Pertwee bike

Home & Away

I've had a ridiculously busy weekend for someone in lockdown.

Under normal circumstances, the late May bank holiday weekend would be ConFuzzled, the furry convention held in Birmingham. The convention staff worked hard to bring a limited programme of events online, using Twitch and Discord (both things I know little about).

My lovely writer friend Kandrel and I ran our usual Bedtime Stories panel, where we read each other's works aloud. It was hard to do without visual cues from an audience, but it seemed to go down well, with over 200 viewers. (Because I'm a n00b, I didn't know about having Twitch open to keep an eye on the chat, but apparently people liked my voice!)

On Saturday morning, Twitter reminded me that it was three years since we lost Roger Moore. This made me think it was a good day to do something I'd been meaning to do for ages, and check out the Stockwell war memorial.

This is a former Second World War bomb shelter, painted to commemorate two world wars as well as a number of local heroes, including Roger, who was born in Stockwell. You can read more about London's surviving deep-level shelters here.

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In the evening, st_crispins had invited me to a Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan gathering over on Zoom. I'm not as active in MfU fandom as I once was, but here was a chance to see and speak to people I used to correspond with online over 20 years ago, and it was a delight. I was especially pleased to hear st_crispins's voice for the first time, as she was one of my first internet friends and the only one from that era I'm still in touch with. And I was incredibly touched that people remembered me: "You used to go by 'Wolf'! You were so young!"

Then it was over to yet another channel to watch His Girl Friday with some Twitter friends.

On Sunday I met a friend for a socially distant ride. We met at Thurrock services (strangely quiet for a Sunday apart from some people holding a classic car rally while maintaining a sensible distance from each other), then set off for Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex. While checking the map for somewhere on the coast that might not be rammed, I'd spotted this unusual war memorial, and wanted to check it out.

We arrived to find several other bikers, in pairs and one group, already there, so it wasn't the brilliantly original idea I'd thought. But there was room for us to sit and eat our sandwiches one each end of a bench. We took a walk to look at the sea, and the decommissioned nuclear power station, before heading back.

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In the evening I had another ConFuzzled commitment, this time helping on the Flash Fiction panel by reading out the 5-sentence stories submitted for the annual competition so a panel of judges could pick a winner. This is always a fun panel, and I enjoyed it just as much online. Congratulations to winner Rattie!

After all that, it was nice to have an extra day off for not doing very much. I continued with an editing project, worked on my current model aeroplane (a Fieseler Storch I'm going to do in Swedish markings) and watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Cat Air

Cats in a Submarine

During lockdown, a friend has been providing comfort and entertainment by reading furry stories aloud on his podcast, The Voice of Dog.

He's already featured one of mine, Once We Were Meerkats. Since one of my lockdown projects has been buying a mic so I can practise voice work, I asked if I could record myself reading one of my own stories.

I got a lot of excellent help and tips, and the resulting podcast went live last night.

It's a highly serious action adventure featuring the elite SEALPOINT squad of feline special operatives, a Turkish Van cat called Dr de Lite, and plenty of other jokes as good as those ones.

Presenting:

The Zeroth Protocol
Orange Vespa Huskyteer

Home Safe

This week the guidance around leisure motorcycling, travel for exercise and meeting people from other households relaxed somewhat. I had Friday off (full disclosure: I was doing a speed awareness course, moved online to a virtual classroom, having been flashed in the 20mph zone on Sydenham Hill back in February), so I seized the opportunity to see Howard for the first time in over 2 months.

We've always lived apart, but under normal circumstances 3 weeks would be a long stretch without seeing each other and after 4 I definitely start pining a bit.

We met at the services where the A24 meets the A272 and travelled to Knepp Park, an estate given over to rewilding, for a nice responsible socially distant walk. We saw longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, several flavours of deer, a buzzard and a stork, one of the first to breed in the UK for 600 years.

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I was very tired afterwards, partly from the walk but also from seeing so much of The World after 8 weeks in which I'd been no further than ALDI, and on Saturday I only ventured as far as the recycling bins outside the back door.

