Have You Eyes?

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that in yesterday’s sign-off I said it was Tuesday when it was in fact Monday.  All day.  For some reason yesterday seemed like a long day.  Maybe it was because I felt tired – the close, thundery weather that never seems to break can be quite oppressive – or maybe it was because of the sheer Bank-holidayness of it all, but whatever the reason I became a day ahead of myself.

I also wondered if I’d get comments about the title.  Why Jason?  Then again maybe you’re all far more educated than I give you credit for and had sussed straight away the connection between Argos and the story of Jason and the Argonauts:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=jason+and+the+argonauts&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Argos (the store) is of course named after the hundred-eyed monster of Greek myth:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=argos+greek+mythology&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Eyes also feature strongly (and disturbingly) in King Lear, the latest production of which was broadcast last night.  More on this later as I have yet to catch up with it since we were catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale having watched A Very English Scandal on Sunday night:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-44259959/jeremy-thorpe-the-true-story-of-a-very-english-scandal

It’s all go.

Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

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Are Friends Eclectic?

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been binge-watching on Netflix.  I have no excuse to offer: it’s not even a new series like Black Mirror.  No, the programme I’m currently streaming into my consciousness is one I’ve watched a dozen times before.  Not only that, we have it on DVD (though in storage) and prior to that, we had about a hundred VHS tapes which we gave away to a deserving cause.  Yes, it’s the sitcom which they used to say that at any given moment in time someone in the world would be watching.  It’s Friends, the New York story of three men and three women over a ten-year period as they progress from youth to settling down.

There’s much to dislike about Friends.  It’s kinda schmaltzy in places and, though all the characters claim to have hang-ups about their appearance, they are all quite stunningly glossy (apart from Matthew Perry, which is perhaps why Chandler is my favourite character.)  There are also hardly any black or Asian characters in it – at least until series 10 when Ross dates fellow academic Charlie.  It’s also set entirely indoors, apart from a few outside broadcast scenes at the beach and an unconvincing studio ‘street.’  But aside from these shortcomings, Friends has so many strengths I hardly know where to begin.  Like Frasier, it combines intelligent comedy with slapstick: though less overtly intellectual than the Seattle-based sitcom, there has clearly been a great deal of thought given to the characters and situations.  Where Frasier’s Achilles heel, his ego, lets him down each time, in Friends each person has a different character flaw.  Rachel is self-centred and narcissistic; Ross is the spoilt Jewish Peter Pan; Chandler is avoidant, Monica has OCD, Joey is a hedonist and Phoebe a fantasist.

Friends epitomises the melting-pot of America; each character represents an aspect of (white) America.  Ross and Monica are Jewish, Rachel is a WASP, Chandler is Dutch, Joey is Italian American, and so on.  From time to time their families come into the story and give the characters background and texture: would we understand Monica’s OCD so well if we hadn’t seen how her mother treats her?  Would we realise why Ross is so pathetic if we hadn’t seen him with his parents?  Would we condone Phoebe’s fantasy world if we didn’t know about her previous life on the street?

Materially, they each represent different strata of society: Rachel has a rich, privileged background while Phoebe was abandoned as a baby: Chandler had a materially privileged though emotionally deprived childhood, Joey grew up in a large, hard-up family and Ross and Monica hold the middle ground.

Now let’s consider the story-lines.  These are a brilliant mix of long-term and short-term; the longest-running being the on-off-on relationship between Ross and Rachel which started before episode 1 and isn’t resolved until the last minute of the final episode.  Rachel and Monica went to school together, and we get glimpses into this history from time to time.

The second longest is the relationship between Monica and Chandler.  They get together in series 5 at Ross’s wedding and stay together until the end, by which point they have adopted twin babies.  A comic storyline interweaves between these, centring on the ubiquity of Janice.  Originally Chandler’s girlfriend, the loud woman with the grating laugh surfaces in every series and even turns up to plague him in the very last episode.  In series 4 he has to take a plane to Yemen to get rid of her.

Then there’s work.  Monica progresses through various unsatisfactory jobs to be a head chef: Phoebe is a masseuse (and remains one, as befits her anti-materialistic character), Chandler spends most of the decade in data processing but eventually quits to begin a new career in advertising: Ross progresses from working in a museum of prehistory to lecturing at the university and Joey’s career has all the ups and down’s you’d expect from a jobbing actor.

But the character who goes through the most changes is Rachel.  Jennifer Aniston is far and away the best actor of the six; though it’s a tribute to the levelling effect of the series that she doesn’t appear to be the star.  At the start, Rachel has run out on her wedding to Barry, an unreliable but wealthy dentist, whom she is marrying mainly for reasons of social status.  Rachel is spoilt and dependent and has no idea how to support herself: she gets a job at the coffee-house where they all hang out but eventually quits before she is fired, and finds her way into fashion.  By the end of the series she has become her own person.

