Wednesday, 28 December 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 12

This was very nearly a shoe in for Wet Wet Wet's version of "With a Little Help from my Friends" but then my eyes lighted on this gem, which could just as easily be posted in my Guilty Pleasures thread...

It's a Stock, Aitken and Waterman masterpiece; Hazell Dean with Who's Leaving Who?:



Andrew

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Tuesday Titter 13 - Mrs Brown's Boys

Last night I saw some of Mrs Brown's Boys for the first time. I found it quite enjoyable although I felt that, in some ways, it was derivative of Father Ted. It certainly taps into a similar vein of the humour to be found in parochial Irish life.

Anyway, a brief browse of the BBC Comedy site found the following clip. It's not particularly big or clever comedy but it is funny and brilliantly timed. My main complaint is the volume of the laughter track - I find it a bit too dominant:



Andrew

Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day Ballet

One of my memories of Christmases past is of my mother and I, once we had a telly, watching the ballet productions that BBC2 screen(ed). Funnily enough, my father would often excuse himself whilst these were on! 

In particular, I remember watching (and mum, a friend and I went to see it live some years later) was Matthew Bourne's innovative production of Swan Lake which features an all-male corps de ballet.

Here are some excerpts performed at the 1998 Royal Variety Performance and introduced by The Two Ronnies:


Apologies if you would have liked (or preferred) to have seen Jim Davidson after the break...

Andrew

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Sunday Sounds 29

This week's Sunday Sound is inspired by a bargainous purchase in Fopp yesterday - I got a Double DVD of Franz Ferdinand featuring a number of live tracks and two complete concerts for the grand total of £3! 


Here they are with "This Fire":



Andrew

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An Orgasm... and a Trailer

First, a definition:





I refer the reader to the second definition above; "a... point of intensity of emotional excitement". It is no exaggeration to say that, using that definition, this video generated such a reaction:



Sod Christmas, roll on the 14th December 2012!


Andrew

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 11

The track choice for this entry was perhaps the easiest yet... I had to choose a track which was also on the first album I ever owned (a gift from unsuspecting parents...).

Ladies and Gentlemen, the one, the only, Kylie Minogue:



I did want to choose this video of her doing it on the Showgirl tour but, at least on my PC, the sound seemed out of synch.

Andrew

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tuesday Titter 12: Kylie, Clunge and Bus Wankers

Last Friday saw the annual Comedy Awards, hosted as usual by Jonathan Ross. During the show, the fabulous Kylie Minogue presented an Outstanding Achievement Award to the creators and cast of The Inbetweeners. After three fantastic series, the film (which I have yet to see, as it happens) has broken various box office and DVD sales records this year.

Puerile, cringe-worthy, crude, rude, the show is everything you'd expect from four teenage boys who are caught between the good students and the bad, the cool kids and the nerds. The film trailer gives a flavour of the humour:





What you might not have expected was Kylie's obvious fandom and wholesale adoption of the show's own particular lingo:



I've a feeling I'll be enjoying that clip for years to come!

Andrew

Monday, 19 December 2011

Happiness in a Loaf

Recently, in the course of my work, I called one company whose hold music must have been from a "Classical Adverts" album. I was treated to Bach's Air on a G String and Dvorak's New World Symphony - I ended up feeling happily nostalgic...


...and wanting to smoke a loaf of bread. Or something.





Andrew

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday Sounds 28: Two Kyries (and a Kiwi)

I wasn't sure what to post today and was toying with pieces by both Rachmaninov and Beethoven before I made my decision to go with Karl Jenkins. 

Specifically, I've chosen his Kyrie from "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace". This rendition is from the first Slovenian performance of the work:




There's a bonus today as well because I also found a Kyrie by an Argentinian composer, Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010). This is from his work "Misa Criolla" and is taken from Kiri Te Kanawa's album "Kiri sings Karl" which was conducted by Karl Jenkins and contained a number of his works along with some others, such as this:



Enjoy!

Andrew

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Simon's Cat in "Fowl Play"

The latest Simon's Cat video was released earlier - it's a Christmassy one entitled "Fowl Play"... Enjoy!


