Beautiful Freak

Posted October 10, 2012 by Tom
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I’m supposed to be reading Jane Austen at the moment, but I haven’t been able to find out where she’s buried yet, so thought I’d distract myself by writing about a wander earlier today.

My ticket to go and see Grizzly Bear had been sent to the nearest Delivery Office to my house yesterday, which was a fair bit away. I hadn’t been there before, and I’m something of an adventurer (all who know me, I’m sure, can imagine me in the Famous Five, thwarting gold smugglers, smashing pimps up and the like), so of course I relished the idea of going on a walk to find it. Used to wander around on my own quite a lot when I was twelve, thirteen – was always keen on that romantic sense of isolation, me – and it’s always nice to do it again, it often ends up taking me back through my memories.

It’s funny how the odd quiet bit of Sheffield reminds me of my home town, they’re certainly different from one another, but maybe it’s just the idea of small neighbourhoods, and the schools and playgrounds I walked past, they always put me in mind of Gregory’s Girl. First watched that film when I was twelve, and it’s still one of my favourites. Its theme tune never fails to instill in me the same feelings of nostalgia, and I wonder sometimes if Gregory’s Girl and its school setting do have something to do with my mind looking back to that time a lot.

It’s a vivid memory I can always latch on to, a gateway into a very carefree time in my life, when I was starting to discover The Beatles, Eels, Radiohead, Supergrass, Blur. Just things that weren’t Doctor Who, really. I had a favourite hill back in Frome (I know, I know), and I still remember walking up it, having just taken Magical Mystery Tour out of the library. Except whenever I think back to it now, or that hill at all, the song starts playing in my head. It was also a time when I was first starting to make real friends – not that I hadn’t had great friends before, but I was finally starting to realise how close people can actually become.

So yes, anyway, lots of memories from then. I’m wary of becoming more unfocused still, but 2004 as a year always brings back such a flood of them, it’s hard to keep track of myself. Something I frequently did back then, though, was thinking back to when I’d been younger still, back at my very first school. The first time I’d really started feeling nostalgic, and a yearning to see things as I had when I’d been much younger started to emerge, and has never gone away permanently, eight or nine years on. So now I feel nostalgic for being nostalgic, as well.

What triggered it today was walking past a playground in a park, then a small school. I heard distant high-pitched voices calling out excitedly as I went by, and thought back to playtime at St. John’s. The running, the calling out, the sandwiches and Ribena. The safety. (Perhaps I only think of that last one with hindsight.)

I wonder what parts of the day will stay with those children as they grow older, if a throw-away moment will stay with them forever, whether they’ll look back on that time with the same yearning and fondness as me. If I ever interact with a child (haven’t done much since working in a bookshop, but with that in mind I do recommend playing peek-a-boo over the till), I wonder if they’ll remember me at all. Whether I’ll make an impression after I’m not around.

And that was my walk. Jane Austen’s buried in Winchester Cathedral, which is a bit out of my way, so I might just read Persuasion instead.

Here’s a song that’s good for walking around in a nostalgic mood to.

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Squabbling with Chairs

Posted September 11, 2012 by Tom
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I haven’t put anything up on here for months! Hope you all missed me (you didn’t), but as previous entries on here have shown to me, there’s not much point speaking if you have nothing to say. But I then noticed that that hasn’t stopped some people on the internet, so I thought I’d write about that.

I like Doctor Who (yes, it’s another one of those posts), having watched it since 1998. I still enjoy it now. Something funny happens sometimes when a new series has started. Friends might ask me after it’s been on, me specifically, “What did you think of the new episode?” That’s fine, I don’t mind people asking that, it’s not the most personal question. (As it was, I thought Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was the best episode in a while, let down only by the fact that I was naked while watching it, and despise my own body- Ah-ha, it was personal after all! You’ve stumbled into my trap, reader!)

