Wednesday 27 April 2011

Only the stones remain

On Easter Sunday we went in search of ancient English monuments in deepest, darkest Wiltshire. We first materialised at the most famous megalithic site, Stonehenge.....

Sarah and I had been to Stonehenge before ( about 20 years ago! ) but the kids had never seen it.

Here's James ( and Spidey ) meeting the ancient past. ( Well, as close as you can get to it at Stonehenge... )

Even though Sophie described this amazing feat of Bronze Age construction as "just a pile of stones" ( ah, to be a cynical teenager again! ) I think even she was ultimately impressed by it.

It is incredible to think that this monument was built at such an early stage in the country's history and has survived amazingly intact for so many thousands of years, inspiring countless myths and legends down the centuries. And, of course, it's the home of the Pandorica.....

And here's Sarah, reliving her hippy/Goth past :-)

The stars of the day, however, were a group of Thai monks who were followed by crowds everywhere they went and were happily posing for photos.

Sophie got in on the act.....

What a poser :-)

After the 'henge we travelled on, across Salisbury Plain, to the little village of Avebury, site of yet more ancient stones and famously the location for Children Of The Stones, the fondly-remembered kids' TV show from the '70s that scared the wits out of a generation of impressionable pre-teens.

These stones, however, are far more accessible than the ones at Stonehenge. Dotted around the village, they're not roped off for their own protection but seem surprisingly free of graffiti and
( recent ) damage.

It's a wonderful experience to walk freely amongst these stones as people have been doing for centuries.
The one below, however, obviously needed some propping up.....

And here are some of the residents.....

And, as it was Easter, here's Avebury's lovely little churchyard, complete with wooden cross and crown of thorns.

Soundtrack: Only The Stones Remain, Insanely Jealous, Underwater Moonlight, Kingdom Of Love - all by Robyn Hitchcock and the Soft Boys

Monday 25 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut ( review with spoilers )

"Hello darkness my old friend
I've come to talk with you again"

Team Tardis are back, reunited after months apart, and all bringing secrets with them. Four Tardis-blue envelopes have been delivered to the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River, inviting them all to a picnic in what Rory calls "Nowhere: middle of... ", otherwise known as the Utah Desert.

But, unfortunately, there's little time for hugs, wine and reminiscing about Jim The Fish and Easter Island, or planning a trip to "Space:1969", because the time travellers are soon confronted by the bizarre sight of a NASA astronaut emerging from a lake in the middle of the desert. And promptly
( SPOILERS! ) killing the Doctor. Before the remaining Time Trio have had a chance to, er, blink, the astronaut has returned to its watery home, a mysterious old man has helped them cremate the Doctor's body, and they're standing in a diner, arguing what to do next, when.....
the Doctor walks back in.

( There was something else, but I seem to have forgotten it..... )

"Because a vision softly creeping / Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains
Within the sound of ( )"

( Nope, forgotten it again..... )

In true Steven Moffat, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey style, it turns out that the dead Doc is a future version of the 11th Doctor, and his companions resolve to find out what he wanted them to do back in 1969, but without telling "their" Doctor of his fate. And he's none too happy about all these secrets. They soon find themselves back in 1969, at the White House no less, where they meet up with a younger version of the old guy from the lake, President Nixon himself and...
somebody else. ( Give me a minute. It'll come to me..... )

The Doctor: "Oh, a lot more happens in '69 than anyone remembers. Human beings: I thought I'd never get done saving you."

Bloody Hell! Look at that thing above! It's the Silence! How did I forget it? Must be my age.....

This really is a cracking episode. Whereas before the pattern was to start a new series with a "fun romp" ( only with monsters and killing ), this time Moffat has gone for creepy and complex. Which is fine by me! The secrets being kept by the Tardis crew add new subtleties to their relationships. Who did River murder? Does Rory know about ( SPOILERS! ) Amy's baby? Did the Doctor know he was going to his death? ( By the agonised look on Matt Smith's face it certainly seems so. ) This dark turn of events is brilliantly played by the regulars, all of them raising their game, particularly Arthur Darvill, showing us the beginnings of a depth to Rory that hasn't been apparent before.

The whole episode has an expansive, filmic quality, especially in the Utah scenes. Top marks to director Toby Haynes for creating such vivid, memorable images as the Apollo astronaut wading out of the lake, or River looking damn sexy with a six-shooter strapped to her hip, or the Doctor lounging in the Oval Office, surrounded by CIA agents with itchy trigger-fingers.

