Amy’s crazy week

Amy, at her prom last year.

On Monday morning at 12.30 am I was at my computer when I heard a shriek from upstairs, followed by the thundering of hooves as a herd of wild buffalo descended the stairs.

“I got three unconditionals for Napier Uni.!” shrieked Amy.

And sure enough, upon opening her email her three offers of five days previous were laid bare.  Hospitality, Festival management and Events and Hospitality had all accepted her unconditionally.  Two days later a fourth unconditional came through from Strathclyde Hospitality.

And then, yesterday, she was awarded a Wine School Intermediate Award having passed her second stage of exams at Dakota.

It just shows you what effort and hard work achieves (coupled wth genius of course.).

Amy has always set her mind on her goals and has always achieved them.

We’re very proud.

Class act is a class act!

Tonight I went to The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh to watch an event called Class Act in which14 – 17 yr old schoolkids are invited to write short stage plays which professional writers help them to refine and are then performed by professional actors on a professional stage.

It was bloody marvelous.

And the best thing is that Ria was one of the writers and, even better, she was given a book of all the scripts (56) that were performed over the four nights of the event as a keepsake..

Thank you to the Traverse, The Scottish Arts Council, , City of Edinburgh Council, West Lothian Council, Glasgow City Councl, The Barcapel Foundation, The Moffat Trust and the John Thaw Foundation for their support.

Celtic 1 -2 Hibs

Hibs go to Parkhead.

We get a caning.

Celtic have 95% possesion. (Or so you’d believe listening to the commentary; when in actual fact they have 52%)

They have 16 corners.

We have 2.

They have endless chances.  We have next to none (or so you’d believe listening to the commentary; when in actual fact they have only a few more than us. Well, 9.)

They go one up in 4 minutes then miss and miss and miss.

We break away and score.

We break away and score (again)

In the 92nd minute.

We win.

(The Jambos get murdered 3 – 0 at home.)

Thank you for that.

The Road

The (London) Times’ critics voted this the greatest novel of the 21st century, so far.

I, personally, would go back considerably further because in my opinion there is not a word out of place in Cormac McCarthy’s paean to fatherly love.  As you may recall from my review of the book last year.

The book is defined by the relationship between the unnamed father and son who take to the road upon losing their wife and mother in the wake of an unnamed global catastrophe. (war or environmental catastrophe? You decide, although director, John Hillcoat, strongly leans us in the direction of the latter in his movie.

In fact the movie is also a paean. This time to the novel itself with great tracts of dialogue lifted straight off the page and into the screenplay. This is not laziness. It is common sense.

In most respects I loved this movie; partly because of its stance and conviction in retaining the integrity of a bleak and harrowing novel; so it’s no surprise that the Weinstein’s are behind it.

I won’t remind you of the story, if you don’t know it you’re probably not in the market to see it. If you are and you’ve read the book you have a very difficult decision to make. To fore go it on that basis that perfection in prose cannot be matched on screen or to approach with an open mind assuming that it will fall short of the novel’s greatness but tell a wonderfully simple tale affectingly.

Well, if, like me, you take the latter view you will be in for a treat but one that does indeed fail to reach the novel’s great heights? Why is that? I think it can be explained in one respect. The relationship between father (Viggo Mortenson) and son (Kodi-Smitt McPhee) falls some way short of what was needed to make the film sparkle. and interestingly it’s Mortenson’s fault, not the boy’s. Actually it’s Hillcoat’s. He makes an inexplicable decisions to omit a scene from the book that defined the relationship. When the son runs off to find a little boy he spots in a disused building the father is frantic with fear. Not so in the movie. And actually, although structurally this is a missing link it’s actually in the performance of Mortensson that I felt the whole film fell short.

In the book he is a much more caring and vulnerable soul. On screen Mortenson makes him cold, calculated, hard and emotionally elusive.

It creates a barrier that means the whole movie goes the same way, so much so that I was unmoved at the climax.

There is an astonishing performance in this movie; it’s by Robert Duvall as an aged wanderer that the father and son chance upon. and McPhee is remarkable too. It’s not that Mortenson is not a great actor and fails§ to deliver, it’s just that the direction he receives moves him away from the level of sympathy that I expected and consequently it leaves an emotional hole at the heart of the movie.

I suspect that is why it has failed to garner the critical awards one might expect for such an excellent piece of work overall.

The cinematography is quite beautiful, albeit bleak and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score never intrudes. Hats off to them for reigning it in.

