Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 5 Dr Who Companions

I have a growing stack of top fives that need more time than I've got to complete so it's handy to find a quicky topic every now and again to give me a bit of breathing space. I'm also always pleased to hear other people's suggestions and had quite an extensive list from a new reader the other week. This one was something I hadn't done and didn't take long to knock into shape.

1. Sarah Jane Smith - Elizabeth Sladen
(3rd & 4th Doctors, cameos with 10th & 11th Doctors)
I started watching Dr Who towards the end of Jon Pertwee's run on the show and so Sarah Jane was the first companion I knew. Not sure what it was about her but as a seven year old I definitely had a bit of a crush on her. I spent most of the Tom Baker era hiding behind the sofa, so it might just be that the Sarah Jane moments were the only bits I was brave enough to watch. Having returned recently in the spin-off series "The Sarah Jane Adventures" she doesn't seem to have aged at all and, despite being 20 years older than me, still has a certain something about her.

2. Jamie McCrimmon - Frazer Hines
(2nd Doctor)
Before he went on to star as a farmer in Emmerdale, Frazer Hines played an 18th century Scottish piper who became the second Doctor's companion. Sarah Jane might have appeared with more Doctors but Jamie appeared in 116 episodes with Patrick Troughton, making him the longest serving companion. These episodes were before my time but I got into them, having graduated to the comfy side of the sofa, when the BBC repeated the old series.

3. K9 - voice of John Leeson
(4th Doctor)
Looking back K9 seems a bit naff but he was something new and exciting when he first hit the screens. There was no flying and shooting lasers, he just wheeled about and shared his extensive knowledge, often to the point of tedium. He spoke with a formal tone and was always polite to his master but at times could be slightly condescending. Almost a robot dog version of Stephen Fry.

4. Amy Pond - Karen Gillan
(11th Doctor)
Its early days for Amy but she's made quite an impact in one series already. A feisty companion with a hint of mischief, flowing red hair and a suitably short temper.

5. Leela - Louise Jameson
(4th Doctor)
Savage warrior Leela effectively replaced Sarah Jane, so it took me a while to warm to her. But in 1978 there weren't many opportunities to see quite as much of the female form during suitable veiwing times for a 10 year old, so her appearances soon became unmissable.

My Top 5 Doctors are here in case you want to compare.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Top 5 Fonts

You may not have noticed but I recently changed the font of this blog from Arial to Verdana. I can get a bit obsessive about fonts. This probably dates back to my cartographic training days when we used hot glue and Letraset to add lettering to maps. It was quite theraputic chopping out place names and deciding the best position to stick them (usually top right). The arrival of computers added a whole new array of interesting fonts to use and I wasted many an hour selecting the right type face for a letter or report and, consequently, not enough time on the actual report. Blogger, thankfully, only offers five.

1. Helvetica - A no nonsense font that works for every occasion. Simple yet stylish it has developed something of a cult following and even inspired a film. Microsoft don't supply Helvetica, possibly due to ownership and costs, and palm us off with Arial instead.

2. Charles Rennie Mackintosh font - The ultimate Art Deco font and about as far from Helvetica as you're likely to get. Mrs Chop has a bit of a thing for CRM and we used this type face on our wedding invites. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an architect who included incredible levels of decorative detail in his designs and created this font specifically for his work.

3. Courier - Courier used to seem the least worthy of fonts. Designed to replicate the look of an old fashioned typewriter it didn't offer the same excitement as fancy new fonts like Bauhaus 93 and Rockwell Extra Bold. I appreciate it much more now. It's a getting things done type of font, a font that does the job without the need to look pretty.

4. Lucida Calligraphy - I quite like the whole Lucida family. The calligraphy variant is an elegant type face that provides the impression of handwriting without the amibiguity of the real thing.

5. Desdemona - Another Art Deco-esque style font but one that comes included with Microsoft Office. A Charles Rennie Mackintosh-lite if you will.


Friday, 15 October 2010

Top 5 Seaside Piers

Hastings pier was almost completely destroyed by fire last week following an arson attack. It set me thinking about my favourite Piers, a distinctly British creation. The National Piers Society state that there are around 55 traditional Victorian piers still standing in the UK today. There used to be about 100 but they're tricky constructions to maintain, expensive to insure and vulnerable to the forces of nature, vandalism and under funded owners. In compiling this list I realise I've not visited very many. Mrs Chopper and the boys may find our holidays over the next few years revolving around fading seaside towns with a Victorian pier.

1. Eastbourne Pier - I spent most of my school summer holidays in Eastbourne and this was the first pier I visited. I can remember it being one of my holiday treats to be allowed a bit of money to use in the arcades, maybe buy a souvenir and usually have an ice-cream. It had been opened in 1870 designed by prolific pier architect Eugenius Birch. By my teens I was visiting Eastbourne with my mates, mainly because my best friend's parents owned a holiday flat in town, and we graduated to the pier nightclub.

2. Llandudno Pier - A big old pier that juts out into the Irish sea from the headland near Llandudno. It's a wide promenade that takes you out to the triangular platform at the end. There's a extension that runs back along the shore front, adding to the length and making it unlike any other pier I've seen.

3. Brighton Palace Pier - Brighton's only pier since the older, and Birch designed, West Pier was all but destroyed by two fires in 2003. The Palace Pier opened in 1899 and was the third pier to open in the town. It's probably the most profitable active pier in the country and is as well developed a pier as you're likely to find.

4. Blackpool North Pier - Blackpool still has three piers but the North pier is the oldest. The second of the fourteen piers designed by Eugenius Birch (the first being Margate Pier) was officially opened in 1863. I think it's the only Northern pier I've visited.

5. Aberystwyth Royal Pier - I spent a bit of time in Aber when one of my pals was at Uni there. The Royal Pier (another Birch design) is nothing special to look at and a good deal shorter that others of it's era having seen the seaward end swept away less than seven months after it opened in 1865. A subsequent replacement extension was eventually built but this was also swept away in 1938 and the Pier has since remained in stubby form. It does boast the benefit of a public house called the Inn on the Pier which is the only pub in the UK that remains open 24 hours a day.

A few famous piers that I've not visited yet. Southend Pier is very long but doesn't appear to offer a great deal other than the feeling of being a very long way out to sea on a rickety Victorian structure. Wigan Pier is not at the seaside and barely visible but of interest thanks to George Orwell and Paul Simon. Ryde Pier was the first pier built in England and remains the oldest timber planked pier still standing. I've been to Ryde but the pier is pretty dull and is there for the practical purposes of getting ferry passengers to and from the ferry. I also considered Piers outside of the UK but the only one I can remember visiting is Pier 39 in San Francisco which is so vast you wouldn't even know you were on a pier.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Top 5 Flintstones

It's a week late but thanks to the Google Doodle I noticed it was the 50th anniversary of The Flintstones last Thursday. Unlike most of the cartoons I used to like as a kid the original Flintstones series ran for some six years and over 160 episodes.

1. Barney Rubble - Could you get a better best pal? Happy with his lot in life but always prepared to back Fred's latest scheme.

2. Wilma Flintstone - Definitely the brains of the family. Betty Rubble may be hotter (can I say that about a cartoon?) but it's Wilma who runs the show.

3. Fred Flintstone - Stone Age forerunner of Homer Simpson.

4. Dino - I always liked Baby Puss (the Sabre-tooth cat that appears in the titles) but Dino makes a bigger impact in the show, and on Fred's stomach.

5. Arnold the Paperboy - Very minor character who contributes to a fairly long-running gag in which he annoys and outsmarts Fred on a regular basis.


Friday, 1 October 2010

Top 5 Achievements at School

We're currently going through the anguish of looking at secondary schools for our eldest. This largely involves visiting different schools, listening to various head teachers, and walking round a lot of classrooms. Apart from sore feet and a nagging doubt I'm about to be told to stop running and tuck my shirt in, this has brought back a lot of memories of my own school days. I was never a big fan of school. It was something that got in the way of playing football and watching TV. Possibly that's why I didn't particularly excel in anything.

1. Making my one and only appearance for the school cricket team - Clearly desperate for an eleventh man and with anyone of any ability unavailable I was picked for the school team about 2 hours before the match was due to start. I didn't bowl. I fielded on the boundary, only twice having to make any effort to retrieve a ball. The opposition were all out for 33. I came in to bat as 11th man with our total standing at 30 for 9. Having successfully Tavare'd the first ball I faced my partner scored a quick single off the first ball of the final over. Feeling a bit of pressure as I faced my second ball I made remarkably decent contact and was able to score the 3 runs required to win the game. Euphoria erupted in all directions and I was literally carried off the pitch on the shoulders of my teammates. I was never selected again.

2. Appearing on "That's Life" as part of a Gospel Choir - "Harris, you can sing, follow me!" were the words my music teacher bellowed as he flew past me in the corridor. He was collecting a growing gaggle of students and I joined the throng to find out what was up. Mr Sutton knew someone who worked for the BBC. That's Life were in desperate need of a Gospel Choir to sing a song about a man who had bought an Aero and found it didn't have any holes in it. Quite why the BBC thought that a secondary school in Surrey was the best place to find a Gospel Choir at short notice I'm not quite sure but we appeared on the show, in full flowing red gowns, and sang the funny song.

We met Doc Cox, who was funny, Joanna Monro, who was lovely, and Adrian Mills, who was a bit of a cock. We also met the men from Aero who plied us with lots of free chocolate bars. The show was recorded shortly before transmission and was shown, in a time before we owned a video recorder, as we were travelling home on the coach.

3. Winning the trophy for services to Sport - Awarded for attending one inter-school athletics meeting as assistant to my polish PE teacher Mr Grazinski. My duties were not particularly onorous and basically consisted of looking after the starter pistol and timing each race with the school stop watch.

4. Being let off School Lunch - At Junior school I used to have school dinners. They were dreadful and to make matters worse we had to ask the duty teacher if we could leave what we had not eaten. One of the least enjoyable meals was Liver and mash and there was nothing worse than being told you had to finish off a bit more liver when you'd already eaten all the mash and veg. I was a fussy eater, even at home, and the constant rotation of horrible food led me to bunk off lunch. I realised that whilst in classes they always took a register at dinner time there was no such check. I survived for a good six months without lunch before reaching the point where I felt I was ready to take on whatever the canteen could throw at me. I joined the dinner queue with my mates, my taste buds tingling with anticipation of a proper meal. I was hoping for sausages and beans or spam fritters or shepherd's pie. My face dropped when I realised it was liver and mash. I ate the potato and veg and sliced a few tiny slithers off the liver. It hadn't improved a great deal. I took the long walk to the duty teacher, who smiled as I approached. "You've not been up for ages David! Of course you can leave that". I skipped for joy as I joined the queue for a large dollop of Chocolate Semolina.

5. Playing a bush in my first Nativity - I was not the most forthright of children and was never going to vie for a lead role in any school play. Clearly this was recognised by my teachers as my very first school nativity saw me cast as a bush. This pretty much boiled down to carrying a piece of scenery on to the stage at the appropriate moment and hiding behind it. There may have been a bit of singing involved but this was fine, I had a bush to hide behind. I wasn't the only child entrusted with a vegetation based role, one of my best friends had the more prestigious part of third tree. I'm not sure we entirely got the story of the Nativity in Thames Ditton.