Plus corridors, corridors, corridors.

TV Earlier this evening, at about tea time, I visited our usual Fish and a Chip emporium. After ordering, I nipped out to the pillar box to post a dvd back to Lovefilm (Maaasshhhette!) and when I returned I leaned against the counter and must have looked a bit bedraggled. I’ve been growing my hair long again and it hasn’t quite reached the stage of sitting properly so the fringe sometimes falls forward across my face. The lady behind the counter asked what was wrong, and smelling the salt and vinegar and curry sauce in the air, I simply said “I’m just hungry.” I may have sounded like The Wire.

The lady stepped forward, pulled out of the foil trays in which their pies are usually served in, steps over to the chip warmer and shovels some into the tray. I’m embarrassed of course and tell she doesn’t have to, but all she says asks is “Salt and vinegar?” I reply in the affirmative, politely, and after shaking and spraying it with condiments, places the tray at my eye level, finally reaching for and skewering a small plastic fork vertically into the top. I thank her again and then begin munching and as is always the case with chips from this chip emporium they’re gorgeous.

Right now, that’s exactly the experience of watching Doctor Who each Saturday night with Moffat et al as the woman in the Chip shop, offering before us an always unexpected special treat. Never mind last week’s astonishing episode, here’s another one. By turns funny, creepy and exciting, Toby Whithouse’s The God Complex is the final instalment of what we can now see as a trilogy of surrealist fantasies of the kind which you can’t imagine any other broadcaster offering up on a Saturday night in this timeslot. #ilovethebbc

As with both of the previous episodes, it's possible to list the story’s influences. Whithouse himself has presented a hotel filled with nightmares in his own Being Human and having those nightmares feeding back into the consciousness is almost a running joke on Buffy The Vampire Slayer (like everything else). As was unexpectedly noted in closing dialogue of explanation they’re chased by Nimon redux (squee), sapping of belief was almost the reverse of the main central chapter in the “Repelling the curse of Fenric for Dummies” and the effects of the bliss pure Star Trek V.

Plus corridors, corridors, corridors. Shifting corridors.  And stairs.  Though not to the point of recursive occlusion. Whithouse is also tapping into our own fears of disorientation, of not being able to control our space or at least the spaces we’re existing in. Anyone who’s experienced Liverpool’s unending road improvement schedule with its ever changing traffic management can seriously relate. The hotel is clearly supposed to evoke the film version of The Shining, especially when said bliss envelops the victims and they find themselves in the spiral of repetition.

Whithouse’s script respects those sources but makes some significant choices which break away from potential cliché. For a start, the nightmares aren’t milked. They’re rarely scary in similar efforts, which is why the Elm Street film series so quickly turned to satire and King so often chooses universally creepy figures like clowns. So Whithouse largely uses them as a trigger for the horror of the “rapture”. Joe's is already in situ and the rest are barely glimpsed and deliberately chosen to only be significant to the victim and mostly stereotypical.

The master-stroke is not giving us the nightmare which most other series would be so pornographically desperate to show us they’d put it in the trailer. Quite rightly, the Doctor’s apparently unaffected by the brainwashing and opens the door just out of curiosity. The sound of the cloister bell, a sigh of resignation, then closed again. What did he see? What can scare a man who’s barbecued his own race in order to destroy something even scarier, who’s cheated death, so, so many times. My guess? Himself. But the contents of that room have to be returned to.

What does the Doctor believe in? When he’s asked directly by Ida whilst dangling in The Satan Pit he doesn’t answer the question, says that he hasn’t seen everything, that he doesn’t know, before plunging into the black. You may remember other examples. If he has any kind of faith, it’s probably in the humanoid spirit, which was what made Midnight a tragedy because he was only able to bring out the worst in those units. Perhaps the real answer is obscured like so much else by the question inherent in the title of the series.

Unless it’s faith in his subjects. In Fenric it was his companions, his list from Susan upwards warding them off. That seems simplistic, but the scene in which he shook Amy’s faith in him underscores of late the near religious fervour he can engender, never mind a lonely God, he’s David Koresh in a box, as Davros suggested his disciples willing to die for him. The intercutting between Karen and Caitlin underscores how he views Amy, that she’s still the little girl he met when he was still cooking and what we saw was her understand that was the still care.

