Let's Make This Precious

Carping from the sidelines

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The debate rumbles Clarkson and on and on....

Given that this blog has pretty much fallen into disuse I've offered it to my friend and aspiring journalist Kayleigh Fail to have a go at writing a topical opinion piece. She's asked me to introduce her as the columnist who's not afraid to say what we're all thinking and she's got some hot opinions on some recent news stories.
Jeremy Clarkson has been causing a storm in the press again for all the wrong reasons and I for one would be happy to see the car mad Top Gear presenter driven from our screens! It's scandalous that the BBC would broadcast the presenter saying that public sector strikers should be shot and at a time of the day when impressionable young people might be watching! Have we forgotten Columbine? I'm not saying any schoolchildren will take smug Clarkson's odious advice onboard but can we rule it out?
I'm proud to be British and I'm proud of our public sector workers, I'm not paying my licence fee so that the BBC can let Clarkson broadcast views as noxious as the fumes from his many gas guzzling motor vehicles! Isn't it about time we stopped paying through the nose to shore up the must-do-Better Broadcasting Corporation.

Elsewhere, I see that Auntie Beeb has BANNED Jeremy Clarkson's appearance on top telly quiz show QI. The hilarious show, fronted by national treasure Stephen Fry, is a highlight of the weekly television schedules, the sort of quality programmes that justifies the licence fee but with its exclusion of hilariously anti-PC Clarkson the Beeb have really shot themselves in the foot! The car crazy presenter could have been a driving force on an episode of the hit show but once again the BBC has pandered to the PC brigade who don't want to see freedom of speech on the BBC.
I'm proud to be British and I think the British Broadcasting Corporation should be a bastion of free speech in Britain today. Unfortunately dear old auntie has once again failed to stand up to its critics. The woolly liberal yoghurt knitters have taken umbrage at Clarkson's recent light hearted remarks about the public sector strikes. Using quotes out of context to back up their opinions and the BBC have crumbled before them. Once again the Political Correctness, Health and Safety Mob has won the day. If the BBC isn't going to use our licence fee to defend free speech from the Eurocrats at the EU then maybe we should be questioning if that licence fee couldn't be put to better use?
Especially when they keep using that licence fee to broadcast rubbish like QI another so-called "star" vehicle for former jailbird Stephen Fry. Another misstep by the beeb who continue to back this wayward "comedian" even after he made a documentary all about depression that could well encourage this country's youth to seek out a life of mental illness, taken in by the glamour of Fry's celebrity lifestyle and celebrity chums! Anyway, my friend Jan Moir tells me she thinks Fry might be one of them and she should know, she writes for a proper paper and everything!


Thanks Kayleigh, that's about all we've got space for write now but I'm sure that's not the last we've heard from you!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What I did on my Holidays...

I'm writing this on the last day of a weeklong family holiday and what an idyllic week it's been! Cast adrift on a raft of rest and relaxation I've hardly bothered wearing, let alone checking my watch. Then again of course I can always check the time on my phone. That's the same phone that also provides near constant internet access.

The Wi-Fi at this particular, popular leisure complex is patchy at best but nonetheless wherever possible I've been glued to the little screen checking Facebook, Twitter, my hotmail account and of course the Chortle message boards. Some of this time is spent usefully, trying to arrange spots or confirm myself for various gigs but much of it much less usefully, seeing who got the gig I turned down to go away or looking for gigs I couldn't possibly do because I'm away on my holidays.

This, you see, is my first holiday since I started doing stand up last October and I'm finding it hard to let go and relax. Now that I've caught the comedy bug it's difficult to switch off and relax. I miss performing and I miss attending all the open mic nights on my local scene, seeing new acts and catching up with my comedy 'colleagues'. Don't get me wrong. I've not completely forgotten how to enjoy myself. For example, I'm writing this first draft in a gift-shop-bought notepad while I wait for my family who will be joining me shortly for a much anticipated Italian meal. (If this bit makes it through to the finished article you can assume that the restaurant was every bit as good as we had hoped, my compliments to the chef!)

