Thursday, February 26, 2009

In reading my email this morning, I discovered both happy and sad news. The terribly sad news is that Eastender's Pauline Fowler, actress Wendy Richard, died today. She had been suffering from cancer and had spoken in the press about her disease. She had a long and wonderful career, but of course I will remember her best as scowling Pauline Fowler. I'd seen an early episode of Eastenders online not long ago, and I was shocked at how young and happy she seemed. She will be greatly missed.

The happy news is that after years of living together, Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria has announced her engagement to her former personal trainer Daniel Westling. The wedding will take place in 2010, when Victoria will be nearly 33. Since they have been a couple for so long, I always wondered why they didn't just marry. Of course, Swedes are much more open to living together instead of marriage, but you would think being the heir to the throne that there would be pressure on her to produce the future heir. I'm sure the people of Sweden will have had enough talk of weddings by the time they actually get married! Grattis Victoria och Daniel!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I had mentioned that I was worried about the imminent release of the Shopaholic film. This past weekend, I gritted my teeth and went to see it. Of course, the biggest problem is that the film has been moved from London to New York, so not only is the setting all wrong, but the characters (aside, for some odd reason, from Luke, the love interest) are American rather than British as well.

The film is just plain silly. Not only do the mannequins talk and gesture to Becky, in an effort to get her to buy (and really, she's a shopaholic, does she need any further inducement?), but this film is firmly in the falling-down-and-running-into-doors-are-hilarious school of film making. In other words, many instances of things that are supposed to cause chuckles really do (literally) fall flat.

Isla Fisher is adorable and does make an ideal Becky -- she just had very little to work with in the ridiculous script. There is no rhyme or reason as to what was kept from the book and what was invented for the film. For instance, Becky's roommate and best friend Suze has been kept, but the fact that she is from a wealthy family didn't seem to feature (aside from briefly mentioning that Suze's family owned the flat where the girls were living). Also inexplicably, Suze's fiance kept the ridiculous name of Tarquin. In the books, we are made to understand that this is one of those snooty upper-class names passed on generation after generation. In the film, he was just an American named Tarquin -- in fact, if he spoke at all, I can't remember it. And why in the world was Wendie Malick channelling Cruella De Vil???

The film could have been much better if it had stayed true to the books. The Shopaholic franchise is very popular, so why the film makers would want to unnecessarily make changes that detract from the charm of the original story is a mystery.
Final Verdict for Confessions of a Shopaholic the movie: Two Gherkins, for being messed about too much to retain much resemblance to the beloved books

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When I read in the local newspaper that a British gastropub was going to be opening up in Knoxville, I did toy briefly with the idea of camping out in a sleeping bag until the opening. I managed to restrain myself, but I was anxious to try it out.

I had been reading about the restaurant online, and the reviews were extremely mixed. It seems as if there are few tepid reviews -- people either love it or hate it.

This weekend I was finally able to pay it a visit. I had high hopes, particularly as the menu listed such British favorites as fish and chips, shepherd's pie and sticky toffee pudding. The outside of the restaurant looked especially promising, with window boxes and a pub sign decorating the entrance. However, this pleasant image was quickly dispelled upon entering. What dominates the inside of the "pub"? A GIGANTIC television. Was it showing the footie perhaps? Maybe the latest episode of Eastenders? How about the never-ending loop of Gordon Ramsey shows that dominates BBCAmerica? Sadly, none of those was on display. No, we were treated to the latest college (US) basketball game being shown on ESPN. I tell you, I had to pinch myself to believe I wasn't in London (eye roll).

So I was already in a somewhat irritated mood when I sat down to order. The menu we were handed was different from the one listed online. It seemed rather sparse, and, as others have mentioned, the food was rather expensive. The hubster and I both decided on the fish and chips. When the food arrived, the plate was dominated by the . . . somewhat odd presentation of the chips. To be fair, there were A LOT of chips, and the printed paper was supposed to simulate the newspaper wrapping of the traditional dish. Still, it was a bit unnecessary. However, I'm pleased to report that the food was really very good. The Atlantic cod was a lovely golden brown color (although missing the silvery skin that's always been present when I've had fish in Britain) and delicious.

Much to my irritation, the service was extremely slow. There were only two servers working, and while they seemed to be wandering around quite visibly, if they were asked for something (ketchup, a dessert menu, the check), it was absolute ages before they came back. The restaurant was probably only about 40% full, so I have no idea how they would have coped if it had actually been busy.

In short, the food was good, if pricey, but the service and atmosphere were sadly lacking. Unless I get a real hankering for fish and chips (not entirely out of the question), I doubt I'll be back.

Final Verdict on The Crown and Goose gastropub: Two Gherkins, for great food, but poor service and a disappointing overall presentation

Monday, February 16, 2009

I noticed this sign recently. Hmm, it does ring a faint bell with me somehow. It reminds me of something, but I just can't put my finger on it . . . I'm sure it will come to me in time!

