in the hands of someone who didn't care for it

Film Mark Kermode reviews Transformers 3:

Here's the more visual opinion he mentioned:

From the moment in the first film when it became apparent Bumblebee wasn't to be a Beetle but a Camaro, I knew that one of my favourite franchises was in the hands of someone who didn't care for it or understand it and that kids wouldn't be getting the films they deserved.

"It’s not a reboot."

Comics I've been watching with distanced interest and not a little entertainment DC Comics's plans to relaunch their entire publishing line in September. Given, from what I gather speaking to clerks in comic shops, the tumbling sales in comic books in general, this feels very much like the kind of action a high street chain going into administration takes, closing a bunch of stores (in this case comics titles like Secret Six) and refitting the rest in hopes of brining in a new audience (HMV ditching music in favour of games and games zones for kids to play them in).

DC have been keen to stress this isn't a reboot, even though the continuity and mythology of many of the characters is being rewritten, whole storylines are being ditched and while on the one hand they're clearly trying not to make comics fans feel as though they've wasted their life reading years and years of stories which now don't matter in relation to their favourite character on the other that's exactly what it feels like.  Fans of Star Wars can certainly relate to this kind of slash and burn approach to continuity especially readers of Karen Traviss's clone trooper novels which she famously stopped writing when the animated series rendered them null and void.

In an attempt to reassure fans and comics shops, DC Comics have put out an FAQ which is being carried by a number of sites finally detailing their thinking behind the whatever it is and stressing once again that it isn't a reboot despite all of the evidence in everything else they write to the contrary:
"Why not call it a reboot?

It’s not a reboot. A reboot is typically a restart of the story or character that jettisons away everything that happened previously.

This is a new beginning which builds off the best of the past. For the stories launching as new #1s in September, we have carefully hand-selected the most powerful and pertinent moments in these characters’ lives and stories to remain in the mythology and lore. And then we’ve asked the best creators in the industry to modernize, update and enhance the books with new and exciting tales. The result is that we retained the good stuff, and then make it better.
This having already said earlier:
"With all of the titles starting at #1, our creative teams have the ability to take a more modern approach – not only with each character, but with how the characters interact with one another and the universe as a whole, and focus on the earlier part of the careers of each of our iconic characters. A time when they didn’t have as much experience defeating all their nemeses. A time when they weren’t as sure of their abilities. A time when they haven’t saved the world countless times. It’s this period that is rich with creative opportunity as we show why these characters are so amazing, so iconic and so special."
It's the kind of repetitious, circular logic Ed Milliband would be proud of and the problem is, like the high street stores which refit and relaunch, it's doomed to failure because even though they didn't use the shop the last thing they want is for it to change.  People like the reassurance of good old Superman or HMV being there even if in not reading the comic or visiting the shop they're the exact reason why it's failing.

While there's some curiosity, from what I read all this is doing is cheesing off the core audience, many of whom are talking about dropping well loved titles and catching up on everything they've previously missed from the old regime.  You mark my words, in a couple of years if not sooner, this reboot will be retconned away by another universe width event written by Grant Morrison with Crisis in the title.

a very public sandwich

Radio This lunchtime I ate a very public sandwich.

The Manchester International Festival began last night and to celebrate, a special episode of Radio 4’s Front Row programme was recorded at the radio theatre on Oxford Road. In the email ticketing solicitation, it was explained that Victoria Wood, Paul Heaton and other guests 'to be announced' to would be appearing and since said Manchester International Festival also includes the live Doctor Who performance piece The Crash of the Elysium I decided it was worth a punt to see if one of the guests 'to be announced' would be someone related to that.

Doors were due to open at half twelve and I decided to do some shopping beforehand, the usual haunts, HMV (for this week's sale), Vinyl Exchange, Fopp (not in that order) and Marks & Spencers in my on-going search for the perfect jumper. Lately I’ve been watching The Killing and so at present my perfect jumper is influenced by that Danish crime drama which is admittedly probably a bit too chunky-knit for this time of year.  Everything was carefully timed out, how long each shop would take, how far the distance between each.  Manchester is probably my second city now and not Paris as I'd previously planned.

