Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Rye Royal

(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on the full, First edition text and upon second thoughts.)

I’ve needed to rethink my review of this book almost as much as I had in respect of Treasure at Amorys. The misimpressions created by the decidedly precise edit of the latter had a knock-on effect on my perceptions of Rye Royal, which I incorrectly saw as a second chance to settle the future of Jon and Penny Warrender in the way that had now been extended to David and Peter and Tom and Jenny.
Saville still doesn’t go anything like as far with the Warrenders as he’s done with those of the Lone Piners who are not cousins, but he does treat them in this book as more of a couple. There are kisses, references to Jon’s friend trying to get off with ‘his’ girl, and a happy thought from the latter, when everyone is gathered, of ‘Penny for me and Peter for David’, and that being the way it should be.
This is the last Rye book, and the last substantive appearance by the Warrenders (and also the only one in the series not to have a map), and it’s significance is primarily in getting Peter to Rye at long last.
Previously, Jon was a school year away from going up to Oxford, Penny had left school and was due to travel to India to live with her parents. Now, when Rye Royal begins, in November, Jon is at University, course unknown but obviously frightfully clever and presumably with some science bent, and Penny is still living at the Gay Dolphin and studying Domestic Science (i.e. how to be a Housewife) in Hastings.
Despite the awkward time-gap, the explanation for this change of plan is that Penny’s parents are finally ending their exile and service in India, that has lasted technically since at least 1942, and will be returning at Christmas, to go into partnership with Jon’s mother to run the Gay Dolphin. We must assume that both parents and child were able to bear the pain of separation with more of the equanimity shown down the years.
I’ve said before that Saville created something of a rod for his own back when he made the Warrenders cousins. For most of the Twentieth century, there was a general prejudice against cousins marrying, as their closer genetic ties were believed to make it certain that they would produce mentally defective babies. I don’t know when science first established that there were no grounds for this belief, but Saville as we will learn, never escaped his reluctance to allow Jon and Penny the same free reign as his other couples.
Thankfully, we have David and Peter on hand. The story begins in November, with Penny and Jon, before jumping to the week before Xmas, and at long last the Mortons have managed to get Peter to Rye.
It’s significant, and genuinely touching, that Peter’s first move, after arriving in Rye by train, is to single out Penny, and ask her to walk up to the Dolphin with her, through the town, on their own. Considering that Peter first approached Penny with vague suspicions about a) knowing David and b) being a girl, it’s a loving gesture of solidarity and trust. Peter is the stranger here, who’s heard so much about everything, but knows nothing, and she seeks out Penny to be her guide.
And Penny has no jealousy of Peter, who is being described as more beautiful by the book. Her hair is longer, she’s almost as tall as Jon (really?) and now we’re told that she really suits mini-skirts (no doubt she does).
Yet Peter is the outsider. She’s the country girl, and even such a little town as Rye, so old-fashioned and wonderful, is inimical to her. David is at her side, throughout, but there’s a telling scene later in the book when they’re in the Book Cellar, a kind of quasi-teenage club, and it’s crowded and noisy and David is being subjected to a lot of earnest discourse by two very earnest girls, and Peter cannot stand things and has to go out.
She’s followed by Judith Wilson, reappearing as now married to James, who understands that Peter is feeling overwhelmed, and is facing the fear that she can’t function properly outside of Shropshire. Judith sympathises, but reminds Peter that if her life is to be spent with David, it means spending it with him wherever he goes (this is only the late Sixties), and she must learn to accept that.
Within moments, David is there. He’s been no more enamoured of the two earnest girls than Peter has, and from being so limited a character emotionally, he is now wholly sensitive to Peter’s feelings. He is following his father into the Law, which ties him to London for now, but once he is qualified, he plans to work in Shropshire, so as not to take Peter away from her natural home: besides, he loves Shropshire almost as much as her.
But she, in return, promises that she will go with him wherever their lives take them. Peter has learned the courage to accept that she cannot confine them to just one place. This pair are in balance, and it’s a joy to see them so firmly on the same wavelength after so long a time.
I suppose I’d better reference the adventure as, if I don’t, the Twins won’t get a mention.
Saville’s plots have fallen quite a long way by now. The formula has worn thin, the actions repetitive, the assumptions outdated. After a one book break for Man with Three Fingers, he reverts to introducing the bad guys in the opening chapter, in this case Roy Royal, bookseller of Rye. Royal, whose real name is John Jones, has taken Rye’s long-standing but hitherto unmentioned nickname for his highly reputable second hand bookshop and adapted it for himself, but he is a former professional criminal and convict.
He seems, however, to have left his past life behind but, to Saville, once a criminal, always a criminal: no matter how law-abiding he may be, with his as-yet loss-making Book Cellar for the Rye teens, at which Penny Warrender helps out at weekends, all it takes is a more dangerous criminal, supposed American ‘Harry Purvis’ threatening to tell the Police his real name, and it’s back to business. Exposure won’t do him any good in the community, but if Royal has gone straight – and Saville gives us no reason to suspect he hasn’t – then what threat are the Police? But, once a criminal…
Royal also encounters the aged and rather pathetic Mrs Flowerdew, of 39 Traders Street, next door to the Gay Dolphin, selling some valueless books for £1, for which she is grateful. Royal only takes then in hope of establishing an in to examine the library of Professor Flowerdew, a reclusive, elderly and unwell historian, secretive and eccentric. Shortly after, the Professor dies, having neglected his wife for years, left her practically destitute but forbidden her to sell house or library, even though these are sufficiently valuable to establish her in comfort.
Purvis, a notorious receiver and exporter of stolen goods, has his eyes on the Professor’s treasures and blackmails Royal to get him access to these.
His first attempt, at ‘Rye Fawkes’ fails. The story leaps on to the week before Christmas. Mrs Warrender has befriended the friendless Mrs Flowerdew, mainly because she is sorry for her, but also because, if Mrs Flowerdew does decide to sell no 39, it would be ideal for an extension to the Dolphin. Partly for this purpose, and partly as a transparent ruse to get the widow some money, the Lone Piners are to stay at no 39, and help look after Mrs Flowerdew, as they did for Major Bolshaw in Treasure at Amorys.
The Twins in particular adopt Mrs Flowerdew in their inimitable manner, especially Mary, who has regularly been presented as more sensitive and perceptive than her brother. Richard, as he now prefers to be called in front of adults, has only this week decided to follow James Wilson into journalism, and is still more obsessed than his sister.
There’s no getting around it, and even Saville has to go a long way towards stating that the late Professor Flowerdew was a terrible husband, emotionally neglectful if not downright cruel. His widow has been isolated from the world, in service to him and his self-centred obsessions, and he has failed to provide for her financially whilst forbidding her straitly to provide for herself by selling the house or its possessions, her only source of money.
But the presence of young people starts to wake Mrs Flowerdew up. She is helped by the discovery of an incomplete message in very weak handwriting scrawled in the back of a book, that hints at something valuable hidden in the house, but which affects her most deeply because it begins: ‘My very dear wife’.
The girls find her like this. Of course the message trails off just before the late Professor can say where the valuable document is, and of course Mrs Flowerdew still doesn’t want to get involved, frozen as she is, but it is significant that, when she fantasises about what might be possible if she does possess something of value, her thoughts are entirely of the kindnesses she could do to others: not merely Mrs Warrender and the Lone Piners who have made such an impression upon her, but even down to people who serve her in shops, and for whom a pair of gloves might relieve chilblains!
But the villains are determined to get their hands on what she has. Royal is summoned to a meeting with Purvis and his seeming sister, in which he is accused to trying to evade his duties to them. He is imprisoned and effectively disappears from the story. Purvis and his sister get into Traders Street and, by drugging Mrs Flowerdew, carry her off.
Once more a Lone Pine book involves a kidnapping. The villains can do even less to a defiant elderly lady than they can do to children, though there’s the usual refusal to believe that Mrs Flowerdew doesn’t know everything there is to know and can’t lead them directly to the treasure. Thankfully, the episode doesn’t last long, as Wilson, David and Jon walk in through the French windows and take the lady home, though I suspect that the brevity of this section is less down to admirable concision and more to do with a combination of Armada’s insistence upon shorter books, and Saville’s failing imaginative energy, especially in relation to scenes he was finding alien.
In the end, it’s the Twins, of course, who find the treasure, an ancient document about Elizabeth I’s visit to Rye that is of great historical significance (without adding a single detail not already known). Having been reasonably sensible throughout, it’s a direct reversion to type: secretive, egotistical, boastful and demanding, and smacking more of finding the Treasure for their own satisfaction rather than Mrs Flowerdew’s benefit.
As for Penny and Jon, their final scene is of Penny’s parents arriving unexpectedly on Xmas Eve, home for good. They are virtually unseen, behind blazing car headlights, and Penny walks towards them and into a future she both welcomes and is understandably nervous of, and she’s holding hands with Jon. It’s understatedness is typical of the book: Jon and Penny act as a couple, secure and confident in each other. Jon is nowhere sarcastic or patronising to her, and indeed frequently regrets how little time he and his redheaded cousin have solely for each other.
In the knowledge of the real Treasure at Amorys, it’s a quiet, less overt portrait of contentment between a pair who have found each other.
The very last word is from Peter, promising to go wherever David goes. Fifty years on, that’s a jarring note. Why should Peter have to give up her desires, her life, her securities, to follow David? The answer is because she’s going to marry him, and that was what was expected of wives back then. It’s easy to be doctrinaire about rights and wrongs, but let’s not forget that this is a specific couple. Peter will follow David because that’s what’s expected of her, even by herself, but David will only lead her by reference to where she will want to go. It is not a sacrifice for him, though the life of a rural Solicitor will not compare to the life and opportunities of a London Solicitor (his Dad could afford to buy Witchend in the middle of the war, remember), but David is ahead of his time in respecting the woman he loves, and sharing lives the two want, instead of expecting her to conform to his wishes.
Tom has already determined that he wants to farm Ingles, and that he wants to farm it with Jenny at his side. He’s not consulted her, but he knows very well that this is her wish too, not just out of loyalty to him, but because she has been absorbed into Ingles by parents in law who love her and who have made this a home for her to come to: Jenny will follow Tom but he will never want to go anywhere but the place she wants to follow him.
For all practical intents and purposes, this is the end of the Warrender’s story. Though perhaps it belongs to Home to Witchend, the final book of the series, where Jon and Penny’s future is seen to have been the subject of much debate, now is the time to confirm that, as I began to strongly suspect in first re-reading the series, Malcolm Saville did have grave misgivings about giving the third of his couples the promised ending of engagement and marriage, and because they were cousins.
Saville was a committed Christian and a conservatively minded man. In true Austenian fashion, the Lone Pine Club series was to end with commitments to marriage for two of its couples. Saville could not allow himself to grant the same to Penny and Jon. Indeed, in the six years it took to produce the final book, in correspondence with friends, in trial balloons floated among his Fan Club, Saville initially proposed a totally different fate for Penny. Engagement yes, but to none other than Dan Sturt, of Saucers over the Moor (who, by that time, would have reappeared in the penultimate book). Jon would have promised always to be a brother to her.
The very notion was cried down on all sides, as indeed it should have been. Leaving aside the betrayal it would have been to all the readers, there is the simple fact that there could not have been the remotest justification for it in the series. Penny’s commitment from the moment of her introduction had always been upon Jon, and Saville had already allowed too much to be built on that foundation, in both Treasure at Amorys and Rye Royal for there to have been any plausibility to such a switch. It would have been directly contradictory to the Lone Pine oath.
Nor was it plausible on Dan’s side either. Though he would return in a future book, it’s conspicuous that Penny isn’t present on that occasion, and in the only book in which the two ever meet, Dan’s interest is not in Our Favourite Redhead but Our Favourite Blonde: Dan has eyes for Peter, not Penny.
It was a terrible idea on every level, born of a desperate war between the urge for closure and Saville’s inability to get over the cousinship he’d awarded the Warrenders so very long ago, when the very idea that these children might one day grow into adults was inconceivable.
No, this is where Jonathan and Penelope Warrender depart from us, walking into the blinding headlights of a future that we have to imagine for ourselves, believing, as their story points, that it will be shared as closely as those for whom we are to be given guarantees.


