Event: An Evening with the cast of Red Dwarf, The Approach, Nottingham. 02.05.2013

Tongue Tied

It’s not often you head towards The Approach at a little before 7pm on a Thursday evening and encounter a distinctly nerd-flavoured queue halfway down Friar Lane. But since last Thursday involved the venue playing host to an intimate ‘Evening With’ appearance from all four of the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf, it was perhaps inevitable.

The event was such a resounding success even before it took place that it took just two hours for the tickets to sell out, and from thereonin the sterling work of event organiser, Lee Wallis, guaranteed a coup for both him and the city of Nottingham.

Three quarters of the team took the stage early on in the evening, their longstanding camaraderie immediately evident in both their banter and their poking good-natured fun at the non-appearance of Danny John Jules, whose lateness will be no particular surprise to anyone who’s ever attended a Red Dwarf convention!

Craig Charles immediately commandeered the microphone, cracking jokes and generally getting the ball rolling with some highly amusing anecdotes in which he managed to demonstrate an impressive ability to recall several reviews verbatim (his acting has apparently been described as “like a cheese and ham sandwich without the cheese and bread”) while also extracting belly laughs from the entire audience.

Robert Llewellyn was induced to explain (and demonstrate) exactly how he came up with Kryten’s walk, and the three of them were happy to perform a quick rendition of Tongue Tied, encoring with Danny when he finally arrived to roars of amusement from the crowd and amused resignation from his comrades. Regrettably dancing-free, but as the stage was tiny and they revealed that with the exception of Danny they’d all had to spend a full week rehearsing that particular scene, maybe it was just as well for the safety of the pints in the first row of a distinctly packed Approach!

Tidbits of interest to the show’s fans (of which, of course I have been one since… well, since forever, really, since it started airing when I was 10 and I have older siblings of a sci-fi persuasion) were revealed along the course of the evening: the most pertinent being that Doug Naylor is in the process of writing series XI, and they’re all keen to participate! But we also gathered that Danny’s exits can take some time to perfect, that Craig has a remarkable memory for lines, and that Chris Barrie spent most of a day gesticulating in an assortment of increasingly bizarre ways in order to achieve the full, final Rimmer salute.

But really, the event was all about the boys from the ‘Dwarf themselves. It was evident throughout the entire night that this is a bunch of blokes who like and respect each other and have known one another for twenty-five years. The banter was both hilarious and good-natured, the reminiscing was plentiful and the mood was lively – in a setting as intimate as the well-chosen Approach, it felt a little bit like we’d all been invited to sit around in their living room while they had a natter and threw some jokes around.

RD Full Cast

They indulged the audience freely, slipping into Duane Dibbley, Ace and Kryten trying to say ‘smeghead’ when requested, and while Chris couldn’t for the life of him remember what CLITORIS stood for when asked, Craig’s impressive memory came to the rescue – after the inevitable few jokes. We still don’t know exactly what was on that double polaroid, though. Oh, and, we hate to say it, but Chris isn’t a particular fan of gazpacho soup. Too cold.

When pressed for the real high points, though, the guys came over all serious for once and made it quite clear that it was all about the camaraderie between the boys from the ‘Dwarf, who’ve known each other longer in some cases than they’ve known their wives. Not bad for a bunch of guys that describe themselves as ‘Last of the Summer Wine in Space’.

After a well-orchestrated Q&A session with the crowd, the cast lingered for a signing marathon as the poor bar staff did their best to retrieve the empty glasses left by a happy crowd in a sold-out room. It really couldn’t have gone better.

Given the phenomenal success of this event, I’d strongly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for similar future occasions.

Event Organiser: Twitter. Facebook.
Venue Website: The Approach Nottingham.

Longhand, Shorthand, Typing and Scribbles

PenToPaperIt’s a funny thing, writing. Different types of writing, different moods and different stages of the process all seem to demand slightly different approaches.

