Thursday, 14 December 2017

There's Nothing For You Here

It feels very much like this year has been one of returns in the pop culture world (or at least in the sphere of pop culture that I’m into at any rate). I talked about Twin Peaks making a triumphant return yesterday; today, it’s the turn of another series combining humour, horror and the surreal which I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak of this week - yes, it’s time to return once more to Royston Vasey (not that we ever left, of course) as, after a fifteen year absence*, the League of Gentlemen are back…

Tuesday night saw a BFI special preview of the first episode of the new three part special airing next week followed by a Q&A with the League themselves. First surprise of the night - it wasn’t just the first episode, it was actually the first two! An extremely welcome additional treat.

As for the episodes, I’ll refrain from going into any actual details, given that the three of them are airing next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, there are returning characters (I won't tell you which ones) and even a couple of new ones. If you’re expecting the usual mix of humour, horror and even some pathos then you certainly won't be disappointed. There were a few good belly laughs in there as well as some moments of genuine emotion. I’m not going to go into any specifics as I certainly don’t want to spoil anything ahead of time - all I will say is that, after the format change of the third series and the fourth wall breaking of the film, this is very much a return to classic League Of Gentlemen with the traditional mix of interlinking serialised sketches. One thing that definitely feles a bit stronger this time around (and was pointed out in the follow up Q&A) is that the storytelling feels more structured - a benefit of them all having worked on many different shows in the intervening years. I’m not sure if you’lll get as much from this as a casual viewer - the bigger delights are in seeing where these characters you already know have ended up after all this time.

After the screening, the four Gentlemen were in attendance - Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson - and on fine form answering questions from both the moderators and the audience. The biggest reveal? The Gents are going on tour next year. Might have to see if I can get tickets for that one (although not if they turn out to be Flight Of the Conchords expensive - tried to get tickets for them and could only find ones at the back fo the O2 for about £90; I love the Conchords but not for £90…).

I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye out for more of these BFI screenings - there was something particularly enjoyable about seeing them up on the big screen with an appreciative audience, especially nowadays as the lines between TV and film are blurring more and more (something the League have always done anyway, given that their influences are as much film and documentary as TV comedy) and the quality of current TV is sufficient to withstand the big screen treatment.

(It sort of petered out a bit in that last paragraph, didn’t it? I’m going to let it stand, though - this is what you get from reading just some blog off of that there internet, I suppose.)

* As a group that is - individually, they’ve all been very busy in the meantime.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

It Is Happening Again

In recent years, I’ve become much more inclined to binge watch when it comes to TV. Not a surprising statement, I know, given that we live in the age of the boxset, but it is indicative of something else that I’ve noticed recently:- there are fewer TV shows that I would categorise as “must see”, being happy to let them stack up and go through a big pile of episodes in a heap. There are a couple of notable exceptions when it comes to watching week by week but my watching them is prompted more by a desire to avoid spoilers than actually being compelled to watch the next episode. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good programmes but I’m just not obsessed with them to the point where I absolutely must watch the next one and that, I guess, is the point. There isn’t really much at the moment where I feel compelled to watch the following episode and am frustrated when it skips a week and I have to wait.

All that changed earlier this year with the return of an old favourite - an old favourite that, had my 15-16 year old self known there would eventually be a new series made, his excitement would have known no bounds. I’m talking about the recently aired and twenty-six-year-delayed third season of Twin Peaks.

I’m going to caveat it here:- is this something I would wholeheartedly recommend to everyone to start watching? No. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it (although sometimes I didn’t - more on that in a bit); it’s just not something that’s easy to recommend. And that’s kind of the point. There is nothing like this at all on television. I’d even go so far as to say that there has been nothing quite like this on television before and that also includes the first two seasons of Twin Peaks. In structural terms, it doesn’t follow any of the established patterns or formats of conventional TV but it is nothing like a film either. What it is, is pure undiluted David Lynch* - much more Eraserhead than Twin Peaks Season 1 / 2.

Why would I not recommend it to everybody? It’s a really acquired taste - I’m hesitating to use the extremely overused “Marmite” here but I can't think of a better term. In fact, it’s not just a case of “love it or hate it”. For Twin Peaks; The Return, it’s also possible to love it and hate it at the same time. It certainly tries the patience - long, lingering shots of a man sweeping up a bar go on way past any potential interest has been sapped - and at times, it feels like Lynch is almost deliberately testing the patience of the audience to see what he can get away with. There were moments where my patience was close to snapping and I was tempted to fast forward but I stuck with it and was always rewarded by something that would draw me back in after having my endurance tested.

