Em-meh

I went to the cinema by mistake yesterday; out on a blustery and rather chilly afternoon I became diverted on my way to Sainsbury’s and stopped in at the Odeon to see what was playing. At first it appeared to be wall-to-wall Sonic the Hedgehog but eventually the screen changed and lo! they were about to show Emma so I got me a ticket and I went in.

And?

Hm. The settings were great, though I don’t think they made the most of the detail; still the drawing-rooms and frontages, the landscaped gardens with ha-has and classical pediments, gave a good flavour of the period. But the contrast between this and the farm where Harriet Smith is destined to end up, is rather jarringly introduced with loud folk music, and the difference between Emma’s and Jane Fairfax’s piano playing rather too pointed. In fact the production was altogether rather blunt and obvious; the narrative was a little jerky and there was quite a bit of telling-not-showing. But my main beef was with the casting.

Anya Taylor-Joy was perfect as Emma but Mr Knightley was frankly wet and weedy, not at all the blunt, forceful figure of the novel. Gemma Whelan was not bad as Mrs Weston but didn’t get enough screen time and in any case was not up to the standard of Greta Scaachi in the Gwyneth Paltrow version.

I did not like Josh o’Connor as Mr Elton and Callum Turner was not at all my idea of Frank Churchill. I did quite enjoy Bill Nighy as the valetudinarian Mr Woodhouse but the subtleties of the relationship between Emma and her sister and brother-in-law were quite lost in general bickering. There were also some completely un-Austinian moments where people shouted and banged things; where Emma drops her clothes on the floor and sits on the windowsill, knees to chest; and where – horrors! grown gentlemen actually weep! Poor Jane – I hear her turning in her grave.

There were some good moments, however; I enjoyed the visual effect of the parlour-boarder girls prancing around in unison and the comedy of Mr Woodhouse being surrounded by fire screens with only the top of his head visible. I also thought Miranda Hart much closer to the original Miss Bates than Sophie Hannah’s breathy hesitancy. But Jane Austen it wasn’t; give me the Gwyneth Paltrow version any day.

To sum up, it was enjoyable but a bit – well, meh.

Kirk out

Foretelling the Present

There’s been a lot of chatter in the media lately about so-called super-forecasters. They do love a new phrase, don’t they? As far as I can tell this latest one comes from a Dominic Cummings’ latest and somewhat disastrous hire to the Civil Service, Andrew Sabisky, a man whose views would not have been out of place in the Third Reich. Sabisky has now been sacked, but he should never had been allowed anywhere near government – that much is obvious – but then neither should Dominic Cummings. Yet here we are.

So what, if anything, is a super-forecaster? Apparently the word comes from this book which suggests that people with a certain kind of native intelligence do better than so-called experts when it comes to forecasting. Which, surprise surprise, fits in precisely with Johnson and Cummings’ hatred of experts. Why trust someone who’s been in the Civil Service for decades and built up a detailed knowledge of their area when you can hire a maverick with special powers? It sounds kinda appealing, a bit like MacGuyver or Poirot, but this guy was no Sherlock. In fact he was more of an Eichmann with a final solution in his head. It’s not that his views are utterly repellent; it’s that he was allowed to bring them into government – that is the scary thing. He’s the sort of person you’d expect to find beavering away on a mad blog somewhere in a basement, perhaps preparing some sort of terrorist attack. He has no place in Whitehall.

This hatred and distrust of experts is also a power-play. Mavericks are dangerous allies but if their views are in line with yours you can cut through red tape like a knife through butter without all of that tedious paperwork and research. Let us not forget that in the end, Thatcher’s worst enemy was not the Labour Party or the trade unions but the civil service. She, having at least some principles and respect for democracy, shrank from using the sort of power-plays Johnson resorts to. God, it’s a sad day when I start praising Thatcher.

But I’m getting off the point here which is that forecasting, or prophecy, or whatever you want to call it, is basically just seeing the present. If you observe the present clearly you will see where it’s leading, just like this traditional story shows (Nasruddin is a figure known throughout the East as the archetypal fool.)

One day Nasruddin was pruning the branch of the tree. He was sitting on the branch facing towards the trunk and sawing it in front of him. Along came a man.

Oi!’ said the man.

What?’ answered Nasruddin.

If you carry on doing that, you know what’ll happen?

What?

The branch will fall and you’ll fall with it!

Interfering idiot! thought Nasruddin, and he carried on sawing. Sure enough, several minutes later the branch fell to the ground and he fell with it. No bones broken, he jumped up and ran after the man, crying ‘Stop! Tell me more about the future!’

Lol. So – today I predict that I shall finish a blog post and have a cup of tea. More than that I cannot say… except that it’s possible Cummings will overstep the mark once too often and end up having a very short shelf-life.

Have a good one. Day, that is, not shelf-life.

