Monday, 31 March 2014

Doctor Who Books Read So Far, part 7

And here we are again – the longest running series I’m doing, so far.  This offering has the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th Doctors.  As usual, I’m noting whether book or kindle read, and I refer you to my previous posts for the order in which I’m reading each series.

  1. Doctor Who: Deadly Reunion, by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks (BBC Past Doctors Adventures)
    (3rd Doctor.  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.  This was an odd one.  I selected the book to read specifically because I liked Barry Lett’s era and the sorts of stories that showed up then; and I wanted something solid the way Terence Dicks can produce them.  But…it was a book of two definite halves.  Sadly, I absolutely hated the first half.  Anyone who loved The Navy Lark, or anything nautical with military types and a sort of late 40’s/early 50’s banter, where there is always a character called Nobby, will love this bit.  I don’t mean to do it down.  It just really is not the sort of writing I enjoy.  I ended up skimming the first half.  Everyone was unbearably cheery and stiff upper lip and POSH, and I got very very tired. 

    Then the second half started – enter the Doctor.  Yes, that was the other thing.  You read a Doctor Who novel for the Doctor and his companions primarily.  Granted, the Brigadier – one of my all time favourite characters, was in the first part…but he didn’t really sound like himself or act like the Brigadier we know and love, as it was supposed to be a much earlier segment in his life.  So basically, the Doctor doesn’t make an appearance until almost halfway through the book, about 45%.  Thankfully, he then shows up complete with Bessie, Jo, Benton and Yates [more of my favourite characters], and the Doctor is utterly himself.  The bit where he tells a dangerous to dog to “Sit down, Sir!” was wonderfully visualized, my sense of Jon Pertwee’s bearing could not have been improved. 

    I actually LOVED the second half of the book, including the gore.  I loved the themes of it – the people committing random acts of violence that end up due to an alien drug.  The Master was there [on his bicycle, a la The Daemons], there was a cult, a ghostly abbey, a pop festival [where people kept mistaking the Doctor for a rock star, unsurprisingly]…and Greek ‘Gods’ misbehaving.  I got the feeling I should have read Terence Dick’s Players first from various references, but it stood alone ok. 

    Its difficult to rate this book, because my experience of the 2 halves was so different.  Maybe I should rate it almost as 2 separate books; after all, it said in a note at the back that Barry Letts’s naval experiences were a big reference for the first half.  So maybe I should simply note that boys and naval book lovers will adore that book; and people who loved the feel and atmosphere of The Daemons [in a funny kind of way] will adore that book.  So that was me sorted.  This book actually interfered with my reading of The Daemons which is next on my list of Pertwee Targets to do.  This book’s sense of that particular Pertwee time was so strong, I felt I needed to give him a rest before coming back to The Daemons.  It should be the other way round as The Daemons was first, but I read most of this book all at once on a very long journey – it was too late to stop.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  2. Doctor Who: Whispers of Terror, By Justin Richards (Big Finish Audio, Past Doctors Series, no.3)
    (6th Doctor and Peri. Hmmm.  A great idea.  I really enjoyed Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.  I just didn’t enjoy the story; though it was a good one.  Especially toward the end, it just felt a bit forced.  The idea of a person cheating death  by downloading themselves into a soundwave on a computer [the X-Files episode Bite Me comes to mind] and of the story taking place in a Museum of Aural [or was it Oral] Antiquities was very good.  Made for radio/CD.  The political element of an ambitious and unscrupulous candidate altering past speeches for an endorsement that never would otherwise have been received was good – but I just didn’t like the sound of any of the voices except the Doctor and Peri.  A lot of the acting felt a bit OTT.  I especially felt the last episode seemed to drag on and on.  Shame as I was enjoying it at the beginning.  It was a very good idea indeed.  I think it must be difficult to write to these episode lengths – not quite enough to get an episode structure going without a lot of the scenes being strangely small and tight.  I think the range will improve as it goes on, as there has to be a knack to both the medium and the episode length they have allotted themselves.  Don’t think I could have done at all better, so my criticism is tempered with respect for the task.  ON CD.)
  3. Doctor Who: The Aztecs, by John Lucarotti (Target Original)
    ( 1st Doctor.  I didn’t find this as riveting as Marco Polo, possibly because I didn’t feel I got such a strong sense of the place or culture of the time depicted: this was very much a snapshot of a small moment in a particular place.  However, I did get the flavour of the mentalities – the Perfect Victim, the Priest of Sacrifice etc.  Though I did detect an overlay of attitudes of the time in the story, in the portrayal particularly of the 2 main villains, said Priest of Sacrifice, and the Chosen Warrior [who spends the entire book trying to kill Ian, who resourcefully escapes him constantly]. Obviously everything ever written has a flavour of its own time about it [its why reading George Eliot’s lone historical Romola is so hard – we have to excavate to the author’s time to understand her attitudes, while she is excavating back to a much earlier time period to tell her story – it’s a bit of a mind bender to follow]. But I felt the flavour of that Hampstead BBC acting of the time again, here and there, and it slightly marred my enjoyment, as I simply don’t enjoy that style. 

