Who’s the girl in the Apple Christmas ad?

You know, the one who sings along with Frankenstein’s monster.

That’s the question I asked myself, my daughter asked herself and my wife likewise.

It took a fair bit of Googling to find the answer. But I found it.

She’s Pixie Davies. You might have seen her in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Turns out my daughter follows her on Instagram.

You can too. Here

We love your work, Pixie. x

You know summer’s over when…

 First day back at work after my summer holiday (which was a bit of a washout, truth be told) and what greets me on my way to the station?

Paul Laidlaw (far left) is at it again. The man must live in Pantoland all year round. He writes, directs and stars as the Dame at the Gordon Craig every year.

And he is good. He looks very much as home on stage wearing pans for a bra and flirting with the dads in the front row.

Be sure to book your tickets early so that isn’t you (if you’re a dad)!

Gordon Craig has everyone running for a burger.

This makes me laugh. The Gordon Craig Theatre building has recently undergone something of a makeover.

Gone is the gallery space they used to have at the heart of the building. In its place is perhaps the most soulless restaurant in Britain. With no windows, there’s no natural light and no view. Can’t imagine Mrs Parking In Stevenage would thank me for treating her to the set menu here.

Pi Bistro in full swing.

Pi Bistro in full swing.

In turn, this restaurant has moved from its old position, facing out onto Lytton Way, itself not the most desirable of vistas. So what’s there now, you’re not particularly asking?

The gym. I don’t know where this was before but perhaps in this game of musical chairs, the gallery now occupies that space.

So now we have the spectacle of 20 or so ruddy-faced sweating people running on the spot, lit up for the benefit of commuters heading home from the station over the bridge.

20130218-193153.jpg

The runners have the opposite view, returning commuters, 6 lanes of traffic and, illuminated like some tortuous mirage, the golden arches of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Nando’s beyond.

20130218-193213.jpg

But it doesn’t matter how fast they run; that Big Mac will always be out of reach. But they might just be able to make out the queue of Gordon Craig’s would-be diners beating a path to Stevenage Leisure Park and its culinary delights.

If I ever go skiing again, this is how I’d do it.

Just in case I ever go skiing again, here is a public note-to-self on what I learned last time – the stuff that clicked on the last day…

Skiing is an odd sport in that for the most part there’s only one manoeuvre you need to learn: the parallel turn. Then it’s just a case of repeating this one move until you reach the bottom of the slope.

But there’s lots to remember when you’re travelling at speed on a 45-degree icy slope at 4pm when you’re knackered from a whole day of falling over. The books try to cover this stuff but each lesson I’ve seen leaves something out. It’s about trying to find the right balance between too much information and not enough. Tricky. Like skiing.

IMG_4004[1]

1. Lean forward in your boots ALWAYS. Feel your downhill shin on your boot’s tongue as you turn and traverse the slope. Not enough to bruise your shins but enough to feel it.

Also lean from the hips not the shoulders. That way, you’ll avoid hunching over. Thrust and stay thrusted!

2. Put ALL your weight on your downhill ski. Think about it like you’re giving your uphill ski a rest. Then swap. Really push that inside edge into the snow so it bites into the slope. Carve!

3. The steeper the slope, the more you need to overcome your aversion to leaning forward. Attack the mountain. Commit to the turn. If your uphill ski won’t turn or catches the downhill ski it’s because you’re not leaning forwards. It would be nice for video replays to confirm this but it’s true.

4. Stand tall. Pop up into your turn and as soon as you’ve swung round, stand up, leaving enough flex in your knees to absorb the bumps. Stay down too long and you’ll turn back uphill and lose control. I stayed crouched (wrong anyway) for too long. Any bend should just come from your legs.

5. Keep your shoulders facing downhill. Resist the urge to swing your body round the turn. Overcome this by making a conscious effort to swing your hips instead of your body. Twist it in the opposite direction to your legs.

The slope at L'Olympique - my nemesis...

The slope at L’Olympique – my nemesis…

6. Get that uphill ski off the snow. The steeper the slope the higher up your uphill ski will need to be to avoid catching an edge. If you make an effort to lift it off the snow, your weight will automatically transfer to your downhill ski 100%.

Not doing this caused nearly all my spills.

7. Keep your arms out on front of you at chest height. It looks amateur but keep doing it until you get used to leaning forward ALL the time. Some tutors suggest you try to push open an imaginary door in front of you. I didn’t try this but you get the point. Keep your weight forward – on your balls, not your heels.

8. Leave the snowplough back at the chalet. Learning the snowplough is a mixed blessing. Yes, it will help you in the short term, but you have to unlearn it to perform perfect parallels. Someone in my group was learning for the first time and the instructor deliberately skipped the snowplough entirely.

It’s easy to mix a snowplough into your parallel turns. This is fine for the downhill ski because it’s essentially doing the same thing in both instances.

However, when a snowplough gatecrashes your parallel turn, your uphill ski will end up pointing downhill at best or crossing your other ski, causing you to fall. Focus on keeping your ankles close to one another, nice and parallel.

