Pride, Prejudice, anchovies and hairy omelettes…

31 01 2013

Austen“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in turn?”

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”

2388762-MJane Austen –‘Pride and Prejudice’ – (1813)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another fall spectacularly to pieces.”

Helen Fielding – ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ – (1996)

200px-Pickering_-_Greatbatch_-_Jane_Austen_-_Pride_and_Prejudice_-_This_is_not_to_be_borne,_Miss_BennetIt is a truth universally acknowledged that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is one of the best-loved novels in the English literature and its creator, Jane Austen, one of the most widely read authors.

This week marks the bicentenary of its publication, the second of the four major novels published in her lifetime, following her first release ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1811) and preceding ‘Mansfield Park’ (1814) and ‘Emma’ (1816). Two further novels, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ were published posthumously in 1818, while another, ‘Sanditon’, remained unfinished at the time of her death.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is famously scarce. Although a prolific writer of letters, as few as 160 of around 3,000 she penned, remain. The vast majority were destroyed by her heirs, who in the half century after her death were responsible for memoirs that presented the author as a quiet and kindly figure.

She is for ever associated with rural Hampshire, where she was born into a family that lived on the lower fringes of the landed gentry (not unlike the Bennetts in ‘P&P’), her father being an Anglican clergyman who supplemented his income by farming and tutoring.

Jane, who contracted a recurrent form of typhus as a child which in later adulthood would be the cause of her demise, lived most of her life in relative obscurity, within the close confines of her family. She enjoyed an upbringing and education commensurate with her family’s standing in society. She was schooled, in the main, at home where she had access to a wide-ranging library, and developed the many skills expected of young ladies in the Georgian and Regency eras – drawing, needlework, music and dance amongst them.

download (1)She attended Sunday church with the family, while socialising revolved largely around receiving and visiting neighbours, and dances at the local assembly rooms. This is the world which Jane drew upon so assiduously for her writing.

It is believed that she lived in a home, with an easy and open atmosphere, in which conflicting  ideas of a political and social nature could be exchanged and where Jane’s, sometimes risqué early experiments with writing were  tolerated and encouraged.

We know that during the early 1800s Jane’s family moved to Bath. Amongst the places where they lived, was 4 Sydney Place. During this time, on Sunday after church, Jane would frequently promenade along the Royal Crescent, and at other times would no doubt have been a visitor at the famous Pump Rooms, and attended balls at the Assembly rooms. Although Bath tourism cashes in on the Austen connection, it is thought that Jane was unsettled by the upheaval of move from the family home, and her time in the Georgian city was largely unproductive

175px-Winchester_Cathedral_view_1It wasn’t until the Austen family returned to Hampshire, taking up residence at ‘Chawton House’, now the ‘Jane Austen’s House Museum’, where Jane lived for the last eight years of her life, her writing career began to take off.

It was here that she would die. Despite having received considerable acclaim as an author, during her lifetime, no mention was made of her books on the original memorial stone, when she was buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral. However, by 1872 her fame had escalated to such an extent that it was considered that a brass plaque should be erected to rectify the situation

So what of her writing? Well here I have to hold my hand up and admit that despite Austen’s revered status amongst scholars, critics and an ever burgeoning world-wide ‘Janeite’ fan base, I’ve simply never had the pleasure.

George_Eliot_at_30_by_François_D'Albert_DuradeHer celebrated romantic fiction, set amongst the landed classes of Regency England, for all its realism and biting social commentary, has simply passed me by. During my literary A level studies, it had been another female novelist, by George, George Eliot that is, whose mighty tome ‘Middlemarch’, had demanded my attention. Magnificent though it is, by the time I’d waded through nigh on a thousand pages, I’d had my fill of the country house set and studies of 19th century provincial life…

But it’s never too late, and a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I really should redress the omission of Austen from my reading list. According to my Kindle I am currently 65% of the way through ‘P&P’, having just returned to it following a brief and humorous sojourn with Jeeves and Wooster – to ease the tedium and recharge the batteries for a final push.

I guess a large part of my problem is that I have taken an easy option of choosing to read Austen’s best known work. And although experiencing the story through its original narrative form is an altogether different proposition from watching the various film versions, and I do concede much of the written dialogue is pretty witty, there’s not much I don’t know about where the plot is headed.

pride_and_prejudiceIt’s my hunch that despite considerable angst and prevarication, handsome, brooding, aloof, but morally upright Fitzwilliam Darcy will overcome his rectitude and pride, while lively, attractive, opinionated Elizabeth Bennett will mend her tendency towards prejudice born out of first impressions and they’ll finally surrender to their love for each other and tie the matrimonal knot.

Excuse me if I’m wrong but that’s pretty much what happened to Colin Firth and  Jennifer Ehle in the benchmark 1995 BBC series, Keira Knightley (too stunning and sexy for Lizzie in my opinion) and Matthew MacFadyen in the latest (2005) film version, and even for, heaven’s sake, in the all singing all dancing, Bollywood meets Pemberley movie, ‘Bride and Prejudice’.

The characters and storyline are so familiar that chic-lit author Helen Fielding, famously drew on Austen for the opening line of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and named her ‘true love’, Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth in the film version – who else?

images (2)PD James, the highly regarded and much decorated crime writer, even saw fit to cross-pollinate her passion for Austen with the genre for which she is renowned and came up with  ‘Death Comes to  Pemberley’ a murder mystery set six years after Elizabeth and Darcy have been happily married together. I haven’t read it but understand it was very well received.

Dining with neighbours is a fairly common occurrence in Austen’s novels but, if ‘P&P’ is anything to go by, there is scant description of what was actually served up. But that didn’t stand in the way of Maggie Black and Deirdre le Faye when they came up with their ‘Jane Austen Cookbook’ – literally recipes inspired by her novels.

anchovies_wholeI’m not sure how familiar Jane Austen was with the kitchen, but the authors have clearly done their homework with regard to ingredients, and, interestingly, more than half the recipes call for anchovies – seldom seen these days other than in pizza toppings, but apparently used a great deal in Regency times to add saltiness to dishes.

