Rescue Sally Phillips.

TV Readers with long memories will remember my love of comedy actress Sally "Smack The Pony" Phillips stretches right back through the decade to annoyance that she was relegated to the best friend role in the film series of which she should undoubtedly have been the star (Bridget Jones) to some small satisfaction that she was at least given the consolation prize of starring (in the arguably much better if little seen) the small screen exploitation of a similar idea Rescue Me (which I wrote about in May 2002) (written by David "One Day" Nichols).

Since, she's generally still been relegated to the best friend role or trod upon service industry worker, most recently in the sitcom Miranda and last night she cropped up in Miranda Hart's comic relief challenge.  Zoe Williams was there for The Guardian and during her reportage, which is about Hart's attempt to organise a wedding, there's a heart wrenching moment in which Sally sounds as though she's joking and we're receiving the feed for a punchline and it becomes apparent that in fact what we're hearing might actually be true:
Sally Phillips was on her way up the town hall steps, her jaunty look topped by a blue trilby. She is one of those comic actors whose mere presence I find reassuring (a comic relief, if you like). I can't imagine her throwing herself into anything rubbish, and she is always 100% thrown in. Nevertheless, does she not think the enterprise just a little, maybe a very small amount, lacking in solemnity?

"You're asking the wrong person, really," she says. "Because I offered myself to the highest bidder, as a wife, for a comic relief ages ago. Then they couldn't use it because they decided it was illegal."

Huh. This throws me. "Who were you hoping would snap you up?"

"I was feeling pretty bleak. I'd just been dumped over the phone. By my fiancé."

She snaps back to 2013. "Anyway. I've just been in the rehearsal. It's already very moving, and Miranda was only in a tracksuit. Imagine what that's going to be like when she's in formal slacks."
Oh Sally.

Mona Lisa.

Science In January, NASA beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at the Moon:
"Precise timing was the key to transmitting the image. Sun and colleagues divided the Mona Lisa image into an array of 152 pixels by 200 pixels. Every pixel was converted into a shade of gray, represented by a number between zero and 4,095. Each pixel was transmitted by a laser pulse, with the pulse being fired in one of 4,096 possible time slots during a brief time window allotted for laser tracking. The complete image was transmitted at a data rate of about 300 bits per second. "
This was the first attempt anyone has made to send a communication via laser through space, a process which in the future could provide both a back-up to the usual radio communication or even supersede it by offer the ability to send and receive greater amounts of data. Celestial broadband.

WHO 50: 1979:
City of Death.

TV The last time I went abroad was to Paris, just over ten years ago.

Now, I could sit here and type a list of reasons why I wanted to go, but in reality it’s probably for the same reason plenty of Doctor Who fans visit Paris.

City of Death.

Tom and Lalla falling in love off screen as they rush around Paris on screen fighting the might Scaroth. It was my favourite story. Still is.

So when I became a fan again, I knew there was one place I wanted to go in the world that I could broadly speaking afford and I designed my trip to pretty much go everywhere the TARDIS team do, to see the Mona Lisa, travel on the metro, a café, though not it has to be said, a dungeon in a château though Le Defence was roughly the same thing.

The younger version of me has already written about the trip on this blog and the original posts are still here.

Above all I wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower and stand in the same place as Tom and Lalla and look out across Paris.

As I explain in the original post, the process of visiting the tower was everything I expected, with the queues, the tourists and the tourists kissing in the queues.

What I hadn’t expected was my rare moment of spontaneity. The night before I’d actually watched City of Death and transcribed the Eiffel Tower scene so I could include it on a surprise postcard home having not told friends I was going.

Standing in that spot, looking out the same view they had, I decided that there was only one thing I had to do. So I fished the transcribed scene from my pocket, opened it out, and began to read.

Out loud.

THE DOCTOR and his companion ROMANA stand on the top of the Eifel Tower in Paris looking down at view below.

