Monday, July 23, 2007

Ticket to see Harry

Not that Harry!

Finally Mr Harry Connick Jr is returning to these shores with his big band, and I have purchased a ticket to see them at the Royal Albert Hall in November. I needed a second mortgage, but there you go.

He sings, he runs the band, he plays piano, he arranges, he wrote the software for the computer programme that they read for music (no pieces of paper on their stands), and he acts. What's not to like?

Makes you spit.

I am so looking fowards to it. Now here is a Harry with real magic.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Still Pottering About

I did it. I was still up at midnight (not purposely, but there you go) so the dog and I got in the car and drove to Tesco.

There wasn't a "mad rush". But as far as I could see there were one's and twos at all the checkouts with their Harry Potter books in hand. Some with multiple copies. Tesco had an offer on - spend £50, get the book for just £5 (£10 normal price).

Well, throughout the HP years, one has had to admire JK Rowling. I mean - when was the last time I saw people lined up at every check out in a supermarket at midnight (or, indeed, any time at all for that matter) to buy a BOOK as soon as it was released? A BOOK for goodness sake, like it was a fashion item. And people won't just put this on the shelf, they'll really read it.

Of course marketing has something to do with it. But not at first - not when no-one had the foggiest idea, not when it was entirely the preserve of a few middle class kids. And marketing can't make people actually read something that's terrible, even if it can make them buy it.

I'm 70-odd pages in. First impressions - she does write well. Better than number 6, which I am afraid I felt turgid most of the time. The zing is back, even if the tone remains dark. I'm a little nervous about the body count this book will rack up - no spoilers here, but we're already getting through them is all I'll say.

And there was just a little moment of excitement as I held the book in my hands for the first time. I love books. I love the feel of them, the weight, the solidity, the way the physical form is so pedantic and yet it holds the key to unknown flights of imagination. Wonderful contradiction. I consume books, drink them in, allowing words to fill me and feed me and nourish my mind. This book has a special place - last in a series, a series that has revolutionised reading and publishing, a series that has had an effect on the culture of our land, a series that has had publishers eager to find "the next Harry Potter" (there won't be one, not in those terms, this is a unique phenomenon) though many readers stimulated by the experience (especially, I think, its core market - the young) have gone on to discover other things. I started this series as I came here to Pontypridd. There are kids who don't remember life before it. Now it comes to a conclusion.

And yes, I should be reading the thing rather than writing about it, but actually, I like to take a moment to enjoy the moment (see post number 1 on this blog!) and not let it pass me by. The thrill of reading a new book should never be glossed over. The reality of getting into the book can be stunningly disappointing - but this moment of arrival is always wonderful. And this book, I feel, will keep up the momentum of this moment throughout its pages, and leave me with a sense of glorious fulfillment and loss at the end - fulfillment as the series is fittingly concluded; loss as there are no more words to read, and the book again becomes just a book, a lifeless collection of print and pages, my imagination having left it behind once more.

Now: back to it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pottering About

I enjoyed the first two or three Harry Potter books. Four I found long, five bleak, six turgid. The films are worse. The first two were as short on magic as they could possibly have been - where the books zipped along, the films plodded. I mean, sure, there were great ideas, and sure, they were "faithful" to the ideas and kind of looked like we all though the books meant them to look like...

But kids and adults together enjoyed those early, derring-do books. The movies were strictly for the kids. Shame.

Movie number three escapes my memory entirely; number four was pleasingly different, but still as episodic as the book and without the ability to put it down and go away and do something else for a while, it felt like an old fashioned Saturday morning serial all rolled into one big (slightly indigestible) slice.

Why carry on going back for more? It's my nature. I am a collector. If I start something, I finish it. They have just released season 8 of ER on DVD, and I almost bought it, but money is a bit tight this month. I have seasons 1 through 6; 7 is turgid, but 8 is better. Maybe another time. I got the final season of West Wing the other week - not to watch, you understand, just to complete the set.

So I went this morning (day off!) to see the fifth film. And blow me down, it's a great film! Far and away the best of the series - in a completely different league from all the others.

Now, I need to stop getting carried away. First, all the others have done the ground work. So if you go in without all of that, the Dursleys and Cornelius Fudge and the Weasleys and Azkaban and even the friendship between Harry and Hermione and Ron might all seem strange. Without having read the book, Sirius' fate could be rather mysterious. But let's presume that most people have a passing knowledge of these things. If you are starting the series, number 5 is not the place to start, but it is most certainly one to look forwards to!

The look of the film has a confidence, the effects have a place to enhance the story (not to dominate), and the episodic feel of the books has been jettisoned by a script-writer who has finally decided "hang on, this book is too big to be a movie - let's just make a decent movie using the core of this material". It's so long since I read the book I have no idea what has gone and I couldn't care less - they made the right choices. It is a film! It has a beginning (excellent Dursley sequence), middle (great new character in Imelda Staunton's gloriously pink Dolores Umbridge) and end (stunning), the characters develop, though some are made more minor as in neccesary in a film.

