Daley Inspiration

IMG_6060Isabelle loves swimming and her swimming lessons so much that she is practically The Newman From Atlantis, minus the webbed feet and hands you understand.

What she has done in her one-to-one lessons in nine weeks is nothing short of amazing (much doffing of swimming cap to her teacher, Nicky) as she is now swimming lengths in the big pool without her armbands. That’s right, to paraphrase Westlife, she’s swimming without wings.

Now, as mentioned previously, she generally splashes about (faster than lightning) in the diving pool and this was where she could be found this week.

It’s been used for practice by some of the celebs in this series of Splash! and last week Sarah and Iz saw Perry from Diversity and some of the rest of the er ‘crew’ including Ashley Banjo.

This week though, it was the main main himself. No, not Vernon silly, Tom, Tom Daley.

Sarah recounted that when she saw him she blurted out his name in full, one of those things you only seem to do with famous people.

The Rocketeer meets Louie Spence

The Rocketeer meets Louie Spence

Anyway, Tom, who was fully clothed I hasten to add, was marvelling at how good a swimmer Iz was for someone so young and how cute she looked in her little outfit and goggles.Sarah politely asked for his autograph for Iz (yeah right), ironically I’d have been asking for his boyfriend’s autograph with him being a screenwriter and all.

Unsurprisingly Tom was charming, down to earth and just really genuine and even though I wasn’t there I just thought it was lovely that he took the time to compliment one of the next gen of swimmers.

He was particularly impressed that she was swimming in such deep water, being the diving pool they’d not closed ‘the floor’ (it opens Tracy Island style for when people are diving – minus Thunderbird 1 blasting out of it) and it was over five metres in depth.

I’m sure it’s a (extend, tuck) drop in the ocean as he must make nice encouraging, positive comments to lots of swimmers but he made a real Splash! with Iz…well, I say that but she was kind of more interested in her post-swim Curly Wurly (sorry Tom), but I know it is something she will cherish in the future and no doubt clock him come Saturday night when he’s stood atop his diving board.

tom-daley1_2308057c[1]And whatever you think of the programme, it and he are certainly inspiring more people to get back in the pool. Perhaps it will only be a matter of time then before someone brings back ‘We Are The Champions’. Everybody in the pool!

Thanks Tom.

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Form Your Eyes Only: primary school applications

We gave our school form our best bash

We gave our school form our best bash

Ah, primary school forms…they make UCAS forms and job applications look like small fry. Or that is how it feels, perhaps it is because we are making decisions for someone else’s future and not our own? I guess that’s where with great parental power comes great responsibility…

We’ve done the touring round local schools, asked the intelligent questions and sat on chairs where our knees touched our chins.

As far as I was aware, back in my day (my day being back in infant school when you still did PE in vest and pants – er Tom Baker pants as I recall) it was that just that you went to the school nearest to you…not so these days.

dr_who_pants[1]It really is like looking round houses or prospective universities though as you get to absorb each classroom, corridor and corner of the playground. Some of them you know whether they have that certain vibe straight away but it’s always worth comparing and contrasting them all as school has just changed sooooo much since we were last there – and Tom Baker pants aside details are a tad foggy.

And certainly we saw some that seemed really good, but one really was head, shoulders, knees and toes above the competition and ticked each and every box. It didn’t just fulfil expectations it far exceeded them.

Well, we’ve now filled our form in (ahead of deadline, which was a good thing as it seemed to be bursting under pressure – we had to fill the ruddy thing about four times after getting it oh so perfect first time) and reasons for our first choice and now have about three months to find out whether we, and more importantly Iz, gets her first choice at the school that we think will be best for her.

And, working in education, I know it just doesn’t all boil down to Ofsted reports and the like, it’s the whole package.

At this school, the head teacher knew every child’s name and they all wanted to give the head teacher a hug or read to them, and the head had genuine time for each and every one of them.

You almost couldn’t have scripted it, it reminded of those scenes in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray knows everyone and can just do anything.

People say that a Head can make a school and I think we actually experienced that phenomena throughout our whole tour, it was practically infectious and was far from an act. In marked contrast in other schools we went round the Heads felt like snow queens – sure they were pleasant enough and said the sort of right things that we wanted to hear and find out about but there was just a certain something missing – in comparison. There was just no interaction with students, they just seemed slightly more feared than revered.

The other rather rubbish foot that one of the schools started off on was that we buzzed to be let in and was let into a fairly open school with no conversation, no asking who we were or what we were there for. They had never met us, not even asked us for our names and that didn’t really smack of a great environment.

imagesCA2ZMWGYFrom then on in it really was a bit like the dissolving skull and heartbeat from Knightmare as confidence was eroded by one thing and another, from not having trips for swimming lessons (I mean really, and in a seaside town as well. shame on them they didn’t deem it of importance) to having no green space.

