Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

My Favourite Judy Garland Story

This extract is taken from the wonderful biography of Judy, Get Happy by Gerald Clarke. I reviewed it last month and I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to any fan. This extract takes place during one of her hospital stays prior to her final fracture with MGM. Judy has been going regularly to visit children at their hospital next door and has been most drawn to a frightened girl who hasn't spoken for two days because her family has been so cruel to her. Judy spends a lot of time with her, talking about her life to the girl and not minding that she didn't answer back.

By the end of August Judy had recovered her weight and energy, and it was time to say good-bye. On her last day in Boston, she paid her final visit to the children's hospital, where each of the patients, scrubbed and smiling, held a tiny bouquet of flowers in her honour. "Well, my friend, I'm going now," she said to the girl who refused to speak, "and I want to thank you for all you've done for me. I'm going to miss you." As Judy leaned over to kiss her, the girl reached out and clasped her as tightly as she could, and all the words she had not uttered for so many months poured out in a seemingly endless torrent. "Judy!" she screamed. "I love you! I love you! Don't leave! Don't leave!"

Watching that poignant drama, the rest of the ward was all but awash in tears: the nurses cried, the other children cried, Alsop cried and so, of course, did Judy. When Alsop warned her that they would miss their train, Judy waved him away. "Well, we'll just have to miss it," she said. "I'm not going to leave this child right now while she's talking." And there she remained for the next two hours, listening to her little friend's excited babble and bringing the nurses over, one by one, so that the girl would continue to speak even after Judy herself had returned to California. There had been other gratifying moments in her life, Judy later said, but nothing approached that one. "I didn't give a goddamn how many pictures I'd been fired from. I had done a human being some good. She had helped to make me well, and I had helped her."

Friday, 29 July 2011

Book Review: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

I bought this collection of short stories for one of my undergraduate modules. I promptly read the requisite story (the title piece) and left the rest to be completed at a later date. I'm rather glad I did. After my first real experience of Angela Carter in the form of Nights at the Circus I learned to appreciate her in a way I don't think I would've been able to five years ago. One of the best things about Carter are the layers she injects into her stories. Read them on the literal level, read them on the figurative, then drift into the abyss between and see what you find there. The Bloody Chamber was an enchanting, if quite disturbing, read.

Carter takes traditional fairy tales and legends as her base for this series of compelling short stories. The results are usually darker than the originals but they retain the essence of them. Carter's tales seem to compliment the fairy tales rather than detract from them. She merely demonstrates another strand, another interpretation.

There are ten stories in this collection, the longest being the title piece. I have to say, that is one of my favourites, probably because of the gruesome imagery that runs rampant throughout it. It takes Bluebeard as it's underlying tale but is very much an excellent tale in its own right. My other favourites were "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", mainly due to the Beauty and the Beast base, and "The Lady of the House of Love". The latter was bewitching, particularly the language of decay that permeates the narrative.

I'd highly recommend this collection but I would add a caveat - don't read it just before you go to sleep!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Book Review: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

This book featured in my recent list of books I couldn't read for whatever reason. I was nudged towards reading it by The Amateur Casual, someone whose opinion I trust. While I'm glad I've read Journal, I can't pretend it didn't feel like a chore at times.

A Journal of the Plague Year is essentially what it claims to be - with one important caveat. The year it documents is 1665 but the book was first published in 1722. Also, since Defoe was a small child at the time, it must be taken that - however accurate his sources - it is a work of speculation in parts. That said, though, the initials at the end of the text suggest that many of the tales within the pages came from Henry Foe, Daniel Defoe's uncle. This adds legitimacy to the book, as does the fact that Anthony Burgess in the introduction included in my Penguin Classics edition states that Defoe immersed himself in contemporary sources to produce a work of significant journalistic merit.

