Christmas Links #18

The worst Christmas films to watch on Netflix:
"Full disclosure: this started out as 'The best Christmas films on Netflix', but then I realised Home Alone and Groundhog Day are pretty much the only good ones, neither of which are on it."

When Talking Is Replaced By Texting, All Love Is Lost:
"I can go for days without talking on the phone."

Best of Star Wars Music Christmas Lights Show 2014 - Featured on Great Christmas Light Fight!
"Here's my tribute to my favorite songs on Star Wars!"

How many times has The Great Escape actually been on TV at Christmas?
"It’s a common joke made that the BBC always shows the classic movie The Great Escape at Christmas..."

Review – Into the Woods, the film:
"But since this cinematic entertainment is based on the Stephen Sondheim stage musical that Phil has seen about half a dozen times in various forms, including the original Broadway and London productions he just wanted to show off. He saw a preview of Into the Woods a week ago and frustratingly has been sitting on a most uncomfortable embargo ever since."

A pupil at Mission Grove Primary School was surprised by MP Stella Creasy this morning after she won her Christmas card competition:
"Stella Creasy MP surprised the winner of her annual Christmas card competition at school today."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Sarah Wilson.

The Law  Streetwise Law is a community based educational project that I set up in June 2014. It involves conducting workshops in schools and youth clubs teaching young people about various aspects of criminal law, such as stop and search, advice on communicating with the police, the powers of the police and the rights of the individual, joint enterprise and the implications of obtaining a criminal record.

I decided I wanted to become a lawyer after watching a Nelson Mandela documentary in 2003. I learned that Mandela had studied law in order to teach the township people their rights. That seemed to me to be an excellent reason for being a lawyer so that’s what I set out to do.

By the time I had qualified as a lawyer, some years later, and was busy representing multiple clients in court every day, I had almost forgotten the reason I decided to study law in the first place. But one day, when representing a number of clients in the youth court, the plan came back to me.

The youth court can be a depressing place. For most young people, the drudgery of waiting for hours to be seen in court, not improved by daytime TV blaring in the background, is a punishment itself. I always thought, what a waste; they should be somewhere else, doing something better than this. As a criminal defence lawyer although the job is fundamental in protecting the rights of an accused against the power of the state, when dealing with young offenders I often questioned whether there was not something more that could be done to prevent young people entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

It struck me that these young people, who were, due to a variety of reasons, susceptible to being drawn into interactions with the police and criminal activity, would benefit from having some criminal law education. Perhaps if they knew the law relating to some of the criminal offences, the risks and consequences of certain activities, what powers the police have, and what rights they have as individuals, this could help them make better decisions. It could prevent interactions with the police escalating, and for some of them, it might prevent them ending up in court at all. This is when the idea for Streetwise Law was born.

This summer, I contacted a number of youth organisations and started conducting workshops. In relation to stop and search I inform the young people that they don’t have to tell the police their name or other personal details if they are stopped and searched. On the contrary, the officer is obliged to tell you their name and the station where they are from. Although an officer does have the power to stop and search anyone, this power can only be exercised if they have a good reason to suspect that the person something has on them they shouldn’t. Wearing a hoodie for example, is not a good reason, nor is knowing that the person has been arrested before, or has previous convictions. The officer must tell the person they are stopping the grounds for searching them, what power they are using and that they are detaining them in order to search them. If they do not comply with these rules, it could be an unlawful search.

I also teach the young people that if they are in a group and some members of that group become involved in criminal activity, like robbery or fighting, they could also be implicated in those offences, under the ‘joint enterprise’ principle; a principle that disproportionately affects young males, who tend more than any other group, to hang around in large, disorderly groups. Simply being at the scene of a crime, without any active participation, is not enough to render someone guilty of that crime, but it could certainly be enough lead to an arrest and even being charged.

It’s also important to inform young people about the implications of having a criminal record. There is also a common misconception among young people that once you turn 18 your criminal record is wiped clean or that any convictions you get as a youth will not come up on a criminal record check. While it is true that ‘spent’ convictions should not come up on a standard criminal record check, an enhanced criminal record check, required by increasingly more employers, will lead to disclosure of all convictions, spent or otherwise, for ever.

All the schools and youth clubs I have contacted so far have been very keen to engage with the project and consider it very important for the young people to be informed about these issues. I am currently running the project alone but hope to expand the project in the future to include more people and more subject areas. I also hope to make some short films for the project with the assistance of the young people. Overall, the young people seem to benefit from learning the law and having the opportunity to speak to a lawyer about the profession and the criminal justice system, and I get to do what I set out to do – teach people their rights.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @coolvibes77. Streetwise Law is @Streetwiselaw1.

Christmas Links #17

The story of O Come All Ye Faithful:
"Howard Goodall investigates the history of the Christmas carol and meets Professor Bennett Zon to find out more in this clip from The Truth About Christmas Carols, originally broadcast on Christmas Day 2008."

Marvel At 75: Still Slinging Webs And Guarding Galaxies:
"To compete against DC Comics' new Superman character, what was then called Timely Publications began selling 10-cent magazines with the illustrated adventures of its own champs: Captain America (a superhuman soldier), the Human Torch (a test-tube created android created who would catch fire around oxygen), and the Sub-Mariner (an undersea prince who hated humans)."

Japan's Beloved Christmas Cake Isn't About Christmas At All:
"Only about 1 percent of the Japanese population is Christian. But you might not realize that if you visited a major metropolitan area during Christmas time. Just like in America, you'll find heads topped with red Santa hats everywhere and elaborate seasonal displays: train sets, mountain scenes and snow-covered trees. Often, these are set inside of bakeries hawking one of the highlights of the holiday season in Japan: Christmas cake."

A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres:
"Carried away by the splendors of the moment, I did not initially realize that something was very wrong. I had noticed the floor-to-ceiling scrim-covered scaffolding near the crossing of the nave and transepts, but had assumed it was routine maintenance. But my more attentive wife, the architectural historian Rosemarie Haag Bletter—who as a Columbia doctoral candidate took courses on Romanesque sculpture with the legendary Meyer Schapiro and Gothic architecture with the great medievalist Robert Branner—immediately noticed that large areas of the sanctuary’s deep gray limestone surface had been painted."

Yes, Virginia, Mariah Carey Can Sing:
"Rumors of Mariah Carey's demise have been greatly exaggerated, she proved last night during the first of six sold-out, Christmas-themed concerts at New York's Beacon Theater. For much of the show, she was in as good of a voice as you could expect from a diva who's in her 25th year of wailing for the public's consumption."

Christmas crafts at National Museums Liverpool:
"Travel back in time and find out what Christmas time was like during the First World War. The Museum of Liverpool is holding a Wartime Christmas event to go with the exhibition First World War: reflecting on Liverpool's Home Front. Visitors can join us for talks, handle objects from our collections and craft activities."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Liz Lockhart.

From Write-Off to Writer: How 2014 Changed My Life

Life  Several years ago, when I was a penniless student (as opposed to a penniless graduate with a mountain of student debt), I took part in an English Lit class led by none other than Germaine Greer. Memories work in mysterious ways – I’m afraid I can’t for the life of me recall now what the class was about, but what I do remember vividly is an off-the-cuff remark Greer made. She argued that the adjective “life-changing” has completely lost its power because it’s so overused in popular culture.

She certainly has a point. The media harps on about “life-changing” events that are anything but. Similarly, advertisers are quick to promise us that everything from toasters to anti-aging creams are “revolutionary” products that we can’t do without. And perhaps you, like me, reach for the mute button when reality TV show contestants bang on about their “dreams” and “journeys”. We’ve heard it all before. It’s clichéd.

But then again, a cliché wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t sometimes true. I’ve come to the conclusion that this year, more than any other, has in fact changed my life. Heck, why not take a couple of clichéd phrases, throw in the adverb we all love to hate and say, “At the end of the day, 2014 has literally been life-changing”? In 12 months I’ve turned my world upside down (another phrase we hear too often) to become a writer.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write for a living. We didn’t have a computer when I was a kid, just a temperamental electronic typewriter (Let’s just say that Dad’s never wholeheartedly embraced technology. He only agreed to buy a colour telly about twenty years after everyone else, when I was three and Mum was complaining that I’d never learn about the different colours the Play School presenters kept talking about if everything on the screen looked greyish. Even then Dad couldn’t be persuaded to buy a TV with that new-fangled invention, the remote control.) I used to type scripts for EastEnders (as a hobby – I was neither a child prodigy nor on the soap’s payroll, sadly). My Gran and I would do kitchen table read-throughs of each script (I’d play Angie, she’d play Pat). I took it all a bit too seriously, even asking Gran to time the scenes so that we’d know whether I’d written enough for an episode.

