What 'Tis To Blog

Life There is a moment that most bloggers experience at some time. They'll be sitting at their computer, fingers poised on the keyboard looking at a blank screen. The curser will flash in and out of view, impatiently waiting for the cue to move across the line with characters in its stead. The blogger will sit looking at that curser, hypnotically watching it blink. As the time ticks by, it will slowly dawn on them that they have absolutely nothing to say.

It isn't all of them. Some bloggers have selected a particular topic for their site and so there is a steady stream of material for them to absorb and report. There are an increasing number who are actually being paid to blog, it's their job and this gives them the impetuous to offer something, even if it is just to publicise a new innovation the company is introducing. But we are talking about the vast majority, those for whom their own lives are the sources they're working from and that thing they want to communicate.

But in this moment their mind has gone blank. They look to see how many people visited the site the day before, and the count is in the low fifties. This gives them even less motivation, because half of those were from people finding the weblog after click through from a search engine when they were trying to find pictures of someone naked. They start to worry that nothing interesting happened to them that day, or has been happening to them for ages, and that to put that into words would be some kind of failure.

Then from seemingly nowhere they'll have a memory of something someone said to them at the breakfast table; or that they read in the newspaper which angered them or didn't make any real sense; falling in love from afar on the bus; meeting someone in the street that day they hadn't seen for a while; the photograph they saw online; an email they read or even a song they heard on the radio.

Their fingers begin to type, letters become words, words become sentences, sentences fill paragraphs. They read back through what's there and it slowly dawns on them that it isn't half bad, one of the best things they've ever written in fact. They check it again for spelling and grammar, then drag their pointer across to the post button on the screen, click and wait. Seconds later the text is published online for all to read. It's another day the blogger hasn't let down their twenty or so loyal visitors, and they resolve to do something exciting on purpose the next day, so that they don't have to experience the same desperation again.

Blogging is a crazy, terrible, exciting, thrilling, annoying, addictive pastime. To begin reading a blog is to open yourself up to experiencing the world through someone else's eyes. But it's in the writing that the change happens, because you know that wherever you go and what you do becomes something you might want to tell the world about. Never has screenwriter Norah Ephron's mother's assertion that 'everything is copy' been more apt. Will Carlough captures the feeling excellently:
'I hate blogs. Blogs, at their best, are people who are well versed in a given subject, giving opinions on that subject so dryly that only the most hardcore fans of the subject can stand to read through it. At their worst, they're exercises in vanity, with people rambling on about nothing, talking about what they had for lunch, and posting stupid pictures of them and their stupid friends.'
He wrote that on 2 October 2004. On his own blog, The Diogenes Club. Every blogger wants to be in the first camp but always has a creeping suspicion they're in the second. Yet they continue to write.

Thank goodness.

Links for 2007-03-23 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Liverpool Echo: Apology to Peter Fincham
    The Echo headlined last night with a story about Lilies being canceled because, according to a memo, it only attracted a "largely older and predominantly working class" audience. Turns out -- there was no memo. Oh dear.
  • MetaFilter: David O. Russell, "collaborator"
    'I Heart Huckabees' isn't an easy film to love and this somewhat explains why. Sometimes electricity between director and actor can create magic. Sometimes, well, not.
  • Film Poster: Away from Her
    Doesn't the poster for Sarah Polley's directorial debut look like Noel Edmonds and a particularly grateful contestant after an episode of 'Deal or No Deal'?
  • Cinematical: Batman Will Absolutely Be In Justice League Film, Source Says
    The only way this whole project would work is with care and if the likes of Nolan and Singer were in at the earliest stages of its development. Quite how Wonder Woman -- whose film will apparently be a period fits is anyone's guess.
  • filmlog: The Forgotten (2004)
    Begins as a subtle study of a mother's grief (Moore is compelling.) then crams a remake of the entire nine year long plot arc of 'The X-Files' into an hour. Perhaps the 'Lost crew' could do this - make an entirely unrelated film to explain everything.
  • filmlog: Shopgirl (2005)
    Claire Danes' luminous performance reignites some of her 'My So-Called Life' magic and Steve Martin presents some his best work in years. It's very close to a work of beauty but ultimately hurt by an unsteady tone and too precious direction.
  • Pink Raygun » Pink Raygun Interviews: Ruby Rocket
    She makes costumes based on pop culture icons. I would particularly draw your attention to the Black Cat.
  • Listening #1

    Surprisingly complex and undoubtedly beguiling branching out for Norah into obliquely political territory. Compulsive.

