Review 2009: Subjectively Speaking

The subject this time being me and my year, the questions being asked by a meme.

1. Where did you begin 2009?
At home. I have up on the new year celebration years ago. Too much expectation leading to too much disappointment.

2. What was your status by Valentines Day?
Single. Again.

3. Were you in school anytime this year?
Oddly enough, yes. But only because a friend lives in a flat there now. Or he did. I’m not sure if it’s the past tense.

4. Did you have to go to the hospital?
To pick my Dad up from an eye operation. Cataracts. He can now see far better out of one eye than the other.

5. Did you have any encounters with the police?
Other than asking directions somewhere, no.

6. Where did you go on vacation?
Stratford Upon Avon, finally. Then London, finally. It’s been a busy year.

7. What did you purchase that was over £100?

A DVD PVR recorder. Which has been very, very busy over Christmas.

8. Did you know anybody who got married?
I did. Old work colleagues, old friends.

9. Did you know anybody who passed away?
No one close.

10. Did you move anywhere?
No… but I thought about it, a lot.

11. What sporting events did you attend?

Watched the usual runs about Sefton Park.

12. What concerts/shows did you go to?
RSC, finally. Then the Globe, finally. It’s been a busy year.

13. Describe your birthday.
Worked. Chippy tea.

14. What is the ONE thing you thought you would not do, but did, in 2009?
Stand for an hour on the plinth in Trafalgar Square reading blog entries to an audience of thousands. See also 6 and 12 with an addendum for standing in front of Lord Dudley’s tomb in Warwick.

15. What have been your favourite moments?
Rediscovering myself. A bit. Not enough yet.

16. Any new additions to your family?
Yes. My cousin welcomed someone new into the world.

17. What was your best month?
Probably August.

18. Who has been your best drinking buddy?

The twitterati of Liverpool.

19. Made new friends?
The twitterati of Liverpool.

20. Favourite Night out?
With the twitterati of Liverpool.

21. Other than home, where did you spend most of your time?
Work. I’ll have to do something about that.

22. Have you lost any friends this year?
Open to discussion.

23. Change your hairstyle?
Up and down, in and out. Currenly al-fresco.

24. Have any car accidents?
No, thank goodness.

25. How old did you turn this year?

26. Do you have a New Years resolution?
To be needed.

27. Do anything embarrassing?
Depends on how I’m really feeling about the whole plinth affair.

28. Buy anything from eBay?
Davros: The Collection. It was a third of the RRP.

29. Get married or divorced?

30. Get hit on?
Not sure. That may be a bad thing.

31. Been snowboarding?

32. Did you get sick this year?
Lots of colds.

33. Are you happy to see 2009 go?
Only because it’s another year towards the future. And the idea of next year being 2010 is freaking me out.

34. Been naughty or nice?
Nice. I think. I don’t know how to be naughty me.

35. What are you looking forward to most in 2010?
Watching the film 2010. It’s another sci-fi milestone.

[meme via]

Tennant-free bit of classical theatre

Theatre If you're looking for an post Christmas, Tennant-free bit of classical theatre (I'm awaiting the dvd release), LA Theatre Works currently have a streaming production of Freidrich Schiller's Mary Stewart with Alex Kingston in the title role and Jill Gascoine as Queen Elizabeth I. Martin Jarvis is also somewhere in there. I can't wait to hear it. No time now though. It's Boxing Day. Visitors.

half of a story

Elsewhere I've posted a review of The End of Time. It's one of those 'a few odd notes' efforts. I hate trying to write coherently about half of a story.

The End of Time: Part One.

TV I was given a Slanket for Christmas, essentially a giant felt blanket with arm holes. I’m wearing it now. It’s keeping me warm. Even as I tried it on for the first time, my Whovian mind was thinking “This must be what Time Lord robes are like…” Little did I know that nine hours later I’d be given a visual demonstration, with Timothy “clearly playing Rassilon” Dalton sporting the Harrods deluxe model with the special Indian weave. I hope his has a back to it. Mine doesn’t, not even a zip. The idea seems to be that you can wear it either way around your body but depending on how you put it on, you’re very conscious of the gap, especially as the temperature drops. You’re preoccupied.

