Sunday, 31 May 2009

Casting Shadows

(Spoilers here - don't read if you are embroiled in last Saturday's cryptic crossword in the Guardian).

This puzzle (by Puck) was one of those with a linking idea. Lots of the clues included an unexplained capital "B" and the puzzle was headed by the rubric that "Almost all the B's have the same significance".

So we tackled it, and eldest got the first solution out (to a clue without a B), which meant that I had a letter which helped me to solve 13 down (nicely positioned, straight down the middle of the grid). For the record "B-butcher three times lonely? Humph! (9)" - which had the solution "Lyttelton".

So we put that in and pondered what B might be. "Broadcaster" of course! All of the B answers would be respected broadcasters - perhaps all of them from Radio 4 (they wouldn't just limit it to R4 comedies would they?)

So we started looking for Nauchtie and Humphries, Parsons and Perkins, Cooke, MacGregor, Redhead, Ross (even) and Reith.

Not a jot. Not a tittle.

Turned out finally that B was "Bandleader." Which is fair enough as a theme, and Humph fits either, but now having completed the grid I am stuck with a shadow crossword in my mind - populated by a completely different group of people. Not Count Basie and Duke Ellington, but Clive James and Eddie Mair. I can't get it out of my head.

And I think I rather prefer it.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

On not being Fifty

Last year I had a smashing, amazing birthday party (well I enjoyed it anyway), as it was one of those with a zero at the end. Attendees included Hearns, Millers, Crooks, Harrieses, Deardens, Brown, Herbert, Speedwell, Cousinses, Turtle, Gray, Parrs, Bracegirdles, Chubbs and Proudfoots. And many others.

And I got lots and lots of lovely killer presents, too many to mention, really. Lots of books of course (I'm still reading them) and booktokens, a shiny new camera, and a CD from Mr Miller that I very much appreciated. Ian Dury's New Boots and Panties, including the original demo tape version of many of the tracks. Since it is a fave of mine, that was pretty good. I want to write at more length about the differences between the two versions another time.

But it is now a year later. For Bilbo, 112. A quiet birthday, then. One main present, from the family. But like the Dury last year, a perfect choice.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate - is getting lots of rave reviews. Some saying things like it's Madness's best album so far. It certainly is great fun - a cod Dickensian whirligig theme album based upon a tiny area of Spitalfields. I keep playing it and humming it (not a pretty sound). See

Hever Castle - Sunday May 24th

Hever Castle, the old residence of the Boleyn family, is chock full of Henryania - as indeed the UK airwaves appear to be at the moment.And the castle itself is very well kept up.
Actually, it only appears this well-preserved because it was completely refurbished by the then owners, the Astor family, in the early part of the Twentieth Century. The inside of the castle is a very false cod-medieval. Carved wooden walls, a minstrels' gallery, and so forth.
But it still looks pretty good.
The gardens right beside the castle include this fun topiary.
The entrance.
And an important, if rather surprising political message. Or is it just pointing out the most fortified part of the castle?

The setting, as you can see, is very picture-askew (or do I mean picturesque)- the gardens and grounds are the real attraction.

As it was a Bank Holiday weekend, there were various events. The arrival of Henry and Anne by boat for example (which we avoided) and their perambulation to the Castle (which we also avoided); archery (which we watched from afar) and hawking (which we missed).

The castle grounds also contain three mazes. This is the yew maze - constructed from a yew hedge, as you can see.

The exit at last!
This is the water maze. A series of pavements across lilly-covered ponds to the mound in the centre. Some of the pavements tip and set off jets of water aimed at the pedestrian; take the wrong route and you can be soaked. Or you would be if it was working. This used to be a favourite of the boys a few years ago. Bit disappointing today.
These are the formal gardens associated with Hever. Award-winning it says here. And all to do with bits and bobs of Roman stuff.
A traditional message, traditionally ignored.

Another set of traditional messages.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Well. We have had a few reboots of venerable SF series over the last few years. From Dr Who with Christopher Ecclestone to Batman (I mean on film; The Dark Night graphic novel is too old to fit into the timeframe). If you count the prequels, then even that most clunky of franchises, Star Wars, has had a little of the makeover treatment.

And in the last few weeks we have had two more arrive.

Red Dwarf, which disappeared for reasons I don't understand some years back, but which had in any case become more something to watch late at night after the pub than anything akin to event TV (the SF equivalent of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps), has had a new episode air over several days on Dave. Presumably as a taster for Dave repeating all of the series over the next few weeks.

This was all vaguely unsatisfying. The actors had aged, the story in theory should have worked (about the Red Dwarf characters discovering they were fictional - at least in our universe - and with a relatively playful sideswipe to Blade Runner), but I ended up feeling short changed. It wasn't just that the scenes where the main characters met their fans had been somewhat better done in Dr Who, but that they over-egged them. It seemed very, very slow. Also it was more self indulgent than I felt was justified by the material. Rather like the end of the most recent Dr Who series. And I've always felt Blade Runner to be a vastly overrated movie, so that annoyed me a tad also.

And now we have a Star Trek reboot. This is a franchise that you could argue has lived only by periodically refreshing itself. Yet this film is a far more major rewrite of the history of Federation space and time. Without giving away too much of the plot, a Romulan travels back in time and changes Kirk's early life, and with it much of Federation history (the backstory) as we knew it from all the other stories. And by the end, some of the changes that occur in the alternative past/future stay changed.

All of which means that some of the events in the stories from the so-called 'canon' (other films and the various TV series) now cannot happen. They come from a universe that no longer exists because of the events in this story. Which I think is wonderful, but has lead to a little confused handwringing amongst some of the fanbase. This is a far more radical plot development than anything in (what I remember of) Red Dwarf - who would always reestablish the true plotline at the end of each story.

And is it any good? Well, I enjoyed it. Smashing. A real success. Also hugely self-indulgent - much more so than Red Dwarf (especially when watching the crew of the original TV show slowly assembled from a bunch of rookies). But somehow this indulgence is something you, well, you indulge. They get away with it. And with some good jokes too (like the voice-activated computer which doesn't understand Chekov's Russian accent).

This seems like something of a reversal. I can recall, say fifteen years or so ago, arguing that Red Dwarf was so much more fun than the bloated franchise that Star Trek had become because it had more agile plots, could properly use SF tropes and had genuine humour. I think this was probably around the time of Star Trek: Generations.

Oh well.

What I now wonder is whether the Star Trek lot intend to stick with this new timeline, or whether they'll return to the original, seeing this as a sport.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Keston Ponds, last weekend

Keston Ponds is near Westerham, in Bromley. The ponds are apparently the source of the river Ravensbourne - which flows through Downham and Lewisham to the Thames at Deptford Reach.
I, of course, appear to have captured photographs of everything but the ponds...

Beneath the trees in many parts the ground was a mass of bluebells. These pictures don't really do them justice:

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Oxleas Wood - Ten days ago

Oxleas Wood is a piece of ancient woodland in Shooters' Hill, in South East London. The weekend before last we had a gentle stroll around on a bright, hazy day. The Greenwich site linked to above speaks of oak, silver birch, hornbeam and coppice hazel, but I'm not sure we saw all of them!