A few years later (in the days when people still sent letters instead of squeezing everything into 140 characters), I wrote to an EastEnders scriptwriter, Christopher Reason. He kindly sent me a very helpful, thoughtful reply full of good advice. He also gently pointed out that twelve was too young to launch a scriptwriting career, no matter how keen I was… Hopes of writing a Hollywood blockbuster would have to wait.

Funnily enough, all the big ideas I had back then didn’t take into account the need to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table. By the time I was all grown-up, I found I didn’t have much spare time for creative writing anymore. I took a series of office jobs to pay the bills and, after a few years, became pretty depressed. At the back of my mind was a niggling worry that I’d ended up on the wrong track somehow and was in danger of letting my ambitions be written-off. I started to lose hope that I’d ever be able to make a career out of scriptwriting.

That was my frame of mind in January this year. I desperately wanted to make a go of scriptwriting, but didn’t know where to start. How could I balance a demanding full-time job with learning about the art of creating a decent script? I didn’t have the time, money or energy to take a scriptwriting MA, so surely the life of a writer was not open to me.

Little did I know that 2014’s life-changing superpowers would soon kick-in.

When my family suggested that I look for a part-time scriptwriting course, I was adamant that there would be nothing suitable out there. I consulted Google in an effort to prove to them that no such thing existed.

Me: Look, these search results prove it: there are NO scriptwriting courses that don’t involve studying full-time and racking up humungous fees!

Mum: Well, what about that one there?

I squinted at the screen.

Mum: Evening classes, designed to fit around the demands of your day job. That’s what it says.

My jaw dropped.

To cut a long story short (which is kind of what scriptwriting is about), I’d soon signed up to City Academy’s scriptwriting evening classes for beginners. And what fantabulous (yes, I thought I’d made it up too, but it’s actually a proper word) classes they turned out to be. In short, they made it clear that you don’t need to lock yourself away in a garret and wait for your muse in order to write for a living.

To ease everyone’s nerves during the first class, the tutor asked us to scribble down the most toe-curlingly awful dialogue we could think of. Stilted pleasantries, meandering conversations and heated debates about cheese sandwiches were the order of the day. When we read those scenes aloud to each other, though, something funny happened – literally. What we’d initially thought of as awful made us all laugh. Not award-winning comedy material, of course, but not completely without merit either.

The golden rule, the tutor pointed out, is that there’s no such thing as “bad” writing – just don’t expect perfection first time round. This gave everyone in the class a real sense of creative freedom – something that I’d previously assumed could only be gained from several months spent backpacking far, far away in order to “find yourself”.

That’s not to say that the classes were plain-sailing. I often worked late in my office and so would usually miss the first part of each class, and it was difficult to concentrate or keep my eyes open after a day of admin and meetings. What’s more, it wasn’t love at first sight between me and this proper, grown-up scriptwriting malarkey, with all its rules and strict format. If your dialogue isn’t positioned in exactly the right spot on the page, for example, your script won’t be taken seriously by the industry. I had (and still have) doubts about whether I’ve got what it takes to write a compelling script – the process of creating convincing plots, characters and dialogue is undoubtedly lengthy and challenging.

But by the third or fourth class, something in my head clicked into place. I started to understand what makes scriptwriting addictive and satisfying for many professional writers.

The Eureka moment came when we were each asked to read aloud some short scenes we’d written and the tutor suggested minor adjustments to them. I discovered that something as small as changing a word or adding a full stop can alter the whole meaning of a scene, giving your script greater depth and clarity. Writing a script is rather like writing a poem, in that respect – economical use of language is essential. You have to keep pushing yourself to say more with less and always show, never tell.

By the middle of my second scriptwriting course (more evening classes, held at Sadler’s Wells, no less), I knew that not only was scriptwriting a passion, I was starting to think of it seriously as a career option. Was I brave enough to take the plunge and try to make a living as Writer of Scripts and Random Stuff (ooh, elegant job title)?

By my 29th birthday in April, I’d made up my mind. I was going to take a risk and go for it: I resigned from my office job. It wasn’t a decision made lightly, and it was with regret that I said goodbye to a lively, warm-hearted group of colleagues – not to mention a regular income. There were other drawbacks too: over the next few months, I had to give up my flat, the ability to meet up with some of my closest friends regularly, and the pleasure of living close to all of the art and culture that London has to offer. By the end of the summer, I’d cleared my desk, packed my bags and disappeared off to the middle of nowhere (where the air is cleaner and the rent cheaper!).

I also changed my name, choosing to call myself Liz Lockhart, having decided that alliteration is where it’s at if I want a memorable pen name. I now share my Gran’s name – as a tribute to the person who helped me to take my first steps in scriptwriting.

Looking ahead to 2015 and (shock, horror!) the start of my thirties, I know two things for sure:

1. I will start lying shamelessly about my age;

2. I will try my hardest to produce good scripts for good people, even if I don’t end up with a shelf full of awards or my own production company.

If you’re reading this article on New Year’s Day 2015, worrying that what you want most in life will forever be out of your reach, don’t give up hope. What’s happened to me this year shows that you don’t have to write-off your ambitions – you just need to be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone in order to fulfil them.

You can follow Liz on Twitter @LizLockhart1985.

Soup Safari #12:
Chorizo, Apple and Leek at Cafe Tabac.

Lunch. £4.00. 126 Bold Street, Merseyside, Liverpool, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 4JA. Phone:0151 709 9502.

Christmas Links #16

How I made: Raymond Briggs on Father Christmas:
"I’ve always enjoyed taking something that’s fantasy – like a bogeyman or Father Christmas – and imagining it as wholly real. Take Father Christmas. What do we know about him? Well, he’s got a white beard, so he must be quite old. He’s rather fat, so he probably likes his food. He’s got a red face and a red nose, so he probably likes his drink. And he’s been doing this dreadful job for donkey’s years: going out all night long, in all weathers. He’s sick to the back teeth of it: who wouldn’t be? So it follows, naturally, that he’s going to be grumpy."

Cats vs. Christmas Trees:
"A compilation of cats destroying Christmas trees."

Gia Giudice's Girl Group Releases the 'Friday' of Christmas Songs:
"Everything feels so riiiiiggght! It's the seeeason of joooyyyy!"

Christmas with Chinese characteristics:
"Cities across China blink with fairy lights, fancy hotels flaunt trees and tinsel, and glossy magazine covers display festive recipes and table settings. “Joy up!” reads a sign (in English) on three illuminated trees by a shopping mall in Beijing. The Chinese are doing just that."

Prose Poetry 2.0: A Video Essay about Video Essays:
"As part of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Groningen"

Jilted girlfriend given a Christmas to remember:
"Until a few days ago, 23-year-old Zascha Friis from High Wycombe was facing a very lonely Christmas. The Danish nanny and part-time student had just broken up with her boyfriend and couldn't afford the £350 flight home to Denmark to spend it with her family."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Kevin Anderson.

Life I have friends whose identity is tied up in the fact that they live on the bleeding edge of technology. They always have the latest gadget. Their lives are one continuous upgrade cycle.

While I have plenty of very modern technology lying around the house, my relationship with technology is quite different than these upgrade addicts. I savour the challenge of getting the most out of tech well past its due by date. I keep technology long after most people relegate it to the back of their cable cupboard or flog them on eBay, and because I end up using this kit for years, I develop a relationship with my most beloved bits of tech. Besides, sufficiently old tech develops a kind of personality, certain quirks or, let’s be honest, faults that feed the human compulsion to anthropomorphise.

In August, I opened a personal time capsule full of things I hadn't seen it in nearly a decade, since I moved from the US to the UK. Scattered amongst the books, CDs, bookcases and my bicycle were aged and obsolete tech bits and bobs, including one of my most beloved antiques - a vintage Mac SE/30, and I very much hoped that it had survived its long period of hibernation.

In 2005, I moved to London on what I thought would be a year long attachment from my job as the Washington correspondent for what was then called BBC News Online. I put all of my worldly belongings - not much to be honest - in a five by ten foot storage locker in suburban Maryland. That was more than nine years ago, and it was only this August that I finally liberated everything I had stored there.

