The Office: s02 e03/04 – Party/Motivation


Office

The funny thing is. But I’m talking, as my Dad used to distinguish it, not about funny ha-ha but about funny peculiar. I find it next to impossible to watch more than two episodes of The Office back to back but, almost as soon as I’d finished writing last week’s blog, I wanted to watch more. It’s been difficult restraining myself for a whole week. But the moment episode 3 began, I was twisting about in the same manner, alternating between laughing and whimpering in sheer embarrassment, and not always alternating.

Again, the two episodes formed something of a unit, linked as they were by David Brent’s disastrous foray into the world of business seminars and motivational speaking. In episode 3, Brent is approached by guest stars Tom Goodman-Hill and Jennifer Hennessy as Ray and Jude, representatives of a company that do business seminars and training. At first, Brent’s casual, overacting that his time is valuable, better things to do, in short being bloody rude. His tone changes when they explain that they’re not offering to do Wernham Hogg’s training but want him to do training for them, as an expert. For £300 for fifteen minutes speaking. Nice work if you can get it, and even nicer if you can keep yourself from pointing out to everyone that can’t get away far enough fast enough that that adds up to £1,200 an hour. And episode 4 shows what Brent made of it.

On one level the thing’s highly predictable. You know it will all be a disaster, that Brent will make a holy show of himself, it will fall flatter than the Nevada Desert, but it’s like Morecamble and Wise at their peak: you knew what was going, and you could even predict some of the lines, but you still laughed your head off. But Gervais and Marchant turn the screw to the point of bursting. It’s not just an absolute disaster, but a disaster pinned down and butterfly-mounted in every line, every gesture and, most of all, in every background extra.

I mentioned this in relation to Lucy Davis last week, but this week it was clear that she’s merely primus inter pares (Martin Freeman is nearly as good but his expressiins are more comically overt) but one of the greatest aspects of this show is the precision in which the silent extras, and even the more sane stars, react, without words, with only minimal expressions, emphasising the sheer grotesquerie of what you’re experiencing. Without that visual representation of your own WTF responses, the show couldn’t be as funny as it is.

And it’s not just Brent. Gareth Keenan, in a completely different manner, is only marginally better. You cringe at practically everything Brent says or does but Gareth, whose range of monstrosity is so much narrower, you would walk away from, unable to subject yourself to his witless meanderings any longer. This is particularly acute in the multi-angled compressed triangles of Tim/Rachel/Dawn, Tim/Rachel/Gareth and Tim/Dawn/Lee. On the one hand, Gareth is trying to get himself into Rachel’s knickers by the only way he knows, namely crude, oblivious and horribly real and depressing, whilst Tim’s flirtations with the eager Rachel are open and enthusiastic, winding Gareth up and depressing poor Dawn, who very evidently is interested in him far more than she lets on to herself, whilst you’ve got the orthodox triangle involving her fiance Lee, from the warehouse, who pig ignorant chauvinist pigs would look down upon and sneer at for a pig ignorant chauvinist pig.

Episode 3 is centred around Trudy’s birthday and how the risque gifts she’s been bought by her colleagues drag the episode down, or should that be up, into a rompish thing of cheap sex jokes and innuendo so blatant as to not even be single entendres. It’s pitch-perfect, whilst the scene in which Brent winds up waggling a grotesque pink vibrating dildo that he can’t work out how to switch off is priceless. Not that the motivational talk isn’t infinitely more pointed but this just had me howling.

Underlying all of this is the ongoing slide of the series towards the moment of inevitability. I said last week that the series’ one true flaw is that it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to imagine how this David Brent could ever have gotten to the height of Branch Manager. I quoted the Peter Principle, that every man is promoted to the level of his own incompetence, and judging by that it is possible to see Brent as a decent salesman, hard-working and focussed, promoted to a level he’s genuinely unsuited to, and between egotism over having his abilities recognised and the subconscious fear of being found out, he’s constructed this elaborate monster of not just adquacy but brilliance to hide from himself that he is a five foot man in a six foot bog.