    But I did like this book.  I liked the little simple bit I got taught at the end about leverage and pulleys and how to open something from a difficult angle with tools that are not strong.  [Aside: this is a lot of what the new poo Who misses: the idea of the Doctor being scientific.  The little joy of me, at 42, learning something I didn’t learn in school because it wasn’t explained interestingly, whereas here – a joy to learn; whereas the modern Who is all whizzbang jumping about clowning…Further aside – modern TV can perform this learning function: I will never forget learning about the concept of tensile strength from Prison Break! ]  ACTUAL BOOK.)
  4. Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle, Time’s Crucible, by Marc Platt (Virgin New Adventures)
    (7th Doctor. This one was very good, though small parts dragged a little.  But on the whole I was deeply invested with the characters, even the ones I didn’t quite get – Pekkary, Reogus.  The idea of the insect headed guards that are actually the Chronauts in a different stage of life was very nightmareish.  The whole thing was quite nightmareish.  The Pythia and her egg for an eye, Vael and his uncontrollable rage – there were a lot of poetic deaths here, of quite operatic characters. And the end was oddly emotional, even sentimental – but then I can be very mawkish, so that wasn’t a problem.  Ace was proactive and her attachment to Shonnzi was very well done.  The whole piece was cleverly played and layered, without seeming to be clever at all – I like that, the not boasting at the cleverness of your idea [a pitfall some of these books fall into, celebrating their own cleverness].  Its part one of a trilogy for Sylvester, and so far I’m liking it way better than the 4 parter that started the New Adventures, the Timewyrm stuff. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  5. Doctor Who: The Sensorites, by Nigel Robinson (Target original)
    (1st Doctor.  This one felt very long for some reason.  I found it much more watchable than the TV version.  Possibly because Carol and Maitland, in particular, read better than they watched.  As did the scenes in the sewers looking for the ‘monsters’ and the source of the poisoning.  Susan played a stronger role in this story, and her growing need to be seen as an independent person, not just as a grandchild was played on all through.  Interesting choice of words from the Doctor about her “setting yourself up against me, eh?”  Very all or nothing; just because she made a choice for herself.  Ian spent about half the book being ill, and Barbara spent a fair bit of it away on the spaceship, so the Doctor himself and the Sensorite politics got foregrounded.  This era has a lot of political intrigue of a very similar nature going on – reading the City Administrator’s machinations, if I closed my eyes it was almost like reading the High Priest of Sacrifice from The Aztecs again.  Villains generally do bore me – they have to have a certain difference.  Otherwise, they are either all Machiavellian and sly but in a boring predictable way; or they are all mad and raving, but not as good at it as say, Mistress Peinforte, who did I feel, do a Really Good Job…Onward. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  6. Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (5th Doctor.  I enjoyed this one on screen, and I enjoyed the book.  Which I ate up in an hour – no idea why it took so little time to read, when some of them take me ages.  I like stories set on Gallifrey.  I like to see and imagine where the Doctor came from and why he might’ve left.  Certainly their society seems completely hidebound, ridiculously upper class, and no doubt says more about the scriptwriters at the time of the first story featuring Gallifrey who left those who came after with that sort of society to write round…but it’s a good set up.  It always manages to show the Doctor as both a lone rebel and a rebel leader in the making – the tension between the two being what causes him to constantly leave.  He can’t stay as he hates the way things are and the lack of the establishment’s wish for change; and he can’t leave it forever, because its wrong and needs fixing.  Despite the fact he got summoned to Gallifrey this time, as soon as he was there I got a sense of him bristling not only at the ease of them condemning him to death rather than try and figure out the traitor amongst them, or even that there was one; but just at the lazy thinking.  Every time I read stories featuring Gallifrey, I hear Colin Baker in my head, ranting about corruption in Trial of a Time Lord.  The other thing to mention with this book is the segments in Amsterdam.  From the point of view of the book, they could have been anywhere quite happily, I saw no huge reason for Amsterdam – though bucking the general view I hear, when it comes to the TV broadcast, I thought they made nice usage of the locations there. ACTUAL BOOK.)
  7. Doctor Who: Land of the Dead, By Stephen Cole (Big Finish Audio, Past Doctors Series, no.4)
    5th Doctor.  I don’t really know what to say here. I loved the idea of this one: lots of dodgy but earnest characters holed up in a remote Alaskan mansion, and some  - basically – dinosaurs rampaging outside.  Snowy wilderness, biting winds, Peter Davison being gentlemanly and quietly, consideredly urbane.  And I have always thought Nyssa was a great foil for him: another scientific mind to bounce ideas off of, there’ve been too few in the classic series [only the Romanas and Liz Shaw, and Zoe to a degree].  So I was very happy to listen to this because I thought Peter Davison did really well in his segment of Sirens of Time [the segment on a ship, another claustrophobic environment], and even better in Phantasmagoria. 

