19 October 2013

Debating delights: Are we The Fifth Estate? (review)

How much should we know? Is there a line between transparency and privacy? Can there be too much information?

Fifth Estate poster in the London Underground
The opening titles to the film The Fifth Estate take the viewer through the evolution of communication. It begins with stone and a tool and takes us through all forms of communication from the written letter, printed page, telegraph, a typewriter,  wireless radio, television, computers, the internet and everything else in between.  This was a title sequence I wasn't expecting and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong screening room until I saw the name I was expecting to see...in all honesty, the initial reason I went to see the film was because one of the main characters, website founder Julian Assange, was being interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch, and in any other circumstance this reason alone would be a good enough reason for me to see something.  However, coming to that decision for this film was something in itself.  In the end, I was glad that I made the one I did.

The media frenzy that surrounded the release, and indeed making, of the film is no surprise.  It is timely.  It depicts a story of real people who made a significant change to our society. And, it is a story that continues.

I had seen the stories on the news and heard about information that whistleblowers provided to the website, Wikileaks; however, those things can seem a world away from an average Jane, like me.  We are all consumed by our own world: our work, our family, our friends, our interests, our problems.  Therefore, the in and outs of this phenomena were foreign to me, so before rushing out to see a movie with one of my favourite actors I took a few steps that I normally wouldn't before seeing a film.

First, I read and paid attention to reviews.  Those I read seemed to be saying the same thing: brilliant acting  by Cumberbatch (I already expected that), but a weak script and overall story.  Hmmm, I thought, a story is very important to me maybe it won't be worth it.  However, as interviews began making their way to the press, it was clear one of the main characters in the story itself, Assange, was against the film and had communicated this to the actor about to portray him. This also made me stop and think...why would one of the main figures be against the story?  Again, listening to both sides made the difference.  As much as the argument against the movie was convincing, Cumberbatch's response and reason for doing it was just as intriguing and viable argument, in my mind.  So, with mixed reviews from critics and two opposing thoughts from the man and his portrayer, I went to see it.

Many reviews have compared The Fifth Estate, for better or worse, to The Social Network. Having not seen that movie, I cannot make that comparison.  The stories, in general, appear to be similar so I can see where the comparison comes to play, but I can't comment directly.  The Fifth Estate is a visually impressive film.  The use of colour and lightening makes it a really pretty film. This combined with the quick-paced editing, text popping up on the screen (a la BBC Sherlock to me), and an equally fast paced, thumping, memorable soundtrack makes for an enjoyable movie-going experience.  As mentioned, the performances from all players is perhaps the strongest part of the film. Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl give commanding performances in the role of the two major characters.  Even smaller roles such as Guardian journalists played by Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame), Peter Capaldi (best known for The Thick of It and soon taking the role of the 12th Doctor Who), and David Thewlis (Harry Potter's Professor Lupin) make brief, but memorable contributions.  But, yes, the story itself felt disjointed and lumpy. Even though the lovely on-screen text continually shows the viewer where they are in the world--from London to Africa to Berlin and Liege--the story brings in bits of other pieces such as Manning and US government officials, but leaves the viewer hanging...perhaps because these pieces are still unfinished...as is the whole story.  

In the end, The Fifth Estate is a film--a story from one particular perspective and interpreted by actors. It is not a documentary about Wikileaks.  It isn't a biopic about Julian Assange.  These are important factors to keep in mind.  I didn't go into it expecting to learn all there was about Wikileaks or its founder.  I went to see a film with excellent actors, commenting on a timely and important subject in our society: that is what I got. It is a film worth seeing, but you have to know what you want to get from it because it can go both ways--much like many of the important issues in our society.  I certainly got me thinking...

06 October 2013

Dartmoor Delights (Part 2): Indeed, I will say more.

Hound Tor from afar.
Hound Tor
Guide books outlined walks and sights, but I found, when the guides ended up being a tad confusing to me, my own explorations and walks suited just as well.  I wandered about the rock forms, down to the remains of a medieval settlement and through the flora.
Medieval settlement remains with Hound Tor in the distance.
The formations at Hound Tor seemed to jut out from every direction.  The wind continued to blow and the occasional shower came down.  Yes, this is England.  In refuge from the wind and rain, I found shelter among the rocks and decide to read a bit from that famous story and am transported to the 19th Century.

