iainjclark’s mysterious world

Theft

I chased a thief out of our kitchen tonight.

I was sitting in the front room typing on our shiny new laptop just after 10 pm when I heard a funny noise from the kitchen. At first I assumed it was a cat (ours or someone else’s) – this would hardly be unusual! But it sounded odd so I went to look and found a stranger in the kitchen. Young, white, wearing a white tracksuit top1. I yelled at him and he legged it out of the back door, around onto the drive and out onto the street. I saw him disappear around the corner but it was dark, wet, I was wearing socks and I’d tripped over something on the drive. Common sense reasserted itself and I gave up!

Turns out the thing I stubbed my toe on in the drive was his push-bike, which I (perhaps stupidly) carted back into the kitchen and locked the door. Janet and Anna had been upstairs but Janet was pretty shocked when I told her and immediately rang the police. An officer came around within 10 minutes, during which time we tried to work out what if anything was missing. Finally Janet spotted that my work briefcase was gone – and I’d seen him holding some sort of bag as he exited our drive. As far as we can tell that’s all he got. In the grand scheme of things it could have been a lot worse – we’re often both upstairs, and all sorts of kit including the laptop would have been lying around.

All told it was over in about 15 seconds but it’s still really annoying and fairly shocking. The police took my statement, took the bike to fingerprint and tomorrow they come to do more forensics and take my prints for reference. I did get a look at the thief and said I’m prepared to ID him, but whether I could actually pick his picture out in practice is another matter. The police officer was incredibly professional and supportive and I can’t speak highly enough of the initial support we’ve had.

Needless to say we’ll be making sure to lock the back door in the future, even if we’re in and up and about. It’s more the principle of the thing – to have an intruder in your home, to think what might have happened, and worry he might come back. Fortunately he can’t have seen much so won’t know what’s in the house to steal and hopefully there’s no incentive for him to come back. Thieves are complete bastards, really.

1Shops at Chavs R Us, basically.

Zoinks, Scoob!

Halloween is fast approaching. We always enjoy Halloween a little too much, mainly for the cuteness of the trick-or-treaters in these parts. And that was before we had our own offspring. Obviously Anna is still too young to participate this year (although Mummy and Daddy may have perpetrated a halloween babygrow… you’ll just have to wait until the day in question for the unforgiveable photos).

However I’m currently lacking anything spooky to watch. The trouble is my brain is too demanding. I’m a sceptic who desperately likes being creeped out but has to find things that sneak past my hokum-detectors and let me suspend my disbelief. I generally don’t like gory horror movies, I’m not remotely interesting in things like Saw, I can’t stand creduluous ‘documentary’ series about ghosts, and I’d rather gouge Derek Acorah’s eyes out than watch Most Haunted. If only there was a genuinely rigorous, scientifically minded documentary about the supernatural that could still leave me with chills I’d be very happy.

I like things that give me a little frisson of unease, and I’ve run out of inspiration. In past years we’ve watched Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, Children of the Stones, the film version of Quatermass and the Pit, Night of the Demon, the Robert Wise version of The Haunting, and even The Horror of Fang Rock. Last Christmas I really enjoyed Mark Gatiss’s Crooked House, particularly the third and final part.

So, here’s a plea. Can anyone recommend anything along those lines to creep me out this Halloween?

Logo-polis

The new Steven Moffat era version of the Doctor Who logo has arrived. They announced it this morning. Yes, they announced a logo. Yesterday they announced the announcement. Sadly the ridiculous over-hype worked on me, and I turned up at 8 am to see it.

I’d put it behind a cut but it’ll be all over the internet within… well it’s probably already there.

My response? Hmmm. It’s… a Doctor Who logo. The actual logo is nicely retro only with a new font, harking back to the first two logos the series ever had (I’m sensing a retro theme from Moffat, what with the Doctor’s costume and the rejuvenated look of the Tardis plus St. John’s sticker.) The Tardis version of the logo is gimmicky tosh. Let’s hope we don’t see a lot of that one.

ETA: It’s interesting to me that Moffat is changing quite so many aspects of the show to launch his new era. Doctor, companion, Tardis (the interior is rumoured to be having a few changes), logo, plus presumably credits and maybe a remix of the theme? Usually regenerations cause so much nervousness that they like to contrive as much continuity as possible to reassure the viewer. This approach is certainly confident. But, particularly coming off such a popular and iconic Doctor as Tennant, will it alienate people or shed a chunk of viewers who feel that ‘their’ Doctor Who has finished?

Injury to felines

We had a bit of an adventure yesterday when we found an injured cat in our garage.