    "I'm a very good judge - of drama."

    TV From Kate Orman: "I hear a lot about how Russell T. Davies keeps telling us all how brilliant he is. I will donate $AU5 to Comic Relief for every individual example of RTD boasting about his own talent since the new Doctor Who was announced."

    Example: "... I'm lucky that the BBC wasn't telling me what to do: they were waiting for me to tell them. That's the status I have in the industry. They're getting me in as a big name writer, and you don't get in a big name writer and tell him what to do." (DWM 359)

    Any more, for any more?

    Links for 2007-03-22 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • Biogs.com: The Apprentice series 3 apprentice biographies
    "When she was a teenager Natalie Wood swam for England but gave it up before the 1993 Commonwealth Games to attend the London College of Fashion."
  • Strange Attractor: Picking out patterns in the chaos
    Fascinating transcripts from The Guardian's Changing Media conference panels moderated by Nick Higham and featuring representative from a range of media outlets including the BBC and Channel Four.
  • Partly Animous

    TV Good lord, I've been linked by BBC Two's home page. A quote from my review of last night's Party Animals appears under a photo of Ashika. Hello everyone who's clicked through from there. Any news on whether its been recomissioned?

    Stuck in vinyl

    Life I was trapped in HMV Liverpool today, which is an over dramatic description of what happened but please, as ever, let me explain. The need for an access from Church Street through to the new Liverpool One shopping area has led to the closure of the age old HMV store so that it can be gutted, scooped out and an atrium access put in its place. It was truly a shame to see this cathedral of a shop close - it was the place I bought my first record when I discovered music.*

    Even though a disappointing three weeks of employment there in the mid to late nineties meant that I didn't go in right through the millennium, recently its been invaluable, particularly because of its mammoth music back catalogue collection with its capacity to surprise - every now and then I'd find out that a favourite singer from my youth still had a career. Plus the classical music section with its air conditioning and a little light music was a place of tranquility in this crazy world.

    Anyway, its new temporary store opened at the bottom of Bold Street in what's still called the old gas show room, even though they moved out years and years ago and a succession of temporary discount stores have been in its place since. One Christmas there was even a book shop there that charged by the pound. It's a tiny space and I wanted to know if it was still browsable or if I'd be spending the next two years until their next shop opens in Liverpool One drifting through the Virgin Megastore instead.

    Opening day then and as I entered someone thrust a bunch of flyers in my hand telling me as much. A band you might be big in the future had been hired for the opening but I thought they would have done their work by four in the afternoon. Apparently not - a queue of apparent fans twisted down the hill outside nearly straying into the road of Ranleigh Street at the bottom. Perhaps I'd be in and out by …

    Dvds on the ground floor, cds in the basement which is becoming the norm in most 'record' shops what with the former massively outselling the latter. I shuffled about nearly bumping into the display stands. The shop is small and conspicuously so, although they've crammed the stock to the rafters and still left enough room for a giant plasma screen hooked up to a Playstation 3 show the trailer for Casino Royale on a loop. I considered buying a copy of The Hustler but then didn't. Someone was walking around with the official chain mascot -- the one that appears on the posters. Poor mutt looks tired.

    City FM (local radio) were in attendance and a DJ was shouting excitedly into a microphone and it becomes apparent that the band are about to arrive. I decide to pop downstairs to glance at the cds then hop out quickly. At the stairwell I'm face with two men who are three times my size in both directions who look like they hand handle themselves. One of them tells me it's closed.
    "But", I say, "I want to look at cds."
    "Fifteen minutes."
    I step away and after hanging about for a moment for the exit. Yet another human monolith is blocking the way.
    "You have to wait inside - they're cutting the tape."
    I look across and a piece of tape is indeed strewn across the entrance. I am, in point of fact, trapped in HMV.

    Eventually the band arrive. We can hear, through the front window, the crowd cheer. By now the DJ is outside and ready to talk to the band, whose name still escapes me.
    "Are you happy to be here?"
    "Yeah. Hay!"
    "So you're going to be playing inside."
    "First time we've heard about it, but it's better than simply sitting there. We are musicians after all."
    Charismatic and sarcastic (?). They'll go far. The fans cheer twice. Once for the cameras (there were cameras!?!), the tape's cut and the crowd flood out of captivity. Outside, the queue is fighting over a box full of goody bags until its on the floor and being trampled on. Perhaps I'll go back soon and buy that dvd after all.

