Cross stitch


All the things I've been looking forward to are being cancelled left right and centre, but if that's the worst that's going to happen to me and the people I know, I'll be extremely thankful.

I am fortunate enough to have a safe, steady job that looks after its workers, and we have all been told to work from home if we can do so productively. Obviously I can't be productive from home because I'm on Twitter all the time, but I'm doing my best.

My team lead, of whom I am extremely fond, communicated the news in an email ending:

"Thanks, and please avoid turning into wild-eyed supermarket looters or gibbering cellar-dwellers."

My flatmate atommickbrane is also WFH, but we have a flat with enough space for two people to be in all day without getting on each other's nerves too much. We've agreed to walk to the park once a day to get some exercise and catch Pokémon.

There's a lot of working from home advice floating about, most of which I disregard ('change into work clothes for working' - pff, we all know I'd wear pyjamas to the office if I thought I could get away with it).

I have plenty of books, DVDs and Airfix kits to keep me entertained. Renown Films had a special offer on 1960s US detective series Honey West, which I'd heard of years ago on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. mailing-list, and I'm finding it a lot of fun. The key point is that Honey has a pet ocelot named Bruce. The poor thing has undoubtedly been declawed and loathes all its scenes with humans, so the actors have to deliver their lines with a large angry cat hanging off them.

Here's the intro, which should make it obvious why I'm so keen:

The BBC was kind enough to provide an hour and a half of Bond on Saturday, with Toby Stephens starring in an audio adaptation of The Man with the Golden Gun, so I have that to enjoy too. Martin Jarvis, without whom no talking book is complete, is the voice of Ian Fleming. This and Doctor Who is why I pay the licence fee.

I told my colleagues I had enough booze and books to see me through.

"Mm, I can just see you, book in one hand, cocktail in the other, as the world goes to hell," said one.

I can think of worse ways to go.

Flying Beasties

At least half the reason I took out BFI membership was that anything related to Doctor Who sells out within a day or two, usually long before booking opens to non-members. Thus I was able to snag a ticket to yesterday's screening of The Faceless Ones.

This is a Patrick Troughton story, half of which had been lost. However, sound recordings remained, and a talented team has put together an animated version so the adventure can be enjoyed in full:

I owned the Target novel as a nipper, and always liked the story - Who set in an airport in the Sixties is obviously very much my bag - so I was delighted to see it at last. The animation really brought the characters across, and there were some nifty Easter eggs: [Spoiler (click to open)]the Wanted poster with the Master's face made everyone laugh, and I was pleased to spot that [Spoiler (click to open)]one of the lines on the eye chart spelled BAD WOLF backwards.

I also enjoyed the attention to detail in the period cars - 2CVs, a Renault 4, a bubble car - so I was pleased when this was one of the first things Frazer Hines mentioned in the subsequent Q&A.

Hines (Jamie) and Anneke Wills (Polly) clearly get on very well and have loads of happy memories of the show and Pat, which was a delight to see.

"What would your characters think of a female Doctor?" asked an audience member.

"He'd say Pleased to meet you Doctor, but my legs are better than yours," responded Frazer.
  • Current Mood
    enthralled enthralled
  • Tags
Cat Air

Brexit Booze Cruise

I had some leave to use up before the end of February, so my friend M. and I decided to act on a plan we had idly come up with some months previously: to have a cheap day trip to France and go supermarket shopping.

M. drove down from Cambridge on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning we were up and out by 6:30 (I had been awake since a quarter past five because I was Excited). We reached Dover in time to be put on an earlier crossing, and emerged a couple of hours later into a sunny Calais.

We took the lovely coast road via Boulogne, with its sea views, and found our way to our chosen lunch spot in Étaples. The Hotel des Voyageurs, opposite the station, was recommended by my friend Ed of James Bond Food as possibly where Bond has dinner in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.


I had Mystery Fish of the Day - I couldn't read the word on the menu, and instantly forgot it when the proprietor told me what it was - in a very tasty sauce made from peppers.

