This comes from my good friend Sammie and her blog sierra whisky. It's essentially a set of questions relating to your Christmas experience, thoughts and likes. If you want to join in with 'the tag' then just complete the questions for yourself and post me a link in the comment thread so I can read about your festivities too!
The Christmas Tag
Do you prefer a real Christmas tree or synthetic?
I've had both over the years. As a child my earliest memories are of a variety of synthetic trees - with Doctor Who chocolates hanging off them one year! - but in my teenage years we had real trees for a number of years. Mum would approach the tree and its decoration like a military enterprise! Nowadays I have a tiny little synthetic Christmas tree, because anything else is too much effort!
You're in a coffee shop, it's December, what do you pick up?
Um, coffee? To be honest it's very rare I'm in a coffee shop. If I'm out Christmas shopping and in needed of a sit down and something to drink, it's far more likely that you'll find me in the pub, enjoying a nice wintry dark real ale!
What's your favourite colour scheme for decorating the three?
Well, looking at my diddy little tree as I type it's gold. I don't think you can go wrong with red and gold really. It just seems rightly festive. And Jethro Tull's Christmas Album or Phil Spector's one playing as you decorate it of course!
Giving or receiving?
If anyone says they don't like receiving gifts, they're lying! It's the best thing to rip open your presents and it's the second best thing to watch others rip open theirs, see their face light up and hear them say thank you.
To mince pie or not to?
To not. We never did stuff like mince pies or Xmas puds at our house growing up, it was all about the nibbles and the chocolates. I remember working as a disability advisor over Christmas 98, one of my first jobs, and there was nothing to do as the office completely wound down. In the run up to closing for the season, we got given mince pies and sherry. It's the first and last time I've ever had either. The mince pies I hated, the sherry was passable but in the end, not my drink.
What's your traditional Christmas lunch?
Traditional as possible. Love a turkey with all the trimmings, especially pigs in blankets! As many of them as poss please!
Christmas dinner was always a BIG thing round ours, with Mum working like a maniac to get it all on the table sometime between 2pm-3pm for us all and Dad working his magic with his legendary trifles (which I don't like, black sheep of the family, me) But the family has depleted over the years due to bereavements and others doing their own thing, so it'll just be me, Mum and Dad with Christmas lunch with a nice drop of wine and an altogether more settled and relaxed, quiet atmosphere.
Christmas day fashion?
I like to feel good on Christmas day, so that means getting spruced up. Ideally I'd have been given something new to wear as a present but if not I'll pick out a nice shirt or even a Xmassy jumper and maybe even break out the Xmas aftershave too (I rarely wear aftershave) But chances are I'll be in my jimjams (which I usually get as a prezzie too) by 7pm!
What's your favourite Christmas song?
All of them! I love a good Christmas song. Wizzard's one (which I've chosen for the image above) is quite special to me as I loved it as a kid and my Dad would always joke that I really would like it to be Christmas everyday. I later spent an entire Christmas at work, 2001 I think it was, telling clients that our receptionist Jane was one of the little kids singing on that track, and they believed me much to her confusion and later, embarrassment as she began to field questions about it!
White Christmas by Bing Crosby holds a special place in our families heart because Bing was my Grandfather's favourite. It'll be our first Christmas without him this year and I know we'll feel a little bit different and I daresay even more emotional hearing it this year.
What I hate though is those compilation Christmas albums. You can never get a definitive one! You'll find one with almost all the hits you want...then realise that the version of Fairytale of New York on there is a cover by Ronan Keating, the singing Kermit!
Open presents before or after lunch?
Before! As a kid I was up with a lark, could barely sleep a wink on Christmas Eve I was so excited. Even today I still find it difficult to get a decent night's sleep, it's like the child in me is still calling the shots! My sister and I were always up early shredding the wrapping paper as we hungrily opened our prezzies. It's still a first thing in the morning tradition.
Normally with a Love To Hate post I'd cite the actor and a specific villainous role.
But you're rather spoilt for choice with Westhoughton's finest, Robert Shaw.
King of the villains you can't help but be impressed by or secretly root for, I suppose you have to mention his magnificent turn as Red Grant, an emotionless hardened killer in the employ of SPECTRE in the second James Bond film, 1963's From Russia With Love
In that he gets to face off opposite Sean Connery's Bond in a wince inducing bout of to the death hand to hand combat aboard the Orient Express.
Thirteen years later, and you could say Connery graciously accepted a rematch. 1976 saw Shaw play the Sheriff of Nottingham opposite Connery's Robin Hood in Dick Lester's elegiac Robin and Marian
One of the definitive adaptations of the legend, Robin and Marian tells the story of an aging Hood returning to Sherwood after a time spent fighting in The Crusades. Reuniting with his weary old band of outlaws and reigniting his love with Marian (Audrey Hepburn) he proceeds to do battle once more with a jaded and cynical Sheriff, who occasionally seems pleased or at least entertained to have his old foe back - a worthy opponent he can grudgingly respect to a certain extent.
Going face to face again, Connery's outlaw narrowly defeats and kills Shaw's Sheriff, but not before he delivers a fatal wound that Hood succumbs to at the film's close.
So let's call that 2-1 to Connery on aggregate eh?
Perhaps my favourite villainous turn from Shaw though is in 1974's The TakingOf Pelham One Two Three in which he used his now trademark darkly muttering and constantly irritated style to great effect as Bernard Ryder aka Mr Blue, leading his gang of hijackers (Mr Green, Mr Grey and Mr Brown - Tarantino take note) across the New York subway system.
It's an absolutely definitive performance and utterly influential - every single classy British villain/terrorist to grace the plethora of action movies from Die Hard in the following decade to Star Trek Into Darkness in the present day, owes a debt to Robert Shaw.
The The's 1983 hit This Is The Day was played at the end of this week's episode of Fresh Meat, Channel 4's cracking comedy about student life in Manchester. Now in its third series, the show is a little less lively as it once was, but still an enjoyable watch.
In a surprising move, Manic Street Preachers covered this track in 2011. It's catchy enough, and naturally a little rockier in places, but it's not a patch on the original.
I kinda knew this post would rankle with a few (despite my obvious No Tory Zone stance on this blog!) so I feel I need to elaborate just what I feel about this situation, why I feel attacking Cameron on such a matter is right, even though he as a person may not be responsible for some of the allegations currently on the net.....
Now, it's worth saying (perhaps just for the lawyers sake! haha) that there is no actual proof that, aged 19, Cameron was linked to the extreme FCS who produced these posters (unlike say John Bercow, then head of FCS, and Michael Gove) but he did go on to join the party that considered such views (because let's face it these were not just the extreme views of the FCS; Thatcher herself branded Mandela a terrorist and continued to acknowledge SA, Teddy Taylor was all for capital punishment of Mandela and Larry Lamb was vociferously against his release) is still something I cannot get my head around. Just how, why do you idealogically align yourself to a party who has/have such views? So the questions is, is there complicity in joining such a party of dubious beliefs? I would think so yes, and it was further proved by the extremely dodgy all expenses paid trip (paid by a pro apartheid lobby firm) anti sanctions fact finding mission to SA in 89 that Cameron went on. He's since apologised for his parties actions and attitudes yes, but that itself led to old Bernie Ingham suggesting Cameron was betraying the party! The Twitter responses I've copied here are rightly challenging the attitudes of a party Cameron heads that they'd rather like us all to forget. That tweet may be morally and factually wrong to imply he was personally involved with thr FCS (but then are they? Are they referring to 'you' as in your party? Or you as in Cameron himself?) but in pointing out the past they are rightly reminding others of just what attitudes the Tories had/have, and how hypocritical they are - which is what I said in this post all along. To that end I think what a lot of the critical voices are doing on Twitter (the one I've copied here being just one example) right now is a bit of a John Ford; "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"
Another sad loss has been brought to my attention; Junior Murvin the celebrated reggae artist, has died on Monday in Jamaica aged 67 following difficulties with hypertension and diabetes.
Junior's biggest hit was of course Police and Thieves from 1976. Produced by the legendary Lee Scratch Perry, the song transcended the niche reggae market to become an anthem for the late 1970s with its allusions to taking up arms against the state. It came to the attention of The Clash's bassist Paul Simonen and the punk rock group covered it on their debut LP. The song is perhaps most associated with the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival, which ended in riots.
Vampires, as a a genre, are dead in film. Creatively bereft, it is perhaps ironic that, like those mythical monsters, Hollywood seemed to have managed to make the genre more popular and prosperous whilst dead. Look at the Twilight franchise for example (if you really must) and the many knock offs that has gone on to create. For me, the last great vampire film came not from Hollywood but from Sweden; Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In) which a revived and rebooted Hammer would go on to remake into the English language with alarming but numbingly inevitable alacrity.
It has only truly been in TV (and specifically British TV, such as Ultraviolet and Being Human) and in the genres original format, the printed page (the likes of Kim Newman's excellent Anno Dracula series of novels, currently enjoying a revival, being an obvious stand out) where the vampiric legend has been kept afresh with bold storytelling, thriving with innovation and imagination, with one hand placed solemnly on the rule book, and another ready to rip it up.
It pleases me therefore to announce Byzantium as the finest vampire movie since Låt den rätte komma in. Neil Jordan's return to the genre (having previously directed 1994's Interview With a Vampire) shows he has lost none of his passion or flair for handling such material and he chose wisely when tackling Moira Buffini's script, an adaptation of her 2008 play A Vampire Story, which in the traditions of the very best innovative projects in the genre, isn't afraid to add its own spin to the myths and legends.
It would be impossible and unfair to write a review of this without referencing the sublime double act at the film's heart, namely the beautiful Gemma Arterton and the incredible Saoirse Ronan as runaway, undead mother and daughter Clara and Eleanor. The pair play off one another amazingly, Arterton's character is hard, brittle, duplicitous and passionate; a vampire who kills to keep her secret and wages an eternal war on those who exploit the weak - mainly men trading in or abusing women. Whereas Ronan is fey, haunted and moralistic; her blood lust is used only as a euthanasia for those aged and infirm pensioners tired of life, a state she must cruelly persevere with. It's another incredible turn from the then 18 year old Ronan who, simply for the role of Eleanor itself, deserves the lion's share of the praise. She is shockingly talented beyond her years and capturing that fine balancing act between young and old all at once.
Unfortunately as enjoyable as this film is, and it really truly is, it isn't flawless. There are a couple of hokey scenes, lacklustre dialogue and paper thin characters wandering around the plot - indeed some, such as Uri Gavriel's Savella, feel like they've walked in from another far trashier more popcorn friendly film altogether, spouting lines like 'I hate cry women' after he dispatches a poor unfortunate whose only failing was trying to help a central character - and it's these things that mean it misses out on perfection. Jordan clearly tries to make up for these weaknesses by populating the flimsier characters with some serious acting talent but as good as it is (Daniel Mays, Kate Ashfield, Tom Hollander - the latter of whom one suspects is taking the role that may have been at some stage set aside for Jordan regular Stephen Rea, who is notable for his non-appearance) it's not enough, and on one occasion (Johnny Lee Miller playing the boo hiss traditional villain) it just shows up the failings even more. Equally, the difficulty inherent in Caleb Landry Jones strange accent makes some key scenes really difficult to follow. He's possibly the film's weakest link, which is a real shame as he's central to the plot as Ronan's love interest/likely saviour. Now, against Ronan's talent it is perhaps understandable that he's found wanting - but that accent really doesn't help matters.
That said, the film is stunningly captivating with a nice line in imagery (the desolate run down seaside setting, the fountains flowing vivid Hammer red blood) the use of concerns of neglect and abuse that was run parallel to the story, with the immortality the characters possessed. and some tongue in cheek humour - the dysfunctional family sit down to watch Dracula Price Of Darkness one evening. Yes on the whole, I would definitely recommend the sexy and sinister Byzantium. It's a dark and heady, melancholic brew that occasionally put me in mind of Shimako Sato's Tale Of AVampire (1992) in the way it managed to capture both modern life in the UK and the immortality the characters possessed.
As regulars readers may know, I love a good period drama and real life crime/scandal from the 1960s or 70s. So imagine my excitement when both the BBC and ITV announced dramatisations regarding two cases that have fascinated me and caused me to read voraciously up on for a number of years now; the mystery of Lord Lucan in the 1970s and the robbery that shook 60s Britain, The Great Train Robbery.
Lucan is a two part drama beginning on ITV next Wednesday, 11th December. Based on John Pearson's excellent book The Gamblers. It stars the brilliant Rory Kinnear and Christopher Eccleston as Lucan and John Aspinall respectively, and is written by Jeff Pope. Pope is the guvnor when it comes to this kind of thing, having previously undertaken dramatisations of The Moors Murders (See No Evil) the hunt for The Yorkshire Ripper (This Is Personal) the Fred West story (Appropriate Adult) and for the big screen, Pierrepoint, the story of Britains'; notorious 20th Century hangman.
The final part of Lucan airs the following Wednesday, 18th December. Which leads me to my frustration...
The BBC have produced an equally glossy looking all star cast dramatisation in two parts of The Great Train Robbery, which annoyingly commences broadcast at the same time on Wednesday 18th! Surely the station schedulers would realise that people who are interested in this kind of thing will be infuriated by such a clash? I know that in this modern day of iPlayer, Sky+ and +1 channels it isn't so much an issue any more, but even so! The Great Train Robbery has been written by Chris Chibnall (the man behind 2013's biggest TV highlight and success, Broadchurch) and is cleverly split into two parts. The first part, The Robbers Tale will focus on the gang and the robbery itself and stars Luke Evans, Jack Roth (Tim's son and a dead spit for his father) Neil Maskell, Paul Anderson and Martin Compston, whilst the second part The Coppers Tale is broadcast the following day, Thursday 19th, and stars Jim Broadbent, Nick Moran, George Costigan and Robert Glenister as the men from Scotland Yard hunting the thieves down. My other frustration with this drama however is the BBC's irritating habit of blanket trails for this production. Seriously I think I counted 6 screenings of the trailer yesterday, and I've seen two already today...and it's not on for a fortnight yet! (Compare this to Lucan on ITV which I've seen about 3/4 trails for in the space of a week) I really want to watch this, I'm looking forward to it...but surely the Beeb must realise that in placing their trails wall to wall during each programme break they're actually turning people off from watching rather than interesting them?