Month: February 2015

Shaun the Sheep Movie – A Review

My local picture house was showing The Theory of Everything this past weekend, alongside the Shaun the Sheep Movie. Unlocking the secrets of the universe, or a frolicking lambs’ tale down on the farm – no contest there, you might think.  Well, the sheep won, and rightly so in my opinion, as the first welcome surprise this movie brings is a seconds long, claymation, Hitchcockian cameo by Mr Nick Park himself, in all his cosy, middle-aged glory; doing a bit of clandestine bird watching, before being rudely discovered. What a nice touch though, to place the ever so nice creator of Wallace and Gromit right into the heart of the action in this wild and woolly yarn – and an even nicer touch when the irate birds attack the lovely Mr Park (I’m a fan), in a further nod to Hitchcock, via that classic chiller, The Birds.

nick park

I know Shaun from his brief appearance in A Close Shave.  I’ve never watched the TV series, so this was an opportunity to get to know this intrepid sheep and the rest of the Mossy Bottom gang (never ones to miss a Carry On style joke, are the quintessentially British Aardman.)  And what a motley flock are Shaun and his ovine crew.  There’s one in rollers, one’s a toddler, one’s obese, one’s a bit goggly-eyed, one seems a bit stupid – a comically inclusive band of barnyard brothers. Then there’s Shaun the hero, possessed of a higher than average ovine IQ, an eye for the main chance and what passes for good looks, I imagine, in this fanciful world of sheep rearing. The Farmer is very strange. His eyes remain permanently closed behind large glasses, robbing him of any real character (perhaps that’s why he’s simply known as The Farmer) and making him very hard to love; the one flaw, I think, in this stop-motion universe.  Add three decidedly not little pigs, however, and a curiously orange sheepdog, with a very big nose, then you know you’ve entered the Lord/Sproxton/Park twilight zone.

This film has ‘hand made in Britain’ stamped all over it.  As soon as a rather cocky cockerel appears in the opening titles, holding aloft his homemade placard, with the hand (or should that be claw-painted) words ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ on it, we know we’re back in lovingly crafted Aardman Land.

Apart from various animal noises, other sound effects and a strange non-specific language uttered by the humans, this film is largely of the silent movie kind. Plot-wise, Shaun has become tired of the daily farmyard grind and hatches a plan to render the Farmer comatose, so he and his friends can get some well earned ewe and me time. This plan involves a mercenary duck, Bitzer chasing a bone with a mind of its own, show jumping sheep, ear muffs and a caravan. Not your average plot devices, but they work; this being Aardman Land. The plan, of course, goes astray, and the Farmer is inadvertently whisked away to the Big City, suffering memory loss in the process, and it’s up to Shaun the sheep to follow him and save the day.

The Big City scape is rendered in remarkable, impeccable detail, possessing all the toy town charm of a model railway or a child’s doll house, but on a breathtakingly more intricate and realistic scale. The Big City is nameless (but it appears as though New York has suddenly appeared on the Mossy Bottom horizon), and is there to teach us a few life lessons – that as well as offering excitement, the Big City can be a cold and vacuous place; that home is invariably where the heart is; that the notion of celebrity is essentially absurd; that family is everything, whether you’re a sheep or a human.

Shaun is quickly joined by his idiosyncratic gang, which is the cue for much heartache, hardship and laughter involving, in rapid succession, a stint in animal jail, homelessness, cross-dressing, inter-species snogging (!), a giant pantomime horse, and the Farmer’s sheep shearing skills bringing him unexpected fame and fortune, as he transforms himself into an amnesiac, bucolic Vidal Sassoon.

The artistry, dedication and painstaking detail evident in this film proves, once again, that Aardman are exceptional at what they do  – baa none.  The landscape is recognisably today’s Britain, peopled by the multi-cultural young and old; complete with wheelie bins, charity shops, iPads, mobile phones and double deckers; whilst retaining the feel of the more nostalgic world of the much missed Wallace and Gromit. There are plenty of sight gags to satisfy the adults in the audience, with a Beatles reference which will go right over the film’s target audience’s heads;  and a flash of ‘farmer’s bum’, as opposed to your average builder’s behind (although the very small kiddies seated next to me fell about at this point.)

