Let’s Talk Cranford

I know that these WGBH-related posts bore the vast majority of my extremely small readership to tears, but there are about three of you who care (one of whom is me), so here’s your weekly fix of my public programming complaints.

I liked the original Cranford.  I have to confess I never read Mrs. Gaskell before, and this almost tempted me to pick up a couple of her books.  The original Cranford was the story of a small town in England in the 1840s that’s on the cusp of major changes with the coming of the railroad.  The series highlighted the ups and downs, the warts and wonders, of living in a town dominated by a bunch of aging spinsters and widows who live by a strict (if somewhat weird) code of conduct.

I was looking forward to Return to Cranford, even though they’d killed off Philip Glenister’s character at the tail end of the original series, thus reducing the sexy quotient of the whole town of Cranford by 95%.  (We were able to retain 5% sexiness by a brief appearance by Martin Shaw as Judi Dench’s brother.  And, yes, we can certainly discuss Glenister after this.  But let me have a paragraph or two to complain about Return to Cranford.)

So — if you read this, you would have thought, “Oh, great, I’ve got another three hours of Judi Dench in a charming and elegiac tribute to a time gone by.”  And you would be completely misled.  First of all, Martin Shaw was replaced by some dude with big sideburns, so no one will be getting any action in Cranford.  (Not that they were in the first series, but at least Philip Glenister was exchanging meaningful looks with the milliner/BFF of Francesca Annis.  So there was hope that not everyone in this town would be a spinster for ever.)

Return to Cranford is one big bloodbath.  Not only do they kill off two pretty major characters in the first half hour or so, but they also don’t bring back any of the more interesting characters.  Wacko sister who wanted to marry the doctor but ended up with the butcher?  Indisposed.  That chick who got married to the soldier in India is gone, and Mary Smith, the visitor to the Jenkyns household, is gone.  No more young doctor, that poor kid who gets the 20,000 pounds isn’t really around.  And perhaps the point is that Cranford’s becoming a ghost town, but it could have been done in a little less boring manner.  I do not recommend you return to Cranford unless it’s to watch the original series again.

OK — now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Glenister.  T-Traveler liked this review of the American version of Life on Mars and I could not agree with it more.  Specifically:

[Harvey Keitel] lacks the beefy virility that British actor Philip Glenister brought to the role of Sam’s boss, chief detective Gene Hunt, in the BBC show. Glenister’s Hunt is everything we treasure in a ’70s television cop: He’s crude, sexist, mildly racist in a nonmalicious way, built like a bull, and forever itching to knock heads. Much of Hunt’s dialogue (e.g., “You great, soft, sissy, girly, nancy, French, bender, Man United-supporting poof!“—which, for those who don’t speak 1970s Cro-Magnon Brit, is basically a list of synonyms for homosexual) offers guilty laughs in the Archie Bunker mold, with a wincing Sam functioning as a sort of Meathead from the future.

Yes, yes, and yes!  I loved Glenister in this, and I think he’s even better in Ashes to Ashes.  He doesn’t play Gene Hunt as a one-dimensional bigot, and I think he is just about the most attractive human being on TV today.  (Not handsome, but I think he just has such great charisma and intelligence, and the roughness around the edges doesn’t hurt, either.)  I caught him in Byron, which was on Ovation a week or two ago, and he was playing the manservant of Lord Byron, and he was really great.  And I tried desperately to like Demons, and he is the single worst thing about that show, which says a lot.  I don’t know whose idea it was to have him play an American (improbably named ‘Rupert’) but he’s one of those Brits who only has Chicago gangster in their repertoire of American accents.  So I keep thinking that they’re going to be involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when they’re trying to slay vampires or whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing on that show.

So someone at Masterpiece needs to give Glenister a part he can really sink his teeth into.  Enough with all the Jane Austen miniseries that aren’t as good as the 20 Jane Austen miniseries that have already been produced.  Put Glenister in the role of the Mayor of Casterbridge or — better yet — give him his own series on Mystery! now that Inspector Lynley is no more.  Or — better still — just put me in charge of programming at Masterpiece so that I can make sure I always have my fill of Inspector Lewis and possibly make better choices of hosts.

