Tag Archives: Musings

Downton Abbey Series 2, Episode 4 – A review

It has taken four episodes but finally the award winning Downton Abbey is back to its best. I think the overwhelming averageness of the new series’ first three instalments best goes unsaid. I don’t know where Fellowes was, but he wasn’t where he used to be, that’s for sure. It’s as if he had decided what would happen in episode 4 and didn’t really care how he got there. Well, we’re here now, at last.

I should note here before moving on that I shall not be explaining in this post the ins and outs of the show, but rather assuming in my audience a certain level of intelligence and culture. If you are an American, then, I can only apologise, because most of what I will be saying will be sadly beyond you. Easy now, that was only a joke. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of it, its a period drama about rich people and their servants set at the time of the First World War.

To business! In my mind, the problem with episodes 1-3 was that they tried to do too much. With half an hour breaks every three minutes there is not enough screen time to give everybody their due. This is something that Fellowes realised in series one, but until now, he has tried in series two to deal with far too many threads. Take Edith and her farm boy, for example. What on earth was that about?

This episode was back to basics – it focused on what really matters – i.e. the relationship between Matthew and Marry. After all that convenient leave Matthew managed to acquire in the first three episodes (and I hope that all the men in the trenches got to see as much of their loved ones as he has done) it is perhaps unsurprising that episode 4 was the first time that we really missed him. The family’s reaction to the news was heartfelt, and when he entered the room halfway through the song; well, what a surprise! Of course they ruined it with the little duet, but there we go. They were so sweet together.

What a shame he is going to die. No – you say – there is hope! I do not think that there is. The best we might have hoped for was that the series would end with Matthew missing, probably presumed dead. But they have already used that party trick! Throw in the good luck charm, referenced again in this episode and you really have your final scene – a sad, lonely, teddy being trampled into the mud amidst the blood and the screaming. William’s dead too, by the way. He’s much to naive to live. Of course I may be wrong. God knows I hope that I am.

So that was the success story of the episode. But what else happened? Aside from the general banter that has made Downton such a wonderful success,  and the scheming of Thomas – prick – and the enigmatic Ms. O’Brien, there were two other love stories at work. I do not want to talk about Anna and Bates. This is because, and I want to make my feelings quite plain here, I do not like Bates. Actually, at the risk of being misunderstood I should say that I really hate him. I am aware of the fact that this may be controversial news. I know there are several of you Bates lovers out there. But to me he is nothing but an insufferable martyr, liable to get his melodrama on at the slightest whiff of trouble. What’s that, my wife’s back? Well there’s no point in talking to anybody, like a sensible person would do. I’d better leave right now with no explanation and a few epically dreadful lines so that, when the people who quite reasonably thought I had betrayed them realise that, in actual fact, somehow I am the good guy, they feel really bad about themselves, and come crawling back. Because that is all I want. Attention. Anna you have let yourself down, girl.

The second romance involved Sybil and Branson and this was the weakest part of the episode. It is a perfect example of what I was talking about at the start of the post. Branson is supposed to be a character you can get behind. He’s young; he’s a liberal; he’s a reactionary. Yet such is the limited screen time that he has been given that he comes across a little creepy. When he tells Sybil that he loves her and that he knows that she loves him, our first thoughts are not ‘aw’, but to the contrary that he is a maniac, because, as far as we are concerned, they have seen each other on three or four occasions. They are a minor couple – this is their lot in life – but there was nothing to stop Fellows helping his audience out by referencing some long trip to London that they went on, just the two of them, or something like that, just to make us aware that they have a story that goes beyond the camera’s lens. This little alliance fails because Fellows does not have the time or the desire to make it real.

Hang on a minute – the shrewd reader might say – earlier you spoke of the need to focus on what matters, but just now you claim that Sybil and Branson – at most a sideplot – require more time. Good God speak sense sir! Surely this is a contradiction. Well – I say to that – it is about prioritising screen time but it is also about using that screen time effectively. That is what Fellows did very well in series one. Even Matthew and Mary, arguably the driving force behind the whole show, had only a handful of scenes together, but when they did, there was a real meaning and intrigue to their exchanges. Compare with Bates and Anna, if you dare, or with Sybil and Branson and you will see what I am talking about.

