Reason number six

A long, long while back, I wrote my five reasons for not going to the cinema anymore, and occasionally if I’m ever asked why I dislike watching films on the big screen, I point people towards that post. All of it still holds true, and as I get more cranky and my TV setup at home gets more awesome, there’s less of a reason to fork out for cinema tickets for any blockbuster release.

However, I also think I need to add another bullet point to the list. Problem number six: You can’t pause in the cinema.

popcorn-cinema

The reasons for pausing are wide and varied, including but not limited to bathroom breaks, getting more wine, interruptions to google things we don’t know about, discussions to catch up what’s going on when one person (usually me) has lost the plot, and more and more these days, just to pause and revel in what incredible or brilliant thing has just happened on screen.

I can’t pinpoint why exactly our use of pausing has increased exponentially, but I’ve narrowed it down to three explanations. The first being that having so much control over what we watch and when we watch it has spoiled us to the point where we decide when to take breaks and chatter, and split the shows up into our own mini segments as and when we please. Instead of waiting to make a cup of tea in the ad break, you just hit pause and go when you’re ready. Recently, we happened to catch one of the new episodes of Top Gear live in all its glory and were caught out by not being able to pause. (Granted, instead we just waited to talk all over the dull celebrity interview section.)

I’m also convinced part of it is a factor of getting a bit older – not so much in terms of slower reflexes and poorer memories (although they definitely apply in my case), but just in having so much to think about. I understand lots more references than I used to, and that in turn makes me want to fully understand every second of what I’m watching. My addled brain also dislikes waiting until the end of something to share a thought or opinion, because if it’s a film especially, the chances are I will have forgotten it by the closing credits!

It’s also got a lot to do with how fast-paced things are on screen at the moment. We’ve been watching a lot of comedies, and you just have to take a moment to indulge in your laughter in pause mode, otherwise you miss a hundred more jokes. We used to watch things over again, and for a twenty minute TV episode that’s doable, but for a ninety minute film, that’s not the ideal situation. I think there’s a correlation between this and the fact that new generations are enjoying shorter form content more and more – it’s because so much more is packed in to such a short space of time.

Whatever the reason, I can only give thanks to whoever invented the pause button for how many times it has come to our aid and made our TV and film watching experience that much more pleasurable. I think pause, and the plus or minus ten seconds button, are how everything should be controlled from now on.

Birmingham Royal Ballet class on stage

ballet-dancer-image

My Life List has featured “watch a professional ballet performance” for a long time, and I’ve never quite got round to it. I’ve just recently realised why that is, considering how much I love the theatre and would grab any excuse to go. I have a weird obsession with ballet that manifests itself by me loving the behind the scenes activities – training and classes, rehearsal, choreography and dance schools – but then not being at all interested in the end result.

I’ve tried watching performances of things on TV, and granted you don’t get the same experience as you would live, but I’ve barely managed to get more than ten minutes into it. The actual performance and storytelling of ballet passes me by, but the discipline, the talent and the sheer craziness of the life of a dancer has me enthralled.

So, I was all for striking this item off my long term to do list, until I stumbled across a new concept to me. The Birmingham Royal Ballet have been doing a selection of Company Classes on stage – so their regularly scheduled morning class, but on stage with people invited to watch. At £10 a ticket, I thought this was more likely something I would want to watch and not too much of a wasted investment if it turned out to be too dull.

It was a bit odd going to the theatre on a Saturday morning, and I should have anticipated much of the rest of the audience being young or teenage girls keen on becoming ballet dancers themselves. Once we were all sat down though, it didn’t really matter who was in the audience. The company gradually appeared on stage in dribs and drabs, and wearing their odd assortment of clothing. I’ve always wondered how some of them can be comfortable in the items they choose – we had one girl with insanely baggy trousers that she pretty much had to keep hold of to stop them falling, and another wearing a short stretchy skirt with suspenders. Also, those with one legging down and one rolled up above the knee – why?

Anyway, it all got underway under the watchful guidance of their class leader, I was staggered by their skills. It starts slow, but even in the most basic of movements, she rippled off a fast-paced burble of moves and rhythms at the pace of an auctioneer, and then stepped back and they all completed them as instructed. It was mind-boggling, even taking into account they’ve done this many times before I’m sure.

