Nine unique luxury items on Desert Island Discs

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Desert Island Discs celebrates its 75th anniversary this week, having first aired on 29 January 1942 when original host Roy Plomley interviewed popular Viennese comedian, actor and musician, Vic Oliver.

Originally a Forces Programme, its peek into the private lives of public figures from the worlds of politics, entertainment and everything in between has proven irresistible to Radio 4 listeners.

The host’s chair has since been inhabited by Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley and the current incumbent, Kirsty Young, who will be talking to one of Britain’s modern brand of National Treasures, David Beckham, in its regular slot at 11.15am on Sunday.

Since this is a man who can buy anything he wants, I’m curious about his choice of luxury item.

Will he follow the majority of guests and opt for the usual home comforts, art or writing materials, musical instruments, sports equipment, a desire to learn new languages or astronomy  – or will he surprise us, and decide on something utterly unique like these previous guests:

TV Presenter Julian Clary wanted an all purpose prosthetic arm. Having seen a sound man with one that had a multi purpose tool instead of a hand, he believes it would be very useful for cracking open shellfish and peeling the bark off trees, while the glint off it might attract a passing ship to rescue him.

Journalist Virginia Ironside chose to take an enormous bag of plaster. Having dabbled with sculpture, she’d make the heads of all her friends and dot them around the island like an art installation, and be forever surrounded by the people she loves.

Actor Maureen Lipman would take a parking meter with a year’s supply of tickets (but didn’t actually say why) and a gypsy caravan with a wooden floor to tap dance on until rescue.

A life sized laminated picture of the “adorable” and “deeply attractive” James Caan from Dragon’s Den would be actor and director Kathy Burke’s choice – to body surf on!

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Comedian turned actor Hugh Laurie is someone you might want to avoid upon his return – he wants two sets of throwing knives so he can come home with an uncanny skill: “being able to knock the piv out of the Ace of Spades at 20 paces would be a great thing”!

It’s lovely to know that the Pythons are so close still. John Cleese wanted to take Michael Palin but wasn’t allowed because he’s animate. You could have him stuffed, advised host Sue Lawley. “That’ll do,” replied John.

Captain Jacques Costeau, the conservationist and oceanographer who co-invented the aqua-lung with engineer Emille Gagnan, wanted something he could touch all day long, choosing the stone from the stomach of a fossilised dinosaur he’d once been gifted.

High wire walker Philippe Petit felt his ‘Mysterious Object’ would force him to keep thinking while marooned on the island. It was found in a barn when he was a child, and his father tried without success to get it identified by tool manufacturers and other trades across different continents. It’s wooden and looks like an artillery shell, about 20cm tall. Inside, it has two rows of sharp teeth, suggesting some kind of trap. But they only fit together when the object is closed. Any ideas? 

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It’s Lego all the way for actor Hugh Bonneville. An enormous pile has been accumulating in his den for the past decade, which he built and then foolishly dismantled. He has the instruction leaflets though, and will rebuild the lot. He also had a practical use for it – struts for all the sand tunnels he’s going to build! Is there a Lego Downton Abbey? There should be, shouldn’t there? 

I’m completely predictable – writing materials all the way for me!

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14 Things You Didn’t Know About Milton Keynes

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The Milton Keynes Cows in the town centre

‘New Town’ Milton Keynes isn’t so new anymore – it’s 50 years old today! It was formally designated a new town by the government on 23rd January 1957 and is famous for its roundabouts. But it must have more going for it than that, surely?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Enigma code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park, is situated in the area, and is credited with shortening World War II by between 2-4 years. Alan Turing, whose story is told in The Imitation Game, was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code while at Bletchley, working alongside other mathematicians, chess champions, linguists and crossword experts to crack transmissions made by the Axis powers.

An Enigma machine at Bletchley Park

Bletchley hosts the National Museum of Computing. It opened in 2007 and houses Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and offers the opportunity to revisit all those old games in the PC Gallery.

The government intends to open a cyber-security college at Bletchley in 2018, for which students would be selected due to their aptitude (see above criteria) and include coders and computer programmers rather than academic achievers.

Who’s who?

