Monthly Archives: December 2008

The same procedure as last year

It probably will be. The same as last year. And most of the years before it. We’re very much creatures of habit. Now, of course, you can watch the ten minute film on YouTube, so no need for the video made for me by a friend to keep. Living in one of the few countries which doesn’t broadcast Dinner For One on television can be awkward if you need your annual fix of the drunken butler and miss Sophie.

We read about it in the British papers, which seem to delight in reporting the weird behaviour of the rest of Europe. A quick look at Wikipedia tells me I’m used to watching the Swiss version, while most of Europe have the German one.

For those of you who don’t have foreign friends with videos, here’s the modern world solution to everything:

“I’ll kill that cat!”

ABBA – The Story

It’s June 1975 and I’m working on a passenger ferry. It’s not my shift, so I have lots of time to sit around doing nothing. The muzak in the restaurant consists of a not very long loop of Abba songs, and I groan as I hear “Mamma Mia, here I go again…”.  I wish they wouldn’t go again. And again. I’m a not very cool teenager, but at least I’m cool enough not to be into Abba. Hence the groans.

It’s some time in 1993 and I’m in my neighbour’s car, and Abba Gold is playing on the radio. My (English) neighbour sings along happily, and I feel a little sorry for her. Then I realise she is so much younger than I, and will have been at a very impressionable age in 1974. I can’t blame her for being a fan.

Soon, of course, I grow up and realise that Abba are quite good. Actually. I start to feel proud. Offspring who have no unwanted baggage about being cool, like the music, and Daughter picks out Super Trouper on the piano without help, because she is keen. Balance is eventually achieved when she asks her Chinese piano teacher for help with Mamma Mia. She has never heard of Abba. I’m almost affronted, but she is only 21 and comes from Shanghai.

I give Daughter tickets to see Mamma Mia! in London with me for her eighth birthday. We soon return, with the rest of the family, the disdain I felt when my fellow Swedes here talked about having seen the show several times, gone. So much for that early cool.

ABBA – The Story by Carl Magnus Palm makes me a little bit nostalgic. It was nice to find myself back in the sixties, way before cool. Not much of the early years of Abba is new to me. That kind of information is something you just know, somehow. But it was good to get back to the Swedish pop scene of forty years ago. The Hep Stars were my absolute favourites, I quite liked the Hootenanny Singers, and I admired Agnetha Fältskog from the start.

Reading a book by a Swede, for Swedes, means that not much has to be explained. The author can concentrate on what happened and what people did. Though it’s worth noting that Carl Magnus was barely born in those days, so didn’t experience it himself. He’s done a great job, and from what I gather he’s the authority on Abba, and has several other Abba books, including ones in English, already out.

This book deals competently with all that happened, starting with each of the four, plus Stikkan Anderson, as children, and taking the reader along their varied routes to stardom. For me it was the early years of Stikkan and Anni-Frid Lyngstad that were particularly interesting. The other three had more ordinary beginnings, whereas these two really had to pull themselves up with their boot straps. Very admirable.

It’s quite normal reading about the way up, because you sort of know what happened. And even though you also know how it ended, it’s much harder reading about that, but it’s logical. Things can’t stay the same forever. And Carl Magnus knows why I wasn’t so keen on Abba in those days. He also knows why I like them now, so it would appear I’m not unique at all.

There is a lot on the composing of all the famous songs, quite a bit about the possibly dubious business ventures which made Abba so unpopular with many. Background to the Abba tours, and even a snippet on why the American Maffia might be after one of their helpers.

This is a fascinating read, and very much a history of Sweden in the second half of the twentieth century. Lots of photos, both well known ones, as well as new pictures. Let’s hope it gets translated eventually.

A Night at the Opera

Oxfam provided us with our entertainment last night, in the shape of a brand new video of a Marx Bros film from 1935. That’s not bad as charity shop Christmas presents go.

I have slowly tried to introduce Offspring to really old classics like the Marx brothers, but in this day and age it’s not as easy as it was when I was young. They’re rarely on television and if I miss recording them in the middle of the night, then that’s it. We’ve had a long standing saga of A Day at the Races, which both Offsprings love, watching it numerous times, and always developing a craving for it when the physical video would be on a different side of the North Sea to themselves. Not sure why this video in particular became so widely travelled, but there you are.

Anyway, last night it was the opera film, and I don’t think I’ve seen it for a very long time. I remembered the tiny-cabin-on-the-boat scene very well, but other parts of the film less so. It’s wonderful how well such an old film translates to the 21st century, with some great gags. And “You no foola me. There ain’t no Sanity Claus” is as good a seasonal quote as any.


What a relief! A good film, and a good film based on a children’s book at that. I didn’t see this coming, as I hadn’t managed to find the time or the will to read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, despite the book sitting around for ages. It’s about a man and his young daughter who can both bring to life characters in books they read, after which there is no controlling these people. 