Though I enjoyed, and thoroughly recommend, this big screen glimpse into the life and times of Shaun the sheep, and his ovine buddies; I occasionally found myself hoping that the hapless Wallace might come walking around one of the Big City skyscraper corners, with the faithful Gromit in tow, just to give Shaun, and us, that comforting, unmistakable Nick Parksian glow.  Shaun the sheep’s sheepish shenanigans raise more of a gentle smile than rip-roaring laughter – but that’s good-natured, home grown Aardman for you – and may not be everyone’s cup of farmyard tea; but I personally hope that Aardman continue to produce their distinctive, stop-motion, claymation visions of this green and pleasant land for many years to come; whether that be in the form of the hopeful return of Wallace and Gromit, or the further big screen adventures of the farm based Shaun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YouTube is 10 years old

YouTube – a playground for the amateurs, the professionals, the activists, the nutters, the gamers, the singers, the wannabees, the Vloggers, the babies and the cats.  ITube, YouTube, TheyTube, we all watch the Tube, via sound and picture bites just long enough to hold the attention spans of this digital age.  A generation have permanently switched off to the TV in the family living room, leaving parents and grandparents to watch those broadcast images ‘old style’, while the internet savvy switch on to mobile devices that give them what they want to see, when they want to see it.  You want the visual what, why, who, where and how of just about anything and everything?  Past and present?  You’ll find it on YouTube.

Here are a few of my favourite things – came over all Julie Andrews there –  I mean clips.

Jerry Lewis lets Count Basie do the talking.

And Mr Lewis again, being Mr Bean, before there was a Mr Bean.

So uncool, it’s cool. William Shatner rocking it to Rocket Man.  You’ve got to wonder just exactly what Shatner (and possibly the Director) was smoking here?

Continuing the Shatner theme – William Shatner’s Common People set to the original Star Trek

Continuing the fan editing theme – Sherlock

and Tobuscus…

and here’s son No.2 , going for a quick 24 mile run.

Here’s to the next 10 years.

The Trial of Lewis Carroll

2015 marks 150 years since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Last Saturday the BBC looked at the life of its author in ‘The Secret World of Lewis Carroll’, drawing some disturbing, although not surprising, conclusions about the nature of this very private man.  What did they make of it all in Wonderland?

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Who took the Photograph?

Alice had just taken leave of the mock-turtle when she came upon a clearing in a little wood. There, in the centre of the clearing, sat a gentleman at a writing desk.  He was dressed in clerical black, his topcoat buttoned up to the neck and wearing gloves and a top hat – ‘rather like the White Rabbit,’ thought Alice. He was leaning forward slightly, in his chair, his forehead resting in the palm of one hand. ‘Whoever he is,’ thought Alice, ‘he must be very hot indeed, for the weather is quite warm at present, perhaps that’s why he’s dozing at his desk. I seem to remember a riddle about a writing desk; a raven is like a writing desk? Yes I think that’s it, or was it the other way round? Dear me, I’m feeling very muddled today but it was a very peculiar riddle.’  ‘Er hum,’ said Alice in her quietest voice, as she approached the desk, for she did not want to alarm the sleeping figure. The gentleman immediately raised his head and looked towards Alice with eyes that seemed to contain a world of pain. ‘He wasn’t asleep at all,’ thought Alice, ‘and now I suppose I must say something, after all I have disturbed his repose.’  ‘Good afternoon Sir,’ she began,’ my name is Alice and I’ve been wandering around in this strange land for the longest time, without seeing another normal human being, until now that is.’  These words came tumbling out at breakneck speed and Alice realised how lonely she had been until she happened upon this man in the clearing.  ‘I’m so very glad you came to see me Alice,’ the gentleman replied, as though they were the best of friends, and the saddest smile (if such a thing is possible) appeared briefly on his careworn face.  ‘Begging your pardon sir, but I’m sure we’ve never met before,’ said Alice, wondering how this melancholy gentleman should know her name. ‘He looks almost as mournful as the mock-turtle,’ she thought. The gentleman rose to his feet saying: ‘I’m afraid I no longer qualify as a normal human being, I have so many peculiar habits you see.  But we have met before dear one. You and I have shared the same dream for 150 years.’  Suddenly the Gryphon jumped out from behind a tree and ran over to Alice, grabbing her by the hand and shouting ‘Come on, do hurry, the trial is beginning, we must attend the court.’  ‘What trial?’ said Alice, as the trees around the clearing began to spin wildly about her and the insides of a court of justice gradually appeared.

