Where the gargoyles play

It is a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebrations this weekend. I know. 40. She’s barely out of short trousers. An evening of conviviality is planned, after which a group will be retiring to an Airbnb. I will be retiring to a one-woman tent, because there’s a limit to my appreciation of conviviality and it’s about four hours. Which I think will be stretched to six this evening but I already settled my get away plan because I shall drive. This seems a better idea than clip-clopping around Oxford on my own in search of a cab, and I don’t Uber because, well, that company is dodgy as fuck.

I did have my own Airbnb booked (see how Airbnb has become the brand name for B&Bs, like Bic used to be for pens?), in a nice little canal boat somewhere in Jericho. They suffered an arson attack so had to cancel my reservation, which is the least of the concerns in that scenario. Who sets fire to a boat? Bastards. Anyway, I don’t know if you have checked the price of accommodation in Oxford during the summer, but it’s ridiculous. I mean, the Malmaison, which I think we can agree you might go to £150 on for a special occasion and if it was a particularly nice Mal, charges £400. Pull the other one, mate, it’s got tourists on.

Hence, I am camping, for £20 a night. My friend’s horror at this prospect is matched only by my horror at the thought of sharing a 3-bed house with 9 people. We have tacitly agreed to disagree, each confirmed in their own conviction that the other is a bit nuts. But we love them anyway.

I thought I’d get down early, get the tent set up and spend a few tranquil hours wandering the ole dreamin’ spires and hoping for a sighting of Peter Whimsey. Then I remembered. I don’t miss Oxford. Ms Just Turning 40 and I had this conversation, because both of us lived there for years and moved away, and really only remember the horrible inconveniences. The city is undoubtedly beautiful but only at dead of night or very early in the morning, when the gargoyles climb down to play and before all the bloody tourists wake the poor spires from their only-too-rare opportunities to dream. One day, they will set the gargoyles on the tourists and then we’ll see a proper Dr Who Christmas Special.

Now, I do have to go to Blackwells. Genuinely, because the new Mick Herron is out and he did a signing and I couldn’t make it and tweeted my sadness and Blackwells said they could get me a signed copy and keep it for me. And they did, because a bookseller’s word is his ‘Have you seen this new edition of Bond?’ Admittedly, that is only Baby Blackwells in Westgate but it’s also only a hop and skip to the mothership. And I have 6 inches of space on the TBR shelf (add own joke here about the most pleasure a woman can get from 6 inches), if we don’t count the three books that arrived from Blackwells yesterday, which we don’t. Because… we don’t want to.

So my plan is basically to yomp through town, collect books, retire to my tent with my preciouses, and NOT start reading the Herron or I’ll be late for dinner. At some point I have to squidge into a dress and heels and chuck mascara at my face, but that’s all of 10 minutes.

Right then. I’m off to pack the cafetière.



In which I discover podcasts

Yes, indeedy, cutting edge as ever. Next up, I discover Netflix. (Not necessary, the BBC currently has all of the last 10 seasons of Dr Who on iPlayer, so who has time for anything else when you can re-run David Tennant?) But while I was packing up all my belongings prior to moving, I wasn’t in the mood for music, had run out of audiobooks and couldn’t face daytime radio. And so, podcasts it was. Mr W, looking at you now you finally have a smartphone.

