strange_complex: (Dracula 1958 cloak)
I was planning to write about my holiday to Romania today, but then I woke up after a much needed lie-in to the news that Christopher Lee had died, and the truth is it would probably never have occurred to me to want to go to Romania at all if it hadn't been for him. So I will write about him instead.

I've long known that I first saw him in Hammer's Dracula (1958) when I was eight years old, and thanks to the Radio Times online archive I've recently been able to pin that down a little more precisely. On 28th December 1984, BBC Two broadcast a late night double-bill of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. My Dad recorded it on our at that time very new and exciting home video recorder, and soon afterwards (I don't know exactly how soon, but within a few days or weeks, I think) decided that these X-rated films would be suitable viewing for his eight-year-old daughter.

He knew what he was doing. Dracula in particular struck a chord with me which has resonated ever since. Within a year, I had bought and devoured the novel. Within two, I had moved outwards into the wider world of vampire fiction. Within three I had bought my personal horror bible, and was busy working my way through its Vampire chapter with a particular focus on Hammer's other Dracula movies. I have carried on in much the same vein ever since - and it was absolutely definitively Lee's performance as Dracula which started it all.

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If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have spent my teens steeping myself in Gothic fiction and horror movies. As a result, I would probably never have felt inclined to drift into the Gothic sub-culture in my Bristol days, or have made all the friends I did then and later as a result. I could never have watched The Wicker Man when I got to Oxford, might never have felt the same resonances in the city's May Day celebrations, and would never have had the Wicker Man holiday which [livejournal.com profile] thanatos_kalos and I enjoyed two years ago in Scotland. Indeed, I would never have watched any of the awesome movies on this list - or any of the rubbishy second-rate ones, either, which I have hunted down and sat through (often accompanied by the ever-patient [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan) just because he was in them. Nor would I recently have bothered reading all about the real life Vlad III Dracula. My parents going to Romania in 1987 would have meant nothing particular to me, and nor would I have joined the Dracula Society and gone on the holiday there with them which I have just got back from.

While we were in Romania, Christopher Lee had his 93rd, and sadly we now know his last, birthday. We happened to be in Sighișoara, where the real life Vlad III Dracula was (probably) born, so I marked the day by nipping out of our hotel early in the morning, crossing the town square and tweeting this selfie from outside the house where he grew up.


Little did I know that the man who had sparked off my interest in Dracula in the first place was already in hospital. Little did I know how few days he had left.

I won't try to claim that I have always considered Christopher Lee to be the perfect human being. I've said plenty of uncomplimentary things about him in the past on this journal. There's no need to repeat them today. But he brought such wonderful stories so powerfully to life - not indeed just by acting in them with such presence and professionalism, but by doing it to such an inspiring degree that already by the mid-1960s people were writing roles and producing stories so that he could inhabit them and bring that magic to them. There is no question that the whole world of fantastic drama and fiction has been immeasurably stronger for his contribution to it. So I am truly, truly grateful for the wondrous worlds those prodigious acting talents have transported me to, and for the real-world doors and pathways they have opened up to me as a result. And though I never met him, and now never will, it felt good to share the same planet with him for the past 38 years. I am very sorry now that that time is over.

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strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
Very neatly, [livejournal.com profile] wig tagged me for this meme on LJ, and TAFKAK tagged me for it on Facebook on the same day last week. So I shall answer it in both places, but obviously LJ lends itself better to nice formatting and having space to make some actual comments about the books. I have taken the concept of the books 'staying with me' seriously, and thus listed ones which both meant a lot to me at the time of original discovery and to which I have returned regularly since. They are listed (as best as I could remember) in the order in which I first encountered them.

L. Frank Baum (1900), The Wizard of Oz
This stands for the whole series, of course. I was certainly quite obsessed with them by the age of six, and indeed a picture of me reading one of them to my friends on that birthday can be seen here. The 1939 film was important too, of course, and I'm pretty sure I had seen it by that age, but there were more of the books, with far more wonderful characters and adventures than the film could deliver. Dad used to read the books to me as bedtime stories, I used to read and re-read them myself, and of course there was a great deal of dressing up, playing at being characters from the books and so on with the very friends shown in the picture, and especially [livejournal.com profile] hollyione. A lifetime love of fantastical stories was to follow...

Alison Uttley (1939), A Traveller in Time
Did loads of other people read this as children? I don't hear it mentioned very often as a children's classic, but it was another big favourite of my childhood, and has literally stayed with me in the sense that I still have my copy of it. I haven't done that for many of my childhood books - though the Oz series are another exception. Doubtless one of the attractions all along was the fact that the main character, a young girl from the 20th century, is called Penelope. But also, time travel! While staying in a Tudor manor house, she repeatedly finds herself slipping back to its early days, and interacting with characters from the reign of Elizabeth I. Clearly at the roots of my love of both fantastical time travel stories, and the real-life dialogue between present and past.

Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula
Ha, I hardly need to explain this one right now, do I? See my dracula tag, passim, for details. First read, as far as I can tell, in early 1986, when I was nine years old, on the back of having seen the Hammer film the previous autumn. Left me with a love of all things Gothic, which has waxed and waned but never really left me ever since. As the wise [livejournal.com profile] inbetween_girl once said, you never really stop being a Goth. At best, you're in recovery. Or perhaps lapsed, would be another way of putting it.

Diana Wynne Jones (1977), Charmed Life
Initially read via a copy from the school library aged 9 or 10, this came back and 'haunted' me with memories of a book of matches, a castle and a strange magical man in my early 20s. By then, the internet was advanced enough to have forums where I could ask what the title of the book I was remembering might be, and to deliver an answer within a few hours. So I bought a copy, swiftly followed by copies of the other Chrestomanci books, and then copies of multiple other DWJ books (see my diana wynne jones tag for details). As an adult, I can see that the real appeal of DWJ's writing lies in the combination of her light yet original prose style, imaginative vision and sharp understanding of human interactions, but as a child I'm pretty sure it was all about the unrecognised magical powers and multiple interconnected magical worlds. As per the Oz books, I really love that stuff.

Gene Wright (1986), Horrorshows: the A-Z of Horror in Film, TV, Radio and Theatre
In 2010, Mark Gatiss presented a documentary series called A History of Horror, during which he held up a book about horror films which he had owned since childhood, and explained how it was his personal Horror Bible, which had opened up to him the wonderful world of the genre. From the reaction on Twitter, it instantly became clear that everyone who had grown up loving horror films before the emergence of the internet had also owned such a book, and this is mine. I bought it at a book fair in about 1987 or 1988, devoured it greedily, and have been faithfully ticking off every film in it which I have seen ever since. Of course, the internet has long rendered such books obsolete, and insofar as this one was ever comprehensive at the time of original purchase, it certainly isn't now. So it is utterly meaningless to tick off all the films in it, as though somehow the end goal is to tick off every single film in the book - at which time, I don't know, a fanfare will sound and a man in a rhinestone suit will pop out to tell me I've won a prize, or something? But I still add a tick each time I see a new film from within its pages anyway, because heck I have been doing so for 25 years, and I'm not going to stop now. Besides, it's not like I care about horror films made after 1986 anyway (I struggle to care about those made after 1976, TBH), so it doesn't matter to me that it is enormously out of date.

Douglas Adams (1979), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First read c. age 11, and read at least another 8 times since. I know this because I have kept a tally of how many times I read it in the front of the book - classic geekish behaviour, of course. Once again, it's basically all about travel to wondrous other worlds, but this time instead of being magical (Oz, Chrestomanci), historical (A Traveller in Time), or supernatural (Dracula, everything else in Horrorshows), they are in space! It's not actually like I discovered adventures in space for the first time from Hitchhiker's, because of course I was also watching Doctor Who on a regular basis in parallel with all of this reading material, with which of course Hitchhiker's is intimately linked. But yeah - given everything else which has already appeared on this list, it is no big surprise that I loved Hitchhiker's.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c. AD 120), The Twelve Caesars
And now my list radically changes tack, because having established that I love stories about the fantastical, the rest of it is made up of books which mark key stages in the emergence of my academic interest in the ancient world. I am not, of course, unaware that this in itself also basically boils down to yet another interest in a wondrous other world, albeit one which actually existed in this case. Really, the mode of engagement is very similar - we have little snippets of information about the Roman world (texts, objects, places), just as we have little snippets of information about fictional fantasy worlds (texts, screen portrayals, merchandise), but there is also so much we don't know, and are at liberty to extrapolate from what we do. Plus the similar-yet-different qualities and the opportunity to compare and contrast can let us think about our own world in ways that just don't open up if we only think about it directly. And so I found a way to apply the thought-patterns and approaches I'd been developing from early childhood to something which grown-ups thought was admirable and serious, and which it was possible to acquire prestige and eventually even money through studying. As for Suetonius himself, he is here because he was one of the earliest ancient authors I really came to feel familiar with and fond of, mainly during A-level Ancient History. Tacitus may well be clever and sharp, but there is always a judgemental, sanctimonious undertone with him that I don't very much like. The things which interest Suetonius, by contrast, make him seem so utterly human - but there are also all sorts of clever structures and allusions to discover in his text on close reading, which together make him incredibly rewarding. I once literally hugged my Penguin copy of Suetonius to my chest as a sort of talisman when feeling alone, upset and in need of comfort. I can't really imagine anyone doing that with Tacitus.