Brent’s performsance is sliding rapidly. He’s getting worse. Neil can see that as plainly as we can. He just isn’t up to it. And every little thing that Neil says or does is being challenged in a display of petulance that would embarrass a four year old. It’s going one way. Brent is not only being given ample enough rope with which to hang himself, he’s simultaneously building the scaffold. The pond water may be turbid and murky, but we can see through it clearly enough.

All the Fells: Hartsop above How


Hartsop above How

Hartsop above How – The Eastern Fells 1,870′ (177)

Date: 12 September 1993

From: Bridgend, Patterdale

Even though Wainwright indicates a ridge route from its narrow summit to the parent fell of Hart Crag, Hartsop above How always came over to me as a summit with no other options but to visit and then return. Geographically speaking, it’s another of those where it’s arguable that it’s a separate fell at all, its highest point, sometimes called Gill Crag, being little higher than the continuation of the ridge into the east flank of Hart Crag. To me it was made for a Sunday afternoon leg-stretcher on the first day of a holiday starting in Keswick, ticking off another on the list and demanding nothing that went any further. Structurally, the fell is a narrow, steep-sided, sickle-curve of a ridge and whilst that description could also apply to the Long Stile ridge leading to High Street, the comparison is very flattering to Hartsop above How. It was a decent walk, good exercise, but not much else, and the shape of the fell meant that the only possible variation by way of descent was to cross to the other side of the wall, and follow a line that was parallel but not much more than five yards away from the ascent.

The Infinite Jukebox: Lulu’s ‘To Sir, With Love’


Sometimes I swear, I just don’t know. I am prepared to put my hand on my heart and challenge all-comers to say that this is not Lulu’s best song. Lulu. Little Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie of the Sixties, one of the bubbliest and brightest of girl singers, a favourite when it came to chucking in Golden Oldies on Radio 1 and I never heard this song, not until Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. duetted on a live version of it for a bonus track on a CD single. And when I check out the reasons why I had never heard this song in Lulu’s own voice, I find that this is because, despite it being a rightful no. 1 in America, where it was her only Top Ten hit, here in Britain it was no more than a B-side. A B-side. To ‘Let’s Pretend’ which, let’s face it, isn’t fit to clean off its nail varnish.
‘To Sir, With Love’ wasn’t merely a song, it was the title song to the 1966 movie of the same name, in which Lulu starred as a cheeky schoolgirl alongside Sydney Poitier and Judy Geeson. Poitier played an American teacher, a black American teacher, coming to teach a class of unruly and undisciplined teenagers in an Inner London School. I have never seen the film but from what I know of the story, gleaned largely from Wikipedia, it seems to follow the fairly conventional path of the teacher being disregarded at first but gradually winning the kids around to responsible behaviour, learning and better future prospects.
At the end, having decided to resign, Poitier’s character reconsiders after learning that not only has his class come to respect him but they have come to love him, so he tears up his resignation letter and decides to stay on.
Perhaps the film is redeemed by its performances but to be truthful it’s outline has never inclined me to make the effort to see it. But the title song justifies the whole thing as far as I’m concerned.
It’s actually performed in the film at what I assume to be some kind of end-of-year do. It’s a tribute to Poitier’s character, a heartfelt thank you to him for the influence he has had upon the class. This is hardly a conventional subject to fit to a pop song, especially when, even in those more innocent days, the idea of a schoolgirl singing what is in one sense a love song to an adult teacher comes close to being very suspicious.
The song starts wistfully, deliberately harking to the singer’s youth, her schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails. She acknowledges that they are gone, but that in her mind they will live on, by implication for a long time. But there’s a reason why they’re gone and it’s not just the slow addition of the years, for there is someone who has been a marker, someone who has been responsible, someone who has taken her from crayons to perfume. How can she thank him for doing this? It isn’t easy but she’ll try…
And the song bursts into that big, sweeping chorus, that invokes something beyond and above, something impossible to complete, the legend-quest of fantasy brought down to earth but revived in a dirty little school: if he wanted the sky, I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand foot high: To Sir, With Love.
There’s a little bit of awe wrapped up in that, that you would try to give what’s far too big to give to someone who wanted it, because they have been of supreme importance to you. Is this really about admiration, about respect, about gratitude for someone who has changed you, who has shown you how to grow?
That’s where the song shows its hand next. Lulu once again muses upon the change that is happening and which is about to be completed. The time has come, as time always comes. Books must be closed and last long looks come to an end. Leaving is at hand, but that leaving means saying goodbye to a best friend, a friend who has taught you right from wrong, weak from strong: what can she give him in return?
And it’s that chorus again, but this time she fantasises that it’s the moon he wants, and she’d try to produce that, but this time she can’t help but reveal her true feelings, to tell him that she would rather he let her give him her heart…
And if she sings like this, pleading, you start to wonder if he really can resist.
Psychologically, the song is an answer to Gary Puckett and The Union Gap’s ‘Young Girl’, seen this time from the position of the younger woman. Details shift slightly: the singer of ‘To Sir, With Love’ is not underage as is heavily implied in Puckett’s song, but instead she’s dealing with a person in an authority relationship to her so it’s the same thing from a different angle.
Whatever the sexual politics of the matter, which would have been ignored in the days of the film and the (non) – hit, the fact remains that this song has a brilliant, uplifting chorus, and that Lulu hits all the emotional notes perfectly. I still can’t understand why her record company decided not to release it as an A-side, because I remain convinced it would have been the biggest hit of her career, and maybe slowed her drift towards variety at a time when she had a very powerful pop presence to her.
And I’d have been familiar with the song for a very long time by now. Let’s face it, the Infinite Jukebox is about my selection of songs, so of necessity there’s a selfishness to everything. And I once too had someone, if they had asked for the sky, would have had me working out how to tear it down and wrap it all in a pink bow for her…