Was it thematically critical of faith in general, that faith will get you killed if you're not careful?  Not unless you modify that to faith will get you killed if you're trapped in a mad hotel etc.   When Rita confirms to the Doctor that she's a Muslim he's genuinely excited by the prospect.  As Gridlock and Last of the Time Lords demonstrate, this is a show that positively adores faith even if its just a machine for binding people together to create hope.  Amy tells Gibbis that the Doctor will get him out alive.  Despite the alien's ambiguous morals, he does.  End of.

Perhaps the most shocking moment in the episode is the rawness of Rory's joke about wondering if when the Doctor talks to someone, he should advise the next of kin.  Perhaps an indication of the slight fracture in their relationship after The Girl Who Waited, it references back to a similar moment in Whithouse's The Vampires of Venice.  The process is to underscore Rory's disturbing lack of faith, the thing which is keeping him alive, but it tempers the resonances noted above.

If you want my real guess for how his story this season will resolve itself, never mind Miracle Day, the Doctor will somehow make the universe forget him. Moffat’s already hinted towards a shift away from his god-like status, if the Silence don’t know who he is, why would they attack him so how could he die? Unless that’s how “silence will fall”. Everyone he knows, all the lives he’s touched in his history will forget the name Doctor and he’ll be really all alone without his reputation to assist him, a stranger to River, to UNIT, to all his friends.  QED.

The script is also a textbook demonstration of how to create characters we care about and more significantly that we care about when they die (downwards glance). If Howie is bit too Whizz Kid for my tastes, Rita is beautifully realised clearly meant to evoke all of the nuWho Doctor’s previous companions with her sharp wit and willingness to speak to the Doctor as an equal. The tea references make me chuckle now that I'm researching this paragraph because Amara Karan is I think the first actor in the Whoniverse to have worked with Wes Anderson. In The Darjeeling Limited. Playing a character called Rita.

Making his third appearance in the Whoniverse, after turning up in Mark Gattis’s audio Phantasmagoria and the Doctor Who Night skits also with Mark Gattis is David Walliams, almost unrecognisable as Mark Gattis, sorry Gibbis, making the most of a character which could just as well have been created by Douglas Adams. An alien who wants to be oppressed is just the sort of twisted logic he would have loved (see the Dish of the Day) my favourite line being the row of trees being put in so that the invading army can keep in the shade as they’re marching to the capital.

And again, another beautifully directed episode. Nick Hurran’s had an interesting career. According to the imdb, his first work was on Telly Addicts, before moving into sitcom with a dozen episodes of Never The Twain, then Big Break, Boon before oscillating between tv drama and film, the auteur behind some of my guilty pleasures like Virtual Sexuality. He was last on The Prisoner mini-series and now here he is creating visually stunning Doctor Who that as it transpires was the source for much of the preview trailer for this half of the series.

The most striking element is that he and the DP aren’t afraid to rest on close-ups. That was a feature last week too, even in action sequences we’re right up in actor’s faces, risking a lack of narrative clarity in favour of seeking a character's thought processes. The shots of the Doctor in particular seem like some of the closest, his strange congregation of features both enigmatic and reassuring, demonstrating how carefully thought through Matt’s performance actually is, now and then revealing the flashes of fear which provide the Time Lord’s motivation.

But as the night continues and the episode recedes into my memory (until the blu-ray release) we can’t complete our acquaintance without reference to the conclusion. Imagine for a moment if this was Amy and Rory’s final moment in the series. External forces like interviewers with microphones at conventions and twitter chatter have put paid to that, but how beautiful would it be if, just once, the Doctor chose to leave his companions behind. Not out of failure, not like Adam.  Or obligation like Sarah Jane.  But because he knows that eventually something will happen to them and he can’t stand by and let it.

To an extent it is an empty gesture because we know Amy and Rory will be back, they’re just taking a week off because of the Cardiff double banking quandary. Plus the Doctor’s faced worse things than the hotel of doom with its horny Minatour and not thought it prudent to drop his plus ones and twos off just in case, y’know. However well written and acted this scene, this can’t be the end for them unless the referencing of the 60s episode drifts backwards from The Mind Robber to Dodo’s exit in The War Machines.

The ambiguity is what’s compelling here. The words not spoken. Like the best drama, we’re asked to fill in the gaps. He knows now that he’ll be travelling to his death and somehow that these versions of his friends won’t be there. Amy understands that she’s already met this future Doctor; she knows that at some point he’s going to have some wild adventures with her daughter, perhaps with everyone finally on the same page. Worse episodes, worse series would have barrelled towards melodrama. But he doesn’t mention it to her, she to him or indeed she to Rory.