Shelter from the wind and rain and a bit of reading.
"'It is a wonderful place, the moor', said he, looking round over the undulating downs, large green rollers with crests of jagged granite foaming up into fantastic surges.  'You never tire of the moor.  You cannot think the wonderful secrets which it contains.  It is so vast and so barren, and so mysterious'". --The Hound of the Baskervilles
Granite formations on Hound Tor.

"Large green rollers" on Dartmoor

Hayne Downs and Bowerman's Nose
Still the winds blows on day three, as it seems to always blow on my visit to the moor, but this time it was much gentler like a low voice saying hello rather than screaming by ones ears.  My rambles today took me through the tors and formations on Hayne Downs.
Fading morning midst on the formations near Hayne Downs.
 I arrived early enough to see the midst settling upon the highest points, fighting with the sun that eventually came out.  I sat, taking in the view.  I loved it.  Peaceful. Calm.  Beautiful.  Nothing but some moor sheep and an early-risen family out for their walk as well.

I spot Bowerman's Nose, a well-known moor landmark/formation.
Bowerman's Nose in the distance. 
 A legend behind the granite formation tells of a hunter that lived among the moors and came across a group of witches as he and his hounds were hunting a hare, interrupting the ceremony.  As punishment, the next time they hunted upon the moor one witch pretended to be a hare and led them into one of the deadly mires, swamp-like areas, on the moor finally turning them all into stone.
Bowerman's Nose--
see the lovely nose?
The hunter sits on Hayne Down, his large nose prominent; his hounds are among the granite formations on Hound Tor that can resemble dogs.

Midst and sun battle for the day.
As the sun came out in the afternoon, I travelled to a little hamlet in the moor, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, for the local cider and some wifi connection; I did want to get away from the technology, but couldn't do it.  Like Moretonhampton, the town church dates back many centuries and still seems to be the center of life in the small community.  The sun was now out and tourists, like myself, were abound scuttling through the little shops, lounging in the park, and eating in the pubs.  It was a warm and beautiful day after the midst lifted, but in England the weather is an ever-changing thing as evident by the clouds started to gather once again...
Church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
Walking around Hayne Downs, I was able to see the remains of another local moor-related story.  I visited Jay's Grave.  While it is only a small mound and headstone, the local story says it is the marking of  the remains of a local girl who committed suicide in the 19th century.  While no one is sure if the story is true, there are always fresh flowers on the grave and no one has ever claimed to know who keeps the grave adorned. There have also been reports of a dark shadow or figure near the grave during the dusk hours of the day...kind of spooky to think about it. More detail on this local story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay%27s_Grave.

Princetown and the attempt to reach Grimpen Mire (or FoxTor Mire):

A view of Princetown from the pathway.
One of the beauties of Dartmoor is its diversity.  One will find woodlands and streams, Tors, rolling hills, and vast expanses of barren, flat, grassy plains...that is the only way I can find to describe the bit of the moor that I explored on this day.  It began from the town of Princetown, an interesting place in itself for this Conan Doyle fan.
The hotel, now a tourist office and local museum, where
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have stayed during
his time in Princetown. 
  This town certainly had to inspire bits of his work as it is said that he stayed in this building, which is now a tourist centre and local museum.  The city has been the site of a prison since Conan Doyle's time and remains so today.  This fact could have inspired the addition of the wandering prisoner out on the moor who was, at one point, mistaken for Sir Henry Baskerville.

I began my walk from this town and the goal of finding the inspiration for the infamous Grimpen Mire, an area called Fox Tor Mire.  After walking for what seemed to be many, but likely was only a few, miles I sat down to take in the view, the expanse, the quiet.  My solitude was only occasionally interrupted by groups of hikers embarking on the same trail I did, but getting quite further.
The quiet was almost deafening.  I strained my ears for the slightest sound over the remote landscape of this part of Dartmoor.  It seemed like a great grassy desert where, I imagine, if the fog were a little less abundant, I could see for miles.  My plan of heading out to Fox Tor Mires, the inspiration for Grimpen Mires, did not come to fruition this time.  It will have to be for the next time.