Well, the form is in now in, our reasons for our first choice in black and white and soon we shall know where we shall be dropping Iz off from September.

It’s hard to believe that in less than nine months she will be starting proper school and growing up so fast. Like everything else she will no doubt take it all in her increasingly long leg stride…

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Isabelle makes a splash!

The Rocketeer meets Louie Spence

The Rocketeer meets Louie Spence

As reported in Pool-Iz Academy, Isabelle had been having swimming lessons in a small group. The first week was great, as reported, but after that both Iz and I were pretty much left to our own (floating) devices and felt like a spare arm(band).

This continued for the remainder of the lessons after promises things would get better so we voted with our kicking feet and left after our paid sessions were up…and dived straight into one-to-one lessons at Southend Tennis and Leisure Centre.
It just so happens that this is also one of the locations for the celebrity training in the second series of Splash! with Tom Daley , with the training action taking place in the very pool that the celebs were hurling/falling into as if they’d been shot.
Iz exclaimed ‘that’s my pool’, but was clear she wasn’t doing any jumping off diving boards just yet…perhaps February.
I actually saw Isabelle swimming in her new location for the first time this week – as you can see she is going for a whole The Rocketeer meets Louie Spence vibe – and she has come on in leaps and bounds compared to exactly the same period with the other people.
And she is already swimming without armbands, with her head in the water and doing the backstroke unaided, so she has really come on in leaps and bounds, or should that be strokes and bobs?
Iz may not have been making a splash on TV but she certainly did with me a she was just so full of smiles and energy. She was really loving each and every second in the pool and certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place on Splash!, giving TOWIE’s Gemma Collins a run for her money with her very own glamorous outfit.
From splash...to crash

From splash…to crash

It was all change though when we got home and Iz was soon nice and snug in her Sophia the First PJs zonked out with her Anxious the Elephant and the Snowdog on the sofa.

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Stars in Their Iz: Santa

Merry Christmas everyone! #SantaIKnowHim


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S-Now that’s what I call music: The Snowman and the Snowdog

Ever since seeing The Snowman and the Snowdog last Christmas Eve I’ve fallen in love with the mesmerising score and music by Ilan Eshkeri and Andy Burrows.

It was like Christmas come early then when I saw the score and songs for sale.

At the earliest opportunity it ended up in the CD player and whilst Isabelle was happily dancing round to it, something magical happened.

Sure, she’d watched it a gazillion times at the beginning of last year but hadn’t seen it this year yet, but as soon as the score started Isabelle was able to pinpoint the action that was happening that very moment just from hearing the score on its own.

Daddy, now they are in plane, now they are in the sleigh and the Snowdog has weed on the floor – referring to the scene where it lays in front of the fire and starts to melt.

Isabelle ended the session listening to the single version of ‘Light the Night’, the bit in the animation where The Snowman, the Snowdog and the little boy take flight, which saw Iz soaring round the living room thanks to me carrying her round…no doubt we’ll be taking to the sky again this evening.


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The ghost of Christmas Radio Times past

Walking through the doors of Tesco ,there it was, the Christmas double edition of the Radio Times.

My heart momentarily skipped a beat, it’s like my annual willy wonka golden ticket. I approached it like Indiana Jones does with the golden idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark…although there was no boulder (which reminds me if that old Chocolate Orange advert) or Paul Freeman waiting outside the store to swipe it from my grasp.

Santa has made a welcome return to the cover this year, pleasingly along with the Snowdog. And we all love the Snowdog.

Once the cover is opened it the usual regime of a quick flick through and annoyance at the hefty holiday section smack bang in the middle of the films section (this year it sits right in the middle of Christmas Day).

Then after that initial reconasence it’s out with the highlighters and pens ticking off everything that looks interesting…worrying about clashes later (back in the day it was of course timing issues with setting up the video recorder – one year I even remember biking it up to my Nana’s to set the tape going for something.

Film wise, there’s usually the film noir season or the Hitchcock season at ungodly hours, this year it seems to be the turn of some Hammer horror films.

Of course it all used to be so different, we’d probably not seen the big Christmas Day film and a movie premiere back then really meant something, after all we’d not already bought it or seen it on Sky etc.

If memory serves ITV premiered The Empire Strikes Back one year with the BBC headlining Back To The Future, we taped one and watched the other on the ‘portable’ (it weighed a ton) upstairs.

Of course the other thing that is different now is that you used to have to buy both the festive edition of the Radio Times and the TV Times, which would mean me being splayed out on the floor comparing and contrasting the two publications taking careful note of the dreaded programmes overlapping one another…crucial if you were setting it going a few minutes before.

