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“You have a woman’s hand m’Time Lord!” Enter Doctor Thirteen!

16 Jul

Whittaker

Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, Davison, Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Capaldi…Whittaker.

I’ve been watching Doctor Who since “Horror of Fang Rock” in 1977, when I got put in front of the telly as a little kid to watch this (frankly) scary as hell and occasionally subversive series. Doctor Who was just coming out of its ‘gothic’ period, led by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, and in retrospect is not the kind of show you’d necessarily think best suited to the average five year old, but that edge of scariness and the sheer imagination of many of its stories is a gift at any age. I’ve been wondering if the fact that the lead character was played by a man was pivotal to me enjoying it back then and ever since, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think it would have mattered. Having said that, I’m not sure the series could have started with anyone other than William Hartnell in the role, and a female Doctor might not have worked until now. I just hope Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker has been chosen because she IS The Doctor and not because she’s a woman.

Former Doctor Tom Baker teased us with the idea of a lady Doctor on his departure from the role in 1981, and Who co-creator Sydney Newman once suggested it’d be something for the series to do one day. That day has finally come, in a decision that is going to prove divisive to fans of the 53 year old series. But while it’s easy to think that Hartnell may have struggled with the idea, I do like to believe that somewhere, original producer and co-creator Verity Lambert is smiling. After all, if it wasn’t for a remarkable woman, Doctor Who might never have got started.

As for the character of The Doctor, I would like to think as an extraterrestrial, the fact he or she has a human-like body of either gender will not make much difference to this most asexual of television heroes.

Jodie Whittaker: Welcome on board the TARDIS.

 

(P.S. Major kudos for anyone who recognises the reference in the blog title!)

Peter Capaldi will appear in his final episode of Doctor Who on BBC1, Christmas Day 2017.

Project 22: beautiful faces for a beautiful cause.

25 Jun

For the past months now, the second floor studio of St. George’s House in Bolton has been home to photographer John Bentley, who has been a man with a rather big project on his hands. Some doubters may have even suggested it was a project that was far too big for one man, but regardless of the challenges, John has largely met his challenge. And what was this challenge? To photograph 2,222 images of faces between the new year and June, all in aid of a worthy cause: The Lagan’s Foundation to supply home respite and support services for young children with heart defects and feeding issues across the UK.

 

Intrigued and inspired by the apparent significance of the number 22 in his life, John settled on his ambitious number of portraits. Having pared down that final number to ensure completion, John has worked morning, noon and often night to complete his project. The final aim is to have a minimum of 222 portraits to present at an exhibition at The Gallery At St George’s House, Bolton this Summer, although he has taken so many more. Sadly, you’ve missed your chance if you wanted to get your photograph taken for this astounding endeavour, but you can still see John’s exhibition and support a very commendable cause. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then John has provided beautiful insights into each of those and given us a strong clear, message: we’re all beautiful in all our own special ways. What better message to give while supporting a noble cause. In addition, ensure you come down to St. George’s House in July to view these remarkable pictures.

Hopefully John is quite happy to have some extra promotion, or as he once said to me, “F*** off, Simon!” Seriously though, you won’t find anyone who hasn’t had a fun and often self affirming experience being involved in this project, and we all owe John a great lot of thanks, as do the Lagan’s Foundation for the generous support.

To find out more and to make a donation, go to John’s site:

http://fourtwographs.co.uk/project-22/

 

Project 22 is a photographic exhibition by John Bentley, showing at The Gallery at St. George’s House, Bolton, from 7th July (9am-5pm) to 8th July (10am-2pm),

A UK election analogy: A New Hope

2 Jun

general-dodonna-in-the-briefing-room-pyxurz-blogspot-com

With respect to George Lucas.

 

These are OUR Election Wars. Not so long in the future, in a galaxy not so far away…

The Tory Government is heavily shielded from criticism and carries media firepower greater than the other parties. Its defences are designed around a direct, large scale campaign assault. The everyday votes of the apathetic, young, infirm and the poor, however, should be able to penetrate the Tory majority.

