Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Are You Sitting Quietly?

Another Harry Potter film, another flurry of smug people complaining about adults reading children’s books. I am grateful to the anonymous poster on the Guardian website who provided this great quote from C S Lewis:

"Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."


As it happens, I’m not a massive fan of Lewis. Enjoyed The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe as a child but could never really get into the rest of the Narnia books. I preferred the Moomins as it happened. I still read children’s books as well as these new YA (Young Adult) novels that we never had when I was a teenager and which seem to be the sole refuge of serious political satire in fiction at the moment.


As I understand it, children’s literature was invented by, of all people, 17th Century puritans, especially one James Janeway who published in 1671 a book that is a touch startling to our sensibilities as its title reveals:


A Token for Children, being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children


It gets worse. In the preface Janeway exhorts his now presumably already nervous young readers thus:


‘If you love your parents, if you love your souls, if you would escape hellfire, and if you would go to Heaven when you die, do you go and do as these good children.’


The book remained in print right up to the 19th century.


Mind you, the paedocidal Janeway has to bow to Abraham Chear who in his 1670 book, A Looking-Glass for Children writes this verse in the voice of a young girl looking in a mirror:


What a pity such a pretty maid

As I should go to Hell!


Meanwhile, over in colonial America, the Tracey Beaker du jour was The New England Primer, a sort of children’s ABC and snuff book combined which gives us such cheerful rhymes as:


The Cat doth play

And after slay.


And


Xerxes the Great did die,

And so must you and I.


It does rather put Enid Blyton into context.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

There's something out there...

A tale for Hallowe’en:

‘HULLO? Hey! Anyone there? Where am I? Why is it so dark?’

‘I want it to be dark. I prefer it that way.’

‘What? Who are you? Where am I? You want money or something? I’m a rich man. Oh Christ, that’s it, isn’t it? I’ve been kidnapped, haven't I.'

‘In a manner of speaking.’

‘Look, let me go and we’ll say nothing more about it. I’m powerful. I know where the bodies are buried.’

‘As it happens, so do I.’

‘You can’t keep me hidden for long. The police will be here soon enough.’

‘I have no doubt that most of them will arrive here when their time comes. But right now it is just you. You have been a bad man, have you not? You have been ruthless to those less fortunate than yourself. That is why you are here.’

‘What? Is this some kind of political thing? Look, that way of thinking went down with the Berlin Wall. You make your own opportunities out there. Dog eat dog. If you step on a few people, well they should learn to move out of the way.’

‘That is your philosophy?’

‘That’s being realistic.’

‘You do not repent?’

'Repent?'

‘With all your heart?’

‘Of what? Of course not.’

‘Then let there be light.’

‘Oh my God!’

‘Not quite.’

‘Oh bloody hell.’

‘Precisely.’

And then there this story that I read or heard many years ago and cannot remember who told or wrote it, but it went something like this:

IT was a dark and stormy night and the traveller was still some distance from the inn. The landscape was wild and harsh, with shadows made to dart by the scudding clouds obscuring the full moon. The traveller was a rational man but he could not stop the unease rising in him, could not avoid starting at the lightning flash or the crack of thunder, could not cease from glancing fearfully behind. After a time he spoke to himself aloud thus:

‘Why this is ridiculous. I am no child. I am a grown man. Furthermore I am a good man, kind to my wife and children, generous to those who have not shared my luck, gentle with my animals and thoughtful and accommodating with my neighbours. Why…’ Here he laughed aloud to himself, ‘why if I were to meet a spirit or demon tonight, it would mean that there is truly no justice in this universe!’

And a voice at his ear said:

‘There isn’t.’

Finally, here’s a short film from Tim Burton:

Safe Hallowe’en and if you must venture out, then watch out for that which should walk alone may not do so tonight.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Watch the Skies!

Chatting to a neighbour the other day I noticed he had what looked like toothpaste smeared on the side of his neck. He noticed me noticing and explained that he had felt a sudden pain on that spot and on putting his hand up had found a brown moth there. What I had mistaken for toothpaste was actually savlon and he had removed a small bit of said moth from his neck. He was a tad disconcerted and my repeated references to vampire moths and that it was all doubtless something to do with global warming may not, with hindsight, have been helpful. He had not kept the rest of the moth and what with me not being an lepidopterist I have no idea what it was but I have to say, a moth seems unlikely. A horse fly maybe? I remember being bitten by them a few times many summers ago while camping on one of the Inner Hebrides and it is surprisingly painful. They are brown but not, to my memory, particularly moth-like, but maybe my neighbour has not been to as many moth farms as I have (three) or keeps his windows open on warm nights which brings them in. I hope it was not a moth because I like them and I would, on the whole, rather not spend the rest of my days in a constant and ultimately futile war with them or, even worse, an abusive relationship with one that sparkles. I probably wouldn't even get a truck out of it. The question is also raised of whether my neighbour, having been bitten, will now himself transform into one. Should I warn his girlfriend? How do you start a conversation like that? ‘So all well? Has T------ taken to circling the lamp while you’re trying to read? ... No, no particular reason. Are you fluttering more than you used to?’ I couldn’t say any of that. I’d be ASBOed.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

And here's something else you might not know...

There was a recent news report that some doctors are campaigning for the introduction of plastic glasses only in pubs. This is to reduce the number of injuries caused by glassing apparently. Now I have never glassed anyone and have no immediate plans to do so, but it so happens that I do know, in theory anyway, how to break the bottom off a beer bottle so that it can be used as an improvised weapon just as they used to do in films but no longer seem to. It seems that just smashing the thing against the nearest hard surface will cause the bottle to shatter completely in your hand and as you are clutching it tightly this causes nastiness to your palm. Now I’m not going to tell you how to it, I’m not Frederick Forsythe, but I merely use it as an example of the odd bits of information I’ve picked up over the years. I know the correct lights that a ship should show while sailing at night and used to be able to tie a bowline knot one-handedly. I know, thanks to a couple of medical students, the most painful thing you can do to a man and owing to my intense conviction that it would come up as a jackpot question in a pub quiz, the registration number of the car that Patrick McGoohan is driving in the opening credits of The Prisoner. On matters of pronunciation I know, thanks to one of my brothers, how to pronounce the name of the Norse god Odin correctly and thanks to George Bernard Shaw that the words ghoti and fish can be pronounced the same way. I know the fates of the six wives of Henry VIII and at a push I can remember the accomplishments that were required before you could join the men of Finn Mac Cool, legendary hero of Old Ireland. I freely admit that some of this knowledge may be of limited use.

