Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Shed

It has taken months and been painfully more expensive than expected, but I now have a shed/office up and running, and my daughter no longer needs to share her bedroom with my rubbish. Here, for those who've asked, is the whole saga...

The original plan was to convert the old, World War Two bomb shelter at the end of the garden, which had been used for storing the lawnmower and old pots of paint. I was really keen to keep the bomb shelter, not least because of its place in history. This part of London was heavily bombed in the war - the pub round the corner, my daughter's nursery and the swings we go to all the time are all built in place of houses that were lost.

Although the shelter looked large and imposing from outside, the very thick brick walls meant it was pretty small inside. Those walls would make it difficult to add a window or electricity. And the heavy-set concrete roof was leaking, which would be complicated to fix.

Exterior of World War Two bomb shelter
in our garden in January
Interior of World War Two bomb shelter
in our garden in January

The compromised roof, letting water in
So, in January, and a little guiltily, we arranged for builders to come and unbuild it. It took two of them, all day, with a huge pneumatic drill and sledge hammers, just to take the roof off.

Day 1 of demolition

Day 2 of demolition
It was exhausting work. The builders got through at least one pneumatic drill, and would retire wearily at 3 pm each evening. It took longer than expected, so they were then off to other jobs, coming in when they could to destroy another section.

By the end of the first week, we'd also hit a snag: the back and right-hand walls of the bomb shelter were supporting the walls behind them, so would have to stay. There was also the issue of how low the bomb shelter sat in the ground, which had meant there was always a problem with damp.

End of second week of demolition
The builders suggested using some of the rubble they'd cleared as the base for a platform on which the shed could sit. It saved money to use the broken bits of brick - but was still an expensive addition to the plan. We tightened out belts, and as well as the platform they installed panelling to tidy the whole thing up, too.

Construction of platform for new shed 

Our cat, Stevens, supervised the construction of a step up to the platform. The crappy weather may also have done something to the concrete mix - the edge of the step is already beginning to crumble. So we might have to have another go later in the year.

Paw prints in the step

After three weeks, the builders finished with the platform complete.

Platform completed, February

With them done and gone, I was ready to order the new shed from Woodside Timber. It would not arrive for another month - in March - so we had time to tidy the garden a bit, and attempt to book in an electrician for the next stage.

The Dr, in a tiara, tidying.
A nice electrician we'd used before came round and established it would be really tricky getting a cable out to the shed, as it would need to go under the floor in our kitchen, through the back wall, under the patio and then under the garden. Not one of these things would be easy.

But by happy coincidence, she was due to be working in the next few days with our old friend, the nice bloke who fitted our kitchen and converted our loft, who we'd booked to insulate and board the inside of the shed. She said she would talk to him about exactly what could be done. I heard from him soon after, and they'd talked through who would do what. We were go - in principle, or so I thought.

In March, while I was talking at the Bath Taps Into Science festival, the shed was put up by the nice people from Woodside Timber - exactly fitting the platform for it. Hooray!

The new shed, in March
I was then on holiday - at a wedding in Vietnam, and then with the family in Majorca - and we hit the Easter holidays. So we were well into April before the nice bloke was free to put in the insulation and board. As agreed with the electrician, he put the wiring in - but didn't connect it up to the mains - and got a cable running from the shed to the house. It helped that he fitted our kitchen all those years ago and knew where everything sat. But it was still a fiddly job.

Then we hit another snag. Yes, the electrician had discussed with him what needed to be done. But she'd not actually quoted for the job because she knew she was too busy to take it on. Me and the nice bloke had both thought she'd given each other the go ahead. Oops. So I had to dash round looking for another electrician. More time lost. The soonest anyone could come just to quote for the job was now May...

In the meantime, I got on with painting the inside of the newly boarded shed, with the Lord of Chaos helping when the mood took him. Once the paint was dry, he also decorated it, on the theme of an aquarium - with added monsters.

Lord of Chaos at work
 Lady Vader also wanted in on the action, though her work is more abstract in nature.