Andrew

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 10

You will notice a distinct lack of Christmas music on these pages, for which I make absolutely no apology. This week's featured NOW! album - which incidentally was the first to be released as a Double CD (the previous albums had had an edited down single CD release) - does have The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's Fairytale of New York which is often regarded by compilers of festive hits as a Christmas Song. It's not, of course, but to avoid any confusion I've not selected it anyway.

ABC, M/A/R/R/S, Wet Wet Wet, Bananarama and Billy Idol were all in the frame... but here are Hue and Cry with Labour of Love:



Andrew

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday Titter 11

Would you mind just telling me your name, Sir? A bit of old school comedy with Fry and Laurie:


Andrew

Monday, 12 December 2011

Text Santa


As we all know, Christmas is a time for fun, family, friends and presents. 

Alternatively, it's a time of rampant consumerism when even the most hardened Bah-Humbugger like myself* is eventually brow-beaten into getting into the Christmas spirit... 

But Christmas has a serious side. It's a time when we remember the birth of Santa who came into the world to spread his Mirth and sell Coke. Oh, wait, you mean that isn't the real story of Christmas...?!

There are many, though, for whom this isn't the Christmas they'll have:

Those for whom there are no families or friends, roaring fires or chestnuts. Instead they have shop-doorways, parks and pavements whilst others revel around them.

Those for whom Christmas Day will be much the same as any other day... caring for an elderly relative, perhaps, or caring for an ill parent and their own siblings. Elderly, housebound people with no family nearby.

There are those for whom Christmas will be too much. When seeing others happy will remind them intensely of their own unhappiness. Those for whom "joy to world" will ring a particularly hollow note. Those for whom leaving the world will seem a far better option.

There are those for whom this could well be their last Christmas - people in hospices where the staff do their utmost to make life bearable to the last.

And finally, there are children that will need Santa to deliver to them in hospital. Children who won't be able to wake up and sneak downstairs to open the presents, or try and wake their parents at unearthly hours. Families where medical necessity will separate parents for children and siblings from each other.

Christmas is not always what we're sold when we walk down the high-street. Life and circumstances often get in the way. 

The point of this post isn't to depress you, though. The point is to highlight itv's new charitable campaign "Text Santa". 

By simply texting SANTA1, SANTA5 or SANTA10 to 70070, you can donate £1, £5 or £10 to charities helping all the above groups. 

If you're a taxpayer, you can also utilise Gift Aid to give an additional 25% in tax relief. In addition, the Government has pledged to match funding up to £250,000.

You can find more about the charities supported here - it's an excellent initiative by itv and, I think, well worth supporting.

Andrew

*Actually, contrary to popular belief, I do like Christmas. I just hate (and a previous career in retail ingrained this in me) the 3 month build-up. As a result, I end up being far more grumpy about it for much longer than I would otherwise be. A sensible 3-4 week build-up would make me quite happy.

A trip to the Zoo 2

Yesterday I shared some pictures from my trip to Bristol Zoo Gardens on Friday. The highlight of that visit was seeing the Western Lowland Gorilla and, in particular, the new baby Kukena with it's mother, Salome. Watching the behaviour of the family group was fascinating. Unfortunately, the pics I took of mother and child have not turned out well enough for this post but I have included some other members of the family.

Jock, the group's dominant male

Komale and Namoki (I think)

Okapi - Lodja and Rubani

Inca Terns

African Penguins

As an aside, I recently read Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's book "Last Chance to See" in which they travel the world to see critically endangered species. It is a brilliant, inspiring, angering and frustrating read and, sadly, 23 years on, some of the animals featured are indeed extinct.

Andrew

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A trip to the Zoo

I remember as a child, and I'm sure this is a real memory, seeing a Golden Eagle in Edinburgh Zoo. I remember being saddened that such a magnificent creature should be living in conditions where it's flight was restricted to a few metres.

I'm not sure that I was ever against Zoos though - adopting an attitude of ambivalence and recognising that they do perform a valuable service by way of conservation and education. Over the years, I've seen Edinburgh Zoo reduce the number of animals and increase the size of its enclosures as a more modern mindset and approach has been adopted.

