evening entertainment

TV Here, then, should you be interested, are the thirty seconds cut from the UK broadcast of Torchwood. It's a double sex scene with Jack and the random barman's evening entertainment cleverly intercut with Rex and the boring doctor. It's not safe for work, but you probably guessed that.

Nothing was lost by cutting this, which might suggest that nothing was added by including it either which might suggest what's gone wrong with Torchwood, even after three episodes.  That said, having read The Stranger, I can confirm it is a very flexible franchise.

This Blog's 10th Birthday.

10

About It has been ten years since I began posting here and to celebrate I asked Annette, who last interviewed me five years ago about the history of the blog, to return to talk about another five. Luckily, it was an offer she didn't refuse ...

It's so hard to believe it's been five years since our interview. I was happily surprised to be asked to think of a few more questions to celebrate this milestone.

We'll be doing this again in another five years I expect.  Sorry.

What do you think is the biggest change in the blog from then to now?

Migrating the Doctor Who gubbins over from Behind The Sofa has changed the tone somewhat, I think. In the early years, I was always a bit reticent about posting Doctor Who related posts and whatnot, just the odd review here and there. But once the show came back to television, it suddenly felt right. Then Behind The Sofa began and I largely moved any writing about the franchise to there with links through when necessary.

I was always very conscious that this blog had to be more accessible somehow because the audiences seemed different. But now that Doctor Who is a popular success and people are actively seeking the history of the franchise, both in dvds and spin-off media, I feel freer to be as fannish as I like. Plus people have told me they like it when I make some arcane reference because it gives them somewhere to go. I suppose I'm mainly ruing the day I promised myself I'd review anything new that's broadcast. As you can probably tell, I'm putting off the K9 series for as long as possible.

Other than that, having had a glance at July 2006, when the last interview was posted, I don’t think the content is that different, writing about pop culture discoveries, disappointment at how boring it all is. The biggest change probably is that since Twitter, some links and opinions which might otherwise have been posted directly in-line are added to the miniblog in the sidebar or simply stay in Twitter.

That's something I've been trying to get back out of the habit of because Twitter is far more ephemeral and one of the great applications of the blog is as a giant memory bank for stuff which has happened. At it's core, it's still a diary of sorts. I don't think that element of blogging has changed. Perhaps I just need to regain some of my confidence and learn to write faster.

You wrote a nice synopsis in your Review 2010 of how blogging has changed in the past ten years. You wrote, “It's become aggressively difficult to be truly original anymore.” Can you talk about that a little bit more?

When I began blogging, there didn't seem to be that many and there especially weren't many in Liverpool (in hindsight I've discovered a couple who began before me although their posting schedule is rather more sporadic). Back then, everythingwas new. Even links to pages at more traditional websites seemed fresh as though adding that link to a blog was an act of Columbus-like discovery. When I wrote a review of some new film or described a train journey, it still had an element of reportage, of offering something the mainstream media and other bloggers weren't.

Perhaps there's an element of a change in perception more than anything else in this, but now it feels as though I'm one of many hundreds of people crowd emphasising a link. In describing a train journey, the elements of that journey aren't going to be that much different to another even though it was my experience of it, even though no two anecdotes can be the same because they’ve been experience by different people. We’re all, I think, in a deadly spiral.

Yes, that's a good metaphor. There is just so much content out there now. Chances are, someone is writing about the same thing you're writing about, and doing it better, which is sort of maddening.

Which is why I've decided since writing that post you mentioned, is that it doesn't matter. The whole point of a web log from the start was to record our contact with the (god I hate using this phrase in this context) virtual world and as I said then, no two blogs are alike because they reflect the personality to the writer.

The Doctor Who reviews are a typical example.

In the week after each episode is broadcast, literally hundreds of opinions are posted on-line, from professional reviews down to someone fitting their thoughts into a hundred and forty characters on Twitter. There shouldn't be any such thing as an original idea under those circumstances.

Yet time and again I'll find something I hadn't thought of or in writing my review realised in hindsight (because I tend not to look at anyone else's review before hand -- that's creativity death) I've hit upon a different angle to everyone else because of the experience I've brought to it.

Agreed, I've stopped caring, too. So what if someone else writes a much more insightful review of Mad Men, or of a book I read or movie I saw? I think it's interesting to have a record of the things I read or watch. I also enjoy finding things to post about that are off the beaten path and have been overlooked, even in the vastness of the Internet. Also, on the blog I can be as personal as I want, not be stuck with the professional snarkiness that a lot of blogs have.

Exactly. There has been a move towards reacting negatively to almost everything creative which is always the easiest option. I reviewed a Doctor Who cd a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn’t bad, just terribly ordinary. But I agonised for hours over how to put that into words and be constructive whilst still being true to my opinion knowing there’s always a chance the author might find it. It would have been very easy to be sarcastic but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a point to that.