Sunday saw me on the road again; I'd emailed a biker friend to tell him about Friday's adventures, and he immediately asked if I fancied a ride. We visited our familiar local beauty spots, Ide Hill and Bough Beech Reservoir, before stopping at a village green and sitting one each end of a bench to drink coffee from our Thermos flasks.

In the afternoon, a local friend invited me for a socially distant picnic in the park. Sitting and sunbathing in public spaces is now on; formerly you had to keep moving. I got a watchmark and I regret nothing.

In the evening it was back to watching Bond films with Twitter.
Cross stitch

Home Thoughts

Having the early May bank holiday on a Friday would have been confusing enough at the best of times; as it was, it just added to the sense that time and date have no meaning.

My big adventure last week was replacing the battery in my bike, which is very fiddly to get in and out but I triumphed in the end. The old one wouldn't hold a charge so I had to walk down to my local mechanic, drop the old battery off for disposal and pick up the new one. It was so nice to have a face to face chat with someone different that I hung out for a bit over a socially distant coffee.

I'd decided I wasn't in the mood for VE Day, but when I was out and about on Thursday the houses with bunting looked so jolly that I relented and hung a flag from the balcony.

I had a busy weekend, by current standards: I baked muffins (in red, white and blue cases, because I happened to have them) with the tail end of a bag of frozen summer fruits, and pretzel rolls, and finished my latest aeromodelling project. This was a Huey helicopter kit I modified to represent a helicopter from The Living Daylights, and my first serious attempt at a custom build. It's a mess but I'm pleased with it.

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TV and movies: I agreed to review my friend's Black Archive on The Robots of Death, a Tom Baker Dr Who story, then realised I hadn't actually seen it. Luckily my flatmate could provide, and we watched it over our now-traditional Friday night pizza. I'm a sucker for a good robot story, and I loved this one, with its Art Deco robots and nods to Isaac Asimov.

My mum alerted me to The Battle of the River Plate on Saturday, which appealed not only because it's Powell and Pressburger-directed but has a cast full of people who would later be famous for very specific roles: Bernard Lee is the captain of a captured ship, and as far as I'm concerned this is now M's backstory, while Patrick Macnee looks surprisingly gorgeous a decade before The Avengers and right at the end we get a rare beardless Roger Delgado. I was especially pleased about surprise bonus John Le Mesurier, who isn't even credited.

Talking Pictures kindly screened a Humphrey Bogart movie I hadn't seen, The Enforcer, on Monday night. It was a strange film, but fun, culminating in one of the hammiest death scenes I have ever witnessed.

I spent Monday 'at' ConCon, the cross-government content conference, originally to be held in Manchester but moved online very competently. I attended talks on whether we can get rid of all the PDFs on government websites, on how Transport for London convey information to their customers and NHS Digital designed their app, and a panel where we collaboratively edited the Wikipedia entry on content design. I finished the day all enthused about my job and my community.

Bonus: I attended the whole thing in bed in my pyjamas.

Now the regulations have been relaxed so you can travel as far as you like for exercise, which means that technically I could ride to the coast and splash about in the sea. It's tempting.
Cross stitch

Home Front

Well, my weekend felt distinct from my week, which I'm counting as a win.

My flatmate and I got pizza from 400 Rabbits, which has become our Friday treat. You order and pay online and collect from the restaurant. I don't know how much longer they'll be able to do this; the notice on the door which last week said only 4 customers inside at a time had gone down to 2.

Then I watched Die Another Day, possibly the worst Bond film but entertaining if you're in the right mood and company, with a friend over WhatsApp. There is much to mock, from terrible CGI to Madonna to Pierce Brosnan's notorious PainFace™ to Moneypenny shagging Bond on a desk in virtual reality.

Best mockery: how chunky Pierce looks when he's supposedly been in a Korean prison for 14 months.

I managed to spend most of Saturday away from screens thanks to my current lockdown project, a Revell 1:100 scale model kit of a Bell UH-1 'Huey' helicopter. It's amazing how time melts away when you're concentrating hard on something tiny. I got all the parts painted, so next weekend I can put them together.

