Eh-Oh


Genius comes in odd shapes

Depending which parts of which newspapers you read, you may already be aware that today is the twentieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Teletubbies.

That means it is the twentieth anniversary of my first Lake District walk of 1997, the day I started, unintentionally, writing my most distinctive and characteristic novel, Even in Peoria and the day I combined an Easter Monday walk in the Lakes with a Bank Holiday Monday football game with Droylsden, away to Netherfield (now and long since Kendal Town).

It also means that it’s about ten to fourteen days to the twentieth anniversary of the only time I was ever tempted to contribute to a BBC Radio phone-in, and would actually have done so if I had had a mobile phone at that particular moment.

The first and third paragraphs of this post are related.

I was between jobs this time twenty years ago, or rather, technically, I was between jobs and the very earliest stages of self-employment so, a couple of weeks after Teletubbies first outing (of which I was completely oblivious) I was up in the Lakes again for the day, looking for a suitably climbable fell with no cloud covering its summit (I actually ended up climbing a fell with cloud on the top but that was alright because it suited the novel I was wonderingly writing).

On Radio 2, on the Victoria Derbyshire Show, or whatever phone-in oriented show was on at that early mid-morning hour, experts were discussing the controversial Teletubbies show. There was widespread condemnation of its deliberate babyishness, its refusal to attempt to form clear words, its repetitiveness and, well, just about everything you could think of except for the Tinky-Winky is gay accusation, which hadn’t surfaced yet.

I can’t remember the names, but both of the two expert guests analysing the show were child psychologists and/or developmental experts, and they discoursed knowledgeably about the likely effects of the show and the revolutionary approach it was taking, and my blood boileth over and had I then owned a mobile phone, I would have pulled into the first off-road parking space I could find and called the BBC, demanding to go on air.

And had I gotten on air, I would have expressed my resentment, and anger, at the BBC putting these two experts on the air, possibly even paying them to express their opinions, when I, who had no experience of child psychology, child development or even making children’s tv programmes, was infinitely more qualified to pontificate about Teletubbies because, unlike the so-called experts, I had at least watched the bloody thing!

Yes, these experts confessed they hadn’t seen the show and that therefore they were only going by what others had told them. Whereas, in the intervening period, I had visited my sister, whose son was some three years old at that time, and to keep him quiet she had put on a video of Teletubbies.

I had not heard of it. I had not watched it. I looked at it with undisguised fascination and came to the same instant conclusion that every right-minded adult faced with this bizarre programme had reached within seconds: these people must be on serious drugs.

A baby in the sky, in the sun? Periscopes pushing up through the grass? TVs in the stomach? Just what the hell have they been smoking?

I didn’t have anything to say about the programme, except that there was some weird shit going into it, and I still think that twenty years later. I love the bit where the meadows turn into a CGI ocean and three liners sail backwards and forwards until it all drains away, and the bit where the bear dances around the bandstand whilst the Teletubbies sit and watch fills me with awe that something so simple and stupid can be so eye-catchingly fascinating.

No, I wanted to berate the BBC’s arrogance in thinking it could pronounce on something without watching it, so they probably wouldn’t have let me on anyway. Besides, I didn’t have a mobile phone. And I was there to go walking.

But, like the day the sergeant taught the band to play, it was twenty years ago, and that was today. Every day, the world can be made anew. Like it or not, Teletubbies was one of those ways.

