According to the statistics I’ve seen, the programme that attracted the most viewers on Christmas Day was the unfailingly brilliant Mrs Brown’s Boys – a notable achievement given the competition from soapland, the dancefloor, 1950s London and, of course, Trenzalore. Apparently, Doctor Who did achieve the highest peak rating, pretty much around the moment when Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi at the end of a story that once again seems to have divided fans.
Many moons ago, I stated that Matt Smith’s Doctor was the best since Patrick Troughton, but that his performances may be over-shadowed by the overly-involved threads that were interwoven throughout his stories. Obviously any “favourite” is purely subjective, but it is perhaps more difficult to argue against the complexity of the plots during Matt’s tenure.
I’ve been a fan of the programme for more years than I care to remember and whilst I wouldn’t class myself as an expert, I like to think I have a reasonable knowledge of the Doctor’s on-screen exploits. That said, there have been a number of times when I’ve struggled to keep up with the various storylines, some of which are left an inordinate length of time before being resolved.
In some ways, I will doff my proverbial cap to Steven Moffat, the writer who has never shied away from offering the fan science fiction drama that is sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes mind-numbingly hard to grasp, but always extravagant and impressive.
Let me say here and now that I’m old school: twenty-five minutes, a cliff hanger and back for more the following week. The casual viewer could dip in and out without losing too much of the thread, but times change and there is perhaps a danger that Doctor Who has become almost self-indulgent given the nature of recent series. Moffat clearly likes his multi-monster spectaculars too, and The Time of the Doctor was no exception, but he is also capable of penning the most brilliant one-off dramas - Blink is still as good an episode as there has been since the programme returned to the small screen.
The Time of the Doctor was certainly better than the fiftieth anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. It was less self-congratulatory and despite some confusing moments and perhaps a monster or two too many, the story afforded Matt Smith the chance for a wonderfully acted and poignant (albeit slightly extended) departure. The dropping of the bow tie was a nice touch, but the big surprise was the brief appearance of Karen Gillan as Amy Pond. She stood in front of her “Raggedy Man” and the pair (both wearing wigs incidentally) tenderly placed a hand on each other’s face in a genuinely touching farewell moment – and the highpoint of the episode for me.
I’m still not totally convinced by the drop-off, pick-up nature of the Doctor’s relationship with Clara, and a perfectly good performance from Jenna Coleman was almost overshadowed by Karen Gillan’s few seconds on screen. That said, I really like Jenna in the role and I’ll be interested to see how she interacts with a much older Doctor – Peter Capaldi being the most “mature” Time Lord since William Hartnell. Obviously we are all keen to see what Peter Capaldi will bring to the character, and the series. Personally I believe his casting is a potential masterstroke, but as always with Doctor Who, only time will tell...
Yesterday I spent an enjoyable and at times fascinating hour and a bit in the company of a couple of people I’d met through an event at work earlier this year. Three blokes sitting down in a coffee shop and having a chat shouldn’t really be worthy of comment, but it is perhaps a sign of the times and the society in which we live that I feel that I want to document the fact that my companions were members of our local Muslim community.
From a religious (and arguably philosophical) standpoint, I am situated very comfortably astride the proverbial fence. I was raised within the Church of England, but class myself as agnostic – although I apparently lean towards theism... who knew?! I certainly don’t disbelieve in the concept of “God”, I simply don’t know, but the beliefs I do have are borne from personal experience and I am perfectly comfortable with my feelings towards religion in general. I’m also more than capable of respecting those who have a faith, but having worked alongside some of the Muslim community, and given the general media profile of Islam, I wanted to delve beneath the newspaper headlines and find out a little bit more.
In a sense, it’s actually disappointing that I’m writing this at all. The Muslim population in this country is small in percentage terms, but it is the actions of the few who commit atrocities in the name of Islam that grab the headlines, and undoubtedly influence public opinion. So for those Muslims here in the north east who spend time within their extended communities trying to challenge stereotypes and break down barriers, the task is difficult by definition – but seeing the human reaction to the shocking events in Woolwich and hearing how twelve months of hard and positive work can be undone in one horrific moment, well it does make you stop and think.
