Greed with Steve Coogan (warning contains spoilers)

I came across this the way you do, trawling through Netflix and alighting on a slice of Steve Coogan. I was never a fan of Alan Partridge – I think comedy should be a release, not make people more uptight – but recent incarnations of his in films such as Philomena have revised my opinion. So we gave this a go.

From the trailer I thought it was pretty clear that ‘Greedy’ McReadie was a portrait of Philip Green, though as the action progressed we decided it was more a composite of Green and Mike Ashley: anyway the action shifted from present to past to distant past in a way that seems de rigueur nowadays, showing us bits of his childhood as well as some deals he’d made and centring on the staging (the word is apt) of his 60th birthday party on a Greek island.

For the centrepiece builders are constructing a wooden amphitheatre where a real lion (actually a very convincing piece of CGI) waits caged up to fight a ‘gladiator.’ The parallel is apt; McReadie is never happier than when shouting at people, unless it’s when he makes a deal that will net him millions while crushing the poor garment workers who have to fulfil the order. He’d have made a good Roman emperor.

There are some frankly revolting scenes as a film crew making a ‘reality show’ on the same island are obstructed by a group of refugees camping on the beach. They can’t clear them away so they decide to film themselves giving the refugees some food. The poor sods are just about to tuck in when the director shouts ‘Cut!’ and they have to wrestle the food away from the refugees so they can film it all again. It reminded me of this Steely Dan song.

The climactic scene comes when Amanda, a member of staff who has tried to help the refugees, spies McReadie taunting the lion and presses the button to open the cage door. The result is predictable: McReadie shows his hubris by believing he can talk the lion out of eating him. He can’t. He dies, horribly. Afterwards Amanda says, ‘I didn’t feel it was me pressing the button. I just happened to press it and the cage door opened. Then the lion came out and killed him. That’s how McReadie is; he makes a deal, the company cuts its costs and the workers suffer. But he thinks it’s nothing to do with him.’

I’d have enjoyed this film more if it hadn’t spent so long skipping about time-wise. It also needed to make up its mind what type of film it wanted to be: sometimes it was a drama, sometimes a documentary and sometimes a comedy. Of course a film can have elements of all three, but it needs to decide which one predominates, otherwise it’ll feel like a muddle.

But I still recommend it.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8972256/

Kirk out

Finally, For Cryering Out Loud

I was beginning to think nobody was going to pay attention. Barry Cryer died several weeks ago and I expected a flurry of tributes; special editions of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue or reminiscences by old colleagues, but found only radio silence. Finally today I came across a radio 4 tribute, Cryering with Laughter, presented by Jack Dee and featuring numerous people who’d worked with him. It’s an entertaining listen featuring many of his favourite jokes, but there was one story I liked the best. Cryer was one of a kind; old-school in the same way as, say, The Goodies (yet not quite so corny) but devoid of sexism or racism and always interested in up-and-coming comedians. One of his friends was Kenny Everett and he tells this story about Ken’s TV show, in which he was involved:

‘Kenny used to have a character called Cupid Stunt. After the first series Bill Cotton (a bigwig in the BBC) collared me and said look, we can’t have this kind of Spoonerism on the BBC. He’ll have to change it. I said OK, and in the second series Kenny changed the character’s name to Mary Hinge. Bill Cotton came over. See? he said. You don’t have to be rude to be funny.’

Like Jack Dee and many others, Cryer was great at self-deprecation. When asked which series of a radio show he’d liked best he said, ‘the third – because I was just beginning to get the hang of it.’