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: part 6 – 1876 – 1884



The next phase of Flashman’s career takes us from the end of one adventure to the beginning of another, from Flashman’s return from the aftermath of the Sioux War to his departure for the Sudan with ‘Chinese’ Gordon on another military campaign.
During this period, we do have some accounts of Flashman’s doings, though these are at least only partial. His memoirs give us no reason to doubt that he made a fairly prompt and incident-free return from America, as soon as Lady Flashman was free of any further involvement in the American Centennial celebrations, and he was followed to England the following year by now-ex-President Grant, after his term concluded in controversial circumstances, in March 1877.
Grant is visiting Europe and has been invited to France to meet Marshall Macmahon, the French President. At Grant’s request, Flashman travels to Paris with him, to act as the President’s personal interpreter, though he ends up having more of a conversation with Macmahon, thanks to their mutual past as Foreign Legionnaires.
Clearly, as some unspecified point, Flashman has been pardoned for his desertion (whether singular or plural).
Flashman also renews his acquaintance with the journalist Blowitz, which leads to the latter seeking Flashman’s assistance in 1878 to extract details of the Treaty of Berlin from the Congress being conducted under the aegis of Chancellor Bismarck. Flashman is a cut-out for messages being delivered to Blowitz by the delightful dancer and courtesan, Caprice. He enjoys the happy reward of her favours in return for passing messages that enable Blowitz to scoop everyone on the Treaty terms.
The following year, 1879, sees Flashman in Africa, traveling to inspect a mine inherited by Elspeth on the death of a cousin. Flashman is there for at least part of the short but intense Zulu War.
In circumstances unknown, Flashman makes the acquaintance of, and comes to like, King Keteshwayo of the Zulus. The War is more or less provoked by the British, and it resulted in an unexpected routing at Isand’lwhana, where the Zulu Impis, break the British resistance and invade the compound.
Flashman’s partial account of events begins with his presence, again in unknown circumstances, in Isand’lwhana, when the lines break. We know that he was there with Lt General Gordon-Cumming, an acquaintance of Elspeth, but it’s clear Flashman was not on military duty at the time. Notoriously, he recounts more than once seeing one such Impi led by a Welshman in a top hat, but does not go into further detail in his brief account. Presumably, this was part of the attack before the Zulus broke through the defences.
Flashman makes one of his uninhibited retreats, at high speed and without concern for those left behind. Travelling across the veldt, he meets and joins with a British Major, a cool customer and formidable sharpshooter, who helps him get as far as Rorke’s Drift, where the minimal forces there successfully defend the compound. His companion turns out to be named Moran, and he seems to know Flashman.
Rorke’s Drift is the turning point of the Zulu War, which involves two further battles but is quickly and successfully ended. Flashman comes to the public attention once more, though we are never told what for, nor whether he plays any further active part in the War. He certainly doesn’t see anything more of Moran.
There is a short gap here, until 1882, in which Flashman’s whereabouts and actions are unknown. He is almost sixty by now, and presumably has slowed down in all but vicious living.
In February 1882 he is in America, watching John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in Mississippi City and winning a bet on the outcome with Oscar Wilde, who was not present. Flashman also mentions playing poker with guns on the blankets in a Dodge City livery stable: Dodge’s heyday was 1883/4, when we know Flashman to be elsewhere, but we have to assume his poker career in the town belongs to the same amorphous American tour.
Five months after the Sullivan/Ryan fight, he goes out to Egypt under Sir Garnet Wolseley, on what appears to have been the only incident free campaign of his career.
The last substantial account of his career begins the following year. Wolseley’s campaign has not quieted affairs south of Egypt, in the Sudan, and General Gordon is to be sent out. Flashman anticipates being summoned to the campaign, and looks for an excuse to absent himself from England when that happens.
As in 1847, Flashman receives a letter from a mysterious German lady, a Princess Kralta, summoning him to the Continent. In Paris, he is met by Blowitz, who has arranged a treat for him, as thanks for his assistance in the Treaty of Berlin business. This is a berth on the inaugural run of the Orient Express. The favours of Princess Kralta are a bonus.
Unfortunately, just as in 1847, the whole thing is a cover for a scheme of Bismarck, involving the next generation of the von Starnberg family, Willem. Flashman is being pressed into service to act as an unofficial bodyguard for Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz-Joseph, against Hungarian separatists.
And once again, von Starnberg can’t be trusted, for he is the assassin, and Flashman again the patsy (though this time this is not what Bismarck has planned). Luck and experience enable Flashman to avert the assassination, but he is badly run through by von Starnberg and his life is only saved by the improbable but providential interference of Caprice, a French intelligence agent with a hatred for Germans.
At his age, Flashman’s recovery is long and slow, and is prolonged by a spell in Vienna with Kralta and her husband which proves to be just too decadent even for him. Unfortunately, his impatience is his undoing: he arrives at Charing Cross Station in early 1884, just as Gordon is leaving for the Sudan, and is pressed into service with him!

Deep Space Nine: s04e13 – Crossfire


You and me both, Odo, you and me both.

Do you ever get the feeling that the Universe is conspiring against you? I mean, I have that most days to begin with (it’s obvious!) but there are times when the sense is particularly acute. I have spent much of the last three months transcribing an old and autobiographical novel about unrequited feelings, and no sooner do I finish than the very next episode of Deep Space Nine throws the very same story in my face. It made for some unwelcome viewing.

After the scope and significance of the previous two-parter, I knew better than to expect anything of similar depth. In fact, I would have bet cash money on the next episode being a character story of no serious importance, and I would have been right (though I doubt I would have got good odds on it).

The story was simple: First Minister Shakaar Edon (Duncan Regehr in a role that requires him to do little more than be a clothes horse) is on DS9 for negotiations with the Federation over reducing the admissions process for Bajor. There is an assassination threat from Cardassian terrorists, over which Odo and Worf share responsibility for security.

But Shakaar is also there because he’s falling in love with Major Kira, which he confides in Odo, completely unaware (as is everybody else except Lwaxana Troi) that Odo secretly loves Kira himself. Odo is forced to watch their courtship, becoming distracted to the point that his carelessness almost enables an assassination attempt, and to the point that the terrorist is apprehended by Worf without Odo’s involvement.

Distraught after Shakaar has spent the night in Kira’s quarters, undoubtedly bumping Bajoran uglies, or whatever the young people call it these days, Odo smashes up his quarters, attracting sympathy, of a kind, from the only person to understand his secret: Quark. Whose advice is that Odo must either put up or shut up.

So Odo shuts up. He closes down the weekly meetings he has with Kira over the crime reports, he retreats further into cold efficiency, he grinds down upon the hope that she will think of him the way he thinks of her.

