Sunday, 1 March 2015


Got a couple of episodes behind on Cucumber thanks to the telly failing to record one episode.  I've now caught up on last Thursday's episode, the sixth of the season.

What an absolutely astonishing hour of telly.  If I see gameshow hosts reaching through the TV to give everyone free money this will still be the most extraordinary thing on the box this year.  Bravo Cyril Nri.  Bravo James Murray.  Bravo Alice Troughton.  Bravo Russell T Davies. And bravo everyone else involved in the episode and that quarter hour or so in particular.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

On living long and prospering

It's given to very few of us to become genuinely iconic.  I'm not sure the conditions exist to do that in cultural terms these days; there's no real centre ground any more which attracts families and social classes of all stripes.  TV viewers are offered their own niche channels and the only real communal events are live.  Even then it's largely sport and there exist large swathes of the population who don't enjoy that.  Everything's fractured and it's all too easy to exist in your own niche.  Cutting across demographics, media and cultures is now somewhere between difficult and impossible.

That wasn't the case in the 1960s of course.  There were infinitely less channels, less diversity in less combinations.  In the UK you had three TV channels at best, in the US the situation was practically little different.  Radio had equally little choice, despite the late 60s advent of Radio 1.  So there was almost a forced homogenity to culture where everything had to be shared and the channels had to try to appeal to as many people as possible (for the BBC this was actually embedded in their charter). Therefore the times before the pro-infinite choice 1980s created these genuine icons.  Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson were probably the last great heyday before the final one-off flare of the Spice Girls in the 1990s.  Many of the these icons came from the the 1970s (the likes of Bowie, Led Zeppelin and dubious TV personalities) but most came from the 1960s, the cultural founding point of post-war culture (prize exception: Elvis, obviously).  The Beatles and the Stones bestrode the music scene, the Daleks, Hancock and the Steptoes bestrode TV along with Coronation Street.  But across the shared culture of the UK and US?  Over time, one series mutated to assume an iconic status in both, one in which it also became a shorthand for science-fiction: Star Trek (yes I know Doctor Who's getting there now but it's really just catching up).

You can probably catch my drift on what this post's about now.  Yesterday I got home from work and checked Facebook to discover Leonard Nimoy had passed away.  Yes, he'd been Paris in Mission: Impossible and had a frankly daftly wide ranging career covering all sorts of other artistic pursuits (photography, poetry, music and far more).  But he was known primarily as Spock, the half-human half-Vulcan green blooded first officer of the Starship Enterprise.  Together with William Shatner and DeForest Kelley they drove the original series of Trek, expertly finding the line between drama and high camp which gives the series a charm it still retains.  This isn't to downplay the likes of James Doohan , Nichelle Nicholls, George Takei and Walter Koenig, who all contribute to the show's success, but Kirk, Bones and Spock are clearly the main characters and accordingly get more screen time.  And of those Kirk and Spock are the iconic ones, the main guys you pick on if you're parodying the show.  Shatner and Nimoy, Cultural icons who've been instantly recognisable for three generations, inspired convention, novels, cosplay, fanfic, songs... properly iconic.

At some level we thought they'd live forever.  But they don't, they're as mortal as the rest of us, human.  Shatner's flaws of ego are well documented but culturally he remains a joyous, self-aware presence.  Nimoy was perhaps not the showman Shatner still is, he was too cerebral a presence but he was an always engaging presence on Twitter, offering to be everyone's grandfather and dispensing wisdom in 140 or so tweets.  That he ended every tweet with LLAP - the Trek farewell, Live long and prosper - was endearing.  Nimoy seemed to have a genuine belief that humanity could better itself, practising what Trek preached.  By all accounts - and there are plenty this weekend from friends, fans and casual acquaintances alike - he was every bit as wise and friendly in real life.  It's always wonderful to know that heroes are actually worthy of adoration.

