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

We Are Not a Muse

There’s only so much you can do as a writer to make things happen. Some days all you can do is sit with pen and paper and wait for the Muse to show up. You write a sentence or two, sigh, gaze out of the window, look back at the paper, try not to feel completely useless and rack your brains for something that will bring inspiration. Should you read something? Go for a walk? That sometimes helps…but in the end all you do is check your phone for the zillionth time and give a deep sigh at the absence of anything helpful.

Still, I can take some comfort from the news that Johnson is in deep trouble. For all his allies try to smooth it over, it’s not going away; the BBC are sticking by their story about the bodies, presumably because they believe their source is more reliable than Downing Street. It’s reassuring to know that the BBC can still hold the government to account and have not been entirely weakened by the revolving-door system of journalists taking positions as government advisers. John Humphrys must be doing his nut; the rottweiler of the Today programme must be blenching at this cosy relationship.

Speaking of Humphrys, he did his last stint on Mastermind last night, a job he’s held for an astonishing 18 years. It must be difficult to read the questions fluently and quickly without tripping over your words, and I often wonder who writes them; I guess they must have specialist writers for each subject. Last night was the final, in which we got to find out about the contestants’ backgrounds; two of them admitted to being highly competitive including one woman who had been voted off The Weakest Link a few years ago and wanted to expunge that shameful memory; she regularly cycles 100 miles a day and never lets her children win at games. The other was a company directer who runs marathons in the Arctic. Now I may be the idlest of couch potatoes but such competitiveness ain’t healthy – if only because you suffer so much when you lose. Neither of these people won, and the woman looked utterly devastated. The best attitude is to look on it as a fun challenge and not mind so much if someone else wins.

So farewell then, John Humphrys, and thank you for reading the questions so fluently and presiding so benevolently over the Black Chair. Not so Jeremy Paxman; though I enjoy his slightly waspish avuncularity and occasional bursts of admiration for contestants’ cleverness, it wasn’t so clever of him to say, as he did the other day, that any fool can read the news. It just caused me to think that if that’s the case, any fool can read out University Challenge questions.

Not cool, Jeremy.

Kirk out

All Right, You’ve Asked for It

Responses to yesterday’s post were very kind and basically said, carry on doing what you’re doing. So I shall.

I’d like to begin by considering George Floyd’s murderer. We can call him that now because he has been convicted of murder, as indeed he should. But what struck me all along apart from the sheer wanton brutality, was the man’s name, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is French for prejudiced, as in male chauvinist, and I can never help wondering in these cases if there’s a connection between the name and the character.

Does a name make any difference to who you are? Would I be the same person if I were called Rosemary or Petra or Delilah? I can’t imagine being called anything but Liz (if this puzzles you check out the page Why Sarada?) But while Sarada was a name I chose, I only partly chose Liz, cutting it down from my birth name Elizabeth as soon as I hit puberty. Nobody calls me Elizabeth nowadays, on pain of – well, a pretty stern ticking off.

Last night I was watching a film about my namesake Liz Taylor. Burton and Taylor is an interesting biopic, focusing on the time after their second marriage and divorce when they collaborated on Noel Coward’s Private Lives. The film points up the difference between Richard Burton, who was a consummate actor, and Taylor, who was a star. Men seem to have found her endlessly fascinating but I think I’d have had no patience with her at all, always turning up late with armfuls of shopping and a gaggle of pointless yapping dogs. On the whole I think I prefer actors to stars.

So my question to you today is, who are the greatest actors around at the moment, whether on film, stage or TV? Pick one male and one female. I’m going to go with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keeley Hawes .

Kirk out

Complain, Complain, That’s All You Do

First post back after a long break and where to start? I was feeling like The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, except that a year didn’t seem long enough; it was all I could do to drag myself downstairs and summon the energy for my first proper coughing fit. But now I’m better, it’s given me a new-found respect for people with ME. I don’t know how they cope.