In it, I found an old TV monitor, a six-head Toshiba VCR, an Onkyo turntable and my Mac SE/30. The TV monitor is in the garage waiting to be recycled. Neither the turntable nor the VCR work, but I didn't even wait until I got to my new home to see if the Mac was still with us. On a stopover at my parents, I took it out from the moving van. After nearly a decade in storage, it fired up without a hitch. It did take a little more effort to keep it working reliably, but now it's back in fine fettle.

The story of my Mac begins in the student computer labs at the University of Illinois. I first got onto the internet on a Mac SE/30 and wrote many of my college papers on it. But I never owned one. They sold for thousands of dollars then, and while the stars in media make hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars, and that was well beyond the budget of a journeyman journalist.

Six or seven years later, I had moved to Washington DC to work for the BBC. For some reason, someone left an orphaned Mac on my back porch, a Mac SE. It started up, but flashed the missing disk drive sign. After a little research online, I found that that the recommended repair for the Sony hard drive in it was to remove it from the computer, hold it about three or four feet off the ground and drop it. I am not kidding. The logic of this repair was that the drive would seize up, something called stiction, and the drop was just enough force to free up the drive mechanism. It was good advice, and once I put the drive back in the Mac, it started up much to my surprise although it didn’t generate a lot of faith in its longevity.

I gave that computer – with a new hard drive – to a friend, but then I wanted one of my own, and for my 30th birthday, I found a Mac SE/30 on eBay not for thousands of dollars but for about $30, not including shipping. This one came in a lovely carrying bag. It was a luggable and had been used by someone who worked for an insurance company who schlepped it from client to client. It's hard to believe that this is what passed for a portable computer back in the day. It weighs something like 8.8 kg.

You might wonder why I have such affection for a computer that has hopelessly out-of-date versions of modern software – Photoshop, Word and even WordPerfect. For one, I love writing on it. The keyboard is one of the old mechanical types that gives off a solid thunk when you hit the keys. The old word processing apps - Microsoft Word 5 for the Mac and WordPerfect 3.5 - are a joy to use. They do just about everything you'd want without a lot of the useless features that have crept in over the years.

More than that, I love writing on my Mac because there are far fewer distractions. I don't have message, email or Twitter notifications popping up to break my flow as I do on my MacBook Pro, and the nine-inch black and white screen draws me in. There isn’t enough screen real estate or enough computing power to have six or seven apps open that I can obsessively tab through. It is online, but opening a modern web page is glacial so there isn’t much temptation to nip off and check my email or do some online Christmas shopping.

But it’s more than that. From the first time I used one more than two decades ago up until now, I find something incredibly intimate about this little computer. From the moment the old smiling Mac icon pops up on the screen, it really does feel like a personal computer. Long before Siri was on the scene, Steve Jobs and his team could trick you into feeling that technology had a personality bordering on humanity.

That is a real achievement. Most technology is utilitarian. They are tools we use, but even amongst all of my devices, I never developed the kind of relationship I have with this old Mac, and it has been great to rekindle my friendship with this tiny, luggable, huggable computer.

You can follow Kevin in Twitter @kevglobal.

The Films I've Watched This Year #47

Film Attachments isn't available other than through about ten episodes released on VHS over a decade ago. I never did track down Midsummer Dream or the short film Running for River. But apart from that #garaiwatch is done, completed, finish and until Suffragette is released, as I sit down to watch a film or some television it will be with the disappointment of knowing that Romola does not feature somewhere.  I'm hoping to go and see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies tomorrow.  I'm almost expecting her wander through playing an Elf.  Was it worth it?  It's fair to say that without her participation I may not have made time for Words of the Blitz in which she quotes, like the other participants directly to camera, from the diaries of a survivor Joan Wyndham, whose vivid descriptions of trying to maintain some semblance of a normal existence amid the bombs, really underscored for me just how important life is and why you should make the most of it.  Or the fascinating Russia's Lost Princesses (a rare voice over).  So yes, if only for those, yes it has been worth it.

Blitz was broadcast in 2010, right between Emma, which was covered last time and The Crimson Petal and the White, the 2011 BBC adaptation of Michael Faber's 2002 which isn't easy to love.  Garai is a Victorian prostitute who takes advantage of the attentions of an industrialist, a gloriously serpentine Chris O'Dowd, in order to shift herself from the squalor of the Dickensian undercity.  However extraordinary the performances, and Romola's pretty much a cameleon here in a role entirely unlike anything she'd done until that point, and how, I felt a tension in the adaptor not quite being sure whose story is being told or how to structure it.  Glancing at a synopsis of the book just now, I can see that it's more about the parallel stories of the two women in O'Dowd's character's life, the other being his frail wife.  Perhaps it might have benefited from giving just one of them the majority of the agency.  On the upside, it means Romola can add to theoretically non-canonical Doctors, Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who night sketch) and REG (Shalka) to her tally.

Of course, The Hour adds a whole bonafide, unarguable Doctor in her soon to be predecessor in the role Peter Capaldi.  One of the great tragedies of The Hour, other than the BBC's unwillingness to have everyone back for a couple more so they could resolve some of the storylines, is that it didn't manage to properly find an audience.  Like Party Animals and the like before it, this was British television attempting to offer something other than the same old tired genres, succeeding brilliantly but not finding enough viewers interested in watching this kind of drama to justify its existence.  At which point the very viewers who failed to watch it then complain about seeing the same old tired genres.  The second series isn't quite as good as the first to be fair, not managing to deal with shifting from what's a perfectly structured personal storyline in the first series to a moral crusade in the second.  None of which stops me from hoping Abi Morgan takes over as Doctor Who show runner in the future, not that she'd probably want to bother with it.

Garai's final, up to date credit on the imdb is for last year's drama contribution to the BBC's Cold War season Legacy in which she's  a spy who ultimately has little to do with the main plot other than provide the protagonist with some unrequited romantic interest and drive him around for a bit.  As I said last year, it's "like an episode of Spooks in which Harry's entered a coma and woken up in 1974 ala Life on Mars", not entirely unwatchable but mostly a reminder of when television used to broadcast this sort of play every week before deciding that if they were going to build all the sets they might as well get six episodes out of them, that working until the viewers lost interest anyway (see above).  On reflection, there's nothing about this which couldn't interestingly be turned into a series as well if the BBC had a mind to.  Which they don't lately (again see above).  Beyond this, Suffragette is in post-production as is Dominion, a $5m b/w, shot in Canada and Garai's been in New York on stage in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink.

Which isn't where I stopped.  For the last couple of nights I went right back to the beginning of her screen career.  In the 2001 ITV drama, Perfect, Romola's adopted daughter goes in search of her mother only to find that she's Michelle Collins, a serial bigamist (yes, indeed).  Adapted from her own novel by Susan Oudot, it's about as early 00s as an ITV drama can be with contemporary musical cues borrowed from Cold Feet, Cathy Tyson as Collins's best friend and Barbara Flynn as Romola's adoptive mother.  It's quite a shock to see Romola wearing what would have been contemporary clothes for the time, black faux-goth t-shirts and denim skirts.  With the exception of Inside I'm Dancing, she wouldn't be seen in contemporary clothing on screen for most of the rest of her career.  Perhaps of most interest is how the tabloid journalists are portrayed in the scenes after the secret is out, prying and prowling, the drama suggesting this to be the norm, even though in reality they're simply turning ordinary people's lives into entertainment to fill the gaps between adverts.

Then I ended this escapade where she began in The Last of the Blonde Bombshells as the young Dame Judi Dench in flashbacks which reflect on her time in a jazz band during World War II, performing in just the sort of clubs Joan Wyndham refers to in the extracts Romola reads in Words of the Blitz.  Written by Alan Plater, directed by Gilles MacKinnon, the production design is from Michael Pickwoad, who currently fills that role on Doctor Who including the current TARDIS set.  It's a really charming old fashioned story about getting the band back together, with Ian Holm as the love interest and Leslie Caron, Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine, Billie Whitelaw, Joan Sims and June Whitfield as the "girls".  In other words if Romola was going to have an eye catching start to her screen career it would be this and although there's no sign that she even met any of the older cast members, she does at least get to keep her own voice.  Grant Ibbs who plays Ian Holm's younger self is ADRed over by the older actor.

Having You
Babysitting (short)
Whitelands (short)

Garai's current penultimate screen credit, Having You sees her in the familiar spot of the fiance of the protagonist in this case Andrew Buchanan's Jack, who discovers after eight years that his drunken one night stand with Anna Friel begat a son, which is complicated because it was a year after he'd begun his current relationship.  Directed by otherwise actor Sam Hoare (who played Douglas Camfield in An Adventure in Space and Time) (pretty much everything Romola's been in it seems has some Who connection it seems) (I'm going to be checking this now aren't I?) who also lensed the Garai starring short Babysitting (poor dog) its the sort of thing which would probably have been an itv drama in the early 00s with its tonally awkward lurches between middle class lounge comedy and harsh mellodrama, notably in the form of Phil Davis as the disappointed father who feels like he's wandered in from a 90s Mike Leigh film.  Not unenjoyable but feels dated, especially its gender politics for reasons too spoilery to explain and in a way Whitelands manages to avoid.

