Spamalot London Review*

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Whatever Eric Idle did with this show, he was going to be in for some easy criticism: too many lifts from the Python catalogue, too few, shouldn’t have done it at all, etc. Well, all I can say is, Spamalot was one of the most memorably funny evenings out I’ve had for years. I think they got it just right: not a straight run-through of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but not an incessant stream of nudge-nudge wink-wink references to other Python material either, just a bunch of in-yer-face addons to keep everyone happy (Finland, Bright Side of Life, etc).

And let’s face it, whilst I can understand the show having been a hit on Broadway, the West End in London is its real home. Only two of the cast have transferred, from what I’ve read: the magnificent Tim Curry as King Arthur, and Chris Sieber as Sir Dennis Galahad. But the star of the show is – unquestionably – the statuesque Hannah Waddingham as The Lady of the Lake. Apparently she’s only two inches taller than Tim Curry (hmmm…), but she dominated the stage just as the writer and director presumably intended. Fabulous.

Is it worth going? If you’re even a minor Monty Python fan, no question: it’d have been a great night out for you even if the production values hadn’t been so high, but given the full West End treatment, you’ll spend the evening thinking this is something you never thought you’d see. There were a few people around me who clearly didn’t know any Python past Always Look on the Bright Side of Life though, and they seemed to be having just as good a time, thanks to the incessant and hilarious parodies of other musicals, slapstick which anyone would love, and terrific singing and choreography. It’s a Big West End Production in every respect, and a marvellous night out. I’d also thoroughly recommend the CD of the original Broadway show.

* Yes, I know it’s not the most exciting title for a post. But for some reason, at the time of writing, a web search on this fairly basic phrase (“Spamalot London Review”) produced not a single decent hit, so I thought I’d use it and get the traffic. That’s all.

What is Magilton putting in their half-time cuppa?

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It’s extraordinary enough that we’ve scored two goals or more in each of the last six games, but even more so that Currie’s free kick on Saturday was our first goal in the first half since the opening day of the season. I was quite aware of how rarely we score in the first half at home, because all the blummin’ goals there seem to hit the net in front of the North Stand, but I’ve only just realised our first half goal drought extended to away games too.

This season, time of Ipswich goals (league):

01-15 mins: 0
16-30 mins: 1
31-45 mins: 1
FIRST HALF TOTAL: 2
46-60 mins: 2
61-75 mins: 5
76-90 mins: 5
SECOND HALF TOTAL: 12

(…that’s 10 goals out of 14 in the last half hour, and I haven’t included the Peterborough game, where we didn’t start scoring until the 90th minute, f’rgoodnessake)

A statistical freak? Or a direct result of the way the team’s playing? Or just something to do with Billy Clarke?

We have to hear that question from them, now

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Rarely has a movie had as strong an impact on me as An Inconvenient Truth. Rarely have I seen a movie get as many good reviews as this one. All the more remarkable then that it’s just a relatively low-budget film of a guy giving a lecture.

I don’t want to focus on the climate change message of the movie though. I want to comment on Al Gore’s optimism in the face of the evidence he presents. This truly is a man who comes over as a glass-half-full kinda guy. I brought away two revelations from the film: firstly, that whilst the economic system that created climate change might be flawed, and perhaps the corporations which support that system, the people who work for those corporations aren’t evil. He quotes Upton Sinclair (although I thought he said Mark Twain): “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

Secondly, he says there is no point in going “straight from denial to despair without pausing on the intermediate step of actually doing something about the problem”. And he’s right. He says: “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves. “What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?” We have to hear that question from them, now.

The film is, of course, totally one-sided. But it has a right to be. I’ve searched around the internet looking for a seriously constructive poor review of the film, but nearly every criticism I can find is little more than kneejerk ranting from those opposed to Gore’s party in his political career. I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that an environmental activist held the No.2 position in the US Government for eight years and yet the country is still way ahead of anyone else in killing off the planet, but my American friends patiently explain that it takes more than one man to move political sentiment in the USA. You certainly get the impression from the film that Gore has exhausted that avenue and is now trying another way to get his message across.

Like many people, if I had the money, I’d buy the DVD of this and post it through every letterbox in the world. In the meantime, there’s a full transcript here.

Disneyland: still the best

So we came into a bit of money earlier in the year, and decided we’d each have a treat. Mrs R got her new kitchen (report follows), I got my big telly (report follows), and Alex got his return trip to Disneyland Paris. Here’s the trip report!

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I actually like Disneyland, and I like myself for liking it. Dismissing it as some sort of chav nightmare is the easy middle-class thing to do. Coming out of the closet and saying it’s actually great fun is far cooler, IMHO. Firstly, plaudits to Short Breaks for seamless organisation of the trip; I picked them off the web because I liked their web site and because it had some credible testimonials, and the company was efficient and friendly. What’s more, when I needed to be a pain and rearrange the train time back, they were there on Sunday morning when most travel agents would be in bed. Secondly, three cheers for Eurostar once more; the journeys were comfortable and on time, and the service impeccable (yes, we did go Leisure Select, but it wasn’t that much more expensive than “standard” class, and is easily worth the money).

