Tag Archives: Voldemort

Wild Things, season two

WildThings-ShowThumbThis show could also be titled ’45 minutes of me watching through my fingers’.  Because…there are almost always snakes. Case in point: In the first episode, Dom is searching for a ‘Giant Spitting Cobra’ in Kenya.  Cobras are, without a doubt, the scariest animals in the entire world. I have a difficult time even standing next to the life-size cardboard cobra at our zoo. And as amusing as I find this picture:

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The picture scares me so much I think I have to delete it from my computer right away. My mom told me once that she rented Silence of the Lambs. She watched 15 minutes of it, and couldn’t go any farther. She had to rewind it immediately and take it back to the video rental place (kids: ask your parents what this was)–she didn’t want it in the house. My fear of snakes is really strong. I am prepared to move one day to New Zealand, Ireland, or Hawaii.  No snakes in those places. None at all. But what if I’m flying to my new snake-free haven and the plane is filled with snakes?!  I’m not Samuel L. Jackson; I will not survive that shit. I’d probably fling myself off the plane rather than deal with that.

But I digress. Back to the show.

This season, Dom continued to search for unusual, unique, and difficult-to-find animals. Usually of the non-cuddly variety. He looked for a Gaboon Viper in Zambia, the aforementioned cobra, the Titan Beetle in Brazil, Gila monsters in the SW US, Box Jellyfish off the coast of Australia, etc. There was a truly fucking terrifying bit with an anaconda that I had to watch from the other room. But, there were a few more cuddly and likeable animals in the mix this season. He looked for the Ghost Bat (yes, bats are cute. if you disagree, you are wrong), a tiny Lemur Leap Frog, and the Slow Loris, possibly the 3rd cutest animal ever. If you’re wondering, my dog was the cutest animal ever.  That’s just a fact.

There were also some great moments when Dom helped a sloth cross a road, hung out with some tiger cubs, and there’s a really interesting bit with an elephant.

DominicMonaganWildThings02_m_0324They have to sedate it so that they can help to dress a would it’s received from poachers. Poachers, by the way, are the world’s worst people. They help the elephant, but there are a few really sketchy moments after it wakes up.  Frank (the cameraman) almost gets trampled.  Later, Frank gets hit with a nasty bit of jumping cactus.

My favorite part of the season was when Dom re-united with his fellow hobbit, Billy Boyd.  Part of the reason I’ve had a crush on Dom for the last ~10 years is because I watched/listened to all the Lord of the Rings special features. He and Billy are hilarious together and I have a sort of deep affection for them both. So a reunion was very fun to see, though Billy is starting to look like an adult man, and I disapprove of that in general. I mean…he’s 45, but still!

tumblr_n54865IyDS1sm6um6o1_500Luckily, Dom still looks like a 10-year old, who is about to see a fire truck.

They toured New Zealand together, looking for the Giant Wetapunga. Billy brought his snake stick, which is particularly funny since there are no snakes in New Zealand.  I would definitely watch a show that just followed the two of them around in their regular lives.  Get on that, TV gods.

My only real complaint is (once again) with BBC America.  WHY do you, BBC America Execs, choose to show me only 45 minutes of a 1 hour show? You suck. Just make it an hour and 15 minutes. Then you can fit your commercials in, and I still get to see all of the stuff. Or if you can’t do that, put the cut scenes on the website so I at least have a chance to see them. It’s fucking ridiculous. I missed major scenes in Broadchurch, which made me irritated. With this show, I knew because of interviews (and the presence of a bandage) that Dom got hurt during the filming of the 2nd season. In the interviews, he admitted he needed 40 stitches, but didn’t want to say what animal it was, so people would tune in and see what happened. Well, they cut that bit. Fuck you, BBC America.  You know, in the age of the DVR, there’s no need for this crap.  I record the show, so I don’t care if it ends at 9 or 9:15. Just show the whole show. Or at least make it possible for me to see the whole thing. What is the point of you, you network? You make me unreasonably angry. I want to stomp on your foot.

To make myself less angry, here’s a picture of Dom and a sloth.

domincmonaghan-april14-1

The Tower of London: Menageries, Murders, and Ghosts

I’ve read two books lately that both took place in and around the Tower of London.  One was Wolf Hall, set in the mid-16th century.  The other, which I just finished, was The tower, the Zoo, and the TortoiseThe Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

I have already reviewed Wolf Hall, and want to share my thoughts on TZT, as I will call this book with the overly-lengthy title.  But since they shared a common locale, I thought I might talk a little bit first about the Tower of London in general.

