Put a note in your diary for December the 18th.
More precisely, you should write "Blade Runner" in big letters and add lots of exclamation marks.
And then start saving up. Because that's the day we can finally get our hands on the restored and remastered DVD of Sir Ridley Scott's classic science fiction film. The buzz about this edition is already fantastic, probably because of its incredibly tortuous history - some of us have been waiting for this version to be released since hearing about it at the beginning of 2002.
When work on the project ground to a halt back in 2003 I was crushed, but it all seems to have worked out in the end and the version we're getting sounds better than anyone could have expected. The top-line "ultimate" edition comes in a suitcase that looks like it ought to contain a Voigt-Kampff machine, but instead it contains five DVDs, a signed letter from Sir Ridley, an origami unicorn and a model spinner, amongst other things. The "Dangerous Days" documentary looks fascinating and I can't wait to see the film in all its glory, cleaned up and tweaked.
Of course, I can't let this item go without mentioning Rutger Hauer's book as well: it has the same title and is currently available in bookstores everywhere. You see what I did there?
Good grief. It was underpowered (or much too heavy), its stainless steel marked too easily, and the company famously imploded, but the DeLorean has become an iconic machine, thanks to Bob Zemeckis choosing to use one as a time machine in the Back to the Future movies. They haven't been making them for twenty five years, and John DeLorean died a couple of years ago but now it looks like the car is set to rise again.
I think I'll pass, thanks; it's very unlikely I'd find anywhere to get the thing up to 88 mph, anyway.
It looks like the TV show Heroes is going to be a hit with British audiences now it's finally made it to BBC2. The Guardian are calling it "emo sci-fi" which is a fairly shrewd assessment of the show - and it probably identifies one of the main draws of the series. It's more about the personal impact that the characters' abilities have, both on themselves and on the people they know. I'd pick out M Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable as the most obvious precursor to this approach, but I think it works really well.
Wow - they've made a radical choice for the casting of Mister Spock in the new Star Trek movie: some guy called Leonard Nimoy. Mind you, Zachary Quinto, who plays the villanous Sylar (yes, that's the spelling - can someone tell the BBC, who seem to have at least three versions of his name in use, please) in Heroes, will be playing the young Vulcan in the story about how he met James Kirk. As a result, Quinto's IMDB page was effectively slashdotted this afternoon, although I could access it without any problems just now.
Now there's a welcome sight: right now, the sun's out and the sky is blue. It's better than the rain we got earlier today, and considering the M5 and the M50 were both beginning to flood again as I came back from the midlands this afternoon it's come not a moment too soon. The weather here has been pretty awful and Gloucestershire in particular took the worst of things. Fortunately there hasn't been any flooding where I live, but a lot of other people haven't been so lucky. Up the road in Gloucester, thousands of people are likely to be without drinking water for two weeks, and the water authorities initially made a complete mess of coordinating a response. As a result, Gordon Brown got quite an earful from residents when he visited, judging by footage on the TV this week. There are stories of people trying to make a fast buck out of things, too. Meanwhile, the government appear to have totally lost touch with reality over the whole affair, claiming that it's still all right to build houses on flood plains. Figure that one out, if you can.
The trailer for Neil Gaiman and Robert Zemeckis's take on the epic poem Beowulf is online. The CGI version of Angelina Jolie is... well, spooky is the word that springs to mind. None of the other characters look anything like the actors providing their voices, but Ms Jolie's character is an instantly recognisable representation of the actress herself. Now, I wonder why that might be?
Yes, I've been away for a bit. I've been over in East Anglia for a bunch of events over the last two and a half weeks, so this is pretty much a summary of what I've been up to.
Back here, I'm relieved to say that the village hasn't really been affect by the flooding that much, although the industrial estate by the river was hit on Friday and traffic pretty much ground to a halt in the area, from what I hear. As you can tell by the fact that I'm posting this, I still have electricity and so far there's no sign of the drinking water disappearing. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed, all the same.
Mum is 80 today. There have been phone calls and people dropping off cards and flowers all day, and she's had a really good time. David and Cathy and Annabelle and Ed came over with their kids, and Rebecca and the twins came over with Becky. I did another barbecue (surprise surprise!) but most folks stayed away from burgers and sausages so I did fajita wraps, spicy bean burgers, chicken joints, and pork bellies instead, which were delicious though I say it myself. All the food disappeared, anyway.
I was relieved that it didn't rain, so we were able to spend most of the day outside. Dave's youngest child Emma (who was one earlier this year) was fascinated by the birthday balloons Mum had got as they were filled with Helium. She was great fun to watch as she tried to figure out why the balloons didn't fall to the ground when she let go of them.
People had left by 7pm, and it was time for me to load up the car and head west, too. I set off before nine, and had a very uneventful trip back. Apart from a few caravans holding everyone up in Norfolk, the roads were pretty quiet - in fact, the M5 was almost deserted. There were lots of fire and rescue vehicles heading north with their blue flashing lights on as I came past Tewkesbury and Gloucester; both places have been hit very badly by flooding in the last couple of days. But thankfully I got home to find the house unscathed. It's been a busy couple of weeks and I have tomorrow off to get things back to normal before I return to my normal routine.
