The Day I Went Back


Wainwright’s Favourite

Many years ago, in the first half of the Nineties, on a whim I decided to commit myself to playing every album I had – CD, vinyl, tape – during the year. When you live alone, you can do oddball things like that. I can’t remember how many albums I had then, but it was probably more than 400. That’s a lot of listening: I got to the last album somewhere in the early weeks of December.
Three or four years later, and a substantial number of additional albums in my collection (I was a considerably more voracious acquirer back then, when there seemed to be more good music) I decided to repeat the exercise. This time, I had listened to everything by the middle of May.
The difference was that, second time round, I was a lot more methodical about the task. I planned, I executed, I zipped through.
I mention this because my fellow blogger George has suggested I write about a particular walk that has a poignant element for me, and my lack of method first time round the Wainwrights was in its way responsible for that day.
I’ve spoken before of how my Dad, Stanley Crookall, introduced me to fellwalking in 1966, and of how reluctant, and complaining, I was. I grew out of it reasonably quickly, or at least that’s what I remember, but I have never forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the fells. I went on to complete the Wainwrights, and a part of that achievement was to do what Dad would have loved to do, and to see all these things that were denied him by the cancer that took him away from the fells, and eventually from us all, before he reached the age of 42.
I would love to set out on another Wainwright Round, go back to all those 214 summits (with especial reference to High Stile, Dodd, Scale Fell and Seat Sandal, from which I have not seen any views). But I know that it’s impossible, and my body wouldn’t let me. I have my doubts about getting to even a low summit again, given the state of my right knee.
But if I were to tackle the Wainwrights again, I would be methodical. There would be a plan, and it would be efficient. Not like the first time round, where planning did not extend beyond a Big Walk for the last day, and trying not to use the same Wainwright book twice.
There would be no holes in the jigsaw ‘next time’, no little fells in awkward corners that hadn’t tagged on to larger rounds, leaving me, as I neared the end of the list, with the prospect of short walks that didn’t amount to a full day’s expedition. Such as Fleetwith Pike.
Everyone who knows Buttermere knows Fleetwith Pike, and everyone who’s looked at even a small selection of Lake District photos knows the stunning view from its summit of the Buttermere valley, with the two lakes stretching out in a line. From the valley, the ridge is an obvious temptation, a straight, steep prow leading directly to the top.
On its own, Fleetwith Pike is maybe a half-day outing, with no real appealing route of return. To make it into a decent day, it was obvious that I should combine it with Haystacks, circuiting the short Warnscale valley, and returning via Scarth Gap. I have been to Haystacks before. It had been one of the very earliest fells I had climbed, or rather, we had climbed: the whole family.
My Buttermere walks were always done from Keswick, and for something at the head of the valley, I would cross Newlands Hause, pulling up at the top to allow my engine a chance to recover from that final steep pitch, after the bend, where there was never time to get out of first gear, and then that steep descent to Buttermere Village, riding on the brakes the whole way, which was why I would never drive over Newlands from the Buttermere end.
The only freely available parking at Buttermere by the Nineties was in Honister Bottom, and I had to go a good half-mile to find a suitable spot. The sun was well up the sky, and I had clear blue conditions and a fair amount of heat to face.
It was one of those days that started heavy-legged. There’s very little preliminary to the ascent: you leave the road and immediately you’re zig-zagging, in the lea of the fell, past Fanny Mercer’s white cross. I found it a struggle until I was out on the ridge.

Fleetwith Pike

Narrow ridges of this kind, thin trails amid the grass and rock, are great to follow, especially with that kind of view behind if you feel the need to halt for a breather. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ridge as much as I have others: it felt just that little bit too unremittingly steep, and although it was better to be out in the open, it was still a breathless day. Nor was I gratified that the path kept more to the Warnscale side of the ridge: Honister Bottom may not offer the best views, but Warnscale has a devastated look to it, as if it is the scene of some quasi-nuclear bomb test that has left a blight on the ground.
But persistence always brings the summit underfoot, and this was where the day changed, for the better. There was a breeze, and the air felt fresh now, and that spectacular view behind, with which I was so familiar already, but photos can never measure the scale of such sights. Still, I was peeved that the sun was shining too directly into my lens to make taking my own shot viable.
Fleetwith’s neat, bare summit was not bare of walkers. In fact, it was a bit like a tea party up there, like a Helvellyn summit crowd crammed into a smaller compass. I found a small patch of unoccupied ground, lowered myself onto it and dove into my rucksack for my sandwiches.
When I got up to move on, I was at last alone. I left the pack at Fleetwith’s summit behind, and strode off to descend the grassy decline to Dubs Bottom. I always preferred having the fells to myself, and I could now relax into sole possession of the afternoon.
En route to Dubs Bottom, I passed Black Star, the ‘summit’ of Honister Crag, and contemplated for a moment stepping aside to reach its summit. The thought amused me, that a mere walker like me could so easily reach the top whereas all the climbers were making it difficult for themselves, but then I realised that that wasn’t the point. It’s walkers who pursue summits: to climbers they’re the least interesting part of the crag.
Dubs Bottom was an interesting place, a wide depression studded with levels and derelict buildings from the old mining days. Beyond it, I could see the ground rising to the Old Drum House, at the stop of the seriously stiff ascent from Honister, the road to Great Gable, or Moses’ Trod, or the descent to Ennerdale by Loft Beck, so well used a thoroughfare yet almost invisible in Wainwright because it lends itself to no ascents.
Though it was no part of this walk, I crossed the dip and went up to the Drum House, climbing onto its platform and surveying that odd plateau that lies between the Buttermere and Ennerdale Valleys, and the way the Gable path turns towards the low ridge and seems to spring forward along its base. I’ve done that each time I’ve sweated up from Honister: by the time you get to the top, you need a few moments breather.
I turned back towards Dubs Bottom, which needed to be crossed at a diagonal, from the near right corner to the far left corner, to escape onto the fellside and the ridge of which Haystacks in the primary part. There were paths through the old workings, and I switched from one to another, like a child following a maze with invisible walls.
I emerged onto a path snaking in and out of the outcrops along the front of Haystacks. It moved up and down, and in and out, never the same for ten yards straight, and giving no glimpse as to what was ahead. I didn’t have Wainwright’s proverbial raging toothache, and I suspect I would have been giving it the major part of my attention if I did, but this crossing had immediately etched itself into my short list of paths I would happily go back and walk immediately: Ullock Pike to Long Side, the Corridor Route being other examples.

