Thursday, 30 December 2010

2010 nearly done 2011 nearly here

Allow me a moment of sentimentality and introspection. It's been very nearly a year since I first took my long private posts and made them into a public blog. To be honest I wonder what kept me from going public far earlier, could have been the dodgy comp or perhaps the fact I was all over the place with other commitments... but it has been nice knowing that since the blog launched in May, it has got itself a respectable following and that it does indeed seem to wrap itself around the world. Special thanks to the lads and occasional lasses at Galibase, that really big fan in Edinburgh who seems to visit at least once or twice a day, all the people who come direct but whom I know not the names. Thank you all for reading, and I think I should be flattered that at least some you think it's worth coming on here to nick my pics for yourselves.When you do, just remember to occasionally tell people where you found them, that would suit me down to my toes. Apologies to those who googled widdicomb london is it really haunted or Masterchef USA final among the less bizarre search terms I've seen. If you've landed here by mistake, feel free to read, and if you're looking for Ivica Slavikova, yes I have THAT picture.  I hope you enjoyed your stay here, but we don't comment on US telly much and the only Widdicombe we know about was a high pitched noise in our collective ears till the great unwashed saw sense and booted her off Strictly.

Speaking of annoying noises  in 2010, my number one annoying sound this year or even this decade past, had to be the mind numbingly annoying Vuvuzela.  At one point some child had got hold of one and was blowing into it in the car park of the blocks of flats across the street. Should have seen him run when we came out and one of us almost caught him. Haven't heard it since then. The other annoying noise from around that time I'll not soon forget was the sound of England collapsing on the football pitch yet again. I've reconciled myself to never seeing us win the World Cup in  my lifetime. It's a good strategy as it worked when I gave up on a free Poland and the fall of communism in Central Europe. Maybe if I pretend I don't care about an England win till after Sepp Blater falls down a sewer, it may just happen. Oh, I could even pretend  Mike Ashley is a cucumber and that Joey Barton is a finishing school graduate, and pigs fly and that this time that e-mail from Nigeria will be for real. Having the simple optimism and faith of a house cat does work, as occasionally the desired tin of fish or new toy does come around and you might even get a pleasant surprise when you least expect it.

It's not all doom and gloom. Newcastle United bounced back and have settled firmly into the mid table trap, several teams are much worse than  we are and the TOON are playing that kind of heart attack footie where they beat Arsenal one week then go down in flames to Stoke the next. Joey Barton still gets yellow cards and we all still hate the owner and the board. Nowt new cept for the manager of the month. Enjoy the ride Mr Pardew, I give you till next May tops, then it's time for the next mate of Lambias to have a go at running the Mags. The government is a coalition that seems to be dissolving with every secret recording and leak. Senior Lib Dems are suddenly looking for the get out of town clause and the previously bleak prospects for Labour and the Miliband I didn't support, are sooo much ( pardon the pun) rosier. We could if we're lucky, see the end of Son of Thatcherstein before they get too stuck in and uproot all the stuff they missed first go round. Fingers crossed people. If the smell of tear gas and the sound of breaking glass was getting too familiar again, if the dulcet tones of the odious Jeremy Hunt who suckled at the teet of the White Witch of Narnia do not fill you with confidence, peace may be just around the corner. Then again Labour austerity may not be much better, but one hopes it will at least be harder on the bankers and the tax cheats who started the mess in the first place. Another bit of good news saw the collapse of the BNP and the identifying of the EDL as a source of trouble that needs sorting before it all gets out of hand. I'd much sooner spend the money on security for a Royal Wedding than see it all go to stopping hateful yobs intent on causing trouble in the name of the fictional pure Briton. This Briton was last seen when Boudica died or maybe when the Normans finally got settled in. Since then it's been a buffet of people from every corner of the world who have contributed equally to the good and the great (and sometimes the bad) to come from Great Britain. Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Poles, Irish, Romans, Normans, Arabs, Italians, Blacks, Asians, Vikings, and Germans etc... have come, stayed and brought ideas  giving the world the steam engine, trains, social reform, industry, the NHS, football and fruit cake.

The greatest gift created in 1922,  is however the BBC. This year we saw the 47th birthday of the brilliant Doctor Who, the continued success of Qi, Mock the week, BBC4 and it's arsenal of arts, science and history programmes that populate 80 % of the English speaking world's speciality channels, and several foreign language stations that have translated the prodigious output for the edification of their viewers. The iPlayer has come into it's own. I find myself using the VCR/DVR wotsit much less and appreciate the comfort of just watching what I want, when I want. So what gems have the BBC given us this past year? A few deserve special mention.

Mongrels brought back the sense that comedy had been missing for some time. Till then the best we could hope for was a few admittedly great panel shows and the seemingly endless stand up comedians and comediennes. The Sketch programmes have apparently gotten stuck in a rut where you could draw a direct line from the Armstrong and Miller two Types speaking "disreputable youth" to it's origins in the Python "Banter sketches". While I have no criticism of hommages and evolution, it sometimes was more a case of unfunny copying that was getting tired. What Mongrels did was wrap jokes in several layers and bring back the song and dance routine. It still can't do middle class or Upper class, but it least it wasn't afraid to step outside of the PC boundaries many comics had let themselves fall into.

Armstrong and Miller, have given us new and fresh characters the two best pairing being the posh old vampires and the not Hairy Bikers. Having got the fresh material in it's once again pushing boundaries and tackling more than the charv youth perspective.

The Bubble. What I thought was going to be complete and utter faeces, turned out to be one of the best things on telly for it's short run. A panel show predicated on the idea that three people would be isolated for a week, then fed fake headlines by a man who seems to have missed out on girls, sport and pop music,... you know, David Mitchell. In other words the average Sky news viewer , Sun reader, ipod addicted glake.

In cookery, Masterchef and the utterly brilliant Raymond Blanc and the understated but God like Nigel Slater made us drool all the way into our kitchens and aspire far more than the ludicrous Miss Dahl or Nigella ever did. We need to eat to live, we may as well eat well too. These chefs take us by the scruff of the neck and force us to look at old tried and tested methods and regional recipes and ingredients we have apparently fallen out of love with. I for one never did, but some of you haven't eaten tripe in years or  beets or even mutton. Check out the recipes section, it has a few canny links guaranteed to keep you in calories for the next 100 years.

Which moves us nicely to the sometimes flawed but well intentioned Turn Back time , the high street. Gregg Wallace and his chamber of commerce guided a likely group of merchants through the eras when the High Street still meant something. I hope the show was the kind of kick start some needed to go back to the butcher and the baker.  The upshot of the whole thing was that given the choice, most  people will always choose cheaper over quality, but enough people do care to seek the previous norm and know where their food comes from. It's these people who are raising children who won't be vegans because they don't want to hurt bloody Bambi. It's these people who will raise a generation of healthy children who know where their food comes from and how they are connected to it. And of course there is no reason why we can't buy British and pay less than the dreck from China costs us. If you can't shop locally shop European, if you cant shop European shop sustainable and safe.  As for the straw men of Peta and the World Wildlife Federation, seals aren't all cute, they eat fish and kill the livelihood of fishermen  be they Inuit or European stock living in Atlantic Canada.  If you really care, stop the Spanish and Portuguese and the Icelandic fleets from stripping the resources bare.  I've about had it with the bleeding hearts at Peta and all, We cannot afford to pretend we are somehow immune from the laws of nature and can divorce ourselves from the food chain entirely. What's the harm you ask? Seals and foxes and squirrels and rabbits run amok. Squeezing the natural balance that used to exists to the breaking point.  Man and nature have had a hard relationship. Sometimes we've taken it for granted stripping the planet till the resource was gone, then swinging the other way where we go all saintly and ascetic forgoing all fleshly needs. Where man and beast have worked together we have got on well and the balance has been preserved. Left to the devices of the veggies who think we can all just stop and it's great we will come to as much harm as when we follow the lead of those who think we can continue being wasteful and acquisitive as we are now. 

And who better than the BBC to tell us how  it used to be and why old isn't always bad or outmoded.  Edwardian Farm has been entertaining and instructive in a way a dry proff telling us the theory of  life on a farm isn't . Ruth Goodman and her merry band of enthusiasts have regaled us with this sort of thing going back to Victorian Farm and other programmes of the sort. What comes out of these programmes and the previously mentioned High Street, is that much of the old ways were only let go of in the 1950's and could be easily re-learnt. The ultra comfort plugged in easy peasy world of the flying car and the super suburb has come and gone and we have growing trends showing we are abandoning the most wasteful of these gifts from the  post war, world dreamers.  Not content to show us recent history, the BBC gave us a bumper crop in Norman week, Blitz week and the entire Georgian-Victorian reform histories from the navy to the civil service through to the do gooders with Ian Hislop.

