Friday, January 15, 2016

Non-wargaming highlights 2015

The year of the Tattoo!

Well the New Year brings my far from eagerly awaited wargaming and non-wargaming reviews of the year.  In an exciting move we have reversed the order of publication of these from last year, so we begin with our non-wargaming highlights.

Best Trip

Unlike last year I did have a foreign trip. as the Turkish government paid for me to travel to a conference in Istanbul.  I have covered both the military and non-military aspects of this very enjoyable week in the blog here and here so don't need to bore anyone with it any further.  I did particularly enjoy seeing my German friend Bettina again, however.

I had an enjoyable trip to Edinburgh to watch my daughter (far right, above) dance in the Edinburgh Royal Tattoo Bollywood performance (it was an east meets west theme this year).  However, because of all the rehearsals and performances she did she didn't come home at Easter or for the summer holidays so we didn't see her for nearly nine months.

Biggest upheaval 

Starting a new job which has rather more complicated database work in it than I am used to.  I have never used spreadsheets before and they stress me out!  At least the office is in an interesting part of London.

 Best day out 


Going back to Oxford and watching my college's boat defeat Jesus College yet again on the 200th anniversary of the first amateur rowing race.  Shockingly we even had nice weather!

Best Book (non-military)

The book to accompany the splendid exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings at Leighton House which I went to with a former PA of mine.  Altogether splendid.  As was the book and the exhibition.

Best Film

I've stood there!

Just two cinema outings at the end of the year, both of which I enjoyed.  Spectre was two thirds of a brilliant film with a somewhat soggy middle but it was filmed in places I know well; like Rome, Mexico City and ...Vauxhall. Oh, and of course it had Monica Bellucci in it (for not nearly long enough - I had to go home and watch Malena again) who I literally bumped into once coming out of an Italian restaurant in Toronto.  It was a soft impact.

I really, really enjoyed the new Star Wars and I thought Daisy Ridley was very good, although poor old Carrie Fisher's voice was unrecognisable.  It was the first time Guy, Charlotte and I had been to a film together for ages.  The Old Bat doesn't go to the cinema as it is too loud, too bright and is fiction, which she derides as "worthless made up stories".  Guy enjoyed it but thought it had too many elements from the original in it. Charlotte, who is the real Star Wars fan in the house (she has the giant Millennium Falcon and loads of action figures) is already planning to see it again.  In 2009 I took her to Star Wars Live at the O2 and the Old Bat made her a Princess Leia costume.  She got grabbed by photographers to have her picture taken with R2 D2 at the exhibition there.

On DVD I really enjoyed Jurassic World and although I have some other big 2015 films on DVD, I haven't watched any of them yet.  Of course, I enjoyed the velociraptors we had at Waterloo Station for several weeks before the film was released.  As for older films I enjoyed Topkapi (which I watched as the hotel I stayed in in Istanbul featured in the film), which I hadn't seen before and on TV Ten Little Indians (1966) which was far better than the depressing BBC version over Christmas.

Best TV Show

I am still currently taking all my DVDs out of their boxes and putting them in albums, thereby gaining yards of shelf space back.  I probably watched more live (or timeshifted, more accurately) TV than I have for a long time. Probably out of all those I watched live (or timeshifted) I really enjoyed The Last Kingdom the most.  I thought Hungary stood in well for a Dark Ages Britain.  David Dawson (also in Banished and Ripper Street), was really excellent as a charismatic Alfred.  

Olivia Grant BNC! BNC!

My other favourite was Indian colonial drama Indian Summers, despite the presence of the always annoying Julie Walters gurning her way through like spluttering, collapsed blancmange.  It was brightened by the presence of a number of splendid but not so well known (at least not to me) actresses, principally Olivia Grant who went to the same college as I did.

Other favourites were Lewis (the only UK contemporary drama I watch), Endeavour, The Musketeers, Mr Selfridge, Banished, Nashville, Game of Thrones, Fargo, Poldark and Ripper Street.

On DVD I really enjoyed The Bridge, Agent Carter, Black Sails, Arrow, Vikings, The Flash, and, particularly,  Penny Dreadful 

Guilty pleasure (apart from Strictly, of course) was Supergirl which now seems to be on one of those weird hiatuses that US television goes in for, inexplicably.

Biggest disappointment was Wolf Hall which  while nice to look at (but not as nice as the BBC boasted) had the pace of a fossilised snail.  I think it just reminded me of A level History too much.  I was also disappointed that the BBC cancelled Atlantis just when it was starting to improve and just when it looked like series 3 was going to be about the Argonauts.

Best Music

I added over one thousand tracks to iTunes and there was a lot of classical this year, including Sibelius' Belshazzer's Feast, Rheingold (in German-Solti - I already have the English ENO version) and a big box of Tchaikovsky orchestral music including all the symphonies which, oddly I didn't have in my collection.  I've bought a lot of piano music this year for some reason (usually I prefer big orchestral pieces) including a lot of Katia and Marielle Labeque and Alice Sara Ott's excellent Pictures at an Exhibition.  One of the Labeque purchases, Minimalist Dream House, contained a two piano arrangement of one of my favourite Michael Nyman pieces, Water Dances, which I have played a lot.   More esoteric were Widor's piano concertos and some symphonies by Tournemire. 