Now we’re in the end game, a cyber-Cordon episode representing part of the two hundred years traffic, the old creature trapped in the maze of the universe and time, with a thousand pieces of spin-off fiction to fill in the rest of the gaps. Then presumably a return to the beach in Utah and the final showdown with the Silence. Treat, after treat, after treat. Generally unexpected, always welcome and in a week when another corner of the Whoniverse made some us feel very tired and a bit tetchy, a reminder that there is still a reason to keep the faith and praise him like we should.

Doing Shakespeare by Simon Palfrey.

Above my desk is a postcard which reads: “A library may be very large; but if it is in disorder, it is not so useful as one that is small but well arranged.” It’s from Schopenhauer in an essay on thinking for onesself. He continues: “In the same way, a man may have a great mass of knowledge, but if he has not worked it up by thinking it over for himself, it has much less value than a far smaller amount which he has thoroughly pondered.” The Eggheads might have a thing or two to say in contradiction to that, but it’s quite possible to think of Shakespeare’s writing in those terms.

As well as a collection of forty-something dramas, these are also texts filled with poetry and a depth of meaning few brains can totally comprehend. The work of critics and historians mirrors that of archivists and librarians attempting to apply some order to the chaos through interpretation. Like the man in the second quote most of them can only become experts in one small part, but collectively they have managed to create a certain agreement as to how the texts were assembled, from word to word, verse to verse, character to character, story to story. Which makes Simon Palfrey’s Doing Shakespeare, the literary criticism equivalent of a classification system.

Generally ignoring an appreciation of the plays in performance, Palfrey seeks to strip the text down to its essentials and confront, oscillating between simple explanations and deep investigation, the various elements of Shakespeare’s writing, answering a series of why questions. Why metaphors? Why hendiadys? Repetition? “High style”? Rhyme? Prose? Puns? Characters? Soliloquies? This the academic equivalent of Arden’s other far lighter Miscellany with far less interest in trivia and focusing on the construction of the writing, grasping towards the reason why the plays went from the playhouse to the printed book.

As Palfrey explains in his introduction, the book's structure demands a reader dips in and out, reads the chapters in any order. Doing Shakespeare can’t be usefully ploughed through from cover to cover. Each chapter is set out in a very particular way, with a basic introduction to the topic, an explanation, then contextual discussion, a dense ransacking of often just a few words, revealed to be packed with meaning. Through this method, the author hopes that we’ll then be able to look at similar usages elsewhere in the canon and have a greater understanding of what Shakespeare is trying to achieve.

Of the chapters I have had a chance to dip into, the overall message is that there are few words or speeches in Shakespeare that haven’t been carefully thought through and which don’t have some implication for our understand of not just the story but the speaker. Even during his lifetime, Shakespeare was criticised for overwriting, in some cases offering pages of lines when a few world communicate the same information. What Palfrey demonstrates is if a character like Canterbury in Henry V does offer what looks like great oratory over a relatively small matter, it’s Shakespeare very specifically giving that character that mode of speech.

If you’re prepared to attack it with a fresh brain, the book can be highly rewarding. Palfrey dedicates four pages to Macbeth’s oft quoted and usually in the wrong context “If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well / It were done quickly.” As he indicates there are two ways to interpret the central clause. This could be Macbeth stuttering over his words, replacing the inherent element of doubt within “if” with “when”. But this could also be Macbeth simply repeating the same phrase for emphasis. Indeed the phrase is pregnant with the predestination at the centre of the play, that when Macbeth meets the witches nothing he could do would change matters. He is a broken human the instant they hail him.

As you would expect, Hamlet is covered in some detail, the best section considering Ophelia’s sexuality. As Jonathan Bate describes in The Genius of Shakespeare, the genius of Shakespeare is the apparently deliberate ambiguity within the text and characters but within very specific options. In this case, have they or haven’t they? This is one of the few occasions when Palfrey holds his hands up and suggests that it is something which can’t be developed from the text, that the answer hovers somewhere between the page, interpretation and performance. Even in a library, it’s impossible to satisfactorily classify every book. All the cataloguer can do is make an educated guess.

