Thursday, 17 November 2011

Narborough Ghost Update

Centre of supernatural activity at the Narborough Arms are the tvs, and much like the terrifying regularity of events at 3am in the Amityville Horror, much of the tv related haunting in Narborough happens at roughly 6am when the tv in the room mysteriously tunes itself - EVERY TIME - to the BBC news channel. The only way to exorcise the spirit seems to be to turn the tv off at the mains or unplug it.

The scariest thing was the breakfast on the final day, in which the mound of grey bacon looked like a prop from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, tortured into a lightly cooked intestine ball

WhicH is all being cruel to the new people running the Narborough Arms who had only been there two days when I got there and were quite prepared to laugh at the various phenomena as much as me. If they get one of the spooks to magic up some wifi they could be onto a winner.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The new assignment is.. haunted

Just arrived in Leicester for new contract, staying at the Narborough Arms. Old time pub charm and character. And cheap.
Obviously... It's haunted as well

Downton Empire

While trying to avoid the news I'm alternating watching episodes of Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire. It makes a blood drenched crossover climax seem almost inevitable.

I think I'd like to see if Downton nursing would do any good for Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow (I'm thinking *no* but the visit from their pal Al would be spectacular), and what the Dowager Countess and Lady Sybil would make of Atlantic City.

The Higher Sunlit Uplands : How sharing the European project will save Europe, the West and the BRIC nations in the 21st Century

It is difficult to be positive after the G20 in Cannes but let's get things in perspective. 

We can choose to be positive. After decades injecting ourselves with credit and the economic Nazism that was Chicago School "God is The Market" Economics, we have woken from the dream world and see things as they really are for the first time. If parts of Europe are still rubbing their eyes to the new light (Italy, France) it is now obvious they will be wide awake to the new reality before long.

The Eurozone crisis, who is in and who is about to leave, is a distraction. It is safe to say after G20 in Cannes the monetary side of the crisis will resolve itself one way or another without outside interference. It is now a sled hurtling downhill, the only thing we can do is hang on and brace ourselves for the bottom. Maybe enjoy the ride as well. Robert Peston will be interesting reading for some time.

The real underlying issue is the lack of growth within Europe alongside overinflated Germany. This prompted the Euro currency  crisis and following on from the inevitable sovereign debt shake-up we needn't be gloomy. Things can only improve and we can see a slightly brighter future for the EU even from here.

We are a heading toward an EU Inner Zone, comprising the remains of the Eurozone, with a single currency, free movement across borders and centralised economics and increasingly, centralised politics (out of necessity). This will give the Inner Zone the power they need to restructure and the protection needed for cherished historical institutions like the Common Agricultural policy.

Outside this, but not necessarily on the margins, will be a far more economically liberal EU Outer Zone, likely driven by economies such as UK, Poland and Scandinavia. With the UK driving this this is likely to be far closer to the old Common Market, but without some of the protectionism and restriction required, politically, by the Inner Zone countries.

This might seem like a backward step for the Outer Zone, but could actually be the saviour of the European project and perhaps the West, for as the Inner Zone becomes more integrated, the Outer Zone can be loose and accommodating enough to allow increased membership, as trading partners, to economies on the borders of the EU.

The most obvious candidate for new members on the Outer Zone is Turkey."Turkey’s story is remarkable against the backdrop of the economic crisis. Prior to the recession, the country’s growth rate was among the highest in the OECD world. Its aspiration to join the European Union led to several structural reforms that helped strengthen the country’s macroeconomic framework, including the financial and banking sectors."

Interestingly, one of the reasons Greece was so enthusiastically admitted as a member of the EU was partly to keep Turkey out. Here you can sympathise. Adding Turkey's 89 million to the current tight EU membership rules is unthinkable, but will that old EU last much longer anyway?

The main objection to Turkey being admitted to the old EU was the millions of Turkish workers which would flood over the open border but in more liberal but more domestically controlled environment defined by the EU Outer Zone, without free movement of labour, this would be less of a concern. Human rights issues within Turkey are more of a problem, but such concerns hardly prevented the admission of Bulgaria and Romania. With Turkey actually in the EU economy the problem of illegal immigration from the region might improve, or at least would be easier to control. It could hardly get worse.

Turkey would also be vital as a new element to the Outer Zone economies, in that she could be the first formal example of what could be called a Bridge Economy. With the opportunity for new membership and innovation the Outer Zone could use its geographical advantages to further open up the wider EU market to states beyond EU membership. Turkey could be the EU bridge to the Middle East.

The UK has often been talked about as Europe's bridge to the economies of North America. ("We are stronger with the US because we are in Europe, and a bridge between the two" said Tony Blair in 2002). For the EU Outer Zone this 'bridge' could be formalised in an economic sense, with certain countries of the Outer Zone such as Britain and Turkey designated as "Bridge Economies". Bridge economy status would allow an outer zone EU economy to sign bilateral trade agreements outside EU control assuming trade with the rest of the EU remained unaffected.

Bilateral trade deals between the UK and the similarly less restricted economies of North America (and perhaps previously neglected parts of the Commonwealth, Singapore and Hong Kong for instance) can only be good for the Euro Inner Zone assuming the EU as a whole stays together.

In a similar fashion, ailing Spain and Portugal would be encouraged to act as the EU bridge economies with the booming economies of Latin America.

Are we really serious about helping North Africa get back on its feet? Italy and Greece, assuming their situations have stabilised, would have privileged access to would be the new markets in North Africa. Selling Fiats in Tripoli might be easier than selling Fiats in Hamburg.

What's in it for them? The BRIC nations need markets but also the influence of the rule of law, social justice and human rights. Being lectured from an ivory tower by people with whom they have no social historic connection provokes nothing but ridicule, particularly in the current crisis. Should the British be lecturing the Russians on human rights from London when the Finns can display it first hand across their common border with all the benefits of local diplomacy and tact?

I have no specifics, I am not an economist. Perhaps each bridge economy would evolve into a bridge market, and could feature a sub-currency, in which say a "Euro-sterling" used alongside the £ and the Dollar in the Anglozone/Commonwealth EU bridge market, and with the Euro-Peseta in Spain and South America. Lessons learned from the euro would ensure the sub currencies in the bridge markets would be pegged at a level which balances the strengths of the nations using it. Euro-Lira could depreciate at a level to aid the Italian economy to compete but would be strong and stable enough alternative for North Africa to use as an alternative to their own.

Perhaps the sub-euro currencies could even be introduced sooner rather than later, to offset the damage of states leaving the euro.

Like I say, I'm not an economist, but we are in a dark place now and any future is better than no future.

Earlier this year I drove from Gibraltar, a booming bridge between Spain and North Africa, up to Finland, the Eurozone's booming frontier with Russia. Along the way I fell in love with the beauty of Spain, France, Germany and Scandinavia. It is a magnificent project we have created in Europe and we should be proud of it despite the current difficulties. If we are not prepared to share it perhaps we don't deserve it anyway.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Holy Flying Circus covers the storm of protest in 1979 Britain at the release of Christian bating masterpiece Monty Python's Life of Brian, culminating in the confrontation between ranting John Cleese, nice guy Micheal Palin and the Bishop of Southwark and 1970s renta-grouch Malcom Muggeridge.