Tonight Sallie and I went over to see Peter Gabriel in concert at Blickling Hall. He was on fine form, and seemed much more animated than the last time I saw him live. He spoke quite a bit to the audience, and in fact acted as master of ceremonies from the very start, introducing the other bands that were performing (there were three support acts.)
The music sounded great - they opened with On The Air and gave some of the older material a new workout, including a trance version of No Self Control which really got the crowd going.
"In Africa, rain is a symbol of fertility. Think about that," Peter said as he introduced one number. "If we've got all this water, and you've got a lot of heat, what do we get?" he asked the audience. "Steam!" we all shouted back. Bass player Tony Levin was taking lots of photos (sometimes at the same time as playing the bass!) which I'm sure will appear on his web site. They did storming versions of San Jacinto and Family and the Fishing Net, and the sound quality was extremely good for an outdoor gig. Yes, it absolutely chucked it down, and I think they cut the set a bit short as a result, but I had a real blast and enjoyed it tremendously.
By the time we got back to High Kelling, the skies had cleared - that's one thing I love about where Mum and Dad live: when it goes dark, it really goes dark. You could see the Milky Way stretching across the heavens and Sallie and I just stood watching satellites and shooting stars for quite a while, taking it all in and enjoying the peace and quiet. Then it got foggy, and the persistent thump thump thump of a rave or disco somewhere off in the distance was a bit of a distraction, so it was time to call it a night.
Went over to Blakeney today to do a bit of bird watching and some photography. In the end, the weather wasn't that great for the birds, and apart from a huge flock of starlings being spooked by a marsh harrier, there wasn't an awful lot about. I wandered along to the Official Norfolk Flickr Boat, which is looking even more dilapidated, but I spent a couple of minutes watching a weasel which was playing on a plank of wood by the side of the path. When it started to rain I headed east towards Salthouse, where the weather was a bit better. I saw some avocets on the salt marshes, and there were some skylarks about, but little else. I wandered along the shore, taking pictures of various bits of debris left behind by the retreating tide. This included a set of mackerel lures, which I took with me - I wasn't about to leave some fairly vicious looking hooks lying on the beach where dogs and small children were playing.
When the rain caught up with me again I'd had enough and headed back to the house. I spent the rest of the day reading - so far I've got through two books and I'm half way through a third, Naomi Novik's Temeraire. I'm really enjoying it, and Stephen King's description of the plot as a cross between Suzanna Clark and Patrick O'Brian is spot on.
I took Mum to Sheringham and Cromer today to do some shopping and help her get her passport pictures taken. I introduced Mum and Dad to the delights of Subway sandwiches for lunch - I pretty much lived on the things when I was in Tampa. They liked them - and freshly made sandwiches taste as if they're a bit better for you than most of the fast food you get over here. After all, I think we've all had enough burgers this week.
Later in the afternoon it rained again - which doesn't bode well for the weekend and Peter Gabriel's gig at Blickling.
I've spent the last couple of days back in High Kelling with Mum and Dad. Andy and his family have jetted off to Paris for a few days before they fly back to California, so it's been pretty quiet where they live. Holt, on the other hand, has been packed. It might not be the school holidays yet, but the amount of traffic in Holt has already skyrocketed; it was so busy today that I couldn't find anywhere to park, so I left the car outside town and walked back in. I was in town to go to the local computer shop. I have taken a lot of photos so far this month, so I'd decided to get another memory card as a spare. Luckily they had a 2Gb card in stock, so I'm now set for the rest of the week.
Lying on Mum and Dad's doormat this morning was a gorgeous buff tip moth - I took a few pictures of it with the Olympus, as it's pretty good at macro shots:
The weather hasn't really been up to much, though. We had another storm today, and the forecast for the rest of the week isn't that great.
I don't know what the guy in the tent next door was suffering from, but I have never heard snoring like it. I could hear him through my earplugs, and he kept going all night. When I woke up on Sunday morning, though, the first thing I heard when I removed my earplugs was the sound of rain on the tent canvas. It chucked it down for about an hour, and I lay in my sleeping bag wondering whether we were going to end up in a mud bath like Glastonbury. In the end, the rain stopped and the clouds thinned out a bit, and I stopped worrying. In fact, it brightened up quite a bit. We'd got the tents packed away by eleven, and Rebecca came onsite to take the first load away. We'd all been pretty fastidious about not leaving anything behind us, but as we took the camping gear back to the car, it was depressing to see how many people had just left their litter strewn all over the place: Hanham Park was a mess. The people who were clearing up after themselves were very much in the minority. Getting back to the gate was like running an assault course: random guy ropes, discarded beer cans, food packaging, bin liners with rubbish spilling out of the top, holes in the ground dug for campfires and the turf just thrown to one side - the place was a real tip. After handing the gear over it was a case of braving the festival toilets again (the less said about that the better, even though I'm told they were much better than the ones at Glastonbury) and then wandering along to the main arena.
