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Friday, January 31, 2014

Rex Dalek & K-9 Go German

Rex: Wienerschnitzel?  That's a strange word.
K-9: My translation circuitry identifies the word as belonging to the German language.  It translates as "Viennese Shred."
Rex: My!  What kind of place have Master & Mistress brought us to? 

K-9: This object matches images in my data banks.  The humans call it a corn dog.
Rex: It doesn't look like a dog.  
K-9: Agreed.  Given its appearance, a more accurate term would be zeppelin-on-a-stick.

Rex: This looks like chili cheese fries, but the fries are all wrinkled.
K-9: The menu board behind the counter denotes them as curly fries.

Rex: I guess curly fries really make the world go round, 'eh?
K-9: Negative.  Gravity still makes the world revolve on its axis.

Rex: That curly chili fry was good.  Do we dare take a sample of this Shredded Viennese animal?
K-9: Negative.  Master & Mistress entrusted us with guarding it while they got drink refills.

Rex: It would appear that Master & Mistress are rewarding us for our service.
K-9: Affirmative.
Rex: If it makes you feel less uncomfortable, think of it as part of a zeppelin.
K-9: Yet again, this K-9 unit fails to understand so-called Dalek humor. 

Rex: Shall I let you gnaw the stick?  
K-9: This unit does not gnaw.
Rex: If it makes you feel any better, think of it as a bone.
K-9: This unit does not gnaw!

Rex: Well, that was an experience.
K-9: This unit is left uncertain as to the humans' idea of fun.
Rex: But look: Master & Mistress are smiling!
K-9: Humans are illogical.  That's why they need us to serve them.
Rex: Ja.  I mean, agreed.

Rex Dalek & K-9

Related Dragon Cache entries
Winding Down the Year with Wienerschnitzel

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jean & Lionel's House in "As Time Goes By"

Thursday Travel

The Famous Blue Door: Number 21

All during the week we stayed in our apartment in Holland Park, I kept telling myself that it wasn't important to visit Jean & Lionel's house in the British TV drama/comedy "As Time Goes By."  Watching the show, over the course of nine seasons, had made me yearn to visit that particular part of London, and see how the people there lived.  But the house in which the characters made their home was just another house, chosen by the film crew, with all the interiors shot on a sound stage.  It wasn't a real place, like the Dutch Garden in Holland Park, where Lionel asked Jean out for their first date in thirty-eight years.  

A look to the right from Jean & Lionel's door.

But as the days flew by, the notion of visiting the house kept pestering me, and defied all my attempts at rational dismissal.  For it was here that Jean & Lionel first saw each other on the series, after the events that separated them.  We were staying in the Holland Park area after all, and who can know what the future holds?  Despite our love of England, it was entirely possible we might never visit this area of London again.

The small neighborhood park directly opposite 
Jean & Lionel's house.

As it turned out, the house lay within easy walking distance.  So after breakfast, we left our apartment, and soon arrived at the heart of Jean & Lionel's world.

The church in the park across the street.

As we arrived, the church bells were tolling.  We could have attended the Sunday worship.  But somehow, that felt wrong.  For religion played no part in Jean & Lionel's world.  Unlike Lionel's father Rocky, who married Madge in a church, Jean & Lionel brooked no pretense of belief. Apart from the other members of their family, and those (like Sandy and Alastair) whom they allowed into their lives, all they had was each other. That was all they wanted, all that mattered to them.  So they married in a registry office.  And they were happy.

The view to the left from Jean & Lionel's door.

If you remember the show fondly, these surroundings will look familiar to you.  Jean & Lionel often ventured outside their door, and something important happened there, something that drove the episode forward, or enhanced their love for each other.  But it was just a location, selected by the film crew, as the exterior for Jean & Lionel's house.  It wasn't as if Jean & Lionel were real people: they were just fictional characters, brought to life by two actors (Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer), in scripts written by Bob Larbey.  The whole time I stood there, I felt tremendously awkward.  Other people lived here--real people--and I was standing on their porch, photographing their house, and reminiscing about a show that ceased production a decade ago.  I shouldn't be here, standing on their steps, invading their privacy and their world.  And yet...