In the end, though, it is this unique mix of the mundane and the surreal, the boring and the violent, the funny and the dark that makes Twin Peaks worth the ride. The may have been some bumps along the way and the destination may have ended in uncertainty once again but, unlike the end of the second season, this felt like a planned lack of resolution and the only truly fitting way to end a television experience completely unlike anything else.

* Sure, I realise that series co-creator Mark Frost has co-written the whole thing with Lynch but, as director as well as co-writer for the whole 18 episodes, it very much feels like Lynch’s thing.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Six Years Later...

Once upon a time, this was an occasionally semi-regular blog with words being put on it (usually one after the other in the traditional fashion, lined up to comprise sentences to begin with, before herding themselves into paragraphs). Then it all stopped. No big dramatic reason. As is the way, these things just sort of fall by the wayside. You stop doing it one day and then you stop doing it the next day and then you seem to have stopped doing it all the days. Every now and then, an idle “I should really get back to doing that again” would flit across the old grey matter but then it would equally flit away again as I got back to work / socialising / doing stuff round the house / playing board games / lying in bed watching boxset after boxset / falling down an unexpected hole in the internet / playing a pointless smartphone based game / insert other modern drain upon one’s time here.

There comes a day, however, when the fingers stray once more to the keyboard. When it seems like there is a word to go here after all followed by another word to go there. And maybe, and possibly, this thing in a small corner of the deep recesses of the web becomes a thing again.

Hello. I’m fully aware of the strong likelihood that no one is reading this. Six years away would deplete even the most hardcore of audiences for most things and, given the readership here numbered in the tens on a good day, I don’t expect much of a response. That’s OK. This was always just a way for the stuff in the head to run off on to the page and it was a nice little bonus if the words were looked at by people’s eyes. (Everyone with pretensions of writing has an imaginary audience in their head anyway - they always give all the right responses so there’s really no need for you*).

Will it last? Well, that’s always the question, isn’t it? It’ll last as long as it lasts and then it’ll stop but then maybe it’ll start again. I think that’s the sort of guarantee I can definitely stick to. What sort of thing can you expect from it? To be perfectly honest, more of the sort of stuff that was on here before really - a relatively inane combination of half-formed anecdote and ill-informed opinion with strong delusions of humour. You’d think that over half a decade away would sharpen the mind, wouldn't you? Nope, afraid not. I’m galloping headlong towards the desolate plains of middle-age now so I’m a small step away from not caring if I go outside in my pajamas as it’s more comfortable**.

So, imaginary head audience, sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy between two and five blog posts before I realise that it’s Christmas and it was a very silly idea to try doing this again at this time of year.

* Obviously I don’t mean you. You get this. I mean all the other ones who don’t get it. Yeah, them.+

** I probably shouldn’t, though. I’m a boxers and T-shirt kind of a guy so that’s maybe not the  look I should take outside the house. Borderline indecent exposure, really.

+ Oh, and if you’re new to this, I like a footnote. My mind is tangential at the best of times so the footnote will definitely be employed.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Airport Week - Landing Positions

And so we cap off a week of laziness with a small snifter of new material. Airport steward was definitely one of the more unusual temp jobs I had; one that was also equal parts amusing, tedious and infuriating. The repetitive nature of the shifts was unavoidable - you were there to ask people the same question over and over again and, by nature of that, to have the same arguments over and over again about what you could keep. That said, the arguments were the exception to the norm. The norm being a sort of mental resigned shrug that is oh so typically British.

It's a mindset that says a multitude of things:- resignation at the way things are; a weary acceptance that we don;t have the power to change the ways are in this sort of situation; a determination to just get through it so that the real part can begin and a mild shared irritation at the shuffling of the queue. If any job exposed me to the English at their most Englishy, it was frisking people for contraband before they joined a queue.

