Cheltenham Festival, Day One: Welcome to the Willie Mullins Show

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 What an intriguing week stands in front of us.

Day One encapsulates this perfectly, with a championship race right from the top draw (The Champion Hurdle), novices races abundant with future stars (Supreme and Arkle), the top ladies throughout the land putting their best for forward on the dancefloor (OLBG Mares’ Hurdle), and a few good old fashioned large field handicaps to whet the appetite of the gambler who sees huge betting coup dangling like carrot from stick. Amen.

This is also the day when we learn quite how formidable a team Willie Mullins has assembled, particularly in the colours of Mrs Rich Ricci. Ruby Walsh jumps into the saddle on the four horses, all of whom have shown incredible ability so far and boundless potential. Today is the day of reckoning, when we find out quite how good they are.

From sea level to the moon their potential knows no limit, the Three Musketeers of Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux will join forces with the relatively experienced Annie Power, to try and rename Day One of the Cheltenham Festival, Willie’s Day of the Cheltenham Festival. If they all win, it is not unlikely that St Patricks Day will be moved from its normal home on 17th March to the Tuesday of every Cheltenham Festival.

A fairly accurate interpretation of how today could pan out...

A fairly accurate interpretation of how today could pan out…

First up is the Supreme Novices Hurdle at 13.30. Featuring the best 2 mile hurdlers who are tackling the smaller obstacles for the first season, it always churns out future star after future star. This year will be no different.

Douvan is a worthy favourite. He has only run twice in Ireland since being imported from France, but he has shown already that he is high class and with boundless potential. As a five year old and with only limited racecourse experience, he does have chinks in his armour. It would be no surprise to see him romp up the Cheltenham hill, but it will be no easy walk in the park, and he is plenty short enough in the market (approx.15/8).

Main market rival L’Ami Serge has more racecourse experience from his days in France. With three starts and three victories since moving to the expert tuition of Nicky Henderson, his form is rock solid and he would be a good favourite most years.

Both of the market leaders look high class, and could easily win. Neither though have course winning form at Cheltenham, and still at a tender age with potential to fulfil rather than form which is franked, it is worth looking for each way value elsewhere.

Shaneshill is the best of the rest. Runner up at the Cheltenham Festival last year in the Champion Bumper, the experience of the Cheltenham atmosphere and the final surge to the finishing line will stand him in good stead. At 12/1 he makes for an appetising each way bet. Seedling is another with course form who could plug on for minor honours at a more generous price.

Douvan PP

The second race of the day is the Arkle Novices Chase run over two miles. The race is always a fantastic contest as the novices hurl themselves at the big obstacles over minimum trip. This year is a strong renewal.

All the pre-race build up has centres around Un De Sceaux, a crack hurdler whose form has transferred to fences. He has only lost once in ten starts, and has been very impressive in slamming high class opponents. At Cheltenham, however, there is no room for error in the jumping, and if he bowls along with the choke out and fails to give his fences sufficient respect, he may just learn the hard way. He is the class horse in the race, but with a fall to his name and such short odds (generally 4-7), our charge lies elsewhere.

Vibrato Valtat has been a new horse since switched to fences. A breathing operation in the summer has helped, and his form is rock solid. Generally at 5/1, he offers better value, and if you search about Paddy Power are offering any losing bets if Un De Sceaux wins refunded as a free bet. Vibrato Valtat should be plunged on when such generous insurance policies are offered.

Elsewhere, those looking to sniff out each way value may look to Josses Hill, who, although slow at times with his jumping this season, was second in the Supreme at last years Festival and could bring value. Three Kingdoms is preferred though, with solid form and tasty odds (approx 20/1). He’d be the suggestion for those looking for more hope than guarantees.

Un Des Sceaux - Beatable?

Un Des Sceaux – Beatable?

The third race, the Ultimate Business Solutions Handicap Chase over 3 miles 1 furlong, features 24 runners, most of whom a case can be made for. The advice would be try to find a charge you have a fancy for, probably at larger prices, and have a little each way tipple. You’d be a brave man to make this race the ‘legend maker’.

Pendra has invaluable Festival form, being placed last year, but at such a short price (5/1) in such a large field, there is limited fun or value in plunging on here. Those who are seeking a longer-priced hope should look towards Gallant Oscar, who could just be another protagonist in the next chapter of a Tony Martin story of cunning and victory, a man who knows how to plan a handicap coup. Generally at 10/1, he has interesting form back in Ireland and needs respecting.

At larger prices, Cape Tribulation is a course and distance winner, and with the Malcolm Jefferson yard hitting top gear just at the right time, he could represent value, generally at 25/1. Lamb or Cod also has good Cheltenham form, although he has a couple of poor runs to put behind him. With Richard Johnson in the saddle, the perennial bridesmaid to McCoys bride, a case can certainly be made for him at odds of approx 40/1.

Champion Hurdle - Will Jezki be celebrating again this year?

Champion Hurdle – Will Jezki be celebrating again this year?

The fourth race is the main course in this sumptuous feast, the Stan James Champion Hurdle over 2 miles. Once again featuring a stellar line up, there are stories abounding from every corner, and a case can be made for many of the horses.

Undoubtedly the most interesting of these is Faugheen. Winner of the Neptune at last years Festival, the way he scooted clear of the field and romped home up the hill to such an emphatic victory is still fresh in the memory. He has done nothing wrong once again this year when extending his unbeaten run to 8, and is a very worthy favourite. His price is short, and at not much either side of Even money, you’d have to have a proper bet for this race to make or break your week.

Hurricane Fly was victorious in this race in 2011 and 2013, but has never really received the credit he might deserve for such success. At the age of 11, one must fear that his best years are behind him and he can only hope for place money at best.

The New One, the darling of the Twiston-Davies family, who is trained by father Nigel and ridden by son Sam, is a local favourite. Bitterly unlucky in last years Champion Hurdle, he is looking to put right wrongs. Generally available at odds of 4/1, although he has won all his starts this season, he has at times looked a little sluggish, although that could be put down to ground which has been a little deeper than preferable. We wish him better luck this year, and hope he’s there at the finish.

Last years victor, Jezki, also re-opposes. He has battled, and lost, this season to Hurricane Fly on numerous occasions, but you can be sure he’ll come good when the chips are down and be involved when it really matters.

In short, this Championship contest is an absolute puzzle. Cases can be made for many, and any number of horse would be worthy winners. Faugheen should win. I’d love The New One to win. Jezki has done it recently and may well do it again. The author will probably sit this one out and just enjoy the spectacle that it is. Those who wan to have a plunge should either go big on Faugheen, or have a little win bet on The New One to have his luck improved this year.

After the excitement of the diamond in the crown of Day One, we move onto the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Dominated mercilessly in recent years by the exceptional Quevega, she looks to have selected a natural successor in the shape of Annie Power.

Quevega and Annie Power... Passing of the baton?

Quevega and Annie Power… Passing of the baton?

Losing little in defeat in last years World Hurdle, this race looks made for her. As such her odds are typical short, generally available at 4/7. She has proved her class at Cheltenham before though, will love the ground and the trip, and it would be a real surprise to see her turned over.

Those looking for better value may turn to Polly Peachum, closely related to the great Denman, who has been freshened up with this race in mind (12/1). More value could be found in Harry Frys Bitofapuzzle, who will need every hard of the distance and should be staying on up the hill (25/1).

The penultimate race of the day is the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase. For amateur jockeys, the class and ability of the pilot often tells in this race, so do look for a name you may have head of. With 17 runners and some jockeys of limited experience, anything could happen!

