Thursday, May 26, 2016

Get Inspired

I'll be running a promotion over the next week in the US and the UK for that e-book of mine.  It starts tomorrow and runs through June 3.  I'm giving stuff away (see sidebar) and generally having a good time.  If you haven't read it yet, for what are you waiting?

A key plot point in the book involves an elaborate padlock.  It was inspired by a real door lock that I saw in the collection of the V&A in London some years ago. It was so cunning and artful I knew I'd want to make use of it someday.

Maybe it will inspire you.  Here's the video.  In the meantime, tell your English reading friends about this e-book bargain this week, will you?  Thanks.  Of course all are welcome to buy a paperback as well.

Detector lock by John Wilkes from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Radio 4, Where Have You Been all my Life?



Radio 4 is one of the nine radio stations run by the BBC.  There's Radio 1 (pop hits), Radio 2 (adult contemporary), and on like that.  Radio 4 is mostly talking and it's where I spend most of my time - at least so far.  There's so much BBC radio that I haven't had time to venture deep into the other stations - yet.

And may I just say, we have crappy talking radio here in the US, if you ask me, which you didn't but it's my blog.

I'm not even talking about the Saharas of sportstalk and  know-it-all political blowhards and the religious folk on our dial.  I have zero interest in that.  I listen to music and occasionally NPR.  NPR is the closest thing we have to BBC-style radio in this country and it is a poor, sad, pushy, begging enterprise. Plus NPR is irritating.  Aside from Cokie Roberts and Ira Glass (once in a while), and Terry Gross (most of the time) it is middle-brow forced-jollity earnest superior blah beige boring.

When I was a kid, WGY in Schenectady played Mystery Theater, hosted by E.G. Marshall each weeknight.  I would "work" cleaning the kitchen for the whole hour of Mystery Theater.  Thinking of that sole survivor of radio drama (in my day) I  am reminded of the remains of those dwarf mammoths they found somewhere - physically shrunken holders-on - last of their species, dying out on some island .  That was what Mystery Theater was back in the 70s.  It wasn't genius but it was fun and it exploited one of the things that radio is good at - telling stories.  When I stumbled into Radio 4 I realized how starved I was for programming that takes full advantage of Radio's (note capital "R") potential to be fun, informative, interesting, creative.

I'm not looking for a radio revival to suit me here in the States anytime soon.  Our airwaves follow the money.  They must.  I understand that. The Beeb is publicly funded and even if Bernie Sanders gets elected no one in the States is going want to throw tax money at radio.  Podcasting has filled the void, largely, that's true. But Radio is still a special thing.  We don't have to hunt it out. It flows. It's a friend.  Thankfully, we now have the internet.  And the British taxpayer.

So here, for your listening pleasure are links to my favorite shows Radio 4 shows, with a nod to Radio 3.  (Actually this is the tip of the iceberg my favorite shows but it's bedtime).

Desert Island Discs
Are you interested in any famous people? They have probably been interviewed on this show.  There is an archive stretching back to 1942.  Famous people, including Bill Gates, the late Princess Margaret and all kinds of movie stars, musicians, writers and other achievers - the kind that would only get radio time in England (e.g., a landscape designer, a nonagenerian allergist, a supermarket magnate) discuss which  eight records they would take if marooned on a desert island.  It turns out that this is a great way to get biography.  I am addicted.  The theme music sounds like a Monty Python joke - at first I thought it must be.  I quickly understood, however, that they were playing it straight. The theme is a holdover from the show's 1940s origins. I love it now: living strings, squawking seagulls. Please Aunt Beeb, never change it.

Desert Island Discs was my entree to Radio 4.  I have since become enamored of Book at Bedtime - so many great adaptations there.  And lately I've been dipping into the venerable Woman's Hour, which is as old or older than DID.  There's comedy. There's all kinds of drama.  On that point, I have to give shout out for dRadio 3, I listened to a brilliant creepy adaptation of the famous play The Skriker there recently. Give that a listen if you can. You will never hear the like on the radio in the US.

