10 August 2017

The above date is the publication of a novel in paperback. It is unknown to me whether a hardback edition will appear prior to that, though based on three factors, I anticipate it will. Those three factors are that the book has been written, finished, and delivered to its publishers in August 2015, that the author’s previous, brilliant novel was first published in hardback, not long before Xmas 2013, and that I can’t believe, and I really really don’t want to have to wait twenty-one months before getting to read Christopher Priest’s The Gradual.

Especially not if it’s set, once more, in the Dream Archipelago…

Deep Space 9: s1e08 – Dax

A Trill for all Seasons

The title of this episode makes it clear that we are going to focus on Lieutenant Jardzia Dax, the Trill, the symbiote host, whose previous incarnation, as Curzon Dax, was both friend and mentor to Commander Sisko. It’s due as well: we’re eight episodes in and we’ve really not seen Dax (nor Bashir, nor Quark) as anything other than superficial characters, although Terry Farrell is part of the cast.

‘Dax’ made for a very interesting episode, which had me concentrating quite closely, but which, at the same time, had underlying weaknesses of which I was very conscious. But let’s set up the story first.

We begin with an old-fashioned Captain’s Log Stardate Gobbledygook entry, just to tell us that Chief O’Brien isn’t in this week’s episode. Then we cut to the ever-naive, puppydog Doctor Bashir still trying to get somewhere with calm, unflappable, uninterested Jardzia. Then the good lieutenant is set upon and kidnapped by assailants under the command of guest star Gregory Itzin – baddy yes, but still light years from his slimy, creepy President Logan in 24 – only for the well-laid plan to be foiled by the rest of the cast.

Only then is it revealed that Ilan Tandro holds a perfectly valid, Federation-respected warrant to arrest Dax for crimes of murder and treason thirty years previously as Curzon.

Since Bajor doesn’t have a treaty with Kleasron IV, Sisko holds things up with an extradition hearing, which forms the body of the episode (and in which guest star Annee Haney, as the waspish, 100 year old, no-nonsense Bajoran arbiter steals the show effortlessly).

Yes, courtroom drama, turning on the moral and philosophical point as to whether a symbiont lifeform remains responsible for crimes committed when joined to a previous host, when the punishment – the death penalty – would fall upon a host body not merely innocent of such crimes but not even alive at their commission.

The arguments are fascinating, with both sides bringing up compelling points. Dax is accused, in his role as a Federation Mediator, of betraying General Ilandro (Gregory’s daddy) to the Government forces, who killed him. Ilandro became a martyr to the rebel cause, inspired it to overthrow the Government, and remains a public legend to this day, so the crime is a heavy one.

Ultimately it will be found that Dax was not guilty of the transmission that betrayed General Ilandro to the Government, because he was shagging the General’s wife at that very moment (suppresses sarcastic and lewd thought). Indeed, in a throwaway line that is exceedingly disappointing in its perfunctoriness (reflecting the fact that no-one involved in the story cared about who actually shopped the General as anything more than a MacGuffin), Mrs Widow General lets slip it was Ilandro himself, planning to betray the rebellion. Choke, how ironic.

That’s a very poor ending, but then so far on this series I’ve not been over-impressed with the closing scenes, which are given far too little time to be at all effective. However, good as it is, the episode has, as I said, two major flaws.

The first is structural, and goes to the nature of the form. Courtroom dramas like this can’t work without some fundamental information being withheld: the Courtroom in drama is used as an investigation (think Perry Mason and all its heirs) in pursuit of the truth, which has to start concealed. When it’s used in a series with an established cast, and an accusation against a cast member, the structure falls apart if the accused doesn’t spend at least half the show refusing to defend themselves and generally keeping their mouths shut. As does Dax here, except that ninety percent of the time, this refusal to defend oneself comes over exactly as it does in this episode, as a clumsy contrivance to enable the story to be told, and completely out of character. Why won’t you tell us what really happened? Because if I did the story would end after fifteen minute and we’d have to busk until the end.

So the episode ends up being about, but around Jardzia Dax. She becomes the hollow centre of things and, rather than learn about her as we need to, we learn about Trills in the abstract, we get a xenobiology lesson, not a character portrait, an insight.

And that’s down to the other underlying weakness of the episode, which is that, at this stage in her career, Terry Farrell simply isn’t a good enough actress to play Dax as something more than a quiet, emotionally restricted, flat character. What lines she does speak carry little weight. When you try to imagine her at the centre of a trial, defending herself, you quickly see that Farrell hasn’t got the range to convince in a deeper role for more than thirty seconds, if that.

That’s one of the reasons, I suspect, that we’re going to see Bashir pursue for some time longer. It’s a comedy sub-plot that, with a better actress on Dax’s side, would see her put him out of his misery pretty damned quickly, but until Farrell grows in her performance, she just couldn’t put any of that across.

So, a very good episode in spite of its flaws. But the series needs to do something about those closes. At least sixty seconds more airtime would help.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 1

Lost 70s Volume 1 ran to 23 tracks, mostly from the early to mid-70s. There’s only two post-1975 tracks on it, both from 1978, though neither of them sound in the least like songs from that year. And the second of them is the only top 30 hit single in the compilation! All but one of these tracks can be found on YouTube and there are links to each of these.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with later selections.

Loving You Ain’t Easy    : Pagliaro

Michel Pagliaro was a French-Canadian singer-songwriter who recorded primarily in French. This, and its less-appealing follow-up, ‘Some Sing, Some Dance’ were the only tracks of his I heard. ‘Loving You Ain’t Easy’ was a bright, breezy, guitar-driven song that got lots of airplay in the hot summer of 1971. After several weeks, it actually climbed to no 35 and Pagliaro scored a TOTP appearance. But the track was thinly produced and lacked the single’s verve, which killed it’s chances of breaking through. Still a great piece of guitar pop.

Gotta Find You: Rescue Company Number 1

A weird, doomy string draped 1970 pop song with a mid-tempo sound that got enough airplay to intrigue but which I never got hold of until well into the 2000s. The band had more airtime for their very commercial second single, ‘Life’s too short’, in 1971. The song’s credited to professional songwriting team Arnold, Martin and Morrow, and the similarities in tempo and vocals to their top 20 hit ‘Don’t You Know’ as Butterscotch lead me to think that this was a studio creation, with the writers doing the singing, and the band only put together to pick up the name for the folow-up. This one’s got a bit of a stalker-vibe to it that would be much-multiplied when we got to ‘Every Breath You Take’.

Love and Rainy Weather: Tony Christie

Christie’s commercial peak had already passed by the time this song appeared in 1973. It was the theme song to the film of the Jack Rosenthal TV sitcom, The Lovers and it’s semi-relaxed atmosphere brings memories of a film I loved, and its co-star, Paula Wilcox, who I always seriously fancied.


Gypsy Woman: Brian Hyland

This 1970 song was another turntable hit, Tony Blackburn in particular plugging it for months until it briefly troubled the charts at no 40. I had no idea who Hyland was at the time, nor his big early Sixties’ hits, I just loved the rolling warmth of the electric piano intro, and the leap towards the falsetto that Hyland’s voice took – rather artificially to my more-practiced ears – when he went into the chorus of this old Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions song. This is part of the soundtrack to the months of adjusting to life in the aftermath of my Dad’s death.


Albert Flasher: The Guess Who

The only thing I knew about this Canadian band was their minor UK success with ‘American Woman’ in 1970, which I’d hated. This 1971 single was  rarely played and I never got to hear it properly, but it’s another tie to that hot summer, the summer of hot-pants, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and incessant games of Subbuteo with my mate, Steve Callaghan.


Living without you: Manfred Mann

The original Manfred Mann had turned into the jazzrock oriented Chapter Three in 1969, and this was the first step back towards a more commercial sound in 1971, before the band acquired the Earth Band soubriquet. It’s a smooth, synthesizer laden version of a Randy Newman song. I was listening a lot to Radio Luxemburg this year, and they tended to play it far more than Radio 1, which denied me a proper chance to get this on tape. Next year, they’d record and have a hit with ‘Joybringer’, but this was the first step on that road.


I need you: America

Intro-free, piano-led, unsuccessful follow-up to ‘A Horse with no Name’. I got to know this well from America’s first album, which I had for a time. It’s just a lovely, yearning, beautifully harmonised song that was sweet but too bland to build on the freak success of their first release.


It’s up to you Petula: Edison Lighthouse

Speaking of things not building on first successes… This version of Edison Lighthouse was definitely a put-up band to cash in on the success of ‘Love Grows Where my Rosemary Goes’, five weeks at Number 1 at the start of 1970. That was one of four simultaneous Top 10 hits written by the same group of professional songwriters and recorded by themselves under different names, with session musicians/singers – principally Tony Burroughs, who did lead vocals on all of them. It took nearly a year to put together an Edison Lighthouse to pick up on the hit and this follow-up was far too lightweight, jangly and out of step with the change in music in that twelvemonth to go anywhere. A near Top 30 miss: but I liked it at the time, and the nostalgia’s enough to do it for me still.


