Book Crossing My very first post about Book Crossing has been mentioned at this weblog about well, Book Crossing. Except it's in German. The rough translation is that 'Manchester is a big Book Crossing zone in the UK ...', well, yes it is. But no one has registed any of the ten or so Peanuts books I dropped off there last month.
Life For some reason, Christmas shopping has been quite hard this year. I set myself the task of looking for new and unusual things but then couldn't decide what that actually meant. Yesterday, in Chester, I think I had a breakthrough. This town which has layers of history features lots of small independent shops which tend to be missing from the bigger cities of late and consequently have gifts and products you can't find anywhere else. So I was able to make some presents look like a few more presents.

I also fell in love with The Arc a contemporary craft shop, just up a hill, off the main road, with its wood panelling and hand made pottery and glass. It's the kind of shop you can look about for hours feeling very self concious because you can't afford anything. Looking into the eyes of the impossibly beautiful owner I think I was her first customer in hours so I just had to buy a card at least. My clowning about with my train ticket cheered her up for a few moments I think (but I'm probably over selling myself).
Buffy And so it ends. For teatime BBC2 viewers Buffy: The Vampire Slayer ran in high heels one final time. I've held off from talking about this final season until the last stake had been thrown into an Ubervamp's heart. Three episodes most weeks has been a lot to take in, characters and subplots passing by with much speed, episodes bleeding together, losing their individuality as the plot reached it's apocalyptic conclusion.

As the season opened the old magic seemed to have returned. Section of Season Six had felt utterly laboured as though the writers were swimming through tar trying to get from teaser to credits. In the first few episodes, the slick dissipated and there was a conscious return to the joy of the first season when everything was shiny and new. Xander was wisecracking, Willow was looking things up on her computer and Buffy's sense of fun had returned. Slapstick all over the walls.

Then the season plot kicked in and things began to go all floopy, the balance thrown asunder. Xander started making big speeches. Willow began to worry about her witchcraft and the burden of responsibility again weighed heavy on Buffy's shoulders. The obsession with Spike showed itself again, the premise of the show being stretched again as the VAMPIRE who had KILLED PEOPLE was kept alive because he was a main character who was popular. The fact that all the fun had left him seasons ago when he was neuter didn't matter. I'm not anti-Spike. He's a great character. I'm just anti-whattheydidtohim.

Then, suddenly a show which had always been at its strongest with the four main characters was suddenly over run with hundreds of them. We didn't know most of their names and neither did Buffy. I point was being made but it was creating diffusion. Purposefully, the only of these potentials to come to the fore was Kennedy, new girlfriend for Willow and oozing confidence. But she lacked a depth. Tara had depth. But she had room to develop. Kennedy didn't have room. She was being stifled by lots of pointless running around and getting angry. Giles and Buffy had to fall out. The cool principal was trying to give Spike the beating he probably deserved. The show began to look like its spin-off Angel for all the wrong reasons.

Balls were being dropped all over the place. Two utterly exciting opportunities for great stories, all of the spectres which had haunting Buffy in past seasons returning to create mischief at the high school and the whole population of Sunnydale leaving town were blown off in a couple of scenes. Story possibility after story possibility passed the writers by as they concentrated on endless, ponderous scenes between The First (this season's big bad) and whoever would listen.

But then, suddenly, like an alcoholic given a very strong cup of coffee, everything woke up. Neglected characters like Dawn and Anya were getting something to do. Willow disappeared to Angel and brought back Faith. The First's evil was given a manifestation in the form of Caleb the most tangible enemy since Glory if not quite as much fun. And as the final few episodes played out against the backdrop of a night or two. The show we loved returned.

The final episodes brought together the iconic elements which had made the show the joy to watch all these years. Xander was brave and funny. The old Willow unsure of her obvious abilities returned. Giles was imparting advise. And Buffy had a plan, a big stupid impossible plan that might just work. And they would all need to work together. Hell even Angel himself put in an appearance one last time to offer to help and help with the final solution and to renew the tension of the love triangle with Spike. This was like the old days and we loved it. All of the abrupt attempts to be nostalgic about the glories of the series past receded, enveloped in the glories of the present, until in the final moments the premise of the show shattered.