J.B. Ward-Perkins (1991), Roman Imperial Architecture
One of the first books I bought about ancient material culture (as opposed to texts), in the context of a module on Roman architecture which I did in (I think) my second year as an undergraduate at Bristol. While strictly about buildings rather than cities, it nonetheless includes a lot of material about how those buildings fitted into the urban landscapes where they were located - unsurprisingly, since Ward-Perkins himself was really interested in cities first and architecture second, and wrote one of the earliest English-language books on the subject. So it is to this book which my interest in Roman urbanism can really be traced, and I still turn to it occasionally when I need to get to grips with a new (to me) city.

Christopher Hibbert (1987), Rome: the biography of a city
This one is from my third year at Bristol, and the best undergraduate module I ever did - Responses to Rome with Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy, which was all about post-Classical responses to ancient Rome from the medieval period to the present day. I sat in those classes falling in love with Rome, and then went home to pore through this book and the wonders within. I still return to it in order to refresh my memory of medieval myths about the city's ancient past, Grand Tourism or fascist appropriations, all of which I have needed to do in the past few years.

Greg Woolf (1998), Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul
And finally, the book which I consulted most frequently while writing my PhD thesis. It had utterly redefined thinking about the relationship between Rome the state and its provincial populations, killing off tired old paradigms of 'beneficial imperialism' (think: What have the Romans ever done for us?) for good, so would have been important no matter what province I had used to look at the relationship between Roman ideas about the urban periphery and the reality on the ground in a provincial setting. But since I had chosen Gaul as my own main case-study anyway, it was gold-dust. Fifteen years later, it remains at the forefront of scholarly thinking on the topic, and thus still features regularly on my module reading lists, amongst my recommendations to research students, and indeed in the bibliographies of my own published works.

I'm not tagging anyone, because pretty much everyone in the world has done this meme already by now - but feel free to take this post as a prompt to do it yourself if you haven't and want to.

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strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
So, as mentioned in my last post, I spent the earlier part of the evening at the opening instalment of the Bradford Fantastic Films Weekend. I bumped into matgb in the station, and then caught up with miss_s_b in the Media Museum bar, looking all Tank Girl-ish with a blond slanty fringe and bicycle-induced bruises, and accompanied by [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat! From the internet! Who scored exactly the same as me on today's Daily Mail poshness test, but nonetheless turned out to have a much posher accent than I have been reading her journal with for the past however-many-years-it-even-is now.

Anyway, we also saw a film! Which was excellent. It wasn't my first time for this one - not even on the big screen, actually, thanks to the Phoenix's late showings back when I used to live in Oxford. But it's probably something like eight to ten years since I saw it now, so it was lovely to have the chance to rediscover it.

The festival director introduced the screening, talking about what a horror classic this film is, and what a loss that Michael Reeves died the following year from a(n accidental?) drug overdose. And he was right - it was definitely a cut above what most horror directors were doing in the late '60s; especially the camera-work. This is obvious from the opening sequence, which appears to present a rural idyll, but gradually homes in on a regular banging sound which turns out to be the noise of someone putting the finishing touches to a hangman's gibbet - a disturbing contrast which really sets the mood for what follows. Throughout the film we get lots of interesting angles and imaginatively-composed shots, although it was a pity they'd felt the need to rely quite so heavily on day-for-night filming. When you've got a character delivering the line, "It must be important, for you to wait for him after dark", the effect is rather compromised if he's doing it in silhouette against a bright blue summer sky, dappled with altocumulus...

Some parts of the script are a bit clunky, especially when people are delivering historical exposition or characters are being established. But that's by no means out of the ordinary for horror scripts of this time. The brutality, though, definitely was out of the ordinary. It wasn't quite as unrelenting as I'd remembered, and was occasionally rather undermined by the use of bad fake waxy blood. But the bleakness of the ending in particular marks it out as quite different from what e.g. Hammer were doing in this period. On the face of it, the good guys have won. But rather than getting your standard-issue uplifting music and romantic embrace, we instead see both the hero and the heroine reduced to a state of near-insanity by the experiences they have been through, and the hero's friends looking on in horror and disgust. That must have been quite a shock to the original audience, and it certainly does suggest that Michael Reeves was gearing up to be a challenging director with some new ideas about how horror should be done.

Meanwhile, of course, we also get the WONDER that is Vincent Price. According to the pre-show talk, Michael Reeves actually wanted Donald Pleasence in the title role - and fair dos to him, because Pleasence would have been awesome too. Stuck with Vincent Price at the insistence of the studio, he basically made it perfectly clear to him that he wasn't the star he wanted, and insisted on Price toning down the greater excesses of his campness - despite the fact that Reeves was less than half Price's age, and this was only his fourth film. Price was so shocked at being spoken to like this that he actually did what Reeves said, and the result is that he oozes with menace and presence throughout, without ever turning into a cartoon villain. Wikipedia tells me that he later considered it one of the best performances of his career, and he may well be right.

PLUS we get Ian Ogilvy, dear to me in particular as Drusus in I Clavdivs, but also from many a happy Sunday morning watching Upstairs, Downstairs over my breakfast. And there are lots of thundering horses and frightened sheep and billowing cloaks and heaving bosoms and suggestively-placed pistols - not to mention the fascinatingly-precise and symmetrical curls of Matthew Hopkins' wig, which I can never quite tear my eyes away from. All in all, a damned fine start to the weekend.

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strange_complex: (Christ Church Mercury)
[livejournal.com profile] rosamicula loves this film so much that when she came to stay with me for [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan's hen weekend, she bought two copies of the Sunday Telegraph, each of which came with a free copy of the DVD, so that she could be absolutely sure that she got at least one working copy. Since, as it turned out, both of them were fully functional, she gave one to me.

And I can see both why she loves it, and why she was so sure that I would too. With its hazy, perpetual summertime, resonant with weeping willows, cricket bats, embroidered waistcoats and beautiful young men, it's a close cousin to Brideshead Revisited and Maurice. But like both of those, the summer light is really there to throw the darker side of upper-class English life in the 1930s into sharp contrast, in a way that also reminded me strongly of If.... Making it, of course, all the more beautiful for its insubstantial fleeting fragility.

The cinematography is gorgeous, the dialogue rich and complex without becoming mannered, and the acting superb throughout. But I did find myself a bit unconvinced about the 'bookends' of the film, in which we see the main character, Guy Bennett (who was based on the Cambridge spy, Guy Burgess) looking back at his Eton school-days from exile in 1980s communist Russia. Not only did Rupert Everett make a deeply unconvincing 70-year-old, but the link between his school-day experiences and his later espionage was only explored in the most simplistic of terms, so that the relationship between the central story of the film and its framing scenes felt tenuous at best.

Still, if you basically ignore those bits, it is a beautiful film, and it didn't hurt that it included a great deal of location footage of Oxford, too - even if it was masquerading rather confusingly as Eton, causing me to keep on thinking mistakenly that the characters had suddenly left school after all and gone on to University instead.

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strange_complex: (Sebastian boozes)
This year, I watched most of the ITV series, saw the movie and visited the set of both, not to mention reading the author's first novel. So it seemed like about time I sat down and read the book.

It's brilliant. Every line of it resonates with a profound love of the English language - and it's a testimony to the way the ITV series made use of this that as I read, I heard not only the lines they actually used in Jeremy Irons' voice, but those they did not as well.

I did find the prologue hard going because of all its military jargon. There were several sentences I had to read twice before I could even guess at what they meant. I'm pretty sure the same would have been true of some of the Oxford sections, too, if I hadn't happened to have been there - and indeed specifically to Christ Church - myself. Otherwise, though, it is seductively easy reading; suffused with the sunshine and passion and luxury which make up the story. I only wish I had known about this site, which would have helped me significantly in the military sections.

My view of the plot hasn't changed significantly since I commented on it after watching the film, although I'm more fully aware of the changes they made for the cinema now - and all the more baffled by them, too. I also find almost all of the characters fuller and more complex now, and generally feel greater sympathy for them too. I should note that I actually read the revised version published in 1960, in the preface of which Waugh states that the book is "re-issued with many small additions and some substantial cuts", so that I will have received a slightly different impression of the whole than I would from the original edition (some notes on the sorts of changes that were made are here).

Brideshead probably isn't a very good guide to the general tenor of Waugh's novels - it's certainly far more self-consciously epic and weighty than Decline and Fall, and I enjoyed it more probably for those very reasons. (And enough to devote one of my new icon-spaces to it, too!) Waugh himself appears to have been somewhat ambiguous about it, considering it to be both his greatest achievement and something of an embarrassment at different times. But, in their different ways, I've heartily enjoyed both of his books that I've read this year, and intend to come back for more.

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strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
Read mainly while in Vienna.

This would be the third Hardy novel I've read in my life: the other two being Tess of the D'Urbervilles for A-level, and Jude the Obscure when I first moved to Oxford. The trajectory of the title character is much the same in all three cases: they make a foolish mistake in early life, appear to bounce back from it, enjoy a period of happiness and / or prosperity, find to their cost that their early mistake is not so inescapable as they thought, and finally die in ignominy and despair. This is, of course, a classic tragic plot as the ancient Greeks would have recognised it: much the same happens, for example, to Sophocles' Oedipus.

Some people find this sort of stuff depressing, but personally I love it. If there's one thing tragedies certainly have it is Romance. Like a crumbling ancient ruin, they speak eloquently of the vanity of human endeavour and the transience of life and worldly success: and the lapsed Goth in me can't get enough of that. Hardy's tragedies, though, have a lot more to them than forehead-stapling. I remember being struck when we read Tess at school by how cleverly he wove symbols and metaphors out of the landscapes which his characters move around: and this was very much true again here. His well-defined secondary characters, observations of human nature and rich vocabulary only add to the pleasure.

Around the time I started reading this book, I found out that Ciarán Hinds had starred as the eponymous Mayor (Michael Henchard) in a 2003 TV adaptation of the story - I think because I also saw Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day around the same time, and was browsing through his IMDb page in the wake of that. I haven't seen the adaptation, but just knowing that made me see the character of Henchard with his features all the time I was reading - and in my brain at least, he put in an excellent performance!

So, just as watching Brideshead has made me all the more determined to read the book, reading this has inspired me to hunt down the TV series. It's all good.

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strange_complex: (Room with a View kiss)
Seen last night with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz at The Light.

I haven't read the book of Brideshead, but I fairly regularly catch bits of the classic Granada TV adaptation on ITV3. In fact, over the last couple of weekends, I've been watching it systematically, since - in a fairly obvious scheduling move - they have been re-broadcasting it from the beginning on Sunday afternoons to coincide with the release of the film.

Pretty much every review of the film I've seen has said the same thing, and I can't help but agree - it's slavishly indebted to the TV series, but doesn't manage to improve upon it. Sebastian in particular seemed the weak link to me - whereas in the TV series, he comes across as complex and tragic and fantastically enticing, here he just seemed like your average petulant teenager. Perhaps because the development of their relationship wasn't given sufficient screen-time, it was hard to understand why Charles Ryder was particularly interested in him; and despite the fact that they actually kiss on screen, the chemistry between them remained far less homoerotically-charged than the one which Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews created.

Still, that said, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon as respective matriarch and patriarch of the Flyte dynasty did an excellent job - as, indeed, did Diana Quick (oops!) Hayley Attwell as a self-possessed yet vulnerable Julia. And as for the location footage! Between Oxford, Venice and Castle Howard, the only place I hadn't visited was whatever anonymous London street they used to house the Ryders of Paddington - and really, I have walked down enough London streets to get the general picture. It was like a tour of some of the richest and most cherished parts of my life.

Tom Wolfe famously dubbed the Granada TV series (along with Upstairs Downstairs) 'sheer plutography', but it seems to me that this is only true on a superficial level. Fundamentally, the story of Brideshead is about a (relatively) normal person becoming fascinated and seduced by a close-knit group of individuals who are utterly different from him, and whom he can never quite connect to or integrate with, no matter how hard he tries. The divisions between him and them in this case happen to be wealth and Catholicism - but they could equally well be poverty and Judaism, or any other combination of strong social identifiers. The story, and the tragedy, would be the same.

Consider the book to have moved up a notch on my 'to read' list.

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strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
This is the first of Waugh's novels I've ever read, and also the first he wrote (it seeming sensible to start from the beginning). I had no idea what to expect really, but the answer is very engaging and readable prose, carrying the reader through a collection of vivid characters and colourful anecdotes all loosely centred around the figure of Paul Pennyfeather.

Pennyfeather is entirely passive throughout the book: he makes no decisions and takes no direct actions, but simply bobs about like a cork in a storm of other people's plans and misdemeanours. Waugh is quite explicit about this, too, devoting several pages to the subject in the middle of the book. "Paul Pennyfeather," he declares, "would never have made a hero, and the only interest about him arises from the unusual series of events of which his shadow was witness."

It's actually a great narrative device, since the characters around Paul seem to drop whatever reserves they might have had and bubble over into exaggerated versions of themselves, in order to fill the personality vacuum which surrounds him, so Waugh is able to draw people and events in a slightly overblown comic style without it seeming too ridiculous. But for all that, Paul does emerge as a stronger and more definite character at the end of the book.

At face value, he comes full circle, and returns to another fictional Oxford college (called Scone this time), to continue with the degree he'd originally been expelled from in the first chapter. But whilst at the beginning he seemed to be at Oxford simply because it was What One Did, by the end there is much more of a sense of identity and purpose about him. It's almost like a "no place like home" message in the end: he's been through all sorts of amazing adventures in the meantime, and had some wonderful and not-so-wonderful experiences. But the end result of it all is actually that he discovers he really did want to do what he'd only vaguely drifted into in the first place. It's quite poignant, really, under the light-hearted veneer.

I definitely enjoyed this, and will be looking out for more Waugh in the near future. I'm tempted by Vile Bodies (because of Bright Young Things) and Brideshead Revisited because of the Granada TV series and the new film - but having just visited Castle Howard, where the latter two were filmed, I think the pendulum will swing in favour of Brideshead.

And that brings me up to date with book reviews at least for the time being. Just one Who audio and three TV stories to write up...

strange_complex: (Christ Church Mercury)
This was given to me by [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay, and I'm very grateful to him because it is ace. It's a murder-mystery story set in Oxford in the late 1930s, and has as its central characters Richard Cadogan, a poet who has come to Oxford for inspiration, and Gervase Fen, a professor of English literature at the fictional college of St. Christopher's. It is also the third in a series of novels featuring the character of Gervase Fen, but that didn't really seem to matter in terms of following this one.

