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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

Sad/angry Huskyteer

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


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

Naked Gun chaos

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.

Dec. 1st, 2018

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Chasing Her Story

This weekend is Midwest FurFest, a furry convention over in Rosemont, Illinois. Many people I know are attending; I, alas, am not, but I am there in spirit because the lovely Kyell Gold, who is one of their Guests of Honour, invited me to collaborate with him on a story for the conbook.

The convention's theme this year is Flight, which may possibly be why Kyell thought of me as a potential co-author. We batted ideas back and forth and came up with a round-the-world race between two pilots, loosely based on the true stories of Joan Merriam Smith and Sheila Scott.

We discovered that each pilot had carried a stuffed animal in the cockpit, Joan a polar bear and Sheila a rabbit, which provided their species in the furry universe.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and I hope convention-goers can take a few minutes out of their busy schedules to sit down with a good story.

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Nov. 19th, 2018

Monocle Husky

Playboys, Spies and Private Eyes

On Saturday I took part in A Celebration of ITC at Elstree Studios.

Lew Grade's Incorporated Television Company was responsible for a huge percentage of British televisual entertainment in the 1960s and '70s, including The Saint, The Prisoner, all the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation puppet series and my great favourite Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

I took the Thameslink to Elstree, where I met up with my internet friend and fellow-nerd Hannah. We retired to a pub and spent the afternoon deep in discussion of Bond, telly and, occasionally, real life before joining a queue of Obvious Geeks at the studio.

The evening took the format of a series of panel discussions, interviewing and Q&Aing two or three of the special guests at a time. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there sharing funny anecdotes, most of which involved Roger Moore.

The biggest name was probably Ian Ogilvy of Return of the Saint, who comes across as a really nice bloke. Annette Andre, Randall and Hopkirk's Jeannie Hopkirk, was as well-dressed and lovely-voiced as always, and it was great to see Gerry Anderson's son Jamie talking about his father's work and new project Firestorm:

I was rather smitten with stuntman Paul Weston, who's worked on pretty much every ITC show plus Bond, Indiana Jones, Star Wars and the laughably dreadful Death Train. He had plenty of hair-raising stories from pre-Health and Safety days, and now I need to rewatch the episode of Randall and Hopkirk where Marty sits on the roof of a car as it drives along the Embankment.

Here he is being shoved aside by Timothy Dalton in Gibraltar:

And here's the photo I bought. Gotta love someone who introduces his collection of stills with "This is me on fire...and this is me jumping from one cable car to another..."


My evening was made when I ran into some of the guest stars back at the station, helped them find the correct platform and took the opportunity to thank them for all the entertainment.
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Nov. 15th, 2018

Cat Air

A Weekend To Remember: Sunday 11/11 - Monday 12/11

We'd picked Thiepval for the morning of Remembrance Day. Two police officers directed us to park on the grass, and we walked in the rain (the British Legion were making a killing on poppy cagoules) to the memorial.

The service and the silence, with everyone standing under umbrellas, the flat landscape all around and a hundred years since the gunfire ceased, isn't something I'll forget, and I'm glad we made the journey. We walked away as the brass band played Abide With Me.


Afterwards we travelled to the nearby Ulster Tower, the memorial to troops from Northern Ireland. Although less than a mile down the road from Thiepval, there was almost nobody there, and we were welcomed warmly by the young Irishman serving in the shop/café. Someone had brought them a beautiful sponge cake decorated with poppies, and you could enjoy a slice in return for a 1€ donation towards blind veterans. Rude not to, eh?


In the afternoon we booked on a tour of the Wellington Tunnels, originally quarries but pressed into service in the First World War to billet troops in advance of the Battle of Arras, and then in the Second as air raid shelters.

We were given proper safety helmets made in the shape of a wartime steel helmet. As the lift descended, I looked around and saw we had been transformed into a ragtag party of miners and bantam soldiers.

The tunnels, decorated with helpful hand-written signage from both wars ('W.C.'), soldiers' drawings on the walls, and objects from the warlike to the everyday discovered during the renovations, were spookily atmospheric, especially when we came to one of the exits, dynamited before the battle for a surprise attack.


Having emerged, we explored Vauban's citadel, visited the town war memorial (which includes a Lutyens-designed monument to airmen with no known grave), then sat on the Place des Héros for a while, watching the people pass and the sun go down, before returning to the hotel.

It being Sunday night in France, we then walked 2km along a dual carriageway for dinner at a steakhouse on a retail park.

Rain was forecast for Monday morning, and we set off as late as we could. We made a brief stop at Gavrelle, where an anchor surrounded by broken brickwork commemorates the village's destruction and the Royal Naval Division's losses in the battle around it.

I was looking forward to visiting the memorial to pilot Albert Ball, situated in the field where his SE5 crashed fatally in 1917. His father bought the field in order to set up the memorial, then gave it to the French army on condition the stone was not disturbed.