Reigning Ping Pong World Champion, Olympian and winner of Britain’s most table tennis medals in the Commonwealth Games, Andrew Baggaley was born and raised in the town. His mum began playing table tennis with him in their back garden and he hasn’t looked back. He will be defending his title this week at Alexandra Palace.

Arguably Britain’s most famous television Geordie, actor Kevin Whatley – a star of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Morse and of course his own spin off, Lewis – has made the Woburn Sands area his home.

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Kevin Whately as Inspector Lewis in Oxford, August 2015.

Award winning horror writer Sarah Pinborough aka children’s fantasy author Sarah Silverwood, was born in the town and has written a series of spinoff novels based on the shared Torchwood/Dr Who universe.

Where to go and what to see:

The town’s most iconic attraction is cows! Concrete Cows, to be exact, a sculpture created by Canadian artist Liz Leyh in 1978 from materials donated by a local builder. Comprising three cows and three calves, all half life size, they reside in the Milton Keynes museum, while Bill Billings’ more famous replicas are situated on the A422 Monks Way.

Making the most of the area’s connection with covert activities, Si5 Spy Missions and Room Escape give an opportunity to think like the cryptologists of the past. Can you pass muster?

The National Bowl is the town’s major entertainment venue, playing host to any and everyone from the late David Bowie to the Foo Fighters. Formerly a clay pit, it’s an open grassed area in the form of an amphitheatre which holds 65,000 people unseated, but is the subject of constant speculation about its future.

The Bounce Trampoline Park was the first of its kind in the UK. Forget spotters, this is wall to wall trampolines where you can play with your mates or all the family, engage in dodgeball or dive around in foam pits!

Wimbledon FC moved from south London to MK when it became apparent their home ground at Plough Lane wouldn’t allow them to keep growing. They eventually changed their name to MK Dons, and  enjoyed a second round Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United in 2014, beating the self styled Biggest Club in the World 4-0!

The Buddhist Peace Pagoda – erected in 1980 in Willen Lake – was the first Buddhist stupa built in the western hemisphere.

Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda

There is evidence of human settlements as far back as 2000BC, with the Milton Keynes Hoard, a valuable bronze age find, now housed in the British Museum

Fears that this new town would be a concrete jungle proved unfounded – there are three ancient woodlands, 4000 acres of parks, 400 acres of lakes and at least 20 million trees. The Parks Trust, an independent body, is pledged to prevent building on any of the park lands, a power bestowed upon them by the departing development corporation.

50th anniversary celebrations are taking place throughout the first part of the year, including this weekend – find out more here.

Image credits:

Cows

Enigma Machine

Kevin Whatley

Peace Pagoda

Happy 60th Birthday The Cavern Club: 18 facts you never knew about The Beatles spiritual home

On this day in 1957, the most famous music club in the world opened its doors: Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

The Cavern Club Christopher Brown Flickr

The Cavern Club by Christopher Brown on Flickr

Want to impress your Liverpudlian friends? Here are all the things you need to know:

Now a major tourist attraction, it’s located in a warehouse cellar at number 10 Mathew Street, in the heart of the city centre near the River Mersey, local theatres, museums and shopping centres.

It was originally a jazz club, hosting Ronnie Scott and Acker Bilk in its early days.

The club has closed down, remodelled and re-opened on several occasions, and was owned at one time by former Liverpool FC hardman Tommy Smith.

Closing down in February 1966, the club was officially opened again by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in July the same year.

Its original owner, Alan Sytner, named the club after a Paris jazz club, Le Caveau De La Huchette, hoping to make it the biggest jazz club outside of London.

The first jazz festival held in Liverpool and featuring many of Britain’s top acts took place at the Cavern Club on January 16, 1960.

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The Cavern Club Wall – Ian Ransley on Flickr

The club is home to 25 resident artists, from The Cavern Club Beatles tribute band – brought together following comprehensive auditions to find those who captured the look and sound of the four Liverpool lads – to The Amazing Kappa Band, who are somehow an eclectic mix of Led Zeppelin, Ravel, Dolly Parton and more!

A statue of former club hat-check girl  Cilla Black is being unveiled outside the club today, a present to the city from her family.