After I got home last night I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted a grey and white cat with its collar hooked under its armpit, something that happens to our cats occasionally and severely hampers their movement. I dashed outside and saw its tail disappear into our garage through a hole in the door (must get that fixed!) Janet and I found the cat cowering at the back of the garage behind the lawnmower, and it quickly became clear that it was in a bad way. The collar was a nasty red plastic one and it had rubbed the skin raw under the leg, removing all the fur in a large area which was red and evil-looking. The poor thing must have been in agony.

Intrepidly donning a pair of chunky gardening gloves I managed to grab the hissing beast and desperately tried to remove the collar while it struggled and bit me frantically through the gloves (which proved fairly useless at resisting cat fangs). Finally Janet cut the collar off with scissors, at which point the cat settled down a bit and we managed to get it into one of our cat boxes.

Then we rang around every local vet we could find, all of which were shut. One answerphone directed me to a 24 hours vet helpline, which in turn sent me to the RSPCA, who gave me a log number and told me to, er, find a local vet. Finally we got one that was open til 7 pm and kindly agreed to stay open long enough for me to get there with the injured cat. The RSPCA log number means the vet can claim £60 + VAT, and ring if they need to ask for more money. According to the RSPCA this makes for much more cooperative vets!

Then I came home, slathered my bloodied finger in germolene, and Janet did some “Injured Cat Found” posters which we taped-up in nearby streets, pub and shop. I was still a bit worried to be honest. The wound looked like it was many hours or days old, and although the Vets took the cat in last night they couldn’t treat it properly til this morning. Also the cat could have been miles from home and the owner might never be found.

Thankfully Janet took a call today from someone who saw our poster and recognised the description, and we’ve just had a call from the vets. The owner has collected the cat, Megan, and it should make a slow but full recovery. Apparently it’s been missing since July, when it was being looked after by a friend of the owners during a holiday, and went missing. (Oh the guilt that friend must have felt!) They haven’t seen it since.

All told that put paid to most of last night and I have a sore finger for my troubles. Cats mouths aren’t the most hygienic things so I’m keeping an eye on the finger but so far it doesn’t seem infected.

Phew. I’m very relieved, and the owner has passed on their thanks. As Janet says, we’d want someone to do that for our cats, so it’s only fair we do it too.

Oh bugger

Bugger. We don’t have a good history of having Tom McRae gigs cancelled on us. This was just posted by Tom McRae on his forum (abridged version below):

“I’m very sorry to have to tell you all that the release of the new album and subsequent tour has been delayed until next year.

Due to circumstances I couldn’t really control – and a last minute record deal being offered, which I desperately needed but wasn’t expecting, I have been asked to reschedule the tour to early next year.

As you are all aware the industry is in turmoil right now, and while I was preparing to throw yet another record out there unassisted, only for it to vanish instantly like the last 3 – it looks now as if a label wants to champion it after all.

This is obviously still a gamble, and who knows if it will ultimately change anything, but I owe it to the songs (which I hope you’ll think are some of the best I’ve written – when you get a bloody chance to hear them) and I think I owe it to many of you, who have been urging me on with your support for many years.

If you can bear with me just a little longer, I’ll have more news, and some hard facts about the new dates. I think we’re looking at February now, which gives the label a chance to promote the record before and during the tour. There’s even talk of a single going to radio – so it seems I’ll have to adjust to working with crazy optimists for a while. But none of this gets you closer to hearing the new songs or seeing them performed by the amazing band I had put together. For that I apologise again.

I’m also going to look into ways which I can begin to make this up to you somehow in the short term, maybe I can do the odd solo show here and there, or ask to let you hear a song or two from the album – I’ll let you know how I get on.

Tom”

Fantastic news about the record contract, obviously, and wish him every success. Ah well. We’ll get to see the gig (and hear the new album) eventually. Fingers crossed!

Cinemattractions

My latest film watching is here. Wonderfully we’ve been able to sneak out and see films at the cinema two weekends in a row.

Anna’s been fantastically well-behaved recently, and even slept for five hours straight last night. That’s five whole hours of sleep. I know. Also she’s just started smiling a little bit, which is a huge psychological breakthrough. She particularly loves it if you imitate her little chirrups and gurgles, which results in a delighted smile. Most of the time she sounds suspiciously like a mogwai, which is slightly worrying since we’ve been feeding her after midnight.

