Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Only when I laugh...

I can be a bit slow at getting round to things. Back in August 2008 I read articles about English comedian Mark Steel's book 'What's Going on?' (and blogged about it here). For Xmas this year I finally got hold of the book in question (thanks my Mark) and I'm reading it this week. It is brilliant (though some of the references may be very British for those of you in the lands of far, far away) and so it is my recommendation for this year, next year, indeed any year with a number in it. Yes, go forth and read Mark Steel's book – it has excellent lines on news, politics, life, relationships and it's also packed with lots and lots of really good, clever jokes. Poetry's all very well but really...this book is something else. Any fool can write a poem...

p.s. Happy New Year for Friday.


Monday, 28 December 2009

Saving music

There's been a lot of talk about that TV programme 'X Factor' this Xmas (what with the campaign to beat it to number one and all). I've only ever watched 'X FActor' once (at someone else's house) but that...was enough. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short poem about its main man. It's in the book (p14) but today that little poem is up at Ink, Sweat and Tears (here). Obviously for full effect you should sing the poem to the tune of the New Seekers hit from 1971 (which rather hilariously started off as a Coca Cola jingle...who said shameless commercialism is new?). And while we're on the subject here are the New Seekers. I loved this song when I was 4...still like it today really. No-one ever said things were simple.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Just one song

I'm still very much off blog duty but since we were talking about movies two posts ago here's a song from a movie that all four of us watched here last week ('About a Boy'). It is possibly the only film with Hugh Grant in it that I really like (well...OK...'Sense and Sensibility' too) and I'm not a huge fan of other books by the writer Nick Hornby but I really like both the book and the film of 'About a Boy'. Also the soundtrack by Manchester's Badly Drawn Boy is favourite album of his (and we have all of them...somewhere about the house). Here's one of the many lovely songs from the album:


Monday, 21 December 2009

Quick before the sleigh leaves!

There's a Xmas Eve poem for children at Ink, Sweat and Tears (here). It's the first poem I've ever written especially for children. See wot u fink.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Let's go to the movies...

Historically for me one vital Xmas feature has always been the special edition, two-week 'Radio Times' (and for those of you outside the UK the 'Radio Times' is la crème de la crème of TV/radio guides here). And in the days before VHS, DVD (and all that) one of the most exciting sections of the Xmas good book was the film guide. In those days it was different...we hadn't already seen was all new and exciting (rustle, rustle)...and as we looked at the precious pages we would find out what new films we would get to see this Xmas, which classics we might watch again and of course (the big question) when exactly 'The Wizard of Oz' would be on.

In the spirit of this most treasured tradition I thought I'd give you a film guide of my own...but not of the films on TV over Xmas...instead I've covered all the movies I've seen over the past 12 months (really, I have...just call me 'anal list-keepers anonymous'). I've been working on this off and on for a while and I don't plan to be doing much other posting over Xmas so this epic can last you all a while maybe. I hope you enjoy reading it (however much you get through) and maybe in the comments you could list your top 3 films of the year (they don't have to have been made in 2009 – just watched by you in the past 12 months). Or maybe you could just say what films or TV you're looking forward to watching over the holidays (assuming you get holidays...).

As you read the piece all these factors should be taken into account:

- often I watch films that are not necessarily my choice. I watch some that are our Girl's choice (and remember she's 9) and some that are Mark's choice (and remember he's an unashamed bloke in this respect – he has varied taste but he does like spy films and war films and lots of action and...lots of other things I wouldn't necessarily choose first). Also as Grandma lives here too I sometimes watch things I hope my Mum will like (mysteries, thrillers, anything with Meryl Streep...). Because of all these viewers I will rate each film (G) for Girl's, (M) for Mark's, (GM) for Grandma's and every now and then there's an (R) – something I chose! I'll score them all out of 10 too. And why not?

- the movies are all USA productions (unless otherwise stated). I try to watch a mix and not be overwhelmed by Hollywood...but for kids stuff especially...they have the market pretty well covered. And it's not all rubbish.

So. Here's what I watched in...

January 2009

Madagascar (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath 2005)
Recorded off TV (G).
I laughed much more than I expected to along with this Disney Pixar cartoon about animals wanting to escape from a New York zoo. It's not original but it is funny and our Girl had seen it at the cinema but she liked it all over again. It was New Year's Day and we were tired – we all watched it (except Grandma who was probably asleep).
8 / 10

Ray (Taylor Hackford 2005)
Rented DVD via post (R)
Jamie Foxx is brilliant in this life of Ray Charles (and, let's be honest, he's bloody gorgeous too). I loved the music in the film (how could you not?) but it's a biopic...and it does follow the formula pretty much. We had a post about biopics after I'd watched it (back here) and it got the most comments I think a post of mine has ever attracted. People just like talking about films, I guess.
8 / 10

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg 2005)
Recorded off TV (M)
Mark recorded this and I watched it whilst doing something else (can't remember what...sewing...ironing...blogging?). I couldn't remember a thing about it until I looked it up again online so that tells you quite the impact it had on me. It's an action/suspense/thriller thing (so not really my area unless very, VERY good).
4 / 10 (Mark says 7)

Still Crazy (Brian Gibson 1998)
Recorded off TV (R)
A friend insists this British 'old rockers get back together' number is one of the funniest films ever made. I'd seen it once and been VERY disappointed (maybe it was her big build-up that did it...) so I wanted to give it another go. I did find it a little funnier second time round but still more corny than rib-cracking. Great actors of course – Timothy Spall, Bill Nighy...and Billy Connolly features too – and I'm sure it was a lot of fun to make. Some good costumes on Nighy too.
7 / 10

Camp Rock (Matthew Diamond 2008)
Borrowed DVD (G)
Lots of girls in her class had seen this summer camp of pop flick so our wee 'un wanted to catch up. I try to watch things with her the first time she sees them (well, apart from all the Barbie films...they are beyond me) so I watched this too and it was OK. It's like 'High School Musical' (same Disney factory) but with probably less style and certainly less appealing 'pretty' boys (the Jonas brothers...please no). It's a bit like a cross between 'Fame' and a boarding school story by Enid Blyton. Bland at its blandest.
4 / 10 (Girl says 8...but then she never gives under an 8 to anything!)

Hairspray (John Waters 1988)
Rented DVD via post (R)
This is the original film with Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry and, of course, Divine. I saw it when it came out but because of the new Hairspray (2007 – one of our Girl's favourites) I wanted to see the old one again (mainly because she kept asking if it was something she could watch and I couldn't remember how explicit it was). After seeing it again I'd say that mostly she wouldn't understand the 1988 version (very adult humour...though it gets a PG rating on the DVD I notice) and it doesn't have all the fun songs from the new one so she'd miss them too. It's very entertaining for adults though and it features excellent cheap sets (well, they look cheap anyway).
9 / 10

Happiness (Todd Solondz 1998)
Recorded off TV (R)
I wrote about this back here. It's very well observed and acted though very uncomfortable to watch in places. Not a family matinée number (despite the title!).
9 / 10

War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg 2005)
Recorded off TV (M)
Mark chose this but for me it's Spielberg at his cheesey worst and it felt like it could have been written by a 10 year old (and not a very imaginative one at that). I don't think they should have been allowed to use the title either. And it makes Tom Cruise look very gone-by-sell-by ('Jerry Maguire' seems a long time ago...).
2 / 10 (Mark says 6)

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle 2008)
At the cinema! (Sound of fanfare...we don't get there very often) (GM)
This British film shot in India was very enjoyable and lively and well worth seeing on the big screen (I saw it with my Mum who loved it). The story got a bit corny in places but that's big rollercoaster movies for you. I liked all the scenes in the Indian call centre particularly (nice to see things from that perspective).
8 / 10

Leatherheads (George Clooney 2008)
Rental DVD (GM)
I grabbed this in the DVD rental place thinking someone in the house might like it as it's a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s (American) football (so it says on the web page). This is another one I'd forgotten I'd seen but now it is starting to come back to me...R Zellwegger and G Clooney camp it up big style in a film made to catch all audiences (men with the sport, ladies with the romance and the Cloon...). Some funny moments but (as you can see) fairly forgettable.
6 / 10


Snow Cake (Marc Evans 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
This is a brilliant, unusual film that is part mystery, part social drama. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver...two great actors in a gentle movie with something new to say. Hurray! Worth hunting down.
9 out of 10 (or maybe even more)

