Thursday, 18 October 2018

Earl Cameron, actor

BBC Two have shared a short video of the actor Earl Cameron speaking about his life. He's just over 100 years old, and in 1951 he was the first black man to star in a post-war British film (Paul Robeson, Elisabeth Welch and Nina Mae McKinney had all starred in the 1930s). The film was Pool of London, and he played a sailor who got involved with a local white girl.

He also played the astronaut in the 1966 Doctor Who story The Tenth Planet. It had always impressed me that a black actor had been chosen to play the astronaut, and I never imagined he was still alive now.
He's had a varied career on stage, film and TV, appearing in Tarzan and Bond films, and many British TV series.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Filk Singing

I first became aware of filk - science fiction folk music - in the 1980s, when I was a regular attendee at Star Trek Cons, and (one of the highlights of my Con going) Conspiracy 87, the WorldCon in Brighton. There I went to a filk concert - I think it was on at the same time as the Hugo Awards - and heard groups like Technical Difficulties perform. I bought cassette tapes, and song books like The Old Grey Wassail Test and A Wolfrider's Reflections, which I still have. I discovered Off Centaur Publications, and singers like Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish, and songs celebrating the novels of Mercedes Lackey and CJ Cherryh.

Every week I go to an acoustic session, where I sing. Occasionally I'll sing one of Kipling's poems that Leslie Fish set to music, but I don't normally do anything more esoteric than that, simply because no-one else in the room will know anything about the stories that the songs are based on.
But I'm heading off to FantasyCon soon (this year it's at the Queen's Hotel in Chester), so I thought I'd dust down one of the old filk songs I know to celebrate. I chose Threes, which I learned off Julia Ecklar's tape Horse-Tamer's Daughter, which tells (more or less) a Mercedes Lackey short story.
It occurred to me that I last sang it in public at the Wrexham Folk Club in 1989, which seems like a very long time ago. I was working on an archaeological dig at Bersham Ironworks, and got some of the other girls there interested enough in the song that they said they'd be my backing group if I got up to sing it. On the night, they chickened out and left me up there at the mic on my own. I have a distinct memory of seeing them in the audience, where it was nice and dark and anonymous, singing along quietly.
This time, I've got a lot more confidence when I'm singing, and it actually went pretty well - it's a song that doesn't need any prior knowledge of the books to understand the story (an ambush that goes really badly for the bandits).
Maybe I'll try Pride of Chanur next.... :)

Friday, 28 September 2018

More Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle has maintained its very high standards.
Series 2 has the group of women, who had been code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the war, trying to prove the innocence of another Bletchley girl who has been accused of murder. The victim is a scientist played by Paul McGann.
That story deals with Cold War spying and experiments at Porton Down, while the second half of the series (only 4 episodes to a season, sadly) deals with Maltese gangsters trafficking girls into the country, via a little 'harmless' perfume smuggling. Spivs selling dodgy nylons were still around, as was rationing, in the early 1950s.

The beauty of the series is that there are four main characters who work together, so when Susan leaves, she is replaced by Alice, and by the time of the third season, set in San Francisco, there are only two members of the original team left, Millie and Jean.
They discover that a murderer in San Francisco is killing women in exactly the same way as one of their colleagues at Bletchley during the War was murdered, and travel there to see if they can bring him to justice. But they need some local knowledge, so first they have to track down an American code-breaker Jean was in touch with during the War, who they know only as Major Six.
The story takes place against the backdrop of the Fillmore district, where mainly black families are being forced out for re-development to take place. During the War, the area was home to a Japanese community, who were also forcibly removed.
And for the second part of the series, it all goes a bit Peyton Place, with intelligent women trapped in loveless marriages and meaningless lives in the suburbs, until one of them is killed in what seems to be a hit and run accident - or was it murder? (The only really happy marriage seems to be between Iris and her husband living in the Fillmore).

I'm looking forward to seeing Millie, Jean, Iris and Hailey in Part Two.

