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Friday, 28 April 2023

What's Been on My {April} Calendar?


The London Eye and County Hall photographed by Is This Mutton from a Thames river boat

Dear friends. Time for my review of April! It must surely be the coldest April on record. Yet it started off quite well. I managed to find one photo for a walk on April 4 where it was warm and sunny! 


Friday, 2 October 2020

It's Those Friday Favourites! Books, TV and Podcasts

 Is This Mutton's Gail Hanlon on a walk listening as always to a podcast. Check out her monthly Friday Favourites for recommendations

TGIF! A week later than normal, here's my monthly round-up of favourite viewing. listening and reading. Love to get your recommendations in the comments. 


Friday, 24 July 2020

Friday Favourites: TV, Books, Podcasts - July Edition

Gail Hanlon and headphones for Friday Favourites, podcast and TV reviews, in blog Is This Mutton
Welcome to another edition of Friday Favourites, my reviews of TV shows, films, books and podcasts.

TV Viewing

The Secrets She Keeps (BBC iPlayer)

The cast of Australian TV thriller The Secrets She Keeps
First up, how exciting was this! I had low expectations initially for this Australian drama but it soon hooked me in, and boy, was episode 4 (of six) a thriller! A social media influencer is befriended by a  shop assistant  (Laura Carmichael, who was Lady Edith in Downton Abbey). They're both pregnant and expecting a baby at the same time.  I won't reveal any spoilers, but both my mum and I enjoyed it and indulged in binge watching. It's based on a true story.

Cursed (Netflix)
Nimue played by Katherine Langford, from the Arthurian legend drama Cursed

The latest big budget fantasy series on Netflix launched last week.  Cursed tells (loosely) the King Arthur / Excalibur legend but from the perspective of a "young rebel" or witch Nimue, who joins forces with charming mercenary Arthur on a mission to save her people.  We watched two episodes, and it's a complete yawn fest.  The CGI scenes are woeful, so the big budget must have been spent elsewhere.  These are people supposed to have lived 1500 years ago but suspiciously clean, well dressed and non-matted of hair.  Their language is also very up to date - probably intentionally, to seduce the millennial audience.  There is zero chemistry between Nimue and Arthur. Filed under "lame" and surprised to hear a second season is lined up.

Norsemen (Netflix)

We've just discovered Norwegian comedy Norsemen and it's terrific.  It's an amusing spoof on the Vikings, beautifully done with elaborate costumes and filming, with a very dry, sometimes Pythonesque, humour running through it.  The women are all very strong and no nonsense, whereas the men go off into flights of fancy about creating memorable installations and theatre, and philosophizing about the emotional cost of raping and pillaging.  The latest season, 3, started this week.

Military Wives

The film starring Kristin Scott-Thomas is now available on Sky and Prime. The concept of the military wives' choirs was somewhat hijacked by the TV show The Choir with Gareth Malone, but actually it all started before he came on the scene.  The grief stricken wife of an army colonel  (Scott-Thomas) foists herself on the camp's wives' social committee, locking horns with the wife of the RSM (Sharon Horgan). They form a choir and, overheard by a camp commander, are invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in the Festival of Remembrance.  I was expecting a blub fest but didn't feel invested enough in the characters, who seemed brittle and charmless, to feel much emotion at the end. A pleasant enough watch but nothing special.

 Eurovision Song Contest:  The Story of Fire Saga (Netflix)

The two stars of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Copyright New York Times
This new film was a mildly amusing romp that hit a few bum notes, the biggest being Will Ferrell who (as usual) seemed miscast and out of his depth.

The Eurovision Song Contest is the most amazing annual festival of kitsch that somehow brings the whole of Europe together.  Last year it was watched by 180 million people. I used to rely on it as a conversation topic when we had large international social gatherings at my last company. It was guaranteed to get everyone talking. It has to be seen to be believed.

The film tells the story of two performers from Iceland (which has never won the contest) who may or may not be related  (this was a running gag). The country that wins Eurovision has to stage it the following year, and the cost of this has proved prohibitive for many a country. So a conspiracy derails the Iceland entry to ensure the country has no chance of success. Singers Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) find themselves catapulted into the semi-finals. Lots of mayhem ensues with murderous elves (apparently 60% of Icelanders believe in elves) and crazy drives around Dublin, the host city.