And, of course, the Silence must rank as one of the creepiest Doctor Who monsters ever. The concept that you forget the alien's existence as soon as you look away from it is inspired, and leads to some incredibly tense scenes as River and Rory explore underground tunnels filled with Silence. ( Yeah, I mean filled with aliens called the Silence, not filled with a lack of sound. How are we supposed to write about this stuff, Mr. Moffat? You're not making it easy for us. ) And that scene in the White House toilet? Brrrr!! I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.....

I'll have to knock off half a mark for the story being just that little bit too exposition-heavy, but otherwise a fantastic start to the new series, so.....

4 and a half Bow Ties

"Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows"

Soundtrack: The Sound Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel
( of course! )

Saturday 23 April 2011

Happy St. George's Day!

I hope everyone is having a good day of drinking and dragon-slaying, in honour of England's patron saint.
You know..... the one who was an exotic traveller from far-off lands, who fought monsters and became our adopted greatest hero.

Or was that this bloke?

BTW I've watched the first episode of the new Who series, The Impossible Astronaut, and my usual half-baked review will follow. But maybe not right away. I can hear the beat of mighty, leathery wings outside and feel the heat from fiery breath. Or is that the curry I had for tea?

Welcome to the 1970s

The decade when hair was long,
trousers were flared,
and you could wear any colour you liked...
as long as it was brown...

Soundtrack: The Chain, You Make Loving Fun, Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac
( Well, you can't get much more '70s than Rumours )

Friday 22 April 2011

My Sarah Jane...

Following the untimely passing of the wonderful Lis Sladen, just a few thoughts about her time as the quintessential Doctor Who companion, Sarah Jane Smith.....

I first discovered Sarah Jane in the pages of the 1973 Radio Times Special, devoted to the ( then ) 10-year history of Doctor Who. As well as presenting an unprecedented episode guide, interviews with Doctors, companions and Terry Nation, and a build-your-own-Dalek schematic, this special introduced the concept of "spoilers" to my 6-year old mind as it previewed the 1973-4 season 11 of Doctor Who. On a single page we were treated to episode titles, short descriptions of each story and a photo of new companion Sarah Jane being menaced by Lynx the Sontaran. I wouldn't have known it at the time, but big changes were coming for Doctor Who, the show that I'd recently discovered but was already obsessed with. The "Unit family" was breaking up, with Katy Manning's Jo Grant already gone, and the Doctor himself due for a change at the end of the season. The introduction of Sarah Jane was a pointer to the future. As a vaguely-feminist ( that soon got toned down! ), feisty-but-vulnerable "investigative journalist", Sarah Jane's character was a precursor to the more modern companions to come. She didn't really suit the over-protective, paternalistic Third Doctor, but her character bloomed with the introduction of the unpredictable, oddball Fourth.....

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane ( or just "Sarah" as he usually referred to her ) were best friends who roamed the universe of space and time, finding adventure and terror, wonder and excitement. Apart from the odd occasion ( like that ridiculous tumble down a not-that-steep-at-all slope in The Five Doctors ) Sarah Jane was not your typical screaming and ankle-twisting damsel-in-distress. Sarah was kind, thoughtful and fiercely loyal to the Doctor, but would still question him when the situation called for it, especially that time in the Kaled bunker.....

Elisabeth Sladen brought a warmth and humanity to the part of Sarah Jane that ensured she would be remembered as the most-loved Doctor Who companion. And, many years later, she returned to the character when Sarah Jane was revived for David Tennant's second series, and provided a nostalgic link from "old" Doctor Who to the 21st century version.

But, of course, it wasn't all about nostalgia, as Sarah Jane was promoted to her own spin-off series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, once again saving the world on a weekly basis. This series proved to be well-made and popular in its own right, and was a lovely late-career boost for Ms. Sladen. Her interpretation of an older Sarah Jane was a revelation, especially the scenes she shared with her new-found teenage "family". Elisabeth was brilliant at showing us a Sarah Jane who had become aloof and spiky after years of fighting monsters on her own, but found her heart thawing under the influence of her "son", Luke, and his gang of friends. Most importantly, Elisabeth Sladen gave us a Sarah Jane Smith for a new generation; a generation who need brave, honest, old-school heroes in this age of cynicism and anti-heroes.

Sadly, Elisabeth Sladen and Sarah Jane Smith left us this week, taking with her/them a part of the childhood of two generations. Fans like me can't, of course, feel a fraction of the pain and loss that Ms. Sladen's family and friends are feeling right now, and my heart goes out to them.

