Shortcutting… Time

28 Jan

No time. That’s my excuse. That’s pretty much everyone’s excuse for pretty much everything. Taken literally of course, it’s complete bullshit. There’s always time. Time keeps on ticking by, regardless of what we do. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that the absence of time would be even more of a reason to get things done. It’s when time passes that’s the problem. But despite the fact that (as far as I am aware) time has been continuing as per usual, I have managed to fit a little blogging in. It’s about time.

Would you rather have a pause button or a rewind? I have often (perhaps ironically) whiled away the hours pondering this conundrum. It seemed obvious at first that stopping time would be a lot more useful and less messy than trying to go back and change things, which is riddled with paradox and anyway, as any chart-topping singer worth his or her salt has doubtless told you, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Pausing on the other hand would not only let you get more done, it would also allow for some hilarious prankery (oh the fun you could have with people who piss you off). Then again, you have to account for ageing. If you kept pausing here and there to get your homework done, or stick your boss’ fingers up his nose or whatnot, wouldn’t you get old a lot faster than anyone else? You’d have to give yourself a careful allowance of, say, ten minutes per year, to make sure it wasn’t noticeable. Knowing me and my incredible lack of self discipline, I’d have been fifty by the time I was fifteen.

Perhaps then it’s better not to try and change time, but rather stick firmly to the present. But how to ensure that you’re perfectly on time? (On a side note, I’ve often wondered, if every clock in the world was moved forward five minutes, would time itself change? Spooky…) Anyhoo, might I draw your attention to a delightful new discovery of mine: http://www.timeanddate.com. Not only does this little site give you the exact time, in any time zone in the world, it is made truly special by its little time-related news bulletin. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that Ukraine is considering abolishing daylight saving time! It’s daylight robbery! So yes, I rather enjoyed that feature.

Okay, I think I’ve just about bored you for long enough with my little ramblings on the very essence and nature of time. If you’d like to explore time in popular culture, please check out Back to the Future: it’s one of my fave films. Okay, that’s it. Time’s up.

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Les Miserables

12 Jan

Les Miserables, or Les Mis to its friends, has been around for (I looked it up) 28 years. 28 years. That’s a long time for one musical. However, having been to see it last week, I can confirm it’s still got it. For those of you who don’t know the plot, it’s a cocktail of escaped convict turned nice, blended with angry, determined parole officer, a sprinkling of unrequited love and requited love that’s complicated all dipped into a large serving of French revolution. Yum. There are some truly iconic songs, such as I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own, and there’s even some comedy courtesy of the innkeeper and his wife. It’s a really good show, and I’d definitely recommend it, unless you really hate music. There’s a lot of that.

But why am I telling you all this now? You’ve had 28 years to see this thang, and no doubt have 28 more. Well, as you may have guessed, the real topic of this post is Les Mis’ new makeover: the big screen. As a follow up to my recent trip down to the theatre, this afternoon I went to watch the ‘major motion picture’ itself, and compared notes. If I had to describe in six words, I’d say, not unlike its theatrical counterpart, it is ‘really good, intense, sad, and long’. So let’s break that down a bit.

Good: it is definitely enjoyable, as it has a riveting plot (as previously mentioned) and it’s not hard to empathise with the characters, as the acting is of a high-quality, hence the Oscar nominations for best actor in a leading role, best actress in a supporting role, and best film.

Intense: there’s a lot of emotional singing, which is very much intensified by the fact that the singers’ faces are always so close-up you can practically feel their spit, sweat and tears falling on you. You will be moved by this film at least twice, I guarantee.

Sad: this is war, my friends. People die. Men die. Women die. Children die. Love doesn’t always work out. So if you’re looking for a light-hearted bit of comedy, try Pitch Perfect. I hear that’s pretty good too.

Long: at 157 minutes running time, plus 15-20 minutes of adverts and trailers depending on where you go, you need a bit of stamina. And they’re singing the whole way through. I have to admit, I got a bit frustrated at some points that it wouldn’t get a move on, but maybe I’m just impatient. Just make sure to stock up on pick ‘n’ mix.

So there you have it, my much-sought-after review. Go and watch it, and I’m sure you won’t be miserable…

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

Shortcutting… Illness

9 Jan

For the past few days, I have been ill. Nothing serious, before you panic, but just one of those slow-burning January flu type things (Northern hemisphere reference). Sore throat, headache, general fatigue – the works. It’s not a lot of fun but like Bradley Cooper’s character in a recent Hollywood film, I have found the silver lining to my experience: I can use it to help y’all out!