Quite in contrast to the previous days, when I searched through the formations for a bit of solitude among the the tour groups and visiting families, this area gives one a feeling of such solitude that the occasional school group or hiker on the path was a welcome sight and chance to say 'hello'.  Not even the wind whistles past my head on this day, simply more of a gentle whisper. Once again some inspiration hits me:

From boulders, to hills and woodlands galore,
That is the beauty that fills Dartmoor.

Old granite quarries, tin-work and medieval stones,
That is the history that fills Dartmoor.

A Hound, a doctor and his friend Mr. Holmes,
Those and many more stories are full of  Dartmoor.

Sheep, cows, and ponies roam free as before,
Free from confinement out on Dartmoor.

The trip back takes me past moorland ponies grazing in the grass.  I notice a mare with its foal and a little further what seemed like an adolescent romping in the grass.  A time for fun and games.
A mare and its foal grazing on Dartmoor

I will return to one of the greatest delights that England has to offer: Dartmoor.  Though perhaps not on my own next time.  Five days

exploring such an amazing place was so delightful that it needs to be shared and continually rediscovered in good company.


02 October 2013

Dartmoor Delights (Part 1): Need I say more?

My first long-ish holiday since my arrival in the UK was a stop I had dreamed to do for a long time.  I had read descriptions of it, seen pictures of it, and dreamed of walking about its varied landscape.  For five days in August Iwas finally introduced to one of the most beautiful places in the world...in my humble opinion...Dartmoor National Park.

Leaving London an early, dreary Saturday morning I kept an open mind that the clouds would stay centered where they were and as I traveled southwest they might dissipate.  My hopes turned to reality; as I neared Exeter the clouds had cleared and the sun was making its way through. With the sun still shining, I made my way to my first round driving on what I know as the passenger side of a car
My transport in Dartmoor
and driving on the left side of the road.  Needless to say I was apprehensive, but not put off; I'd set my mind to it and me and my little automatic Vauxhall car were off to Dartmoor!

One lesson learned:  GPSs (or Sat Navs in England) suck for getting around in the country.  I should have known better, I'd seen them not work away from urban areas before.  But, an extra £20 got me a SatNav that got me to my destination--the lovely little Devon village of Moretonhampton--via the little back windy country roads...there was surely a more direct way.

The local church in Moretonhampton
Moretonhampton is how one might picture a typical English village.  A medieval church with its cemetery and headstones dating back to the 19th century (as least on those I could read).  Narrow streets wide enough for one.  Several small local pubs where one can grab some food and a pint after a day walking the Moor.  Interactions with locals who know each other and deal with the influx of visitors to their village from the UK and beyond.  I stopped at the tourist information center everyday before beginning to get the weather (and always changing feature on the moor).  They were always helpful, kind and curious as to where I was from--the state of Oregon via London was my response and I was surprised (and not so surprised) to learn that other Oregonians had made their way through Dartmoor as well.  Must be that pioneering spirit.  The five days spent in this quaint small village were as equally captiving and delightful than the Moor itself.
High Street, Moretonhampton

Upon arrival and settling I immediately set out to see what I had traveled all this way too see...the vast beauty I was sure the Dartmoor contained.  I arrived at the first Tor, undoubtedly the most well known, Hay Tor.  Needless to say I was a bit inspired:

I sit by the rocks, out of the moor
With the rushing of the wind
And many grazing sheep.
Blue sky, gray and white, the ceiling
Green grasses, purple and yellow, the floor

I hear the sheep, the birds, never a Hound.
But the jutting rocks and rounded mounds,
Easily tell a different story.

As far as I see, the scene amazes me,
Days of discovery are ahead.
A scene that inspired
Nothing prepares someone for the scene they behold upon arrival into the Hay Tor portion of the Dartmoor. Guide books talked about it and tried to describe it, but nothing can compare to actually rounding the bend and coming upon the sight of the largest rock formation on the Tor.  It is so well recognized that one book likened it to Australia's Ayer's Rock;  I could see why.  I walked among my surroundings and took it all in.