What was the all time best ever thing this year on the BBC, nay on telly anywhere??? Luther? The Chilean Miners on BBC news? Doctor Who? Top Gear Bolivia Special? All great but you'd be nowhere near the best ever programme. Give up?  The final series of Ashes to Ashes. The all time best ever pay off for a television series  and as it's sci fi fantasy, the best ever ending of a cult classic I've yet to see. The respect shown for the viewers and the cast was immense, the drama and logic that kept you on the knife's edge right till the end was spectacular. They then went and made you cry !  The bastards!!!! Not sure what hurt more, the murder of an innocent Quatro or the continued sad job our Gene Hunt had to go back to? Where Lost went wrong, Ashes was a master class in telly writing.  Second place has to be a  highly respectful standing ovation to the makers of Sherlock, who took a time honoured story and respectfully brought it into 2010 without ever once compromising on who our Sherlock Holmes is. Fall 2011  we're told it's back with three new films. Make sure you don't miss them.

And only because of the exalted level of excellentness of the previous two, the also rans are in any other years massive winners. In no particular order, we have Doctor Who that this year saw the full taking of control of the lord Thy God Mr Moffat and the wonderful Mr Smith and equally beloved or hated "Our Amy" or "the Time Tart" Karen Gillan and her husband. Under Moffat, DW has recovered the magic and humour that was lost in the dark and somewhat revisionist RTD days. The Time Lords are back, Smith is as manic as Throughton or Tom Baker and the old morality of the pre cancellation Whoverse is stronger than ever.  The other winner of great achievement above and beyond the call of Top Gear has got to be Captain Slow. James May with his Toy Stories and Man Lab, scored huge points and separated himself from his three amigos with  special limited runs that gave our inner little boys a day out and reminded us that while some real men eat quiche, we are all still men and we forget it our own peril. He gave us comedy, information and a feeling that it's ok to be the complete man or boy. Toy Stories was on another level an eye opener to young and older alike. We got to see what was cool when daddy was a boy and that maybe just maybe , the x box isn't the only toy anymore. Along with the series Games Britannia , we learned that games and toys are not just time wasters but teachers, companions and soothsayers. Interestingly, Meccano has moved it's production back to France from China, aside from the fear of lead, surely James May has to share in the responsibility of this happening. Danger concious parents and children now increasingly trying Meccano and other older toys systems are asking the basic questions, are you made near me, are you going to poison me.  But most importantly , they are buying those toys again. Well done James May

Not to  pretend the sainted BBC can do no wrong.... there were a few mistakes. For every established hit like Outnumbered. Top Gear, Luther  or Larkrise to Candleford and the new Upstairs Downstairs. Yes , even the history people get it a bit wrong like with the Kibworth thing or verrrry wrong with At Home with the Georgians hosted by  historian Amanda Vickery. This was an abomination worthy of the " If romance novel readers presented history" genre. This woman assumes that we know nothing before the 80's and that nothing worth knowing or doing was invented before 1985. This woman takes great care to find the writer of a journal to walk away in failure having found only a portrait of the man in advanced middle age. In the House of the family, rife with photos and portraits, surely a future or past young male of the house could have stood in for the now old man???? But no she not a proper historian  or she would have thought of that yes???  Then there's the dropping in and out of the reverie she does that wanders a bit too much into the idealised fantasy world of Harlequin and books for good girls. It's so annoying you will not last long enough to get to get to the good bits where she reads the excerpts of contemporary journals, some even very salacious and revealing of the feelings both men and women had about romance, security and marriage. Another wasted effort where the professionalism was lacking and the assumption was that most viewers hadn't ever watched any history before and were too stupid to figure out we might, as a society, been house proud long before the 1980's or EVEN the 1950's. Enough to make you want to toss the antique '70's fake leopard print nylon pillow at the telly!

The sitcom division also seemed to lay one stinky rotten egg after another. I could mention them, but then I'd have to dredge up memories of The Pursuisonists, almost anything Amanda Holden , Miss Dahl  and a few others touched. I cannot understand how the same network that gave us The Trip, Ideal, Just William and Miranda can get it so wrong so often. Please stop it, I'm sure there are plenty of great ideas out there that aren't being flogged by the same tired old writing teams.The other great disaster was/is  Giles and Sue take the piss out of the Good life. If they were looking for two people to make a hash of what is by now a perfectly reasonable choice for millions of people, they got the right hosts. But what a disservice. Matt Baker and the Countryfile folk could have given us just as many smiles and been far more respectful. As it is those who watched learned nothing and continued to think it's hard and the ones who were looking for a clue had to go somewhere else. Such a colossal waste money and talent. But then what do you expect from this pair who think their shit doesn't smell sometimes. If they had added Jimmy Carr, they could have sorted the pretentious little twat and his smug atheism out of our view for at least few weeks. 

Don't get me wrong, these same people in small doses on shows like 8 out of 10 cats and Qi can be plenty fun, but when they get a full on attack of full of themselvesness, it's all a bit much. ITV which seems to have forgotten about how to make money AND good programmes, seems to have with some small embarrassing errors regained some of the lost ground with Downton Abbey and Poirot on the Orient Express. Corrie celebrated 50 years, stopped being un watch-able for a few weeks then promptly brought back Tracy Barlow. Some people never learn. No bother, I have C4 and the small list of gems they have allowed to bubble along in the comedy, history , cookery and overseas content like Big Bang Theory. It crowd, The In betweeners, Peep Show and if you have the stomach for it...Frankie Boyles Tramadol Nights. Still haven't seen any real reason to tune in C5 but I might give it a shot soon, heard there was something,  ok ... wait, that was K9. On second thought, I don't watch Sarah Jane interferes, so why should I watch this even cheaper pile of droppings.

Oh what a year 2010 was and thank you again to all those of you who read, made comments and let me know through facebook or Galibase what you thought. Remember support your national birthright and don't let the politicians ruin our BBC!  And if you must watch that other network,  make sure you're watching the good stuff.

Happy New Year and may all your scheduling problems be solvable!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Doctor Who A Christmas Carol or A story of Faith, Hope and Charity

Warning, normally I don't give anything away integral to the plot, but this time I'm going to have to drop several huge spoilers to get through this. If you haven't watched this, don't read past this first paragraph .Well thank you very much Steven Moffat, for once The Doctor isn't stopping the utter destruction of London or the enslavement of all Earth by some evil race of slugs bent on forcing us to do the laundry for them. No running along in white BBC corridors screaming as death dealing Sontarans try to exterminate a group of tobacconists in South London for all their Rothman's special filter fags. No, for once we get a sweet story about Christmas for the entire family. Now before you rush off thinking it's a saccharine drizzled exercise in sentimentality, remember This is the Lord Thy God Steven Moffat. The choices are not easy and the Doctor is not infallible. The conclusions are not obvious and you will not be left unmoved by this episode. What you'll like is how the central premise and drama are wrapped in the familiar and comforting imagery of Dickens and the Victorian era. The story however moves quickly to a level that is as interesting as the three ghosts  but different.  Well acted by Laurence Belcher playing the young Scrooge central character and the always outstanding Micheal Gambon , most famous for having a part of the Top Gear Gear test track named after him and possibly for being Dumbledor, the story unfolds in a setting you will recognize without being too jaded. Dame Katherine Jenkins fills out the cast nicely as the central pivot on which all turns, and she sings an entirely new song written by Who music boffin Murray Gold. Speaking of the music, it was as traditional as you can get and comforting to boot, the entire episode is about Hope, Charity and the milk of Human kindness. A good way to spend an hour and the first Doctor Who Christmas Special worthy of the name in quite some time.

Listen to Murray Gold's song as sung by Dame Katherine Jenkins.

And now if you don't want to have the story ruined, I recommend you look away now till after you've watched this excellent hour of telly. 

Still reading? Brilliant, so I bet you noticed the passing resemblance in the opening sequence of the ship crashing to the surface and certain death if Gambon ( Scrooge ) doesn't open the cloud cover screen, to the starship Enterprise command deck . While it was amusing to see Arthur and Karen dressed up in role playing gear for their honeymoon, I must confess to an almost complete inability to make out a word they said. Not only were they essentially relegated to the side lines for most of the ep, but their involvement was a bit forced and hardly raising the jeopardy any more than the 4000 other passengers singing traditional Christmas carols were already doing. Gambon's deliciously nasty Scrooge/Kazran Sardick was biting and cynical without appearing even a bit disingenuous or unreal. The fact he is the epitome of greed is not lost on the Doctor and appeals to his own fascination with the Dickens novella he confesses to being one of his favourite.  Matt Smith manically runs around at the beginning rabbiting on about all sorts, at one point saying "Give me time and a crayon" while he tries to figure out what's happening and coming up with a game plan. 