We took the plunge this time, as it was a special treat, and stayed in the Disneyland Hotel, the gaudy pink creation straddling the entrance to the main park. Having now stayed in a selection of hotels on three trips to Disneyland Paris, I’d thoroughly recommend either shelling out for this hotel, or going for something much cheaper, off-site. Ignore the other “on-site” Disney hotels. For us, it’s all about location. The Disneyland Hotel is almost within the park, so you can pop back to your room during the day and it makes all the difference. If you don’t have this convenience, and have to make a trip to the park, you won’t return to your room during the day; so whether you’re a 15-minute walk from the park (the other Disney hotels) or a 15-minute bus ride (the cheaper, off-site hotels) doesn’t really matter.

The hotel was also very pleasant to stay in, as you’d expect. Service was excellent, and some effort was clearly being put in to give it a refined, relaxing air, quite different to the lively holiday atmosphere of other hotels. The standard food (i.e breakfast) was very good, although the expensive evening buffet was rather disappointing for the price.

As for the park, well, it’s Disneyland! All the rides were present and correct, and Alex has definitely progressed from “It’s a Small World” being his favourite (when he was three and a half) to Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Tours (two years on). More interesting for the parents too! I can’t believe we’d never been to see the “Moteurs…” stunt show before – it was great fun – and the new Lion King show was a tremendous spectacle too. We thought two-and-a-half days was about right for us; we did just over half a day in the Studio park, and the rest in the main one, with most time spent in Discoveryland and Fantasyland. The other two are really in need of a bit of livening up. We also caught the last occurrence of the night-time parade and fireworks over the castle before it closed for the winter, which was a bit of a result (although a planned one!).

Overall then, a great holiday, if you take it for what it is. Sure, there are loads of improvements they could make, starting with the admission that the incongruous theming (a “future world” which seems to have been deliberately set in the fifties anyone?) means nothing to the kids and has had its day. Several of the attractions are well past their sell-by date in an age of video gaming. But the good bits are very good, the organisation is impeccable, and the smile on the face of our five year old said it all.

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HD = Highly Desirable

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Lots of things to catch up on from the several weeks when I wasn’t posting in May, June and July. One of the things I would have blogged about on a daily basis would have been assembling a new AV system for the living room. So much research to do! So much shopping! So much fun!

I’ll do a short review of most of the components I ended up with in separate entries here, but the inspiration for the whole change was the launch of HD TV here in the UK, which the geek in me couldn’t resist, naturally. That meant a new screen, and repositioning everything in the room meant the old sound system wouldn’t fit, and… you get the rest. Naturally I wanted everything in place for the World Cup in June, during which I expected to have a house full of people regularly, but – like many people – I didn’t anticipate the demand for Sky HD boxes. Sky started taking orders in mid-May, with the World Cup four weeks away, but by the time I ordered mine, delivery date was some time in August. Disaster. The good folks at Sevenoaks Sound + Vision would have no trouble delivering the new screen in time, but I assumed, glumly, that I’d be watching in glorious, old-school, lo-def.

I was wrong. The Sevenoaks lads suggested I ordered Sky HD through them, rather than directly from Sky. They only make a fiver from the deal, but they did say there was a chance Sky might get them some kit more quickly than they would Joe Ordinary Subscriber. And they turned out to be right. Whilst I didn’t have the HD box for the opening ceremony, we were taking the pictures for granted by the time England got knocked out. One-nil to a decent, High Street dealer.

So, what’s it like? Is High Definition TV worth all the fuss? In a word, yes. It’s been variable though. The BBC “test channel” is uniformly fantastic. What a picture. Sky’s stuff, especially Sky One, seemed relatively disappointing at first, but I’m sure the picture quality on the general programming has been getting better over the past few weeks. Watching Brainiac last night, it struck me just what an advance HD is. The sport has been pretty good too, and I’m looking forward to the Premiership stuff; I’m under no illusions that the Championship games I love will be in HD! True, if you’re used to watching high-quality downloads on a computer screen (exemplified by the HD versions of the Apple vs PC ads), you won’t be blown away by the quality per se, but I guarantee seeing programmes you’re used to seeing in lo-def suddenly get 100% sharper will impress you.

As for the Sky HD box itself, it works as advertised, and the tremendous Sky remote control hasn’t been ruined at all. The internal drive is much larger than the old Sky boxes (our original one was always filling up, yet this one seldom goes past 50%), but the responsiveness on fast forward and rewind is not brilliant, sometimes irritatingly slow. Sky have referred to this on the web site and have suggested software improvements may be on the way.

My new favourite online game ever

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Thanks to Gibbo for alerting me to something really special. Geosense says it’s been around since 2003 so I’m gutted that I’d never seen it before. It’s a “point to where the place is” quiz with a world map, and to add interest, you can play against other people online. How cool is that? Very.