Friday, 24 December 2010

Top 5 Christmas TV Specials

Another year has flown by and I've been a bit hit and miss with the top fives. Here's a suitably festive one to end the year, I'll be back in January with my end of year roundups. For now though, in the words of Shakin' Stevens, "Tis the season of love & understanding, Merry Christmas everyone!".

1. The Morecombe & Wise Show (1977) - The Morecombe & Wise Christmas specials were as much a part of our family Christmas ritual as having dinner an hour later than Mum planned and falling asleep in front of the Bond film. Difficult to single out one year but I suspect 1977 (which gained one of the largest audiences for a single light entertainment show and saw guest appearances from the Dad's Army cast, Penelope Keith and the usual array of unlikely candidates in the big dance finale) would have been my favourite.

2. A Christmassy Ted (1996) - In which Ted and Dougal get lost in Ireland's largest lingerie section and are desperate to find their way out before causing a scandle. Bumping into several other priests on the way, Ted eventually leads them to freedom and wins the Golden Cleric of the Year award. Some great moments along the way; Father Jack being left in the creche, Mrs Doyle trying to guess the name of Father Unctious with an ever more ridiculous list of Priest's names and Dougal's Matador outfit.

3. Only Fools and Horses (1989) - The Jolly Boys outing. Although it's set during an August Bank Holiday this was the '89 Christmas special and remains my favourite ever episode of Fools & Horses. The coach driver seeming to get drunk before they reach margate. The dodgy radio that actually causes this blowing up and destroying the coach. Rodney punching Cassandra's boss on the nose assuming he was up to mischief, only to find his wife is there as well. Classic Trotters.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) - Charlie Brown strives to come to terms with the true meaning of Christmas.

5. Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988) - A parody of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" this one off special saw Blackadder in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The plot is reversed so that Blackadder starts off as the nicest man in England but, following visions of his past and future lives, ends up the conniving and self-centered Blackadder we know and love.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Top 5 Interlude - Do The Shuffle

Regular readers will have noticed the lack of top fives recently. Usual story, busy at work, busy at home, not enough time to spend doing trivial things that keep me happy. I'm planning to get a Christmas one up next week but in the meantime here's something a little different.

My friend Michelle recently passed this on to me via Facebook. Follow the instructions below and see what set of songs pops up. For me it was probably as good an indicator of my current taste in music as any of my Top Fives. I've tagged a few people via Facebook and will reproduce their replies in the comments section below. I reckon there is a Sony award winning radio show in this.

Most important rule - be honest. Don't keep shuffling forward for "cooler" songs.

1.) Turn on your MP3 player or the music player on your computer.
2.) Go to SHUFFLE mode. Hit the play all songs button.
3.) Write down the first 15 songs that come up - title and artist.
4.) If you're doing this on Facebook create your own note and choose 20 people (or how ever many you like) to be tagged. Please make sure to tag me! If you're just doing this via the blog let me know what you get in the comments box below.

Dave's 15 Shuffle tracks

01. Mojo Pin - Jeff Buckley
02. Paper Planes - M.I.A.
03. The City Consumes Us - The Delgados
04. Addicted - Amy Winehouse
05. Daddy, Daddy - The Birds
06. Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case
07. Let's Get Funky - Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserocker's
08. Serve The Servants - Nirvana
09. China Doll - Julian Cope
10. I Saw Her In A Mustang - The Vandals
11. Monkey Gone To Heaven - Pixies
12. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle - Nirvana
13. No Feelings - The Sex Pistols
14. Stork & Owl - TV on the Radio
15. Two Beads At The End - Minutemen

I'm really pleased with the results, in my head this makes me look cool, eccletic and informed. In reality most of you will either be thinking "what a rubbish set of songs" or "who the hell are the Minutemen".

Friday, 26 November 2010

Top 5 Sporting Injuries (that I have had)

Just when I thought I'd have to miss a week someone mentions a topic to me (cheers Al) that I reckon I can knock off pretty quick. As a 40-something, overweight and balding man, I'm starting to come to grips with my own mortality. I've never been a naturally talented athlete. I enjoy playing sport and will always give my best but there has never been any danger that I'd go on to any significant level. I reckon I'm the worst player to have featured for my work's Football first team. I've also had a long running succession of failures to win singles Tennis matches. I'm good enough to compete, but not good enough to win. Despite that I enjoy partaking in sport and for most of my life have remained injury free. I think I was probably 30 before I picked up a serious injury. Now I can't go for more than a month without something going wrong.

1. Achilles tendonotis - Annoyingly this happened as I jogged from the pavilion onto the field. Thankfully I didn't rupture it but I've been suffering with this pain in my achilles tendon for over 18 months now. Finally starting to make progress with orthotic insoles (to help correct for my flat feet) and physio.