    Yet this one fell flat.  I think again, it must’ve been the writers still adapting to the length and pacing of these oddly sized episodes.  I was waiting for this marvellous audio landscape – a feel of Arctic wastes, something like The Thing for my ears; yet both the outside snowy effects and the soundtrack just seemed a bit…flat.  The outside snow and wind sounds felt they had been lifted from a sample of radio sounds and maybe not mixed in as skilfully as they might have been; and the soundtrack didn’t really lift or illustrate the story. 

    Again – as with my last review of the audios, I’m not going to criticise strongly, because I think this is a hard transition to make, from TV to radio for a full blown new take on an old series, with – at this early stage, as Big Finish have been going a lot longer and more slickly now, many years later – limited resources in terms of both actors available and facilities.  I can hear great promise in these stories so far.  But this one didn’t do it for me.  There was too much shouting; an awful lot of dumped exposition, which I heard as clumsily written, and I really didn’t like any of the characters other than the Doctor himself and Nyssa.  Both of whom did their best with the story and effects as they were.  I feel concerned that I can’t recall any of the characters names, or, really, the main thrust of the plot…I was walking about listening to this, and yet, my attention was not strongly held past the middle of the first episode.  This story would probably have been very good indeed on TV as a multiparter – maybe with a similar vibe to the early episodes of The Seeds of Doom? Very effective indeed.  I was really sorry to not like this one.  The setup has many elements in it I really like in a story.  Still – I greatly enjoyed Nyssa and Peter Davison, and look forward to more.  ON CD.) 

A note on books and audios I don’t like when I speak of them here:
I am enthusiastically told by many Big Finish listening friends that the range improves exponentially as it goes on – and I’ve had great lists of highlights given me to look forward to.  So I’m happy to continue on. And whilst I will say if I don’t like a story, and I will say why – I know if I read a review of my own stuff and it was mean, unkind, witty at my expense and unpleasant, I would be on the floor in tears and generally miserable for quite some time.  So whilst I say what I don’t like and why, my aim is to never be unkind.  Just my impressions, subjectively – entirely subjectively. 

I hope the fact that I happen to not like something doesn’t stop anyone trying out any of the books or audio titles for themselves.  You might find what I have to say engaging for whatever reason; but never let me tell you what to do or think.  Go and try these out for yourselves and make your own mind up.  Always make your own mind up; never take an opinion from a blog or a review and accidentally call it your own because you didn’t have enough time to research the thing. 

Just felt like saying that – as the audience for these Doctor Who reviews/rambles, is weirdly high.  I hope these posts are getting more people to read/ listen, be interested.  Not substituting for your own experience in any way.  Sod me – try it all out for yourself!!
The next lot of Doctor Who’s will a be dalek special – a lot of the books I’m at in various series, just seems to be daleks right now, so I thought I’d clump them all together and read lots of books about creatures I generally have no interest in as I think they are poor villains!  I hope to have my mind changed.  Wait and see!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Things I've Seen This Year So Far, Jan- March 2014

These are some things – not all, just some, that I’ve seen so far this year, and my rambly thoughts on them.

