Monday, March 31, 2008

Slight Return

Ah the multifarious joys of being back at work.

Actually it’s not too bad. Although I feel as wet as a wet rag left in a flooded mire of wet rot it’s almost pleasant to be back in the “outside world” of work and professional labour.

After Tom’s illness last week I really felt for a while that nothing else existed except dirty nappies, crying, sleeplessness and an all pervading sense of worry and dread. It was really quite depressing and for all work can give me the glums at the best of times, it is a glumness of a much different calibre. Lighter in a way. Cosmetic. You can keep it at a distance. When your children are ill it is horribly up-close-and-personal and there is absolutely no escape from it.

Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t much rather be at home right now. It was very hard saying goodbye to Karen and the kids this morning. We’re close anyway but nothing bonds you even tighter than adversity. It feels very strange not to have Karen around or to be feeding Tom. Or changing the odd fulsome nappy.

Instead I’m back to dealing with cack of a different sort. The usual complaints... Building issues. Plumbing issues. Electrical issues. All stuff that doesn’t so much as float my boat as blow it clean out of the water and then sink it with a massive broadside. Mr Hornblower your cabin awaits...

As for Tom. He’s much better. Not quite 100% but getting there. We actually had a diarrhoea free day yesterday and he’s begun to put on weight again. The only remaining vestige of the illness is a slight return of the colic about an hour after he goes to sleep at night. Luckily Karen’s got the knack for sorting that out but it’s not nice watching him cry and squirm with pain.

The only real blot on the horizon is Tom’s appointment at the doctor’s tomorrow. He’s booked in to have his second inoculation. Apparently it’s more common for babies to react to the second one so I daresay he’ll be feeling rough for another day or two afterwards. Poor kid. It seems to be one thing after another at the moment. It hardly seems fair.

But on a much brighter note... Tom has managed to make a very important and no doubt rather fun discovery over the weekend. He’s located his own toes.

I can only describe his delight as indescribable...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Explosive

Keeley Hawes and Philip GlenisterI'm glad to say the title of this post isn't a reference to my current bout of close nappy encounters but to the season finale of Ashes To Ashes which was televised last night.

It was simply brilliant. The writer's kept us on tenterhooks all the way through and threw in an ample selection of red herrings. The final twist was heart rending. I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet but I didn't see it coming until a few seconds before the actual denouement.

Keeley Hawes is a terrific actress and I've really loved her bubbly DI Drake character - somehow both girlie and professorial at the same time - but I do think she hasn't been stretched nearly enough in her acting abilities. Last night however changed all that. Her screams of despair as she sat in the middle of the road were gut wrenching (and I should know, my guts have been wrenched quite a bit this week). No dialogue was needed. They just faded to black. Perfect. Gene Hunt stepping in at the last moment to take the child's hand was also masterful. It subtlely confounded all our expectations and yet also re-affirmed his inherently paternal role.

In short it was a sad, sad, very tragic story and yet we were left feeling somehow uplifted at the end - mostly I suspect because Drake's relationship with her mother had finally reached a plateau of emotional fulfilment. There was an emotional closure of sorts that mirrored Sam Tyler's at the end of series 1 of Life On Mars. This mirroring is the right way to go I feel (we must bring balance to the Force!) and so I was not at all surprised to learn that the BBC have a second series of Ashes To Ashes already lined up for next year. My feeling is that it'll be the final one and after that we'll have to reconcile ourselves to a life without Gene Hunt.

Can you imagine such a thing? Scary.

Funniest moment for me last night (aside from DI Drake driving a huge pink tank over a car) was DC Chris Skelton finally pointing out the obvious to DS Ray Carling: that he bore an uncanny resemblance to most of the gay rights protestors they were currently holding in the cells.

I'm sure the gay rights people were all absolutely horrified...

Police brutality indeed.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Projectile

Our planned trip to the zoo yesterday didn't quite happen. Bad weather and illness swept the best laid plans of mice and men clean off the table and into the waste paper bin...

