entertainment

Lists: What are they good for? I know, let’s make a list…

I’ve made a start boxing up stuff in preparation for our house move. Lidl’s “Unwaxed Lemons” boxes are a good shape and size for CDs; you may find me in the supermarket, furtively decanting nets of lemons from the top box into the one beneath.

While packing the CDs, I thought I’d make a list at the same time. I don’t like list making but I have a fear of buying a CD I already have. This is a bit nonsensical and made worse by the fact that it’s been a while since I listened to a CD; I’m content to stream these days. But, who knows, I might be tempted by an offer.

It’s become a truism that there’s an app for everything and I didn’t want to be typing out each damn artist and title. The first few CDs I picked up had barcodes….hmm, interesting… but I went down the voice-recognition-transcription route instead, using the Evernote app. on my phone.

It worked so well, it made me chuckle – even when it made the occasional mistake. I was really impressed when it heard me say “J.J. Cale”, initially transcribed it as JJ Kale, then, within a nanosecond, corrected it perfectly. It must have learnt it from some other user, I suspect.

Unfortunately, my little collection of lesser known African artists defeated it. Or maybe it was my bad pronunciation. No matter how many times I said (shouted!) the name of the Congolese singer, “Tabu Ley Rochereau” into my smartphone, sounding increasingly like, and eventually surpassing, Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, Evernote insisted I was simply saying “Table Lay Rush Hour”. Eventually, I had to type it out myself, just to keep the peace.


As I say, I’m not big on lists but sometimes they can be interesting. I had been looking at a poem on the Lit Hub blog this morning and I noticed how it went into a kind of list of things in the middle part, for about six lines, before returning to its main theme.

I admit that often I regard a lot of poetry as being lists: it’s all that stacking up of words, I guess. I think it was the writer, William S. Burrows, who sometimes wrote using a technique of cutting out words and rearranging them on his desk to make a new work. I also read it was a method adapted by musicians such as David Bowie and Ian Dury. You can hear it in the latter’s Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3; it’s a list rearranged to form a lyrical piece.

Then there’s My Favourite Things, crafted by lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Paul Weller’s That’s Entertainment, a song I’ve always regarded as hauntingly resonant.

Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You is essentially a list. Only three items though, each with accompanying explanatory words underneath, comparing his true desire with the thrills which come into many an over privileged lifestyle.

Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire is another which sprung to mind; a list of similes, if you can bear it. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire; who could forgot that one?

There are so many, I imagine the list is endless but it’s that which gets left off any list which makes lists infuriating.

And that’s why I don’t like them. (Lists, not the songs – they’re okay.)


image by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash.com

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

My Favorite Things

That’s Entertainment

I Get A Kick Out Of You

Bird on a Wire

We Didn’t Start The Fire

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Further World Wide Watchables

A continuing review of dramas from Walter Presents… discovered on All 4.

Les Beaux Mecs (Tony’s Revenge) (France, 2011)

I’ve read many times that one good thing about watching non British and non American drama is that the actors faces are unfamiliar and so their characters are more believable. While I don’t think I enjoy “foreign language” shows especially for this reason, it is probably true.

So, what do you know when I recognise the protagonist in Tony’s Revenge as the guy who played the politically aspirational Afghan crime lord, “Colonel” Amanulla in the brilliant Kaboul Kitchen. The actor is Simon Abkarian.

In Tony’s Revenge, he plays convicted mobster, Antoine “Mad Tony” Roucas, who makes an impromptu prison break with his cellmate, an uppity street gang delinquent named Kenz. His motivation for this is his sudden belief that his one time friend, Guido, who he thought murdered, is actually alive and well.

The drama follows Tony’s quest for the truth and to settle old scores, relying heavily on Kenz for support. Intertwined with this is the back story of Tony’s early life, his introduction to organised crime and why he has to settle those old scores.

It’s typically french in the way it balances nimbly between serious and comedic, the comedy mostly provided by the interplay between Kenz’s street attitude cool and Tony’s old school, cold cool attitude to gangsterism.