Russell T Davies must have felt a similar preoccupation when writing The End of Time. After five or six years in your dream writing job, master of your favourite franchise, how do you draw a line under your tenure, and as it’s turned out your actor’s time in the title role, knowing full well that the series will continue after you’re gone, with a different writer and different actor? How do you fold the page in this giant televisual game of Consequences having left your mark on the story but beginning with enough of a next sentence that your successor doesn’t find themselves in a narrative cul-de-sac? Give your main actor the chance to do something new with the role? And do it at Christmas with all the tinsel that entails?

Perhaps the braver approach would have been for something quiet, a exploration on what it is to be a Time Lord, a surprising lurch to the subtle. Something akin to clearly best scene in this episode, the exchange between Wilf and the Doctor in the café, in which we finally discover why the Time Lord is so afraid of regenerating. It feels like dying, one man leaving and another taking his place, different face, different personality, same memories. No wonder it’s rare that different incarnations get along. Exquisitely played by both actors, it’s just as effective and affecting as the revelatory climaxes to The End of the World and Gridlock and one of the few moments when we see the aeons the Doctor's spent flying about time and space pushing heavily on his shoulders.

BorusaBut if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that Davies isn’t about to spread a Bergmanesque meditation on mortality across a whole hour on Christmas evening. So instead, having won every other award on the planet, he decides to put in an entry for the Turner Prize by having John Simm’s version of the Master replicated across every person on the planet eradicating class and society in the process (giving the actor the eerie opportunity of experiencing the scene in Being John Malkovich in which the thesp entered his own mind) and having the fans squee up their turkey lunches by returning Gallifrey to the franchise in the most sign posted plot twist since M. Night Shyamalan decided to spend his career trying to replicate the success of The Sixth Sense.

I clapped. I cheered. I laughed. Yes, indeed I squeed. Regular readers will know that I tend to get over enthusiastic about these Christmas specials and finales in a way that is curiously absent when I sit through the average Hollywood blockbuster, grumbling about the death of cinema. It tends to be a glorification of the madness of what I’m seeing, of the version of Doctor Who in which the Queen or in this case Barack Obama can become a bystander (deal with that Mr Lance Parkin) as some surreal global catastrophe takes hold such as a giant space titanic smacking into the Earth or the planet is hurled through space to become part of an intergalactic game of bar billiards.

Except even in most of these stories, the general format of Doctor Who has gone unchanged. The TARDIS lands somewhere, all hell breaks loose and the Doctor ties things up with a bow at the end before dematerialising. With The Waters of Mars having restated the core storytelling principles in order to shatter them at the climax, The End of Time (part one) wilfully grinds up the resulting pieces, ignoring the format totally in favour of injecting something of the Homeric epic, mythology in the Greek sense of the word, of the audience witnessing events that have already passed, with broad stroke storytelling, third person narration, of man and superman, putting us in the position of witnessing events from the perspective of the Time Lords. We haven't seen anything like this before.

Irving Braxiatel And it works, at least for me, though I can imagine why you’d hate it. It isolates the audience from becoming too involved as we’re essentially watching Gods squabbling over some dirt and a tree. It’s Superman II meets Waiting For Godot, especially since in this case the Master’s resurrection has brought with it the power to fly, shoot laser beams from his hands and the kind of table manners which would make him a winner on Celebrity Come Dine With Me (perhaps he'll be defeated by Chicken In A Can). But somehow it seems right that now the Doctor is isolated from humanity, that the reflection of his story should be too.

The scenes in the dockyard – and how lovely to see the product of a quarry for a change – were truly Shakespearean, with the Master essaying the senility of Lear reminiscing about the old times and the edges of kingdom to a Fool who’s far wiser than he is, Eros Lynn's camera pointing straight into the actors faces as they squabbled in the dirt. Note the similarity with the Doctor’s similar speech about his home planet in The Sound of Drums, but there’s no CG flashback for blondie. Instead, we and the Doctor discover that the constant banging is “real” not a manifestation of his madness, presumably Ron Grainer’s estate banging on the door of Upper Boat looking for their royalty cheque.

