Monday, 31 January 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

2/22: Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing by Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse

The blurb: Two comedy greats talk life, friendship and the joys of fishing...

Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse have been friends for 30 years, but when life intervened, what was once a joyous and spontaneous friendship dwindled to the odd phone call or occasional catch up. Then, Glory Be! They were both diagnosed with heart disease and realised that time is short. They'd better spend it fishing...

So they dusted off their kits, chucked on their waders and ventured into the achingly beautiful British countryside to fish, rediscover the joys of their friendship and ruminate on some of life's most profound questions, such as: How did we get so old? Where are all the fish? What are your favourite pocket meats? What should we do if we find a corpse?

Following the success of the BBC's Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing series, this wonderful book by two lifelong friends is a love letter to the joys of angling, the thrill of the catch and the virtue of having a right daft laff with your mates. On the fish, the equipment, the food, and the locations, Gone Fishing is the perfect book for fans of Bob Mortimer, Paul Whitehouse and for anyone who wants to read a brilliantly written and endlessly funny joint memoir on life, friendship and joys of fishing.

The review: I bought The Man Of Cheese a copy of Bob Mortimer's wildly popular autobiography And Away for Christmas; so popular is it, in fact, that my gift was the third copy TMOC received over the festive period. I've since remedied that fail with a far better present, but what I should really have bought, if I'd wanted to be a bit more original, is this. For whilst Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing does have an autobiographical element, and does tie in nicely with the comfort-viewing TV series that shares its name, it's principally a book about fishing, and the joys thereof. Oh, and being with your mate too, but I'll come on to that.

There's a very clear split in the book regarding who has written each piece, and clearly Paul does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to writing about fishing, its history, techniques, and types of fish. Now I am not an angler - it's thirty years or more since I last sat at the riverside with The Man Of Cheese and hooked roach after roach out of the excellently named River Wantsum. But that in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book. As Bob is quick to point out, a day fishing is about more than the fish, it's about being outdoors with your mate, enjoying the peace and beauty of a rural setting, talking nonsense (or, perhaps, not talking at all), maybe retiring to a nice pub afterwards... sounds good, doesn't it? And that's a strength of this book - it enthuses about the attendant joys of angling so much that it would make anyone fancy a go.

If Paul carries the fishing aspect of the book, Bob carries the humour - that's not to say Paul's sections aren't funny, because they are, but they're also weighted towards the fishing. Bob doesn't have Paul's fishing experience, so compensates with humour. I particularly enjoyed his comedy names for the dishes he describes in his section on heart-healthy riverside cooking options (tuna Melanie with trapped potatoes, anyone? Or Boots McFoolish breakfast porridge?)

The thing is, this isn't a life-changing book. It isn't going to dazzle you with its prose, nor - for all its humour - is it a comedy classic. A totally objective review would probably be for me to award it four out of the possible six stars, describe it as "serviceable" or some other faint praise and summarise it as a satifactory commercial exercise, cashing in on the success of the TV show. All of those things are true. But it's more than that, of course. Yes, it's a love letter to fishing and an outdoor life, and that's a big part of the appeal. But it's even more than that too. Mostly, for this reader at least, Gone Fishing is the anatomy of a friendship between two men, one that started in youth and has matured in middle age. At a time when what it is to be a man is so ill-defined, lambasted or pilloried, it is truly rewarding to see a genuine, heartfelt and lasting male friendship served up on paper, for us all to enjoy. And for that, it is more than the sum of its parts, and warrants an extra star.

The bottom line: come for the fishing, stay for the friendship - a life-affirming read.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Sunday shorts: I Love Perth

It's about Perth, Australia, not Perth, Scotland. But that's nice too.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Revisiting The Tube

With massive thanks to Khayem at Dubhed for bringing all this to my attention.

[09-Feb-21 EDIT: sadly the YouTuber that digitised the whole of The Tube has since taken it all down, presumably because The Man™ got on his case. I've updated the videos here with clips from other sources, where I've been able to.]

A YouTuber by the name of Lol-Z has digitised every episode of seminal 80s music show The Tube. And oh, what a rabbit hole it is - a time tunnel back to the music of the day, the comedy, and just how we used to live. It is utterly brilliant. I cannot imagine being short of something to watch for weeks, months probably.