Monday, 24 September 2018

RIP Gary Kurtz

I just heard that Gary Kurtz, the film producer who worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (among many other films) has died.
I remember seeing him as a guest at a British Star Trek Convention in the early 1980s, where he spoke about making the Star Wars films, and was very courteous in answering all the questions he was asked. Back then he had a beard with no moustache, and I'm pretty sure he talked about being a Quaker as well as the film related stuff.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Some More Sights of London

We passed a few interesting things while on the way to other places over the week. One of them was this church spire:

It's St George's in Bloomsbury, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the sixth and last church that he designed and built in London. The spire appears in the background of Hogarth's famous picture Gin Lane. The lion and the unicorn were added in 2006, as the originals had been lost.
Looking at their website, I see that the memorial service for Emily Davison was held here in 1913. She was the suffragette who threw herself under the King's horse during the Derby. The horse, Anmer, completed the race without his jockey, who was also injured in the fall. Emily Davison died in hospital two days later without regaining consciousness.
The basement of the church houses the Museum of Comedy, and the church itself holds services in Korean.

And then there was this mews, down the hill from the Horniman Museum:

It's called Havelock Walk. The houses were decorated like this all the way along the row, and there's also an artist's studio.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Buses and Daleks in London

I'm fairly easy to please, so a long bus ride sitting on the top of a double decker right at the front was an ideal way to start the day.
We went from Woolwich to Greenwich to start with, and met a chap on the market who turns London landmarks into Daleks in his art - it's very cleverly done, and he also takes stalls at Comic Cons around the country. I took his card - but now I've lost it.
Anyway, we went on from there (the bus stop is by a building that claims to be the oldest in Greenwich - now a takeaway), roughly following the river through Deptford, Canada Water, and Bermondsey (I caught a glimpse of a plaque marking medieval Bermondsey Abbey). Then the Young Man told me to turn to look, and I could see the end of Tower Bridge at the end of the road as the bus turned away from it down Tower Bridge Road and then onto the New Kent Road. I'd heard of the Old Kent Road, but never thought that there must be a New one to go with it. That took us to Elephant and Castle, and then to Waterloo, where we got off.
I had expressed my desire to buy a pith helmet, for Steampunk costuming purposes. My original one was quite cheap, and the webbing inside had broken so it came down over my eyes. The Young Man knew just the place for me to find one - an army surplus shop along The Cut near Waterloo.
The shop is so crammed full of stuff that we had to climb over a pile of rucksacks just to get in. The chap behind the counter produced two different styles of pith helmet instantly, though, together with a tiny mirror so I could see how I looked in them. I chose the one with the more pointed brim - dressed up with a flowing silk scarf it will be just the thing for my Victorian adventuress.
Feeling in the need for sustenance, we had a look at the local cafes, and decided on noodles for lunch. We ate at Culture Grub, a Chinese café that served green tea in glasses. The noodles were very good.
Then the Young Man took me off the main road and down a back street - to the very spot where some of the outdoor filming for Remembrance of the Daleks (Ace's first full story as Sylvester McCoy's Companion) was done. Coal Hill School, the main location for the story, was somewhere else, but Daleks were blown up right where we were! This Doctor Who story was written by Ben Aaronovitch, who also wrote the Rivers of London series we had been visiting locations from earlier in the week.
Then we set off for a little retail therapy in the afternoon, finally getting the bus to Trafalgar Square to get the train back to Woolwich from Charing Cross Station.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Historic Woolwich

One of the days that I stayed in Woolwich was spent just looking round the local area.
I was impressed with the shopping centre - it's about as big as Hereford! And the market sells all sorts of interesting foods, including African snacks. I even saw a cage of live giant snails outside one shop! It's a very ethnically diverse area, which is fascinating for me, as it's very different from Hay. There are women in African dresses and head wraps, women in saris, men in shalwar kameez, and there seems to be a fair sized Turkish community, too.
There's also a lot of history locally. The Victorian town hall has been retained for weddings and so forth, with a modern civic centre across the road.
This is the Victorian library:

And here's the new library, which is bigger than Hereford Library, and seemed to be busy every time we passed by:

There's also a Victorian bath house and swimming pool - I'm not sure what the building is used for now:

Across the main road, is the old Woolwich Arsenal, now being redeveloped into luxury apartments, and it's like stepping into a different world. It's much quieter, for a start. A lot of the Arsenal buildings are still there - there's also the Firepower Museum and the Greenwich Museum, but both were closed when we walked through.
There are plenty of cannons around, though:

And, of course, several bars, including this one - the brewery is just down the road in a nearby industrial estate: