one of our darkest days

Elsewhere I know it's not necessarily much of a consolation on this, one of our darkest days, but I have written on The Hamlet Weblog about sometime audio Doctor, David Warner's 1965 performance as Hamlet at the RSC. Or a piece of it.

the first Easter Saturday in seven years without a new episode of television's Doctor Who

TV This is the first Easter Saturday in seven years without a new episode of television's Doctor Who. Each new series has begun on this day each year and even in 2009 when the show was on a vague hiatus we were gifted with the often underrated Planet of the Dead, the first and so far only proper Easter special (even if all that really amounted to was the Doctor eating a chocolate egg in the teaser).

No new incarnation, no new companion, no direction of narrative travel to scratch our heads over and no nervous wait in the morning for the pointless overnights and our ensuing, inevitable sheepish protestations that they don't mean anything in the contemporary media landscape as we're beaten by Celebrity Family Fortunes with Vernon Kay taking the piss out of us on Twitter by making a joke about Daleks not being able to go up stairs either.

It's also the first year when I'll not be sat here until midnight watching my brains spill onto the keyboard as I attempt to provide some kind of instant critique which won't require too much rewriting in the morning because of factual errors, typos and a hazy grasp in general of the English language.  I had considered tapping out some paragraphs about Night and the Doctor and although I will at some point, it's just not the same.

As I write this I am at least listening to the two Adele albums for old times sake.  Through some strange coincidental convergence, I've always found that it takes the collected duration of 19 and 21 to write the first draft of one of those reviews, the final invective emerging some way into the admittedly magnificent Someone Like You.  Last.FM thinks she's my favourite singer and thanks to those reviews I'm unable to convince it otherwise.

It's almost enough to make me consider finally getting around to watching The Twin Dilemma, the only instalment of the classic dvd range which I've bought out of habit but on which the main feature has gone ignored.  But not quite.  I can still wait for that.  I expect I'll find something to fill these empty hours.  I'm an only child and we're quite self sufficient (if a bit lonely). I just thought it was worth marking this change in all our collective routines.

The Essential Shakespeare: Live (2005).

When Gregory Doran was announced as the new director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the general reaction was, “Of course he is.” For all his work elsewhere, apart from Michael Boyd, he’s the person most associated with the company in recent years and it’s of little surprise that when in 2005 the British Library decided to celebrate its massive archive of Shakespeare recordings collected across five decades, it was decided that he’d be the perfect man to select the clips. Across two discs, Doran carefully curates iconic productions which haven’t been released in any form, featuring Dench, Richardson, McKellan, Ashcroft, Rickman, Stewart and Sher.

There aren't any particularly left of field choices, no chunk of Cymbeline. That’s because a large proportion of productions in the Swan weren’t recorded and none at all at The Other Place, the usual venues for the less popular plays. As Doran notes, he had wanted to included Paul Scofield as Timon, but it’s lost forever. Theatre’s a transient medium and so we should probably just be pleased with what we have. But our frustration is that these are just fragments, In an ideal world we could all be Gregory Doran and be able to hear the whole of these productions ourselves, however poor the sound quality.

Act III, Scene I

”To Be Or Not To Be”

Hamlet: David Warner
Director: Peter Hall

Hamlet’s represented by Peter Hall’s legendary mid-60s production with David Warner in the title role, a revolutionary attempt to speak very specifically to youngsters and contemporary politics. In the programme notes, Hall suggested his Hamlet was “about the disillusionment which produces apathy of the will so deep that commitment to politics, to religion or to life is impossible”.  He also wanted to isolate Hamlet as much as possible with Horatio losing seventy-five key lines,  reducing to an acquaintance the friendship that’s otherwise a necessary tether to reality for the Prince.

Every copy of the text which bothers with a production history agree that it is one of the great innovative milestones. Of primary importance in relation to this clip is Hall’s decision to have Hamlet conduct his soliloquy’s from the edge of the stage into the audience, a piece of artifice which was still rare enough to be misconstrued by contemporary critics as Warner’s own “inexperience” rather than a valid approach to communicating the text and has become the norm in some venues especially the reconstructed Globe. It’s reputed that “One night, when Warner asked ‘Am I a coward?” someone shouted, “Yes!” (Arden 3, p24).

It worked. As the RSC edition reports a youthful audience camped outside the theatre for tickets.  But what must it have been like to be in that audience and have Warner ask the big question on everyone’s mind using words written around four hundred years earlier?  The day before this was recorded (at the Aldwych Theatre in London on the 9th March 1966), the U.S. had announces it would be substantially increasing the number of its troops in Vietnam, a decision which was being protested throughout the world and although the cold war had reached détente, obliteration was still an ever present possibility.

The electricity of the performance is evident in the clip. Cars can be heard passing by outside which demonstrates just how small the venue must have been, Warner having to really project, fighting for his words to be heard, which apt considering the how some of the youth watching will have thought about their place in society.  That audience is also very present, with faint female mutterings beneath the opening of the speech, coughs, someone opening a sweet, chair squeaks and a door clattering, all of which serve to give the recording even greater atmosphere, the magic of a live event, a humanity, which doesn’t exist in the blank, null setting of a recording studio.

“Who would bare the … whips and scorns of time?” The key moment in this reading is this pause in which we're not certain whether Warner is grasping for his next line or Hamlet trying to find the right word to communicate his point. As the speech continues its very clear it’s the latter, that Warner is almost asking his audience for an answer, as though they’ll finish the sentences for him.  Knowing what we know about Hall’s intentions, it’s also possible to hear this Hamlet holding himself up to the audience as a mirror saying, look at this, look what happens when you become as apathetic as I am, gripped by fear of the unknown.

For all that, it’s still a relatively aristocratic performance which is surprising to me since I’d heard comparisons with his turn in the thematically similar Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment in which he’s very specifically Northern.  It’s also reputedly naturalistic, but Warner still keeps an eye on the rhythm of the pentameter for all his observance of the punctuated pauses.  Perhaps that’s one of the frustrations of hearing just a fragment of a whole performance.  A single speech, however famous, is just a small part of a whole character arc and thought process. Hopefully at some point we will be able to hear the whole show and be able to judge it properly.

Hillsborough-Anfield Run.

Liverpool Life Unexpectedly, Sports Illustrated has a piece about the Hillsborough-Anfield Run which is taking place between April 12 and finish at Anfield on April 14 on behalf of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Georgina Turner offers a good synopsis of the issues and speaks to some of the participants:
"Standing at the Hillsborough Memorial Mosaic at Anfield on the opening day of this season, Dom Williams decided that he would put his newfound passion for running to a good cause and began assembling a team of six runners to cover the 76 miles between Sheffield and Liverpool with support from nine others. Earle, a seasoned marathon runner, has been encouraging the others to leap into ice baths and don compression tights in order to last the distance over three consecutive days. But treading the route that 96 Liverpool supporters did not will be an emotional as much as a physical challenge. Sheffield Wednesday has given them permission to start from the Leppings Lane end of the pitch at Hillsborough."
Best of luck to you all. Donations can be made here.

Shakespeare season on BBC Television and Radio.

The BBC has officially launched their summer Shakespeare season and in this interview the commissioning editor Mark Bell outlines the plans:
"I'm hoping it will show people just how rewarding Shakespeare can be. Yes the language is tough but it's well worth sticking with it. I wanted the season to explore the historical context in which Shakespeare was writing and also celebrate his language and try and understand what made him just so incredibly good at capturing all it means to be human."
There is a full radio schedule here and much about the television end, Shakespeare Unlocked here.  William Boyd's also given an interview about the collaboration with the RSC which includes clips of some of the new shows:

It is all terribly exciting and certainly in the tradition of the Bard on the Box season in the nineties and Shakespeare Retold in 2005, moreso perhaps because the television portion features the text rather than simply knowing adaptations of the stories.

Hopefully some of that old material will be repeated but there's some excellent additions here not least Felicity Kendal's Indian Shakespeare Quest, which seems to be a travel documentary approach to the Shakespeare Wallah story, and a special episode of QI.

In terms of obvious Hamlet coverage, there's a rerun of  The Reduced Shakespeare Company abbreviation from 1994 on Radio 4 Extra on Wednesday 18th April at 11pm.  Other than that I'll keep my eyes and ears peeled for pieces in-between.

Of course if I had my way the entire canon would run across the platforms, Proms-style through these new productions and nightly broadcasts of classic recordings on Radio 4 Extra (or wherever).  But I understand there are people who are oddly less interested.

A rerun of Sir Thomas More with Ian McKellan from 1983 wouldn't go a miss, though ...

Listening to all of This American Life in order:
Act One:
Your Radio Playhouse.

Williamson Square,Playhouse Theatre,St.John's Beacon.

”Well, from WBEZ, in the glorious city of Chicago, Illinois. The name of this show is Your Radio Playhouse. I'm your emcee. I'm your emcee, Ira Glass.”

Your Radio what?

It’s true, This American Life was initially called Your Radio Playhouse arguably the kind of chintzy name that harks back to detergent sponsored radio dramas of the 1940s, perhaps starring Orson Welles and although there’s little in these first sixteen episodes that isn’t about this American life, the title does point towards a slightly different tone.

Yet everything else about that first episode is familiar. They choose a theme and present all kinds of stories around that theme, structured in acts, the original Your Radio Playhouse idea explaining why they have acts in the first place. Here’s how Ira describes their mission statement in the opening episode:

“OK, the idea of this show, this new little show, is stories, some by journalists and documentary producers, like myself, some just regular people telling their own little stories, some by artists, and writers, and performers of all different kinds. And the idea is we're going to bring you stuff you're not going to find anywhere else. And there is also going to be music”

That hasn’t change much in seventeen years.

But Your Radio Playhouse, still only broadcast in Chicago and not yet syndicated was still finding its feet.  At the top of episode 13, Ira explains that because the show also has music and stories, it's been moved to a new timeslot before  A Prairie Home Companion because the schedulers believe the listeners of the latter programme will find this show to be on a similar wavelength.

The collaboration with Planet Money is years in the future.

There’s an even greater emphasis on fiction, found audio and in places, poetry. Episode #7, Quitting, concludes with Ira reading Philip Larkin's poem "Poetry of Departures" and in the middle of #12, Animals, is a whimsical play by David Sedaris about an animal court. Which isn’t to say such things don’t appear later, but they’re rarely the cornerstone of a programme.

Similarly, there isn’t yet a recognisable team of familiar contributors, with Ira very much the primary presenter throughout. The only other “regular” in these early episode is Sedaris and its quite a surprise when Nancy Updike wanders on halfway through #13, Love, to talk “about condom use ... or the lack thereof” in an unscripted piece. Many of these pieces are unscripted.

Surprisingly, there's isn't much in these early episodes which feels especially of the moment.  #8, New Year purports to be review of the previous year but the issues raised still have timeless quality.  #9 dedicates itself to playing sections of comedienne Julia Sweeney monologues about cancer (hers and her brothers) which also doesn't go away.

What actually dates the shows is the bit after the acknowledgements. To obtain a copy of an episode, we’re told we have to call WBEZ direct or email to an address at The Well, one of the very earliest online communities, the grandparent of social networks. Oh, and said episode is supplied on cassette and there’s no mention of cost.

In project terms it’s worth noting that not all of these episode are called Your Radio Playhouse because a number of them have been repeated in syndication after the name change and its these repeats with rerecorded announcements which are featured on the website. Sometimes it seems as though it might be a comment on the quality of the programme, but sometimes it’s because the content is particularly time sensitive.

One of the not repeated, Love, is almost unlistenable, beginning with Ira taking the piss out of a self-help tape for singletons followed by a twenty minute act about sex surrogates, the aforementioned Updike piece and then at the end ten minutes on a wedding in a basement which has enough material for whole hour and might have later but becomes something of an after thought.

Then there’s #11, Enemies, in which how an accusation of homosexuality at school led to one friend turning on another is narrated around a station pledge drive in which Ira flirts with contributor Shirley Jahad in a phone room, at one point turning into Vince Vaughn in Swingers: “Keep going, baby” He coos, “You're on a roll. You're on such a roll here. Sure.” which is the kind of thing you can’t unhear.