In Bruges (Martin McDonagh 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I watched this Irish film after reading about it on Ken Armstrong's blog. It is harsh and full of swearing and violent, sometimes shocking, scenes with a particularly good performance from Colin Farrell (who I have to say I usually find wooden in the extreme). All this considered we enjoyed it (though it's a bit silly at the end as violent films so often are). Lovely shots of Bruges though...enough to make us stop off there on our summer trip.
8 / 10

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
I had been dreading this as I'm not a huge Carrey fan, a huge fan of the co-writer Kaufman (found both 'Malkovich' and 'Adaptation' too convoluted for my taste) or a fan of affected kookiness in general...but what do you know? I loved it. It is genuinely endearing, interesting and original (and Kate Winslet is good too). Hurray again!
10 / 10

Toy Story (John Lasseter 1995)
Old VHS copy of our Girl's that I bought second hand years ago (G)
Who hasn't seen this? It's a great film and Tom Hanks makes a great cowboy doll. The second one is just as good too (if not better...Kelsey Grammar and all).
10 / 10

28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2007)
Rental DVD via post (M)
Oh dear. The first film in this British zombie series ('28 Days Later' Danny Boyle 2002) was great but this one is dead from the neck up (and the neck down too probably). It's one of those of films that makes you shout 'oh, for god's sake' at the TV (a lot).
3 / 10


Stardust (Matthew Vaughn 2007)
Borrowed DVD (G)
I thought our Girl would like this and she did in the end (though she was a bit nervous about watching it for some reason). It is a fair adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book (though aimed more at kids in the film version) with fun performances from Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert de Niro. On film it's a bit Harry Potter without that annoying Radcliffe boy who doesn't do it for me at all.
7 / 10

Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
This was recommended by a friend who said 'if you liked 'Juno' you'll like this'. I did like 'Juno' (a lot) but I found this fairly dull. Quirky characters alone do not a good film make I'm afraid.
6 / 10

Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry 2000)
Bought DVD (R for G)
I love the dance and music sequences in this British film and was keen for our Girl to see it but when I put it on it was only after a few scenes that I remembered why it might not be suitable for her (SWEARING! LOTS OF BIG SWEARING!). She'd already heard all the words after five minutes so I just said 'you know you're not to say any of these, right?' and she said 'yes' so we carried on with it. I loved Jamie Bell in this (and Julie Walters of course) and it's not Shakespeare or nowt but that scene where he dances round the yard to 'A town called malice' – that is cinema heaven! I've never wanted to see the stage's all new Elton John songs isn't it (and 1970s Elton John is OK but nothing later than, no, no!)? T Rex music used brilliantly too in the film of course.
8 / 10 (and 10 out of 10 for all the dance bits)

Lemony Snicket's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' (Brad Silberling 2004)
Recorded off TV (G)
Unusually for us, we saw this before reading the books (I usually insist that Girl and I read the books first) and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected (the Jim Carrey factor partly...'the Mask' has a lot to answer for). This is a beautiful movie though with some lovely cameos, gorgeous children and amazing outfits. It made the Girl want to be Violet for Halloween. The books are good too.
9 / 10


Black Beauty (Caroline Thompson 1994)
Recorded off TV (G)
Sad, sad, sad. How many times can humans be (fictionally) cruel to a horse? I remember the TV series from the 1970s (very vaguely...great theme tune..) but I have never read the book (I was not even remotely horsey as a child). This British movie is a real tearjerker though and whips through all the sad phases of poor old Beauty's life at such a pace that you feel pretty knackered too by the end.
7 out of a 10

Nanny McPhee (Kirk Jones 2005)
Girl's DVD (G)
Our Girl loves this British kids film and I have to admit I do too. It is a bit 'Mary Poppins' meets 'Love Actually' but somehow it works (b'gad, a real miracle!). Emma Thompson is as marvellous as ever, Colin Firth quite acceptable, Kelly Macdonald just dreamy and it's a good story too. OK it's about as relevant to most kids' lives as the Clangers but hey, they need to learn about everything (including dressing up donkeys in their Sunday best). The wedding scene is just beautiful (it almost makes me want to get married...almost...) and I'd never heard of the 'Nurse Mathilda' books before this (Thompson adapted them to make this script) but we have read them since. They are quite fun but much more rambling than the film (lots of servants).
9 / 10

Kung fu Panda (John Wayne Stevenson and Mark Osborne 2008)
Girl's DVD (G)
She got this cartoon for her birthday and so we all had to watch it at least once. It was surprisingly OK. Certainly above average. It is about a panda that learns to do Kung Fu.
8 out of 10

Monsters vs Aliens (Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon 2009)
At the cinema (more fanfare) (G)
We saw this in 3D (what a waste of time). I found it a kids film by numbers and could barely stay awake. Yawn.
6 / 10

Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
Not Robert Altman's most memorable movie but his last (he died in 2006). It has much Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin and a little Lindsay Lohan and it's very wandery but with some pleasant moments.
7 / 10 (but if you're an Altman fan, as I am, you'll watch it anyway and like it)


Bedtime Stories (Adam Shankman 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Adam Sandler's is not a name that makes me pick up a DVD box but the Girl fancied this and it was a lot of fun and quite charming (stories that come to life...done with some imagination). We watched it a couple of times...and to be fair I do quite like the grown-up film 'Spanglish' which features el Sandlo too.
(As kids films go) 9 out of 10

High School Musical 3 (Kenny Ortega 2008)
Girl's DVD (G)
Well, I'd already seen this at the pictures last year with our Girl but now the DVD too! In honesty it's really OK (as far as slushy, predictable, bubblegum kids movies go). She watched it a lot.
(For what it is) 8 out of 10

Enchanted (Kevin Lima 2007)
Girl's DVD (G)
This is a hugely enjoyable kids film (well, for girls and parents anyway...can't speak for small boys). We saw it at the pictures when it came out and we all love it (and I defy you to not smile during the big Central Park dance sequence – blogged back here). Lots of laughs and good vibrations.
10 out of 10

Happy Feet (George Miller 2006)
Girl's DVD (G)
We saw this at the pictures when it came out and I found it just too bizarre (disco dancing penguins...and an awful lot of Earth, Wind and Fire's 'Boogie Wonderland'...never their best track). Seeing it again on DVD I found it slightly more bearable but she got bored and went off to do something else.
7 out of 10


Defiance (Edward Zwick 2008)
Rented DVD via post (M)
Daniel Craig and others playing a group of Ukrainian Jews who go to live in a forest to escape the Nazis during WW2. We started off thinking it was going to be a bit 'crap accents and cheese' but we watched to the end and it really wasn't too bad (and quite effective in places). It's based on a true story (no, not just the war...). Worth a look.
8 out of 10

Splash (Ron Howard 1984)
Cheap DVD (G)
We thought the Girl would like this one (and she did...she always has liked mermaids). I presumed I had seen it growing up but as I watched it didn't seem familiar at all. I enjoyed it...and I even enjoyed the DVD extras about the making of the film (Girl loves all that stuff...she has the makings of a real movie nerd).
8 out of 10

Golden Compass (Chris Weitz 2007)
DVD Girl got as a present (G)
This is one of those trying-to-pack-a-long-book-into-one-and-a-half-hours films and they very rarely work – you just rush from scene to scene and it makes no sense to anyone (particularly a child who really wants to UNDERSTAND ours does). This film looks pretty but really it's a bit duff.
5 out of 10

Rendition (Gavin Hood 2007)
DVD we were given as a present (don't ask)
This is kind of an exciting thriller but at the same time just a bit of silly American nonsense. Hollywood and politics/current affairs...not often a marriage made in heaven.
5 out of 10

Happy Go Lucky (Mike Leigh 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I had read two very different reviews of this British film on blogs (see Ms Baroque's here and Poetikat's here) and so I wanted to see for myself. As often happens with me I could see both arguments ('yes, it's total bollocks' and also 'yes, it has a heart of gold') but overall would I recommend it? No. I often find the same thing with Mike Leigh films...I wish they were 30 minute TV dramas instead of long feature films. Not enough happens and the dialogue is really boring and sometimes inane to the point of derangement (if I want to listen to people talk longwinded crap I don't need to watch a DVD...). But at the same time I admire what he's doing...making the kind of films he wants to make, doing something different and I never hate the films...but they're never my favourite either. I did like 'Vera Drake' probably best of all and mainly because it was ABOUT something. This one is well-meaning but tiresome (like its central character really).
7 out of 10

Uncle Buck (John Hughes 1989)
Cheap DVD (G)
Again we thought our Girl would like this one (and she did...lots of rude bits and bad behaviour). It's a good memory lane bit of nonsense (1980s fashions – urgh!) but better than I remembered too and John Candy is brilliant in it.
8 out of 10