Friends is more than a sitcom: there’s a mix of comedy and seriousness which is nicely balanced.  In the saddest moments there is comedy; and in the funniest there is seriousness.  The dialogue is also sparkling: check out the scripts on this site:

http://www.livesinabox.com/friends/1001.shtml

I could go on and on about this.  But I won’t.  And to think, this post was originally going to be about Quakers…

Kirk out

 

Hamlet is not Quite as Funny…

Image result for withnail and I open source images

I take as my text today the script of Withnail and I: yes, all of it – for as I have so consistently pointed out the entire film is basically a collection of quotes linked by a somewhat haphazard plot.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094336/?ref_=nv_sr_1

But my subject this morning is not the film per se, but the Facebook group.  It is my contention that The Withnail and I Appreciation Society is one of the healthiest groups on social media.  Why?  Because it allows people to hurl the most terrible insults at each other with impunity.  When someone calls me a terrible c**t, I chuckle; when a man declares that he means to have me even if it must be burglary, I laugh uproariously and when people ‘feel unusual’ I’m not a bit spooked.   Because the film licences this rudeness, which is not about the person you’re talking to but about your shared enjoyment of the film.  And this is very healthy I think.

This is what happens: people post pictures, memes and links to news stories on which to hang their references to the film.  And because the film has a thousand and one quotable bits, it just keeps on going.  As a youth I used to weep in butcher’s shops.  I’ve only just begun to grow last year.  The joint I am about to roll can utilise up to twelve skins.  It is called the Camberwell Carrot.  This will tend to make you very high.  Bollocks, I’ll swallow it and run a mile.  That wouldn’t wash with Geoff.  Imagine getting into a fight with the f***er.

It’s not all insults: you can offer sherry, fulminate about cats or eulogise root vegetables.  You can talk about garlic, rosemary and salt or good quality rubber boots; you can tell Miss Blennerhasset to call the police or demand the finest wines known to humanity.  You can even go on holiday by mistake.

The film ends with a soliloquy from hamlet, another play that’s full of quotable bits.  Though Hamlet isn’t quite as funny…

Marwood out.

Oh No It Isn’t Panto Season Yet, Is It? Oh Yes It Is!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, hat, child, stripes and indoor

Oh yes it is!  Panto season has officially begun, and here you see me in my costume as the Prologue (and Epilogue) to Loughborough’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ performed last night at John Storer House.

More than just a panto, it was a phenomenon because with no script and only a basic story to work with, we did it all in just one day!  Yes, that’s right – in under twelve hours a cast of seven, one costume person and one props guy produced a sizzling, hilarious production which had a full house in stitches.

My part in it was to write and perform a Prologue and an Epilogue; and to that end, I sat in on some of the improv to get a feel of what was happening.  In an ingenious twist, Goldilocks was done as a stroppy teenager assisted by a magic talking tree, and the scenes were held together by a Paparazzi Pete, a dodgy reporter.  With those ideas in mind, I went home and cooked up these lines:

Prologue

Ladies and gentlemen – good evening,

welcome to the Forest News

(I apologise for reading:

problems with the autocues)

Today, David Attenborough

asks, is there life in Charnwood Borough?

Are we in the Goldilocks zone?

Can our heroine find a home?

 

In other news, if you go down

(sorry, by the way, for the outfit –

wardrobe had a hissy fit)

to the woods outside the town

you may find the strangest scene

three bears and a stroppy teen

and a magic talking tree

(you know, I could’ve been on the BBC!)

 

This just in.  Oh, yes it is

(oh no it isn’t).  Yes, it is:

breakfast theft is on the rise

Papa Bear’s called it a ‘swiz’

with that story now unfolding

(and my dungarees just holding)

over in the forest quarter

we go live to our reporter.

So in comes Paparazzi Pete and the story unfolds.  It ends with a song and then I come on again:

Epilogue

We know we’ll never need to prompt ya

for our efforts so impromptu

cos it’s not an easy play

to make a panto in a day

observing unities of time

as well as writing stonking rhyme

and so, before we are released

and all get stuck into our feast

show us that you understand

and, just once more, give us a hand.

And that was that.  The food was great; the company was a mixture of all the faiths in Loughborough and it was altogether a terrific evening.

Here, courtesy of Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts, are some other pics of the evening:

cofpanto-7579

cofpanto-7527

cofpanto-7635

cofpanto-7659

Kirk out

 

 

 

Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution, Paranoid, wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5839454/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468034/

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05dsx5r/porridge-series-1-6-the-rift

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus

 

Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

By the Word Divided

Yesterday I listened to the prequel to the prequel – or rather, the accompaniment to the whole, which was Phillip Pullman talking about his art in Book of the Week.  Now, I confess that although I love the work, I had conceived a prejudice about the man – due to believing that JK Rowling’s Professor Lockhart, the inept and narcissistic character in Book Two of Harry Potter, was based on Pullman (because of Sally Lockhart, a character in his series of potboilers.)  So I conceived an idea of Pullman as a narcissistic academic, long blond-grey hair swept back, striding around Oxford in a billowing gown.