Christmas Links #15

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: the thriving culture of pub Christmas carols:
"The carols in Lodge Moor are unaccompanied; everybody knows that. They might use an organ in Dungworth, a few miles away across the Rivelin valley. Other pubs a little further afield might have occasional brass or even string accompaniment. But here, in a handful of villages across a tiny stretch of countryside west of Sheffield, the festive carolling, fuelled by pints of ale, is to the sound of the human voice alone."

The first-ever oral history of Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album:
"I went in search of answers and spoke at length with Star Wars’ Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), co-producer/engineer Tony Bongiovi and composer Maury Yeston. Each man told me the same thing: I was the first person to interview them about this record in 34 years. From the mad disco money that made it all possible to George Lucas almost pulling the plug, CBC Music proudly presents the first-ever oral history of Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album."

Top 10 BMJ Christmas Papers:
"Every Christmas, the British Medical Journal publishes humorous scientific papers to bring some holiday cheer to their readers. So allow me to show you what science looks like with its hair down. Here are my top ten joke scientific articles from the BMJ."

Australians Offer To Travel To Work With People In Religious Attire Using #IllRideWithYou Hashtag:
"The terrible events in Sydney, where Martin Place was locked down after an armed man took hostages, have sparked a heartwarming reaction on social media."

"Christmas in Dublin during The Emergency - 28/12/1981"
"One woman's story of life at Christmas time during the Emergency in Dublin." From the RTE archive.

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Annette Arrigucci.

Life The one thing everyone else should know about: Don’t worry so much.

And I know there is no shortage of things to worry about in the age of anxiety. 24-7 access to work email, text messages and an endless stream of tweets and Facebook posts form a slithering reptile of information that threatens to strangle me like a boa constrictor.

And this year I got engaged, which in theory should be joyous, but instead my inner worry demon has come out to play, with questions, such as: What if no one really *wants* to come to the wedding? How can a photographer possibly cost $3,000? Will I look fat in my dress? Why do roses have to cost double on Valentine’s Day? Pile onto that an impending cross-country move with my future husband and you can see why I’m a nervous wreck.

But at year’s end I have come to realize (again) that worrying is utterly useless. There is no use spending valuable mental energy worrying about things you have no real control over. And trying to live up to what you think other people expect is a losing game. Plan, yes, worry, no. The wedding is, in all likelihood, going to turn out OK. I know a few details will probably go wrong, but it will be a happy day because I and my fiancé make it so, no matter what my relatives, caterer, florist, cake baker, DJ or anyone else does. The same can be said for so much else in life – it’s time to live in the moment and enjoy it and deal with problems as they come, not stay up nights pondering nightmare scenarios that will probably never happen.

Anyway, here are the top 10 things that help me calm down when life has turned into an anxiety-filled mess:

  • Spend time with people. Face-to-face, not on Facebook. Most of the time I realize others have problems that are much greater than my own.
  • Write down at least three things I’m grateful for.
  • Read a book. Something about books encourages getting lost in them and forgetting yourself.
  • Find a charity to donate to. Here’s a worthy one:
  • Turn off the technology, even if it’s just for an hour or two. Cut off the text messages and stop checking email.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep makes everything seem worse the next day.
  • Cook something easy to make but healthy and delicious.
  • Pray and acknowledge your powerlessness to control things.
  • Go outside and look at something beautiful – a tree, a sunset, a mountain or a full moon. Do NOT post a picture on Instagram.
  • Take 10 deep breaths. Yes, 10. One is not enough.
Annette can be followed on Twitter @elpasoanne.

Christmas Links #14

Hanukkah History: Those Chocolate Coins Were Once Real Tips:
"Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, starts on Tuesday night. But the flickering candles won't be the only things shining on the table. Many families celebrate with gelt, chocolate coins covered in gold and silver foil. But while this treat is beloved, it's not all that delicious."

Football gets in the festive spirit – in pictures!
"With just twelve days till Christmas there’s plenty of cheer around the grounds"

Parents angered by 'awful' Frozen party in Kilgetty:
"Parents said the room was too small, the advertised buffet consisted of crisps and a mini chocolate bar and the present from Santa was a 5p lolly."

You've been wrapping presents wrong this whole time:
"put down the scissors and let this employee at Takashimaya department store in Japan show you how it’s done, in just 12 seconds"

Christmas on the Bayou is Mardi Gras on water:
"Bayou Bernard and Gulfport Lake became a veritable winter water land Saturday night as a bevy beautifully decorated boats lined up for the annual Christmas on the Bayou parade."

Christmas Visitors (British Museum)
"Sheet of reproductions of drawings, 'La Pastorelle' in the centre with two men dancing in a ballroom, surrounded by eight other vignettes with individual titles"

11 DIY ornaments inspired by memes of 2014:
"The best part of the holiday season is enjoying a crafty afternoon decorating your Christmas tree with some homemade ornaments. But as much as you love stylish decor straight out of a Better Homes & Gardens spread, perhaps you're looking for some more niche DIY ideas to make your loved ones smile this year."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Karina Westermann.

Life I live in the UK, but I was born in Denmark. This makes me an immigrant – an EU immigrant, to be precise. I settled permanently in the UK because I fell in love with a Scotsman. Luckily, I also fell in love with Scotland and this is my home now. My Bella Caledonia. Nine years ago Dave & I were talking about wanting to live together and we had to decide where that should be. We decided the UK would be the best option because Denmark has huge problems with racism and xenophobia. Did we want to live somewhere where Dave’s accent would always set him apart and he’d never really be considered welcome? No. Did we want to live somewhere where his name and lack of Danish language skills would affect his job opportunities severely? No. I’ve now lived in Glasgow for eight years and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I was worried about racism before I moved across, but it has been manageable so far. I’ve had a few drunks shouting things about foreigners, but that’s easy to shrug off. The drunks also recant as soon as I point out I’m a foreigner: Eh, I didnae mean you, hen!

In recent years the UK has seen the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric. From British Jobs For British People slogans to blaming foreigners for a National Health System struggling to cope with budget cuts. Britain even has its own anti-immigration party now which enjoys disproportional media coverage. I have a strong feeling of deja-vu as sentiments I recognise from Denmark have spread to the UK. Encouraged by certain corners of UK media, it has become more and more acceptable to say things that are overtly racist. Being one of those pesky EU immigrants blamed for everything from how sandwiches are made to pot holes in the roads, it is rather worrying.

Recently I was travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh when I found myself next to a nice fifty-something lady with lovely hair, sensible shoes, a jolly yellow rain jacket and a posh accent. Without any prompting she began to inform everyone around us that Polish drivers were to blame for British road accidents, that Europeans had a different driving culture (“if you can call it culture“), that she once went to Germany and was shocked by how drivers did not stop for her when she crossed the street, and how foreigners coming to Britain needed to sit a driving exam before being allowed to drive on good British roads filled with decent Britons (although when challenged, she allowed that tourists may have a fortnightly exemption if they pledged to be law-abiding). This was the start of an hour-long monologue directed at different people around her. EU immigrants were welfare benefit cheats, killing people on the streets, stealing jobs from honest Britons, invading Britain under the cover of EU laws, intent on destroying Britain &c. The solution was clear, according to the nice lady. All foreigners should be thrown out of Britain! “What we need is a revolution!”

At first I was tempted to interject. I wanted to challenge her on what she was saying but I didn’t. Instead I started shaking. She noticed – oh, she noticed – as did a nice gentleman across from me who started talking to me about the sock I was knitting. Eventually I began laughing every time she said something particularly outrageous. It was a choice between laughter and tears – and I did not want to show her any tears. My laughter shut her up, finally, and she spent the rest of the journey reading a certain right-wing newspaper.

I have made so many speeches in my head since that experience. I have worked out all the things I should have said: “I am one of those EU immigrants you fear so much. Look at me. I hold two university degrees. I’ve never claimed any benefits. I run my own business. In my own country, people are saying all those things about my Scottish partner. What do you want us to do?”. I know nothing I could have said would have changed her mind, but I wish I could have tried. I have had racial abuse hurled at me before – including in my native Denmark! - but it has always been by people I could dismiss as either drunk or incredibly stupid. It is less easy to dismiss a a nice 50-something lady with a posh accent. It is scary because she is the type of woman who is recognisably, reassuringly an upstanding member of society. Her sort goes on BBC's Question Time or writes long letters to her newspaper. She legitimises scary sentiments.

