I don't think I can face trying to write a review of the year today. I didn't write one last year, or the year before, and after reading what I wrote back in 2016 about urgent action being necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change, I just feel very depressed. Three years on, no real action has been taken and the global situation is deteriorating rapidly. Australia is currently on fire but I have no confidence that the Australian, British or American governments have any interest in doing something about the matter. Despite supporting a a 2050 net zero target for greenhouse emissions, Boris appointed several climate change deniers to his cabinet after the election. This isn't particularly surprising, given that he's being bankrolled by the climate change denial organization founded by Nigel Lawson, but it's depressingly predictable. I used to greet the turn of the year with optimism and hope for the future, but these days the overwhelming vibe is one of doom and gloom.
I guess we have to find our sources of good cheer wherever we can, but it's not been easy. My festive season this year has been a distinctly low-key affair that I've continued to spend on my own. Yesterday's excitement reached fever pitch when I decided to clean the oven after making bacon sandwiches for my tea. I'll admit that the oven was in desperate need of sprucing up, as I don't think I've cleaned it once this year, but it's not exactly the most celebratory thing to do, is it? Still, it does look nice and shiny this morning.
It's probably good that I'm at home today, as I'm still suffering the aftereffects of a bout of what I think was food poisoning that hit me on Sunday night. Whatever it was, it gave my stomach muscles more of a workout than they've had for months, and as a result it hurts when I cough (which I've been doing a lot this morning, for some reason.) Nevertheless I managed to get a restful night last night, and was up and about before ten for the first time in a week or so.
This afternoon I'm going to run off a few more copies of my Christmas CD to distribute at the New Year's Eve party I'm going to this evening. I have my "Celebrate New Year's Eve with They Might Be Giants" shirt ready to go, so I'm going to do my best to enjoy myself and try not to worry too much about what 2020 is going to bring.
2019 has been mean, right until the last; the deaths of both Neil Innes and Syd Mead were announced yesterday. Both men had a profound effect on my creative life.
As a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, Neil was a source of joy for me from my early childhood. The high point of my week was watching the Bonzos on the ITV show Do Not Adjust Your Set and when I finally got a cassette recorder and could listen to the music that I wanted to hear, Gorilla was an early favourite. Neil's talent as a songwriter was not lost on his friends in Monty Python's Flying Circus, either—being able to sing the Tale of Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety was a guaranteed way to rapidly gain social acceptance for any boy at school in the 70s. But it wasn't until I got seriously in to music in the 80s that I realised just how talented he was as a musician. Eric Idle's pastiche of the Beatles created for Rutland Weekend Television The Rutles would not have been anywhere near as good (or as funny) as it was without the spot-on songs that were written and performed by Neil. They sounded more like the Beatles than the Beatles did; dare I say it, some of the music produced for the film was a darn sight better than some of the Beatles' own output. I was lucky enough to see Neil perform at Cheltenham Town Hall a few years ago, and he was talented and funny and modest and the realisation that there won't be any new Neil Innes songs in the future has left me feeling sad.
Syd Mead was most often described as a "visual futurist" but that doesn't come anywhere near conveying either his style or the impact that his work had on me, or indeed on the world in general. He worked as a designer for the Ford Motor Company and cars were always a huge obsession of his, but his design work always involved thinking about the wider world in which his designs would be used. As a result of this, he was responsible for much of the design of Ridley Scott's classic move Blade Runner (which was set in 2019) almost by accident—the backgrounds of his vehicle sketches for the film established the look and feel of a dystopian megacity that Scott ended up translating into physical sets. Syd also contributed to the look of other films that include TRON, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Aliens, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner 2049. I was a sucker for his shiny, neon-enriched visions of a brushed-steel and anodised aluminium future, and I still am. He will be sadly missed.