Questions like that are fine, nothing wrong with people engaging with you. But I sometimes think it’s a bit silly that someone would be interested in my opinion specifically, as if, having been a fan for a while, my opinion’s more interesting, or that I’m somehow more qualified to judge whether the programme’s good or not. (“Well, I liked that, but I wonder what a die-hard like Tom would think, with his seasoned knowledge, eloquence and charm?”)

The problem is, when talking about the programme with others who like it, I find it easy to get swept up in things. I can forget that it’s just a laugh, that none of it really matters, that we’re just having fun swapping our opinions. Fans of things can do that, and people’s views can become very deeply ingrained, personal to them. I hope I’m getting better on this front, but I occasionally lapse in the company of friends and come across as very opinionated (sorry, Becky), though that’ll normally be because I’m actually annoyed about something else, probably.

On the internet, however, there are one or two people don’t mind if they come across as a little opinionated. At all. Steven Moffat left Twitter a couple of days ago, and the general consensus seems to be that he’d had enough of the trolls on there, telling him that he had to go. Amanda Abbington received death threats after defending him, so perhaps he received some too, who knows? At least Clint Eastwood only spewed his empty babbling at a chair, not a person. (Yet seeing him have his confused conversation with no one does put me in mind of these online fans. The isolation you can see in their anonymous, frustrated ramblings.)

It helps you stay sane at these times to see such attacks bringing the silent, lovely, intelligent majority out of the woodwork, defending strangers who they nonetheless care about and admire. But something else which caught my eye as I browsed those tweets was a link someone had sent to Amanda Abbington: a blog which has given itself the sole purpose of exposing and exploring the inherent misogyny and homophobia of Steven Moffat’s writing. It’s given itself the name STFU Moffat so as to assure the reader of its total lack of bias, and goes into as much detail as possible in its examination of the bigotry that contaminates his work.

Personally, I think the idea’s largely ridiculous. A man’s writing, and frequently joking, about sex, while at times reductive in its representation of different groups, does not mean that he hates women and gays. There’s often a problem of misrepresentation on TV, but is Steven Moffat honestly the worst offender? Really? The people at STFU Moffat might like to ask his wife what she thinks, but then maybe she hates women too. Or perhaps Russell T Davies only left Moffat in charge of the show because he’s simultaneously homophobic and homosexual – that rare and exotic combination.

Mind you, they don’t seem that interested in facts over there anyway. They argue (speculate) that Caitlin Moran may only claim to like Steven Moffat because she is forced to by her position as a woman in the patriarchal media world. In their analysis of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, they wilfully misinterpret lines and scenes as sexist, homophobic or, at their absolute low-point, as making light of rape, by viewing them without giving any apparent thought to their context or tone. In a recent update, “How Moffat Ruined Doctor Who for my Little Sister”, the author writes (after having admittedly made a couple of valid points):

“…it has destroyed her favourite television show for her.

All of this would be forgivable if Moffat was willing to listen to people’s concerns and criticisms about his writing, but he blatantly dismisses all opinions but his own.”

And lo, we come to the actual problem I have.

Why exactly should Steven Moffat take the fans’ advice? What makes the fans so entitled to be heard above the rest of the 8-9,000,000 people who regularly watch and enjoy the show? How are their opinions worth more?

STFU Moffat have made a point of saying that no one who posts for them has ever directly communicated with Steven Moffat to attack him. They do not sink as low as that. They merely post scathing articles, rife with deeply-held personal views about his work, in the public domain, and lament that he simply will not listen to those disheartened fans who care so deeply about their show that they’ll insult and abuse people for it. Well, let’s see what Russell T Davies, who they seem to respect a little more at STFU Moffat, had to say about this in his book The Writer’s Tale:

“Creating something is not a democracy. The people have no say. The artist does. It doesn’t matter what the people witter on about; they and their response come after. They’re not there for the creation.” [p. 104, paperback edition]

And yet some people remain sure that they know best, that if only they were given the chance, they could achieve something better, something that was how things should be. And, like the writers they aren’t, they simply will not listen.