It's when the Doctor understands that whatever is bothering Scrooge is in his deep past, that the story really starts. The core question of the ep becomes do you think the Doctor is right in adding memories and experiences to the Scrooge character's life in the hope of changing him and his ways. In the Dickens story, Scrooge is hoyed around by  three ghosts from his youth through to the possible future, but never is anything ever added to alter the man who must take the choice to be good on his own. But here our favourite Time Lord is not shy about deciding to give the junior Scrooge the benefit of a better more rounded and less sheltered existence. There are consequences even at the best of times, but clearly the Doctor doesn't try very hard to find out why Abigail has volunteered to be frozen for eternity. But it wouldn't be very Dickensian if the heroine of the piece wasn't deathly ill, choosing to live as long as possible then choosing to live well in the short time she has left. Or to quote The Doctor at the end, "Better a broken heart, than no heart at all".

The reason you watch this one is not to see if the Doctor convinces Karzan to help rescue the crashing ship, it's obvious he'll succeed, no , it's to see the end game of his plan. Will it make things worse, or is he only leading Gambon's character to the same place he was at the beginning of the ep, but by a different route, thus showing that even Time Lords are stifled by what could only be described as fate and destiny. In the end, the Doctor's actions are neither clear or morally justified. If anything, it's the power of love to overcome all and the healing touch of Abigail letting Karzan understand why he resisted Christmas and her for so long. His heart is finally softened  not by his near violent encounter with himself, though it helps mightily, but by Abigail telling him it's OK to let her die, she enjoyed her time,  happy it was always Christmas Eve with her beloved.

The pay off is seeing Gambon and Jenkins winging their way through the settlement skies pulled by the tame shark one last time. It's a testament to the quality of the story that I wasn't doubled over laughing at the thought of seeing Futurama's retribution inflicting Robot Santa burning small children and pummelling thieves and those who grassed them out in my mind. Ok I did anyway, but only for a second. So did you buy the flying fish? Doctor Who has never been strong on actual theoretical science, but for once it was based on postulated life forms one might find on other planets even within our own solar system. I did however have a hard time buying into the sudden transformation of Clyde from man eating shark to Rudolf the not so killer great white shark. At most, the bit of sonic screwdriver would given the beast a case of indigestion. As a device to add a bit of Crimbo fun it works if you don't think too hard about it, Doctor Who is still after all  officially described as a children's programme. By that qualification and the fact it's a Christmas ep on at 6 pm , you can forgive a lot, after all , we accepted a sarcastic mechanical dog for years.

 Some of the best scenes worked well because of the very idea of what was happening. When for example the Doctor goes back to a 12 year old Karzan, you know it's a recording, but because it never happened before, it's happening Now and in the past and the old Karzan is flooded by new "old" memories he knows can't be real, and yet they are. The other really touching bit of acting is when Abigail kisses Karzan to let him him know just how she feels and to say good bye when she knows there will likely be no more Christmas Eves ever again. Time travelling love has been done before and this was among some of the best.

Some other outstanding lines from the ep include ... "it's either this, or go to a room and design a new kind of screwdriver. Don't make my mistakes!" , "You know what boys say in the face of danger, don't you? Mummy!", and of course the opening narration by Michael Gambon is very nice when he explains how we are Halfway through the darkness and why we humans have always celebrated that as a way to pat ourselves on the back for having made it. Tell me honestly how you can be left unmoved by "On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs. As if to say, well done. Well done everyone.We're halfway out of the dark." . BTW Did you know Santa's real name is Jeff? I wonder if he's related to the moustachioed Geoff over at Top Gear? 

Props wise, other wise known as marketing, we saw plenty of Fezes and bow-ties, because as we all know, Fezes are cool and bow-ties are just as canny. At one point there was even a Tom Baker Scarf moment, so the travel montages were not just filler, but well researched and designed to press buttons in fandom. The other refreshing aspect of the story is the clear decision to carry on from the long standing support of and continued participation of Doctor Who in the BBC Proms series, with operatic music as the style of choice. Murray Gold in the Who Confidential immediately after the ep, reveals the track used in the final cut recorded by Dame Katherine Jenkins was a rough demo that made most finished polished works by current pop stars look like the weak efforts they are. Doctor Who is promoting quality and genuine singing over the screeching of Simon Cowell acolytes who are depending entirely on good looks and self correcting recording tools. Extra tidbit Who fans, Galli Base mate Patrick tells me that in "Doctor Who Decalog 3: Consequences"? Steven Moffat had a story included in that collection of short stories, called "Continuity Errors." Yes, the story had Silvester McCoy's Doctor, but the plot of "A Christmas Carol" was taken wholesale from that tale, and dressed up for Christmas. With sharks.

Will I watch this again? Honestly????? Yes . if only to have the closed captioning for the on ship dialogue and to finally wrap my head around the the idea of time meddling in the very creation of a person's life choices and attitudes. Going as far back as the Daleks, the Doctor has had a hard time wiping out entire species and people if he thinks they can be reformed. The inner do-gooder in this Galifreyan has time and again got in the way of a perfectly justifiable execution or extinction. Tonight's reaction was no different viewed in the context off his long history of seeing the best in even the most vile of creatures and races across space and time.

As one of many bits of telly on offer this Christmas season, the DW Crimbo special succeeded as both a  seasonal traditional programme heavily steeped in the music and meaning of the Holiday and as a sci fi story asking the sorts of questions we have come to expect from Doctor Who.

To watch the ep on the iPlayer  or to read more about Doctor who

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Germany to re-arm, Russia reacts, Poland wishes it were somewhere else

A few days ago the BBC announced that Germany was going to re-arm. As a person born to parents who lived through WW2 and Poles to boot, I had that feeling you get when a shadow crosses your path for no apparent reason. My father made a face and whispered "Not again" and my wife got very agitated. While the rest of you sit safe in your homes, in some cases thousands of kilometres away from Germany,  those of us who's souls and in some cases current property still reside in Poland along with a lot of relatives, that combination of words makes us have an  instinctive knee jerk reaction that says "You what?".  Early on about two years ago now, Russia quietly started spending money on arms and rebuilding it's professional standing army. In such a world, it was only a few minutes after this German announcement  we were laughing at a joke that goes "If a German Tank and a Russian Tank start moving at the same speed, which one will get to Warsaw first?". Some of you will recall the Top Gear ep where Jezza was road testing a Mecedes S class and the default destination setting on the satnav was Warsaw. This kind of gallows humour reminds us of our history and keeps  us on our toes, but is it a fair reaction in December 2010?

And while I still think I shouldn't trust a Russian leader as far as I can spit, I have to suspend my own prejudices when it come to Germans and Germany.  Lets review a few historic facts

1- France and Germany were enemies for several centuries and fought several devastating wars.
2- England and France were enemies for several centuries and fought several devastating wars.
3- Holland and Germany were enemies for several centuries and fought several devastating wars.
4- England and Spain were enemies for several centuries and fought several devastating wars.
5- Most recently.....Most Irish Catholics and most Irish Protestants were enemies for several centuries and fought several devastating wars.

And yet all of these nations now consider themselves good friends diplomatically, commercially and culturally. In fact if we were to draw up a list of most dangerous countries  in our respective states, we would all lead with Russia, China and various terrorist organisations and rogue states whose sole aim is to destabilise the current peace. I recognize that the person born in 1960, as I was, but in Germany, and their children, are not the same people their predecessors were. These new citizens are on the whole, law abiding, freedom loving, eco aware, open minded, well educated, tolerant people who vote pretty much like most every other Western European living and breathing today. People  with whom I would naturally have more affinity with than the modern day Russian who is just waiting for Czar Putin to crown himself and re-establish Greater Russia and wipe the bothersome dissidents out of the way, along with gays, artists, editorialists and satirists. Why should I fear a re militarized Germany? Isn't it time that Germany was fully re integrated into the great circle of Great  Nations it used to belong to? It has since WW2 rebuilt itself and and it's economy and rapidly regained it's pre-eminent role in world markets and monetary policy, welcomed it's Jews back, It has made room for the largest group of Turks and other asylum seekers in Europe,  it has become the World leader in the fight against green house gasses, it has led Europe in it's support of every Peace initiative going,  and  has led Europe in establishing norms that will stabilise the Euro and trading relations among member states and other trading partners. Germany was one of the first economies to come out of recession and not harm workers in the way that far right regimes around the world have. If anything, Germany has been a good and loyal member of Nato since 1955 often outstripping other member states in their contributions.

