Monday, 28 November 2022

Strictly Family - Series 2

If you want to know why I’m writing all these posts about Strictly Come Dancing there is an intro back here on Day 1/Series 1.

 

Series 2 Dates

Oct-Dec 2004 (8 weeks, 10 couples).

 

That time period in context

The new Scottish Parliament building was opened in Edinburgh, the Wales Millennium Centre was opened in Cardiff and the Hunting Act 2004 banned the hunting of most wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales. The Simpsons moved to Channel 4. Also, even though it happened just after the show’s run, it seems odd not to mention the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami in Dec 2004 as it was such a huge event. It’s even odder to switch back to talking about Strictly after mentioning something like that but just imagine you’re watching The One Show and … here we go back to the light…

 

Judges

Len Goodman (head judge), Arlene Phillips, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli.

 

Presenters

Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly (main show) with Natasha Kaplinsky (series 1 winner) taking Tess’s role for the first 5 weeks when she was on maternity leave.

Claudia Winkleman (It Takes Two). Pic below is from first Strictly annual (2005 - more on that next time).

Changes to the format

There was a show filmed in Blackpool (week 5) and the final was held there again too. There were 3 couples in the final this time instead of 2.

Also, there was news and interviews every weekday at 6.30pm in a new programme – Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two. Right from the start my Mum watched this sister show after her evening meal every day. She really liked naughty Claudia Winkleman (and god knows what Claudia did before Strictly but she has certainly become part of the glittery BBC furniture over the years).

The first Xmas Special was aired in December 2004. Its format has changed over the years … but we can’t go into all of that now.

 

Dancers 

(celebrities first, professional partners second; couples listed in order of elimination with winners last)

Quentin Wilson and Hazel Newberry (new pro)

Carol Vorderman and Paul Killick

Esther Rantzen and Anton du Beke

Diarmuid Gavin and Nicole Cutler (new pro)

Sarah Manners and Brendan Cole

Roger Black and Camilla Dallerup 

Aled Jones and Lilia Kopylova (new pro)

Julian Clary and Erin Boag

Denise Lewis and Ian Waite (new pro)

Jill Halfpenny and Darren Bennett (new pro)

 

Celebrities we had heard of before the series (and how we knew them)

Carol Vorderman (Countdown, we didn’t watch it but knew her anyway), Esther Rantzen (from That’s Life, which we very much did watch in the ’70s – talking dogs, Victoria Wood, Pam Ayres and all), Roger Black (athletics, 400m), Aled Jones (Snowman), Julian Clary (comedian), Denise Lewis (athletics, heptathlon).

 

Who did we vote for?

I voted for Denise and Ian. Denise hadn’t danced before (I don’t think) and she was graceful and stunning to watch. Mum liked Jill and Darren, Heather didn’t have an obvious favourite, and we all enjoyed some of the routines and responses from Julian Clary. The more we watched the show the more I saw that Mum and Heather really enjoyed the professional dancers most of all, and over the series many of those dancers became celebrities in their own right (with good reason). Camilla, Lilia and Darren (from Denmark, Russia and Sheffield respectively) were particular favourites in our house at this point. Lilia and Darren (see pic below) were the first married couple of professional dancers on the show and they were a really likeable pair (at least on TV – I have no idea what they’re like in real life). Still together (take that – “Strictly Curse”!), they have guested on It Takes Two in recent years which is quite a treat, like old pals popping round.

Celebrities we liked more after the series

Probably Aled Jones – he really threw himself into it (though to be honest it wasn’t a huge shock as a friend once met him on a night out and said he wasn’t exactly a choirboy in adulthood).

 

Was it obvious who was going to win?

From week 3 (when Jill and Darren did their jive to Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, see bottom right of pic below), yes, it probably was. There are moments on the show when everything just comes together (Strictly cliché alert) and this was one of those times. Even if you don’t like the song (and I don’t particularly), it worked well and Jill dancing through a bit of a wardrobe malfunction (dress caught on shoe) made it even more impressive.

Were there articles in the papers moaning about one of the celebrities being good because they’d danced before?

Yes, I think there were (about Jill possibly). 