T’Sar Wars, the opening chapter of Paul Magrs’s new fourth Doctor opus Serpent’s Crest

Books Something I’ve always loved about Doctor Who is its capacity to make me chuckle about the tiniest of things. Listening to T’Sar Wars, the opening chapter of Paul Magrs’s new fourth Doctor opus Serpent Crest, that chuckle happened at about the thirtieth minute. After being grabbed from Nest Cottage in the company of Mrs Wibbsey by servo robots and deposited in the far future, the Doctor finds himself mistaken for Father Gregory, an old ally of their hosts the Tsar and Tarina of the Robotov Empire. If the cover is anything to go by (a pastiche of this old Geoff Love vinyl), we know that the real man is soon to appear and Tom Baker is once again given the opportunity to play a double but thankfully without the need to wear the comedy beard.

So we’re primed for the moment when Gregory appears and we hear what Tom’s done about the accent. This isn’t the first time he’s been called upon to utilise a Russian lilt – the character is a riff on his Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra after all. But there’s something quite extraordinary about hearing one of the most recognisable voices in British acting relishing the opportunity to extend his consonants even further and play a character who’s even more bonkers than his signature role, which based on the interpretation that’s appeared in the previous two AudioGo series, is really saying something. Like I said, I chucked. Then I realised quite how much menace was implicit behind the performance.

The first of these adventures to dispense entirely with narration, T’Sar Wars is thick with Hinchcliffian atmosphere with its enmeshing of historical drama with futuristic tropes, though to say much more would spoil some of the play’s best surprises. I’m probably safe in mentioning that amid the action and adventure is a useful discussion about the nature of humanity with a nice inference that it’s not what a person is made of but their attitude which makes them worthy of the Doctor’s heroism. Magrs has investigated similar themes before, not least in the heartbreaking The Zygon Who Fell To Earth, although it’s worth underscoring that T’Sar Wars is very much a romp rather than an emotional rollercoaster.

As the Doctor, Baker is the slightly more understated, brooding sometimes terse figure of that period, only now and then breaking out his teeth and curls when he’s trying to bluff his way through the situation. This is presumably to contrast with his Gregory persona, but there’s less of a sense of the dialogue being “read” as was the case early on and worried fans when that first little clip from The Stuff of Nightmares was released. There’s less of a sense of Tom just playing Tom, that he’s remembered who the character is and that bodes well for the Big Finish releases (for which this has the spirit of coming attractions) as well as the rest of this series.

The main link to the whimsy of those first two series is Susan Jameson as Mrs Wibbsey, his landlady and still the most eccentric of choices for a companion. She still retains that element of dottiness, but removed from the influence of the Hornets (finally) she’s slightly less of a Mrs Hudson figure and their good-natured bickering isn’t too far from the relationship he had with Sarah Jane, though with slightly less inquisitiveness and Wibbs also has an ability, similar to Donna Noble, for saying the wrong thing at the right time for plot. Nothing wrong with that if you’re trying to drive an hour’s worth of drama forward and there’s a reality to Jameson’s performance which is rare in Doctor Who in any medium.

Although, of course, Tom could play all of the parts himself, T’Sar Wars has attracted a good cast, not least the Valeyard himself, Michael Jayston as the Tsar (himself) who’s mainly called upon to act suspicious which he does very well indeed. Suzy Aitchison also catches the tone of a Tsarina steeped in secrets. It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyway) that the story could do with being the length of the old stories simply so we can hear them doing more acting. Which is about the only criticism of Magrs script – it’s not long enough. With this many ideas it would have made a perfect six parter in the old days though given this is another series of five linked stories, perhaps this won’t be the last we’ve heard from any of them.

Doctor Who: Serpent Crest - Tsar Wars by Paul Magrs is out now from AudioGo. Review copy supplied.

the cadences are the same.

TV A-list Doctor Who fan Ian Levine has created a version of lost Douglas Adams story Shada, filling in the gaps left in the recording (which was finished due to industrial action) with animation, voiced by Lalla Ward and various mimics. Starburst Magazine website offers a review:
"First, I must state that the timbre of Paul Jones’ voice is different to that of Tom Baker’s, and so there’s never any question of the fact that you’re listening to a different man. Having said that, there were occasions, particularly towards the end of the story (during sequences in which the ‘original Tom’ hadn’t been on screen for a fair amount of time), when it was very easy to forget that you weren’t listening to (or watching, even) the authentic fourth Doctor after all. The timbre of the voice might be different, but the cadences are the same. There are moments that are scarily familiar, even. The performance is set to fourth Doctor ‘maxed up’ a little, but if anything, that’s probably because attempting a subtle Tom Baker would have been incredibly difficult, and as the story progresses, Jones is comfortable enough to tone it down."
2Entertain apparently have their own idea on how to prepare the story for dvd release, but if they fall through this sounds like it could be a useful back-up [via].

