I love all my customers dearly, and daily I pull my tripe out to get their problems with telephone and broadband not working, or not working properly, fixed with the least possible delay and give them good, accurate and honest estimates of how long things will take. I am on their side. I am here to fix their faults. I am here until 9.00pm nearly every night of the week so as to be available to them when they are free.
As I said, I love all my customers but I certainly don’t like all of them. I don’t like the ones who act as if I am personally, deliberately, maliciously responsible for the Broadband not having worked fast enough for the last three hours and that I am deliberately inconveniencing them further by refusing to get an Engineer out this afternoon to fix the telegraph pole that’s just been knocked down by a lorry, or that I have conspired to ruin their telephone line, or that it is my fault they’ve waited in all afternoon for an Engineer – who doesn’t even work for my company, who’s been contracted to do a job for us – actually decided to close the case three and a half hours before the appointment slot, because his test passed (my bloody test passed, you idiot, you’re going out to find out what is wrong despite the test passing) except he’s not going to tell anyone, not the customer, not us, that he’s no longer going out.
I don’t like the ones who treat me as if I have no idea what it is like to live with the soul-sucking agony of their Broadband connection not being fast enough to livestream Netflix, who act like they’re the only persons in the Universe ever to have suffered a Broadband disconnection and nobody can possibly guess what it is like for them, and that we are deliberately making things worse for them by the fact that it takes a couple of days to send them a replacement router, and we don’t have them tucked into our back pockets, ready to run down to the bus stop, or our cars, to drive half the length of the country to deliver the replacement there and then.
When I get a succession of customers like that, I question my purpose, I question my sanity, I question my ability to function without a screaming rant.
This is a screaming rant.
I feel a bit better now.
Don’t be that person if you phone me. I am on your side after all.
Once more unto the 24th Century, dear friends, to the Space Station Deep Space Nine, lying between Bajor and the Wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant, for another A/B episode.
As the title indicates, the A story belongs to Doctor Julian Bashir, or rather to he and his good friend Chief Miles O’Brien, who find themselves at odds when on a mission in the Gamma Quadrant, enough so to disrupt their weekly darts game (though not, I wager, their ongoing friendship).
Meanwhile, the B story concerns itself with Worf’s attempts to adjust to life on DS9 as opposed to the Enterprise, and it is here we will start, simply because it is the B story, and thus simpler.
Basically, Worf’s years as a Security Officer prove difficult to leave behind. He can see Quark doing a deal with a smuggler in illegal crystals, and he can see Security Chief Odo doing bugger all about it, apparently. Despite being warned off by Sisko, Worf can’t let it lie and interrupts the transaction to arrest both. What he doesn’t know is that Odo was disguised as the payment, intending on infiltrating the smuggling ring and bringing the whole organisation down, only now he has to settle for the middleman.
Odo omits this unfortunate disruption from his report to Sisko, but the overly honest Worf shops himself, and is rather surprised to discover Sisko knows already. There are few secrets on DS9. This sets up a rather metafictional ending, in which Sisko compares the clear-cut black and white nature of Starship life with the rather more complex one of DS9 and it’s shades of grey, one of which is definitely Quark.
This may be me being cynical, but I read a sly dig at TNG into that which, despite my obvious preference for DS9, I found unnecessary.
To the A story: this was a rather more complex affair than I first anticipated it being, and, other than its traditional fence-sitting ending, was more substantial and considerably more significant than I expected. Bashir and O’Brien have been on a mission in the Gamma Quadrant, which they’ve completed ahead of schedule but are diverted from their return by emissions that suggest a possible ship crash. Instead, their Runabout is shot down and they are captured by a party of Jem’Hadar.
But it’s not what it seems. Astonishingly, their leader, Goran’Agar, is free from the addiction to ketracel-white, genetically bred into the Jem’Hadar and used by the Dominion to control them. Four years previously, he was the sole survivor of a crash on this planet, expecting to die in agony once his supply ran out, but instead surviving.
Not only that, Goran’Agar has begun to display independent thought, compassion, the desire for freedom and freedom from the inbred urge to kill, stomp, batter and puncheminaface!
He has led his men away from the Dominion, to the exact place, to free them from both addiction and slavery. Bashir, as a doctor, must help them. They have five days supply left.
Bashir, as a Doctor, helps willingly. He sees great possibilities: if the Jem’Hadar can be ‘cured’, they can develop like Goran’Agar, removing them as a threat, removing them as a Dominion weapon. O’Brien, in contrast, thinks like a soldier: you do not help to strengthen the enemy against your own side, and there is also the possibility that once the Dominion control is removed, the Jem’Hadar boys will set up to kill of their own free will, for the fun of it.
Nature versus nurture, genetics versus free will, optimism versus pessimism, with their fellow horsemen, idealism and cynicism. Goran’Agar supports Bashir’s contentions, but his second-in-command despises how he has become weak, soft, inferior and if this is the result of doing without ketracel-white, he’s for a re-up right now.
This equivocation is the A story’s one great weakness. It’s a drama series with an underlying commitment to the status quo, so the story won’t allow itself to come down to one side or another, just as it ultimately won’t allow the fundamental difference of opinion between Bashir and O’Brien – and their contrasting actions – to disrupt their friendship. Their actions won’t have consequences.
So: Bashir can’t find evidence of a curative and ultimately posits Goran’Agar’s release from the drug as a genetic freak, he is effectively a mutant, never addicted to begin with; Bashir has to pull rank to order O’Brien to cooperate, but O’Brien disobeys and pulls off an escape; Bashir starts getting somewhere on a theory and insists on staying whilst O’Brien escapes the planet, but O’Brien basically blows Bashir’s equipment and experiment to buggery to force his hand; Goran’Agar releases them but refuses to escape because he owes it to his men to give them a swift death, not the lingering one of cold turkey, which the Chief understands where the Doctor doesn’t; and the two cannot see eye-to-eye on the way home, even as Bashir refuses to bring O’Brien up on charges for refusing to obey a superior officer.
It’s still a very good story, but I can’t help wishing for a twenty year roll-forward, as I have in the past, to an era where the inevitable implications of such a clash of views would be followed through and not brushed under the table.
And while I’m at it, I’ll complain that the sun should not go down at night, but have the courage of its convictions and stay up late. Sigh.
It looks, from the reviews, as if I may have done Apple Tree Yard a disservice by switching it off as early as I did, before the real centre of the story – Yvonne Carmichael’s rape, and her response to it – had chance to happen.
The show has received praise for its realistic, non-exploitative treatment of the assault, and Yvonne’s response to it, which sounds entirely true to life as it exists and not to the simplistic ideal that both television and real life expect.
However, what I said about the writing still stands and my first impression still sticks, so I will maintain my distance. But the tenor of the reviews suggest that the programme may be better than the flaws that I was not prepared to ignore, and fairness insists that I make that point.
Initially, I didn’t think I had anything worth saying. I’ve seen John Hurt in many things, and I’ve been aware of his name since he burst into prominence in The Naked Civil Servant, though I didn’t watch it then (there was no way that was going to be on my mother’s television set) and I have seen nothing but clips and quotes from it since.
But from that point onwards, John Hurt was a serious name, and his presence in something, anything, even Alien (one of the few roles of his that I actually have seen, and in the cinema too) was a sign of seriousness, of purpose, of a level of quality.
The John Hurts of this world don’t appear in any old kind of tat.
Of all his roles, the one with which I am most familiar is that of the War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, in which he was brilliant. You can say that it was beneath his talents, and despite my affection and admiration for the time when Stephen Moffat still had it, and in spades, I wouldn’t argue strenuously with you, but I can’t think of anyone else who could so effectively have conveyed the ranges of emotion that the role demanded. Without Hurt, it could and probably would have been a mess.
So as I read about his career, it strikes me that for the very limited amount of insight and appreciation I can bring, John Hurt is one of those whose passing simply must be marked, as one more loss to a world growing steadily blacker. One less figure whose very presence meant Here Be Quality. I don’t believe in Knighthoods and Knights, but he was a Knight of Quality, a Knight with Honour.
I’m three-quarters of the way through another Sounds of the Sixties, being presented by Tim Rice in the ongoing absence of Brian Matthews, and it’s time to admit that I’m not enjoying it.
