Sunday, November 26, 2023


On Thursday 23rd November, I received an extremely unexpected e-mail: 

“Beginning December 4, 2023, limited quantities of the KODAK Super 8 Camera will be available to U.S. customers. Availability outside the U.S. will be announced at a later date. If you are interested in purchasing a camera once it is available in your country, you must sign up on Kodak's NEW camera reservation list by November 28, 2023, opting in to communications from third-party retailers authorized by Kodak. By completing the new form by the deadline, you will maintain your position from the previous list.”

The Kodak Super 8 Camera was originally announced in 2016, at which point I joined the reservation list. In the absence of further announcements in the following years, I seriously considered whether Kodak was serious: like Polaroid, RCA, and Blaupunkt, the Kodak name has been licensed for everything from cheap AA batteries to tablet computers and blockchain mining, its original business of making camera film now the preserve of professional and “prosumer” especially, especially if a roll of 35mm still camera film can cost nearly £10.

Still, I was intrigued by the possibilities of shooting motion pictures on Super 8 film, using Kodak film cartridges, with a camera that included innovations from camcorders like an LCD screen for a viewfinder, and the ability to record sound onto an SD card placed into the camera. Once developed, the film would be returned to you with a link to download a video film in 4K resolution. I was excited by the possibilities of what I could make – the two-and-a-bit minute run time of a cartridge would be a fun challenge. Kodak announced this camera with a projected price of between $400 and $750 – seeing as the next nearest camera available is the Arri 416, a 16mm industrial film camera with a 2023 price tag of £78,000 (but available to rent), the Kodak Super 8 Camera would have fostered its own industry of filmmakers.

The price of the camera has increased after seven years, but not with inflation: Kodak will now be charging a horrifying $5,495 for a camera that does not appear to have been developed since 2016, having retained the originally announced design. This will be purely for professional use only, demanding professional prices, completely severing me from the possibility of buying one for myself – even the new registration film assumes you are working in the film industry, with a space to write in “other” occupations and intended uses. In 2023, the presence of a replaceable battery should have been enough of a sign this will be a professional product, even if charging it by micro USB appears to be a holdover from 2016. It feels like what could have been a mass-produced camera will now be assembled by hand like a Swiss watch.

For most, the Kodak Super 8 camera’s place in film history has been taken by the Apple iPhone, because its camera has been constantly developed to approach a professional results while being as simple or as advanced to use as its user requires. For the next level up, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro, with a DSLR form factor producing 6K pictures approximate to Super 35 film, a cinematic motion picture standard, costs half what Kodak are charging for their camera, even if you have to buy the lenses separately. You can apply the film grain in post-production...

Sunday, November 19, 2023


The story of the Co-Op grocery chain’s “ambient sausage roll” has lived at the back of my head for at least a decade, as a go-to example of a non-sequitur: “ambient” is an odd description for a foodstuff, even if the context is explained. All I know of the story is that sausage rolls were sold with this label, and later withdrawn as someone admitted the word was used without confirming its meaning first.

Coming from the land of bubble and squeak1, Stargazy Pie2 and the Bedfordshire Clanger3, “ambient” is hardly a strange enough word to cause offence, but in January 2010, it apparently did. Using the few news articles I found of it online from the following month, I put together the following statement that was issued by something named the Plain English Campaign: “We’ve had quite a few people call to say they’ve seen these ‘ambient sausage rolls’ on sale at the Co-op. It’s caused much amusement. I know it’s supposed to be ‘all at the Co-op’ but what on earth is an ambient sausage roll’?”

This was followed up by a spokesman from the Co-Op: “The use of the word 'ambient' on the label of this product was an administrative error - labels for in-store bakery items are printed in store and the word 'ambient' was incorrectly printed on the label. This is now being rectified but thank you for drawing this to our attention and apologies for any confusion this may have caused.”

“The Daily Telegraph” apparently had an editorial comment at the time calling it a “small victory for plain English”, but I am not willing to pay to read what more they said on the matter. I would still like to think of it as a mistake that can be interpreted as a bit of fun.