Well, from the sound of these programmes, my conception was dead wrong.  Pullman started out as a schoolteacher; and his tone as he talks about what informs his writing is solid and down-to-earth.  He is particularly good at debunking Richard Dawkins’ ridiculously Gradgrindian theory that reading children fairy tales is likely to discourage them from accepting scientific ideas.  Plus, like me, he is a huge fan of William Blake.  What’s not to like?  I have to wait until this afternoon for the last installment, but here’s the link to the rest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b19y8

Anyway, the thing I was going to talk about today was the BBC mini-series (I have to hyphenate that word because otherwise it looks too much like miseries) about the Gunpowder Plot.  This is a story that never fails to capture the imagination, as it contains not only thrills and spills but the very real danger of the overthrow of government.  The idea of Guy Fawkes as a popular hero is ill-informed as he and his co-conspirators were no friends to democracy: however this production gives us something of the background of oppression which gave rise to the Plot.  Catholics were tortured and killed in the most brutal ways: while at the same time Protestants were being burned at the stake in Catholic Spain.

The production does get a bit Game-of-Throne-ish in the last episode: there’s rather a lot of swashbuckling and male back-slapping.  But there’s enough of a counterbalance by way of serious drama and a Horrible Histories-style detail in the telling: the Tower of London is shown in grisly and depressing detail as the Lubyanka of its day; we see details such as the storing of the gunpowder in an underground store and their concern about keeping it dry.  King James is down-to-earth and very non-regal and the true villain of the piece is the Richard III-like Cecil, whose web of spies intercept letters and people and interrogate both with an equal detachment.  So on the whole I think serious drama won over the GOT – but it was a close thing.

It’s interesting though, that we can still be gripped by a drama whose outcome we already know.  I wonder if Richard Dawkins would understand that?  He certainly wouldn’t understand Catholics and Protestants killing each other – but then neither do I…

Anyway, here’s the series:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1cg8/gunpowder-series-1-episode-1

Kirk out

That Guy Gandhi

It’s funny how a weekend comes together.  You do things seemingly at random and together they make perfect sense.  First, I’ve been watching Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.  It takes a whole weekend as it weighs in at around 3 1/2 hours, and I could spend a week’s blog posts just talking about the scope of it: a film as vast as India itself (I only gained an inkling when I went, travelling for hours on a train and then seeing the scintilla of map that I’d covered).  But instead of reviewing the film I want to think about the man and how much he achieved.  As a boy Gandhi was shy, but he overcame his shyness to achieve in one lifetime more than most of us could achieve in a dozen.  Though the ideas of satyagraha – ‘truth power’ – were embedded in Hindu tradition, Gandhi brought them into the modern age and taught an entire nation to practise non-violent struggle.

No sooner had I finished Gandhi than I was plunged into a nuclear-free session, ‘Can Nuclear Weapons Make us Safer?’  On the whole it was a rhetorical question with the answer ‘no’ – but to be fair, politicians on the other side of the debate had been invited and had declined (or been unable) to come.  But the ideas of Gandhi were key to our discussion.  It is hard to imagine a more violent weapon than nuclear missiles and in my view it is our duty to oppose them in any way we can: the idea that because our ‘opponents’ (whoever they may be) have them then we must have them is no different from the American saying that because the bad guys have guns, so must the good guys.  We all know where that ends up.  This is a discussion for another blog topic, but the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons (in my view) is because they fear the Americans.  We need to deconstruct fear, not escalate armaments.

Onwards.

So, to complete the day, enter the latest BBC costume drama.  Lately this type of drama has come in for a lot of criticism for being dewy-eyed and romanticising royalty and aristocracy.  Not a scintilla of that here.  This was a very clear-eyed view of the times, beginning with a rough and tyrannical search by the King’s men of a Catholic house which has just been celebrating Mass.  Like many such houses it features a priest hole: however the Kings’ men know this trick and compare measurements outside and inside.  At this point a young acolyte, about to set off for Europe, is discovered hiding in a chest.  Though still very young, he is subjected to little more than a show-trial before being hanged, drawn and quartered, this being shown in enough detail to register its barbarity.  Before this we see the lady of the house put to death by the peine forte et dure, her ribs gradually broken by heavy weights while all the while her tormentor tries to get information from her.

The courage of people to undergo torture and death has never failed to impress me, particularly as I doubt very much whether I’d have similar courage.

Mark Gatiss (that man has an impressive talent) is excellent as William Cecil, the spider at the heart of the anti-Catholic web, sending out spies and poisoning King James’s mind with reports of Catholic conspiracies.  He’s the McCarthy of his age: played with the superior detachment of a Mycroft with the monstrousness of a Richard III (Shakespeare’s, not history’s).  The episode largely sets up the involvement of Catesby in the gunpowder plot, and Guy Fawkes is introduced to us right at the end.  This is costume drama so good that you just think of it as drama.

And how are the two guys celebrated?  One is burnt in effigy every year while the other continues to be venerated and his ideas practised the world over.

Great guy, that Gandhi.

Anyway, here’s the BBC drama – you can watch Gandhi on Netflix or DVD:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1cg8/gunpowder-series-1-episode-1

Kirk out