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Dec. 7th, 2016

Secret Agent Dog

The Killing - Not That One

A friend Telegrammed me yesterday to ask if I wanted a spare ticket to a screening of Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film The Killing at the Barbican that evening, so like a responsible adult I ditched karate and went along.

It's a low-budget flick and I lost count of how many times we saw the same stock horse race footage, but there is lots to enjoy, including the gunman who fondles a puppy throughout his introductory scene.

Our favourite bit, however, was probably this amazing bar fight:


Dec. 1st, 2016


The Ambitiously Titled Cultural Happenings Post

TBH, what I've mostly been doing is watching Archer and Paw Patrol on Netflix. But I do get out sometimes.


The Red Barn at the National Theatre appears completely sold out until the end of its run, and deservedly so. Based on a non-Maigret novel by Georges Simenon; tense, psychological and snowy; brilliantly staged; has the love interest from The Night Manager in it.

I can't say too much without spoilers, but one scene features those '60s egg-shaped hanging chairs and everyone in my party coveted them greatly.


Too early for Christmas music? Not when it's Kacey Musgraves with A Very Kacey Christmas.

Elsewhere, it's the 25th anniversary of REM's Out Of Time and I have about four hours of Radio 2 on the subject to catch up with.


The Petrie Museum's Archaeology and Espionage season is coming to an end, but I caught their screening of Dishonoured, a 1931 movie in which Marlene Dietrich spies for Austria but finds herself falling for her opposite number, handsome Russian aviator-spy Colonel Kranau.

It's a surprisingly good spy flick, with bonuses of a cat, some biplane action, cat in biplane, and an actor who rejoices in the name of Gustav von Seyffertitz. See the picture below for a small clue as to why I liked it so much.


Nov. 11th, 2016

Secret Agent Dog

The End of the Affair

There have been so many, many celebrity deaths this year that everyone - yes, you! and you! and you! - gets a chance to say "OK, this one. Those others, they shocked and saddened me, sure, but this is the one that has touched me personally. This is the one that made me cry."

Tonight was my night. RIP, Robert Vaughn.

When I saw the news, I picked a pen off my desk and said "Open Channel D" into it, very quietly, just in case.

But there was no reply.

Man from UNCLE annual front cover showing Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo
Sad/angry Huskyteer


There seems to have been quite a bit of nastiness surrounding poppies this year, both from those in favour of wearing them and those against, and it was saddening me a great deal.

Then we - voluntarily, without any pronouncement from management - held the two minutes' silence in the office, and were hushed and solemn and united for 120 seconds. I spent the time looking out of the window at the distant trees, rather than at my screen, and was awed, as always, by the thought that the world has been doing this every year since 1919.

(On transport services in nearby Croydon, silence was held for an extra minute in honour of the casualties from Wednesday's tram crash.)

Here's a family member's lucky mascot from the First World War (must've worked!), which lives by my bed now.

Lucky black cat

Nov. 9th, 2016


Fake It Till You Make It

Last night's karate class concentrated on kata, as there's a grading coming up. (I do not expect to grade this time; the last one is still fresh in my memory, thanks.)

At the end of the lesson, one of the instructors beckoned me over for some wise words.

"When you grade to first dan," he said, "you can't second-guess your kata. Show confidence and do it as if you're already good at it, even if you do it wrong. There's no void; the skills will come to fill it. Talk and walk like the Alice who's fully confident, and you will get there."

Life lessons, there.

Nov. 7th, 2016

Something So Right

The Werewolf's Coming

I took the tail end of last week off in order to see Paul Simon at the BIC on Thursday evening, and it was totally worth it, of course.

I went with my mum; incredibly, it was her first time seeing him live.

It was my sixth, I believe.

We had seats near enough the front for a good view of even the most diminutive singer-songwriters. The band, on their panoply of instruments, did a rousing instrumental 'Gumboots', then Paul bounced in and went into 'The Boy in the Bubble'.

I had my usual start-of-the-gig worries: he's losing it! his voice is going! the band's drowning him out! before everything settled down and became wonderful. Paul leaped and bounced and strutted, even making time for a little banter with the audience. The timeline jumped about from the '70s to the '00s to the '80s, but it was his first venture back to the and-Garfunkel era with 'America', my very favourite S&G number, that transported me and callmemadam to a higher place.

What else did I love? Well, everything, but I'm going to mention 'Rewrite' from the last-but-one album, the bouncy 'Late in the Evening' from One-Trick Pony, and the instrumental 'El Condor Pasa' that segued surprisingly into 'Duncan'. Special mention also to band member Vincent, from Cameroon, who has been playing with Paul for 25 years; he's at least a foot taller than Mr Simon, and watching them play guitar at each other was incredibly sweet.

Several songs from the new album, including title track 'Stranger to Stranger', 'The Werewolf' (lots of fun with scary lighting and sound effects) and 'Wristband'.

