Home: Bathroom Re-Paint #1

As mentioned in my previous post, the bathroom is horrible. So we decided to re-paint. I did it all today, and – due to the Artex element – it was a lot of hard work. Sunday, a day of rest? Not this time!

Valspar, Quiet Rain
Valspar, Quiet Rain

Bizarrely, although the swatch we went for didn’t appear, to us, that similar to the previous colour, it wound up coming out both darker, and equally intensely blue. Not what we wanted at all. So I’m going to have to re-paint again! I’ve even left the Frog tape in situ, an open admission that I’m not content to leave as is.

Oh well… ne’er mind! Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O’Hara says.

Bathroom quiet rain
Bathroom repainted in Quiet Rain.

One good thing that’s come out of it all, however, is that I’ve really reduced the degree of Artex texture. I haven’t gone for a completely flat surface, as I did elsewhere in the house. But rather than the stippled nipples that we had formerly, which are spiky enough to draw blood if you scrape against them, the surface is now merely irregular. Almost like some kind of animal/dinosaur hide!?

Valspar, Asian Silk
Valspar, Asian Silk

I have a sample pot of Asian Silk, pictured above. But we intend to repaint the kitchen in a very similar sagey green. So that’s poss too close. My current favourite is Feathers of a Dove, pictured below. It’s a lovely warm grey, with some green and beige in it.

Valspar, Feathers of a Dove
Valspar, Feathers of a Dove

I do also rather like Sculpting Clay. I have to admit I like both the colour and the name. Indeed, I like a lot of the name/colour combos in the current Valspar range. I even like going and getting the colours. I shop therefore I am. Homo Consumerus?

Valspar, Sculpting Clay
Valspar, Sculpting Clay

We had a bit of a panic on today, what with me going for the Artex removal as well as the painting, starting late last night and working through till gone six today. We were supposed to have an AirB&B guest arriving. And the whole house, but the bathroom especially, was a mess. Check in is 6pm, and we’d just about got everything ship shape in time. But he hasn’t shown up yet, and it’s 10pm now.

We’ve had last minute cancellations before. But this is looking like being our first outright no show.

Home/Workshop: Med-Cab Installation

I really wanted to get the medicine cabinet installed tonight, as well as the spice rack. But before installing it, I needed to add an internal shelf. This proved relatively straightforward. Although really I should’ve done this earlier on.

Med cab
Internal shelf installed.

I used the last of the Lark Song painting the new shelf (and it still needs a little more!), and then added the wall mounting fixtures, exactly as per the spice rack.

But before putting it on the wall, I wanted to remove the Artex texturing from the portion of the wall where I plan to install it. I found just enough Ex-Tex in the shed to daub a load over the required area… now I just have to wait an hour, for the stuff to take effect…

Med cab
Well, I got it up, at 11.30-ish.

Starting to remove Artex at 10.30pm is never a good idea. It’s a messy time consuming process. And I did no prep in terms of keeping the area clear and clean… oops! This has also brought home to me what a hideous state our bathroom is in all round. I don’t like anything about it!

We inherited what we have from the previous owner. And it’s one of the rooms to have received the least attention thus far, in terms of changing it to suit our own tastes. In fact this medicine cabinet is – aside from a replacement loo seat and some bathroom rugs – the very first thing in there that’s truly ours.

Med cab
And already fully laden.

Next I need to get some sample pots from B&Q, and tidy up the half-arsed Artex removal. I originally only intended to remove sufficient Artex to mount the cabinet. But I ended up using the entire remains of a pot of Ex-Tex. But that wasn’t much, and only covered about 50% of the textured wall surfaces. And of that I’ve only removed about 50% of the treated area.

Home/Workshop: Spice Rack

Spice rack
Finished and in situ.

This has turned out to be ‘one day project #2’; my first was my saw-rack. Now I’ve made this spice rack. They have a few features in common: both use dado recesses to join the members, and both use horizontal dowels to hold stuff in place.

Spice rack
Glue up.

I screwed up when drilling holes for the dowels, meaning I ended up with some extra holes to plug. But as mistakes and corrections go, this was a less onerous one.

Spice rack
Oops, more holes than intended.

Partly inspired by pure lack of fundage, and partly by guys like Neil Pask, with his Scrapwood Challenge series on YouTube, I try to just use stuff I have on hand.

But it seems nine times out of ten I find I’m lacking something essential. So I have to pop out and buy it. Today it was a suitable diameter dowel. I wound up getting some in 9mm, from West End DIY, for the exorbitant/niggardly sum of £1.75!