I have decided the best way forward is to write about my experiences as an EU-immigrant. All those scare stories in the media work best if EU immigrants are portrayed as a faceless mass. Well, here I am. Hello.

You can follow Karie on Twitter @kariebookish.  Her blog is Fourth Edition.

Christmas Links #13

Christmas Decorations in Google Search:
"Just like last year and many years before, Google shows some special decorations when searching for [Christmas], [Hanukkah], [Kwanzaa], [Festivus]. Christmas decorations are animated."

Big Pottermore Reveal Has Actually Been Known in the Fandom for Years:
"JK Rowling released her first story of the Harry Potter 12 Days of Christmas series via Pottermore today and, according to MTV, she's revealing some "serious Severus Snape secrets." Too bad that the "secret" is something that's been a widely accepted fact in the Harry Potter fandom for years now."

My Sister-In-Law’s Lonely Christmas Cards:
"All of my wife’s four siblings are married except one. Bridget, the unmarried one, got cut out of her mom and dad’s Christmas card picture five years ago. Her parents found it awkward to have just one remaining child in her mid-20s still in the picture, so they kicked her out. Bewildered, lonely, and unsure what to do with herself in this big world, she began sending out her own Christmas cards."

Sick of saccharine Christmas films? Here are 18 that won’t make you puke glitter!
"What do you do when you’re being evicted on Christmas Eve? Go on a drug-fuelled odyssey of intersecting stories and Timothy Oliphant. Which NOBODY will remember was set at Christmas."

How to have an office Christmas party for one:
"Working for yourself is one way to take some power into your own hands. But with that power comes a great responsibility: providing your own Christmas entertainment. Self-employed people like me can claim £150 as an office party expense (it’s an exemption, not an allowance, ie not free money, but every little helps), but then what? Here’s how to create that party feeling without stepping into an office."

Could ‘Arthur Christmas’ Become a Classic?
"Arthur Christmas is one of those movies that, if it passed you by on its release, you may forget its existence. Though it was well-received critically and loved by audiences, it is a mighty task for a new Christmas movie to become a ‘classic’ in our homes if we haven’t grown up with it. Depending on your age, you probably even have your own preference of A Christmas Carol – whether it involves Muppets or a computerised Jim Carrey. Is there room for another seasonal movie on your festive favourites list?"

Walking on beautiful clean ice in Slovakian Mountains:
"Me and my friend walking on frozen mountain lake in High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Tim Worthington.

Music If you haven't been following the 'Saint Etienne Presents...' series of compilations, then you really have been missing out on something special. Put together by Bob, Pete and Sarah from their massive collective collection of forgotten popular beat waxings, with assistance from their longtime associate and genre-inventing crate-digger extraordinaire Martin Green, each one aims to evoke a specific time and place, from Central Park to a Lyons Corner House, using nothing but the sort of little-remembered pop discs you might have expected to hear in the designated venue. What's more, they're mostly drawn from pop's formative years, pulling in hits that have been hiding in plain sight since the late fifties and waving a jazzy two fingers at the tedious insistence by the mainstream rock press that everything started with Love Me Do.

This time, they've turned their attention to Christmas, which will hardly surprise anyone familiar with Saint Etienne's back catalogue; after all, they've released a Christmas EP every year since 1993 (kicking off, of course, with the glorious I Was Born On Christmas Day), and even released a full album of Christmas Songs. But being Saint Etienne, and indeed being their 'Presents...' series, this isn't just any old 'Christmas'. It's Christmas in London in the long-lost days of black and white TV, when festive shop window displays were a dazzling new thing, home entertainment barely existed, and people were as likely to pile into the local carol service as they were the office party. This of course involves rifling through the surprisingly large volume of Yuletide-themed chart contenders in the days before we came to associate the Festive season even with Glam Rock Santa-hattage and Phil Spector emulation, let alone X Factor winners and, erm, Rage Against The Machine. So there's some familiar names, some not so familiar names, and some rescued from well-worn nigh-on-sixty-year-old discs in the absence of master tapes, which occasionally makes listening on headphones a bit haphazard but let's face it, who cares when this stuff actually is on CD, in many cases for the first time ever?

Songs For A London Winter, it turns out, are a mixture of rinky-dink singalongs, politely furious instrumentals, skiffled-up carolling, cheapo cash-in supermarket own brand covers, and the odd bit of Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth thrown in for good measure. Johnny Keating turns in a ramble through We Three Kings in the style of his more familiar Z Cars theme, John Barry rattles through a Shadows-aping rewrite of When The Saints Go Marching In that bizarrely threatens to turn into incidental music from Mr. Benn at one point, and brother-and-sister singing child sensations Elaine and Derek - 'Derek' of course growing up to become Charlie in Casualty - try their hardest not to sound like they're trying to sound like Anthony Newley while listing the sights and sounds of advent. Meanwhile, Zack Laurence, who would go on to become both Mr Bloe (as in Groovin' With) and the theme composer for Treasure Hunt and Interceptor, engages in a bit of piano tinkling in honour of the humble snowman. There's even what sounds like it could be an early electronic instrument on the aptly-titled Sounds Like Winter by Dusty Springfield's backing band The Echoes.

Where the the real surprises lie, though, are with the songs and artists that you sort of half-knew at the back of your mind. Even aside from Billy Fury's original of My Christmas Prayer, as later of course covered by Saint Etienne, you'll find The Beverley Sisters getting a touch funky on Little Donkey, and Ted Heath doing quite nicely on Swinging Shepherd Blues, even if his definition of 'Swinging' might pose some problems under laboratory conditions, while the piano-rattling of Russ Conway - so often the target of 'naff' jokes, sometimes even in person, in latterday comedy shows - turns out to be very pleasantly produced and arranged, Lionel Bart being Lionel Bart - oh what a surprise, he's asking for a 'kiss' - is never not welcome, and Adam Faith's Lonely Pup (In A Christmas Shop) isn't quite as annoying as you'd assumed it was on the very fringes of your consciousness. Alma Cogan can still keep that laugh-in-her-voice to herself, mind.

This is more than just a look at a prehistoric age of pop music, though - it's literally a glimpse of a lost world. This is the sound of the sort of Christmas you see in ancient Pathe News films, where massive crowds turned up to watch trees being unveiled on the high street, where queues for department store Santas snaked around the block and the youngsters only left with a cheap plastic doll where the hair came off when you washed it, and indeed where The Beatles put together their very first Christmas Fan Club records, and, believe it or not, even appeared in panto. See, it didn't quite all change with Love Me Do.

You can follow Tim on Twitter @outonbluesix. He's the author of Higher Than The Sun, the story of four albums released by Creation Records late in 1991, available at Hulu here.

Christmas Links #12

10 of the strangest: Messiahs
"As Christmas approaches, let’s focus on Handel’s famous oratorio and some of the weirder approaches to the Hallelujah Chorus. If you like your Handel with added psychedelic trance, LED lights and electric guitars, you’re in the right place"

Jewish angels and Roman gods: The ancient mythological origins of Christmas:
"Many Americans have heard that December 25 was a birthday of Roman gods long before it was chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some people also know that our delightful mélange of Christmas festivities originated in ancient Norse, Roman and Druid traditions – or, in the case of Rudolph, on Madison Avenue. But where does the Christmas story itself come from: Jesus in the manger, the angels and wise men?"

Here’s why thoughtful Christmas gifts are the WORST gifts:
"In the coming weeks, millions of people will buy gifts for loved ones. Which is great—except that tons of those people will make the same glaring mistake, and buy the wrong gift. Roughly 10 percent of gifts are returned each year—and the percentage of unwanted gifts is surely higher given that nice people may not want to return presents."

Christmas parties: a survival guide:
"Parties – how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. There’s the dressing up for them. There’s the getting to them. There’s the being at them. The getting back from them. The meeting of strangers. Or people you know. There’s the not being at home. There are an awful lot of things."

Review 2014:
One Thing:

Coming of Age.

Life Go to the mall, the grocery store, or just stand on a busy street corner and look around at the people swirling about you. Are you younger than most of them? Perhaps you fit comfortably in the middle? Or do you notice that it is only the ones who look as if they might be collecting a pension that appear older?

