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Mar. 2nd, 2019

Husky Airways

Fifty Years Ago I Bought You Some Cufflinks

Not long after I stood in Hyde Park watching Paul Simon on his Homeward Bound farewell tour, another Sixties folk icon, Joan Baez, announced her own retirement from touring with the Fare Thee Well tour. I bought a ticket straight away, and saw her last night at the London Palladium.

She walked on stage, looked up at us, gave a big wave, and launched into Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right - changing the lyrics to ‘you never wasted my precious time’, which I am choosing to believe was about Bobby.

After three solo songs she bade us welcome to the stage her 'big band’. This consisted of two guys, one of whom was her son.

Along with many Baez standards (including, of course, Diamonds and Rust, performed as a duet with Grace Stumberg), it was a setlist full of wonderful surprises, like It Ain’t Me, Babe, possibly my favourite Dylan track, and House of the Rising Sun, one of my favourite songs full stop.

She spoke a little about refugees and immigrants, and how this is not a time for building walls but for feeding, clothing and comforting the vulnerable. This was followed by Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), perhaps my favourite Woody Guthrie composition.

As well as son Gabe on percussion, Joan was joined for one song by her highschooler granddaughter Jasmine. The piece Jasmine had chosen for them to sing together was Adele's Someone Like You: "I feel very hip and groovy," said her proud gran.

Knowingly, she announced Gracias A La Vida as the ‘last official song’, but we clapped hard in case she had any thoughts of not coming back for an encore.

"This is the last [UK] concert of the last tour," she said on her return. "Bless your hearts." And then...then she sang us Forever Young.

I thought it couldn't get any better, or more emotional, than that, but I was wrong. She only went and sang The Boxer, letting us all join in with the lie la lies.

It wasn't the very last song, but I'll leave it here, because I can't think of a more fitting farewell to the stage for someone of Joan's history and calibre than 'I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains'.

Jan. 31st, 2019

Cat Air

Morons from Outer Space

Last night I returned to the Prince Charles for a screening of Morons from Outer Space, a 1985 sci-fi spoof written by Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones that pretty much sank without trace at the time.

I hadn't seen it before, but it seemed very much my sort of thing. I was further tempted by the opportunity to meet a Twitter friend, Rich who does the Betamax Video Club podcast.

It turned out to be a fun movie, with a few great set pieces, some Dr Strangelove-esque military and political shenanigans and scenes In Space that manage to be both impressive and funny. My favourite part was the aliens' 'podule' crash-landing on the motorway, complete with angry drivers ("I think they were Belgian") and bored traffic cops ("Shall I put the cones out?" "Yeah, might as well").

Also, what a good actor Mel Smith is! The few genuine moments of pathos in the film were all his, as well as most of the funniest bits.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with Griff Rhys Jones (who was just as lovely as I've always assumed he would be) and director Mike Hodges (who was also responsible for Flash Gordon and 'didn't think it would ever see a projector' given what a mess it is).

I'm sure both Rhys Jones and Hodges have other things to do with their lives and don't need to spend their Wednesday evening hanging out with a bunch of nerds, so they must have come out of love for their creation and in particular for Mel. Good for them!

Jan. 28th, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Jackal Who Came In From the Cold

Fox Spirit is a UK small press publisher of offbeat fantasy and sci-fi. They're furry-friendly (they'd have to be, with a name like that) and have just released their first all-furry anthology, The Jackal Who Came In From the Cold.

As the name suggests, it's spy-themed, and of course I was going to write and submit something for it. I was delighted to have my story The Off Air Affair accepted.

You may be able to guess from the title that it's a Man from U.N.C.L.E. pastiche. It stars coyote Montgomery Luck and ferret Nikko Ilyushin, agents for the United Nations Collaborative Intelligence Agency (U.N.C.I.A.), as they battle the forces of Shrike.

It's a good 20 years since I last had MfU fanfic published. Long enough ago that it was in zines.