I'm enjoying the lull between Christmas and New Year, and I've not been up to much. That might be because I have consumed a quantity of roast potatoes over the last three days that approached my own bodyweight (and I have finally established that I get the best results by boiling them for nine minutes, leaving them to cool and dry out for an hour, then coating them with olive oil and a dash of salt and putting them in the oven for forty minutes; parsnips get more or less the same treatment but I boil them for 5 minutes and roast them for thirty).
Once again, I'm staying at home this Christmas. It's been a low-stress, low-intensity few days and I've enjoyed myself more than I expected; when I was younger, the prospect of spending Christmas on my own would have horrified me, but now I find it's actually rather a pleasant experience.
Having said that, I've reached that stage of Christmas where I have completely lost track of what day of the week it is.
I've been noodling in the studio, installing a VST plugin that emulates the EMT-140 plate reverb—the first plate reverb ever made, and arguably still one of the best—that Arturia are offering as a free download until the end of the month. The original EMT-140 weighed 275 kg (600 pounds) so the chances of me getting a real one in the studio without the house collapsing are pretty slim. I have also bought Arturia's Pigments 2 software synth after they emailed me with a crossgrade offer that was too good to ignore; I've only scratched the surface of it so far, but I'm really impressed by the complex tones and timbres it produces.
And I took my crackly old volume pedal apart and cleaned it up. It was badly in need of some TLC (and a few squirts of Servisol) and it is now no longer crackly for the first time in a couple of years. It's just over a month until February Album Writing Month gets under way again, and I think I'm ready.
My current lethargy probably owes more to the fact that this week I have been struggling to get a good night's sleep. I sleep long enough; it's more that I don't sleep deeply enough. According to my watch's tracker, last night I spent almost the entire night in light, REM sleep. There was little evidence of deep, restorative NREM sleep and I also got up several times during the night to drink some water.
I just can't get comfortable enough to drift off to sleep. The sooner I get my kidney problems sorted out, the happier I'll be. Until then, I am getting by with the occasional nap in the afternoon. It's not the best solution, but it helps.
This year's Christmas television has left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. The BBC's recent "both sides"-ism and alleged breaking of electoral law have left such a nasty taste that I find it difficult to watch any of their channels any more, and apparently I'm not alone; according to social media, the BBC are beginning to realise that their reputation has been trashed and their viewing figures have plummeted. However, I have made a point of watching this year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures which are being presented by Dr Hannah Fry, who has been ably assisted by Matt Parker.
Other than that, I haven't found much to engage my interest on any of the UK channels. Blaze have been showing a seemingly unending barrage of "it was aliens" documentaries that push media credulity to new depths. It's never a good sign when Nick Pope makes regular appearances, or when shows focus on cases that were revealed to be fake by the hoaxers themselves years ago. In programmes like theirs, the use of critical thinking and concepts such as the law of parsimony or Ockham's Razor are entirely absent; it's no wonder we're in the mess we're now in if this reflects current popular patterns of thought. And likewise, the Pick Freeview channel has largely been sticking to its standard fare of xenophobia and class prejudice (I don't really need to tell you what shows like "Caught Red-Handed", "Brit Cops; Frontline Crime", "Border Patrol" or "Nothing To Declare" are about, do I?) You could rename it as "The Brexit Channel" and nobody would bat an eyelid. The work of Dr Fry excepted, UK television makes for profoundly depressing viewing at the moment (and is it just me, or is the picture quality of the standard-definition terrestrial channels worse now than it has ever been?)
The best non-science programme I've watched over the last week wasn't on a British channel at all; it was a documentary about the architecture of French ski resorts built in the Fifties and Sixties including Avoriaz, which was broadcast on the French channel MB Live. It's been a while since I stayed there, but I still vividly remember skiing down many of the pistes and trails that were shown on the programme. It was a lovely shot of nostalgia, and just what I needed to feel properly festive.