My diaries have nearly always been handwritten. There was an experiment with typing them way back when Windows 3.1 was the In Thing, but by and large, I like a good quality notebook and a decent ballpoint pen for my ponderings. I don’t like the restriction imposed by actual diaries – some days there’s nothing much to say and other days there’s pages of it, so a page-per-day format makes little sense in my eyes. Far better to just head the notebook entry for the day with the date, day, and anything else I happen to think significant with regard to my moods and feelings, and just go. Half the time I don’t quite know what I’m going to write about before I sit down at my desk and open the book. I’m not one of life’s ‘got up, put washing on, watched tv’ diarists, though you’ll see a bit of general life-recording in there, but nor am I an angsty stream of consciousness type (Well, not these days. Twenty years ago when I was in my teens, maybe. Mind you, at that point I used to draw cartoon strips in ’em as well from time to time.). It’s reflection, on self, events, others and life, and it requires a medium that allows for a freeform yet easy-reference approach.

Blogs, on the other hand – and I’ve been blogging both personally and professionally for over a decade in various places – are typed straight into WordPress as befits the medium. They’re snappier, not so personal, constructed rather than reflective, and so they suit a style of actually getting the words out that reflects that, and a medium that makes cut, paste, delete, edit, publish, share super simple.

Stories, well, they can go either way. I have an ideas notebook which contains bits of stories, random scenes which may or may not be revisited some other time, listed-out story outlines and character descriptions, event flowcharts and scribbled bubble diagrams to explore the various different ways a particular theme could be taken. There’s always just enough there to get the idea out of my head and onto paper, but no more. I use diagrams if it feels right, if there are several directions a thing could take or themes I want to explore, because spiralling thoughts can’t be pinned into sensible lists.

I’ll often write first drafts, or the start (and by ‘start’ I mean ‘first bit I start writing’, which is of course rarely the actual start of the piece although it might be the start of the backstory that’s later revealed) of them, in longhand – partly because it’s often more convenient if I’m out of the house (although I’ve learnt that writing erotica in your lunchbreak at work isn’t the best idea in the world) and partly because there’s something about the process of physically putting pen to paper, of crossing out words that don’t fit, of scribbling notes in margins and drawing whooshing arrows to swap paragraphs around, that helps me to shape those initial doughy lumps of story idea to a more workable state. Once that initial kneading is done and a touch of further tinkering is added via the laptop, the rest seems to flow much more easily through fingers that can type faster than they can write.

Art: Generalities

I tend not to go for realism in painted art. Or gentleness. I’m not one for brushstrokes so fine you can barely see them or dainty flowers executed in delicate pastels. I can appreciate the skill level involved – let’s face it, it far exceeds my own! But it’s not me, it’s not a type of expression that resonates for me.

I like vibrant colour – the colours of a fiery Autumn. Visible brush and knife work. Something that looks like it’s been painted in broad sweeps or splashes or speedy dabs. Texture. Something that evokes rather than depicts.

I’m my father’s daughter in much of this – I have his liking for Matisse, his preference for something a little bit dramatic or quirky, not photographic, executed in strong colours. Maybe a surprise or two.

I like Afremov‘s evocative paintings of autumnal city evenings, warm and inviting, the kind of aloneness that makes you feel alive rather than lonely.

I like images that evoke fire and wood, nature and humanity at its most dramatic and powerful. Abstract concepts and executions. Boldness with a side order of mystery. Elegance leavened with quirkiness. Warmth that entices and encourages but doesn’t coddle. If art expresses who and what you are, I guess I just told you an awful lot.

And because Pinterest is a better medium for conveying art – this is the art that speaks to me.

Lost Words

I’ve destroyed or lost countless pieces of writing over the years. Words and effort burnt, thrown away, deleted or mislaid a thousand times.

I remember a square spiral bound notebook I had at university in which I wrote up all my stories as neatly as possible (a hard thing to do when you’re not blessed with neat writing and your mind’s busy writing the thing after the thing you’re transcribing) – some of them only really scenes and snapshots. It didn’t survive. Burnt. But I remember the strongest of the stories it contained.

I remember my storybook from primary school, age 10 or so. Along with that of a friend who had particularly neat writing, it was snaffled by the school to use as some sort of evidence that Kids Do Good Stuff Here and probably found itself travelling to the tip with a skipful of old chairs and hymn books decades ago.

