The Flashman Papers 1842-1845: Flashman’s Lady

With Flashman’s Lady, the Sixth Packet of The Flashman Papers, George MacDonald Fraser sprung a couple of changes on the series. The first, and more important of these was to break the strict chronological sequence of the Packets to date, by going back to fill in part of one of those two substantial gaps left in Harry Flashman’s career to date, and the second, via the mediation of the Packet’s first editor, Elspeth Flashman’s sister Grizel de Rothschild, to introduce a running commentary in the form of excerpts from Lady Flashman’s own diaries.
The first of these changes overlaps with the first part of Royal Flash but goes on to extend Flashman’s career as far as 1845 (up until the beginning of his service in the First Sikh War) by taking him far away from England, Elspeth at his side (at least metaphorically) all the way.
Once again, Fraser (or Flashman) is presenting two ‘heroic’ adventures into one story which, together with the long and gently enjoyable introduction to Flashy’s unexpected sporting career, breaks the story down into three phases and environments.
The first of these leads us into the long-gone world of early-Victorian cricket, in which Flashman briefly but brightly shines. We’re back in 1842, with the ‘Ero of Jooloolabad enjoying life on Morrison’s money, or such of it as can be distributed via Elspeth. This leads one day to a chance encounter with a tall, well-set-up brown-haired stranger who recognises Flashy even as our favourite cad has no idea who he is.
Appropriately, given the end of the previous adventure, this strapping young man is none other than Tom Brown, full of Christian admiration and forgiveness towards Flashy the hero, and complete with invitation to play for a Rugby Old Boys against Kent. Flashman’s about to turn it down with disdain until he learns the match is to be played at Lords’.
On the great day, Flashy finds himself frozen out (after all, he did tell Brown he was going to do his training down the Haymarket, among the hem-hem ladies) but the crowd recognises the great hero and after some uncricket-like chanting, Flashy’s given an over.
This is not cricket as we know it now. Overs consist of four balls, and round-arm bowling has not long since come in. Flashy bowls fast, seriously fast, seemingly unscientifically. But in amongst his abiding cynicism towards the world, Flashy genuinely loves the game, and off the second ball of his second over, putting his heart and mind into it, he bowls Felix, one of the legendary batsmen of the era.
Felix was skill but, the very next ball, luck enables Flashy to dismiss Fuller Pilch, another giant of a batsman, caught and bowled. Which leads Flashy facing Alfie Mynn, a third legend. And Flashy duly completes the first recorded instance of a hat trick (and it’s both a hat and a trick) by appealing for LBW against a ball going well-wide, whilst leaping across the Umpire’s view!
Nevertheless, it does gain Flashy invitations to play the following summer, and he does secure two very respectable sets of figures against two highly respectable teams.
That’s where Flashman’s problems start. The lovely Elspeth has accompanied him but when Flashy wants to share his triumph with her, she’s nowhere to be found. Eventually, he locates her in the archery alleys, being shown how to draw a bow by a rather dark-skinned gentleman who has his arms round her. All very innocently of course.
The newcomer is Don Solomon Haslam, a very wealthy merchant from out East, who is also a cricket fan and devastated to have missed Flashy’s feat. On the other hand, he’s more than somewhat infatuated with the golden-haired Elspeth.
Haslam’s about all winter, hosting with generosity, always in with the news, enough so to impress old Morrison. The Flashman’s become especial favourites of his, though Harry’s got a very keen eye open for reasons why.
Things come to a head in the early summer of 1843. Having offended both Lola Montez and Otto Bismarck, as we already know, Flashy’s happy to be out of London at a Cricket week, by Alfie Mynn’s invitation. He and Elspeth are guests of Haslam. Meanwhile, Uncle Bindley (who has definitely travelled to the Paget side of the family) is arranging a substantial and prestigious position at Horse Guards. All is sunny.
Of course, there’s the minor matter of the London bookie whose money Flashy has very unwisely taken, and Mrs Leo Lade, mistress to some elderly Duke who Haslam catches Flashy shagging in the dressing room. And Haslam’s got to go back east to check his estate and he’s got this brilliant idea about taking Elspeth with him (with Morrison as chaperone) for a jolly sunny cruise.
Elspeth’s ecstatic, if her brave Hector approves, which he very firmly doesn’t. So Haslam inveigles Flashy into a game of single wicket, with £2,000 if Flashy wins, and Elspeth in her sunbathing corsets if he loses or ties.
It ought to be a doddle. Except that The bookie, Tighe, wants Flashy to throw the match, seeing as how he’s red-hot favourite and all the betting’s going that way. It’s a tremendous pickle, with social devastation and Tighe’s bully-boys on one hand and his wife disappearing for a year or so with some damned n****r (Flashman-speak), and with some vigorous cheating on both sides, given the number of stools, it’s no wonder Flashman falls between all of them. There’s only one solution: Harry’s going East as well.
Neither Flashman nor Frasier do travelling, which is just as well, so several months elapse whilst the happy couple, and her miserable (in both senses) Scots father sail east under Haslam’s command, and a deuced dodgy-looking lot they are, with never an English voice nor a white face amongst them. And Haslam’s growing more native by the nautical mile.
Still, there is nothing but the coward’s paranoia to concern our boy Harry, until the party reaches Hong Kong, and there finally exists an opportunity for vicious living. It’s not to be found amongst the merchant class which, despite sporting eccentrics such as the sherry-sipping Chinese, Whampoa, and the excitable Jew, Catchick Moses, considers cards after seven to be dangerously racy. Indeed, Flashy needs Haslam himself to point him across the tracks, into the Chinese section, where ladies in tight dresses that can nevertheless be removed by an expert may be found.
As can ninjas.
Fraser doesn’t name them as such, though by this time Bruce Lee films had been all the rage for a few years, but it’s pretty damned obvious who the assassins Flashman is desperately fleeing from are meant to be. And as usual, it would be all up with Flashy if not for that significant moment of luck that comes to his rescue at such times.
For a group of Englishmen, some naval, some civilians, some native bearers, but all very handy, happen up the scene, and pull Flashy’s chestnuts out of the fire. He hears names that mean nothing to him, that mean nothing to readers that are not students of British Nineteenth Century history to the degree of George MacDonald Fraser even before he began these books. Because the leader is one James Brooke, or  J.B. And he is one of the strangest and most unbelievable real-life characters Flashman has ever or will ever meet.
Do you know the name? I didn’t. Even now, almost forty years later, I cannot recall ever hearing of Brooke outside the pages of this novel, unless I have deliberately searched for his name and his history. Who is he? Wait a moment longer, because this is where the roof falls in on Harry Flashman. Don Solomon Haslam’s boat has sailed. It has Elspeth aboard but not John Morrison. Haslam has, during the past week, very quietly sold up all his holdings. His departure, and his taking of Elspeth Flashman, is deliberate. It is worked out that his true name is Sulemain Usman, and that he is a notorious Borneo Pirate. And he has kidnapped Flashman’s wife.