2014 is the year I started to feel old. This came as a bit of shock, because as much as I flatter myself that I am a self-aware and a discerning observer of life around me, I swallowed more than a few glasses of youth culture kool-aid over the years.

Combine the decades-long bombardment of media messages exhorting us all to buy this cream, eat this super-food, join this gym program and follow these Six Steps to A Better You with the underlying premise that with enough money and effort you can reverse time, and you get a seriously messed-up culture.

Age is just a number.

You are only as old as you feel.

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.

Only the sentence by Robert Frost is correct.

I and just about everyone else of my generation grew up in expectation. Life was ahead. It was going to happen. Out there. When. When we finished school. When we moved into our own apartment. When we got that job. When we met the right someone. And it was all going to be champagne wishes and caviar dreams minus the braying Robin Leach soundtrack.

Our whole lives have been aspirational. Nations’ economies depend on it.

My parents’ generation grew up in the still lingering shadows of the Depression and World War II rations. They strove to contribute to rebuilding a better world. They still wanted the house and the car and the summer vacations. But they talked about being comfortable. They could see how their lives were easier and more secure than their parents’ and that was success.

My generation grew up with the message that it was all waiting for us Out There and television showed us just how much Out There existed in the world. Greedy doesn't begin to describe the rapacious insatiable appetite for the good life we all came to expect as our due.

We had a road map too. Hard work, good looks, and a winning personality and the world would fall at our feet.

Hard work was a matter of will. Good looks used to be a roll of genetic dice but by the end of the Seventies you could buy a new face for not much more than the cost of a car.

The winning personality depended on what collection of self-help aphorisms was hogging the best-seller list. It started with I’m OK-You’re OK which propelled us down the path to magical thinking and all its other delusional siblings. It was quickly followed by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which promised to teach us how to win at life while at the same time reducing it to a series of lists. Lists are great. Lists are manageable. Lists have no time for ambiguous, or intangible, nuanced messiness of living. Lists reduce everything into easy bite-sized Happy Meals. (The internet loves lists—but that’s another issue.) We kept chasing after the mirage of more, because to settle for less is to fail.

And so we continued living life as possibility. It can all happen. Still. Until the day it can’t. We wake up and suddenly, with even the most basic grasp of mathematics we know there is more behind us than in front of us and what lies ahead looks grim no matter how fat the wallet.

It happens in small increments, mistakes, accidents. The first bumps are the sort of hip check that takes you away from childhood dreams of professional sport or celebrity. You shrug it off as silliness and set you sights on a new passion. The thing is time is against us. We all know this and I have yet to meet anyone who accepts it on a personal level.

Live each day as if it were your last.

That’s crazy talk.

If I did that, right now I’d be on a beach in Hawaii (it’s December and I hate the cold) with a plane ticket to Europe in my purse and nothing in the bank.

We are all going to die. It’s the when and how that eludes us.

I have been told I can expect to live longer than previous generations did. I am not guaranteed that the quality of those days will be any better. Already, if I make a list of all the people I have known, the list of the quick is smaller than that of the dead. I am at the age where I understand why my grandparents spent so much time discussing the past—it’s where they did their best living.

What nobody told me about aging is that the outward signs are nothing compared to the interior collapse and decay and that it begins long before the end. Bones, muscles, sinews, synapses, hormones—it all starts to break down; if I was a car I’d be trading myself in.

This is where, if this were a magazine piece, I’d be expected to impart a piece of warm hopeful wisdom. The wonderful thing I’ve learned this year.


I’m still in the middle of this. More people have left my life than entered it this year, so I can tell you to cultivate young friends. I’m not being flippant.

Most of my friends used to be older than me, because they were more interesting. They had seen and done things, while my peers were as clueless about life as I was. Most of them are gone. I am cultivating younger friends because now they are the more interesting.

I can also tell you that anyone who says that they have no regrets in life is either trying to sell you something, or is too stupid to know better. I regret plenty of things, and most of them are things I didn't do. What I regret is of no use to anyone but me, with perhaps one exception- I regret any time I had a chance to be kind and didn't take it. Except with politicians. And bankers. And bureaucrats. Oh hell.

You can follow @asta on Twitter here. Kitchen Bits is her Tumblr.

Christmas Links #11

Playing With My Son: An experiment in forced nostalgia and questionable parenting:
"I love games, and I genuinely wanted Eliot to love and appreciate them too. So, here was my experiment: What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order? Start with the arcade classics and Atari 2600, from Asteroids to Zaxxon. After a year, move on to the 8-bit era with the NES and Sega classics. The next year, the SNES, Game Boy, and classic PC adventure games. Then the PlayStation and N64, Xbox and GBA, and so on until we’re caught up with the modern era of gaming."

NPR Music's Favorite Songs Of 2014:
"... we turned our tidy list of songs into a massive, party-starting player in which you can actually listen to every single one of the 302 songs we loved this year, from every genre we cover. You'll find a 19-minute doom-metal epic and a few two-minute punk explosions. Classic-sounding R&B and Vine-inspiring hip-hop. Ecstatic choruses and devastating harmonies. Beats from around the world and unwavering political folk from here at home and plenty more that blurred the boundaries."

1647: The year Christmas was cancelled:
"Howard Goodall examines the original handwritten journal from the House of Lords from 8 June 1647, the day the law cancelling Christmas was passed, and meets Professor Ronald Hutton to find out why. Taken from The Truth About Christmas Carols, originally broadcast on Christmas Day 2008."

The six worst TV Times Christmas Covers:
"Slap-bang in the ‘so much more than TV times’ magazine era, Harry Secombe, there, firmly on the highway to getting sozzled, in a perfunctory photo-shoot of the ‘let’s just split for lunch’ variety. Sack the art ed who married those red and white hues with a lime flavoured logo."

How the film Elf ruined my day:
"I flopped down on the bus seat, on my way to do whatever it is I do for a living. I hadn't shaved that morning, for reasons which need not concern you. In a certain light I fancied I looked elegantly rumpled, in all other lights I knew I looked a total state. Then my phone buzzed. It was a message from a man from the television asking me to go on the news to discuss the Will Ferrell film Elf. This did not come out of nowhere. I had recently written a blog post about the film, which I detest, and it had provoked some controversy."

No, I will NOT wrap all the presents. Why are women still responsible for the holiday joy?
"We all know that women do the majority of domestic work like child care, housework and cooking. But the holidays bring on a whole new set of gendered expectations that make the season less about simply enjoying fun and family and more about enduring consumerism, chores and resentment so that everyone else can enjoy rockin’ around the Christmas tree. (I bet even Mrs Claus gets upset that Santa works one night a year but she’s dealing with hungry elves 24/7. That would be almost enough to make you want to over-indulge in eggnog and hurl yourself in front of a reindeer-pulled sleigh.)"

Mary And Joseph Brave Oxford Circus On A Donkey:
"Chester the donkey is said to be a bit of a diva, but hopefully the method-acting mule will be on form next week when he escorts actors playing Mary and Joseph through Oxford Circus at the start of the Wintershall Nativity."

Jim Broadbent and Rafe Spall on Get Santa:
"Director Christopher Smith, producer Liza Marshall and cast members Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Jodie Whitaker, Kit Connor and Warwick Davis reflect on Get Santa (2014), their seasonal comedy. Smith explains how and where he devised the film’s plot, while Marshall and the cast discuss the plot of the BFI-backed production."

31 Reasons Christmas In New York City Ruins You For Life:
"It’s not the holidays without at least one trip to the Big Apple."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Essie Fox.

Film My One Thing relates to a film that I’ve never forgotten – because it scared it me half to death, and the terror of that memory remains just as vivid as it did when I was the schoolgirl who crept out of bed to watch the late night TV films. Since then I’ve often thought about the nightmare tension of that film – all the melodramatic darkness that burrowed its way into my mind, and from which it has never re-emerged.

The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise in 1963 (since when it has obtained a certain cult status, with Martin Scorsese calling it one of the all-time scariest films that he has ever seen) is based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; herself the undoubted mistress of compelling psychological horror. And this is how her novel begins, with an atmosphere of implicit threat contained within these few short lines that is then more than fulfilled in Robert Wise’s visual adaptation –

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Even today, that opening – the threat of the madness that haunts the house – still fills me with a sense of dread. I can almost relive the scene in which the vulnerable protagonist awakes from sleep to hear some monstrous banging sounds … like the beating of the giant heart of some animalistic, unseen ‘thing’ that is lurking outside in the corridor, trying to force its way on through the bulging bulk of the bedroom door.

