Category Archives: culcha

Frog Spawn?

What with netflix, i-player and itv.com, we are never short of series to watch.  But there’s a limit to how many you can get involved in, since many dramas demand no less than total immersion for the entire length of two, three or more clutches of episodes which – if they’re American – can run to unfeasible lengths.  Interestingly, bridging the Atlantic (so to speak) is the series Episodes featuring the divine Tamsin Grieg (whose praises I sang so loudly the other week) and Stephan Mangan.  The series-within-a-series is written by these two: it’s a great success in the UK but loses practically everything in being translated to LA:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1582350/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

But I digress.  Due to the diligence and devotion demanded of the viewer, I have chosen thus far not to begin with The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad or Line of Duty.  I have watched one or two Scandi noirs but you have to pick and choose these, and in the smorgasbord of my viewing I prefer to mix drama with comedy, documentary with soap (Casualty and Holby are staples) and Mastermind with University Challenge.  My current drama fix is the excellent BBC London Spy, first broadcast a year or so ago, now available on Netflix: this comes highly recommended, and I am also hoping to get another chance to view Capital, starring Toby Jones.

As regular readers will know, I am a great fan of really good sitcom: recent gems include Uncle and Detectorists but definitely, DEFINITELY not the latest offering, Bucket.  The usually excellent Miriam Margolyes does her best with the fairly lame script, but the whole thing is ruined for me by the main actor and author, a hitherto unheard-of woman called – if you can believe it – Frog Stone.

Frog Stone!  I ask you – what sort of a name is Frog Stone?  And why does this unknown woman – who as far as I can gather has done nothing else – get an entire series of her own?  OK it’s a nice idea, a comedy series about a dying mother and her daughter trying to get through her bucket list, but it’s just not that good.  As far as I can see the preposterously-named F*** S**** is neither an accomplished actor nor a very good writer.  So how do people get this work?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08mp2lb/bucket-series-1-episode-2#group=p02q32p1

Mind you, I have a thing about incomprehensible names: I was once unable to listen to an entire interview with Lionel Shriver because my brain kept shrieking how can a woman be called Lionel?  How can a woman be called Lionel?  It was like the elephant in the room – and nobody mentioned it! *

So answer me this: how can a woman be called Frog Stone?  I demand to know.

Kirk out

*I later found out that she chose the name as a tomboy and it stuck

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What Do We Do? We Swim, Swim, Swim!

DoryYep, we all know this small blue fish, don’t we?  Dory is one of my favourite animated characters ever; and on occasions when my other half gets moody I am fond of getting in his face, making a pout and saying:

‘Hey Mr Grumpy-Gills.  Whenever life gets ya down, you know what you gotta do?  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…’  I can tell you it really pisses him off.

Well I took my own advice today, having gotten out of bed the wrong side after a disturbed night.  And what better than to do the thing I’d been intending ever since we moved here – and go swimming?  How could I in all conscience excuse myself when on our very doorstep stands a fully-equipped leisure centre complete with swimming pool and all the accoutrements?  I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  I got out of bed, threw on a few clothes and dived in.  It. Was. Great.  I have been buzzing all day simply from the sheer joy of breasting the billows for twenty lengths: I even got to swim in the medium lane, which I never do, being normally consigned to the slowest of the slow.  I had expected the pool to be full of business-men and -women thrashing up and down before their power breakfasts.  Not a bit of it: my fellow-swimmers were mostly elderly plodders.  It was very relaxing.

So there’s my thought for today: whenever your gills feel grumpy, just keep swimming, just keep swimming….

Kirk out

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When You Have Nothing to Say…

…say nothing.  That’s advice I’ve been following for the last couple of weeks, but a blog can only stay silent for so long before people Begin to Wonder.  It’s like radio silence – if it goes on too long people begin to question whether the station is there at all.

Speaking of radio silence, the other day this was stretched to the limit during the broadcast of Pinter’s play ‘Betrayal.’  It’s a good title, since the play itself is a betrayal, heaping insult onto injury by making public Pinter’s affair with Joan Bakewell.  She wrote her own play in retaliation (also broadcast) but no such redress was available to Vivien Merchant, the wronged wife, who not only had to suffer the pain of her husband’s affair but then the indignity of having it plastered all over the stage.  I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel if it was me.

But the Beeb were flirting with danger in other ways too.  As anyone familiar with Pinter knows, his plays are pregnant with pauses, so much so that the phenomenon is known as the ‘Pinter pause’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characteristics_of_Harold_Pinter%27s_work#The_.22Pinter_pause.22

A Pinter character can barely say half a dozen words without lapsing into a brooding silence.  Which is not to say that the pauses are contrived or meaningless; far from it – a pause, a silence, can convey far more than any number of words when used in the right way.  Pinter could almost have been a Quaker (except that it is not very Quakerly to have an affair and then write a play about it!)  Anyway, this is me breaking my radio silence and telling you all that I am Still Here.  I’ve mostly been in the garden, digging up stubborn brambles with roots the size (although not the shape) of my head, and ivy that has convoluted and thickened everywhere.  Ivy horrifies me, the way it embraces and kills every other living thing: it’s very cathartic to rip it apart and chuck it in the garden bin.  We have just signed up to this scheme, which gets you a brown bin that’s emptied fortnightly.