CWW: Visting Museums for free (or cheap)

Today’s Cheap Worcester Wednesday is about visiting museums on the cheap.

Museum Passes
I’m always surprised at how many people don’t know they can reserve a pass at the library to get free or extremely cheap admission to museums.  The Worcester Public Library has an online site for reserving passes.  You can reserve a pass up to 30 days ahead of time, but you can only reserve one pass at a time.  (As a warning — if there’s a school vacation week coming up, you’d better get your reservation in early!)  What I like about the site is that you can filter on a specific pass (say, the Worcester Art Museum) or on available passes (so, you’ve got Thursday off and want to see where you can go).

The WPL has passes for the following venues (note that you can get some passes at Frances Perkins branch as well): Annual ParksPassChildren’s Museum Boston, Davis’ Farmland & MegaMaze, Discovery Museums, Ecotarium, Higgins Armory Museum, Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, and Worcester Art Museum.

Other Ways to Visit Museums on the Cheap
If you have an Ecotarium membership, you have reciprocal membership to many other museums.  We’ve visited the Berkshire Museum (a very cute natural history museum, with a touch of art, in Pittsfield) and the Peabody Museum of Natural History (a very nice Brontops specimen, and the nicest dinosaur fossils this side of New York City) with our membership card and paid either nothing or less than $5 for a family of four.

The Worcester Art Museum is nearly always free Saturday mornings from 10am-noon, excluding special events like Flora in Winter. 

One of my family’s absolute favorite places to visit is the Amherst College Museum of Natural History in Amherst, which is always free to visitors.  Amherst College is right on Route 9, and there’s usually a decent amount of parking a couple of blocks away from the campus.  They’ve got a great collection of fossils (including some great displays of prehistoric mammals, the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in the world, some nice dinosaur specimens) and the museum has devoted a whole wall to these really great pull-out drawers that showcase the smaller pieces in their collection.  I cannot recommend this museum enough.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge is free for Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning (year-round) from 9:00 am to noon and on Wednesdays from 3:00 to 5:00 pm (September through May).  If you haven’t ever seen the Kronosaurus, you really should.  (I also recommend reading The Frightful Story of Harry Walfish before you visit, because a lot of the interiors of the museum in that book are straight out of HMNH.)

A little off the beaten path…but if you’re in Williamstown, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is beautiful and free from November 1 through May 31.  (Though I don’t recommend taking a one-year-old…and don’t ask me how I know!)

Any other ideas on visiting museums on the cheap?


I was surprised that no one took Dianne Williamson to task for using the adjective “cursed” when describing Haiti.  (See second paragraph down.)  At least Pat Robertson cited a deal with the devil.

When I read the title of today’s column (which perhaps I am a touch sensitive about, since I am a somewhat anonymous blogger), I thought she would instead discuss the comments to Clive MacFarlane’s column about the continuing public records battle between the city and the T&G.  According to some of those anonymous commenters (whose remarks have since been removed), Clive has a vendetta against Officer Rojas, because Rojas arrested Clive for drunken and disorderly conduct by Rojas in the wee hours of some January morning in 2004, and then Clive had the arrest expunged from the court record, though if someone wanted to look at the arrest records, they could get them from the Worcester PD.  (Again, all of this is according to the extremely unreliable anonymous commenters.  I really don’t care what may or may not have happened, and if Clive has indeed been arrested by Rojas, he’s in good company.)

If Dianne were so concerned about the anonymous attacks on someone, why not lobby to change the policies on telegram.com, where people can feel free to spew all sorts of garbage about the nearest convenient person?  Why not take the Telegram to task for promoting the most commented articles on the front page of their website?  As long as traditional media continues to give people an outlet to attack others from behind pseudonyms and with no accountability, I will refuse to take seriously their complaints about anonymous attacks.

What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ve put up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  There’s no City Council meeting because of the special election, but there will be a School Committee meeting (that I assume Tracy will cover).

I just started my scorecard of important Council votes (in pdf; I’ll make it a little prettier as time goes on), and I welcome any thoughts about what might constitute ‘important’ votes.  Maybe I’ll do it for School Committee too; let me know if you have any thoughts on it.

I am also open to people sending me links for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

CVS is coming to yet another block near you.  Also, Panera on Gold Star.