 

Did it matter?

No. Plus if everyone in the show was a complete beginner it wouldn’t work half as well. There was a much higher “terrible dancer” quota in the show in these early stages and it could get a bit painful – you can’t run with just that for 20 seasons.

 

Was there an obvious “shouldn’t stay in long but did” contestant?

No. I remember mutterings about Julian Clary getting to the final but we recently rewatched some of his dances and they were pretty good really. 

Shock exit?

No.

 

The story of the series

Some of the dancing being so good (quite a step up from series 1). Jill and Darren’s jive still shows up in all the “best of” Strictly dance lists and got the first full marks (40 out of 40). I rewatched some of Denise and Ian’s routines on wobbly YouTube videos recently and they hold up pretty well too.

 

And our family - what was going on with us at the time?

We were adjusting to being a 3- rather than a 2-, generational household and it did take some getting used to. My Mum was at a bit of loose end when she moved up until she made some friends and connections and like a bored child she wasn’t shy to let me know about it. Her elderly dog, Ailsa, was part of the move as well so I took to going on a lot of long dog walks and met some new friends along the way. Heather and her Grandma took a little while to settle in together too – now Grandma was for life and not just for Xmas how was that going to work out? Initially it was a bit tricky but Strictly really helped them find their happy places, They were both fans of another dance show, Angelina Ballerina, which probably influenced the outfit in the picture below (she is 22 now and gave me permission to share it, her other Grandma knitted the cardi). In a smallish family you need some other people to talk about (mice can work too) and we have certainly talked about Strictly personnel in ours over the years. 

Like the stars of the show (and most families), we all had some catchphrases and my Mum’s most regular one for Strictly was “silly old fool” (she was 80 but this was used, in an affectionate way, for Bruce Forsyth, Len Goodman and really anyone over 50). She also used to say of Claudia Winkleman (practically every time she watched It Takes Two – and it was on 5 times a week) “her mother was a journalist, you know, and she really looks like her”. She would then proceed to try and remember which journalist it was (Ann Leslie? Eve Pollard? It was the latter). I didn’t know either of these women so it meant nothing to me (and even less to 4-year-old Heather). Anyway, family sayings (“what’s everyone else having?” etc.), they’re bloody annoying at the time but you miss them when they disappear.


See you tomorrow for Series 3! I'm scheduling them for 6am, one a day up till 17 December.


 

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Strictly Family - Series 1


So, this is a bit different because I am going to be writing about the TV show Strictly Come Dancing for the next few weeks. I won’t just be writing about Strictly but it is the starting point for the next 21 posts and I will probably go into the kind of TV detail that might seem totally surplus to requirements. A TV show, a big-audience, mainstream TV show – you might be asking yourself if it really needs any more publicity on a tiny little blog? And what is the point? 

 

There are several reasons I’ve found myself doing this quite unlikely writing project at this particular time. One is that things are grim in many, many ways right now and there are only so many times I can write about yet another terrible Tory UK government, the climate crisis and the fact that we’re all going to die (always a popular theme with poets). This blog has featured all kinds of writing styles and subject matter but this is probably my lightest outing yet – actual light entertainment. Only this January I was writing a month of daily posts about folk-acoustic songwriters (not exactly TV Quick content) and I hardly even watch mainstream/entertainment TV so how did I end up watching 19 series of UK Strictly and a smattering of other countries’ versions of the show? OMG, as Strictly “grumpy judge” Craig Revel Horwood might say with his mouth dropping oh-so dramatically to the desk, how on earth did that happen?

