Line of Duty. Warning – Contains Spoilers

After all that! After all the expectation, after all the hype and the trailers and the podcasts, after all that had gone before, the twists and turns, the misdirection – I was expecting a huge, multiply-orgasmic explosion of revelations, gasp after gasp, plot twist after plot twist, from the final episode of Line of Duty. Instead what we got was a damp squib. To find out, after all this time, H – or the fourth man – wasn’t some criminal mastermind posing as a respectable senior officer, wasn’t the Chief Superintendent or the smug woman who took over from Hastings – wasn’t, in fact, Hastings himself (Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, but that woulda been a twist!) but was in fact sad incompetent little Ian Buckles who was being used as the fall guy, was a bit of a let-down. His interview was a series of shrugs and ‘no comments’ – there were no major reveals, no car-chases or shoot-outs, nothing in fact resembling a climax. It was as if the curtain rose on a pile of charred embers and at the end of it all we were told that systematic corruption within the force was never pursued and hence never discovered. I was disappointed; I’d looked forward to it for so long and after all the build-up it was a real anticlimax.

Ah well. Onwards and upwards… life without Line of Duty was always going to be that little bit harder and I suppose the ending made it easier to bear. But that doesn’t prevent it from having been one of the best TV dramas in – well, probably ever; in this day and age, a programme that makes you concentrate every second in case you miss something vital is a rare gem. There’s too much ‘wallpaper TV’ – and I’m not talking about the Prime Minister’s apartment. What I particularly hate are the programmes which give you two minutes of clips showing you what the programme’s about when a single sentence would do; not to mention those which tell you what’s going to happen next time which thankfully Line of Duty never did. It had too much respect for itself.

When that landmark was passed, I watched the rest of Philomena, a great film based on the scandal of the Irish church selling the babies of ‘fallen’ women. Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan and introduced by Philomena everywhere as ‘Martin Sixsmith, News at Ten’, helps Philomena (Judi Dench) to find her lost son who was taken from her by the nuns and sold to American parents. It’s a shocking story, most of all because of the cruelty and hypocrisy of the nuns who could have reunited mother and son but lied and covered up the truth until it was too late. And after that I sat through a harrowing play about child abuse during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and even though I put on an episode of Motherland afterwards to take the taste away (this series has grown on me and now I love it) but the trauma stayed with me when I went to bed.

I’d had plans to go for a walk yesterday – the day before I discovered a beautiful bluebell wood – but those plans were scuppered by the weather so in the end I just went to Sainsbury’s and stocked up. In the rain.

Kirk out

I Have Ended But Not Finished…

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get together a radio play. Aimed at Radio 4’s Afternoon Play slot, it’s called The Trans Woman’s Wife and basically does what it says on the tin, being the story of my experiences since the whole trans thing erupted. It’s a story that needs to be told, though whether the BBC will agree remains to be seen; anyway, I managed to write about two thirds of it but was then stumped by not knowing how it ended. How does this story end? I don’t know how it ends in real life so I couldn’t finish the play. I was well and truly stuck.

And then it came to me. That’s it! That’s the ending, not knowing what happens! So now it finishes with the main character saying ‘I don’t know how it ends.’ It begins with a voice-over and ends with a voice-over. Perfect! I was able to put the play to bed (at least until I edit it further down the line) and go down to dinner feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and release.

It’s not often I feel that in writing. I generally get little spurts of release followed by yet another bloody great brick wall. I generally go down to dinner with a sense of deep frustration and blockage. Not this week. This was a good week.

On the down side, my book arrived – and it’s not my book. It’s the story of a lawyer hired to trace the provenance of a painting and nothing to do with the writing process at all. Turns out there are two books called The War of Art. Who knew? So now if I still want it I shall have to order it again.

Aaaand, if you have a parcel to send, don’t use DHL. They picked up our parcel OK and gave us a delivery slot for the next day but then weren’t able to deliver. Instead of telling us, they took it back to the depot and filed it away, forcing me to chase it up with the hospital and then DHL themselves. When I complained to the woman on the line about it she said in a dull, robotic voice, ‘that must be very frustrating for you.’ I wonder how many times a day she has to say that phrase. Anyway the upshot is the parcel will eventually arrive back here – and we will not be using DHL again.

Happy Friday

Kirk out

The Play Wot I am Writing

During lockdown I’ve been writing mostly poetry but today I couldn’t get down to any of my usual routine stuff. I couldn’t come up with a blog post, I couldn’t get on with writing my diary or composing poems or doing Greek; I couldn’t focus on anything. But I know from experience that days like this which seem problematic at first, are in fact opportunities for something new to emerge. So I sat down with pad and pen and waited for something to happen. And lo! My radio play happened.