I just wish Mortenson had not followed suit.

Kate McGarrigle RIP

I was sorry to hear that Kate McGarrigle, sister of Anna, wife of Loudon Wainwright and mother of Martha and Rufus, passed away at the age of only 63 yesterday.  The family’s Christmas Hour album is a festive cracker and she and her sister brought respectability and beauty to folk music for a very wide audience.

The BP Portrait award, now showing at The Dean Gallery in Edinburgh

I was utterly blown away by this today.  I was on my own but kept talking out loud with gasps of admiration.  And it’s free.  If you do not attend you are making a very big mistake with your life.

Huge, HUGE thanks to BP for sponsoring this for 20 years unbroken.

This was the overall winner.  Of course a crunched internet image can do no justice to the magical quality of the picture by Peter Monkman of his 12 year old daughter.  You’ll need to go see it in the flesh.

This is the description the National gallery uses…

Monkman was shortlisted for the first time this year, having been included in the BP Portrait Award exhibition in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Currently Director of Art at Charterhouse School, Surrey, Monkman, 44, studied visual arts at the University of Lancaster, John Moores University Liverpool and the University of London. The shortlisted portrait is part of a series of portraits of his daughter exploring the concept of the changeling, a child substituted for another by stealth, often with an elf. ‘I challenge the fixed notion of an idealised image of childhood and substitute it for a more unsettling, complex, representation that exists in its own right as a painting.’ The initial ideas for this portrait came from photographic studies of Anna playing in woods in Brittany where the light had a magical quality.

Other winners included this stunning photo-realistic painting of his son , Tom, by Michael Gaskell.

And another in the same vein, called Benfica Blue, won best young artist for Mark Jameson.  The detail on the girl’s face.  In the flesh is quite remarkable.

I loved this by Mary Jane Ansell, called Georgie but it failed to win a prize;

But, for me, the best in show went to On Assi Ghat by Edward Sutcliffe.  Yes.  It is a painting.

The Price at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

After The Lyceum’s seasonal break from straight theatre we are back with an emphatic bang.  Decsribed in Wikipedia as one of Miller’s lesser plays I have to say both I, and pretty much everyone I spoke to at the interval and afterwards, took a very different view on this superb four-hander.

Of course, it helps that the set is stunning and intriguing and seduces the eye from start to finish.  And it helps that the cast is collectively the strongest and most compelling I’ve seen on the Lyceum’s stage in the last two years.  These really are excellent, mature, gripping performances from the cast which includes Greg Powrie, Aden Gillett, Sally Edwards and James Hayes.  In particular, Greg Powrie as Vincent, the younger son is absolutely on top of his game.

The story is a simple one.  Two estranged brothers inadvertantly meet in the condemned home of their long dead father to dispose of the father’s furniture before the wrecking balls arrive.

They are joined by the younger son’s near alcoholic (and hideously social climbing and money obsessed) wife and an assett estimator (an 89 year old, world weary, Jewish dealer).  The negotiation of the price for the furniture is an allegory for their collective lives where each has paid a different price for care, love or success.

Whilst it is a heavy piece morally, there is considerable humour; mainly centred around the hilarious performance by the antique dealer, Solomon.

There could easily be a tendency to take this into shouty, screaming pitch territory as tension rises during the show but the Director (the excellent John Dove) resists and keeps everything JUST in control as emotions spill over.

At the interval someone described the script as poetry and like a painting by Rolf Harris in that you can just about make out where it’s going but you don’t know where it is going to end.

Time and again through the second act I reflected on that analogy as it’s true you really can see Miller effortlessly unravelling a mystery of the past as the back story is revealed with great dexterity.

This is theatre at its best.  Go see.

The Washington Post 2010 Neologism Contest…

Thanks to Pat for sending me these hilarious entries in which Washington Post readers are asked to submit alternative meanings for common words…

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n): the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj): appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v): to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v): to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj): impotent.

6. Negligent (adj): describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v): to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n): olive-oil flavoured mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n): emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n): a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n): a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n): the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n): a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n): a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n) (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n): an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

The Washington Post’s ‘Style Invitational’ also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition…

Here are this year’s winners:

1. Bozone (n): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (this one got an extra credit!)

9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

10. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n): Satan, in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n): The colour you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you’re eating.

