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London calling…

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Kings Cross Station, London

Just spotted what’s being shown as part of the Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend thread on BBC 4 here in the UK tomorrow night (Saturday 24th September) at 9.15pm.

It’s Julien Temple’s ‘London – The Modern Babylon’, a fascinating documentary about London since the beginning of the 20th Century. It’s a mix of archive material from the BFI (British Film Institute)library, interview footage and clips from various films too. And it has a cracking soundtrack too… starting with The Clash and London Calling.

Will be watching it as it goes out, even though there’s a DVD copy on the shelf in the lounge.

More friends in the North…

Yes, we’ve got box-set fever!

As last night’s TV wasn’t wonderful here in the UK, the second disc of Our Friends In The North was fed into the DVD machine.

Yes, it was cracking stuff, so much so that last night’s post-meal washing up wasn’t done until this morning, something that Caroline decided to tease me about an hour or so ago (in my own defence, I usually do the washing up when there’s an ad break on C4, More 4, 4/7, 5USA or Dave…).

The 1970, 1974 and 1979 episodes were cracking and I can see why the actors and series garnered so many award nominations twenty years ago.

These latest episodes covered a period that I can remember from my time up in the North-East, so the last ones should be even more memorable as the dramatisations relate to fairly recent history from the time I was working in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then living/studying in Sunderland.

Once tonight’s session is over, then it’s time to find something new to watch (unless of course we keep something back for viewing during the Olympics).

New stuff to us includes Spaced, the Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources double pack, The Bridge Series 1, Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads series of monologues and a couple of Italian travelogues.

There are of course other things that could be pulled off the shelf to watch.

The box set of the original Top Cat cartoons, The Flashing Blade (the original, not the Saturday morning TV re-voiced version!),  The Singing Ringing Tree (in full rather than the BBC 1960’s edits shown in ‘Tales From Europe‘ tea time slot) and the likes of High Fidelity, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie, Run Lola Run, Belleville Rendezvous, The Illusionist and MicMacs. And The West Wing.

Yes, there’s a whole lot of subtitles going on, but unlike some people we know, Caroline and I don’t mind watching movies with subtitles.

They think it’s all over…

It is now!

Yes, Part One of  ‘The Great Summer Of Sport’ has left the building.

Problem is, Part Two is almost upon us…

The Tour De France is working its way through France at the moment with Froome getting the yellow jersey (and a fine for his troubles regarding an over-enthusiastic Colombian a day or so ago) and Mark Cavendish holding onto the green jersey for his sprint efforts and stage wins.

Are we watching it? Only when it’s meal time and there’s naff all on the other channels apart from episodes of NCIS that we’ve seen at least once!

Next up is the Olympics.

When I was doing my degree in 1996, a Media Studies lecturer asked myself and fellow students whether we’d watched any of the Olympics. It turned out that I was the only one!.

Needless to say the seminar went kind of flat at that point and our lecturer had to fill out the rest of the hour with something we could relate to given that I was the only one who had seen anything (and that was 10 minutes of mountain biking…).

Fortunately we have some DVD’s to fill in time we have when there’s so much sport on TV and so little inclination to watch it.

Mr. Holmes was Saturday night’s viewing and whilst it was slow, I found Ian McKellen to be an engaging HolmesCaroline likes Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the detective, but I saw the first episode and have avoided it since then.

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And yes, this was shot on a Stormy Monday!

Sunday night saw us going back in time to a 1990’s series and not seen by either of us until last night. Our Friends In The North has a good ensemble cast and it’s been interesting to spot the locations used in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an area I know quite well.

We’ve watched the first DVD of the three in the box and we’re going to finish it off over the next couple of nights by watching the remaining two.

As I know nothing about what’s coming in Our Friends In The North, but a little bit about what was going on in the area thanks to years of reading the papers and watching local news bulletins on either BBC Look North or Tyne Tees Television in the seventies, eighties and nineties, watching the rest of the series could be interesting.

One nice touch though was a homage to another DVD in our collection – Stormy Monday.

This was shot in familiar places on Tyneside and one scene featuring Sting and Tommy Lee Jones’ characters in Stormy Monday walking across the High Level Bridge (the middle one in the moody shot above) may have been used as a template for a scene in Our Friends In The North.

It could be that Spaced comes out during the Olympics – along with six seasons of The West Wing or the second of Young Montalbano!

One year – July 2015 III

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It’s Wednesday and it’s a rest day around Lisbon

Now we couldn’t just do nothing, but we had a lie in, a chat with fellow Brits about Lisbon and then we headed out for a wander around nowhere in particular.