There is no doubt that Journal is a landmark in British journalism. Defoe's devotion to his subject means that, as well as presenting overviews of situation, he hones in on the personal stories which the plague left in its wake. How truthful these personal tales were it is, of course, impossible to ascertain but the use of them accentuates the truthfulness of Defoe's over-arching narrative. If he makes a statement he tries to back it up with a personal story. This is the crux of modern journalism really.

The language in the book is very difficult to get used to. As a student of later fiction, my main forays in eighteenth-century literature has been through novels such as Defoe's Moll Flanders and Fielding's Tom Jones. Somehow the grammatical differences of those texts were overshadowed by the on-going excellent story. It was a lot easier to ignore the capitalisation of words and punctuation differences in those novels because I was eager to find out what happened next. In the case of Journal, because of its fragmented nature (slipping from one digression to another), I found myself constantly noticing the layout and order of the text. It became distracting and was part of why I was happy to reach the end of the book.

Journal does offer us lessons for our own time. The idea that differing religions were put aside in order for people to survive is quite a poignant one. It's difficult to stifle the irritation when, inevitably, the religious divisions are some of the first to return when the crisis begins to abate. Also, in reading the book, I became aware how desensitised they were - and we are - towards mass death. Just as the figures of the reported dead were gigantic, we deal with terrible figures of those touched by earthquakes, tsunamis and famine today. Our reaction seems to be similar to that of eighteenth-century dwellers: the enormity of the figures are too much to comprehend so they focus on the local and the personal; their neighbours and their families.

Did I enjoy Journal? I don't think 'enjoy' is the word. It was certainly an educational experience. It informed me about a period of history I was sketchy about and did so by introducing me to a few personal tales which may or may not have been based on fact. However, Defoe's repetition of facts seemed to demonstrate a distrust in his audience to retain information for more than a few pages at a time. While it added to the overall feel of the Journal, it became irritating to be told things four or five times. I also feel his frequent digressions were unnecessary and fragmented an already-difficult text. At one point he returned to talking about two brothers, having left them many many pages earlier. I'd actually forgotten we were going to return to them because he went off on such a tangent.

I'm glad I've read Journal but I don't think it's something I'll rush to re-read. I would recommend it as a semi-historical source but perhaps not as fun reading material.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Some Television Renewals

I was a little anxious about whether ITV would recommission some of the excellent dramas they've shown this year. The channel don't have a great track record for sticking with things (aside from soap and reality television, of course) and I don't think the viewing figures were as high as executives hoped. However, I was proven pleasantly wrong today as Case Sensitive, Scott & Bailey and Vera were all renewed.

Case Sensitive will be another two-parter centring around DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse. According to Sophie Hannah's Twitter feed, it will take her novel The Other Half Lives as its story. That was the first of Hannah's books I read so I'm eager to see how it will translate onto screen. Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd were fantastic in the lead roles last time around and I suspect they'll be as riveting this time. Read my review of the first Case Sensitive here.

Scott & Bailey was the series I was most concerned about. Despite having a stellar cast, it struggled to maintain a decent balance between crime and the personal stories in each episode. I commented at the time that it was most likely because the run was so short at only six episodes. Well, ITV have upped that this time to eight episodes which is a show of faith - but perhaps not enough. Now both actors and writers have got a proper feel for the characters I think this should work very well. Interestingly, this is the only programme out of the three which wasn't adapted from a book. Read my review of series one of Scott & Bailey here.

I never got round to reviewing Vera because I watched it so long after it was broadcast. However, I really enjoyed it. Brenda Blethyn was excellent as the tough-skinned, abrasive detective and the supporting cast came into their own as the episodes progressed. It was beautifully shot as well, utilising the North East landscape to make it as much of a character as Vera herself. Filming has already started on the four two-hour episodes and I look forward to seeing and - hopefully - reviewing them.

Any thoughts on the recommissions?

Friday, 22 July 2011

July - How Things Stand

We've reached that time of year when I re-evaluate everything. It's probably something to do with my birthday next week; growing a bit older panics me as much as it does many people. But looking at my current situation makes me feel a little queasy. So much to do, no time to do it. So what am I up to?