And the pick of the literature:

16. Ignoranus (n): A person who’s both stupid and an arsehole.

Nurse Jackie

The Americans have pulled another TV rabbit out of the hat.  This time originally commissioned by “Showtime”.

Edie Falco (in her first major appearance since Carmela Soprano) lights the screen up with fire in this tremendous series, directed so far (perhaps always) by another of my favourites, Steve Buscemi.

If you’ve missed the first five episodes catch up on the iplayer or on SKY Anytime where the series to date has taken residence for the next week or so.

It is utterly electrifying.

It’s a comedy drama set in an NYC General Hospital where the consultants/Doctors are overpaid demigods (or so they reckon) and the nurses are there to do all the work.

Falco is addicted to pain relieving drugs (which she is illegally supplied by her lover, the hospital pharmacist who she services every day at noon).

Meanwhile she lives a secret home life with her bar-tending hubby and two daughters, one who draws skies with no sun – she is ridiculously paranoid for a 9 year old.

It’s all, of course, in the writing (you said it again.  Ed) as I’ve said before.  But it’s true and this is written sublimely giving Falco free reign to deliver one-liners, moments of pathos, passion, hysteria and sheer vilness.  Surely there cannot have been a better written female TV part since, erm, Carmela Soprano.

But Falco makes this a masterclass as she holds the screen.  She must be in at least 95% of the action with her outstanding ensemble cast behind her to act as willing stooges.  My favourite is Zoey Barkow, Nurse Jackie’s poor put upon (but actually secretly loved) intern.

It is quite simply, the best and I’m intrigued to see how it develops.  Series two has already been commissioned.  Doh.  So it’s here for a bit yet.

Enjoy.  I’m off to watch Glee!

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

First of all, a wee taster of one of Dury’s best and most underrated songs…

I was a regular Ian Dury record buyer in my late teens but wouldn’t say I was in his thrall.  Nevertheless I was intrigued enough to go and see this biopic featuring Andy Serkis (Golum in Lord of The Rings) as the great man himself.

His performance was top drawer and did make you feel you were in the room with the chief Blockhead himself.  But this is more than a music homage.  This is a reasonably complex life story told with more than a smattering of real film skills.  It opens a bit frenetically with a hotch-potch of animation, flashbacks, montage and “stuff” that’s the director’s (Mat Whitecross – not one I know) trying to tell the back story quick as a flash.  Whilst it works in story-telling terms it feels like it’s trying too hard and it takes 20 minutes for the film to find its feet as Dury metamorphosises from Kilburn and The High Roads into Ian Dury and The Blockheads.

Thereafter, the film is far more assured, but strangely unmoving on the whole, despite the fact that there are a lot of episodes that could have jerked a tear or two.  Little is made of his chart success. other than the typical excesses that stardom inevitably brings in its wake; rather, the film is much more interested in his complicated love life and (abysmal) family life which lays true the aphorism that what goes around comes around.  Actually, it’s better for that.

In particular the relationship with Dury and his son, Baxter (played brilliantly by Son of Rambow star Bill Milner) is the main thread of the movie.  Initially retiscent, Baxter becomes increasingly influenced by his rebellious father and follows suit.  Again, like Dad, in response to the bullying and humiliation he faced at school.

The finale is really good and pulls together a lot of strands including the Spartacus references that cropped up earlier in the action.  I won’t spoil it by telling you how though.and really

The movie tries a little too hard; it’s a touch too stylised for my liking, but it zips along quickly despite its fairly lengthy 115 minute running time.

Overall, I’d recommend it; if for no other reason than to wonder at Andy Serkis.

7 out of 10.


I’ve been pondering this before putting proverbial pen to paper.  it has some of the most ludicrously overblown and cheesy central metaphors in the history of cinema.  the existance of God, The destruction of the amazonian rain forest, the overthrowing of native american indians, colonialism, interracial relationships, gene cloning and stem cell scientific potential for abuse, good versus evil, the folly of war, the unfair use of “shock and awe”…shall I go on?

And yet, and yet…

And yet this is a wonderful and deeply involving, even affecting movie.  Why?

Because James Cameron has invested his heart and soul into it.  That much is very obvious.  And this comes across as one man’s lifetime obsession.  It’s like Coppola’s Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now) in outer space.

It opens like a scene from one of Cameron’s great early movies (Aliens – with a set that compares) and the sight of Sigourney Weaver climbing out of a Cryogenic Sleep pod.  Clearly his own little Alfred Hitchcock moment, or a wee joke for us boring buffs.