  1. Prometheus
    (The alien prequel.  Great way to start off the year.  A very good looking film – many echoes of the colouring and set design of 2001, and the Stanley Kubrick films and shooting angles.  Extremely beautiful colours, clarity and set design.  The characters weren’t half bad either: Michael Fassbender stole the film as David; closely followed by Charlize Theron, and then the Captain of the ship.  Rafe Spall was doing an absolutely killer American accent.  Odd they had Americans to do English characters and English characters to do Americans, in such an obvious way.  The main woman, don’t know her name, was one of the most unsympathetic characters in face, that I’ve come across for a while.  I can only assume this was on purpose, but not sure why, as it made it hard to root for her, as she was so annoying.  Her ‘cesarean’ scene was insane enough to be Argento worthy.  The whole film was somewhat of a pinpoint clear fever dream.  Enjoyed.  Most interesting – if flawed – the whole ‘engineers’, God angle wasn’t doing it for me at all.)
  2. Castle, Season 1
    (A very nice, lightly touched crime drama.  It’s funny, Nathan Fillion is very gentle and shallow, but promising of hidden depths [well he has to promise some, or we’d get bored].  It means quite emotional or brutal crime can happen, but his unemotional approach, always thinking of the story, allows the viewer to rest and think at the same time.  Its always strangely compelling to watch crime being solved by ridiculously rich people [I love Hart to Hart too – similar light touch, though not quite so light; or Charlie’s Angels – the girls weren’t rich, but they had the resources of the rich and absent Charlie].  I think this series will run and run, as the will they won’t they [lets hope they won’t] has been set up nicely, and the family dynamic of Castle surrounded by women is a good offset to the crime.  Which of course, I enjoy trying to solve.  This is a good antidote to the sometimes harrowing [if increasingly unrealistic] Criminal Minds.  The bit where Nathan Fillion windscreen wipered the villain, and the bit where he told the old man he was to old for sex were laugh out loud funny.  Note on children: if only all daughters were this good. TV children are NEVER realistically done – the One Tree Hill debacle one of the most glaring examples.)
  3. Criminal Minds, Season 6
    (I had a break of about 2 months halfway through this.  Not sure why.  I think I wasn’t very impressed by the cliffhanger at the end of Season 5, and unlike everyone else, I don’t think Tim Curry was that great. Then there were a few lacklustre episodes, apart from JJ, which had a great motivational speech at the end.  Then I picked up again and there were quite a few amazing episodes: Corazon, a very good and ambiguously done Santeria/Myambo Spencer Reid episode; The 13th Step, which was blow me away good, both the Bonnie and the Clyde were amazingly well acted and their rage was…yup, incandescently done; Coda, with the autistic boy, was haunting: that music.  Then there were the Ian Doyle episodes leading up to Prentiss’s faked death – they had a lot of atmosphere.  The acting in Hanley Waters, from the grieving mother was an understated spectacular, too. There were a few uninvolving  episodes and then the last, about the people trafficking, where you never find out why – or indeed, how the hell – that little thin girl is in charge of a huge operation like that, like Hostel, was most interesting.  In the Making Of documentary, it said that the season was about the characters secrets, and I can see how that could be in retrospect, but it felt rather blah in terms of arc while watching, with the season theme not coming across at all.  I still love this show, but the episodes are getting patchy.)
4.     The Mentalist, Season 1
(The Mentalist is a weird one.  The supporting cast make it, oddly.  The lead character is played so lightly and ambiguously, and against grain for his horrible backstory that he remains almost too sketchy to identify with.  Plus he doesn’t do quite enough mentalist tricks to keep me as engaged as I could be…but then, I’m only up to season 2 on this one, we’ll wait and see.  It’s engaging enough that I’m happy to continue.)
  1. The China Syndrome
    (Stanley and I watched this in 2 halves – the first half was conspiracy theorist and tense and full of Michael Douglas looking radical and swivelly eyed.  I did NOT see the second half coming!  Was most shocked when Jack Lemmon got shot.  Most shocked!  Very good film.  Low key and bleak in that lovely way of 70’s films.)
  2. Doctor Who: The Moonbase (complete with new animation)
    (Loved the animation [keeping the wibble of that table when the cyber man stood up from the end of real life action at one ep to the animation beginning of the next was both homage and inspired]; found the story engaging and much more satisfying than the book.  Enjoyed almost immensely.)
  3. Insidious 2
    (Don’t really remember the 1st one at all, except a sequence near the end where the father looks for the son.  I seem to remember I didn’t think much of it except for its look.  I enjoyed the 2nd one far more so, even though it made little sense at first look.  It was a massive collection of callbacks, flashbacks.  Actually an awful lot of fun, and it looked incredibly good. Patrick Fisher had a good time being creepy. Poor Fry, not having seen the first one, got completely lost and fell asleep in  parts.)
  4. The Colony
    (Reminded me of lots of other films.  Bit like 28 Days Later, bit like 40 Days of Night, echoes of The Thing in setting.  We thought it was a disaster movie, bit it ended up being a very run of the mill scifi horror.  Lawrence Fishburne was very good indeed, but ultimately the film lost the sense at the end and was stupid.  Was it about NOT becoming animalistic in the face of starvation?  Or the last line where the hero said there was only one rule: survival…and then took his people off to walk through the snow to almost certain death, they were never going to get where they were going, it was too far away.  Was he going to have to turn cannibal to get there, alone?  So the film had a non animalistic rule, then got rid of the rules, he defeated the last cannibal, then set the scene for himself to by implication become the next one.  I think it thought it was clever.  But it was just confusing and not in a good way. Fry disappointed too.)
  5. The Call
    (Very nice thriller – made in a derivative but most efficient way. Halle Berry had the most interesting hair in this film.  The killer had a strange sexual fascination with his sister who died of cancer.  I enjoyed this and found it absorbing.  I felt the little end twist was unnecessary – for once, I didn’t want to see vengeance.  Always nice to see Roma Maffia.)
  6. You’re Next
    So good I’m going to buy it.  Full of wonderful old school references, whilst being entirely its own film.  Looked like a 70’s Italian horror, specifically, Alberto de Martino’s 1974 The Antichrist – the wall decorations, colourings etc, lighting…It killed a bit like an 80s American slasher [that is, with American verve, but not Italian delight].  It had a set up like Bava’s Bay of Blood, and others.  Then again, back to the 80’s with the doofus cop – who died a doofus death; which sort of served him right for shooting the most resourceful woman in horror film history.  He also shot her a la Night of the Living Dead plotwise.  It had an absolutely lovely soundtrack – why isn’t it yet available to buy? 10/10.  Wonderful film.  Loved the killer masks too.)
  7. The Last Exorcism 2
    (After the first one was so good too… What a waste of space…)
  8. The Mentalist, Season 2
    (This came together more than the first one.  Whilst in many ways Patrick Jane is still too oblique a character to identify with more than partially, he is still a fascinating character.  This season gave Cho, Rigsby and Van Pelt some strong moments, and gave little hints as to Van Pelt’s past [still unexplored largely].  The backstory for these interesting secondary characters is as interesting as the main event, crime and character.  The loss of the original boss and gaining of the slightly unrealistic but interesting new boss: strong black woman type, is a useful addition too.  I’m still going strong here.  The feel of the programme is addictive.)