I'd missed Louis de Bernieres, so I wandered over to the Uncut stage to see The Strange Death of Liberal England. If you've not heard about them, these are the band who only conduct interviews by writing on Post-It notes and who communicate with the audience by holding up slogans written on placards. But they still sing - I think I would have found it more in keeping with their approach if they'd shown the lyrics at the back of the stage and just played their instruments instead. or maybe held up pictures of the instruments they intended playing, I don't know. I think they were trying too hard with the whole communication thing, to be honest. The music was good, though - fast, aggressive pop with lots of drums and a certain amount of shouting.
Cate le Bon was on the Lake Stage, and she sounded pretty good, but I wandered about getting a t-shirt and some japanese noodles for lunch (they weren't that great).
The Early Edition gang were on today at four o'clock. "Hoonwatch" continued, with several sightings of the former cabinet minister who was seen "walking about." God knows what the poor guy must be wondering if he noticed the attention that he'd sparked; one person had actually taken a photograph of him. Mark Steel and Phill Jupitus joined them on stage, and Andre Vincent's resemblance to Mr Jupitus was uncanny. He explained that the previous evening he and Phil had been walking through the festival and had been stopped by a family: "You're that Phill Jupitus!" they said. "Can we have our picture taken with you?" At this point, they all stood next to Mr Vincent and handed Phill the camera to take the picture. He dutifully took their photograph as requested and let them go on their way none the wiser. Love it.
Martin White was back with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra - the first piece they played was entitled "The History of Europe." The MFMO are a band who reminded me of a chamber orchestra, sounding a bit like the finer moments of the Matmos album Civil War (and here's a coincidence: like Matmos, Martin White has performed with Bjork). The piece wasn't about the evolution of the current union, though - even if we were led to believe this would be the case. Instead, it related the story of how Joey Tempest and his fellows recorded "The Final Countdown." Wonderful stuff, and the crowd were singing along in no time.
I took out a bit of time to sit and watch the world go by in the afternoon, although I was listening to some of the bands playing in the different stages. Cherry Ghost sound interesting, and I ended up ordering a copy of the album when I got back. It rained for a short while in the afternoon, so I had my Barbour with me - yes, I know it's not exactly rock and roll, but it kept me dry.
Charlotte Hatherley's band definitely won the prize for the most monster bass sound of the festival (a Musicman Stingray through an Ampeg cab the size of a small wardrobe, by the looks of things) but Becky thought Ash's former guitarist looked and sounded very pissed off. Again, she was at the end of a tour taking in a large number of festivals, so maybe she wasn't in the best of moods, but all the same she rocked. I love the songs she writes, because they go way beyond basic three chord twelve bar stuff and the lyrics are always worth listening to. Talking of which, of course we got to hear Bastardo, which is a great pop song that was criminally underpromoted when it came out. And Edgar Wright directed the video for it.
The next band introduced themselves as "the dreadfully unfashionable Camera Obscura" but the number of people crammed into the tent indicated that they were extremely popular with the festival crowd. After a couple of numbers I could see why.
I came into Gruff Rhys's set not really knowing what to expect. I've seen the Super Furry Animals on the TV once or twice, and I can remember the buzz they started when they first appeared on Top Of The Pops before they'd even signed a record deal, but I can't claim to be familiar with his music. The troops have a few of the SFA albums, and I knew Rhys has released a couple of solo albums (which is where the material for tonight's performance came from) but that was about it. I knew things were going to be interesting as soon as the crew started setting up the stage: a giant television with a testcard at the back bearing the Candylion graphic, a newsreader's desk with various low-fi goodies placed on top, and to stage left a couple of seats from an airliner. Even so, I was blown away by the show. He built layer upon layer of sound using digital delays, but we're not talking washes of sound like Frippertronics here, oh no. These were complex, highly structured pieces with layer upon layer of vocals, synth drones, whirly toys and the occasional scream. I need to see this guy in full-on concert mode, and I will certainly be paying more attention to his work in future. The seats were there for "Skylon" which was shaping up to be an epic performance until it was pretty much curtailed by the fact that Rhys simply ran out of time.
I must have missed something vitally important in the last few years, I think. Because I found myself wondering how Pulp's former frontman Jarvis Cocker had somehow become a rock god. He was obviously playing with the role, standing astride two of the front stage monitors "like a colossus" as he put it. But he wasn't wrong. When he finished off his set with a stunning rendition of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" I was left wondering whether or not I'd dropped into a parallel universe where the king of Britpop had somehow been genetically fused with the spirit of Robert Plant and his like. On the other hand, Jarvis is such a down to earth character, bless him; he paused at one point to look at the clouds drifting across Suffolk and remarked how they'd probably go all pink and orange in an hour or so. "I'm rambling," he said. But it's literate, informed and entertaining rambling, which is one of the reasons why we love him so much.