The Conservatives don’t consider these good people to be of any threat, or they wouldn’t need so much defence around their policies; with no consideration for these voters. An analysis of the Conservative manifesto demonstrates huge weaknesses, that no amount of sound bites can disguise. But our approach will not be easy. We will be required to manoeuvre through Tory controlled media which will merely skim the surface when discussing Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to promote him as unelectable. The target is only open for one day. It’s a small new hope, dependent on the right votes. The positive result leads right to number 10 Downing Street. A precise amount of greater votes will start a chain reaction which will oust the Conservative government from power. Only the right, humane and considered votes from the masses will set off this chain reaction. The government is controlled by Tories with no consideration for the common man or woman, so you’ll have to use your humanity.

On June the 8th, man your polling stations. And may the Left be with you.

Labour 2017

Review: John Cale presents The Velvet Underground and Nico, at Liverpool Sound City (26th May 2017)

30 May

Velvets John Cale

Of all the revered groups of the ‘60s, none probably deserve the accolade of most influential group like The Velvet Underground. An east coast contrast to the (superficially) loved up Summer of Love, mainly concentrated on the sunny west coast, The Velvets were a very uncommercial consideration in 1967. But, years later, Brian Eno famously quipped that although their debut album had only sold 30, 000 copies, every one of those people formed their own band.

Fast forward fifty years, and the band’s most famous and successful member is no longer with us. Lou Reed’s death, and that of Sterling Morrison and chanteuse Nico, leaves only founding member John Cale and drummer Mo Tucker. Not one to get overly nostalgic, Cale felt an overwhelming urge to pay recognition to The Velvet’s legacy and fans by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground and Nico, which leads us to this first of two celebratory concerts (the second to take place, quite naturally, in New York).

My first reaction to the music was how strange it was to hear it at what was essentially a stadium gig. The album’s dark and insular themes are perhaps best suited to a more intimate environment, most likely an indoor one, so hearing The Velvet’s music in a stadium setting was a surprise to the senses, but not a completely unwelcome or unsuccessful one.

Cale

 

Taking place on the first night of Liverpool’s annual Sound City urban festival, Cale’s performance took place in a post-industrial wasteland not entirely in tune with The Velvet’s nilisitic and bleak New York origins, but not entirely at odds with it either. The dead pan cool of the band’s hey day was reinforced through a selection of images projected onto the huge screens at either side of the stage. What didn’t serve the music as well were a less than dominant sound system and a rosta of supporting players who were of variable quality. Cale started proceedings with a decent performance of ‘Waiting for the man’, although he would struggle to replicate Reed’s scornful vocals throughout, but would return to the microphone at several points in the concert. In-between, however, appeared a mixture of the very good to the mediocre. The Kills’ Alison Mossheart in memorable leather clad rock chick glory, contrasted with my favourite Velvet’s song ‘All tomorrow’s Parties’ , unfortunately diluted by Lias Saoudi from The Fat White Family. Far better when Saoudi tackled the glorious cacophony that is ‘Heroin’, with a lot more verve, and Nadije Shah delivered a pleasing ‘Femme Fatale’. None of the album’s songs were played in original order, but mixed up with other Velvets tracks. I didn’t mind this; any pretence to presenting these songs as some first heard them in 1967 or actually on disc, was quickly abandoned. That was wise; rather than a note by note reproduction, this was more of a celebration of that music’s essence, in a setting unfamiliar to the ‘60s Factory crowd.

The concert ended with an epic version of ‘Sister Ray’, where the numerous guests appeared to surrender to the music and offer their best. Cale was present throughout, an obvious talent and occasionally eager to show off his viola skills. Cutting a stylish and relatively youthful looking figure, despite his white hair, Cale remains the only original Velvets band member to remain musically active. While this might not be his finest hour, it was still an engrossing presentation of a songbook that continues to influence and inspire. While Cale is not a man who usually looks back with obvious nostalgia, and despite any weaknesses in the presentation, I was very glad he had made an exception.

 

From Rolling Stone Magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/john-cale-on-the-chaos-of-velvet-underground-w470828

John Cale will also perform The Velvet Underground and Nico with The Wordless Music Orchestra, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City, on November 16th and 17th.

 

Photograph used with respect from Liverpool ECHO site.

A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar

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My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1967/03/30/cover-shoot-for-sgt-pepper/

 

Same procedure as last year?

