Friday, 29 January 2010

Gardeners reading - Part 2.

Beethoven and his Nephew by Richard and Editha Sterba- Fiddle playing Jessie is currently reading this one. After suffering a retched childhood, Beethoven goes on to wreck his Nephew's childhood as well when his interfering good intentions go horribly wrong.

The troubled musical genius nabs Karl from his mother, who Beethoven sees as a demon and a woman of disrepute. The increasingly psychotic Beethoven spends all his time trying to keep Karl from seeing his mother and as the lad grows up, runs away, attempts suicide, falls in love, joins the army etc.., Beethoven begins a downward spiral of ill health until he dies.

Cheerful stuff eh? Not one that I will be reading, that's for sure! Jess got this copy from her Granny, love the dog eared cover and red staining on the page edges, not sure what the technical term for that is.

Does exactly what it says on the tin, this is David's pick. Winner of the most boring book cover ever? A A Gill, food critic, newspaper columnist and occasional travel writer, has upset and disgusted just about every person, ethnic group, country and animal lover the world over. The bilious Gill, friend to that prat from Top Gear, Mr. Jeremy Clarkson, takes some vacation time in this book of travel essays to exercise his caustic tongue. I haven't read it, but from what I gather Monte Carlo is targeted as being a 'sewage outlet'. Ouch! Him and Clarkson should take a holiday together me thinks.

The Amazing Spiderman no.619. Mobsters fighting mobsters, rotten villains coming back from the dead, a master of illusion, Mysterio, working the field in a game double crossing trickery, a police forensic scientist doing deals with Mysterio and the mob. As always in the thick of it is Spidey, living on his wits and quips. Some lovely art in here by Marcos Martin. With all these good comics around I can't see myself reading any books for a while.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

First signs of Spring

Forget shell suits and tracksuit bottoms, for complete comfort and protection against the elements this season it has to be lightweight waterproofs. Offering ample gusset room and just the right amount of baggy in the leg, they'll give you all the benefits of cheap slouch wear, but with plenty more room for extra layers underneath, and they keep you dry...ish.

For a gardener/fisherman/snowboarder ensemble, I've added a skateboarders wool cap, over sized headphones and a fleece snood. Yep, its still cold and its still crying me a river out there, no matter how hard we try, if its raining we end up looking dirty, nasty and all kinds of filthy!

Finally, there is some movement towards Spring, the Winter Aconites are up, so too are the cyclamen, Hellebores and Snowdrops, creeping up through the leaf litter, and as of yet not really drawing too much attention. Galanthophiles though will be rejoicing their arrival following a 2-3 week delay, caused by the snow and frost over Christmas and New Year.

It's great to hear early birdsong, sweetly spilling from the mouths of skulking Hedge Sparrows and the odd 'yaffle' from the wise old Green Woodpecker. And how could I forget the Wintersweet, the glorious scent of this winter shrub blew through my head this afternoon as the rain drummed on my headphones and once again I became transfixed by Pink Floyd's 'Brain Damage'... "The lunatics are in my hall, the paper holds their folded faces to the floor, and every day the paper boy brings more", and " Got to keep the loonies on the path". Yeah, you can't get more Cambridge than that.

Early Hellebore after rain

Snowdrop from last year.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Midlake- the golden ticket.

We were barely into January when Mojo magazine was throwing flowery praise all over Midlake's hotly anticipated third album, 'The Courage of Others', claiming ahead of its Feb 1st release here in the UK that it was likely stand as one of the best releases of 2010.

I just managed to nab 2 tickets for the gig at the Junction 2 here in Cambridge, even though all the tickets had been snapped up way in advance. I phoned the box office and it turned out that they had a few 'standing only' tickets left. Last night my wife and I stood right up at the front for a fantastic show that did not disappoint!