    * Notice the way I tried to sound like Nick Hornby here. It sounds less impressive if I tell you that actually it was Five Star's Silk and Steel and a Star Trek sound effects album. I'm not embarrassed. Really.

    "Yeah, its an odd feature of the Time Lord molecular structure that every couple of years they regenerate into someone cheaper..."

    TV Something I thought I'd never see -- self professed nerd site, Slashdot, covers Russell's season four confirmation: "Well, I expect to see William Hartnell will reprise his role for the first couple of stories, but I expect they'll recast. I'd say the actor Patrick Troughton, who played Phineas in the recent Jason and the Argonauts movie would be a good choice. Hold on. It is 1966 isn't it? My TARDIS often gets the date wrong."

    "If you’re the type of person who wants to avoid any foreknowledge of future episodes, some of the interviews in this podcast contain mild spoilers."

    TV The Stage magazine recently began a series of podcasts and the second is all about the new series, featuring an interview with Julie Gardner along with a few words from the likes of Adam Woodyatt and Noel Clarke. Not that I've heard it. The thing is 29 meg which suggests that file compression was the last thing on their minds. Not everyone had broadband you know!

    Updated: Scott Matthewman from The Stage has just said in the comments that the podcast has been reposted and its now just 7.5 meg. Thanks very much Scott. I'm off to download it now.

    [Links broken.]

    Spoilers: "Really, both episodes were fantastic."

    TV Graham from Off The Telly reports on the press launch: " I got to chat to Freema about the time she went to a Star Trek convention dressed as Dax." Her nerd points are accumulating impressively -- suddenly, I've totally warmed to her.

    Party Animous

    She didn’t say it. For once I watched the whole of the closing credits to Party Animals, it being the final episode of the series, and the announcer didn’t say that the series would return next year. Not that she even said ‘And that was the last in the present series …’ She said nothing at all about the proceeding programme which sort of suggests that despite a late ratings upturn (which I’m sure was because of my previous appeal for viewers) this is another show that will indeed go the way of Glasgow Kiss, Attachments and apparently Lillies, one series wonders all consigned to television history. At least this one managed to keep its time slot right the way through.

    What ultimately killed Party Animals really was its pre-publicity, or at least the viral version of it, pitching it as This Life for the naughties, wall to wall sex and sarcasm amongst the young political bucks. When in fact at its best it was more like a British version of The West Wing; all of the elements you’d expect from a political drama, the affairs, the scandal, the ideology but delivered with heart and passion and humour. It bravely aped the US format of plots A to C, ongoing plot arcs mixing with stand alone stories working towards tonight’s finale in which all of the various dangling story strands twisted together in surprisingly positive ways.

    This final episode was a perfect example of what the series did best (see I’m already talking about it in the past tense – I don’t hold out much hope) twisting stories and relationship in and around one another, the relationships between the characters tested and ultimately controlled by party affiliations. With the crucial by-election too close to call and vital photos of Ashika, the Tory candidate embracing her former boyfriend, James Northcote, a shadow cabinet minister turning up on the desk of Scott, the Labour campaign manager and her new boyfriend. Would he release the photos damaging his relationship but saving his Dad’s old seat from the opposition? In other words would he put his party or his woman first?

    As I said last time, one of the issues the series had to deal with from the outset was the viewer’s own party affiliations opposing sympathetic characters and confronted the issue head on. Personally I can’t stand either Labour or the Tories so I could rise about it all. In the end the decision was made for Scott because (and are you keeping up?) Danny (still Adric), his visiting brother and Labour researcher sent them to the local paper instead – because Scott had slept with his office crush on Kirsty (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’s Faith trapped in the body of Willow) after a party and denied it had happened. The brothers fell out and made up and Danny reminded Scott that Ashika was a Tory and therefore scum and Scott reminded Danny that when their flatmate was killed she’d visited to check that everything was ok and therefore nice. Shades of grey.pp

    Meanwhile, Danny and Kirsty’s boss, MP Jo Porter was nursing a drink problem and a failed marriage and both of them were attempting to get her sober enough to fight back against her critics after she drunkenly boasted about a coo attempt – her main critic being, you guessed it, James Northcote. One of the series best inventions, Jo was the most dimensional character, sharp as nails when she needed to be, a lush the rest of the time. When all about suggested to Danny that he should jump the good ship Porter before she sank, he stayed loyal and unlike some other series you understood why, you believed in her because she was human, helped by Raquel Cassidy’s typically layered performance.