Sometimes it can also be incredibly difficult to get the most of the web because you have to spend so much time mentally filtering out the bile which emanates from every corner. Postings on the really popular blogs rarely have anything like a proper intelligent discussion underneath. Usually it’s a sea of insults, flames and arrogance often by people who’ve skimmed the text or in some cases only read the headline and passed assumptions.

I tested this out on Behind The Sofa once. I posted a review of a masterpiece which began with two paragraphs of obvious negativity and clich├ęs and closed with same but with the proper review in the middle (with an indication within the text about what I was doing for the readers who’d properly read that far). Sure enough, as expected, there were a couple of commenters who insulted me and who fairly obviously hadn’t followed the thread of the review.

How do you keep the blog fresh, for yourself and for your readers?

I don't know how fresh it really is. I've been feeling a bit jaded lately and that's reflected in the blog and I suspect this answer. Like I said in that recent self-pitying post, I'd hate to think it's just been reduced to product reviews and links but then for all I know, that might be what people want to read. Should I care what people think? I'm not Gawker. I'm not in this for the page views even though psychologically that somehow still manages to be at the back of my mind. Am I posting about this because I’m really interested or because I think people will like reading it? If I am keeping it fresh, it's because I keep striving to find some new mode or because my interests keep changing and developing and there's always something new to react to. Can I throw it back in your direction? Do you think it's still fresh?

I do think the blog has changed. Like you said earlier, I think it's a more specialized on a few topics, not so much a general interest blog any more. But I like your attitude about “projects” for the blog. It does take effort to keep things fresh. If you just post randomness or only when you feel like it, chances are you will give up on it.

Hmm, that’s interesting. I wonder when that happened. I genuinely hadn’t noticed. I know there is a lot more Shakespeare and Doctor Who on there, for reasons we’ve discussed related to archiving and cross posting. You’re making me think I need to try harder.

Related to that, I thought your Review 2010 was some of the best writing I've seen on the blog. Really on point about a lot of things.

Thank you. That’s very kind.

You wrote in the Review 2010 piece that personal blogging has become “rather old school.” Do you think social media is the main reason for the decline of personal blogging?

Many people in the media talk about how radio is an instantaneous medium, that you can have an idea and it can literally come straight out of their mouths into a microphone, whereas most television has to be crafted. Of course, some radio programmes take as much effort as television and some television is broadcast live, but there's a fair comparison with blogging and twitter.

Twitter feels more immediate and because you're writing to a captive audience of followers many of whom you actually know, there's a greater likelihood of a discussion. As I said in that post from a few weeks ago, there's an effort to blogging, of sitting down for half an hour and turning out five hundred unpaid words on a topic (or in my case often two thousand five hundred), which isn't required with Twitter. I wondering now if I would have even started a blog now, or just relied on the Twitter feed. I honestly don't have an answer. I think I just began writing this (meaning the blog) at the correct moment.

And do you think a new generation may rediscover blogging at some point?

Not sure. Don’t know. I'd like to think so. But I'm taking a very grim view on this based on these experience of watching some of the old school stop work and migrate to twitter, some even deleting their blogs (after hopefully backing them up). LiverpoolBlogs is jumping and I'm adding new blogs every other week or so of one form or another.

If I was to sit down and write a thesis, perhaps something I'd also consider is whether blogging existed initially because it was insanely difficult for most amateurs to post anything to the web but text. In 2001, although some video and picture sites were available but not a lot of people, at least in the UK, used broadband and it took hours to upload anything via dial up.

Interesting thought.

Now that web is visually rich, someone is more likely to post photographs of a holiday and that's the sum total of the creativity rather than, as used to be case, having to sit down with a keyboard and describe everything, which otherwise leads on to anecdotes and other business spilling out.

I've never thought that someone describing their experience is more interesting than showing me a photo of it and we're back to the radio analogy. The pictures are never as amazing as the version you have in your head. So blog posts filled with pictures can be the new media equivalent of the old slide shows at friend’s houses.

If blogging does become a thing again, on mass, and amongst young people, and not just in terms of embedding elements on Tumblr, assuming it isn’t already (I’m so out of touch), there would have to be a reason for it, and people would have to be keen to do it knowing that they’re not wasting their time.

But if the recent fake lesbian bloggers controversy demonstrated anything, it’s that long form personal blogging isn’t dead yet, even if the long form blogging is fictional. There was still the appetite from readers for that kind of content. Perhaps what we’ll see is a smaller number of blogging but bigger readerships.

Yes, I think it's still possible for a blog to catch fire these days. However, I think blogging is now a writer's medium. It doesn't have the same social function it did years ago, in the days of LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.

No, you’re right, that’s definitely been replaced by social networking. When blogging was first being discussed in the media, many of the subjects when asked why they began said it was so that their family and friends knew what was happening in their lives, to save them on sending out emails or multiple letters. Now all of that can be achieved through status updates and photo uploads.

Do you still read any of the same blogs you did ten years ago (if any of them still around :-))?