Sunday's big event was a Twitter watchalong of Hawks, a 1988 film with Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards (best known as Goose in Top Gun). It's a great movie but so obscure that the whole thing has been available on YouTube for years without anyone bothering to get it taken down for copyright infringement, happily for the watch party. I guess 'small-budget comedy about terminally ill patients' was never going to be a blockbuster, but it's a shame when everyone involved is absolutely acting their socks off.

Best line: "Do you know what the most terrifying thing in the world is? How beautiful things are."

I often feel that way when I'm out on the bike. Looking forward to a time when I can feel it again.
Cross stitch

Meme of the Times

1. Are you an essential worker?

Technically - I'm a civil servant - but I don't have a letter, and I get to work from home. I'm not directly involved with coronavirus content but many of my colleagues are, and they are all working very hard to get the correct information out there, in a format everyone can understand.

2. How many drinks have you had since the quarantine started?

More than usual, TBH, just because I've had the opportunity (spending evenings at home, not having to drive anywhere). I allowed day drinking to creep in over the Easter weekend, because, as my flatmate said, was I going somewhere? but I'm not dissolute enough to do that on a work day, tempting though it sometimes is.

3. If you have kids... are they driving you nuts?

I am grateful and a bit guilty that I'm not having to juggle childcare/homeschooling with work, like so many of my colleagues. (I am always delighted when other people's children make an appearance on video calls, though I prefer cats and dogs.)

4. What new hobby have you taken up during this?

I bought an external microphone for my computer to practise voice work, with a view to getting involved in more podcasts and perhaps reading my own and other people's stories. I've also got back into cross stitch and Airfix modelling.

5. How many grocery runs have you done?

I try to keep it to once a week, and go to ALDI. This is partly because I hear they're treating their staff especially well, partly to give the bike a run, and partly because there is never not a queue round the block for the local Sainsburys. If there's something essential I can't get, I'll dive into a corner shop. For some reason I feel it's safer to spend half an hour going round a supermarket than to pop in and out of a number of smaller shops until I have everything.

6. What are you spending your stimulus cheque on?

We don't get those but I am saving a considerable amount of money this month due to not travelling, going to the theatre/cinema/pub, eating out etc. My big stupid self-indulgent purchase has been a framed print of the Timothy Dalton stamp from the Royal Mail's James Bond range. I love it and it cheers me up.

7. Do you have any special occasions that you will miss during this quarantine?

My partner's birthday. The new Bond film. Long weekend in the Netherlands next week. Furry convention. A couple of airshows I was looking forward to have been cancelled. But of course none of that matters if I get through this without losing anyone close to me.

8. Are you keeping your housework done?

That implies I did any in the first place. I have been taking out the recycling a lot as it seems to get full more quickly, possibly due to both of us ordering stuff online.

9. What movies have you watched during this quarantine?

I've been trying to catch up on some classics from my watchlist, but I'm also revisiting favourites like Team America: World Police for comfort and larffs.

A lot of Bond, mostly as watchalongs on Twitter or with friends over a messenger app.

On Wednesday night I set my alarm for 2AM so I could watch a film in the company of Twitter friends in the US - I do this occasionally if there's something tempting on the menu. This time it was a 1971 western called Something Big, starring Dean Martin and Honor Blackman and shown as a tribute to the latter. It wasn't very good: "Well, that was a movie with Honor Blackman in it," concluded our host.

Another small investment into my home comforts has been a CD/DVD drive for my computer, because Apple decided some years ago that these were no longer necessary, so I can watch stuff if the TV is in use for crossing animals.

10. What are you streaming with?

Netflix and BFI Player.

11. 9 months from now is there any chance of you having a baby?

Can you order that online? Then no.

12. What's your go-to quarantine meal?

Pasta, same as my go-to non-quarantine meal. Rice and Stuff, a student classic. Various sorts of tinned fish. A really good thing to have around, I've found, is a chorizo ring, because it keeps for ages and adds interest to otherwise slightly dull meals.

13. Is this whole situation making you paranoid?

Yes. I'm always a bit germ-wary and I catch myself holding my breath as I walk past people on the pavement, which I'm sure is daft and does no good.

14. Has your internet gone out on you during this time?

It's struggled a bit under two adults at home 24/7, both of whom are usually doing one or more of working, on a video call with work, on a video call with friends, looking at cat pictures, streaming TV, playing Animal Crossing. And once I got a bit fed up in a meeting and left it, pretending I'd lost my connection.

15. What month do you predict this all ends?

I'm saying May. Hope springs eternal.

16. First thing you’re gonna do when you get off quarantine?

Get my hair cut.

17. Where do you wish you were right now?

Out on my bike, somewhere near the sea.

18. What free-from-quarantine activity are you missing the most?

Just nipping into the supermarket because I fancy a custard tart or something. Also charity shops. And pub.

19. Have you run out of toilet paper and hand sanitiser?

Just before lockdown I visited a friend as his Tesco order was arriving, and he kindly donated 3 loo rolls. Since then we've managed to find stocks.

20. Do you have enough food to last a month?

Technically, I guess, but I need to go out once a week at least for milk. I have not needed to buy alcohol (just tonic water).
Cat Air

If You Have No Daughters, Give Them To Your Sons

I managed to get hot cross buns at ALDI, as well as a chocolate rabbit, so that was Easter sorted.

It was a strange and quiet Bank Holiday weekend, but not unpleasant. I finished a modelling project that's been on my workbench for some months: a 4½ litre Blower Bentley, which I saw in a charity shop window and identified as the car James Bond drives in the early books. I thought it would be fun to paint it in Bond's battleship grey, and once the hundreds of tiny parts were together I spent some time on a photoshoot:

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On Saturday night the Spybrary podcast hosted virtual drinks, which ended up going on till midnight UK time. It was lovely to put faces to some online friends and have a peek at their bookcases. I put on a dinner jacket and bow tie to give everyone a laugh, though I saw no reason to bother with proper trousers:

EVWLc9fXsAIYETs

I recently took out a subscription to BFI Player, since I can't go to the cinema, and have been catching up with some classics. On Friday I watched The Long Good Friday - mostly to laugh at an early appearance by Pierce Brosnan as 'First Irishman', but it turned out to be a wonderfully sharp gangster film with an amazing performance by Bob Hoskins, whom I mostly know from his later, more comical and avuncular roles.

Last night I tried Wings of Desire, which several people had recommended to me because I love Berlin, Peter Falk and A Matter of Life and Death, and of course I fell in love with it too. It's a gorgeous film; uplifting and a little heartbreaking, arty but full of humanity. Definitely one for these times.

Tomorrow it's back to work, and I'm part-sorry, part-grateful.
The Spy Who Loved Me

Joined the Flying Circus

I was going to write a post about how lockdown has been treating me, but then Honor Blackman died and I am way more upset about it than I sensibly should be over a 94-year-old woman I didn't know personally, so you get this instead.

I first saw Honor in Dr Who, in 1986's Terror of the Vervoids, which is the first story I remember seeing, and I was struck by her then. Later I loved her very much in The Upper Hand, so by the time I got to see her in Goldfinger it was no wonder she became my favourite Bond woman.

It's partly her wonderful voice, sexy and cultured, but also her attitude, the way she exudes confidence and power without being overbearing. Pretty sure her fursona would be a lioness.

Back in the early '00s, her one-woman show came to my hometown and I went to see it with kowarth. Afterwards we hung around the stage door until she emerged, and she was incredibly gracious to my awkward starstruck self. Somewhere there's a Polaroid kowarth took of me with Honor, and she kindly signed, but I'm buggered if I know where it's got to. At least I know it happened.

(I think about Honor, or at least Pussy, just about every day; she forms part of my personal fantasy 00 Section, where I retreat for secret missions and banter when I can't be dealing with the real world.)

Luckily my flatmate is a big Avengers fan, so when I read the news on Twitter I went into the other room to break it to her and we were sad about it together. Later that evening we watched a couple of Cathy Gale episodes and drank gin & tonic while watching the young leather-clad Honor kick various bad guy butts.

This morning I'm wearing my black polo neck as a Mrs Gale tribute, but I don't seem to own any leather shorts.

HB001
Cross stitch

Homework

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.
Brigadier

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.
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