Superstitious me

Phil: I wasn’t going to write this blog post. At half past seven, I messaged Candice to say, “Oops. Just switched the computer off and realized I haven’t blogged. I need to pack so will do it tomorrow. I’m sure no one will mind!”

I was serious. There’s a lot to pack for tomorrows work, and I had been on the computer quite a bit. The sensible thing would be to chill, get an early night and write something wonderful when I got back home.

So how come I’m typing this at twenty past nine in the evening?

Superstition.

Knawing away at me as I watched The Great British Bake Off, was the thought that if I didn’t write a post, somehow this would bring me bad luck. Something would go wrong tomorrow.

Now, I’m a bit of a nervous driver anyway. I instinctivly caveat any discussion of the future with “if everything goes OK” or “all being well” if there is a journey involved by car. Bring an aeroplane into the equation and I’m refusing to think about the future, because if I do, I’ll jinx it and bad things will happen.

I know lots of people try to tidy things up before going on holiday, so I’m not completely alone, or mad. We all worry about things and then try irrational ways to control them. Just some of us are worse than others.

I’ll “touch wood” for luck, but not in any serious way. Ladders don’t bother me.

But trying to make a deal with fate – I’ll write this blog but keep me safe and make sure my cameras work properly – is daft, I know it is. But then that’s the nature of irrational thoughts – they are irrational.And those little routines we develop to placate the gods of fate, maybe they are just warm, friendly moments that calm our nerves. But then that would make them rational things to do…

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The name’s Bond…. Candice Bond

Candice: So my turn for a review of the new Bond film. I’ve also been a fan of Bond over the years, I was more of a Roger Moore than Sean Connery (influenced by my Mom). I’ve loved the sophistication of the films; the settings, the cars, the clothing. Plus the gadgets, everyone loves a gadget.

Unlike Phil I’m not a Bond buff though, I know my theme tunes and some of the cars but not down to the infinite detail. I just like a good film, with some action, some romance and a nice man at the centre for me to look at. Daniel Craig has certainly helped that over the years…. yum.

I was really looking forward to this film for lots of reasons, Mr Craig was one (Phil found that out when I sighed with pleasure when he came on screen), the escapism was the other. After a year and a half of rubbish in Covid and personal life this was a chance to disappear for 2 3/4 hours into another world. And disappear I did. I loved all the flash, the fun, the intrigue. But with a twist for 2021, the women were stronger, Bond had a weakness (or three), the central premise wasn’t all about him saving the girl (or in this case it was a little girl who just reminded me of my daughter). There were plot holes you could drive a truck (or Land Rover Discovery) through, but who cares, it was fun.

One of my favourite scenes was in Cuba where he and a very able female agent took down a room of Spectre agents. It was old school Bond with new school Bond. Confusing plot and complicated weapon to do a simple job – tick. Multiple Extras in amazing costumes – check. Bond and side kick looking vey dapper whilst taking the room apart – check . (Even though I know about tit tape I am still wondering how she kept that dress on!). Complicated scenes where it is unlikely they will come out alive…but they do – check. All the fun that you want from a film, that still has its tongue slightly in its cheek, though much less that the Roger Moore days.

But this film did have more, it gave Bond a soul. He was more than just a ‘shag beast’ working his way round women between killing off baddies. And it gave him age, at the start he wasn’t the prime candidate, his young female replacement was.

I’m not sure where they will go next (please don’t make him female, that will just ruin it) but I do hope they do keep some of the original elements that make Bond Bond, but add in that extra spice of where the world is now. And even if I get a numb bum again, I’d go and see it just for the escapism.

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No Time to Die – Phil’s thoughts

NTTD

Phil: On the basis that there isn’t enough talk on the web about the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, Candice and I decided we’d add our thoughts having seen the film at the weekend. I’m going first, La Nolan follows up next week. She’s promised not to read mine before putting finger to keyboard too.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading NOW!!!

OK, there is a lot in this film for the Bond nerds. Since I am a nerd, that means I enjoyed it quite a lot and I can see myself getting more from it each time I watch.

