Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Just a Minute Reloaded 2

Around a year and a half ago I featured this animation of Paul Merton going off on a flight of fancy on Just a Minute. Now I've found another one - this time with the brilliant Sue Perkins waffling for a minute on the subject of waffling. 

You can tell she expected to be buzzed at any moment and I suspect that this was one of those cases where the others had taken a conscious decision to sit back and let her go for the whole minute without challenging - regardless of repetition or hesitation. At least she didn't deviate and kept waffling for 1 minute 10 seconds!



Monday, 30 May 2011

Oh what a lovely pair...

...of adverts. No chauvinism intended...

Much as I may not be a fan of the product, the 1990s were a purple patch in Tennent's advertising. The various television and cinema adverts which I've featured over the various posts today were part of a wider campaign which featured imaginative (and occasionally controversial) press and billboard adverts. Indeed, in this they share something with that other Scottish institution - Irn Bru. Is there something in the water which means we like our brand advertising to be edgy and controversial but witty?

In which I indulge in some Sado Masochism...

Earlier today I posted a video of the famous (in Scotland at least) Tennent's advert featuring a Scot packing in London life and returning to the homeland.

While researching it, I found lots of other Tennent's adverts, including these two from 1994:

If a certain (and preferable) Irish Stout didn't already have a monopoly on the phrase, I'd be tempted to call these adverts Pure Genius.


Let me tell you that I love you...

...That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you're calling me
And now I'm going home.

Edinburgh Castle, from my trip home last November

It's not often I mention personal stuff on these pages but it's no secret that later today I'll be flying home to Scotland for a week for the wedding of my sister (and guest blogger). As ever the ol' heartstrings will be tugged by the various sights and sounds of home, as well as the opportunity to catch up with friends and family.

This sentiment is aptly summed up in Dougie McLean's song "Caledonia" which I've quoted above. Here's a video which sets the song to various pictures of Scotland, some of which are stunning:

...and here's where I had my first introduction to the song - Frankie Miller's version on the soundtrack of the Tennent's advert from c.1990:


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sunday Sounds 4

Welcome to the fourth in my Sunday Sound series. This week I've chosen Bohemian Like You by the Dandy Warhols:



Saturday, 28 May 2011

Put Your Hand On Your Heart...

I was out for a pub lunch with work colleagues yesterday. There was a mix of music playing in the background - including the gem which is Atomic Kitten's Whole Again* - and then the track I'm featuring today was played. Busy as I was with conversation, it took me a wee while to work out what it was - a fantastic cover of Kylie's Hand on Your Heart. 

Like the best cover versions, Swedish artist José González brings something new to the song, turning it from chirpy pop number to a much more melancholic affair:


* I'll let you work out if that comment is genuine or sarcastic - answer may follow in a future post.

Friday, 27 May 2011

I. Just. Can't. Wait.

Every four years since I was a teenager I have, without fail, re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The completeness and consistency of Tolkien's vision of Middle Earth has never ceased to amaze me and I will never tire of it.

From the creation myths of The Silmarillion to the ending of the Third Age in The Return of the King, from the homely familiarity of Hobbiton to the huge variety of peoples, societies and languages portrayed, Tolkien's work is a masterpiece and towering achievement of English Literature.

I still remember when I heard that The Lord of the Rings was to be filmed. I recall the fear that what would result would be a travesty, completely unworthy of the book. I can remember as stills were released in the months prior to first film the gradual realisation that these were as I envisaged them, that what was being committed to film was (for the most part) faithful to my own interpretation of the books. And I remember finishing work early and going to the Odeon in South Clerk Street, Edinburgh on the day "Fellowship" was released - full of excitement and expectation and not being disappointed. 

And now? Now we have The Hobbit to look forward to. This time there is no fear - after all, in the hands of Peter Jackson, how could there be? But there is excitement and there is expectation. You can be sure you will hear again from me on this matter but for now, though, here are some pictures from the set - Mr Jackson himself in Bilbo's Hobbit hole.

You can follow production more closely through the official Facebook page, theonering.net and also through the Hobbit in 5 weekly webcast on YouTube.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

I want one!

Recently I've enjoyed the Channel 4 comedy Campus (available on the 4OD YouTube page until the 9th June). Made by the folks behind Green Wing, and set in a University, it mixed faux-fly-on-the-wall documentary style with moments of surreal flights of fancy. By turns funny, crass, wacky, crude and poignant, it was a real gem of a show of which Channel 4 can be proud - if you never caught it, I urge you to give it a try.

I was delighted to discover earlier this week that it is now possible to purchase a Kirke University Netball Team vest, as modelled here by Flatpack from the show:

How cool is that? I, for one, really want one! If you're unfamiliar with the Kirke and it's staff and students, you can find out more on the University website and the facebook page.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Not an A-Z of my CDs: L

And so we reach "L" and a track from an album I once had a taped copy of. This reminds me of my brief career at University and, in particular, the Chemistry Labs at King's Buildings in Edinburgh. Anyway, this is a great song and I'm so pleased I remembered it (and the band) on Monday while trying to work out an artist for "L"... Here is Live with Lightening Crashes:

I've always thought that "Live" was a great name for a band - especially when touring. "See Live Live at..." is a phrase that can be read four different ways!


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Iconic Images 16

For this entry in the Iconic Images strand, I've chosen Leonardo da Vinci's study of the proportions of the human body - the Vitruvian Man - created around 1487. The name is derived from that of a classical architect - Vitruvius - who argued that the human figure was the source for proportions used in classical architecture.

Of course, where there's an icon, there's bound to be other versions, such as this, featuring a certain Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle:

Vitruvian Man Da Vinci Tribute by ~shaungent on deviantART

and this, which features a certain Mr Simpson, a resident of Springfield:

and finally, from the eighties, we have the opening credits of World in Action. Ah, the days when ITV could produce in depth documentaries!

As ever, enjoy!!


Monday, 23 May 2011

Virtual Gallery - Mezzanine 2

Displayed on this second Mezzanine level of my Virtual Gallery are three paintings of the featuring Westminster Bridge.

This first is by Monet and features the Thames with the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge in the background.

The Thames below Westminster (1871)

The second is by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836 - 1893):

Reflection on the Thames, Westminster (1880)

And finally, a picture of the earlier bridge by William Marlow (1740 - 1813):

Westminster Bridge

Visitors to the Gallery can see one of Monet's pictures of the Palace of Westminster in Room 4 and may be interested in William Wordsworth's Upon Westminster Bridge.


Upon Westminster Bridge

This week's poem (I feel justified in calling it "this week's", as I seem to be getting back into my stride with this anthology strand) is Upon Westminster Bridge by Wordsworth. 

Composed on the 3rd of September 1802, his view would have been from the original Westminster Bridge which was of stone - shown here in a 1746 picture by Canaletto - rather than the 1862 bridge which stands to this day.

Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still! 

Although the city may have changed and expanded since 1802, these pictures capture something of the "beauty of the morning, silent, bare" that Wordsworth describes. 


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday Sounds 3

This week's Sunday Sound is brought to you courtesy of iTunes DJ. Without any further ado, here's Snow Patrol with Martha Wainright and the super "Set the Fire to the Third Bar".



Friday, 20 May 2011

The Moon. On A Stick.

Earlier today I posted a clip of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. Doing so put me in mind of Fist of Fun - Lee's show from the early Nineties with his then comedy partner Richard Herring. Here's a clip featuring what, as you can tell by the applause (if you can't remember), was a recurring catchphrase:

And here's another clip, this time a sketch featuring Herring as a Driving Instructor:


Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

One of the things I'm enjoying on the tellybox just now is Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle.

The format of the show is a themed stand-up gig by Lee, in a small-ish venue. His act is cut with asides to the camera and the television audience as well as segments of a behind the scenes interview with Comedy God Armando Iannucci. This combinations effectively deconstructs the traditional stand-up set. The show finishes with a sketch or film referring back to some element of the gig's material.

Actually, I say "enjoying" I'm enjoying it but that's not necessarily the right word. Lee's material isn't laugh a minute. Indeed, much of it is designed to make the audience uncomfortable and to question commonly held views and assumptions. The script editor is Chris Morris (Four Lions, Brass Eye, The Day Today) and his influence can be clearly seen. Indeed, if Morris' shtick isn't your thing, then this show is unlikely to be for you. If, however, you like your comedy edgy, subversive and occasionally surreal, dive in.