The official name of the Tower of London is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, and is located on Tower Hill, a spot directly on the North banks of the Thames, next to Tower Bridge (logically enough).  The names represent the entire complex, from the outer walls inward, Tower-of-London

though most people associate the name with the largest and most memorable of its buildings, the White Tower. The White Tower is technically a ‘keep’ and is one of the largest in the ‘Christian World’ :

White+TowerI imagine most people do not read this blog for their history knowledge, but indulge me while I share a bit of the incredible history of this fortress.

When William the Conqueror won the battle at Hastings (1066 AD) and gained control over England, he wanted a tower to keep away the cursed English people, and to keep them from trying to win back their country.  Actually, William made a lot of castles after he took over, but this is probably the most famous among them. He began to build the ToL at the SE corner of the walls remaining from the Roman establishment in Londinium. Estimates say the White Tower was finished around 1100 AD.

The tower was extended beyond the keep during the 12th century and was a point of contention when Prince John (of Robin Hood fame) tried to seize control of the country while Richard the Lionhearted was off fighting the crusades. Expansion continued during the 13th and 14th centuries, when disputes over succession to the crown or between the royalty and the aristocracy threatened the outbreak of civil war.  Whomever held control of the crown wanted an impregnable fortress to hide behind. The tradition of whitewashing the White Tower (thus giving it its name) began in 1240. Periodically, the tower would be taken by the armies of barons or landed gentry, or given to clergymen. It was always an important strategic possession.

Obviously there was a fair amount of unpleasantness at the Tower. It was a military stronghold and a palatial lodging, but it was/became a prison.  Edward I imprisoned at least 600 Jewish people in the tower, before exporting them out of the country entirely. Charming guy. Later, the tower was reserved for more important inmates — i.e. those accused of heresy or treason, not those accused of stealing bread. Often, the royalty themselves were imprisoned there.  Examples include Richard II, Henry VI, and the two Princes–possibly its most famous residents because no one knows quite what happened to them.

PrincesThe assumption is that Richard III murdered the two young boys so that he could become king. Legend has it that the white rose bushes outside the keep have bloomed red roses since that day.

In the 16th century, the tower stopped being used regularly as a royal residence and its focus shifted entirely to that of military stronghold and prison. The Yeoman Warders were formed in the early 1500s, and still wear the same uniform that existed during that time.  This means an itchy wool fabric that cannot be remotely comfortable.  But look how stylish:

Yeoman_Warder_-_Beefeater

The Yeoman Warders are traditionally called Beefeaters.  This may be because a portion of meat was included with their meal rations.  They still live in the Tower, with their families.  To become a Beefeater, you must have been in the military with a good record for at least 22 years.  It’s a lot to ask of someone who is essentially a tour guide.  Must create a very unique microcosm of society within the tower. But its a far cry from what their original tasks included–chiefly torturing prisoners to extract confessions of heresy, treason, etc.  They employed the Scavenger’s Daughter, the Rack, and the Manacles frequently.

The bloody history of the tower reached its peak in the 16th and 17th century. Beheading was popular at the tower because of its important clientele–for the measly peasants, hanging or burning were popular methods of acting out a death sentence. Those executed on the Tower Green were the most important and high profile of the doomed. These include: William Hastings, Anne Boleyn, Margaret Pole (hit 11 times with the axe before her head came off!), Jane Boleyn, Lady Jane Gray, and Robert Devereux. Most of these were directly related to threats/crimes against the current monarch. In addition to these Tower Green executions, there were numerous public executions (for the less important but equally guilty) on Tower Hill. These included William Wallace (of Braveheart fame), Thomas Cromwell (as featured in Wolf Hall), Guy Fawkes (tried to blow up Parliament) and Sir Walter Raleigh (imprisoned for over 10 years in the Tower before being executed). Ghosts of the two princes, Anne Boleyn, and Sir Walter Raleigh are the most commonly sighted in the Tower.