Doctor : Nice isn't it?
Romana : Yes, marvellous.
Doctor : Marvellous, absolutely.
Romana : Absolutely marvellous.
Doctor : Well I think it's marvellous.
Romana : So do I. Though it's not quite as you described it.
Doctor : Really? How did I describe it?
Romana : You said it was nice!
Doctor : It's the only place in the world where one can relax entirely.
Romana : Mmm! That bouquet!
Doctor : What Paris has... It has an ethos. It has a life. A.....
Romana : A bouquet?
Doctor : A spirit all of its own. Like a white wine, it has...
Romana : A bouquet?
Doctor : It has a bouquet. Yes. Like a good wine. You'd have to choose one of vintage years of course.
Romana : What year is this?
Doctor : Ah well, yes. It's 1979 actually. More of a table wine shall we say? Hah! The randomiser’s a useful device but it lacks true discrimination. Should we sip it and see?
Romana : Ooh! I'd be delighted. Shall we take the lift or fly?
Doctor : Lets not be ostentatious.
Romana : Alright. Lets fly then.
Doctor : That would look silly. We'll take the lift. Come on.

Cut to ...

My Tom Baker impression was only serviceable; Jon Culshaw with a cold. My Lalla Ward was non-existent. I didn't read it that loudly, mostly due to embarrassment.

 Now, I think I would have gone right at it, a full on, scarf wearing performance.

But I was meek, then, but still loud enough that when I’d finished, an American bloke turned to me, later he tells me his name is Bob, and asked me what I'd been doing.

“Were you sermonizing?” Bob asked.
“No.” I said.
“What was that?”
“Erm … did you ever see Doctor Who?”

Now remember, this was 2002, three whole years before the show returned to television and ten years before it arguably broke into the US in any kind of meaningful way. But I remember Bob knowing what Doctor Who was, unless he was just humouring me

I ended up telling him the whole story. About Tom and Lalla. About how it was filmed just where he was standing. He asked for a photo. I got one to.

Then he tottered off, his wife close behind, leaving me to take in, yes, the bouquet, and realising that over the next three days I would be sampling the rest too.

Later in the cafe (tick) I enjoyed a coffee and chocolate waffle and wrote some postcards, dabbing it in my messy chocolate drips on the table in an attempt to send some taste of Paris home.  There was a post office on the tower and I posted them there. A Euro for the two. In all I probably spent about two and a half hours up there, but it seemed like years.

The experience was not unlike Christmas Afternoon.  All of that build up and it's over in minutes.

As I queued for the lift down, I heared a familiar voice behind me.

‘Oooh look Mary – it’s Doctor Who….’

"a triple first"

Music Oh my goodness, I've been distracted. Google Reader's on death notice. A Veronica Mars film will be made thanks to my contribution (and possibly yours).

So distracted I missed the release of some music from the Origibabes's recording session. Is this a leak?

What do I think? I'm scarcely in a psychological position to judge. It sounds good, very old school. Certainly better than anything which has been released with the "Sugababes" label in the past half decade. Those harmonies, those crucial harmonies are get-wrenchingly present and although I'm not entire sure about the Frank bits, there's nothing here I couldn't imagine the three of them dancing in unison to on Top of the Pops or Pop World if such things still existed.

Well, and indeed wow.

Mickey Mouse.

Film In a surprising move, Disney have begun releasing Mickey Mouse short cartoons, nineteen for broadcast across its media properties, the first since 1953.

As you can see, this isn't just a follow on from those sixty year old shorts; it absorbs some of the dna of what's come between especially the slightly chaotic animation style of Ren & Stimpy's John Kricfalusi as well as the Mickey comic strips. Plus, Paris. Paris. Ah Paris. Best add some croissant to the shopping list ...

Java Hook.

Beverages While we're (sort of) on the subject, Core77 saw these being promoted at the International Home + Housewares Show:

Relevant website. Potentially useful but presumably a key part of the business model is that it's something with a high customer replacement rate due to forgetfulness.

John Nevil Maskelyne.

Nature The pay toilet, originally invented by the magician John Nevil Maskelyne, oscillates in availability. In Liverpool, there's a convenience at the top of Bold Street, one at Liverpool One, Clayton Square and Liverpool Lime Street. But in general, since the loss of public conveniences, and when a latrine seems as far away as Mount Doom, it's a case of either becoming a patron at a caffeination station or brazening it in the hopes that previous custom at a restaurant or department store can be taken as some kind of collateral.