"That song was called 'Wristband'," Paul announced at the end, "and this song is called 'Graceland'!"

There was a lot of Graceland, including 'You Can Call Me Al', to which everyone danced wildly, and 'That Was Your Mother', one of my favourites. That's because it is thirty years since the album was released. (I note from my writeup that I also saw Paul for the 20th anniversary.)

I see from the setlist that there were 28 songs, which is pretty incredible.

I bought this ridiculous souvenir of my evening, which will also come in useful should I find myself in some sort of emergency scenario requiring a metre of green string.


Oct. 24th, 2016

Hope's Huskies - Bunty cover

My Weekend In Children's Books

I spent Saturday at YA Shot, a one-day event in Uxbridge celebrating young adult fiction. £20 gets you a sparkly wristband and eight hours of panels, with a choice of four tracks.

The four venues had been given names, so I attended my first panel of the day in Narnia, a.k.a. Uxbridge Library, where there was Turkish Delight on offer, then headed to Waterstones/Wonderland before spending the rest of the day in the Civic Centre's Middle Earth and Ministry of Magic suites.

I heard authors talk about rewriting and editing, magic, feminism, sci-fi and the difficulties of having murders in a children's book. I came away with a lengthy To Read list, including Simon Mason's Running Girl and Barefoot on the Wind by Zoe Marriott.

On Sunday it was off to the very lovely Unicorn Theatre for Wild Wolves, at which two authors who have written books with wolves in talked about their research and experiences. (William Grill's book The Wolves of Currumpaw is based on Ernest Thompson Seton's short story Lobo, and he's also written a book about Shackleton; I need to check both these out!)

At the end of the talk, a sweet and sleepy Labrador guide dog came on stage and the audience was invited to draw her in charcoal.

TL;DR version: there are great things happening in young people's fiction, and young people are reading it avidly. Good news!

Oct. 21st, 2016

Casino Royale

Lunchtime Drinking

Bromley usually features market researchers wielding clipboards, and I generally give them a wide berth, but today one caught me off my guard and I responded before I had time to process that this wasn't just someone asking for directions.

I'm glad, though, because they wanted my opinions on GIN AND TONIC.

Now, I have lots of opinions on gin and tonic, which I am happy to dish out for free on every occasion, so this was a novelty.

We repaired to the bar at the Churchill Theatre, where I answered questions about my drinking habits and preferred brands, tasted samples of mystery tonic #1 (ugh) and mystery tonic #2 (very nice), and was sent on my way with a fiver.

The researcher said there was gin in the samples, but I couldn't taste it. I was pretty happy afterwards, though.

Oct. 12th, 2016


Why Not?

They Might Be Giants are having a catchup sale, in which you can download three recent albums for $5 each. I haven't been listening to a great deal of TMBG lately, but I seized this opportunity to acquire Glean and Why?. I may yet go back for Phone Power.

Why?, like the earlier No!, is designed to be kid-friendly, but it is equally agreeable for big kids. I started laughing at the second line of the first song:
"Don't accidentally do things you'll later regret!
Oh, no, you did!"

Elsewhere, there's a meditation on things to do when I Am Invisible ("Did the cat turn on the dishwasher? No I’m holding his paw"), a celebration of different kinds of family in And Mom And Kid ("And dad and mom and kid and kid and grandad"), and Definition of Good, a sort of junior Reasons To Be Cheerful ("Cardboard box that a large appliance came in...Mixing pieces from two different board games...Thing that's stored in a larger version of itself").

To my joy, the album also contains a cover of Sixties favourite Walkin' My Cat Named Dog, accompanied by a cute video. So here you go!

You can listen to all of Why? here.

Oct. 10th, 2016



The London Film Festival is in full swing. Last night I went to see Mascots, the new Christopher Guest movie, at the Haymarket.

What Best in Show did for dog shows and A Mighty Wind did for folk music, Mascots does for costumed performers from the world of sport - i.e. portrays them as a bunch of eccentrics with problems who take this stuff way too seriously.

Like its predecessor, it is surprisingly touching as well as hilarious and often horrifyingly awkward; I got quite emotionally involved in the struggle of Sid the Hedgehog (from South Croydon) and whether or not he would defy his dad, the previous incumbent, to incorporate a risky new element into his act.

And, yes, furries are mentioned. Not in a very flattering light, it has to be said.

I obviously didn't read the small print when booking the tickets, because I was unaware in advance that Christopher Guest himself was going to be there, and take questions from the audience afterwards. (I did not ask a question. I'm shy about that at the best of times, and Guest was pretty rude, although very funny, to most of his questioners.)

My flatmate informs me that the film will be available on Netflix, who paid for its making, from Wednesday, but I regret nothing. It was a brilliant evening.


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