Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm a social piranha


So declares the delightfully deranged Jill Tyrrell in the comedy Nighty Night. After her husband is diagnosed with cancer, Jill drops him off at the hospital and then signs up at a dating agency. She soon falls for her next-door neighbor, Don, who recently moved in with his disabled wife. It is painfully funny to watch the bemused couple stand by powerless, either too polite or too stunned, to stop Jill as she proceeds to move into their house and take over their lives. The comedy is way over the top, and there are many disgusting and horrifying moments. You can't help but wonder, though, what fresh outrage Jill will come up with next. She has no conscience, and absolutely no intention of following any sort of social conventions. Of course, only the first season is available in the U.S., so I've already placed my order for season two at amazon.co.uk. I'm really anxious to see how Jill manages to get out of the situation she left at the end of season one, what with the rather extensive pile of bodies she left behind . . .

Some of Jill's other words of wisdom:


"I'm not a malicious woman, and I will strike down the first person that says I am."


To a customer of the Tan Blaster in her salon: "While you're in there, I wouldn't inhale." Customer: "What should I do about breathing?" Jill: "I suggest you try to stock up on your breathing before you go in."


The actress who played the disabled next door neighbor looked awfully familiar. A quick check of the IMDB revealed her to be Rebecca Front, who is Chief Superintendent Innocent in the Inspector Lewis series, currently being shown on Masterpiece Mystery. Thank goodness for IMDB, because the helpless, accommodating creature who gets run over by Jill in Nighty Night is nothing like the self-assured, always-in-command Innocent of Lewis. I don't think my poor brain would have been able to connect the two characters!

Friday, June 27, 2008

A new series

Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I am now enjoying the first season of a British series called William and Mary. It is a series about two single parents who both join a dating agency looking for love. It stars the always charming Martin Clunes as the undertaker William, and Julie Graham as the midwife Mary. So far, I've only seen the first two episodes. The first one was extremely slow, giving me plenty of time to concentrate on things other than the plot. Here is yet another example of the oddities of British dentistry being put front and center. I suppose it is refreshing that apparently anyone, no matter what obvious physical defects they posses, can have their own TV show. Julie Graham is a lovely actress, until she speaks. It looks as if one of her front bottom teeth is missing. It's very noticeable, and there is no way to avoid staring at it. What is wrong, I ask, with a little orthodontics? This is coming, you understand, from someone who endured braces for three years in her 30s. I know of what I speak. Also, the character of Mary was rude, abrupt, and snappish to absolutely everyone. So naturally, William was immediately smitten . . . riiiiiight. And what is up with her hooker/baglady/"I got dressed in the dark" wardrobe? Maybe the later episodes will be more interesting, and I'll actually be able to concentrate on what's happening on screen . . .

I finally finished The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith. Great upheavals in this one: Mma Makutsi leaves the agency to look for another job, Charlie the apprentice leaves to start his own business, and Mr. J.L.B. Matakoni tries his hand at the detective business. Of course, there are many mishaps along the way, but everything is tied up neatly at the end. Now I just have to wait to migrate to the top of the hold pile at the library to get the last audio book in the series, The Miracle at Speedy Motors.

I've been reading an interesting book called The Intellectual Devotional. The idea of the book is an interesting one: to have one page every day for a year devoted to a different "field of knowledge": history, literature, visual arts, science, music, philosophy and religion. Most of the people reviewing the book on Amazon.com complain about the small type, but I am finding other problems. Most notably was this sentence on the page devoted to Peter the Great: "Peter's ancestors ruled Russia until the revolution in 1917." Hmm . . . I'm no expert on time travel, but wouldn't that be a bit difficult? Having your ancestors follow you??? Another grating example from the page on Romantic-Era Virtuosos: "However, Paganini died in Nice without, however, leaving a repertoire of great compositions." Did no one read over the manuscript, or did it go directly from the authors to the printer? Still, it is an interesting introduction to many subjects that I knew little or nothing about.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Now that's uncalled for!