Spice rack
Plugged and sanded flush.

I’m just waiting for the glue to set up, or go off, or whatever it does, so I can trim the protruding ends of the dowels flush. Then I can give it a lick of paint. Lark Song will be the colour, as with the med-cab.

Spice rack
Glued over night, ‘n’ screwed this morn’, 2nd coat of Lark Song.

Whilst painting the first coat, the top and bottom fell off. Looks like I didn’t leave the glue for long enough! I finished the base coat, re-glued, and have left it overnight. So hopefully it’s more solid now?

I think, to be on the safe side, I’d better add something – screws or dowels – to strengthen these particular joints. And I suppose all this means this is now no longer, strictly speaking, a one-day project.

Spice rack
Finished, but not yet mounted.

And finally, in a minor follow up to my ‘I hate TV adverts’ post, a little something on that theme. Here we have, rather like the pics on the restaurant menu in Brazil, and the coloured dollops of crud that are actually served up, a nice little juxtaposition of the box art depiction of Weetabix Crispy Minis and the reality:

Ad bull'
Cf. box art to reality…

Allegedly they’re ‘crammed’ with chocolate chips. Rubbish! I can neither see nor taste the supposed chocolate content. Ok, so this isn’t quite on the level of the stupid mind-manipulation of most of the ads I was on about in my previous post. But it’s just as cynical.

Home/Workshop: Medicine Cabinet

In order to ease congestion in the kitchen and bathroom, I have a number of small projects in mind. One is a spice rack, another a small movable book case (for our cookery books), and a third is a medicine cabinet.

Homer's rack
Homer Simpson’s spice rack.

I started work on the last of these today. I’m trying to use only wood I have on hand, after having to fork out £8.25 on a piece of plywood for the roof of the firewood storage unit.  That was supposed to be made only using stuff I had already. But in the end I simply didn’t have anything suitable for that job.

Med cab
Basic box and back assembled, and undercoated.

It may be that I have to do the same for the door of this cabinet. Or perhaps I might glue some boards together? If I go the latter route, it’ll mean quite a lot of work prepping and gluing the lumber, which’ll prob’ be derived from my stock of pine floorboards.

The main box is made from 12mm ply, with hand-sawn box joints, and a table-saw cut dado for the back. The back is recycled from the rear panels of our now destroyed Ikea Malm chest o’drawers, which was painted grey on one side. I’ve kept that colour as part of my design, and tacked the back on with panel pins.

Med cab
My rushed and scrappy box-joints.

The finger joints were rather rushed, as I was working outside, in the fading light. There’s simply not enough room in the shed! Consequently they aren’t terrifically precise or neat. I used some ‘Brummer’ to fill a few gaps, and undercoated the box in Valspar ‘Elk Antler’.

Med cab
A better viewing angle?

The box was fairly severely out of square. Cutting and gluing the back-board was hard work. Cutting it to size took several passes, gradually shaving more off. But it was getting the box itself a bit better aligned, or in square, that was hardest. Thankfully the back panel helps improve the shape a bit.

Med cab
Chiselled out a recess for the catch.

All the above was done yesterday. Today I wound up having to buy some ply for the door; cost, £1.80! And whilst doing so, at West End DIY, I bought the fixings. These comprise two hinges and a catch. Cutting a recess for the main part of the catch was fun. I like chiselling out little areas like this, with a good sharp chisel.

Med cab
Screws supplied with catch are too long!

Due to choosing 9mm ply for the door, the screws that came with the catch wound up being a mite too long. I rummaged around and finally found some much smaller, shorter screws which were a suitable colour/style match. Sadly they’re the flat-head screwdriver type, as opposed to my preferred philips.

Med cab
Found some dinkier screws.

One thing I found amongst my hoarded junk/treasures, which’ll come in handy on this job, was a bag o’ wooden handles. I intend to paint the box a beige/buff type colour, and then stencil a big white circle and red cross on it, so it looks a bit ‘army surplus’.

Med cab
Knob attached.

The door knob came from a bag of about 20 or more. One of my many very useful Freecycle acquisitions. I busked the fitting of the hardware, and mercifully it came out ok. I plan to add an internal shelf at some point soon.

Med cab
Inside view of door fixings.

Once assembled, I painted it all in a coat of Lark Song, another poetically named Valspar sampler pot! This is the second coat for the main box. But only the first for the door. I’ll let it dry, and then paint the inside as well.

Med cab
A coat of paint on the whole exterior.

In the pic below, as well as the medicine cabinet, you can see sheets of plywood for the spice rack, a broken nursing chair I need to fix, and the writing box I got from the local dump, also in need of restoration!

