£25 less

Finance A short public service announcement.

If you received a Tesco Personal Finance credit card statement in the post this morning, I'd give it a once over despite your embarrassment, because there's an unheralded surprise. They've reduced the extent of the minimum payment from 3% to 2% -- but -- and this is important -- the interest rate hasn't chance. Which means that if you pay by direct debit and you only ever pay the minimum payment by direct debit, you'll actually be paying rather less of your balance off in comparison to interest each month. Mine is £25 less.

This is messy and annoying and unheralded by a letter to explain the change. Indeed when I phoned my old colleagues in the call centre, they initially said that it was an error then after looking some more agreed it was a feature. I'll be working out what the 3% amount would have been and make an extra payment, which if you'll pardon the expression, is just like sooo annoying. I know I would be as well after all these years to apply for a different credit card with better terms, especially since the club card points I get hardly justify the interest charges.

But I'm a chump.

I'll probably be with them until the end of time, or the finance system implodes, whichever is the sooner.

on the subject of her clothes

Music Florence from Florence and the Machine is interviewed by Canada's The Globe and Mail on the subject of her clothes. For all I know about fashion it might as well be written in Leet, a language I equally don't understand but feel like I should. Then I see this bit ...
"What do you like to wear when you’re not on stage?

A mish mash of things. I always look like My So-Called Life or Blossom.
... and understand totally.

Mona Lisa's Revenge.

TV There aren’t that many aspects of Doctor Who that could be considered sacred ground. The geography of the series is such that any idea, item and even historical events have been run across over and over again, be they the sinking of the Marie Celeste, volcano day in Pompeii or visits from Shakespeare. Not even the mythology of the series is immune to being written and rewritten, crossed out and written over again until it resembles the order slip in our local takeaway when I’m trying to decide what to have for dinner and I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for sweet and sour or a curry. It tends to depend on the original story the object featured.

City of Death is just such a story. Written by a proper writer and the nation’s favourite until Steven Moffat wrote Blink, Douglas Adams’s Paris runaround is about as perfect a story as you’re like to find in old Who and the reason I visited the city (this was in the time before I discovered the French New Wave). To grasp my love for the story, I’d suggest you read this, and this but suffice to say that my eyebrows were nestled firmly in the arches of my receding hairline when I heard that The Sarah Jane Adventures were going to have the audacity of producing Mona Lisa’ Revenge.

Me Sacrilege. Sacrilege! I was in the curious position of being on the theological side of the Life of Brian debate from Friday Night, Saturday Morning and like Mervyn Stockwood, then Bishop of Southwark, I was rubbing a religious talisman, in my case the keyring in the shape of the Eiffel Tower I’d bought when I was in Paris (clip here). But unlike them, I was willing to watch with an open mind. I quite like Suranne Jones usually and well it is the Sarah Jane Adventures, so what’s the worse that could happen?

At least the version of the Mona Lisa used wasn’t the charming GCSE-level slap job that appeared in City of Death. And the National Museum of Cardiff, a refreshingly different idea for a "base under siege", looked suitably grand doubling as the “International Art Gallery” even if the dressings in the room from Temple of Peace in which the painting was displayed could only partially hide it’s first appearance as part of Platform One in The End of the World. The performances of the regulars couldn’t really be faulted either, the scene between Lis Sladen and Alexander Armstrong in the opening episode more than making up for Sarah Jane dropping out for most of the rest of the story.

Otherwise Mona Lisa’s Revenge was a tedious bunch of old cobblers, easily as bad as Enemy of the Bane and nudging towards Secrets of the Stars. At the risk of sounding like a prosecuting lawyer in kids television equivalent of The Hague, it’s one of those examples of a drama whose awfulness slowly occurs to you over time until you reach a point when you realise you can’t quite believe what you’re watching and if you’re like me you start shouting. It happened for me at about the time Lisa began flashing her blaster around and with relatively few anti-lulls I sat slumped wanting it to end and knowing that it wasn’t going to for many, many, many minutes.