All the Fells: Harter Fell (Mardale)


Harter Fell – The Far Eastern Fells 2,539′ (10)

Date: 20 August 1975/12 June 1994/16 August 1997

From: Mardale Head/ Mardale Ill Bell/ Kentmere Pike

Like the Eskdale Harter Fell, my first visit to its Mardale namesake was with my family. In 1975, I had still never been to Mardale nor seen Haweswater, not even in a distant view, though I had suggested a number of walks that would at least give me a chance to see it. But it was an unspoken bargain that if the family were to take a holiday at Ullswater, we would finally visit Haweswater since it would no longer be too far to drive. We headed over there on the Wednesday, a long, roundabout route that was outside and then back in. My Uncle stopped the car by the dam to let me get a good look at it and a photo, then it was down to the head of the Lake and into out walking gear. It was a cool, blustery day. I don’t remember having any input into what we were going to do, and the Mardale Harter was actually a bit higher than the normal run of fells we would tackle in that half-decade, but the approach was straightforward and simple, and on grass all the way. This was out of the parking area and turn left to head for Gatescarth Pass. It may have been grass every step of the way, but I drunk all of it in, because I’d never seen any of this before. There was no path from the top of the Pass to Harter so, with me as bookholder and guide, we followed the wire fence uphill to the lowly hillock of Adam a Seat, then followed the fence as it angled across the flank until it reached the summit ridge at the north end of the long top. The classic full-length view of Haweswater from the third cairn was mere yards away and I was allowed to divert to it for a photo if I promised to be ultra-careful of the wind and the nearby cliff-top. As if I, with my vertigo, was going to get near enough to it to go over in the face of the wind! We then walked back to the actual summit, which was second in height only to Lingmell amongst those ascents we’d completed thus far. I expected us to reverse our steps back towards Gatescarth but I was in for a surprise. With the excuse of wanting to see down into Kentmere, where the Reservoir was a bright spot under increasingly dark and threatening clouds, gather overhead, we crossed the top until it was visible. Then, to my shock, we went down that way, towards Nan Bield Pass. It was only the second time, and the first with my Uncle, that we had not descended by the exact same route as our ascent. Well-wrapped up, we got to Nan Bield and that classic view to Haweswater over Small Water, and wound our way down the other Pass to the car. I was to come back to Harter, unexpectedly, before the end, a Sunday there-and-back to Mardale and as close to the valley head as I could. This was another of those half dozen days that, at the drop of a hat (or, more practically, twenty-five years) I would repeat enthusiastically. High Street by Rough Edge and Long Crag, Mardale Ill Bell, the previously unclimbed purpose of the day and, back at Nan Bield with time to spare and plenty of walking yet in my legs, the impromptu decision to go back over Harter, straight up and over, trailing in the wake of a lady walker whose black stretch pants were so stretched that it was less a case of VPL (Visible Pantie Line) as VPC (Visible Pantie Colour). I descended via the third cairn along a brand new path direct to Gatescarth top, that had been walked not only into existence but into erosion in the less than two decades since I had been here before. And there was one more visit, though not an especially successful one, post-Wainwrights. I wanted to do the Kentmere Horseshoe, from Shipman Knotts to Harter Fell in the morning, and returning from Thornthwaite Fell to Yoke, but with walking days becoming fewer, my stamina was ebbing away. and it was a hot day and I ran out of water before descending to Nan Bield, leaving me no option but a very long, very slow and very dry retreat down the valley until, almost back at the village, I knocked on a door and had my water bottle half-filled with cold tapwater that I guzzled eagerly, but which was not enough to stave off a sun-induced headache that I tried to medicate with paracetamol back at the main road, one of which I promptly brought up in the road.

Film 2022: House of Flying Daggers


House

After my experience with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I was more than a bit trepidatious about approaching this thing but I needn’t have worried on that score: more than just being visible throughout, even in the night-time scenes, House of Flying Daggers was a visual riot throughout, light, bright, clean, vivid and rich in colours.

It’s a film with a glowing reputation, received with tremendous praise when it was released in 2004 and apparently having given Channel 4 it’s biggest ever audience when shown three years later. Yet though it was ebxcellent on the terms it set out for itself – one might say flawless – it ended up not quite disappointing me but rather failing to fully impress me the way I was looking for it to do.

The story is set during the decline of the Tang Dynasty, against a background of corrupt government and revolutionary factions, one of which is the Robin Hood-like titular House of Flying Daggers. Two Captains, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who have already assassinated the old leader, are ordered to identify and kill the new leader within ten days. Believing that Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind dancer working in a nearby brothel, is a member of the House, they contrive to arrest her then have Jin free her, intending that she will lead them to the House.

The story was set within a particular period of Chinese history, but I never got the feeling that this historical specificity was more than the traditoional Hitchcockian McGuffin. In part this may be been down to my lack of understanding of Chinese history, and the mnative audience may have derived a greater importance from that, but I doubt it was that great a factor. This was a martial arts film, a thing of action, perfectly choreographed movement, not just in combat but in an extraordinary dance scene early on, beautifully filmed, without CGI, with contained and controlled slow-motion – no Zack Snyder excesses here – and intent on dazzling the eyes.

But the problem inherent in this film was that it was an action spectacular. It dazzled the eyes, but that was really the only one of the senses it sought to dazzle. The period was an excuse to host a story that, in its first half, was not much more than an extended, episodic chase-and-fight scene. I couldn’t help, from an early stage onwards, wondering how the film differed, in that respect from any CGI-laden superhero film.

Once the film reached its halfway point, more or less, its nature transmuted almost abruptly, not abandoning the martial arts spectacle but instead leavening it with multiplre revelations, betrayals and other plot twists on the way to diverting it into a love story, based on the eternal triangle.

The first revelation I had seen coming, not with certainty but with a high degree of suspicion. Zhang Ziyi as the blind Mei was astonishingly convincing (before filming, she spent two months living with a blind girl, observing her). We knew the actress wasn’t blind but there wasn’t the least flicker of a suggestion that the character wasn’t. Yet, if only because my relative naivete about martial arts films wouldn’t let me belkieve a blind woman could do all that, I doubted all along, and I was right to do so.