The style is very pacey, with all the action taking place over a single twenty-four hour period, and making full use of all the little quirks and charms of Oxford along the way. The story is generally light-hearted, while still featuring two murders and a number of rather unpleasant characters, and generally escapist, while still remaining realistic. I won't give away exactly how the toyshop of the title is able to move, in case anyone wants to read it for themselves - but it isn't, as I'd first assumed, by magic.

Crispin is also very adept at playing around knowingly with various different literary genres as the mood suits. I was just thinking how very much a description of an indoor funfair sounded like something out of Brighton Rock vel sim., when I was greeted with the following sentence:
"Like a scene from a Graham Greene novel, Cadogan thought as he peered in: somewhere there must be somebody saying a 'Hail Mary'"
Similarly, I fell headlong for the red herring - only to have one of the characters say much the same to another seconds afterwards. Oh well.

And finally, you may think I have such a one-track mind at the moment that I'm seeing it everywhere - but I couldn't help but be struck by how much Gervase Fen reminded me of the Doctor in Doctor Who. It's not just that he is the brilliant yet eccentric mind who leads the chase around Oxford after the murderer, with Cadogan trailing in his wake asking confused questions. The description of his physical appearance also bears some resemblence to the Tenth Doctor, while his mode of transport is a beaten-up old sports car which enters the novel in a cacophony of unhealthy engine noises before tearing, out of control, across a college lawn, backfiring, crashing into a rhododendron bush, and finally shuddering to a halt after being hit on the engine with a hammer by Fen. TARDIS? I think so.

I'm not the only person who has noticed this, either. On looking up Edmund Crispin after reading the book, I found that Who novelist Gareth Roberts has described The Moving Toyshop as "more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who", and cites Crispin as an influence on his own novel, The Well-Mannered War - a rather pleasing coincidence, since I have just finished reading Lungbarrow in my lunch-breaks (review to follow), and that is exactly the novel I planned to move on to next. What I failed to find out in my searches, though, is why the publisher's details at the front of The Moving Toyshop say that it is copyrighted to someone called "Jean Bell" - not the author's real name (which was Robert Bruce Montgomery), or anyone that I can see was in any way connected with him. If anyone can shed any light on that little mystery, let me know.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to anyone, but I would upgrade it to compulsory reading for anyone who a) has ever lived in Oxford or b) likes Doctor Who.

Via T-Mobile

Wednesday, 27 June 2007 13:36
strange_complex: (Urbs Roma)
Had lunch with [livejournal.com profile] white_hart. Much Who geeking and lovely to catch up with her.

Then went Roman coin shopping. Meant to replace ones that got stolen - but ended up buying rather better ones! Actium issue made by Mark Antony to pay his troops, lovely Claudian bronze and beautiful Republican silver denarius of Roma. Better not carry these ones round in my purse!

strange_complex: (Purple and black phone)
Mmm! Have just had a delicious breakfast delivered to my room on a big tray. I have never done this before, but I can now recommend it!



strange_complex: (Lady Penelope)
Woot! I have prepared two classes' worth of stuff for the summer school today. That plus the fact that there isn't a class on Wednesday morning means I now don't need to do any more work on it (other than teach the actual classes, natch) until Wednesday itself, when I shall begin preparing Thursday's class. And there are only three classes this week anyway (four is more normal), so by 9:30am on Thursday morning, I'll be done for the week. Should stand a real chance of getting some of my own stuff done this week, then.

Backtracking a little, Smell tests in Warwick )

Purcell's Fairy Queen )

Framing, furnishings, chocolate and Dr. Who )

So, quite busy, and I'm pretty tired (as ever!), but feeling much better about things now. The summer school nearly got on top of me the week before it started, but I've turned things round now, and I'm definitely back on top of it. Now time for an early night, so I'm ready to teach again tomorrow at 8:30(!)...

School's in

Sunday, 2 July 2006 22:00
strange_complex: (Snape writing)
The summer school began officially this evening, with a faculty meeting for us tutors, followed by an opening dinner for all. This took place in St. John's college hall, with faculty members sitting on high table, and the rest of the hall completely packed out with students. With welcoming speeches, wide-eyed newcomers, and a healthy scattering of the sort of eccentric academics that I think only Britain can really produce, it all had a rather Potteresque feel to it. And I certainly enjoyed the thrill of eating at St. John's high table in an official academic capacity - even if only temporarily.

Now things are really kicking off, I'm feeling quite whipped up in it all. The students are all American, mainly from Rhodes College, Memphis and Sewanee, Tennessee. Those I've met so far all seem very keen - mainly in a freshly-scrubbed, jacket-and-tie sort of way, but I was pleased to spot one young lady with purple hair and all dressed in black at dinner! I hope she is on my course.

Meanwhile, my colleagues all seem very nice so far, although I do stand out a bit by being blatantly the youngest, and also the only one who hasn't taught on the programme before. Still, we had an interesting conversation about drag over dinner, which took in Bugs Bunny, Lily Savage, Vesta Tilley, Benny Hill and that 'yeah-but-no-but' girl from Little Britain. Got to be a good start.