Like Secrets of the Stars, the awfulness of the story can be largely traced to the central performance within the guest cast. Suranne Jones, like Russ Abbot before her, seems to have been under the impression that the thing to do in children’s sci-fi is to go BIG and indulge in the very worst campery no matter what the rest of the cast seem to be doing. She was loud, she was brash and she sucked the air out of every scene. Jones can be a capable actress, except instead of the camp joy of Kate O’Mara, her keystone seemed to be Geoffrey Orme’s Zaroff in The Underwater Enemy, the rest of the guest cast caught in the crossfire.

Jones wasn’t helped by the ripeness of the dialogue and characterisation gifted to her which didn’t rise above a register much higher than “Nothing in the world can stop me now, ducks”. Writer Phil Ford does seem to have a problem writing his adversaries. With the exception of Day of the Clown’s Old Bob they really are a set of one-dimensional ravers, which as Gareth Roberts shows in The Trickster doesn’t necessarily need to be so. In Mona’s case, with the exception of her serpentine seduction of Jeff Rawle’s curator, much of her action consisted of empty threats and declarations of what she was about to do if she could just do something else.

There was one scene that suggested the possibilities for the character; when faced with the outside world she (for some unexplained reason) found she couldn’t step i’th’sun lest she become oil paint again. But the melancholic implications of that weren’t full explored because Ford was too intent on replicating some of the story points about being trapped in pictures from sources as diverse as Roald Dahl’s The Witches (Solveg, pictured), Justin Richards’s Demontage and Matthew Graham’s Fear Her, a corner he was presumably painted into when coming up with the mechanism for Mona being released from the painting in the first place.

After Mona Lisa’s Revenge, we’re now expected to believe that in an already convoluted Whoniverse, when Leonardo Di Vinci painted the original Mona Lisa, he used some paint from his weirdo neighbour, made-up artist Di Cattivo, which with its alien properties led to Mona becoming a corporeal manifestation with a Mancunian accent. Di Vinci was then kept a prisoner by the splinter of Scaroth that was Captain Tancredi (“Captain Tancredi?!?”) and forced to paint six copies of the painting all with “this is a copy” marked on the canvas by the Doctor. Where those six created using the same paint? Was there a small army of Mona’s waiting to be released?

The story’s whole attitude to art was fairly suspect. The veneration of the Mona Lisa was a good idea and the painting was presumably chosen by David Fisher for much the same reason when he was writing his first draft of City of Death. It’s recognisable, iconic. And there is some Reithian merit in explaining something of when Di Vinci created the work (even if, like City of Death, it forgets to mention that the painters ironically worked on the thing in France during the revolution). But made-up artist Di Cattivo’s work looked entirely out of period to me and I say that not because I’m trying to be a farty-farty-Sewell-pants but because it breaks the authenticity of the story.

The selection of Clyde’s painting too says a lot about the judges they’d choose it above whatever else was submitted by the other students. It’s part of the cranking out the plot, of course. You have to place the kids in the gallery and the only justifiable reason they’d visit would after winning a competition. Rani’s had her episode, Luke’s is coming up so it has to be Clyde. What kind of art would Clyde do? Well we’re not going the Pushing Daisies route and working against type (no knitting) so it has to be a sub-2000 AD daub instead of anything too challenging. Nothing too witty, please.

The requisite soap element seemed old hat too (as old hat, in fact as using the phrase 'old hat' to describe something as being old hat). The material about Luke becoming more human and leaving his room untidy was the kind of thing which motored the first season culminating in The Lost Son and it seems out of character for Luke to leave his room untidy anyway. Is he doing it on purpose, is that the idea? What kind of message is that to send kids? The loss of Sarah Jane for much of the story is also a disappointment, especially since the reason was a rerun of the aforementioned Fear Her, though probably understandable if it was a production requirement. Was Lis taking a well earned break or filming her scenes for The Marriage of Sarah Jane Smith?