It's hard to explain to myself, let alone to you, exactly why it meant so much to visit Jean & Lionel's house.  But I'm glad I did.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

David Jason & Monty Python: Part Two

What I'm Reading Wednesday

David Jason's first big TV comedy came in 1967 with "Do Not Adjust Your Set."  In addition to costar Denise Coffey, he played alongside Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones.  Whereas the latter three attended prestigious Cambridge and Oxford, Jason hadn't possessed the right background or grades to attend any sort of university. The three Pre-Pythons were younger than him, and boasted far less acting experience. Nevertheless, they exuded a confidence in their abilities that Jason greatly envied.  

Another factor which separated him was their friendship. The three already knew each other well, having shared so many experiences, and previously collaborated together.  As a result, Jason found them "posh" and "a bit cliquey."  I've enjoyed Michael Palin's diaries from the 1970s and '80s, so I was glad to learn that he "seemed the nicest," and that Jason "felt that there was less of a boundary with him."  Nonetheless, the show was divided into halves, with Jason and Coffey filming their silent comedy routines, and occasionally performing on studio-bound skits written by the other three.  

While Jason and Coffey contributed a few skits, and improvised their "Captain Fantastic" routines, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones wrote the bulk of each episode.  During the first season, David Jason recalls that everyone contributed enthusiastically.  But as would reoccur on "Monty Python" at the BBC, Idle, Palin, and Jones grew increasingly frustrated during the second season.  They saw their imaginations being stifled by the limitations of a children's show.  Eventually, the three petitioned the Head of Comedy at Rediffusion to schedule the show later in the evening.  He refused, on the grounds that "Do Not Adjust Your Set" was the most successful show the company had ever produced. Feeling that they needed to explore their creativity in different ways, the three left Rediffusion, which effectively ended the show.

Although he didn't know it at the time, David Jason was one of the budding young stars of English comedy.  "Do Not Adjust Your Set" would serve as a stepping stone for his career, and he would go on to perform (and star in) a great number of TV shows, including one of my personal favorites, "Open All Hours."  He may never have been a writer, but through hard work and persistence, he later became someone whom TV producers sought out and asked, "What type of program would you like us to build around you?"  He became so highly regarded in Britain that in 2005 he was knighted by the Queen. 

Still, when he was climbing the ladder of British TV, and he saw Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones shoot to worldwide fame with "Monty Python," he felt tremendously jealous.  Well, be honest: wouldn't you?  But then, none of us know all that the future holds in store for us.

"All hail Sir David Jason, knight of the British TV realm!"

Dragon Dave  

Related Internet Links

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

J.R.R. Tolkien in the Classroom

Tuesday Tolkien

Despite earning high scores in English throughout grade school, and receiving an A and an A- for the first two halves of my thoroughly unnecessary High School English summer school class, my teacher gave me a B for a final grade.  As a result, the administration placed me in a lower track of English for my Freshman year.  This perplexed me, and angered my mother, who had been forced to rearrange her schedule to drive me to and from school during the summer.  Yet, we were assured that, while I was in a lower class, it would count the same academically as the higher track, and prepare me for the regular track of English in my Sophmore year.

Any unhappiness over the administration’s decision melted away as I got to know my new English teacher.  I evidently responded to her, as she gave me an A each semester, and Excellent for citizenship.  In my Freshman yearbook, she thanked me for my hard work, and encouraged me to keep doing my best.   And, just as the administration promised, I graduated to the normal English class for my Sophmore year.

In the same year I was enjoying my lower track English class, most of my other friends had the same instructor who had taught my summer school class.  The assignments he handed out looked harder than those I received, and for the literature portion of the class, he selected Animal Farm by George Orwell.  My English teacher chose a different novel: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  So I got to read a book I was not only familiar with, but thoroughly loved.  When we got to the section where Bilbo talks with Smaug, she even brought in a big cake with a dragon on it to celebrate!  (Yes, knowing me, I probably had seconds.) What can I say?  Truly, all things work out for our ultimate good, right? 

