Touched by an Audiobook.

Audio One of my favourite stories from the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who is the novel Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris. As you'll remember from the review, my experience of the book was incredibly profound. I cried a lot. Much of that had to do with the prose, but it was also because of the strength of the reading because I was listening the actress Claire Corbett read his words as an audiobook. As I said at the time, "I wasn’t prepared for quite how sympathetically she’d bring an entire novel to audio, unafraid to turn the prose into a story told, rather than the rather neutral reading sometimes offered by others", which on reflection rather undervalued her contribution to the experience. Even after all these years I can still feel the tone of her voice as she described the darker moments in the story.

The Guardian has a lengthy piece by Tom Dowling about the process of making audiobooks and the actors and producers within the craft.  Claire Corbett is amongst them, one of the most prolific having leant her voice to over two hundred books.  But I really hadn't considered the emotional stress the readers experience due to the short timescales, having to plough through the text in single takes for as long as possible, skipping back and forth between different voices for the various characters.  But also the fears of producers that in preparation they've failed to notice something important like the revelation that the first person narrator is supposed to be Irish many hours into the process.  It's a fascinating insight and has just made me want to listen to more books (assuming I can fit them in between all the podcasts we're supposed to keep up with).

Art of the State:
London:
British Museum.

Art The British Museum (which you can read more about here) is the first of these institutions which caused me to have an anxiety attack. This was last month before this project officially began when I decided after three or four years of monthly London trips it was about time for a visit (although I'm taking the Amy Adams in Arrival approach to time now and including anywhere I may have visited recently as being part of the project even if I didn't know the project had begun yet).  Everything began as usual on entering, toilet then lunch from the museum cafe then find the section I was focusing on for the visit, on this occasion Europe in the last millenium.

Truth be told, I'd already been nervous about that London visit for some reason.  The week before hadn't gone completely to plan for various reasons so I was already on edge when on reaching the Museum I discovered that the one working men's toilet was in the basement (as long term readers will know I spend half my time in museums and art galleries traipsing to and from the lavatory so the closer it is to the objects the better).  Then the wrap bought in the cafe was pretty horrendous, a smooshy concoction with large raw piece of broccoli root in the middle.  Then there's the map of the museum which is incredibly confusing if you don't already appreciate the geography of the building.

Such things sound like pretty low level issues but if you're already a bit tense they begin to add up.  Once I was in the museum space with the map searching for the Europe section, my head began to spin.  When I eventually reached the section I was after, my bladder was already screaming at me, the toilet so, so far away.  Between that, the sheer number of people moving around and existing and objects in display cases placed so close to each other in the rooms, one of the largest museums in the world began to give me sensory overload, like the final moments of the Doctor Who episode Turn Left but with the word "distraction" printed across all the surfaces.

Everything just got too much for me and I ended up having to run to a bench and phoning someone I could trust so that I could hear a voice which would take me out of the environment.  Eventually Mum was able to coax me back and I left as soon as I could, feeling incredibly defeated.  Apart from a visit to the nearby camera museum with its chronology of machines in the basement, the day went pretty much downhill from there and I ended up getting an earlier train home.  Although I'm sure it's not for these reasons, for the first time I understood why some people don't like London.  Sometimes it's a little bit too everything all together.

Access to the Collection.

The museum is open daily 10.00–17.30 and Fridays 10.00–20.30.   Due to its size, I can't honestly say how many of the paintings on the Art UK website are on display.  When it first opened, the National Gallery was essentially part of the British Museum so its art collection was transferred there. As one of the notes on the Museum's Wikipedia page says, "Sculptures and applied art are in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the British Museum houses earlier art, non-Western art, prints and drawings. Art of a later date is at Tate Modern. The National Gallery holds the National Collection of Western European Art. Tate Britain holds British Art from 1500 onwards."



Collection Spotlight.

Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa is graphically complex and thrilling artwork depicting the threat of watery chaos against three boats off the coast of the southern prefecture of Japan.  The white foam looks like claws about to pull the fishermen to their death, demonstrating the ongoing conflict between man and nature.  It also somewhat captures what it's like to have anxiety, forever under threat that you're about to overwhelmed knowing that eventually you will be engulfed despite taking medication, despite knowing that it will pass, hoping that that if you do capsize you'll still be able to make it back to shore.

Two things worth noting for the purposes of this project.  Firstly, it's not listed on the Art UK website which again opens up the discussion about the line drawn between museum ethnographic artifacts and public art collections - although it's worth nothing that because the database began life as the Your Paintings section on the BBC website, it doesn't necessarily feature prints or drawings yet, that would be another massive undertaking.  But it is one of my favourite objects in the BM's collection and with the greatest respect far more interesting than the paintings which do feature on the Art UK website which are mainly of interest in relation to the history of the museum.

Secondly, it isn't on the walls, only brought out every couple of years as a precaution against damage, something I only discovered on a further visit this month to see it.  Not wanting to be emotionally destroyed by a building, after visiting Leighton House and the surrounding sites, I returned to the museum, taking advice from a few people online to use the side entrance which was indeed a lot more civilised and with less queues.  Holborn tube station may be adorned with British Museum advertising, but Goodge Street is just as close and allows you to skip the crowds.  London is always somehow less intimidating when you're acting like a local.

Before visiting I googled the artwork to check whether it was on display.  You see I did do some homework, and this page on the website indicates "On display: G35/od" - I assumed the letters and numbers were some kind of room designation.  Not wanting to have to deal with the map again, I approached the information desk for directions, only to be told that it wasn't in fact on display.  Dejectedly I suggested that perhaps the website should be updated to say as much upon which the clerk showed me this page which does indeed show that it is "not on display". Being me I trapsed up to the Japan gallery to check anyway only to find a sign on the wall explaining its absence.

Needless to say, I've emailed the collections database department at the museum for an explanation.  Looking now, the acquisition details are different in each entry which suggests the British Museum actually owns two copies of the print but that doesn't explain why one of them is listed as being on display when it appears neither of them are.  I'll rewrite and complete this paragraph when I get a response.

Art of the State:
London:
Leighton House Museum.

Art A couple of days before visiting Leighton House Museum, Dr. Bendor Grosvenor noted on Twitter that one of its paintings by Joseph Wright of Derby, which had been featured in a season two episode of Britain's Lost Masterpieces had been put up for sale.  As is noted there, it was actually bequeathed to Royal Kensington Borough Council who now run the museum and had decided to put it on display there and it was their decision to sell the work, which will fetch a couple of hundred grand.  This nevertheless shows the increasingly precarious position local art collections are in.  Presumably the bequest was made on the understanding that it would be on view to the public and now it'll doubtless return to private hands.

Leighton House, as the name suggests, was the home of the painter Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton, and is a rare for the period example of a purpose built home and studio.  Designed by George Aitchison for whom this was his most notable work and taking thirty years to complete, it's best known for its Qa'a, a reception room with a high golden dome and islamic influenced tiling and mosaics.  It is indeed spectacular and I was desperate to sit and take it all in, but none of the chairs in the building appear to be for sitting on, with pine cones on top of all of them detering the visitor.  The rest of the building is constructed around this fancy, the most remarkable effort being the huge studio space now doubles as an education and events space.

Accessibility of the Collection.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 5.30pm; last entry at 5pm.  But despite being a council run building there is an entry charge of £9 for adults, £7 concession.  Fortunately I had my National Art Collection card so received free entry.  Word of warning.  Apparently, it's always very busy with school visits.  When I first wandered in there was what seemed like the entire year of a junior school in and a bit later an A-Level class, both of which were pretty noisy and given how small the building is, pretty disruptive to the concentration.  In the end I left and came back a couple of hours later, after they'd gone.  If you're someone like me who's becoming increasingly tricky in a crowd (see future entry on the British Museum), I'd phone and check first, especially if you have to pay the full entrance fee.



