Three things I’ve learned from Downton

It’s possible I’m posting too much about television at the moment. Which in turn suggests that I’m watching too much television. But! None of my team at work watch Downton Abbey, and I’ve got no one to dissect it with. Except you. Lucky old you.

Warning! Contains spoilers for, oh, every Downton Abbey ever.

Lesson 1: When invited to dinner, shut up and enjoy the poussin

downton abbey miss bunting

We need to talk about Bunting. You know – mouthy teacher lady, wears annoying hats? I suspect the writers of Downton Abbey want us to find Miss Bunting’s constant brutal honesty a charming and sassy personality quirk, but sadly she comes off as a complete psychopath.

ROSE: Do let’s invite Miss Bunting to dinner!
EDITH: Who? That woman who harasses Papa about his inherited house and well cared-for staff and ethically-run estate?
ROSE: That’s the one. I’m trying to fix her up with Tom, mainly because she’s the only non-toff we know who isn’t a servant or dead.
GRANDMAMA: Won’t she cause an embarrassing scene? Like last time, when she ruined the fancy anniversary party with her mockery of soldiers? Or the time before that, when she insisted that Branson took her ‘up the gallery’?
ROSE: Piff and nonsense! I’m going to tell Cousin Cora, then we can gather round the new wireless and invent krumping.

But within 15 seconds of the dinner gong, there’s Bunting, sniggering at the liveries and humiliating poor Papa before he’s had a chance to enjoy Mrs Patmore’s mysterious ‘savouries’.

Go home, Bunting, no pudding for you. EVER.

Lesson 2: Never ever boff a toff out of wedlock

downton kemal pamuk

Kemal Pamuk? DEAD. Military guy who impregnated the maid? DEAD. Edith’s boring editor man? MISSING IN NAZI GERMANY.

If you visit Downton Abbey, gentlemen, keep your trousers on.***

Lesson 3: The 20th century had the most badass gadgets

carson decanter downton abbey

From Bates’ gory limp-curing brace to Ethel dusting ‘vapours’ from the electric sockets, Downton really embraces the exciting innovations of the day. Just look at Carson’s incredible decanting machine. Look at it!

Er, I’m all out of steam. There’s a post-industrial revolution joke there somewhere; you’ll just have to make it yourself. I’m not your bloody mum.

***Related: Do you think Thomas is trying to ‘cure’ homosexuality with his creepy box o’ vials?

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My Netflix this week: Lovely horses, gingerism & more

I love me some Netflix, and always have several movies or shows on the go that I watch in short snatches throughout the week. Some would say this is a lunatic way to use Netflix, and in many ways I’d agree.

The only sad thing is that I spot lots of bloggy types and tweeters recommending ace things to watch on Netflix, only to find they’re only on Netflix US and I’m all left out.*

So this month I’ll do a few posts on what I’m watching on Netflix UK. If you’re a knackered sub-editor in your mid-thirties who likes rom-coms and can’t handle Breaking Bad, I’m sure it’ll prove really useful.

*Case in point: Gilmore Girls. Get on it, Netflix UK! I need them fast-talkin’ ladies! How did Lorelai eat so many burgers and stay thin? What happened to Mr Medina? Enquiring British minds need to know.

Saturday night wine
Tim Minchin & The Heritage Orchestra Live

Tim Minchin Heritage Orchestra

Gothic Australian piano scarecrow Tim Minchin performs at the Royal Albert Hall with a fantastic hipster orchestra. Hilarious atheism, incredible swearing, spectacular hair, ‘free jazz’ intervals and a seven minute cheese-themed funk odyssey.

Great with: Wine, chicken, knitting, insomnia (it’s 2.5 hours long)

Short on time? Skip to: 1:12, ‘Prejudice’

YouTube taster for non-Netflixers: The Pope Song. Get through the initial tsunami of swears and you’ll love it. Except you, Mum, don’t watch it.

Midweek malaise
Father Ted series 1-3

Father Ted ChristmasTiny cows. Forced tea-drinking. Ecumenical matters. You already know about Father Ted, so I’ll just share the harrowing information that this show will be twenty years old next year. Twenty!

Great with: Tea, fathers. You will you will you will you will YOU WILL.

Short on time? Skip to: Everyone’s favourite – Song for Europe (S2Ep5)

YouTube taster for non-Netflixers: Ah, go on then.