Med cab
View of the lounge. Several projects to be seen!

I reckon I’ll start, and maybe even finish, the spice rack tomorrow. And I’ll hopefully also paint the white roundel and red cross on’t medicine chest, n’all.

It’s tomorrow now. Here are two pics of the current state of the medicine cabinet. Nearly finished! And I’m happy with it.

Med cab
Painted, Frog tape removed.
Med cab
In plain view.

Now to crack on wi’t spice rack…

FiLM REViEW: Gone With The Wind, 1939

Gone With The Wind
Gone With The Wind, original poster

Wow! What an amazing film. It really is epic. And, rather amazingly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire film before. Sure, I’ve seen parts. It’d be difficult not to have been exposed to at least some snippets of a film that’s so legendary and celebrated.

Gone With The Wind
The venerable lobby cards.

When you include the musical segments – overture, interlude, etc. – The whole thing is the best part of four hours long. Personally I think that’s part of what makes it a great film. Perhaps like an American celluloid version of Tolstoy’s War And Peace, it takes the time it requires, not to mention the space and the scale, to tell a big story in a big way.

Gone With The Wind
It’s curtains for Scarlett.

There is a kind of deep irony embedded in the heart of the film. At least as far as I’m concerned. And that’s to do with the juxtaposition of the truly huge stories, to do with the slave-dependant way of life that has ‘gone with the wind’, and the romance. Both are universally interesting aspects of the human story, and both are about social conventions and power structures. Consequently both have a nigh on universal appeal to the viewer.

Gone With The Wind
Mammy laces Scarlett up.

But the romantic aspect is the more easy to sugar-coat and sell, whilst the slavery/racism side is harder to digest. And the irony I mentioned can be highlighted by the fact that Hattie McDaniel was the first Afro-American actor to receive an Oscar, for her role as Mammy, but she couldn’t attend the première of the film, because … it was held in a segregated cinema. Unbelievable!!

Gone With The Wind
Loew’s Grand, the première.

Leaving this shocking aspect of the films history for now, and turning to its aesthetic appeal, the mixture of romance, grandeur, and lush technicolor, make for a winning combo. It’s clear that no expense was spared. There are numerous scenes that really are breathtaking. From the beautiful, such as the views of Tara at sunset, to the awful, like the Confederate open-air hospital, shown below.

Gone With The Wind
Epic stuff.

Viewed from our contemporary position, some of this remains very effective, whilst other moments are clearly staged. There are numerous scenes in which action occurs against or in what is quite obviously a painted backdrop. The feats of this pre-CGI production remain, however – even in those obviously stagey/fake moments – extremely impressive.

Gone With The Wind
Gone With The Wind

Apparently the film was delayed for numerous reasons, including Selznick’s obsessive desire to get the right people in certain key roles. Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler are the two key players, of course, and Selznick certainly struck gold with them. They both look the part, and they both play their roles with complete conviction.

Gone With The Wind
Beauty and the beast.

Indeed, in this make-up test production photo, Leigh even looks like a convict.

Gone With The Wind
An interesting production photo.

But many of the supporting roles are played with just as much verve, such as Olivia De Haviland as Melanie Hamilton, and Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes. Melanie and Ashley are the yin to Scarlett and Rhett’s yang, and in this respect the film is almost operatic in style. Perhaps another reason for the films great success is that it’s almost fairy-tale like in its reliance on archetypes?

Gone With The Wind
Ding dong! A pair of beautiful Southern belles. [1]
The first part of the movie follows the various characters as war approaches, and is fought, and, for our Southern folks, lost. Here the weather that rages is in the events of the nation, as much as the individuals. But in the second half the highs and lows, pretty much bi-polar in extremis, are more tightly focussed on the individuals, and Scarlett and Rhett in particular.

Several of the key events of the second half loom with the predictability of classic tragedy: they are seemingly inevitable, and yet lose none of their dramatic or emotional impact. This was the period known to the South as Reconstruction. Although that hardly seems appropriate to the relationship of the two key players here!

I found the film very involving and very moving.

Gone With The Wind
A very moving scene. I wept!

Based on a Margaret Mitchell novel I’ve never read, some of the ideas at the core of the film, and presumably the book as well, are a bit hokey to say the least. Or, worse yet, sentimental and hypocritical, with the Old South portrayed as a land of genteel manners and friendly relations with the slaves. But despite these moral and cultural caveats, Gone With The Wind remains, essentially, a very humane story

Gone With The Wind
The novel.