 

It started with a mother, as so many things do. In the summer of 2004 (just after the first series of Strictly was shown on the BBC) my 80-year-old mother, Margaret, came to live with my partner Mark, our daughter Heather and me up in Angus in Scotland (that’s her in the photo, on Montrose beach, she brought her little dog too). Mum was a pretty active person in the daytime but when evening came she loved TV (dramas, tennis, crime shows, music). She had watched the first series of Strictly earlier that year before she moved up and absolutely loved it. Born in 1924 in Edinburgh, her young, going-out-to-dances days were mainly during World War II and she had memories of quickstepping, maybe even foxtrotting, in places down in Bath, where both she and her mother and sister worked around that time. The quicksteps were always her favourite dances on Strictly and she would tap her feet jauntily and smile for every beat of the songs, whether she knew them or not (her pop music knowledge stopped somewhere around Tommy Steele). Like a lot of older viewers, I suspect, she enjoyed the dances that most took her back to her younger days, to a time before husbands and children, before being widowed (twice) and bringing up a lot of children alone. She was not at all romantic or nostalgic about the misery of war but that era was still her youth, the time when she was just a young woman with a certain amount of freedom, a bicycle and a full set of hopes and ambitions. She had had a complicated childhood, qualified in social work in Edinburgh during the war and wanted to work with children most of all. She lived a long and interesting life and for the last few years of it Strictly was a good friend. She really appreciated the humour (no matter how corny), the music, the elegance and the sparkle.

 

That first autumn living with us in 2004 she well and truly infected our 4-year-old daughter Heather with the Strictly bug too. I suppose I could have just left them to it but there was so little we all did together early on in our joining of households that it seemed unfair to not even try to join in. It was a bit of change for me – I had been a rocker in my teens, a full-time raver in my 20s, a recovering raver in my 30s, and I had never really liked musicals or anything like that beyond childhood. But family can make you end up doing things you never imagined you would – for some it’s going to endless freezing football matches, for others it’s hours of World of Warcraft or a whole lotta Bake Off, but for me it was Strictly Come Dancing. If I wanted to stay connected with the women either side of me, generationally speaking, it was learn to love the samba or lose them forever. I gave it a go.

 

All these years later (18 years!) and here I am – a person who has watched hours and hours of Strictly Come Dancing (but not a bloody minute of that miserable weasel Matt Hancock on one of our other primetime TV shows this year – there’s a man who should be eliminated from each and every competition). I’ve watched so much Strictly that I’m going to do a post every day* till 17 December (the day of the final of the current Strictly series, series 20) and each post will be about a series of the show (and other things from around the time it was broadcast, both political and personal). Over the course of these posts I will address some of the issues that newer viewers of the show can seem surprised or disappointed by (e.g., why the audiences vote the way they do). An old Leeds connection (Chumbawamba’s Alice Nutter, now a busy playwright and screenwriter) got me thinking about this with some of her tweets about Strictly this year (she’s been watching it on and off for ten years, “religiously” for four). As someone who has watched it since the beginning of time, or at least that’s how it feels partway through one of the longer Saturday night shows at the start of a series, I started to wonder how I had spent so much of my life with this TV show, what it had taught me over the years, what it meant to me and the rest of the family, and why I keep watching it. I say I watch it because my daughter does but she also watches The Masked Singer (and Dancer) and I don’t watch either of those. Strictly is a strange creature (always changing, always staying the same) and even though I’ve tried to stop watching it here and there I still haven’t managed to quit. Am I under some kind of spell? 

 

For all of these posts I will be filling in a sort of questionnaire for each series of the show. Below is the first of these questionnaires to give you an idea of the areas I will be covering and this one is about series 1 to give you an idea of how it’s going to work. As I didn’t actually watch the first series this one has a couple of “don’t knows” as answers. I’ve watched all the other series and they talk about this origin series quite a bit so I know far more than you should know about something you’ve never seen but still feel free to fill in the blanks if you know more than me and keeeep commenting if you can.



Series 1

 

Dates

May-July 2004 (8 weeks, 8 couples).

 

That time period in context 

Tony Blair was still UK Prime Minister (despite taking the country into the Iraq War in 2003), Piers Morgan was dismissed as editor of the Daily Mirror, José Mourinho was named the new manager of Chelsea F.C. and Peppa Pig first aired on TV. The movie Mean Girls was released (total classic). Please note I am very much against the institution of the monarchy and none of the royals will be mentioned in these posts (apart from these two sentences). It’s like they don’t even exist.

 

Judges

Len Goodman (head judge), Arlene Phillips, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli.

 

Presenters

Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly (main show – that’s all there was, no It Takes Two). 

