Monday, 29 October 2007

The week when the timings are all wrong

As a British expat in the North Carolina in the USA, I get used to living according to two different time zones, US Eastern Time and Greenwich Mean Time / British Summer Time. For 50 weeks of the year, we are five hours behind the UK. Our day to day activities are, of course, based on Eastern Time here. But at the same time, I am always conscious of what time it is in England, not least because I listen to a lot of British radio (Radio 4 and FiveLive mainly). And when I phone people back home, I know instinctively what time it is for them. But each year there is this odd week when all the timings go wrong, and it began today. British Summer Time ended on Sunday morning, but the hour does not go back here for another week. So this week, I have to adjust my British clock to four hours behind. I just tuned in for the Today programme on Radio 4, which normally starts at 1am, 6am in the UK, and it wasn't on yet. So for a few days I'll be a little disorientated. Normality will return again next weekend.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

They Might Be Giants in Durham, NC

Viola and I don't get to gigs as often as we used to when we were students. The kids aren't quite old enough to come with us yet, at least not to most venues, and it's always a bit of a drive to get in to Durham or to Raleigh, the two nearest cities. As we head towards middle age, we are often as happy staying in on a Friday night, having a couple of beers and watching the telly. Nevertheless, it's a bit of a thrill when we do venture out and last night, with the kids both on sleepovers with friends, Vi and I drove to Durham to see They Might Be Giants at the Carolina Theater.

Going to a gig here does feel like harder work than when we were younger. Because of the lack of public transport, one of us has to drive, and going to a gig stone cold sober isn't quite the same. I was in a bit of a mood too after I pranged the back of my car on a huge white stone pillar which appeared from nowhere when I was backing into a space in the car park. And then we couldn't find anywhere to eat in the area, went to the bar area of the Marriott hotel and had probably the worst service we've ever had (a long story). But things got a lot better when the gig started at 9.

The support was an indie duo called Oppenheimer who were surprisingly good. They are from Belfast in Northern Ireland. They did not look at all promising. A chubby, sweaty nerd with terrible hair is on guitar and keyboard and he leaps around and occasionally sings robotic-style vocals. A bald bloke with a soft Northern Irish accent plays the drums and sings.

They Might be Giants were on at 10 and played for about 75 minutes. Any advantage you might have had in claiming a seat towards the front was soon negated as John Flansburgh (the fatter of the two lead men) encouraged everyone onto their feet and forward. Flansburgh probably did the bulk of fronting the group, but occasionally John Linnell came from behind the keyboards to take his lead. They are both looking distinctly middle aged, but both were on good musical form and generally in pretty good humour. They are commonly described as "quirk pop" and if sometimes there was a little too much quirkiness and not enough pop, they did play most of the hits and they sounded good.

Those who cannot call to mind a They Might be Giants song might in fact already know one without realizing it. They sing the theme tune to Malcolm in the Middle (and performed all 30 seconds of it at this gig) and their biggest hit is Birdhouse in Your Soul (which also recently appeared, bizarrely, on Pushing Daisies), the video for which is below.

We had never seen They Might be Giants before and were very pleasantly surprised to find out how good a live band they are. We would definitely make the effort to see them again, though next time it would be good to take the kids too -- they are definitely family friendly, and Durham's 14s and over policy didn't seem to make any sense.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Rory Bremner does the Archbishop

The new series of Bremner, Bird and Fortune is better than ever. This Sunday Bremner did several short sketches impersonating the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and it's a remarkably good impression. Here he is comparing himself to Doctor Who and the Anglican Church to the TARDIS:

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Fifth Doctor and Tenth Doctor meet

I am delighted to see tonight that the BBC have made official what has been rumoured now for some time, that the forthcoming BBC Children in Need event on 16 November is going to feature a "special scene" in which "David Tennant's Tenth Doctor is set to meet Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor":

Who Needs Another Doctor?

The BBC's Doctor Who website has a nice picture of Tennant and Davison, and The Sun has somehow scooped an even better one.