I spent much of the time watching TV. I caught up with the whole of Keeping Faith; not a bad series except that it was hard to fathom people’s motives. Evan was a lantern-jawed, expressionless man who did terrible things for no reason and Faith spent most of her time gazing moodily into space before screaming out a huge steaming pile of heavily-accented invective (I needed subtitles for most of it) and rushing off to apply a fresh layer of lipstick. It was fun to watch though and Celiac Imrie was delightfully villainous as Faith’s mother. It all ends in a bloodbath and a barbie on the beach.

But! Compare and contrast with the astonishing Line of Duty. Can that series get any more stonking? I spent the whole of March catching up with previous series and I’m now like the rest of the population, reduced to one episode a week, six days spent gagging for the next.

This is TV drama at its best. Other than that I’ve been avoiding most of the OTT Prince Phillip coverage; once you’ve heard one Nicholas Witchell statement you’ve heard them all – and besides, I didn’t like the man, though it seems churlish to say so. It is amusing though to hear people try to recast his racist gaffes as the jokes of a man ill-at-ease, not to mention explaining away his Alpha Male instincts. But that’s always the way with the royals.

What amused me most were the 116 people who took the trouble to complain to the BBC about how easy it is to complain. Off with their heads, say I. It may seem hard Ma’am, but I do think a little bit of choppy, choppy…

Oh yes, we’ve been watching Blackadder as well.

Kirk out

Have You Got Beetees?

Looking back over the last week I realise that I haven’t posted the link as promised to the Jo Berry interview. She, you will remember, was the daughter of an MP killed in the Brighton bombing who made friends with the bomber in order to effect some reconciliation. So here’s the link and I totally recommend giving it a watch.

In response to yesterday’s post on malapropisms OH came up with an overheard conversation where someone was going to ‘die of beetees.’ So keep your thinking caps on and send me your favourites. In other news, there is no other news except to say that I’m feeling exceptionally tired lately. I can’t blame it on lack of sleep – except that in some perverse rule of inverse proportion I often feel more tired when I’ve slept well than when I don’t – so I think it’s the fact that we’re coming to the end of winter. And what a winter! Most of it has been spent in lockdown (we were in Tier 4 before Xmas so lockdown hardly changed anything) we’ve had snow and ice and cloud and rain and now I’ve JUST ABOUT HAD ENOUGH. I too long for a holiday but my heart sinks when I hear of people booking flights for the summer – since Johnson posited the date of June 21st hordes of people seem to have taken that as the green light to book a holiday; very chancy if you ask me – but I despair sometimes of our ever getting to grips with climate change. It’s as if they watch David Attenborough, then open another tab and book with EasyJet. If we don’t stop flying climate change will get worse and worse and the tipping-point Attenborough warned us of will come and then what will we do? The government talks green but acts – well, whatever the opposite of green is. Since they’ve been in office they’ve approved a third runway for Heathrow (pity the poor people under the flight paths) given the go-ahead for a new coal mine and agreed a tunnel under Stonehenge.

On the other hand I can’t really blame people for wanting to get away. If you’re a key worker or someone cooped up in a flat or if you’ve been struggling with working and schooling from home it must be incredibly tempting to just jump on a jet and head off to a beach somewhere warm.

*sigh*

Ah well, at least we’ve discovered some Dennis Potter on Channel 4 – they have Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. And OH informs me that the opposite of green is magenta.

Don’t forget those malapropisms.

Kirk out

The Joy of Malapropisms

Yesterday on Facebook I discovered what may possibly be the best malapropism of all time. Here it is:

May be an image of text that says "× Linen anti massacre cloths AU$9 Listed 28 minutes ago"

I laughed all day at that (if you don’t get it, here’s an explanation.)