And I watch and compare this forty five minutes of TV with three months of writing that essentially adds up to the same thing, and I don’t really have much to say about it.

This is the halfway point now. The middle series, the middle episode: three series and thirteen episodes that I’ve blogged, week in, week out, and three series, thirteen episodes left. Whatever follows is on the downhill slope now, to an end.

And I still haven’t seen a single episode that I watched, all those years ago, getting home from work and curling up in front of early-evening BBC2 in those days before I acquired a family.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Follow the Money 2 – parts 7 & 8


It was a long old double episode this week, covering a lot of ground, so much so that the two episodes felt, at times, like transmissions from different series. That this was so was down to the performance of Maverick Mess.

The first part, episode 7, could have been sub-titled ‘that idiot at his fucking worst’ and I would have still thought it didn’t go far enough. The BBC blurb had it that Mads was impatient, and that too was an understatement. Given that he spent the entire hour either raging at his boss, or raging at Alf, his trusty sidekick, for not being willing to completely smash the law to pursue Mess’s vendetta against Big Bad Knud, or else lying and bullying to smash the law in direct defiance of temp boss Henrietta’s instructions, and incidentally seeing Amoral Claudia at Absolen Bank, jumping to completely the wrong conclusion about her working for Big Bad Knud and then lying and bullying first her Parole Officer then Claudia herself, this was a fine example of how not to run a Fraud Squad based on intricate investigation, careful collection and interpretation of sensitive and intricate information and, above all, PATIENCE, you cretin!

Mess was on the rampage, convinced of his own rightness, his own righteousness, heedless of the concept that just because a thought had crossed the lonely wastelands of his mind, that did not make it concrete and irrefutable fact.

No greater demonstration of this was there than the end of the episode when Claudia (being illegally wiretapped) accepted the lovely Amanda’s suggestion to set up a meeting with Big Bad Knud. The Police have the meeting (legally) wire-tapped and Mess is all sweary and up himself about how Claudia lets Mr Christensen know the fuzz are onto his Risk Management Departmennt scam, so he’d better hut it down (on, and by the way, hand us back those one-sixth of Absolen customers you were stealing, to put through the ringer).

Mess goes mental, he goes postal, he goes abso-bloody-lutely crackers at how he’s been betrayed, until even Alf spits back at him for what a fucking disgrace he is as both copper and human being. And then the script slaps Mess one around the chops as Claudia phones them up to tell them what she’s done, and that they now have her in a trusted position where she can get the dirt for them on Big Bad Knud.

Ah.

Collapse, if there were any justice, of stout party, but Mess is our hero, so the twonk gets away with barely even apologising, and behaves properly, sensibly, reasonably and even to a large extent like a Fraud Squad policeman throughout episode 8.

Then again, much of Mess’s time in the second half is diverted towards his real agenda, which is Vendetta. Mess still wants Sander Sodergren, and he wants him bad, so now he’s actually on good terms with Claudia, she spills to him two key facts. Firsrtly, that Sander’s first destination on leaving Denmark was to be Frankfurt, and secondly the alias under which he was traveling: Stig Lorentzen. She also tells him that Sander was not alone, that P, the Swede, was with him.

Thus, by a process of real deduction, our Maverick is able to track Sander to Sao Paolo in Brazil (it looked like Greece to me, but hell, I’ve never been to either one), where he disappears. At this point, a very Sander-specific unsolved murder victim crops up, soon DNA-ed and ID-ed. And by comparing passenger lists on the flight route, our boys track one Bo Peterson, a Swede aged 59, who’s recently been in hospital…

So Mess and Alf call on P’s home away from home, catching him as he’s packing to leave. Mess has warned Alf in advance that this is the guy who killed his lady reporter friend Mia in series one. P shuffles about weakly, denies everything, fakes a heart attack, needs his pills. Alf follows him to the bathroom, but instead of pills, P )or should we now call him Bo?) produces a silenced gun from the bathroom cabinet and shoots Alf twice in the stomach with it.

Alf is not yet dead, which is a surprise, given P’s experience and skill level, but he’s in a really shitty situation, and that’s the cliff-hanger on which we pause.

Obviously, I’ve concentrated for so long on Mess, but Claudia’s story has gotten intertwined with his, and as we reach the end, Nicky’s is about to cross lines in a manner that has been so thoroughly foreshadowed this week that we don’t need the last two episodes to know where that’s going.

But Claudia first. I’ve already mentioned how Nova are digging their claws into Absolen by extending their Risk Management team role to one whole sixth of Absolen’s customers. Amanda is horrified but Simon isn’t. He’s so very thoroughly already gone native with Nova and Big Bad Knud, the muppet, and is using Nova to expand Absolen by taking over a progressive French Bank, Credit Thingy (whose chief Legal Adviser just so happens to be Amoral Claudia’s ex, and father to her boy Bertram, Steen).