For example, there are the cars. Obviously, we start with the Aston Martin DB5 (the silver one) because you can’t have a James Bond film without it. Except the ones where we did, but let’s not pick holes. Car buffs have complained that there’s no way the DB5 could hold it’s own against the cars chasing it, but they forget that Q Branch has rebuilt it several times and may have taken the opportunity to do something about both engine and suspension when fitting machine guns etc. Also, that this is not a documentary.

But, the DB5 is replaced after the opening sequence with the V8 Vantage last seen in The Living Daylights. With the silver machine away for repair, he heads off to a lock-up and whips the cover of this car. In the lock-up is some assorted other junk including the little bulldog Bond inherited in Skyfall. Interestingly, in that film, he had a lock-up with the DB5 in it. Does he have them all over London with every car he’s driven stashed away? Is the submersible Lotus Esprit tucked away somewhere? What about that 2CV?

Anyway, there’s a lot for the book Bond fan here. He retires to Jamaica, just as his did after On Her Majesties Service in the books. Ian Fleming was a resident in the country for a while, which is why his creation loves it so much. He’s a damaged man in the film (broken in the books) and has to be persuaded back to work by his replacement, a (gasp) woman.

The biggest problem for me with the film, is the villain, or at least his master plan. After acquiring a poison containing nanobots (killing Hugh Dennis along the way), he bumps off everyone in Spectre and then appears to be planning to poison the whole world. This requires lots of poison vials to be encoded with lots and lots of people’s DNA. Why bother? In Moonraker, Drax just lobs some poison globes out of a space station with pretty much the same aim, a much simpler scheme. And Drax plans to repopulate the Earth, Safin doesn’t seem to have any real plan, he’s just upset that Spectre killed his family. I mean, it’s sad and all, but you can’t help feeling that he could have done a bit more planning.

Other stuff: Landrover has released a special edition Defender and Range Rover to tie in with the film. There is a lot of product placement for these, but since most of them end up on the roofs or otherwise destroyed, and Bond beats them all in a 25-year-old Toyota Landcruiser, you have to wonder if it’s the advert the boys from Solihull were hoping for.

There’s a lot of fuss about Lashana Lynch becoming the new 007 in the movie, but she doesn’t seem to do that much. Certainly nothing like the fighting that Michelle Yeoh managed to pack in during Tomorrow Never Dies. Even Ana de Armas manages more punch (and some funnies as well) in a rather pointless, but superb, scene in Cuba. Managing to take on numerous baddies in high-heels and not fall out of her dress, is incredibly impressive.

But, the biggie. The ending. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the film, look away now.

At the start of the film, we have the refrain “We have all the time in the world” from OHMSS – the music that comes in just after Bonds’ wife has been gunned down in front of him and George Lazenby gets to emote like no Bond had done before, and wouldn’t again until Craig. At the time, Bond and Madeleine were heading off, very much in love. You might have thought that finally 007 had found happiness again. After all, same woman for several films, so quite a change.

But there is another important takeaway from OHMSS. In the opening sequence of that film, Lazenby says at the end of a fight, “This never happened to the other fellow”. Huh? What other fellow? OK, the actor has changed, and would change back for Diamonds are Forever, but we thought we were watching the same person, even if he looks different every few years.

Anyway, at the end of NTTD, Bond stands on the top of the evil lair, waiting for the missiles to arrive that will destroy both it, and him (told you there were spoilers). He can’t go home for he is infected with nanobots that will kill both Madeliene and his daughter, so sacrifices himself for both of them.

Does this mean the end of the franchise? I think not. You see, if Bond were one person, he’d have been spying for 60 years. I appreciate Roger Moore looked old, but never that bad, not even in A View to a Kill.

So, if we remember Lazenby’s line, could it be that the name James Bond is a codename? That everyone who takes the job gets the name? OK, there is an issue with the history of Skyfall and the books, where it certainly appears that Bond is one person else how could they have that back story? But, in Skyfall, I recall there was a mention that the service preferred to recruit orphans, the lack of family ties making them better agents.

So, I don’t think this is the end for Bond. The clues are in the film, just just have to be nerdy enough to spot them.

 

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Cheers for breakfast

Cheerslogo

Phil: Since I don’t have a small child to get ready for school in the morning, if I’m so minded, I can take my time and linger a bit over my bowl of breakfast cereal. It’s a great time to catch up on some magazine reading, and since I prefer to work later, I don’t see any panic to be sat in front of a computer terribly early.

