As well as the usual gift shopping, card writing, present wrapping and decorating, there are a few things I try to do every December:

-Go to a hockey game – check your nearest UK team here EIHL, or for the lower leagues NIHL

-Take part in a winter sport – this could be indoor skiing (or outdoor if you’re lucky) or ice skating. Most cities have an outdoor rink at this time of year, but indoor will be quieter. I also sometimes watch the Russian National Figure Skating Championships (this year it starts on Christmas Eve). Or you might be fortunate and live next to a bobsleigh or skeleton track

-Watch Christmas episodes of favourite TV shows – typically Golden Girls, Frasier, Still Game and The Simpsons, as well as films – Bad Santa usually gets an outing.

-Bake gingerbread – the smell is amazing. Here is a recipe. Ice the top!

-Go to a concert – it doesn’t need to be Christmas carols. This year I’m going to a Beethoven performance by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

-Read something wintery – this December I’m going for A Winter Book by Tove Jansson

Run Rudolph Run by Chuck Berry (1958)

You can also try the Motorhead version

 

 

Sleigh Ride by The Ronettes (1963)

 

 

Space Christmas by Shonen Knife (1991)

 

 

What’s This from the film The Nightmare Before Christmas (Danny Elfman) (1993)

 

 

A traditional one to finish, Carol of the Bells (1914)

Around a month ago I was browsing Facebook when I noticed a suggested page on my news feed. The page was called RIP Gene Wilder. My first reaction was of shock. I had no idea that he had died. I decided to visit the page, which was filled with photos of Gene, and even featured a Twitter handle @RIPGeneWilder

After scrolling for a few seconds I realised from the irate comments from other Facebook users that Gene was in fact not dead at all, and that the page appeared to have been founded in 2013 after an internet hoax. However, it seemed that even though there was never any proof that Gene had passed, the founder refused to accept this and kept the page open as a sort of weird tribute to the great comic actor.

Despite comments from other users such as ‘Gene Wilder is alive and well. Making an RIP site for the man whilst he still is alive is an insult’, the creator continued to troll with statements such as ‘Still getting a lot of negative feedback from some of you.. May I ask where all this hatred is coming from?? I am probably rolling over in my grave.’ Gene was even location tagged as being in ‘Heaven’.

After hearing the news last night that Gene had actually died via a text from a friend, I thought how strange it was that I had visited that page so recently, and that I had been thinking about digging out my copy of Young Frankenstein a little earlier than usual for my annual Halloween viewing.

I’m not usually one to get upset over the deaths of celebrities, but somehow this seemed different. Gene was a favourite actor of mine, but he also seemed like a person I’d like to get to know. He eschewed fame, he was modest, he spoke articulately in interviews, he wrote beautifully. He was one of the few actors to feature in both a childhood favourite of mine – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – and a much-loved movie I first saw as a teenager, Young Frankenstein, the Mel Brooks spoof they co-wrote in 1974. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you find a copy immediately.

Although remembered for his comedy work with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor, Gene could do neurotic, eccentric, tender, scary – who can forget his ire when Charlie Bucket drank those fizzy lifting drinks – and everything in between.

So thank you, Mr Wilder, for the laughs, and for the inspiration. RIP Gene. For real this time.

Fans might like to read this letter via Letters of Note he penned regarding Willy Wonka’s attire. I think it says a lot about him.

One of my favourite scenes from Young Frankenstein

 

 

 

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These Are the Damned, also known as The Damned, is a cult British movie from the 1960s set in Weymouth, starring Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field and Oliver Reed. It happens to hold great appeal for me since I first saw it around seven years ago.

Based on the novel The Children of Light by H.L Lawrence and directed by Joseph Losey, These Are the Damned follows Joan (Field) and her overbearing, jealous brother, King (Reed), who follows her escape from Weymouth harbour with American tourist Simon (Carey). They uncover a group of children living in caves, who are cold-blooded and know little about the outside world. The children are radioactive and are being held by the government. Educated by television, they believe Joan and Simon have come to rescue them.

It’s a more unusual Hammer film, and one which splits opinion. I can only attribute the mood of the film, its seaside location and the presence of Oliver Reed to my liking These Are the Damned. The gang violence in this film – although much tamer I might add – was said to have influenced the droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The punk band The Damned took their name from this movie.

