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Goonerette89

Goonerette89
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Member since: 24.06.2011

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    • amazon.co.uk / Online Shop / 33 Readings / 32 Ratings
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      03.10.2012 15:25
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      Brilliant store which in every way deserves its status as the biggest and best in the world.

      Amazon.co.uk is of course an online store selling products including books, music, films, clothing/lingerie, groceries, electrical, furniture, sport, computing, stationary, office equipment, music downloads and so on. I have ordered so many things off Amazon it is impossible to keep up although I've slowed down with the purchases this year as many of you will understand, things are financially tougher than ever. Amazon began as a bookstore in the USA - and was indeed named after the river - and like many niche companies it has grown into a major online international retailer - the largest in the world, in fact - with websites not only in its original homeland but also here in Europe - UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, France as well as Canada, Australia, Japan and China. Polish, Brazilian, Dutch and Swedish Amazon stores are on the way. Founder Jeff Bezos is a man to which I am thankful and he deserves every dollar he earns. Its UK website is set out nicely in crisp white background with their iconic orange colour and a big search bar and drop downs of different shopping departments, and also lists of recommendations suited to your individual needs - based upon what you view and buy. Recently the website has changed and is now in line with its flagship site (can you describe a website like that?): amazon.com. Amazon.co.uk is easy to find what you want. Just type in your title or key words of what you want to browse in the search bar and within a second, you'll be given a list which you can alter around to suit your needs; determined by price or review ratings. If you need to you can narrow down your search via department (music, film, clothing, etc.), price, size and so on depending on what you're searching. I remember first buying something on Amazon a few years ago via a mobile phone. It took ages to order since it was an old phone but the excitement of receiving the package was oh so exciting. I have ordered in bulks at Christmas and so on, probably annoying the poor postman who has to keep delivering box after box to my door each day but there is always something exciting about getting an Amazon delivery which is odd as their items are delivered in the least inspiring brown cardboard packaging possible - albeit it is very well packaged. I know that a lot of people will be with me on this: without Amazon I'd be lost as it is one of the few places that caters to my interests and indeed, most people's interests. To exemplify, if you go in the average HMV on the high street and look at the jazz section or folk or reggae and so on, you'll be disappointed with the choice. I am, anyway. Most CDs are just greatest hits packages as well; if I want a folk album or an obscure soundtrack, my first idea is to type in A, m, a... (Google Chrome tends to do the rest) and off we go to Amazon. If it's being made still and is not htere, I'd be surprised. This would be a good opportunity to tell you about my embarrassing purchase; a year or so ago, I became nostalgic and bought the Spice Girls' self-titled debut on CD at 1pm on Amazon Marketplace, as I'd lost the childhood cassette. Prices on CDs are usually cheaper compared to high street stores and usually under £10; downloads are often a lot cheaper though which is a shame personally as I rarely download. I have heard their downloads can be cheaper than iTunes. I have bought a lot of classic films on Amazon; again, something which is a struggle to find on the high street. Again if it a film that has been made and still being released, there is a very high likelihood of it being available on Amazon and at a good price. Again, to exemplify it, I remember going in HMV with my friend and finding Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939 original) at about £12. A whopping £12. A film that is seventy years old (okay, with remastering). I got it on Amazon at under a fiver. Admittedly not all of the films are cheap, though. 'Pandora's Box' of 1927 is nearly £15. 'Camille' (1936 remake) is also over £10, amongst many more. However I'm thankful to Amazon just because they make them available. I have bought a lot of films on here and my mum has also brought a few TV series, old and new - from the '70s through to the current day. I have bought books as well as miscellaneous items such as a shopper and mobile phone cover. My parents have bought shoes and erm, paint rollers. We've never done any grocery shopping here as we do it, happily, at Tesco's website and in another supermarket but there's something I find strange about having groceries on Amazon. I assume that you order them the same way you do with everything else so I cannot envisage doing a whole grocery shop that way, without a list of favourite/usual products and items I've never even heard of but maybe I'm wrong. I can understand why they've expanded; in fact, they are expanding like Tesco, but only in the opposite direction and at least you don't have to have them plonk a massive superstore at the end of the street, ergo killing off any local characteristics or peace. Amazon Marketplace allows individuals / companies to sell products, new or used and this includes personal postage and packaging which can be a real take on sometimes alas Ebay but I have used this service - such as with the Spice Girls CD - and is usually very good. I have ordered a CD from a seller on the American one once and the delivery was quick and fine. You're able to rate the seller after your buying experience - on delivery time and so on - and also the best rated sellers usually appear first when you are browsing a product. Marketplace sellers will be on the main Amazon page of product you're viewing so you're able to compare Marketplace sellers' prices to Amazon's. Amazon's delivery is of typical standard financially but they do offer Super Saver Delivery which offers free delivery on items delivered to the UK or many parts of Europe within 3 to 5 business days - although there is a £25 minimum spend in Europe. There is also an option of next day delivery which is the most expensive but having used this, this is great. With the exception of one thing I have ordered through Amazon themselves, everything has been delivered punctually and perfectly. It can vary with Marketplace sellers, though. I ordered something from a seller who took two weeks. The only thing with Amazon that never arrived on time was a DVD in December when we had that problem with snowfall - two years ago? Anyway, having sent an email to them politely stating we hadn't received our DVD - a festive gift - they sent back an email apologising, blaming the snow (understandably so) and they promised that if it never arrived by a certain date as they were running behind, I should tell them and they'd send another. It arrived on that very day. I also ordered a package or two by mistake once and following the instructions to sending the package back, I received a very prompt email letting me know the money had been refunded. This was sent about two days after sending the product back via the Post Office. Perfect! My third and only other encounter with Amazon's customer service was again, exceptional. I spoke with a member of staff via the online chat service to cancel something and the very polite man on the other end cancelled it there and then, no questions asked. Every product has a review option, so like here, you can review what you bought and watched/listened/read/used/wore and mark it out of five, plus put a few words of why you loved or didn't like it. This can be very frustrating because so many people never review the product, they review the service and others just put a sentence. They also have a scoring system which mostly unlike here, becomes personal/biased. If you put a sincere, two star review which is well written and constructive, you'll probably have a review which is '2 out of 20 people found this review helpful' - in other words, eighteen people who own it already and disagree with your opinion so have no need to vote. However, if you do a review which says: "This is probably the best album I have ever listened to !!!!!!! Amazing tracks, beautiful voice, guitars are rockin;!!!!!!!!!!! Buy it now!!!!!!!!!!!!!", you may get about nine out of ten helpful votes. Funnily enough there are reviews who review everything who are precious about this and there is a competition to be one of the best reviewers. Then there are a few narcisstic trolls posting one star reviews on classics which mean that the fifth star on the overall score isn't entirely filled in. Shame. On Dooyoo this is discouraged with minimum worded reviews, rules and the rating style and so on but Amazon never really do anything about this. On here you may disagree wholeheartedly with every word but if the content is good, you rate positively - if only Amazon were to bring in such rules because the reviews become unhelpful and meaningless otherwise but I understand they are also a shop who wants to sell so I doubt they will do anything that alters the amount of positive reviews there. When you order you can do it the long way or the tempting-you-to-buy-more-because-it's-addictive-and-easy 1-Click short way. 1-Click is where you set your settings to one payment method, address, delivery etc. and when you find a product you want to buy, rather than placing it in the basket and going through the usual blah, blah, blah online checkout method you click the 1-Click button and there, you've ordered it in one click, literally. Or alternatively you can do the traditional, safer method with the item(s) in your basket and choose your credit or debit card, then choose which of your stored addresses you want to deliver to, then when you want it delivered. You've also got a choice of having your item gift wrapped, should it be a gift - this at a small price. You're able to just log onto your account to check the progress of your parcel and they also send you emails updating you and of course, confirming your purchase. Amazon's online rival is Play.com which can sometimes be cheaper and who also offer free delivery and a wide range of shopping departments (I cannot compare customer service as I've had no interaction with it) but Amazon is the first port of call whenever I want a boost to my film, music or book collection because I know that: 1. whatever I want will be there nine times out of then and 2. your comeback should you have any problems with a product or service is good. Someone even got an instant refund on a download, which is impressive - just because he never liked the quality of sound. I only hope we keep this level of customer service as Amazon become all the more successful in the years to come. :)

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      • arsenal.com / Internet Site / 28 Readings / 28 Ratings
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        04.09.2012 02:38
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        A near perfect official football club website.

        I have been on this a lot lately and in fairness, there is nothing that I Google more than 'Arsenal' - everyday. Official football websites are not like other things whereby you can compare them to their rivals because there is no real reason a non-Arsenal fan would spend much time on here, nor would many of our fans spend much time on anyone else's website. I have been on a couple of other club's websites but very rarely. Football websites have one duty really: to serve their fans. Sometimes you have to go through a commercialised page to enter the site, usually advertising the kit or something. When you do enter the main page you'll find arsenal.com is set out in the team colours of red and white as one would expect, with the logo and a big banner across the top with the club's name, in its modern design. There are plenty of options along the top and down the left side, too many to state here but they include latest (official) news, the team, tickets, fixtures, the usually successful ladies team, history, youth teams, the stadium, charity work, coaching staff, loanees, hospitality, podcasts, even wallpapers. They've touched on their global fan base as there are choices to enter one of their international sister sites: Japan, Korea, China or America - just click on the respective flag at the top of the page. Obviously there are in their respective languages but in design, they all differ from one another. The Japanese site is in more of that maroon colour that the old Arsenal played in and that they wore in tribute during their final Highbury season. At the moment it seems out-of-date with a picture of the recently departed Robin van Persie on it along with some of his then teammates and centering around the summer's Asia tour, which of course was in pre-season. The Korean one is certainly up-to-date though, with a picture of Lukas Podolski and a report of the weekend win away at Anfield. Having gone on the Korean website, there is another option which isn't shown on the club's main website and that is a Thai website - again, available via clicking on the Thai flag. However having clicked on it, my screen was completely blank so I've no idea if that's me or the Thai website has its own problems. Someone tell them we've scored now ;) The American website is set in the same design as the main one but with less clutter, and the token stars and stripes. There is also a section on the MLS's Colorado Rapids, with whom Arsenal partner and link with. They've also cleverly included a drop down on English football, including a quick run down on each of the teams and their ground, local rivals and shirt colours: "Based in West London, the Blues are currently enjoying the most successful era in their history, thanks in no small part to the riches of Russian owner Roman Abramovich." Wink, wink. There is also a long list of Arsenal supporters clubs, bars and pubs across the United States of America. Back to the main website and everything is included that you need to know about the club's stature, history, current team and how to make it easier to follow them, from traveling to tickets to safety (their updates during a few European games is particularly crucial). There are bits and bobs taken from the official magazine such as player interviews. The main page also consists of the latest news, usually with a large photograph and headline across the centre and several other news stories underneath. If you want to be sure what is reported is true and official, then the official club website is of course the first port of call. When Arsenal made several signings last summer during the final hours of the summer transfer window, this website crashed due to the fans' enthusiasm. There is always a match report after every game and yes, they can be slightly biased. If the opposing team should have had a penalty but didn't get it, let's face it, they won't exactly hang around and debate it, but they do report such incidents, in fairness. Sometimes they hint at a slight agenda such as this season some fans may have noticed when two of our players departed the site left them a quick good luck and thank you message but it differed slightly. On the one to Robin van Persie they wished him well but didn't exactly thank him, whereas Alex Song received a thank you. :O They also give you the chance to vote the man of the match as well as goal and player of the season and so on. Everything is there: every reserve match, every under-19s score, every signing and so on. There's a lot of focus on the youth, ladies and something Arsenal do well is their charity and community work which has dedicated pages here. Their ladies coverage is impressive and whether there is another club which supports its women's side better, I'm not sure. If you click on the drop down option under 'ladies', you get a whole twenty options. Very good in a part of the world where the women's game is only just taking off. This gives you the latest scores, the team, the history and so on. I can understand why the Arsenal Ladies have been so influential and successful over the years with such support. My favourite part is 'history' which gives you the option to read about certain segments in the club's past, which can be really underappreciated compared to other English clubs - from the day they began in south London through to my personal favourite era in the 1930s to the '70s and so on. There's a really impressive and simple timeline to indicate when the club did what and won what. There are pages dedicated just to certain iconic moments, such as the league win in Liverpool in 1989 - I was two months old! There are photographs and interviews and it's all tastefully done - what'd you expect? ;) They have a database with every player in the club's history on there; where else would we know about Jack Ashton's fifteen appearances in 1900? It is great to see pictures of the likes of Alex James and Ted Drake in their '30s gear - these were the Bergkamp or Podolski of their day, after all. They were stars. I know, I know, I probably don't belong in civilised society with all the other girls but truly, I could have a field day on here. This is basically an Arsenal Football Club treasure trove. Whatever era is your favourite or whatever era you enjoy recapping from your youth, you are sure to find plenty of detail on the website. They haven't left the old Highbury / Arsenal Stadium behind either with plenty on that as well as their 50 top moments, players and goals in the club's history. They also take a keen interest in the media / social networking side of things as our players are quite into that. This website broadcasts our players every twenty first century Tweet - I suppose they know that, right? It seems a long way from a black & white Ted Drake and his baggy shorts and comb-over, anyway. If you register with the website you can also receive the manager's email - no, nothing personal. He just talks about the recent game and so on. Arsenal will send you newsletters as well, but the one good thing don't do is spam you. They're regular but not annoyingly so. Other than that the rest of the website is made up of commercial partners and advertising, whether it be the new kit or subscribing to their online video player. Fly Emirates, Lucozade, Carlsberg, EA Sports, Indeset, some big names at the bottom of the screen there, just to remind you all that 'football is now a business and not just a sport.' Like everything, really. Seeing Citroen's name just reminds of that terrible advert featuring some of our players dancing with ballerinas. To the right of the screen is the Arsenal Player - now this is the catch, and this is what annoys me. Many fans pay over the odds to watch a game or own a season ticket at the Emirates Stadium - in fact that is an understatement. We are one of the best supported clubs around the world, hence the extra international websites - presumably this means that fans from the USA to Nigeria to Japan buy merchandising and shirts. In fact, they do buy these things. People go into the club's shop, The Armoury and buy things. I have done. They have rich and famous sponsors such as those listed above. They get plenty of money. Yet to watch about 80% of the website's video content you have to pay. Some videos are free and usually pretty short but good: such as their mini package of the highlights of the latest game - but this is only about three minutes' worth. Interviews with players and the manager costs either a £1.50 one off payment to have a day's access to the content or an annual pass which costs... £36. I can understand why you have to pay to listen to the commentary or watch the match but why they won't make the interviews free is pure stinginess. That said many of them turn up on YouTube anyway. What you get on the Player is pretty good and often never takes itself too seriously. They did a really wonderful series (admittedly free) called Fans from Afar in which they spoke with some international fans from a different nation each time: Denmark, Russia, Bahrain, Brazil, USA, Australia, Uganda and so on. It's still available on the website though. There's a search bar at the top of the page as well which I can confirm is very handy, it gives you the latest news or articles regarding your particular search. One other thing, and this is one more extra website to accompany this main one is one of my favourite things on here: Junior Gunners. Technically you are on the same website when you click on this link but its bright, fun pink and purple background make it seem like an entirely different site since the rest of the pages keep the same red and white colour scheme as the main page. Firstly you'll notice a lovely animated picture of our mascot Gunnersaurus sitting at the top of the page and some of the font, is in a childish uppercase yellow and white. There are competitions, games and a chance to get to know the kids' heroes and so on and it's written in a simpler style. So call me a seven year old but you can print off big pictures of the club's badge, players and mascot to print off and colour in. Exciting! It's just sweet. (Some of this does need updating though as it too has pictures of ex players). There you go, that's my guide to the excellent Arsenal website. There are newspapers and other sites such as goal.com to get news but you have to put up with warring fans and gossip, so this is a lot more tasteful. Of course if you're not a fan then it'll be no use to you, it's not written in an original or creative way that would keep the attention of a non-fan. It might not be a lot at first, just a check of the latest news but click a few links on this website and any Arsenal fan might find that the next time they check their clock, they were supposed to have left the office two hours ago! This is the only place to go to find everything Arsenal.