And here's a picture I commissioned to celebrate the acceptance, from an alternate universe in which The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon:


(Artist: To0nMutt)

I have no idea why the furry fandom has embraced spy fiction so wholeheartedly of late, but obviously I am all for this.
The Spy Who Loved Me


A couple of months ago, I did something I'd been thinking about for at least half my life and got a tattoo.

It was a belated 40th birthday present to myself and also a belated reward for giving blood 50 times, since you have to take a few months off donating after a tattoo.

I'd hesitated because I have many interests and I'd never been sure what I wanted most. In the end, I went for the OO7 logo in current use on the James Bond novels (because I'm too much of a literary snob to go for one from the films), on my left wrist where it would usually be concealed under my watch.

It seemed to take ages, and it was mildly uncomfortable at best (at worst it actually hurt), so I admire anyone who has sat through a large and complicated design, but I am pleased with the results.

I wrote an accompanying article about Bond and tattoos for the Artistic Licence Renewed website:
The Girl with the James Bond Tattoo

Jan. 24th, 2019

Cat Air

Say It In Broken English

I've been very spoiled for movies this week. On Monday the Prince Charles was showing all three Naked Gun films back to back, which I couldn't resist. Obviously I could watch them on DVD any time I chose, but it's nice to go to the cinema, and besides there's no way I'd sit down and watch three DVDs on a Monday night.

It was clear that everyone was most familiar with the first of the trilogy, and there were little anticipatory ripples of laughter when a good gag was coming up. (It's possible I've seen that film literally one hundred times, yet I'd never previously noticed that Frank Drebin has a Davy Crockett costume hanging up in his apartment.)

Favourite line: "Everywhere I look, something reminds me of her."

The Smell of Fear made me unexpectedly sad at the loss of Richard Griffiths; the bit where he reads aloud from a novel entitled Strokin' the Love Muffin to wake up the audience he's put to sleep with his lecture on renewable energy sources is one of my favourite moments.

Favourite line: "Is this some kind of bust?"

Even those involved with it admit that The Final Insult is pretty tired, but it still has a terrific opening scene and a few good laughs, e.g. Frank listing his preferred jerkoff movies as Dances with Wolves, The Rocketeer and Lady & the Tramp.

Favourite line:
"'You might end up dead' is my middle name."

I recently discovered the existence of Screen25, an independent community cinema in South Norwood, and last night I went to see Cold War, which has just been nominated for a bunch of awards.

All I knew was that it was Polish, black-and-white, and probably depressing. As it turned out, it was also full of folk music, lovely cars and 1950s Paris. I'd been promised a love story spanning decades, and I was sorry it ended in 1964 just when things were getting groovy.

I'll admit I wasn't very convinced by the central love story; the couple seemed less 'the great loves of each other's lives' than simply 'horny'.

I don't know much about cinematography but I can appreciate a nice arty shot when I see one. I also don't know much about types of film or print, but the whole thing had a gorgeous silvery quality that showed up every detail. I'm very glad I caught it, and got to see it on a proper screen.

The friend I went with had, it transpired, seen rather a lot of depressing films lately. Luckily we're going to Local Hero at the BFI in a couple of weeks.

Jan. 23rd, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Queen of Spy Writers

Last year I got to know several lovely new people, both online and in real life, through the Spybrary website and podcast for fans of spy fiction. (We call ourselves Spybrarians.)

It was only a matter of time before I ended up on the podcast myself, even though most participants are writers and scholars in the field of espionage fiction and my skill set is more 'I drink and I know things'.

I contacted Spybrary creator Shane Whaley to suggest a show about Helen MacInnes, whose works I enjoy a great deal but who isn't, these days, as widely known as she was in the 1940s-1960s, when she was a prolific writer of thrillers.

I spent some of last Saturday afternoon recording with Shane (in the US) and author Merle Nygate (also in the UK) using the magic of VoIP. We geeked out and interrupted each other and argued and enthused. It was a lot of fun.

Because it was my first appearance on the podcast, I was also subjected to the Quick Fire round and quizzed on my favourite fictional spies.