The first bad sign is when you realise this hugely anticipated drama comedy is being premièred midweek, on BBC4,  opposite the Champions League games. It looks like its being buried.

Holy Flying Circus is presented right out front as surreal fantasy and includes Stephen Fry (briefly) as God, but the most surreal concept prompted by Holy Flying Circus is that they could be trivialising Monty Python. That is  ridiculous, as is my generations deification of them; but the reaction against Life of Brian was no joke. It demonstrated the gulf between British Christianity and treatment of religion elsewhere. At the time it seemed like religion had been dealt a lingering death blow by a few comedians. Looking back now it was a sudden dip on the road toward 9/11. Life of Brian is silly, but it's not trivial.

Initial exposure to Holy Flying Circus is jarring. Post Goon situation surrealism of the 1960s sits uneasily with post 2000 Mighty Boosh character based surrealism. The seriously showy performances by the mostly unknown comics starts to really irritate after a while, with the most obvious example being Darren Boyd playing John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, quite a daring idea that ends up insulting to all concerned. 

For all it's many faults Python treated it's audience with some respect. (As a kid I loved that a comedy show assumed I knew the Philosophers in the song without making an issue of it. You didn't get that on Benny Hill). Darren Boyd > as Basil Fawlty > as John Cleese is like being treated like a soap fan who doesn't know the difference between William Roach and Ken Barlow.

That said.. Holy Flying Circus is often funny and worth watching. It looks like a good script that was undermined by a producer and performers trying to recreate the 'imaginations' of 24 Hour Party People. Although virtually everyone else involved is bad, the team playing the Pythons are great to watch, with particular stand out performances from Tom Fisher as Graham Chapman and Charles Edwards as Palin. Also worth noting Micheal Cochrane as the insufferable Muggeridge, who was every bit the pompous twit that he looks in this surreal version. I'm sure second time round I would enjoy it more.

Worth noting that though the anti-Life of Brian protest was itself big at the time, the Pythons vs Bishops confrontation incident was hardly Bill Grundy vs The Sex Pistols. Most of the world knows of it from the brilliant send up on the cutting edge satirical tv comedy of the late 1970s :  Not The Nine O'Clock News.

This week we were also treated to the one of return of The Comic Strip Presents.. in The Hunt For Tony Blair. While Not The Nine O'Clock News had political tv satire sewn up on the BBC, Comic Strip Presents.. was an atempt by the then brand new 'alternative' Channel 4 to artificially create its own 80s Python troupe by hoovering up all the new 'alternative' comics resident in London's then super hip Comic Strip comedy club. Rik Mayal, Aidrian Edmunson, Nigel Planer, French and Saunders, Robbie Coltrane and co were all launched on Channel 4's first night in Five Go Mad in Dorset, just a week before their sitcom debuts in the BBCs The Young Ones, without the Comic Strip writer and director Peter Richardson.

The apex of Comic Strip is probably 1987s slapstick gangster masterpiece Mr Jolly Lives Next Door (currently 8.8/10 on IMDB) but the troupe, even more so than Python, is famously hit and miss, particularly on the big screen. The Supergrass and Eat The Rich hardly rate against the Python films.

Comic Strip Presents tv one-offs have been an occasional treat ever since. For 2011's The Hunt For Tony Blair some new faces have been added, most notably Stephen Mangan (Guy Secretan in Green Wing) as ex Prime Minister Tony Blair caught in a 1950s styled fugitive drama. There are others in this, notably Jennifer Saunders as Mrs Thatcher and Nigel Planer as Peter Mandelson, but if you find Mangan's version of Blair funny you'll love it. A  simpering idiot parroting content from his gospel/autobiography while protected by a halo of good fortune, it's possible this version of Blair would go down with Thandie Newton's Condoleeza Rice, Will Ferrell's George W and even Tina Fey's Sara Palin as the definitive portrayal, at least for me. 

Treading water in the storm

Following the return from Fraserburgh I've been trying to hold out for a longer contract.. somewhere.. which seems extremely risky as the financial world goes into meltdown

I've been using the following distractions

Crimson Skies

Mad Men series 3 & 4

and some new versions of classic Brit comedy (see next post)

and I have developed a thing for Tina Fey's 30 Rock

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Preparing for drive from Fraserbrough to Bristol

What's that quote from The Blues Brothers ...

Heading back early Friday morning, this is what I have in the car

German hands free kit

new Music

Older new music
Pj Harvey: U Hu Her
MC5: Best of

Plus new car compilation

I've a hankering for heavy now the weather has changed ( set off from Devon two weeks ago in 25 degree heat, 6 hours of M5/M6 traffic jams listening to SuperHeavy and B52s Wild Planet)

I am addicted to the following podcasts and have saved up weeks of the following;

Best of the left
Football weekly
(both of the above funnier than any comedy podcast)
NPR Car Talk
BBC Radio World Football Phone-in
And also ...
Dan Carlins Hardcore history, Death Throes of The Republic, drawing non too subtle allusions about the fate of Rome and the current state of US politics.

On previous trip in 08 driving The Walrus (my old Skoda Fabia) from Edinburgh to Reading in a day I listened to Dan Carlins three part history of The Punic Wars, which helped put my life in perspective.

Car prep based on trans continental experience - water, fruit, chewing gum and recent treat - coffee beans
Three sets of sunglasses

Would really like to be driving back over Cairngorms but want to clear Aberdeen before nasty morning traffic. Pit stop strategy on long trips is to time your stops before and to coincide with traffic bottlenecks like rush hour on M6, Birmingham and Bristol

So I aim to stop, probably for breakfast and a nap, at about 8.30-9.30

Have to be careful using Today Show and Podcasts as they make me sleepy, and Radio 5 (or more accurately what it has become) just annoys the hell out of me

I'll try and blog in transit

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fraserburgh lighthouse museum

Pic album will follow

Highland Aviation Museum 2

Valiant V-bomber interior

Highland Aviation Museum 1

Pic album will follow

After Tinker Tailer and Smileys People they should

For those discovering and rediscovering the BBC Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and Smileys People and wanting to go further..

ITVs slightly Thatcherist Sandbaggers tv series covers pretty much the same area as the above in the 1980s, but the real treat to track down is this, which really opened my eyes to the situation in Ireland

.. It really deserves a remake itself, if only to remind is how precious Irish peace is

Friday, 7 October 2011

Britain two hours north of Edinburgh

Fraserburgh is like Barnstaple half a century ago - fishing and not a lot else at all but everyone very friendly - I might get to go curling some night. 

Today the sweet Latvian girl cutting my hair admitted that if anyone at home opposite the Baltic was as friendly as any of the highland locals they would be locked away with a presumption of mental illness. Shortly after this after a stunning blonde wandered into the salon and the Latvian and her talked Russian for five minutes before she left.

Latvian then admitted the Russian blonde was a total stranger and anyone with Slav language issues in Fraserburgh is directed to her hairdressing salon.

