Blog 7

Dec 04

In December 2004 Blog Seven was a weblog about Christmas.

Blog 7Post a comment • 212 views

In December 2004 Blog Seven was a weblog about Christmas.

Dec 04

“In my box are such delights…”

Blog 71 comment • 557 views

“In my box are such delights…” (Part 3 of 3)

It may be a conservative programme that’s responding to a vanished world, but that doesn’t mean The Box Of Delights is bad television. In my view it sidesteps its potential pitfalls and stands as one of the most charming and engrossing children’s programmes ever.

Why? The glossiness of the production is part of it, but only a minor part. TBOD is a hotch-potch of effects – live-action, animation, CSO, animal costumes, primitive computer graphics – not all of which have aged well and not all of which work together. The whole thing still looks expensive, but it’s the lush location work and attention to period detail that carries the scent of money, not the cartoon phoenixes and flying sequences.

No, what really sets Box apart is, simply, the acting and direction. The story has a lot of adult characters, and what’s more, adults who have a narrative life beyond simply befriending/chasing/antagonising the children (the villain is laid low not by the forces of good but by in-fighting and betrayal among his henchpeople). This creates plenty of space for meaty, melodramatic acting – and that’s exactly what we get. A wonderful bunch of character actors get to ham their parts up and the whole production has a stagey, pantomime feel (which is probably why the occasional effects lapses don’t seem to matter much). Glorious pick of the bunch is Robert Stephens as the villain, Abner Brown, in perhaps the fruitiest performance ever seen on the small screen. Stephens plays the villain like a cross between Dick Dastardly and Oscar Wilde – switching between manic and louche in the course of a sentence or a gesture.

Crucially, two of the three most important child actors are also good (the general strike rate in these productions being zero). Devin Stanfield as the hero is indeed outrageously posh (“But where were the servants?” he cries after a burglary) but also has a good line in confused decency and manages to convey wonder rather well. The girl who plays gun-obsessed Maria manages to make her one-note character amusing rather than annoying. Only best friend Peter strikes a bum note and he spends most of the serial kidnapped.

The direction is superb throughout. It’s very easy to aspire to making something “magical” or “Christmassy”, but in practical terms how do you achieve it? Renny Rye does it by giving us long, indulgent scenes of snowscapes, midnight Mass, lavish Christmas parties…he’s pressing buttons very obviously but it is effective, and it gives TBOD a sense of event, of being something richer than just an ordinary drama serial. Rye can switch up the pace too, and is particularly good at dropping in a sudden, almost subliminal image to shock or frighten the audience (his dream sequences are wonderfully creepy, too). The best example of how well he understands the material is his use of cliffhangers, which you can only enjoy on the new DVD. He doesn’t generally stop the action at the most exciting point – instead he chooses a moment that’ll give his young audience something to think about for a week, a stimulating situation or image that’ll get their minds working and drag them deeper in. It worked for me back in 1985, anyhow.

The reviews of the serial on split two ways – a majority of people who love it and a few who say that you can’t go home again, and that happy memories should stay just that. As the less-than-proud purchaser of the complete run of Blakes 7, I’m not unsympathetic to them, but The Box Of Delights really is just as special and enjoyable as I remembered it being. A lot of the Amazon respondents claim that they watch it at Christmas every year, and I can see us following their example.

Dec 04


Blog 7Post a comment • 624 views

Tropical Punch

Today I’d like to share with a recipe that’s been a feature of Daddino family Christmases for decades:


1 lage watermelon
1 46-ounce can (about 6 cups) red Hawaiian fruit punch
1 6-ounce can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen pineapple juice concentrate
6 cups cold water
1 1-pint 12-ounce bottle (3 1/2 cups) ginger ale, chilled

Stand watermelon on end; cut thin slice off bottom to make it level. Cut top third off melon. Using cup as guide, trace scallops around top outside edge of melon. Carve scalloped edge, following pattern. Scoop out fruit, serve later. Chill melon shell.

Combine Hawaiian fruit punch, fruit juice concentrates, and water. Pour ice in melon bowl. Resting bottle in rim of melon, carefully pour ginger ale down side; mix with up-and-down motion. Float orange and lime slices. Twine melon with ivy leaves, holding with toothpicks. Makes 30 to 35 servings.

In mid-sixties cookbook it comes from (it shall remain nameless because it’s by an enormous copyright-hungry American recipe cartel), it’s one of two recipes that have been flagged as being really good…the other being Lemon Mayonnaise. Which sounds ick. And even though I have fond recollections of it, the punch is probably ick, too, as it mixes juice, juice simulacra and soda in a carnaval of high-fructose corn syrupy goodness. But who are we, oh dezinens of 2004, to judge, seeing as people drink Snapple Juice Drinks willingly? And that there are recipes for similar punches all over the net using raspberry sherbert, and I hate sherbert. Further, equally upsetting revelation: on a trip to the e-fecking-normous chain supermarket yesterday, I noticed Minute Maid no longer comes in 6-oz. of juice concentrate, only 12-oz. cans (which is fine as the family’s doubling the recipe this year) and 1-pint 12-oz bottles of ginger ale have also gone the way of all flesh, replaced by larger (and smaller) sizes. The moral: Americans are PIGGIER than EVER.

Incidentally, we never made this punch with the melon (or the ivy). Melons really aren’t in season this time of year, and besides, hollowing one out for punch is a really thankless task, isn’t it?


Blog 7Post a comment • 625 views

Christmas 1979

I’m wearing one ugly fucking t-shirt: batik (again), blue, a non-licensed Snoopy carrying balloons, extra-clingy to show off my complete lack of physique. Plus I have to wear glasses now. It all started the day my grandparents come to school and notice I can’t read things printed on the blackboard without getting up from my chair and squinting. (Was my teacher completely oblivious to this? My parents?) It’s funny, I don’t really remember having sight problems at a young age. I don’t remember the world as blurry. In fact, I can remember being able to read storefronts and road signs glasses-free I probably wouldn’t be able to read now. So I’m assuming my vision must’ve taken a massive nose-dive from the mid to late seventies, then kept getting steadily worse to the point where, by the late eighties, other glasses wearers would look through my own pair and say to me “LIKE OHMYGOD YOU’RE SO BLIND!” (On the other hand, if I had crappy vision even as a young child, my glasslessness would serve a very convenient scapegoat on which to blame my initial and subsequent ineptitude at sports.)

Those blue flares were the family’s earliest tree ornaments, appearing in the photos documenting the first Christmas my parents spent together as a married couple. They were glass bulbs, some shaped like a fat teardrop, the others (perhaps purchased later) bulging in the middle and tapered at the ends. Alone on a tree save for garlands of silver tinsel, they made for an elegantally minimalist tree for an elegantly minimalist apartment, as compared to the embroidered patchwork craziness that comes from putting several decades’ worth of Xmas purchases on the unruly branches of a real pine. In January 1973 they’re put in the attic (as close to Gothic as you can get in my house, only accessible via small holes in my brothers’ closet’s ceilings and opened not much more than twice a year) and don’t come down again until 1979, by which time these thin glass things have had a good thirteen years of minute expansion and contraction with the extremes of Long Island summers and winters, evidenced by the slight crackle patterns in their blue paint. So almost from the minute we put them on the tree, they shattered POP! POP! POP!, one every hour or so, leaving a mess of blue and silver shards on the tree, on the presents, on the carpet for my mom to clean up, again and again and again. Thinking it was the Christmas lights doing them in, we tried re-positioning them on the tree but it didn’t make one damned bit of difference. In a final fit of masochism, we placed the remaining few on next year’s tree.

Dec 04


Blog 7Post a comment • 590 views

Christmas 1978

It never occurred to me that Lobster & Shrimp Fra Diovolo might not constitute a “real” Christmas dinner. It also never occurred to me that it was an especially Italian-American thing, either — if anything, it seemed appropriately “fancy.” But I never really paid much attention to Christmas dinner anyway, it being an unwanted interruption of my toy ecstasy when I just as easily have taken a plate upstairs to my room. I bet I liked it, though (the shrimp, anyway): along with predilections towards thick-framed glasses and melodic yawning, I inherited from my dad an appetite for really spicy foods, something I know I got from consciously imitating him. Of course, I could never keep up. At five or so, I tried one of his breakfast grapefruits, finding it a completely impenetrable eating experience now matter how much liquid sugar I put on the damned thing. Much later, on a mid-eighties trip to Washington D.C., he and his future wife took me to my first Indian restaurant; for me, it was an obstacle course of taste-bud death-by-misadventure and rivers of mucous — him, no problem. Getting back to Christmas, there were a couple times when I stayed with the adults long during the dessert trying to finish an espresso, just like the adults at the table were having. Yeah, I would finish it, but taste-wise, I couldn’t see the point of it. Much too bitter. There was a grand upshot, though. A little later (but still a kid), emboldened by the times I had espresso, I would take every opportunity during my day camp’s “Parents’ Day” to ostentatiously take some free coffee at the industrial urns placed at strategic locations throughout the grounds, thereby freaking out both parents and counselors. That was fun, a little. Probably nobody would blink now if they saw such a thing.

Judging from yesterday’s picture, this year’s Christmas table seated at least thirteen, and some subsequent Christmases probably had even more when even more folks from my mom’s side of the family joined in. Yet to my parents’ (and grandparents’) credit, we never had a separate “children’s table” at special occasions, at least as far as I can remember.


Blog 7Post a comment • 568 views

aka Edvard Munch?s The Scream in film form. How much of a selling point was the cute moppet, head in hands, yelling. This is an idiosyncratic gesture considering the plot of the film. Certainly being left behind leaves Mac in a tough spot, but even when the burglars turn up he always has the upper hand. Be it laying down his little dainty man traps made of matchbox cars, or organising a timed to precision splatting of Joe Pesci, panic is well outside his arsenal of emotions.

The joy of being the master of your own destiny is implicit in the Home Alone films (perhaps more so in the less simple but more magical Home Alone 2: Lost In New York). Indeed whilst the title has become short-hand for horrific tales of child neglect, this comes straight from the school of the “kids are smarter than the adults” world of fiction. And at the heart that funny looking kid, Macauley Culkin, happily taking centre stage without a coterie of friends or family. Perhaps as a metaphor for the lonely child at Christmas Culkin gives hope to the increasingly small family sizes these days. Every era deserves the child star it gets. The early nineties got Culkin to show that it was okay to panic before you sorted everything out.


Blog 7Post a comment • 456 views

Christmas 1978

L-R: Grandpa, Aunt Pat, Tommy, Mom, Aunt Millie, Nanny, Me, Grandma, Holly, Bobby, Uncle John.

There’s me in mid-bodytwist, dodging Holly and Tommy, wearing a clingy lavender-colored batik unicorn shirt. (Not only wore it, but loved, bragged about it.) A really busy photo, made more busy than usual by the presence of relatives on my father’s side of the family: Aunt Pat, Uncle Mike (not shown), their son Chris (also not shown) and Grandma. They start coming to our Christmases for the next couple years, after having their own little celebrations at their own house, maybe a ten-minute drive from our own. I really hope they weren’t bored senseless by all this — how exciting could it be to watch other people unwrap presents? (Well, maybe there was some for them, too, I dunno, can’t remember.)

Probably taking after my parents’ lead, I called my maternal grandmother “Nanny” and my paternal grandmother “Grandma,” and while I loved them both, Grandma definitely had the edge for a long time. Initially, though, while she would do neat things like let me and my brothers play with watercolors in her Brooklyn apartment, I remember also being a little intimidated by this scolding edge she had, telling me in no uncertain terms there were parts of her apartment I couldn’t go into. One time when I was very young, she came over, probably spending some time over at our family’s house, and (I suppose undbidden) went through my closet and throwing out a lot of minute things that, because they were mine, I had an attachment to, and that made me unhappy. Dad told me that when he was a kid, she used to throw out his toys — baseball cards, comics, things like that — without the least warning. Mom told me similar stories about her mother, and I think this might supply a facile reason…no, probably a pretty straight-forward and conscious reason for both my parents’ un-ending Christmas generosity and my Dad’s adult love of trains. (I probably should’ve mentioned this earlier, but seriously, I don’t think that’s crossed my mind in maybe twenty years.) I also remember her getting angry at me for not eating a sandwich in the kind of argument that mom and dad would never get into with me, them being largely laissez-faire about my eating habits. And then, after her apartment was broken into, she moved to North Bellmore, a mere fifteen second walk away from my maternal grandparents. And then she seemed very different to me, very generous, very uncomplaining, very up-up-up, and so I gravitated towards her. I started spending a whole lot of nights over with her for a couple of years, and we would amuse ourselves, watching TV on Friday (the first night might’ve been the same night as the premiere of Diff’rent Strokes, November 3, 1978), then going somewhere, maybe to a card store or maybe to the mall, then come back, and then I’d get picked up to go home. At a moment when family tensions were beginning to come to a head, she was somebody who could give me a willing ear and — I’m absolutely not proud of this — deep pockets for whatever random shit that caught my eye. (I’m almost positive that she got reimbursed from my parents.)