Mister Sherlock Holmes

We’ve been watching the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series from the start. We’ve just made it to ‘The Final Problem’, featuring Holmes’s apparent death and the final appearance of Watson #1, whom I think I marginally prefer to Watson #2 for his eagerness and fantastically deadpan bemusement. I’m not sure what more I can say about Brett’s merits as Holmes except that rewatching these episodes has reminded me just how very good he was in the role, particularly early on. Athletic, eccentric, rude, bursting with nervous energy, and the very image of what you want Holmes to be.

There’s also a realism that this Granada series derives from having been shot on location that puts it streets ahead of any amount of over-dressed ye olde england sets, plush smoking jackets and fake pea-souper fogs. When you’ve seen Matt Frewer as Holmes (and generally speaking I have nothing against Matt Frewer) you realise just how badly wrong Holmes can go when treated like a Disneyland attraction. Brett’s Holmes and the world he inhabits are perfectly real — despite being inhabited by a parade of Victorian grotesques.

Despite all this I remain inexplicably positive about the ludicrous Guy Ritchie romp starring Robert Downey Jr. I put this down to an ability to compartmentalise.

On a related note I’m not sure how I missed this news that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are making a modern day version of Holmes starring the improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch. If it weren’t for the writers I’d dismiss this out of hand. With these writers, well, I’ll give it a chance.

Plus they’ve just found the Giant Rat of (Somewhere Near) Sumatra.

The new Who

They’ve done what I would have done and dressed him older to contrast with Matt Smith’s relative youth. Sort of like Indiana Jones in his day job, actually, but with modern footwear

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Not blown away by it, and less impressed than I was with Tennant’s first costume reveal, but it works. This is an official BBC release, but now we just need some proper promo pics.

EDIT: More pics here.

In a world…

Nothing new to report on the Bump front, so here’s some nice eye candy that distracted me last night.

Here’s a really impressive trailer for a film that was completely off my radar, Daybreakers. Stars Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and set in a world in which Vampires are the majority and humans the hunted underclass. Pushes all my buttons, really.

The surprisingly good, even mature looking (I know, I know), trailer for Torchwood’s Children of Earth mini-series (running in five parts Mon to Fri in a single week.)

I’m intrigued by the Johnny Depp / Christian Bale / Michael Mann gangster flick Public Enemies, even if the trailer is just an abridged version of the entire film as far as I can tell. Although he can be quirky and mannered as an actor, Depp is such a chameleon sometimes.

And BIG ‘SPLODY THINGS. Roland Emmerich destroying the world again in 2012. Unlike Transformers, the astonishing spectacle of this one may actually lure me to the cinema against my better judgement.

Finally, and on a slight tangent, I’m a complete nerd sometimes but this CGI image from a forthcoming Trek calendar is just stunningly beautiful. In a nerdy way. (From the blog of Doug Drexler, an FX guy from Trek / BSG.)

Brian Wright

Woo hoo! Have tickets to see the Mope King himself (sorry Dan) Tom McRae in the autumn, and it turns out that his support act will be the inestimable Brian Wright. Two great acts for the price of one.

I first saw Brian Wright doing a guest song at a Hotel Cafe tour, then later supporting Mr Mcrae, and then as a full member of the Hotel Cafe. I think he’s a deceptively rich songwriter who often transcends the various country/honky tonk genres he writes in. There are some good examples of his range of stuff on his myspace page (with his band The Waco Tragedies), from the foot-stomping Glory Hallelujah to the freewheeling Morning Cigarette and the wistful Neighborhood. The only one I’m not keen on is the None More Country Bluebird.

All creatures alive and dead

Had a gorgeously hot and sunny couple of days here, which in the last couple of hours has suddenly become that deep gloom that signals either a solar eclipse or a heavy rain shower. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be the latter.

Presumably this is because our cats have begun sacrificing mice to appease the Great Sky God. For some weeks now Pixie has been intermittently trotting into the house just after dusk with a tiny grey mouse clamped proudly between her teeth. I, in turn, have been rescuing said mouse, checking that it appears uninjured, and releasing it back into the wild where it runs off to forage happily (until its next impromptu trip to our hall carpet).

Last night however I was summoned to the hall by Pixie’s plaintive cries, and discovered her patting her pet mouse indignantly. It had rudely stopped moving, probably on account of the gaping hole in its side. Sad. Even later last night I went into the kitchen to find our other cat, Charcoal, excitedly patting yet another small rodent in the hopes that it would rise from the dead and do a bit more scampering. This one had no injuries, but was just as deceased. Clearly it’s time to keep the cats in of an evening, in order to spare the local mouse community any further atrocities.

On a positive wildlife note our swifts are once again nesting in the eaves of our house. Every so often they launch from the rafters in a high-speed parabolic curve and whoosh past your ear.