For Cryering With Laughter is a great listen, featuring colleagues such as Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton and Jo Brand. Go forth and seek it out, I command you.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0014j7t

Kirk out

I Gave it 20 Minutes

I’m not in the habit of watching PMQ’s (Prime Minister’s Questions for those not in the UK) as I find the continual posturing, braying, shouting and paper-waving quite annoying – but today I made an exception. Having read the (very short) Sue Gray report – or what’s left of it after the MET got their mitts on it – I decided to tune in to see what happened. The report is limited but quite damning in some ways – she lists a total of 16 ‘gatherings’ which took place in or around No 10, either in the office or the garden or in the Johnsons’ flat. 12 of these events are now being investigated by the police. Gray makes no specific mention of Johnson himself but talks about the culture of No 10 and events being ‘difficult to justify.’ She makes reference to the sacrifices the public were being asked to make and is obviously quite peeved at being asked not to publish it in full. Before PMQs the BBC were outside Parliament interviewing MP’s – they didn’t find any Tories to speak to apart from one who wasn’t an MP but everyone else was unanimous in saying that Johnson was a disgrace and should resign.

And at 3.30, out he comes, managing a full three minutes of remorse. He was sorry. Mistakes were made. There will be a shake-up at No 10. He was grateful to Sue Gray for her report. He acknowledged that there was public anger. And that was that. Like a reluctant teenager forced to make conversation with an aging aunt at a party, he swiftly moved on to more pleasant things – basically, the usual suspects. Didn’t he make a good job of Brexit? And isn’t everything going to be so much better now? Wasn’t the vaccine rollout great? And isn’t it time we turned our attention to Ukraine?

It was pathetic. Frankly, it was nauseating and for once, Keir Starmer said everything I wanted him to say. Johnson is a disgrace, he has brought his office into disrepute, he has (whatever the euphemism is that you have to use instead of saying ‘lied’) and he must resign. Johnson replied, now in full fighting mode, all aura of repentance long since evaporated. Enter Theresa May. I was never a fan of hers but one of the effects of Johnson’s premiership has been to make her look like a solid and principled leader. He should have known the rules, understood the rules and applied the rules, she said. Either he didn’t, or he didn’t bother – which was it? It was a good intervention, but the SNP leader went for the jugular and ended his speech saying the PM lied. The Speaker told him to retract; he refused. Rinse and repeat four times, after which Ian Blackford came out with some convoluted form of words which got him off the hook. But he’s right. Johnson lied; and I can’t believe how long he’s managed to hold on to his office given the blindingly obvious facts. He lied.

After 20 minutes of watching this farce open-mouthed, I switched it off.

On a lighter note, we’ve discovered a real gem of a programme on BBC Scotland called Roaming in the Wild. Most ‘adventure’ programmes nowadays feature a bunch of people thrown together with elements of competition, some contrived ups and downs, an end to be gained within a certain length of time and some potential conflicts between the participants. There must be triumph and disaster, there will be manufactured tension and a ticking clock. Frankly, I’m sick of it. But this programme has absolutely none of that; it’s just two guys off exploring Scotland and having a great time while they do it. They may or may not travel the length of Loch Ness in a paddle boat (spoiler alert – they don’t), they may or may not ski across the Grampians and spend the night in a snow hole, or paddle down the River Esk or hike across the mountains in North-East Scotland but whatever they do it’s interesting and above all, fun. They have some great laughs and the scenery is brilliant. So I recommend that. It’s a good antidote to all ‘structured reality’ shows – and above all, to PMQs.

Here is the Sue Gray report and here, should you wish to subject yourself to it, are today’s PMQs.

Kirk out

I Gave It Ten Minutes

Make the most of me while I’m here, because I may not be for much longer. According to Beetleypete, a new WordPress format is shortly to be foisted upon us, one which will make the dreaded blocks look like a walk in the park. If this is indeed about to happen then that may well be the end of my blogging career. So make the most of me.

I’m writing this before I go to bed because I’ve just switched off the most God-awful film. Called I Give it a Year, it was about a mismatched couple who marry in haste and are in the process of repenting at leisure. After an opening scene with at least two Four Weddings references, some bad acting from people who really should know better and the lamest of lame scripts, I’d had enough. Give it a year? I gave it ten minutes.

And that’s me done. Has Johnson resigned yet?