The turning point comes with #16, Economy, which as the title might suggest tosses out much of the freewheeling whimsy and offers the first attempt at the kind of reporting which would be heard in the most recent episode #461, Take The Money and Run For Office, which are more about utilising human stories to provide background on current affairs.

The tone is still relatively loose (there’s a meta moment when Ira comments on his own presenting style) but it’s a clear indication of a new direction of travel, of seeking a less nebulous shape.  It's also the first occasion when "the past" really seeps into our story.  This is an episode which hasn't been repeated because of the ever changing political landscape.

Economy opens with a discussion amongst voters on  the lack of excitement about then-presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole (some things really don’t change), then has a couple of temps produce stories as way of illustrating deficiencies in the structure of that industry and investigates employment opportunites at a shopping mall.

At the close of the episode, Ira says for what must have been the first time, “I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life”. Since Ira uses the original title at the beginning, what must listeners at the time have thought? What did Ira mean? They’d have their answer in the following instalment in an episode the website now calls “Name Change / No Theme”.

Five Best Acts in this run:


In which Ira asks Joe Franklin, the longest serving talk show host in history for tips on how to do a good job. It’s adorable and exceedingly prescient considering the ensuing longevity of This American Life.


Eee-thee-oop-eeaa. A perfectly paced piece of the kind which would become the show’s stock in trade as Sandra Tsing Loh describes a family holiday in which parents drag her to the African nation. Her mother’s pronunciation of said nation has now become my own default pronunciation for said nation. Eee-thee-oop-eeaa.


For reasons which constitute a spoiler but are well worth it if you can persevere with the pledge drive and Ira saying things like “Hey, honey.” All I’ll say is that it confirms what I’ve always known. That bullies are rarely aware of the hurt they’re inflicting and how the pain wrought on a child stays with them for the rest of their lives.


As the website says: “A Midwestern family records a "letter on tape" to their son, who is in medical school in California. Three decades later, the recording somehow ends up in a thrift store. The tape gives a complicated portrait of what goes on among the family members.” Funny, sweet and true and with a surprising conclusion.

15: DAWN: 

The story of Dawn Langley Simmons (a writer who’s parents were servants at Sissinghurst Castle, the estate of biographer Harold Nicolson and his novelist wife, Vita Sackville-West) from the point of view of a journalist, Jack Hitt who lived in the small town where she settled in the US. Dawn attracted rumour and scandal for apparently having a sex change and entering a mixed race marriage.  Hitt uncovers the truth, or at least some version of it.

Listening to all of This American Life in order:

ira glass | this american life

“From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life distributed by Public Radio International, I'm Ira Glass. On today’s show …”

Radio When I mentioned on Twitter that I was intending to listen to all of This American Life in order, some friends said, “that is an epic, epic project” and “wait til you get to the dotcom era episode about JenniCAM”, neatly encapsulating the two reasons why I’ve decided to begin again with one of my favourite radio shows from the start, because I’ve some time on my hands and want something to keep myself busy and because I want to hear what I missed. Plus I was still only on dialup when camgirls were in the ascendancy.

My first episode must have been in about 2004, and must have been the one sent by my friend Kat in Baltimore. I don’t have the episode number, but I do remember sitting on the balcony of our flat not knowing what to expect and finding myself transported not just to another place, but another kind of broadcasting, one that mixed journalism and creativity in a way I’d not heard before. My experience of the US had always been projected through the romance of movies and the sometimes overly didactic British reporting. This was what it really sounded like.

It was ironic, then, that the recent controversy was caused by just those things, the Mike Daisey story all about taking the audience on a journey in order to make them feel differently about a subject and with all the humour and music which has made This American Life so special. But it’s also those things which ultimately hurt its reputation, the strange element of naivety that they trusted this particular contributor, even in the moment as they say themselves they should have walked away, when he said he didn’t have the contact details for the one person who could properly verify the story.