The other thing that impressed me was their rehearsal pianist. He also managed to take in what the ballet dancers would be doing and converted it into the music required, piecing together the beats and bars needed and getting the tone just right, even switching between the more feminine and masculine feeling within one piece of music depending on the group in front of him. He could pick up the pace if he’d slightly misjudged it, but that was rare. The class leader would tend to demonstrate the rhythm required and off he’d go. I was so jealous of his skills.

The dance movements gradually got bigger and more complex. They started at the barre, then moved those to the side to do more leaps and spins and moving across the stage, before ending with a sort of show-off section where they would spin as much as they could to get the crowd’s approval.

The whole thing was fascinating, and at just over an hour long there was no time to get uncomfortable in the theatre seats. I think they could do with slightly more production – I know it’s a privilege to be able to watch the class on stage, but if the leader was miked up so we could hear her better, that might have helped, and slightly more guidance on what they were doing and why it was useful to the dancers could also have been a big asset. Nevertheless, it was a good way to spend an hour, if you’re interested in the mechanics of dance, and regardless of if you want to be a ballet dancer yourself or not. For now, I’m going to claim this as a success on my Life List, because sitting through a full on ballet performance still seems a long way off for me for now.

Apple Music feature request – the Reading List of audio

Apple Music gets quite a lot of stick for its functionality and usability, and I can understand the complaints to a degree. However, I’ve used it constantly these past six months for my weekly album adventure and much more, so I’m listening to more music than I probably have before in my life. I’m comfortable with how it works and I love it being part of my iOS experience.

There’s one feature I really would like, though, and that is a Reading List style place to save things for the future. If you use Safari, you’ll know it’s easy to save whatever web page you’re on to your Reading List so that you can revisit it at a later date. Or if you’re anything like me, save stuff that you take several months to get round to looking at.

volume-1-listening-list

I want a similar experience in Apple Music. It would be fantastic to have the ability to browse around, when you’re in a browsing mood, discussing music with friends, going down those rabbit holes that music conversations tend to present, and saving everything you find along the way. I’ve written about the Beats 1 show Haim Time before, and throwing them into this mythical Listening List would be incredibly useful as well. Songs, albums, playlists, radio shows, essentially just a list of things you’ve found that you would like to listen to in the future.

Playlists do this to an extent, if you want to create a “To Listen” playlist and add songs to it as you go, but that’s pretty much all you could do and it’s limited in that sense. I want a more multi-functional list, considering the different categories Apple Music has – even music videos, although I’ve never really watched any as of yet.

It feels like this could be relatively easy functionality to add, and would mean the usability could echo browsing the web on your devices too. Apple Music is undergoing a makeover for iOS10, and whilst it doesn’t immediately look to be an improvement to me, it means they are at least taking feedback on board and trying to make it better one step at a time. I’d like to throw Listening List into the ring as an update I’d love to see in the future.

Podcast of the Month: The Tennis Podcast

The 2016 Wimbledon Championships drew to a close this past weekend with Williams and Murray taking their respective crowns and bringing to an end two weeks of spectacular tennis. I’ve never felt quite so on top of all the Wimbledon action as I have this year, well not since I once took a whole week off to watch nothing but the tennis.

the-tennis-podcastThere are two reasons why I’ve managed to stay so informed. One is the brilliant Live at Wimbledon radio, which provided all day every day coverage either of everything going on across the grounds, or more specific channels for Centre Court and Court One. The other weapon in my knowledge arsenal was the fantastic Tennis Podcast.

An independent, but associated with the Telegraph, production, the show features long-time tennis correspondents David Law and Catherine Whitaker chatting about recent events, often alongside a rotating stream of guests. They get the interviews, provide the insight, and follow the news in all its detail.

Usually sticking to a weekly schedule, the show was upped to a daily podcast release across the Wimbledon fortnight, and it was fantastically done – although you could tell the whole team weren’t entirely convinced they’d make it to the end!