You can find the podcast on iTunes and Spotify and things, or at spybrary.com/66

Jan. 10th, 2019

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

Triumph of a Time Lord

I had dinner with friends last night and they introduced me to Marmite and cheddar sausages, which has changed my life significantly for the better.

More importantly, their nine-year-old daughter popped off to her room in the middle of the meal and returned wearing rainbow braces, because she is currently the 13th Doctor.

Unlike most people, she was delighted to discover that she was in the company of a massive nerd and admired my rendition of EX-TER-MI-NATE!

"Do you remember when there was a man made of sweets and everyone had to be happy?" she asked, describing an adventure she'd read about in her annual which I identified as (of course) The Happiness Patrol.

We discussed our favourite episodes from the series just finished, and she asked me why the Dalek in the New Year special was an octopus, whereupon I launched into the history of Skaro, the Kaleds and Davros.

Doctor Who is clearly doing something very right indeed.

Dec. 27th, 2018

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

The Primroses Were Over

In the absence of Christmas Dr Who, my principal festive viewing was the two-part BBC/Netflix adaptation of Watership Down.

SpoilersCollapse )

It took me ten minutes to stop crying.

Dec. 17th, 2018

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

Down to Hadestown

The weather on Saturday was filthy, but I had to brave it to get to the National Theatre for the matinee performance of Hadestown.

I wasn't sure what to expect from a musical based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but it was terrific: great tunes, intense acting and filled with the kind of likeable humour that always makes tragedy bite deeper when it strikes.

Hermes, walking to the front of the stage to introduce the cast, made us laugh just by striking a pose.

Hades is a sinister, Godfather-like figure; Persephone is brittle, alcoholic and desperate. Orpheus and Euridice are young and in love and not quite sure how to handle it in these uncertain, hungry times. The Chorus work crazy hard. Everything crackles.

PERSEPHONE: You're early.
HADES: I missed you.

It felt like the kind of thing Bob Dylan would write if he wrote a musical: very clever, very catchy, with its roots in folk and blues and a really great number about trains.

I spent Sunday with a friend in Windsor, petted ALL of the dogs and got unreasonably excited on the dodgems.


Dec. 14th, 2018

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

Mr Jolly Lives Next Door

Recently, the former cinema on my road has become a cinema again after many years as a church. Last night I went along for the first time, to enjoy a screening and Q&A of Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, a Comic Strip Presents... film from 1987.

I went partly to support my lovely new local cinema, partly because I like the Comic Strip films and Rik Mayall, and partly because the Q&A was led by John Rain, host of the very funny and successful James Bond podcast Smersh Pod.

I'd not seen this particular Comic Strip before. Waiting in the bar for the start, I availed myself of a spare seat and met two guys, both named Steve, who immediately started telling me what a great film it was and what a treat I was in for.

A third, very flamboyant and possibly drunk, gentleman came over, introduced himself as Roland, patted me on the shoulder and expressed the hope that I would enjoy the film. A few minutes later the Q&A began and I realised he was in fact co-writer Rowland Rivron.

It became apparent in the Q&A and subsequent quiz that most of the audience were committed Mr Jolly fans. There was an interval before the screening in which we were given free gin & tonics, in keeping with the boozy nature of the movie, and I ran into a friend from Bond Twitter. It turned out he hadn't seen it either, and he switched seats so we could experience it together.

If you've watched any of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson's violent comedy offerings, you'll know what to expect from Mr Jolly, which also features Peter Cook and a very sporting Only Nicholas Bloody Parsons. (And, my friend pointed out, Thomas Wheatley, who is also in The Living Daylights, thus making this part of Bond Canon.) Rick and Ade run an escort agency called Dreamytime Escorts ("ESCORTS BESCORTS!"). There's exploding tonic water and a gangster called Mr Lovebucket. I laughed a lot.

More gin was supplied afterwards. I got a hug from Rowland Rivron, and will forevermore be discontent with films that don't end in hugs from a cast member. I finished my evening talking Bond with John Rain, which was very pleasant, would do so again.

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