Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: August-September 2014


Even if you have been living on Mars you will probably not have escaped the recent Scottish independence referendum, which provided the perfect opportunity to fill the schedules with speculation, debates, polls and documentaries.  The centrepiece of the campaign was the 3 live TV debates, the first two between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together's Alistair Darling.  My own view was that these heated, shouty debates would have done nothing to convince any 'don't knows' to choose a side, nor would they have convinced anyone to switch sides.  The 3rd debate, screened on STV, was perhaps the best of the three debates: it rested Salmond and Darling in favour of a multi-party political subs' bench and a wider range of views.  However I am in no doubt that the mainstream media in this country chose to focus on negativity, gave us limited information and ignored a number of relevant arguments during the campaign, which (in my view) contributed to the No victory.

Debates aside, what did a cross-section of the Scottish public think? BBC1 Scotland gave us "MIBBES AYE, MIBBES NAW" with a mixture of determined yes/no voters and a few undecided trying to be convinced/converted by their friends and colleagues. 

This month's TV review is as much about what I haven't watched, as what I have.  For I remain queen of the backlog.  I haven't seen the last series of Wallander, I'm still working my way through the most recent series of Grey's Anatomy, and I now have the latest Nordic import to add to the to-watch list. "CRIMES OF PASSION" (BBC4) which stars ex-Wallander sidekick Ola Rapace, well that's been Sky Plussed and am ever hopeful that I'll catch up with it before 2014 is out....

Due to my pre-holiday preparations I even managed to run up a backlog of "CZAS HONORU" (STV Glasgow).  So we're now into series 2 and what do we know?  Major Czeslaw was killed in the operation to spring Wladek from jail/hospital whilst Bronek must be very confused indeed as there's a new actress playing Wanda!


You won't often find me watching/enjoying an ITV drama, but I am partial to these biography dramas from time to time.  The BBC has previously broadcast dramas about Morecambe and Wise and also Kenny Everett, so ITV has obviously realised that there is some mileage in this game.  Earlier this year ITV broadcast an excellent play "Not like That, Like This" with a terrific performance by David Threlfall in the role of Tommy Cooper, and the latest subject for a 'lorra lorra' dramatisation is Cilla Black.  Sheridan Smith is excellent in the lead role of "CILLA" in the three-part series which ends tomorrow night.  It's not complex or mindblowing by any means, and often boring in parts, but sometimes you just need to sit back and switch off for a while. 


I guess the same could be said for all the cooking/baking shows polluting the TV schedules.  So if you've got a cake to bake and got no clue at all, just sit back and watch the experts.  I always enjoy a mix of cooking show and travelogue, and caught up with a couple of them lately - "JAMES MARTIN'S UNITED CAKES OF AMERICA" (Good Food) saw the celebrity chef touring the bakeries of the U.S. east coast and checking out all the treats which they had to offer.


Meanwhile Gino D'Acampo's back with "GINO'S ITALIAN ESCAPE" (ITV) - what's not to like about an Italian chef, an Italian travelogue and Italian food?


The telly's full of cooking shows - visual comfort food, if you like.  And reigning comfort food champion is without doubt "THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF" (BBC1).  With the move from BBC2 to BBC1 came an added dose of sensationalism (hello Bin-gate) and an increase in complaints about presenters Mel and Sue's allegedly "smutty" innuendos.  Which I happen to enjoy :)


Oh and one more thing - I've just discovered "FAT - THE FIGHT OF MY LIFE" (Pick TV).  Can  Jessie Pavelka come round and sort out my obesity crisis please?? 


Talent shows.  Let's face it, telly is bursting at the seams with wannabe singers.  If it's not the X Factor - run for cover!! - or The Voice (which was OK for 5 minutes and then I've never seen a talent show go so stale, so quicly) then back in August, Channel 4 decided to put a new spin on it with "THE SINGER TAKES IT ALL" which was a cross between everything which has gone before, sprinkled with Alan Carr and copious mentions of apps.  Oh how very 2014 of you Channel 4! We lasted one episode, which was one episode too many.  Simon Cowell was probably rubbing his hands with glee as here, finally, was something which made X Factor look decent.  Yes it was that bad. 

The dark evenings are here, and of course this signals the TV channels to bring out their big guns.  X Factor.  Strictly Come Dancing.  Downton Abbey.....where are all the new ideas?  Autumn telly's like groundhog day, isn't it? 


"STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) has had its traditional weekend double-whammy launch, kicking off this tedious, tiresome ratings battle with Cowell's never-ending tabloid filler.

Of course there is no Brucie this year, as he's finally decided to hang up his keep-dancing shoes (he will return for Christmas specials etc though) and now Claudia Winkleman has been upgraded to Tess Daly's full-time presentation sidekick. 

There have been some significant changes to the professionals line-up: out go Artem Chigvintsev (now on the U.S. Dancing with the Stars), James Jordan (axed, while his wife Ola remains), and Anya Garnis (demoted to the choreography team) - welcome to the new arrivals Tristan MacManus and Joanne Clifton (sister of Kevin-from-Grimsby) whilst Trent Whiddon has joined the show as a late replacement for Robin Windsor who had to quit due to injury. 

