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Ray Mears vs Bear Grylls – The Showdown

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I’ve always been fascinated with survival skills. From an early age I’ve loved the outdoors and the thought of having to survive on my wits and whatever natural resources are available. I’ve got a copy of the SAS Survival Handbook, I’ve spent many a night camping in the wilds of Scotland, can light a fire in a variety of different ways and reckon I’d do pretty well if I found myself in stuck in the middle of nowhere and had to survive (it’s not really optional to be fair). But if I could choose someone to be stuck with to increase our collective chance of survival and not turn it into an ordeal, then who would I want with me?

The way I see it, there are two choices. Ray Mears or Bear Grylls:

Ray Mears and Bear Grylls

Both of these gentlemen have popular TV series that show you how to survive in the wilds of far flung corners of the world. They show you how to navigate without a compass, how to find food where none seems available, how to light a fire, where to get fresh water, how to build a shelter and survive the night and pretty much all you need to know. The difference between them however is in the delivery style. These guys are polar opposites.

The Men

Ray Mears is a mellow, laid back sort of a guy. He’s from the south of England and grew up exploring the countryside where he learned an appreciation of his surroundings and wildlife. He’s a worldwide expert in bush-craft having spent most of his life learning his craft, has travelled the globe and even runs his own school where you too can learn from his vast experience. His programmes are always interesting and filled with the stories of the people whose skills he demonstrates and are always set to a relaxed and easy tone.

Bear Grylls on the other hand is a former soldier who spent 3 years serving with the SAS. He’s an expert climber and sky diver and has partaken in a string of extreme sports. Following a free fall accident when in the army he broke his back in 3 places and spent a long time recovering fearing he may never walk or climb again. However at the tender age of only 23 he became the youngest person to successfully climb Mount Everest. He’s been on numerous expeditions pushing the limits of human endurance and has starred in several TV shows pitting him against survival situations. I’m assured by my good lady that he’s a rather good looking guy too!

The TV Programmes

One of Ray Mears shows is quite relaxing to watch. The music in the background will tend to be of the chilled out acoustic guitar variety. He’ll find himself out in the woods somewhere, or the outback or some similar absolutely-miles-from-anywhere situation. He’ll take a bit of time to show you some of the local plant life, what you can eat and what you can put in soup. He’ll spend a while making a shelter – but it’ll be so well put together that it would look like a home from home. He’ll show you a neat way to start a fire then he’ll head out and get dinner.

To give an example from a recent show he caught a salmon. He then showed you how to fillet it, got some wood and made a smoking stand, spread the salmon meat out over it then rested it above the fire – slow fade out with acoustic guitar music. Fade back in to show Ray taking the cooked fish out from the fire – music fades out. He took a bite out of the salmon and clearly it was delicious. So delicious that he passed some to the camera man to eat. He then relaxed in his shelter, put his feet up and the camera panned around to show the beautiful scenery while he told a story of some survivors who’d been stuck there in years gone by. You’d give anything to swap places with him.

Bear Grylls takes a different approach in his shows. Firstly, he’ll be on a helicopter or a plane explaining that he was about to show you what it’s like to be a tourist stuck in some remote part of Mexico (for example). He’ll jump out out of the helicopter / plane and sky dive his way to the ground. From then on he’ll be going flat out in an adrenaline packed hour that’ll leave you exhausted just watching! It’s all about getting out as soon as possible and doing anything to survive. If he’s high up he’ll try to find the most direct way down (usually a cliff) and scramble his way down. There’s a huge waterfall? No problem – he’ll just leap off the top! Feeling hungry and need some energy? He’ll eat anything! From camel testicles to live scorpions (quite crunchy and taste like rotten cheese apparently) to various grubs he’ll describe as “like a small packet of puss”. You never see him enjoying a meal – he’s usually trying not to vomit.

In one memorable episode Bear actually caught himself a trout (that’s a very tasty freshwater fish). Now trout are delicious but rather than do the Ray Mears thing of cooking it he simply gutted it, washed it in the river and started eating it raw there and then. There ain’t no time to cook! Stuck on the wrong side of a Siberian river? Easy, just strip off, throw your kit over and dive in! Bear’s shows are great and you know that if you were in a tight situation with him, even including hostile people around trying to kill you, it’d be a safe bet he’d get you out alive. But after watching an episode my brother said he’d “hate to be the camera crew” because it would be completely knackering trying to keep up – he’s a machine!

