Enjoy the Unexpected


I’ve just arrived home from work, unusually early, thanks to some weird goings on this afternoon. Little more than ninety minutes ago, I was working a case with one ryre looking forward to my lunch break, due in about twenty minutes, when the fire alarm went off. It’s at least two years since one of those last happened when I was on shift.

As I was sat at my desk, it was easy top grab my bag off the floor and my jacket off the chairback and evacuate. That wasn’t easy. I work on the Fifth Floor and, since the last time I had to do this, we’ve added the First and Second Floors. There were bottlenecks, enough to have been problematical in the event of smoke…

And we were kept outside for longer than any of these things have lasted before. When they started summoning us inside, they started with the Fifth Floor.

Thoae of you familiar with Fire Regulations will know that not until everyone is back inside and the alarms has been reset can the lifts be used (we only have one anyway at the moment, the other’s been out of action for almost a week), and for someone of my age, girth and dodgy knees, five flights is no picnic. My line manager, whose waistline is even bigger than mine, authorised me waiting for the lifts to be restored.

So we waited. Unfortunately, this was no ordinary fire alarm. No-one had yet owned up to setting it off, but worryingly it had not sounded on the First Floor, so they had had to go up to higher floors to work, until the alarm was reset. And the lifts could not be released until the First Floor was reset. Which had to be done by the Landlord’s Engineer. Who was on his way but who wasn’t expected for another half hour to an hour.

My manager’s shift was all but done, so he phoned up to the Fifth to have someone bring down his coat, bag and car keys so he could go home. I was reluctantly girding my loins for the walk upstairs (which would require three breaks minimum and at least twenty minutes recovery period once I got up there: I know, I had to do that two weeks ago) as I still had three hours left on my shift.

But my manager overruled me, and sent me home. This required a quick call to the Fifth to tell Jim to also bring my glasses case, which contains my normal spectacles (I have, and had on, a ‘reading’ pair for use at the computer only). And here I am, unexpectedly, with sausage butties brought in from the local chippy – the sausages, that is, I had the bread.

An unexpected alteration to my working hours, but not a necessarily unwelcome one.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e09 – ‘Defiant’


Funnily enough, it's not about the ship
Funnily enough, it’s not about the ship

An unusually absorbing episode that left me with no real ideas where it might go, and definitely one of the strongest that Deep Space Nine has produced thus far. ‘Defiant’ was basically a two-hand episode, centring upon Sisko and Major Kira, each of whom was paired with one of the episode’s two prominent guest stars, Gul Dukat and a very unexpected figure from elsewhere in the Star Trek mythos.

This latter was Jonathan Frakes, reprising – or so we initially thought – his part as Commander Will Riker from The Next Generation. Riker turns up in Quark’s,at the end of the open, most of which had been dedicated to the Major being overworked and being ordered to rest and relax.

There was certainly a degree of relaxation – if not quiet rest – in our favourite redhead’s absorption in the baby blue eyes of the visiting Commander, and she was happy enough to spend her off-duty hours showing around the ‘Defiant’, even after a disturbing encounter with Chief O’Brien, to whom Riker refused to speak (was there any TNG justification for that? I confess my ignorance). But the quasi-date took an unexpected turn when Commander Riker whipped out his phaser and shot the Major.

For the twist was that this was not Will Riker, but rather his transporter duplicate, Tom Riker, who’d appeared in a single TNG episode in the sixth season of that show. Lieutenant Riker was a new one on me, but his reality was explained with commendable brevity, and that was all I needed.

Tom Riker has joined the Maquis and intends using the ‘Defiant’ to attack the Cardassian Empire, in particular a ship-building base. He has the captive Kira on his back for the rest of the episode, trying to dissuade him from igniting the full-scale invasion and destruction of the Demilitarized Zone by Cardassia whilst over in the parallel strand, Sisko has offered himself to Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo’s longest and deepest portrayal of the character to date) to halt the ‘Defiant’, and maybe prevent it (and Kira) from being utterly destroyed.

Riker’s plans, as Kira took some pains to point out, were not those of a terrorist  (and she should know) but of a Starfleet Officer, concerned with tactics and intelligence, which have revealed the potential existence of the aforementioned shipbuilding base. Which is more that Dukat is aware of. He’s under the watchful eye of the Obsidian Order’s representative, Korianos, who, when Sisko sees that Riker’s plan is to give himself a clear run at the Orias System – supposedly a barren region – forbids any movement in that direction. It belongs to the Order, and any ship entering that system will be destroyed. Even if it is Cardassian.

