It’s a Sin

Having found Alice (sort of) we now turn our attention to the new Russell T Davies offering, It’s a Sin. This has been widely trailed and had good reviews; nevertheless I was a little wary because I’d been feeling down last night and didn’t want to get downer. In case you missed the trailers, It’s a Sin deals with the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, a time when homosexuality was legal but still deeply stigmatised, especially in traditional communities. But I needn’t have worried; so far it’s a delight. The series centres on three guys; Ritchie, a sheltered young lad from the Isle of Wight going to university on the mainland; Roscoe, a Nigerian whose family already know of his homosexuality and are planning to ship him back home to be ‘cured’, and a young Welshman Colin joining a London firm of couturiers seemingly staffed exclusively by gay men. There’s a predatory boss reminiscent of Monty in Withnail and I and an older colleague, Henry, who takes Colin under his wing and later dies of a mysterious disease, alone and abandoned by everyone including his Argentine lover. At uni, Ritchie falls in with a wild and joyous crowd and ends up changing from Accountancy to Drama, and as for Roscoe, he leaves the family home dressed in short skirt, skimpy top and headband so his trajectory is already set. I expected It’s a Sin to be sad; I did not expect it to be joyous, but so far it largely is. Episode one concentrates on music, dance, sex, self-discovery and joyous self-expression and ends with the three men plus two of their friends moving into a huge house together. It reminded me of the Small Axe films, especially Lovers Rock; it has something of that spirit in showing us a marginalised and oppressed community expressing itself.

It’s hard to imagine now just how hidden homosexuality was back in 1981. The Tory government – arguably stuffed with closet gays of which I suspect Stephen Fry’s character will turn out to be one – was vicious in its opposition to gay rights and at least one member of the cabinet, Matthew Parris, found serving in Thatcher’s government as a gay man a deeply uncomfortable experience. So far Thatcher has not been mentioned by name, nor has the Falkland’s war but there’s some anti-Argentine feeling expressed by one of Henry’s neighbours.

So it’s definitely worth a watch.

We’re still working through Mark Kermode’s series on cinema, of which more anon. I can’t help thinking it would have been better to have more episodes and take more time doing it, as it’s a bit of a whistle-stop tour so I find myself pausing half-way through in order to digest. This week’s episode was about cult films – we’re still waiting to see if he mentions Withnail.

And that was yesterday. Today we have no snow and the world is a muddy green.

Kirk out

Snow People

‘Want to go and make a snowman?’ I asked my 24-year-old son yesterday, fully expecting the answer ‘Nah’ or a reminder that he was no longer six years old. Instead I got a thumbs-up, so fully hatted and scarved we went out into a day as brilliant white as Dulux ceiling paint and started to shovel snow. We made a heap with a smaller heap on top but didn’t have time to shape it properly; I was trying to recall how I used to make snowmen as a child but could only remember the winter of ’63 when my Dad shovelled a pile of snow for me which froze and stayed frozen for weeks before abruptly thawing. After 1947, the winter of ’63 was the coldest on record; we had deep snow in central London and that hardly happens now. The Son declined to engage in a snowball fight but instead invented a game of snow-baseball using a shovel as a bat and splatting the snowballs into a million pieces. I also scooped up the snow on the garden table and made it into a crowd of little people like Easter Island statues (with a great deal of imagination) which reminded me of a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy makes a lot of snow people and then says, ‘I expect you’re wondering why I’ve called you all here today.’ I can’t find that one, so here’s another:

Image result for snoopy catching snow gif | Charlie brown, Charlie brown  wallpaper, Charlie brown christmas
From Pinterest; image removed on request

That was fun, and I went back indoors feeling as invigorated as if I’d been for a run. Probably more so.

I also wrote a snow poem which began as a descriptive piece (see yesterday’s post) but ended up as polemic about people who use the term ‘snowflake’ as an insult. This is one of my pet hates.

