I was very excited to hear the news that The Muppet Christmas Carol would be receiving a cinematic re-release this December. Whilst I can't honestly say that is my absolute favourite seasonal film*, it's a film that brings back some very happy memories and holds a special place in my heart. Besides, has Michael Caine - who plays Scrooge entirely straight, with no regard to the fact that the vast majority of his co-stars are muppets - ever been better in all his long and illustrious career?
It's in the singing of a street corner choir It's going home and getting warm by the fire It's true, wherever you find love It feels like Christmas
Well, as I was talking about this with my team at work, whilst Jack was very enthusiastic and wanted to look up when screenings were on in Nottingham, the girls in the team were entirely indifferent. In fact, most of them hadn't even seen it. "It's a boy's film", said Alice, dismissively.
As a man, perhaps it's my privilege speaking here, but I would never in a million years have The Muppet Christmas Carol down as a boy's film. It's hardly Die Hard, is it? We spent the next few minutes doing a sampling of all the people around our desks, and indeed..... most of the girls hadn't seen it and thought it was a boy's film, and most of the boys were fairly enthusiastic about it.
Say it ain't so!
Of course, the whole concept of there being "boy's films" and "girl's films" is nonsense, but if you allow the concept, then surely Muppet Christmas Carol would be nowhere near the top of anyone's list. Even amongst seasonal films, it's nowhere near the top, is it?
I'd be fascinated to hear what you think.
Oh, and guess what I'm giving every single member of my team as a Christmas gift.
--- * Elf** ** or maybe Bad Santa*** *** probably Trading Places.**** **** Just don't talk to me about Love Actually. In my view, that's a vile, cynical film where every single male character behaves as though they don't have an ounce of respect for any of the women. Ugh.
Billy Bragg @ Nottingham Rock City, Saturday 18th November 2017 (Bridges Not Walls tour)
I think, of all the people I've seen and all the gigs I've attended, Billy Bragg is the artist I've seen the most often. Starting at Bristol on the Mermaid Avenue tour in around about 1998, I've probably seen the old boy play at least twice as many times as I've seen anyone else (probably Iron Maiden, if you're interested... but just maybe Thunder, who seemed to support everyone back in the day). I even saw him four times at one Glastonbury, each time on a different stage and with a completely different set. It's his Leftfield sets that I remember the most fondly: initially on a Sunday night in the smaller tent just down from the Hare Krishna and then on a Friday or a Saturday night (depending on how big the Pyramid headliners were - he always tries to play against the biggest bands so that the other acts at the Leftfield don't have to).
I remember one hot Sunday night -- 2002, I think -- when Billy played with a completely blank setlist and took requests all night. It was so hot that evening that the security (in the Leftfield, these are always Union staff) passed back so much water into the crowd that every single person in the tent had at least one plastic cup and most people had two. Good times.
I think I can honestly say that I've enjoyed every single one of all these gigs. Some are better than others, of course. He's not a nostalgia act and regularly releases new material (he makes a point tonight of saying that he's definitely not part of the December nostalgia touring circuit and that this tour ends on 30th November). Not all of these newer albums have been classics. Your mileage may vary, but I would say that my heart tends to sink a little bit when he plays some of his newer, country and western tinged material. For me, it's just not as good as his "classic" material. That said, I really enjoyed the album of train-based songs that he released with Joe Henry last year.
Tonight... well, he plays a good, 2-hour long set and plays loads of his absolute classics - some on the same guitar he recorded them on, even if "the green monster" is doing his back in. Is it the best I've ever seen him? No. Is he good? Yes, he is. Rock City is packed and you can tell that we're in the mood, right from the off, when we sing along to every word of opener "Sexuality". Most people just do the backing vocals, apparently ("Sweden!"). Hmm. I don't know about that, but we're definitely in good voice and keen to hear what he's got. He's playing pretty much alone, which is how it should be for Billy Bragg... backed occasionally by CJ Hillman on pedal steel and once (on "Shirley") on the Rickenbacker. "If he's Johnny Marr, then I'm afraid that must make me Craig Gannon". Oh, I do love a nice, obscure Smiths reference.
We have some new songs too: "Saffiyah Smiles" is dedicated to Saffiyah Kahn, the lady who confronted a neanderthal on a recent EDL march in Birmingham with a smile and was captured in a brilliant photograph that shows pretty clearly where he real power lies here.
"King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood" refers to the floods that happen in Florida when the water table rises, causing surges of water even when there hasn't been a storm. It's a fairly obvious warning about global warming.
Both of these are more successful than "Full English Brexit", an attempt to try and understand the fears of the people who voted Brexit... which means well (something that is often said about BB himself and his political interventions) but mostly just sounds patronising.
There are covers: "I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore" (originally by Woody Guthrie), "Why we build the wall" (originally by Anais Mitchell) - both of which I've heard him play before, as well as older BB standards, "The World Turned Upside Down" (originally by Leon Rosselson) and "Power in a Union" (Joe Hill). Bragg's been changing lyrics around as long as I've been watching him play: he messes about with "Sexuality" and "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" is a joy tonight as he chops it around to make it even more relevant. I'm not at all sure about taking on Bob Dylan's "Times They Are a'Changing" though. Some things are better left well alone, I think.
But, you know what? At least he's trying to keep things interesting... for himself and for his audience. If he just came out and played "Life's a Riot", "Talking with the Taxman about Poetry" and "Brewing Up with Billy Bragg", I'd be delighted... but would I keep buying tickets to see him play? No, I don't think I would.
Have I seen him play better? Yes, I have. But tonight was still a pretty good way to spend a Saturday night.
To be honest, I'd come and listen to him just talking for two hours. I don't agree with everything he says, and just occasionally he can sound like a well-worn record repeating the same well-rehearsed rants.... but it's becoming increasingly rare to hear a humane voice of reason like this in a world of spouting idiots. Still, as he'll freely tell you himself (and has the merchandise to prove it), he's like marmite: some love him, some hate him.
Let's cherish him whilst we've still got him and he's still touring, eh? Roll on the next time.
VERDICT: 7 / 10
David Belbin also reviewed this gig for the Post, and you can read the extended version of that review here.
SETLIST: sexuality - the warmest room - I ain't got no home in this world anymore - accident waiting to happen - the man in the iron mask - saffiyah smiles - must I paint you a picture? - Levi Stubbs' tears - king tide and the sunny day flood - shirley (greetings to the new brunette) - why we build the wall - milkman of human kindness - I keep faith - power in a union - full english brexit - the times they are a'changin' (back) - waiting for the great leap forward - a new england
(he played 'the world turned upside down' and "st swithin's day" towards the front of the set too, neither of which appear on the setlist... )
* I was reminded of Billy by the character Korg in the recent Thor film. Not physically, you understand (Korg is huge and made of rock), but because he's kind and softly spoken and because, as he says, "I tried to start a revolution... but I didn't print enough pamphlets".
There's a lovely chap at our local parkrun: he's in his eighties now and has volunteered nearly 200 times without ever once feeling tempted to go around the course himself. He's an absolute institution and everyone who comes along on a Saturday morning to walk, run, jog or volunteer at our parkrun loves him. He marshalls the part of the course we call "the split", where, first time around, runners turn left and then, later on, turn right with a couple of hundred meters to the finish. We've actually now officially named the split after him and given him some specially personalised signs so that every runner can thank him by name as they go past him.
As a member of the core parkrun team for the last couple of years, I've been lucky enough to get to know this chap quite well. He's a cheeky sod too, and has particularly taken to teasing my wife at every possible opportunity... pointing her back around the course when she approaches the split for the second time, instead of directing her to the finish. This week, he directed me into a space as I arrived and then held his hand out for five shillings, which he doubled when he saw my wife was also in the car. That kind of thing. He's a lovely guy.
Just recently, he's been particularly kind to me: he knows that I had an operation in the summer that stopped me from running for a while, and he's made a real point of coming up to me every week since and asking me -- quietly - how I am, and telling me to look after myself. I didn't really think anything of it other than the fact that he's a gentleman.... until last weekend.
Last weekend, as he was quietly enquiring after my health, he went on:
"I had a friend who had a testicle removed, you know. It took him a few months to get back up to speed. You look after yourself!"
I can't help but wonder exactly he's heard about exactly what I had done over the summer.
You know you've arrived at work when you're the guy that your boss's boss entrusts with a call at a quarter to six in the evening with an important mission. The fact that she knew that I would almost certainly still be in the office is neither here nor there; I was definitely her go-to person; someone that she knew that she could absolutely trust in a crisis.
And now that crisis was here: her boss's boss - so my boss's boss's boss's boss and one of the most senior people in the company - had lost his iPad and thought he might have left it on his desk. Would you mind going to check?
I checked. It wasn't there. Whilst I was there, I also took the opportunity to have a little spin in his fancy chair... something that didn't go unnoticed by those of my colleagues still in the office, who immediately began hurling abuse about my delusions of grandeur.
I didn't care. I was on a mission. Not quite from God, but almost.
This isn't just any iPad we're talking about here, you know. This guy doesn't even bother with a laptop now (actually, he doesn't even know where it is). His iPad is everything. His alpha and omega. To lose it is unthinkable. He must have been in pieces on his way back to London, barely holding it together.
Hmm. So, if it's not on his desk, where might it be?
My boss's boss had a suggestion. Apparently, le grand fromage thought there was a chance that he might have left it in the old executive toilets at some point that morning. Worth a look? Well, why not? Now, these are fancy toilets: the kind that have oak panelled traps, marble all around and ashtrays over the urinals (I'm not even joking about that). If you're going to leave your iPad anywhere...
So I looked.... and there it was, an iPad mini sat on the marble fittings near the sinks in a sky-blue case tucked underneath a little moleskine notepad (lined, not squared like the cool kids use) and (cheap) pen. Perhaps if it had been a squared notebook with a better pen, someone would have had it. Still, it was still there.
My boss's boss was delighted. So too, I have no doubt, was her grateful and relieved boss's boss.
As I locked them away in my draw, I marvelled again at what a thrilling and fulfilling job I have.
What a rush.
I'm worth every penny they pay me and more. Definitely.
After a month of this damn chest infection, it's fair to say that I've been going a little stir-crazy. You might think that I'd be able to enjoy a break from running and cycling, but no.... I don't rest well.
My chest X-ray from last week has come back clear, which is great news. My lungs also apparently now sound clear... but I'm still being bothered by a tight chest and some difficulty breathing. Not to worry, as well as the two inhalers I'm now using, the doctor prescribed me some steroids.
It's only a short course lasting 5 days, but my imagination is already running wild about the possibility that I'm going to be able to make my return to running cutting much more of a dash in my running vest as I pump my guns on the way to PB after PB. I may have to start worrying about out-of-competition testing and keeping unadulterated child's piss in my fridge in case the doping police come round unexpectedly and demand a sample... but that's really only a small price to pay for a return to fitness.
After all, the only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show [kisses biceps] and see if she likes the goods.