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

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

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

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

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

Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.

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

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

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

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

Kirk out

 

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Fairyhell Marriage

Millions of words have been written about Princess Diana and even more pictures printed but we had to wait until after her death to learn that Andrew Morton’s biography  was based largely on tapes she recorded secretly with the author.

It’s a story to break your heart: a classic Grimm fairytale with enough evil stepmothers, ugly sisters and neglectful husbands to fill an entire library.  Diana’s married life – and possibly her life even before marriage – was utterly devoid of human warmth and compassion: according to her account during her worst hours the Royal Family, her husband and even her own sister failed to support her.  Buckle up and get on with it seems to have been the order of the day: but what must have made an intolerable situation far worse was having to present a smiling face to the world.  The world needed to believe in the fairytale of a commoner marrying a prince and living happily-ever-after: it was a fantasy in which the hapless couple were forced to be complicit as they were not only followed everywhere by cameras but cross-examined in interview after probing interview.  Diana must have felt she was carrying the weight of the whole world on her shoulders.  There were times when she wanted to cancel the wedding but once announced the preparations were like a rocket already launched and could not be stopped.  Imagine: it’s hard enough for a commoner to cancel a traditional wedding once preparations are in train; if you add into the mix the cold, inflexible royal protocols and an unprecedented level of press intrusion, you have a recipe for 360-degree hell.  On her wedding day she was sick with bulimia (who wouldn’t be?) and wanted to cut her wrists.  Had her marriage been happy the rest might have been tolerable, but it wasn’t: she had little in the way of love and support from her husband as he was always more interested in Camilla.

Diana must have been made of steel, because she not only survived this hell but made a role for herself, a role which seemed genuinely to use her gifts and talents.  She had the common touch and an ability to connect with ordinary people, particularly those suffering from AIDS and injured by land-mines.  But sadly the press never left her alone and although it’s not clear that they were directly responsible for her death, they surely must bear part of the blame.

The story of Diana has many possible narratives and in fairness her version is just that, a version.  I have no reason to doubt what she says, but every witness is partial and there are always other points of view: in a sense Charles was as much of a victim as Diana, being unable to marry the woman he loved and forced to wed for the sake of the succession.  In the past he’d have been able to carry on with Camilla in secret whilst presenting a respectable public face but modern levels of scrutiny make this impossible.  Besides nowadays the royals, like the rest of us, are supposed to marry for love.

The story also illustrates a paradigm shift, as pointed out in The Queen: a ‘shift in values’ between the old stiff-upper-lip of royal protocol and the more human and compassionate face which Diana represented.

I hope no future royal princess will receive that level of intrusion because we have no right to demand it of them.  They are not there to fulfill our dreams, we need to do that for ourselves.

Here’s the film:

https://bit.ly/2BDYj4Y

Kirk out

 

 

 

Little Red People? Here We Are, Come and Get Us!

They are doing this on our behalf, without consulting us, droned the guy on the radio.  What could he be talking about?  Brexit?  They are sending out messages without any idea of what the consequences could be for our culture.  Definitely Brexit.  If alien life is out there we are basically sending them a signal that says, ‘here we are, come and get us.’

Could still be Brexit… but no: turned out the guy was talking about signals sent out in the hope of contacting alien life.  He was worried that instead of making friends we might be advertising our existence and possibly inviting an invasion.

My first thought was, my god – what a paranoid vision!  But then it made me think because yes, to be fair, they are doing this without consulting the rest of us – though how world-consultation might be achieved is not clear – but also there does seem to be an assumption that this is a risk-free process.  Do we see the rest of the universe as benign and ourselves as the only wicked species?  I think perhaps we do.  Could we be wrong?  Of course we could.

Not knowing what to think about this, I consulted the oracle.

Me:  Do you think it’s dangerous to try to contact alien life?

Jeeves:  You already know what I think. 

Me:  Oh, do I?

OH:  Yes, I told you before.

Me:  Oh well that’s all right then.  Obviously I know

OH:  Obviously.  (Come to think of it, OH is sounding more like Sherlock than Jeeves.  Not nearly polite enough.)  Anyway, I blogged yesterday. 

Me:  Oh, what about?

OH:  About Dalek.

Me:  Daleks?

OH:  No.  About Galek

Me:  Garlic?

OH:  No!  Galek!

Me:  What the hell is Galek?