Lord Chaos and Lady Vader at work
Towards the end of April, I made a whistlestop visit to Winchester for the christening of an old schoolfriend's new son, and was able to steal some off-cuts of carpet from my parents.

Shed now with some carpet
Then there was the matter of burying the steel wire armoured cable running from the shed to the house. This had been the bit of the job the electricians and nice bloke were all keen to dodge. So on a rainy day at the end of April, muggins here just had to get on with it, with spade and fork.

Garden before the trench
The official recommendation was to bury the wire at a depth of 600 mm, which is a lot of digging. It didn't help that very soon I was digging through broken brick and glass and tile - as if the house had been built on a rubbish tip. It was knackering.

Garden with trench
Meanwhile, with progress being made, the Dr was keen to get all my stuff out of what had been my office and is now Lady Vader's bedroom. That mean lugging the enormous desk downstairs and out. I called in a favour, having helped some friends move house over Christmas.

Desk in old office, in sight of the new shed

Desk and chair now in the shed
It was all done in time for the electrician to arrive the next day to give us a quote, as they'd need to see the trench. Job done - but I was a little sore and damaged.

A writer's hand after some real work
Lord Chaos was fascinated by the spoil heap I'd created, which meant a house full of mud. But he also diligently uncovered all sorts of treasures. We cleaned up the bits of broken tile and removed the bits of glass so he could take it all in to school for an accomplished show and tell.

Treasures from the garden
There was then a bit of back and forth with the electrician - he missed the day he was meant to come to quote, then couldn't do the actual work before the end of May. He also recommended a whole new fuse box for the house, rather than just grafting an extra bit on. It made sense, so we gritted our teeth and said yes. It might all be done by June...

At the last minute, he was able to come on the first Bank Holiday Monday, so we were suddenly ahead. I had to dash to the local DIY warehouses to pick up switch sockets and lights ready to be installed. I do not recommend this on a bank holiday weekend. It took almost for ever.

On the Monday, the electrician and his colleague worked quickly through the sunshine. They also signed off the trench I'd dug as being adequate, so - having put down a warning scroll about their being an electricity cable underneath - I could fill in the trench. That was on a very hot day, and probably harder than the original dig. The Dr felt I failed to emulate Poldark.

Not Poldark
After all that toil, I was granted a night out in the pub with some friends. Which was when the Dr discovered our downstairs lights had not been reconnected. The apologetic electrician was back the next day...

With the cables in, the nice bloke came back to fix a few last bits and pieces, and fitted the shelf brackets I'd also purloined from my parents. They had been the shelves in my bedroom in my teens, home to my run of Doctor Who books, most of which I'd long since given away... Putting up the brackets proved fiddly, because the sloping roof created an optical illusion where the middle bracket never looked right. After much swearing and use of a spirit level, we got a shelf up.
The middle bracket is at the same height as the other two
With the brackets fixed, my parents then came to babysit while I was off on a job. They arrived with my old shelves, cut to six feet exactly as I'd asked, and more off-cuts of carpet to fill the remaining gaps.

With shelves done, I began ferrying boxes of stuff over to the shed, in between trying to keep up with the work I'm behind on. Much of it was boxes of stuff that I'd hardly been able to get into in the seven years we've lived in this house. There was a happy afternoon just putting 25 years of Doctor Who Magazine in order, which will speed up a lot of the stuff I'm currently writing...

On Friday, we visited the British Heart Foundation shop in central Croydon looking for some kind of armchair or sofa that would a) fit the limited space and b) suit comfortable reading. We found the perfect thing and - miracle of miracles! - they delivered it that same afternoon. Lady Vader and her Dolly approved.

New old sofa meets Lady Vader's approval
With Lord Chaos off school with chicken pox, we've had a couple of days this week to concentrate on the shed - because he objected to me ignoring him by working on my laptop. Yesterday, we went to collect the box shelves Homebase were meant to have delivered 10 days ago. They apologised for not having a driver available in all that time and generously refunded the £3.95 for delivery.

