Category Archives: culcha

Death Nell of Dickens

I well remember my introduction to the famous (or infamous) death-scene of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/429024.The_Old_Curiosity_Shop

which was also my first introduction to the idea that one could ridicule the work of a famous and respected author and get away with it.  Aside from one teacher who disliked Betjeman (and apologised for it) my schoolteachers had approached texts as holy writ.  They were the Given: it was our job to understand Them and to convey that understanding in such a way that it could be marked and graded.  Scepticism, let alone ridicule, played no part in that process.

Enter Geoff Syer.  Geoff was a lecturer at Isleworth College, an unashamed communist who wore a symbolic red tie: he was also a profound literary sceptic.  So when we were discussing pathos in literature it was inevitable that Little Nell should arise from her grave like a shadow-puppet to be killed yet again:

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird — a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed — was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child-mistress was mute and motionless for ever. Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.1 (Chapter LXXI, p.524)

Victorians were as devastated by this scene as people more recently at the death of Princess Diana.  They wept openly in the streets.  But there were no Reichenbach Falls for Nell: Dickens was as implacable as death itself and refused to bring her back.

However, amongst the mourning there were even then dissenting voices.  Oscar Wilde remarked: “one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without dissolving into tears . . . of laughter.”  And that, I would guess, sums up the reactions of most modern readers.  Though attempts have been made to explain Nell as symbolic of the victims of capitalism:

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/boev1.html

I don’t think that’s the way Dickens worked.  His characters were visualised with an intensity rivalled only by Dostoevsky’s – and though he was deeply concerned with poverty and child mortality (the novel follows on from the death of his sister-in-law) such abstraction is not in his nature.  Dickens dealt with concrete realities.

I have to say the above article expresses everything I dislike about post-modernism; inventing complex terms for something already ‘out there’ which could be expressed much more simply.  That said, much has been written in the feminist era about Dickens’ women and how they tend to divide into the garrulous and the child-like; the figure of fun and the ‘angel in the house’.  Give me garrulous and comic any day: besides, I wouldn’t have been married to Dickens for any money.  Twelve children, a lifetime of unfaithfulness and ne’er a mention in any of his books.  No, ta…

I can’t remember why I started on this topic at all.  But there you go: I never could get the hang of Wednesdays…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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All Revved Up And No Church To Go…

Over the weekend I’ve been discovering some episodes of ‘Rev’, possibly my favourite sitcom of all time.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588221/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm

I had to resort to Youtube, alas, since they are not available on Netflix or iplayer and I don’t have the money to buy the DVD’s.  I watched the last series, at the end of which the threatened worst came to pass: dogged on all sides by Pharisaical prejudice, Adam resigns, the church is closed and the building sold off.  It looks like the end of everything.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-bxjh5rutM

However, there’s always a way back  -and this week I’ve been imagining what that might look like.

Now, I realise that minds much more situationally comedic than mine may be pondering this even as we speak; but nevertheless here are my ideas:

As the fourth series opens, Adam and his wife Alex are returning from some time out travelling abroad.  Back in London, Alex goes back to work while Adam searches for a role.  He tries out being a hospital chaplain but that doesn’t fulfill him; then he organises a house church but that goes wrong too (I haven’t envisaged the specifics here yet).   Then the St Saviour’s building, now deconsecrated and on the point of being turned into offices, is struck by lightning for the third time in three months.  Reports that the building is cursed abound.  The Archdeacon, now promoted to Suffragan Flying Bishop (with responsibility for going round parishes reassuring them that the sky won’t fall in if the church supports gay marriage) crops up to make sarcastic comments about ‘acts of god’; meanwhile the company about to lease the building pulls out of the contract leaving it without a viable future.  Enter Adam.  Unable to face what happened he has avoided the place but at Alex’s insistence, he forces himself to visit and, as it were, exorcise the ghost.  Seeing the lightning damage for himself he realises it’s not irreparable; if part of the building is sealed off the rest could be a smaller, much more viable church.  And hey, presto, a plan is put together and by the end of the first episode he finds himself, Reggie Perrin-like, back in the vicarage and running his old church again.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073990/

Of course all the old characters are back: just as Reggie Perrin can’t escape the cast who peopled his former life, so Adam finds himself back in the company of Colin, Adoha and all his old congregation.  (There’s a short back-story involving each of the congregants: Adoha attends a black evangelical church for a while but falls out with them; she then goes to the nearest C of E church which is reassuringly traditional.  Sliding into a pew she says as much to her neighbour.  ‘Yes, says the neighbour.  ‘And you’re in luck – the new vicar is starting today.’  Adoha goes off into a swoon, imagining someone like Adam; only to be rudely awoken by a woman’s voice emanating from the front.  Yes, the new priest is a woman.  Exit Adoha.  Colin, on the other hand, while no longer homeless, has not found another church.)