Beards, beards and more beards, you may as well have put a sign on the door saying 'No entry to the clean shaven' (women excluded of course). That's a slight exaggeration, but not as far as the band were concerned, even the youngest and freshest faced guitarist in the 7 piece band (7 of them!), sported 12 o'clock shadow. I felt positively naked, unworthy, having chosen that very evening to trim to the bone my rugged and rustic, facial undergrowth. Bad move for a gardener in winter as I found out today, as a sharp damp breeze blew across my milky chops.

The Junction 2 was a surprisingly small venue for these guys, and thankfully the management had finally had sense to remove a good chunk of the tiered seating, which on previous occasions had killed the atmosphere in this small auditorium. I hope this is now a permanent feature.

My only annoyance of the evening was having to stand next to some guy who fancied himself as a photo journalist, maybe he was one, whatever he was I became very acquainted with his right elbow as he strained and posturized himself into the ideal position, for him that is!, to take the many, many shots he needed. After dodging a potential elbow crack in the face one to many times I tapped him on the offending body part as a little reminder for him to be a little more spatially aware. At one point an i phone was used to capture the set list, which not doubt left the building as a little blue feathered tweet, winging its way off into cyberspace.

Despite this minor niggle we had a wonderful time as the band shifted back and forth from the new material to the fan favourites from Van Occupanther. I'd say that the Van Occupanther choices were more anthemic, but judging by what we heard last night the new album should be a stunner.

What is it about the band's hometown, Denton, Texas? Is it a hot bed of flute playing talent? The fluting on stage was gorgeous! One, sometimes two, and was it my imagination or did three of them play flutes at the same time?! I guess we'll be seeing a lot more bands playing flutes from now on. As a little side note, it was nice to here The Incredible String Band being played on the sound system as we stood nursing our drinks before the show.

With the spine tingling encore 'Branches' still ringing in our ears, we headed out into the foyer where the band mingled with a small group of hangers on. We chatted to the support artist, Sarah Jaffe, who was really nice, loved her voice, just like her purple vinyl Lp which we couldn't afford because we'd spent too much on taxi fares.

Midlake band member, Paul Alexander and his British girlfriend put up with some of my inane questions like "You must be tired?", to which he replied something like " I hope not, because that would be no good as we've still got a long way to go!", and " Will you be going to Scotland?". God knows why I asked him that!, I think I was a bit star struck. Unwilling to part with more money on their new cd (now regretting that), I got the band to autograph one of the Junction's leaflets. Lead vocalist, Tim Smith, took control of getting the guys to sign it and had to wave it in front of my face, as I almost left the building without it. So thanks to Tim I can post it here.

So there you go, a rare opportunity to see a band of this pedigree at a small venue, be sure to check them out this year. I imagine that they will be doing the festival circuit in the summer, just remember you'll need to grow a beard, the girls can wear false beards, it'll be just like the 'stoning scene' in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian'.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Superman - love, identity and nuclear fallout.

From the pages of Superman, no.308 'This Planet Is Mine', February 1977. Poor ol' Supes seems to be struggling with his own identity, even for an alien that has always felt like the odd one out. Who should be whipping up this broiling fug of self doubt? None other than his own cousin, Supergirl. She's laying in to his Kryptonian keepsakes, rampaging through the heart of his Fortress of Solitude and dismissing his Kryptonian heritage for God's sake!

Feeling at a complete loss, Superman goes in search of some peace and quiet at his Metropolis apartment. Oh dear!, no such luck, Lois has been slaving over the stove and is waiting to serve up some fine home cooking and apologies. It seems that the arrow of Clark's love life isn't flying as straight and true as it should, and yet again Clark is tormented by guilt and self doubt.

To make matters worse he has the likes of the Protector and Radion attempting to wipe him off the face of the planet, as well as destroy a nuclear facility causing widespread fallout and mass mutations of millions of people. Mere super powers will not suffice. Our man in blue needs to screw his head down ASAP, get a grip Superman!