We also went for a nice walk in the local park on Saturday, which has some really big old trees, and came across a nesting pair of woodpeckers (possibly the same ones that visit our garden, but just as possibly a different pair). They were scouring the bark of an Ash tree, which had three neat circular holes drilled into its trunk. I’ve never seen an actual hole made by a woodpecker, so that was quite cool. I’m still amazed that a bird can drill-out such a large space. We could hear the near-constant twittering of what we assume were woodpecker chicks coming from the general direction of the holes.

Which reminds me – Springwatch starts again tonight. Bill Oddie has been replaced by Chris Packham, in what is almost certainly an improvement. I remember Chris from kid’s TV, when he had the same hairdo as Limahl from Kajagoogoo.

Doctor Who – old, new, and tangential

Yay, bank holiday!

Apropos of nothing in particular, I indulged in a bit more nostalgic Doctor Who watching recently.

‘Battlefield’ starring Sylvester McCoy was the extended DVD version. While it’s one of the Seventh Doctor’s better outings (i.e. it’s not utterly unwatchable), it’s very stilted. In general it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse. (Which knowing Who is probably exactly how it was shot.) McCoy does his best to appear, by turns, mysterious, impish and brooding, but I remain utterly unconvinced that he’s any of those things. Worse, I can’t help feeling that the Doctor is written significantly better than he’s played, which is never a good feeling to have about the lead character. Likewise Sophie Aldred as Ace gets a lot of gushing teenage behaviour for which the actress seems too old. There are a few decent scenes and likeable supporting characters, and a welcome return for Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. Oh and a cool blue demon. But overall: meh. Sorry, Tim!

‘Image of the Fendahl’ starring Tom Baker is better. Okay, it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse, but at least Tom Baker is convincing. The story is an odd pastiche of ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, involving ancient aliens from Time Lord mythology who have somehow influenced human evolution. The plot is woefully illogical and under-explained, to the point where it feels like key scenes must be missing. On the plus side it has Chris Boucher’s usual crackling dialogue and pin-sharp characterisation, and a very decent supporting cast. I have no recollection of watching it my youth so I can’t lean on nostalgia with this one, but I do remember the novelisation which probably helps.

On a related-ish note, here are a couple of BBC News videos:

An interview with Russell T Davies about completing filming on his (and David Tennant’s) era on Doctor Who. (It includes the trailer for ‘The Waters of Mars’ special that aired after the Easter special.)

A five minute interview with Richard Dawkins that barrels through all the questions you’d expect, against a ticking clock, and gets Dawkins’s usual precise answers.1

1 Dawkins is of course best known for his cameo in last season’s Doctor Who finale (not to mention being married to Romana mk II), but has probably done a few non Who-related things in his life.

Talking pictures

A gracious open letter from creator Josh Friedman on the sad cancellation of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles. When it was bad it was slightly meandering, but when it was good it was excellent. I’m pleased it got two series; I’d have been far more gutted had it died after its first year, whereas this way it had a chance to tell a more rounded story.

A trailer for Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes film featuring a Holmes who is much more like Robert Downey Jr. than we’d previously imagined. The movie looks like a lot of fun on its own terms, but it bears so little resemblance to Sherlock Holmes that I’ll just have to pretend it’s something else. (Downloadable trailers in better quality here.)

Two clips of the surely superfluous new ‘V’ miniseries starring Morena Baccarin. It’s not like the original ‘V’ was any great shakes. The very first miniseries was a lot better than the second (The Final Battle), with its infamous rubber alien baby, and the second miniseries was itself like Shakespeare compared to the short-lived weekly series that ended up as Dynasty with Lizards. I’m willing to give the remake a shot since any remake brings with it the potential to improve on the source material, but how exactly will they make a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing alien invasion feel fresh and relevant these days? Oddly the clips remind me more of Earth: Final Conflict than ‘V’.

And finally, rejoice world for the superlatively quirky The Middleman is arriving on (region 1) DVD. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s possibly the funnest thing ever.

Crazy mixed-up world

Dollhouse has been renewed for a second season. Warner Bros are making a big budget movie of Primeval. And Star Trek is a smash box office hit. It’s like the world’s been turned on its head.

Still, this plus Niall’s admittedly lukewarm defence of the show may finally prompt me to give Dollhouse a try.

EDIT: And as if that isn’t enough craziness, they’ve greenlit a remake of alien-lizard invasion series V which stars Alan Tudyk (Wash) as a human and Morena Baccarin (Inara) as an alien. There’s a spoilery review of the pilot, which I haven’t read, here.

EDIT to the EDIT: Comment from Joss Whedon confirming the Dollhouse renewal.