Claudia tries to head Nova off by getting Steen to slow down the sale, put conditions on that will shut Nova out, but Steen’s on the edge of financial ruin if this deal doesn’t go through. Demonstrating that she can be at least as ruthless when she wants, Claudia goes behind his bank, only to find that Credit Wotzit (begins with an S, that’s all I can remember) is desperate for the money.

And we find out why in the second half, courtesy of a Nova risk manager who gets abruptly terminated, and who should be escorted out of the country by Nicky. He spills the beans to Amanda and Claudia: Credit Oojah has a lot of dodgy loans out to French tech firms and if the tech market drops just one leedle percentage point, it’ll drag the French Bank under.

And if it drops just one half more, guess which Danish bank goes with it?

And whilst we’re guessing things, just what do you think Big Bad Knud is manipulating?

Simon, the would-be Knud Jr, gets presented with the evidence that he’s been nothing more than a sheep in sheep’s clothing among all these wolves, and can see for himself that all those promises Christensen made aren’t worth the air in which he spoke them: Big Bad Knud does not write things down, as Claudia has found, trying to get some evidence of fraud that points to him, not her. Whilst she and Amanda rally to call an overnighter to rescue Absolen, all Simon can do is sob.

And Claudia, after Christensen didn’t fall for her ‘sign here and here’ trick, is mortally afraid she’s been blown. When she hears about Sander, it’s not just him and the memory of that screw on the kitchen table she weeps for. Mess’s assurances that he and Alf will look after her are of curiously little comfort. And she’s right to be scared: she’s being followed by Nicky.

About time we got to him. After last week’s balls-up with little Olga, Nicky’s in the doghouse. P won’t return his calls, two men in a black car are permanently hanging around the garage, his little boy Milas goes missing for a few minutes. Nicky can’t take it: he grabs and tortures one of P’s men, holds the Swede’s daughter and gunpoint and tracks him down, threatening him to his face.

But P/Bo has been training Nicky up to take over for him, and he talks Nicky down, until the only person he uses the gun on is the thug who led him there, killed in cold blood.

So Nicky replaces P as Big Bad Knud’s go-to guy. He’s still not flawless, but he’s getting there, and all it costs him is the ability to respond to his lovely wife, Lina.

And right at the end there, he’s following Claudia, and she leaves a file for Mess at his house, with the lovely but weary Kristina. Kristina, whose late-life baby bump is now showing a long way out. Kristina, who’s been told that her sclerosis has been concealing a quite advanced case of cystitis. Kristina, who’d been told she needs complete rest or she’s at risk of premature delivery (i.e., miscarriage). Kristina, whose idiot husband is so obsessed with nailing Big Bad Knud, he can’t spare a second to listen to her so she has to confide in Alf instead.

Kristina, home alone with a file in a house towards which Nicky is advancing, under instructions from Christensen to get it back…

So  tune in next week for the inevitable, and whatever else is planned to end series 2. And don’t worry about Alf, shot twice in the stomach at contact range by a master-assassin: whilst trying to find out the name of that blasted French Bank, I happened to catch site of the blurb for episode 10. Alf hasn’t bought it. The Main Character Exemption applies again. I bet Mess could survive being hit by an Atom Bomb…

Ofcom acts…


Read this link: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/24/broadband-users-in-line-for-millions-in-ofcom-compensation-plan

I work for a company that provides Broadband and telephone to customers using the BT Openreach Cable and network. Only BT Openreach engineers are allowed to activate new services or repair existing ones.

When we book an Openreach engineer’s appointment to activate services or investigate a fault, we book that appointment from a list which tells us when an Openreach engineer can attend, and we book what the customer chooses as most convenient for them. Openreach then accepts the book, and tells us it is confirmed.

We don’t make these appointments up out of thin air, or tell the customer the Engineer can come round Tuesday morning for fun. We do it because it has been booked. By Openreach.

If fines for providers come in for broken appointments, and it’s about time they did, Openreach are going to have the fuck sued out of them, and not just by us.

The Infinite Jukebox: Martha and The Muffins’ Echo Beach


It’s just a pop song. A pop song by a Canadian band that turned out to be their only UK hit and their most memorable song, coming halfway between the British New Wave and the American version. But as we already know, pop songs aren’t necessarily only pop songs, and neither is this.
Martha and The Muffins actually had two Martha’s, Johnston who sang and Ladley, who played keyboards. ‘Echo Beach’ has all the makings of a commercial single, a neat introductory guitar riff, a solid, uptempo beat, a yearning chorus and a soaring sax break, leading into one of those repeating outros that, if you’re in tune with the song, can go on for several sections of eternity without you being tired of it.
A solid, smack in the middle of its times, pop song.
But obviously it’s more than just that, or it wouldn’t be on The Infinite Jukebox. Because, though at times I feel like I’m in the minority on this, songs are about words as well as tunes.
It starts with Martha Johnson confessing that she has a habit, after work, of sneaking down to Echo Beach. She sounds a bit defensive about it, it’s uncool, but she can’t help it. But she heads out there to watch the sun go down, because there she’s on her own.
The job’s dull, she’s an office clerk, she works nine to five and the only thing that keeps her going is that every day, at five, she is down there.
Echo Beach may be a place, but it’s more than that, it’s a state of mind. It’s completely alone, completely peaceful, and at the same time completely lonely. But the loneliness is what she craves. Her life is empty, the job offers her nothing by way of fulfilment, and each day, when it’s over, she goes to Echo Beach where she can truly empty her head, of everything but the winds and the water, the sunset and the silence.
On Echo Beach, there’s not a soul around. On Echo Beach, waves make the only sound.
Each day, she draws the emptiness into her, but it’s the emptiness she chooses for herself, the place she goes to find herself, where no-one else can find her.
And the rising tempo of the song crashes into the sax solo, screeching and straining, roaring and soaring, saying what can’t be said. Echo Beach is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and under the cover of a catchy beat and a chorus that invites our voices to join in, we’re finding for ourselves a place of solitude and beauty, where we can open our minds to something way beyond the human, the limitedness of how we are forced to live our lives.
And the beat returns, the music clears, and Martha and Martha come together to repeat, over and over, ‘Echo Beach, far away in time’, until we realise that this quasi-mystical place of peace and release is no more, that whatever and wherever Martha is doing, she no longer has Echo Beach, except in her mind, and we all of us yearn with her for that place when we can simply be, in the moment, and not let anything else in the world affect us.
We yearn so often in vain.
Echo Beach, far away in time, Echo Beach, far away in time…

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 5 – 1868-1876


The next phase of Sir Harry Flashman’s career takes us from the end of his successful campaign in Abyssinia in 1868 to the long-overdue conclusion of his American escapades in 1876.
It’s a period that takes in several adventures that we know of only in passing, and seven years of Flashman’s middle age during which the pace at which he goes through escapades may well slow a little.
Flashman leaves Abyssinia in May 1868, and we have no reason to doubt that he returned home, with his usual urge to never leave again. In the summer, he travels to the Mediterranean to meet Emperor Franz-Joseph and Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to receive the Empire’s highest honour, the Order of Maria Theresa, in honour of his service to the Emperor’s late younger brother, Maximilian.
Mention should be made of Flashman’s reference to observing a battle from a Hot Air Balloon, which he did once, whilst in Paraguay. In the absence of any other information, Flashman aficianados have tentatively ascribed this to the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864 – 1870, and have suggested that this incident took place in 1868, though no-one has come up with any explanation for him being in South America at this time.
On the other hand, there is no mention anywhere in the Papers of any occurrences out of the ordinary in 1869. And Flashman does mention Elspeth developing a passion for travel somewhere in the years leading up to 1875. Though he only mentions European/Mediterranean destinations (the Black Forest, the Pyrenees, the Italian Lakes, the Holy Land, the Pyramids and Greece), it’s not implausible that this might have started with a trip to South America.
We do know is that Flashman was involved, in some unspecified capacity, in the ‘Franco-Prussian nonsense’ (July 1870 – May 1871), and was in Paris for at least some part of the lengthy siege of the City. During this period, he renewed acquaintance with his old Civil War comrade, General Philip Sheridan, and first met the journalist Stefan Blowitz.
Unfortunately, Flashman has also referred to acting as Deputy Marshall to James ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock, and holding the latter’s guns in the confrontation with the gunman, John Wesley Hardin, in Abilene (April – December 1871). How (and why) he got to Kansas from France is a perfect mystery, especially as he’s certainly not brought Elspeth along.
It would be nice to think that these incidents were followed by a peaceful period, indulging Elspeth’s travels. And these would, of course, be a perfect excuse for Flashman to be in Egypt whilst Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was securing the Suez Canal shares for Britain in 1875: Flashman is involved in some aspects of the negotiations, even if only as witness to what he openly suggests is double-dealing by the politician. Ultimately (but presumably much later), this would lead to the impounding by Bailiffs of all copies of Flashman’s official memoirs, Dawns and Departures of a Soldiers Life. Three volumes were written, and Flashman must have had some kind of leisure time in which to write these, very carefully.
Not all Flashman’s time is spent travelling. Among those of his conquests who retained his interests throughout his life was the actress and future Royal Mistress, Lily Langtry. Since Flashman boasts of ‘being aboard her’ before HRH, that relationship must have begun in 1874, placing our hero back in London for some time.
But by 1875 at least, Elspeth is definitely interested in travelling further afield, and so Flashman does take her to America, to the United States, where he finds his past catching up on him.
The Flashmans head first to Philadelpia, for Phil Sheridan’s wedding, allowing Flashman to reacquaint himself with various of his former Army colleagues, including George Custer, whom Flashman barely knew during the Civil War business, but who adopts him now.
Custer is, as usual, on the outs with Army authority, and especially his former Commander-in-Chief, Sam Grant, now President. Custer has no compunction about using Flashman against Grant, any more than Grant has about involving Flashman in the negotiations with the Sioux over the Black Hills of Dakota, where gold has been discovered.
The negotiations are not being carried out in good faith, except perhaps for the cynical Flashman, who counsels his old Indian contact, Spotted Tail, rather more honestly than anyone else on the white side does. When he’s not worrying about whether Elspeth is romping on the prairie with the old chieftain that is.
But Flashman has concerns of his own. A certain businesswoman, a Mrs Arthur B Candy, is attracting his lustful eye, with ostensibly a business proposition, calling on Flashman’s supposed influence with German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Flashman knows that he has absolutely no influence whatsoever, but is happy to go along if it will get him into bed with Mrs Candy.
He even allows her to lead him into the same territory as the Seventh Cavalry, complete with the unstable Custer, are entering, in pursuit of the Sioux. But this is a serious mistake, for Mrs Candy is now who she claims to be: she is Cleonie, Flashman’s lover and Susie Willinck’s whore twenty-five years ago, who he sold to the Indians. She has endured, hating him now as much as she loved him then, and now she’s discovered him back in America, she wants her revenge. Kidnap, and torture as only an Indian can, by her son.
Two factors disrupt Cleonie’s revenge. The Indian camp to which she has Flashman carried is that on the Little Big Horn river, the day of Custer’s fateful attack. And her son, who doubles between being an Indian Brave and an Army Scout of some repute, is not just her son, but Flashman’s, and he has a mind of his own when it comes to the old man.
So Frank Flashman Grouard rescues his father from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and nurses him back to health before delivering him to Deadwood to return to Washington. He rides away forever, leaving Flashman with a heartache that lasts all of sixty seconds.
Flashman wastes no time leaving Deadwood on the first stage, but first he bumps into his old friend, Wild Bill Hickock, to whom he tells the truth of his long American odyssey. It makes no odds: unknown to Flashman, as his stage leaves town, Hickock has been shot in the back in the saloon.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e11/12 – Homefront/Paradise Lost