The Plain English Campaign is a group focussed on eradicating legal and medical jargon, gobbledygook and clichés, so naming food doesn’t appear to fall under their purview - their website makes no mention of their earlier comment. Interestingly, the incident exposed a different use of the word “ambient” by the food industry to mean “displaying at room temperature”, suitable for the surroundings, instead of evoking the creation of a relaxing atmosphere – a 2017 article in “The Grocer” magazine was headed “Country Choice launches 12-hour ambient life sausage roll”.

If this mistake had taken place in 2023, I am pretty sure the Co-Op’s social media accounts would have made hay while the sun shined, with a range of “ambient” products remaining on sale far longer. I just prefer it when having fun with language isn’t discouraged.

1 A fried dish of mixed cabbage and cooked potato.

2 Pilchard, egg and potato tie, served with a pastry crust that has the pilchard heads sticking out, preferably upwards. 

3 A pastry tube, not unlike a sausage roll, filled with meat, potato and onions, not unlike a pasty.


Sunday, November 12, 2023


A last one.

I decided to write about Caramac, “The Caramel Flavour Bar”, the demise of which has been announced by its manufacturer Nestlé, because some headlines kept referring to it as a chocolate bar. Its recipe used treacle instead of cocoa, its lack of egg or gelatine making it vegetarian, and instead of the whole milk used by Cadbury’s in Dairy Milk bars, Caramac used skimmed milk.

I am also using the past tense because the news led to the near-complete disappearance of Caramac by people acting upon nostalgia in the shops, when declining sales in the present day prompted Nestlé’s decision, efficiently clearing shelves for other products they wish to sell. The simultaneous withdrawal of the Animal Bar, a chocolate bar aimed at children with pictures of animals on them, and the closure of a factory near Newcastle, were reported less often.

Unlike Coca-Cola’s rebranding of Lilt as a Fanta flavour, decried in the pages of “The Spectator” and incorrectly reported as the drink being withdrawn, this really is the end of a product, unless you buy the ingredients and make it yourself. My family has already been deprived by KP of their Brannigans crisps, my private joke being that their potent beef and mustard flavour, not reused on any of their brands, was decommissioned and put beyond use. Like Caramac, I only found Brannigans in discount stores and the occasional newsagent ahead of their withdrawal – perhaps I should have seen it coming, so fans of KP’s Roysters T-bone flavour crisps should stock up, to keep sales up, as petitions speak less loudly than cash.

Caramac was introduced in 1959 by Mackintosh’s, a maker of toffee that involved caramel in all its most famous brands, such as Quality Street, Rolo and Toffee Crisp. Merging in 1969 with Rowntree’s, manufacturers of Kit Kat, Smarties, Aero, After Eight, Black Magic, Polo mints, Fruit Pastilles, Fruit Gums, Yorkie and Lion bars, Nestlé took over the combined Rowntree Mackintosh in 1988 – chocolate products were branded under Nestlé, with Rowntree’s retained for the rest. I found all these products in my local supermarket, still being too established and commonplace for nostalgia to have taken form, except for how much larger tins of Quality Street used to be.

Nestlé themselves invented white chocolate with the Milkybar in 1936, and the caramel-infused Milkybar Gold variant is perhaps more sustainable for them than the separate brand of Caramac. However, like Caramac, the Australian and New Zealand versions of Milkybar don’t use cocoa butter, so adding treacle to those may get them back where they started. Any desire of mine for Caramac to be brought back wouldn’t be worth the effort, and if I did want a confectionery to be brought back, it would be Rowntree’s Cabana, a chocolate bar containing caramel, cherries and coconut – I’ve never had one, but I like the sound of it.

Saturday, November 4, 2023


I have now realised that I have a head for heights. This took some time to acknowledge because, while I have not (yet) needed to know my way around a grappling hook, I am fine at heights that others would happily avoid.

In the last week, I have reached the top of the dome at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, known as the Golden Gallery, with my iPhone registering the 528 steps as twenty-five flights of stairs. In February 2020, I climbed a similarly spiralled staircase to reach the top of the clock tower at Southampton Civic Centre, and back in 2015, I walked up and over the O2, formerly the Millennium Dome, which required the use of a harness.