Although I still enjoy the show, it must be said that after all these years - we are now in series 12 - its best days are behind it.  The judging panel - now just a parody of themselves - are clearly only going through the motions, whilst on this opening weekend some of the professionals looked as if they'd rather be elsewhere.  And then you can always rely on Dave Arch-and-his-fabulous-singers to mess up the hits of the day.  But regardless of all this, I'll "keeeeep watching!"


I distinctly remember back in the early days of "DOWNTON ABBEY" (ITV) reading somewhere that there were only going to be two series made, and then it would end.  Great idea.  Leave them wanting more.  But this is not Denmark, and Downton has become an international TV juggernaut.  After an unspeakably dull 4th series, the soapy drama of toffs and servants is now into series 5 and you wonder where it will all end.  Another stale long-running dead horse being relentlessly flogged by ITV. 

My next TV review will be in November - in the meantime I'm going to catch up with all my Nordic subtitled dramas :))

Monday, September 22, 2014

Swedish Idol 2014: the finalists


I was so caught up in pre-holiday preparation, followed by a fantastic holiday (diary to follow shortly!) and completely forgot that the latest series of Swedish Idol is on the way.  The elimination process is over, and the final 12 finalists are now known.  I haven't seen or heard any of their performances yet so don't know anything about this year's contestant but I'm sure we will become very familiar with them over the coming weeks.

The finalists:

Fanny De Aguiar, Lisa Ajax, Mollie Lindén, Niklas Musco, Petter Hedström, Philip Spångberg, Rolf Öhlén, Twyla Lidén, Charlie Diar, Matilda Gratte, Josefine Myrberg, Ludvig Turner.

Who will succeed Kevin Walker in the 10th edition of the contest? Answers to follow!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Break time!

Right then, all blog posts have been posted and now I'm taking my traditional summer break time away from the internet, to take a rest, catch up with some neglected jobs at home and to prepare for our forthcoming holiday to Croatia. 

Enjoy the rest of the summer everyone and have fun!

The Copenhagen Diaries: Days 4 and 5 - Thursday 22nd May 2014/Friday 23rd May 2014

Day 4: Thursday 22nd May 2014

Another day in paradise....it's still hot, bright and sunny, and I'm still struggling to cope with the heat in a hotel room with no air conditioning!  After a day in Sweden, today was all about Danish things and needless to say that includes a Danish pastry...well, actually, it's not really a Danish pastry of course, it's a 'Wienerbrod' but that aside, if you're on Strøget and looking for a Danish pastry then there is only one place to go - Lagkagehuset.  (You'll probably recognise this picture from my Twitter feed)



Lagkagehuset is basically Danish pastry heaven.  You may end up hanging around for about 10 or 15 minutes trying to make your mind up about which one of about 30 or so pastries to have - and that's not even taking the fabulous fruit tarts into account!

After a stroll around it's time for lunch.  Things took a bizarre turn as we ended up at a city centre restaurant which claims to serve the legendary 'open faced sandwiches' with a bizarre twist: there was no bread in faithful travelling companion's open faced sandwich.  This is a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but anyway several weeks later, we discovered that this was not an isolated incident in that particular restaurant. 

Today we slowed down the pace in the hot hot heat, and after the trauma of lunch we came across a Moroccan tea house for some much needed calm....and mint tea.


Following this relaxing break, we strolled round to the Christiansborg area - well, I had to take a quick peek at 'Borgen'.  We also encountered a military band parade. It was probably the hottest day yet, and we were flagging in the heat.  We eventually headed back to our hotel via some more of Copenhagen's fine central shopping streets.

Tonight was our last night in Copenhagen, and there is only one thing on the agenda: Tivoli.

Tivoli is one of Copenhagen's must-see attractions and of course we were not going home without a visit there.  None other than Mr Scooba-dooba-dap-dap-di-di-die himself, Basim, was playing a mini-gig in Tivoli tonight, but he was on stage just a bit too early tonight to fit into our schedule, therefore I had to give him a miss.  After dinner tonight - which is another long story, again I won't bore you with the details - we eventually entered the hallowed gates of Tivoli.  To call Tivoli an 'amusement park' is an understatement.  It's a beautiful, fabulous, scenic attraction which appeals to all ages and tastes.  If you live in Copenhagen, season passes are reasonably priced and it would be a great place to hang out for an evening and go for dinner, drinks or snacks at the many restaurants and bars in the park.  Here are some of the sights of Tivoli.





I would recommend that if you're visiting Tivoli, go in the evening, watch night fall and the park turn into an illuminated gem.  Every part of the park is lit up, including the spectacular Nimb hotel:




Just before closing time, Tivoli stages a fabulous sound and light show on its lake, which is an absolute must-see, and the perfect way to end the last night of our holiday.  But the night was young, and there were still a few Danish beers to be had before bedtime.  It turned out to be a very late night, including a trip to a karaoke bar (as observers rather than participants!) but even in the wee small hours, Copenhagen remained a very safe place.  We've visited so many destinations over the years, but I can honestly say that Copenhagen feels like one of the safest cities I've ever visited.

Day 5: Friday 23rd May 2014

I'm not doing a separate entry for Friday, because this mainly involved travelling home.  But I just thought I'd officially introduce you to the three newest residents of EuropeCrazy HQ, who lined up for a photoshoot in our hotel before we headed to the airport! Meet Rasmus, Lars and Troels!


Above: Rasmus, Lars and Troels: bound for EuropeCrazy HQ. 

However there was still a little time this morning to revisit the city centre. Today, Rådhuspladsen hosted what looks like some kind of energy-efficient/environmental festival, which seems very appropriate for a city which chooses the bicycle over the car.  That's been my main memory of Copenhagen - the cycling culture, and my despair that this just can't be recreated at home.

So as I said on Twitter during my holiday, we were going to have a lot of sad to undo on our return home.  Copenhagen left its mark on us - and I don't just mean the unplanned sunburn!  It's a fabulous, welcoming city which everyone should visit if they can.  It's a scenic, laid-back destination which is perfect for a city break. We had a brilliant holiday and hope to return again someday.

The Copenhagen Diaries: Day 3 - Wednesday 21st May 2014

Today....a special guest appearance by Sweden's third biggest city and 2013 Eurovision host = Malmö.

But firstly, on our way to the station, I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph Copenhagen's famous Radisson SAS hotel which of course made an appearance in the last series of "The Bridge":


Whenever we go on holiday we always try to have a day trip away from our destination and this one . Malmö is just a half hour's journey out of Copenhagen Central Station, and for fans of "The Bridge" like myself it was an iconic pilgrimage.  It has to be said though that the bridge looks a lot scarier on TV than it was to travel on: the actual travelling time on the bridge lasted only a couple of minutes (I timed it!).  But before we got there, one more Eurovision-related pilgrimage site, as the train stopped at the Malmö Arena station, which was very exciting for this Eurovision fan :)


The weather in Malmö was equally as hot as in Copenhagen.  There were some must-do things on the list: the first of which was (yet again) adding to my moose collection.  It took no time till that was quickly resolved in the tourist information shop:  the latest addition to my moose-family is called Lars and here is a picture of him chilling out later on, back at our hotel:


We also bought T-shirts in the adjoining souvenir shop and then headed over the river into the old town in search of lunch.  I didn't really know what to expect from Malmö, but it was architecturally prettier than I imagined.  And on the usual shallow note, faithful travelling companion most definitely approved of the city's female population.  (At this point I would have to be controversial and say that for me, I preferred Copenhagen's male hotties over those in Malmö!)

Beyond the imposing square named Stortorget, there is a lovely and quaint little square called Lilla Torg (part of it pictured below: note similar bike-obsession to Copenhagen!) with a variety of restaurants and dagens rätt options, so we had no problem finding lunch.


Another day, another boat trip in the scorching sunshine, this time on the city's canals which spanned both the large industrial and port area, and into the beautiful parkland.  And yes, there was even a sighting of Malmö's famous skyscraper, Turning Torso.



The boat trip ended in the late afternoon but there was no respite from the baking heat, so we sought some shade and retail therapy.  No trip to Sweden would be complete without a trip to a CD store: Folk and Rock has a good, if more alternative/specialised selection, but I have to wait till Åhléns. before buying the latest in the 'Absolute' series - Absolute Svenska Hits, a compilation which at that time had just been released. Check out the track listing at http://www.ginza.se/product/absolute-svenska-hits/445533/

Unfortunately we couldn't stay around in the city as we needed to get back to Copenhagen to get ready for our night out, in this instance a wallet-busting meal at another very nice restaurant.  And - it goes without saying - a late-night trip to Heidi's Bier Bar and its usual soundtrack of cheesy Europop and DMGP classics!

The Copenhagen Diaries: Day 1 - Monday 19th May 2014 / Day 2 - Tuesday 20th May 2014

It has been three months since our holiday in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.  You had probably given up on ever reading my trip report but finally here it is.  Enjoy!

day 1.....

Suitcase - check.  Travel documents - check.  Desperate need for hygge - check :)

To put this holiday into context, all I'll say is that it marked the end of a very difficult few months. And it turned out to be just the tonic we needed.  Never expected sunburn though!

Day 1 was all about the travelling.  The most significant thing on arriving at Copenhagen Airport = good weather.  I'd read all the weather reports in Eurovision week in despair, where the fans ended up doing a literal interpretation of "dancing in the rain" and I hoped for dry weather.  In the end, we got more than that - much, much more.

Of course I had done some pre-holiday research on how to get from the airport to the city, but the one thing you can be sure of is that I will have a meltdown at a ticket machine.  Which I did, yet again, and had to call on the services of a friendly young Pilou Asbaek-lookalike hanging around the DSB ticket area :)

If you are staying in central Copenhagen, which we were, then the most appropriate travel option is the 5A bus which leaves from right outside the airport.  The 5A takes you from Kastrup through the Amager area and our first sighting of Copenhagen's famous red buildings.  And on our first trip to Copenhagen, it's not long until we saw....