Kurk out

I’m Scared

There’s much to be scared of in these dark days: climate change, covid, rising prices and the effects of Brexit. But the thing that terrifies me today is the possibility that after all the parties and the revelations, after all the lies and corruption, after virtually spitting on the Queen by forcing her illegally to prorogue parliament and then by holding parties on the eve of her husband’s funeral, an event at which, lest we forget, she followed the rules and sat alone: that after all these events we still might not be rid of Boris Johnson.

So far in order to shore up his position he has thrown civil servants under the bus, got MI5 to find a Chinese informant, announced the lifting of coronavirus restrictions and hid behind an inquiry into his own behaviour which is unlikely, we now hear, to be published in full. His lapdog newspapers, after a ritual excoriation, have now got behind him and published a frankly desperate photo of Keir Starmer drinking a bottle of beer in his office and are now waiting for the results of Sue Grays enquiry which they desperately hope will enable him to cling on.

If Johnson survives all this then I don’t know where we’re heading as a country. Johnson’s supporters are unlikely to storm parliament but in every other way he’s becoming more Trump-like by the day. And if the police and crime bill passes you can say goodbye to our right to protest about it – or anything else for that matter. Every day I get up and think, how the hell did we get here?

Kirk out

The Life and Lies of Boris Johnson

Fans of Harry Potter will recognise the title here as a parody of The Life and Lies of Albus Dunbledore by the scurrilous hack Rita Skeeter. But whereas just about every page of that book was false, accusations against Boris Johnson, that he lies almost as often as he opens his mouth, are not, alas, fabricated. The leader of our great nation has lied and lied again, not only since becoming PM but throughout his life.

I’ve been reading the work of Peter Oborne. Oborne is a much-respected political commentator and journalist. He’s politically on the right but has a high regard for truth and integrity and since 2019 has made it his business to track the almost uncountable lies told by Johnson, particularly on the subject of coronavirus but by no means limited to that topic. The Assault on Truth is a detailed and scrupulously researched book detailing the rise of Johnson and Trump and how they exemplify a particular kind of politics, one with scant regard for the truth: Matilda springs to mind – I’m working on a parody as we speak. ‘Johnson told such dreadful lies/it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.’) To my mind it’s not a question of if Johnson goes, but when: the knives are sharpening daily, a second Tory MP has defected to Labour and the only person who can’t seem to read the writing on the wall is Johnson himself.

The best scenario for Labour would be to postpone a vote of no confidence until after the May elections. If, as looks likely, the government does badly (there are reports of activists being so demoralised that they’re refusing to deliver leaflets) that would bode well for Labour. On the other hand if they go for a leadership election sooner and elect Rishi Sunak who then gives people help with energy bills, it’s not so good. Either way it’s an interesting time. Sickening, yes. But interesting.

Kirk out

Over-Egged and Dated

There are far too many box sets around at the moment and if you’re not careful you can end up swallowing one after another without digesting them. We’re onto The Tourist at the moment, an intriguing drama of murder and amnesia, but before that I watched Rules of the Game. I’m not sure I’d have bothered with this if it hadn’t starred Maxine Peake, but it did so I did. And was it worth it? Mmnah. Not really: despite good performances by Alison Steadman, Rakhee Thakrar (Holby City) and Peake herself it seemed rather stale. The premise, that in work environments men abuse and dominate and are abetted by complicit women, would be more suited to an 80s or 90s drama than one where #metoo has taken hold. I’m not suggesting of course that sexual harassment is no longer an issue, but this drama came across as rather dated and over-egged, a bit like a bad pudding.

I also worry about the effect that this may be having on boys and young men. Of course we should document and dramatise misogyny but I worry that there are no positive role models for them, if all they see is men behaving badly , where do they get their ideas of what a man is supposed to be? Sure, we have superheroes but as far as ordinary men go, I can’t see there’s much out there.

Men Behaving Badly – now there’s a great series.

Anyway Rules of the Game is still on the iplayer, though for how much longer if the government have their way, remains to be seen. I tremble if this lot stay in power, I really do.