There are obvious levels at work here, and everybody wants to know what’s in the Orias system, not least Dukat. And when it turns out that there are warships there – warships considerably faster and advanced than they should be, when the Obsidian Order are expressly forbidden military equipment…

This mystery remains for future episodes to explore (which I hope they do), but for now it’s Sisko’s opportunity to negotiate a settlement that won’t bring war down on everyone’s heads. In return for the ‘Defiant’s scans of the Orios System, Dukat will authorise the return of the ship, Kira and its crew to the Federation. One scapegoat however is required.

At the urging of Kira to be a Starfleet Officer one last time, Tom Riker agrees to surrender. Sisko has secured a sentence of life in a prison camp, as opposed to execution, and Kira promises they’ll get him out, for which enthusiasm she gets Riker’s tongue halfway down her throat. So it’s all settled, for now, though a quick peek establishes that Tom Riker never appeared again in the Star Trek universe…

As I said, a greatly gripping episode, especially in that the ending was neither fudged nor rushed. For once, the tension was allowed to ratchet itself up without undue and unnecessary cliffhanger danger, which made it all for the better, and the seeming rift between the Central Council and the Obsidian Order was left carefully unresolved, ready for further development when wanted.

As for the rest of the cast, most of them got one scene and one scene only, without fuss, and in natural settings that didn’t leave you feeling like they had seen shoe-horned into the episode just to fulfill their quota. Even though they had. If they can keep up this standard from hereon in (most weeks), Deep Space Nine will be a delight to watch.

The Lakes in November


It’s officially Autumn now, and in keeping with that decree, the recent Indian summer of September seems to have done a runner, leaving grey skies, cloud and persistent if not heavy rain. And my thoughts turn to Cumbria and the Lake District.

In about six weeks time, I celebrate my birthday, though it takes an elastic definition of the word ‘celebrate’ to cover the situation. Nevertheless, it has now become a tradition that when my birthday comes up, I take a week off work and, on the Thursday, I catch the train north for a day in the Lakes.

It is, of course entirely the wrong time of year to visit the Lakes, especially if that visit has to be conducted by train from Manchester. I ought to start a parallel tradition of going to Cumbria in, say, May, when skies have a decent chance of being blue, and cloud-free and, at the very least, light until 6.00pm and longer.

But my parents were inconsiderate enough to have had me in November, condemning me to be a Scorpio (as if that nonsense means anything) and an annual reminder of where my spirit lives has to be made in my natal month, or what else is it worth?

Given the cost of train tickets, especially if you leave buyng them until the last minute, it’s time to start laying plans and crossing fingers that, this year perhaps, it might actually stay dry, and maybe clear enough to enable me to get out onto the fells and toil upwards a few hundred feet above valley level.

So, where will we go this year, and what will we plan?

Four times out of the past five years, I’ve set my aim for Windermere, and Ambleside, with or without a side-trip to Grasmere. The other occasion, I disembarked at Penrith and caught the bus over to Keswick, which was considerably less successful. For one thing, the additional stretch from Windermere to Penrith adds a disproportionate amount to the trainfare. For another, it takes a hell of a lot longer from Penrith to Keswick than it does from Windermere to even Grasmere.

And if you have ambitions to get into the fells in even the most minimal degree, it’s a bloody sight easier to do so from Ambleside and Grasmere than it is from Keswick.

So the pragmatics of the situation come down very heavily in favour of Windermere again.

In the hope of getting good Lake District grass, earth and rock under my feet again, and subject to the timetable for 2016, I’m thinking of reviving last year’s plan that was so badly buggered about by BT and others. This is to take an earlier train (but not so early that the fares start to escalate) so as to arrive in a) Windermere and b) Grasmere with a longer period of daylight ahead.

I will then, subject to the great unpredictable that is the British weather, set off with a view to climbing Helm Crag from Grasmere village. It’s not as if I’m spoilt for choice, given my circumstances. Black Fell and Holme Fell on either side of the Ambleside – Coniston road would be ideal, and the former has a view out of all proportion to the effort required to reach its summit, but that then means coordinating with another bus, to Coniston, finding bus stops and having to be very rigid about timing to make sure of being back in time for the return bus – and given my paranoia, that would put a serious crimp in the day.

