Category Archives: Blogs

Happy 60th (x2)

I couldn’t help noticing that it is Colin Firth’s 60th birthday today. Have a happy one!

And as I did so, Hugh Grant appeared as well, having celebrated his 60th yesterday. Belated happy 60th to you too!

Don’t know whether I’m surprised they are so old, or so relatively young. It’ll be one of those. Darcy and the PM. How I wish he was. Hugh as PM, I mean. I probably prefer Colin in Mamma Mia as the ‘spontaneous one.’

At least they grow older with me, and if I play it right, maybe one day they will be older than I am?

Twelve long years

I’m not generally a binger. But this past year I have binged a lot more – mainly on television shows of long duration – for various reasons. And for those reasons I haven’t managed to find the time, or perhaps more truthfully, the happy inclination, to bore you all with what I binge-watched.

Began with Downton Abbey, starting in the middle, where my co-binger happened to be. It was the episode with the pigs. Then I accidentally found myself moved on to Call the Midwife, where I was under the impression – very erroneous it turned out to be – I was only signing up for episode one. I left at some point in season three, but could be in favour of returning to it one day.

After that my recent and very sporadic watching of Gilmore Girls was reorganised into full blown proper bingeing, and it was quite enjoyable. It still is, because we’re not done yet, as the intensity of viewing has slowed down considerably, along with everything else, during lockdown.

Both these shows proved useful when I was presented with the film Spy, for the second time, and while I hadn’t exactly forgotten what happened, I was amused to discover that two of the main characters were from Call the Midwife, and Gilmore Girls respectively.

There’s so much I didn’t know.

We started the re-education of the Resident IT Consultant and myself by embarking on all the Star Wars films and all the Marvel films, some of which we’d seen over the years, but never quite ‘got’. We’ve been an embarrassment to Daughter, and I’m afraid that old age hasn’t improved us all that much. Still have more films to enjoy, especially Marvel ones, as I have discovered there are more than twenty films! (Between you and me, though, isn’t there a curious likeness between Thor and Star Wars?)

And The Mandalorian; wasn’t it just lovely? Baby Yoda, yes. But also the calm generated by a different kind of hero.

Three Ironman films is almost two too many. We also saw Big Hero 6, which bore some resemblance to Ironman, and not just because they both wear red. On the whole I found Baymax the better of the courageous, flying heroes. To prove we’ve really gone down the quality film route we watched Sister Act as a birthday treat for me, followed soon after by Argo, which might well have been my first Ben Affleck film (I didn’t even know it was him…).

Daughter did not take well to Life on Mars when we tried that, so it remains something for us oldies to watch on our own. It brings back that lovely brown-coloured glow. And it was filmed in Stockport, which has some bearing on things. Plus there was a brief glimpse of Roger Whittaker, as opposed to Marc Bolan.

And we finally got started with the fourth season of The Good Fight. Looks promising, but I can’t say more since Daughter needs no spoilers as she fails to catch up.

We took some time getting to the end of Bull, and when we did, were startled to find ourselves in a New York in mortal danger of a virus, but not that virus. It was downright eerie and weird, because they will have to revisit that idea if/when they get to season five.

It’s the 2nd of September, which we used to mark as both Culture’s birthday  -twelve today – and the birthdays of the Grandmother and the Gibbs, aka Mark Harmon. He is now 69, which is pretty old for a federal agent, methinks. The same age as the Grandmother was when NCIS began…

We are sort of looking forward to a possible start of season 18 of NCIS. We almost believe it will happen. If they can work out how to deal with the last four episodes that didn’t get made in the spring, and how on earth to work in the bloody virus? But where there’s a will…

The reason we would quite like to see them back, is that season 17 was generally a big improvement on the train crash that was season 16, and to some extent 15. Although those scriptwriters in California should get their atlases out every now and then. For McGee to get from work to Johns Hopkins he could drive. Or get a taxi. Sending him to the airport with a suitcase is overkill.

But more of the stuff with Palmer, please.

A Euro-evening with Mr Norton

We should have more of this. It was actually both fun and enjoyable. Unless that’s the same thing?

Last night’s replacement for Eurovision was far better than the real deal. I’d thought it would be, but it was good to be proven right. There was no avoiding Graham Norton, or Mr Norton, as he was addressed by the polite ladies in Rotterdam.

He behaved much better, most of the time. (But there is still room for improvement.) First we had the reminiscing of the past, playing an odd and partly predictable selection of oldies and occasionally goldies from the last 60+ years of Eurovision. It was nice to see [some of] them again. I remembered what my problem with ABBA in 1974 had been. Embarrassingly large group, embarrassing clothes, and the surprise of them suddenly singing in English. Plus the winning, except that wasn’t bad so much as a surprise. Katie Boyle looked like Mrs Thatcher’s prettier sister.