A windy day on Dartmoor.
Rock formations around Hay Tor

"The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet  and olive slopes, sprinkled with granite boulders."-description of Dartmoor by Dr. John Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The major formation on Hay Tor.  A rock climbers delight.

The moor continued to be an experience the following days.  At Hound Tor the rocks seemed to jut out of the ground from every direction.  The wind continued to blow making me wonder why I bothered to brush my hair that morning.  I wonder if it ever calms down.  I look around and decide to pull out one of the main reasons I came--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes--and read passages from the great Dartmoor adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, over 100 years ago.  It was then sitting in the place about which he wrote and seeing what he was describing.  Every word still describes the moor and it gives Dartmoor a sense of timelessness.

Part 2 to follow...

29 August 2013

Musical delights (and non-delights) Review: Day 2 Gentlemen of the Road and Mumford music in Lewes

Day 2:  I had not slept so well in a long time.  I think it was the darkened, quite room coupled with the busy day before...the amazing thing about festivals, and outdoor concerts in general, is meeting people.  Friday evening I had met a group of blokes from Liverpool out for a mates weekend with plenty of beer and music. They were quite a memorable bunch particularly two who offered up their shoulders so that I could see the stage.  I politely turned them down, but running into them again the following night wished they had remembered the offer as I would have clearly taken it to see Mumford and Sons!
My goodies bag which kept me pre-occupied
on that first night.
That night, however, I turned it down; I was completely obsessed with watching over my bag which I had had to abandon next to others' and Mr. Do-you-want-to-sit-on-my-shoulders #1 kept giving me quite a hard time about it; it made for an interesting night. 

The town of Lewes seemed to be transformed.  My quiet gem in East Sussex had turned into a haven for concert-goers; I was one of them!  The pedestrian traffic was like herded sheep and  by the time I was out and about grazing through town, restaurants, shops and the streets were filled with campers and visitors enjoying the morning air and their bits of food before the afternoon/evening of music.  It was astounding, and if I was in shock, I couldn't imagine what the local residents were thinking (with luck it wasn't anything too nasty).  After some food, I headed down to the Union Music Store to check out,The Self Help Group (see 3 August post).  It was then time to return to the concert site and a whole new set of bands to hear; with any luck they would be quite different from the night before, and indeed they were.  The music met expectations, shocked untrained ears and, even was at times underwhelming--in the end, however, a bit of something for everyone.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit- Johnny Flynn has been on my radar for a little bit, actually.  His solo album, Been Listening, had me hooked from the first sound of the glaring horns on Kentucky Pill to the steady beat of the mesmerizing drums so well included for a song named Drum. I was excited to see him on stage (a music not theatre stage where I had seen him a few months before) accompanied by his band. 
Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit on stage.
It did not disappoint.  Flynn backed up by the Sussex Wit was a highlight, and I wasn't the only one enjoyed it for directly behind me a fan of the group was singing along with every single song!  I felt somewhat a bit out of the loop not having known any of the songs save for the last, but Flynn and the Sussex Wit share the same sounds and style so where could it go wrong?  It didn't.  Flynn, with and without the Sussex Wit, is one of the best of folk to be coming around as far as I am concerned.  

The Mystery Jets- The name suits as this band was a bit of a mystery to me.  Maybe it was because the relatively nice, semi-calm crowd had turned into a mini-mosh pit of jumping and bumping teenagers.  Gone was my mellow crowd from Johnny Flynn just some moments before.  My size and lack of enthusiasm for the music at hand had me fearing that I was going to be squashed by drunken, jumping youths.  But, I held my ground using my arms as a shield and, consequently I suppose, missed out on the majority of the set. All I gleamed from the music making it's way from the stage was a pop-type sound that really didn't want to make me jump up and down; it just left me underwhelmed.  Nothing to spectacular, nothing to write home about...even though I am writing about it.  No, I certainly don't think I'll be hitting a hangar to see these Jets anytime again.