In response, my feelings have softened and for the most part I'd now consider myself a supporter of zoos. That's not to say that I don't think that there are not still areas of concern or things that could be improved upon but the good vastly outweighs the bad.

On Friday, I went to Bristol Zoo Gardens - the first zoo other than Edinburgh that I've visited. In some respects is still a Victorian zoo - the site is much smaller than Edinburgh's and some of the enclosures seemed small in comparison, particularly that for the Asiatic Lions. The experience was, however, positive and I'll definitely be going back - especially as the battery in my phone died leaving me without pictures of some of my favourite creatures! 

Here are some pictures I did take... more tomorrow!


Shiva, Asiatic Lioness

Jasmina, Red Panda

Giant Tortoises

Lizards (with apologies for lack of further detail)

Meller's Chameleon

Andrew

P.S. There's more on Edinburgh Zoo on the blog of the late Andrew Reeves.

The Widow's Window

This post is a gentle nudge in the direction of The Widow's Window where, subsequent to the recent hiatus, I have recommenced postings. Happy days.

Sunday Sounds 27

Sunday Sounds is back! This week I've chosen Louis Armstrong with "That Lucky Old Sun" - heavenly listening:


Andrew

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Some Good News in the Economic Gloom

This is the post I was busy working on when my computer's last hard drive forced me into an unanticipated interregnum. Here it is in a completed form, with a post-script which relates to news which was reported during that break. 


We are constantly being told that these are hard economic times. To see that you only need to open a utility bill, fill up your car with petrol or look at these BBC News pages (here and here; Notice I've not had to archive the pages - I'm pretty sure the same general negative feeling will be evident whenever you happen to click the links).


Inflation is running at 5% (and for many will be higher), unemployment is at 8.3% of the workforce, youth unemployment has topped 1m (and is at 19.6% for those age 18-24*), growth forecasts have been lowered and the Eurozone remains in crisis.


Of course, there is a danger of too much negative reporting and of talking ourselves back into recession. Indeed, the "R" word is often banded around as if we were. That's another, but important, issue which is a particular bugbear of mine. It's not, however, the point of this post.


There is no doubt, though, that one way or other people are feeling the pinch. According, for example, to the ASDA Income Tracker which measures discretionary income, average disposable income fell by 8.4% in September compared to the previous year.


In addition to the above figures, here are two more:

£26,332,334
£102,166,598

On Friday [the 18th November], the BBC's annual Children In Need appeal raised an on-the-night record of £26m - £8m more than the total last year. Comic Relief raised £102m this year which even allowing for the £15m that the government contributed was still some £4m higher than the figure raised in 2009.

It is heartening that in these times of austerity we can still, as a nation, think of those in even more dire straits. Perhaps it's because we are more conscious of the cost of things that makes us want to help those in even greater need. Whatever, it makes me proud to be British - not in a jingotistical way (I don't believe in "pride" based on something you have no control over) but proud of my fellow subjects and proud of what can be achieved collectively.

Andrew


Since I conceived this piece, this research hit the news. In essence, more people are giving to charity but the average gift has reduced. Although this seems at odds with the record figures above, I still think this is encouraging news, in it's way. 1.1m more people have been moved to give notwithstanding the current economic climate - people may not be able to give as much but they are giving.

It may be that Comic Relief and Children in Need, as the highest profile fundraising events, have benefited disproportionately from new gifters but I think it would be churlish and somewhat cynical to let this colour our view of their achievements this year.

Whilst many charities are feeling a squeeze as donations and other sources of funding are reduced, the sector should take comfort from the willingness of people to give - and work on ways to encourage increased giving from these new donors when circumstances improve. Some imagination will be required to achieve that - simply asking people to increase their direct debits is not, I think, the way forward - but with the right approach this could be the start of a new culture of giving.


*Source: Office for National Statistics Labour Market Data Tables Nov 11

Now you see it...

Scotland - and some other parts of the UK - have been getting buffeted all day by unusually strong winds  with gusts of 165mph have been reported at the peak of Cairngorm and 84mph reported in the Firth of Forth causing the road bridge to be closed.