  9. Stigma, BBC Ghost Story 1977
    (Very creepy and minimal.  Woman bleeds to death through her skin with no wound, in the exact place a skeleton has a knife found when a large standing stone is raised from their lawn. Is the woman possessed – she acts it when the stone is raised?  Or does she take the dead woman’s sacrifice on so the dead woman can live..?  At the end, the daughter says that the skeleton found must be a witch, and she starts unpeeling an onion.  Creepily.  Why?!  Has she become the witch?  Oh so many questions, hardly any music and such lovely atmosphere.  I will never know about the onion!!!  Wonderful odd little story by Clive Exton.)
  10. The Stone Tape
    (Interesting.  The promised building atmosphere of dread that so many fans make much of escaped me completely.  I felt it may have been tighter with maybe 30 minutes less time.  I’m surprised Nigel Kneale wrote something in some ways so loose; Beasts, for example was much shorter and tighter.  Those getting the atmosphere of mounting dread would think every ounce of time was necessary, though, of course.  I also objected to Jane Asher’s half unexplained character of hysterical female – have only one and she be hysterical, hmmm.  But her performance was strong.  I liked the shouty man, he was strangely vivid.  Some of the secondary characters were also good, and the choice of such a male environment, all that loud camaraderie, whilst sort of dated, did add a contrast balance to the silent and more taut bits, where everyone is listening for the ghost.  The idea of ghosts caught in stone – we all know the tape idea of ghosts now – was very nicely explored, especially the very male idea of making it come when you want to, and then try to use the mechanism for commercial purposes!  I liked the idea of layers, eroding over time, but still there and still powerful.  At then end, the green shapes that came at her were intriguing – I tried so hard to make them out – sort of humanoid but not – I liked that, made me lean in, try to think round it, feel round it.  Who says you need CGI?  I got the idea perfectly.  And when I realised she was going to be the next taping, that was quite chilling.  I do think some parts of this will stay with me – as in many ways, it was claustrophobic – always effective as a tactic for horror – and her mounting isolation, and then the shredding of her work at the end, added that bleakness you need from a 70s horror, and was done so well at that time [and so much in so many lesser ways since].)
  11. Chiller Series (1995)
    (An anthology series ofhorror stories.The Prophecy – got a feeling I read the book of this one a long while ago. Sophie Ward is beautiful and expressionless, and Nigel Havers manages to be far more convincing whilst also being expressionless – how on earth does that work??   Toby – a very good moment at the end, where the immediate thought is to assume that the baby is now haunting daddy as mummy is dead…or you could take it as a moment of jawdropping guilt on the part of daddy, who realises he has been gaslighting his wife all this time, driven her to suicide and will now have to live with the outward manifestation of his crime for the rest of his life – in the form of the thoughtform he conjured by pretending it so strongly…actually, a very dark story, for all its superficial, and seemingly simple. The Mirror Man – John Simm [who I discover, has the same birthday as me but is older by one year!], gives what can be described as a powerhouse performance.  Brilliant.  A poor story, but a great actor. The Man Who Didn’t Believe in Ghosts – this was quite a strongly done story, Peter Egan was quite an annoying shit in it.  There was a strange and disturbing rape in it halfway through, which the story didn’t actually need, but felt strangely real, as if it could have happened in real life.  Number Six – children self selecting via Eeny Meeny Miny Mo to be victims of the druids under an oak tree in a town filled with scared and skeletal faced grown ups shot in wide lens! Best thing about this episode was Don Warrington, great to see him in anything. And very good that the little child with the very vulnerable face didn’t die.  Weird ending to that episode.  Whole series – very patchy.  Had good moments.  Toby and The Mirror Man felt like the best episodes, for holding together and atmosphere.)
  12. Carrie       (2013 remake)
    (Ack – see my blog post.)
  13. Carrie (original)
    (Still brilliant.  See my blog post!)
  14.  Haunted: The Ferryman (1974)
    (A 2 parter broadcast over Christmas back in the days when we did that kind of thing. Very effective use of classical music.  Very strange atmosphere and very strange ending – who did she sleep with and was she pregnant??  I would like to visit that pub, it was a beautiful location.  Jeremy Brett was satisfyingly posh and confused yet still arrogant, the whole way through.  I blame things like this for my unjustified view, growing up, that all people live in nice houses with nice gardens and go on nice holidays to beautiful remote English places and drink cocktails at 6ish.  Programmes like this watched when too small to understand the world – and the fact that these people are frightfully upper middle class and I wasn’t and could never be! – confused my tiny mind for quite some considerable time, as a growing up person.  And left me nostalgic for a past I never possessed in the first place, and cross that I seemed to be out of a club that I wasn’t aware there were rules I could never adhere to, to get in!  Ah – only Blackberry Juniper could get cross and class conscious about a little Christmas ghost story of 1974 that I enjoyed…)
  15. Haunted: Poor Girl (1974)
    (The twin of the last.  Shown later the same month.  This was more of a supernatural psychodrama.  About unsuitable sexual attachments [the boy to the governess; the governess to the Lord of the Manor; the Lord to whoever – and the frigidity of Angela Thorne’s character, played incredibly well].  And about getting possessed by the spirit of the future.  Fascinating: slow but riveting. Amazed the child does not seem to have acted in anything else – or perhaps it’s just that IMDB doesn’t list theatre engagements? This would have made an incredibly good book – but could only have been done convincingly for TV exactly when it was, 1974.)
  16.  Rec: Genesis
    (With Fry – who didn’t rate this, but I thought it was quite good.  Sort of marred by the over romantic element which was corny; but I can see where they were going with it, so it wasn’t a wasted idea.  Fry would have said an ok horror completely ruined by vomit inducing idea of true love, possibly.)
  17.  Castle, Season 2
    (Not quite as good as Season 1, though some very nicely themed episodes.  I don’t quite buy Esposito and his partner as a comedy double act; it needs to be a bit stronger.  But the work between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic is lovely, and the way their cases pan out and wind and turn – very nice.  Good fun viewing, and a very nice ‘will they won’t they no they aren’t’ final moment of the series.)
  18.  Diana, 2013
    (I seem to have a bit of a weakness for soppy films about the royal family, when I’m largely uninterested in them in everyday life. This one seems to have been hated by most people.  It did have lots of flaws: a very partial representation of [what we know of] Diana’s character and hopes, dreams, ambitions etc; a very partial and almost nonexistent representation of her children, that side of her life [though that may have been due to legal reasons]; and an almost nonexistent representation of how she dealt with the press, except for near the end.  It all felt like a romantic love story that was rather doomed played out on an epic scale.  You can really see the way Americans find our monarchy romantic – all the trappings etc.  You can see why they have Dallas and Dynasty and the Kennedys!  Over here, I don’t know how representative I am, but I tend to think the Royal Family are outmoded, cost far too much money and whilst they do good charity work – so do film stars and other famous people…but I don’t resent them hugely the way some do.  I have a rather blah attitude, really.  I didn’t mind this film; though I feel it was more fictional in portrayal – in the sense that the real Pakistani Heart Surgeon featured as the hero hated it, and he was there…)