Buffy was no longer the one girl in all the world … there were thousands of them all wanting to make the world a better place. In the moments we saw all of these young women fulfill their potential as they fought back domestic violence and angry pitchers at baseball games, the epic, world changing nature of the series, missing so long, suddenly returned. There was life outside the sets the few sets the show's creators had been concentrating all these weeks and suddenly we were left with the nagging feeling that the show was finishing too soon, even after seven seasons. Suddenly so many new stories to tell, a whole new Hellmouth in Cleveland to explore.

Buffy. She saved the world. A lot. And we wish she was still doing it now.
Rings The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the kind of film which is ultimately impossible to review. If I was a film maker thinking about creating a fantasy film in the mould now I’d kick the screenwriter out of the door, make a cup of tea and watch television. There really isn’t any point. Peter Jackson and friends have created a film of such utter perfection that they’ll still be talking about it in fifty years. This is Citizen Kane for the new age, an item of such spectacle but at the same time emotional complexity it’s difficult to think how anything else is ever going to top it. And I’m sure that such words have been used in the past for all kinds of films, when they said that they couldn’t work out how a man could fly or spaceships could be filmed in space. But this is different. This is so exciting, it’ll make you cry and scream even at the age of twenty-nine. Perhaps I’ll write something more coherent when I can get my breath back. I’m wondering about reading the book. Will it be a let down?
TV Sky buys 24. No one surprised. Channel 5 to show it at a later date. Surprise still undetectable.
Film When I saw the minimal extras on the British DVD release of the film Dogma I went to Play and ordered the Region One double disk version. The problem is that I might have fallen fowl of the law (and I'm probably not the only one) because the film was distributed over here my FilmFour and by Lions Gate in the US. Miramax in the US recently sent a cease and decist order to a Japanese film shop because they were importing and selling the Japanese version of a film they had distribution rights for in the big country, and opened a can of worms. But the real issue at stake is the ability of the consumer to have a choice in what they want to buy. As the shop owner describes:
"When (Miramax) releases DVDs in this country, they often heavily edit it. They've Americanized the movies. Fans of Asian cinema want the original versions," said's Stockton, who has joined the write-in campaign. "We feel that it's unfortunate that they have chosen to limit the options of fans and consumers in the way they have."
Under the Miramax way of thinking, simply because Dogma was distributed by a whole other film company in the UK who couldn't or wouldn't get the rights for the extras laden US DVD we should only buy the vanilla version and lump it. Thanks Harvey.
Christmas An alternative to Christmas Trees? [via AskMe]
Audio After I'd listened to Scherzo, the first story in a new season of Eighth Doctor audio adventures, I reached for Google and found that in Italian it literally translates as 'joke' and that it's the third part of various musical forms such as symphonies, string quartets and sonatas. So the joke is that it's named after music but it doesn't feature any at all. So it's a very clever title - but then it's a very clever work.

If you really want to demonstrate to someone how far Doctor Who has traveled since the TV Movie get them to sit down and listen to this. Imagine a story in which everything is stripped to the bare minimum. There is The Doctor (Paul McGann), a companion, in this case Charlie Pollard (India Fisher), a mystery to investigate in a bare landscape and that's it. Without giving away too many secrets (and half the fun is discovering those secrets) there are no other real characters. This isn't a monster adventure, or a 'historical'. The only arch enemy is perception itself and the inherent tension is in whether the travelers decide between themselves if they should live or die.

This is a Who adventure set in The Theatre of the Absurd, as difficult to pin down as Samuel Beckett, the characters as adrift as Vladimir and Estragon standing under that tree in Waiting for Godot. Nowhere to go, no end in sight. If this had been made for television (which is impossible since it wouldn't work on television, or in a book for that matter) it would have to be on late night BBC Four not teatime BBC One. The concepts and ideas on display are utterly terrifying, magnifying how hopeless our short lives are really is when faced with the passage of time, or what can pass for time -- sometimes.

The writer of the piece, Robert Shearman is an award winning playwright turning his keyboard to his love affair with a timelord (not counting his wife, who according to the inlay notes let him work on the play while they were on their honeymoon). None of his previous works have been what you would call traditional. In Chimes at Midnight (voted best audio drama of all time in a recent anniversary poll) The Doctor had to investigate why the same figures in a murder mystery kept dying over and over again. Another work Deadline featured Derek Jacobi as a ex-writer for Juliet Bravo with delusions of traveling the universe in a police box with his granddaughter and her school teachers based on a treatment for a tv show he never managed to get off the ground. Scherzo fits perfectly into this ouvre as Shearman again reduces the concept of the show to it's bare bones, stretches and manipulates them but still produces something which is both recognizable and alien at the same time.