Lord Chaos enjoyed using the gentle IKEA drill to put in the screws, and fixing the little white round things that hide the screwheads on top. He then contentedly watched me fill the shelves with all my rubbish. Last night, the Dr was delighted to see there was space for my Doctor Who DVDs, too - finally exorcising her house.

There are still bits and bobs left to do: things to unpack, a fan heater to buy, so much of it to reorganise. But it's a snug and cosy space to work in, and I'm now ripping through the stuff that for so long I have been late on. It has been well worth all the effort.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Doctor Who and Rose, by Russell T Davies

Last night I was again the guest of the Hastings Writers' Group to give feedback on and announce the winner of their science-fiction short story competition. The 19 2,000-word stories all brimmed with brilliance, and gave us plenty to talk about. Mike Gould then read his beguiling and original winning entry, "Up There And Far Away", and we had time for a couple of the runners-up, too. An enthusiastic, talented and supportive group - it was a pleasure to sit among them.

Reading those stories and some research for work things has meant little time for books, but there have been moments for Rose, Russell T Davies' glorious novelisation (he prefers "novel") of the episode that, back in 2005, brought Doctor Who back from the dead. Doctor Who rose, do you see?

I've shared my immediate reaction to seeing Rose before, and the book largely follows the events seen on screen but adds three things:

First, Russell ties the events and characters into stuff we learn in later TV episodes - there are references to Rose's dad from the 2005 episode Father's Day, Mickey's gran from the 2006 series, Rose's chat with the Tenth Doctor in The End of Time part two (2010), and all sorts of bits about the Time War.

The past is also up for grabs. Most notably, when Clive shares with Rose evidence of the Doctor visiting key moments in history, the TV version has him show her pictures only of this incarnation. That made sense for a brand new series looking to appeal to an audience who might never have seen any old Doctor Who. But with the series - and regeneration - now better established, he can have Clive present all the Doctors, in order, including some future ones.
"'He's not the final Doctor in sequence, have a look at this next one ... And how about this one?' said Clive. 'He's more your age.' Rose saw a man with a fantastic jaw, dressed in a tweed jacket and bow tie. Then Clive kept the sequence going; an older, angry man in a brown caretaker's coat, holding a mop; a blonde woman in braces running away from a giant frog in front of Buckingham Palace; a tall, bald black woman wielding a flaming sword; a young girl or boy in a hi-tech wheelchair with what looked like a robot dog at their side..."
Russell T Davies, Doctor Who - Rose, pp. 78-9.
In the same way, we learn Clive's father died in the 1960s in some kind of Doctor-related event. Some of us will recognise the details from Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).

Just as more Doctors appear here than in the TV episode, there are a lot more people generally. Wilson, mentioned and murdered off-screen on TV, has his life story detailed in a prologue - a life so rich and tangled that it's worthy of its own TV drama. When Rose returns home after meeting the Doctor, her flat is filled with people. Mickey also has a gang of mates - Mook, Patrice and Sally - who again could front their own series. The Auton attack on London is bigger, wilder and involves more people.

Russell fills the space afforded by a novel that wasn't practical on screen. We get Mickey's first sight of the interior of the TARDIS, and a chance for Rose to do what many of her successors have down, and gaze down on the Earth from space. Clive's wife gets more to do, and I long to know what happens to her afterwards and her quest for revenge.

The scale is spectacular, but the success of the book and the TV episode still rest on the small and ordinary stuff: it's all real, recognisable, relateable. For all people are selfish, difficult or weak, there's a great warmth in the writing, too, a delight in our foolishness and foibles. Russell is determinedly inclusive - not just in the sense of writing in new gay and trans characters, but also in making us welcome. The joy of this book, of his writinng, is not the aliens, but the humanity.

I look forward keenly to Russell's new TV drama, A Very English Scandal, which begins this Sunday. See also the new profile of Russell T Davies in The New Statesman.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Engineer in Wonderland, by ER Laithwaite

This was research for something I'm working on at the moment. It's the book version of the Royal Institution Christmas lectures delivered in December 1966 and January 1967 by Eric Laithwaite, professor of heavy electrical engineering at Imperial College. 

These were the 137th Christmas lectures in the series for a "juvenile auditory", or children aged between 10 and 17, begun by Michael Faraday in 1825. Until recently, it was thought Laithwaite's were the first to be televised, in a tradition that continues today, but Rupert Cole reveals that Royal Institution Christmas lectures were broadcast, in some form, in 1936 and 1949

Laithwaite gave each lecture between 3 and 4 pm, and the broadcasts were between 5 and 6 pm the same day. I like to imagine some poor runner racing with the fresh, unique 2-inch videotapes from the Royal Institution in Albermarle Street to TV Centre in under an hour, but suspect it wasn't quite like that...

My version of the book, sourced from Abebooks where I spend too much money, does not look as splendid as the stock image of the dust jacket above. It's a battered, jacketless copy once owned by the University of Bradford library, loaned out 35 times between October 1969 and March 1998.

There's the foxy smell of school textbook, as the compounds in the paper have broken down over the last 50 years. Passages are underlined or marked by the various students who've been here before me. I especially like the old-school but trying-to-be-chic-and-futuristic university logo in the inside front cover, and the pouch still containing the punched paper card for old-skool computers:

The book itself is broadly a transcript of the lectures - complete with brackets telling us what was happening in the room as Laithwaite spoke. His lectures were repeated in the summer of 1967 - "on BBC Channel-1", as the Royal Institution informed its members - and then the tapes were wiped, so this, with its photographs of the lectures being given and close-ups of the various models and machines, is the nearest we can get to reliving them.

Laithwaite is quite the showman, his lectures full of demonstrations of things apparently breaking physical laws - objects levitating, darts shooting through tubes, that sort of thing. The sixth and final lecture starts with one hell of a promise: demonstrations of experiments never previously performed, with Laithwaite not knowing the results in advance. If I struggled with some of the technical explanations (yes, aimed at kids aged 10 to 17, shut up), I wholly got the excitement of this live theatre.

(The above image was also used on the cover of the programme of the lectures. Note the threepenny bit in the lower right, to give scale.)

Laithwaite was best known for his work on linear motors and levitation systems - think the fast-moving tray that cuts the head off a dummy in Q's workshop in The Spy Who Loved Me (using a system Laithwaite helped to develop). His lectures basically explore the science of these things, but are more about imbuing the audience with less a sense of wonder, more a sense that they can play with this weird, cool stuff, too.

The book goes further - most chapters are followed by notes explaining how schools might build the models demonstrated. I'm only slightly completely bloody horrified by the instructions in the first lecture for a wire that gets so hot it can be used to cut plastic - "but be careful not to burn your fingers" - and models that plug directly into the mains.

In fact, there's something thrillingly reckless here. Lecture two begins with Laithwaite trying out ideas suggested by children in the audience of lecture one, two days earlier. Besides the hasty rewriting, restructuring and basic accomodation of this, there's then the result:
"The experiment was tried ... but ... the volunteer suddenly let go the thick ring as it was burning his fingers."
ER Laithwaite, The Engineer in Wonderland, p. 31.
That's burning a child, almost live on air. On page 125, he describes timing the moment to switch off a linear track at just the right moment so that a rotor riding along it didn't fly off into the audience. There's a fascinating preface to chapter six in which Laithwaite details the preparations and testing for the never-before-tried experiment, with safety as a paramount issue.
"Alan Sleath [BBC producer] offered to put the whole experiment in a cage, with lecturer and assistants inside. This would certainly have added to the spectacle if not to the comfort of those performing the experiment."
Ibid., p. 143.
As a sometime producer for the BBC on a freelance basis making documentaries for radio, I find all of this extraordinary and thrilling, a risk assessment form expanding in my head as I read eagerly on. No wonder these lectures made such an impact and established the series on TV. Laithwaite was invited to give Christmas lectures again in 1974 - but that's another story.