The Botanical Gardens appeared to be a good place to start this day of wandering aimlessly. We paid our money, headed in and I decided to indulge in a spot of photography whilst Caroline explored the gardens.

Which was a nice idea, but my Nikon had other ideas. Fortunately my camera hadn’t died a death (which was the fate of my Lumix in 2013 and the reason why I’d bought the current Nikon Coolpix S3100 digital compact camera in Lisbon a few days later).

I’d checked the battery on Tuesday, but it was now as dead as a dodo so that potential hour of photography became another chance to read from the Kindle as I waited for Caroline to show up. The slow day was a good idea as it gave us the chance to just see what took our fancy as we headed through Principe Real, through Baixa & Chiado and onwards to Rio Tejo.

Nothing was planned. We wandered in and out of shops, had coffee, had lunch and just relaxed rather than haring off like Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales. The information centre shop sold me some stationery items and a cotton shopping bag that could be stuffed into my day bag – Portugal had adopted plastic carrier bag charges, unlike England at that moment in time…

There were several drinks stops as we combatted the high temperatures with fruit juices, Coke Zero and Sagres Radler beer plus the obligatory bottle of water in our day bags.

After a relaxing day, we had a plan for Thursday as we’d decided to head to Sintra. An enquiry at the ticket office revealed that we could use our Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards on trains to Sintra, something that we weren’t aware of at that time…

Siestas were declared on return to Lisbon Dreams then showers and a quick change happened before we went to The 39 Steps for our evening meal. The outdoor eating option was taken once more, drinks arrived and food was ordered, but unfortunately we didn’t expect an unexpected cinematic reference to occur.

I’d had a very good pasta and salmon main on our first visit to The 39 Steps, so Caroline ordered this for her main this time whilst I went for something completely different.

When the meals arrived, it looked like Caroline‘s order had been lost in translation. Instead of pasta with salmon, pasta with shellfish was placed in front of her.

Our waitress was very, very apologetic about the error, but Caroline decided to tackle the staring shellfish head on as it were rather than having to watch me eat my meal as she was waiting for her ordered meal to arrive. C’est la vie as the French say…

Thursday saw an early start and boy were we pleased when we got to Rossio Station and zapped our Viva Viagem cards at the barriers in front of the platform for the Sintra train. There were queues at both the ticket machines and manned ticket windows – long queues.

Once in Sintra, there was a choice to make of where to go first. We walked down to the Palacio Nacional, had coffee and Caroline paid a return visit this palace and then Quinto da Regaleira with its main building and impressive gardens complete with terraces, grottoes, fountains and the Initiation Well (which comes complete with its own entrance via a revolving stone door).

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Palacio Nacional, Sintra

Whilst Caroline took a look at both of these impressive sights, I wandered around with a fully charged camera. The Toy Museum had closed its doors, so I took to the streets, explored the various alleyways and tried to avoid the midday sun….

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Two views of Sintra…

As you may have guessed, I’m not one for museums, palaces or elaborate gardens. Caroline is and we have a mutual understanding that I’ll find something else to do whilst she’s off exploring historical places or galleries.

If there’s a museum dedicated to cars, flight or an exhibition on music or rock photography, I’m there like a shot, but if it’s historical, I’m with Rudge’s view on history as expounded in a memorable scene from The History Boys.

The quote’s a good one, but given that this is a free site without age restrictions, it can’t be quoted here!

Yes, I have an O level in History, but that’s from 42 years ago and my views on the subject have changed somewhat and I’m more interested in more modern history rather than what went on in days of yore…

Caroline enjoyed both Palacio Nacional and Quinto da Regaleira and was full of enthusiasm for both when we visited a very quiet outdoor cafe cum art shop on the way back into the centre. The town was quiet as we walked back to the station and so was the train, a welcome experience as the train had been crowded on the way to Sintra.

The return to Lisbon Dreams was equally quiet and as we’d had rather a good lunch in Sintra, we raided the mini market for bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for our evening meal. Rustic? Yes, but a fine way to end a grand day out.

And finally – Part IV. Museums, Os Tibetanos, the inspiration for Casino Royale and wine tasting in Cascais…

One year – July 2015 II

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All quiet in Praca do Comercio, but not for long…

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Wheelie good way to get around Lisbon?

If it’s Monday, it must be Lisbon without a plan.

Although we’d booked flights, accommodation and had Viva Viagem rechargeable travel cards to get around, we hadn’t come up with a cunning plan as to what to do during the week we were in Lisbon. Yes, we had had a few thoughts about where we wanted to go, but nothing had been set in stone as to what to do on any particular day.