The King of Hearts (who was to be judge) and the Queen of Hearts were seated in the court on their thrones, and the sad gentleman from the clearing was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him. The White Rabbit was there with a trumpet in one hand and a scroll of parchment in the other.  The court was packed with all kinds of fantastical creatures making quite a racket and, on a table in the very middle of the court, were several photographs of young girls in various stages of undress. These were marked exhibit A, B, C and so on.  Alice could see the photographs quite clearly from her seat in the court. ‘My, my,’ she exclaimed, ‘one of the girls is wearing a very torn and tattered dress indeed.  I would never go out in such a thing, you can be sure.’

white-rabbit

‘Silence in the court,’ the White Rabbit shouted. ‘Read the accusation,’ said the King. The rabbit unrolled the parchment and read as follows:-

In the year 2015 the BBC aired a programme
on Saturday, January 31st
concerning this Oxford mathematician’s
perverted love for little girls.

At this the gentleman in chains winced and lowered his head to gaze at the floor. ‘Poor man,’ thought Alice, ‘I wonder what perverted means. I’ve heard of perverse, which means contrary I think. He doesn’t look very contrary to me, just very shy and quiet.’  ‘What’s a BBC,’ screamed the Queen of Hearts, ‘off with its head, whatever it is.’   ‘I don’t know nothing,’ said the rabbit (which meant he did know something) ‘I’m just reading what it says here your majesty.’  ‘What century is this,’ whispered the King to a guard. ‘The nineteenth,’ the guard whispered back.  ‘Just checking,’ said the King sotto voce.  The rabbit continued: ‘And the future charge is that this gentleman is a…(here the rabbit became quite stuck)…a..Pa-eda-file, I think that’s what it says m’lud.’  ‘Your Pa ate a file?’ screamed the Queen, ‘what’s he gibbering on about, off with his head!’  Here the rabbit made a quick getaway and ran underneath the jury box.

‘What is your name fellow?’  said the King, pointing at the man.  ‘The Reverend Charles L. Do-Do-Do-Dodgson,’ replied the man with some effort. The assembled creatures burst into raucous laughter. ‘Off with their heads,’ screamed the Queen, at which point the noise ceased immediately. ‘What is wrong with you man, can’t you speak properly?’ said the Queen. ‘Forgive me your H-H-Highness, I s-s-stammer,’ the man replied.  ‘Well stop it immediately,’ the Queen cried, or it’s off with your head. Let’s see you attempt to stammer then!’   Alice felt very angry with the Queen and stood up from her seat. ‘All the best people stammer you know,’ she cried, ‘Winston Churchill, King George VI and I’m sure there are others.’  ‘What are you talking about,’ said the Queen, ‘those people haven’t even been born yet. Sit down you insolent child.’  ‘Well, you’re trying a man for a crime 150 years into the future!’  replied Alice and felt quite pleased with herself.  She sat down and began to feel the tingling sensation that meant she was beginning to grow again. ‘I wonder if I’ll be able to stay inside the court room,’ she thought, ‘or if my head will burst out through the ceiling.’   ‘Did you take these photographs?’  asked the King looking at Dodgson, ‘specifically the one of the young girl dressed in, shall we say, nothing.’  ‘I did m’lud’, replied Dodgson and his face became quite red.  ‘Well that’s settled then,’ said the King, ‘trial over. Where’s the Mad Hatter, I think it’s time for tea.’  ‘You can’t just finish there,’  called out the White Rabbit from beneath the jury box, ‘you’ve got to rake the muck over him good and proper.’  ‘Very well, call the first witness,’ said the King.