Marley and Me (David Frankel 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
By now you might know that our Girl likes dogs. She (and her Dad) loved this film at the cinema and enjoyed it at home. I didn't like it much...but I kept quiet.
Girl 10, Him 8, me 4 out of 10

I've loved you so long (Philippe Claudel 2008)
Rented DVD (GM)
My Mum likes anything with Kristin Posh Thomas in so I rented this for us to watch together. It's a very French and fairly sad family drama but it's also thoughtful and not too predictable. I did think the end was a bit of nonsense (one of those where you're shouting 'but everyone would have known that!') but it's not really story-led's more about character and acting really.
7 out of 10 (maybe 8 for some aspects)

Australia (Baz Luhrmann 2008)
Rented DVD (GM)
My Mum likes Nicole Kidman so I rented this...Australian movie for her to watch but she couldn't follow it for some reason and fell asleep. I watched it the next day and really quite enjoyed it – it's a right good old romp through the outback but it's quite a long romp so it's one for a long winter's afternoon or something.
8 out of 10 (if you stay awake)

Beverley Hills Chihuahua (Raja Gosnell 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Girl has to see all dog films (and boy, are there a lot of dog films!). I was dreading this one but it was really funny.
(For what it is...a film with lots of jokes about dogs wearing clothes...) 8 out of 10

Fame (Alan Parker 1980)
Rental DVD via post (R)
This is the original movie and I watched it this year because I couldn't remember what it was like and one of the songs was stuck in my head (see here). The Parker film is much more serious and adult than the TV series and it has both some great scenes and some cringe sections. Lots of legwarmers, obviously.
8 out of 10 (but not for young kids)


Hotel for Dogs (Thor Freudenthal 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
Another dog movie...and a really good fun one in fact. Phoebe from Friends turns up as a useless foster mum and overall it's time not badly spent.
For what it is (another dog film) 8 out of 10

Duplicity (Tony Gilroy 2009)
Rented DVD (M/R)
This was one of those 'it's 4 for £10, quick grab another one' items and it features Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as undercover industrial spies (or something). Ridiculously complicated but not unentertaining. And Julia Roberts is still lovely on screen.
6 out of 10 (Mark says 7)

Inkheart (Iain Softley 2008)
Rented DVD (G)
Another kids film where they packed a bit too much in I think but in all honesty I can't remember that much about it now. It has a nice central idea (when the lead character reads a story the events in it really happen...) but it just ends up with lots of running about. Might be better as a mini series. Or not.
7 out of 10


17 Again (Burr Steers 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
This was a bit old for our Girl really but it's Zac Efron (he of 'High School Musical') and lots of her peers are huge fans of ZE and I try to keep her in the loop (don't know why I bother...she's not really one for the loop to be honest). Anyway, it's a bit of a 'Back to the Future' thing really and quite a lot of fun. We all enjoyed it but it is strictly light-hearted entertainment! Chandler from Friends is the grown-up Zac. He seems to have one approach to acting.
For what it is (i.e. fluff) 8 out of 10

Hannah Montana – the movie (Peter Chelsom 2009)
Rental DVD via post (G)
Our Girl has not been one of the Hannah army but (as above) I try to keep her at least in the same universe as the rest of her class. This film is your total pre-teen be-yourself, express-yourself, pop stuff but we enjoyed it and the ballads are surprisingly bearable (though the hip-pop stuff I can live without).
For what it is...8 out of 10

Red Road (Andrea Arnold 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
I'd had this film recorded for ages and eventually we got round to watching it. It's unusual, very non-Hollywood (Scottish in fact), bleak but very watchable. I'm not sure the end is as good as the rest of the film but that can happen with good novels too (it can be hard to find an end that is worthy of the rest). Still overall it's an interesting film – good acting especially – and a new take on 'The Conversation' perhaps.
Him 8, me 9 out of 10

The Merchant of Venice (Michael Radford 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
Al Pacino in Shakespeare? Why the al not? I'd never seen or read this play (well, Shakespeare did write a lot you know...and I've been busy...) and I found this a really good introduction. It's beautiful to look at, lively, spirited. Really not bad.
8 out of 10 (maybe even 9...)

Milk (Gus van Sant 2008)
Rental DVD via post (R)
We saw this because of the Oscar for Sean Penn I suppose (partly). We both really enjoyed it (and in fact my Mum did too...even with all the talk of regular bumming). Penn does give the performance of his life and it is one of the better biopics I've seen (again perhaps because Harvey Milk actually DID something rather than just drink and take drugs like so many famous people...). Some great era evoking too.
9 and a half out of 10

For your Consideration (Christopher Guest 2006)
Recorded off TV (R)
This one got a good write-up in the Radio Times (or something) and we did enjoy this film about a corny little Jewish movie that gets rumours of an Oscar nod (with humorous consequences...). It's not all laughs though (some harsh truths here and there too).
8 out of 10

Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Stephen Hopkins 2004)
Recorded off TV (R)
Geoffrey Rush plays a blinder here as Sellers and though it is one of those drink'n'drugs (and belt your missus...) biopics it manages to keep the viewer interested enough and it looks very groovy most of the time. Not brilliant but very watchable and unusual in places. British, I presume.
8 out of 10


Bee Movie (Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith 2007)
Rented dvd (G)
This Jerry Seinfield animated vehicle is funny at the time but instantly forgettabubble. Bees save the world (I think). Whatever. Always nice to hear the Zellwegger voice of course.
7 out of 10

Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo 2007)
Rented dvd (G)
Most parents know that this is the 'kids film where one of the main characters DIES' and prepare for tears. In fact our Girl (though she was nervous about watching it) was not so fussed about the death (far more tears when we read 'Charlotte's Web' or watched 'Lassie'for example) but she did like the whole imaginary world (Terabithia) sections and it's probably one we would watch again. A nice break from the HSM, Hannah Montana wave of this movie one of the families is even poor too! Can you imagine?
9 out of 10

400 Blows (François Truffaut 1959)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I decided it was time to watch a Truffaut film (somehow I never had...and I've seen my share of French cinema over the years). I went for this one because there used to be a band named after it and it's a very documentary style piece about a young boy who bunks off school and runs a bit wild in Paris. Obviously it's very dated now (it is 50 years old!) but it has beautiful faces and is an interesting not-so-rosy look at the 'good old days when no-one even knew where their kids were'.
8 out of 10

Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson 2009)
Cinema! (G)
We really enjoyed this tale of the flying house and the talking dogs at the flicks. It's not one of those that left much impression afterwards though so I'm not sure it's quite the 'classic' everyone was saying in the autumn (was I one those people...almost...). One thing I didn't like in it were the faces though...very empty...I preferred the dogs (it must be catching...).
9 out of 10 (though that's fading to an 8 over time)

Coraline (Henry Selick 2009)
Rented DVD (G)
What a beauty! This is a really gorgeous stop-animation film (it has all the expression and emotion that 'Up' lacks for me). Our Girl loved it and so did we...haunting, creepy, unusual, delightful. The extras on the DVD are all great too (though don't bother with the 3D).
10 out of 10

The Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood 2008)
Rental DVD via post (M)
Well...yes, Eastwood is great to look at (still!) and it's great that it is another section of the US population getting a look in and yes, it's an important topic (gangs in US cities) uses a lot of corny plot devices (and worse) and there were things about it that I really didn't like too (can't say too much – don't want to give away plot). Good but not for me.
7 out of 10 (Mark says 8)


Garage (Leonard Abrahamson 2007)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I watched this quiet little Irish film for our friend TFE's writing challenge (if a little late) and I wrote about it here. Well worth checking out.
9 out of 10

In the Loop (Armando Iannucci 2009)
Rental DVD via post (M)
This is the feature length child of the British TV political comedy 'In the Thick of It'. This time the useless and the mean head off to the White House and the U.N. but are just as useless and mean there. Compared to other 'TV comedies go film' I found this enjoyable and perfectly watchable with still a good proportion of genuinely funny lines (asides especially). I didn't believe for a minute though that they had any kind of insight into the US political system (everything just seemed too cheap and small) but still it was great to see James Gandolfini again (he plays a US military... heavyweight). Since finishing watching the Sopranos (back in August – see here) I've really missed Tony S...I mean James.
8 out of 10 (Mark says 7 or less...harsh!)