  1. My gateway drug to podcasts was, of course, The Archers Omnibus. It is an objective of mine to get back to spending 75 minutes faffing about on Sunday mornings, to the gentle accompaniment of The Archers. In the meantime, the podcasts serve me very well indeed. Will Brine and Jenny Dahling really sell Home Farm? Will Kate ever get her head out of her arse? Is Fallon really going to marry PC Plod? And who will win the Talented Pets competition at the annual Village Show? (For American readers who are not Mr W – I’m not making this up. The Archers laughs in the face of your so called long running soap operas.)
  2. Mrs Brightside – Susan Calman and comedian friends slash guests talking about depression, anxiety, mental health issues and often, how completely mad the Edinburgh Fringe is. If ever a podcast landed at the right time it was this one, because I started listening when my anxiety was at its absolute peak. It’s funny, insightful and incredibly down to earth about the issues suffered by the various guests and Susan herself.
  3. So I daringly branched out even further into Radio 4 territory and on to Front Row. This is R4’s week night arts review show, and it covers everything from 17th century play revivals to grime. The presenters are just as likely to enjoy Mamma Mia! 2 as the latest literary darling, and they venture beyond the M25, so I find it likeably ecumenical. Plus, I’ve developed an intellectual crush on Stig Abell.
  4. Which crush led me to the TLS podcast, Freedom, Books, Flowers & The Moon, because it turns out good old Stig is editor at the TLS. I can only assume the title of the show is a literary reference I just don’t get. If not, it’s a collection of Good Things One is Generally In Support Of.  I listened to their summer books special, and to an ad hoc episode of Stig Abell and that bloke who is the literary editor of The Spectator discussing why Lee Child’s Reacher novels are so good.
  5. Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year podcast is something he launched when the books bit got axed (boo!) from the revamped drive time show (which, separately, I’m not loving. Nothing against Jo Wiley, just it’s not working for me. Also, why axe the books bit? Fools). The podcasts are every two weeks, hosted by Simon and sports guy Matt. They’re only three in so far, but the pattern is two authors and two books each time, one fiction and one non-fiction. This gives the authors plenty of time to talk about their books. My sense is that Simon Mayo is pretty well liked and appreciated in the literary world and so far he’s been getting some great guests: Lynda La Plante, Robbie Williams, Louis de Bernieres. I’ve picked up a few recommendations for the TBR list (D B John, Star of the North) and I’m currently listening to Robbie Williams: Reveal on audio, which I guarantee wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So far, Simon Mayo is resisting being interviewed about his own recent novel (Mad Blood Stirring), but I think I’ll buy it out of sheer gratitude.

Of course, all this merry podcast listening goes to fuck when I hand back the Merc with its useful built in Bluetooth. My new car, which I really won’t be able to identify in a line up, does not have Bluetooth. But it’s cheap, not in negative equity and has room for both cats at the same time! 

I’ll fit Bluetooth.



In which I express an opinion on Matt Smith

Anyone asking ‘And who is Matt Smith when he’s at home?’ should probably nip off elsewhere round about… now. Right. (Mr W, I know you’re still with me, not sure about anyone else. )

It is true that I was quite resistant to the idea of a new Doctor, particularly one who is far less fanciable than David Tennant on the grounds of extreme youth and that chin. Let us compare:

But it is also true that Doctor Who is not (just) about the eye candy.  I think we are all in agreement that the Daleks episode was rubbish, which I ascribe to Steven Moffatt taking his hand off the wheel for a minute and letting Mark Gatiss steer the bus off a cliff. I’m not sure whose idea it was to reinvent the Daleks as the sort of multi-coloured accessory that comes in a variety pack from Ikea, but it didn’t work. However, other than that misstep, this series has been pretty good and I think our Matt is doing all right. He started off well in ‘The Eleventh Hour’, which was a cracking opener to the series. I like his manic energy and that he talks very fast, and he seems to me thoroughly to inhabit the role in his own way. The force is strong with him… no, wait, wrong sci-fi. He’s also fairly convincing as a weary old time lord when he has to be, but endearingly puppyish otherwise. Anyway, all good things.

I’m not entirely sure about Amy, but I suffered through all of Season 3 with Martha so I can certainly cope with a bit of wide eyed staring in place of, you know, other expressions. The weeping angels two-parter was, of course, very scary. ‘Blink’ still has the edge for me but all on your own in a forest with your eyes closed and angels coming to get you? Eek.  I thought Angel Bob was brilliant, and I love the character of River Song. Definitely hoping to see more of her, the original time traveller’s wife.

All in all, I’m in favour. Matt Smith may continue.

England by the numbers

I’m back, I’m jetlagged, I’m still at the stage where being in England felt like my real life and being back in the US feels like dislocation. The holiday was marvellous from the second I stepped off the ‘plane and was surrounded by people speaking English with English accents. It was instantly relaxing, as though a whole load of secondary tension that I’m mostly not even aware of slid away immediately and I could go back to being normal again.

Despite the fact that in my rush to send out information I had given Dave entirely the wrong flight details, she was there to pick us up from the airport. Earlier in the day she had also collected the keys to our rented cottage, and bless her if she hadn’t done a quick shop as well. Teabags, milk, juice, water, bagels, bread, marmite, raspberry jam, biscuits – all the essentials ready for us so we didn’t have to worry about it being Sunday morning when we woke up.