And then I stopped. I tried again, for old time’s sake, in 1984. It says something about my obsessions of the time that I fix this moment with musical reference points: I fall asleep on her couch watching Friday Night Videos, and when we go to Sunrise Mall, we get Phillip Norman’s Shout! and the Jacksons’ “State of Shock.”‘And in the record store there was this one moment when, looking up from the stacks, I saw her bopping her head — only briefly — along to the piped-in music in a way that scared me: I was losing her. I avoided her a little after that, only seeing her on family occasions, my dad’s wedding and Christmases, and she was still very much my ally but with little eccentricities creeping around the edge of her behavior. Mom, Bobby and I went to see her much later, maybe when I came home from college my freshman year, I’m not sure. Still chipper, and dishearteningly gaunt-eyed, we made small talk I couldn’t wait to end. Then she died. The first family member I knew to pass away. I was in school, in Santa Fe, and it was just…I couldn’t do it.

Dec 04

THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF CHRISTMAS FILMS 19: The Lion In Winter (And The Wardrobe)

Blog 7Post a comment • 594 views

Ah, Tom really was boozing at this point. Forget the Narnia affectations of the comedy gag in the title. Anyway it would be funnier if it was the Lion In Winter And The Garderobe. Instead we have a really rather austere period piece which yet again has that most tenuous link to Christmas: the word Winter.

Lord though, what a film. This is Katherine Hepburn eating, chewing and spitting out some of the finest actors of a younger generation and if it resembles anything, it is those large family get-together’s which soon become nasty seething pits of undisguised hate. There are reasons why some families do not get on that well, and there are reasons why they do not get together that often. Weddings, funerals and Christmas. Christmas being the one where we are all supposed to be nice to each other. Admittedly I have never done a family Christmas where I have tried to bump off my siblings for succession, but there is often a matriach playing all and sundry against each other. With a Christmas pudding tied in, The Lion In Winter could well be an accurate representation of many a family hell.

Dec 04

THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF CHRISTMAS FILMS 18: Digby The Biggest Fucking Dog In The World

Blog 7Post a comment • 561 views

That’s what it says on the piece of paper. It must be said though that the scribe was mighty pissed at the time and, well, Digby is the biggest fucking dog in the world. No two ways around it. A cautionary tale perhaps for anyone who gets a puppy for Christmas. Remember a dog is for life, and if it turns into the biggest fucking dog in the world you might be in trouble*.

At my school they used to show a film as an end of term treat. I have a feeling the staff may have been hanging around in the staff room quaffing sherries as we settled down to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or Digby, The Biggest Fucking Dog In The World (they were always lame-o Disney live action bobbins). Of course it was exciting seeing a film, though the super-16 projector never worked properly and you could not see it properly because too many kids were bundled in to the hall. Lord knows what the plot of Digby was: though at a guess it involved a vat of gunk, a dog and hilarious pratfalls. I think I possible read through the films after a few years, and the girls sitting next to me were too busy platting each others hair (why do girls do that?). Still whenever I see a really big fucking dog, I think of Christmas.

*I never by people puppies for Christmas due to the campaigns against the cruel treatment of animals over this season. I usually save the dog for a birthday present instead. Less stigma.


Blog 7Post a comment • 503 views

Christmas 1977

L-R: me, mom, Holly

This is me giving my mom “my” present of florally-scented bath cubes. As a six-year-old I’m not someone with pocket change for fancy gurl toiletries but my dad comes to me with a wrapped box and says something to me, something like, “here, Michael, give your mother your present.” Since I didn’t actually give her anything, and at age six, not capable of reading between the lines, I say as much; my dad insists again, then I insist again in confused exchange until finally my mother plays along. I end up being more fascinated by them than she is — they were my gift to me. To mom, bath cubes are in a well-established category of desperation-gift (I know because in later years I give my mom scented toiletries when I couldn’t think of anything else to give her), to me they’re more pretty datum to be collected and savored: What do violets smell like? What do lily-of-the-valleys smell like? What do…? Pretty! My mom and stepdad still give each other presents under their pets’ names. I still don’t really understand that cute misdirection, or what kind of pleasure they get from indulging in such a thin family in-joke.

We’re the Daddino family and we’re into CB! You can sorta make it out right there, in a box, to the right. Later that night Bobby uses it to talk to another kid who got a CB radio for Christmas, how romantic. In retrospect, we were maybe slightly ahead of the CB-craze curve for Long Island, given my mom’s long-term fascination with country & western. I even remember Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” (and various spin-off records) being played a lot on the radio the year before; then, earlier that year, we all see Smoky and the Bandit (which comes as something of a shock, as this is the first time I hear someone outside the family curse — I just sorta assumed my brothers had invented “fuck” and “shit”) (also, this movie is a benchmark for memory-fade, as after we leave the theater, I remark to my mom that this is the first movie [in a theater] I’ve ever seen, and she’s surprised that I have no recollection of films I saw just a few years before).