Terrain is a bit Cornish but very flat. To give
you an idea of remoteness, nearby tourist attractions include National
Scottish Lighthouse Heritage Museum.

The accommodation and food in out of town community pub
(Ban Car Hotel) is unpretentious but quietly high class room-wise. The
Highland Chicken, stuffed with haggis, is pretty awesome, with poached
eggs and lean bacon for breakfast. The colour is failing on the big
widescreen in the bar and when it flickers blue all the faces on
screen look like Braveheart.

Local beer is Machlaclans best ale, which is the bitterest bitter I've
ever had. I'm off the whiskey because I dont want to see what happens
if I insist on Irish.

Weather certainly different to English heatwave, when I heard about
snow in Inverness from chatty Tesco woman yesterday it took a few
moments to realise Inverness is just up the road (well it's just west
of here actually, not up). Car is 20 degrees below what 

I left in England, outside the seagulls are flying sideways in the wind
but the fish landing reports on the local radio in the morning make you
appreciate cozy highland IT centres.. which do look a bit like moonbases

MAD MEN keeping me sane

I've been watching MAD MEN all week in hotel room. One of the best things about working away with just a laptop for company is you really get a chance to emerse yourself in good US tv
sagas. Since 2006 I've watched the entire of Soprano's, The Wire, Breaking Bad etc
etc,... and  this is as good as any of them..
and like the others reaches a brilliant climax at the end of third series, as if US tv is paced and planned with that in mind.

Now I think about it MM (and Watchmen) are responsible for my morbid Ayn Rand fascination.

In typical headf@ck fashion MM series 4 is a departure and hard to get into, I lasted nearly full 30 mins of the TERRA NOVA pilot last night (quite proud of my fortitude there), I'm going to start tonight on 30 ROCK (series 1 £2 @ tesco) so expect a 10,000 word appreciation of Tina Fey/s various credentials in next blog.

How much do we all owe Tina Fey? Sarah Palin gave up her presedential ambitions this week, frustrated that US voters had recognised her as a dangerous joke in away that they never did with George W. The two or three short SNL sketches with Tina Fey's hilarious version of Sarah Palin might go down as the most effective political satire in history..

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cairngorms. Listening to Anna Calvi and WU LYF

Test post direct from phone

Stopped just outside Perth. On hottest October day on record in England, rain is so torrential around here Saturday afternoon Rangers played under floodlights!

Hoping it will brighten up so Cairngorms National Park is an option today

Friday, 30 September 2011

Modern worlds attention span < my need to write things down

Yes some of these posts are long. To explain in geekspeak


I actually edit them down before I post them up...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

661 miles to Fraserburgh

I'm about to set off from Exmoor for a week long contract for an oil and gas company in Fraserburgh near Aberdeen. It is not quite Lands End to John O' Groats but nearly..... I will blog from Fraserburgh, I'm expecting it to be a bit like LOCAL HERO

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY: Positive review, comparison with BBC version, sequel talk & other Brit spy nonsense

 A conversation happening all over the UK right now
"no I don't think it's a movie for the boys, it will probably make THE SOCIAL NETWORK look like KICK-ASS"  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy adaptations may come along every generation or so just to remind us how getting old really isn't that bad.

 If you thought Micheal Caine's Harry Palmer movies (or even the Jason Bourne films) were the opposite of the James Bond series you've never come across John Le Carre's spy novels and tv adaptations. The central character, George Smiley, is a senior MI6 spymaster waging a permafrost low intensity spy conflict against his opposite number in the KGB, 'Karla', in the early 1970s.

This new movie, directed by the Swede responsible for similarly permafrost vampire romance LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, is the first since a hugely regarded BBC tv adaptation in 1979 a starring a post Star Wars Alec Guinness. The buzz about the 2011 film is already out of control thanks to a magnificent trailer, rave reviews at the Venice film festival and the subsequent decision to delay the release in the U.S. by over a month to place Gary Oldman's performance as Smiley (and a few others) within contention for the next Oscars.

The labyrinthine plot, told with copious flashbacks, concerns the realisation that the upper realms of the British intelligence service, referred to in Le Carre speak as The Circus (the CIA are The Cousins), have been infiltrated by a KGB agent who is now pulling the strings on every operation. Smiley is taken from enforced retirement to spy on the spies.

Just to place my perspective on the new film, I never read the book, I actually started novel but found the whole public school world impossible to relate to. Dune and Ringworld I can relate to, British 'public' school life is like another planet, even to your average Brit. I also actually disliked the BBC tv version of the novel at first watching (massively preferred the similar but much more gritty ITV series THE SANDBAGGERS from the same era). On second viewing I finally 'got' the BBC adaptation, which has a reputation as an incident unpacked glacial spy drama which is second to none.

First quarter of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY 2011 is very very slow burn, which will, and is, causing some disappointment. The classic TTSS trailer  for the 2011 film, with the brilliant Danny Elfman music from WOLFMAN, is so far from the pace of the actual movie it seems like a fan made YouTube joke.

The movie does reward patience but I am not sure I would have followed it without previous exposure to the tv version. With the creepy production design and low simmering score TTSS 2011 starts like a documentary on the lives of insects (I kept thinking about PHASE IV), with the soon to be iconic the beehive meeting room enhancing this. The interiors used for the BBC version, a suggestion from the author, were actually filmed at the BBC. It looks authentic but for me the fixtures and fittings just look laughably cheap and never convincing

The 2011 Circus (comes from the vicinity of Cambridge Circus near Soho apparently) is an absolute triumph of production design and could be compared favourably to a classic Ken Adam Bond set. Dotted with listening posts/cocoons and a split level allowing views to lower levels of the 'hive', it is as live as any of the actors. I worked in Whitehall for six weeks this year and I can confirm that though it is often claustrophobic and dirty, like the rest of London it does have it's idiosyncratic design flourishes, odd mixtures of the gothic, art deco and the 21st century.

The exterior world of TTSS 2011 is almost Mervyn Peak/Gormenghast, with bizarre characters going through bizarre rituals in a slightly familiar fantasy land. And yet somehow is is very London 1973. It has been compared elsewhere to THE IPCRESS FILE... Actually it would be great to see Micheal Caines character from GET CARTER wander through a scene. It's THAT Britain of the 70s, the vulgar bewildered, inflated, never never land of soft core porn and power cuts shortly to be punctured by Punk and Thatcherism.

In the 2011 version, which obviously has the benefit of hindsight over what was in 1979 contemporary drama, we see a lot more of the political consequences of the plot. In the BBC version it is serious enough that the KGB have penetrated to the top of MI6. In 2011 it is made obvious that the real Russian intention is to use MI6 to get to the real information held by the CIA. This revelation is delivered in a crushing scene by Oldman's Smiley, who pricks the world power pretensions of his government superiors and forces them to see reality.

I could spend the entire review here talking about Gary Oldman. I think by some stealthy method he has become everyone's favourite actor. He's played Sid Vicious, Dracula and now George Smiley (and would have deserved at least a nomination for all three) You can't say he doesn't stretch himself.

