Michael Palin – Travels of a Lifetime (TV series).

As an unabashed follower of the great and good Sir Michael Palin I was overjoyed…..nay, absolutely brimming with bliss….I felt that my cup runneth over…’ on discovering that Sir Michael had revisited some of his early travels and created a new series.

His website says “Michael revisits five of his famous journeys – Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Sahara and Himalaya. In intimate conversation, and using his personal archive, he reflects on how he got hooked on travel, and reveals the challenges he faced making the ground-breaking travel shows. In addition, celebrities including Simon Reeve and Joanna Lumley explain how Michael inspired them to go on adventures of their own“.

As I’ve already mentioned here and in earlier posts I am a huge fan of Michael Palin. I liked him immensely as a member of Monty Python, but my genuine admiration of him as a presenter and a writer came from watching his travel programmes and reading his travel books.

Both Michael and myself were born and raised in Sheffield and we’re both absolutely mad football supporters. Sadly though Michael supports the wrong team in Sheffield. I’m only half joking when I say that.

Although he now follows both of the Sheffield football clubs, his heart is with Sheffield United, whereas I for my sins follow Wednesday. The fans of both teams are absolute rivals of one another. Football in Sheffield is not about life and death…it’s bigger than that. When I was a boy my dad, a lifelong United supporter, took me to watch United at Bramall Lane, but a couple of weeks earlier our neighbour had taken me to watch Sheffield Wednesday play an exhibition game against Santos of Brazil and Pele was playing. I had taken that Tuesday afternoon off school to watch the game along with 37,000 other people – mostly men and schoolboys to see Pele lead Santos to a 2-0 win. Although Wednesday lost, by the time my dad took me to see United play, I was already a Wednesdayite. This pleased my mum immensely as she and her brother used to watch Wednesday in their younger days too. There was a serious rivalry between the clubs back then, and I suppose it still goes on today. But, these days just like Michael Palin, I like both Sheffield clubs to do well. Perhaps this is because of the distance I am away from Sheffield these days. The 12,000 or so miles make it more bearable to hear about United having a win now and then. Both clubs doing well at the same time sadly rarely happens, although as I write this both clubs are nearing the end of the 2022/23 season and promotion for both teams is possible (if not probable). United sit second in their league and have a good chance of promotion to the Premier league, whereas Wednesday (who from over 50 years of experience I have come to know as ‘the nearly team’ – they nearly do well….usually starting of with a roar, hitting the top of the table and then slowly self-destructing and missing out yet again) were doing amazingly well, top of the table with games in hand have, it seems, gone into self-destruct mode yet again and now sit 3rd on the table but the teams above and below now have a game in hand over them. It’s starting to feel and look like the same old story – I hope I’m proven wrong!

Anyway….back to Sir Michael.

When Palin’s first travel series Around the World in 80 Days was released – November 1989 – I had already backpacked half way around the world myself over a 10 month period, returned to the UK, married, started a family and then emigrated permanently to New Zealand with my New Zealand wife…who was formerly my pen-pal – back in the day when people used to write and mail letters to one another. I always say that via my letter writing I won more than any other literary prize around and after 35 years of marriage and 37 years together, I still believe that 100%.

I think that what I really loved about Around the World in 80 days, in particular, was how unscripted, seat of the pants it was. He’d arrive somewhere not knowing the language or much about the place and have to work out how to get from A to B (against the clock) with interesting and often amusing consequences. Even something as seemingly simple as buying a train ticket became a quest fit for Arthurian legend. It truly was groundbreaking TV.

As his expertise grew – his travel experience that is – the shows became a little more polished so by the time he had gone through Pole to Pole and Full Circle he had worn off most of the rough edges and had become a far more professional presenter. He never lost his sense of wonder though about the world and the people in it and this made all of his travel series’ so special.

It was with both joy and a little sadness that I watched him reminisce about his earlier adventures. Being reminded how he looked when he began his travels, in his mid 40’s, to how he is now at almost 80 made me realise that he is getting on in years and that sooner or later we all age. At times his eyes are clear and the younger vibrant man in him is still there, but other times his eyes look rheumy and tired and remind me of my father’s eyes toward the end of his life.

I sincerely hope that Sir Michael will be with us for many more years and that his adventuring is not yet all behind him.

If you haven’t yet seen his ‘Travels of a Lifetime’ series, it’s definitely worth watching whether you saw the original travel series’ or not.

As usual, if you’ve read this far Thank You. Please feel free to comment, like or share this post and we’ll be back with another post soon.

The Queen of Crime Drama?

My latest visit to the public library netted me the 2 books I have already blogged about recently (both of them in the Zombie genre), plus Lynda La Plante’s Widows – written almost 40 years ago.

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I haven’t read any of La Plante’s work before and probably wouldn’t have chosen this book at all (since there isn’t a single Zombie in it – I say only half jokingly), had it not been for bumping into an old work colleague in the library who enthusiastically recommended it. Funnily enough, he had never been much of a reader himself, until the Covid lockdowns started…..and now he’s a book addict. Thank goodness something positive has come out of this whole Covid mess.