What do I want in November? Sunshine? Sunshine would be nice, it would make the photographs I can take look much better if everything isn’t tending towards the same shade of grey. But this is November, and I’m not going in hoping for anything greater than clear, and dry. No clouds clinging to the fells on either side, and a clear run – or walk – down Easedale Road, to the bottom of that climb up Helm Crag.

And I’d maim to have the kind of early start I missed out on in 2015, because if I’m to stand any chance of getting to the Lion and the Lamb, I need the biggest allowance of time I can get. It’s already four years since the last time I actually got into the fells, that utterly wonderful day I scrambled up to Heron Crag, part of Loughrigg Fell, out of Ambleside. And I’m slower, and with less stamina than even then.

I need all the time in the world, which put a thought into my head that I neeeds to test out for viability (which, as it usually does, translates into how much it might cost.) Was there any reason why I could not travel up on Wednesday instead, stay overnight in, say, Ambleside, so as to be free first thing Thursday morning to either catch an early bus to Grasmere for the biggest allowance of daylight possible or, if it’s pissing down, take a bus trip to either Coniston or Keswick, with ample time for me to return to Windermere for the train home?

That was definitely a case of breaking out of tunnel thinking, but unfortunately, the price gradient is against me, not to mention availability. You’d think hotels and guests houses would be at least inclining in a backwards direction to attract visitor in mid-November, but if those are winter prices, I doubt I’ll ever get to stay in the Lake District again!

Maybe in 2017, I can plan a bit further ahead. At least I can do the trains dirt cheap if I pay now…

The Fall Season 2016: Designated Survivor


I hadn’t intended on adding anything new to my TV schedule, at least not until iZombie returns, but the reports on the pilot episode did make me curious about Keifer Sutherland’s new starring vehicle, Designated Survivor. And it’s Sunday morning, and I’m all relaxed, so I thought I’d give it a look, and for the next few weeks at least, I’ll be watching to see how it develops.

At the very least, it’s a refreshing change to watch Sutherland in something where I’m actually enjoying both the story and his own performance. 24 was played out a very long time ago, and whilst Live Another Day proved that there were still stupidities that hadn’t been plumbed, unbelievable as that may have sounded, Designated Survivor enables Sutherland to play a much more rounded character than the exceedingly limited bundle of cliches Jack Bauer had become.

Apparently, when he was handed the script for this pilot, Sutherland send that he instantly realised that this was his life for the next ten years. How right he’ll be we will know in 2026, but the show has a fascinating premise and has given itself a brief to sort out a potentially tremendous story.

Designated Survivor makes use of a real-life American political concept and situation. Each year, when the President delivers the State of the Union address to Congress, one member of his cabinet is excluded from the event, and is taken to an unknown, secure location, to be the Designated Survivor. The theory is that, in the event of some massive – and successful – terrorist attack on the government, the chain of command will not be severed and the Survivor will be forthwith sworn in as President.

So we are introduced to Tom Kirkman, Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Development, and this year’s Designated Survivor. At home, his daughter is refusing to go to bed and he’s talking her down. Dressed in sweatshirt and jeans, Kirkman and his wife Helen are watching President Richmond delivering his address when the screens go blank. Seconds later, the Secret Service bust into the room, grab all their communications devices, and hustle them off, but before they leave, Kirkman opens the blinds, to look across night-time Washington towards the Capitol Dome.

It isn’t there. Instead, there’s a blazing fire.

After the credits, we get a flashback or two to set us up with some background. Earlier in the day, Kirkman and his executive assistant Emily discovered that every single one of their department’s proposals had been cut out of the Address and indeed, despite his loyalty, President Richmond wanted Kirkman out, offering him an ‘Ambassadorship’ to some UN-sponsored Civil Aviation Authority things based in Canada.

Over Helen’s – a lawyer – objections, Kirkman is going for this, a true loyalist, though it’ll bugger up their Washington life more than somewhat, when he gets the call: what, he asks, is a Designated Survivor?