Among his less appreciated achievements is, along with Christopher Nolan and Frank Miller, is taking someone like Commissioner Gordon and turning him into a character straight out of out of THE WIRE. It says something when Gordon is the character you most want go see again in the new Batman film, especially one that includes Catwoman (Anne Hathayway as Selena Kyle? Are you kidding? She looks more like FerretGirl).

This is heresy in the U.K. but I've never been convinced by national treasure Alec Guinnesses performance in the TV series of TTSS. I never found any of Guinness's generation of actors convincing (Larry Olivier especially, his Hollywood Heathcliffe is hilarious) though if you've always been put off by the standard World War II movie jingoism of BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI I would urge you to check it out. I've seen a million "anti war" movies and never seen one that gets as close to the real insanity of military thinking (keep your unit functioning by err... helping the enemy win the war). And Alec Guinness is very very good in it.

Mark Strong and Tom Hardy's short scenes of Karla's plots in Istanbul and Budapest could all be out-takes from INCEPTION, brilliantly shot, acted and very intense.

TTSS's already famous Xmas party scene, new for the 2011 movie and not in the novel or BBC version, manages to drip with vivid significance like the classic dinner scene in Frank Herbert's Dune novel, while floating timeless and haunted like a lost bar scene from THE SHINING.

The cold war is treated with less sentimentality than the BBC version. The KGB come out of this not as the honourable foes and potential allies of the Bond films but as really nasty pieces of work. Karla has been elevated to the level of scarred Bond villain, in the revelation that he has lost all of his fingernails. Well, not lost, the CIA ripped them out in the 1950s, half a century at least before admission of waterboarding in Iraq.

Peter Guillam, Smiley's right hand man,  gets a bigger role as befitting a crucial character in the plot. He is a weirdly undeveloped functionary in BBC tv series - he has a car, that's about it.
Benedict Cumberpatch's Peter Guillam does a great deal more than Smiley, and bearing in mind Cumberpatch is wowing audiences as BBC's SHERLOCK it easy to make an ironic Holmes/Watson comparison, if you take Watson to be just a functionary foil for Holmes (which he isn't). Guillam/Smiley is more like Bond/M, making you suddenly wonder what would be the most interesting a movie Bond remake told from a management perspective (I would vote THUNDERBALL).

Guillam is gay in the 2011 version. Some have complained about this change, but this 'baggage' does fit the tragic sacrifice being suffered by other members of Smiley's People and provides a good scene for a good actor. MI6 honeytrap seducer Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) is on the edge of renegade and ready to quit. His Russian defector Irina and rejected MI6 analyst Connie Sachs are even more tragic than the men.

In the storm of hype around TTSS, Helen Mirren has complained while promoting The Debt that there are not enough women in the cast. The other hugely significant female character in the plot is Smiley's wife Ann, whose serial adultery is the particular albatross hanging around the main characters neck. Interesting that Karla and Ann, the major demons in Smiley's life, are kept just off camera in TTSS, like the shark in JAWS, they are best when left to be conjured by the audiences imagination.

Dame Helen's protest that some of the main cast suspects should have been re-written to be female characters is ridiculous (think about it - the Circus is a perfect example of a seedy old boys club, that's its main weakness and that's what Karla exploits) - but I am a huge Helen Mirren fan and if you were going to cast Ann Smiley she would have been perfect. Perhaps this is what she is so annoyed about.

 Cast comparisons :

GEORGE SMILEY : Alec Guinness v Gary Oldman
I actually prefer Gary Oldman. National Treasure Alec Guiness is more of an avuncular uncle. AG can still crack a smile from time to time. Gary Oldman's Dracula was having more fun than his George Smiley. You never see Ann Smiley and it is a blessing, she could never live up to the billing as such a wretched piece of work. Is Oldman drawn to these characters? His breakthrough role was Sid Vicious.. Is Ann George Smiley's Nancy Spungeon? (Are you considering a Kurt Cobain biopic Gary? Don't do it to yourself)  In Guinness I don't see the pain and wear I see in Oldmans performance. Best Actor Oscar and or knighthood on its way.

CONNIE SACHS : Beryl Reid v Kathy Burke
Kathy Burke Does great cameo. Why they bothered with a lousy sequel to ELIZABETH when they could have gone with a prequel using Kathy Burke's terrifying and tragic Bloody Mary I'll never know. But, in the BBC version, beloved comedienne and fellow national treasure Beryl Reid gets it for me. Like in the case of Ian Bannen as Jim Prideaux, the age of the actors adds to their tragedy. You could cry buckets watching the BBC version of this character.
(FYI Kathy Burke is well on the way to UK national treasure status, though her potty mouth may delay royal recognition until Wills gets the promotion)
JIM PRIDEAUX : Ian Bannen v Mark Strong
I hated Ian Bannen first time I watched the BBC version, he's just such an unsympathetic creep. Having watched it twice now I can see what his Jim Prideaux has become in order to survive. His final act says it all - the man has almost no humanity left, in his single shocking karate death blow he has more in common with the Cybernauts of The Steed/Peel Avengers than an actual human being. Mark Strong is a great actor and his performance is another heartbreaker likely to get him an Oscar nomination, but I didn't believe that level of obvious emotional vulnerability was appropriate for the era. Tears? That generation? You must be kidding. They would surrender their humanity entirely before exposing it like that.

PETER GUILLAM : Michael Jayston v Benedict Cumberpatch
As mentioned in another review (sorry I can't remember who) there is some irony in Benedict Cumberpatch, BBCs most recent SHERLOCK, playing George Smiley's Dr Watson. He gets a much bigger part than his BBC counterpart and makes the most of it with a potential Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. A pivotal character poorly sketched in the BBC version, perhaps the main problem with it.

RICKY TARR : Hywell Bennett v Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy is very good but the under ultised Hwyel Bennett gets it by a whisker. Ricky Tarr, despite his doubts at the end and attempts to get out of the game, really is a seedy manipulative pimp character and Tom Hardy makes him too much of a heartthrob. More lines help.

BILL HAYDEN: Ian Richardson v Colin Firth
Once again BBC version wins. Colin Firth is excellent and a bit more believable than Ian Richardson, who is just such a hive of plutonian villainy you know in any sensible world he would be marched off to a firing squad and buried in salted earth as soon as he used that terrifying smile. Colin Firth is more believable as a seducer of Ann and as an employee of the KGB. Firth makes you believe there was actually something between him and Prideaux. Richardsons character obvously felt something at some point other than lust but you are left with the impression it may actually have been guilt. I think the Gestapo and the Spanish Inquisition would hesitate to employ Ian Richardsons version of this character but I have to admit I preferred watching him. Again more lines makes a big difference. I'm comparing 8 hours of tv to two hours of film.

KARLA : Patrick Stewart vs ?
Patrick Stewart (yes that Patrick Stewart) played Karla without dialog in both BBC tv productions, while Karla is unseen in the 2011 film. Interestingly the Karla of the BBC version, at the height of the reheated Cold War (BBC's nuclear war drama THREADS, which makes THE DAY AFTER look like THE MUPPET MOVIE, came a few years later) is not evil incarnate, merely Smiley's counterpart. Most of his BBC villainy takes place off screen. With the distance of time the 2011 version is given the full threat of an infamous KGB chief. Karla here is obviously a thoroughgoing bastard, and only the knowledge that Smiley *eventually* matches him for cruelty and cunning stops the modern version feeling a bit over the top. I would cast.. Patrick Stewart again (why not?).