So all in all a good day. We’ve still got plenty of snow here, have you? If not, do you want some of ours?

Last night we watched Who Do You Think You Are? a programme which explores the family history of famous people. I don’t often bother with it but this one features Daniel Radcliffe so I was interested. It’s a fascinating watch; he comes from Jewish ancestry and there were letters from his great-great-grandparents, some of whom were killed in the war, and a touching suicide note from someone facing bankruptcy. In those days it was deeply shameful to be a bankrupt and his widow changed her name shortly afterwards; the letter referred to suicide as ‘the coward’s way out’ which is how they used to think of it. So that was interesting and I was also, as ever, impressed by Daniel Radcliffe’s ordinariness and lack of vanity.

And that was yesterday.

Kirk out

Christoph is Here

Look up to the sky: is it raining? No? Then it’s about to rain. Yes, storm Christof is upon us (who chooses these names, and why? I know they’re going through the alphabet alternating male and female names but why Christoph? It reminds me of the creepy director in The Truman Show.) If you have flooding I sympathise; we are not affected here but I have in the past sat and worked out what it would take to flood this house. The park over the road is low-lying and often reduced (or increased) to a swamp with streams running where joggers once ran, so in theory the water only has to cross the road for it to be knocking on our door. But under the road there’s an underpass so that would have to be filled right to the top first, so I guess it’d take a while.

I can’t imagine anything worse than being flooded out of your house in the middle of winter, losing furniture and carpets and just drying out in time for the next lot of floods, not to mention being denied insurance cover. It’s horrid, and all the more reason for us to strain every sinew to halt and reverse climate change. I go round this house turning radiators off (I would turn the heating off but we have an elderly person in residence) and I’m thankful that in the current situation we are not damaging the planet at the usual rate.

A propos of which OH and I have been greatly enjoying David Attenborough’s latest offering, ‘Perfect Planet.’ I’d gone off watching him because so much of his work was – quite rightly – dedicated to showing the damage we are doing to the earth, and it made me feel sick at heart. When I see images of a deformed turtle unable to grow because it got caught in one of those plastic rings we use just to keep cans together – just something convenient, not even fulfilling a need! – I feel deeply ashamed to be human.

But Perfect Planet is not like that; it’s a global sweep focussing each week on a different aspect of life on earth; volcanoes, oceans, the sun, and so on, and showing how different species survive under these conditions. Global warming is there but in the background, as it were, so it’s a much more heartening series to watch.

Kirk out

January is the Looooooooooooongest

April may be the cruelest month but January has to be the longest; I started back at work last Monday with great enthusiasm but somehow by the middle of this week I was thinking, ‘is it still January? Surely it must be nearly the end of the month!’ Nope, not even close. We’re only just in the middle of this interminable period and already we’ve had snow, sleet, ice, freezing winds and more bad news than any soul can reasonably be expected to bear. So today I shall be steering clear of all that; no politics or weather or political weather, no news or current affairs. This will be a virus-free zone. Vaccines will not come near, neither shall impeachments or inaugurations. Violent insurrections will not touch it…

You get the picture. I got slightly into Monty Python mode there like the sketch from The Holy Grail: ‘Three shall be the number thou shalt count. And the number of the counting shall be three. Five is right out…’ and so on; this was perhaps in my head because of last night’s TV, as Mark Kermode touched on the Python films in his whistle-stop tour of British comedy, one episode of the BBC Four series on British cinema. And very amusing it was too. If there was rather too much in the way of Carry Ons, there was also a gratifying amount of Withnail to balance it out, and what the programme lacked in critical analysis it made up for in sheer nostalgia value. I’m tempted to go into a rant about how much of current TV is banal waffle, but this is going to be a light-hearted post so I won’t. As well as this, OH and I have really enjoyed Staged, and I hope you’ve caught up with this as well. It’s a brilliant spoof reality show with David Tennant and Michael Sheen chatting on zoom and trying to score points as they compare their careers and lives in lockdown. Series two expands to bring in a number of guests as they explore the making of a US remake: David and Michael are most disgruntled not to be cast in this themselves but it means we get cameos from people like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Cate Blanchett, Whoopi Goldberg, Judi Dench and Samuel L Jackson. Staged reminded us of Episodes, which I’ve reviewed before, though there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between the two series, but is part of a common trope where actors play a supposed version of themselves, usually a much nastier version (or so we hope.) This is a total contrast to when I was younger when comedians such as Frankie Howerd and Leonard Rossiter who seemed so pleasant on screen were in fact utter rotters in real life.

As for me, what am I like in real life? Now that would be telling – but for the moment, as Charlie Brooker so endearingly says, go away.

Kirk out

The Times They Are A-Interestin’

Last night as we were watching the telly I turned suddenly to OH and said: ‘We’re living through history!’ That’s always true I suppose but right now there’s no denying we are in the midst of cataclysmic happenings. Brexit is the least of it. There’s the obvious dreaded lurgy paralysing the world and in the US the situation is on a knife-edge as we wait to see what will happen. Will Trump be impeached again? Will they be able to prise him from the White House before inauguration day like a thick cork blocking a champagne bottle? Will he face judgment for his alleged crimes? And on the day itself, what will happen? Will there be a peaceful transfer of power or will violent demonstrations wreck the day? Will the police be adequately prepared? I guess if last week’s insurrection achieved one thing it was as a wake-up call; if the authorities are not ready this time there’s no excuse for them.

Another thing that was abundantly clear after last week’s insurgence was the difference in the way black and white protestors are treated. Commentator after commentator – including Biden himself – pointed out the gulf between the violent, heavy-handed police response to the BLM protests – which were a protest, not an insurrection – and the tepid reaction to the armed, mostly white mob which descended on the Capitol. And it happened that when I turned to OH and said ‘We’re living through history’ we were watching a programme on BBC Scotland about that very topic. Scotland, Slavery and Statues dealt with the controversy over the Melville Monument in Edinburgh to one Henry Dundas. Dundas was an aristocrat who made a great deal of money from businesses using slave labour and who is placed atop the largest monument in the capital, a sort of Scottish Nelson’s column.

Melville Monument, Edinburgh - Wikipedia

But nowhere on the plaque was his connection to slavery mentioned; neither was the clause he inserted into Wilberforce’s Anti-Slavery Bill which slowed the progress of abolition and arguably resulted in thousands more losing their liberty and lives. Campaigners had been trying for years to get the plaque changed but met with resistance from the council and from a campaign by the Dundas family maintaining that he was essentially a pragmatist and an abolitionist at heart, and that the clause he inserted saved the bill rather than undermining it. The programme interviewed campaigners and historians on both sides and the longer it went on the more complex the arguments became and the harder it seemed to get at the truth. Enter – or rather, exit – George Floyd (RIP) and the BLM movement. This was a turning-point: once the statue of Edward Colston had been toppled the Melville Monument looked to be next in the firing-line. Edinburgh Council did a complete volte-face, produced a new plaque mentioning Dundas’s part in the slave trade and despite the family’s protests, said that was the end of the story.

I may come back to this complex narrative in another post because arguments that history is being ‘altered’ (as though it were already perfect) need to be dealt with more substantially.

After all that we were in need of some comedy so finished the second series of the highly amusing Staged. I’ll probably come back to this at some point too.

Interesting times…

Happy Wednesday.

Kirk out

Hancock’s Half-Empty

The other day I watched a fascinating documentary on the life of John le Mesurier, ‘It’s All Been Rather Lovely.’ There was a lot about his working life; the Carry-ons and Dad’s Army and a look at a Dennis Potter play which showed that he had great undeveloped potential as a straight actor – but what was truly fascinating was his private life. In those days very little was known about the private lives of stars; without social media or paparazzi or the gossipy magazines there was very little outlet for it and people in general tended to keep themselves to themselves. It was normal for that generation not to talk about their feelings or their relationships; my own parents, for example, never confided in us about what was going on in their marriage, even long after we were grown up. But John seems to have been a very special person in that he was private without being buttoned-up and just about the most tolerant, forgiving person you could imagine. His first wife was an alcoholic so they divorced and then he married Hattie Jacques. She was the love of his life and they had many happy years together – but then she fell in love with another man and not content with seeing him on the side, moved him into the marital home. Poor John. Eventually he moved out, divorced Hattie and then married his third wife Joan, who is still alive. But then Joan fell in love with John’s best friend who happened to be Tony Hancock. Hancock is not known for his positive outlook on life and was not a pleasant person to be in love with; he was unfaithful and violent and Joan ended up turning to the one person who would understand, John himself. She acknowledged in the film that she had behaved unforgivably but throughout this period John acted with grace, understanding and forgiveness. Judging by this film, he was a prince among men and thoroughly deserved the happiness that in the end he had with Joan. It’s heartbreaking but also a lovely thing to watch in an age where people come out on social media wishing their exes all kinds of dire retribution and heaping scorn on those who have wronged them – and for that, I honour him.

RIP John, we never knew you.

And here’s the programme. I’ve also started watching Traces, a new series based on a Val McDermid story in which people are generally nice and friendly to each other. I do like a good crime series to follow and this one makes me long for Scotland even more.

Pining for the lochs…

Kirk out

Crossing Fingers

Ready for Christmas? Those words ought to be outlawed at all times, but especially as it draws towards the 25th of December. I know most people are just making conversation and don’t mean anything by it but under normal circs, doing anything for Christmas? is vastly preferable to the potentially panic-inducing alternative. But! this year I can be frightfully smug because we are in fact ready for Christmas. The food is bought, the cards are sent, the presents are wrapped or posted and the tree is up and lit. Of course it helps that this year things are particularly low-key: apart from my nephew popping over on Christmas Eve we won’t be seeing anyone, and Christmas lunch will be a fairly pared-down affair. We’ve got a few nice snacks and treats and a bottle of wine, but that’s it – we’ve not gone overboard and you know what? It’s actually much better. This year I’ve adopted the attitude that what we haven’t got we can do without, especially bearing in mind that this time next year we’ll probably be dining like Bob Cratchit and family because nothing will get through the stupid borders that this ridiculous government has insisted on negotiating. Oven-ready, my arse!

Deep, calming breaths… and now it’s time for another TV review. If you want to read my past TV reviews you can click the category TV Reviews in the category cloud to the right of this post. Today I’m going to discuss the excellent Steve McQueen series Small Axe comprising five separate stories dealing with the West Indian immigrant experience in the 1960’s. I was reluctant to view them at first because I thought they might be violent or horribly upsetting – the same reason I don’t watch films about the Holocaust – but there was a hopefulness to these programmes which counterbalanced the awfulness of their situation. But in the end what made them watchable was the completely different rhythm of the drama. I spent the first hour of episode 1, The Mangrove, wondering when something was going to happen; life went on, and on, and on; people came to the cafe and left, the police raided it and arrested people, then things went back to normal. This happened over and over until the last hour when a stand-off with police ended in a long trial and ultimate acquittal. The dramas are not all the same length: The Mangrove was over two hours and the trial scene seemed endless, but I think that’s Steve McQueen’s point; he wants you to feel it. He wants you to get inside that experience and know what it’s like, not just by seeing but by living it, in what almost feels like real time. That’s certainly true of Episode 2, Lovers Rock, where nothing at all happens for a whole night. People go to a party. There are men and women and DJ’s with a sound system. And the music. Oh, the music! It gets right into your bones and as the camera goes round and round you start to feel that you’re in the centre of the action, dancing and smooching, going round and round and on and on. There are no real central characters here; the party is the character, the action is the character and the more it goes on the more you start to feel in that dreamlike state that constitutes a good night out. True, in the middle there’s a mini-drama as a man tries to rape a woman in the garden, but he’s discovered, the rape is prevented and the man ejected from the party. It ends with a woman who we’ve sort of vaguely followed walking home with a man she’s met and danced with. They say goodbye, she points to a phone box and says ‘I’ll phone you tomorrow. 5 pm. This phone box.’ Then she climbs in an upstairs window and into bed fully-dressed; a moment later her mum knocks on the door and says ‘Get ready for church!’ And that’s the end.