Because Leo and Jin’s conspiracy to use Mei was part of a larger conspiracy masterminded by the House of Flying Dagger’s new leader, Nai, to draw out an open military force for a confrontation. Though as presented, the House of Flying Daggers onscreen were all female, Captain Leo was a mole, planted three years earlier, to set this plot in motion. And Leo was in love with Mei, and she with him (in Wikipedia it has them as betrothed but this wasn’t stated in any of the sub-titles), but in the three days she had been on the run with him, Mei had fallen in love with Jin.

Complications arose. Mei was supposed to kill Jin so he could not reveal Leo was a double agent, but she couldn’t. Instead, she released him, but refused to go with him. Except that, after a scene that stretched things out a bit too long, heralding an ending that got out of hand, she changed her mind and rode after him, only to be intercepted by the jealous Leo, hurling a flying dagger to, literally, her breast, and fatally wounding her.

Sadly, I thought the ending excessive and in some respects ridiculous. After waiting for her to catch up, an unnecessary chauvinistic touch that presupposed that the little woman had no choice in the matter, Jin comes back and finds Mei’s dead body. He and Leo fight, furiously, giving each other many wounds. Out of nothing, an amazing snowstorm appears, symbolic but unconvincing. The General’s troops surreptitiously approach the House of Flying Daggers but we’ve gone beyond the outcome of that. Finally, the fight ends the only way it could, with jin and Leo simultaneously giving each other fatal wounds.

Only they’re not fatal, any more than Mei’s dagger has been. Leo prepares to kill Jin with a Flying Dagger. Mei threatens to kill him with the dagger dragged out of her breast. Jin drops his sword, pleading with her not to do so, the dagger is the only thing preserving her life from her blood pouring out (I so could not avoid flashing back to John Cleese’s The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation As We Know It). He limps towards Leo so he’s too near: if Leo throws his dagger Jin will be dead before Mei can retaliate. Jin throws his dagger. Mei drags her out and throws it. Not to kill Jin but to intercept his dagger. Only he’s faked throwing it, to get her to kill him, he’s only launched a globule of blood. Mei dies. The two ‘fatally wounded’ Captains live. Jin cries over Mei’s body, Leo stumbles off into the trees, and thankfully it ends there, the over-developed melodrama having quite ruined the film’s cohesion.

I was gratified to see that amongst the general praise for the film, plenty of critics did agree that it is about spectacle and overwhelming the audience to carry it over the weak story, so for once it wasn’t just me with the contrary opinion. Though I can understand the appeal to the film-msakers of the trapdoors thrugh which they wanted to send their viewers, in the end for me it derailed the film and led to an incompatible ending that failed to ever really make the emotions it depicted properly convincing. I shall retain the DVD, for now at least but, except for Zhang Ziyi’s grace and beauty, I doubt I’ll have much of a reason to watch it again. Curse of the Golden Flower is still, for me, the best movie to come out of China.

All the Fells: Harter Fell (Eskdale)


Harter Fell – The Southern Fells 2,140′ (5)

Date: 24 August 1973/23 April 1974/6 May 1995

From: Penny Hill, Eskdale/ Penny Hill, Eskdale/Hard Knott foot

There are two Harter Fells in the Lake Districts, in two different areas: differently sized and shaped fells, of different heights, that share a name but nothing else. Apart from both making for great days out walking. I saw and walked the Eskdale Harter long before even seeing the Mardale version, as was implicit in having a family that didn’t want to venture out of the Ambleside/Wasdale arc of the Lake District. Whether I registered it then or not, I will have seen Harter on my first ride on the Ratty, and that before I ever suffered the horror of having boots put on my feet and propped upright to walk. We didn’t attempt it until after Dad had passed on, on a hot and muggy afternoon, from Dalegarth. We followed the path in from Doctor Bridge via Penny Hill, worked our way up onto the gap that led through to the Duddon Valley, then set off uphill on an everlasting and tiring slope. My mother was actually so hot that she undid the bottom of her tartan walking shirt and tucked it up to let the air get onto her stomach, that is until we passed some descending walkers, whereupon she covered up again. The biggest bugbear was literally the bugs: the fell was plagued with flying insects, leaving us in no peace, constantly swatting at them, trying to brush them away from our heads, though when I said I could swear at them I was curtly advised not to. According to the notes pencilled on the title page of Harter’s chapter in the Southern Fells, we did the walk again only eight months later, but I have no memories of climbing Harter twice so early, nor even if the day of the persistent flies was our first or second visit. The full Wainwright round took twenty-six years allowing for slow initial progress and eight years self-exile, but once I had reached Seatallan, I wanted to go back to old places I hadn’t visited in a quarter century, and one of these was Harter. Since I’d decided to use the ridge to Hard Knott Pass for an exploratory descent, I chose a route from the foot of the Pass, slanting across the face of Harter until I joined the path up from the Duddon Valley gap. There were no flies, and this time I (cautiously) scrambled up to the rocky high point. The ridge to Hard Knott was as tedious and unattractive as everyone keeps saying and, in the way of all such things, seemed to be half again as long as it actually was on the ground. I determined never to actually try ascending by that way, though in the end the question never arose.

