Monday, 31 January 2011

The Price Is Not Right

With the recovery from the hip replacement almost complete, our minds turned to planning a short break. The surgeon has said that I should not fly for a few more months to limit the risk of DVT so a UK holiday would be the best option. We thought that the Lake District might be a good choice. It was an old stomping ground in my childhood but we haven't spent a great deal of time there in the last twenty years and it would be pleasant to see how things have changed. So we booked a week at an extremely fine looking cottage near Cockermouth that Marion read about in the Guardian a couple of years ago and made a note of for future reference. It looks very special and I'm sure that we'll have a great time. Marion will be celebrating her birthday while we are there.

As the changeover day is a Monday I suggested that we should lengthen the stay a little by travelling up on the Saturday and having a couple of nights in a decent pub. We logged onto Trip Advisor and checked availability. We found plenty but the prices looked extortionate. We're visiting our daughter in a couple of weeks and staying at one of the very best hotels in Scotland for less than the price of a night in several Lakeland pubs and we could have seven nights in Tenerife including the flight for £60 less than two nights in these Lake District hostelries. OK so I only picked pretty up-market pubs when I was looking and I imagine that the Canary Island break would be far from luxurious but I have to wonder if the British tourist industry has got its sums right. At one particular inn, every one of the fourteen rooms was still available. Perhaps it will be a different story by March but if there is plenty of late availability it might be time for a rethink.

Here are two people who won't be moaning about paying two hundred pounds for a night in a pub. I've been watching the transfer deadline news with interest today and been fascinated by the sums being talked about. It seems that Liverpool are to sell Fernando Torres to Chelsea for £50m but will be spending a massive £35m of that on Andy Carroll. I'll be sorry to see Torres leave Anfield. Whatever you think of his sometimes sulky demeanour he is one of the few truly gifted footballers we've had at Liverpool since Robbie Fowler left. As for Carroll? I don't know much about him but I read on one website that £35 million is more than a million pounds for every senior goal he has scored in his career to date. Whatever the outcome of the transfer saga, Wednesday night's match against Stoke, when I will be making my own return from injury, should be an interesting one.

Someone suggested to me the other day that now that I have retired I should take up fishing. It sounds quite attractive -the peace and the solitude. A bit like this.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A Dead Garden And An Afternoon Of Perfection

It's been a beautiful day here in Southport today and it gave Marion a couple of free hours to check over the garden for the first time since the snow. There was a huge disappointment in store for her as she discovered that shrubs and bushes that she had been cultivating for ten or more years had found the snow too much and given up the ghost. Tree branches had snapped from the weight of the snowfall and it looks like we'll have to get a man in to perform major tree surgery. On a positive note a rosemary bush that was beyond rescue has cut been up to add to the fire which should give the lounge a fragrant aroma tonight.

I had a customer satisfaction survey to complete from Liverpool FC today. I thought that this might be a  initiative from the new owners but it appears to be from a department set up by the last lot. I'm always willing to respond to surveys especially in areas that affect me but, after reading my responses I don't think they will be asking me again. Amongst the survey were questions on the catering. I can only speak from my experiences on the kop but, after working in the catering industry for over twenty years, the use of the words "catering" and "kop" in the same sentence is something of a joke.

We've been out most of the afternoons this week so we're having a big catch up on our daughter in law Josephine's Perfection on the Sky Plus. Here she is on the set of the show that she created. Although the game looks very simple on the face of it, Marion and I have failed to get a perfect score in the end game once so far (and we've watched a lot of episodes today) so if we were to be contestants (which we obviously can't be) the BBC would be sure to save its money. If you haven't seen Perfection yet, set the Sky Plus for BBC2 at 4.30pm every weekday and play along. It's a great game show.

People have asked me why I do this every day. I don't have a massive readership and it takes up a fair bit of time. The reason is that I want to be a writer and I want to get into the habit of writing something every day. I wrote a novel (unpublished) in 2009 and want to write another after I've taken a creative writing course. If anybody reading this can recommend a good part time course, I'd be very grateful.

Meanwhile others have asked me how I am doing recovering from my new hip.I'm walking completely without crutches now. My gait is still not perfect. It's a bit like this.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Children's Book And Black Swan

Phew, I did it. I finally managed to read all of A S Byatt's The Children's Book. It has taken me almost two weeks which is about seven times longer than anything else that I have read recently but I'm glad that I finished it. It begins in the last quarter of the 19th century and charts the lives of Humphrey and Olive Wellwood and their extended family and neighbours for over thirty years.

The cast of characters is immense and it is this that caused me to take so long in the reading. I read that Byatt had to keep a spreadsheet to keep track of everyone in the book and it might have been helpful for the reader if a couple of family trees had been included as, for the first two hundred pages, I was constantly having to confirm the inter relationships. If you think that I am being a lightweight, consider that the following - Imogen, Marian, Phyllis, Florence, Tom. Geraint, Benedict, Humphrey, Olive, Gerald,Charles, Prosper, Basil, Dorothy, Florian, Julian, Wolfgang,Hedda,Ann,Robin (x2), Elsie, Serafina, Griselda and Philip all play fairly prominent roles (and I've missed a fair few out). As there is no lead character as such and everyone is given a fairly equal amount of time, the book has the feel of an epic saga as the somewhat Bohemian family grows up through the golden age of art nouveau, the years of the suffragette movement and ultimately towards the horrors of the Great War.