It’s sad to admit, but some fans can be a right bunch of Clints.

“Boy, if life were only like this.”

Posted May 31, 2012 by Tom
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In fact, Woody Allen grew up adoring the experience of going to the cinema. He’s spoken in interviews of the joy of it, of its ability to obscure the outside world, and his work frequently shows the conviction of this belief. His 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo, for one, focuses on Mia Farrow’s character finding relief in visiting the cinema, escaping briefly from her unhappy life in the Great Depression.

Woody (he and I have been on first-name terms ever since I decided it to be the case at the beginning of this sentence) said that he felt the film had to be set in the 1930s because of the charm of Hollywood films of that period. There certainly is a distinctive charm to the films of that time – even Westerns like Stagecoach, for all their racism and murder, have a kind of innocence to them, and, in that era of phenomenal rates of studio production, new films constantly sprang up in abundance.

But I wonder if that abundance also helps add to the charm we sense in them. It was a time when more people were going to the cinema than ever, watching film after film after film. I find that rather an exciting prospect, because even now I feel an immense pleasure in actually going to see a film at the cinema. Watching it on TV’s never quite the same. The cinema is an event. It’s special.

I went to see Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom last night which, incidentally, I’d recommend incredibly highly. Went to see it at the Showroom in Sheffield (I like independent cinemas, Odeon’s fine, but the decor’s a bit homogenous, and it isn’t fine, I was lying).

First time I’d been to the cinema in a while, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is. Not just being able to watch a film on a big screen, though, it’s the bit before, the anticipation.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have been slightly late to go and see a film with me will know that I quite like being there to watch the adverts beforehand (sorry about the black eye, everyone). Not necessarily because they’re works of astounding artistic merit, although this one is, but because seeing something on that screen, in the dark, with that slightly different quality of sound, whets the appetite for what’s going to be along in a few minutes. It adds to the excitement.

The adverts are most fun when the audience is larger, though. Like I say, the adverts can often be a bit crap, like this one, so it isn’t the actual content that’s important. As they draw you into the cinema’s atmosphere, though, the audience keeps muttering a little. Hushed voices, more excitement still! You’re more aware of all the strangers around you, occasionally laughing along with you at the poor quality of an advert, or the number of times they show variations of that same Ghostbusters Fire Station/Volkswagen drivel before one single film.

The atmosphere builds up that way in an audience, which is so important. Finding yourself the only one in the cinema is fun in a different way, you have a whole big, dark space to yourself, completely away from the world. But I think it’s a big audience that’s the most fun, all these strangers who’ll soon be sharing their experience, isolated and sharing at once, kept apart by the darkness, but still laughing, gasping, crying together.

Then re-united at the end, as the lights come back up, everyone settling back into reality. But their minds still swimming with what they’ve just seen, enchanted.

When Submarine came out last year, I ended up going to see it at the cinema four times because I enjoyed it so much. I often buy films on DVD later on, but I still haven’t with that one, I worry it won’t quite be the same, because it’s partly the association in my mind between the film itself and going to the cinema to see it that makes it a special film to me.

It’s as good an example as any, for me, of how the magic of the cinema leaves a lasting impression, and one which can’t really be left behind.

Is Margaret Thatcher Sympathetic Yet?

Posted March 30, 2012 by Tom
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Earlier this month, I stumbled across this webpage for the first time: http://www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk/

I’ve always thought it was the mark of a civilised society when people can be brought closer together by their relish of someone who they don’t like losing their mind and dying, so it was a particularly heart-warming thing to discover. I’m looking forward to the street parties that’ll probably be taking place when Margaret Thatcher does die, because the political left didn’t seem to get much of a look-in on the celebrations last year when Osama Bin Laden was shot in the head.