The BBC has, as it does on such occasions, invited people to contribute pictures of the havoc caused and some of the results, including a particularly eery picture of an empty Forth Road Bridge, are here. One picture in particular caught my notice however, as it was taken near the widow's ancestral home. I also thought it would be interesting to find the scene on Google's street view and present the two pictures in a before-and-after fashion.

So here is the first picture, taken on what looks like a lovely, pleasant, summery day:


And now, the same scene today:



It's a pretty dramatic reminder of the power of nature. If you're reading this in Scotland, stay safe and stay warm.

Andrew

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 9

Last week I mentioned how this series gives me a chance to showcase tracks I might otherwise have forgotten about... Of course, that's not the whole story; sometimes, there's a standout track, an all time classic that it would be a sin to overlook. This week is one such week.

Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, I give you Ben E. King with Stand By Me:



Andrew

Monday, 5 December 2011

5 on the 5th - The Swansong

One of my favourite strands of this blog has been the contributions to Stephen's "5 on the 5th". Due to the continued death of my laptop, I'm not able to contribute to this month's, which is the last. :-( 

What I can do, though, is direct you over to Stephen's blog where you will find his own entry along with a list of other contributers.

You can see my previous contributions here.

Andrew

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 8

The great things about this series is that I don't just get to choose songs by great acts but I get to reminisce about tracks that I'd forgotten about. Browsing the running order on Wikipedia may not be quite the same as handling the gatefold sleeve of a double album (look it up, kids) but it still generates those "Oh, do you remember...?" moments as a buried treasure bursts from a box at the back of your brain.

Last week's entry by Sly Fox was one such tune, this week's is another. It may be a bit slushy, but it is very much of its time - and if this series is not about nostalgia, I'm not sure what is! Here's Barry Gardiner with I Wanna Wake Up With You:



Andrew

P.S. I did almost choose Cameo with Word Up, but I actually prefer Gun's version from 1994.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tuesday Titter 10: Vic Reeve's Windiest Night Out

This week's Tuesday Titter is an animation courtesy of BBC Comedy which describes a momentous night for Vic Reeves, narrated by the man himself:




Andrew

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 7

This weeks tune is a top slice of Classic Eighties Cheese from a genuine One Hit Wonder. Here is Sly Fox with Lets Go All The Way, Oh-oh-oh, let's go all the way...



Enjoy! 


Andrew

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tuesday Titter 9: Burnistoun

I've recently been catching the Scottish sketch show "Burnistoun" which has been running on BBC2 England. To be honest, it's a bit hit and miss - and it's no Chewin' The Fat - but it's had it's moments. 

This week's clip made me laugh out loud when I first saw it, and fortunately I found it straight away on You Tube:



Enjoy, 

Andrew

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Brief Annoucement

Unfortunately my computer died last night so until it has been resuscitated, blogging will be light. I do have a number of NOW! posts scheduled and one or two others, so there will be at least a weekly fix of blogging activity, but otherwise I may be gone for some time.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sunday Sounds 26 - The Pretenders edition

Following my recent post featuring UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, Stephen messaged me on Facebook (other Social Networking sites are, I'm assured, available) with a link to a track I hadn't previously heard but is now today's Sunday Sound - The Pretenders with Everyday Is Like Sunday:





I also discovered that they do a great version of the Radiohead track "Creep". Enjoy:




Andrew

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Orange Show... featuring The Muppets

A few posts ago I mentioned the new Orange "gold spot" cinema advert featuring The Muppets. I promised to keep an eye out for it becoming available online... and it has! Here it is:



Andrew

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Male Model Edition (and so much more)

Inspired by Stephen, I decided to find this video which I can remember watching streamed live on Facebook last year. To the casual eye, it's the Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Summer 2011 collection. To the discerning ear, it's the divine Miss Annie Lennox with a fantastic performance of two of her biggest hits, accompanied soley by a piano.

Sit back, close your eyes, relax... and enjoy.


Andrew

A Dead Good Time 2

Yesterday I posted some photos taken in Bristol's Arnos Vale cemetery. The active part of that cemetery is beautifully tended whilst the older areas have become a nature reserve. Prior to visiting that, I popped into the Catholic burial ground, Holy Souls Cemetery, next to it.

