Friday, 25 November 2011

Guest Top 5 - Children's Books with Maps by Alicestronaut

This is a bit of a first in that I have shamelessly stolen it from someone else's blog. I'd been struggling to find enough time to write a new top five when my Twitter friend Alicestronaut popped up with a link to this wonderful entry on her blog. My job has changed dramatically since I started work but I'm still, officially, a cartographer and maps have always held a certain magic for me. Reading this I wondered whether the appearance of maps in some of my favourite childhood books may actually have influenced my choice of career.

After I stopped kicking myself for not having thought of it too, I began to consider my options for getting this topic into my blog. I pondered doing my own top 5 but really Alice has got this spot on. Alice has been very kind in letting me reproduce it here but you should also take a look at Alice's "Stuff & Things" blog or follow her on Twitter here. I think this could be my favourite top five of the year, over to Alice.

I spent a lot of time drawing maps, floorplans of houses and designing the layouts of new libraries when I was younger (I'm not fibbing, I spent hours and hours over a layout for my ideal library and sent it in to the one I used to go to. They never wrote back. I'm beginning to suspect my Mum never sent the letter). I'm not going to subject you to my top five favourite house layouts (yet) but how about some maps?

Here you are then.

Lord of the Rings - Obviously. Although you can argue over whether this is a children's book, I read the first one when I was that age so it is to me. I've still never read the other two all the way through but I'm sure I will one day.

Miss Jaster's Garden - Plot the route of a garden stealing hedgehog. Miss Jaster could benefit from a bit of laser eye surgery.

Winnie the Pooh - The first book that had me flipping back to the endpapers every five minutes. [aside - who is the best poet of all?]

Milly Molly Mandy - Another endpaper flipper. If you read these when you were small, you'll know how I feel about these books. If you didn't then buy a set for your kids right now - don't let them miss out too!

Treasure Island - The inventor of 'x marks the spot' and another of my favourite books, although more recently discovered.

Any more I should be including?


Friday, 18 November 2011

Top 5 Herbie Movies

The Herbie movies were simple but fun and were amongst the earliest films I can remember seeing in a cinema. I totally believed in the sentience of inanimate objects (I should perhaps point out here that I was only 6 when I saw the first film) and Herbie was proof positive that cars could do incredible things. Original director, Robert Stevenson, had made some of Disney's best kids movies (The Absent Minded Professor, Mary Poppins & One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing) but with Herbie found the perfect formula for boys under 10.  

1. Herbie Rides Again (1974) - Directed by Robert Stevenson
This first sequel to The Love Bug is, in my view, the best of the series. Herbie's original mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz leaves Herbie with his great aunt Mrs. Steinmetz (played perfectly by the wonderful Helen Hayes) and the plot revolves around the attempts of, evil real-estate mogul, Alonzo Hawk's attempts to evict them from their Firehouse home. This is the first Herbie film I saw in the cinema and the mixture of the surreal and the madcap made it a winner. My highlight is the finale which sees lots of other V.W. Beetles come to life to help ward of the demolition crew and defeat the villains once and for all.  

2. The Love Bug (1968) - Directed by Robert Stevenson
The original movie sees down-on-his-luck race car driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) acquire Herbie after defending the car from humilaitation by car salesman Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson). Thorndyke is also a race driver and becomes their bitter foe after Herbie beats him in a race having been tuned by Jim's mechanic friend Tennesse Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett). The Love Bug sets up the Boy-Car-Girl template that persists throughout the series, at heart these are quite simple love storys but in every one it's Herbie who remains the biggest star.

3. Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) - Directed by Vincent McEveety
Dean Jones returns as Jim Douglas and Herbie is back in the racing business though this time a cross continent chase from Paris to Monte Carlo. Don Knotts is entertaining as Herbie's new mechanic and the European backdrop provides some new scenary for the usual Herbie related mayhem. The much missed Roy Kinnear also makes an appearance as one of two thieves who hide a large diamond in Herbies fuel tank and then have to chase him around Europe in an attempt to reclaim it. There's a noticeable drop in quality with the loss of Stevenson as director but this film retains enough of the original movies charm to pull it off.

4. Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) - Directed by Angela Robinson
A slight return some 25 years after the disaster that was Herbie Goes Bananas. This time Herbie finds a female owner in Maggie Peyton (played by a pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan), the youngest member of a racing family.The film recreates many of the scenarios we've seen before; Herbie helps owner beat race driver in posh big car, Driver accepts that Herbie is sentient, Driver bet's something important on winning a race, Herbie then delibately loses. Girl meets Boy, Boy falls for girl, car brings them together & they all live happily ever after. It's simple and a little cheesy but there are times when I think that's all we need. Fully Loaded restores a bit of pride to the series and gave me a little thrill in taking my eldest to see it when he was abount the same age I'd have been for Herbie Rides Again.

5. Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) - Directed by Vincent McEveety
Oh dear. This one is a shocker, poorly written and struggling to raise the gentlest of titters. Herbie is shipped to Brazil to take part in a Grand Prix but after causing havoc on the ship is dumped in the sea. He eventually surfaces, covered in rust and somehow finds his way to Mexico. The only scene that is even vaguely memorable sees Herbie as a matador in a Mexican bullring. Otherwise this was just a desperate attempt to prolong the series.


Friday, 11 November 2011

Top 5 Reasons I didn't write a Top 5 last week (and haven't written a proper one this week)

I think last week might be the first Friday I've not supplied a top five all year. Not that it really matters to anyone else but me, but it has provided me with something to write about this week. Perhaps more a diary entry than a top five but hey, it's better than nothing, right?

1. Work, Work, Work - It only happens once or twice a year but I've had a couple of weeks of long days and weekend working. This has mainly consisted of a team of contractors arriving to wreck havoc on my previously working system while I try and keep track of everything they do. In the past I have enjoyed the extra pressure, but this time I've felt a bit useless. Uninvolved, frustrated and under appreciated. These are all signs I've been in this job too long. Typically for me I'm finally considering a change of direction when I'm over 40 and there's a massive recession on. Great timing.

2. George's 8th Birthday - After nine consecutive crappy days at work my youngest celebrated his 8th birthday on Tuesday. This came as something of a relief and I left work early for a change. A family outing to see "Johnny English Reborn" with a meal after-wards at Pizza Hut. We don't do this enough and it was great fun. The film was just about perfect for my frame of mind amusing but untaxing. Pizza Hut may only be a small step up from McD's but the boys enjoyed the food (especially the ice-cream factory) and Mrs Top 5 and I enjoyed the chance to sit and talk for the first time in ages.

3. Beer - Back to work the next day, then straight out for a few beers after with the install team. We'd hoped to go to the Twickenham Beer Festival on Saturday night but had abandoned this as that day went slowly pear-shaped. This was an opportunity to show the install team a bit of British culture and we visited a few of my favourite pubs in the world, followed by a very nice meal at a Thai restaurant up the hill (my waist line dramatically increasing as the week wore on).

4. Football - I was really struggling by Thursday evening. Candle burnt at both ends. Wislaw Krakow were in town for the 4th of Fulham's Europa League group matches. A pub meal and a visit to another of my favourite pubs livened me up a little and we headed down towards the Cottage fashionably late. The accents we heard as we strolled through Bishop's Park suggested that there were a lot of resident Poles taking the opportunity to see their team in London, but we were still surprised by the large numbers of riot police dotted around the stadium. More police than I think I can ever remember. The reason for this became clear when we entered the ground and could see that Krakow fans had not only filled the small official section of the Johnny Haynes stand but also most of the Putney End. They made a lot of noise all game, several hundred were in home areas and these were eventually relocated to the far end. The official section let a smoke bomb off halfway through the first half. For a minute we thought the stand was on fire. It was, at times, a bit intimidating but it definitely sparked the game into life. The players and home fans responded and an entertaining 4-1 win for Fulham didn't feel comfortable until the 4th goal went in with 10 minutes to go.

Photo © Andy Hooper

5. Music - Finally Friday arrived and I literally had to drag myself out to a gig that I'd booked long before I knew what sort of a week this was going to be. Had it been any other band I may well have stayed home, but this was to be Dananananaykroyd's last ever gig in London. They've been just about the best live band I've seen in the last five years and I needed to say goodbye. They didn't disappoint, I didn't get as involved as I might have done, but a last opportunity to join in with the mass hug that is the "wall of cuddles" saw me collect two unsuspecting punters and dive into the middle of the throng. Fun times.

Photo © Darran Armstrong