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        • Jubilee Line / Transport National / 31 Readings / 28 Ratings
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          20.07.2012 06:41
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          When it's working, it is fine but can disrupt your journey if not.

          With the Olympics on its way the London transport system is going to be under even more scrutiny than ever and the moaners are going to be louder no doubt. I'm probably one of the few Britons who sincerely hopes the Games goes well, by the way, as you realise I do love the place. As the second most popular city in the world after Paris, I'm certain London hasn't much to prove, but it does have some things to improve. I really do like the Tube and can never understand why people constantly moan. I have always assumed it's just plain British cynicism, but having used this line a while ago I understood how easy it is to disrupt someone's day, especially if you have to commute between different destinations within the city every other day. Living somewhere and holidaying there in a week are two different things and no doubt a London citizen would tell me the same about the Tube. It's not until you basically live something and exit the happy holiday mentality that you begin to notice and experience the flaws. I have done an overall Tube review but decided to tell you my experience of using the Jubilee line - well, we have just been celebrating the Jubilee! This line is the newest on the London Underground and runs from Stanmore through to Statford, taking in much of central London and Canary Wharf along the way so may just be an important line come the beginning of the Olympic Games. I was staying in Swiss Cottage which sits singularly on the Jubilee line. A pleasant area, although I can never find a lot to do there but it is located not too far away from Hampstead and Camden and there is enough traffic and people to satisfy a townie soul like me, who prefers to be where there's a bit of life. The Tube station is a good one; one of those you have to walk down the stairs to enter, and it feels spacious, cool and pleasant inside, although this is a more old fashioned 1930s station which was originally on the Bakerloo line. ~ My Bad Experience ~ When I arrived in the city in May, I didn't arrive at the station I originally paid to arrive at. I usually always go with Victoria Station, as much as it's not one of my favourite places in London, it's just habit - I feel like it's an achievement to make it off the train on one side of the station and make it up the stairs to the Tube on the other! Instead, trains being trains, they decided to tell us halfway on my train journey from Southampton Central that if we wanted to continue to Victoria, we'd have to get off and join another train because our train had now decided it was going to London Bridge. This was on a no-stopover journey. Or supposed to be. Anyway I stayed on and went to London Bridge instead. I admit I was too lazy to get off. A good opportunity to see how the Shard was coming along, anyway. I didn't know what I'd done with my Oyster card when I got to the capital so lived off Travelcards instead since my itinerary was slightly spontaneous in some places to it made life slightly easier. I got one at London Bridge station but decided to walk down to Southwark Cathedral and watch the sun go down over the Thames, and across the bridge and down to Monument station. In an ideal world I would have walked further on to Bank, caught the train from there and changed at Bond Street where I could have jumped onto the grey line - which serves the Jubilee Line - and gone a few stops northbound onto Swiss Cottage. However having had a day that began going wrong at home on the Isle of Wight, then became worse by the time I got off the ferry in Southampton and on top of that it was a hot day - I know, I know, you are thinking that I'm making it up because I'm actually talking about this summer, but there were a hot few days in May, remember? - it was just a kind of day where nothing went smoothly and I was hot and bothered and just wanted to get to my destination and drop down and move on. However, I was about to encounter more problems to my day... My day had dragged on so much that I never got into London until the evening and to make things worse, I found out that the Jubilee line was down between London Bridge and Stanmore, where it ends in the north. Swiss Cottage of course sits right there in between. So onto Kings Cross and changing lines and onto Baker Street it was. I didn't have enough physical cash on me at the time to get a cab - again due to the day going pear shaped back down on the south coast - so it meant dragging myself up to the bus station and getting a bus to Swiss Cottage at about 11:30pm. With half an hour or so of one annoyingly frustrating day to go, I got speaking with a lady near the station and without asking (I wouldn't dare!) or even hinting, she simply gave me £20 out of her own purse to grab a taxi. I ended up not getting to Swiss Cottage until gone midnight, which was not in my plans since only coming from eighty or so miles away, but thanks to a kind local who really didn't have to do what she did, my day ended on a positive note. That lady was one positive on an otherwise dour start to my latest London journey - I try to be in London as much as it is possible. That's where your day can go wrong if the Tube is not running efficiently and Londoners will know this anyway although that was not the only thing to blame, personally. It turned out, having read the Evening Standard on the Tube the next day, that there was some sort of scare on the line which meant poor passengers got trapped underground, lasting about two hours. They were given some sort of refund, however - praise where it is due. Those poor people clearly had a far worse day, though; it was very hot that day by UK standards and to be underground... far worse. ~ My Better Experience ~ Anyway next day was smoother and I cannot fault the Jubilee line. I walked just down the road to Swiss Cottage station that morning, grabbed a ticket out of the machine and as usual went down to the station after fearing the machine at the turnstiles would have my fingers as breakfast - I'm very paranoid about those things! My plans would be spent in and around my spiritual home of Islington so after waiting no less than five minutes to jump on a train, I did and headed straight to Green Park, which was five stops to the south and where I could change to the Piccadilly line and go to Caledonian Road or Holloway Road. I arrived there in no time, the train was very comfortable and not at all overcrowded and nor was Swiss Cottage station. There seemed to be the odd commuter and a few tourists on there but of course became more crowded as the train entered central London. The next day at Swiss Cottage I was meeting a friend at Piccadilly Circus at 11:30am to go shopping in Carnaby Street. It was early so I decided at first to go to Greenwich Park, which meant changing over to the District Light Railway at Canary Wharf station but argued with myself I probably wouldn't make it back to meet her in time so I decided to stay and take a stroll around Canary Wharf instead, which can be a little soulless but is pleasant enough to look at and stroll around in the heat. I got there in about twenty minutes which is really quite surprising, considering I passed St. John's Wood, Baker Street, Bond Street, Westminster, Waterloo, Southwark, London Bridge, Bermondsey and Canada Water along the way. Back the other way I took the journey along the grey line to Green Park, a station I have visited more than any other in my lifetime I think and onto the Piccadilly line to meet my friend, well timed and right on cue. I had absolutely no problems this time, either. The journeys were quick, trains were airy and sufficient and the stations were fine. The motto is that if it is all in working order, it is fine. If you find it is not in working order it can be a real dilemma, especially if you need to reach one of the northern stops but the saving grace is that you can always use the bus as a replacement. I cannot explain why but I have always preferred the underground to buses in the city, which is the complete polar opposite of many people including my mum who was a born and bred Londoner and I presume people prefer it because of convenience and hygiene of being above ground. If I ever phone her from the capital, she is always bewildered as to why I never get on a bus, especially when my feet are in dire straits. I have found all of the staff to be courteous and helpful at nearly all the Tube stations, especially in comparison with those at basic railway stations in London and across the UK, who never seem in the mood - London Victoria and Southampton Central being good examples. The Jubilee line is the city's newest addition to the colourful Tube map which gives it some advantages in comparison to some of the other lines. Most of the newer stations on the line have wheelchair access, mostly from Green Park southbound/eastbound. Many also have platform screen doors which feels so much safer - when you get off you feel as though there's little chance you are going to mistakenly fall down the gap! Eighty per cent of the time I'm in heels so I do have a fear of slipping but I wouldn't blame it on the Tube; it's up to me what I wear and let's face it, we cannot say we have never been warned! 'Mind the gap' is practically London's slogan. Also it means no-one can jump onto the tracks, push anyone or throw litter on there and you can see less rats! It also helps you to hear the announcements far more clearly as the train is entering (even though I love the sound of a train arriving!) because the train is effectively screened off; although you see a little less of carriages themselves as the train arrives. The Moscovites were the first to use these screen doors; not surprisingly really since they have one of the grandest metro systems in the world. Moscow metro stations are stunning. ~ Jubilee Line (Grey / Silver Line) ~ - Stanmore - Jubilee line begins here. - Cannons Park - Queensbury - Kingsbury* - disabled access here, which is rare on the early stops. - Wembley Park* - this is shared with the Metropolitan line which can take you northbound to Watford, - Rickmansworth and Pinner, or Harrow-on-the-Hill, Amersham and Chalfont & Latimer railway stations; alternatively you can continue to the Barbican, Liverpool Street or all the way to Aldgate in the opposite direction. - Neasdon - Dollis Hill - Willesdon Green - I only know it from a Kinks song making it sound like somewhere in Louisiana. - Kilburn - West Hampstead - Finchley Road - Swiss Cottage - a nice station tucked underneath a busy intersection near a handful of shops, takeaways & Hampstead Theatre. Unless you're staying in the area or visiting the theatre, this is not a vital stop off. Bus stop nearby. - St. John's Wood - if you want Abbey Road, this is your station. Quaint area, Beatles Coffee Shop literally as you step out of the station and the crossing, recording studios and a couple of shops (including Beatles themed) are just around the corner. - Baker Street - large, characteristic station also on Hammersmith & City, Circle, Metropolitan and Bakerloo lines. Architecturally gorgeous area, very busy; get off here if you want Madame Tussaud's and a good stop off if you're a Sherlock fan! - Bond Street - shop, shop, shop. Central line connection if you're on a recession budget and want to give the spending a rest. - Green Park - probably my Tube station home! Step outside and you're in the park which I find means this is a great station if you need to rest somewhere along the way. Also connected with Victoria and Piccadilly lines. - Westminster* - tourists, cameras and politicians - all feared by many but we all like to have a go at it! District and Circle lines here. - Waterloo* - the busiest station on the Underground - on the Waterloo & City line as well as Northern and Bakerloo. - Southwark* - London Bridge* - large station, couples as a railway station. Taxis, machines, gymnasiums, bars, boats, bridges, skyscrapers, cathedrals... they're all there. An ideal base. - Bermondsey* - Canada Water* - this station joins the London Overground, which is connected with several stations across the city, including Crystal Palace in the south and Richmond to the west. I have found Overground trains to be very slow and dull personally (picturesque views in eastern parts though); my Overground journeys have ranged from totally empty carriages (Highbury & Islington) to being the needle in the haystack (further southbound). - Canary Wharf* - modern, airy station designed by Sir Norman Foster, with lots of escalators and glass. Takes you to the mini Manhattan financial district of London. This is also the first stop on the Jubilee line to join the DLR, which take you to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark or Lewisham or Bow Road and Stratford International. - North Greenwich* - here's your station if you require the O2 Arena. This is also connected with the Emirates Air Line, or the cable cars taking you across the Thames to Emirates Royal Docks. - Canning Town* - again we connect with the DLR. - West Ham* - large station also incorporating the DLR, Hammersmith & City and District lines. I have been at this one at about 10:30pm and the trains seemed to come along every half an hour by then, with people slowing down the pace further by trying to open the shut doors and get on. Oh and if you need West Ham's ground, go to Upton Park Tube Station and not this one. - Stratford* - last station. Something tells me this one is going to increase in popularity in the coming days, perhaps years. * These stations have disabled access. Overall this is a good, modern and very safe line when it is in working order and like every other part of the Tube, sometimes this is not always the case as I found out and that can be problematic in the northern stops and cause you to use your ticket on a bus instead, or pay hefty money to get a taxi. I know this is obviously just common sense but if you choose a taxi, make sure you get as close to your original stop as possible; I know when you're tired you just want to get there, but you'll regret paying extra money you could have done with the next day! The Jubilee line incorporates much of the city's tourist attractions from Westminster to Bond Street and there is always a connection nearby to get you to where you are supposed to be. The line also takes you to the new cable car facility near the O2 Arena as well as the entertainment venue itself and also the grande station in Canary Wharf. The development in design from the old stations in the north to the likes of Canary Wharf are an interesting progression. The trains themselves came along regularly and efficiently when I used them, every five or so minutes and were brisk. I was happy with how fast I got from Swiss Cottage to Canary Wharf in one go, and it exemplifies perfectly how the city can visually change in half an hour. The trains are safe and were not particularly overcrowded when I used them in comparison to other lines; on a longer journey I like to sit but I like to stand and lean against the pillar in the corner if I stand, since it's easy just to jump off - beware not to become trapped though, especially if you're quite petite like me! Highly recommended line - just pre-check it is running first! If they didn't help to make an already difficult day of travel more difficult I would give it five stars. I hope that will help anyone out who is visiting our iconic capital. :) Latest updates, journey planner, times, tickets and Oyster cards and Tube maps: www.tfl.gov.uk

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          • Separate Tables (DVD) / DVD / 36 Readings / 35 Ratings
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            08.07.2012 06:00
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            Simple and moving and beautifully acted by Niven, Hiller and co.