This was different in character, partly because it was much smaller and partly because the first area you enter has a number of overgrown graves and gravestones clad in ivy and other climbing plants. There was also a grave marked by a rather ostentatious crucifix - I've never seen anything quite like it.

In the past, I used to find the sight of an overgrown cemetery sad and felt this was somehow wrong. My feelings have relaxed on this over the years and now think there is something in being left to rest - truly - in peace which is organic. Dust to dust... 

Of course, overgrown gravestones also make great subjects for photographs:







Andrew

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Use your loaf

If at first you don't succeed...



try, try again:


You can find the recipe I used here. I used around 5g of dried yeast (as opposed to 10g of fresh yeast). On my first attempt my warmed milk was too warm and killed the yeast and consequently the loaf never rose. To circumvent this on the second attempt I dissolved the yeast in a little bit of lukewarm water (half just boiled and half cold) with around 5 g of sugar. Halving thus established that it was active - it produced bubbles/froth - I added the milk mixture to it, ensuring the milk had cooled sufficiently this time.

Other than yeast problems, the process is reasonably straight-forward although messy and lengthy!

Andrew

A Dead Good Time 1

A few weeks ago, after lunch on a Saturday, I embarked on a random walk. Shortly after starting out, I realised I was near Bristol's Arnos Vale cemeteryLike many people, I like the peace and tranquillity of graveyards and cemeteries. 

As someone who enjoys spending time alone and loves to go on urban walks with just his iPod Shuffle for company they offer a space for reflection quite unlike anywhere else. There is a reverence about them which comes as much from a proper respect for their place in society as much as from any supposed consecration of the ground itself.

Arnos Vale is unusual in that it has a visitor's centre and actively encourages people to come and enjoy the grounds which contain the cemetery, gardens of remembrance, chapel, war memorials and a nature reserve. As such, one can move from the tended and pristine lawns with rows of graves to the wooded areas where the graves lie peacefully amid the fallen leaves of seasons past.

If you live in Bristol, it's worth a visit (I may even pop out there again myself this afternoon); if not, enjoy the pictures:







There will be more pics from this shoot appearing over on the the widow's window, which I update (almost) daily.

Andrew

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 6

They say we're young and we don't know...

Okay, maybe once upon a time. Anyway, I'll tell you what I do know, this week's NOW! Tune is UB40 and Chrissie Hynde's version of I Got You Babe...



Andrew

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tuesday Titter 8: I Will Survive

This weeks Tuesday Titter has been inspired by Stephen Glenn's recent entry for G in his "L, the U and Everything: A-Z of the Music I have". He posted a video of Gloria Gaynor singing "I Will Survive" which reminded me of this week's video.

It's an internet classic which has been around since long before You Tube! If you've not seen it before, watch and enjoy. If you have seen it before, watch and enjoy again!



Andrew

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sunday Sounds 25: The Billy Joel edition

This week's Sunday Sound is a special double A-side edition featuring the legendary Billy Joel (who also featured in this post).

First up is "We Didn't Start The Fire" which I had - as a present from one of my sisters - on 7" vinyl single. In the post linked to above I included a fan-video but the official video is now available for embedding, so here it is:





Next up, a more "spiritual" number - The River of Dreams:



Enjoy!

Andrew

The Poppy Appeal: Where your money goes

This is the last of my posts commemorating Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. I wanted to shift focus from remembrance to the practical action which the Poppy Appeals facilitate. To that end, I have chosen three videos and I make no apologies for the quantity or length of these.