Muppets from Space (Tim Hill 1999)
Recorded off TV (G)
Girl likes muppets. I used to love them as a child (who doesn't/didn't?) though of course we only really saw the Show (not any movies). This one was OK. Much Gonzo.
7 out of 10

Bean (Mel Smith 1997)
Recorded off TV (G)
I didn't see any Bean when he was around in the '90s and thought Girl might like it (she likes slapstick humour). She was interested enough (though not wild about it) whereas I laughed a lot more than I expected (I didn't know a lot of it was a spoof of the art world). I particularly liked the Whistler's Mother merchandise (tie anyone?).
8 out of 10 (no, really)


Nativity (Debbie Isitt 2009)
Cinema! (G)
We had a cinema opportunity and this was the kids film that was on. I didn't have particularly high hopes but we all really enjoyed it – 'The Office's Martin Freeman is lovely in it and all the kids are brilliant. Lots of songs, lots of Xmas, lots of feel-good... but not in an unbearable way.
8 (or on a good day 9) out of 10 (and at the right time of year, obviously)

The Unloved (Samantha Morton 2009)
Recorded off TV (R)
Desperately sad but beautifully made, this is Morton's made for TV film about a little girl in a children's home. Amazing in many different ways.
10 out of 10 (but not something to be watched lightly)

Tom's Midnight Garden (Willard Carroll 1999)
Charity shop DVD (G)
Girl and I read the 1958 book by Philippa Pearce this year and (after a slow start) we enjoyed it (she is very keen on time travel books and films – she loved watching all the 'Back to the Future's with her Dad this year too). This film is on the cheap side in places (and the boy seems too old) but all in all our Girl gave it a thumbs up – enough of the original story, good girl characters, a bit of adventure, interesting costumes, ice-skating. Not amazing but acceptable.
7 out of 10.

Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby 1971)
Rental DVD via post (R)
I had missed this film somehow but kept seeing it in people's 'must watch' lists. They're not wrong either (said people) as it is a little jewel of a film and it features great acting, great visual variety, great acting, great lines, great music (by Cat Stevens). 'Harold and Maude' is often listed as a comedy but I would say it is only's one of those artworks that's really beyond genre (think 'the Graduate' meets 1971 'Willy Wonka' with a bit of 'Mash' thrown in and you might start getting warm). It's also uplifting without being crap – quite a feat – and very quotable. My favourite line on first viewing is (Maude to Harold) 'you gotta aim above morality'. My motto for this Xmas, I think.
10 out of 10.

So that's my year (so far) in film. Can't believe I've watched all those really!

And now...

The End.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

The best live performer of poetry in the world? And some thoughts on getting noticed

A while back (here) we were talking about which poets are good performers of their work. I've only seen video clips of this one but even so I'm not sure there's a poet alive who can hold a candle (careful!) to Chloe Poems. Here's a little something I watched this morning via a facebook link from Chloe's other half Gerry Potter:

Some of Chloe's output is a lot ruder than that (much, much ruder) so it's not for everybody (though it probably should be). Living here exiled, as I am, in a very beautiful but very suburban and sometimes polite-to-the-point-of-real-rudeness part of the world, a few snatched moments with Chloe and her delightfully free mouth can sometimes make my day feel more real somehow. And you should hear her on Jesus...and the Queen...(though not least not yet).

Also this week I've been dipping into a couple of books I found in the library by Scottish poet John Glenday. I saw his name for the first time the other week (on a website somewhere) and noticed that the very marvellous musician, singer and songwriter Kim Edgar was playing at the launch of his new book 'Grain' (remember Kim played at an event I organised in Edinburgh back last year – she's brilliant). Then I noticed one of Glenday's books in the local library poetry section, liked its title 'Undark' (Peterloo Poets 1995), opened it up and saw a poem called 'Colours' with the first line “Memory is blue. Yes,” All those factors made me take that book (and an earlier one of his, 'The Apple Ghost') home.

And all that makes me wonder – what makes you pick up a book (especially a poetry one) and take it home for closer inspection? In that case (for me) I suppose it was a mixture of online mention, link with someone whose work I like, stand-out book title and a good first line inside. As folk have been saying elsewhere recently there's a lot of poetry about and it can be a fight to get these things matter I suppose (if you want to be read...or heard)- even if it does take some readers (like me...) 14 years (at least...) to get to you (sorry, JG). Luckily poetry (on the whole) does not have a sell-by date so this year's must-have book is no more must-have than anything that went before (and anything to come). We are not in a race for the poetry Xmas number one after all...and thank X for that.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Jingle bells? Not here, not now...

I am so not in the mood for Xmas music this year (remember we talked about Xmas music last year - here). I listened to this yesterday and thought I might post it here (play LOUD please!).

It's a cover of the Public Enemy track 'Black Steel' done by Tricky and taken from the BRILLIANT 1995 album 'Maxinquaye' (possibly one of my favourite albums ever...).

Oh and let's have some Public Enemy whilst we're might remember this track from the Spike Lee movie 'Do the Right Thing'.

Cliff Richard it ain't.

p.s. Just got a nice book mention over at Susan's place. Rejoice!


Monday, 14 December 2009

Local colour

Walking the dog this morning the sky was just so amazing - so many different colours and partly made up of layers of of swirling cloud that gave an effect like marshmallow soup. It reminded me why so many painters and other visual artists live in places like almost made me wish I was a painter too (for about 2 minutes).

It also reminded me of my wee Montrose poem (written not long after we moved to this part of Angus). The skies here are particularly stunning...the sea, the Montrose Basin...I guess all that water has something to do with it. The poem contains one Scots word (they creep in now and again - there was another poem with some Scots in back here). Anyway, here it is:

Looking up in Montrose

Here the sky has every blue
Cornflower, indigo, violet too
Every grey and pink and white
A different black for every night
What else on earth can you possibly need
With so much choice above your heid?


p.s. I don't have a particular sky photo to post today but there are lots elsewhere (e.g. here).


Saturday, 12 December 2009

So little

No time for much just now. Just this:


Let me just walk
With the dog
Till the pain's all gone

RF 2009

Maybe it's a short poem. Maybe it's just a sentence (if one that lacks any punctuation whatsoever...). To be honest that's not the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

I was reading Charles Simic's 'Fear' this week (also a short poem) and enjoying it very much. I can't find it shall I just post it? Oh go's nearly it is:


Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.

All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of wind.

Charles Simic

I've always been impressed by intelligent brevity...but also a good ramble (when the time is right). Variety. Is all. Almost.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Mark and I had a day release yesterday. So where did we go? Here's a clue...

And here's another one...

And then when we got back we got down to the serious business of Niamh's poems in shops month (she has quite a few different posts about it so I've linked to the blog rather than to a specific post). Here is my 'Save the trees' postcard going crackers...

And here it is in with wrapping paper...(for full text of poem click on pic to enlarge or go to my website under poems and modern world)

I left the card behind. Hidden...undercover...


Saturday, 5 December 2009

On winter

Three things!

(1) Remember back here I posted a summer poem. Well, here's its winter sibling.

Bleak and winter

Suddenly the trees have not so much to say
The sun just blinks, then folds again
There's barely a whimper of warmth for us
Huddled in our burrows for the hibernation season
Heads thick with germs, full-on snivelling

Then we hark at the calendars 'Xmas is coming!
The goose, where's that fowl?
We will eat till we burst!'
But even the feast has us cold these days
Nothing's right (the humbug) - no wood, fewer trees

And we don't even know why we want what we want
Our guiding lights now dim and dirty
Stars, twinkling smiles, any flash can switch us
As we hunger for warming, stirring, helping
We dream of together, because apart it's all gone

Though it pains us, the forced plastic party of Xmas
Its crumpled paper hat and its family affairs
Without it what's left - the bitter midwinter
The coughing, the quiet
Dark nights, darker days


(2) So it's winter...doing some Xmas shopping? Here are a few books (all by bloggers or friends/associates of bloggers) that I have read this year and that I would recommend as Xmas present possibilities. All these are available online so buy them and make a blogger smile. :)
That's the first smiley face I've ever typed by the way. You know I am more a kiss (x) person.

Anyway here are the books:

John Baker 'Winged with Death' (novel) Buy (read my review)

Anna Dickie 'Heart Notes' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Tom Duddy 'The Small Hours' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Liz Gallagher 'The Wrong Miracle' (poetry) Buy (read an interview)

McGuire 'Riddled with Errors' (poetry) Buy (I haven't written about this yet...but I's fantastic edgy writing...messy but alive...and for some reason I want to use the word 'spunky'...)

JoAnne McKay 'The Fat Plant' (poetry) Buy (read my review)

Hugh McMillan All his books (poetry) Go here and buy anything that's not nailed down

Nuala Ní Chonchúir 'Nude' (short stories) Buy (I haven't reviewed as such but these are the best short stories I've read in years)

Lemn Sissay 'Listener' (poetry) Buy (Again I haven't really reviewed this...but I do love it and I did mention it here)

Of course there's always my book too (hell, I'm so underground you can hardly see me).