Stage one: symptoms.
Everyone gets headaches. Everyone gets tired. And quite a lot of people get sore throats every now and again. But tick all three boxes and hey presto – you might actually have a valid reason to complain. To this list of ailments I will add sinus pain, aching all over, and a runny nose. If you have three or more of the above, you’re ill. Congratulations.

Stage two: diagnosis.
This time, I decided to just mope around feeling sorry for myself, but if you want to know exactly what’s getting you down, there are a few alternatives. One is going to the doctor but that’s time-consuming and a bit old school. Much more fun is typing the symptoms into Google and freaking yourself out with all the weird and wonderful diseases you might have. In all seriousness though, a trusted website like NHS Direct is actually quite handy when you’re in need of a little indication of what might be wrong.

Stage three: recovery.
I have been relying on painkillers to get me through, coupled with rest and relaxation (read general slackery), and comfort food (read any available food). (Come to think of it, maybe that should be tripleted or something rather than coupled, but who really cares…) One benefit of a doctor is that they might actually give you proper medicine, but dragging the illness out is good in that it gives you an excuse to do a half-arsed job of everything for a few days.

Stage zero: avoidance.
There is, of course, a way to avoid all this trouble, and that is by not contracting any sort of illness in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, antibacterial hand gels are not the answer, although they’re kinda fun to carry around and whip out when the going gets rough. The ole soap and water are supposed to be a lot more effective, although I would recommend hiding your hands and not touching anything during sick season, just in case.

Hope you have more success than me in staying over the weather!
Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… New Year Resolutions

2 Jan

Happy New Year! I do apologise for the lack of posts recently but I have been wifi-less for the past week or so. In any case, this brings me on to my first resolution: blog at all costs! I must stop silly little things like lack of wifi get in the way of my imparting words of wisdom to you. (All this talk of wifi actually reminds me of an article I read about some hilarious wifi network names of angry neighbours: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s Wifi and Get Off My Lan were my favourites.)

Anyway, let’s return to resolutions. Before I go any further, I’d like to propose that resolution-wise, New Year does not start until the 2nd of January. Why? Well the vast majority of resolutions involve being healthy and whatnot, and this is nigh on impossible when suffering from the inevitable 1st of January hangover. One cannot be expected to go to the gym or shun carbohydrates when one is busy rolling around on the ground in pain feeling several glasses of champagne, a couple of cocktails and a shot or two rolling around within. I hereby declare that resolutions begin on the 2nd.

Right, so what resolutions to make? The aforementioned health kicks are generally a bad idea unless highly realistic, as they otherwise tend to last little more than a month or two, and just make you feel more depressed than you did before you tried going to the gym every day. I would suggest limiting yourself to one health-related resolution: mine’s going to be ‘drink 2 litres of water a day’ (incidentally not all that difficult to start on the 1st) – highly realistic, not particularly unpleasant, and not particularly time-consuming. Simples.

Next comes the personality one. My brother’s is to ‘keep being awesome’, but I realise that most of us are a little less self-confident, and New Year is a great time to try and improve ourselves. This can be anything like being more sociable or less shy or any little thing you wish you did differently. Mine’s going to be ‘care less what people think’, and if you don’t like it you can all sod off.

Okay, we’ve done body and soul, last up is the mind. The third essential resolution has to in some way expand your horizons and enrich your mind. This could be through reading more, learning a new language, or any kind of intellectual pursuit. I’ve already said I’m going to blog more, which is very mind-nourishing, but I’m also set this year on finishing writing the novel I’ve been planning since time began.

So there you go: mind, body and soul all dealt with. You will be healthier, more confident, and cleverer. And it’s all thanks to me. I’ll keep you updated on how mine are going, hope you don’t give up too soon!

Keep shortcutting,
Zoe

Shortcutting… Christmas Music

21 Dec

I know. I’ve been gone for far too long. You probably thought I was never coming back. You probably thought I’d abandoned you. I can only say I’m sorry. I’ve missed you too. I hope you’ll forgive me. I have two good reasons for taking such a long break: a) I’ve been very busy, and b) I felt that I was getting rather boring. So I thought I’d relieve you of the posts until I could give them my all again. And what better time than the Advent? So here I am, back at last, rejuvenated and ready for Christmas/ New Year! Woo hoo! Best present ever, right?