The film is worth watching just to see Dan Stevens  (Cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey) in the role of a lifetime, camping it up as a bare chested Russian singer.

Call My Agent! (Netflix)
The cast of hit French comedy Call My Agent.  Copyright: Variety

We have have just started watching this French comedy series (subtitled) - a rich seam as there are three seasons. I just love it.  It's about life at a top Paris talent firm where agents scramble to keep their star clients happy -- and their business afloat -- after an unexpected crisis.  It is very funny and seems bit retro in terms of how the agency operates.


The Habitat (Gimlet)

Podcast cover for Gilmet's The Habitat about life on Mars recreated in a pod in Hawaii
The Habitat tells the true story of six volunteer would-be astronauts who experienced Mars for a year on Hawaii. They were confined to a dome that replicated life on board a spacecraft.  They were only able to leave the dome wearing a full space suit. The experiment was designed to show what life on the red planet would be like.  It's so far away that at least a year would go by, assuming we landed there, before we could leave, in order for the planets to be aligned correctly.

The podcast features recordings made on board with a narrator, and it makes for fascinating listening - particularly around the subjects of food (dehydrated) and toilets, with interesting insights from some of the Apollo missions.


Two very different books this time. First, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.  The phrase "excellent women" was used as a condescending reference to the kind of women who perform menial duties in the service of churches and voluntary organisations. The book, set in the 1950s, tells the everyday life of unmarried Mildred Lathbury, a part-time volunteer worker who also helps out at the church. In this very genteel world, where Mildred is looked down upon as a spinster, we meet her unlikely suitors, the anthropologist Everard Bone, her dashing neighbour Rockingham Napier, and the vicar, Julian Malory.

Pym was highly celebrated for her witty, droll accounts of life in middle England in this time period.The novelist John Updike, reviewing the American release in 1978, wrote that: "Excellent Women... is a startling reminder that solitude may be chosen, and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue: feminine patience."

From life in the 1950s, in post-rationing Britain, to life in a lavish gated housing development where all the women have had "work" done in the latest novel by Jane Fallon, Queen Bee.
The cover of novel Queen Bee by Jane Fallon, reviewed by UK blog Is This Mutton
I pre-ordered this because Jane Fallon has never disappointed.  I digested it over three nights.  Laura, the owner of a small cleaning company, moves into a tiny rented flat in one of the luxury houses in The Close.  Recently divorced, she finds the glossy women residents are friendly until Al, the husband of the "Queen Bee",  sets her up, and then she's ostracized. But through some clever detective work, Laura discovers the secrets Al is hiding. A witty, wry and rewarding read from the thinking women's chicklit writer.

That's all for this time. I'd love to hear any of your recommendations in the comments below.

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There's a fashion or beauty post every Wednesday, with the #WowOnWednesday link up. Stay in the loop: follow Is This Mutton? on Bloglovin or Feedspot. I post extra goodies on the Is This Mutton? Facebook page. Check out the Is This Mutton? Pinterest boards, including boards on other bloggers in fab outfits plus beauty, jewellery, hairstyles and fashion picks. Is This Mutton? is also on Twitter and Instagram


Friday, 15 May 2020

Friday Favourites: Books, TV, Pods - May 2020

The two young stars of Nornal People
Friday Favourites is my occasional round-up of recommendations for good viewing, reading and listening with the odd nugget on beauty, fashion and cleaning (we'll come to that!). 

Friday, 17 January 2020

Latest Podcast, Book and TV Recommendations

Over 50s woman listening to music with headphones on
Hi folks and welcome to Five for FriYAY, the occasional post that celebrates the coming weekend and gives some suggestions for great reading, viewing and listening.

Podcast: Postcards from Midlife 

There are quite a few new podcasts aimed for women in mid life. They usually cover all the negative aspects of being older, so unless there's humour, I find them a bit of a turn-off.