There were some less horrible things to find at the Tower.  Isaac Newton ran the Royal Mint when it was located there.  There was a royal menagerie in the middle ages where the king kept animals gifted to him by other royalty, including a Polar Bear said to have fished for his dinner in the Thames. It was first opened to very wealthy aristocrats for visiting, but became a bona fide tourist attraction by the end of the 19th century.  Its last use as a prison was during WWII when a few Nazi PoWs were stationed inside. It’s a really cool place to visit if you know some of the history, or if you’re particularly keen to see the Crown Jewels.

If you’re a history buff or planning a visit, here is a link to the official website for more info.  I always wanted to go to the Ceremony of the Keys, when they lock up the tower at night.  The ceremony is about 450 years older than my country, so that’s pretty epic, but you have to plan/request tickets in advance and I never got my act together.

Okay, enough about the tower in general.  What about this book?  I learned a lot about the tower reading it.  The Beefeaters live inside to this day! At first, I thought that seemed really awesome.  But when you have Nazi graffiti in your study, or the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh blowing up spectral science experiments and stealing your potatoes, and all you do all day is talk to impertinent tourists, it doesn’t seem so glamorous anymore.

Unfortunately, this book was just too light for me.  Not that I need explosions or suicide in the books I read. I expected it to be light, and was looking forward to it after the epic task of Wolf Hall. Still, there has to be some emotional intensity to it.  The characters were cute and likeable, but it was as if I was seeing all of them from a distance, or through a thick fog.  Even when dealing with the heavy material, Julia Stuart seems afraid to commit to raw emotion.  I felt at an arm’s length from the entire book, and that severely lessened my enjoyment.  It didn’t go deep enough into the human psyche for me to feel much of anything. There were a few parts that made me mildly chuckle, but other than that it didn’t make a dent on me.  Disappointing.

The story revolves around a beefeater named Balthazar Jones, who is asked to run the newly re-installed menagerie at the ToL. He is pretty under-qualified for the job (given to him only because he happens to own the world’s oldest tortoise) and the animal rights activist in me was a bit bothered by the idea of completely untrained people being in charge of these animals’ safety.  But it is just a book, so I swallowed my objections.  There isn’t much in the way of a traditional plot, except to have a few people in disarray and later have it all work into a happy ending.

There are a myriad of characters, most of which work in the ToL (Chief Yeoman Warder, Ravenmaster, etc.) and some that work in the lost property office for the Underground. Both of these locations are quirky and give a wonderful sense of color to the story, but again I’m troubled by the lack of depth.

Similar to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, this book revolves around a couple who have lost a child, and the way that child is lost is eventually revealed mid-way through the book.  Unlike Harold Fry, this book doesn’t inspire a lot of emotion around this terrible event.  I think Stuart wanted to keep the book light, so despite being vested in strong emotional events, it didn’t transmit much empathy to me–and I’m an incredibly empathetic person.  That’s part of why I’m such a passionate reader. I feel everything the characters feel.  Example–At least twice, I have taken a few moments to feel incredible sadness for Andromeda Black/Tonks from Harry Potter.  If you think about it, she loses her husband and daughter and her son-in-law to Voldemort.  All in the same year.  Then she must raise her grandson on her own.  None of this is ever overtly mentioned, but she must have a desperately difficult life in the days after the final battle.

Okay that was a digression, obviously, but the point is made. I am not lacking in empathy, but I didn’t feel much for these characters.  Which not only meant that I didn’t experience the sorrows in media res, but I also missed out on the feeling of relief that comes with a happy ending. I’m sorry to say that even though I was looking for a light, frothy read, this book just lacked substance. Or it kept substance in the background, focusing instead on cutesy turns of phrase and quirky characters.  Yet another reminder that in order to write quality fiction, you have to be incredibly brave. If you’re not scared to reveal what you’ve written down, then you haven’t dug deep enough.

Requisite Olympic Post

I’m not normally a person that gets super excited about the Olympics. One one hand, I like the multinational aspect of it, but on the other hand, it’s about sport. For the most part, I give it a pass.  Obviously, this time is different.  Every single event could feature scenes from my favorite city in the world. I watched over of bicycle road racing at the gym yesterday. I could not care less about cycling, but when they’re traveling through the English countryside and the race ends in front of Buckingham Palace, I’m happy to watch the whole thing just to watch the background go by.