It’s not all that long ago that I was worrying about getting stale on DS9, wondering whether I should take a break. But it’s episodes like this two-parter, that I didn’t at first realise was a two-parter, that restore my enthusiasm for this series. This was what it should have been all the time, a high-stakes, wide-ranging, game-changing story that involved the very roots of the whole series. My one regret was that when I come to the next episode, I hardly dare hope, let alone expect, that it will live up to this standard.

“Homefront” began in typical fashion, with an open full of trivia. Odo is full of wrath towards Jardzia for her mischievous habit of sneaking in and shifting his furniture whilst he’s in his gelatinous state, Bashir and the Chief are fighting the Battle of Britain from the holosuite, complete with flying gear, Quark is being Quark. Oh, there’s this puzzling matter of the Wormhole opening and closing at random, without any (visible) ships coming through from the Gamma Quadrant, but it’s all very light.

And then the programme switched up through the gears. There has been a conference on Earth with the Romulans, at which a bomb exploded, killing 27 people. It’s the first such atrocity on the paradise planet that Earth has become in over a century. And the evidence indicates that it was contrived by a Changeling.

Sisko is summoned to Earth, along with Odo, by his former Captain, now Vic-Admiral Leyton (Robert Foxworth). He takes along Jake, so that the two of them can also spend some time with his father, Joseph (Brock Peters), who is still running his restaurant in New Orleans, and refusing to co-operate with his Doctor over preserving his health.

But Leyton hasn’t summoned Sisko home because he might have left a detail or two out of his report. Sisko is Starfleet’s best officer at fighting Changelings: Leyton makes him Acting-Chief of Security for the planet.

The main problem Sisko faces, initially, seems to be cultural. Earth is a Paradise planet, peaceful, happy, undisturbed. If it is under threat of a Dominion attack, if the Wormhole’s aberrant activity was actually cloaked Dominion starships entering the Alpha Quadrant, that peace will have to be radically rearranged by the security provisions required to identify and keep out Changelings.

The Federation President, Jaresh-Inyo, little more than a quiet bureaucrat who only wants to keep things peaceful and as they are, is reluctant to sanction such steps, and even after a demonstration of how easy it is to sneak a Changeling – Odo – into his personal office, completely undetected, will only allow certain limited measures devised by Sisko, with Leyton’s encouragement, to be put in place.

What’s clear even from the first part, before things start getting spelled out in “Paradise Lost”, is just how much this will change things on Earth. I was ahead of the wavefront at that point, already recalling the infamous Vietnam line, ‘to save the village, we had to destroy the village’, which was paraphrased openly by Sisko in the second part. There was too much emphasis on Earth being a Paradise, but peaceful Paradises are entirely too vulnerable to suspicion, and violence.

Joseph Sisko demonstrated this aptly. Sure, behind that gloriously jovial, outgoing restaurateur exterior, he was a cantankerously stubborn bugger, refusing to let prolonging his life interfere with how he wanted to lead it, but his utter refusal to allow a blood test to ‘prove’ he hadn’t been replaced by a shapeshifter, his indignance at being asked to prove he was innocent, and by his own son who feared he was guilty, encapsulated all that was at risk.