This is the race again for a little cheeky bet or two, rather than lumping on in a make or break fashion. The shrewd Michael Hourigan appears to have targeted this race with The Job Is Right, who was freshened up over hurdles recently, presumably with the aim of keeping his chase handicap mark intact. He is generally available at 6/1. Those looking for a little more value may look towards Broadway Buffalo, who will be steered by Ruby Walsh’s sister, Katie, and has solid form already this season (approx. 20/1) or one of Willie Mullins lesser lights on Day One, Perfect Gentleman, partnered by his son Patrick.

The final race at 17.15 is the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Again this isn’t a race that should decide your fortunes for the week, and it is probably best to play it safe and ensure you don’t fritter away your stake money for tomorrow. Remember: we do have another 3 days to go!

Those looking for a charge to cheer around could do worse than look towards Irish Cavalier, who may improve for the first time headgear and could turn the tables with his recent course and distance vanquisher, Generous Ransom. At 20/1 the former could offer better value than the latter, who also should be there or thereabouts when it counts most, but odds of 8/1 hold limited appeal. For a longer priced shot, the Mouse Morris trained Dromnea could run well. He has good form this term and Morris is proven to deliver at the Festival with sons of Presenting when the ground is good. He may give you something to shout about at around 33/1.

All in all the curtain rises once again at the Cheltenham Festival with an abundance of quality and more intrigue than DCI Barnaby could shake a stick at. All the racing should be mightily enjoyable, but it is the stars of the show we cannot wait to see bowl along. Quite how good are Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux? We will find out very soon.

By The Ferret

TIPS:

Race 1, Supreme Novices Hurdle (1:30) – Shaneshill @ 10/1

Race 2, Arkle (2:05) – Vibrato Valtat @ 6/1

Race 3, Ultimate Business Solutions Handicap Chase (2:40) – Gallant Oscar @ 10/1

Race 4, Champion Hurdle (3:20) – The New One @ 4/1

Race 5, OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4:00) – Annie Power @ 4/6 (nap)

Race 6, Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (4:40) – The Job is Right @ 8/1

Race 7, CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Chase (5:15) – Irish Cavalier @ 14/1

All odds provided by Paddy Power. Click here for full odds and offers on select races…

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Cheltenham Festival Preview: The sunset of an era, and the dawn of a new one

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Another year has passed, and we find ourselves standing on the eve of the wonderful Cheltenham Festival once again.

The 12 months past has delivered relatively little in terms of sporting memories in comparison to recent years; the likes of the London Olympics and the Miracle in Medinah start to fade into the bookcase of spectacular chapters in an exclusive back catalogue of the greatest feats, no longer lingering moments draped in a cloak of awe and incredulity. There was Hamilton vs Rosberg, but that feels strangely like a Barcelona vs Real Madrid soap opera, mildly dramatised by the instigating puppeteers (both politician and press) who stand to gain most from these detached rivalries that bear little relevance to the their contemporaries. Engaging as it is, it lacks a kind of integrity, realism, romance. It’s pretending to be something serious, genuine and grown up, but with a moderately direct gaze you can’t help feel slightly conned and undersold. Like sitting down to a Michelin starred meal ringside to watch a WWE clash.

Nonetheless, every twelve months we are guaranteed the opening of the gates at Prestbury Park for the Cheltenham Festival.

The four days will open to a tsunami of passion, emotion, intrigue and hope. Rich emotions shared in different ways by different people, be they owners, bookmakers, car parking attendants, royalty, punters, trainers or even just plain old jockeys. All will undoubtedly share in the tapestry of emotions weaved in the wonderful Cotswold bowl. Action and top quality sport are guaranteed, not matter what has gone before it for the past 12 months.

Kingman romps home again

Kingman romps home again

The racing industry has had its own share of stories over the past year. On the level track we saw the high class Kingman deliver master classes over one mile. Although lacking the once-in-a-generation freakish abilities of his stablemate Frankel, we cannot hold that against him, and it was a joy to see him romping up the home up the straight.

There was also the diminutive Tiggy Wiggy, a 2 year old filly of minute proportions who, for every inch shorter she was, her heart was bigger.  With an uncanny ability to start her races in such fashion as to make it look as though her competitors were asleep, she was (and still may be as a three year old) blindingly quick, and it will be a joy to see her return when the weather is a little fairer in the months ahead.

The dominating story of the year in the racing world, and certainly for this year’s Festival, is the retirement of the 19-times champion jockey, AP McCoy, a man who has been crowned Champion every season since turning professional at the age of 21. The Northern Irishman is peerless, both in his day and in history, and he will leave a huge hole at the very heart of the sport. His application, desire and thirst is matched only by his ability. It is utterly remarkable that he has been at the very top of his sport for so long, with unerring consistency, breaking record after record with winners that flow as regularly as an Amazonian tributary.

AP - Champion of Champions

AP – Champion of Champions

He has many contemporaries who in another time would have been worthy champions in their own right, and although the racing world will find another champion and another story, his tenure as Emperor has been the stuff of legend.

McCoy has wholly dominated a generation. For this author, I have never in my lifetime as a National Hunt racing fanatic seen a different champion jockey. That’s ludicrous, I’m the wrong side off 30! What other sportsman can that be said of with such certainty and conviction? I bet the answer is “none”, and if nothing else, I am sure that I have one winning bet for the week.

As such this year’s Cheltenham Festival will be that bit more special. The stories that make the sport so wonderful are always there, but this isn’t another story as in other years, this is a blockbuster, stop the press, Hollywood-esc tale that has been built into the blood and bones of the sport. It will be the end of an era, and it will be celebrated!

Mullins, the man to beat

Mullins, the man to beat

Even with his unrivalled accomplishments, it would take a brave man to back the Champ to be top jockey for the week. The arsenal assembled by Willie Mullins, the cream of which will be ridden by Ruby Walsh, is staggering. Many of them run in the the Mr Blobby-styled colours of Mrs Rich Ricci (so wealthy they named her twice). As they go to bed this evening the Ricci’s will be dreaming of their charges soaring mightily up the Cheltenham hill, and with the likes of Faugheen, Champagne Fever and Annie Power, to name but a few of their stellar stable, they have the right to be very excited. Some claim it could be the greatest string of horses ever brought to Cheltenham by an owner – only time will tell.

Day One is dominated by Mullins and Walsh, with red-hot favourites in almost every race. In a sport though where horse and pilot have to contest with an unending list of challenges and uncertainties, almost anything can happen, and we can be sure there will be no dominance in the fashion of Real Madrid or Lewis Hamilton.

A great leveller...

A great leveller…

Immovable birch fences are only the first impediment. A stumble and peck upon landing, the jockey dropping his whip, being taken out by a loose horse or being brought down by a faller amongst a thirty-strong field, missing the break, getting trapped in on the rail, ground which is too fast, ground which is too slow, or even just the atmosphere getting to you and your charge and boiling over on the day, anything can happen as the poetic story of the race unfolds.

One small further threat is 30 or so other wily, steel-willed partnerships of horse and jockey, hell bent on victory and glory, aiming to raise their own colours on the flag at the finish line at the expense of yours. The path to victory is more a mine-strewn gauntlet along the edge of a precipice than the walk in the park such short odds would have you expect for many of the favourites. Going to Cheltenham with a team of Galacticos is one thing; coming out unscathed and victorious is something else altogether.

Faugheen the machine

Faugheen the machine

No matter how impressive the likes of Faugheen have been in sauntering to victory in every challenge they have faced, or how spectacular Un de Sceaux has looked in galloping relentlessly, choke out, and slamming rival after rival, Champions are not made until they have crossed the line at Presbury Hill, and there is a lot to overcome between now and then.

As such in many races we will be taking on these red-hot favourites, and approaching our gentleman’s gentleman, Mr Paddy Power, with belief and confidence. The favourites are worthy in their own right, but such short prices allow value elsewhere, and this is what we will be searching for. The men and the boys will be sorted, like wheat from chaff, and over the next 4 days we will publish our tips and fancies, with the necessary fact, fiction, opinion and hearsay to try and galvanise our charges over the line.

PP 241 c

The quality of the racing, its width and depth, is only further testament to the size of the achievements of AP McCoy. With so many hurdles to overcome, so many competitors jostling for victory themselves, not mention the physical risks and injuries encapsulated at the centre of this unforgivingly dangerous sport, his unquestionable dominance in the face of both risk and luck is quite simply spectacular. We will feast on the sport and on the qualities of its main protagonists. 

We may win. We may lose. But whilst there is a contest there is a story, a reason for debate and differences of opinion. All we know for sure is that we have a feast of four wonderful days in front of us, where we will witness some truly spectacular sport.

I am delighted to announce, ladies and gentleman, that the Cheltenham Festival is once more upon us, and it has served up mouth-watering contests, heart-warming stories and perplexing mysteries at every turn. Bring on the roar of the crowd as the tapes go up!

By The Ferret

The Ferret will be offering tips all week in his daily column, brought to you by Paddy Power, bookmaker of choice for gentlemen and the Irish. Check here every morning for the day’s fancies and GOOD LUCK!

PP Chelt 241 b big

Trivial Pursuits’ top 10 albums of 2014…

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It’s that time of the year once again, where lazy and thankful journalists up and down the country tell you what they’ve enjoyed over the last year. Not wishing to miss this creative open goal, here is my definitive list of the best 10 albums of a year which has provided a rich seam of output. So without further waffle, indulge yourself, give a few of them a listen (I have even been so good as to provide links to recommended tracks, you lucky people) and who knows, you might discover your new favourite band…

by Harry Harland

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10. Pink Floyd – The Endless River

Pink_Floyd_-_The_Endless_River_(Artwork)

OK, so beyond the hype and excitement of a first new Pink Floyd release in 20 years, this was a fairly limited offering. Indeed, 1994’s Division Bell-aside, the Roger Waters-less Floyd output had always been patchy at best, so little in truth was expected of a newly-recorded selection of B-sides from the early 90’s.

However when it worked, as it did fleetingly on Things Left Unsaid, Allons-y and closing piece Louder Than Words (the only track on the album with Dave Gilmour’s unmistakable vocals), it was unmistakably Pink Floyd. Given that fact alone, the swathes of mediocrity that ran through much of the rest of the album were forgiven.

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9. Future Islands – Singles

Future_Islands_-_Singles

As unlikely pop stars go, Future Islands must be up there. Hailing from the relative backwater of Baltimore and boasting a frontman in Sam Herring with the looks of Kevin Spacey and a unique dancing style that somehow combines Christopher Walken with ‘drunken uncle at a wedding’, not many would have put money on them finally breaking through with their 4th album. However, break through is precisely what they did, and on the basis of Singles, all success was richly deserved.

A joyous mix of 80’s electropop and euphoric choruses, much of Future Islands’ winning formula is built on Herring’s phenomenal vocal dexterity, combining gentle moments with a soulful roar that Bobby Womack would be proud of. There’s little clever or new about what Future Islands do, but when you have choruses like that of Seasons (Waiting on You) in your locker, it seems churlish to experiment.

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8. Spoon – They Want My Soul

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Texan indie band Spoon have, over the course of an 8-album career, proven themselves to be one of the most consistent bands out there. They returned from a 4 year hiatus in the autumn with They Want My Soul, another tight, tuneful collection.

Spoon always have the ability to sound fresh and fun, even if their “evolution rather than revolution” approach can lead to accusations of creatively treading water from their detractors. Still, with songs like New York Kiss on board, They Want My Soul comes highly recommended to the uninitiated while providing a safe pair of hands for existing fans of the band.

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7. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

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Part Muse, part White Stripes, all noise, Brighton’s Royal Blood burst onto the scene early last year with their wonderfully raw debut EP, Out Of The Black. A resulting support slot with Arctic Monkeys and a barnstorming Glastonbury performance preceded the release of their eponymous first album in August.

Happily, many of the EP’s tracks were retained for the longer offering, and Royal Blood crunching mix of distorted bass, drums, soaring vocals and very little else smashed into the charts at number 1 in August. An intriguing clash of basic noises and high production values recalled The Vines’ debut as tracks like Figure It Out and Little Monster provided classic rock backdrops to summer road trips. The album was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize, where it narrowly lost to Young Fathers (on whom there is more below…), but succeeded in dragging heavy rock back into the mainstream.

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6. EMA – The Future’s Void

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Long-time readers of Trivial Pursuits (with exceptional memories) will remember the glowing review that I gave to Erika M. Anderson’s debut album back in 2011. That release was a gruellingly visceral listen, which left you beaten and bloodied, yet richer for the experience. Fortunately (especially for EMA’s commerciality), follow up The Future’s Void was a much more accessible affair. Gone were the lyrics about self-harm and scratchy 8 minute epics, and in their places was a collection of interesting, quirky yet undeniably poppy songs.

That’s not to say that Anderson has gone soft, her trademark howl still adorns songs as lovely as So Blonde, while the tribal drumming- fired Neuromancer is about as progressive as anything in this list. All-in-all, where Past Life Martyred Saints came across as cathartic and at times overly-personal, The Future’s Void is the sound of an extremely gifted singer finding her voice.

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5. Jamie-T – Carry On The Grudge

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Jamie-T, remember him? He of Sheila and Calm Down Dearest fame? You’d be forgiven for not having thought about him for half a decade, as he hadn’t released so much as a single track since 2009’s Kings & Queens. However, following a mentoring from none other than Damon Albarn, Wimbledon’s finest returned with a new album and it was really, really good.

Parting completely with the Mike Skinnerish rapping that was almost his trademark previously, Jamie Treays compiled an album of tender beauty, interspersed with the occasional barnstorming anthem. Standout track Zombie is a fine example of this, yet it is the softer likes of Limits Lie and Don’t You Find that suggest Treays has truly progressed as an artist. A welcome and unexpected comeback.

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4. Alt-J – This Is All Yours

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Alt-J’s Mercury-winning debut An Awesome Wave was always going to be an extremely hard act to follow. Not only was it extremely good, but it was so packed with invention and ideas that there can’t have been much left in the creative tank for a follow-up. All this, combined with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Gwil Sainsbury, was setting the band up for an extreme dose of ‘second album syndrome’, yet Alt-J prevailed, progressed and added another accomplished album to their impressively growing repertoire.

This Is All Yours is a slower-burning affair than its predecessor, shorter on quirks but longer on consistency. Despite Intro suggesting more of the same, the album really started with the two Nara tracks, gentle melodies with sharp chord progressions and some of the band’s now trademark harmonies. Hunger of The Pine, the lead single, is a sensational, climactic track and seems to enhance the opinions of those who profess Alt-J to be the ‘new Radiohead’. Only Left Hand Free, a poppy 3-minute track that the band allegedly only included to appease their record label’s desire for a “radio-friendly single” to appeal to the US market, seems out of place on what is another impressive journey.