Sick days
You Can Count On Me

You Can Count On MeLaura Linney and Ruffles are orphaned siblings who share a house for a while. That’s really it. I mostly like it because how often do you see a good depiction of a brother-sister combo in films? Almost never! Do Hollywood screenwriters only have same-sex siblings? What’s going on? Don’t even get me started on Luke and Leia.

Great with: No witnesses to your suppressed weeping.

Short on time? Skip to: 59:28, smoking on the porch with an amazing scene-stealing moth.

YouTube taster for non-Netflixers: Uncle Ruffles tells it like it is to the least-creepy Culkin.

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Christmas in October

This year I’ve made it my personal – some would say pointless and irritating – mission to defend Christmas. Specifically, Christmas stuff in shops.

Every other day or so, a friend will say or tweet or Facebook something like ‘Advent calendars in Sainsbury’s? It’s not even Halloween yet!’ or ‘I saw chocolate pennies in Tesco. CHOCOLATE PENNIES! It’s ridiculous’ Etc.

This really grinds my gears and stirs my porridge. If, like me, you are a middle class media node with a dependable regular wage, a generous family, a working spouse and a low-level quinoa addiction, then maybe you can afford to buy a gift for everyone you know with your December pay cheque. Plus some celebratory fizz and a giant slab of organic meat. And After Eights.

But for others, that’s just not possible. There are two pay days left before Christmas. Many, many people on lower incomes will have to plan carefully to give their families a lovely cosy Christmas without missing a rent payment or switching the heating off. So shops put out the non-perishable stuff now; stocking fillers, tins of biscuits, selection boxes and fruit cakes. So what? Where’s the harm?

After a mild Twitter rant about this last month, I realised that I should really buy ahead too, to avoid my traditional January overdraft catastrophe. So here’s what I’ve bought so far – Sainsbury’s Prosecco. Well, it’s a start.

mmmmprosecco

Try it yourself. Ho ho ho!

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Spectacular, spectacular

I had to jettison my old glasses last month as the frames were too frail to take another lens update.

It’s hard for non-glasses wearers to understand how weirdly sentimental it feels to retire full-time face furniture; there’s really nothing else like it. My whole world was seen through those little windows, and everyone I met looked at me through them too. They were the first thing I reached for in the morning, and the last thing I removed at night. I couldn’t work, drive, read, watch TV or do much of anything without them. Glasses become so much a part of you that friends will often say that you look weird or even unrecognisable without them.

Ah, good old glasses! They were interred in the classic fashion – stuck in the box that came with my new glasses and shoved in a drawer ‘just in case’.*

Choosing new glasses is always difficult and a massive responsibility; barring catastrophe or a sudden lottery win, I’m likely to wear these into my early 40s. I chose these clear acrylic frames, similar to the heavy style that’s popular now, but a bit more forgiving on my massive moon face. ray ban glassesBonjour! Now everything’s ultra-clear and lovely. BTW, did you know that trees have individual leaves? Um, that’s it. Here’s another weird post about spectacles from the summer, if you’re into this incredibly-specific blogging niche.

*No idea what that asterisk was for.

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Super Japan phone cam fun: Yamazaki distillery

It’s exactly a year since Chris and I were in Osaka visiting my brother, which seems like a good time to assail you with the last of our Japanese photos. Lucky you.

We stayed only five days in Japan (thanks, gainful employment!), so we spent the whole trip in a slightly hysterical jet-lagged state, plus we both picked up terrible colds on the aeroplane. When we got home, it was like we’d had a mutual Lemsip-induced fever dream*.

Chris’ big bucket-list item was to visit Yamazaki distillery, so on our final day we took a train to the town of Yamazaki. What a green and lovely place – those are rice fields in the foreground.

Yamazaki

We had to cross railway lines to get to the distillery. The group of mums-with-buggies in front of us just sauntered across, but I ran over that thing like my arse was on fire.

Distillery

Inside, it was whisky heaven for Chris and Graham. First, the tour group were gathered in the ‘whisky library’, where whiskies of all origins and ages are held for reference and comparison. Here’s Gra demonstrating the whisky library:

Whisky graham

Here’s Chris, inside the corridors of his own mind:

Chris yamazaki

After a tour of the (spotless!) factory floor, we were taken to the tasting room, where we realised we’d made a terrible mistake with our timing.