Tom started projectile vomitting during the afternoon. Quite spectacular geysers of slimey milk that coated him, Karen, me, the sofa and the rugs on the carpet... This coupled with the voluminous amount of Tom's bedding and clothes that have been regularly saturated with yellow nappy porridge over the last few days has meant that the washing machine has constantly been on the go since Saturday and the whole house smells like a nursery laundry room. Not fun.

We got an appointment to see an emergency doctor at the hospital last night to get Tom checked over. Thanfully by then the vomitting had stopped. The doctor was great but wasn't overly concerned. Thankfully all of our efforts to keep Tom hydrated have paid off - no signs of dehydration. The doctor said a couple of vomitting episodes are fine but if it becomes constant then that will be a cause for concern. Other than prescribing some Dialarite there was little else he could do. The virus needs to run its course so Tom can build up a resistance to it. It could take a week. It could take 10 days. Worse can scenario: it could take up to 3 weeks.

Karen and I are shattered. To make it worse Ben and I have also come down with dodgy stomachs this morning so my return to work has been (un)regrettably postponed until Monday. I'm desperately hoping that the situation will have improved by then.

God knows we all need a break...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Eggs

Not quite the Easter Karen and I were hoping for (though it started off well on Good Friday with an impromptu visit to Legoland Windsor - it was for the kids, honestly)...

Tom is ill. He came down with a horrible stomach virus yesterday morning and spent the entire day either asleep or crying with painful gut cramps. It's heartbreaking not being able to do anything for him except administer Calpol and cuddles as and when necessary. Karen managed to get an emergency appointment with a doctor at the local hospital yesterday evening and he confirmed it was just a virus - a particularly nasty one - but nothing to worry about. That's something at least.

We got Tom into bed as soon as we got home and he had a fitful night - hence Karen and I didn't get as much sleep as we would have liked either. He's better today but still very pale, tired and fractious but at least he's taking more of an interest in the world around him again - yesterday he didn't want to know anyone or anything. It was really very upsetting.

So the Easter eggs have been broken out belatedly this morning - Ben is happy at least as he's had a visit from not only the Easter bunny but also the tooth fairy as his first tooth fell out in the night. I'm tempted to tell him that the chocolate is making his teeth fall out and he'd be better off giving it to me but I don't think he'll fall for it somehow...

Hope the rest of you are having a lovely, stomach cramp free Easter with a full set of gnashers!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Curses

Jason Isaacs as Lucius MalfoyShock horror no Torchwood review today as I didn’t watch it. Karen and I elected to watch the Curse Of Steptoe instead leaving the dubious joys of Torchwood for Catch Up TV later tonight.

My memories of Steptoe And Son are hazy and incomplete. I wasn’t old enough at the time to fully appreciate its grand humour and its even grander sense of tragedy but some of the classic moments nevertheless impinged on my childhood memory and remain with me still. The scene with Albert sitting in the sink washing himself, his knees up around his ears, trying to find the soap is particularly vivid for some reason.

And I certainly wasn’t old enough to appreciate the impressive acting abilities of Harry H Corbett and it’s only now, looking back at the show, that I can’t help but wonder if it was all a waste of his talents – as fine a sitcom as Steptoe And Son undoubtedly is.

This was certainly the central premise to the BBC’s Curse Of Steptoe. If you missed it, well, you missed out big time. Two of the UK’s finest actors – Jason Isaacs and Phil Davis – made Harry Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell live again. Phil Davis is one of Karen’s favourite actors and Jason Isaacs is one of mine – mostly it has to be said because of his portrayal as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. Isaacs is something of a chameleon. One of those actors who does little to change his physical appearance in a role and yet manages to look totally unlike himself every single time.

Last night all trace of the cold and haughty, carefully pronounced eloquence of Lucius Malfoy was gone... and was instead replaced by the broad, nasally tones of Harry H Corbett. It was a remarkable transformation.