Byatt cleverly entwines real people of the day into her narrative - Oscar Wilde and J M Barrie are amongst the many famous names woven into her story. She writes knowledgeably on the Grand Exposision in Paris and the work of Pallisy, Lalique and William De Morgan. She also writes convincingly about German puppet theatre whose imagery plays an important part in the book.

One of the major characters, Olive Wellwood, is an author who writes children's stories. She also writes individual private stories for each of her many children and it is to these that the title refers. Olive is extremely tolerant of her husband and with strands of free love, hints of incest and homosexuality and a smattering of tragedy, the book is extremely well plotted and very neatly tied together - Victorian prudery and suppressed sexuality is well and truly laid to rest amongst this artistic group.

Despite my initial misgiving on the complex range of characters, I enjoyed the book and was keen to see how each branch of the family and their offspring developed. With so many people's stories being told I did not engage fully with any one particular character which meant that, when tragedies inevitably arise, the book does not tug on the heartstrings in the way that a novel with a less complex family set up might. But, for the same reason, the book is able to investigate a hugely varying and interesting array of subjects from pottery and communism to puppetry and women's suffrage - a range that would not have been possible with a smaller cast of characters.

I could see this being made into an epic television series - a dark and far more serious successor to Larkrise to Candleford. If it was, the unemployment rate amongst actors would be cut at a stroke. Do read it - if you've got the time.

After our Orange Wednesday trip to see Black Swan yesterday we've now seen seven of the ten best  picture category Oscar nominated movies. True Grit and The Fighter are only just being released in the UK and we somehow missed The Kid's Are Alright. Unfortunately, with Black Swan, we've also missed something as Marion and I were both puzzled by the rapturous rave reviews that it has been getting.

The film tells the story of a young ballerina Nina, played by Oscar Nominated Natalie Portman, who, after years of devotion to her ballet company, is finally given the opportunity to play the prima ballerina lead in Swan Lake. Living at home with her mum in a small apartment Nina has a sheltered existence which is reflected in her pink bedroom crammed full of cuddly toys and ballet ornaments. Her predatory director gives her her breakthrough by telling her that she has no problems in portraying the white swan  (goodness) but she needs to find the black swan (evil) within her. Amongst the sage advice he offers to help her to find her inner black swan is the instruction that she should go home and touch herself. She does this with some relish but doesn't manage to find a black swan down there and when she brings a fellow ballerina home for what I felt was a bit of lesbian titillation put in purely for the boys, her friend also fails to find the black swan despite having a very good look.

The search for her dark side causes poor Nina mental stress that leaves her neurotic, hallucinating and on the edge of a breakdown. The film climaxes with the spectacular opening night when we discover whether or not she has found the Black Swan.

I know that some of my comments look like a flippant dismissal of a critically acclaimed film but, of all the Oscar nominated films, this alone has something of the king's new clothes about it. The music is great, the filming is dark and threatening and yes, Portman puts in an excellent performance but for us the story was weak, cliched  and extremely predicable. I feel guilty criticising a film that has been so widely loved but we enjoyed the other six nominated movies very much so we aren't that much out of line with the judges' opinions. Go and see it and let me know what you think. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

YouTube Unseen

Being a huge fan of YouTube (i.e someone with plenty of time on their hands), I thought last week that instead of clicking on the most viewed videos and those sent to me in emails and tweets, I would trawl through some of the hundreds of unseen little films on the site and see if I could discover hidden treasure.

I was quite pleased with myself when I clicked on a video imaginatively titled "Blind Lorry Driver" and saw that I was the first viewer. The CCTV footage showed a grain truck, it's driver unaware that his trailer was raised high above the cab, travelling at speed along a foreign motorway and demolishing a large glass enclosed pedestrian footbridge. It was what might be termed an "Epic Fail" and I embedded it on the blog to share with my enormous readership and see if it would become viral. A couple of minutes later I clicked on the link to check that it worked OK and watched in horror as I realised that there were at least two pedestrians on the bridge as the collision happened and at least one of them fell from a great height with the bridge then falling on top of him. Not wishing to be responsible for posting links to what might effectively be a snuff movie on my blog, I took the link down and added a hasty apology to those who might have seen it (about four people according to the statistics).

I did some research and found to my relief that the pedestrian was not killed (very lucky) and that the clip, showing a Turkish bridge being demolished, had been uploaded to YouTube last year and been seen by a couple of hundred thousand people ....Phew.