Deep Space Nine: s04 e22 – For the Cause

A Traitor

I’ve no wish to boast, but I’ve been watching television fiction of all natures for fifty years, I’m fairly intelligent and analytical by nature, and not much surprises me. I’m good at reading where a story is going to go, and at sensing the intended developments. So, when an episode springs on me a surprise that I don’t see coming, I enjoy it all the more, and ‘For The Cause’ got a good one over on me today.

That we’re in for a serious affair was made immediately obvious from the open: a top level secret briefing for the senior staff from Federation Security Officer, Lt. Commander Eddington. Things are going ill for the Cardassians in their war with the Klingon Empire, and the Federation has agreed to provide them with no less than twelve Industrial Replicators, coming through DS9 shortly.

But Eddingtom and Odo have another problem that they want to broach with Sisko in private. They believe a freighter captain is smuggling goods to the Maquis and, though they have no concrete evidence, their suspicions point towards none other than Kasidy Yates.

Sisko, slightly atypically, behaves more like an affronted lover than a Starfleet Captain, rejecting the idea on sight, but his professionalism requires him to allow investigation to proceed. And the evidence does harden that suspicion into fact, as Kasidy is trailed by a cloaked Defiant and observed beaming goods onto a Maquis ship.

A second run is to be made, and the Defiant now has instructions to intervene if a drop is made. Eddington, understandably uneasy about taking the decision to fire upon the Captain’s bird, asked to remain on the station to supervise the transfer of the Replicators: Sisko himself will command the raid.

And yes, Kasidy admits to smuggling, medical supplies and other humanitarian material, not guns, nor is she ashamed of it in the least, but the Zhosa and the Defiant have been circling for hours in the Badlands, and the Maquis aren’t turning up, because the whole thing is a carefully manipulated plot to get Sisko off the station. Because Eddington, the loyal Starfleet Officer with no personal opinions, the deliberately colourless man who’s been appearing in DS9 since season 3 episode 1, has gone over to the Maquis. He seizes temporary control of the station, has the Replicators transferred to a Vulcan freighter, and flees with them to openly join the fight.

It’s a crushing defeat for the Federation, and a complete shock that, despite only having the most minimal of foreshadowing – Eddington’s wish to be relieved of responsibility for potentially killing Kasidy is the only hint we get and it’s magnificently in character – is utterly believable, and Kenneth Marshall seizes the chance to rotate his character 180 degrees in a closing scene where, by communicator, he glorifies in his new loyalty, demanding the Federation leave the Maquis alone as their only quarrel is with the Cardassians. His sudden overt strength is splendidly buttressed by his excoriating the Federation over their persecuting the Maquis only because they want to live outside the Federation. The Federation wants to absorb everybody it meets, no differently than the Borg, except that they are open about their intentions and the Federation are insidious.

What’s so good about this is that it’s true, and it took courage in a Star Trek Universe to write a scene that so openly exposing the underside of the Federation, that holy empire. A powerful episode indeed.