It's also fairly ironic that Fisher and Adams wrote K9 out of City of Death for precisely the reason he was deployed here to vanquish the enemy. True, his appearance was part of Luke's plan and he wasn't the real K9 (somehow having knowledge of his masters and mistresses despite having originated from a drawing which means he might as well equally be wondering where Romana, Leela, her K9 and the rest of Gallifrey have got to). But as the writers in the original series soon realised, you have to use the robot dog sparingly otherwise your audience will be waiting around for him to save the day, each and every week. After set up the creepiness of this monster from the painting, the writer effectively capsized his good work by making him easily beaten with a laser beam.

Having worked on accession databases in art galleries, I could also take against the idea that this museum would have cellar full of work which hasn’t been looked at since Victorian times and which the curator doesn’t have much of an idea about I’m genuinely making myself angry thinking about it which is not what you want on a Friday night and was the least of the story's problems. There’s only so much you can say against a thing before you become tedious yourself and I suspect I’m outstaying my welcome and best get out before I start making unfair direct comparisons with Douglas Adams and going into the usual tat about the decline of television in general. Suffice to say I didn’t like this. At all. And it’s probably spoiled City of Death for me, which is its worst crime of all.

Next Week: The finale. Yay!


Elsewhere I didn't like tonight's Sarah Jane Adventures at all. Click here to enjoy my tedious sense of humour bypass.

David Tennant preview

the band’s future was still undecided

Music The murky world of the Sugababes becomes even murkier with this random interview with The Times (sorry). Which largely consists of the current line-up saying thing like"The abuse on Twitter from some people ... " and "I don’t want to go into all the ... I don’t want all the things in the papers yet..." and the rubbishing of "stories" about angry photo shoots which were "totally made up". Yes, made up by The Times's sister tabloid.

Three other nuggets, one per 'babe:

-- Heidi explains that:
"when the band’s future was still undecided, a video was shot anyway. “Only using body doubles,” she says. “They thought, there’s no band but we still need a video to put out with this song, so the girls who were our stunt doubles became the stars.”
In other words, briefly, a whole other set of girls were in the Sugababes which is just another demonstration that Mutyageddon will indeed become an increasing problem going forward. Obviously, as they say in Doctor Who circles, the canonicity of these three ladies is open to question, making them the Peter Cushing, David Banks and Richard E Grant of the Sugababes.

-- Jade: "I went into a shop in Stratford,” she recalls. “I had someone shouting abuse at me. Really rude, nasty things." That is surreal. The whole situation is curious, but it's certainly not worth shouting at the new member about. It's not her fault. We don't know the chronology of the thing, but shouting? Really? But then, we live in a world were soap stars are bawled at in Waitrose because their character has done something nasty.

-- Amelle: "Really good! Happy happy! Haha! I heard I went to some depression clinic,” she says. “It wasn’t a clinic. It was called ... well, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It’s a place in Austria where you cleanse your mind, body and spirit. You can walk around in your dressing gown day and night, you don’t have to wear make-up, no one’s judging you. I spoke to a life coach and sorted myself out a little bit."

Glad you're feeling better.

my brain splitting in two

Life I met an old friend in the street this afternoon. She'd just finished work, I was on my way to work. When I'm on my way to work, I tend to be focused on one goal. Getting there. Head down, marching onward and sometimes upward, not speaking. So when I was suddenly confronted with this friendly face, I mentally froze and my mouth stopped working. I was literally tongue tied.

My brain split in two -- one half still apparently moving in the direction of my place of employment, the other trying to keep track of what to say to this person I haven't seen in quite some time but was still very pleased was standing in front of me. My mind was recreating a scene from a 70s sitcom were the motorcycle goes one way and the uncoupled sidecar heads off in the opposite direction.

We chatted, though in truth she did much of the talking which isn't like me. We talked about where we'd been, where we were going, and how we were. And I generally smiled, arms crossed (I know!) and trying not to say anything too unusual, constantly aware that my replies and comments were either (a) boring, (b) easily interpretable as a pre-programmed response, (c) incoherent. I hopefully managed to fail on at least two of those points.