Perhaps it was the lengthy gaps in times between these three events, and taking the stairs is not like climbing a hill – the suspended walkway at the “Up at the O2” attraction uses the same Teflon-coated glass fibre fabric used on the structure itself, which felt like walking on a taut trampoline. The top of the St Paul’s dome is higher than the combined height of the other two structures, but taking a transatlantic flight is higher than all of them, and I’ve so far done six of those without any problems.

However, I have realised a low accompanied every high – I had reason to be annoyed every time. I consider myself to be patient, but my walking pace is slightly faster than average, and if I am physically behind a line of people, I will want to get ahead if I can. Walking up the clock tower and through St. Paul’s, I hoped that people might step aside at the occasional spaces and ledges that existed along the way, as I continued on – the same was true for the way down. Walking up and over the O2 was different, our being attached to a guide rope being useful on windier days but also locking the line into a set order – it did not help that I personally thought the rope wasn’t needed on the way down. 

Worst of all, the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s is not made for crowds of tourists, with only a couple of feet between stone corners and the guide rails preventing you from rolling down the landmark dome – I said “I am unable to get past” to the people in front of me, at which point I found that English was not their first language. It was not a good time to start feeling constrained by the lack of space, but the adrenaline helped me get down faster than nerves could have done.

Perhaps focussing on the negative when you are doing something outlandish isn’t idea, but it removes any thoughts about that outlandishness – getting the wrong airline food will do that.

Sunday, October 29, 2023


“Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was a 1977 season in which BBC Two broadcast the classic series of horror films made by Universal Pictures in the 1930s and 40s. Starting with Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” and Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein”, they ran in double bills on Saturday nights, handy for people who invested in the first home video recorders. These films had appeared on various ITV regions in the previous decade, but this season appears to be their first showing on the BBC, following appearances of the later Hammer horror films like “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” with Christopher Lee.

Interestingly, “Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends!” was broadcast from the seemingly unseasonable month of July, through to September, ahead of the BBC's own "Count Dracula", one of the most faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel. This time is bookended by the premiere of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” in the United States (on 25th May) and in the UK (on 27th December). Much like Nirvana reshaped the rock music mainstream with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991, “Star Wars” seemed to wash away the “monster madness” that cemented the imagery of Universal’s characters in general popular entertainment for children as much as for adults. From then, science fiction fantasy would be dominant in popular culture, except at Halloween, and whenever an individual work, like “Hotel Transylvania”, can break through.

I am fortunate to live surrounded by Gothic imagery: skulls, candlesticks, heads from marble statues, ivy and (fake) deer’s heads. Our land line phone is shaped as a chrome skull. A previous video of mine confirms we have bats circling our back garden. Of course, the gothic literary and arts tradition on which both Universal and Hammer drew for its film series – in both cases a niche and specialty for each studio, before the idea of film franchises took hold – is centuries old, but it is a tradition not limited to a certain time of the year.

Decades of familiarity of Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula and the flat-headed Frankenstein’s monster made the Universal monsters, and legally distinguishable variations of thereof, into family fare such as the coincidentally concurrent “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters” of 1964-66, and of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” of 1960, of which the later album is best described as non-essential, even if you will hear the “Transylvania Twist”. Add into this the preponderance of monster imagery in food aimed at children, such as Smith's Crisps’ original Horror Bags, followed by Monster Munch, Wall’s Dracula ice lolly, and Count Chocula breakfast cereal, and it was clear how embedded in the culture this imagery truly was.

Of course, it is still pervasive, but only in the run-up to Halloween, which in the United States appears to be from July, in the run-up to when Halloween begins the period known as “the Holidays”. The UK is catching up, Guy Fawkes Night having become meaningless over the decades, and however much Halloween is an appropriation of Celtic, British and Christian tradition imposed as American mass culture, I approved of its imposition. The more we see of it, the more its imagery becomes part of the mainstream again.

Sunday, October 22, 2023


I know I can facetiously ask the question “does this excite you?” about the British Sunday roast because, when I have asked the question of someone, it usually does. It is a lynchpin of some families’ weekends, or the treat you saved yourself for through the previous week. If the thought of the meat cooking in its own juices don’t make you salivate, the vegetables will have, especially if I have planted that thought there. I can see it being some people’s last meal, if they are engaging in that thought experiment.

