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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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.

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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.

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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.
Ace

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!
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.