Who To Choose?

So in a choice of which one of these guys you’d be stuck with, I guess it comes down to what sort of experience you want. With Ray you know there wouldn’t be any rush. You’d be chilled, calm and relaxed. You’d have plenty of time to watch sunsets, think about life and learn a thing or two about the world around you and how to survive in it. Even though there wouldn’t be any music, you’d swear that someone in the background was twanging an acoustic guitar…

But find yourself in a survival situation with Bear and prepare to be tested to the limits! The only time you get to lie down and rest is if you’re dead! You wouldn’t have time to think as you’d be battling to keep up with Bear as he bounds up a cliff face or a tree or over a river. At least you won’t have time to miss home or wonder how you found yourself in this mess – you’ll be completely single minded about getting out of there. While one version of yourself in style on gourmet cooked food with Ray Mears, the other is scraping the bark off a tree looking for grubs to eat or wrestling a stag to the ground to make it’s fur into a hang-glider. (Note: when it comes to wrestling stags, you’re probably best leaving Mr Grylls to that one).

So I think it comes down to a relaxing holiday or a flat out race-against-the-clock-once-in-a-lifetime endurance event. I’m still not sure so I’m thinking…

The TV Series Pitch (to be read in a husky voice)

Two men. Both expert survivors. Both at home in any environment, friendly or hostile. Both with the same equipment. Both with the same goal – stay alive and get home. Each will have a camera crew to track their progress. Watch the split-screen action and press your red button to go interactive and choose different camera angles, see action-replays of life-or-death situations and vote for your winner. Who will get out first? Who will lose the most weight? Whose clothes will be the most tattered and mud stained?

So how about it BBC? Does the show get commissioned? Come on – if you don’t do it, Discovery or somebody else will! Since I came up with the idea I’ll want Executive Producer credits…

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How To Deal With An Ankle Strain Or Mild Sprain

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Playing quite a lot of football as I do I’m forever picking up knocks, bruises and strains. I don’t mind really as that’s part of the fun, although I’m sure some people think I suffer from spousal abuse with all the bruises I get! 😉

Anyway, my ankles seem to take more of a battering than anything else – I guess when you mis-time a tackle and get the man instead of the ball it’s their ankle that you’re most likely to tread on. Sometimes I’d have to strap up my ankle for the next few times games and sometimes I’d have to miss games altogether until it got better. But then a friend of mine gave me some great advice about dealing with ankle injuries – although he warned me that it’s a bit painful. Since it’s been such a successful treatment for me I thought I’d mention it here in case you’ve hurt your ankle stepping off a pavement / playing football / mud wrestling / Scots country dancing / doing some other activity.

Ice Bucket PainSo, here’s how to get a speedy recovery from an ankle strain or mild sprain. I like to call it the “Ice Bucket Treatment”:

  1. Fill up a bucket or basin with cold water and as much ice as you can get your hands on.
  2. Get yourself a towel (handy for all occasions).
  3. Plunge your foot into the bucket until it goes numb (this should take a few minutes and you’ll know when it is because the agonising pain will have stopped – see right).
  4. Take your foot out, dry it and wait for it to warm up again.
  5. Repeat from step 3 several times until the ice has pretty much melted.

If you do this for a few nights after your injury you’ll be surprised how much more quickly it recovers than if you just left it alone.

One thing to warn you of is that step 3 really is surprisingly painful. My good lady made the mistake of telling me she’d hurt her ankle and having laughed at my suffering many times doing the ice bucket treatment I suggested she give it a try. The first thing she did after putting her foot in the bucket was to take it out again followed by uttering an expletive about how cold it was. I told her to put it back in and keep it there until it went numb – which she duly did. However the poor thing had tears streaming down her face from the pain as she did it so in the end we agreed that maybe the ice bucket treatment wasn’t for her. She doesn’t find it as amusing when I do it now so it wasn’t a total loss!

Ice baths are commonly used by professional athletes after training sessions and games / races to good effect but I don’t fancy filling up a wheelie bin with water and ice after every game thank you very much – however don’t let that stop you if you have your own ice machine!