Anthony Coburn's legacy.

TV Regular readers will know that I tend to be quite circumspect when it comes to posting photographs of myself on this blog. I’m not the most photogenic of people and really I wouldn’t want to inflict my mug on you unless it’s really necessary to the narrative. But after watching the final episode of Torchwood’s Miracle Day and inspired by the previous post about the review process at Zzap! 64, I realised that, since my write-up of episode eight probably textually captures my enmity for the series, a partial visual record of my reaction would be required for week ten.

I only had a shave yesterday. Now look at it. God, I look old. A programme about people who can’t die has physically aged me. Ten weeks ago I looked at least ten years younger. Such narcissism only goes to show that I’m pretty well over this. As a wise man once said, “I went in with low-expectations, and they were met”. If at any other time a writing credit had said “Russell T Davies and Jane Espenson” I’d think a miracle really had happened. But reputationally that’s really rather gone to seed.  Rather like my hairline.

The process of watching this series of Torchwood has been rather like meeting an old classmate on Facebook, rekindling that acquaintance even though you weren't really friends at school apart from one amazing week, but enjoying the glimpses of nostalgia for a more innocent time.  At a certain point you realise that you're still not friends, that it’ll always be a little bit rubbish but since you also still fancy their sibling, who’s amazing and far cleverer than this bozo ever will be, you can’t help hanging around.

Because really if this hadn’t been Doctor Who related, I would have left weeks ago. Some have. Proper fans I know bailed just after Rendition. The BBC’s been brave in sticking with it, despite the fact the critical reactions been even worse than the last like for like Outcasts and the ratings just as much of disaster. If this hadn’t been a Who spin-off, would it have been shunted to the late night Sunday as well perhaps with double episodes so that it ran out quicker? Imagine the headlines. Instead, there it’s sat on Thursday night sapping our goodwill.

What do you want me to say that I haven’t said already in these past nine weeks? The Blood Line only confirmed that there was barely enough story in Miracle Day to fill two cds of a Big Finish audio, with a resolution which would have been thrown out if it had been proposed for an 80s 6th Doctor story featuring characters with ultimately less depth and purpose than a citizen of Terry Nation’s Dalek Annual. They could have put last week’s “Two months later” caption up after any one of the previous episodes and with some token rewriting, absolutely nothing would have been lost.

It's usually at this point in a Who review that I'd investigate the story seeking other resonances.  Well here's one.  We've seen The Doctor Dances already.  We've seen a big dumb object rewriting the dna of the human race to be kind only to be thwarted at the end by the main character's constitutional make-up.  We've seen morphic fields in action too in The End of Time.  Putting the two together does not an exciting new story make.  Even the irony that just this once everyone dies, doesn't work, because they always do.  On Torchwood.  And in this episode at their hands.

Bitter? You betcha. But there’s nothing worse than something that’s predictably bad and in which you’re able to predict where that badness will be. Anyone else think Oswald Danes would be much more than a Courier New 12pt honey trap to get an actor like Bill Pullman involved so that he’ll look good in the trailers? So what if his story arc makes no sense, if he initially flirts with being vitally important but ultimately exists to provide some not needed philosophical underpinning to the finale, someone else for Gwen to Welsh at, a walking, talking red herring.

Similarly Jilly Kitzinger, who initially seemed like a most alien, most seductive character also turned out to be included simply to be a satire on what? Right wing politics? I thought their whole bag was the sanctity of life not the choosing of who should die. It’s Sarah Palin after all, who wrongly informed the American people that Obama’s health care bill included a provision for death panels. If this lady in red is a metaphor for anything, it’s what can happen when a writer isn’t sure of the message s/he’s trying to convey.  This can't be Anthony Coburn's legacy, can it?

Of course we’re not even offered a valid reason for the existence of The Blessing. We’ve barely been offered a valid reason for the existence of the rest of the series beyond some co-production money. At least Davies has the decency to reference everything that’s been commented about online in the past week in relation to the Silurians, the Rachnoss and whatever else lies beneath though it's symptomatic of this show’s parasitic existence that it can’t reach a climax without mentioning the Doctor again as if to remind us that despite other evidence it’s still supposed to be set in the same Whoniverse.