Arcade Fire finished off the festival in great style. I've got the albums Funeral and Neon Bible, and they're both fantastic pieces of work. They also have a keen eye for stage presentations, with high technology imaging systems and a projection system showing graphics that Hawkwind would have given their eye teeth for. There were even some Chinese fire lanterns floating into the sky during their set, adding a dimension to the performance which was unexpected and very beautiful. The music, though, is where it starts and ends, and their stuff makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The day before, Arcade Fire had been headlining a concert in Spain (the whole "finishing the tour" thing seemed to be a common theme in the festival) and had arrived in Southwold in the early hours of Sunday morning. Apparently, a local covers band had been playing in the hotel when they checked in; "I know the exact moment rock and roll died," Win Butler said during one of his chats to the audience. "It was when that band played 'Johnny B. Goode.'" Ouch. I really hope that nobody from that band (whoever they were) was in the audience. A bit later on, Win added "Rock and roll might be dead, but it doesn't mean we can't still flail around when we want to," before winding up another blistering track. Ten people on stage at the same time (Owen Pallett from Final Fantasy was helping out by playing violin) can make an awesome noise when they want to.
The music finished at five past eleven. We retrieved Neil, who'd been at the front for pretty much all of the major acts (nice one, mate) and headed over to the A12 where I handed the troops over to Rebecca who collected them all and set off back to Solihull. As for me, I had to dive back into the mayhem of the car parks and retrieve my car. 75 minutes later I was on the A145 and heading back to Norfolk through increasingly dense fog. After several mugs of sweet tea and a hot bath I felt like a human being again and stumbled into bed at about three am.
It was a beautiful looking festival - the pastel coloured sheep really made it a bit "more than just a music festival," just as they slogan claimed. Hanham Park is a lovely part of the world and the festival was laid out to take full advantage of the parkland. The range and quality of the acts you could go and see was first rate, and I discovered that I liked quite a few bands I'd probably not have heard otherwise.
On the down side, it felt like some folk were being a bit too greedy. There were more people there than the place could cope with. Events in the Obelisk arena were only held in the open air because the tent they were going to use had been wrecked in a storm last week - thank goodness it was, because the arena area was packed solid for most of the headline acts and there's no way you'd have fitted them all in a tent. All the other stages were housed in marquees that were much too small for the number of people who wanted to get inside. The organisers need to either scale the numbers down (it was much bigger than last year) or get tents that can cope. And cashing in on people's misery by charging ten quid for a bottle of insect repellant was scandalous.
With a combination of earplugs to block out the noise and generally being worn out I slept much better and woke up at about eight thirty. Didn't really bother with breakfast, but one of the first things I did when we got to the arena was get a cup of coffee...
Lunchtime saw me sitting in the First Aid tent at the festival. I don't know what they do near Southwold, but the insects in the area are the most vicious bastards I've ever come across. A few years ago I was staying in Wangford and got bitten on the hand by something; I suspect it was a horsefly. Whatever it was, I had an allergic reaction to it and my hand swelled up until it looked like I was wearing a glove with a tennis ball inside it. Yesterday something closely related must have struck, because my hand ballooned up again and the tablets I'd bought at the medical centre hadn't touched it. I ended up paying three quid for a strip of Piriton, but they had the desired effect and by Sunday afternoon I could move my hand again. I wasn't alone, wither - the medical centre looked like a war zone, with a steady stream of people covered in very nasty looking bites and blotches coming through the door. I could hear Jack Palance's line from City Slickers echoing in my head: "City folk..."
Dylan Moran was on at three o'clock, but today the crowds were fifteen deep outside the comedy tent and I could barely hear what he was saying so we went elsewhere.
I was pretty glad I ended up at the Uncut stage, because I saw a blinding set by Steve Wold, better known as Seasick Steve, a genuine down-home bluesman who recorded and toured with Modest Mouse before they hired Johnny Marr. He's got a new album of blues songs out, and the first thing I did when I got back was order a copy.
Marcus Brigstock presented a session of the "Early Edition" programme in the Literary tent. There was a certain amount of good-natured mockery of the Eastern Daily Press, the local paper, and rather harsher criticism of various items in the Daily Mail, Express, and the Sun. Closer to home, claims that the former Minister of Defence, Geoff Hoon had been spotted watching The Hold Steady were backed up by the audience.
The main band I was at the festival was to see was The Hold Steady, and they didn't disappoint. They were playing the last night of a tour that they'd started in the middle of May, and like they said, they couldn't really have picked a better place to end up. "We formed this band to meet up and drink beer two nights a week. We can't believe we've come this far." That, for me, is what rock and roll's really all about. It's not about selling records, or making money, or even about having thousands of contacts on MySpace. It's about having a good time, and that's what they delivered.
I tagged along with the troops to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and was feeling very sorry for the vocalist, who was yodelling and yelping along to the music as if his voice was about to give up at any moment. Poor bloke, I said. he must be really suffering - couldn't anyone lend him a pack of Sinex or something? Oh no, I was told - he *always* sings like that. When the first track stopped, and he started to talk to the audience, we all found out he *talks* like that too. Once you get past the weird vocals, the band were pretty good, but not really my thing.
I'd seen CSS perform on the TV coverage at Glastonbury, where they were one of the bands suffering from dreadful sound. Given what I knew of the band (when they started only the drummer had any idea of how to play, and they are in the front line of the new wave of MySpace bands) I wasn't expecting them to be any good, but it turned out that not only can they play, they are also very entertaining; it can be nice to be proved wrong. The guys had gone off down the front and had helped singer Lovefoxxx do some crowd surfing, so they had a great time.