Curried Soul: Mr Bloe

Speaking of things not building on first successes (part 2)… I loved the original ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ single. It was my favourite single of 1970, and only my second ever single bought, a purchase I held off making until the week it hovered at no 2, hoping to help push it to the very top, past Mungo Jerry: alas, no. It was an oddball track, originally a loop, irreverent b-side to an American single, mistakenly flipped over here and recorded by a studio band. The original piano track was played by Elton John, but the producer didn’t like it, so arranger Zack Laurence was brought in to re-record it and that ended up being the hit version. Part of is success was the novelty effect of a harmonica instrumental (played by veteran Harry Pitch, also famous for the theme music to Last of the Summer Wine) but I also believe it was popular in the Northern Soul venues. ‘Curried Soul’ did feature Elton John, and the other four musicians went on to perform as Hookfoot, but the novelty had worn off and Radio 1 only played it to talk over. As soon as I could download, I was determined to get this properly at last.


Classical Gas: Beggar’s Opera

Another unsuccessful instrumental. I knew very little about Beggar’s Opera, but in 1973 they covered the old Mason Williams hit, ‘Classical Gas’, taking out the acoustic guitar and the orchestra, adding a more progressive touch with electric piano and a pure seventies style synthesizer, with an underlay of electric guitar that borrowed a little of the funkiness of the ‘Shaft’ theme. That synthesizer sound, the sound of pure electronics, music made digital with the rasping, almost frayed edge of the traditional Moog, that’s vanished now, but it was the sound of the Manfred Mann track, it picks up the secondary theme here, and there’s another example of that raw sound, near the end of this compilation. A worthy companion to the original.


Promised Land: Johnnie Allan

My first introduction to Cajun music. This high-speed take on the Chuck Berry original about heading to California to make your fortune gets ripped up and put back together as a cajun shouter, with Allan’s hoarse, accented vocals whipping through the verses almost as fast as the red-hot accordian solos, whilst the band lay down a flat, solid groove. I did some Cajun dancing lessons once, many years after this, and I can’t now hear if without seeing the couples, bent-knee shuffling, hurtling around a sweaty dance floor as Johnnie Allan drives them on to faster and faster spins. Primitive, high energy stuff, perfect for blaring out of your radio, and only two minutes long. Released in 1978 but could have been recorded any time.


Westbound No. 9: Flaming Ember

Evidence that time and tastes change. Flaming Ember were an American blue-eyed soul band who had a couple of hits over there and did nothing in the UK. I hated this in 1971, couldn’t stand hearing it, which  thankfully wasn’t too often, but I like it now. There’s a lot of 1971 music on this compilation.


Water Sign: Gary Wright

Everybody used to go on about Gary Wright being an ex-member of Spooky Tooth, which meant nothing to me. He’d gone off to America where he’d become very successful as a solo artist, with a big hit in ‘Dream Weaver’, which I didn’t like, but this later single, 1976 I think, caught my ears. Whilst everything so far on this compilation is Radio 1 music, Gary Wright was the sort of thing I got through Piccadilly Radio, Manchester’s Commercial Station (April 1974) and particularly the evening/late programmes. There’s a lot more of that on the next compilation.


Overnight Sensation (Hit Record): The Raspberries

The Raspberries were led by Eric Carmen, he of the utterly loathsome and whiny ‘All By Myself’ (there was some serious self-pitying about in the back half of the Seventies). But the Raspberries were all about pop, big, bright, commercial pop, innocent and fresh. ‘Overnight Sensation’ had it all, great harmonies, a cool tune, slow and up tempo bit, a sax solo, even a neat moment where the sound abruptly fades, turning the song into something heard through a tinny old transistor radio. There’s even a false ending followed by a great, thundering burst of drums. It was fun from start to finish one of those  records where it was impossible to fathom out why Radio 1 didn’t want to play it.


Don’t Pull Your Love: Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds

Another 1971 alumnus. One of the band was going out with the gorgeous actress/model Caroline Munro and expressed his displeasure at Colin Blunstone releasing the achingly wonderful ‘Caroline Goodbye’, about the ending of his relationship with the lady. Stupidity like that didn’t prejudice me against this jaunty, brass-propelled, stop-start number, with its richly American sound. Blue-eyed soul is the closest genre for this song. The band went on to be quite successful in the States, but I never heard another thing from them.


No Regrets: Tom Rush

Although it was the later Walker Brothers’ cover that sold, taking them into the Top 10 for one final, belated time, I had already fallen in love with Rush’s original, which had been around for months without any prospect of it selling. It’s a beautifully sad, low-key, self-contained acoustic song, with minimal instrumentation. It’s about the end of a relationship, when everything’s been said and done, when the couple have stayed together far too long and it’s time to go. Rush sings in a deliberately dispassionate tone, allowing only hints to creep through about how hard it all is to let go, even with what he knows. This is a great song, obviously built from personal experience, made all the better by its steely determination not to over-emote. Stunning.


An American Trilogy: Mickey Newbury

And a second successive original of a song taken up and made successful by a bigger artist. Elvis Presley had the top 10 hit with this medley of American songs, but it was country singer Newbury who conceived of, and arranged, this loving, sincere and thoughtful tune. Newbury sings slow, and simply a medley of ‘Dixie’, the negro spiritual ‘All my trials’ and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, all three songs reduced to a slow, lamenting, intense vocal, with minimal instrumentation keep well to the rear. An amazingly simple and deeply effective idea, even to those of us with no nationalistic attachment to the originals.


Our National Pastime: Rupert Holmes

Rupert Holmes (originally David Goldstein, born in Northwich, Cheshire to USAF parents) is best known over here for 1979’s ‘Pina Colada Song’. He’s one of those witty, slightly over-clever songwriters, that you can’t help feeling are too fond of demonstrating their superior cleverness. It’s shot all the way through this 1974 single, which I heard off Piccadilly Radio, but which I nevertheless like, because its goofiness overrides its underlying smugness. It’s basically a story-song, with spoken word interludes, about a guy who meets a girl at a rained-off baseball game and takes her home, hoping to score. The awkwardness is still entertaining all these years later and the ending is still horribly embarrassing. But in a good way.


You keep tightening up on me: The Box-Tops

Everyone knows that the Box Tops were that ultimately enigmatic genius, Alex Chilton. But this 1970 single was recorded without him or any of the old line-up, though you wouldn’t know that from the sound of it, which is just as firm, direct and tuneful as classics like ‘The Letter’ or ‘Soul Deep’. Ok, if you listen closely enough, you can tell that’s not Chilton on lead, but the half dozen times I heard this played, I had no ear for such subtleties nor experience of other songs to tell. All I knew was that this was a great pop song and it should have been played thousands of times. But it wasn’t.


Toast and Marmalade for Tea: Tin Tin

This has nothing to do with Herge and a lot more to do with Maurice Gibb, who supported this Australian band and got them a British album deal. The band released four singles, of which none charted and only two got any airplay, but this got a lot of airplay. It’s distinguished by a vibrato piano effect, created by pissing around with the tape, as the band harmonise a dreamy, eight line rhyme that’s repeated with the addition of extra instrumentation. It was a particular favourite of Ed Stewart, so it got a lot of ‘Junior Choice’ airtime in 1970. The sound stood out, but the public resisted.


The Ride to Agadir: Mike Batt

Mike Batt’s had a very mixed career. By 1975, when he recorded this crunchy, propulsive, Moorish-influenced pounder, I knew him for The Wombles, which had been his commercial breakthrough. This song, and the album it was taken from, were an attempt to be recognised as a serious musical artist, but you only had to start chanting Remember You’re a Womble to know that that was a complete non-starter. But I always liked the drive of this track, with its lyrics recalling the Riffs and fighters of Morocco of the Desert Song era, it’s strident harmonies and the sheer determination of Batt to be heavy. Despite the presence of very Seventies drums, I think it still stands up very well. If more people had agreed with me, maybe we might have been spared ‘Summertime City’.


Mr President: D, B, M and T

To be honest, most of this 1970 single, which did get the band on TOTP the week it was nearest to cracking the Top 30 (that’s the performance which is linked below), was not very interesting, just a shuffling acoustic beat, some harmonies on a not-very-distinctive tune, and a rather artificial lyric about suspicion of the President: all very Sixties-pop-group-get-serious-now-its-1970. For D, B, M and T are of course Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, now that Dave Dee had left to go unsuccessfully solo. What made the song, then and now, is its sudden eruption into an out of place synthesizer solo, that ol’ Moog making itself felt. The rest of it was worthy-but-dull. It was 1970, what else is there to say?


Loving you has made me Bananas: Guy Marks

Last, but not least, is the only actual hit single on the entire CD, a bona fide, twice upon TOTP, number 26 hit in the summer of 1978, when I was living in Nottingham, instead of Manchester. And the joke is that not a single second of this record sounds as if it could have been recorded any time after about 1938. ‘Loving you has made me bananas’ was a spoof, a gloriously, lovingly created spoof, of a sound and a time and a conception of music that no longer existed, done with immaculate conviction by a guy old enough to be your grandfather. It’s not just a song, it’s a radio broadcast, a live ballroom performance in miniature, that only rises into even the mildest of satires when the medley of standard favourites is performed just the song’s titles as lyrics. It’s one of those real WTF songs that you’re not entirely sure about, but the smile is both taunting and delighted, so lose yourself in its conviction for two and a half minutes, bask in a world so entire, and give yourself up to what it must have been like. There was no way you could follow this, which is why I placed it last on this disc.