On another note, I was interested to see a recent article about the most stolen books from UK bookstores. Interestingly enough, the most stolen book is the London A-Z street atlas. There must be many other directionally-challenged-but-short-of-cash travellers out there aside from myself. Not that I would resort to stealing, of course! Other reference books such as dictionaries and travel guides also make the list of "hot" books. The most stolen fiction writer is Terry Prachett. And they said people don't read for pleasure anymore!

I was also sad to see that John Nettles will be leaving Midsomer Murders after the current season. The series will continue without him, apparently, which is good news. This follows the recent news that David Jason will be leaving Frost after the current season. Hrumph. Just like these flighty actors -- get us hooked on a series and then bail on us! Both series have been on for 13 seasons. I still haven't come anywhere close to watching all of either series, so there's plenty of interesting viewing ahead for me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

They got me again! Honestly, these authors and publishers seem to know how to effortlessly get rabid Anglophiles to part with our dosh. Simply throw the name of one of our beloved (Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Russell Brand) in the title, and we line up unquestioningly to buy . . . whatever it is. Such is the case with the book A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith. Not only does the title of the book promise literary, cultural and travel insights about Britain, but the cover features a lovely bucolic scene of meandering streams and grazing sheep. Just the ticket for getting lost in scenic Britain, right? WRONG!

This is another one of those unfortunate "I-need-to-find-myself-because-I'm-having-such-a-crisis-so-I'll-do-it-in-Britain" memoirs. (See My Love Affair with England.) This book is very, very light on Jane Austen and Britain, and very heavy on the minutia of Lori Smith's problems. Four chapters in, and I'd learned that Ms. Smith had a difficult-to-diagnose illness that left her exhausted, was in her early thirties and not married but desperately looking for a husband, suffered from depression and quit her job "to be a writer." She does throw in the occasional reference from Austen's work to show how it is so relevant to her own personal situation, but I didn't quite follow her logic.

The reader is treated to the scintillating information that Smith sets out to explore Oxford "in my green T-shirt and matching sort-of-coolish walking shoes and almost knee-length jean skirt with the ruffle." At this point, I'm just breathless to see what outfit she chooses next!! Thankfully, we don't have long to wait, because she next appears "wearing my fun pink pleated skirt with the flip-flops that match exactly." Be still my heart!

The book is also largely about the author's spiritual journey. While it might be enjoyable for the reader who wants to read personal stories of that nature, I felt misled in the way the book was presented. Here is one of the lengthy sentences describing the author's spiritual struggles:

"As soon as I confess and receive forgiveness and occasionally feel the depth of that, the cleanness of being right with God, I set off on another pattern of wrong thinking, where I'm the center of my universe, where even when I try to put other people first and love God (and don't always put that much energy into that), I fail miserably and am aware of the fact that seemingly two seconds after I've been irrevocably washed clean, I am dirty again, like filthy rags."

Um, anyone see the "Walking with Jane" part there? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I have to say that I didn't make it past chapter four. She may eventually drop all the rambling and actually attempt to write about Austen's Britain, but I didn't have the patience to find out. It's amazing to me that: a) someone thinks anyone wants to read this self-absorbed drivel, and b) that there is a publisher willing to publish it. (All bloggers are somewhat self-absorbed, I know, but we're generally not charging $13.99 for the privilege of letting others in on it.) I must start writing down what I wear every day and the occasional thought I manage to have -- I might just have a best-seller on my hands!

Since I was unable to finish the book, I'll refrain from giving it any Gherkins. That'll show 'em that we Anglophiles take this bait and switch stuff seriously!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The late 1990s British mystery series McCallum deals with the forensic pathologist Dr. Ian McCallum (played by John Hannah) and his colorful co-workers. There's the recent Irish transplant Angela, the Hell's Angels wannabe Bobby Sykes, and a lab technician with the never explained moniker of Fuzzy Brightons. The story also covers McCallum's private life, which has plenty of ups and downs.

The series starts with McCallum going through a rough patch in his marriage to the journalist Joanna. Eventually, the couple resumes their relationship, even though it seems as if the boyish looking Joanna is inexplicably a magnet for nearly every male she encounters. Before long, she disappears from the scene and McCallum reacts by going on promiscuous, drunken escapades. Even though his co-workers suffer for his actions, he never seems to be in any danger of losing his job.

His co-workers have their fair share of problems too, ranging from alcoholism to driving offenses to crumbling relationships. Of course, in the midst of all this personal turmoil, people continue to die and need autopsies. There is a mystery of sorts to be solved in every episode, and after McCallum and his buddies eventually stumble across the solution, each episode ends abruptly. There's very little resolution as to how the cases turn out -- we're only shown that McCallum has solved the case, so no further explanation is necessary.