Taking this as a salutary lesson, I decided to repeat the exercise today with care and I can report that there is a hell of a lot of rubbish out there. I limited my browsing to clips under 60 seconds long in the comedy category and must say that the brief dictionary definition of  comedy as "funny entertainment" has been wildly misinterpreted by most of those doing the uploading. Cats and dogs and babies are uploaded at the rate of about five every minute and, whilst some of YouTube's all time classics have featured these subjects I can't really say that the films I saw of dogs barking, cats looking at the camera and babies dancing (kicking their legs involuntarily once in 30 seconds whilst music happens to be playing in the background) are ever going to be willingly shared on line.

I've seen school ground videos, on the way to school videos and on the school bus videos and yes, today's kids are just as unfunny as they were when I was a kid but unfortunately they now have the cameras to prove it. I've endured the unsavory sights of a bloke peeing into the snow from a cable car, a "ghost" dancing to the shoop shoop song and a lad and his disabled companion in a video with the unbelievable title of "Tickling a Spastic".

I've come to the conclusion that in future I'll wait for others to send me links to funny stuff. I did my utmost to find something worth a look but the only vaguely remarkable one that I found in over an hour's worth of uploads was another traffic accident Here's a young man with remarkable reflexes (and absolutely no casualties this time).

I'll stick to longer films in future. It's Orange Wednesday so we're off to see Black Swan followed by the Orange two for one offer at Pizza Express this afternoon.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Small Business Advice Part Three - Using The 80/20 Rule

Continuing with my occasional and sporadic forays into the world of business advice I want to devote today's blog to the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle. Put very loosely, the rule states that 20% of one thing can account for 80% of another. For example 20% of your customers might provide 80% of your sales or 20% of your stock items represent 80% of its total value. The figures 80 and 20 aren't cast in tablets of stone and, covering two different categories, they needn't add up to 100 - for example you might find that 10% of your staff  take 80% of your sick leave but it's a simple theory and one that can pay dividends if you make it work for you.

This chart that I found courtesy of pretty well sums it up.

Whilst the obvious uses, such as those sketched out above, are extremely worthwhile and can help you to concentrate your efforts by targeting that important 20%, the area where I found it most beneficial to apply the rule was in organising my working day and my workload.

Throughout my career I knew managers who were always burning the midnight oil, late with reports and struggling to get minor tasks done on time. Their workload seemed interminable and their desks groaned under paperwork. It usually started with a big and time consuming job which they threw themselves into with enthusiasm forsaking everything else until that big job was finally done and dusted. Whilst this may sound very creditable, in carrying out that major opus, they most probably overlooked making a number of simple decisions which, though small in themselves, delayed the rest of the business, left colleagues twiddling their thumbs and brought inefficiencies to the company.

Ideally you should start with a clear desk if at all possible. Most days you will be faced with a number of jobs to do. 20% of them will most likely account for 80% of your time. Identify those 20% big or time consuming jobs and schedule them for later in the day. If you aren't sure about the complexity of any particular task always assume it to be in the difficult category and, if it's a meeting, always try and schedule it for the afternoon when the time available is finite (morning meetings tend to stretch interminably). Get the other 80% of jobs out of the way as quickly as you can. It sounds almost patronisingly simple but you would be surprised how many tiny jobs get pushed to the bottom of the work pile because managers are too busy with other more important things. The difficulty here is that, whilst those tiny things appear to be trivial, there are lots of them and it is highly likely that their delay will impact on the rest of the staff and the business.

It's a very small and extremely simple tip but I can't overemphasise how important it is. I guarantee that, if you get into the habit of always applying this very simple principle, your workload will be much easier to cope with and that big report that you need to prepare for the bank or for your shareholders will be completed without interruption and the worry that everything else is falling behind.

And don't forget the impact this will have on that work life balance that I mentioned in Part One of this series.

Monday, 24 January 2011

It's Not Very Nice Football Is It?

I should have known that on my first ever visit to a professional football match when I witnessed the Notts County centre half being subjected to a barrage of monkey chants every time he touched the ball. Had I been fifteen at the time I might well have said "sod this" and left Southport's Haig Avenue never to return. But I was a naive twelve year old for whom the sight of a black footballer was exotic and the thought that the jolly crowd's chanting might be upsetting him never crossed my mind. It has taken me some forty six years to waken up to just how unpleasant the whole game is.

The weekend's controversy around Andy Gray and Richard Keys brings it into focus. As I write, the news has just come in that they have been suspended from presenting tonight's Chelsea game but anybody who was surprised at their outburst must know very little about football as their sexism rates on a par with (insert your own pope/Catholic- bears shitting in woods remark here).

Football has been sexist, racist and homophobic for as long as I've been going. Marion found to her discomfort that a trip with me to the Kop at Anfield would result in a pinched and groped backside and she gave up attending regularly well over thirty years ago and, whilst my love of the game and the spectacle has blinded me to its unsavory side, I am finally starting to see the light. Whether it's retirement giving me more time to think about it or perhaps the recent string of media exposes of players like Rooney and Crouch, I don't know, but think about what the experience of a Premier League football match involves.

It starts with an absurd entrance fee of about forty quid. That's at least five trips to the cinema where you can sit in comfort and see equally highly paid prima donnas but ones who don't happen to spend the whole time spitting and mouthing obscenities at those who they don't see eye to eye with. 