The rest of the episode is fast-paced and deliberately confusing, to match Kirkman’s response to being pitched into the biggest job in the world at a moment of greatest chaos in the world. Not everybody thinks he’s up to it: hell, nobody, least of all Kirkman, a ‘glorified real estate agent’ who’s never been elected, believes he’s up to it.

Seth Wright, his chief speechwriter, openly tells him to resign, though that’s when they’re in adjoining toilet cubicles, both throwing up, and Seth doesn’t know who he’s talking to. But the Deputy Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs does know who he’s talking to and he’s already planning a military coup to overthrow Kirkman.

Elsewhere, there’s Leo Kirkman, a teenager and dealer in drugs who’s sudden;y snatched from a club and brought in to the White House, and there’s Hannah Wells, an FBI analyst who’s probably lost her partner in the bomb, who’se dropping heavy hints that this is just the beginning.

There’s nobody claiming responsibility, and enemy nations ringing in to disclaim involvement. The Iranians have moved ten destroyers into the Straits of Hormuz. Our self-important Hawk is already exceeding his authority by sending in warships, and is less than impressed when Kirkman asserts his Presidentship to make him wait, though you, I and the rest of the audience get to see our man start to lower his voice a la Jack to give the Iranian ambassador an ultimatum; if they’re not back in dock in three hours, the morning papers won’t be talking about the attack on America’s capitol, they’ll be featuring America’s destruction of the Iranian one.

We close on President Kirkman about to make his first television address to the Nation, but that’s enough to be going on with. Intriguing set-up, some nice pot-stirring, and let’s go back next week to see what starts to poke its head over the trenches. It’s on Wednesday nights in America, so that should fit in, there’s only Arrow that night…

Monty Python’s Flying Circus


You could possibly say that I had a deprived childhood. There was this programme on BBC TV, late on Sunday evenings, with a weird title, that made me curious. All I had to go on was the name in the TV schedules: what on Earth could it be about? When I mentioned it to my parents, said I’d like to see it to see what it was about, they said it was rubbish. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

That wasn’t much by itself. It was at school where it got serious. By this time, the programme had moved to Thursday evenings, I think (I could look all this up, but when you’re in the shadowy areas of distant memory, it’s best not to let facts taint anything). And Friday morning would come round and I’d arrive at school and it was like a nightmare. Spam? Spam? Why’s everybody going round saying spam all the time? And what’s this sudden fascination with being a Lumberjack?

I had no idea what it was all about, and my status at school was sufficiently shaky as to deter me from asking questions. I was already so far behind everybody when it came to knowing things about the outside world that being confessedly outside this… this… hell, I had no idea what it was but it was obviously so massively popular that I didn’t dare ask what the thing was.

Well, eventually, I came to know that these Friday morning mystery obsessions were sketches – long long since classics – from the oddly named Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Not that I still ever got to see these things for myself, since my parents still thought it was rubbish and wouldn’t have it on. They’d been pretty hip about Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In but this was another order of things.

But it means that, seemingly alone among all my contemporaries, I was immune to the fascination and hilarity of one of the seminal comedy programmes of all time. I missed the whole thing when it was there to be experienced, I was further ostracised through ignorance and, when I did finally get to see these programmes and sketches and insanity for myself, I couldn’t relax into just watching and laughing. I was self-conscious about my massive gap in knowledge, and I couldn’t just take in any sketch when I was constantly going, ‘oh, so that’s what they were talking about’.

If I’d watched Monty Python in the ordinary way, probably I’d have been in hysterics at what I was seeing. I was already developing an antic sense of humour that took delight in anarchy and improbability, and I had a burgeoning loyalty towards the even more seminal comedy that inspired the Pythons themselves, The Goon Show.

To the best of my recollection, I’d actually only heard one Goon Show by that time, a Saturday night repeat that included a gag that I remember to this day which had me rolling on the floor laughing. But I’d been introduced to the Goons through the wonderfully silly puppet version, The Telegoons, and its comic strip version in TV Comic.

I wouldn’t properly get into the Goons in their serious form until the Seventies and, truth to tell, they hold the place in my funny bone that those of my generation reserve for Monty Python. That chance was missed, and it can’t be created retrospectively.

The only Monty Python I did see when it came out was the fifth and final John Cleese-less series, which everyone agrees wasn’t up to their standards. I’ve seen the films, two of them in the cinema, I heard the Live at the Hollywood Bowl album innumerable times (the fact that I relatively quickly got bored with shrieks of ‘Albatross!’ suggests that I might not have been the ideal receptive audience after all), and I’ve seen most if not all of the programmes.