Imaginary Albums: The ‘Lost 70s’ series

First non-Imaginary Album

It should be obvious to anyone who so much as passes by here that I am behind the times. I read old books, I collect old comics, I still prefer my music and films to have a physical existence, even though I’ve ample memory on the current laptop. I have the extended Hobbit trilogy within this portable artefact, but I’m still buying the boxset for Xmas.
Like anyone who’s had access to CD-burning technology for a dozen years, I have downloaded mp3s and burned a few hundred CDs of my personal curation. Most of them are, in one form or another, compilations. Increasingly, I find myself preferring collections that throw someone different at me with every track.
One of the very first CDs I burnt has gone on to form the basis of a series now stretching to a dozen volumes. I called the first one Lost 70s and that’s the theme.
I grew up musically through the Seventies: first albums, first gigs, first Saturday afternoons spent hunting through the unending racks of singles at the Second-Hand Record Stalls on Shudehill, each one scraped out with what little money on the pocket money allowed by a widowed mother bringing up two kids on a pension and three days a week as a seamstress at two of UMIST’s Halls of Residence.
With the exception of the punk explosion at the end of the decade, I don’t have that many good feelings about the music of the Seventies. I was out of step at nearly every step. I didn’t even start to listen to pop or rock until literally days before the end of the Sixties, so I was taking baby steps with very simple tastes whilst everybody around me at school was going progressive (except Malcolm Eddlestone, who was into reggae, which at our School was so far beyond the Pale that people beyond the Pale despised it).
And when I got through that particular phase, discovering Lindisfarne as a favourite band, I found myself in between: too individual and idiosyncratic for a pop world dominated by T. Rex and rushing headlong towards GlamRock on the one hand, and frankly bored to a very large degree by the interminable epics of the ProgRock giants like ELP and Yes who were the staple diet of my closest mates.
Nor did I enjoy the music of my best mate’s favourite artist, Olivia Newton-John. Yes, ELP and Livvy: and he did seriously love the music, not just the photos!
Punk’s aggression, raw simplicity and sheer energy was the saving for me, much to the disgust, or at best amused tolerance of my friends, Punk, New Wave and the Ska Revival (I have vivid memories of dropping in for a lunch-time chat with one of my fellow Articled Clerks in 1979, his mentioning this band he’d seen on TOTP the previous night, his cheerful assumption that I would have liked it even though they were absolute rubbish, didn’t know how to play their instruments, would never get anywhere: we eventually worked out that he was referring to the debut of Madness!)
But here and there, in among the over-produced rot, the slick pop, the self-indulgence and the plain shite, there were songs I liked. Sometimes, they were big hits: I was into 10cc for several years, and I went through a Fleetwood Mac spell from the White Album to Rumours, though I was seriously ahead of the curve so far as Britain was concerned, confirming that my taste and that of the record buying public were never in tune.
No, most of the time, the things that I loved were records that Radio 1 either gave short shrift to, forcing me to shift to try to record these tracks off the radio, or which failed to sell: songs that peaked at no 35 or lower, or never troubled the Top 50 at all.
That still begs the question of why not Lost 60s, or Lost 80s? That’s down to age. I missed the Sixties at the time it was going by: all my discoveries there are retrospective. And whilst I didn’t suddenly stop listening to music after 1979, I barely got halfway through the Eighties before setting my own course, and I’d given up on pop radio by that time anyway. No, if I were going to indulge in music that was both nostalgic and obscure, it was going to have to be that real armpit of a decade.
So Lost 70s it was. It was a compilation of those songs I could remember, those oddball, weird tracks, records played a handful of times, which had vanished. Lost music, bound together only by being part of the decade of my education in music, that aroused recollection of my own private musicology.
And the memories kept on coming out, slowly teased from the recesses of my mind, patiently hunted out, most from YouTube but some from sources more obscure. There are now twelve CDS, twelve Imaginary Albums under the Lost 70s rubric and I’m going to throw them open, complete with links for everything that’s locatable.
And if any of the songs that I’ll be listing spark your memories, good for you, and throw back your suggestions please. After all, I’ve currently only got seven tracks for Lost 70s 13.

Saturday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 3 – episodes 1 & 2

It’s been a long wait, far longer than mortal man should be expected to endure, but we are once again immersed deeply in the deep and compelling world of The Bridge. Sofia Helin is back as Saga Noren and, despite the absence, probably permanently of Kim Bodnia as Martin Rohde, despite the inevitably changed dynamics, from the moment the show got on the road it was clear that this was going to be very very very good indeed.