I’m having trouble with my fonts today. They started off small so I enlarged them but because WordPress views EVERY BLOCK AS A SEPARATE ENTITY!!!!! (GROWLING EMOJI) you have to reset the formatting for each new paragraph. I’m sure other users will weigh in with helpful hacks and I thank you in advance but be advised that all such comments are as water on sand; they appear in my mind for a moment before sinking without trace. There are certain types of information that I just can’t keep in my head, and this is never more obvious than when I’m watching a quiz. As you know, the only two quizzes I bother with are Mastermind and University Challenge (my paragraphs have gone all wide now) and what’s striking is the contrast between types of information I have at my fingertips and that which requires some digging. On UC there’s more chance for digging but on MM you have to produce an answer immediately, so I’d be very bad at that – it’s a test not only of what you know, but of your ability to bring that knowledge to the forefront of your mind, and that’s a separate skill. Not that I’d be any better at UC; whilst I do well on literature and have a smattering of other areas the questions are too deep and wide-ranging for me, especially since at the moment I have the memory span of Dory in Finding Nemo.

OH has a theory about this: (ah! I’ve managed to recover the font size now; it was on ‘default’ and I’ve changed it to ‘normal’ – though why ‘default’ isn’t the same thing as ‘normal’ is anyone’s guess.) Years ago I used to have a much better memory; then the menopause hit and knocked it for six like a strike-out at ten-pin bowling. All of a sudden my maps turned to fog; streets I’d known for decades became terra incognita and I could barely remember what I’d done yesterday. It’s a lot better now, but there are still vast swathes of the past which remain in gloom – and the other day OH came up with the suggestion that it’s because I’m writing full time. I think this is true – there’s always a trade-off when you start something new. Anyone with a small child will know they learn stories off by heart when they’re small but as soon as they learn to read, that ability goes. This is true in evolution too: with everything gained, something is lost.

Now look how far I’ve travelled from the original intention of this post. I was going to write about malapropisms but that’s gone now and I’m all out of ideas. So please send me your favourite malapropisms and maybe I’ll make them into a post.

Toodle pip

Kirk out

Stan and Ollie

Sometimes it can happen that an actor you’ve never really rated can astonish you. It happened with Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal and it’s happened again with Steve Coogan. Not being a fan of cringe comedy I never particularly enjoyed the Alan Partridge series, and the edgy competitiveness of The Trip with Rob Bryden left me cold – but Stan and Ollie was an absolute revelation. To be fair Coogan had shown his prowess playing Martin Sixsmith in Philomena when he helped an Irish mother on a quest to find her son, in the process unravelling outrageous behaviour on the part of the Catholic church. But in Stan and Ollie he was Stan Laurel to the life. I’m old enough to remember when the pair were on TV; like Morecambe and Wise the format was corny and traditional but there was something that made them funny in themselves. You could plonk them down on a desert island and they’d be doing routines with the coconuts and dancing with the trees. I was utterly stunned by the brilliance of Coogan’s Stan Laurel and by the film in general; John C Reilly was pretty good as Oliver Hardy but Coogan played Stanley without a trace of mimicry. Nothing was self-conscious or overdone; he simply seemed to get into the skin of the character and play him from the inside out – which I guess is what good actors do.

It must be difficult playing real people, especially when those people are within living memory. Jason Watkins played a blinder as Harold Wilson in The Crown and he gives an interesting interview to Mary Beard about the process in her series on culture in lockdown. On the same programme there was a discussion about historical drama. How far should you go in taking liberties with the facts? Is there a distinction between fact and a deeper truth? Much of the fascination with historical drama is that it goes ‘behind the scenes’ and gives us action which, in the words of The Crown‘s preamble, is ‘imagined to be consistent with the facts.’ It’s this aspect of imagination, brought into play in order to tell a deeper truth, to which good drama aspires – but Simon Jenkins of Guardian fame didn’t seem to get this at all. ‘How do they get away with it?’ he wailed, clearly not understanding the difference between drama and journalism. (I was once in the same room as Simon Jenkins, at a CND conference.)

The weekend’s viewing also included a Victoria Wood-fest (Saturday night, BBC 2) and a retrospective of June Whitfield (Sunday, BBC4) as well as the inevitable Casualty. If I talk a lot about TV it’s because hardly anything else happens. I did a Quaker meditation and went for a drive to charge the car battery – and that was that. Next week I shall be taking a week off to do some decorating, so I’m looking forward to that; a nice trip out to B&Q to get some paint. Lovely.