In the past, this would be accompanied by BBC Breakfast News. I suppose it’s useful to catch up on the various happenings in the world, but if I’m honest, knowing the weather forecast is probably more practical.

But, with Brexit, all this stopped. Yes, I might catch the weather and local news, but the rest of the time the airwaves were filled with people shouting at each other. And just as Brexit leaves the stage, along comes Covid, and the news editors decided our mornings should start with a blast of ratings-gathering doom and gloom.Even as this recedes in interest, we’re treated to more disaster with (currently) empty shelves, price rises, lack of power etc.

Enough!

For a very long while, there has been no TV. Telly snobs will say this is a good thing, but I grew up with the magic box and get just as annoyed with those who boast about not watching it, as I do with those who devote their entire lives, and a complete wall in their lounge, to the screen.

Idly flicking through the channels on a very relaxed morning, I found that I could watch the 1980s American sitcom Cheers with my cereal.

Set in a Boston bar, the show features a pretty static line-up of characters, very few of whom can be described as high-flyers (OK, Fraiser, but the rest). It’s warm. It’s cosy. As the theme song goes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And they are right. We all want to find our little community, where we fit in and the rest are pleased to see us.

Of course, the other reason I enjoy watching the show over breakfast is it seems so deliciously naughty to do so. Grown-ups are supposed to want to know what is in the news, even if there is nothing we can do about it. Cheers, and other shows are for the evening.

Side-stepping the expected norm feels a bit like bunking off school, or deliberately taking a longer lunch at work when you know you’ll probably get away with it. Naughty, but in a safe way.

Best of all, the warm and fuzzy accompaniment to y Fruit’n’fibre probably puts me in a better frame of mind to face the day. Or reminds me that I might be happier sat on a bar stool, drinking beer, and watching the world go by.

As the theme goes, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot“.

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Missing deadlines!

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Candice: I have become a library convert in the last six month, as you know. However, I keep having a problem that I forget when my books need to be back!

I’m not sure whether its the lack of structure with the ongoing working from home, or the upheaval that has been going on in my my life but yet again I got a message the other day saying we’ve frozen your account!

This is unusual for me as I am a fast reader but this time I had only managed one and a half books in the three weeks. I suppose I did have the distraction of reading another book which wasn’t from the library, plus a long weekend camping where I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have hoped.

Anyway all renewed now until next time, and a note put in my phone to tell me when they need to go back (and I’ve just finished the second book this morning).

Is anyone else still finding this whole Covid weirdness is messing with their usual organisational skills? I am now back in the office one or two days a week but I haven’t quite got that down into a rhythm. It was really nice to be in the office yesterday but its still not ‘normal’ yet by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve got another winter to get through and who knows what fun that will bring.

Anyway, we’ve got this far, something I’m sure none of us thought we’d be able to do a year and a half ago. There are mutterings of Christmas party at work, something I really excited about. Would be great if that comes off. This weekend felt almost normal as I went to an outdoor pop concert and had a boogie. Loved that.

But the biggest missed deadline I have is my own – finishing the writing I started in July. I am determined to pull my finger out and get that big finish done. I have time this weekend so ‘focus Nolan’ and get your finger out on the writing. I know I feel better if I do.

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It’s all about telling stories

Phil on the micPhil: For the first time in years, I find myself having to give a talk to a room full of people tomorrow. It’s a work gig, not a literary one, but I’ve just remembered something.

I don’t like writing presentations.

I love giving them. Public speaking has never worried me, at least as long as I know what I’m talking about. Unlike my writing friend, I don’t suffer from stage fright. I’ve happily stood in front of a few hundred people using the magic of PowerPoint to entertain them. Generally it goes well. OK, there was this one time, but that’s another story.

Actually writing a talk though, is a bit of a slog. Even drawing up a spider diagram and try to work out the correct order for the slides, and exactly what should be on them doesn’t ease the pain.

Then, I had a brainwave.

First: Open a packet of Maltesers. I need brain food.

Second: The first half of the talk is a story. I’m explaining how I came to be in the hobby I’m talking about. With this in mind, the whole thing becomes easily linear. No need to work out diagrams, just tell the tale. With plenty of photos.