Nigel does not feature in this series, however, since his actions in the last one put him beyond the pale.  His replacement is a woman who seems fine at first.  She asks what happened to Nigel and is told ‘we don’t talk about him’.

I think it could work.  Perhaps I should send this post to the BBC?

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You Having a British Dream?

*Sigh*

For some inexplicable reason, my latest works of staggering genius didn’t make it onto Newsjack.  Well, I thought they’d be inundated with stuff about the Tory Party conference so here, as promised, I display them for your delectation:

Breaking news:

Last week Theresa May was standing in an empty hall trying to get over a bad cough when a rogue Tory Party conference broke in and handed her a list of Labour Party policies.  It is not known how the conference, played by a bunch of comedians, was allowed access to the PM.

The conference slogan was in trouble too, when a couple of words fell off, obscuring the message ‘building a country that works or everyone will die’.  Officials have denied that the message originally read ‘come back Dave all is forgiven’.

Afterwards there was an epidemic of tumbleweed as Party members were asked their opinions on Theresa May’s speech.  Many of them had gone to bed hoping it was all a British dream but woken up to find it was only too real.

I’m wasted here…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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If I Told You That, I’d Have to Kill Myself…

Val McDermid has taken the somewhat unusual step of adding a surprise ending to the surprise ending of her latest novel.  But more of that in a moment: I started the week by listening to the latest radio adaptation of ‘Rebus’.  Fleshmarket Close is a novel I know fairly well, and so far (this was just episode 1) it is excellently done.  Except for one thing: they have made Siobhan Clarke Scottish!  This is just plain wrong.  As anyone knows who has read the books, one of the main features of Clarke is her Englishness, the fact that she has to struggle to be accepted not only as a woman in CID but as a Sassenach in Scotland.  So that spoilt it somewhat for me as all the way through I was shouting ‘Siobhan is English!’ at the radio.

Annoying.

However that was more than compensated for by discovering Val McDermid’s latest in the library.  ‘Insidious Intent’ which I believe is a quotation from T S Eliot (yes, google confirms that as I thought it’s from  Prufrock:

http://www.shmoop.com/love-song-alfred-prufrock/stanza-1-summary.html)

is the latest in the Carol Jordan series.  I know I blogged about the TV adaptations (Wire in the Blood) a while back, complaining that you wouldn’t know Carol Jordan was the main character in the books as Tony Hill (her friend and sidekick) completely takes over; in fact you could be forgiven for thinking it was the Robson Green show:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/women-on-the-verge-of-a-tv-series/

McDermid’s is a world largely run by women and in Insidious Intent she has upped her game to a new level of quantum entanglement (hang on, that’s a thing isn’t it?  Let’s ask the oracle.  If you have two quanta with a common origin and you measure one they will both be in the same state.  Thanks, oracle.  Not sure how that helps us here, but still…) anyway, in this latest novel we catch up once again with Jordan and Hill, now sharing a converted barn (though not in the biblical sense) while Jordan gets over the trauma of seeing her brother and sister-in-law murdered and goes cold turkey on the alcoholism which nearly ruined her career.

Tony Hill is something of a redeemed character – product of a cold and abusive mother and an absent father, he has reinvented himself, partly through police work and partly through his relationship with Carol Jordan.  This relationship is tested to its limits and beyond as REmit, the new murder unit headed up by Jordan, handles its first case: the case of The Wedding Killer.  A serial murderer picks women up at weddings and later kills them; clever and forensically aware, he outwits the police until the very end.

And here’s the thing.  This is a new novel; released just this summer and with an ending that is bound to stun all but the most Sherlockian of readers.  I certainly didn’t see it coming: I sat there saying ‘Oh, my God!’ for about five minutes and it was fully ten before I could bring myself to say anything else.  But eventually I turned the page to see a note from the author asking readers not to give away the ending.  Quite right, too – there’s far too much of this sort of thing; not only in blogs, reviews and on social media but often from the publishers themselves.  It’s like film trailers which show you everything, or TV programmes that finish with what’s going to happen in the next episode.  I don’t want to know!!!  I’ll watch it next week, thank you very much – and I’ll thank you not to spoil it.

Enough.  So nothing will induce me to give away the ending to ‘Insidious Intent’ because if I told you that, I’d have to kill myself.