Or at least, all things involving J.R.R. Tolkien, his novel The Hobbit, and those most fearsome, knowledgeable, and yet beloved creatures known as dragons.

Dragon Dave

Rusty: Daleks are more fearsome than dragons, right?
Pocket: Let's discuss this elsewhere, recruit.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Stan Lee's First Spider-Man Story

Monday Comics

We've seen him in the movies.  We grew up watching him on TV.  If you're into comics, you may have read some of his adventures.  But do you know how Peter Parker became a super hero?  

In Marvel Comics "Amazing Fantasy" Issue 15, the other teens refer to Peter Parker as a bookworm or a wallflower.  Stan Lee introduces us to two of them: Sally, who rejects Peter, and Flash Thompson, whom she (and all the other schoolgirls) finds dreamy.

While his Aunt and Uncle adore him, and his teachers believe he's smart enough to earn a scholarship, Peter finds the rejection of his classmates hard to take.

Good thing experiments involving radiation
were open to the public in the 1960s.

Peter attends a demonstration in the Science Hall.  Despite the crowd assembled therein, no one notices a spider crawl into the equipment.

Public Health Warning:
Spider bites hurt!
Distracted by the bite, Peter walks home.  At the last moment, he notices a car speeding into his path.  He leaps out of the way, and finds himself clinging high up on the wall of a nearby building.  He climbs the wall, and accidentally crushes a metal pipe.  Realizing the spider bite has changed him, he devises a means of testing his strength.  Wearing a mask, he enters the ring with a wrestler, and emerges the victor!

Deciding to capitalize on his new abilities, Peter makes a costume, and uses his scientific knowledge to develop web shooters.  Then he goes on TV, and makes money from personal appearances.  Stardom seems within his grasp, and he seems destined to get his own TV show, or become a movie star.  

As he emerges from the TV studio one night, a cop calls out, asking for his assistance in apprehending a criminal.  Despite his strength, abilities, and web shooters, Peter merely lets the criminal run past.  

At first, this seems hard to understand.  But then: 

Of course, we all know what happens later.  The criminal Peter could have helped capture robs their home.  In the process, he kills uncle Ben.  Spider-Man captures the man, and hands him into the police.  

As Stan Lee admits, no one thought Spider-Man would become a great super hero.  But thanks to public fascination with the character, he and later writers would be able to enhance our knowledge of Peter, his world, and his past.  Peter would go on to fight villains like the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.  He would fall in love with girls like Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson.  He would develop friendships with Harry Osborn and Doctor Connors.  This first story is only eleven pages long, and contains none of that rich cast of characters.  We don't even hear much from his uncle, except a joking complaint that Peter is starting to beat him (occasionally) at arm-wrestling!  

Yet one moral shines through this initial story.  No matter our situation, our station in life, or how little others esteem us, we all have a responsibility to the world around us. How each of us contribute to others' lives reveals the gifts and abilities with which we have been entrusted, and the character which makes each of us special.  (Or should I say super?)

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
A 1998 interview with Stan Lee at

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Exploring London With My TV

Weekend Extra

Consider this the flip side of yesterday's list.  I let my favorite English TV shows guide my footsteps around London in 2011.  So here you have my old "TV Shows" Page, which I'm likewise taking down.  If you love any of these old shows, click a link below, and reminisce with me one last time.

All Creatures Great and Small
The Purple Cow of London

Are You Being Served?
The Great Anachronism 

As Time Goes By
The Link Between Assumption and Cowardice
As Time Goes By in Holland Park: Part 1
As Time Goes By in Holland Park: Part 2
As Time Goes By in Holland Park: Part 3

Doctor Who
On the First Doctor story "The Crusade"
Richard the Lionheart in “The Crusade”

On the First Doctor story "The Dalek Invasion of Earth."
Westminster Bridge in Color, and in Black and White
Lions and Daleks and Wizards, oh my! 
A History of Conflict 

Good Neighbors (aka The Good Life)
The English-Indian Love Affair

Goodnight Sweetheart
Forever in Flux?

Dining Out if for the Bird (and the People)

Monty Python
Monty Python on Westminster Bridge
The New Statesman
Turned Away from the Palace of Westminster 

Red Dwarf
The English-Indian Love Affair

Rumpole of the Bailey
Always to Defend

To The Manor Born
Audrey, Richard, and the Unknown Constable

Yes, Minister
Walking Whitehall

Yes, Prime Minister
The Sausage That Brings Isolation Part 1
The Sausage That Brings Isolation Part 2 

I hope you enjoyed exploring London with me and reminiscing about some of my favorite shows.  If reading one of my entries aroused your interest in an unfamiliar show, or if it rekindled your desire to watch an old favorite, most are available on DVD.  

Dragon Dave

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rambling Around London

Weekend Extra

I've decided to rework my Pages section, that standalone area of blog posts that you can access at any time.  I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with it yet, but I'm taking down my old "Travel" page.  Most of the entries are related to my liking for British TV shows and movies. If anything strikes your fancy in the list below, you can click the link and read about.  

Come, explore London with me...

A Journey into English Fiction Part 1
A Journey into English Fiction Part 2
Where Church and State are One: Part 1 
Where Church and State are One: Part 2
Where Church and State are One: Part 3 
The Power of Big Ben 
Turned Away from the Palace of Westminster 
Richard the Lionheart: Carpark Attendant 
Richard the Lionheart in “The Crusade” 
Westminster Bridge in Color, and in Black and White 
Monty Python on Westminster Bridge 
Keeping an Eye on the River Thames 
The Purple Cow of London 
Walking Whitehall
The Sausage That Brings Isolation Part 1 
The Sausage That Brings Isolation Part 2 
The English-Indian Love Affair 
In Search of Greatness 
The Great Anachronism 
Lions and Daleks and Wizards, oh my!
Audrey, Richard, and the Unknown Constable
Dining Out if for the Bird (and the People) 
Faith, Religion, and the English People 
A Ramble, a Triumph, and a Risky Sacrifice 
A Surprising Discovery 
A History of Conflict 
Welcomed into the Palace of Westminster 
My Uncle, Hercule Poirot
A New Guru
Hercule Poirot Meets the Romans
As Time Goes By in Holland Park: Part 1

Whew!  That was a lot of traveling, wasn't it?  I hope you enjoyed your tour of London, and that it inspires you to do some adventuring of your own.   

Dragon Dave

Friday, January 24, 2014

Daleks Make Navajo Tacos

Dalek Friday

Denim: Okay boss, I got out the chili like you asked.  Shall I affix it to the electric can opener?
Pocket: Are you certified to operate heavy machinery?
Denim: Uh…
Pocket: Never mind.  Come over here.  I've got another job for you.

Denim: How I can help out here?
Pocket: I've just rinsed the lettuce.  You can dry it off.
Denim: Attention, excess water: Evaporate! Evaporate!! Evaporate!!!

Denim: Okay boss, what's next?
Pocket: Technically, we're supposed to ladle chili on top of Navajo Fry Bread, but Master & Mistress like splitting a piece of cornbread instead.
Denim: What's a ladle?
Pocket: Never mind.  Just split the chili between the two bowls.
Denim: You got it, boss!

Denim: What are we making, boss?
Pocket: This is a recipe Mistress adapted called Navajo Tacos.
Denim: They look nothing like tacos.
Pocket: Are you certified for sarcasm?  Never mind, just divide the lettuce, okay?
Denim: Can I sound an undulating war cry while doing so?
Pocket: Are you certified by any American Indian tribes to imitate their ancient traditions?
Denim: Uh…you know, this might serve as an example of how excessive regulation can take the joy out of living.

Denim: Let me guess.  We top the lettuce with salsa and sour cream?
Pocket: Exactly.  Nice job drying off the lettuce, by the way.
Denim: Thanks.