Hope you had a good weekend. What were you watching?

Kirk out

Elizabeth Ah!

The BBC in its infinite wisdom are repeating Elizabeth R, the famous dramatisation with Glenda Jackson in the title role. I love Glenda Jackson; she will live forever in my memory not only as Elizabeth I, but also Gudrun Brangwen in Ken Russell’s Women in Love where she plays opposite Oliver Reed and more recently as a woman with dementia in Elizabeth is Missing. I thought the BBC were repeating Elizabeth R because I heard that Jackson was set to reprise the role, but I can’t find any reference to this so maybe I imagined it – however I tuned in (as the quaint phrase has it) wondering if the 1971 series would seem slow and pedestrian. It really didn’t. Jackson is really superb and the action is thrilling.

I really think the BBC are missing a trick here. They have a massive back catalogue and I know much of it is available on DVD and other platforms but surely they could take advantage of lockdown by revisiting some of it? We could have ’70’s sitcom night or Play for Today week. We could have programmes placing classics side by side with modern equivalents – like Mike Yarwood compared to Rory Bremner, for example, or Morecambe and Wise put next to Fry and Laurie. And I’d love to see some of the Dennis Potter plays again. Instead of all this we get endless reality shows – celebrity this that and the other, which do not interest me But At All.*

In other news, my Proust has just arrived (that was quick) and I have dived straight in once more to Swann’s Way. Deep joy. In between all these activities I am listening to this recording of Beowulf in the original. Have a listen – it’s very epic.

*in fairness I should point out that there’s a Victoria Wood evening coming up either tonight or tomorrow, so that should be good.

Kirk out

It’s A Sin

There’s never any doubt about the tone of the title of Russell T Davies’ latest series; it positively drips with irony. It’s a Sin takes us back to the days when homosexual acts were widely regarded a sinful by the religious and disgusting by most other people, a time when sex between men might not be criminal but was certainly beyond the pale; a time when men were ostracised by their families, beaten up by strangers, sacked from jobs and, if they were unlucky enough to contract AIDS, isolated and left to die alone. The human side of this story is told very touchingly as two of the five friends who converge on London and end up sharing a flat together contract the illness and die. But it’s not just a sob-fest; the first episode is joyous and celebratory as Colin, Ritchie and Roscoe find themselves in a milieu where for the first time in their lives they can fully express themselves. Colin comes from a traditional family in Welsh Wales (though his mother turns out to be far more sympathetic than you’d expect) Roscoe has it even worse as at the beginning of the series his Nigerian family are planning to kidnap him and take him ‘home’ to be ‘cured,’ and Ritchie escapes from his traditional home town on the Isle of Wight to study accountancy. They meet two other friends, Jill and Ash and end up sharing a house together. Each of them finds a more accepting family in this household of friends and begins to pursue their own path; Colin, being sacked from a firm of tailors for refusing to sleep with the boss, finds joy in working in a print shop but is quickly struck down by this (then) mystery illness; Roscoe wears make-up and flamboyant clothes and works in a bar, but Ritchie’s is perhaps the most dramatic journey of all. He quickly switches from accountancy to drama (to the disgust of his parents) and sets about having a lot of very graphic sex. But when he contracts AIDS his shame is so great that he hides it and carries on sleeping with men, until he gets too ill to carry on. The last episode deals with his parents’ response to this and in the final scene there’s a stand-off between his mother (Keeley Hawes) and his friend Jill, played by Lydia West.

It was a very affecting watch, not least because it reminded us (those of us old enough to remember) what things were like in those days. It seems almost incomprehensible now that what is merely a variant form of love can be so stigmatised, but so it is. I have a slight beef about the ending, which I found a tad moralising – Jill giving Ritchie’s mother a hard time about her attitudes – nonetheless I highly recommend it. The early episodes have something of the celebratory feel of the Small Axe film Lovers Dancing, and the period is wonderfully evoked. It also made me think of Diana and how she helped to change attitudes by hugging men dying of AIDS and sitting with them when no-one else would.

