There are far too many box sets around at the moment and if you’re not careful you can end up swallowing one after another without digesting them. We’re onto The Tourist at the moment, an intriguing drama of murder and amnesia, but before that I watched Rules of the Game. I’m not sure I’d have bothered with this if it hadn’t starred Maxine Peake, but it did so I did. And was it worth it? Mmnah. Not really: despite good performances by Alison Steadman, Rakhee Thakrar (Holby City) and Peake herself it seemed rather stale. The premise, that in work environments men abuse and dominate and are abetted by complicit women, would be more suited to an 80s or 90s drama than one where #metoo has taken hold. I’m not suggesting of course that sexual harassment is no longer an issue, but this drama came across as rather dated and over-egged, a bit like a bad pudding.
I also worry about the effect that this may be having on boys and young men. Of course we should document and dramatise misogyny but I worry that there are no positive role models for them, if all they see is men behaving badly , where do they get their ideas of what a man is supposed to be? Sure, we have superheroes but as far as ordinary men go, I can’t see there’s much out there.
Men Behaving Badly – now there’s a great series.
Anyway Rules of the Game is still on the iplayer, though for how much longer if the government have their way, remains to be seen. I tremble if this lot stay in power, I really do.
I have an elderly relative who says this, but I put it down to them growing up in an age before mobiles. Then I heard it on TV; in the drama series The Girl Before to be specific, and again today on the radio. It’s taking hold. What is it? The phenomenon of texed.
You can see how it happens: as the word text morphs from a noun into a verb it begins to sound like a past tense in itself: you have to stop and think in order to realise that the past tense is actually texted. But it sounds clumsy so instead people say he text me or he texed me, which isn’t actually a word. How would you write it?
The Girl Before is an excellent drama a little reminiscent of The Draughtsman’s Contract. A paranoid and deeply controlling architect designs an extraordinary house. In the process his wife and child die. Is it an accident? Did he kill them? And is he responsible for what happened to the girl before? His latest tenant tries to find out and nearly loses her life in the process. Fascinating stuff.
Alas, the same cannot be said of A Very British Scandal, the story of how the Duchess of Argyll was hung out to dry for doing the exact things her husband was guilty of. But in order to care I’d have to be interested in the characters and after half an hour in the company of the most boring and self-absorbed people I’d ever come across, I switched it off and watched the Christmas University Challenge instead.
A few weeks ago I blogged about University Challenge and Beetleypete commented that it seemed to be easier now than in the days of Bamber Gascoigne. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to watch an old episode and compare, and today I managed it.
There are lots of episodes available on YouTube but the one I chose was from 1984, UWIST v Queen Elizabeth London. This is obviously far from being an exhaustive study but it does give you a reasonable idea of the differences. What struck me first of all was the friendliness of the presenter: Gascoigne is approachable and smiles a lot, unlike the irascibly avuncular Paxton who rarely smiles, is often critical and sometimes verges on rudeness. Paxman is much stricter than Gascoigne, although he allows more time for the bonus questions, just saying irascibly, ‘Oh, come on!’ when they take too long. Gascoigne also indulges in friendly banter, a skill which seems alien to the soul of Paxman, so that the 1984 experience comes across as altogether more relaxed than now.
But what about the questions themselves: are they any easier now than they were then? On this sampling, I’d have to say no, definitely not. On a good day with Paxo I get around 12-15 questions right: with Gascoigne I managed 18. That’s not unheard of nowadays but if anything I found the 1984 version easier. Interestingly there were 2 questions which also came up in Monday’s Christmas episode (FYI I’m not comparing the Gascoigne version with the Christmas episodes as the latter tend to be easier.)
If anything I think the modern University Challenge is sharper, more focused and yes, harder.
You know the song: sung with unbearable slowness, it goes, ‘if a picture paints a thousand words then why can’t I paint you?’ Fair question: it then goes on to wonder, ‘if a face could launch a thousand ships,’ to which the obvious follow-up is ‘why can’t I launch you?’ It brings a bit of light relief to a very sloooow song. I don’t know why I mention this except that it was on my mind and I often start blog posts with something that’s on my mind and hope it will lead somewhere.
We’ve been having a bit of a Doc Martin fest lately, but all good things come to an end and after 9 series we were left missing our Port Wenn fix. But fear not! cried OH, for there are films available. Indeed there are, three of them in all, fairly short, made-for-tv films. So watch them we jolly well did. Two of them anyway. They’re very different from the series, with a much jollier doc being pleasant and polite to the patients he inherits from an incompetent sitting GP, having fled London to escape the pain of his wife’s multiple infidelities. All the Dibley-on-sea rural charm is there but none of the other characters are, and Port Wenn is cloudy unlike the eternal sunshine of the TV series. It’s like going home again and finding everything the same but different.
