I’m making the most of the iplayer before they start charging for it, in which case we may as well a) give up altogether or b) get a TV licence/Freeview box/whatever other packages they’ve come up with in the ten years or so since we last did This Sort of Thing. Actually I think it might be more like fifteen years than ten. Anyway… last night was a stonking night’s viewing: beginning with a classic ‘Over-sexed and over here’ Dad’s Army where they meet, greet and punch the visiting GI’s; and continuing with the utterly compelling comedy-drama ‘Love Nina’. I wasn’t sure about this at first; but it only took a few minutes to hook me in to this series about a nanny from Leicester (yes, Leicester! – which, as it’s set in the eighties, no-one knows anything about) who goes to work as a live-in nanny for two precocious boys and their single Mum Helena Bonham-Carter. Equally engaging is the latest Jo Brand series. Knowing that she worked as a nurse, the series ‘Going Forward’ featuring a hard-pressed care-worker and her chauffeur husband is thoroughly authentic and gripping as well as comic. I can’t wait to see how both of these pan out:
Sitcoms seem to be like buses: and last week we had the first episode of ‘Mum’, a gentle series about a bereaved woman surrounded by well-meaning idiots:
All three of these are different, intriguing and therefore unpredictable. And what’s even better is that only one of them is on BBC 4.
As if all this weren’t enough, as part of the current Shakespeare-a-thon comes Ben Elton’s sitcom ‘Upstart Crow.’ I dimly recall that ‘upstart crow’ was one of the insults hurled at the bard by a contemporary; such is our reverence for him now that it’s hard to believe he could be so insulted in his own time. David Mitchell plays a baffled, bewildered, much rivalled and yet supremely confident Will whose closest friend Kit Marlowe is also his nearest rival. And here’s the rub: for, though David Mitchell is totally right for the part, I can’t help feeling that it’s otherwise a cast of understudies. It’s as though Elton wanted his dream-team of Blackadder back again, with Rowan Atkinson as Shakespeare, Rik Mayall as Marlowe, Stephen Fry as Robert Green and Tony Robinson as Bottom the manservant, a Baldrick figure if ever I saw one. So there’s an odd feeling of actors channelling other actors. See for yourself whether Mark Heap isn’t channelling Stephen Fry here:
Still, the language is nicely parodied and there is a feminist update as Shakespeare’s friend Kate supplies a lot of his best ideas. So well worth watching.
A good crop!
The world seems to be made of cafes nowadays; this afternoon I was lamenting, along with a fellow Sound Cafe guest, the demise of Voodoo. This brilliant, quirky shop sold all manner of colourful and individual clothes, the like of which you can now presumably only get online. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t really like shopping online; unless it’s for something rare or hard to get, I’d rather shop for it in town. But the dynamic is heading more and more to little white vans cruising the streets with parcels which you unwrap in the comfort of your own home, leaving more empty spaces in town centres which are filled by more cafes. Which is odd, when you think about it. Cafes in town used to be places to rest and recuperate after shopping. You’d usually have a cup of tea and a bun, unless you were going out for lunch, and most meals would be taken at home. But now the whole situation is reversed: people shop online at home and eat out in cafes. Weird.
I’m not against cafes in principle. OH and I have our favourites: Fingerprints on Queen’s Rd, St Martin’s and the Peace Cafe in town, and the most recent addition, a place called Six Degrees which is run by a charity and fulfils a need to hang out somewhere on the way into town. But I’d like a few more actual shops. The fellow guest and I were reminiscing about places such as Lewis’s (the Leicester department store, not John Lewis) and Woolworth’s as well as lamenting the imminent demise of BHS. Mind you, M&S seem to be doing better this year, so that’s something.
Six degrees was a bit of a find. We’re used to cafes doing pots of tea with soya milk and herbal selections etc but this one does loose-leaf tea for a very reasonable price. They’re a charity run by volunteers and all profits go to the Open Hands Trust:
Sadly at Sound Cafe they only have tea or coffee so as it’s the afternoon I’m forced to have decaf…
I think Benedict Cumberbatch is actually God. There is nothing the man cannot do: from a whiz-bang slap-up Sherlock to a slithering Richard III who out-Voldemorts Voldemort, the man is a total genius. I’ve never actually seen his Hamlet but I watched the latest in the Hollow Crown series on the beeb last night and I was totally gripped. At first I thought he was playing it a bit over the top, but he sustained the level of evil and upped it at key moments to a character that could rival his alter ego’s nemesis, Moriarty.
