Tales of the Gold Monkey: e04 – Legends are Forever


Never kill off a great guest star

This week’s episode was a great, gleeful collection of cliche and thrill that fit in surprisingly well with my recent contention over opinions as to the Sixties Batman  TV show. As I’ve already said, there’s nothing of any great depth to Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s about fun and simplicity, bundled together into the recognition that the early films and serials it echoes were cheap and naive, but Monkey is in tune with its subject matter, and at heart sides with it.

There’s cliche a-plenty this week, not least in the adventure brought by guest star Gandy Dancer, played by William Lucking. Gandy’s introduced in a medium long flashback to a year earlier, over China. He’s an older, looser, loucher version of Jake, the big-hearted Texan (actually, he’s from Pennsylvania), forever warbling ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ on his mouth organ, a grifter and a likable con artist whose biggest cons are all on himself.

It’s immediately clear that he and Jake have knocked about a lot, and that Gandy can pull the wool over Jake’s eyes, no matter how wary he gets. They’re flying booze, under cloud cover, to a Chinese warlord, a mission that Gandy has suckered Jake into flying in the belief they’re under orders, when he’s used Jake’s clean-cut reputation to suggest this to the General…

Because there’s a legend out there, of gold and riches, and Gandy’s a sucker for legends and treasure. Believes ’em all, implicitly, chases ’em all, looking for that score, sucking the unsuspecting, and even the suspecting who can be misled, into his wake. Which, in this instance is persuading Jake to jump, with Jack, when they’re being shot at by Japanese Zeros, leaving good ol’ boy Gandy to fly on into the cloud…

Cut back to ‘now’, in 1938, and Jake returns from a solo, transporting nuns, to find Gandy’s turned up on Bora Gora. The old partnership is back, the boys are reunited, and Jake has only one greeting for his old buddy: I’m gonna kill you! Cue a glorious, destructive barfight, knocking over tables, chairs, smashing bottles and glasses, jumping over the piano, all set to the background of the imperturbable Bonne Chance Louie tidily totting up the cost of the damage (920 francs, to be precise).

It appears Gandy is there on a mission of mercy, at the behest of the tall, coal-black skinned Mr Umopwa, bringing quinine for a lost tribe of transplanted Watusi Africans on a remote, formerly volcanic island, who are suffering from malaria. Everyone believes Gandy except Jake, who refuses to get involved. Next shot: the Goose in flight and Jack giving up the co-pilot’s seat. t to allow Gandy to chat with Jake.

There’s no Sara this week, which is a shame, but her place is taking by the unflappable Louie, as the French magistrate, which allows further development of Louie’s past. In true ‘Flashman’ style, Louie it seems has been everywhere that was everywhere to the drama world of 1938. To last week’s reference to Devil’s Island., we now add George Mallory’s Everest expedition of 1924, not to mention Beau Geste’s Fort Zinderneuf.

There’s another romantic literary reference coming up before long, but first we have the Goose putting down on a rather small lake, we have mysterious natives hiding in the jungle, and we have a glorious suspension bridge over a precipitous gorge with the statutory waterfall in the background – oh, this show knows its iconography – and we have blowpipes and poison darts, one of wich strikes Gandy in the shoulder…

And we know where this is set to go.

The tribe and the malaria are, to Jake’s  surprise, true, and Umopwa turns into a dignified king, but Gandy turns out to be Gandy, as we knew all along he would. Gandy’s read ‘King Solomon’s Mine’ and believe’s it’s true, that Haggard based it on real legends, and that the treasure was moved from Africa to an island across a great sea…

And Gandy’s tired. Perhaps it’s just the poison talking, but he’s had enough.  There’s a little girl back home, a motherless child called Molly, back in Pennsylvania, a daughter he’s not seen since she was two: five years, and it’s time she had a father. One score, one last adventure for Gandy so we can give Molly the life she should have.

It’s just never going to happen. Jake can scare the threatening Bogras off the island by terrifying them with the Goose, he can save the Watusi, but nothing can save Gandy Dancer, and Jake’s parting gift to his old sparring partner is a vision of lies, of the treasure Gandy believes in, recounted as a litany of gold and diamonds that Jake has ‘seen’ and can attest that Gandy was right, after all…

It’s sentimental, but it’s very effective, and affecting. Not that it does little Molly any good, though everyone, Louie himself, agrees to chip in money for the orphaned girl. And a grateful Umopwa has given Jake a bonus, a little bag… which turns out to be full of raw, uncut diamonds. Molly Dancer’s going to be rich. And Corky has the last word, or rather question: “Jake, you don’t think…?”