It also highlighted the way in our minds work with regards to authority. A bright yellow jacket combined with a walkie talkie and suddenly I went from Mouth-Breathing Temp to The Man Who Knew Things - even amongst the people who knew I was just another Mouth-Breathing like the rest of them. What was even weirder was that, the more that people deferred to me, the more I felt like maybe I did know stuff (even though I wasn't allowed to talk into the walkie talkie thus rendering it into just a walkie).

It was an interesting week of a different type of temping (paid well for temp work, too) but I'm glad it was only brief. Much longer and the sheen of novelty would have worn off and the tarnish of repetitive tedium would have set in.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Airport Week - Cruising At 30,000 Feet

Don't worry, this theme week's very nearly over...

And lo, it came to pass on the fifth day in the mighty Second Terminal of Heath Row, just west of the city of Lon-Don, that the humble boy's true inner purpose was revealed to him and he was entrusted with the holy talisman of great shamanic power.

They called it the W'Alkie T'Alkie and it was his to wield.

Truly were its powers great. The boy, humble no more and afforded the newfound deference of his peers, discovered a whole new world. He was kept informed by the mystical means of the W'Alkie T'Alkie as to the great Word of Law - the Check-In Desk Opening Times. For it is written in the worshipful Security Briefing that no "passenger" shall be allowed to "check-in" before the desk is open.

And so he roamed the halls and caverns of the Second Terminal, dispensing this wisdom to those who followed the Way of the Yellow Jerkin. And they looked upon their MayFly Sheets and saw that it was good.

That was not all the power that the lad received through the wonder of the W'Alkie T'Alkie. Also, was he able to determine the timing of the breaks and soon his arrival was muchly anticipated amongst the Yellow Jerkined Ones for he provided that elusive object known as "Break Cover". And there was much rejoicing.

However, all too soon, the lad's time as wielder of the otherwordly device drew to a close and he was forced to relinquish his magic talky box. Thus was the mantle passed to those who dwelt in the Shift of the Afternoon. But, the freshly re-humbled boy knew, that tomorrow when the Shift of the Morning came around again, his star would once again be on the ascendance.....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Airport Week - Departure Lounge

Our week of reposts continues with this post from five years ago when I was airport stewarding single-type man...

Darkness. Outside, all is black. An alarm sounds. 4 a.m. It can mean only one thing:- it's time to get up for work. Regular ablutions are stumbled through in a sleepy stupor. Clothes are hastily assembled about the person, laces tied in a fumble-fingered fashion and, after an abortive trip to the door sans keys, finally, I emerge blinking into...more darkness.

5 a.m. Not yet light. The essential wrongness of leaving the house sober at 5 a.m. on a Sunday instead of returning with a head and bladder dented by alcohol leaves me wondering for a moment if I've somehow slipped sideways into a parallel universe. But then I realise that, in a parallel universe, I'd have long flowing locks and a nudey chin so the likelihood is slim.

The roads are quiet and the ammoniac tang of last night's urine hangs about the Actonian streets. No one about except me, the cats, a few Saturday night stragglers and the cab drivers. For a brief time, Acton is mine for the taking. I decide to give it back...

6 a.m. Work has begun. The fluttering of tickets, the squeak of airport trolley wheels, the checking of "MayFly" sheets, the squeezing of bags into security-approved sizes. This is Day Three in the Big Heathrow Terminal and none of the temp housemates have gone mad yet. It's becoming regular, routine, usual, humdrum, mundane.

In fact, the day begins to assume a rhythm and changes into... not work but a chant...

No lighters
No liquids
One bag per person

No make-up
No toiletries
Must fit that gauge

No fluids
No lipsticks
Mobiles are OK

No toothpaste
No lip balm
But iPods go through

No Coke cans
No matches
(Safety ones excepted)

No Zippos
No chapsticks
They will turn you back

I'm only saying this for your benefit, sir
You don't want to have to queue up twice

Monday, 17 October 2011

Airport Week - Check-In

A few weeks ago, I wrote about about jobs what I did have way back in the day. In a rare bout of laziness, I'm going to treat you* to a few days worth of reposts about the time I spent as an airport steward five years ago.

A bit of context:- At the time, I was between jobs and taking any temp jobs that I could find to bring in a bit of cash. Fortunately for me, the airports were drafting in as much manpower as they could due to the fact that someone had attempted to smuggle in a bomb in their shoe. It was in this time of heightened security that the following posts were written.

Let the trip back in time commence...

