Mum Season Three

SPOILER ALERT: NOTHING HAPPENS

If there was ever a sitcom where so little happens and where narrative is stretched to an unbearable degree, it’s Mum. I’ve blogged about series one and two before, and since Michael and Cathy finally – sort of – almost – get together at the end, I’d assumed that was it. But there’s more – and this time the tension comes from the fact that as a couple they are not ‘out’ yet, especially not to Cathy’s son Jason who, still reeling from his father’s death, is giving Michael a hard time. Cathy finds an unexpected ally in daughter-in-law Kelly who eventually tells Jason he’s being a ‘bellend’ but as always nothing is resolved until the final seconds when Cathy and Michael run away to frolic in the woods. ‘What a moment to put herself first!’ complains Pauline, who never does anything but.

They’ve cleverly gone for a new setting this time: the series spans a week away in a country mansion, hired to celebrate Derek’s birthday. Girlfriend Pauline has indulged her snobbery to the utmost in hiring the place for the week: it’s got towels in the shape of swans and when people arrive she tells them all she was ‘just about to take a dip in the pool’, despite it being freezing cold.

My main beef with this is that apart from Cathy and Michael who progress towards union at a snail’s pace, the other characters don’t change. There’s plenty of opportunity for small epiphanies but potential sub-plots such as Kelly’s unacknowledged pregnancy and whether Derek and Pauline will get married, are not developed. Even when Cathy gives Pauline a longed-for slap in the face and tells her to ‘go f*** yourself’ nothing changes: Pauline carries on treating Derek like dirt and he carries on taking it. In fact he abandons self-respect to such a degree that it’s embarrassing.

So on the whole it’s a bit of a Giant’s Causeway of a series. If you enjoyed the first two it’s worth seeing, otherwise it’s not worth going out of your way to see.

Kirk out

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The Five Best Things About Having a Blog

WordPress has just informed me that it’s eleven years ago today that I started this blog; which means it’s eleven years ago yesterday that I attended a workshop run by Hanif Kureishi and asked his advice on what aspiring authors should do to help the process along. ‘Start a blog,’ he said; and having conducted extensive research (well, I asked OH) I set up an account on WordPress and Bob was most definitely my uncle.

Eleven years, eh? You’d think I’d want to embark on some sort of retrospective; high points and nadirs, most popular posts, top comments, that sort of thing, but frankly I’ve no appetite for that. I would like, though, to think about what this blog has meant to me and what benefits it has brought to my life and writing. So here, for your delectation and entertainment, are my five best things about blogging.

Number One: Readers. As a writer (unless you are writing only for yourself) you need readers, otherwise you’re like an actor without an audience or a priest without a congregation. True, one of the best things about writing for me is that no-one can stop you doing it. I may be ignored by the whole world but as long as there’s breath in my body and sparks in my brain, I will carry on writing; and a blog has the potential to find you readers even if they don’t immediately hook up. Sometimes I get comments on posts I don’t even recognise because they’re so old. Once a post is out there, anyone can find it: I’ll never forget that early thrill of finishing a post and clicking ‘publish.’ At that time I’d hardly published anything in print, so that felt really good.

Number Two: Interaction. Most days I have some interaction with readers either ‘liking’ or following me, and I love getting comments. Reading and responding to comments can spark dialogues and often takes me to other blogs where I can like and comment and follow, and so it goes on. Even though OH is just a shout away, writing is essentially a solitary activity, so this interaction is valuable.

Number Three: Expression. For decades I wrote all my poems, ideas and stories in a series of A4 notebooks but now, if an idea is sufficiently developed, it can go on the blog. I used to suffer a lot from not having outlets and now I have one. It also encourages me to find new and more interesting ways to express myself.

Number Four: Development. A blog gives me practice in writing about all sorts of subjects: it’s primarily about a writer’s life but any topic which occurs to me can be the subject of a post. I’ve developed ideas about politics, I’ve described walking holidays, I’ve reviewed films, books and TV series; I’ve delved into philosophy and religion and I’ve transcribed dialogues between myself and OH for your delectation and amusement.

