Not a whimsy

14-06-19 Darrow Wimsey

This week, I’ve been paying my respects to the late Paul Darrow by re-watching the 1973 BBC production of Murder Must Advertise in which he plays an advertising copywriter. It’s a role which grows in complexity as the four-part story unfolds and Darrow is excellent in it, capably portraying the character as ingratiating, bullying, enmeshed in a derailed lover affair, and, through it all, managing to be utterly charming. He wears the sharp 1930s suit and tie very well, and ultimately, he gets a chance at heroism of a sort. It’s a very good performance as part of a very good ensemble cast.

Five years later, Paul Darrow would don the iconic leathers to portray Avon in Blake’s 7 with pretty much the same set of characteristics! Indeed, Vila (Michael Keating) was often to be seen in a similar pose to the above when Avon spoke to him. I see many parallels between the two performances and I salute Mr Darrow for being able to play characters who might, on the surface, not seem worthy of our admiration, and show that they, too, have their good sides as well as their bad.

I do enjoy this particular set of Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations, the ones starring Ian Carmichael. If you can track down Murder Must Advertise it’s well worth a watch, as are all the other stories in the series. (Blake’s 7 is also represented via an appearance in Wimsey’s The Nine Tailors by David Jackson who played Gan in the sci-fi series. That story also provided a part for a young John Duttine who went on to star in the BBC production The Devil’s Crown in 1978, then To Serve Them All My Days and The Day of the Triffids in 1981.)

Actually, mentioning To Serve Them All My Days leads me nicely into the tin shown in this photo:

14-06-19 Tin

I use it to store ink cartridges, but I am unsure of its original use. It belonged to my maternal grandparents and had been used for many, many years to store a lock of hair, although I have no idea whose hair it was.  For some reason, I always think this tin dates to the First World War, thus the connection with To Serve Them All My Days which begins in that era. This is one of those little items that provides a tangible link with people I loved, and it is my joy to be able to put it to a useful purpose and cradle it through another generation. It also reminds me I am going to have to use up those ink cartridges and to do that I am going to have to use up the red ink in my Cross pen. Perhaps when I finish the green ink I’m currently using to write my daily journal I will have a couple of weeks of writing that in red. Sounds like a plan.

Finally, I wanted to just refer back to last Friday’s post where I wrote about trying to use my memory more. Starting with small steps, this week I’ve been doing a memory exercise which I think some people would think is ridiculously simple and others ridiculously hard. Each morning, immediately upon waking up, I tell myself what day of the week it is and what one thing I really need to get done. It’s easy to wake up befuddled and with a firm belief that it is totally the wrong day of the week, and so this is an interesting challenge.

I hope you have had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend. At the moment it looks like we can look forward to rather less rain next week which will be a pleasure.

What I imagine when I’m knitting

05-06-19 knitprog 1

Haruki Murakami wrote an entire book entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”; I have never read it because, well, running? However, the title of this blog post is a nod to that book.

At its best, knitting, for those of you who don’t do it yourselves, is a soothing, mechanical hobby, which can lull your mind into imaginary worlds full of ponderings and vague, nebulous plans. One of the things I imagine whilst I am knitting is what life will be like when I have finished the project I am working on. I imagine wearing the finished object, what I will wear it with, where I will be when I wear it, how it will make me feel, how it will fit. Sometimes I imagine clothes I might buy to wear with it. Sometimes I imagine an entirely fictional self in a different world, wearing that actual item.

At other times, of course, knitting is a test of skill, dexterity, and calculation which leaves your mind no room for anything but solid facts. You need to keep hawk-like eyes on the pattern to make sure you commit no errors or omissions, you have to count your stitches repeatedly to reassure yourself that none have gone AWOL.

I have two projects on the go at the moment. The sea-blue cardigan is creeping along and I have not worked on it as much as I could have, or should have, this week. Instead, I have started knitting a cosy winter cowl for myself using the set of ten mini skeins of wool from Noodle Soup Yarns that I received at Christmas. I am calling this the Mama, Weer All Crazee Cowl, partly because the range of ten colours is not quite as harmonious as these first two suggest, and partly because working 300 stitches per row of knit one, purl one rib for somewhere around a length of 20 inches is an undertaking that only a crazee mama would consider.

Here is a close-up of the lovely sparkly wool from Charley of Noodle Soup:-

05-06-19 knitprog 2

I have one minor misgiving about this project: I fear I may get to the end and find that I’ve knitted a crazy, sparkly, multi-coloured boob tube!


A big shout-out to Slade’s song “Mama, Weer All Crazee Now” for the name of this project.


Hence These Tears…

The second stripe is the one I was working on when the news came through that one of my favourite actors had died: Paul Darrow, the man behind the wonderful character of Avon in Blake’s 7. Some of the sparkle has left this world, but it lingers on in memory and in this project.

“I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I am not going.”
Avon, Blake’s 7,

If you’re not familiar with Avon, follow the link for a dollop of his sardonic wit – just try to ignore the lamentable quality of the video capture.

 

It really is a graphite writing stick!