Our next stop was Le Touquet, where our planned stroll on the beach was curtailed by a bitter wind. We made it to the sea (the tide was out) then hurried back to the car to put the heater on.


The weather changed to a downpour, and I was grateful not to be on the bike for once. We stopped at an Intermarché (my favourite French supermarket thanks to their musketeer mascot) and spent a happy time cruising up and down the aisles.

I have often wondered exactly how much I would purchase in a foreign supermarket if not constrained by the storage space on a motorbike. The answer turns out to be four bottles of cider, an aperitif made from gin and cassis, quite a lot of cheese, several tins of lentils with sausages, various flavours of sardines in olive oil, and a box of novelty sugar cubes.

Back at Calais, we were greeted by the news that all crossings were delayed by bad weather, and we faced a wait of up to three hours at the port. At least we were well supplied with snacks. We also got a little excitement when the car in the next lane had a flat battery and M. got to jump start it.

We made it back to my place at half past midnight, 18 hours after we'd left.

Two Thousand Cigarettes and Two Cases of Gin

My BFI membership renewed itself on January 31st, and my immediate action was to spend one of my annual free tickets on a screening of The African Queen with introductory talk by Angela Allen, who worked on continuity.

First, those of the audience who had not seen the film previously (including me) were invited to put our hands up, to Audible Gasps! from those who had.

Then we were treated to a talk by this wonderful, well-spoken older woman who was there! In Africa! Showering in a bucket and rubbing shoulders with Bogart and Hepburn! “I’m the only one left now,” she said thoughtfully…

It’s a silly film but a lot of fun, and although I prefer Bogart in black and white and a trench coat, I wouldn’t say no to him doing hippopotamus impressions for my delight while wearing a filthy pyjama jacket. (He smiles a lot in this one, too. The man has a nice smile.)

Because so much of the action is focused on these two characters alone on the river, they need to be played by strong actors who draw the viewer’s eye and attention. And it works so well. Humphrey Bogart showing Katharine Hepburn how to pump the bilges may be the most overtly sexual thing I have ever seen in a general audience picture. Even more than ‘you just put your lips together and blow’.

Bond alumni: Walter Gotell as (what else?) a German officer.

Funny thing: although I hadn’t seen the movie before, I knew enough about the plot to riff on it for my story in Reclamation Project: Year One (plug plug). I made the Charlie Allnutt character a hyena.

One of Bogart’s first lines is apologising for the noise his stomach makes, “like there’s a hyena inside me.”

Called it!


It will surprise nobody here that I am a huge fan of Cyrano de Bergerac in all its forms (including Steve Martin in Roxane). The BFI is currently showing the 1990 Gérard Depardieu film, which was my first encounter with the story, so I booked Friday night tickets for me, Howard, and our friends C, R and A (A is now 11 and you might remember her from the terrific time she had at my 40th birthday party).

It does feel slow by modern standards (we all agreed that Cyrano takes a loooooong time to die, even though both C and I confessed that we always cry at the end), and I was a bit worried about A's attention span, but as soon as the end credits rolled she turned to me and said "That was SO COOL!"

Afterwards, we went to Pizza Express. "Shall I lead the way?" I asked C.

"Yes, you'd better," she said. "Because you're the one who...nose."

On Saturday, Howard and I visited the Estorick Collection in north London to see an exhibition of Futurist paintings by Tullio Crali. It's astonishing that I had never seen his 'aeropaintings' before, or even heard of the genre, because they were right up my street:

That evening, not having had quite enough culture, we saw 1917 at the very comfortable Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace.

All I knew about the film was that it seems to take place as one long shot, rather than in scenes. This meant we ran along beside, behind or in front of the two soldiers tasked with delivering a message, and gave the movie an interactive quality, at times like a dream or a theme park ride.

It stretched our credulity a bit but it was an enthralling journey, and a new way of telling stories about the First World War when you'd think they had all been played out by now.