Deap Valley- Quick and to the point. This band had possibly the most unmusical sound coming from instruments, natural and made, that I have ever heard.  From the moment that the first sound came from the stage, I knew it wasn't the type of music for me and, if the thought of losing my place among the sea of concert-goers hadn't been on my mind, I would have taken that opportunity to get more alcohol (perhaps then I would have enjoyed it more). As it was, I sat, yes sat, staking out my place in the sea of Deap fans.  The ear-cringing, blood-curdling sounds coming from instruments and female singing (or was it yelling) on stage were enough to drive one mad.  My solution: drown out the sound on stage by losing myself in my iPod and a more pleasant sound.  It worked and I survived. I wasn't the only one seeking a musical life boat in the sea of fans, someone next to me was clinging to her ear buds as well; we only had to look at each other to understand that we were in the same boat...hanging on till the storm passed.  

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros-
Crowd gets groovy with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Redemption!  After the Mystery of Jets and traveling to the death Valley of Deap, it took a while, but musical redemption was achieved with the delight that is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Now these are tunes one can dance, jump, groove, boogy, jive, or however else anyone moves to music.  Sharpe has been around for awhile and, I must admit, had only heard one or two songs, but hearing them live has given me a whole new appreciation for the fun and quirky band that got the whole crowd dancing and grooving (yes, that is the word that comes to mind with them--groovy!).  Yet another music purchase to be made...

Evening turned to night with more music though hunger and a thirst for cider overtook me so, honestly, I just didn't pay that much attention to the act between Sharpe and the main attraction, sorry Vaccines.  Then a familiar sound boomed on stage, the crowd went crazy, and movement towards the stage commenced once again.  Even with using the Liverpool blokes, as a make-shift place holder and fibbing a bit by saying I was trying to get to a group of friends, I was still frequently blocked from getting closer to the stage.  Come on folks, what's the deal, I mentally screamed to the wrong-doers.  Eventually though I made my way to the spot I had come too earlier and could enjoy the main event...

Mumford and Sons- The main attraction didn't disappoint.  The mere hint of the first familiar notes of a song had the crowd going forward and I barely made it back from my pre-determined place amongst the crowd.
Mumford and Sons light up the stage and the festival grounds
 I have a 'live' album, but seeing them for myself was its own experience.  I will not diss the big screen at a large concert anymore...without that it would have been a less pleasant experience.  Staying back does have disadvantages, but I do not have any complaints (save for the gits that would get on others shoulders; now I really wished the shoulder-blokes from Liverpool would have offered me theirs).  The music was pure Mumford.  As brilliant some yards away as it, no doubt, would have been a few feet away. I soon found myself bouncing to keep up with the crowd, and finding that it was indeed fun when you liked the music you were jumping too.  I knew every song and could sing along with them...as many around me did.  And, when asked by Marcus Mumford himself to sing along we all happily obliged!  That was the most joyous thing, and a phenomena I feel is distinctly European--singing along.  I experienced it in France and now here in England.
A view of the band with the help of a camera zoom
 In the US, it may be occasionally experience with particular crowds and particular bands, but here the audiences are so into the music (and not doubt beer and cider helps) that singing along becomes natural and doesn't seem at all odd.  Americans need to take a cue from Europeans on this concert and festival-going practice.  It makes the experience so much more memorable to sing and be part of it with your favourite band.  So, next time you find yourself at a concert and you are asked to join in, don't hesitate and do it!  You'll find you will be happy you did.  It will be a delightful experience.

12 August 2013

Musical delights: Happy Birthday to me! A music festival with Gentleman of the Road and Mumford in Lewes on July 19 (Day 1)

My thirtysomething-ish birthday present to myself was a two-day pass to the Gentlemen of the Road concerts to see, amongst others, the delightful Mumford and Sons! On July 19th, three days after my day, I got to experience that gift.  Boy, was it an experience!  I have been to concerts.  I have been to outdoor concerts. But, I can honestly say I had not experienced a music festival: until now. 
Gentlemen of the Road flags on the walk to
the stage site

One thing I've learned:  England has many music festivals; it holds one of the biggest around--the well-known Glastonbury.  Well, Gentlemen of the Road was no Glastonbury (at least what I saw of it on the telly), but for this festival novice, it may have well been. For two days, the small town of Lewes in the Sussex countryside had transformed.  I had discovered the small-gem of a town a few months prior and was thrilled to see it chosen as a stopover city for one of my favourite bands, but even I did not recognise it when I got off an afternoon train and made my way up the familiar road from the station to the high street where my hotel was located.  So, no one of those tents is not mine (I was glad to have a room in the White Hart Hotel.  It was a basic room, but it was a room in a town that was fully booked that weekend).  