To be fair, maybe celebrating that would have come across as tasteless, since all Bin Laden had done was lead a terrorist group responsible for the murder of countless numbers of people (i.e. I don’t know how many, but you get the gist). Still, we can’t really tell whether Al-Qaeda has killed more conservatives or liberals in its time, so it’s hard to judge whether their actions are worth celebrating. If only Margaret Thatcher had been killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks, the people who started that webpage could know for certain, although then they wouldn’t be able to have a party; they’d seem as if they were celebrating 9/11 if they did that, because they’d be celebrating 9/11.

Not that it makes much difference, I suppose. The site can still keep its badges of honour of being hated by the Daily Mail and called “Vulgar” by the Conservative Party regardless. That lot, they’ll get stuffy about anything! They’d probably say the same things about child murder, the softies! No sense of humour, just like all those people who complained when those Sky Sports commentators had a bit of harmless banter about the inferiority of women. It’s political correctness gone mad.

Just to clarify, on the off-chance someone’s reading this who doesn’t know who I am, I’m being ironic, and I like the website about as much as I like Margaret Thatcher herself. She once told the press to “rejoice” at the news of a successful attack in the Falklands War, something for which she is rightly criticised. If your morals are more sound than someone else’s, you should do everything you can to show it, not stoop to the same level as them. Otherwise you harm your own point of view, make whoever you say you’re better than more sympathetic, and annoy me.

Oh well, whatever. Time for Easter!

“OMG I love composing!!!!!!1!!1!” – Claude Debussy, 1896

Posted February 26, 2012 by Tom
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Earlier this month, I saw a performance of Debussy’s Piano Trio at the Crucible. Here’s the second movement:

Debussy wrote that when he was 18, and the trio is generally considered to reflect this rather well, not displaying the innovation and depth for which he is now championed. But, as can be heard above, it’s still a very charming piece of music.

What interested me a great deal when I saw it, though, was the programme notes’ mention that the piece was believed to have been either destroyed or lost in the 100 years since its composition. However, numerous elements gradually resurfaced, including various different manuscripts, and the complete cello part, leading to the piece’s eventual reconstruction in the 1980s.

It’s easy to imagine the joy of those involved – here was a relic of history thought lost forever, returning, little by little, for us to enjoy. What other lost treasures might still exist in some form, somewhere, without us knowing? Our knowledge of such a possibility gives some excitement, and hope that one day, some other fragment of history will emerge that, with hard work and persistence, can be fully restored for the world to embrace again, whatever form that fragment may take.

It’s a sensation that’s diminished, and which future generations may feel even less, now that we’re in an age when pretty much everything is recorded and preserved (in this country, anyway). In some ways, I think this is a shame. I wouldn’t go as far as to say we’re lucky that some presumably wonderful art, music and literature is now lost – if Debussy’s Prélude á l’après-midi d’un faune vanished overnight, the world would be poorer for it (with regards to what is lost, at least we don’t absolutely know what it is that we are missing). But loss, and the threat of it, forces us to cherish what has been kept or recovered all the more.

We’re now in a position where we’re able to take what we have for granted. Online history, in particular, is a good example: once something is on the internet, it can feasibly remain there forever, and often will (unless it’s in breach of copyright or something). This is clearer than ever in the current switchover from ‘walls’ to ‘timelines’ on Facebook, and the less recently announced archiving of Twitter. Everything users have done on those websites can be preserved, unless they delete it. The question here is whether much of it is really worth preserving. By way of example, while writing all this, I also posted the following on Facebook:

“Fairly certain I just accidentally brushed my teeth twice.”

While what I posted is true (I’m almost completely certain I did), it’s also incredibly dull. But that’s quite typical of Facebook and Twitter, and the internet at large. Twitter may have helped in the liberation of oppressed states in the Middle East, and cleaning up after the London riots, and perhaps it’ll be fascinating to look back over those discussions and trends in the future, but it’s a shame that it’ll also be cloaked in swathes of incessant praise of Sherlock, hoax celebrity deaths, and 13 year-olds trying to out-block-capital each other on the subject of who likes Justin Bieber more.