It’s nothing to do with my frequent complaint about Producer Phil Swern’s predeliction for pre-Beatles music, in fact I’m hardly registering the music at all, and that’s the problem. Tim Rice is irritating the hell out of me.
Now Brian Matthews could sometimes talk at length, especially when giving details about obscure bands and singers, but his was a comfortable voice. You automatically listened, and it never felt as if time was a factor. Tim Rice can’t do that. he’s talky, disjointed, his sentences are badly constructed and his tone is full of unnatural and irregular emphases. Where Brian Matthews’ voice directed you to what he was saying, Tim Rice directs you to how he’s saying it. It sounds like he’s going on and on, that he’s overwhelming the air-time, inverting the balance of importance between voice and music.
And he’s so clumsy, especially when it comes to the transition from one record to another, always marked by a pause that inserts itself into the air: dead air that grates far more than it should.
I’m not enjoying Sounds of the Sixties and it disturbs me that Rice is no longer sitting in. He’s just not a natural broadcaster, and we’ve been spoiled by our old mate. I’ve been listening to Sounds of the Sixties for over a decade and a half, and I’m starting to imagine a Saturday without it.
I’ve just learned of the death of Mary Tyler Moore, at the age of eighty. She’s not the first famous person to die in 2017, but she’s the first to really mean something to me, and to be remembered.
I watched her in The Dick van Dyke Show, I watched her in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (fancying her something rotten!). I watched Rhoda and especially Lou Grant, neither of which would have existed without The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I watched seven series of Hill Street Blues, one of the most influential shows of the last forty years, changing the face of American TV drama, by creating the ensemble series, and that wouldn’t have existed without the production company, MtM, and whose initials were those?
But she was sweet, bright, lively and engaging. If you were a bloke, you watched her because she looked incredibly good, but you watched her because she made watching TV good. She was talented, intelligent, and very very likeable. The time you spent around her felt good.
It doesn’t matter that this was all so long ago. Memories don’t die, only people. This world is no longer better for her being among us. She was just a bloody lovely lady, all the way through.
Every now and then, the makers of The Flash tv series throw in an unobtrusive Easter Egg for us older comics fans to recognise with glee, whilst not drawing attention to it in a manner that makes the majority of the audience feel they’re missing something.
Classic amongst these was the moment in season 2 episode 2 when the two Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick (as he was then believed to be) recreated the classic cover to The Flash 123, which first brought back the Golden Age Flash for the Silver Age kids.
And there’s another brilliant touch in this week’s episode, the mid-season premiere, returning from the Xmas break. It’s the end of the episode, everybody’s truning up for the housewarming at Barry and Iris’s new loft apartment that’s surely too big and spacious for them to actually be able to afford. HR Wells’s gift is a pet, a turtle. It is named McSnurtle the Turtle.
Pause at this point to allow me a fit of laughter, with gales of chortles to follow every time I think of it. It won’t mean anything to you, but it hit me where the funny bone lives. Of course the turtle is named McSnurtle: way way back, back in the mid-Forties, the Golden Age of Comics, when Jay Garrick and his silver helmet was the one, the only Flash.
The only Flash, but not the only speedster. Jay was rivalled by The Terrific Wotzit, a superspeedster who wore the identical silver helmet/red shirt/blue pants combo as The Flash. And, you’re ahead of me now, I can tell, The Terrific Whatzit was… a turtle.
Try listening to this sometime. It’s another heap of shite, hurling around accusations that atheists are smug, and atheists are full of superstitions, and atheists think they’re better than us and I’m going to tear them down because I can’t cope with the idea that people go through their day without worshipping God.
It’s the stereotypical bullshit and speaking as an atheist, I can only say that, to take one accusation, I certainly do not believe that ‘what goes around comes around’. I dearly wish it actually did, but the world of rationality provides no evidence that those who behave like utter, self-involved, malicious, greedy shits get their comeuppance. Rather, the opposite is true.
I try not to be offensive to the religious but in the case of this goomer, I can only suggest that he runs back to his sky-pixie and prays to have the shit cleared out of his head. Because on the evidence of this, he’s full of it.