Some are. I still read Metafilter and I love that it mostly hasn't changed its design in the meantime, still the blue even after twelve years, simply bolted on extra sections like Ask (which has arguably eclipsed the "main" page). I noticed Lily Tao's having another go at Girlhacker's Random Log. Rebecca Blood posted something again in the past couple of weeks, and Darren's still running LinkMachineGo. SoreEyes is still up too. Kottke. There are loads of others I've picked up over the years, even that were posting before I was.

But it really is the link blogs which have properly survived, or still post very regularly and plenty of London bloggers like Diamond Geezer who manages to turn out lengthy posts every day. The long form blogs that I used to read have certainly fallen away, although something else to consider is that a lot of those old writers are now getting paid to write for a living. Some of them have become editors. Who'd have time to write a personal blog on top of all that?

Clearly I'm going to be in all sorts of trouble for those two paragraphs because of someone I haven't mentioned (ducks).

What are your must-read websites these days?

Since the advent of RSS feeds and Google News, the way I consume the web has changed somewhat. I read loads of blogs and websites and it seems unfair to list some and not others (!). The miniblog probably keeps track of most of them, it's my version of the blogroll in that it links to elements of the kinds of blogs I'm reading. That's why I try to keep it so long in terms of screen acreage. Plus I've always found properly blogrolls difficult to maintain.

I'm utilising Google News more and more too, setting up RSS alerts for subjects I'm interested in. I recently realised that if you look for the search terms just in the title, because of the SEO requirements of websites, you're more like to get articles just about that topic rather than just random articles mentioning it in passing. Well, hum. There’s far less brand loyalty than there used to be though I do still tend to rely on The Guardian even though I’m increasingly disagreeing with its way about things.

Your year-end reviews are a tradition I look forward to every year.

[For readers who haven't been around for all of them, here are the topics:

Review 2010: The Opinion Engine (readers ask you to write about something)


Review 2009: Subjectively Speaking (chats with readers via social media)

Review 2008: "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself (or You) a Letter" (Open letters to reader-suggested people)

Review 2007: All Roads Lead Home (readers write about their hometowns)

Review 2006: Answering reader questions about anything

Review 2005: Readers writing about something they've always wanted to do and finally did

Review 2004: What I watched (series of looong lists)

Review 2003: Panel of interesting people answer questions about the previous year.

Review 2002 (technically doesn't have a proper name): the year in culture: people, moments, film, music, etc.

Review 2001: none, as far as I could tell ]

What got you started with it and why have you continued with it? Also, what's been your favorite year-end review?

You're right, none in 2001 and I'd forgotten about "Moments" in 2002.  I've retrospectively gone in and tagged those.

Here's what got me started with it. Laziness. The idea was to get other people to write the blog so I could have a couple of weeks off over Christmas. But of course, nothing is that simple. Even in 2003 there was a ton of administration required in reading back through the year and choosing the people to email, choosing the questions then editing the posts so that they made sense. But in doing all of that I realised how rewarding the process was, and although 2004 was a bust (and a time consuming one but we talked about that last time) I decided to carry on, asking for guest posts one year then writing it all myself the next with input from readers.

Mainly the reason I carry on with the Review 20something series is that it focuses the mind, forces me to do something. Like plenty of writers, I think some of my best work is when I've been given a topic to work from, find an angle on it. In 2006 someone asked me about the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre which was an Alan Partridge reference but led to me actually deciding what I thought about pedestrianisation and the general blanding out of city centres. In 2010, Alison just fed me the name "Shanghai" which span off into my first proper piece of Doctor Who fan fiction (which I realised later stole the Beep The Meep gag but that's Doctor Who for you - no good idea goes unrecycled).

Since 2006, which I think was the best of the years I've written, I'd be lying if I said the process hasn't been harder. People have less time for this kind of a frippery and despite all the call for entries, even in 2010 when I made the idea as loose as possible so that people could essentially submit the first thing which came into their head, it was difficult to gather a selection of topics to write about.

Luckily a couple of people submitted half a dozen and I added some of my own (My year in... that sort of thing) so I made it through to the end of the month, but it still felt like cheating. Lord knows what I'll be doing come December. I'm marinating as we speak. But there will be something. It's part of the blog now and that's also reason enough to continue with it.

I enjoy it as a tradition for that time of year, like a holiday party. It's a nice way to reflect on what's happened that year.

That’s one of the interesting aspects too. Sometimes even though it’s called Review 20xx the topics don’t seem like they’d immediately lend themselves to talking about the previous twelve months, yet somehow they’ll usually be dragged back to that.

Shakespeare and Doctor Who: Why do you think you're a fan of both?

Both developed gradually. Here’s how I became a fan.

Like everyone else I first encountered Shakespeare at school and like everyone else, the process of having to be taught Othello and Measure for Measure almost killed it for me because we weren’t really given much background as to their relevance just a straight read through of the text and some literary criticism by some equally old dead guys. As someone from the RSC said on the radio recently, it’s a crime that these texts which have to acted in order to fully gain their worth and be comprehensible are often read through in a start/stop manner in the classroom with verbal annotations from a teacher, which is how I originally experienced Othello sat next to a girl who I was madly in teenage love with so my mind wasn’t on the text.

