Picture
The title of this posting is also the title of a song. You may know the track. It’s a Northern Soul classic by Tobi Legend and it’s really appropriate for this piece as it’s all about all about grabbing the opportunity and not letting things slip by. (You can check it out for yourself here). It’s appropriate because recently a unique opportunity came my way and seized upon it and I’m so glad that I did.

Yesterday I was able to bring together 2 of my joys in life, Northern Soul and Movies. I have always loved movies and I fell in love with Northern Soul in my late teens. A couple of years ago a film came out that promised to unite the two. That film was SoulBoy.  It’s a good Brit Flic but it got a lot of criticism from purists and, yes, it does have a few errors and a poor climax but overall it warms the heart and gives you a glimpse of the passion that surrounds this scene. Well, around the time of SoulBoy I became aware of the  development of another cinema project, Northern Soul the Film.

Picture
This is a project that has been long in the planning from the
writer and director Elaine Constantine who believes that she can truly represent Northern Soul on the big screen with a meaning narrative. I have followed the development of the project through its website, FaceBook page and through Twitter. One of the most stunning things about the film's development is that a  group of young dancers have been schooled in Northern Soul over the last few years so that when filming began they would be perfect. Having seen them online and, yesterday, in the flesh I have to say that they were.

It was from Twitter that I saw the call for extras in the dance scenes. I filled in the form and was amazed to get an invite to go along to Blackburn’s King George’s Hall for the filming. I was unbelievably excited about the event, so much so that sleep evaded me like a kid going to Disneyland.

We had been asked to wear clothing to suit the era (1975) and although I owned nothing I found some passable gear online which wouldn’t make me look like a freak but would blend in OK. Arriving early I was asked to hang around an hour while they got the dancers from the agencies booked in. While I waited a queue formed outside and the soul bags (trousers) and vests were very much in evidence. I am always amazed at the old soulies who insist on sticking with the huge baggy trousers and vests or bowling shirts. I just don’t see why your choice in clothing should have stuck in the mid seventies, after all, the
music spans decades. They were there, all togged up but it has to be admitted that these styles, more than most, look better on amphetamine skinny kids than on 50 year olds with bald heads, paunches, fading tattoos and bad teeth.

Picture
Once inside we were ushered to the balcony to wait. It turned out that, as well as the core of wonderfully trained dancers, other agencies had supplied dancers too and it was amusing to watch as they were shown the most simple of soul steps. We watched from the balcony knowing our time would soon come. A scene was shot 6ft to my left of the main female characters watching the boys out on the floor. This added more excitement as I recognised the lead as Antonia Thomas (Alisha from Misfits). We waited and watched. As the time ticked by I was absorbed by the set, by the instructions being given, by the information given with each take and the slight changes made before reshooting. 

We were thanked for our patience on numerous occasions and although I heard grumbles they were minimal. We were advised that at 3.00pm, 4 hours after we were taken in, they were opening up the dance floor for us to have a dance session while the crew took lunch. There was little surprise when the time passed and we were invited to take up floor space in a wide shot of “Wigan Casino”.  I realised I was mentally noting where I was in relation to the action so I might be able to locate myself when the film comes out. Here is the weird thing: we filmed the shot 3 times but we danced to imaginary music. They wanted to record the characters’ dialogue and you can’t do that with the music pumping so they played a track in to get things started and then it cut. We danced on and all that could be heard was the
rhythmic pad and slide of feet.

Picture
Once they completed that scene the cast and crew went for a well  deserved break, a DJ came on and we hit the floor. Classics boomed out, the hall was sweltering and we give it everything. A couple of records into the set and I realised that some of the trained dancers were in amongst us oldies and they moved and sung like they had been going to nighters for years. The more I looked the more of the cast I saw. Antonia Thompson was just a few feet away dancing opposite me and later I turned to find James Lance spinning  effortlessly to my left. Sweat ran. Legs ached. We danced. It was magical. 

After the break a track mounted camera on a crane was set up and the set prepared for the 3 main male characters to enter Wigan Casino for the first time. Watching this build up was fantastic. The first couple of times through they walked in to an empty space, dropped their bags as a song kicked in, continued walking to the centre of the floor and then danced with elegance and passion. When the music cut one of them was still singing along, showing how caught up in the moment these actors are. Young soul dancers were arranged around the area where the action would take place, then other young dancers around them, and lastly, us oldies were poured around the edges to fill up the floor The floor was packed, absolutely rammed. No room for big moves. It would be a case of doing your best without stepping on other people’s toes. 