Social network sites are filled with chat and babble and opinions, all in a constant present tense. Some of it interests us, some of it doesn’t, but we can be fairly certain that in the future, a large proportion of it will be thought of as completely unimportant. This blog’s quite a good example of what I’m talking about in microcosm – it’s harmless enough, but reading this probably won’t have changed your life, and it will almost certainly prove a waste of your time. (Sorry.) That’s not to say that things were necessarily much better in the past. Every single person in history probably said or did mundane things at some point in their life. But that, at least, is probably one of the things that history was justified in leaving behind.

I’ll probably carry on blogging anyway.

The Trees

Posted January 31, 2012 by Tom
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Well now, it’s the end of the month again, and we all know how I don’t really like it when a month is missing from the list to your right. Was planning on writing something about either Thunderbirds, Facebook switching to timeline or possibly The West Wing, but I’ve had exams, I’m too tired, and a lot of those things would probably bore you anyway. I’ll write something about one of those next month. Unless something more interesting happens, which it may do.

Anyway, as a substitute, surely much better than any of the above hypothetical posts would have been, here’s a poem by Philip Larkin. Happy New Year!

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The Art of Publicity

Posted December 22, 2011 by Tom
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Banksy’s done some new work! Praise the Lord! I’m about a week late to comment on this, but I have at least been meaning to. It’ll make up for the enormous amount I’ve been writing about Doctor Who in recent months (more on that later).

Banksy’s new piece, called ‘Cardinal Sin’, is currently in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, featuring alongside numerous pieces of 17th Century religious art, at the artist’s request. Presumably, Banksy wishes his/her work to be compared to the art to which (s)he has always aspired. This particular work is intended as a response to the Catholic sex abuse scandal, apparently (in which case, I suppose I needn’t feel too guilty about taking a week in turn to respond to Banksy). It expresses anger at the anonymity granted to some of the perpetrators of sexual abuse in the Church, which has hitherto been reserved exclusively for publicity-seeking graffiti artists.

Banksy has said in a statement, “I’m never sure who deserves to be put on a pedestal or crushed under one”. Fortunately, in spite of this terrible uncertainty, Banksy has offered up the piece, which may or may not express his/her views. I’m never sure whether child rapists should be glorified or punished either, so I can sympathise with Banksy’s intellectual struggle.

The statement continues, “I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” I’m sure we’d all agree that the giving of gifts at Christmas is derived from a celebration of corruption and lies, but oddly, I don’t remember being taught anything in the Christian aspect of my upbringing that advocated lies, corruption and/or abuse. Think the main message was about love, if anything. I wonder if Banksy might be confusing a dark, corrupt side of Christianity with the central founding message of the entire religion.

Overall though, it’s a great piece of art. I think it offers a powerful argument on the nature of self-publicising, and how, if one wishes to make an outrageous comment to gain attention, the largest religion in the world, which is big enough to defend itself, provides a ready-made easy target. (Attacking other religions might be a bit too risky). And as long as you don’t simultaneously reduce numerous cases of child rape to a further aspect of a self-manufactured media circus, you won’t come across as a twat either.

Masterful.

Anyway, back to Doctor Who. It’s nearly Christmas, and I’ll finish the year off with something that put me in a good mood earlier this month. Seven years on from the last major find (when Episode 2 of The Daleks’ Masterplan turned up), two previously missing episodes of 1960s Doctor Who have been recovered. Huzzah! I’ve been speaking about publicity above, so I’ll provide some more of that for the rediscovered episodes here.

Episode 3 of Galaxy 4 finally gives a better glimpse of a story that’s previously been entirely absent from the archives (short of a brief clip). It’s lovely to see a bit of the design more clearly, and it looks like it was quite an ambitious one to me. What excites me even more, though, is Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace. Not a very popular story on the whole (it’s utterly absurd), but it provides more footage of Patrick Troughton. A large portion of his episodes are still missing, but the below clip further re-affirms that he is my favourite Doctor, and just how good a physical performer he was.

Merry Christmas!