Yes, that was my introduction to Shakespeare, too. Really is sad how school takes all the excitement out of it.

But also, like the lucky people, I happened to see some amazing productions which demonstrated that these weren’t just blocks of incomprehensible text, but mini-investigations into the human soul filled with proper emotion. Measure for Measure’s been filmed only a few times, but luckily, the BBC Shakespeare version is amazing. When Tim Piggot-Smith as Angelo, which he’s mostly played in a cold logical manner in public, has a private moment in which he talks about all of these feelings for Isabella which are welling up inside of him for the first time, I understood those emotions. They were the same emotions I had been having for girl I was sitting next to for Othello. That along with visits to Tate Liverpool and whatnot were opened my eyes to the world.  I felt myself becoming a more complex person right there. Not sure if it has lasted.

But I wasn’t a fan yet. Over the years I saw loads of productions, from a street Henry IV at the Edinburgh Festival to the Branagh films and really began to pay attention until finally I bought and watched my way through the whole of the BBC Shakespeare, began reading around the topic, watching and listening to more productions, studying adaptations on my post-graduate course after beginning the Hamlet thing as a challenge to myself until somewhere along the line I realised I was a fan in the traditional description of a fan sense. As to why I still am? I’ve probably become an elitist. I can’t stand most reality television any more, even in an ironic way, and Shakespeare feels like a fixed point that will continue to fight against, just by existing, the rubbish which is otherwise subsuming culture. Plus some passages have the ability to make me cry. Proper tears. Every time I hear the closing speeches of Midsummer’s Night Dream or ….

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

… I’m blubbing, blubbing even as I copy/paste that from another website.

*handing you virtual tissue* Wow, that is amazing.

Here is the short version of Doctor Who. I watched the show as a child, of course, but once it ended, everything was Transformers then Star Trek, so much so I sold off my Doctor Who stuff, including a couple of annuals I still kick myself about, including a Troughton era for a pound to a man who walked a way with a slightly startled look on his face. I understand why now. Luckily it was included as an extra on a dvd later, but that’s not the same thing. Rosebud. Rosebud!

Then I visited the exhibition in Langollen not long after the broadcast of the TV movie both of which rekindled old memories. Whilst I was buying a copy of The Keeper of Traken (of all things)  on VHS, the clerk told me that the show was coming back. I didn’t know what he meant, and still don’t but I suspect he was talking about the Big Finish license which happened a couple of years later. I began buying Doctor Who Magazine (beginning with an issue that had a roundtable with the likes of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat about what they’d do with it if the show ever came back) and my Auntie recorded stories from UK Gold.

Then I bought some more videos for the stories she missed. Then I began listening to the Paul McGann audios which at the time felt like a proper continuation and began reading the novels and seeking out the spin-off material after reading about them in DWM and on Off The Telly. Which carried on for a couple of years, then the new series was announced and well, um where has the time got to?

Mostly I still enjoy Doctor Who because there is so much of it now, but unlike most franchises, none of it’s the same and individual writers or editors or producers can leave their stamp on it. There’s not a lot of similarities between the recent BBC audio Tom Baker shows by Paul Magrs and the Russell T Davies era on tv but they’re still the same ongoing story, with the same character, which is amazing. Plus, at its best it can jackdaw in bits of narrative and genre and mythology from everywhere else and be terribly clever and has a central character who thinks his way out of situations but who, despite essentially being a God within the universe, still remains vulnerable.

What Doctor Who and Shakespeare both also have in common is a production history. There are the anecdotes about actors and producers and artists, a sense of each imprinting their own ideas and developing various epochs and a genuine sense of something new to discover. I’m endlessly fascinated by this stuff, often even more so than watching the product itself. I’ve read dozens of books on both topics and there’s always something new to be said, even if it’s wrong, or at least I think is wrong. Plus both contain within them a sense of anticipation, what Russell T Davies calls “anticipointment”, that expectation that what you’re about to watch is going to be rubbish and the ensuing moments of elation when you realise some genius is at work.

Does that answer the question?

Yes, I especially like the comparison between the two. I just think it's unusual for a person to be a fan of both things. Actually I don't know if “fan” is really the correct term for someone who appreciates Shakespeare?

I’ve never been able to think of anything else and I think it fits my appreciation of Shakespeare at least because the way it manifests itself in much the same way as Doctor Who. I notice similar behaviours across both, like the collecting gene, making lists or developing an opinion about what is and isn’t in the “canon”. I’ve wondered lately what a Shakespeare Convention would be like. Old wags from the RSC turning up to offer anecdotes about their time with the company (“… and when I came out the entire cast of Pericles were wearing eye patches”), fans sitting around in tents watching tenth generation copies of some Old Vic performance recorded from the back of the stalls, tables filled with National Theatre programmes and other merchandising.

