Category Archives: TV reviews

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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Misery Loves Company but Company Does Not Love Misery

I’ve been thinking about a woman I know – let’s call her Linda.  Linda is a talented and potentially interesting woman; she is creative and has an unusual history.  But I avoid her as much as I possibly can.  Why?  Because, frankly, Linda is a misery.  Sure, she has problems: who doesn’t?  I know I have.  But Linda is unhappy.  I don’t know what has caused her to be this way: I don’t mind listening now and again, but when a person’s conversation consists of nothing but problems, compassion fatigue sets in.

Linda lives in the same town  as me, and whenever we meet she takes the opportunity to tell me how much she hates it.  I don’t hate it, and I’ve told her so: I’ve been here about six months and in that time I’ve got to know Quakers, church people, Labour party members and others on the Left; folk clubs, beer clubs and cinema clubs.  I’ve got involved with stuff: and that’s the key.  I know some people find integration harder than others, but if all you do is sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you are bound to feel miserable.  If misery is at the forefront of your mind, it will affect your interactions; and if your conversation consists of nothing but misery, other people will start to steer clear.

Yes, positive thinking has its drawbacks, though it can help; but better than positive thought is positive action.  Do something: get involved with projects, interact with people, especially those worse off than you.  There’s nothing like a visit Sound Cafe for putting my own problems into perspective; there’s nothing like hearing about refugees for helping me to value everything I have.  We all have something to be thankful for – and at the risk of sounding like ‘Thought for the Day,’ every night I think about the good things that have happened during that day.  It’s a good practice when you wake up, too…

So don’t be like Linda.  Be like Manny after he’s swallowed The Little Book of Calm:

It’s 15 minutes in.

Kirk out

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Lark Rise to Kembleford

Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives.  Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes.  As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case.  A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go.  They are also present at the end of life.

The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown.  The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.)  He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:

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

Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.

The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder.  Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high.  Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him.  But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:

Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain.  He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air.  ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw.  He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky.  ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air.  He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it.  But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground.  Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children.  And there the jackdaw stayed.

There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order.  Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…

Here’s the latest episode:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08b83rj/father-brown-series-5-13-the-tanganyika-green

Kirk out

PS  Like the title?  See what I did there?

 

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Honey I Watched the Programme

OK it’s time once more to talk about Transgender issues.  If you are totally bored, fed up, sick and tired of hearing about this seemingly ubiquitous topic, I understand.  Feel free to scroll down to the next post.  However if, like me, you are baffled and confused and would like to understand it better, read on.

But first I would like to discuss something that’s happening a lot at the moment, and that is the closing down of debate.  I’m all for disallowing a platform to those who would use it to spread hatred of other groups; to insult people or to incite violence.  These are unacceptable and besides, we have laws about them.  But this has got confused with the idea of denying a platform to people who we disagree with.  Universities have banned speakers who support the state of Israel, for example, and Germaine Greer fell foul of students who disliked her stance on transgender people.  And last week a number of people decided (without watching it) that the BBC were ‘promoting’ the views of Dr Kenneth Zucker, who believes that parents know better than children when it comes to gender issues.  Now, as it happens I don’t agree with him – but that’s not the point.  Kenneth Zucker lost his job at a gender clinic for expressing and acting on views which most people (it seems) now disagree with.  There’s a new orthodoxy: challenge it at your peril.

I find this worrying.  We have to be free to express certain views, even at the risk of upsetting some people.  This is not the same thing as abuse or hate speech: to say that parents know best about their children’s gender, is not the same thing as calling trans people names, or saying they shouldn’t exist (and there’s plenty of that about).  People like Kenneth Zucker should be allowed to express their views, provided that within the context of a documentary they are balanced by a range of other views – which in this programme they were.

So: to the documentary, broadcast last week and called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’  The programme featured the voices of children and parents on both sides of the argument, centring on – as the title says – who knows best: children – or parents and ‘experts’?

Now, I confess to a bit of seeing both sides here.  As a home educator I am firmly child-centred, allowing my children to choose how, what and where to learn (I don’t want to defend this approach here but I have blogged about it elsewhere: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2199)

So I am sympathetic to the idea that children know best who and what they are.  I also disagree with Kenneth Zucker’s view that the child is play-acting.  ‘You wouldn’t feed a child dog-food because they pretend to be a dog,’ he points out.  No, you wouldn’t – but play-acting is different from gender dysphoria.  A child might pretend to be another gender for a while, but gender dysphoria is, as the mantra has it, consistent, insistent and persistent.  In other words, it is repeated long and loud and it doesn’t go away.  If a child pretended to be a dog insistently over a long period of time, you would get help: so clearly something serious is going on here.  But on the other hand, childhood is a process, an evolution; a becoming.  So I’m uneasy about allowing children to make choices at too young an age which will affect the rest of their life.

What did become crystal clear to me was this: traditionally gender has been assigned at birth by the body you were born into.  This was the bottom line, and whatever thoughts or feelings the child was experiencing needed to come into line with the body.  Whereas nowadays, we tend to think the opposite: the mind and feelings express the ‘reality’ and the body must come into line with them, even if that means surgery.

Alongside this there is a demand that society should accept the transgender person for what they are.  Again, fine with me (in general, that is, putting aside my personal issues).  However, in practice this means remembering names, preferred pronouns and styles of address, and for the hapless ‘ordinary’ person it can be a minefield.  The other day I witnessed an unhappy interaction between a friend of ours and a m-to-f trans woman.  Our friend had known this woman for years as a man and was struggling to remember to call him ‘she’.  The woman really tore into him and I felt embarrassed and sorry for him because he was clearly not doing it to upset her; he just kept forgetting.