At that point, J.B. takes over the operation to rescue Mrs Flashman, with his men about him and, given Flashman’s reputation, assuming his enthusiastic participation. It is a romantic task, made the more pointed by Brooke’s excited, often florid and in Flashy’s eyes, decidedly schoolboyish responses, and it’s not until he queries why J.B. is getting himself so worked up that the others’ incredulity at his ignorance leads to his being told that James Brooke is who he is because he is the White Rajah of Sarawak, one of the two principal states of Borneo. He governs as absolute ruler.
Brooke has to be read to be believed. Flashman finds it difficult to credit that Brooke and his rule, colonial and paternal to a fault, really exists, and despite our respect for Fraser and his meticulous accuracy that has carried us through five and a half books thus far, I cannot be alone in finding Brooke to be so difficult to accept. He is so much the archetype of the least-convincing and most swash-buckling of Victorian schoolboy Empire fiction that the very idea that there could be a real avatar is so hard to swallow.
Part of it is a generational thing. Fraser was thirty years older than me, born and brought up under an Empire upon which the sun never set, and taught to believe in this as a good thing. I am a child of the mid-Fifties, when the Empire had already gone a long way towards extinction, in fact if not mind, and my education, my upbringing, all the liberal instincts by which I live lead me to an automatic rejection of the notion of Empire.
Both of us are too intelligent to believe that either extreme is the sole truth, even though I am far less well read than the late author. For Fraser, the chance to introduce Brooke, to illuminate his story in a manner that acknowledges the implausibility of it yet reflects its actuality, is probably the major reason for this book, and the middle section, in which Flashy joins Brooke’s actual expedition against the river pirates, is the longest part of the story of three tales.
Fraser instinctively applauds – as does Sarawak history and the country’s memories, for Brooke began a dynasty that ruled until 1946 and which Sarawak looks back on his favour – and I instinctively shudder with embarrassment at the cultural imperialism. That was directed at eradicating brutality, exploitation, murder and torture. There are no easy answers.
Ultimately, the river expedition achieves partial success. The pirates are beaten but not broken, and Harry is reunited with Elspeth. Unfortunately, this happens to be on Usman’s ship, steaming away from Borneo at a rate of knots, with Flashy recovering from a gash in the ribs that Elspeth’s unfettered joy in being with her paladin again threatens to tear open once more.
Where do we go from here? Usman still loves and venerates Elspeth and loathes Harry as an unclean beast, unfit to worship his golden vision, let alone roger her senseless, but once he has allowed Elspeth to know her beloved is alive and there, he has removed his own power to kill Flashy. Nevertheless, they are still his prisoners, with no sign of release unless Harry does something about it.
Which, when the ship strikes harbour, on an island of black subjects, he does, breaking free, swimming ashore and demanding to be taken to the British Consul. Usman is panicked off his head at this development, but not for the reasons you’d think. Despite Flashy’s assumptions, this is not the British possession, Mauritius, but the independent island Kingdom of Madagascar.
Where Britains – where whites – have no status, no authority, no rights. They are slaves. They are Lost.
Madagascar is ruled by the mad Queen Ranavalona, who Fraser portrays in accordance with contemporary opinion and historical conclusion that was only just beginning to be reinterpreted, as a literal madwoman, and a homicidal maniac whose only apparent interest in her rule is the opportunity presented to her for an ongoing wave of mass murder in brutal terms. Flashy becomes her salve, a indeed are all the very few Europeans in the country which, in his case, means becoming Sergeant-General of her Army (a gloriously over-promoted Drill Instructor) and her lover.
Though this latter really is a case of the biter bit since Ranavalona’s regard for Flashy’s, er, staff is no more profound or personal than his for a prime pair of bumpers, heh?
If you are a trifle uncomfortable about this same story containing both Brooke and Ranavalona, with no other connection between them than that Harry Flashman serves under both in a most contrived manner of succession, then you may care to reflect that this strange pair of historical mysteries are ironic shadows of one another in the contrast between how they treat their respective subjects.
Or you may as well accept that one of the names of the game that Fraser plays over this sequence of novels is that Harry Flashman’s long career involves him getting involved in most, if not all, of the significant trouble-spots of the middle-to-late Nineteenth Century, no matter how remote one is from another and especially how utterly unbelievable it is that any one man should have even a tenth of them in common.
It is a mark of Fraser’s skill that he is able to make so many of such transitions not just believable but plausible. Sometimes, however, the contrivance has to become a little bit too obvious for the good of the story. There is no true way to place the White Rajah and the Mad Queen side by side. This is just something that we shall have to grin and bear. After all, Flashman at the Charge did something similar, if a lot less hard to swallow, in its cramming together of the Crimea and Russia’s forgotten expansionist wars in Central Asia.
So far as Madagascar is concerned, the Queen’s rule is not welcomed by all. Both Britain and, especially, France had Empirical designs upon the island and its resources, and they had designs towards putting Ranavalona’s much nicer, and considerably more pliable son, Rakota, on the throne in her place. Rakota, incidentally, is keeping Elspeth safe from his mother’s knowledge, and Elspeth is, of course, completely oblivious to any of the Madagascar her petrified husband is facing.
Needless to say, the terrified Flashy is going to be a key component of the plot to get Ranavalona’s army away from her whilst she is deposed. And almost equally needless to say, the plot fails and, in order to ‘prove’ his innocence, our hero has to undergo the infamous, and weirdly creepy tanguin test, involving poison, throwing up and chicken skin.
Flashy survives, but it’s now on the knife edge, and, knowing an English ship to be out there, off the coast, he grabs Elspeth and runs. And this is, to me, quite the finest part of the whole novel. It’s called Flashman’s Lady because she is the springboard for everything that happens, and her naïve observations decorate the story.
But this is Elspeth as wife to, and companion to, a soldier. Not a very good soldier, not in the least. But he is her soldier and whilst her eyes are tinted even more rosy than her absurd ‘diary’, Harry does what any good soldier, any good husband does: he protects her, he rescues her. He is worthy of her, and what makes this last section quietly brilliant is that, in the face of everything we have heard Flashman say about Elspeth, she is worthy of him. When it matters, when it becomes serious, Elspeth proves her fitness, and even the cynical Harry sees that, and values that, and comes closer than ever before, or ever since, to shame in the face of it.
That’s what makes this book into Flashman’s Lady: Elspeth’s courage, her calmness, her grace that shows her as much more than a Glasgow grocer’s daughter, her determination not to let down her true knight, touches the ending of this rather clunky and awkward story with a peculiarly private glory.
Of course it can’t end like that. It’s barely 1845, and Elspeth’s final extract shows a most unwilling Harry being hauled off to the First Sikh War, where we already know he attains more military glory, though we will have to wait until the opening of the Ninth Packet before we can find out just how he does it this time…