And now – I’m off to read, and watch something else, in my child free hour this morning.  I’m watching Scorpion Tales at the moment, another 1970s anthology series, of thrillers this time (bit like Thriller, but shorter and written by different people), so that’ll be in my next rambling of what I’ve watched.  Who knows what else will be, I am just going where my momentary fancies take me.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Something Beautiful to Honour Spring - from my friend Terry Bat-Sonja

This is a post that was meant to go up around Christmas, and was in fact a refugee from last year's Guest season -  BJ's Season of Late Summer Love!  It's been waiting patiently for me to remember to put it up.  Its the set of photos from my artist friend, Terry Bat-Sonja.  We've been friends for years though she is far away across the seas.  She's one of the most playful people I know, but today I'm going to show you her more serious side. 

She takes photos of anything and everything, and I always love them - from her season of shadows on things, to her work with flowers and leaves.  And reflections from water or glass.  These are just a few of her lovely pictures, that I particularly liked, and in no particular order.  I just thought you'd find them pretty too.  They are everyday scenes she sees while she's out - but I like her eye, she pays attention and it makes everything she sees more beautiful.

She sent me a small bio, so you can know a little about her - here you go:
Terry Bat-Sonja was born in South Africa and, as a child lived briefly in Ireland, Brazil and Israel, before her family landed in New York city, where she lived in a slightly illegal loft with her parents. Her father being a sculptor, until they moved upstate New York. She is a painter, sculptor poet and maybe photographer. She has a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and an MFA from SUNY Albany. Terry has two sons and two cats and she lives with the latter upstate New York, and teaches  from time to time at Fulton Montgomery Community College. 

I asked Terry to particularly send me some of her nature photos - just plants and trees etc seen while she's out and about.  It made me want to go and live with her in her pocket, so I could see through her eyes!  I was going to do a commentary with these, and as she's a poet also, I was thinking of asking her to supply little couplets or something.  Then I thought, nope.  This is a feast for the eye, the photos will stand alone.

Doesn't it make you feel like spring is coming?  Doesn't it make you breathe the air deeply and either smile with bliss or reach for your inhaler?!

I love Terry's eye.  Lastly,  now we have welcomed Spring, which seems to be finally here (touch wood), and honoured it with such lovely images, I think we should honour the photographer herself. 

All bow to Terry, who's eyes I envy! I love the way she's hidden behind her shot and behind the reflection.  Thankyou for these pics Terry - and I'll be bothering you again for some Summer honouring photos soon!

All Hail Spring!  Really loudly, mind, or it might Go Away Again...