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I’ve Finally Gotten Into Podcasting

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PodcastingPodcasting (in case you don’t know) is a cool way to listen to your favourite radio show whenever you like on your iPod instead of at the allotted time it’s broadcast. The idea is that you subscribe to a particular podcast (such as the Adam and Joe BBC 6 Music show) and each time a new episode is released it is automatically copied onto your iPod (or any other MP3 player for that matter) and you can listen to it at your leisure, such as when you’re taking the train to work. Sounds great!

Of course, back when podcasting began it wasn’t so cool and I pretty much ignored it (which is what I tend to do with most technical things until they prove themselves capable of making my life better). Initially the only podcasts out there seemed to be recorded by American men droning on in monotone voices about some boring technology or other (or making some interesting technology sound boring as a result of their monotone, droning voices) – which is exactly the last thing I wanted to listen to on the train in the morning. So I steered clear.

But more recently mainstream media, such as the BBC to name but one, have picked up podcasting in a big way. Pretty much every radio show of interest has its own podcast and with the tight integration from software such as iTunes, it’s incredibly easy to subscribe to them. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Much like getting Sky+ revolutionised the way I watch TV – I “series link” all the things I’d like to see and watch them at a time of my choosing instead of being a slave to the schedules (and as a bonus feature I never have to watch ad breaks) – podcasting now means I don’t have to turn radio 5 on at 11am on a Saturday to listen to Fighting Talk. Instead the next time I hook my iPod up to my Mac the latest episode is automatically copied across and I can listen to it when I want.

As well as audio podcasts there are also video podcasts produced by a variety of people and organisations (even NASA) although personally I prefer not to squint at a small screen while on a train so will stick to audio for now. But as is often the case, something that I thought was a bit of a waste of time when it first came on the scene has grown into a huge success that’s been bought into by most mainstream media companies, not to mention talented individuals who would otherwise not be able to show their skills without getting a job in radio or TV. Still, better late than never!

Oh, and before you ask, no, I have no plans to ever record my own podcasts. I’d just drone on in monotonous tones about my hair, the weather and a whole bunch of other things nobody would ever be interested in. This site does enough of that already!

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Once They’ve Got Your Name They’ve Got You

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As I’ve written about in detail before I applied to become a Royal Marine Officer when I was younger, cockier, fitter and had better knees. I came within a cat’s whisker of making it and if I’d been even cockier I’d have passed first time. At the time I was particularly proud to pass the Officer selection course which consisted of all sorts of fun activities like press-ups, running with a telegraph pole slung over your shoulder for hours, being dragged through underwater tunnels and discussing politics and world affairs. But when I eventually failed to get in I was really gutted, although looking back it was the best thing that happened to me as it made me realise nothing is mine by right, I have to work for it. Plus now that I’m in my 30’s all that getting shot at in Afghanistan sounds less than the fun I thought it would be in my early 20’s.

A letter I received from the MODAnyway, I digress. This morning a letter turned up from none other than the Ministry Of Defence. It had been sent to my father’s address and he passed it on to me. You may or may not have heard that just the other week a laptop was stolen containing the personal details of some 600,000 people including such things as names, addresses, passport details, national insurance numbers and so on. The BBC wrote about it here. There’s been a spate of missing government laptops being stolen along with CDs containing details of all UK benefits claimants going missing. I always shake my head at the incompetence of the people who lose these things, don’t properly secure data or are so stupid as to send unencrypted CDs through the post!

However according to the letter I received from the MOD, my details were on the laptop that was stolen! Ten years ago I applied to join the Royal Marines and they still have my personal data lying around on someone’s laptop sitting in the back of their car. Idiots!

The letter reassures me that while my passport details, National Insurance number, driver license details, family details, doctors address and National Health Service number might be included in the stolen information, I can rest easy knowing that my bank details were not. Nice! So more than enough information to steal my identity, set up a bank account in my name, create some loans and not repay them, but at least they can’t get at my current account…

Fortunately the passport details they have are no longer valid, my address has changed, as has my doctor. But that’s about it. We don’t think twice before handing over our personal details to various institutions but we never consider the fact that our details might be hanging around in their systems 10 or 20 years later just waiting to be stolen. Having worked in the IT industry for many years I can testify to the incompetence of the vast majority of the people in it and therefore don’t hold out much hope that this sort of problem’s going to go away.