Other episodes centre on a black man’s attempt to change the police force from within and a black prisoner who is helped by a Rastafarian cellmate to change his life. The final one, which I watched last night, concerns the black child’s experience in education and how they frequently ended up being classed as ESN (Educationally Sub-Normal) and sent to special schools. But here too there is hope as black campaigners infiltrate the school and to compensate for its woeful inadequacies, set up their own Saturday school.

Many things have changed since then but it’s clear to see that racism still exists; all too many police officers see a fist-bump between black men as a drug deal and a black man driving a BMW as a thief. And don’t get me started on this government…

So, after all that, why am I crossing my fingers? Because the car is being MOT’d. For some reason whenever the car goes into the garage I feel as if my whole life is under the microscope being rendered up for inspection. ‘Why did you break the speed limit on 24th November? What were you doing in Doncaster in August? And why haven’t you topped up the water?’ These questions run on in my sub-conscious, but my main concern is getting a phone call saying it’s failed the MOT and needs something huge and horribly expensive done to make it roadworthy again.

Ah well. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Kirk out

This Week I Shall Be Mostly Wearing… Plastic Bottles

As I’ve mentioned before certain one-liners from The Fast Show (did it contain anything but one-liners?) have made their way into our private discourse in this house. When we’re feeling smug about something we finish up with a well-timed ‘which was nice’; when we’re wearing something new I will often ask anxiously if my bum looks big in it and if someone is wrong on the radio we will point to it and shout: ‘Oi! Johnson – NO!’ in the time-honoured manner. But one of our favourites is Jesse’s diets. Jesse was a down-at-heel slob who would emerge shabbily from an outside loo in order to declare ‘this week I shall be mostly eating…’ and go on to mention some unpredictable diet he would be following this week. But occasionally Jesse would branch out and announce that this week he would be mostly wearing… something like Dior or Vivienne Westwood or possibly a Scouts uniform – you just never knew.

The strength of The Fast Show, however, was generally its predictability. Like many comic tropes you knew what was going to happen but not when or how. Oh, how you hope that this time the depressive artist is going to finish his painting and that the dreaded word will not come up – but inevitably it does and he starts repeating ‘Black – black – black’ in a doomed voice. Charlie Higson specialises in the repressed upper-class type who breaks free, as in this brilliant scene where he dedicates a karaoke song to Ted. Will we ever forget the drainage in the lower field? Will things ever stop being ‘nice’? Must we always hear the word ‘black’ and go on a rampage? Does my bum look big in this?

In more up-to-date TV news I finished watching the second episode of New Elizabethans which I was happy to see featured Helen John (‘you’ve been gone too long’) of Greenham Common fame. I’ve blogged before about meeting Helen and how she oohed and aahed over Holly as a baby; about the protests I attended where we surrounded the base and yarn-bombed the fence and about the massive demos in London of which the Greenham Common women were a part. So that was good to see. I also attempted the newest version of The Grinch; having been told Benedict Cumberbatch was starring I was visualising a live action film in the manner of Jim Carrey’s version – but alas it turned out to be yet another CGI film. Yawn. So I turned over and watched the final instalment of Small Axe, the excellent Steve McQueen series about the black experience in London in the 60s and 70s. I shall blog more about this later.

So yes, dear reader, I hereby emerge from a run-down outside toilet to tell you that this week I shall be mostly wearing plastic, for the garments I wear are made partly from recycled plastic bottles and are entirely righteous.