It's hard not to read his last few tweets and not believe he knew the end was nigh.  Without having known him it was tough to tell whether it was accumulated wisdom and the humanity acquired over a lifetime being dispensed or a message.  In retrospect they were the same messages my granddad was giving us when accumulated decades of smoking caught up with him. Life's shorter than we think and they were in the departure lounge even if they didn't quite know when their flight was leaving.  Four days before he died, his last public words came via Twitter, a ready made epitaph:

And on Friday he was gone.  It didn't seem right, the surreal feeling when you hear a friend you haven't seen for a while  is gone.  For me it kind of felt like it did when John Peel died, a cornerstone of growing up vanished and gone.

Social media gets much maligned these days, how it's about spreading half-truths, misunderstandings, falsehoods and people simply venting their spleen.  It can be all of that but it can also be the biggest community we've got.  And when an icon passes away we don't have to retreat into our own incomprehension, poking at a fresh absence the way we poke the gap left by a newly removed tooth with our tongue instinctively.  We can share our memories, our joy and sadness.  And what our icons meant to us.  At times like this social media comes into its own, a seriously beautiful thing, a kind of group hug across the world.  I spent much of Friday evening looking at random tributes, retweets and Facebook statuses. From people who knew him, from strangers who'd just watched the odd episode of Trek.  And in some way Nimoy's life and/or work had touched them, given them some degree of joy or comfort.  Really, if any of us have such a global impact, one that can even lead Barack Obama to pay tribute when we pass, can we ask to have done more with our lives?  Whatever Nimoy's human failings (and he will have had some, like any of us), his presence has benefited a lot of people as a whole.  A geek character who became a geek icon, who helped a lot of outsiders.  Who blessed a lot of childhoods with good memories.  And maybe that way a kind of immortality lies.  Positive effects which ripple outwards.  We've no way of knowing how long the  legacy of Star Trek will last - currently 49 years and still a cultural touchstone - but perhaps that's not the point.  Perhaps Nimoy's immortality lies in his actions and his positive use of his fame to make the world better in a lot of ways.  Perhaps in that way icons can live forever.

In the meantime, as Nathan Fillion tweeted in tribute - 'I have been, and always will be, your fan.'  And there's only one appropriate clip to attach here.

RIP.  And thank you.

What I've Caught Up On In February

Part 2 in a probable monthly series.  It's a tad shorter than the first one as a) I've been in work and not had time off and b) been writing; my free time's been a tad more limited.  And there's overlap with the first one due to being parts of ongoing series. So, without comment what's been passing through my eyes and ears to my brain this month...

Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe
Bitter Lake
Wolf Hall
The Casual Vacancy
The War Lords (AJP Taylor history series)
Tropic Thunder
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures Season 2
Ultimate Spider-Man: The Death of Spider-Man
Thor: Tales of Asgard
Lady Stardust (edited by Art Critic Panda)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

More War

As promised... hints and teasers for each story in the Seasons of War anthology...

Preface - Nick Briggs pays tribute to the late Paul Spragg, who played a key role in the anthology coming together

Epilogue - Warsmiths by Matt Fitton - Where else does a book about a war that's scrambled time start? Two Time Lords meet in a bleak, lonely place and replay a dilemma from the Doctor's past. Featuring an unnamed cameo from a Big Finish character...

I. Karn by Declan May - What happened after the regeneration we saw in Night of the Doctor? And just how different from the old Doctor is this new incarnation?

Crowsnest Past by Warren Frey - Strange creatures lurk in the land around a lonely Canadian town. Can the Doctor discover what they want? And can he learn how to shotgun?

The Eight Minute War by Lee Rawlings - The story of the Doctor's army.  But has he overestimated his own capabilities?  Featuring the finest use of Louis Armstrong in a story in many a year.

Everything In Its Right Place by J.R. Southall - Who is Alice? And what's this place where the Earth should be?

II. Corsair by Declan May - Meet the Corsair, the Doctor's old friend as mentioned in The Doctor's Wife.

The Ambassador from Wolf-Rayet 134 - The Lobopods have an ability that might turn the course of the War. But first the ambassadors of two worlds must come to an understanding...

The Amber Room by Simon Brett and John Davies - Leo Dunning is in his last tour of duty.  Or he was until he found himself in the company of Dave who's telling him that his world never existed...