In a sad decision, the powers that be at Eastenders (bless 'em) have apparently decided that Wellard the dog is getting up there in doggy years and must be killed off. Over the years, many characters and story lines have stretched the bounds of credibility, so it seems odd that they would suddenly decide that poor Wellard has outlived his/her usefulness. Still, the poor thing has been passed around to nearly everyone on the square at one time or another, so maybe s/he would be happier in that great dog house in the sky. RIP Wellard.

On another topic, Promo Magazine this month has an article titled, "51st State? Americanization of Britain Nearly Complete." The article suggests that due to the recession in the U.S., American-based companies are eager to expand overseas. While it is sometimes nice, as a traveler, to experience the comforts of home, surely the "U.S. annexation of the U.K., the proverbial 51st state" is taking things a bit far. Too bad things aren't moving in the other direction, with the easier availability of British-based goods for us Anglophiles stranded far, far away. We can't even get decent TV programs on the laughably inane "BBCAmerica." While I must admit that I've hardly ever seen the BBC, I somehow doubt that it shows the same 3 programs over and over again. I wouldn't think alienating your core audience is the best business model, but it's what has kept BBCAmerica going for years. That they would cancel Eastenders, a hugely popular program, for endless repeats of home improvement and antique shows is their most shining example of "giving the audience what they want." Not to mention the insane decision to show a repeat of the AMERICAN program "Dancing with the Stars" and it's enough to make any Anglophile's tea boil! I can only hope that the merger between XM satellite radio (which I have) and Sirius occurs before the Americanization of BBC Radio 1 (available on Sirius, but not on XM) is complete.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Great new find

A few days ago I saw a reference to the website surfthechannel.com. This website shows entire episodes of various TV programs. I was afraid to hope there might actually be some British programs featured, but to my astonishment, there are a few. The best find so far has been the first episode of Eastenders, originally broadcast on Feb. 18, 1985. How funny to see how some of the characters changed over the years, particularly Pauline Fowler. As a fan of the show, I was amazed to see how young and happy Pauline originally was. She even managed a smile in the original episode . . . my, how times changed. The passage of a little over 20 years certainly did alter her appearance.










Pauline, in the early days












Pauline, just before the end



Another change that was apparent was poor old Ian Beale. Of course, he was just a child when he started on the show, so he would be expected to go through some changes as he grew up. Still, he does seem to have rather a bad case of the "curse of the Eastenders eye bags".



On the book front, I've been reading Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourne. It is a Victorian mystery set in London (is there any other kind?). It's early days yet, but it seems enjoyable so far.

I've nearly finished with the next to the last audio book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. An upsetting event has occurred, but I'm sure it will be worked out before the end of the story. I can't see an event like this not being set right before the next book begins. Still, a bit of conflict is a good thing, as one or two of the books in the series were rather sparse on action (although still charming and enjoyable). It will seem strange when I've worked through all of the books in the series to start another audio book. Mma Ramotswe and co. have kept me entertained for so long that I won't know what to do without them!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The apocalypse is upon us . . .

Oh . . . my . . . words fail me (well, not really). I was perusing the offerings at the V&A Museum's online shop, and I couldn't believe what I saw. They are offering a brooch and earring set designed by . . . Dita Von Teese. A stripper, for heaven's sake! I guess I shouldn't be shocked since the V&A tends to have rather, um, current exhibits. This is the museum that featured an exhibit honoring that cultural icon Kylie Minogue. Still, I was a little stunned to see Ms. Von Teese apparently being embraced by the mainstream as a "serious artist." Well, maybe I'm diminishing her talents unfairly. Wikipedia does describe her as a "fetish model." The leap from that career to jewelry designer isn't so extreme I guess . . .

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey! I know that guy . . .

Last night I had a free ticket to a sneak preview of the film Wanted. The film was an unrealistic, confusing mis-mash of a bunch of shootings, car chases, crashes and explosions -- typical Hollywood dreck, in other words. Buy hey, free is free! Anyway, at one point in the film, a character walked on screen and I instantly recognized him. The actor, I mean. I didn't know his name, but I've seen him many times before. A quick look-see in the IMDB shows that the actor's name is Marc Warren. I recognize him from The Vice and State of Play (every scene of which was stolen by the magnificent Bill Nighy). He played, unfortunately, a somewhat pathetic and sniveling loser in each of those series, so it was good to see him in something else. In Wanted, however, I don't think he had any lines -- or if he did, I don't remember. His "job" in the film was to administer beatings to the main character, played by James McAvoy. I never fully understood why, but I think at one point there was a reference to the fact the beatings were supposed to "toughen him up" and make him ignore pain. Or something. Another annoying thing about Wanted was the sight of James McAvoy's teeth. I know that everyone makes fun of the state of British dentistry, but surely he's a big enough star now to afford a little cosmetic work? Very distracting . . .

I'm still being entertained on the audio book front by the delightful Mma Ramotswe in Blue Shoes and Happiness. I only have a few more audio books in that series before I've listened to them all, and it will be a sad day when I have to say goodbye to them until the next book is released. It was nice in this book to encounter someone who is kind to snakes. Although most of the snakes in Botswana (at least in these books) are potentially deadly, so I guess people have good reason to fear them. Still, I've never understood the "there's a snake/spider/etc. -- kill it!" point of view. Those creatures are just trying to get along, like the rest of us, so it's better to try to show some compassion. Now those earwigs in my basement are another story . . . :)

Monday, June 16, 2008

A new comedy series

I had a new British comedy series from Netflix in the mail on Friday. The series is called Barbara, and is about the everyday lives of a Yorkshire family. I must say, the 3 episodes on the first disc weren't all that impressive. Amazon.com describes the series as "explosively hilarious", but I watched it and I wasn't close to exploding even once! It's a somewhat bland series made all the more unwatchable by an annoying laugh track that does "explode" about every 15 seconds . . . and nothing about the series is particularly funny. There are 2 more discs in the series, so maybe it will improve.

Finally finished Remember Me? and it turned out to be not all that bad. Since the main character has amnesia, it's a bit difficult to get to know or like her. This character, Lexi, is also very rich, beautiful and successful as the book opens, and Kinsella's books are always more enjoyable when the main character is a lovable screw-up.

I've moved on to In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith on the audio book front. It's as enjoyable as the other books in the series. I've read some reviews of the latest book in the series, The Miracle at Speedy Motors,which say that one of the main characters, Mma Makutsi, is treated rather badly. That seems odd. She's such a hardworking and sympathetic character in the other books. I'm anxious to find out what causes the author to "turn agin" her in the new novel!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Some things do eventually find their way over here

I see that "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" is finally going to be shown in the U.S. starting this week, nearly a year after it was shown in the U.K. Better late than never, I suppose. I was pleasantly surprised by Billie Piper's performance in the title role, having most recently seen her in the somewhat dreadful Spirit Trap. I know she's big in Dr. Who, but I've never been interested in that series (shocking lapse for an Anglophile, I know). Anyway, it was nice to see that Sue Tully (Michelle from Eastenders) directed some of the episodes. Always fun to see a familiar name popping out of the credits. After I watched the "Call Girl" series and found out it was based on a popular blog, I decided to buy both The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl. Well, the first book was quite interesting. It related Belle's background and how she got into the profession. It certainly had the same tone as the TV series. The second book was a terrible disappointment. I really think everyone who bought it should ask for their money back on the grounds of fraud. First of all, soon after the book begins Belle gives up being a call girl to get (*gasp*) a "real" job in an office. Then, she leaves London to visit a cousin in some Central American country. So in "Further Adventures", she was neither a call girl, nor in London. It should have been called something like, "The Further Adventures of Belle De Jour". I might not have felt so misled! The second book turns mostly into a boring, pointless travel journal of the "then I took a bike to the beach, walked around a little and came home" type. Also, the second book goes into pointless and confusing detail about her former boyfriend, unhelpfully given the names A1, A2, A3 and A4. Confusion and boredom ensue. I understand that on the popularity of her blog that she has been able to transition into writing full-time. Her first book proved she can be an entertaining writer, although her second book lost the plot completely!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What a rip off!