And (3) I know what I want for Xmas...the Unthanks new CD! The band formerly known as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset are now the Unthanks (if you'd missed that memo) and here they are on Jools Holland's TV show (clog dancing and everything):

I love their sound so much...and I am kind of from their part of the maybe I do have a spiritual home* after all.


*It's been a bit of theme this year plus I was talking with McMillan about it over here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Liz Gallagher comes to town

I haven't done much interviewing on this blog. This is partly laziness and partly (as I wrote back here) because I have done quite a lot of interviewing in previous stages of life (journalism, market research...). Still, every now and then I get the urge to dip my questioning toes back in the interview water, as it were, and today is one of those nows (or thens). So off we go again - in an author blog tour stylee, no less.

And who has stopped by? Well, look who it is... Irish poet (and resident of the luscious Canary Islands) Liz Gallagher. I've been in blog contact with Liz for a while now and have always been attracted by her friendly words and total lack of poetry snob paraphernalia so when she announced the tour to launch her book of poems 'The Wrong Miracle' I asked for a date on it. And lo (sorry, we are getting towards Xmas) here I present her answers to the three odd questions that I sent her (as requested - the questions, not the oddness). Liz's own blog is here and if you like the sound of the book (though I know quite a few regular readers already have it) you can buy it here. You can also find author information and a sample poem via that link.

Before we would I describe Liz's book?
(1)Beautiful cover (always a good start...I'd quite like a big poster of this one for my wall),
(2)The poems...? They're like a brightly coloured paper bag, stuffed to the brim with every kind of pick'n'mix sweet you've ever seen (but with a few other things in it as well as alligator maybe...and a witch's hat...) and
(3)It's one of those books that you don't really want to describe because it has so much to say for itself (and in so many different ways). Just read it. See if it takes your fancy.

And now...on with the three questions. Welcome Liz!

Thanks for having me here, Rachel. And what great music you have...looking forward to listening to some of it while we chat. Here is a bottle of Spanish champagene (CAVA) to ring in the New Year with (or to drink or serve at your choosing) : )

Q1..An alien comes to visit and says 'we don't have poetry on our planet...what's it all about then?' What would you say to this alien and please provide a reading list of ten books (collections, anthologies, work in any language, anything you like) to get it started on the poetry of planet earth.

OK, Ms. Alien, take a seat...this is going to take a little time....Well, for me, at least, poetry is being able to plonk a cushion cover into my writing if I want it so, I don't have to do a prelude to the entry of that cushion cover, the cushion cover doesn't have to explain itself nor have an exit plan, it's in the poem and there to stay...On its own, it can have power in that poem without the trimmings, it can tell its own tale by just being sat there whereas in a novel or short story you've got to prepare the entrance of the cushion cover, there has to be a plot for the cushion cover where the cushion cover interacts with the sofa, the foam lining, the silk material etc, and the cushion cover demands a final adieu with the reader either clapping or shooing in other words, poetry says stuff that other writing has to go round in circles to say.

It feels hot, urgent and necessary, hence the cutting-the-top-of-one's-head feeling that poet Emily Dickinson referred to...this feeling helps one know that they have come across great poetry. The exact quote is: 'If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire could ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way? (source: here)

What else? Oh yes, I imagine you might have kids (alien or not) or have come across kids, Ms Alien, so poetry is a little like allowing oneself to be a kid with words, you can hopscotch about all you like with words as words in poems like to be woman-handled into many things from the dreamy, deep and serious to the comical and fickle. Words in poems even like being thrown up in the air and they love the unpredictability and surprise of where they might land.

And poetry isn't bossy nor lets you, the reader, decide what it don't have to fit into its way of thinking but it can fit into your way of thinking if you are prepared to meet it half-way. You see, poetry is something special because sometimes we don't know what we think until we see what we write..and poetry holds a mirror up to us, the poet (and maybe the reader sometimes too) and says: this is what you're thinking. And you know something, it makes you grow up, you learn about yourself and get all worked up about learning more and's a great journey and you pick up loads of things you never thought you wanted along the way like cushion covers, chimney smoke, a blue moon, a crowing rooster...

Ok, Ms. Alien here is my list of recommended reading for a starter poet or actually any poet really inclusion of analytical academic works until much later, if at all. Ms. Alien, there is poetry inside every one of them, hope you find it and it finds you.....

Poems of W.B. Yeats, Arlene Ang's 'Secret Love Poems', Roahl Dahl's 'Revolting Rhymes', 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting' by Milan Kundera, Anthony Burgess' 'Earthly Powers', The Brothers Grimm Tales, 'Sing Me the Creation' by Paul Matthews, Anne Sexton's 'Love Poems', Tao Lin's 'You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am' poems.

Q.2.How, why and where does poetry fit into your life?

Poetry fits into my life for a lot of the reasons I gave Ms. Alien above. How? Through reading and daily writing (even though the daily writing part is on hold for the foreseeable future). Poetry is very important in my life – it leaps out at me from all angles which makes it exciting....when I'm in a poetry-writing mood, I seem to see it everywhere, things beg to be written about, poetically. It settles me, calms me, excites me, gives me confidence in me, makes me be more empathetic, more other words, it makes me feel things strongly....guess I really need it...even now when writing poetry isn't happening, I still sense it there....hovering on my periphery, possibly winking at me and saying it will wait for me....meanwhile, I am hoping it really does wait for me and not piss off in a huffy strut. Seriously though, Rachel, after a long spell of not seeing poetry anywhere, it's great that it is in my life now and I really hope it stays.

Q.3.I know this is tricky...but if someone else had given you a copy of 'The Wrong Miracle' to read (i.e. so imagine someone else wrote it) what do you think you would have thought of it?

As you say, a totally tricky question, Rachel. It's impossible to be so objective, after all this book is like my molly-coddled darling who has dared to take steps out into the with a sporadic big leap of the imagination (and clutching 'The Wrong Miracle' to me), if someone had given me 'The Wrong Miracle', I would think the following: unusual, original, daring, inventive, good fun....sometimes loses the run of itself but means no harm, playful, is a bit on the wild side at times, motivating word play, large expanse of themes, humorous, has a heart, wants to connect, is massive as in it feels voluminous – not so much in pages but in ideas, thoughts etc, treats the theme of love and war in challenging ways, revealing about the author's life, gives specific memories which can evolve into generalised memories, is personal but becomes universal through connecting with not afraid to speak out, has wings and wants to fly, is not presumptious, is philosophical.....energetic and honest...does not bear grudges....loud and silent, all at once, for those who read in low level lighting settings.
See, Rachel, I did try though, but it is fairly impossible to be objective...I just love 'The Wrong Miracle'! ; )
Thanks for the chat, Rachel. It's been fun.
And next week, on the 10th of December, I hope to be on Serena's Blog 'Saavy Verse and Wit' ...maybe see you there!

Thanks, Liz, for all these passionate and persuasive replies...and especially for that last answer (because it's quite a mean question...and the kind of thing lots of people would make a fuss about answering...). In fact, at risk of sounding like one of those blogs where everyone just loves everybody, I would have to close with the conclusion that that Liz Gallagher, she's a total star. Maybe even the star on our communal Xmas tree. What do you think?


Radio, radio

I keep missing this series of 'Adventures in Poetry' but there's a half hour radio programme about Philip Larkin's 'An Arundel Tomb' here. Philip Spender made me laugh too!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

With gusto

Many of you will already have seen the Muppets do 'Bohemian Rhapsody' that is doing the rounds (see here). I like the singing bananas but overall I much prefer this version (and the original of course):

What a song – even with the Myers factor it takes you right back, doesn't it? 1975...watching it on 'Top of the Pops' week after week after week...would it still be number one? I loved it...and Freddie's miraculous teeth...and the above clip is timely too because just the other day Mark and I were doing a good impression of Wayne and co as we were singing along in the car to Meat Loaf's 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' (remember we've been on a rediscover '70s rock classics trip lately?). We were singing with such Waynesque...enthusiasm that our Girl looked quite shocked. 'Are we scaring you?' I asked. 'Er, no,' she said, obviously not quite sure what to make of the ageing karaoke up front. I guess we are moving into embarrassing parents territory about now. It's fun, huh? Altogether now...

p.s. Liz Gallagher here on Thursday (right, Liz?).