Crew members wandered through the crowd and began moving some of the older dancers further away. A group of black vested baldies grumbled as they were pushed back to the fringes. I resigned myself to the fact that this was a movie about young people so if I was asked to move I would. I was asked to move, but they moved me toward the action. I had calculated, based on the rehearsal, that the actors would be about 8 foot away from me at about a ten-o’clock position. Imagine my surprise when during the first take they came in at one-o’clock and were just 5 foot away. With each take they got closer. Between takes I shared jokes and concerns with a similar aged woman next to me as we waited to be moved out of shot. Crew members came through and shifted people. We were left  alone.

Picture
Then we were told that a couple of tracks would be played and we should all enjoy ourselves while they took lots of footage for filling in during the dance scenes. The cast spread themselves across the floor and before I knew it Antonia Thompson was dancing right next to me. Between tracks my friend and I looked around. There were young dancers and us. Behind us there were older dancers but somehow we were allowed to stay put. No one said a thing. The next track played, action was called and we danced. This time the male actors and dancers were right there in front of us doing amazing acrobatics. The action was being filmed right in front of me. A ragged ring formed around them as they kicked, spun and dropped and I was part of that ring. It felt too good to be true but it was.

That was it for us. They had more scenes to shoot but we were done and we could have the dance floor back when they were through. What a fantastic day! Now I just have to wait and see. It will no doubt be a long time before the film is completed and released. I can’t wait to see it. I may be left on the cutting room floor, I may only be glimpsed in passing, I may appear clearly and look a complete pillock but whatever happen, when that film comes out I can say “I was there!”

 
 
Picture

I’m back from Japan where I had hoped to blog lots but there was so much to see and do I spent my time doing and not writing about it. Home now  and looking back on the holiday of a lifetime. I suppose the first thing to mention are the people. They were so nice. 

I suppose it’s easy to be impressed with customer service when you come from England where you are lucky if a shop assistant registers your presence and stops talking to her colleague. It’s a little like going to the states and being hit with “Have a nice day” but the Japanese turn it up to eleven. From the minute you step foot in a shop you hear someone wail the equivalent of “Can I help you?”. This is usually accompanied by a beaming smile and a bow.

My language abilities in Japan were negligible. I pretty much survived on “Arigatou gozaimas” which is simply how you say “Thank You”. You heard it a lot, no you heard it loads. It seemed to begin being said at
the start of a transaction but then it was repeated throughout, said at the end and followed you as you left the shop. In the way that we often cut “Thank you” down to “Thanks” and “Ta” Japanese people also shorten theirs too. You would often just get a “Gozaimas” and sometimes it would be just an odd, whining, stretched out “Maaassssss” that followed you out.

One of the most unusual things about communication arose in the shopping areas. It would seem that the staff are encouraged to call out sales pitches in a higher than normal voice. Usually it would be the girls doing this and it would be a strange, high keening sound. It wasn’t just the pitch either but the pace of what they said was odd too, starting fast and ending on a long, slow, high whine. The first time I encountered it I was bemused but when the shopping day gets busier then more and more girls step to the front of their shops with big smiles and begin this strange keening, usually holding signs, products and, on the odd occasion, a megaphone. It can be quite overwhelming. It became so in Tokyo where it was accompanied by booming music and amplification.

While I am waffling about shopping I should mention the 100 Yen shops. They are like the Pound shops over here but given the current exchange rate they are currently 84p shops. If you have been into a pound shop (You have. We saw you although you tried to move off quickly and you hid your pound shop carrier
in Tesco bag to spare your blushes) you will have noticed that many of the items there are made in Japan or by one of its close neighbours. Just imagine then what the range of creative rubbish is in a 100 Yen shop. They were Aladdin’s caves of cheap and tacky wonder.

Sitting in a damp, grey England and reminiscing makes me wish I wish I was back there. This won’t be the last time I visit Japan in real life or a in a blog.


 
 
Picture
It’s no secret that I wear Converse all the time, not just converse but Converse Hi-Tops. This proved not to be the best kind of footwear  for a visit to Japan. Whenever we get back to the hotel, all hot and sticky and with aching legs, the first thing I have to do is untie and take off my boots.