Collection Spotlight.

Much of the work on display is by Leighton himself and of these I have a soft spot for Corinna of Tanagra. But let's focus on this portrait of a girl by Emilie Isabel Barrington.  It's one of two works by Barrington in the Leighton House collection which have been brought out on display as part of an imminent refurbishment and extension plan (the rest of the reserve collection are going into storage).  Except they're also the only two works in the Art UK's database.  Barrington's wikipedia page mentions her work as a biographer and columnist, but nothing of her work as an artist.  So how did these two beautiful works happen and what was her connection to Leighton and the house?

This useful blog post from the Friends of Leighton House site has a number of answers:
"Mrs Barrington lived with her husband in Melbury Road [round the back of Leighton House -- Ed.] with the Thornycroft family of sculptors on one side and G.F. Watts on the other. She befriended many of the artists living nearby. Her devotion to Watts (who gave her painting lessons) and habit of dropping in on him unannounced, became an irritant to Watts’ second wife Mary, contributing to the couple’s decision to establish a second home at Compton in Surrey.

"Following Leighton’s death and with his home facing an uncertain future, she was behind the move to establish the house as a centre for the arts in Kensington. In 1906 she published a substantial biography of Leighton which remains an invaluable source and a number of the works by Leighton on display in the house were presented by her. Having fallen out with a committee of the great and good established to secure its future, she financed and ran the house more or less single-handedly until its transfer to the council at the end of the 1920s."
So it was George Watts who gave her painting lessons and its because of her that we have a Leighton House Museum now. Frankly she sounds like she deserves her own biography, although that seems unlikely since her key works are only in print because of the British Library's duplication service (although the Internet Archive has her Watts book).  There are plans for a new wing include a display commemorating Barrington's contribution.  Hopefully this will also include some conservation work on her painting - as you can see from the photograph, the surface has a gash out of it on the bottom right. 

Art of the Stare:
London:
Mayor's Parlour.

Art If Geoff and Vicki on All The Stations have awkward stations, then it's inevitable in my rip-off project that I'm going to come across some awkward venues. The Mayor's Parlour in Kensington Town Hall, a lovely (yes lovely) brutalist edifice designed by Sir Basil Spence (an architect perhaps best known for Coventry Cathedral) in the late 60s and finally opened in 1976 (ten days after his death).  The building resembles a kind of alien embassy with its geometric wall structure and spacious yet intimate interior, with a hallway on the ground floor large enough to host events.  The blog of the Kensington Central Library's local history department has a series of photographs showing the construction of the building from foundations upwards.

Accessibility of Collection.

Well. After wandering aimlessly around the ground floor of the town hall, which is also on the Art UK list but doesn't merit its own blog post due to having only two paintings listed in the database and neither on display, I stumbled upon a reception. Sheepishly I asked the the clerk if the "Mayor's Parlour" was open to the public, she smiled and said yes, there was a meeting on at that moment, but I was welcome to go and take a look, pointing me towards stairs up to the first floor.  Slightly bewildered, I wandered upwards and through some thick oak doors found some interconnected corridors.

Along one of these I could see the meeting room, where there was indeed a meeting happening and next to this another door.  I glanced in.  This was the Mayor's Parlour which turned out to be a literal private office.  Tea making facilities, large impressive desk and lots of books.  Is this what the desk clerk meant?  There were just a couple of paintings hung up and the rest stacked against a wall near the door, one of which had a Royal Academy label on the back.  I did not touch anything and decided to make my retreat.  So no, I would not consider this to be an accessible collection.

Collection Spotlight.



Henry Pether was following in the family business. His father, Abraham Pether was an English landscape painter, recognised for his skill in depicting moonlit scenes, to the point that for a while he was known as "Moonlight" Pether. He was also an inventor, constructing telescopes and microscopes and lecturing in electricity utilising machines of his own construction.  He was also the father of nine children and was barely able to sell his paintings fast enough to fit their demands, so when he fell ill and was unable to work, he fell into poverty.  Eventually his wife went into business selling pencils. 

Both of Abraham's sons Sebastian and Henry became landscape artists who also became known for their moonlit landscapes of which Chelsea by Moonlight (c. 1850) is a great example.  Henry himself had a busy life which you can read about in this database of Southampton history which included a poor investment in a railway leading to a period in debtor's prison, owning patents on machines for producing the tiles used in mosaics and for ornamental bricks and throughout all of that he continued to paint.  The Art UK website has forty-three paintings by him. 

Art of the State:
Liverpool:
World Museum.

Art The old Liverpool Museum has changed much since it began as a two room display of the 13th Earl of Derby's natural history collection on Duke Street in 1851. Between remodelings and recreations both before and after a bombing decimated the building during the Blitz it expanded to fill the space across the bottom end of William Brown Street. My own connection with the museum began at school and continued through working there in the late nineties on the reception desk during the brief period when the eight museums and galleries in what was then National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (NMGM) attempted a nominal charging structure.

The redevelopments have continued.  In 2005, the current atrium and entrance was created and since various displays have been refreshed, notably most recently the classical world galleries, which have allowed for much more of the collection to go on display.  It's name has also changed to World Museum so as not confuse things with the new Museum of Liverpool on the city's waterfront.  But some of the displays, notably the horology galleries and natural history sections are almost exactly as they were when I was in primary school, so visiting now really is like stepping back in time.  Presumably this means that the refurbishment will continue shortly.

Accessibility of Collection.

The museum is open daily from 10am-5pm and is free to enter, although none of the works shown on the Art UK website are apparently on obvious public display (it is possible that they were amid the World Cultures gallery although speaking to the invigilators led me to believe that wasn't the case).  Including general museums in Art UK does open up a discussion about why what are considered ethnographic or historical items in museums aren't included.  Much of what's there now is built on the old BBC Your Paintings project and is expanding to feature sculpture, but will it eventually include any items of artistic merit such as ancient polytheistic icons, cultural heritage of the Americas or the Roman and Greek statuary?

Collection Spotlight.


© the artist. Photo credit: World Museum Liverpool

Tsewang Tashi's Untitled No. 6 (2006) is part of the museum's Tibet collection, which contains "over 2,000 Tibetan objects gives an insight into the lives of British India officers connected to Tibet and the Himalayas."  Tashi was born in 1963 in Lhasa and as the entry on the museum website indicates, that although it's not currently on public display, this painting's inclusion in the collection helps in "understanding the development of the younger artists now emerging out of Lhasa" and that it is "also reminiscent of the colonial officer’s attempts at ethnographic photography".  Nothing in the image indicates directly that the subject is Tibetan, which could be seen as a reference to how the people of that area are viewed within China and the rest of the world.  Tashi stringently refuses to include any elements in his work which perpetuate the myth of Tibet being some kind of Shangri-La, knowing that "contemporary art cannot be created when contemporary life is ignored."

Art of the State:
Liverpool:
Liverpool Central Library.

Art William Brown Street is actually graced by a series of adjoining buildings, originally conceived as a single library and museum building designed by John Weightman, Surveyor to Liverpool Corporation, and completed in 1860. Since then various extensions have been added, like the Picton Library and the Hornby Library. For a brief period in the noughties, a door was opened up that allowed visitors to the library to visit the museum via the old entrance hall and vice-versa. The World Museum has since been through extensive refurbishment work and so has this library, reopening in 2013, making a virtue of the older architecture and transforming what was quite a dated, dingy entrance space into an extraordinary open atrium which has become a minor tourist attraction and is always in heavy usage.

Accessibility of Collection.