There are three things I particularly love about it:

  1. They’re not afraid to dive into the details. Particularly with reference to the Sharapova doping situation, I really welcomed the coverage of her hearings. Catherine made sure to lay out the findings as they were documented, regardless of how long it took to do so, because we all need to be on the same page when discussing the situation.
  2. The bickering. At first it put me on edge a little, when the two presenters seemed to get snippy with each other at least once per episode, but after listening for a while it became clear it’s simple that affectionate banter you have with someone you work with or hang around with for a long time. I admire Catherine’s ability to express her opinions and stand her ground against David, and I love the references to their one and only tennis match against each other.
  3. Their great knowledge. Working as full time tennis reporters and broadcasters, the pair really know their stuff. Law commentates and presents on Radio 5live, and Whitaker presents for ESPN and the Live at Wimbledon video channel, so they really know what goes on in the tennis world. For situations like Murray’s coaching changes or how Serena is dealing with the pressure, it’s great to get some insight from experts who aren’t just shouting out for the headlines.

I could add a fourth reason, in that the pair are also very brave in making their predictions, and often happy to revisit their predictions whether right or wrong. As someone who has done plenty of sport podcast predictions, I know how awkward that can be!

The podcast is taking a much deserved rest after their Wimbledon extravaganza, but if you watch tennis at all, I recommend giving it a listen to keep up to date on what’s happening from all around the globe.

Taylor made videos

Now, I have to be careful writing this post, because in our household there is one human who is utterly obsessed beyond comprehension with Taylor Swift, and just to be clear, it’s not me.

I like Ms Swift, I think she’s very talented and pulled off an incredible feat switching from country to pop the way she did. 1989 is a really good album. I also like the stuff she does with her fans and the way she really seems to care about what’s going on around her. (That’s enough praise to get me out of trouble, isn’t it?)

I do have one gripe though, and it stems from that aforementioned switch of musical genres. Back when Tay-Tay was a country-pop sensation, she had catchy songs with memorable videos telling interesting stories.

One of my particular favourites is The Story Of Us, chronicling an awkward relationship in a school library.

There’s some brilliant creativity involved in We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, using the familiar but always mind-boggling one-take idea and filling it with costumes, characters and some kick-ass pyjamas.

There’s also the lovely rom-com played out in You Belong With Me, where the girl gets to go to the prom on her own terms, but still manages to get the guy.

The list goes on and on. Mine, Love Story, Ours, Mean, even that goofy one with Ed Sheeran. All great music videos, interesting to watch, match the song well and tell a good story.

When Taylor went pop (genre wise, not physically), she made a couple of good ones – Shake It Off is fun, and Blank Space has some of that lovely storytelling in it – but the more recent efforts have been awful.

Wildest Dreams looks so expensive and yet doesn’t deliver on its promise. Bad Blood is a brilliant game of “spot the famouses” but it doesn’t really meet the video standard I’m looking for, despite the budget. And, seriously, don’t get me started on Out of the Woods!

I’m curious where the disconnect comes from. Is it that having a huge budget behind your videos means the creativity gets lost along the way? Or that branching out in such a new musical direction means moving away from your storytelling roots as well? Or is it just a blip and soon we’ll be back to the mini-movie moments I much prefer? I hope it’s the latter, or I’ll have to stick to the audio-only version of Taylor for the foreeeable future.

Orange is the New Black in five days or less

I didn’t realise I was eagerly awaiting the fourth series of Orange is the New Black, not until the Netflix Twitter account started to count down to its release date. Then I remembered how much I enjoy the show, and how long it has been since we were last allowed a glimpse of what was going on at Litchfield Correctional Facility.

orange-is-the-new-blackThe release of series four coincided with a period of time where I happened to be in front of a screen for a good portion of the day. Or five days. And that’s what it took me to watch it through – the first time I’ve really, truly, binge-watched something the way all the jokes suggest.

It was captivating from the moment the series opened – right where we left off last time, with the inmates cavorting in a lake – until the final 360 degree spinning moments that leave us with another cliffhanger to ponder. Everything in between was building up to what happened in the penultimate episode, and whilst I don’t want to majorly spoil anything, I cried buckets after what happened in that episode.