As a side note, in the post-Lovefilm, post-Spotify era, visiting the music shops is a depressing business, especially that HMV where the specialist music section has been evicted from the basement in favour of games and a console playing zone (a kind of modern amusement arcade with passwords instead of a change machine), and finds itself stuck at the back of the ground floor, classical, jazz and world all crammed uncomfortably in together. Vinyl Exchange too has lost some of its thoroughgoing nature. With less cds being sold because of downloads, there are less cds also being sold on, so once full racks are now half empty, especially in the soundtrack section.

The non-usual haunt and my timing downfall was That’s Entertainment, a branch of which has opened opposite the HMV. Apparently opened by the previous owner of Music Zone and stocked, according to the counter clerk, with the cds and dvds which have sat in their warehouse for seven years, this offers a history of the mainstream for one, two or four pounds. In the post-Lovefilm, post-Spotify era this still somehow seems expensive, plus with my collection, it’s difficult to even find something I’d want. I’m always second guessing myself. Do I really need a blu-ray of The Fugitive?

After what seemed like an hour, though probably more like forty-minutes I walked out having paid first with dvds of WarGames knock-off Eagle Eye (Rosario Dawson) and Pans Labyrinth and the second soundtrack album for Moulin Rouge (the one with songs actually taken from the soundtrack as opposed the remixes which turned up on the first).  I was now running late, time management in tatters. After glancing through Marks and Spencer and not finding the jumper I was looking for (no chunk-knit) I decended into the basement and bought the sandwich, Wensleydale cheese and carrot pickle, once I'd convinced myself the scary red traffic lights on the packaging had to be an over exaggeration.

Then I was walking. Walking as fast as my thirty-six year old, decrepit before their time legs could carry me.  Up Deansgate past the burrito shop that for the first time in ages doesn't have an employee outside giving away free samples, across Albert Square (well more like round Albert Square since this has become Festival Square and is filled with giant wooden structures) and up Oxford Road (or street – the signs are contradictory) until I reached BBC Manchester and see dozens and dozens of people piling in. I’d obviously underestimated Victoria Wood’s pulling power and had been running later than I'd previously supposed.

On entering the foyer, us audience members were each given a number. I was 177. By the time I reached the auditorium it was mostly full. After a brief conversation about the extent to which someone could be sitting in an empty chair, I noticed a block of about twenty free seats at the front, just off to the side, a few yards away from the broadcasting tables, fanned out with blue table cloths and large microphones.  I sat there or rather I sat there after conscientiously checking with a guide that I could sit there.  I’d be watching the programme with some of the faces of the guests in profile but it was still a better view than for some.

I had hoped that the rest of the block would fill up, but it wasn’t to be. As people arrived they preferred to take up residence right at the back and so I was a bit stuck out.  Like a lemon. This is not the kind of thing which usually bothers me. If I’m alone, I always sit near the front of the cinema, front row too for lectures, so why not the front row for Front Row? At which point I realised I hadn’t had time to eat my sandwich and my tummy was rumbling and a rumbling tummy was probably not what the Radio 4 audience would want to hear after having just eaten dinner themselves this evening.

After a bit, a producer walked up to the microphone at the front and told us we had time to go to the toilet of we needed to, which of course means everyone wanted to go to the toilet, including me. I won't give you those details but on my way back I asked the producer if this was a no-food zone and he said, no it was quite alright, so long as I wasn’t eating during the programme. So I sat and pulled my sandwich out and slowly began masticating whilst reading a magazine, Doctor Who Magazine with its poignant Nicholas Courtney tributes.

A minute or two later, the same producer approached a microphone at the front and began the process of warming up the audience. He asked if anyone had come far. Someone shouted York which did seem far until someone else mentioned Gloucester and just to see Victoria Wood. Fans, eh? All the while I’m working my way through the first half of the sandwich, trying to finish it before the programme started, probably barely tasting the cheese and chutney and barely paying attention to what was going on around me.

All the while the producer was talking. I think I heard him ask us to turn off our mobile phones (already done). That we should relax (I was). That someone had even brought their lunch at which point I became very aware of the sandwich I was holding which was just a few centimetre away from an open mouth filled with saliva and I was especially aware of the three hundred odd pairs of eyes now all looking in my general direction, the producers body turned in my direction.  This seemed like a good moment to blow everything out of all proportion.

People giggled. “I’m hungry” I think I muttered, but not really knowing how to react. It wasn’t until he mentioned it that I properly realised that because I was sat so close to the front opposite the rest of the audience, everything I’d done could potentially have been watched by people looking for someone to watch in an otherwise quite boring room and as I continued chewing, out of the corner of my eye I could still see people looking over. A girl on the front row kept grinning at me. This was the most public sandwich I'd ever eaten.  I felt like a performance art piece. “Man eating sandwich.”