Anyhow, back to the book. The cover proclaims La Plante as the “Queen of Crime Drama”. Frankly I had my doubts, but having just finished the book, for a story that is now a little dated, having been written in the early 1980’s, it is rather good.

I won’t be rushing out in search of another of her books straight away, but I will probably read another one or two at some point down the line.

The story has been made into a TV series on British TV back in the 80’s and remade as a feature film in 2018. I remember watching the original series but couldn’t recall the various twists and turns of the story in detail until reading the book this week.

It’s a good story with strong female characters but somewhat stereotypical male crime gang members and the usual hard working but under appreciated London copper (police detective) out to prove his bosses and fellow officers wrong.

The general outline of the story is that 3 women are widowed when a security van robbery goes terribly wrong and their husbands – the would be robbers – are blown up and burned badly in the botched heist. One of the would be robbers is gangland boss Harry Rawlins. After having to identify what’s left of his burned body – his distraught wife Dolly identifies him based on his very expensive gold watch that he never takes off – she then discovers Harry’s bank deposit box containing a gun, money, business (that’s crime business) ledgers which names names and gives details of some very shady crime-land business, and detailed plans for the botched robbery.

Dolly has several options available to her. She could hand Harry’s ledgers to the police, in the form of under appreciated and rather slovenly looking D.I. Resnick and shut down half of the crime gangs in London; she could sell them to the underworld thugs who are eager to take over Harry’s turf; or she could bring in the other widows, of the failed raid, into the fold and form her own gang to finish the job that their husbands had failed to do.

It’s no real surprise and therefore not really a spoiler to tell you that Dolly decides on the last option and pulls together her gang of misfit widows to attempt to pull off a physically demanding robbery that their well built, criminally hardened and street wise husbands had failed to do. What could possibly go wrong?

Part way through their planning to replicate the robbery – less, of course, the explosion and fire carnage – they realise that the original plan that Harry devised would need 4 men, not 3……so who was the 4th man and where is he now? AND who should they draft in as the 4th woman for their team?

La Plante writes a very good story. I’m happy to report that she doesn’t spare the splattering of blood along the way either. Let’s face it gangland crime stories demand their ample share of blood and gore. There are several bone crunching, blood splattering moments strewn liberally throughout the story. We also experience the full spectrum of emotions felt by the widows as they firstly cope with the loss of their husbands and then deal with the stomach churning angst and thrills of plotting the robbery of a security van….involving stolen vehicles, disguises, shotguns, chainsaws and sledge hammers….and a gas mask. We are taken along for the ride and see the women slowly coming together as a team, even if personal differences will mean that it’s unlikely that they will ever be friends….or will they?

La Plante asks many questions of the plot and characters and gives us all the answers, including a couple of rather unexpected ones that I won’t mention here. But what we want to know as avid readers is…….Will they be successful where their menfolk failed? If they do pull off the robbery, will they get away from both the police and the underworld criminal fraternity? Who will they choose as their 4th team member? Will we find out who the 4th man in Harry’s team is? And will he be detrimental to the widows plans? I’ll say no more for fear of slipping up and giving a big spoiler away. Needless to say that not everything is as it seems to be.

All in all it’s a bloody good story – and I mean that both literally and figuratively speaking. Definitely worth a read. So, is Lynda La Plante the Queen of Crime Drama? Actually….she could well be.

As usual, many thanks for reading this blog. Comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.

Zombie Series for you to watch.

Zombies – love them or hate them, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground when it comes to the zombie genre. I love them, my wife hates them, so watching an entire zombie series is something I have to do alone….when she’s not around to hear the moans and shuffling feet of a herd of zombies.

As with anything Zombie, series are either done well or extremely bad. Again rarely are there any OK zombie series, or movies, or books – come to that. So just for the hell of it, here are 5 Zombie series that I have watched, or am currently watching….with a rating for each.

The Walking Dead – I’ll start with probably the most well known zombie TV series that has attracted a cult like following. If you’ve not seen The Walking Dead, you really should. Now in it’s 10th and probably final season – in my opinion – unlike a fine wine The Walking Dead is not something that has improved over time. I really enjoyed the first season, when the zombie plague first appeared, and I watched maybe the next 3 or 4 seasons, but by that point it seemed to me that they were just repeating storylines or wasting time with whole episodes delving into the relationships affecting this couple or that couple instead of concentrating on the actual zombie part of the series. They failed to keep me wanting to care what happened to the various characters, so I stopped watching. What began as a high scoring 4 out of 5 points for season 1, fizzed out to an overall 2.5 out of 5 points over all.