More than anything, these lectures are about practical experimentation, using your own evidence to challenge the things we take for granted. It's an intoxicating challenge, and I'd like to know how influential it was on getting children into STEM subjects and engineering in particular.

But there are moments where Laithwaite is more philosophical. He claims that a hundred years ago (that is, 50 years before his lectures) the all-important factors in machine design were efficiency in power. At the time of his lectures, he argued the key factors were cost and the amount of power gained from a given weight. But what of the future? Laithwaite's prediction is fascinating, forged in the shadow of the "white heat" of technological revolution, famously spoken of by Harold Wilson  in 1963. Here's what Laithwaite predicted:
"Your homes are becoming more and more littered with gadgets, both electrical and mechanical. A family possessing a car, bicycles, a washing machine, a refridgerator, a vacuum cleaner, an electric razor, a hair dryer, a television set and transistor radios is not regarded as anything out of the ordinary. Washing-up machines, waste disposal units, automatic food mixers, electric carving knives and the like are regarded as somewhat more luxurious, but the average number of gadgets per home is increasing each year. When they all work, they are fine things to have, but we soon learn to rely on them to such an extent that when they fail we are terribly upset, and as the number of gadgets increases, so does our annoyance with them and the liklihood of a repair man of one sort or another coming in almost ever day! - unless the reliability is increased - and we will be prepared to pay a bigger and bigger price for reliability. If your car or the train in which you are travelling breaks down only once a year, it is once too often, and if you were asked, as a regular traveller, to pay £50 a year more for your fares or petrol with a guarantee that your transport would never break down, I think most people would be prepared to pay it even now."
Ibid., p. 74.
Yes, a 21st century built by engineers on the basis of reliability. I finished the book on a train to London Bridge, late after the one I'd meant to catch had been cancelled. That £50 fee - as much as a week's Oystercard - is a tantalising utopia.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Doctor Who and the Day of the Doctor, by Steven Moffat

A long time ago when I was not so broken and old, I made a point of finishing every book begun, enjoyable, insightful or not. These days, amid the noise of work and childcare, I'll try and give a book 100 pages and then dump it if it's not delivering.

Oh dear, did Simon not get on with the new novelisation of 2013 Doctor Who episode The Day of the Doctor, written by his friend Steven Moffat? And to the extent of then writing an angry post about it, to be read by whole single figures of people? Or is this merely an attention-grabbing prelude?

I got to page 136 of Ann Radcliffe's 1794 gothic novel The Mysteries of Udulpho -

Hah, thought so. 

- and things were just starting to occur. After pages and pages of picturesque travel through Gascony, our heroine Emily is orphaned and forced to live with a ghastly aunt, surrounded by her aunt's ghastly friends. They engineer malicious gossip about a nice young man Emily has taken a shine to, and her prospects do not look good...

But the plot and I were making such slow progress, the prospect of another 596 pages was hardly a thrill. And then the five new novelisations of TV Doctor Who stories arrived. I selected Steven Moffat's one at random to read on a trip into town. 

And blimey. It's frenetic. I tore through it in very few sittings - which feels all the more remarkable because the book is packed.

Steven retells the events of the TV episode from the point of view of the Doctor, which is immediately tricky because it all happens out of chronological order, and to several incarnations of the Doctor at once. So we start with chapter 8, then chapter 11 and then chapter 1. Between each chapter, a narrator comments on the reliability of the sources - apparently in real time as we're reading. 
"(By the way, these pages should be appearing in italics . If not, just give three light taps on any verb, and the page will reboot. And if you don't like any aspects of my prose style, give the book a good shake. That should help you work of your irritation.)"
Steven Moffat, Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor (2018), p. 3.
It's all very clever, or infuriating or fun, depending on your tastes. Steven packs his book with metatextual jokes - references to Doctor Who books that haven't been written yet, teasing us to look for a chapter that's gone missing, and the idea that the narrator can see us as we're reading. One page is apprently written in our own handwriting.