But those glimpses, oh those glimpses. The warmth between Gwen and the restaurant owner. The decency of her mother in realising it was time for her husband to die. Sergeant Andy’s kindness to a total stranger. Rhys’s tears. As has so often been the case, when Davies returns to the domestic he has the potential to break our hearts. The opening monologue he gives Gwen is one of the most emotive pieces he’s ever written though I don’t know how many of us ever do end up being spoken to as adults by our parents. No coat is ever warm enough.

Did I gasp when Esther was shot? Yes.  Mostly because of the brutality. Did I shout, “No …” many times like a demented Vader when it was revealed she’d really died at the end and that we weren’t attending Gwen’s father’s funeral? Again, yes, but for no other reason than because hers was the most expected death. Rex’s shooting was a surprise, as was his resurrection but like the whole “plan B” it quickly turned sour because it meant that there would be another series. Like these two immortals, this is a show which can’t die.

Except, and this is interesting, the British broadcast lacked the final caption that appeared on Starz (and in Australia) indicating that Jack would be back in January 2012. In fact, there was a stuttery edit at the end of the credits before the co-production monstrosity card appeared. Was that just heralding a repeat of the first few series in North America or a genuine new series over there which the BBC haven’t decided when they’re going to show here? Why do I care? Never mind Facebook, this is Brokeback Mountain. “You know friend, this is a god damn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation. ”  Yes, that’s the quote.

the magazine of my youth

Games Well, this is quite something. have an evolving programme of digitising out of print computer magazines which includes all of those 8-bit review titles from the UK in the 80s and 90s.  Jason Scott has posted a list to his blog and just even the names bring back memories especially of the groundbreaking Newsfield titles: Crash, Games Machine, Amtix and the magazine of my youth Zzap! 64.

What made these magazines different wasn't just the humour, but that each review contained a range of opinions with small caricatures of the journo giving a thumbs up or a whithered look which, along with a percentage rating and sometimes the screenshots gave a quick indication of whether this particular film tie-in or coin-op conversion was worth the ten pounds.  Usually not.

Of course such things should be obsolete, but in these days of emulation such magazines become invaluable again as a reminder of those games forgotten or for those of us couldn't afford such massive sums from our pocket money, games that were once out of our reach.  Most would probably consider passe but as Zzap etc frequently reminded us, sometimes gameplay more than makes up for deficiencies in other areas.

Hopefully future uploads will include Acorn User, Electron User and Input.  OCR should make the process of turning those pages of machine code into working programmes far.  Hours spent typing "00 ... AE ... 8A ... 0E ... E4 ..." only to discover the checksum portion was incorrect anyway.  I have theory that the reason kids have no patience these days is because they've never had to spend ten minutes waiting for game to load from cassette.


Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850, the latest exhibition at Sudley House

A vibrant blue brocade day dress

Fashion Forrest Gump’s mamma always said, “you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where the go, where they've been” but as I discovered today at Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850, the latest exhibition at Sudley House, it also helps if you can see the cut of the rest of their jib. When I arrive, exhibition curator Pauline Rushton is giving a talk during which she notes that when a lot of these fashions were acquired in the 1950s, retaining the details of the owner wasn’t of primary concern. Now we live in times were social history is just as important as design, such lost details have gained a new importance.

But all is not lost. The one male costume in the first room, a smart suit and britches seems from an initial glance to be the attire of someone very well to do. As the curator says, the usual reaction from visitors is “Oh, Mr Darcy.” Except if you look closer, you realise that the jacket and waist coat are made from a cotton derived fabric of a kind which would never be utilised by a member of the upper classes in this configuration and which is strong enough that it can be worn in most weathers and still keep its integrity. The trousers are corduroy, again not a fabric usually associated with the landed gentry.

So it’s possible to surmise that this is a working man’s suit. Except that it’s not designed for manual labour, the owner couldn’t lift a spade with it, so it has to be for someone who manages the workers, or collects land tax. Pauline said that it’s her favourite piece in the room and by the time she’d finished it was mine too, simply because it was such an expressive example of deductive reasoning and a demonstration that even the fashions which might not be the most aesthetically pleasing at first glance, certainly in comparison to some of the frocks on display, like some people, have hidden depths.

Across its three rooms, Costume Drama can’t and doesn’t seek to offer a complete picture of fashions in this period. As the title suggests, this is an opportunity for fans of Austen and her many adaptations to see the real deal up close, and gain some measure in seeing the accuracy with which the BBC costume department et al have created the period settings across these years. All of the dresses look like they could have the beating heart of Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet or Ruth Wilson beneath them but unlike some modern fashions still work as beautiful display objects in and of themselves.