I have been trying to undertake more of the cooking recently – an informal, off the record New Year resolution. Wednesday is my regular slot – Chris is continuing with her Italian course so I have time to mess around on the culinary front.

Yesterday, in celebration of the Austen anniversary, and the increasingly anonymous anchovy, I came up with a Nigel Slater ‘Observer Food Magazine’ recipe that had been hiding away in my cookery cuttings book.

NigelSlaterPoster-e1352129131503It went something like this:

Tomatoes with anchovy crumb crust:

Serve 4 as a main dish or 5/6 as an accompaniment…

  • 4 x tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg tomatoes
  • 6 x large spring onions
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves

For the crumb crust:

  • 150g of white bread
  • A handful of parsley leaves
  • 5 x anchovy fillets
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C
  • Put the oil into a deep-sided frying pan over a moderate heat
  • Slice the spring onions and add to the warm oil
  • Cut the tomatoes in half – horizontally and add to the pan
  • Cover the pan with a lid
  • Leave the tomatoes & onions to cook for approx. 10 minutes – or until the tomatoes have softened, but are still holding their shape
  • Add the basil and coriander, with a grinding of black pepper, then remove from the heat and allow to sit for a few minutes, while preparing the crust
  • Blitz the bread in a food processor – to form soft coarse crumbs
  • Add the parsley, anchovies, and a little black pepper
  • Process briefly
  • Transfer the tomatoes and their cooking juices to an ovenproof dish
  • Scatter the crumb crust over the top
  • Bake for approx. 30 minutes until the tomatoes are sizzling and the crust is a deep gold.

I also diced and added a medium-sized aubergine, that needed using up, to the tomato/onion mix, and a mixed a generous portion of grated parmesan cheese into the crumb crust – it worked for me!

hairy-dieters-book-coverToday, Chris went for a pilates taster session. Fishing around for more brownie points, in the wake of last night’s Austentacious anchovy dish, I volunteered for catering duty once more. This time I knocked up a simple, low-calorie, ‘Hairy Dieters’ recipe from Dave Myers & Si King, two guys with whom I enjoy a palpable commonality – and before you ask, it’s more to do with scales than motorbikes!

Minted Pea and Feta Omelette:

Per serving:

  • 30g frozen peas
  • 40g feta cheese – drained
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • 3 medium eggs
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Place peas in a heatproof bowl and cover with just boiled water
  • Leave for 1 minute, and then drain, before returning to the bowl
  • Crumble the feta cheese on top
  • Sprinkle with mint
  • Season with black pepper
  • Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk
  • Season with salt and black pepper
  • Lightly oil a small non-stick frying pan
  • Place over a medium heat
  • Add the eggs
  • Cook the egg, constantly using a spatula to draw cooked egg from the edge towards the centre
  • When the egg is almost set, scatter the peas and feta over the omelette
  • Continue cooking until the egg is just set – approx. 3 minutes
  • Loosen the sides with a spatula and slide on to a warmed plate – folding it over

 And that, dear reader, is that…





Midwinter musings from the Shire-tiddely-pom…

28 01 2013

snow‘The more it

SNOWS- tiddely-pom

The more it

GOES- tiddely-pom

On

Snowing

 

And nobody

KNOWS- tiddely-pom

How cold my toes-tiddely-pom

Are growing’

 

By Winnie the Pooh (with a little help from his friend – A.A. Milne)

 Monday 21st January:  ‘Blue Monday’

It has been calculated that the third Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

blueHow do we know? – Because psychologist, Cliff Arnall, told us so. His scientifically based assertion, first made in 2005, was determined using a complex formula. I’m pretty light on the detail, and I expect only Cliff can properly explain his bizarre equation, which factored in a whole lot of  stuff like: miserable weather, outstanding debt – with Christmas bills rolling in, post-Christmas anti-climax, broken New Year’s Resolutions, short daylight hours,  and low motivational levels, to name but a few.

All very clever but what’s the point? Naming the day as ‘depressing’ is somewhat of self-fulfilling and counter-productive surely? Well yes, but then we learn that the whole notion of discovering a single day when we are all, supposedly, at our lowest ebb was dreamt up by a travel company.

In his letter from the executive editor, Stefano Hatfield of the ipaper picked up on this, dismissing the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ as, ‘a fine example of pseudo-science subverted by marketers …so we can be sold remedies for ‘the blues’: sunny holidays and chocolate to name two.’  

Arnall’s get out response to those who question his claim, is that he is happy that it has stimulated debate around depression and that he is ‘encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day.’ He wants us to use the day, ‘as a springboard to the things that really matter in life.’ 

They just might include holidays and chocolate…

Tuesday 22nd January: ‘Quartet’ falls flat…

downloadIt seems every Tuesday is ‘Supersaver Tuesday’ at Vue Cinemas. I only discovered this last week when Chris and I went to see ‘Les Mis’ – albeit on a Thursday. Anyhow, we are both now fully signed up members with cards to prove it, complete with a promotional code number.

Apparently there is also ‘Orange Wednesday’, a 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Orange mobile or broadband customers – which unfortunately we are not!

Yesterday we used our Supersaver 10% off cards for the first time, hoping that ‘Quartet’, based around life in a retirement home for classical musicians, might help lift the January blues.

Despite a fine cast, of veteran actors and musicians, director Dustin Hoffman’s, debut feature film, a drama comedy, is perfectly pleasant but eminently forgettable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Mis’ – both outstanding cinematic experiences. In all honesty, this ninety minute BBC production (based on a West End stage play) didn’t warrant the  big screen treatment and would have been more at home in a cosy TV film format.

A simple, predictable, storyline based around the relationship between four retired opera singers, ably played by Pauline Collins (Cissy), Tom Courtenay (Reg), Billy Connolly (Wilf) and the obligatory Maggie Smith (Jean) – who is enjoying something of a renaissance since the emergence of Sunday evening period drama, Downton Abbey – and whether they will, or will not, reunite to top the bill at the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

quartetTheatrical temperaments and old rivalries are eventually put to one side and, surprise, surprise, the show, directed by a splendidly eccentric Michael Gambon (Cedric), goes on.