But their response was classy. Unlike some media outlets, they put their apology and retraction in the same prominent position as the original flawed episode by dedicating a whole new hour to it, creating some powerful radio as that contributor was asked to explain why he’d lied to them. They were able to do that because Marketplace, the magazine which bothered to do the background checking which they’d failed to, rather than simply dropping them in it, contacted the programme and offered to have their journalist do a story for them as well as a piece for the magazine.

Marketplace could have just run the story.  But they gave Ira and everyone else breathing space which is a pleasing act of goodwill of a kind that's rare in today’s media landscape and so I suppose the third reason for doing this is to somehow discover exactly why this show has that ability, why when they’d made that mistake we all believe they’d do the right thing by us listeners and hold their hands up and be transparent about the mistakes they'd made. That’s also rare in today’s media landscape.

This wasn’t initially supposed to be a blogging exercise and the updates will be sporadic. I don’t know how many Acts there will be or how often, this won’t be an episode by episode guide. There might be natural breaks when some comments present themselves like the first. I simply don’t know what to expect and that’s exciting. But like my friends suggest, it’s clearly going to take some time and there’ll be an element of time travel involved. So at least it’ll be perfect training for when I finally watch a certain other series all in order, also for the first time. Stay with us ...

Classic FM: Favourite Shakespeare (1998).

In the late 90s, Classic FM Magazine asked its readers what they considered to be their favourite pieces of Shakespeare and the results were collected in a book and this double cassette. There are few surprises. Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”) comes first with Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) second, with both of Henry V’s iconic speeches in there somewhere (“Once more unto the breach”) and Jacques from As You Like It (“All The World’s Stage” providing a loose structure for the programme). “To Be, Or Not To Be” is ninth beating only the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The anthology attracted an excellent cast with Antony Sher, Imogen Stubbs, Victoria Hamilton, Alan Cox, Richard Griffiths and Derek Jacobi all appearing, the latter three eclectically offering us their three witches from Macbeth (and very good they are too). Each of the clips is introduced by John Brunning though it’s with the bare minimum of background information, sticking with a brief outline of the character and a reminder of who the actors are and where a given clip appeared in the poll.

The enterprise is bulked out with sections overlooked in the poll and there are some wonderful choices which aren’t usually included in such endevours like Wolsey from Henry VIII or Verse 12 of The Passionate Pilgrim. But not all the plays are covered. There’s no Measure for Measure, no Cymbeline (a pity since it would have been nice to hear Stubbs inhabiting her near namesake). About the only flaw is the lack of track listing for the music which appears between the verse, which is odd considering the source of the publication.

Act III, Scene I:

”To Be, Or Not To Be”

Hamlet: Alan Cox

Cox presents a reading of what sounds like the folio text, usually identified by the enterprises of great “pith” and moment instead “pitch” and an additional “these” before “fardles” but which has “away” replaced with “awry” towards the end. His piece of Hamlet has a real sense of wrestling with the questions therein, perhaps in an attempt to imbue the speech with the whole play’s worth of characterisation. There’s no sense that he’s playing for the benefit of whoever might be watching (unless it’s a double bluff).

But it is very much a reading, more about the text than performance, indicated by Cox adding an extra breath at the end of every line with or without punctuatation, which while creating emphasis messes up the stress patterns in places, with “and by a sleep to say we end […] That flesh is heir to” proving a real challenge thanks to the quick semi colon and another pause at the end of “consummation”. As John Barton says, Shakespeare is very clear as to were the pauses and breaths should go and this is an excellent example of what happens when other choices are made.

"traditional English style housing"

Architecture The Curious Case of the 'Imposturbs'. Somewhere in China, there's a statue of one of our greatest politicians:
The English village, named Thames Town, now stands, complete with winding cobblestone roads, traditional English style housing and a pub. There's even a statue of Winston Churchill.

"I think one of the opportunities we saw when the project started was to create something which was unique and different," says Paul Rice, a Shanghai-based planner who was part of the team that designed Thames Town. "If you can appreciate the scale of development that is happening here, a lot of it happens very quickly and a lot of it follows a fairly rigid set of guidelines."