Some have said the series felt a lot darker than those that have gone before, and there were elements of that, I suppose. It’s easy to forget what we have previously witnessed though – Rosa’s final exit, Daya’s desperate efforts to cover her pregnancy, and the real reason Punxatawny quit her van job. It’s never been a happy-go-lucky watch, but Orange is the New Black managed to retain its sense of humour at the same time as ratcheting up the tension episode by episode.

I did think the one thing that distracted me this series was the flashbacks. I’d forgotten they were even a thing so when the first one happened it took me by surprise, and jolted me out of the zone. There didn’t seem to be quite so much emphasis on them this time out as in previous series’, perhaps we have seen most of what we need to know by this point. Maybe they can be phased out altogether in future episodes.

I loved and hated this series for the emotional wringer it put me through, and although I was proud to have binged the episodes in just a few days, it does mean I now have to wait ages until the next series comes around again.

When square wheels go round

I hadn’t really been paying attention to the BMW Group’s Next 100 celebration with concept cars ahoy – that is until I saw this video with their take on the future of Rolls Royce.

“Are you ready?” the breathy voiceover lady oozes. Erm, not sure that I am actually!

I don’t really like what they’ve done with the square tyres here, it looks angular and odd and generally leaves a boxy bad taste in my mouth.

The BMW Concept Car, though, now that’s a different story. Gold isn’t my favourite colour, but ooh boy, this car is still a thing of beauty.

bmw-concept-car

It looks good, slides around the surface, and has that futuristic sleek beauty that I adore. There’s also this bit:

In Boost Mode, the driver becomes one with the vehicle and will be able to experience even more intense driving pleasure in the future. In fully-automated Ease Mode, on the other hand, the Companion takes over all driving tasks and the interior is transformed into an individual comfort zone.

I’m not 100% sure what “becomes one with the vehicle” entails, and it is slightly worrying considering the furore around artificial intelligence. But I do love the idea of switching into autonomous mode, and the chairs swivelling round so that you are basically in a moving living room. That’s something I’d definitely like to test out.

I also spotted today that Rolls Royce have unveiled autonomous ship concepts as well, which have a gorgeous submarine style look to them.

Mmmmmm, the future.

On the record – Some ballads and some brass (Weeks 21 to 24)

I’ve really, really enjoyed the older albums this week, and although the new ones have been interesting, Mr C has been picking some proper classics! Nice mix of genres again, we’re deliberately trying to mix it up depending on what each other has chosen, and I must admit I am loving listening to so much music constantly. I do worry that I’m forgetting some of the earlier ones, but I know that the really good stuff sticks with me and that’s all that matters.

As always, my choices from 2015 or 2016 come first in the list, with Mr C’s choices from any other time second. Get to the end of the post and you’ll see the updated top ten – a process which I’ve been wrestling with and now understand why Mr C’s end-of-year agony isn’t quite as funny as I thought.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 21
Dangerous Woman Ariana Grande 2016 I liked this far more than I expected. It was the perfect mix of pop and RnB – a lot of it reminded me of the RnB from the 90s, which is my era of music. I also really enjoyed the bonus Macy Gray!
Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman 1988 I properly loved this album, so much that I listened to it twice straight through, and was then humming Fast Car for the rest of the week. Brilliant, lyrical, moving. I love it, although it did open my eyes to why some people aren’t such fans of Boyzone. Oof.
Week 22
7/27 Fifth Harmony 2016 Very catchy pop, high production values, but not totally special. Influences of Beiber and even occasionally Taylor Swift. Enjoyable enough to listen to, with plenty of good songs, but not all that memorable.
The Marshall Mathers LP Eminem 2000 Love the rhythms here. Subject matter can veer too far for me, I couldn’t listen to Kim the second time round. But then again, Stan is an absolute classic so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Week 23
Black Dierks Bentley 2016 Good modern country – mentions both the moon and time machines, so I’m confident that he wrote it all with me in mind. Branches out occasionally with some ballads and some brass, but otherwise it’s a nice comfortable country album.
Metallica Metallica 1991 I was nervous about listening to this but it’s about as accessible as heavy metal can be. I ended up quite enjoying it, although listening to all that angst in one go did make me anxious. The intensity and the harsh vocals can be a bit much but I still loved a few of the tracks along the way.
Week 24
Last Year Was Complicated Nick Jonas 2016 Really good album. If you like the single Close, then it’s very much more of the same. So many songs packed together, though, made me realise how often Nick uses the falsetto and that grinds my gears when it is overused.
Pet Sounds The Beach Boys 1966 Wonderful album, stacked full of shorter but well-crafted songs. God Only Knows is just under three minutes of perfection. I wasn’t expecting there to be instrumentals, and as a whole Sloop John B stands out as not quite fitting in, but otherwise it all works well.