The best bands leave you wondering what their next move will be and, in releasing another impressively creative album, Alt-J might just be one of them.

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3. Young Fathers – Dead

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I must confess, at the instant loss of music kudos, that I hadn’t heard of Edinburgh’s Young Fathers until their Mercury nomination introduced me to their unique combination of electronica, rap and vocal harmonies. Once listened to a few times though, it became clear that the judges’ decision to award the gong to them (which has been myopically derided by the more mainstream end of the music press as “too quirky”) was the correct one.

I wrote fairly at length about this album earlier in the year (the article can be found here), so will leave further investigation to your intrigue. However since then they delivered a live performance in XOYO that drew 5 star reviews from the notoriously hard-to-please Evening Standard, Guardian and Telegraph music sections. They play Camden’s KOKO in May and I would strongly recommend begging, borrowing or stealing to make sure you are there.

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2. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

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Lost In The Dream came from nowhere early in 2014 to first become the word-of-mouth soundtrack to countless people’s summers and subsequently dominate many critics’ end of year lists.

Starting as strongly as any recent albums with the phenomenal Red Eyes and Under The Pressure, The War On Drugs’ 3rd studio album catapulted them from the underground and into the tour-heavy world of the mainstream (I believe the band are due to play their third separate London date in 12 months early next year).

Combining the best of traditional Americana, Lost In The Dream succeeds in wowing you with Springsteen-esque anthems while (in the style of the Boss himself) not needing to over-complicate. If I was playing a straighter bat at this list with regard to universal appeal, I wouldn’t have thought twice about awarding this album top spot, but I’m not, so TWOD will have to settle for second best.

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1. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

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It speaks volumes that when I first started compiling ideas for this list, Run The Jewels’ second album hadn’t actually even come out. Indeed, I wasn’t even aware that it was coming out at all.

Run The Jewels, a formalisation of the Killer Mike/EL-P hip-hop partnership that excelled on the former’s R.A.P. Music album last year (EL-P produced it) had actually released their eponymous debut at the start of 2014, but it was the inventively-titled RTJ2 that has won them plaudits from more esteemed pages than these.

Hip hop is a strange world, in which much of the scene appears to focus more on style than substance. Thus when a truly great release (such as Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, Maad City) comes along, you almost get caught off guard by it. So it has come to pass with RTJ2.

Arriving at the back end of the year, RTJ2 thundered into the public domain like a sonic wrecking ball, with the only audible noise other than the thumping bass of their tracks being the scribbling of journalists hastily having to re-write their end of year lists. From a personal point of view, as much as I have tried to temper my love of this album with caveats such as it being my new toy or flavour of the month, I simply can’t put myself off naming it as the best release of the last 12 months.

From the perfectly sparse sax of opening track Jeopardy to the dealer-guilt narrative of Crown, RTJ2 simply grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. Great songs just roll effortlessly into great songs, with Killer Mike’s frankly unrivalled lyrical dexterity more than supported by that of his bandmate. And then there is the production. Oh, the production…

There is so much invention in EL-P’s backing tracks (be-it the clackety-clack drumbeat of Blockbuster Night Pt 1, the bouncy stoner bass of the profane Love Again or the fantastic sensory assault that is Oh My Darling Don’t Cry), that the album manages to sound both polished and yet somehow raw, which is no mean feat.

It certainly isn’t for everyone, the brutality of the bass, not to mention the lyrics, might offend some (never more that on Love Again, itself a clever satire of the sort of macho song you think it is when you hear the first two verses). However if you like your rap music, I couldn’t recommend this more. The lyrical flow of the pair is sensational, and the tunes just make you want to keep on turning them up. This album could well result in an ASBO. It’s a risk worth taking.

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 8

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Who farted? (c) Nick Briggs

What series of Downton is this? Image (c) Nick Briggs

Stuff I noted down on my laptop at 6am this morning watching Downton on iPlayer because I missed it live last night #DEDICATION

Dowager registers horror
Chatting about Rose’s wedding and at the mere mention of a registry office, the moment is made by dear old Dowager’s disapproving smirk. Oh Maggie, how we shall miss you!

Lord G – the worst kind of children’s entertainer
‘I shall win this game of snakes and ladders. And you know what Cybie? If you have any sweets about you, I shall steal them from you too.’

Lord G says it straight
To Mary: ‘Don’t call me “Donc”. [It sounds like ‘bonk’ – and I never do that].’

All my day [dresse]s
Decker suggests the Dowager wear her lovely Lavender Day Dress for the meeting with Prince Kuragin and we are resolute in our conviction that there is definitely love in the lavend-air…

Willis, won’t he?
The boring Bates and their withering Willis saga continues. Bates is too tall to be the murderer apparently. The man has a stick for Christ’s sake – bent over it, he’d lose a few inches, surely?

Anna the Killer?
Anna: ‘Shall I just give it up and tell them everything [I mean effectively kill this stupid storyline]?’
Mr Bates: ‘No. [I’m the one that does the killing].’

Lord G thinks.
Lord G can’t quite put his finger on who Marigold reminds him of. Some rubber gloves perhaps? A type of flower? ‘Déjà vu’, he considers. It’s like we can almost see his little brain cells making connections. Come on Lord G – tick-tock.

Good Cop – Bad Cop Parents
So Atticus’s father is an A1 jerk as is Rose’s mother. Atticus’ mother is an A* trooper as is Rose’s father. Can’t they just swap spouses? And what’s the betting they do at Christmas?

Mary invents the Hag party
Lots of excitement about Atticus’ *SHOCK HORROR* stag party, but has anyone thought that, with her suggestion that she, Rose, Edith and Tom (a MAN) meet up prior to Rose’s wedding – ‘Why don’t we go to lunch on Wednesday; even you can come Edith!’ – Lady Mary not only invents the Hen party, but the Hag party too.

Anna Lines Up
Although yes, it’s all very worrying Anna is being ‘dun for murder’ in the line up, I find it rather amusing that the reason they confirmed it wasn’t her husband was because the murderer ‘was too short’. Not ‘the wrong age’ or ‘has the wrong hair colour’ or, I dunno, ‘is not a man’… Does it seriously appear to Scotland Yard that Mr and Mrs Bates are in all respects, bar their respective heights, identical…?
When ‘I AM LADY MARE-EH’ later calls up her lawyer, I do hope it’s Sherlock Homes she actually telephones – if only to sort this sh*t out once and for all.

Queen of Tarts
I find the ease with which Mrs Rose planned the Tart-Flashing affair totally ridiculous. As in, insanely ridiculous. I mean, think of the lengths she’d have to have gone to:
1. Find a tart
2. Find a photographer
3. Rent the next door room to Atticus’
4. Take pictures and get them developed in RECORD timing – where? 1920s SnappySnaps LIKE OBVIE.
5. Have them delivered to Rose by the next morning.
It would have made much more sense if it had been one of Atticus’ leery lads playing a practical joke. Made more sense and been actually practical. But then again, this show rarely is.

Decker Dangle Dankle
I love the idea of Decker leading the new butler astray to ‘show him something’. PLEASE can it be her ankle.

Shrimpy vs Mrs Rose
Shrimpy: ‘Get down you cat’.
No, he didn’t, he couldn’t, did he actually??? I’m just shocked Mrs Rose didn’t wail back: ‘You BASTARD. How could you say such a thing…’
Come on Fellowes, you can do better than that.