When we go out and invariably forget something I have to go back to the room and remove my boots, pick up whatever I returned for and then put my boots back on and lace them up.

There are lots of beautiful temples and shrines to see here too. Of course you don’t get to visit them properly unless you kick off your shoes and traipse around in your socks. (It’s worth it though).

Some of the places we have eaten also require you to follow tradition and take off your shoes before you get to the table and at the end of a day’s walking around in temperatures of 37 degrees my legs have been so knackered that I can barely bend down.  In the first restaurant, having managed to get rid of my shoes we were lead to a table that was only 6 inches off the floor. I initially worried how I would cope sitting cross legged for the duration of the meal but I needn’t have. It turned out that there was a hole beneath the table
to put your legs into. How weird is it to build 2 levels of floor rather than have normal tables and chairs? Every time the waiters brought the food they had to bend down to us. 

The other thing about removing your shoes is that you must put on shoes to go to the loo. In the hotel we are provided with slippers to wear in our room but when you go to the loo you change from your indoor slippers to a special pair of loo slippers. In restaurants the loos have toilet slippers for you to wear too.

Picture
This brings me to the subject of toilets. Japan has the most amazing lavs. Well, they have two types. The first is the public toilet which tends to be a hole in the ground and best avoided. The second type is what people have in their homes and we have in the hotel. These toilets have functions you probably never dreamed of having. To start with they have warm seats. Yes, never get a cold bottom again. You can set the temperature so it suits you perfectly. To the right of you, as you are sitting, is a control panel. The first button directs a warm jet of water directly at your exit door with amazing accuracy. The second
button is just for the ladies and directs a second jet of water slightly further forward (I found this out through experimentation). We found that in the department stores their toilets also let you pick a tune to listen to while you sit and we heard that some also have a warm air blower to dry you off  afterwards. When you flush the loo the tap that sits in the inbuilt sink on top of the cistern starts to run warm water to you can wash your hands without even needing to touch a tap.  In toilets, like in everything else we Brits, were there in the early days of its invention but the rest of the word has left us behind (no pun intended).

While writing this another thing comes to mind:  The Japanese like to be low to the ground. Their futon beds are basically a couple of duvets on the floor. Their tables are not as high as most coffee tables and the chairs have no legs. You don’t see many benches in the streets or railway stations either as the locals are quite happy to squat. 


More from my travels soon.

 
 
Picture
So I have come to Japan for the first time ever. It’s different
from anywhere else I have ever been and it’s fabulous. I sat and tried to blog about all I have seen and done in the last 3 days but there were so many images and thoughts struggling for supremacy in my head that my first draft was a rambling mess and had to be rewritten.

 This place is so wild and lively whilst at the same time being
tame and well behaved that it’s hard to describe. I will try, over the next few
posts to describe it so far.


 
 
Picture
A while back I had a 4.00am start so I planned on getting to bed early.  As usual that didn’t go to plan because time ran away with me so I ended up getting to bed sometime after 11.00pm. Since getting an i-Phone part of my routine is to set my alarm on it and then to have a final check of Twitter to see if anyone is talking about me when I am not there.

 

What I saw that night was a Tweet that said:
“Nooo!!!! Dreamcatcher cannot be on a list of 50 worst films ever!!! > :(  http://ow.ly/13aWV   I simply won't allow it...”

Now, I love films but I adore lists so I obviously had to click the link and have a look. Yes Dreamcatcher was in at 18 so I wanted to see what was worse than that hideous movie. Now remember, I was doing this on an i-Phone so each page is tiny and I have to zoom in just to be able to move to the next page. An hour later I had gone from 18 all the way to the No. 1 worst movie of all time, reading the reviews and comments for each one. At about half past midnight I had to have a severe word with myself, as I so often do, and put the i-Phone down to catch a niggardly amount of sleep before my early start.

The next day I realised that I have a problem. I’m addicted to lists.

You know you get those programmes on TV, Top 50 Romantic Films, Top 100 Christmas Songs, Top 100 Children’s TV Shows, Top 100 Comedians of All Time etc? Well, if I happen upon  one of these shows I'm there until the end. I want to know what is number 1. (I also want to hear what Andrew Collins has to say, because, let’s face it, he comments in most of them.) It’s the same on the web or in magazines: Top 100 Gadgets for Christmas, Top 50 i-Phone Apps, top 50 Massage Parlours in Essex (only joking about that one). I can’t help it I devour them. I don’t know what it is about lists that get me so involved. They are just other people’s opinions and quite often I don’t agree with what’s in them but I just can’t put them aside.