Before Xmas, as a means of coercing myself into action by giving a very public hostage, I committed to starting 2017 by finally transcribing the manuscript of The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel, written by me thirty years ago this year, albeit only as a First Draft.
It has lain, ever since, in an oversized but overflowing ring-binder, having never gone through any substantial re-writing because the act of completing the First Draft proved to be enough to exorcise the ghosts with which the story dealt.
I decided to write it because it was long overdue, and because I wanted to see if there was any part of it that was at all salvageable, or usable, or if it was any good at all (suspected answer: no). If nothing else, once it was all committed to pixels, I could print up a private copy through Lulu.com and stick it on my shelves along with the rest of my accepted canon.
The plan was to start on or immediately after January 1, but having dug out the binder, and sorted the loose papers from when it burst open into some semblance of order, I started in mid-December. I am still going, and there has been only one day in which I have not been typing busily away.
To remind you: the book was written in longhand, in blue biro, on A4 narrow feint paper. I am (with occasional mild alterations) transcribing one sheet per day, that is, two sides of the paper. This is the daily minimum. Some days I do more. Some days, I do less, when pages contain struck out sections. On average, I am copying up about 830 words per day, in spells of 35-40 minutes.
(I apologise to all those who may find this boring beyond words. There is a Deep Space 9 review immediately above which may be more to your tastes.)
In the early stages, my memories played me false. There was not only a Chapter 1, whether written before or after the bulk of the book, but multiple versions of that, and the same went for Chapter 2, which started to get very heavy-going long before I had everything transcribed. Progress has been a bit more smooth since then, and I have already today copied the first section of Chapter 6.
As I said before, the main thing that surprises me is that the writing isn’t anything like as bad as I expected it was going to be. It is mostly utilitarian, and there are lots and lots of clunky moments, and I have not been able to totally resist the urge to improve things by adding the odd line here or there in different coloured type (mostly as markers to remind me of new ideas and approaches for if I do decide to revise this).
But there’s the odd line here and there that impresses me as evidence that there was some thinking going on, and whilst the whole thing has been written very plainly, looking at it from the outside, there’s a surprising lot of subconscious subtlety in there in the choice of words.
This is first person work, and the specific words used at times reflect a deeper understanding of the thought and emotional processes at work here. Seeing them is encouraging. There is one point, in the last chapter, where a very strong signal is given by the writing, which is the only such instance that I remember as being deliberate, and seeing mini-instances of similar steps is very enjoyable.
Then again, there should be stuff like that. This is a filtered and fictionalised account of part of my life, and re-reading it, as closely as I am doing in copying up, I am being reminded of that period of my life, which is now almost forty years distant.
The principal character is me, albeit slightly more idealised (only slightly, there’s a story about that and Woody Allen and Annie Hall that I intend to tell once I get round to re-watching that film). The leading lady is based on a very specific woman I used to know and the main supporting characters all have their beginnings in friends and workmates, though I only used the originals as starting points and developed the people from there.
But they are all people I used to know, people I have not seen in almost four decades, friends and colleagues I worked with, an environment and a setting that I left behind a long time ago. The book was written less than a decade afterwards, but was the culmination of preparation and plotting that began somewhat earlier. These people, those places, the feelings were all still very fresh in my mind and, if only for the book’s sole reader to date, I did a bloody good job of keeping them alive.
This personal aspect is likely to be a strong factor in any decision to rewrite the book. If I do that, eventually, it will be an interesting test, as I will effectively be collaborating with my younger self, and trying not to let too much of my instinctive cynicism permeate his work.
A not wholly unintentional side-effect is that this is going some way to unlocking those parts of my brain that deal with fiction writing, and which have been struggling for the last few years. I may only be copying up, but it’s using muscles that have atrophied, but which are now functioning enough that on three occasions I have turned to my newest original work and added to it. It’s not been much in terms of overall wordage, but it’s got me over an awkward chapter end and into a new scene, and I can feel the fizzing.
So in every respect, this is working out well. I’ve been at it for over a month and I haven’t reconsidered my estimate that this will take until the summer to complete transcribing, but it’s a positive decision, and I don’t think I’m going to need you, my adoring audience, to keep me to it. This one will run.