Unfortunately, it came with a B-story of stunningly slight proportions. Garak and Ziyal (played one time by Tracy Middendorf, who was not really up to the role) are aware of each other as the only Cardassians on the station and slowly gravitate towards one another. Since he is her father’s mortal enemy, Garak fears an assassination attempt, and since he is Garak, Kira fears he’s going to fuck her (up), but all it turns out to be is a wish for companionship in exile. Unworthy of being included alongside a far bigger, better and more game-changing story.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Man with Three Fingers


16 - Man with Three Fingers

(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on the full, First edition text, not the edited Second edition produced in 1969 for Armada, and upon second thoughts.)

There had been a book bringing David and Peter together, there had been a book moving Jon and Penny closer together, and it seemed obvious that there must next be a book that placed Tom Ingles’ and Jenny Harman’s relationship on a more serious footing than before. On the surface, that would seem to be very easy: Jenny had made no secret of her feelings towards Tom since as far back as The Secret of Grey Walls and so all that was needed was to ensure that Tom could make the same commitment to the excitable little redhead.
But you could have said that taking David and Peter over the threshold between friendship and love was similarly obvious and easy, yet Saville had had to put them through a confusion of feelings and failings before they could find the courage to admit to each other what they meant. Tom and Jenny must go through a similar rite-of-passage before they too could be admitted. Except that Jenny’s fixedness of purpose stood in the way of mutual misunderstandings, and the very strength of of her feelings, and the overt childishness with which she continued to express them, forced Saville to rely on an external threat that has many unfortunate implications for the story.
The crude and ungrammatical title (surely it should have been The Man…) is indicative that Man with Three Fingers is going to have substantial problems. Tom is going through some fairly unsubtle adolescent blues, and the story contains more overt violence than any previous Lone Pine Club story, which is why Saville prefaces the story with an admission that the older Lone Piners have had to age, to become seventeen, in order to be able to face what comes.
Which is a pretty crude adventure plot, about organised lorry thefts, crossed with the least convincing of all the Lone Pine Treasure Hunts, which is dubious on every level and seems only to exist to give the Twins something they can deal with.
Jenny, like Penny in the last book, has just left school, as has Peter, though the older girl has a job lined up that could have come out of her dreams, and Jenny has no ideas yet about her future, save a week’s holiday with her friend at Hatchholt.
But where the excitable, incurably romantic redhead has no difficulty with being a young adult, and is just as susceptible to a stranger with a sob-story as she’s ever been, Tom is going through concerns that may well have puzzled the regular audience, but which are only too familiar to the majority of those who are old adults.
Tom’s seventeen. He’s worked on the Farm for his Aunt and Uncle, who’ve been as good as parents to him and who think of him as their own. But he has no responsibilities, is constantly being told what to do, takes no decisions. He’s becoming an adult but is not being allowed to be one. Then the Farm is very small, and Onnybrook is small, and there’s nothing to do and no-one to see. The nearest girl is Peter, who’s completely off-limits, and Jenny’s miles away, and anyway, she’s young and looks younger. Tom wants – needs – to stretch, and has nowhere to stretch into.
Enter Ned Stacey. Though he’s presented through most of the book as weak, excitable, unreliable, a product of having no father, Ned’s not a bad guy. He’s older than Tom at twenty, and he’s made something of himself, even if it’s only as a motorcycle owner and a lorry driver. Ned and Tom have a lot in common, which Jenny sees as Ned dragging her man away from his real friends, but it’s not hard to sympathise with Tom at that awkward stage we all go through, when we’re older than most Lone Pine Club fans.
Jenny fears Tom being pulled physically away, and her fears are not without justification. Ned’s been trusted with his first overnight drive and wants Tom to accompany him at least part of the way, even though it’s a breach of the rules. It’s both a disaster and a godsend: Ned has been directed by his manager, Mr Danks, to take a strange diversion down a back lane, where the lorry is stopped and attacked, and both young men beaten.
It’s a horrible thing, more directly violent than any Lone Pine story to date, though a concomitant factor: if your characters are now to behave as adults, their risks must be adult. Tom is bruised, shaky and pale, and he’s scared Jenny to death, but can attest to Ned’s instructions and that they both fought: Danks denies Ned’s story and is clearly aiming to frame him.
The worst aspect of Tom’s escapade, in Jenny’s eyes, is that he has betrayed his friends, not just her exclusively. Instead of heading off on the lorry, Tom should have been at Witchend to greet the Mortons. When she gets him alone, after he’s brought back from the hospital, she tears into him furiously, telling him outright how important she should be to him.
But she’s disarmed, completely, when he produces from his pocket the set of green beads he had bought for her in Shrewsbury, before it all kicked off. And when she has him put them on her, she kisses him, for the first time, and it’s not just one of those kisses of thank you.
That’s not the end of it, however. Everyone’s back together, though this has thrown the intended holiday off course, but it’s not the only thing that has. David and Peter only want to disappear off together without anyone else, the Twins are remarkably subdued but come to the rescue of the unfortunate and rather selfish Mrs Pantshill, thrown from her horse on the Mynd with a possible broken ankle, and the only ones concerned with the adventure are Tom and Jenny, and she only wants to drag him away from it.
It may seem odd to long-time Lone Pine readers, but Saville is only following the logic of his characters’ maturation. The Club, as an entity, is ceasing to be of interest to them, though its spirit and the friendships it has brought about are unchanged. But it is beginning to splinter as the older members find themselves concerned with better things than tracking strangers.
That’s not to say that mystery doesn’t concern them, and it’s a typical irony that, whilst Jenny wants Tom out of the dangerous mess that the lorry-jacking represents, she’s the one most avid to join the Treasure Hunt that the stranger, Amanda Gray, a New Zealand widow, brings to the reluctant Lone Piners.
It’s all about Pontesford Hall, an old house and estate that suddenly springs up just outside Onnybrook. After years of neglect, and the death of the reclusive and eccentric Miss Pontesford, it’s been bought, and is being spruced up by Colonel and Mrs Pantshill, who have offered it’s grounds for the Village Flower Show. Funnily enough, this couple find the injured Tom and Ned after they’re attacked, and take them to hospital. And the Colonel counsels the boys to forget about their ordeal and shoot off to the seaside for a week at his expense. You’re not going to be surprised if I prematurely reveal who’s behind this highly organised lorry-jacking, are you?

