24: Live Another Day – 3.00 – 4.00pm

So, where were we?

Episode 5 is a bit of a breather for Jack, who gets to do no more than sit in a room at the American Embassy, under token guard, interrupted only by private interviews with, firstly, President Heller, and secondly, First Daughter, Chief of Staff Creepy Mark’s missus, ex-lover and torture victim (this girl’s been around), Audrey Heller Raines Boudreau. Considering that she’s not seen him for three full seasons and the interregnum, and that she was last seen virtually catatonic after extensive Chinese torture incurred through looking for Jack, Audrey gives a more-than-creditable impersonation of someone who’s not even going to wait to be asked to drop them, whilst Jack plays the noble, masculine, save-her-from-herself role.

Actually, both actors play the scene with considerably more skill than it deserves, which almost redeems it whilst in play, but it’s still risible, much like the rest of the cartoon events.

The Jack role for this hour is taaken up by Barbie Doll Kate. Kiefer Sutherland’s apparently said this will be his last outing as Jack (so will we end the series with The Main Man being killed off?) but that Fox are planning some kind of spin-off. Everybody is pointing at Yvonne Strahovski’s character as the blatantly obvious choice, whilst simultaneously suggesting that she’s so damned obvious for the part that she’s going to be this half-season’s Justly Famous CST Mole: come on down, Kate!

This is the episode where Jack is proved to be right. Kate nicks the Flight Key (and as it’s known to be lost, and was last seen in a locked room that she invaded with total lack of authorisation, no-one so much as thinks of asking her of she’s got it: duh!), uploads the rest of it to Chloe. Creepy Adrian – who mumbles the unconvincing words ‘I love you’ to Gothic Chloe in a manner that suggests that even he can’t believe tis latest plot twist – spots the over-ride code, and Kate immediately convinces everyone.

Which is the most unbelievable moment 24 has ever tried to pull off.

Meanwhile, what’s going on at Terrorist Luxury Mansion Central with Mama Terrorist and her little band of tools? I could accept Margot Al-Hasari, who’s being played with fanatical steeliness and self-righteousness by Michelle Fairley, if anyone involved with writing this series could put over any suggestion of her beliefs. It’s a serious failing: Mama Terrorist is a terrorist because she’s a terrorist and does terrorist things, but what the fuck is she doing them for? We may not agree with terrorists but they are usually fighting for some cause. Mama Margot isn’t even being shown as having an unreasoning, irrational hatred of America and all it stands for.

True, she’s out for revenge for Daddy Terrorist getting killed by a drone attack, but it wasn’t that that turned her into a terrorist, so what is she about? She’s about being evil, heartless and fanatic, that’s what she’s about. It’s a fucking cartoon, that’s what it is.

After making sure that Baby Terrorist Simone, she of the four fingers on her left hand after Mama’s impromptu surgery, knows that she’s not to blame for getting her finger chopped off with a cold chisel, Mama makes sure that fearful husband Naveed knows that he is the one to blame for his wife’s disfigurement. Naveed hasn’t given up hope yet: he’s dropped a tracer that will lead the CIA to Terrorist Luxury Mansion Central. Unfortunately, he confides in his loving wife, and his loving wife confides in Mama. So, as was predictable from the moment we saw him in episode 3, Naveed ends episode 5 with a bullet in his head, with Simone’s blessing: ooch, that smarts.

And, get this, Mama Margot just so happens to have a second Terrorist Luxury Mansion Central tucked away under her pinny. Despite the fact that Naveed doesn’t confide in Simone until after the tracer has gone out, Simone’s betrayal has enable Margot and son Ian to change the tracer to misdirect the CIA hit squad to the deserted Spare Terrorist Luxury Mansion Central, where fast learner Ian directs a drone strike that’s probably wiped out CIA Station Head Steve Navarro (thus explaining why Benjamin Bratt has only been on the Guest List, and not Cast, so far).

Incidentally, I’ll leave to others to explain how, having left Central London at about 3.37pm, the CIA squad can deploy at Spare Terrorist Luxury Mansion Central – a large and isolated country mansion – by 3.55pm.

So: that’s one drone used to strike at the UK, leaving five more under Margot’s control. Heller has refused to allow Jack to go into the field to pursue the only contact, an arms dealer who can contact Mama Margot, but next episode he’s going to be forced to do so, with Bauer-manque Kate as his partner, even though she got re-suspended in this episode. Tune in next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, oops, wrong show, to find out if I’m right. Or don’t bother, because you know I’m going to be.