This subversive approach to the genre is where the programme excels. Lee is at his best when feeding off the nervous energy he can create in a room, milking for every awkward laugh he can achieve whilst subverting the normal aim of genre - getting as many laughs as quickly as possible. He is also a master of comic timing, which the format utilises effectively with his asides to camera. (Speaking of these, the direction and editing of the show is also excellently done.)

For whatever reason I never saw the first series of this show - although can remember seeing bits of it - but this time round I'm hooked. Here's a taster from last week's episode. As it happens, this clip is more conventional stand up as Lee discusses getting his kids into the best local school:


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cats.... With Thumbs!

As readers who know me will know, I'm a cat lover. Cats are smart, intuitive, loving whilst also being independent and possesive of a certain dignified aloofness. Even so, with some particular cats, you can't help thnking they have an agenda...



Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Not an A-Z of my CDs: K

A glaring omission in my CD collection is the lack of anything by today's featured artists - Kings of Leon. This is obviously something I shall have to rectify soon. 

Here they are with Sex on Fire:


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

My Crêpes Suzette

On Sunday I met a friend for lunch prior to him attending an event in the Bristol Festival of Ideas. With little persuasion, I agreed to join him to hear Christopher Stevens discuss the life of Kenneth Williams, whom he's written a biography of. 

Over the course of around an hour and a half he talked freely about Williams' life, peppering the narrative with anecdotes and quotes from those he interviewed during his research. There were also a number of clips of Williams, including this one of him sing Crêpes Suzette as part of his An Audience With.... 

The afternoon was entertaining and informative - for example, I wasn't previously aware of Williams' years as a cartographer or in Rep in Newquay. Given the hours of research Stevens had obviously done and his enthusiasm for his subject, I'd be inclined to buy this book (it's now on my Amazon Wishlist) and to recommend it to those interested in finding out more about the man behind the Carry On façade.

My friend has written a fuller review and Christopher Stevens' book "Born Brilliant" is out now.



Today's post is a beautiful poem guaranteed to calm and sooth. Sit down, relax and let the words smooth away the worries of modern life.

Silver by Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sunday Sounds 2

This morning, I've had Texas' version of "You're All I Need To Get By" stuck in my head and that makes it this week's "Sunday Sound"

I can't find that version, so here's a version by Aretha Franklin for your enjoyment:

...and here's a link to Marvyn Gaye and Tammi Terrell too.


Saturday, 14 May 2011

Iconic Images 15

For the lastest in my Iconic Images series, I've gone for three classic adverts - Bisto, Pears Soap and Guinness:


Friday, 13 May 2011

A Liberal Wordle

Over on Lib Dem Gains I've mentioned Nick Clegg's speech to mark the first anniversary of the coalition government a couple of times over the past few days. Here's a Wordle word cloud generated from the text of the speech:

The speech reinforced the reasons for entering the coalition government, some of the achievements made and how the party should respond to last week's election results. It also looked to the future and how the party can continue to assert its identity and put its stamp on the government.

No surprises then, the words coalition and government occur so often... but the Lib Dems are aiming to provide a Liberal heart. Examples include the ending of child detention, the extension of the personal allowance for income tax and the Pupil Premium.

Nick quoted research reported on the BBC and elsewhere which suggests that  "75 per cent of our manifesto is being implemented through the coalition agreement, compared to 60 per cent of the Conservative manifesto." 

He also dealt with economic issues both as a reason for the coalition and with reference to a Liberal Democratic vision of a rebalanced, greener economy - learning the lessons of the Eighties and Nineties. Indeed, the economy was a central plank of the speech - it's clear the government believe, not unreasonably, it is on this issue that the coalition will be judged. It is important, therefore, that Lib Dems can point to achievements in this area too.

You can read the speech in full here and I've re-published the section on the economy as part of this post.


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

And now a chance to get Laid...

...courtesy of James.

I couldn't stop at Sit Down, so here's Laid. If you're now expecting "Say Something" to be posted later, though, you'd be very much mistaken! I'm going to stick with this, so get your lugs round it:


Not an A-Z of my CDs: J

This week I feature a band whose music takes me back to the latter years of my schooldays.... James. And while they had a number of anthems, it's hard not to regard Sit Down as their most iconic song (although if you want to argue in favour of Laid, that's allowed.)