This is what makes looking back at old VHS recordings such a thrill, it’s like a time warp and means that the interesting thing isn’t necerarly the original programme you tape but the end of the weather with Michael Fish et al you’ve just caught or the really dated sales/holiday adverts ITV.

Having said that you don’t miss the dash to open the plastic of a new video tape…only to find another layer to open, as I race against the spinning globe of BBC 1 and the continuity announcer as he introduces the TV programme or film I was looking at taping.

Still, this year much of the fun is in the reminiscent marking of the Radio Times as we probably won’t get time to catch up on half of what we have marked up for recording. No matter, the fun is still there in creating that initial televisual wish list.


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Barry’s very bad day: bye, bye Blockbusters

blockbusterAnd so it was finally fade to black, eject, roll credits for Blockbuster UK which closed its return boxes for the final time ever last weekend.

You Only Live Twice

It had seen more back from the dead endings than Freddy Krueger and its final gasp was almost as drawn out as the end to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as it had gone into receivership twice this year alone.

I’d had two stints working for Blockbuster, once in around 2001 – 2004 over in Kent and then again in Essex in 2012-2013. It was a store that had changed in some minor ways, but at the same time it hadn’t in most, which is probably what saw it hurtle toward its final destination.

Barry, and his bad day, just in case anyone is wondering, is the name of a training video infamous with employees as it was that old, had generally poor acting and was laughably bad. Barry of the title role was played by the bloke in charge o the market on EastEnders and onetime voice of the CoCo Pops Monkey! Yes, we’ll we’d rather have had a bowl of said turning milk choclatey cereal as well…thankfully there wasn’t a sequel!

I’d only ever worked part-time at Blockbuster so I always found it a fun way for some extra money, you got seven free rentals a week and money off games and films to buy…as a film buff what wasn’t there to like! As a (still) budding screenwriter the video store worker leap by Tarantino to script doctor and film director wasn’t entirely lost on me either.

My first interview for Blockbuster was also probably the most fun I ever had at an interview, having to explain why Jaws was my favourite film.

There were distinct side effects to working at Blockbuster though and you got spot the signs of an employee a mile off! Mine manifested itself as lacking the inability to open a VHS, DVD or Bluray if someone hands me one (outside of blue uniform) to check if it is there/the correct one, and ordering my DVD collection in genres – I didn’t quite go as far as having a top ten!

Ah, the top ten, if you just didn’t know what you wanted you would look at the top ten, well you did in my first stint but by my return they had done away with it – fools! There was also blocking, nothing to do with The Karate Kid, but more on that later.

Star Wars

Sometimes my first stint at Blockbuster could by fairly surreal as we had several famous people come and use it. I remember serving former javelin thrower Steve Backley (no he didn’t chuck his rentals at me) and Craig Fairbrass AKA Dan from EastEnders as he was at the time ( also see London’s Burning, Cliffhanger – we had it on our shelves but he never rented it I checked – White Noise 2 and The Sarah Conner Chronicles).

I even remember having to say to him once that he had an unpaid fine on his account (gulp) and I half expected the duff duffs to kick in when I’d made the announcement.

Of course they weren’t the only celebs to use Blockbuster. It wasn’t my store but famously in 1999 (I’m sure it was then) when Tom Cruise was filming Eyes Wide Shut he tried to rent a film from Blockbuster only to be asked for his ID or membership, of course he didn’t have any, apart from the countless films lining the shelves…not deemed sufficient proof he was denied rental and left bored on the 4th of July (perhaps). A true Mission: Impossible for the A-lister but far from being in a daze of thunder he seemed to take it all in good humour. Cue smile.

Be Kind, Rewind

Oddly at my first store they also trialled selling wine and beer, a hit with us in store but it didn’t seem to last very long or make its way across all stores.

That first store was also very much VHS, sure DVD was on the shelves but the tape was still the dominant species, which meant sore hands from pulling out and whacking in the yellow plastic sticks that tried to thwart thieves. And we had to rewind the bastards each time someone never rewound a tape back…I’ll never get that time back as I stand between two tape machines as they insistently scream back in fast rewind – it always sounded like the speeding simulator that Roger Moore gets trapped in Moonraker to me.

Lost in Translation

And because we had VHS (boo hiss pan and scan full screen at that) that meant that when we got films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon we got them in both the subtitled and dubbed version and not only did people not know it was a foreign language film (really?) but we had to double-check that they knew when renting at which point people look repulsed. Okay, so the title is in English but the German Das Experiment (the clue is in the title) had exactly the same problem…it’s not about a fricking washing powder! And despite it having a German flag on the back and the blurb, language from country of origin, didn’t seem to matter one jot! I didn’t know what the German flag looked like was the common reply…of course with DVD you often have language and dubbing options.

My personal fave has to be the Jean Reno films, which are made in French but he even re dubs himself!