    Not that all of the characterization was perfect by any means. For all the sympathy injected into Porter, Northcote was a bit one dimensional and about as twattishly shifty as you’d expect a Tory MP having an affair would be. Sophie Montgomery, the journalist buzzing around the group stopping off now and then to sleep with Scott never really fulfilled her initial promise particularly in the closing episode where she clearly should have been the one to help the pictures on their way instead of having them appear in the rather anonymous local Gazette – a midnight meeting with Danny, him lied to, her rejected, both by the same person, both wanting revenge. And god forbid the gay character, Matt Baker, Kirsty’s counterpart in Northcote’s office should get the storyline of his own, spending most of the duration the series being Ashika’s confident.

    The look of the series never failed to impress, shot in a controlled hand held style without resorting to pointless montage sequences to reflect location ala the likes of Torchwood, often ignoring boring establishing shots and expecting the viewer to realise that the scene is in the House of Commons, constituency offices or the brother’s flat. That helped to keep the pace up and only in this final episode was there captions – this time unobtrusively counting down to election day. No incidental music either telling the viewer what to think, with only a bit of well chosen pop music playing out the episode into the titles. It’s a shame that a soundtrack won’t be forthcoming.

    I was biting my nails right through to the announcement of the by-election result, weirdly hoping that Ashika would win it, shushing Kirsty along with Danny. That’s what the best shows do – they get under your skin and become interactive at crucial moments (Torchwood being the exception – I was shouting at that for opposite reasons). But I really would like to have more of this series, to see the aftermath, even if I fear there isn’t much more for it to do – this closing episode felt like a stop, most of the stories finding closure. Except there’s always that dangling question of what exactly Scott wrote to Ashika in that text message. I mean what could he say? Sorry about those photos ruining your political career -- want to have lunch?

    Running to the restaurant.

    Every now and then the BBC Jobs website includes details of an upcoming programme. Not too long ago a vacancy for a researcher for The One Show revealed that it would be running 50 weeks a year when it returns. The latest is a position for a “‘Location Runner” on something called ...
    “BBC2′s The Restaurant, which will air in 2007, features nine couples whose dream is to run their own restaurant. The task is to create their perfect restaurant and then open the doors to the paying public. Every decision, mistake and argument will be filmed as they work and live together 24-hours-a-day, under severe pressure.

    Each week, one restaurant is eliminated from the competition by Raymond Blanc, who acts as judge. At the end of the run, the winners get to run their own restaurant, backed by Blanc to the tune of a six-figure sum.”
    So that’s Big Brother marinated in The Apprentice then stir fried with MasterChef Goes Large sprinkled liberally with Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares potentially adding just a dash of mixed property programmes. It sounds exciting but what happens to the Restaurants that are opened to the public then voted off? Do they stay open?

    Links for 2007-03-20 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • STV: Eurovision: Hawkins pans 'racist' Britain
    It's hard not to disagree -- although Hawkin's own performance wasn't great, Big Brovaz were clearly the best (which is something I never thought I'd hear myself say). The same mentality that voted Daz Sampson in is sending Scootch there...
  • Out On Blue Six: Britain's Worst Best Half-Remembered Sitcom (With Added Keith Allen)
    Aaah ... 'Me, You & Him' with the famous answer machine episode that featured exactly the same plotlines as (I think) 'Colin's Sandwich'. Great sitcoms (almost) all listed here.
  • filmlog: C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004)
    Just about clever enough to entertain, but flounders in its attention to detail when it comes to the film clips and whatnot from their relative eras. The conceit that it was made in the UK doesn't work either. The idiom is all wrong.
  • filmlog: Apaga y vámonos (2005)
    Perfectly metred investigation into the battle of Chile’s Pehuenche-Mapuche people against the wealthy Spanish-Latin American hydroelectric corporation ENDESA. More proof that world media has lost focus when it comes to highlighting injustice.
  • What a day it has been ...

    Life I've just had one of those days.

    As part of my ongoing attempts to make myself more locally culturally aware, I decided to visit the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery in Stalybridge. The description in the Public Art Collections in North West England stretched to three pages which is more than most and well, I was just curious to see what Stalybridge was like, having heard its name mentioned almost every time I get a train to Manchester. I've passed through by rail before of course, and it looks picturesque through the train carriage window, a massive hill looming over the town (somewhat like Ilkley in Yorkshire).