Filmed in its entirety at the charming Hedsor House, in Buckinghamshire, and with added musical authenticity provided by professional musicians, ‘Quartet’ is easy on the eyes and ears. There is plenty of pathos but too little humour, although Billy Connolly raises the odd smile – nothing more.

While ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (set in India, and also starring Dame Maggie – which I thoroughly enjoyed) a similarly bitter-sweet movie, built around issues of ageing and coming to terms with one’s twilight years, maintained a lively Bollywood tempo throughout, with enough humorous high notes to leave me feeling upbeat, ‘Quartet’, by contrast, was more pastoral largo, which left me feeling somewhat flat.

Wednesday 23rd January:  Bill Oddie – all of a twitter…

blue_tit_300_tcm9-139623_v2Flakes, as big as dinner plates, were tumbling out of the sky, as I carried out my Winterwatch duty – trudging to the top of the garden to feed our feathered friends. To quote Alfred Hitchcock (well Toby Jones playing Hitch – in recent TV film, ‘The Girl’) ‘’The Birds’ is coming’

And so they are. ‘Orchard House’ has become a regular winter haven for peckish visitors. I’ve been trying to do a tit-bit to help them through this recent cold snap but it ain’t ‘cheep’. They have already pecked their way through a 12.75 kg sack of wild bird seed – in just three weeks!

imagesNo wonder @Bill Oddie is tweeting, ‘break the ice, clear the snow, scatter the seed, hang up the fatballs. Garden alive with hungry birds. They need us now.’

A 2kg bag of Bill’s ‘Really Wild Bird Food’ is currently available, online, for a really wild £10.50 – and we are asked to believe that is a really wild reduction on the regular price of £18.81. While a small plastic seed feeder marketed under the Bill Oddie brand retails at £8.07, or if you’re feeling flush there is a top of the tree, 360mm metal model, for just £19.99!

goodies (1)‘Ecky thump’ It strikes me a bit ‘Oddie’ that the former ‘Goody’, now a high-profile ornithologist and wildlife presenter, has turned ‘Baddy’ by allowing his name to be used in marketing such grossly over- priced products. He deserves to get the bird. On yer ‘Trandem’ Bill, it doesn’t strike me as at all, ‘Goody goody yum yum’.

In true ‘Blue Peter’ style I have made my own large seed feeders out of recycled 2 litre green plastic bottles, fitted with a screw in adaptors costing about £2.50.

Thursday 24th January:  Russian red tape …

communist_ussr_russian_hammer_and_sickle_tie-p151665235024382367en71g_216I spent most of today failing to complete an online Russian visa application. We’ve recently booked Easyjet flights, on their new route to Moscow. No frills by Stelios hopefully a safer bet than Aeroflot! We’re not off until late March, but having secured budget accommodation, at the very Russian sounding ‘Capital House Hotel’, close to the Bolshoi Ballet and a gentle stroll from Red Square, allegedly, I thought it best to sort out the visas sooner, rather than later.

mcdonalds1It soon became apparent that despite perestroika, glasnost and the arrival of the golden arches in Pushkin’s Square, there is still plenty of red tape to cut through, and a hammer and sickle might come in handy.

Having read through the accompanying notes, the first stumbling block announced itself. Every application needs to be supported by a ‘letter of invitation’ or a ‘tourist confirmation document.’ These are readily available, varying, considerably, in cost between a range of internet providers – and I eventually managed to save a few roubles by tracking down a £14.00 per person deal.

???????????????????With tourist vouchers and confirmation numbers winging their way through cyber space – and in fairness they arrived by email within the promised 24 hour turn around, I started completing the visa application.

Everything was pretty straight forward until I hit the ‘recent travel’ section. Please indicate every country you have visited in the last ten years and your date of entry to that country. What?

That’s something of an undertaking! I started with existing visas and passport stamps – where the dates were often barely legible – and from their I had to resort to my electronic travel photograph albums, which luckily I had catalogued by year, together with scraps of information from various travel logs I had invariably started with good intentions but invariably aborted a few days into the journey!

So something of an ongoing process, but when I do finally complete and submit the aforementioned information, my application will need to be accompanied by a postal order (how old-fashioned – whoever uses those these days?) for a visa fee which will be only marginally cheaper than the return flight!

It’s enough to make a grumpy old man turn to vodka!

Friday 25th January:  Chocks away …

16862sUp at the crack of dawn, but my early morning drive across the Cotswolds was rewarded with beautiful winter wonderland vistas. And on arrival in Caversfield, the old Parade Ground was ankle-deep in snow as I helped Nicci move into her newly renovated, 1926, Grade 2 listed apartment – previously living quarters at RAF Bicester.

The 23 acre, former Oxfordshire Bomber Command base, once home to the Bristol Blenheim bomber, spitfire and mosquito, its red-brick architecture heavily influenced by the 1930s Garden City movement, is now a conservation site.

The beautifully landscaped Garden Quarter development is just 12 miles outside Oxford, and 48 minutes by train to Marylebone Station in London, with the popular Bicester Village retail park right on the doorstep. Having halved her daily commute to school, it is an ideal location for ‘Nic’ to take her first step on the property ladder.

So chocks away ‘gel’ and enjoy the flight old thing!

Saturday 26th January: Forest stung by Hornets…

snowDespite the big thaw being well under way in the Shire, there had been significant overnight snow around the north Nottinghamshire village of Papplewick, which caught me completely by surprise, causing no little embarrassment as I swung into Dad’s cul-de-sac and slowly ground to a halt, following a failed reverse  manoeuvre on to his drive. It took two men with big snow shovels several minutes to dig me out, before I was able to slide into a parking spot nearer  the somewhat clearer main road, ready for a slippery get away.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham itself, down by the riverside, the City Ground had received only a light dusting of snow which had been dissolved by the under-pitch heating. But it didn’t stop Forest slipping up against Championship promotion rivals Watford.

Matej_2847972They were stung three times by the Hornets, twice by Czech goal machine Matej Vydra. Incisive on the break and ruthless in their finishing, they made Forest look very ordinary. On this less than tricky showing, promotion is neither likely nor desirable for the Trees this season.