1 Jan

dinner-for-one

As we enter another year on the Gregorian Calendar, I was reminded of a slightly eccentric tradition from Germany and other European nations. Now, Germany introduced us Brits to the Christmas Tree, which on reflection is a pretty odd idea, with more than a little pagan influence about it. Putting a full sized Douglas Fir in your living room is a pretty bizarre idea, whichever way you look at it, let alone decorating it. In more recent decades the Germans still haven’t let us down. Where UK television prides itself on the Queen’s Speech, German television have been repeating a archaic black and white comedy sketch for the last fifty years. As odd as it seems, this has become an expected tradition. Apparently their festive viewing wouldn’t be the same without it. The television recording in question is Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday (German: Der 90. Geburtstag)

I first became aware of it last year, when a colleague commented on the agenda for some student assessments. “Same procedure as every year, James”, he said. I had to ask, “who’s James?”, and he explained the reference to me.  This is the catchphrase uttered throughout the sketch, and is also the final comedic pay off. Ironically, for a sketch by a British writer, originated in England and performed in English, the sketch is largely unknown in Britain and other English speaking countries, although social media is making it better known than it was.  A major tradition in Germany, where half the population watch it every year, its charms have spread to other lands. As Wikipedia informs me, the sketch is also regularly broadcast and enjoyed in “Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands and Austria; on New Year’s Eve 2003 alone, the sketch was broadcast 19 times (on various channels). As of 2005, the sketch had been repeated more than 230 times. It is known in other countries as well, including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and South Africa” (of all other places).

An admittedly farcical but highly amusing piece of comedy from, Dinner for One revolves around the birthday dinner of upper class Englishwoman Miss Sophie. Miss Sophie’s male suitors have all died, but the table is set for them, with Miss Sophie’s butler James serving all four imaginary male guests, and drinking their alcohol as he does so, getting progressively more drunk, while failing to avoid tripping over a tiger skin rug. The reiterated instruction throughout is, “the same procedure as every year, James!”, which is repeated to rather more lewd and hilarious effect at the end.

So, as a treat for any of you who have never seen it, here is Dinner for One, filmed in 1963, but written by Lauri Wylie as early as the 1920s, and performed by May Warden and Freddie Frinton. Also, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this at any other time, in which case, do keep up!)

May all your procedures for this year be the best ones and do your very best!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinner_for_One

An adventure in South East Asia. Part 3: Bangkok to Siem Reap by train, tuk tuk and taxi. An (almost) fool proof guide!

29 Aug

If you’re ever paying a visit to Thailand and also wish to include Cambodia in your travel plan, there is a travel method that will offer you almost unbelievable value for money but also a bit of an adventure along the way. Now, if you want a stress free, excitement free journey with no surprises, then this won’t be for you. But with flights at around the $200 mark, a journey costing less than $35 seems a no-brainer, and could also be a lot of fun. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s extremely doable!

 

So, with a few video prompts, here’s my (almost) fool proof step by step guide for getting from Bangkok in Thailand to Siem Reap in Cambodia (which for most tourists, is where you’ll want to go, being near the giant Angkor temple complex).

Buses are also available for this journey, but as with aeroplanes, that won’t offer you the cheapest journey, although it could be quicker. It won’t be as fun though, trust me on that.

 

  1. Get up early.

The train from Hualamphong Station leaves at 5:55am, so give yourself enough time to get up, get ready and get a taxi (unless you’re fortunate enough to be very near the station). Tickets can be purchased on the day for just 48bt. There are separate windows for advance tickets and same day travel. Basically, a reservation is not required for the Aranyaprathet train so you can just turn up on the day and buy a ticket.

Here is me, one very rainy morning in Bangkok, struggling to find the lights, and not wake up my hostel guests at 4 in the morning:

  1. Make sure you’re on the right train and platform at Hualamphong Station. As mentioned, the train to Aranyaprathet leaves at 5:55am, and you can buy your ticket on the day, but get there in time! In the video clip it sounds like I say the ticket is “five baht”, which I can’t remember saying, but if that is what I actually said, it’s wrong. Five baht would be next to nothing, and as I do say later, the actual price is 48bt at the time of writing (which is less than £1).