Tom to move on
Tom decides to leave but says, conveniently, he’ll stay for Christmas. Why? To decorate Christmas Downton in BUNTING most probably.

Mary’s Second Creation
Mary to Tony: ‘You were just what I needed when I needed it.’ And BOOM Mary invents the f*** buddy. I think she’s up for a Nobel prize this week, for all her inventions.

WHO DUNNIT?
JUST WHO? I mean I am seriously baffled. Anna did it? Groan. What’s the betting once she’s cleared of murder, the tables will turn on everyone at Downton until Scotland Yard come to the irrevocable conclusion that the recently deceased Isis did it.*

Jerk off
* And on the note of Isis…Hugh Bonneville was quoted last week as saying that anyone who implied Isis was killed off in last week’s episode because of the dog’s rather unfortunate name is a ‘complete berk.’ Ladies and Gents, Hugh Bonneville thinks I’m a berk. A complete one.

We will remember them
Rather touching the unveiling of the war memorial happened on Remembrance Sunday. I wonder if this was planned? Nice touch!

Walking up to the house and we leave this season with…
Will Anna get off? Carson doesn’t seem too bothered by it and let’s be honest, neither are we.
Lord G finally guesses about Marigold. ‘There’s a secret in this house I’m actually privy to’ – how smug you must feel, Lord G.
Tom encourages Edith to go to London and carry on with her magazine – and it suddenly dawns on me, Tom is eager for everyone to leave Downton. And he openly encourages them to do so. This liberalist will rest at nothing – not till everyone at Downton has gone. This is his masterplan… maybe TOM is the murderer…?

A really good episode actually. Apt and appropriate therefore to award it my highest score of the season 9/10 (there’s always room for improvement).

So with that, we wait with Bates-ed breath for the Christmas special… Until then, Downton-lovers. THANK YOU for reading.

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Seven

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One can remained dry-eyed through a whole series, but when something happens to the dog...

One remains dry-eyed throughout a whole series but when something happens to the dog…


Bits and bobs I wrote on my laptop as usual.

Award week
The Bafta for Best Actress goes to… Dowager-Dame-Maggie-Smith
A few of her corkers this week include:
‘He’s a man! Men don’t have rights’
‘A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears’
‘You’ve made me regret my confidence – do have some cake’
Not to mention her tear-inducing ‘I’ll miss Mrs Crawley’ scene. If Julian Fellowes spent half as much time developing the other characters as he does the Dowager, we might have a show not worth criticising at all. But that would be very dull indeed. So on that basis, as you were old Fellowes…

The Fat [plot] Controller
In the inaugural performance of Romeo and Juliet in the film Shakespeare in Love, Joseph Fiennes (as Shakespeare) convinces Tom Wilkinson (as Fennyman) to play the part of the Apothecary. ‘A small but vital role,’ he enthuses. I feel the same line was most probably sold to Downton’s station master. Because not only did he remember selling Bates his return ticket to London roughly a year ago, but he also recalled selling Edith her ticket to King’s Cross. Where would the plot be without this elusive character I wonder?

Cora says something sensible
Cora: ‘Somehow we must find Edith, and we must see from her what she wants’. Since she left Downton of her own free will, I’d say it’s pretty obvious.

Food for thought
Why is everyone at Downton so slim when all they to do is gorge on Patmore’s pies?

Put a stick in it
Baxter walks in. Bates mumbles murderously: ‘I have to clean some shoes.’ Bates gets up. Bates grabs stick. Bates looks murderous. Bates exits to murder music. This is all getting very murderously predictable.

Daisy joins the real world
‘She had such hopes for the Labour government,’ sighs Mrs Patmore. Poor Daisy has no faith in the government. If only we knew what that felt like.

There’s something a-mish….
Does anyone else think that, dressed in their perpetual black, the Bates’s would look more at home in an Amish community?

…having said that, Im sure the Amish would be most horrified having to listen to their never-ending sex chat, so probably best they remain holed up in their cottage, tittering over contraceptive devices.

Other shit that went down
Bates is suddenly and randomly cleared of murder. How did that happen?
Mary is suddenly and hilariously cleared of Gillingham via a ‘staged tableau’. Why did that happen?
An anti-climax on both fronts.

Cora says something else sensible
‘Let’s come up with a totally stupid hair-brained scheme to get Marigold to Downton so we can provide Edith with enough of a subplot to see her through to the Christmas Special.’

Tom, thumbs up
Tom makes his ‘bastard’ comment and we roar with approval because at last he’s said something useful.

Love in a cold climate
Yes, I find Rose’s annoyment factor on par with that of Daisy’s, but I do think her and Atticus’ engagement was rather sweet. Probably because I was fantasising I was Rose and the dreamy Atticus was proposing to ME.

Bye-Isis
I think we can all guess why Isis was killed off… A damn shame – let’s face it, she was our favourite character. If only Fellowes had extended his absurd plotlines to the dog, I am certain the Labrador would have made a full recovery once Lord G started calling her by her lesser-known uncontroversial other name: Ikiss.

I can’t quite believe next week is the series finale. *sobs*

7/10

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Six

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Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Hat, haircuts and horses. That pretty much sums up this episode. NOT. (c) ITV

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode where so much happened I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire cast of Coronation Street had made an appearance…

Edith’s bad news
See here, Julian Fellowes gets it totally wrong. What normally happens in a drama is: all the characters are convinced something is going to happen, they all say it’s going to happen and then…it doesn’t happen. So, the fact that both upstairs and downstairs predict Gregson’s death and then it’s actually confirmed, is totally, totally wrong. Fellowes should go back to writer’s school and play particular attention to the class titled ‘Suspense and Surprise.’

Lady Mary and Anna’s Tete a Tete
Re: Gregson’s demise
Mez: Well, of course it’s terrible, but what did she think he was doing – living in a tree?
Come now Mary, you can do better than that.
Mez: No, I am sorry, truly, he was a nice man. Though what he saw in Edith…
Yes Mary… what he saw in Edith, YES? Have you gone soft or something woman?
Re: Blake and Gillingham riding in the York and Ainsty Point-to-Point
Here’s a point-to-point-out: why does Mez have to enunciate irrelevant words to try to make them sound posher when it makes precisely no sense to do so? Example: ‘York and Eins-te-i’

Bates, the JOKE nurse
Bates comments on Barrow’s health ‘you’ve never looked worse’ and we suddenly catch a glimpse of Bates, a few years on, in the medical profession:

Open wide...

Open wide…

More [bore] Bates
Porky Bates hobbles in with his stick, munching on something, and finds a saucy book and Lady Mary’s Dutch Cap. As predicted Bates gets into a…bait (a murderous one) and we prepare ourselves for a heated ‘I might murder you’ chat with Anna which, as predicted, plays out later on.

Is it, could it be… a door?
The Dowager gets completely dumfounded by a door that has NO knocker. We must therefore assume that all her doors – bathroom and bedroom included – have the aforementioned brass attachment.

Curse of Bunting
Bunting gets name-checked again by Daisy and Mrs Patmore and I realise I have to accept that this woman will never go away, and Downton Abbey should probably decorate itself in bunting just to confirm this stupid and irritating fact.

Not a teacup to his name…
Prince Igor: ‘How comforting to be back in a world where ladies are accompanied by their maids.’
Actually, what’s more comforting to know is that when rich Russians flee their homeland they don’t forget to pack their glass Russian teacups. A HUGE weight lifted!