Although it can't help that Radion's mountain sanctuary is outshining his Fortress of Solitude in true James Bond fashion, what style! Check it out, sea views and a waterfall.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Brainiac found in lunch box

Solipsistic, irascible, acrid, reprehensible, gregarious... Not words used to describe Superman's number one nemesis, they are in fact individually, and in their own right 'word of the day', an idea that my wife came up with to improve my daughter's vocabulary.

From dictionary to lunch box via a small folded up piece of paper, so whilst she is tucking in to a cheese baguette and sucking down her carton of juice she can be attaining the dizzy heights of super human intelligence.

Not a bad idea in these challenging and competitive times, however, I thought that it would be a crying shame not to give her that extra edge over her fellow classmates. And what could possibly set her apart from the crowd and earn her the respect and admiration of every boy from 12 to 70+? Yes you've got it in one, a thorough working knowledge of the world of comics.

So for every 'word of the day' that finds its way into her lunch box, she also gets a comic book character every day! Yesterday Mr. Fantastic got the ball rolling and tomorrow Brainiac makes an appearance.

My daughter has also recently discovered the joys of Forbidden Planet and as a result is sampling the likes of Wolverine and Spiderman. Choosing books that are suitable for a 12 year old is not that easy as there really isn't that much to choose from. I was directed to the Wolverine and X-Men First Class comics on the shelf, and after much brainstorming from the guys in the comic shop, other recommendations included Fantastic Four and Runaways.

So if anyone out there has any more suggestions for an essential comic book character to pop into my daughter's lunch box, or for any ideal comic book titles for her to start reading, I would love to hear them.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Batman and the hall of mirrors

Once again its sheeting it down in Batman's world as Dick Grayson closes in on the 'girl Houdini', Katrina Falcone, supposedly the youngest daughter of Carmine Falcone, the infamous crime boss of Gotham. In Tony Daniel's 'Life After Death' story arc in Batman, a cast of many villains are squaring up in a effort to re draw the criminal map in Gotham city following the death of former Batman, Bruce Wayne.

Following a tip off from Oracle that Katrina was traced to a public phone at the derelict Fairmount Amusement Park, Batman arrives on the scene and spies an unknown figure disappearing into the fun house, no real surprises here though, its a trap!

In a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's 'The Birds', Batman finds himself besieged by mad crows, except these ones have poisoned talons.

I loved the amusement park panels that preceded the fun house interior, especially the fun house 'clown face' entrance overgrown with ivy. I almost wish that more time could have been spent drawing the amusement park in its ghostly faded glory, it could have served as a great suspense builder.

As it is, we get to see the Mad Hatter and Penguin standing over a weakened Batman in the final splash page.

For me the crow sequence helped add another species to my 'birds in comics' list, I can now tick off American Crow. Thank you Mr Daniel!

Lastly, from Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's final chapter on their wonderful run on Adventure Comics comes a panel that tickled me. Brainiac meets Krypto the super dog in an alien throw down that pit cold calculating intellect against loyal, courageous canine love. I loved Brainiac's disparaging one liner here.

In fact this run has been as much a Krypto adventure as it has been a Superboy storyline, all the dog emotions and facial expressions have been captured by Manapul's pencils. Its a shame that Geoff Johns has had to move away from this title at such an early stage.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox and the wombling gardener

Fantastic Mr. Fox with working light, the Fairy Godmother from Walt Disney's Cinderella

How does it go?... 'Underground, overground, Wombling free" I used to love watching the original series of this kids TV favourite. I especially enjoyed the title sequences which appeared on various found items of rubbish, eg. a piece of scrunched up newspaper, an old fly tipped television set, an empty bottle.

Of coarse I had to do a little bit of online research for this article that involved slouching infront of YouTube and watching old kids programmes. I forget how many years its been since I last enjoyed an episode of Ivor the Engine, a particular favourite of mine, and lets not forget those fastidiously tidy Wombles who were streets ahead of their time when it came to doing their bit for the environment.

A selection of luggage locks. We quite often find these at the beginning and end of terms.