Or so I thought, after watching the first five minutes of the Swedish film Storm. It seemed as if the director was going to copy Simon Pegg's rapid fire sequence shots (in this case, making coffee) throughout the film. Instead, he (or she) employed a lot of different visual tricks copied from numerous films from the past decade or so. That eased my mind a bit. Shaun of the Dead is a classic and I really didn't want to see it maligned by any derivative knock-offs.

Instead of spending my evening watching that, I should have concentrated on getting caught up with the goings on in Portwenn. The first series of Doc Martin is available on Netflix, but so far the second two are unavailable in the U.S. , so I had to order the whole thing from Amazon UK. Netflix provides a great service in introducing me to wonderful British series that I might not otherwise have had the opportunity to see, but they invariably only have part of the episodes available. Doc Martin is a very funny series about a London surgeon who suddenly develops a fear of blood (I can sympathize) and decides to move to the village of Portwenn to become a family doctor. Presumably, anyone who might be prone to projectile eruptions of blood would choose to go to the hospital rather than the local doctor's office. Unfortunately, Doc Martin (or Doctor Ellingham, as he ineffectually instructs the locals to call him) has an extremely rude and abrupt manner and manages to offend absolutely everyone before he's even opened his office. The villagers are an amusing bunch, ranging from the lazy receptionist Elaine to the inept plumber Bert Large. While watching the first series, I was thrilled to see many actors that I recognized, including Ben Miller (The Worst Week of My Life), Caroline Catz (Murder in Surburbia) and Celia Imre (Calendar Girls). Now that I have all three of the seasons, I am starting over at the beginning to enjoy it all from the start.

Now that's a look you don't want to see on your plumber's face ("Bert Large" in Doc Martin)!

I should finish listening to Morality for Beautiful Girls today. The series is keeping me entertained. I should have some more audio books to pick up at the library today. On the book front, I'm still slogging through Remember Me? It's just not "grabbing" me for some reason. Oh well, the new Ruth Rendell novel should arrive this week, and she never disappoints!

Monday, June 9, 2008

This will keep me busy for a while

Uncharacteristically for me, I didn't have any audio books on hold at the library a few weeks ago, so I started browsing the shelves at my local branch library. Since I was in need of *something* to listen to, I decided to try a book I'd passed over many times before, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Since it wasn't set in London, or anywhere else in the British isles, I really wasn't interested in it. I'm glad that I was at a loose end so that I had to give it a chance. It's a wonderful series about Mma Ramotswe and her friends solving mysteries large and small in the African country of Botswana. The characters are all so warm and respectful, and the stories so heartwarming, that I didn't notice the time (or the miles!) rushing by. I simply allowed myself to get lost in a world where people address each other with, "Did you sleep well?" and the greatest delicacy is cooked pumpkin. My local library had several other audio books in the series, but they were unfortunately not in order, but I was so eager to hear more about Mma Ramotswe's adventures that I had to listen to them anyway. I'm now going back and listening to them in order, with The Tears of the Giraffe (second in the series) currently entertaining me. The actress who does the reading, Lisette Lecat, is really wonderful with all the various accents, even managing some words in a clicking African language.

I was thrilled to see that The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was shown recently on British TV. I'm anxiously waiting for it to be shown in the U.S. , or else for the DVD to become available.

Since I have been listening to audio books for many years, I can go on record with my preference for cassettes over CDs any day! If you are buying an audio book on CD for yourself, and are careful, I suppose that would be one thing. However, I check audio books out of the library very frequently, and nothing is so frustrating as to get to the end (or anywhere, really) of the story and have the CD skip, stop or otherwise refuse to play. Cassettes may misbehave sometimes, but there is an extreme satisfaction to be had in ejecting the cassette and, as some audio books instruct us to do, "slapping it smartly" against the dashboard. Even if this doesn't fix the problem, you at least feel better! Even so, the problems I've had over the years with cassettes are nearly non-existent, compared to the continual frustration of CDs. I recently went to great personal expense to have a cassette player installed in my new car, so I hope the audio book people will continue to release books in this format. There really is no contest.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Today's Diversions

TV Series
Last night, I was watching an episode from the wonderful series Lewis, when what did I happen to see:



A character was clearly wearing one of those terrorist-supporting scarves! I was *shocked* I tell you, shocked! Other than that one disturbing incident, though, I really enjoyed the episode. The series is wonderful, particularly for its views of Oxford. I haven't seen much of the Inspector Morse series, but you don't need to have seen those to be able to enjoy this program on its own merits.

