Wednesday, 22 January 2020

RIP Terry Jones

I met him once, when he gave a talk on Chaucer and medieval history at Wilson Rd, in Camberwell. 

He was generous and kind, chatting afterwards, and he signed my copy of 'Chaucer's Knight' (which he was pleased to see). 

RIP Terry.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020


Well. About 18 months ago, I was given a surprise birthday present by work, a Lego set of the Apollo  XI Saturn V mission, I enjoyed it very much.

A little later I commented that - probably - my favourite spacecraft was the Lunar Lander. 

And then, last Summer, on the anniversary of the first moon landing, I visited the Natural History Museum and Science Museum in London, to look at the moon rock and Charlie Brown.

And now, this Christmas just gone, I was given the Lego Lunar Lander. Wow.

So here it is.  Not stage-by-stage in quite so much detail as the Saturn V.  But still I hope you can see it was a fun build...

 The Eagle has Landed!

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Dracula Who

So last night the BBC gave us a seasonal (New year) Dr Who and a reworking of Dracula by Gatiss and Moffat.  The Guardian liked the second more than the first (reviews by Stuart Jeffries and Lucy Mangan respectively).  I disagreed, and wrote this in the comments section...

Having watched the seasonal Dr Who earlier (so good! reminded me of Voyage of the Damned with its playful use of other genres, National treasures (Kylie, then), quirky costumes, dialogue and sheer randomness - and a crashing large piece of transport to end with!) - and also, having had a proper odd nun earlier in the day when we half-watched The Sound of Music - this Dracula felt somewhat flat. For me, Mangan and Jeffries got their stars mixed up in their reviews.
The Dracula was a fair three-starrer, improved somewhat by the sheer uncaring, scientific attitude taken by Claes Bang as Dracula, to the question of Death.
But there were so many holes.
If the Count is hundreds of years old, because he is 'different' from other blood-suckers, how come he's only just now got around to running experiments? Especially as he's about to move house? Surely he'd wait until he gets to Whitby?
And why couldn't he just research the same sources the off nun used?
Also, since Harker himself had already asked the question about the captive female vampire knowing English, why didn't he understand the weird nun's question when she also raised it much later?
Because, perhaps, for all that it gestured towards a more rigorous, 'logical' working out of the story (the flies, for example), it massively and annoyingly prioritised glossy style over substance. The glamour that normally belongs to the Count was given over to the script. Smart lines and in-jokes took precedence over the workings of the plot. It grated. Frustrating.
By comparison, the Dr Who was proper entertaining. Whittaker has grown into being a far more believable Doctor than Capaldi or Smith, and loads better than C. Baker, McCoy and Pertwee amongst the older bunch. Chibnal's writing is beginning to lose its Coronation Street-isms, and was always better than Moffat's unneeded complexities. And while Dracula was something of a tonal mess, the Doctor's New Year's Day romp was consistently, and lightly, balanced on a joyful knife-edge of daftness.
As others have noted, the odd nun was the best bit of this muddled show. Mostly because she offered a tonal balance. A small escape from the clumsy shenanigans at the Castle (hasn't Harker heard of drawing a map??? He was given pens and paper by the awkward script). But the Wells/Bang face-off by the nunnery gates went on far, far too long. Gatiss needs a far more robust editor. Naked, greased man, nuns, fur joke. Done. OK. But line after line after line of ponderous dialogue could have been cut and the whole thing would have been tighter and tauter.
I could see they were going for a sub-Hammer vibe, but although those old films may seem slow and ponderous today, they were modest masterpieces in speedy storytelling in their time. This new version seems to have copied that apparent slowness to modern sensibilities, without understanding how they refreshed the film culture of the day. Perhaps surprising given Gatiss's avowed/claimed expertise in the area.
So what are we left with? Some good performances from the main players, despite the script (and Morfydd Clark did well with Mina, despite the part being desperately underwritten). A piece that showcased the worst habits of Moffat and Gatiss, with unneeded logical holes and a focus on style over sense. A cliff-hanger following a blatant rip-off from Silence of the Lambs, which is only of vague interest because the odd nun is the only character we even partly care about.
By comparison, the Doctor Who was a joy, unlike Dracula using its genre source material with far more brio and panache, (and in passing, let's have a shout-out for the BBC wardrobe department's brilliant fusion of the WhittakerDoctor's trews with black tie).
So what do we have from the last few weeks?
His Dark Materials - a real success. The best filmed version of a tricky book so far.
War of the Worlds - a miss, overall, but the first episode was terrific.
Dracula - something of a mess. The BBC needs to give Gatiss/Moffat a rest to regenerate.
Just my two-penn'orth you understand....

Friday, 13 December 2019

Wednesday, 11 December 2019


In a short break from politics, some leaves in our garden...

Tactical Voting

So I wrote a longish Facebook post, that seemed to go down well, so I sent it in to the paper...