It's become a bit of a tradition here on the Blog to note the occurrence of the winter solstice, which took place at 04:19 UTC this morning. I haven't anything to add to my examination of the technical ins-and-outs that I wrote up a couple of years ago, but the fact that the solstice took place on the 22nd this year instead of the more usual 21st confused some people. It does occasionally happen—the last time the solstice wasn't on the 21st was four years ago—but it still catches people out. At least one solstice event was cancelled yesterday after organisers discovered they'd got the date wrong (I won't embarrass them further by linking to news reports here, but should you wish to do so, you should be able to find them quite easily on social media).
Now that astronomical winter has started as well as meteorological winter, I was hoping that the weather would finally start to turn a little more festive, but this is not the case. Outside, the weather here is breezy with a scattering of cumulus but there are also some patches of blue sky in evidence. Heavy showers are expected later with a maximum temperature of 10°C. The forecast for Christmas Day here is "Mostly dry with sunny spells," and there's no talk of snow at all; the remainder of the week is likely to be rainy and windy.
I may go out for a walk or two, all the same. I recently rewaxed my trusty old Barbour after not doing so for a few years; I was amazed not only by how much wax it managed to absorb (all of one tin of thorn-proof dressing, and quite a bit of the subsequent tub I bought), but also by how many shades darker it was by the time I'd finished. It's now ready to brave the elements once again, and I guess I am too. And after a highly calorific Christmas dinner, I suspect I will really need to boost my daily step count.
I was casting my mind back yesterday trying to figure out how long I've had IDNet as my ISP; I had a feeling it was getting on for a decade, but when I consulted the Blog to find out exactly when I made the switch (because amongst other things, the Blog makes for a fine aide-memoire), I discovered to my surprise that it was more than eleven years ago. I'm still very happy with them as a provider, and after talking to my neighbours at a party last week it would appear that the speeds I'm getting with IDNet are considerably faster than they get with some of the big multinational ISPs.
Almost twice as fast, in some cases. Go IDNet!
I completed my Christmas shopping well in advance of Christmas Eve this year, which has not always been the case. I still need one or two items for my personal Christmas like fresh limes for festive G&Ts, so I will probably nip out tomorrow for one last trip to the shops, but other than that I'm good to go, I think.
So it's time to fire up the studio once more and record something for Christmas, I reckon...
This month I've been trying to increase my physical activity levels, with varying amounts of success (yesterday my step count barely hit 4,000) and I've been making sure that I drink at least three pints of fluids a day. I am also trying to be sensible about what I eat—not easy, given that it's Christmas next week—and since Monday I have managed to lose five of the pounds that I'd put back on over the previous fortnight.
But I'm not feeling at my best at the moment.
It's been over a week since I completed a round of hospital tests to establish what is wrong with me, and I'm still waiting for a formal diagnosis from the consultant. While I'm almost certain that the problem is that I've developed at least one and possibly more kidney stones, it would be nice to know for sure and it would be even nicer to start being treated for them; I am having a lot of trouble sleeping at the moment because I just can't get comfortable enough to fall asleep and as a result, I feel exhausted most of the time. I probably did need to replace my old mattress, but as of late, the new one hasn't been helping as much as I'd hoped it would.
Right now I can't face a three- or four-hour drive to see anyone. I'm not all that sure I'd be able to manage it, even if I tried. My plans for this Christmas are, therefore, simply to stay at home, keep warm, drink lots of fluids, watch lots of films and read lots of books and that's about as far as it goes. It's a shame, but on the other hand the introvert side of my personality thinks it sounds like a pretty awesome idea.
I released a new instrumental single last week and after I did so, a pal pointed out to me that this means I've written a hundred pieces of music this year. That's something I never expected to be able to say I've done. Before I started taking part in February Album Writing Month, I'd go for years without recording anything new and in the first decade I moved here, I think I wrote three pieces of music. They weren't particularly good tracks, either.
I think the quality of what I produce has improved tremendously in recent years, and participating in online challenges like FAWM and Fifty/Ninety is the largest single contributing factor to that improvement. Getting feedback from other songwriters is a great way of learning what works and what doesn't, and as a result of all that critical appraisal I have learnt a tremendous amount about all aspects of music.