Apart from when the restaurant has instituted a coding system, in which case you left trying to remember said code from the last visit or dismally walking away (or skipping depending on the level of discomfort). But I understand the reasons why companies are less inclined to give casuals access to their conveniences. Some of those casuals are the reason public venues have closed with their vandalism and other things.  It's just difficult given the lack of the aforementioned public apparatus in easy reach.

Now a McDonald's on 20th Avenue in Brooklyn is piloting another option: a pay toilet within its restaurant. Customers can either queue up and ask for a token (or presumably get one with their meal) or pay 25 cents to take care of their business. Non-customers, the rest of us, the casuals, can simply dodge in from the sidewalk and pay the quarter.  As the Yahoo article explains, this follows the story of a barber who began charging a dollar for people to use his bathroom, though he called it a nuisance tax.

I'm not surprised.  There's brazening it and there's a bizarre sense of entitlement which is what some local residents seem to have as they complain that it's unethical for Macdonalds and whoever else to charge people who aren't customers to use their bathroom.  A similar issue attended the Starbucks in New York when they began to put attendants on the door.  How dare they, was the message, stop me from walking in off the street and using their toilet when I haven't bought a coffee?

Whenever I've done it, I've always felt guilty.  It's the fear of getting caught, of a staff member shouting, "Hey! You're not a customer!  How dare you use our toilet!" or some other unlikely scenario.  Sometimes I've elaborately stood around for a moment as if waiting for someone afterwards then pulled out my mobile phone and pretended that the person I was supposed to be meeting hasn't arrived or I'm waiting in the wrong place.  The staff probably don't notice but it makes me feel better.

Which is why adding a pay element would be an excellent move because on the "rare" occasions when I am caught short, I'd become a customer of Costa Coffee or whoever by using their toilet which in some ways is just as much a public place as a station.  The going rate seems to be about twenty pence (thirty at a push) which seems just right to me.  If I'd otherwise be paying for their water as part of a beverage, it seems only fair that I should also  help pay the rates bill for any other implementation of that particular utility.

More on television theatre and the lack thereof.

TV John Wyver provides a reliably thoughtful approach to Nicholas Hytner's comments about the lack of theatre on television and some extra news which I wasn't aware of:
"Funding, as ever, is also a factor, as we found last year when we had extensively developed a television version of Lucy Bailey’s glorious production of Uncle Vanya from The Print Room only to see it fall just before a formal commission because of budget cuts at BBC Four. Mostly, however, the absence of theatre on the BBC is a matter of will – or rather the lack of it. There is simply no deep and passionate belief that theatre on the screen can be exciting and challenging and rewarding and delightful and – and here’s the rub – have any appeal to a significant audience. That’s the ‘Downton ratings mentality’ that Nick Hytner mentions."
Yes it is and if even a television version of a critically acclaimed production Uncle Vanya can't be funded, the BBC's clearly become too blinkered to care and we're all left hoping that BBC Worldwide, Network or one of the dvd companies will be kind enough to make something available from the archives, because even these recordings are being ignored in broadcast terms.

The Optical of Delpy.

Film One of the aspects of Richard Linklater's Before ... film series, now that it is a series, is in capturing how the actors and so therefore the characters have changed across time. Jessie's wiriness, Celine's curves. Like the figures in Michael Apted's 7 up series. Like us all. Unless you live in the head of the person who airbrushed a publicity shot which appeared in Vanity Fair recently, spotted by Nadine Jolie:
"In the first photo I came across of Julie Delpy, I thought: She still looks great! (And, for the record, Ethan Hawke still looks crazy hot. I’d roll around with him while “All I Want Is You” blares in the background anytime.) But in the second photo, I immediately noticed that Julie looked slimmed–dramatically so. Cue some retroactive searching and comparison of the two photos and, yes indeed: somebody is trying to give 43-year-old Julie Delpy the body of 23-year-old Julie Delpy…"
Having already seen the photo around, for a while it was the only photo available of the film, I wouldn't have noticed, and didn't until I really scrutinised both photos myself. But it's true. The photoshopper has added extra architecture between Julie's arm and her waist.

As Nadine notes, we don't know who would have taken the decision, the film company or Vanity Fair.  My guess is that whoever did it, does this sort of thing as part of a process or house style.  But the bottom line is, people should be allowed to be who they want to be.


Geography In the early 1800s, local Liverpool businessman Joseph Williamson, for reasons best known to him but generally related to giving work to him employees however pointless so that they'd continue to have a wage, built a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Edge Hill.

Relatively quickly they became derelict and filled with soil and for the past couple of decades a group of volunteers have been working to excavate the site and see how far Williamson's work went.

BBC News have visited and put together this short documentary.

As I said after I visited in 2008, the tunnels "are the kind of curiosity of which a city should be proud and actually the endeavour of making the area accessible is perhaps as much of a folly as its original construction, man and woman hours spent just discovering exactly what this man was up to, down there in the dark."

Jonathan Slinger on Hamlet.

Jonathan Slinger talks to Lyn Gardener at The Guardian about his upcoming appearance at the RSC:
"This is the quote that's going to hang me," he says, "but I'm going to try to achieve what people say is impossible. I want to make him a psychologically understandable Hamlet. I do honestly think that's what Shakespeare wrote: a very complex person. And I'm in a slightly win-win situation: if I achieve it, then amazing. And if I don't – and depending to what degree I don't – the worst that people will say is that it was a wholly unreasonable ambition because nobody has ever done it. It will just serve as further proof to those who say it's impossible."
Glancing across at my sidebar, I'd wonder if a few of his predecessors would take issue with that.


Books Yesterday would have been Douglas Adams's sixty-first birthday and to mark the occasion, Google's home page doodle was a rather nifty tribute with working guide and cameo from the television Marvin. Now their blog's been update with a permanent copy and words from one of the designers:
"The world (to be fair, the universe) of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is complex, chaotic, and often contradictory, with multiple timelines and probability axes colliding in assuredly comic ways. The various exotic planets, alien races, and intergalactic sociopolitical situations are usually filtered through the lens of the series' most useful piece of futuristic technology – the Guide itself, published out of Ursa Minor Beta. The Guide's task of organizing the galaxy's information struck a chord with us, which is why we gave it special attention in our doodle. Through it, you can get a small peek into the unrelentingly hilarious universe created by Douglas Adams."
... and it's a sodding tragedy that Douglas didn't live to see what amounts to his Guide appear in (just about) everyone's pockets.

Game of @Lovefilm.

TV Some more Lovefilm shenanigans:

Lately I've been watching the second season of Game of Thrones via the celestial archive on the medium of blu-ray.

As some of you will probably be aware, newer versions of the technology have embraced the idea of binge watching or box-setting television and instead of simply listing the episodes which are physically watchable on the disc, offer everything for selection, then asking the viewer to put the relevant other disc in if the chosen episode isn't available from the blu-ray in the machine.

Which is fine if you actually own the whole box. Here's the anomaly.  The by-post option.

The other, other night I watched episodes five and six of Thrones, from disc three, put the blu-ray back in the envelope and posted it back to Lovefilm.

The other night I put the next disc in, selected episode seven press play and was then advised to swap for disc three. The one which I'd just posted back to Lovefilm.

Here's what happened: the label on Lovefilm's website and envelope suggested that disc three contained episodes five and six and the silver id barcode label on the actual disc obscured the episode numbers and because the menu system lists all the episodes and I wasn't expecting episode seven to be there at the push of a button, I didn't.

I phoned Lovefilm. Seriously, if you ever have a problem with Lovefilm, phone Lovefilm. The number at time of writing is 0844 482 0123 (Mon to Fri 8am – 10pm, Sat/Sun 9am – 8pm). The verbal customer service is one the best I've come across (bar the occasion moments when there system is running slow and we sit waiting for it to open) and is in stark contrast to their email service which rarely seems to answer the question correctly.

