Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It's Turtles All The Way Down....

35 years ago, I was lucky enough to be taught theoretical physics (for a while at least) by Professor Stephen Hawking. He had recently been elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics when I went up to Cambridge and had started with tutoring both under-graduates as well as post-graduates. My own interests were cosmology, quantum gravity and general relativity and he was, and still is, the go-to guy in these fields. He soon gave up with us under-grads though as his health was deteriorating and he wanted to write a book. Therefore, I was one of the lucky ones in that brief window of time between him having enough energy to teach and him needing full-time nursing care in 1982. Six years later he had finished his book and A Brief History of Time was to go on to sell 12 million copies.

Therefore, it was with some excitement I ventured out last night to see him. It was his 75th birthday last week was due to give a lecture. Also his book has now become an app called Stephen Hawking's Pocket Universe so he was keen to flog that too.

Sadly he was not there in person though as he is ill at the moment so this place was taken by Martin Rees my old Master at Trinity College. Such a shame but Stephen had pre-recorded his talk for us and some answers to pre-submitted questions.

Short answer: robots *will* take over the world, information is never lost, everyone on earth will die eventually, there is no God and the Universe will expand into virtual nothingness.

And, what's this about turtles?

Bertrand Russell once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"
"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady.
"But it's turtles all the way down!"

Monday, January 16, 2017

Essex...

Stu and I met up with Kerry and Fay for lunch on Sunday in Chalkwell. We had a lovely time but the weather was shit.
 
 
 

Friday, January 13, 2017

La La Land...



Stop whatever you are doing right now and go and see La La Land. Right now! It's brilliant. I wept full-on man tears five times. Tears of utter joy. It is fantastic.
You will be dancing out of the cinema and singing the astonishing songs. I have just downloaded the soundtrack and listening to it on repeat. I particularly love Another Day in the Sun and Someone in the Crowd. It has gotta be made into a West End musical!

La La Land is a love letter to LA and people wanting to make it big - but rather than roasting you in a wannabe's naked ambition it lets you swim in cool blue waters of people with potential and passion.

It's not perfect but if Singin' in the Rain is a 10 this is a 9.

The film aside, I had planned to go and see it at The Screen on the Green but it was closed. Shutters down. So missed their early showing. Shame on them. So went to see it at the Vue instead.

After seeing the film I popped into SotG just to say that I had been standing outside in the cold and the guy apologised profusely, offered me a full refund and two free tickets valid for a year at any Everyman cinema. Nice guy.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tube Strike vs. Fitbit...

Tube strike walking to and from work on Monday sure burned up the calories. The driving rain was less than fun though.
 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hedda Gabler...


 

Last night Stuart, Jane, Sara and I went to see Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Lyttelton Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: Great production of a narrowing play. Ruth Wilson is excellent as mad, bad and dangerous to know Hedda.

Ibsen can be a bit downbeat at times and even depressing as we wait for the inevitable in the Norwegian's plays - a major character's suicide. Not quite so here however. It was a night of fraught nerves and violin string-tight emotions.

Ruth Wilson's Hedda was coquettish, playful, and skittish but ultimately a nasty piece of work. For Hedda Gabler is a study of a woman driving for power and control. Recently married to a brilliant but boring academic she feels helplessly trapped and seeks to reject her new life spreading before her. She taunts ex-lovers, bullies her husband, manipulates old school friends, and seems to hate the fact that she is now pregnant.

She soon comes a cropper though as giving alcohol to a recovering alcoholic, a loaded gun to a depressive and blackmail material to a unscrupulous family friend was never going to end well.

An excellent production helped in no small way by Chukwudi Iwuji's Eilert Lövborg and Rafe Spall's Judge Brack who were both particularly compelling.

Recommended: If you like a bit of depressing Norwegian self-destruction.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Saint Joan...


 

Joan of Arc: daughter, farm girl, visionary, patriot, king-whisperer, soldier, leader, victor, icon, radical, witch, heretic, saint, martyr.
Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Shaw's Saint Joan at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy Covent Garden.

Synopsis: There had been a run on eggs and milk and farm girl Joan is hearing voices. Arterton is stylish and engaging as the doomed Joan of Arc.

Bernard Shaw's electrifying classic Saint Joan has been reborn by Josie Rourke here at the Donmar as a modern-day news event. We have large screens bursting into life with breaking news stories about tumbling egg and milk production alongside political scoops and financial machinations.