2. Fractured Wrist - Summer 6-a-side tournament went into the knockout stages and my team's game needed penalties. I can't remember who we had in goal for the group stages but for whatever reason I decided to take over for the spot kicks. Things were even, and I'd saved at least one, when one of my skinniest and lightweight pals stepped up to have a go. The shot was high (probably going to hit the crossbar at best) but I saved it with my outstretched left hand. Hurt like heck afterwards but I went back in goal for two more pens (relying on my feet with inevitable losing consequences). I was off to Holland the next day so my then girlfriend (now wife) was less than impressed that we had to spend 3 hours in A&E, and things didn't get better when the hospital confirmed a slight fracture and sent me home fully plastered up.

3. Broken Nose - Another Football injury. I got a bit carried away and found myself up front and looking for a goal. Got my head near a great cross (which must have been quite low, as anyone who has seen me jump will testify) but just as I was about to make contact felt a sharp pain and a saw brilliant white light. Defender had caught me with his elbow right on the end of my nose. Felt fine for 5 seconds before the gush of blood began streaming out. Another trip to A&E confirmed a fairly straight break that would "probably heal itself". It did though I like to think I've added a bit of rugged character to my looks.

4. Dislocated Finger - Rugby this time and a ridiculously minor injury. Playing a game of touch I grabbed an opposing players shirt but he jinked out of reach. This caused my fingers to snap together, which briefly hurt but didn't cause me any concern until it started swelling up a few hours later. This one just sorted itself out, though has left me with a wonky middle finger.

5. Bad Back - Not entirely sports related, an inflamed vertebrae left me in absolute agony and unable to walk for a couple of weeks. Brilliantly this coincided with the early stages of the 2002 World Cup so I had a very pleasant time confined to the house on some extremely powerful anti-inflammatories.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Top 5 episodes of The Goodies

After another ridiculously busy week at work its nice to have a few minutes to consider some ridiculous comedy. I watched the BBC tribute "The Return of the Goodies" with my boys the other day. It was not great but did bring back some happy memories of The Goodies prime time era. The boys seemed to like it too. It's not the most complex comedy but sometimes seeing a giant cat destroy London is just what you need. The Goodies were a bit like a family friendly Monty Python, who I didn't really discover until the early 80's. The Goodies did some similarly surreal things and probably don't get the recognition they deserve.

1. Bunfight at the O.K. Tea Rooms (Series 5) - In which The Goodies strike cream in Cornwall and take part in a squeezy tomato ketchup shootout.

2. Kung-Fu Kapers (Series 5) - In which Bill displays his skills with the Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump. An episode so funny a man died watching it.

3. Kitten Kong (Series 2) - In which Graeme feeds Twinkle super growth mixture resulting in the kitten growing to enormous size before squashing Michael Aspel and destroying St Paul's Cathedral & the Post Office Tower.

4. Scatty Safari (Series 5) - In which The Goodies capture Rolf Harris to replace Tony Blackburn as the star attraction for their safari park. Unforgettable scenes of herds of Rolfs roaming the country and a puppet sized little Rolf.

5. The Goodies Rule O.K. (1975 Xmas Special) - In which a General Election sees entertainment ruled illegal, a puppet government is formed (headed by Sooty & Sweep) and The Goodies are chased by giant sized Magic Roundabout characters.

Series 5 is clearly where it was at, the Xmas special followed that series too so 1975 must have been the year of The Goodies.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Top 5 Films of the Nineties

The nineties has proved to be my favourite decade in film. I’m not sure why but there are enough contenders for this top 5 to make a decent top 15. It was a period that saw the arrival of a number of exciting new directors and a time when I had more say in the films I watched. Before the 90s I was mainly watching films chosen by consensus. Me and my mates would find a house to crash round after the pub, watch a crap film and have a few beers. This usually left us with a ropey comedy or a low budget horror film. Since the 2000s I’ve had children and the films have been almost exclusively animated.

1. Reservoir Dogs 1992 (Dir: Quentin Tarantino) – My favourite Tarantino film, seeing it for the first time was like witnessing the arrival of punk in music. A unique perspective, the warehouse setting, allowed the story to be gradually revealed whilst brilliant dialogue and an excellent cast kept your interest intact and provided some wonderfully comic moments. Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth provide the main focus and form an oddly loving relationship, all the more poigniant for Roth's true identity. Steve Buscemi adds some comic relief with his high energy nervous paranoia and Michael Masden combines psychotic ear slicing with a sauve sense of calm ("You're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't you?").