Blogging something as good as The Bridge is considerably harder than it is hapless fluff like Arne Dahl: the depth, the detail, the intensity, the intricacy of the writing, the performances, the direction. It’s a whole order of being different, because there is so much to watch for, so much to take in, so much that prompts speculation as to where this might lead, what effect it might have.

For instance, the series pulls a brilliant trick on us in just the first episode, a lovingly disguised punch. A woman is dead, a Danish citizen murdered in Malmo in bizarre circumstances. A prominent LGBT campaigner, promoting gender-neutral pre-schooling, she has had her heart cut out and, with emoticons painted over her face, has been arranged in a tableau of the nuclear family, sat around a table, mannequins creating this set-up.

Saga has to work with a Danish counterpart, but Martin is in prison, six months into a ten year sentence for last series’ off-stage murder, so Lillian – the Danish Police head who is now three months married to Saga’s boss, Hans – appoints Hanne, an older, female detective. We smile to ourselves, prepare to adjust to the changed dynamic, we watch Saga try to institute small talk with her customary air of bafflement at other’s reactions, we laugh at the awkwardness, we settle in for en episodes – and a trap blows Hanne’s right foot off just before the end.

Danish involvement in the case shifts to Henrik, a thirty-something, handsome, slick guy, who wants the job because it means working with Saga.

More about Henrik shortly. Let’s dial it back to the first episode. We have the murder, and the lack of any real leads or motives around it. On this spine, the series starts to build a mosaic, of people who, initially, we don’t know, doing things that have no apparent bearing on our case, about whom we start to wonder.

For instance, there’s Lisa Friis Andersson, played by the considerably attractive Sonja Richter. There’s a young guy helping out at her home who steals a necklace, which he puts on. Her daughter Karen’s being bullied at school, which is being spectacularly ineffective about combatting it. Lisa’s teaching her daughter to hit back. She’s married to Lars Andersson, in one of whose containers, on his Malmo site, the murder victim was found.

Oh yes, and then there’s Lisa’s video blog. It appears she’s a fundamental Christian, with a strong conviction that she freely expresses. That the victim was a lesbian, trying to destroy the difference between genders and therefore the basis of the traditional family, is something to be welcomed. It’s nasty stuff, that Lisa defends as free speech. So too’s the calm, polite but vicious blog against the priest who conducts Denmark’s first same-sex marriage. Lisa points out that if he’d done that back when the scriptures were written, he’d have been stoned to death: rhetorically, she asks why people think the old  days were bad?

It’s sleek, nasty, inciteful stuff, which Lawyer Lisa denies incites action. So is it a coincidence that, in episode 2, someone strangles the priest, paints his face with emoticons and leaves him dressed up to be found in a playground?

Though she’s not necessarily that Christian: our Lisa would like a pair of leather trousers like Saga’s, because they look hot. In a less involving series, I’d be rooting for her to get them, because Sonja Richter looks like she could seriously rock them.

And there’s Henrik. Long before he’s named, long before we discover he’s a Police detective, he’s acting pretty strangely. He appears to be married, with two girls, but he’s out picking up an attractive, dark-haired thirty-something at a Singles Club, takes her home, has sex with her. But when he gets back home, he’s describing the woman, her name, her apartment to his wife, a scene that sets the nerves jangling with the implications.

He’s a damned good detective too, spots a number of things Saga misses in the second episode, but he’s also trying to pull with her. Young master Henrik is one mother of an enigma. Not to mention a regular pill-popper…

The second half of the second episode is dominated by Hans being kidnapped, at gunpoint. His assailant is Aleks, an armed robber just released from prison, who hwants revenge on Hans for allegedly forcing him to grass up his associates (who don’t appear to be all that forgiving) or else see his wife Samira roped in as an accessory, their kids taken away. Aleks wants money to set up his family, but the loot’s been stolen, Johnny denies taking it but sets him up to be killed.

Unfortunately, Aleks discovers that Johnny has also taken Samira and the girls. He’s about to kill Hans rather than ransom him, when the Police, following Henrik’s deductions, raid his place. The Police miss the concealed basement. But someone following up, with a bloody big gun, doesn’t. Aleks goes down but the mysterious, leather-jacketed rescuer doesn’t free Hans but instead knocks him out with Chloroform. Just like the Clown Killer used on the first victim…

Like I said, it’s harder to blog The Bridge than feeble stuff like Arne Dahl, but the comparison is unfair to begin with. The Bridge has ten hours of story to tell, and demands you look and watch every second, whereas the Arne Dahl‘s only have two hours to begin with. Even if they were good enough to summon up two hours worth of story, there’s simply no basis for comparison between the two.