So yesterday** I had a new working experience. I reported to the Control Room at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport, was issued with a high visibility jerkin that was yellow of colour and proceeded to be an ill-informed guide during this time of heightened security for around 8 hours. They didn't even search me on the way in. I told them I was here to work and they let me wander around the secure offices. I could have been anyone. In fact, I am anyone.

Ever wondered why people in those yellow waistcoats at airports seem to not only be uncertain but also pretty much know less about the airport than you? Well, that'll be because the likelihood is that they're a temp worker who's been drafted in for the day, given a relatively detail-free fifteen minute briefing on what they're supposed to be telling people and then plonked down at the nearest available access point. I'll be honest, I felt somewhat on the silly side at times. I mean, if you're standing around in a highly visible fluorescent item of clothing and people tend to (quite naturally) assume you have some knowledge of your surrounding environs. Imagine their dismay when their query is greeted by the opening gambit of "Erm..." closely followed by the closing move of "I have no idea".

Still, despite my ignorance of the basic structure and functions of Heathrow Terminal 2, it was a good laugh. I meet a fair few other people in the same boat as me (struggling unemployed types signed up to loads of agencies who've only been offered this as gainful work so far) and we did get paid for mostly standing and chatting to each other. It wasn't as busy as you'd have thought and most people have been watching the news over the last week so have got a reasonable idea what to expect.

So, as no other work has been forthcoming so far, I am venturing back there to don the Waistcoat of Doom once again for eight hours a day for the next three days. The only real downside is that my start time is 6 a.m. There's a 6 o'clock in the morning now? When did that get put in?***

* And by "treat", I of couse mean "spend some time building up new material by giving you rewarmed old toot in the meantime".

**Yesterday five years ago.

*** How little did I know that my current job would make me intimately familiar with 6 a.m. starts on some days and 11 p.m. finishes on others.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Intergalactic Tomato Rustlers

Tomatoes. The revolting and potentially deadly fruit which disguises itself as a vegetable*.I have a complex relationship with this particular foodstuff; as an ingredient in bolognese, chilli, pizza, etc., I'm fine with it (as long as it's purely a base and is suitably overpowered by other flavours) and I like ketchup and tomato soup (which, let's face it, don't really taste like actual tomatoes). It's just the pure unadulterated nude versions which turn my stomach so. With that in mind, when the homegrown ones began to disappear from my great aunt's garden when I was just a wee nipper, I wasn't overly upset.

Auntie Nora (sister to Nurse Gladys) lived a couple of roads over from Nana so we usually popped over to visit quite a bit when we were staying over at Nana's. She lived in a ground floor flat and had a garden out the back which was raised. I was never entirely sure why - it may have had something to do with the fact that she lived on quite a steep hill but that may be wrong. You had to walk up a little flight of steps in order to get to it - a fact which caused Nana (a natural born worrier) to regularly fear for our lives.

On one particular visit, Auntie Nora mentioned that some of her tomatoes, which were just ripening, had gone missing in the night. Now, the more down to earth and level headed among you would naturally suggest that some form of wildlife had engaged in some nocturnal pilfering.** However, being a youth of not very advanced age and possessing a mind of a science fictional nature, to me there could only be one plausible explanation:- aliens. It made perfect sense. Who would else would arrive undetected at night, commit fruit-based theft and leave no trace behind? It was the only explanation that fit the facts.

OK, so I never really got as far as to establish motive - I'm still a bit vague as to why anyone would travel the vast interstellar reaches of space just to half-inch a couple of tomatoes - but that was but a minor detail. Auntie Nora and Nana, keen to encourage youthful imagination, gamely played along, throwing in a few more details about odd lights in the sky and strange noises in the night (we'd exposed Nana to enough old sci fi films and episodes of Doctor Who by now; she knew the drill). Also, they probably also had an eye on the fact that this would provide them with "Remember the time that you thought aliens stole my tomatoes" style anecdotes. Which it did.

As much as I was excited at the prospect of aliens, the most important thing to me was that the tomatoes were gone. This meant I avoided having to turn down the chance to try the homegrown toms and causing any offence. Bullet dodged. Or should that be ray gun dodged?

In Other News:- This is my 400th post on this here blog. I toyed with the idea of of doing something needlessly celebratory and desperately attention seeking but couldn't be bothered so settled instead for a slight wisp of a post about some fruit. That probably sums up the blog quite succinctly right there.