And apart from anything else, it's huge fun. It's not long until FAWM 2020 kicks off, and I'm already looking forward to coming up with some new tunes.
The Christmas card I got from Helen this week said "Get that Christmas tree out and have a few gins," so I have done exactly that. And with some Christmas lights draped across the shelves at either side of the television, the living room looks a little more festive now.
In fact I think I'm more or less prepared for Christmas; I've done all the shopping and over the next couple of days I'll be putting together my traditional Christmas CD. I might even record a fresh track for it.
Whatever you're doing over the next week or so, I hope you have a very pleasant time.
It may be Friday the Thirteenth today, but I haven't been as glad to get to the end of a week for a very long time. Yesterday I completed a set of visits to a selection of local hospitals where I have been poked, prodded and zapped in an attempt to find out what's been wrong with me. I underwent a flexible cystoscopy on Wednesday (and I strongly suggest that you don't Google that to find out what it is, particularly if you're a bloke) and then had an ultrasound examination yesterday. It's left me feeling rather fragile, and if you did just use Google to find out what they did to me you'll understand what I mean when I say that some parts of my anatomy are still rather tender. Today I don't intend leaving the house; I'm just going to stay indoors, chill out, and avoid watching any of the TV news channels.
The discomfort has been worth it, as the tests have confirmed my own amateur diagnosis: the reason I've been feeling so rough for the last three months turns out to be a thirteen-millimetre kidney stone that is currently lodged in my left kidney. It was visible on the ultrasound scan. There may be more of them; ultrasound doesn't always pick them up. When I was a kid, the best imaging technique available for looking at kidney stones was something called an intravenous pyelogram, or IVP. I had many of these in my childhood, but these days it's more common to have a CT scan, so I suspect that I'll be having one of those next to establish how I can be treated. Then, with luck, I can be zapped with ultrasound, which is used to loosen and break up stones so they can be passed when I pee, like the two I've already passed (which have been taken away for analysis—very disappointing, as I'd hoped to keep them as souvenirs...)
So although I am still unwell, I know what the problem is and most importantly for me I know it's something far less unpleasant than some of the scenarios I've been imagining over the last couple of months. This is a common condition that can usually be sorted out without too much fuss, allowing my life to get back to normal.
Whatever counts for "normal" these days, anyway.
On Thursday night I headed over to the Great Hall at Cardiff University to see Devin Townsend play his first ever concert in Wales. It was an excellent show. Dev was in fine form, and really looked like he was enjoying himself a lot. And with the band that he'd brought with him, I'm not surprised—he was joined on stage by Mike Keneally playing guitar and keyboards (simultaneously, at times!), Markus Reuter on Touch Guitar, and Ché Aimee Dorval and Morgen Ågren from Casualties of Cool, as well as Diego Tejeda on keyboards, Nathan Navarro on bass, and a three piece choir consisting of Samantha Preis, Anne Preis, and Arabella Packford.
When Dev announced this tour, he emphasised that everything would be played "without a net" with no click track or backing tracks. But the resulting sound didn't suffer. If anything, it was radically improved, delivering an immense wall of complex textures that sounded superb. The new band were well versed in Dev's back catalogue, too. As well as material off the new album we were treated to lots of my favourite tracks including (to my delight) Coast, Gato, and Heaven Send from the DTP album Ki and (of course) Lucky Animals and Kingdom off Epicloud.
Few people can get a crowd going like Dev can. He got us all shouting "Kittens!" in our best metal voices at one point. Later on he decided that it would be cool if we all jumped up and down and shouted "beep" as we did so. So we did. "No, that's not cool at all, let's stop," he told us. So we stopped.