Why wouldn't I sleep well at night knowing that German soldiers were at the ready to defend me and my neighbours from outside aggression? The last time I was nasty to Germans, was about 4 years ago. To my shame, I reacted badly, along with it must be said , the rest of the pub, to a group of Austrians in Lederhosen. It was well into to the evening and most of us had been onto our 4th or 5th pint, being of sound mind and judgement, we started quietly at first making sieg heil noises and pretending we had tiny moustaches, building up to a low murmur they could not have helped hearing. These people just came in wanting a drink and some camaraderie and we were hostile. Otherwise rational men and some women of mixed English, Irish and other assorted Guinness appreciating peoples, allowed drink to cloud our minds and revert to instinctive tribal memory. In the end, they were served and most of us, myself included realized just how stupid we had been, some even went over to talk to them.  And that is the point. These people are not the bogey men they used to be.They are more like us than not like us. Germans and Germany should be trusted to be allowed what all other mature allied nations have taken for granted for decades.

As a person of Polish descent, I cannot help but have a reactions long engrained in tribal memory, but as a modern European and open minded person, it is my duty to set aside these feelings when I recognize the irrationality of them. This is not to say that I won't ever give up my bullshit meter and built in alarm that warns me long before the rest of you ever see it, that something dangerous this way comes. That would be irresponsible. But it is in fact this same detection system within me that tells me despite my previous views, these people are my friends and I should trust them.

While I may have reservations about giving up whole sections of sovereignty to the greater European dream, I cannot fault the goal of the dream. It says we are what we are, but we are also Europeans and if we fight each other we will fall into conflict again, if we cooperate, we will rise above the petty squabbles and achieve the unfulfilled  historical evolution we were headed towards before WW1 broke out. I would like to think that my children's children will live in a peaceful safe and prosperous Europe, precisely because we have taken the step to finally trust each other. Greece, Romania and other nations with dodgy banking practices have much to learn, but at least the tools to deal with the situation are not tanks and guns and bombs any more. It's only fair to allow Germany to achieve the same level of security Great Britain, France, Italy and others take for granted today.

I much prefer to recall the Germany of Frederick the Great over that of the Mad Adolf Hitler and his immediate predecessor Kaiser Wilhelm the II. Today's Germany is a Right of Centre coalition led by Angela Merkel, a Government  that should it loose favour, is more likely to be replaced by left of centre elements than fascists. Her Government and most parties in the Bundestag are strongly opposed to the rise of the extreme right in some parts of it's territories and is aware that the problem of the far right is a greater threat in the old Slavic Central and Eastern Bloc of nations. Even in the Simon pure West, fascist parties are on the rise, surely something we should all fear and fight against. Germany has long ceased to be an implacable enemy or even a niggling problem, they are a full ally and friend we cannot allow to be held back by old prejudices. Great Britain, France and the rest of the European Union recognize that Germany is one of the pillars of a viable modern Europe and one of the few states that has the moral authority to dictate public policy without having to blush every few weeks at the latest antics of its politicians and merchant classes.

The Only place I want to beat up on Germany, is the Football pitch.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Strictly Come Dancing 2010: The Final ...Kara v Pamela V Matt

Nice opening number Strictly, after all these years  you would think they might have got used to the standard sweeping ballroom dancers we would have been equally happy to see. But instead we got a very slick theatrical set that would have been at home at the Oscars of old. And the boxing theme is of course apt as the last three represented a truly deserving final group of death. Very little separated these contenders and it would take more than a few slick moves to rise above the field.  

The judging panel made it quite clear that in their estimation ,the result was going to be untainted by even the smallest hint of scandal, because the absolute best dancers of what could be qualified , the best crop of contestants in years minus Ann Widdicombe, had produced a final three that matched the public vote and consistently the judge's best 4 from day one of Strictly 2010. Part of the success of this series was the continued presence of Dave Archer and hiss BBC house orchestra, these chameleons of music at times had us thinking Michael Buble or Annie Lennox were in the building. The other reason it worked outside of the unfunny Pink Elephant and Anton , was that the 2010 hopefuls were on the whole, current celebrities with a gig to go back to should they be hoyed off in week 4. The previous stink of desperation  from people who's careers had long since faded, was missing, even the old who's shagging whom focus seemed to have dissipated almost entirely, despite it being clear that at least two couples, possibly three were at it like bunnies, you know in between practices. If you want to know how Strictly can be fixed to be even better, read my thoughts on the matter, thoughts that by  the way are based on having had a neb around the chat rooms and seeing just what full on dance fans think would make for a better and more representative dance competition, without harming the entertainment value or weighing down the format with alleged freezing out the great unwashed.

So what you ask will separate the Phantasmagorical from the merely bloody brilliant? As a certain Meercat would say, Simples, the winners need to charm us into a trance of skill, emotion and make the hardest of skills look like child's play, ART!  I am on record as being on Team Kartem for several weeks now, but must admit that despite my own high confidence in Kara's abilities, she could still loose to Pamela Stephenson, how wrong was I?! 

And so without further ado the first ratings....

Matt Baker: Samba.  In a repeat of a routine attempted recently with far less favourable results, Matt stepped up the energy and concentration and produced a  prodigious technical effort of incredible skills. The problem was he and Aliona were like prey and predator, there was no chemistry, no sense they were even having a go for each other as friends, it was all business.  So in the end a fine technical display was reduced to a cold demonstration dance. Rating 9 

Kara Tointon: Rhumba. reprising the dance that had the nation entranced when they did it the first time, was just as gorgeous and brilliant if not even even better. If anything the personal chemistry was even stronger, I will always reward skill over personality in a competition, but this combination of both was enough to make the sentimental old fool in me equally happy. Same predictable result from Craig, the only one not to give her a 10. What did Kara and Artem ever do to you Craig, we want to know. Rating 10

Pamela Stephenson: Viennese Waltz Redux . Clearly nailed down to the nth degree Pamela and her partner squeezed every last once of joy and  artistry they could get from the complex routine, achieving in the end the same result as the last time, including the 40 points. pretty sure it was less flawed than the last time. As always a joy to watch. Rating 10

Show dance next. This is the one that will ultimately see which yeast will rise the best.  Len tells us he's looking for  the dance to  1-Feel good, 2- have interesting music 3- and be fun and entertaining. Given where this segment goes, a tall order.

Matt Baker: Athletic exercise routine with street dance elements mixed with classic dance bits the end result is a bit shaky and disconnected resulting in a distinct feeling of un-interconnectedness with the universe. A disappointing display that was less dance and more showing off.  Rating 8

Kara Tointon: To Queen's Don't stop me now, Kara's routine was difficult with loads of elements, some of which misfired ever so slightly. This however mattered  not as her and Artem managed to make the entire routine seem connected from first step to last. A spirited dance that from move to move was fun to watch most of the time. Rating 9

Pamela Stephenson: Dancing to Time of my life, in a routine distinctly different from the younger dancers, it was a compilation of of every dance done during the series. With no apparent missteps but less physically demanding as the other two couples. The dance was a pleasure to watch and that was perhaps the point. A lovely entertaining dance that took us on a ride through several styles and left us with a smile on our faces. Rating 9

Off for some food and to visit the internet for the latest craic.

Wellllllllllll it's and hour later like, and I'm ready to watch Kara and Pamela fight it out in a mud pit for the title of dance champ. What??????  Pamela's gone? Clearly people made their minds up long ago and wouldn't have been moved by that show dance unless Pamela had done it naked and sang I am the very model of a modern major general whilst juggling. So sorry to see her gone, she deserved to be the other last woman standing.  Classy exit and she has nothing to be ashamed of.

And so we come to the ultimate dance off where both dancers tackle a style they hadn't had to yet.