But even so holidays never used to be like this! They used to be an oasis of calm, a chance to block out the outside world and thoughts of the spirit sapping 9-5 to which I would all too soon be returning. There is still an element of that, It'll be a fair old while yet before comedy success allows me to quit the day job. But for the first time I find myself compelled to break the tranquil bubble of holiday isolation with this overriding interest in the outside world and events back home.

I feel like a workaholic character at the start of a 1980s movie. I've no doubt that through a series of comic misadventures I'll learn a valuable lesson about the value of quality time with loved ones. At that point I'll probably quit my job at the metaphorical law firm and set up a family bakery but for now I'm still very much at the opening titles, shouting into a brick sized mobile phone while dated synthesizers play a jaunty opening theme.

So are all my holidays going to be like this from now on? Does this mean I've finally found a job I actually care about? Is this the price I'll pay for continuing to be excited about comedy? Is this the trade off for still getting that buzz when I get onstage and missing it whenever I take a week off? Will I never again truly get away from it all because I'm far too excited about the prospect of getting back to it all? Because if so, frankly, I'm ok with that...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Film Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey's latest film is a beautifully put together piece of cinema. It's well shot, tightly edited, everything on screen looks great. It has an upbeat pop soundtrack and coasts along on charming performances. Carrey is typically energetic and charismatic as a gay conman Stephen Russell who falls for a fellow prison inmate and Ewan McGregor is likeable in the title role. Unfortunately, there's not much to this film beneath the glossy surface.

Despite being based on a true story, and featuring a car crash, a suicide attempt and spells in prison, the film has no dramatic tension. You never really get the sense that Russell is in any serious jeopardy. Instead the film is played as broad comedy but without enough laughs to really work on that level either. The film seems emotionally empty.
When it does eventually come, the emotional wallop in this film is jarring, almost like something from another movie. As if aware that the audience wont be too emotionally invested in the characters the score goes into overdrive to compensate. Plinking piano and keening strings toy unmercilessly with your emotions.
The film ends with a neat twist and actually succeeds in leaving you feeling like you've seen something of worth and substance. The trouble is you need to endure about eighty minutes of glib, lukewarm comedy to get there. I wasn't sure the payoff was worth it.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Film Review: Nine

WARNING: This review contains massive spoilers. Normally I'd take some care to avoid giving too much away but Nine is so utterly awful I'm not bothered. So if you are determined to put yourself through this particular cinematic experience then you'd best skip this review but don't say you weren't warned.

So why so bad? Well, firstly any decent musical needs decent songs. In Nine they are sorely lacking. Everything is mid-paced and plodding, clearly expensively arranged but lacking in memorable melodies or lyrics. I was convinced these weak efforts must have been composed especially for the film and was astounded to learn from the end credits that Nine is actually a successful broadway show.

Compare it to director Rob Marshall's previous musical hit, Chicago. I saw that years ago but I can still recall snatches of the words and tunes. I saw Nine this afternoon and the songs have just gone. I couldn't sing one line back to you if my life depended on it. Not that it can be easy to write lyrics for a show like this. Musicals generally use songs to establish character or drive the plot forward but Nine has no decent characters and a plot that is paper thin.

Star Daniel Day Lewis plays film director Guido Contini, the only significant(and only singing) male character and both his songs are solo so there's none of the romantic or sexual chemistry you might expect from a musical starring so many attractive actresses. Each of the women in Guido's life use their songs to bemoan their lot or else to play out his sexual fantasies. Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and the rest do their best with what they're given and look stunning but none of the female characters have any depth and they rarely interact with anyone apart from Guido.

Judi Dench manages to steal several scenes as head of the costume department but Day Lewis' character is really the only one with any substance. He's struggling to find inspiration for a new big budget film and flits from one sexy muse to the next with filming just days away. He dallies with a mistress, tries to keep his wife sweet and talks to the Pope. Some flashbacks to Catholic school fill in a perfunctory backstory. It's hard to sympathise however, as he stumbles from woman to woman and frets about his inability to get a script together. It's also hard to figure out why this selfish, childish man is so irresistable to so many attractive women. Sure, he's looking good for a guy pushing 50 and he's clearly charming at auditions but we are forced to accept that a great deal of his appeal lies in his genius for writing and directing, none of which we get to see.