At 10.30am, I drank three single malt highballs (a popular way to drink whisky in Japan’s hot and humid climate. It’s atrocious.), while the boys and a couple of other Europeans in the group insisted on getting their whiskies neat. With only complimentary crackers and a piece of chocolate to steady us, we were then released back into the whisky library, where we could buy tiny drams of dozens of different whiskies to taste. Our most terrible purchase was a 100 yen dram of raw spirit; whisky before it’s been aged. It tasted like it could either kill you or make you immortal.

At barely noon, we staggered back to the station, sat on the train trying to stay awake, then somehow got back to Gra’s flat. All three of us slept on the floor for a few hours, then we had to get up and go to our airport hotel, the impossible Star Gate Kansai**.

So on our final night in Osaka, we sat whey-faced and snotty, hungover and delicate, at a fantastic table overlooking the sparkling city and the black Pacific. We ate fries with chopsticks and retired for the night before 9pm. Gra told me that he’d asked to book the table for a special going-away party – the staff must’ve thought we were the most lacklustre bunch of sadsacks they’d ever seen.

Gra gave us each a fantastic pair of wooden chopsticks from the distillery, carved from Yamazaki barrels, then he disappeared into the night. In the morning we woke up in our dizzyingly high room, then made our way to the airport using a mix of intuition, luck and nodding.

Star gate hotel osaka

It still feels like a fever dream, but luckily there’s hard evidence – check out Chris’ podcast from the Yamazaki distillery, in which you can hear my distant disgust with the raw spirit. And if you like these photos, you can also see more of his much-better-than-mine photos over on Flickr.

Cheers!

* One of Lemsip’s ingredients is illegal in Japan. A hard-won piece of knowledge. Also, Japanese tissues were too delicate for our boorish western noses. We sneezed them to pieces.

** Don’t miss the deeply charming message at the top-left of the Star Gate homepage.

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How to do a TV Day

We’ve had a tiring summer, so to recover we enjoyed a fantastic TV Day, where we wore pyjamas and watched telly all day long. You might think TV Days are for bored children and sickly adults, but you’re wrong! They’re for everyone who’s knackered and cranky. Here are some top tips for hosting your own TV Day:

Prepare

The house is going to have to be vaguely clean and tidy, otherwise you’ll get The Guilts halfway through TV Day. Do your chores on the preceding weeknights – I KNOW. That part is tricky.

If you have small children or pets, you’re going to have to offload them on an unsuspecting relative, or just turn them out into the garden at the start of TV Day and chuck out a baguette every couple of hours.

You’ll also need alcohol and food that’s easy but time-consuming to prepare.

Schedule

If you don’t plan TV Day properly, you’ll end up watching nine hours of crap you’re not interested in, eating an entire box of sugar-based cereal, then falling asleep on the sofa with a burning sense of having wasted an entire day of your mortal life. Terrible.

So plan what you’ll watch and when – we chose a series of Parks & Rec plus Doctor Who and our favourite shows on Food Network. Then plan a few breaks so you don’t lapse into a coma – we cooked soup and chicken katsu together and walked around the neighbourhood to look at the first autumn leaves.

Own it

Completed your TV Day? Good job! Now own it. You will be faced, either on Facebook or back at work, with people who had very adventurous or productive Saturdays. You will be tempted, when asked what you did at the weekend, to say Nothing really.  But stay strong.

We watched telly for a whole day. In our pyjamas. With wine. It was bloody fantastic.

I promise those marathon-runners and picnic-havers will be at least a little bit jealous.

That’s it! Enjoy your TV Day. You deserve it.

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Old Sarum

Continuing our Poorly Structured Tour of West Country Historic Sites, we went to Old Sarum. It’s amazing; if you go to see Stonehenge, make sure you stop here too!

It’s best to check out aerial photos online before you go, so you can make sense of the massive structure you’re clambering over. My photos just look like loads of grassy slopes.Old Sarum Old Sarum 2 There’s an airfield nearby, and you can see lots of little private planes flying overhead, banking to take photos of the site. Weirdly, there were lots of parachutists jumping on the day we visited. It was spooky to look up from an isolated spot and see dozens of tiny people falling out of the sky.

The site is also very popular with dog walkers, so if you’re an avid befriender-of-random-dogs, it’s the best day out ever. A dog called Eddie gave us a tennis ball.

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