I was saddened to read that the actor who portrayed the amusingly named Fuzzy Brightons, James Saxon, died in 2003 of a heart attack. He certainly was a memorable and sympathetic character.

Final Verdict for McCallum: Three Gherkins, for interesting London scenery and some intriguing mysteries that are solved a bit too tidily

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Difficult as it is to believe, Knoxville wasn't always the glittering metropolis that stands before you today. No, it took some time and effort before the "scruffy little city" took off. The new book Historic Photos of Knoxville faithfully documents Knoxville's development, from its early days before the Civil War up through the latter part of the 20th century.

The photos in the book are divided into four sections: from the 1850s to the end of the 1800s; 1900 to WWI; WWI to WWII and the 1940s through to the late 1960s. All the photos, even the more modern ones, are in black and white. This helps the book to maintain a consistent feel throughout.

There are introductions and photo captions throughout the book by William E. hardy. While there are many historic photos of Knoxville available, they were scattered among various collections. This book is a wonderful attempt to gather photos from the various sources.

As a resident of Knoxville, it was fascinating for me to see how the city has grown and developed, recovering from such devastating events as the Civil War and the "Million Dollar Fire of 1897" and continuing to grow and prosper. The photo on the cover of the book, of Knoxville's Gay Street, vividly evokes a time gone by, with street cars and bustling activity. Although Gay Street suffered years of decline and neglect, it has recently experienced a resurgence, and today it is as bustling as the photo depicts (without the street cars).
Final Verdict for Historic Photos of Knoxville: Four Gherkins, for being a beautiful look back at how Knoxville became the third largest city in Tennessee

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

British actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are going to be teaming up again soon on the screen as Thompson & Thompson in the film Tintin. While there is the possibility that there will be several Tintin films, the first one is going to be directed by Stephen Spielberg and is going to be "shot in 3D animation." I'm not sure exactly how that is going to work with live actors.

It has been reported that 17 year old Thomas Sangster has been cast as the lead role of Tintin. I didn't grow up reading Tintin comic books, but my husband is a big fan. It is my understanding that Tintin is a journalist who travels around the world and has dangerous adventures. So, naturally a teenager is cast in the part. This just continues the madness of Hollywood casting that has caused me so much frustration lately.

I've always thought the Swedish actor Olle Sarri looked exactly like Tintin. Just think of the money they could save on hair and makeup by casting him instead!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thanks to Diana over at Hail Britannia for posting a link to a hilarious complaint letter that Richard Branson received after a poor unsuspecting customer was subjected to a truly hideous dining experience on a recent Virgin flight. I have been known to fire off the occasional irate missive myself when circumstances warranted it, but after reading this letter, it's no wonder that my complaints fell on deaf ears. I am truly a humble amateur in the world of angry consumerism. I just love the conversational tone of the Virgin letter ("Look at this Richard") and the accompanying photographs. I'll keep this letter as a model of how to complain . . . colorfully.

Speaking of colorful, I love to see on my Live Traffic where and how people wander onto my blog. Imagine my surprise when I saw that one recent visitor had done a Google search on the terms "Brendan Fraser feet stink" and, naturally, my blog came up (?). I have to admit that I'm a bit puzzled by that one. Maybe the searcher was engaging in a bit of Googlewhacking. It's nice to have visitors, but I must review my blog to see where my discussion of Mr. Fraser's offending feet occurred. Of course, now that I've mentioned this, I fully expect to be the top result the next time some searches that phrase!

I heard a commercial on BBCAmerica today stating that the BAFTA Awards would be broadcast "live" on Sunday at 8:00 PM. I don't see how this could be, since that would mean it would be taking place at around 2:00 AM London time. Somehow I doubt that. I also doubt I will watch the ceremony, since Jonathan Ross will be hosting. {Shudder}

Monday, February 2, 2009

I was happy to learn that the British government is much more warm, open and welcoming than our own somewhat hyper-secure and paranoid U.S. government. Or that was the inescapable message conveyed by the program Me and Mrs. Jones. The journalist Liam Marple (who writes his gossipy column under the "Me and Mrs. Jones" pseudonym) has no problem attending a function at 10 Downing Street (under an false identity that is taken on face value). Once there, he's also able to slip away from the crowd, go upstairs unmolested, and hide a tape recorder in the Prime Minister's private rooms. Later, of course, he's able to retrieve the secret-filled recorder without anyone noticing him.

The Prime Minister happens to be a very attractive woman, Laura Bowden, who is embroiled in personal and professional difficulties. Naturally Liam, played by the always interesting Robson Green, becomes attracted to the Prime Minister, and must decide if his loyalty is to her or his job.

There are some lovely shots of London, particularly night shots, so this light romantic comedy is easy to watch. Just suspend your disbelief about the lack of security and you'll be fine.

Final Verdict for Me and Mrs. Jones: Two Gherkins, for an enjoyable, if not completely true-to-life relationship drama

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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