So here, for your aural pleasure, it is:


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Mayday! Mayday!

Here's a real treat - a clip of classic comedy from Tony Hancock. This is from The Radio Ham in which his inane and surreal conversations with various Hams around the world are interrupted by a Mayday call...

Don't say I'm not good to you... 


Monday, 9 May 2011

Quick Question

Next season at least seven (and possibly 8) English Premier League teams will be managed by men from just one city. Which one?


One of my favourite poems of all time is If by Rudyard Kipling - which is also the nation's favourite at least according to a poll in 1996. In 1998, a recording of it by Des Lynam was used by the BBC as part of their World Cup coverage of that year.

While this may not be the best reading ot the poem, I've always loved the setting of it with Faure's Pavane, which was the BBC's theme tune for the World Cup that year. On top of that, this version features great graphics by George Horne

As is customary, I now instruct you to enjoy:


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday Sounds - 1

A short while ago, Crowded House's Don't Dream it's Over popped into my head, so I decided to share it here. Not only that, I've decided this could be the start of a semi-regular Sunday feature of random songs - hence the blog post title!

Anyway, for now, enjoy:


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

"Write about what you know" is a maxim which has been taught to writers for as long as there have been writers to teach - or at least as long as there have been creative writing classes. Of course, the human mind's capacity for imagination and invention is much broader than this.

Without imagination, The Lord of the Rings would have been a treatise on Anglo Saxon and Nordic languages and Hannibal Lecter would have been considerably more mildly mannered.

There are some things, though, which it must be incredibly hard to imagine - like how would you cope if you lost almost all physical capacity while retaining control of your mind. This was the fate of Jean-Dominique Bauby.

The former editor-in-chief of French Elle had his career dramatically cut short by a stroke which left him with Locked-In Syndrome, unable to communicate other than blinking with his left eyelid.

For many people, this would be - and is - unbearable. Bauby responded by producing this beautiful book, dictated letter by letter, which is in part memoir and in part description of life with his condition.
The book is a - surprisingly - joyful read which is a testament to the stoicism of Bauby and the ability of the human spirit to raise itself in even the most tragic of circumstances.


Friday, 6 May 2011

Bristol Photos - Part Four

Welcome to the latest in my occassional series of pictures taken in and around Bristol. These were taken last Saturday when I went out for a 5-6 mile walk in the sunshine!

Light at the end of the tunnel... as long as you're not over 14 foot tall

The former Parcel Force building

Bridge over the River Avon (Detail)

Sculpture marking the 1st route in the National Cycle Network - the Bristol to Bath Railway Path

Metal Trees


Thursday, 5 May 2011

5 on the 5th - May

Once again it's time for 5 on the 5th - Stephen's fantastic participatory blog experience. This month's themes were Clothes and Happy.

Well, I'm rarely happier than when engrossed in a good book - I've just started Living Dead in Dallas - the second of the Southern Vampire Mysteries which form the basis of the TrueBlood TV series:

And given the right mood, I can happily spend hours browsing a bookshop:

It's even possible to find a book about being happiness - complete with a happy cover!

Of course, book shopping isn't for everyone, some people prefer shopping for clothes:

 At the end of today, though, what will make me really happy is if the referendum result it YES!


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why I'm Voting Yes

In around 10 and half hours from now at 7am on the 5th May, the polls will open on the UK's AV referendum. If you have a vote, I urge you to use it - whatever your views. Obviously, though, I hope you join me in voting yes. 

There are many reasons I'm voting yes, here are just three of them:

First Past the Post is not suited to multi-party politics - it allows candidates to win on a minority of the vote - often c. 35% - 40%, especially where the opposition is split. AV tackles this by allowing voters to express their preferences for each individual candidate - ensuring that where there are multiple candidates on one side or other of the political spectrum their is a greater chance of the result being acceptable to a greater proportion of the electorate.

No system will eliminate tactical voting but AV provides a mechanism to reduce this. Imagine you're a left-leaning supporter of the Green party but you know that only Labour or the Tories can win where you live. Do you vote on principle knowing that this could potentially increase the chance of the Tories winning or do you vote Labour in the hope of electing a party and candidate closer to your views. (If it's easier substitute UKIP for Green and swap Labour for Tory and vice-versa...) Under AV supporters of fringe parties can express there particular allegiance while being assured there vote can still count for a candidate that can win.

