#CrazyStupidBook: Eric Thompson – ‘The Adventures of Dougal’

image

At nearly 25, and of all the classic British TV institutions that have been, you’d think that “The Magic Roundabout” would be the one I’d least be aware of. After all, it first went to air in the UK at teatime in October 1965 – some 25 years before I was even born.

Of course, however, people who know me well enough will know that I was a huge fan of the show, largely through commercial BBC VHS releases of the original Eric Thompson episodes in the late 80’s and early 90’s. His dry, laconic wit and calming, mellifluous voice was one of the soundtracks of my early years.

Hence why at aged 2 or 3, I was walking around our living room shouting “I’m a British cannon! British to the core!” or “London’s burning, the dam’s burst! Women and dogs first!”, something my parents still find amusing to this day. But it showed what sort of effect it had on me.

An effect that has lasted into my adulthood. For it’s Thompson’s enchanting, witty tales of Dougal, Florence, Zebedee, Brian, Ermintrude and the others that are in fact influencing my own series of children’s stories (as yet unnamed) that I’ve been writing for just under a year.

image

This little compendium of tales were originally published as seperate tie-ins to the series at the height of its popularity in the 1960s and 70s, but were republished in this form to commemorate the anniversary of Eric’s death 15 years previously, with a foreword by his wife Phyllida Law and daughters Emma and Sophie, themselves accomplished actors. And they are an escapist, beautifully written yet wonderfully hilarious treat.

The first section, ‘Dougal’s Adventures’ are a series of short stories that see Dougal have trouble with finding Zebedee’s missing moustache whilst pretending to be a crow, helping an endangered butterfly from captivity and leading the captain of a ship on Navy Day, all with hilarious effect.

The other two longer sections of the book, ‘Dougal’s Scottish Holiday’ and ‘Dougal Round the World’ set the temperamental shaggy dog and his chums outside their usual roundabout setting, as they take seperate vacations to see Dougal’s fiery Uncle Hamish in Scotland for the winter, and then on a globe trotting expedition in summer that finds time to take in Italy, Morocco and the North Pole.

image

It’s a shame that in an age when literature seems to have less and less relevance on the youth of today, I feel eternally grateful that Thompson’s creations came into my formative years when they did. He had such a way with words, and a way of writing for such a broad audience that it has made the appeal of these little stories all the more enduring.

It’s a gift I feel his daughter Emma Thompson has carried on beautifully throughout her own career, particularly her screen writing for ‘Nanny McPhee’ which she starred in and more recently, her writing of two new Peter Rabbit stories for Frederick Warne and Co, the original publishing house of Beatrix Potter’s much loved tales.

If you have kids who are just growing out of Peppa Pig but are looking for a new, equally enjoyable replacement, I’d advise giving ‘The Magic Roundabout’ (you can find the original episodes all on YouTube now) and indeed this book a go. I hope they are as enthralled and enchanted as I was, and continue to be. “Now where was I?” said Zebedee. “Oh yes, time for bed.” BOING!

Advertisements

In Memoriam: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

image

I always find myself unable to express how I feel when someone in the public eye passes away, more so if that person is someone I admire and respect, as I often feel that what sorrow I feel is probably nothing next to their family and friends’. Which is more than certainly the case with the tragic news of Robin Williams’ passing away this week.

As have most people of my age, I grew up on so many of his films, and even now as a writer, I always admired what a strong character he was as a comedian and as a more established actor – he could go from playing a wise cracking genie in the Disney adaptation of ‘Aladdin’ and an eccentric Scottish nanny-in drag for ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, to his roles in the Academy Award winning ‘Good Will Hunting’ and as an inspirational English teacher in ‘Dead Poets’ Society’.

His timing, talent and huge appeal has created a legacy that will doubtless live on forever in the films or shows we knew and loved him in (that might be ‘Mork & Mindy’ for some of the older people reading this blog). Of course, the circumstances surrounding his tragic loss have only just come to light, and with it a series of queries about the raw issues at heart.

image

I think in the Western world particularly, we deal with grief or depression or anything upsetting with such stiff upper lip, particularly in Britain. There is still such a stigma around mental health, but two things we’ve sadly seen from the last week is that A) it takes such courage in today’s society to admit when something is wrong and that you need help – and for some, there is no way they sadly feel able to do that and B) even all the success and fame and achievements you make alone can’t make you happy, and that we are all human whatever the situation.