So then, onto more topical topics: Christmas cheer is in season – ho ho ho and all that jazz. Speaking of jazz, let’s start with the music. There are two types of people in the world. Those for whom Christmas music means ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, and those for whom it means ‘Santa Baby’. In fact, that pretty much outlines the two main approaches to Christmas: Jesus vs. Father Christmas. The Nativity vs. the grotto. But it doesn’t really matter, because they essentially have the same message – be good, or you’ll get coal in your stocking/ go to hell. So anyway, back to the music. Let’s start with the pop stuff. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you have to know Now That’s What I Call Christmas back to front, but there are a couple that you really need to know at least the chorus to if you want to get all Christmas-spirited. My own personal favourite is All I Want For Christmas Is You, and you can never escape that bloody Wham! one either, so you might as well get the lyrics to those two down. There are a few other big ones too, but rather than focus too hard on them I’d recommend having a bit of Bublé on in the background, which will seep pleasantly into your subconscious over the course of December. Oh and if you manage to find yourself a singing buddy, definitely whip out the words to Fairytale of New York, which is a brilliant one to really get into character for, especially if you’ve been on the mulled wine. As for carols, I am very proud of myself for knowing (most of) the harmony to Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, which sounds really awesome until someone else sings the normal part and I get all confused and can’t hear myself and start singing something rather unpleasant between the two. Hmm. On second thoughts, maybe just stick to the original. I think the funnest (is that a word?) carol has got to be Oh Come All Ye Faithful, because it has that brilliant bit where you’re all whisper-y and then you get LOUDER and LOUDER (I’m actually rather a loud person and not really capable of whispering, but Christmas is the one time when people don’t seem to mind that much). So anyway, there’s nothing better than a bit of caroling with all the family – actually, that reminds me, We Three Kings of Orient Are and Good King Wenceslas both have really good different parts, so you can do the whole Fairytale of New York-style getting into character but in a slightly more traditional way.

So yes, I think that’s quite enough homework for one night, but never fear, this is only the first in a Christmas series… (That is, if the world doesn’t end before the next one – ooh that would be a good theme for a post wouldn’t it…)

Merry Christmas and keep shortcutting,

Zoe

P.S. Here’s a little Christmas meme I made to get you in the spirit (it’s a Harry Potter reference so don’t bother if you haven’t seen it…)

Harry Potter Christmas

Shortcutting… London Road

4 Sep

Yesterday I went to see what can fairly be described as a weird play. London Road‘s plot synopsis is something along the lines of a music-based retelling of the events of the 2006 murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich from the point of view of the residents of London Road, the street at the heart of the murders. Hmmm. Perhaps I should have guessed from that that it wouldn’t be your standard, middle of the road (excuse the pun) National Theatre production. But I looked at the five star reviews and I figured ‘what the hey – it’s gotta be good, right?’ And it was. Weird, very weird, but good.

The entire script constituted of things said by real-life residents of the road, and so it contained a lot of ‘umm‘s and ‘err‘s and ‘you know‘s which made it seem at first as though the cast didn’t know their lines, although it soon became clear that this was all intentional. (I should mention that the very versatile cast consisted of only eleven people, who each took on a variety of roles, some of which involved thick Suffolk accents that were a little difficult to decipher.) And then certain lines of the script would be taken and sort of sung and repeated over and over as a sort of refrain, the one that got stuck in my head being ‘begonias and petunias and… umm… impatiens and things.’ So yes, all a bit odd, but it did work, and it was also pretty funny, as hard as that might be to believe given the subject matter. I do wonder if the people who actually said these things have seen the play, as they might not find their own words quite so amusing, but for those of us who weren’t involved, the words of disgruntled residents fed up of all the cameras were funny, in a slightly dark sort of way. It was actually pretty interesting hearing the residents’ take on things, and there were moments when you could really imagine the fear of knowing that there was a serial killer somewhere in your midst, and the stress of having the press around all the time, and the sight of hundreds of police officers (at one point, there was an investigation team of 650) with their imprisoning blue-and-white tape. Oh and I liked the theme of having happy music playing while dark things were being said. All very antithetical.

One final word about London Road is that after you see it, you will be very conscious of your own umming and erring and trailing off half way through a sentence, and will be tempted to repeat what you just said in a Suffolk accent, which is a bit disconcerting but kinda fun. The play hasn’t got long left to run, but I thought I ought to alert you to the work of Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork, should you ever come across them again, as, in this case anyway, it’s definitely worth a watch. Even if you don’t thoroughly enjoy it, you will remember it for a looong long time.

London Road poster

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

Shortcutting… The Edinburgh Fringe

28 Aug

The world’s biggest arts festival had its last day yesterday, and it all took place in wee Edinburgh, home to authors Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling, comedian Ronnie Corbett, and the roots of one of the nation’s favourite author/comedians: me! Yes, yours truly has heritage not only in fair Athens, as I have mentioned previously (and so can therefore lay claim to the Olympics, Maths, Philosophy, and all that jazz), but also in the Athens of the north, thanks to which I am a frequent attendee of the bizarre, crazy, glorious Edinburgh Fringe.

If you are unfamiliar with the Fringe, I shall give you the lowdown – the original Edinburgh Festival was all plays and opera and the like, reserved for the highbrow among us. But then around it grew the Fringe, where the comedians and the improvised musicals and the student sketch shows took to pubs and clubs and any rooms they could find to bring entertainment to the masses, until the Fringe became a muuuuch bigger deal than the festival. Just to give you an idea, a few clicks on the website revealed that anyone looking for a show last Saturday had around 1700 to choose from. In one day. It went on for 25 days this year. There are about 300 different venues, ranging from the tiny – one at the Gilded Balloon was called The Wee Room, whose name my dad mistook for the bathroom (and he calls himself Scottish!) – to the huge – the biggest I went to was the Pleasance Grand, which seats about 1000 people. Some venues are theatres, some are university lecture rooms, some are little basements or attics, and I even saw a show taking place on the top floor of a disused double decker bus. From my experience, there was a direct correlation between ‘size of room’ and ‘funniness’, so if you’re squeezing into a little ten-seater attic room, don’t have your hopes too high.

So, what to see? I saw about ten shows, whose size and funniness ranged quite considerably. As I’m a very kindhearted person, I won’t mention the really awful shows – they’ve already either been slated by critics, or worse, are simply unknown. But I will share with you my four favourites:

4) Morgan & West: Clockwork Miracles. This magic show was the only show I went to not professing to be a comedy, but it turned out to be a lot funnier than many I saw. Almost all of the magic tricks were un-work-out-able and like the best magicians they had great patter which made it  fun as well as confusing.

3) Pappy’s: Last Show Ever! I saw Pappy’s three years ago and this sketch show trio were as hilarious this time as they were the time before. What’s great about them is that every joke comes back later in the show, and it’s all structured very cleverly. My personal favourite sketch involved a game show called ‘I Can’t Do That’, in which contestants get through rounds based on their inability to do things, which probably doesn’t sound that funny but it was hilarious. It might seem a bit pointless me telling you to go and see an act whose last show was called ‘Last Show Ever!’, but I think it might not actually have been the last show, so keep an eye out for these guys.

2) The Boy With Tape On His Face: More Tape. This one man show involved a man with tape over his mouth and very expressive eyes getting members of the audience to join him in different games involving different everyday objects as more well-known things, e.g. tape measures as lightsabres, wind-up teeth as castanets, and there was a great cowboy-style stand-off where The Boy and an audience member both had balloons under their arms and between their legs, were armed with staplers, and had to try and burst each others’ balloons (don’t worry health and safety, they were wearing safety goggles!), all of which was highly entertaining. A good solid laugh, this one, with a good climax too.

1) Paul Merton’s Improv Chums. Despite the cheesy name, this was completely and utterly hilarious. Paul himself has a great talent for one-liners which will you in tears with laughter, while Mike McShane and Suki Webster were brilliant at creating improvised songs from nowhere, supported by Richard Vranch’s great piano playing. Richard and Lee Simpson had the art for improv too – in fact, I wouldn’t say any of them were the weakest link, which meant that every little sketch had laughs guaranteed, be it King Kong’s coronation, two penguins at a chocolate factory, or a professor explaining how he trained budgies to play hockey. And the other benefit of improv – a different show every day! Well, I’d go again…

To finish this post, I thought you might enjoy what have been voted the ten best jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe 2012, as voted by Dave:

1. Stewart Francis – “You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”

2. Tim Vine – “Last night me and my girlfriend watched three DVDs back to back. Luckily I was the one facing the telly. ”

3. Will Marsh – “I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.”

4. Rob Beckett – “You know you’re working class when your TV is bigger than your book case.”

5. Chris Turner – “I’m good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet … I don’t know why.”

6. Tim Vine – “I took part in the sun tanning Olympics – I just got Bronze.”

7. George Ryegold – “Pornography is often frowned upon, but that’s only because I’m concentrating.”

8. Stewart Francis – “I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together. Riveting!”

9. Lou Sanders – “I waited an hour for my starter so I complained: ‘It’s not rocket salad.”

10. Nish Kumar – “My mum’s so pessimistic, that if there was an Olympics for pessimism … she wouldn’t fancy her chances.”

I always think the second one’s the best.

Keep shortcutting,

Zoe

P.S. I know I haven’t blogged in aaaages – yeah sorry about that, but I’m back now eh 🙂