The library is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9-5 on a Saturday and 10-4 on a Sunday. None of the paintings listed on the Art UK website are on public display, although some of the sculpture is, notably the busts which are dotted about the historic areas of the library.

Collection Spotlight.



As the name suggests Salthouse Dock was a key part of Liverpool's salt export industry, the city being a hub for the refining of rock salt and its transfer into Cheshire and abroad. John Atkinson Grimshaw traveled the country painting these dockside scenes, the evocative lighting influenced by the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.  Few in painting have captured the feeling of gaslit streets and this is subject he returned to again and again.  His Salhouse Dock, Liverpool (1884) could almost be a preparatory sketch for Glasgow, Saturday Night, although that has much warmer colours.  I wonder where it is currently - it deserves to be on public display.

Art of the State:
Liverpool:
The Walker.

Art Let's begin. Back when I was completing the old project, I decided to leave the Walker Art Gallery until last because as I said when writing about that visit, "having worked there, being so familiar with the collection, it seemed more valuable to head out and visit the places where I’d never worked and was unfamiliar with the collections". Since this is both a new project and a continuation, I decided to begin there again knowing it would be a relatively short visit.  The permanent display hasn't changed much in the meantime.  The portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia which has been in the Walker's collection since the 50s and was until recently listed as from the Studio of Van Dyke has now been confirmed as being by the master himself.  But there's little point in me repeating any of the material which was in the original post, which you can still read here.

Accessibility of Collection.

The Walker has free entry and is open from 10am-5pm Monday to Friday. Their website has an extensive collections section highlighting prominent works. The Art UK website lists all 2,255 artworks.  As with most larger art collections, there is a lot of minor works but what's on display is incredible.  That said, it would be good to have a room or two which revealed works from the pre-1900 collections in themed displays as happens in other regional galleries.  A large proportion of the gallery is currently consumed by a display of John Moores Prize winners which are usually empty when I visit even though the rest of the galleries is buzzing.  There are some items in the stores which would be star attractions at some smaller locals like Bolton or the Atkinson in Southport.



Collection Spotlight.

This is Fantine (1886) by Margaret Bernadine Hall. Illustrating the character from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, this is a devastating example of how lighting and staging can draw the viewer into the space of a subject. When Fontaine is sacked from her job because of her illegitimate child, she falls into prostitution to survive (the Anne Hathaway sequence in the film version of the musical).  What strikes you is the contrast between how the child is painted, all rosy cheeks and contented sleep and her mother in stark monochrome.  They living in different words, and Fontaine is fighting to keep it that way, to shade her baby from the darkness.

Hall was both in 1863 in Wavertree.  Her father Bernard Hall was a merchant, local politician and philanthropist, and elected Mayor of Liverpool in 1879.  In 1882, her family moved to London and from there she went to Paris for five years to study painting, a time when she would have found herself amid the Impressionists but few female artists.  It's in this period she must have produced Fantine at just 23.  Between 1888 and 1894 Hall travelled extensively to countries including Japan, China, Australia, North America, and North Africa, returning to Paris in 1894.  She died in England in 1910, at the home of the playwright George Calderon in Hampstead Heath.

In an ideal world, Hall would be lauded as one of our great painters.  But since her death, most of her paintings have apparently disappeared.  Her brother Douglas offered Fantine and and other of her works Les Abandonées to the National Gallery but they were declined. During the following year he offered them to the Walker Art Gallery, and Fantine was accepted.  I haven't been able to track down where Les Abandonées ended up, but Art UK lists another of her works at Trinity College Cambridge, a sketch portrait of Sedley Taylor one of the librarians at Trinity College.  This was a complex life worthy of further study.  But her single biography is out of print.

Art of the State:
Introduction.



Art Back in 2015, when I wrote the final blog post describing my adventures working through the late Edward Morris's book Public Art Collections in North West England, which was naturally the Walker Art Gallery where we both worked together in the late 90s, I closed with the slightly tortuous line: "When really it's about time for the project to end. Here. For now."  Even as I ended that little crusade, something was nagging at the back of my mind that I'd end up back on the trail again in some form.  What about all the art collections Edward didn't include in his book?

In the past couple of weeks, I've been "boxsetting" the YouTube series, All The Stations, which records how rail enthusiasts Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe visited all the stations on the National Rail Network during Summer 2017. Seeing them dashing between trains and wrestling with logistics has made me nostalgic for the old times of some of my more specific projects. After a few rather sedentary years, I know that it's about time I got myself back out there and however enticing it is to repeat their exercise, it feels like it's been done. Plus I'd be lonely. And it would cost a lot of money.

So instead, having recently also signed up for an Art Fund card, I've decided to take a crack at all the art collections Edward didn't include in his book. The Art UK website, formerly the BBC's Your Paintings and mentioned weekly on the likes of Britain's Lost Masterpieces and Fake or Fortune, lists over three thousand two hundred venues. I don't for one minute think I'll end up visiting all of them, which is why this isn't called All The Art Venues or something less clunky, working my way through all the Art UK listed sites feels like a decent guideline.

What to do about collections I've already visited in my life?  Geoff and Vicki conducted a couple of test days as part of their Kickstarter campaign and then went back to those stations again as part of the main project.  This seems like a good guide, plus it's been four years since The Walker and times change, people change.  I'll also be tackling them in a slightly different way, talking about how accessible the collections are and choosing a single favourite items from what's on display (or not as I expect will be the case sometimes).  There will be some ground rules.  Here we go again.

Nu Top Trumps.

Games Like many people of a certain age, I was kept "busy" on train and car rides by I Spy books and more often Top Trumps. It's the simplest of educational games, a series of cards on a particular subject with various trivia underneath and cards won when one number is higher than another. The first person to get all of the cards wins. My clearest memory is of the dinosaurs set, hoping against hope to have the T-Rex card which had the capacity to slay everything in its wake. My young imagination filled with images of the actual dinosaurs squaring off against each other in the stop motion animated glory of a Ray Harryhausen movie. Eventually, I had the cards memorised, not that I can recall any of the facts now. They've been replaced with other useful things like the story order of Doctor Who seasons and when various Shakespeare plays were written.

Glancing through the selection of titles available, I'm pleased to see the dinosaurs are still there, albeit with an updated design. But in keeping with the times, Top Trumps have moved on to more pop culture topics and so its with this curiosity I agreed to their PR sending me a bunch of sets to have a look at and write about on here along with a FRIENDS quiz. Since I'm just embarking on a first rewatch of the sitcom in a few years, I'll save that until I'm in a position to have any chance of answering the, at a glance, incredibly nerdy questions.  Rather like BBC's Mastermind when it often covers pop culture, it also keeps its questions within the fiction of the show.  So nothing asking who directed the first episode, who played Charlie Wheeler, Marcel the Monkey's real name or which other network series took part in "Blackout Night". *

The cards themselves have been updated.  Back in the day, these were quite schematic affairs with an image on top and a small yellow table underneath listing attributes.  Now each is more uniquely designed with a photo of the subject, a small fact file (character biog, episode synopsis) and the attributes in much bolder text inspired by the given IP.  The FRIENDS set in particular feels like a callback to the era of the series in its text and iconography, although the use of something approximating Comic Sans is a bold choice.  It's here that I notice that the first episode, which in pretty much every home release is called simply "The Pilot" has is called the Netflix title "The One Where Monica Gets A Roommate".  I wonder when this was adopted at the prefered title?  Do you know?