I guess what I really want to say if you’re reading this today is that sometimes, it’s OK to not be OK. And if you have a problem, or if something is not right then please, talk to someone and get help, however difficult it may seem. It’s when you talk to someone and admit you’re not coping that you begin the road to ‘recovery’ as it were, and I don’t mean that to sound glib or patronising but it’s true. Because I’ve been there myself, and it wasn’t easy for me to admit things weren’t going right for me.

But to end on a strong note, I think what especially we can take away from this week is that, tragic a loss as this is, and though we have sadly lost Robin and his amazing talent, we should also remember that he used that talent to make other people happy, which is what has created his amazing legacy he has left behind. And if you do have a talent that makes others happy then please, please use it. The world needs more people like you now.

#CrazyStupidAlbum: Loveable Rogues – “This & That”

image

Up until this week just gone, life had several great mysteries that were still unsolved: why there wasn’t any cure for the summertime blues, why toast landed jam side down, and why Loveable Rogues, despite being easily the best band in a long while to get their springboard into the public consciousness via reality TV (the 2012 series of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, where they came 4th behind the perpetually irritating, gyrating mongrel Pudsey), were still yet to release a debut album.

After all, on paper, Eddie, Sonny and Té (for it is they) should have been an instant smash. Formed of their own accord in 2010 while they were all still at college, this cheeky, chappy and indeed loveable band of bros from Essex and north London wowed the judges and public alike over with their self penned, conversational and witty tunes like “Love Sick” and “Honest”, two tracks that were the first in a long time by a band from such a show that didn’t make you want to inflict serious harm on anyone and were fine examples of pop done properly.

Indeed – signed up immediately by Simon Cowell to his SyCo label on finishing the show, they started making their album and touring the country – including a prestigeous support slot on labelmate and good friend Olly Murs’ last tour, which they promptly followed up with a debut top 10 hit “What a Night”. Alas, SyCo were too wrapped up in signing the intolerably bad Union J instead (whose own album has struggled to sell even 100,000 copies) to make anymore effort, prompting the boys to leave their deal and set up their own label, SuperDuper Records.

image

So this album has definitely been a long time coming – namely for reasons out of their control. Now it’s here though, it’s more than worth the wait and is a real surprise the whole way round. It is hard to explain just why that is the case, but I will try.

When the words ‘concept album’ are bandied about, it’s in the context of so called “serious” musicians making (or trying to make) some massive statement, politically more often than not, in album form. But “This & That” feels right to be calling a concept album, in that it’s the first pop album to brilliantly capture life as a late teen/early twentysomething living in modern Britain since Girls Aloud’s ubiquitous “Chemistry” album from 2005.

An enthralling mix of energy, relentlessness and joie-de-vivre, the album’s first three tracks traverse and explore blossoming first love in the selfie generation via soulful cod reggae (‘Sweet Lovin’), derision and rejection of the straitjacket of modern day, middle class aspiration on part rapped, part sung jangly indie pop (has-to-be-future-single ‘Talking Monkeys’) and the naughty, toilet humour, lads h’away antics of house parties gone wrong via the bastard child cross of Blink 182 and Madness (‘What a Night’).

image

Further into the album, the lyrics and experimenting with styles of music get all the more weird and wonderful: ‘Everything’s Better With You’ is twinkly dream pop recalling the more love struck moments in Lily Allen’s back catalogue. ‘This & That’, the album’s title track is a funky acoustic jam that recalls the hilarious joys of running a contraband school tuck shop in the post-Jamie Oliver turkey twizzler-gate shaming of the mid 00’s.

‘Nuthouse’ is a suitably named off the wall cut, recalling the ska vibes of The Specials at their eerie best, and ‘Front Story’ is a visceral, biting attack on exaggerated tabloid tattletales based around a more punked up version of the old ‘Bo Diddley’ riff utilised on George Michael’s ‘Faith’.

Their amiability and charm shines through on a record that takes no prisoners in sound or style. Even though they lack in the power and promotion of a major label, making away with the by-committee, ‘will this do’ executive codswallop looming over them has allowed Loveable Rogues to truly represent themselves as the pop band that they really are, whilst in turn becoming one of its most exciting in a very long time.

STREAM THESE: ‘Front Story’, ‘Talking Monkeys’, ‘Nuthouse’.

‘This and That’ is available to download now on iTunes. The band are on tour again in November, dates to be announced soon. http://www.loveableroguesmusic.com

On the eve of their greatest hits, a post in praise of The Saturdays.

image

Music has long been a big interest and passion of mine since I was a little boy, but no other genre of music inspires me, lifts me or motivates me quite like pop music. And they don’t come anymore motivating,  inspiring or lifting than The Saturdays.