I know I can't be particularly objective about anything that Dev does, as I'm a huge fan of his and have been for years. I've got more than thirty albums that he's worked on in my collection. And I'm going to be particularly biased about this tour because my friend Markus is in the band. But I'm not being at all hyperbolic when I say that it was one of the most satisfying gigs I've been to in a long time.
I made my annual pilgrimage to Hammersmith on Friday to see this year's Compendium of Reason show. I've gone to these events every year since 2015 and they've become a highlight of my year. When I had a beer with Robin last month he promised me that this year was going to be a good one, and he was absolutely right. This year I didn't get stuck in a traffic jam on the M4 so I'd dropped off my donation with the lovely Trussell Trust people outside, bought a pint of IPA from the bar and was comfortably settled in my seat before the lights went down and the show got under way.
Robin and Brian brought the giant screen from their recent world tour with them, and together with a very impressive set of lasers, the show's visuals this year were stunning. PowerPoint has never looked so good. This year's proceedings start off a conch shell blown by Steve Pretty from stage right, where he is safely ensconced with his band, The Origin of the Pieces. Robin and Brian come on stage to welcome everyone, before handing the stage over to Dr Dean Burnett, who gives a very funny talk about whether or not Christmas really is a time to eat, drink, and be merry, and he is followed by Steve Backshall talking about climate change and the time that he was chased by a very large polar bear while he was kayaking in the Arctic. The accompanying video gets a huge laugh, although it clearly wasn't funny for Steve at the time! The first musical guest of the evening is on next and turns out to be the wonderful Tanita Tikaram, who sang her song "Good Tradition" from her first album Ancient Heart which I had on continuous repeat on my car stereo back in the 1980s (I wore the tape out). I sat there listening with a huge grin on my face; she's still one of my favourite singer/songwriters.
Robin returned to the stage while furniture was moved about, which led in to a fireside chat between the presenters of last year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, Professors Alice Roberts and Aoife McLysaght, who talked about the archaeological and genetic evidence for when dogs were first domesticated. It was at least fifteen thousand years ago, and possibly long before that. I was waiting for them to mention Dogor, the 18,000-year-old Siberian puppy, but Robin and Brian were back on stage to introduce Dr Andrew Steele, who gave us some statistics on United States spending on the space programme and cheese (cheese has won out every year since the early 1970s) and reported on a recent YouGov survey that had found that most of the UK population didn't want to go to the moon either because "there wasn't enough to do there" or because "it was too far away", which should tell you all you need to know about how much attention you should be paying to YouGov surveys.
The Sky at Night presenter Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock was the first of the evening's presenters to talk about the Moon (it is, after all, fifty years since Apollo 11 landed there) and then Steve Pretty and the band invited us to join in a rendition of his daughter's song "Farting on the Couch" (which really deserves to be the Christmas number one) before the first half of the show is brought to a close by a blinding set from the one and only Eddie Izzard, who makes stand-up look completely effortless.
The second half of the show kicks off with Jack Liebeck and his string ensemble, who storm (aha) through "Winter" from Vivaldi's four seasons suite. The audience goes nuts at the end of each movement. Then Dr Ben Goldacre treats us to some live clinical trial dataset referencing, Josie Long enthuses about Greta Thunberg, and Grace Petrie belts out a passionate version of her song Farewell to Welfare with the backing of Steve Pretty and the band.
It wouldn't be a Compendium without Commander Chris Hadfield, and he returns to the subject of the Moon and explains how the Apollo program got there, finishing with a look at how we might return there and finally get round to establishing a permanent base at what the astronomer Flammarion called the the Peaks of Eternal Light, near the Moon's poles. To the audience's obvious delight, the next act is Milton Jones, who roars through a series of one-liners that elicit joyful groans from the audience, some even before he's got to the punch line ("I can see you're ahead of me..."). He goes down a storm and fist-bumps Robin when he goes off. Robin has returned to ask us if he ought to bring Chris Hadfield back on stage, and when everyone roars their approval, Chris is followed on stage by two more astronauts, Helen Sharman and Major Tim Peake. The audience goes nuts.