I loved this. I don’t say I remember, though the name of Gandy Dancer stuck in my head over thirty five years, and I recognised him immediately I saw William Lucking, and that he died in this episode, though he does make one further appearance later on, briefly, in another flashback. Lucking, with his innocent shiftiness, made an ideal Gandy and a more rounded cliche than he need have been. And the series takes me back, to 1981, and who I was and where I was, and was it Thursday nights, on BBC1 at about 7.35pm?

Roll on the next one.

Hillsborough: No Comment


After reading this afternoon about the decision to charge six people  in connection with the Hillsborough Disaster, twenty-eight years ago, I wrote a short piece, intending to post it on this blog when I returned home. Naturally, it was somewhat vituperative.

Since then, I have read warnings against such indulgences. Once charges have been raised, commentary becomes fraught with dangers as to contempt of court.

More importantly, it could prejudice the trial. It could be used to argue that a prejudicial atmosphere has been created, making it impossible for the Defendants to get a trial. It would be an unforgivable crime, almost as great as those that have been charged, to prevent a trial taking place that the Hillsborough victims and families have fought so long to see.

So I’m holding it back. If charges result in convictions, I will publish it then, no matter long it has to wait. Justice for the 96, for all of us, must be served.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e26 – Broken Link


A rock and a hard place

And thus another season comes to rest, with what, for most of its length, seemed an oddly personal tale, bereft of any status quo-shifting cliffhanger. In that assumption, I was to be wrong, yet again, setting things up nicely for season 5 (otherwise known as next Tuesday).

There were two completely contrasting elements that topped and tailed this story. First, we have Odo being summoned, in the open, to Garak’s shop for thesole purpose of being set up with the lovely Aroya, proprietress of the new Bajoran restaurant, who sees Odo patrol by at 9.37 precisely, every day, and would like him to come inside (that is a considered, not unfortunate, choice of words). Odo, being a shapeshifter, blows her off, leading to some righteous berating from Garak, because the fair Aroya, being played by Jill Jacobson, is an absolute doll.

Then, after the credits, the senior staff gather to listen to a sabre-rattling message from Chancellor Gowron, threatening the annexation of the Archanis sector. These are threatening times, though Archanis is far from DS9 and little to be done.

In between these little tasters, Odo collapses in agony after fits, and is taken to the infirmary. The diagnosis is simple though a cure is anything but: Odo’s changeling body is destabilising, its molecular density both fluctuating and diminishing. he is losing the ability to shapeshift, to maintain a cohesive shape as a solid. It doesn’t take long to realise that the Federation has no cure, and that only the Founders may be able to help.

The desperately weakened Odo, who is clearly dying, is taken on the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant, where a beacon broadcasts an appeal for help that brings the Female Changeling, with a Jem’Hadar guard. Odo must become part of the Great Link if his abilities are to be restored. But privately she tells Odo that he is to be judged. A full season ago, in ‘The Adversary’, the finale to season 3, Odo broke the Changeling’s most fundamental law: he killed another Changeling, did harm to him. No Changeling has ever harmed another before. Odo, who has spent his life enforcing justice, insists he must undergo justice.

With Sisko and Bashir as completely passive observers, Odo liquefies and joins the Great Link. It is massive: an entire planetary surface covered by an apparent ocean, with nothing but a single, tiny, rock upthrust on which the two humans wait.

Above, Garak tries to take action. He’s on the mission to keep Odo’s mind active with innuendo about his ‘past’ as a spy and assassin, but his own motive is to seek information as to potential Cardassian survivors of the battle earlier in the season. He is told that they are dead, that he is dead, the entire Cardassian Empire is dead, for attacking the Founders. His response is a abotage attack, intending to fire on and destroy the entire Founders’ planet, and all the Founders with it, ending the threat to the Alpha Quadrant decisively. True, Sisko, Bashir and Odo will also be killed, and the Jem’Hadar will slaughter everyone on the Defiant, including Garak, but their lives are a small price to pay for the security of a whole Quadrant.