Amanda Grey is a woman with a mission, or maybe a bee in her bonnet. She married Miss Pontesford’s nephew Donald, with whom the old lady had quarrelled irreversibly. Donald, a wastrel and loser, is dead, leaving Amanda with a baby and no inheritance, except the belief, unsupported by evidence, that there’s a Pontesford Treasure that she believes belongs to her.
Amanda’s an obsessive who never gains anyone’s trust except Jenny (the baby sells it to our little redhead), and is an awkward, never fully-realised character who keeps trying to involve the Lone Piners in house-breaking, and who can’t see why they might be more concerned about Tom, especially after he goes missing.
The Police are concerned about this spurt of lorry-jackings, and the Police around Shrewsbury means our old friend, Mister Cantor. Inspector Charles Cantor, to give him his full name, nicknamed ‘Mister’ by his colleagues, for no apparent reason. We remember him well from The Secret of Grey Walls, but unfortunately Saville has forgotten Cantor’s brief reappearance in The Neglected Mountain, when it was disclosed that his real name was Green.
It’s only because Tom Ingles vouches for Ned’s story that Cantor is prepared to accept it, though his methods with Ned leave the excitable young man believing that he’s being framed. Worse still, Ned’s been sacked by his employers, and is far too sick to go to Shrewsbury to remonstrate. Against Jenny’s wishes, Tom volunteers to do that for him. Nevertheless, she accompanies Tom, against his wishes, trying to make the best of the situation.
Then it all goes wrong. In a cafe, Tom remembers a significant point: that the man who attacked him had a finger missing on his hand. Jenny pales: a man with three fingers is directly behind Tom. Against her wishes, they part, she for the Police Station and Cantor, Tom to follow Three Fingers. But before they separate, Tom pulls her to him, and kisses her, and he tells her she’s his girl.
It’s not the word love, but it’s all Jenny needs. Saville has made the point clear, when Jenny first confronts Tom and finds herself unable to be cool and distant with him: ‘Just because she hadn’t had a lot of love in her life she wanted all she could get now and forever.’ Tom’s declaration answers her, it gives her the future she wants. And when it’s put into immediate peril, Jenny goes through hell.
Because things go badly wrong. Tom loses his man when he gets on a motor-cycle, but meets him again when he confronts Danks over Ned’s sacking. Losing his temper over Danks’ intransigence, Tom blurts out about the man with three fingers. Who emerges from a back room and knocks him out.
It’s a kidnapping, and it gets the usual ‘won’t dare do anything to him’ routine from everyone around Jenny, but Tom is a genuine threat, and he’s in genuine danger.
What follows does not speak well for Cantor. Jenny, is in desperate misery, impresses everybody at the station with her determination to find her lad, her refusal to walk away. The lorry HQ is visited, where Danks denies Tom has ever been. Cantor accepts the man’s word for it, and stubbornly refuses Jenny’s entreaties to even speak to other people on site. Not until it turns out that the WPC looking after Jenny has a married sister who is Danks’ secretary, is it shown that Danks was lying, by which time a half day has been wasted, Cantor made to look a fool, and the whole episode like a time-filler, just intended to extend the story and set up its conclusion.
Which takes place at Pontesford Hall, at the Flower Show. Amusingly, it’s David and Peter’s entirely selfish urge to sneak off somewhere for a quiet snog that sets the denouement into motion, when they spot the neckscarf Jenny has bought for Tom pushed into the ivy. With Jenny in tow, and the Twins employed to ensure that the Pantshills don’t come back inside, the trio sneak into the house, find and release the dazed Tom, who only has eyes for Jenny.
Fortunately the Police turn up and grab hold of Harry, the three-fingered man, before he can cause any more damage, plus Pantshill, who is the organiser of the lorry-jacking gang (I didn’t spoil any surprises for you, did I?). And as a bonus, the Twins find the gold-encrusted Chalice that is the Pontesford Treasure.
This latter aspect is an element that never works and would be better excised from the story, though if that were to be done, there would be practically nothing for the Twins to do. Though crude in many respects, the lorry-jacking story is a much better element, especially because it is the crucible through which Tom and Jenny are passed, the heat of which forging the bonds between them into something imperishable.
Jenny comes to terms with Tom’s friendship with Ned, who isn’t such a bad old stick after all, and accepts an invite to join a Lone Pine swimming party at Hatchholt, and Uncle Alf comes to terms with Tom’s need for bigger horizons. Ingles is prepared to accept that Tom may not want to follow him onto the farm, whose future may be doomed, but Tom has come through the fire with certainties about his future. He wants to farm Ingles, he wants to make a success of it, and he wants Jenny with him, as his wife. It’s all that Alf and Betty could wish, and all that Jenny could wish too, and Tom is sure enough of himself and his feelings to tell Jenny that he will want her as his wife.
As for other aspects of the book, Saville withdraws at an early stage the threat to Peter’s home that he used to such effect in Not Scarlet But Gold. The Sterlings are not to go to Hereford after all, but rather to Witchend. Jasper will become its caretaker, living in an extension, looking after the house all year round for the Mortons. Peter will share a bedroom with Mary (you were expecting…?).
Otherwise, I do have to comment again on the shifting geography of this side of the Long Mynd. I’ve already commented upon the sudden appearance of the long-established Pontesford Hall, but there’s some peculiar things going on. The Twins have discovered a hitherto unknown valley called Callow Batch, that they have dammed to create a swimming pool, but in the process seem to have eliminated Dark Hollow and, as far as the map is concerned, the State Forest and the road to it!
There’s also the fact that whereas Tom has always been small, wiry and dark, suddenly his hair has become ‘fair’, without Jenny noticing the change…
And I’m sorry to harp upon it, but Amanda Grey is an awful thing to do to a book. She’s completely unconvincing, both as a person and as a claimant for the Pontesford Treasure, and only Jenny shows any faith in her. On the other hand, Saville openly acknowledges that she has never won anyone’s trust, a moment in the dark that makes me pause to wonder if he, or his instincts as a writer, isn’t sending a message that the Lone Pine series has run its course.
All three pairs are now paired. They are growing up and away. They have all, even Jenny, left school, and love has replaced friendship as their deepest motivation. They are all still friends, but that old oath has taken them into more serious waters. Whether he knew it consciously or not, Malcolm Saville had begun the process of breaking the club up.
Perhaps the series should have ended here? We shall see the remaining books start to build a case for his having done so.

Five Finales

It’s not just the football season that’s over, barring the FA Cup Final, but the 2016/20117 television season is now over. Though I’ve enjoyed the latter perhaps a little more, I’m glad of the respite. The week has been shaped around various series for so long that the chance of a change is very welcome. I have things I’m looking forward to watching this summer now that I have free time.

The Big Bang Theory

My favourite comedy series ended its run a couple of weeks ago, with another classic season-ending cliffhanger. I remember the days when sitcoms just came in individual episodes that could more or less be shown in any order and certainly without inter-season cliffhangers. And I’m not just talking about the era before Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

I realise that TBBT is and always has been marmite TV and I know plenty of people who either hate it or at least find it completely unfunny (my ex-wife couldn’t understand why I was laughing so hard, when we usually shared a very close sense of humour). But from the very first, I have got this show. It’s on my wavelength, I know its referrents, I am geek enough to get where everything comes from, and whilst the show has slowly adopted more prosaic tropes about relationships, marriage and now a baby, it’s still funny to me.

This last season has been the last of the three year contract it was handed, and I’ve recently learned that it’s been renewed for two further seasons (hardly surprising given that a spin-off, Young Sheldon, about Sheldon as a boy, has been commissioned: I am pretty dubious about that one). That suits me.

Overall, season 10 has been an improvement over the sometimes lacklustre previous year, though I can wait to hear the outcome of the cliffhanger, which is Sheldon on one knee, proposing to Amy, as a result of being kissed by Riki Lindholm (not the first thing I’d have thought of, admittedly, if I’d been kissed by Riki Lindholm, even if we’re talking about the real Mayim Bialik).

To be welcomed back, whenever it likes.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This one hit the end last week. Agents has struggled for audiences ever since it started and lives a season-to-season life-style, which was addressed for season 4 by a) making radical changes to the internal set-up and b) dividing the season up into three ‘pods’ or mini-seasons, widely separated and loosely linked. Another massive change of set-up has been trailed for season 5.

The three ‘pod’ experiment won’t be repeated, with the show not returning until January 2018, with a straight-through, no interruptions storyline.

Of the three ‘pods’, the ‘Agents of Hydra’ sequence in the last of these was by far and away the season’s strongest element, being genuinely creepy and, in the person of Fitz (another head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest season performance from Ian de Caesteker) incredibly thought-provoking on a personal level, since Fitz’s regret relieved was having his father raise him, instead of his mother, and what a bastard he turned out to be. If so great a change can arise from so seemingly small a change, what does that imply for me?