The Mad Hatter appeared.  ‘I happen to know that this gentleman goes by the alias of Lewis Carroll m’lud, he said. ‘Well that definitely settles it,’ said the King, ‘anyone who goes by an alias is definitely a crook in my book.’  ‘Off with the king’s head,’ shouted the Queen, ‘rhyming is against the Law.’  ‘That’s a little harsh my dear,’ the King placated.’  ‘What do you have to say about this?’  he continued, pointing at the Reverend Dodgson.  ‘Lewis Carroll is my pen name, m’lud,’ Dodgson replied.’  ‘Your pen’s name!’ shouted the Queen, ‘anyone who goes around giving their pen a name is either a fool or GUILTY – off with his head!’  ‘Not so hasty your majesty, there are more witnesses to come,’ shouted the rabbit from underneath the jury box.  ‘Well, this is becoming quite ridiculous,’ said Alice, ‘and I’m not even sure it’s running along legal lines.’  ‘No we’re running along the Waterloo line at present,’ said a flamingo at her elbow.  ‘Call the next witness,’  said the King.

The Cheshire cat appeared floating above the table. ‘The Reverend Dodgson is quite mad,’ said the cat. ‘He regularly believes six impossible things before breakfast, and makes you believe in ’em too. Why, here am I floating above this table as large as life. That’s the work of this strange hybrid person Dodgson-Carroll that is. In fact he brought every mad creature here into being, so he did.’  ‘Did not!’ shouted the Queen.  ‘Did too,’ purred the cat and a malicious grin appeared on his face.  ‘When a person’s got that much madness in their brain,’ he said, ‘it’s bound to come out sooner or later in some very peculiar ways, if you know what I mean.’  Here the cat tapped the side of his nose with his paw and smirked in an alarmingly lascivious manner, before disappearing.  ‘Well that was helpful  –  not,’ sighed the King, the stress causing him to lapse into anachronistic language.

alice-court

Alice meanwhile was growing bigger and bigger and this made her feel quite confident, since the assembled creatures were becoming very small indeed. ‘Let Mr Dodgson speak,’ she said, ‘how can it be a fair trial if we don’t hear from the accused himself.’  At this the Reverend Dodgson raised his head and, in his hesitant manner, began like this:

‘It seems to me that for every one of us, life is really a sort of school, or training time, meant chiefly for the building up of a character, and of disciplining the spirit, so that by its own free choice of good rather than evil, and of god’s will rather than self-will, we may get nearer and nearer to God. The photographs on this table are indeed evidence of my obsessive interest in taking images of young girls undraped, as I call it, but at all times I strove to follow the path of goodness and let no harm or evil come to any of my child-friends. My fictional Alice has brought pleasure to millions around the world and I hope this fact can be balanced against the disturbing tendencies I fought so hard against by means of ardent prayer and an overriding work ethic. I ask the court to consider that the Charles Dodgson, who craved the company of under-age girls, and the beloved author Lewis Carroll are but one and the same. Can we, should we, separate the two?’

‘Cobblers’, squeaked the dormouse from the jury box. ‘He’s obviously a raving paedophile and a religious nut to boot.’  He then promptly fell asleep. Incidentally the dormouse was the only creature present who knew how to properly say the word paedophile and what it meant but, as his voice was barely audible, no one heard him.

Alice’s head had now reached the ceiling and looking down at the tiny creatures in the court room she found herself thinking how insignificant they all looked. ‘It’s all just talk and bluster,’ thought Alice and suddenly she was back in the clearing and the Reverend Dodgson was standing at her side.  A red sun was beginning to set behind the trees.

‘What are you thinking dear one?’  Dodgson said in his hesitant manner, looking straight into her eyes.  ‘That I didn’t know I’ve been wandering around in this Wonderland for 150 years!, exclaimed Alice.  ‘Well, time certainly flies dear thing, when you’re having fun,’  Mr Dodgson replied.  ‘It hasn’t always been fun,’ said Alice, ‘but now I’ve met you I’m sure it will be funner.’  ‘More fun,’ said Dodgson, gently correcting her, and he produced a puzzle game from his pocket.  ‘Shall we find somewhere to play my latest puzzle invention Alice?’   ‘Oh, yes please,’ Alice cried, ‘and may we spend the next 150 years together Mr Dodgson?  ‘Why, of course Alice, I think that would be simply grand.’   ‘Shall I call you Mr Dodgson or Mr Carroll?’  Alice suddenly enquired.  ‘I think that, as we’re here in Wonderland,  Mr Carroll will do just fine.’  And together Alice and the shy Oxford Don walked hand in hand out of the clearing, towards the setting sun.

What’s Eating Russell Brand?