Happily by the time I’d finished ingestion, the crowd had been distracted away by the appearance of presenter Mark Lawson. Regular readers will know this is the second occasion on which I’ve been in the same room as the man, having found myself discussing a work at FACT Liverpool with him and his colleague on the opening day of last year’s Liverpool Biennial.  It hadn’t occurred to me he’d be at this despite being the show's primary presenter and happily he didn’t have time to recognise me or congratulate me on my clever observations (!) of the Tehching Hsieh piece.  Perhaps I'm doomed to just keep inadvertantly meeting Lawson at arts festivals, rather than interview me about having done something useful.

He introduced himself and explained who the guests would be. Victoria Wood talking about her new play, Paul Heaton chatting about his new song cycle, playwright Charlotte Keatley reviewing the Bjork concert that opened the festival and poet Lavinia Greenlaw on her audio artwork which allows visitors to Manchester Picadilly station, via headphones, to eavesdrop on the imagined thoughts of their fellow passengers.  No one from Doctor Who then, but there was no denying, when they were ushered out, Wood’s star quality and the excitement of being in the same room as Heaton whose music I listened to growing up (and indeed saw on sale earlier in That’s Entertainment for a pound per cd).

Then Mark surprised us all by asking the audience to sing the theme tune to The Archers (Barwick Green). It was, he said, because having presented almost a couple of thousand editions of Front Row live (he gave us an exact number but I didn’t have a pen), he needed that music to get him in the mood. And we duly acceded with a mass sing-song, that was accurate enough to even included the uncomfortable climax when Arthur Wood’s composition fades out halfway through the next verse.

Then we were off and the results can be heard on the BBC website. The short version is that whilst Wood has written a musical number set in a Berni Inn, both Heaton and Keatley admitted to having had their first job in said defunct restaurant chain.  It was an unexpected reminder of when I was a child visiting the Berni Inn near the Pier Head, their steaks a real treat at a time when our family was relatively poor.  Someone's uploaded a photograph to flickr although it's from well past its heyday.  It seemed more luxurious when we visited, taking a window seat so that we could look out across the Mersey at night.

Lawson’s timing was impeccable. Having presented all of those episodes live he’s clearly very adept at knowing how to pace the content, giving each of the guests equal measure.  I couldn’t see a clock anywhere so I have to assume he instinctively knew when half an hour had gone by. He didn’t even take advantage of the recorded nature of the programme and let it go on longer. Front Row is half an hour of arts programming and that’s what we got. 

Between the news and The Archers each night on Radio 4 is a trailer for the upcoming Front Row.  This is read in live most nights, but it was to be recorded as well, with all of the strangeness of talking in the future tense about a programme we'd just heard.  Lawson joked that perhaps we should now improvise the news too until one of guests noted the bulletin would probably end with an Andy Murray update at which point some of us shouted “Go, Andy”. I was apparently the loudest because Lawson, Victoria Wood and the rest of the guests looked over and suddenly I had the attention of everyone again.

It was time to go.  Most of us made for the exit, but a fair few people made forVictoria Wood and autographs.  But I still had business.  As you can see, one of the guests was artist Lavinia Greenlaw who has an audio installation piece at Manchester Picadilly station in which the thoughts of fellow passengers are hinted at through headphones. Deciding that I had to at least enjoy something of the festival, I headed back up to Oxford Road station and bought a one-way ticket across town.

On arriving back where I started from, I set about finding the booth on the main concourse that Mark Lawson mentioned.  I found the booth. Then I found the dates printed on the booth:

"2 - 17th July".

Time had finally gotten the better of me.  Since the Front Row had been a recording, and it would be broadcast this evening, Audio Obscura would be open the day after listeners had heard about it.  I had become caught in the limbo between the two. I was tempted to recreate the experience on the way home, deliberately eavesdropping on other passengers in a similar way to Greenlaw's audio recordings (though obviously without the telepathic aspect), but decided that I'd already been in enough trouble that afternoon.