Our first problem came within a few metres of Lisbon Dreams. As the temperatures were high and we’d already slathered Nivea Factor 50 suncream over any exposed skin (the rest was covered by SPF protective clothing) to combat the sun and the high UV levels, we decided to get a couple of bottles of water to stash in our day bags.

Problem was a) we’d forgotten how cheap bottled water was in Portugal and b) we’d put all of our loose change into the tips bowl at Terra on Sunday night, leaving us with €10 notes as the smallest type of local currency in our respective travel wallets or pockets.

Big mistake as we were to find out for the first time on that not so manic Monday. We were armed with two bottles of water and a €10 note at a mini market check-out early in the morning and faced with an operator who didn’t speak much English who had very little loose change in his till. He made it, but it wasn’t an easy task.

As we wandered into Lisbon city centre on what was to become a familiar route, we noticed a couple of things. There were more armed police around than there were during our last visit and they appeared to be stationed outside banks and high end jewellery shops or on street corners near such establishments.

The other was that there appeared to be a protest of sorts happening as signs and small crosses were placed on the pavement outside one of the larger bank branches.

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As we found out later, there had been a banking crisis in Portugal that we didn’t know about and the crosses and signs alleged more than we could gather from a short conversation later in the day.

Once in the city centre around Rossio Station, a decision was made to head down to Praca do Municipo for a coffee at Cafe Tulipa, a favourite haunt on our last visit to Lisbon. We’d visited the square before Michael Portillo (on one of his Continental Railway Journeys), but noticed that a set of alien-like sculptures had landed since our visit in September 2013…

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Where’s the packet of Smash? (an old joke relating to an old UK advert)

Once refreshed, it was time to revisit a surprisingly empty Praca do Comercio. Segways came and left and we decided to take a wander around an area we’d missed out on during our first visit – Alafama. Now you can head up the easy way on Tram 28, but we took the hard way by using our feet.

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Caroline took in the Se (pictured above) as we headed towards Alafama and then Castelo de Sao Jorge. The streets, gardens and rooftop views along the way had us stopping to take photo after photo and also sidestepping various street hawkers with hands full of sunglasses or selfie sticks.

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As it was lunchtime as we approached Castelo de Sao Jorge, we decided to have lunch as the castle appeared to be getting rather busy. Now we’re used to having curry dishes as we live in Yorkshire, but this was the first time that we’d had curry dishes for a lunchtime meal.

Arco do Castelo turned up trumps, even though their dishes were a few degrees milder than the curries we’re used to around home. What did impress us was that quality of their freshly cooked naan breads – probably the best naan breads that we’ve ever tasted in any of our visits into curry houses in Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Somerset.

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And so to Castelo de Sao Jorge (above). We paid, we wandered and wondered why there were so many young people in there wearing Minions t-shirts. It turned out that it was all part of an international summer school outing and the best way for those in charge to keep tabs on their charges was to look for those Minions t-shirts.

With the heat kind of getting to me, Caroline wandered around more than I did as I found some shade, drank some water and then tried finding an ice cream. I found one, but I didn’t expect such a palaver surrounding the purchase of just one Cornetto.

Yes, the curse of no change struck again, even though I’d tendered a €5 note this time!

One of the reasons why we like Lisbon is that it’s a relaxed and laid back capital city. There’s no rushing around like ants as there is in London for instance. Although it was now mid-afternoon, there was still plenty to see and do in a quietly relaxed manner.

Museu de Design e da Moda (Museum of Design and Fashion) is set in a former bank, is free to visit and plays host to loads of design classics of all kinds and has guest exhibitions down in the former bank vaults too.

After that, it was time to head back to Praca do Comercio and down to the edge of Rio Tejo to board a sightseeing boat as a means of getting a different view of some of the place we’d by now decided to visit the next day – Belem.

It was cooler too as we were under the shelter at the stern of the boat and the breeze on the river was a welcome relief from the heat we’d encountered so far. We did’t hear too much of the commentary coming from the speakers, but that wasn’t important as we used our eyes to view and made sparing use of our cameras.

The images captured on memory cards were of those sights that we were to see the following day, but the shots were taken from a totally different perspective and that alone made the river trip worth it…

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Once back on dry land, we headed back to Lisbon Dreams for a late siesta, shower and a wander out for an evening meal. We’ve eaten out at cinema cafes before, but The 39 Steps cafe bar at Cinemateca Portuguesa is probably one of the best we’ve eaten in.

The cinema itself had shown one of our favourite films a few days before – Casablanca – as part of a Bergman retrospective, but The 39 Steps was worth the visit on its own terms. Mains, desserts, fruit juice, beer and coffee went down well, so much so that we decided to visit the same venue again later in the week.

Tuesday was a one stop day – Belem. Tram 15 to Belem was crowded, so much so that both of us paid close attention to bags and wallets, especially after the pickpocketing warnings. First up was the Centro Cultural de Belem and the Berarado Collection contained within the Centro Cultural.

Whilst I visited the former and had lunch too, I gave the latter a miss thanks to the officious staff member who wanted to take my day bag off me. Caroline wandered in whilst I read a book on my Kindle and watched as several people wandered into the Collection with bags that were much larger than mine and infinitely more capable of hiding any potentially stolen pieces of artwork.

There had been mention made of depositing bags at reception, but it was near the ceiling on a left hand side wall near the entrance rather than being on a graphic as one entered the reception area!

The three other places to go in Belem are the Padro dos Discobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) as seen above in the top photo of the two just above this piece of copy and Torre de Belem.

As we were there after lunch, both places were very busy with tourists wanting to see the view from the top of each site or to take both proper shots or selfies with their phones. The lesson learned? Get there early before the tour buses or crowded trams as a means of getting the place almost to yourself – that’s what we’ll be doing on our next visit!

And the third place in Belem? Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, a consumer temple to pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and their customary dusting of cinnamon.

They’re great with coffee, but one each just isn’t enough. Yes, you can get them over the summer in the Co-op here in the UK, but they’re not quite the same as those from Belem, even when you do the cinnamon sprinkling thing…

After catching Tram 15 back to Lisbon, a decision was made to eat early, so we went in search of a budgetary gem –  full-on chicken dinner at Bon Jardim, Rei dos Frangos in Rua Barros Querios near Rossio Station.

The establishment runs from three sites in the same street and there’s chicken, fries and salad galore plus a host of other choices too. There may have been three crabs in the tank inside the restaurant window when we arrived, but there were still three when we left after generous portions of piri piri chicken and one or two beers too.

A long post this one, but tomorrow’s about gardens & galleries in Lisbon plus a return visit to Sintra.

One year – June 2015

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Deepdale Backpackers, Burnham Deepdale, North Norfolk

There are times when we just pack a bag and head off at short notice for a few days r & r to a place where there’s almost no mobile phone reception.

Which is exactly what we did in early June last year. Caroline had a few days between shifts and once a couple of things were rearranged, we headed pointed the car towards one of our favourite haunts – North Norfolk.

Our place of choice on all bar one of our visits to the area has been Deepdale Backpackers, a hostel with both dorms and en-suites plus a campsite, tipis, yurts and shepherd’s huts. There’s a supermarket and petrol station next door, a cafe, a few retail outlets and a couple of decent pubs in walking distance.

Holkham Hall is just down the road, as is Holkham Beach (as seen at the end of Shakespeare in Love) along with Burnham Market (if you can find a parking space and successfully negotiate other road users who make you remember a memorable Bruce Willis line from Die Hard (“Who’s driving this car? Stevie Wonder?”).

National Trust has several properties in the area and whilst we’ve been to Fellbrigg Hall and Blickling Estate before, Oxburgh Hall was a new one on us and visited as we’d just renewed our National Trust membership just before our visit.

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Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham – a National Trust property

Also in the area is Holt. Bakers and Larners department store. It’s always worth a visit as it has a food hall that caters for all tastes, especially if you’re a foodie.

We’re not, but we can usually find something in the food hall for a snack, evening meal or a top up on sweet stuff such as nougat or Turkish Delight.

The kitchen department has also had some trade from us too as we had some difficulty a couple of years ago in finding decent potato peelers.

Did we stock up on three of these? Yes, even though they were flagged up as Lancashire Potato Peelers (we’re from Yorkshire!).

On the outskirts of Holt is one of the end stations on North Norfolk Railway, the other being Sheringham on the coast. Steam and classic diesel trains run between the two, giving passengers a hint at what rail travel used to be like before before Beeching’s axe fell on so many rail lines around the UK.

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The beach at Sheringham, plus granite blocks to prevent erosion..

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Guess why there’s rope near the slipway in Sheringham

Sheringham is another place we try to visit when we’re down there, either to wander along the promenade or do the odd bit of shopping for bags of fudge at the RNLI shop in the town.

Thankfully this was a sunny day so we could wander around without wearing two down garments (one down jacket, one down vest) each or ponder what steps to take when we spotted the Amy Bomb Disposal Team taping off the beach (the answer to the steps question was easy – bloody big ones!).

Yes, both of these had happened during a past visit – on the same day!

Caroline also likes to get out and do some cycling when we’re in North Norfolk, either on her own charger or on a hire bike. Coffee stop is usually at Holkham Hall or Wells-Next-The-Sea and lunch is wherever we find that’s worth stopping off at.

On this occasion it was a pub we’d driven past, but had never visited. It was pleasant enough place, but there were a couple of perceived problems with my meal…

When did it become almost compulsory to serve decent burgers in Brioche Buns? And when it did it become almost compulsory to slather salad with a salad dressing?

After this experience, it’s now compulsory for ask for a standard bun on a decent burger and for any salad to not be coated in salad dressing. Any that don’t comply get sent back, no messing!

Just don’t get me started on places serving roast beef or lamb which is pink, bloody or both. You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry!

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Wells-Next-The-Sea

Next stop? Liverpool John Lennon Airport & Lisbon!

http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk

http://www.bakersandlarners.co.uk

http://www.nnrailway.co.uk

One year – May 2015 II

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Wells Cathedral

If it’s Tuesday then it must be Wells

We’d joked about visiting Wells, largely because Caroline and I are both fans of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film Hot Fuzz.

Hot Fuzz can be regularly caught on ITV, but we have it on DVD for those nights when Caroline comes back in from a 14 hour nursing shift and needs a little bit of light relief.

Spotting the locations used in Hot Fuzz is fairly easy (although the National Trust shop seen in the film has closed down), but even so, taking a look around Wells doesn’t take too long unless you’re having a meal or taking a wander around the Cathedral.

I chased coffee, went to the bank and had a look in a camera shop whilst Caroline visited the Cathedral (it’s a long, long time since I went to church for anything other than a wedding).

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As seen in Hot Fuzz…

With the Wells visit taking just a few hours, we headed back to Dragonfly, parked up and then went for a wander along the canal as far as the cafe at Maunsel Lock where a coffee and cake stop was declared.

Now this may have been a Tuesday, but the cafe was quite busy with people stopping off as they were taking advantage of a rather fine day. Some were walking, some were walking their dogs whilst others were cycling or taking a look at the planetary sculptures placed by the side of the canal.

After what was now a full day out, an executive decision was made not to do much cooking on the night so the car was fired up in search of food.

No, we didn’t go to the pub, but we did hit the service area just off the M5 near Bridgwater. Yes, there’s an M&S Food outlet there so it was salad time for Caroline whilst I indulged in a pack of chicken portions.

The latter may be snack food, but by ‘eck it tasted good once heated through in accordance with the instructions on the pack (I have had food poisoning before after eating chicken, one reason why I’m not rather picky when it comes to food being cooked properly – losing a stone and a half in a matter of days isn’t my idea of fun!).

And so to Wednesday.

As Caroline had Betty Bike with her, it was time to take Betty out for a ride to Taunton via the canal tow path. I took the car down to Taunton and got my bearings in a town that I know reasonably well from visiting friends in the town during the late 1980’s and a work trip in Y2K.

Although I remembered my way around town, it didn’t appear to have the same appeal as it did all of those years ago. Maybe that’s down to most towns and cities having the same shops in them which have sounded either the death knell of local traders or marginalised them to secondary locations where the rents and business rates are more affordable.

But I digress. Caroline arrived in Taunton and a light lunch in a nearby pub was declared. Once consumed, we had a wander around and Caroline got back on the bike and headed back to Dragonfly whilst I tried to leave Taunton.

With both of us back at the same destination, there was a problem. Betty had a flat and there appeared to be something up with the other tyre too. I knew of a bike shop in Bridgwater, but they weren’t able to help, so it was time to hit Halfords.

So Halfords was found, the problems explained and fixed whilst we went to top up our caffeine levels in the centre of Bridgwater. Once back, it was time to pay for two new tyres and a couple of spare inner tubes and we were on our way once more.

Whilst we prefer to deal with smaller concerns when it comes to food, bikes, photography, computers etc, on this occasion it was ironic that a large trader had come to Caroline‘s rescue.

There may have been question marks over using a big shop, but Halfords did the job and did it well, just as they have in the past with the couple of bikes I’ve bought from them in the last thirty years.

And in Part III…

A town before a festival, a motor museum and home – that’s tomorrow’s posting folks!