So, let’s start with the Opening Ceremony.  Even in the past when I have watched Olympic events, I have never cared enough to watch the Opening Ceremony. That parade of nations thing is sooo boring, it negates any excitement you could get out of the rest of the ceremony.  This one was obviously a little different, though I still was bored to tears by the 2 hours of people walking by.

So my first pet peeve is the intro to the ceremony.  Here in the US, we got some rubbish with Ewan MacGregor and some unknown (to me) woman) doing voice-overs of footage of US athletes.  In the UK, however, they got this opening with Benedict Cumberbatch:


Which I thought was much better.
But lets ignore that for the moment. The video was created by the BBC, so the US networks didn’t have a legal option for airing it.  I will forgive them for now.  I cannot, however, forgive NBC for involving Meredith Viera in the thing. She is dumb as a post and seems to think her ignorance is something to be proud of.
Every time she talked, I just wanted her to shut up.

Okay, done with my complaining. What did I think of the ceremony itself?  Well…I think the idea behind it is really smart–instead of the biggest ceremony, you do a ceremony that focuses on something that is thrilling for the people in the stands, but is also choreographed specifically to be good for the cameras. I think you need that expertise in filmmaking, and I think Danny Boyle did a good job.  On the other hand, it definitely had its flaws. I liked the Agrarian start and the quick journey through the history of England, which according to Meredith Viera would teach people who didn’t know what the Industrial Revolution was.  So…people who haven’t yet reached 6th grade maybe?

But after the Agrarian start, it got a little too overly-conceptual.  The NHS tribute and the giant baby were especially weird and disturbing, and in many ways not relevant to an international audience. I haven’t had health insurance for two years, so I would love an NHS here in the states, but that doesn’t mean it was the best venue for that statement. I also think that the section with the boy and girl traveling through the last thirty years of British culture was a bit weird. I love British music, obviously, and enjoyed the cultural references within. At the same time, the digital world idea and the thanking of Tim Berners-Lee was a bit odd. Or maybe it was just due to the awkward and moronic commentary provided on NBC. Well…Bob Costas wasn’t bad, and Matt Lauer mocking Kim Jong-Il was pretty hilarious.

I think it’s very smart and very relevant to make a big part of the ceremony in reference to the cultural influences of Britain, because though they have very much declined as an imperial power, they have continued to be a cultural leviathan.  From the Beatles to Mr. Bean to reality TV, a lot of what has defined the last 40 years of life in America has come from Britain. Literature, in particular, is a huge part of that tradition of cultural exports.  Of course, I was thrilled beyond measure (though not entirely surprised) to see JK Rowling out in the thick of it. There are so many things about British culture that are beloved and respected, and between Paul McCartney, JKR, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Rowan Atkinson, and James Bond, they covered most of them. Also, who else wants a trampoline bed?!

And the torch ceremony itself I really liked. It seems very American to have the biggest name celeb you can lighting the torch, but I liked this more egalitarian approach to the idea. Plus, the actual mechanism whereby it is lit seems very cool to me and was really beautiful. And the fireworks!

Really beautiful!

The parade of nations…what can you say about watching thousands of athletes walk around a circle? It went quicker than normal? All I can say is that the US outfits are the most heinous things in the world. Are we headed to private school in 1994? What’s with the Berets?  Ralph Lauren should be deported.

All in all, I enjoyed it, but it definitely had its flaws.

Also, can I just point out that now that the Olympics are underway, no one seems to be saying that the UK is unprepared. Everything seems to be going pretty smoothly, from my albeit incredibly limited knowledge. I can imagine the traffic and disruption to the lives of residents is pretty massive, but that is what happens when you try to host a 2-week long incredibly huge event of any kind. I think people underestimated two things in the run-up to these games: the organizational power of a society that loves to queue, and the cynicism of the same society. All you have to do is watch Bridge over the River Kwai and you will see how much they excel at getting the job done. Also, Brits love to complain about their own inadequacies, but that doesn’t mean those complaints are based on truth, relatively speaking.  And god help the non-Brit who tries to complain with them (looking at you, Romney).

On a final note, there has been a lot of Boris Johnson on TV lately, and can I just say I’m for it? I love him! He has definitely earned his place on my list of Conservatives that I Like.  It’s a hard list to get on.  There’s only one other person on there,  and he is a fictional character from Family Ties.