Imran, Zak and I chatted through things as diverse as the origins of the universe and the sixth Article of Faith, as well as Star Wars and Doctor Who! I mention the sixth Article (or Pillar) because I found this part of the conversation so interesting. The sixth and final Article relates to “fate”, or predestination – Imran and Zak called it the “Decree”. Essentially (and I hope I get this right) for a Muslim, it relates to the ability for free will to still exist in lives and a world where all events are predetermined and known to Allah. Take religion out of the equation and you basically have the concept of compatibilism – that philosophical fence on which I like to rest my reflective body, and the parallel between my own ideals and a religion about which I know very little was a real surprise.
At no point was I made to feel uncomfortable for my lack of under-standing (despite being so far out of my depth) and my own points of view were totally respected. I left with the same beliefs I’d had when I arrived, but with a small, but real insight into the faith that guides the lives of two people I’m glad to call friends.
I’m writing this towards the end of the final session on the fourth day of the third Ashes test match: England are currently five down chasing (which I accept is not the right word) five hundred and something. We might have five wickets in hand, but the Ashes are gone – surrendered with barely a whimper to a rampant Australian side.
England’s 3-0 victory in the summer was nowhere near as emphatic as the bare scoreline suggests. We could easily have lost at Trent Bridge, we were spared by the weather at Old Trafford and Stuart Broad’s outstanding spell at the Riverside completely changed the course of the Chester-le-Street test. I would add the caveat that we deserved to win the final test after Michael Clarke’s sporting declaration ended with the Australian skipper almost pleading for the umpires to allow bad light to spare his team.
In my opinion, England are a decent, reasonably successful and experienced side, perhaps on the decline, whereas Australia were far from the pushovers the English tabloids may have suggested. True they are far removed from the truly great sides of relatively recent years, but there’s no shortage of ability within their squad and on home pitches, an England victory was far from guaranteed.
Apart from the eminently listenable Glenn McGrath, who predicts five-nil every time the sides meet, and Michael Vaughan, who seems to have turned into some sort of self-professed soothsayer, very few would have confidently foreseen the spectacular fashion in which Australia have dismantled Alistair Cook’s side.
But it has been a demolition of embarrassing proportions sparked, in my opinion, by the resurgence of Mitchell Johnson, whose trans-formation from laughing stock to destroyer has been remarkable. His performances seem to have sent waves of confidence through the team and the sheer extent of the hosts’ domination is hard to put into words.
There has been a lot made of the “sledging”, the comments exchanged between the teams out on the pitch. There’s a fine line between what is and isn’t acceptable, and both sides seem to have come close to crossing that line. There certainly does seem to have been some sort of breakdown in the respect that the game demands, typified to an extent by David Warner whose talent has been occasionally overshadowed by on-field histrionics and a mouth that (along with his fist) Warner evidently finds difficult to control. That said when Shane Watson reached a thrilling century earlier today, apparently only Ian Bell applauded the achievement.
Speaking as someone who could spit a dummy further than I could propel a cricket ball, I can understand there are moments when you really don’t want to acknowledge an opponent’s performance, but those feelings usually stem from frustration at one’s own failings. However badly we’ve performed and however badly we’re being beaten, I think we should have shown Watson (and the game of cricket) more respect.
There will be plenty of debate regarding the make-up of the England
side with the trip to the MCG looming. Although two of our senior bowlers (Swann and Anderson) have been dispatched like average club cricketers at certain times during the series, I’d be inclined to leave the bowling attack unchanged, but (controversially) I’d drop Kevin Pietersen – ridiculously gifted as he is – and play Gary Ballance at five with Bell moving up to four. I’d also let Jonny Bairstow take the gloves and bat seven, as Matt Prior can’t get a run and his keeping hasn’t been great in this test either.
Does that weaken our batting? On paper, clearly yes, but if we make no changes, there is an argument to suggest performances and results will not change – and can only mean one thing: a whitewash. I just hope that England can restore some pride between now and the end of the series, but whatever happens on or off the field, we need to accept defeat with dignity (because it’s easy to magnanimous in victory) and congratulate Australia on a job extremely well done.