It could be deemed trivial or banal, in that it places the romantic misadventures of a vain coquettish Southern Belle over and above the much tougher subject of slavery/emancipation, etc. But just as human power relations between the ‘races’ [2] are an evergreen subject of interest, so to are male female relations. And this no doubt, alongside the lavish production, helps explain the films enduring appeal.

Gone With The Wind
Tomorrow is another day…

We spread our viewing out over two evenings, our intermission being more or less 24 hours. When the end finally came, it really had been an awesome rollercoaster of a ride. And it didn’t feel too long at all. Indeed, in some ways the ending cries out for more.


[1] This photo is terrific in that it captures, solely in facial expressions, the open candid innocence, or the what you see is what you get nature of Melanie, and juxtaposes it with skittishly moody and ever changing mirage of Scarlett’s countenance.

[2] Some current science writers argue that race, as commonly understand in human terms, is a false category, and therefore – ironically (and logically paradoxically) – inherently racist.



BOOK REViEW: Betjeman’s Best British Churches

NB: This is another archival post, albeit slightly modified for inclusion here. I’m an Amazon Vine reviewer, and was sent this book several years ago. I’m winding down one of my other older blogs, and gradually transferring content from there over here.

Betjeman's best British churches

Teresa and I like visiting ye olde churches on our travels. They are usually peaceful places, and sometimes quite beautiful. This is my thoughts on a great guide, written by poet and church-freak John Betjeman, which I was fortunate enough to be given a free/review copy of.

Betjeman’s original book* covered twice as many churches (approximately 5,000). Unlike the first edition, this newer shiny hardback coffee-table version is lavishly illustrated, and as a result cuts the number of churches covered in half, at roughly 2,500… still plenty!

Comberton Baptist
Comberton Baptist church, Cambs. [1]
First I’d like to point out before going any further that I’m not Christian. I am, using A. C. Grayling’s pithy phrase, a naturalist and free-thinker. Nonetheless I, like this country and our culture, am steeped in the ever-evolving Christian tradition. I was brought up Christian, and went to several churches (none of which were deemed interesting or beautiful enough for inclusion here!). And the legacy on our landscape, and in our lives, from our language to the sights and sounds we deem typically English, are all bound up with the history of Christianity, or rather, as Kenneth Clarke presciently clarifies in Civilisation, The Church.

And even if we were to disregard all of this cultural heritage mallarkey, some churches are just very beautiful. Okay, maybe not the one pictured above! More on that in the accompanying footnote, below. Certainly I’ve often enjoyed stopping at a random church and wondering around inside, connecting in my own quiet, personal and meditative way, with all that life and history. So, when offered this on Vine, it was a must have.

Betjeman visits a church in Diss, Norfolk.

I confess I know precious little about Betjeman outside this book, except that he was a poet – indeed Poet Laureate for a while – appeared on the BBC a lot years ago, and is known for rhapsodising about trains. When reading his introductory essay I was struck by how he chooses to spell the word ‘show’ using the rather archaic British variant ‘shew’. Fittingly eccentric and antiquarian, but perhaps also mildly irritating. Why? Well, I feel, and indeed my brain is wired, through learning commonplace English, to think that it should be pronounced to rhyme with shrew, stew, brew, or even, for that matter pew.

In light of this I was not initially sure I could go with the TLS quote on the cover, which effusively describes Betjeman’s introductory essay as ‘pure gold’. In fact at first I found it rather crabbily and fustily conservative – rather like some of the church wardens you may bump into when visiting churches using this book – if very erudite and occasionally quite funny, as for example: “If the path leading… wealthy unbelievers … key from there.” (p23) Well, that’s certainly priceless, but not necessarily because it’s ‘pure gold’!

A DVD reissue of Betjeman’s BBC TV series, A Passion For Churches.

As well as making some very prescient remarks he also says a few things which, to my mind at least, are a little odd, such as “It must be admitted that spirituality and aesthetics rarely go together.” I guess this depends on you how you define spirituality, a nebulous term at the best of times. But many admirers of culture, including eminent scholars of religion, for example Diarmid MCulloch, stress the great contribution religion makes to our aesthetic culture.

Quite apart from our own largely Christian heritage, which has plenty in it that’s clearly paganism absorbed and transformed, one need only think of the incredible non-figurative arts of Islam, the rich iconography of Buddhist mandalas, or the great traditions of religious music, to wonder if perhaps Betjeman has made a mistake with this particular pronouncement.

Bavarian church
From the pilgrimage churches of Bavaria…
Mosque door
to Islamic art and architecture…
Tibetan Mandala
and Tibetan Mandalas… ‘spirituality and aesthetics rarely go together’?