It was through being a fan of their now sadly defunct labelmates, and another of my girl group favourites Girls Aloud, back in 2008 that I became a fan of theirs. In the spring of that year, they were launched with a premiere support slot on Girls Aloud’s UK arena tour in support of their album “Tangled Up”.

The Sats (as they’re affectionately known) came along at an interesting point for pop music – when suddenly, pop music meant having to strike the fine balance between unashamedly fun and feel good whilst maintaining an air of credibility with the ‘serious’ music press, in a chart landscape that was now dominated by indie bands, singer/songwriters and blinged up rappers. See Sugababes, see 00’s era Kylie Minogue, and see Girls Aloud.

Whilst the music produced by those artists was and still is great pop music, however,  no one seemed to be having full on, “who-cares-what-the-Guardian-and-NME-thinks” fun in pop music anymore. Hence, from the very start of the Saturdays, when they paraded around in colour coded tights in the video to their first top 5 hit, the still deliciously bouncy “Up”, they were seen – and still are seen – as being very much an old fashioned pop band, one who would have doubtless been a hit in the late 90’s pop boom with Steps and S Club 7 (who, incidentally, gave both Frankie Bridge and Rochelle Humes from the band their start in spin off pre-teen band S Club Juniors. Aaron Renfree, one of their fellow Juniors, is now also the Sats’ choreographer).

Not for them has there been harried attempts to be ‘taken seriously’ or morph into ‘good girls gone bad’ (watch where our eyes rest, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus) or to ask for an air of coolness and credibility at every turn. Then again, when one of your bandmates is a self confessed addict of Britney Spears as Mollie King is (and out of all the girls, I get the impression she loves being a Saturday the most), why would you be looking for anything else but a chance to escape, for an hour with one of their albums or with an episode of their (brilliant) E! reality series ‘Chasing the Saturdays’, to a technicolour world of poptastic joy?

image

And, like all good pop acts, they can divert off to and explore with ease numerous other genres – take the amped up girly rock of “Forever is Over”, the thundering, Xenomania helmed floorfiller vibes of “All Fired Up” or even the R&B struts of “Notorious” and “Work” – whilst staying consistently true to their poptastic roots on the likes of “Higher”, “Ego” and last year’s “Disco Love”, all of which are pop music at its irony free, unashamed best.

And that for me, especially having spent this weekend engaged with my deluxe boxset copy of their greatest hits, titled “Finest Selection”, is partly why I love them and support them as much as I have over the last 7 years. I was headed off to university by the time their 2nd album “Wordshaker” came out in the autumn of 2009, and whether I blasted their albums during long nights of essay writing, put their poster up on my wall in my halls room, or screamed my lungs out for them when they played our students union Christmas ball that year, nobody, for the first time that I can remember since before high school, questioned me or mocked me for being a fan of a straight ahead, poptastic girl group. Partly because I loved them (and still do) without any hint of irony or pretence. I met them at a meet and greet performance in Chelmsford as a surprise for my 21st birthday a year later (see picture below. I got a kiss off Frankie as well. I’ve dined out on that story a few times as you might imagine!), and it solidified my love of them in more ways than one.

image

Because there’s also an emotional investment there. Anyone who’s seen one of their TV shows or watched their weekly ‘Flip cam’ videos on their website will know how close knit they are as a band – unusual for a girl group you may think, but consider this. Three of their number have had children and got married in the last three years whilst still firing on all cylinders in the charts. This is certainly not something Spice Girls or All Saints could have professed at their height.

And in that sense, they feel like a surrogate family in a way, one you feel pleasantly protective and proud of. Which is why it was all the more amazing last year, after three near misses, to see them finally get their long awaited and well deserved first UK number 1 single with “What About Us”. It felt like I’d been a part of that journey as much as they had.

image

As to what the future may hold now they are celebrating seven glorious years thus far in a business as fickle as the music industry, it is anyone’s guess. But one thing is true for me that’s been true since 2008: with The Saturdays, every day of the week, no matter how dull, will always feel like a Saturday.

“Finest Selection: The Greatest Hits” is out tomorrow on Polydor. The Saturdays are also on their Greatest Hits tour of the UK from September 7th, visit www.thesaturdays.co.uk for tickets and info.

Operation: Random Acts of Kindness with #5actsaday

image

So for my first post on here, I’ve decided to post about something that has only been a part of my life for over a week, but has moved me forward into being a better person and making a better world. But perhaps I should start my post back in 2012.

Two years ago, I graduated and finished my full time education in the ‘conventional’ sense as it were, gaining a 2:1 in English Literature, Creative Writing and English Language Teaching from Hertfordshire University. What I didn’t realise at the time, at nearly 23, was that real life now began.

In between doing voluntary writing work for my journalistic ambitions with AMAZEPOP magazine and also my own, short lived music blog Brits Go Pop , and pursuing but then deciding against a career in teaching (in this country anyway), I was applying for job after job, getting tons of rejection letters that, if you stacked them all up could probably be made into a small tree, and getting down to final threes or twos for interviews for different roles and graduate based schemes and just missing out.

That period after graduating was an isolating and tough time for me, watching all my friends doing well, and worrying and wondering when or if I’d get my break or start in life, which without the support of those closest to me in my family, I don’t know if I’d have survived. I’m quite a spiritual person as well, and I feel like praying and being in and around my church community, which has been a lot of the foundation of my life from being a kid to now being an adult, kept me strong (and still does).

In April this year, my drive and ambition finally paid off and I’m now in my first full time graduate role, working in insurance, and for the first time in a long while, I’ve been able to start making some small plans, earning a proper living (and saving for some pipeline aspirations) as I start to lay down the stepping stones of my career.

I do feel very fortunate and very lucky given the circumstances – after all, I, along with thousands of others, graduated into a pretty miserable UK economy, with a recovery that seems to be benefiting the greedy, selfish and arrogant, and leaving those struggling in our society struggling even more under a government that has left our country in the worst state it’s ever been in.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but I think it must have been the start of this year when one day, I switched on the news over breakfast and after just 30 minutes, I felt saddened and frustrated. Surely, I thought, this can’t be the way society, let alone our own country, is heading? And I know the media – newspapers, TV, radio – are there to deliver the bad stuff as well as the good. But I just felt there was no balance anymore. I felt that we were becoming so free of compassion and inhumane, a society without hope or faith or good will.

And the more I thought about it, the more I even considered my social media timelines of an average day, and how awful they were to read. So that’s when I decided to do something about it – to be the positive change and force for good, and to make people happier. I made the resolution to make sure I posted something positive on Facebook and Twitter everyday – whether it was an inspirational quote, a cute or funny picture of a puppy or kitten, or a YouTube video of a happy song or a funny clip (an excerpt from a favourite sitcom or a sneezing panda are default mood boosters for me).

image

And I noticed it was making other people happy too, who’d Tweet me or message me to tell me so. And that therefore, I was making a change and making the world a better place, even if it was in a small way.

Which brings me to about over a week ago. One Monday night on Instagram, one of my dearest friends from uni, Amy Warner, posted a picture of a cute message written on a brightly coloured Post-it note she’d found on her evening train home, bearing the hashtag #5actsaday.

Curious, I duly seeked out this hashtag, and found out all about 5 Acts a Day, an initiative to perform random acts of kindness (a concept I’ve been in love with, but never had the bravery to do since watching one of my favourite films as a teenager, the critically acclaimed ‘Amélie‘ starring Audrey Tautou), and about the amazing woman who started it, Primrose Kaur Pangela – I won’t retell it here but I’d read her inspiring story of how she started the initiative and it moved me so much I decided to take part (I hope you too will read it and be inspired).

‘5 Acts a Day’ does what it says on the tin – to perform five simple acts of kindness a day, and to be the change you want to be in the world. The most effective of these is to leave, as my friend Amy found, the brightly coloured ‘kindness cards’ in public places – on the bus, in a coffee shop, in the office lift – wherever you feel kindness is best spread.

image

I’ve been writing and leaving my kindness cards on my morning commute for a week, and I enjoy the lift, the feeling of excitement it gives me knowing it may have made someone happier so much, that I intend to keep on doing it! It is after all, making me a happier person whilst making a difference to making society a happier one. And that is the most beautiful thing of all with ‘5 Acts A Day’.

To find out more about 5 Acts a Day and to purchase a set of kindness cards, please visit the website www.5actsaday.org or visit their Twitter handle @5actsaday.

Hello everybody…

Welcome to my new personal blog…this is my little corner on WordPress to showcase my writing, tell you what I’m loving, what I’m thinking and kind of everything else in between at the moment. Speak to you all soon,

Much love

Alex

🙂 x