The Holo-Crown

Andrew Marr’s New Elizabethans is an interesting take on Elizabeth II’s reign as told through the stories of people who had a hand in it; a sort of riposte to The Crown I guess. He doesn’t just choose the obvious characters, though there are a few of those, but the less obvious, the hidden, the unknown and the forgotten. In this series Jayaben Desai, the leader of the Grunwick strike, sits alongside Mountbatten the enigmatic and ‘Mad Max’ Mitchell the rogue soldier who tried to re-establish empire with a handful of soldiers. This week’s episode covers the transition from empire to commonwealth and our uneasy relationship with Europe; I’d forgotten, for example, that there was a previous referendum on EU membership, this time with most establishment figures voting to remain. In this debate Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were on the same side, though opposed in just about every other way: Powell is now remembered for little more than his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech which incited racism much in the way Trump does today; though thankfully Powell was not Prime Minister.

What’s fascinating for me is not only to relive parts of my youth but to see how patterns emerge and repeat over the decades. We were never fully committed to the European project and only really dipped one toe in the water at the best of times; and it occurs to me to wonder how much of our history is really geography. We’re fond of congratulating ourselves on never being invaded but put us geographically in the position of Poland and we’d have been overrun time and again. And our reluctance to join Europe is surely down to geography too, as well as our mistrust of foreigners.

The asymmetry of attitudes towards immigration never ceases to amaze me: from the 1970’s onwards people from the former colonies began to settle here, either because they were invited or because they were thrown out or otherwise displaced. As Marr remarks in the programme: ‘they were here because we were there’ – they regarded Britain as the mother country. Why? Because several hundred years ago we colonised their countries and ran them largely for our own benefit. We did not ask permission to land; we did not fill out immigration papers or stand in a queue or plead our cause before the courts, we marched in there and took the land for our own. Yet those very people who laud this process often deplore the levels of immigration we have here. What is the difference between an immigrant and a coloniser? Power. What’s the difference between an immigrant and an expat? Money. Money legitimises that process and it’s all too often those who have emigrated to the Costa del Sol where they live in a little enclave and don’t bother to learn the language – who are the most prejudiced. Look at John Cleese: comic genius, yes, but not a nice man.

Nor am I immune from this; having settled in Spain, after I’d been there a year or two I began to feel threatened by ‘all the new English people’ coming in. It’s a natural fear. But we should not give it house room.

Bit of a rant this morning. Don’t know why I put the title either, I just liked the sound of it.

Have a good day and try not to worry.

Kirk out

Square Eyes

I don’t know about you but I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately and one of the things that really annoys me is the way they display detail. The drama’s jogging along nicely, there’s a ratcheting up of the tension, things are just about to come to a climax – and then ping! someone’s phone beeps with a text which is presumably utterly crucial to the action; they show it on the screen and I can’t bloody see it! It’s not that we have a tiny old-fashioned set either – we’ve got a reasonably large flat-screen model, just a few years old and it’s quite as big as either of us are prepared to countenance in a room that does not wish to be dominated by the bloody thing. But every time a text is shown on the screen I have to pause the action, put my glasses on and rewind. It’s really annoying. Why must they assume that everyone has a massive set?

I may be watching too much TV but sometimes there’s not much else to do. We can’t go out and while I sometimes do zoom discussions or read or play guitar, I often don’t have the brain to do very much when it comes to the evening. But I have started doing one virtuous thing, which is to plan my viewing and turn the damned thing off in between programmes. This means that OH and I talk more; plus we’ve taken to having dinner later which also leads to less viewing.

That said, what have we been watching? We’re glued to Series 4 of The Crown, which on the whole has been excellent and is gearing up nicely for a bloody battle between the actual Queen and Thatcher. The point of the drama is not to be historically accurate but to be believable, to be plausible within the known facts and to tell a damn good story, and this is what it does. There was only one scene I didn’t buy and that was the extreme rudeness of the entire Royal Family towards Thatcher and Dennis, which I found overdone and implausible (it may well have happened like that but that is not the point of a drama.) It is also reminding me of just how much I despised Thatcher particularly for the hypocrisy of her foreign policy; in the last episode we watched she is clashing with the Queen in refusing to impose sanctions on South Africa. She really was a most odious woman and the author of all the troubles we are experiencing now. So that was salutary. Other than that I’m continuing with Industry which I’m finding a bit of a laugh, and we’re enjoying the snippets of Michael Palin’s travels which BBC 4 is affording us. But I am trying really hard not to let evenings be dominated by TV viewing.

So that’s all from me. How have you been?