The story of life behind the Steptoe scenes was a sad one – success tinged with failure or at least the haunting notion of unfulfilled potential; Corbett and Brambell both finding themselves hopelessly typecast and unable to shake off the dour gloom of Steptoe’s yard. All of Corbett’s much vaunted acting prowess thrown away on series after series of what was at the end of the day merely broad comedy for the masses. Gritty social commentary yes but as one of Harry’s theatre chummies intimated, hardly Shakespeare, hardly the pinnacle of what he was truly capable of.

Suddenly the scene with Harold sobbing at the futility of his situation – knowing he’ll never get out of the rag & bone trade and escape the depressing pall of his dad’s yard – takes on an immensely poignant overtone.

As I said, all this passed me by as a kid but now the tropes and the tragic irony all have extra resonance and significance now that I am a man with more than a few shattered and abandoned dreams behind me.

Not that my life is anything like Steptoe’s yard I hasten to add. I still have my goals and a few dreams that I’m climbing towards and I’m lucky that, unlike Harry Corbett / Harold Steptoe, life has thrown more than a few wonderful opportunities my way to enable me to move on and get a leg up every now and then.

And I never ever bathe in the sink.

Honest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passionate

James Nesbitt as Pontius PilateI’m greatly impressed with the BBC’s new rendition of The Passion. It looks good – sumptuous, I guess, would be the right word – and the dialogue and acting is really superb. They’ve got the feel of it just right. No surprise to learn then that the production team involved are the same highly skilled souls who brought Rome to our TV screens last year.

The Passion is both a difficult and an easy story for a director to interpret. Easy because the story is so well known and emotive of itself that it already connects with a huge audience (even the irreligious among us must surely appreciate the beauty of the story’s message) and difficult exactly because of the same. The story is so well known it’s almost been done to death. It’s too familiar.

And yet to quote an old saying, the BBC and HBO have managed to inject new wine into an old wine skin and, as a consequence, have come up with a deeply satisfying beverage.

A top class cast, beautiful locations, fantastic costumes (the costume department of the BBC’s Robin Hood please take note) and a skilled writer have all produced what is one of the best adaptations of the Easter story that I’ve seen for a long time.

All the old traditional motifs are there. I’m happily ticking off each event as it occurs – the Easter story is so ingrained since my school days it’s like re-visiting an old friend – but the writers have bulked out these Biblical checkpoints with elements of easily understandable human frailty and manoeuvrings. There is an inevitability about it all – but it is the inevitability of real human weakness rather than the work of two-dimensional cartoon automatons lifted straight out of the sparse text of the Bible.

There’s talk of controversy afoot too – apparently the director has filmed Jesus being crucified in the foetal position stating that there is strong evidence that this is how the Roman’s did it. Personally I think such details are irrelevant but it’ll be interesting to see how it is handled.

It’s a shame that the director didn’t take a few more risks elsewhere though. As good as Joseph Mawle is in the role of Jesus he does nevertheless conform to that deeply trad and probably deeply inaccurate view of Christ as being white with western features and blue eyes. Even I can see that such a notion is (a) unlikely (b) possibly imperialistic and (c) offensive. But then maybe the same argument should be applied here as to the arrangement of the crucifixion? Nobody really knows what Christ looked like so does it matter? Doesn’t the significance of the message outweigh the minutiae of its details?

My only gripe is a small one. James Nesbitt. He’s a brilliant actor and I really like him... but I just can’t cope with his Irish accent coming out of the mouth of Pontius Pilate. It really jars. I’m just waiting for him to splutter, “Bejasus are you Jesus? Would yer be after coming down to the pub fer a pint?”

Not so much Pontius Pilate as Padraig Pilate... and as we all know, Guinness does not travel well.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ace Of Clubs

As any chocolate connoisseur will tell you, there is nothing finer than biting into a Jacob’s Club and finding you’ve got hold of that rare treasure – a Club that, either through a production line slip-up or operator failure, is completely biscuit-less.