Really, there's too much to detail here.  Just go poking around the BBC Radio website.  If you don't find much to love, check you pulse.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Real Names That I've Heard Recently That I Like and Want to Remember

"Nish Kumar."  He's a comedian in England. I like that his name seems like it might be a nickname for "Danish" or "Finish" or something.

"Penny Cleverly."  Need I say more?  I wish this had been mine name.

"Luke Fortune."   How lucky can you get? I'll bet the good fairy came to his christening too.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Good Time to Be Pretty & She Was Kind to Cars

I got a call from high-school-senior daughter this morning.  Our 1994 Toyota Camry with 260,000 miles on it - the one that she drives because we are people who think it is enough that she has any car to drive at all-  was making bad noises.  She  managed to make an appointment with the local garage for after school to check out the noise.  The gents of the local garage are, as per me, a bit of a shifty bunch. I told her to have them call me before any repairs got authorized.

Fast forward to 3 PM.  The young mechanic to whom she handed her iPhone said "it's a spring and a strut."  I pitched him a softball: "Don't you have do both sides?" He said (are you sitting down?) "No."

I'm not sure that's right but did I mention 260,000 miles?  He told me it was going to be about $300.  I said, "fine."

My daughter then had a friend come fetch her at the garage. The two of them were returning here just as I was pulling into the garage in the State of Vermont fleet vehicle that I have this evening (more on that in a minute).

She and I began discussing the transportation dilemmas that will be caused by not having Ye Ancient Camry tomorrow.  This being Vermont, my kids' whole school skis on Friday (tomorrow).  No Camry means trouble to-ing and fro-ing for both my kids.  I have to leave at 6 AM tomorrow in the aforementioned fleet car to get to a court hearing two and half hours from home . Turns out, however, that we might not actually have a problem.

"The guy said he would come in at six tomorrow morning and get my car fixed in time for Friday program," my daughter said as we made our way up to our kitchen.  "It pays to get up and put on make up every day," she added.

Right.  Never having been pretty myself I never learned how it can pay.  (Not bragging or anything but that's her up there.  A colleague, seeing this picture on my desk once said, "no offense but she obviously hit the genetic jack pot."  Yes.  That's true).

But I'm not here to totally disparage myself.  Why? Let me tell you a heartwarming little story.

I had to leave my own car in the vast Siberian parking lot at the state office campus just now in order to pick up the fleet car.  I was resentful for a bit, thinking that my poor little car was going to have to suffer the winds and subzero temperatures in the parking lot tonight instead of in its home in our garage.  Then, however, I thought of how the fleet car doesn't properly belong to anyone, how no one loves it, how it is part of no one's family.  It never goes anywhere fun. The people in it are never making happy memories. When it's time for it to go it will be nothing but a cold calculation - how many miles, what repairs etc.  So. I'm like a foster mother tonight to the orphan car.  I thought, well, you enjoy that garage, you unloved utilitarian Ford you.  So, maybe a beautiful soul if nothing else.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Another Top Tip - Desert Island Discs

A couple of months ago I stumbled onto the venerable BBC Radio 4 Program, Desert Island Discs.  Since then I have been listening to the new shows each week and combing through the archive.  It is not too much to say that I can't get enough.  Fortunately, it is an almost inexhaustible listening resource.

I defy anyone to show me a more genius idea for an interview program.  The format is simple: interviewees are asked which eight discs (well, it started in 1942 so "discs" it remains) they would take if marooned on a desert island.  While they talk about their choices, they also talk about their lives.  There are famous people, celebrities, etc. but also, crucially, people who aren't famous except in their own fields.  To wit, a pioneering allergist, a prize-winning landscape designer, a supermarket magnate.

If you have a favorite actor, writer, singer, scientist check the archive and you may well find that he or she has been interviewed.  My favorite interviews so far have been the ones with Michael Caine, Roger Waters, Princess Margaret, and Robert Hardy.

One more tip, sometimes the programs aren't available to stream, but I have found I can download those as MP3 files and play them that way.

One of the things I like best about the show is that it doesn't appear to be tied in any way to the current marketing efforts of the guests.  That is, they aren't asked on because they have a new book/album/movie are are making the rounds of the chat shows. The focus is on entire careers and biography.  Brilliant.