Matt Baker: Paso Doble. Pretty damn good, but not brilliant. Precisely there were passages where he moved very little despite the actual need to, his Paso while of a high quality, was not the outstanding performance that would have changed my mind about Kara being the most deserving to win. In the end he was still a great performer who I'm sure has gone on to inspire countless thousands of men or least their wives and girlfriends to sign them up for dance lessons. We should all be half as good as he is. Rating 9

Kara Tointon: Waltz. A dance of love and intimacy. one of the most romantic things you'll ever do with another human. Kara and Artem despite missing a great deal of holds, made it look easy. My father the ex dance champ of 1956 for his Polish Hall, was banging on about the steps and the transitions and I knew she was not  just dancing like a woman who is close to her dance partner. A joy to watch, Kartem gave us a master class in what a waltz should look like if you know what you're doing. Without the tricks and kicks that many other dances have, the waltz is about moving around gracefully and rhythmically to the music and looking like a ballet of fabric, arms and feet and heads and hearts. Rating 9

And while the voting continued apace, our challengers for top of the table now go on to their favourite dance from the entire series.

Matt Baker: Waltz. Nice effort, I want to dance like that. If people had been paying attention instead of voting, it might have made the result a tad different? I doubt it. But a wonderful display of skill , musicality and
rhythm. We did indeed have deserving people in the final. Thoroughly enjoyed the dance. Rating 9

Kara Tointon: American Smooth.  Quick get a towel, I'm about to gush some more about just how good this woman is. Smooth, admittedly her favourite dance and a risky one at that, you'll remember she injured Artem during practice for this one, one would even say it was a brave choice, where a safer one would have served just as well. In the end this was in fact the best choice, one of her best dances during the series it was also one of the most difficult and fraught with danger to both of them. Either could have slipped, been hurt or tried to take it easy . Doing the American Smooth was designed to get any stray votes that could have been in the balance. The dance itself you ask?  It was Kara gold and very possibly slightly better than the last time. Rating 10

What a final, honestly, not in years have I had such a feeling of deep satisfaction at the quality of the dance. This of course left us with about 15 or 20 minutes to kill till they could tally the votes for the last round. Paloma Faith , one of the best singers around and far better than Matt Cardle or One direction or any of the x factor  wannabes, sang up a storm  while the class of 2010 again minus Ann "Dalek in drag" Widdicombe, danced a brilliantly choreographed routine that blended contestant and amateur dancer so well it was hard to tell  who was who at times. then for a few gut wrenching eye averting moments, Widdi was dragged around the floor like a bag of rubbish that showed just how wrong it was to have her "entertain us" for sooo very long. Several of her victims, including Bendy Felecity, out danced her with little effort.  Strictly PLEASE listen to Ross Nobel  who speaks for all of us who love dance.......NEVER AGAIN , JUST DON'T... If somebody is as patently useless and without a shred of talent, make sure they aren't even asked to make the series. It's not like you hadn't had a clue after 6 weeks of practice did you? You would have great ratings without her and even better ones if the superior levels of dance were allowed to speak for themselves. Those tuning in for the train wrecks would not have been missed and replaced by people who enjoyed a decent turn on the dance floor even it wasn't them doing it.

Congratulations to Kara and Artem who won in a landslide if the turf accountants are to be believed. The absolute best dancer won the Glitterball Trophy. You have to be blind not to know that these two also have a thing going on for some time now and we wish them well in the years to come. I have no doubt that wasn't her last dance ever with Artem and assume that whatever bumps in the road they may encounter in the future, they are genuinely and deeply about as at one with each other as any couple can be.

Till next year and hopefully a new improved format with a new set of equally well chosen dancers. I for one am chuffed to bits it ended as well as it did and only got wrong the sending off of Pamela in the first half of tonight's show. Loads of Crimbo programmes to watch  and Doctor Who as well as Top Gear and the continuing quality on BBC4 history and science, use your BBC people or you will loose it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you who followed Strictly 2010 with us through the blog.

To watch tonight's shows click here and to go to the Strictly homepage as always.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

If you tuned into BBC4 expecting to see an Electric Monk and St-Cedd's College, and perhaps even a horse in a Don's rooms, you would have been disappointed. The Fridge however and the secretary pretending to type are still in. Except for the fact that the entire chain of improbable events that make the hunt for Henry the cat in the book an un-closable read, you still have in essence, Dirk Gently a surrealistic being living in what appears to be a universe of his own making. He believes in the interconnectedness of all things and that by following the clues however improbable, he would find the truth.....Sherlock Holmes on acid. And yet.... this is the same Dirk Douglas Adams created in his 1987 book.

I appreciate the BBC could not possibly recreate the barren bizarre world of the Electric Monk any more than they could possibly spend 20 minutes or more wandering around Cambridge or Oxford, they simply didn't have the budget. Despite this, Steven Mangan who plays Dirk and Darren Boyd who plays Richard McDuff manage to convey the insanity that is Dirk Gently. If you've never read the books, and I strongly recommend you do, you won't have a clue as to why the fridge is funny or why Dirk and his land lady are in a state of protracted war over the fridge, but you will get the sense that despite all you see, Dirk is in fact the only one who's got it right. Then again if you don't get Schroedinger's cat, the entire concept may just go over your head.

What I liked about the hour is the way the story was strung together in the most logical and sequential way possible, without loosing any of the comedic timing and irony of the gags as they are dropped on you one after the other. Did I mention it's a comedy? BBC 4 seems to think it's a crime drama, where they got that idea I haven't a clue , but we'll let that pass. The other character that is omnipresent in this story is Dirk's car. The Doctor has his TARDIS, Gene Hunt has his Quatro and Gently,  welll Gently has his Austin Leyland Brown Princess. A car as dodgy looking as he is and probably just as prone to functioning in the way we recognize the word function about as often as Dirk is to be rational.

This appears to be a one off, which is sad, as there could have been a lot more. I will have to re-read the books to enjoy the full insanity and timey wimey aspects of Douglas Adam's last work. I think I would have made a great Electric Monk, pity they didn't ask me.  If however there will more stories in the future, I would love to see some of the more fantastic elements included this time. The Dodo bird and Valhalla would be nice see as well as the now lost opportunity to have had Gordon Way's ghost trying to make call on his mobile on the side of the M1. I suspect the biggest problem came when they asked themselves the big question; How do you describe the un describable? How do you trim down the effects budget without stripping out the core of Dirk Gently's world? This programme is the answer, not an entirely satisfactory one for the fan who was looking forward to some "Pretty amazing shit" as Zaphod Beeblebrox would have said. For a one hour, low budget, compressed retelling with only the one truly sci fi element in it , it still worked as a taste of what you will expect, if you read the books. If you won't be, which is a really a pity, you will have at least got the essence of the man and his methods. Holistic chaos and the interconnectedness of all things.

I hope there's more to come, but if not, well done as a bit of stand alone comedy.

For full cast details and to watch the programme 

Entertain, Inform, Educate, Exterminate: 60 years of science on TV

Robert Webb narrates Mad and Bad: 60 Years of Science on TV with a combination of reverence and pith that only a true fan looking on at a valued but odd member of his family can. It was 90 minutes of the kind of television you rarely see these days. A trip down memory lane that pressed so many buttons for me that It was all I could do to keep my trap shut lest I miss the absolutely delicious sarcasm drizzled liberally throughout the programme.

I would disagree violently with only one assertion, "Doctor Who ran out of steam ... so was cancelled". I Know there may be a few people at the corporation who still feel the need to defend the reprehensible stifling of  our Doctor for 16 years, and I smell the not so subtle hand of the editor upstairs. But it seems they couldn't change the comment of one person who said it as it is, Doctor Who was taken away from us, and we never lost interest. There that feels better. Just out of curiosity, how many of you watching last night wanted to chuck something at the telly when you heard that?

As retrospectives go, this omnibus, as near as complete history, ran us through the early nerdtastic formats of early science as the saviour of humanity, past the scary death from outer space to the wow bang weird science of the World of Tomorrow and it's successor programmes.  The list of of academics who impacted my life so deeply is too long to list here , but if you watch the film, you'll see most of them. Jacob Bronowski, James Burke, David Attenborough and of course the grand master Sir Patrick Moore. All these men shaped the curiosity, critical thinking and love of science that has never left me. No I did not become a physicist or an astronomer, I did not yearn to fly in space, but I never lost the deep and abiding interest in how things work. From childhood to adult I have been well served by the network that can boast, but does not, the fact that even today, well over 80 % of all English language, science, nature and other assorted deep thinky things  on telly around the world are made by the BBC. Furthermore, these same programmes, including some that are over 40 years old, have been translated into more languages than you can shake a stick at. This of course assumes that you can shake a stick at a language and that the language itself is somehow moved by this gesture. Isn't communication fun?