    It also had the bonus, of there being a direct service from Liverpool Lime Street. Two in fact. The city express and a local service. Listening once again to the maxim that the journey is as important as the destination and that I'm probably going on these trips because I enjoy train travel, I opted for the local service which takes twenty-five minutes longer just so that could see what all of the smaller stations looked like from a standstill instead of a blur as the carriage speeds through. Oddly enough, by the time I got the station it was apparent that actually even though I was taking the more time consuming journey it would reach the place before the express.

    Local trains at least in the north west generally have none of the luxury of the expresses. They're like the old corporation buses except on rails - hardly any legroom and dirty windows. I often forget this, because sometimes you do get lucky, sometimes they have such innovations as tables. But generally it's bus seating and mere inches of space between your face and the back of the head of the passenger in front. No room for broadsheet paper reading and certainly no chance of clean air. As the train left the station I wondered why I hadn't just waited for the express. But I decided I was doing my bit for local transport too.

    Just outside Huyton the train lurched to a halt. It was bit of a shock, not least because in the pretty turgid book I was hacking my way through, a planet had surprisingly exploded at much the same time. I swore and the rest of the passengers looked around wondering what was going on. Then hitherto unseen men from the rail company began charging up and down the isle of the carriage looking slightly perturbed, glancing at their watches. The sun was out and I was baking so I moved to a different seat in the shadow.

    Time passed.

    "Sorry folks," said the guard eventually, "A tree's fallen on the line. We have to protect the rails."

    I looked out of the window as best I could given the angle, and it had. A tall thin trunk had surrendered o the high winds, broken in two and lollopped onto the line in front of us. People sighed. Most took out their mobile phones and began the range of phone calls to whomever they were meeting wherever they were to tell them they'd be late. For some that meant at the next station along the line. One of them wondered if they could simply walk there along the railway line.

    I mostly took in my stride. You hear about these things when standing on platforms at stations as the excuses why the train you're waiting for is late and you're never completely convinced that they're true, the wrong kind of leaves on the line and whatnot. The fact that I was actually witnessing one of these reasons offered proof that sometimes the good people at Network Rail aren't always lying.

    Curiously whenever these things happen despite the fact there's nothing that can be done until it's resolved, an estimation culture descends. How long? One woman, obviously desperate to get wherever she was going began to haring the driver because he couldn't tell her how long it will take to clear the tree away. I mean what is he supposed to say? 'Ten minutes, tops.' How is he to know this if he's never cut through a tree before and even before he's seen the bloody thing.

    There's also the 'I could do that' people, the blokes who think that it's a simple problem that they could resolve it themselves in minutes, probably expecting to be called upon to leap forth and offer their services. There was one of those here - he went to have a look through the front window of the driver's cab - then sat back down again confidently saying that it was only a small one and could easily be pushed out of the way (which must have been a disappointment for his wife). Thankfully he was rebuffed by the two women sitting in front of him, pointing out (correctly) that there health and safety issues involved.

    I couldn't help but go and look myself and it wasn't some twig, this was a substantial piece of wood. Some rail maintenance people arrived in bright orange coats. The guard drifted through carrying a hack-saw. Branches began flying and within minutes the line was clear. By now we'd been delayed, as the announcer at the station might say, by approximately twenty-five minutes. Oh well. Clearly I should have got the express after all. This is the rail transport equivalent of changing queues in the supermarket during your lunch hour and the person in front then deciding to pay using cheques from three separate accounts.

    "It's all clear now - we're ready to go."

    The carriage applauded. I love that. Our society could only be a better place if people spontaneous applauded all the time like this and not just when we've seen something at the theatre. He shifted into the other carriage and said the same thing. And they applauded too. There was even a woop. "Yey - we're half an hour late! Woohoo!"

    Clear path then to Stalybridge. I settled back into my book even though I didn't want and carried on listening to the less than impressive All Saints album (most of the tracks sound the same and not in that cuddly Diana Krall way). We reached Manchester Victoria - the train emptied. I looked about feeling sorry for Stalybridge that more people didn't seem to want to go there. Then, and this is important, I took off my headphones and looked about. The driver had gone. The guard was chatting to some elegant looking lady at the other end of the train.

    He walked away as I approached. I took it personally
    "What's happening?" I asked the elegant looking lady, "Are we going to Stalybridge?"
    "We should be."

    I went and sat back down once again underlining my bizarre propensity for prioritizing the information of total strangers over my own instincts. Then a different guard got on, stared me down.
    "Are we going to Stalybridge?"
    "Trains been cancelled, mate."