* Statement based purely on personal opinion and may not be actual scientific fact.

** Hmm, maybe it was the squirrels again. At the moment, I wouldn't put anything past the little buggers.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I thought I was done with the whole squirrel thing but it seems that I've opened a can of nuts (ah ha ha) and the little blighters won't quit. Not content with cropping up in a short story I was reading about a town in which phantoms are a fact of daily life* as a a background, scene-setting detail, they then proceeded to turn up in a podcast in the form of an allegorical story about the incompatibility of a squirrel dating a chipmunk (what can I say? I like an odd mix of reading and listening material). The final step was to be provided later that day...

My Grandad (he of the formerly truck-driving variety) turned 88** at the weekend so I'd bought him a present and was popping round to visit. He's notoriously difficult to buy presents for - he pretty much doesn't want anything anymore and responds with a standard "What did you bother getting me that for?" to any gift he's presented with. Feigning gratitude is not his strong point. All this has altered in the last few years, however, with the introduction of a present that he actually uses - Ma and Pa bought him a DVD player. Once he'd worked out how to get past the menu, he was away. Having strong and fond memories of watching many old comedies with him as a nipper, I've known precisely what to get for him and the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd DVDs have all been watched.

So armed with a selection of Tommy Cooper DVDs in hand, I approached Grandad's maisonette. Only to find, bold as brass on the path in front of me.... yep, a squirrel. Which stands there. And doesn't move. And fixes me with a beady squirrely eye. I stand, surprised at the sudden arrival of a bushy-tailed nut-botherer after having spent a couple of days writing about them. To the casual observer, this may well have appeared to be an odd sort of Mexican stand-off.

Eventually, I twitched and he bolted, the moment broken. The grandfather was presented with his prezzie and seemed pleased with it (well, he said that Tommy Cooper was one of the all time greats which is as close to "That's great, thanks" as you're gonna get) and, upon departing, I was presented with the reason for my rodenty confrontation. You see, Grandad has a bird table upon which he likes to leave out treats for the local avian types. The treats he currently had out on offer? Yep, it was the old traditional monkey nuts and the tree-bound furry fellas were unable to resist like the nut junkies that they are. As we stood outside discussing this, the squirrel beadily eyeballed us from the safety of a branch in a nearby tree.

So, hopefully, this brings to an end my week of squirrel-based association. Although you never can tell when the furry little thieves are lurking nearby, watching and twitching and twitching and watching...

* Phantoms by Steven Millhauser

** As he points out, that's Two Fat Ladies in old bingo calling terms...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Clack Clack Clack Ding

It had its own hardshell case, the base of which it was permanently attached to, and a handle so that you could carry it around like a misshapen briefcase. It was a child-friendly size but still had serious heft and weight to it (which meant that you weren't going to carry it around very far). It sat in the bedroom and, despite being loved, it was infrequently used. It was my junior typewriter and the sound it made was music to my ears.

Of course, the digital age is a wonderful thing with its ability to instantly provide those wordy sentence type of things to an at least mildly curious audience. There was something, satisfying, however, about the force of effort needed to push the little letters towards the ink-filled ribbon and spear that little inky character down on to the unsuspecting paper. The machine had its little quirks too that were equal parts endearing and frustrating. When you pressed the "j" key, it would usually bring up the "k" as well and the two would then engage in a race to see who made it to the inky ribbon first. The "s" key was ever so slightly misaligned so always appeared on the page just a tiny fraction lower than the other letters. This was more than made up for by the noise of the thing.

The clack of the keys as the letters whizzed up and down, the ding of the bell as you reached the end of the line, the whir of the roller as you pulled a sheet of paper out. All these things made you feel like an old-fashioned reporter in an old-fashioned film who's just about to yell out "Stop the presses!"

As with many a childhood gift which is the result of much pestering on the child's part, it wasn't used anywhere as much as it should have been (which I'm sure drove the parents mad after they'd shelled out for the thing). In my slight defence, I suffered then from something which still affects me now - fear of a blank page. The will to write is strong but, when faced with the prospect of actually committing ink to page / screen, sometimes the blank page comes out on top.

Underused it may have been but my typewriter was still cherished. As much as my trusty and much-used pen and notebooks are these days.