You then have the comfort of a tiny plastic seat from which you have to constantly stand to allow late comers and the incontinent to pass. As the match kicks off you have to stand again whenever the ball approaches your part of the stadium so hard luck if you are less than five foot five. 

Your ears are subjected to non stop cursing and abuse be it from individuals or the entire crowd. I smiled when I read that Liverpool's new owner John W Henry's wife planned to learn the Liverpool supporters' chants. Which did she start with? The charming "Fuck off Chelsea FC", or maybe "Steve Gerrard Gerrard he's big and he's fucking hard" or perhaps she stuck with the traditional "The referee's a wanker". I'm honestly not a prude but it sometimes just grinds you down.

So Keys and Gray's comments on a young woman who had more balls than anybody in the twenty odd thousand crowd who witnessed Liverpool play Woves on Saturday and on Karen Brady (a woman who was the youngest MD of a UK plc) are totally in character with the sport and totally and utterly out of order. 

I've enjoyed reading the Internet comments on the story. In the main there have been two distinct camps - "sack them" and "come on it's just a bit of banter what's wrong with you feminist wankers".  However, what struck me the most was the "they weren't on air so it doesn't count" argument. It's a bit like me writing something horrendous and racist on here and arguing that, as nobody reads this blog, I'm perfectly in the clear. Keys and Gray have been exposed as condescending "Do me a favour love" sexists and, if Sky wants to increase it's female audience share, they really can't go on presenting football on their channel. At least Sky News hasn't shied away from reporting the story.

And will I be renewing the Kop season ticket I've held for years? What do you think.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Well Deserved Triumph For Miranda

I was delighted to see Miranda Hart clean up at the British comedy awards last night and hope that the BBC won't mind my nicking their photo for the blog. David Baddiel wrote eloquently about her comedy in yesterday's Times and mentioned that some consider her very much a female's comic. This is certainly not the case in our household where I am probably a bigger fan than Marion. I've been a fan since I first saw her in her show stealing cameos as Lee Mack's cleaner in "Not Going Out" and, like Baddiel,I feel that her comedy can be appreciated by both genders equally. There is so much more to it than simple slapstick. Long may she reign as Queen of Comedy.

It is interesting to note that the people's choice in these awards tend towards comedians who aren't controversial or edgy. Comics like Miranda, Harry Hill, Ant and Dec and Peter Kay are always going to win ahead of someone like Ricky Gervais who I accused of disguising bullying as comedy in one of this week's blogs. Could Miranda's success mark a watershed in British comedy and encourage the next wave of comics to try and move away from the shock effect and back to mainstream humour. If Miranda can get 4 million viewers on BBC2 there has to be a message to producers and commissioners there somewhere.

I said that it was good to "see" Miranda scoop those awards although I didn't actually watch the awards show. We were otherwise occupied with Sky's first showing of Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland in 3D. It didn't really appeal when it came to the local Vue but with 3D still a novelty in the household we had to give it a try. I have to say that it was a triumph of spectacle over content. Although a visually stunning experience, this could not detract from the paucity of the script and the way that Carroll's story was butchered. The mad hatter was transformed from a character who was comically mad (and a hatter) into some sort of macho hero and Burton's conversion of the word Frabjous from my favourite made up adjective to a noun shows an unforgivable lack of understanding and no appreciation of the wonderful Jabberwocky. I'm surprised that there weren't a couple of mini demons called Callooh and Callay thrown in for good measure to wreck the verse that I always loved to read to the kids. If you've got 3D then by all means watch it for the effects but if you are a fan of Lewis Carroll or you just want to watch an entertaining movie then I'd give it a pretty wide berth. Twas certainly not brillig.

There's nothing nicer than sitting by a roaring fire on a winter afternoon reading a book which is what I plan to do when I finish writing this. After flying through a pile of books over the last few months I have come up against something of a brick wall with my current read - A S Byatt's The Children's Book. I like the book but there are so many diverse characters that I find myself checking back to get my facts right. Over two hundred pages in I think that I know who everyone is now so maybe the final three hundred pages will be an easier read. 

The photo above was taken on the Hipstamatic iPhone app. It's a great little free app that allows you to take old fashioned grainy snaps. I downloaded a few new apps yesterday including one, iPhoneTips,  that is a must for all users and has told me far more about getting the most from the iPhone and pointed me to features that I didn't know existed. Another that I've found useful is Sky Sports Football Scores and, for entertainment, the infuriatingly simple but fiendishly difficult Bubble Ball.