And finally, Cyril… Number Five: Routine. This may sound horribly worthy and dull, but it’s very important. Practice makes permanent, as they say; and as anyone knows who has suddenly retired from a 9-5 job, it’s hard to motivate yourself without structure. As it happens my working day has evolved over the years to mimic office hours. No fevered early-dawn scribblings or midday doldrums for me: I get to my desk at around 8.30 and work till lunch (12-1-ish). After lunch is usually a ‘dead’ time so I’ll do some gardening or walk to the shops; then it’s back to work between 2 and 3. Finishing time really depends on how it’s going: on a good day I’ll work till six but it’s usually around five as mornings are the most productive time. I don’t work evenings or weekends and I take Bank Holidays off, as I do the whole month of August. This doesn’t mean I don’t write anything – in some ways these are the most productive times – just that I don’t work at writing. There’s a big difference. But it can be hard to establish a routine, and in those early days, writing a daily blog post was an important discipline for me. Nowadays I don’t necessarily blog every day but I don’t like to leave it too long otherwise readers can drift away.

So there we are; eleven years of bloggy wisdom. Enjoy. Oh, and the picture is a rather gap-toothed version of me doing a victory dance after performing poems on the Fourth Plinth.

Kirk out

Prosper and Live Long?

I’ve been catching up with a series on death and dying presented by Miriam Margolyes (that’s Mar-go-lees, not something that rhymes with gargoyles).  She’s a very entertaining presenter, seemingly unconcerned with image and reacting genuinely and spontaneously as she tours care homes and other facilities to discover different attitudes to death.  She visits a brilliant place where song and laughter are used to facilitate good mental health and hops across the pond to encounter a group of whacky folk who believe it’s possible to live forever if you just find the right formula.  I’m highly sceptical about this: all things are subject to age and decay (though OH annoyingly had to point out some exceptions to this; creatures with long telemeres apparently) but there are other objections.  First, this ‘therapy’ is available only to the rich, and in conversation some practitioners expressed views dangerously close to eugenics, suggesting that the poor and criminal classes would die out leaving only the worthy surviving.  Right after this Margolyes visits a poor area where the homeless hang out and most people die young; the contrast could not be greater.  Frankly I found the picture of the youthful elderly utterly repellent; most of them looked more grotesque than Mick Jagger and altogether they were such an unnatural bunch that I’d rather die tomorrow than resemble them.  But there are other, deeper objections to this philosophy.

First, what matters is not the amount of time you have but what you do with it.  We all know the problem of procrastination when a deadline is far away; but give most of us an imminent cut-off date and we’ll crack on.  It’s salutary in many ways to act as if death is just around the corner (though not like this).  History is full of examples of people who died young but achieved lots: Mozart only lived 35 years but he composed so many works that they are referred to by a Kochel number (after the guy who classified them.)  In fact he wrote 68 symphonies, 27 concertos for piano alone and so many other compositions that I can’t begin to list them; more than six hundred in all and most composed over a 24-year period.  Keats also died young but managed a significant body of work; Hendrix didn’t see 30 but changed the face of guitar music; and though it’s tempting to wonder what they might have achieved had they lived, maybe they wouldn’t have achieved much more.  I’d rather have a short, fulfilled life than sit twenty years in a reclining chair (though I think that ship may already have sailed.*)

I think the acceptance of death is a necessary check to the ego; the knowledge that there will come a point where ‘I’ am no more is a salutary one.  In any case the way to prolong life is not to postpone death, it is to live every moment.  In every moment there is the possibility of interacting with eternity, and when we do that we are in every real sense outside time.

*the short life ship, not the twenty years in a chair ship

Kirk out

 

Keep Mum Mum and Don’t Forget Don’t Forget the Driver

Sometimes I wish the Beeb wouldn’t put so many box sets on the iplayer because then I go and watch them in all a bloody great binge.  This isn’t so bad when a series has already been on and you’ve seen it week by week, but they’ve taken to putting some things up before they’ve even been broadcast and I found myself unable to stop viewing the latest excellent Toby Jones vehicle, ‘Don’t Forget the Driver.’

This was in its way as innovative as ‘Detectorists’ though without the involvement of Mackenzie Crook: written by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch it features Jones as a well-meaning but unassertive coach driver who from his base in Bognor takes a different group of people each week to places like Woburn Abbey, Legoland and Hampton Court.  Like Detectorists this has no laughter-track or studio audience and the incidental music is cleverly done by broadcasting whichever tune is ‘playing on the radio’.  If I have a beef with this it’s that the scenes are sometimes too short and the cuts too frequent, so that it ends up a bit like the classic disaster movie switching from train to trapped female and back to approaching train… but it’s a small beef.  I’m not going to say any more about the plot as its still being broadcast but there’s some brilliant understated humour:

Japanese tourist (outside Hampton Court, holding a volume of Shakespeare):  ‘Please can you tell me about this… iambic pentameter?

Peter (Toby Jones):  Well, Mr Pentameter, if you go that way you’ll find the guide who will tell you all you need to know.

Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.

Mum‘ on the other hand, is not so much understated as unstated.  OH asked me, as I was chuckling away, why I enjoy it so much when in general I dislike cringe-comedy.  It’s true that I avoid stuff like ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, because I think comedy should be a release rather than making you more uptight than you were to start with: but in any case I think ‘Mum’ is different because she is the only character not making us cringe.  We are feeling and laughing with her, not at her – and that’s the difference.

Again it’s a programme with no laughter and almost without incidental music, though there’s a little of the title track’s percussion between scenes.  What’s also different is that nothing actually happens; each episode takes place before or after an event, usually when people are getting ready for something.  We first meet Mum Cathy on the day of the funeral and one by one all the other characters drop by: her brother Dave with his unbearable girlfriend Pauline; the rude and miserable grandparents and her live-in son and his well-meaning but clumsy girlfriend.  And then there’s Michael.  It’s obvious from day one that Michael is head-over-heels in love with Cathy, and probably always has been.  It’s equally obvious that he won’t make a move – not today because it’s the day of the funeral, but probably not ever, because Dave the deceased was his best friend and it would seem like betrayal.

As prolonged and delayed romances go, this is drawn-out agony with more misunderstandings, absences and interruptions than any human being can bear.   The supporting cast are all, in their own way, intolerable, and Michael is the only person Cathy can talk to but they hardly get an opportunity to talk and when they do, each of them is so hesitant and reticent that you just want to bang their heads together.

Anyway I’ll say no more but let you go ahead and watch them both.

Kirk out

 

This Parrot is Fit for Work

As I was lying in bed this morning I had an idea for a comedy sketch.  Based on the Parrot sketch with bits of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ thrown in, it goes something like this:

ATOS:         I see here that you’ve put in a claim for Universal Credit. 

Claimant:  Yes

ATOS:         But you are fit for work.

Claimant:  Fit for work?  I’m not fit for work – I’ve got to have my leg amputated!

ATOS:         It’s just a scratch.  Come on, you’re fit for work!

Claimant:  I’ve got to have a prosthetic leg!  I can’t possibly go to work!

ATOS:         Rubbish.  It’s just a flesh wound.

Claimant:  Flesh wound!  Look, this leg is dead.

ATOS:         No it isn’t

Claimant:  Yes, it is.  It’s deceased.  It has gone to meet its maker

ATOS:         No, no, no, it’s just resting

Claimant:  It has shuffled off this mortal coil.  It is a dead leg.  It has joined the choir invisible.  It is not ‘fit for work’!

ATOS:         Look – beautiful blue veins.

Claimant:  The veins don’t enter into it.  It is an ex-leg!

ATOS:         Nah.  You’re fit for work.  Now bugger off.  Next!  (laughs evilly)  None shall pass the benefits test…

Kirk out

 

Two Docs, Three Families, One Viewer

About a week ago I discovered that Doctor Foster is now on Netflix.  The first series which I watched a few years back was awful but compelling and I was happy to find a second series I hadn’t known existed.  Alas, though one series was too short, two is definitely too many and after the third episode it doesn’t seem to know where to go at all.  I can’t be bothered giving you the ins and outs of the plot but basically it’s a war between cheating husband and virtuous but wronged wife who goes haywire and takes revenge in acts which largely rebound on herself.  It just goes on too long, like a terrible row  which nobody wants, but no-one can think how to end.  There comes a silence: you think it’s all over; then somebody says, ‘It’s just that…’ and the whole thing kicks off again.  Only sheer bloody curiosity kept me watching to the final credits, and afterwards I couldn’t help thinking: yes, the guy’s awful; yes, he cheated and lied and spent all their money; yes, he’s a total creep who never takes responsibility for his actions – but do they really have to make such a Greek tragedy out of it?  Divorce happens every day, but they make of this a drama where it’s kill or be killed – and in the end it’s like MotherFatherSon, totally over the top.