Instead its interior is comprised solely of that soft Jacob’s patented chocolate filling and nothing else.

What you are holding is a “fillet of Club”. The biscuity bones are fully absent.

You have in your hands, quite unexpectedly, a product of pure, unadulterated JOY.

Call me small-minded. Call me petty. Call me trivial.

But today has been a good day.

Today I have felt special.

Mr Jacob please take note. I am easily pleased...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hufflepuff

Having escaped the many tags that are currently doing the rounds at the moment I have been hit firmly between the eyes with this one by Matthew Rudd over at Does That Make Sense:

Basically you take the book you are currently reading, turn to page 123, skip the first three lines and then – for reasons darkly mystic and unknowable – reproduce the next five on your blog.

As I am currently reading Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban my response to this meme is thus:

Hermione shuddered.
All around them, people were asking each other the same question: "How did he get in?"
"Maybe he knows how to Apparate," said a Ravenclaw a few feet away. "Just appear out of thin air, you know."
"Disguised himself, probably," said a Hufflepuff fifth-year.


Yes, rather typically, I get hit with this meme not when I’m wading through some mighty academic tome or some work of startlingly confrontational politics but when I’m taking a reading sabbatical and am immersing myself in something fun and easy.

Thank God I didn’t get hit last week when I was struggling with Spot The Dog. I don’t think it even has a page 123...

Tris, Gina, I'm tagging you to continue the meme!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Master Baker

Gwen CooperLook folks it was a choice between wittering on yet again about my lack of sleep or reviewing last night’s episode of Torchwood so I chose the latter... there ain’t nothing else going on but the rent. And for those of you that are wishing that I’d plumped for the former just bear in mind that a picture of me, unshaven, bleary eyed and dishevelled wouldn’t look half as good on the page as the one above.

Not that I’m sure I particularly like Gwen. I’m trying to but there’s just something intrinsically annoying about her. She’s... what’s the word...? Gobby. Mouthy. Loud. She belongs in a sitcom. Something suitably broad and tea-time-safe featuring a long suffering wife (played by Gwen) and an accident prone, perennially skint husband who blunders through life hopping from scrape to scrape. The chortles, I’m sure, would come thick and fast.

Much as they did in last night’s episode of Torchwood. After the previous 2 heavy weight outings pondering on the nature of death and undeadness the TW team played it for laughs in this week’s episode. Gwen finally got spliced to Rhys but only after overcoming a catalogue of disasters that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of Red Dwarf.

1) She gets impregnated by an alien who does the deed by biting her wrist (hey for some people I know that’s foreplay) and injecting her bloodstream with his off-world baby sauce. Kappow. Gwen is instantly 9 months pregnant and is ready to drop the sprog at any moment.

2) Rhys takes it like a man – i.e. looks totally confused and raises his voice a lot – and decides he’ll marry gravid Gwen anyway. After all he’d managed to do up his tie that morning and Gwen had scrubbed up rather nicely in her wedding dress (nice dimples, wink wink).

3) Gwen is being hunted by the alien’s mother who wants to literally rip the alien baby out of her stomach horror-film stylee and get it straight into RADA. The alien, by the way, is a shape changer and can impersonate absolutely anyone. Anyone on the entire planet... So it inexplicably chooses to look like Rhys’s mother played by none other than Nerys Hughes.

4) Del Boy and Rodney gatecrash the wedding dressed as Batman and Robin. No hold on wait, that was Jack and Ianto, sorry, getting my sitcoms confused.

To be honest it was all good clean fun. A mood lightener after the previously bleak story lines. Well, I say “clean” but one of Rhys’s mates did get eaten mid BJ by the alien mother (who I hasten to add didn’t look like Nerys Hughes at that point – this is a sitcom remember not a horror). Apparently she didn’t bite off more than she could chew... though she was possibly wondering why it wasn’t on a stick.