The Celephas Gift by Andrew Smith - The Doctor crashlands on Muranius, a brutal, repressed world where he must unravel the secrets of a Gift visited upon the planet from the skies...

The Girl With Purple Hair (in three parts) by Declan May and John Davies -Who is Jenny Shirt?  And what fate awaits her?

An Historical Curiosity by Matthew Sweet - The Doctor meets Shakespeare.  And wins.

Here Comes the Doctor by Christopher Bryant  - Doctor no more, now a Patient.  What secrets lie in the depths of The Hospital? And what will be the consequences of their discovery?

Your Move by John Peel - The Daleks have wiped out the Movellans to stop anyone using their great War Computer against them. Now they want to destroy the Computer too.  And a certain Gallifreyan wants to help them...

III. Sonnet by Jenny Colgan - Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Disjecta Membra by Elton Townend-Jones - Who is the mysterious man Cass keeps glimpsing in the corner of her eye?

IV. Loop by Declan May - A young man meets his older self.

The Holdover by Daniel Wealands - The Holdover: A safe haven for refugees from the Time War.  Or is it?

Climbing the Mountain by Lance Parkin - Countless worlds burn in the flames of the Time War.  Can a former Doctor perform triage to save worlds?

Gardening by Sami Kelsh - There are places of beauty and tranquility, delicately balanced.  But the War must touch even those...

Sleepwalking to Paradise by Dan Barratt - A Coma Ship lies on a temporal fault line.  Can the Time Lord solve the mystery of the faultline and save the ship from the Daleks?

Guerre by Alan P Jack and Declan May - John Smith finds himself in France during the First World War.  But this war is about to be invaded by an even greater one...

V, Lady Leela by Declan May - A Time War.  A warrior of the Sevateem.  What can she do but fight?

Making Endings by Nick Mellish - A man haunted by his past life finds himself hunted by the Sentimonocks.  Can an old man write him a happy ending?

The Book of Dead Time by David Carrington -  Jenny Shirt's old friend takes her to a most unusual library in search of a book that the Daleks might decimate the planet to possess...

Driftwood by Simon Brett - Gabrielle lives on a world where much of the debris of the Time War washes up with her grandfather and a most unusual friend.  Why does Azrael want a teacup so badly?

The Ingenious Gentleman by Alan Ronald - "In which a man striving to become worthy of a title, meets a man who no longer is."

Fall by Matt Barber -  The Doctor has a problem, one he can only solve by calling on one of his oldest friends.

Always Face the Curtain with a Bow by Jon Arnold -  This'll be me then... The Daleks need information from their old nemesis, and they've set up a most unusual prison to get it.  But will their prisoner give them the information they want?  I'll blog about this story at some point soon, but suffice to say I'm deeply proud of it.

Help A Stranded Time Traveller by Matthew Sylvester - The Seller has been commissioned to find the TARDIS.  But a tired old tramp doesn't want him to get it.

Storage Wars by Paul Driscoll - Samuel Stockton has won a lorryload of old treasures from an old scrapyard in Shoreditch on the TV show Storage Wars.  One of which is of intense interest to an old vagrant...

The Postman by John Davies - Even in a Time War letters must go to the families of the bereaved.  The Postman is taking a break from the War to deliver these letters.  But in a war of confused chronology, do the letters always arrive at the right time?

The Thief of All Ways by Elliot Thorpe - Why is Claudia being hunted by an old man?  And what has it to do with a Dalek superweapon?

The Time Lord Who Came To Tea by Paul Driscoll - Wartime can inflict horrific degradations on some places.  Jericho is sacrificing everything so that Arcadia may live... what can you eat when supplies run low?

The Nightmare Child by Declan May - The Doctor seeks out Davros in the womb of the dread Nightmare Child...

Meals On Wheels by Paul Magrs  -Volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels Jackie Tyler meets a most cantankerous and unusual old man...

Time Enough For War by Jim Mortimore and Simon Brett- What is the ultimate weapon?