It's not too much of a spoiler to say that one character injures his hand on barbed wire early on, then almost immediately plunges it into a rotting corpse, and I spent the entire film worrying about whether he'd get gas gangrene (don't google that).

What with this and Cyrano, I spent a lot of my weekend watching fighting around Arras. Both films also have a scene where the tough fighting men listen in rapt silence to a song from their homeland, because some war movie clichés are here to stay.
Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Bristol’s Finest Exports

When I found out that the Watershed in Bristol was screening an early Cary Grant film, Bristol being Grant's home town, as part of its Slapstick comedy season, I seized upon this excuse to visit my friends Theo and Shrugs, who live down that way.

She Done Him Wrong is a 1930s nostalgia trip back to the 1890s, set in a saloon full of shady goings-on and centred around Mae West as Diamond Lou, the club’s chief attraction and its proprietor’s main squeeze. Lou uses men to obtain jewellery, very much along the lines sung by Shirley Bassey in the Diamonds Are Forever theme.

I’m not keen on Mae West, I’m afraid. I forgave her woodenness in 1978’s Sextette because she’s about a thousand years old in that, but it turns out her delivery was exactly the same in 1933. It’s certainly unique, though, and she gets some great lines.

Cary Grant plays the captain of the mission next door. He is very tall and skinny, and also very stiff; he admitted later that he’d been nervous and spent most of the film with one hand jammed in his pocket. Allegedly Mae West spotted him on the lot and said “If he can talk, I’m putting him in my next picture,” and who can blame her?

We spent the rest of our Saturday in various pubs, and our Sunday at Aerospace Bristol, home of the last Concorde to fly (to date), G-BOAF, which made its final landing at Filton.

The focus is on the Bristol Aeroplane Company, founded in 1910 and now part of BAE Systems. As well as Concorde, magnificently displayed, there were planes from the Boxkite through two world wars to the Belvedere twin rotor helicopter and the Harrier.



I headed home on Sunday, to a final farewell from Cary Grant on a Gloucester Road shop front.


The Notebook

Last Christmas, someone gave me a notebook. Usually, my MO with notebooks is to think "How lovely! I must use it for something really special!" and then put it carefully in a drawer, never to emerge, but for some reason in this one I started to write lists.

I recorded how often I went to karate and days when I got some writing done. But mostly I wrote Things To Do for the upcoming months: projects to start or complete, domestic affairs to deal with (e.g. getting pictures framed) and reminders to make dates with friends I hadn't seen for a while. I wrote down films I wanted to see and what to get people for Christmas. By the end, I was surprised to find that what I actually had on my hands was a record of all the things I'd done, places I'd been, people I'd seen over the course of the year.

It's probably a coincidence, but 2019 turned out to be a fantastic year for me, after a 2018 that wasn't terrible but felt meh, as if I was stuck with my wheels spinning.

The big events were being Guest of Honour at Fur the More, which was a great honour indeed and a wonderful opportunity to spend time in the USA with friends; grading to first dan; and finally getting a new job which I'm really enjoying (and will, at some point, provide a proper update on).

I rode the Nürburgring, saw more Douglas DC-3s in one place than I'm ever likely to again, swam in a Bruges canal and toured the Pentagon. I turned 42, which I also haven't done before.

I had a better year in writing, getting over 30,000 words of short stories down (this is a lot by my standards). Six of my stories came out in print, of which two were reprints. (Earning money from reprints is another first.)

There's a lot of space left in my notebook for 2020. And, when that's used up, a lot more notebooks languishing in various drawers.
Husky Airways

Take My Breath Away

I love popup cinemas. The fun and novelty of seeing a film in an unlikely location makes it a more than usually memorable occasion; I have fond memories of forcing my friends to watch Skyfall with me in the pouring rain.

Yesterday, it was Top Gun on the Fleet Air Arm Museum's mockup aircraft carrier.