For there is a hierarchy in knowledge. Knowing the names of all the actors who have played Dr Who is an accomplishment that is, on the whole, held in a degree of contempt. Knowing the names of all the players who scored winning goals in a football team’s championship wins is at worst seen as being a bit keen. Being able to name all the books in the Apocrypha makes you a theologian and understanding the ramifications of the salic law makes you a mediaevalist. My father knew how to manumit a slave which, along with a few other details, made him a barrister.

Well I think that knowledge should be equal. Let us put aside these old prejudices and admit to being proud that you know the names of everyone who performed at Woodstock or all the lyrics to Bony M’s Rasputin or the solution to every Sherlock Holmes mystery. Let's call an end to this apartheid style segregation of useless knowledge and three cheers for mnemonics.

Oh, and if you want to know which host of which tea-time quiz show also played James Bond, give me a shout.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Durham Cathedral, an apology

Apparently you don't have to pay an entry fee to get into Durham Cathedral. Apologies if my stating that you do may have caused some readers to mistakenly assume that you do. I hope that clears that up.

Last time I believe a self-confessed tory.

As recompense, here's a out-of-focus photo of Tony Blair's autobiography in a satirical setting:







I am empiricist Anglophone, hear me roar

In the current issue of the London Review of Books there is a crit of a book about the French cinema magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. It begins thus:

In an essay on Avatar in the March issue of the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma, Slavoj Zizek wrote that, despite its superficial espousal of revolutionary action (by blue-skinned aliens rising up against earthling exploitation), the film was in fact entirely reactionary. In an interview in the following issue of Cahiers, Zizek cheerfully admitted that he had written his piece without actually seeing Avatar. Empiricist Anglophone critics were horrified, no doubt, but Zizek’s article persuasively made its point nonetheless.


I was a tad taken aback. The writer of the crit, one Jonathan Romney, rather deftly seems to be saying that expecting important and busy critics to actually see the film they’re criticising is not only unreasonable but downright parochial. Well, in the spirit of those activist groups in the ‘70s I am going to reclaim the negative vernacular and say loud and proud that I am an empiricist Anglophone critic and proud of it.

To make it worse, the critic in question not only is commenting on a film he has not seen, he is challenging the whole basis of it. He cares not if the makers say that it is about such and such, he has not seen it and so knows that it is not. And critics wonder why they are disliked in some circles.

For the record I have not seen Avatar, nor do I intend to as I disliked the director’s previous film, Titanic, so much. This means that my contribution to any critical discussion on it is limited to why I won’t see it and that seems fair enough. But then I’m an empiricist Anglophone and that’s what we’re like. Get used to it.

This thinking is not, I’m sorry to say, restricted to psychic critics like young master Zizek. It’s very common in the Anglophone literarti as well. In my bookselling days, many were the times that I was informed in a lordly manner that the Harry Potter books were terribly written or that The Da Vinci Code was awful by people who had read none of them. Any attempts at discussion would be waved away with a dismissive laugh. The accuracy of their opinions was, of course, unimportant. The point here was to ensure that everyone knew that they had impeccable taste and so had no need to read such vulgar and, let us be honest, plebeian books and would no more dream of doing so than they would dream of holidaying in Ibiza.

As it happens, I have read the Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code and, in my empiricist Anglophonic way, I believe the former to be flatly written, rather than badly written, and the later volumes scream out for heavy editing, while the latter is like a late-night kebab after a night clubbing in a number of surprising ways.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Curious Incident of the Cat in the Bin

Another day, another case of cruelty to an animal, another round of on-line commentators making snide and smug remarks about how the British love animals and loathe humans. After all, don’t we as a nation give more to donkeys than we do to children?

This argument is, of course, based on a rather weird mistake. We are animals too. I’m sorry if this news startles you but human beings are in the same biological grouping as felines, it’s just that we have access to wheelie bins, CCTV cameras and computers in a way that domestic cats do not. I’m always surprised when a cruelty to animals story does the rounds and various commentators start wittering on about how we care more about them than we do about humans, especially children. But we are them, and so are our children. This may be a blow to some people’s self-image but we are members of the animal kingdom, the mammal county to be precise, and resisting the urge to put our fellow subjects into wheelie bins strikes me as good practice as well as good manners.

Meanwhile, on a purely pragmatic note, it is known in circles where such knowledge is necessary, that cruelty to animals is a sign of a serious capacity to be cruel to humans and is a major danger signal. And to all those who think the cat in the wheelie bin is terribly funny, no it isn’t because it’s real and caused real distress to a living thing. It would have been funny in a Tom & Jerry cartoon and I think it’s terribly important to remember that distinction.

So why did she do it? I suspect we’ll never really know. My personal feeling is that she did it because she could. She had the power to do so and for some reason there and then she used that power. Am I sympathetic? Am I buggery. Cats do what cats do because they are cats. We do what we do out of choice and that is why while we may be closer to angels, we often choose to embrace demons.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

With all the discussion of Tony Blair’s donation of his book advance to the British Legion, here’s a Shakespeare character in Henry V with a short speech that seemed appropriate:

Williams:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of
subjection.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Let us pay...

In Durham the other day for reasons that need not worry you I found myself next to the cathedral, world heritage site that it is. So I thought I might pop in until my companion informed me that there’s a £5.00 entrance fee.

Chester Cathedral does the same, and the entranceway there, which takes you past a souvenir shop before you arrive at the cathedral proper, is appropriately situated next to a branch of Barclays Bank which is actually part of the fabric of the cathedral structure. Talk about God and Mammon.

I mean, all right. It’s very expensive to maintain a cathedral and visitors can cause inadvertent damage. I once read that the moisture from the breath of the millions who visit Notre Dame annually is the single biggest threat to its interior. All this is taken on board, but I don't remember Jesus saying 'Where two or three are gathered in my name there shall be a small charge because of inevitable overheads'.

Everyone I’ve mentioned this too asks the same question. What happens during a service? I assume they don’t charge so how is it policed? You inevitably start thinking: bouncers! Or at least I do. This of course leads to the possibility of being turned away from evensong because you’re not wearing a tie, or a mitre or whatever.

Now I’m not a churchgoer, I’ve never been baptised or entered into any faith and I’m with the Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman character who avoided going to church and the church he avoided going to was the good old CofE. I therefore accept that it is arguably none of my business whether Durham, Chester or my parish church decide to charge entry. If I’m using them as museums then I should pay accordingly.