...people on bikes.  Not people on bikes a la Tour de France, or the 'look at me, I'm in lycra' brigade which you occasionally get over here - the people who dare to travel on our car-polluted roads, that is -  oh no.  Ordinary people, in ordinary clothing, just going about their business.  Yes there are cars on the road, but the concession to cyclists immediately overwhelms and delights me.  Wide cycle lanes, which we can only dream of.  I may already have found hygge, within about 5 to 10 mins of leaving the airport. 

Also, passing Tivoli on our way in, I spotted the 'Join Us' banners still hanging outside this famous tourist attraction.  The Eurovision circus may have moved on, but I'm making it my mission this week to see if there are any "leftovers" so that's the first one crossed off my list. 

My pre-holiday planning has delivered the goods and we make it to the hotel without any grief.  (Note to self: I really should have been some kind of travel agent.  I love travel planning and can't get enough of it).

After arriving at the hotel and checking in, it was time to go out for dinner and explore central Copenhagen.  We were immediately struck by the laid-back nature of this city.  The prices were expensive, yes, but even after just a couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere, it became very apparent that there is an incredible quality of life here, compared to back home.  Now I'm not saying there are no problems - when you're on holiday you only see one side of the story after all - but yet again I couldn't help but note the differences between home (where you're constantly on edge) and Copenhagen's city centre which might well be one of the safest places we've ever had the pleasure to visit.


After a  very nice dinner, we went in search of late-night hygge.  Which we found very quickly in the Tyrolean-themed Heidi's Bier Bar, a top hangout offering beer at 29kr before midnight and "Fest Hos Mange" amongst their 'apres-ski' playlist.  Hygge and Mange Makers - now there's two things you'd never expect to find in the one sentence.  But we're on holiday at last, and what a wonderful wonderful feeling!!

day 2...

On our agenda today: Strøget (the pedestrian bit); Nyhavn (the picturesque bit) and a canal boat trip. 


So it wasn't long till my first Eurovision moments: the Copenhagen Souvenir shops on Strøget were selling 2014 ESC t-shirts half price.  And then we came across a bakery selling 'Join Us' cakes (see above).


Strøget (pictured above) is a very, very long shopping street in the centre of Copenhagen.  There's international and Danish chain stores, small boutiques, clothes shops, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.  Keep walking from one end of the street to the other and you will end up at Kongens Nytorv, the gateway to Nyhavn.  One minor problem with this square, and the town hall square, and I guess a few others in this city, is that they are not being shown off to their full potential at present.  Sorry for feeling a little bit selfish about this, but that's just a minor point.  It's going to look this way for a few years to come, because the city is undergoing a massive expansion of its metro system, hence the building-site feel.  We never used the metro system during our holiday so I can't comment on how effective it is, but I'm sure it provides a very good service, if the efficient and frequent service of Copenhagen's buses is anything to go by. 


The bright sunshine baked down on one of Copenhagen's most recognisable landmarks: Nyhavn.  A row of multi-coloured buildings, the smell and seafood and the constant flow of canal boats carrying tourists out on the canal tours.  The pictures looked good, but it is even more stunning in real life than we could ever have expected. A truly 'wow' moment.  And it was now time for lunch. 

Regular readers will know that eating out is one of our main holiday pleasures, but I expected Copenhagen to present a few more challenges to this almost-vegetarian.  I do eat chicken though, and eventually managed to find this amongst the seafood paradise of Nyhavn.  I thought I'd also try a Somersby pear cider!

 
Our lunch was soundtracked by an enjoyable laid-back band playing songs by the Beatles and other artists.  The combination of the boiling sunshine and the lack of shaded canopies resulted in some serious sunburn.  And that's with sun protection too!  That's how hot it was today.

Faithful travelling companion is always open to exploring local food options on holiday and he didn't hang about: lunchtime today was all about the famous smørrebrød, the open sandwich... the fish trio!


After lunch, we walked the very short distance to the canal boat station and began our boat trip around the city. 

For those of a conventional tourist persuasion, the highlight of sailing out into wider waters would being the much-anticipated viewing of one of Copenhagen's most famous tourist attractions = the Little Mermaid.  However, for this Eurovision addict, there was only one must-see attraction today:


...yes I mean Refshaleøen, a.k.a Eurovision Island!!  And as you can see, the Join Us sign was still up, two weeks after the contest.

Here are some more sights from our very enjoyable canal boat trip. 




We really enjoyed this canal boat trip, which covered a vast area of the city's waterways before returning to its original departure point in Nyhavn.

By this time it was mid-afternoon, and it was still very hot and sunny in this amazing city.  We headed back up Strøget, stopping off for a coffee at Baresso, which is Denmark's equivalent of Costa Coffee, with branches all over the city. 