All the Fells: Hart Side


Hart Side – The Eastern Fells 2,481′ (169)

Date: 28 April 1993

From: Sheffield Pike

Hart Side is a long, shapeless, grassy ridge protruding out of the back of the Dodds range, where it is linked to Stybarrow Dodd. It doesn’t have much by way of intrinsic appeal, except for one big and one small feature, only one of which I saw on my only visit. Knowing I had to collect Hart Side, I’d decided to combine it with Sheffield Pike as a circuit of Glencoyne, ascending by the former and reaching the head of the valley in green isolation where a path towards Stybarrow Dodd looked appealing (I had yet to climb that though the omission was repaired later that year). Instead, I followed this well-made and very distinct path along the flank of Hart Side, back towards Patterdale on a highish level, until, getting close to the summit position, I stepped off the path into trackless grass and headed up to the ridge itself. Off to the north east, in a direction not conducive to my return to my car, an undistinguished subsidiary fell, not thought by Wainwright to constitute a separate summit, is now named Birkett Fell, after the Lord of the same name, who did so much to preserve the Lake District from the depredations of the Manchester Water Companies in the late Fifties. Before then, this outcrop was nameless, and it’s still the only Lake District ‘peak’ to have a nameplate built into its cairn bearing its name. The other, more attractive feature, was on my way home, if I could find my way down off the ridge, without paths on grass, on a very steep fellside. In the end, with the slope getting steeper, I forced myself to ignore my vertigo and gently let myself down to the relief of a good, sturdy path. This led me to Hart Side’s one great feature, the view from the path corner under the Brown Hills. It is a mid-level, awesome view along Ullswater’s middle and upper reaches, the only drawback to which being that it is impossible to capture the full view in a single camera image. Walkers grateful for being alive to see things like this have to content themselves with swivelling their head from side to side like a Centre Court watcher at Wimbledon but with far more to see. Painful as it is, the scene will have to be left at some point. The path itself descends slowly, eventually coming to earth at Park Brow, where the road emerges from the Matterdale valley. This meant a considerable walk back along the road to where my car was parked near Glencoyne, which I didn’t fancy, so I slipped over the wall and, with concerns as to whether I might be trespassing, headed straight downhill in the company of a wall until I scrambled out onto the road with less than a quarter mile to follow to where I had parked.