2. Fargo 1996 (Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen) – The Coens get everything right with this darkly comic crime film set against the snow covered backdrop of Minnesota. Coen regular Frances McDormand is wonderful as Marge, the seven-month pregnant chief of police. But there are many impressive performances, especially William H. Macy, as the failing car salesmen trying to catch a break, and Steve Buscemi, in another fast talking east coast criminal role .

3. Pulp Fiction 1994 (Dir: Quentin Tarantino) – Probably more critically acclaimed than Dogs, Pulp Fiction is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of cinema. The three stories seamlessly intertwine though both plot development and timeline. It's packed full of memorable scenes; Vincent & Jules discussing the differences between Europe and America, Harvey Keitel's appearance as The Wolf arriving to help clear up the mess from an accidental hit and Christopher Walken telling the unintentionally humourous story of the gold watch.

4. Leon 1994 (Dir: Luc Besson) – A wonderfully subtle film that revolves around the relationship between a professional hit man, Jean Reno, and an orphaned 12 year old girl played by Natalie Portman. Besson avoids the obvious pitfalls of this relationship and creates a remarkable piece of cinema.

5. Fight Club 1999 (Dir: David Fincher) – A disorientating film that keeps its twist well hidden and leaves you with as many questions as answers come the conclusion. Reading the book helped me understand the film and watching the movie again helped me understand the book.


Friday, 5 November 2010

Top 5 Greyhound racing colours

I'm not the biggest gambler in the world but I do enjoy the occasional flutter. Two quid on the first goalscorer or a fiver on some non-league club knocking us out of the cup. It won't make me a fortune but it can add a bit of fun to watching a game. I've been horse racing a couple of times but never yet made it to a greyhound race. The first time I watched dog racing on the telly I picked six consecutive winners. I was only about twelve but an inner voice told me I'd never come close to that again and I think I've avoided it for that very reason. Still, I like the use of uniform colours and numbers. They add something to the excitement of the race I can't quite explain.

1. Trap 6 (Black & White Stripes with Red numeral)

2. Trap 1 (Red with White numeral)

3. Trap 5 (Orange with Black numeral)

4. Trap 4 (Black with White numeral)

5. Trap 2 (Blue with White numeral)

Which leaves Trap 3 (White with Black numeral) outside my list.

And just room for a quick hat tip to Blur for using greyhound racing as the cover for their best album Parklife. They lose points though for using the American system on the back to number the tracks.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 5 Dr Who Companions

I have a growing stack of top fives that need more time than I've got to complete so it's handy to find a quicky topic every now and again to give me a bit of breathing space. I'm also always pleased to hear other people's suggestions and had quite an extensive list from a new reader the other week. This one was something I hadn't done and didn't take long to knock into shape.

1. Sarah Jane Smith - Elizabeth Sladen
(3rd & 4th Doctors, cameos with 10th & 11th Doctors)
I started watching Dr Who towards the end of Jon Pertwee's run on the show and so Sarah Jane was the first companion I knew. Not sure what it was about her but as a seven year old I definitely had a bit of a crush on her. I spent most of the Tom Baker era hiding behind the sofa, so it might just be that the Sarah Jane moments were the only bits I was brave enough to watch. Having returned recently in the spin-off series "The Sarah Jane Adventures" she doesn't seem to have aged at all and, despite being 20 years older than me, still has a certain something about her.

2. Jamie McCrimmon - Frazer Hines
(2nd Doctor)
Before he went on to star as a farmer in Emmerdale, Frazer Hines played an 18th century Scottish piper who became the second Doctor's companion. Sarah Jane might have appeared with more Doctors but Jamie appeared in 116 episodes with Patrick Troughton, making him the longest serving companion. These episodes were before my time but I got into them, having graduated to the comfy side of the sofa, when the BBC repeated the old series.

3. K9 - voice of John Leeson
(4th Doctor)
Looking back K9 seems a bit naff but he was something new and exciting when he first hit the screens. There was no flying and shooting lasers, he just wheeled about and shared his extensive knowledge, often to the point of tedium. He spoke with a formal tone and was always polite to his master but at times could be slightly condescending. Almost a robot dog version of Stephen Fry.

4. Amy Pond - Karen Gillan
(11th Doctor)
Its early days for Amy but she's made quite an impact in one series already. A feisty companion with a hint of mischief, flowing red hair and a suitably short temper.

5. Leela - Louise Jameson
(4th Doctor)
Savage warrior Leela effectively replaced Sarah Jane, so it took me a while to warm to her. But in 1978 there weren't many opportunities to see quite as much of the female form during suitable veiwing times for a 10 year old, so her appearances soon became unmissable.