Sirius' fate is beautifully done - not overplayed, but heart breaking, and not dwelt on as the action moves on to the next sequence which is superb. There's a fair amount of flash-back going on, (and even Snape comes out of this as more human) and Harry's use of memory to fight Voldemort was great. Nice message about love, friendship and joy - the good things we have - beating hatred in the world. Perhaps our Security Minister might go watch this film and learn something?

It's not the best film ever, it's not the best film this year. It is the best HP film so far; it is the only HP film so far that stands up as a real film and not just a "film of a book". If you have grown weary of these movies, go see this one, it's worth it. It kept me on the edge of my seat & I was almost tempted to buy another ticket and watch it all again.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Summer Holidays - Part One

So I had a week or so away.

Event number one was a super wedding - Simon and Cathryn Armer, at Bowness on Windermere. The photo here is of Simon and Cathryn, with Cathryn's family all around. Cathryn's dad, Kevin, is also a vicar - indeed, the vicar of the first Anglican church I ever attended! I was organist and choir master of St John's Great Harwood before I knew how to play the organ or conduct the choir. Cathryn's mother, Linda, died a couple of years ago, and she ran a choir which sang my first musical...

It was a fun wedding. I did the actual ceremony - thanks to James, the local vicar for letting me do so. Though he did interrupt and almost stopped me from saying "You may now kiss the bride". I guess the line really isn't in the service book, but who misses out that line? Not me!

The next photo is of Karen, Siobhan, Warren and I on the morning after, down by the lakeside. The wedding started at 4pm on Friday and was still going when I drove off at 2pm on Sunday! K&S are work friends of Cathryn's, W used to be in the youth group at Great Harwood. We all had a splendid time - including some rather non-vicarly dancing from yours truly. Cathryn dances like her mother - very dramatic, and rather splendidly.

Then I had a lazy few days based at Mum's, but travelling around to see some friends. This photo is of Philip and Cynthia Johnston - Philip was formerly headmaster at my old grammar school, and Cynthia taught me maths in my first year there. They live in Long Preston in North Yorks now, in a splendid seventeenth century house, and we had a delightful lunch together. Cynthia took me for a walk around the village and showed me the church where she is Warden and Philip Reader, and Philip was on good story telling form. He went into Christies in Manchester the following day for a cancer op - though you would not have known there was anything wrong with him.

He was a controversial figure at school; but I thought a good headmaster: a school like ours needed someone to put it on the map, to get in sponsors and funds, to achieve charity work alongside academic excellence. (From memory, twenty-one of us went to Oxford or Cambridge in my year - there were only forty-nine in this year's upper sixth form all told.) If he had his blind spots, as some are quick to say - which of us do not? I personally look back to one of his assemblies (and to one given by the school chaplain) as a turning point in my coming to faith, so I have much to thank Philip for.

This is me visiting Robin Taylor, ex-English teacher, and inspirer of my love of literature, writing and many things dramatic. He was the director of my one Shakesperean stage role - Brutus, in a 1984 school production of Julius Caesar. I'll share the photos another time. Robin is always good company, as is his wife, Ann, my first form French teacher. And my current reading (Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree) is rather shamed by his Complete Letters of AE Housman. Still, I enjoyed regaling them both with an encounter I had with an ex-East businessman-cum-musician who used the phrase "I had to teach him a lesson" in a way that was more akin to Reggie Kray than my old grammar school...

And that more or less covers my little holiday trip. Apart from a strange experience of healing prayer and the dog - but perhaps I'll write about that another time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Are you calling me a Companion?

Apparently so. Kylie for Christmas. Catherine Tate for the rest of the year.

Are we bovvered?

Personally, I found the rather light and easy paced Doctor episode last Christmas which featured CT's Donna to be a pure delight. A whole series of Donna sounds a bit of a challenge - but gives us a total change from the sometimes mawkinsh Martha.

And does this start a precedent? I mean, if CT does this next year, having been a Christmas companion, then should the series last into a fifth year beyond that, will Kylie be travelling more permanently?

We should be so lucky.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Who should be so lucky?

Following the end of Saturday's episode, I can't get Who out of my head; I mean, it may or may not be the end of the Master, but better the devil you know...

And who should be so lucky as to be the next companion for the good Doctor at Christmas time? Word is out: the invitation to come into my world has gone to -


That's Who.

Are you shocked? Will it be love at first sight, or a celebration? Will they step back in time? Never too late to go spinning around the universe,I guess.

And at the end, will the Doctor invite her to please stay, or will she be asking, give me just a little more time? Either way, on a night like this Christmas, it's no secret, there'll be tears on my pillow.

There, I did it again.