Oh well. Perhaps there’ll be a podcast.

visually innocuous igneous rocks

Art One of the more thrilling memories I have of children’s television in the eighties was watching grainy 16mm footage of a Blue Peter presenter, who in my memory was Simon Groom, standing in the midst of a volcanic eruption, seemingly on the edge of death. As far as I could see, the whole steaming, streaming rock face could have potentially smothered him and yet all Groom was interested in was showing us just how hot these visually innocuous igneous rocks really were by attempting to kick them with his suede shoes, only skipping away when the menacing matter finally came just that bit too close.

That led to a life long fascination with volcanoes and so I’m predisposed to love Worlds in the Making, the new work from Semiconductor, the art duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt on display at FACT Liverpool from the 2nd July, the press preview for which I’ve just returned from. I can’t often accept such invitations because of work, but I'm on holiday at the moment so it was worth attending at least to see the hospitality professional reviewers enjoy. As I discovered, a chance to see the exhibition before/without the public, a short talk from curators and artists and (for the purposes of full disclosure) a very nice buffet lunch.

Semiconductor have been working together for fifteen years and Worlds in the Making is another of their artistic investigations into the natural world and how science changes our perception of it. The culmination of a three year project, the film in FACT’s Gallery 1 pulls together a mass of research collected and sent to them from vulcanologists studying globally and visits to the Smithsonian Institute’s natural history department. Effectively they carried out their own scientific exploration but are presenting their results artistically, utilising the data to produce a film that blurs fiction and reality, with us becoming their peer review community.

At first glance, probably no matter when that glance happens in its twenty-three minute duration, the viewer seems to be watching a kind of minimalist documentary about a volcanic eruption, from first observations of a potential catastrophe through to the moment when its best to get the hell out of the local town, the mountain with a hole in the top disappearing into the distance. To an extent, Worlds in the Making is a voyeuristic undertaking since we, through the artists, are watching the scientists at work, their labs, their equipment, we’re observing the observers, and on the soundtrack listening to their observations.

Interspersed with this, Semiconductor employ one of the richest of new art-forms, computer animation, to imagine what the scientists can’t observe. The formation of crystals below the surface forcing themselves into being (in shots reminiscent of the kryptonite effects in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns) and the exterior landscape itself vibrating, with as the accompanying literature describes “sound functions as physical material, becoming a tool to introduce time and motion to the seemingly static world”. Throughout, real seismic data is used as the basis for an audio soundscape blasting from six channels placing us directly inside this formation’s deadly power.

World In The Making brings to mind another childhood television memory from when a pre-teen me was absent from school with chicken pox and was confronted with advanced chemistry for the first time through the scientific programmes broadcast on Granada in the morning (parodied later in Look Around You).  These too would intercut footage of scientific investigation with animations portraying the chemical reactions which with my young eyes could just as well have been fiction, a version of Clarke’s third law, that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think that’s what Jarman and Gerhardt are also attempting here.

For its slender running time, as you can see, Semiconductors is rich in meaning and ripe for interpretation and I’m becoming very conscious that I’m reaching the point of spoiling the experience if you’re intending to visit (especially since the exhibition hasn’t opened yet). I’d stop reading this paragraph now and skip the next one too because there was just one more thing (Peter Falk RIP). There’s a moment when on one screen the metallic cylindrical seismometer flickers indicating the impending eruption and on another screen, a sculpture of a volcano is shown (in the local town which is called Volcano), as the speakers rumble ominously.

This is a classic film editing trick, often seen in Hitchcock, Spielberg and indeed most disaster films, a cutaway from whatever human drama is being conducted inside the mayhem to a subtle warning about the impending natural disaster. There might even have been a similar shot in Earthquake, just before the dam breaks. I congratulated the artists on this and asked them (in my usual rambling style) if they’d intended to produce a thriller.  Interestingly, although they’d shot unused footage of safety shelters and the like, and wanted to produce an uneasily feeling, it hadn’t cross their mind to go further. But they agreed that if it was a thriller, it was inadvertent rather than by design.

Upstairs in Gallery 2, the Inferno Observatory installation offers a lo-fi version of the “main” work. Whilst researching at the Mineral Science Lab at the Smithsonian, the artists stumbled upon an archive of 16mm footage of volcanologists in the field, including spectacular aeroplane footage of an eruption. The former appears on CRT televisions piled up throughout the space, the latter rightly given the big screen treatment it deserves and as the artists suggest despite the formal, cold, clean space, the visitor, now surrounded by the images and sound once again feels an eruption at a visceral level. I may even have sweated.

There’s an even greater sense of danger here. Whereas the predominantly young people in Worlds in the Making make their observations from a relatively safe distance, these older guys are, like Simon Groom, imperilling limbs as they take readings directly from the lava using very long sticks.  We’re always aware that the pilot and camera man had to have been risking their lives to get so close to the lip of the volcano, especially when the plane swoops heart-stoppingly closer to get a better shot.  The sounds we hear too are natural, taken from directly nearby, instead of the artificially generated noise that accompanies the work downstairs.

On your way out, don’t forget, as I almost did, to visit the ScienceFun Fair in the Media Lounge, in which kids from Pleasant Street Primary School in collaboration with artist Laura Pullig have created some objects/experiments exploring the themes of the exhibition. The seismometer is especially ingenious. It’s enough to make me ponder once again why, having watched Groom singeing his corduroys as he showed me the volcano, I still turned around and followed the educational art stream. Perhaps like Semiconductor, I’m just as interested in the presentation of the natural world, as the natural world itself.

someone else had already grabbed

Meme The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle. Not counting the bunch of numbers and letters I was given at university, as already discussed:

Handle: groovejet42

User: Stuart Ian Burns.

Platform: Hotmail

Why: "For about two weeks, I thought the Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis Bexter track was the best song ever produced and was impressed to finally meet a dance track I unequivocally liked (helped by previously being a fan of The Audience). The 42 was because someone else had already grabbed groovejet and so I added a Douglas Adams reference."

cities made of song

TV The AV Club surveys accidental series finales (because of cancellation after production) that still work narratively.
"In spite of producing many series that would best be described as cult hits, TV super-producer Joss Whedon has produced only one that was canceled unceremoniously, before he could come up with a finale designed to close off the story: Firefly. (Vampire detective series Angel was canceled with plenty of time for Whedon to craft a finale. He just chose to end on a seeming cliffhanger.) The never-ending outcry over the series’ cancellation drowns out the fact that “Objects In Space” was a pretty great way for the show to go out. Bounty hunter Jubal Early’s (Richard Brooks) invasion of the spaceship Serenity, his specific methods for dealing with each member of the crew, and the crew’s eventual fight back and victory give every cast member a moment in the sun, and the episode is audacious enough (among other things, it’s Joss Whedon giving a treatise on existentialism) that it’s easy to wish there could have been a future for the increasingly ambitious show. It’s still great to see it go out on top.
It skips over My So-Called Life, presumably because you could fill this whole list with truncated Bedford Falls series.

Perhaps an equally interesting list are shows in which the final episode of that season had been produced and then the producers decided to rush about giving the show a "definitive" ending with the footage they had -- Pushing Daisies notably and of course the original transmission period for Doctor Who, the final episode of which already featured the Doctor and his plus one heading off into the distance. 

The following was recorded by Sylvester McCoy and hastily dubbed over the top and you'd be hard pushed to find a better mission statement for what the franchise is about (if it's about anything):
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace; we've got work to do!"
Of course, like Firefly, the story would continue, thank goodness.  The season that would have followed is even back in production, albeit on audio.  Which is why I'm still hoping for The My So-Called Life reunion.

Past Pass Notes in The Guardian.

Celebrating the three thousandth of their Pass Notes column, The Guardian have reproduced No.51 which was about Hamlet:
"What does it all mean? That Shakespeare was a cuckold, betrayed by Anne Hathaway and his brother (James Joyce); an expression of sexual disgust, caused by the arrival of syphilis from the New World (DH Lawrence); premature male menopause – "he is at a crossroads in his life and Shakespeare dramatises that very human situation" (Kenneth Branagh)."

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

RSC @ Park View Armory

Royal Shakespeare Company is touring the US and when it pitches up at the Park Avenue Armoury, it will be appearing on a nearly exact replica of the theatre in Stratford. ArtInfo has statistics, but look at this:

a nearly exact replica

Theatre Royal Shakespeare Company is touring the US and when it pitches up at the Park Avenue Armoury, it will be appearing on a nearly exact replica of the theatre in Stratford. ArtInfo has statistics, but look at this:

This American Life

Next week on This American Life is an updated repeat of this episode which originally aired in 2002 and is available to stream now:


Music Doesn't


equate to the guitar accompaniment to

Question mark.

any film that vaguely challenges the established order

Film Audience to Terrence Malik's The Tree of Life at the Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT were having such an adverse reaction to the film that the management posted a sign outside, warning them about content:

Which I think you'll agree amazing and should be put in front of any film that vaguely challenges the established order. My experience of watching There Will Be Blood would have been immeasurably improved, probably, as I had to endured bored muttering and the sound and sight of some idiot with a clamshell mobile phone idly snapping it open and closed during the final half hour.