    I swore. Again. And packed my bag and stalked off the train and walked over to the ticket barrier. It is now 11:15 about the time I should have been in Stalybridge.

    "I've just been chucked off the Stalybridge train because it's been cancelled" I ask, "When's the next train to Stalybridge." I think I said it more politely than it looks written down/typed up/whatever.
    "Where are you going?"
    "Erm." He turns to the person on the other side of the gate, "When's the next train to Stalybridge."
    "Three minutes to."
    "Twelve?" I ask.
    Before anyone can answer the guard from the train whose former destination was Stalybridge arrives and without prompting points over to platform four.
    "You'll need platform four. 11:27"

    I hope I thanked him. I just remember running, then walking fast, then strolling over the stairs with purpose (I'm so unfit). At the platform there's some vague confusion when a train rolls in as to whether its for Rochdale, but eventually I'm on a train to Huddersfield calling at Ashton-Under-Lyne and (yes) Stalybridge. I reached my destination at 11:52.

    I don't know what I was expecting from Stalybridge, but I wasn't expecting that. The place is curiously quiet - I mean, empty. I suppose I'm so used to the city life and that when I visit towns, particularly nearly mid-week I'm always amazed by how few people there are. But even looking through show windows there's no one around. Same thing happened in Ormskirk (which it resembles in some ways) but this was eerie.

    Plus - it's closed. Only every third shop seems to be trading - all the rest have their shutters up and don't look like they've sold anything for quite some time. There a couple of charity shops, some pet stores, some clothes shops and about fifty sandwich places. Oh and a bingo hall right at the centre which seems to be the focus of area in much the same way that the Minster is in York.

    That hill still loomed and the canals and waterways that wind through the town are lovely. I began searching for the art gallery - I'd popped into a newsagent and asked where it was and the owner had excitedly described the place as being next door to a Post Office, which was good because I needed to buy a stamp, and a library. Turning a corner I was unamazed to discover a massive Tesco, which was good because I also needed a toilet.

    As I washed my hands afterwards I pondered whether Stalybridge was a precise example of what happens when a supermarket opens on the edge of a town - the independents close on mass leaving the heart of the town an empty shell. Obviously I don't know anything about the history of the town or when Tesco Stalybridge opened but if the anti-supermarket lobby were looking for a perfect example of what they're fighting against, was this it?

    Leaving Tesco I walked up a street I'd missed out before and saw the Post Office sign, just past a massive, closed, market hall. There was a sign taped to the inside of the window explaining that a computer had gone down and they were closed until it was working again. So no stamps. A pensioner stepped up and tried the door then saw the sign. I nearly apologized to her because clearly I was a jinx today.

    Astley Cheetham Art Gallery (like many of these local galleries I'm discovering) is in the same building as the library. It's on the first floor. For some reason I look around the library first probably to see if there's a stock sale. If there is I can't find one so I start up the steps. I notice a sign on the wall offering opening hours. Monday - Wednesday 10:00 - 12:30 (closed for lunch) 1:00 - 5:00. I look at the time on my mobile phone. It's 12:25. I hope it's an old sign.

    At the top of the stairs is a stately looking grandfather clock and a potted history of the gallery displayed in some picture frames. It's a late Victorian building - opened in 1897 and designed by J. Medland Taylor known for his Gothic style churches throughout the Manchester area. This has a Jacobean influence. The gallery was opened in 1932 when the collection of the Cheethams, local cotton spinners was paced into the care of the library service which they'd helped to found.

    With time marching on I step through the entrance of the gallery and turn to the reception desk. I ask if they still close for lunch. They do, I'm told, but it's ok. So I carry on into the first room. The walls are covered with the paintings of local school children, brightly colour patterns and pictures on a range of themes. I take out my guide book and prepare to see the permanent collection.

    Except I can't see a door to the next room. There's a tall wooden slab of oak with 'Staff' printed on it - but nothing else. There's a woman sitting at a table in the centre of this room sorting through more school pictures. She asks if I'm ok.
    "Am I at the right gallery?" I ask.
    "I don't know." She says logically.
    "Hold on - I'm looking for the aaah" Mental rictus prevented me from saying the name of the place I was looking for. I furiously flick through the book looking for Stalybridge, apologizing a lot, "the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery?"
    "That's here. You're in the right place."
    I relax. I smile.
    "Can you tell me where the permanent collection is?"
    "Oh it's not on display at the moment."
    "We've got this exhibition up instead."