Cheap Cumbria Thrills – an epiprologue

Ever the glutton for punishment, I have now read the last – as in the first – Martin Edwards’ Lake District Series, The Coffin Trail
It’s a better book that its successors, mainly because the vast majority of the action takes place in and around Edwards’ fictional south eastern valley, Brackdale, and I’m ok with him concentrating on his made-up names and places since he’s no longer mangling real Lakes places.
Well, you know me, this isn’t going to be entirely free of niggle.
The Coffin Trail hews closest to Edwards’ original intentions, to centre the series upon Daniel Kind, the former Oxford and TV historian downsizing to a new life in the Lakes, with his new partner Miranda. His opposite number, Hannah Scarlett, doesn’t even come into the book in the first near-hundred pages, and though large parts of the book are seen through her POV, she’s clearly meant to be a secondary figure at this stage.
This is evidenced most strongly in the ending of the story when, the cold case having been solved, an innocent man cleared and a brutal, thuggish, obvious killer dead, committing suicide by Police, it is Daniel who unravels the clue that identifies the real villain.
Thankfully, it being the beginning of the series, we get very little sighing and soul-searching over the putative relationship between Daniel and Hannah (we also get the most detailed physical description of Chief Inspector Scarlett in the entire series and I’ve still no real idea what she looks like). There’s just a few mini-thrills in the few and entirely professional meetings between them, and these are almost exclusively on Daniel’s side.
As far as the crime goes, Edwards starts with a brief section on the crime itself, seven years earlier, before relegating it to a Cold Case issue that the newly formed squad haeded by the not-demoted Hannah also picks up. The accepted villain, Barrie Gilpin, was on the Asberger’s spectrum and was seen as a creepy culprit, though his own, accidental death meant he was never questioned. The original officer in chargem, Ben Kind, Hannah’s mentor and Daniel’s father, was never satsified, and Hannah has inherited his scepticism.
Daniel is also interested in the case: he had been friends with Gilpin during a Brackdale holiday and can’t accept him as a killer, he and Miranda buy the old Gilpin cottage (though it’s Miranda’s enthusiasm that drives and Daniel who follows in this project).
With Daniel stirring things up at one end, and the Police at the other, the obvious, thuggish suspect is quickly identified. A mystery telephone voice initially suggesting it has additional information is also quite obviously his put-upon wife. Her death precipitates the violent end to the story. But it’s all too easy to see who the real culprit is, by virtue of her very openness and innocence (not to mention a carefully laid Arthur Ransome clue that I admit I didn’t see the significance of at the time).
As for the Lake District side of things, it’s interesting to note who careful Edwards is to establish Brackdale as a rather major and substantial valley, albeit a quiet one. Later books don’t reinforce this description, giving the impression of the valley as being a backwater in size as well as position.
And Edwards is more detailed in the setting: from later books, you might think (well, I did) that Brackdale has only two features, its unnamed tarn, and one summit, Tarn Fell. From this book, we learn it has a Horseshoe walk that competes with the Kentmere Horseshoe for attractiveness and interest, although Edwards doesn’t really establish any other summits than the flat and prosaic Tarn Fell.
What does bother me is that Brackdale has a coffin trail (hence the title of the book). This refers to an old trail, established centuries earlier, by which coffins were carried from a valley with no consecrated ground for burial in another place. Edwards acknowledges that elsewhere in the Lakes they are also called corpse roads, but to be honest, they are all called corpse roads, and I have never heard the phrase coffin trail until opening this novel.
This is what irritates me so much about this series, that its supposed to be set against the authenticity of the Lake District, and takes pride in being the first to do so, but that Edwards instantly junks a perfectly good and authentic name for a made-up variation that immediately undercuts the reality of the background he wants to make so much of.
On an aesthetic level, it bothered me slightly that Edwards had the corpse road coming into Brackdale from a neighbouring valley, rather than the other way. It’s a personal detail, but it doesn’t feel quite right. It raises Brackdale’s importance, in an area where it is supposed to be isolated, for it have have such a long-established Church and consecrated ground. Not so far north of this fictional valley, the much more substantial Mardale has a corpse road that can still be traced on the ground, but that leads out, via Swindale, to Shap.
It doesn’t quite sit right with me, I’m sorry to say. It inflates Brackdale’s importance in a way that I don’t find consistent.
Anyway, I’ve now read the book, and satisfied my instinctive compulsion to completion. I’m sure more books will be written: I doubt I’ll read them. Martin Edwards can sleep tonight…