Then the moment was over, and we said we should get together properly and catch-up, and we walked our separate ways and I considered what had happened and hoped that she hadn't noticed I wasn't myself. Presumably I'm over analysing but I wonder what she thought. Perhaps it was the same for her. Perhaps all random encounters in the street are like this, it's just that some of us are better at dealing with them than others. Well?

she'll excel

Museums My manager's manager from The Henry Moore Institute in the mid-90s (see my "CV"), Penelope Curtis, has been appointed director of Tate Britain. It's an extraordinary promotion for her and I'm sure she'll excel. Very good news indeed. Talk about a name from your past popping out at you. And from her photo, she hasn't changed at all.


TV Dollhouse cancelled. Not a huge surprise and at least in Epitaph One we have a decent final episode already. Let's enjoy some of the good times:

It's amazing that aired on network television at all.

Updated! Seems this might be (fittingly) an echo chamber story where one respected source publishes a story and other respected sources all say the same thing but an official announcement hasn't been made. The Futon Critic suggests that its simply that FOX haven't ordered more episodes for this season. Confusing. Until Whedon says it himself, I'm holding out hope.

Updated! The Futon Critic is now going with the crowd and apologising for false hope. Bugger. But thanks to Talia for noticing.

smeared across nearly four hours

Theatre Further to my rant or some might say measured discussion about the lack of classical theatre (or these days any theatre) on television, and how there's a specific double standard because theatre is seen as musty and old and visually unexciting whereas classical music is given a free pass (deep breath), what do we find on BBC Four on Friday 20 November smeared across nearly four hours?
Don Carlo from the Royal Opera House

Friday 20 November
8:00pm - 11:40pm

Antonio Pappano, artistic director of the Royal Opera, introduces Nicholas Hytner's production of Verdi's Don Carlo from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Based on Schiller's play, it tells the story of the conflicts in the life of Don Carlo, Prince of Spain after his betrothed Elizabeth of Valois is married to his father, Phillip II, as part of a peace treaty. Rolando Villazon sings the title role and Marina Poplavskaya is Elizabeth. Pappano conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
Alright, smeared is probably the wrong verb to use -- I am looking forward to seeing this production -- the notices were very good. But it's extraordinary that BBC Four is happy to run an opera directed by Hytner but wouldn't go anywhere near any of the work he's produced for the National Theatre of which he is the director.

Still more with the publication of BBC Two winter/spring highlights. Apart from the film version of Hamlet we find:
"Paul Roseby, the Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre, brings two groups of very different school children together to perform a classic Shakespeare play. In When Romeo Met Juliet, Paul has eight weeks to get them to overcome their aversion to Shakespeare and cut it as actors.
Which sounds laudable except that what'll be missing in the end will be a full version of the production itself, even though it will clearly be filmed for the documentary and people would be keen to see it. And the title makes me want to bite my own ear off.

Incidentally, in my rant/discussion I did forget the excellent semi-staged production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream from May this year which showed how these things can be done. Pity it was relegated to the red button interactive service and hardly publicised. Oh and only shown once. Unlike the Electric Proms stuff which has been on a loop for days and days and days ...

free bus travel

Travel A week's free bus travel in Aberdeen, Chester, Greater Manchester, Leeds and York (on completion of a short questionnaire). No use to me, sadly, in Arriva strangling Liverpool. But you might find it useful.

a slimmer paper

Journalism The Observer's rationalisation plans have been released:
"Guardian News & Media's redesigned Sunday title will have four weekly sections – news, sport, an expanded Review section and the Observer magazine – and the award-winning glossy supplement Observer Food Monthly. The other three supplements, Observer Sport Monthly, Observer Music Monthly and Observer Woman, will close. Business and personal finance coverage will move into the main news section of the paper, while travel coverage will be incorporated into the expanded Observer magazine."
I never read the Sport Monthly so that's no great loss to me but I did enjoy the Music Monthly, especially the columns. Presumably the expanded review section will simply hoover up this kind of material which could at least mean it's more current. I never could quite understand the point of running lengthy reviews of some LPs in both the magazine and the supplement. All in all, I'd much rather have this than no Observer at all. Plus at least with a slimmer paper there's more of a chance to get around the whole thing.

whichever device you use

Books You may have read on whichever device you use that Amazon have released a software version of the Kindle electronic book for the PC. It's a smart move. As well as possibly being a useful back-up for current users, it gives waverers and those of us who are just curious a chance to try the service. A couple of the blogs I read have suggested that there's a regional restriction, but I've had no problem downloading and running the software in the UK. but those restrictions may come into force if you actually try to pay for a book.