I’ve had several stabs at radio plays in the past and have even completed one or two but I’ve never been totally happy with them. And it came to me today that this is because I’ve yet to develop my own method. I have an idea in my head of how I want it to sound, but between the planning and the execution lies a great gulf which I don’t know how to fill. Even when I do start to write I get bogged down in stage directions and sound effects, all of which ought to come much later.

So I sat and thought about this for a while and then I went and fetched my flip-chart and post-it notes which contained The Story So Far. There was a gap at the beginning of Act 2 and it suddenly came to me what should fill that gap. An old flame suddenly comes back from the past! I filled in the gap and could see that from the post-it notes I was now in a position to evolve an outline of what should happen in each act. Having done that, I could begin to break it down into scenes – and then the whole thing would write itself. I’d do the dialogues first and worry about the rest – sound effects and stage directions – later. I then transferred this outline to the computer and for the first time I could really see my way ahead. I began to write Act 1, Scene 1.

And I saw that it was good.

So that was this morning – apart from the fact that OH, who’s a little confused these days, came in and asked me if I’d now decided to work weekends. ‘It’s Friday!’ I said, whereupon OH smote the forehead in remembrance, since we’d already had a conversation about this earlier:

‘What day is it today?

‘Friday.’

‘I keep thinking it’s Saturday.

‘Well, perhaps you could forget to phone your Mum a day early.’

Happy Friday. Don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves.

Kirk out

Is It Summer Yet?

Thanks to climate change it’s been summer, on and off, since the middle of February when we had unseasonable warmth. Unfortunately we then skipped back to autumn with a touch of wintry chill and a storm or two when the greenhouse I had so optimistically put up blew down again, then back to spring, a bit more summer before settling on what used to be ‘normal’ temperatures. I guess what we have at the moment is typical for May, so I’ve been dithering about putting my basil plants out but now I’ve decided. The instructions (presumably seed packets haven’t yet caught up with global warming) say put them out at the end of May and the end of May it is, so out they go.

I said I’d get to Summer of Rockets and so I shall, but first I gotta tell you! Last night! Oh, my god. I’d read about the National Theatre’s production of All My Sons and it sounded so good I wished I could get down to see it. But that’s never going to happen so when I saw it was coming to the Phoenix (in a ‘stage on screen’) I knew I had to go. I tried to assemble a small group but in the end it was just one friend accompanying me. And wow. That’s all I can say, just wow. I was so gripped, I felt emotionally drained at the end of it. It’s such a harrowing play – not in an Auschwitz kind of way but in a ‘small close-knit families betraying each other’ way. I’m not going to tell you the plot because if you don’t know it, the denouement should come as a shock to you as it did to me. But if you get a chance to see this production, go. And if you’re in London, for god’s sake go to the Queen Vic – I mean the Old Vic – and see it. It was one of those plays that stays with you long after the curtain goes down.

The oddly-titled TV drama Summer of Rockets begins oddly and has odd dialogue – so odd that I nearly turned it off. But enter the divine Keeley Hawes and I was hooked. I’m glad I persevered because it’s an intriguing drama centring on a Russian emigre and his unlikely friendship with Hawes’s character, the aristocratic wife of an MP. Timothy Spall features as a rather crocodile-like brother and when the Cold War moves from being a backdrop to a central feature of their lives, the drama hots up. The sub-plots – the mysterious disappearance of the MP’s son which his wife investigates tirelessly, and the Russian’s daughter who is being groomed as a deb against her will – are fascinating in their own right even before they somehow join up. I’m only on episode 3 so I’ll keep you posted.

Kirk out

I Love Deadlines

I know this is not a phrase you hear from many writers but I love deadlines – and not merely for the whooshing noise they make which so entertained Douglas Adams.  I love deadlines because they focus me.  If I have years and years to complete a project I do not, as some sensible folk do, plan it out, break down the work into chunks and do a certain amount per month.  I suspect that isn’t how most writers work either; to judge by the jokes on the subject, a two-year project would consist of eighteen months procrastination, five months fiddling and one month pure panic.  I, on the other hand, need an incentive to get me going and a deadline provides that incentive.  If the end of a project is two years away I’m likely to get bored, but give me a deadline in two months and I’m on it, even if I have no chance of getting finished within that time.  It’s a little like the crisis inducer in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which brings on a crisis to sharpen your wits when needed.  So what I need is basically a Deadline Inducer to bring on a deadline and sharpen my desire to work: some button I can press which makes a voice in my head say, ‘the deadline’s next Monday!  This has to be in by next Monday!  You need to complete this by the 4th!’ and so on.  Come to think of it, Douglas Adams should have had one of those…

Having said that, the deadline for the radio play has whooshed by without my play being submitted as it became increasingly obvious that the thing was mushrooming and could not be wrestled into shape any time soon.  On the other hand I have sent one short story, three pieces of flash fiction and three poems to various magazines well within their respective deadlines.  So brownie points to me.