Despite playing three up front Forest looked heavy footed throughout and were never really at the races after going behind. A lack lustre showing saw them booed from the pitch and left Big Eck pulling no punches in his post-match assessment.

I’m sure he’s no quitter, but given such an uninspired display by what, on paper, looked a pretty decent side, the level of post-match abuse levelled at him on social networks, erratic recent behaviour by the owners and their apparent inability, up to this point, to make appropriate bids for the players he has identified as needed to strengthen squad, he must be feeling up against it on all fronts.

Given the current inconsistency of performance, irrespective of any 12th hour signings before the January transfer window slams shut, on Thursday, the best The Reds can hope for is a mid-table finish.

For me, the owners got it horribly wrong, switching to a new manager mid-race. I fear the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, will be levelled at them time and again between now and the end of the season.

 Sunday 27th January: Here we come a wassailing…

Wassailling ceremony - Clive's 27.01.2013It was up to the ankles in mud at Clive’s Fruit Farm – hardly living up to its Frost Fair billing, with adjacent lanes once again threatened by flood water, from a River Severn swollen by snow-melt.

There was a slippery ascent up through the orchard, in the wake of the Faithful City Morris Men, to the site of the traditional wassailing ceremony, in which the wassail tree is hung with pieces of toast, and anointed with cider, as the fruit trees are awakened and evil spirits frightened away by much banging and 150958_10152479288095113_1900707116_nshouting. The ancient pagan proceedings, with touches of Christianity thrown in for good measure, were concluded by three welly squelching circuits of a spitting bonfire – all good rustic fun to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples and pears next Autumn.

Earlier I had made haste to the newsagent to pick up everybody’s favourite red top – at least in the Aldridge family – as just two weeks into her new job, journalistic Gem had scooped her first ‘Sunday Mirror’ front-page splash, and an exclusive at that: ‘Fury at Ben (Kinsella)Killer Compo – cops forced to pay £20,000 over murder hunt raid.’

An amazing start to what I hope will be a long and successful career as newspaper journo, providing a warm and satisfying glow at the finish of just another midwinter week in the Shire – tiddely pom!





Over-hyped popular pap or misunderstood Miserables?

17 01 2013


images“Tom Hooper’s film is a colossal effort – after 158 minutes, you really have experienced something. It’s just not clear what”

Peter Bradsahaw – ‘The Guardian’

“…everything is sung through, tunelessly, a technique that sounds just like a particularly affected way of shouting.”

 “Unless you surrender yourself completely to the juggernaut, this Les Misérables is exhausting, if not infuriating (it made me bad-tempered for two days, a personal record.) It’s far too long…”

 David Sexton – ‘The Evening Standard’

“Popular doesn’t always mean pap – and a form which brings such pleasure and joy to so many deserves to be celebrated and treated to … informed critical scrutiny”

Lyn Gardner – ‘The Guardian /TheatreBlog’

downloadIt is said that the shortest correspondence in literary history was between Victor Hugo and his publisher Hurst and Blacket. It followed the publication of his 1862 novel (17 years in the making) ‘Les Misérables’. Hugo queried its reception with a single-character telegram, “?” and the reply came back, “!” – indicating its success.

Even so, it is unlikely the author could have imagined that, 150 years on, the title would be so universally known as to have entered common parlance, simply as ‘Lay Miz’.

Not too many will have read Hugo’s 1,300 page novel but almost everybody is familiar, to some extent, with the Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel  musical adaptation – one that recovered from modest beginnings and indifferent early reviews to become a theatrical phenomenon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust over 27 years on from its tepid, first night, reception in the West End over 60 million people, in more than 40 countries and in 20 different languages, have seen the much-loved stage show.

Sally Frith, from Gloucestershire, has seen it a mere 957 times! And perhaps that is exactly the sort of obsessive devotion from fans that cause certain of us to sneer. If you watched Sue Perkins ‘Climb Every Mountain’ – a Christmas special in search of the real Maria Von Trapp – then you will know exactly what I mean.

king's speechIn the wake of, ‘The Kings’s Speech’ director, Tom Hooper’s recently released movie version of ‘Les Mis’ a lively debate has sprung up between theatre/cinema critics. There are those such as the provocative David Sexton, of ‘The Evening Standard’, who castigate musicals as ‘innately idiotic’ and who disdainfully asks, ‘How can anyone who loves music enjoy musicals?’; while Lyn Barber of ‘The Guardian’ dismisses such  views as high-minded snobbery, born of ignorance, towards an art form that fills so many with joy.

It is a movie and genre that clearly divides opinion. While most reviews are mildly euphoric a significant minority are haughtily hostile.

Musicals are not normally my preferred cinema choice but, then again, I have seen sufficient good ones: ‘West Side Story’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘Evita’, ‘Chicago’, and yes – even ‘Grease’, not to subscribe to wholesale condemnation.

LesMisLogoI have watched ‘Les Mis’ on stage, albeit nearly twenty years ago. I recall it as a moderately enjoyable affair, but one that fell short of blowing my socks off. The somewhat faded memory I carried with me to the cinema, this week, was one of an earnest tale, played out on cleverly constructed sets, carried by a few decent tunes, reprised throughout, and occasionally interspersed with harmonious, uplifting outbursts from a flag waving chorus-line.

Let’s be fair, the storyline, set against a backdrop of events leading up to and including the Paris uprising of 1832, is hardly a bundle of laughs, and to a certain extent my previous synopsis held true with the movie version – but this time around I got a sense of what all the fuss is about. In keeping with Prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, I had my Damascene moment, finding the whole 158 minutes compelling and thoroughly enjoyable. Well pretty much – it was perhaps ten minutes or so too long!

Although some may try, it is unfair, to compare the stage production with the film, they are separate entities and should be judged as such.

Some, such as ‘American Idol’ contestant Adam Lambert, have criticised the screen version of ‘Les Mis’ for its cast of ‘pretend singers’. It is true that the main characters are played by actors not best known for their singing. But this turns out to be strength, as any slight imperfections in their musicality are more than compensated for by the emotional intensity they bring to the performance. Far better, for me, than pitch perfect singing from ‘pretend actors’.