It was a dark, rainy evening in Somerset, which is about as far removed from Fightertown USA as you could be, but staff and patrons were doing their level best to provide the right atmosphere. Some attendees went the whole hog and wore flight suits, others contented themselves with 'Because I Was Inverted' T-shirts. There was a bar under Concorde offering nachos, hot dogs and cocktails with names like Blue Goose Lagoon and Take Me To Bed Or Lose Me Forever (I had a Viper On The Beach).

Then it was time to take our seats on the carrier deck, surrounded by Buccaneers and Sea Vixens. Not F-14 Tomcats, the purist will observe, on account of the Royal Navy not having those (though there is a Phantom to represent the US), but it still made a brilliant atmosphere for a film about Navy flying.

I won't tell you how the movie goes, because either you know already or you're not interested, or quite possibly both. (Another fond memory: how my dad and I used to fall about laughing at the line "I've got bogeys all over me!") But any film is improved by sharing it with a live audience to laugh and cheer along with.

"The thing about Top Gun," I observed to Howard as we were leaving, "is that Maverick is a total douchenozzle and Iceman is completely correct about him."

Fortunately, he agreed with my analysis; I don't think I could feel quite comfortable with a man who didn't.

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

You Need A Cup Of My Famous Java

The Cinema Museum in south London has been up and running for a while, but Wednesday night was my first visit - thanks to a screening in their 'Kennington Noir' series of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, one of my favourite films.

It's a beautiful site, filled with old-place smell and cinema memorabilia from posters to signs advertising 9-shilling seats in the circle. Upstairs, the screen and seating share space with a bar and a shop selling secondhand books. (I inevitably picked up a Bond book I didn't have: "Oh! How did that happen?" exclaimed my companion.)

We were treated to cartoons and an interval, in the traditional format I remember from being taken to see Disney films at Poole Arts Centre when I was small. Due to the season, these were early Pixar short Knick Knack, already displaying the studio's talent for comic timing and conveying expression in simple shapes; the Christmas episode of Nick Park's claymation Creature Comforts; and Mickey's Christmas Carol, which I hadn't seen since I was young enough to be genuinely spooked by Scrooge falling into the open grave during the Ghost of Christmas Future bit.

Then it was time for the main feature.

It was always going to be likely I'd enjoy Steve Martin in a spoof of the hardboiled detective genre. It helps that it's also a brilliantly clever film, using a cunning script and tricksy cinematography to include scenes from classic 1940s movies: Martin as Rigby Reardon orders Humphrey Bogart to put on a tie, and sits opposite James Cagney in prison, disguised as his mother. Superb costuming, sets, props and lighting, with contributions from grandees of the era like costume designer Edith Head, make the conceit work in a magical, joyful way that CGI could never achieve.

I get a little more out of the film with every viewing; on this occasion, I was able to recognise the party scene as the one from Notorious, which I saw a couple of months ago.

Christmas husky


I was greatly cheered on Friday night by Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People, a timely reminder that there are plenty of good, clever, caring people in the world. Robin Ince chaired a series of lightning lectures and performances from the worlds of arts and sciences, including facts about the Solar Orbiter! volcanoes! whale poo! and more!

I endured an entire audience blowing up balloons and then bursting them For Science, and a chemist using hydrogen to pop the lid off a Pringles tube, but the most exciting moment for me was when the excellent Natalie Haynes asked a Classics question and I yelled "VIRGIL!" entirely too loudly, because I was expecting other audience members to be shouting VIRGIL too. Must have been more of a science crowd.

During the course of the evening, one of my companions offered me a spare ticket for Christmas at Kew the next night. Pretty lights are one of my favourite things about Christmas, so I snapped it up.

I thought the experience would take about an hour. In fact, we spent two and a half wandering the trail of singing bushes, glittering canopies, softly-glowing pastel globes and bright neon. The finale was a blend of lights, images and music set against the backdrop of the big Palm House conservatory.

On Sunday, because you can't do improving, cultural stuff all the time, I went ice skating on top of a multi-storey car park in Shadwell.