History and Memories
This little section follows each blog. It focuses on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P23. Flashman compares his feelings for Elspeth to those for several of his (then-) future lovers. The list includes two women we have yet to meet. Takes-Away-Clouds-Woman will be explained in the next packet, but though Flashman will mention her name again in future, we regrettably never become acquainted with his liaison with the famous Lily Langtry.
P114. Flashman experiences a rare nightmare in Singapore on the eve of Elspeth’s kidnapping, leading him to reminisce about how his worst nightmares usually occur in prison. After referring to those from Fort Raim (Flashman at the Charge) and Gwalior (Flashman in the Great Game), he names the worst one as occurring in Mexico during ‘the Juarez business’. Flashman does have a prominent role in at least the latter stages of the French invasion of Mexico, which took place whilst the United States was distracted from the Monroe Doctrine by its Civil War. This adventure is also hinted at in later packets, but the closest we will come to it is the opening pages of the Twelfth and final Packet, as Flashman leaves the country, escorting the body of the deceased Emperor Maximilian
P161. James Brooke, planning the river expedition to recover Elspeth, reminds Flashman of other charismatic mad-men who could sweep a crowd along with them. We have seen Yakub Beg in action, and will see something but not the charisma of ‘Chinese Gordon’ in the Eighth Packet, but J.E.B. Stuart and George Custer belong to the American Civil War adventure that everyone but Fraser himself wanted to see.
P191. Flashman refers to passing through the river village of Patusan ‘a few years ago’. Flashman experts relate this to Flashman’s known presence in Pekin during the Boxer Rebellion (another unwritten adventure) as part of  a deservedly leisurely – and peaceful – return voyage.
P265. Flashman compares Ranavalona’s improbable personal secretary, Mr Fankanonikaka, to other eccentrics he has met in his lifetime. The Oxford Don commanding a slave ship is John Charity Spring, but the Professor of Greek skinning mules on the Sacramento trail actually fails to appear in the Seventh Packet and the Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu Impi does not come into the limited account of that War given in the papers comprising the Eleventh Packet.
P273. Flashman lists several unusual roles he has played in his lifetime., only one of which gives any difficulty in identifying, that of gambling-hell proprietor. There is a reference elsewhere to Flashy running a Gambling Establishment in the Philippines, another lacuna in the Chronology, but the first half of the Seventh Packet lays another claim to this recollection.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e13 – ‘Life Support’

As it must...
As it must…

One day, I’d like to unreservedly praise an episode of DS9, without caveat or disappointment. That could have been today, because two-thirds of this latest episode was good, very good indeed: strong of purpose, important of theme and wonderfully acted.

Unfortunately, the producers and writers of this episode chose to include an unrelated B-story, to spin out the time, to counteract the atmosphere created by the A-story. A change of pace and style can often be very effective, but I question the mindset of anyone who thought that these stories belonged within a million miles of each other.