I had wondered whether they might, in the light of recent discoveries, update it a little: put in a hint or two that Richard wasn’t as bad as he’s painted – but as OH pointed out, the text doesn’t leave you too much scope for that. It’s a shame he’s been given this undeserved reputation by a playwright who was merely sucking up to the Tudors: even so I thought they might add a little reference at the end to him being buried in the choir of the old church, but the film ended with a shot of the battlefield, pulling back and back so that in the end it looked like a grotesque Breughel:
Sophie Okonedo is also brilliant as Margaret of Anjou, a performance sustained through several plays.
Richard III is far more interesting than the other history plays as it’s basically a psychological drama, the battle coming only at the very end and providing a satisfactory catharsis. There’s not too much catharsis around at the moment, so let’s make the most of it…
Years ago I used to have piano lessons: they were taken by one K. Stuart Hart, a well-known and respected figure in that part of West London. He was a mixture of parts; a gentle teacher (‘the Amos of another age’ as one student put it) but also both staggeringly egotistical and genuinely humble. He never told me off when I didn’t practise but just sighed in a distracted way while chain-smoking B&H as I fumbled through my latest Mozart. I took lessons from the age of 11 (when we were given a piano) until my late teens and once showed him the sheet music for ‘Tubular Bells’ which completely baffled him.
As a teenager I used to go up to the Royal College of Music for my exams; an ornate and deeply intimidating building in central London. The experience was made much worse by precocious three-and four-year-olds running through Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the practise pianos, so that I never managed to practise before my exam unless the room was quite empty. The exam itself consisted, as I recall, of three prepared pieces, some aural tests (I was very good at these) and a sight-reading test which I always failed abysmally (to this day I cannot sight-read). There were theory tests as well which were far less scary as they were written: I quite enjoyed learning music theory and I can still remember that a quaver is half a crotchet, a semiquaver half a quaver and a demi-semi-quaver half of that; after which it goes quite silly and becomes a hemi-demi-semiquaver.
So OH and I were joking that, since he comes to Quaker meeting about half the time, that makes him a semiQuaker. If he came once a month he’d be a demi-semiQuaker and to be a hemi-demi-semiQuaker I guess he’d have to come once every two months.
Is that right?
Have a good week,
There has recently been a furore over a Scottish golf club refusing to allow women to join as full members in their own right, as a result of which the club has been deselected as an Open venue. It will be objected, I suppose, that as a private club, Muirhead are entitled to make their own decisions. Of course they are; but if they want to host a tournament which exists in the modern world, then they must take account of the modern world. It’d be like asking the Catholic church to host a gay convention – except that oh! as long-time commentator Peter Alliss pointed out, ‘ladies’ are welcome to play – so long as they are married to a male member. Listening to him talk was like going back 30 years as he putted all the tired, discredited arguments around the hole without actually potting a single one. I can’t be bothered even enumerating them but you can listen here:
and as for his assertion that as a man he wouldn’t be allowed to join the WRVS, he should do his homework. The WRVS is now the RVS and they DO have men. So there.
Why is golf so far behind other sports in this regard? Is it because golfers are a bunch of reactionaries in weird trousers? Surely not!
They’re almost as bad as freemasons…
Someone who is not a freemason or a wearer of silly trousers, is the universally loathed Katie Hopkins. I’ve never felt inclined to discover why it is that everyone hates her so: I think people like her get far too much attention as it is; but I decided to watch her being interviewed by Stacey Dooley. (The programme has now disappeared from iplayer.) Since being interviewed by Dooley is like being interrogated by a new-born baby lamb, I was curious as to the upshot; and although Hopkins’ opinions (if a bunch of knee-jerk reactions can be dignified with the term) are utterly repellent, it seemed to me as Dooley nodded and smiled along, that underneath the motor-mouthing, the bluster, the rapid-fire rhetoric, lay a huge swathe of self-doubt. As an empty vessel makes the most noise, so an empty head talks the most nonsense.
That’s far too much about her; and I hardly want to mention her American counterpart who was allowed to pontificate at excessive length on the ‘Today’ programme:
My limit is about 30 seconds…
And that’s far too much about both of them. Now let’s have something nice and sensible.