Kirk out


I’d resisted watching the new drama series Industry because it looked utterly trashy – schlocky, I believe is the word – and so it is. But it’s also kinda fun. It features a slew of graduate recruits on the trading floor of an investment bank trying to sell something or other. So far it’s not at all clear what they are selling but I don’t care: the insults are excellent, like the dark side of The Apprentice and the slang is terrific. Here are some snippets:

‘he’s impressed with that US tail ride work you did’

‘let’s go for it in half a yard’

‘offer is five beeps’

‘half a yard done, four cents’

There’s more where that came from, oodles more. I suspect the slang is 100% pure bullshit, but if even one tenth of it is for real, that’s joyous. So yes, it’s a schlocky series but with a main character who’s black and fighting against the odds, you have someone to root for so I’m probably gonna keep watching. Same goes for The Crown, where I’m up to episode 2 and which has attracted some ire by not sticking to the facts. ‘Why don’t they tell the truth?’ lamented the Daily Express, to which the obvious reply is, ‘why don’t you?’ – but also, ‘it’s a drama, not a documentary.’ Episode two in the latest series focuses on a visit to Balmoral by Margaret Thatcher and Dennis in which the Prime Minister is utterly humiliated by not being able to fit in. The beef is that this was totally invented. Well, I have no problem with them inventing things so long as they don’t conflict with the main facts and are more or less consistent with them but the problem I had with this episode was that they over-egged it. I find it totally plausible that some members of the Royal Family would try to get one over on a Tory Prime Minister who was not ‘one of them’ but the rudeness was overdone and as a consequence I struggled to believe in it. They could have done much more with the subtle class distinctions – in fact the class war – generated by Thatcher, not only between the government and the working class but between it and the upper classes whom Thatcher despised almost as much. She was a true priestess of the meritocracy and had no time for inherited wealth or power. Nor have they – so far anyway – brought out any of the difficulties in the Prime Minster’s relationship with the Queen, what with Thatcher being the first female Prime Minister and there being some dispute as to which of them was actually Queen. On the plus side the Diana story is shaping up very well. So we’ll see.

OK that’s us up to date. I now have to return to the novel which today is grinding uphill like a train running out of steam.

Kirk out

Compost Corner

I’m a bit late with today’s post as I’ve been going through some short stories and sorting out which can go off to magazines and which I can serialise for you guys. And then I had a biscuit attack.

In general I have a fairly healthy diet. I’m vegetarian with a dairy allergy which means that for the most part I’m vegan except when I go out to eat. I don’t have caffeine after midday and I don’t drink much more than a beer or glass of wine with dinner. But I do love a chocolate digestive; in fact I’m starting to love them rather too much – so I decided that instead of buying some more I’d make flapjacks. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

I’ve just taken them out of the oven and I have to say they look a bit sticky. I think I went a bit mad with the honey. Never mind, I’m sure they’ll be delicious. They have to cool down before I can cut them though.

Yesterday I did a job I’d been putting off for ages; namely, sorting out the compost. We have three compost bins but I’d been gradually emptying the dalek one as it’s become a magnet for badgers. I’ve tried clingfilm, I’ve tried netting, I’ve tried wire – nothing seems to keep the buggers out. We had some partial success with male urine sprinkled around the bins but the only sure fire way is to empty out the new stuff and replace it with well rotted compost. I actually filled four bags with the stuff which I suppose I should put on the garden in the autumn (hang on! It is the autumn! Blast!) and put the rest inside the dalek. No badgers so far.

So that’s all good.

TV wise, I’ve been re-watching the first series of His Dark Materials which they’ve put up in preparation for the second series next month. There’s a few good things in the pipeline; another series of The Crown, ditto The Handmaid’s Tale and, most interestingly of all, the return of Spitting Image. It remains to be seen whether there’s any satire left to be made out of current politics – I have to say both our government and the US seem to be moving further beyond the pale with every passing day. I feel an email to my MP coming on…

And with that I’ll leave you for today. I hope you’re enjoying the serial; I’ve got more in the pipeline on subjects including death row and domestic abuse. Cheerful stuff…

Kirk out

PS Anyone remember Compost Corner? It was Tiswas’s spoof of Crackerjack.

My Family and Other Royals

Alan Bennett once remarks amusingly in his diaries that his mother is with him ‘on a state visit’. However regal his mother may have been, Bennett himself is endearingly down-to-earth; though a successful playwright who hobnobs with the great and good, he retains a sort of Piglet-ish self-doubt. Piglet is one of my favourite characters in the world of Pooh because he agonises. He is highly intelligent but timid and yet overcomes his timidity by rescuing Pooh and Owl from a fallen tree. (Here’s AB himself talking about doing the audio book.)