Three of us attended the City Council Meeting.  (Can anyone say Montvale?)

Sean livechatted with DPW and got an answer, and also got a No Parking sign installed on his street.

Jeff commemorated the one-year anniversary of RedactionGate and points us to a wonderful RSS-less blog by Dave Goldberg.

Tracy blogged about the PQA review, five things you didn’t know about the School Committee, and gym class.

Remember to vote next week.  Or not.

Photos: Lady Liberty, Big E, Big Iced Coffee in the middle of winter.

PS — In the “InCity Times time warp” category for the week, the piece on the Energy Barn-raising features multiple tenses: “Last month more than 100 people attended”…”there is quite a mix of people from all walks of life participating in both the planning and the workday.”  (I know, it’s relatively nitpicky, but the time vortex that is ICT is reason enough for me to ask my peeps: isn’t the new Doctor Who logo better than the old one?  It’s kind of growing on me!)

Historical Commission Meeting, 1/14/2010, part one

I’d thought about liveblogging the Historical Commission meeting yesterday, but I felt a more polished summary would be appropriate, because not everything is of interest to everyone.  (I’m also not familiar with half of what was discussed in the meeting, so I’m open to being corrected if I’m wrong.)

 The most interesting part of the meeting was at the end, when John O’Dell, the energy services manager for the city, made a presentation about City Hall projects for energy efficiency and a conservation block grant proposal.  The proposal for energy efficiency would include bringing gas in under ground (currently it’s oil), putting in a chiller on Front Street side adjacent to the proposed ice rink, and replacing the caulking on the windows.  (The windows were double-glazed in 2002 or 2003 with a $500k grant to replace the windows.  This would just be for the caulking.)  There would be a 4’x4′ gas meter installed on the outside of City Hall, which would likely not have obvious controls on the front.  (For this, he needs a letter of approval from the Commission because City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.)

The controversial part of this was that one of the proposals for the grant is a long-term demonstration (2.5 or 5 kw) wind turbine on the Common.  The turbine would be roughly as high as the flagpoles (40 feet).  It would provide modest power to feed to the building (O’Dell estimated four houses’ worth of power), but the main purpose of the turbine would be to show the city’s commitment to be energy efficient and also to encourage homeowners to consider a smaller wind turbine.  The reason this model was chosen because it has a low cut-in speed (=it works at low wind speeds) and is able to handle wind from a lot of different angles, as can happen in urban locations.  The cost would be between $40-50,000, much of which is for the support structure. 

The Commission was not happy about the turbine.  The were told it couldn’t be located across the street, at Sovereign Bank, because it needs to be close to the meter.  The further you go from the meter, the more expensive it gets to operate.   They also wanted to know if it could be located on the Front Street side of the building, and O’Dell said he would explore that option.  They wanted to know if it could be located at another site, like the vocational school.  O’Dell said that they are looking into a larger turbine for the Voke school, and also that they wanted an example of a smaller turbine in a very visible location.

Much of the pushback from the Commission is that a wind turbine would detract from the Common.  (The rest of the pushback focused on how the turbine would only generate enough for “four toasters”, and O’Dell’s not losing his cool speaks as much about his personal fortitude as to the Commissioners’ need for hearing aids.) 

Now, one could argue that having a small turbine would detract from the beauty or historicity of the Common, but I don’t know how that’s inconsistent with the city’s recent (and not-so-recent) activity on the Common.  So, (really scary) fake Christmas trees don’t detract from the Common.  Ice skating rinks that need chillers installed?  Go for it!  Moving bodies buried on the Common and removing grave marker stones — not a problem!  Looks just like 1896 to me!  Let’s not show any sort of commitment to energy efficiency when it could get in the way of keeping a skating rink cold!

(In fairness, there was discussion of the chiller having a solar panel on its roof.  But maybe that proves my point.  One commissioner had asked O’Dell why solar panels on City Hall wasn’t considered; but I got the feeling that, if that had been considered, it would have been criticized and they would have asked him why there couldn’t be a wind turbine on the Common.)

Now, the bread and butter issues of Historical Commission meetings are vinyl windows and siding, and there was plenty of that, but I want to devote a separate post to that.  So I’ll be writing more about the Historical Commission on the weekend.