It’s also interesting to speculate about what goes on behind the scenes: apparently Olly Alexander who plays Ritchie is tipped to be the next Dr Who, a series Russell T Davies is also involved in. Another interesting fact is that the Keeley Hawes character seemed very similar to her character in Finding Alice: mercurial, unpredictable, at times unstable, irrational and highly watchable. Could there be a connection?

And that was that; another box set bites the dust. I’m still working through Sherlock – purely for research purposes, of course – and I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from that series. Sherlock has just given Lestrade and Watson the low-down on a murder victim.

Watson: Amazing!

Sherlock: (dismissively) Meretricious.

Lestrade: And a Happy New Year.

And the same to you, dear reader: at least we’re into February which means that the interminable month of January is over. As the rhyme says: Thirty days hath September, April June and November, all the rest have thirty-one, excepting February alone – and January, which has six thousand, two hundred and twenty four.’

LOL.

Kirk out

Are You My Friend or My Enemy?

I’ve never particularly suffered from a weak bladder or stress incontinence but lately my bladder seems to have stopped being my friend and become my enemy. Have I done something to offend it? Taken it for granted, perhaps? Not shown it sufficient appreciation? Perhaps I should have brought it flowers and chocolates – wait, no, that’s a bit tokenistic; I should have talked to it more instead of getting annoyed every time it gives me a nudge in the middle of a dramatic TV programme or worse, in the middle of the night.

Actually it’s not the bladder per se which alerts you to the need to pass urine but a nerve which begins to tingle. Everyone knows the increasing urgency with which this can make itself felt, and how awkward that can be in the wrong social setting. It ought not to be taboo to need to pee in the middle of something yet it so often is; one of my nightmares is needing to pee in the middle of a live TV show and ending up wetting myself.

But lately my bladder has taken to being perverse and contrary: I only have to drink one extra cup of chamomile and it’s on the war-path: This is unacceptable. You’ve really crossed a line now, and you’re going to pay. Viz: last night I had one – just one – extra mug before bed and it woke me up three times. Three. That’s three periods of struggle where I try to ignore it and go back to sleep, realise I can’t, force myself to crawl out of bed and pee, then go back to bed and try to recover dormancy. Three.

Right, that’s probably more than enough about my bladder. Yesterday we watched another episode of the AIDS drama It’s a Sin, which continues to be tragic and feelgood in about equal measure; it’s hard now to remember the fear and disgust directed at those dying from the disease and the sense that they’d brought it all on themselves. In last night’s episode Stephen Fry pops up as a Conservative MP who’s in the closet; I suspect he’ll turn out to be a total hypocrite, one of those who campaigned against homosexual ‘lifestyles’ while pursuing one in secret. It’s astonishing how things have changed; in the ’80’s most Christians were homophobic, including my mother; two years ago I attended a Pride service in the parish church. We’re rationing ourselves to one episode a night so after that, and purely in the spirit of research, I watched Sherlock yet again. I’m writing a fan-fiction short story in the Holmes canon so I thought it might give me some ideas but in any case I never tire of watching these. They’re so clever and each episode is so dense with action and meaning that they bear watching again and again. Besides, I’m a little bit in love with Benedict Cumberbatch, even if he is gay.

Isn’t he? I’d better check. Nope, apparently not – he’s married to director Sophie Hunter. I have no idea what he’s like in real life but as Sherlock he’s utterly irresistible. I always have these little flings with actors; over the years I’ve been madly in love with John Hurt, Jeremy Irons and Kevin Costner (yes, I know) not to mention Colin Firth. I also had a thing for Paul McGann in his youth.

I’d better get on now; I have a short story to finish editing and send off, about a pair of sunglasses which turn out to be possessed…

Kirk out