Indiewire have asked said cinema manager about this bold move:
"Like any arthouse theater, we have had films that were met with disdain, and there are films that had a universally negative response. Two that come to mind were “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Margot at the Wedding.” In general, dysfunctional suburban films tend to be received very poorly in our market. I certainly wouldn’t put “The Tree of Life” in that category; the negative response to the film isn’t for that reason. It’s more for the particular visual and stylistic approach in the film that is so different from what people are accustomed to these days."
Jim Emmerson notes some occasions when he's also resorted to these signs:
"I understand the importance of preparing people for what they're going to see. (Heck, at the Market we had a two-week first-run theatrical engagement of Peter Greenaway's "A Zed and Two Noughts," about a pair of widowered twins who become obsessed with alphabetically organizing and filming plants and animals as they decay, from Apple to Zebra. Not good for concessions sales.) As I recall, we had a (not terribly strict) half-hour refund policy: If you just couldn't stand it, you could escape in the first 30 minutes and still get your money back."

surpassing such recent hits

Film Having expanded to more screens in the US, Woody's Midnight In Paris is on course to become his most successful film ever.
In the last week (it) surpassed all of the 75-year-old filmmaker’s releases since 1986 at the box office, selling a total of $28.6 million worth of tickets, including $4.5 million this past weekend. That is Allen’s highest mark since 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” surpassing such recent hits as 2008’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and 2005’s “Match Point,” both of which took in just over $23 million each.

More typical for Allen recently has been soft performers such as 2010’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” ($3.2 million) and 2009’s “Whatever Works” ($5.3 million).
These numbers are just weird.

The reviews were the usual mix of gratitude and disdain and the advertising campaign as ever sold it to a much older audience.Which means that either that older audience has come out in droves even in non-metropolitan areas, or the word of mouth has been good amongst young people.

As ever the film has yet to have been gifted a release date here which means we'll be waiting the usual twelve months -- even the Czech Republic is getting it before us the lucky people -- but expect a far more inclusive advertising campaign with even more Owen Wilson and less Van Gogh.

In other news, neither Whatever Works or You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger have been gifted with a blu-ray releases in the UK ... yet.  So after the Vicky Cristina debarkle -- where I bought the DVD only for the BD to turn up six months later, I think I'm going to wait and see.

spoiler potential is high

TV Torchwood: Miracle Day finally has a confirmed uk airdate.

Thursday 14th July, at 9pm.

Which is just over a week after the US co-producers Starz, so spoiler potential is high and unfortunately, unlike BBC America, there doesn't there's much chance of a timelag caused by the show being pre-empted for a week for some reason, so it'll be like this all summer.

Ho and indeed hum. But look, something new, on television in the Whoniverse!

someone even cleverer

Radio This extended edition of the Fry’s English Delight special broadcast last Christmas has as its spine a conversation about word games (also available as a stream) between Stephen Fry and puzzle setter Chris Maslanka, or one of the cleverest men in the world meeting someone even cleverer.

Maslanka is the official enigmatist at St Catherine's College as well as puzzle setter for The Guardian and they have a lengthy discussion as to why English seems most suited to the likes of cryptic crosswords, whether they indeed improve a person's brain power and if someone is pre-disposed to enjoy these challenges depending on their parentage.

It's enthralling and unlike some similar discussions entirely gracious as the men marvel at each other's intellect and the beauty of language rather than attempting outwit one another, a refreshing change from other increasingly viscous radio discussions.  It's also enough to make you reach for the nearest broadsheet newspaper and take up the challenge.

Fry's English Delight: Word Games is released by AudioGo on the 7th July.  Review copy supplied.

Yes, Lowe is entitled to his opinion.

Music Right then, so Zane Lowe. If you weren't watching Glastonbury last night, the main clips appear in the ITN montage above (even if the voice over at the beginning misses the point).  This is the first time in years I've watched a lot of Glastonbury and it hadn't occurred to me the actual process of broadcasting the music would be quite as exciting as the music itself.