Part of my gardening activities actually allows me to wander, hypothetically I have to add, across my own piece of 'Wimbledon Common' with litter picker in hand, its amazing what gets dropped, lost or thrown away. From bras to brollies, they all get scooped up and popped into the bin or lost property. Here's a blog piece about this very subject that I prepared at an earlier date, and what you see here are a few bits and bobs that I've found recently.

This small lock was fairly heavy and had what looked like Indian script on one side.

A couple of broaches.

A phone charm/key ring Dutch clog souvenir.

Close up of the Fairy Godmother.

Fantastic Mr Fox on ice, with flashlight switched on.

So how about you, have you ever found anything interesting?

Monday, 11 January 2010

Batwoman and the 'Bird of Doom'

From the explosive finale to Greg Rucka's and J H Williams fantastic run on 'Batwoman in Detective Comics', Kate confronts her father following a visit to the hospital where she's been expecting the results to some very important DNA tests.

Good news is that Rucka and Williams are to return after a short break to steer this title as an ongoing series, at least that's what the guys down at Forbidden Planet told me. Not only that, but this great final issue landed me a new 'bird species in comics', so see if you can find a Barn Owl in the scan above. Thanks Mr. Williams!

A nice find, but myths surrounding Barn Owls don't bode well. The English poet, William Wordsworth, had it down as the 'bird of doom', it's cry also signaled that a witch was nearby, and the Native American Indians believed that evil people were reincarnated as Barn Owls. So whichever way you look at it the appearance of this 'Ghost Owl' in the pages of 'Batwoman in Detective Comics' can only mean one thing, Trouble.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Over the rainbow and down the rabbit's burrow.

The neat die cut cover and clean line art of the interior for Dynamite's new comic book adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was enough to entice me to part with the £4 price tag. I had not heard or read anything about this comic so I guess I was taking a bit of a risk here.

The line art by Erica Awano is lovely, the layout is clean and allows the story to flow, however, where this well produced and very enjoyable adaptation comes adrift is in the colouring. I understand from the notes on the making of this series, which incidentally are included as an extra in the back pages of this first issue, that what the creators were looking for was a very old fashioned watercolour palette using pastel colours, there is also a slightly unsettling and dark aspect to the characters which lends itself to a more muted mix. I understand all that, but even though colourist PC Siqueira has been true to the brief, for me it just doesn't work.

I would have liked the colouring to have made more of the really nice line art, but instead the detail is lost under a muddy film that flattens the art, and there is also a rather annoying pink cast. Shame! Luckily this is a short series, so I may just persevere.

On a final note, continuing on from my recent post about birds and moths in comics, I can add a few more here.

In the beach scenes I could add the following..Green Parakeet, Eurasian Magpie, the extinct Dodo (not sure if I can count that one), Great Horned Owl, an unidentified blue headed parrot and... is that supposed to be a Griffon Vulture? Anyway my list is growing.

Friday, 8 January 2010

There's no gear like snow gear

That's our Jess out on snow patrol, making sure the car park is a safe place to drive and walk in sub zero temperatures. As an added bonus she's sporting the latest in work wear fashion, the patchwork visi vest! Tune in next week for an 80s inspired multi coloured day glow scarf.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Echo moth.

About a year ago now I sent an e mail to Terry Moore, the artist and writer of the Echo comic. Basically I wanted to let him know what a fan of this series I am, but also the clear black and white art that picked out small details such as roadside scrub, lizards, grasses, rocks and landscape.

In my past I was a very keen Birder, and one of the habits that I have never been able to shake off, and I have probably mentioned this somewhere on the blog before now, is the habitual manner in which I find myself looking for birdlife, butterflies and moths wherever I am.

I can be sitting in someone house chatting and at the same time be distracted by birds seen through the window, or I'll automatically check the corners of the ceiling for resting moths that may have found their way into the house during the Summer months. On a car journey I find myself scanning the tops of lamp posts on motorways looking for Kestrels, and on train journeys my eyes flick quickly along the field furrows and hedge tops in a restless quest to root out signs of life from the patchwork of fields flashing by.