And on radio we have the delight of a new Douglas Adams that isn’t actually Douglas Adams, Starship Titanic. I’ll get to that later.
In the meantime I have to go and get my booster jab.
I didn’t think we’d be able to see this highly acclaimed series as it’s on Sky something or other, but turns out it’s available on our Now TV stick. And it was certainly worth it.
Landscapers is an odd title for a true crime series, though how accurate the series is, is debatable (the intro tells us it’s a true story before deleting the word true). The title refers to the fact that Susan and Clive Edwards ‘landscaped’ Susan’s parents’ garden by burying their bodies in it, a crime which remained undetected for 16 years; it also denotes the landscape of their fantasy world, immersed in cowboy films.
The delightfully ubiquitous Olivia Coleman stars with David Thewlis (Harry Potter, An Inspector Calls) as a couple seemingly adrift in modern society. But this is a story not a documentary, and the question of whether they, or she were guilty of murder or whether, as Susan claimed, her mother shot her father whom she then shot in self-defence, is not answered. What isn’t in doubt is that they then buried the bodies in the garden and ran off to France.
As crime dramas go, this is a very unusual production, with flights of fantasy interspersed with realistic drama. At times it’s almost play-like and you can easily imagine the set pieces transferred to a stage. Susan and Clive are shown as people born out their time and clueless at navigating the modern world. She was supposedly abused by her father with the full knowledge of her mother, abuse which according to this narrative continued in other forms after she left home and which may have triggered the double murder.
Whatever their guilt or otherwise, Clive and Susan seem to have been a very strange couple. In spite of having an adequate income they racked up massive debts through buying signed celebrity photos, and seemed to have a fantasy relationship with Gérard Depardieu. In the final episode I could have done with a bit more of the courtroom and a bit less of the cowboy fantasy but overall this was a compelling and very unusual drama.
No, I’m not ill: I’ve been remarkably energetic lately, what with decorating the bedroom (now a lovely shade of aqua) and moving things around, but come the evening I’m fit for nothing but a sprawl on the new sofa and a binge-watch of good drama. We can’t seem to find much worth watching on terrestrial TV, hence Britbox where we found no fewer than all 9 series of Doc Martin.
I say drama but it’s also quite like sitcom with stock characters Large and Son doing their own Only Fools and Horses sub-plot, but most of it is drama with comic moments (I’m resisting the word dramedy but I guess that’s how you’d describe it.)
For the benefit of the two and a half people who have been asleep for the last decade, Doc Martin centres on a character with autism and his struggles to connect with the rest of society – or to be more accurate, the rest of society’s struggles to connect with him, in particular his eventual wife, normal-human-being Louisa Glasson. Martin Ellingham (we’ve just sussed that the name is an anagram of writer Minghella) is cold, unemotional and spectacularly rude, but is redeemed by being an excellent doctor who genuinely cares about the health of the community he serves.
Comic staples aside, there is a real authenticity to the characters, not only the doc and Louisa but his aunts Joan (Stephanie Cole) and Ruth (Eileen Atkins), the former a farmer and the only person who cared about Martin as a child, the latter a dry, sardonic but decent woman, herself a retired psychologist. And of course there’s an endless parade of patients with interesting problems: part of the pleasure of watching is in trying to figure out what’s wrong with them before the doc does.
But perhaps the greatest joy of watching this is in the setting. Port Wenn (real-life Port Isaac) is stunningly beautiful in the way only a Cornish village can be, with fantastic coves, bays, headlands, twisty roads and cottages all providing a variety of locations and, since it’s always sunny when they film, a great antidote to these cold grey winter days.
I don’t watch a lot of quiz programmes on TV but I do still enjoy University Challenge and Mastermind, hence Monday night is quiz night.
I always watched Mastermind when I was younger and rightly or wrongly assumed that the contestants were there to display and test the knowledge that they had gained in some particular field. Of course they would have brushed up on the subject before coming on the programme, but essentially it was about the knowledge that they had gained in the course of their lives.
Not so nowadays. Last week I was stunned to see one of our neighbours on the programme. ‘Look!’ I said excitedly. ‘It’s that woman from down the road!’ Turned out it wasn’t as she lived in Manchester and when I thought about it I realised that her hair was different too. So why did she look so familiar? Eventually I worked it out: she’d been on Mastermind before, and probably other programmes as well. Last year’s winner had not only been a contestant in previous years but had also appeared on other quiz shows. People are in quiz leagues and clubs: they go quizzing up and down the country. It’s almost a profession.