But that feels wrong. A place of worship surely must be open to all or open to none. And the Church of England is the established church of this country and so has a duty towards every British subject regardless of their beliefs. So I think it would be good if they cut the admission fee and make up the shortfall by, oh I don’t know, selling a couple of bishops.

Oh and my companion assured me that we would see Bill Bryson and we didn’t so I’m sulking.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

I was walking in the park one day...

Odd experience in a city greenspace yesterday. I was sitting in the sun with a lady of my acquaintance when we were approached by a man who commented on the rabbits he had seen. We agreed that there were a good few around. He then informed us that he had lent his belt to a friend and as a result his trousers were very loose. He continued to comment on this fact for a half minute or so while fiddling with his waistband before being called away by someone else. At this point the lady enquired if I agreed that for a moment there it looked as though we were going to be flashed at and I was obliged to agree that it had looked that way.

Now I am of the male persuasion and therefore enjoy many of the perks of living in a patriarchy. One of these perks, quite frankly, is not being flashed at in parks. I hasten to add that I do not think that women should have to put up with it either. When it comes to the indecent exposure debate, I am firmly in the ‘no’ camp. It’s just that a man does not expect it to happen to him in the same way that he does not expect ever to have to have a bra fitted or have to respond to an unexpected proposal of marriage. Actually, that last has happened to me twice so bad example. And another story.

Anyway, it turned out, and an excellent thing too, that my companion had never been flashed at either. Therefore, neither of us had the slightest idea what we would do in the circumstances. I said something solemn about how I would have told him to put it away or I would call the police which made me sound as if I was channelling Joyce Grenfell, but I really don’t know.

The odd thing is that as a society we are a touch confused about male nudity. I imagine that the majority of people would agree that this man’s behaviour was not acceptable. Yet there was a huge amount of support for the naked rambler. Remember him? He kept being sent to prison for breaking court orders not to walk around the countryside naked and a fair number of commentators stated that that this was ridiculous and how they do these things differently in the continent (and indeed in the barking mad TV series Spartacus: Blood & Sand, about which more later) and how uptight we all are. Maybe so. My attitude to public nudity is a matter of record* and I think that what is really sad is that it is necessary to say that a person, either female or male, should be able to sit in the sun without being flashed at.

Oh, and if you don't know Joyce Grenfell, enjoy:


*see Oh Matron No post, October 2009

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A total fallacy

A few weekends back I found myself looking around the Vindolanda site. I was last there about fifteen years ago when it was basically just a lumpy field with a few information boards saying that there was probably some great stuff underneath. I preferred Housesteads.

Well, things have changed. The Vindolanda site is incredible. We spent about three hours there and I could easily have spent at least another, if not more. The museum contains the only surviving legionary’s crest, which I found strangely touching, along with a mildly startling display of phallic good luck charms. Not so much phallic, actually, as phalluses. There was one small discreet one that was worn round the neck but sadly the gift shop were not selling replicas. A missed opportunity there I feel. But also, in the site itself, an information board told us that a keen observer might discern a phallic good luck charm scratched into the stonework of one of the drains. Sure enough one of my companions found it with suspicious ease:




There’s one at Housesteads as well apparently. The scholars tell us that Roman soldiers scratched them into stones as good luck symbols. Well, the past is a foreign country and all that, but I can’t help but feel that whenever a large number of men are gathered together in one spot for any period of time it is inevitable that one of them will draw a phallus on a nearby surface for a laugh. It’s one of those laws of nature that David Attenborough keeps using as an excuse to show us antelopes being eaten alive by alligators or whatever.

In York these graffiti are called wooglies, or so I’ve been told by a native of that city. Now it may be the company I keep and the circles I move in, but I have rarely discovered a new word that I have found so useful.

And I bet you will too.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lampshading the idiot ball

Now this is a fun site, though I warn you it’s easy to lose an afternoon exploring it:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage

Hit the random item button for best results.

Some of these tropes are well known, Jumping The Shark is in fairly common usage these days. If you’re mystified it refers to the moment in a long-running TV series when the makers try to liven it up with a ridiculous stunt/event. This is a sign that the series has lost its way and will never be as good again. So a show that has jumped the shark is in terminal decline. It refers to the startlingly popular ‘70s US sitcom Happy Days and an episode when the main character (the Fonz) did actually jump over a shark while water-skiing. While the show continued to run for at least two more series, it was generally agreed that it had lost its way. There have been recent attempts to replace the phrase with nuking the fridge, a reference to the most recent Indiana Jones film, but I think the shark is here to stay. Meanwhile, the trope Chekov’s Gun (if a gun is mentioned in Act 1 it must be fired by Act 5) is well known in theatre.

Other tropes I found on this site and liked included The Queen’s Latin which references the fact that historical characters nearly always speak with an English accent, and holding the idiot ball which is when an established and normally intelligent character suddenly becomes very stupid for no other reason than to keep the plot going. The Archers seems to be currently going for a complete, never before attempted, 100% of characters holding the idiot ball. One assumes they’re being sponsored. A-Team Shooting refers to the situation where, presumably for ratings reasons, a vast number of shots are fired but no one is ever hit. It refers of course to The A-Team where our heroes were particularly adept at this. Aesops are characters who turn up once solely to make a moral point (the old college roommate who’s now a raging alcoholic for example) and genre blindness is when characters do something the viewers know they should not because of the conventions of the genre they are in. This is not so common now since the Scream films highlighted it. Meanwhile, lamp shading is when the writers get over a major cliché or coincidence in the script by drawing attention to it, sometimes in an ironic post-modern way (‘Well constable, you wouldn’t get away with it in a book, but coincidences do happen in real life you know’).

Watch your favourite programmes with a fresh eye and start collecting them now.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

What Lies Beneath

The Ouseburn Valley separates East Newcastle from the rest of the city and acts as a natural barrier between the cheap(ish) and cheerful Heaton and the expensive and dour Jesmond, which skulks fearfully behind the ranks of the Residents’ Association. Four great bridges span the valley but at one point no bridge is necessary. It’s been filled in.

For years I wasn’t aware of it. I knew, of course, that the valley was not continuous but I had assumed that the blockage was natural and geographical. The adjective igneous doubtless came into it somewhere I thought. Then I found out that no, it had actually been filled in and again I vaguely assumed that this would be with rubble from the railways or some such Industrial Revolutionary source. Again no. Two months ago, almost to the day, I found out that the valley was, in the early twentieth century, filled in with rubbish. That's rubbish. Garbage. Detritus. Not the sad but necessary spoilage from the engine that drove the empire but just rubbish. Now I’m as proud as any Geordie of having won life’s lottery by being born in Newcastle upon Tyne but there are times when your local pride takes a knock and this discovery was one of them. Apparently the mayor and corporation decided they’d had it with building bridges across the valley and so decided to fill it in and then build housing on top. Not surprisingly, once the rubbish had reached the requisite level it was found that it was not suitable for building housing on so it was grassed over and is now a pleasant green space. The '60s visionary nutter, corrupt vandal and, oh the sorrow to us, council leader, T Dan Smith, whose dreams for Newcastle remain current nightmares, decided to build a stadium there but that wasn’t on either. It’s still marked on the maps as ‘City Stadium’ but all that’s there is a solitary running track which I think is a touch misleading. Now while all this makes for a good sermon (for lo your stadia are built on garbage) or metaphor, it is mildly embarrassing for a proud northerner like myself. You can just hear the southerners telling each other: ‘No point in giving them valleys up there, they’d just fill them with rubbish.’ Still, at least we didn’t stick a railway platform over Boudicca’s grave so I suppose it all evens out in the end.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Cross Purposes

A genuinely odd conversation the other day. It was one of those situations I’ve never actually heard of in real life but which pops up now and again in rather forced ‘comic’ writing, you know, the sort of writing by people who you suspect got their sense of humour by attending an accredited course and will show you a certificate to prove it. Anyway, the set-up was as follows. I thought we were talking about my friend’s new hair style, she thought I was talking about the branch of Asda we happened to be outside of. This Asda is built on stilts so that cars can park under it.

Her: So what do you think?
Me: It looks great!
Her: Really? Everyone I know thinks its rubbish.
Me (genuinely startled by the forthrightness of her friends and her sang froid in the face of their disapproval): Really? Well, I like it.
Her (seemingly surprised): Well, I don't. It shakes in high winds, because it’s on pillars.
Me: Does it? Oh well in that case I suppose...

At this point I was at a total loss as to what to say other than a vague panic as I wondered when hairdressers starting using pillars and, indeed why, along with a slight sense of relief that this at least explained her remarkably laid back attitude. I mean no new hair cut is any good if it quivers in a breeze. Then at last, and a tad too late, the penny dropped which was just as well.

Oh, and the Asda was crap.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Cry God for England, Harry and St Chad

As usual yesterday, St George’s Day (23 April), saw a bit of chatter about how sad/bad/mad (political correctness for the use of) or indeed good it is that we don’t celebrate it which was odd because every year we do celebrate it with a plethora of articles etc whinging or cheering about how we don’t celebrate it. In a way I rather like that, it seems somehow English.

Now personally I’m all for having a bank holiday as

a)I think we need more public holidays, my understanding is that we have the least of all in all of Europe, and;

b) the 23rd of April is also, by tradition, Shakespeare’s birthday and the day of his death (there was a gap between the two) and this fits my secularist instincts.

Here’s a few clips to remind us why Shakespeare’s birth/deathday should be a national holiday:



and



I chose Mark Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar as we are in an election and Henry V’s speech as it does reference St Crispin and it might annoy the French.

Actually I think we should have a new patron saint. St Edmund, as in Bury St Edmunds, is sometimes mentioned in this context, though I would go for either the Venerable Bede or St Cuthbert, partly for reasons of regional pride, though St Cuthbert doesn’t come across as someone you’d like to have a drink with. Perhaps St Hilda then? Personally my favourite English saint is St Dunstan who was tempted by the devil in the form of a comely wench while he, St Dunstan, was working in a smithy’s forge. Noticing that goat’s hooves were peeking out from under said wench’s skirt, St Dunstan saw through the disguise and so grabbed the devil’s nose with some red hot tongs he had to hand. The devil ran off and cooled his nose in a nearby spring which tastes of brimstone to this day. Now there’s a saint I can do business with. Not sure what day is officially his. Just a sec…ah, May 19th (all hail Wikipedia).

But of course, the saint who really should be our patron saint is that old friend of me and mine, St Chad. So next year let’s all have a proper early spring holy day on the second of March, the day of St Chad.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Oh it's a luvlee 'oliday with Marry

Listening to a topical satire programme on the radio a couple of weeks back, I was surprised to hear a comedian doing a routine on Dick van Dyke’s accent in Mary Poppins.

Now I know what you’re expecting and doubtlessly a smile is reaching across your features as you prepare for the chucklesomeness that comes from observing the failure of an actor to master an accent. But first consider this. Mary Poppins was released in 1964, which means that we’ve been chortling over Dick van Dyke’s accent for 46 years. That’s close to half a century. People, I put it to you that this joke is old and maybe it’s time to move on. I know it’s a bad attempt at cockney and while I didn’t notice it when watching the film as a child, it was genuinely startling the first time I heard it as an adult.

And it’s not even as though it’s the only bad accent out there. James Doohan’s Scottish accent as Scotty in Star Trek springs to mind (a tradition kept alive by Simon Pegg in the latest film version) as does Sean Connery’s attempt at Irish/American in The Untouchables and there are others including, I’m told, some remarkably odd attempts at Mancunian in an episode of Frasier. Yet still it is almost impossible to talk or write about Mary Poppins without referencing the accent. The Times recently printed a list of top children’s films, and even though only fifty words were allotted to each one, the accent was commented on. When Mark Kermode discussed the film in an article a few Christmases back it was startlingly noticeable that he did not mention it at all.

So why this defensive kneejerkery whenever Mary Poppins is mentioned? We are all aware of van Dyke’s deficiency in the cockney accent department and it’s not as if a new adult British viewer is liable to miss it. There really is no longer a need to point it out and, quite frankly, riffing about it on a topical comedy programme is downright bizarre. Come on Marcus Brigstocke, why not really stick it to Palmerston while you're at it and Mitch Benn can do a funny song about the charge of the Light Brigade. This is moving away from being humorous and drifting into the realms of OCD. Are we so desperate to reserve our cool in the face of an openly sentimental children’s film? Is it because it is cockney he cocks (sorry) up? Had it been Somerset or Geordie would there be such a fuss? I suspect not.

So here is my clarion cry, and I’m surprised how nervous I am making it. As John Cleese once commented, an Englishman would rather be told that he is a bad lover than that he has no sense of humour, but I shall be bold. Leave it people. The joke’s old and obvious and it’s time to move on. Let’s laugh at James Cameron’s name for the ultra-rare substance the humans are looking for in Avatar, ‘unobtainium’. Now that really is funny.

Happy Easter

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

And the moral of the tale is...er

An article about fairy tales appeared in the Guardian the other Saturday with the writer, Bidisha, commenting on how marvellous it is that they’re being re-written as subversive stories. Here's the link:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/27/fairytale-fantasy-childrens-books

I can’t say I entirely agreed with her and I posted a comment that, with your forbearance, I shall repeat here:

Bidisha falls into the trap that a lot of political minded people do of assuming that stories are actually about something else, a Dan Brown style code to be deciphered by the wise. But sometimes a cigar is just a smoke and a story is not necessarily a fable and it is, I think, the stories that just are stories that survive to following generations. ‘Eric or Little by Little’ anyone? Popular enough in its day, now pretty much forgotten as opposed to 'Wind in the Willows' or 'The Railway Children' which don't really say anything beyond how cool it is to live near a river or a railway.

Eric, or Little by Little by Frederick W Farrar, for those who do not share my interest in the history of children's books, is in the words of the author ‘…the history of a boy who, in spite of the inherent nobleness of his disposition, falls into all folly and wickedness, until he has learnt to seek help from above.’ I have not read it and although that precis makes it sound rather fun, I gather that it is not.

Anyway, to return to the morals or otherwise of stories. It is, of course, not as simple as I make out above but forgive me, I was writing for Guardian readers and they can be simple souls, bless. C S Lewis’ Narnia books are an obvious exception by my overarching rule and Charles Dickens wrote Nicolas Nickleby partly to expose the dodgy boarding schools of his day. But I still hold that it is possible to read too much into a story in many cases and that in our utilitarian age we sometimes try too hard to identify something that simply isn’t there and forget that the story can be its own sole reason.

PS
That was weird. Blogger decided, for reasons best know to itself, to translate the title and labels into Hindi without so much as a by your leave. Odd that.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Meretricious, moi?

What follows is something I wrote for an application to join a database of freelance writers. I don’t know what got into me. They asked for 150 words on what constitutes good writing. For reasons that now escape me, this is what they got:

The usual suspects shuffle to the fore, ashamed and shy, avoiding each others’ glances. Of course we must have accuracy, flexibility, a knowledge of what we are trying to achieve and who the reader is going to be. Of course we must have reliability and punctuality. Douglas Adams could get away with missing deadlines, the majority of us cannot. Being an established bestseller can excuse a great deal, guaranteed sales soften late submission. Spelling and grammar must be tools we are comfortable with while remembering always David Crystal’s dictum that the only true crime against grammar is ambiguity. And at all times we must be mindful. Mindful of the requirements of the client, the requirements of the piece and above all else, our own limitations. What makes a good writer? Honesty? Maybe. So it is with that thought in mind that I give my true answer: Damned if I know.

I don’t think they’ll be asking for my services in the near future. I particularly like the Delphic remark about grammar which I have attributed to David Crystal who never did me or mine any harm. I have no idea what got into me.

On the other hand, it is exactly one hundred and fifty words.

Friday, 12 March 2010

I can believe six impossible re-imaginings before a sequel

I haven’t seen the new Alice In Wonderland film yet and don’t really intend to. Not that I’m against the idea, I’m just a bit Depped and Burtoned out at the moment.

Now you’re all probably aware that the film is in fact an original story featuring characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and, What Alice Found There (credits for getting the titles pedantically correct please) but which picks up when Alice is nineteen and under pressure to marry someone she does not love.

And here’s the odd thing (note also the scrupulous avoidance of the word ‘curious’). Tim Burton’s film has been described as a re-working or a re-imagining but never as what it actually is, a sequel. I assume that Disney did some research and found that the word ‘sequel’ did not sit well with their target audience, or something equally odd. However, it does seem appropriate that the latest and most anticipated version of the Alice stories should come with a confusion over what to call it. Apparently for Tim Burton and the Disney Corporation, like Humpty Dumpty, words mean what they want them to mean.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Please Don't Touch

At the Laing Art Gallery the other day (for reasons too complicated and sensitive to go into here) I found myself wondering through the 19th century gallery with a refugee from Eritrea. He was fascinated by our veneration of the actual picture. What, he wished to know, was the difference between a perfect copy of Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil and the original that we were looking at? Why was the former of less value than the latter given that they looked identical?



This was one of those questions that appear obvious until you have to actually answer them. The best I could come up with, under his polite scrutiny, was that as a culture we in the West value highly the original object itself, almost to the point of iconography. Talking later to a friend and colleague from my book dealing days confirmed this idea. Collectors value a first edition of a book over a later identical or even better edition. The only other theory I could come up with was the idea of originality. We value the object, the painting itself as a tangible thing, because until Hunt laid down his brushes, it never existed before. There may be earlier pictures on the same subject but this one, as Betjeman puts it, ‘interprets his age in a way so pleasing to ours’ and so we value it, so much so that we place a barrier before it and stop viewers from even touching it.* We must stand at a respectful distance and worship. My companion heard me out but I’m not sure I persuaded him that we’re right in our attitudes. But then I did not entirely persuade myself. And as it happens, I prefer the John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah anyway.


You have to admit, it is livelier.

*Very impressive attendant at the gallery who explained to my companion why visitors are asked not to touch the pictures with both great politeness and unpatronising reasons.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Do not spam

A feature of googlemail that I rather like is that you, the user, get to decide which messages are spam. This contrasts nicely with a friend of mine’s e-mail account which scanned his incoming messages with the zeal of a 21st century Revd. Bowdler and then deciding which were suitable for his view. This, inter alia, meant that all messages from a car club he was a member of were condemned because of their frequent references to lubrication. And we all know the problems the virtuous town of Penistone has had over the years. Googlemail at least allows you to choose. All messages come your way until you classify one of them as spam. Thereafter all messages from that sender become spam. This is great. This means that if I was a) unfilial; and b) she was computer literate I could class my mother (silver hair for the use of) as spam. I can do it to anyone. My boss (if I currently had one), my girlfriend (as before), friends and relatives could all find themselves – as far as googlemail is concerned – wallowing in the same moral stew as those impertinent people who keep trying to sell my pills by making personal innuendoes about my prowess and misspelling my name in the process which is doubly tactless. In a world where choice is stripped away from us in the name of safety, protection, security and – ironically – choice, this is a small freedom to be cherished. Enjoy it while you may.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Go Children of the Country/ The Day of Glory Has Arrived if that's all right with everyone here? Jacques? Happy? Good! Er, right then. Allons!