On our way back, we discovered a shop called Fona, which reminded me of FNAC in France - one floor selling tellies and other electronic gadgetry, and another floor selling CDs and DVDs.  In these times of downloading, streaming and the like, the one thing I regret is the disappearance of record shops from the town and city centres of Europe.  Going into record shops abroad used to be one of the big highlight of our many foreign trips, and over the years this has uncovered various musical delights for both faithful travelling companion and myself. 

I bought the latest 'More Music' compilation which is like a Danish version of 'Now That's What I Call Music' with a mixture of Danish and international hits.  Rasmus Seebach's live DVD was on offer at a good bargain price.  As a recent convert to his music, I couldn't resist this purchase.

After some more sightseeing we headed back to our hotel before going out for our evening meal.  We began exploring more of the city centre and discovered Tivoli as night was falling...


...and bumped into Hans Christian Andersen...


...before arriving at Rådhuspladsen.


After dinner just a couple of streets away, we returned to Heidi's for some late night hygge and research into obscure Danish beer. Very pleasantly surprised to hear a few DMGP oldies on the playlist tonight! But we have an earlier night, as we're off to another country tomorrow!

We Just Can't Qualify (Latvian Lament)


Here's one of those blog posts from my unpublished backlog which has been hanging around since May, so it may not be all that topical any more, but it's still relevant! After "Estonia" from earlier this year, I've now turned my attention to its Baltic neighbour, with a little ditty to be sung to the tune of "Cake to Bake".

"We Just Can't Qualify" (Latvian Lament)

We made our debut in the Stockholm Globe
With Brainstorm at their best
Since that time we sent a few decent songs
(but forget some of the rest)

We sent acapella and opera too
And the pirates of the sea
And we even managed to win in 2002
And host in 2003

But today....

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
What's the reason why we've blown it
Even Mr God don't know it
How to qual, how to qual, qualify.

Sem-sem, sem-semi final, sem-sem-sem, sem-semi final
Sem-sem, sem-semi final, sem-sem-sem

After Marie N won in 2002
With her cross-dressing Latin dance
We said hello from Mars with an all-star band
But we never stood a chance
We tried lots of versatile languages
We tried singing in Russian and English
And guess what - we even sung in Latvian! - but that was just an epic fail.

And today

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
Why do all you voters hurt us
Even the "Baltic bloc" deserts us
Now we can't, now we can't, qualify!

We just can't qualify, we've got no clue at all
We used to qualify, we used to do that before
How can we become world-beaters?
Send a Latvian Conchita?
Cause we must, now we must, qualify!
Please come back, Latvia, and qualify :)

The Nästa big thing?


Admit it, even Eurovision obsessives need a little break from the ever-expanding song contest season.  But we're in August now and the withdrawal symptoms are starting to grow and grow.
After weeks of speculation, Vienna was chosen last week as the venue for the next Eurovision Song Contest, so it's time to get into ESC mode once again.  After all, it's only just over 9 months away!

So here's something to keep us going for a little while.  A few days ago Swedish radio announced the line-up of finalists in its national Svensktoppen Nästa competition.  The winner of this contest gets an automatic pass into Melodifestivalen.  Now I've never been too excited about this contest before, as it's never really made much of a mark on Melfest.  In 2014 however it brought us the band EKO with "Red" which still remains my favourite of this year's Melfest songs, so I'm a lot more interested now than I used to be.

You can find all the songs from this year's finalists in full at http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=3147&artikel=5932383 to hear them for yourself but here are my thoughts after just one listen to each song.

"Bells and Whistles" - Bullock Hearts
I wasn't initially sure if I would be in the moo-d (groan) for this particularly upbeat and jaunty song, but the chorus stayed in my brain for a while.  It mixes a little bit of Sebalter-style whistling with some Kika/Rongedal influences.  The problem with this song on first hearing is that the verses are rather forgettable.

"If Forever Means Forever" - Stephanie Quinth
This initially sounds like someone who's been listening to too many Ellie Goulding songs.  There's a pulsating electronic backbeat, and just as the song threatens to burst into a big old pop chorus, it stops very short and leaves us without a hookline.

"Ways Of Growing Old" - Last Trees
And now onto a pleasant but ultimately unexciting acoustic song which doesn't really go anywhere. Sorry but I don't really have too much else to say about this one.

"Den Där Dan" - Kalle Johansson
Yippee!  At last something in Swedish.  Not only that, but this has radio hit written all over it.  Of course that doesn't mean that it's a Melodifestivalen winner, but it's the best and most commercial of the songs I've heard so far in this competition and would be an asset to the final line-up.

"Living By The Gun" - Flat Foot
This is a little bit country, a little bit rock, with a "run Johnny run" chorus.  It's not bad but it's not great either.  It's just..there.

"Alive" - Elsa Martinsson
This one's yet another example of the pop songs which the Swedes churn out in their sleep.  This promises a lot but like Stephanie's song earlier, it is missing a killer chorus which would massively improve the song.