Let’s dispense with the shitty and unworthy comic relief B-story. Jake Sisko is approached by a young, attractive (and short) girl named Leanna, who basically asks him out of a date. It clashes with a domjock game with Nog, who happily gives that up, assuming Jake has organised a double-date. Leanne brings a friend but the whole thing is an utter disaster because Nog acts like a Ferenghi towards women. The pair fall out, but by getting Odo to throw them into the same cell on a specious charge, Jake gets to repair their friendship. It’s as trivial as it is unfunny. Forget it.

Of a much greater order is the main story. A Bajoran ship is damaged by an accident and brings casualties to DS9. It is carrying Kai Wynn and Vedek Bariel to secret peace negotiations with Cardassia. These are primarily of Bariel’s doing: he has devoted the last five months towards setting up an accord. Unfortunately, he has sustained the worst injuries, crippled by radiation. So much so that he dies.

It’s a tremendous loss to both Major Kira and the the Kai. Nerys has lost her love and her lover. Kai Wynn has lost the hope of peace, for the benefit of all Bajor, and her own place in history.

And then it happens. Doctor Bashir is about to perform an autopsy on Bariel when electrical activity is seen in the brain. Using an experimental combination of drugs and electrostimulation (for once explained with clarity and plausibility, without gubbins), Bashir brings Bariel back to life. It is amazing.

It is not the end of the story though. Bariel’s body has been badly damaged and a side-effect of the treatment that has restored him is to constrict the blood-flow through his body. He is still dying, and Bashir wants to put him into stasis so that there may be a chance that his condition can be treated.

But the Kai desperately wants  Bariel for his advice during the Peace Talks. He is, literally, irreplaceable, the one man who knows everything. Bashir is angry, accusing her of coldness, of being prepared to sacrifice Bariel in order to preserve her place in history.It’s all very plausible, though Louise Fletcher played Wynn utterly straight, to the extent that I thought throughout that she was sacrificing Bariel not for herself, but for Bajor.

The thing was, Bariel wanted to do this. He had placed the Peace Talks above himself, thinking only of the role the Prophets had called upon him to play. Against his wishes, Bashir strove to keep Bariel alive for long enough.

It was difficult. An experimental drug helped Bariel focus, but it began to attack his internal organs. These were replaced by artificial devices, but the radiation effects reached Bariel’s brain. He demanded Bashir replace the damaged part with a positronic mesh, which kept him going but at the expense of almost all human feeling.

In the end, the Talks worked and an Accord was signed. Everybody, but Bashir, celebrated. And then it came: the rest of Bariel’s brain was affected. The Kai, who of course no longer needed him, accepted the inevitable. Kira, losing her man, raged against it, pleaded with Bashir to fit another positronic mesh. This he would not do. Bariel’s body might live, but he would no longer be Bariel.

So it came to an end. Kira spent the final few hours with her love, saying the things that had never been said, the things that there would have been time for in another world, simple, almost banal, but the words that come to a heart in times like this, when words can no longer matter even if they could have been heard.

Once again, Philip Anglim and Louise Fletcher were superb in their guest roles. It was a moving and serious story, one that deserved to be watched in isolation without the stupid, ill-chosen B-story to keep taking you away from what really mattered.

Maybe next time.


Homicide: Life Everlasting

Officially, it’s Homicide: the Movie but for those of us who were there to hear that it was being done, eighteen months after the end of the series, and those of us who took advantage of the opportunity to download the shooting script, it was and always will be Homicide: Life Everlasting. After all, this was the ultimate end, the point beyond which things could go no further.
It’s not unknown for a long-running TV series to get a TV movie, a ‘Return to…’, though these usually come years later, and tend to be incapable of capturing anything that made the series memorable in any way. To my knowledge, Homicide: Life on the Street, is unique in being given such a follow-up to deal with loose ends, so soon in its own wake.
The very idea intrigues, especially after it was confirmed that the Movie would feature everyone. Everyone who had, in one series or another, been members of the cast of the show. Everyone, including Jon Polito and Daniel Baldwin, whose characters were, let us remember, dead. Were there going to be flashbacks? No, there weren’t.
I have mixed feelings about Homicide: the Movie. Sometimes, when I watch it, I find much of it unsatisfying, and not a fitting end to the overall series. It runs for just under 90 minutes, of which the first hour doesn’t reach the heights the series achieved, although the final thirty minutes is excellent.
And other times, like now, I absorb it all and enjoy it for what it is, a final chance to spend time with old favourites, a meshing of people whose times and stories overlapped and diverged and never came near each other before.
The story is relatively simple, as well it might be, given the need to provide a self-contained crime. Lt Al Giardello has resigned from the Police to run for Mayor: a week before the election, he is the overwhelming favourite, when he is shot at an early morning Press rally. The news spreads and all of Gee’s old detectives gather spontaneously to help track down his would-be killer.
The major logistical problem for the film as a whole is how to cope with seventeen leads (it’s actually 18: Zelcko Ivanek, never a cast member but Homicide’s most frequent regular, is fittingly promoted). Something has to be found for everyone to do, and something has to give: some detectives are short-changed, working as they do on dead ends. Not so Bayliss and Pembleton: they get the lion’s share of the spotlight, working in defiance of Pembleton’s ejection by Gaffney (obnoxious to the last) and, inevitably, solvinghe crime.
The tone of the film is uneven to begin with. It makes a good start by reinstating the old, black and white credits, and the full-length theme music, but much of the film takes place under bright sun and in upmarket areas of Baltimore that just don’t look like our familiar Fell’s Point backgrounds. And it’s too damned bright.
Comparing film with script reveals hosts of cuts. Few of these are significant, but each cuts detail that thickened the story, supported the characters rather than the relatively minimal plot. In particular, the scene where Pembleton boasts of his new found wealth as a teacher should have been retained.
Two cuts are significant. Megan Russert’s entrance simply vanishes, and Stan Bolander’s half of the conversation with her is shifted to later in the movie, and with Munch, costing one of Homicide‘s traditional in-jokes. Instead, Megan is simply there at the hospital, with no sense of her arriving, and without an introduction to the viewer. It undermines her.
The other comes in one of Pembleton and Bayliss’s conversations, when Pembleton ruminates on why he resigned: a line is struck out which prefigures the final, and rather more dramatic, conversation between these old partners, to the detriment of the latter.
The show recognises the gap in time since the final episode of season 7. Gharty has been promoted to Lieutenant after Giardello, but he is a weakling, a put-upon stooge for Gaffney and Barnfather, playing his part from fear that being on the street will kill him. Lewis, Falsone, Ballard, Stivers and Sheppard are still in Homicide but new names on the Board are Detectives Hall and Overton. The latter is no more than a name but Hall plays a part: Giardello’s shooting is his case but he’s a rough, crude, stupid, fist-wielding thug, played with great glee by Jason Priestly, happy to wallow in his stereotype for a chance to work on the show.
Munch, we know, is a Detective in New York now, who told his new colleagues on Day 1 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that he was never setting foot in Charm City again after Billie Lou ran off with one of his colleagues. Homicide takes great delight in overturning this as a lie (and it sure as hell wasn’t Gharty).
Mike Giardello gets a fair amount of time. He’s a beat cop now, looking to win his Detective’s shield, but he spends most of his time in impotent rage at how the hospital won’t tell him anything, put in splendid perspective by a cameo guest role from Ed Begley Jr (playing but not credited as his St Elsewhere role, Victor Erlich).
But it’s that last half hour that puts the film into its real stride. Bayliss and Pembleton finally locate the clue that leads them to the killer, a cameraman who was filming the rally for a local TV station, and who had a gun strapped to his camera. He is a father who, three months earlier, lost his son to a drugs overdose and, slightly unhinged, wanted to prevent Gee from carrying forward his proposals to legalise drugs, and open the door for other kids to die and leave parents bereft. That he’s unhinged by grief is plain, and his nervous energy is infectious, but it brings Bayliss to a point he’s been edging around all the way since Frank turned up.
Season 7 left the issue of whether Bayliss had executed Luke Ryland, the Internet Killer, in the air, but long before his confession that he did indeed execute, it is obvious that he is responsible and that it is preying at his conscience. Bayliss sees his actions mirrored by those of the cameraman. He has been waiting for Frank, his partner, his friend, the person who means more to him than anyone else, to confess.
Pembleton is aghast. He doesn’t want to hear it, let alone believe it, and he keeps trying to find ways to explain it that avoid having to accept that Bayliss,, a cop, has committed a stone-cold murder. When he finally gcannot squirm away, his reaction is of betrayal: “You son of a bitch!”
Frank isn’t a cop anymore. He’s a lecturer at a Jesuit college. He doesn’t want to bring anyone else in. But Bayliss is by now too deeply enwrapped in himself. He refuses to allow Pembleton to escape from being a cop. He’s got to bring Bayliss in, save his life. He threatens to commit suicide if he is not taken in.
Even here, Homicide‘ s traditional refusal to wrap things up clearly is apparent: a white hand erases Ryland’s name in red and rewrites it in blue: a solved murder from an earlier year. Does Pembleton take Bayliss in? Is it Bayliss, filling in a detail before going on to eat his gun? Or has he confessed to someone else? No answers are given. In a very short time, when all this has ceased to be our concern, Pembleton mumbles, bitterly, about catching a couple of big ones today, but we don’t know what hhe means by that.
From here, we move swiftly towards the end. Gee survived the surgery, the killer has been caught, everyone’s together again, even Kellerman is accepted in the Waterfront, until Brodie arrives. Gee has survived the surgery, but but he has died, of an aneurysm. It’s a hammer blow for everyone.
Inside the squadroom, Mike is hanging a rosarie on his father’s photograph. Pembleton introduces himself, commiserates. They talk for a moment or two then leave together in silence. As they reach the exit, Giardello walks in, between them, in full health and vigour. He does not see them: they do not see him.
Instead, he sees a ghost environment, peopled by those who, in some manner, are fixed here. Police who died, victims: though we know it is coming, there is still a considerable frisson, as a happy, 10 year old black girl skips down the hall and round Gee: we don’t need his stunned breathing of her first name to tell us that this is Adena Watson.
She skip round him and into the coffee-room. Standing, grinning, at the machine, looking not a bit changed, is Steve Crosetti, hailing the Lieutenant, calling him in. Four chairs are set at a table, a game of cards is in hand, Beau Felton sits at the table. Fans speculate that the empty chair means a place set for a soon-to-arrive Bayliss: Gee is afraid for Mike.
Nothing matters any more. This is where they go. The concerns of life are just that, the concerns of Life and this is not Life. In the shooting script, Crosetti explains that nothing is fixed: had Gee overslept by five minutes that morning, he’d have wound up half an hour late and the shooter would have succumbed to his nerves and left before then.
Gee takes a card, puts his money down. The poker game resumes. In a strange way, we are consoled.

A Day Out (Clutching At Straws)

I been there.
I been there.