Kirk out

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One Who is Bored With Life is Probably About to be Creative

I’m not often bored; however sometimes a state of tedium does overtake me and nothing I do can shake it.  I feel like Sherlock when he lacks an interesting case to exercise his brain; like Sherlock I would probably fire some bullets into the wall if I could get away with it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J_AUBT-PAo

but my inner Mrs Hudson heads off any such activity (not to mention that I don’t own a gun) so I am reduced to pacing up and down and sighing.  Deeply.

However, as my wiser self well knows, boredom is not so much the lack of interest as a lack of being interested.  And whereas when I was a child I often suffered excruciating boredom through, for example, having to sit through three services every Sunday, nowadays I am rarely bored – just so long as I have a notebook and a pen.  Because no matter how dull the situation, there is always something interesting in it: and the something interesting usually lies in describing it.  Suppose I’m stuck in a particularly dull lecture where to walk out would be either rude or impractical.  I amuse myself by describing the situation: first, my own sensations, then the voice and demeanour of the speaker, then the surroundings and then, most interesting of all, the reactions of the audience.  If I have long enough I can work up quite a good blog post on the topic, and that’s a portion of my day’s work done.

But often being bored is not so much about what’s happening outside as what’s occurring inside.  I find myself unable to take an interest in anything that has previously absorbed me.  All my books are dull.  TV is dull.  There’s nothing on Netflix, nothing at the cinema, I don’t want to go for a walk, the guitar is tedious and I’m fed up with sewing.  Quite simply nothing engages my interest because my interest is not ready to be engaged.  But just as we found with the children that the best response to ‘I’m bored’ was ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do’, so rather than bombarding the brain with possible toys I allow it just to be bored.  Boredom is the mental equivalent of fallow ground: it is necessary to the creative brain, and often my best ideas come after a period of boredom.

Mind you, I don’t go to the lengths that Graham Greene did: he made life more interesting by playing Russian roulette:

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/novelist_graham_greene_played_russian_roulette_as_a_teenager

So there it is.  Sorry you’ve been subjected to this, but I hope the post was more bored than boring.

Kirk out

 

 

 

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I Have A Dead Ringer

Yes, it’s all too horribly true: my phone ringer is dead.  Or maybe it’s sleeping; either way on any of the various occasions when it is supposed to make a noise – alarm, text, call, facebook message, facebook update, reminder and god knows what else – it is content to make a sudden purr like an intermittent cat.  In other words it does everything it should do when it’s on silent, but it isn’t.  I have checked and double-checked the settings; I have (in the time-honoured way) turned things off and on and on and off again and still it persists in purring.  So I must perforce consider the meaning of the term ‘dead ringer’.  Jeremy Irons (once my favourite actor) plays twins in a film of that name, Meat Loaf sang about it and the Radio 4 programme features it.  So what is it?

The origin of the phrase is apparently from horse-racing: ‘dead’ meaning ‘exact’ (as in ‘dead heat’) and ‘ringer’ meaning a horse falsely substituted for another which it resembles.  Hence a dead ringer, meaning an exact lookalike.  At least I’ve always understood it to mean a lookalike, which makes the radio 4 concept somewhat paradoxical don’t it?

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/dead-ringer.html

Still it’s a fun programme: Tom Baker is a staple and they do Boris Johnson brilliantly:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007gd85/episodes/player

Here’s the Meat Loaf song:

 

and here’s the film:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094964/

A short one today but what do you expect?  My ringer is dead…

Kirk out

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Myanmar Girl – The Musical

In order to explain the current Burmese situation I propose a musical called ‘Myanmar Girl’ (see what I did there?)

Along the lines of ‘Springtime for  Hitler’  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springtime_for_Hitler  it would tell the story of the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi  from girlhood to the present day.

The musical would open on a gloomy house where Aung San Suu Kyi is being held under arrest; but after a sad beginning the young woman would rise and sing the song ‘Democracy’, outlining her hopes for Burma.  Behind her is a stone tablet engraved with the principle ‘freedom and democracy for all’.  The song would include some principles of Gandhi (cue Bollywood-style dancers in loin cloths) and the musical would continue with numbers such as ‘No, Mr Junta, I won’t Stand’ and ‘Let Me Out’.  The most affecting scene would be her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize and the high point is where she is made political leader of Burma.  But after that it all goes downhill and in the second half a chorus of Rohingya Muslims appear to sing the song ‘Let My People Stay’.  The Muslim leader even goes personally to ask ASSK to intervene but she has become selectively deaf: behind her he notices that the stone tablet has been altered and now reads ‘freedom and democracy for all (except the Rohingya Muslims)’.  Disgusted, he sings the song ‘1984’ and leaves.  The musical ends with ASSK alone, deserted by all her followers, sitting in the same house where she began.

A farce, you say?  Inappropriate, you say?

Hmm…

Kirk out

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