The first is a fantastic poppyscotland video in which various veterans share their experiences and impressions of military life and facing action:




Next, a young man who was given practical help and advise through the Royal British Legion:





And finally, another poppyscotland video which also features a young man who needed help re-establishing himself in civilian life after receiving a medical discharge from the Army. I felt it was really important to include these last two videos as they highlight the ongoing need for the funds raised by the poppy appeals quite aside from the importance of remembering the sacrifice of those who have died in active service over the past near-century:






Andrew


This post is dedicated to my cousin, currently serving on his second tour to Afganistan. I sincerely hope, in the best possible sense, that he never needs to draw on the services of poppyscotland.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Guilty Pleasures 8

1,2,3,4 Come on baby, say you'll love me
5,6,7 times 
8,9,10,11, I'm just going to keep on counting
Until you are mine

Yes, the subject of this weeks Guilty Pleasure is Gloria Estefan whom I really liked back in 1989/1990. As I remember, she was one of the few artists that both I and my elder little sister liked. As a general rule, if she liked an artist (and here you can read Michael Jackson as well as New Kids on the Block). 

There were many tracks that I could have chosen but I decided to stick with my original choice. No, not 1,2,3,4 - that was just there as a bonus - but Rhythm is Gonna Get You. Oh yes, it is:




Andrew

Thursday, 10 November 2011

For the Fallen

Tomorrow is Armistice Day and as in previous years, I shall be marking this with some appropriate posts.

Today's post is a classic and oft quoted poem by Laurence Binyon. It's sobering to think that although this was first published on the 21st September 1914 - just under two months into the Great War - it still has a relevance today.


For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.


Andrew

You can find my previous posts on the subject of Remembrance here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 5

This week we reach NOW! That's What I Call Music 5 and although there were a number of good tunes to choose from, I really couldn't not choose Simple Minds with Don't You Forget About Me. Not just because it's a great tune - and it is - but also because of it's association with one of my favourite films of all time: The Breakfast Club.

Unfortunately, as it's available to rent on You Tube, clips and trailers are hard to come by with Embedding Disabled by Request. I have found this, although the picture quality isn't the best.




And if you want to see the band doing their thing, here's the official video in all its Eighties glory:




Enjoy!

Andrew

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tuesday Titter 7: Yes, Minister

I really, really, really wanted to share the new Orange cinema gold spot ad with you today - it's a glorious mix of music, song and dance starring The Muppets. I went to the cinema the other day and saw it twice - both times it left me, literally, laughing out loud. Unfortunately it's not online (yet, at least, but I'll be keeping an eye open for it. Two eyes, as often as I can spare them.) 

Instead, therefore, here is some absolutely classic comedy from Yes, Minister. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment with a gentleman from the Scotch Office...



Enjoy, 

Andrew

Monday, 7 November 2011

James Naughtie and The Wasp Factory

James Naughtie is one of my favourite Radio 4 personalities. Not only is he the "good cop" to John Humphrys' more robust and assertive cop on the Today programme but his too-rare pieces of reportage showcase a great skill of approaching complex issues from a sympathetic and human viewpoint. His reports from the campaign trail in the last US elections were essential listening in this regard as were those from Japan in the wake of the Earthquakes earlier this year.

(These foreign assignments are a matter of ongoing controversy on Radio 4's Feedback programme - not to mention The Daily Mail, of course - the argument against such trips typically being: "How many correspondants does the BBC need in any one place? And what point is there in presenting the show from, say, Japan when it could equally well be done in London? For my money (and it is in part) Mr Naughtie is a shining example of how being at the source of the news informs and illuminates in a way analysing it from thousands of miles away can never do. But I digress...)

Aside from his political nous, though, Naughtie also has a wide range of artistic and literary interests which the Today production team also ensure are utilised when the opportunity arises. These interests are also given expression when presenting the Proms and Radio 4's monthly Bookclub.

The format of the Bookclub is an interview the author of a given book, guiding the listener through the thought process of the writer, the issues and plotting devices, the characters and intent as well as chairing a discussion and taking questions from the audience. Naughtie does this expertly, showing a real knowledge of the book under discussion and ensuring that the major themes and questions are addressed.

This month's book happens to be one of my favourites and by one of my favourite authors: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. It's waiting on my iPod to listen to but I've no doubt it'll be a corker. You can find it on iPlayer or you can download the podcast

Here's a taster of the programme courtesy of Naughtie's own e-mail. If you're at all familiar with his accent and the cadence of his voice, you should be able to detect that in his writing:


"I’m fairly sure that Iain Banks is the first guest on Bookclub of whom I have asked the question: have you ever let yourself be psycho-analysed? I was therefore slightly disappointed when the answer was no, but it was worth a try.  (Radio 4 Bookclub this Sunday 6 November at 4pm and Thursday 10 November at the new time of 3.30pm.)