 

  1. The train journey to Aranyaprathet.

 

There are two trains departing for the town of Aranyaprathet, which is nearest you can get to by train to the Cambodian border. I strongly recommend getting up early and on the 5:55am train. There is a second train, daily, at 1:05pm, but as the jorney to Siem Reap can take up to 12 hours, I would avoid this train; you could be arriving in Siem Reap very late, which could cause problems with hostels, hotels and guest house arrivals, not to mention any delays getting through immigration.

The actual train journey can take up to six hours, so take some food and entertainment with you (books, ipod, etc).

 

  1. The journey from Aranyaprathet to the border.

Once you arrive at Aranyaprathet you are still nearly 4 miles (6km) from the border, so will need to secure a tuk tuk for this part of the journey. I don’t advise walking, particularly in the heat! You will need to negotiate the tuk tuk fare, which will be around 100bt, and make sure your driver drops you off at the actual border. Be warned, as the official Cambodia visa office is located after the Thai border exit (near the rather impressive entrance gate feature).  Until you’re exiting Thailand, do not get your stamp from anywhere else. Do not go in these fake visa offices, as you will end up paying extra, The $30-$40 you pay (either before for an e-visa or on the day) is all you need to pay. Avoid the fraudsters!

20160721_115805

If you can see this, you’re almost in Cambodia!

So, here’s me in a tuk tuk. I look terrible, I have to admit. I’m drenched with sweat, already slightly delirious from the heat and looking like I’ve had about three hours sleep. All of these would be true!

 

  1. Exit Thailand, Enter Cambodia!

At the border exit you will find two queues, so get in the one for tourists, and not Thais. You will then get your official stamp in your passport from an official immigration officer. Make sure it IS stamped properly, for reasons I will share with you later. Depending on the time of the week this could take a while, so be prepared for long queues at certain times.

Your walk to the border will involve a walk  across the ‘Friendship Bridge’ and under the ‘Welcome to Cambodia sign. At this point you’ll almost be home free! But don’t start kissing each other just yet. Just to remind you: If you haven’t bought a Cambodia e-visa in advance, now’s the time to get a Cambodia visa! Cambodia visas are available on the border for US $20 in the visa office after walking across the bridge. It’s a fixed proice, but this is Cambodia, so if you want your journey speeding up I’m sure you can add a few dollars on top of that for the privilege. What you will learn about this otherwise beautiful country, is that they will happily take your money at any given opportunity.

 

  1. On to Siem Reap!

I believe there is a free bus from Piopet to Siem Reap, but I only saw a bus for $10. Thisis the same amount I paid for an air conditioned taxi, which I shared with two others, One of them was a fascinating guy from India, who was a well travelled individual with lots of tales. This made the two hour journey to Siem Reap fly by. He was meeting his European girlfriend in Phnom Pehn the next day and his brother runs a decent guesthouse and bar in Siem Reap (‘The River Queen’) It’s amazing the amount of wonderful people you can meet if you’re open to the experience. We covered lots of topics, but I do strongly recall talking about tigers in India and how mind blowing India is, even for someone who was born there. If you leave for a few months and return, you’ll need extra time to re-acclimatise to the vibrant culture that is India. Goa is not India, was the final verdict on where to go if you want an authentic Indian experience.

Anyway, I digress! Back to Cambodia and the journey to Siem Reap! You’ll be in Piopet at this stage, and what a treat that will be. No, I’m not being serious. It’s ****ing awful. Piopet is like Mos Eisley in Star Wars or a cheap Western; a dust-bowl of a town with dodgy bars and casinos, and you will be glad to see the back of it. As I will tell you in a later blog, I had the misfortune to return!

Here are a few video recorded words of wisdom from me at the location:

 

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  1. Arrival in Siem Reap.
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One hour out of Siem Reap…almost there!

Hopefully you’ve survived your journey and ultimately arrive unscathed in the French colonial styled town of Siem Reap, which I’ll tell you more about next time.

 

If you’ve followed these directions and it’s all worked out: well done! Go and get yourself a cool drink and relax! You made it!

Siem Reap

The centre of Siem Reap. Get a beer in. Infact, get two, You deserve it!