Karate

Panache

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.

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

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:)

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.

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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

Light

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.

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Midwest FictionFest

Midwest FurFest kicks off in Chicago at the end of this week, and I’m pleased to announce I have stories in two anthologies that will make their debut at the convention.

First up is ‘Star of the Savannah’ in Reclamation Project - Year One from FurPlanet. This is a project conceived and edited by my longtime friend The Gneech, set in an optimistic post-catastrophe solarpunk future. It was fun to write (it’s basically The African Queen with furries), and lovely to work with Gneech.

‘The Catch’ features in Patterns in Frost, published by Sofawolf. This is the third anthology set on the ice world of New Tibet; the series is part of furry publishing history, and I’m delighted to be included.

I wrote these stories several years apart - Patterns in Frost has been some time in the making, while Reclamation Project came together quickly - so it’s funny, and pleasing, that they should be coming out at the same time.

Both are shared world stories, with a setting and lore created by someone else, which was an interesting learning experience for me.

Both have protagonists whose boat is their livelihood: Amma, the sea otter in ‘The Catch’, nets and sells fish, while Chuck the hyena in ‘Star of the Savannah’ delivers mail and cargo along the river.

Amma’s life revolves around protecting her stroppy teenage daughter. Chuck unwillingly becomes the protector of a human child. The story starter for each is their coming into possession of something the Bad Guys want.

They’re two very different characters, with very different lives, who would probably hate each other if their worlds somehow collided. I’m not saying you should buy both anthologies, but the option’s there...

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Karate

The Chains of Fenric Will Shatter

I'm doing very well out of my BFI membership. Yesterday it was a 30th anniversary screening of The Curse of Fenric, probably my favourite Sylvester McCoy Dr Who adventure.

Many people don't like the mid-80s version of the theme tune and opening titles, but they're what I grew up with, and when it kicked in I could feel myself getting just as excited as I did when I was 11.

There's a lot going on in this story, what with Vikings, Russians, chess and computers, ancient alien evil and vampires from the future, and there were moments when I was as mystified as I was at the original broadcast. I got the Maidens' Point innuendo this time round, though.

(Hard to believe there are people complaining the current incarnation of Who is too leftie when in 1989 we had someone warding off vampires by waving the Communist Party emblem at them.)

As well as the film cut of the story, we were shown a bundle of goodies from the upcoming Season 26 release. There was footage of Sophie Aldred's final dive into the sea off Lulworth Cove, which made us realise what a terrifying stunt it is, plus this piece of joy:



Afterwards, there was a Q&A with Aldred and writer Andrew Cartmel, followed by a chance to queue for their autographs. Ace has always been my favourite companion and the one I most wanted to be (kowarth decided I was Ace the moment we met, and strange_complex has said something similar), so this was not a chance I was going to miss. Used, after 30 years around the fandom, to dealing with awkward people, she was a total delight and said Alice was a nice name.

Promo artwork for the Season 26 DVDs, signed by Sophie Aldred

Today I have been at a Hundred Man Kumite, a karate thing where you do 100 rounds of sparring.

I should make it clear that it's not 100 rounds of beating the living daylights out of each other, because nobody is going to learn anything productive from that. Instead, we were given a technique to practise, and spent a couple of minutes on it before moving round to the next person and trying again, or being given something new.

It was still a pretty intense four hours, though. And I must have bowed at least 300 times - at the start and end of every bout, plus every time you move round. I was very ready for a bath when I got in.
The Spy Who Loved Me

Judi vs Judy

My lovely local indie bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, is in financial difficulties and running a series of fundraising events. The latest of these, last night, was a debate: who is better, Judy Garland or Dame Judi Dench?

I very much wanted to go, but that evening I had arranged to meet two friends, one of whom was visiting from the States. Would they, perhaps, like to accompany me? I wasn't quite sure what we would experience, but it would be...very British?

It was.

First up was Susie Boyt, reading from her memoir My Judy Garland Life - a surprisingly deep and touching account of what it's like to go through life trying at all times to make other people happy.

The opposition was a total contrast: Barbara Brownskirt, poet-in-residence of the 197 bus stop on Croydon Road, Penge, performing her works on life, love, manspreading and, of course, Judi. I cried with laughter.

There was a quiz on Judy and Judi, at which we did pretty dismally (serves me right for having Dench's autobiography on my To Read shelf for two years), plus a chance to handle a pair of Garland's shoes and look at Judi Dench's British Airways boarding pass and menu, obtained no doubt by nefarious means.

Then we went for a pizza at the Sardinian restaurant, where the proprietor told my friends off for not eating their crusts, going so far as to bring his sourdough starter out from the kitchen to demonstrate how much work went into it. A very Crystal Palace evening.