I remember a couple of horror stories I wrote, one at 8ish and one at 14ish. One got lost in the mists of time and the other vanished into the schoolwork heap. I remember one with total clarity but only get flashes of feeling from the other.

I remember a blog hardly anyone knew about, deleted long ago, though some of its ideas have since been recycled. Word and OpenOffice documents galore have met their match at the hands of a dissatisfied Cat and shift-delete.

But alongside the narrative carnage, I’ve been preserving certain writing with the care and attention you’d lavish on a signed first edition. My diaries, of course, survive in all their cringe-inducing glory. But then there are the stories that one way or another needed preserving.

These are the documents that have made it from PC to PC numerous times, some of them making their first few transfers on floppy disks (remember those, kids?) having been typed up from longhand. These are the documents of which I have multiple copies squirrelled away, Just In Case.

I’m not sitting on a pile of would-be bestsellers; this is the group of documents with which I can’t bring myself to part. They have too much in them.

There are poems that I wrote taking the mickey out of certain teachers or when leaving, or even doing, particular jobs – unprintable, sadly, but highly amusing to those of us in the know.

There are the starts of stories that never got finished not because the idea wasn’t sound but because I wasn’t the right me then to write them. I will be someday. Some of these have already been gutted for the good flesh, but I still like to keep the old carcasses around.

Old blogs, too. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Except for the one I killed entirely, I have the best bits from all of them saved.

There’s the half a book a friend and I wrote to keep ourselves entertained during interminable enforced ‘revision periods’ at school. When we were supposed to be revising for our GCSEs, we were collaborating on a fantasy of proportions that threatened to be epic if we ever finished. We called it Bill. It featured a warlock by the name of Moshollondo, which name will make complete sense to anyone who went to the same school we did who juggles it around a bit to find its origin, and a devil who, now that I think about it, bore a striking resemblance to Lister’s Confidence in the Confidence and Paranoia episode of Red Dwarf. I couldn’t possibly hit the delete button on Bill, even though he’s over two decades old and never likely to be finished.

Some things were never meant to be. Some things served their purpose and don’t need to linger. Some things will find their purpose one day.

And some things were simply made to stick around.

Writing: Running

I actually wrote this a few years ago now – in 2009, my records tell me. An atypical, fairly straight little storyette. Not from my life, or at least not all of it, but from many lives.

She was running. Her breath was coming in shallow, throat-sharping breaths, sweat slicking her fringe to her forehead, cheeks flushed, sweat making increasingly wide and acrid splotches under her arms.

She flicked a glance at the digital display. 5mph. Heartrate wobbling dangerously on the edge of the red warning bars. 48 minutes completed. She pushed the speed button a couple of times, slowing the machine to a trundle while she plodded for a minute, holding her hand against the side of her body as if to prop it up. She glanced at the display again, then took a swig of water, wiped her forehead, and broke back into a run.

Three quarters of an hour later, and the staff were gently intruding into her treadmill trance to let her know the gym was due to close in half an hour. Reluctantly, she stepped off the machine, stumbling a little as her feet touched steady ground for the first time in over an hour.

She stood directly under the showerhead, barely moving, allowing the hot stream to cascade over her for a while. She emerged pink from exertion and heat, braced herself, and stepped onto the scales.

She’d lost a pound since yesterday. She was disappointed. Losing weight was great, but at this rate she’d be huge for months.

She dressed and drove home, revolving plans to shift the remainder of the weight. Perhaps if she just had cereal tonight, then she could have salad for lunch tomorrow, maybe allow herself a couple of those nice sesame Ryvitas later on. And she needed to run more, of course.

She got up early in the morning and, despite the chill in the early spring air, went for a run outside. By the time she stood, drooping, under the showers at work she’d run miles and was once again pouring with sweat. She allowed herself a small biscuit with her morning cuppa, but uneasily resolved not to have milk in her tea all day to compensate.

She ate lunch – a small salad – at her desk rather than go to the cafe with her colleagues. She couldn’t bear the clumsy “oh go on, one cake won’t hurt” comments and figured that when they protested “But you’re skinny already, you don’t need to lose weight” they were just being kind. It only took standing in front of the mirror to see that her neck was still fleshy, her stomach rounding over the top of her trousers, thighs too chunky and rippled to contemplate. She disgusted herself.