Branson’s mania and Bates’ general existence aside, though, it was a thoroughly encouraging episode. Here’s hoping for more of the same next Sunday!



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Are you listening Halifax? This is how you make an advert

I am not a salesman; this post is not concerned with how the advert functions as a sales tool, but rather how it stands as a piece of art. I suspect that the two are closely related.

To my mind, there are several ways to make an advert count ascetically. Here are just a few of them.

1. Make it epic.

Epic adverts – to my mind – are the best. I just love to get all involved, and frequently can’t stop myself getting worked up about things for which I normally wouldn’t give a fig.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVM0OCPZEyA (All Blacks vs. British & Irish Lions promo – made ahead of the much anticipated tour to NZ, 2005. What a pity the tour didn’t add up to all the hype).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rF09DTclzc (RBS Six Nations 2010 Promo).

http://www.youtube.com/user/FlyBritishAirways?v=a4JdQi60an0&feature=pyv&ad=7178323097&kw=british%20airways%20to%20fly%20to%20serve (British Airways – To Fly, To Serve).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epruuLVqhPg (Guinness – Some Are Made of More, made for the Rugby World Cup, NZ, 2011).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_suyZb5mDk (Hovis – Go On Lad).

2. Make it humorous.

So often the Achilles’ Heel of the enthusiastic advert. You can never go wrong with a bit of banter, and usually it can be achieved simply and even without singing (!), which is what Halifax fail so abysmally to realise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMj5smdaHeA&feature=relmfu (Phones 4U – Samsung Wave).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHcT7hoYj8U (Tango – Diver’s Helmet, just one part of a hilarious campaign).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fojrw_vU0k8 (Skittles – Touch The Rainbow).

3. Make it beautiful.

It could be a lovely piece of music, good camera work or just a novel concept; beautiful adverts, along with epic adverts, are the one’s I watch repeatedly through crimson eyes when drunk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ-MdCIy94M (Sony Bravia – Superstar Dreams).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ3D4CqHbJM (Philips – Carousel).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id-biRhgiVw&feature=related (ITV – Rugby World Cup 2011).

4. Make it moving.

A technique less used than the others, but it can be employed to fantastic effect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opOQlA0LVqo (Pantene – Chrysalis).

5. Make it memorable.

There are some adverts that are worthy of distinctive especial mention. They do what all the good ones do… Only for some reason they are better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdDg30VBgo (Guinness – Horse Surfer).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhsWzJo2sN4 (Apple – ‘1984’ advert, made for the Superbowl 1984).

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Am I the only one who finds it embarrassing when adverts for my bank come on the television?

I can’t be. It is a simple as that, but I am going to embroil you in a rant anyway. And I am afraid I have decided just at this moment to hijack this post. Unfortunately for all involved, I will be leading it away from the topic suggested by its title and towards a subject that is an old favourite of mine.

Anybody who has read my blog should know all about my fierce hatred of the Halifax adverts (https://theedexperience.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/the-halifax-adverts/). Although my keenest disgust is reserved for those furiously unfunny radio sketches, it seems to me that each and every one of their advertisements has been designed in some way with my irritation chief in mind.

Let’s have a quick gander at one shall we? Go on, don’t be like that, it’ll be fun! And a real eye opener. Trust me, you’ll see.

We will be taking the following as our example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX_XaLmCIS0

My Lord how awful it is. Who is this guy? Something tells me he’s a prick. Oh wait, my mistake, I see he’s Thomas from Leeds. Well that really clears things up.

I think that Thomas lets himself down from the word go. Within five seconds he has inexplicably started singing, smiled at me with a pervert’s eyes, and gestured randomly towards me as if to involve me in some sort of banter like an out of touch Vicar whose opinion it is that the teenaged members of his congregation are still ten years old. What does he want from me anyway? The chances are that I have given him all of my money, it is not my fault that he has already spent it on hair gel. Or was it on that suit? It’s lovely by the way. Maybe I should tell him that.