But of course The Bridge 3 is Saga Noren, is Sofia Helin. What of her? On the one hand, little has changed: Saga does not do change, she does not do any variation on her intensely focussed devotion to her duty. On the other, she has changed. Others keep referring to what she did to Martin, trying to get into her head over her shopping him. Hans is convinced that she must be affected by the loss of her friend, by guilt at not going to see him.

But he’s a murderer, and Saga cannot socialise with a murderer. In 9 1/2 years, when he’s released, she’ll see him then.

But she’s different. There’s a beautifully incarnated extra fragility to Saga. She acts more like a ‘normal’ person at times, having absorbed the need to do so, but there is no real warmth to it, but she is more and more puzzled at its failure, at everybody’s failure to react as they, conventionally, should. Helin’s momentary rigidity indicating a trapped feeling, an urge to fly, her eyes darting around, seeking an escape, these are more intense, but the degree is subtle.

And there is a personal pressure on Saga too. Her mother has reappeared after 20 years, to tell her her father is dying, to try to drag Saga into reconciliation, to ask her to read the medical records of Saga’s sister, Jennifer, who took her own life after years of abuse. Saga is convinced that her sister was driven to her death by Munchausen’s by Proxy, but her pathologist colleague, whom she trusts, tells her that there is no evidence to support that. And he and she trust in evidence.

This is heady stuff. It’s too soon to fully judge, but this is already the best thing to happen to Saturday night since The Bridge 2, and in four more weeks it might very well be the best thing in television all year, and since The Bridge 2 for that.

Four weeks. Just think of it. Only four more weeks.

In Praise of Pratchett: A Hat Full of Sky

The original idea behind the Young Adult Discworld series had been perceived as a run of one-offs, set away from the main body and the main characters and settings of the Old Adult series. The revelation that Pratchett had at least toyed with another Maurice book, this time as a ship’s cat, seems to support this notion, but A Hat Full of Sky torpedoed it for sure. We now had a Tiffany Aching series to, ultimately, supersede that of the Three Witches.
Two years have passed since The Wee Free Men (as they had in real life). Tiffany was now eleven and about to leave home for the first time, to enter the service of Miss Level, a witch over towards Lancre, where she expects to learn all about magic and how to use it.
In fact, it’s very much the opposite: Pratchett has made this point many times with both Witches and Wizards, and it’s the one that’s always hardest for the young and eager to learn, which is how not to use magic. Which Tiffany finds both frustrating and easy.
A Hat Full of Sky is actually a very conventional, almost commonplace children’s witch story. Tiffany’s frustration at the lack of direct instruction escalates steadily until she goes off the rails, making exactly all the mistakes that she should be learning not to make, with dire consequences that require the intervention of a senior, and much more powerful witch to show her how to correctly use her powers to resolve the mess she has created.
There’s also the traditional first meeting with her peers, the other would-be witch girls of varying degrees of competence, of course led by the noisiest and most arrogant girl, who thinks she already knows more than everybody else and that her conception of witchery – one hundred and eighty degrees away from the truth but attractive temporarily to the heroine who has not yet learnt better – is the only possible method.
But though Pratchett is using only the most tried-and-tested of materials, that’s merely the framework for the story. Tiffany’s going-off-the-rails moment is less her fault than an issue that arises out of too much natural magical ability and insufficient training. In order to get around a lack of mirrors, she’s invented a spell that gets her out of her own body, a variation on Borrowing that renders her vulnerable to the hiver, a kind of compound mind that seeks bodies in which to hide itself, immediately releasing all their inhibitions.
It’s a necessary Rite of Passage for Tiffany, who commits two very serious crimes when she no longer has her sense of self-restraint, and her strength lies in understanding that she is directly responsible for the actions she takes, since they come from her desires and her desires only, but also that she is now, in a sense, inoculated against temptation and the future risk of becoming a cackling Witch.
And it’s all down to Tiffany, though a lot of it is due to the effective channelling provided by Granny Weatherwax, and even some to the determination of the seemingly hopeless Petulia Glum, a semi-promising pig-Witch to be who, despite her hesitancy and her insubstantiality, aligns herself with Tiffany simply because Tiffany needs help.
The section with Granny Weatherwax, during which Pratchett articulates even further the role of witches as edge people, is surprisingly long: with the exception of the long short story, The Sea and Little Fishes, it’s the longest sequence of Granny that we ever see this side of Carpe Jugulum. And it’s beautifully played in every moment.
Of course, one can’t ignore the Nac Mac Feegle. There’s a new Kelda, Jeannie, and before the end there’s the first Feegle babies, helping to root this Clan into the Chalk, but Jeannie herself has a rite of passage to go through, starting the book by showing jealousy towards Tiffany, who she sees as her rival, however inappropriate the thought may be.
Despite the desperate situation in which Tiffany finds herself, A Hat Full of Sky is still very much a Young Adult Discworld book. There’s a lightness to it, a lack of detail that betrays the fact that Pratchett is aiming at a lower forehead level than usual. Like it’s two Young Adult predecessors, this is seen in the size of the original volume, which was smaller and thinner than the Old Adult books before and after it.
That would not last: when we next see Tiffany Aching, her books will be exactly the same adult size as the standard Discworld format, and the complexity will continue to grow, commensurately.

