Wrong one

Monday, 11 January 2016 21:11
strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
At 3:30am last night, I did one of those half-wakes you sometimes do during the night, and the one fragment of the dream from which I had awoken which remained to me was a radio presenter's voice saying "Sir Cliff Richard has died." "Heh!" I thought, "Maybe it's a premonition. Must make a mental note of that and see what happens in the morning."

Apparently I'm pretty good at keeping hold of random thoughts which occur to me in the middle of the night, because when I switched on my radio (permanently tuned to Radio 4) that morning at 7 o'clock, my ears instantly pricked up, eager to discover whether or not I had indeed had a psychic experience. Only then the presenter started talking about David Bowie, and everything was wrong.

I can tell you exactly when I first got into David Bowie. It was when his band, Tin Machine, released the single 'Baby Universal', which Wikipedia tells me was October 1991, i.e. when I was 15. I quickly moved on to exploring his back catalogue, and the following April I was lucky enough to see him live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in Wembley Arena, which I attended along with best chum [livejournal.com profile] hollyione and her Dad. Obviously, David Bowie wasn't the primary reason for going to a gig like that, but for me seeing him was very much a close secondary draw.

His music and films continued to form the centre of my cultural world for the next year or so, and thus it was that, through his back catalogue, David Bowie was the first person to take my hand and lead me gently into that wonderful decade known as the 1970s. In fairness, I think some of the films I'd already seen had made me receptive - especially Dracula AD 1972. [livejournal.com profile] hollyione had also definitely played her role through her enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin - her main reason for wanting to go to the Freddie Mercury tribute gig. But it was David Bowie - his music, his look, his persona - who really carried me over the bridge.

Eventually, of course, I discovered other artists there whose music I liked better, like Marc Bolan, Yes, KISS, and indeed Led Zeppelin (whom [livejournal.com profile] hollyione had been quite right about all along). David Bowie faded a little from my radar. But I have always retained a more-than-passing liking for him, followed the trajectory of his career with interest, and been pleased when I came across him unexpectedly - as for example in a short film a few years ago at the Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend. When my sister told me that she liked to sing 'Starman' to a baby Eloise, I smiled and thought, "Parenting - you're doing it right", and I went around singing 'Space Oddity' to myself for several days recently after seeing the film which inspired it in glorious Cinerama.

But now he is gone, which hardly seems possible. Like everyone else, it seems, I'd just assumed he would go on forever - always anticipating the zeitgeist; constantly driven to experiment; and proving over and over again that music need not be formulaic to be popular. But apparently nobody can - not even someone whose persona was so otherworldly and supernatural. We can only be glad that he did so many things during his brief time on Earth, and thus left us much to keep on enjoying - including not only his own work, but all the many bands, films and fashion movements which he inspired. Thank you for that, David.

In light of how it opened, I feel I should end this post by saying that I don't actually wish death on Cliff Richard. He may have spent most of his career deliberately appealing to the socially and musically conservative, and indeed hold those sorts of values so dearly himself that he's capable of saying something like this about the very subject of this post:
But I do have a persistent soft spot for him all the same. Some of his music is great - most of his songs with The Shadows, and occasional later gems like 'Wired for Sound' - and he manages to project a sense of ease with who he is and what he does in interviews which I find endearing. Besides, this doesn't seem the sort of day to wish death on anyone. I of course reserve the right to retract these sentiments if he turns out to have been a predatory paedophile all along. (Which, of course, is a case you could make about David Bowie too, although I do feel it makes some difference when you have an adult woman looking back and saying that she treasures the whole experience. All your faves are problematic.)

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strange_complex: (Dracula Risen hearse smile)
I spent last weekend in Whitby with various members of the Dracula Society - i.e. the same people I went to Romania with at the beginning of the summer. Back when I lived in Oxford, I attended the annual Whitby Gothic Weekend at least three times. As far as I remember they were the Aprils of 1999 and 2000 and the October of 2001, but I didn't have a livejournal back then to record the great events, so who knows! Anyway, between the fact that the WGW always falls during term-time, and that even from Leeds Whitby is still at least a two-hour journey away, I have failed to go again ever since. So when the Dracula Society chair let me know that a few members would be there in mid-September for a long weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to put that right.