Tarrant_graphite writing stick
Tarrant: “A graphite writing stick…”

Here is an admittedly low-quality screen grab of the moment in Blake’s 7 when Tarrant is handed a pencil and utters the immortal line “A graphite writing stick. It’s the first time I’ve seen one of these outside museums.” This line has always amused me for a couple of reasons – firstly I like the idea of a dystopian future where you still get taken on school trips to the museum; and secondly that Tarrant and Avon go on to simply use this ancient technology as if they have been doing it all their lives.

I was reminded of this clip when I unpacked my subscription box from Mark + Fold this summer and found this:-

Graphite stick
It really is a graphite writing stick!

And if you are interested, this is how it writes:

Graphite writing

Thank you, Mark and Fold, for making me a happy girl.

 

40 years a Blake’s 7 fan

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Model of the Liberator – love of my life!

This time last week I was on my way to London for a weekend convention devoted to the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7 – Terry Nation’s dystopian sci-fi series which ran from 1978 to 1981. It was a fantastic weekend; I had such a good time; and now I am home and finally calming down from all the excitement I wanted to write a bit about what being a fan means to me.

There are two things about Blake’s 7 which have kept me hooked for 40 years. Looking at the show itself, its huge appeal was and is that it is massively character-driven. There was no budget for spectacular special effects, models were built in peoples’ garages out of anything they had lying around, such as the infamous 2-hairdryers spaceship.

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Instead of loads of explosions, monsters, and epic space battles, this show had intelligent (and sometimes not so intelligent) scripts, the characters grew with the series, they became our family, our friends, the people we hung out with on a weekly basis. We rooted for the good guys, but we loved the bad guys equally well. These were not disposable villains, they were their own strong characters with their own motivation. Just as Blake and his crew made sense, the Federation also made sense and I’m sure just as many fans would choose to be the arch-villainess Servalan or her sidekick Travis as would wish to emulate the worthy rebels Blake or Cally. However, the point is we knew them all, we loved them all.

We also relished being fans of show called Blake’s 7 in which there were never 7 crew members (you had to count the two computers in to make up the numbers), and from which Blake himself disappeared entirely after the first two seasons – delightfully perverse.

It helped, as a female fan, that the leading ‘romantic’ male – Avon – was played by the utterly delectable Paul Darrow – in black leather; every sardonic line uttered impeccably through cruel but kissable lips in a voice that slid into the ears like liquid chocolate glides down your throat. I’ve got the audio-book of him reading his autobiography and, still, after all these years, that voice! In the series, he would kiss the girls, then he would thump them or kill them, and then he would turn away and never look back. We couldn’t get enough of him! At the convention we gave a huge round of applause to the costume designer who first put him in the black leather.

For the later two seasons, as cast members left, some new faces joined the crew. Guess what? We loved them too! We embraced them, their characters grew, the show continued to be character-driven. The end of the third season was very hard on me as the gorgeous ship, the Liberator, died; for the ship and its computer were characters in their own right and, no, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a ship so beautiful. Through the fourth season the stories slid inevitably down to a final shoot-out with Avon in full Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode, surrounded by Federation guards, raising his weapon to take one last soul with him….

At the end, the bad guys endured and the good guys were blown away – the emperor of all perverse storylines.

For me, that was it for a while. The show was over, we didn’t have video tapes or regular repeats, although I have a novel by Trevor Hoyle based on the series and perhaps that dates back to the earliest days.

All of which brings me to the second strand that leads to fandom of such enduring proportions – the time and the place. When Blake’s 7 started, I was 18 years old, I was working with people who understood the sci-fi genre and with whom I could happily discuss each episode after it aired. If the characters in the series were friends and family, part of that feeling came from discussing them with real friends and family. By the time the final episode aired, I was 21 and I had a 4-month-old baby. The four years that the series ran were the years when I matured and worked out pretty much who I was; and part of who I was turned out to be a sci-fi geek.

I think everyone who becomes a fan – whether it is of a particular band, a TV series, a film franchise, comic books – retains one thing and that is a sense of childlike wonder. The object of the fandom is keyed into that like a genetic code and no matter how long elapses, hearing a tune or revisiting a story immediately releases the wonder and you are once again as you were when you first encountered the object of your passion. Yet, over time you accrete new experiences to add on to the original bedrock of your fandom and so your relationship with the object grows ever more complex; a pearl growing larger day by day, year by year.

For me, after a lull, the next proper resurgence came in the 1990s. Once again, I was working with people who were themselves into the sci-fi genre, who understood what that meant. There were monthly Blakes 7 publications that I bought at the newsagent on my way to work. The whole series was released on VHS and suddenly it was possible to relive the stories. My babe-in-arms had grown into a young lady, I was able to attend a convention (Who’s 7 1996 – a combination Dr Who and Blake’s 7 effort), I had my coffee every day at work in a Blake’s 7 mug! Myself and two of my best friends had Blake’s 7 evenings where we watched our way through the entire series and when I think of being a fan now, that is all part of what I think about. From this era, I have books and magazines, a copy of Paul Darrow’s fiction book “A Terrible Aspect” signed by Paul (Avon), Gareth Thomas (Blake) and Martin Bower (designer of the Liberator teleport bracelets).