It has its moments and is entertaining on the whole.

Les Beaux Mecs IMDb


Crow’s Blood (Japan, 2016)

As I pick these shows purely at random, counting off the list with a random number generator, it’s a lottery which one comes up. I was quite pleased to find a Japanese thriller.

As Walter himself describes it, this is a drama filmed almost as a real life manga, with horror story tropes used to great effect. It’s somewhat Sci-fi too.

It’s set in a girls’ school when a new student arrives whose personality is peculiar and a bit sinister. She is the only daughter of a doctor who, for ethical reasons, was prominently against stem cell research until the daughter was involved in a life threatening road accident. Turning to his adversaries in stem cell research, they develop a means to save the daughter but the process has unforeseen consequences. Cue the horror-thriller events.

I’m not usually impressed by horror-thrillers but this is pretty good though in danger of getting ridiculously OTT at the end.

Crow’s Blood IMDb


Professor T. (Belgium, 2015)

Another drama from Belgium in Dutch (mostly), with a smattering of French, and the occasional English phrase oddly echoed in the subtitles. I was disheartened to find it stretched over three seasons and steeled myself to go only as far as the first, but I was wrong. It didn’t turn out to be a flog-it-to-death concept at all. Each series brought in something new to the drama.

Essentially, it’s a crime drama focussing on a team of police detectives solving homicides. During one case, they enlist the help of academic criminologist, Professor Jasper Teerlinck, a renowned genius in the field but one who also suffers acute OCD and doesn’t suffer fools at all gladly nor tactfully. He solves the case with Holmesian expediency and is soon employed by the force as an official criminologist and criminal profiler.

Not much special in this, it may even seem to borrow from other police dramas, but the Professor’s OCD and the cause of it are played out dramatically as surreal illusions which recall similarities to Dennis Potter dramas – The Singing Detective etc.

There is, I think, a precise blend of seriousness and comedy which works exceptionally well. It’s entertaining and the characters are engaging. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Professor T as well as actor, Koen de Bouw, his measured facial expressions and delivery are perfect to a T.

Professor T. IMDb

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

The World, AI and Memory (and a bit of telly)

An interesting piece on AI from Learn Fun Facts, a blog I follow.

Should we worry about the doomsday scenario of AI and robots taking over the world? Maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe they’ll be welcome to it, once the devastating effects of climate change are realised.

My binging of the Walter Presents… archives of World telly drama from the All 4 app, continues. I’ll list a short appraisal below but the most recent drama was the brilliant Tabula Rasa from Belgium, though spoken in Dutch. It’s a nine one hour episode series, complete with no sequel – the kind I like. It has a clever plot with several twists along the way, and one big one midway which I doubt many viewers would predict. The opening titles are very stylish too, you sense you’re about to see something worthwhile.

Tabula Rasa is latin and translates as Blank Slate. In this drama, this is a metaphor for memory. Our protagonist suffers from amnesia following a traumatic experience. This means she fails to remember anything after the trauma very quickly and relies on keeping a notebook in lieu of a normal working memory. (This is similar to the guy in the film, Memento, who wrote notes on his body.) Whenever she needed to verify something, a person’s identity, for instance, she would rush through the pages of her book trying to find the relevant note or drawing.

This is, more or less, how AI data retrieval works, isn’t it? I mean, it’s more refined and therefore extremely efficient, but nevertheless the same. I don’t think anyone yet knows precisely how the human memory works – or doesn’t work, sometimes – how all that data is squirrelled away within the grey stuff. And it’s very energy efficient.

Imagine having to rely entirely on note taking for memory. Or, say, keeping a blog. In time, it would become enormous, and probably unusable. Long before then, you’d probably be chucked off WP for using up your storage allocation; you’d have to start paying and, in no time, bankrupt yourself.

What a marvellous instrument the old brain is. I ought to look after it.