In the context where he makes this rather bizarre sounding statement, it does actually make sense; lamenting the more recent restorations and additions to a church that are, by and large “practical and unattractive” (ugly modern heating, and P.A. equipment, and the like), he begs that we remember “however much we deplore it … [these ugly things] have been saved up for by some devout and penurious communicant.” Whilst this sonorous phrasing has an appeal, its rendering of the ‘spiritual’ is open to debate. And much of this passage reads like unadulterated Puritanism of a very dull dour sort. Despite England’s break with Rome, I don’t think Christianity, or humanity for that matter, was suddenly and totally bereft of aesthetic awareness. [2]

Indeed, that’s more than half the attraction of this book: these churches are not only frequently very interesting, but also often, in part or in whole, quite beautiful. It is true, there are some horribly oppressive Christian buildings across these islands, and even some of the churches we’ve visited using this book belong in that category, but fortunately they’re in a minority. However, when he follows his line of thought to the conclusion that “Conservatism is innate in ecclesiastical arrangement” I can’t disagree. But perhaps this observation helps define the difference between religion and spirituality?

Crypt, St. Wystan's, Repton
The Crypt of St. Wystan’s, Repton (Derbyshire).

In addition to a general review, I feel I have to mention at least one church we visited thanks to this book. And there’s really no contest for me as to which that should be. It’s St Wystan’s, Repton, on account of the fantastic subterranean crypt (pictured above).

Returning to the book: “Who has heard a muffled peal and remained unmoved?” Well, ironically part of the appeal of hearing church bells, at least to folk like me, nowadays, is the comparative rarity with which you hear the sound. In the times where I’ve lived close by a regular ringers’ church they have sometimes grown annoying. And what has annoyed me is not that “they are reminders of Eternity”, but that I’m being reminded of a belief which I don’t share, a belief whose omnipresence and omnipotence is, thankfully, receding.

One little technical criticism is that the photos which illustrate points being made in the introductory text give only the village/town name, and then the church name, but not the county. This could very easily been included, and would have been very useful in determining if the church shown is within easy reach. So, for example ‘EAST SHEFFORD: ST THOMAS’, which happens to be on the page I was on when this shortcoming struck me, could so very easily have been ‘EAST SHEFFORD: ST THOMAS (Berkshire)’.

St. Wendreda's, March
St. Wendreda’s, March (Cambridgeshire).
St. Wendreda's, March
Interior, St. Wendreda’s.

One final note, and an addendum to my original review; Teresa and I moved to the town of March a couple of years back. And St Wendreda’s, March, is one of the churches Betjeman really effuses over, saying it’s worth cycling 50 miles into strong headwinds to visit! I’m not sure I’d go that far. But it does have a pretty splendid roof, with carved wooden angels (see accompanying pics).

St. Wendreda's, March
The angel roof, St. Wendreda’s.

A big heavy book, this is more coffee-table campaign planner than handy guide to tote on your travels. Attractive, informative and fascinating, if you find British churches – and it is very much parish churches, Betjeman doesn’t cover cathedrals – interesting or beautiful, or even occasionally both, then this is well worth having.

* Or possibly books? This might in fact be anthologised from a number of church books by Betjeman.

[1] One of several churches we attended during my childhood. Unsurprisingly it’s not mentioned in Betjeman’s book!

[2] This is what Eamon Duffy is alluding to in the title of his book The Stripping Of The Altars. But that’s another whole topic, for exploration some other time and place.

Home/Workshop: Firewood Storage

Today, Saturday, I built a firewood storage unit out of old pallet wood. It’s another of my ‘jazz’ woodworking projects, in that I just winged it, without making any plans.

Firewood storage
Applying ‘Creo-Cote’ to the underside.

Making it up as you go along can be fun. Of course, you run the risk of screwing up more. And I did make one or two mistakes. But all things considered, I’m pleased with how it’s come out.

Firewood storage
Waiting for ‘Creo-Cote’ to dry before adding the roof.

I had hoped to finish it in one day. But it’s late Saturday evening, and I haven’t done the ‘roof’. In fact I can’t, as I don’t have the necessary timber. I think I’ll pop out early Sunday morning and buy it, if I can. I might try and get the ‘lid’ on it before my mum and her husband arrive, for lunch.

Firewood storage
Finished and in situ.

Sunday now, and as can be seen, it’s done. Super basic! I watched a few YouTubers making some far more fancy stuff. That was fun. But I decided I hadn’t got the time or the resources to do anything snazzy. Hopefully this’ll prove fit for purpose?

Paella #4, on the hob.

Another paella…

Sunday afternoon mum and Malcolm came over for lunch. We walked along the river bank, round the park, and then back. ‘Twas a gorgeous sunny day. Then Teresa showed them around whilst I cooked.

Mum and Malcolm
Mum and Malcolm, round for lunch.

I got mum to take a snap of Teresa and me, partly ’cause we’re rarely photographed together, and partly on account of our similar woolly apparel! Mum said she liked my ‘new look’, avec ‘tache and Fairisle sweater. Most gratifying!

Me & Teresa
Me and Teresa, in the dining room.

FiLM REViEW: Radio On, 1979

Radio On

I heard about this film via a program on BBC R4, several years ago: a British black and white road movie, with an allegedly cool soundtrack, and involvement from Wim Wenders and associates. Sounded good to me.

Okay, some of Wenders’ own films have proven to be either too dull or too bleak (or both, like The Wrong Move), but Paris Texas is a masterpiece, and I remember really enjoying Kings Of The Road. Radio On sounded like a home-grown version of the latter, so I figured it was worth a punt. Hearing that Sting had a cameo role – and this was back in’79, the year of The Police’s second album (and first full-on classic), Regatta De Blanc – only added to the film’s allure.

Radio On
Sting plays a music-loving petrol station attendant.

Now in young-ish middle age, I find that whilst my own taste for art-house cinema is only a little diminished, very few other people I know seem to have any stomach for it. I don’t mind watching films on my own, and used to love doing so. But nowadays I prefer to watch in company. Consequently this DVD languished, unwatched, for a couple of years.

I finally persuaded my wife that we should watch it the other day: give art-house cinema a chance, I pleaded. The argument against essentially boiled down to the likelihood it’d be depressing, boring, or perhaps even both. And with a sad predictability, despite this being in some respects a highly unusual film, it was.

Radio On
Reaching for Kraftwerk, on cassette.

Regarding the oft-vaunted music: I love a lot of different music. You could say I have something of a ‘Jones’ for it, being a musician, music teacher and occasional music journalist myself. But I have to confess that, by and large, Petit’s taste in music, more than simply leaving me cold, grates. But his choices certainly fit the alienated and depressed ambience of the ‘electric world’ alluded to in a rather self-conscious and pretentious sounding note we see pinned to the wall at the films commencement.

Radio On
The note…

The opening shot kind of sets up the movie: slow and depressing. Slow moving downbeat films are often fine with me. But here it simply doesn’t work. A naked body is glanced in a bath as a camera moves round a dimly lit flat: my immediate thought, in this particular type of filmic context was, ‘uh-oh, suicide’. And sure enough… well, I won’t go into any ‘plot’ spoilers.

Radio On
The best thing about the film is how it captures a certain era.
Radio On
On The Road, UK style.
Radio On
Bleakly hypnotic.
Radio On
The romantic aesthetic of urban decay; Britain’s homegrown answer to Wenders/Jarmusch?
Radio On
In places superbly shot.
Radio On
Stills from the movie make it look fantastic.*

Leaving aside the cheery themes of suicide and alienation, there are some redeeming elements to the film, such as the photography of late ’70s Britain. Petit’s vision of Britain at this point in time is both bleakly depressing, but also at times quite beautiful (Wenders and even more so Jim Jarmusch are masters of urban decay as aesthetic pleasure).

Radio On
There’s some really great camera work.

There are also some enjoyable ‘character’ moments: Sting, and the snotty little streetwise kid by the hotdog stand, were both strangely endearing, the former wonderfully charismatic as a music-obsessed garage attendant, and the latter both sad and hilarious, a poignant reminder of the tragedy of youthful hipness. But the leaden taciturnity that predominates throughout most of this film is pretty oppressive.

One final thing: were the German language sections of the dialogue left un-subtitled to enhance the films sense of alienation? Or is it just an oversight type of omission? On my DVD there were only two subtitle options, hard of hearing and German. The German subtitles appear to be subtitles for German viewers (this was a joint British/German production), with captions for both the English and German language elements. The hard of hearing English subtitles simply put up text in the same language that’s being spoken, meaning a non-German speaker is still left guessing re the German language parts. There is also no chapter selection option in the menu, which is, in my experience, as unusual as it is unhelpful.

Radio On

This could have been a great film, but it simply doesn’t have, for me at any rate, that certain something. In relation to mainstream cinema it certainly has the potential to interest, simply because it’s so different. But in the context of alternative film it’s quite disappointingly predictable, albeit that that’s meant more so in ‘vibe’ terms than plot-wise. But as other reviewers note, the plot, grim and thin as it is, seems subservient to mood. Also, as one gets older, it appears to me to be a trend that the charm of such mawkish art-house fare loses its shine.

Stranger Than Paradise
Stranger Than Paradise, 1984
Down By Law
Down By Law, 1986

Why can’t we have more black and white road movies that charm and uplift, like some of Jim Jarmusch’s early films? Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law would be perfect examples, being oddball and art-house, but also beautiful, funny and uplifting. Certainly that’s how Wenders’ Kings Of The Road struck me when I saw it. Mind you, I was around 18 then, and as long ago as that was, I do remember a potential suicide bid being part of the story. Perhaps I should watch it again and see how it stands up now?

Radio On, however, was a major disappointment. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t.

* In this Radio On has something in Common with Abel Gance’s 1927 Napoléon; both yield up plentiful fantastically beautiful stills, but – for me at any rate – are nigh on unwatchable as films.

MEDiA: Remembrance Sunday, & They Shall Not Grow Old

Sandham Memorial Chapel
Sandham Memorial Chapel, left.
Sandham Memorial Chapel.
Sandham Memorial Chapel, centre.
Sandham Memorial Chapel
Sandham Memorial Chapel, right.

Teresa cued up an old Omnibus BBC programme on Stanley Spencer she’d found  on YouTube this morning. We both love his work, and have plans to visit his Sandham Memorial Chapel – the artist’s very personal commemoration of events of WWI, in which he served – as soon as can be arranged. It was an excellent programme, presented by Kirsty Wark, with David Bowie narrating!

March War Memorial
March War Memorial

Some time later this morning I went out to Sainsburys, probably around 10.30/11-ish. I wondered why there were so many people out and about. Then the preponderance of poppies, an unusual abundance of Boy Scouts, and noticeable numbers of older gentlemen with Service related items of apparel, all these things made me recall, belatedly… It’s Remembrance Day! And not any old Remembrance Day, but the centenary of the end of WWI.

Scouting for boys
It reflects sadly on our times that this title sounds like a manual for paedos.

On my short walk home from the supermarket I had an interesting encounter: a Scout dropped his Seven-Up drinks cup – the sort with a plastic lid with a straw through the middle – and made as if to move off. But then he stopped, looked back, and, seeing me approaching, returned and picked it up. I thought to myself, good old Baden Powell. It still means something to be a Scout. It’s a reminder to behave well, or better.

As I overtook the kid in question, he said hello. The people of March are a decent friendly lot, by and large, especially the older generations. It was really nice to have such behaviour from a young kid. He asked me if I’d seen the Parade. I was embarrassed to admit I hadn’t. But I chatted amicably with him about it all nonetheless.

They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old
We’re gently lead into the film element.
Visions of a bucolic pre-war world, the old ways.

Much later in the day, I’m watching YouTube makers such as Pask Makes, and an ad plays – funny this, in light of my recent post about hating ads – that actually alerts me to something I am genuinely interested in: a colourised footage doc on WWI, by Peter Jackson. A quick Google at 9.25 pm reveals that the programme is due on BBC2 at 9.30.

Quickly make a hot chocolate, and get BBC iPlayer going on the iPad.

Usually I miss these things, finding out about them once they’ve been and gone. On this occasion I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to watch the programme as it aired. And it was/is good. Very, very good. Indeed, such excellence is a rare thing these days, and something to be savoured and treasured.

They Shall Not Grow Old
From group dynamics…
They Shall Not Grow Old
to the individuals involved.
They Shall Not Grow Old
Artillery in action.
They Shall Not Grow Old
New weapons, to end the war… tanks!
They Shall Not Grow Old
Arrival in the trenches.
They Shall Not Grow Old
The old and the new cavalry.

It certainly succeeded with me, in making me, if not much better informed (having watched and read a fair bit on WWI before), then at least much more interested and involved. My interests in history in general and military history in particular are Napoleonic, WWII, and ACW, in that order.

My pal Paul, due round for dinner and a movie tomorrow evening, is well into his WWI stuff, saying he finds it more interesting than WWII. I’ve never really felt that way. I do like how the uniforms and tech evolve from ye olde 19th Century style, all colourful uniforms and cavalry, etc, to the drab hues of khakis, buffs, beiges and greys, along with the quantum leaps forward signalled by the arrival of tanks and planes, and so on.

They Shall Not Grow Old
Leaving the trenches to fight, a backwards glance.
They Shall Not Grow Old
Humour in the mud and blood.
They Shall Not Grow Old
The stench of death hangs in a pall over everything.