The club offers Rock School Tuition, with expert tutors in bass guitar, guitar, piano/keyboard and drums.

In 1983, the Strawberry Fields Children’s home benefitted financially following the sale of 5000 bricks from the original cellar area of the club.

Hosted by the club, Liverpool’s first Mathew Street Festival took place on August 28, 1983 until being replaced by the Liverpool International Music Festival in 2013.

Books about the club include three by Spencer Leigh, BBC Radio Merseyside presenter: ‘Twist and Shout! – Merseybeat, the Cavern, the Star-Club and the Beatles’, ‘The Cavern – The Most Famous Club in the World’ and ‘The Cavern Club: The Rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat’ and one by former Liverpool FC player and coach Phil Thompson, called ‘The Best of Cellars’.

American actor Billy Bob Thornton appeared at the club in 2002 and said: “It’s the dream of my life to be here in Liverpool and playing the Cavern because this music got me through my childhood.”

The artist for the original club posters and signage, Tony Booth, has been commissioned to produce the 60th anniversary artwork which will feature all the artists ever to appear at the club.

In July 2006, American golfer John Daly took to the stage and performed during the launch of his autobiography.

The Cavern Club by Ronald Saunders on Flickr Jaye Nolan Freelance Writer

The Cavern Club by Ronald Saunders on Flickr

The first Beatle to play at the club is rumoured to be Ringo Starr, who was apparently a member of the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group when they appeared there in July 1957.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney debuted at the club a few months apart but both with The Quarrymen, John in August 1957, and Paul in January 1958, after joining The Quarrymen in October 1957.

The first performance at the club by The Beatles was on February 9, 1961. Brian Epstein saw them in November that year and subsequently took over their management. The last of their 292 performances at the club was on August 1, 1963.

Do you have any special memories from the Cavern Club? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credits: Christopher BrownIan Ransley, Ronald Saunders

7 Reasons Women Feel Guilty But Shouldn’t

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We beat ourselves up, us ladies, especially those in the transition phase between the olden days (know your place, accept inequality, do your duty to your husband) and these days where having a man is not the be all and end all of our lives and we are completely in charge of our own destiny.

So here are some common reasons women feel guilty – and why we shouldn’t.

Housework: If, like many women, you’re juggling being a wife, mother and worker, the housework could well be your main source of guilt. In which case, identify the tasks that need to be done most, i.e. those that will soon pile up and cause more guilt (you’ve no clean knickers; school shirts aren’t ironed) as opposed to those the family likely won’t even notice (i.e. dusting). And draw up a chore rota – the rest of the family can get involved and do their bit too – it’s not just your job these days.

Taking sick days : If you’re genuinely ill, you’re doing neither yourself nor your employer any favours by struggling in. If you’re not performing at 100%, and if you’re in a sales job, for example, wouldn’t it be better for a colleague at full strength to close that sale than you struggle your way through it, potentially losing the client?

Motherhood: Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, right? Every woman has to find their own way when it comes to parenting. Sure, they give you parenting books but reality doesn’t come neatly packaged. While there are some obvious do’s and don’ts, every child will respond differently. Read the advice, listen to other mums, check things out with health professionals then do what works best for you and your child – and don’t believe everything the playground mafia tell you about their perfect lives and children.

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Breastfeeding: The mothers who breastfeed and do so where and when required are very vocal (quite rightly), along with midwives and other health professionals about the benefits of breastfeeding. But if you don’t want to breastfeed in public, then don’t. And if you don’t want to breastfeed at all, then that’s fine too.

Feminism: Let’s get this clear right from the off – being a feminist does not mean you hate men. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s recognising that for all members of a society to feel valued, they should have an equal say in how their society runs, and not be subject to discrimination.

Caring: You have a job, children, a husband and elderly parents and you’re feeling split between them all because there aren’t enough hours in the day. Hang on, haven’t you forgotten someone? Oh, yes – YOU! Think for a moment how any of them would cope if anything happened to you? So don’t feel guilty for that little bit of me time you take: you need to recharge your batteries and if that means reading a book in the bath in the company of an overflowing laundry basket, so be it.