A quick summary update of my Walter Presents.. viewing, most recently watched first,

Tabula Rasa (Belgium, 2017)

A woman suffering short term amnesia is a suspect in a missing person’s case, and probable murder. She is committed to a clinic where, with the aid of a notebook, she struggles to make sense of the situation and events from her recent past. A stylish and clever psychological thriller utilising several horror story tropes.

Blue Eyes (Sweden, 2014)

A political drama about the rise of right wing factions, both legitimate and terrorist. It’s general election time and the plot centres on two women, one a newly appointed civil servant finding herself in the middle of ongoing political corruption and the strange disappearance of her predecessor, the other a single mum who, wanting to avenge the murder of her activist mother, joins a new extreme right wing group. A good thriller.

The Mind of a Murderer (Germany, 2017)

Following the death of his family, a police detective returns to work as a new head of a city crime unit. His methods are unconventional and puts him at odds with his subordinates who themselves have personal issues which affect their work. The quirkiness of the chief character just about raises this drama above average.

Kabul Kitchen (France, 2014)

A not too outlandish comedy about an ex-international journalist, Jacques “Jackie” Roberts, who quits journalism to make money running a western style restaurant and bar in Kabul, during relative peacetime. His estranged daughter turns up unexpectedly as an NGO, and the local criminal boss decides to be his friend and equal business partner, but his problems don’t end there. A very entertaining double series carried admirably by the lead actor.

Norskov (Denmark, 2015)

A policeman returns to his economically impoverished hometown, recruited to clean up its high drug related crime. There, he reunites with two old friends, one serving as the town’s mayor and the other runs his own building contractor company. A brooding Scandi drama, slow at times, maybe, but deep enough.

Spin (France, 2012)

Les hommes de l’ombre, (the shadow men), the original French title is better. Three series of this political drama centred on the work of a spin doctor, his adversary and one time partner in business, and the assorted politicians he mixes with. Not much politics seems to happen oddly, it’s mostly about politicians climbing, and sliding down, their greasy poles. Nevertheless, good plots and well acted performances.

Tainted (Brazil, 2014)

A disgraced police officer finds work as a bounty hunter, working for an ex-colleague’s sideline business. Meanwhile, he attempts to find the evidence to clear his name and get back to living a legitimate life. So-so, macho cop kind of thing.

The Cleaning Lady (Argentina, 2017)

Conscientiously efficient professional cleaner, Rosa, is contracted to clean up an assassination scene by the local mafia. She does such a good job eliminating all the evidence, she inadvertently becomes the mob’s go to cleaner of choice, thwarting the efforts of the two detectives investigating their crimes. I thought this was going to be a comedy, but no, it’s completely straight. I quite enjoyed it too.


My other Walter Presents reviews can be read here.

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.


Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.


Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

Portrait of the artist as a boy

Thinking about expression and expressive arts.

All art can be expressive but I could think of only three which fundamentally require external evaluation; singing, poetry and cooking. Others can be done in secret, away from the public eye, simply for one’s own enjoyment. Fun is 97% of the reason for doing it, bearing in mind I haven’t had the need to make a living by doing it, being an amateur, by definition doing it for love and just that.

It has to be said, I have no ambition for my creativity.

“What are you trying to achieve?”, asked a tutor. Though specifically about one piece of work, it made me think about all of it.

“To enjoy myself”, I would reply now.

What do we remember of creativity when we were kids? We worked freely, expressively, without much self-consciousness. Or ambition. Was it us who asked the teacher to pin our piece up on the wall, or ask our folks to put it on the fridge door? I don’t remember that at all. We worked, it was fun, and when it was done, it was done. Success or failure, if we considered those, they were just passing moments; irrelevant to the great plan. Though I doubt there was ever a great plan.

Growing up, we are told there is external value to all that we do. Often that the achievement must be monetary. I have been told I ought to frame some of my pictures, exhibit them and offer them for sale. But that work is extra work and it is not art work, so I haven’t much enthusiasm for it; no love at all.