Having not seen Top Trumps in all these years, it's disorientating to now find a game which, at least in its pop culture version, is generally numerically based on opinion with rather random categories.  The Friends set eskews characters in favour of episodes.  So instead of pitting Janice against Mr Heckles, it's The One Where No One's Ready fighting The One With The Lottery.  That means the editor of these numbers can boldly give The One After The Superbowl, Part 2 a "Top Trumps Rating" of 92 ahead of The One Where Rachel Finds Out on at 87, which I'm not sure anyone would agree with.  The Only Fools and Horses set mixes characters, things and places which presents the spectacle of an alpine ski suit as being more intelligent than Rodney and radical hair-dryers having better family values than Cassandra.  Why is one thing higher than another?

The closest to old school is the Star Trek set, with just characters but even then there are problems for those of us who have an interest in the franchise. One of the attributes is "year of birth" which is a bit ageist since it automatically puts older officers at a disadvantage. Plus the choice of characters is incredibly curious. All of the various Captains are here but crew members omitted include Beverley Crusher (even though Wesley is here for goodness sake), Bashir, Jazdia Dax (it's Ezri), Harry Kim, Tom Paris, Tuvok, Kes, B'Elanna Torres and everyone on the NX-01 apart from Archer, Tucker and T'Pol.  Chakotay has a threat to the universe score of 22 which has to be someone in the office taking a satirical swipe at Janeway's executive officer.  And what does the To Boldy Go score refer to and why does Sisko merit a 40 but Kirk a 20?  Overall, such things as skill, stamina and intellect would have made much more sense, especially since Cunning is included, something which Data scores curiously low on.

So how does it play?  I've just got back from testing the Only Fools and Horses set and either because of the age of the participants, mid-40s and mid-70s, we didn't complete a game.  As the contest went on, we pretty much coalesced around reading out the "laughs" score only, I think partly because it was the only moderately tangible number on the card.  As I suspected, because it was impossible to conceptually gauge how a number applied to the subject, it then made it less of a game of skill than simply reading out random numbers and seeing who missed out in each turn which becomes incredibly boring in the short and long term.  In what universe does Del Boy have greater style than Marlene?

Am I just having a sense of humour of bypass about a kids game.  Possibly.  Probably.  But I'd argue that there's little point in doing Top Trumps if the game mechanics don't work and I wonder if any of these sets have been playtested in house for their longevity and the extent to which the scores have been mulled over.  A short explanation included within each set might have helped.  There's also the notion of having a Top Trumps game for FRIENDS or Only Fools.  Who exactly are these meant for?  Children will have little to know interest in these properties, both broadcast before they were born and the game is too simplistic for adults outside of family time.  Fortunately the more educational options are still available.  "Height  3.3 metres ..."

* ǝldoǝԀ ǝɥʇ ɟo uɐɯpɐW puɐ 'plǝɟuᴉǝS 'spuǝᴉɹℲ 'no⅄ ʇnoq∀ pɐW 'ǝᴉʇɐʞ 'ɹǝlʎ┴ ɐɥsᴉ∀ 'sʍoɹɹnq sǝɯɐſ

Soup Safari #77: Potato and Leek at the Gawthorpe Hall Cafe.







Lunch. £4.50. Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley Road, Padiham, near Burnley, Lancashire, BB12 8UA. 01282771004. Website.

This Coby Grant track totally sounds like Laura Marling's Failure.

Music Listening to Coby Grant's 2019 album, Small Tits Big Dreams, which for the most part sounds like where Kate Nash would have ended up if she'd continued in the Made of Bricks vein, I stumbled on Heartbeat:



The song opens with some guitar chords which sound incredibly familiar:



My assumption is that these are not unusual chords so I'm not suggesting anything untoward, but it is really distracting.

You're Joking.



[The following contains numerous spoilers.]

Film   Todd Philips's Joker has been a perplexing success. Well reviewed all round and with a huge box office, it seems like DC's decision to produce a narrative set outside of the moribund DCU was correct and might just set be the guide to how they develop their properties going forward.

I hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it.  The film clearly has some excellent formal elements: it's well shot, Joaquin Phoenix's performance is a tour de force and I'd be lying if I said I didn't gasp in a couple of places.

Nevertheless, I took against it pretty early on and after about an hour I considered walking out and on leaving gave it a whole half a star on Letterboxd.  It would have been 0 where it not for for Zazie Beetz.

Numerous reasons.  As someone who suffers from mental health problems, I'm tired of films which use such things as a crutch or explanation for why people do terrible things and especially as part of the backstory for villains.

Plus, I thought did we really need to see yet another representation of Batman's origin story?  With the slow motion pearls and tiny Bruce amid the lifeless bodies of his parents in the alleyway.

Well, cleaning my teeth this morning, it occured to me that on this score I might have misjudged the film.

That in fact this isn't an origin film about a Joker.  It's the origin film for the Joker. Or maybe.

In this LA Times piece, Philips left the interpretation deliberately vague, that the Fleck could be the actual Joker or just someone who inspires the figure who fights Batman:
"Even if everything in the film did happen pretty much as we see it and Fleck did unwittingly spark Gotham’s descent into mayhem and violence, is he the actual Joker that we have come to know? Or, as some fans have theorized, could one of his followers – perhaps the clown-mask-wearing thug who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents – or another disturbed, angry loner who comes along in his wake be the one who eventually becomes Batman’s ultimate nemesis?

“Maybe Joaquin’s character inspired the Joker,” Phillips said. “You don’t really know. His last line in the movie is, ‘You wouldn’t get it.’ There’s a lot going on in there that’s interesting.”
Although I don't entirely take back everything I said, this has made me vaguely interested about watching the film again with this new information. Plus if the DCU ever wanted to connect this film to one of their versions of Batman and his nemesis, this would be the way to do it.

Of course there's the other theory that none of the film actually happened and it's all in Fleck's imagination as he rots in Arkham, perhaps having seen the real Joker on TV ...

Why Vote?

Politics So we have another general election on our hands as agreed in the Parliament this evening. Those of us who haven't registered for a postal vote will be shivering our way to a polling station on the 12th December unless the House of Lords does anything weird - which everyone with a media department after their name says won't happen but a lot of things which weren't supposed to happen haven't happened in the past few months.  This actual election for example.

Back in 2005, I wrote an open letter to disaffected voters suggesting they might want to take advantage of their democratic right and as with every election since, it's time for a refresher:

Dear Disaffected Voter,

Hello. After the complete mess that was 2017, here we are again.  We pretty much knew we would be as soon as a hung parliament was announced and actually it's taken longer than I expected.  But here we are.

We're about to enter what's potentially going to be the most consequential election since the last one probably.  But genuinely, whoever wins this or at least has a majority large enough to form a coalition government. will be in a position to choose whether we stay in Europe or not, either because they'll simply revoke article 50 or put forward a referendum to see if the country wants to (assuming they can get another extension to article 50).

This is huge.  So huge that its simply unconscionable for you to sit on your hands this time.

There'll be some of you who won't be voting because for some reason you simply can't. You recently moved house and didn't have enough to time to get your vote moved to your new house. You'll be on holiday and the whole postal voting thing couldn't be scheduled properly with while you're away. Those and a whole raft of perfectly good reasons. I'm not talking to you.

I'm talking to the rest. The people who don't vote.

You'll be split into two camps. Those who can't be bothered and those who don't see the point. Yes, you. You idiot.

If you're insulted by that, you should be.

The biggest idiots are the ones who can't be bothered. The ones who have the facility to vote, aren't impeded, but simply can't be arsed walking all the way to the polling station, even though there are enough of them that the local will be in the next street. Do you realise you're screwing things up for the rest of us? Here is a list of the knock on effects of you not showing up.

(1) It makes us all look bad. There are certain parts of the world were people don't have the choice of more than one party, for that matter the ability to vote at all. Not naming any names. In some of the these places people have been killed whilst they've fought to get the chance to choose who they want as a leader. By not voting yourself, you're pissing on their fight because you're devaluing what they're fighting for. You're like Cameron's dad in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Lovely car parked up in the garage being wasted. Take it out for a spin once in a while.