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Photography And The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

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I was just sat half-watching reruns of the classic British TV series The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (or H2G2 for short). Right at the end the main characters Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect have crash landed 2 million years ago on Earth and are trying to teach some cave men scrabble so that the spaceship full of some other planet’s castoffs that crash landed with them won’t out-evolve them (it’s mad stuff and if you don’t know the story then either read the books, listen to the radio show, watch the TV series or buy the film on DVD – and what rock have you been hiding under?). They eventually give up realising it’s futile and walk off into the distance.

And at exactly that point I looked up at the TV and exclaimed: “I know where that is!”. Here’s the final scene:

The final scene of the H2G2 TV series

And here’s a photo I took in March of 2007 just above Dove Stone Reservoir near where I live:

A photo above Dove Stone Reservoir

You’ll note that it’s exactly the same place – although at a different time of year! The notch on the horizon at centre-left, the straight line of trees in the distance from lower left to upper right, the boulder which is right at the front of my shot but further in the distance on the TV and the position of the river.

It’s a small world indeed but it just goes to show when you look through the viewfinder to take in a scene, compose a shot and click the shutter to capture a photo – it gets not only imprinted on a digital card but in the back of your mind too! A lot of thought goes into every photograph I take and every one feels like a personal achievement. Which is why I never forget a photo I’ve taken – although I may well forget where it was taken as my memory’s not always the best!

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Yorkshire Flooding Hits Top Scottish Blogger!

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Well ok, to be fair I’m not a top Scottish blogger, so that’s not quite true. And ok, the Yorkshire flooding didn’t directly “hit” me, but it definitely affected me as you’ll see.

It’s not often that the little village in which I live – Silsden – makes the national news, but yesterday it did for all the wrong reasons (once again). Firstly a colleague mentioned after lunch that he’d heard on the radio that a factory had been evacuated in Silsden due to flooding. My first thought was: “there’s a factory in Silsden?” and then I tried to work out where it was. A couple of friends and my father (who can text like a pro) texted me to say the news was on the BBC. I found some video taken on a mobile phone of the flooding but couldn’t make out exactly where it was to see if it was near my house or not. Eventually a friend pointed me at some photos of the flooding so I could see for myself what was going on.

To my dismay I realised that the factory was literally a stone’s throw from my garden and the canal that’s along the road and above my house looked particularly full (I thought canals never flooded?). From the pictures I could tell that the tiny stream that runs behind some houses near me was a raging torrent and the only road to my house was blocked by rather a lot of water. Since I could still ping my home server and that I was reassuringly far away from the river I concluded that my house was still there and the chances of it being flooded were very slim. At least that’s what I kept telling myself, I knew I’d find out later.

Since the trains from Leeds (where my good lady works) were cancelled I gallantly offered to drive over and pick her up. This took 2 hours where it normally takes 30 minutes. Since lots of roads were closed all the traffic in Yorkshire seemed to be redirected to where I was going. After over 3 hours we had to conclude that we weren’t getting home any time soon – we stopped at the in-laws to wait for the traffic to die down and try again. This we did an hour or two later only to discover that – gasp – all roads to Silsden were closed! For the first time in my life I couldn’t get home, although staying at the in-laws was no hardship.

I consoled myself with the knowledge that I’d get home in the morning, get my camera out and capture some quality photos of the flooding and devastation to make a really interesting article. But guess what? All the water had receded! Grrrrr. Fortunately though none of the houses around me were affected by the water and aside from some water getting into the basements of some of the shops on the high street and the flooding at the factory, everything ended happily.

Two interesting facts about Silsden:

  1. The first survivor of the infamous Yorkshire Ripper escaped his clutches in…. That’s right, Silsden! Unknown to me at the time one of my previous banner photos for this site was taken in the exact spot where Tracy Browne jumped over the fence to escape.
  2. The largest onion ever grown – weighing in at 10lb 14oz – was grown in… You guessed it, Silsden by local Vincent Throup! (I told you Yorkshire folk like their food).

Oh yes, and I guess the other interesting thing is that I live there. Still!