I’ve been rewatching the recent series of The Crown, and it reminded me of what an ardent royalist my mother was. We sat down in fascination to watch the ill-fated series showing the Royal Family at home (‘weah jahst like eny femmily rahly’) and at that time I had no idea it was such a flop. My mother was something of a monarch herself, which is why I think she identified so strongly with the Queen and the Queen Mother before her. My grandma, another family matriarch, was also a strong royalist. To be honest I think we all identified slightly with the royal family in their palace: it’s a bit of a goldfish-bowl existence living in a vicarage as it’s a semi-public space and you never know who you might bump into. I have gone into the lounge in my pyjamas to watch TV only to find it occupied by visiting bishops, and more than once slammed the door on a furious argument to bump into startled banns couples in the hall. In those days vicarages were not the cheerful ‘pop-round-for-a-coffee’ places they have since become; they were grand, austere buildings, a bit like a palace in miniature. Of course we had no servants (unless you count the cleaning lady) but there were reminders of them; a bell in the dining-room, a scullery and what would have been servants’ quarters in the attic. I always longed to discover a ghost – some forlorn maid-of-all-work, perhaps, or a love-struck footman – but I never did. The house remained stolidly prosaic and so did the garden, in spite of my efforts to dig up underground tunnels or secret chambers. We did once discover an air-raid shelter while playing, though we were never allowed to explore it.

I used to wonder what it would be like to live in an ‘ordinary’ house. Well, I soon found out…

Kirk out

Sorry We Missed You, Ma’am

Yesterday I finally caught up with Ken Loach’s latest film, ‘Sorry We Missed You,’ the story of the grinding down of a family by a heartless system. Ricky Turner is fully signed-up to the work ethic, has never claimed the dole and has done a variety of manual jobs; he is clearly prepared to work hard so he and his family can have a home of their own rather than living in scrappy rented accommodation. At first the job sounds great; being your own boss, working when you want, delivering parcels with the opportunity to earn upwards of a thousand pounds a week. But the down-side doesn’t take long to emerge – and it keeps emerging. Theoretically self-employed, the drivers have to either supply their own vans or hire one from the company at an exorbitant daily cost. Not only that but if they take a day off (for no matter what reason) they are responsible for finding a relief driver. That’s just day one – and it keeps ramping up from there.

At first Ricky sucks it up and works hard, tramping up and down the stairwells of flats with broken lifts, braving dogs to deposit parcels in sheds and having to fight customers to present the ID they are legally obliged to show before handing over valuable items. At the bottom of all this is the fear that if anything goes wrong, the driver is held responsible. If the parcel is not delivered, if it’s lost, if it’s broken, if they can’t find anyone to take it – they’re responsible. Not only that but they are tracked every second of their day and have no time for breaks; before Ricky sets off for his first journey a colleague tosses him a plastic bottle. ‘No thanks,’ he says, ‘I’ve got me own.’

It’s not fer drinkin’, says the other, ‘it’s fer pissin’ in. Yer don’t have time ter stop.’

The remorseless wheels continue to grind Ricky and his family into the dust. His son is arrested for shoplifting and he has to take time off to go down to the police station; his wife spends so much time rushing between care jobs that she has no time to look after her own children and the family almost implodes under the pressure but their love for each other stands in stark contrast to the inhumanity of the system. But life just keeps grinding them down and one day, having a pee in his bottle, Ricky gets beaten up and his digital pad smashed. While waiting to be seen at the hospital he learns that he will be fined £1000 for the ‘loss’ of his gadget. Next day, still not having been seen by a doctor (there was a 3-hour wait) he drives off to another day at work, nearly crashes the van, keeps driving. Tears run down his face. King Lear was not more tragic. This miserable abuse is happening now and it needs to stop.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is ‘The Crown,’ (or if you want to pronounce it prawperly, the Crine) an excellent new series starring Olivia Coleman as her maj. If you haven’t heard about this I can only assume you’ve been living at the bottom of the sea for the last month or so because it’s been trailed and reviewed to within an inch of its life.

First there’s the terrific casting: apart from the excellent Coleman Helena Bonham-Carter plays Princess Margaret wonderfully, Jason Watkins is Harold Wilson to the life, Tobias Menzies is terrific as Prince Philip, there’s a surprise appearance by Jane Lapotaire as Philip’s eccentric Greek mother and you’d swear Erin Doherty actually was Princess Anne. Then there’s the pace: some people have complained that The Crown is too slow but I find it perfect. Modern drama is like fast food, gone before you know it and digested so quickly that before you’ve gone to bed you’ve already forgotten what it was you ate, but The Crown stays with you like a long, slow meal; you dine on it and then sit back with a smile to digest.

And then there’s the nostalgia; I remember just about everything from this series, from Wilson’s premiership (and most of his cabinet) to the Aberfan disaster and, this week, the groundbreaking royal documentary which failed to convince the British public and press that the Royals were good value for money and should, as Philip suggested, be given a pay rise.

So I’d recommend both. Watch them in any order and see what an unequal society we live in.

Kirk out