We get a twenty-minute discussion of life in space, ranging from diarrhea (we learn that Apollo 8 is known as the diarrhea mission) to enemas (although we are told that these come in two forms for astronauts, we are spared the details of what the difference is between the Russian type and the American type). Helen Sharman reveals that astronauts on the ISS frequently suffer from kidney stones as the body decides it has too much calcium (and given my current condition, I was fascinated by that little factoid). The giant screen plays a slideshow of photographs of the Earth that Tim Peake took from orbit. To my right, Eddie Izzard sneaks in to the auditorium to watch the discussion. Pretty much everyone is so engrossed they don't notice. Helen Sharman turns out to be a Tanita Tikaram fan and explains that she chose "World Outside Your Window" to listen to during her stay on the Mir space station.
Then Chris Hadfield rounds off the show with the carol he performed on board the ISS, accompanied by Jack Liebeck and the strings and Steve Pretty and the band. Together they play a beautiful arrangement of Space Oddity. The audience goes nuts again. Robin and Brian draw things to a close and Robin announces that the donations of food for the Trussell Trust have been so generous that their van was completely filled up; nevertheless, it's not lost on anyone that the fact that the Trust's work has become a necessity for a lot of people in this country is a sign of just how bad things have got thanks to the present government.
And then it's all over for another year and I'm back on the tube to Osterley to pick up the car and drive home. By 2 am I've filled the car up with petrol in Bradley Stoke (I'd driven three hundred and fifty miles since I last filled it up, and the tank was still a quarter full) and by 2:15 I'm back home and trying to wind down. I'm buzzing and still chuckling at Milton Jones's jokes and it's 4 am before I finally fall asleep.
I've already bought my ticket for next year's show. Weirdly, it's just two seats away from the seat I had this year. I'm already looking forward to it.
When I switched my Yamaha amplifier to Net Radio yesterday to nurture my current habit of listening to the Goon Show, I was rather disappointed to discover that all my presets had disappeared and the amp sat there silently, displaying a "Please Wait" message. I assumed the service was temporarily offline and switched to DAB to listen to something else instead, but when I tried again this morning, the same thing happened. However, a quick search on home audio forums on the web suggested that I should switch the power off at the mains for ten seconds and then switch it back on. That fixed the problem; all my presets have returned and right now I am listening to some rather chilled music on WGBH Boston's jazz 24/7 channel.
Which just goes to show that the maxim made famous by The IT Crowd of "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" holds as true for home audio equipment as it does for computers.
My collection of kidney stones is growing; I passed another one on Friday. I'll be going for tests next week to try to establish exactly what's going on.
It's not as widely known as it should be that if you have a device connected to the Internet, the average amount of time it takes for someone to attempt to break into it is less than five minutes. In these days of smart devices (from televisions to light bulbs to doorbells) the number of different ways for hackers to break in to your home network is proliferating faster than companies are securing their products, and the results of security lapses can be far-reaching and even potentially lethal. Port scanning tools, which try to establish a connection on a variety of ports (which can be thought of as connection points on an IP address for a specific type of network service) by sending a TCP packet to them are readily available, and they are frequently misused in attempts to invade your machine—or a malicious user can send so many packets to your computer that it becomes too busy handling them to access the Internet for what you want it to do (in what's known as a Denial Of Service or DOS attack, like the ones that recently affected Twitter and Facebook).
Going through my router logs for the last month, it appears that several people around the world really want to get at my systems, and as the tools are automated, they can be irritatingly persistent; these folks are responsible for more than two thirds of the entries in my security log, for example, and from the other reports on that link I'm clearly not their only intended victim.
The moral of the story is clear: make sure that your router's firewall is turned on and configured correctly, and keep your anti-virus software up to date. And it should go without saying that you should install an ad-blocker on your web browser right now before you catch something nasty.