RIP Elisabeth Sladen, our Sarah Jane.....

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Elisabeth Sladen

I'm absolutely shocked and saddened to hear that the wonderful Lis Sladen has died at the tragically young age of 63. I really can't write any more at the moment...

Caution! Dalek Crossing!

Just seen this, and a few more like it, over at the always-wonderful SFX website. That Dalek wouldn't stand much of a chance against the speed-ramps round our way.....

Saturday 16 April 2011

Two trees

"I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree"

Today would have been the great Spike Milligan's 93rd birthday and his simple but moving words on the beauty of trees have been on my mind today.

The willow tree at my Mum's house ( in the above pictures ) has had to be taken down today. The tree had just grown too big and the roots were undermining the house, causing damage and hindering our attempts to sell the property. It's a real shame to have to cut down such a beautiful tree - one which gave my kids so much pleasure when they were growing up. At least my Mum didn't have to see it happen because I know she would have been upset.....

And here's the ornamental cherry tree at my house, from a few years ago, in full blossom.
( Check out Sophie's bunny-ears! ) This tree is also going to come down soon, unfortunately. It was always a beautiful sight at this time of year, covering the road with blossom like confetti. Or it was, until some kids got into our garden while we were away on holiday and ripped some of the bark off, effectively killing it. Little shits! The tree struggled on for another Spring but has been dead now for a couple of years, and we've decided to have it removed before it becomes unsafe.

Chopping one tree down is bad enough, but two is a tragedy! At least we know we'll be able to replace the cherry tree at some point, although probably with something smaller.

C'est la vie I suppose.....

Soundtrack: Paris 1919, Andalucia, Graham Greene, Half Past France by John Cale

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Big Audio Dynamite

Phew, rock 'n' roll! Last Saturday was a busy day for me, gig-wise. I saw the reformed Big Audio Dynamite at the Bristol o2 Academy, as well as the mighty Chinese Burn rockin' the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall.....

Here's the Burn on stage at the Guildhall's Punk All-Dayer, at the very un-rock 'n' roll time of 4:30 in the afternoon. My mate Glenn got me in on the guest-list, under the assumed identity of Lloyd something-or-other, which saved me forking out £22 to only see two bands out of the dozen or so playing. Cheers, Glenn! ( The headliners were those Oi! pensioners, the Cockney Rejects, who apparently were pretty awful and played to a half-empty hall. ) Following a very promising young band called Criminal Mind, Chinese Burn played a short, sharp set of their r 'n' b-flavoured, melodic Punk and then made a swift exit..... the fabled backstage area.
And here's Glenn sampling the delights of the Guildhall's Green Room. Twixes, curries and pretzels all round!

After shooting home for a quick change and a bite to eat, it was time to head down the M4 to Brizzul ( as the locals pronounce it ) for the last night of the BAD tour.

Big Audio Dynamite were a band that I always liked back in the late '80s / early '90s but had never seen live. Formed by ex-Clash man Mick Jones and film-maker/DJ Don Letts, they were never a massively successful band but had been ahead of their time with their eclectic mix of rock, Hip Hop and reggae and were one of the first mainstream rock acts to use sampling as a major part of their sound. Crucially, they were also multi-racial and often included lyrics about immigration and racism amongst their Spaghetti Western samples and Nic Roeg tributes.....

The ringing guitar riff of Medicine Show heralded the arrival of Jonesy and co. and the crowd immediately went into party mode, seemingly everyone there having a huge, can't-believe-it's-really-happening grin on their faces. And that goes for the band too.....

Great songs like C'Mon Every Beatbox and Limbo The Law were dusted down and reinvigorated, while lesser numbers like Just Play Music and BAD itself sounded far better in a live context, shorn of their '80s production sounds.

Mick poignantly told us that this venue ( which had been known as the Top Rank Club back in the day ) had been the site of his last UK gig with the Clash, and then he went on to play Sightsee MC, a song co-written with the late, great Joe Strummer.

After much banter between Mick and the crowd, Don Letts running around the stage and rapping like a man half his age, and some more great music, the band finished with Rewind before returning with encores of E=MC2 ( huge cheers for that one! ) and Rush, with the appropriate lyric
" If I had my time again / I would do it all the same "
Nice one, Jonesy! Come back soon with your "brand new musical biscuit"!

( .....hey, Post No. 450! Tempus fugit! )


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