    You see if I'd read the entry in the guide book before coming - something I never do because I don't want to spoil the surprise - I would have read that the room I'm standing in was a lecture theatre before it was converted into the gallery - the one room - and evidently the permanent collection is never displayed permanently any more which is shame because they have (I now read) some excellent early Italian altarpieces that were at one point thought to be the work of Giotto and a something by Watts showing Sir Percival during the quest for the Holy Grail.

    As I ponder my wasted journey, the woman asked me if I'd traveled far. I told her. She looked me over sympathetically then asked her colleague when the collection would be displayed. Some watercolours would be shown from April and the oils would be up for a few months from September. Like the branch on the railway track there's nothing much you can do so I take an events leaflet and begin the short traipse back to the station.

    I've just missed the Liverpool train (obviously) so I decide to get a single to Manchester and see if there's anything on at the cinema. I find a copy of the Metro free paper on the train and typically there's nothing on at the multiplex but notice that ViVA! The Spanish and Latin American Film Festival is playing at the Cornerhouse, although there's nothing to indicate what any of the films listed are about. I'm back at Manchester Victoria by 1:30. I'm certain that the man on the ticket barrier recognizes me. I imagine he's wondering why I'm back so soon.

    Tram across town, Boots for a mean deal (triple chicken) and a dash up Oxford Road and into the Cornerhouse foyer knowing that a film will begin in just a few minutes. I grab a brochure, hoping upon hope for a romantic comedy, something fluffy to cheer me up. The options are (a) The Chair, an existential black comedy about a chronically lonely man who becomes obsessed with -- a chair -- and (b) Switch Off a documentary chronicle of the battle for justice by the Pehuenche-Mapuche people of Chile against ENDESA, the Spanish-Latin American hydroelectric corporation.

    I choose (b) because at least it'll be about something and I might learn something which I do. It's an amazing work - a collage of the Broomfieldian attempt by the filmmaker to get an interview with the head of the company, interviews with the Pehuenche-Mapuchians who've essentially been kicked off their land to make way for an electric dam and whose protests have essentially been rendered illegal. It's shocking stuff and the slightly languid pacing heightens the effect because as the camera pans slowly through the now flooded valley we have time to think of the injustice.

    Of course, the film was out of focus at the start which no one else in the screen seems to notice or care about (the subtitles weren't even legible) and I end up being the one to stick my head around the door at the back to tell someone. But somehow in the midst of everything I'd managed to see and do something worthwhile. Then the train home was delayed but by then I'd returned to the calmer attitude I'd had on the local train deciding that even though sometimes your day never quite works out the way you expect, but that can be ok.

    Links for 2007-03-19 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • filmlog: Slither (2006)
    By turns hilarious and creepy, this is a pleasure from start to finish, largely due to the hilarious performances from Fillion, Banks and Saulnier. Essays will be written on the phallic imagary and the use of fluids and the beauty and the beast allusion
  • filmlog: Clueless (1995)
    Peerless teen comedy with the sense of irony often missing from the mix. Alicia Silverstone is just adorable and it's a shame that her career crashed and burned with such velocity afterwards, she should and could have been a major star.
  • Natural History Museum: Weirdest creatures in the Museum
    Yet, still guaranteed to make you go 'Aaaaah....'
  • Guardian Unlimited Arts blog film: Woody's reign in Spain
    Mr Allen can't really win. People complain that his New York films have become stale so he goes abroad and tries that and now they're saying he should stick to what he knows.
  • Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - TV & radio: No second helpings for Series X
    Series X being 'Lillies'. Was it any good?
  • That Ricky Gervaise Thing

    TV Something I forgot to mention the other day and Jack's asked about in the comments is what I thought of the Ricky Gervaise sketch on Comic Relief. Actually it was probably the most exciting thing all night. True this was Gervaise using the well worn patter from previous years of being a dick for a charitable cause, but it was fairly groundbreaking to see the likes of Bono and Bob Geldoff somewhat demonstrating a recognition that a certain camp has been attached to what they do and that they are able to not take themselves so seriously.

    The key to the skit's success was that everyone was in on the joke -- throughout the show it had been trailed as Gervaise as we'd never seen him before, bursting into tears with the clip freezing at just the moment when this version of him was to break character. And the predominance of charity films throughout the night with the likes of Ant & Dec breaking down at the sight of poverty inadvertently put the viewer into a false sense of expectation that this was the moment when we'd see Rick being serious for a change.