My top ten after twenty-four weeks of listening to a wide variety of albums is below. The only change this time is that Tracy Chapman jumped in at number three, meaning we lose Bjork from the list. Had a real struggle trying to decide if Pet Sounds should sneak in at number ten – basically pitting You Can Call Me Al against God Only Knows, two of the greatest songs ever. In the end, I stuck with Paul Simon.

  1. Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.
  2. Come On Over by Shania Twain
  3. Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman
  4. Let Go by Avril Lavigne
  5. Get Weird by Little Mix
  6. The First Time by Kelsea Ballerini
  7. Chaos and the Calm by James Bay
  8. Thriller by Michael Jackson
  9. Play by Moby
  10. Graceland by Paul Simon

BBC Good Food Show 2016

The BBC Good Food Show has been on my to do list for a while, and this year I finally managed to find time to attend the show for a few hours. It’s bad timing really, because I haven’t been cooking or baking as much as I used to, but even so, I’m still keen on seeing what the best of the kitchen world has to offer.

In all honesty, I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping the show would have innovation and cool kitchen tools, areas for increasing food knowledge, cooking skills and creating more interesting dishes. Generally, I just wanted a bit of inspiration.

flowers-good-food-show

There was the occasional stall that had an interesting gadget on it, but for the most part, there were three types of stall:

  1. eat on the day stands, ie burgers and ice creams and such
  2. test out artisan products, such as cheese or gourmet sausage rolls
  3. extension of physical or online shop, ie the sprawling Lakeland aisles

I wasn’t that hungry when I arrived at the show, and the mixture of competing smells did nothing for my appetite, so the taste tests and lunch stalls weren’t that interesting. And I felt a bit irritated at having to pay an entry fee for what amounts to a Lakeland shop, when I can get to one for free in the high street.

Oddly, for me, the most interesting part was the Lexus stand. Beautiful shiny cars, and a magazine to take home about design. Not really anything to do with food though. The food show was twinned with Gardener’s World, and there were more fascinating stalls in that section than in the Good Food area.

Previous visits to trade shows have seen me come away with bags of leaflets and freebies, that Mr C dismisses as tat. This time, I just had a few booklets, and I picked up a flapjack or two for the journey home. A disappointing experience, but at least another check on my to do list.

WWDC design awards leave me wanting more

Apple’s WWDC took place last week, and whilst the keynote speech that kicks the event off was interesting for its new developments introduced, it wasn’t my favourite part of the week. Apple have done a great job upping their game in terms of providing coverage of the conference for those who can’t make the trip. They stream all the sessions live, and record them all for later watching on demand.

They’re quite nerdy, and I like to see what’s going on but much of it goes over my head. The one stream I really do love, though, is the Apple Design Awards. For two years in a row now, I’ve watched the presentation and in both years have found apps that I didn’t know about that are doing a really great job with the tools available.

Last year, I was introduced to Crossy Road, something I still play to this day. This year, a few more were brought to my attention, including Streaks (which I had downloaded before but has been updated since then), and Ulysses writing app (which looks amazing but is a bit pricy for my current needs). It’s also brilliant to see the work being done on app accessibility, with a brilliant voice-assisted DJ app getting the nod this year.

The fact that the design awards stream was my favourite part of the week-long conference for the second year in a row makes me wish Apple could do something more frequently. Their recent efforts to keep the app store refreshed and more content rising to the top is good, but the new and notable section only goes so far. You get to see what apps are considered exciting, but there’s no real explanation about why.

A monthly podcast or video stream, maybe even something on their 24/7 worldwide radio broadcast would go a long way to helping promote the great and the good from the app store, particularly those that are doing good work in design and accessibility but are otherwise being overlooked.