Russian Romance
Igor: I wanted you from the moment I first saw you. More than mortal man ever wanted woman.
Dowager: That is a historical detail! And a fricking creepy one at that.
Igor: Nonsense. If Irina were dead, I’d ask you to run away with me now…
Dowager: ME? RUN?! Are you INSANE?
(That said it was a rather touching scene – purely down to Maggie)

Small issue
Is the Dowager’s ladies maid seriously called ‘Stinker’ or is that my imagination? Either way, it’s quite ironic Stinker throws a stinker at Sprat for having to wash the Dowager’s smalls. Out of all households I’d have thought the Dowager’s would be the very last place where dirty laundry would be aired in public. I guess not.

Bebe Bates
Bates: ‘I found a cunning piece of equipment to assure there’d be no baby Bates.’
Anyone who didn’t give themselves a hernia after hearing the expression ‘Baby Bates’ is just not allowed to watch this programme.

Sex tug of war
Cora: What have you told Bates?
Lord G: Nothing
Cora: I wondered if you might like to change your mind and come back?
Lord G: [Huff, puff, struggle with blankets and duvets] No, I will not have sex with you.
Cora: You heard Bricker say he was not in my room by my invitation.
Lord G: How do I know that wasn’t just his gallantry?
Cora: Because I’m telling you. Nothing happened. Please come back to bed [and have sex with me?].
Lord G: You allowed him into your private life. A man who thought he could just step into my place just like that [and have sex with you].
Cora: He thought it, but he was mistaken. Very well, if you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we were married [THINK: dislike/underlying sexual attraction to Miss B**ting]. If you have never given a woman the wrong impression [THINK: that maid you had a rumble tumble with a few seasons ago] then by all means stay away. Otherwise, I expect you back in my room tonight [to have sex with me].
Lord G: Huff, puff, no I …oh, ok then…

Dog Days; Isis – the only story worth paying attention to
Isis lies asleep – or maybe comatosed, exhausted (no doubt) from the never-ending stream of storylines thrown up by this episode. What can we say? Pup, we know the feeling.

Barrow’s Bow of Resolution
The sweetest part of this episode. Barrow, his boils and Baxter, all tied up neatly in a ‘be the best you can be’ bow. Love it.

True meaning of modernity
In this day and age, when driverless cars were invented and photogaphs taken on Mars, we thought we were well and truly modern. How wrong we were! Because, as we have just learnt, the TRUE definition of modernity is for a member of our family to get a slightly different haircut from the one they had before. Ladies, cover your eyes, Fellowes would like to present you with… Mary’s bob.

Sisterly spat
Mary: Everyone, ready? Look at my haircut!
Edith: Everyone, MORE ready? Look at my suffering heart!
Mary: #Awkward. We only care for hairdos and horse races here…
Goneril and Regan – are back.

Bates The Murderer (Part MILLION)
Bates: You think I’m a murderer.
Anna: Yes, yes I do think you’re a murderer.
Bates: Well, let me tell you, I am not a murderer. And I have a non-ripped ticket to prove it.
Anna: Oh hurray, hurray, in that case you’re right, you not a murderer! I mean, there’s no way you could have just avoided the ticket man all journey! Or bought TWO tickets, one to use and one to leave dud as an alibi! Or stolen a ticket off someone else to get ripped! After all, you’ve never been in prison to learn how to do such things! And it wasn’t you who criminally forged that letter in the last series either, was it?!

What’s the betting Bates’ un-ripped ticket turns up hidden in a book in the library, where all of Matthew’s correspondence was carefully and conveniently concealed until the appropriate moment? That said we can’t actually remember what happened to the damn ticket…did Mrs Hughes eat it?

Point-to-point
Was this not the most disapPOINTing race you’ve ever seen? No one falls off, no one seems to win, or lose, no one has the least notion to… zzZZZZ

Never Downton, only Upton
Atticus’s father on being invited to Downton: That seems rather an imposition…
Cora: Not at all! We’re very rich!

More romance
Just when you thought nothing else could possibly happen in this episode, Carson asks to buy a house with Mrs Hughes – who turns red and tells him to ‘go ring that gong…’ Ooh, aii, Mrs Hughes, which gong might that be?!

Edith escapes
Edith kidnaps her child and scurries to London to eat ice cream and drink champagne. Could this episode get any more ridiculous?

Thankfully not – there it ends.

We have an insight into next week’s escapades – changes a-coming (are they ever not?) and Mary gets snogged, again – I tell you, if I don’t need to wait till Episode Seven gets its own Wikipedia page to get my head around it, t’will be a small miracle.

That said, this episode was a corker.

8/10

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series 5, Episode 5

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No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

No smiling welcome here ladies, only smirking (c) ITV1

Things I jotted down during last night’s episode, in case you’re interested, in any way, in what I think…

To help with you
Lord Grantham on Rosamund’s un-announced week-long visit: ‘Great, you can help…’. Fantastic that Julian Fellowes opens the episode with one of Lord G’s famous blunders; for we all know that any character who enters Downton from the outside will only ever be a hindrance.

Critical information
The Dowager accuses Mrs Crawley of ‘stringing out moments’ and we wonder if Fellowes has mistakenly inserted a line from one of his many critical reviews.

Taxing storyline
Mrs Patmore comes in to boast about her inheritance and we immediately think to ourselves (since it’s topical) after she’s paid her inheritance tax she’ll probably be left with… [we take out our calculators and tap on them a bit]…0.001p. She should probably forget about it altogether.

History lessons
Rosamund recaps the history of how she nursed Edith through her pregnancy for 10 whole months in secret (to those not in-the-know), and the rest of us think: ‘What a way to reward those who have actually managed to keep up with this debacle.’ The least Fellowes could do is leave those who haven’t bothered in the dark.

Putting up [with] Bunting
Tom says Bunting’s not coming for dinner again. Ever. I throw my mug in the air and shower in the downpour of scalding tea.

Lord G lifts a finger – and for once, it’s the right one
Lord Grantham announces he has poured his own drink by his very own self; I start to laminate him his very own certificate.

Bog off Bunting
For the first of many times in this episode [see post above re: ‘stringing out moments’], Bunting get’s rej’ed by Tom. Only a million more times to go now…

Icing on the…
Rose lets the poor Russians eat cake and we almost hear her refer to Downton as Château de Versailles.

On Newsnight tonight…
‘“Mr Carson’s giving me investment advice, and Miss Bunting is leaving Downton because Tom won’t stand up to her.” This has been Mrs Patmore, reporting for ITV1, from Downton Abbey.’

Whoopsie Daisy
Daisy tells Branson about Bunting leaving and I scowl at the telly and bite my nails.

The Last Straw
Farmer Drew gives a very convincing performance of ‘irritated workman’ by prodding the straw with purpose, and a fork.

Sex-onds away from turning off the TV
Mr Bates and Anna Bates talk about children as a euphemism for lots of sex-having, and I scowl at the telly harder and try to eat my own fist.

Take down the Bunting
Bunting, with her Lady Mary-imitation hat, gets hassled by the driver to hurry the fuck up into the car, so she can hurry the fuck off. Yes, Branson, yes – hustle the bloody woman into the car and slam the bunting door. Bye-bye Bunting, By-eeeeee!

The Beginning of the Affair
Bricker: ‘Downton is like home…’
Cora: ‘You’re very welcome – as long as you behave!’ [wink-wink-smirk-smirk].
And what about you Cora? Will you behave?