Should I choose to, I can go on an almost infinite number of pre-paid trips and excursions over the next few weeks, taking in plays at both Stratford and the Globe, early cathedrals, Cotswold villages and even a weekend excursion to Ghent and Bruges complete with choral concert! How much I'll get involved in that side I'm not quite sure yet, since too much of it will very quickly soak up the small amounts of free time I still have left to do my own things and, y'know, actually see my friends a bit before I move away from Oxford. But I'll probably be tempted along for a few of them. And I'll certainly be attending the swanky black-tie dinner they're having on Tuesday to mark the Fourth of July. Time to get out my big purple ball-skirt, I think. :)
strange_complex: (Christ Church Mercury)
I am back from Bristol now, and it was great! However, it was so great that I am totally cream-crackered, and not remotely up to doing it justice in a post. So, instead, I am going to rewind to Thursday evening, and a garden party which I attended with Fleur WINOLJ.

The event took place in the Cathedral Gardens in Christ Church: particularly special for us, what with us both being former members of the House. They are reputedly the gardens on which C.S. Lewis (oops!) Lewis Carroll drew for Alice in Wonderland, and are usually out of bounds to mere student scum. Although Fleur had been in them before (to perform as the Queen of Hearts in a play of the same), I never had in my life, so I could very much sympathise with Alice's long quest to get there.

The goal of the evening was to Save Venice by raising lots of lovely money. So we set to work, content in the knowledge that the more we drank, the safer Venice would be. The evening went on until gone midnight (although we decamped from ChCh to Corpus Christi gardens with Fleur's friend Michael around 10ish), and it was so warm I didn't even think of putting my shirt on until gone 11. Along the way, we drank Bellinis, ate strange fennel-flavoured biscuity things, bitched a lot about other people's dress sense, and took these photos:

Fleur and I revisit the old Alma Mater )

Fleur enjoying her Bellini )

Me, communing with nature )

Things unblogged

Friday, 19 May 2006 11:33
strange_complex: (Darth blogging)
Gosh. I would appear to have some free time. Nominally, I'm at Warwick doing essay returns. But since I only have 11 people to see today, as opposed to the fearsome 35 I got through yesterday, there are a lot of gaps in the day when I can do other things. And I've actually run out of minor administrative tasks to perform, so that means I can write on LJ - yay!

What I'm going to do here is give quick accounts of some of the things I would have blogged over the last couple of months, if I'd had the time to do so. They probably won't get the same level of detail as they'd have had if I'd written them up at the time. But at least this way they won't be completely forgotten.

18th March - celebratory meal at Gee's )

30th March - Robin Blaze at the Wigmore Hall )

1st April - 'Springtime Baroque' concert at the Sheldonian )

24th April - QI recording )

8th May - Rik Mayall in 'The New Statesman' )

Well, that was a great relief! I feel a lot less weighed down by a back-log now, and more able to get on with posting about things day to day. There are still some Big Posts I need to make about things like my new job, and my book and so on. But this has definitely been a good start.

May morning

Monday, 1 May 2006 07:58
strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
We totally made it through the night: me and Spiky Neil playing Worms and Puzzle Bobble, and then [livejournal.com profile] oxfordgirl joining us for the ritual viewing of The Wicker Man, and by then it was 4am and time to start phoning people like [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 and [livejournal.com profile] stompyboots to chivvy them up and out for meeting at the tower.

It rained, but the freshness was perfect, and we walked in clutching sprigs of cherry blossom, me feeling more alive and alert than I think I've ever felt on May morning before, despite having been in such a state of extreme tiredness on Saturday that I was seriously afraid I was about to suffer internal organ failure or something.

And we had the best spot ever, right at the base, and when the Hymnus Eucharisticus rang out, I gazed up through the rain at the impossibly looming tower, held my blossom aloft and felt the hush and the still and the awakening summer all around me, and remembered all the previous times and the powerful magic of the morning and cried softly to think I might never be there again.

And then it was a damp picnic and dancers in the Radcliffe Camera Square, and some guy taking pictures of me and [livejournal.com profile] oxfordgirl laughing and waving our blossoms, and a physical manifestation of Apollo, and champagne and free hot chocolate and giggling at the extreme spaced-outness of [livejournal.com profile] stompyboots, [livejournal.com profile] edling and Cat WINOLJ.

And then it was home, and crash and burn, and my fingers feel like putty now on the keyboard. I think I may possibly need to sleep for a very long time, very, very soon.

But I'm so glad I did it, because I LOVE OXFORD. And it tears my heart to think I must leave it all behind. :(

This post brought to you by sleep deprivation and Piper Heidseick champagne.

Snow!