And then they won again, in Saturday’s ‘contest’. Daughter was torn between ABBA and Måns Zelmerlöw but luckily she was allowed to vote for more than one.

Then came the more ‘real’ Eurovision, with two hours of this year’s hopefuls, directed by three nice people in Rotterdam. It was lovely! I feel I got to know them so much better than through the ‘postcards’ they usually have. We saw many of them in their homes, and we enjoyed counting the pieces of IKEA furniture, or noting who seemed to have none.

We fell in love a couple of times; the lovely young Italian man and the charming cheeky chap in Austria among them. We’d not have seen any of this without the worldwide calamity that caused the change of programme.

Björn Ulvaeus appeared and spoke wise words as Eurovision’s grand old man. We discovered a UK winner from 1997 that neither of us remembers ever having heard or seen. It was good. And wow, hearing it sung by all the 2020 singers at the end..! Discovered a UK non-winner wearing an interesting dress, or vest, as I would call it. Again, a good song.

To finish a great evening, we had an hour of Eurovision A to Z presented by someone who looked like a Russian millionaire, with good teeth. That was fun, too. More memories to be revisited, and new ones made.

Four and a half hours later we rose from our armchairs, with some difficulty. Even the Resident IT Consultant had remained, and looked like he enjoyed it too. That’s never happened before.

Did you know Marie?

Marie Fredriksson on Instagram

A week ago as the first news about Marie Fredriksson having died filtered through my social media, I turned to the Resident IT Consultant and said ‘If I say Marie Fredriksson has died, would you know who I meant?’

Not surprisingly the answer was ‘no.’ Then I suppose it was my fault, for trying to explain that she had – for a time – lived in the house that Mother-of-witch really wanted to live in, that she was one half of Roxette, singing with Per Gessle from Gyllene Tider. None of this hinted at greatness.

Marie Fredriksson in the Guardian

Later the same day he said with surprise that she’d been mentioned on the radio (=Radio 4). And the next day her photo was on the front page of the Guardian, with another inside and a half page article.

Marie Fredriksson in the Guardian

By the weekend the Guardian also published an obituary, quoting among the people who would miss Marie, the King (of Sweden; not Elvis).

Marie Fredriksson in the Guardian

I reckon the Resident IT Consultant was a little bemused. And I realised I should have said that Marie was one half of Roxette, second in fame and success only to ABBA. (He’s heard of them.)

The thing is, to me – who didn’t follow popular music in the 1980s or 1990s – she was the ‘local’ singer who’d done really well. Where she came from came first, not so much where she went to. And as I mentioned over on Bookwitch, I was in Sweden when her illness had just been diagnosed 17 years ago, reading the sensationalist headlines in the tabloid press. And what upset me was the thought of her small children. Because the mothers at the local playgroup considered her nice and friendly; someone who always said hello, and was not stuck-up like many other people nearby.

It was nice knowing your music, Marie, even if I came to it late. And I’m relieved your children had time to grow a little older, even if longer still would have been preferable.

His Dark Materials – the BBC version

His Dark Materials BBC

No one could be more surprised than I am. But – so far – I don’t like His Dark Materials. Not one little bit. If I hadn’t read the books, I’d have no idea of what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the books I’d not be tempted to continue watching.

Having missed the first episode live last week I took to social media on Monday morning. I was upset to see that some people didn’t care for it. At all. But having time on my hands I read every status and every comment and came to the conclusion that more people liked it than not, and they’re people whose opinions I trust.

The Resident IT Consultant had liked it, and Son tweeted his approval. But then came the delayed viewing of Lyra’s Jordan, and separately from each other Daughter and I both found it wanting. She, charitably, said she’d give it one more chance. I have just done that, the second viewing, and, well, goody, they have already moved on to The Subtle Knife with some content.

Seeing as the first episode began with a scene from The Secret Commonwealth, I have to say we are getting a wide and varied diet here. We have a square alethiometer. And already Lyra has been told who her father is. Could have kept the suspense a bit longer, I feel.

Apart from Lyra, who’s very well played by Dafne Keen, they seem to have got most of the casting wrong. And there’s a definite lack of daemons everywhere. For instance, we’d never have been shown Billy Costa’s daemon last week if it didn’t have an important role to play later. Poor Ratter…

Meanwhile Lord Boreal is already climbing through windows.

Will I make time for episodes three and four? I am not sure. Can’t watch them live, but possibly curiosity will bring me to the television to catch up before the second half of His Dark Materials, by which I suppose we really mean The  Northern Lights, not the whole HDM, is on.

But oh, the disappointment.

(Co-published with Bookwitch)

Roger Whittaker is 83!

       Happy 83rd Birthday, Roger!

Roger Whittaker in Hanover 2007

The photo is from Hannover 2007. It’s hard to believe that’s twelve years ago.