And it doesn't stop there, I do it whilst watching the tv, films and also whilst reading comics, magazines and when my kids were smaller I got great pleasure in scouring the pages of picture books, Percy the Park Keeper and The Little Red Train adventure books were always good value because there was always so much going on in the artwork.

So, back to my e mail to Terry Moore. My request to him was could he maybe put some birds or moths in as added detail to his artwork in Echo. I never heard back from him, and I am not really surprised as he is a very busy and successful comic book creator, in fact Lloyd Levin, producer of Watchmen and From Hell has bought the rights to make a big screen adaptation of the comic in deal clocking in at six figures plus.

Anyway I was a bit giddy and a little bit curious if the appearance of a moth on the cover of issue 18 of Echo could be attributed to my one way correspondence with Mr. Moore last year ( see cover above, bottom right ).

Next up is Greg Rucka's Stumptown comic, illustrated by Matthew Southworth. This is Greg Rucka's loving homage to the Private Investigator television shows of the 70s and 80s, specifically The Rockford Files.

In the first issue the main character of the book, a female PI called Dex gets into deep water with some shady types down by the riverside. This is a great filmic moment, we see a Canada Goose picked out in the panels on pages 1-3 and then highlighted to great effect using a series of boxes in the splash pages 4-5. Dex gets shot, and as the crack of the gun's release ricochets off the underside of the bridge and Dex hits the water the Goose is spooked and takes off briefly before landing further down the bridge. I loved these first few pages.

And finally from the pages of World's Finest no.3, on a window ledge outside the apartment of Linda and Lana Lang in Metropolis, a trio of what looks like Rock Dove/Feral Pigeons are disturbed by an urgent incoming call from Oracle. Almost certainly these birds will fly a few circles above or in front of this building before coming back to the same perch, because that's what they do. Maybe Supergirl is putting out a few bread crumbs for them?

So there you have it, a few birds and moths found in the pages of comics. If you see any or know of anymore be sure to let me know!

Monday, 4 January 2010

All things cold.

Classic Rock and Roll imagery. Picking up sticks, peasant style!

I thought about doing a New Year's Eve post, it didn't happen, I thought about compiling some kind of a memorable list, just like every other blogger out there, it didn't happen. Oh well, ne'er mind.

The gardening year has got off to a very grueling start, as a skateboarder down at the local park said at the weekend, " Its harsh conditions for skating". I've never witnessed skateboarding on ice, but I have now! On the run up to Christmas we were shoveling snow from the college paths, and apparently at the same time a small group of hardcore skaters cleared several inches of snow from the park ramps so that they could use them. Anyway, enough of skating.

In the first half hour of the day we managed to break a key inside a frozen padlock, note to self, remember to boil a kettle tomorrow. A frigid Robin tried to seek shelter in both the tool sheds and the Bothy, and the college cat could be seen slinking around the compost heaps looking for frozen rats.

In this kind of weather, especially where the garden remains locked in frost all day long, there is a limit to outdoor activities. However, after the recent snowfall there were large amounts of twigs and branches strewn about the lawns, so we set about picking them up and filling our barrows till they looked like giant Stork nests. I felt like the old peasant guy, pictured on the sleeve of that very famous album, "mmm, I wonder which one?"

All the guide books tell you not to prune in frosty conditions, but we do it every year, and every year it makes no difference, so with that in mind we spent the rest of the day pruning and tying in the Grape vines and butchering/taming some very vigorous climbing Roses. By the day's end, the brassy glare of the sun turned the bare vines the colour of adobe. Problem was we were all too cold to appreciate its beauty!

On another note, for those of you who know my interest in comics, I've been enjoying reading my Christmas present, the absolute edition of Justice League - The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke, an enormous wedge of beautiful art that's heavy enough to cause a serious injury if it were to fall from its perch.