While the narrative largely follows the events - and dialogue - of the TV episode, Steven has added all sorts of stuff. Each incarnation of the Doctor gets a heroic moment and to go for tea. There are appearances by River Song (in the bath with the Tenth Doctor), the Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith, and even the Dr Who movies starring Peter Cushing - including what the Doctor thinks of them.
"He loves them. He loaned Peter Cushing a waistcoat for the second one, they were great friends. Though, we only realised that when Cushing started showing up in movies made long after his death."
Ibid., p. 144.
Again, your delight or dismay at this sort of thing may vary, but I found the Brigadier and Sarah bits quite moving - not least because the much-loved actors who played them died in 2011 and so couldn't be part of the TV version. The TV version did achieve a coup of a cameo, and the appearance by an engimatic curator of the National Gallery still provides goosebumps in print (though sadly doesn't confirm my own evidence-based theory that the National Gallery is, in fact, a TARDIS).

But really that's all distraction from the crux of the story, in which the Doctor faces, again and again, the worst moment in his long life - when he must destroy his own people to save the universe as a whole. This, its effect on him, and the intervention by his friend Clara, is what makes this particular adventure so sad and yet joyous, so effective and even profound.

Steven goes beyond the TV version, which rests on the Doctor restating the promise implicit in his name, that he endeavours never to be cruel or cowardly. The book turns out to be a more fundamental exploration of that promise, and of exactly who the Doctor thinks they are.

It ends on a battlefield in the future, with the Doctor in conversation with two women from her past, quoting words from a TV episode that, long ago, promised the adventures would never end. So this novelisation of old Doctor Who - in more ways than one - is ultimately a witty / optimistic / clever-clever look to the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Isle of Dogs

In January, I took the Lord of Chaos to see the Pixar film Coco at the cinema. It held him transfixed, but I'd already given my heart to a trailer before it started. As always, there had been the cloyingly awful previews of films aimed at children and their poor parents - and then an astonished gasp from those sitting round me in the darkness. And from me as well.

'What the bloody hell was that'? people asked. 'Can we go see that?' I pleaded to my son.

Finally, this morning, we got to see Isle of Dogs, and I sat in stupefied wonder. It looks and sounds and feels amazing - a tale of a small and wounded boy doggedly searching for his lost dog, in a desolate and often cruel landscape. It had just the right mix of tension and jokes to keep his Lordship entertained, too - he enthused to his mum about it later.

I was getting a strong Kurosawa vibe already when the brilliant soundtrack (mostly by Alexandre Desplat) then included Hayasaka's "Kanbei & Katsushiro - Kikuchiyo's Mambo" from The Seven Samurai.

It could do with better, more prominent roles for female characters, and I'd have cut at least one of the couples pairing up at the end - it's all a bit male and straight and, looking at the cast, white. But it's an astounding film, even more so to see it on the big screen with that sound. It's been a long time since I've left a cinema so elated.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Bernice Summerfield - in Time

The Time Ladies and Big Finish have announced a thrillingly thrilling short story competition for the Bernice Summerfield range.

The winning story will be published in Bernice Summerfield: in Time, a new anthology edited by Xanna Eve Chown and to be published in December - part of the glut of fun stuff to mark 20 years of Big Finish producing Benny's adventures. The anthology will include a short story by me (which I haven't started writing yet), related to my forthcoming audio play, Braxiatel in Love.

A long time ago, I was in charge of judging Benny short story competitions, and a Doctor Who one, too. Here's some general feedback from the 2006-7 Doctor Who short story competition that might be of use to anyone entering this new contest. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Seven films watched on two planes

Bladerunner 2049
This is not a film designed to be watched on a small, square screen on a plane, the naked bits pixellated and the swearing dubbed. But it still looks amazing, a credible, bleak future of light and texture and history. There's considerable effort to continue on from the original film without matching it slavishly, but sadly this new instalment lacks the quirky humour.