The Times has launched a new podcast called Postcards from Midlife, featuring Lorraine Candy, editor of their Style magazine and former editor of Elle, and Trish Halpin, former editor of Marie Claire and Red.  Both women are in their early 50s. The first episode featured a discussion on libido with Suzy Godson. A very promising start: the chemistry between Candy and Halpin is good, and there are a few jokes and witticisms.

Podcast: Man In The Window

If you like true crime, Man In The Window from LA Times/Wondery is an absolutely superb example of the genre.  It covers the crimes of a serial rapist and serial killer known variously as the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer. The criminal started his spree in the early 70s and committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California until 1986.  He was only recently apprehended, thanks to amazingly complex and detailed genetic research.

The podcast is meticulously researched and presented by Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter. What's most fascinating about it is the attitude in the 70s towards rape.  It was hardly ever investigated as a crime.  Women who were raped were expected to keep quiet about it. There was certainly no counselling or help to recover.

One of the reasons that the serial killer and rapist went undiscovered for so long was that police forces refused to co-operate with each other, and there were often political reasons for not wanting to expose a series of crimes in an area. It was largely thanks to amateur crime buffs and retired police officers that progress was made.

The last episode is a discussion about attitudes to rape in the 70s and 80s. One of the saddest aspects of the case is that the law of statute in California expired very quickly in the 70s, so the criminal cannot be convicted for the rapes committed then.

TV: The Witcher, Atypical and Wisting 

We haven't had Netflix for long so we're like over-excited kids in the sweet shop.  Atypical is an amusing series about an adolescent with Asperger's and his family life. It's honest and can be both poignant and funny.  I was pleased to see Jennifer Jason-Leigh who was in some memorable films in the 90s, including the creepy Single White Female.

The Witcher is the "latest Game of Thrones clone," a fantasy series featuring Guernsey heart throb Henry Cavill. It's based on a series of novels by a Polish writer that are even more successful than GoT.  The series is not as good as GoT but it's entertaining. The main drawback is that not much is explained, so you're constantly having to look things up.

The drama constantly veers between the past, the present and the future, and it's hard to identify which period we're in. The Witcher is a man of few words but has a memorable and varied selection of grunts. Apparently he was a lot more talkative in the books, but the silent and brooding version portrayed by Cavill won the day.

Finally, on BBC 4  (and the iPlayer), Wisting, the Norwegian detective, was also dealing with a serial killer plus two members of the FBI who were flown over to help.  Episode five was absolutely gripping. Highly recommended.

Books: Another Tour de Force from Ian McEwan

The cover of Ian McEwan's book Machines Like Me
In his latest novel Ian McEwan confronts the imminent battlefield of Artificial Intelligence and morals and ethics.  Machines Like Me is set in a surreal 1982 where Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister has lost the Falklands War and is soon to be replaced by Tony Benn.  There is civil unrest because of robots replacing humans at work, and autonomous cars are commonplace.

A shiftless man, Charlie Friend, spends an inheritance on buying one of the first artificial humans, Adam.  Charlie and his girlfriend, who lives upstairs, agree to independently program Adam in terms of how they want to shape his personality, from various check lists.

Jealousy rears its ugly head when Charlie realises his girlfriend has been having sex with Adam, and Adam believes he is in love with her.  But worse is to come when the robot takes a very black and white view of a legal issue, and is unable to deal with nuances and interpretation as humans would. And faced with being used as slaves, and finding themselves in a world they can't understand, the artificial humans struggle to cope.  A fascinating and accessible read.

Books: Queenie, the Black Woman's Bridget Jones?

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams has been described thus, but I think it diminishes the quality and impact of this powerful book, which was short listed for the Costa First Novel Award.  The blurb on Amazon doesn't help:  "Queenie Jenkins can't cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That's definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there's her boss who doesn't seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don't seem to listen (if it's not Jesus or water rates, they're not interested). She's trying to fit in two worlds that don't really understand her. It's no wonder she's struggling."

There's far more to the book than it seems.  Queenie is trying to get through depression and has spiralled into self-destructive behaviour.  She emerges triumphant. I love the humorous touches and the sense of community in London.

Sharing this post with #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, Weekend Blog Hop at Claire Justine, Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge and #BloggerClubUK or #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings


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