During a trip to Dorset I decided to stop in Weymouth to visit the seafront, which is integral to the plot.

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The Jubilee Clock Tower, erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria, appears in the opening scene where Joan (Field) and Simon (Carey) first meet.

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The Kings Statue, named for King George III, was built in 1810. This is the meeting place of King (Reed) and his cronies. They often sit on the lion and unicorn parts of the statue. There is now a fence surrounding this, in case you have similar whims.

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The song in the opening credits, Black Leather Rock, is repeatedly whistled and sung by the main characters throughout the film as a sort of calling card, and is a nod to the teddy boy movement prevalent at the time.

The opening scene of These Are the Damned (1963).

More Jolly creations.

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Things my talented friend has created for me over the past year.

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An embroidered fabric patch in grey and orange, depicting the cover of Anthony Burgess’ classic book, A Clockwork Orange. This is the image from the 1972 print designed by David Pelham. One of my favourite books and films.

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An origami raven created with delicate Japanese floral print paper.

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A ‘Steampunk Softie’ produced with the aid of this book. This Softie has been customised with personal touches such as a cameo button, and even comes with a name – Lenore Veidt (named for the Edgar Allan Poe poem and the actor Conrad Veidt) – and back story: she’s a detective!

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The legendary figure Pocahontas was born Matoaka in 1595 in Werowocomoco, Virginia. Most people know the Disneyfied version of Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, who spared the life of John Smith, an Englishman who captured Indians whilst trying to take over their land. This has never been verified, much like the exact location of her burial site.

After being captured by the English in 1613, she went on to marry an Englishman named John Rolfe, taking on the moniker Rebecca Rolfe. They had a son named Thomas in 1615.

Pocahontas died at age 22, in Gravesend, Kent, of unknown causes and was buried at St George’s Church.

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This statue commemorates her life.

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Photographs from the park at Virginia Water, Surrey, which is part of the Royal Landscape.

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The Cascade is a 10m tall waterfall built in the 1780s by Thomas Sandby, King George III’s architect, after the previous waterfall was destroyed in a storm in 1768.

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This totem pole is 100 foot high, erected in 1958 to mark the centenary of the establishment of British Colombia as a Crown Colony. Incredibly, it was carved from a single tree, a 600 year old Western Red Cedar from the forests of Haida Gwaii, 500 miles to the north of Vancouver.

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The park is home to many species of bird.

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Postcards I have added to my collection over the past six months.

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A miniature print of Messiah (1919) by Ernst Neuschul, an Austrian born painter associated with the New Objectivity movement. I purchased this from the New Walk Museum in Leicester, which holds many German Expressionist works – and those of a similar ilk – which I will write about in the near future. You cannot help but be pulled into this image, which is so unflinching and unapologetic. The figure reminds me of the singer Richard Hell.

 

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This is from a box of postcards of Penguin Classic covers, which I was able to purchase singly from Oxfam Books and Music. The novel is The Drowned World by JG Ballard. Ballard’s novels are mainly dystopian in style, his most famous works being Crash and Empire of the Sun. I haven’t read The Drowned World (yet), although I have read others of his, but the submerged image of the Chrysler building, combined with the strong colours, really spoke to me.

 

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I received this in the mail around a month ago. How exciting it was to receive. My friend was on holiday in Scotland and sent me this postcard of John Byrne’s Jock and the Tiger Cat (1968). It is from the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, where the painting is currently held. Byrne is a Scottish playwright and artist, probably most known for the television series Tutti Frutti starring Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson.

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The funfair is something I’ve spoken about a few times on this blog, so adding this image to my collection isn’t a great surprise. I like that the shot is slightly out of focus, connoting movement, that the top of the image almost looks tarnished, and the soft natural haze mingling with the neon lights. It reminds me of Coney Island.

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Whilst on a recent trip to Dublin, I stopped at the National Gallery of Ireland for a look at their current exhibition, Lines of Vision, curated to celebrate 150 years of the gallery. I purchased this postcard of a painting I was drawn to in the collection entitled Moonlight (1926) by Paul Henry. Henry was born in Belfast and was particularly fond of the West coast of Ireland, where he spent a great deal of time painting landscapes. I liked the simplicity of the work, and on a personal note it reminded me of sailing to Norway last year.