Act 3, Scene Atticus
In the dusty, decrepit dungeons, Rose wears a skimpy shirt and the Russians – who are accustomed to temperatures well-below zero in their natural habitat – wear the thickest of beards, hefty overcoats and massive rugs to ward off frostbite. Audience, just accept.

Moss on Mary
Mary rushes to London to start dating Charles Blake before she’s even struck Lord Gillingham off her Little Black Book. That’s the spirit Mez, you feisty lass, you… Or, as Kate Moss rather uncharitably refers to you in the Stand Up For Cancer Gogglebox clip of last week: ‘SLAAAAAG’. *

The perpetual thorn
So Bunting has finally fucked off and still Fellowes insists Mrs Crawley note her absence and ask for the millionth time this season whether the fucking woman is coming for dinner. I despair.

With Nails
Is there anything better in life than a lithe Richard E Grant corridor-creeping in his dressing gown?

The End of the Affair
Lord Grantham tries to murder Bricker and we realise Bates has rubbed off on him more than any of us could ever have realised.

Bates’ Proposed Murder List uncovered
1.) Thomas Barrow
2.) Everyone else

*(I personally prefer Naomi Campbell’s: ‘She’s in bed with one man I wouldn’t call her a fucking slag’)

Easier to follow than last week’s episode, and because Bunting has finally left the program I have to up this week’s score by at least four points…

11/10

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Series Five, Episode Four

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Say cheese... (c) ITV1

Say cheese… (c) ITV1

Stuff I wrote on my laptop during last night’s episode…

Barrow back at work
Carson opens the episode with the characteristic bluntness we have come to love about him: ‘Thomas, you’ve missed lunch, but look, clear it up anyway.’

Rose and Russian Slippers
‘They talk about the old days and they have holes in their shoes,’ Rose squeaks mournfully. This is the point where she should have announced she’s holding a house sale of Downton’s shoe collection and distributing the proceeds to every formerly rich Russian she happens to lay eyes on. She doesn’t do this, of course, because she couldn’t care less about the Russians and their shoes.

Tom thumbs the reference books
Taking a stroll with Lord G and Mary, Tom uses the word ‘dwellings’ and we can’t help but envisage Julian Fellowes thesaurus-ing the word: ‘house’.

Downton Darklight
Mrs Crawley and the Dowager see poverty for the first time ever, it seems, visiting the Russians in their dungeons. We try to concentrate on what they’re saying but mostly we’re thinking: just because they’re new to poverty do they have to live in tunnels like moles? Can’t impoverished aristocrats afford daylight?

Anna [the] Christie
Anna hints once again she knows Bates is a murderer.
‘Do the Sergeant’s enquiries bother you?’ she innocently (shrewdly) asks her husband.
‘No,’ he replies, ‘he doesn’t bother me.’
You know what Bates? YOU bother me.

Glorious revelation
Isn’t it enough for us to know that Daisy is learning stuff, do we really have to have it spelled out that she’s studying the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Or is it just that, once again, Fellowes feels the need to educate us by bringing to our attention there was a revolution in 1688?

Love is in the…title
If someone offered you their hand in marriage you’d probably dispense with formal titles, wouldn’t you? Not if you’re Mrs Crawley you wouldn’t. Her ‘Lord Merton this’ and ‘Lord Merton that’ would have continued had he actually gotten down on one knee and, as predicted, not gotten up again.

Laying the breadcrumbs
Lots of divorce chat about Prawny (or was it Shrimpy?) and then Lady G mentions Bricker and it’s clear divorce is in the air.

Thomas and his treatment
I’m too upset to think about what Thomas might be trying to do to himself and have now decided he might be my favourite character.

Seen and not heard
Is George and Cybie’s only contribution to each episode to be paraded around the hallway so Fellowes can prove to us he’s not forgotten about them?

Hearts bleedeth for Edith
Not only is Edith pitied by virtually every character but she’s then presented as a stalker – hiding behind walls and diving into hedgerows to catch a glimpse of the bouncing Marigold. Is there no end to this character’s torment and humiliation?

Blake’s Back
How exciting Mary’s infinitely more handsome suitor, Charles Blake, returns to raise eyebrows at her across catwalks and take her out for un-chaperoned dinners in London. Hope she remembered her Dutch cap, if only to match her fetching red one.

Sitting room
What happened in the sitting room? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen in the sitting room?
1.) Edith talks to the Dowager about Marigold and family duties.
2.) Lady G and Bricker flirt away in the corner and Lord G throws a wobbly.
3.) Dowager talks divorce to Prawny and something about never taking sides, which is possibly the most controversial thing she has said all season.
4.) And fucking Bunting comes up yet again, so I throw my sock at the television.

Brick-a-brack
In saucy, arty conversation with Lady G, Bricker talks about his need to ‘burst’ and – boom – in BURSTS Lord G. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Oh wait…

Mary had a little man
The alternative break-up chat:
Lord Gill: Am I bad lover?
Mary: It’s like I was in a dream.
Lord Gill: How flattering. We go to bed together and then you wake up.
Mary: At least one of us was ‘up’.

Dinner
What happened over dinner? I’m not quite sure. What didn’t happen over dinner?
1.) Lady G and Bricker sit next to each other and flirt away in baby voices.
2.) Bunting makes a bloody nuisance of herself and the television gets smacked by my other sock.
3.) Daisy and Mrs Patmore are wheeled in liked fools and then questioned like criminals in a scene reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, which I reckon is what Mrs Bunting will be teaching Daisy about in next week’s episode.
4.) Lord G huffs and puffs and blows his house down – or was it his napkin, and also his candle?

Bolshy in beddies
Lord G’s: ‘You were flirting and twinkling with that ghastly travelling salesman’ was quite possibly his most hysterical comment to date, and for the first time ever, I actually agree with him.

Curiosity kills the courtship
Anna’s curiosity may well be the undoing of her husband; at last we can raise our mugs of cocoa to the long-awaited departure of this evil, evil man.

A truly extraordinary episode where so much happened I don’t quite know what happened. The only surprising element, really, was that the ghost of Matthew Crawley didn’t appear from down the chimney to chase Miss Bunting out of the house with a hot poker. Then again, there’s always next week.

8/10

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 3

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The Morning After...

The Morning After… (c) ITV Nick Briggs

Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during last night’s episode

A dose of ick
So you settle in to watch Downton with supper on a tray, and the first thing you hear is Lord Gillingham’s post-coital announcement: ‘We’ve worked up an appetite.’ I think, Lord Gill, you didn’t ‘work up’ an appetite so much as you ‘stole’ mine.

Spratt’s a fact
Where would Spratt go if Spratt happened to have a day off and enjoy a family wedding? York? London? (the only two places people go when they leave Downton?) No, Liverpool – to witness Mary and Lord Gill exit their hotel. Now, I don’t want to call this a coincidence… but I’m going to anyway.

If Carlsberg did Grandmothers…
When Spratt finally spits out he saw Mary in Liverpool, the Dowager quickly and coolly lies about why Mary was there, before dismissing him to enjoy her brandy. If I am ever a Grandmother, I want to be this one.

Phone-a-chaperone?
Lady G asks all and sundry to accompany her to London which makes us more convinced than ever what lies ahead for her and Withnail Richard E Grant Simon Bricker.

Tea-total
Rose invites the whole of Russia to Downton, under the pretence of ‘tea’, when actually all she wants to do is gloat about how rich she now is, and by extension, how poor they now are – all unconsciously, of course.