I promise from now on to blog more often than the garden bin is emptied.  Hope you all had a good Easter.  Anyway, here’s the play, featuring Andrew Scott who was so brilliant as Moriarty in Sherlock:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kr71s

and here’s Joan Bakewell’s riposte:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n4qq5

Kirk out

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Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2014/sep/26/female-hamlets-sarah-bernhardt-maxine-peake-in-pictures

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/twelfth-night

Kirk out

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Verb and Re-Verb

In the last year or two I’ve been collecting examples of new verbs.  These are usually existing words which have been either squashed or repurposed and made into verbs.  Previously they were either phrases (eg to manage a project becomes to project-manage) or nouns (eg to window, meaning to schedule a delivery within a particular period of time).  So here’s a little list, by no means exhaustive but comprising the ones I’ve managed to capture and commit to pen and paper:

to re-platform (heard at the railway station)

to window (seen on Facebook)

to project-manage (heard in conversation and rendered somewhat redundant by the phrase ‘I project-managed a project’…)

to part-time work

to offshore (as in tax)

to vacation (to be fair, this has been around for a while in the US but has only recently made it over here)

to semi-final (heard on University Challenge)

to sunblock (read just today on Facebook)

I’m sure there are thousands more.  Have you come across any?  I’d love to hear them.  Please send them to me and I’ll post them

Thanks

Kirk out

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Gosh, That Was a Busy Day

Yesterday proved unexpectedly busy, what with going to the Utilise Social Cafe and then to a canvassing training session by the Labour Party.  Those were the planned events; but on my way home from the cafe I ran into Jan parking her bike.  This happens a lot these days, since she’s in Loughborough every Saturday, and it fell out that she was on her way to a pub.  Who am I to resist the promptings of fate?  I promptly fell in with her and accepted the generous offer of a drink, which took care of the intervening time until I went to Unity Building for the canvassing.

Canvassing is something I’ve often thought about doing but was too afraid to ask, the thought of knocking on people’s doors and asking them to vote for us being somewhat daunting.  So it was good to have some training in this area and next week I will be going out with some other reddish bods and doing it for real.

After the canvassing came another unplanned event.  At the cafe I got talking to a couple of women who go there, and they told me about a demo that afternoon against racism and for – well, peace and harmony and stuff.  I’m aware that this sounds a bit like Neil from The Young Ones, but there it is.  About half a dozen white British people and twenty or so Muslims turned up to stand around a banner and chant at the passers-by and marketeers who were packing up the Loughborough market.  I made up a couple of chants which were generally admired.  Well, I am a poet after all…

I shall be doing a write-up on this for the Loughborough Echo, exhorting people to stop tarring all Muslims with the same brush.  (Not you guys – I know you would never do anything so crass.)

So that was yesterday.  And a jolly good Saturday it was too.  Today I shall be mostly… going to Quaker meeting and then heading off for lunch to celebrate Alan’s birthday.

Kirk out

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…Call Me Daniel Blake

When Ken Loach’s films work, they really work: I’ve met the man in real life and he is impressively self-effacing, putting ordinary people and their stories at the centre of his films.  And having been on the dole myself in the ’80’s I totally got ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

In the 1980’s things were both better and worse.  They were worse in the sense that unemployment was much higher (zero-hours contracts notwithstanding) and that was especially true where I’d ended up.  In the North West there literally were no jobs, especially not for a shellshocked teacher who absolutely refused to go back to the chalk face.  I guess I could have gone on sickness benefit, but I resisted the medicalisation of my mental illness and decided to face it out without the dubious help of anti-depressants: I still maintain this was the right approach for me.  But I know in my soul the grinding despair of unemployment: the feeling that you are judged by others; the impossibility of finding work no matter how you try, and the never-ending financial hardship.  Matthew Parris, then a Minister in the Thatcher government, did a TV programme where he ‘tried’ living on unemployment benefit for a week: he planned to save £3 and ended up sitting in the dark with no heating.

But I was lucky: I had a family who could help, and in the end (though very reluctantly) I returned home for a while and eventually found work.

Daniel Blake is not so lucky: he has to stop work as a carpenter when he suffers a heart attack.  His doctor signs him off but when he tries to claim ESA (sickness benefit) his claim is refused.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the story of one man’s attempt to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy and human indifference and retain his self-respect.  After he is defeated at every turn and ejected from the Job Centre (or whatever they’re called this week) he gets a spray-can and writes his testimony to the world on the wall:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192/mediaviewer/rm3244179200

This is his attempt at finding a voice in the midst of defeat and degradation.

I won’t spoil the ending for you but go and watch the film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192/?ref_=nv_sr_1

And in case you think it’s mere left-wing propaganda, here are a selection of ESA stories from the media:

http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/esa

https://welfaretales.wordpress.com/category/employment-support-allowance/

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/the-30-cut-to-esa-explained/#.WN4y5zFtnDc

In the interests of fairness, I tried to find some positive stories.  Here’s what I found:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=esa+success+stories&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

There’s to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that what happened to Daniel happens to many people and that claims are routinely refused.  Whistle-blowers in the ‘service’ talk of a culture of trying to put claimants off so as to save money.  Of course, these services are now privately managed, meaning that there is a need to generate profit.

Words fail me: I just feel desperately sorry for people caught in this situation because I could so easily be there too.

If you’re in this situation and need help, don’t despair.  Help is available here:

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/employment-and-support-allowance/while-youre-getting-esa/challenging-an-esa-decision/

Kirk out

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