Rice says the town's design is not just a façade, but one that is genuinely based on the way English towns are laid out.
Paul Merton visited Thames Town in this episode of his travel documentary and confirms this Atlantic article's observation that it's predomantly used as the backdrop for wedding photos and as a film location:

Flickr also has loads of photographs.  If only Doctor Who could afford to film there it would be the perfect backdrop for one of those parallel Earth stories.  Mostly, even without the chain stores, it looks like Chester. Or Port Sunlight.  Coventry. Or Warrington. Or Stratford-Upon-Avon. Or Cardiff.  Or ...

"before we could jump in a taxi"

TV Illuminations are in pre-production for filming this summer's RSC production of Julius Caesar, scouting locations. In his new production diary, producer John Wyver describes what could have been a delicious prospect:
"There was an hour or so when the old News International offices in Wapping came onto the books of a location agency. Even before a visit we thought that might well be the place for our modern-day African ‘Rome’. But sadly the possibility was withdrawn before we could jump in a taxi."
Perhaps the metaphoric implications of that would have been just too complex.

"28,000 potted flowers"

Art In 2003 the original Massachusetts Mental Health Center was slated for demolition, but rather than simply let nine decades of history crumble to dust, it was decided that that collective experience should somehow be commemorated. Enter artist Anna Schuleit:
"After an initial tour of the facility she was struck not with what she saw but with what she didn’t see: the presence of life and color. While historically a place of healing, the drab interior, worn hallways, and dull paint needed a respectful infusion of hope. With a limited budget and only three months of planning Schuleit and an enormous team of volunteers executed a massive public art installation called Bloom. The concept was simple but absolutely immense in scale. Nearly 28,000 potted flowers would fill almost every square foot of the MMHC including corridors, stairwells, offices and even a swimming pool, all of it brought to life with a sea of blooms. The public was then invited for a limited 4-day viewing as a time for needed reflection and rebirth."
Quite extraordinary.  The result isn't unlike the Mapej Andraz Vogrincic installation at the 2006 Liverpool Biennial, in which St Lukes Church was filled with upturned boats [via].

"Starring Paul McGann as the Doctor"

TV Aha, it's the great debate. Does the Eighth Doctor Belong in Classic or New Who?
"This seems like an obvious answer, he’s part of Classic Doctor Who. New Who began in 2005 with the Ninth Doctor. How could a TV movie made nine years earlier be a part of the new series? Well, if New Who started in 1996, that means the current show came nine years after. Never mind, let’s move on.

What are some of the things that make New Who not Classic Who? Here’s everything I could think of."
If one is to follow the classic dvd range, it's firmly in the old Who category, with its apt use of the Pertwee logo from the TV movie and reminder that it's "Starring Paul McGann as the Doctor" in a TARDIS blue bar at the bottom of the cover.

One might wondered why it doesn't say "The Paul McGann Years" like the rest of them because what the linked blog post doesn't take into account is everything which came after the TV movie: the novels, the comics, the audios.

This was a Doctor who really existed away from the television for nine whole years. 

S/he looks for influences on nuWho from the TV movie.

Really the influences are more prominently from the novels, the comics, the audios not least because writers who partook in all three went on to work on the new series, including its show runners.

I've always thought of this as three movements rather than two.

It's perhaps clearer to say that there's olWho, nuWho and this rather wonderful, other thing in-between.

BetWhoon, if you will.  MidWho.  OtherWho.  DifWho.  McWho.  OctoWho [via].

Update!  As has already been pointed out to me via social networking, the TV movie has to be classic Who because Sylv's in it.  But that ignores the thrumpty years worth of Virgin New Adventures which weren't really anything to do with Classic Who either.  Four movements?  Less a concerto, more a symphony?

four or five days of solitude

Life Having established that I'm something of an introvert, you'll be unsurprised to learn that when I had the flat to myself last week, I really had the flat to myself. Once I returned home from the film preview, I didn't re-emerge into the outside world until yesterday morning because of work, a personally enforced captivity facilitated by having enough food in and putting my Lovefilm subscription on holiday so that I didn't even have to walk to the post box.

When I've tried to describe these weeks before, I've described them as hermitage weeks and I suppose it is a sort of retreat from everything, and that was especially true last week as I noted the chaos of extra expense on hot fast food bakery products and the fumbling communications of politicians leading to a fuel crisis through the audio prism of PM.  Judging by reports, it was impossible to travel anywhere because the roads were clogged with queuing cars and pasty will become a dish served cold.