"Honung" - Morgan Färm
I didn't really like this to begin with, but it's got that little retro-feel to it and it's quite nice.  Wiwi Bloggs has pointed out the slight similarity in the chorus to "In And Out Of Love" which I also noticed too.  It's a pleasant and easy-going pop song, and there's more whistling.  Whistling, it would appear, is the new black.

"When The Blackbirds Sing" - Rebecca Fredriksson
Birds. Songbird.  And now When The Blackbirds Sing.  The avian-related theme continues.  This is quite similar in low-key style to "Songbird" and the public seem to go for that style now, so this is in with a strong chance.  No whistling though, despite the bird-theme.

After hearing all the songs, it's Kalle's Swedish-language song which floated my boat, however it will ultimately be a mix of public and jury votes to determine the winner at the final on Sunday 31st October.  Good luck to all the contestants!

Summer rewind: collected thoughts on...

...the weather: well well well!  Who'd have thought it?  We have actually had a summer in Scotland, where usually more than 2 consecutive dry days counts as a summer.  Well we had some very hot weather for more than 2 days (I do like a nice dry day but in my view the temperatures were just a bit too high at times).  Normal service is now resumed, with rainy days and some cooler temperatures.  Which, for a change, I've actually welcomed, as I can now get on with those long overdue jobs at home, and of course write some blog posts!  I'm off work today so it's the perfect time for a blog catch-up.


(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

...holidays: after some research and debate, we're heading off to Croatia in September.  Trogir (pictured above) is a small, medieval town which I'd never heard of until a couple of months ago, but I immediately fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  It looks like a magical little place and after a few difficult months it could provide the perfect location for some much-needed peace of mind.



...the Royal Highland Show: 26 years ago, I first visited Scotland's top agricultural show.  At that time it was in a work capacity as part of my job.  I vowed back then that I would return to the show for 'play' rather than 'work'.  But years turned into decades, and that vow wasn't fulfilled - until this June.  With that unseasonably hot spell in full flow, the most essential item was sun protection cream rather than wellies!  The Royal Highland Show is not just for farmers and agricultural professionals - it's a top day out for young and old alike.  And if you love farm animals you will be in heaven!  From beautiful cattle to rare sheep breeds to cheeky goats to big Clydesdale horses, there's something for everyone.  And it's not just animals either - there's lots of entertainment going on, street food stalls and a massive food hall showcasing the best produce from Scotland and beyond, and plenty of shopping - which reminds me that it can be quite an expensive day out too!

...another day in Ayr: the end of June brought yet another trip to our favourite Scottish seaside town. Prior to our trip, there had been an excessively hot spell, but the temperatures cooled down to a more comfortable level.  Whatever the weather though, Ayr is always worth a visit, with its fine selection of shops, cafes and restaurants.


...Allsång: Summertime in Sweden, and that most traditional of summer TV shows entered a new era with its first ever female host.  Since her appearance in the first series of Så Mycket Bättre 4 years ago, the reinvention of Petra Marklund has been remarkable.  From dance-pop star to credible Swedish-language artist, Petra has undergone a further evolution into the new queen of Swedish light entertainment television, as the new presenter of Allsång på Skansen, which ends its summer 2014 run tonight.

Week 1 was a dazzling debut, but it wasn't long before the Swedish tabloids slipped into negativity - viewing figures in freefall, poor selection of guests, Petra's nerves.  Blah blah blah.  Rewind to previous hosts of the show and we've read it all before; however, the press have been kinder to Petra in the past couple of weeks.  And my own opinion?  I think she's done a smashing job.  For someone who isn't even a professional presenter,  I've found her to be a warm and engaging host.  However, I can't see her sticking around for too long, as there have been times when I've got the feeling that she's wondered if she's done the right thing.  That's not a criticism by the way: I would certainly welcome her back for at least another year, and the tabloids report that SVT would like to keep her in the job.


...Le Tour: Who would have thought that Le Tour 2014 would be remembered for the riders who never made it, rather than the ones who did?  Yes, this year's Tour was all about the crashes, the injuries,

After the British dominance of the race over the past couple of years, the 2014 race began here in the UK with three stages, commencing in Yorkshire.  And from the very beginning, the high-profile casualties began to fall.  Firstly Mark Cavendish, hotly-tipped to win that first stage and get that yellow jersey, only for him to crash out near the finish in Harrogate.  As the tour headed back on to French soil, we had a spectacular stage which included the infamous Paris-Roubaix cobbles.  On the wet roads of northern France, defending champion Chris Froome crashed out of the race.  Team Sky immediately made Richie Porte their main contender to challenge Vincenzo Nibali, who had established a comfortable lead and was in yellow for every day since stage 2, except for one day when French cyclist Tony Gallopin rode into Bastille Day in yellow.

The high-profile casualties continued: Fabian Cancellara, Andrew Talansky (memorably pushed back on to his bike and told to get on with it following one crash), and the race's other main contender Alberto Contador.  Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Simon Gerrans also exited the race.

The other remarkable thing about this year's race was the surprisingly poor weather, with torrential rain during many stages.  Whilst we spent most of July baking in non-stop sunshine, the cyclists were sliding and skidding across the roads of France!

With the loss of so many GC contenders, the race took on a whole new look as it headed into its final week. Nibali had built up such an unbeatable lead and had very quickly killed the race, so our attention focused on the very close battle for 2nd and 3rd place on the podium, and the ever-changing lead in the King of the Mountains competition.  2014 was a big year of transition in Le Tour.  It's been a long, long time since any French cyclists made a major impact on the race (Thomas Voeckler excepted) but this year was the breakthrough we've been waiting for, for so long.  Jean-Christophe Peraud - 2nd place.  Thibaut Pinot - 3rd place and best young rider. Romain Bardet - 6th place.  This bodes well for the future.  In the other competitions, Polish cyclist Rafal Majka was impressive in winning the King of the Mountains jersey and has shown so much promise that he could potentially be a future GC contender.  And the green jersey?  Well, despite starting and ending the race with a stage win, Marcel Kittel could only make 4th place in a sprint competition inevitably won by the unstoppable Peter Sagan.

So Vincenzo Nibali is this year's Tour de France champion.  Well done to him, but next time can we have a closer race and less of a foregone conclusion please?

...the World Cup: maybe it was just the mood I was in at the time (knee deep in a depression which is slowly but surely lifting) but for some strange reason, I just wasn't feeling my usual love for the World Cup this year.  It was a bit like the Tour de France in a way, as top-rated teams fell by the wayside, one after the other. It was strange not to see the likes of Spain, Italy, England and Portugal progress beyond the first round.

There were some new innovations: goal-line technology, free-kick vanishing foam, and cooling breaks to help the players cope with the excessive heat.

Although the standard of the football fell well short of the quality expected of the world's greatest players, I was impressed by the high scores within the group stages, with dreary 0-0 draws kept to a minimum.  What we could have done without was the level of dirty play and fouling which often went unpunished by referees.  We could also have done without unsolicited biting: one more thing for the notorious Luis Suarez to add to his CV of football crimes.


The round of 16 then happened. Chile unfairly went out on penalties to an underwhelming Brazil side, and Mexico were very unlucky to be defeated by the Netherlands. Algeria were equally unlucky against Germany.  Argentina and Brazil continued to be underwhelming as they progressed through the tournament.  One team which did impress me was Colombia, who played a nice style of attacking football.  Forget Messi and Neymar: for me, the real star and top scorer of the tournament was James Rodriguez, and he also won the EuropeCrazy Top Toy Boy award.  (That Golden Boot's all good and well, but the TTB award is the one to win :D)

When I drew Costa Rica in the office sweepstake, I was very dismissive and thought they'd be on the first plane home after the group stage.  But they were much more impressive than expected and I cheered them on all the way to the quarter finals where they were very unlucky to lose to an increasingly annoying Dutch side.  In the semi-final, the Netherlands and Argentina were in a contest to see who could be the most underwhelming side, and it had to go to penalties.  Argentina has always been my South American team, but they frustrate me in every World Cup as they never play to their full potential.  Yet again, Messi-mania fell flat.  Argentina underwhelmed their way to the final where they faced a German side which I'd tipped as possible world-beaters in a post I'd written on here 4 years ago: http://europecrazy.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/summer-rewind-world-cup.html


Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final?  Who'd have predicted that one?  But despite being the host nation, I'd never been impressed by Brazil.  Like Argentina, they relied on one particular player - in this case Neymar who had been injured in a shocking tackle during the match against Colombia.  With Neymar gone, the team's flaws were exposed and Germany took advantage again and again.  It felt like the goals were coming every minute.  Well, they actually were at one point! Germany proved that a solid, strong team performance was better than any team with one ''star' and a substandard supporting cast, so it was no surprise that they lifted the World Cup, beating Argentina 1-0 (after extra time) in the final.  Germany became the first European team to win the trophy in South America.  They are so strong that I could see them making it a double in 4 years time, but watch out for Colombia.  After their impressive performance in Brazil, they look as if they could just get better and better.

As with most big events these days, the World Cup had the world talking on Twitter.  Social media is now giving large-scale sporting events a new dimension.  Who needs to listen to those boring TV pundits when you can find much more entertaining analysis on Twitter?  As I said around the time of Eurovision, Twitter may have its dark side but it is also a great way to bring people together to talk about their common interests.

Not long after the World Cup ended, another sporting event arrived closer to home.  Which I'll write about in a separate post, coming soon!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: July 2014

Several weeks have passed since STV Glasgow hit our screens and I thought it was time for a progress report.  Well..I'm sad to say that things haven't really improved.  A new channel showing off life in Glasgow, timed perfectly for the beginning of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games - but what a wasted opportunity.  "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" continues to be a parade of posh accents and a load of posh young people employed to do nothing but look at social media.  Like, wow.  The cooking sections ("tea for a tenner") are vaguely interesting, featuring chefs from local Glasgow restaurants, but these are spoiled by the embarrassing interaction between the presenters, David Farrell (who was top Radio Clyde evening DJ, 'Romeo' in a past life - not the best career move) and Jennifer Reoch.  I'm not feeling any charisma from, or between, these two.  They really need to lighten up if this show is to have any longevity. 