I am an amateur. From the Latin, amator, meaning lover, and amare, meaning to love. When you look up the word amateur now, it means unpaid, unprofessional or ineptly done. It’s as if the world doesn’t appreciate love as motivation now, only money.

You want me to buy what?

First impressions are lasting impressions.

I’m sure you’ve read or heard that before. It comes to mind now that we are “house-hunting”, a process which involves scrolling through a lot of images of house frontages online, and making appointments to view the ones which don’t look like they were owned by the first two little pigs in the three little pigs rhyme.

What’s annoying about these photos is the agents use of wide angle lenses. So what appears to be an attractive property set back from the road with a large front garden turns out in reality to be practically sitting on the street all but for a narrow strip of grass. The internals are as bad, a room turns out to be a cupboard and the bowling alley long living room is actually only a couple of feet more than your sofa.

The thing is, you head over with high hopes and the first impression – the reality – hits you between the eyes like a wet turbot. Sometimes you don’t even bother to go inside.


So, watching a bit more telly than I had done for many years, albeit “on-demand” and on a tablet, I have been reacquainted with our British adverts.

I remember when adverts could be quite clever, and entertaining. Sometimes it was said, given the state of our telly, the ads were better than the programmes. Of course, memory plays tricks and I don’t know if I’m just cherry-picking the best of them over a very long period and condensing it into a narrower time frame. I don’t suppose there ever has been a golden age of advertising any more than a golden age of telly.

I’ve noticed that the on-demand channel only shows around a dozen different ads, the same ones regardless of what show they appear in. About half are unmemorable which, I guess, is a fail in advertising circles. The rest could be divided into two groups: those that make sense and those that don’t. I have to confess here that I’m no expert in advertising; I just think about these things. And I thought it might be interesting to discuss these odd little things we watch in the UK. Clicking on the images should take you to the relevant ad via Youtube. Do come back though!

Car Insurance

Now I will say this is a mildly amusing skit and it potentially gives us a couple of likely catchphrases, like the way he says “Poncho” in that exasperated manner. But what is actually happening here?

I’ve had a fair number of insurance claims in my time and not once have I been required to sit in an interview room, giving a statement to a skeptical insurance assessor. Wouldn’t this impression put you off choosing the company in the first place?

And then it turns out he didn’t hit anything, and he had a dashboard cam anyway – why didn’t he simply email the footage over to them, to crack a smile on their grim little faces? Unless it’s footage from a different incident. But, as the ad states, what are the chances of that? No, this ad is looking so phoney, I wouldn’t trust them a bit. Install a dash cam but go somewhere else.

High Street Banking

Got something unique or interesting to sell us? No. What’s the point, then? Anyway, it’s just a minute’s worth of horses stampeding across a beach. Would anyone really get out of bed for that? Maybe just draw the curtain aside for a peek. Oh, some stable’s escaped horses, is it? Fancy that. Get back into bed.

Yes, nothing to see and the overall impression is why? It’s not like it’s targeting anyone just old enough to be considering opening a bank account. It’s more like Black Beauty being reimagined by a group-think more used to advertising drawdown pensions and retirement homes. First impression, folks.

Latest Cell Phone

My initial thought here is that Kevin Bacon has it in his contract that there must always be an egg in view. Egg and Bacon, see? I have noticed this most times he’s on though it is quite a subtle pairing.

Bacon is advertising one of our biggest phone service providers, it just so happens they’re offering the latest phone at this time, made by one of the top manufacturers. Big spondulicks, then. Actually, this looks okay. It’s simple, entertaining, amusing and I can’t see it presented too many difficulties filming – ordinary setting, no children, no animals, no effects – and it’s clear what the deal is. It actually makes sense from beginning to end. So, not bad.


But that’s just me. Any contrary views gratefully considered, simply comment below.