VERY WELL, THEN. [said Death] THE HOGFATHER CAN TEACH PEOPLE THE UNREAL MEANING OF HOGSWATCH.

Albert spat over the side of the sleigh. 'Hah! "Wouldn't It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice", eh?'

THERE ARE WORSE BATTLE CRIES.

Terry Pratchett

Hogfather

1996

One of the odder things to come out of the Brown is a bully allegations is the number of commentators lining up* to complain that so what if he gets angry and shouty and grabby, he’s the leader and we don’t want someone soft in this time of crisis do we? The implication being that unpleasantness towards your work colleagues is a sign of strength of character and moral seriousness. It isn’t, of course, and the fact that people are peddling the idea that it is says more about the moral collapse of English politics than any amount of unpleasantness in the cabinet office. George MacDonald Fraser wrote in awe of his old commanding officer, General Slim, noting that the only time he saw him snarl at one of his soldiers was to reprimand one who had attached a skull to the bonnet of his jeep. He then tempered his rebuke by pointing out that it might have belonged to one of the soldier’s comrades killed in the retreat. This does beg the question that it would have been more morally acceptable to display an enemy’s skull which is a matter for another day. Genghis Khan displayed the skulls of his enemies I believe and he was, according to one of my brothers, a paragon of religious tolerance. The Ancient Celts were headhunters, a fact that tends not to be referenced in Enya songs or new age shops, though both would be rather more fun if it was. I’d take them much more seriously if they had the head of Richard Dawkins scowling at me from a glass cabinet instead of an overpriced geode. But I digress.

So is it possible to get things done in difficult circumstances by being nice and pleasant to people? Of course it is. I would go further and say that it is more efficient as a willing worker beats a dozen driven slaves. This does not mean an end to discipline and good order or that every decision has to be cleared with the typing pool, although it is my strong belief that a great deal of life would be improved if important decisions did have to be cleared by the least powerful. After all, it is they who tend to be the most effected and have the least hang-ups about pet projects, psychopathic disorders, personal vendettas or messianic tendencies.

Oh, one thing that has come out of all this for me is that it has confirmed a truism my own experience has taught me: all bullies are by no means cowards but every bully is convinced that he is the victim.

*in a disorderly manner and presumably pushing, kicking, pinching and giving each other chinese burns and dead legs

Saturday, 20 February 2010

For you Chadwin, the war is over

I see that a Scottish brewery has brewed a beer with a strength of 41%. That’s 1% higher than most malt whiskies, alcoholism fans! Previously they had brewed one at 32% to the dismay of assorted pecksniffs out there and then a German brewery got to the 40% mark and so here we are. Now I am not that fascinated in this tapsters’ arms race but I was taken with the fact that the Scottish beer is called Sink the Bismarck. For those of you whose knowledge of the navies of World War II is not all it might be, let Wikipedia illuminate:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_battleship_Bismarck

There is also, of course, the 1960 war film Sink the Bismarck! which starred Kenneth More in the days when you weren’t allowed to make films in Britain unless he had a major role.

I have to say that I am mildly surprised that there have not been complaints. After all, the war ended 65 years ago and we really ought to give the Germans a break. I am conflicted (sorry) about this. One of the worst moments of national embarrassment I have suffered was when I was training a German volunteer in the fine art of sorting and pricing books donated to a charity bookshop. I emptied out a bag onto the sorting table and, you’re way ahead of me, they were all of the ‘Shoulder Flashes of the Wehrmacht 1938 – 1944’ type. I made an English squeaking noise about these books selling terribly well (which they did) and she sadly said “In England war very popular”. She never came back.

On the other hand, I did once manage to get a totally gratuitous reference to the war into a best man’s speech and cannot share The Guardian’s tutting disapproval of the England football fans habit, when their team is playing Germany, of sticking their arms out sideways and swaying from side to side while humming The Dambusters’ March. It is, of course, partly my age. I did a fair bit of my childhood in the ‘70s and it was impossible to escape the war if you were a young boy. Comics with titles like Hotspur, Victory and Warlord abounded and every newsagent had a spinner of those Commando War Library picture stories. The most startling thing about 2000AD when it was first published in 1977 was not its knowing humour and sneaky politicising, but the fact that it had no WWII stories in it. It seemed to be part of the BBC’s charter that they had to show 633 Squadron every Thursday at six o’ clock and the television schedules were awash with series such as Colditz, Secret Army, Tenko and so on. I remember a teacher at prep school gently pointing out to us that swastikas and RAF roundels were not really festively appropriate decorations for the Christmas crackers we were making for the school tree. The only wonder of it all is that I’m not in the habit of always carrying a gas mask with me whenever I leave the house or fretting about Nazi paratroopers disguised as nuns.

Still, all friends now and I’ll drink to that, but only a small glass please.

Friday, 5 February 2010

SheffieldInDayA

Owing to a series of mildly odd events, I found myself in Sheffield for a day the other week. All very pleasant, albeit wet and an appallingly early start. I’m with the uncle who, on being told that his train left at 6:00 am, responded ‘You mean there’s one in the morning as well?’ Many moons ago I lived in Sheffield for a few months and as part of the diaspora are domiciled there I visit fairly often. However, this was the first time I’d been in the centre for ages and it’s all changed. I couldn’t even work out where the Leadmill was which was embarrassing as my first job was there. There was also a big wheel in a square which was odd. The actual reason for my visit turned out to be a bit of a wash out but it gave me a chance to meet up with one of the clan elders and receive new orders. We also visited the Millennium Gallery where they were staging a John Ruskin themed exhibition with the title Can Art Save Us? I was slightly disappointed to get to the end to find that in their studied opinion, yes it can. I’d been rather hoping for a twist ending along the lines of ‘nah, not really.’

The Millennium Gallery is part of a group calling itself MuseumSheffield. It used to be called Sheffield Museum apparently but the council farmed out the running of it to a private company which immediately rebranded itself in a fit of prioritising. At first this wilful reversal is disconcerting, but after a while it grows on you, or on me anyway, and I spent the next few days amusing myself and dismaying companions by referring to MuseumBritish and TerrierScottish. Try it yourself and see that I’m wrong.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Snow with occasional outbreaks of war crimes

It’s hard not to fondle that chip on your shoulder when there’s a heavy snowfall here in the north east of England and it is not mentioned anywhere in the national news. Had the south east had the snow we had on Saturday morning, Blair’s evidence to the Chilcott enquiry would have been relegated to the humorous ‘…and finally’ section with reporters yet again placed in snow-covered fields and streets to look cold and a tad fed up while stating the bleeding obvious to camera. The Daily Mail would be calling for an immediate election because the editor’s street hadn’t been gritted while adverts from solicitors offering to sue the Met Office if you’ve slipped would be all over the cable channels.

Meanwhile, Blair. Wasn’t that odd and more than a little creepy? I’m surprised that there has been some disappointment that he didn’t break down and weep or do a Jack Nicholson from out of A Few Good Men (‘You want the spin? You couldn’t handle the spin!’) or just explode into a miasma of smug complacency, but then he never was going to do any of these things. While our involvement in the invasion of Iraq is the most appalling thing a British Government has done in my lifetime, expecting Blair to admit an error or show remorse is like expecting, well it’s like expecting Tony Blair to admit an error or show remorse. He’s that rarest of things, his own simile.

But weep not. He knows that he has lost the only thing a politician truly craves for, his legacy. Not the architect of new labour, not the man who broke the political mould. His legacy is a memory of an intellectual lightweight who tried to buy profundity and greatness on the backs of a hundred thousand corpses.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The King & Us

It’s an oddish name, Chadwin, and one much given to misspelling and simply getting wrong. For years family tradition had it that it meant ‘man of the village’ but one of my sisters-in-law who studies such things reckons we were originally the servants of St Chad, Bishop of Mercia. I’m sure she’s right. It would explain, after all, why we of the Chadwin diaspora, before our sabbath meal, turn to face the midlands and give the ancient toast of ‘Next year in Lichfield’.

Having a mildly off-beat name has its ups and down. The ups are that it’s different and off-beat. The downs tend to be people persistently getting it wrong. For some reason an awful lot of the populace insist of spelling it with a ‘y’ instead of ‘i’ and I once had a sports teacher who could not grasp that I wasn’t called ‘Chadwick’. And don’t get me started on my first name. Even one of my aunts gets that one wrong. Then there’s the nickname by which I am generally known which, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be shared by a prominent female singer in the late ‘60s as I found out the hard way when I introduced myself at primary school. Don't talk to me about the sweet sound of childish laughter. She faded somewhat into memory and I began to relax, but then a startlingly popular film was released in the ‘70s which, inter alia, featured a heroine with self-same name to whom John Travolta sang a song. Despite having carefully avoided said film I know all the lyrics as said song has been sung at me on many occasions. And people wonder why I sometimes get tetchy.

The Chadwin name is from the paternal side. Meanwhile, on the distaff side, my mother’s forebears once kidnapped the king of Scotland during of a series of rows with the landlord. They were part of the ‘invite your enemies round for a big meal, get them drunk and then slaughter them all’ school of dispute resolution which makes for tense family get-togethers I can tell you. And their name is a right bugger to spell but you really need to make the effort if you want to survive the entree.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

A Correction

Glancing back over my previous post I notice that the last sentence appears to be saying that the best memorial a novelist can hope for is to be read by me. Modesty does rather demand that I clarify this. What I meant, of course, and as those of you who are paying proper attention would have realised, is that the finest memorial a writer can have is to be read at all once the fleeting caprices of contemporary criticism have moved on. It's a fun game to play. In a century, who will be the Dickens of his or her day? Who will be the Shakespeare* of the 21st century. It is of course impossible to tell but I like to think that in the twelfth circle of hell there is a nineteenth century equivalent of Mark Lawson screaming "Don't they realise that James Thomson's The Seasons is the defining work of the century and Mrs Gaskell is just respectableladylit?"

*Oh all right, Allan really

Thursday, 21 January 2010

R I P Robert B Parker

Certain people who like to parade their moral superiority and sensitivity complain if someone mourns the death of a person they have never met but who may have effected their life in some way, said person normally being in the public eye. The hell with such people I say. I was saddened by the deaths of John Lennon, Alan Hull, George Mackay Brown and Ian Dury for example. And I am saddened by the death of Robert B Parker:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/20/robert-b-parker-obituary

Mr Parker was one of these authors who was very successful in his own country but not so much here and I’m one of the few people I know who actually read him. If you’ve looked at the above obituary, you will see that he was best known for the Spenser novels. I’m not really that fond of private eye stories and I (whispering this carefully) don’t entirely care for Raymond Chandler – funny but too nihilistic for my taste. Parker’s hero, on the other hand, was rather good humoured which makes for a pleasing change in contemporary crime fiction. He also had friends and a girlfriend and a dog and it is the description of these relationships which made the books stand out, for me anyway. I was aware that the books were written in a single draft with Parker rarely taking more than three months over each one and it does occasionally show. There is a certain sameness that creeps in but the intelligence and the genuine anger at complacent hypocrisy that permeates the Spenser novels goes to forgive a lot. I’ll read one tonight, if not two, and if there’s a better memorial to a writer I cannot think of it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Now We Has Blog

A cold wet dreary day. A day for – as Snoopy has it – sitting indoors, looking out of the window with a cup of tea while sad songs play on the stereo.

So I did that.

Alright, being of a more Mediterranean disposition than the Lutheran Charles Schultz I had a glass of wine rather than a cup of tea and I was listening to favourite songs from the musicals courtesy of Spotify rather than sad songs on the stereo, but the theory remains sound.

I’m fond of songs from musicals though I have to careful as I grew up with the original cast soundtrack on album of a few which means that they can induce an intense nostalgia that is almost a tangible pain. Of course, only certain ones. No Sound of Music which I have neither heard all the way through or ever seen, an omission I take a certain pride in, nor West Side Story which for some reason irritates me. No the musicals that get me going are, in no particular order, Guys & Dolls, High Society, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady and Oklahoma!. The last has one of the great songs of dark comedy, ‘Poor Jud Is Dead’. Have a listen, it’s horrible:


I grew up singing this in an unpretty piping voice! No wonder I developed a taste for the macabre in later years and have many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. My father loved it, along with ‘True Love’ from High Society, an altogether nicer song which he adored for its sea-faring rhythm:


So, off to wallow for a while in the past. You don’t get wet and you don’t get wrinkles, or at least not for a while.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

We'll keep the strawberry blond flag flying here

Gave blood the other day. This is not an attempt to garner praise unto myself, the last time I did so was a shame-making quarter of a century ago. No, the reason I mention it is that although I had an appointment, I had to wait fifteen minutes because of the number of other donors. I am not complaining. Au contraire, as the man said on the Bay of Biscay when asked if he had dined*. I am saying that this was great. After all, unlike other countries, you get nothing beyond a cup of tea and the possibility of a biscuit for your time and mild discomfort. Furthermore, it was a cold and slippery Monday in January during the worst snow in fifteen years. As a society this is something we can all be proud of and it is a snowball with a stone hidden in its core in the face of those who insist that humans only operate out of selfishness. You know the ones, they pop up on the radio and television and saying how they have to be paid a vast sum of money with a guaranteed bonus on top in order to keep the top talent. I refer, of course, to the bankers. It is a truism to the point of a cliché that people do not need or want a lot of money to do the right thing. Sorry, most people do not. Greedy stupid people do. And I think we can all agree (at least those of us outside of the greedy stupid community) that giving a lot of money to greedy stupid people is not a good idea. Bit stupid really. Not an original thought, I grant you, but an important one which needs to be repeated to ourselves and others again and again until they get it.

Anyway, onto more important issues. Those of us who are members of what I suppose should now be referred to as the red-haired community have finally come of age as a political force. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a schism! Yay! Old veterans of the wilder edges of the left wing of the tail end of the last century will know well that no movement has truly come of age until it has split. Being another century, this is of course a very media-friendly split over alleged gingerism in Dr Who. Apparently the BBC received 100 complaints about the last episode and no, not about David Tennant’s apparent inability to end a line of dialogue at the same speed with which he started it, but about the new bug’s apparent approval of the fact that he isn’t a red head. Others of the auburn ascendency however agree that the character was in fact lamenting the fact that he had yet again failed to regenerate with red hair which is a running joke in the series. Only one hundred complaints mind, doesn’t seem very many to me. I’m sure there were more about the violence or the bad grammar or the gay characters. That’s the kind of dreary Mary Whitehouseisms that normally sets the ‘phone lines buzzing and e-mails doing whatever e-mails do when they’re busy – guggling? Anyway, not important, the main thing is that we of the copper tendency are split on this matter, and that, in the end, is all that is really important.


*Stolen from The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Is this a topless tower I see before me jesting Pilate?

Saw the new Sherlock Holmes film yesterday. I enjoyed it, my companion was more lukewarm (if you can be more lukewarm) and we discussed it amiably over a pint afterwards. Today having several other things I needed to do as a matter of some urgency, I had a look at some of the responses to the film on-line and in the forums.

Golly, as a girlfriend I used to have would say at inappropriate moments.

The anger, the loathing, the darkness, the horror, the horror. I was quite startled at the depths of feeling this film has produced. I shouldn’t have been of course. I remember the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine/Babylon 5 war in the ‘90s. For those of you who had a life at the time, this concerned the rivalry between the fans of those two science fiction television programmes. Both series were set on futuristic space stations and each side was convinced that the other was a spoiler attempt or outrageous rip-off. It is said that there were death threats, it got so bad. In the end the widow of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had to step in and appear as a guest star on the other show to try and get everyone to calm down. Odd.

The Holmes army seems to fall into three basic categories: only Basil Rathbone will do; only Jeremy Brett will do; they’ll both do but no-one else or we’ll start killing the hostages. These people, as my mother (silver hair for the use of) says, do not have enough to worry about. On The Guardian forum there’s a good solid dose of snobbery as well.

It is of course very peculiar to watch these violent disagreements going on if you have no strong feelings on the matter. When the aforementioned Guardian placed The Wire at number 14 of their fifty best TV series list the other day, one poster was unable to even type coherently he was so angry. As it happens, I haven’t seen that series and no longer intend to. After the hysterical praise given to it, it can only be a crushing disappointment, like Withnail & I.

Where else may one find such sound and fury? Dr Who? No, though some Tennant fans get a tad shirty if you gently point out that he didn’t so much act in his last episodes as swivel his eyes and hair in random directions as the mood took him. Liked his Hamlet though. James Bond? No, though there was some promising skirmishing when Daniel Craig was cast. Dracula? Nary a squeak to my knowledge. Incidentally, the best vampire film out there is the appealingly named Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. No, honest, it was written and directed by the people who made The Avengers.

So where and what is my ignition point? What sets me off into incandescent fury? I’m not a football fan so nothing there. With a superior air that I like to feel I can carry off rather nicely, I assumed I was above such things and could look and laugh at all that.

I was wrong.

If you’re bored and you wish to reduce me to the kind of gibbering fury that so convulsed that Wire fan mentioned above, then suggest to me that Shakespeare did not write his plays. Suggest that Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe (current favourite with these braindead morons) did instead. I had intended to blog on this subject a month or so ago after some correspondent to The Times trotted out the Marlowe theory in the letters page but found I was actually unable to do so as I was so angry. I’m having difficulty now. I’ve no idea why this one so infuriates me, but it does. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a forum I need to add to…

Friday, 8 January 2010

Mine's An Opinion, If You're Asking

David Yallop, lately editor of the Sun tabloid and author of a book about being a recovering alcoholic, was on a radio ‘phone-in the other day getting very outraged with a caller who questioned his authority to make proposals about the law concerning alcohol sales. Now I naturally wish Mr Yallop all the best in his continuing struggle against alcoholism and hope the book sells well but I do wonder about the validity of his comments about the law. The harsh fact is that Mr Yallop’s relationship with alcohol has failed catastrophically and so his suggestions may be as useful as a boy racer’s proposals on traffic calming. Kindly do not misunderstand me. It was his insistence that his personal experience trumped all other input that was worrying. My concern is with the idea that personal experience gives total understanding of that experience. I suffer from depression which means that I can describe how it effected me and correct some of the misconceptions that abound about the condition, but I am no authority on the correct treatment of it. I prefer the talking therapy to anti-depressants, but that’s only because it seemed that the former worked for me and the latter did not. My opinion is not sacrosanct, I may have grossly underestimated the effect of the drugs, and others are welcome to disagree and my experience does not make me a counsellor. After all, if I broke a leg I would rather have it set by a qualified doctor who has never broken anything than by a journalist who has had a broken leg and who has written Crutches of Shame: My Broken Leg Hell.