The core of the story remains the same however. The English are at war with the French and have occupied much of northern France. From the villages comes a girl who appears to hear the voices of St Catherine and St Michael telling her God's word to rid the country of these annoying foreign invaders. People flock to her side and she has many military successes even restoring the Dauphin to the French crown.

Soon she overreaches herself and her iconic status as communicating with the Almighty threatens the Catholic Church who aren't so keen on someone bypassing their own monopoly with God. There will be sparks; this town ain't big enough for the both of us.

Starring the luminescent Gemma Arterton in the titular role the production is a compelling though perhaps not a triumphant one. There is a great supporting cast with many familiar faces however for a play about a woman being burned at the stake the production never really catches fire. It is all very arch and wordy as you might expect from Shaw but with little passion.

Only Arterton's final speech before she goes to the flames has much spunk.

Recommended (if you like Gemma Arterton - which I do - and you like modernist twists - which I only kinda do)

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Stud and The Bitch...

Stu and I spent Sunday afternoon watching a doubleheader of The Stud and The Bitch. Disco-thrusting, It was Oliver Tobias-lusting, Legs & Co-floor-busting fan-flipping-tastic. We were dancing round the room in fits of giggles.

 

Friday, January 06, 2017

My Brother and I...

My brother and I laugh now about how competitive we used to be with each other as kids. But I laugh more.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Mary Stuart...

Last night Stuart, Jane, Sara and I went to see Schiller's political tragedy Mary Stuart at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: Two queens. One in power. One in prison. It's all in the execution. Fantastic show.

Set over one day and taking almost as long to perform(!) the play tells the story of two queens - Elizabeth and Mary. One English and one Scottish. One Protestant and one Catholic. One a bastard and one a true blood. One cursed with doubt and one blessed with a heart.

The Catholics are plotting to overthrow the Protestants (as the Protestants did them) so  Mary as their figurehead is imprisoned - nominally for the murder of her husband Darnley, but actually due to her claim to the throne of England held by Elizabeth. Elizabeth doesn't know what to do with her; she wants to get hid of her but doesn't want to make her a martyr so hesitates over signing Mary's death warrant. It is a hestitaion that may cost her dear.

Elizabeth eventually agrees to meet Mary but things don't go well and after Elizabeth is stabbed suddenly everything moves very, very fast... Mary has to die. Or does she?

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history will know how it plays out but in the end we are left with one Queen. Alone. Heavy weighs the crown.

Playing both Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams trade the play's central roles, decided at each performance by the toss of a coin. We saw Stevenson play Mary and Williams play Elizabeth and fantastic they both were in their roles.

Stevenson's Mary used her earthy charms, she pleaded, she scorned, she fort against the bars of the prison that held her. She was the heart of the play.

Williams's Elizabeth was full of doubt about doing the right thing. She hated the duty that had enslaved her. She understood much but over-thought everything. She was a mass of contradictions. She was the head of the play.

Great supporting cast especially from Vincent Franklin as Lord Burleigh.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

iPad...

I asked Stuart, "Please can you get me a newspaper?"
"Don't be silly," he replied, "you can borrow my iPad."
That spider never knew what fucking hit it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Big Gay Brunch...

We all went out for our annual Big Gay Brunch yesterday. The first picture was how we started off. The second how we ended up!



 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

BGWMC NYE...

We had a fab New Year's Eve at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. All the gang were there - Stu, me, Tim, Andy, Andy, Kev, Michael and Andrew. Gavin and Gareth came too as did Ollie and Marcin. We danced the night away together.

A MISH MASH OF ALL OF OUR FAVE DJS AND ACTS IN ONE PLACE!

Get down and dirty on the dancefloor to sweet sounds of...
DJ SAFARI PHIL (Party Like Its Your B'day)
It's like your dream wedding reception... turned up to 100! You will do the macarena! don't fight it!

IGOR OUTKINE (Eurodisco)
One Man Band accordion explosion! Gotta hear it to believe it!

FABULOUS RUSSELLA (Coney Island Party)
Her BIG glittery lips are here to cook up a storm! She's tooooo fabulous

She brings the heat to Disco 54 and Double R Club... our twisted firestarter...
SNAKE FERVOR
will set our stage alight this NYE!! YOWZA!!

ANNNDDDD.....It's not NYE without....
Mike Myers (Workers Playtime)
Hear this legendary OLD TIME crooner to sing in the new year!