The first bands weren't scheduled to start playing until that evening and I arrived in the afternoon; I had some time to wander around before I made the journey to receive the braclet. I was celebrating my birthday so I went to my favourite Lewes record shop  to add to a growing collection of folk music.  
Musical purchase of Hatful of Rain, Iron and Wine, and Emily Barker.

The journey to collect the little green band of entrance had one passing by not only flags and a sea of camping , but some sites you may not see on a typical day.  A group of cadets (that is the only way I can describe them), though cadets of what I know not, could be seen marching and down the same road the herd of people were traveling in order to provide a service.  At one point they stopped their marching and chanting to collect a camper's many items and, presumably, carry it to the site.
 Maybe it would have been worth camping for that...nah, not really.

The unusual heat in mid-July, so talked about by every Brit in the UK, made it perfect weather for a music festival.  Sun-tan lotion, sunglasses and water .were essential.  Food was an extra...a real extra as I would find out. 

I arrived and took part in the great British practice of queuing.
My lovely queue on Day 1 in Lewes
 It was a bit odd at first and a bit annoying as I stood there not really knowing how long the line was and where exactly I was in it, and it was impossible for me to find out...I'd lose my place!  I stayed, I waited, I queued and after a bit of shuffling I received the braclet-pass only to enter another line to enter the site.  I can now queue quite like the English, I must say.  

Being on my own; however, I started talking to people.  I met several interesting people over that course of the weekend by being on my own.  It started in line and continued through the following day...more of that in Day 2 though. While in queue, I started a conversation with two locals who told me about some places not to miss while I was staying in town.  Taking the advice, Sunday breakfast was delicious!

Reaching the end of this great line, we were met by concert staff/security guards.  My luck:  I had a real arse.  He looked at my bag like it was from a foreign country and not the store in town and rummaged through it like I was trying to smuggle in drugs--which some festival-goers clearly did--and threw one of my sandwiches aside as if it was said drug! I soon learned he threw my food aside because vendors wanted concert-goers to purchase their ridiculously expensive food, rather than bring their own. I could tell my two line-acquaintences felt bad for me and I was too embarrassed to remain in their company...bye guys, thanks for the restaurant recommendation! I'm off to stake my claim on a piece of grass with a view of the stage in hopes to catch a decent glimpse of the evening's bands:  Youth Lagoon, White Denim, British Sea Power, and Vampire Weekend.  

Site entrance.  Past the arse of security
 Scenes from Day 1...
British Sea Power.  A pretty good band. 

03 August 2013

Musical delights: Local shops and local delights

It has been awhile so I am combining a few things.  The survival of local, independent music shops is a topic close to many an audiophile. I was lucky enough to spend Record Store Day 2013 in Soho taking in the sun,sights, and sounds of a busy day for the local music shops I have found myself recently browsing through. The survival of local record stores has been a topic of discussion for many people.  I have taken part in it myself since I do have an audiophile and record consumer for an older sibling.  Ok, I admit it. I buy music from iTunes and listen to an iPod, but there are things that you can find in your local, small record store that you can't on iTunes or in the big chain music stores (that also seem to be taking a hit from online sales). That would be knowledge and interaction.  Through those two things I made a delightful discovery in both music and a place to buy music (that's not online).  

I certainly wouldn't describe myself as an audiophile, but when I do find a group or genre I like, I stick with it. Indie folk, Americana...whatever one wants to call it, it's a good fit for the new mellower tastes I find myself seeking.  So when I found myself wandering in the lovely town of Lewes in Sussex, I stopped in the local independent music store, called Union Music Store, and had a singular experience that has just made me an even bigger advocate for their survival: a real conversation with someone who knew their shit; by giving examples of two bands, I was recommended a third that I have come to appreciate, enjoy, and find delightful.