I have heard people say that it is a male preoccupation, which would be nice because I don’t have many other male traits – I don’t love cars or football and my plastering abilities are shocking. So is it a man thing? The Nick Hornby book (and John Cusack movie) Hi Fidelity, which is great, seems to imply it’s very much a man thing and it’s a film all about a chap who annotates his life in lists, Top 5 Movies, Top 5 Break Ups, Top 5 Bands or Musicians Who Will Have To Be Shot Come the Musical Revolution (true, that is in the book).

If it is a man thing does it go along with putting your books and CDs in alphabetical order. That’s something else I do and I know other men who do it but I don’t think women do.

I realised as I was writing this that the tweet took me to number 18 in the list of Top 50 Worst Movies and I followed it to number 1 (Batman and Robin if you must know), but I didn’t get chance to go the other way, up the list from 19 to 50 so this is where this blog ends as I have an addiction to feed.



 
 
Picture
Ok, so this is not really about Rome but about Japan. I am heading to Japan for a holiday in a couple of weeks and although I am massively excited I am also a wee bit nervous. I get the feeling that I will encounter bigger cultural differences there than I have encountered on any other foreign holiday.

The more I hear, the more different it seems. For instance, nose blowing in public is frowned upon. Yep that's right. It's polite to sniff until you and your mucus can be alone together in private. I was already aware that tattoos are generally thought to be signs of gangster culture in Japan and showing them openly is not really acceptable. Mine tend to be hidden by my t-shirts so I should be ok.

I heard today that when you pay for something with notes you must proffer the note over the counter whilst holding it in both hands, not just one hand as we would do. When you sit down to a meal you should never pour your own drinks. It's rude. You have to pour for each other. Then there are the chopsticks or hashi. You must never point at people with them nor must you stand them upright in your rice. Why? Don't ask, I don't know. 

But while we are talking about chopsticks I have to say that they are crap really, aren't they? As far as eating utensils go they really are the bottom of the pile. I realise that they have thousands of years of tradition behind them but so do flint axes. Move on. Before you ask, yes I can eat with chopsticks but I find it slow and annoying. I like to shovel a fork full of delicious tastes into my mouth in one go. Surely there is no one who would fail to see the culinary superiority of the knife and fork or, come to that, the spork. The spork is a three-in-one implement that combines the facets of a spoon, a knife and a fork as its name suggests. I am putting one in my luggage but I will probably find that it's rude to use them in company.

I don't know if Japanese soup is served with similar spoons to those provided in Chinese restaurants but again these seem to be a functional failing to me. These large pottery creations just can not compete with a simple metal spoon.

Back with the chopsticks; why do the countries that use them seem to have the slipperiest mushrooms in the world? Chopsticks and slippery mushrooms are not made for one another. Talking of slippery food, I once happened to be having breakfast in a hotel in Epping Forest alongside a small party of Japanese tourists when I saw one chap lean his face close to his plate of full English and edge his uncut, fried egg on to his fork. From here he put it to his lips and sucked like you might with noodles. The whole egg disappeared into his mouth in one go. Admirable.

So, it looks like Japan is going to be an adventure and a big one at that. I look forward to learning lots and experiencing loads.

Note: This blog was not about Rome but the band CUD had an album called When In Rome Kill Me

 
 
Many years ago I started a blog. I started it on Blogger and I enjoyed it. I wrote a few bits. It was fun. I also wrote blogs for work which I really enjoyed as they allowed me to write almost anything. I usually wrote about whatever was in my brain that day and then I twisted it so it met with the needs of the company (sometimes the twists were quite tortured).

Anyway, I let the Blogger stuff slide due to other things, as you do, and occasionally things would spark in my mind and I would think "I really should blog that" but I couldn't get back into my Blogger account, no matter what I tried. Since Google took it over it has become impossible to get my blog back and carry on with it.  I also stopped writing for work too, as things shifted to a more professional output.

So, I have decided to start from scratch. I am going to write some new stuff and I am going to steal back all my old stuff from wherever it currently sits.

It won't change the world, but that isn't the intention. I just want to get some stuff out of my head and down on paper (virtual paper) for me and no one else. If you read it, then fine. If you comment, even better.

It will be what it will be.