Finally there are are a few examples of Le Carre's knack for intriguing detail in both versions;
In the 2011 movie Smiley is munching on Trebor Mints, as if they were the British antidote to the Cold War.

In the BBC version Smiley reveals that KGB mastermind Karla was arrested running a spy ring by the CIA in San Francisco in the 1950s. Did Karla dabble in beat poetry? Did he try recruiting and of Sonny Bargers motorcycle enthusiasts (is that why he was caught?)

At the end of the BBC version Ian Bannen's Jim Prideaux breaks into a secure facility to kill Hayden while the guards are watching a horror film. Smiley jokes bitterly that he doesn't know what the film was... but from the time and era I would guess it was 1970's early evening BBC screenings of Day of The Triffids or Village of The Damned, both very likely to scare, in the vernacular of the time, "7 colours of sh*t" out of habitually spooked MI6 spooks.

TTSS 2011 sets up so perfectly for a sequel it is almost the first half of a spy caper movie, with some talented organiser given a mission and slowly pulling a team together At the end not only do we have the motivated team raring for revenge, we have Smiley speaking out loud exactly how he will get Karla in the end, "he is a fanatic and fanatics are always hiding their secret doubts".

My favorite moment in the 2011 movie is Tom Hardy demanding that Irina be saved from the KGB so he can retire with her, because, he says, pointing to Smiley and co "I'm not going to end up like YOU". Not long after there is a montage of what will become Smiley's People, all twisted social mutants who are only super powers away from being the X-Men, (or perhaps the Brotherhood).

Would Patrick Stewart get to play Karla again? Would there be two extra movies? Oldman has said he wants to reunite cast and crew for a sequel but there are actually (at least) two.. the direct sequel to the TTSS novel, The Honourable Schoolboy, has Smiley's reconstituted Circus in a low level plot mostly centered around organised crime in Hong Kong. It only has a fleeting appearance from the real villians but apparently has a lot of action.

The real direct sequel is of course SMILEY'S PEOPLE, about which I'll say little, except that I thought the BBC version was superior to the tv TTSS. Oldman apparently wants the two sequel novels as one sequel film, that could be more of a movie blockbuster but I'd like to see as much of this take on Le Carre as possible.

But how will they emerse us more in 70s Britain than this? Will the Bay City Rollers feature? Or at least Slade? I'd love to see George Smiley adjusting his glasses to Little Jimmy Osmond,s "I'm just your long haired lover from Liverpool", while eating a Vesta curry washed down with Watneys Red Barrel.

I'd like to take this opportunity to confess to an extremely guilty pleasure; despite knowing it is mostly total garbage I have developed a bit of a wierd fascination for DIE ANOTHER DAY, the final completely over the top Pierce Brosnan Bond movie that makes MOONRAKER look like FUNERAL IN BERLIN. And if I can't keep a secret like that getting out I really would have made a crap spy...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

GrossGlockner High Road and Road Trip FAQ

Test post to blog direct from Picassa road trip content

Road Trip FAQ

why? Why do this drive when the petrol price is so high?
I did it because the price is high and getting higher all the time. For posterity and just because.

Don't I feel any responibilty to the environment in burning all the petrol. The TT is terrible on emissions, but it is an old car. I will not support construction and sale of new cars until there is a realistic alternative.

The impending loss of oil will remove any debate from the private car use issue with regard to climate change. From then on the issue will be on eating meat.. as we know that that the vast majority of climate gasses are produced by herd animals bred for human consumption. Do I feel guilty about my energy usage? For six months I lived in Gibraltar breathing in deisel from the shipping berthed in Algeciras Bay. Commercial shipping has no quarms about emissions, it is standard policy on any ship, liners as well as petrol tankers, to leave the diesel engines running for the entire time it stays in port.

Did you do it because of TOP GEAR?
There was a bit of that but I didn't feel good about it. The recent 'sleepy mexicans' rant I think really was the final final straw for me. Chicharito (Manchester United's razor sharp Mexican striker) looks like he is a stranger to the concept of sleep and even standing still for more than a few seconds, making Top Gears latest desperate attempts to look edgy even more pathetic.

Did you do it because of LONG WAY ROUND?
Oh yes, and felt bad rewatching it afterwards that I had sold out and done this by stupid sports car (I would have been very very dismissive of TT only a few years ago). In my defense I had no support team, next to no planning.. well lets be honest no planning.. and had the entire contents of the flat in Gib squeezed into the car. That level of cargo, over those distances by bike was never going to happen

Uploading this material I just happen to be watching BEING THERE, the Peter Sellers film, and it occurs to me the scene where he emerges from a lifetime of being in one house to explore the neighbourhood for the first time is much like how I felt when I drove the car out of Eurotunnel in Calais...

I mean I've been abroad before but always been based somewhere, never FREE...

Peter Sellers as Chauncey emerges into the world for the first time in BEING THERE

What was your camera?
All photos video and audio taken with Iphone 3GS

What was the car?
Car is a 2001 Audi TT, picked up in 2007 with 85k on the clock. It's now done 135k. Your basic TT Mark 1 is little more than a Golf GTi with a retro body shell, described memorably as a "GTi in hot pants", and is more 1930s NSU racer than practical 21st century transport. These aerodynamics have not been cutting edge since the Daily Mail was Herr Hitler's biggest supporter. Rear "seats" are a particular source of amusement to all and are only temporarily comfortable for small children and Time Bandits. Engine would be the standard 1980s GTi 1.8 but this is the 230 bhp version with boosted compression, bigger turbo and extra intercooler.

It is often quite a dull ride (certainly compared to a bike) but the Audi 4x4 system and heated leather seats have come in very handy.

Named Nicola after the great dinner date I went on in Richmond the night after going to view the car (hi Nic !)

For those who are interested, the content currently on Googlemap and Picassa is perhaps a third of the total material. Similar maps based on the road trips Parracombe > Gibraltar Feb 2011 and the return trip Narvik > Parracombe will follow

<PS I had to get to the end of BEING THERE to realise it is primarily about a man who can only relate to the world thru clips from tv, so there is something particularly ironic or tragic about relating to clips from it>


To follow on from the Portishead content in the I'll BE YOUR MIRROR blog here is the review I did of influential Italian soundtrack outfit GOBLIN playing the London venue which was once a shrine to Italian art-house horror movies..

Monday 27th July 2009
Scala, Kings Cross
by Christopher Hodgson
Picture Album

The immediate vicinity of the Scala in Kings Cross is as dingy as ever
but to those more familiar with its previous incarnation as a dingy
80s cinema club it is a shock to see the premises which once sold
hardcore paperback porn replaced by high end estate agents (selling
property porn).