  • Walks along canal path: 4
  • Walks along river path: 1
  • Visits to White Horse Hill: 1
  • Days of rain: 2 definite, 3 showering and threatening
  • Days of sunshine: 2 (+ 2 absolutely glorious days when I was in the office, of course)
  • Castles visited: 1
  • Palaces visited in rain: 1
  • Pairs of Winston Churchill’s slippers seen: 1
  • Cream teas at the Randolph: 1
  • Restaurants eaten in: 7 (The White Hart, The Trout, Gees, Portabello, Branca, Browns, The Big Bang)
  • Packets of McVities Chocolate Digestives eaten: 1
  • Glasses of champagne/prosecco drunk: hic!
  • Pounds gained from eating and drinking out for every single meal: Who cares?
  • Friends seen: 15
  • Friends bumped into entirely at random in Botley chippy: 1
  • Portions of chips scoffed: 1
  • Dr Who Easter Specials watched: 1
  • Books bought: 7 (We Danced All Night, Martin Pugh; Little Brother, Cory Doctorow; The Midnight Folk, John Masefield; The Twelve and the Genii, Pauline Clarke; The Rain Before it Falls, Jonathan Coe; Austerity Britain, David Kynaston)
  • Lovely old Penguin books bought from second hand bookstore: 2 (The Echoing Grove, Rosamund Lehmann; Juan in America, Eric Linklater)
  • Books still unread by return home: 3
  • Newspaper crosswords completed: 2
  • Newspapers read: 0
  • Keys not my own that are now in CT: 2 (sorry Dave, will put in post)
  • Mornings husband had to walk over to Costa in Summertown to get coffee before he could face starting the day: 6
  • Reasons to stay in England: Innumerable

RIP Rose Tyler?

Caveat emptor: This post is of no interest whatsoever unless you too are a fan of Dr Who, and if you are a fan and have not yet seen new Season 2, there are SPOILERS.

I’ve got that feeling again. That sense-of-impending-doom feeling. Only this time, it’s in relation to the last episode of Season 2 of Dr Who and it’s because it looks very much as if Rose dies. You never know with Dr Who; the writers like to mess with your head a bit, so there’s a slight chance that when Rose says, in the voiceover to the penultimate episode, ‘This is the story of how I died’, she’s only telling half the story. These last episodes were written by Russell T. Davies, the maestro, which means they can take you to unexpected places and push you to very the edge of heartbreak, but sometimes pull you back. But sometimes not.

I’ve been racing through this season since I discovered it was on iTunes at $1.99 per episode, at a time when our crappy internet connection has magically improved. That was on Saturday, about 5 episodes ago, because $1.99 a go? Hit me again. And again. Stuff waiting around for Netflix, give me instant (well, 25 minutes or thereabouts) gratification. I’m obsessed, of course. Right now, if I could just stay home and watch series 3 and 4 back to back, I would. At one (particularly tedious) job I had in the past, I would pick up a manuscript, set off to ‘work at home’, drive straight to the video store and collect an entire season of Buffy to watch for the day. These occasional days never had the slightest effect on my ability to hit the required work deadlines. In fact, as far as I recall, after 15 years of working fulltime in five different companies, only two of the jobs I have had required me to work at more than 50% capacity for any length of time and those were down at the photocopying end of the employment spectrum. And yet, my physical presence has still been required, even if I am snoozing with my eyes open. Weird.

But back to important matters, the imminent (or perhaps not) death of Rose and thus the end of a true love story. The Doctor, of course, will then find a new assistant, which seems kind of heartless but how would you like to be flying solo through time and space for the rest of eternity? But he will first be anguished, and I don’t want to see adorable David Tennant playing an anguished Doctor, because you just know that he will tap straight into the untold years of unbearable loss that are in the background of the story all the time. David Tennant, by the way, currently owns the role of Dr Who to the point where anyone else is unthinkable as far as I’m concerned. He plays it multi-faceted, mostly seeming to carry the whole weight of the backstory lightly enough, until the next threat looms, at which point, he sets his jaw and deals with it. A few people die, then, because he can’t save everyone. The Doctor makes harsh choices in every episode, but until now he’s always been able to save Rose. If anyone on the 5.01 train sees me sobbing, you’ll know that this time, he didn’t.