            ~ FILM ONLY ~ It was the stellar cast that first attracted me to this 1958 picture, a mix of American and British stardom and fine talent, its featured actors list like a who's who of great names; Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Dame Wendy Hiller, Audrey Dalton, Rod Taylor and the legendary Dame that is Gladys Cooper. You'd think it'd be a musical or a glorious Technicolor epic of sorts. Well you would be wrong.In fact it is a black and white drama set in a Bournemouth hotel, adapated from a Sir Terrance Rattigan play which had runs in London's West End and on Broadway. Delbert Mann is your director, Rattigan himself adapted the film and Burt Lancaster part-produced it, as part of Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions. 'Separate Tables' is available on Amazon at around £5. Guests and residents at the Beauregard Private Hotel in Bournemouth, are of varying backgrounds and personalities, and this film revolves around each of them; the prudish mother, her timid and unworldly daughter, the retired army officer retelling his past glories, the perfect young couple courting and pondering marriage, the alcoholic and ex prisoner, his glamorous ex-wife desperately clinging onto her good looks. What you notice about these characters is that although their lives, this film, revolves are the one hotel in the quaint English seaside resort, they are all very much individuals but the problems between them are very much tied to each other. It's the off season at the seaside hotel as we are about to become familiar with the usual residents' private and public stories. Cybil Railton-Bell (Deborah Kerr) is a timid, sexless and plain girl who lusts over Major David Angus Pollock (David Niven), a retired army major. Cybil is prone to having emotional outbursts and Major Pollock is a somewhat fumbling man but seems rather gentle and harmless, living off past glories of his army days and of the old fashioned, reserved British type. However Cybil's mother Maude who is played by Dame Gladys Cooper, is a cold spinster and particularly anti-working class and who clearly doesn't want to let her daughter go. She's turned her daughter into a wreck who seems to have barely experienced a life outside the hotel or had any relationships nor allowed her to. She even bosses her gentile sidekick friend Gladys Matheson (Cathleen Nesbitt). As a side offering there is Charles and Jean (Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton respectively) are a young couple courting and madly in love; Charles is a medical student, Audrey an attractive young lady constantly nagging her beau about marriage. One day the beautiful ex-model Ann Shankland (Rita Hayworth) turns up at the relatively empty hotel, looking rather out of place with her wealthy entourage and glamorous demenaour having arrived from New York via London and much to the shock of the snooping Mrs. Railton-Bell, Gladys and straight talking horse-loving resident Miss Meacham, played by May Hallet who snarls: "Can't think of what she's doing in a place like this!". She is checked in by the mild Pat Cooper (Dame Wendy Hiller) who runs the hotel and who is discreetly dating the rather alcoholic American ex prisoner John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster). It seems, having taken refuge at the hotel over the past few years he has changed. However, there is more to the connection with John and Ann than at first meets the eye - they are a divorced couple; she supposedly has another man - that is why she is in England, to meet the parents - and her youth is deserting her. He was once an abusive husband to her and she exclaims to have returned because she cares about him and was told about his problems by a friend whilst she was in London. Just how much Ann and John still care, or don't care, about each other is yet to be seen. Meanwhile Cybil's feelings about Major Pollock are about to potentially come crashing to the ground since Cybil's mother has read in the local newspaper that he has been in trouble with the law after he fumbled an attempt to hide the newspapers. What comes next is Cybil's mother's nonobjective agenda to kick the major out of the hotel and out of poor Cybil's life. Of course she knows her poor daughter won't have the courage to stand up to her. This all unfolds at a mid-tempo pace, much like a soap opera and the ending unravels many questions. A memorable point in the film's great dialogue is when Mrs. Meacham, the accommodation's resident racing expert, exclaims to Pat: "People have always scared me a bit, you see--they're so complicated. I suppose that's why I prefer horses," and I loved that piece of dialogue as it just sums the whole mood of the film up. It does have some scenes pushing the restrictive sexual boundaries in the '50s but this is mostly verbal and very mild by modern standards. There is a particular scene half way through with Gladys Cooper at the centre of a group discussion, and a Deborah Kerr / David Niven scene near the end that refer bluntly to sex. More bluntly than many a Hollywood film would in the 1950s. Stereo-typically thinking, it may have caused some uproar then, I'm not sure. It's all a very stereotypical Hollywood look at the UK really - uptight, reserved and embarrassed to talk about or accept any association with sex. I found it quite amusing though - particularly that group scene where Kathleen Nesbitt, whose character is more easy going and frivolous than Gladys Cooper's puts her point across rather amusingly. Dame Gladys Cooper is an actress I would have loved to have seen in the early part of the twentieth century just to see how beautiful she really was. The young Ms. Cooper certainly comes to mind when you think of the architectural English rose - a rich beauty with this pale fragility. She plays a very similar part to her character in 'Now, Voyager' where she is a conniving mother to Bette Davis, who like Deborah Kerr in this film played her stodgy, grey daughter. I think that on the outside Gladys Cooper's character is snobbish and cold towards people but she's not a bad person necessarily but perhaps affected by her past and fearful of losing her daughter. Deborah Kerr is, as stated, not at all like her radiant self - no flame red lipstick and hair glamour on this one. In fact she is just like a little girl and plays her to perfection; I immediately wanted to encourage her to put her foot down to her cold mother! Dame Wendy Hiller is still so earthy and attractive at this point in her career and her acting is simply so real, and she makes that character incredibly likable. She won an Academy Award in this role, one of few screen roles and she thoroughly deserved it. Perhaps this isn't an all dancing or femme fatale glamorous lead role but Rita Hayworth brings the glamour to the film and takes top billing, perhaps unfairly so but understandably so; in a dramatic role she'd always wanted so much. You'd never know her signature film 'Gilda' was filmed over ten years prior to this at the beauty of her peak and stardom. Her costumes were by Edith Head. Burt Lancaster was good and played his part well but again not something other actors couldn't have done either. I really did enjoy his drunken entrance from the pub and his first scene with Wendy Hiller telling him off. He was really an actor who kept getting better with an American man's man kind of appeal, and of course, extremely handsome. David Niven won an Academy Award because of this role and although he is the other stand out in the film, he's not in it consistently but when he is in it he's brilliant; moving, sensitive and has real spark with Deborah Kerr. Indeed Niven's win is the shortest time on screen by an Oscar winning. He actually won the Academy Award instead of Paul Newman in 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' which I could imagine would cause controversy since it seems Niven isn't in this film enough to secure a Best Actor win but he is incredibly effective in such a subtle way when he is and perhaps that was what swung it his way. Niven is particularly brilliant at the end - he handles a difficult scene brilliantly. I have no doubts you will come away with your own idea of who you enjoyed and who not. Being Hollywood, it seems to put Hayworth and Lancaster to the front of the picture in the billing on posters, assuming it would do better with such big American names, I presume; also their story and characters are more electric. I still think it is the understated British cast that really make this film so moving. Niven was brilliant and if he was the firework, Dame Wendy was the burning candle, if you like. She never had a lot to do with her character since she was playing the nicer, straighter one and had less to work with in way of a story than Hayworth or Kerr and was never really allowed to push any boundaries and go over the top, which you can with a timid girl or glamour puss; however her character was so believable and tasteful. There have been criticisms are of Hollywood's depiction of Bournemouth. Most scenes are restricted to inside the hotel and the hotel's balcony - which looked out onto the seafront; although you see at the beginning the outside of the hotel and I'm in no position to say if it was like 1950s Bournemouth and certainly not prepared to gain my knowledge from Hollywood films, however it looks not too far off to me. It's worth pointing out it does have a stage feel sometimes and allegedly differs somewhat from the original stage play. It was not about pretty cinematography, an explosive ending or a major twist in the middle of the plot so don't expect or judge it on this and you may be surprised when it ends - thoroughly moved, too. It won't move at a fast pace but it's exactly that tasteful subtly that makes it work. Just seeing the characters sit at their respective tables hits home the fear many of us have about leading a complacent, dead end life or ending up lonely. I think people are more lonely nowadays on the whole - perhaps without realising it because we use the internet et al to paper over these cracks and this film really got me thinking about that. I know that the word 'remake' is one dreaded noun but it's worth pondering, taking this plot into twenty first century technology land - maybe setting it in an internet café of some accommodation or something! Or you could set it in the same Bournemouth hotel but depict modern problems surrounding online social networking, ignored children or lonely immigrants. Then again this is so good that maybe people will be against that since the real fears here haven't altered much deep down. Oh and just a quick mention to David Ruskin's sweeping musical score which is really lovely. I particularly like it when Ann Shankland walks into the dining room just after she has arrived at the hotel. If you like a good and simple film like me, see it. It has a really strong cast to feast your eyes upon and a really moving portrayal of several mundane and encumbered people whose lives share a surprisingly similar theme. As you can so tell, I sincerely loved 'Separate Tables' and literally recommend it to anyone, in spite of genre/era taste.

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            • More +
              03.07.2012 07:53
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              Travel magazine of the year ;)

              I bought this in WH Smith the other day - or rather it was my mum who kindly offered to buy me a magazine. I took a good look around at the shop's many magazines and usually I know what I like and that is specialist subject-type magazines but they can be quite expensive. I saw some under these categories but they were hovering around the £5 mark and there's no way that I'd pick up a magazine that expensive and hand it to someone who'd offer to buy me one; I'd feel bad. So over by all the travel magazines was one that looked interesting: Lonely Planet magazine. I was drawn to it because of the places it mentioned on the cover: Croatia (especially Dubrovnik) and San Francisco, particularly, as well as a free travel guide sample to Barcelona, a city I cannot wait to revisit. It cost £3.80. Now let me just tell you I've not traveled half as much as I'd like to and yet to venture outside this continent so I'm probably not as worldly as some of you, or at least not outside my head, but feel as though I have somewhat of a traveler's soul. I have known it since I began studying atlases and drawing (terrible) pictures of city skylines at aged 7; then I developed that sense of wanderlust - you know, when you look at perfect (probably photoshopped) pictures of another place, then look around you and want to cry. Suddenly everywhere seems to be more interesting, even if it is not. I mean, genuinely, do you get such a big moon hovering over the Manhattan skyline every night? Is the sky in Paris always that blue in springtime (even though it is a short distance from London, which has a 'grey' reputation)? Do you get a perfect sunset glimmering off the Thames if you walk along Waterloo Bridge every evening? Of course not but we are all taken in by this world of fantasy - it looks better so it must be! I'm also curious as a mouse so the chance to explore other cultures or go somewhere more diverse is very exciting. I'm not one of those who says the UK is awful and the rest of the world is perfect because there are places in our green and pleasant land I really am desperate to visit as well. What struck me about Lonely Planet's front cover is the balance between domestic locations they featured such as East London and the South Downs, and also more far flung destinations such as California, Iceland and Croatia. This means it not only caters to differing tastes in travel but acknowledges our own homeland as a worthy travel destination. I made presumptions that Lonely Planet were quite pretentious and smug in their writing so was unsure of whether I'd enjoy this but was proved wrong, at least in this magazine. That said, I do like that they seem more original in their picks. If someone came to me asking about London or the Isle of Wight, where I live I'd like to be able to point them in the direction of more original destinations, places with character and interesting locals, and a soul; rather than just the London Eye, Big Ben or the Needles, respectively. I realise people do want to see these places but there are so many untapped locations in so many places that go unnoticed and un-visited on the whole. Lonely Planet seems to pick out some more obscure ideas which I like. ~ Cover ~ It's a glossy and relatively thick magazine and because it comes with a free extract booklet of Lonely Planet's Pocket Guide of Catalonia's much heralded capital, it is wrapped in that plastic packaging; on the packaging you have blue on the back and text and it's transparent enough to the front to be able to see the cover of the magazine itself of course. What's on that? At the top of the magazine you have the famous Lonely Planet logo in its white text and blue box with the date - in this case it's the July 2012 edition - as well as the website: lonelyplanet.com. Stretched along the a strip at the far top, of the front of the magazine it states: 'Travel magazine of the year' in white, on a sky blue background. That should ensure it sells more, then. On its cover you also have a stunning photograph of a beautiful Mustang driving along an empty Californian highway, with rural Death Valley scenery and bright blue sky. Most of the text is written in white which reflects nicely against that colourful West Coast scenery except the words 'California' and 'Croatia' which tell you these are the major two destinations the magazine is featuring this month. Beneath 'California' it is offering the ultimate road trip between San Francisco and Hollywood, and the perfect holiday to unspoilt coast and historic towns in Croatia. Three slightly smaller but still eye catching white pieces of text to the side tell you the magazine also features the Pyrenees, 'easy summer escapes' which are Amsterdam, Iceland, London, Paris & the Cotswolds and also walking through England's newest national park: the South Downs. At the bottom of the glossy page it says, '6 mini guides to keep' - more of this a little bit later. All in all it's a bright and beautiful cover and not at all cluttered. I think that this and having looked at some past Lonely Planet magazine covers, thrive on the temptation of the photograph on the front and its colourful appeal rather than adding lots of text. I said earlier about looking at 'perfect' photos and dreaming of being there and I think photographs are probably the most powerful thing in tourism persuasion so the magazine really revolves around the Californian photography and probably the Lonely Planet logo. ~ Inside the magazine ~ So what are we greeted with beneath the glossy exterior? I open it and remove the free Barcelona guide then the magazine, then you have to dispose of the plastic wrapping. Then it is that wonderful twenty first century phenomenal known as 'lots of junk falling out of pages of magazine'! I was greeted with about five separate pieces of advertising: Graze boxes, Direct Line insurance, The Economist, Ocado and fairly large pullout like a mini newspaper regarding a third world charity. Although it may just introduce you to new charities or items worth buying, one of the last things people require at the minute is being told to spend more money OR waste paper. That said, I can understand why organisations have to exploit all areas of advertising, especially currently, and especially charities. Opening the magazine and we're greeted with our very first visual piece of advertising on the inside of the cover, which is typical of most magazines: this one being a holiday-orientated one as you'd expect promoting Taiwan with Cox & Kings. On the adjacent page you've got the names of the editorial, publishing, management teams et al as well as contact details of how to get in touch and a list of the magazine's awards. In tiny writing at the bottom it mentions it is 'wholly owned' by BBC Worldwide. To the right of that there's the editor's piece and names of the issue's contributors. Further on in you've got the contents et al. Then there are one or two little captions on ordinary people's travel experiences. One man reviewing an Oxford hotel he and his wife spent their honeymoon. He answers questions about its positives and negatives. An acid test pf the magazine's audience is the price of the accommodation: £95 per night. Then again, it was on their honeymoon. Another person gives a brisk insight into their first (Cornwall), best (St. Martin) and worst (Tenerife) holidays. I just point out that it is not necessarily the place itself which makes it their worst experience. I won't give away any more because I don't want to put anyone off buying this month's issue but it's nice to have some honest, ordinary opinions. Then we have our second interior advert advertising Dalmatia and Dubrovnik. Wait a minute, we might go (in my dreams) but we haven't got to that part of the magazine yet! Turning the pages and we have pages called 'Postcards' where it seems ordinary readers can send in their photographs and explain their experiences. These include Jordan, Mauritania, Coonoor, Slovenia, Tibet and Tanzania. These don't seem to be cheap package holidays to the beach, let's say. They're not necessarily obscure but certainly exotic destinations and the photographs, if truly taken by the reader, seem very intimate and beautiful. In fact, Aaron G. Morris - a teacher from Manchester - has taken a stunning shot of the desert in the Wadi Rum. Truly gorgeous, golden sand dunes, far and wide that rise up and seem to make it look like another planet, literally. None of these are blurry family snaps on the digital camera. These guys have to be travelers in the purest sense of the world - I'm not sure I'd qualify in this part, wherever I go on to next! Further on we've got more pages of (luxury) travel advertising and subscription service. The subscription form is early on so they must be confident you like it enough already. Lonely Planet's website editor Tom Hall offers news and tip offs in a brief section, this featuring Buenos Aires, Seoul, the euro, Manhattan's skyline and Kenya travelling guidelines. Tony Wheeler, who is described by the magazine as 'The man who can't stop exploring' puts his venture from New York to Southampton via the ocean into his column. A different feature when you turn the page is 'Isle of the Tiger': a double page spread about big cats in the UK. Of course wildlife is a major part of some tourist's trips but I never expected a piece like this. I'm disappointed that the Isle of Wight never got a mention in the 'big cat spottings' piece since we're rumoured to have our own wild cat (or dog) roaming in around and even jumping through windows and scaring us humans. A few pages along we have undoubtedly the centrepiece of this issue: 'The Road to Hollywood'. We're back to that front cover Mustang again, continuing its journey along the Death Valley highway. The photography again is simply gorgeous. Oh in my dreams will I! With the exception of the title - in Wild West-style font - and the short description the first page of this section is dominated by the Californian scenery, again. Over the page and the top half has a marvelous photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge. Beneath is writing which explains San Francisco's links with Hollywood with quotes from the lady who is trying to establish the city's first film museum (what a surprise to read it doesn't have one already). The beautiful photos and film talk continues in an extensive piece spread across over ten pages, taking the Golden State's diverse beauty from San Francisco to the desert. I particularly love the Wild West section, its mention of the many cowboy adventures filmed there and a local lady who used to witness Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant filming in the ragged plains of where she grew up. Naturally the trip from San Francisco ends in Hollywood. Lonely Planet also gives advice on climate, getting around and flight prices. Closer to home and the next big extract of the magazine, again with stunning photography and plenty of anecdotes of a contributor's experience we are taken on a picturesque and fascinating journey through the South Downs in the south. Once again, basic travel information is provided but to receive more of course they tell you which Lonely Planet travel guide you should buy. Turning the page some more and we're greeted with the headline, 'The Perfect Trip - Croatia'. This is my favourite part of this particular magazine and it certainly broadened my knowledge of a place I'm so desperate to visit. Again, the photography clearly derives from a pretty good photographer and only serves to increase my burning sense of wanderlust. The main photograph is of an typical shot of Dubrovnik: azure sea, red rooftops and Medieval ruins surrounding it. Inside that page there's a map of the region pointing out the areas the magazine talks about in their Croatian itinerary. It talks of some good destinations within Croatia such as national parks such as Plitvice and towns like Pula & Split, and gives you some day trip ideas which included towns as far as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, which is wonderful. Their accommodation choices are not ridiculously priced but they're not hostel priced - their picks range from about £50 to over £100 and priced under 'budget', 'mid-range' and 'luxury'. I'm very drawn to Central and Eastern Europe, and Dubrovnik has been a dream destination since I was younger so this is perfect; however the pieces on Plitvice Lakes and Paklenica national parks are just as terrific. It also gives a seasoned local's point of view such as Plitvice's park ranger and a Dubrovnik musical legend, Delo Jusic, hence I learned about the city's musical soul, which I knew little about. Obviously if you're not interested in this area, it might provide a different level of enjoyment - if it were about the south of France, although I've been and liked it, I might not be so enthusiastic as I'm not that way inclined but the beautiful photographs and written word in most of the magazine keep you entertained, wherever it's about, wherever you love or dream of visiting. In fact there is a spread involving France - the Pyrenees and the Roncal Valley. This piece has plenty of photographs and plenty of written word describing the history and traditions of the Spanish-French relationship in the villages of the region and I enjoyed this again due to its interaction with locals, beautiful photographs and history. I think that the place comes to life and becomes more interesting with a locale's description, since I've personally only ever seen the southern tip of the Pyrenees. I particularly liked the photograph of the local ladies wearing their traditional costume. Much further and amongst other smaller sections, including books, we have a question and anwser piece with the BBC's Alan Yentob and further travel advertising. Lonely Planet retains a mainly crisp, white background throughout only broken up by colourful photography, so it's always interesting and clear. Nearer the end of the magazine we have some 'cutout guides' to fold and keep. These are like mini guides to a handful of destinations: East London (UK), Kent, Northumberland, Porto and the Douro, Milan and the Cyclades. These are small but packed with little tidbits of interesting information on each place such as accommodation, restaurants and attractions as well as small photographs and a map of each area; although I've not yet cut any of them out. I wasn't sure if East London was our East End or East London in South Africa at first but it is in fact the capital, which makes a refreshing change from the West End. My spiritual home is north London but I'm very partial to the charming soul that is the East End ;) The Porto and the Douro cutout reminded me to restudy Portugal since it was a place I chose to study in college whose knowledge has since departed my head. Last part and we have a competition. It's a 'luxury' two night break in London worth £2,600, apparently. You've probably seen it a million times - the silhouette of the London Eye with Big Ben in the background, set against a backdrop of an evening sunset. That is there to entice you. I think that the final page is just as important as the first, since when in a shop we often flick through the pages and it's all too easy to look at the back first, as much as the front - see a competition and some people are definitely like to buy on that basis. ~ Free Gift ~ Oh yes and the free gift: its little booklet, which like the full pocket books is pocket sized, is actually quite an impressive extract! It is over 60 pages' worth of the £7.99 Pocket Guide, giving you plenty of detail on Barcelona's restaurants, sights, accommodation, beaches, shopping and so on, as well as some lovely photographs. I also found out that the smug tone I expected wasn't as bad as I presumed so taking into account this free booklet, I'd certainly buy the full Pocket Guide. I already own a couple of really good pocket sized guides to the city anyway, so it might just persuade me to buy a Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to another city, instead. I never expect a gift from magazines but this is a good free gift and how often do you say that? All in all a magazine that I thoroughly enjoyed. Nice layout, some varied destinations and stunning photographs.