What's your measuring stick for success as far as the blog? Numbers, awards, reader reaction, purely personal satisfaction, etc.? Are there any honors, awards, or milestones that you are particularly proud of?

Actually, I don't think about it. Honestly, I don't think about it. It's nice that more people are reading than ever but as I said in that self indulgent post that's a -- insert cliche of your choice about something being good and bad. If anything I don't understand why people keep reading, why they're still reading. I don't take complements well, they tend to make me very self-conscious as though there's an ulterior motive behind them. When Creative Tourism added me to that top 25 along side all of those professional bloggers, that didn't make much sense since there were other blogs on the list with far bigger readerships and more importantly a greater passion for the subject. I even emailed them to check there hadn't been some mistake.

That's surprising to me. It seems like the blog has gotten quite a few good mentions over the years, which you definitely should be proud of. Numbers can be a trickier measure, though, since sometimes it's more about search engine keywords than anything else.

But you have to keep it all in perspective. Only a tiny percentage of bloggers end up turning their hobby into their work and you have to be careful not to let that become the primary goal. It’s nice to be linked, well, no it’s lovely to be linked, and for your work to be appreciated, makes the whole thing worthwhile, but I’ve ultimately realised that as with anything else, it’s being able to mix talent and ambition and be consistent in both of those things and that’s something I’ve probably always had issues with.

What has been the most fun experience you've had with the blog in ten years?

There have been many, many, many experiences, but here’s something I don’t think I’ve written about before. A particularly well connected friend was asked if he knew someone who’d be interested in writing a book about blogging and since I think I was the only blogger he knew he suggested me. It was what was then relatively big publishing house. So I received an email which led to the setting up of a phone call.

This was while I was working at Liverpool Direct, the council’s call centre, and it had to happen during my lunch hour. But I was trying to keep the whole thing quiet and couldn’t do it on the premises but it wasn’t until I was on the street I realised how noisy the street was, the cars, the pedestrians, and also how many people from work would be in the local cafes.

Then I remembered the Nat West Bank on Dale Street, around the corner from work, had a giant table. So I went and sat in there with a note pad for what was up until that point one of the most exciting phone calls of my young life. I was still only in my late twenties and this seemed like it would be the way to get on with doing something else with my life.

I rang them, I think, and spoke to a very nice lady. I was obviously nervous, but we talked through what it was she thought the editors were looking for and I jotted all of this down. We talked about my blog and what I knew about blogging, which was quite a lot at that point, and the whole process took about half an hour, during which time I was getting plenty of attention from the staff and customers.

I spent the next four days working on a synopsis and introduction – I think there was a very tight deadline – submitted it. Was rejected because even though I’d fulfilled the brief they thought it was too wordy, which it would be given the topic. The person I spoke to seemed genuinely baffled. But nevertheless, that was my one brush with book publishing.

I don't think you have written about that before. Sounds really exciting to get that kind of call. I wonder what would have happened if the book had been published? One can only imagine.

Yes and I don’t think the big publishing house ever did publish the book. Perhaps my submission even put them off the idea.

I think you definitely have a book in you, it's just a question of what it would be about...

Well, yes. Shakespeare and Doctor Who are very crowded markets. Way back when I did consider something based on my MA dissertation topic – hyperlink films – but I noticed someone lately has beaten me to it – though having looked at the book in question it doesn’t really seem to cover the topic properly. So perhaps there is still room for one more. It’s just a matter of having the time and inclination.

My tour of Liverpool with you was one of the most interesting days of my life thus far. Have you met many other people through the blog?

The very first person was Suw Charman-Anderson (then she wasn’t double barrelled or married) who I met in Birmingham for a day because it was the most convenient for the two of us, at the mid-point between our homes. Since then, there have been loads. You. Ian from TV Cream. A girl who directed a Shakespeare production (who I haven’t spoken to since so it doesn’t seem fair to name her).

Social networking or as I describe it to my parents, the Twitter thing, rather led to an explosion of meeting people, though I wonder if that counts as meeting people through the blog, even though many of the people I’ve met at those events have read the blog. Hmm. But I think it’s good to be out there and proving that you’re real person even if you’re not sure you’re the person projected online.

As I said recently, I do get very self-conscious when people talk about the blog. I’ve never been very good with group dynamics in general anyway, I’m much happier talking to just one or two people. The problem with groups is that it’s impossible to have a whole conversation because you’ll always be interrupted. So many sentences and stories which I’ve never heard the end or completed myself over the years.

I am also very bad at talking in a big group. I usually just shut up and let others who are more outgoing do the talking.

I’ve done that too. Sometimes, perhaps because of my suspicion of people in general I’ll hang back until I have measure of who they are, decide whether I even like them before I try to put in an effort. People will talk if there’s a silence and if you become invisible to them you can find out who they really are. That’s happened recently and I realised that I disagree with them on a great many things. That sounds really Machiavellian doesn’t it? Oh well.