Gregory’s Girl: How to ruin a story without changing a word of it

The news that Bill Forsyth’s debut film as Director, That Sinking Feeling has finally been released on DVD with the originally, naturally accented soundtrack, has sparked off a chain of thought that has brought back to mind a long ago experience.
Forsyth followed That Sinking Feeling with the famous Gregory’s Girl, the high point of his career, sadly, again drawing strongly for its cast upon the Scottish Youth Theatre. Gregory’s Girl appeared in 1981, and was immensely popular in its own right, and latterly as the lower half of the best cinema double bill I’ve ever seen, with Chariots of Fire. Before it finally made it to TV, I saw the film five times in the cinema.
And in 1985, I took a young lady, on the last date of a short-lived relationship, to see a stage version of Gregory’s Girl at the Coliseum Theatre, Oldham. Which is the memory that has prompted this blog.
For those who are not familiar with Gregory’s Girl, first of all, shame on you. The film is a wry, sweet, naturalistic and very funny portrayal of a teenage boy-girl relationship, in a comprehensive school in Cumbernauld New Town, on the fringes of Glasgow.
It’s three principals are Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair, in the role that he has sadly never bettered: it is also still the best material he has ever had), Dorothy (Dee Hepburn, whose crippling shyness as to publicity prevented her career from developing) and Susan (Clare Grogan, of Altered Images, and Red Dwarf).
Gregory is a 16 year old schoolboy, lanky, unfocussed, unformed. He’s striker for the school football team until the coach gets fed up with too many heavy defeats. He puts Gregory in goal and holds trials for a new striker. The outstanding applicant is Dorothy, who goes into the team and is a hit. Gregory gets a crush on her on sight, but is tongue-tied and even more hopeless than usual in her presence.
Eventually, he manages to ask her out, to which Dorothy agrees with suspicious casualness. However, when he turns up, Dorothy can’t make it. Instead, he’s led by, successively, Carol and Margo to a meeting with Susan. Susan actually likes Gregory, but has remained unnoticed by him. The whole thing has been a set-up with Dorothy to bring Gregory to Susan.
By now, he’s terminally confused, Susan’s quiet patience allows him to relax. The two have a gentle, enjoyable evening together, ending with kisses on the doorstep and the promise of a continuing relationship, whilst Dorothy pounds away on her evening run, unconcerned.
There’s a lot more to the film, an awful lot. Forsyth paints a broad, sometimes almost surrealist picture of teenage life (the penguin is brilliant, as is Chic Murray’s piano playing cameo as the Headmaster), but above all, it’s warm, it’s realistic, it totally avoids cliche and, whilst appearing slight, is deceptive in its lightness.
Where Gregory’s Girl scores is in the subtlety of the principals characters and their relationships. Gregory is gangly in body and mind. He’s completely unformed, naive, confused by the first signs of his own sexuality. Dorothy, in contrast, is a self-contained, secure and settled girl. She’s not interested in Gregory, and has no reason to be. She’s mentally and emotionally more advanced than him, and her interests (such as they are beyond her football) are directed towards more fully-formed and mature characters..
Susan, in contrast, is interested in Gregory for both himself, and for his potential. She’s equally self-contained, aware and secure, but she can see how unformed Gregory is and is interested in playing a part in growing him into the adult he’s capable of becoming (trust me on this analysis, I’ve been where Gregory is and am indebted eternally to my ‘Susan’). She’ll invest the time that he needs, and will knock off his rough edges.
What’s most impressive about the film is how low-key the ending is. Forsyth allows no suggestion that this is IT! The love of Gregory’s life, his future wife, etc. What we see is that he’s going to be in for a great time, learning, that he’ll become a human being through this, and that maybe things will last or maybe they won’t, it doesn’t matter. He’s taking a step that Susan’s already taken, and she’s generous enough to lead him in the right direction.

I’ve gone on at such lengths about the film to set up key elements relating to the stage performance.
I was a relatively regular visitor to Oldham Coliseum in the Eighties: it was a fine little theatre with a strong track record, and whilst it didn’t attract big stage names, it usually offered a very high standard of performance. I once saw a version of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, with quite the best performance of the title role I’ve yet seen.

She’s not on the poster but there’s no way I’m leaving her out

Translating the play onto the stage posed considerable problems. The Theatre used a young cast, from the Oldham youth theatre, and I’m not knocking them to say that the cast were not as strong nor as attractive as the film. However, the Director dealt brilliantly with most of the inherent problems, especially the difficulty of presenting actual football matches on stage!
This was solved a having a single, mobile, set of goals (with net) at stage right, facing the wings, whereby the ‘game’ was enacted by the cast rushing on and off out of the wings. This even led to a moment of brilliance in producing an effect not in the film, but which fitted seamlessly into the action: in the film there is a changing room scene where Gregory (nervously) and Dorothy (unconcernedly) have their first solo conversation. It’s interrupted by the slimy Gordon, reporting for the school paper, wanting to interview Dorothy, but using this as a cover for speedily working up to asking her on a date.
The play transferred this scene to ‘on the pitch’ as Gregory and Dorothy conferred behind the goal. Gregory was holding the ball. As the questions multiplied, Dorothy and the reporter faced the audience with Gregory stood behind them: at the moment the date question was asked, he spun on his heel, dropped the ball and, in a beautifully realised moment of anger and frustration, volleyed it powerfully into the roof of the net. It was a perfect representation of his inarticulacy.
That the Director could produced an individual moment so in keeping with the film, and with Forsyth’s thinking made what followed all the more painful. The play continued to follow the film with very little deviation, certainly not in dialogue. But as the end approached, the play started to take a different course, entirely in its interpretation of the situation and the characters, and it destroyed the story by turning it firmly in the direction of cliche and melodrama.
Gregory was not changed in himself, but he had to react differently because of Susan’s character. She was no longer the ordinary, everyday girl, interested in Gregory for himself, because Susan was now a man-eater (boy-eater). Susan wasn’t interested in Gregory, but rather in conquest, in her own, exclusive aims.
Instead of the normal girl, she became the teenage male fantasy, both scary and attractive, the woman who won’t take no for an answer, who’ll give them what they want but are scared of.
It was an appalling misjudgement, and it was compounded in the play’s final moment, crassly emphasising this crude and fantasy oriented interpretation.
In the film, Gregory relaxed with Susan in the park, growing in self-confidence as she let him begin to blossom. They ended up kissing, several times, but Forsyth was canny about this: he cut in to the pair on Gregory’s doorstep, in mid-kiss. And not their first for, when they break, Susan impishly praised Gregory for getting better: “You’ve stopped kissing me like I were your Auntie”. (And it’s a measure of how far Gregory had already come that he kissed her again, then asked what his Auntie is going to say when he kisses her at Christmas?)
Not so on the stage: the first kiss was the only kiss, and was the climax. It was conducted in the middle of the stage, with the cast sitting and lying around, an audience for this momentous, all but ritual event. And it was a full-on clinch, wrapped in each others arms, clinging on for ever.
And then, to emphasise this horrendously adolescent wish-fulfilment bullshit, Dorothy arrived on stage, at the end of her training jog. She took one look at Gregory and Susan in their clinch. She realised, now that he has been taken, now that another woman has him, that she wanted him all along, but it’s too late, and she burst into tears, and at this moment, if the play were a book, it would have been flying across the room en route to splattering against the wall, because this is rampant, arrogant, male-centric shite.
The ending ruined the play for me, for its crassness, and grossness, which made a mockery of a beautifully judged story. It was also an object lesson in interpretation since this was done, as I said, simply by changing the emphasis of the performance, and without changing the dialogue in any way.
The film remains a perfectly realised example of Forsyth’s talent. He went on to equal success with two other Scotland set films, Local Hero and Comfort and Joy (the latter featuring Clare Grogan again), before moving to Hollywood and directing the criminally underrated Housekeeping, after which his career stalled terminally. In 1999, he directed a sequel to his most famous film, Gregory’s Two Girls, again starring John Gordon Sinclair. It was received badly, and flopped: I’ve never seen it and all reports suggest that that would be wise to maintain: no-one likes to have their visions of glory compromised, and the Oldham Coliseum production of Gregory’s Girl is enough for me.