With respect to Amazon in this different environment simply feels like a very basic version of Adobe Reader or the Microsoft Word reader. Except in both of those your experience though different from a book, replicates all of the carefully chosen typefaces and text sizes. By (in some cases) standardising those and leaving them open for user change, you're removing a couple of the elements of the product and part of the overall experience designed by the author or more likely the publisher.

The more interesting adventure is the Kindle store, where it's possible to download samples of the books on offer. As with the rest of Amazon, it's possible to look at the whole selection in one list and sort the items by how low and high the prices are. At present the lowest priced book is The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy at $2.30 in what looks like a version copy/pasted from the Gutternberg Project.

The highest is Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems (Part 4) by Materials Science International Team (MSIT) costing a staggering $7,213.28 (which rather a lot of money for a bunch of data). Always interested in nuclear materials (and stuff) I of course downloaded the sample. The book is 503 pages long. The sample I was sent is 286 locations.

I don't know what the Kindle conversion rate is on that, but this looks like a fair amount of the book. Probably about five hundred dollars worth. That was enough for the preface in which I've discovered:
"This volume provides basic information to a field that is facing a strong revival in a growing number of countries. The volume can not claim to be comprehensive covering all systems ..."
Wait, what? If you've spent over $7000 on this volume that's not what you'd like to hear. I know that science changes and develops but the vagueness and inexactitude of that makes me shiver. I didn't understand much of the rest of it, so I went to the product reviews seeking understanding and found this. Ha!

a good thing

Journalism Really funny, excellent little video discussion between Marina Hyde and Charlie Brooker on the subject of writing columns for The Guardian which apart from anything else demonstrates that they agonise about their writing as much as I do, which is comforting. I too have taken out jokes because I know I've gone too far and spent hours just trying to get the words to sit in the correct order to the point of desperation. It's the first time I seen Marina Hyde talking for any great length of time and she's exactly how I expected (which is a good thing by the way).

Update! 10/11/2009 The full interview is up though the bit rate should take out a whole chunk of a capped web connection. I've emailed and asked if they wouldn't mind putting up an audio version. Never know.

Update! 11/11/2009 Matt from The Guardian has emailed back to say a podcast of the interview will be available later in the week at this page.

Update! 11/11/2009 The audio has been posted. That's what I call good service.

I do own

Film The Times have published a list of what they consider to be the best hundred films this decade (a list I wouldn't obviously have seen unless I'd paid for a subscription to the website under the upcoming regime or therefore link to, but I digress). It's simpler if I mention the ones I haven't seen:

Morvern Callar
Time and Winds
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Le Grand Voyage
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
The Hurt Locker
The Class
Waltz with Bashir
The Son’s Room
Capturing the Friedmans
Iraq in Fragments
This Is England

Some of which I do own but haven't gotten around to yet (still Pushing Daisies). Quite what Borat is doing there and not Shortbus, Of Time And The City or Serenity. It's all subjective.


Life The current view outside our window. In our flat we're often above the fog, but sometimes, just sometimes, it's as though we're existing at the point where the ground fog and clouds meet or that we've been whisked out of the world and dropped in some otherwhere. The pinpricks of light in the photograph below is reflected from a hallway bulb inside.

that bird

Media Rupert Murdoch and News International always looked untouchable, no way that bird could be shot down. Then I read this. Murdoch wants to block Google from News International websites:
"Rupert Murdoch says he will remove stories from Google's search index as a way to encourage people to pay for content online. In an interview with Sky News Australia, the mogul said that newspapers in his media empire - including the Sun, the Times and the Wall Street Journal - would consider blocking Google entirely once they had enacted plans to charge people for reading their stories on the web."
He really, really doesn't understand the web does he? With any luck this miscalculation will force him to sell off Fox and I can watch most of Joss Whedon's product without a slight pang of guilt. Sadly, Cory at Boing Boing doesn't think he'll do it at least not properly.

amazingly bonkers

TV While I was researching that last post, I came across what might well be the most utterly, amazingly bonkers blog post about Doctor Who I've ever seen. After some YouTube videos, Marc offers his vision for Season 32 of the series. Firstly some casting:
The Doctor:
1st choices – Emma Thompson and Jason Isaacs (tie)
2rd choice – Bill Nighy
3rd choice – Joanna Lumley

Billy Boyd as David Wayne
Ruth Wilson as Maeve Sweeney

Guest Stars:
Natalie Portman as Susan Foreman
Elizabeth Hurley as The Rani
Ben Kingsley as the Castellan
Embeth Davidtz as Jane Austen
Jason Statham as The Enforcer
And hello to Jason Isaacs. But I love that he can't decide between him and Emma Thompson. Also, Embeth Davidtz? That's the kind of idiosyncratic casting decision the show itself has been capable of (Fenella Woolgar). Then his list of episodes. There's no point copy/pasting them all here, just make sure you don't miss a word. Sample:
"Thanks to new evidence procured by the Castellan, the Doctor is placed on trial for destroying Gallifrey. Tapes are shown of what he did in his 8th incarnation to defeat the Daleks during the last Time War, and how his actions led to the destruction of Gallifrey. The Doctor makes his case convincingly, but he is ultimately convicted because he sacrificed his home planet without even decisively defeating the Daleks in the process. He and his companions (including Susan) are sentenced to imprisonment in New Shada."
... written by Richard Curtis.

whatever Ruth Wilson's been in

Radio Fans of Doctor Who and whatever Ruth Wilson's been in might like to know that Wilson, Russell Tovey and Harry Lloyd offered a three hander in tonight's Drama on BBC Radio 3 which was The Promise by Aleksei Arbuzov. A synopsis:
"As Russians fight off the Nazis in the savage 1942 siege of Leningrad, three teenagers are thrown together in a war-torn apartment block. Having lost everything, they forge relationships that bind them together and a new hope that keeps them alive - the promise of a better future."
Which sounds uncannily like Being Human if you age the characters slightly, put them in a house instead of a flat and replace the siege of Leningrad with vampires wanting to take over the world. So probably not at all, in fact. I've not had a chance to listen to all of the broadcast yet, but so far the performances are first rate. Should be available for a week at the iplayer. And in case you were wondering ...

Who's In It From Doctor Who?

Russell Tovey portrayed Titanic Midshipman, Alonzo Frame in Voyage of the Damned.

Harry Lloyd played Jeremy Baines in Human Nature and The Family of Blood.

Who's In It But Hasn't Been In Doctor Who (yet)?

Ruth Wilson played Young Mary in Capturing Mary and will soon be seen as 313 in The Prisoner remake.


Music On the restorative power of. After a fairly stressful day at work, I jumped in the back of a taxi (which is about as cheap as getting a bus in Liverpool if you're going the distance I do on a Sunday). After giving my destination, I sat well back cradling the bottle of milk I'd bought from the shop. As I watched the streets pass by in the darkness outside the window, the driver turned on his cd player and gradually, quietly at first then louder, the strains of a gospel version of Swing Low Sweet Chariot seeped into the edges of the inside of the taxi. The baritone, as deep and soulful as a Willard White, so it might as well have been him sang, "Swing low, sweet chariot, Comin' for to carry me home; Swing low, sweet chariot, Comin' for to carry me home" and I felt an abundant sense of calm as the vehicle cruised along the empty roads and empty darkness of Princes Avenue. I was going home.


TV After a patchy series, it's fair to say this week's Never Mind The Buzzcocks was the best episode so far, mostly because of Jamelia who brilliantly seems to lack an internal censor:

Maxwell D has offered a response: "I was set up. [...] Jamelia I'm sorry. [...] I'm older and wiser now. [...] I had to stand there for fifteen minutes and get merked. [...] I'm older and wiser. [...] Trying to be a role model for my kids. [...] Check out my website."