The synopsis. After two hours of (I must admit) fantastic television as Beyonce gave a near perfect performance of songs by herself and her peers in the pop world, the coverage returned to Lauren Laverne and Zane Lowe in the studio and Lowe registered all the enthusiasm of a Vulcan watching his planet blow up, sucking all of the energy out of the screen.

Lauren, perhaps sensing that they were in danger of damning the show with faint praise offered a mini-review describing the influences she sensed and generally looking like someone who's been reining in her musical knowledge all weekend and finally taking the chance to just talk and sounding for all the world like Andrew Graham Dixon describing a Caravaggio.

You can see the rest of it above. Lowe's a relatively laid back person from what I can see.  He's probably very good on the radio.  I don't know.  Watch for the reaction on Lauren's face as they head off into the clip. I still can't interpret that.  But that's rather what we saw last night.  The difference between what people saw and what actually happened.  Cue Adam Curtis montage with footage of bears.

The twitter reaction was, shall we say, unkind and as the night went on, it was almost as though either Lowe himself or some BBC producer was feeding that back to the studio, with Lowe trying to talk back his underwhelmed reaction by mentioning Beyonce a lot but continuing to dig grave for himself (at least that's how it looked from this end) by not raising his voice much above monotone.

This was live television at its most excruciating as not a link went by without Lowe mentioning Beyonce and increasingly emphatically -- well emphatically for him -- as it became apparent the singer would be visiting the studio for a post match interview. By this time twitter was braying and also getting ready for the inevitable embarrassment of seeing Lowe having to interview the singer.

Then, seemingly without warning, we were told that Lowe had to go home because it was late, to look after his "babbies". For all we know this might have been the plan all along -- Laverne too left not long after the interview -- but for many people watching with a second screen tuned to Tweetdeck it looked as though he'd been yanked to save him and the BBC the embarrassment.

Some conspiracy theorists wondered if the singer's people had asked for him to go. I don't. But it is true that when his replacement, Jo Whiley appeared, she seemed slightly startled at being on screen earlier than expected (if it's possible to interpret these things through a television screen) but it could be that it was simply that she was suddenly sitting a few feet away from one of the most famous people on the planet.

Given the inevitable schism between how television appears and how it's being interpreted by us braying masses it perhaps didn't help Lowe that Dara O'Briain told his half million followers "it's how you... entertain... people certainly" Christ, Zane Lowe is such music snob prick sometimes" and then "Fun Fact: Zane Lowe could have saved himself the last, horrible 30 mins of his life if he'd just said "I didn't see it. How was she?"

Following a search for "zane lowe" (for anthropological reasons you understand) it wasn't long before I noticed a backlash against the backlash with many people suggesting that Lowe was allowed to have an opinion and that he was cool and whatnot and even O'Briain himself attempted a backtrack "By the way, next time I misjudge some tone on the telly, Zane Lowe is allowed laugh the longest. That's probably only fair."

Here's what I thought.  Yes, Lowe is entitled to his opinion.  We're all entitled to like some music more than others.  Some of Beyonce's tracks seem over produced to me, burying her amazing vocals beneath a morass of samples.  She's not alone in that.  Jessie J who was equally impressive the other day has an album which I find difficult to listen to.  I much prefer Laura Marling who received only a tiny bit of main channel coverage.

But as a presenter after the main act on the final night of Glastonbury, by the end of which televisual energy was at its highest and judging again by the on-line reaction people genuinely felt like they'd seen something extraordinary, it was his and Lauren's job to keep that energy up, talk in glowing terms, judge the event and act accordingly, not do what Lowe did, which was sap all of the energy out of it.

Perhaps the idea was for Lowe to be the counterweight, speaking for the people who thought Beyonce had as much right to this coveted slot as Daphne and Celeste turning up at the Reading Festival in 2000 despite the fact the crowd at Glastonbury, which was larger than the home audience for some programmes on digital channels, seemed to enjoy every minute of it and Glastonbury itself now offers alternatives at the same time.

But in this context, that's like Sophie Raworth being a rampant anti-monarchist during the royal wedding or extended sneering throughout the 80s on Top of the Pops.  I know John Peel always looked slightly incongruous introducing pop music, but at least he did it with a certain upbeat charm (or as upbeat as John Peel could ever be, bless him).

If as some assume (judging by what he said quickly going into the clip), he had been to see Queens of the Stone Age instead then perhaps that was the way to go for him to be allowed to talk about that.  Perhaps Lauren's love for Beyonce meant they didn't have time for that before the next clip played in and that was why he had nothing nice to say, in which case his "downfall" was due to messy editorial.