The Grand Tour of the Lakes: Stage Four: North to East

The final stage of the Grand Tour is the simplest and easiest, which is always the most befitting for the homeward run. Basically, it’s the Keswick-Ambleside road, with a single possible variant along the way.
Actually, this is the point where the circular Tour ceases to be circular for it’s a more or less straight line back, down the Central Rift throughout the centre of the Lakes.

Bassenthwaite Lake again

Before embarking on the route back to base, there may be some who, having decided against the ‘high road’ along the western side of Derwentwater, and who, having entered Keswick from Borrowdale, made a pit stop for loos and cups of tea or coffee. Those travellers have not yet seen Bassenthwaite Lake so, in order not to miss out, begin the final stage by heading north on the main street.

At the little roundabout, turn right as signposted for Carlisle, crossing the A66 at the big roundabout and continuing onwards through level, green country that, in older days, when the two Lakes were one major body of water, was submerged. Bass Lake is close at hand at its foot but the Carlisle road drifts further away, running under the shadow of tree-bound Dodd.

At the Castle Inn, turn left, follow the road around the foot of the Lake and shoot back down the A66, along Bass’s western shore, heading back to Keswick.
The road out of Keswick climbs to escape the Vale, before cutting through the valley of Naddle Beck, lying almost parallel to the Vale of St John. The Vale lies on the line of the rift, and the waters of Thirlmere used to drain along it in a perfectly logical, geographic manner, until the former Armboth Water and Leathes Water were submerged and its waters sent south over Dunmail Raise, for the benefit of the citizens of Manchester, myself among them.

Thirlmere used to be incredibly difficult to see. It’s long been Forestry Commission territory, just as is Ennerdale, but the Commission were even more officious here, guarding its privacy by thick plantations along the eastern shore, so that even when the main road ran by the lake itself, only the briefest glimpses of water were visible between the screen.
It’s always been possible to circumvent this by talking the old, rough road round the western shore of the lake, and even though the Commission has long since mended its ways, this is still the best for views.
There are two approaches to the west shore, the first of which can only be accessed from the northbound carriage, this being a section where, in the Sixties or thereabouts, a new smooth section was laid, and the old, narrow carriageway retained for south-bound traffic. Southbound travelers emerge from the end of the dual carriageway in time to take the second approach, which has the added bonus of crossing the dam itself, though you shouldn’t try stopping to look on the way.
At the head of the Lake, the two routes join, at the foot of Dunmail Raise. This is a complete doddle to drive, and on a sunny day there’s a lovely picture of Grasmere, in its Vale, below.
The road follows Grasmere’s shores anyway, before descending through wooodlands to pass it’s little sister, Rydal Water. Rydal is the thirteenth and last lake of the Tour, and all that remains is the short, but no doubt busy run into Ambleside. You may wish to schedule a day of minimal or no driving for the morrow.

Grasmere and Rydal Water

For those not yet cramped out from all those hours behind the wheel, there is a slightly longer variation near the start of this leg, using the A66 to escape eastwards from Keswick in order to turn into and drive down the Vale of St John, instead of the main highway via Naddle Beck. Those who take this option should be aware that the St John’s road emerges south of the dam road to the west side of Thirlmere, requiring you to turn back on yourself if you plan on taking that route.
There’s bound to be those who will ask if it’s possible to tour all sixteen Lakes in a single day, but the geography is against it. East of the central rift, the valleys don’t fall into the spoke pattern of the west. Ullswater lies in Patterdale, on the far side of a ridge stretching to over 3,000′ high, and Haweswater can only be reached by car from the ‘outside’, coming in, and is as much of a cul-de-sac as Ennerdale Water and Wastwater.
It’s perfectly possible on the last leg to take a more circuitous route via Matterdale and Patterdale, arriving midway along Ullswater’s middle reach and returning to Ambleside via Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle, all of which cuts Thirlmere, Grasmere and Rydal Water out of the round, which rather defeats the object of the exercise. Of course, if you could somehow work out a way of starting the tour in Keswick and finishing in Ambleside of a second lap…
When time and personal motorised transport allow, this is the route I’m going to drive. In the meantime, the memories will have to satisfy me.