It's treatment of women is also a problem. True, the "pleasure model" Replicants in the first film were all women, and I think this one's trying to make a point about the way women are packaged and sold - while also showing us lots of bare boobs (if I read my pixellated screen right). Given we know that Ryan Reynolds' K is a Replicant, perhaps it would have worked better for him, in his darkest hour, to see a sexy advert not for a Replicant that reminds him of someone else, but for one that looks just like him.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This film about rape and murder and suicide and domestic violence and racism and torture was, helpfully, edited for content, so what seems to have been an almost constant barrage of swearing was dubbed out. For the first ten minutes or so, I thought I was going to have to turn the thing off it was so ridiculous, and then it became hypnotic.

It's a gripping film, that starts with a really tough premise and then keeps coming at you from left field. Part of the thrill of it is in having two lead characters who seem completely unchained, liable to do just about anything.

A final scene seems a bit tacked on - we watch a car drive away past the titular billboards and the film could have ended there, but we then cut to the interior of the car for some last exposition. I'm also really uncomfortable about the sort-of redemption of the racist cop who admits to having tortured a black suspect - an act that is almost a joke among the white people of the community. Yes, he suffers in the course of events, and endeavours to be a better cop, but there's no sense that either he or the community really face up to what he's done.

Baby Driver
This typically stylish caper from Edgar Wright is great fun, though obviously overshadowed by Kevin Spacey's later fall from grace. I really liked the final sequence where Baby must face the consequences of his actions, but also felt love interest Debora was too accepting of all he had done. Grosse Point Blank had Debbie recoil in horror from her prospective boyfriend's criminal life. Not enough of a price is paid here, I thought.

Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Guy Ritchie's daft take on the Arthurian legend has baby Arthur brought up in a brothel in London, where he grows into a right geezer with a common touch before learning he's the king. The title would be more accurately Arthur: Ledge. The film's one redeeming feature is that the London shown is clearly the one built and then abandoned by the Romans, the cheeky cockneys having taken charge of the former temples and circus. Just that panning shot made it worth it.

Goodbye, Christopher Robin
Since I'd read Christoper Robin's own memoir, The Enchanted Place, I knew that the opening premise of this film wasn't right - the boy who played with Winnie the Pooh didn't grow up to die in the Second World War. Yes, the film reveals later on that he survived, but that opening meant I watched this wondering what else had been moulded for dramatic effect. Would Olive, the nanny, really have spoken her mind to the boy's parents? Have the writers been fair to Daphne, the boy's mum?

Even so, that didn't distract too much from the moving story, of a shell-shocked AA Milne and EH Shephard struggling to return to their light-comic lives from before the war. A son and a move to the country both fail to quiet Milne's demons, at least at first. Then a bond builds between father and son that Milne works into his Winnie the Pooh stories - which were hugely successful by any measure, except the one that really mattered. Christopher Robin's enchanted childhood became a nightmare adolescence.

It's a compelling, horrifying story, that the books we so adored caused such misery for the boy in them. I find myself reviewing how much I put my own children in the limelight, on social media or in anything related to my work.

The Dark Tower
This is a humourless action movie about a troubled teenager who is really the special psychic who can either save or destroy the whole universe. The gunslinger he teams up with is played by Idris Elba, who adds a touch of class and is the best thing about the film - but it's a shame he couldn't be smarter or funnier. As the two journey through different realms together, they fight various bad guys and monsters, while the main villain does horrible things to anyone close to them. It's downright nasty: the bad guy killing the boy's mum is oddly unaffecting beyond the immediate shock. I kept hoping it would do something more interesting.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
I'd seen this fun adventure before, and again was struck by its wit, its heart, the villain we can totally sympathise with and the brilliant moment where Spider-Man inadvertently turns up at his front door. A lot of superhero films are about exceedingly strong and well-equipped people beating up villains who often seem less well-off in powers and technology. This new version of Spider-Man works precisely because he's a little guy - young and green and apparently out on his own.