Though whilst de Caesteker was his usual excellent self, the real star of the season, acting-wise, was Mallory Jansen, as Aida etc. The range she was called upon to demonstrate, and her note-perfect performance, especially after she became human and had feelings to feel, was incredible. This woman deserves to be a star.

To be welcomed back, as a New Year treat.


This was the first of three DC series to conclude this week, and by far the weakest. Supergirl’s second season, which saw it transfer from CBS to the CW, was better than its first, though Callista Flockhart’s guest appearance in the last two episodes showed just how much the show has suffered from a lack of Cat Grant.

But better certainly didn’t butter any parsnips since the show’s first season set the bar very low. An appearance by cousin Superman, played brilliantly by Tyler Hoechlin, who channeled Christopher Reeve in his Clark Kent persona to magnificent delight, set things off to a great start, but I can’t say the same for his appearance in the last episode, in which the character was demeaned by being made to be weaker than and inferior to Supergirl. No. Just no. Not in any universe is that convincing and whilst I realise that Supergirl having her name on the show demanded she be the champion, this was crap that ruined any good work done this year.

To be honest, getting to the end of the season has been the only thing keeping me watching this series for the last couple of months, and unless and until people are going around shouting, ‘Oh, wow, oh, WOW!’ about season 3, Melissa Benoist in a short skirt and knee-length boots just isn’t enough to get me commit to forty minutes a week.

To be gently ushered out of sight

The Flash

This has always been my favoutite of the superhero series, because of the expert way it blended the sheer rush and excitement of speed and power with the darkness of the drama. That’s tended to slip more towards the basic Arrow package of doom and gloom and guilt, especially with Barry Allen having fucked everything up at the end of season 2 by creating ‘Flashpoint’.

Barry’s propensity to blame himself for everything is taking on quite Oliver Queen-esque proportions, which is a shame because it’s blurring a quite vital distinction between the two series. On the other hand, these two shows, and Legends of Tomorrow (which finished several weeks ago), have settled comfortably into the concept of the shared universe, not on the strength of continual guest appearances, but more the mention of each other’s members.

This year’s Tom Cavanagh as a Harrison Wells had the propensity to be extremely irritating, but turned out fun in the end, and his sacrifice to get everyone out of the death of Iris West worked surprisingly well, considering it could easily have been seen as a cop-out. And on a shallow level, kudos to the team that, when they finally followed up on the inevitability of Caitlin Snow’s comic book heritage, they put Danielle Pannebacker in a short skirt and high boots.

The finale gave itself a hostage to fortune with Barry sacrificing himself to imprisonment within the Speed Force. Whether this is a stunningly bold change of lead character or just as temporary as ‘Flashpoint’ was this season but with a much higher bar of credibility to clear when reversing this , it certainly creates anticipation for season 4.

To be welcomed back avidly, but cautiously


Ah, the daddy. In television terms, Arrow is where it all comes from, and it’s still been mister gloom and guilt for another twenty-three episodes. Season 5 has been a considerable improvement on seasons 3 and 4 collectively, but they set a bar so low that even a three month old baby could clear it.

Of the new team, Curtis ‘Mr Terrific’ Holt has been played as a joke which is a terrible approach to one of my favourite characters, whilst Rene has been surprisingly successful at a shitty character like Wild Dog. As for Artemis and the new Black Canary, neither of them has demonstrated enough personality to be interesting, let alone memorable. In this respect, Katie Cassidy’s return as the evil Black Siren of Earth-2 has finally made her interesting (and dare I say it, even sexy).

And the show has started, towards its season end, to repair the terribly manipulative splitting up of Oliver and Felicity, which was the point at which I decided that I didn’t care any longer.

I only watched season 5 for the closure in respect of the flashbacks, bringing these round full circle to the beginning of season 1, and that’s now taken place. In fact, Oliver’s final hours on the island, facing an implacable opponent on a kill-or-be-killed basis was neatly contrasted with the contemporary set-up, which was pretty much identical, giving us a chance to contrast Oliver-then and Oliver-now and measure his journey.

Whilst season 5 was better, it wasn’t so much better that I want to stay with it into season 6. On the other hand, the massive cliffhanger, with Prometheus detonating bombs all over Lian Yu so that everybody except Green Arrow might be dead, requires me to at least watch episode 1 to find out who lives and who dies. Given the cast announcements for season 6, Wild Dog, Black Canary and Black Siren are givens, so I may be able to avoid that by watching for news.

To be watched to see who survives, and then it’s on its own

So that’s 2016/17. Summer lies ahead. Maybe I can finally fit in that long-overdue Tales of the Gold Monkey re-watch?

A Win for Manchester

I watched the Europe League Cup Final last night in a rather different frame of mind than I’d expected. The greyness of the season disappeared in the circumstances of what happened on Monday night, which still fills me with pain. I have learned this morning that the missing 14 year old girl from the Hebrides has now been confirmed to be among the dead, I learned yesterday that the bomber, may he be resurrected to die and be resurrected to die again again until he has suffered as many deaths as he caused, this bastard went to my old school.

So last night couldn’t be normal if it tried from here until eternity, and winning was both irrelevant and essential, and it wasn’t about United winning for me and my all the other Reds and our club, it was about our own and how we will never give in and we will not be stopped, no matter what you do, and instead of elation and excitement, I greeted the final whistle with sobbing, the release of tension.

It keeps welling up. I contain it at work, which consists of listening to people tell me that their broadband or their telephone isn’t working and it’s not good enough, and yesterday afternoon I came closer than I have done in over twenty years to losing my rag with a customer/client over the phone. I was shaking, physically, by the end.

Because I can’t let go at work. I’m not like that in real life either. I may rant and rave here but I don’t do it in person, I sit, I absorb, I am cool, laid-back, professional, so all the rawness has to happen once I’m back here and alone. And there’s stuff going on all over Manchester at the moment, in places and streets I know.

I have banned myself for a short time from a group of friends, a private political forum, that is discussing the implications of all this on the Election that takes place two weeks from today, who see conspiracy theories in how the Tories are reacting to this. In other circumstances, I would see exactly the same things as them, if this had happened/was happening in Leeds, or Newcastle, or Bristol or Nottingham, but it isn’t. I’m the only one from Manchester and I’m too near it.

Yesterday began early, with another Counselling session: good and helpful in many ways but it started with both of us, the Counsellor and I, in tears again about what had been done.

So winning last night was unimportant and important both. It was about standing up and not being phased by it. Had the finalists been our hated rivals Manchester City, I would have supported them to win, would have applauded their victory, would have still sobbed with relief.

I’m sorry. Allow me this self-indulgence. These are hard days to get through. I’ll try not to let this happen again.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Treasure at Amorys

15 - Treasure at Amorys

(This is a revised version of the original essay, based on the full, First edition text, not the edited Second edition produced in 1969 for Armada, and upon second thoughts.)