My presentations are always full of photos. The less words there are, the more I can busk it on stage and adjust the talk to the time and audience. And if there is one thing I really hate, it’s a presenter who does no more than read every word off every slide. I can do that, and generally, quicker than they can.

Thinking about this a bit more, most of my job involves telling a story. When I explain how to make something, I take the reader through things step by step until we reach a joyful conclusion. Along the way, there are diversions and even a bit of jeopardy.

In fact, pretty much every form of communication is a sort of storytelling. Maybe they don’t all start “Once upon a time”, but that’s how humans tell each other stuff.

And having been so profound, I better get back to writing my talk…

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Desperately Seeking Summer

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Candice: I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Desperately Seeking Summer’. I haven’t finished it yet so the review will come in another blog but I have to say it encapsulates the summer we have had in the UK this year. I’m still waiting for it to come.

I am a sunshine loving girl. Yes I know it can do bad things to your skin if you are in it too much but I wear my factor 30. However, it can also do lots of good things, increase your Vitamin D levels but generally make you feel happy. I’m never happier when I am out in the sunshine, shorts and tshirt on, doing the garden or going for a walk. My particular favourite is eating outside, particularly for dinner. I love to go on holiday and have a meal outside, preferably over looking the sea, not having to wear a jacket or cardi over my outfit. If there is shellfish on the menu, even better.

But no, this year has been pretty awful. We had one week of scorching heat in July and then its been very up and down. I got my shorts out all week in Devon, but with a fleece on. In that case I was on holiday and determined to show I was by getting my legs out (but not the upper body, still too cold).

For most of August I have been wondering where the sun has gone as we have had wall to wall cloud. A few weeks ago someone at my gym class said there was going to be a heat wave in early September and I went ‘yeah’ but now they are saying rain for most of the month.

Of course without Covid I would have already had one foreign holiday and have another in the pipeline but now things are all up in the air. I may have to dream and just put the heating on instead. I wouldn’t mind, its just the sun I miss as much as the heat.

This week adds an extra factor in the fact my friend and I optimistically planned a camping trip before the kids go back to school. I haven’t been in eight years, so I have all the kit but have forgotten how much you need and all the palava attached. Its all laid out in my garage as we speak.

So fingers crossed for a sudden heatwave end of this week. If nothing else I have my head torch and I’ll be doing some night time reading, mainly finishing of this book where I can disappear into a world of hot summers on a Greek island even if I can’t be there.

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When did a holiday become a “staycation”?

Poppitt Sands

Grumpy Phil: I keep hearing that everyone is going on a “staycation” this year, because they can’t get abroad.

Somehow, staycation has come to mean taking your holiday in the UK. I’m not sure how this happened, but I want it to stop NOW.

When I was a kid, we went on holiday every year. For several years this was to my grandparents in Scotland. Later, there was camping in Kent. All of these were holidays.

I didn’t get abroad until I was 12 and that was a week-long school trip to France. La Nolan’s daughter has been out of this country more often than I have, and she’s less than a tenth of my age.

Calling holidays in the UK staycations suggests they are somehow worth less than a trip abroad. They aren’t. Given the choice of sitting in a small British town eating cake or “larging it” in Ibiza, I know what I’d be picking. Yes, I am boring, but it’s my b****y holiday so I can do what I like.

To me, a holiday is anywhere away from home. Away from the mental list of jobs we really should be doing. A break from the norm. If you want to qualify it, for the trip to be a holiday, you have to spent at least one night away.

A staycation is taking time off and staying at home. Your house. Where you live most of the time.

Look at it another way, in normal times, many thousands of people from other countries visit the UK. I know, they all descend on Stratford and Warwick. They are on holiday. If I decide to visit one of Britians’ many tourist destinations such as the Lake District, then I’m on holiday just like someone from Japan.

So, let’s get the words right. Don’t let some over-paid newspaper columnist, bitter that their month in a terribly nice villa in somewhere fashionable, has been cancelled, define the language. A holiday is a holiday even if it means sitting on  damp beach wearing a cagoule. Just enjoy it.

