Battleship Potemkin review

Here's a crazy idea. Why not spend a cold Bank Holiday evening watching a Russian black and white silent film, accompanied by an orchestra, while standing in a shipyard. What's even crazier is how much I enjoyed it.

Had it not been for the Pet Shop Boys involvement, I probably wouldn't have known about or had any interest in this event. And I would have missed out. Missed out on appreciating just why Battleship Potemkin is hailed as such a great film and its director has been called a genius. And missed out on a unique and resonant experience.

For me, the star of the show was the film. I was amazed at how black and white images, and the odd caption could so completely capture a mood and tell a very human story. Filmed without the benefit of fast paced jump cuts, computer generated joggery pokery and special effects of many modern films, it really proved to me that a good story, well told has its own emotional power.


New exercise books

You really can’t be any more exasperated than I am with myself at failing to write here more regularly. I know there are no rules, and this is really something that I’m doing for myself, one of those grand gestures that I announce so confidently and then find every excuse possible to avoid.

If I can be allowed to draw a comparison with Elizabeth Bennet for a moment, the truth is that I find myself “unwilling to speak”, or in my case write, “unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.” 

Miss Elizabeth would no doubt make some scathing observation about the pretentiousness of such a comparison, but it’s very true. It explains why I’m often quiet in large gatherings or with people I don’t know well. And it’s so elegantly expressed that it makes my point precisely.  

In truth, I’ve started a few scribblings, but never finished, edited and refined them. Therefore they remain unpublished. So “finish and publish!” you cry. But my journalist sensibility insists that the moment is gone. No one wants to read old news. And that’s the heart of the problem I think. I’m not writing for myself, but for an invisible, uknown audience. 

In the old days, when my fingers were perpetually ink-stained, I would scribble for hours in craftily acquired exercise books, scratching out words in snatched moments, leaving phrases mid sentence to leap off the bus.

So I’m going to try and do the same. Be bold enough to publish the unfinished and unrefined. Maybe I’ll edit and polish later, maybe I won’t. But at least I’ll have some record of my writing, unlike the exercise books which have long disappeared.

Doctor Who – School Reunion

In anticipation of Saturday night's TV viewing enjoyment, and as an incentive to get writing, I set myself the goal of reviewing this week's episode of Doctor Who, School Reunion. So I'm a bit shamefaced that it's got to Tuesday before I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

At the risk of destroying my credentials as an objective reviewer, I feel I ought to lay my cards on the table here. Last year, Doctor Who became must-watch TV in our household, and I've been looking forward to this one for a while. In fact the only appointment-to-view telly over the festive period was the Christmas Day episode.

And, yes, I do fancy David Tennant. A combination of his cheeky grin, Russell Davies' writing, Peter O'Toole and some gorgeous costumes kept me hooked on Casanova. And his Scottish accent, combined with familiar scenery, and the wonderful Sarah Parrish really turned me on to Blackpool. So I'm biased, okay. I'm very happy that I get to see him on my TV set every Saturday.

I remember watching Doctor Who as a child, and my first Doctor was the unforgettable Tom Baker. But I don't really recall much of the classic series, and certainly don't have the encyclopedic knowledge of many dedicated fans. I know a lot of them have been looking forward to the re-introduction of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, but even if, like me, you knew next to nothing about these much-loved characters, it was obvious from the emotional tone of this episode that this was a big deal. Liz Sladen clearly felt a great affection for her character of Sarah Jane and put in a great performance, showing a great range of emotions from regret to anger and finally some resolution.

There was so much packed into 45 minutes – from a homage to the classic series, jealousy and back biting from the leading ladies, emotional understandings, some pretty cool monsters, funny one liners and a chubby kid saving the day! Oh and extra points for the Doctor wearing glasses (yum!).

I've deliberately left the casting of Anthony Head out of that list, as he deserves a separate mention. The verbal showdown between him and the Doctor around the edge of the swimming pool, was perfectly pitched, perfectly paced and just wonderful to watch. Here were two well-matched adversaries, sizing each other up, cool and menacing, jousting with words. And in an episode which dealt with the solitary price of being immortality, it also gave us a chance to see the dark side of the Doctor, with that telling line, "I used to have so much mercy."

I think this is one significant difference between Tennant's Doctor and Christopher Ecclestone's (may he forever be praised for playing a major part in resurrecting this series). For an actor often cast in brooding roles and with the physical build to carry off an air of imposing menace, Ecclestone delighted me with his child-like delight and wonder, his desire to explore. When he did show his darker moods, as in Dalek, his rage often stemmed from fear.

David Tennant's Doctor is like quicksilver, flicking between light and dark with the speed of cloud shadows scurrying across the hills on a sunny day. He can laugh and explore and enjoy new experiences, as he showed in response to last week's werewolf ("That's beautiful"). But his anger is ice cold. "You get one warning, that's all", had echoes of a similar stand-off moment in New Earth, when he declared, "It stops with me!". Is this pride or arrogance? Could this be a foreshadowing of things to come? Judging from the links that only became obvious in retrospect last series, it makes sense to look for clues in the writing.

The contemporary nod to recent campaigns for healthy school meals, and the chubby, salad-eating boy saving the day were nice touches. (Was it just me, or was he just wearing a big jumper?). There was so much in this episode, it was almost easy to overlook the monsters which, to my mind, were a little too much like the bat-style beasties of Father's Day. But I'm sure they'll have prompted some behind-the-sofa moments.