I owe this book the biggest of all apologies for my original review in this place. I came to it with expectations and assumptions both pointing to the same thing, and was horribly disappointed to find the book evading this most important of points industriously. As a result, I criticised Treasure at Amorys heavily, as a feeble attempt to row back on the advancement of the Lone Pine series with Not Scarlet But Gold.
I was convinced, expected, that this book would allow Jon and Penny Warrender the same opportunity given David and Peter to finally understand and express their feelings towards one another. Instead, there was but one, early and then forsaken look into Jon’s feelings, not even communicated to his no-longer schoolgirl cousin, and then nothing.
Just a Lone Pine book of familiar dimensions, involving Treasure, villainy, and the by-now tired threats that the children be sensible and clear out.
But once I had the Girls Gone By volume, with the full, First edition text, I learned how badly I had been mistaken. I should have trusted my memories more, and I should certainly have trusted Malcolm Saville better. Every moment of affection, of emotion, of feeling – and the odd kiss or two – between Jon and Penny was ruthlessly excised from the Second edition, with an efficiency that I can’t help but feel was intentional.
And some of the suspicions I would voice in response to a later Warrender book may well have a bearing here, especially as I now know that such suspicions were accurate.
Certainly, Saville was more circumspect with this next pair, this pair-who-had-always-been-a-pair. There is nothing so definite a commitment to each other, no shared transformative experience that forces realisation on the couple.
This is so even though Saville sets up a similar catalyst for upheaval as that which faced Peter in Not Scarlet But Gold. This is Penny’s last return to Rye and the Dolphin. The routine of years is ending. Her schooldays are over and, after one last holiday, with the Mortons due, she will go to India, back to her parents. She is now a young woman, not a girl.
Even the oblivious, supercilious Jon (who has just started to realise he’s interested in girls) notices this. He’s not likely to see her again for three to four years, by when she will be engaged, or even married. Jon doesn’t like that thought: he finds it ‘disgraceful’.
That’s one big and intriguing word to choose, and not necessarily in a good way. Jon has never been the kindest to his devoted cousin, and no sooner does her train arrive and she’s not hanging out the window waving to him, he’s berating her in anger, both mentally and verbally, in a way that, in a version of the book written fifty years later, would have Penny kicking him in the cobblers for it, and everyone applauding.
But that’s as may be. The Mortons are due tomorrow, Jon’s openly telling our favourite redhead that he’d like more time alone with her, and Mrs Warrender is proposing to pack the pack of them off to stay at a house called Amorys, on the Isle of Oxney.
Let us park Jon and Penny for a while. In Not Scarlet But Gold the adventure part of the story was background: an activity for the remaining Lone Piners, a catalyst for David and Peter’s breakthrough into adulthood. In Treasure at Amorys, the situations are reversed. This is a conventional Lone Pine story, about treasure, and crooks trying to steal it: what growth the Warrenders undergo is background to that.
And how conventional it is: because this is Rye once more, and the Warrenders once more, it has to be Miss bloody Ballinger again.
Once again, Saville’s opening chapter introduces the villains. Miss Ballinger is now Mrs Emma Cartwright, widow, living in a neglected house in an undistinguished South London street, resentful at her fall. Like all such Saville figures, she has to be depicted as unattractive, so now we earn she is greedy for strawberry jam.
Actually, Ballinger/Cartwright is almost a peripheral figure, as the real focus is Les Dale, ‘fiancé’ to the hard-faced Valerie. Dale is an intelligent scholar, but he’s lazy, self-centred, long-haired and bearded and also dirty (Valerie must love that). In short, he’s exactly the kind of modern-world character Saville caricatured. However, he believes he’s found valuable Roman remains. In the form of a near-intact temple to Mithras. On the Isle of Oxney. In the grounds of Amorys.
The unlovely Les wants ‘Aunt Em’ to put up the cash to buy Amorys (the owner of which will of course sell, because what else is important but the money, why on earth would he want to live there and, most of all, Les wants him to). That she genuinely hasn’t got a secret stash only infuriates him. People like Les always get infuriated when people don’t do what suits him.
If he can’t buy Amorys, at least Les and Valerie can rent it. Oh no, wait…
Jon and Penny have gone off to Oxney for the afternoon on their bicycles. They pause for a swim in the Military Canal, where Penny promptly cuts her ankle and comes all over faint, and Jon saves her without even noticing he’s manhandling her in her swimsuit, so she arrives somewhat bedraggled at Amorys, where the owner is not a Mrs Bolshaw, but rather Major Bolshaw.

Now the Major is a sweetie. He speaks in the clipped, sentence-fragment military style that wasn’t so much a cliché when this was written. He’s a widower, who’s lived alone with his wife until she died a year ago, an insular couple who shut the world out, and he’s decided to let out rooms because he feels a need to reconnect, and he needs the money, but this is his home as it was hers and he’s never going to sell.
The man’s an eccentric but, like Jenny with Mr Wilkins in Lone Pine Five, Penny’s sympathies are instantly with him, and she commits the Lone Piners to taking the whole house for a week, just minutes ahead of Dale and his crude, blustery attempts to change Bolshaw’s mind and rent to him, with a view to selling. Dale’s not the kind the Major would take to even if he hadn’t already committed to these amazing children – and Penny’s idea is for them to look after the Major, and help him restore house and gardens.
No, she hasn’t changed that much.
And before the day ends, Penny falls asleep under heavy skies, threatening rain and, like Peter in The Secret of Grey Walls, she dreams. It’s a dream that prophecies, though it prophecies the past, and it fills Penny with terrors, as she dreams of the Romans, the legions, centurions, priests, and the interior of an underground temple: a temple to Mithras, a sun-god, a bull-killer, god of a religion for men only…
The Mortons agree, and everyone heads to Oxney. But they stop at a pub there, for a break, and it’s where Dale and Valerie (who has belted indoors at the first sight of them) are based, and Dale is as stupidly aggressive and unpleasant as any Saville baddie, getting everyone’s hackles and suspicions up, sparking the Twins into one of their performances.

And the book slides downhill. Instead of the Mithraic Temple being the framework for an emotional coming of age, it becomes the whole of the story. Dale’s after the Treasure. Grandad Charlie Crump of the Smugglers Rest knows where to look, thanks to an old letter from his dead Dad, an apprentice well-sinker who, just before a crippling accident, broke through an underground wall… Threats start to float around. The Lone Piners set themselves to find the Treasure for the Major before anyone else does. Bluster is the order of the day. Valerie keeps in hiding until she goes and dyes her hair so she won’t be recognised. The Major shoots off to London in the middle of the first (badly-interrupted) night there, leaving these near-complete stranger children in charge of defending his home…
In short, it’s a Lone Pine Club adventure, except that after Not Scarlet But Gold, after elevating both Jon and David to the hitherto distant age of seventeen, after taking Penny out of school, and even suggesting that the Twins look eleven (though they’re still ten in the foreword), that’s not good enough.
There is, of course, a kidnapping, this time of Penny, decoyed away from Amorys by the desperate pleas for help by a dyed-haired woman, claiming her baby’s fallen in the canal. Penny’s taken to the Smugglers Rest where, after spending the book keeping a very wise distance and not getting involved, Miss Ballinger has turned up for no reason.
So Penny is pressured and threatened to try to get her to tell what’s been found, to write a letter summoning everyone to the Smugglers Rest in the most specious manner possible, even to promise to get everyone to clear out in the morning (I mean, these are criminals with no sense of honour but they seem to think that if they can terrorise or beat a girl into promising to go, her sense of honour will bind her to doing exactly that: the horrifying thing, and which really does mark the gulf between then and now, is that if she did promise, even under those conditions, Penny would feel bound to obey, and Saville would regard that as proper).
But Penny remains defiant, even though she’s terrified, and the increasingly malicious Ballinger knows it. She’s determined to hold out, because she has faith, ultimate faith in Jon, that he will fetch her away from this. In this, she’s justified: despite how indifferently he’s treated her, we know Jon would defend his cousin to the death. Now, with the Mortons at his back, supplanting David’s authority as Captain, he not only frees Penny, her face bruised from a very hefty slap, but locks in Dale, Valerie and Miss Ballinger.
Let me pause for a moment here. This is one of the points where the Second Edition cuts is really pointed. Despite his feelings about Penny leaving, and how ‘disgraceful’ it would be for her to get engaged or married, Jon’s behaviour towards his cousin has barely changed.
But there’s a moment, without fanfare, when Penny, stressed by how everything is going, beginning to doubt, on the point of crying, turns to Jon, who wordlessly holds her tight and, when she turns her face up to his, kisses her. And kisses her again. It’s quiet and undemonstrative, with no sense of the momentousness of this being their first kiss. Or is it?
For, when Jon comes to Penny’s rescue at the pub, and releases her bonds, her first response is to throw her arms round his neck and kiss him “on the lips.” It’s surrounded by quick, intense moments given no pointed emphasis. Penny sees the raging Jon, who has been more to her than a brother for almost as long as she can remember. Jon unties her wrists, kisses the livid weals, calls her darling. That Saville specifies that this kiss is on the lips blurs the previous, rather more natural moment, suggesting that Jon’s kisses of an attractive young woman in his arms were rather to the cheek or forehead (in which case it was almost unnatural restraint).
And within a couple of pages he’s calling her the nicest and prettiest girl he’s ever likely to meet. But by that point, the story has reasserted itself and Saville is determined to give it its unwanted prominence.
Whilst everybody’s been down the pub, Grandpa Charlie’s been burning down the copse. It’s like The Secret of Grey Walls again, only without the complete disregard for safety, and everybody approves warmly, including the Major, arriving in the middle of the night with a friend and Roman expert.
Grandpa Charlie has undergone a Damascene conversion with no apparent motivation. From £1,000 off Les Dale to enable him to abandon the Smugglers Rest, his blowsy daughter-in-law and fat pimply grandson, Charlie drops to £500 off the Major and, just as rapidly, nothing but the extra trade this will now bring in to the pub!