Technically this movie raises the bar like no other film since Star Wars.  This is the iphone of the movie world.  the 3D impact is quite simply mindblowing.  No men with long poles sticking them out of the screen into your face.  Not a hissing Cobra to be seen.  No, this is “immersive” in that you feel you are being drawn into a layerered experience where there appears to be multiple depths of field, but all in focus. The scenes where the “Tree of Life’s” spores fall through the air enveloping characters is really quite unique and beautiful.

Then there’s the world he creates.  One just wonders where he started.  The military stuff takes on Star Wars but doesn’t overcomplicate.  It throws in a dash of Bladerunner technology, but mostly it just bowls you over with its apparent functionality.  Pandora, the other world that our characters are mining for “unobtanium” (great cod scientific name), is endless in imagination and quite simply, paradise.

The Avatars themselves, 10 foot high humanoids, are beautiful and beguiling and 100% believable.

They really could be real.

The acting is good enough. The script passable.

But the denoument, which brings it all together in a localised War of the World’s is breathtaking and so long and so absorbing that you just cannot believe this level of ingenuity would actually be possible.

But, apparently, it is.

It all hangs together in a way that makes this one of the most unforgettable trips to the cinema I have ever had.  No, it’s not art house, but who cares.  It is just a thing of greatness.  A testament to James Cameron.  I would not grudge him the Oscar against his ex wife whose own action movie could hardly be any different.

Methinks it is a straight shoot out between the two.

(Michael Haneke is unlikely to get the look in he deserves.)

A straight ten (despite the reservations).

Apparently this is a real letter sent to David Milliband

Outstanding.  And the Oscar for sarcasm goes to…

Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
Nobel House
17 Smith Square
16 July 2009

Dear Secretary of State, 

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs.. I would now like to join the “not rearing pigs” business.

In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. 

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these? 

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this? 

My friend is very satisfied with this business.. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is – until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any. 

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100?  I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases? 

Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear? 

I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current Defra advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)? 

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.  I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election. 

Yours faithfully, 
Nigel Johnson-Hill

The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I confess, I’ve been slow getting round to this.  I was given it on DVD for Christmas and what a gift, because this is one masterpiece of a movie.  As it progressed it became clearer and clearer to me that the brooding and grumbling soundtrack (all instrumental) sounded distinctly like Nick Cave and so it transpired; written as it was by him and his Bad Seed partner Warren Ellis (the Big Beardy one).  The soundtrack is only one of the great perfections of this movie, because like everything in it it sticks like Araldite together in perfect symmetry.

Let’s turn to the cinematography by Roger Deakins.  This is photography at its very finest and he won an Oscar this year (but not for this which was surely the runner up).  He won it for No Country For Old Men which I have raved about elsewhere.  What sets the photography apart here is that he introduces a strange stressing of the picture at certain points (when the narrator speaks mainly I think) and my guess is that this is to reflect Jesse James’ failing eyesight which is referred to early in the movie.

Now the casting.  You will surely never see a greater Brad Pitt performance and Casey Affleck as the Coward Robert Ford who first idolises and then vilifies James is quite outstanding and rightly was Oscar nominated for the performance.

The story is a little tricky to follow because a lot of characters are referred to in contexts that one might not understand if not a student of Jesse James; which I’m not.  Anyway, it hangs around James’ final days in which he’s taking more risks than he should.  His gang is breaking up and his loyal recruits ain’t as loyal as they used to be.  James knows this (or at least senses it) and you see him become increasingly paranoid in a way that Daniel Day Lewis totally overblew it in There will be Blood (for my money this a far better movie with a far subtler exposition of madness and the pursuit of a different kind of power).

As the film progresses the young (19) Thomson becomes completely disenamoured of his erstwhile childhood hero (for many, James was the Robin Hood of America) and sees instead only James’ self driven anger and thirst for revenge.  To gain the £100,000 bounty on his head Ford and his brother Charlie (also brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell) plot to overthrow him.

In the end the moment of execution is an anticlimax for the pair (but not the viewer) in that James seemingly surrenders and takes a bullet to the back of the head.

At first lauded (mildly) Ford soon sees the backlash as America proclaims him not a hero but a coward for killing an unarmed man by shooting him in the back of the head.  Ford’s life is ended in a further revenge killing and the whole futility of it all becomes apparent.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough.  Long it may be (2h 40min) but it’s all the better for that because we never really wanted it to end.