Which is more than can be said for poor Rhys. What kind of life is he going to have married to a woman who could arrive home at any given moment with an extraterrestrial bun in her oven? Up the duff with ET’s love child! In the family way with a Klingon kiddie!

Mind you, to be honest, Gwen’s swollen belly seemed to pass Rhys by – he couldn’t get his eyes further south than her impressively valleyed bosom. I’m sure at one point he was humming I’ll keep a welcome in the hillside...

I don’t think it’ll be too long before Gobby Gwen gets knocked up again.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sleep Training

A slight pause from the scintillating TV reviews and time to dip my toes once again into the ever present waters of domesticity...

Karen and I are both gritty eyed this morning – so much so if there’d been a frost last night we could have cleared the roads this morning just by looking at them.

Tom woke at 3 am and then 5 am and then stayed awake, screaming for a full hour until I eventually gave in and took him downstairs. We’re desperately trying to dissuade him from waking twice in the night so, although he got fed at 3, he got nada at 5. A nappy change and words of comfort didn’t help at all. Not one iota. He’s a very determined, very focused little boy.

Training a baby to sleep through the night is surprisingly tough. We want to break one habit without kick-starting another hence although he gets a hug it’s kept to a minimum... we don’t want him screaming the place down in the middle of the night for the next 3 months just because he wants some social interaction. It’s difficult letting him cry though. It’s impossible not to feel mean – though as soon as he was picked up he was full of beaming smiles and giggles. Little tyke.

There’s something about a baby’s scream in the small hours that does something to your brain. It’s like having your frontal lobes lanced with a light sabre. A big purple one like Mace Windu’s. I have to say (almost with a sense of pride) that Tom’s lungs have an awe inspiring capacity. People in the street – were there any at that time in the morning and in the gales that were buffeting the little cul-de-sacs of Little Whinging – would have thought that foulest murder was being committed in our house. I’m sure that blue whales out in the Pacific were picking up Tom’s cries and were whistling back for him to be quiet! He even out-galed the gale.

Bless him.

Anyway, it’s ironic that sleep training at the moment seems to mean that nobody gets any sleep at all. All of us are looking sandy eyed and rather “blurgh” this morning – even Tom.

It’s nice to know he so much wants to be part of the family...!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ecstasy

The sexily gorgeous Keeley HawesAshes To Ashes made my night in a number of ways last night.

1) It featured XTC’s “Sergeant Rock”. A track that took me straight back to my school days and swapping football stickers in the playground.

2) It featured Killing Joke’s “Turn To Red” – a track from their little known first ever EP, released before they’d even been signed up by Malicious Damage records. You’d have to be a diehard fan to spot it. I am that fan.

3) DS Ray Carling, a man even more homophobic and chauvinistic than Gene Hunt himself, had to infiltrate a gay night club posing as a homosexual to get close to a target. He looks like a Village People reject at the best of times anyway and blended in remarkably well. He even looked to be enjoying himself until sweet nothings were whispered in his ear. His smile dropped faster than a nympho’s knickers at a swinger’s convention and the fists flew wild and hard. He looked like a rabbit caught between the headlights of a fast moving car. Hilarious.

4) Gene Hunt. Ploughing mercilessly through every single euphemism for anal sex and homosexuality known to man with a straight face (well, what else would he have) and his team laughing along with him... until an after footie match celebration of hugging and male bonding at their local boozer was cut abruptly short by DI Drake wondering if they were all closet homosexuals themselves. You sunk my battleship indeed. Anything that blasts homophobia and football clean out of the water is absolutely fine by me...

5) Keeley Hawes just because. But mostly because of the red, off-the-shoulder top that was so flimsy it accentuated every movement and jiggle underneath it. Officer I’ve been a naughty boy and need to be taken into police custody immediately. I may have to be restrained and frisked. Please, please don’t go easy on me...