Let’s go Dutch
Lady Mary gives Anna her [used] Dutch Cap to hide, Anna mumbles something about ‘sin’ and we see Fellowes’ next story line: Bates finds Dutch Cap and travels to Holland to hunt the offending Dutch Man.

Most ridiculous idiom goes to…
Mrs Patmore and her ‘sympathy butters no parsnips’.
Perhaps a better phrase might be: ‘Writing a soap-drama butters up no Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable editors.’ Fellowes, take note.

Who doesn’t talk to Granny about sex?
Considering how prudish Yorkshire seems to be – well, Twenties Yorkshire according to Fellowes – I find it fairly unfeasible that Mary should choose to confide in her Grandmother about her sex life. ‘I learned a great deal that I never knew before,’ she s-u-b-t-l-y says of her Liverpudlian affair. Was this the beginning of Sex Education?

Baxter’s soup (2)
Baxter reveals her shameful story to Lady G and we finally find out it is the most shameful thing we’ve ever heard: ‘A bad man made me do bad things.’ My ears! My ears!

Bates blunders his alibi
For someone with such a feel for crime, Bates doesn’t half make a pigs ear of his story:
‘Well, I went to the opening of Browns in Queens Street [near the station]. I drank a cup of coffee [near the station], I left a whole day of time unaccounted for and think the best way to explain it is to say: ‘I walked around. I may have had a sandwich.’ And then I end by describing how I had a drink in a pub [by the station].’ Well and truly aced it.

Bricker’s back
Richard returns. That’s all.

Sharp note
Bricker calls Lady G ‘sharp’ and do you know what happens? I laugh out loud.

Cora’s conundrums
Cora admits her secret ambition is to impact on four centuries ‘with something’ she has done. I suppose the only way to accomplish this, Cors, is to actually do something.

Basic instincts
Bricker compliments Lady G on her instincts, and seconds later she says (of having dinner with him): ‘I probably shouldn’t, but I think I will’. This reveals, I’m sure you agree, quite how instinctive she really is.

Stupid and stupider
Lord G has a tantrum about Lady G’s dinner with Bricker and ends his argument by calling her stupid. As a feminist, I don’t want to agree with him, but as Downtonist, I absolutely can’t not.

Tom dumb
Does anyone care whether Tom snubs the luxury of Downton and f*cks off to America with Bunting? Anyone?

Bunting Blunders
Considering what happened the last two times she was involved, has Rose learnt her lesson re: including Bunting in Downton’s social engagements? No? OK then, let’s rerun this irritating episode once again for those who happened to have missed it the first two times…

Love is in the Heir
The Dowager gets given a fan by a… fan; a Prince Kuragin. We like where this story is going. If Granddaughter’s gettin’ some, it only makes sense for Granny to get some too.

This episode was largely disappointing and dull. Next week’s episode – with Daisy discovering all about the Revolution – is setting itself up to be a right corker.

5/10

By Beenie Langley

Downton Abbey Series 5 Episode 2

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Stuff I wrote on my smartphone during the course of last night’s episode…

'I've just farted'  Photo: Carnival Films

Lady Grantham ‘I’ve just farted’*
Photo: Carnival Films *flirted

The game of Doubting Thomas
This episode is mainly about following the game of: Poor Thomas versus Evil Thomas. Scores after his emotional farewell to Jimmy lie at (if you haven’t seen last night’s episode, look away now):
Poor Tom, 1 – Evil Tom, Nil

First Footman Forward
Molesley asks to be promoted to first footman and Mrs Hughes puts him back in his place by way of predicting a world where there are no footmen at all. I reckon at the time of writing, Julian Fellowes was fantasising about having his own [first] footman.

Mrs Crawley demonstrates the acute Marple-esque skills in observation for which she is best-known
‘It’s funny how they change week by week at his age,’ she says of George. It’s like babies were meant to grow, isn’t it Mrs C?
THEN she interrupts what is frankly a disjointed and tedious lunch conversation to randomly talk about a Mrs Henderson and some radios. If Fellowes must repeatedly insert irrelevant subplots for Rose, I do wish he’d introduce them in a way that at least makes sense.

Fire-the-Man
If Mr Drewe was such a good man, worthy enough to look after little Marigold [gloves], do you know what he’d most probably do about the #awkward Edith situation? Tell his wife.

Daisy’s a bright spark
‘Why do you have to be so nasty about everyone?’
Daisy comes straight to the point and asks Thomas the question nobody seems to have quite managed. And she thinks she needs educating…

Baxter Soup
Following Thomas’s bitchy exchange revealing all about Baxter to Molesley, the score of Poor Thomas vs Evil Thomas heats up, and we find ourselves on: 1-1.
ps Anyone notice how lovely Molesley’s hair is looking this week?

Tireless
If Rose mentions the word ‘wireless’ one more time I’m going to smash my fucking telly.

Carlson gives Mrs Hughes one helluva telling off
‘I’m not cross with you, Mrs Hughes, I’m just disappointed’. As we all know this is far worse.

Pot-Kettle-Bunting-Black
For all her socialist values, isn’t it funny that the well-to-do ‘middle class’ Miss Bunting makes ‘working class’ Daisy pay for her extra lessons? I’m aware the welfare state hasn’t arrived yet, but if the ruddy Bunting was so revolutionary and forward-thinking wouldn’t she have invented it?

Lord G – the ultimate buffoon
‘It’s a fad, it won’t last,’ he says of the radio. Is Fellowes intentionally trying to make us detest every word that comes out of this man’s mouth, cos if so, it’s working.

Molesley struggles to understand the concept of crime
I just, I won’t, I cannot believe that criminals exist – even though so many people who pass through Downton seem to either have been to, or belong in, prison…

Contrary Mary
If Fellowes really wanted to excite his audience, rather than Lord Gillingham un-sexily explaining he was going to take Mary out for dinner then shag her (sorry, ‘make love’ to her) all week long, couldn’t there have been no words at all and they just got on with it? Isn’t that what passion is supposed to look like? I understand the very mention of something so radical is most racy for a show of this nature, especially since Mary is, as we all know, a virgin…

Can I put Rose on mute?
As if Rose couldnt possibly get any more irritating, she then insists on inviting the ruddy Bunting for dinner – in spite of that fact not one person wants her to be there, least of all ruddy Bunting herself.

Kitten Cora changes her purr
Cora flirting is rather embarrassing but at last she’s finally showing she’s got an ounce of sass, eschewing (albeit briefly) the role of timid kitten to Lord G’s manly ‘Rabbit’.
p.s. – umm, is that it from Richard E. Grant, then? I’m probably missing something huge, but it seemed to me like he was written into the script because he was in Gosford Park, which, conveniently, was shown on ITV3 following last night’s episode. To use him simply for one ‘We’ve got history’ look at Cora (or do I mean Isis?) seems a bit of a waste to me. Does anybody know?

Gownton Grabby
Cora threatens to fire Baxter, and then hurls her dressing gown at her. If Baxter had been a proper criminal she’d have told Cora where to shove her stupid job and stolen the dressing gown.

Final Score
After Thomas’s ‘smoking broodily into the fire’ scene, we go up a goal to: Poor Thomas, 2 – Evil Thomas, 1. But then Bates turns up, sees Anna looking at Thomas forlornly and we sense Thomas’s life is in danger. So our sympathy goes up a further notch and the episode ends with the final score of: Evil Tom, 1 – Poor Tom, 1million.

In all, an OK episode. But the thought Bates might actually go to prison is such an exciting one, I’m not sure I can wait till next week. Sadly, we have no choice.

7/10

By Beenie Langley