Within the Scala the winding labyrinthine back passages still exist,
but usually lead to uber-trendy bars in the higher reaches of the
building. Scala toilets which once featured exhibited aroma's straight
from Warhols New York now have bathroom attendants who require a £2
tip. At the recent Scandalism club night the curious were treated to
the new version of alternative dance - featuring vintage 80s dance
highlights such as Vanilla Ice and Dead or Alive. If only the
contemporary audience of the Scala had been exposed to this at time
the whole Kings area could have been razed to the ground and the
developers would have got their way 20 years ahead of time.

Still, at least it is not a Methodist church anymore. Back in the day
the old Scala cinema club was the high shrine in London to alternative
cinema and particularly Italian horror cinema. So it seemed
particularly appropriate that the new Scala would host Goblin for its
one and only UK date on its first tour in 30 years.

Goblin were the obscure Italian prog-metal band who defined the sound
of many 70s and 80s Italian horror films (and the occasional George
Romero film - the original DAWN OF THE DEAD). Their obscurity has
lessened since they have been cited as an influence by bands such as
Portishead and Muse.

They are a prickly and awkward listen. Even as a fan it has been a
real chore to get even half way a Goblin compilation album but here is
seemed there is a real effort here to turn them into a 'Show'. The
setlist heavily lent on their best material, from DEEP RED, SUSPIRIA,
DAWN OF THE DEAD and TENEBRAE and the projected backdrops showing
scenes from the films seemed to suggest a goth-ed up Pink Floyd event.

Possibly the new keyboard player Aidan Zammit is behind this. He
seemed more on an obvious onstage presence than the shy and
unprepossessing 'classic' members of the band (Like any decent prog
rock outfit Goblin have been reforming since Morgan Le Fay was at
playschool and if you collected together all of the old members of the
band together for a performance there would be no room for an
audience) It was easy to get the impression that after 30 years of
mysterious soundtrack existence it was the new member that had brought
them out into the stage lights with the set that played to their

The show was for a surprisingly young audience perhaps consisting of
tourists direct from the nearby Eurostar terminal. They particularly
enjoyed the thumping background to the original DAWN OF THE DEAD,
which really did play live like a cut from the last Portishead album.
The climax was of course the theme from Dario Argento's classic
SUSPIRIA, played against the projected backdrop of the fantastically
evil dance academy in Frieburg which is the films setting.

Perhaps that was Goblins prog message for us. If the King of Pop,
Vanilla Ice and Dead are Alive are the new idols of dance then 'Dance'
has Fallen. 'Dance' is EVIL.


The TT is pranged and I'm waiting, housebound in Exmoor, on lots of job interviews. I can only assume they are all on hold because of the financial crisis. Hope to get something soon, if only because the weather is starting to turn.

No longer blog posts until I move onto somewhere different, I'm finishing a short story and trying again to get my book looked at, this time by US publishers.

Listening to Grails, WU LYF, The Desert Sessions with PJ Harvey and still - Black Keys. Today I hope to have a crack at making Mojitos, I've been living off White Russians for nearly a month :-)

This is the first blog entry I have typed straight into the blog, going to try and use the 'Essay' app on my Ipad from now on. There is a need for some sort of App that posts straight to blogs..

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

I'LL BE YOUR MIRROR, Alexandra Palace, July 2011

Picasa picture album

Nearly three weeks into serious London contract I finally got a copy of Time Out .. and not for the first time was buying tickets before I fully new what I was doing, 

ILL BE YOUR MIRROR is the first of a London reflection of ALL TOMORROWS PARTIES, the alternative music version of Glastonbury Festival (remember when that was Glastonbury itself?). I've always meant to go to an ATP event but never got around to it.

I was as blown away by the venue as much as I was by the lineup. For those exposed to the coolness of Luther Arkwright, it was as if Bryan Talbot redesigned Glastonbury for a paralell Imperial Britain 2011.

I would pay 20 quid just to get this much access to Alexandra Palace, the north London counterpart to the long lost Victorian Disneyworld that was Crystal Palace. Ally Pally, (as nicknamed by Gracie Fields) was used as a BBC studio studio for first tv broadcasts (Quatermass was filmed live here) and used for crowd scenes in the movie adaptation of 1984.  I've been here before, it is used as exhibition space and is a great venue for the London Bike show inh freezing Jan-Feb every year.

We had the run of most of this, a fabulous piece of large scale Victoriana, incredible setting for a music venue and strange for summer as it could work even better in mid-winter <surely better than Minehead Butlins, the usual venue in the west for ATP>

The amount of wide open space was staggering, with the attendance probably limited by the local transport infrastruture,(the tiny nearby tube station) rather than the size of the venue itself. For those struugling with the vast penned in mobs at the major festivals this place is a very sureall dream. Drinking mojitos in a leather armchair with a vast glass and ironwork ceiling far above is not part of my usual Festival experience. In the Panorama room there is even enough room to have an area dedicated to previous music events at Alexandra Palace.

Music early on looked pretty challenging so I avoided it.
Having staggered around taking picture for the first hour or so I found myself in the cinema room, a tall anti-room of drapes and classical statutes showing the John Ford classic Western,The Searchers. ATP events are typically curated by the headline act so this would have been a Portishead choice, and a good one if you know westerns, The Searchers covers racism and the Indian war with a sophistication way beyond that of the average John  Wayne film.

The next film, Treasures of Long Gone John, was a typically eclectic art documentary by way of Bristol tastes, in that it was fascinatging and seriously lacking in the pretension you might find throughout London art subjects.

To follow the  Bryan Talbot steampunk theme, the latest PJ Harvey sound could be mistaken for a Bryan Talbot soundtrack in it's folky yet cynical steam punk. She could be playing Womad or Download with it, it's so unlike anything else I can think of. (More Peej raving can be found in my previous post).

PJ Harvey's new look is kind of the daughter of David Warner's character in The Time Bandits. She was Evil's spawn, mocking Englands military record with slicked up and out alien queen hair, cenobite dress design and playing a lyre or some other form of twisted wind (or maybe winged) instrument.
Pic ripped off from

It was a stunning setting for Let England Shake. Even late in the day light was streaming through the huge victrian iron glasswork above and through the vast stained glass window at the rear of the main hall. She did a smattering of old stuff but nothing I thought older than Stories From The City. I was a big fan of Polly's initial 'angry vagina' music, but lost interest in the mid 90s when she, as a Yeovil native, came out on the side of the Countryside Alliance in the field sports debate. The set included lots of stuff from the new album and it is very rare that new material is preferred by the audience so much over old. Her band, John Parish and co, got a massive reception and require further investigation. 

After a further explore I was able to witness Portishead materialising on stage to play their set.
To finish off my rant from previous posting (M-Shed), right now Bristol is a creative hub in the way that Manhattan was pre gentrification and London is now only in the East. Bristol a scaggy alternative mess that throws out creativity like the big bang with an amusing accent. Real art comes from edgy places not from cozy museums.

Going back to the band, likely the main reason the Festival was happening at all, I thought I'd seen Portishead in the past but I'm probably getting mixed up with Goblin, who I saw at  the Scala two years ago (Ill post that review, my return to the Scala) up here at some point.

Within about two minutes I'd realised I'd not seen Portishead before.