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              • Tapestry - Carole King / Music Album / 37 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                24.06.2012 03:49
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                An easy album to listen to which touches on many human emotions.

                I have listened to this album a lot lately since my laptop decided to wipe out my music and reset itself out of nowhere. I'm prone to disorganisation at home (I tend to be much better in others' homes/workplace, oddly enough) and an example of this was when I lost the memory stick with all my backed up photos, music and documents on so I had to reapply my personal touch to my laptop and rip all my albums. Admittedly I procrastinate too much and thus far I've only managed to put a handful on there but 'Tapestry' by Carole King is one of them. I guess this is one of the first so-called singer-songwriter albums I ever bought as at the time, at the beginning of my grown up music discovery adventure I knew it was a highly rated and influential album. It is also one of the best selling albums of all time; this doesn't necessarily mean it is better than one that doesn't sell or that I was going to adore it but it meant it couldn't be ignored. Thus far, it's sold 25 million copies globally. I feel like everything about this album has been said in other reviews already so I'll probably keep this short (I think I'm capable of that sometimes!). I think that the first thing I noticed about 'Tapestry' was how simple it was; I don't mean it in a derogatory way - quite the opposite. So often your favourite music grows on you after several listens because it takes awhile to take in the layers of craft within: those tight harmonies, that rhythm guitar, those drum fills, that bassline, hidden meanings in those lyrics etc. With this album, it's quite stripped down and it gives it this warmth and intimacy that makes it, at a risk of being cliche, a perfect rainy day album. Carole covers subject matter that everyone can relate to and sings with an ethereal quality which lacks any pretension or complication which in turn makes it a universal album. In other words, 'Tapestry' requires less effort than other albums released by female singer-songwriters / vocalists who emerged in the '60s and '70s such as Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro or Nico; whose music require you to be in a certain mood to really enjoy it. I should add that in fairness the same applies to many male singers too. I think this is because of two things: simplicity and emotion. This album keeps things simple, as already stated and Carole King touches on a range of human emotions that we all feel at some point and emotions are, hopefully, universal. Whilst Joni Mitchell is applying clever lyrics, a widely ranging vocal talent and covering many genres of the music spectrum or whilst Nico or Laura Nyro are engaging in dark subject matters and the acquired deep-voiced vocal, Carole King's music is straight, approachable and down to earth. If Charlie Chaplin is no longer funny to people now as he once was, it's because every one has copied his humour to the point it is no longer fresh. So the fact that 'Tapestry' still seems fresh and enjoyable considering all the female singer-songwriters since its release in 1971, and particularly those with a piano, is testament to its timelessness. If imitation is apparantly the truest type of flattery, then this album has been consistently flattered. I guess Carly Simon would be the obvious comparison to this but course Carole King had already been writing hit upon hit many years prior, and was a seasoned professional at crafting the perfect pop song, particularly with songwriting partner and one time husband Gerry Goffin, with whom she also collaborates once or twice on this album. 'Tapestry' gives you just over half an hour of twelve perfect piano-driven, slightly jazz-tingled pop. Of course if you get the bonus track edition like me you get an extra studio track and some live versions. All the songs are recorded in more or less the same delivery, they all begin with and retain the piano theme and range from ballads to uptempo cheery pop. The album gives a balanced idea of Carole King's talent at not only interpreting her own songs but also the wealth of material she has created and given to other major artists. On 'Tapestry' you'll get Carole's own rendition of 'You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman' made most commercially famous by Aretha Franklin of course as well as the much recorded 'You've Got a Friend' perhaps made mostly famous by her close friend James Taylor and 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?', taken into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic by the Shirelles in the '60s. As you'd expect all these songs are given the piano treatment and stripped of their commercial feel, freshened up and instead retain their ethereal quality, like all of the tracks. 'I Feel the Earth Move' kicks off the album, the B-side of single 'It's Too Late'. Both are famous in their own right and have received plentiful airplay; the latter song is the third inclusion on 'Tapestry'. The first track is almost a bouncy reaction to that feeling of being becoming an experienced adult and being touched first time round - I may obviously be wrong! 'So Far Away' is a beautiful near-acoustic ballad featuring James Taylor playing acoustic guitar appregios beneath Carole King's passionate vocal and light piano as she bemoans, "So far away, doesn't anybody stay in one place any more? It would be so fine to see your face at my door," she continues with almost a frustrated nod in the direction of herself, "One more song about moving along the highway, can't say much of anything that's new." The song ends with the wistful flute, an expressive instrument that so often turns up in music of this era. 'Home Again' continues the thematic trend of combining loneliness and travel, again a ballad which slightly lifts the mood of the album though. Carole's voice is particularly passionate at times, "Snow is cold, rain is wet, chills my soul right to the marrow," the drumming is ever so slightly heavier but still gentle and precise. If Bob Dylan changed how male vocals are seen to the masses, perhaps Carole King did the same thing to female vocals. Although easier on the ear than Dylan's voice, she put natural soul and passionate phrasing rather than simply singing pretty or technical prowess at the front. 'Beautiful' is a positive melancholy pop number which gives a nod to a more positive outlook and happier well-being which once again includes her emotional observations of watching the miserable commuters passing her by at the station. During a time that women, and to an extent men too, are made to follow society's unrealistic idea of the perfect image and all look wrinkle-free and perfect, Carole King sings about beauty radiating from within. What makes this a joy is that although an attractive woman, Carole King herself emits the natural all-American girl image. Whether this song would have worked at the time coming from say, Jane Birkin or Brigitte Bardot is an interesting question. I think this is part of Janis Joplin's attraction too and that is that women tend to relate to other women whose image threatens them less, or in other words an everyday looking women whom they can relate to. 'Way Over Yonder' is where Carole King says she is bound; this song is vague in its meaning but a beautifully epic jazzy number with a light percussion and a sweet saxophone solo, which continues to gently weave in and out of the vocal until the end of the song. I'm not sure where she is singing about but perhaps she is talking about overcoming her troubles and envisaging light at the end of the tunnel. Although not strictly jazz in the purest sense, I always imagine going past a smoky jazz club and someone singing inside. 'Where You Lead' is again an uptempo, basic, bouncy pop song with catchy refrain and light harmonies that no doubt you'll sing along too, where the narrator puts the one she loves ahead of materialistic demands and personal dreams: "I always wanted a real home with flowers on the window seal, but if you want to live in New York City honey you know I will," those harmonies become slightly bouncier and have a light gospel feel. This one seems to be a nod in the direction of the old, soulful three piece girl groups of the '60s, so many of whom partly owe their chart success to Carole King. It's not hard to envisage Carole singing this and being backed up by three ladies throwing back those harmonies behind her whilst grooving in the old fashioned girl group style. 'Smackwater Jack', co-written with Gerry Goffin, leaves the emotional / personal theme of the album and is more of a light piece of storytelling, based upon a Western theme, and it breaks the album up nicely: "You can't talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand," there's those girl group-style harmonies again and some electric guitar. The title track is more or less all about voice and piano, a beautiful ballad which by today's standards may seems slightly twee, lyrically, but I'd argue that is only because in the twentieth century the soul has been sucked out of many things and we're taught anything in the love/emotional sense is tacky, in a world where everything has to have 'edge' (when in reality nothing comes close to real emotion). The track has a slight storytelling theme albeit it possibly remains personal again, this time though the story is spoken in first person by the narrator, about their life being a tapestry made up of good times and bad times and the inclusion of a man. 'Tapestry' ends with Carole King's version of 'Natural Woman' which has gone from massive radio hit to acoustic number promoting the mature woman. I love Aretha's version but it's a talent to write a song that becomes pop chart hit then take it and record it yourself, and reinvent it this passionately and maturely. I can understand if some people, particularly younger people, would allow this album to go over their heads at first, seemingly because it can seem like a stripped down version of something we listen to all the time these days. Indeed this is lesser produced and very light in comparison. However, like I mentioned about Chaplin's humour as an example, you've got to take into account how original this was at the time of its recording and release, the soul put into it and its association with the so-called everyday person, i.e. the listener. Of course listeners of the time will already appreciate this. :) This album exudes a certain warmth which comes from Carole King's earthy vocal and lyrics but although personal songs, they are of universal nature so are ambiguous and basic enough to be interpreted personally which is why everyone can relate to them. Everyone knows about the feeling of being down and self depreciating at some point, or having low self esteem. Everyone knows how it feels to have traveled somewhere or have a loved one travel somewhere and be away from them. Everyone knows how it is to have someone make them feel good, even if only in a short space of time. This is what makes this album to timeless because we all understand it. Although I listen to it a lot myself, there was a lot of progressive rock and lyricists were trying to become more daring during this era (just compare this with what Bob Dylan, Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell were writing about) and with this album, Carole King magically managed to strip things down t bare emotion and step back in time whilst moving the position of the female singer ahead years. Being that this is such a warm, 'rainy day' album at least to me, this is one album that must be great to listen to through the warmth of vinyl. I'd love to own it on a big, beautiful LP. Nonetheless, this currently is available on Amazon itself at £5.17 but a used version is going from a s little as £2.13 on marketplace. I'm also pleased to state it is available on vinyl albeit sadly at over £30 with Amazon. *I said I was keeping it short but as usual it never happened! Haha :) ~ Tracklisting ~ I Feel the Earth Move So Far Away It's Too Late Home Again Beautiful Way Over Yonder You've Got a Friend Where You Lead Will You Love Me Tomorrow? Smackwater Jack Tapestry You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman Bonus edition: Out in the Cold (a studio track) Smackwater Jack (live)

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                • More +
                  19.04.2012 07:02
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                  A really good album to own if you're into early Stones or rock 'n' roll in general.