Some of the best Whiz bang shows never once came close to predicting the future, let alone MY  future. If anything the shiny tech based world they envisioned never came because the microchip changed the shape and the way things are done. We still use petrol based cars and no one wants to live in the city of the future, in fact the city of the future is the village we saw in The Good Life with bendy Felicity. Which is not to say that the science of  BBC's Horizon did not foresee it. Interestingly enough, the people who did get it right the most were the Sci fi writers. Douglas Adams and his Hitch Hikers Guide to the Universe and it's friendly cover advising us DON'T PANIC, is the laptop with a sense of humour I curse, love. loathe and cannot live without now. I'm still waiting for the transporter beam and the sonic screwdriver, but pretty much they got it right. We don't really live any differently now than we did in 1960, except that we have more channels ( most of which are shite), we still eat the food of our parents and grand parents, we recycle, we have started going back to pre 1950's simpler low tech gadgets and we still deliver death and mercy in the same old fashioned non nuclear ways on the battle field. And yet even in this, we have science to thank for steering us clear of folly time and again.

What I love about British Science fiction is the very large tongue in the exaggerated cheek that co exists with the doom and gloom of Blake 7 ( I don't care if it was made on 50p and looked ticky tacky), Survivors or the apparently 3 different versions of Day of the Triffids.  No other culture has given us Red Dwarf on the one hand and the multitudinous destructions of London by Daleks, viruses and the nuclear menace. That last one was a comedy starring the brilliant Spike Milligan ( The Bed Sitting Room ). As a Trekie and a Doctor Who fan, if forced to choose, if forced to pick only one of those epic cultural icons that have changed the very way I speak and think, I'd have no choice but to support the Mother of all modern Science Fiction drama adventure.....Doctor Who. Bot have had monsters so flimsy and un scary, as to laugh, both have been moralist at times, But only Doctor Who has a smart ass, oddly dressed, egghead nutter as the hero. Also not without merit is the simple fact that of the two programmes, Doctor Who has most of the time supplied me with a bevy of beautiful companions that has allowed me and my mates to make endless lists of which actress/companion is the fittest and which I would, given the chance ( which of course is slim to none) sleep with. The lovely thing about our Sci Fi is how it still works regardless of how silly the props are or primitive the effects. Unlike a certain continent to the west, Brit Sci Fi is less concerned with the minutia of engineering and real fake science and allows for the occasional touch of magic to prevail, witness Big Bang 2 in The Pandorica Opens, or the sheer insanity of Red Dwarf.

We can have a fractal on the wall
The world has the Labour Party and the BBC to thank for scientists looking like the mandolin player from Lindisfarne telling us about quantum physics on a black board aided by the occasional animation and cut out. They assumed some subjects would be hard to grasp the first time and that we would persevere. That same spirit continued in fascinating programmes like Connections that challenged our imaginations and minds to not only understand but reach past the information on offer. The modern crop of attractive, still ever so slightly barking mad scientists proudly displaying their inner 8 year old on the BBC are worthy successors to the long line of people who first  tried teaching us how the world worked and why we need to be curious and question if we are ever to evolve as a species.

What could have become 90 minutes of tired filler, was a fun trip down memory lane that still, managed to entertain, inform and educate. Yet another reason to support the BBC any time that really nice guy Jeremy Hunt tries to get to close Auntie Beeb with with his slimy little fingers.

If you had been thinking of anything other than this after Top Gear tonight, I URGE YOU in the strongest possible terms to watch Dirk Gently ( Holistic detective) On BBC4 tonight. I'm holding out high expectations for Douglas Adams's last series of books to be translated to the screen as well and as respectfully as HHGTTG was first go around. Fingers crossed we won't be disappointed.

I see there's room for a bit of kvetching about my beloved Newcastle United. I should be pleased we beat Pool 3-1, I should be pleased our best player Andy Carroll is on the best form he's been on in ever. But I'm mostly ambivalent about the whole thing. The manager who got us out of fizzy pop and kept us mid table despite no budget in the summer and no prospect of any in the January window, was sacked on the flimsiest of excuses and replaced by a man who is best known for taking teams into relegation and is at best a tepid replacement. If you were going to get a new manager, I would have thought you would hire somebody of the calibre of the Special One, or perhaps an unhappy continental manager who's been sniffing around for a ticket to England. But no, we got Alan Pardew, on a 5 year contract no less. I don't for a second think it's worth the paper it's printed on and furthermore, at the first sign of trouble, Mr Relegation will be gone, 5 year contract or no. Of course it's going to cost more to be shot of him , but does the Fat Comptroller care? Mike Ashley lives these days it seems to piss off the supporters and nothing else. I live in fear that the news will bring a report confirming our worst nightmare ... Andy Carroll has been sold to some rich Southern side for a packet of money Pardew will never see.

That's enough  for now, see you all tomorrow after Top Gear and Dirk Gently!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Strictly Come Dancing week 11: Semi Final Part 2

Where last night we had a field of 5 that was near perfection, tonight we saw them claw thier way even closer to dance Mount Olympus, some got near the gate, one got in.

Series final reviewed here

What the judges had to do from here on in was use the same measuring stick, but I somehow sensed they are being less than honest in one regard, where Kara DID deserve 4 10's but got three and Pamela deserved 2 9's and 2 10's but got 4 10's , the judges showed there were two sets of criteria running out there. I'm not sure how you can say Pamela was better than Kara when she, as good as she was, has never approached the level of pro dancer that Kara has so often since breaking that wall about three weeks back. Am I biased? No I'm just being honest, the level of sentimentality when it comes to Pamela is nearly crushing and the cold icy professional criteria on Kara are frosty. Despite this I suspect most people can see the simple truth, that should Kara decide to go dance pro, she'd have no difficulty making the transition. I think I'm suited to my toes to say without reservation why she is good  as I don't watch Eastenders and don't plan to start any time soon, which makes her nothing to me in regards star material and preconceptions. In fact I try and forget any previous opinion of the legitimate dancer I may have of them from previous exposure, as I want to give them as fair a chance as just dancers. Once they have reached past the point of "you're nearly as good as the pros," I fully expect them to be judged by the same yardstick with the same required elements. Something that is clearly not happening when the technically and artistically perfect Kara is punished for tiny missteps but Pamela who is wonderful , but far from perfect, gets 40's . At least Scott and Matt and even Gavin, bless him for trying finally, are being judged by the same criteria.

Aliona and Anton have throughout the competition and since they have been with partners, always grated on me. They both tend to drag down their partners and have no respect for the judges. Choreography for them is a chance to use illegal moves and to hide the flaws of their partners. I want to know that the pros who dance and teach are taking their students and showing them the proper steps, sticking to the brief of each dance and taking on board that choreography must help not hinder and dissimulate the faults of the dancers. For a celeb dancer to grow and learn, they must do the required routines, how else are they to become truly gifted  if that is what they are capable of? To the credit of Matt Baker, he rises above the traps in Aliona's routines and shines despite her own mania of trying to outshine the partner. As well, according to a fellow poster on Galibase, "As the pros don't actually dance salsa they get outside choreographers to help out and the two they almost always get in are DREADFUL! They're a standing joke in the world of salsa dancing because they're not actually salsa dancers, despite being proclaimed on Strictly as World Salsa Champions. what they really are is the champions of the salsa division of the world ballroom championships, which bears as close a resemblance to proper salsa dancing as Ann Widicome's rhumba did to a proper Rhumba." . And now we can all go to sleep less stupid, thanks for that Lanark

The band as always is Fa bu  lous !  I keep waiting for the BBC to come up with a dance and music review format for them but nothing. As for Take That, they are far better as men than as boys and rise into the sublime with Robbie Williams back in the line up. Not a shmaltz fan per se, preferring the likes of The Stones, Killers and Undertones, but they are truly great.  Look forward to tomorrow and the next song. 

And so without further ado, tonight's ratings.

Scott Maslen: Charleston: Again with the fake so called Charleston, Anachronism how do I hate thee, let me count the ways. First of all the moves were Early 50's Broadway take on the 1940's looking back on the 30's. The costumes were straight from the mouse musical number in Anchors Aweigh. Scott should have been dancing with a mouse or another sailor if they were going to be honest. As for the dance itself, from the opening moves to about half way, Scott is weak and unsure, even slow at times, then he starts up but misses the rhythm . Not his best work and in a week that needs to be your best at all times, a ticket home. Rating 7

Kara Tointon: Rhumba. To say Kara was good was to say your tea was fine or Manchester United played well enough to win. What she did transcended the mere GOOD. She came out and danced the sexiest and most romantic Rumba I have ever seen, then included elements only ever done by pros during demonstration dances. Between her technical merit and dramatic acting, she set fire to our retinas with the passion and conviction of a real performer. We saw Venus rise off the shell born into Olympian perfection and grace. As for the alleged foot off the ground or misstep Craig claims he saw, we are into the territory I as a football supporter have to endure week in week out. I saw no mistake, there was no foul, that was never a yellow card. She deserved 40 points and if there were more points to give, those as well. Rating 20 out of a possible 10

Matt Baker: Tango.  On fire  and technically perfect. As I said before, even despite the traps Aliona set that were there to make her look good and overly complicate the routine and stray from the required routines, Matt shone like the consummate dancer and actor he is. I cannot see how he can even be in the frame for dropping out. A bit of me is prouder than for the rest, as he's a North East lad genuinely done good. Rating 10

Gavin Henson: Viennese Waltz. On any other day, in any other week of the competition, that would have been amazing. But he had a few moments where he looked like he was a deer caught in head lights and his rhythm was out of step nearly all the way through. That said, he was more than competent. Better late than never and he deserves to graduate from dance school at least. One hopes he keeps it up after Strictly as he's a credit to painfully shy men.  Rating 7

Pamela Stephenson: Quick Step.  What a beautiful sight to behold, a combination of soft shoe, quick step and and tap, she showed off a quality assortment of steps near seamlessly flowing from bit to bit. Her Steppin out was lovely and a credit to a person of any age and level of talent she clearly has. Was she worth 40 points?  I don't think so. Where Kara allegedly missed one step, Pamela missed several and was able to cover well, but if honest , the judges should have given her no more than 4 9's. It's as if they still think she needs wrapping in cotton wool. Ann is gone, no one is in needs of protection. Rating 9 

So who will be in the top three? I still maintain that my previous assertion of Kara, Pamela and Matt stands. Scott has peaked and showed less originality and ability to grow than Matt has. Several times Scott has run out of gas and sputtered to a halt despite his clear ability to dance and act. The fatigue has taken it's toll and he may have gone as far as can have even if he does make the final. Gavin as I said in my earlier critique, can go home with his head high  having broken the duck of shyness, he has done well to improve as much as he has and I'm sure all of his fans will be pleased with his marked improvement and having escaped being lumped in with the Dalek in drag and other past joke party representatives.

We'll find out officially tomorrow, and should the world unfold as it should, we will have the best ever final of Strictly EVER.

To watch this show go the iPlayer and as always the main Strictly home page.

Nice to see the predictions unfold just like I wanted them, Gavin deservedly was first to go followed by the comepletly knackered Scott. Leaving a brilliant final with Kara, Pamela and Matt.  Next week the couples get to do 4 dances each, and a one them as I understand it is a "Show Dance" or anything goes dance, all the lifts tricks kicks  and gymnastics you want to any music from any era. May the best dancer win next week. My money is still on Kara.

Loved the musical number by Bruce Forsythe and Lance Ellington. You can sing along if you like.

The Three Bears
Bobby Troup, Londontown Music/ASCAP

The original "hip" version of this song was written by Bobby Troup in 1946:

Once upon a time in a neat little cottage there lived three bears
One was a daddy bear and one was a mama bear and one was a wee bear
While they were out a-walking, through the deep woods a-stalking came a little girl with blonde hair
Her name was Goldilocks and upon the door she knocks but no one was there
So she walked right in and had herself a time coz she didn't care
Then she got sleepy, went upstairs to bed, when...
Home, home, home came the three bears!
Someone's been eating my porridge said the daddy bear,
Someone's been eating my porridge said the mama bear,
Hey Ba-ba Re-bear said the little wee bear someone has broken my chair!

Someone's been sitting in my chair said the daddy bear,
Someone's been sitting in my chair said the mama bear,
Hey Ba-ba Re-bear said the little wee bear someone has broken my chair!
Just then Goldilocks woke up, broke up the party and beat it out of there

Bye-bye! Bye! Bye! said the daddy bear
Goodbye, Bye said the mama bear
Hey Ba-ba Re-bear said the little wee bear
So ends the story of the three bears!
 Watch the results show here

Strictly Come Dancing week 11: Semi Final Part 1

Only one more week to go!!!!  How exciting is that?  Now even good but not great won't keep you in it. Part 1 of the semi finals is all about knocking the stuffing out of people and see who still has it after going through dance hell. High expectations and previous high water marks will be haunting dancers in their performances. Just what do the remaining dancers have to show they have to stay in? I would say it's growing power and the ability to maintain the high quality they had been hitting in the last few weeks. The drop zone of two is a no brainer for at least one pair, Gavin Henson will be gone by Sunday, he has improved, markedly even, but it's far too little,  much too late. I applaud his effort and the genuine ability he's showing, but, by G-d, he's only just started taking this seriously. Nice  that he's really giving it a go, I'm pleased for him, at least he'll leave the competition with a sense of accomplishment, but he is leaving. That leaves Scott, Matt and Pamela in the closest race since the top three EPL teams were separated by a point and a  few notches in goal difference.  If there was no public vote, I'd say give the trophy to Kara now, but we still need to see how it plays out, and of course she still has to dance the last dance hasn't she?   All to play for, but I don't see her losing it on skill and entertainment value.

The format for the weekend is interesting, it combines the classic stand alone dance with the new knock out Swing  a Thon designed to give the judges a tool where they can put a final stamp on the competition before the public get to vote on Saturday night. Dave Archer and the band continued as always to provide music so well done I was under the impression I was listening to the  original version of certain songs. Gypsy Dance Kings and Lady Gaga leap to mind. In a switch from my usual indifference towards Tess Daly, her dress for the Friday show was fabulous, It really complimented her shape and the combination of a proper bra and well cut dress, made her incredibly attractive as opposed to her usual pretty but dull. Who ever is dressing you Tess, keep their number, it suits you.Oh !

Without further ado, the ratings for the Friday show.

Pamela Stephenson: Paso Doble.  Nowt wrong with her with what she did. She was in the role, and attacked it brilliantly. Flowing dramatic and technically good, she showed the skill that keeps  dancer in the final. Rating 9

KaraTointon: Viennese Waltz. Impeccable and smooth, totally synchronised, she made technically difficult moves seem easy and her transitions were flawless. She is a Pro full stop, the fact she and the judges clashed on the tiniest of details regarding a lack of contact with the floor proves it. She is measured by a different scale by the judges and still excels. Rating 10 but should have been a 15

Gavin Henson: Samba.  Well done Gavin, that was really good, not great mind you, but it was dance. You did it right. Much improved, he's finally not stopping himself from dancing. Was it good enough to challenge the top 4?  No.  Still missing rhythm and flow. But he can at least now dance at any parties he's invited to. Rating 6

Scott Maslen: Argentine Tango. Nice mirroring, a few too many timid hesitations, he wasn't leading and lacked sizzle. I wasn't impressed and think it may have been his down fall. We'll see Saturday. Scott seemed tired and the unshaven look did not suit him Rating 8 

Matt Baker: Salsa.  Dressed in disco clothes Matt used his hips feet and rhythm to frankly wipe the floor with Scott. If anything was wrong it was near the end when it got a bit dull. Yes the judges were right to remark he'd overworked the dance losing it's sexiness and seduction for Tango like attack. But not the low marks given. I hope Matt shakes off the bad scores and recovers quickly, he seemed to have taken the rough ride somewhat badly, and yet in the Swing a Thon we'll a marked recovery Rating 8

And now the Swing a Thon.  Simple rules 2.5 minutes to dance, last couple dancing gets the most points. Full Bore, High Energy, Entertainment says head judge Len. Not surprisingly the result reflected what I think the result on Sunday will be.

1st gone Gavin
2nd gone Scott
3rd gone Pamela
4th gone Matt
5th and last dancing .....Kara

So some details now.  Gavin was first hoyed off the floor in a disappointingly quick time for him, his dance was dull, laboured and frankly awful. Scott then  lasted somewhat longer but as he wasn't as flash or skilled, next off.  The next three were so close you could separate them only by  minute criticism. Pamela dropped first but only because she ran out of steam, leaving Matt and Kara to fight it out for most interesting couple.

The judges looked for Stamina, Content and Timing. Gavin out for the count on the last two, Pamela out on stamina.  This bodes well for the top 4 but not for Gavin. In a head to head competition, a woman more than twice his age beat him by a country mile and the fact that Scott left before Pamela meant he wasn't frankly as good a dancer as any of the top three. I am truly excited by the impending final and the rest of the dances on Saturday's semi final part 2.

Keep an eye on the judges and the dancers, they know it's time to show who can rise above the pack and take this. I fully expect the pros to not coddle or manage their partners, now is the time to reach for the gold ring, not play it safe.  Even most of the studio audience knows it and was respectfully silent for the judges and rewarded the really good dances with standing ovations. Very possible the best ever top 4 I have ever seen since I started watching Strictly.  I sincerely hope the public rewards the best dancers, not the most popular, for the quality of dancing is just that good. With the needed tweaks to avoid the problems of this year, next series of Strictly should be even better.

Watch Friday's show here Visit the home page here

Friday, 10 December 2010

Happy 50th Coronation Street: Tram Week or the Longest day!

I know it's been a while since I watched, but when we saw the new hair do's and the changed attitudes of several characters, it's obvious more happened in 4 months  than  the continued shite storm of ludicrous story lines and barely tolerable scripts. When Phil Collinson first took over, it looked like the new broom was sweeping big style, but after a bit, it seems too much of the old regime was well entrenched enough to be unmoveable. Turns out however that the steam has come out of the more insane and inane stories.  All that's left for me is to see the back of the less than convincing lesbians, and I'll be happy.

So what has changed in all that time? Well, a few things stick out really pleasantly, starting with the Websters. Rosie is going out with a proper man, Jason Grimshaw, rather than running after millionaires or teenagers, her mam Sally has new hair and a new far nicer way of dealing with people. And here I thought I was going to look forward to her exit via fire and death. Kevin has changed his tune, far more like the old Kevin who was a bit rough but mostly a decent human being. Overall, the street has seen the women drop the charv clothes and hair they were till very recently wearing along with the orange fake tan that had become a rash by the time Phil had come to the controls. It's nice to see the retro hair  that was bubbling  up from the non X factor music scene. One hopes the look that has lurked just under the pop culture radar, now storms full fledged onto the public conciousness. Along with the hair, we saw a number of characters grow from ill kept teens into older more mature adults.  To be honest, just how much longer could David Platt been an impetuous teen skyving off school?  Whil I'm the subject of the streets most likely to go to prison candidate, he's got himself a nice enough girlfriend who seems like the sort of influence you'd want for a person like David, not that it helped him when the now all grown up and lovely , de tangoed Tina was dating him. Another character that's grown from strength to strength, is Graham Proctor. He has dropped the shiny cheap clothes of  the dispossessed and bored urban youth for the kit of a responsible young man with a potential wife. As for the rest of the cast over the age of 20, there seems to have been a migration away from the over the top clothes and frankly silly behaviour that had me fleeing for so long. Maybe it was the fact that 4 people were about to leave the street or that so many of the sillier stories were wrapping up, but it seemed to bring back the older better writting that had so much humour in the past.

Tram week, aka The Longest Day, started off well enough with a lot of the usual histrionics and red herrings as to who we would most expect to die. Collinson, didn't miss a trick, every device ever used in a WW2 film was dragged out. The I love ya baby scene, the bit where two people ague and toss a coin to see who stays inthe boring safe place and who goes into the jaws of death, only to do the old switcheroo.  Molly tells Tyrone she's gannin and taking baby Jack with her and there's nothing he can do about it. Welllllll  how wrong was she about that? It think it brave and artistically important that the Corrie bosses make a real effort to inject some sense of  danger and impending loss to even the most beloved and oldest of characters. If there is to be a tragic accident like this, there should be some jeopardy by the bucket load.  I had hoped a few of the older cast could have been seen reacting as the accident occurred and later on as the rubble and the fire made them flash back to the blitz, but alas that was a trick missed by one of the best people in telly. As it is most the best suited for the lines were dead or too busy propping up the bar or serving drinks.

And ooo what a glorious accident and just prior to that, explosion in the Joinery. As cataclysmic episodes of mayhem and destruction, I couldn't have expected less of the Doctor Who pyrotechnics teams brought in special for the job.  As my mate Keith Topping said  in  the relative comfort of our geek cave at Gallibase, the tram driver put a bit of mustard on it, but then it was likely to be his most famous work for a while, so why not. As for the much vaunted Corrie realism, it was thee in spades complete with enough rubble and fire and creaking to make Tony Robinson giddy with joy at the prospect of excavating the mess.  The dramatic tension and anticipation on display was enough to make you want to squirm off wherever you were sat, but we resisted the temptation and just concentrated on the bits were there was likely to be the most carnage, while my wife and myself took turns commenting on just who was going to get hurt, who was safe and why wasn't Molly among eh dead sooner. Harsh I know, but her character had run it's course soo long ago I wanted a beam to split her open on contact.  More on Molly later.    The other part that really ramped the drama up was the trio of men trapped in the Joinery office, would they get out , would they stay trapped, well of course but not without some extreme bravery , sacrifice and last minute career ending cave in of debris. The effects in side were terribly compressed and the camera work was dizzying to a degree but did show how disorienting the change of scenery had been. 

The two bits of overacting I most "enjoyed" taking the piss out of was Fizz giving birth and Molly dying.  Fizz first. I don't think I ever heard as much screaming during a birth on telly ever. Not for me to say how convincing it was, but she certainly put on a great show.  As for Molly Dobbs.... He weeeze,   pause  Chose you....pause  pause , you're  whezze gasp cough .... beautiful ,  It goes on like this for rather a long time, till she's confessed to Sally that she had an affair with Kevin, Jack is Kevin's baby, she was sorry about it all but not about baby Jack,  how great it was that Kevin had chosen Sally,  not to forget to give generously to charity and to return her library books. That's the great thing about mortis dramatis.... you can bang on for hours before the Grim Reaper collects you. In Molly's case, she certainly milked it.  Peter Barlow's wedding was the other tragicomic display of pathos, misery and deep sorrow. The Long NOOOOOOOOOOO when he appeared to die was the sort of thing most brides on telly want to do, at least on soaps. We of course wish them wedded bliss  till death them do part or the next producer notices they're too happy.

As far we know for sure, there are only two dead from the cast, Molly and  Ashley, two more to come, though rumour has it we could see Peter survive only to have his rival for Lee Ann kill himself.. Victim number three?  Rita Sullivan,  baby Jack, Charlotte after all?  We'll have to wait for Monday. but I know that we'll be losing the horrid Mrs. Peacock finally and maybe even the Websters, I'd like that you know. Both families of late have inflicted enough misery over the years on me that it's time they were sent packing. especially Claire. I bet she would have preferred an un-castrated, living Ashley, but she killed him long before the bricks fell on him. Hero Jason Grimshaw delivers the best reaction of the night, "I want to get drunk, like this never happened" or words to that effect, then heads over to the Rovers for a liquid meal. I'm sure a few complaint will be made to Ofcom.

"She's still got a bit of a pulse"
Best comedy line of the week hands down.... John Stape has just dragged the apparently deceased by hammer blow, Charlotte Hoyle and dropped her in some rubble to be discovered, only to have the paramedics examine her and say......"She's still got a bit of a pulse". The laughter that broke out at ours when we heard that was uncontrollable, then the face on Stape when he looked like he was thinking " How rubbish am I , that I can't even kill somebody with a hammer?". I thought I was going to loose it right there and then. Hats off to the comic geniuses at Corrie who manage to pull the rabbit out of the hat like this when you least expect it.  Silliest people award goes to the 6 people who rang the Manchester Transit Authority to find out if the the Tram service had been disrupted due to the accident on Coronation Street. I know it looks pretty real, but it's not like you didn't know about it from the TV Guide. Daftest rumour goes to the alleged newspaper that published the story that "Corrie lay on extra security and cavity searches because of terrorist threat to Coronation Street live show" . The truth is Granada had their own security, and asked for a few extra police to help make sure nobody got hurt and that the shoot went well/ Granada paid for the extra manpower and the only terrorist near the place were the Pigeon Liberation Front of Manchester, whose crude device mayor may not have been the cause of the Joinery explosion. 

Al this begs the question, is our Corriecation over? Probably until the body count is confirmed and regular service resumes. IF it's still good  then,  I can't see myself stopping until the next batch of stories too stupid to endure. Not like we haven't been there before, every few years the writers or the producer get too cocky and forget what works or it's the December drift stories. If pressed, I'd have to say the splash of money and new writing was worth the effort and most likely recaptured any lost viewers who had wandered off during the last 4 to 5 months.  Now if only Phil Collinson  can rebuild the street and steer a course more reminiscent of the times when Jack Duckworth was the norm and psycho killers only seemed interested in Gail Platt.

Read my review of the excellent BBC Road to Coronation Street