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

By now, it’s probably clear that I’m not particularly interested in the adventure/crime aspect of the later Lone Pine Club books. It’s the relationships between the senior members that interest me, as they continue to grow and develop, and grow increasingly reluctant to get involved in matters that are not their business.
In this respect, Rye Royal, the seventeenth book, is both intriguing and disappointing.
I’ve already expressed my disappointment over Treasure at Amorys. We’ve seen David and Peter and Tom and Jenny overtly recognising their feelings for one another, and making promises about futures to be spent together, and I for one expected the same from Jon and Penny. But despite introducing an element of personal chaos into their lives, of a kind perfect to act as a catalyst, somehow neither made any real progress towards commitment.
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 and Penny is still living at the Gay Dolphin and studying Domestic Science (i.e. how to be a Housewife) in Hastings, with no explanation as to why the situation last time round has not turned out, but with her parents coming home for good to Xmas, to form a partnership with Jon’s mother to run the Dolphin and maybe even expand it.
And somehow, without making any overt gestures, you know, like kissing, or even saying anything to each other, Jon and Penny have become a couple. When Jon’s Uni colleague Henry Carter first meets with Penny, Jon describes him as trying to get off with his girl. But it’s like there’s a book missing, in which Jon and Penny talk and come to decisions, which they seem to have settled to their mutual satisfaction. Yet they do not treat each other noticeably differently in this book than they have before.
I’ve said before that, in this respect, 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 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. Perhaps this limits how he feels he can treat Jon and Penny?
Thankfully, David and Peter are there to give us more to work with. 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, making a first reappearance as now the wife of reporter 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 is, and he already understands what affects her. David is following his father into the Law, doing Articles to become a Solicitor (no, he did NOT influence me in my career), 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, and 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 county. 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 into this review. It’s not very good, to be frank. Saville creates an interesting set-up: Mr Roy Royal has moved to Rye where he has opened a second hand bookshop, taking the town’s longstanding (but never previously mentioned) nickname for his shop, and his name since he’s a former criminal operating under a pseudonym.
Penny sometimes helps him in the shop, and more often in his sideline, the Book Cellar, a place for teenagers to meet and talk and drink coffee and play records, that isn’t profitable but which is serving a useful and progressive function.
When the book begins, Royal has two late visitors. One is Mrs Flowerdew, an elderly lady who, with her historian husband, lives at 39 Traders Street, next to the Dolphin. She is desperately short of money and wants to sell some of her books, which are of little value but which Royal buys for a lead. He is more interested in Professor Flowerdew’s library, which he suspects contains items of value, though Mrs Flowerdew is completely against anyone even seeing, let alone valuing it.
Royal’s other visitor appears to be one of Savile’s stereotypical Americans, calling himself Harry Purvis. Instead, he’s a criminal, a dealer in stolen goods, and he blackmails Royal into acting as one of his spotters, on the threat of exposing him to the Police.
Saville has a very rigid idea of criminals: once a crook, always a crook. It’s really awkward here: there’s no suggestion that Royal is actually still doing anything illegal, he’s served his time, and understandable changed his name (would you stick with Johnny Jones if you didn’t have to?). But there’s nothing to suggest that Jones/Royal is doing anything illegal, or has done, or that he would do unless blackmailed into it by ‘Purvis’.
Again, times have changed. This book is almost fifty years old, but I don’t think that we were necessarily so resistant to rehabilitation, or so insistent that once a criminal, always a criminal.
But its essential for Saville’s story that Royal believes this, and on Rye Fawkes night (a boat-burning ceremony neither Jon nor Penny have previously seen, having always been at school until now), someone breaks into Mrs Flowerdew’s house whilst she’s enjoying tea at the Dolphin.
We leap to Xmas. Professor Flowerdew has died, leaving his widow alone and penurious. Saville admits he’s been a poor husband, neglectful, self-obsessed, and insistent that his wife should not sell the house or anything after his death, despite the fact that such a sale is her only means of surviving. Mrs Warrender has become a close friend to Mrs Flowerdew, trying to help her, and not just because she hopes, eventually, to persuade the lady to sell no 39, as an extension to the Dolphin. Indeed, the Lone Piners, except for Jonathan, are to stay at no 39. and look after Mrs Flowerdew in the same manner as Major Bolshaw in Treasure at Amorys.
The Twins in particular adopt Mrs Flowerdew in their inimitable manner, which grows the more mature with each of the recent succeeding books. They’re present when she finds a 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’.
Mrs Flowerdew still doesn’t want to get involved, but it is notable 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.
Yes, it’s the kidnapping, and for once it doesn’t involve any of the Lone Piners, and it doesn’t last long as James Wilson (poor sod, only here to have a Xmas break with his wife), Jon and David find Mrs Flowerdew, smash open the French windows and take her home, which shuts the crooks out of the story too.
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). So all’s well that ends well.
And 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 not much, but it’ll have to do, but it’s significant that the final word is Peter’s, promising to go wherever David goes.
In the Twenty-First Century, that’s an ending that will have some grumbling. 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.
But what of Jon and Penny? Penny’s post-school study is nothing but a preparation for marriage, but Jon is a scientist, and he is pursuing knowledge. The pair have an unspoken expectation that their futures will be in sync, but Saville has for a second time failed to show exactly how that might work. Penny as housewife? As the future manageress of the Gay Dolphin after she inherits it from her parents and aunt? Plausible as futures but neither really suits Penny, the volatile, excitable, emotional redhead who isn’t going to be happy except with her calm, quiet cousin.
There are only three books left in the series, and none of these will take place at Rye, or centre upon the Warrenders. I can’t help but see Rye Royal as as much a missed opportunity as Treasure at Amorys, although a better book in general. And, incidentally, it’s the only book of the series to go without a sketch map of the scene: even London fared better.
For the next story, it’s back to Shropshire, and the welcome reintroduction of Harriet.