Perhaps many of us misinterpreted what we saw (see above), especially since apparently Lowe had said some nice things about Beyonce headlining on his own radio programme.  Or perhaps we have to decide whether these people are there to editorialise or simply present the clips like old fashioned VJs, which is I think, what was required here.  And now Devo ...

Update! Heatworld quotes a BBC spokesperson as saying that Lowe "wasn't even scheduled to chat with Beyonce, and that his transport home was organised well in advance and meant that he'd be off-site before the interview was even due to happen".

"beer and pizza"

Ballet I read something in The Observer review section this morning which made my blood boil (my emphasis):
"Last Sunday saw the final performance of the Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet season at the O2 arena. With its rock concert-style close-up screens, the production was a huge success, and in case the company repeats it, here are my suggestions. Go as a gang, travelling to and from the venue on the O2 Express riverboat, a magical experience as night falls. Eat and drink as you watch: there's nothing like beer and pizza to get you in that vendetta mood, although spicy chicken wings might be the way to go if they do Swan Lake next year. Feel free to cheer, boo and weep convulsively."
And ruin it for all the people sitting around you. Insert callous remark and swear word.

contractual obligation

Transport Ian takes a Parliamentary train journey. It's not what you'd think:
"A mysterious train runs between North and South London during the week, direct between two stations that shouldn’t be possible to travel between. Once in the morning, and once in the afternoon – and never at weekends.

From Wandsworth Road to Kensington Olympia – this is London’s Parliamentary Train Service.

It doesn’t exist to serve our elected masters in Parliament, nor is it required due to some little known outpost of the Palace of Westminster in Wandsworth – it is in fact a relic, a remnant that exists simply because of a strange bit of legislation passed by Parliament."
I'm genuinely interested. There are some buses in Liverpool that only travel once a week, often very early on a Sunday morning. Are they a similar contractual obligation?

middle aged, hard drinking, loose lipped, bad tempered

Radio For those of us who’re accustomed to the approach to spying portrayed in the likes of Spooks, in which agents have to cope with fictional disasters that are often just a couple of weeks away from reality and narrative pacing that runs quicker than a broadband internet connection, it’s quite refreshing to sit back with this adaptation of John le Carre’s The Russia House which slowly lollops along as spies conduct their business just inches away from a cup of tea and the most exciting action sequence involves an undercover agent driving through Moscow without a valid license.

This is the kind of old school caper that causes Harry Pearce to nostalgically weep into a late night glass of Glenfiddich waiting for Tariq the tech to hack a pen drive. Three years into perestroika, Barley Blair, a middle aged, hard drinking, loose lipped, bad tempered publisher with a soft interior is sent a manuscript by a wavering Russian scientist apparently exposing the Russian nuclear threat as a sham. The document is intercepted by British secret service and Blair is recruited to go undercover to confirm their veracity during which he falls in love with Katya, the sexy intermediary.

Cue three hours of mostly RP male accents urgently training Blair for his mission and only ever registering pleasure whilst awaiting for his covert recordings as they’re transmitted to London for analysis. Most of these figures are indistinguishable and only every become anything more than testy just in time to be replaced, which I think is le Carre’s point – that during the Cold War, diplomatic affairs that could have led to the deaths of millions were being conducted by humans with a cynical view of feelings and whose emotional responses had been trained out of them.

Cutting right through all that is Blair, who they’re generally apprehensive of because he’s capable of all everything they frown on, and as you’d imagine from reading the character description, Tom Baker’s perfect casting. With the same element of danger he brought to the Doctor (and also the constant suspicion that he’s improvising most his lines) he walks away with all of his scenes, imbuing in Blair the gleefulness of a man who’s found his calling but keeping his irascibility in check for the common cause. Frankly, it’s his performance which makes this a must listen.

The only occasions Baker seems less at ease is with the love story. He’s still charming, but there’s little room between the spy stuff in Rene Basilico’s adaptation to really allow Barley to convincingly falling in love and although there are many passionate oaths, the coldness of the presentation (there’s no score) makes it seem rather clinical and academic. But at least the outcome feels more realistic and dignified than Spooks, where relationships always end with one or both halves of a couple being shot, boiled, electrocuted or blown-up.

John le Carre's The Russia House is released by AudioGo on the 7th July 2011. Review copy supplied.