The only quiz that does seem to be a genuine test of knowledge is University Challenge.
OH and I spent the last couple of nights watching Trick, a drama about the so-called Climategate scandal of 2009. My memories of the event are somewhat hazy (let’s face it, my memories of just about everything are somewhat hazy) but I have to say, after watching it we were still none the wiser. It starred Jason Watkins, who rises in my esteem every time I see him, as Phil Jones, a highly dedicated and respected climate scientist whose emails were hacked, then presented out of context to a cohort of press and climate change deniers who used them to discredit his work.
It all centred on the word ‘trick’. In a scientific context this means a particular way of looking at data in order to get a more reliable view. But taken out of context and inserted into a tabloid it seemed like evidence of fraud. So far, so understandable. But while the story was moving it didn’t really tell us much about what actually happened, focusing instead on the pain and shame which nearly drove a good man to suicide. He was cleared in the end but reckoned the whole episode had put back the cause of climate change by ten years – ten years we could ill afford to lose.
It’s worth watching but probably a good idea to view the accompanying documentary first.
Had a fairly good weekend, thanks for asking. On Saturday I whizzed round with the vacuum cleaner, watched a bit of tennis and then biffed off to a friend’s house for chat and chaat. Delicious. We watched The Night Manager which I had seen when it came out – scarily, 5 years ago! it seems like just before lockdown – and then I caught up with Today at Wimbledon. Yesterday I was a very bad Quaker indeed; I couldn’t concentrate in meeting and ended up looking at my phone instead. I expect to be Eldered very soon. After that I had a blitz on a corner of the garden (bastard bastard bastard) and went for a bike ride. I sorely felt the lack of tennis in the afternoon as it was too wet to go outdoors; at least it kept threatening rain but the real downpour only came in the evening.
Another week of tasty tennis beckons. The second week is always quite different from the first; the field has narrowed and you get a sense of who might make it to the final. All the British men are out of the singles now but the very interesting Emma Raducanu is still in the women’s draw. She’s just 18 but goes at it like a pro, so it’ll be fascinating to see how far she can get. The smart money for the men’s draw has to be on a Federer/Djokovic final (I wouldn’t lay odds on the winner) but the women’s is still quite open with some excellent players like Ash Barty, Coco Gauff and Angelique Kerber. So we’ll see. What’s really sad is that all the British players either come from abroad, grew up abroad or trained abroad (Murray moved to Barcelona aged 15) but it’s not surprising. We simply don’t have the infrastructure here; schools and community centres rarely have tennis courts, not to mention that the weather restricts play to about three months of the year. But, as I was saying to OH, it’s the class system that really did for tennis in this country. I remember as a youngster joining the tennis club next door and being thrown off the courts for wearing black socks (we were just practising, it wasn’t a tournament or anything). The members were very snobbish and unwelcoming and I imagine that was replicated in most places; not to mention that tennis was rarely played outside London and the Home Counties. So not only was the pool of players very small but the ethos was terribly gentlemanly; you used to see British players giving their opponents a nice polite little volley – which of course they dispatched with venom.
To return to the bindweed, as my brain did around 5.30 this morning, the problem is not just that it’s prolific; it’s that OH feels a tender concern for its welfare. OH is always extremely resistant to killing weeds, partly because they have a right to life like anything else, but also because they are a habitat for insects. I try to argue that bindweed and brambles are the Nazis of the weed world, that left unchecked they will destroy everything in their path, but my agonised pleas fall on deaf ears.
And then last night, just as I thought it was safe to look at my phone, I see that a short story has pinged back only two days after submission – and on a Sunday night! Two days – that has to be a record.
And that was my weekend.
I’ve long been a fan of Silent Witness, probably as long as the series itself has been running (about 25 years), and I was trying to explain to OH why I like it. I think one attraction is that the characters are like a family, but it’s also unpredictable and quirky. But the main thing I like about it is that all the loose ends are tied up. There may be pain and violence but everything is resolved by the time the credits roll. It doesn’t matter how awful the story is, at the end of it we know who dunnit, how they dunnit and why they dunnit – and most importantly, all the main characters are still standing.
It’s amusing too, at times; as with Casualty we look out for cliches. Last night’s story featured a black cast including The Greengrocer of Wisdom, dispensing deep insights along with watermelons, and The University Acceptance Letter of Death. This is a variation on the Cough of Death in Casualty.
Sadly we are now running out of episodes. But never fear – the Handmaid’s Tale comes to the rescue. I think the jury’s out on this fourth series; the first half was excellent but second dragged a little.
So that’s us up to date.