It’s a familiar moral quandary, here given little debate and all of it by Garak as he and Worf engage in combat (Worf’s only response in rejection is that he is a warrior, and this is only murder. Garak finds him a great disappointment.) Actually, I was on Garak’s side here: sometimes, sacrifice is worth making.

The outcome of the judgement is unexpected. Odo is returned, naked and alive, with hairy arms and legs. He has been stripped of his shapeshifting abilities. he is now a solid, a human. He is one of them. Only his face remains unchanged, as a reminder of what he was, what he’s lost. And Odo feels that loss, keenly, from the need to wear a uniform now, whose wool itches, the feeling of hunger for the first time, and a reappearance by Aroya, offering… well, we all know what it is she’s offering, and Odo seems a touch more responsive.

(Aroya was intended to be a season 5 recurring character, as Odo’s love-interest, but between seasons it was decided that she wasn’t suitable for him, so this was Ms Jacobson’s only appearance. A great shame: as I said, she was gorgeous.)

For Odo, it is like being in prison (which is Garak’s fate for the next six months). He is no longer what he is meant to be. He cannot change shape. He is in the prison of a single, immutable form.

It’s a sober, serious episode, and there is much for Odo to learn in his new role, but there is still a sting in the tail to come.  There is another message from Gowron, this one giving the Federation ten days to get out of Dodge City, or rather the Arachnis system. It is a declaration of war in all but name, and DS9 goes on combat status.

But there is something more. Odo recalls flashes from the Great Link,things that were being concealed from him. One was an image of Gowron. This is not Gowron delivering this message. Gowron has been replaced, by a Changeling…

 

Uncollected Thoughts: Preacher – s02 e01


This scene happens

As American Gods bows out after an enormously successful first season (of a planned three), it’s place on the weekly roster is taken by the return of Preacher, back for a second season, this time of thirteen episodes. How many seasons this would run to if given its head is not yet known: the graphic novel series ran to nine volumes and season 1 barely got us through issue 1, so we’ve a potentially long way to go yet.

And, if the opening episode is anything to go to, we’re going to take a bloody long time to do so.

The word bloody is, on this occasion, not merely operating as a somewhat crude intensifier but also as a pure adjective. Our trio of travelers, the Reverend Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) and Cassidy, the 119 year old Irish vampire (Joe Galgin) are on the road, speeding away from the now defunct Anneville, in Search of God.

Speeding is the operative word, as in 97 miles per hour, with not enough gas to outrun three sheriff’s cars. Our threesome are getting harrassed (and Cassidy toasted every time he leaves the shelter of Tulip’s umbrella) so Custer starts to piss around with the Sheriff and the deputies by using Genesis, the irresistible voice of power.

Until, from a very long way away, the Saint of Killers starts blowing chunks out of the lawboys, and I mean chunks.

It’s gory, it’s grisly, it’s funny and it’s frantic. But just like season 1, which was fine for its first half and then lost all momentum over the back five, as if it didn’t have enough story for ten episodes, maybe eight, or even seven-and-a-half, the pace fell off a cliff, until by the end, episode 1 was barely moving.

We got a visit to a Convenience Store whose owner was ordered to forget our trio were there so that when the Saint catches up and asks for the Preacher, his honest but lying denial that Jesse’s been there gets his tongue torn out of his mouth.

We got a star turn from guest star Glenn Morshower (who I’ve never seen be less than excellent) as fellow Preacher Mike, bible scholar, addiction-counsellor extraordinaire and a man prepared to stab himself in the heart to prevent the Saint of Killers getting Jesse’s whereabouts out of him.

We get a visit to a strip club that God’s been attending recently, not for the girls but because he’s into the jazz, where Cassidy gets their lead accidentally killed.

And we wind up at a motel where Jesse and Tulip finally shag each other’s brains out with Miss Negga taking her bra off, which is just so fucking staid and network TV that it set me off wondering for the millionth time why the Americans are so comfortable with violence and hinky about sex?

And the cliffhanger is the Saint moseying on down that road in his unhurried gait, and Jesse discovering that his magic weapon, his superpower, the unignorable voice just plain don’t work on a Saint who’s lifting his gun and pointing it…

I so want to like Preacher and it has so much going for it, so why does it have to be so slow and bloody empty so much of the time? Thirteen episodes, and on this evidence we’re going to be lucky to get enough story to fill out nine.