Saturday, 28 November 2009

To hell with the sainthood

Never mind the saints, here's a newish poem. Not sure what I make of it myself.


Oh, she has done some terrible things
I heard she drank a vat of vodka
Laid herself out on a slab, to be troughed
She slept when she should have woken
Stayed up when she should have slept
She's a disgrace, really

Nothing more to be said

Some people don't trust her
And you know, I don't blame them
She has mislaid friends (casually)
Sold precious jewels (flippantly)
And she has covered her tracks
But they glow, oh, how they shine

RF 2009


Thursday, 26 November 2009

The patron saints of poetry

Dark wintry nights...and Mark suggests I might want to get on and watch some of the stuff (arts programmes and foreign language films...) that I've had saved on the magic TV recording box for AGES. So, this week I set to work and watched the one bit of the BBC TV poetry season that I somehow hadn't got round to viewing so far (the 'My Life in Verse' with Cerys Matthews...former lead singer and gorgeous thing with the band Catatonia). I don't know why this programme had languished on the magic box for so long (after all I watched the Sheila Hancock, Robert Webb and Malorie Blackman 'M.L.I.V.s' months ago...and wrote about them here). Anyway, I watched it. Finally.

Remembering how rude I was about Owen Sheers' 'Poet's Guide' Milton programme back here (remember he came and was...miffed in the comments box...and I did apologise...sort of...), I would have to say that there is a lot of fairly basic stuff in the Matthews 'M.L.I.V.'. It does have more than a hint of 'beginner's guide to poetry' and indeed 'beginner's guide to the world and life' because at times she does a good impression of a person who knows absolutely nothing at all ('Oo, look'...she almost says...and please insert Cerys' soft, fairy-like vocal tones...'people in Scotland like Robert Burns and haggis'). But (and here's where it gets unfair, sorry Owen...again...) somehow with Cerys I really didn't mind some of the stating the blooming obvious that went on. She's just so....properly wide-eyed and endearing (on TV idea what she's like in the flesh) and her naivety just comes over as really genuine and inoffensive (to me anyway...I can be fairly naïve myself some of the time). After all most people don't have a clue about poetry (and it's a big subject...) and also plenty of people are scared to ask questions about it for fear of seeming stupid (no comment...) and so in her programme she did ask some experts some fairly basic questions but worked and made for a very enjoyable programme. In fact when she got to the Northern Irish section it was really quite moving (she discussed the Seamus Heaney poem 'Punishment' with the writer Glenn Patterson...not someone I've ever come across before).

The programme really consisted of Matthews taking a wee tour, if you like, of the patron saints of poetry of these isles - Dylan Thomas (Wales), Ted Hughes (England), WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and then Robert Burns (playing for Scotland...interesting that only the Scots need to go quite so far back in time for their poetry saint, isn't it?). It's hard not to mention the fact that they're all still men too (did you notice?). Might Carol Ann Duffy break that mould some time soon and be the first poetry saint for all of us (after all she has everything but Welsh in her palette, doesn't she?)? Or have we passed the time for patron saints of national poetry anyway (what with the internet and everything)? As Matthews toured the countries and their monumental poets it was all most interesting (even the stuff I already knew - which was quite a bit of it) and so I ask myself why did I like this programme more than, say, the some of the Sheers 'Poet's Guide' series? Not sure. Was I just in the right mood for it? Maybe. Was it because she made lots of (fairly vague) links between poems and songs (which I'm always going to like)? Possibly. Do I just like her? Well, it's not impossible...I wasn't a huge Catatonia fan but I did have the big album 'International Velvet'( had some cracking songs and some good lyrics). Anyone for a bit of 'Rrrroad Rrrrage' for example? And I particularly liked this sweet little George Harrisony number on the album too:

Matthews finished off her 'My Life in Verse' quite beautifully, I thought, with this long, slightly awkward, rambling sentence (and what's wrong with long, slightly awkward, rambling sentences, I'd like to know?):

"When you look at people's poets...the likes of Yeats and Thomas and Burns...they make our words...the words that belong to each and every one of us...seem like gold dust...and that they are powerful...and they are precious."

Yes. Yes. And yes.


p.s. There's a little clip here from the 'My Life in Verse' of Cerys singing 'Down by The Salley Gardens' in a pub in Ireland (which I'm guessing is a bit coals to Newcastle). There's also a bit of a Breakfast TV interview with Cerys about the programme here (where she says how good all the other singers in that Irish pub were and how she wishes they'd been shown in the programme too!).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

And the odd one out was...

...number 2. Here are the details for all the true or false statements from the last post:

1.My Mum was born and brought up in Scotland so even though I don't feel very Scottish (especially now I live here) you probably could say that I am at least a tiny bit that way.

This is true. My Mum's parents eloped from England in the 1920s. I think it would be fair to say that my beautiful redheaded Grandma was not considered a suitable match for the Grandad I never met – she was a young shop girl from the Wiltshire countryside and he was older and from a much more middle class background, quite well-off. They settled in Edinburgh, he got a sales job and they had three children but then he died and another whole chapter started for my Grandma and those bairns (they were evicted and then forgotten by his family...but that's a story for another time). My Mum did stay in Edinburgh her whole childhood but I don't think she's ever considered herself Scottish (though she does sometimes call herself an 'Edinburgh girrrl'). I suppose that's one the reason I don't feel at all Scottish – that and being born and brought up in England myself.
Mark is more conventionally half Scottish (his Mum was born and grew up in Glasgow and is most definitely Scottish) and all that does mean our daughter Scottish exactly? She sounds the most English in her class but looks the most Scottish!
p.s. Hope, you were nearly Mum would call herself English and she does go to quaker meeting but she's not technically a quaker (it is a society and, these days particularly, you have to join). It's my Dad's family that has the quaker background (you can't get more quaker than Fox...even though we're not descended from George Fox, in fact). Most of us in the family went to quaker school at some point.

2.I loved the high jump at school – it was my favourite athletic event in P.E.

This is the falsehood. I was pretty sporty at primary school – competitive and quite able – but I can remember quite clearly the first few times we did the high jump because it horrified me. That whole thing of flinging yourself into the air and believing you can fly...I've never been one much for that (in practise anyway...not bad at theory). I did OK at high jump in school (the competitive urge got me through) but I really didn't like it and I stopped doing it as soon as I could. Once I got to high school I became far more interested in the old extra-curriculars (drinking, smoking, lazing about and misbehaving...) and I did as little of any conventional P.E. as possible. The high jump thing stuck with me because I was a fairly confident child and I think it was the first time I ever thought 'I can't do that' ( though I've thought it a lot since). This change and realisation even made it into a poem but it's not one I'll ever make public, I don't think, as it is full of very, very personal details (the high jump bit is one of the cleaner sections). The poem is called 'If only I was a catholic (I have so much to confess)'.

3.Though I don't drive very much now I passed my driving test first time.

Amazingly this is true. Mark says all the best drivers pass second time.

4.I do know the way to San José.

True because I've been there. In 1987 I went to Central America with a group of people from university. We were heading for Nicaragua (and got there) but we flew to Costa Rica (and its capital San José) and then took a bus north. I remember some of the others singing the 'Do you know the way...' song at the airport. Hilarious for the cabin crew I'm sure.

5.I was once an extra in an episode of the TV soap opera 'Emmerdale'.

True. In the mid '90s I was living in Leeds and working in nightclubs – particularly ones with a fairly hefty gay (or at least experimenting with gay) clientele. Anyway a character in the TV soap 'Emmerdale' (that's filmed in and around Leeds) was coming out as a lesbian and she (Zoe, a pretty vet in the story) was meant to be going to a lesbian & gay club in the city. A friend of mine was given the job of peopling this club with extras that looked the part and so, hey, I was an 'Emmerdale' lesbian!

6.I have worked as a tour guide in Moscow.

True. Whilst at uni I had a holiday job accompanying groups of high school kids from the USA on their (very cheap) trips to the USSR (it was the late '80s). I had to greet the kids and their teachers at Heathrow and then fly with them all on to the USSR (via Paris...whistle-stop tour and all). I stayed with them for the whole tour (Moscow and Leningrad and then back to Heathrow) and looked after their every pesky need ('gee, my hairdryer doesn't work and the food here is disgusting'...actually that's unfair the kids were great). Whilst in the USSR we did have a Soviet guide with us too (every step of the way) but technically I was a tour guide in Moscow. It was very long hours and very badly paid work but the scenery was lovely.

7.I cannot understand the appeal of prawns (as a foodstuff).

True. Why would you eat prawns when there is anything (and I mean anything!) else on offer?