Thursday, December 29, 2016

RIP Debbie Reynolds...

Six years ago Stuart and I were lucky enough to see Debbie Reynolds perform live on the London stage. She was fantastic. This is what I wrote about it at the time.

Debbie Reynolds: Alive and Fabulous...

To kick off our anniversary week Stu and I went to see Debbie Reynolds in her Alive and Fabulous show at the Apollo Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

I've not laughed at the theatre so much for ages. She was very, very funny.

The show consisted of a mix of anecdotes, chatting to the audience, showing us film clips and singing. OK, her voice perhaps wasn't quite what it was but she is seventy-eight. Here are some of the things I remember from the show:-

"Thank you for coming. No one here is under fifty. Not unless someone over fifty bought you. Anyway, it was nice of you to come and see me before I die."

"I was born Mary." (Whoops from man in audience). "Oh, are you a Mary too, dear."

"I won a beauty competition at sixteen - I wanted to win the first prize; a scarf and a blouse. I ended up getting a contract at Warner Brothers."

"My first husband Eddie Fisher left me for Liz Taylor - she being three months older than me. I warned him that she'd dump him after fifteen months - and she did!"

"I'm Princess Leia's mother - that makes me a Queen... (eyes front row)... are you all Queens too?"

She showed many film clips such as 'Singing' in the Rain' and 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' and sang along to all of the songs.

She told a dirty joke: A woman was at a party and said, "If any one can guess what's in my hand they can sleep with me". A man calls out, "an elephant?" The woman says, "close enough!"

She did a lovely 1940s melody and even did a rap to Three Little Fishes and did a bit of Beyoncé's Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). Stu almost wet himself laughing.

"How do I look from up there?", she asked the balcony. "From down here (pointing to the front row again) I look like Lady Gaga."

She did some spot-on impressions too; Mae West, Jimmy Steward, Ethel Merman, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis among others and regaling each with stories from her days in Hollywood. Nice to have someone take the piss who actually knew the originals.

"Judy Garland and I were great friends. I'd put Carrie and Todd to bed and she'd put Liza, Lorna and Joey to bed and I'd go over to Judy's house for a drink. Then we'd wake Liza up and give her some!"

Her impression of Barbara Streisand was something to behold though. She looked, sounded and joked just like her. And it was very, very funny.

All in all Debbie Reynolds is a non-stop all-round old-school entertainer. Real show-biz, with all the razzmatazz of Hollywood. She obviously never wants to leave the stage. Always wanting to be in the spot-light. But it's a spot-light that casts a very long shadow. And I can't imagine how tough it must be having to walk in that shadow all your life (yes, I looking at you Carrie Fisher).

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP George Michael...

The last time we saw George Michael live was in 2012. Such a loss. But fond memories of such a great musician.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Death Knows No Season...

Last night Stuart and I went to see funny guy David Sedaris along with the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform a show entitled Death Knows No Season at the Barbican Hall in London's brutalist Barbican Centre.

Conducted by Giancario Guerrero we were treated to a few Christmas orchestral pieces interlaced with some stories old and new from Master Sedaris.

Nuit of the Living Dead went down best not least because it contained the drowning of a mouse, graveyard zombies (French), and a dead burglar stuck up a chimney.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Peter and The Gang...

Stuart and I had a lovely Xmas meal on Sunday with Peter, Todd, Darren, Roger, Stuart, Luca, Steve and The Gang at the Fentiman Arms in Kennington.

Father Christmas was there to deliver the Secret Santa gifts and we ate and drank until the cows came home. Great fun.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Dawn and The Gang...

Dawn and Al are back from Singapore for a while so they, Stu, Lynda, Jo and Jo all met up for a tipple and a bite at Gem on Upper Street.

Great fun was had by all. (We can see you Lynda!)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story...



(***Mild spoilers***)

The good news about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first in a planned series of stand-alone films set in the Star Wars universe, is that the last half-hour of the film is a sustained stretch of rousing action, indelible images and cliffhanger thrills.

The bad news about “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is that getting to the good stuff is a slog — and the film is pretty long. The inherent problem in a story about the suicide mission to steal the Death Star plans used to blow up the space station at the end of A New Hope is that we already know how it ends. There’s no suspense, no momentum, no stakes.

Don't get me wrong, I love the main Star Wars films and the TV spinoffs but in Rogue One although bits were ok it was all just a bit boring. I wanted to be excited, but was anything but. Someone walked out at our screening. I yawned and looked at my watch a few times.