Theatre Nights: The Blackhawk

Sandman Mystery Theatre  45-48 . Dramatis personae: Matt Wagner (plot), Steven T. Seagle (script), Matthew Smith and Richard Case (artists).
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
After the intensity of The Phantom of the Fair, it’s, uh, fair to say that The Blackhawk is a considerably lighter piece, though far from light in itself.
Once again, Wagner/Seagle are dipping into established DC history. Blackhawk (as he’s usually known) is a long-established character, created in part by the legendary Will Eisner during the Second World War, and enjoying decades of success. He was the leader of the Blackhawks, a squadron of independent fliers drawn from the Allied Nations, fighting against the Nazis.
Though the definitive name of Janos Prohaska wasn’t established until after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and ignoring a period when Blackhawk became an American volunteer in Poland, the character has always been a Polish flyer whose brother and sister were killed in a German air-raid, and who swore vengeance.
But all that began in 1941. In the Mystery Theatre it’s still 1939, and in America at least, the inevitability of War is accepted, and certain people are fixing to do something about it. One such group includes Judge Shaeffer, and he, in turn, wants Wesley Dodds to join. It’s prefaced by a gift of tickets to an Air Show, to which Wes takes Dian. The star of the Air Show is a highly-skilled Polish flyer, one Janos Prohaska. And the Resistance Group’s purpose is to fund a highly-skilled Polish flyer in defending his homeland: of course it is Janos Prohaska.
Like other plays before it, the plot of The Blackhawk is primarily a backcloth for the more important elements of the the ongoing series, and the development of the regular characters. That story is relatively simple: Judge Shaeffer invites Wesley into the secret group which is proposing to fund  Prohaska in the defence of his homeland against the Nazis. However, one of the group, for reasons of both ideology and cupidity, is trying to discredit Prohaska as a murderer of women. Burke is heavily involved, convinced Prohaska is guilty and determined to beat a confession out of him. In the end, the Sandman breaks Prohaska out of jail and sees him onto a plane out of the country as part of a scheme intended to draw out the real villain. Prohaska is exonerated, but at story’s end it is reported that his plane has been shot down, with no survivors.
No, what distinguishes this play is its depiction of three of the principals: Dian, Burke and Janos Prohaska himself. Only Wesley and the Sandman are constants whose position does not move in these four Acts, and that is in part an underpinning of Dian’s story.
Despite her decision to devote herself to writing, Dian is finding it very difficult to get going. Her ideas seem grand in her head, but feeble on paper (tell me about it!). It doesn’t help that she’s feeling off colour, prone to stomach upsets, bleary in the morning. It’s still hard for her to totally accept Wesley’s other life, even if she is taking more of an active part in supporting him. In her current state of health and mind, she sees herself as once again competing, passively, for Wesley’s attention, and overlooked too often as he follows his dreams.
Dian’s also musing more than we’ve seen before upon her mother, perhaps as a result of Larry’s comments in The Phantom of the Fair that she immediately deflected. Uppermost in Dian’s mind is that her mother was the only one in her circle of friends to stop after one child. Dian speculates that her conception was a mistake, and sees a lot of her mother in herself, or vice versa.
It’s something I’ve always liked about the Mystery Theatre, that even though Dian was, to an extent, press-ganged into returning to America and committing herself whole-heartedly to Wesley and the Sandman, it is not a simple, once and for all commitment for her, and her reservations and fears continue to affect her.
By the second half of the play, Dian’s being much more proactive: dressed in a mask, she chauffeurs Janos to a meeting with the Sandman. When he tries to call her Lady Sandwoman, she demurs, but she accepts the (tongue-in-cheek) title of ‘Sandy’. As usual, being there at the heart of things arouses Dian’s spirits.
But whilst Dian, by virtue of her narrative roles, remains up front, for once this play is as much about Lieutenant Tony Burke as it is about anyone else. What is Burke? What has been thus far? The truthful answer is that Burke is a monster. In some ways he’s a stereotype, the embodiment of every hard-boiled cop ever to feature in pulp crime fiction. Burke is a cop through and through, and he’s a bloody good cop. But only in the terms of the times.
We’ve seen, over and again, how rude, arrogant and overbearing he is. No-one on the force is as hard as Tony Burke, nobody can so much as hint at a weakness without his fastening on it and contemptuously putting the guy down. He’s a mass of prejudices, he’s obsessed with bringing the Sandman down because, despite the costumed vigilante’s obvious intent of assistance, he’s a vigilante. Burke’s a cop, he has authority, he is Authority. The Sandman has no right to do what he does.
And Burke is also guilty of tunnel vision, of choosing a culprit and fixedly pursuing them, ignoring any competing suggestion or even evidence, intent on getting the inevitable confession with a lot of back room beating, with fists and rubber hose.
As I said, Burke is a monster. That he is honest, and passionate about catching murderers is his only saving grace. And he’s been like this since his introduction in The Tarantula. Unlike every other recurring character, he has not changed one iota.
Until the first act of The Blackhawk. Even on his way to a crime scene, he’s his offensive self. Working with one of the guys who went down the sewers with him in Night of the Butcher, he’s unbearable at the man’s heightened sensitivity to violence. Then he arrives on the scene, and breaks, all at once, like a baby.
Burke’s collapse is sudden and absolute. It is he who breaks out of the room, runs for the alley, pukes his guts out. He’s lying there, unable to function, so bad that the Sandman approaches him, with concern for his condition, and Burke, who is still a long way from recovering that self he usually wields like a blunt instrument, is so defeated that he actually authorises the Sandman to go search the room, invites him into the investigation. Though not without a token warning not to disturb or take anything, accompanied by a threat of retribution that is painfully ineffectual.
What shatters Burke? It’s a real shame that this play should be designed by Matthew Smith, not stalwart Guy Davis, otherwise we would surely recognise the prostitute with whom Prohaska sleeps, to mutual joyfulness, and who is murdered as soon as he leaves. Her name is Regina Aggondezzi – Gina – and she is the woman Burke turned to in Night of the Butcher for sex but, more importantly, company.
Burke experiences death coming to his own life, to someone he cares about, and the iron man goes to pieces.
But not for long. His armour reforged, Burke fixes on Prohaska as the killer, and his determination to avenge Gina makes him even more vicious, single-minded and determined, even to attempting to suppress evidence that leads away from Prohaska. That his man gets away, that he escapes police custody, that he’s not even the killer is a tremendous blow. We sense that Burke’s response will be to dig down even deeper into his chosen role, but the monster has been exposed in this play, and we may be sure that his story has just become open to development.
And lastly, there’s the Blackhawk. The title gets handed out by the Sandman, saluting Janos as the ‘Black Hawk of the Skies’ as he flies off on what we are, at the last, led to believe is a fatal flight. It’s a crushing riposte, to the effort of the story, to the passionate Prohaska we see here, and under the arch of the Mystery Theatre we can tremble at the bleak irony, though beyond we know Blackhawk will live and fight eternally.
Prohaska’s portrayal in Sandman Mystery Theatre is in keeping with his revised characterisation introduced in a limited series written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, but it’s rather more natural, and isn’t being played for in-your-face, shock value. Here, in 1939, Prohaska still speaks with a pronounced Polish accent, which he is conscientiously trying to shed, and is unfamiliar wit America and its customs.
These combine to give the effect that Prohaska is something of a simple man, though he’s anything but. When he mentions to the Resistance Group that he’s flown in the Spanish Civil War, one of the (rich, business man) members asks which side. Given that Chaykin also made Blackhawk a former communist, the readers know that it was for the Republicans, but Prohaska, with an enthusiastic bonhomie, replies, “Why, the good side, of course.”
But Prohaska, for all he is smart, passionate, and winningly patriotic whenever he has to speechify, he’s also a larger-than-life womaniser. Not for the thrill of conquest, perhaps, but rather out of an inexhaustible appreciation for the beauty of American women.
It’s this zest that marks out Janos Prohaska, and which renders the ending so much of a comedown (if you choose to believe it). And his interplay with the Sandman is priceless, especially when, on their first meeting, the Sandman’s gas actually kills a thug (to Wesley’s consternation), thanks to an extreme allergic reaction.
Mention must be made, of course, to Matthew Smith as this play’s guest designer (Richard Case assists in the Third and Final Acts, supplying inks). As usual, the choice of guest is rather left field, Smith’s style being stark and representational, with the use of heavy blacks. Smith also eschews detail in a manner that enables him to create rather stark pages that suggest rather than depict the Thirties. He frequently prefers outlines, as witnessed by the sheer number of times Wesley’s glasses are mere black circles, his eyes invisible behind them.
It’s unusual, but not inappropriate, but in the light of Davis’s gift in depicting facial and body language, this is one occasion on which I seriously regret his being only able to draw eight issues a year.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play titled Return of The Scarlet Ghost.
Break a leg.

24: Live Another Day – 2.00 – 3.00 pm

Baby Terrorist – quite the best thing about this show

It’s two o’clock. Jack Bauer has just shot two English protesters in the leg to create a disturbance that enables him to break into the American Embassy in London,so that he can locate the framed Lt. Tanner, snatch his Flight Key and upload the information that will prove to President Heller, and all and sundry that Mama Terrorist Margot intends to take over ten American drones and use them to attack London, sometime today (i.e., between 10.00 – 11.00pm,otherwise known as ‘thank God that’s the last episode’).