These demands that everyone accept us, remember what we want to be called and do it Or Else, are problematic.  I’ve just started doing an online course where one of the tutors, for reasons best known to herself chooses not to capitalise her name.  With the best will in the world, it’s extremely difficult to remember an individual set of names and pronouns every time you meet someone: I found this when I went to the ill-fated discussion on Gender in Nottingham (see this post: https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/12186).  To be honest, these days it’s as much as I can do to remember people’s names without having to deal with genders and preferred pronouns.  Yet if you forget, all hell can break loose.

So here’s the thing: no-one has the right to deny another’s right to exist.  Yeah, right on.  Totally signed up to that.  But no-one (and that includes me) has an absolute right to self-expression: we have to take account of those around us.  There has to be dialogue and interaction and discussion.  Which kind of brings me back to where I started…

Kirk out

 

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Whoosh!

Well, wouldya just look at that!  Already it’s been five days since my last blog post – and how did that happen?  I’ll tell you how: I had a post brewing on the TV series ‘Father Brown’ and it’s just not ready to spread its wings and fly away yet, so it’s incubating in the drafts folder; and in the meantime I haven’t thought of another.  So since it’s Sunday and since I have a heavy head-cold and won’t be going to Quaker meeting lest I should inadvertently kill off half the Friends there by giving them my germs (they do tend towards the frail and elderly) I shall stay in the warm with you, my dear bloglets, and ruminate on Stuff.

If I ruled the world, there would be Nobel Prizes for nurses and Golden Globes for carers.  I say this not as a carer but an observer of my partner’s daily care of his father.  I would be a terrible carer, not only because I have zero patience with running about after someone else’s needs, but because as Alan Bennett comments in ‘The Lady in the Van,’ caring is about shit; and whereas that’s fine with your baby because you know they’ll grow out of it and because they make up for it in cuteness; with an elderly adult – well, you know where I’m going with that.  So carers deserve the top awards in society because they are doing our dirty work – and yet they get just about the shittiest deal going (pun intended).

And probably the shittiest of them all is to be a young carer, such as featured in the film we watched last night on BBC 3.  This channel is no longer on yer-actual box, but on what the iplayer coyly calls the ‘interweb’.  Its brief is to produce programmes for young people, so expect the oddball, the quirky, the outlandish and sometimes the downright offensive.  ‘Unconditional’ ticked three out of those four boxes, omitting to be offensive but managing instead to be completely compelling and disturbing.  Two young carers look after a severely disabled mother in Newcastle: like most carers they are stuck with little money and few prospects.  Into this world comes Liam, a loan-shark who is obviously a total creep but whom the youngsters find fascinating and exciting.  The girl approaches him for a loan which she hopes will change her life – and thinks she might get a date out of it as well – but he prefers hanging out with her brother.  It soon turns out he has a very specific agenda in mind…

I won’t put spoilers here but I do recommend watching if you have the i-player:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04lxs78/unconditional?suggid=p04lxs78

Kirk out

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If You Can Call it Living

Turns out there is life in Loughborough after all.  At first sight the place seems full of students and old people: you might think the students would add life but as OH says, they’re the wrong kind of students, ie the running and jumping kind rather than the partying and gigging variety.  But there is life: it’s rather like digging in a desert, where on the surface there’s nothing but just an inch or two below you find all manner of life-forms beavering away.  So to date I have found the Quakers, Emmanuel church, the Friday Room discussion group (a gathering of ‘progressives’) and now I am about to sample the delights of Loughborough’s very own junk food cafe, known here as the Utilise Social Cafe:

https://www.facebook.com/utiliseloughborough/

I have also been made aware of Monday evening courses on politics, plus a 38 Degrees group which meets monthly.  So that’s all good.  This evening we are going to Peter’s Pizza, officially the worst pizza in town (their reverse psychology seems to be working) in default of going to see ‘Silence’ which, since our schedules are so pathetically elderly, is Just Too Late.  I’m afraid 11.30 is past our bedtime.  Grrr.  It makes me feel like this couple:

Go to minute 23 – it’s brilliant.  And that’s my life…

Kirk out

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Ha Bumbug!

I have to say, this year I don’t feel much like revelling.  Not only has my body-clock changed to that of an eighty-year-old, meaning that I tend to wake with the lark and go to bed with a nice cup of cocoa (or in my case, chamomile) around ten – but this year has been frankly abysmal.  I can’t remember a twelvemonth in which more people died (people I grew up with and loved, that is) or in which more political horrors were perpetrated.  The news from Syria was awful to start with and it kept getting worse; terrorists ploughed vehicles into crowds, and after Brexit anyone who didn’t have two brain cells to rub together felt at liberty to abuse any Muslim they happened to come across and tell them to go back where they came from (Bradford, mostly).  And to think that next year what we have to look forward to is the inauguration of Mr T (I pity the fool who votes for me!  I pity the fool!) – well, it makes me want to stick my head under a pillow and keep it there for the whole of 2017.

So is all I can say is, thank god for Charlie Brooker: his ‘2016 Wipe’ did just what it said on the tin, wiping the floor with the entire annus horribilis and ending up with a lovely montage of Mr T sabotaging himself.  Fake news gets the Brooker treatment, as do the wilfully ignorant, in the person of Philomena Cunk and her ‘moments of wonder.’  Brian Cox guests, though that’s not specially a recommendation as he gets on my wick.  However, Coxes notwithstanding, a terrific programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b086khl3/charlie-brookers-2016-wipe

Go to minute 50 to watch the subtitled Mr T – a great improvement on the real one.

Kirk out

PS  Happy New Year.  I guess.

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