Sunday, 31 January 2010

Edge of darkness

There are trailers on TV at the moment for the latest Mel Gibson film, a remake of "Edge of Darkness".

I heard a review of it on "Front Row", the daily arts show on BBC Radio 4, a couple of days ago. It sounded as if it could be reasonable, but throughout the piece, the reviewer couldn't help but compare it with the original and the general impression was one of disappointment.

As luck would have it, I was at the library the day after I heard this review and was delighted to discover that they had the DVD of the original, award-winning 1985 TV series.
I grabbed it.
For a drama that was made twenty-five years ago, it is amazing how well it has aged.

I remember being thoroughly gripped by the series when it was first broadcast and what an outstandingly unusual drama it was for its time. The story, written by Troy Kennedy Martin, follows Craven, a detective, as he tries to come to terms with the murder of his daughter. He is drawn into a dangerous covert struggle between the burgeoning nuclear power industry and organised environmental activists. The quality of the cast, the writing and the production values set this series apart from anything else that was around at the time; it didn't do it any harm to have theme music by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen either.

I'm not about to suggest that you don't go and watch the new version of "Edge of Darkness", but I'd definitely encourage you to get hold of the DVD of the original.

...and if you want to hear what the music was like, have a listen to this...


Monday, 25 January 2010

What IS that smell?

I have a pretty good sense of smell and most of the time I'm perfectly happy that way.

As senses go, it seems to be comparatively under-rated. If you asked most people which of the five senses they'd least like to lose, I doubt whether many would choose smell.
Even so, the sense of smell is a strange and fabulous thing that seems to operate at a more basic level than sight and hearing for example. It is so much closer to 'animal' and can trigger memories and emotional responses with an extraordinary precision.
The less primitive senses just haven't got that sort of gut instinctive immediacy.

I'm fond of many of those popular 'good' aromas; freshly ground coffee, just-baked bread, freshly cut grass etc. but there are other, less universally acknowledged, yet equally delightful smells that will stop me in my tracks every time.
So, allow me to introduce:
  • Car or motorcycle exhaust fumes bearing the unmistakeable hint of "Castrol R".
  • "Rozalex" industrial barrier cream.
  • The combination of cigar smoke and orange peel that will always say "Christmas Day" to me.
  • Misty November evenings.
  • Fairgrounds, particularly that weird firework/electrical Dodgem car smell.
  • The piano showroom at "Sounds Great" in Heald Green.
Yes, I'm quite happy to have a sensitive nose... well, mostly.

Sometime it's not so great.

At the moment, there's a rather unpleasant smell in the Land Rover. It's sort of musty with a  vaguely vegetable undertone and yet I can't find any trace of escaped vegetables in the vehicle.
It's like driving around in a compost heap. If the weather wasn't so unremittingly grey and chilly at present I'd drive with the windows permanently open to try and clear the air.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Return of the Prog-monster

I've got myself involved in a slightly unusual musical project.

When Blight-of-my-life had her birthday party, last April, I was approached by three of the folks who I shared a house with, back in the dim'n'distant, to play a bit of bass with them.
Well, I say "approached", but what with all of them clustering around me and  bouncing up and down with enthusiam, it was actually more like being mugged by the some of the world's oldest puppies.

As these were some of the people who shared the Christmas meal I posted about last month, you'll appreciate that we've got some history.

I was fairly reticent about getting involved to be honest, as I'm a believer in the philosophy that you should "never go back". The memory is a dangerously selective beast and if you aren't careful it'll conveniently edit out all the stuff that, if you're brutally honest, you're glad to have grown out of.
I said "I'll think about it...", and left it at that.

As the months went by, I decided that although it would undoubtedly be a bit odd, it wouldn't represent a true musical reunion, as I was never actually a player in the old band.
As such, getting involved wouldn't mean that I was "going back".
Having squared it with my conscience, when a second invitation to participate arrived in amongst the Christmas cards, I accepted.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove down to Pershore to see what we can do.

After three hours in the rehearsal room at Tower Studios, things were a bit clearer.
I had a pretty good idea of how the piece should go, although some reservations about how easy it will be to get desired end result.
Musically it shouldn't be too problematic, but the difference in compositional style from the way we work in Nightflight is quite unsettling.

In spite of this it's good fun, and that, for me, is what playing music with other people is all about.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A sudden change of plan

I was intending to have a bit of a rant about some of the mean-spirited behaviour that I've seen during the recent snowy conditions.

You know the sort of thing.

People clearing the snow from their drive and piling it onto the nearest pavement, allowing them to get their car out, but creating a treacherous barrier for the luckless pedestrians.
Or how about the folks in vehicles with 4-wheel drive who don't make allowances for people in 2-wheel drive cars, bullying them into slithering out of the way as they barrel past; as someone who drives a 4-wheel drive vehicle, I find this kind of "I'm alright Jack-ism" particularly disappointing.

Fortunately, I decided that I wasn't going to start banging on about such things and decided to show you this instead.

It's one of the "5 Second Films" which were brought to my attention by Reallyfatbloke.

You can find more like this at "5 Second Films"

Friday, 8 January 2010

Rising to the challenge

Guess what...

We've just got our first Christmas card.

Greeting Reads: Merry Christmas for 2010 from Ray & Angie (Beat this Cousin Maureen)

OK, a bit of explanation is required.

At the tail end of the 1970s (Yes, it's that decade again) I was driving a van for a living, delivering industrial fastenings across Devon. From a small warehouse on the edge of Dartmoor, I distributed nuts, bolts, washers and screws to factories, shops, building sites and boat yards across much of the South-West tip of the country.
I even had to make deliveries inside Dartmoor Prison. You can probably imagine how amused the prison warders were when I arrived and they asked me what I was delivering and I replied, "Screws..."

It was a really enjoyable job. As is so often the case, it was the people that made all the difference. Even if it had been a difficult day out on the road, simply getting back to the depot and getting the van loaded for the following day was almost always good fun thanks to the warehouse guys in general and Ray, the warehouse manager, in particular.
Even after all the years since I left Devon, we're still in touch. Each Christmas, the first card to arrive generally has a Devon postmark and our address written in Ray's distinctive, looping handwriting. 2009 was one of the rare years when somebody elses card put Ray and Angie into second place. When I sent our card, I mentioned that my cousin Maureen had pipped them at the post and it seems to have touched a competitive nerve. Clearly, second place is not an option.

Hopefully things will calm down now. long as Maureen doesn't decide to put in a pre-emptive strike for Christmas 2011.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


I don't go to the cinema very often these days.
I used to go a couple of times a month, but when the privately owned, independent cinema in our nearest town was closed down it became so much less convenient.
I also can't stomach the overwhelming reek of popcorn and burgers that seems to be unavoidable at most multi-screens.
...and don't get me started on the noise. The sound of people nattering and munching is so loud, that you can't hear the soundtrack during the quiet parts unless they turn up the volume to such a level that when there's a loud bit on screen, your ear drums implode from the sound pressure.
In short, going to see a film just isn't enjoyable these days.

Fortunately, our local library has a good selection of recent DVD releases, so I can catch up with stuff that I've missed fairly smartly. One of last year's films that I was keen to see was "Moon", so when I spotted it on the shelves, I decided to give it a go.

This excellent movie stars Sam Rockwell. It's a real pleasure to watch some science fiction where the setting, an isolated lunar mining facility, is fundamental to the story rather than just an excuse for a load of flashy special effects baloney. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole human inhabitant of the place as he nears the end of his three year contract. Direct communication with Earth has been lost, so Sam is reduced to sending and receiving recorded messages from home or talking to GERTY, the facility's computer. Given this isolation, it is unsurprising that Sam becomes increasingly unsettled until, distracted by the appearance of a woman who cannot possibly be there, he has an accident out on the lunar surface.
As Sam recovers, he makes a disturbing discovery that feeds his paranoia and sense of dislocation as the mystery develops.
This is a first class thriller.

Science fiction is often a convenient way to present a well-worn idea in a new guise. With 'Moon' we have a story that isn't just a re-tread of a plot that we've seen before  in a thousand westerns or detective stories; the time and the place that it takes place are intrinsic to the drama.

On a more personal note, I found it easy to empathise with Sam.
When I'm alone in the Control Building in the early hours of the morning, watching the Lovell Telescope scan the stars, it sometimes feels like I'm the last man on Earth.