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Body image. Thankfully, the messages these days is about being healthy, as opposed to being thin, curvy, hipless or with cheekbones to die for. Being obese is not healthy, neither is being stick thin. Wean yourself away from the unhealthy images – if you want a glossy magazine to read, with practical lifestyle features and interesting content about interesting people, pick up the Radio Times – where said featured people come in all shapes, sizes and ages.

Take control of your life and don’t apologise for doing so – it’s as valuable as everyone else’s.

Here’s to a happy and productive 2017

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

2016 was a year many people will never forget, from the world changing democratic decisions to the loss of so many icons in music, television and film.  Yet in other ways – the olympics/paralympics for example, and for me on a professional level –  it was excellent. I took a quick look back while looking forward.

While last year involved much consolidation, I was able to embrace and combine more of the things I love.

Determined to stay completely freelance and concentrate on writing and social media, I was rewarded by being commissioned across a variety of projects, both personally and for the Rochester LitFest.

I began blogging for Yahoo, which is brilliant on two counts: I’m writing more regularly about my favourite things, and I have to watch a lot of television – no choice, it’s my job now 😉 – it’s also helpful with respect to my own scriptwriting that I dissect the shows, watching them more critically and figuring out why they worked so well and what made the characters engaging. That it coincided with an exceptional year on television made it a pleasure rather than work.

Although I’ve been working in social media for a long time, I decided to go to college and earn myself a Diploma in Social Media for Business. It’s extremely satisfying to be an official social media goddess and I’ll be putting what I’ve learnt to good use, running workshops as well as continuing to work with private clients. 

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Of all the sad losses in 2016, one that hit the Medway community particularly hard was the demise of the beautiful little WOW Magazine, our bible of what’s on where. Happily though, this means we can concentrate on the WOW Kent website, for which I’m the online editor. Together with founder and editor Emma Dewhurst, I’ll be working towards making it the go-to source for creative and cultural news and events across the Kent area.

In order to concentrate on funding for the LitFest, this year will look a little different in that there are currently no plans for a standalone festival in October. Instead, we’ll be running events across a month or so in May/June, covering the Dickens Festival and the Battle of Medway, as well as another Discworld inspired Turtle Moves day, honouring Sir Terry Pratchett.

We’ll also be in attendance at the Creative Care Expo in Maidstone on 26/1 and looking forward to working with more people on our Memory Box project this year. A smaller version, mixed with the Turtle Moves activities will take place at the Rochester Dementia Memory Cafe on April 28 – Sir Terry Pratchett’s birthday, appropriately.

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There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to this year; I’ll try to share all of them with you.

Have a great 2017 🙂

Back to the 60’s

Olivier Award winning show, Sunny Afternoon, based on the story of The Kinks, is showing at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre this week.

I was delighted to review the show for WOW magazine, which you can read here, and it reminded me of a lovely chat I had with a local singer, Tony Ellingham.

Tony fronts of a swing band called 5intheBar, who regularly gig to raise money for the Parkinson’s disease charity. The last one raised £550, as they performed to a packed house. Their next charity performance is March 4.

Under the stage name of Dorian Gray, Tony had a hit song in the 60s, which is still requested today – enjoy hearing all about that, and more, from the man himself.

#RLF2016: Written Worlds, Inspiring Places

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For some strange reason 5 years ago, I decided to start a literature festival. Possibly I had too much time on my hands (I didn’t) possibly I just felt we were lacking a festival in Medway dedicated to writing, and somebody had to do it. I must’ve been mad, and I’m also stubborn, so here we are: the fourth Rochester Literature Festival 2016 kicks off this weekend.

Amidst the usual creative writing workshops, Cafe Crawl and author talks this year, the RLF has a wonderful day of craft activities planned for all ages.

The Turtle Moves, inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, sees a Juvenile Crafters’ Guild appear, as if by magic, in Rochester’s Community Hub, where you can design your own Luggage or bring to life a Golem, among other activities. Out and about in the high street you’ll bump into numerous characters – and even see a re-enactment of the Battle of Koom Valley! And shhhhh – it’s rumoured that the Librarian will be appearing in L-Space (Baggins!)