Even live they are like nothing else at all, broadcasting live from a phantom zone of pure damnation from where they have been banished  for millenia, since before the big bang. They have always been out there playing their live set and always will be.

When the band came on the video backdrop wasn't the direct live video feed you might see at with a normal band or music festival but but their live feed distorted with doomed black and white feedback video, producing a performance discovered by long lost members of the BBC radiophonic workshop. It was a live performance which seemingly has haunted old tv studios for the last 40 years.

Most of the material seemed to be from the third album (influenced by  80s soundtracks <hense Golbin has recently reformed>) and very roundly received by a very young crowd.

Actual highlights for me were the songs from the self titled second album. Whatever part of Hell the material from Portishead by Portishead came from, it must be a postcode that even the devil tries to avoid. Check out the amusingly skeletal wiki entry Portishead | PortisheadThe first album, Dummy, now sounds like Amy Winehouse in comparison.

Portishead | Portishead.
The title itself is a doom laden feedback loop :-)

Emphasising their cold otherworldly isolation the the video backdrop before the band came on was the BBC 70s test card. As if it wasn't wierd enough for me the girl in the vintage BBC test card always reminds me of my sister.

I left early because I didn't think Ally Pally could handle a mass festival exit. The perfection of the place as a festival venue was so total I was expecting a disaster somewhere, and I judged that would likely be in the after hours transport links, Alexandra Park tube station being barely big enough fo 30 people. I was also aware that I had to be working the next day (Sunday) on the UK Department of Energy Smart Meter specification.

To Sulveg, the Oslo archeologist, if you are ever reading this I hope I brightened up a pretty depressing Saturday...

Mojito bar sadly missed in 2013 

illbeyourmirror pics

Thursday, 8 September 2011

History Rhymes : PJ Harvey and 9/11

At the end of my blog on the riots (Schools Out For Summer) I jokingly suggested Ghost Town by The Specials would be the hit song of the moment as it was during the 80s riots.

Now it's September, with the ten year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and after last nights Mercury Music Prize we now know what the sound of the moment will be. It's PJ Harvey's amazing Let England Shake.

As the first artist to win the award twice, she admits she is especially proud as exactly ten years ago she was prevented from picking up the award in person for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea as, among other things, she was staring at a burning Pentagon through a hotel window.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." said Mark Twain

Ten years ago this Sunday I was watching 9/11 from news websites slowly freezing into shock in an office in Barnstaple. Working on technical support for the newly Peter Goode-less Castlelinks Ltd we had hardly a moment to check news websites, but as the younger tech types slowly got more insistent I paid more attention.

Those buildings are going to collapse? Give over! New York, a city surrounded by about 5 busy airports, is going to have the modern skyscraper that would collapse if hit by one plane? Don't be ridiculous.

Ten years ago next Monday I listened again to the new winner of the 2001 Mercury music prize, PJ Harvey for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and was shaken to the the core at how prophetic it seemed. An album written in and about New York months before 9/11 seemed to predict events in the same city only a few months later.

Sample lyrics from Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

"Look out ahead I see danger come
I wanna' pistol I wanna' gun
I'm scared baby I wanna' run
This world's crazy Give me the gun"
(Big Exit)

T"hrew my bad fortune Of the top of A tall building "
(Good Fortune)

"How could that happen? How could that happen again?
Where the fuck was I looking When all his horses came in?
And he built an army Of kamikaze
Ten thousand willing Pilots flying Interfacing Space and beyond
Built an army To come and find me"

 And afterwards living in my lonely cottage in Kentisbury I caught some of the fever that would overtake the U.S. I rang my friend Mike and predicted what  would happen next. "if they finally sort out Saddam and the Taliban it can be a good thing" I said, meaning that the world could finally end up respecting he United Nations, after Rwanda, Srebrenica and the humiliation of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq.

What I (and evidently the entire Blair government) didn't realise then was that the new Bush/Cheney Presidency would do more to undermine the UN than the Taliban or Saddam could even dream of. If the U.N. was a sad disappointment in 2000, it really is a sad joke now.

"Let me take my problem to the United Nations!"

This is a bitter and climactic lyric from PJ Harvey's latest album, Let England Shake, which last night won the Mercury Music prize exactly ten years since she won for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

I'm already worried about her album for 2021.

I saw PJ Harvey live only six weeks ago at the I'll Be Your Mirror Festival in London. Report plus link to photo album will follow in next post on this blog.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Gibraltar to Narvik road trip now live and Googlemapped

Across two pages, link below is a map of the Gibraltar to Narvik trip
with links to online photo albums at every stage
When you click on a bit of the map it should open a little window with
a picture in it - if you click on that picture it will go to a full
picture album from that stage

googlemaps can only display the route on two pages, there is a link at
the bottom to the second page

Meshki’s issues with the electromagnetic spectrum

Meshki (AKA ‘Radiohead’), Rob and Masah's cat, has a variety of serious behavioural issues which I believe are a result of a ludicrous head size to whiskers ratio, which is completely outside my long previous experience which cats. Meshki has a tiny kitten head from which sprouts a virtual GCHQ of whiskery aparatus, allowing him to pick up signals probably not yet perceived by human science.

As a proud son of Cheshire, I’m immensely proud of one our local landmarks, Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory. A vast art deco dish driven by a turrent mechanism from a Royal Navy dreadnought, it is the first and last British Imperial contribution to the space race, tracking Sputnik across the heavens even when Soviets couldn’t. 

I look at Meshki sometimes and wonder how much data input his tiny cat brain has to deal with compared to Jodrell Bank.

Have you ever dialled up and down an old radio set to FM or LW and got that buzzy pulse that apparently is emitted by Jupiter? It is that sort of signal, shortcutting through Meshki's tiny brain (along with Talksport, The Archers, Stokes Croft Community Radio, mobile phone signals and worrying about Eltons Roads carnivourous plants) that I believe makes Meshki suddenly bite and then run off after he’s been purring happily for some time.

Fairford Air Show vs Bristol M-Shed

Couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to contrast and compare two new forms of British museum. A flying one and a museum of comminuty cohesion and progress

Before I go any further let me draw your attention to James Cook's pics from Fairford. It was such a damp day the water vapour made a ghostly cloak for the Fast Jets

When planned, six months ago, the trip to Fairford was to be a bit of a one day anti-Glastonbury. James talked me into doubling my ticket price to get in The Pimms enclosure, which sounded incredibly up market and I suggested in bored emails from Gibraltar that we go suited and role play the day as sleezy arms dealers


I think I'll be offering a near mint

"Spirit of Westward Ho!"

which has been kept in a climate controlled hanger somewhere between Bideford and Appledoor shipbuilders (where they are bulding parts of the new Astute class and the new carriers) Appledore shipbuilders have been helping main it since that unfortunate collision with the Lundy ferry.
(It probably only made the North Devon papers)

Only serious use has been as a high speed ferry from Ilfracombe. Andy and Su were on one run in 2008 but said it was 'noisy'

When the Airshow finally came round in July I was not long back from the Road Trip and I had dragged Rob Sanders into the equation just so we could exploit his cheap accommodation (and food and Bristol, and cat<see below>).