It took an hour and a half to get going which for a 2-hour film was just too long to wait.

And when it did get going I didn't really much like the plot or ultimately what happen to the characters to be honest. I think I prefer my Star Wars films to have a driving and surprising plot with strong characters who become heroes and heroines using the Force to fight evil baddies - not trench warfare. There was just too much "Wars" and not enough "Star" for me. The space fights were fun but all too brief.

It was just all too messy, too bleak and too dark for my taste. So dark in fact that often I couldn't see what was happening on the screen.

The comic relief, such as it was, came from K-2SO, the scene-stealing military droid voiced by Alan Tudyk. But his impression of Marvin the Paranoid Android "Life? Don't talk to me about life. Brain the size of a planet..." etc. did little to raise a smile. No one else in the film seemed to smile anyway. They all looked pretty miserable.

And where was the opening title Star Wars text crawl?! Crime! Not even a blast of John Williams’ symphonic score! Sacrilege!

And as for "bringing back" or reanimating characters? They looked OK. But not quite OK enough in my opinion. It was distracting to watch. Their lack of facial movement made them look like Botox models and made me not really listen to what they were saying.

Maybe churning out one new Star Wars film per year is just too much. Or maybe it's just that in my humble opinion this particular story is an unnecessary backfill to a plot point in the mythology whereas I wanted the mythology itself to be extended with new stores in new directions. I wanted A New Hope.

So what I'm really saying is I just don't like prequels!

My Top 5 Star Wars Films
1. Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. The Force Awakens
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Rogue One

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Essex Christmas...

We were back at The Railway for our Essex Christmas get together last Saturday. And guess who got roped into playing Father Christmas? Or (with John-Paul on the fart machine) Farter Christmas. 

The adults laughed their socks off. The kids hated it. Ho ho no.
 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sky Feature Requests...

I’m fairly new to Sky TV but just wondered if there is a poll somewhere that Sky could run to gauge the most requested features for the various Sky apps / platforms / web sites?

If so here are a few I'd like to add:-

14-day EPG across all platforms
I'm sure this is much requested but I have to put it as my top request

"Never Miss" emails to be for recordable show times only
I get "Never Miss" emails from Sky - great idea - but they sometimes tell me about a show on this very day but next week i.e. in 7 days’ time but the Sky TV guide counts it as 8 days’ time. I got an email today Monday for a show on next Monday but I can't schedule the recording because of the EPG limit.

Discover new programmes as really NEW in the EPG
Some shows have the word NEW in their title but not all. It would be great if there was a proper 'new' flag for programmes that could be used so when you search or you have a series record it could be set to record 'new' programmes - the definition of 'new' to be agreed. Let's say I was to record new showings of The Simpsons but not every single repeat (of which there are many).

Edit Existing Scheduled Series Recordings
On the Sky Q you can see what individual shows are scheduled to be recorded in the next 7 days but you can't seem to list or edit the series links behind them. I have a feeling I have a long list of series links but can't list them do delete or edit unwanted ones so odd programs are being recorded I no longer want.

Create Auto Record Schedules from Search
It would be great to be able to search for a word - say "Arsenal" - channel "Sky Sports" - show type "live" - and save this with an auto record setting. Or say "Brad Pitt" - channel "Sky Movies" etc.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Red Shoes...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see The Red Shoes at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

This most recent of Matthew Bourne's works is perhaps not his best but certainly worth a visit. Kate Bush thought so anyway!

Based on the 1948 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film which itself was based upon the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes is a story of obsession.

Vicky is an aspiring ballet dancer whose leap forward from the back row to that of prima ballerina catches the eye of Boris, the ruthless but charismatic impresario of the Ballet Lermontov.

However, Vicky's heart lies with young composer Julian and a bitter love triangle ensues.

Julian writes a new ballet for Vicky called "The Red Shoes" which is a big hit. Only the obsession with which her character wears the ill-fated red shoes in the ballet seems to be bleeding into real life too. An obsession that will have fatal consequences.

Good toes, bad toes.

As the story itself is about a ballet dancer inevitably the work has a lot more ballet in it than a contemporary dance show. And this is perhaps it's only weakness. Most of Bourne's works play with subverting traditional ballet clichés and his dance moves are often innovative and witty. Here however his feet are rather tied. As The Red Shoes is about ballet it really does have to contain a lot of traditional ballet in it.