But the writer is still conscious of the timeslot and knows that his story has to have a human element even so, and some humour. There’s June Whitfield pinching the Doctor’s bum. There’s Lucy Saxon reaping some revenge on her abusive husband by rendering his resurrection incorrectly (even if, as far as we can tell it led to her own death). There’s Donna milling about in the background being rude and funny. There’s Wilfred finally experiencing travel in the TARDIS, gaping that the size of it. There’s two cactus aliens which seems to have wandered in from The Sarah Jane Adventures who’re probably going to be the catalyst for the resurrection of humanity next week.

Liaison Officer Hossak There was plenty for us fundamentalist continuity clerics. Was the story that happened in the church in the 13th century some new adventure or a back reference? The aforementioned appearance from Obama which puts President Norris from the Virgin New Adventure Warhead out of a job (Davies with a different masterplan to Andrew Cartmel’s in mind). The mention of the fall of Torchwood was a nice touch even if it’s bound to have spoilt the Christmas of Ianto ‘shippers as they’re reminded of the death of their hero. We know Barrowman’s in it next week, so perhaps Gwen managed to send a distress signal before her leather jacket was suddenly filled with the visage of Sam Tyler. Mr Smith and K9 are going probably going fairly mental too.

As the opening half of a story it’s impossible to really say how good it will be until the conclusion (and they missed a trick not including separate title cards for “The End of Time by Russell T Davies” and “Episode One”). The Space Museum looks like it’s going to be quite mysterious until the second episode when I’m convinced you can hear even the floor manager snoozing through events (at least until Mark Ayres restores him out). Similarly it takes at least a couple of episodes (and the application of an eyepatch) for Inferno to warm up.

It wasn't quite the continuation of The Waters of Mars some were expecting with Timelord Victorious bending history to his will as though he has the key to time in his back pocket. But I'm not sure I would have wanted that. His marriage with Good Queen Bess is quite enough thank you. What we're heading for instead is a continuity heavy restating of the Davies approach to Doctor Who and the core elements of his mythology, something akin to Buffy's The Gift or Chosen than Battlestar Galactica's peekaboo. I used to think that the Doctor would regenerate in order for Gallifrey to return from the void. Now I’m wondering if we’re going to witness him destroying it yet again so that he can save time itself. Oh, the irony.

Next Week: “Stop, or the ginger-nut gets it!” or “How did you survive the Divergent Universe?”

I was an idiot.

Commerce Spent the morning in the city centre. The streets and shops were eerily quiet. Well, quiet for a Christmas Eve. In previous years, I've actively wanted to leave as soon as my feet and a bus would allow, but this morning there were few queues. Chatting to the clerk in HMV about this, she said that she thought that people had "got the message" and that it was best to get all of their shopping out of the way before Christmas Eve and that the last few days had been "manic".

Last year, there were gift bargains to be had on Christmas Eve, but presumably because of the facility for early online sales, the department stores have decided to return to the old model of having the "physical" January Sales in January (or as close as odds will allow). Which means, along with the snow, this has been one of the most traditional run ups to Christmas in years. With the exception of British Home Stores, none of the big in-shop sales have begun.

Which leaves the special pop-up BHS Christmas shop in Clayton Square with something of a dilemma because what do you do if you've managed to discount and sell out (or sent back) of all of the stock which was the reason for your store's very existence? Stepping beyond the cheap cards, crackers and novelty items, the shopper is greeted with this sight by way of an answer:

Pillows. Rows and rows of pillows. Three quarters of the shop, rack up on rack, mostly all the same and as pictured. For the few moments I could stand to be in a space that was sucking the sound out of the air, I watched shopper after shopper entering this slumber zone, offer a bewildered look and make their way back for the front door. Not too long ago (perhaps a few years) I (for some reason) was advocating a shop that simply sold one item for a week and then went on to something else. I was an idiot.

The lack of proper sales didn't stop me from my usual ritual of buying something in the afformented music shop with a sometime dog logo, this year Juno on dvd for £3 and the Children In Need single. No, not that one. All You Need Is Love by Bandaged ...

... which in the tradition of these charity records, throws up a zeitgeist exploding juxtaposition, in this case Paloma Faith (who's ace), one of the Corrs, Heather Small and plenty of blokes from Peter Gabriel's generation including Peter Gabriel himself, many of whom were in the same studio at the same time. But it's really entertaining and for a good cause and at least I feel like I've done something charitable this Christmas.

Happy Christmas!


TV My friends at TV Cream also have a new podcast out and it's a sci-fi special.

