Greed with Steve Coogan (warning contains spoilers)

I came across this the way you do, trawling through Netflix and alighting on a slice of Steve Coogan. I was never a fan of Alan Partridge – I think comedy should be a release, not make people more uptight – but recent incarnations of his in films such as Philomena have revised my opinion. So we gave this a go.

From the trailer I thought it was pretty clear that ‘Greedy’ McReadie was a portrait of Philip Green, though as the action progressed we decided it was more a composite of Green and Mike Ashley: anyway the action shifted from present to past to distant past in a way that seems de rigueur nowadays, showing us bits of his childhood as well as some deals he’d made and centring on the staging (the word is apt) of his 60th birthday party on a Greek island.

For the centrepiece builders are constructing a wooden amphitheatre where a real lion (actually a very convincing piece of CGI) waits caged up to fight a ‘gladiator.’ The parallel is apt; McReadie is never happier than when shouting at people, unless it’s when he makes a deal that will net him millions while crushing the poor garment workers who have to fulfil the order. He’d have made a good Roman emperor.

There are some frankly revolting scenes as a film crew making a ‘reality show’ on the same island are obstructed by a group of refugees camping on the beach. They can’t clear them away so they decide to film themselves giving the refugees some food. The poor sods are just about to tuck in when the director shouts ‘Cut!’ and they have to wrestle the food away from the refugees so they can film it all again. It reminded me of this Steely Dan song.

The climactic scene comes when Amanda, a member of staff who has tried to help the refugees, spies McReadie taunting the lion and presses the button to open the cage door. The result is predictable: McReadie shows his hubris by believing he can talk the lion out of eating him. He can’t. He dies, horribly. Afterwards Amanda says, ‘I didn’t feel it was me pressing the button. I just happened to press it and the cage door opened. Then the lion came out and killed him. That’s how McReadie is; he makes a deal, the company cuts its costs and the workers suffer. But he thinks it’s nothing to do with him.’

I’d have enjoyed this film more if it hadn’t spent so long skipping about time-wise. It also needed to make up its mind what type of film it wanted to be: sometimes it was a drama, sometimes a documentary and sometimes a comedy. Of course a film can have elements of all three, but it needs to decide which one predominates, otherwise it’ll feel like a muddle.

But I still recommend it.

Kirk out

A House, a House! My Kingdom for a House!

Last night we went to the monthly quiz at our local club, where one of the questions was, ‘which Shakespearian king offered his kingdom for a horse?’  No prizes for guessing that, though it does remind me of a character in Asterix called Mykingdomforanos:

I’m afraid we won again, so another bottle of wine is sitting in the kitchen warming its cockles over the radiator: one of the members seemed rather disgruntled at our victory and pointed out that we were only supposed to have four people in a team.  I neglected to point out that half the other teams consisted of more than four people…

 But I digress; today, following our discussion on aspects of modern living, I want to discuss the topic of housing.

Housing costs money. Everyone knows that. Food costs, clothing costs and entertainment costs, but greater than all of these is housing. Thanks to the corporate greed of a nation, house prices are now four or five times what they otherwise might have been, meaning that many ordinary people can’t afford to buy. This wouldn’t matter if renting was a sensible alternative, but renting is regarded as the threadbare option. As a tenant you are not respected or valued. You are not a proper member of society; you are not grown up. You do not command the right to obtain loans or insurance on the same terms as adult members of society. Only fools and horses rent, goes the song – or would do if it were applied to the housing market. (Incidentally, it was years before I realised the lyric on that song said ‘only fools and horses work’ – an interesting coda to the recent post on jobs).

This is not the case everywhere.  In Europe renting is not only respectable, it is near-universal. As a tenant in Spain you have lifelong security; blocks of flats have a concierge (or portero, as they call them) who is responsible for cleaning and security; and you can pass your rented property on to your children if you wish. So why in Britain do we have this obsession with owning a house?

It wasn’t always thus. When I was growing up relatively few people owned a house as there was much more council and social housing to supplement the private sector. But then Thatcher happened. It is impossible to count the ways in which I loathe that woman. Apparently the ability to paint your own front door is so much more important than having a front door in the first place – so council houses were sold off by the shed-load. Well, not shed-load but you know what I mean. And suddenly home-ownership was on the agenda for anyone who wanted it. At least, if you were ‘responsible’ and prepared to ‘work hard’ it was on the agenda.

I’m responsible, aren’t I? And I work hard. Where’s my house?

Even then, it was not too unfeasible – but then in the eighties came a housing boom and prices rocketed. Of course you can’t expect people to act against their own private interest, so everyone got as much as they could from their house, especially since the people they were buying from were also getting as much as they could for theirs. And so began the treadmill that hurts everyone (all but a few) and which no-one is able to get off, illustrating perfectly how everyone acting in their own private interest can ultimately harm us all.

All of which brings me to a discussion of… market forces. You never heard much about market forces in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, but they were very big in the ‘eighties and have been ever since. But what are they? We talk about them as though they are a given, something solid, immutable, fixed, permanent. But really, market forces is just a term for human behaviour writ large. It is the maelstrom of human tendencies.  It’s what we all do.

Now you will object that this is all very well, but how does anyone break into this? As I pointed out just now, anyone wishing to sell their house at a reasonable price would find themselves pretty much forced to fall in with everyone else or be seriously out of pocket – and most people can’t afford to do that.

So how does one fight this? That, as they say, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Except that, prices being what they are, it is now the three hundred thousand dollar question.

More thoughts on this tomorrow…

Kirk out

The Ballad of the Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge

I find myself inclined to set some of my poetry to music at the moment.  Poetry and music are very close together and as many people have spotted, good lyrics can stand up by themselves.  Leonard Cohen started out as a poet and although it would be fair to say that he wasn’t a great poet, his lyrics certainly stand up to scrutiny: in fact they are very important.  Whenever I listen to songs it’s the lyrics that attract me, more than the music; and the songs I return to again and again are the songs that have well-written words (as I pointed out the other day when reviewing Chris Conway’s CD – see Friday’s post).

So the most obvious candidate for music is ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’.  Now, I’m not terribly inventive musically so the chords are fairly basic, but I think it stands up as a traditional folk song.  I would sing more often – I probably should sing more often – but my voice is a little erratic.  Then again maybe if I practised more it might be better…

Anyway, here’s the Bowstring Bridge set to music and played by me:

I’m also working on a very atmospheric poem called ‘Rye Harbour’, and I’ve set another one to music: it’s called ‘My Soul is like a String Vest’.  It’s not so much comic as surreal…

‘My soul is like a string vest

full of mouth-like holes

and you can see my rib-cage

through the gaps that yawn.’

The last line of each verse rhymes with ‘yawn’ so I want to pick that up somehow in the song.

So today I shall be working on that as well as learning some other poems by heart, finishing a review of a short-story collection (I’ll let you have a look at that tomorrow) and sorting some things around the house.  Looks like another busy day.  Better get on with it then…

Oh, and the bag-searching etc at the Caribbean carnival seems, anecdotally, to have been motivated by a search for glass bottles.  This is thought to be either a Health and Safety issue or a commercial issue (getting people to purchase the overpriced beer on the park) or both.  I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse or just the same…

Kirk out