Which was nice.

Kirk out

The Holo-Crown

Andrew Marr’s New Elizabethans is an interesting take on Elizabeth II’s reign as told through the stories of people who had a hand in it; a sort of riposte to The Crown I guess. He doesn’t just choose the obvious characters, though there are a few of those, but the less obvious, the hidden, the unknown and the forgotten. In this series Jayaben Desai, the leader of the Grunwick strike, sits alongside Mountbatten the enigmatic and ‘Mad Max’ Mitchell the rogue soldier who tried to re-establish empire with a handful of soldiers. This week’s episode covers the transition from empire to commonwealth and our uneasy relationship with Europe; I’d forgotten, for example, that there was a previous referendum on EU membership, this time with most establishment figures voting to remain. In this debate Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were on the same side, though opposed in just about every other way: Powell is now remembered for little more than his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech which incited racism much in the way Trump does today; though thankfully Powell was not Prime Minister.

What’s fascinating for me is not only to relive parts of my youth but to see how patterns emerge and repeat over the decades. We were never fully committed to the European project and only really dipped one toe in the water at the best of times; and it occurs to me to wonder how much of our history is really geography. We’re fond of congratulating ourselves on never being invaded but put us geographically in the position of Poland and we’d have been overrun time and again. And our reluctance to join Europe is surely down to geography too, as well as our mistrust of foreigners.

The asymmetry of attitudes towards immigration never ceases to amaze me: from the 1970’s onwards people from the former colonies began to settle here, either because they were invited or because they were thrown out or otherwise displaced. As Marr remarks in the programme: ‘they were here because we were there’ – they regarded Britain as the mother country. Why? Because several hundred years ago we colonised their countries and ran them largely for our own benefit. We did not ask permission to land; we did not fill out immigration papers or stand in a queue or plead our cause before the courts, we marched in there and took the land for our own. Yet those very people who laud this process often deplore the levels of immigration we have here. What is the difference between an immigrant and a coloniser? Power. What’s the difference between an immigrant and an expat? Money. Money legitimises that process and it’s all too often those who have emigrated to the Costa del Sol where they live in a little enclave and don’t bother to learn the language – who are the most prejudiced. Look at John Cleese: comic genius, yes, but not a nice man.

Nor am I immune from this; having settled in Spain, after I’d been there a year or two I began to feel threatened by ‘all the new English people’ coming in. It’s a natural fear. But we should not give it house room.

Bit of a rant this morning. Don’t know why I put the title either, I just liked the sound of it.

Have a good day and try not to worry.

Kirk out

TV Theme Tunes

There’s an interesting, if slightly geekish programme on BBC4 at the moment, all about the history of TV theme tunes. It was something of a nostalgia-fest as well as a revelation about how the themes were produced and who produced them; I didn’t know, for example, that women were pioneers in the field of electronic music and that the team behind the radiophonic workshop which produced the Dr Who theme was led by a woman, Delia Derbyshire. There was also a refreshing amateurishness to the BBC’s productions back then which is entirely lacking now; the radiophonic workshop was run on a shoestring and held together by bits of rope and old cocoa tins. The programme looks at many iconic theme tunes, such as The Prisoner, The Saint and Coronation Street and the presenter bangs them all out on his old joanna. Next week they’ll be looking at ad jingles, so that promises to be fun.

There’s also an enjoyable repeat of last year’s Christmas University Challenge running along in the 7 pm slot, again on BBC4. I much prefer this to the usual UC because it’s more relaxed, less intense, much more fun and features a wider variety of people, especially women. Women are in short supply on the usual series but the Christmas one features alumni of various institutions who have become famous for some reason: not necessarily ‘celebrities’ but people eminent in their own field. It’s also a great deal less Oxbridge-heavy. So that’s all good.

Apart from that there’s not much to report from this end of the East Midlands. It’s a period of waiting, I guess…

Kirk out