Join them as they board Tommy Boyd and Bonnie Langford’s Saturday Starship for a galactic quest to the planet Arg! Along the way, there’s an even more heightened mix than normal of appalling acting from your hosts, and cosmos-class features. Including...

The universal premiere of the Blake’s 7 theme plus lyrics, and an assessment of what actually makes a successful TV sci-fi theme song. Jon P’twee is defrosted to file a video game review, space buskers are given short shrift, and the space Monopoly board game is brought out for a thorough working over. There’s also the Davidson Dossier – new and exciting information about the Fifth Doctor; a look-back at Captain Zep: Space Detective; plus an exclusive peep ahead to this year’s Dr Who Christmas special… and a fleeting visit to Steven Moffat’s bedroom. Finally, there’s a guide to winning The Adventure Game, which culminates in a senses-shattering showdown on Arg!

finance slot

Music Another day, another Radio 4 PM related post, this time to highlight a rather lovely Christmas present from their Upshares, Downshares finance slot. Each day the report is heralded by a listener generated cover of the Upstairs, Downstairs theme (wiki). But this week, the original composer Sandy Faris was invited to play a new fully orchestrated version with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the filmed results can be seen here, along with a making of and interview with Faris about the composition in which he also gives his opinions of the listener contributions. This is clearly the version which should be used on the revival of the series.

likes being needed

Christmas My (or rather their) presents are wrapped. There seem to lots of boxes and books this year, not too many unusual shapes, but I still managed work through a roll and a half of wrapping paper. Everything is under the tree now, which is a shame because I miss the moment on Christmas morning when I was a child, entering the living room and find space that was bare the night before teeming with presents. I've grown up. We all have.

As ever, while I trying to find the end of the cellotape on the roll, I watched Ken Branagh's film In The Bleak Midwinter. I've forgotten when I decided to make it a tradition, but it must at least ten years now and each year I see something new, or it effects me in different ways. I blubbed a bit this time, during the scene in which Vernon tells Molly that he doesn't mind selling tickets because he "likes being needed". I'm not feeling very needed myself lately. I'll have to do something about that. New year's resolution.

important and interesting admission

Radio This interview with ex-defence secreatry MP John Hutton demonstrates why Eddie Maher is one of our great broadcasters. It's relaxed, good hearted and yet there is revelation after revelation about Hutton, about the Labour Party and about the changeover in power at the top. If you're on a time budget, at the very least listen to this excerpt in which Maher slowly, patiently gets Hutton to make a very important and interesting admission which would have been explosive had it been confirmed at the time

The Noughties: Doctor Who's Decade. Part Two

16 October 2009 Cardiff Bay, originally uploaded by omicron_22.

Clearly, Doctor Who's best moment this decade was returning to television. Believe it or not, there are still some fans who consider it the nadir, either because they don't like the way that it's developed under Russell T Davies or because they miss the small community nature of fandom as it was earlier this decade. They're wrong. The franchise thrives through its popularity and would otherwise have withered within a few years.


The departure of one of the franchises most unsung of companions, Charley Pollard, who travelled with the Eighth Doctor for the first half of this decade was a head spinner. The Edwardian adventuress’s tenure came to a close with Alan Barnes’s audio adventure The Girl Who Never Was. For reasons too complicated to describe here, at the close of the adventure the Doctor thinks Charley has left him voluntarily, and we’re led to believe she’s dead. For loads of fans that’s how the story concluded. Except for those of us who actually like the David Arnold mix of the theme and listened to the end, at which point we were greeted with a coda in we discovered Charley alive but marooned in the 51st century. A distress signal which is answered with the sound of the TARDIS materialising. The door opens. She gleefully steps inside but she’s actually been rescued by the Sixth Doctor and the adventures continue. Companions have often returned for adventures with a later incarnation (Sarah Jane Smith and ...), but this was the first time (I can think of) one had stepped backwards in relative time, with the added twist that she couldn’t tell this unfamiliar version of their collective future.

More Timey-Whimy

When the new series was announced and that it would be produced in Cardiff, my first reaction was to book an overnighter to the city. In other words, I visited the locations of the new Doctor Who and later Torchwood before they’d even been used, stood above the time rift even before Russell T Davies had decided where to put it. The excitement within the city was already tangible. I remember sitting in a coffee shop and listening to a barista talking about a job he’d been offered playing an alien because he’s tall “in some new series which is being film in Cardiff later in the year” and thinking what a good location Cardiff Castle would make (which it did eventually). The only problem is, like the people of Cardiff, it can be a bit difficult to suspend your disbelief when you see a street which is supposed to be doubling for some part of London, like the shopping centre invaded by Autons in ‘Rose’, when it’s quite clearly in South Wales.


Taking up more space on the shelf than is necessary and falling to bits just four years later, the first release of season one of the revival was in the slightly squat shape of a TARDIS which opened up to reveal the console room inside. Some fans complained that when it was sent through the post, the discs fell out of the inside and scratched and others that it gave them an uncomfortable reminder of the police box shaped tin that Trial of a Timelord was supplied in on VHS. But the fact that it existed at all just a few years after even the prospect of a new television series looked like a myth made it incredibly special. Plus it’s a useful place to store some of the tat which has been given away with Doctor Who Adventures comic.

Wait, what, how long?

Some of us have quite a soft spot for The Infinite Quest, the much maligned flash animated adventure which appeared in three minute chunks during kids show Totally Doctor Who during the revival’s third year. An episodic faff around the four corners of time and space, it recalls those classic stories in which the travellers would pitch up in a different location each week, but with an umbrella story governing their hippity-hopping, in this case stopping a manic space pirate Balthazaar from gaining an powerful jewel. Very much for kids, it still has some lovely Doctor and Martha moments, not least at the close of the story when the timelord explains how he managed to escape the clutches of the space prison Volag-Noc, then spent the next three years reforming it. Martha registers surprise and then it’s gone. It’s never been referred to since and it renders his big speech in Christmas story with Kylie, The Voyage of the Damned, inaccurate, but it’s a wonderful demonstration that for the Doctor, time is relative.


There have been a fair few gauges as to how the popularity of the new series has exceeded expectations, but there’s none more extreme than the idea that six million people would tune in for a special episode of Doctor Who Confidential broadcast at tea time on a Saturday to reveal who would be following David Tennant in the role. In the past this was the kind of information that would have sneaked out in a press release and an interview with shots of a press conference at the end of the nine o’clock news. Yet here we all were, out hearts thumping through a lengthy description of all the previous regenerations with Russell T Davies saying some nice things about Paul McGann before Matt Smith’s face filled the screen to be greeted with a collective “Who?” from the uninitiated and smugness and glee from those of us who’d bothered to watch the (swiftly repeated on BBC Four) Party Animals the year before.

explain themselves

Art National Museums Liverpool's new Talking Heads feature brings paintings to life and has them explain themselves.

while filling out a form

Commerce I'm stripping out the context because as soon as it left the person's lips I could see that she'd realised that I was the last person she should be saying it to and that her colleague would be telling her as much as soon as I'd tottered away. Perhaps if you email me or send me a direct message on Twitter I'll fill in the gaps.

I was in Sheffield Christmas shopping today and while filling out a form and handed over my debit card somewhere as collateral for something I was borrowing the following exchange occured:

Her: "You've come a long way."
Me: "Yes. There's not much snow in Liverpool and I decided I was going to see some this Christmas I'd best travel."
Her: "That's nice."
Me: "Everywhere you look in the Penines it's like a christmas card."
(pause for admin. then:)
Her: "I'll resist the urge to ask for two forms of ID because you're from Liverpool."

At first I didn't register what she'd said and continued the joviality. Then I thought about it for a minute and noticed the look of thunder on her colleagues face. Then I realised what the implication was. I was angry. But there wasn't much I could do. This wasn't the kind of place where you could make a scene. Also, having travelled all that way I just wanted to go into the place I was visiting and see their wares so I continued to be jovial like a chump, even though Jimmy Carr had suddenly walked into the room.

Me: "I'm leaving now ..."

Her colleague gave me a customer experience questionnaire and sheepishly asked me to fill it in. The woman then said as though to suggest the kind of thing I might be writing down:

Her: "The staff were rude to me..."
Me: "Oh yes, I'll be passing this on..."

Still jovial, but in such a way that they couldn't quite tell how serious I was being because I didn't know what to do, I carried on with my visit. It's disheartening to know that there are still some parts of the world were people think, at least initially, that it's perfectly reasonable to make jokes about Liverpudlians all being thieves actually to our faces and in a customer service environment.