RLF Patron Lisa Cutts is appearing at Strood Library on Oct 4, alongside fellow crime author Simon Booker, while author of The Outlaw Chronicles, Angus Donald, is at Rochester Library on Oct 6. There is also a Local Author Day at Rochester Library between 10am-2pm on Oct 1.

The popular Cafe Crawl takes place on Sunday, Oct 2 and features the Canterbury Yarners, Fiona Sinclair, Nancy Charley, Johanna Coulson and Maggie Butt alternating at Bruno’s Bakes, The Quills and Cafe @172 between 12-3pm.

The festival opens with three creative writing workshops on Saturday, Oct 1: An Introduction to Screenwriting, A Guide to Self Publishing, and Building Your Make Believe World. It ends with a Writers’ Retreat on Sunday, Oct 9.

All the events apart from the workshops are free, and more detail and tickets for the workshops can be booked here.

If you pop down, be sure to say ‘hi’ 🙂

An inspiring six months

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A most amazing programme has just come to an end, one in which I feel privileged to have been a part of. The Women’s Enterprise Kent scheme, run by Kent County Council, is part of the government’s drive to help women in business become more digitally savvy. You can view countrywide insights under the #ShesDigital hashtag.

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Exploring Sicario

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As you know from a previous blog post, I’ve been taking part in an online course, Explore Film, with the NFTS / BFI on the Future Learn e-learning platform.

I did this predominantly to help inform my scriptwriting and to learn a bit about the physical aspects of filming – thinking of light, sound and music – particularly when editing anything together for the LitFest.

I didn’t realise how much I’d absorbed until watching Sicario last night, when the cinematography of Roger Deakins and the score by Johann Johannsson completely knocked me out. I feel like I’ve watched a film properly for the first time ever. It’s an awakening!

Tutors Jon Wardle, Pete Fraser and Tom Woodcock will be so proud. Although I’m completely ruined for watching films now. I’ll probably revisit lots of old favourites and spend the entire time picking holes in them …

While Deakins feels we should be too immersed in the film to notice his work (see video above) he can be assured that while entirely immersed, I nevertheless saw the beauty he created, particularly in the most memorable scene for me – and others, it seems – with the sunset silhouettes, as the task force headed for the hidden route to Mexico, then the switches from night vision to infrared giving an almost game like feel. Trust me, it’s 9m 22s out of your life you will not regret. And pay attention to the sound too – more on that in a minute.

From the opening scenes, where the slants of sunlight illuminated the characters one by one (reminding me of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, actually) through to Benicio Del Toro’s ruthless (yet still I was rooting for him) dispatch of the evil drug lord, I was aware of the editing that created the movie’s pace, the perfectly pitched lighting – particularly of Emily Blunt in radiant blue at the cowboy bar – and every sound: the dog barking, the door slams, the slightest muffled footstep – now knowing that these have been added in after (probably), and not just filmed ‘live’ which, having no experience of how a film is made (apart from the odd bit of sweding) I always assumed was quite natural (how good are these people?).

How have I never heard of Johann Johannsson? I listen to Classic FM, I know Hans Zimmer, John Barry, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman – I need to have a word, because in all my time listening to that station, I’ve never heard them play this Johann. And I even watched Trapped, for God’s sake, and thought how haunting the soundtrack was. To be fair, the credits ran into the hundreds of thousands, so little surprise I didn’t catch his name.

I mean, I don’t get out much and it’s only because of the LitFest working with the Rochester Film Society recently that I’ve seen 3 films in the last few weeks (that weren’t repeats of Bourne or RED) but still … *note to self*: email Andrew Collins with a suggestion.

Sicario’s incredible score doesn’t sound as though played by an orchestra, reminding me of Week 6, where we captured our own ‘found sounds’. With its thumping heart beat mimicking your own “like the throbbing heart of a beast charging at you” as Johannsson says himself, it creates a menace to match the brutality of the film. Read the interview that quote comes from here – it says everything I was thinking, and is perfectly captured in the clip above. I’m off to listen to The Theory of Everything.

NEWSFLASH: SICARIO 2 ON ITS WAY!