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

Given its crude and ungrammatical title (surely it should have been The Man…), I wasn’t expecting much from Man with Three Fingers, book sixteen in the series. I remembered it for Tom Ingles going through some fairly unsubtle adolescent blues, and for more overt violence than any previous Lone Pine Club story, but I was pleasantly surprised by the book. Especially after Treasure at Amorys.
Because, despite the crudity of the adventure plot, of organised lorry thefts, Saville recovers the courage of his convictions, and makes this book about Tom and Jenny, or maybe it should be Jenny and Tom. It’s about them, and about showing just how much Jenny has invested in the boy who has had her heart for years, and now she can openly tell him, and about Tom who, after his oh-so-Sixties foolishness, tells her that she is his girl, and that one day she’s going to be a farmer’s wife, and mistress of Ingles’ Farm.
In it’s way, it’s more overt than David and Peter – who need no more than an instant’s word to check that it’s ok with them, still the same – and there is none of the doubt and the emotional upheaval of Not Scarlet But Gold, because though there is a rival threatening their relationship, it is a challenger for Tom’s friendship, a lad called Ned Stacey.
Time is, once again, in flux. Tom has had a growth spurt and overtaken the Mortons to become the eldest of the Lone Piners (a graph of their ages from book to book would make very interesting reading except for the flat-line representing the Twins), whilst Jenny, like Penny in the last book, has just left school (as has Peter). 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 so far out of bounds, and Jenny’s miles away, and anyway, she’s young and looks younger. Tom wants – needs – to stretch, and has nowhere to stretch into.
Save 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, 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 (David is now a driver). 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, and 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 (wonder why?), 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 and 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 logical dictates of the maturation of his characters. 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 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 and not in the least convincingly. 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, though he’d rather she didn’t, 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 comes far earlier than in Not Scarlet But Gold, but it is a crucial moment.
Unfortunately, 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.
Yes, it’s the statutory kidnapping, but for once it’s an integral part of the story, and a much more serious incident. 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 Panthill, 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 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.
It’s this relationship that is the backbone of Man with Three Fingers, and this coming to realisations that makes it more powerful than its cruder elements might suggest.
As for the book in general. 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, naturally, 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! Though the Forest does get mentioned in the book, in passing.
So, Malcolm Saville had settled two couples down out of the Lone Pine Club, and had begun the process of breaking the club up by doing so. He had rather bottled out on doing something similar for Jon and Penny Warrender. Perhaps it was a recognition that he’d let them down that drove him back to Rye again for the next book.