Doctor Death by Barnaby Eaton-Jones -  Jenny Shirt meets the Doctor for one last adventure.

The Beach by Gary Russell - On an Australian beach a most unusual deal comes to its conclusion.

The Moments In Between by George Mann - What does a TARDIS do when it disapproves of its owner's actions?  Featuring Cinder from Engines of War.

Prologue - The Horde of Travesties by Declan May - And the mangled chronologies end at a beginning where the Doctor is haunted by a deal he had to make...

The Director's Tale - Andy Robinson recounts how he came to direct a film that went from promo to a fully fledged story in its own right.

So what are you waiting for?  Go donate to a fine and worthy cause here and get yourself a free copy!

We Want War!

Seasons of War to be specific.

Just in case you need background here:  This all begins in the last moments of the finale of Doctor Who's 2013 run, the back end of the split seventh season.  In the last few moments of The Name of the Doctor, with Clara having rescued the Doctor from the Great Intelligence's attempt to destroy his timeline, the Doctor rescues Clara herself from his own collapsing timeline. But there they see a mysterious figure, the 'one who broke the promise'. An old man who did what he did 'in the name of peace and sanity'.  But not in the name of the Doctor...

It introduced the War Doctor; the Doctor who fought in the Time War.  A man the Doctor deliberately tried to forget.  In reality the character's an elegant solution to the problem of Christopher Eccleston not wanting to appear in the 50th anniversary special - in actuality it's far more than that given they got one of the finest actors on this or any other planet, John Hurt, to play him.  It was a memorable appearance, Hurt playing off David Tennant and Matt Smith as the exasperated older brother quite wonderfully and switching from witty banter to gravitas in a heartbeat.  Or couple of heartbeats.  The War Doctor was to reappear just once more, in George Mann's novel Engines of War which details the incident leading up to the events seen in Day of the Doctor.

Such a waste.

Cue Declan May, looking for a way to raise money for a charity which had helped his family and many other families, Caudwell Children. The exuberant and talented Mr May hit upon the idea of telling stories of the Time War, tales of this Doctor we'd barely seen.  And so, after chats with Paul Spragg of Big Finish he embarked upon a quest to find the writers to make it all happen, by hook, by crook and by an open submissions process.

I had the fortune to be involved with a much smaller scale project with Declan in late 2013, the Twelve Doctors of Christmas. Declan wrote an extraordinary story re-creating the dash and wit of the year Douglas Adams script-edited the series, I came up with a vignette for the Christopher Eccleston's incarnation.  It was an immensely fun project which made us both a whole lot of new friends of extraorindary creativity - John Davies, Simon Brett, Lee Rawlings, Dan Barratt and others... and we agreed to be involved in the new anthology.  Who wouldn't want to? The chance to play with a new toy in the Doctor Who sandbox?  And for charity?  Sign us up!

Along the way the project expanded hugely, ending up spiralling from the original planned dozen stories to nearly 40.  And it acquired a film to go with it.  And a comic strip from Who novelist Jim Mortimore.  And contributions from Who luminaries such as Jenny Colgan, Lance Parkin, John Peel, Gary Russell, Andrew Smith and Paul Magrs.  It's ended up just under 400 pages and, as I type just over two weeks after release has raised £5,740.82 on ebook downloads alone. I've read every story and frankly it's a wonderful piece of work packed with imaginative stories, many of which couldn't be done with any other Doctor.  I'm deeply proud to have been involved.  To download it, go to Declan's Just Giving page, donate what you can and you should receive an email with a link to download it.  Or, if you're more into the hardcopy side of things, a paperback's due out sometime around April.

And if that still doesn't convince you, I'll be putting up a post with teasers for each story very soon (no spoilers though, obviously, because I'm not an utter bastard).

What I've Been Catching Up On This Year...

Nothing fancy, just a quick list of the stuff I've watched/listened/read so far this year.  If it looks a little on the intimidatingly long side that's because I had a few weeks of leave to chew up earlier in the year.  And a lot of it's catching up on stuff I've stockpiled over a good nine months or so... my experiencing of it doesn't necessarily mean I loved it, but if you want an idea of what I thought of the books or audio stories you can check out my Goodreads list of read stuff, which all have reviews attached.