Sheer ecstasy.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Danse Macabre

The Torchwood teamA double apology:

Firstly, apologies to those of you whose blogs I have yet to pay a visit to. I’m now halfway through my university essay and once that is out of the way normal service will resume once more. Until then my time for doing pleasurable things seems to be mightily restricted so sorry if I seem to be ignoring people.

And secondly apologies to those of you who view Torchwood as an ugly pimple on the otherwise unblemished face of modern sci-fi... because here’s yet another episode review...

Last night’s story was intriguing. Very intriguing. And not just because the writers had for once inverted their usual modus operandi. Instead of characterization playing second fiddle to gimmicky BBC effects, last night we had the effects relegated to a small sideshow while the emotional development of some of the characters took centre stage.

Maybe some sci-fi puritans will see this as a bad move: yet another sci-fi show degenerating into soft soap and sentimentality but personally I think this is a step in the right direction for Torchwood. It’s hard to care about a team of people who are so ineffably cold and wooden – it’s nice to see some warmth and human emotion being injected into them.

Ironically of course the character who is being humanized the most is Owen – and he’s about as cold and wooden as you’re likely to get on account of the fact that, both technically and medically, he’s dead. Dead as a doornail in fact. Nevertheless he’s walking around and doing his job regardless (I know how he feels). He’s the original dead man walking.

For once though the writers are doing a decent job of investigating the ramification of this “living death”. Owen’s painful attempts to come to terms with the fact that he’s unable to eat, drink, make love, heal, feel pain or indeed feel anything at all is being sensitively handled. The shot of him screaming underwater – unable to drown himself – was suitably discomforting and said far more than any stream of platitudinous dialogue.

Of course the science bit is rather ropey. Owen was unable to give mouth to mouth to Richard Briers (mind you, why would you want to?*) because he didn’t actually breathe air himself. Fine. But then how is it that Owen can talk? Surely you require breath for that? And if Owen has no blood why isn’t he desiccating or at least rustling a bit when he moves?

But I’m picking hairs.

Burn Gorman is playing a blinder. His death has given his character depth and a new dimension. It has undercut his arrogance and aloofness and left a raw, sympathetic human being in his place. If only they can do the same for Captain Jack who’s “keep everybody at arms length” approach (even when he’s bedding them) is fast getting on my tits.

However, it’s difficult to see where they’ll now go with Owen’s character. He has a measure of indestructibility as he cannot feel pain but this is tempered by the fact that he cannot heal. Any breaks or injuries will be permanent. One strike and he’s out. A broken doll with a mind (hey, back into Stephen Hawking territory).

Maybe Owen ought to jump ship and join another Captain Jack who has had experience of dealing with the living dead? Head off to sunnier climes where he can ogle Kiera Knightly struggling to fill a corset and not worry that his death-bed BO is putting off his work colleagues as they nibble upon their M&S sandwiches...?

I can just see Owen weighing anchor on the Black Pearl...


*OK. OK. Maybe he's worth saving because of Roobarb & Custard... but that's all.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Master Of The Universe

Stephen Hawking Master Of The UniverseI was tickled to read that Stephen Hawking has a new TV series kicking off on Channel 4 tonight called "Stephen Hawking: Master Of The Universe".

Call me adolescent if you must but it had me imagining Stephen Hawking riding his mobility scooter out to Castle Greyskull one day, holding aloft his magic sword and shouting “I HAVE THE POWER” via his electronic voice synthesiser...

“...and my mobility scooter became a mighty battle tank!”

Cue much gaudy and slightly homo-erotic thunder and lightning against a backdrop of flame and cheesily anthemic Euro-rock music.

Ah the return of He-Man at last! But this time as a man of science as well as brawn. Stephen Hawking genetically spliced with Sylvester Stallone.

It could be a truly classy series. I’m mentally composing a letter to Russell T Davies even as I type.

But any idea who could play Skeletor?