Children in Need have a fine reputation for Doctor Who specials. Don't forget that two years ago we had this treat, six minutes of footage of the Doctor and Rose, immediately after the regeneration from the ninth to the tenth doctor, a scene some have called "the lost episode" of Doctor Who, since this was not part of the "Christmas Invasion" epsisode a month or so later:

There were other, less honourable efforts too, like Dimensions in Time in 1993, which had appearances from all the doctors then alive. But the good news about the new Children in Need special is that it will be written by Steven Moffatt, who has a fine pedigree, the author of one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever, "Blink", as well as the Comic Relief Doctor Who special starring Rowan Atkinson et al, in 1999.

Father of a teenager

I passed an important milestone recently and became the father of a teenager. We couldn't resist going back to Harry Enfield's Kevin for a good laugh, and reassuring ourselves that things could never be this bad:

Watching the Rugby World Cup

BBC News reports on the massive numbers who watched yesterday's Rugby World Cup Final clash between England and South Africa:

World Cup attracts 15.8m viewers

England's defeat to South Africa in the Rugby World Cup dominated Saturday's TV viewing, with audience figures peaking at 15.8m towards the final whistle.

According to overnight figures an average of 12.8m people tuned in to ITV1 to watch the match at the Stade de France in Paris.

Figures do not include the millions of people who packed into pubs to watch the game from there.
Nor do the figures include the British expats in America who had three options, (1) Pay Time Warner Cable $30 for the privilege of viewing the match; (2) Find a pub that is showing it; (3) Watch it on P2P. Since I am not a big rugby fan, and wouldn't even think of spending that much on one cricket match, $30 was unthinkable, so (1) was out. (2) was a possibility, and would have been ideal for a bachelor, but would not work for the family, especially as the kids have no interest in rugby (they are football fans). So it had to be (3). And the P2P streaming I found was pretty rough, but just about good enough to be able to work out what was going on, and to share in the misery of our failure to win. Still, a darn sight better than the England football team did on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Laurel and Hardy Impersonators in Harlem

One of the highlights of our trip to Harlem, GA was the presence of Laurel and Hardy impersonators Jamie McKenna and Bill Leavy. Viola took some video footage of their ad hoc performance in the Laurel and Hardy Museum and I have uploaded it to Youtube (my first experiment in doing that). Here is the clip. It is just under three minutes long and is their performance of the classic "Trail of the Lonesome Pine". You can hear us giggling quite loudly. Watch out especially for the moment where Hardy looks at Viola's camera and says "Thank you very much":

In the unlikely event that you do not know the original, here are the real Laurel and Hardy performing the "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" from the film Way Out West (1937). (This is a coloured version; the original was in black and white):

Here is a second short video (3 minutes) of the Laurel and Hardy impersonators performing on Saturday, this time a song called "Kitty from Kansas City":

Monday, 8 October 2007

Travel Diary: Harlem, GA: Oliver Hardy Festival

Lauren and Laurel and Hardy, 6 October 2007, Harlem, GAAs I mentioned in my previous post, our reason for driving out to Augusta, Georgia was to attend the nineteenth annual Oliver Hardy Festival in Harlem, Georgia. As the article in the Augusta Chronicle mentioned, we were missing an annual event in Birmingham, a Laurel and Hardy day at the MAC which took place every October. And finding ourselves in America, we decided to make pilgrimage to this annual event in Harlem, a small town in Georgia, about twenty miles from Augusta and a mere 300 or so miles from where we live in Raleigh. Oliver Hardy was born there in 1892 and this annual festival is the small town's opportunity to advertise itself to the world, with parades, stalls and entertainment.

We drove from Augusta and parked on the side of the road, about a mile out of town, when it became clear that others were doing the same thing, and the traffic going into Harlem was at a stand still. As we got closer, we met the parade coming through the town, with Laurel and Hardy impersonators at the front of it, the first set in a Model T Ford, the second set on the back of a van. There were lots of vintage cars in the parade, some local politicians and dignatories, and lots of schools, bands, cheerleaders, clowns and historical recreation types. In other words, it was a general celebration of Harlem; and the festival as a whole was the same, the streets full of people, stalls and huge amounts of food.

Since we are now pretty fond of Carolina barbecue, it was good to try Georgia barbecue, which is slightly different but still very good. It is a kind of "pulled pork" with a very tangy sauce, perhaps a touch hotter than the Carolina variety. There were multiple lemonade stands too, one in the shape of a lemon. Lemonade in America is what we would call lemon squash in England, and they drink lots of it, and it's quite nice.