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

After Not Scarlet But Gold, the fifteenth Lone Pine Club book, Treasure at Amorys came as a terrible disappointment. Despite suggesting that we were to see a similar resolution to the Warrender cousins’ feelings for one another, as a consequence of upheaval and inevitable change, the book then becomes a traditional Lone Pine adventure, involving Treasure, villainy, and the by-now tired threats that the children be sensible and clear out.
And because this is Rye once more, and the Warrenders once more, it has to be the bloody Ballinger again: can we not have someone new?
Actually, things aren’t quite as bad as I’m making them seem, but after committing himself to such a marked advancement in the previous instalment of this series, it is immensely frustrating to see Saville go almost all the way back to the beginning.
There is the by now traditional opening chapter in which we meet the villains. This is set in a quiet South London street, home to a Mrs Emma Cartwright, who will very quickly be revealed to be the latest name for Miss Ballinger, but not before the readers have worked it out for themselves. She’s actually not a prime figure in this story, appearing only once, and without any apparent purpose, after this opening chapter.
‘Mrs Cartwright’ is living in an undistinguished and ill-kept semi-detached after her release from prison. She’s bitter at being caught and punished but, unlike previous occasions, she has no enterprises planned, nor any money stashed away, a fact she makes plain (not that they really believe her) to the real villains, her ‘niece’ Valerie, and Valerie’s fiancé, Les Dale.
Dale’s the primary mover, an intelligent man who isn’t too well acquainted with soap and water and who wears a scruffy ginger beard. He’s an incessant smoker, all these things being Savillisms that identify him as an out-and-out bad sort, and we don’t reckon he and the pretty-but-hard-faced Valerie are that committed to one another (they’re certainly not anticipating the carnal benefits of marriage, with their separate rooms at the Smugglers Rest: they may be crooks, but at least they’re not immoral).
But Dale is convinced there is Roman Treasure in the form of a Mithraic temple to be found on the Isle of Oxney, near Rye in Sussex, and specifically in the grounds of a house called Amorys, which they must buy from its owner, as cheaply as possible, for which they want Ballinger to finance them.
She won’t, and can’t, which infuriates Les, who is, for all his intelligence, as stupid as the next Saville villain, rude, crude, assuming that people will let him have his way just because he demands it.
Ok, if that’s to be the background, sobeit. We can accept that if the principal story is as generous and involving as Not Scarlet But Gold, and once Jon Warrender is brought onstage, we are given the potential catalyst for change, the equivalent to Peter’s hated loss of her home, that will act to make the cousins take that next step. Penny’s due in Rye in an hour, but it will be the last time she comes home here.
Because Penny has left school, and she is to go and live with her parents in India. Jonathan is slowly beginning to realise the gap that will leave in his life: he has a year yet of school, before going to Oxford (what’s so wrong with Cambridge, eh?) for four years. Jonathan is becoming aware that by the time he sees her next, Penny will be nearly twenty, and she will probably be engaged or married. Jonathan doesn’t like that thought, though the word Saville chooses for his reaction is odd: disgraceful.
There hasn’t been a rift between this pair as there was between David and Peter, so when Penny appears, he doesn’t talk to her any differently, berating her for thoughtlessness and stupidity because she was being helped off the train by an elderly gentleman and not hanging out of the window like a kid. Penny’s not a schoolkid any more. She’s wearing her hated school uniform, but she has, merely by leaving, crossed a line, stepped up a level, and when she changes into her sleeveless green linen dress, the one her cousin likes, even he can see that she has changed from a schoolgirl into an elegant young woman.
So far, so good. The Mortons are due the next day, but Mrs Warrender has an idea for them all. She’s suggesting they go off to stay on the Isle of Oxney, where there are suggestions of Roman Treasure to be found. She’s even found somewhere for them to stay: Board Accommodation at a house called Amorys. A-ha!
So Jon and Penny go off to Oxney for the afternoon. 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 Harman with Mr Wilkins in Lone Pine Five, Penny’s sympathies are instantly with him, and she immediately 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…
So far, still so good. 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.
And of course there’s a kidnapping, even if it’s not the Twins this time but Penny. She’s decoyed away from Amorys by the desperate pleas for help by a dyed-haired woman, claiming her baby’s fallen in the canal. Instead, Penny’s taken to the Smugglers Rest where, after spending the book keeping a very wise distance and not getting involved, the Ballinger has turned up with no explanation.
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 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. She has reason to be: Jon has been no different to her all along, no less caustic than he always is, but we already know he’d defend his cousin to the death, and with the Mortons at his back, he not only frees Penny, her face bruised from a very hefty slap, but locks in Dale, Valerie and the Ballinger (who seems only to be present to be caught, no reason being given for her decision to travel down from London).
Even though he manages to describe her as the prettiest girl he’s ever likely to meet in his life, Jon just doesn’t seem to understand why he was filled with such a rage at Penny being kidnapped, being threatened. And though she is grateful for her cousin’s loyalty, Penny doesn’t go beyond telling him that, at this moment, she likes him very much.
No, there’s a Mithraic temple, an astonishing historical discovery to be made, and that takes priority. Grandpa Charlie has undergone a Damascene conversion with no apparent motivation, though we don’t find this out until after he burns down the wood to expose the position of the old, unfinished well. 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 Penny, despite hating her dream, must relive it by descending to the exposed temple, becoming the first woman ever to penetrate  the temple 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. 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.
To signal change that will alter the relationships between Jon and Penny and then blot out any development was unexpected and made for a horribly flat book. And the notion that Jon would find an adult Penny, restored to her parents, getting married or even engaged to be ‘disgraceful’ is loaded beyond belief with assumptions that, if unpacked, can only be completely derogatory to the elder Warrender.

Saville would have to make a second attempt at resolving things between this pair, but in the meantime we would return to Shropshire and try to do better by the other Lone Pine pair.