Well, I'm battling towards my MPhil upgrade to PhD level. I'm confident my opening chapter on the novelist Edmund Yates (I'll tell you all about him soon, I promise) is decent enough but it's the abstract for the rest of the thesis that I'm struggling with. After all, I've been burned in the past by making assumptions about novelists I've barely read. I don't want to make a fool of myself so I'm trying to do as much reading as possible. The four authors I'm hoping to look at - James Payn, Charlotte Riddell, Charles Gibbon and Annie Thomas - have over forty books available on alone. Most of these are three-volume whoppers; it's understandable why working through them is taking time. I've only managed two so far but I'm trying to keep up the pace. Failing at this stage is one of my worst fears.

What about the writing? I'm highly disappointed with myself to be honest. I've got two completed and redrafted manuscripts which I'm sitting on because...well, who knows why? Because I don't think they're good enough? They've each been submitted to competitions but I'm a little reticent about submitting them directly to agents. Maybe that's just fear striking again but something needs to happen. Aside from those I've got the beginnings of three other novels sat on my hard-drive and various short stories I'm trying to finish. Looking at my diary I find that I've got one short story and one short play out on submission - and I've had no success this year. Well, apart from the BBC long-listing but February feels so long ago now. I haven't written properly in weeks and I know the longer I leave it the worse I'll feel. But how do you combat your own sense of inadequacy when you're trying to keep your head above water in so many other areas?

My 'fun' reading is also suffering at the moment. I'm drowning so much in PhD reading that I'm not allowing myself the time I should to relax and read something I want to. I've got eighteen books on my TBR pile including some I'm desperate to read - Girl Reading by Katie Ward, The Somnambullist by Essie Fox, South Riding by Winifred Holtby to name but three. I need the release of being able to read for enjoyment in order to make the other stuff worthwhile.

There are some things I'm determined to keep up with. I'm Welfare Moderator for a new group 2020UK, writing articles about the state of our welfare system and debating ways for the country to progress. I'd definitely recommend you check out the site if you've got a minute. Along with that, I'm writing articles for Lesbilicious. As is this is my only source of income I certainly can't give that up. I'm dabbling in some old fan fiction, mainly to keep my writing muscles flexed while I ponder what the future holds for my original stuff.

What else is happening? The dog's going round the twist. She's hiding biscuits around the dining room (at least she thinks she's hiding them) and behaving very oddly when challenged. The builders have allegedly fixed the roof and the scaffolding should vanish soon, although the redecoration of my room to fix the damp patch is unlikely to happen...ever. Aside from occasional jaunts, my social life is barren and I'm desperate for intellectual conversation that doesn't happen via a computer screen. Oh, well, I suppose sometimes we want too much!

But this is how my life stands at the moment. I have to remind myself that I wanted this, I wanted the PhD. Giving up on my dreams now would plunge me into a deeper difficulty than even the great Wilkie Collins could conjure up. So...onwards?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Musings on Sensation

A few weeks ago there was an article on the Jeremy Vine Radio 2 programme asking whether relatives of the gunman Raoul Moat should be allowed to place flowers at the place he died. For those who don't recall, Moat is the man who sparked a manhunt in Northumbria last year after seriously wounding his ex-girlfriend, killing her new partner and blinding a police officer. He committed suicide after a stand-off with police in the village of Rothbury. A terrible case indeed. However, what was striking about the item Jeremy Vine covered was the fact that it came out that people go to the scene of Moat's suicide to recreate his death. Some visitors even use children as young as five to rest on the ground as Moat reportedly did.

I'd imagine most of us feel a sense of disbelief at that. After all, Moat committed some vile acts. It's one thing to allow his family to grieve for him if they so wish; it's quite another to glorify him in death. It strikes me as very nineteenth-century in nature. As much as we criticise the spectacle the Victorians made of crime and murder, we follow the exact same path as they did. Sensation means newspaper sales, webpage hits. More importantly, sensation means attention. For the media outlet, for the reporter, for the little old blogger having their say. I do, by the way, realise the idiocy of me writing a blog post to protest about blog posts.