So, without further ado, I have been experiencing...

Doctor Who: The Lost Stories Season 1 - Big Finish
State of Emergency: The Way We Were Britain 1970-74 - Dominic Sandbrook
BBC coverage of Glastonbury 2014
Batman Returns
Black Mirror: White Christmas
Motown At The BBC
BBC Proms: The Man From The Future
Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Stillness and Speed: My Story - Dennis Bergkamp
Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story - John Woods
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance - Belle & Sebastian
Under the Skin
Uptown Special - Mark Ronson
Breaking Bad Season 1
Cygnus Alpha # 14
I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie - Roger Ebert
The Endless River - Pink Floyd
Inform-Educate-Entertain - Public Service Broadcasting
Hesitant Alien - Gerard Way
The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way - The KLF
Unplugged 1991 & 200: The Complete Sessions - R.E.M.
Plectrumelectrum - Prince & 3rd Eye Girl
Pep Confidential - Marti Perarnau
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
A Little Trigger - Neil Gaiman
Art Official Age - Prince
I Never Learn - Lykke Li
We're New Here - Gil Scott Heron & Jamie XX
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World - The Decemberists
Chubbed Up+ - Sleaford Mods
With A Little Help From My Fwends - The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends
Blank Project - Neneh Cherry
Love, Poverty & War - Christopher Hitchens
The Man In The High Castle - Pilot Episode
Midnight In Paris
Rave Tapes - Mogwai
Syro - Aphex Twin
New World Quartets - The Brodsky Quartet
Nick Fury, Agent of Shield Part One (graphic novel)
The Life and Death of Captain Marvel Part 2
Wolf Hall (TV series)
John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra In Concert
Modern Times
Minion Madness
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait: An Original Soundtrack - Mogwai
They Do The Same Things Different There - Robert Shearman
Back To The Future 2
Who Is William Oyeabor? - William Oyeabor
This Is What I Do - Boy George
Blackout - Britney Spears
Good Don't Sleep - Egyptian Hip Hop
The Savoy Sessions - Fenella Fielding
(We Are) Performance - Performance
Labyrinth Soundtrack - David Bowie and Trevor Jones
Les Revenants - Mogwai
La Petite Mort - James
Rejoice! Rejoice!: Britain In the 80s - Alwyn Turner
Tin Machine - Tin Machine
Tin Machine II - Tin Machine
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures Season 2 - Big Finish
Doctor Who: Seasons of War - edited by Declan May

That last one leads me neatly on to something I've been meaning to blog about for a while...

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Ten Things That Made Life Better in 2014

And so the year winds down and I've been incredibly remiss about blogging.  So here's an utterly non-comprehensive list in no particular order of things that have made existence better this year. Take it as read that my family and friends are more important than any of this because ultimately other people are THE most important thing one way or the other. As the hippies told us, we should all try to get along man.  Even if, as Douglas Adams points out, they nailed up the first bloke in history who suggested it.  Anyway...

1.  Doctor Who

It comes first because it's always been there for me and there's so much of it, even if I go off it, there's so much of it I can always revel in the love I've had for it since I was six. This year we got lifelong fan Peter Capaldi taking over the role and basically pulling off the spikier Doctor in a way they failed to in the 80s.  And even better the stories were there to support him - while obviously some stories didn't work as well as others the baseline was high.  None of the stories for me didn't work and all had some sublime moments.  And in Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline and the season finale there were stories to rank with the best of previous years.  Let's remind you of the very best things about this year's series (along with Jamie Matheson):

Michelle Gomez as Missy vs Capaldi.  Oh yes. MORE please!

(Special mention for Paul Magrs' sublime The Annual Years, a book which neatly balanced childhood nostalgia with a proper history and criticism of perhaps Doctor Who's most neglected corner).