Knowing I use song lyrics for titles here, I was amazed by the sheer amount of song playlists available as a background to hosting a Sunday roast, emphasising it bringing together families each week – I only didn’t make that connection immediately because not every family gathers to have a roast.

If the purported beginnings of the Sunday roast are from a joint of meat, potatoes and vegetables slowly cooking in the same tray while you are meant to be at worship, returning to a meal ready to eat and swimming in its own gravy, I can see that observance remaining while church attendances decline. Adapted through successive centuries – your own choice of mains and veg will be different from the next person - and spread across the English-speaking world, the Sunday roast is now as quintessentially British as the chicken tikka masala. For me, the ideal Sunday roast is chicken, or even a nut roast, with potatoes, cauliflower and/or broccoli, peas, onions, a small Yorkshire pudding – not one approaching the size of the plate – and mustard, but not gravy. If I find myself at a carvery, that is what I will pick.

However, is “a carvery” a Sunday roast? They often have the same ingredients, and The carvery is like a fast-food buffet restaurant made from the constituent parts of a Sunday roast, almost like a grown-up version of a school canteen, with its origins being comparatively recent: the first two examples opened up in Tottenham Court Road and the Strand, both in London, in branches of Lyons Corner Houses, better known as a range of tea rooms run by the manufacturers of biscuits, bread and Battenburg cake. This coincides with the beginnings of Berni Inn, the first major steakhouse chain in the UK, with later competitors being Beefeater (from 1974), and Toby Carvery (initially Toby Pub & Carvery, from 1985). This line may have been what made me think that old English steak- and chophouses may have some crossover with the Sunday roast, when they really only cook the same meats.

It might be difficult to separate the Sunday roast from the British pub-restaurant as we know it today, unless you’re me, and the last time you went to one, you had prawn and chilli linguine – I didn’t fancy anything too heavy that day.

Sunday, October 15, 2023


For about seven months in 1990, British TV audiences had to choose between two satellite TV companies if they wanted to receive more channels, if cable was not available in their area. One company haemorrhaged hundreds of millions of pounds to put their satellites in place to provide a high-quality service in on par with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. The other provider rented space on someone else’s satellite to provide cheap and cheerful shows and films, but were losing nearly as much money despite having a year’s head start.

Rupert Murdoch’s News International was on the starting line first, having purchased “Satellite Television”, also known as Super Station Europe, which had launched as Europe’s first TV satellite channel in 1982 by using space on an exploratory communications satellite. Renamed to Sky Channel in 1984, other new stations like Music Box, The Children’s Channel, Lifestyle and Screensport launched alongside it, broadcasted by UK cable TV companies that were recently allowed to start broadcasting as many channels as they like, including new ones from themselves. In 1984, cable television was still only available in few areas of the UK, mainly those that experienced receiving regular programmes over the air, and satellite television was the reserve of hobbyists able to accommodate dishes of up to two metres in diameter.

Five satellite TV frequencies were allocated to every country following an international telecommunications conference back in 1977. In the UK, the BBC were never able to make use of the two frequencies assigned to them, mostly because they would be expected to shoulder the cost of building and launching the satellite themselves, and attempts to build a consortium of companies to spread the cost also fell through. The remaining three frequencies were auctioned as a franchise in 1986, the winner gaining all five frequencies when the BBC gave up on theirs – what would become BBC World News, BBC Prime and so on were the result of building across cable services in Europe, starting in Denmark.

The company that won the franchise, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), planned to launch with an entertainment channel named Galaxy, incorporating a children’s strand named ZigZag; Now, the UK’s first 24-hour news channel with content provided by ITN; and Screen, a channel showing recent films for an extra fee, with dedicated sports and music channels added later. Among BSB’s owners was owned by ITV companies Granada and Anglia, ITN and the Virgin Group - the presence of the fashion chain Next among later investors was not unusual in the late 1980s, as Lifestyle and Screensport were owned by the bookstore and stationers WHSmith at this point. Programmes would come from independent providers set up by people who previously worked for the BBC among others, and some sports rights were shared with the BBC including Wimbledon, where Sue Barker got her start as a presenter. The planned launch date for Britain’s first satellite TV company would be September 1989.