This was not, technically, A Day Out, not in the tradition of this year’s Museum Trips to That London or the Annual Birthday Week Visit to the Lakes, but after the last couple of days I’ll take anything I can get. Trains were involved, I visited somewhere I haven’t been in years and I got myself out of this pokey little flat for the first time since work on Wednesday, so as far as I am concerned, it counts.

Since reporting on my sore throat the other day, I have actually been proper unwell. Two days of going into work, unable to speak because of how painful it was for my throat, restricted to mind-numbingly repetitive, essential but wearying back office housekeeping tasks, were bad enough but Wednesday night was when the sore throat started to develop into a wet cough and from there into industrial-scale runny nose. In the interests of decency, I will not detail how many hankies now need wringing out.

Put on top of this that Tuesday night was one of those nights where, having failed to tire the mind during the day, it retaliated by refusing to switch off. If I did sleep more than a couple of minutes at a time, it wasn’t before 4.15am.

So that put paid to going into work for the last couple of days, especially Friday when I was so woolly-headed, I couldn’t keep my mind on anything for more than a few minutes and was a positive danger to shipping.

But I had to go out on Saturday. I’d returned home Wednesday night to one of those familiar cards from Royal Mail, informing me they’d tried to deliver my latest modest capture of Eagles through eBay and inviting me to collect it from the Sorting Office. Only it wasn’t the familiar address at Green Lane in Stockport, this time it was in Wilmslow.

Ok, it’s not that far and it’s not that inconvenient to reach, but if they’d shut the Stockport one down for some reason, having to go there every time would be a major bugger.

Still, it’s a nice enough place and I used to know it well over many years, from visits and stuff and having an old friend that lived there, though I’ve had no contact with her in nearly twenty years now, so I could make a bit of a trip out of it, look round the place, have something to eat. You know where my instincts take me in such circumstances, but unfortunately Wilmslow had nothing so downmarket as a Pizza Hut.

Never mind, I would improvise, and as you know me as a fellow of almost infinite resource (except when it comes to money and sexual allure), I would find a way. If nothing else, I could always come back to Stockport.

Besides, the worst was over. Friday had been a quite crappy day in all respects, and I’d shut down fairly early: laptop off, tablets taken, lights out, head down and wondering what sort of night I was going to have, when I could feel everything start to go clear in my head. The worst was over: all I had left was physical symptoms that would fade away in their own time.

I even put the light back on, fired up the laptop and found myself adding a few paragraphs to the novel, although only a few before real, honest-to-goodness tiredness overwhelmed me. I slept properly.

I was still snuffly, but the cough wasn’t anything like so bad (mind you, my stomach muscles have been wracked enough that it hurts them more than my throat.) Though my physical urge to get up and go was a bit lacking, I pushed myself into a healthy and cleansing shower and out into a crisp but sunny morning. Deadlines are good for one thing at least.

There was no need to rush that much, and even less capability for it, as I was moving somewhat like a brontosaurus who was past its best days. Bus to Stockport, Free Bus to the Railway Station, Day Return (under a fiver) and immediately onto a three quarter empty train for Crewe.

I’ve never before gotten off (or on) at Wilmslow Station, but I knew its whereabouts and was pretty confident I’d measured the inadequate map of the Sorting Office onto its streets. The Town Centre was immediately familiar, though I’d have been pushed to find where Linda and Ray’s house used to be, even if I could summon up the energy to walk there.

Thankfully, I didn’t leave it too long before asking for directions to the Sorting Office. A pleasantly blonde and healthy-looking blonde lady in boots and a sleeveless red quilted jacket told me I was nowhere near, but directed me simply down the pedestrianised street, bear left at the pedestrian crossing. I reset off.

It was a busy mid-morning and Wilmslow was full of Wilmslowites. I was as out of place as a Hottentot at a formal dinner, simply from the lack of value of my clothes. To be truthful, I’ve never really been ‘in’ place in Wilmslow, and not all of it was down to the lifelong lack of self-confidence that I’ve mostly managed to dispense with this last decade. I worked in a very respectable middle-class profession for thirty years, lived a respectable middle-class life, but I was born and brought up in a working-class street, at a working-class school, and whilst there were many ways in which I didn’t fit into that environment, and I don’t share much of its ways, it’s never left me and I’ve rarely felt truly comfortable, underneath, in the environment my parents aspired to for me.

Wilmslow-ladies, with their polished and powdered faces, their make-up imacculate, their clothes quietly, off-handedly, speaking of quality, talking and thinking in codes I cannot begin to want to decipher.

So I’m already starting to wonder just how long this day out is going to last when I get to the Sorting Office and it all falls into place. The man behind the counter is puzzled. Then he’s apologetic. Yes, the card says Wilmslow, and he doesn’t know how it’s happened and it shouldn’t have but one of their cards has gotten onto a Stockport van, and I’ve drawn it (because if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen to me, I know this). He’s really sorry, but I need to go to Stockport.

There’s no point in getting worked up about it, even if I had the energy with which to get worked up. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s me for accepting that card at face value. If only I hadn’t been so unfocused…

It’s 11.45am. If I’m lucky with transitions, I can get to Green Lane before 1.00pm, when it closes until next week. But it doesn’t look like I’m going to be lucky. It takes me about ten minutes to tramp back to the station but there’s fifteen minutes to wait for the next train, which is full of light-blue shirts, Bitters going to the game. The journey is only made bearable by a beatifically beautiful blonde ticket inspector who takes at least ten minutes less time over my return ticket than I consider to be the proper application of her duties.

I’m back at Stockport Station for 12.30pm. I can still do it with a pretty damned immediate appearance from the Free Bus and the same from the bus to take me to Green Lane, and that’s just not happening. It’s testament to my still fuzzy perspicacity that it takes me five minutes to work out that Green Lane isn’t that far from here as the roads lie and there are taxis over there…

Mission is therefore accomplished and I take possession of a box-shaped brown paper parcel. Unfortunately, I cannot pop my parcel into the Bag-for-Life I carry around in my shoulder bag. On the way through, a couple of hours earlier, I bought and partly consumed a small bottle of Diet Coke. Unfortunately, I failed to tighten the cap properly. It has run out all over said Bag, which is too soggy inside and out for such precious cargo. The bottom of the shoulder bag is also somewhat wet, which has already transferred itself from there into the thighs of both legs of my jeans.

Where’s the bus to Pizza Hut?

For once, there’s a substantial amount of tuna on an individual Pan Margarita with Tuna and Onion, enough to enable me to turn an indulgent ear to the birthday party nearby, to which every eight year old girl in Stockport has been invited, or so it seems. ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung with such gusto and enthusiasm that they relight the candles and do it again. Several times, in fact. If they burn through birthdays that quickly, Donald Trump will start perving over them before we even reach the Election.

I’m low on food but it’s only a five minute walk to Tesco‘s, but this is where the the Wall interpolates itself very firmly in my way. I stagger to the bus stop where, thankfully, I am able to get a seat on the bench, for it is half an hour until the bus home, and when I do get in, I haven’t the energy to unpack my pathetic shopping before I hit the bed, drifting in and out of sleep.

As I said, not what you’d really call a day out, but at least it proves that I don’t have to go all the way to London to create a shambles of a day.


The Fall Season: Legends of Tomorrow season 2

And thus we complete the returning schedule.

Legends of Tomorrow didn’t really work last season. It was clumsy and clunky, ill-thought-out, the audience hated the Hawks, who are no longer with us (typically, I thought Fulk Hentschel worked really well as Hawkman). So an awful lot has been changed, to the extent that the producers are looking at this as a second go as a season 1.

In my spoiler-free world, I’ve managed to avoid anything but superficial hints about season 2’s changes. For instance, I knew that Nick Zano was joining the cast as Nate Heywood, aka Citizen Steel, but I did not know, until the end of this episode, that Arthur Darvill, as Rip Hunter, was leaving.

And I do know that the recurring villain this season is the Legion of Doom, which consists of a quartet of left-over baddies, Damien Dhark, the Reverse-Flash, Malcolm Merlin and – this one’s going to be tricky – Captain Cold.

And here we were, back to business. None of this Vandal Savage/Time Masters thing, in fact the Legends are the new, ad hoc Time Masters, playing time cops here and there, and spreading the joy of woman to woman love across the entirety of history (much as I love Caity Lotz, if the series is going to have her shagging every famous woman she meets, it will grow old very rapidly).

And straight away it’s pretty clearly more of the same, only different. It’s still clunky, and stiff, and kinda jerky in its transitions, and having Stephen Amell/Oliver Queen as guest isn’t designed to play to my prejudices at the moment. But it did the job, and I’ll happily keep watching it.

I’m sorry to see Arthur Darvill go, even though I can see how Nick Zano will make a better fit and can be more one-of-the-gang that the set-up ever allowed Rip Hunter to be. It’s unfortunate in that Zano’s character (who was created at the same time as Firestorm and by the same writer), Citizen Steel, has never been a character I’ve liked in any incarnation.

But at the end of the day, where Legends of Tomorrow scores for me is where it always did, misfire or not. It’s for the ten year old boy who’s always been a part of me, who grew up reading DC Comics, and who never imagined that he would ever see these obscure characters appearing regularly on his TV screens, in ‘real-life’ versions.

It’s like Doctor Johnson and that line about the dog walking on its hind legs: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. The part of me that goes back to Brigham Street, Openshaw, just sits and marvels that it is there.

And you know that season 2 will kick it for me by what happened in the final minute of this premiere. The Legends are about to shake the dust of 1942 off their backs when they’re ordered to stand where they are.

By the Justice Society of America.


One Man’s Throat

This has not been a good day or two. I’ve just had four days off work, after working nine out of the previous ten days, and going to London on the one day off. Curiously, I managed to feel tireder by the day, and on the Sunday found myself coming down with the kind of sore throat that is most unwelcome when your day job is to sit and answer the phone.

I got through Monday without undue pains, but despite stuffing myself with Hall’s Cherry Soothers (commercial plug, though they’re much less effective – or tasty – than Cherry Tunes used to be), and drinking plenty of liquids, it didn’t take long before talking started to hurt my throat and bring on some very nasty coughing.

I have managed to get my designation for today shifted to an Outbound role, and to working on Monitoring queues where the need to call anyone is greatly diminished. I am also constricted when it comes to corresponding with my line manager and colleagues. Yes, I have e-mail, and a whiteboard on which brief messages can be written and held up (don’t tempt me) but most of the time, I’m sitting here is silence and, of necessity, isolation.

This is an odd experience for me. I have had scores of sore throats that have led to coughing fits during which talking has been out of the question, but most of the time I just put up with them, chainsuck Tunes, or nowadays Soothers, and get on with it.

I can recall only one similar occasion, during my legal career, in Local Government, where I came into work with a throat so sore that talking was impossible due to how much it hurt. I immediately notified my Senior Lawyer, by e-mail, that I was unable to talk, and therefore couldn’t take or make phone calls, but that in every other respect I was fit to work and would do so.