4ca474dd18db2f9f7bf5d4e667ed6faeOne of the much publicised features of this film is that all of the singing was done live on set, to give a raw and real feel, untempered by studio technology.

I admit to having had doubts on this score, particularly with regard to Russell Crowe, an actor whose work I admire – ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is well up on my list of all-time favourites. Of all the cast, his singing was always likely to come under the closest scrutiny, but he pulled off his role as, the morally uncompromising Inspector Javert, with considerable aplomb.

photoFellow Aussie Hugh Jackman is certainly no novice and his intense performance as Jean Valjean hits all the right notes, musically and dramatically – surely a strong candidate for an Academy Award.

Susan-Boyle---I-Dreamed-A-Dream-2009-Cd-Cover-22425Ann Hathaway as Fantine, who prostitutes herself, before dying of consumption, in order to pay for the welfare of her daughter Cosette , is excellent and totally nails ‘I dreamed a dream’ – in an emotional rendition that leaves ‘SuBo’s’ ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ version looking relatively lightweight.

Les_mis_hathaway

So good was Ann Hathaway’s performance that the only criticism being levelled at her is the perfect nature of her teeth!

Eddie Redmayne, last seen on the big screen in ‘My Week With Marilyn’– and in the BBC adaptation of ‘Birdsong’- proved ideally cast as the idealistic, lovelorn,  Marius, a student revolutionary besotted by the adult Cosette, sings surprisingly well. Although, apparently, it needed 21 takes before the poignant, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ met  Tom Hooper’s satisfaction.

Les-Miserables-Samantha-Eddie_510x317I found Amanda Seyfried, as the adult Cosette – rescued from a childhood of mistreatment and misery in the ‘care’ of the Thénardiers, and having blossomed into the apple of her ‘adoptive papa’, Valjean’s eye – rather insipid in comparison to the attractive, sultry, Éponine played by the accomplished Samantha Barks.

A veteran of the stage show, her portrayal of unrequited love for Marius and subsequent, moving, death in his arms, on the barricades, left me inclined to think he chose the wrong woman!

article-2223269-15AEE006000005DC-268_634x521Much needed, intermittent, comic relief from the doom and gloom is provided by the rascally Thénardiers, a second-rate thief of an innkeeper and his unscrupulous wife – an inspired pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Their flamboyant ‘Master of the House’ and ‘Beggars at the Feast’ routines were high spots and I haven’t been able to get the foot-tapping melody out of my head since!

Back at the barricades for a finale reprise of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, in the ghostly presence of  Fantine, Éponine and Valjean, all bound for Paradise, there was almost a tear in my eye – but only almost!

golden globeIt may not have been altogether uplifting, melancholy it certainly was, while, as a tale of redemption, it failed my old English teacher’s quality control test – “Did it leave you thinking ‘What a piece of work is a man?’But for all that it was pretty flawless as musical drama.

It would have been beyond Victor Hugo’s comprehension that his 19th century literary masterpiece, about the wretched poor of Paris, should enjoy such longevity, through its musical theatre and cinematic renaissance.

While it may remain popular pap to some, the movie is already a Golden Globe winner, in the Best Musical or Comedy category, and it has received 8 Academy Award nominations.

Watch this space…





Not so easy like a Sunday morning without Andrew Marr…

13 01 2013

download“Andrew Marr, renaissance man, polymath, wise commentator, painter, runner, brilliant cook – and ace editor. Get well soon. Needed in public life.”

Polly Toynbee (Journalist with ‘The Guardian’)

Ed-Miliband-One-Nation-Mental-Health-speech“On behalf of myself and everybody across politics I wish Andrew Marr a speedy recovery, all best wishes to him and his family.”  

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Labour Party) on today’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’.

_64791958_64791956It wasn’t quite the same today…

Something, or rather, someone was missing…

A man on a scooter, who weaves his way through sleepy London town to deliver the Sunday papers through my TV screen…

I’m nothing, if not a creature of habit. My Sunday morning routine consists of lounging in dressing gown and slippers, spooning cereal and sipping tea in front of the early a.m. BBC TV.

Walkers---Campaign-Launch-001First up is the 07.30am re-run of ‘Match of the Day’ – given I’m generally too tired, these days, to sit through the late Saturday night show.

At 9.00am it is usually time to exchange one set of oversized lugs for another; crisp munching Gary Lineker’s FA Cup handle-sized appendages replaced by the sticky out ears of journalist and political commentator Andrew Marr.

Andrew_Marr__responding_well_to_treatment__after_suffering_a_strokeThe Sunday morning ‘Andrew Marr Show’, an hour long weekly look at what’s happening in the world, a review of the  Sunday papers, and interviews with key newsmakers, is  one of my TV highlights of the week. But unfortunately, today, the former editor of ‘The Independent’ and political editor of the BBC News was missing – recovering from a serious stroke, suffered earlier this week.

As the news broke of his hospitalization, many high-profile names from the world of politics and media took to Twitter to wish the political news veteran, and host of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start The Week’, a hasty recovery.

article-0-16E7DFC5000005DC-681_634x347Although conscious, responding to medication and making progress, it will be some time before Andrew is able to return to the TV studio, but the BBC insist the show will go on, with a number of leading  current affairs presenters lined up to take turns in  keeping his seat warm.

First up, today, with the unenviable task was James Landale, old Etonian contemporary of ‘Call Me Dave’ and ‘BJ’ (Mayor of London). The Deputy political editor for BBC News, sensed he was on a loser from the start, opening with, “It’d be much better if Andrew were here,” before demonstrating beyond doubt that Andrew Marr’s are exceedingly big shoes to fill.

paxman460Landale’s somewhat hectoring manner and continual interruptions, during the interview with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, owed more to the late night, ‘Newsnight’, condescension of the ‘Paxo’ school of interviewing – stuff ‘em and roast ‘em –  rather than the more ‘easy like Sunday morning’ – coffee and croissants – style of Marr.