Canal District à la Rose

First of all, can we file this quote in Rose’s latest post under “Pot, Meet Kettle”:

I love Lorraine, but she can have a big mouth

Now…onto the real business.

I went to the DOT hearing on the proposed streetscape improvements to the Canal District last month.  I liveblogged it and summarized it.  (Also, at last night’s City Council meeting, Phil Palmieri mentioned that he and other councilors had had a meeting that day with those in charge of the project, so we can assume that the Councilors are somewhat in the loop, despite the hearing occurring on a Council night.)

Perhaps there’s a secret cabal that meets at Allen Fletcher’s house to hold seances to summon the spirits of Heidi’s Hippie Hideaway.  Perhaps he is a completely unreasonable person who pushes non-yuppies around every chance he can get in the hopes of having a waterway for his canoe.  Perhaps he wants to turn Green Island into his Own Private Montvale.  I can’t comment on those accusations.

I will say, though, that if Fletcher were in charge, the original design would have included lights on a more human (less highway) scale.  He mentioned this at the hearing.  If he’d met with them beforehand, and he were running the show, why wouldn’t that have been included so that he could compliment them on their foresight?

Despite conflicting with the Council meeting, the hearing was well-announced, well-attended, and open to the public.  I didn’t see Rosalie Tirella there, nor did either of the two neighborhood activists she mentioned get up to speak.  If you care so much about what happens in this neighborhood and if you call yourself a journalist, why exactly didn’t you show your face at the hearing, Rose?

Cheap Worcester Wednesdays

Those who know me know that I self-identify as a Cheap Yankee.  (One of my friends and I used to daydream about having our own radio show called “Cheap Yank”, where people could bond over our collective cheapness.  I was at his house this weekend and he offered me some tea.  “I got it at Price Rite.  It tastes like dirt, but I kind of like it.”  I think that pretty much sums up our attitude.)

Here’s how cheap I am: I bought nine kids’ books at the Salvation Army on Saturday and told my husband, “Only one of them was on sale, but I decided to splurge!”  And he gives me that “the regular price is 59 cents; you are approaching the cheap point of no return” look.  (But — let’s be real — I haven’t reached the point of no return because I actually bought the books.  Right?)

Charlene Arsenault had done a wonderful series in Worcester Magazine called “Chuckie’s Cheap Worcester” (see here and here) which brings tears to my eyes because Duffy’s (the epicenter of all that was cheap and wonderful) has closed.  (Even my elder son says things like, “It’s too bad Duffy’s closed,” and it’s been closed for over a year.  And he’s five!  So thriftiness must be genetic.  Also, we took his picture with the ladies who worked at Duffy’s right before it closed, so I like to think he has a special bond to the place.)

Since the “Chuckie’s Cheap Worcester” series is now a touch dated, I thought I’d do a regular, alliterative feature called “Cheap Worcester Wednesday.”  (I also welcome tips via email or comment, but I understand those who refuse to tell me about their favorite spot.  Sometimes when you’ve got a good source of goodies, you don’t want to share!)

So — for my first post in this series — I wanted to talk a little about gas prices.  (Well, actually, I didn’t, but my husband recommended it and he’s the kind of person who will drive an extra mile because he knows the gas is usually cheaper at this one station.  He’s also the kind of person who looks for excuses to make a trip to Fitchburg because there’s a stretch of Route 12 in Leominster, heading towards Fitchburg, where the gas prices are routinely 10 cents cheaper than they are in Worcester.  Does driving twenty miles one way completely defeat the purpose of saving money on gas?  You be the judge.)

My husband likes the Worcester Gas Prices website, which relies on users to post updates about gas prices.  He also uses the Price Chopper gas program, because that’s the supermarket where we tend to shop.  We tend to wait until we’ve got a big discount, and then he’ll fill up his tank when it’s pretty low, and also bring a gas container (so that we can take advantage of the 20-gallon maximum on the discount).  He also got the Shaw’s gas discount, purely by accident.  He was running low on gas, went to fill up at an Irving station, and the tank told him to put in his Shaw’s card, and got 20 cents off per gallon.

Does anyone else have any other gas tips?