8.I was a member of the Fonzie Fan Club ('School of Coolmanship') when I was about 10.

So true. I loved the TV show 'Happy Days' (theme tune below) and joined this fan club in good faith. Members got certificates for 'coolness' (bronze, silver and gold) but my gold never arrived. Then one day we saw (on 'That's Life' on TV) that the whole thing was a con and nothing to do with Fonz or the show! I was very disillusioned. Still am.

9.Despite much evidence to the contrary I do in fact have an honours degree (of my own) from one of those and famous English universities with all the pretty buildings (no, not Essex...).

This is true. I went to Cambridge University (under my real name of course) and stayed the full 3 years (studied Modern Languages). I didn't like it very much and didn't work very hard and I probably should have gone somewhere else but you don't know that till you try do you? Plus my Mum was very, very proud.

10.I once read a Pablo Neruda poem to a room full of inmates in a men's prison in Cáceres (Spain).

True. When I lived in Madrid (1985-6) I shared a flat with a Chilean guy and this meant I pretty soon met every Chilean in the city (very exciting for a girl from Teesside I can tell you!). Two of my friends were really great musicians working as buskers (because of course like many Latin Americans in Spain at that time they were not officially there). These friends were invited to a weekend of Chilean cultural exchange (or some such) by the local council in Cáceres (a few hours west of Madrid) and it was all expenses paid (train tickets, hotels, food etc.). Somehow my musician friends Hugo and Leo got me invited too and off I went (at 19 you don't question you just go!). Because I was getting all the freebies I had to work though so when it was time for the prison visit part of the cultural tour they took me along and made me read a poem. It was very strange being the only female in the place (much noise and shouting as I walked through the courtyard...) but my friends were lovely and I trusted them to look after me. I've never been to Chile but I would like to go one day. I presume a lot of the people I knew went back there after Pinochet died...but I don't know for sure because I didn't stay in touch with anyone – shame really. Even then I wanted to be a writer (but was a bit lazy) and Hugo (who was very wise...a great guy) said to me 'if you want to be a writer you have to practise every day, every day!' I hear his voice in my head quite often (because now I do, Hugo, I do!).

So Susan at Stony River got the answer right first (and Liz got it too). Well done you two and thanks for playing everyone.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Monday nonsense?

Hope had this over at hers last week and it looked fun so I thought I'd try it. Fun? Fun, you say? Well, yes, it seems to have been poetry, poetry, poetry on here of late (when did I get so obsessive, really!) and I felt like a change.

So all you have to do is look at the 10 statements below and work out which is the deliberate lie. There's no prize...well, hang on...maybe there will be a prize (depends how many of you get it right). Let's just hope you do better than I did at Hope's (I got the rules back to front...I mean...the embarrassment). Here we go:

1. My Mum was born and brought up in Scotland so even though I don't feel very Scottish (especially now I live here) you probably could say that I am at least a tiny bit non-English.

2. I loved the high jump at school - my favourite bit of P.E.

3. Though I don't drive very much now I passed my driving test first time.

4. I do know the way to San José.

5. I was once an extra in an episode of the TV soap opera 'Emmerdale'.

6. I have worked as a tour guide in Moscow.

7. I cannot understand the appeal of prawns (as a foodstuff).

8. I was a member of the Fonzie Fan Club ('School of Coolmanship') when I was about ten.

9. Despite much online evidence to the contrary I do in fact have an honours degree (of my own) from one of those rich and famous English universities with all the pretty buildings (no, not Essex...).

10. I once read a Pablo Neruda poem to a room full of inmates in a men's prison in Cáceres (Spain).

So, let's hear your guesses (educated or otherwise). Or maybe you just couldn't care less. In which case - fair enough.


Saturday, 21 November 2009

A case of who?

Thanks for all your comments on the last post...they will all help me to put on some great events up here, I hope. I won't be doing anything too regular (heck, then it would start to feel like a job and I'd have to run away!) but the size and enthusiasm of the audience in October took me a little by surprise...and it certainly made me think it was worth moving into this a little further. Montrose is a small town (tiny really) but there's lots going annual music festival, a great folk club, a new blues club, lots of local singing and theatre groups...and now some really brilliant poetry events too. Fantastic.

Speaking of poems, I know that lots of you like a bit of Joni Mitchell as much as I do (we talked about her a little back here). I even had the name Joni on my list of possible names for girls when I was expecting our wee 'un (though it wasn't what we went with in the end). One of Mitchell's songs that hangs about in my head now and again is 'A Case of You' (it's here...though sounding a little different to the 'Blue' version - lyrics are here). It has some great lines - “I live in a box of paints”...and so many others.

Anyway, here's a new poem of mine that uses some of this song whilst working out to myself some truths about a difficult relationship (can't tell you who it refers to but it's not Mark, that's for sure). See what you think.


I drank a case of you
Perhaps unwisely
And not surprisingly
I paid the price
Next time a thimbleful
Measured precisely
Would do me nicely
More than suffice

RF 2009

Ah, so much pain in 8 little lines. But I feel better now.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Putting on a show..?

I've booked all the performers for my next poetry and music event in Montrose and I can tell you that it will take place in Spring of next year (23rd April 2010 to be precise). I'm not going to tell you who I've booked yet (The suspense! The drama!) but I can tell you it's going to be a really, really good night. It's all very exciting...who needs Xmas?

As I've been thinking and planning this next event I have been wondering if maybe readers here could help me get together a wish list of poets for future events (I might ask for ideas about musicians another time). Obviously I have my own ideas about the poets that I've seen but I'm interested in yours too and I'm sure you've all been to events that I haven't and have seen lots of poets that I have yet to hear in the flesh (as it were).

So, think of all the poets you have heard read (live or on radio or on youtube or whatever) and tell me who has impressed you the most so far (list as many as you like). I am very open-minded about genres so I don't care if they write in Latin with their hat on or call themselves performance poets and play the bongos throughout – what I'm interested in is how well they communicate with an audience and how good they are at what they choose to do. Judging from the October event the audience here in Montrose is very varied (mixed ages, sexes, interests - some poetry hardcore, some poetry not-really-sure-what-it's for...) and that should be kept in mind. It is not StAnza where you've got probably 90% of the audience calling themselves poets, for example. It might help too if you keep all the following in mind as you decide who to nominate:

- Whatever their style and content the poems your poet reads/performs should be really, really good. I know it's subjective but even so...this is essential for the kind of event I'm aiming for. I want people using words in really interesting ways. And they've got to be able to keep that up for 40-45 minutes at least!

- The poets should be able to really keep an audience's interest (whatever their subject matter, language, style and so on). For example, Raymond Vettese who read at the October event here reads poems in Scots (which I can only half understand!) but he still completely held my attention and interest and taught me lots of new words into the bargain. This is the kind of performer I'm looking for - someone who really makes an impression with what they say (the poems and the bits in between). There should definitely be some kind of Wow factor (even if it is a very quiet and gentle wow). You should go home thinking 'my goodness, I'm glad I went and heard that poet today! My life is the better for that!' Or maybe that feeling will creep up on you as the next week goes by (you know what I mean...).

- The poets don't have to be funny (absolutely not) but if they can be then that is great. The reason I have put Hugh 'the goat' McMillan on twice is that he can make an audience cry with laughter and cry with real, sad tears (and teach them all kinds of historical details – result!). And his poems are brilliant! Range, my dears, range is a real bonus. For me all the best writers have range.

- Obviously I don't have huge grants to pay wages and I can't pay for air tickets or anything like that but at this stage why don't we make it a real wish list and you tell me all the poets you've seen who could fit this bill (no matter where they live or how famous or obscure they are). I'm just interested to know what you think as much as anything.

Can't wait to see who you all mention!


Sunday, 15 November 2009

A few on the go

You know sometimes you're reading just one're completely consumed by it, you can hardly put it down etc.? Then other times you're reading about ten different things - dipping in and out of them all, floating about in a somewhat dazed state? Well, at the moment I'm in the latter.

This is what I'm reading just now (in between family life, household tasks, dog walks, trips out, half planning another poetry event and so on):

John Burnside 'Selected Poems' (Cape Poetry 2006)
I bought Burnside's novel 'The Dumb House' (1997) in a library sale a little while back, read it and found it creepy but interesting enough to finish. I'm aware he's a poet too (I've seen his name on StAnza leaflets) but have never read a single poem by him before so I checked this Selected Poems out of the library last week. Can't say it's doing a lot for me so far but it's early days and I haven't given up just yet. He won a big poetry award in 2000 so I suppose he can live without the Rachel Fox thumbs up anyway but I'll keep reading and maybe get back to you. Anyone else a fan and want to add something?