Book
I am currently reading the latest novel by Sophie Kinsella, Remember Me? This one is uncharacteristically hard going so far. I truly loved Confessions of a Shopaholic and Can You Keep a Secret, but The Undomestic Goddess was a mess. I kept wondering where the editor was on that one -- or did they just think that since the great reading public had so enthusiastically embraced her previous books that this one could just go out into the world "as is"? I truly hope this most recent book will pick up and show some of the charm of the earlier books. And while I'm on the subject, who though that setting the Shopaholic movie in New York was a good idea??? If the book had been set there, I certainly wouldn't have given it a second glance! I would go see a film set in London no matter how flimsy the story (yes, Killing Me Softly, I'm talking to you).

Audio Book
While between new audio books for a moment, I decided to give a listen to my favorite audio book of all time, The Wimbledon Poisoner. It is the hilarious account of a man who decides to poison his wife, but ends up accidentally killing nearly everyone in the neighborhood instead. The second part of the book (when he gives up trying to kill the wife) does drag a bit, but the first part more than makes up for that with gems such as:

(on a book the protagonist is writing being unleashed on the reading public) "There would be no escape from the great wall of knowledge being propelled in their direction."

(description of the action of a specific poison) "You experience vomiting, diarrhea, and then it's byesie-bye to your renal functions."

(on his overweight daughter attending her first funeral) "Maisie started asking what people generally ate at funerals, and if there was a lot of it."

Quite a lot of enjoyment comes from the outstanding reading done by James Saxon. I must to a little research and find out if he's read other audio books. I was pleased to see that The Wimbledon Poisoner is part of a Wimbledon Trilogy by Nigel Williams, although, sadly, the other books in the group all appear to have different characters. Still, I have placed my orders for the other two books and I can only hope they are half as funny as the first one.

Summer Reading List
I was pleased to see that several of my favorite authors are going to have new books in the stores soon, including Ruth Rendell, Marian Keyes, David Sedaris and Janet Evanovich. OK, so only one of those authors is British -- I have to occasionally dip my toe into other literary waters, although I try not to make a habit of it!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Oh happy day!

I'm starting my new blog with great news (well, for me at least!). It has been confirmed today that the TV series Jonathan Creek will be back this Christmas season with a new one-off special. Jonathan Creek is a wonderful series about a man who lives in a windmill (doesn't sound too promising yet, does it?). He works out tricks for a magician, and is also called in to help solve seemingly impossible crimes. There were several series of the show, plus several Christmas specials, but then the series stopped. The show was very popular, so ratings weren't the problem. Rather, the creator of the series was reportedly tired of the incessant production demands by rabid fans such as myself, and decided to stop work on the series altogether. The last episode aired in early 2004, so it will be a treat to see the character again! Unfortunately, apparently neither Caroline Quentin (Maddy Magellan) nor Julia Sawalha (Carla Borrego) are going to be making an appearance in the new episode. While I liked the character of Maddy better, Carla had a fantastic wardrobe!


The first and second series are available here in the U.S. Series three and four are available from Amazon.co.uk, as well as in a boxset of all four series. The episodes from Amazon.co.uk are in PAL format, and so will not play on a regular US DVD player, although nearly all DVD players can be "hacked", using the remote, to play all region DVDs (Google your model and DVD hacks for instructions). You can also purchase a region-free DVD player (might be the best way to go) fairly cheaply. Ordering DVDs from Amazon.co.uk is very easy and delivery is fast -- if (unsurprisingly) somewhat expensive. Still, if you are a true British TV addict, sometimes there's nothing else for it but to grit your teeth and get out the old credit card!