Back to the book now. I need to relax. There' a late night ahead. My son Paul's beloved New York Jets are in the semi finals for the Super Bowl and I want to watch so that I can talk about it with him. The only problem is that the match won't finish until around 2 am. I enjoyed their excellent performance last week and hope that they win as I know that Paul would be overjoyed if they made it to the Super Bowl.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A True Story And A True Masterpiece

One of the wonderful things about retirement is the ability to take in a matinee performance at the cinema. You workers might think that it's a bit of a graveyard at Vue at 1pm on a wet Wednesday afternoon but you would be surprised at the number of silver haired, silver screen aficionados you'll find there. The only negative is, in the company of such an aged audience, the cashier asks "two adults?" and I don't know if this is a kind reflection on Marion's youthful looks or the possibility that we might have scraped into the Senior Citizen category. Anyway we took up the opportunity given by our new found freedom to watch two films this week.

Being something of an obsessive personality myself (looks briefly away from live Twitter feed), I know what it's like to have something that becomes all consuming to the extent that everything else is an unwanted distraction. But, unlike Hilary Swank's character in Conviction, at least my own obsessions tend to be short lived. She plays Betty Ann Walters, a woman whose conviction that her brother's murder conviction (a nice play on words for the title) was wrong, resulted in her devoting the best part of the next twenty years to proving his innocence.

Whilst I found her dedication to her brother's cause admirable, her portrayal of the resultant neglect of her husband and, more importantly, her sons, didn't win my sympathy. Although we see the Walters' difficult childhood through a series of scenes of shoplifting, fighting, house breaking and separation through being fostered I couldn't warm to (or empathise with) either her or her brother and the only character with warmth in the film  was her best friend (played by Minnie Driver) who added a touch of humanity to the otherwise intense scenario of Walters' non-stop search for justice. The enormity of Betty Ann's achievements in going to law school and becoming an attorney in order to try and win her brother's release can't be understated and the film is certainly watchable but I feel that if you have a choice this weekend you might prefer to wait until this one is available on TV.

Brotherly love of an altogether different type is displayed in the wonderful Of Gods And Men which we saw at the brilliant FACT in Liverpool yesterday. Set in a monastery above an Algerian village, the film tells the true story of a group of French monks whose idyllic life of bee keeping, praying and cultivating enough food to live on is threatened by the growth of an Islamist terror cell in the area. As the mujaheddin presence in the neighbourhood grows and some of the terrified villagers and a group of Balkan workers are killed, the brothers enjoying the good life in the monastery become consumed by their own mortality, what lies ahead of them and the dilemma of what they should do. They reach their moment of truth in a magical scene redolent of the last supper where they share a few bottles of wine against the background of Swan Lake played on an ancient cassette player. No words are spoken while the music plays and the camera dwells in close up on each of the small band of brothers whose individual emotions are beautifully reflected in their faces. A wonderful cinematic moment - the film is worth the admission price for this scene alone - and one that will last in the memory of everyone who sees it. So, if you get the opportunity,  do try and get to this one. Being subtitled, you probably won't find it in most of the multiplexes but it's one that is worth a journey to see.

I'll close today with a warning for my fellow twitter obsessives.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Greavsie Loves Clarice

Although I find it hard to forgive him for waving cheekily at the fourteen year old Kopite me (well it felt like it was directed solely at me) as he put Spurs one up against Liverpool at Anfield in April 1968, I was fascinated to read in yesterday's Antiques Trade Gazette that Jimmy Greaves has been an avid collector of Clarice Cliff art deco pottery since the seventies. The decorative arts are not something one normally associates with footballers (although I read recently that Manchester United's Nani has a life size marble statue in his lounge - mind you the fact that it is a statue of .......Nani dilutes the art association somewhat) and I can't imagine Wayne Rooney at an antiques fair - the words bull and china shop spring to mind. It seems that Greavsie is dispersing his collection at a Salisbury sale room on 9th March and it's estimated to fetch £30,000 (or about half an hour's work for the current Spurs striker) . I hope that he gets a decent price for it. I'll forgive him that wave because he was a quite fantastique (keep up at the back it's a Clarice Cliff reference) player.

A tent covers the murder scene as a body is discovered in the  snow over the holiday period. Look familiar? But this is nothing to do with the tragic death of Joanna Yeates. 20 year old David Beet's body was discovered in Spring Hill Birmingham on 29th December and, although a young man was arrested later that day, as far as I can discover, nobody has been charged with his murder to date. I say "as far as I can discover" because, unlike Joanna, whose murder has been given wall to wall media coverage that even included the Daily Mail's lifestyle columnist Liz Jones snootily dismissing the wine bar the victim last drank at for misspelling Laurent Perrier, David's murder has met with near universal silence. There are over six hundred murders a year in the UK so by my calculations that's about fifty since mid December but anybody studying our press and TV would be forgiven for thinking that Joanne was the sole casualty.

I am not criticising the coverage of her murder. Were I one of her parents I would want nothing else on television or anywhere else until her killer was found but I wonder what singles her out to make her newsworthy whereas poor David and the other forty nine aren't. I could surmise on the answer to this but I don't want to be flippant or glib about a serious issue and will only say that maybe it would be good if news editors gave similar coverage to other, perhaps less middle class, murders and gave all victims' families an equal chance.