Russell Brand – funny old geezer ain’t he?  Foppishly funny, gorgeously funny, hysterically funny, vindictively funny.  A bit funny ha, ha, and a bit blimey Russell mate, you’re mental you are.  Russell Brand’s star has shone brightly, and occasionally dimmed, once or twice plummeting from the celebrity ether to crash and burn.  He’s walked the tightrope walk of fame, knowing that however many people are willing him to fall, just as many want to see him maintain a precarious balance.  Russell knows better than most that all the world’s a stage – hasn’t he been desperate to stand out from the crowd of mere players?  And the world couldn’t be more of a stage than it is right now.  The entire planet postures and proclaims from those pixelated ‘boards’ and our mate Russell, never one to miss a self-aware, self-aggrandising moment, has hitched his wayward star to the world wide web bandwagon.

Russell Brand has a youtube channel and it’s called The Trews.  Russell knows that those evil, media mogul types, including the poncey BBC, are giving us a distorted view of the news, if not an outright tissue of LIES.  Therefore, Russell is busy giving us the real news, the truth behind the news – hence The Trews.  He does this whilst sporting various fetching and oddly spiritual garb. One minute he’s your average Essex buddhist, the next he’s channelling Christ, wearing what appears to be a stylish dish cloth draped over his famous Essex bonce and then, naked from the waist up, he gives us Gandhi;  if Gandhi had been an Essex sex god that is.

To go off on a tangent here.  Trews is an ancient Scottish word for trousers, and the American word for trousers is pants; which happens to be DJ vernacular for ‘what a load of old cobblers.’  Do we think The Trews is pants?  Those clever broadsheet and tabloid journos would seem to think so.  Russell’s a touch too Monster Raving Loony party for their jaded palates.  But Brand means business.  He may strike a pose in his own very tight pants (in our trouser sense of the word), and dazzle with that Essex wide- boy grin but, behind the strutting peacock facade, there lurks a troubled genius on a mission.

RB is the pound shop version of Oscar Wilde, without the gayness (although it’s alarming to see how girlish Russell can be when arguing the cause with his stern male detractors.)  He’s a literary genius without the Oxbridge education.  A court jester, a dandy, a fool.  A latter-day saint and a modern day Jesus; the strictly westernised and pre-raphaelite versions.  Those of us, who have followed Brand’s career trajectory, were long ago happy to board his magical mystery tour bus.  But recently he’s been asking us along on an altogether different ride – and that ride is Revolution.

That Brand is better looking than almost anyone on the planet, and way cooler too, is a real plus when attempting to engage the young (and the not so young) in a little idea called Revolution.  You might ask yourself if Britain is the sort of country in need of Revolution.  Do you feel someone’s taking liberties with your civil liberty?  Do you live in abject fear of an Orwellian State?  Do you think all politicians and corporations are evil and corrupt?  Brand thinks so.  He thinks Britain is in bad shape, but at least he doesn’t just have dear old blighty in his sights;  this is a Global Revolution.

Citizen Brand knows what he’s talking about too and does he know how to talk, and talk, and talk.  Watch him steam roller Paxman and that lovely Gollum-like bloke on Newsnight.  Neither could get a word in edgewise, and neither was safe from Russell’s strangely androgynous, wandering hands.  For Brand isn’t your average 39 year old bloke.  He’s more like a character from a Brothers Grimm fairytale.  A mischievous pied piper, hoping you’re going to dance to his particular tune, and follow him to God only knows where.  Or Brand the Confessor, baring his soul, even if that means demeaning himself, and his plethora of lady friends, in the process.  Brand the Artful Dodger, talking you into almost anything with his linguistic sleight of hand.

And you’ve got to hand it to him, Russell Brand never does things by halves.  While other celebrities show they care by adopting orphans, or staging Comic Reliefs and Telethons, Brand is busy offering up nothing less than Revolution as a solution to the rotten, violent, unequal world we’re all forced to live in.  A world run by evil corporations, evil bankers and the pernicious Sun and Daily Mail.