(2) It's not a fair contest. By not showing your support for a party, whoever wins won't necessarily have won because the country wants them to be there. It'll be because the majority of 60% of the country wants them there. Which isn't the same thing.

(3) It makes you look bad. If you can't be bothered spending twenty minutes of the day going into a room in a school somewhere dodging a nativity, to put a cross on a slip of paper, a process which has been made as easy as possible now (now that they even print the name of the party on the ballot paper) what frankly are you good for?

Now there are the rest of you who are making a point of not voting. My Dad believes that everyone should be forced to vote by law, even if they show up and spoil their ballot paper. Within the current system it's your choice and right not to vote. So there will be a percentage of people who don't vote because they believe it's sending a message that you're unhappy with the political process in this country. There are a couple of flaws to this plan:

(1) Politicians don't give a shit about you. Because you didn't turn up at a polling station, come the day they don't even know you exist. If you don't like the political process the only way to develop it is to engage with politicians and ask for that change. Some of the parties have ideas for reform using systems such a proportional representation which means that every vote is counted.

(2) Your plan only works if no one votes. Like that's going to happen. No matter what you do, someone will be Prime Minister on Friday.

There are some, who aren't voting because they say that party policies aren't offering anything to them.  What doesn't occur to you is that manifestos are written to interest the various demographics of voters. So if you don't turn up, you're not a voter so why should they try and attract you with tailored policies? So effectively if enough of you people turned up and voted, it'd frighten the shit out of the politicians and they'd have to start listen and developing useful policies so that they can keep you on their side. There were no policies affecting women in manifestos until women got the vote. It's pretty much the same thing. You turn up, so will they.

I know this has been a bit freewheeling. If I'd wanted to I could have found a bunch of statistics and anecdotal evidence to back up some of these things. But I thought I'd go for the simple, direct, approach because don't think I've said anything which you don't already know.

I'm just trying to give you a nudge.

If you aren't already registered, you can now do it online.  Visit www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.

Even if you turn up and vote for a man with a bucket on his head you'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing when the announcements are made, someone who just wanted to have a bit of fun hasn't lost their deposit.

Just don't waste your vote. Pick a party and go.

And if the one you pick doesn't win, there's always next time.  Possibly.

Stuart.

Apocrypha Bipedium (Short Trips: Companions)

Books Extract reconstructed from the fealing shiftless electronodiary recovered from the fragments of the Internet Archive found when the remains of the Moon returned to orbit briefly in 3256, the only record we have of the 21st Century:

Ian Potter's story daemonstrates the flexibility of the short pose format to bend what ^ould otherwise be quite a straightforward brief encounter into something a bit more [...] epistolary style gathering together diary entries, accounts from the Matrix on Gallimaufry and a play written by the young Philip Shakesbeard still traveling with the Doctor and Charlie after the events in of Time of the Gaelics [...] who trying to avoid time paradoxing any more than they already have as they try to get the jung berd home.  Some of the elements are deliberate hazy so it's not always clear whats exactly happenin, but this is a really fun pomp looking in on Vicky, years after she became Criseyde, as a kind of forerunner to the Companion Chronocle audio series.  Placement: #oblivious

The Ethereal (Short Trips: 2040).

Books Some short prose's feel self contained and anothers a snapshot of much larger narrative. This is very much the latter which given this is the final story in the 2040 anthology makes sense and a number of threads from earlier stories are brought forward. But John Binns's piece mostly feels like the last chapter of a novel about the Eighth Doctor living in this 2040 world for a while, slowly bringing an end to the tyranny of the titular force which has dug itself into the planet and its technology.  Binns intercuts a significant car journey for the Time Lord with a report on the dissolution of this allegorical stand in for Facebook and other social networks and their influence on the world, quite remarkable for a book published a year or so before they were invented and a good ten years before they became weaponised in the information wars.  There are also shades of the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe and The Silents.  Placement: Just after Thinking Warrior. I do like the idea of there being a whole period in the Eighth Doctor's history of which just these two short stories are the only record.

Thinking Warrior (Short Trips: 2040).

Books The 2040 anthology featured a group of stories set in 2040. The challenge for these writers is to create stories for various Doctors which fit within the same broad piece of world building, governments, technologies or people. The somewhat wordy Thinking Warrior has Eighth working for whatever version of UNIT exists by then, investigating a security breach at a technology company attempting to discover exactly why the development of a new AI is taking quite so long. For all its futuristic setting, this could just as well be a Pertwee story.  Lots of dynamic, bespectacled, mustachioed men in brown suits say things like "I'm going to be busy for a day or two smoothing ruffled feathers" as they hide their real intentions.  Ultimately the narrative boils down to the Doctor having a long chat with a HAL 9000 who seems more human than anyone else here.  Perhaps that's the point?  Placement:  This feels like an Eighth Doctor who's travelled for a bit.  But he's alone.  End of the comics, before the audios?

Growing Higher (Short Trips: Zodiac).

Books "Never cruel or cowardly." The Zodiac anthology is, as the title suggests, twelve stories inspired by signs of the astrological signs. Although the introductory page eludes to them, Paul Leonard's story doesn't take the obvious approach of roping in the Nimon to express Taurus. Instead, it takes a more holistic approach and attributes the Taurean traits of trustworthiness and loyalty to one of the characters, in this case Bernadette, a live in helper of ambiguous relationship to a much older a Moon-based professor (think Barbara Hershey in Hannah and Her Sisters) due to be tried and convicted of a catastrophic accident who commits to staying with him through his incarceration and certain death back in Earth's gravity.  It's into their company the Doctor and Fitz wander, the former open to offering what some could be seen as a more humane punishment for the older man's crimes. This is the sort of story you might expect to find in the kinds of the anthologies Asimov and Clarke favoured, Growing Higher has some very rich world building for its slender pagination and manages to keep its council right through to the final few paragraphs. Placement: Following the old EyeSpider list, after Parallel 59.

Salva Mea (Short Trips: Snapshots)

Prose This is sweet. The theme of this Big Finish anthology is how the Doctor impacts the lives of those he meets, either through memory, letters or actually photography. In Joseph Lidster's entry, office drone Luke Tillyard's long wait for a train at Kings Cross to attend his Granddad's funeral is interrupted by Charley, who says that C'rizz has gone mad and is chasing her through the station and could he help her?  Initially reluctant he's eventually plunged into a life or death struggle with the Eutermesan in a massive battle across the concourse of the station which begs for the titular Faithless track to be played in the background.  Published and set in 2007 it's filled with incredible period details, especially about the Live Earth concert which happened a month after this anthology hit the shops (and so this is a story which was ever so briefly set in the future).  The pay off to the tale is beautifully emotional and I just wish we'd seen the crew in this light a bit more in those days.  Placement: Just before Absolution.  The calm before the storm.

Linking Material (Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins).

Books It's going to become increasingly difficult for official calendar publishers to produce tie-ins for Doctor Who. Up until recently, there were twelve incarnations which fit nicely into the Gregorian calendar, but with the additions of War and Thirteen, deciding how to fit them all in is going to be increasingly tricky. Producing an anthology of stories called Seven Deadly Sins provides a similar challenge if you're Big Finish and you have to service Eight incarnations. So it makes sense that while seven of them each have a story which evokes one of the sins, that the other should provide some kind of linking tissue.

Which is why we have Eighth in a surreal version of Channel 4's blind auction game show Four Rooms, but with a Tory front bench like group of morally ambiguous rich people instead of experts and experiential therapy rather than nicknacks.  The Doctor enters each of the rooms and does something to provoke the sin of each of the "clients" to bubble to the surface before they're then plunged into experiencing a moment from his past leading into one of the short stories which they're going to experience as one of the characters.