This post is here as my own personal slant on my Remembrance Sunday. It’s something I once actively boycotted, in my then anti-war hippy-ish manner. But now I’m with all those, and they cover a wide range of views and feelings, who believe we really should remember these incredible times and events. For a more detailed response to Peter Jackson’s incredible film, take a look here, at the post about the film on my mini-military hobbies blog.

They Shall Not Grow Old
Convivial moments with vanquished adversaries.
They Shall Not Grow Old
When the end came, troops were exhausted and numbed, not elated.

I’ve seen these colourised things done before, and usually not really liked them. This, however, is done so extremely well, it really does bring these century old events across time, so that they feel nearer and closer. Superb!

MEDiA: Blogs/YouTube I’m Currently Enjoying

After the negativity of my previous post, I thought I ought to bring some love. So, here are a few links to and thoughts about some of the many YouTubers and/or Bloggers I’ve been enjoying of late.

My most recent discoveries are predominantly ‘makers’, as they’re known these days, and include these guys:

Uri Tuchman, an inventive German with excellent English, and a delightfully laconic way of going about things. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his videos. But perhaps my favourite is the engraved hammer, as shown above.

Only just discovered this guy, whose output goes under the name of Trustin Timber, literally today, via the above video. It was the mention of Roy Underhill (how cool is that Tolkienian surname!?), who’s an old-timer by comparison with Trustin Timber, and who I also only discovered very recently, that made me watch. He – TT, that is – has a short ‘intro’ video (here), where he explains his background/philosophy a little. And I dig it.

Going back a bit further into my discoveries, there’s this chap:

… a very groovy video, made by what appears to be a very groovy guy, calling himself the Homestead Craftsman. And then of course there’s Roy Underhill himself:

I’ve ordered a nice old edition of one of Mr Underhill’s classic books (Woodwright’s Shop: Exploring Traditional Woodcraft), as an Xmas gift from Teresa. He’s some kind of dude! Very witty, very stylish, and a goldmine of the ‘old ways’. A real inspiration. The above video is an interview with Mr Underhill (formerly of Bag End… or not) on another guy’s YouTube channel.

And then there’s Brit abroad, Neil Pask, who’s based in Australia:

The above is one of Pask’s many superb and inspiring videos, and happens to be amongst my favourite, in part perhaps because it’s one of the few projects by a YouTube ‘maker’ that I’ve attempted to do myself. Like Neil, I love dowels!

Shortly after discovering Pask Makes, I stumbled upon James Wright, another excellent and inspiring maker. As with Pask, I’ve even dared to try my hand at a project inspired by James, namely my recent saw-bench build. Indeed, I was making kindling for our fire-pit today, using the saw-bench. It works a real treat. I love these guys and the whole YouTube maker movement!

In the end, I think we can go all the way back to two Canadian dudes (poss both of Germanic descent?), Heisz and Wandel:

That’s John Heisz and Matthias Wandel. I love the above video, from one of John Heisz’s numerous YouTube channels. It’s not one of his many, many superb build videos, but rather one of his chattier ones. And I totally relate to it. The interweb is such a great development for folks of this sort, as it provides a wonderful virtual community that really does provide succour and inspiration for the stay-at-home introvert creative type.

Matthias Wandel is great as well. I’m not sure how we’d get on in the flesh, as he’s a spiky, geeky kind of chap, and you can see how this manifests in his chemistry with John Heisz, both of them being ornery independently minded type guys, capable of bordering on contrarian at times. But Wandel’s spot on in this video, explaining why slick TV or cinema style content isn’t as popular as the home-made indie stuff.

A clever, witty inventive chap, with all sorts of interesting output. I’d dearly like to build a pantorouter at some point. And even more so, one of his robust bandsaw designs.

As can be plainly seen, all the above are workshop kind of guys, making stuff. And I’ve been really getting into all of that over the last year or two. In part because my wife and I have bought our first home all of our own, and there’s lots that needs doing.

There are numerous others I could mention, such as Marius Hornberger (see above; I drove to Devon/Cornwall and bought me a Kity 636 after watching this vid), Jeremy Schmidt, Cosmas Bauer, Matt Eastlea, and so on.

And it’s not purely this kind of stuff I’ve been watching, I had a phase of getting into documentaries on serial-killers, which was a bit of an aberration, plus more normal topics for me, such as drumming, music in general, and all sorts of other stuff, wargaming and model-making, art, films, all sorts. But for this post I’m sticking to my recent ‘maker’ phase.