I'm currently working my way through The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. So far it's a book I'd heartily recommend; I only wish I could devote more time to reading it at the moment. One particular case she mentions is the 1823 murder of William Weare. Flanders draws attention to the 'murder tourists' who plucked the hedges where the murdered man may have been dragged almost clean of their leaves. Everybody wanted a sovenir: even Walter Scott recorded going on such a sightseeing excursion.

Nothing's really changed, has it? The murdered dead still hold a fascination for us, as do the names of their killers. I can name many people, criminal and victim, who will be forever linked in the public consciousness. I won't go into them here; I think the sickening cases of the last decade speak for themselves. We will remember them though and perhaps some of us will indulge in these macabre activities to pay homage to them. The moral outrage that's erupted in recent weeks over the phone-hacking scandal is one significant burst of humanity against a tide of ugliness. But, as has been mentioned, if there wasn't an appetite for this ugliness then the News of the World wouldn't have been selling 2.8 million copies a week, would it?

Personally, I feel revulsion towards the Murdoch empire and everyone potentially involved in the hacking. I also cannot understand the motivations of those adults using their children as Raoul Moat substitutes in Rothbury. It seems like we're teaching the next generation to glorify death. I don't want to imagine where that one might lead.

Last year I blogged about the shootings in Cumbria and the ruthlessness of the journalists hounding the public - on the behest of the rest of the public. Somehow we need a balance. What is it within the 'public interest' to know? And what simply provides titilation for the masses? Can we make stuff up to fill that latter criteria so that innocent people aren't caught in the crossfire? Or did I miss a trick - do we just do that already?

Friday, 15 July 2011


I've left my keys outside the door on occasion. It might make me a little scatty but I've always realised pretty quickly. My grandmother did it a few times, leaving her solitary key with a picture of Mike Baldwin attached hanging limply from the lock. In the area she lived in we were lucky it didn't end badly.

The street I live in at the moment has a bit of a bad record. A few months ago my friend commented on the blackened letterbox half way up the road and we've been the victim of two car break-ins, one burglary and one theft from the back garden in the decade we've lived here. Still, it's definitely not as bad as it could it. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago it was pointed out to me that the neighbours next-door-but-one, who I can't recall ever seeing let alone speaking to, had left the keys in the front door. What to do?

Well, my conscience wouldn't allow me to walk on by. I knocked twice but there was no response. My assumption had been that they'd left the keys outside when they'd gone in but it was equally as possible they'd been distracted and walked off leaving them in the lock. Surely, in a high crime area, it wasn't a deliberate decision to leave them there... Well, people are odd but perhaps not that odd. So, again, what to do?

Without thinking, I posted them back through. After all, the chances of someone else not having a set were slim - if the keyholder didn't happen to be home. And, I weighed it up, if I were in their shoes would I prefer to have to pay for a new lock or new contents for my house? Easy choice. There hasn't been any comeback on it so I'm assuming things worked out all right. I did wonder, though, if the shoe had been on the other foot whether someone on our street would have covered up our stupidity or simply taken advantage of it? I'd better not attempt to find out.

EDIT 03/08/11: Well, I'm an idiot. In the middle of extremely heavy rain yesterday I rushed inside and...yep, I left my keys on the outside. Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door with some kind Asian chap (who may actually come from the house next-door-but-one!) pointing out the fact my keys were on the outside. Looks like my honesty was replicated. Not that I intend to do this again, you understand! As I said, I'm an idiot.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Television Review: The Night Watch

I love Sarah Waters. I've watched the adaptations of Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith and Affinity and enjoyed them all. In the case of Affinity I think I preferred the adaptation to the book. However, The Night Watch struck me as a completely different animal. How do you dramatise a book that begins at the end and works backwards? Thankfully, the concept worked better than I thought it would on screen and a good story was backed up by some outstanding performances.

Credit has to go to Paula Milne for a terrific script and to director Richard Laxton. They brought a difficult novel to life and the bomb scenes in particular were haunting. The barest dialogue in those was enough. Of course, an excellent script and direction only count if you've got a great cast and The Night Watch certainly had that.

Anna Maxwell-Martin was known to me for her recent role in South Riding. I have to say, I wasn't sure she was right for the role of ambulance driver Kay but she fit the part very well. I couldn't warm to her immediately but - as with most characters - as we moved backwards I understood her more. It's difficult to pick my favourite Kay scene but her breaking down in the rubble when she thought her beloved Helen was dead was painful to watch - along with what happened directly after that.

Claire Foy as Helen did very well with a character whose motivations aren't as clear-cut as those of other characters. Equally, Anna Wilson-Jones as Julia was alluring, manipulative and guarded - sometimes all in the same scene. As for Jodie Whittaker playing Viv...well, I think I've found one of my favourite actresses for years to come. She was by far my favourite character in the adaptation when I felt indifferent to her during the novel at times. Harry Treadway as Duncan, Viv's brother, was something of a revelation to me since I wasn't expecting to like him. Duncan's a pretty complex character but, to my surprise, the layers were there without the necessary explanation. I particularly liked the prison scenes, especially when he started crying in the visiting room. That was another of those haunting scenes this adaptation did so well.

I could list almost every scene if I began talking about the ones I liked but I'll settle for a select few: Julia and Helen's conversation in the rain; Viv's first encounter with Reggie on the train; Kay's decision to lie for Viv as they travelled to hospital; the bombs falling on the prison... Honestly, the list goes on and on.

As with the book, you really need to watch this again to get the full effect of it. Did I like it? Yes. More than the book? No. But I think that's true of most adaptations. It certainly stands on its own feet though.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Book Depository & Competition

As the world debates one issue of competition (News Corp's bid for full ownership of BSkyB) it's worth remembering, as writers and readers, that another stifling of competition is happening right under our noses. It's been announced recently that Amazon have aquired The Book Depository, probably the fastest-growing bookseller in Europe. Now, I can see why this looks good for Amazon but just hold on a minute - Amazon already had 70% of the UK online book sales. 70%! Its largest rivals? Well, The Book Depository and It's sorted out one of those problems with this acquisition, hasn't it?

Amazon has been blamed for a lot in the UK in recent years. Their online bookselling has decimated the book trade in our cities, muscling many independent book shops out of business and pushing big chains to the edge (and sometimes over the edge). Along with it is one of the companies responsible for HMV's current struggles as they monopolise the film and music market. We all know why - Amazon are cheap. They offer an attractive prospect to consumers struggling with the economic downturn and wanting to maintain their level of purchasing without actually spending the same amount of money. I think we're all guilty of bowing down to them on this point. I'm trying to implement a set of rules for my own Amazon purchases but my bank balance isn't too keen on it. I take a hit while trying to stick to my ethics.

I can think of no better illustration for how Amazon mercilessly attacks the profits of small publishers than this blog by Linen Press. I'm pretty sure this is the third time I've quoted this article but it is well worth reading - every time someone buys a Linen Press book through Amazon it actually costs the publisher £2. That's right: it costs the publisher because Amazon takes 60% of the RRP. Go look at the figures in the article; it makes for lousy reading.

The beauty of The Book Depository is that it maintains a list otherwise not available to the public. On their website they proudly state that they're seeking to make available the widest selection of titles possible and they aim to republish those no longer available through their Dodo Press imprint. How much will this be squashed by the profit-hungry Amazon, who cut things down to the bone in order to protect their profits? The Book Depository is also famous for their free delivery. Amazon do this on orders over a certain amount; is this something which will pass along to their recent acquisition?

There's absolutely nothing we can do about Amazon's ethics - or lack thereof. However, when a company monopolises 70% of the market and then acquires some more, surely questions have to be asked? The Office of Fair Trading haven't announced whether there is something for them to look into here. I'm a cynic: whether it is or isn't a strangulation of competition the OFT will wave it through because they're dealing with Amazon.

What will that mean for consumers? Well, we get cheaper prices. But, at some point, when Amazon hold 100% of the market and can push smaller companies into the abyss with barely a nudge, we'll come to regret saving a bit of money now and then. Choice will shrink. Good books will be muscled out in favour of profitable books. What will we do then?

This Guardian blog is also enlightening.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Happy 80th Jerry Herman

It just came to my attention that Jerry Herman is 80 today. Wow. I probably shouldn't be surprised at his age, considering how many fantastic musicals he's been responsible for. It's quite a roll-call: Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Mack & Mabel, Dear World, La Cage aux Folles to name the most famous. How many amazing melodies have come from those? His songs have been interpreted by such luminaries as Angela Lansbury, Barbra Streisand, George Hearn and Bernadette Peters, to name a select few. His lyrics are both funny and poignant - and no one does a showstopper like Jerry. He's guaranteed to leave a song revolving in your head for days on end, not a bad thing when the songs are as good as his. So, without further preamble, here are a few of my favourites of his:

'Bosom Buddies'
It's a well-known crime that Angela Lansbury wasn't chosen to play the role of Auntie Mame in the screen version of Mame. She would've been truly amazing. Nevertheless, we still have her on the Broadway cast recording and this neat little performance with Bea Arthur gives a glimpse of what a wonderful film it could've been:

'I Won't Send Roses'
From Mack & Mabel, this is just a perfect song, one of the most unconventional and heartbreaking love songs you could imagine. Although the show was not a commercial success, the concert performances of it proved very popular and the remarkable score is still one of my favourites. Robert Preston's version of this song is probably my favourite but Howard Keel is almost as good here:

'I Am What I Am'
What can you say about this song except that it completely transcends the original musical. It's an anthem in its own right and George Hearn is one of many artists to perform it to perfection:

'I Don't Want To Know'
Even though Dear World was a flop, the score remains fresh and relevant. So many people have recorded this track - Angela Lansbury's version is beautiful but we won't make this post an Angela appreciation session - but Liza Minnelli's is pretty special:

We will end with Angela though! The television movie Mrs Santa Claus is Herman at his light and breezy best as the title character accidentally lands in New York and begins fighting for employee rights. It may be aimed at kids, but I still love it! Here's my favourite song:

There are so many fabulous songs I'd love to mention. Jerry Herman - you are a genius of musical theatre. Thank you!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Book Review: All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

It's with a tinge of embarassment that I admit this was my first foray into the works of Vita Sackville-West. Fortunately, I enjoyed it so much that it certainly won't be my last.

All Passion Spent is a short novel at around 170 pages. Sackville-West apparently intended it as a fictional companion to her friend and lover Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and the similarities are certainly evident. However, it stands alone as a thoroughly enjoyable piece of prose equally relevant today as it was on publication in 1931.

Lady Slane's husband has just died. Having watched her spend her life in deference to other people, her children are confident she'll accept the arrangement to live with them each in turn as they do their 'duty' looking after her. However, Lady Slane rebels and rents a small house in Hampstead with her faithful servant Genoux. Four of her children are mortified while the other two (the only ones she has any affection for) accept her decision without argument. While living at Hampstead, Lady Slane makes friends with two elderly men and also Mr FitzGeorge, an acquaintance from early in her marriage. It's no spoiler to say, as Lady Slane is eighty-eight, that the novel ends with a death as well as beginning with one.

I loved this book. In a time of debate in modern society about care costs for the elderly and the consequences of longer living, the scenarios depicted in All Passion Spent really struck home. What do you do when your children regard you as a burden to be shared amongst them? What do you do when they expect your wealth to be given straight to them? And (though this one is rather unique to Lady Slane) what do you do with a very large bequest that has your children seeing pound signs at every turn? The relationship between a mother and her children is explored subtley and without criticism. As we learn more about Lady Slane's youth - and her 'beneficial marriage' - we come to understand why perhaps she feels as though she should finally take control of her own destiny.