Wednesday, 1 March 2006 16:16
strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
Wow, it is seriously snowing here in Oxenmaford! The air is thick with it, it's settling (certainly on the grass), and we're buried underneath a blanket of surly grey clouds which promise that this will continue for some time.

I know one young man who'll be most chuffed.

strange_complex: (Handel)
I spent the weekend up in Brum with the parentals, partly for the sake of some general family time, but mainly to take part in a 'Sing Along with the CBSO' event on Sunday. I've attended one of these before, singing the Messiah two years ago: then, as now, accompanied by my uncle (a fellow tenor) and an unrelated aunt (alto). We all agreed that both experiences were excellent.

It's partly the scale of these things that makes them. I think about 1000 singers turned up for the Messiah. This weekend, I was one of 1400 singing Vivaldi's Gloria and Fauré's Requiem: including some 250 tenors, and a healthy proportion of ladies amongst them. Of course, as part of the singing masses, you never quite get the chance to catch what the overall sound is like for an observer. But I was reliably informed by my watching mother, father and other aunt that it was quite an experience.

Being accompanied by a professional orchestra [CBSO = City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra], and a damn good one at that, is also a real plus, as were the soloists involved - three very promising-sounding students from various music schools. But the greatest credit of all goes to Simon Halsey, the City of Birmingham Chorus director, whose friendly patois, obvious enthusiasm and ability to communicate directly and clearly with people at all levels of musical experience had all 1400 of us rapt with attention and eager to do our very best for him.

I still think Fauré's Requiem is a poor showing compared to Vivaldi's Gloria - I tried my best to like it, but had only got to the point of grudgingly admitting that it was OK by the end of the evening. Mind you, it has to be said that the tenors got more tunes out of Fauré than they did Vivaldi, even if they weren't such good tunes. So I enjoyed singing both, and especially enjoyed discovering how well I could get away with turning up not having practised the Fauré at all, and relying entirely on sight-reading and having listened to the tape a few times. I'd have been sunk without people who knew what they were doing around me, but since I did have them, it was All Right.

I also used the opportunity to reclaim about 1/3 of the possessions I'd put into storage before going to Belfast, which were kindly driven down to Oxford by my Dad at the end of the weekend, along with me and a new bookcase to put them in. Mainly I concentrated on books and videos this time, since I knew they could go in the bookcase. But I've also reclaimed piles of old photographs, and my two beloved framed Piranesi sketches of Roman column bases, capitals and sculptural fragments. These, it turns out, are the things I've missed most. Books and videos are great, but ultimately ephemeral, especially once you've read or watched them once. But the photos are unique, while the Piranesi sketches just add a verneer of class and sophistication to my flat which has been somewhat lacking since I moved back here. Perhaps they will help me to get that book finished, eh?
strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)
I've now uploaded all of my ball pictures into my LJ scrapbook. There are three pages worth, they're visible to everyone, and you can see larger versions of them by clicking on each thumbnail.

I was going to post a few of my favourites in this entry too, but they are so HUMONGOUS that, even under cuts, they would just be obnoxious. So instead, the captions below link to the medium-sized versions of them visible in the gallery:

Some of the Oxgoths contingent: Andy, violetdisregard, Cat and edling

La Fleurissima

A beautiful eighteenth-century lady, who bears a strong resemblence to redkitty23

Double Helen joy

Huginn and Muninn attempt a beak kiss

King and Queen contest: mask fellatio

OMG kitten!!!

Sheer costume genius, both made by the young lady on the right (Megan)

King and Queen contest winners: Boy-on-Boy Action

When the world outside breaks in

For real photographic genius, though, and an excellent sense of what the night was like, I highly recommend visiting the collection of the official ball photographer, [livejournal.com profile] dylan.

Links to other collections will be edited in below as I come across them:
strange_complex: (Handel)
Don't you just hate it when, 20 minutes before you're about to go out, you drop the lovely dinner you've just made for yourself all over the floor, breaking a pasta-bowl which you really like and getting spaghetti bolognese up the front of the rather nice skirt you were planning to wear in the process? I do.

By the time this happened I had 10 minutes left for eating my dinner and 10 for finishing getting dressed and doing my make-up, so I had no spare time even for buying something on the way out, still less cooking anything else. I did the only thing I could do in the circumstances: scraped up those parts of the bolognese which were on top of other parts of bolognese rather than directly on the floor, and ate it anyway.

Then, it was off out to the Sheldonian, encountering [livejournal.com profile] edling and [livejournal.com profile] mr_flay en route and meeting [livejournal.com profile] violetdisregard and [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 outside the White Horse opposite the venue. Despite the unfortunate dinner incident, I was fantastically excited: the windows of the Sheldonian glowed invitingly, the slight chill in the air lent an appropriately festive feel to the proceedings, and, well: the Messiah!!!!

Me and my Fantasy Messiah )

The soloists )

The choir )

Overall direction )

On the whole? Five Hallelujah!s out of ten Hallelujah!s. Could do better, but I'm glad I went.

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