That isn’t to say that Marr’s courteous and deceptively easy, manner allows his interviewees to get away with anything. He is something of a smiling assassin, backing his political guests into corners with seemingly innocuous questions or feeding them enough rope to hang themselves.

vine-286Hopefully, next week, ‘Eggheads’ quizmaster Jeremy Vine, who presents his own BBC Radio 2 programme of news, views and popular music, will be more in tune with the ‘AM Show’ ethos.

Mad-Magazine-mad-on-cartoon-network-24503591-1024-768Andrew Marr may have been described as gangly, geeky and bearing passing resemblance to the face of ‘Mad’ magazine – perhaps one better suited to radio – but he is a charming, erudite, presenter with a wry sense of humour.

And, despite his 2010 Cheltenham Literature Festival, pronouncement that, “ (A) lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower nosed young men  sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people” – I don’t harbour any grudges.

I simply hope he is soon fully recovered and back on his Vespa, so that my lazy Sunday mornings can get back to normal.





Attenborough’s ‘Africa’ / … all about the aubergines

4 01 2013

Thoughts for the day:

DavidAttenborough460“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique, in the Universe – it contains life.”

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”

Sir-David-Attenborough-001“I mean, it is an extraordinary thing that a large population of your country and my country, of the citizens, never see a wild creature from dawn ‘til dusk, unless it’s a pigeon, which isn’t really wild, which might come and settle near them.”

Sir David Attenborough (British naturalist and broadcaster)

Sir David, he of the ‘Living Planet’, is himself a living legend. Seemingly tireless, after sixty years in the business, of bringing the natural world into our living rooms, on Wednesday night his latest, six part, BBC series, ‘Africa’  swept across our screens in glorious HD.

AfricaIt enjoyed jumbo viewing figures, 6.5 million tuning in for the first instalment – ‘The Kalahari’. I caught up with it last night.

Giraffe_2428794bHighlights included rare black rhinos, getting horny, by moonlight at a waterhole, and a pair of male giraffes knocking spots off each other, in a showdown, over a young female, of spaghetti western proportions. An altogether different take on ‘necking’.

The feet inside my Christmas slippers began to feel increasingly itchy as I slowly began to succumb to the call of the wild – I could feel another African safari coming on…

In an interview with ‘The Sun’ newspaper, the 86-year-old naturalist supposed, “I’m a bit of a fossil. They won’t make TV like this when I go.”  And he’s probably right, he usually is, programmes of this type could become extinct, so enjoy it while you can.      

While on the natural world theme, it is now official, 2011 has been confirmed as the UK’s second wettest year on record, at more than 25% above the annual average rainfall. For England it was actually the wettest year ever, with the south-west hardest hit.

20130101_15According to Met Office, four of the five wettest years on record have occurred this century, i.e. in the last twelve years, and there is a definite trend towards extreme downpours, which last year devastated harvests and resulted in flood damage to more than 8,000 homes and businesses.

Much of ‘the Shire’ has been under water since well before Christmas but there were signs today, as I took a back-roads detour to Malvern, that the floods are beginning to recede –  but just a little.

20130101_33Upton has enjoyed its annual five seconds of fame this week, with local publican Grahame Bunn, formerly of the riverside ‘King’s Head’ pub but now the new owner of the ‘The Anchor Inn’, a mere hundred yards up the road, extolling the virtues of our wonderful new flood defence, on Radio Five Live. The encroaching waters of the Severn have been kept at bay, enabling businesses, that in previous years would have been submerged, to continue trading. Most of them happen to be pubs – perversely, happy to remain ‘dry’ on this occasion!

On New Year’s Day, the defensive wall, a permanent feature topped with glass – so as not to obscure the views, proved quite an attraction, as promenading visitors marvelled at its construction and effectiveness.

NCI_03Today’s circuitous route to Malvern ‘Waitrose’ was all about the aubergines – an exotic delicacy conspicuous by its absence from Upton Spar or Co-op. In a moment of weakness I’d volunteered to cook the evening meal and was promptly handed Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Collection’. That’s what comes of giving your nearest and dearest a useful present, such as a cookery book, for Christmas!

carluccioI opted for a version of Caponata Siciliana – a Sicilian stew, which ‘the greedy Italian’ describes as ‘versatile, delicious, and easy to make… probably Sicily’s best known dish … hints of the French ratatouille… some Arabic influences too.’        

To feed 4 people you will need:

  • 800g aubergine – cut into 3cm chunks
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper – deseeded & chopped
  • 1 stick of celery – chopped
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • 20 or so pitted black olives – sliced
  • 1tbsp raisins
  • 1tbsp pine kernels
  • A handful of fresh basil – roughly torn
  • Salt and pepper

And this is what you do – well what I did…

  1. the-collectionFry the onion, in olive oil, in a large pan – for a few minutes, to soften
  2. Add the aubergine and fry until soft – about 10/15 minutes
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, except the pine kernels and basil, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until everything is melted together
  4. Stir in the pine kernels and scatter torn basil on the top.
  5. Serve in bowls with chunks of rustic bread.

Buon Appetito!

A nice glass of red would have been the perfect accompaniment – 27 days to go and counting…





28 days and counting…

3 01 2013

A thought for 2013:

charles dickens

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”  

           Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol)

jamesbondDanielCraigIt began on New Year’s Day, with Great Expectations for 2012’ and fizzled out, on October 30th, with ‘Skyfall- shaken and stirred’.

Surprisingly, despite having not posted for the final quarter of the year the year, the annual Crunchy numbers summary from Word Press indicates that in 2012 ‘Pipedreams…’ had 54,000 views (from 174 countries) – which is more than twice the number of hits for 2011.

BB_logoI embarked upon my blogging career with ‘Out of Africa 2010’, in March of that year. It coincided with early retirement and time spent abroad, doing charity work, in Zambia (The Bookbus Project) and Rwanda (VSO). Despite having added no further posts since my return to the UK in December 2010, amazingly, it still continues to attract visitors – 170,347 since its inception, with 52,890 of those last year!

I had resolved that after nearly three years, on and off, and 307 posts, enough was enough and it was time to draw a veil across my journalist efforts. But as we know, all too well, resolutions are there to be broken.