There is also a cast iron staircase which swings and creaks as if alive, which seems on the verge of collapsing, just as the victim’s tortured mind is spiraling ever downwards into a private mental hell, while filled with the sense that she is cursed – her doom to be found within Hill House.

So – if there’s one scary film that I can recommend to you – the one film that I hope to watch again over this Christmas period, then it has to be The Haunting.

You can follow Essie on Twitter @essiefox.  She's the writer of Victorian gothic novels. The Goddess and the Thief, her latest book, contains many ghostly elements.

Christmas Links #10

Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Spotify and App Stores Have Killed Christmas:
"It’s not just limited to films, either — my traditional Christmas shopping plans have been scuppered by Spotify and the many app stores. too. The Scott Walker and Sunn O))) albums for my older brother will have to remain on HMV’s shelf as he can already play it on Spotify. The Run the Jewels album for my other older brother suffers the same fate, while picking up the Shadow of Mordor video game for my teenage cousin seems a futile exercise seeing as it’ll almost certainly be knocked down to a pocket-change price by the Steam Christmas sale."

The Hazards of Christmas Decorations:
"Industrial hygienist Monona Rossol discusses the potential hazards of Christmas decorations, and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s proposed rules about them. A chemist and an artist, Rossol is the president and founder of Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to providing health and safety services to the arts. She is the author of Pick Your Poison: How Our Mad Dash to Chemical Utopia is Making Lab Rats of Us All."

In Soviet Russia, Christmas celebrates you!
"What was Christmas like under the communists? Well, actually, when the Soviets took power in Russia they abolished Christmas – but it was replaced by New Year celebrations, which under the Russian calendar actually happened 6 days earlier than Christmas! Bonus!"

Sony, you have the wrong Dakota:
"I get emails. Lots of emails. I get tons and tons of emails. Some of them aren’t for me, but they are for someone with presumably the same name."

Look!: A Giant LEGO Christmas Tree Built In Sydney:
"LEGO crazy at your place? The Southern Hemisphere's biggest LEGO Christmas tree has just been built in Sydney, Australia! Here are all the stats, and links to plans to build some LEGO Christmas trees of your own."

Christmas card from 1982 forms lasting link between families:
"It was the year E.T. wanted to phone home. Edmontonians were clubbing at Scandals and Flashback, Ottawa was in the midst of a constitutional crisis and the up-and-coming Oilers won the Smyth division for the first time. Mike Leggett sent a Christmas card to his boss in 1982 and started a Christmas tradition that persists to this day."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Simon A. Forward.

Life What has a hazelnut in every bite? Topic. I didn’t really have one in mind when Ian kindly invited me to write a guest post for his 2014 review, then I remembered I have a new book due for release this December.

And what better respite from the deluge of carols and Christmas pop tunes in the cafes and shopping centres of the world than the sound of an author blowing his own trumpet?

On the other hand, I didn’t really want to make this a commercial.

Now, in fairness, my Evil UnLtd books aren’t all about self self self, since if you put them on your shelf shelf shelf all royalties will go to Cancer Research UK so a purchase (of ebook or paperback) is all in a good cause. And in looking back on this year it’s impossible for me not to think on this, the fourth volume in this increasingly epic sci-fi series of mine.

It’s about time, as the tagline said of the Doctor Who TV Movie. Which is to say, this instalment is about time (my DW novel Emotional Chemistry featured four different modes of time travel and I think I may have outdone that with this one). And it’s also an admission that I took my own sweet time writing it.

You can put that down to my meticulousness and exacting standards. And if you’ve scribbled as many Doctor Who reviews as I have, complaining how many of the episodes don’t make sense, you’re under some additional obligation to take care over your own writings and make sure the dots all join up sensibly. Even more important, I suppose, when those writings are a fiendishly fangled Evil time-travel adventure. And if it turns out the tangled web of time is riddled with mistakes, well, readers are invited to make omelettes out of all the egg on my face.

Time allegedly flies when you’re having fun and it’s true to say I always have great fun writing these books. They’re supposed to be funny, after all, so it’s a good sign if I’m having a laugh or several along the way. Hopefully folks will have nearly as much fun reading them.

But time only flew occasionally. Sometimes it crawled, sometimes it got completely away from me, sometimes it had trouble dragging itself out of bed in the mornings, sometimes it crashed altogether. Because, at the risk of a brief moment of sobriety ahead of the impending festive season, there was one other major feature to characterise my 2014 and definitely played its part in slowing up the creativity.

Depression, to give it a name. The black dog, to give it another.

It’s hounded me (haha) for years, but this last year was particularly tough, turning at times into an obstacle course of deep troughs and huge mountains to climb. I mention this not to cast a downer on everyone’s Christmas, but because depression is far from uncommon and none of us should be afraid to fess up to it. Also because one other 2014 memory that springs too readily to mind is Robin Williams, a warm and very funny guy now who inherited RIP after his name in August. A sad loss, for him and us.

It’s particularly easy to fall prey to the black dog at this time of year and I wish I was brimming with wisdom and bright advice for other sufferers out there, but even if we are not alone but we do face it largely alone. What works for me may not work for you.

What worked for me this year is that I made it to December with a finished book to show for it. And a comedy at that. Depression’s not entirely useless in that it does fuel some measure of the cynical humour that colours much of the Evil UnLtd series. I guess that’s key: for one, it helps to laugh, even at the crappiest things in life, for two, it’s a matter of turning even the darker emotions to some sort of advantage.

It’s like turning fat into muscle. And as anyone with a lapsed gym membership will tell you, that’s hard work. But just as we needn’t be afraid to talk about it and should never be afraid to get help, we really need to not be afraid of the hard work it takes to negotiate that daily assault course and stay ahead of that damned black dog snapping at your heels.
So, I guess ultimately what I (finally) wanted to say here is this:

Happy Christmas. But in case it’s not, don’t be afraid of the big black dog. It may pee all over your Christmas tree, but it can be trained.

I can’t claim to have mastered it but at least for this year I can count my achievements as well as my blessings. A fourth book in a series is no mean feat, plus I’ve continued to produce short fantasy fiction in my Tortenschloss Chronicles at the rate of an episode a week and managed various other bits of creativity in the face of adversity. And knowing that feels like an encouraging pat on the back. So if you’re looking back on your 2014 and it’s been a rough one, I recommend counting anything and everything you’ve achieved, no matter how small. And if it was a struggle to get this far, well, d’you know what? That makes those achievements all the more notable and valuable. Count em twice.
There. That’s me done with being sober for the year.

Here’s to 2015, in which I’m planning, amongst other things, a fifth Evil book. That one is not going to be about time. In theory it should be about politics. So if nothing else depresses me next year, that certainly ought to do it.


You can follow Simon on Twitter @perfect4d.  He's the author of several Doctor Who novels, audio dramas and short stories as well as the writer of three novelisations for the BBC’s Merlin series. He also self-publishes his own sci-fi comedy series, Evil UnLtd (see and you can find some of his fantasy fiction at The Tortenschloss Chronicles:

Soup Safari #11:
Parsnip at Manchester's Christmas Markets.

Lunch.  £2.95. Lancashire Hot Pot stall (owned by Manchester Central Convention Complex), Manchester Christmas Markets, Albert Square, Manchester, M60.

Christmas Links #9

Christmas tat comes but once a year, so embrace that reindeer jumper:
"The new issue of Vogue is specifically dedicated to people’s work wear: “I always enjoy trying to guess what someone does for a living from what they are wearing, and generally have a pretty good strike rate,” the magazine’s editor, Alexandra Shulman, writes. I reckon everyone has a great strike rate when it comes to guessing your occupation, Mr Claus, and while this might spare you some tedious small talk at cocktail parties (“What do you – oh, right”), I bet it raises other complicated issues, ones possibly not mentioned in Vogue, because life is complicated when Christmas clothes are your perennial personal style."

College basketball fans toss Christmas toys onto court during game:
"A college basketball team takes a technical foul just to make sure children have toys under the tree this year."

17 Badass Women You Probably Didn’t Hear About In 2014:
"The 600 volunteers who added 101 female artists to Wikipedia."

The Box of Delights and other stories about dreams:
"Yet The Box of Delights is also set at Christmas, when dreams mean something different. For one thing, they're important in the Nativity story. In Matthew 2, the Magi are warned in a dream not to tell Herod where he can find the infant Jesus; then Joseph is warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. I'm interested in the interpretation of dreams in life and fiction—and how one use of dreams in particular shaped our modern sense of Christmas."