It wasn't a formal Society trip like the Romania visit - just a group of friends hanging out in a place of relevance to their interests, really. Most of the time we bimbled around the place, shopping, sitting in pubs and cafes, enjoying the local sights and so forth. But Julia (the Society chair) does like to look after us all, so she had recommended places for us to stay and made bookings at local restaurants for evening meals, while on the Sunday morning we all met up together and walked around some key sites of relevance to Stoker's novel and to the Dracula Society. For me, this made just the right balance, with plenty of opportunities to get together and do things, but also plenty of time to just wander, relax and bump into one another randomly.

I deliberately didn't take my digital camera, reasoning that I had been to Whitby and taken photos of it before, there are zillions of pictures of it all over the internet anyway, and I would prefer to just concentrate on being with people and experiencing the town. But of course once you get there, you get caught up in the beauty of it all, and our little walk around on the Sunday morning in particular brought up various things I wanted to photograph after all. So three cheers for smartphone cameras.

We began our walk by dropping in on the Great Man himself - or at least the guest-house where he and his family stayed when they visited Whitby )

Following the West Cliff round and turning as it does into the harbour mouth, you come to East Crescent, where this little row of houses looks out over the harbour itself )

Meanwhile, on the corner between the two where the cliff curves inland is the Royal Hotel, and in their lobby is a portrait of Bram Stoker donated by the Dracula Society on their first formal visit to Whitby in 1977 )

Actually, while I was in Whitby, Julia and her partner Adrian were kind enough to sit me down and show me a documentary made about the Society in 2003, its 30th anniversary, by one of its members who worked as an editor for the BBC. It includes interviews with the founder members, spliced together with a presenter's framing narrative, hand-held video footage of the trips they have taken over the years (including the earliest ones to Romania), and numerous spots on TV documentaries and quiz-shows. The Society was formed primarily to travel to Romania, but after a few years they decided to branch out and try some other things - hence the Whitby visit and the donation of the portrait in 1977. But honestly it was so funny hearing the founder members talking about the Whitby visit in the documentary, saying how obviously it had been quite difficult to plan it all from a distance. This from people who had already been to Romania while it still lay behind the Iron Curtain! Yes, Yorkshire is evidently alien indeed to people from That London...

By 1980, though, they had recovered enough from the experience to venture a return, and this time dedicate a bench in collaboration with the local council. I saw footage of the dedication ceremony too, in the documentary. In truth it is a bit of an Archimedes' bench by now, in that much of it has been replaced since 1980, including the dedicatory plaque. But it still sits proudly at the top of the Khyber Pass looking directly across the harbour towards the church and abbey on the East Cliff, and thus commemorating the various scenes in the novel when Mina and / or Lucy look in the same direction and see either Lucy and / or Dracula in the churchyard. The pictures below show both bench and view )

We gathered collectively at the bench at least twice for tuica brought back from the recent Romania trip and general collective toasting, as of course you would if you were in a town which contained a bench commemorating the Society you had come there with. Here, stolen from Julia's Facebook page (for which I hope she'll forgive me if she sees this!) is the group shot from the Sunday evening, taken before we all went for dinner in one of the restaurants on the west harbour pier.

DracSoc in Whitby.jpg

A lovely lot, all of them.

That was it for the (really very in)formal elements of the weekend, but while we were there plenty of us of course went up to the Abbey and inside the church )

It was strange all round, though, returning to the site of Whitby Gothic Weekends long past, and feeling the ghosts of that event and its people all around me. Even though it still goes on, for me it is something that belongs squarely at the turn of the century - and there I was again, doing almost the same thing, but not quite. Actually TBH one of the most striking differences was that back then I was a student, but now I have a salary, so that instead of staying in the cheapest places we could find, eating at takeaways and agonising over every tiny little purchase, I stayed in a luxurious room beautifully decorated in purple and gold, ate out at nice restaurants and Just Bought a pair of Whitby jet earrings (which I've always wanted) without worrying about it. Other than that, I hung out with people of a broadly gothic inclination, exchanged much the same kind of geeky in-jokes with them as Goths do, and enjoyed the Stoker-infused gothic atmosphere of the town. It was a little more about sharing a love of narrative and a little less about dressing up and listening to bands, but the lines are very blurry. Or maybe that was just all the tuica...?

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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: (Eleven dude)
I watched this last night with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz, and felt so-soish about it. It had a few neat ideas and surprises - which are themselves spoilery ) - but didn't really wow me. There wasn't much in the way of punchy character moments or intriguing puzzles. I guess in a way that shows how the bar has been raised over the course of New Who, by both Rusty and the Moff. This was a decent enough episode really, but I was somehow expecting more. I've watched it again this morning to see how knowing about Oswin's real situation from the start changes it, and spotted some things which made me slightly more impressed than I was last night. But then again I've also confirmed that some of the things which didn't appear to make sense last night genuinely don't, and also been made angry by a line which I missed the first time round, but which the internet did not. So in the end I feel much the same as after the first viewing - so-soish, but with an extra hint of *growl*.