Then the power went out, all over Earth, simultaneously. And Leyton got his way, with a Starfleet officer on every corner. Every corner, with a phaser-rifle.

I was confident there was no attack being planned. Some of it was that this was not quite halfway through the season, some that I was sure that, even with all my efforts to avoid spoilers, I would have heard of it. But most of it was that what did the Dominion need in attacking? Look what they stood to gain by simply creating the fear of one? They were on the way to destroying the Earth through its own paranoia. If this had been written after 9/11, instead of seven years before it, it couldn’t have been a better response to the actions of the Bush Administration.

But I was off the mark, and “Paradise Lost” had begin setting this up before a Changeling in Chief O’Brien’s shape sat down beside Sisko to cheerfully boast of their superiority to solids, and how much havoc they’d caused with only four Changelings on the whole of Earth.

No, this wasn’t a Changeling operation. It was entirely more sinister. It was the Big Lie in operation, and what made it so insidious was that it came from a palpably good man, doing what he genuinely thought was best, not for himself, not for his own power, but for the safety of his own. It was all a carefully calculated plot on the part of Leyton, which would end up with Starfleet taking military control of Earth, under him, for the Duration. Foxworth was superb in portraying a man who was betraying every principle he’d ever held, every duty he’d accepted, for the sake of what he saw was the higher good.

You could still see that, if he had succeeded, power would inevitably corrupt him, as it inevitably does, but at this point, Foxworth’s thoughts were forearth, and its preservation against the threat of the Dominion. To save the planet, we had to destroy the planet. It’s a dictum easy to mock, and despise for its illogic, its intolerance, its cruelty, its indifference to others’ thoughts, but you could see the roots in loyalty and duty from which the weed sprung.

In the end, it was both loyalty and disloyalty that brought Leyton down. His Executive Officer, Erika Benteen (played by TNG alumnus Susan Gibney is a cool, dispassionate manner) had been promoted to Captain, as had many of Leyton’s former officers. When she was ordered to fire on the Defiant, bringing evidence to Earth of Leyton’s treason, and carrying all the senior staff of DS9 on board, she was prepared to stop a fellow Starfleet craft, but not to destroy it.

It was the defining moment, but until that moment, all things were possible. The story could have gone anywhere from here, taken Deep Space Nine into any waters it chose. That it settled for what was the closest possible reset of the status quo was of no matter: it was an ending we were emotionally hoping for, and the episode covered such territory that there could be no real status quo. Things changed. The worms got out of the can.

At Work


Where I work, I’m part of a supposedly senior team of very experienced advisors, who use their knowledge and experience to resolve issues other agents can’t. That was true, until a few months ago, but most of the time we’re now an AOS team (‘Any Old Shit’) and have very little to take price in about the job.

We are supposedly a single team but, because of our numbers, we have two managers, each of whom directly manage about half the agents. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when most of the team is in, we’re supposed to sit in separate bays, but the rest of the week, when overall numbers are reduced, we tend to sit wherever we feel comfortable.

I even have my (temporary) manager’s blessing to sit where I am comfortable, in view of the issues I am currently confronting, and which I try not to bring to work.

But today, when I went to sit where I usually sit on Mondays, I was told, firmly, to get round into the next bay, my team’s bay. There are currently about eight of us in, occupying about twenty-four seats. I’m not in the mood for this petty fucking bullshit, this idea that we are not one team but two, and that the two teams mustn’t meet.

I’m disoriented enough to begin with: this is the week of my monthly working Sunday but I was off ill on Friday, so try as I might I cannot persuade myself that this is Monday and not Tuesday, and I am starting to hate this job and being here, when we are treated in this stupid and divisive fashion.

Am I some sort of pollutant? Do I have some sort of negative effect on the people who don’t share the same manager as me? Of course I don’t, but the totalitarian stupidity of this has got seriously up my nose, and once I have got home and have posted this, I shall once again turn to the most recent e-mail from CV Library, and check what job vacancies they have for people of my seniority, competence and temperament.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Follow the Money II – Parts 5 & 6


The one on the left is a Detective. Can you believe it?

In the the week that Follow the Money II reaches its midpoint, no less a TV authority than Mark Lawson has pronounced that ‘Scandi Noir is Dead’ (find your own link, I’m not supporting that), which leads us to the obvious question: where does the Guardian get  allthese wankers from? Lawson, an intellectual, was part of the infamous televised sneering session about Terry Pratchett, during which Tom Paulin claimed Pratchett couldn’t write because he didn’t even put chapters in.

The reason for Lawson’s recent pronouncement of execution is a rather contrived Swedish/French crossover crime series, which sounds unlikely to threaten the likes of The Killing or The Bridge, but to assert that the whole genre is dead – less than a year after Trapped – demonstrates the by now inevitable confusion between opinion and concrete fact.

A real intellectual would not have ignored the fact that television has always broadcast a mixture of good, bad and indifferent series, and that no culture is free from the urge to cash in on successful and innovative concepts with cheap, derivative and inferior copies.

We are watching Follow the Money, after all, aren’t we?