Valerian et Laureline: 3 – Earth in Flames


‘Earth in Flames’ picks up where ‘The City of Shifting Waters’ ended, with the arrival of Valerian, Laureline and Sun Rae at Xombul’s base in and under Yellowstone Park, Americana at its finest. There we are quickly introduced to Schroder, a brilliant scientist and the only one on Earth of our era associated with Xombul, grateful for the opportunity to run wild on his inventing whilst never mistaking his situation as anything other than that of prisoner. Schroder, incidentally, does not have a mop of blond hair and a tendency to sit at toy pianos but instead looks like Jerry Lewis at his goofiest.
We’re still in the series’ early days yet, so it’s no surprise, however disappointing, to see it take a chauvinist turn. Valerian’s the hero, he’s brave and resourceful, and Laureline is the spunky girl sidekick, so when Xombul wants to enforce Valerian being his right hand man, he does so by submitting our favourite redhead to a shrinking ray, intent keeping her in his pocket, literally, whilst Val follows orders.
But Schroder wants out and, as soon as he disables the robots, big brave Val breaks loose, tackles and captures Xombul, only too late to keep a furious Laureline from being shrunk to about six inches tall. Laureline is angry at her treatment, putting the blame where it truly lies, on her creators – this always happens to the girls! – as a metafictional warning that if they don’t sharpen up pretty quickly, she’s going to take action about it.
However, for now it’s everyone back to the spatiotemporal craft to return the renegade Dictator to Galaxity, whilst Val does his best not to cause his colleague to fall off his shoulder. Sun Rae’s going to stay behind and take over the base, and Schroder’s going to stay behind because he belongs to Sun Rae now, until he breaks out himself. Unfortunately, not all the robots have been disabled and, in the shooting, Val drops Xombul, but not Laureline, who starts growing of her own accord as if Christin and Mezieres have worked out they’ve done a dumb thing.
Naturally, she grows faster than her clothes, though the proprieties are decently observed.
The story opens out in its middle section, as the runaways decide to put distance between themselves and Xombul. This takes us out into America the Big Country, the wild open, a favourite real-life setting for Mezieres, and the ever-increasing effects of the series of disasters that will, so soon, shut Earth down in its Modern Dark Age. Heat and flames, fleeing and despair. Civilisation has already broken down, and only the old-timer, the phlegmatic westerner, the self-reliant self-image of America’s psyche, knows how to live in these times. He provides Laureline with clothes that suit their environment (and which cover more than about 30% of her) and kits out Val likewise. They ride off to look for America.
What they find is the land breaking down as fast as the country. The old-timer stays, in his element, the Old West rising to help the people, like the troubleshooter of old, only not with guns but skills, skills to gather and hold tight a herd that will feed people for at least a time. It’s an apocalyptic time treated in a determinedly non-apocalyptian manner for which Christin and Mezieres are to be praised.
We return to the plot with a deft jab at America and its exceptionalism in a more contemporary context as the agents find a military base, abandoned by all but its Commander, and he’s abandoned it too metaphorically, choosing drinks, smokes and burgers over his duty, and easy prey for a practical Laureline to slap around. Once loaded up with weaponry, it’s back to Yellowstone, and Xombul to be dealt with finally.
Once they arrive, Xombul’s defences are raised to greet them, It’s a two-point attack, Laureline laying down covering fire to distract from Val’s heavy-artillery attack with a bazooka – when a grand moose can be got from immediately in front of the sights. These are the touches I love, the moment of comedy slipped in in a quasi-bathetic manner which reflects the non-fictional natural obstructiveness of the Universe (like Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder Gang as opposed to his Parker hard-boiled crime stories).
But then the creators let things slip back a little as Val goes in alone after Xombul, leaving Laureline behind. However, the Dictator has fled, using the President’s personal rocket ship to relocate to a secret satellite in Earth orbit, from where he plans to rebuild. How can Val and Laureline follow him now? By Schroder’s space/time ship of course, if it worked, that is.
Which is where future and past turn in upon themselves and meet. Val’s knowledge of spatiotemporal principles and mechanics, with Laureline’s assistance, enables him to bypass Schroder’s lack of comprehension, his misguidances and lack of material to produce Earth’s first, ramshackle, unsleek, held-together-by-spit-and-baling-wire Spatiotemporal machine, and undertake that first ever flight.
To the space station, and to Valerian’s final confrontation with Xombul. Who’s built himself a space/time machine from twentieth century plans that he doesn’t understand will not work, because it cannot work. And instead of jumping into time, Xombul is destroyed, his component atoms spread far beyond recovery.
Killing Xombul off this soon was a very sensible idea: the series is still a little rough and ready, and relies too much on foursquare Hard SF, for all that there are moments when the picture painted hangs at an angle. The last thing it needed was a perpetual enemy. Without Xombul, the series had time to grow, to cultivate a sense of the alien, the infinite possibilities of the Universe. Without a recurring foe, it could stop and look around, and it would.
Cannily, our principal pair knock out Schroder and Sun Rae whilst assisting them to escape from the destruction of the Yellowstone base. And they dismantle the space/time ship and retrofit Schroder’s inaccurate workings so he can’t retro-engineer such a ship prematurely. And then it really is back home, but with a side-trip first. After all, no matter when they get back, Valerian and Laureline will be sent on a new mission inside an hour…