Though it's in the middle of nowhere, others had been here before us to lay a wreath. I'd brought a poppy for Ball (it's on the left), which meant I spent all weekend feeling bad about the thousands of less famous dead for whom I had nothing.


Our last stop before Calais and the ferry was Fromelles, where a diversionary attack in 1916 cost several thousand soldiers, mostly Australian, their lives.

In 2009, a mass grave containing 250 bodies from the war was excavated nearby. The work of identifying them, and contacting their families, is still going on. Nine have been identified this year.

I've visited a number of military cemeteries in France and Belgium, and the impact of seeing those lines of headstones never grows less. I'm fascinated by the inscriptions, most chosen from poems or the Bible but others more personal. I'd love to know who Nettie was, and why her friendship with 204604 Private V. Clink was so special:


Nov. 13th, 2018

Cross stitch

A Weekend To Remember: Friday 9/11 - Saturday 10/11

When Howard suggested spending the centenary of the Armistice in France, I got on board immediately. We booked a budget hotel just outside Arras and caught an early ferry from Dover to Calais on Friday morning.

Our first stop was the Dunkirk museum, commemorating the battle and evacuation of 1940 and the aftermath for the city. My favourite thing was a letter written to the captain of a British ship sunk by a torpedo, who asked his officers to describe what had happened:

"Dear sir, There was a bloody great bang."

By a stroke of luck, I spotted this beautiful memorial to French ace Georges Guynemer close by.


We took a country route through the flat but lovely landscape of Flanders to Arras, arriving at our hotel at dusk.

It's hard to believe there was an air museum in northern France I had not yet visited, but I had somehow missed the one in Albert until Saturday morning.

Situated on an industrial estate, it's the kind of delightful museum that crams the exhibits in wherever they'll fit and leaves you to explore, often by climbing a rickety ladder to peer into cockpits. There were two large hangars filled with planes and cars, several exhibits outside, and a third hangar with aviation memorabilia (Concorde pinball!) and, for some reason, antique washing-machines.

They had a Caravelle, that sweet little French airliner with the teardrop windows (as seen in A Very Secret Service), an East German MiG-21 and several examples of the Nord Noratlas twin-boom military transporter. I wandered round in a delighted daze, occasionally summoning Howard so I could explain things at him.




The museum closed for lunch at noon, and we made our way to Le Tommy in Pozières for sausage and chips. It was as crowded as you'd expect on the weekend of Remembrance Day, but we enjoyed quick, friendly service before moving on to The Tank of Flesquieres, which is, as the name suggests, a tank.

I learned that the tanks of A Battalion all had names starting with A, B Battalion with B and so on, and that one of the A tanks was called ARTFUL ALICE.

The tank on display, which took part in the Battle of Cambrai, is D Battalion's DEBORAH. Other D tanks included DON QUIXOTE and DRACULA, while the Fs boasted - wait for it - FRAY BENTOS.


The centre of Arras, rebuilt after its destruction during the war, is crazy pretty. We visited the Boves, a system of underground passages and cellars dating back to the Middle Ages, went on the big wheel and had a pizza.


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Oct. 5th, 2018

Secret Agent Dog

Off to Join the Circus

Good news! Myk and I received our assessment report from Sunday's spy-jinks, and it recommends that the Circus hire us as agents.

We succeeded in all areas of the test, were ranked sixth of the teams taking part, and were noted for our reliability.

At the debrief, we were asked if we'd noticed any Watchers observing us. We had seen nobody, and yet they saw us...

In this series of surveillance photos, I perform a handover with my usual grace and subtlety:




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Oct. 4th, 2018

Snow Fun

Småland Perfectly Formed 10: Sunday 23rd September

At a positively barbaric 6.30am (5.30am European time, let me remind you) we were thrown off the ferry into a stormy Essex morning. We filled up at Morrisons and parted ways at the A12/M25 junction. I got wetter on my journey home than I had at any point during the trip, and was grateful to arrive at my flat, drop my luggage on the floor and peel off my clothes.

We weren't sure about Småland before we set off, though we wanted to satisfy our curiosity. The distances would be vast, everything would be expensive, the roads would be unchallenging. All of this was true to a certain extent. But we also found great beauty, tasty food and, above all, kind and friendly people.

Everyone was so nice to us and so delighted we had come on our motorcycles to visit their country: Per and Haider, Gunnar James Bond Schäfer, waiters, supermarket cashiers and motorway ticket booth operators.

I couldn't always stop to photograph the scenery when I wanted to, and I'm sorry I can't show you more of what it was like, but it's all there in my head.

We explored only a tiny corner of Sweden on our ten-day trip, there's plenty more to see, and we both hope to return.

Miles: 88.3
Total miles: 2413.2
Avg mpg: 71.2




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