Winter is beginning to make its presence known; the temperature dropped down to -5°C here last night, the coldest it's been so far this season. Christmas lights are beginning to appear on other houses in the street. Television advertisements for Christmas have been playing on some channels since the beginning of October.
My Christmas tree remains in the loft.
I've just been diverted from updating the blog by the discovery that I had run out of prepared header images for the thing. I create pages of hand-drawn titles with my trusty Rotring pens, but these have to be scanned in to the computer, retouched, resized and colourised before they can be uploaded to my server to form the blog's header. I use a different header every month to keep myself amused, and they are all archived on my Blog Banners page (which also serves as a secondary contents page). It only seems like a month or two ago that I sat down with my Wacom tablet and created a batch of graphics that would keep me going for a year or so. But now it's December, the year is almost over, and I've just had to pull out the graphics tablet and create a few more. In doing so, I realised that the blog has an interesting milestone coming up soon. There will be more about that next month.
I won't be sorry to see the back of 2019, that's for sure. It's been a very mixed year, to say the least. Perhaps the best way of looking at things is that it's provided me with ample opportunities for rest, reading, and reflection. I've already flown past my Goodreads target of reading sixty books by the end of the year, for example. There have been highlights, to be sure; reconnecting with one of my oldest and dearest friends and getting to hang out with her has been one. Getting a track featured on the cover CD of the May issue of PROG magazine was another. I've had a prolific year when it comes to writing songs, with nearly a hundred new tracks added to my collection. And although my health hasn't been great since the summer, after passing a kidney stone last week it feels like I might have finally turned the corner and am on the mend. When I weighed myself his morning, I was delighted to find out that I'm the lightest I've been for the best part of two decades.
So, much to my surprise, I've realised that I'm looking forward to 2020 with something that—in a favourable light, and with a following wind—might almost resemble optimism. Keep your fingers crossed.
The Christmas tree, however, will remain in the loft for the time being.
As I explain in my Films Page, my love of cinema stems from Saturday-morning trips to the Odeon in Stafford when I was a teenager, when I saw a large selection of classic B-movies like The Thing With Two Heads and The Valley of Gwangi as well as weirder fare such as The Day of the Dolphin and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. But there was one particular genre that I adored above all others, and that was the monster movies produced by Japan's Toho Corporation. I must have seen all of them several times and over the years I've collected a fair few of them on DVD, although the quality of the releases has left a lot to be desired (my copy of Godzilla vs. Hedorah or "Godzilla vs The Smog Monster" as it was called for its original UK release doesn't even have the original Japanese soundtrack, and believe me, the English dub was atrocious).
I am still a huge Godzilla fan. Last year I spent a ridiculous sum of money on a Godzilla humidifier that spits a jet of glowing blue steam and emits that trademark roar. It now sits in pride of place on the subwoofer in my living room and every time I look at it it makes me smile. When I heard earlier this year that Criterion had announced that they were going to release a set of all fifteen Shōwa era Godzilla movies, all restored and freshly remastered on Blu-Ray in a special limited edition collector's set it was pretty obvious that I was going to have to get myself a copy, even though I shouldn't be buying such indulgences while I'm still looking for a new job. The thing is, I knew that I would regret not buying it on release because it clearly wouldn't be available for very long; it sold out on Amazon almost immediately. I very nearly missed the boat, but after dithering for the best part of a week, I was able to find a UK supplier who still had copies available (well done Zavvi) so I dusted off the credit card and placed my order.
The postman delivered it yesterday, and as far as I'm concerned, it was money well spent. The picture quality is absolutely fantastic. I've already watched the 1954 original film from start to finish and it's vastly superior to the copy I have on DVD. As befits a collection of kaiju movies, the set is monster-sized. It's presented as a 27 cm x 37 cm (10.5" x 14.5") hard-back book that is full of sumptuous illustrations by artists including Bill Sienkiewicz and Geof Darrow. It is, in my opinion, a thing of rare beauty. I'll be settling in to watch another film from the set today.