We spent most of the day hanging around the Laurel and Hardy Museum. It was pretty full of people all day, but it was not so full that one could not look at the artefacts including some original Stan Laurel letters from the 1960s, shortly before his death. There were films showing all day and we watched The Chimp, The Music Box, Sons of the Desert and Busybodies. Lauren laughed so much during all of these that people occasionally turned round to stare (I think fondly).

Most memorable, though, were Laurel and Hardy impersonators Jamie McKenna and Bill Leavy. They remained in character throughout the day, walking around the town and meeting people, and they performed songs and interacted with people in the museum. The picture at the top is of the two of them with Lauren, taken by Viola. Viola also took some video footage, which have uploaded to Youtube and will link in a separate post. Here are several more photographs taken by Viola:

Mark, Emily and Lauren, Harlem, GA, 6 October 2007 Harlem, GA, Oliver Hardy's birthplace Harlem, GA, Oliver Hardy's birthplace

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Goodacres mentioned in Augusta Chronicle

You may ask what we were doing in Augusta, Georgia. Well, before I was able to give you part two of my travel diary, it seems the Augusta Chronicle was there ahead of us:

Thousands celebrate comedian
By J. Scott Trubey| Columbia County Bureau

The city of Harlem opened its arms to the world Saturday as thousands of people from across the nation and across the Atlantic gathered for the 19th annual Oliver Hardy Festival.

City officials said the crowd of about 37,000 featured guests from more than 30 states and Great Britain.

Mayor Scott Dean said the festival is a chance to showcase Harlem "globally."

The festival pays tribute to Hardy, Harlem's most famous native son, and his comic sidekick, Stan Laurel . . .

. . . . Feeling a little homesick, British transplants Mark and Viola Goodacre and their two daughters, now living in North Carolina, said they felt right at home with thousands of other Laurel and Hardy admirers. Mr. Goodacre said his family used to attend a Laurel and Hardy film festival in Birmingham.

"We were missing that, but we wanted something locally," Mr. Goodacre said. In England, the comic legends retain their popularity, and Mr. Goodacre said he fondly remembers watching their films as a child.

"It's like people keep rediscovering them as time goes on," he said.
You can read the whole article, and see several pictures, by going to the link above, though you'll have to sign up for a (free) subscription. And I'll complete my travel diary, I hope with pictures, as soon as possible.

Update (27 October): Savannah Morning News has the same story.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Travel Diary: Augusta, GA

It's fall break at Duke and we are on the road again. We are clearly becoming more Americanized, and used to the enormous distances people travel here, because driving over 300 miles to Augusta, Georgia on a Friday evening did not seem like a big deal. It took us a little over six hours, with a stop at Cracker Barrel on the way. If you get a good Cracker Barrel, it's a great experience -- good American cooking, friendly waiters and waitresses (three lots of liking our accents today) and pretty good value -- $28 to feed four of us until we were stuffed. They advertise themselves as a kind of "old country store" and the d├ęcor, which looks pretty much the same in every one you visit, is American style olde worlde, with old portraits on the wall, old baseball bats and balls, and of course some mounted fire arms. The food is all breakfast, burgers and barbecue, and I love it. Eating "biscuits", a kind of tasty savoury scone, which sounded so strange to us two years ago, is now a natural and regular event. Cracker Barrel biscuits may be the best, though Bojangles ("chicken'n'biscuit") runs them a close second.

Driving on American roads is unbelievably straightforward. On a big journey like this, you never hit a single track road (=single carriageway), so it's like being on a big motorway for hours. And even on a Friday night, our route was very easy with no traffic jams anywhere. So you just point the car in the right direction, bang it into cruise control and there's not a lot more to do except choose your BBC podcasts. We managed to clear a bit of a backlog on that front, going through several Daily Mayos, Start the Week, Thinking Allowed, Genius, Safety Catch, and a programme celebrating 25 years of Radio 1. The most poignant moment in the latter was the short feature on John Peel, still missed. Earlier today, on my way back from work, I finished listening to a wonderful, lengthy documentary celebrating 40 years of Radio 4. Nice to think that others are turning 40 this year.

We are only just in Georgia. Having driven through North Carolina and South Carolina, Augusta is right on the eastern border of the Georgia / South Carolina state line. We have a twenty minute drive tomorrow morning to get to the small town of Harlem. More on that later this weekend.