Her head ached, and she was struggling to concentrate, numbers and formulae blurring and flipping before her eyes. She kept blinking firmly and opening her eyes wide to try to make the shapes swim into a smeary kind of focus.

As she passed her hand across her forehead again, she noticed her colleague, Mark, looking at her. He saw she’d noticed and smiled sheepishly and then asked if she was ok. She flipped a feeble, feelingless smile at him and said she was fine.

She’d been letting her head drop, she realised. He must have been staring at that fleshy neck, practically forming double chins in that unflattering pose. Concerned about me my arse, she thought bitterly.

She left at five on the dot, not that she really managed to do much, and turned down, yet again, the weekly invitation to the post-work Friday night booze up.

She drove straight to the gym and ran for a couple of hours before she weighed herself again. She’d lost a pound. The child in her wailed and stamped her foot in frustration. Maybe if she stuck to the black tea, got rid of the biscuits, and didn’t have cheese with her salad she’d do better.

She drove home and wept as she listened to a voicemail from Mark, tentatively asking if she was ok and whether she’d be up for going for coffee at the weekend. Great, she thought, take the piss out of the fat girl. I bet they were all listening to him, snickering into their drinks at the idea the fittest bloke in the office would be interested in a munter like her.

She went through the cupboards in a tearful rage, flinging anything vaguely unhealthy into a bin liner and ditching it in the wheelie bin in disgust at herself for owning so much of it.

Overwrought and determined to avoid eating that evening, she went to bed at nine o’clock.

Another early morning, another pair of size 6 tracksuit trousers, another revolted glance in the mirror as she left the house. Ignoring the texts from her colleagues, the cheery g’mornings from her neighbours, the pain in her sides and the sweat on her body, she kept on running. Always running.

Gig Review: Moulettes & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Truth be told, it was the Moulettes that piqued my interest in this gig, at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham last night. We saw them supporting the Levellers a month or two ago and couldn’t help but be impressed by their infectious variety of modern folk/indie/pop music.

Last night’s show got off to a slightly irksome start after being quite heavily delayed, but despite the not-particularly jam-packed state of the Rescue Rooms the Moulettes did a great job of winning over a restless crowd that clearly didn’t quite know what to expect when cello, double bass and autoharp made an appearance on stage. The second track of an all too short half hour set, the gloriously haunting blend of voices that is ‘Songbird’, made the non-initiated sit up and take notice of the sheer talent on stage, and by the time violinist Georgina Leach and cellist Hannah Miller launched into a thumpingly spirited rendition of strings-only tune ‘Assault’ the crowd was nicely warmed up and appropriately appreciative.

A storming performance of macabre tale, ‘Bloodshed in the Woodshed’, was followed by the wonderfully varied ‘Requiem’ to draw a fabulously exuberant set to a regrettably early but triumphant close.

The enthusiasm of all the Moulettes for what they do is palpable – it’s clear for every moment they’re on stage that every one of them loves what they do (Bassoon and autoharp guru Ruth Skipper in particular flashes out a ridiculously engaging smile from time to time). But don’t let the ‘folky’ part of the musical description fool you into thinking that their stock in trade are quaint and simple ditties – the tracks are a complex blend of instruments, lyrics, voices and tempos. More than once, I saw folk at the front of the crowd clapping in time only for the tune to suddenly wrongfoot them by whirling and dancing off in a different direction and speed. The whole sense is one of fun – for both band and audience, if you keep an open ear and flow along with the music.

As with any skilled musicians, the Moulettes really come alive on stage, when the sheer power of their stunning voices and command over their instruments really shines – but if ‘complex, fun, slightly macabre at times, folky/indieish/generally a bit quirky’ sounds like it’s up your musical alley and current single, Uca’s Dance, embedded in this post appeals, I strongly recommend checking out their two albums, Moulettes and The Bear’s Revenge (yes, they’re on iTunes as well).

As for Arthur Brown, well, to be perfectly honest, neither me nor my partner knew quite what to expect beyond a certain idiosyncracy and most likely a rendition of the inevitable ‘Fire’.