I've written before about how The Jam gave their last ever live TV performance on the very first episode of The Tube, so I won't revisit that. But there are plenty of other highlights, uncovered already from just this evening's cursory scan through. How about the first televised sight of The Smiths, from series 2 episode 2, first broadcast on 4th November 1983, as part of an interview with Geoff Travis:

Or for later in the same series, playing live on episode 21 broadcast 16th March 1984, a programme in which they shared the bill with Howard Jones, Escape Club and Madness, no less. Here they are with Hand In Glove, Still Ill and a frankly exceptional Barbarism Begins At Home:

And if The Smiths are dead to you now, how about REM's first live UK TV performance, from series 2 episode 4 broadcast 18th November 1983, in which they rattle through Radio Free Europe, So. Central Rain and Talk About The Passion. Jools introduces them as being from Atlanta - between songs, Michael says, "We're not from Atlanta, we're from Athens." As if anyone watching in the UK in 1983 knew there was an Athens in Georgia...

Or how about The Style Council, a week later, demonstrating how far Paul had moved on from that Jam swansong the previous series? Performing My Ever Changing Moods, Headstart For Happiness and closing the show with a cover of Chairmen of the Board's Hanging On To A Memory, this was a very clear statement of intent that the audience seem ever so slightly confused by:

And here they are again, eleven months later on series 3 episode 3 broadcast 19th October 1984, showing just how much further they'd gone, with Shout To The Top, A Man Of Great Promise, Strength Of Your Nature and a cover of Defunkt's Razor's Edge:

And especially for Rol, here's the late Meatloaf from the tail end of series 3, in an episode broadcast 8th February 1985. Hard to imagine Meat shared the bill with Amazulu and The Durutti Column at any other point in his career:

Strikes me watching some of this back how TFI Friday that followed in the 90s wasn't actually as groundbreaking as many remember it - they were just updating The Tube, weren't they?

Another thing that strikes me is the sudden recollection that teen me had a little bit of a thing for how Paula Yates looked in the first half of the 80s. So shallow. I was not her type though...

Anyway, you can and really should go and peruse the whole Tube catalogue on Lol-Z's YouTube channel. IMDB can help with episode broadcast dates, should you need them. But hurry - as Khayem said this morning, this lot might not be around for very long. Now excuse me, I may be gone for some time...

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Sunday shorts: Intuition Told Me, Pt. 1

Because it's nice to have some Orange Juice with your Sunday breakfast, right?

Friday, 21 January 2022

RIP Tiny

Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meatloaf, has died, aged 74. As ever, the Beeb have a fine obit. RIP.

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

...and an equilateral chainsaw

I saw this story in the news today:Dairylea non-story

Of course it put me immediately in mind of the opening verse of 99% of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd, from Half Man Half Biscuit's debut album Back in the D.H.S.S., which (famously?) riffed on this old advert:

So here you go. Jesus Christ, come on down!

For the youth who don't know who Bob Todd was, his Wikipedia page makes for an interesting read. Although if you're a youth reading this blog, you probably have bigger problems than remembering supporting cast members from The Benny Hill Show.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Investigation LBD-1

Massive respect to all involved in producing this:

And to Cassetteboy, for this:

Johnson must resign, now, not wait for Sue Gray to tell him something he surely already knows.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Insert obligatory sigh here

Found a new Twitter account to follow...

Friday, 14 January 2022

Blue Friday: Two Ribbons

I shouldn't like Let's Eat Grandma, should I? They're not aiming at parochial 50-somethings like me, are they? Christ, they were born this century, after all. Plus, I dont like their name (it's based on a grammar joke, the importance of a well-placed comma ... and I approve of that conceptually, obviously, but even so...)

I didn't listen to their first album, dismissing them from the off in my usual parochial, superior way. Their second won best album at the 2018 Q awards, but I still refused to show interest, like the ridiculous, arrogant old fool that I am.

And then this week I heard Two Ribbons, the title track from their third album ... and it's quietly brilliant. From what I can see, very different from those earlier releases that I sneeringly ignored, but hypnotic, haunting and just very ... now. Here it is.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The party's (hopefully) over

I can't bring myself to write again about the mendacious pile of entitled self-interest that holds our highest office. We can only hope that his party will soon be over.

Here's an excellent live rendition of the title track from Talk Talk's first album, forty years old but still sounding fresh.

Monday, 10 January 2022

Monday long song: Cloudbusting

Not that I need an excuse to post some peak Kate Bush, but I've been thinking a lot lately about being a son of a father, and a father of a son.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the book the son (Kate) pulls from her father's pocket in this video, it's this.

Remember when music videos were miniature films, like this?

Friday, 7 January 2022

About Sidney Poitier

"Acting isn't a game of 'pretend'," he once said. "It's an exercise in being real."

Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, In The Heat Of The Night

RIP Sidney.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Dolly

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Dolly by Susan Hill

1/22: Dolly by Susan Hill

The blurb: The remoter parts of the English Fens are forlorn, lost and damp even in the height of summer. At Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, two young cousins, Leonora and Edward are parked for the summer with their ageing spinster aunt and her cruel housekeeper. At first the unpleasantness and petty meannesses appear simply spiteful, calculated to destroy Edward's equanimity. But when spoilt Leonora is not given the birthday present of a specific dolly that she wants, affairs inexorably take a much darker turn with terrifying, life destroying, consequences for everyone.

The review: I like a good ghost story and, since Susan Hill is best known for the wildly successful Woman in Black, I felt sufficiently inspired to take a punt on a premise, cover and blurb that I wouldn't normally choose. Since I found the book in one of those "take a book, leave a book" community libraries that have sprung up everywhere in recent years (you know the sort of thing, often in a repurposed phone box or similar), I literally had nothing to lose. So what did I make of it?

Well, it's a ghost story without any actual ghosts, though there is a more than a smattering of the supernatural that can certainly be described as unsettling. There's also plenty of atmospheric tension in the setting and the supporting characters of Leonora and Edward's spinster aunt and Iyot Lock's trenchant housekeeper. A reminder then that maybe a book doesn't need a ghost for it to be a ghost story, it just needs something that haunts the protagonist.

It's also a pretty short read - more a long novella than a novel. And that's more of a problem than a ghost story without ghosts, as it turns out, because a greater length might have enabled more character development. With the except of narrator Edward, the other principals are somewhat underdeveloped, especially Leonora - I don't think it's giving too much away to say that she's a spoiled brat in childhood and not much better in her adult life. The reasons for her being quite so horrid are alluded to but certainly could have been explored more - doing so would add an extra layer for the reader when Leonora eventually reaps what she has sown. And besides, the blurb talks about "life destroying" events - seems a shame to deal with them so quickly.

This hints at another slight problem with Dolly, that none of the principal characters are especially likeable. I know that Edward is supposed to be the one your root for as you read, but he seems too slight, too straightlaced and sometimes just a bit wet. There's a rigid, austere quality to some of his narration that occasionally jarred too, a slightly arcane wordiness that felt contrived on Hill's part, and seemed at odds with the book's setting. More than that, though, it's hard to sympathise or empathise with him most of the time - a problem, when it's him telling the story.

Oh, and for me there's a fairly large plausibility problem near the very end that I can't detail without a spoiler - suffice to say I felt it was an "he'd never do that" moment that has been glossed over for the sake of the story's ending.

Seems like I've been quite critical so far. Let me also say that this is a well-paced novel(la) with a genuinely unsettling story to tell, with some ideas and imagery that linger in the mind after reading. It's just that it could have been so much more. More could have been made of the characters and their back-story, much more could have been made of the bleak, discomfiting Fenland setting. It's not a bad book by any means... it's just not a great one. If it's a dark tale set in the Fens you're after, this is fine but Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver shows how it should really be done.

The bottom line: Hill tells a decent, unsettling ghost story here, but it could have been so much more.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★☆☆☆

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Back

I was going to let this go, I really was. I had my exit strategy all mapped out, and the last post ever to appear on New Amusements was going to be Goodbye by The Sundays, on New Year's Eve. Everyone would think I was bidding farewell to 2021, there would be no "oh, don't go, carry on" response to a more obvious departure, and that would be it, my blogging days would be done. And since I'm probably kidding myself about the "carry on" response, I really could have made a French exit.

But here I am. Back at work today and back, it seems, to blogging. Why? Why indeed. I've got nothing new or interesting to write, so how come I'm still here? Well, it's simple, really: the community. The little corner of the blogosphere that we inhabit, all reading each other's posts. I enjoy that very much, and read everyone else's new stuff over breakfast, before I start my day's work. And I guess I just felt that I would be a fraud if I kept on doing that without keeping my half of the bargain, and posting myself. So here we are.

Back to work then. Only one song for that, isn't there? Covering this little ditty (for the B-side of Girlfriend in a Coma) contributed to the disintegration of The Smiths; in a 1992 interview for Record Collector, Johnny Marr said, "Work Is a Four Letter Word I hated. That was the last straw, really. I didn't form a group to perform Cilla Black songs. That was it, really. I made a decision that I was going to get away on holiday. The only place I could think of was L.A. L.A. was the only place I knew where there'd be sunshine, so off I went. I never saw Morrissey again."

He might not have liked covering it, but at least he improved on it...