Archers Episodes

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make into drama characters.

I know a number of people who stopped listening to The Archers when the EastEnders guy started producing it: me among them.  In all the years I’d been listening, even though there had been sensational plot lines, they always seemed somehow to emerge from the soil of the programme and the seed of the characters, not just flung in willy-nilly for the sake of the ratings.  But I didn’t intend to tune out forever, and when the offending producer blew back to the city streets whence he came, I started listening again.

It’s better – but it’s still not back to how it was; and after the wholly gratuitous return and downfall of Matt Crawford, the latest in a series of OTT plot lines is the sudden and unexpected death of Nic Grundy.  Just to turn the knife in the wound of brotherly hatred, the sepsis which killed her came from a rusty nail which she encountered in the course of helping her sister-in-law – which presumably means that next week Will is going to hunt Emma and Ed down and kill them.  There was also a possible death-bed confession which people are speculating means that it was Nic who ran over Matt and put him in hospital.

But compared to Episodes, Ambridge is paradise and everyone in it a saint.  This deceptively blandly-titled sitcom cleverly bridges the Atlantic.  A couple of writers (married couple Sean and Beverley Lincoln, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig – an Archers connection there) take a successful British sitcom over to LA.  They are excited by the possibilities, especially as they are told the network head, the improbably-named Merc Lapidus (but then improbable names are a trope here as his boss turns out to be called Eliot Salad) ‘loves, loves, loves’ their show.  But from the moment their planes wheels hit tarmac, it’s downhill all the way.

Of course the network doesn’t want to do the show as it is; and in a series of increasingly humiliating negotiations the pair are forced to see it morph from a witty, urbane school drama to a run-of-the-mill series about a hockey team featuring an unpleasant coach (Matt leBlanc) and a sexy librarian, played by someone called Morning who is about a hundred and five and basically made of plastic and filler.  In the course of all this the writers learn a devastating truth:

‘There’s a chance Merc hasn’t actually seen your show.’

‘Has he seen it?’

‘No.’

The comedy of Episodes comes from the clash between the relative sincerity and integrity of the British pair and the utterly self-serving fakeness of Hollywood.  No-one is happy; no-one is for real (either physically or in any other way) people sleep around with abandon, cheat on partners, get divorced, steal one another’s stuff and generally act as if nothing and no-one matters.  It’s a completely ego-driven society and in the midst of it all the Lincolns (some irony in the name?  Are they being shot in the theatre?) are a sort of wobbly moral centre who come through it all with their marriage just about intact.

But nothing else is intact.  As flies to wanton boys are these characters to the writers: it’s not just that no good deed goes unpunished; no deed goes unpunished.  The characters are punished just for existing; for having talent and for wanting success.  Series 5 ends with the worst possible scenario; their new series (of which they had such high hopes) being hijacked by Sean’s old writing partner who claims ‘came up with the idea.’  Nobody wins here except the a**holes; but even they don’t win because the life they live is not worth living.

As comedy it’s horrible, gruesome, even degrading.  Thank god for Ambridge…

Kirk out

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TV Martyrs

Imagine my surprise!

Go on!

Well, have you imagined it?

What’s that?  You want a reason?  OK well imagine that yesterday morning it’s early.  Too early.  That’s not the reason – I wake up early every bloody morning including Sunday.  Nor was it the fact that OH made tea early: that was no surprise either.  This is my life – everything is early.  Nope, the surprise was that as he came in with the tray the news also entered the room that the Church of the Martyrs was on the radio.  Not local radio, national.  Radio 4.

Let’s backtrack a little.  Immigration is a big subject for debate at the moment.  The other week I had a disagreement with someone who thought there was a link between the churches and far-right groups.  No, I said.  Absolutely not.  Maybe in the US but not here; in the UK, churches of whatever persuasion would not touch far-right groups with a bargepole.  And I stand by that – but the programme (which was also on the TV) gave me pause for thought; because it appears that 66% of Anglicans want immigration to be reduced.  That’s 66% of churchgoing Anglicans, not people who just put ‘C of E’ on application forms without ever setting foot inside the porch.  The figure for non-churchgoing Anglicans is 88%, which is more understandable, but the figure of 66% is quite concerning because it means Anglicans are more hostile to immigration than other denominations.

https://www.christiantoday.com/article/majority-of-anglicans-want-immigration-levels-reduced/125319.htm

First on the programme was Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who defended his attendance at Trump’s inauguration by saying, in effect, ‘no-one’s perfect’ and declaring that God intervened to appoint Trump as President.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qb053

it’s about 7 minutes in.