 

Addition to format

It was new so N/A. 

The final for this series was in Blackpool Tower Ballroom (which hasn’t always been the case).

 

Dancers 

(celebrities first, professional partners second; couples listed in order of elimination with winners last)


Jason Wood and Kylie Jones

David Dickinson and Camilla Dallerup

Verona Joseph and Paul Killick

Claire Sweeney and John Byrnes

Martin Offiah and Erin Boag

Lesley Garrett and Anton du Beke

Christopher Parker and Hanna Karttunen

Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole

 

Celebrities we had heard of before the series (and how we knew them)

David Dickinson (“cheap as chips”, heavy on the bronzer), Claire Sweeney (Brookside, when I watched it in the ’90s), Martin Offiah (rugby), Lesley Garrett (singer), Natasha Kaplinksy (news reader/presenter).

 

Who did we vote for?

My Mum voted for Natasha.

 

Celebrities we liked more after the series

The only ones my Mum ever mentioned were Natasha and Lesley. I don’t think she ever watched (or listened to) a soap opera in her life. She said they were too depressing.

 

Was it obvious who was going to win?

I think so (Natasha won).

Were there articles in the papers moaning about one of the celebrities being good because they’d danced before?

Don’t know, sorry.

 

Did it matter?

Does it ever? It’s light entertainment. The “papers” in question might want to think about covering some actual news.

 

Was there an obvious “shouldn’t stay in long but did” contestant?

From comments made later in other series I think that was actor Christopher Parker (Eastenders). And if you think you haven’t heard about him lately that’s because he left acting and is a consultant at a law firm. 

 

Shock exit?

Don’t know, sorry (Lesley Garrett maybe – did people expect her in the final instead of Christopher?).

 

The story of the series?

The producers realising “Bloody hell, this is going to be a hit show”. You can tell from the production values of the first show that they weren’t exactly betting on it being such a world-beater (the format started in the UK and is now licensed to more than 75 countries). Brand-tastic, really.

I think there was a romance/relationship story in this series (the beginning of what the tabloids now call the “Strictly curse” – broken relationships, new relationships etc.) but I tend to be about ten years out of date with such stories because (a) I’m not a tabloid person and (b) I think that really people’s personal relationships are their own business (unless they force them into the public sphere by selling their wedding photos to Hello magazine and so on).

 

And our family - what was going on with us at the time?

We moved house quite a bit in this particular year. We had been in Scotland for 2 years (moved up from Yorkshire) and in 2004 we moved from a cottage by the sea to a house in town, to a suburban house in the same year. My Mum was settling in after moving up from her last home in Nottinghamshire (and no doubt wondering if moving away from all her friends had been the right thing to do). Heather had started school nursery and I’d been doing some advocacy (no sequins involved). Mark was doing everything else.

 


*Anyone’s who’s been a recent visitor here will know I’ve done a few post-a-day projects in recent years, mainly due to the Fun A Day Dundee project that I’ve taken part in. I did a poem with illustrations in Jan 2020, poems and posts about moving house in Jan 2021 and posts about 31 brilliant songs/songwriters in Jan 2022. There is no Fun A Day Dundee project being organised for 2023 and that’s probably why I’ve ended up doing this one. Just hooked on the idea of one-a-day, I suppose.

 


 

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Strictly Family - Advance Warning


 Photo: Our daughter's collection of Strictly Come Dancing annuals. She's not messing about.


Readers, consider this your warning: I am currently working on a series of posts about a TV show and that show is Strictly Come Dancing. It’s not a show I chose to watch in the beginning (2004!). Back then it was my Mum’s choice, my daughter’s choice, but I have been watching it for 18 years now so, like it or not, it has been a huge feature of my life (Oct-Dec every year anyway). In the UK they are up to series 20 and I have watched all but one of those series (and a bit of other countries’ series here and there). I know there’s a lot of other things going on right now (some of them really important) and that this is some more fiddling while we burn ... and yet, I’m still writing the posts (currently up to 2011). Like that character in The Red Shoes, I can’t seem to help myself

Also, because I am evidently now addicted to the post-something-every-day format that I have picked up from being involved in the Fun A Day Dundee project for the past few years (and because there is no Fun A Day Dundee project this coming January), I will be posting a piece a day for 21 days. Each post will be about a series of Strictly with info about the show, the time period when each show took place and also some memories of what the family and I were up to at the time (I keep a diary, without it I’m nothing). I hope some of you will enjoy the posts and I know others will avoid them like the plague. Whatever, it’ll all be here, starting on Sunday 27 November and with the last post on the day of this year’s Strictly final, Saturday 17 December. It’s madness (see last post) but you might like it. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Out of Sight Out of Mind exhibition


This blog mainly serves as a record of things I have written. At times it can feel like that record is just for me but even if that is the case this blog is still serving a purpose of some kind so I keep at it. Plus a blog is a lot easier to manage than all the boxes and books and piles of paper that other writing involves (though, obviously, I still have lots of those too…). Today’s post, however, is less about writing and more about pictures as the thing I am recording here is that some artwork I did in 2020 will be part of the Out of Sight Out of Mind exhibition this month at Summerhall in Edinburgh. The artwork is being displayed in a record box (suitably enough, see above). There are full exhibition details at the end of the post. As of 19th October you can see it all online (here).

 

This is the tenth year there has been an Out of Sight Out of Mind event in Edinburgh and, according to its website, this exhibition: “presents artworks made by people, and it is organised by people, who have lived experience of mental health issues”. You can read this article in The Scotsman about the exhibition too. I’d never heard of it before this year (I dont get to Edinburgh that often) but when I saw the call for submissions it kind of called out to me. I had been wondering what to do with the visual art I made for the Fun A Day Dundee (FADD)* project in January 2020 and this seemed a possible place for it. I had put a bit of work, money and time into getting that work ready for the FADD 2020 exhibition but the event ended up online due to Covid. I came up with other plans for the online show in 2020 (like this video) but I really wanted the physical pieces I’d prepared to do something other than just sit in a cupboard.

 

Some of you may remember it from 2020 but this work is made up of 31 illustrated words – each one about the size of a 7-inch single – and the words also make up a poem (a little piece about making art, being involved, keeping yourself going – a few simple words with some big ambitions). I have made copies of the poem for the exhibition too. The poem had to be 31 words (with no repeated words) and I wrote it at the end of December 2019.





Each word’s illustration relates to songs or artists that feature the word in question (and there’s a full list of all those music references online here and in the back of the record box in the exhibition). I had the illustrations ready to go up on a wall in 2020 (the way you’d see record sleeves up on a record shop wall) but that takes a lot of space so for this Edinburgh exhibition they are on show in a record box. I was an avid record collector as a young person (and then a DJ and a record shop worker in my 20s) so I’ve flicked through a lot of records in my time. In this format (I suppose you can call it an installation) you can flick through the pictures in the record box to get that record shop/DJ/vinyl collector experience (even though there is no actual vinyl in the sleeves). I don’t know how long the words will stay in order (and it doesn’t really matter either way) but I had quite a lot of fun doing the work so I hope other people can get some enjoyment from viewing it too. I’ve never really been a visual artist before.

 

I did deliberate for a while about whether to send the work off to this particular exhibition. I wasn’t sure to what extent I would identify myself as someone with ‘lived experience of mental health issues’ (though, undoubtedly, I am that). I don’t mention my issues often these days (they are mainly anxiety-related matters, quite a long list of restrictions, something of a personal lockdown at times...). They haven’t gone away – I’ve just got bored of hearing myself talk about them and so I try my best to get on with what I can when I can and not give myself too much of a hard time about it. I know there are people with more challenging, life-altering problems than mine (mental, physical, financial) so I just get on with my version of life as well as I can. A lot of it is pretty dull but I get a lot of help. I don’t always sleep well and that always makes everything seem worse (this week being particularly bad on that score, Covid-related mainly).

 

I have written about anxiety a bit in the past (a post back here on an earlier blog about my very first panic attack in about 1991) but I’m not going to go into a lot of detail this time. I would say I’ve never ‘beaten’ panic/anxiety exactly (and I did try pretty much everything), but I think I have mostly accepted it, accepted the failing if you like, and some days it affects my life more, others less. We can spend a lot of time trying to be perfect (or appear perfect) in so much of our lives, so I think, on the whole, that the admission of a big, stinking imperfection is a healthy move. 

 

There are lots of reasons I feel this way but I suppose one of them is definitely connected to my Dad’s suicide (for new readers this is very old news, 1973 to be exact). Having had this (and other challenges) in her life my Mum was all about everyone living the best life possible. She wanted everyone to find the people and paths that made them happy and she did everything she could to enable that for as many people as possible (I guess that is what made her happy). Of course enabling happiness doesn’t mean everyone necessarily finds it – happiness can be a complicated concept – but it was still a strong example to set. She was also a very anxious person and in that at least I am quite like her. She was born and grew up in Edinburgh so I am pleased to have a link to her for this event too.


This personal history of a major mental health-related loss means that mental health issues can’t help but be large in my field of vision too. I see lots of things in mental health terms. I read a lot of articles and books about mental health (changing attitudes and theories) and it is an everchanging business. People are often looking for that one, big answer but I think the truth is probably more like lots of little answers (plus a good standard of living for all – hard to do anything without that basic). Also I’ve always been interested in people on the edge of things in general and people with mental health issues often fall into that camp (not necessarily out of choice).  

 

With all this in mind, I’m looking forward to seeing all the work in the exhibition (I’ll be getting there at the end of the month hopefully). Who and what will my little record box be hanging out with for these couple of weeks in Edinburgh? Let me know if you get there before me.

 

  

The exhibition (Out of Sight Out of Mind) is open 12-30 October (12-6pm every day) at Summerhall (1 Summerhall, Newington, Edinburgh EH9 1PL). An online version of the exhibition starts on 19 October. I know there’s a lot else going on in the world but this event is free and features the work of over 200 other people so even if you don’t like my contribution you might find something else that does interest you (on or offline). 

 

*Fun A Day Dundee (FADD) has been running since 2011 and anyone can take part (you don’t even have to be local to Dundee). It involves doing something creative every day in January, sharing your work online (if you want) and taking part in an exhibition later on in the year. Dundee’s is not the only Fun A Day project – the first one was in Philadelphia, USA and there are quite a few others. The organisation Fun A Day Dundee is having a year off in January 2023 but will be back in January 2024.


 

Sunday, 4 September 2022

King of the kettles, liar in chief

'Kettle' by Wefail, seen on Twitter, used with permission


Lie to us, baby, one more time

 

So, which, do you think, was your biggest lie?

That you give any kind of fuck,

That you aren’t just flying high,

Wrapped warm in your best wallpaper,

Grinding out more little yous?

 

Was it the one about the Russians?

That you were snuggled up tight,

Taking anything they’d offer,

Till they made a bad show,

Ratings down, bombings up?

 

Or what about the bus?

Brexit, schmexit, who really cares?

It was a fabulous distraction, 

A good old vote winner,

Great work for ghouls.

 

Then that thing about Covid

Being anything other

Than a licence to print contracts?

A few deaths between cronies?

Let’s just change the news.

 

And while we’re here, let’s have a party.

Because nothing says champers

Like struggling to breathe,

Long months in PPE,

Missing your children.

 

And it was always a lie 

That you were any kind of funny.

That only works if posh is funny,

Stealing funny,

Starving, funny.

 

You didn’t make the first move,

That’s certainly true,

But you are doing your basic best

To strip us all bare. 

Rip out the lights.

 


 

 

RF 2022

(audio version here).

 

 

Boris Johnson’s term as UK Prime Minister ends tomorrow. Has he been the worst leader the UK has ever known (partly by doing so very little leading)? There has been some tough competition but he’s definitely in the running.


I haven’t written many poems this year and of the ones I have written a couple are here on the blog and the rest are mainly wee ones on Twitter (seen by very few). There are so many crises that poetry feels a bit pathetic (the loudest crises this week being Pakistan/climate, Ukraine/war and the UK/cost of living). Still, I post the poem here as some kind of record. We stumble on, for now. We keep fighting.