Where do I go to get brownie points?

Kirk out

 

Nominative Determinism, Psycho-Geography (Again) and a Poet Discovered

I have discovered a poet.  She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I shall say more when I know her better.

But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare.  Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job?  Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world?  How does this happen?

Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did.  (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.)  Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/may/02/nominative-determinism-who-has-the-best-name-in-running

What examples of nominative determinism have you found?  I’m sure there are some corkers out there.

And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state.  This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives.  It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno.  Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November.  Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful.  But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall.  First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on.  You stand back.  God, that’s awful, you think.  What a mess.  And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind.  But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better.  Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson.  Not a case of nominative determinism).  With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between.  It’s a hell of a thing.  Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?

Kirk out

*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar

 

This Post Will Self-Destruct in Ten Seconds

When I was a child one of my favourite TV series was ‘Mission: Impossible’ (not the films – those came later.) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission:_Impossible

At the beginning of each programme a disembodied voice would say: ‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is…’ and I would be on tenterhooks lest they choose not to accept it and there would be no programme.  In fact one week they did choose not to accept it, though thankfully they changed their minds a moment later.  Phew!  The music was thrilling and there was a fuse burning down across the screen – very exciting:

I must have had a deep attachment to programmes back then (I know my life was ruined if I didn’t get to watch ‘Batman’) but somehow as you grow up the attachment wanes: and one programme I have never been tempted to watch is anything with Matey Popkins on it.  In fact I think as a media troll Matey should get as little publicity as possible, which is why I’ve given her a pseudonym, and why this post will self-destruct once it has been read.

The trouble with trolls is that they feed on attention, which is why it may have been a mistake for Theatr Clwyd to put on a play entitled ‘The Assassination of Matey Popkins’:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/apr/27/the-assassination-of-katie-hopkins-review-theatr-clwyd-mold

Of course Matey, impulsive little scamp that she is, didn’t trouble to find out what the play was actually about and turned up out of nowhere with a giant billboard saying something about free speech or whatever (yeah, yeah).  But the trouble with satire is that unless you know it’s satire, it can look exactly like the thing you’re satirising: so that if all you know is the title, ‘The Ass of Matey Popkins’, rather than coming across as an examination of social media, seems like something much more sinister and intolerant.

Which brings us back to the world of dear old Matey – who has had enough publicity for one day and needs to go back to bed.  Night, night Matey!

Please click the ‘like’ button, after which this post will self-destruct in ten seconds.  Please stand clear of your computer. 

Ten… nine… eight…

Kirk out

Oh No It Isn’t Panto Season Yet, Is It? Oh Yes It Is!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, hat, child, stripes and indoor

Oh yes it is!  Panto season has officially begun, and here you see me in my costume as the Prologue (and Epilogue) to Loughborough’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ performed last night at John Storer House.

More than just a panto, it was a phenomenon because with no script and only a basic story to work with, we did it all in just one day!  Yes, that’s right – in under twelve hours a cast of seven, one costume person and one props guy produced a sizzling, hilarious production which had a full house in stitches.

My part in it was to write and perform a Prologue and an Epilogue; and to that end, I sat in on some of the improv to get a feel of what was happening.  In an ingenious twist, Goldilocks was done as a stroppy teenager assisted by a magic talking tree, and the scenes were held together by a Paparazzi Pete, a dodgy reporter.  With those ideas in mind, I went home and cooked up these lines:

Prologue

Ladies and gentlemen – good evening,

welcome to the Forest News

(I apologise for reading:

problems with the autocues)

Today, David Attenborough

asks, is there life in Charnwood Borough?

Are we in the Goldilocks zone?

Can our heroine find a home?

 

In other news, if you go down

(sorry, by the way, for the outfit –

wardrobe had a hissy fit)

to the woods outside the town

you may find the strangest scene

three bears and a stroppy teen

and a magic talking tree

(you know, I could’ve been on the BBC!)

 

This just in.  Oh, yes it is

(oh no it isn’t).  Yes, it is:

breakfast theft is on the rise

Papa Bear’s called it a ‘swiz’

with that story now unfolding

(and my dungarees just holding)

over in the forest quarter

we go live to our reporter.

So in comes Paparazzi Pete and the story unfolds.  It ends with a song and then I come on again:

Epilogue

We know we’ll never need to prompt ya

for our efforts so impromptu

cos it’s not an easy play

to make a panto in a day

observing unities of time

as well as writing stonking rhyme

and so, before we are released

and all get stuck into our feast

show us that you understand

and, just once more, give us a hand.

And that was that.  The food was great; the company was a mixture of all the faiths in Loughborough and it was altogether a terrific evening.

Here, courtesy of Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts, are some other pics of the evening:

cofpanto-7579

cofpanto-7527

cofpanto-7635

cofpanto-7659

Kirk out

 

 

 

All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out