2. Doctor Who Legacy

Yes, so it's still Doctor Who. But hey, after thirty plus years of substandard computer games we've finally got a decent Who game.  It's a relatively simple premise - you have a five by six board of gems of different colours and by forming lines or three or more gems you battle opponents from the tv series.  The more you play, the more Doctors and allies you accumulate (via winning characters on certain levels and accumulting 'time fragments' and 'time crystals') and the more potent you can make them.  There's a main game (currently on its fourth chapter) with a storyline and sundry offshoot games for a bit of fun. It's simple, addictive and often frustrating as all the best games are.

Seriously, for Who fans there are fewer more fun ways to waste your life.

3. Seasons Of War

One last Doctor Who related one...

More of this early in the New Year but over the last six months I've been involved with Declan May's charity anthology which aims to tell the story of the War Doctor between Night of the Doctor and Day of the Doctor. You might notice from the above that I'm in some fine, fine company.  You can find out more here and donate to obtain an ebook and details of how to get the print version here.

I'll preview my story for the book closer to the release date.  But as a teaser... it's called Always Look On The Bright Side of Life and features pantomime horses, giant purple gorillas and lethal custard pies. 

4. Terrors of the Theatre Diabolique

Something I really should have blogged about a while back and will devote proper time to in the New Year...

Early in the year Dan Barratt, Dalek operator extraordinaire, asked for submissions for a horror anthology he had in mind, one which paid tribute to the old Amicus portmanteau movies of the '70s. As originally conceived it was based around Shakespeare's Ages Of Man speech, structured around a theme that took us from cradle to grave (the latter more than once).   I bagged the 'second childhood' slot and started playing around with an idea of an infernal bargain.  Everything clicked when Dan made a few general requests to the authors and... well, I'll say more very soon.  But along with Always Face The Curtain I think it's the best thing I've ever written.

But why should you buy it?  Because within a simple but beautiful structure that's a beautiful homage to those old films whilst being something uniquely its own, there are six stories that play with the idea of the horror story in very different ways. There's traditional ghost stories, very modern takes and outright horror comedies which combine to form a hugely satisfying whole with a sublime pay-off.  Go donate here and grab your digital copy today and get a link to purchase one of several rather lovely hard copy versions.

5. Red Or Dead

Liverpool FC are one of the great loves of my life.  Literature is another.  David Peace combines the best of both worlds, turning Shankly's time at Liverpool into something almost biblical.  I loved it so much I wrote this  for the fine Two Unfortunates site.

6. Fantasy football

Not so much the standard UK version where I magically managed to kill teams with long term injuries but more the NFL version where you play weekly head to heads against other teams.  In one 14 team league where I'd been a cellar dweller for a good few years I turned things around and finished 12-1, pipping the 11-2 second place team to the regular season title by beating them on the last day.  Course, as things turn out I'd have been better off losing that as I'd have ended up winning the playoffs but by topping the league I ran into the only guy to beat me during the season and won the third place game by a whisker (stealing it by having Emmanuel Sanders of the Denver Broncos score 19 points while AJ Green scored none).  And in my work league I was running in second for most of the year before dumping Odell Beckham right before he hit form... and telling the guy who eventually got second to pick him up.  And I finished third there too for the second straight season.

I know it's totally pointless, but it's a great deal of fun.

I'm of around the same age as Tom Ewing, the site's founder.  His slightly insane project is essentially to review every UK Number One record (along with small offshoots such as their 100 Greatest songs of all time which finishes here with a sublime piece which makes a watertight case as to why this particular song is the greatest of all pop's myriad artefacts).  I've never met Tom but he's got an uncanny ability to burrow to the heart of what a record means (even if it's something as nebulous as a feeling) and communicate it. Hit the search facility and look for any record you love that made it to the top (currently he's just finished the No 1s of the twentieth century). And keep going, because it's addictive and even when he's dealing with bland or mediocre records he's always worth reading. This is what became of the Smash Hits generation.

8. Uptown Funk

Record of the year, no contest.  I love Ronson's production on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black and his own Version (heresy as it is, he does sublime, joyous things to Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before).  Here he even makes me love Bruno Mars, an artist who's output's simply bounced off me before.  The lyric's a standard boast but dammit, the music's distilled joy and irresistibly danceable. Happiness does prevail.