At the end of the film we see Guido about to film a pivotal 'reconciliation' scene for a new movie which, it is implied, may help him win back the wife whose patience finally ran out. Perhaps at last we might be let in on his way with words? But no, the moment he says action the screen all too predictably fades to black and the credits roll. This film left me feeling both, "Really, is that it?" and, "Thank God that's over!" at the same time. The message seems to be, lifes tough for attractive, successful movie directors. We should all know such hardship.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Cider Diaries-25/2/09

Firstly, I should probably apologise both for the lateness and the poor quality of the posts that will follow, recounting from now up until April. Most of the writing up of the cider diaries had been done on Ceri's laptop back at Fog and Ceri's place, mostly while we were drinking, and when his laptop broke I'm afraid I let the writing slide as well. In my defence I've been working two jobs and trying to have some sort of social life as well and writing eats up a lot of time. The laptop is fixed now so I guess it's up to me to play catch up. Anyway, back to the task in hand....

Fog and I met up with Kyle and our friend Jess in Juno Lounge, a classy local bar that has a great relaxed atmosphere and serves great food. But we weren't there to eat. We were there to drink a cider. A very special cider....

76. Stowford Press Traditional Draught Cider
This cider has long been Fog's favourite cider but this year he had managed to make it nearly to the end of February without enjoying a single pint of the stuff. I had managed to convince him that we should put it off, as something to look forward to. Even after 75 other ciders Fog's adour hadn't dampened. He proclaimed it his favourite so far. He loved it in fact.

At first Jess didn't join us on the Stowford Press, preferring to stick to wine. She did give our pints a sniff and declared that it smelled like pot pourri. I imagined that to be a compliment until she elaborated. "You know? Like those bowls of stale smelly petals people use to stink out their bathrooms?" Nevertheless she did join us for a pint a little later.

Fog was right. While it wasn't my favourite cider it was a very enjoyable drop and there was no way we could stop at just one pint. But there was yet another cider waiting for us back at Fog's flat so after four-or was it five?-pints we left Juno lounge and headed for (Fog's) home.

76. Cornish Rattler
This cider was gifted to us by Kyle and the three of us, me, Fog and Kyle enjoyed it in front of an episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie. I'll be honest. I wasn't in the best state to be judging a new cider at this point but I found Cornish Rattler to be very sharp, almost acidic. I wasn't drinking very fast and ended up taking it back to my house to finish off while I cooked some chicken wings.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Cider Diaries-22/2/09

Without further preamble lets get on with things...

70. Aspell's Premier Cru
We started today's cider drinking with another Aspell's cider in its distinctively shaped bottle. This one was a fair bit stronger than the other Aspell's ciders and you could taste it. I much preferred the other Aspell's ciders but Fog and Ceri got stuck in. "Oh, lovely," was Fog's considered opinion, "beautiful!"

71. Gwatkin Golden Valley Cider
Our friend Owen provided this cider this cider on his safe return from a trip to deepest, darkest mid Wales. He'd only managed to escape with one bottle of the stuff, which we divided between ourselves but nonetheless we were suitably grateful. God knows we don't want to venture up into that wilderness if we don't have to. It was a strong tasting cider, the sort of drink that would put off some sort of fly by night, cider casual poseur but Fog and I are hardened cider drinkers and we've learned to appreciate ciders beyond the mass produced Strongbows and Magners of this world. As such we really quite enjoyed this cider and would welcome a second bottle sometime.

72. Taunton Old Somerset Medium Cider
This was a particularly bland and uninspiring cider, barely worthy of the few words I have devoted to it here.

73. The Orchard Pig Lightly Sparkling Dry Cider
There have been ciders before, and there will be ciders again, that have the word dry on their label and yet taste fairly sweet and mild. This however was a dry cider. Really dry. How can pouring a liquid into your mouth actually make you feel parched? It's a clever trick but not really a good one.

Fog and Ceri both agreed this was too dry to really enjoy it. It was even dryer than the Tillington Hills we had tried in January. Despite this we had a feeling we might enjoy the next cider...