A spin off, or prequel to The Walking Dead, called Fear The Walking Dead actually had the reverse effect on me. The first few episodes of season 1 I more or less forced myself to watch just because it was about zombies. The acting seemed wooden, the characters were weak as was the scripted behaviour of the characters. For example, having just seen a zombie in the street rip apart an unsuspecting civilian, one of the characters goes into a neighbour’s home to find the guy on his knees feeding on his own dog. He is obviously a zombie not only because he’s ripped the belly out of his dog and is feeding on its entrails, but his mannerisms plus being covered in blood and gore kind of gives him away, but our hero says “Hi Mr whatever….what’s wrong?” and moves towards him. Or they wander into dark rooms without putting on a light…..or they’re out in the woods and lean their weapons up against a tree and wander away from them just as a zombie comes into view. I found myself yelling at the zombie to please eat these stupid, inept people so I can turn off the TV and go to bed. BUT shock horror sensation…..it actually got better over time and the characters developed depth and strength of character. Perhaps the script writers shook off their earlier hangover and sobered up…who knows? So, what began as a 1 out of 5 actually grew to maybe a 3 or 3.5 by the end of season 2.

Next comes Z Nation – I knew after watching one episode of this zombie series that it was too terrible not to watch. It appears to be a bit of a “piss take” and certainly does not take its self seriously. I’m not sure if it was in the first episode, but certainly very early on in season 1 where a soldier and a rag tag group of hangers on have to transport a prisoner, who is thought to be resistant to the zombie virus, from one side of the USA to the other, to a CDC lab where a cure for the zombie virus will be made from the prisoners blood. So far so good. But when confronted by a zombie baby in an abandoned building you know that no good is going to happen when, instead of leaving it there and continuing with his priority mission, the soldier in charge decides to go into the building – alone – and put the baby out of its misery. Of course the unarmed zombie baby manages to bite the AR15 carrying, battle experienced, soldier…so it’s then up to the rag tag team of civilians to complete the mission. It’s scenes like that one that make the series unmissable…..just when you think it can’t get more ridiculous, the writers pull one out of the bag to top the ridiculousness (if that’s even a word) of the one prior. I give it a sold 3 out of 5, because the audacity of the writers deserves it.

Following on from Z Nation comes another spin off – Black Summer was a specially made for Netflix 8 part series that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Jaime King stars in the lead role as Rose, a mother who is separated from her daughter during the earliest and most deadly days of a zombie apocalypse. The action is fast and furious and I had to remind myself to take a breath every now and then. The final scene of the final episode let this otherwise exciting and almost believable zombie series down. BUT, that final scene apart, I heartily recommend it. I was very happy to hear that Netflix had commissioned a second series, again of 8 episodes, but filming has been disrupted due to our real life zombie apocalypse….covid-19. The final scene robbed it of a perfect score…it therefore gets 4 from 5.

And finally, rounding off my pick of 5 is Dead Set. It’s a kind of Big Brother household meets the Zombies. This British TV series again is one you’ll either love or hate. What attracted me to it was that having once accidentally watched part of an episode of BIG BROTHER all I wanted was to be able to let loose the zombie hoards on the contestants. Dead Set does just that. I’ve only just started to watch it on Netflix but so far so good. I give it a tentative 3 from 5 for a good start. What sets this series apart from the other 4 I have featured, is that it’s British so has that touch of irony that Americans just don’t understand.

There are many other Zombie series around but these 5 are my top pics. Thank you for reading…and watching….

I will be back with my personal top 10 Zombie movies list. Stay tuned.

Black Summer – Yes folks it’s a quick plug for the ZOMBIES!!

As I mentioned in my last post, which was about the post-apocalyptic novel “Earth Abides”, (which incidentally has nothing to do with Zombies) …I love tales about Zombies…..be it books, movies or TV series. Black Summer (released April 2019) is a “made for Netflix” series about the Zombie Apocalypse and although there has only been one series so far, (I believe another is in the pipeline…watch this space!) I think it’s great. It was inspired by and is produced by the same company who created another series on Netflix called “Z Nation” …..in which someone mentioned the start of the Zombie Apocalypse as being the “Black Summer”, when the whole map of the USA suddenly turned black with Z’s.

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It’s not like the “Walking Dead” – with their shuffling Zombies that even granny with her walker would be nimble enough to dodge….nor is it like the voracious Zombies of “World War Z” who are so fast that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt would have trouble outrunning them. The Zombies on Black Summer move fast….but human fast, not super hero fast. The story begins just six weeks in from the outbreak of the Zombie Apocalypse and is the usual escape the Zombies by trying to reach an almost mythical “Safe Zone” road trip. You have to have your wits about you to survive, and each episode from start to finish gets the heart pumping. It’s definitely “on the edge of your seat” stuff. And it doesn’t pay to get too attached to any particular character…for Z-obvious reaZons. Give it a look if you get a chance. There are just 8 episodes in series one and as of yet series two has not been confirmed. It’s low budget with mainly B grade actors, but it’s a lot of fun, thrills and spills. The Official Trailer is below…..enjoy!