...then Rupert Murdoch announced, in June 1988, that Sky Television would launch inside a year, providing a revamped Sky Channel, later renamed Sky One, along with their own news, sports and movie channels, by using space rented on a satellite launched by the government and Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, named Astra. Like Radio Luxembourg, whose English service provided pop music in the evenings and on Sundays since the 1930s, when the BBC traditionally did not, Sky Television would be broadcast outside of British territory and regulation, and free to broadcast whatever it wanted, which was initially game shows, American and Australian imported shows, older films, and tractor pulling on Eurosport.

It is easy to draw a series of diametric opposites between BSB and Sky, so here they are. BSB were based in a marble-clad building named after their satellites, Marcopolo House, in central London; Sky was based in a business park in Osterley, near Heathrow Airport. BSB were saddled with the building and development costs of both their satellites, and of the D-MAC broadcast system that would provide a robust high-definition signal back to earth; the satellite Sky were renting from only reached its set position four days before the channels launched, and the hope was that its higher-power signal, using existing PAL technology, would reach the ground to the smaller dishes being made by Amstrad. ITN left the BSB consortium when an agreement could not be reached over the Now channel, which was turned into a lifestyle, current affairs and arts channel not unlike BBC Two at the time, with cursory news updates provided by another firm; Sky News innovated from the start, and acted as a fig leaf of respectability for Murdoch’s endeavour. Once running, Now provided the arts programmes Sky initially promised, along with a European Disney Channel, but didn’t launch. BSB spent tens of millions of pounds to secure films for The Movie Channel; Sky Movies had a free pick of 20th Century Fox, Murdoch owning that as well. BSB had to cancel millions of pounds in advertising when the technology was not ready for the intended launch date, to be spent again for its eventual launch in March 1990, and even then the first month was only on cable; Sky’s parent company advertised the channels in its newspapers The Sun, the news of the World, Today, The Times and The Sunday Times, and ads on Sky were often for those papers, in a feedback loop outside of British jurisdiction.

Penny Smith and Alistair Yates present Sky News's first bulletin

As reported in Peter Chippindale and Susanne Frank’s 1991 book about this time, “Dished!”, only 14 percent of households in 1990 were even interested in installing satellite television in their homes, and of them, only thirty percent were thinking of having it installed that year, and that is before you get to the choice of provider. Both BSB and Sky were spending millions of pounds over the odds every week just to get the infrastructure there, down to giving away the equipment for free, and cutting spending on programmes led to BSB essentially repeating Now’s entire output for ten weeks, as who had watched it the first time? The eventual merger to form British Sky Broadcasting on 2nd November 1990 was inevitable: Sky’s customers benefitted from BSB’s entertainment, films and sports programmes, and BSB’s customers received free Sky equipment, with the Marcopolo satellites and D-MAC technology lasting into the 2000s in Europe.

What remains of this time? The households that had BSB had their video recorders ready to tape a “Doctor Who Weekend” held on the Galaxy channel, which aired classic BBC shows like “Dad’s Army” and “The Goodies” in a manner not unlike the later UK Gold channel. Comedy programmes included an interesting stand-up and sketch show “I Love Keith Allen”, and the satirical nightly news summary “Up Yer News!”. “31 West”, a chat show named after the position of the Marcopolo satellites, presages “The One Show”, Jools Holland presented music show “The Happening”, not unlike the BBC’s later “Later... with Jools Holland”, and the infamous comedy pilot “Heil Honey, I’m Home!”, a parody of 1950s American domestic sitcoms starring Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, is also a thing. Meanwhile, Sky put its faith in big names, with current affairs, interview and game shows presented by Frank Bough, Derek Jameson, Tony Blackburn, Keith Chegwyn and, once the merger with BSB took place, Selina Scott and Sir Robin Day. Most notably, the show that arguably put Sky into more homes than all of them began on 2nd September 1990: “The Simpsons”.

Ultimately, having a choice of satellite TV provider benefitted no-one, as the market was too small to have a choice, but once the dust settled, satellite television became a viable option. I use it at home, ironically to receive a more robust signal for the BBC and Channel 4, just like cable subscribers once did.