The messages in this book are pretty universal and it should be read by young and old alike. Can you take control of something you feel is out of your control and enjoy your life a little more? Even if, in Lady Slane's case, that change only seems to give her visits from friends and walks upon Hampstead Heath. The little freedoms, Sackville-West implies, are as important as the big ones.

The most touching scene for me was one of the last, when Lady Slane receives a visit from her great-grandaughter Deborah. The similarities between the two are blindingly obvious but it's Lady Slane's melding of past and present, her life and her great-grandaughter's, that make this scene poignant. By following her own desires, Lady Slane has spurred Deborah on to do the same. And, in the end, that is a very comforting thought for an elderly woman.

As Vita Sackville-West's bisexuality is well-documented, this book can be considered part of the LGBT Reading Challenge 2011.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Seconds of Serenity

Almost two years ago I was in Austria for my 22nd birthday. The day after we arrived we were due to go on a canyoning trip. Due to a head-splitting migraine the previous night (which had me running around the resort in my pyjamas begging tourists for pills) I'd had next to no sleep. I managed the canyon pretty well considering everything but as we were walking up the hill at the end I felt myself floating backwards. Floating soon turned into rolling and, well, I collided face-first with a rock. I'd better make this an advert for Specsavers because if I hadn't been wearing my glasses I think my nose would've broken. As it was, I was lucky the rock was there since the alternative would've been a dip in a fast-flowing river. This is what I looked like afterwards anyway:

Last night I fell down the stairs. I was going to get a cup of fruity tea to drink while working on a character bio and my head was obviously more in the story than it was in my footing. I took off about two thirds of the way up, thumped down eight or so stairs and - miraculously - landed on my feet. Though that isn't to say I didn't wake up with a few bruises this morning.

What struck me on both occasions, though, was the feeling of relief I got in the seconds I was falling. I remember thinking in Austria 'oh, well' as I began rolling in an undignified manner. It was as if because the worst had happened I no longer cared about anything. It was bliss. And last night, in the two or three seconds before I hit the bottom, I was intensely content. There was nothing I could do to stop my tumble so everything switched off and left me to it.

I'm in constant danger of thinking too much. I'm always doing something, even when I'm doing something else. When I go out into town I have my headphones on and I'm plotting a chapter in my head. When I'm watching a film I usually have a notebook on my lap. If I'm watching one at the cinema I feel bereft without something else to do. I don't sleep well, I don't even eat without something on the screen in front of me to concentrate on.

Those two falls gave me an overwhelming sense of peace, even for just a few seconds. I don't think chucking myself down a set of stairs at every opportunity is the correct course of action (I know people who would severely frown on that) but I need to find something that switches my mind off completely. A sport maybe? When I jog my mind is active, when I swim as well. If sport won't do the trick can I have a volunteer to throw me down stairs in a controlled environment, perhaps once a month? Don't all shout at once.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Television Review: Scott & Bailey

I had high hopes for this series. After all, it's a detective programme centred around female police officers working in Manchester. It has Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones in it and was co-created by the wonderful Sally Wainwright, a woman I'd admire even if she wasn't Yorkshire born and bred. However, I have to admit that several episodes of the six episode series left me a little ambivalent.

The series was touted as a show about two colleagues who were friends first and foremost. This really didn't come across in the first episode. Janet Scott(Lesley Sharp) seemed to know less about Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones) than the audience did. That ruined the concept somewhat. I will concede, though, that as the series ran on the friendship between them solidified and actually contributed to the detective aspect of things. One criticism my father had (which I agree with) was that the show should really have been called Scott, Bailey and Murray since DCI Gill Murray was as much a part of this series as Scott and Bailey were. Not that I didn't appreciate three women taking the lead on murder investigations for a change.