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Why I Love Groundhog Day

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So I was at a birthday party at the weekend and I got talking to this girl about films. She listed a few of her favourites (like The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and some others) and then I mentioned one of my all-time favourites Groundhog Day. She said she’d seen it but hadn’t really thought much about it which I took as an opportunity to spend the next 10 minutes telling her how great a film it is, why it’s such a great film and why it gets better the more times you see it. And now it’s your turn…

Goundhog DayThe basic premise of the film is a rather unsavoury weather man – Phil Connors played masterfully by Bill Murray – finds himself and a film crew in a town called Punxsutawney to report on the tradition that if a groundhog (we call them marmots in Europe) emerges from its lair and sees its shadow then the Winter will last a few weeks longer – otherwise it’s hello Spring! Phil is completely unenthused about the whole thing and is rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious, sexist and a real jerk. He then wakes up the next day to find that it is once again Groundhog day and he’s reliving it. Rather confused he goes through the motions, does his report again and goes to bed. But he wakes up once again on Groundhog day.

What I love about Groundhog Day is that as you watch him stuck living the same day over and over again you feel the same thoughts and feelings as him. First of all you’re wondering “what the hell is going on?”. Then he starts to use it to his advantage to chat up women and pull them. He realises he can do anything he likes without consequence and enjoys that for a while. He takes the time to learn to play the piano and carve ice sculptures, amongst other things. But then he starts to get sick of the whole thing and you feel his pain. Each morning he’s awoken by the song “I got you babe” by Sonny and Cher and after a while you start to hate hearing it yourself – he throws the radio against the wall, breaks it and you know you’d do the same yourself.

So he tries killing himself but just wakes up and the day starts over. He becomes desperate and just wants out – but he’s stuck living the same day over and over again. His producer Rita – played by Andie MacDowell – takes his fancy but while attempting to get her into bed in a single day (she hates him at the start of the day so it’s a tall order), he manages to fall in love with her. The night ends with her slapping him in the face but he can try it again and again and again – or so he thinks. No matter how he tries to perfect the day he just can’t reproduce the spark that made him fall for her and eventually he just gives up.

There’s a beautiful scene that you’d miss if you watched it for the first time (I know I did). While trying to woo Rita for the first time he gets in a snowball fight with some kids and they end up falling in the snow together in just such a way that they catch each other’s eye and that’s when he falls for her. In subsequent nights he tries to make that random moment happen again but he just doesn’t fall in the right position and it just never happens again. Phil starts to realise he can’t make things happen just because he wants them to to suit his own ends.

So eventually he resigns himself to being stuck on the same day by revelling in it. He gets to know everybody, manages to synchronise his day so that he can catch a kid who falls out of a tree, replace a flat tyre for some old ladies who break down, perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a man choking in a restaurant and by doing all that becomes a changed me. An old homeless man dies over and over again and Phil tries his best to save him but eventually realises he can’t – he’s not God. In the end Rita falls for the new Phil and he finds tomorrow finally comes.

It’s a brilliant film and has a great deal of subtle undertones that only become apparent the more you watch it. When he goes bowling with some of the locals and tells them that he’s living the same day over and over one of them replies with something like “I know exactly what you mean”. We all drift through the same day over and over again and feel like we’re in Groundhog Day, but Phil broke the cycle by stopping worrying about it and trying to make the best of each day and making those around him happy (even though he only actually had one of them). So if you haven’t seen it then I recommend you sit down and watch it. Laugh along and have Sonny and Cher too – but look beneath the surface and see if it makes you think.

Oh, and if you don’t and you’re ever unlucky enough to talk films with me you’ll get this whole lecture and I’ll keep going on at you until you promise me you’ll watch it. Or maybe you’ll promise me you’ll watch it and mentally cross me off your “speak to again” list – which is probably what that poor girl on Saturday night did!

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Commercial Breakdown – The Sony Bravia Ads

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Since I got Sky+ I very rarely see adverts on TV (it records the entire series of any programs I actually watch and I skip all the breaks) but when I sit down to watch something live, like the rugby world cup match last night, I have to sit through the things. Like most people I tune them out and treat them as background noise. It takes something really special to get my attention.