Meanwhile, Gothic Chloe mutters and mumbles behind a computer screen giving him directions, the eternal puppet caught between a love for Action Man that she cannot discuss even with herself, and the drily unexpressed feelings of her hacker-chief Adrian, a man who, over three episodes, has yet to allow a trace of emotion to creep into his diction. Zees Englis’, pah!

Meanwhile, President Heller finishes his speech to a ravening crowd of uncontrollable madmen and women (i.e., the House of Commons), who have unaccountably stopped ripping his every utterance to public shreds before he even makes it. Now is the time to reveal to Heller, and Fragile, Strained But Still Beautiful daughter Kim that Jack Bauer is in town. Heller doesn’t believe Jack’s story, Creepy and Disloyal Chief of Staff Mark has an agenda not to believe it, but Kim, who has suffered unspeakable tortures because of the damage Jack Causes In His Wake, is immediately on his side.

Meanwhile, Conscience Stricken Navid plans to run away from Mama Terrorist Margot rather than pilot the drones, taking with him Baby Terrorist Simone, his loving, pale of face and vaguely pre-raphaelite redheaded wife, but Baby Terrorist is too loyal to Mummy’s revolutionary creed (herein revealed as being “There are no innocents!”), and shops him. Nobly, Navid resists pressure to do his bit so Mama Margot, recognising that Navid is simultaneously too much of a coward to go through with killing tens of thousands of people and heroically brave enough to resist all torture upon himself, has a henchman chop off the little finger of Baby’s left hand (“Mummy loves you,” she reassures as hammer, cold chisel and fingerjoint meet, though noticeabl;y she doesn’t kiss the boo boo better), whereupon he gives in, and so would I (whilst steeling myself, at the crucial moment, to cock the whole thing up, anticipating that my loving and nine-fingered wife may have second thoughts about dobbing me in).

Apparently, Geeky Boy Terrorist has no opinion on the sudden maiming of his little sister.

And then there’s Barbie Doll Agent Morgan, steadfastedly chasing Bauer through the building, in a slim, well-fit blonde way. Aside from the obligatory, once an episode that this tactically genius analyst missed the fact her husband had been spying for the Soviets.. I mean Russians, for like, literally, forever, Kate the genius continues to show her speed of thought and perception (i.e., she believes Bauer). Single-handedly, she breaks the seige, retrieves the Flight Key (in order to herself upload it to the hackers) and takes Jack back into CIA custody, fending off a squad of marines intent on gunning Bauer down like a dog because he deliberately shot two of their number where they were most highly protected.

Now it’s three o’clock.

The only unequivocally good thing about this episode is that Stephen Fry was restricted to a single, silent, camera-pass.

This is going on till 11.00pm, but it really ought to be grounded. Very early.

Obscure Corners: Green Crag

                                                                    Green Crag from Harter Fell

Green Crag is the beginning and the end of Lakeland in the south: in Wainwright’s Southern Fells the great man rounds off his map of the fell’s territory with thick, black, straight lines: this is an edge, and beyond there is nothing.
That’s not the case on the ground, and twenty years later, when Wainwright did prepare The Outlying Fells, he devoted several pages to the smaller fells lying between the coast and the Birker Fell Road, but there is a massive gap between the two, with no high ground to link them. Green Crag is the edge.
The fell itself consists of Green Crag, a stylishly conic, steep-sided peak separated by a wide col from the subsidiary Crook Crag, a coxcomb ridge of several smaller upthrusts. It is seen well from the Birker Fell Road, where the declining foreground enhances the proportionality of the view. Increase the ridge by another thousand foot throughout its length, set it down in a more mountainous area, and this would be a classic fell that all would queue to climb.
Without a long walk from the Duddon valley, near Grassguards, Green Crag is only realistically approachable from Middle Eskdale, where there is a choice of peat roads to the edge of the Birker Fell plateau. Any walk should ascend by one and descend by the other.
The approach to the peat roads is within walking distance of the Ratty at Dalegarth, making this an expedition that can be fit in between trains: four hours is not too much to leave between arrival and departure for a fit walker. Start off up the valley, ignoring the turn for Boot, and taking a farm road on the right when in sight of the Woolpack Inn. The lane leads to Doctor Bridge, where a choice must be made.
The first time visitor should always turn right, towards Low Birker, passing through the farmyard and bearing left through a big, walled intake. The path climbs diagonally towards the far corner before escaping onto the peat road itself, a well-graded route, tacking backwards and forwards and offering smooth passage up the flank of the valley, with excellent views of Middle Eskdale.
Once you cross the lip of the valley, the path around the edge of Birker Fell is clear and unmistakable, but the change in atmosphere and setting is total. Eskdale and its verdant fields disappears immediately: the ground to your immediate left slopes upwards to an undistinguished skyline, whilst to your right, a grassy, silent, somehow forbidding wilderness stretches. In cloudy, damp and atmospheric conditions, there is the sense of clinging to the hillside and creeping along the edge of a trackless waste: tales of ghostly horses carrying unburied coffins on the Eskdale-Wasdale Corpse Road could be transplanted here with utter believability.
The path winds its way along the low, green base of Crook Crag, passing Birker Pool on its way. It’s circuitous route, clinging to the contours of the fellside and following its base throughout are unusual, and there is little to see ahead until the path draws level with the col between Crook Crag and Green Crag. Here, it turns uphill, but only for a short distance before petering out. Route-finding is not an issue, however. Just climb on until the col is reached, and Harter Fell and the path up its flanks, rising out of the Duddon Valley, right, is clearly visible. The col is surprisingly low above this matching depression, and energetic walkers for whom the traverse of Green Crag is insufficient exercise, will look to that direction. However, be warned that Spothow Gill is difficult to cross safely and it may be necessary to traverse a long way in the direction of Eskdale before even reaching the Harter path.
Green Crag towers above, looking far too steep to be tackled from the col, but work around behind it to discover a grassy channel, up which an ascent can be made that brings you, safely, to the narrow top.
If the day is windy, it will be windy here, with the wind racing in off the Irish Sea without anything to hinder it. The views into the Lakes are not extensive: everything north and west of Green Crag is higher, but the head of Eskdale and the Scafell massif will the the cynosure of most eyes, losing little for the additional distance over the classic view from Harter Fell. And on this summit, you will be alone and uninterrupted.
The seascape’s not bad either, and Devoke Water is seen across the wilderness of Birker Moor, whilst those who, for some reason, might be carrying a personal radio, ought to be able to pick up Manx Radio from out there in the Irish Sea.
Return to the saddle, cross this and take a close look at Crook Crag, the ‘coxcomb’ ridge that Wainwright describes. Its crest may be sportingly followed, or you may follow its base, sticking to the Harter flank, though the view on this side is far from inspiring and does not tempt to cross over and add Harter to the day’s programme. Gradually, Crook Crag begins to decline, and the way emerges over a hinterland between the high ground and the lip of the valley, here dominated by the back of Kepple Crag.
The other peat road can be traced to the left of Kepple Crag, though there is no path originally. Keep looking backwards to fix the scene in your mind, remembering where you descended from, so that if you decide to ascend this way, you will know your path from the lip of the valley.
And once you are on this peat road, with its easy walking, its constant change of directions, the endless pleasure of it, you will no doubt decide it to be a better route for next time.
The peat road passes the path to Harter Fell, winding back up to the right, and eventually descends to join the foot route to Brotherilkeld. Ignore it, reluctantly, to turn left for Penny Hill, and beyond it a long, flat farm road back to Doctor Bridge. Is that the Ratty in the distance? Or did you leave enough time to call in at the Woolpack as well?