Brand loves the sight of a heaving bosom, but he’s not so sure the rest of the male population should be allowed a butcher’s, particularly via page 3 of The Sun.  The Sun decided to justify page 3 by linking it to breast cancer.  That got Brand’s goat; Brand who previously shared The Sun’s obsession with the female mammary gland.  Or The Guardian, who also got Brand’s goat re: the Ellen selfie.  Russell sometimes writes for The Guardian and thinks it’s a ‘nice’ paper, but that doesn’t stop him from biting the hand that feeds, or being just a shade hypocritical.  Russell has a tendency to bite the hands that feed him – gets his chance on TV and repeatedly blows it, gets a radio show and blows it, gets the girls and….(we won’t go there, although Russell frequently did.)

There’s a definite downside to all that cleverness, which Russell can explain in one word – Addiction.  Because addiction is a disease, like cancer is a disease, like alzheimer’s is a disease.  That’s exactly how diseases like cancer work too, isn’t it?  There you are, minding your own business at the great party of Life, when someone sidles up to you offering a gram of Cancer and you say thanks mate, but no thanks.  Russell knows, however, in his transcendental, infinite wisdom that within the drugs and alcohol fuelled worlds, there is simply no element of choice, and boy is he out to prove it.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe we need to walk a mile in the addicts’ shoes before getting all judgemental.  That’s the thing with Russell.  You listen to his sermons on the internet mount, transfixed by the astonishing verbal dexterity, delivered at linguistic lightening speed, and find yourself thinking that this self-obsessed, (ex) fame hungry loony just may have a point.

Russell connects to a non-specific, higher power via transcendental meditation, and wants us all to inter-connect, becoming a peaceful and harmonious whole.  He loses me there – connecting to a billion other people sounds like a bit of a nightmare (just look at the internet). He loses me a little bit more when he intones into The Trews’ camera that I have no idea how to read a newspaper; that my limited intelligence requires a teacher, of Russell’s calibre, to guide me through the web of lies that is national journalism.  That my mind is simply not perceptive enough to recognise that I live in a Matrix-like universe.  The irony is not lost on this Trews viewer that, whilst Russell doesn’t want the government, or the million dollar corporations, telling you what you should do and how you should think; this particular Revolutionary is quite happy to tell you what you should do, and how you should think.

What is eating Russell Brand?   We know this former drug addict misses the self-inflicted state of drug induced bliss.  Quite possibly, having climbed out of the rabbit hole and back to reality; he finds he doesn’t much like what they’ve done with the old place.  Like half the world is starving and such like, whilst the rest of the planet is down McDonald’s demolishing a big Mac, when we should all be vegetarians see, or vegans;  if we could be arsed to find out what a vegan actually is.  And them duplicitous c**ts , in that posh Houses of Parliament gaff, are getting up to all kinds of selfish, ignorant larks ain’t they? Not to mention them physicsy, sciencey boffs, what don’t believe in these here unseen realms of consciousness, but they do believe in that weird dark matter, what they can’t see and don’t know what the f**k it is. Bloody ‘ell, morons the lot of ’em;  and them ridiculously privileged royals (the higher consciousness bless ’em) should probably also sod off.

Perhaps Russell is right to be full of righteous indignation.  Of course redistribution of wealth is morally sound.  Maybe legalising drugs is a good idea.  Cutting meat consumption would be of enormous benefit to the planet.  Tapping into a higher spiritual plane sounds like…well, really cool man.  Being kind and considerate to each other, who wouldn’t be right? (maybe Russell who ditched his wife by text, apparently.)  But that’s the tabloid version of Brand.  The ‘real’ Russell Brand is honest, searingly honest, wickedly honest, endearingly honest.  It’s almost impossible not to be won over by this hyperactive, precocious man-child.  And, more importantly, he’s brave, opening himself up to widespread ridicule and a fair amount of internet trolling.  And at least the RB Revolution is, so far, looking like a gentle one.  There’s room for a bit of larking about as he attempts to alter your state of mind, as well as the state of the State.  And like all Revolutionaries before him, Russell knows that the only people who matter in this corporate run world are the ‘ordinary’ people.  Russell knows this because he’s an ‘ordinary’ person too.

And maybe that’s what’s eating Russell Brand.  Because Russell Brand is emphatically not like me and you.  He’s far from ordinary.  An entertainer that un-ordinary needs a far bigger Gig  –  and why not call it Global Revolution?

So, fellow citizens, is he preaching to the converted?  Come the Revolution , will you be marching alongside Comrade Brand.

Over to you Russell.