Tuesday, 24 October 2017

TV or not TV, that is the question

I don't watch much TV, really.

Well that's certainly whatever I say whenever anyone asks me which TV shows I watch.  I've never watched Breaking Bad or the new Netflix version of House of Cards.  I didn't watch Dr Foster or Broadchurch and I've given up on reality shows like The Apprentice and I'm A Celebrity which were an interesting idea for the first series, but must now just be the same old narrative played out with a new cast each year.

I do watch a few things, though.  A few years ago I wrote about how I was getting bored with Doctor Who and I'm happy to report that I did rather start to enjoy Peter Capaldi's time in the TARDIS and so I'm in no danger of losing my "regular viewer" status just yet.  I'm quite excited about Jodie Whittaker taking over, but maybe that's a good topic to save for a post of its own? ;-)

I tend to find that my viewing habits tend to shift over time.  Many shows run on long past the point than they have anything new to say and as soon as I start to feel my interest waning, I tend to walk away.  That certainly happened with Big Brother, Gogglebox and The X-Factor many years ago.

But whilst some TV shows disappear from my habits, a couple have crept in over the past few years.

I had never watched Strictly Come Dancing.  Dancing as an art-form holds little or no appeal for me, and I never, ever go on the dance floor at weddings or parties.  And I wasn't sure what appeal would be held by a show in which celebrities dance around every Saturday night.  At first I started as most Strictly-watchers seem to - by watching the Hallowe'en special where it's all rock music and layers of black velvet and sinister-looking lace.  Slowly I got drawn in.

At its heart, Strictly is a positive show in the way that X-Factor isn't.  Despite my best efforts, we caught a little bit of the latest series of X-Factor and it seems to be simply an exercise in taking (mostly young) people, building up their hopes, flying them halfway across the world and then crushing their dreams in front of a TV camera whilst their only consolation is a brief hug with Dermot and a phone call home to their family on a sponsored mobile phone (all filmed for broadcast of course).

It's true that negative feedback is given on Strictly, but even from Craig it's always given with a sense of humour and a flicker of positivity.  The criticism is always about the dancing and whether or not they have mastered the technique.  There is no criticism of the person themselves - whatever their gender, body shape, physical ability - it's all about telling them how well they are doing at learning to dance, and encouraging them to continue to get better at dancing.

In a sense, the actual dancing is largely irrelevant.  I don't find dance a particular moving expression of emotion (note 1) but what I do find moving is to see people learning a new skill, and enjoying the process of learning.  Although it's a competition, there seems to be a genuine will amongst the competitors for everyone to do their best, and the losers are almost always gracious (note 2).

There's no way Strictly will ever get me to learn to dance or even venture onto a dance floor at a wedding (note 3) but we've even started recording It Takes Two with Zoƫ Ball every evening to get into the mood for Saturday.

But that's not the only daily dose of TV.  A few years ago, we started to watch "8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown" and it acted as a bridge from the former to the latter.  The former had started to suffer from the curse of repetition and taking the humour into the context of Countdown seemed like fun; it even allowed Susie Dent and Rachel Riley to say the rude things that they seemed as though they'd always been wanting to say (note 4).  But it wasn't long after we started to watch that when it became obvious that the attraction was in the "Countdown" rather than the "Cats" and the thrill of seeing Susie Dent look up rude words in the dictionary sore wore off when compared with the thrill of sometimes getting a nine letter word.

Eventually, it got to the point that if we turned on to watch the "Cats..." version and it was one we'd already seen (note 5) then we're go to 4oD and find a recent episode of real Countdown to watch.  Slowly but surely we got hooked.  The childhood innate ability to do the numbers game (note 6) started to come back to me, and it became a daily challenge.  We've seen every episode for the past year or so.

When I was growing up, my Granny (who I wrote about here) used to watch Countdown every day and became renowned in the family for using the pause button on the VHS machine to give herself extra time in the numbers round.  Much as I used to gently rib her at the time, we have developed a similar habit - although in our defence we don't add up our scores.

If we haven't got the numbers within the 30 seconds, we hit pause.  If we haven't got it within another minute or two, we run it to the point where Rachel says whether it's possible.  If she says "this one is impossible" then we carry on with the show.

If however, she says "leave it with me" or starts to write up a solution, we hit the pause button and sit there until it's done.  Sometimes it ends up with pen and paper.  Only one solution has eluded us in the year we've been doing it.

And so that's it.  That's the extent of my TV watching.  I may sometimes stumble on Homes Under the Hammer at the weekend, or sit through an episode of Four In A Bed whilst doing the ironing of a Sunday, or whatever the latest Lucy Worsley thing on BBC Four is about - but don't bother trying to talk to me about the latest drama "everyone is watching" as you may soon discover that not everyone is watching it...


1 - I am a sucker for a good Paso or Argentine Tango, but most of the other dances leave me a bit cold emotionally.  And the Rumba - they go on about it being the "hardest dance to do..." but it seems pointless; largely it seems like it's just strutting around in small circles with straight legs.

2 - Except Brendan Cole.  I'm sure they only keep inviting him back because it supposedly makes interesting TV, but I find his humourless bickering with the judges very tiresome.  At least Anton Du Beke manages to defend his dance partner with a bit of humour rather than just coming across as arrogant and grumpy.

3 - There's a whole blog post in this. I've written one already but there's a lot more to say on the subject about my reasons for not dancing, and why I'm very resistant to anyone trying to persuade me.

4 - If you haven't already, I recommend looking for Countdown outtakes and Susie Dent's guide to swearing on YouTube.  Neither is safe for work, but worth a look on your phone.

5 - I'm sure when I was young(er) that TV guides used to be explicit when a TV show in the listings was a repeat.  When did they stop doing that?

6 - Doing the numbers game quickly can look like voodoo if you're not the kind of person who can throw numbers around quickly, but actually getting the solution quickly is a fairly formulaic thing - well for me, anyway.  Maybe I should write a post on how to do the numbers game.  Even the infamous really hard numbers game actually begins to look at a lot less mysterious if you think about bracketing.  It's all about bracketing really.  But that's another blog post.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Musical dreams - am I cool or what?

I've heard it said that dreams can say a lot about someone, so what do you make of the dream I had last night..?

I was booked to go with a couple of friends to see Noel Gallagher and Jarvis Cocker performing together in concert.  That's cool, right?

Getting to our seats was quite complicated, and I kept taking the wrong staircase and couldn't find the way to the seat (hmmm).  Eventually I got to the seat only to find that before they came on stage, there was a chemistry lecture, which we sat through with interest.  Once it was over, it was time for the main gig, but I was a bit tired, so decided that the lecture was enough entertainment for the evening and went home instead.

But all was not lost, as both Noel and Jarvis had agreed to perform the following day in a musical that I'd written.  So that was cool.  

Cut to the following day.

The venue was split over two rooms.  There was a room set up like a club for people to get warmed up before the show, and then the room with the stage in where the musical was going to happen.  All was set, and it was very exciting.

Except at the last minute, the estate of the author of the book on which the musical was based said they weren't happy with the changes to the story we'd made in order to fit the Oasis and Pulp songs into the narrative.  And so we had to huddle with some lawyers and try to rewrite the story at the last minute to try to satisfy the author's estate whilst still keep the narrative.  This took some time and all the people waiting for the show got board, and so I plugged in a drum machine and played 80s cheesy songs from my phone with a thumping drum beat over the top to try to keep them amused.  It didn't work; they all packed up and went home.

And so we were sat huddled on the floor rewriting the musical, and went into some detail about the legalities of what we were and were not allowed to change from the original text.  By the time we finished, the club room was empty and dark, and we walked through to the auditorium to find that it was one o'clock in the morning and Noel and Jarvis had gone home bored.

And then I woke up.

Neither Noel nor Jarvis actually appeared in my dream at all.  The only conclusion I can draw from this is that I'm actually a very dull person, that I'd rather dream about legal matters than watch Noel Gallagher and Jarvis cocker performing together. 

Oh well.  That's middle age for you, I guess.