V&A Dundee

We were under the impression we were the last people on Earth to visit the new V&A in Dundee. Or, I know some exceptionally cultured people, as ‘everyone’ had mentioned going to, or having been to, the new V&A. Even Pippi managed to fit in a trip to Dundee when she was in Scotland. And Dodo and Son celebrated his thirtieth with a trip to Dundee. As you do.

Pippi mentioned how convenient it was that it’s right next to the station, and it made me wonder how I could not have seen it being built, all those times I changed trains just next to the fledgling V&A. But I realised it was all hidden behind scaffolding and in the dark you see nothing.

The Resident IT Consultant said how it’d be good to go before the Ocean Liners exhibition ended, and I silently concurred. Which is why we went two days before the end, me thinking Friday was bound to be better than the weekend. Maybe it was, but it looked like the whole world was there. Which is odd as I thought they’d already been. Not that there is a rule against going more than once, of course.

We will probably go again.

As I said, the place was heaving, mainly with other old people, and mostly speaking with an English accent.

I hope this was why the place felt as if it could have done with being bigger. The café in the middle was definitely too small. An army of helpful staff improved things, but searching for a table at which to drink tea and eat their gorgeous scones was hard. Actually, I found enough table space. It was just that the chairs had gone walkies, and even as I watched, more chairs went off to join their friends at small tables with too many people around them.

The Ocean Liners exhibition was interesting, but I didn’t linger. The crowd effect meant I couldn’t reach to see or look in peace and quiet. But that was fine. I left the Resident IT Consultant to study it in detail and went to sit outside. Good thing I did, as it meant I didn’t miss the postman. My postman. He was there too. (He’d probably hoped for a Witch-free day…)

Lovely though they were, the scones didn’t last us all day. We had hoped for lunch in the restaurant, but it was booked solid until 3pm, so we went back downstairs, to the moving chairs. The brie croissants were nice, if somewhat soggy. (I’d have put the brie underneath the tomato slices.)

Tay Bridge

A quick look at the Tay Bridge from the balcony, and then we did the Scottish Design exhibition, which was much better than reviews had led us to expect. Wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Then it was time to go home, before the Friday travelling crowds made it impossible.

But I’d go back for the scones alone.

From me to you

Happy Christmas!

Postbox in snow

They got her out of there

Anne Hegerty has left – by which I mean she was voted off – I’m a celebrity get me out of here. I’m glad I didn’t start watching the programme on the basis that Anne wouldn’t last long and surely I could invest a few hours watching.

She lasted and I wouldn’t have, even from the comfort of my own living room. I’m pleased Anne did so well, and hoped she’d go on to win. After all, who wants John Barrowman to be successful yet again?

(I won’t mention the other contestants, because I’ve not heard of them.)

Never having watched these celebrities compete, I have no idea what they actually do in the jungle. Possibly neither do real viewers. There’s no guarantee what you see is what happened.

I learned of Anne’s freedom on Facebook this morning, and felt both relieved and sad. A couple of weeks is a long time to go silent on social media.

Hoping to find out more, I Googled, but the stuff I found in the tabloid press made me blush. It also left me no better informed than when I started.

What makes me especially happy, is that Anne picked up new fans for doing so well among the creepy-crawlies, and that by setting a good example she has become a role model for others on the autism spectrum. For me that was an unexpected bonus of this spectacle, but if I’d stopped to consider it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The jungle reaches further than The Chase.

On that basis I’m terribly grateful to Anne for suffering for the many, and showing the rest of the world what is possible.

Room for art

I knew exactly where the painting was going to go. Even before it arrived in the post, planning my birthday gift to the Resident IT Consultant – who likes trains – I knew it would go on the wall, just outside the door by his desk.

Railway station by Rachel Ward

Six months on, it is still leaning against the wall, next to the television. This is less to do with me being lazy and more because I can’t bear to stop looking at it. Where it is now, I see it every time I sit down in my armchair. I like looking at it. I, too, like trains and railway stations and all that stuff.

And let’s face it, I bought the painting because I liked it. Not entirely selfless. The Resident IT Consultant generously said it could hang somewhere better [for me]. But where? In a house that really wasn’t made for more art at all, I first bought this streetscape, which I had great trouble finding space for. It now hangs next to my desk, but I had to re-home the calendar that used to live there.

Street scene by Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward, who painted both pictures, is a dangerous woman to know. I first met her in her role as a YA author, nearly ten years ago. Those books were good. Now, she paints at least as much as she writes. And she takes photos.

Where some people can barely get out of bed in the morning, Rachel takes the dog for a walk and before my Weetabix is hot, she has put that morning’s photo harvest on Facebook. They are good photos, of attractive landscapes and streetscapes. So as well as painting, Rachel turns some of her photos into cards. And Christmas cards… (You can find her art here.)

As for the railway station, the jury is still out. Where to hang it? Do I need to be able to stare at it in long daily doses?

I suspect the answer is ‘yes.’ The ‘where’ is still unknown.