As you will have noticed, last week was about Shakespeare.  As well as the books I've reviewed here, I enjoyed Silent Shakespeare (the BFI's release of early attempts at filming his plays replacing the text with grand gesture), Shakespeare Wallah (Merchant Ivory's fictual account of Felicity Kendall's family's life as touring players in India starring Felicity Kendall), Being Shakespeare (Simon Callow's one man show presenting a biography of the bard written by scholar Jonathan Bate).

The most fun was Thursday night when I cuddled up with the Radio 3 recording of A Midsummer Night's Dream from last September, recorded live in a real forest with Toby Stephens and Leslie Sharp's authoritative Oberon and Titania and Roger Allam's Bottom.  There's always something rather magical about audio versions of this play if listened to as night descends, Oberon and Puck's final words rattling about the mind just before bedtime ("Trip away; make no stay; Meet me all by break of day").

But mainly I enjoyed the silence.  Or should I say near silence since even the thick glazing on the windows can't mask the distant sound of cars of the main road, which were actually quite reassuring in their way.  Each morning, between the alarm going off and turning on the radio, there was always the possibility I was waking up into a recreation of The Omega Man or an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Luckily I have decent eyesight so at least I'd be able read.  No Henry Bemis like end for me.

Yes, I did talk to myself, but that's also a general side effect of being an only child, a youth spent trying to find something to do that doesn't involve siblings I don't have.  Not having anyone else to talk to just intensifies it.  Lord knows what it must look like as I find myself shouting at a passage in a book I don't agree with or as is most often the case the radio, its digital display impassively looking on as I try and conduct a conversation with whichever political ignoramus isn't answering Eddie Mair's questions.

Since this is real life, I didn't make many great revelations over during these four or five days of solitude other than confirming my love of Shakespeare and knowing full well that if I want to spend my life doing anything it's writing and researching, that all I've really wanted to do is write and research but that I don't have the first idea how to achieve that and sustain myself physically as a human being as well as spiritually.  Oh and that I need to have a proper holiday.  Once I can afford one.

"He made an exasperated sound"

TV Someone posted a quite hopeful list of admittedly intelligent questions for actor Peter Dinklage on Reddit, which led to this interview from the New York Times on the occasion of the second series of Game of Thrones. Having essentially stolen the first series, it's pleasing to hear he's signed on for another five years.

It's a generally good interview (with spoilers towards the end so be careful if you've not seen series one yet) but does include that question I'm always disappointed by, the one which only ever seems to be offered to someone from a "minority" (with apologies for the pejorative) who has had a bit of success:
"I asked if he ever hoped to be a spokesman for the rights of little people. He made an exasperated sound and held his hands out, palms up. “I don’t know what I would say. It would be arrogant to assume that I. . . .” He put his hands down on the table. “Everyone’s different. Every person my size has a different life, a different history. Different ways of dealing with it. Just because I’m seemingly O.K. with it, I can’t preach how to be O.K. with it. I don’t think I still am O.K. with it. There’s days when I’m not.”
Try turning that question on its head, Dan Kois. Do you ever hope to be a spokesman for the rights of New York Times journalists?

"the face end"

Parenting Konnie's had her baby. Charlie's written about it:
"And "perform" is right. It's the most astounding magic trick I've ever witnessed. I didn't hover round the business end. I'm not a fan of innards. What if you go mad and lean forward and dunk a biscuit in them or something? Instead I sat up "the face end", where a blue sheet was erected to protect our eyes from the Fangoria convention taking place below. Then, after some furtive rustling, they lowered the drape just enough to let you clap eyes on a squealing, squirming creature which your brain doesn't quite believe is actually there in the room. And in this moment, your universe momentarily pauses while a fundamental shift in perspective takes place."
For once the Comment is Free commenters have an outbreak of goodwill. Apart from some trolling about the baby's name, with one long term reader reminding him: "If it's blue, you'd better call it Girth. You made a promise, Brooker."