Time moved on, people moved on, and ultimately I found myself working in companies where no-one cared for sci-fi and other things took precedence. Even then, though, Blake’s 7 remained near and dear to my heart; the transition took place from video to DVD and I dutifully collected all four seasons on DVD, as you do. My Season 1 DVD came with a tiny model Liberator and the cover was signed by Gareth Thomas – Blake himself. Then there was the internet, allowing all of us fans to geek to our hearts’ content.

My recent return to the fan fold came about in February 2016 when I was discussing my Blake’s 7 fandom with my grandson and I decided to look into which year the Who’s 7 convention took place. The first thing that came up was a link to the page for Cygnus Alpha 2, due to take place in April of that year. With a few tickets left for sale, I took no time at all for consideration and booked myself a place. Through that, I found out about Big Finish who produce excellent audio books and dramas using original cast members and new talent. Now, with three Cygnus Alpha conventions under my belt and a little group of friends who I’ve met through these, I know that, for me, Blake’s 7 is a once and always love.

So, 40 years a fan…. and counting!


Last weekend I had the honour of meeting Roger Murray Leach who designed and partly built the original Liberator ship for the series. I was able to tell him how important the ship was to me, that the first shot of the Liberator in the series had me hooked for life. So here, in writing, my huge thanks to him and to everyone who makes being a Blake’s 7 fan such a joy.


 

Hinc Illae Lacrimae/Quote of the Week

Servalan and Me
With Jacqueline Pearce at Cygnus Alpha 2 event, Brentford, 2016

In honour of the wonderful Jacquline Pearce who lost her last tussle with cancer this week, a quote from Blake’s 7 (best ever British TV show, of which I am still a great fan). Jacks “Darling” played the arch-villainess Servalan and has had a very definite influence on my lifestyle, although that has only dawned on me in recent years.

To set the scene for the quote, Servalan at the height of her power in the Federation has been captured in her own presidential palace during a coup when our heroes, the freedom fighters from the Liberator, arrive on a totally unrelated mission. Avon encounters her chained in a cellar by her enemies.

Avon (slightly disappointed): Is that it? Have you finally lost your nerve? Have you murdered your way to the wall of an underground room?

Servalan (bitterly): It’s an old wall, Avon… it waits.

I think we all encounter walls during the course of our lives and perhaps they are always there, waiting for us. We deal with them according to our own natures, using our particular skills or tendencies.

Servalan, naturally, escaped this particular wall and lived to fight many more days. It’s like that with a lot of the walls you encounter – you get round them or over them, or you laboriously demolish them brick by brick.


For those of you wondering, the Latin phrase in the title translates to “hence these tears” and I like it slightly better than the traditional “rest in peace”.


 

You only had to ask….

Yes, apparently so.  “Rain, rain, go away,” I said.  And the next day, this:

Is it Spring?

Blossom!  Blue skies!  Just like in the ‘real’ blogs – you know, the ones written by people who don’t spend the first ten minutes at work every day trying to blow-dry their legs using the hand dryer in the Ladies’.

I am going to stay quiet about what colour the sky is today.  Suffice it to say I had planned a day of knitting and watching my Blakes 7 DVD collection and that is pretty much what today is good for.  I dropped off my new bike for its first little service this morning (just a general once-over after 5-6 weeks of riding) and will pick it up late this afternoon.  Apart from that, the day is my own.  And I am waiting in anyway for a little packet that may contain something interesting that once belonged to a very special American sheep….

Knitting

But more of that tomorrow.  Today I’m going to write about this:

Purple Rimini

Or do I mean this:

Rimini cardigan in grey

Yes, I am knitting another Rimini cardigan from the excellent pattern by Martin Storey in Jaeger Booklet JB16.  The yarn, once again, is J C Rennie Supersoft Lambswool in Silver Grey.

This is an entirely practical garment and the pattern choice was a bit of a no-brainer because my first Rimini cardigan is the garment I most covet on days when I want a light, but warm and cosy cardigan.  Everything about it is just perfect and it has become a bit of a benchmark against which the shortcomings of other patterns are measured.  If a neckline is too wide, or too low, then that is brought into sharp focus as soon as I put on Rimini which sits exactly right at the neck and keeps out draughts without being stifling.  If sleeves are too short, or too tight, turn to Rimini and they are just precisely how sleeves need to be.  Rimini is a gorgeous pattern.

I am making a couple of slight changes on this version.  The pattern is written with some waist shaping and button fastenings all the way down the front.  Instead, I am planning this to have buttons down to bust level then let the cardigan flare open and so I have left out the waist shaping.

I have just made a start on the left front of the cardigan, having completed the back a week or so ago.  As I’m on holiday at the moment, I’m hoping to get a bit of a move-on with this through the rest of the week.  I think that one of the really great things about knitting as a hobby is that however bad the weather, no holiday is a let-down.  So, it rains for a week – think how much knitting you can get done!

Speaking of which, it is high time I was heading over to the settee….

Oh, and by the way, if you happen to be a spider and you feel like coming to live in my bedroom, don’t.  I have cleared three spiders out of there this morning and, quite frankly, three is enough.  Thanks.