TV Party Tonight – The Royle Family

theroylefamily

There’s some serendipity in how Greg and I came to find ourselves marathoning all three seasons and five specials of The Royle Family recently. We had been watching a UK series called Born On The Same Day, which followed three notable Brits who were all born on the same day. On July 2, we watched the episode that included Ricky Tomlinson, who played Jim Royle, only to discover the next day that series star and creator Caroline Ahearne had died of cancer on the 2nd. Greg found a torrent of the whole series, and having read many gushing recaps of the show in the wake of Ahearne’s sad death, we started watching.

Winner of many awards, much-loved by Brits since the show first ran in 1998, The Royle Family is a slow-moving comedy of the single camera variety with no laugh track and not much action. Much of the humour comes from the repetitiveness of the dialogue (mother Barbara asks her daughter and son-in-law what they’ve had for their tea in every episode), and the family dynamic of a council house family in suburban Manchester.

Billed as a slice of life of the typical low income family, the general appeal of The Royle Family seemed to be that the characters were so relatable. Stories abound of perfectionist Ahearne agonizing over ever syllable of dialogue, and accents, inflection and facial expressions play a big part in the humour of this show that is predominantly about a family sitting around watching telly. (more…)

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Chauffeurs, Hairdressers and Tambourine Shakers – Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line

I have a great tattoo on my right wrist – a bracelet of cartoon cameos of old Hollywood movie stars, all women. I’ve always wanted to add another bracelet tat just above it – the same concept, only with cameos of the great women of rock (or at least the ones I admire enough to put permanently on my skin), except that there just aren’t that many to choose from. This is mostly because rock music, even today, is still all about the guys.

Sure, there have been fantastic female musicians, solo acts like Adele, and bands like the Go-Gos. But the number of women working side by side with men, who are considered equal to their band mates (and not just a sexy tambourine shaker) are actually pretty few.

Kate Mossman, the pop culture writer for the New Statesman thought the same thing, and recently completed a documentary on the subject. Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line (inspired by the autobiography of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, released earlier this year) ran on BBC on October 30th (UK residents can view it on the iPlayer, the rest of you need to find yourself some VPN access).

In it, Mossman explores the ongoing struggle that so many female musicians encounter. She starts with session guitarist/bassist Carole Kaye who worked with everyone from Richie Valens to Phil Spector to Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Kaye’s extensive catalogue should have set a bar for both respect and equality for female musicians – she did well for herself because of both her talent and her refusal to take any shit. Unfortunately, Kaye was a rarity and women in bands, even when they were as (or more) talented than their male counterparts, often found themselves not just playing music but, as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads recounts, playing chauffeur and hairdresser as well.

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If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a (Local, Historical, British) Cake – Book Review – A Slice of Britain

slicebritainI blame Nigel Slater. Were it not for his BBC show back in November, Nigel Slater’s Icing on the Cake (the third in a series that also includes candy and biscuits), I’d never even have heard of Caroline Taggart’s A Slice of Britain. But in his search for British cake, Slater encountered Taggert and her recent book, and he interviewed her for the show.

I must have this book, I exclaimed, and promptly ordered it from Amazon UK. Then when it arrived, I proceeded to sort of ignore it for a few months, reading it in short bursts but not really enjoying it. To be fair, as a purchased book, it became my default reading when I didn’t have a library book or a book for an assigned review on the go. As well, injuries sustained to my neck and shoulders in February actually made it hard for me to hold a book for a month or so, which meant that Taggart and her cakes were sorely neglected. It didn’t help that I wasn’t originally enamoured with Taggart’s writing style – it felt too “bloggy”; a string of personal experiences as she travelled England, Wales and Scotland, searching out local baked delicacies, as opposed to a more factual, third person account with a clearly outlined history of each cake.

Determined to give it a second chance, I sat down again recently and plowed through half the book in an afternoon. Taggart’s chatty style grew on me and I found A Slice of Britain to be an enjoyable read. The idea to look up each cake on Google as I read about it helped immensely. Taggart includes recipes for many of the cakes she discusses (and “cake” is a loose term here – the book includes everything from scones to cookies/biscuits and full on cakes such as the ubiquitous Victoria sponge, as well as things we’d classify in Canada as a “loaf”, plus some candy items that are made in cake form), but with so many British cakes containing roughly the same ingredients, a visual aide (the book contains sketches but no photographs) was incredibly useful in determining the difference between, say, a Bath Bun and a Lardy Cake. Because, make no mistake, the Brits, or at least the ones in olde tymes in charge of making cakes, surely did love their raisins and dried fruit.

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Blood, Sweat and Takeaways – The Other Side of Local

This weekend marks the opening of Food. Inc, a film about the food industry in North America. Early reviews describe it as shocking and life-changing, revealing aspects of food production that most people are blissfully unaware of.

We are encouraged to know where our food comes from, and mostly that means local food. Know your farmer; know what’s in season; eat organic, sustainably produced food. And be willing to pay for it.

But as much as we can all sing local until the cows come home, much of the western world still relies on majority world countries to supply our foodstuffs. And we want it cheap.

The BBC 3 series Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, which ran over the past four weeks, followed 6 young British people (who were all accustomed to eating cheap junk food) as they travelled across southeast Asia, working in factories and rice fields to find out the human cost of their cheap food.

The 6 Brits try their hands working at a tuna factory in Indonesia cleaning and gutting fish; a prawn farm (where they spend their days rebuilding a mud levee to keep the prawns from being washed away in a storm); and a prawn factory where some of them are fired for not working fast enough. During the first two episodes they stay in the homes of  factory workers, and are appalled by the living conditions and outdoor toilets. They can never keep up with the local workers and are often embarrassed when a job they’ve been assigned has to be assisted or redone by locals.

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