I know the headliners on Friday were the Good The Bad and The Queen, but instead of seeing Damon Albarn, Paul Simenon and the others I ended up in the Uncut Tent with Rodrigo y Gabriela. Wow. Absolutely Wow. It's an interesting world where two guitarists who used to play in a thrash metal band in Mexico can end up in Dublin playing mindblowingly good acoustic guitar and getting the audience to sing along in Southwold to a rendition of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" that gave me chills. They keep hold of their metal roots with licks from Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and a rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" but their version contains chordal arrangements that would give Jimmy Page nightmares. For me, they were the best thing of the festival - brilliance that was completely unexpected, totally left field, musically accomplished and tremendously entertaining. They also pushed audience participation beyond its normal limits, getting the tent clapping along with quite a complex two-part beat that sounded absolutely stunning once it got going. I'm hooked. As Ruth had done for Patrick Wolf, I went out and bought a t-shirt. During the set, someone in the crowd next to me commented how nice it was to be at a gig and not have to suffer someone blowing cigarette smoke over you = I hadn't really noticed up to that point, but she was absolutely right. In fact, the only arena where smoking was allowed was the Obelisk arena, which was in the open air (and most of the people who were smoking in there weren't smoking tobacco...)
John Sinclair was doing reading in the literary tent when we got there - with a big grey beard and the archetypal laid back American drawl, he reminded me of Sam Elliott's character in the Big Lebowski, but this guy used to hang out with Alan Ginsberg and managed the MC5 for a couple of years.
One of the things I was really looking forwards to was listening to Don Letts in the literary tent. He's a genuine musical legend in the UK: he filmed the first real documentary on Punk Rock, DJed for The Clash, played keyboards in Big Audio Dynamite and has written several books about the music business. Visually, folk don't come any more striking: his dreads now nearly reach his ankles. He's also got one of those extraordinary voices which I could listen to for hours. He was being interviewed by fellow Clash associate Johnny Green, who tried to structure the conversation but ended up getting in the way. They did a Q&A session at the end - and Don ended up climbing off the stage and sitting in the audience. As far as I'm concerned, he was by far the coolest person at the entire festival.
We stayed in the Literary tent for the last event, the Ghost and Horror story hour. It was quite entertaining; one highlight for me being a bonkers rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" played and sung by Martin White on the accordion with Peter Buckley Hill doing the Vincent Price rap. Someone else hammered a couple of forks up his nose which looked incredibly, eye-wateringly painful. However, Robin Ince topped everything when he invented a whole new literary genre: zombie horror slam poetry, which consisted of reading excerpts from Danielle Steele books and adding genre words such as "blood" "gore" and "guts" at regular intervals, while the sound man processed his voice with some of the cheesiest audio effects imaginable. Meanwhile a couple of the other members of the team performed an interpretative dance inspired by the words. The result was so funny I was literally crying with laughter. After that it was back to the tents for a beer (we'd managed to get some today) and then off to bed as light was dawning - I reckon it was about half past three in the morning!
I got very little sleep last night. One family close by had some kids who were already running around screaming at five thirty in the morning. I don't mind it when kids blow off steam; it's only to be expected, but there's a time and a place for it, and when they started falling into our tents and getting into our way because their parents had told to go and play somewhere else I told 'em to go away. Making your kids someone else's problem is not really on as far as I'm concerned. Maybe I was a bit grumpy with them, but I'd discovered I was covered in insect bites and felt decidedly uncomfortable. Southwold bugs really don't like me...
It was soup (heated on a primus stove) for breakfast today, then we stowed everything away and headed down to the arena. When we got there we watched a bit of stand up poetry: I have to say that some of them weren't that great, but I rather enjoyed Laura Dockrill's stuff - she's better known as Dockers MC. Neil was off and running - he'd planned his festival with military precision and had a long list of bands to go and check out. The rest of us had things on our lists, but I'd decided I was going to be pretty relaxed about what I saw, with a couple of exceptions: I was definitely going to see Bill Bailey, and The Hold Steady.
I spent quite a lot of time in the Comedy tent today. Rob Deering was on in the early afternoon. First thing he said when he came on: "Yes, I know. The head is massive." I didn't think it was... Funny guy, though: performing his introduction in the style of "surprised children's television presenter" was spot on. He was much better than I expected, too - sharp, witty, and with a great line in musical put downs; I get the impression he likes Oasis about as much as I do, and the next time I hear "Bat out of Hell" by Meat Loaf I will be picturing him standing there with a piece of bread in his mouth (you had to be there). He's a pretty decent guitarist, doing sterling renditions of Layla and Freebird using a variety of digital guitar effects and a delay line, and sang a couple of songs, one about drinking and one about religion, which went down very well indeed.
I'd not heard of Arnab Chanda before, but believe me, I'm sure you'll be hearing from him a lot in the future. He's from Pontefract in Yorkshire, but has lived in America and Saudi Arabia, which has given him quite an interesting world view and an American accent as well. Very quiet and soft spoken, he told some outrageous tales including one which involved some trouble which arose from his inability to distinguish between hummus and Hamas. It was a shame he didn't get a longer set, to be honest.
I went over to the supermarket to get a few things and called in to the medical tent to get some anti-histamine for my bites. Then it was back to the comedy tent. By now the crowds had grown and it was impossible to get inside; they were standing five deep around the edges. Paul Tonkinson was on, and was very funny too, but then it was time for Bill Bailey and the crowds really built up - he started off by getting everyone to sing the refrain from the Killers' song that goes "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier" but then stopped and remarked how silly this was. The next thing we knew, the audience were singing along with "I've got ham but I'm not a hamster," which is a much more satisfying set of lyrics, I think. Bill sang some of his most popular songs, and even came back for an encore of "Das Hokey Cokey" in the style of Kraftwerk, although he had a dodgy moment at the start when the theremin he was using refused to work. When it finally decided to join in it emitted a deafening explosion of distinctly un-musical noise which made Bill jump as much as it did everyone else. The audience wouldn't let him go with a single encore, either, so he came back and told us about the letters he'd been getting from the AA since he decided to leave, which was a routine I'd not heard before and was pretty funny.
After that, I nipped over to the Uncut arena. I'd bought the first Aqualung album when it came out, but Matt Hales's later releases had slipped past without me noticing. Not any more - he played a blinding set and I immediately resolved to catch up on his work. His spoken introductions to the songs were quite interesting, as he was having a bit of a problem with wasps which had apparently chosen the Uncut Stage as the place to hang out. The wasps got quite a few mentions. His bass player looked as if he'd have been at home in Metallica or Sepultura, but the band's sound was very tight, and I was really sorry when their set - all of 45 minutes - came to an end.
Then it was back over to the Obelisk arena. Rob's been raving about the Magic Numbers for quite a while, and I've seen them on TV a few times, but this was my first chance to catch them live. They were great.
The troops had all decided that Wilco were the band to see on Friday night. I tagged along, as much out of curiosity as anything else, as I'd never heard any of their stuff. Their set felt strangely unbalanced, as numbers built and built bit then stuttered to a halt. The pace was all over the place. In my opinion they were also overly fond of letting a piece of music degenerate into noise with the drummer thrashing around the drum kit, the lighting posing a serious threat to anyone prone to epilepsy and the rest of the band subjecting their instruments to a serious amount of abuse. It's not a bad stunt to pull off for effect once, but when they'd done it for the fourth time in about half an hour I was getting rather irritated.
After Wilco we wandered back to the Uncut Stage. I'd never heard of Air Traffic, but I was impressed with their musicianship and their sound. I found myself thinking how much better they were than Wilco, which is kind of unfair, as music should never be about who's best. I also realised just how young they all looked - some of them only took their A-levels three years ago.
As for Patrick Wolf, I'm afraid I didn't think very much of his act at all, as it just appeared to be a rehash of Steve Strange with a bit of a disco feel - although anyone who had built his own theremin by the age of 14 deserves a certain amount of respect. I was in a minority of one though; the girls thought he was great and Ruth went off and bought a t-shirt. I wandered back to the Obelisk arena, where the Magic Numbers had appeared back on stage to join Damien Rice for a rendition of "We Shall Be released." Good stuff.
I think perhaps my increasing uncharitableness in the evening was probably due to me being absolutely knackered, as when we got back to the tents I pretty much collapsed in a heap and after putting earplugs in I went out like a light.
I spent a couple of days relaxing with Mum and Dad this week, but on the Thursday it was time to put the camping gear in the car and head off for Suffolk. It's the Latitude Festival at Hanham Park, just off the A12 near Southwold, which is a familiar haunt for me as I've been going there for my holidays since the 1970s.
The weather wasn't that great today, with quite a few showers blowing through. I got to Southwold in the late afternoon wondering how muddy things were going to be. I put the tent up in a gap between showers, and the troops arrived about an hour later with something that resembled an aircraft hangar more than a tent - it went up remarkably easily, too. So the five of us were set up in a field along with thousands of other campers, and once we were sorted we exchanged our tickets for wristbands and went along to see what was happening. Sadly, we just missed John Hegley on the Poetry Stage and I didn't see Mark Kermode talking about Hitchcock, but we spent some time wandering around and getting our bearings and trying to take it all in. There's a lot to do - about half a dozen stages for performances, some taking place in tents and some in the open air, surrounded by a lot of stalls selling all sorts of things from dijeridoos to ethnic clothing and food vans providing a bewildering variety of catering, including fresh coffee, thank goodness.
Then it was back to the tents for a few beers, sitting around talking and getting bitten by insects, and then making an attempt at getting some sleep.
We had another barbecue today as it was Lela's birthday. Frankfurters for the kids, and burgers and such for the adults. The marquee from the weekend was taken down this morning so the kids and dogs could run about in the garden as usual while the rest of us drank beer and caught up with what everyone had been doing. Folks who turned up included Charlotte, one of Annabelle's friends from our days in West Wickham; I hadn't seen her for over twenty years.
By Monday evening most friends and relatives had left to go home, so life began getting back to normal for Mum and Dad. As for me, I'm staying on for a couple of days, and I plan on nipping in to Holt to do a bit of shopping but otherwise pretty much chilling out.
The weather stayed kind so I ran a barbecue at the front of my parents' house today. Everyone was pretty chilled after yesterday, and serving burgers and chops on paper plates makes for much less clearing up than cooking a proper meal for a couple of dozen people.
My sister Annabelle got married in Holt today. Mr and Mrs Edward Bolton had a great day, and everyone else did too.
The weather was kind - in fact the sun was blazing as Annabelle and Ed came out of the church. I was official photographer, something I've not done before, but I breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the pictures and said they were great. Having some nice sunshine was a great help! I also got to take some shots with my brother Andy's camera gear; it's the first time I'd used L glass on a Canon, and I was surprised how much faster it was at focusing.
The reception was held in an enormous marquee on Mum and Dad's front lawn, relatives from all over the country (and Zambia and the United States) turned up, and we all had lots of very nice food and drink.
I've been investigating a little creative project recently (more on that when I've got something more definite) and in the process I discovered that there's a revolution going on in the print industry that's probably the most significant development for several centuries. Machines that will print and bind a book for you in a matter of minutes have shrink to the size where you could keep one at the back of your garage. Or in your living room, if you're *really* into publishing.
As one of the comments on the Wired article linked above points out, the financial threshold for printing is dropping. In fact, it's gone in to free fall. When companies like Moo will print you 100 double sided contact cards with each one carrying a unique picture all for ten quid plus shipping, you know something interesting's going on. I'd like to think that the next few years will see a renaissance in the book world, with millions of interesting books coming to market - in small numbers, for sure, but getting out there and being read and enjoyed. In fact, when you look at companies such as Qoop and Blurb, you realise that the renaissance is already under way.
I think I've just found the ideal gift item for anyone with a keen eye for the latest cultural meme (hint hint). I don't know what set them off, but there are some cracking t-shirts available this summer.
Oh, that reminds me - have I mentioned the Questionable Content webcomic yet? Thanks to Rob, I'm now hooked. Thanks, Rob. I'm sure you'll be amused to read that getting through the weekends, when it's not updated, can be a real struggle.
Sorry to keep banging on about Doctor Who, but it's been one of those weeks. Now the BBC have announced that Catherine Tate will be the Doctor's new companion, reprising her role as Donna, the bride-to-be unwittingly caught up in an alien invasion in last year's Christmas special. Um. Remember what I was saying yesterday? I think Tate's casting swings the next season very firmly into pantomime territory. So, yeah, I'm bovvered. I'm not alone, either. The online reaction doesn't sound that favourable. When people talk about Donna's apprearance at Christmas the word screeching tends to get used a fair bit. They make regular use of annoying, as well.
I'm sure Ms Tate will do her best, and given that she spent a year in the Royal Shakespeare Company she's obviously very talented, but the character of Donna really didn't fit that well with the series, in my opinion. Too shouty. Too abrasive. And not particularly good for the other characters, either: a colleague of mine noted that the Doctor's main dramatic responses to Donna in the Christmas episode consisted of either rolling his eyes or gurning (presumably to express his discomfort), neither of which is appropriate behaviour for a time lord. What a shame, I thought things were looking up.
The rumours I've been hearing for the past week were confirmed last night - the special guest on the Christmas episode of Doctor Who is going to be Kylie Minogue. I think Kylie's fab, but for one reason or another the news (and the context of a Christmas story) made me realise something quite profound about how I view the show.
In England, there are two long running traditions which are celebrated at Christmas. One involves lots of actors letting their hair down a bit and taking over a theatre, where they frequently indulge in cross dressing and acting out children's stories. All the dialogue is laced with somewhat embarrassing innuendo so that while toddlers enjoy it on one level, adults get it on another. I'm talking about pantomime, or "panto".
The plot in panto is second place - it's all about giving the audience a chance to see whatsisname-off-the-telly actually doing something markedly different, and doing it for real right there in front of you without the safety of an autocue or multiple takes. Everyone has a jolly good laugh and nobody takes things very seriously at all, least of all the audience, who will be required to hiss the villain and shout out "he's behind you!" at some point to the bemused hero or heroine.
The second Christmas tradition is the ghost story. The BBC used to broadcast some cracking adaptations of the classics on Christmas Eve, particularly the adaptation of Charles Dickens's story The Signalman. As a reflection of the pagan roots of the Christmas season, the ghost story is a powerful expression of our relationship with the supernatural, of how we can occasionally interact with forces or entities beyone our comprehension, and nobody wrote them better than the late, lamented M R James. The stories could be very, very dark - they are most definitely not fare for really small children. The Beeb resurrected the tradition recently with a version of James's A view from a hill and I hope they'll do another one this year.