While AV is far from my first choice of electoral system, it is an improvement to First Past the Post allowing more plurality in our politics and, over time, may allow real support for the likes of the Green party to grow as voters and potential voters become aware of others who share there believes but wouldn't express them under the current system. A no vote, on the other hand, will kill any chance of electoral progress for a generation.

So tomorrow, take time to vote - and vote Yes for a fairer system, Yes for change, Yes for a greater say.


Not an A-Z of my CDs: I

I feel like I've already posted an entry for this as I didn't have anything to post for the letter "I" when I was doing my A-Z of my CDs series... As you may recall, I featured a band called Ice, Sea, Dead People - you can read that post here.

The artist and song I've chosen today is mentioned in the comments to that post. As I said there, this song always make me think of my Grandad - here's INXS with Suicide Blonde:



Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Lend WIth Care

Courtesy of this post by fellow blogger Andrew Reeves, I recently became aware of Lend With Care - an initiative developed by the charity Care International.

The concept is simple - to link micro-lenders directly with the borrower. Microlending is where entrepreneurs in the developing world borrow small amounts of money at beneficial terms. Most of the time this is finance they wouldn't have access to through what we would consider normal channels. They then use this to develop their ideas and businesses in order to make money to improve the lives of them and their families.

Lend With Care provides a channel whereby interest-free loans are provided, subject to a code of conduct, to small businesses mainly across South East Asia. Loans are split between a number of lenders and every penny lent goes direct to the borrower. Repayments are then deposited in the lenders account and can, of course, be re-lent to help someone else. 

I've chosen to help a small-business woman, Josefina Cuer (pictured below), who runs a general store in Cebu in the Philippines - the main reason for doing so was because I could afford to complete the required loan and the relatively short repayment period (6 months). In due course I hope to be able to help others - and to update you further on the micro-lending experience.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Recent Films

It's been a while since I posted a film review - and it has, indeed, been a while since I was last at the cinema. Other than Brighton Rock, which I did review, the last few films I saw at the cinema (with my lasting impressions) were:

The Tourist - Attempted to appeal to blokes and blokesses alike and failed to entirely pull it off. Still, an enjoyable enough film for what it was.

The Kings Speech - What is there left to say about this, other than I didn't like it. Except I did. Very much.

Black Swan - After all the hype, this disappointed me. Although uncomfortable to watch I maybe would again, just to get my head round it.

Never Let Me Go - Very much my type of film, it performed poorly at the box office - although I could understand this in America, I would have thought Brits would have more of a stomach for it. A bleak vision of an alternative reality in which a generation of children are raised to provide spare body parts for the rest of us. (NB - that not a spoiler unless you intend to read the book. In which case, my apologies. Do still read the book, though)

I've also seen a few films on DVD lately too, amongst them:
Cars - I thought the first half to two thirds lacked the usual charm of Pixar's films but it pulled through and won me over in the end!

The Social Network - A well written telling of the history of Facebook and the various lawsuits which it spawned. It's the screenplay that really makes this a good film.

Paranormal Activity 2 - Not as good as the original but interesting conceptual twist at the end.

It's a Wonderful Afterlife - From the director of Bend it like Beckham, a truly bizarre story of murder, love and restless spirits. Not particularly recommended.

I also watched the M. Night Shyamalan penned Devil but will need to watch again after dosing off through much of it.


If you like that, you'll like this...

Of course, when someone says that, it's not always a given that you will like the recommendation - I love The Lord of the Rings but not a reader of other Fantasy novels although that's maybe because I started at the summit...

That said, though, a recommendation based on genre is as good a place as any to start and can open up the doors to new experiences and further exploration. This is the aim of Music Map (which I found using Stumble Upon).

Although some of the links may be questionable, it produces interesting suggestions and displays them graphically which is slightly more interesting than a list of related artists in, say, Spotify.

Here are two screen grabs to illustrate the results. First, Adele (have I mentioned that I am currently loving her material) and secondly Peter Gabriel who is a favourite of my friend and fellow blogger Stephen.

Why not click on the link above, and go and explore yourself!