The vibrant blue brocade day dress pictured above is probably my favourite simply because the colour is such a statement much needed for this frock's probably function in the early 1840s as the "going away dress" for a bride after a wedding, presumably something of a contrast from the white of the wedding dress. In this period, white was the predominant colour and seen as a sign of "purity and innocence" and most were designed to resemble to Greek marble statues which were being excavated at the time.

The most expensive dress costumes contain elaborate embroidery but it wasn’t until the advent of more complex printing processes, from hand printing to the placing of the pattern on a roll that the fabric in every day clothes became more complex. For a period, it was fashionable for the sleeves to have a “mutton leg” a kind of ball shaped bunching which began at the shoulder then across the years moved down the arm until the Victorian era when they were removed altogether.

Partly that was to do with fashion but mostly it was to do with a change in values. As the middle class ascended, we descended into what are now described as Victorian values, and fashions reflecting that with slimmer sleeves and the loss of low necklines. We loosened up again eventually, but clothes do still make the person.  Perhaps we'll never reach a point where they stop being about projecting a set of moral choices or the connection to a sub-culture and simply become something to keep us warm.

Until 7 May 2012.  Details here.

“one day you’ll be cool”

Film This New York Magazine profile of Zooey Deschanel brings a casting nugget about one of her earliest films:
"During Deschanel’s first year at Northwestern, she says, Sarah Polley dropped out of the role of Penny Lane in Almost Famous, and Kate Hudson took over for her, leaving an opening for Hudson’s original part, the older sister who assures the “Cameron Crowe” character that “one day you’ll be cool” as she runs away from home with her boyfriend but leaves all her records behind. The casting director remembered Deschanel from an earlier audition. “It was a divine stroke of luck,” Deschanel says, enough for her to quit school and move back to L.A. She didn’t want to find herself in the same position Emily had: having to compete with 17-year-olds at age 22."
Both Hudson and Deschanel are so perfectly cast with their era defining faces, it's impossible to imagine anyone else in either role.  It's a good interview and includes one of Zooey's mix cds towards the end, even if the topic, her new tv show, seems like a risk. 

But then there's bad blood between me and Fox.  They're always cancelling my favourite programmes.  And they're owned by Newscorp.  But since I bought the Star Wars blu-rays this week, I think the boycott ship's rather sailed.

Artifacts: The Beautiful South

Music It's 1996 and kids, The Beautiful South one of the biggest bands in the country, their filthy lyrics to a lyrical hum having slowly pierced the national consciousness over four albums. Their fifth, Blue Is The Colour is imminent and to accentuate their image as a working class drinksy operation, their advertising agency decide to re-brand a range of pubs throughout the country as The Beautiful South.

I'm 22 years old, something of a fan and I have the presence of mind to take some photographs:

The Beautiful South.  A Pub.

This is, The Grapes in Mathew Street (as you can see from the windows), presumably chosen because of the existing geographic musical connection. This washed out photo doesn't really do justice to the blueness of the sign and connected stationary. The pub sign was replaced/covered with the album cover which included that child's face.

The Beautiful South.  A Pub.

The album reached number one on 2 November that year with most of the singles charting pretty highly. The main track, Don't Marry Her had to be substantially changed for radio. The lyric "Don't marry her, fuck me" became "Don't marry her, have me" but I didn't notice until I just saw it on the primary source of all our knowledge that "sweaty bollocks" became "Sandra Bullocks".

"the BAFTAs have real kudos"

Film Stephen Fry returns to host British Academy Film Awards. Anyone who saw his documentary about depression will know how difficult a decision this must have been for him which makes me feel even guiltier to be pleased that he's back:
"I had a marvellous time presenting the Film Awards for the first six years of the century. Hard as it may be for some characteristically sceptical Britons to believe, the BAFTAs have real kudos, reputation and cachet all over the world of film-making and I, old as I am, never cease to be shamelessly glamorised by the sight of so many legendary names who come every year as nominees and presenters."
I wonder what really led him back.