My Top 5 Doctors are here in case you want to compare.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Top 5 Fonts

You may not have noticed but I recently changed the font of this blog from Arial to Verdana. I can get a bit obsessive about fonts. This probably dates back to my cartographic training days when we used hot glue and Letraset to add lettering to maps. It was quite theraputic chopping out place names and deciding the best position to stick them (usually top right). The arrival of computers added a whole new array of interesting fonts to use and I wasted many an hour selecting the right type face for a letter or report and, consequently, not enough time on the actual report. Blogger, thankfully, only offers five.

1. Helvetica - A no nonsense font that works for every occasion. Simple yet stylish it has developed something of a cult following and even inspired a film. Microsoft don't supply Helvetica, possibly due to ownership and costs, and palm us off with Arial instead.

2. Charles Rennie Mackintosh font - The ultimate Art Deco font and about as far from Helvetica as you're likely to get. Mrs Chop has a bit of a thing for CRM and we used this type face on our wedding invites. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an architect who included incredible levels of decorative detail in his designs and created this font specifically for his work.

3. Courier - Courier used to seem the least worthy of fonts. Designed to replicate the look of an old fashioned typewriter it didn't offer the same excitement as fancy new fonts like Bauhaus 93 and Rockwell Extra Bold. I appreciate it much more now. It's a getting things done type of font, a font that does the job without the need to look pretty.

4. Lucida Calligraphy - I quite like the whole Lucida family. The calligraphy variant is an elegant type face that provides the impression of handwriting without the amibiguity of the real thing.

5. Desdemona - Another Art Deco-esque style font but one that comes included with Microsoft Office. A Charles Rennie Mackintosh-lite if you will.


Friday, 15 October 2010

Top 5 Seaside Piers

Hastings pier was almost completely destroyed by fire last week following an arson attack. It set me thinking about my favourite Piers, a distinctly British creation. The National Piers Society state that there are around 55 traditional Victorian piers still standing in the UK today. There used to be about 100 but they're tricky constructions to maintain, expensive to insure and vulnerable to the forces of nature, vandalism and under funded owners. In compiling this list I realise I've not visited very many. Mrs Chopper and the boys may find our holidays over the next few years revolving around fading seaside towns with a Victorian pier.

1. Eastbourne Pier - I spent most of my school summer holidays in Eastbourne and this was the first pier I visited. I can remember it being one of my holiday treats to be allowed a bit of money to use in the arcades, maybe buy a souvenir and usually have an ice-cream. It had been opened in 1870 designed by prolific pier architect Eugenius Birch. By my teens I was visiting Eastbourne with my mates, mainly because my best friend's parents owned a holiday flat in town, and we graduated to the pier nightclub.

2. Llandudno Pier - A big old pier that juts out into the Irish sea from the headland near Llandudno. It's a wide promenade that takes you out to the triangular platform at the end. There's a extension that runs back along the shore front, adding to the length and making it unlike any other pier I've seen.

3. Brighton Palace Pier - Brighton's only pier since the older, and Birch designed, West Pier was all but destroyed by two fires in 2003. The Palace Pier opened in 1899 and was the third pier to open in the town. It's probably the most profitable active pier in the country and is as well developed a pier as you're likely to find.

4. Blackpool North Pier - Blackpool still has three piers but the North pier is the oldest. The second of the fourteen piers designed by Eugenius Birch (the first being Margate Pier) was officially opened in 1863. I think it's the only Northern pier I've visited.

5. Aberystwyth Royal Pier - I spent a bit of time in Aber when one of my pals was at Uni there. The Royal Pier (another Birch design) is nothing special to look at and a good deal shorter that others of it's era having seen the seaward end swept away less than seven months after it opened in 1865. A subsequent replacement extension was eventually built but this was also swept away in 1938 and the Pier has since remained in stubby form. It does boast the benefit of a public house called the Inn on the Pier which is the only pub in the UK that remains open 24 hours a day.

A few famous piers that I've not visited yet. Southend Pier is very long but doesn't appear to offer a great deal other than the feeling of being a very long way out to sea on a rickety Victorian structure. Wigan Pier is not at the seaside and barely visible but of interest thanks to George Orwell and Paul Simon. Ryde Pier was the first pier built in England and remains the oldest timber planked pier still standing. I've been to Ryde but the pier is pretty dull and is there for the practical purposes of getting ferry passengers to and from the ferry. I also considered Piers outside of the UK but the only one I can remember visiting is Pier 39 in San Francisco which is so vast you wouldn't even know you were on a pier.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Top 5 Flintstones

It's a week late but thanks to the Google Doodle I noticed it was the 50th anniversary of The Flintstones last Thursday. Unlike most of the cartoons I used to like as a kid the original Flintstones series ran for some six years and over 160 episodes.