The insight I had last night was simply that what I consider to be the really good episodes of Doctor Who contain large elements of both these traditions. They were fun, had fairly simple plots and easily identifiable villains, but they could also scare the crap out of me when I was younger. The secret of the show's appeal was in getting that balance absolutely spot on; for me, one of the main reasons the show failed so miserably in the years leading up to its eventual cancellation was that it progressively lost the ability to achieve any equilibrium between the two forms. Clearly, having a star like Kylie signed up for the Christmas episode screams "pantomime" very loudly, but the episode title, which is "Voyage of the damned," is a hopeful sign that the ghost story elements are in there too. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed between now and Christmas - let's hope that Russell T Davies and the gang get it right.
On a related note, one of the guys in the office yesterday was talking about how he'd had to go and pick up a parcel from Cardiff recently. Ifor realised that the guy in front of him in the queue was John Barrowman. Unfortunately, Captain Jack hadn't got any means of identification with him so the guy in the parcel office wouldn't let him pick up the parcel. In fact, he showed no signs of recognising him at all.
Then one of the other people in the queue came to the rescue. "I know you," he said.
"You're from that... Tanglewood."
The BBC are running a story today about how loud music can damage the hearing of nightclubbers, and suggests that the average sound pressure level at a disco is 110 decibels, which is too much.
Poor dears. My generation went to gigs where the stage was built out of speakers. I regularly came home from concerts with a ringing in my ears that lasted several days (yes, I soon learned to wear earplugs; that's probably why I can still hear at all). I think the loudest event I ever attended was a Motörhead gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in the early 80s which messed up my hearing so badly it took a week for the ringing to stop.
There's an entertaining but rather graphic blog about loud bands which lists the greatest achievers in the field (I was at the Port Vale gig mentioned at No. 3 - believe it or not, I saw one guy asleep with his head in the PA enclosures that Lemmy described). To put things into perspective, the Olympus 593 jet engines fitted to Concorde used to run at about 115 decibels. Now, bear in mind that sound is measured on a logarithmic scale, so every increase of 3 decibels means there's double the amount of energy present. So when the blog mentions that Manowar (in the list at number ten) were measured for the Guinness Book of Records at 129.5 decibels, that means that the band's sound output was approximately 32 times that of a supersonic airliner taking off, and closer to 100 times the sound level recommended for nightclubs. Proof, should any be needed, that disco is for wimps.
My bad mood from the weekend was softened a bit today by the news that Freema Agyeman will appear in the next seasons of both Doctor Who and Torchwood, and I have to admit that the Pet Shop Boys appearance at the Guardian's Secondfest bash was actually quite well done, even if the system eventually ground to a halt.
I've spent the last thirty six hours or so wondering why the number of hits I get on my website each day trebled on Sunday. I think I've just found out - it's because of this guy. Nice one, Bomber.
I dunno - I'm feeling gloomy at the moment and the weekend's not been that great. Maybe it's the atrocious weather, but I've been feeling down for the last few days, and it seems worse today. The fact that the country has gone mad doesn't help. I'm still not sleeping well, which never helps, but sitting in front of this computer for hours probably doesn't do me any favours, either. I ended up typing a five page document this morning which I hope to turn into a white paper for the intranet at work. From the fact that I'm spending my Sunday doing office work, it should be obvious that my social life leaves a lot to be desired right now, and it's really getting me down. But when my ex-wife starts turning up in my dreams, I know I'm in trouble. I just wish I knew what my subconscious is trying to tell me.
The Secondfest festival that I blogged about yesterday was a bit of a disappointment - I'd been really looking forwards to the appearance of the Cinematic Orchestra, but they only did two numbers and all that happened was the screen in the virual world played two video clips that lasted about ten minutes. I was expecting much more. I'll still probably have a look at the Pet Shop Boys performance tonight, but I'm no longer expecting to be impressed.
I was also very disappointed by the season finale of Doctor Who, which had far too many gaping plot holes, way too much overacting and scenery chewing (John Simm, go and stand in the corner), and too much of the "you've just got to believe in me" shenanigans to be truly satisfying. Too many stories this year have included unwarranted leaps in plot or location with minimal build-up or exposition; things got off to a bad start this week as soon as the "one year later" caption came up - I just felt cheated. The computer graphics this week, particularly the aged Doctor, were dreadful. And the departure of Martha Jones was the biggest disappointment of them all. She's been a great character, and the fact that Freema Agyeman is extremely cute has been a significant factor in making sure that I've tuned in to the show every week.
The only positive note was an interesting reference to the long-term future of Captain Scarlet - I'm sorry, Captain Jack Harkness - which reveals that he ends up becoming one of the other characters we've seen in the last few seasons of the show (and Wikipedia are impressively quick off the mark; their entry is already bang up to date). That, at least, was an inventive little touch. But the ending - setting up a Christmas special on the Titanic by the looks of things - was just plain stupid with the bows of the ship crashing through the Tardis walls. Very disappointing.
The weekend hasn't been a total write-off, though. I picked up a couple of second hand lenses yesterday for my Olympus OM1n: a Zuiko 70-150mm zoom lens and an Ozeck 28-100mm macro lens. They were cheap, and both lenses have cleaned up quite nicely. I don't shoot as much film as I used to, but I'd never get rid of my film cameras. The 28-100 has a nice range for a 35mm SLR, so I'm leaving it on the camera as the default lens for the moment. When I get some film developed, I'll put it up on Flickr.