The direction falls to the multi-talented Gary Russell, the overall series producer. It's his bravery which led to this, the most evocative adventure of them all. He asked the writer to create a two hander which would tie up some of the loose ends from premise the shattering doublebill Neverland and Zagreus. I can only imagine how he felt when Scherzo landed on his desk. My first thought would have been 'How the hell do I direct this? but direct he does, realizing that the only way the listener is going to understand the void which the characters have been dropped into is to have the experience replicated for them too as much as possible.

Without the usual props of supporting characters to bounce off McGann and Fisher again demonstrate the heartbreaking chemistry we've seen between them time and again. Recent events have made The Doctor a much darker character - if this had pictures you could imagine the light in his eyes once so bright, dimmed slightly. The characters are coming to terms with words spoken, and we are right on Fisher's shoulder pleading with our friend to be just as he was, the man so willing to pretend to be a private eye and talk Orson Wells into stopping an alien invasion or take Romana on one final trip to Oxford to find out what really happened in 1979. It's her performance which helps us adjust to this new version of the character, as McGann's interpretation gains layers of hurt and pain which may take years to sort out. It's a tragedy that their work here is only going to be heard by a relatively small audience.

When Doctor Who returns (and how odd to be able to say that) it won't look or sound anything like this. Which isn't to say it won't be challenging and with Russell T Davies at the controls it won't be boring either. But to garner an audience it will have to be fairly traditional, mostly offering the frights that people remember from all those years ago, hiding behind a collective sofa of nostalgia. Scherzo is for a different audience, the kind who'll go and see the Japanimation import Spirited Away and talk about it for hours afterwards. It's about ideas, expectations and the fragility of who we are and next to a Cyberman I'll take those kinds of scares every time.
Commerce Although I don't drive (and possibly because) I actually quite like the idea of the M6 toll road. Not the environmental concerns of course -- it opens up a whole raft of issues when you consider the possibility that the scheme could be extended to other congested areas, but the idea that you can pay so that you don't have to wait. It's something I'm used to because a similar system has been in place in the WH Smith in Liverpool for some months, and it's all because of the National Lottery. But lately things have been getting a bit hair raising, today for example.

It's 1:30 and I've got half an hour to get to work and I want to buy a magazine. Only then do I notice the queue. It's ten(ish) days before christmas and there are four hundred people piled up in the twisty-turny system and two people serving. I glance over. Presumably so that the shop can cosy up to Camelot, there is a separate queuing bit and till for people to buy their lottery tickets and as usual it's empty.

So I walk up to the till, which is right next to the four hundred people waiting. I know that the British at times have a reputation for waiting, and forming orderly queues when need be. But looking at this lot, it's almost like they were enjoying the experience.

Eight hundred eyes watch what I'm doing. Some of them narrow. I plonk the magazine on the counter. I look around. They are still looking at me. I know what they're all thinking. Then a mountain of a man puts it into words, as though telepathically he's their mouth piece, booming:
"Err ... excuse me."
I keep my back to him.
"That young man," (young man?) "Has jumped the queue."
I don't say anything. The clerk looks over.
"It's OK ... if you're buying a lottery ticket."
"You can use this queue to get a lottery."
I look at the INSTANTS.
"Can I have a 'Jump the Shark?' " I ask.
The man mountain gets the kind of frustrated look that Victor Meldrew would have if someone stole his tortoise.
The clerk is keep is head down. I'm keeping my head down.
"This is like a toll queue." I smile.
The clerk grunts. I don't think he's amused. I take the magazine and lottery instant and walk away. An extra pound lighter.

Now would someone like to explain to me why anyone (and looking into those eight hundred eyes there must have been someone) would spend twenty minutes of their lunch hour waiting in one queue when they can go to another till, get served in seconds, pay a whole £1, be giving to a good cause and have the possibility of winning a fortune. I know this isn't the image that Camelot are looking for but there must be some milage in it.