World Wide Watchables

I don’t know how many of you can get the All 4 on-demand telly app but I’ve decided to post a little review on the brilliant Walter Presents collection hosted there. Foreign language TV has only relatively recently found a niche in British audiences. I’m not sure when this began exactly but the 20 episode Danish crime drama, Forbrydelsen (The Killing) had a strong following when it was aired on BBC TV, and other foreign language series seemed to follow on its heels.

But Channel 4 here in Britain seem to have taken the idea all the more seriously with Walter Presents, presented by Italian TV producer and film aficionado, Walter Iuzzolino. At the start of most series on offer, Walter gives an introduction to the show and reasons why he thinks it’s watchable; these introductions are, I think, watchable themselves; he’s certainly into style, cinematography and technique.

I’ve already posted about Deutschland ’83 (Germany) and Počivali U Miru (Croatia), espionage and investigative journalism dramas, respectively (links below). I have since watched two others, Clona (Czech Republic) – a police drama – and Hellfjord (Norway) – a police comedy – and I’m part way through a rather dark crime thriller from Brazil. Posts of these will follow in time.

For what it’s worth, as there are around 70-odd series available, I’ve been picking them at random simply by thinking of a number beforehand. So far this unbiased approach seems to work for me.


Deutschland ’83 Review

Počivali U Miru Review

Grist for the mill

My thoughts on selecting stories from the submissions grid for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers (posted previously) could also apply to my latest viewing entertainment on the All 4 catch-up app.

I don’t know how widely available the UK’s Channel 4 is but if you don’t have it, really tough luck. Their box sets of international dramas, featured as Walter Presents…, are a delight to this viewer who’s become jaded with the current state of telly, wanting something a bit more off-grid, so to speak.

After watching the brilliantly polished, German spy series, Deutschland ’83, (posted previously), I chose at random whatever was in grid box no. 37. This happened to be Počivali U Miru (Rest In Peace), a Croatian TV series about a young journalist sent to do a video story on a former prison which is about to be demolished. Whilst nosing around, she discovers a record of prisoners who died during their sentence and whose bodies went unclaimed so were buried unceremoniously in the prison cemetery.

Each episode concerns the story of one of these prisoners and the journalist’s investigation into how they died. She is aided by a retired warder of the prison, a man with his own secrets. There is also a thread which runs through all the stories, a higher conspiracy which obstructs her work and threatens her life.

It’s a slow burner this one but it definitely grew on me. The principal characters are very watchable and it has a gritty plausibility. Incidentally, there’s also a fair bit of smoking (you may be aware how smoking has all disappeared from British dramas now. They only have your welfare at heart, I know, but what about realism?)

Now I’ll need to pick another number and see what lies behind that box. There must be around fifty-odd series to choose from; it’s going to keep me engaged for some time. If you can get it, I recommend it.


Počivali U Miru – official trailer (Youtube)

Who doesn’t like Popeye can see me after class

Folks, it’s time for a little light visual entertainment, I think, and by way of my new follow, Hobo Moon Cartoons, this blog is proud to show Popeye the Sailor (featuring Betty Boop) in the first ever feature of Popeye.

Any who knows me, or wants to for that matter, will know this kind of thing is milk to my tea, and a biscuit to dunk with it. I’m not swayed so much by awesome visuals, just give me ingenious sight gags every time. And this toon is full to the brim with them. (I love the way the seaman lowers the gang plank before Olive Oyl arrives.)

And please check out Hobo Moon Cartoons, just two minutes from this theatre!


image: “Countdown #1” by Bladud Fleas

The GIF was made many years ago when I did a bit of photography and was given some photo editing software, gratis, which included a GIF maker (when GIFs were a new thing). I found these GIFs recently while sorting through an old memory stick.

Despite enjoying movies a lot, I have not set foot in a cinema for about two decades – I simply didn’t like the experience – and as technology has come an astonishingly long way in that time, I probably never need to ever go again. Now it occurs to me that also I haven’t kept up with how cinemas work today and the “hair in the gate” problem might be a complete obsolescence. No matter, consider it a lesson in cultural history.