All the Fells: Hart Crag


Hart Crag – The Eastern Fells 2,698′ (80)

Date: 5 May 1988/1 July 1995

From: Dove Crag/ Dove Crag

Hart Crag is part of the Fairfield Horseshoe, and as part of it – the fourth fell in an anti-clockwise round, starting directly from Ambleside – I have crossed it twice on two rounds. I hesitate to say that I have climbed it since all I have done is to follow the ridge round from Dove Crag to Fairfield itself on both occasions, a simple uphill stroll on one side to a substantial if sloppy cairn just off the track, whilst on the other side it’s much the same, except for the narrowing of the ridge at the head of ‘Ryedale’ when for a few short yards and a scramble up onto Fairfield’s rounded top, the ridge is indeed a ridge. This route shows nothing of the features of the mountain, which are all on the outside of the Horseshoe, overlooking Patterdale and the deep valleys cut into the side of the range from the east.

Due South: s01 e19 – Heaven and Earth


Due South

It’s late at night, distorted picture, distorted movements, two young girls, walking, talking and laughing. Constable Fraser, reaching out an arm, calling desperately. The girls split up. One gets spooked. |She’s attacked, grabbed by the throat. Her heart-shaped gold locket snaps its chain, falls unnoticed to the ground. She’s thrown into a trunk. Is she dead? A balding man, with sad eyes and a fringe beard, looks terrified.

It’s an unusually brief open for Due South, leading into a tense and mostly serious episode. The girl is a missing person, kidnapped for ransom. By a curious coincidence, she’s being played by Karyn Dwyer, as recently seen in Better than Chocolate. Detective Vecchio’s got the case, has been working it three days solid, getting nowhere. He is not interested in his buddy Bennie working towards trying to cler his conscience without actually telling. until, that is, Bennie mentions that it’s about Francesca. You know, Ray’s sister, Ramona Milano, turned up late two episodes back in some underwear…

That’s the main comedic role in the episode, which also featured a return engagement by our two FBI nudnicks, Agents Ford and Deeter, still the same self-important clowns, taking over Vecchio’s case and getting everybody’s back up, with the exception of Detectives Huey and Louie, who relish anything that gets in Vecchio’s way. They don’t want Ray or Bennie anywhere near the case, except that we know that isn’t going to happen, not when the need to get this young girl back alive is so important.

Key to this is the bearded man. He is a homeless guy called Garret, played by Jonathan Banks (he was instantly familiar: I would swear I’ve seen him before, in a role that stood out, but a review of his career turns up no likely candidates, unless I’m remembering this role from the first time). Garret sees visions. He doesn’t want to, he wants nothing more than to be left alone. It’s not his responsibility. But Bennie takes him seriously, against everybody else’s dismissal, and in the end not only will Garret lead them to where the girl is being kept, in a pit whose unstable bounds are disintegrating and gradually threatening her with burial alive, but he will leap in to haul her up far enough to be rescued.

Did Fraser sleep with Francesca? That’s the $64 question, and our Mountie is too chivalrous of a lady’s reputation, any lady’s, least of all his best friend’s sister, to confirm or deny (myself, I don’t think he did, but I also recognise that, given his basic politeness, he may not have found it possible to humiliate her by turning her down). Francesca ain’t talking either, least of all to her big brother, though she does acknowledge that he’s looking out for her, and she accepts that someone like Bennie isn’t going to marry her anyway.

So we’ll never know that. It was a useful theme to have for the comic element as the main story did not lend itself to the patented Due South absurdism. Despite that, it was a good, solid episode, if lacking somewhat in twists and turns, and Banks was excellent in his part. Next week, another two-parter.