                  Mick Jagger rather discouragingly described 1965's 'December's Children' simply as a "collection of songs". Technically it is the band's fifth American album compiled by London Records featuring live tracks, a handful of originally penned tracks and some covers. This is currently going at between about £3 on Amazon's marketplace; Amazon themselves charge about a fiver. The actual case hasn't much in it and the sleeve is thin and the bare minimum in it but bare in mind this was a difficult LP to get your hands in the UK once as it was released to an American market only. This was really the first Stones album that I bought a long while ago and it gave me my first taste of not only the Stones and 1960s rock 'n' roll but also the blues and Brian Jones. What is interesting about this particular album is that is seems to straddle the two pre-Mick Taylor eras: the early days when they were a r 'n' b band with Brian Jones as the face of the band, and the mid-'60s onward when Brian became slowly but surely sidelined in favour of a more commercial, rock 'n' roll sound featuring the Keith Richard(s) and Mick Jagger songwriting partnership. On this CD, you get an insight into the band's ability to cover the likes of Muddy Waters with Brian at the helm, and glimpses into the beginning of the Richards-Jagger partnership. They'd already proven successful with the first style, after a cover of Howlin' Wolf's 'Little Red Rooster' climbed the top of the UK charts; it's no mean feat to top the British charts with a blues cover, and much of it was down to Brian's slide guitar playing. However, they'd also just enjoyed a smash hit with 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' - a straight out radio friendly rocker. Much to Brian's dismay this was the direction Mick and Keith were determined to take the band. Now the cover is in black and white, featuring all five members of the band with Brian kneeling down at the front and the others squashed in a doorway behind him. It tells you this was when the Rolling Stones - or Rollin' Stones had he originally named them - was Brian's band and he was the leader. Personally, I think of the band even now as his. His name, his band and without him, it simply would not exist. To me he dominates the shot of the band but then again you could argue with his face, hairstyle and clothes he always did in a way, because he makes the other members look relatively plain in comparison. When Mick Jagger took over the mantle as the band's leader and main personality, it was obvious that despite lacking the striking looks, fashionable style and all round musical ability Brian had, he had everything else that Brian didn't have to be a successful front man at the time - he had a swagger of arrogance, he was camp, sexy, charismatic and confident. 'December's Children' kicks off in what can only be described as so typically the Rolling Stones: a cover of Larry Williams, whose own version I love, 'She Said Yeah' seems lost behind an opaque production which has an almost early punk feel. Mick Jagger's vocals are relentlessly frantic as if he were going crazy in another room with the door shut. It is less than two minutes worth of rock 'n' roll than never lets up, which hints almost an early Ramones influence, perhaps. Bill Wyman provide the bass in which the song thunders along and Mick's vocals are a mess and not always understandable - it is raw, without a doubt it's completely live, energetic, flawed, hectic - rock 'n' roll just how it's supposed to be! Following 'She Said Yeah' are another three covers, including a version of Chuck Berry's 'Talking About You' and what I consider one of the Stones greatest covers, 'You Better Move On'. This cover of Arthur Alexander's soul hit is not too far from the original - it retains its harmonies and general sound but Jagger's vocals are unsurprisingly more acerbic in comparison to the American's. The song's rich, almost choir-like harmonies showcase one of the few times Brian Jones's contributes any obvious vocals to a Stones track: "Well I know you can buy her famous clothes and diamond rings but I believe she's happy with me without those things. Still you beg me to set her free but my friend that will never be. You better move on." These boys were not the first British Invasion group to invade not only the USA but also their back catalogue of music, and in particular Arthur Alexander's. His song 'Anna' was of course more famously covered by the Beatles. 'Look What You Done' sees the band covering a blues track and you can tell Brian shines on this one, as one would expect. Mick Jagger's voice is slightly more retrained than the Muddy Waters original but Brian's harmonica is not, and it one of the highlights of the album; if fact Muddy Waters himself is supposed to have been present at the recording. This is also the only mono recording on the album and clear enough. This song more or less inspired me to want to learn how to play a little blues harp. 'The Singer Not the Song' provides you with the first self-penned cut off the album and it is surprisingly subdued by the Stones' standards, but very wistful and melodic. The title is a touch ambiguous, like the 1961 British film of the same name, starring Dirk Bogarde, and the lyrics are mild. It's a mash up of slightly off acoustic guitars and out of tune harmonies which amusingly end on a falsetto high, and a sweet early '60s Liverpudlian like melody. It's not particularly a strong track but it's not weak either - it's just 'nice', which is not a word you associate with the band. Then comes an energetic live cover of 'Route 66', again with a slightly murky quality not helped by screaming girls, particularly during the guitar solo - I assumed it was Brian when I listened because I'm unsure Keith attracted that sort of attention in those days. Track number six is the album's biggie, 'Get Off Of My Cloud'; a major hit that was a response to the bands previous hit 'Satisfaction' - we all recognise it as soon as Charlie Watts's drum intro enters the fray: "I live in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of my block and I sit at home looking out the window imagining the world has stopped," the lyrics on this song have always amused me somewhat, "Then in flies a guy who's dressed up like a Union Jack and says 'I've won five pounds if I have his kind of detergent pack'," Mick possibly referring to the up and coming Pete Townshend. Keith Richards never liked this song, particularly because of the production quality, or lack of, but despite that it was major hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Tour manager and on-off Stones member Ian Stewart plays piano on this but there's an awful lot that seems to get lost in the mix. Charlie's drum line is one of the most famous things about the song. I always quite liked this one myself as I find it lyrically frivolous and fun. From then on we have a handful of originally Stones penned songs, the most recognisable being 'As Tears Go By' and 'Blue Turns To Grey', both of which entered the UK charts thanks to other artists. Many of the original tracks have a light, acoustic folk-rock feel accommodating Beatles/Hollies-style harmonies. 'As Tears Go By' is of course most famous by Marianne Faithfull whose own hit was slightly more brisk and polished than the Stones rendition. However, whether the fans and band alike enjoy this version is debatable, since shock, horror: there are strings on it! I cannot think of many Stones songs in the '60s featuring strings, not up until 'Angie' was released the next decade. Even Mick sounds quite sensitive on this one; there's a rare hint of vulnerability to the Stones. Mick's voice is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and an arrangement which gives the song a lovely, late-in-the-evening autumnal feel. 'Blue Turns To Grey' was of course made famous by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. This version is a rawer and perhaps more mature version; the tempo effecting more emphasis on the pensive lyrics that Cliff's happy version doesn't do: in fact that one sounds like a song you'd dance to with your girlfriend/boyfriend at the local dance hall. Again, the acoustics are there and so are harmonies as Mick's lamentable vocals describing his feelings as he tries to come to terms with his girl leaving him: "She's not home when you call so you can go to all the places that she used to go but she has gone away. Then blue turns to grey and try as you may, you just don't feel good. You don't feel all right, and you know that you must find her, find her, find her." Again, another hint of a vulnerability and a sensitive Jagger in a Stones song. It is rare that the girl is portrayed as the one with the strength in early Rolling Stones song, I think it is fair to say. Another cover closes the album, again live, and again disrupted from start to finish by crazy girls. A cover of the old country track 'I'm Moving On' by Hank Snow this time and it is a raucous and relentless cover with Brian on slide guitar, which is always a good thing, and Mick playing a great bluesy harp solo. Bill Wyman's bass is also more prominent on this track to me. I really do love this song per se, whoever sings it and an awful lot of brilliant artists besides the Stones have done: Taste, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Billy Fury, Elvis Presley... it's a really impressive list that love this song and have made it their own. I'm not sure that the Stones' version is my favourite personally as the sound is a bit of mess just as it is on 'Route 66' but it's without a doubt the most energetic of all the versions I've ever listened to and it's a proper Rolling Stones way to end a solid album, even if it does end with the sheer joy of thousands of adolescent girls. I would be a hypocrite to criticise. This is such a solid album and personally I must have really loved it at one point because after buying it at the start of my fresh adult musical journey in my teens, I went out and bought more Stones records. It's not polished and certainly not even with a couple of live songs chucked in and a miss-match of covers and originals that don't always flow but I enjoy every aspect of the album - it is one album that sum up the band in one go with a hint of blues, a sprinkling of country, a few classic Jagger-Richards originals, a fair bit of rock 'n' roll and some early Brian influence, as well as a surprising amount of sensitivity. It seems to be that awkward turning point between Brian's leadership and Mick & Keith's but it gives you a chance to enjoy both styles and see where the Stones kicked off their remarkable career, commercially speaking anyway. I must say since a solid and really enjoyable early album such as this was the first Stones material - with the exception of the singles so often played on our airwaves - that greeted my eager ears and Sticky Fingers - a masterpiece if you ask me - was my second Rolling Stones album, I remember being slightly disappointed from there. I felt almost as if I'd heard all the good output and every other Stones album never seemed as good. Their songs seemed like taking a familiar Bo Diddley beat, adding a catchy riff and rehashing it all. Anyway, since I have changed my mind and realised I was just plain wrong and appreciate how good they were and I think it is worth mentioning that although an early album, it provides ample opportunity to appreciate how under appreciated their versatility is. Mick is without a doubt the face of the band but Keith is the brains and Charlie a stalwart, both musically and surely as a man(!) and their body of work in terms of British bands of that period and their ultimate importance and timespan is rivalled only by the Kinks (who also prove that the long-term sturdy drummer is the under-appreciated victim in egotistical or eccentric bands that revolve around two members). I give it about three and a half stars as it can seem very unbalanced and it's not like your typical album - more or less a work of art that flows from one cut to another. It has a live song with screaming fans sitting slap bang in the middle and sometimes the guitars or harmonies are out of sync but it's part of its charm. It's also quite an easy album to listen to, it can be quite useful as backing music. I'm not saying it doesn't deserve more love because it absolutely does but it's not music you have to immerse yourself to after a first listen as the songs are all short (I don't think it has a cut more than three minutes long) and the sound is quite muddy sometimes anyway. Overall it is a must have to all Stones fans, or musical fans in general considering the influence and diversity in genres and hints at what was to come from the Rolling Stones and British rock 'n' roll in general.

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                  • Windows Movie Maker / Multimedia / 30 Readings / 28 Ratings
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                    14.04.2012 06:03
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                    Great if you want to use it to make a slideshow.

                    Windows LIVE Movie Maker (which replaced Windows Movie Maker on Windows 7) I'm messing around with this at the moment so since I haven't submitted a review in a while I figured I would write about this particular programme that came built-in free within the operating system of my Windows 7 laptop. I presume also that Windows Movie Maker will be phased out in favour of this one. I try my best not to abbreviate if possible but I hope you don't mind if I refer to it as WLMM from now on! I have already used this to upload one or two basic videos to YouTube up until I bought a better video editing package by Sony. Sadly my laptop went and broke and this year I replaced it but cannot find the software to that now so I'm back to the old, cheap Microsoft package. Firstly I replaced this with paid software because this one was too basic to create so-called 'movies' from video and film clips. It kept crashing and crashing and crashing, every time I attempted to put film clips onto the timeline and create a movie. Nonetheless I eventually managed to make a movie set to some of my favourite old classic couples on film coupled with an old jazz song that hadn't then been uploaded to YouTube. I thought that the combination of film clips and song was a perfect, romantic match and it would be a great, first film-clip movie to make. There's no difficulty to create any of this in comparison to the paid software you can buy, which can be quite complicated to the beginner; the problem was that the heavier the media content added to your movie, the more it would annoyingly crash. So first rule, as with everything on your computer: save consistently. I added clips and cut them to the perfect moment but it became tougher and tougher to stay patient because it felt as though WLMM couldn't take any more. I ended up settling with less than ten clips because I'm sure it wouldn't have saved and uploaded with any more. I also made one or two videos with just a song and some pictures. This time, it didn't crash and it was easy, albeit basic, as anything. It was also a lot quicker to upload to YouTube than the movie with film clips. That said, it does take quite a few minutes to save and upload the finished product fully, so you have to have some patience. You also have to have a good internet connection because I have noticed if I don't, I can waste a lot of time waiting and assuming it is uploading when in fact it completely fails to upload by the end of it. That's not necessarily a WLMM flaw, of course. I must say to not be fooled by what you see when as you're in the process of creating your movie, and the final product, because more often than not, the final product is a better outcome - it flows with less interruption and looks better than you may suspect. If it jumps and shakes as you're making it, that'll probably not be the case when you've uploaded your movie. However where it is not as good an outcome, at least this was the case on mine, was the quality of the film clips - their quality reduced significantly by the time it had made its way to YouTube but then YouTube themselves have reduced video quality over the years, I think, so it may just have been them. Let's just say it certainly looks as though the video was made on the cheap! Okay so what does it offer? Not a lot! Basic would be the word to describe this programme - it is free, after all. Effects are limited but what there is is good. Transitions are okay. WLMM is easy to use, which along with the fact it is free, is definitely its appeal to people, I think. I think it is an excellent programme if you only want to create a basic slideshow with personal photos or perhaps upload a song to YouTube or Facebook. WLMM's interface is very basically designed and simple to navigate and use. You've got six tabs on the ribbon at the top which include your usual options to open an existing movie as well as save and begin a new one. Then you've got the 'home' tab where you add your audio, photos, webcam video, a title, credits and other text, or can capture a snapshot of your movie; this is also where you find the option to upload your completed movie to YouTube, Facebook, MSN Messenger, Flickr or SkyDrive at the click of a button or two. You're also given a number of preset video titles and themes but these are very basic. Alongside that are the options to pan and zoom sitting next to your choice of transitions and then you've got your effects. The other tabs have the miscellaneous options on which I'll come to in a moment. To the top of that tab bar you have the quick save and the option to go back and undo something, or vice versa. Underneath your tabs you have a small screen to the side so you can watch your movie as it progresses and next to that you have the storyboard pane where, at the click of that button on the home tab, you're able to go to your photo files and add as many photos (or video) as you require to the storyboard. In the same way you can add an audio to your movie. You may also want to put in a title or theme at this point, and again it is just as simple. The themes are not particularly exciting and they are far and few between; there's about seven of them which include turning all your media black or white or sepia, and also slightly different, albeit not fancy, titles and credits. Once you've added your photos et al, it is time to mess about with the special effects! Okay, it is not that exciting. Considering it's free, it is not that bad. I think although they are not groundbreaking or going to stop viewers in their tracks, there's enough there to make an interesting slideshow. All your typical effects are there: sepia, black and white, pixelate, threshold, blur, different colour tones etc. Then there are the transitions. Again, you've got your usual options to fade photos/video clips in and out, slide in up/down/sideways, dissolve in, pixelate, flip and use fancy shapes like a star or circle to introduce the next photo. In fairness, there is a fair amount of choice with this one. It is possible to slow down the transition to as much as ten seconds between each photo, which works well on video clips when you fade in and out. This is all done by clicking on the photo/clip(s) required and simply clicking on your desired transition or effect and voila: you have added your effect and can have a quick watch on the little screen. Or even watch it on full screen if you're ready to preview your movie at this point. It is more or less the same process to add pan and zoom effects. Again, you're given a decent few options to choose from - zoom in or out to the centre, zoom out from the top right or maybe pan to the left - you name it, all the angles and options are there. Or you can go with the random option so that you get a spontaneous pan and zoom on each photo and each occasion you watch your movie. Your little movie is beginning to come together and you've got your audio and visual content as well as your effects, maybe you could add some text or tweak the audio to make your home made masterpiece complete. Perhaps if you are finding the audio doesn't quite stretch to fit the music you can at a click of a button time the visuals to fit the song(s). Your text, if you've used any, needn't be lonely as far as effects go, either. Maybe you could allow them to roll up the screen like credits in a film - we all stay at the cinema just to watch them at the end, don't we? - or alternatively get the words to dramatically fly in from nowhere or fade in subtly. Maybe change the font of the text, or its size. I'm really trying to excite you. I can promise you if you haven't tried this already, it will be an anti-climax. Okay seriously, once you've finished your movie and are ready to premiere it on YouTube or any of the other social mediums on offer, click on whatever one you're uploading it to, insert your password and user name, give your video a title and description (I only know this process if you're uploading to YouTube) and allow a few minutes until your video is saved and ultimately uploaded. The latter takes a little less longer in my experience. Once your video is uploaded to YouTube, give it just a few minutes to process and there you go. Like I said it is basic and there's not much in the way of special effects and in comparison to semi-professional software, it does not even compare. However, it costs you absolutely nothing and is perfect if you want to add a song to YouTube or create a slideshow with photos, or educational/professional one like you would with PowerPoint. I'm not sure it supports moving imagery particularly well so I think it is best to use with photos only. If you haven't got this stored on your computer already, then it is available to download and there are also tutorial videos on how to use this but believe me, I would be very surprised if you require one on such a basic programme!

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                  • More +
                    24.02.2012 22:52
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                    The man whose haunting vocals are behind the high, lonesome sound.

                    Upon listening to the lonely drone of Roscoe Holcomb's voice, first time round, it was one of those musical moments when I had to stop and immerse myself in what I was listening to. It was perhaps the most sad and lonesome vocal I'd ever listened to, and you get lots of those in country, folk, gospel and blues music, in particular, which this Appalachian music legend more or less fits into one way or another from Hank Williams to Nick Drake, Karen Dalton to Tammy Wynette to Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin and so on - those voices that you feel are intimately talking to you rather than singing due to the extraordinary emotions or sense of loneliness they pour into their vocals. Roscoe Holcomb was not only competent as a fiddler, guitarist and harp player but also an excellent banjoist. However, the tracks that almost always stop me in my tracks are those where perhaps his most famous instrument is the star: his voice. His voice was the inspiration behind the term 'high lonesome sound' which is now a prevalent description amongst bluegrass music. It really shines on the songs he sang a cappella. The tracks which are accompanied by music are purely Holcomb on those instruments. That first introduction to his soaring falsetto that so amazed me that I mentioned earlier, is one of the acapella tracks included here: 'I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow'. It was lonesome, haunting and the way he bends his notes and held his phrasing made it all the more eery. It reminded me of an old, lonely man standing at the top of a mountain calling out to the deserted, distant valley below him; that being the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern region of North America, where, derived by British and Irish folk music as well as African blues, the genre was born. 'An Untamed Sense of Control', I assume, took its title from Bob Dylan's description of Holcomb's voice. It features 26 tracks in all and a nice sepia image of Mr. Holcomb on its cover, holding a banjo. Some tracks on it are instrumentals, and fine ones at that, including a version of 'Milk Cow Blues' and a harp only track called 'Barbara Allan Blues'. Some are less than two minutes long. The longest is just over six minutes. Some are distinctly folk with a very traditional English feel whereas others, such as 'Mississippi Heavy Water Blues' or 'Sitting on Top of the World', you'd imagine Big Bill Broonzy or Robert Johnson playing. They say white guys cannot sing the blues - listen to some of the blues tracks here and they'd change their mind (although there are of course other examples). This man demonstrates his emotions and troubles as good as anyone through his music. Holcomb's voice may be an acquired taste, like most voices of this genre can be. It does sound like a pre-Bob Dylan Bob Dylan at times, which some find grating but you can see, or rather hear, where Mr. Zimmerman perhaps took some his vocal inspiration, since he is a big fan, as is ole Slowhand Eric Clapton, who has called him his favourite 'country artist'. Holcomb spontaneously and often consistently soars into a piercing falsetto which may go through some people, and his phrasing is often drawn out and strained. It's not what you'd call a great voice by glossy, modern standards, but it is a great voice by old fashioned, raw emotional standards. I happen to be one of the few people - I think - who like Bob Dylan's voice and enjoy a large range of vocals including those with a twang so I love Holcomb's a lot. It is very much like rock 'n' roll - spontaneous, raw, imperfect, exciting, makes you listen. There are times that Holcomb's voice emotionally wails and warbles almost unapologetically uncontrollably with a rich, emotional intensity - it is intimate and personal, which I love; it's very much like camp-fire stuff. What is impressive is that there is no other voice harmonising, there is no band. This is one man and his instruments. If you think you may not take to his voice, however, there is still a good reason to listen and enjoy this artist at work. Firstly because it highlights the history of old-time music in the USA and part of the impact British and Irish folk along with African blues music had on local American music, and also because Holcomb was an excellent guitarist and banjo player. In the same way you might want to concentrate on Dylan's lyrics and not his singing, it's worth listening to this to enjoy the historical aspect and particularly its musical output, if not the yearning, rough vocals. Holcomb deployed plenty of brilliant banjo playing styles and if you wanted to learn the instrument, he'd be one of the first teachers you'd approach. Sadly I cannot play banjo, but maybe one day! These recordings were recorded everywhere from live concerts to his front porch to New York City during the '60s and '70s when he was older, playing live due to the '60s folk revival and emotionally low, although they have a distinctly older flavour in terms of genre and recording quality, perhaps because we are so used to clear, electric recordings during this period. These songs sound more raw, more stripped down and more plaintive. There are absolutely no sound effects here so it is not a polished recording, it's not psychedelia or contrived or perfect: it's real emotion from a world weary artist. It never feels like a studio recording - it really has a rural, front porch feel. It depends on what you hear personally: some hear an emotional, weary voice, whilst apparently other people hear a sound like a constantly moaning foghorn. It is probably worth testing first - I'd recommend listening to 'I am a Man of Constant Sorrow' somewhere first and if you like that version, vocally, you'll like this. An acquired taste but if you like it, you'll love it, especially if you love old country, blues or folk music, and particularly if you love banjos - it won't get any better than this!

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                    • More +
                      17.02.2012 22:41
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                      Cheap exhibitions if you've an hour to spare in a London hotspot.

                      London's 'National Portrait Gallery' first opened its doors in 1856; however in 1896 it moved to its current location just off Trafalgar Square, next to the National Gallery. According to its website at www.npg.org.uk, the gallery was created "to collect portraits of famous British men and women", which has since amounted to over 175,000 portraits from the sixteenth century to the present day. The gallery is open between the hours of 10am to 6pm everyday, except on Thursdays and Fridays when it remains open until 9pm. Exhibitions this year include one on Lucian Freud (currently on), the Queen and portraits of those contributing to the Olympic Games. I first visited the National Portrait Gallery last summer with a friend. Sadly it is the only time I have ever been so I can only give you my experience on one exhibition and impression of it but I love art and the like, and if I complete my dream of moving back to London soon it is certainly somewhere I would love to visit consistently. Although I was planning on visiting the gallery anyway, last July, I did realise should you be in Trafalgar Square on a hot, sticky day like it was on that day, it does provide a cheap, spontaneous respite to the central London heat and crowds. We were staying just outside London so took a train up to Charing Cross station, the nearest one to the gallery, and walked from there. Upon arriving we asked to buy tickets to the exhibition and were provided them by an extremely friendly young lady. The exhibition was the old Hollywood one they ran between spring and autumn in 2011 and it cost us just £6 each. Good value! We walked down the corridor and stopped off at the toilets along the way; you may wonder why you need to know this but it's just to confirm they were very clean and accessible! On we went to the area of the gallery we required, and we showed our ticket to another nice girl by the door - boy, they don't hire plain looking staff, that's a certainty. Most of them were stunning continental girls, I couldn't help but notice. All the staff that I saw in the gallery were extremely kind and helpful as well. They seemed to have high standards in customer service and appearance. It took us all of five minutes to get our tickets and enter. When we entered the room was fairly small but the exhibition was well set out, chronologically and with accompanying information about each photograph. Some I'd seen previously and some I hadn't. Being that it was relatively small, it did get a little annoying when there was someone behind you, naturally wanting to move on when you were still trying to read the writing besides the portrait. There were quite a few people at this exhibition but it wasn't unbearably overcrowded or anything. I was pleased that many of my favourites were featured there, some twice. Most portraits were as you'd expect in black and white and all very glamorous. It didn't feel like a big exhibition but there was enough to keep everyone satisfied and I enjoyed seeing every one of the portraits and information on them. Afterwards we decided to go to the gift shop; unlike the exhibition, this was a lot more pricey. I managed to buy some postcards featuring some of the stars I'd seen at the exhibition. There were plenty of items I would have bought though: CDs, books and other little miscellaneous items. It's a shame a lot of them were slightly on the expensive side. In particular, they had a book which cost about £25, featuring beautifully, all the portraits from the exhibition. Just a shame as I decided not to bring too much money with me, otherwise I would have bought that and more. Overall I enjoyed the trip to the gallery and certainly hope to return soon, either on a lone visit to the capital or when I have moved back there. Judging purely on this experience, it's not somewhere you could spend a whole day at, but it is a nice little stop off and so much cheaper than other places you could visit. The gallery relies on funding, as a charity and people can donate via the website. People can become members which includes free exhibitions entries and other benefits such as discounts at the cafe, gift shop and book shop. The Duchess of Cambridge is its most famous patron, however the gallery's largest donation came from Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner who donated £5 million. You, however, don't have to donate that much; but if you do want to help, then you can find more information about how, here: http://www.npg.org.uk/support/donation.php

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                      • tumblr.com / Internet Site / 34 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                        03.02.2012 23:05
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                        Most creative photo blogging experience on the web.

                        A few years ago, a friend was getting all these obscure pictures of an old (call us mad if you will be he is also deceased) musician that we both enjoyed fan-girling. We do love the music as well; we wouldn't have found him without it but being girls, by nature, we have taken to collecting photos of him and drooling over him and sharing them all on Facebook or back then, MSN. However I'm 23 this year and keep my schoolgirl frenzies in my head now! So I am less obsessed than I was (hundreds of photos stored on my laptop was a bit much and now I concentrate mostly on the vocals and guitar playing..) but many months ago when I was hot and flushed over him it occurred to me that my friend was discovering all these rare photos and I wasn't. When I asked her where she found them, she pasted me the link to her Tumblr profile. I'd never been on it although I'd seen the name around. I then realised that I was missing out on some fun with other fans. I said I would sign up which I did but somehow wasn't too excited when I got there... I signed up with my user name, blog name and password which takes seconds; however I didn't take to it straight away and let it sit dormant there until about spring of 2011. It just looked so uninteresting at first but I was wrong: so in April last year I decided to use my Tumblr account. I chose a theme which couldn't be simpler (there are plenty of simple, crisp designs but also many more extravagant ones which can be edited to suit you in terms of colouring, background images and descriptions). Some people have very impressive designs on theirs - some are arty and others pretty. I went with a simple yet colourful design and description which I have changed since but the theme was simple to install - a click of a button and you're there. I personally prefer the simple, crisp designs now but used to have more picturesque ones, it is up to you. Once you've sorted your theme / blog design out to suit you, it couldn't be more simple to get started. Tumblr works very much like Twitter; you'll get followers and you can get follow other bloggers if you choose to but unlike Twitter, it is more of a photo blogging platform. It does help if you can get a few friends already on there to follow you from the beginning but the more you post, the more followers you will attract. Of course you do get followers who basically like to spam and those who follow you in the expectation you'll follow them in return; not that you have to do of course. It is best to follow the people you know personally or those who share the same interests to you and post similar things. I flitted between the music, film and photography posts I like but the great thing about Tumblr is that although arty and youthful, it does provide a good laugh. Sometimes there are some very amusing posts, usually in the way of gifs. If fact the best gifs online are probably on Tumblr. The likelihood is whatever actor, singer etc. you like you're sure to find a Tumblr dedicated to them. Tumblr allows you to post pictures, videos, text, quotes, gifs, links and audio and all you have to do is click on your desired post and upload the photo, URL etc. and click 'post'. You're able to view a preview of your post first. Once you've posted a post it will appear on your blog and on your followers' dashboards. You will see the posts on your dashboard of those you are following. Posts can be kept private or set aside to post at a specific time in the day as well. You don't just have to blog your own original posts to add to your Tumblr, you can reblog your followers' and other people's posts as well and many go viral. I often use the search engine to find something tagged with something I like and I often find something worth reblogging. If you'd rather not reblog a whole post or post it to your blog, you can 'love' a post and your list of 'loved' posts are kept separately. The two downsides to Tumblr I find is the addiction and like many websites, the spammers and generally annoying messages. Most Tumblrs have an 'Ask me anything' option where people can ask you or post a message to you, and when you reply it is posted on your dashboards. My last message was from, surprisingly, 'Anonymous' stating how I can see them with no clothes on, basically ;) I have also experienced my old theme completely crash and eventually I lost my background and colouring and was made to go back to the 'customise' page to redo it all over again. Thankfully this hasn't happened to me since but it's another reason I prefer a plainer theme. I used to be on Tumblr an awful lot, too much; in fact it took over my Facebook addiction until the end of last year where I decided to hardly frequent either with a little willpower! Tumblr is simple and well set out and fun. I love Tumblr as I've discovered so many obscure photos I'd never seen previously of people I like and it's very creative and often gives me a laugh. Also it is wonderful to be with other fans of whatever you enjoy, even if it is only in cyberspace. It also provides a place to blog your creative side, especially photographically. However, I feel as you get older the novelty could wear off. Where Twitter used to have a 'mature' following, stereotypically speaking, Tumblr to me has always been the opposite; however supposed the arrival of Mick Jagger, Barack Obama and other famous faces may have changed that! I would assume the reason Obama and the White House have enrolled into the Tumblr community is to appear trendy and keep in touch with the USA's younger voters. If you are like me and a little bit of a procrastinator, Tumblr is terrible! 'Tumblring' means to go from one blog to another and look at photos, which I do often, and you can end up spending as much time looking at other people's output as you spend on your own. The good thing is you are provided with an 'archive' whereby you can sit and sift through a number of great photos from the months gone by, a bit like an online scrapbook. There are lots of brilliantly creative Tumblrs out there. I have two under the same log in, one I use and the other is relatively quiet. One of them is here: manderleydreaming.tumblr.com. Mine is not the most interesting but there are some well worth checking out - some creative, others very amusing and then there's a few you'd rather ignore! It is hard to judge the whole of Tumblr on one blog however, as they all differ in theme and subjects so much. Overall it is a good, fun, simple, addictive way of blogging photos and arty content and sharing pictures, videos et al of your favourite people/hobbies with your friends / other fans.

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                        • More +
                          31.01.2012 23:12
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                          Excludes a lot but what it includes is excellent solo Sandy Denny at her most beautiful.

                          We all have our reservations about 'introduction' or 'best of' compilations of our favourite artists partly because of the track selections and also, to me, it doesn't capture the flowing work of art a whole album brings the listener. I think it is a little like taking a few works of art, paintings by a great painter like Rembrandt, cutting them into pieces like a jigsaw and then picking up a number of good pieces and attempting to put them together in a whole new painting... I hope that did not sound worryingly ostentatious but you get my point, hopefully! They do however, help to give the new listener a relatively introductory idea of that particular artist's material. Sandy Denny recorded some of her greatest work, vocally and musically, prior to her solo career in the 1970s and annoyingly this CD, 'Listen, Listen' fails to recognise some of that work. It is available on Amazon between about £2 and £7 currently. Sandy could sing like an angel - little vibrato, angelic purity, brilliant phrasing; as if her voice was created specially to sing old Medieval folk tunes so she could vocally transport you back in time - this is an aspect of her talent that no CD featuring her voice can fail to do justice do, she was that good. She was also a brilliant songwriter and a pretty talented guitarist and pianist to boot. Her interpretations of traditional folk songs as well as those of contemporary artists were always brilliant. From her rendition of the traditional standard 'Matty Groves' on Fairport Convention's 1969 folk rock masterpiece 'Liege and Lief' to her utterly gorgeous version of Bob Dylan's 'Tomorrow is a Long Time' and her hauntingly beautiful singing on Jackson C Frank's 'You Never Wanted Me', whom she dated in the '60s, she demonstrated that she was a good at interprating other songwriters' songs as she was at writing her own. Then there are her own songs: 'Who knows Where the Time Goes?' perhaps being the definitive Sandy song, one of the greatest songs ever written - so beautiful it could leave you in tears. Sadly none of those are included here, the fact that the latter song isn't featured is a massive omission; perhaps this is because she recorded them with the Strawbs in the '60s and then the signature version with Richard Thompson's brilliant accompanying guitar playing with Fairport Convention later on. There was, however, a near accoustic version that could have been included or a live version... it's mind boggling when an artist's signature song, be it their best work or not, is not included on albums which were made to introduce their talents to potentially new listeners. Another exclusion from these compilations is perhaps her most famous vocal turnout of them all, on Led Zeppelin's 'The Battle of Evermore', her haunting voice adding an ethereal versatility to the song and she remains the only guest vocalist on a Led Zeppelin track since. Richard Thompson believes her to be the UK's greatest ever female singer songwriter and Robert Plant said she was his favourite female singer. 'The Battle is Evermore' being a Zeppelin song with Sandy only as a guest means it is not included here which is a shame as it shows off the rock n' roll side to Sandy's personality contradicting her beautiful, feminine vocals completely. After an underrated stint in the mid '60s with the Strawbs, whilst still studying, as well as her most revered time as a singer with folk rock legends Fairport Convention in the late '60s and into the early '70s (Sandy was instrumental to the development of the British electric folk sound) and lastly a brief period with her own band, Fotheringay, featuring husband Trevor Lucas, Sandy ultimately went solo. Included on this album are a number of carefully selected tracks from each of those albums until her early demise at the age of 31 in 1978. So technically you're getting the best of Sandy Denny the singer-songwriter rather than the best of Sandy Denny the innovative folk legend. One of Sandy's strengths was interpreting traditional folk songs and making them sound fresh without losing their traditionalism and since this includes no Fairport output, in particular, there is only one traditional song here, which is the second track 'Blackwaterside', perhaps made most famous by Bert Jansch or especially Anne Briggs who was the woman who single handedly influenced every British female folk singer after her including Sandy Denny. Taken from her debut solo album, 'The North Star Grassman and the Ravens', this traditional tune is delivered superbly with Sandy's confident vocal, always in tune and full of angelic purity. Sandy's phrasing is so outstanding and moving, yet she never overdoes it with the melisma. Accompanied by some solid drumming, Sandy makes it her own and delivers a stunning interpretation as the guitar and accordion steadily build to a wonderful end musically. Evoked by eery premonitions and dreams and the death of her band mate in a road traffic accident (she'd dreamt of a similar accident two months earlier), 'Late November' is an extremely popular song with the piano sitting behind Sandy's elegant vocals; the lyrics are poetic, ambiguous, abstract almost. 'It'll Take a Long Time' is taken from Sandy's second and most acclaimed solo album, 'Sandy', released in 1972; the haunting steel guitar flowing in and out of the background courtesy of Pete Kleinow of the Flying Burrito Brothers with Richard Thompson's marvellous electric guitar work subtly adding to the song's delicate layers and eventually aided by John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on the organ; Sandy's soaring voice, especially her ethereal echoes on the refrains, completing a song whose texture would be velvet if it could be touched. 'Sandy' is represented also by the title track of this compilation, another mid-tempo track with an instantly singable chorus accompanied by some fine instrumentation once again; the mandolins and guitars weaving joyfully in and out of Sandy's sweet vocals and eternal melody - the type that you feel you have already heard even if you have not. These songs are broadly English in their traditional themes of sailors and travellers and one of her favourite themes: the sea. However the production by Trevor Lucas, who she would soon marry, draws in ranges of influences that make the production sound fresh and exotic. Sandy always surrounded herself by great musicians who always sat subtly within the song always allowing Sandy's vocal to be the star. 'The Lady' provides a glimpse of what is to come by her third album, 'Like an Old Fashioned Waltz'... By solo album number three, Sandy Denny had swapped guitar with piano and all but left folk behind in favour of jazz and a more pop orientated sound; with the inclusion of strings and big, poetic arrangements. 'Solo' is a very popular number with Sandy's voice immediately introduced with a simple piano riff sitting behind her vocals: "Good morning, good afternoon and what have you got to say? Well I'm waiting but I can't stay long, it's such a lovely day; there's a time to be talking and a time when it's no use. Right now I think the things you say are liable to confuse," as the drums, harmonies and guitars kick in at the refrain as Sandy optimistically continues, "I have just gone solo, do you play solo?"; the song eventually leading to a wonderful guitar solo which almost seems like an instrumental middle eight. Sandy's music at its best here. 'Like an Old Fashioned Waltz' is a delicate ballad with piano and a romantic strings section evoking images of romantic, old fashioned ballroom dance; it seems that the jazzier, pre-rock 'n' roll era is a major influence on Sandy's songwriting here. The other songs from this album that is included is the upbeat 'Dark the Night' with John Bundrick's wonderful work on electric piano and prominent, bouncy bass, along with the epic 'No End'; the latter based upon friends, a painter and a traveller who convince each other to reclaim their enthusiasm and fall back into love with their respective hobbies again. There's two recordings of this, an intimate, stripped down piano and vocal one and a full blown arrangement which is the one included here, the music creating the imagery of some of the song's subjects: snow, turpentine, the fall of the autumn leaves; the piano and light percussion in the first verse softly merging into a beautiful orchestral arrangement accompanied by what sounds like a Welsh harp, only Sandy's voice is more ethereally haunting than the music. A stunning song, beautiful storytelling: like a dream - poetry in motion. This is Sandy saying never lose your enthusiasm doing what you love because as she so often reiterates, time flies by so swiftly. Sandy Denny's songwriting by this point was becoming more biographical, her lyrics wrapping themselves around particular subjects such as time, seasons and loneliness. That doesn't necessarily mean the songs are depressing, far from it; but they do tend to be wonderfully melancholic uplifted mainly by Sandy Denny's powerful vocal. Sandy Denny was a fan of interpreting jazz standards as well with her mind set on releasing an album of such covers, reminiscent of the music she was brought up on; sadly the album was never realised and the inclusion of her cover of 'Whispering Grass' or 'Until the Real Thing Comes Along' may well have introduced another side to her, but neither were included here. 'I'm A Dreamer' is a stunning, straight ahead song from Sandy's last album where her voice seems raspier (she was a heavy smoker and drinker) but when she hits the chorus there's never any doubting the uniqueness of her voice; it's one of the highlights of her final album, 'Rendezvous'. This is an upbeat pop song (more or less) describing a fantasy of escapism and dream: "When the music's playing, that's when it changes and no longer do we seem like total strangers; it's all those words which always get in the way of what you want to say." With more focus on her range than just on her subtle phrasing Sandy's vocals are particularly powerful here in more pop-orientated way. However Sandy's voice is never devoid of soul, she had it in spades. An ever present piano riff and strings section kick the song off where some very solid drumming and a great guitar break by Jerry Donahue as well as Sandy's passionate vocal bring it to a beautiful crescendo making it one of her most intense tracks. 'All Our Days' is arguably the most epic track included here and is eight minutes of pure Sandy Denny luxury; her voice is spellbinding as it floats above the haunting, lush arrangement. Turn the lights off, maybe light one or two candles, turn off any distractions and take it all in. It's the best way to appreciate her talent. This last album was often criticised as being particularly overproduced, which is true on some occasions and a major shame if you lose someone of this vocal ability in the mix, but Sandy during her life craved the success and reverence that she is only beginning to receive and seemed to be taking her career in a more commercial direction in order to attain the status she so rightly deserved; as perhaps, until Kate Bush, the UK's premier female singer songwriter (Bush would later name check Sandy in her own songwriting). Thea Gilmore has just recently released an album of unreleased Sandy Denny lyrics put to Thea's arrangement and own lovely voice called 'Don't Stop Singing'; if that is anything to judge by coupled with Sandy's final album, Sandy's music was taking the avenue further away from her folk roots as she entered her 30s. Her beautiful use of English and melody as well as the subject matter that she so often drifted towards such as time, the sea, travel, loneliness, seasons and loss are all intact to the end. 'Listen Listen - an Introduction to Sandy Denny', released by Island Records, provides an interesting chronology of Sandy's development from folk rock queen to a brilliant singer songwriter desperately taking her material in the direction of much warranted and sought after public acclaim. There is plenty of material excluded, in particular the celebrated Fairport Convention material, but it is hard not to do Sandy Denny justice in spite of which tracks you choose; her talent was that deep. If you're expecting an album of pure folk rock and fiddles then you'll be disappointed but this demonstrates Sandy Denny's depth of talent as a musician, songwriter and vocalist capably. A more diligent take on Sandy's music to begin with would be the double CD 'No More Sad Refrains'. All in all though Island have created a good solo-only introduction to 'The Lady' - a talent that the UK should treasure. ~ Tracks ~ Late November Blackwaterside Next Time Around Wretched Wilbur The North Star Grassman and the Ravens It'll Take a Long Time Listen, Listen The Lady The Music Weaver Solo Like an Old Fashioned Waltz Dark the Night No End One Way Donkey Ride I'm a Dreamer All Our Days No More Sad Refrains

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                          • Gone With The Wind (DVD) / DVD / 38 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                            23.01.2012 21:22
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                            1939's crowning glory.

                            ~ If you get the collector's edition of the film you not only have the entire film and its soundtrack remastered over two discs, you'll also get a disc with a documentary concerning the making of the film which is wonderfully insightful as well as extras including film commentaries and galleries, footage from the film premières in Atlanta, documentaries on the leading stars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable and a documentary featuring fellow star Olivia de Havilland, recalling her thoughts on the film. That's the box set that I have but there are a range of sets and special edition packages with the film available on Amazon ranging in price from £8 to £20 currently (Amazon pricing only). ~ In 1939, the year that is regarded to many as Hollywood's greatest, the American film studio's crowning glory was released to the public. In many ways it was quite apt that what was perhaps Hollywood's most celebrated film came about at the end of the decade, one of massive change in Hollywood: the first full decade of talkies and the introduction of the Motion Production Picture Code (Hays Code) being two of the major innovations. If 'Gone with the Wind's most celebrated character Katie Scarlett O'Hara was created during the pre-code era of the '20s, she might have been dressed in stockings and suspenders and caught lifting her skirt rather than effortlessly running up and down grandiose staircases in huge, lavish designs that the audiences have become so familiar with when critiquing this film. Scarlett O'Hara's costumes are just one of the many famous, and infamous, features that make this classic so beloved though, to this very day. Based upon Margaret Mitchell's 1936 best seller - to this day - of the same name, this epic tale of the South sees romance, war, tragedy, fear, poverty, wealth, courage and patriotism all packed into over 200 minutes worth of glorious Technicolour-painted drama as we led through a tale of a community's struggle through the Civil War between the South and North, and the Reconstruction period. David O. Selznick and MGM must have been crazy when they decided to create a Hollywood blockbuster based on Mitchell's massive novel. The effort that went into the making of the film as well as the many hurdles to overcome confirmed that; the end result is an American masterpiece, however. The film saw three directors, a two year a nationwide search to find the perfect Scarlett O'Hara resulting in endless screen-tests, a budget of over $3 million, an exhausted director and a very stressed producer finally create one of Hollywood's greatest achievements and book-to-film adaptations. In the end it walked away with eight Academy Awards (plus two more honorary ones), including Vivien Leigh winning her first of two Best Actress Academy Awards playing Southern belles and Best Picture. The only downbeat moment was that 'Gone with the Wind's' leading man Clark Gable lost out in the Best Actor category, unexpectedly, to our very own Robert Donat in 'Goodbye Mr. Chips'. Now if you asked me, I couldn't split them and think Donat, whilst the UK's leading 1930s star, remains somewhere in the top ten finest actors to ever come out of the UK, in both film and on stage, and he proved it with his win; and I think he just about deserved it. Gable and Donat were both up against some other staunch contest themselves including James Stewart and Laurence Olivier; after all it was Hollywood's most celebrated year. His Oscar loss takes nothing away from his take on the film's leading male character, Rhett Butler, though. Make no mistake about it, Gable's charm, looks and charisma made him the perfect Rhett - he was, after all, the King of Hollywood and it was he, whom the public wanted all along to play the part. Selznic's first choice was Gary Cooper. Gable wasn't keen on the part but eventually he gave in and the American public got their man; and he rises to the occasion in every single scene he is in. The part of Scarlett, though, was a more complexing story. It became the most sought after part in Hollywood and every actress dreamed of it; I couldn't name every actress who tested because it's a long list of stars and soon-to-be stars including Bette Davis and Gable's wife Carole Lombard. There was one beauty who was determined to ruffle a few feathers and win the role and that was of course Vivien Leigh. In a deep love with Laurence Olivier and off the back of English films such as quaint comedies 'St. Martin's Lane', 'A Yank at Oxford' and 'Storm in a Teacup', Vivien crossed the Atlantic with one sole purpose: to play Scarlett. Now it seems that what Vivien wanted, Vivien would get; and it was this attitude that made her perfect to play Scarlett. By this point the list had been rattled down to two or three but the arrival of Vivien threw it all out of Selznick's office window: at first glimpse he must have known this lady, despite her British accent and lack of Hollywood experience, was the woman who will play Scarlett. No, this WAS Scarlett, albeit slightly more beautiful than the character in the novel, her features and dark hair was spot on. Selznick had seen her in 'A Yank at Oxford' and discreetly impressed and had considered her already. It angered many of the American actresses deep down but as one journalist in the South put it: "Better an English girl than a Yankee!" (Should you get the chance to watch a young Vivien Leigh in the 1938 English flick 'St. Martin's Lane' (known as 'Sidewalks of London' to USA audiences) you'll see the pre-Scarlett Vivien playing a similarly manipulative character, Libby - often seen screaming and crying until she gets her own way, you'll understand why she was rewarded with the leading role in 'Gone with the Wind'.) The role of the other two major characters, Melanie Hamilton and Ashley Wilkes respectively went to Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, two more Britons (well, De Havilland is more or less British and despite his Hungarian parentage, Howard was renowned as the 'perfect Englishman'). De Havilland was absolute perfection in this role and brings the placid, sickly sweet Melanie to life with her subtle beauty and acting alike. Melanie is naive but a lovable character who sees nothing but good in other people, including Scarlett. Selznick was impressed by de Havilland here hence he wanted her to play the lead part in Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood production, 'Rebecca' which was being made as 'Gone with the Wind' was being completed, but she refused when she discovered her rival sister Joan Fontaine was being tested; Fontaine eventually got the role instead. De Havilland is the only surviving actor from the cast, at 95, and lights the screen up as usual with her lovely smile. Leslie Howard, like Gable, was not keen on the film and sometimes I cannot help but think of this and that it perhaps shows. Visually he was too old to play Ashley but with make up to make him look more youthful with his blond hair and sensitivity, he definitely looks the part. Nonetheless he was brilliant in most of his acting/directing roles through the '30s and Selznic wasn't having much fun finding a suitable Ashley regarding the American actors so perhaps this really is Leslie Howard's role. Not that the lackadaisical Leslie was going to change his eloquent English accent to a Southern twang. Not once. Unlike Vivien who took lessons to perfect her accent (something that would bring her further benefit when she portrayed her second Oscar winning Southern belle role almost twenty years later in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'). Leslie Howard was the one cast member who didn't even read the novel! Sidney Howard is the man credited with the screenplay although there was more than one and although only one director is credited, again there was more: Victor Fleming, the only credited director, who was directing 'The Wizard of Oz' replaced George Cukor, the film's original director and Sam Wood, who was directing 'Goodbye Mr. Chips' that year replaced the exhausted Fleming. Cukor was a long term friend of producer Selznick and practically looked like his twin, but he was fired three weeks into 'Gone with the Wind's' production after Gable claimed he spent too much time on the female leads, much to the dismay of Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, who would have to continue with the stricter Fleming and his new ideas. "Oh Ashley, I love you... I love you, I do!" "...Isn't it enough that you've gathered every other man's heart today?" The film's opening scene takes us to Tara, Georgia, the home of the O'Haras, a family of Irish and French descent including Gerald and Ellen O'Hara and their three daughters: Carreen, Suellen and of course Scarlett. The year is 1861 at the family's cotton plantation, which Scarlett is in line to own; war has yet to interrupt the South. Nearby is a plantation called Twelve Oaks. Twelve Oaks is the home of Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett lusts after. He, however is going to be married, in true family tradition, to his sweet cousin - Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett's unscrupulous tendency in flirtatiously targeting men makes her less than popular with her sisters nor any women around her. "You sir are no gentleman!" "...And you miss are no lady!" Along arrives the dashing, charming Rhett Butler, visiting from Charleston after being thrown out of West Point. Despite that he is shrewd and often the main protagonist as the plot unfolds. He upsets locals at Tara when he suggests that those in the South have little chance defeating the superior North in war, which is being excitedly anticipated by men and feared and denied by the women, as Scarlett herself moans as the film opens with her first words, "Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream." In the meanwhile, Scarlett has her mind on how best to convince Ashley to marry her. Eventually Scarlett finds her moment to tell Ashley she loves him but Ashley is intent on marrying Melanie, whom it seems the rather awkward Ashley is far more compatible with. Rhett overhears the whole conversation, much to Scarlett's horror but he promises to keep her secret. Scarlett, with her mind firmly set on Ashley continues to court him privately in the hope they'll marry. After a period of light flirting, Scarlett accepts a proposal from Melanie's bashful brother Charles and marries him... in the hope it will Ashley will notice and become jealous. Ashley and Melanie get married. "Great balls of fire!" When the Civil War finally breaks out, in particular the Gettysburg Battle, destroying the South and reaping havoc around them, Scarlett is called into action to provide and keep her family together; all in the hope that Ashley will return from the war unwounded and alive. Rhett, however, is never far away from the scene and although it seems Scarlett's undying love towards Ashley will never falter, Rhett has fallen in love with Scarlett. Charles passes away whilst away in the Confederate Army although it hardly seems to phase the conniving, cold Scarlett that her husband has died; she goes to stay in Atlanta where the Hamiltons are, secretly in the hope Ashley will return alive and well... but so does Rhett, who is now a blockade runner. Charles will not be Scarlett's only victim as she continues hunting down Ashley, using other poor men (or should that be wealthy men?) along the way but as further tragedies and drama unfold around her, Scarlett is made to keep up the courage to fight and help her family and repeat her heroisms. Her ability to deceive and hurt those around her and to cry and fight until she gets what she wants never disappears. It is partly what attracts her to Rhett; her feisty determination in awkward situations makes her Rhett's kind of lady, even if she is in his own words, "No lady". He says he means it as a compliment. Rhett puts his trust in Scarlett in difficult circumstances and the fact she fights until the end and brings herself and those around her through the toughest of situations confirms the belief he has in her. Will the lure of Ashley and the post-war Reconstruction prove to be the pair's undoing, though? Other notable roles include the brilliant Hattie McDaniel who plays the O'Haras' maid in her fast talking, fast moving role and deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award (defeating Olivia de Havilland in the process as well as Greer Garson's brief but brilliant debut turn in 'Goodbye Mr. Chips'). This does bring to light the most controversial aspect of the film and that is the slave/race question. They may have been simply been referring to history when the film was made, and let's be honest, race acceptance was still a major problem in the USA in 1939 (McDaniel was seated in a segregated area of the room at the Oscar ceremony and the black actors were not invited to the première in Atlanta due to local laws). It still is to an extent, of course. However the way the non-white characters are portrayed throughout the film does stand out in today's society, it is something you have to take with a pinch of salt. The other controversy of the time was the language use, particularly in Rhett Butler's infamous closing line, however this is very mild nowadays and perhaps not ever a problem in the UK anyway since I can recall the same language being used with no controversy whatsoever in much earlier on in more liberal, 1930s English made films. 'Gone with the Wind' was incredibly innovative in its time, from the rolling title across the screen to the six minute opening credit role, which seldom happened in a '30s film. Most '30s films featured 30 seconds worth of credits and slipped straight into the opening scene but 'Gone with the Wind' was more pompous, more colourful and more epic than anything that had gone previously. Here you're greeted with two and a half minutes' worth of overture and then rolling into the drawn out credit roll, set against a backdrop of Tara's colour and vibrancy; some of which was cleverly painted on at the Hollywood studios. It's worth noticing that Gable's name makes first appearance which is perhaps due to Vivien Leigh's virtually unknown status in the United States at the time; Hollywood's highest paid star would have been put out to see his name credited beneath her although Scarlett will remain the film's truest star. Max Steiner, MGM's favourite film composer (perhaps mine, too...) sets the score, including the main theme 'Tara's Theme'. Everyone knows it. It's beautiful, it's quite catchy and it is contributes to the film's genius extensively. It's always there. We are spoilt with five minutes worth of 'Tara's Theme' in pure beautiful orchestration until the story of the Old South is told in a few words, elegantly climbing our screen; the music then subtly changes to light orchestration and the sound of a choir, like leaves flapping in the wind: until the words evaporate and we are introduced to Scarlett O'Hara and Tara. Selznick attempted once again to create an epic masterpiece during the war with 'Since You Went Away' and whilst it was a beautiful film on all aspects, no character could quite match the ferocity of Scarlett O'Hara, no setting could match the folklore of Tara and few have matched the entire film's lasting legend since. 'Gone with the Wind' premièred in Atlanta in December '39 and over seventy years later and well into another century, the film remains the highest grossing film of all time. All 223 minutes of it.

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                            • More +
                              16.01.2012 22:28
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                              Three stars when you first start, five stars when you get to know it... normally.

                              It is interesting analysing the variation of reviews and opinions on the London Underground; some love it and some obviously do not. I personally am grateful it is there because whilst to me there's nothing quite like a red London double decker, the Tube does provide a more efficient, reliable alternative. Not to mention the cabs are so inexplicably expensive; although I happen to think they provide the best service of the lot. Private minicabs are an all together different deal. I got one that didn't know his way to the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most famous London landmarks, and had to use his Tom-Tom to help; and charged the earth at the end of it and the driving can be quite scary. I love walking in London, though. Honestly I do; especially in summer. I'm wouldn't go around in less than desirable places alone at night but that applies to anywhere and is common sense; but I really enjoy walking around the back streets of the West End and I love parks and cities in general so walking feels like the best way to explore and feel the vibe. However, whilst most of the major attractions are within reasonable walking distance, some are not so public transport may be your only option. It is also a more appealing option if it is pouring with rain or you're worried about losing your way. Driving? Like I have stated, I'm no driver and even if I was... in London? No! However, when I plan a trip to the capital, I always locate the nearest Tube station to my intended destinations prior to any other mode of transport. I moved out of London when I was about seven and my accent has refused to budge so I gather I am suppose to be a Londoner and cannot wait to move back eventually. Not everyone does but I adore it; it's imperfect perfection. The Tube is a good description of the city as a whole: cosmopolitan, people rushing around and annoying you, exciting, dreary, confusing, mazy, unpredictable, old, modern, tourists, commuters, locals, foreigners... it has all these flaws but has this great energy and cosmopolitan vibe where you encounter people from all over the world; basically when you're in it, you often cannot wait to get out but without it, you'd miss it. I have an Oyster Card which enables me to watch the money I'm spending on transport as I go along, but often buy a Travelcard because that covers all zones all day at under a tenner. Last time I used my Travelcard to as both a return ticket between Victoria and Bromley South as well as at a number of Tube stations throughout London, making my day in the capital stress free; it cost me just £8. Although you'd require an Oyster Card to buy a Travelcard that lasts longer than just a day. These can be bought on the TFL website or at stations. Prices range from about £2 to over £10 if you're travelling using an Oyster and from around £5 to £10 with Travelcards. I always use Victoria as my base in London. I have no idea why as I am not a fan of running around Victoria Station but it just feels like an appropriate base geographically; so all trains that I catch end up there if I'm on my own. From there I will go up via escalator to Victoria Tube Station and let the fun and games continue! I think that the first thing you'd notice about the Tube if you're a first time user is the sheer complexity of it and it can be intimidating as a result. There are always plenty of maps on the walls to help you find your required platform (you'll probably need to check on an ordinary map of London to check which Tube station is located nearest to your destination) and it is a little bit of an underground maze. You'll find yourself going up the steps, down again, around the corner and back up the stairs again and back again... eventually you'll get to know your way and it'll become easier. The London Underground is the oldest and second most extensive underground/metro system in the world with 270 stations in all so it's no surprise it becomes complicated to particularly first time users, although in effect it is quite simple. The stations are quite dull but feature lots of adverts on the walls and buskers along the corridors; it's quite grubby and has a particular smell. I know this is strange but I like that it has that typical 1980s big gritty city feeling - sometimes. In fact it's the pushing, shoving and staring on the platform that annoy me more. Overall I have never found the Underground to be particularly filthy as is claimed but it certainly isn't squeaky clean either. I think it just feels dated. Because of the old age of the Tube, accessibility is a problem despite lifts and escalators but this is due to be improved. It's more New York than Moscow grandeur; all quite simply designed. Escalators can be very long as well: just stand on the Angel escalator and keep checking the time! Oh and do not stand on the incorrect side or loiter at the bottom - oh this annoys 'em bundles! Once you've chosen your required Tube station, you'll need to work out how many rides you need to take to get there; it's no different to train journeys - just think of it as a short train journey and possibly requiring a stopover or two along the way! To work this out you need to decide which line you need - there's the Piccadilly, Northern, Jubilee, Victoria, Central, Bakerloo, District, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Waterloo & City and then there's the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and Overground; all are represented by a different colour and run in straight lines across the city. When you've got an idea of what line you need you'll find directions around the station of what trains run on what platform. This is where the running around comes into it. It will tell you whether you require southbound, northbound, westbound or eastbound depending on line direction and you invariably follow that rule, literally. Once you've found the correct platform via the help of signposting the train will be along in about five or so minutes. It's very efficient, unlike buses. Sometimes both platform and trains are packed with people, other times it is empty and it depends on time and location. Off the top of my head the last Tube journey I took was from Holloway Road station to Victoria where I went on to catch the train down to Southampton. My journey took about fifteen minutes in all. As you'll notice on a Tube map, Holloway Road is located on the Piccadilly line but this doesn't travel direct to Victoria. So I took the Tube to the nearest station on the Picadilly line to Victoria; Green Park. I got off at Green Park and changed to the Victoria line which ran to Victoria station by one stop. I did the same journey in the other direction. Of course it is like maths: it is up to you how you work out your journeys and which stations you choose to change at as long as you get there. On the trains it can be extremely hot in summer due to lack of air conditioning but this is to be improved upon eventually. Also, it can be annoyingly overcrowded so there's a good chance you'll have to stand and end up squashed in like sardines. My biggest problem is knowing where to look. If you have some music, a book or a pair of sunglasses on you, it helps. If there are a lot of people they tend to stare at you and other passengers. I'm sure I have done it without realising but I find it quite off putting because some people do it the whole journey and I think, 'Please look at the guy next to me now!' Sometimes it is just down to daydreaming, perhaps or people watching, which I admit is always fascinating. People can be quite rude but there are also a lot of people (British, foreign, tourists, young, old, locals etc.) who are probably thinking what you are thinking. I once went to sit down on the Tube a few inches from the seat and this grown man actually rushed over from nowhere so he could sit on it first. He won. I lost. The trains are not especially dirty but again, like the stations, they're dull. On the train it will tell you via audio the next stop and it says above the seating what stops the train will be visiting so you shouldn't get lost... unless you've boarded the incorrect train! You'll need either your Oyster or Travel card to scan/insert into the machine as you enter or exit the stations. This part is extremely simple but make sure you have your card ready as you arrive at your destination as I used to end up searching my handbag by the exit whilst people were trying to get past - I didn't mean to be annoying but was scared I'd lose my ticket and you certainly don't want to be caught travelling without your ticket! I managed to put the ticket in a safe yet easy spot in the side of my bag instead of the back of my purse where it was. Oyster Cards are simply like top up vouchers. Travelcards provide you with one paid ticket. The London map is divided into zones with zone 1 covering the popular, touristy areas of central London, zone 2 covering the outskirts of central London and zone 6 the edges of London, more or less and prices vary, becoming more expensive the further out of central London you travel and of course if you travel at peak times. I think in any major city it is always ideal to look as little like a tourist or someone who is unsure of their way as possible. If you look like a tourist, you'll automatically stand out and become a target to less than desirable characters. I found this out in Barcelona once although the thieves are less discreet there (they come straight up to you and start shouting at you and you have to try to ignore them and walk on in the hope they'll leave you alone). I always keep my handbag tightly to the side or go with a satchel bag instead so it's in no way open to criminals, let's say. Of course I have another worry with that: that is if a character pulled my bag, it would also pull me which is scary thinking and I'd find it difficult to just let my bag go and it would seem as though I was fighting back, which as much as I'd like to, I wouldn't have the bottle to. So there's two arguments in my head to how I should carry my bag! I think it is best to walk confidently as though you know where you're going even if you're slightly unsure; basically look like a local who knows the game so plan your Tube journey ahead if possible and try to hold your belongings on your lap - mentioning this out of personal experience again. So once you have found that famous roundel, go inside, find a destination and have fun reaching it. Daunting at first, yes, but it'll get better the more you get to know it and with all its faults you'll be thankful you have it on hand - I guess it is the brother I never knew I had! The TFL website is on hand to offer travel updates on each of the lines as well the option to buy tickets and help with planning your journey: www.tfl.gov.uk Another useful website is this one: www.tubeplanner.com I hope that you found this useful if you've never travelled on the London Underground previously.

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                              • Shane (DVD) / DVD / 34 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                                12.01.2012 00:37
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                                A beautiful Western with warmth.

                                'Shane' is a George Stevens-directed film starring Alan Ladd, Van Heflin and Jean Arthur. The film is shot in technicolour and released in 1953; it was based on the novel by Jack Schaefer. This film, although it will always be filed under the Western genre, does transcend Western, adventure and drama. I like Westerns but the are like the country music of film (there's a theme in there somewhere...); they're often unfairly misunderstood and disliked by many. There are films in the Western category that transcend the stereotypical imagery of gun slinging, horseback and big cowboy hats such as Rio Bravo, The Searchers and The Big Country that are simply good films, in spite of their genre, that can be enjoyed by anyone: this is one such Western. When gunslinger Shane (Ladd) turns up at a small town in Wyoming he soon becomes embroiled in the battle between Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), a cattle baron who wants to remove the Starrett family, who are homesteaders (squatters, as Ryker sees them) from 'their' land. Shane stays with the Starretts to work with them, agriculturally, but becomes drawn to Starrett's wife, Marian (Jean Arthur). Meanwhile, Joe and Marian's young impatient son Joey (Brandon de Wilde) himself is drawn to Shane as he is mesmerised by his steel manliness and his gun. Shane's relationship with the boy becomes more prominent as he shows him how to use a gun; something Marian is quite opposed to. Tensions amount though between the homesteaders and enemy when Joe and Shane find themselves fighting Ryker and his sidekick, Jack Wilson (Jack Palance). We continue to follow the story as the friendship between Joey and Shane deepens but as the conflict worsens. What will become of the homesteaders and the continuing struggles between them and the their rival settlers? Will Shane save the day? Montgomery Clift was originally cast as Alan Ladd's leading character Shane but turned it down; now whilst Clift was an incredibly beautiful man and I adore all those close ups of his utterly gorgeous face the directors insisted on, I couldn't imagine any other actor as Shane, but Ladd. In the book, however, Shane was tall and dark haired whereas Ladd was blond as well as small so Clift would have fitted the role visually. It seems strange to think of Ladd as the Western hero in this film; since he was shorter than many actresses, let alone burly male gunfighters, and in this film he has an enemy in Jack Wilson, played by the always tough, mighty Jack Palance but somehow it works; there's a sensitivity about the characters in the film and the battle they fight that you sympathise with that make this more than just a Western. Ladd isn't made to look taller than his 5 foot 5 inches in this film though and it only goes to emphasise his hero role; but he is good with a gun. William Holden was originally intended to take on the role of Joe Starrett but again, incredibly handsome man and great actor, but Van Heflin was perfect in the role. Heflin's acting is subtle and plays Joey with great dignity. Joey himself is a man with great dignity who simply wants to support his family. Brandon De Wilde was wonderful as little Joey, considering his age. He was considered a child prodigy in acting but sadly died aged 30. He also nearly embarked on a musical career, with help along the way from Gram Parsons. However the role of Joey will always be his greatest success. Jack Palance is one of the greatest bad boy actors ever; I love watching him as he has that tough face that made him perfect in these villain type roles; he features heavily in the fight scenes here. Jean Arthur is maybe my favourite American actress and I think she could have saved the most mundane film in the world. However, that said, this is one of the few Arthur films where she is not the star, partly because this is not a comedic role and also because it is quite a subtle role. She is solid and plays Marian with great sensibility in her last ever film role but I truly think that Ladd, Heflin, Palance etc. make this film so enjoyable. Stevens had directed her in two films the previous decade, including what was amazingly her one and only Academy Award nomination in the fabulous comedy 'The More the Merrier'. If 'Shane' is anything to go by, and we'll never know because after this (bar some television) she became the most reclusive Hollywood actress ever, her natural beauty was not going to be deserting her any time soon and nor were her talents; although Kate Hepburn was originally the favourite to play Marian. Jean Arthur still had so much to give and it's a crying shame this was her last film but thankfully she agreed to come out of retirement to star in it. This film won an Academy Award because of its cinematography, courtesy of Loyal Griggs, and it really is a stunningly shot film, in Technicolour; the pure beauty of Wyoming's High Plains scenery constantly on display in all its glory (although some parts were shot in the studio). The other beautiful aspect of the film is its famous music score; Westerns have given us some of the most recognisable and greatest film compositions of all time and 'Shane' is no exception. Composed by Victor Young, its famous soundtrack featuring 'The Call of the Faraway Hills' is so uplifting, adventurous and beautiful, it fits the mountainous backdrop of the valley and the carefree personalities of little Joey and hero Shane perfectly. 'Shane' is also an influential and groundbreaking film in both its stunts, cinematography and sound (including the sound of gunfire) and has continued to influence many in the film business since. Woody Allen said that this is George Stevens's masterpiece. Clint Eastwood paid tribute to it in 'Pale Rider' and other films have been inspired since. 'Shane' has is so stunning musically and its cinematography so sweepingly beautiful that it sucks you in from minute one since, like most films, its setting and music are the first thing that are brought to the viewers attention. I think because of the uplifting style of music, little Joey and the friendship between Joey and Shane, the film has more of an adventure feel to it than just a typical Western. Add the ambiguous notion of a possible relationship between Shane and Marian and there's also a subtle romance there. I think that this is why 'Shane' is as potentially enjoyable to a non-Western fan as it is to a fan. It's a Western but a Western with feeling. Its characters are fighting a cause and are portrayed as human and warm. There is fighting and guns but there are also real characters that set 'Shane' apart from other films of its type. Although subjective admittedly, it nearly always features near the top of greatest ever Westerns lists. Perhaps this really was George Stevens's masterpiece.

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