The Interactive Polish Christmas Guide:
"Polish Christmas interactive guide project is horizontal scrolling, illustration-driven journey explaining Christmas traditions in Poland."

Review 2014:
One Thing:
Jacqueline Rayner.

Books Guest blog goal: to bring something obscure to a wider audience. Well, 2014 marked the end of a quest of mine, a quest to find all that could be known about a character called Reginald Fortune. Obscure? Well, I’m obviously not going to be the only person in the world to have heard of him. But back in the early 1980s it felt like I was...

When I was about 11 or 12 I was exploring my Nan’s house when I came across an old, very tatty cloth-bound book called Clue for Mr Fortune by H C Bailey. The (foxed) imprint page told me it was the third impression ‘(first cheap edition)’ and that it had been published in September 1937. No one knew where it had come from or who owned it, so I was allowed to take it home to read. Clue for Mr Fortune contained six stories, each dealing with a different ‘clue’ that spoke volumes to the eponymous Reginald Fortune, a gp who advised Scotland Yard. The book’s language was occasionally archaic in both construction and word use (the first story has a girl who steals a flapjack, which turned out to be a powder compact and not, as I confusingly thought at the time, an oaty treat), the cherubic Reggie was not the most sympathetic of lead characters and the action was often gruesome (the flapjack story not only had dead humans – perfectly acceptable in detective stories – but also a cat with its head bashed in, which was fairly traumatic). Nevertheless, I adored the book and wanted to read more.

I turned first to my library, but the Essex Library Network had only one H C Bailey volume – and that was in its reserve collection, not even on the shelves – a reprint of the first book, Call Mr Fortune. As far as I could tell with my limited resources (no internet!), only two books had ever been reprinted, the rest had been out of print for decades and the chances of any library having a 50 or 60 year old edition on their shelves seemed slim. So for the next few decades I scoured second-hand bookshops, flicked through every mystery anthology I could find hoping to see the magical words ‘by H C Bailey’ in the contents list, and even regularly picked up ‘Book and Magazine Collector’ to search through its classifieds (growing to loathe Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Mr Fortune’s Maggot along the way). Slowly, gradually, my collection built up. There were additional delights in discovering these often ancient books: for example my 1943 US Pocket Book edition of The Best of Mr Fortune Stories asks the owner to send it to ‘Commanding General, Fourth Corps Area Headquarters, Atlanta GA’ when they’ve read it, ‘to help the boys in the service’ who need books ‘for amusement and recreation’. Lovely stuff!

Mr Fortune is one of the detectives emulated by Tommy and Tuppence in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime and H C Bailey is one of the authors mentioned in another of her books, The Body in the Library, presumably therefore both Fortune and Bailey would have been familiar names to readers of the 1920s-40s. So why have they both fallen into obscurity now? Perhaps it’s because authors such as Christie can transcend their time period, but Bailey is very much of his. In these cosmopolitan days there would be little place for some of Reggie’s deductions – there’s the time he solved a case by discovering that the stomach contents of a murdered victim contain saffron and deducing he must find a Devonshire household as only they would know of saffron cake, and a similar experience when he deduces a fragment of a menu must be from Brittany so searches for a crime there.

Then there’s his relationship with the police which is patronising in the extreme: he frequently bursts the smug bubble of some local police official by pointing out that, eg, an absence of blood on the ground means the corpse was murdered elsewhere, while his acolytes (Mr Lomas, the Chief of the CID, and Superintendent Bell) look upon him with awe (OK, so there was no CSI in the early 20th century, but really...) And then he’ll go in the opposite direction with deductions so out of left field that you have to credit him with second sight – even his colleagues think his powers verge on the supernatural. (“‘Very odd how he knows men,’ said Superintendent Bell reverently. ‘As if he had an extra sense to tell him of people’s souls, like smells or colours.’ And he has a clear head. He is never confused about what is important and what isn’t, and he has never been known to hesitate in doing what is necessary.”)

That’s a quote from ‘The Unknown Murderer’, a story from Mr Fortune’s Practice that showcases several of the features that distinguish the Mr Fortune stories: an unusual and disturbing motive (in this case, murdering people who are greatly loved to inflict suffering on those left behind), and Reggie’s own sense of justice – ‘doing what is necessary’ as the text has it – another thing that might make him unpalatable today. Here, his struggles with the murderer lead to her death, which he then denies knowledge of and classes as suicide during his own examination of the body as Home Office expert. Slightly dodgy? Oh yes. But at least in that case the criminal was trying to kill him at the time; in a really quite startlingly large percentage of stories Mr Fortune either causes or fails to prevent the death of the criminal, often cold-bloodedly – and even considering the death penalty of the time, this can make uncomfortable reading. It may make it more or less acceptable that these deaths often occur when Reggie knows that there’s insufficient evidence for a conviction or when the punishment would be, in his eyes, inadequate – he’s carrying out the death penalty that he feels they deserve. (“‘They’d tortured that boy and his mother. They planned to murder mother and son. They did their best to murder the boy’s soul. And the law would only have given them a few years in prison. I want justice.’ Bell looked at him with dread. ‘It’s an awful responsibility to take.’ ‘Yes. I take it,’ Reggie Fortune said.” – ‘The Only Son’, Mr Fortune’s Trials.)

Children feature frequently – Mr Fortune is a champion of children and places their welfare above all things, but what happens to them before his arrival is frequently extremely distressing, and there are many that he arrives too late to save and can only avenge. But putting aside the terrible things that happen to these children in the name of fiction, possibly the worst crime that is committed in these stories is the way that the youngest of the children speak: so vewwy vewwy twee. Weally they do. It’s the only folly in the prose that really needs the reader’s forgiveness.

Mr Fortune is the opposite to contemporaries such as Poirot and Inspector French in that he works better in short stories than in novels – even with my love of the character I find the novels can verge on impenetrable at times, but there are compensations: Mr Fortune Finds a Pig provides one of the best book names ever created, drily literal and absurd at the same time, although the plot of the 1943 book is grim – pig -> blood of a sucking pig used to culture typhus -> typhus used to murder evacuee children -> murder of evacuee children used to create unrest. Then there’s Dead Man’s Effects, the cover of which provides the unforgettable illustration of some people dramatically looking down at a very small set of false teeth (‘dead man’s effects’ being WWII slang for false teeth). Glorious!

As of 2014 my 30-odd year quest has ended: thanks to the Internet I have finally tracked down all the volumes of short stories. No more new Mr Fortune for me (although there are still those cases never recorded except as a brief recap at the start of a story: “‘That was chocolate cream,’ he said placidly. ‘You’d better arrest the aunt’” or “Mr Fortune came back from the Zoo pensive. He had been called to the inquest on Zuleika the lemur – a strange, sad case”, which can at least be discovered by an exercise of the imagination). So where do I go from here?

Mr Fortune is a great character. He’s lucky that in these Internet days he’s become slightly less obscure, there’ve even been reprints of a couple of his books in recent years – but they still need to be sought out, which requires people to know about them in the first place; that’s the challenge. How many other great characters have been lost to all but a few who frequent second-hand bookshops? How many now exist only in the few stories that have been anthologised? So I’m going to keep my eyes open for some other tatty, foxed, century-old volume that’s never been reprinted – and maybe find another character who doesn’t deserve to have been thrown on history’s scrap heap. Why not join me? Rescue a lost character today!

A few story picks:

‘The Furnished Cottage’ (Mr Fortune’s Trials): a twisted tale of revenge. “Perhaps the water wasn’t really poisoned. He put the tip of a finger into it and touched his tongue. Bitter! Yes, the old woman told the truth. Strychnine, and a good dose of it. And he would be sitting there, wild with thirst, looking at her poisoned water. . . . The old woman must have thought a good deal about making him suffer.”

‘The Dead Leaves’ (Clue for Mr Fortune): picturesque murder in the Lake District. “’He didn’t get it on that rock. It wouldn't grow there. He’d been higher. On the mountain.’ Bell watched him gaze up at it with a queer wistful look. His round face had the expression of a child wanting the cruel, difficult world to be kind.”

‘The Little House’ (Mr Fortune, Please): a drawing of a kitten leads Mr Fortune to a tortured child. “’They’ve been making experiments. Not for science. For the devil.’”

‘The Profiteers’ (Mr Fortune’s Trials): Reggie’s only supernatural case. “‘When they broke the door in they found him over there in the corner. Sort of kneeling in a heap, they say. As if he died saying his prayers.’”

You can follow Jac on Twitter @girlfromblupo.  This is her Amazon shop and she also has a Doctor Who blog.