If you ‘pop’ into your turn with enough gusto, it’s easy to take all the weight off your inside ski and carry it next to your outside ski.

9. Use the moguls to help you pop into your turn. Bend your knees into the bump, extend as you crest the bump and hopefully land the turn against the next bump. Surprisingly effective and good for making strong, committed turns.

10. Lastly, an observation. This might be completely wrong but in my experience, you’re most stable on one ski than two. That’s counter-intuitive (much about skiing is) but think about it. If your weight is on both skis and one catches an edge, there’s a conflict of direction between the two skis. One ski could easily bang into the other and send you sprawling.

With all your weight on one ski, there’s no conflict. If your standing ski catches an edge you can use your second ski to steady yourself. If your weightless ski catches an edge, there won’t be enough weight on it to cause a problem.

Hey everyone, did I mention I’d been skiing!?

20130107-185328.jpg

Harry Potter open for business at King’s Cross.

That Harry Potter’s opened a store for muggles right by Platform 9 3/4. They got that Warwick Davies to open it. Ribbons, speeches, geeky fans, the lot!

This opened 2 weeks ago and I didn’t even notice. I pass through King’s Cross twice a day and still haven’t spotted the store.

20121221-222727.jpg

What I DID spot this morning was that the customary Harry Potter luggage trolley had changed. Like its predecessor, it’s embedded in the wall, making it a super photo op for tourists and/or Harry Potter fans.

20121221-235024.jpg

However, the new trolley sports some rugged old leather suitcases and half a birdcage. Is this for the owl? Sadly there isn’t half an owl embedded in the wall to establish this.

This is the 3rd location for the trolley. It used to be tucked away outside Platforms 9, 10 and 11, then they tucked it away by Platform 8 before moving it to its current position. Nice to see they’ve made an effort to Hogwartify the trolley. Before it was just a bog standard First Capital Connect one that got vandalised from time to time.

The map online puts the Harry Potter shop right next door to the trolley, so how come I didn’t spot it?

No idea, but the shop is a very good idea – heavy tourist traffic, excellent transport connections and highly relevant to the film (ignoring the fact that they actually used the more cinematic St Pancras next door for the films).

20121221-233926.jpg

20121221-233943.jpg

Dan Francis: an apology (of sorts).

I helped create the Halfords idents that accompany this Year’s Tour de France coverage on ITV4.

Having put 3 months of hard work into them – and the attendant documentary – I’m keen to see how they’re received. The web is of course the first place to look.

Not everyone likes everything and Twitter is an ideal platform for naysayers to vent their spleen. A handful of viewers don’t like the idents at all. To be fair, much of this was down to repetition – if you’re watching 3 hours of cycling, you’re going to see the same one more than once. Unless it’s supremely bland – and many other idents are – repetition will grate specially for an event that gets 5 hours coverage a day for 3 weeks.

Some people just don’t like Dan Francis – in the idents at least. It’s interesting that people are won over when they see the full documentary here:

It’s a strange one. At no point during the production did we think, “God, he’s so annoying, what are we gonna do?” It just didn’t occur to us. He was the perfect casting. He’s not an actor. We had the Tour de Francis idea first and cast specifically for someone with Frank or Francis in their name.

We wanted to represent the everyman – the chap holding down a day job, with a family and a genuine love of cycling. We wanted to show what happens when we challenge someone to take their cycling up a level, out of their comfort zone and emulate their heroes to some extent.

Dan, ambushed by a Frenchman talking French, of all things.

And we wanted to prove that a sub-£1000 Carrera Virago wouldn’t fall apart the minute you took it out on the road.

If you want to torture test a bike and the client is sponsoring the Tour de France, tackling some of its key stages makes perfect sense.

The truth is, we had one puncture on the flat (by the big wind turbines on Stage 6). Other than that, nothing snapped, sheered or failed.

Now, you can buy much better bikes if you can afford it and for many, many people, £1000 for any bike is just out if the question, so clearly we can’t please everyone.

But if you want to give non-cyclists an insight into why you ride or just enjoy a fellow enthusiast being given the chance to live the TdF dream, you could do worse than watch the documentary.

I promise you, he’s not as irritating as the idents might portray him.

As for the apology, it’s really directed at Dan. If we made you look annoying and prompt people to put their TV screen through, I am sorry. It wasn’t our intention or indeed our impression having watched them back – many more times than any viewers will ever see!

Tour de Francis

Once I tried to sell on the idea of the Stevenage Grand Prix using the Vodafone / Lewis Hamilton connection.

It got costed up and everything (£500,000 including policing) but in the end it didn’t happen.

So here’s something I DID manage to get off the ground – this time for Halfords.

They’re sponsoring ITV’s coverage of the 2012 Tour de France and wanted to hero their £1000 carbon fibre bike, the Carrera Virago.