What I really don’t understand is why he is singing. Now this question cannot be asked enough. I  don’t think anybody knows the answer. Thomas certainly doesn’t – look at that gormless smile; he doesn’t know what day of the week it is.

Which leads me to ask what, exactly, is Thomas so happy about? I know he’s on a beach dancing with singing crabs and so on, and I’m sure that’s all a tremendous lark, but seriously look at the state of him! He is acting as if this advert represents the culmination of all of his hopes and dreams; of all that hard work and endeavour. Is this what his parents had in mind when they cradled him oh so softy in their arms? I doubt it. He needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, because quite frankly he should be ashamed of himself.

Thomas, wipe that cheeky grin off your face and remove yourself from my television screen. You are a disgrace. I’m sorry son, but thems the facts.

I need to leave the toothy fool alone now, otherwise I will not be able to contain myself. I would like therefore to take a brief detour in order to thank the user who keeps putting these adverts on youtube. Quite worryingly, I do not think that he has uploaded the videos to extract the Michael. Rather, it seems that he is a genuine appreciator of the banking advert as a work of art. He has even disabled the commenting facility on some of them. It’s entirely as if he knows full well what will happen if he allows his viewers freedom of speech. Bless him.

Anyway, let’s turn at last to the topic of the post. I bank with Natwest. Now none of their adverts are nearly as bad as Halifax’s, but, as a valued customer, I am inclined to take them rather more personally. We’ve had some good times – there was the memorable ‘gansta bank’ advert, for instance – but whenever I hear that whistling moan of a theme tune my toes curl in embarrassment. Because it’s just a bit cringy, really; there’s no getting around it. Knowing nothing about money, my banking with them was an Aesthetic choice (I like purple). I worry that people may realise this and judge my taste against Natwest’s public image.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do about it. I need someone to borrow from. That’s why when the nightmare begins, I draw the covers over my head and, rocking back and forth with my knees clutched tightly to my chest, repeat my mantra until the sun shines again: ‘at least I’m not with Halifax’.


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Irritating Words / Phrases

‘Do what makes you happy’ – typically issued in a condescending and entirely unhelpful manner by an audience when a speaker is trying to arrive at a difficult decision in order to ensure that the speaker feels that whatever decision he ultimately arrives at should be considered by all rational people to be at least incorrect, if not also selfish, immature and, in some cases, slightly dangerous.

‘Literally’ – an adverb used with such reckless abandon as to almost always denote something like the opposite of its (literal) meaning; e.g. I literally died with laughter. Er, no you didn’t.

‘Shut up’ – the refuge of the ordinary. Rude, arrogant; good manners and decency died on the alter of its conception.

‘I love him to bits, (but)’ – employed as a means of making speaker (typically female) feel better about deconstructing the least enviable aspects of the characters of their nearest and dearest (also typically female). What is interesting about this phrase is that the information provided by the speaker regarding their (her) positive feelings towards their (her) target does not seem to be intended, as one might expect, to assure the audience of the target’s value to society, but rather to highlight the speaker’s own impressive social worth. Here it is almost as if the speaker feels that they (she) should be respected more and not less for criticising their (her) unfortunate friend, perhaps as a result of their (her) being under the quite mistaken impression that they (she) have (has) at once sharply identified a flaw in a fellow human being – thereby almost certainly being endowed with instincts of especial quality  – whilst at the same time having the good grace – yet further proof of majesty – to go about discussing said flaw in a tactful and responsible manner. In reality, the speaker’s patronising facade of geniality is insignificant to mask the truth, paling sadly, as it invariably does, in comparison with the diabolical vitriol that will soon be spilling out of their (her) mouth. If you are going to be unpleasant, at least have the courage to do it properly. Yes you are bitching, even if you attest to ‘love to bits’ the object of your bitchiness. Don’t be one of those people who claims never to say a bad word about anybody, only to then say several about everybody, all the while masquerading behind hollow talk of love in order to justify their cruelty to themselves, sitting aloft and judging with a snooty eye the rest of us, less deluded, bitchers. And another thing, surely loving somebody ‘to bits’ implies an appreciation of their character as a whole – including all of its many precious guises. How can you claim to love somebody ‘to bits’ if you then proceed to demolish bits of them with uncensored wrath?

