...of the year

Three times during 2016 my breakfast was sliced through by shock news. Once in January when David Bowie died just two days after releasing `Blackstar`. Once in June when the result of the EU Referendum turned out to be to leave which I was certain it wouldn’t be. Once in November when the US Presidential Election was won by Donald Trump. Had these been the only shocks of the year then it wouldn’t have been quite so bad, terrible though these things were on different levels. However they are merely snapshots that show what a turbulent dog of a year it’s been. Personally, professionally, politically I can’t recall a time when things seemed so adrift and out of my control or my reach. It reminds me of being a teenager when everything is scary or strange and nothing seems to be possible. Adult life teaches you that of course it often is. Yet now all the ideas I had about the country and the world have turned on their head and I have no idea about anything. Oh and lots of icons from my past are dying while my friends and I sit and talk about our ageing parents and austerity rather than anything more fun. It’s grim enough to be a black farce only where’s the jokes? 


Top of the Pops 17 & 24 Dec 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 shown this year on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby.

17 December 1981
Simon Bates: "And what a night on Top of the Pops. It's my birthday, and to celebrate we've got a heck of a line-up for you. Kicking off with Duran Duran. Right over here."
Duran Duran: Go My Own Way [14]. M. C. Escher is the designer this week -although he's credited under the pseudonym Phil Lindley. Duran Duran appear to be performing in an impossible space made out of tinfoil. Bits of it go sideways, and then sideways a bit more. And then there's a bit that goes the other way but somehow connects to a bit round the front. Then, just as you think your brain has come to terms with non-Euclidean geometry there's a low angled camera shot that reveals another bit going over the top. It's all very clever but unfortunately the upshot is that the drummer is wedged in between two angled bits of set and struggles to be seen on camera.


George Michael

The creator of the soundtrack of our 1980s
Wherever you went in the Eighties George Michael was there. Not literally of course but in sound and often thanks to the video jukeboxes of the day in vision too. His Imperial period beginning with Wham! (which was really just him anyway) and carrying on through solo hits is a superb run of songs that defined a decade. Yet after this his career seemed to become less interesting than his off stage life and though he continued to have success it's not clear whether he enjoyed it. Time and again his `private` life became public in a way that suggested a compulsion to saboutage the talent he'd been given. 


Star Wars Rogue One

The Star Wars film for people who don’t like Star Wars films! 
Great though The Force Awakens was it conformed almost totally to the expectations of generations of fans while making plenty of new ones and we were more than happy with that. However you can only really pull off that trick once and there is now a sense that the entire franchise needs to move on and Rogue One is the recognition of that. While still residing recognisably within the established Star Wars Universe it is never content to remain within the templates previous movies have demanded and on many occasions bursts out into somewhere else. It’s not as radical as hard core fans probably think it is but it is definitely a film that people will be able to identify with even those unfamiliar or alienated from the saga. It is very much the Star Wars film for people who don’t like Star Wars films. 
Warning- Major spoilers beyond this point…


The Spectres of Winter

A reminder that my third novel for children, young adults and discerning older adults is available and being set at this time of year is an ideal thing to read at, erm, this time of year. And it's only a week till Christmas....


Top of the Pops 3 Dec 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 showing on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby. 
David Kid Jensen, "Good evening. Good to have your company again. Tonight's Top of the Pops is full of your favourite stars. We're going to begin in a party mood with Bad Manners now and Buona Sera."

Bad Manners: Buona Sera [34]. What's Buster Bloodvessel wearing this week. A bomber jacket and tracksuit bottoms. That's disappointingly mundane. To compensate the stage has been decorated with old chairs, bicycle wheels, and a suitcase. Also the drummer has been set up on the grand piano and there's a man pushing a stuffed badger in a pram. All in a day's work for Bad Manners. The suitcase and bicycle wheels look like trip hazards. I hope the stage has been subject to a risk assessment.


The Father Xmas Dilemma

Warning- don’t read this if you are under the age of 8ish 
It’s a Thing isn’t it? How to explain the complexities of Father Xmas’ gargantuan operation to the overly intelligent child who has suddenly worked out that there is more to the world than just what they experience on a daily basis. For decades parents have struggled with this scenario yet perhaps they need to be more inventive. When you consider it the entire Father Xmas shenenigans makes perfect sense if you modernise it a bit. You can square all those unsquared circles in one glittery swoop. All those niggly questions can be answered with just a little inventiveness. 
"Ho! Ho! Hum..."


Top of the Pops 26 Nov 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 showing on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby. 

Mike Read, "Good evening. Welcome to another thrilling, stunning... action packed Top of the Pops and we're going to kick off tonight with The Jets and Yes Tonight Josephine."
The Jets: Yes Tonight Josephine [25]. The 1981 Rockabilly revival cannot be stopped. It has the momentum of lava flow. Unfortunately for The Jets this performance is better known for featuring a pre-Culture Club Boy George bogling away to the rhythm of the Double Bass. Take note of Boy George's stagecraft. He's barely visible in the opening wide shot of the stage (at the far right of shot, he's effectively obscured by the glare of a spotlight on smoke), but he's carefully positioned to be front and centre of the screen when the camera cuts to a side shot of the audience. Although this does mean leaning forwards to avoid being blocked by another audience member. A girl who's dancing with her back to camera. (The poor dear doesn't have the faintest idea of how to be in the Top of the Pops audience. Where is she today? Nowhere). Everything else just seems to be a matter of chutzpah. Gradually he edges forwards- without ever being seen to do something as gauche as stepping into shot- and suddenly he's in the background of every shot of the lead singer; trespassing onto the forbidden dancing area reserved for the professionals of Zoo. Meanwhile at the front of the stage the lead singer of The Jets does something complicated involving playing the Double Bass while laying flat on the floor. Nobody cares. When the song is over Boy George grins, waves his hands in the air, and then turns to move back into the audience before the Floor Manager (Annie Ogden) can shout at him. And that boys and girls is how you get to be a Pop Star.