So, the video may have well and truly vanished when I started my second spell at Blockbuster but I still have a soft spot, more of a fond memory , of big box video. Of course by then it was both DVD and Bluray and although you always had tracking or sound issues with the odd VHS, DVDs could often be found to be scratched to buggery as if people have worn it on the bottom of their shoes performing a tap routine on their way back to the store…or perhaps cos it isn’t theirs, people don’t look after it.

Certainly one of the few perks on buying ex rental DVD as an employee was that you were able to tell how many times something had been rented and compare and contrast the 20 or so copies that may have gone to ex-rental.

With the move to Bluray, this I largely found was not a problem. The only problem was that if you weren’t careful you could have quite easily spent half of your wages on items in store as it was a little bit like being a kid in a sweet shop. A bit like when major incidents have taken place in earth’s history and paleontologists can tell just by looking at layers of soil when there was an ice age or a great flood, the same can be said with my film collection which probably features more films from the #Blockbuster periods’ than any other.

The Box

The constant enemy of any Blockbuster employee was the drop box, a fiendishly simple device that acted as a post box for returned films…unless it was taped over…I say constant enemy as on nights through the weekend and after the weekend, especially if it was three for three nights or three for £10, there would be a river of films to scan in.

There was only so many you could humanly carry at once, cue tower of films crashing to the floor when being a tad over ambitious, but I always found it worse when it had been raining and the boxes were wet and ended up practically sticking together.

Um, talking of things sticking together, first time round at the store Blockbuster merrily stocked soft core porn, but porn nonetheless. This always seemed a little odd to me with its strong links to children’s charities but certainly second time round that sort of thing wasn’t on the shelves.

I can’t imagine that it really rented that well as it all looked bloody awful, not that I’m an expert or anything, in fact I think we only rented them to two or three people, but then with titles like Lord of the G Strings and Illegally Buxom Blonde I don’t think the main film studios had anything to be concerned about.

On a final note before I lock up the store, quick now before the smokescreen system goes off and fills it completely like something out of a James Bond film – funnily enough this happened the first night upon my return to Blockbuster, with the smoke billowing out of the store anyone would have thought that the store was on fire!

I’m sure all Blockbuster employees have encountered the following…

  • A customer will always ask to rent the latest film…that has just been released at the cinema/isn’t even out at the cinema yet!
  • Even though you are closed, it clearly states what time you are open until, people will still try and return items/rent something because your lights are on. Note, cashing up is much harder in the dark, although I wasn’t much better at it lights or no lights.
  • Blocking – the term given to the task of correctly laying out how the boxes are displayed and that they are done neatly so and in the correct order. Whenever visiting your store when you aren’t working, another store or just any shop with a similar setup you will inexplicably be drawn to blocking like you have really bad OCD. Sorry HMV!

And so that’s it, another familiar name vanished from the high street. The reasons for that are a whole new article, that wasn’t the aim of this, the aim of this was to merely celebrate of sorts the life and times of Blockbuster employee.

Is is a shame though that you now can’t pop in and rent a film of your choice in person, I know you can do that on demand etc, but it just doesn’t feel the same for me, plus I like to read the box when vowing the film. Ho hum. I guess the follow up question now is just how long can HMV hold on for?

End of Days

As Buggles famously sang, video may have killed the video star but several factors killed the video store…of course it all really boils down to what killed Woolworths really, it was an outdated model and couldn’t really compete with online prices or, in the case of Blockbuster, postal rental services – it had one as well – but especially download services. People weren’t bothered about a physical DVD or Bluray (I am, I still love the extras and commentaries) nevermind a physical store.

I don’t know what has become of my first store but the one in Essex is now a cafe and my local rental stall now simply stands empty. I drive past it most days to work and its said to see it empty of people and all those dreams, now only memories remain.

My three year old daughter even liked running round the store and picking a Scooby-Doo, Pixar or Blue Sky title off the shelves. Growing up my local independent video store was Video Magic, back in those days we had Betamax, and I used to love browsing the titles on the giant video boxes, the artwork (it was practically an art gallery for me and although I didn’t see them until much later the artwork on the likes of Fright Night were ingrained in my memory, which may go some way to explaining my collecting of classic movie posters) and the cardboard standees.

Isabelle will never have that experience and that is exactly what it felt like, an experience, it was a real thrill to have to go to the video store and not know just what you were going to come back with, or ask the person who was working there ‘which is best?’ or ‘Have you seen?’. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than introducing someone to a film that they had never heard of that was brilliant, or perfect for a fan of this or that genre or averting a rental disaster when they go to rent a film that was terrible. People got to know you and trusted your valued opinion or knowledge, even if it was for only 90 mins we had helped improve someone’s day.

And that was all part and parcel of the fun of it all, no matter which side of the counter I was standing…

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