Kirk out

Freeze Frame

There’s a thing called the Trolley Problem which OH was going on about this morning; it relates to trolley buses rather than shopping trolleys and the problem is this. You’re in a trolley bus (well let’s call it a runaway train as that’s easier to relate to.) The brakes aren’t working so you can’t stop it or slow it down but you can change the points. On the track straight ahead of you are five people, but if you change the points you can avoid them. Problem is, on the other track is one person. What do you do?

I have several issues with this. Firstly, people are not an abstract countable noun; you don’t weigh them against each other like bags of sugar. Are these people male or female? Are they young or old? Are they children or adults? I submit that your response would likely be dictated by at least one of these factors and if the group of five straight ahead of you were all children and the one person on the other track was an old person, you’d change the points; anything to avoid killing children. Mind you, that only works in the West: in China, for example, the most important citizens are the elderly, so they would presumably do the reverse. And what if one of them were disabled? What if you were a Man U supporter and they were wearing a United scarf? What if they were Muslim and you were Islamophobic? What if you were a Democrat and they were wearing a MAGA hat?

I further submit (I’ve been watching a legal drama) I further submit, m’lud, that in real life as opposed to the glass bead game of this thought experiment, other factors might well come into play. There might be a freak event such as a power cut; or something entirely unexpected might occur to cause you to act one way or another. One of the people on the line might do something. In fact they probably would do something, wouldn’t they? Faced with an oncoming train, they wouldn’t just stand there, would they? They’d try to run, or cry out – wouldn’t that affect your decision?

The trouble with these thought experiments is that they’re entirely abstract, and since it’s considered unethical to put the experiment into practice we can never find out what people would do.

But perhaps I’m missing the point here which is probably to ask, in theory, how do we react when faced with these two options: taking an action which will result in someone’s death OR doing nothing and end up killing five people? The theory is that most people would do nothing because then they wouldn’t feel responsible. They wouldn’t have chosen to kill the one person, it would be the train – or the train of events – which killed the five.

Of course in reality neither outcome would be the fault of the ‘driver’, just as killing someone who jumps in front of a train is not the driver’s fault. But as I know from a friend who used to counsel train drivers after these events, they very much do feel responsible.

There’s another factor here too, and that is what you might call the freeze frame. Faced with the two options of fight or flight but powerless to do either, the third option is to freeze. Every woman who’s ever been threatened knows what this is like. Some children know it too; and faced with the trolley problem most of us would freeze too, because to act means to cause harm. This may also explain why spectators often don’t intervene in a fight; because flight would be cowardly but they can’t see a way to ‘fight’ without causing more harm.

Kirk out

Even Deeper Sigh…

The more time goes on the less I know who I’m going to vote for, and social media does not help, but at all. Opinions are so entrenched that it’s getting ridiculous; the latest thing on one group is that people are saying ‘Put Jeremy Corbyn on every option.’ There’s no point in trying to argue with these people: I know just how it’ll go.

Me: (hesitantly) Can I just point out that Jeremy Corbyn is not on the ballot?

Random Political Stranger: We need to put him there!

Me: But that will just mean spoiling your ballot paper!

RPS: It’s already spoilt by not having JC on it

Me: But what will that achieve?

RPS: We need a socialist leader

Me: We had one, and we lost the election. We can’t lose another one.

RPS: It’s all down to the media. We need a socialist revolution and then the people will see.

Me: How is that EVER going to happen?

RPS: By putting JC on the ballot paper!

And so it goes on – and I’ve left out the inevitable insults from other RPS’s. I despair. And I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for. Then again it may not make a lot of different, since Starmer looks set to romp home.

In other news, I’ve nearly finished a new fan-fiction Sherlock Holmes story (I’m very excited about this) and Oh, before I forget, Lastflyingcow! Where are you? Your poetry ebook is ready and I’ve emailed you but can’t get a reply. Tried again and the email bounced. If I don’t hear from you it will go to the next person so please advise.

Kirk out

But is it Unifiable?

I’m a little dispirited that my favoured candidate is now out of the race. Emily Thornberry seemed to me the standout candidate and I can’t understand why she didn’t get more support, but there it is and there’s no point dwelling on it. So, of the three remaining contenders, who will be the best leader? Who will be able to convince the electorate? Who will unite the party? Is it even unifiable? Generally speaking, getting folk on the left to go in the same direction is like herding cats, because we don’t fall into line. We are naturally non-conformist – that goes with the territory, just as toeing the line goes with the territory of Toryism – and we don’t like being told what to do. By and large, I respect that; I like to make up my own mind and speak it, to put my cross where my mouth is (if you see what I mean.) But unless we can come together – in public at least – we can’t win elections.

So what’s a girl do to? In choosing a leader it’s always a toss-up between the policies you want and those which will convince the electorate: go too far in one direction and you’re just a protest movement with no power; too far in the other direction and you’re in a popularity contest with no agenda for change. It’s a problem. So it’s important to get this right – if we know what ‘right’ is…

In other news, I’ve just found out that Last Tango in Halifax is back for another series! Squee! And I’ve started a new Sherlock Holmes fanfiction story. Happy Monday.

Kirk out

Last Tango in Happy Halifax

It has come to my attention that although I’ve mentioned this series in dispatches I haven’t yet given it a full review, possibly because I hadn’t watched it all in one go before – by which I don’t literally mean all in one sitting but spread over a period of weeks. (What do we want? Compelling and well-written drama! When do we want it? Spread out over a number of weeks!)

So. Both Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax are written by Sally Wainwright and star (among others) Sarah Lancashire. Both feature a complex mash-up of current and ex- relationships, with in the case of HV a backdrop of crime as the main character is a police Sergeant. In LTH relationships are to the fore as two very different families smash together after two of their grandparents decide to get married. Both series feature the delights of local language and dialect in an entirely authentic, non-patronising way: imagine Alan Bennett writing Last of the Summer Wine and you’ll have a flavour.

Last Tango stars Derek Jacobi, pitch-perfect (as you’d expect) as Alan, who meets the love of his life again after sixty years of them both being married to other people. Both are now widowed and Celia (Anne Reid) is more than ready to accept his proposal after decades of unhappiness with the serially unfaithful Kenneth. So far so good, but the two families unwittingly heading for kinship could not be more different: the daughter of one is a struggling sheep farmer whilst her soon-to-be half-sister is the Headmistress of an expensive private school. There are more plots than you’d believe possible, with infuriating ex-partners (and their partners), children and friends of children, lesbian relationships, babies, deaths and a ghost that won’t quit; all of which is mashed up, twirled around and spun into a series of interconnecting stories that I simply could not stop watching even though I’d seen it all before.

Having seen all four series it was time to turn once again to Happy Valley. Oh, the joy of sets! (Box-sets, that is.) I’ll post more about this series when I’ve finished it.

Meanwhile it is, as many of you will have spotted, Valentine’s Day today so let’s spare a thought for anyone who’s alone, whether by choice or accident, whether recently separated, divorced or bereaved. It doesn’t mean we have to get all gloomy about it, just remember that not everyone is with someone.

Kirk out

…I'm Just Coasting…

As I write I’m waiting for the Victoria Derbyshire programme where a fellow-member of SPA (Straightpartnersanonymous.com) is due to speak about his experience of being married to someone who subsequently came out as gay. Due to the current polarisation of debate, most situations are like Cold-War Berlin or trouble-torn Northern Ireland; there’s a wall of brick or iron or barbed wire and any attempts to cross the divide will result in your being shot down or hopelessly entangled in spiky arguments. Debates used to be organised this way: on the one side someone speaks for the motion, on the other side someone else speaks against. Then we debate. But lately rather than attempting to shed light on a subject these things are more like boxing matches: in the blue corner we have x, a feminist author and blogger and in the red corner we have y, a right-wing misogynist. Light blue touch-paper and retire immediately. Victory is decided by social media. Seconds away, round one! Ding!

None of this is helpful, none of it sheds any light on the topic under discussion and none of it helps us to understand each other. At best you can say that certain views are aired, but that’s usually as far as it goes. So this morning I’m hoping for something more enlightening in the generally adversarial debate between those who regard gays coming out as victims or heroes, and those who champion the rights of the betrayed and left-behind partners (spoiler alert: I’m on the side of both.) So hold your horses for an hour or so and I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I’d like to tell you about my latest metaphor. I find it helpful to ‘explain’ my life in metaphors and today’s helpful image is that of a coastline. A few decades ago I discovered fractals, which teach us that there are in effect no straight lines but only wiggles. A coastline is a perfect example of this because the further you go in, the smaller the wiggles become: as Blake said, even a grain of sand has a world contained within it – and basically, there’s no such thing in nature as a straight line. Even a coast which appears to be straight will have dips and bends and rocks and inlets and those rocks will themselves have dips and inlets and those inlets will have… and so it goes on. So I consider my life at the moment to be not a city divided by a wall but a coastline that we are exploring together, asking where is the sea? how far does it come in? where is high tide? what bends and dips and curves does the coast have? and so on. It’s not a wall with one of us in the East and another in the West and no way through. It’s not a bouquet of barbed wire. It’s a coast.

Aaand – back to Victoria Derbyshire, and wow, I sat through nearly the whole programme before he was on and I have to say it was brilliant, very compassionate and thoughtful. Here‘s the link – and while you’re at it, if you’ve ever watched the VD show could you consider complaining to the BBC about the decision to axe it? Here‘s the link.

Kirk out