And once the old well is exposed, and the digging locates the lost entrance, Penny, despite hating her dream, must relive it by descending to the temple, becoming the first woman ever to penetrate the heart of a male religion.
But that’s it, apart from a half apology from Dale, who is allowed to run as long as he and his crew runs now.
And it’s over. Even the full version of the story is incomplete next to Not Scarlet But Gold. There is no declaration between Jon and Penny, though we may presume from what we have read that an understanding exists. And in the excised-from-Second-Edition last line, Mary Morton sums up that the Twins “… have another love affair on our hands, though I s’pose we’ve had this one nearly as long as David and Peter. We shall get used to it, I s’pose.”
But will we? Penny is still going to India, she is leaving Rye and her Aunt and Jon, with nothing but a still tacit understanding between the pair that may be slightly more marked, but in which nothing has been said. Not even words that are nothing new.
In my original essay, it was not until the final book in which the Warrenders appeared, Rye Royal, which seemed equally inconclusive, that I speculated that Malcolm Saville had problems over the fact that he had made Jon and Penny into cousins. For most of the Twentieth century, there was a general prejudice against cousins getting involved with each other, as their closer genetic ties were believed to make it certain that they would produce mentally defective babies. I don’t know when science first established that there were no grounds for this belief, but Saville grew up in an era when the idea of cousins marrying was frowned upon.
And Home to Witchend confirmed that my speculations were correct. I’ll leave that discussion to that book, but it is the explanation as to why things between the two Warrenders couldn’t be treated with the same freedom Saville could grant to David and Peter.
Nor to Tom and Jenny, as we would see in the next book.


The guiding principle about blogging anything on this site is the belief – however misguided – that I have something to say about it that’s worth reading. Over twenty years ago, I didn’t learn about the IRA Bomb in Manchester until hours later, because I was in the Lakes, enjoying a brilliant day of fellwalking.

Because I didn’t read any news-sites last night, and because I’m not on any social media, I didn’t know about the Bomb at the Manchester Arena last night until I logged on this morning and found that one of my forums had titled today’s thread ‘Manchester’.

I don’t really have anything worthwhile to say. No insights or explanations, and this is not a day for smartarse remarks. We have been attacked, our kids and their families have attacked, and children have died and been seriously wounded. This is personal to all of us who live in Manchester. It is raw and hurtful.

But my fellow Mancunians have shown, in their responses, why these bastards will never win. People have come together, shown humanity, generosity and grace, to help those in need.

The bastards who can only hate and destroy, in the name of a God who, if he sanctions this, is unworthy of a second’s respect, cannot beat this, cannot beat us.

That is all I have to say.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e21 – The Muse

Linger on her pale blue eyes

For this week’s episode, we were back to the old format of two completely unrelated stories, alternating for screen time, with the episode as a whole being a budget-saving ‘bottle’ episode, confined solely to the station, with only three guest stars to pay.

Unfortunately, after the impressive run of recent episodes, I found neither half of the episode particular involving.

Given that the title was ‘The Muse’, you’d have thought that the half-episode featuring Jake Sisko and guest Meg Foster as Onaya, a mysterious woman acting as a creative consultant drawing out of the aspirant young writer the beginning of a brilliant novel, whilst mining him for cerebral energy to the point where it almost kills him, to be the A-story.

However, it was a pretty even balance between that and the mostly comic B-story, had Lwaxana Troi turning up unexpectedly, heavily up the duff, and wanting Odo’s protection from a Tavnian husband whose cultural background demands he seize a boy baby at birth, bring it up by and among men only and not let him even see his mother until he’s sixteen. To rescue Lwaxana, Odo has to marry her according to Tavnian custom, which means he has to convince her existing husband that he really does love her.

Both stories were somewhat slight, with the Odo/Lwaxana side being marginally the deeper (despite the above summary!). It was also the more significant in an offscreen sense, for this marked not only Majel Barratt’s final appearance as Lwaxana, but her final appearance in any live Star Trek series, after thirty-two years.

As the summary shows, this is mainly a comic tale, with Lwaxana erupting, yet again, into Odo’s orderly life. I found her description of her life with her Tavnian husband – married on the rebound from Odo – rather familiar: pre-marriage promises of a shared partnership followed by an immediate lapse into a determined stance that he wasn’t going to change and she’d have to accept his ways: someone I used to know had a marriage like that.

Odo’s ‘proposal’ turned upon an obscure provision of Tavnian law, which was that a boy baby belonged not to his father but to his mother’s husband, whoever he may be at the time of birth. And Tavnian divorce is brought about by marrying someone else (they obviously don’t have lawyers on their planet). But in order to marry Lwaxana, Odo has to explain exactly why his life isn’t worth living if she doesn’t accept him, and he has to be convincing because if anyone present – such as her existing husband – objects…

Which led to the story taking an unexpected turn into serious emotion, albeit fruitlessly, with Odo explaining just how much Lwaxana’s faith in him, her total lack of fear or, more importantly, revulsion at him being a Changeling, expanded his world. It’s real, true and wholehearted, and it convinces Jayel to back off, and to do so in an impressively dignified manner, accepting that Odo’s feelings were greater and more important than his own.

Odo then blew it by talking anullment the moment everybody else left the room, which rebounded with Lwaxana blowing out of DS9 for a final time, catching a fortunate freighter back to Betazed. Odo tries to get her to stay, but Lwaxana tells him she knows he doesn’t love her, not as she wants him to love her, and that to stay would only lead her to resent him for what he can’t give her, and to the destruction of their friendship, which is too important for her.

It’s a pity. The complex emotional relationship between this pair was something I would have liked to have seen explored, yet because Lwaxana had been created as an OTT comic role from the very start, it prevented her leaving that role for anything other than brief moments. Which made the kind of story that this episode set up impossible to produce. One of the perils of series television, especially when there are strict limits set to just how much a character can evolve.

So let’s turn to our notional A-story, Jake and the Muse. I’ve pretty much exhausted the actual content of this strand with the summary, and detail is a bit unnecessary, especially given that the episode preferred not to give any expository detail in the first place.

Jake is on the Promenade top deck, people-watching the new arrivals and making brief character sketches out of them, until he is drawn to an exotic woman with incredibly pale blue eyes, who looks back up at him. Subsequently, she joins him at Quark’s, attracts his attention by talking of past relationships with creators of all kind (who created fantastic things under her inspiration but who all died young-but-immortal, hint dropping like a stone into an empty tin bucket).

Onaya persuades Jake to come to her quarters (whilst his Dad is off-station for three days leave) so he can learn certain useful techniques. For unlocking his creativity, you sex-obsessed yahoo, though the episode does try to establish a certain sexual tension about the relationship, especially as Foster speaks in a slow husky voice throughout, and puts on her best allure for him.

That aspect falls more than flat because, though Foster is plainly a very attractive woman, and the alien make-up does its best to render her ageless, she’s equally plainly considerably older than Jake (Foster was 48 to Cirroc Lofton’s 17 when this episode was made) and in 1996 on a prime-time SF series, the audience knows it is not going to get a young-boy-seduced-by-predatory-older-woman story.

But Onaya isn’t interested in Jake’s body, only his mind, and in particular the creative energy it generates. Throwing away his pre-iPad, she hands him a fountain pen and a ream of rather thin and flimsy looking white paper, on which he immediately starts writing, in a flowing, cursive hand that looks completely incongruous.

Jake writes on, whilst Onaya massages his temples, drawing forth as she does some ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, which she shoves into her own throat. The longer Jake writes, the more of it she steals and eats, and the more his brain starts to overheat, literally. In the end, after a bit of panicky search-the-station drama, thrown in just to give us something like action, Sisko threatens to shoot her ass off and Onaya turns into a rather larger patch of ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, and passes through the wall and off into space.

Leaving behind several questions the show has no intention, such as, who was she, what was she, was she real, can Jake’s creativity ever recover, wouldn’t it have been better and less pretentious if he’d just got his rocks off and why, if she can turn herself into ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, did she need a spaceship to get here in the first place?

In a different context, it would be acceptable to see Onaya for what she essentially is, a version of the Irish Leannan Sidhe (various spellings available), faerie creatures that inspire writers etc for brief periods, sustaining themselves on the poet’s energy but burning them out rapidly. But the tone is wrong: the Leannan Sidhe are creatures of faerie, resonant myth-forms, and cannot be captured by turning them into aliens and putting them into an SF Universe populated by cold hard fact. Ursula le Guin attempted something similar in her first novel, Rocannon’s World, and admitted her mistake quite openly.

The closest we get to having any of these questions answered is the final shot, as Jake entitles his draft ‘Anselm’, which anyone paying attention to every last little detail, will recall was future-Jake’s massively successful novel in episode 2 of this season. Jake the genius writer, we are assured, has not been damaged. Martin, the not-genius writer, who remembers his own ‘career’, remains unconvinced at the thought of a 17 year old boy being that bloody brilliant.

I’m hoping for better next week.

Uncollected Thoughts: Twin Peaks s03 episode 1

I’ve come to this cold. No re-watching of the original two series, of Fire Walk With Me, I’m going in trusting only in my memories. Because these are vivid memories, because Twin Peaks was vivid, and lurid, and that ending was one of, if not the most horrifying experiences I have ever had with any kind of creative form, because it was the end but it wasn’t the end, it was a cliffhanger of Himalayan proportions and I sat there stunned. Special Agent Dale Cooper had gone into the Black Lodge to rescue Annie, and he had got her out, only he wasn’t he, he was Bob, Killer Bob, and the real Cooper was imprisoned behind.

No series has ever ended so awfully as that, so unbearably incomplete. Even though season 2 had dipped so badly throughout its middle episodes, it had come back with a vengeance with the introduction of Windom Earle, a truly terrifying performance by Kenneth Welsh. And that final episode had been one of the most intense television episodes I have ever seen, rivaling the last episode of The Prisoner.

Unbelievably, it’s back. And this is the first episode, consisting of parts 1 and 2 of an eighteen part series that has been described as an eighteen hour film. Well, bring it on! I am as insulated against trailers and spoilers and even promo photos as it is possible to be in this age and I am coming to this with clean hands and composure (as the writer Harlan Ellison is wont to say) and…

Indeed, and.

I’ve already read one review that suggests season 3 will piss off cult fans and newbies alike, with which I profoundly disagree. This is an eighteen hour film and I am getting pissed off at reviewers who expect to have the complete structure and purpose laid out for them in episode 1. This is supposed to be the age of the long-term project, the viewer willing and eager to commit to long series in which secrets and objectives and purposes are only revealed slowly, and in the meantime commit to working out the puzzle in their own heads, as they go along. It was the same for American Gods only three weeks ago, and it was stupid then.

But David Lynch and Mark Frost have gone far out on a limb with this opening episode (as indeed they should: Twin Peaks wasn’t just ahead of the curve in 1990-91, it was the curve and for it to come back exactly the same as before would be to gut it and remove any point to the return). For one thing, at a rough guess, less than twenty percent of the episode takes place in Twin Peaks, or even Washington State, and only a handful of our old friends have put in an appearance, and even then as cameos.

Strange things are happening, but mostly they’re happening elsewhere. In New York City a young man watches an empty glass case, under constant filming from three angles, during which time nothing happens, until he makes out with his girl, at which point something… something… emerges and seems to beat them to a pulp. Later, we see something significant happen when they were both out of the room.

In South Dakota, a murder is investigated, a woman’s mutilated head and a man’s mutilated body in the same bed. The murderer is a School Principal, but there’s a tangle of adulteries behind this. It’s very low-key, slow, undemonstrative, exceedingly normal and except for the brutality of the murder(s). But it’s been ‘organised’ by a shadowy background figure.

Who also pops up in Las Vegas, seeking information of an undisclosed kind, and dealing unmercifully with betrayal by the white trash he has assisting him. He’s due to keep an appointment tomorrow, except he’s no intention of meeting it. It’s been twenty-five years and now he’s supposed to go back, only he has no intention of returning to the Black Lodge.

Because the constant figure is Special Agent Dale Cooper, whether he is the real one, still trapped in the Black Lodge (from where he is to finally be released, once his doppelganger comes back) or he is the doppelganger, following some twisted course in the real world.

Something is being set up, and the whole fucking point of Twin Peaks in the first place is that you don’t go expecting the answers to be dropped in your lap, tied up with pretty pink ribbon. Lynch and Frost take things slowly – just as they always did – but there’s obviously a thread linking things together. Cooper’s coming back. The Log Lady, or at least her log (a fine, vulnerable, final performance by a clearly weak Catherine Coulson, sadly gone before this appears) knows it. Deputy Hawk understands some of it: he has come to Glastonbury Grove in the night and even though the real Cooper can’t leave before his doppelganger returns, the Black Lodge is losing its power.

And we see little vignettes with old faces, ending in the bar, as a band I’d never heard of called Chromatics replace Julee Cruise with a fine song I promptly downloaded, and people talk and drink and dance, and a near shaven-headed James looks across at a gaggle of women, one of whom is Shelley…

It’s back. Whether it can provide the resolutions we want after twenty-six years, we will have to wait until the end. I’m here for the duration, good, bad or indifferent. It’s like Alan Garner’s Boneland, the unexpected, much-delayed, radically different end of the trilogy. If Twin Peaks does as much to disturb the previous two parts as Garner did then, it will be a triumph.