Rachel Fox – various
I read my own stuff all the time (don't we all?). I'm constantly rereading, rethinking, reevaluating my own work. I even reread my own diary quite a lot...often with a sense of confusion and/or disbelief (did that really happen? How did I end up doing that?). You could say it's ego gone mad but I think it's a lot more to do with confusion.

Liz Gallagher 'The Wrong Miracle' (Salt 2009)
Liz is coming here (virtually speaking) as part of her blog tour at the beginning of December. I have been reading this, her first poetry collection, off and on for a while and I came to Liz's work via her online personality really (got the book via a swap with her). Online she is very appealing... funny, friendly, cool as Kerouac...and though her work is very different to a lot of the poetry that I like and read regularly I find myself coming back to it often and rereading and enjoying it. It does make me want to hear her read some aloud too. Got any audio/video yet, Liz?

Jack Kerouac 'On the Road' (Penguin Modern Classics first publ. 1957)
This is one of the 'classics' that I've somehow never read. I bought it in one of those giant Tescos when we were staying down in York (don't hate me...someone had given me a Tesco voucher as a present...and it was on offer...what did you want me to buy – bubble bath?). I'm about halfway through OTR now and whilst I'm sure it seemed very exciting back in 1957 I can't say it's exactly wowing me as yet (though my favourite line so far is on page 33 "I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was 'Wow!'"). Will it keep the 'classic' tag for much longer though, I wonder? That's another question for the time machine, I suppose.

Hugh McMillan 'Aphrodite's Anorak' (Peterloo Poets 1996)
I'm always reading something by McMillan, the old goat. All his poetry books are great and this one is no exception (there's a poem in it called 'Blethers' that is really, really beautiful). He sent me this as a thank-you for being president of the unofficial Hugh McMillan Appreciation Society.

Helena Nelson 'Starlight on Water' (Rialto 2003)
As we were talking about poet and publisher Nelson the other week I decided I wanted to read more of her poems so I bought this book via the evil Amazon empire (well, the Market Place bit and a very nice person in Suffolk, as it happens). I haven't read it all yet but I am really enjoying it as I go. It's big on beauty and yearning from what I've seen so far. It also speaks to the reader quite a lot (which I like). It's nice to feel involved...

Don Paterson 'Landing Light' (Faber and Faber 2003)The new Paterson poetry collection 'Rain' sounds right up my street (and in fact through my door and well into the house) but I refuse to let myself buy it until I have read this one a bit more (I bought this in Dundee Borders most likely, last year some time). It's quite a mix of poems that (a) a lazy arse like me can read without too much background and (b) some that I might need a reference book or two for. The overriding feel of the book for me is of a man writing like he is about a hundred years old. It's quite spooky and it puts me in mind of all the Tiresias sections in T.S.Eliot's Wasteland (it's like you can hear the winds of doom blowing, the sands of time slipping away). Apart from the fact that I am totally rubbish with any kind of classical and/or mythological references I am enjoying it too. And while we're on the subject why is it that I can hold silly, shallow information much better in my head than proper educational stuff that might one day impress someone (I mean hell, I was writing about Meat Loaf last week...)? Is it possible to be reprogrammed do you think - have all the crap replaced with Greek gods, chemical formulae, history and many, many ancient languages? (Er, no...far too late for that).

Graham Robb 'Rimbaud' (Picador 2000)
I picked this biography up in the town library the other week and it is a really great read so far (and young Rimbaud hasn't even left school yet!). I'm finding it much more exciting than the Kerouac 'classic' and overall poets can make excellent subjects for biographies I think. Any suggestions for the best (and worst) in this category? Any poet biographies you'd like to read and/or write?

Various 'The Nation's Favourite Comic Poems' (ed. Griff Rhys Jones BBC Books 1998)
I bought a collection of these Nation's Favourite books cheap as stocking filler type items for the Xmas present cupboard (remember – poetry is for life, not just for Xmas) and I was flicking through them to see who might like what. I stumbled across the poem below and enjoyed it very much so it can be this week's Monday poem. I don't think I'd never read anything by Gavin Ewart (1916-95) before (at least nothing comes to mind) but I loved this (and no knowledge of anything complicated is required for total and speedy understanding).

The Black Box

As well as these poor poems
I am writing some wonderful ones
They are all being filed separately,
nobody sees them.

When I die they will be buried
in a big black tin box.
In fifty years' time
they must be dug up,

for so my will provides.
This is to confound the critics
and teach everybody
a valuable lesson.

By Gavin Ewart

So what are you reading?

p.s. Forgot to mention...I still read to our Girl every night and we just finished 'The Little White Horse' by Elizabeth Goudge (orig. publ. 1946 and recently filmed as 'The Secret of Moonacre'). I never read it as a child and it's possibly the book we've read together that I've liked least (and not just for all the God content). Girl thought it was OK but then she pretty much likes all books (so far). Plus it has dogs.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

A little bit of politics - song for Gordon

Here's one for the current Prime Minister of that strange beast we call the United Kingdom.

Sympathy vote

He is not the disco's greatest dancer
Or anybody's favourite flavour of the month
Woe is his name
His name is Gordon

There will be no gurning calendar
In the Xmas shops this year
No preening photos
No smiling PM

No titles are coming - no rear of the year
No head of the state, no hearts and minds
There'll be no prizes
No prizes for Gordon

No, this is the man who can do no right
Whatever he touches turns to brown
We're doomed, they say
The Gordon way

His face shows the merest flicker of hope
Does he dream, still deep, of the X Factor final
A stonking 'My Way'
Before cheering crowds?

He can dream all he likes – it would never fly
There'd be a power cut (at least!) at the mention of his name
He'd forget all the words
Go Pete Tong for sure

And most likely Tony Blair would turn up pronto
With a generator, a guitar and an Elvis impression
Leave Gordon neglected
'What's your name again...sorry?'

It has not gone well - it is not going well
It is a gap in history and a time of no-one
Gordon's page is feint
His signature fading

RF 2009

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Reasons to be cheerful, bats out of hell and other unconnected items

Right then, reasons to be cheerful? There's always something.

How about (1) this great interview with poet John Cooper Clarke (from this Sunday's 'Independent'). We were talking about him recently, remember (back here)? I loved all the bits in this new and fascinating interview about people mistaking JCC for a Rolling Stone (the hair..), also the excellent quotes from poets Adrian Mitchell and Simon Armitage (SA calls JCC “a cross between Sid Vicious, Ken Dodd and Allen Ginsberg”) and there's a funny story about 'shards' too. Most of all I loved the respect (from interviewer Robert Chalmers) for JCC's “depth and range”. Respect where it's due, as they say.

And how about (2) this episode of the BBC comedy series 'In the Thick of It'? If you've never seen it it's kind of 'The West Wing' meets 'Fawlty Towers' and I would probably not have watched this show on my own but Mark started watching it and was laughing so much that I had to join in. There is a lot of swearing in it so if you don't like swearing keep well away. Personally I think swearing used in humour can be just perfect (the key word there being 'can'). There's some particularly good twitter content in this episode (and I have yet to twit and so can laugh freely...).

And (3) how about this marvellous book – 'Nude' by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

I'm not going to write a review of 'Nude' because I just wrote a book review a few posts ago and they drain the life out of me. I will say, however, that it is fabulous, and that you should most definitely read it and buy it as a Xmas present for all the people you love (buy it here). It contains probably the best short stories I've read since I last read some Alice Munro (and indeed they are probably as good as hers...yes, I really do think she's that good... dazzlingly good).

And then (4) there has to be a song, doesn't there? I posted the Ian Dury mentioned in the title back here so I can't post that one again. So what can I suggest (she says rattling around in the cds)...what have I been listening to this week? Well, for a start we've been 'educating' our Girl with some classic rock of late (and we've been having a lot of fun at the same time). We're not quite sure what she makes of this guess is you'll either love it or hate it already.

I know it's a bit Lloyd Webber in a leather jacket sometimes...but there's some great stuff in it too - some very amusing lines and some fantastic lung action. And listening to it again after all these years it does make me wonder what Meat Loaf would be like on the monstrosity that is 'The X Factor'? He'd probably eat the competition (though I'd prefer it if he ate the 'judges' to be honest...the women would be more snacks than meals admittedly).

Can't end on Meat though so (5) let's have some dessert after that main course (in the form of an Aimee Mann song). I first heard it whilst watching the movie 'Magnolia' (great soundtrack, fairly average movie).

Well, I feel better. How about you?