But what I really want to understand was why they looked at me as though I was doing something wrong. I was taking advantage of a system which was in place, doing something they all could do. I'm not sure if this is a trend or something which has always been the case, but we seem to be losing the capacity for reason. Rather like those people who stand at the front of an empty bus and make it impossible for passengers to get on they hadn't really looked at the information in front of them, and in this case asked the right questions. I was the one being looked upon by four hundred people as somehow cheating on them, breaking some sacred human bond, because I'd actually thought something through. It took the buying of a magazine to make me feel like I was outside the social norms. How did that happen?
Life We didn’t really recognize how large this tree actually was. We ended up gutting off about ten large branches, enough pieces to build a whole other tree. Most of these pieces were salvageable and we’re using them as decoration throughout the rest of the flat. I’ve got one on top on my television, offering the ultimate pine air freshener. Now that we got the bush in the corner and the tinsel up everywhere else, it really does feel like Christmas is coming. It snowed very briefly. What are the rules about winning a bet on a white christmas?
Music Further to my rant the other day and in the style of Fark, Girl with two christian names signs record deal. "People say I'm like Alanis Morissette or Sheryl Crow, but I don't like to be labelled. I have my own style. I write about life and love, but I write with a twist." Can't wait. There are so many posters for a certain scouse threesome up, it's like no other pop band existed ever.
Music I suppose my version of the following was the time I waited six months to see a film and it has a single showing at a local multiplex and I went and sat in the expected empty auditorium for twenty minutes until I realised I was sitting in the wrong screen...
"'Are you on any medication, miss?
'Do you have any medical problems?'
'Have you passed out at gigs before?'
'Noooooo! I?ve been to MILLIONS of gigs!'
'What did you eat and drink today?'
'Vegemite toast and two cups of tea!'
'Ah ha. Dehydration for sure.' "
Shauny at a Radiohead concert, poor girl. At least she got to see the end. I had to wait another six months for the DVD release ...
TV Steven Moffat, Coupling writer is posting at BBC America again. Just watch as a poster named Padderz gets his knickers in a twist about the scheduling of the UK version on BBC Two, not at all realising he's having an argument with the writer of the show. My favourite bit is when he says with some finallity: "And by the way Coupling was moved to a later time slot on BBC2 because the ratings, in comparison with BBC1 and ITV, were appalling. Trust me I'm a TV buyer." Err ... so. Does that mean you don't read the Radio Times?
Ask The indispensibilty of Mefi Ask continues. I asked: Why does a person's musical taste keep changing? I'm suddenly listening to lot's of Paris Cafe music, the likes of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. How did that happen? Why do some people's tastes never seem to change? Jerry Kindall answered:
"The more music you already know, the more music you can "get into." A lot of jazz is inaccessible until you have listened to and understood its "prerequisites." Similarly for classical, I think. Rock, well, you're soaking in it, so it's hard to tell. But can you really "get" electronica without having heard Kraftwerk and maybe '80s Tangerine Dream?

And there's also the music you heard when you were growing up, even if you hated it then. Eventually its familiarity will become comforting. I never in a million years thought I'd have any country CDs whatsoever; it's my dad's favorite kind of music, and it was symbolic of all the ways I didn't want to be like him. When I grew up enough to get past that, I started to realize that some of that stuff was really good. I'm not sure where my love for '70s pop comes from (someone got me into Rundgren about ten years ago, but I liked Rundgren because that sound resonated for me) but something about that style of songwriting just gets inside my head. Even new music in that style gets me (e.g. the Bacharach/Costello album). But it wasn't something that really grabbed me until my late '20s or early '30s even though I'd been hearing it all my life.
... and the thread is filled with such nuggets, so much more exciting than the blue area. People are being creative. Except in this thread about alternatives to 'soda' where everyone said water. Although I was the first. If any none members want me to punt along a question, and it's something I've always wondered about, let me know...
News Saddam Hussein captured. Although TV5 seem to think he may be disguised as Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder.
Books "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" beats Harry Potter in The Big Read. Have I missed the point or is this very good news indeed? And isn't it shocking that four of the top five are genre titles and the only British TV series made for adults in that genre is a remake featuring a Timelord? What happened to all the great sci-fi or fantasy series for adults?