And I got through the day quite successfully, even when it came time to go over to Estates to receive – and discuss – a new set of instructions. I warned my Instructing Surveyor that she would need to make a computer terminal available, and we ended up having a weird but very successful discussion in which she talked and I typed responses at frantic speed, and fast enough that a meeting that might have taken nearly twenty minutes in normal circumstances was concluded in twenty-five.

Whilst I don’t ordinarily make complimentary remarks about lawyers, I have to credit my then colleagues for treating my plight with sympathy and, dare I say it, dignity. Which is more than I can say about certain among my team-mates where I work now, who were more inclined to take the piss among each other over my handicap. One in particular, who I very recently reported for some vile homophobic remarks, took the opportunity to say something about me and my being a gentleman of high standards (I think). I didn’t find his apology at all believable, and I suspected then that I’d marked myself out as far as he’s concerned.

Nice to see my suspicions bearing some sort of fruit, however high-hanging it may be at this stage.

On the other hand, being effectively cut off from everyone is a very depressing experience. It makes time pass very slowly, and very wearyingly, and I’m starting from a pretty high line on the weary scale as it is. The overdose in Soothers is starting to make my head feel pretty woozy, but thankfully I’m due lunch and thirty minutes off in less than another ten.

It has ended up being a long and very weary day. One of my colleagues is pretty flirty and most of the conversation around her tends to be conducted in double entendres. I’ve been guilty of that myself on many occasions, but I know the most important thing bout jokes is when to stop. Nobody else does. It’s just been non-stop today, way past the point where anything remotely funny can be said. In fact, there’s been a lot of it that hasn’t been double enough for my liking, though it’s not my place to complain about things that aren’t directed at me. But it’s been like listening to a sleazy, cheesy, second rate Seventies sitcom, but one that’s lasted four hours without a break for adverts.

There isn’t really a punch-line to this story. I ended up feeling like my head will keel over at any moment, I was still coughing if I strayed too far from a Soother, and I’m seriously doubtful of my ability to lever my head off the pillow tomorrow morning. Not being able to talk isn’t as bad as finding it difficult to think straight.

I have no throat and cannot scream.

Deep Space Nine: s03 e11/12 ‘Past Tense’

Don't ask where this scene fits in, just don't.
Don’t ask where this scene fits in, just don’t.

I had hoped for an excellent two-part story in ‘Past Tense’, and maybe a one-episode telling would have tightened things up and enabled the story to do more with the sense of tension that was for the most part missing. Instead, I thought the story was loose and baggy, and entirely too predictable in its beats and conclusion.

Putting it very simply (though the first part made time to explain in a very scientific bit of gubbins how it happened), Sisko, Dax and Bashir beam down to Earth for a conference at Spacefleet HQ in San Francisco but arrive in the City in 2024 instead.

The trio are quickly separated, Sisko and Bashir hauled off by the Police into a ghetto-like Sanctuary District, where the poor, jobless, homeless and mentally ill are kept out of the way. Dax, on the other hand, is taken in hand by a suspiciously friendly and helpful tech billionaire who, for no reason whatsoever (I mean, he dresses Dax up in a very short mini-skirt and doesn’t even make the least move towards lifting it any further) who aids here to find her friends.

Sisko and Bashir are in a version of Hell, a useless, wasteful existence of subsistence, rivalry and near-fascist rule. But Sisko, who has conveniently studied every era of human history, recognises the period as being mere days before the highly-significant Bell Riots. These were named after Gabriel Bell, who led a rising in Sanctuary District A, who saved hostages’ lives at the cost of his own, and started the historical movement towards a better, fairer society that led to the Federation.

Interesting times, eh? And all Sisko and Bashir have to do is lay low, not get involved and not, repeat NOT change the future.

Of course, you know what’s coming. There’s no need even to have read Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, there isn’t a story without this happening, and didn’t Kirk and Spock go through something similar over Joan Collins getting run down by a car in Harlan Ellison’s justly (in)famous ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ in TOS? (Which is apparently referenced in part 1 via a poster for a boxing match also seen in 1967).

So: Sisko and Bashir get attacked by thugs, a guy wades in to help them but is stabbed to death. He’s Gabriel Bell so Sisko takes over his name, his place in history and his eventual fate (oo-er).

Meanwhile, back in the correct century, Kira, O’Brien and Odo, who are trying to a) find out where their colleagues have gone and b) how to get them back, suddenly lose the Federation, thanks to the change in history. Which doesn’t affect them because of the same scientific gubbins that started this whole thing off.

Needless to say, they have x number of options and y number of time jumps (y being a smaller number than x) and hit the right time on the last shot of course. Not that they have anything to do with the finale: the National Guard storms the Sanctuary, freeing the hostages and killing all the leaders, except ‘Bell’, who is improbably spared by the polieman Vin, a deeply bitter and cynical guy, contemptuous of everyone lower than him, stubborn in his beliefs, who undergoes a Damascene conversion when the story most needs a deus ex machina.

And Vin swaps ‘Bell’s tags for a dead man, so that everybody will think he died, and history can snap back into place with no change except for ‘Bell’s face in historical records.

The show ends with Bashir asking the honest question of how the US Government allowed this situation to develop in the first place, and Sisko, with his best despairing/philosophical voice on, fudging the story in the best fudging style by saying, ‘I wish I knew’.

What I found interesting, when the pattern of US society in 2024 was first demonstrated, was that when this episode was first broadcast, the setting was thirty years into the future. Now, September 2024 is only eight years away. If Donald Trump were to be elected next month as President, the events of this story would take place in the final year of his second term. I, for one, would look no further.

But no, an interesting premise awkwardly handled and unable to come up with anything but the easy route down Cliche Boulevard. A shame.