With an episode from the same writer that brought us the chillingly spooky gas mask zombies to look forward to this week, I'm already counting down the days…

Another new thrill

I watched my first sailing competition this weekend. To be honest, I probably spent as much time trying to work out what was going on as I did enjoying the spectacle of Mustoe skiffs and catamarans racing on Kielder water, but it was a great experience.

Musto Skiff racing in the Kielder Open, April 2006If you've never seen a sailing race, it really is quite exhilarating, especially the start. You see, the start line is a virtual line between the official's boat and a buoy or marker on the water. The crews aim to get their boats across the line the second the starting hooter sounds. But you can't just line up a series of sailing boats and bring them to a stop. So as the time to start gets nearer, the crews all approach the line, jostling for position. We had a great view from the start boat.

Some of our teams were very eager to get going and we could see them crowding towards the start with 40 seconds to go, like a gaggle of over excited ducklings tumbling over each other in a race to be first into the water. Needless to say there were a few false starts!

RS200 on the water at KielderIt was a pretty spectacular sight to see all the boats lining up with their sails full and then to watch as they sped around the course. I really enjoyed watching the crews who use their body weight and position to steer, balancing out on trapeze style wires, leaning out horizontally, backs flat just inches above the water. That really appealed to my inner adrenaline junkie!

We've signed up to do a sailing course this summer, so hopefully we'll be able to take ourselves out on the water safely, but I doubt we'll be doing anything quite so acrobatic! I'm really looking forward to the combination of tactics and agility and learning yet another new skill.

We've been to the sailing club at Kielder a couple of times now, and everyone has been really friendly and helpful. I lost count of the number of times someone offered to sell us a boat. Now all I'm hoping for is some good weather…

Lots of new things to learn

As well as settling into a new job and rapidly picking up all the TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) that seem to be the shorthand way of referring to all sorts of things in the office, I'm also trying to teach myself some Japanese.

I'm hoping to take a trip there sometime later this year, and would really like to get to know the basics like hello, please, thank you etc. Luckily I found a fantastic free podcast, JapanesePod101 on iTunes. It's great because it's free, there are lots of episodes to download and they are available in ten minute chunks which are great to listen to in the car.

I'm just concentrating on trying to speak and understand a little bit. I think trying to learn to write the language may be a bit ambitious! But it's funny to see how I'm interpreting what I hear. I just took some time tonight to look at the pdf notes which go along with the lessons and which show you the words phonetically and also in Japanese characters. Some phrases which I imagined were made up of two or three very complicated words, are actually made up of much shorter ones!

Also one of the 'teachers' is called Kazinori, but thanks to the presenter's American accent, I thought he was called Cousin Orti!

I'm sure I'll make similar mistakes on my travels, but it's great fun learning…

Domo arigatou (thank you).

My nephew, the media superstar

I'm proud to say that my four year old nephew made his broadcasting debut last week, on BBC local radio. Unfortunately I didn't get to hear it myself, but reports of his highly entertaining contribution go something like this:

REPORTER: So what have you got on your feet?
ETHAN: Wellies
REPORTER: And what have you got on your wellies?
ETHAN: Batman
REPORTER: What have you been doing today?
ETHAN: I've been planting seeds
REPORTER: How do you do that then?
ETHAN: You put them in a pot and cover them with soil.
REPORTER: And then what happens?
ETHAN: They grow
REPORTER: What do you do with them when they've grown?
ETHAN: You can eat them – but you have to wash them first.

Quite obviously a future science presenter in the making. Apologies if it's not a precise transcript, please forgive this proud Auntie some artistic licence.

A change is as good as a rest

I'm sure you'll have noticed that I haven't exactly been a regular blogger. My excuse is that I've started a new job. I know it's just an excuse, and I could just as well hold my hands up and say I've been too lazy, or found too many distractions.

And I can't really blame my new job for infringing too much on my free time. In fact, for the first time I can remember I have the kind of job where I can work regular hours and leave my work at the office. It's a pleasant change.

I met up with some friends from my former workplace last week for some food and a good old gossip. They kept asking me what was different about my new job. Well, the short answer is – just about everything. So I thought I'd keep a note about the most surprising and unexpected changes. That was in six months time I can look back and maybe appreciate what's rapidly becoming second nature to me.

The thing that's most surprised me has been moving from a very noisy, busy, high pressure environment into a quiet, airy, modern and tidy office. Up until four weeks ago I could be reading something on screen, answering the phone and keeping one ear across another conversation going on nearby, or the news report on the radio across the room. I now realise that although I could just about juggle all those things, I was probably not doing any one of them very well.

I expected to feel a big difference moving to a quiet office. But I expected to miss the noise and bustle, when, in fact, it's almost the opposite. With no radio, tv, and only the occasional phone call, I now find myself getting distracted when my colleagues are having a quiet conversation!

And this post has proved, I can't write very well when I'm half listening to the TV. But the important thing is to get in the habit of writing again and not to let work, lack of inspiration or multiple distractions put me off.

It's stating the obvious to say that I can do things better if I concentrate and focus on one thing at once. Thankfully my new job allows me that luxury and I intend to enjoy and make the most of it.