    But that Ant & Dec film, repeated throughout the night with all of the crying is essentially what Gervaise was attacking. The appeal films have become less and less about the individuals who have the problems than the stars visiting them and their reaction to the problem. They're obviously supposed to be our eyes and ears - our way into a situation that's apart from our own experience. The problem with that approach is that these stars are somewhat away from our own experience as well, and theres a sense of us being dictated to, essentially being told how to feel about these situations.

    Obviously the intentions are well meant, but it's not difficult to understand Gervaise's suggestion that to a degree these films serve to help the star's career by giving them a sheen of likability and benevolence and understanding. But it would be nice next time to bring in an element of the general public -- the very people who've given their money to help the charity being introduced to the people they've helped, shown directly for themselves what their donation has done.

    Another idea would be for a narrative element to be introduced -- what amounts to a single documentary made through a single voice broken up and strewn through the night opening up the possibility that people will be more likely to watch those appeals to see what happens next. Or for them to be structured around themes -- one of the issues I've always had is that the 'Africa' films are always of a different quality to the 'British' films. Why not look for ways to link them together perhaps demonstrating how the same problems can crop up in both places and Comic Relief treats them in equal measure.


    Shakespeare In a clever piece of duality, Bristol's Tobacco Factory's latest Shakespeare season brings together productions of Othello and Much Ado About Nothing. Although this short piece in The Western Mail highlights the contrasting comedy and tragedy, in describing the story of Beatrice and Benedick it fails to note the story similarities - and this theatre group's clever choice producing them one after the other -- that in some ways Shakespeare repeating much the same plot in both plays but closing them out in either darkness or light.

    Both Iago and Don John have irrational axes to grind against a man who has apparently done them no wrong and use the impression of indiscretion on the part of a beloved in order to create jealous tension in their victims. The difference is of course that whilst Iago's plan comes to fruition, Don John's is vanquished in time and despite some moments of darkness - as when Beatrice says she cannot love Benedick unless he murders Claudio -- the situation eventually ends happily. Of late, these key similarities between the plays have been highlighted through the casting of a Black actor in the role of Claudio, as occurred in the recent production at the Library Theatre in Manchester.

    According to their website, the remit of the Shakespeare at the Tobacco company is 'to see Shakespeare professionally performed by large casts in an intimate space', filling in a gap in a British market place that is clamoring for productions of Shakespeare's plays outside of London. The venue is a converted factory run by a charitable trust that offers a large playing area and is used throughout the year for a range of different entertainments including music, opera and comedy. This Shakespeare season runs from the 8th February to 28th March and tickets can be bought here.

    Man Attacked

    Liverpool Life Well this fairly horrifying. A man was attacked last night in the area around the Aviary cafe in Sefton Park which is almost within viewing distance of my window -- it's the other side of the field. If I glance out now I can still see a police car in the area and police tape around. Obviously the circumstances haven't been discovered or revealed yet (it'll be in the Liverpool Echo tonight) but it's not the sort of thing you expect to happen around here. Even though in this day and age you should.

    Links for 2007-03-18 [del.icio.us] - Rmail

  • DVD Times - TMNT
    Against the odds, 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' film in really quite good shock. Really I couldn't be more surprised.
  • Redbook: 6 Common Walking Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
    "Keep your head up with your chin parallel to the ground, and look down when necessary with only your eyes." They mean fitness walking, but still.
  • Mystery Man on Film: Disney’s “Rapunzel”
    Apparently the mousehouse's great return to fairy tales is in trouble because they can't get the scrip in order which is actually pretty heartening since it means that they're not simply happy to make something look lovely if there's nothing beneath.
  • collision detection: Math proves that the Buffy universe harbors no more than 512 vampires
    "Why? Because they'd quickly depopulate the earth."
  • [ Alternate Takes ] Hot Fuzz
    Strong analysis of the film explaining why it should still work in the US despite its parochialism.
  • OFF THE TELLY: Comic Relief Night
    Ian Jones disliked Comic Relief slightly less than I did and gathers his thoughts more clearly than the muddle I got myself into the other night. On reflection, the Elle McPherson joke might have worked if it hadn't been rendered so flatly.
  • Needles and pins

    That Day Happy Mother's Day (well evening now) if you are one. Mum wanted some tools to help with her embroidery which sounds counter to the usual thing -- flowers, chocolate, wine -- but the agreement is to get something that can be enjoyed for a lot longer than just a single day and she'll be using these until Christmas.