74. The Orchard Pig Lightly Sparkling Medium Cider
Although The Orchard Pig dry cider was too dry there was a quality to the underlying flavour. Collectively we felt the the medium version was going to be something pretty special. Unfortunatly it didn't quite live up to our expectations. It was nice enough but in fact it was a bit too sweet. I guess we're just impossible to please.

75. Sainsbury's Original Somerset Cider
This cider is the big brother of the Sainsbury's low alcohol cider we tried a few weeks ago. That one turned out to taste pretty much like apple juice but I was hoping for a little more from this, given the higher alcohol content. Sadly it was just as bad as the low alcohol cider. Very disapointing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Cider Diaries-18/2/09

I invited Fog round for a cider at my house on Wednesday. It was another picked up at T&As, next to Koko Gorilaz.

67. Nectar's Finest Pear Cider
We weren't too impressed by this cider, it had a funny aftertaste that I couldn't quite place. Fog was amused by the bottle's label, which suggested we try adding some blackcurrent to the cider. That's real confidence in your product right there. It was Fog who hit the nail on the head when he said, "It does taste of pears but it tastes of pears that are over-ripe." As bad as it was, this first cider had given us a taste for more ciders so we headed back to Fog's to try some more of the ciders we bought in Bristol.

68. Cidre Breton
I thought this was going to be our first French Cider but it's the same one that Fizzy D had on the train back from Bristol and since I mentioned that in my blog he's corrected me. Apparently the people of Breton don't consider themselves to be French, it's an independent region or something... He compared it to Wales. So, this is our first Breton Cidre.

This was a dry, opaque, yellowy cider that brought to mind the disgusting Thatcher's draft ciders from Old Dukes in Bristol. Its saving grace was a light fizz that made all the difference. It was far from my favourite cider but it was perfectly drinkable, not even unpleasant. Fog quite enjoyed it.

69. Bayeux Cidre
This really was our first French Cider. If the name didn't give it away then another clue was the Bayeux Tapestry style characters on the label. This one had a rich, golden colour and certainly looked promising. It was nicer than the Cidre Breton but nothing particularly memorable.

The Cider Diaries-17/2/09

Fog and I did did our radio show down at the hospital as usual and then, as usual, we headed to Koko Gorilaz to meet Ceri for our Sunday Roast fix. Normally after that, give or take an extra pint or two, we would head back to Fog's for TV and cider. Today however Fog and Ceri were wanting to watch some sort of sport thing or other and I couldn't be bothered with it so I arranged to meet back at their place later.

I knew Fog would be expecting me to bring some ciders from our trip to Bristol for us to try but I hate to be predictable so when I left Koko Gorillaz I went to an off-licence opposite to find something new. So when I met the others later I had something they weren't expecting.

64. Kopparberg Apple Cider
Kopparberg is best known, in this country at least, for its delicious pear cider that we've already sampled. In fact their apple cider is rarely seen, buried in a crowded apple-cider market. Personally I prefer the pear variety although the apple is decent enough. Very sweet, a strong apple flavour. Ceri said, "I didn't think it was too bad, not brilliant though, I'm not a fan of Kopparberg in general." Fog thought it was quite drinkable and offered the revelatory insight that it was, "Like an apple version of its pear cousin."

65. Cripple Cock Farmyard Cider
Fog was still expecting a Bristolian cider but I had another suprise in store for him. My housemates had been on holiday to Cornwall and by all accounts had an adyllic time. They picked mussels and seaweed up on the beach and cooked the mussels and made lavabread with the seaweed. More importantly, they brought me back a cider. The amusingly named Crippled Cock comes in a plastic litre bottle and features a picture of a cider swigging rooster on crutches on the label.

It's quite a strong cider and tasted more distinctive than pretty much every other cider we've had from a plastic bottle this year with is definitely something in its favour. Fog said, "It's good: you can tell it's quite strong." It was very nice but nothing spectacular.

66. Ashton Press Cider
Finally one of our Bristolian purchases. It looked pretty classy and I was expecting big things for its Bristol associations alone but Fog thought it was a little bland. I thought it was alright but again, nothing special.

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