Monday, 3 March 2014

Two Tiny and Precious Writing Memories

Did a very small amount of writing earlier last week.  Some very vague prompts produced these tiny writing memories, like small droplets in a pool, or small irregular stones in a flowerbed, hidden from sun.  Precious memories though.

Me: only younger…
 This from the brill website:

Age 7.  I’m unsure exactly what I liked to do when 7, apart from writing.  I do remember that was the year I got the Sindy house for Christmas.  The one that was 2 bits of cardboard intersected to make a cross.  It made 4 segments, 4 rooms.  I had some furniture for the house too.  I remember an orange, dark orange plastic sofa.  It had pretend buttons and those indentations on fabric that come from pressed in buttons.  It was perfectly moulded.  It smelled incredible.  I knew, playing with it that Christmas, with mum and dad off to the right on the sofa in the background that this was a memory I had consciously ‘collected’: I would remember ‘this moment forever’, as it made me so happy.  Feeling safe, playing house, everything so orderly and simple.  And in telling myself that, I did.  I remember it to this day.

In this memory, I was still at that age where my dad and I got on like a house on fire.  I feel his love surrounding me.  His happiness that I am pleased with the present.  His pride in his little daughter and his ability to provide.

That Christmas morning’s totality completely escapes me.  But that moment I have so clear.

I used to love to write at this age.  I was writing something called ‘Jane and Baby’ stories for ages that year, as a sort of experiment.    They were a bit Topsy and Tim like – books I was (and still am) very fond of when younger, the first things I remember my mum reading to me.  They had a very definite structure, the Jane and Baby stories.  I think I must always have liked structure and order: I remember keeping my room very tidy and orderly too. 

The stories went like this: it would be 7 sheets of white paper, set to landscape, sideways.  They would be numbered 1/7, 2/7, 3/7 through to 7/7.  These were time segments of the day.  At 1/7 Jane and baby got up.  From 2/7 to 6/7 they would have breakfast, go out and go somewhere, have an adventure and come home again – having had lunch and dinner (important markers in the day).  By 7/7 they would be going back to sleep, tidily.  I arranged them on the floor in narrative flow order.  Pictures at the top of each page, neatly coloured in, and the words and story telling at the bottom half of each page.  I would show them to mum, who was always suitably proud and pleased.  Don't ask me why Jane, who appeared possibly about 12, was alone taking care of a baby sister.  I have no idea why I didn't feature parents - or any grown ups at all in these stories.  And no one ever asked the children where their parents were; they just went to The Tower of London, or on a picnic, or wherever else they went for their adventures, in their little matching colour co-ordinated outfits.  No questions asked.  The mind of the 7 year old me...

I went through a phase that year of writing little comics as well.  I would either fold over paper and stitch a seam in the middle with cotton, or I would staple the folded pages together.  There would be horoscopes, picture stories, craft articles, recipes, letter pages, a quiz – seasonal issues for Christmas and Easter.  Perfect little BlackberryJuniper mimics of the original comics I was reading (Bunty, Judy, Debbie, Misty, Tammy, Jinty etc). 

Incidentally, its often been commented, looking back, on the level of suffering the characters went through in these comics - Bella the gymnast in Tammy (you see her on the front cover there below), being used as a slave by her not-parents she was living with.  There was a great element of resilience needed, a sort of Victorian level of sentimentalism and stoicism needed to be a character in one of these comics.  I have no idea if this was to do with the fact that most (overwhelmingly, about 98%) of these comics were written by men (the same men who had the boy comic market sewn up, Dandy, Beano etc).  They put some of their more serious stories in the girl comics.  Apparently, the women  - I've seen quoted in interview, didn't want to come and work for the picture comics, as by the time the men got round to asking them, the world of Jackie and Patches etc was opening up, the next level comic - promising to be way more lucrative.  I've heard the women turned up their noses at the old sketch story girl comics, and went straight for the teenage love market comics.  This is partially because, the male authors said, that the women's stories were not 'hard-edged' enough; not 'cruel' enough, 'too soft'.  Hmmm.  I wonder why a good story is one that has to make you feel very depressed?!  So the women authors went away from the 'mere' comics, and went to Honey and 19 and the teenage love (read:soft) market.  Which did indeed prosper and outlast the picture comics.  But my main point in giving you this info just now was to note that when I did my BlackberryJuniper facsimiles of these comics, I (a) left out all the suffering in my stories - I gave the characters jeopardy and difficulty to overcome, which is different...but I didn't surround them with a life of grim slavery.  And (b) I drew very badly, except for several positions of iceskating and gymnastics, which I practiced relentlessly.  So in a way, I made the comics different, not perfect little mimics at all.

I would have harkback days to when I used to read Twinkle comic when even younger.  (Apparently I have had a tendency to nostalgia from the earliest age!)  To this day I collect them as I love the artwork and images of simplicity - and the countryside.  I would replicate whole issues but compose everything inside myself - I would just steal all the themes (spring, autumn, things to do on wet days, things to do when you're ill etc).