Some of the crime stories were a little predictable. However, I do think they made up for some of that predictability with the grittiness promised prior to transmission. There was a particularly gruesome scene in episode four where a man was filmed being hacked to pieces. Although we didn't see much I still can't get that scene out of my head. To a seasoned crime pro like my father the plots were average. I liked them, even if it did feel like they were a sideline to whatever personal drama was going on during that episode.

Which brings me to my main criticism - and it isn't even completely the fault of the individual programme. I don't believe that in the UK we commission decent runs of shows. Scott & Bailey was only six episodes long, hardly enough time to engross your audience in the lives of two particular officers and do justice to the crime stories as well. If the personal condundrums had been spread over, say, twelve episodes or perhaps fifteen then each episode wouldn't have felt quite so cluttered. Eight months apparently passed between episode one and episode six - I would've loved to slow down a bit and experience a little more of those months while having more of the individual episodes devoted to the crime story.

The two storylines running throughout the series were Rachel's relationship with slimy barrister Nick Savage and Janet's quest to find the killer of her childhood friend. Overall these worked, although it took suspension of belief to comprehend than a detective as smart as Rachel would be taken in by such a man.

I can't criticise any of the cast. The regulars alongside an excellent supporting cast were enjoyable to watch (or disturbing as the case may be). On balance, I would welcome a recommission by ITV but I'm not certain how the ratings were (and that returns me to an argument about deliberate broadcasting clashes which I won't bore you with). ITV don't have a great record on giving things another try but with such a cast and no doubt some positive intentions for a second series I hope they fight against their history. We need quality drama in this country and not all great dramas have flourished after the first series.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Liza and London

For a person who sometimes goes into epic panics debating whether to leave the house on any given day going to our splendid yet petrifying capital city is something of a mission. However, I endured it last week for one fabulous reason - Miss Liza Minnelli.

Seeing her at the Royal Albert Hall was literally a dream come true and not something I ever expected to happen. If you're interested in a good and proper review the concert was covered by the Telegraph (here) and the Guardian (here). I'm still in the gushing and babbling about the fact I actually saw her stage of proceedings so sense may be lacking around here. Still, she was amazing. After a bit of a nervous start she relaxed and realised we were going to adore her whether she paused to take a long breath, sat down or - once, quite memorably - halted half-way through a song so she could throw down some water and then do the final notes of a song justice. My favourite numbers of the night were probably 'Liza with a Z' (try getting that out of your head once you've listened to it, I dare ya), 'New York, New York' and 'Maybe This Time'. Then again, I also loved 'What Makes a Man a Man' and 'Cabaret', not to mention her encore - 'I'll Be Seeing You' sung without accompaniment because the band had packed up. I'm grinning like an idiot just thinking about it all. Most definitely one of the most memorable evenings of my life. Now go get this stuck in your head...

And what else did I get up in London? Well, I visited my favourite shop for starters. I used the opportunity to feed my recently-acquired Stephen Sondheim obsession, buying cast recordings of Do I Hear a Waltz? and Sunday in the Park with George along with A Stephen Sondheim Evening which featured, amongst others, Angela Lansbury and George Hearn. I also bought on DVD Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. I was dithering about it but then spotted it had Liza in it (alongside Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters) so it was a done deal. My other music purchases were a Jane Russell album and the famous Judy and Liza concert recording at the London Palladium from 1964. I didn't have it. I'm ashamed. But I've rectified the problem so shush. Oh, I also made a new friend.

Wandered around various other shops while I was down there but made sure to nip into the brilliant Quinto Books on Charing Cross Road. By restricting myself to the literary criticism section I managed to buy just the two books - one of which wasn't in that section but caught my eye as I passed. Yes, I know. Just imagine what would've happened if I'd examined every shelf in there...

So that was my Wednesday and Thursday. Very good days. Smiling even happened. Though don't tell @clairemjc about that because I'll never hear the end of it.