For me, the only worthwhile thing left on STV Glasgow is the Polish TV drama "CZAS HONORU" which strangely enough is now billed in the Sky EPG under its English title, "Days of Honour" - perhaps to encourage more foreign-language-title-averse people to watch?  I recently found out that there have been several series of this excellent and gripping World War II drama, so I only hope that STV Glasgow won't bail out after one series.  Please stay with it STV!

The combination of the World Cup, the Tour de France, and the recent and prolonged spell of hot weather means that I have built up an outrageous backlog of telly programmes.  Still hoping that one day I'll get organised enough to watch all of them.  I'll be doing a blogging/internet detox in August and early September, when I'm also planning some home improvements so hopefully will have some energy left to catch up with the telly backlog....

Last month I mentioned the lazy, depressing trend of demonising-documentaries, which give the wrong impression of life on benefits, and which feed off the paranoia of certain people within this country.  Never mind that the bankers got the country in a mess, when the government would like us to believe it's the people on benefits who are really to blame!  And if it's not them, then of course it's that other target beloved of the right wing - immigrants.


Documentaries about immigrants are like buses: you wait a while then two come along at once, this time in the same week and on the same channel.  One of these managed to go against the grain of a media-driven racist agenda, and the other one...well, didn't.  Firstly, "THE GREAT BIG ROMANIAN INVASION" (BBC1) which, despite its sensationalist title, turned out to be a rather warm-hearted and personal exploration by journalist Tim Samuels, himself descended from Romanian immigrants, about the much-hyped so-called tidal wave of Romanian immigrants to the UK on 01.01.2014 following the relaxation of rules on free movement.  As it turned out, only one actually arrived on the day: Victor, who became a media star.  Victor is now back in the UK, with his girlfriend in tow, and with big plans for cheese entrepreneurship.  As for the other immigrants interviewed, the grass was far from greener, and Samuels managed to put a human face on a shameful agenda which is increasingly apportioning blame for all society's wrongs on those of a different race/nationality. A very good programme which provided much food for thought. 

"NICK AND MARGARET: TOO MANY IMMIGRANTS?" (BBC1) presented by Lord Sugar's erstwhile sidekicks Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, was more prime-time and populist than the last documentary, and had a major whiff of Channel 4's similar experiment "Make Bradford British" from a couple of years ago, which paired up opposites - this time round, we had immigrants matched up with immigrant-sceptics.  The big question: are immigrants a gain, or a drain?  Perhaps the real question which should be asked is - are documentaries like this a gain, or a drain?  On this evidence - most definitely a drain.

For anyone still on Mars and out of the loop, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow - and despite my initial scepticism, I'm very much enjoying the TV coverage so far.  Prior to the event, BBC Scotland screened an excellent documentary, "BOYCOTTS AND BROKEN DREAMS" which took us back to 1986, the last time Scotland hosted the event, in Edinburgh.  That year was as much about what happened off the field as on it - notably the Thatcher government's support of the apartheid regime in South Africa resulted in a boycott by African nations.  By the way, if you missed it, it's due to be rebroadcast this week on BBC4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b049fn89/broadcasts/upcoming

Talking of Glasgow 2014, BBC Scotland attempted some comedy which for me completely missed the mark.  "DON'T DROP THE BATON" (BBC1) mixed comedy club stand-up with unfunny sketches about the Games.  It was so unfunny that I didn't even last the full half hour. 

I don't always mention it on here, but for anyone who's still watching it, a moment of appreciation please for "TOP OF THE POPS 1979" (BBC4).  Of course in this post-Yewtree era, only certain episodes are shown as long as they are not presented by certain DJs of course, so there's a significant number missing... Anyway watching TOTP 1979 again has just reminded me that there were some cracking disco, new wave and pop tunes in that year - some of which I remember very fondly indeed. Get in there while BBC4 is still showing them....


Having done a cruise last year, I was very keen to check out "THE CRUISE SHIP" (ITV) however it was all very shallow.  At only 30 minutes, shoved between the Friday night episodes of Corrie (and crucially, 'not available in Scotland' where we get the RSPCA documentary Animal 999 which I admittedly quite like, if only for the cutesy animal sightings) it's too short to achieve anything).  Sadly, the done thing these days is for bog standard dumbed-down documentaries, which don't really go into any depth but only scratch the surface and attempt to make 'personalities' out of people who, well, don't really have them.  Such was the case with this short series about the Royal Princess, which is way out of my price range :(


I can't go without mentioning a certain sporting event which has been taking place over the past week and a half, and which is due to finish tomorrow night.  I will write a separate post about the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, but purely from a TV point of view, there's been wall-to-wall TV coverage on BBC1/BBC2/BBC3 and also on the red button.  Every event has been covered from morning till night.  Well done BBC :)