Speaking of which, my performance, against a far too ambitious 2012 list of resolutions, was patchy to say the least

Bradley Wiggins: New Year's knighthood "a great honour" — video

  • Pedalled 1800km on the exercise bike by the end of August – and then hit a wall (metaphorically speaking) and nothing since. Sir Bradley, newly crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year, has nothing to worry about 🙂
  • The beginners’ guitar and the Spanish Foundation course started well enough but petered out by the end of March – manana 😦
  • The ‘daily blog’ became a chore at times – and I haven’t written since October 30th. Nevertheless, I added 67 new posts and the blog had 54,000 views – an average of 150 hits per day 🙂
  • Successfully cut out chocolate until Easter and pretty much for the rest of the year 🙂
  • The caffeine habit proved harder to crack, as did cutting back on my alcohol intake 😦
  • Chris and I did visit a few new places in and around ‘the Shire’ – but nowhere near approaching the over ambitious target of one per fortnight!images
  • Our Highlights of Indochina trip through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia enabled us to tick off a few more must see sights from our ‘bucket list’ – including Halong Bay and Angkor Wat 🙂
  • An early burst of enthusiasm in the kitchen flattered to deceive and culinary inspiration came and went in fits and starts, with a twice a week commitment to knock up an evening meal proving unsustainable. Thank goodness for jacket potatoes and baked beans! 😦
  • We managed seven outings to the cinema and, as recently as last week, went to see Ang Lee’s 3D adaptation of ‘The Life of Pi’ – a cinematic delight 🙂
  • Pleased to say I did read 30 plus books this year; funnily enough, starting the year with Yann Martell’s ‘Life of Pi’  and finishing it, aptly enough in his 200th birthday year, with Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ 🙂

According to psychologists if you want to keep New Year’s resolutions they should be clear, realistic and brief.  So this year there are but two:

  • A dry January – no alcohol until February
  • No coffee for the same period

I’m not sure which will prove the most challenging – 28 days to go and counting…





‘Skyfall’ – shaken and stirred…

30 10 2012

Q: ‘I’m your new quartermaster’

Bond: ‘You must be joking. You still have spots.’ 

Q: ‘I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field.’

Bond: ‘Then what do you need me for?’

Q: ‘Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.’

Bond: ‘Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pyjamas…Q’ 

Q: ‘The Walther PPK/S nine-millimetre short. It’s been coded to your palm-print so only you can fire it. Less of a random killing machine more of a personal statement.’

Bond: ‘A gun and radio. Hardly Christmas is it?’

Q: ‘Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.’  

(An ageing 007 – Daniel Craig – meets, a 20 something, Q – Ben Whishaw – in the 50th Anniversary Bond movie –  ‘Skyfall’) 

For fifty years there has only ever been one Bond… James Bond’. Sean Connery, the original and best – that was until Daniel Craig’s performance in the latest, 23rd Bond movie, ‘Skyfall.’    

I was there at the beginning – 1962, aged nine, in the front stalls of the Byron Cinema licking my ‘choc-ice’, eyes like saucers. Riveted, from that first opening, signature gun barrel sequence, 007 striding into shot, turning and firing directly into the eye of the camera, blood oozing across the silver screen – cue the ‘James Bond Theme’…

The charms of Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) the first Bond-girl, surfacing from the ocean in that white bikini, complete with sheathed knife accessory, clutching two conch shells (to become one of the most iconic moments in British cinematic history) may have been lost on me at the time. But I was hugely impressed by the way double-0 seven survived the death threat of a giant tarantula (clubbing it into oblivion with the heel of his shoe) and subsequently disposed of the megalomaniac Dr Julius No – the first Bond movie villain – dumping him, articulated metal hands and all, ignominiously into the cooling vat of his nuclear reactor, where he boiled to death.

Bond with his licence to kill and thrill was cool. He would be back and so would I…

And I was, a year later, for Connery’s  second installment, ‘From Russia With Love’, still considered by many to be the most authentic Bond movie of them all and closer in spirit to Ian Fleming’s written word than anything that would follow.

I always remember this as the one with the poisoned spike shoes, as modelled by the butch Russian counter-intelligence agent Rosa Klebb – a new look school uniform accessory adopted by ‘Fossy’ and ‘Wassy’, two 1st form secondary mates, pushing drawing pins through the instep of their regulation black lace-ups.

By the time, Welsh diva, Shirley Bassey got to  warbling her way through the ‘Goldfinger’(1964) theme song, the release of the third Bond movie was considered a big enough deal for me to quit the Byron (where my Mum, an usherette, guided by torchlight and lugged around an ice-cream laden tray during the intermission) for the Nottingham Odeon with its ultra widescreen and stereo sound system.

For years I clung on to the souvenir programme with its promotional photograph of actress Shirley Eaton (the Jill Masterson character) suffering from ‘the Midas touch’, sprayed head to toe with gold paint – an image that made the cover of Life magazine giving an early indication of how James Bond 007 mania was taking off.

Although I was, by this time beginning to sit up and take a bit more notice of the Bond girls, the double-entendre of Honour Blackman’s ‘Pussy Galore’ character passed me by for a number of years.

‘Goldfinger’ will always remain a favourite, the gold standard for the Bond franchise: smiling Korean henchman, Oddjob, frisbeeing his steel-rimmed bowler hat, before being neatly electrocuted, Bond receiving early laser treatment, and the Oscar award-winning Aston Martin DB5 with its fabled gadgetry and weaponry (brought out of cobwebs – to a ripple of applause around the Worcester Vue audience – for its cameo performance in ‘Skyfall’).      

There followed for Connery’s Bond: ‘Thunderball’ (’65) –  based on the first Fleming novel I tried to read (an alluring paperback version with bullet holes shot through the cover), heavy on scuba diving, peckish piranha fish, and menacing barracuda sharks – and ‘You Only Live Twice’ (’67) – nifty Japanese ninjas and a first face to face with Bond’s SPECTRE nemesis Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), bald-headed, scarred, stroking a fluffy white pussy cat.      

When Connery began to lose interest and parted company with the Bond role, I walked away with him. His boots, were impossibly big to fill.