That said, it was disappointing to find that, in it’s new, more serious and better-plotted style, the middle two episodes were, well, dull. The storylines began to mesh more closely, our three principals moved forward in the face of obstacles, Mess didn’t do anything massively dickish, and it was pretty much boring. Short of summarising developments, I have little to say.

I’m not totally without adverse comment, mind you. On the Fraud Squad side, a new figure came into play, one Helge Larson, former staunch collaborator with Big Bad Knud, until he went down for Fraud in 2007. Larson can put the finger on how the wily Knud operates, that is, if he can refrain from blackmailing the self-satisfied old bugger for his silence. All this gets him is Knud delivering direct instructions to Nicky the Apprentice to kidnap Larson’s bright, perky, sixteen year old granddaughter, Olga, in return for the relevant paperwork. No police.

There are a couple of egregious cliches coming up on this strand, and the pre-episode 6 warning of ‘Disturbing scenes’ pretty much gave away that little Olga was not long for this world. Firstly, she’s wearing one of those Fitness watches which, when she switches it on, enables Mess and Alf to track her via its GPS to the factory where Nicky is keeping her. Except that when they arrive, she’s gone… but the watch has been left behind.

Next, Nicky takes her to a house in the woods. Olga manages to escape, brains him with a fire extinguisher, but not hard enough (once you’ve got them down, smash their head in with the blunt instrument: that’s a cliche I’d like to see get established). So she runs, and he runs after her, until she slides down a mini-cliff to the beach, and gets a chunk of rotted wood right through the abdomen. From which, of course, she dies.

Second egregious cliche time: Mess tracks Olga’s footsteps back and finds the deserted house. Nicky’s inside, doing a professional job of cleaning the place under P’s instructions. Mess is prowling around. Any moment, he’ll see Nicky’s car, with the open boot showing the full clean-up kit… except that at that very moment, Mess’s phone goes, with the sad news of Olga’s passing, so he returns without completing his investigation. Sigh.

Having brought Nicky’s strand in so close, let’s stick with him. He’s still the model Apprentice, though he risks alienating Bimse further when Annika, P’s daughter, turns up at the garage, drops hints as heavy as lead balloons that he shagged her after the club last week, and wants more of it, in the office chair. Bimse, who’s a friend of Lina as well, is well pissed-off, but when Olga dies, and Nicky, suddenly scared shitless of where he’s arrived in his part-time career path, decides he has to run, the Bozo is immediately supportive, and tops up Nicky’s getaway 10,000 kr. with 5,000 of his own.

To no avail: P turns up, mob-handed, and Nicky gets the shit kicked out of him.

But we’re ignoring Claudia, who gets shafted in more ways than one this week. Enter Nova, with a 50% increase on their last, already inflated if for Absolen Bank, the literal ‘Offer-you-can’t-refuse’. Claudia helps Amanda put together a last minute pitch to a better buyer, the progressive Italian bank, Banco Fiore, who’ll match the deal. Amanda’s pretty wiped out by now, so Simon has her sign Power of Attorney over to him, so he can conclude the deal.

By sacking Claudia with immediate effect, blowing off the Italians and going direct to Big Bad Knud, waving the listening device, and negotiating a ale on condition Simon only is Manager.

A semi-drunk Claudia invites Jens Kristen around to mope with, and ends up shagging the arse off him, though she will learn, at the darkest hour, that not only does he have a partner already, said partner is about eight months pregnant. Is that enough to be called an egregious cliche? I think it is. Let’s make that number three, then.

But Claudia is not giving up her battle against Big Bad Knud in only episode 6, so she cleans up the manic Amanda (a bit too quickly and efficiently for direct plausibility, but then how long had plausibility been a key factor of this programme?) and sets her off to blackmail dear brother Simon. It just so happens Amanda has some pretty potent stuff up her pretty sleeve, so Nova Bank buys Absalen, with two Managers, one of whom has promptly re-hired Claudia.

But what, you are all demanding to know, about Maverick Mess? He’s pretty damned rational and reasonable this week, which is oddly offputting. True, he subjects his son Albert to a Police interrogation over Albert’s mate’s missing iPad, which is there at the Justesen household (GPS comes in so useful). But the moment he finds the missing electronica under his car seat, he immediately goes and apologises to the lad.

But Mess cannot leave off being Mess totally. In his grief over Olga’s death, Larson supplies the key information which will let the Fraud Squad, under the pretty, blonde Heenrietta as acting Chief, get Knud for offences sufficiently serious as to not be statute-barred, but that’s not good enough for Mess. So they can put Knud in prison for two years, destroy his standing, have him disbarred from company ownership, etc. Two years is not enough for Mess, who personally demands life, rot in there, man’s a shit.

That’s the Mess we are used to. Instead of catching a guilty man now, let’s do nothing, monitor his takeover of Absolen Bank, catch him out doing something more serious. We do have four episodes left, remember. Let’s do something really stupid, just because one idiot detective says so.

Seems like the show comes through in the end, eh?