And before anyone says that I'm overreacting, I do tend to have a thick skin for these things. But try changing the content of what she said to something even more derogatory, and imagine if it wasn't me but someone really sensitive who'd been standing there. I was embarassed. And it probably spoilt the visit because I had "it" and my own reaction to "it" at the back of my mind.


busy chap

TV Remarkably clued up Doctor Who regeneration guide from The Guardian. The McGann guide is one of the rare occasions when mainstream media acknowledges that the character appeared in more than the tv movie. The suggestion that he might have gone dark for the Time War isn't entirely without foundation. He's a fairly dark figure in some of the audios and he managed to destroy Gallifrey in the novels during a different time war. He was a busy chap.

it’s time Mr. Blobby made a comeback

Music I was going to write the usual pop cultural two thousand words on Rage Against The Machine, but luckily Rob has said almost everything instead, so I needn't bother:
"This year has seen a bit of a sea change in the way music is offered and distributed to the public, and Rage’s victory shows that clearly. It was not available to buy in the shops, and had not been re-released by Sony. It was a song that went to number one because people wanted it there, and the fact that it has made it the top slot today could send marketing departments in record companies worldwide into a panicked spin. What do you do if your carefully concieved, hideously expensive campaign to push the next big thing to the top of the charts gets shoved aside because some scrote with a Facebook campaign decides it’s time Mr. Blobby made a comeback?"
Only to add that the irony of both acts being at Sony meant nothing to me. What better way was there to show Sony the error of their ways than to present to them one of their own, more authentic acts? Meanwhile, PopJustice apologises for their very existence.

Extract from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Hamlet is mention in the opening paragraphs of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol:
"The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind."
It's in the midst of the opening section in which the author is making it clear that Scrooge's old partner Jacob Marley is dead and died before the story began, should the reader, or more specifically the Victorian reader less schooled in fantasy elements, suspect that Marley's Ghost could be anything other than an apparition.

Invoking Hamlet Snr cleverly reminds the reader of another, very famous and at the time still very accessible example of a ghost to prepare them for what the text is about to throw at them. It's rather like Back To The Future being cited in Doctor Who's The Shakespeare Code to explain how time travel works.

no longer with us

Film One of my favourite actresses, Brittany Murphy is no longer with us. She died from a massive heart attack at the age of just 32 (which is chastening). Since her film debut in Clueless in 1995 ...

... she's never been out of work, but never quite managed to break out into being a household name, spending most of this decade playing someone's girlfriend or best friend, despite her vivid looks and range. She will be missed.

The Noughties: Food

Note: This is by no means a complete list. No pasta. Or cake.

Wagamama’s Chicken Ramen.

The Loch Ness of noodle dishes in that you’re greeted with a giant expanse of murky liquid with vegetation floating in it and every now and then some meat bobs to the surface. This soup comes in a giant salad bowl and is exactly as Johnny 5 from Short Circuit might say, it’s a meal in itself. You have to drink the soup (starter) to get to the chicken and greens (main course). Comes with a giant wooden spoon and is great fun to eat. I always use a fork. Chop sticks are fine, but with food of this magnitude you need a heavy lifting implement to work through it in reasonable time.

Costco’s Aberdeen Angus Sirloin Steak.

I don’t remember when we stopped eating Turkey on Christmas Day but for as long as I remember my Dad’s cooked us a steak. At the turn of the decade we began to buy these from Costco, massive things. They looked like someone had simply chopped the cow into slices sideways and removed the bones. One of my old pen-friends visited in 2000 and her eyes popped out of her head at the size of these pieces of flesh that nearly filled the plate and she stopped contacting me not long after. I’m sure the two aren’t connected but you can never can be too sure. The size has diminished over the years (have to stay awake for Doctor Who) but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without masticating one of these dripping with horseradish during the Queen’s speech. I suspect all of my vegetarian readers have just unsubscribed on mass in disgust.

Chicago Town’s Edge To Edge Miami Meaty Pizza.