Thus the Italian hills are full of bookish villains, plus a few accidental fictional characters, when the man and his charmingly eccentric aunt, and the daughter, are held to ransom by one of the worst characters. There are some very likeable ones, and some fairly scary ones, and the hurricanes and tornadoes are awesome. Lovely scenery, and some good acting from Eliza Bennett as Meggie, the girl, in particular. Helen Mirren as the aunt is reliably good, and whereas I had never heard of  Brendan Fraser before, I gather Cornelia wrote the part with him in mind.

We don’t get enough really good fairy tale films nowadays. Go and see this. I’ll have to work out if I want to read the book now. Will it make for a better experience, or will it ruin my film?

Is there anything at all on television?

Christmas was better in the olden days. I may have grown up with only one television channel and only black and white, but it kept us entertained. Here and now, the more channels we get, the less I want to watch. But I’m used to finding some good programmes on most days, except Christmas Day.

This year it’s the other way round. Found two programmes worth watching yesterday, but not much else, before or after. The two were Doctor Who, and Wallace and Gromit. Have I missed something, somewhere? At this rate I’ll have to resort to saved BBC4 programmes from earlier this month, or perhaps those films saved on video, was it Christmas two years ago?

Or maybe we’ll dive into the box decorated by young and bored Son many winters ago, where we keep Christmas videos. I could do with some Muppets. Or even Postman Pat.

“It is nonsense”

Doctor Who Christmas 2008Is it pointless to comment on the Christmas Doctor Who?  Everyone will have seen it, so we’re hardly unique here at Witch Towers. But it was good. Nothing has yet matched “Are you my Mummy?”, but this wasn’t bad at all. And was 1851 really boring? 

The question is what we can expect from next year’s all too few episodes. A lonely Doctor?

Christmas with NCIS

Mistletoe NCIS at Christmas makes for a change. Santa Claus calls round, and Abby has mistletoe, and knows how to use it. Luckily she went for red lipstick, rather than her usual black. The Director has a family who waits for him to come home with presents, but the rest of the team have to work at Christmas. I suppose it was their turn to be on call. It’s all about families, and even Gibbs softens a little.

The Kiss

(Photos © CBS)

Dustbin Baby

Dustbin Baby is one of the relatively few books by Jacqueline Wilson I haven’t read. I’d hoped to catch up with the book before Sunday’s television drama on BBC1, but in the end I gave up. Whether I’d have cried more or less with the book behind me, I don’t know. This was good for anyone who likes damp hankies.

Dustbin Baby

Daughter, who had read the book, complained noisily about the casting of Dakota Blue Richards as April, and moaned over Juliet Stevenson, but in the end she didn’t seem to mind. The witch thought Dakota did a good job as April, and with no book to compare with, felt entirely happy with the whole thing. This was the second time in a row for me with Juliet Stevenson doing an inadequate mother figure (Place of Execution), and she does that so well.

Dustbin Baby was very much about families, and the different shapes they come in. Parent figures are allowed to be a bit lacking, but they can still be good. (The witch has been a weird parent for years, but as Offspring were born into this scenario, they don’t know anything else.)

I think we may need more televised Jacqueline Wilson.

Happy Christmas

This being the CultureWitch’s first Christmas I’ll add a little glamour for my Christmas card to you. I’d like you to imagine me lazing away on the broom in my lovely dress, rather than the reality of slaving over a hot laptop all day long.

Christmas 2008

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Christmas stuffing

The witch couldn’t have got closer if she’d planned it. As we made our way down the aisle at the Bridgewater Hall on Thursday (and I’m not talking weddings here), I realised I was about to sit closer to my favourite double bass player than ever before. From my seat it was a very short distance to Roberto Carrillo-García. Daughter can’t see what I see in him, but then she’s very young.

The reason I hadn’t planned anything was that the Hallé stuffers received an invitation for an extra free concert with less than 24 hours to spare, and by some miracle the witch family were all available to make use of the offer, once we had extricated Daughter from school an hour early. A cancelled train (Thanks, Northern!) almost did for us, but we had determination on our side. Anyway, I reckon the late ticket offer was to test our dedication to the Hallé.

Not being the most knowledgeable on classical music, I went in the belief that I didn’t know any of the music. But I’m not quite that bad! It was a kind of Russian relay, with Tchaikovsky to begin with, and Prokofiev to finish off. I see from the programme notes that their lives overlapped by two years.

I know the Overture to Romeo and Juliet. Must be the iPod, as I hardly ever sit down with proper LPs or CDs nowadays. What’s more, I knew the Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op. 23, too. I’m amazed at myself. Nicely played by Polina Leschenko.

After the others gorged themselves on ice cream (I brought grapes) we had a Suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, so we stayed romantic and tragic. Even the first bit of that sounded familiar, or was I imagining Peter and the Wolf in it all?

Conductor Alexander Polianichko conducted well, I think, but I must confess to having paid more attention to Roberto C-G. There’s something about the double bass. I like that side of the orchestra. Tuba, trombone, double bass. And thanks to some rearranging of how the Hallé players sit now, R C-G is less far away.

I noticed that stuffing brothers D and G sat very near the lovely Polina Leschenko. And the ever beautiful Lyn Fletcher. Might have been coincidence..?