Then my eye was caught by a scene of some buildings in a city and a couple of drops of clay that turned into rabbits and started bouncing around what could easily have been New York (turns out it was). And then some more appeared. And more and more, all to the sound of the Rolling Stones and all in a busy city full of people. It was incredible, and the more the advert went on the more incredible it became. Here, see for yourself:

While I have no intention of buying a Sony Bravia TV (I’ve happily got a Toshiba LCD TV thanks), I have to say that their three adverts are a cut above pretty much any other ads I can think of. The first was of quarter of a million rubber bouncy balls bouncing down a street in San Francisco and the second was of a fireworks display set on a council estate in Glasgow – except instead of fireworks it used exploding paint! Have a look at their website where you can see how they made these ads, as well as the ads themselves in full.

While the point of advertising is ultimately about making money, it’s really nice to see ads like these that show the creative talent of people out there (and particularly heartening to hear the high number of British accents on the ‘making of’ video). And to see an advert that actually brings a smile to my face and makes me gaze in wonder is a rare thing indeed. I’ll be interested to see how they manage to top this one!

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Local Newspaper’s Bargain Of The Century

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While flicking through our local free paper – The Target – my friend (who’s staying with us this week) came across the following bargain-of-a-lifetime advert:

A less than appealing sale item

Normally I wouldn’t pay any attention to a sale on a cooker but my eagle-eyed friend is a Scotsman too and was drawn to the paltry £1 discount. I wonder if anybody reading it was stupid enough to think “wow – at that price I’m ready to splash out on a new Rangemaster!”. I mean, this is Yorkshire – they’re even more canny with their money than us Scots! 😉

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The Lord Of The Rings Stage Show

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My good lady and I visited our friends in Kent (which is a lovely place by the way, I'd never have guessed there was such a nice area so close to London – although it's a little out of my price bracket) and spent a good 3 hours of our Saturday night watching the stage version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If nothing else I wanted to see how they could fit 3 novels worth of story (the standard films of course totalled around 9 hours – 11 for the extended version). In short, they cut rather a lot out!

I'll start with the positives. The effects really were amazing – like nothing I've seen on stage before – from making Bilbo disappear at the start (I'm sure it was something to do with mirrors – but it was very impressive) to the stage itself (which was composed of several sections that could move up and down independently) to the Balrog (big fiery demon bloke), the giant spider (which produced rather a lot of gasps from people in the theatre). It was clear that a hell of a lot of money had been spent on the production and the result was astonishing.

The athleticism and acrobatics are worth a mention too. The orcs were somersaulting around on springy stilts as though they were on wires (they weren't) and the physicality of the dancing was really impressive. Plus, the guy playing Gollam was really good too. Aside from playing the split personality well, his movement, flexibility and the way he leaped around the stage in a manner no human should be able to was incredible – his body's going to be wrecked when he hits his 40s!

So all in all it was a really impressive visual experience. Which brings me onto the negatives. Firstly, the music didn't really hit the high drama levels you'd expect from a play such as this. To suck you into the plot you need those bits of music that just send tingles down your spine but that wasn't the case here. Also, some of the singing wasn't of the standard you'd expect from the west end. To give you an example, during the first song by the hobbits I thought to myself "I can sing about as well as that" which if you've ever had the misfortune to hear my singing tells you all you need to know!

There was one scene with the Elves leaving middle earth near the start that was excellent. Strong music, strong and powerful singing along with strong emotions. Sadly the rest of the play didn't measure up to that level. Next was some of the acting. The guy playing Aragorn just didn't sound convincing at all. I don't know if he was the understudy or not but his performance lacked any authority or passion. Likewise the wizards were a bit light on the authority front. Hearing Gandalf giggling like a schoolgirl when the decision was made to create the fellowship of the ring at the start just wasn't what I'd expect. Still, it could have been worse, Gandalf could have had a solo! (Actually, that would have been funny).

As for the story itself, the way they fitted it into 3 hours was to cut out a hell of a lot of the original story. This had the effect that if you hadn't read the books or seen the film you wouldn't have had the slightest clue what the hell was going on. It seemed from scene one that they were trying to rush through the dialogue, but then they'd linger for ages on an irrelevant scene like at Lothlorian which is a minor diversion from the plot at best. 

So like the curate's egg, the show was good in parts. Well worth seeing for the incredible effects and stage. But if you're going for the singing or the acting or as a diehard fan of the trilogy, then you might be a bit disappointed.