I can't pretend this is a wholly original idea, but figured it might be interesting to post a weekly round-up of the things that have been keeping me entertained and informed.
What I've been listening to
Two debut albums have been monopolising my iPod Shuffle during my usual commute by tube: Liam Finn's I'll Be Lightening (gorgeous) and The Hoosiers' Trick to Life (quirky and catchy). It has to be said that the more I listen to The Hoosiers, the more I think lead singer Irwin Sparkes sounds like the late Jeff Buckley, so much so it is quite eerie!
What I've been reading
The April issue of The Word kept me entertained for an hour or so yesterday morning. This is one of those magazines that started out trying to be a kind of male Vanity Fair and has since morphed into being yet another music magazine along similar lines as Uncut. T's a subscriber, so it's not a magazine I'd actively go out and buy off the newsstand, but when it's lying around the house it's pretty hard not to pick it up and start reading.
Book-wise I've just finished the delightfully thought-provoking Night Letters by Robert Dessaix, a masterpiece of Australian literature, and I am now mid-way through Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, a complimentary copy of which was posted to me by the author. This book is a riveting tale set in ancient Egypt and I'm having difficulty putting it down.
What I've been watching
We watched Infamous on DVD last night, a biopic about writer Truman Capote that came out at about the same time as Capote. The latter film, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is one of my favourites of recent years, so Infamous had quite a lot to live up to. Despite having a more stellar cast -- Sigourney Weaver, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow etc etc -- it lacked the quiet beauty of Capote but had a lighter, more comedic feel. The lead character, played by Toby Young, was slightly more caricatured and more overtly camp than Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal. And, similarly, it did not shy away from making it quite clear that Capote had fallen in love with Perry Smith (played by an almost unrecognisable Daniel Craig), one of the killers whose story he had gone to research for his true-fiction crime novel In Cold Blood.
It's been a good week for TV documentaries. I seem to have watched -- and enjoyed -- more than my usual quota.
I can highly recommend The Lost Gospels (BB2) which looks at the discovery of early Christian texts, including the gospels of Mary and Thomas, that were suppressed and left out of the New Testament. Anglican vicar Pete Owen Jones, a well spoken Englishman who looks like an older, bedraggled version of Indiana Jones, argues that if such gospels had been published Christianity may not have survived to the present day. I'm not a religious person at all, but I found this documentary incredibly fascinating...
Ditto for Folk Hibernia (BB4), which charts the modernisation of folk music in Ireland during the mid-to-late 20th century. Think of an Irish folk singer -- Christy Moore, Mary Black, Shane Macgowan et al -- and they pop up on this documentary, either in performance or interview.
The Woman Who Stops Traffic appealed to the cyclist in me. This is an ongoing series about a woman who's travelling across the UK trying to convince people to ditch the car in favour of the bicycle. I've missed earlier episodes, but in this one she visits Durham to encourage the town's citizens to go car-free for a day -- with mixed results. Personally, I think she needs to forget the "green" message and sell the idea to people based upon the fact that cycling is the quickest way to get around in urban areas. And it also saves you from having to go to the gym.
All White in Barking (BB2), part of the channel's White Season, kept me amused on Friday night. Barking, on the outer Eastern fringe of London, has been radically changed by immigration over the past 12 months. In this documentary white locals are interviewed about their feelings on the issue -- and what they reveal isn't exactly a glowing advertisement for multicultural tolerance. I watched with a weird mixture of fear and fascination.
Which is also how I watched The Curious World of Frinton-on-Sea (BB2) earlier in the week, except in this case I laughed out loud. A lot. This programme examines the town's battle to keep its manually operated level-crossing gates from being automated. Cue a tonne of old people taking to the streets in protest. The best scene, however, is seeing the poor unsuspecting National Rail employee being berated at a public meeting by a bunch of old codgers who don't like change!
Speaking of humour, I very much enjoyed Sport Relief Does The Apprentice (although, I'm still to see part 2) and tittered my way through the quite ludicrously stupid Top Gear Does Ground Force in which Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May totally trash Sir Steve Redgrave's garden all in the name of charity (see YouTube clip below).