My obviously very spoilerific thoughts after re-watching are gathered below under a series of headings.

Things which didn't make sense )

Careful structuring and symbolism )

Oswin )

Amy and Rory )

Racist, sexist and biphobic clap-trap )

Things that were fun / cool / scary )

Past continuity )

Future implications )

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strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
I spent the weekend in Birmingham on a parental visit, vaguely structured around going to a concert in Warwick on the Sunday afternoon. Mum is looking slimmer and stronger every time I see her now that she has come off the steroids, though she is still slow and wobbly compared to how she was before she became ill. She likes going for walks around the neighbourhood to build up her strength, so on Saturday afternoon we walked along the local part of the Rea valley trail past playing-fields, dog-walkers and children on bicycles, while on Sunday morning we went up into Bournbrook to have a look at the massive demolition, river-culverting and road-construction works which are under way with the aim of completely changing the course of the main traffic flow through that area. It will definitely alter the landscape of my child-hood – but less so than I'd thought from what I'd heard about the project. In fact, as we walked around we passed my old piano-teacher's house, my old Brownie hall and even the row of purportedly-temporary huts on the University campus where my mother used to take me for the Mothers and Toddlers club when I was all of one year old. So I don't think I need to get too concerned about having my past erased.

The concert in Warwick is described under here )

Meanwhile, being in Warwick gave us a chance to drop in on Charlotte and Nicolas after the concert, which was great because I haven't seen their new house since the day they moved in. It's now looking a lot more cosy, with a lovely big soft sofa in the front room, a nice antique-looking coffee table and an iron-framed bed upstairs. We were also able to have a quick look through their wedding photo album, which our cousins (who did the photos) finally got round to putting together last month – only six months after the wedding. ;-) It's lovely, though – there are some absolutely gorgeous photos of Charlotte looking like someone out of a bridal magazine, all the standard shots you would expect of people processing out of the church and standing in groups, but also lots of lovely 'behind-the-scenes' shots of people who didn't know they were being photographed, laughing and smiling and playing silly jokes. It really captures the day very nicely, and I think was worth waiting for.

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strange_complex: (Tom Baker)
As promised, now that I've watched every single one of his stories, I want to draw together my thoughts on the Tom Baker era, and why the Fourth Doctor is, and always will be, 'my' Doctor.

Before last January )

So, now that I have seen his full oeuvre, what is it that makes me think he is such a bloody great Doctor? Well, in a way it hardly needs examining, because he is so widely recognised as brilliant in the role, and so many people have analysed why that is extremely effectively. (The Wikipedia article has a decent stab, for a start). But what the hell - I'll have a go anyway, because it's fun to do.

Grins, grimaces and fight scenes )

Fannish drooling )

Companions )

My top five Fourth Doctor stories )

My bottom five Fourth Doctor stories )

And now? )

strange_complex: (Janus)
For at least the last twelve years of my life - possibly slightly longer - I have worn, every single day, the pendant shown below:

Eye of Horus pendant )

If you have ever met me IRL, you'll have seen it. Or if you didn't, it will only have been because I was wearing a high-necked top and it was tucked underneath. I will have been wearing it - I guarantee.

That pendant's history and significance )

Why I need a new one )

Gravitating towards a TARDIS key )

But I liked the idea of the key very much, and I began to feel that a smaller, more feminine version of the same thing, made nicely out of proper silver, would actually be a very worthy replacement for my old Eye of Horus. And this is where [livejournal.com profile] nalsa comes into the story.

Nalsa's handiwork )

It is, quite frankly, awesome. It's just exactly what I wanted - light-weight, and feminine, and in fact able to pass quite readily as a piece of interesting abstract jewellery to anyone who didn't know what it actually was. I can wear it to conferences, I can wear it to teach in, I can wear it out to dinner. But to me, and to anyone else who's geeky enough, it is in fact also a compelling emblem of fantasy, and adventure, and one man's quiet battle to make the Universe a better place. If I can trust any small piece of metal to keep me safe, help me access the past, help me journey on into my future, and help me find my way back home again if I ever get lost - then this is it.

The history and experience I've written into my old pendant can't just be thrown aside lightly, though. Perhaps there are some things it's witnessed that it's best to leave behind now, and stop carrying around with me. It may be time anyway, even if it weren't for the worn old silver, to move forwards, and let the new pendant receive an impression of the present and future me. But the present me has been forged by the past me, and for that reason I need to keep my connection with the old pendant, too.

So, right now, downstairs in my fire-place a candle is burning, and in front of it the two pendants lie, back-to-back - one facing into the past, and one facing into the future, just like the god Janus (see icon). Once the candle burns down, the 'transfer' will be complete, and I'll be able to leave the old pendant behind and move into the future with the new one. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the old one after that - but as [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau said the other night in the pub, the right thing will come to me.

strange_complex: (Cathica spike)
OMG, why am I reading an article which contains sentences like this:
"Sahlins' argument is thus for a dialectical relationship between externally generated events and localized actions"
when I could be doing this Who meme taken from [livejournal.com profile] snapesbabe?

Who's game? )

OK, I'm working now...

Classic Who

Monday, 7 January 2008 19:06
strange_complex: (TARDIS)
Doctor Who has always been a part of my life. I suppose I must have started watching it because my Dad did - or, I wonder now that I know Who fans with children, did he start watching it seriously partly because he had a little kid to enjoy it with? Anyway, my memories of it stretch back at least to the age of three (more on this later), and I've kept up an active interest in it ever since.

Semi-fandom )

Put simply (and with a little help from Wikipedia), this is generally the level of difference between me and a serious fan:
Serious fan: It may be a controversial opinion, but I really think The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of the high points of the Tom Baker era. I just love all the Sherlock Holmes references in it!
Me: [slight pause] Er - is that the one with the giant rat in the sewer?
Over the last year, though, my fandom for New Who has increased to such a pitch (thanks to the overall excellent series 3) that I've decided it's about time I ploughed back into the archives. Time Crash probably played a pretty big role there, actually. If New Who was going to reference Old Who so explicitly, then I decided it was about time I enhanced my appreciation of both by rediscovering the original - and maybe just a little bit of my lost childhood along the way.

Fifth Doctor: Caves of Androzani )

Fifth Doctor: Castrovalva )

Childhood memories )

Fourth Doctor: Robot )

A journey has definitely begun here, and I'm looking forward to pursuing it further. I don't think I'll ever try to be a completist, because I know that would involve sitting through an awful lot of dross. But Operation Classic Who is go! ...at least until New Who begins again in the spring. :-)

strange_complex: (Jooster tie binds)
IMDb page here. Watched in Brum with Mum on DVD.

Oscar Wilde and I have a History. Like many teenagers, around the age of 15 I thought he was LIEK OMG SO COOL AND CONTRAVERSHUL. I worshipped his witty aphorisms, cultured decadence and jibes at the establishment, spent hours reading Ellman's biography of him in the school library, and set myself to devouring every word he'd ever written. Well, actually in the event I think I skipped quite a lot of the lit crit and the poetry. But, by any reasonable standards, I did my homework.

Moving into my twenties, the passion began to fade, as excessive adulation always does. I realised that Wilde had only been a human being like the rest of us, and that plenty of other people were just as clever, perceptive and eloquent as him. In fact, I began to find him pretentious and tedious. This is probably more the fault of people who think that quoting him liberally makes them seem funny and intelligent than it ever was his, but the effect was the same. "Get over yourself!", I wanted to scream down the century. When this film came out, I went to see it in the cinema at Oxford - but by then as much for old times' sake and because Stephen Fry was in it as anything else. Clearly, it didn't have that much impact on me at the time, because on this rewatch I found that there were vast swathes of it I had completely forgotten. I remembered touching scenes with his children, arguments with Bosie, performances of his plays and the period in jail - but that was about it, really. Very little about Robbie Ross, for instance, or about his direct interactions with the Marquess of Queensberry.

Since then, my opinion has settled and balanced a little. I still find some of the one-liners rather trite - but recognise that they weren't when he first came up with them, and that he probably would have cringed himself at the way they're used now. As for his stance as a self-proclaimed aesthete and general artiste (dahling!), I can appreciate better now that it was something which the Zeitgeist of the times demanded someone play about with, and that it was in a way as much a part of his professional life as his plays or poems were. I've started going to performances of some of his plays again, and discovered rather deeper themes in them than I'd remembered previously. And I've even had his Complete Letters on my Amazon wish-list for a couple of years now.

So when Mum and I had settled down the other evening, intending to watch Ladri di Biciclette, but finding ourselves let down by a dodgy tape, the DVD of Wilde which my sister had left with my parents so I could watch it some time seemed an obvious choice. Time to give my former hero another outing.

I must say that the film itself seems rather a Wildean whitewash. It's basically set as a classic tragedy, with Wilde's Tragic Flaw being his blind love for Bosie, itself exacerbated by society's Tragic Flaw of failing to accommodate homosexuality. This makes for a neat and quite moving morality tale, and both Stephen Fry and Jude Law carry it off very nicely. But while it is all certainly extractable from Ellman's biography (after all, the screenplay is based on it), I don't seem to remember Wilde coming across in the book as quite such a constant model of perfect empathy, humanity and compassion, and I'm certain that he was already entirely capable of neglecting his wife, spending extravagantly and behaving foolishly and dismissively well before Bosie came on the scene: all things which the film quite explicitly blames on his influence.

Nonetheless, it's enjoyable enough, and certainly reminded me that I really do want to read those letters. Seeing it from this stage in my life, I also couldn't help but view his story in terms of Classical parallels. It wouldn't surprise me if he himself saw his accusation and trial as a retreading of Socrates' for corrupting the youth, and certainly now that the original trial transcripts have been uncovered, his 'defence' (essentially, "You're the ones with the problem, not me, and I relish being a martyr to my cause") bears a remarkable similarity to the one Socrates presented, as recorded in Plato's Apology.

And then of course there is Ovid - exiled to the Black Sea by Augustus, partly for writing scandalous poetry, but also for a mysterious error which may well have had a political aspect. And this was brought home to me particularly by a rather loose translation in the film. Wilde explains to Robbie Ross that the title of his letter to Bosie from Reading Gaol, De Profundis, means 'From the Depths'. Really, it doesn't - conventionally 'De' in a Latin title means 'about' or 'concerning', as in Cato's De Agri Cultura, Cicero's De Re Publica or Vitruvius' De Architectura. They all mean 'About' + exactly what it looks like they mean from their modern derivations - so similarly, 'De Profundis' means 'About the Depths'. But if Wilde's letter had been called 'From the Depths', that would have translated as Ex Profundis - and thus of course inexorably have recalled Ovid's poetic collection of exile letters, Ex Ponto (Pontus being the particular area he was sent to). What I don't know is how similar they are in content, since I've only read an abridged version of De Profundis, and snippets of the Ex Ponto. But it would be interesting to know how much, despite avoiding the more obvious potential tribute in the title, Wilde was aiming to cast himself as a modern-day Ovid as much as a modern-day Socrates.

ETA: and browsing idly through Ellman's biography, I now find a) that De Profundis wasn't Wilde's title anyway, but a suggestion from a friend, possibly E.V. Lucas, and b) that it is the opening line of a psalm, so was presumably intended by whoever did suggest it to have Biblical, rather than Classical resonances. Wilde apparently suggested In Carcere et Vinculis ('In Prison and in Chains') instead, which to me recalls the names of martyr churches in Rome such as San Nicola in Carcere and San Pietro in Vinculis, and thus masterfully incorporates both the Biblical and the Classical traditions, while also stressing the idea of his own tragic martyrdom. Still doesn't mean he wasn't thinking of Ovid, though, either when he wrote the letter or later as he wandered Europe in exile.

strange_complex: (Clone Army)
Question meme from [livejournal.com profile] kkjxx:

1. Elaborate on your default icon.
Essentially, it's me doing something I love in spite of the weather, on a particularly significant New Year's Day. The full story is here.

2. What's your current relationship status?
Single and with no desire to change that.

3. Ever have a near-death experience?
No, and I don't think I've ever really been in serious danger of dying, either. I've been pretty ill a couple of times, including one quite dramatic entry into hospital, but that's all.

4. Name an obvious quality you have.
Not doing too badly in the brains department.

5. What's the name of the song that's stuck in your head right now?
Er, not too sure. I think it's an instrumental section from something by Handel, but I only really have one tiny phrase in my head - not enough to work out the rest of it.

6. Name a celebrity you would marry:
I think Stephen Fry definitely fits the bill there! I'm pretty sure it would be a non-sexual relationship by mutual agreement, but just generally getting to live with him and spend lots of time talking with him would be ace.

7. Who will cut and paste this first?
I'm not sure anyone will. Maybe [livejournal.com profile] captainlucy?

8. Has anyone ever said you look like a celebrity?
I was once compared to Siouxsie of 'The Banshees' fame - although that was ages ago, and I had black back-combed hair and was wearing black and purple PVC at the time. Then again, I've also been compared to Charles Hawtree... :-( If anyone has any more up-to-date / flattering suggestions, I'm listening!

9. Do you wear a watch? What kind?
Yes, a beautiful sparkly one covered in Swarovski crystals, which a lot of people don't realise is a watch at first, and think is a pretty bracelet instead. It looks like this, except that the crystals inside each link are lilac instead of clear.

10. Do you have anything pierced?
Yes - three holes in one ear, four in the other and one in my belly button.

11. Do you have any tattoos?
No, and don't want one. There's just no one symbol that means so much to me that I want it permanently engraved on my body - especially given that even the best tattoos do look kinda dodgy after 20 years or so.

12. Do you like pain?
Not for its own sake, no.

13. Do you like to shop?
I like the things I get by shopping, but don't particularly enjoy the actual process.

14. What was the last thing you paid for with cash?
An orange juice while out shopping on Saturday afternoon with Cie.

15. What was the last thing you paid for with your credit card?
My shopping in Sainsbury's this morning. Although strictly, that was a debit card - I don't actually have a credit card, because it's an extortionate way to borrow money, and a debit card offers the same convenience.

16. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?
Dad yesterday afternoon, about flat-buying stuff.

17. What is on your desktop background?
Lord Summerisle, speaking his "A heathen conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one" line in The Wicker Man.

18. What is the background on your cell phone?
Alessandro Moreschi, aged c. 25 - the second picture from the left on my colour bar, except not orange.

19. Do you like redheads?
Well, yes - if they're nice people. Not just because their hair is red, though.

20. Do you know any twins?
Er, I can't think of any just now. I've a vague idea that I know someone who has a twin, but I don't really know the twin. Obviously it's not had much impact on me, though, since I can't even be sure who that person might be.

21. Do you have any weird relatives?
Not outrageously weird - just normal-human-being weird.

22. What was the last movie you watched?
Farinelli: il Castrato, which BBC4 showed recently in connection with their documentary on the castrati. I'd seen it years ago and remembered it being dreadful, but thought I'd give it another try now that I know so much more about both Farinelli and Handel (who appears as a character in the film). My verdict? What a pile of unadulterated tripe - I was right about it first time round!

23. What was the last book you read?
A Short History of The British School At Rome by Peter Wiseman. Excellent book, really enjoyed it.
strange_complex: (Clone Army)
More memes this morning, 'cos there are some crackers around at the moment. And besides, I have a cold and am miserable, so need cheering up with delightful trivia.

Firstly: the Four Things Meme from the_lady_lily )

Secondly: the Noone Else Meme from dakegra )

And if you haven't yet perused the list of characters I'd like to get a letter from which I put up yesterday evening, please do so, because there are still nine characters who haven't been taken, and I know you people can do it!
strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
Or, Why I Cannot Stop Listening To This CD.

For one thing, I have waited a long time to hear the voice I am listening to now1. Without even knowing I was waiting, for much of that time.

My long journey to the Vatican )

Moreschi - a critical appreciation )

A scraggy brown tail-feather, in which Penny demonstrates her remarkable aptitude for excessive over-romanticisation - with pictures! )

Well, if you’ve read all of the above, you deserve a medal. I don’t mind if you didn’t. I wrote it for me, primarily, because I wanted a reason to think closely about this music and why I like it, and I want to remember my reasons and initial reactions in years to come. But the least I can do either way is to let you judge Moreschi for yourself by leaving you with the link for an mp3 I found while Googling for pictures of him and details about his life. It only takes about 20 seconds to download over broadband, which, for a three-minute track, tells you volumes about the quality of the original recording before you even listen to it. And I must say that then going on to listen to it over tiny, tinny computer speakers doesn’t do Moreschi any favours. Still, for whatever you may make of it, I give you Gounod’s Ave Maria, after a theme by Bach, performed by Alessandro Moreschi.

(And an alternative source if that one isn't working – just click on 'escuchar').

Goodnight.

-----------
1. As its length makes obvious, this entry ended up being written in several sections over a series of evenings. I did listen to Moreschi's CD for most of the time I was writing. But any use of words such as 'now' should be taken as applicable to the specific sentence concerned, not necessarily the whole piece.

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