Sounds of the Sixties: Switch-Off

Phil Swern, Producer of the long-running Radio 2 Saturday morning programme Sounds of the Sixties denies that under his control the show has become more and more oriented to the early Sixties, and the pre-Beatles era.

Phil Swern ought to read the last three weeks’ playlists and try to say that again with a straight face.

These have not only been unbearably imbalanced but also incredibly dull. Dull to the extent that, only a few minutes into the second half of today’s show, I switched off in absolute disgust (and looking at the published playlist, I didn’t miss anything). And I’ve never switched SOTS off early in my life. Considering that I was listening, as I have to do every alternate weekend, on the i-Player, it’s even more of a shock.

I have been listening to this programme for 13 years. It’s not like I’m asking for the early Sixties stuff to be banished (though I’m tempted with a lot of the pre-Beatles stuff, which remind you of just how important the four moptops were). I’m not even asking for a few late-Sixties dominated episodes, antidote though they would be. I just want balance, a fair spread across each programme, and across a series of shows.

My Sounds of the Sixties is being taken away from me by a Producer who refuses to recognise his own musical biases. Given that it’s the only music radio show I listen to each week, I am seriously pissed off at that.

Spam: do they mean me?

Like all bloggers, I get a regular amount of Spam comments, which get regularly filtered out. What type of spam it is comes in waves; payday loans is a perennial favourite, along with some naked advertising and the kind of oh-gosh-wow comment about how brilliant some post or other is, and how the commenter’s going to link, or tell his brother because bro is really into this topic, and which never has any reference to the actual topic that might, you know, suggest it came from a real human being who’s actually read this stuff.

But just lately, I seem to have been specially targetted by a couple of new spam subjects. One seems to think I’m in desperate need of knowing where to get the best monster trucks in America, which is, like, seriously bad profiling dudes, but the one that’s got me worried, or should I say several that have got me worried are the dozen or so I’ve been daily getting abut the best way of escaping drug addiction.

Now you may think I’m in denial here, but I’m not addicted to anything, except possibly Diet Coke (Caffeine-Free for preference), and maybe Pizzas, and I swear that I have never touched a single drug in my life that has not been handed over the counter in exchange for a octor’s prescription. But the persistance with which these souls are trying to get through to me is starting to get worrying.

Do they know something I don’t?

24 Live Another Day: 1.00 – 2.00pm

She looks better than this in other series, folks

More of the same, only different. That was what I was thinking throughout most of episode 3, and it was true for both the episode itself, and for my reactions to it. It’s still the same high action, blitz them with it so they won’t have time to think, mavericks still playing their ends-justify-the-means bullshit, terrorists out to destroy without ever really defining why, or what might follow, and the weak one who will be killed not less than three episodesfrom the end, and probably sooner. Oh, and the President’s Chief of Staff is conspiring behind his back, yet again.

And I’m still just as unconvinced, uncomitted and ungripped with it as I was with the first two episodes, and all for the same reason. The London setting’s a gimmick since the show is just going to trample on everything pertaining to its location to enable it to perform exactly as it did for eight series back home,anddon’t believe the bit about worrying about British sensitivities because it’s as phoney as a wooden nickel.

There’s a typical lurch into melodrama as Chloe gets distracted at exactly the right moment to let the girl assassin get away. You see, what neither Jack nor any of the rest of us knows, since it hasn’t had any decent foreshadowing, is that Morris and Prescott (Chloe’s husband and son) are dead, run over by a truck, only Chloe was the target: cue tears and a gruff, manly hug from Jack, who even lets his eyesget wet at the thought of her loss. But then again, Jack’s a specialist when it comes to loss, isn’t he?

Then there’s the girl assassin, Simone (played in a very short mini-skirt with patterned tights and great legs by Emily Barrington). Simone’s resourceful and committed, but then why shouldn’t she be, being a second generation terrorist, raised by notorious husband and wife terrorists to plot, kill, and sleep with no-marks in order to get stuff off them: if it was good enough for Mummy, it’s good enough for not-so-little Simone, though it’s a point that Simone’s husband Navid is currently struggling to accept. Though, as Navid has Doubts, and Mummy-Terrorist is watching by surveillance cameras the lovely Simone tries to shag some conviction back into him, I think we can safely say young Navid isn’t going to see episode 12. Will Simone approve in view of the cause,  or will she be distraught at Mummy Darling chopping off her beloved’s bollocks?

Even in series 8, that’s something I would have cared about but no, not this time. 24 may only be 12 this time out, but I am already hanging in there hoping for the end.

But as the episode got into it’s last act, all pretenc to anything resembling reality, even in 24‘s terms, just toppled over and went down the pan. Sneaky Chief of Staff and son-in-law Mark has been warning President Heller that an address to Parliament is not wise because the MPs will howl him down in much the same manner as the demonstraters outside the American Embassy, and I’ve been regarding that idea with no little dubiety but, guess what, when everyone turns up to listen to Heller in a room that’s almost exactly unlike Parliament, they don’t even let him get past Hello before they’re shouting and slandering him.

Now I’m not overfond of our MPs and this Parliament, but this is ludicrously unrealistic, as is the whole idea of the President of America addressing Parliament against the wishes of the Prime Minister, and I can’t take this series seriously any more.

I’m going to try to keep watching it, on a Mastermind basis, though I can foresee these blogs getting less respectful by the week. This is already a disaster, but will it improve. Will it get worse? Can it get worse? Oh, that one you better believe.

The Ones I Rarely Play: The Fall – The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall

Everyone goes through a phase in their life where they get into The Fall, for a greater or lesser period. Mine was the late Eighties, a small handful of albums, starting with Perverted by Language, and a couple of gigs.
I’d been listening to The Fall since 1978 and ‘Bingo-Master’s Breakdown’: well, you couldn’t listen to John Peel every night for that many years and be completely unaware of the band. But I never really took to their music: there was an ungainly, ragged angularity to it that didn’t appeal to my sensibilities, and Mark E Smith’s denunciatory voice is a taste to be acquired.
Some tracks stood out, nagging at my mental barriers, things like ‘Totally Wired’ and ‘How I wrote Elastic Man’, but even these were rushed and rough. The Fall were a band with rough edges: most of the time they seemed to consist of nothing else.
But if you are exposed to something for long enough, it’s hardly surprising that some part of their music starts to make sense. For me it was ‘Leave the Capitol’, from the Slates EP, and the Peel session version of ‘Who makes the Nazis?’, in which Smith’s sneer ceased to be repellent against the headlong rush of the band.
So I experimented: I bought Perverted by Language and struggled to get into it (though the splenetic ‘Eat Y’self Fitter’ was an instant gem).
The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall was the next album. I bought the cassette version, which included the Call for Escape Route EP, and had seven extra songs in total, a format which has been preserved for the CD. It’s the only one I’ve kept.
This is where Smith and the band – which at that point included Smith’s American wife, Brix, for a number of years before she ran off with that tit, Nigel Kennedy – came closest to being a tight, bright, melodic pop band.
Being the Fall, and being Mark E.Smith in particular, it really isn’t that close, though it’s noticeable that this is when The Fall scored their only singles hits, even if these were only two Top 40 placings and a high of no. 30 (with a cover of ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’ that never sounded anything like as good as it did in your head when the idea first appeared: they were much better on ‘Victoria’, which only got to no. 34).
And it’s not just the singles ‘Oh, Brother’ and ‘C.R.E.E.P.’ imported into the cassette/CD versions, with their chiming guitars and ringing title lines, it’s there in tracks on the vinyl itself, such as ‘2 x 4’ (what you should hit someone on the head with to attract their attention).
Even so, the ‘old’ Fall has plenty to say for itself, especially in the disjointed side one closer, ‘Elves’, a fantastic suspended gulf of paranoia and mystic leanings that suddenly gathers force and resolves into a structured chant of ‘not ever, no never no more/will I trust the Elves of Dunsinore’ that makes no sense but spits fire.
This sudden influx of conventional structure is present from the outset in the album’s best track,  the lurching, bass-dominant ‘Slang King’, an epic and forceful surge that, sonically, I’ve always been tempted to bracket with such differing tracks as Neil Young’s ‘My, My, Hey, Hey (Into the Black)’ and Joy Division’s awesome ‘Dead Souls’.
The Fall’s ‘pop’ years didn’t last long, and certainly didn’t out-lived Brix’s defection, but this album represents that influence at its most coherent and consistent, and thus it survives every cull of the collection.