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Jay Blades – Making It

Image result for jay blades making it

Candice: For those of you who don’t know, Jay Blades is the guy with the flat cap who is the main presenter on the BBC show ‘The Repair Shop’. Affable and friendly he coordinates between the people who want their items fixed and the makers.

I do like the odd autobiography but don’t read that many, I’m more into escapism these days but Phil sent me this book to read a few weeks ago. He had really liked it and raved about it so I thought I’d give it a go.

Jay has a very varied life, growing up on a rough estate in London with a revolving door of men playing Dad in his life when his biological father leaves the scene early. He also struggles with racism, and undiagnosed dyslexia, leading him to talk with his fists rather than his mouth for many years. This escalates to the point he has to leave the area. Unfortunately for the next few years his life follows a similar pattern, he settles into area but things start to go a bit awry and then he has to leave because he falls out with the local gang. He will admit that he brings a lot of this on himself as he does have an eye for the ladies and ends up getting on the wrong side of people due to messing women about.

Along the way he does start to find he has a knack for helping troubled people and starts initially volunteering and then working for a homeless charity. Again his mouth gets in the way when the management changes and he tells them what he thinks of their new plan, and has to leave.

Finally after many years and nearly 40 he finds the woman he gels with and they set up their own charity supporting troubled children through remaking old furniture. And this is where the ‘Repair Shop’ Jay appears. He says he gets a lot of comments on social media about the fact he doesn’t make anything, but that is where his true rehabilitation started, in revitalising old furniture. But a chance encounter gives him the opportunity to try presenting and he is a natural in front of the screen, and suddenly a new career beckons.

Present day, and we all know him as the ‘Father’ figure in the show, the one to give someone a hug when tears appear. To be honest, reading this book I have mixed feelings about him as a person. Obviously he has worked hard and fought his way up from a tough background. And he has done a lot of good for those who have struggled like him. But along the way he has left two children and multiple partners to pursue what he wants. My definite impression of him from the book was Jay comes first.

An interesting read, especially if you have no experience of that kind of upbringing.

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Getting arty in the park

Phil: Team NolanParker are proper culture vultures when we want to be.

Artinpark_250Point us at a literary festival and we are there. Anything to spend a bit of time with other writers, or people who just love books.

And if you love books, can you spurn other art forms? Of course not.

Which is why we ignored the threatening rain clouds and headed along to Art in the Park, Leamington Spa’s premier arts festival. Not just La Nolan and me, but her 7 1/2 year old protegee too. A youngster who like nothing better than getting crafty making things.

First up, there was dancing. Not for me of course, I didn’t want to get my tweed jacket sweaty, and anyway, it’s hardly suitable for Streetdance! No, the dynamic duo found themselves taking part in a very vigorous workshop learning some bangin’ choreography. Good job they had stoked up on drinks and a double-chocolate muffin beforehand, although that last bit was the small ones idea!

After all their exertions, a quiet stroll was in order to the riverside looking at some of the art on sale. After a Covid-enforced break last year, the festival was back, bigger than ever and having filled the main park, spilled over to an new field with yet more stalls, food and music. For a free event, there was a terrific amount to enjoy.

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This time, it was a henna tattoo workshop while I went for wander. It’s amazing who you bump in to at these sort of events – I was browsing a decorative blacksmith stall and found that the other browser was an old boss. Well, I’ve always fancied having a go at metal bashing and it seems that we might both be signing up for a taster course!

Lunch was a mix of halloumi fries (new to me, and delicious), fish tacos and an excellent hotdog for the small member of the team. Well, you can’t do boring at this sort of event can you?

After that, more strolling and time to stock up on unusual cards, including Christmas ones. You never know when you need a nice card, and there’s nothing like most of these in the shops.

Best of all, you get to meet artists. People who create things. While gawping at a painting of sculpture, the person who made it is happy to chat. For me, this personal connection really matters. Owning a unique object that has been crafted by another human being is a pleasure.

Books are also crafted by people. It’s why I feel guilty when I abandon one – I know what I’m holding is the result of many, many hours of effort and imagination. Someone cares about those words, which is why it’s such a shame when I can’t appreciate them fully. But then, like art, you can’t love, or even properly appreciate, everything.

As we found in the park though, art comes in so many varieties and flavours, there will be something you love, it just takes a bit of looking.

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