I often end my blog with a viral video that someone has tweeted about or is in Unruly Media or the Guardian's weekly top ten or YouTube's own most watched but now that I am retired I've got more time to trawl through recent uploads myself and see if I can find the ones that got away. At the time of writing I was the first to click on this interesting bit of driving although as the CCTV is almost a year old it may have been posted on YouTube before.

Later On second thoughts I've just deleted it. There were a couple of people on the bridge who might have been killed or badly injured. Sorry if you saw it. I missed them on the first viewing.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

On Naked Thighs

Apologies for luring you here under the dubious pretence of a salacious headline but, now that you've arrived, you might as well read on. It'll only waste a couple of minutes.

When I went into hospital six weeks ago yesterday for my replacement hip, I consoled myself with the thought that it would at least give me the material for plenty of blogs as I recorded my experience and subsequent convalescence. But today, just forty three days on, it's a case of move along now, nothing else to see. The crutches now lie abjectly unwanted in the corner and the giant loo seat and hospital armchair are cleaned up and awaiting a new home. I've managed eighty minutes on an exercise bike at the gym in the past twenty four hours and Marion told me to slow down when walking with her this morning. OK my hopalong gait still leaves a lot to be desired but as the bad leg strengthens I'm hoping that the limp will subside and go the same way as the pain. So all I have to show for the experience now is the scarred bare thigh of the headline which is healing very nicely thank you.

I've been reading about Nick Clegg and his recent, frequent, references to the term "alarm clock Britain". He's using the phrase to represent those hard working types who struggle out of bed at six a.m to put in a day of toil. Sad to say Nick, we're still using an alarm clock and rising at just after seven and have no jobs to go to so I'm not sure that it's the smartest of metaphors. I did however treat myself to the new Gentle Alarm app for the iPhone. Instead of jumping out of our skin as Marion's mobile bursts into a rousing cha cha cha played at a million decibels and leaving us flailing about searching blindly for the culprit of this shock to our senses, we are now lulled awake with the gentlest of rings. It's like a baby's breath or a wave breaking on the shore. I've only had it for a couple of days and I've woken easily with this gentle intrusion into our sleep. The only problem is that the alarm is supposed to wake you gently for around twenty minutes before it starts to make a big noise so we've been waking up over a quarter of an hour before we wanted to. I believe that in the course of a few days it will learn my sleep pattern and change things so that we will wake at the set time. I'll wait and see.

Less than forty eight hours on it's old news now but no self respecting blogger won't have an opinion on Ricky Gervais and his performance as host of the Golden Globes and I'm no exception. So, for what it's worth, here's my comment. 

Nobody could say that the organisers were not warned. Gervais himself said that he would make sure that they wouldn't be inviting him back. But in reality we can assume that his material was what his paymasters asked for - after all, they heard him last year. He has divided opinion. For example the Times was critical but the Mail (strangely) supportive. Was it funny? In a cringe inducing way a lot of it was. Was there a need for it? I'm not sure. A world where caustic criticism is seen as perfectly acceptable humour depends upon thick skinned and willing victims who are prepared to accept the joke and laugh at themselves. Unless Ricky Gervais knows his subjects intimately, his witty barbs could easily have wounded and humiliated them and, however egotistical and seemingly deserving of ridicule, these people must have feelings. Would you have liked to be on the receiving end of the jokes? Thought not. I certainly wouldn't.

It is possible that the Golden Globe victims are all completely confident and rational people who enjoy humiliation (although I bet there are very few without their own shrinks) but where does this example put the factory foreman who jokes knowingly in front of all the staff about the fitter's sexuality? Hang on a minute. That's not acceptable. That's bullying. What if we start writing nasty things about people on Facebook or Twitter? It's been known to lead to suicide. In reality, in my opinion,Ricky Gervias bullied the celebrities who went for a glitzy night out - for our amusement and I, for one, feel uncomfortable with that. I witnessed it in the school playground. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.

Here's something that did make me laugh. And if those who came for the headline are still with me, here's some real nudity for you.

Monday, 17 January 2011

A Most Lamentable Occurrence

Anybody who used to read my Instanta blog will know that Marion and I enjoy the occasional visit to ancient monuments. Despite being devout non-believers we particularly enjoy ecclesiastical sites as they are often the source of some of the most touching writing that you will ever come across. Whilst many tombstones and monuments note little more than a name, age and date, there are plenty that eulogise over the deceased that lies within. Today we visited the magnificent Cartmel Priory in South Lakeland and amongst a number of touching memorials we came across this.

I'm sorry that my camera missed the full name of the dead child in this beautifully carved plaque but what struck us both was the flowery Victorian prose telling how "an opening life of bright promise was suddenly closed by a MOST LAMENTABLE OCCURRENCE". That phrase resonates with mystery but there are clues in the sculpting. Alongside the grieving woman are what appears to be broken cart wheels so we assume that the lamentable occurrence was perhaps some sort of early road traffic accident. Was it lamentable due to Charles's own error? Or was the phrase perhaps a barb aimed at the driver of the cart that took him away? We will probably not discover how young Charles met his untimely end but I Googled the phrase and discovered another blogger - romantic writer and columnist Kate Walker had visited the priory and she too was captivated by this carving. In 2008 she decided to apply for a copy of young Charles's death certificate but I haven't found out if she ever received it.I'm going to try and follow it up.  