Denim: Hey, you think it would be okay if we had a taste?
Pocket: Do you remember what happened when we made nachos?
Denim: Oh yeah, that was great!
Pocket: Yes, but unfortunately, Mistress has warned me that there is to be no repetition of that incident.
Denim: Sounds like more excessive regulation to me.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
Daleks Love Nachos

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Holland Park Beyond Jean and Lionel

Thursday Travel

After seeing Jean and Lionel meet in Holland Park on the British Comedy "As Time Goes By," I knew I had to go there.  But one visit wasn't enough, and I wondered what life in England might be life beyond the more pleasant summer months.  So it was that we booked a week in a hotel in that area of London after the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton.  Our first stop?  Where else but the Dutch Gardens of Holland Park, where Lionel asked Jean out to a party held by his publisher Alistair Deacon.  

The sun sat so low in the sky that it either blinded you or left you in shadow.  Unlike our last visit, gardeners were everywhere, cleaning up fallen leaves, and preparing flower beds for winter flowers.  Aside from a few rose bushes, the garden offered little more than greens and browns, the browns being the trunks of trees and the tilled soil.  Still, it was neat to be there, even if it was too cold to sit down, and the gardeners were serenading us with their blowers and vacuums.

And just like the musicians hired by Alastair to serenade Jean during his brief attempt to court her, their voices rang out in pleasant chorus.

"What are you doing for the rest of my life,
the east and west and north and south of my life,
I have only one request of your life,
that you spend it all with me…" *

Alas, as with Alastair, our hearts already belonged to another.

Holland Park is a beautiful place, even without a plethora of flowers. There's lots of history there, including the old Holland House, and some great architecture to appreciate.

If you want long, quiet walks, there's plenty of areas for that too.  At least, during the week.

Lord Holland wants you to come and enjoy his park, if only to scare away the birds that adore him so.

I'm glad I visited Holland Park in November.  I just wish I could pop into my TARDIS and go see the flowers they planted during our visit.

Dragon Dave

* Song presumably written by the great Bob Larbey, who wrote every single episode of "As Time Goes By."

Related Dragon Cache entries
"As Time Goes By" in Holland Park: Part 3

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

David Jason & Monty Python: Part 1

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I purchased the DVD for the TV series "Do Not Adjust Your Set" because it featured several of the actors who would go on to star in "Monty Python."  An added bonus was realizing that David Jason was in the show.  I've been a fan of his ever since watching "Open All Hours," the four seasons of which I saw on PBS over ten years ago.  I had subsequently seen him in the detective series "A Touch of Frost," but that was a dark and serious show, nothing like his character of Granville in "Open All Hours."  So it was fun to watch him hamming it up with Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle, in their late 1960s pre-Python sketch comedy series.  He seemed to interact so naturally with the others, that I just figured he must have been one of the young, rising stars of comedy on English TV.  But in life, things are often more complicated than they appear.

At a mall in Brighton, England, I found My Life, David Jason's autobiography.  In it, he reveals that he was born during World War II, and was too young to be evacuated from the suburbs of London.  Or perhaps I should say the poor housing districts, as his mother worked as a domestic servant, and his father as a fishmonger.  Neither parent seems to have worked hard to inspire David, and perhaps his teachers thought he showed little promise as well.  In either case, he left school at fifteen, and took a series of jobs, eventually learning the electrician's trade.

But before he left school, one person made an impact on his life.  He was the principle, who evidently needed someone to fill the lead role in a school play, and commandeered him for the job.  To his surprise, David Jason found he enjoyed acting, and others, including the leader of an amateur dramatics society, agreed that he had talent.  David wasn't sure about continuing to act beyond that first play, but when he realized that the number of girls in the amateur dramatics group far outnumbered the boys, he decided to give it a go.