Springwatch

No inhabitants in our bird box yet. Tantalisingly we actually saw a blue tit leaving the box a couple of weeks ago, but we weren’t recording from the camera at the time. (Naturally.) Since then a couple of suspicious-looking feathers have appeared, but no actual sign of nesting. They’re probably having trouble getting a mortgage.

On the plus side, last month we were pleased to realise that we have not one but two Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting our bird feeders on a daily basis (they particularly like a hanging length of birch log plugged with bits of fat feeder). We’ve only seen them both together once — if it weren’t for that we’d have no clue it wasn’t the same bird. The only difference between males and females is that males have a red flash on the back of the head, but we’ve only seen clearly enough to know that one of the two is female. If it turns out we have a pair nesting nearby that would be fantastic. Very pretty birds.

We also have several Dunnocks (aka Hedge Sparrows) hopping around our garden for the first time this year. They look a bit like a cross between a sparrow and a wren. The bird book reckons these are wee timorous birdies who are supposed to dart nervously from the undergrowth, but ours are bold as brass – all over the bird table and the garden. They’ve been fluttering around recently doing what we think is either Mortal Kombat or courtship displays; either that or they enjoy driving cats to distraction.

My wife still goes out for her nightly Newt Census. We’re regularly seeing seven palmate newts lurking in or around the pond just after dark which is more than we could ever have hoped when we built the pond. Very gratifying. They don’t actually do much, but it’s the next best thing to having lizards in the garden.

Or maybe this is the next best thing to having lizards in the garden…

Dreamwidth

Some while ago I prodded Dreamwidth to see what all the fuss was about1 and signed in using my lj details as an OpenID. Now they’ve noticed and invited me over to their Beta, so I’ve tentatively set up a journal over there: http://iainjclark.dreamwidth.org/

I don’t intend using it very much for now, since I don’t share the seemingly prevalent feeling that LJ is Evil, but I may crosspost. Anyway, it’s there and if you want to friend me go ahead. If the whole of LJ migrates over there at least I have it staked out… 🙂

1 It’s basically LJ at the dawn of pre-history.

Easter

Had a great Easter weekend involving no (count it) no work, and lots of relaxing. We had friends over for most of the weekend which was fun.

We did a pseudo-BBQ on Saturday (cooked indoors, eaten outdoors to ensure that Janet didn’t get any undercooked meat) which was lovely. We did some potato and tomato ‘curry’ as a side dish which in no sense is a curry involving only some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions fried with mustard seeds, turmeric and coriander. Very nice, very mild.

Then on Sunday the sky was blue and the sun was hot so we pottered around the garden fixing and weeding things while Janet’s brother carved a new paddle for his canoe. The cats helped, of course. Here’s Charcoal helping:

More helping here. Pixie helped too, but in a more sedentary way.

On Saturday night we watched Doctor Who (what I thought), which included a nice shout out to Tom Baker’s first story ‘Robot’, but was otherwise slightly dull.

On Sunday we also watched Skellig on Sky, in which John Simm continued to be as great as he is in everything not called Doctor Who. I was expecting something slightly twee and cosy, which it was in places, but mostly it was surprisingly honest, real and edgy for a kids drama. A bit low key and moody, but otherwise quite interesting. It’s possible that the moral is to talk to scabby-looking strangers, but I’ll let that pass…

It’s a good job we had the nice weekend because the weather has been relentlessly foggy ever since. Yesterday with sea fret (but we had a nice pub lunch anyway). Today with full-on fog and low cloud extending well inland. Chilly, dank, and gloomy. But at least we had a lovely Easter.

Your mind to my mind

I’m a contributer to the latest Mind Meld article over at SF Signal along with many others including wrong_questions and saxonb. My bit is allllll the way down at the bottom. Take that however you wish. 😉

The rather leading question at hand is this: BSG has ended, and no one appears to be thrilled with the finale. What would you have done differently, if you could run the show?

It’s a question I singularly fail to answer, on the grounds that it’s much easier to complain and point fingers than to offer solutions *cough*. In fact I quite enjoyed the Battlestar Galactica finale, on just about every level except logic. I’ve been known to forgive a lack of logic when a) the writer is Joss Whedon, b) the characters and the emotion hit me the right way, or c) both of the above (e.g. Buffy‘s ‘The Gift’). There are certainly some fine and poignant moments of character and emotion in the BSG finale, but somehow along the way I stopped caring, enough, about these particular characters.

I think BSG and I parted ways emotionally and intellectually at the end of Season 2, when I stopped my reviews, but the rot certainly set in before that.