I was very pleased doing these also.  I seemed to spend a lot of time alone in the living room or my bedroom, but I was very nicely occupied, with these sorts of projects. These are sweet memories too – playing, writing, comfortable with myself.  Happy times.

I remember…

When I was living behind Oxford Street, in the office block at the top.  I used to sit on the balcony, that long concrete balcony overlooking so much of London, and write.

I don’t know what age I was, but I can’t have been too small though it was definitely before puberty proper, before BOYS ruined my focus and I started to feel hormone-led.  Maybe I was about 11 or 12.

Dad had given me a small fold up table that had been covered with a stick on wood backing.  Very tacky really; but easy to wipe in case of spills.  It was a bit ratty at the edges.  There was a small 3 legged stool I used to sit on[1].  I would sit out there, in the dry and airy spaciousness, six tall floors up, and fill exercise book after exercise book with my school stories.  Short stories.  A bit Enid Blyton.  A bit Trebizon.  There was a lead character called Kissy.

I was incredibly fluent with my writing in those days.  I was filled with hope and possibilities.  I had absolutely NO familiarity with an inner critic as related to my writing (though I was starting to feel an inner critic relating to the rest of me, shadows).  I could do plays, poetry, short stories.  I never finished a novel, but I was always writing one.  I never seemed to have the focus to finish; I was impatient and full of ideas and would move on to the next thing, happy enough.  I could work from almost any prompt, especially photographs.

I was regarded at school, by the English teachers, as full of brilliant potential, really talented in this one way.  I’m not being full of myself, it was so – I have never since been so validated on any subject by anyone; and their opinions mattered to me, they were talented people themselves, my English teachers.  Their obvious faith and pride in me made me feel confident and treasured.

I would sit on that balcony and the pen would write.  My hand would write.  I was written THROUGH.  It was as close as I have ever come to BLISS.  It was bliss.

It was good in a way, that I later discovered some of this early work, though a lot of it is lost.  I nowadays often tell myself I’ve lost my talent, have no ideas, burned out etc etc etc.  Finding this old work was a reality check.  A lot of it was – in hindsight – very bad.  Some of it was full of that potential.  And a lot of it was very very bad indeed: full of generic lazy writing, cliché and semi plagiarism.  Though one of my skills used to be that if I could absorb and submerge in someone else’s style of writing, I could pastiche it perfectly while the familiarity was still in my head.  (After I read Wuthering Heights, I wrote a huge short story cycle in the tortured style and mood of Emily Bronte – it was great fun.  For example.)

It was good to discover that early stuff of mine, because it means I understand that while I am pursued by demons when I write now, I actually – nonetheless and despite them – write a hell of a lot better than I used to!

The memory of sitting out on the balcony writing after school or on weekends, remains precious.  The enthusiasm and hope of this girl who knew she would grow up one day to be A Writer, and confidently just wrote whatever popped into her head…I love that girl.  I love how she felt; I love her pride and her verve.  I love her peace. 

I love the memory of the view.  On a clear day I could see St Pauls, the Post Office Tower.  I could see another office block a far way over, where another housekeeper’s daughter, older than me, would come out on summer days and sunbathe.  She wore a bright daffodil yellow bikini, she had a lush and curvy body that she was comfortable with (you could tell from the way she moved).  She would bring out a radio and listen to music while she lay there, huge RayBans covering her eyes.  From even as far away as I was, I could see she was glistening with oil or lotion.  If the wind was right, I could catch traces of whatever songs she was listening to.  I used to like it when she was out there, though far off.  Occasionally she’d wave at me.  It was like I had company, while my hand wrote.  The sun warm on my head, making my glass of water glitter.

 Someone was selling this lovely pic on etsy for $5, but its gone now, and I can't find a credit for it...I really enjoy the refracted light from the glass to the table; that cheap metal painted table; the cheap glass.  Things don't have to be top notch to provide enormous pleasure.

[1] I recently found the twin of the stool, and a matching jewellery box in a charity shop.  I paid through the nose for these alarmingly crap 70s oddities, as I loved the memories they evoked so much.  They were really quite ugly: dark stained wood, bevelled and shaped and generally chipped into – I think they were supposed to look a bit distressed and nautical.  Big iron nails or bolts (?) sticking out of the convex lid of the jewellery box.  Varnished dully.  They spoke to me of so much of the past.  In the same shop I found a painting my dad used to have on the living room wall: cheap and mass produced and this one a bit faded, but recognizably still the picture I remember from our childhood living room: a sea scene, orange sunset sky and a ship in silhouette on a quiet ocean.  I wonder if I will ever be able to stop chasing the past of my childhood, trying to re-feel and sink into those memories of peace I have?  I wonder if it’s sad to collect odd relics of the past here and there?  (I have nowhere to put these things; until further notice they are all in storage in the garage.)  Or if it’s healthy: a sort of memory palace, a good place to go in your head of when things were calm, so when you’re more turbulent, you can reconnect with those feelings?  I suppose it entirely depends how much you buy of these memories of the past, how much trigger you need.  When does trigger become trying to cloak yourself in the past and no longer engaging with the present?  It might be different for each person.