The acting bug stuck with him, but his parents refused to subsidize him to attend an acting school, even when he was accepted, and others believed he showed promise.  This wasn't because they didn't love him, as David Jason points out.  It was just that their eldest son, who had served in World War II, had joined the acting profession after his army service, and they thought that one son who was perennially seeking a new job was enough.  Given his less-than-stirling academic career, they wanted something safe and secure for their younger son.  Let him learn a trade, they thought.  Something with security and a future.

So David Jason relied on his training as an electrician to get by while getting bit parts as an actor.  Usually these were roles that demanded a great deal of physical comedy.  As he developed a reputation for this, he was able to wean himself away from doing electrical work, until he acted full time.  One year he was able to buy his first car, a tiny English Mini, for personal use.  He got a job that summer at the Pier Theatre in Bournemouth.  And one night, a TV producer traveled down to see him perform.  He had heard of David Jason's panache for physical comedy, and after watching him that night, offered him a role in his new show "Do Not Adjust Your Set."  That series would take the nation by storm, and become the top-rated children's show in England.  

Unlike his pre-Python costars, David Jason didn't attend Oxford or Cambridge.  He didn't have any connections among the movers-and-shakers in the English TV industry of that time.  Instead, he earned his way onto "Do Not Adjust Your Set" through years of hard work and practice, practice, practice.  Still, he made it there, because he loved acting, and he persevered with what he loved doing.  

That's what matters.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tolkien On Speed

Tolkien Tuesday

Maybe I was never great in English class.  Perhaps it was only all my book reports that impressed my Grade School teachers.  Or maybe I just had an off-day during my High School entry test.  Whatever the cause, the Elven Administrative Council that ruled my High School declared that I must take English in Summer School before beginning my Freshman year.

My main recollection from that class was that the instructor tried to teach us how to speed read.  He said that High School classes would be tough, and the quicker we could assimilate information, the better.  He encouraged us to bring our own books to read, and gave us tips on how to scan each sentence, and absorb the bulk of the content at speed.

As it happened, I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring, so I brought in my paperback, and applied my teacher’s instructions to J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel.  I remember reading about Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry leaving the Shire, and traveling toward the village of Bree.  Aside from one instance of running, my recollection is that the bulk of their journey occurs at a relatively easy pace.

Looking back now, the thought of speed-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, one third of the epic Tolkien spent over a dozen years writing, seems rather like running through a museum, then trying to deliver a detailed analysis of each piece of artwork.  But back then, I was young, and it was just another novel that I wanted to read.  And it was an assignment handed down from a High School teacher.  And no, he wasn't an orc.  (At least, I don't think he was).  At any rate, it would take decades for me to realize how monumental Tolkien’s work really was, and how his stories should be savored rather than skimmed.

Of course, in Peter Jackson’s movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry journey from the Shire to Bree occurs at frantic, breakneck speed, pursued all the way by the Nazgul (Ringwraiths).  The pace of that movie jarred so strongly with my recollections that I had difficulty accepting Jackson’s version.  Later, he brought out his extended version on DVD, and the additional scenes slowed down the overall pace, which allowed me to better appreciate the movie.

Warning: The next paragraph contains plot spoilers!

As with "The Fellowship of the Ring," Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," the second part of his three-movie adaptation of The Hobbit, unravels at breakneck speed.  In violent contrast with my recollections of Bilbo packing the dwarves into barrels and sending them off on a fairly easy ride downriver, the dwarves ride down the river in open barrels, using swords and other weapons to fight a band of orcs that pursue them all the way.  Legolas and a band of Elven soldiers join in, at times even leaping from one dwarf's head onto another along the river as they shoot arrows at (or otherwise battle) the orcs.

I’m not criticizing Peter Jackson.  Even when he differs from scenes in the books, I think he’s trying to do homage to the depth and majesty of Tolkien's stories.  Still, I have to wonder if one of his High School teachers taught him to speed-read, and if so, how he reads Tolkien today.  For just as there's a difference between spending five seconds and five minutes staring at any given piece of art, there's a difference between Bilbo packing the dwarves inside barrels and sending them gently downriver, and the video game sensibilities of Jackson's adaptation.

Dragon Dave