After explaining the above to a gentleman who was a big fan of Thrones ("Season Three starts at the end of the month..."), he agreed to resend the third disc as a special extra dispatch. It's in the post. I'll hopefully receive it tomorrow.

All of which could have been avoided if film & tv companies didn't now make the process of watching some episodes of something so hopelessly complicated (why is the arrangement of episodes, 2-2-3-1-2?) so that when the person putting the information in the database at Lovefilm (is there a person or is the information sent by the film & tv companies?) doesn't make the usually correct assumption of how the episodes will be arranged (2-2-2-2-2).

Updated  12/03/2013 The disc has arrived so here's a photograph by way of illustration. On reflection, the comma instead of ampersand after the number 5 on the disc art might indicate an extra episode, but I paid more attention to the Lovefilm label:

Now I'm off to watch the thing. Finally.

The Key To Time.

Anthropology One of my ongoing pre-occupations is why I have these interests, why I connect to the visual arts and history in various forms rather than sport or music or stand-up comedy or literary fiction. Some of its nurturing, school, college that sort of thing. But why is it that I'd dread an Ibiza holiday rather than spending a week visiting museums.

 The Observer decided to test theory in the style of Holiday Showdown, with Eva Wiseman and Emma John swapping their preferred destinations, the former sent into Bronte country, the latter to a Spanish island.

This pull quote probably expresses, unsurprisingly which "team" I'm on:
"When Kate and I finally force ourselves into position in front of the DJ, there's no room to do anything but jut our chins to the beat. I look at the blissed-out tribe around us, nodding their heads in agreement with the synthetic beeps and drones, and imagine myself transported like them. I'm trying to enjoy myself, I really am – at one stage Kate insists that I fold my arms, because my attempt to throw shapes is embarrassing her – but instead of losing myself to the music, it assaults my senses like a sugar headache; instead of feeling part of some throbbing, mystic whole, I've never been more acutely aware of the ache in the small of my back or the sharp tang of blisters on the balls of my feet."
At which point in the article I said out loud, yes, exactly.  I'm the opposite of Randal in Kevin Smith's Clerks.  I like people but I hate gatherings.  That's probably ironic too.

Google Street View refreshes.

Geography This past few days, Google Street View was updated. This isn't entirely unexpected. For it to continue its usefulness, Google needed to provide a relatively accurate picture of what the user might expect to find when looking at a particular road.

It also continues to remind us of how the world as it is now is so vulnerable to change. One of my favourite spots was on Allerton Road in Liverpool where in Google's reality, Woolworths was still open and NTL Buses wasn't owned by Stagecoach.

View Larger Map

Now, as you can see, the Woolworth has been replaced by the Tesco Express which moved into its shell (one of several hundred in Liverpool) (seriously, there's another one at the other end of Allerton Road) and the NTL Bus too.  But it still captures an older time, July 2012 according to the date.  That empty shop is now a Costa Coffee (one of several hundred in Liverpool) (seriously, there's another one at the other end of Allerton Road).

It's a pity Google isn't creating a legacy or archival version of Street View, perhaps with an option when seeing each of these sections to return to the older image.  If there is I can't find it.  But Street Map by its nature will continue to be a rolling record of the past. It's still a place where the Blockbuster on Edge Lane is only waiting to open rather than closed for good:

View Larger Map

We can only guess what it'll be when next Google sends its camera car past. Probably a Tesco. Or Costa Coffee.


Architecture In 1950, Life Magazine collected photos of an excavation of the catacombs beneath the Vatican City:
"Deep in the earth below the great basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome the clink of pickaxes and the scrape of shovels in the hands of workmen have been echoing dimly for 10 years. In the utmost secrecy, they have penetrated into a pagan cemetery buried for 16 centuries. Architects feared they might disturb the foundations on which rests the world’s largest church. But the workmen, with careful hands, pushed forward finally to the area where, according to a basic tenet of the Catholic Church, the bones of St. Peter were buried about A.D. 66."
The identity of those old bones remains ambiguous.