The recording of The Martyrs came as a breath of fresh air.  It was made during a recent ‘Tomatoes’ breakfast cafe about which I have blogged many times:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/tomatoes-and-tomatoes-and-tomatoes/

and talking about a Christian duty to welcome the stranger and the refugee.  It included an interview with Evernice, whom I know well, who is a refugee from East Africa and now a valued member of the church.  There was also an interview with vicar Richard who reiterated the point about the Christian duty to welcome the stranger.  It never ceases to amaze me how people can ignore key aspects of the gospel when it suits their particular prejudices.

Kirk out

Never a Crossword?

Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic.  Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.

First, the composition of the clue.  Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.)  So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other.  Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:

Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)

The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore.  Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty.  The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore.  Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.

Another feature is anagrams.  Let’s consider this one:

Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10).  Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc).  So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition.  From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree.  I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.

Another common feature is a pun.  Here’s a nice example:

Consummate marriage?  Not so (9).  In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate  as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be.  The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)

The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:

sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)

The definition could be either sluggish or home.  Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly.  If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t.  The latter is more promising.  Now to the last bit: beneath home.  The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters.  So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin.  Not a word.  Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath.  If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert.  Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.

OK here’s a couple for you to try.  Answers are below.

drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)

a supporter of mine (3-4) 

decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)

Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air.  But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end.  But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qxpr

And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:

 

Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/cryptic/27406#5-down

and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/quiptic/948

Kirk out

Answers to crossword clues:

nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)

pit-prop (a pun on mine)

niece  (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)

Evolving a Theory of Genius

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:

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

He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09gbnfj

Kirk out

 

 

Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution, Paranoid, wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5839454/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468034/

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05dsx5r/porridge-series-1-6-the-rift

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus

 

Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

The Indifference Engine

As you probably know, the Difference Engine is a proto-computer designed by Charles Babbage to do something called polynomial calculations (polynomial being the sort of word you hear bandied about and just nod as though you understand, after which it’s too late to ask.)  But the Indifference Engine is something else entirely, and has to do with public debate.

The point of debate used to be to enlarge on topics, to test out arguments against counter-arguments and maybe arrive at some sort of conclusion, and along the way to learn something and even to change people’s minds.  But nowadays public debate is becoming more and more gladiatorial: a contest where the only interest is in the outcome.  Who won?  Who lost?  Who was ‘shut down’?  Whose arguments ‘killed’?  We cheer for one side and boo the other and rejoice or fume at the end, depending on the outcome.  It’s basically a boxing match.

As far as the actual arguments go, they are not tools for debate or food for thought but weapons – and the upshot of all this, for many, is indifference to whole swathes of reality.  Forget your nuanced arguments – sock it to us with a slogan.  You can keep your if’s and but’s – what we want is a knockout punch.  Nobody cares about the grey areas.  If a politician is accused of sexual assault he’s probably guilty (or probably innocent, depending on which side you’re on.)  There’s no examination of the evidence; no ‘wait and see’ – we want a judgment and we want it now.

Tragically this may have led to someone taking his own life.  Yesterday Carl Sergeant, a Welsh Labour MP who had been accused of sexual assault by three women, committed suicide.  We don’t know – and may never know – whether he did so because he was guilty or because he couldn’t cope with the burden of accusation.  Nothing can be inferred from his death – though you can bet your life that the media (social and otherwise) are inferring it left, right and centre as we speak.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/07/suspended-welsh-labour-politician-carl-sargeant-has-died

Whereas it seems to me highly likely that Harvey Weinstein was a predatory creep, since so many women have come out and told similar stories about him, it does not follow that every man accused of such crimes is guilty.  There needs to be a process.  Evidence needs to be gathered and assessed.  And not by us, that’s the point.  We don’t know who’s guilty and who isn’t – and we don’t like not knowing.  We must have a judgment and we want it now.

This indifference to evidence, fact and nuanced argument greatly depresses me.  I think I need to play around a bit on my difference engine…

Kirk out

 

 

 

The Book of Dust

To listen or not to listen?  That was my dilemma at the weekend (yes, that same weekend that was packed with non-violence and non-nuclear weapons) when the BBC broadcast in its entirety Philip Pullman’s prequel to His Dark Materials, another three volumes collectively entitled The Book of Dust.  I was so torn: on the one hand I really wanted to read the text first; on the other hand it might be Christmas before I could get my hands on a copy and even then, that particular item on my Christmas list might not materialise.  Add to that the inducement of Simon Russell Beale’s hypnotic voice – and reader, I caved.

I was glad of my caving: it made the space between nuclear weapons and Casualty (not long usually but in this case about four hours) – enchanting.  I forgot I was in the kitchen making bread; instead I was at an inn on the riverside in Lyra’s Oxford where Lyra, a baby, is being looked after by some nuns.  But others are taking an unnatural interest in this baby…

I shall not post spoilers because as I said before, when a book is so new it’s unfair.  But here’s the link to the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099tf53

I might even listen again – again.

Kirk out