We proposed the Tour de Francis. Get a bloke with Francis in his name and get him to ride some of the key stages of Le Tour on the Virago.

So that’s what we did. Across 6 days, Dan Francis rode through Liege in Belgium, the Champagne region, the French Alps and crossed the finish line in Paris.

We cut a 15-minute film documenting his journey and took short clips from it to create the idents that accompany the TV coverage going in and out of the ad breaks – 24 in total to cover 3 weeks of racing.

Take a look. It’s quite unlike anything Halfords has ever done before. Hopefully it shows the Tour through the lens of an amateur overcoming his own challenges and getting an insight into what it must be like for the pros.

If you don’t have 15 minutes, here’s the trailer:

And how did the bike cope? Total repairs: one puncture. We had 2 spare bikes with us on tour, both redundant in the end.

If you’re curious enough about the behind the scenes stuff, you can take a look here: http://tourdefrancis.tumblr.com/

And I can heartily recommend the Halfords Cycling Facebook page for coverage of Le Tour and all things cycling.

Duncan Norvelle has a stroke.

That’s not a double entendre, he’s in hospital recovering from an actual stroke.
The strangest thing – I found the Chortle web page with the news open on my phone with no memory of clicking on anything or any knowledge of the story in the first place. Bizarre.*
However, my blog stats this morning would alert me to something being amiss. Over 600 hits across the weekend for the 2 or 3 Duncan Norvelle-related articles on here.
As I’ve mentioned before, you can see which search terms bring people to Parking in Stevenage. Duncan Norvelle is the single biggest puller here and there are plenty of variations on a theme. What’s striking is that among all the ‘married/gay’ search strings, not one person has searched for ‘is Duncan Norvelle OK?’ or ‘how is Duncan Norvelle?’. That’s a bit sad.

Back in ’93. The only excuse for that polo – and very feeble at that.

So I shall ask. How’s he doing? Well according to his agent Tony Jo, Duncan has been in hospital since April but expects to come out (of hospital!) in 2 or 3 weeks. And another 80’s variety trouper Stu Francis will be filling in for Duncan’s appearances while he’s recovering.
Now you’ve had your Norvelle fix, feel free to look around the blog. You’ll find exciting news about car parks close to Stevenage railway station. Though if you have a heart condition, perhaps you’d better give it a miss.

This has also afforded me to glean some more vital statistics on the great man, thanks to the news coverage – and this specifically from the Blackpool Gazette: “He has three children, Sophie (with ex-wife Trudi Dean), Yasmin (with former girlfriend Tina Hall) and Jack (with ex-wife Jane Lindsay). ”

*Just figured it out – a link from a mate’s tweet, clicked on and forgotten. And relax.

946 Duncan Norvelle-curious visitors in a day.

Got back from holiday on December 23. Got a message from a chum (who already au fait with this blog) to tell me that Duncan Norvelle was on Come Dine With Me on Channel 4.

La Norvelle: note the wrists. Tricky innit.

Shame, I got in too late to catch it – plus there was unpacking to do, putting the kids to bed, etc. I thought no more about it until I checked The Parking In Stevenage stats on my first day back at work – yesterday.

Blow me. 946 hits in one day! For little old me. Well, me and Duncan. On WordPress you can see what terms brought the page to people’s attention. Basically, everyone wants to know if he’s gay. Some people beat around the bush and search for “Duncan Norvelle married”, others like to call him “Duncan Chase Me Norvelle” to include his 80’s catch phrase. But the overwhelming majority want to know: is the camp thing real?

Straight up, he’s not gay. That’s what I’m hearing.

See for yourself. Couldn't believe it, etc.

Is he gay. Is he? Is he? No really, is he?

Stevenage. Next stop Theatreland.

Well this Parking in Stevenage lark is really catching on. Even my wife’s getting in on the act.

Why? Well our daughter’s been cast as a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz at the Palladium in London’s swinging West End. Ahhh, she’s only little. She survived 3 rounds of auditions, the last of which was supervised by Arlene Philips herself.

So our daughter is part of 10-strong team which rotates performances with 2 other crack teams of Munchkins – one of whom has a famous father – Gary Barlow, seeing as you’re asking.

The poster, sans Munchkins.

Now this is all rather glamorous, but beneath the greasepaint and hairnets, there’s the reality of getting our little luvvie into Theatreland 3 times every 10 days. Hence the added Parking in Stevenage.

It’s a logistical feat in itself. My wife and I sometimes meet briefly at King’s Cross as she hands over our daughter. It’s not as romantic as it sounds. It’s more like a scene from Kramer vs Kramer (older readers) Sometimes we fight our way into London just to come straight back again, other times we’ll go into town and have dinner together. Now, that IS romantic.

If you’re looking for me, here’s a good place to start.

Even our other car gets to visit Swingate, which is nice. There’ve been times when both have been there at the same time. I SO wanted to take a piccie but they weren’t anywhere near each other. One for the desk at work, eh…? Never mind, there’s time yet.

%d bloggers like this: