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Bob DylanBlonde on Blonde
Popular music has spawned few genii, but Bob Dylan has to be among them. He first hit the public consciousness in the mid sixties as the focal protest singer of his generation, a position with which he was never fully comfortable, viewing his fans with as much suspicion as his critics. His switch to electric guitar, which alienated much of his folk fanbase and created the genre of folk-rock, was only the first time he turned people's expectations upside down. Flicking through country, gospel, Americana, pop and more, Dylan was distinct in all his styles, marrying astonishing lyrics with a hauntingly beautiful voice (the latter being something that even his fans do not always give him credit for), though always remaining something of an enigma. In recent years he has joined the likes of Johnny Cash in writing openly about old age and death, and thus has been - in a different way - as groundbreaking as he was in the sixties. The albums to particularly watch out for are Blonde On Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, Street-Legal, Blood On The Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited, Slow Train Coming and - my personal favourite - Desire, though you'd do well to start off with The Essential Bob Dylan.

Crazy/BeautifulCrazy/Beautiful
Kirsten Dunst has made the difficult transition from child star, in the likes of Jumanji and Little Women, to leading roles in films such as the Spider-Man trilogy and Wimbledon. In between, she starred in several so-so teen films, and produced the best performance of her career - so far - alongside Jay Hernandez in Crazy\Beautiful. While the premise is hardly original - boy and girl from different backgrounds find that love can defeat the obstacles between them - the script is tight, the characters are excellent and the love story rings true; this last is all too infrequent on film. And while the - largely unknown - supporting cast doesn't put a foot wrong, it is Dunst who stands out as the wealthy but discontented Nicole, whose life is going off the tracks through drink, drugs and a broken relationship with her father - those who regard her as a pretty face without any great acting depth (a view that recent efforts such as Elizabethtown and Marie Antoinette could encourage) will be pleasantly surprised. It was marketed as a teen film, with hot young actors, but it is far better than that (indeed, Dunst has rarely looked worse: an absence of make-up and unwashed hair contributing to her character) and should be watched as a love story without any labels attached.

Chandler BingChandler and Joey
It's easy to forget just how good Friends was in its first few series. True, in later years it became pretty much everything one despises in American television - brash, bright, silly and dominated by the belief that screaming every line is funny - and it spawned a number of shows that copied the style without any of the wit. It was often clever, it was neatly observed and - most importantly - it featured funny people saying funny things in a funny way. There was the great emotional backdrop of Ross & Rachel, but the centrepiece of the comedy was Matthew Perry's performance as Chandler, who could always be relied upon to make a dull situation amusing and an amusing situation hilarious. Friends, at its best, was a show about nothing (not a new idea; Cheers got there years beforehand) and Chandler was a character whose best humour came out of nothingness: a dry aside or an ironic analysis. Yes, he employed sarcasm, but he made it an art form rather than the blunt instrument it usually is - similarly, his use of intonation has been caricatured as "Could I be any funnier?" (a form used more frequently in the series to mock Chandler than by the character himself), whereas in fact Perry was one of the best deliverers of a line in sitcom history. The partnership of Chandler and Joey is an exceptional double act, and infinitely preferable to the romantic pairing of Chandler and Monica, where the laughs were much harder to come by. The first episode you should turn to is The One Where No One's Ready, from Season 3.

The Times crosswordMe doing the Times crossword
The traditional crossword is a pretty unexciting way to fill time - for each clue you merely have to find a synonym or an example, and enter it into a grid. It gets the mental juices flowing, but there is nothing to stimulate the imagination - while the difficulty level can be increased as far as is desired, the puzzle cannot reach a higher plane. The cryptic crossword changed that. While essentially the same idea - there are clues, which give answers to fit in a grid - a cryptic crossword is infinitely superior to its 'straight' cousin. A cryptic clue, typically, consists of a straight definition and some cryptic wordplay, be that an anagram, a combination of words, or something more devious: basic examples include "Ogre transformed thus (4)" or "Fuss helping to produce love (9)", answers to which are 'ergo' (an anagram of 'ogre') and 'adoration' (fuss = ado, helping = ration) - compare these to their mundane straight counterparts, "Thus (4)" and "Love (9)". The cryptic has developed over the years, with informal and less informal rules introduced by, among others, the great cruciverbalist Ximenes, and each newspaper's crossword today has its own rules and customs. The world's most famous crossword belongs to the world's most famous newspaper, The Times (otherwise known as The Times of London), and manages to stay within ideals of fair play while still being fresh almost every time. It is a difficult puzzle compared with, for example, The Telegraph, but is infinitely more pleasing, and a great place to learn the rules of the game. A lot of people claim not to be able to 'do' cryptic crosswords - the best way to learn is to have a go, read the answers (available the next day!) and work out why they are what they are - it's also helpful to check out Times for the Times.

Abbey RoadGeorge, Paul, Ringo & John
At the height of Beatlemania in 1963, the airwaves both sides of the Atlantic were filled with the exuberant sounds of four kids from Liverpool building upon the rock 'n' roll revolution of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard. As the sixties blossomed, so did the Beatles, totally redefining almost every aspect of popular music and producing countless classics along the way Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles [aka the White Album] were increasingly sophisticated and musically impressive, but as the music soared, relationships within the band soured. The fall-out following the White Album never fully went away, and the films from the Let It Be sessions reveal a band in melt-down, for reasons ranging from Yoko Ono to Harrison's guitar solos. Perhaps realising it would be their last album together, the Beatles seemed to pull together on Abbey Road John produced some of his best experimental work in I Want You (She's So Heavy) and Because, as well as the classic rock 'n' roll of Come Together; George made the beautiful Something and Here Comes the Sun; Ringo created his only song of note, Octopus's Garden. But Abbey Road chiefly pays testament to the genius of Paul McCartney, whose medley on the second half of the album, from You Never Give Me Your Money to The End, is awe-inspiring. This album represents the apogee of the Beatles' achievements, showcasing their individual talents as well as trademarks like imaginative production technique, diverse musical influence and a brilliant album cover. Quite simply the best album you can buy.

The Mr. MenMr. Silly, one of 39 Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves
When Adam Hargeaves asked his father what a tickle looked like, the response was an orange fellow with a blue hat, no torso and - of course - extraordinarily long arms. This was Mr. Tickle, and he was the first of 39 delightful characters, simply and colourfully drawn. Some of them embodied obvious characteristics (Mr. Happy, Mr. Clever, Mr. Small) some of them were less obvious (Mr. Bump, Mr. Bounce, Mr. Sneeze) and some of them were plain odd (Mr. Snow, who was only in existence for one night, and Mr. Daydream, who may not have existed at all), but they were all wonderfully unique. Each character has his own story, often searching for a job (Mr. Small, Mr. Rush and Mr. Slow) or learning the error of his ways (Mr. Greedy, Mr. Nosey, Mr. Mean), but each individual lived in the imagination to a far greater extent than the dozen or so pages of each book. It would be a lie to say the characters are insightful representations of the human condition, but they are clearly painted, both in the books and in the faithful cartoons voiced by Arthur "Captain Mainwaring" Lowe. The less said about the 'Mr Men' devised after Roger Hargreaves' death, and the abomination of the Mr. Men Show, the better - ignoring these pollutive additions, the Mr. Men stand as the most good-natured and attractive stories available to children. Or adults.

Steve BullBully
A glance at the record books tells you how much of an impact Steve Bull had at Wolverhampton Wanderers in his 13 years at the club. Joining from arch-rivals West Bromwich Albion in 1986, he scored 306 goals in 561 appearances in gold and black, hitting 18 hat tricks along the way and winning the adoration of the Wolves fans to a man. Indeed, there are few players as uniformly adored by supporters of one club as Bull is; perhaps only Alan Shearer at Newcastle compares. He is loved not only his incredible goal-scoring prowess - he also scored 4 in 13 caps for England, scoring on his debut while still in Division 3 with Wolves - but also his loyalty, staying with Wolves despite interest from several of the biggest clubs in the world. Only four years after his retirement, one of the stands at Molineux (Wolves' home ground) was re-named the Steve Bull Stand, thus bracketing him with legends like Stan Cullis and Billy Wright in Wolves' history, and their was not a dissenting voice to be heard. When Bull signed for Wolves, they were in Division 4. He led their charge up the divisions, but unfortunately had retired before they made their first, short-lived, appearance in the Premiership after a 19 year wait. It is perhaps inevitable that Bully will be given the manager's job at Molineux some day, and equally inevitable that he will fail to live up to his own gold standard. But, until that day, he is spotless.
what's this all about?
Some of my favourite films, books, albums, TV shows, colours... etc
quick links
Abbey Road
Bob Dylan
Chandler Bing
Crazy/Beautiful
The Mr. Men
Steve Bull
The Times crossword
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