OH:  Galek!  The language!

Me;  Oh for god’s sake!  You mean Gallic!

OH:  (stubbornly)  It’s pronounced Galek.

Me:  You’d always rather be correct than be understood, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, back to the aliens – because OH’s view is, as I was subsequently reminded – that any species as wicked as us would have wiped itself out already, so whatever remains must be benign (definitely more like Sherlock).  I’m not sure I go along with that as we haven’t yet wiped ourselves out, (though that may only be a matter of time) so why would these other hypothetical races?  And yet the idea that people some people view alien life as potentially hostile is utterly depressing to me, giving rise as it does to visions of star wars and galaxy wars and the whole disgusting scenario being played out over an ever-widening area.  Are we really no better than that?  If that’s the best we can do then we probably should be wiped out.

*Sigh*

One of the most interesting aspects of the play I went to the other night (I’ll say more of that in a minute) was the number of peace initiatives which sprang up before and during the First World War.  I hadn’t heard about any of these and needless to say none of them managed to stop the carnage before it ground to an inevitable halt.  What scares me is that war has its own momentum and that once you put measures in place it’s very hard to stop it.  But god knows we have to try because if we start regarding alien life as hostile before we’ve even discovered it, what hope is there for us?

Anyway, the play was called Remembrance.  Written by Bill Brookman the narrative centred on letters between a Sergeant on the front and his wife at home, the action spanning a number of wars between 1916 and the early ‘sixties.  It was a story not only of war but of the Home Front and the emancipation of women and the action was interspersed with songs and hymns, some of which the audience joined in.  It was a great evening.

And a propos of female emancipation here’s a statue of Leicester Suffragette Alice Hawkins made out of Lego:

IMG_0872

Kirk out

 

 

 

Radio Silence

WordPress are still threatening me with that editor coming to level up my layout and I wish they wouldn’t as I have no idea what that means or when it will actually come.  Oh wait, apparently it’s here and I have to select it.  It tells me I can now use ‘blocks’ and I have no idea what that means either.  Why does everything have to use such technical language?  Why can’t they just say ‘if you click on this thing which you will find in the top-left corner then it will create a box for you to type in’?  I seem to have created such a box here and I don’t know if I want it or not but it’s academic because I can’t tell how to undo it.

Phew!  Now I’ve switched back to Classic Mode which is fine except I’m still getting those annoying messages about a new editor…

I don’t know about you (I expect it’s probably my age) but these days I find that there are just too many things for me to get my head around.  No sooner have I got used to an app than they go and change it, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes just for the hell of it.  Well I guess at some point I’ll try out this new editor, but preferably at a point where I’m not actually trying to write a post.

I’m still off Facebook so there will be radio silence from me on there, but none of this is what I was intending to blog about.  It was this: every six months or so the BBC in her infinite wisdom has a Window; and when this window appears it’s the time for drama writers of all colours and persuasions to submit to the great Clearing-House of Drama called Writersroom:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/

Doesn’t matter what it is; whether a full-length play or a short drama, a series or a sit-com; whether it’s for TV or radio, it all goes to Writersroom.  A great sifting then occurs and if you’re lucky they’ll pick up your contribution, give it a shake and send it to the editorial team to be half-baked, whereupon it will be sent back and forth endlessly before being (if you are exceptionally lucky) Actually Produced, at which point you may finally see some dosh for your efforts (though I’m not entirely sure they don’t pay on broadcast.)  Is it worth it?  Financially no, not at all.  But in other ways yes; the idea of telling a story through radio drama intrigues me.  I have a good ear for dialogue and whereas I have no sense of ‘theatre’ in the physical sense I do have a good sense of what works aurally, so I think I’m in with a chance.

This is not my first attempt at writersroom.  I have previously submitted at least one radio play as well as a sitcom called Waiting for Theo (no prizes for guessing that Theo was based on OH).  With sitcoms you send an outline of the series (usually six episodes to start) plus one full episode.  It didn’t get commissioned but I did get a letter back saying they quite liked it, so that was something.

I’m not starting from scratch with this current project either: I had previously laid down the bones and written some scenes, so the story and all the characters are in place.  It’s coming on quite nicely.  And to help me I’m listening to as many radio dramas as possible, including this one:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0000z5g

Kirk out

There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti:

No automatic alt text available.

Kirk out

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

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