‘No offence mate, (but)’ – as far as this author can tell, this phrase is entirely without use. Don’t say it ‘mate’. Just don’t say it. Surely the fact that a speaker would feel the need prefix their insight with such utter nonsense surely indicates they, for one, suspect that what they are about to say will be in some way offensive to their audience, who, let us not forget, is exactly that person who is being encouraged by the thoughtful speaker in the first place not to take offence! A ludicrous suggestion.

‘If you’d like’ – my word how annoying. This exasperating phrase has the effect of rendering any proposed plan of action entirely ineffective, by conveying a mixture of disgust and reluctant compliance. It is worth noting that the utterers of this unhelpful phrase are unlikely to suggest anything constructive themselves, so busy are they destroying anything that is put to them, regardless of its merit. Indecisive and ashamed, they delight in being unhelpful.

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The Halifax Adverts

Not content with the remorseless havoc wrought upon the unsuspecting viewer by their earlier ad campaign, which featured a variety of unnecessarily jovial ’employees’ inexplicably singing, Halifax have been at it again, and, unfortunately for everybody, this time they have stepped up their game. Where previously they had sought the mere irritation of their victim, the fine minds at the Halifax advertising department are now looking to enrage him or her with a variety of mesmerisingly aggravating and non-sensical radio station sketches, presumably under the mistaken impression that any press is good press. I am sorry Halifax, but it did not work for the Frosties kid (we hear that he is still alive, but in hiding… somewhere. I think I speak for us all when I say: I hope he gets caught soon, so that he might be brought to justice) and it sure as hell hasn’t worked for you. I would like it to be known that I will never bank with Halifax, solely because of these adverts, and I encourage everybody who reads my blog to do the same. Pathetic? Maybe. Justified? Definitely. 
What were they thinking? Honestly. More importantly why didn’t somebody stop them? And then kill them? Presumably this Godless mess had to be okayed by someone with real authority. Where are they now if not hanging from the rafters, suspended ungracefully with their shoelaces around their necks and a bloody apology in their front pocket. What a disgraceful affront to humanity. Truly there is no dignity left in a world that is home to such utter rubbish. Please God never let me catch anybody laughing with genuine mirth to one of these. I do not know what I would do. Linked beneath are the offending articles. Be advised: their capacity to induce reckless fury entirely beggars belief.

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Annoying things people say when they’re watching films

5. People who rave ceaselessly about a film without thought of relenting solely because it is written by / directed by / starring / the lovechild of Quentin Tarintino.

Stop it; you know who you are. He just isn’t that good.

4. People who insist on repeating jokes that have just been made in the film.

Presumably this is for comic effect. It seldom works. But if you’re going to do it, please have the decency to quote correctly.

3. People who say, “that doesn’t happen in the book.” 

Really? You hadn’t mentioned that you’d read the book. It’s good to know, though, especially as we are watching the film. Kindly keep such irrelevant information to yourself. Oh, this only comes at number 3 because I have been known to do it myself… Frequently.

2. People who say “That’s unrealistic,” when realism is of absolutely no consequence. 

A film does not have to be realistic (so long as it is not supposed to be); it has to be coherent. As a work fiction, by its very nature it is perfectly entitled to set the rules of its own universe. No problem exists until these rules are broken.

And, coming it at number 1. People who remark scathingly, “what are the chances of that happening,” in response to convenient plot developments, as if the mere unlikeliness of a story provides sufficient grounds for its immediate dismissal.

What it must be like to see the world with such clarity. Well done sir, once again your piercing mind astounds me. It certainly is unlikely that our heroes who struck it off so well initially, only to be separated by circumstance, now find themselves brought together again by a work of coincidence (see High School Musical). But how about this for a thought – every time Fate falls asleep at the wheel and there is no joyful reacquaintance they don’t make a film out of it. Genius.

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