I’ve had a long disastrous history with frozen pizzas. My favourite ever supermarket pizzas were the fresh discs supplied by Morissons during the 1990s, particularly the SupaDupas which came on a whole wheat base and covered in mushrooms. Since then I’ve tried all kinds of varieties but none of them have quite matched this bit of magic which, even if it's straight from the freezer, manages to cook all of the way around and right through evenly. It's moist, it's tasty (if a bit salty) and most importantly it matches the box. It might not have much to do with Italy, or Miami for that matter, but for the price it does the job and does it well.

Pan du Chocolat at the Musee d’Orsay Café.

I’m sitting in the café. On the table before me are an espresso and pain du chocolate, and they are all I can smell. Around me people are talking in a din of different languages. A Japanese girl is placed on the table almost but not quite opposite to me. She has brought an espresso as well. We smile at each other, and we share a few words: ‘You alright’ Yes.’ ‘Japanese?’ ‘English?’ But it’s obvious that is the limit my Japanese and her English so we sit in silence. I'm reading the English version of the guide book; hers is all in Japanese. Different versions of the same book. I put my book down and start to eat the pain. I can tell she is intrigued by it, so I pull off a chunk, making sure there is some chocolate and offer it to her. The girl takes it gladly and smiles giddily after eating. She tries to say thank you but can’t, so I just tell her she’s welcome. When she’s finished that piece I give her some more. We sit in silence just looking at each other, until our coffees are gone. We shake hands and go our own ways.

Necterines, tangerines and related citrus fruit.

Vying for supremacy with apples as my fruit of choice. This decade they joined the list of items which mean that I can’t completely prove within myself the non-existence of something contributing to the natural order of things and stuff. I’d be an agnostic if even agnostics could decide what that means (the wikipedia entry is a mess). It’s both a tasty food and a drink and is held together in a skin which means that it doesn’t leak its sticky liquid all over the place, which is probably how predators view everything below themselves in the food chain, but unlike an elk or zebra, a tangerine isn’t likely to make a futile bid for safety. About the only citrus variety I’ve never quite been able to understand is the bitter taste assault course of the grapefruit. Why do people do that to their mouths in the morning?

Henry Moon’s Game Pie.

My meal time experiences in Stratford-Upon-Avon were variable at best, largely because as well as detox my mind from the internet I decided to try and eat lots of healthy salads. That lasted until the Wednesday night. By Thursday I was desperate for pie and the Phyllius Fogg of the culinary world was on hand with this new taste. An oval dish filled with birds of a flavour I couldn’t identify, gravy and topped with a mountain of mashed potato but unlike similar dishes even when I thought I’d decimated the flesh, another piece appeared from underneath an onion. It tasted familiar and yet not at the same time and I was glad I was only drinking water with it so that my tastebuds could savour the culinary vacation they were experiencing. When asked all I could muster was “Lovely, thanks” which was understating things a little bit. In the donchyouknow parts of the world this is probably average, but for a mouth used to a frozen shepherd’s pie from Asda this was paradise.

Warburtons Seeded Batch Loaf.

A surprisingly disingenuous bread, despite its browness the Warburtons Seeded Batch Loaf contains about forty calories more per slice that their leading blue pack medium sliced white bread. It’s presumably because of all of those seeds which are surprisingly fatty. So although I originally began buying this for health reasons my addiction has stretched beyond that into actually risking my health by eating brown bread. Intensely versatile, it’s like flat toastable museli and there aren’t many toppings it doesn’t enhance. It also has the shelf life of nuclear material, toastable for at least two weeks after purchase. About the only drawback, if you’ll excuse the graphic nature of what I’m about to say, happens at the other end. Sesame seeds and barley do not digest very well at all.

Everyman Bistro’s specials board.

Or anyone’s specials board. The idea of the specials board appeals because of my acute inability to make up my mind about anything. It’s frankly much easier if someone makes it up for me. Just ordering whatever is on the specials board (unless it’s fish related) takes away the arduous j-word through the menu and the mental paralysis which inevitably follows as I simply don’t know if I want it with chicken or beef, what sauce or even if I want mousaka when the lasagne sounds so nice. The game pie listed above was a “special” and look how well that turned out. Soup of the Day is a particular joy because it focuses on a single food stuff and then tells you how it’s going to taste. Some day, someone should experiment with a restaurant were the indecisive patron can simply order “pizza” or “curry” and be happy with what they’re given. Culinary free will is overrated.