But there are also the moments when you find yourself faced with a group dynamic which is already very strictly defined and although quite often they’re very welcoming to begin with – perhaps because you’ve been introduced by one of their number – and you’ll feel part of the group to begin with. In the very worse cases there will come a moment when they become bored, consciously or unconsciously, with the new guy and you find yourself lost in the mess of in-jokes and nostalgia.

Looking back four and a half years later, what are your reflections on the experience of getting your M.A.?

During the five year plan – during the good old days when I had a plan – when I’d saved the ten thousand pounds which was going to change my life – I genuinely had two ideas. One was apply for an MA and the other was to move to Paris (or London or Edinburgh though most likely Paris). Nearly five years out without having found a proper use for the MA, in my darkest hours, I do wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off moving to Paris instead. Less qualified overall perhaps, and without having met Anna Ford in front a couple of thousand people but things would have been just different.

Moving back to the reality, I’m still very proud of the achievement, of having got to go to one of the traditional red brick universities, of having gone from failing my English A-Level to receiving that certificate and in a subject I love. At first it ruined my ability to watch films, now it deepens the experience. It’s also increased my ability to enjoy a much wider range of films, across history and continents and to an extent I’ve become immune to the excitement of seeing brand new releases. I’m more interested in just watching films in general. Not sure if that makes sense.

I was curious about this, since I have gone back and thought about why I got my M.A., and whether the experience was worth it since it's not really paying off in dollar signs. But yeah, in the end I think it was worth it, all that about changing the way you see the world, etc.

It’s true. If I’d never gone back to university, I would never have watched Tarkovsky’s films in an academic environment deepening the experience and providing a richer intellectual context than if I’d simply gotten around to it because they’d turned up on some list of lists.

Coincidentally I watched The Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and Never Let Me Go this week.  One of the more important lines in the former is "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" which is almost exactly what the latter is about.  It's something I'm trying to deal with right now. 

Is there anything you still want to try on the blog that you haven't gotten around to?

There are projects which need finishing especially the Public Art Collections in North West England visits which has been dragging on for far longer than I intended largely because with the exception of Liverpool and Manchester which I’m saving for the finale, I’ve reached the country houses and out of the way places which are difficult approach via public transport. Or in a day. Or both. I should get on with some more of that this summer, or at least try. I know. There is no try.

Other than that, it’s more likely that anything I’d like to try on the blog but haven’t is a reflection of anything I’d like to try in life but haven’t and that’s a longer more involved discussion related to my inherent lack of ambition, motivation and inveterate procrastination. Sometimes I even wonder if the blog is the reason why I haven’t done all kinds of things, even though I know that paradoxically it is the reason why I have done all kinds of things too.

What's next for you? Do you see this blog as part of that future?

Probably. I did at one point plan to stop with this anniversary, ten years being enough and all that, perhaps even just concentrate on blogging Shakespeare but then I’d always have the itch to write about something. It’s a difficult habit to break. Plus I still have that nagging hope that it might lead to something else, so it’d be a shame to smash a brick through what is hopefully a useful shop window even if its usually filled with glass rather than proper diamonds. But yes, like I said at the beginning of this, I expect we’ll be doing this again in five years.

Congratulations on ten years of 'feeling listless.' On a personal note, I think it was quite serendipitous to have found this blog in 2003. It's a truly unique space on the web, and it's been an honor for me to be able to contribute a handful of times over the years. As I wrote in 2006, there's “an infectious enthusiasm, a great appreciation of life and art, and a wonderful sense of fun and creativity that I love about it.” Still true. Thank you for allowing us to share in it these past ten years.

Thank you.

Malcolm Hulke or Don Houghton had to find something to keep Jon Pertwee busy



TV Well, that was fifty odd minutes of drama. Another of old Doctor Who’s elements, from way back when stories were many episodes long but still relatively unsophisticated in terms of story, was that writers like Malcolm Hulke or Don Houghton had to find something to keep Jon Pertwee busy during the middle episodes. So there'd be lots shouting, chasing, fighting, moments of charm and being captured but nothing terribly substantial would happen to further the story. Either by accident or design, Torchwood’s Miracle Day has itself fallen into this model and we’re only at episode three.

Typically, Dead of Night's equivalent of Venusian aikido is random sex with strangers or sex with random strangers which is still pretty graphic for all the UK cuts to preserve Barrowman’s dignity and the innocence of children.  Rex and the boring doctor too find solace giving in to their otherwise light flirting. It’s not unknown in genre television for characters to couple when armageddon is upon them, but apparently this corner of the Whoniverse, it’s more important than finding a decent meal. We’re back to the Torchwood of rutting up against a tree in the middle of an emergency (cf, Countrycide).

Instead of being trapped in a cell as per a dozen Pertwees, Torchwood are fugitives again. In a beautifully played scene, Jack and Gwen reminisce over Ianto, a tipsy Harkness letting his latent feelings for Cooper spill over as she is elated to be reunited with her husband via Skype. Esther’s realisation that for all her CIA clearance all her job really entailed was sitting around reading Gawker or Boing Boing. The thank you for noticing scene in which we realise one of the reason the Captain’s interested in Oswald is because he’s let children die himself (cf, Small Worlds, C of E), albeit for apparently more altruistic reasons.

So bits of Jane Espenson's first episode are competently written and they should be given the writer’s pedigree. She has the character’s voices down pat (assuming that’s not just Russell rewriting everything) and the slightly (slightly?) melodramatic tone that leaps from melancholy to pantomime. She’s not a writer (I don’t think) who imprints their own style on a piece. You couldn’t look at this and the Shindig episode of Firefly and know they both by her I don’t think. But it certainly screens more like an episode of Torchwood than last week’s mess and as ever the developing group dynamic is the most compelling element.

Except there’s a suspicion it's all designed to stop the viewer from noticing that not much is actually happening. There's the news about the Phicorp drugs company knowing or even instigating Miracle Day and Oswald’s emergence as an advocate but again the wider implications are all playing out on television screens and amongst colourless scientists. Lots of words spoken but no piercing images or big, unexpected surprises that make us want to watch the next week or keep us thinking about the implications in the hours in between, the candle wielding cult being something of a fair use legislation baiting cliche.

The action scenes are also perfunctory. Pretty girls tricking security guards? Boring doctor attends a Phicorp meeting and lets Gwen in through the backdoor after which we’re subjected to the almost being caught in an office whilst filling a dongle scene which Spooks stopped doing years ago when they realised Alias was doing it funnier and sexier (or something). Both betray an Exec Producer who’s so used to using a sonic screwdriver and psychic paper to get their characters into the next bit of story he’s forgotten how to do that with some novelty in a “real world” setting.

Am I expecting too much? We are only at episode three.  As the BBC Wales announcer suggested during the closing credits, we have a long journey ahead.  But by episode three of Inferno, Pertwee had entered a parallel universe!  It’s not unenjoyable, Lauren Ambrose makes sure of that, and it’s fun to see the call-backs to old friends like the camera contact lenses injecting some of the alien magic which were the best aspects of earlier series. But we (as opposed to the not we) do seem to be back to the point were we’re watching the thing because it’s a Doctor Who spin-off rather than because it’s particularly compelling television.

a whole six months quicker

Film Breaking a release routine which has lasted for what seems like a decade and presumably thanks to its wacking great success in the US, the Film Distributor's Association website is reporting that Woody's Midnight In Paris is scheduled for theatrical release on Friday 7th October, a whole six months quicker than expected.  Which is still slower than the whole rest of the world, but at least it's in the same year [via].

"These roads are awful."

Liverpool Life Not a taxi journey home goes by without the driver providing constructive criticism of the potholes around Sefton Park and the potential damage to the suspension on the cab. Appalling enough are these craters, large photographs of them appeared on the BBC News website earlier in the year. So it's not without pleasure that news comes that someone has ponied up to repair at least some of them:
"The Alicia Hotel has joined forces with the council to jointly fund resurfacing works on Aigburth Drive. The work will breathe new life into the road, between the traffic signals at Ullet Road and the roundabout at Aigburth Drive / Croxteth Drive.

"It is a major boost to the council’s aims to improve the roads around Sefton Park. The park is one of Liverpool’s most popular green spaces and was recently granted Green Heritage status. However, its roads are not adopted and as such are not maintained as part of the highway network."
Too true. Which is why said conversation with taxi drivers always go the same way ...

DRIVER: These roads are awful. The council should fix them.
US: They won't because they're not adopted. They're not part of the highway network.
DRIVER: You'd think they'd still fix them.
US: They won't because they're not adopted. They're not part of the highway network.
DRIVER: Even so ...

At least now we'll have something else we can say.

"Britain was heading for disaster"

Journalism Adam Curtis has posted to his blog a rough cut for a new documentary about the fall of a press baron. No, a different one:
"Cecil King ran the Daily Mirror - along with over two hundred other papers and magazines - and was as powerful and influential in 1960s Britain as Murdoch would become in the 1980s. The Daily Mirror dominated Fleet Street - and politicians bowed down to its power and influence.

"But in 1968 Cecil King became convinced that Britain was heading for disaster - and he decided to engineer what in effect would be a political coup. He was going to use the Daily Mirror to try and bring down the Labour government."
I've not had the chance to watch it all yet, but the opening narration has a classic bit of Curtis doublespeak.

Day One


Day 1, originally uploaded by BFI Online.

The National Film Theatre at the Southbank is being refurbished and they're uploading progress photographs to their flickr account. The seats and carpets in screens one and three are being ripped out, but the films showings continue so that visitors can see the progress while they watch films.

Part of me quite likes the idea of concrete floor, but the noise of foot tap would go down well.  I'm intolerant in cinemas at the best of times and even I experienced tutting when I had the audacity to get up and go to the toilet during the very long Once Upon A Time In The West a couple of years ago.  Which is bliss.

acts who'd sent their demos into him at Radio One

Music In the late 90s, the late John Peel hosted a late night Channel 4 series, Sound of the Suburbs, in which he visited the homes and venues of acts who'd sent their demos into him at Radio One. The signature tune was a cover version of The Member's The Sound of the Suburbs by Oxford's The Seven Samurai.