But at least DF knows what it is, whereas MFS doesn’t seem to have a clue.  Is it a political drama?  Is it a story of family breakdown?  Is it a tale of journalism investigating corruption?  Is it about the downfall of a powerful guy?  The answer is yes to all: it tries to be every one of these things but ends up being none – because it doesn’t know how to prioritise.  It’s like an overworked secretary doing a bit of this and a bit of that and getting nothing actually done.  Some dramas have a main plot and successfully juggle lots of interweaving sub-plots, but this does neither: it has quite literally lost the plot.

So after all the wearying emotions of these dramas I needed some light relief, and where better to turn than Portwen?  The location (Port Isaac in Cornwall) is one of the main attractions of Doc Martin, being a village with whitewashed houses, steep hills and a natural harbour: the other is Martin Clunes as ‘the Doc’, a highly competent and dedicated doctor but a sad, ridiculous human being unable to sustain close relationships (comparisons with Sherlock abound).  There’s a terrific supporting cast in a number of revolving stories (Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, Ian McNeice and before the character’s death, Stephanie Cole) as well as guest appearances by the likes of Sigourney Weaver: all in all it’s an object lesson in how to make setting, cast and story work together.  The plots may sometimes be contrived but in the moment they never feel so; and alongside the ongoing tragi-comedy of Martin and Louisa’s marriage there are enough interesting medical emergencies and comic moments to make this highly watchable.

So if you have Netflix check out Doctor Foster.  MotherFatherSon is available on iplayer and if you want Doc Martin it’s on ITV but for older series you’ll have to go somewhere like NowTV.

Of course nobody’s interested in any of this because they’re all agog for the latest yawnfest, Game of Thrones.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Kirk out

 

 

 

MotherFatherSonandHolyHell…

I’ve kept up with the bizarre and incomprehensible MotherFatherSon out of sheer dumb curiosity – because, having given it four hours of my life already I can’t bring myself to jettison the entire series and besides, there’s a certain voyeuristic thrill to be had from seeing just what will happen.  But god, it’s hard work.

This week in episode 5 we learn about Max’s childhood with an abusive and controlling father (yeah, I’d never have guessed) and how Max thinks he was horrible but right, rather like the Roundheads in ‘1066 and All That’ who were ‘Right but Repulsive.’  The central scene is a dinner ‘conversation’ between the three protagonists which is staged in a symbolic glass house, some of which goes like this:

Son:  Why are you here?

Father:  To tell you that I don’t think we should talk.  The plate you dropped – it was deliberate

Mother:  Max, you can’t do this

F:  Caden, you’re in love.  Why would you want to fight with me?

S:  We have to talk about this

F:  If we talk, we fight!  This is the line.  If you want to go over the line, this is it.  It’s the end.  There’s no coming back.

M:  How does it end?

F:  The way all fights end – badly

S:  Then good for you

F:  Good for me, for all of us

S:  A cover-up!

F:  Families are hundreds of cover-ups.  Let’s finish our meal

S:  And then we talk

F:  All right, let’s talk.  This is you.  Your mother’s doing it for you

S:  Fuck you Dad

F:  Well, there we have it.  We can pretend that this is about the news or ethics but it’s not.  Good.  Now do you feel better?  Fine.  Now be a man.  Tell your mother you don’t need her to fight your fights.

S:  All this make-believe.  All this fake family.  There’s no love.

F:  You hear him?  He’s wrong

M:  I’m not part of your conspiracy.  And I’m not afraid of you.

F:  Should I be afraid of you?

M:  We are going to talk about extortion, blackmail…

F:  Stop!  We have one more chance.  Please.  End this.

M:  You’re brilliant.

F:  I’m belligerent when I’m right.

M:  Are you ever wrong?

F:  I didn’t realise you wanted to save our marriage.

There’s more of this, acres more – and yes, I have taken some bits out but I promise you it makes no more sense with them left in.  It’s like odd bits of dialogue downloaded from schlocky dramas by someone with no idea about how people actually talk – which makes it all the more astonishing that this was written by the same person who wrote ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ and ‘London Spy’, both of which were excellent dramas. I simply cannot understand how the same person could have written such strikingly different scripts.  Here he is talking about his work and shedding no light at all on that question – and here, should you wish to use it, is a link to the series.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Kirk out