Please be faster next week. Please be better.

Second Draft – and still no title


We’re still a week away from the end of June, which was the target I originally set myself for completing the transcription of the novel I wrote thirty years ago this year that I’ve long since referred to as The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel.

Well, not only did that transcription get transcribed a good long way ahead of schedule, and not only does a published paperback of that version of the story sit on my desk now, but I am still six days up and I have today completed a completely unanticipated Second Draft. And I still haven’t thought of a title for it.

The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical Second Draft is not the end of it, however. I have accomplished the most part of the things I set out to do, though there is one loose end the tying off of which I have managed to overlook, which I will rectify in due course. I know where it needs to be inserted, but it is probably not going to be enough to simply write a new section and plug in, as that chapter is already a bit top-heavy, so I’m going to have to juggle a few more things around.

For those of you interested in the process of writing itself, I have to say it’s once again been a fascinating experience. In some respects, this has been less a Second Draft than a collaborative re-write. ‘He’, being the younger me, has set the terms of the book. He has adapted the events of real life, to which he was a lot closer in time, into this fictional framework of people, place and event. Large tracts of his work needed no more than some minor neatening, a slightly smoother flow, changes in punctuation, removing redundancies: he was a lot less certain of what he had to tell the audience and this version has a lot more confidence in them.

Other sections have had to be drastically trimmed, or deleted entirely, not merely to create space for new scenes, other characters, the whole process of Second Draft rewriting where you can implant subtle references to things that will appear later. Some scenes have been rewritten entirely, sometimes to refresh them, or find a better way of expressing them, sometimes to change entirely what happens. Some things have been brought closer to the surface, so that the audience can see them where the characters can’t.

I’ve had to be careful about style. How I write has changed considerably since 1987, and I should bloody well hope so too! That has had to be dialled back upon, in order to blend more harmoniously with my collaborator. I was a lot plainer in style then, though “he” has surprised me many times with things he’s written that I could now conceive (I am yet further convinced that this is coming from somewhere in the subconscious, not from me), and whilst I’ve loosened some things up, I’ve had to stay within certain limits.

I’ve changed less than I expected to, after all this length of time, and so, after a suitable break for mental recoupment, during which time I may tinker a bit with at least one of the other half-stories that I have been unable to develop as I wished this past half-decade, we shall resume ere long for a Third Draft.

I just wish I could come up with a remotely decent title.

My Day as a Ghost


Yesterday wasn’t a good day. Last week wasn’t a good week, but yesterday I was a ghost.

I feel perpetually exhausted, both mentally and physically, these days. Even a four day break from work, up to and including last Sunday, did nothing to change that. I had a rush of blood with the Second Draft and did five chapters in those four days, leaving me only the final two to deal with, and as this is the Third Act, and the emotional crux, it’s pretty draining work to begin with.

Nor did the high temperatures and hot sun of the first three days help me. I don’t do this kind of weather well in any event, only really managing it when I can either sprawl out on the benches at Old Trafford and watch cricket, or wander beaches and beachfronts in Mallorca: zuma naranja, agua sin gas and Coca-Cola Lite. It didn’t help that for at least the first half of Tuesday, I was in serious pain with my right knee. It’s been increasingly sore for years and I’m pretty much doomed to arthritis in it, if it hasn’t already developed, but this was throbbing mercilessly at regular intervals, no matter what I did to ease it, until it just went away, like that.

But on Thursday, after lunch, I developed toothache. I don’t have a dentist, I haven’t been to one in nearly a decade. I hate them. My ex-wife used to have to go with me, and sometimes hold my hand, and she said I didn’t so much shake as vibrate. It wasn’t a particularly jabbing pain, but it was a persistent one, and I didn’t sleep on Thursday night.

I think I got some rest in, maybe ninety minutes at the back end of darkness, but I was awake the rest of the time, in that intermediate state somewhere between wakefulness and conscious dreaming, my mind drifting under only partial direction. Friday morning, I was wierded out. My tooth was easing, but I was still very aware of it, and I couldn’t have gone best-out-of-three with a wet dishrag.

I shouldn’t have gone in to work but my absence record couldn’t afford it. I was limp, mentally as well as physically, and I was doing everything so slowly, snails were backed up behind me and tooting their horns.