Now, I’m not one for making gargantuan physical efforts: I watch in bewilderment the increasingly mad efforts of people to run six marathons before breakfast, climb Everest backwards, swim the Nile, jog the channel and just about anything that hasn’t been done before. Why? In god’s name, why do people do these things? I once went on a church holiday where the first thing some people did on getting settled on the beach was to join a communal bus-pull! Why? I turned to the woman next to me and said ‘They’re mad, aren’t they? Why don’t they just lie back and enjoy the sunshine?’ She gave me an embarrassed smile before stripping off and charging up the beach to join them.
But don’t go running away with the idea that I’m a couch vegetable. I’m reasonably active; I do yoga every morning, I walk a couple of miles every day and cycle about ten miles a week, the key word here being ‘reasonably.’ Plus, now and again I push the boat out a little bit: in the past I have swum a mile for charity and taken up karate, weight-lifting and, for a brief period, jazz dance. So it was in this spirit that I went on a Sky-ride tour of Leicester’s suffragette sites. Actually it was pretty gentle: only four miles and with frequent stops to hear about suffragettes (and suffragists) in Leicester whilst examining their blue plaques. The most famous of them is Alice Hawkins who was a key organiser of protesters in the city. Some women dressed up as suffragettes and we all wore sashes in purple or green. It was very interesting.
And today I received a leaflet on the coming referendum. I am intending to vote to stay in, not because I am a great believer in the EU as such but because a) outcomes will be very uncertain if we come out and more importantly b) our politics will likely be influenced far more than at present by the United States which, with the possibility of D T at the helm, is a prospect that fills me with terror. This, incidentally, is a view shared by Noam Chomsky, though I thought of it first:
So get out and vote! Even if you don’t care – because people died for the right to do so.
Kirk out (but also staying in)
Wow! That is the only word that sums up the experience of yesterday – and I’m not even a football fan. From the moment I exited Peter’s house in Stoneygate there was a carnival atmosphere with lots of families walking towards town: as I drew closer the crowds thickened and by the time I got to the park it was like being on a huge demo. London Rd was closed off, so people were walking down the middle of it singing, chanting, waving flags and honking horns (remember the vuvuzelas in 2012?) bobbing balloons in the shape of trophies and wearing inappropriately warm scarves. It was UNBELIEVABLE!!! and as I drew into the station where I was due to meet OH and saw how many people were teeming off the trains (like London in the rush hour) I was completely overwhelmed by the scale of it all. Leicester has never seen anything like it; and this was only the beginning. We inched our way back up London Rd to find a spot to wait
and stood watching the crowd as we scanned the horizon for the blue open-top buses we knew were snaking through the city centre bearing the players and the fabled trophy for us to view. People were standing on rooftops (we saw one guy standing up on a high pitched roof*), sitting on balconies, leaning out of windows and generally making use of every vantage point available. And after an hour or so the buses came, preceded by a police car and a vanguard of security men who did a little dance (like Morris men without the hankies) and stood in two lines to keep people from throwing themselves under the wheels (perhaps they were afraid of a suffragette-inspired suicide?) I don’t think I’ve ever had the experience of being so close to such a major event before and it felt odd as the first bus passed us, the trophy in prime position and the players (some of whom I recognised) smiling and waving. When the buses had passed we followed them up to the park where the band had finished playing and the players were introduced one by one to a hooting, cheering, flag-waving audience.
It was like a blue Glastonbury: the park was full and I thought there must be at least 100,000 but later the local BBC reckoned it was more like 240,000. The population of Leicester is only 330,000! There were pictures of people trying to get on trains to come in – at Narborough Station they were queueing to get onto the station!
I was a bit worried that the toilet situation might also be a bit Glastonbury-like but I needn’t have been – there were serried ranks of them in strategic positions like squadrons of Daleks poised to invade. So that was good. And then home, though I partly wish we’d stayed to watch Kasabian and the fireworks.
Still, we got to see Steve and Agnes who had had the nerve to park their car in our drive!
And apparently today it’s the eighth anniversary of my starting this blog! I seem to remember I had an idea for a little widget called ‘Mr Bloggy’ – a bit like the Microsoft paperclip thing…
*that’s a pitched roof high up, not a roof singing a high note