Soundtracks purchases include the extended versions of both Jerry Goldsmith's The Shadow and John Williams' 1941.  Other soundtracks I bought this year included Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones season 4, Klimt, Black Sails, Jurassic Park 2 (that took some locating, I had to get it from Korea), Jurassic World, Captain Blood and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Following my visit to Istanbul I added some more belly dancing music, thanks to a CD my friend Bettina gave me.  I also got the soundtracks to Topaki and Never on a Sunday by Manos Hadjidakis which are my two most played albums of the year, slightly surprisingly.

I don't really like much rock and pop, certainly not contemporary stuff, but I did get the new ELO album.

Biggest Annoyance

Get a  smaller bag!

Well, there is my increasing annoyance with the increasing tyranny of "mobile devices" and the all pervasive invasion of the aural landscape by the thump thump thump drivel of modern dance music, of course.  But since I have started commuting again I am getting really, really fed up with people who wear backpacks on the underground or crash into you at Waterloo while you are waiting for a train.  You stand waiting for your platform to come up and people shove past you to get to their platforms.  Walk around!  Say excuse me!  Don't just push!  It's not Japan!  Now, the Legatus, although he controls it like Dr Jekyll, is a violent person.  I have hospitalised three people in my life who really annoyed me.  I am calm (on the outside at least) for years but when I snap, I really snap.  Now I haven't done this for thirty five years but it is always bubbling below the surface.   So watch out! Oddly, at Waterloo at least, women are the worst offenders, usually because they are carrying ludicrously massive handbags that they bash into you, as they possess no spatial awareness whatsoever.  Grrr!  Close behind these reprobates are people who insist on taking suitcases on the underground.  I once discussed with a friend the possibility of building massive rotary choppers in stations so suicides didn't disrupt train journeys.  These could also be used for people who commit luggage infractions.

Best Artistic discovery

The wonderful photographs of Punch illustrator and cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) (Lord Snowden's great grandfather).  Sambourne took up photography to help in his illustration but it soon became a passion and took over his house (which you can still visit in Kensington and has supposedly one of the best preserved Victorian interiors in the world - definitely on my visit list for this year).  Apart from his source photos he also took a lot of nudes (not in his home studio he went to an artist friend's studio down the road so his wife didn't find out) which included (and this is how I found out about him) many of the top artist's models of the day, whose images I have seen in paintings by Leighton, Godward, Whistler, Burne-Jones et al.  It is fascinating to see the real women behind the famous paintings.  

Even more fascinating were the pictures he took of ordinary (invariably pretty) women in the streets of London and Paris with his hidden camera in around 1906.  They are unlike any other images of Edwardian women in that, rather than the formal poses seen in portraits of the time, they show women obviously walking at a brisk pace, their long skirts giving them plenty of freedom to move.  They leap across the 110 year gap since they were taken and could almost be modern stills of actresses on set for a costume drama.  They contain fascinating little details, like the fact that women wore fob watches on their blouses and carried clutch bags, neither of which you see in period fashion illustrations, for example.

Best Sporting event

Watching from the RYS out of the wind

Guy was a marshal at the Royal Yacht Squadron 200th anniversary regatta in Cowes this year and we went down to watch the racing, which featured a lot of classic yachts.  It was much nicer and more civilised than the now horribly overcrowded Cowes Week.

Best Disposal

Goodbye Dolly I must leave you

Having been sitting out in the garden since we had our garage demolished to make way for the new extension last year, we said goodbye to the Old Bat's Triumph Dolomite.  It was actually a nice car to drive (it was the 1850 automatic which has a SAAB developed engine) but it was over forty years old and needed someone who knew what they were doing to restore it.  I struggle with opening the boot on our car let alone anything more mechanical. A nice man from Bury took it away to restore for himself.

Wargaming highlights next!


  1. Couldn't be doing with "Indian Summers" - Julie Walters was a big factor but mainly because it was so obviously not filmed in India (Malaysia for, presumably, financial reasons?). Also a bit too much of a 2015 view of Empire. Fully agree about "Penny Dreadful" - Season 2 wasn't quite up to the standard of Season 1 but still excellent drama. I'm not a great fan of US series but, even after 5 series, "Game of Thrones is still the best thing on UK TV. Must look out the Sambourne photos, they look fascinating.

    1. Simla, it seems, is now too modern to have been a good location (they did originally want to film in India).

  2. A splendid post, more so because you have highlighted a couple of things that I had completely missed - the Punch photographs for one and I'm curious about Indian Summers. If I may offer one DVD outing for you to consider - Mad Max Fury Road. I finally caught up with this adrenalin fuelled ride the other day - splendid stuff.

    1. Mad Max is a DVD I didn't buy, mainly because I am resistant to the whole post-apocalypse genre (for the same reason I can't abide zombies!). I also can't stand Charlize Theron, who I don't find remotely attractive and whose Dior adverts drive me mad!

  3. A excellent round up and a number of things you prompt me to investigate.. Topkapi because I haven't seen it in years, and the Labeque sounds good... have to disagree with you on Wolf Hall though, it was superb, just once the BBC didn't treat us like mindless teenagers with the attention span of a dead frog, and gave us something to think about while we enjoyed... I suspect Dickensian will feature in your review next year!

    1. To be fair I only watched the first two episodes with the Old Bat who gave up on it(she has no idea of history). I still have the other four episodes recorded so maybe I should give it another go.

  4. Nice highlights, LH. Your daughter looks lovely in the dance. Those old B&W images show the beauty of those ladies too. Oh, and I also liked Wolf Hall; then again, I'm a non-British viewer so maybe somethings weren't correct. It's like me never watching the new Hawaii Five-O, as I grew up in Hawaii watching the original :)