1. Barney Rubble - Could you get a better best pal? Happy with his lot in life but always prepared to back Fred's latest scheme.

2. Wilma Flintstone - Definitely the brains of the family. Betty Rubble may be hotter (can I say that about a cartoon?) but it's Wilma who runs the show.

3. Fred Flintstone - Stone Age forerunner of Homer Simpson.

4. Dino - I always liked Baby Puss (the Sabre-tooth cat that appears in the titles) but Dino makes a bigger impact in the show, and on Fred's stomach.

5. Arnold the Paperboy - Very minor character who contributes to a fairly long-running gag in which he annoys and outsmarts Fred on a regular basis.


Friday, 1 October 2010

Top 5 Achievements at School

We're currently going through the anguish of looking at secondary schools for our eldest. This largely involves visiting different schools, listening to various head teachers, and walking round a lot of classrooms. Apart from sore feet and a nagging doubt I'm about to be told to stop running and tuck my shirt in, this has brought back a lot of memories of my own school days. I was never a big fan of school. It was something that got in the way of playing football and watching TV. Possibly that's why I didn't particularly excel in anything.

1. Making my one and only appearance for the school cricket team - Clearly desperate for an eleventh man and with anyone of any ability unavailable I was picked for the school team about 2 hours before the match was due to start. I didn't bowl. I fielded on the boundary, only twice having to make any effort to retrieve a ball. The opposition were all out for 33. I came in to bat as 11th man with our total standing at 30 for 9. Having successfully Tavare'd the first ball I faced my partner scored a quick single off the first ball of the final over. Feeling a bit of pressure as I faced my second ball I made remarkably decent contact and was able to score the 3 runs required to win the game. Euphoria erupted in all directions and I was literally carried off the pitch on the shoulders of my teammates. I was never selected again.

2. Appearing on "That's Life" as part of a Gospel Choir - "Harris, you can sing, follow me!" were the words my music teacher bellowed as he flew past me in the corridor. He was collecting a growing gaggle of students and I joined the throng to find out what was up. Mr Sutton knew someone who worked for the BBC. That's Life were in desperate need of a Gospel Choir to sing a song about a man who had bought an Aero and found it didn't have any holes in it. Quite why the BBC thought that a secondary school in Surrey was the best place to find a Gospel Choir at short notice I'm not quite sure but we appeared on the show, in full flowing red gowns, and sang the funny song.

We met Doc Cox, who was funny, Joanna Monro, who was lovely, and Adrian Mills, who was a bit of a cock. We also met the men from Aero who plied us with lots of free chocolate bars. The show was recorded shortly before transmission and was shown, in a time before we owned a video recorder, as we were travelling home on the coach.

3. Winning the trophy for services to Sport - Awarded for attending one inter-school athletics meeting as assistant to my polish PE teacher Mr Grazinski. My duties were not particularly onorous and basically consisted of looking after the starter pistol and timing each race with the school stop watch.

4. Being let off School Lunch - At Junior school I used to have school dinners. They were dreadful and to make matters worse we had to ask the duty teacher if we could leave what we had not eaten. One of the least enjoyable meals was Liver and mash and there was nothing worse than being told you had to finish off a bit more liver when you'd already eaten all the mash and veg. I was a fussy eater, even at home, and the constant rotation of horrible food led me to bunk off lunch. I realised that whilst in classes they always took a register at dinner time there was no such check. I survived for a good six months without lunch before reaching the point where I felt I was ready to take on whatever the canteen could throw at me. I joined the dinner queue with my mates, my taste buds tingling with anticipation of a proper meal. I was hoping for sausages and beans or spam fritters or shepherd's pie. My face dropped when I realised it was liver and mash. I ate the potato and veg and sliced a few tiny slithers off the liver. It hadn't improved a great deal. I took the long walk to the duty teacher, who smiled as I approached. "You've not been up for ages David! Of course you can leave that". I skipped for joy as I joined the queue for a large dollop of Chocolate Semolina.

5. Playing a bush in my first Nativity - I was not the most forthright of children and was never going to vie for a lead role in any school play. Clearly this was recognised by my teachers as my very first school nativity saw me cast as a bush. This pretty much boiled down to carrying a piece of scenery on to the stage at the appropriate moment and hiding behind it. There may have been a bit of singing involved but this was fine, I had a bush to hide behind. I wasn't the only child entrusted with a vegetation based role, one of my best friends had the more prestigious part of third tree. I'm not sure we entirely got the story of the Nativity in Thames Ditton.