Kirk out

Just a Little Prick..

I expect you’re wondering why I called you all here today… well, it’s because I want to talk to you about vaccines. I’m going to be blunt; health conditions aside, I simply can’t understand why anyone would choose not to have the covid vaccine. Common reasons given are that we ‘don’t know what’s in it’ so why would we trust it? Well it’s true, I don’t know what is in any of the vaccines. But this is not some wonder drug sold over the Internet. It’s developed by scientists, researched in labs and peer-reviewed: there’s a process – and by and large I trust that process. The vaccine-sceptical are fond of justifying their position by saying that they’ve ‘done their own research.’ Oh really? So you have access to a lab? What tests have you done? What conclusions have you reached? Where are the papers published? Are they peer-reviewed? Or does this ‘research’ consist of an Internet trawl digging up a few conspiracy theories? I saw a post just today saying ‘When we buy a house we do our own research and we’re praised for it, but when it comes to vaccines…’ (fill in the rest yourself.) Yeah, about that: it’s true that we’ll look at estate agents and visit houses ourselves, but do we do our own survey of the building? Do we conduct our own conveyancing? No. Most of us are not remotely qualified to do these things. We leave them in the hands of experts, and generally we trust them to do the job.

This is getting serious. Between 75 and 90% of covid patients in hospital (depending on the area) are unvaccinated, putting a great strain on the NHS. Not only that, but some staff are also unvaccinated. If they have a valid medical reason for this, fine – but I listened to a midwife on Woman’s Hour explain why she was unjabbed, and as far as I can make out it just came down to ‘personal choice.’ This is unacceptable. Can I exercise my personal choice not to wear a seat belt, or to drive when over the limit? Of course not. We understand that these rules are in place for a reason, and mostly we abide by them.

This is not to say that I agree with the Government’s stance. Threatening to fire unvaccinated NHS staff is unhelpful and draconian, especially in a climate where the government has been seen not to follow its own rules. But I simply can’t understand why anyone without an exemption would not simply get the vaccine. Its easy: think of Boris Johnson and say to yourself, just a little prick

Kirk out

Synchronicity Again

I blog about this from time to time, when things coincide out of the blue when there is no reason why they should, and today’s synchronicity is about wasps. I’m subscribed to a site which sends me a poem every Friday (I used to get one every day but reading poetry takes concentration) and today’s was about wasps. It’s not the time of year for wasps, though what with global warming they do tend to hang around later than they did, so the poem was unexpected. It was a good poem, about helping wasps to escape the chimney where they’d been nesting and assist their passage to the outside world; the whole process being compared to The Great Escape.

Apart from that I thought no more of it. At least not until I read Beetleypete’s latest instalment in his short story. And guess what? In the very first paragraph wasps were mentioned.

What is going on here?

Kirk out

Texed?

I have an elderly relative who says this, but I put it down to them growing up in an age before mobiles. Then I heard it on TV; in the drama series The Girl Before to be specific, and again today on the radio. It’s taking hold. What is it? The phenomenon of texed.

You can see how it happens: as the word text morphs from a noun into a verb it begins to sound like a past tense in itself: you have to stop and think in order to realise that the past tense is actually texted. But it sounds clumsy so instead people say he text me or he texed me, which isn’t actually a word. How would you write it?

The Girl Before is an excellent drama a little reminiscent of The Draughtsman’s Contract. A paranoid and deeply controlling architect designs an extraordinary house. In the process his wife and child die. Is it an accident? Did he kill them? And is he responsible for what happened to the girl before? His latest tenant tries to find out and nearly loses her life in the process. Fascinating stuff.

Alas, the same cannot be said of A Very British Scandal, the story of how the Duchess of Argyll was hung out to dry for doing the exact things her husband was guilty of. But in order to care I’d have to be interested in the characters and after half an hour in the company of the most boring and self-absorbed people I’d ever come across, I switched it off and watched the Christmas University Challenge instead.

Kirk out