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Why did I feel the need to photograph this moment? I don’t know. I just knew I had to. I’m sure the other people on the platform found it strange that I was photographing a shiny red apple on the tracks. Could it be just that: the bright crimson juxtaposed with the grey of both the station and the banality of the situation. Waiting. And waiting. The apple: life. That life about to be wiped out in an instant by a passing train. The need to capture something that was finite. I couldn’t save the apple. I couldn’t give the apple its purpose: food, fuel. Did this apple have a higher purpose? Food wastage, yeh I get it. Life is short. Yeh, and that too. Beauty is fleeting. Come on. Pay attention to the little things. Look around you. (An apple is not). An epiphany. Get to the core of the issue. NO!

This is/is not an apple, Monsieur Magritte.

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If you’re already struggling to stick to your new year’s resolutions, take some inspiration from the movies. Whether it’s finding a new job, taking risks or embracing adventure, there’s a film to help see you through, well, until February at least.

Office Space (1999)

Stuck in traffic, headed for a job you despise, with bosses you despise even more, the joy of office politics and bureaucratic pettiness sucking the life out of you. You’re then trapped in a cubicle with not even a glimpse of daylight, being forced to work extra hours with nothing to look forward to.

Meet Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), Initech employee. Peter hates his life but finds it too hard to say no. When Initech hires consultants set on cutting the workforce, Peter (with a little help from a hypnotherapist) decides to take things in hand and royally screw them over.

No one’s suggesting you go to the criminal lengths of Peter and his disillusioned colleagues to get back at the company you loathe, but it might just give you the push to find a career you’re truly in love with.

 

About Schmidt (2002)

Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), 66 years old of Omaha, Nebraska pours out his feelings in letters to a Tanzanian orphan he sponsors through Childreach. He always dreamt of being someone, of owning his own business, of going places, but life sort of got in the way.

After he retires and his wife passes suddenly, he needs to re-evaluate his future and work out what to do with the rest of his life. Warren goes on a road trip in his RV, on a pilgrimage of sorts, and revisits his old stomping grounds. He tries to find meaning, some sort of significance to life, and learns a lot about himself.

About Schmidt is a great film to watch if you’re dealing with change, trying to work out what you really want from life, or struggling to see where your place is in the world.

 

Adaptation (2002)

Adaptation certainly has many life lessons to teach us. Charlie (Nicolas Cage) is a screenwriter who is struggling to come up with an adaptation of the best-selling book, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). As Charlie’s writer’s block deepens, his insecurities heighten and his self-loathing reaches a crescendo. If this wasn’t bad enough his less talented, over-confident twin brother, Donald (also played by Nicolas Cage), is offered big bucks for his hammy, clichéd thriller script.

Inspired by the real Charlie Kaufman’s struggle to adapt the book, this film is about taking risks, controlling your inner demons and ultimately avoiding winding up a walking cliché.

 

Mary and Max (2009)

A young Australian girl named Mary (Toni Collette) who is unhappy at home decides to write to a random person in an American phone book, who turns out to be a middle-aged New Yorker called Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Both are friendless with little hope for the future – Max is overweight and depressed and Mary’s parents have little time for her.

Battling loneliness and negative influences, they forge a connection and correspond for the next two decades. Despite their obvious differences, through their mutual support they work to change their paths. Mary and Max is about being spontaneous, trying to stay positive and making lasting connections.

 

Up (2009)

The young Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is one step ahead of most people – he’s found his soul mate early on and they settle in a lovely home. When life begins throwing them curve balls they stick together and work things through. However, their lifelong dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America always seems just out of reach. When his wife Ellie passes away, Carl shuts himself off and fights to save his cherished home from demolition.

This poignant tale teaches us to embrace adventure and voyage into the world but ultimately to follow your dreams before it’s too late. Take that trip of a lifetime now. Find a way to make it happen. Don’t wait for a health scare, a relationship breakup or retirement to make changes or live the life you’ve always wanted.