A week off work beckons and a chance to at least try and recharge some pretty flat batteries. When I return, Christmas will be two sleeps away, and then in January, details of our restructure will be unveiled – and my fate, along with that of colleagues and friends will be known. It’s an anxious and unsettling (and any number of similar adjectives from the old thesaurus) time for all concerned and whilst I am doing my best to remain positive, it’s undeniably tough going at the moment.
I’m well aware so many other people in with differing working back-grounds right across the country have been through similar experiences, but whatever lies ahead, I hope the reality holds some comfort for those with whom I share an office – and me as well!
I’m trying to keep busy – the draft manuscript of my Marie Prevost biography has gone through the initial editing process, so I’ve got that to review, and I’ve even taken up drawing (after a fashion). Certain members of my family are ridiculously talented when it comes to all things “arty” – but it’s safe to say I’m not one of them. No harm in having a go though…
My latest offering is this not-very-good sketch of the statue of St Gregory (Gregorius) of Nin, which is situated in the beautiful Croatian city of Split. The statue has a shiny big toe (don’t we all?) courtesy of years of being touched and rubbed (if only…). There is a legend that if you place your hand on the toe of the statue and make a wish, it will come true. I’m not going to reveal exactly what I hoped for back in the summer of 2011, suffice to say that time will soon tell if St Gregory is a man of his word!
Fingers and (shiny) toes crossed…
Today’s offering is concerned with recent I’m A Celebrity evictee Rebecca Adlington, who for the record is the same age as my younger daughter (and coincidentally shares the same name). Alongside Rebecca in the jungle was the beauty queen Amy Willerton, whose physical appearance unsurprisingly aroused a fair amount of media interest, and Rebecca has been quoted as saying she actually experienced feelings of insecurity because of her own looks—I found that so sad to read.
I might not be qualified to write about looks—half my hair is missing, I’m short sighted, deaf in one ear, wonky teeth, three chins, round shoulders, podgy tummy, dodgy hips… but I like to think I’ve got nice feet—and although I don’t live my life in the public eye, I do have an understanding of the damaging effect of anxieties and insecurities. We live in a society that has become almost obsessed with appearance. Magazine covers are adorned with an array of the young, the thin, and the beautiful (of either sex)—undeniably pleasing on the eye, but hardly a reflection of real life. And of course that’s assuming there’s been no airbrushing: even the most attractive aren’t perfect…
But how many of those models and celebrities are judged purely on their external appearance? Amy Willerton is pretty, and it wasn’t pleasant to see how she was bullied by some of her fellow campmates, but she was also selfish enough to hide what was termed “contraband” which could have resulted in food being withdrawn from the group. To put looking good for the cameras ahead of the welfare of others is not an endearing trait.
That said, the programme is designed to create an atmosphere in which personalities and heightened emotions are exposed, and given the way the show is edited, it would be unfair to summarily judge or condemn any of the contestants, but what is clear is that Rebecca Adlington is both genuine and caring—good qualities to have.
Almost all of us fall outside the top nought point something percent of the world’s most beautiful people: being “normal” is… well, “normal”, but Rebecca Adlington is certainly no ordinary young woman. She just happens to be one of the finest athletes this country has produced in recent years. Her dedication, determination, talent and ability to produce her best when it really matters was rewarded with for Olympic medals—two gold and two bronze. The wins in Beijing were brilliant, but such was the pressure of expectation surrounding London 2012, that anything less than gold was ridiculously perceived as a failure in some quarters.
In fact, in a post-race interview, Rebecca’s tearful apology at having let everybody down because she’d “only” won a bronze medal was not only one of the Games’ most emotional moments, it was also an insight into Rebecca’s character… and given the fact that she put the feelings of others ahead of celebrating what was a fantastic achievement probably makes more recent jungle-related events easier to understand.
Quite simply, whatever the future holds for you Rebecca, I just hope the moments of self-doubt soon pass and I wish you well in everything you do—you are a very special young woman.