I was reminded of the series and the song while sorting through my cd collection during the past week.  I found a sampler for a much longer compilation which Peel curated with tunes from his series. Curious as to what happened to The Samurai, I googled and low and behold Drowned in Sound has an explanation:
"After being picked up by John Peel when Radio 1 Sound City visited Oxford in 1997, the Seven went on to appear in Peel's channel 4 show Sound of the Suburbs before releasing some stunning singles for Shifty Disco, successfully negotiating with them the release of their debut album. In February 1999, shortly before they were due to begin recording, frontman Simon Williams was shot in the eye by a passing car on the way home from the pub, leaving him with an airgun pellet in his eye and a lot of stuff to cancel."
Predictably they never really recovered, which shows that it can take the most random, tragic incidents to ruin a career. At least, although this isn't a substitute, their work has been immortalised on film, and film which has been uploaded to YouTube in the form of the whole Oxford episode of Peel's show which I've embedded after the link.

"deliberately geeky"

TV Recently, one of my Torchwood reviews was linked by the discussion board at Grow Your Own magazine, in a section called Geek Heaven. Here were the comments:
"Love torchwood but that link is really Geeky"

"and not at all complimentary.  For goodness' sake - someone ought to tell the guy it's escapism, pure and simple.  He makes at least one valid point though - I'd be interested to know what a complete newcomer makes of it."
Well of course it's greeky, it's deliberately geeky, so I'm quite pleased with that assessment, and I think noticing one good point is probably a decent score.  I only demur at the suggest I don't know that it's escapism.  Of course I do.  I just wish it was good escapism.  But we are only at episode two.  If the next eight are comparable to C of E this really will look like a blip.  If they're not, expect an eight week post-mortem.

If the GYO people are still reading, take a look at this spoilery review of Sherlock Holmes's demise in posted to twitter in the past week which might as well be a Gallifrey Base assessment of any or all of the Doctor Who finales.  I might even have used the phrase "We are actually asked to believe..." myself on occasion.  For shame.  Presumably the nu-Sherlock equivalent will see Cumberbatch sliding down the Gherkin.

"a blond man who spoke Norwegian"

Journalism This weekend, in which I've been simultaneously too nausiated and too busy to blog, I momentarily regretted that neither of Charlie Brooker's shows were on the air to comment on the bloody awful rolling news coverage of the attrocity in Oslo. I'd somehow forgotten about his Guardian column in which he's obliged:
"When it became apparent that a shooting was under way on Utoya island, the security experts upgraded their appraisal. This was no longer a Bali-style al-Qaida bombing, but a Mumbai-style al-Qaida massacre. On and on went the conjecture, on television, and in online newspapers, including this one. Meanwhile, on Twitter, word was quickly spreading that, according to eyewitnesses, the shooter on the island was a blond man who spoke Norwegian. At this point I decided my initial gut reservations about al-Qaida had probably been well founded. But who was I to contradict the security experts? A blond Norwegian gunman doesn't fit the traditional profile, they said, so maybe we'll need to reassess . . . but let's not forget that al-Qaida have been making efforts to actively recruit "native" extremists: white folk who don't arouse suspicion. So it's probably still the Muslims."
The tv coverage of Amy Winehouse was equally upsetting, with music pundits and ex-#notw showbiz correspondents goulishly lining up to remind us of her apparent failure as a human being within hours of her being discovered and making assumptions about the cause of death even before an autopsy has been carried out.

"most defensible was sport"

Journalism Anthony Lane of The New Yorker has a piece about the phone hacking scandal which doesn't say that much that is new but neatly suggests how the British media must look from outside:
"This barrage of print has one overriding effect: in Britain, you cannot hear yourself think. You never really notice this until you leave the country, whereupon the white noise suddenly stops. The noisiest paper, without doubt, was the News of the World, which resounded with three continuous notes. The first and most defensible was sport; last year, the paper laid bare a match-fixing racket in Pakistani cricket—a bigger and more lucrative deal than it sounds. Then, there were television performers, who furnished an astounding proportion of the paper’s stories. (When historians come to measure the age of Murdoch, that symbiosis between media will loom large.) Last and most cacophonous, there was the assumption, or the ardent hope, that somebody, somewhere, was having sex with somebody he should not be having sex with. Viewed from outside, what this fixation suggested was a giggling braggart, fidgeting in the school playground, and pointing at girls with whom he would never stand a chance."
Is that true?  I'm genuinely not sure what the print media culture looks like in other parts of the world, if there is this kind of devision between tabs and broads.

I'd be interested additionally to know what you make of Roy Greenslade discussion about the hierarchy of death which exists between the red tops and broadsheets and which demonstrates once again that news doesn't and cannot seem to exist without an adenda. Something isn't news unless someone decides it is.

[Updated!  Greenslade himself has spotted it too.]