So it proved for ‘Big Fry’, George Lazenby who got first shot at the role, pretty much as a result of toting a giant-sized bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream in a popular TV advert of the day. Many 007 aficionados judge it unfair to dub him a ‘one (Bond) movie wonder’ claiming his performance ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (’69) warranted at least another outing. He might have done it for Queen and country – but not for me.   

Connery was lured back for a lacklustre final encore in ‘Diamonds Are For Ever’ (’71), a performance largely devoid of sparkle and lacking a cutting  edge. This was a disinterested 007, going through the motions. Shirley Bassey, recalled for her second Bond movie theme song, reinforced the adage, all that glitters is not gold! 

Two years later, Roger Moore made his 007 debut in ‘Live and Let Die’ (’73). The longest-serving Bond to date, he was to make seven outings in total – seven too many in my book! 

Moore, suave and sophisticated as Simon Templar, in the small screen adaptation of the Leslie Charteris ‘Saint’ novels, let his halo well and truly slip – over indulging the trademark arched eyebrow and corny one-liners, demeaning the role by playing it largely for laughs. 

His ageing, slightly overweight Bond (Moore was 58 when he filmed ‘View to A Kill’) an international playboy with bouffant hairstyle and a penchant for bubbly, left me feeling distinctly flat.  

In fairness, ‘The Man with The Golden Gun’ recently acknowledged his shortcomings: ‘I played Bond as a lover. Daniel does it as a killer. He has the best physique of any of us 007s, and he’s the best actor, too. I used to think that Sean Connery was the most obvious choice, but Daniel is better than any of us, and I hope he will reign for many more Bond movies to come.’

I wouldn’t disagree in the slightest.

Timothy Dalton was next in the line of succession, for two movies only  – ‘The Living Daylights’ (’87) and ‘License to Kill (’89). During the Moore era, storylines had become increasingly unbelievable, all froth and no substance, over reliant on gimmicks and special effects. Dalton, a thespian, tried to reinstate a greater degree of realism to Bond. His was an altogether darker, brooding presence – more Hamlet, Prince of MI6. Criticised by some media critics, as devoid of humour – alas, poor Dalton, his mission was short-lived. It’s a pity he didn’t he wasn’t crowned 007 earlier.

After a six-year hiatus Pierce Brosnan was unveiled, the first product placement Bond, with a twinkling Omega watch to match his dazzling smile. Too smooth by half, he might have stepped straight out of the ‘70s Milk Tray advert. He certainly looked the part but was something of a compromise Bond endeavouring to marry the best bits of Connery and Moore. His eagerly awaited first  movie, ‘Goldeneye’ (’95), may have grossed a 007 record $350 million worldwide, but ultimately his star began to wane as he was let down by a series of fantastical screenplays bordering on the ridiculous.

Only the other night I flicked over to Sky’s dedicated 007 channel for a re-run of Brosnan’s final Bond movie, ‘Die Another Day’ (’02), and nearly died laughing, there and then. Mama Mia, it was more Monty Python (or even Harry Potter) than James Bond. Just as well really, with John Cleese playing Q – in the one with the invisible car. Its only saving grace Halle Berry, under cover CIA agent Jinx, emerging cool as a mojito from from Havana Bay, making a splash in her reprise of the Ursula Andress ‘Dr No’ sequence.                             

Enter Daniel Craig in ‘Casino Royale’ (’06), controversially fair-haired, intense steely blue eyes, the first actor to play Bond, born after the film series was underway and following the death of Ian Fleming – author of the novels. Craig’s stated aim was to bring more emotional depth to a character with an under explored dark side. He openly acknowledged Sean Connery as his preferred previous Bond and ‘From Russia with Love’ his favourite 007 film.

First in ‘Casino Royale’, then in ‘Quantum of Solace’(’08) and now in ‘Skyfall’ Craig’s back to basics philosophy has been aided by a welcome return to realism from scriptwriters and film directors. It has resulted in the portrayal of a more complex, fully rounded special agent, sympathetic to Fleming’s original, than we have seen since the very early days.                  

Indeed, I would argue that, liberated by Sam Mendes’ thoughtful direction, in ‘Skyfall’ Daniel Craig has become the first Bond to successfully emerge from the long shadow cast by Connery. It is certainly the best 007 movie since ‘Goldfinger’. I think it might be the best ever!     

I’d hate to be a spoiler, so from here on I’ll tread carefully. 

‘Skyfall’ certainly lived up to the pre-release hype and teasing trailers. All the essential Bond movie ingredients are present, in just the right proportions. From the high-speed, action packed, opening through to the explosive ending, a well-paced, thrilling storyline, full of intrigue, is populated by interesting, three-dimensional characters.  

Location, location, location! From the rooftops, minarets and Grand Bazaar of old Istanbul, via the dramatic night skyline of high-rise Shanghai, a menacing Macau gambling den (littered with Chinese heavies and Komodo dragons) by way of a bustling London underground, to the brooding highlands of Scotland –  ever changing, atmospheric backdrops, complement the dramatic urgency.   

Central to the plot is M, imperiously played by Dame Judi Dench for a seventh time, under threat from a mysterious enemy with a score to settle.   

Javier Bardem has created a memorable Bond villain in Raoul Silva, a peroxide blond eccentric, sexually ambiguous, disturbingly malicious (shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker meets Eddie Izzard) orchestrating a personal vendetta born out of a bitter sense of betrayal. 

Quality supporting roles are provided by: Ralph Fiennes – Gareth Mallory, an enigmatic government agent; Ben Whishaw – new Q, a young, gawky, naïve, computer nerd (see above); Naomie Harris – Eve, Bond’s attractive agent in the field, sidekick and love interest; Bérénice Marlohe – Sévérine, the obligatory femme fatale (‘Only a certain kind of woman wears a backless dress with a Beretta strapped to her thigh’) and Albert Finney – Kincade, faithful old gamekeeper on the ‘Skyfall’ estate.    

The single weak link?  Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ theme song – bland and eminently forgettable!       

But ‘Skyfall’ the movie certainly is not. It lives up to its billing. This is the classic Bond cocktail, with a big kick and a sting in the tail, which left me both shaken and stirred.