I’ve even seen all the unwiped episodes of the two series that fed into Python, the BBC’s At Last the 1948 Show and ITV’s Do Not Adjust Your Set, the later of which I’d watched and loved when it came out.

That one featured Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. And Terry Jones is why I’m rummaging through these memories today. Terry Jones, a very funny man, a very intelligent man, a very likeable man, whose family yesterday disclosed that he is suferring from progressive primary aphasia, a form of dementia.

Why do these things happen to the best and the brightest? Though the tide seems to have rolled back in recent months, this has been a devastating year for the loss of the immensely talented, and it is as bad to hear of someone like Terry Jones being affected in this manner as it would be to hear of his death. There are those who would say that dignity and being a Python are things that should never be placed in the same sentence, and they’re not only those who, like my parents, found nothing of what the Pythons did to be funny. But dammit, I may not have the attachment to Terry and the gang that my generation owns, but he doesn’t deserve this.

Nobody does. But some don’t deserve it more than others.

Memories die. Times fade. I will always remember the sheer, hopeless bemusement of those Friday mornings as Terry and the Pythons moved the world away from me on a weekly basis.

 

The Infinite Jukebox: Iggy Pop and Deborah Harry’s ‘Well, Did You Evah?’


Sometimes, as they grow older, rockers choose to opt for respectability. They cut back on the guitars and call up the strings, they mute their holler into something approximating a croon, and they record albums of ‘standards’. Rod Stewart, I am looking at you, or I would be if you weren’t conspicuously taller than me, and don’t live in Stockport either.

However you want to describe it, it’s a hell of a betrayal. After making the music of their life, after being as aggressive, raucous and exciting as their times have driven them to be, they want suddenly to sing the songs their parents enjoyed, they want to ‘prove’ that they can sing, really ‘sing’, the way they were never supposed to when they did the things of their life.

If you click on the video below, for its first minute it will take you back to old Hollywood. It will show you crowds gathering for the premiere of High Society, a musical starring such old style singers as Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Two musical giants, two absolutely mammoth singers, and one actress who… well, let’s say she was blonde and fit.

And there’s footage of Cole Porter, the composer, one of the giants of the great era of American musical songwriting.

And there’s a clip from the film, of Sinatra and Crosby trading lines in a relaxed, gentle, easy-going performance of Porter’s ‘Well, Did You Evah!’ (actually, an existing song, adapted for the film and thrown in at the last minute when someone realised that they would otherwise have to go without a duet).

Which is all very well until along come Iggy and Debbie, aging rockers in 1990 (when they were 43 and 45 respectively), and the remainder of the video is this poor, unsuspecting, innocent song, a song of an earlier era, being bloodily beaten to death with disdainfully ironic vocals from a pair who cannot conceal their contempt for a song that lacks any connection to any world real to you or me.

It’s silly, acidic, pounding, aggressive, full of asides and sneers and laughter. If my mother had lived to hear it, she would have covered her ears and begged me to switch it off. If my father had lived to hear it, he would have bellowed at me to switch it off even before Ms Harry sings the opening line. Yet it’s a glorious, irreverent, explosive version of the song, and a minor work of genius that deserves to be played every hour, on the hour, as a reminder that some people take themselves far too bloody seriously. Mr Stewart, I am once again looking (upwards) at you.

Start the weekend here!

What it’s like to be a Red: The view from 22 September 2016


This is not going to become a regular thing, but I feel it incumbent to record that United did break their losing streak and comfortably overcome Northampton Town, a League One side (a League One side that had gone 31 matches unbeaten before meeting us, I feel I should mention).

Apparently, United dominated the game for 80 minutes, but wobbled when the home team scored an against the run of play equaliser from the penalty spot, so that enabled the Press to continue on their narrative.

But it’s not so much the win, or the fact that it doesn’t seem to have alleviated the Old Trafford crisis, as Mourinho’s press conference afterwards. It’s not his fault, it’s nothing to do with him, it’s all these ‘Einstein’s trying to undermine him, to bring him down, when they don’t know as much as he does, nobody knows as much as he does. Everybody’s out to get him.

And people wonder why I can’t give my heart to a man like this unreservedly.