On a slightly lighter note, spare a thought for William Myers who died on a most unusual date.

Forgive me a moments' self indulgence. Here's a screen shot from this evening's airing of Perfection which was created by my super daughter in law. It's great to see her name up in lights on the BBC. 

And finally, instead of indulgence we had to show incredible will power to walk past this shop window in Grange Over Sands without going in. Pies as far as the eye could see.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Noel Edmunds Be Prepared To Take A Hell Of A Beating

With apologies for the paraphrasing to Bjørge Lillelien who uttered the immortal "Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana--we have beaten them all. We have beaten them all. Maggie Thatcher can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher, I have a message for you in the middle of the election campaign. I have a message for you: We have knocked England out of the football World Cup. Maggie Thatcher, as they say in your language in the boxing bars around Madison Square Garden in New York: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating." Well tomorrow afternoon it's time for Noel and his Deal or No Deal to be knocked off his perch at the top of the teatime ratings with the launch of Nick Knowles' Perfection the brand new quiz show developed by my daughter in law Josephine.

Instead of watching a group of contestants who don't seem to understand the laws of probability reject perfectly good offers for their boxes and then see their potential prize evaporate before their eyes you can watch a quiz show that everyone can play at home. You'll have a fifty fifty chance of getting each question right as the whole show is based on "true or false" but can you achieve perfection and get every one of those answers right? The questions are fiendishly tricky and the answers are often not what you would expect at all. It's a great show, the questions have been brilliantly researched and the very likable Nick Knowles is doing the presenting. Tune in to BBC2 at 4.30pm and exercise your brain cells. Deal? It's a no brainer.

I love this photo. Our eighty something mums came round this afternoon for a spot of lunch and then to watch the football. I paused the match at the kick off while we finished our puddings and was enjoying Liverpool's half time lead when disparaging tweets from my son led me to think that the second half was not running quite so smoothly. That's the big problem with sporting events and Sky live pause. You basically have to go incommunicado until its all over when the Twitterati and people like Bjørge can have their say.

One of the joys of parenthood is supporting your kids and taking an interest in their interests so tonight I will be ensconced in the spare bedroom watching the New York Jets play New England Patriots in the second round of the play offs for the Super Bowl. I know the basic rules but I won't have much of a clue as to what is going on. At least I will be able to console Paul when I speak to him next (or, who knows, discuss who they're playing in the next round).

We're going on a bit of a film pilgrimage tomorrow as we head to Carnforth to the Brief Encounter tearooms. Carnforth was the setting for the fictional Milford Junction in the classic weepie and we're off to soak up the atmosphere and perhaps a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. I'm practicing my lines "I love you, Marion. I shall love you always until the end of my life. I can't look at you now cause I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of my loving you but the end of our being together. But not quite yet, darling. Please. Not quite yet."

I was delighted to reach over a hundred readers of yesterday's blog (I like to think small), a minor milestone. I haven't had many comments though. Please feel free to add them.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Brass Gongs My 2010 Film Awards

With the Golden Globes coming up tomorrow night my son and I had a long conversation yesterday about the likely winners in these and the Oscars. Marion and I managed to see around 35 films at the cinema in 2010 and we caught a few more 2010 releases on Sky but my judgement is bound to be limited as I missed Made In Dagenham and The Kid's Are Alright and we haven't seen Black Swan, The Fighter and True Grit yet. However, from our personal viewing experience, here are my gongs for the pick of last year's movies.

Most underrated film.

It got pretty poor reviews on the whole but Marion and I really enjoyed Cemetery Junction. Perhaps it's our age but the film resonated with us (and a fair few others that we talked to about it). It's a fairly gentle comedy with a great soundtrack and some excellent performances from the three leads as well as co director Ricky Gervais playing it straight as a loving dad in a dead end engineering job. It's a bit like a Curtis film which is saying it's like Marmite to a film fan but I found it far better than The Boat That Rocked if not quite hitting the feel good highs of Love Actually. And don't tell anybody but I actually enjoyed Salt in a wham bang thank you maam sort of way and Youth In Revolt passed with little comment.

Best newcomer

I was tempted to put her in the best female actor category as her performances in Let Me In and Kick Ass showed versatility and screen presence in a child actor that hasn't been seen since Jodie Foster blew us all away in Bugsy Mallone.  Her ghoulish vampire in Let Me In was beautifully understated and allowed us to empathise with and root for a violent monster whilst in Kick Ass she did just that and kicked everyone (including Nick Cage) into the sidelines. I wouldn't be surprised to see her nominated for an Oscar but I'll leave her with my gong for now.

Best female actor 

 As I said earlier I haven't seem some films with strong female roles but the stand out performance in the films that we did see was Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. Playing a poverty stricken teenager searching for her delinquent father in the bleak Ozark mountains Lawrence is outstanding and so utterly convincing that it felt that we were watching reality.

