countries with no English on the packaging, and so you’ve never bought quite what you thought you had. Olives filled with paste. Canned tuna floating in curry sauce. Toilet roll scented with marzipan. You get the idea.

And the staff aren’t what I’d call ‘top-drawer’ either. Last time I was there, one of them nearly ran me over with an industrial trolley, while another arranged the fruit so that bananas (the UK’s most popular fruit) were hidden entirely by an enormous box of water-melons (not the UK’s most popular fruit).

Every day, underpaid authors of literary fiction are forced by financial hardship to shop at Lidl’s (Not long ago I found Salman Rushdie in one of the freezers, although that might have been for security reasons). Please relieve their plight by buying their books. Preferably mine. I dream one day of earning a big enough advance to shop at Waitrose. Not often, maybe just the once. But just so I can say that I did, even though I’ll probably only be able to afford own-brand.

Let this be so!

Wednesdays

Posted in Life with tags , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Wednesdays are funny days. They just sort of sit in the middle of the week, not close enough to the beginning or the end to have any real sense of event to them, positive or negative. You never begin anything on a Wednesday, you’re always just getting on with things. Nobody ever makes a momentous decision on a Wednesday. If you’d decided to break up with your partner, would you do it on a Wednesday? Doesn’t seem right somehow. What about sacking someone? Easier to do it at the end of the week, then it keeps the payroll neat. In fact, I can’t remember anything of any note ever happening on a Wednesday. Even this bulletin is relatively inconsequential, as befits one written on a Wednesday.

Stags and hens

Posted in Language, Life with tags , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Why is it men have stag nights and women hen nights? Stags don’t mate with hens, and if they were to try, it would lead to a horrific mess of gore and feathers.

Questions

Posted in TV with tags , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Has Bear Grylls ever grilled a bear?

What would happen if the Loose Women and the Desperate Housewives swapped places?

Will the Sheila’s Wheels girls ever make a record?

Why do all the men in the Confused dot com ads have sleepy eyelids?

Did you know…

Posted in music with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

…that the Smiths were not a real band, but a tongue-in-cheek side-project by Queen, in which each member took on a new identity to play in a ‘fake’ band. As with XTC’s alter-egos the Dukes of Stratosphear, the ‘made-up’ band threatened to overshadow the work of the real one, and so ‘The Smiths’ was knocked on the head after four surprisingly successful albums. The death of Freddie Mercury meant that the project seemed unlikely to ever be resurrected, although it is rumoured that ‘The Smiths’ may soon tour again with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company taking on the role of ‘Morrissey’. Brian May was unavailable for comment as he is currently on tour with Modest Mouse.

Same band.

ITV

Posted in TV with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Has anybody else noticed how blatantly right-wing in bias ITV is becoming? What with Jeremy Kyle daily expressing an attitude to the underclass that Norman Tebbitt would find harsh, The Alan Titchmarsh Show consistently being used as a soapbox for tabloid rabble-rousers such as Nick Ferrari, the ITV news commentators practically wetting themselves at the idea of Gordon Brown and New Labour losing power, even Ann Widdecombe getting her own show, and the Loose Women in their alcohol-sozzled self-centredness embodying the right-wing anarchist philosophy of Ayn Rand, if only accidently, I’m half-expecting them to just launch a new game show called ‘Repatriation or Bust’, to be hosted by Nick Griffin, and be done with it.

Clara Bow and Swastika

Posted in Film with tags , on October 15, 2008 by richardblandford

Here’s silent film star Clara Bow, sporting an outfit with a swastika motif. This was before the symbol had become irrecoverably associated with fascism, and is used here purely decoratively, but it’s quite a striking image.

Copenhagen music scene

Posted in music with tags , on October 4, 2008 by richardblandford

Just got back from holiday in Denmark. There I ate pickled herring and saw some truly terrible art. I also acquired a music listings mag in which I found some intriguing local band names. Here are my favourites.

A key is a key
Grizzly Twister
Death By Kite
Imagine I Had Hands
Turn On Tina
Twins Twins
The Poet Bastards
Dead Smiling Pirates
Green Concorde
Trad Lads
Little Yells A Lot
The Blue Van
Ducksoup
Clapping Butterfly
Straight To Your Face
Wolf Lies Down
Sophisticated Ladies Sekstet
Skallywags
Boys in a Band
Cop On Fire
Crash Pop Rock
Foss and the Crazy Dudes
Wired Little Lady
Home at Seven
Instant Coma
Peter Hard
Rainy James

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