"the book itself was arrested"

Radio Life and Fate is BBC Radio 4's new drama experiment spread across all of the drama slots which aren't The Archers next week, and unexpectedly they're releasing the whole thing as a podcast to make it easier to keep up with. Subscription details are here. Synopsis:
"Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant star in an eight-hour dramatisation of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Thirteen episodes will be broadcast from 18 to 25 September on Radio 4. This epic masterpiece, centred around the bloody battle of Stalingrad, charts the fate of both a nation and a family in the turmoil of war. Completed in 1960, the novel was deemed so dangerous by the KGB that the book itself was arrested."
The wikipedia has this useful history of the manuscript:
"Life and Fate, the sequel to For a Just Cause that completely overshadows its predecessor,[3] was written in the aftermath of Stalin’s death. Grossman submitted it around October 1960 for potential publication to the Znamya magazine. At this point, the KGB raided his apartment. The manuscripts, carbon copies and notebooks, as well as the typists' copies and even the typewriter ribbons were seized.

"On July 23, 1962, the Politburo ideology chief Mikhail Suslov told the author that, if published, his book could inflict even greater harm to the Soviet Union than Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. Suslov told Grossman that his novel could not be published for two or three hundred years.  Suslov's comment reveals both the presumption of the censor and recognition of the work's lasting literary value. Grossman tried to appeal against this verdict to Khrushchev personally."
Finally, this week's Start The Week offered a background discussion and that's also downloadable here. I think you can tell I'm excited.

Meticulous detail?

About From SFX Magazine blog's Spurious Awards Of The Week column:

Some notes:

(a) A? Me only.

(b) Spent ages? A couple of hours at most. Which I suppose could look like ages from a certain point of view. Especially if you read the comments section on the original post.

(c) Meticulous detail? No. This is meticulous detail.

(d)  What's in that paragraph entirely runs counter to the content of the post which seems to have been swallowed up by implications of the title.  Which goes to demonstrate how important it is to choose the right title because that's what everyone will fixate on.

(d)  Well, hum.

a word repeated over and over

That Day I originally posted the following six months after 9/11 and even after another nine and a half years, I'm not sure I could capture with any greater clarity how I felt (a word repeated over and over) on the day and since.

It's honest if self-indulgent but anything else I'd attempt to write now would just increase the noise which surrounds such days. 

Some of the sentiments have changed, I'm older.  But I still mean the final words.

At this point I was still at the Royal Bank of Scotland credit card customer contact centre in Manchester, still commuting to the other city for work each day.

Stuart Ian Burns is a twenty-seven year old call centre advisor living in Liverpool, England.

September 11th was the first day off sick I'd had in months, getting over a cold. I'd spent the morning in bed watching the video of 'Bullett' and had moved to the couch for 'Ever After' which I turned off for a bathroom break as the second plane hit the building. I remember swearing loudly and like everyone else who saw it I suppose just kept watching as the footage was played over and over.

I was divorced from what was happening. I wasn't really thinking about the human cost -- all I kept thinking and saying was that the buildings couldn't continue to stand. I suppose the part of me which cared was shut off somehow, like it didn't want to think about the people inside, what was happening in the building. But I clung onto the speculation. 5000 dead. 6000 dead. 7000 dead.

It was only the next day, on my train into work as I sat reading my newspaper, the tableau photography of the site of the disaster that it began to sink in. As the train passed through Warrington Central I began to weep. I began to think of the people, how I would have felt if I'd been them.

I worry about the future a lot, how I'll feel when the people I know are no longer there, and these thoughts overwhelmed me.

These people I need to talk to sometimes when it hurts. What happens when they are gone. And self-indulgently I suppose I thought about how I had reacted whilst it was happening.

Why was I crying now, the next day? For the first time in a long while I felt like an ugly person.

So, even though I wasn't there, I was so far away from what happened I felt the pain.

Like everyone I just felt numb, unable to talk about much else. I'd see people I hadn't seen for a while and I'd still feel the need to talk about it even though they hadn't brought it up.

Where where you when? What happened? How did you feel? And I knew it brought down the conversation and that it ruined the night (or day) but it felt like it had to be talked about.

Have I changed? I think so. I saw the end of 'Ever After'.

I'm more tollerant with people than before, expecially strangers. But I was always a reasonably calm person before -- I already felt the urge to see beauty in everything. I think the most significant thing is how I am with people in general. I try and make the most of the time I spend with them, and feel bad when I don't spend as many moments as I could. I get annoyed with others who I know should and could be more giving, but their personal survival instinct stops them.

And there is one other thing. Before I never said goodbye to people. I would be acquanted with someone and I knew I might never see them again when they left the country or left my company. And I would always say 'until next time' or 'I'll see you soon...' Now I just say two words, but they are always heartfelt, and I always mean them, even if they seem a bit false sometimes.

Take care.

[previously posted in this thread at Metafilter; here is the article of inspiration]