Weather report was terrible so the suit and arms dealer concept was booted. It was as bad as Glastonbury ever gets when we got there, the only comfort was the runway which wasn’t muddy. I was soaked to the skin when I found James in the Pimms enclosure who was his usual ebullient self though age has obviously softened his obsession with B52s and A-10 tankbusters.

Though I was worried about getting Rob into the Pimms enclosure without a ticket I needn’t have, as after years of training at getting into Glastonbury Rob should run a course on infiltration techniques.

We had Eckles cake and coffee for lunch, and were bored by aeobatics displays. It was a good day, though we were frustrated by easy availablity of delicious Pymms and then fried by an unexpected sun. Our final sight was a sad reminder of the twilight of the UK aero industry, the last remaining Vulcan V-bomber , a cold war machine designed to kill millions of Russians, treated here with the all the solemnity of an apocalyptic Princess Diana.

The real highlight was the french Rafael presented as it should, as gorgeous supersonic pole dancer in a  burlesque club of the clouds. The  Eurofighter, in contrast, laboured with fake weapons and obviously knowing it had important business elsewhere, was in comparison a great but busy waitress in a pub

Later in evening I alarmed the staff of a Vietnamese restaurant with my Red Skull and a disappointing meal was improved Mahsa's bubbly chat. She was talked us into watching Get Him To The Greek when we got back. I've seen it 3-4 times before but it gets better, this time I was taken by Aldous Snow's relationship with 'Naples' ("I wasnt going to tell you about his real father.. but then he started to look more and more Italian ...") which is mostly played straight as just sweet and tragic.

Next day, in cruel counterpoint to Fairford, we went to the talk of Bristol at the moment, the newly opened museum, the M-Shed. A cruel man would call it civic masturbation. Since they tore down an engineering museum for it I'm prepared to be cruel.

Like a community action group given access to a museum or a shedfull of old crap, M-Shed is the sort of place we'd find ourselves in growing up in Cheshire during day trips across the border in Yorkshire, and we'd mercilessly take the piss. Full of almost Texas self aggrandisement and not very Bristol at all.

M-Shed should be subtitled “for fans and competists only’ and even mad local obsessives might find the content ridiculously ephemeral. Concert tickets from punk bands that played Bristol in the 1970s? Did you not have any pictures? M-Shed seems less a museum and more an excuse to ‘engage’ the tax payers of Bristol to make them feel nice. I'm sure the original appeal for vital gems of history like bus tickets to fill the great new museum of YOU must have been great for someone politically.

Highlights? A suspended example of the Flying Flea, the cheap private aircraft sold between the wars that sought to replace the car. In typical M-Shed fashion it has all of the promotional material for this miracle new private flying car without any of the explanation why it wasn’t a success (Answer: It was lethal) Presumably it was built in the area but I saw no detail on the factory.

Heartening to know that someone went around recording the memories of Bristol old folk but most of that belongs in an archive for actual historians to use, rather than something will actually divert kids from screaming their heads off. First hand historical sources can be devastingly effective when used correctly (Exhibit 1 : Secret Police Museum in Budapest) but when the content rarely gets more dramatic than “the Irish immigrants ate all the potatoes, we had to have cabbage soup instead” it will drive kids right away from museums and right back to the X-Box.

Proof of how outstandingly out of touch the M-Shed is is the single picture and caption devoted to Trip Hop. And there I’ve said that term, most hated, to describe the Bristol music scene, to emphasie that Trip Hop is exactly what Bristol is world famous known for. When you sit in a mojito bar in Tarrifa and hear Massive Attack or a club in San Francisco and hear Portishead - that is the Bristol that is world famous. Slavery? Brunel? Forget it. And the M-Shed gives the Bristol music scene one photo and a caption. I imagine U.S. visitors in particular will wonder if they are somehow in the wrong Bristol.

And worst of all it annoyed me about the Bristol engineering museum was aparently destroyed to make way for the M-Shed. In direct contrast to Fairford the only evidence of Bristol aircraft company was an airfix model and the only input from nearby rolls Royce was a slightly bigger model. Britain in 2011 still in thrall to the Business Sector, entrepreneurs, The Apprentice, Dragons Den. The media idolises Del Trotters and Arthur Daly’s and not the Brunels and Whittles.

Days later I saw a debate on Intelligence Squared,

in which the creator of MUMSNET chose to argue that bullying Western kids into any kind of academic achievement was pointless as none of 'The Dragons' (lol) on Dragons Den had bothered with anything too taxing at school.

The number of Alan Sugars types listed historically as Great Britains is very slim, perhaps because the record of British managerial incompetence since 1945 is world famous (though not in this country). Maybe I just haven't seen the statues of Freddy Butlin and Marks And Spensers in Whitehall. I'm not so sure these business daredevils really are that much of a draw for the average boy. When I was at school I dreamt about being an astronaut, not being the chairman of C&A. If I was a teenager now, rioting would probably sound a lot more fun than selling porcelain cats that sing 'How much is that doggy in the window ?' out of the back of a Robin Reliant.

The real ironic highlight of the M-Shed is a large painting called “Gran Tourismo” showing two kids supposedly visiting their Gran, but actually playing a console game while she sits ignored on the other side of the sofa.
M-Shed is the kind of expensive, claustrophobic social inclusion that the far right think they are rebelling against when they rant away at spineless liberals wasting money. A hall full of trade union banners does not help in this regard, and they are just hung there with a few photos and descriptions of local riots without any attempt at context at all. It seemed the M-shed was massively self-defeating in this regard. A big hearty thanks from the establishment socialists in charge to the warriors of Bristol’s real people, who have seen their living standards and share of Britains wealth plummet since the 1970s. Would a hall dedicated to welfare dependency, unemployment, and the rise of the Service sector and the Business Sector have been too depressing?

Perhaps a mention of the financial crash of 2008 would have been appropriate, considering very little of the M-Shed’s kind of tax-payer funded group hug will be seen henceforth. Maybe that’s the final irony. The M-Shed serves it’s historical purpose best as a monument to the kind of worthless vanity project the world was investing in prior 2008. Future generations will walk around and marvel not at actual exhibits but on the total waste of the building as a whole

I did tease the locals, Rob and Mahsa, that (as a Mancunian) the M-Shed seemed to be missing a Hall of Great Bristol sporting achievement, and that (as a part time London resident) I had seen some great art sprayed on the side of buildings in Bristol; but there is no sense teasing them about the sporting stuff; the Northern creed of soccer obsession looks to the south west eyes like social masochism, kind of interesting only in an incomprehensible sick way.

And on the art you’d have to be a idiot to be snobby about Bristol right now. This (below) is perhaps the best time I have ever spent in a museum…

And this is the most ingenious and subversive film I have seen for years

I’ll hopefully cover the coolness of Bristol with the a blog posting on I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR, when the South Wests Portshead and PH Harvey took over London for a weekend, Suffice to say I’ve seen enough of buzzing cities (Berlin) and non buzzing cities (Manhattan) to know that the best of Bristol right now isn’t bus tickets and ration cards from 1952.

Oh .. and the cat... (see next post)