As a piece of writing, it's customary tour-de-force from Jac Raynor.  I especially enjoyed the moment when Eighth meets a fellow Time Lord and goes into some detail about his biography in order to provoke envy in the musty old being.  It's a rather more prosaic forerunner to the later scenes on television when the Doctor invokes his biography as a way of scaring the monsters.  Something which could have been rather anemic becomes a much richer brew, largely due to the scrupulous characterisation of this Doctor.  A couple of things might have made me wince, but they're not really anything he hasn't done before.

Placement:  Presumably he's travelling alone but it feels like some time since the regeneration.  So I'll bung it between the comics and audios.

Ravenous 4.

Audio Another series galumphs to the end and although I've enjoyed it more than either Dark Eyes or Doom Coalition, why do I feel like it's time to move the Eighth Doctor on to some new paradigm?  Perhaps it's because once again, the stand alone episodes in Ravenous have been the strongest by far and that just as previous attempts and serialisation have shown, this sort of thing doesn't really work in Doctor Who for longer than a few stories.  When the EDAs attempted this sort of thing, it was always far more successful when it encompassed half a dozen books rather than a dozen or so, and having a single box for the Ravenous would have been far preferable to what we've had here.  That said, there's still plenty of fun to be had, especially in the closing couple of episodes.

Whisper

Doctor Who does A Quiet Place.  Sort of.  Having the Eleven as a Turlough figure seems ok in theory, but it leaves the Doctor looking like a naive idiot because once again he's in the position of assuming the best in people even if everything which has happened previously would indicate that he has no reason to.  But it feels out of character for this Doctor and it's simply bizarre when it's revealed that he isn't stringing the Eleven along to see what he's up to but does genuinely believe he's changed, admonishing the very real suspicions of his companions, one of whom has already made the same mistake.  The Doctor isn't Charlie Brown.  He's Lucy.

Planet of Dust

Doctor Who does Mad Max: Fury Road with the Beevers Master as Immortan Joe.  Sort of.  One of the joys of Big Finish is how they've taken a character like this version of the Doctor's old frenemy and made him a viable antagonist based on just a few episodes of the classic series (four of which this actor didn't appear in) without running roughshod over televisual continuity.  He has the perfect hook, a desperation to survive and although we know how he'll ultimately succeed (poor Tremas and would you believe I've only just realised that was an anagram), it provides plenty of narrative mileage to work from as is demonstrated here.

Day of the Master

Big moment for this project as the Eighth Doctor and the Bruce Master meet for the first time, or at least the first time outside of prose or the comics.  The Diary of River Song has somewhat dulled the impact, the explanation for his survival having been established there already, but nevertheless hearing McGann and Roberts in a scene together again after twenty-odd years is quite the thing to behold even if it doesn't seem like they recorded together (not that you'd notice).  Congratulations to John Dorney for returning him to a place at the end which means that other versions of his story also still make sense (in a way which suggests he was using the TARDIS Datacore as a reference).

The final episode is delicious.  Messes Roberts, Jacobi and Gomez chomp merrily on the imaginary scenery, the latter clearly enjoying every second of this and foreshadowing her reaction to the Saxon Doctor (we have to assume this is the prequel).  But the sheer number of mysteries and twists tumbling over each other to get out are incredible, to the point that I thought we might even stumble over the origins of the Eleven (was this a deliberate red herring?).  Incredibly dark in places, this nevertheless has a heart as big as the ticker carried around by Kelly Hutchinson in Roger Sanchez's Another Chance video and I can't wait to see what happens next.

"A bunch of flowers and I slam the door ..."

Music Boom. It's Graham Norton day and #Sugababes is trending on the Twitters. Here's why:



Yes, it's cover version, but listen to those harmonies. I'm bias, but this is a far richer experience than the original and indeed gives us a window into what (the) Sugababes might have been like if Siobhan had stuck around for another couple of albums.  Plus according to the track listing on Spotify, this by Sugababes.  No definitive article.  So they have properly got the name back and I'd love to know the story of that.  Everything old is new again.

Meanwhile Amelle's on Coach Trip (whatever that is) which caused this extraordinary exchange:
"Tensions have been rising between the pair as 31-year-old James - who is on the trip with Essex co-star James 'Diags' Bennewith - continues to arrive late to the coach.

And things hit an all time high when the group were asked what their favourite Sugarbabes song is in honour of new passenger Amella Berrabah.

Arg was quick to say his favourite one was Overload, and Brendan jokingly asked if it was also Diags' choice because ‘he does all the talking.’

The TOWIE star then shouted back: “You asked me my favourite Sugababes song so I'm f*****g telling you what my favourite Sugababes song is.

“Maybe I have got a different one to Diags.”

Not stopping there, he added: “You like the sound of your own voice too much mate, slow yourself down.”

After Brendan gave him a stern talking to, Arg later explained his outburst to the camera adding: “He got proper loud and rude in front of everyone, he proper mugged me off in front of my pals.”

And the rest of the passengers were shocked by Arg’s behaviour, as Steps singer Ian 'H' Watkins, 43, said: “I saw a different side to Arg. It almost was verging on nasty.”
It's probably beside the point to note that he managed to pick a Sugababes track that was well before Amelle's time and that's not the thing they had a row about. Anyway, here's Amelle singing Overload with Keisha and Heidi.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan are no more?

Music Blimey, this is quite a paragraph on the Official Charts website about guests on upcoming episodes of The Graham Norton Show:
"There's a big reunion set for October 18, as the original line-up of Sugababes will perform on TV for the first time in five years - and they've gotten their original name back. Kind of. Billed as The Sugababes, Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy (formerly known as MKS) will collaborate with DJ Spoony for a performance of Sweet Like Chocolate. The song features on DJ Spoony's upcoming album Garage Classical, a collection of reworked garage staples from the 1990s featuring the likes of Paloma Faith and Lily Allen."
So there's a legal loophole in the definitive article? Or have they actually got the rights to their name back as CelebsNow suggest?  Either way, or whatever, this is quite a paragraph. 

Now, here's an earlier appearance by some version of Sugababes on some version of Norton's show. In 2002.

The Scent of Blood.

Audio Here a rare oddity. While Big Finish continue to go big with their Eighth Doctor coverage, with a dozen or so episodes this year across various boxed sets, apart from cameos there's only ever been a handful of BBC Audio releases in the twenty years since San Francisco (Vancouver), a smattering from the late nineties read by Paul himself, Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Courtney and the Alien Mine anniversary piece which was recorded by Big Finish in any case. Yet here we have in 2019 an "audio exclusive", essentially a double length Short Trip, with TV movie McGann on the cover, literally the same shot which appears at the top of this blog's chronology.

How?  Why?  The project editor for these things is John Ainsworth, long term Big Finish producer, director and actor, so in the absence of an explanatory preview in the party newsletter or liner notes, my guess is because he felt like it.  Well good.  His participation, not to mention David Darlington, a veteran sound designer for Who audios probably account for how bona fide to it sounds, fitting perfectly fine within the existing corpus.  We're also introduced to a new thumping version of the theme, all drums percussion and organ melody, presumably recorded by Darlington because they didn't have access to the David Arnold version which is traditional for Eighth Doctor audios.

Building on the vampire mythology from State of Decay and other expanded Whoniverse sources (which again shows the depth of experience in this production), this finds the Doctor on the streets of Edinburgh in the 1890s aiding an journalist with his investigation into a mysterious death and the strange behaviour of some of the locals.  What connection do a pasty faced aristocrat and the local quarry have to do with events?  If all of this sounds over familiar, it is, but then writer Andy Lane introduces a huge new piece of mythology which will surely mean a number of TARDIS Datacore pages will have to be re-written.

Incredibly, this is Lane's first Eighth Doctor story since his co-writing credit on The Banquo Legacy back in 2000.  But from the moment he emerges from the shadows, the Eighth is ready and present, life's champion in full effect.  The story proceeds at a lick, with much bite, so much so I had to rewind now and then because I missed some important bit of action.  That isn't a criticism.  One of the problems with any audio adventure is whether there's enough in there to cause the listener to want to re-listen and I'd say The Scent of Blood would bare a repeat.

That's not inconsiderably because of Dan Starkey's fabulous reading and his uncanny version of the Eighth Doctor.  Because McGann himself has been prolific in his own portrayal of the character, he's rarely rendered through other voices, mainly India and Sheridan.  Well here comes Starkey, who no doubt having watched his fellow actor in the studio, nails his intonations from the eccentrically speedy line readings to the Liverpudlian edge to his voice.  Starkey's other characterisations are also remarkable, notably Lord Elmhurst for which he seems to be giving us his James Mason impression.

Placement:  taking a cue from the cover, early.  Let's arbitrarily stick it before Vampire Science for S and Gs.

I now belong to a club that will have me as a member.

Politics Busy day. Read half of Nigel Robinson's novelisation of Doctor Who's The Edge of Destruction (or Inside The Spaceship or Beyond The Sun or whatever we're calling it this week). Watched the most recent Robin Hood film in which the industrial revolution seems to have happened about five hundred years early.  Watched All About Steve which isn't half as bad as its reputation, mostly because Sandra Bullock is acting her bright red boots off and didn't deserve the Golden Raspberry. Watched this new Lindsay Ellis video essay about Woke Disney which I only partially agree with. Watched 2.3 of Killing Eve. Ate a not very good Chilli-Con-Carne from Marks and Spencers. Joined the Liberal Democrats.

OK, once more with feeling.  I've joined the Liberal Democrats. 

This is my first membership of a political party.

The first time I voted Liberal Democrat (somewhat) was at school.  To coincide with the 1987 General Election, the Liverpool Blue Coat held its own mock poll with candidates from the sixth form (year 12/13 in new money) taking part in hustings and a somewhat proper campaign.  Andrew Williams, who is now a solicitor represented the Conservatives, Glenn Roberts stood for Labour (and I don't know what happened to him) and Mitchell Benn for the SDP/Liberal Alliance.  He's a comedian now.  Mitchell was by far the funniest of the candidates and was probably the reason the General Physics lab was packed out that lunch time and won by a landslide. 

He's also the reason I became an almost lifelong LibDem, apart from the fact that I could never vote for the Tories and I lived in Liverpool during the 1980s and could never vote Labour as a result either. 

So when it came time for me to vote properly, at university, age 18, I think a local election, after spending half a day walking around Headingley trying to find my polling station I voted for the Natural Law Party.  Because I was a student and that sort of thing seemed hilarious at the time.

But rest assured come 1997 and my first general election, I voted for the Liberal Democrats, not that it meant much in this safe Labour heartland or has every since.  I wasn't really passionate about it either, because, as I said, it was the default position between two parties that were beyond the pale.  The LibDems won forty-odd seats that year which looks huge until you remember Labour elected 418 MPs.  There was barely enough room on the government benches for them all to sit. 

And that's where I'd be for every election, general, local or European despite knowing, from an eye witnesses perspective of working in the polling stations that other than the locals for a while, the LibDems had little chance in our area.

It wasn't until the 2010 election that I became anything like active.  Much of this amounted to arguing the facts with people on Twitter and writing about politics on here going from surprised to deeply excited to hopeful to attending a conference fringe event to despairing within a few months. 

Like many people, this decade put me in an ideological bind, as I watched the coalition government on the one hand keep at least some of the LibDems 2010 manifesto pledges which the Tories have well taken credit for, especially the increase in the tax allowance against how the BBC was treated and poor people in general.

Then there were the disastrous Tim Farron years in which the entire party was brought down by the moral niggling of its leader at the just the moment when it needed a strong message.

Yet here I am in 2019 joining the party.  What's changed?

To an extent, I'm more emotionally ambiguous about the coalition period.  As I said in this essay back then, joining with the Tories in that moment seemed unforgivable for a traditionally Liberal party and then voting for so many of the more ideologically driven austerity measures.

But time brings nuance.  If Gordon Brown had somehow become PM instead, Labour would also have introduced some kind of austerity measures, their manifesto from that year brimming with obfuscation and vaguery.  So when their activists bring up the LibDems voting record in that period, they forget that if the LibDems had formed a coalition with Labour, if Labour had managed to keep enough seats for that to be viable, the LibDems would have their voting record to deal with instead (and all three main parties are very different beasts than they were even five years ago).

Plus there's little doubt the LibDems softened the sharper angles of their coalition partners in that era as we saw once they'd been reduced to eight MPs after 2015 and the Tories were given a larger mandate.

As Jeff Goldblum says in The Big Chill, "I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex."  I'd say the past few paragraphs cover at least a couple of month's worth.

They're also a party with a clear message.  They'd probably like it to be Fuck Brexit, but they're using the slightly tamer "Bollocks to Brexit".

The policy is clear.  If they become a majority government, they're going to assume that unlikely possibility actually happening gives them a mandate to revoke article 50.  If they don't gain a majority, they'll campaign for a second referendum with the options of a no deal Brexit, on a deal and remaining.  Labour on the other hand have a Schrodinger's policy in which voters won't know if they're voting for a remain or leave supporting party until after the election.  Ok.

Finally, it's Jo Swinson becoming leader.

Yes, her voting record in the coalition seems a bit pants if you look at basic data, but overall her decisions have been pretty nuanced, especially since she returned to parliament in 2017 having lost her seat in 2015 along with most of the rest of her party.

She's also an excellent communicator, can hold her own against the other leaders in the commons and frankly sounds more like a human being than either Johnson or Corbyn.  Plus I like that she's defining the party as being something it always was.  The middle ground in politics.  If I've accepted anything in the past few years it's that I'm centre left and that's where the LibDems seem to be now.

We'll see how this shakes out in the coming months.  At this point I don't know if my connection with the party will grow to be bigger than financial and I'll actually go out canvassing and so forth, although that would get me out of the house once in a while. 

Wow, I'm now literally a Liberal Democrats.

Please don't fuck this up guys.

Reading a Book.

Books Here's some pretty common sense but nevertheless useful to be reminded help on how to read books from Clio and the Contemporary, an old fashioned group blog written by historians.

It's supposed to be the university students and only partially makes sense for non-fiction, but a couple of items stood out to me:
"Create a reward system that motivates you. I place a post-it at the end of each chapter so I know approximately how many pages I have left to read. I use these post-its as benchmarks – as mini-motivators to get through my reading. Sometimes I add other motivators, such as a timer to challenge myself to read more expediently—I rarely get the work done within the time limit I set but just having the timer forces me to read more quickly. And, finally, I almost always plan a reward for myself for when I get to a post-it (a small victory!). For example, I’ll tell myself: “when I finish this chapter, I’ll go get a cup of tea” or “when I get through this section, I can eat a cookie” or “when I finish the book, I will take a walk with my dog.”"
Being such a slow reader, I tend to keep to a chapter at a time regime, which is fine for TARGET novelisations, less so for the more esoteric history books.

Dating a Photograph.

History The Library of Congress blog has a series of posts about the photographs in their collection and the latest entry is about dating some of the miscellaneous items by comparing them to what is or isn't there. Utilising an aerial view of their own building, they're able to show that in a city which is constantly in flux, it's entirely possible to pin it down to a decade or two:
"This photo features the Library of Congress Jefferson Building at center, and it’s always good to start with a subject you know well! The Library of Congress campus now consists of three buildings. In addition to the Jefferson Building, completed in 1897, there are the John Adams Building and the James Madison Building. In the detail photo below, the arrows point to the locations where those two buildings will be in the future. The Madison, where the Prints and Photographs Division is, will take up the entire block at lower right. The Adams will be at the right edge, where a few smaller buildings are visible. The oldest of the two is the Adams, which opened to the public January 3, 1939. So, this photo is before 1939."
Although as they say it's such a time consuming process it would be impossible to investigate every item in their collection, I wonder if there'll be a moment in the not too distant future when AI and machine learning may be able to help, following the same processes as this human.

The 231163 Diaries:
Montevallo High School.



History Montevallo is a city in Shelby County, Alabama. Montevallo High School is a of the key part of the community. Back in 1963, it published a school newspaper, the Spotlight, which is available on archive.org and allows us to see their poignant reporting on how the school reacted to the assassination of Kennedy.

The first story comes from the front page, above the title.

President's Death Stills, Silences MHS

During the lunch hour the halls of Montevallo High School are usually the scene of gay conversations, laughing couples, and noisy, running steps. But on Friday Nov. 22, conversations were sad; couples sober; and steps almost tip-toe quiet.

At approximately 12:35pm word spread throughout the school that President John F. Kennedy, as he rode in an open car in a parade through the streets of Dallas, Texas, had been the victim of an assassin's bullet.

The news brought transistor radios into action. The television was cut on. Everyone found "somewhere to listen" and to hope quietly that the president would survive.

But at 1:30pm, an already saddened MHS student body and faculty heard the official announcement, "The President is dead."

There's further colour piece on page three:

School Grieves with Nation

Quietly, reverently, Johnny Boyd, Terry Herron, and Rosemary Woolley lowered the school flag to half mast; and in that position "Old Glory," whipped gently in the breeze, seemed to symbolize the bowed heads of a sorrowful nation. On that day, Friday, Nov. 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

When the bell rang at 12:30pm last Friday, we were not aware of the tradedy which had befallen our nation. But as students who left the school grounds for the lunch hour returned and spread the sad news, they were met with shaken misbelief on all sides.

However, as radios and television continued to verify the reality of the assassination, a stunned silence pervaded the school. Most classes that afternoon disregarded their regular activities because of the general concern for the tragic event.

We live and breathe; we dream and plan; our future is ahead. But, unable to watch his children drow to maturity or to see his modern American ideas fulfilled, our President has passed into a "New Frontier."

Also on the front page is an editorial from the school principal:

Tragedy Stuns Nation; Sorrow Forges Unity

(An editorial)

by Guy Milford, Principal


Difficult as it is to do, we are compelled to accept the incredible reality of our president's death Nov. 22.

However we may have disagreed with him from time to time, we know he was a very warm human being of great and good humor, boundless energy and brilliant intellect.

His courage, devotion to God and country and family are unquestioned.

In coming from the first shock of disbelief, perhaps we can go forward and grow into a more mature understanding of our fellow man.

If in our sadness and grief at the tragic events of recent days, we can find the strength within ourselves to wash the hatred from our hearts, we can look with faith towards the future of our country.

Then, our late president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shall not have died in vain.

Young and Depressed in America.

Books Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation is 25 years old and Anne Thériault has written for Long Reads about what the book has meant for her and why she thinks it was so successful and continues to be:
"What seemed most important to me about Wurtzel’s writing was that she had been messy, and she was willing to detail that mess without apology. Just: here is how I’ve behaved. She offers the reader no contextualizing, no explaining, no objective distance from the events described. I still can’t tell if Wurtzel did this intentionally or not — and, if it’s a device meant to draw readers deep into her own stream of consciousness, she doesn’t always wield it skilfully — but either way, it was a radical departure from how I’d seen women write about themselves. I’d never read a story about a woman engaging in such rambunctious self-destruction that didn’t turn into a morality tale; on the other hand, there was no shortage of stories about men being comparably messy. [link]"
Yes, exactly.  That's what struck me on reading the book, its blinding honesty and lack of fear in presenting the rawness of herself without caveat.  That continued into the sequel More Now Again, about the ritalin fuelled genesis of Bitch, the feminist polemic she wrote in between.  On neither occasion does she come across well, but it's the bravery of exploring her own failings which makes them intensely readable and relatable.

When I discovered the book sixteen years ago, my reaction was to write about it on here as though she'd been someone I'd actually spent time with, as though the book was a conversation we shared (I'd bought all three books at Music Zone in Manchester which explains the references to that city) (the science fiction writers would have course represent the Doctor Who novels I'd been reading in that period).  I mean it's fine as pseudo intellectual exercises go.  It's one of the few blog posts from back then which I actually remember writing.

But it fits within the style of this blog back in 2003, far more personal, when I felt more comfortable talking about myself.  As I've said since, as soon as someone you know talks about something they've read here, it's done.  It's much easier to be reveal yourself when you can't imagine the face of someone actually reacting to what they're reading.  That's another reason why Wurtzel's books seemed so incredible.  She talks about people who will inevitably read her words and not always in the best light.

Anyway, to celebrate this literary milestone and commemorate how things used to be, here's something I've never mentioned on the blog before.  Back in 2017, I wrote about my first kiss.  What I didn't include is that that has been my only kiss, that stupid, sloppy, drunken smacker lasting a couple of seconds from my post-uni days is the only time I've pressed lips with anyone.  Of course that implies a range of other logical revelations, but let's just stick to that one for starters, not that there's much else to add.  At least, not right now.

Thanks for Darren for sending me the article.  I bet you weren't expecting this.

"A twice-weekly serial set in the exciting world of League Football."

TV Whilst there's probably lots to say about how lawmakers on both sides of the atlantic are finally beginning to tippex out some of the horrors we endured in 2016, there's little point in my simply repeating the words of much more informed people.

Instead, here's a link to a useful distraction as Ludicrously Niche investigates the connections between Doctor Who and 60s drama United!:
"Monday 4 October 1965, 7pm, then, and the very first episode of United!, The Kingpin, is broadcast, and already we're off to a good start: the show itself was created, and naturally the very first episode was written, by one Brian Hayles, who just six months later would have his first ever Doctor Who story, The Celestial Toymaker, broadcast (2 to 23 April 1966). Hayles would go on to contribute five more serials between then and the end of the Jon Pertwee era in 1974, all but one of which featured his most famous creation, the Ice Warriors. The first episode was directed by John Davies, who directed a single Who serial: The Macra Terror, transmitted in March 1967."
The show itself feels incredibly ambitious for the time.  Sadly the whole thing was wiped so we'll never be able to compare how Malcolm Hulke's writing on the two series compared (unless the scripts are at Perivale - perhaps someone could go and have a look).

Now I'm going back to waiting for what's sure to be an explosive Newsnight.

The Washington Monument Re-opens.

History On the list of things I always wondered, but not enough to check why.

 Why does the Washington Monument change colour a third of the way up?

The Library of Congress blog explains:
"In 1856, when funding shortages interrupted construction, the monument stood only 156 feet tall out of a projected 500 feet. During the U.S. Civil War, the site was used for the grazing and slaughtering of government cattle, earning it the nickname Beef Depot Monument, as seen in this engraving (below left) [which is in the linked post -- ed.] published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on Feb. 1, 1862. It was a rather ignominious period for the monument, after the cornerstone had been laid years before on July 4, 1848 to great fanfare in front of 20,000 people, with plans to build a design by architect Robert Mills."
The project was paused for years and then a concerted effort was made to complete the build with a simplified design in time for the centennial.