Turns out, he can’t half belt out a tune! Gliding onstage in a long velvet cape (which turned out to be covering at least 3 outfit changes – he must have been sweltering for the first few tracks!) and sporting a mask, with his band similarly be-masked, we kind of knew we were in for something a bit quirky. And the 70 year old from Whitby proved he knew a thing or two about showmanship.

Not entirely surprisingly, the set was a fair bit psychedelic in places, but the musical and vocal range on show was as winning as the charismatic and decidedly spry Mr Brown himself – none of the weakness in his voice that affects the Maccas of this world as they age! His introduction to Fire was suitably wry and self-deprecating – he must’ve been singing it on an alarmingly regular basis for decades – but he and the band delivered a stormer as the inevitable climax to the gig. It’s a crazy world indeed, but a pretty remarkable one at that – and since I was one of the ‘I know ‘Fire’ but not sure what else he’s done’ crowd that was only really there for the Moulettes I was completely won over by the tall one in facepaint.

The god of hellfire himself:

Art Exhibition: Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary

On Friday, I spent a fascinating couple of hours checking out the latest exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary – Kafou. Out of all of the exhibitions I’ve seen there since this fantastic and much-to-be-recommended space opened I reckon this one was the most up my alley.



Kafou is a celebration of Haitian art, in which themes of Voodoo rituals and the Haitian revolution recur as frequently as the gloriously vibrant colours that make the word ‘celebration’ seem more appropriate than it often is when used in the context of art exhibitions 😉 There’s some dark stuff there, none of the artists featured are likely to delight fans of the literal and the photographic, and despite the best efforts of the exhibition notes I’m sure I didn’t get all of the symbolism (though a surprising amount of it will seem oddly familiar for those of you who have read Pratchett’s Witches Abroad!), but as a fan of colour and symbolism I found it largely both beautiful and fascinating. It’s not just painting, though that forms the bulk of the exhibit – there are also some gloriously rough-at-the-edges sculptures, some stunning and vast beadwork scenes for the textiles fans, and a few original, suspiciously torn and stained, ritual cloths.

One thing that utterly charmed me was the few parents and grandparents that I saw taking quite young children round (I’m guessing they didn’t dwell on the one or two rather surreal depictions of devil-related nightmares!) and really encouraging a completely natural appreciation of the work. I love art (though I can’t for the life of me draw or paint – that seems to be a ‘one per generation’ thing in my family, and my sister nabbed it!), but like literature it does tend to suffer a bit from people wanting to over-analyse and over-dissect. It pays, I think, to consider themes and symbols and metaphor, but I can’t help feeling that the people who focus on a particular brushstroke (or sentence, if we’re talking literature) to the Nth degree are in danger of losing the impact of the whole while they peer at the detail trying to figure out the artist’s putative intentions – because so much of any artistic expression is in what feels right.

That’s not to say that elements of the whole aren’t placed very deliberately – of course they are, and of course you work a certain way to create a certain feel – but if you tried to design by checklist and focused on Your Big Intent (instead of on the actual process of creation) for every word or brushstroke instead of following your instincts to some extent I think you’d soon cripple yourself with analysis and risk ending up with something rather clinical. Perfecting the way your message is conveyed is what sketches and first drafts are for, after all 😉

So, you can see why there’s something rather magical to me about children simply being encouraged to put into words what’s made them light up or step back to take in a picture properly. It’s tapping into their instinctive appreciation, getting them to put into words what a painting has made them feel, what’s caught their eye. What The Artist Intended can come later, after the connection with the work has already been made.

I’m not saying that analysis is bad – far from it! Having an idea what the artist was working towards or focusing on while working helps to inform your appreciation of the work, cultural context helps decode things you otherwise may have missed, and semiotics is a fascinating study in itself and a rich seam to mine when studying any piece of art or literature.  But these things aren’t to be used to carefully take apart a creation and view it piece-by-piece – I much prefer to think of them as aiming to augment my understanding of a work as a whole. They create the nod of recognition, the smile at an in-joke that personalises the piece a little more for you. The close-up study helps – but you do need to remember to read to the end and consider your impression of the novel as a whole, or to take a few steps back and view the painting from a distance.

I guess you could say the same of a lot of elements of life.