9.  Before The Dawn 

In the modern hyper-connected world there's little better than total surprise.  David Bowie managed it with  the release of Where Are We Now?, somehow conjuring magnificence to a grey January morning by breaking a near decade of silence with a melancholy wander through his own past. 

Arguably that was trumped in February with Kate Bush announcing that she'd be performing in concert for the first time in 35 years.  Take one moment to look at that gap.  Thirty five years. I'd barely started primary school last time she went before a paying audience. And so I blagged a morning off work and, colluding with a friend, managed to grab tickets for the weekend of my wedding anniversary (one of the later shows in the run). Only the six months to wait...

Friends saw earlier shows in the run, and kindly declined to spoil details. But the word was overwhelmingly positive.  Possibly I shouldn't have been surprised given Bush has an incredible attention to detail.  But without, even now, spoiling the experience... it wasn't quite like any gig I'd ever been to. It mixed relative obscurities, big hits and managed to thematically connect two suites that formed full sides of albums and present them theatrically, always teetering on the edge of pretension and silliness but never, quite tumbling over.  It's a trick only the bravest and boldest artists even attempt and even the small number with the nerve rarely pull it off completely.  But here there an incredibly tight band combined with ambitious theatrics to utterly nail it.  And an audience admittedly predisposed to love her showered their adoration down throughout the show, with Bush herself seeming shyly surprised at the affection for her. Sublime and ultimately it's one of the finest live performances I've seen.  And I've been to a lot of gigs in my time.

10.  The continued existence of Clive James

As I type this I've got one of my Christmas presents close at hand - Georg Lichtenberg's 'The Wast Books'.  It's something I added to my wish list after my dawdle through what's probably Clive James' masterwork, Cultural Amnesia. It's a book where James takes a quote as a starting point (ranging from political dissidents who've undergone unimaginable hardship to much ridiculed Hollywood lines) for a series of essays exploring what he sees as humanity's major themes (mostly the major themes that crop up in his lifetime, notably the virtues of liberal democracy).  You can criticise the essays for only skimming subjects in many cases but then the balance between erudition and populism is a fine one. And if the book had delved in such depth it'd probably be an unwieldy three of four times the size.  No, in this case James had applied a lifetime of curiosity to notes down the years and the result stole the breath at times, panoramic, wise and witty.  It finally banished the memories as the batrochoidal chap chuckling at Japanese game shows in the 80s.

It's only over the last decade that I've come to really appreciate James.  In many ways I was the worst age to appreciate him, being too young to read his TV criticism and precisely old enough to watch him chortle and subject audiences to the camp fun of Margarita Pracatan.  Knowing him from those TV shows was like thinking you knew literature by having read Fifty Shades of Grey and The Da Vinci Code.  The form is (barely) there but there's so much more delicious substance beyond that. Silliness is a minor, but vital part of his armoury.

In the early part of the century, having talked to friends or founds an article online - I forget precisely how - I acquired the three volumes of his collected TV criticism.  I followed up with volumes of his literary criticism (At the Pillars of Hercules and From The Land of Shadows) and ended by picking up the collected Always Unreliable, his memoirs of his life until 1980.  There was the endearing self-deprecation, the dazzling way with a sentence and always, always a total lack of contempt but a clear-eyed view of what was possible in various media and why things failed if they failed.  Popular intellectualism has rarely been so dazzling.  

Anyway, this year  I finished the dawdle through the works I own and managed to catch Howard Jacobsen's Brilliant Creatures, a documentary about James and three fellow Australians who'd shaken the cultural world (the others being Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries and Robert Hughes).  So that's why he's here this year.

As is the fact that with his illnesses he's likely not to be long for the world so should be appreciated while he can.  And in tribute I'm going to continue reading as widely as possible and constantly bettering myself is possible.  Because it's a better world that way.

And it continues with that Christmas gift.  Thanks Clive.

Anyway, happy new year!