If you know The Wasp Factory, the book that launched Iain’s serious writing career 27 years ago, you will know why the question arose. Frank’s story, which gives the book its shape and its spirit, is one of grotesque adolescent excess, particularly in the matter of violence. He has killed three people (at least, we’re told, one of them a sibling) and much of his delight while he is growing up comes from meting out undeserved punishment on any living thing that passes by. Take the alarm clock contraption which involves wasps being pinned to the hands and, as a consequence, being killed to a timetable set by Frank, allowing him to wake up to see his latest victim being squashed as the clock strikes the hour, with another one coming along behind. The book is a picture of disturbance, a kind of punk’s-eye view of the world, which is a place of gothic horror and badness. Yet, as Iain told us, “Frank thinks he is relatively normal – it’s as simple as that.”

You can see why I wondered if he’d ever had his head examined to see where the story came from, and he recalled happily a launch party for one of his books in Edinburgh when an American student asked him if he had experienced a very troubled childhood, expecting the answer yes. Iain pointed out his grey-haired mother in the crowd, who duly obliged with the truth: “Och no, Iain was always a happy wee boy.”

We were talking in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where our readers had been re-reading the book, sometimes after several years, and returning to the themes that Iain has picked up in his overtly science fiction books (which he writes under the name of Iain M. Banks, a distinction which I think he now mildly regrets) and which have given him a cult following. The Wasp Factory presents a world where the certainties that Frank lives with are ones that would repel or terrify the average reader – burning dogs, tortured wasps, murders, a bizarre substitute religion in which he believes that the future is foretold by one of his grotesque killing machines, which kills its animal victims in a dozen different ways. So why was the book so popular?

His answer is that he thinks readers get the joke – “it was a hoot and a giggle” – in a way that critics certainly didn’t. A number of reviewers wondered how a publisher could stoop so low in letting the book onto the streets. Why can’t they get it, he wonders? “It’s a simple method, gross exaggeration. Being a science fiction writer helps – the term is extrapolation but it’s basically exaggeration.” When Eric, a brother whom Frank hasn’t killed, emerges from an old-style psychiatric hospital, it allows Frank to appear normal by comparison, but readers learn of the strange happenings in his past. By the end of the story, Franks makes a discovery that is clearly one of the most important of his life and will shape his future. We do mention in the course of the programme what this revelation is, simply because the book has been around for long enough for that to seem reasonable, but I won’t talk about it here, in case some of you are reading the book for the first time. Let’s just say that it changes his identity.

The story is set in a community in the far north of Scotland, which Iain knows well, on an island. Frank’s father Angus, an eccentric doctor, is part of the psychological puzzle of the novel, going every now and again to Inverness to sell drugs, which he makes at home, and perhaps sharing some of the Frank’s attitude towards women – in the absence of a mother in the house, he rails against the betrayals of women, even Mrs Clampy, the housekeeper, who is a bastion of sanity in the place. Iain is happy to describe it as a psychological study : Frank creates not just a physical environment that suits him, and his urges, but a mythological one too. Iain is as convinced as aetheist as you are ever likely to meet (he will acknowledgement that perhaps 1% of him is simply agnostic, but no more). Iain says, as you might expect, that he’s always found Frank a fascinating character, but he echoed the feelings of surely nearly every reader of the book when he said that he wouldn’t like to find himself living next door to him.

I don’t know if you agree with the reviewer who said that he found it incomprehensible that a publisher could have stooped to such levels of depravity (that was The Irish Times) or with one of our readers who said that, having not expected to enjoy it, she found herself reading the gory and funny bits to her husband on a long car journey and laughing out loud. Either way, it was a landmark book – a piece of gothic fiction and fantasy that established Iain Banks’ career and seem to fit happily into the early 80s punk-influenced popular culture. I hope you enjoy the programme."

If you've not heard the programme before, do give it a go. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

Andrew