Luckily when the action moves from Monte Carlo to London's East End the humour of the piece is more apparent but despite the auteur's masterly attempts it never reaches the giddy heights of say The Car Man, Swan Lake or Edward Scissorhands.

Good try. Worth a visit.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Rent...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the opening night of New York set musical Rent at the St James Theatre in London's (soon to be) glitzy (when is it going to be finished) Victoria.

Synopsis: Surprisingly good, spirited performances of the Jonathan Larson's classic rock (La Bohème inspired) musical. A bit dated but great fun. Angel steals the show.

Now, we've seen some pretty rubbish things over the years at the St James Theatre (yes, we're looking at you McQueen). And although Stuart is (or was) a big fan of Rent as a piece of work recent listening to the Original Broadway Cast recordings had rather put him off. I'd never seen the show myself but to be honest when I too listened to the cast recordings I wasn't filled with much hope either. Self-absorbed losers wringing their hands, singing about killing a dog and a cow jumping over the moon? No, thanks.

But how wrong we both were. Our low expectations proved totally unfounded. The admittedly rather dated story of poverty, angst and HIV set in New York City in the 1990 proved to be highly entertaining. It was funny, heart-felt and sexy.

And it was all down to the wonderful cast.

Sure, the setting was fairly standard NYC fayre - the sort of place you might find on Sesame Street with burning braziers, graffiti, discarded supermarket trollies and wrought-iron fire escapes. Sure, the on-set band played excellently. And sure, the sound and lighting were as good as you would expect to see in any West End show.

But it was the cast that made the story come alive. Even the weaker songs were sung with gusto. Bruce Gutherie direction was spot on too with Lee Proud's Hot Gossipy dancing making full use of Anna Fleischle vertical set.

Philippa Stefani's sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll Mimi was the perfect femme fatale match to Ross Hunter's tortured aspiring songwriter Roger. Her set-shaking performance of Out Tonight was excellent.

Ryan O'Gorman played Tom Collins as a sexy beefcake wearing what are probably the tightest pair of jeans I've even seen on stage. It wasn't just my eyes that were bulging. Hubba hubba.

Even Lucie Jones as fly-by-night lesbian singer Maureen made the piss-poor song Over the Moon fun.

Other notable stand-out ensemble songs were the renditions of Rent, La Vie Bohème, and Seasons of Love.

Best song of the night: Tango Maureen as sung by Billy Cullum as jilted Mark and Shanay Holmes as soon to be jilted Joanne.

The absolutely stand out performance of the night though was Layton Williams as Angel. When he sang Today 4 U complete with high-heeled, drag queen back flips it brought the house down and the audience to its feet. Simply sensational.

Go see.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Wolverhampton Tourism 1972...

"What can you do in Wolverhampton?"
"Nothing."

"Can you think of anywhere nicer to go than Wolverhampton?"
"Majorca."

"It's hardly Monte Carlo but it's quieter than Blackpool.."

News item from ATV Today: 20/06/1972 called "Wolverhampton Holiday Town"

video


http://www.macearchive.org/Archive/Title/atv-today-20061972-wolverhampton-holiday-town/MediaEntry/1205.html

John Swallow report about a new initiative to attract tourists to the town of Wolverhampton.

 John Swallow piece to camera standing in the centre of Wolverhampton (he describes the town and also says that it is his home town).

 We then see traffic in the town centre, an industrial canal and a park (some of these shots are mute).

 Next, Swallow conducts vox pops asking local people what any potential holidaymakers would find to do in Wolverhampton.

 Next we see mute shots of the exterior of the Queen's Ballroom and restaurant, posters for Asian cinema and several signs for bingo halls.

 Swallow then interviews Peter Wills about a scheme to attract tourists to Wolverhampton (Wills appears to work for a local hotel although his exact role is not known).

 Finally Swallow ends the item with another piece to camera sitting in a deck chair: "It's hardly Monte Carlo but it's quieter than Blackpool.."

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Great Tower for London...

Here's a scan of 68 bat-shit crazy designs the Victorians proposed for a Great Tower for London. Why? Because Paris just got the Eiffel Tower and we had to do bigger and better. My fave is #6, with the spiral steam train driving up the side. What happened in the end? We got discouraged and gave up - oh, London, don't ever change!

Descriptive illustrated catalogue of the sixty-eight competitive designs for the great tower for London
http://www.archive.org/stream/descriptiveillus00lynd#page/n3/mode/2up