As you know, I work in a call centre, as part of an efficient, second-tier customer support team dealing with technical faults ad customers of all attitudes. Fridays we’re relatively thin in numbers and I took my seat in my usual spot. Almost immediately, it got impossible to bear.

One of my team-mates, with whom I get along well, is irascible at the best of times. He’s undergoing stress himself, with a succession of headaches, and the number of things that irritate him seems to be growing, but his big bugbear is whistling. He cannot stand it, it is his nails-on-a-blackboard. Of course, another of our team-mates, who is big and booming and eccentric to begin with, starts whistling, and doesn’t take kindly to attempts to check him, making this almost a freedom-of-speech thing. It’s doing my head in and I haven’t even logged on.

My team leader is already aware I feel lousy. I tell him that as soon as I’ve done this urgent callback I’ve promised for one o’clock, I’m moving workstations, somewhere further away.

It takes three attempts to find one where I can work. It’s of only minimal effect: this is a call centre, we are a team of talkers, we have plenty of people who live to talk and who can charitably be described as distinctive, also as loud. Two get into an argument that results in one storming out briefly. I am as far away as it’s physically possible to be and still be on our team, and I have become a ghost.

When customers come on the line, I can summon the energy to deal with them, albeit in a calm, subdued manner. I’m laidback in my approach anyway: my schtick is empathy, calmness, confidence: let’s see what I need to do to fix it for you. This doesn’t help me with the guy who phones up early on to complain that his Broadband – which he took out only a month ago – may be fixed now but it’s too slow. He’s one of those who treat it as a personal insult that we’ve given him Broadband this useless, as if we’ve selected him for unfair treatment instead of it being the inevitable, and unalterable consequence of the distance between his house and the Exchange. He wants to upgrade to Fibre, and he wants a good deal out of us.

He says it as if we owe it to him. Now we continually have differing offers for new and upgrading customers but it so happens that there are currently none except if the customer simultaneously takes out one of our television packages. That offer is good: it’s a lot of product for a little outlay and it’s locked in for eighteen months, but I don’t know from TV. I don’t know the prices, I don’t know the packages, my head cannot cope with all the various alternatives and a customer who’s being as much of an arsehole as this one. Whilst I’ve got him on hold, and a colleague is blithely drowning me in details I’d struggle to understand in a normal state, he hangs up on me, which is best for both of us.

From then on, it’s nothing but technical stuff of varying complexity. Come six o’clock, three of my louder colleagues reach the end of their shifts and leave, but the two who started things off with the argument over the whistling are, like me, on till nine o’clock. I am miles away, miserly conserving what little energy I’ve got, combating the headache that hasn’t shifted all day. I don’t want to talk to anyone, though conversation would help eat up the looming time, but I am not noticed recognised, spoken to. I am a ghost, not even sure of my own corporeality. The new t-shirt I am wearing today, which would ordinarily have been remarked upon approvingly by several people (Fools! I Will Destroy You All! (ask me how)) isn’t even noticed.

Probably they’re being sensitive to my silence and my distance, but it’s Friday evening, six till nine, the last and worst hours and my eight pm I am done. I don’t have anything left, except guilt that they’re taking calls and I’m staring at old matters, checking details, filling in time because I am a deadweight.

And the irony is that when it officially reaches 9.00pm and I log off, they’re both out of the building before I’ve even returned my gear to my locker.

I slept better last night, but I don’t foresee me doing much this weekend. There are few necessary chores: food shopping later today is the only compulsory one. Having allowed myself to get a full five episodes behind on iZombie, I plan to continue my one-a-day catch-up. And having taken in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 last Sunday, I hope to feel up to Wonder Woman tomorrow, and if so write an Uncollected Thoughts about it.

And there is one scene, and one short coda left to revise and the Second Draft will be complete, though that doesn’t mean the book will be complete as there is still more to do before I consider it publishable. I shalln’t be going in for much human contact this weekend. But I shall be real both Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday, I was a Ghost.

Back at no. 1


As one old enough to remember when the original ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ by Simon and Garfunkel was released, I have mixed feelings about the Simon Cowell organised charity version that’s crashed straight in at no 1, on only two days sales.

On the one hand, I applaud the money it will raise for those who suffered in the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, but on the other, I plan to spend the rest of my life never hearing it.