Record store seekers in Soho on
Record Store Day 2013

A crowd outside Union Music Store in Lewes
Another unique aspect that made my experience at Union stand apart was the opportunity to hear some new music...live! Every weekend there was well-and maybe lesser known acts that would spend half an hour treating shoppers to a free concert.  A great introduction to a new band, or an amazing opportunities to see a newly discovered gem.  I got to see one of my favourites outside before a festival...it was probably one of the best bands I saw all weekend.
The band--The Self Help Group--is difficult for me to describe, as I have never been one for putting the music I enjoy into genres, but listening to Self Help just relaxes my soul.  They are the go-to for a sunny day outside, or the respite from the stresses of the daily grind.  Over the past few months, I have seen them go from an in-store recommendation to a highly-reviewed, rising band. I will be happy to say I have been a listener early on.  Don't believe me?!  Reviews can't be wrong: The Maverick, an independent country magazine in the UK, gave it a four-star rating.  And, when another review mentioned the US West Coast in the same paragraph, I was completely hooked.  One of the best concerts I saw during the Mumford and Sons Gentlemen of the Road festival was Self Help. I pass along my high recommendation as I continue in the delights of the local music stores like Union Music and bands such as The Self Help Group.
Introduction of The Self Help Group during a free gig in Lewes

20 May 2013

Living in London: An outing with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

My introduction to the Sherlock Holmes Society of London; the Journal
For a Sherlockian, there is no better place than London.  In the 19th or 21st Century, the city is all that is Sherlock Holmes.  I joined the Sherlock Holmes Society of London only a few months after arriving, and I am not disappointed.  A group of writers, scholars and enthusiasts of all ages coming together to converse in and share their interest in the Great Detective; a place where one can, in effect, "geek out".  In my first outing with the Society, I had a weekend filled with visiting parts of London I never have, meeting fellow enthusiasts, and making new friends.  

It started with an Annual General Meeting (AGM) on a Thursday.  A business meeting that didn't last long at all lead to the discovery (for me) of the existence of a Baker Street musical, and a member-performance of a Holmes radio play.  Saturday and Sunday the gathering continued with visits to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, and an excellent London walk and pub lunch on Sunday.

The Cutty Sark is the second ship museum that I have had the pleasure of visiting (the first was Brunel's ship in Bristol).  The restoration and use of a ship as a museum has impressed me a great deal.  The glass casing shown in the picture houses the bottom of the hull of the ship, as well as gift shop and cafe.  Starting below decks we walked through the clipper ship where the ship's main cargo of tea or wool was brought to life for both adults and children.  Above deck, visitors are able to get a glimpse of life aboard a 19th Century clipper with restored living quarters for officers and seaman of all ranks.  It is impossible to visit one of these amazing museums without imagining what it was like, and how different it is from today's luxury cruise liners.  These were certainly not the lap-of-luxury; not even for the officers and captain!

The way to Greenwich was by boat along the Thames passing by Holmesian sites along the River.

We received this great companion to our trip.  Greenwich has a some scattered shoreline along the Thames and I was happy to sit and take in the view after lunch.
Sunday saw  the day begin with an excellent walk through some parts of Sherlock Holmes's London.  We passed Charing Cross Hospital (now a police station), offices of the Strand, the Lyceum Theatre (still the Lyceum today), the Bow Street police station, which was just recently shut down and other sites.  Once again I was transported to another time and could imagine Holmes and Watson dashing through the streets of  central London on one of their many adventures.  Fun outings make for a fun (and educational) weekend.  One more reason to enjoy life in London!

14 February 2013

Telly Delights: Reviews Ripper Street

Ripper Street threesome: Drake, Reid, and Jackson (l-r)
Upon hearing the title, I was intrigued.  When I saw a lead actor, I was definitely going to watch.  After I saw the first episode, I was hooked.
Ripper Street is one of those unexpected surprises.  It has just the right amount of crime procedural, period piece setting, action-adventure, and character drama to make it an absolute gem.
My Sunday nights are not complete without this BBC addition (last week with the BAFTAs in its time-slot, I was quite disappointed).  Yes television viewers, we did miss out.  Luckily, it will return this week.

The first thing I thought, with an opening scene on bare-knuckle boxing and opening credits in a very Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes style, was that it was trying to be that type of story, just on a smaller screen. Wrong again.  It has the quality of Deadwood with the quirkiness of Firefly; the feeling more of a Victorian era Western, if there ever could be such a thing.
The name could be misleading.  It is set in Whitechapel, and the lead character, Edmund Reid (played with perfection by Matthew Macfayden) is based on a London detective who worked on the Jack the Ripper cases, but this is distinctly set just after the infamous spree. Reid is doing all he can to calm his streets in the aftermath, while at the same time clearly facing some deeper personal issues we have yet to fully understand. His right-hand men are Det. Sergeant Drake (Game of Thrones), and the somewhat mysterious ex-soldier, ex-Pinkerton, Yankee doctor, Jackson.  Together they do what needs to be done.

The main casting couldn't have been better.  Without it Ripper Street may not be the series it is.  Matthew Macfayden (Spooks, Little Dorrit, Pride and Prejudice) shows the Ripper audience perhaps his best work as Edmund Reid, the Detective Inspector in Whitechapel's H division police department.  Inspired by a real person,  Macfayden's Reid is not meant to be a historical representation.  He is given a fictional background, and Macfayden brings the perfect amount of humanity and action to the late 19th Century that fills our 21st Century needs.  Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones fans will recognize him as Bronn) is wonderful as DS Bennet Drake.  Reid and Drake play the good-cop, bad-cop with their suspects; Drake relishing the bad-cop role by roughing-up the bad guys until Reid gets his answers.  Flynn's Drake is loyal to his Inspector, and, despite having that rough exterior, it clear that there is a human being inside.  With British actors going to Hollywood, it's great to see an American actor, playing an American, in an English series.  Talk about authenticity!  Captain Homer Jackson gets more and more interesting everytime he's on screen.  He is a wild card, Reid knows, but he is good at what he does.  A former soldier, former Pinkerton (thank you Arthur Conan Doyle for my introduction to the Pinkertons), a doctor (Reid's coroner).  Rothenberg brings the mystery, a Yankee confidence and swagger, and even loyalty to a character who always leaves you wondering who side he is really on.

The series brings modern ideas to the late Victorian era, but they seem to fit right in.  We can see that social issues, modernity, and people are the essentially the same, even after a century of wars, and industrial and technological advances.  That makes a series like this timeless.  It has been renewed for a second series.  With enjoyable series' so few and far between, I am glad that there is more Ripper Street on the horizon.  

Living in London: An Anglophile's real delight

Parliament and the Thames: London landmarks
For an Anglophile, London is it.  We love to hear about it, see pictures of it, watch movies and telly with it being a prominent setting or character in its own right.  Living and working in London, has made me one happy Anglophile.
Coming up on three months, I am still in the honeymoon phase with my new home.  I have got very little to say bad about it, and lots to rave about.  Weekends in town are spent strolling around different neighbourhoods, and discovering really how close Soho is to Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.  Walks along the Thames are frequent; at first most weekends, now twice a day on a route to and from work to the Tube station.
January snow and the local church
In a big city, one can indulge in their interests and passions; London is no exception.  Theatre is abound, history is around constantly, and literature looms; those are just a few of the interests that tether me to the city.  Would I have spent 125 quid on that first edition book of Arthur Conan Doyle?  Yes, I sure wanted to, but had to let it pass.  How cool was it to see Edith Crawley and Balin from the Hobbit on the same stage together in a classic Russian piece of literature? Amazing!  Am I ever going to see the remaining section of wall from the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison mentioned by Dickens in Little Dorrit?  Of course. That and much more is what London is to an anglophile.  Living in my adopted city, I feel at ease.  Working in a satisfying job, living in a satisfying place, and indulging in one of your favourite cities in the world.  Can't get much better...ok, a couple ways it could, but I'll leave that to the imaginations.