Best female actor in a supporting role

Again with the provisos above, my choice here is Lesley Manville in Another Year. I'm not sure if it should be classed as a supporting role as her Mary is on screen almost as much as Ruth Sheen's Gerri. In the film Manville manages to portray loneliness in a way that is both sad and funny. Verging on parody at times, she manages not to cross the line and brought a tear to my eye.

Best male actor in a supporting role.

Although it was a very strong year with Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue in The King's Speech coming up strongly on the rails,  for me, Andrew Garfield in The Social Network won this hands down. Never before have I sided so much with a character in a film and by the end I would have willingly booked a flight and gone over to the States to personally throttle Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg- a wonderful performance.

Best male actor in a leading role. 

This is an extremely difficult one to choose. There have been many notable performances including Leonardo in Inception, George Clooney in The American, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Colin Firth in The King's Speech but in the end I think that James Franco in 127 Hours just edges it. Like Reynolds, he is alone on screen for most of the film but where he beats Reynolds in my opinion is by showing a far more rounded character. It is perhaps the skill of Danny Boyle that allowed him to do this but, whilst I never really felt that I was in that coffin somewhere in the Middle East,  I was with Franco in that crevasse and feeling every cut as the knife went in.

Best Film

So much to choose from here and with the same proviso as at the start. I think that, but for the tedious snow scenes, Inception would have been a strong runner. The King's Speech was excellent but would be just as good as a TV drama and I like to think of movies as having that little bit extra that comes with the big screen. Another Year, Toy Story 3 and 127 Hours have all been highly praised but for me the film that made a lasting impression was Winter's Bone. I know that it won't win the Oscar but it had everything, great script, outstanding performances, haunting cinematography and a magnificent setting.

My final gong goes to the film that pulled the most heartstrings. After Up left us sobbing for days in 2009, PIXAR almost did it again with Toy Story 3D but the film that made both me and Marion well up the most in 2010 was Chomet's L'Illusionist the heartbreaking animated story of a washed up French  magician trying to earn a crust in Edinburgh before Music Hall goes into its final death throes. It's poignant and beautiful to watch.

Before I finish I must comment on something I noticed when watching Avatar on the new 3D TV the other day. I thought that charlatan Derek Acorah was finished in show business after his chat with Michael Jackson in that notorious "seance". But there he was as the evil Corporal Miles Quaritch. Fortunately he came to a very sticky end and the corporal copped it with a couple of giant 3D arrows.

I know that everyone will have their own views so comments welcome.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Next Week Will Be Perfect

If you work, whatever you do next week you must set your Sky Plus box for  Perfection (BBC2 4.30pm on Monday and add a series link) . If you don't work settle down and watch.

Presented by the excellent Nick Knowles and running every weekday afternoon, this great new quiz show was devised and developed for 12 Yard Productions by my lovely daughter in law Josephine. Marion and I had a sneak preview when we went to a recording last year. It's a super play along at home sort of show and I'm sure that it will be a big hit. Congratulations Josephine.

My heart sank when I read this week that celebrities were being paid to mention certain products on Twitter. How would I know for sure in the future that Liz Hurley's recommendation of Estee Lauder cosmetics came from her heart or that that book that Lord Sugar kept banging on about was as good as he said? Sadly every tweet must now be treated with suspicion. When I tweet that a restaurant, a hotel or a book is excellent you can be assured that, with only 40 or so followers, I am hardly likely to be in the pay of the subject but who else can we trust? It's a pity because Twitter is a brilliant platform for shared experiences and reading your Twitter feed with a degree of cynicism and fear of commercial exploitation will sully the experience.

But celebrity endorsement and product placement are with us to stay. We will soon be seeing similar shots on our screens to that above as product placement is soon to arrive here in the UK. In reality it's been around for some time. Last year I had an email from a TV researcher asking if I would like to provide catering equipment for a new show. I was assured that the kitchen would get prominent coverage on screen and it was a great opportunity for us. I declined. The show bombed (who knows how much better it would have done with our equipment) but there was no mention of product placement when it screened. How many cars have been provided for cop shows in a similar way?

I know that there will be strict guidelines and viewers will be told in advance when a programme is using it but will the producers be tempted to embellish their scripts and instead of just positioning a box of Frosties on the kitchen table add in a line to the effect that "they're great"? Whole plots could be transformed by the desire to keep the advertisers happy. I can see the planning meetings. "Doctor Who has been using that Tardis and Sonic Screwdriver for donkey's years now. How about giving him a B&Q self assembly shed and a tin of Ronseal?"I'm looking forward to it.

I heard on Radio 4's Today this morning that residents of a Southwark housing estate have had this glossy leaflet pushed through their letterboxes warning them against going to the police and grassing up their neighbours. Apart from the bad spelling and grammar what struck me most about the leaflet was the extremely sinister link. If you type into your browser it takes you to... Well just try it. Heres a link Nasty eh?

I think that if I lived in Southwark I'd be buying myself one of these guard hamsters. I would feel a lot safer then.