Blackbeck Tarn

The best part came when I crossed the entrance to the cove that holds Blackbeck Tarn. Everyone sees Innominate Tarn as the jewel of Haystacks, but one look at Blackbeck, glittering in its sheltered bowl, the Tarn’s boundaries swelling towards the back of its expanse, and I was hooked. I’ve never been one for camping, being too fond of guesthouse beds in which to rest myself after a hard day’s fellwalking, but I could imagine the joy of an early awakening on the grasses above the reedy banks at the far end.
After Blackbeck Tarn, the winding path continued to weave up and down, but far too soon I was emerging onto the broad back of the fell, and could see across the head of Ennerdale to Great Gable, and Pillar. From there, it was just a gradually ascending way, passing Innominate Tarn’s shores (I cannot remember whether Wainwright had adorned it then) and on to the nearby summit, which surprised me by merely revealing another, and higher outcrop.
I had been here before, nearly thirty years before. I remembered that we’d not been able to see Innominate Tarn from the summit and had moved on to the other outcrop to see it, with the ring of high Ennerdale fells as its backcloth, but no further.
Part of me still can’t believe we had ever been there at all. My family were wedded to the quarter of the Lakes from Ambleside to Wasdale, and apart from the traditional wet-Friday trip to Keswick, never ventured further. I hadn’t even seen Haystacks until the previous year, when, for my benefit, we spent a non-walking rain-soaked day going round the Western Lakes, and I saw Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere for the first time ever, four new Lakes in one day, and we escaped by going over Honister Pass, between writhing clouds and towering cliffs, and this from my Uncle who normally wouldn’t take his cars over anything more steep than Dunmail Raise.
And here we were, in Buttermere, parking opposite Gatesgarth Farm, bound for Scarth Gap and Haystacks. I can only assume that it was its status as Wainwright’s favourite fell that brought us there. The pass was supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes, but once again our family maxim applied: ‘if Wainwright says it’s easy, it’s hard: if he says it’s hard, it’s bloody difficult!’
Enough so that, at the Pass, in a precursor of the stomach problems that would limit our expeditions in the Seventies, my Uncle stayed behind, leaving only the four of us, mother, father, daughter, son, to scramble up the gully and find our way to the summit.
My Dad was 39 in August 1968, fit, healthy, active. He was looking up, and ahead, to the high fells. His younger child, my sister, was older every year, and the range of our walks would be growing with her. His son had stopped whingeing if you so much as asked him to lace up his walking boots. No, he wasn’t as impressed with Haystacks as he’d hoped to be: to him, Lingmell, our second and highest top to date, was more the mountain top he envisaged. Idly, he suggested he’d prefer his ashes sprinkled there.
That November, we got away, just the four of us, for a couple of days in a small cottage in Grisedale Forest. I remember walking down the road to see Forge Force Falls on the evening we arrived, I remember lying in the top bunk in a crowded bedroom we all shared, feeling so much part of everything as my parents talked below, and I remember following the Grisedale Forest on our last day. There was no fellwalking as such.

Forge Force

Dad was complaining of pains in his left shoulder. Back in Manchester, he went to the Doctor. He was in hospital more than not over the next twenty months. He never saw the Lake District again. Haystacks was his last walk.
That’s not the place of sentiment for me. That came a couple of years later, crossing from the last Wainwright to the one that had been the First, unlovely, ungainly, unlikely Middle Fell in Nether Wasdale. As I arrived at the summit from the back, the party there was packing up and leaving. I walked round for the next half hour, talking to those who would never come back as I had come back, this once and only time.
But Haystacks is still one of only three tops where I can look the memory of my Dad in the eye and stand equal to him. Me and you, Dad, me and you.
I scrambled down to Scarth Gap and set off for the valley. I can’t remember if this descent came before or after the one I made after completing the High Stile range, which was the one where I sat down on a pathside stone to look at the very strange goings on in the wide green fields below, that I finally realised was the filming of an episode of One Man and his Dog.
Sadly, I never saw the broadcast episode, so I have no idea to this day whether I managed to get myself into the background of any shots, and add to my small stock of TV background shots.
And I drove away over Honister.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e20: A Distant Shout of Thunder


It’s the penultimate episode, and one that, for me, frankly didn’t work. The ingredients were there, but they didn’t combine to make the story convincing, and there was no clear indicator as to what let things down.

The basis of this episode was that of the clash of cultures between the native Polynesians and their primitive Gods, in this case Pele (not that one), whose ‘wrath’ was awoken by a total eclipse and the presence of a scientific team studying it. Lucien, the local equivalent of a Hellfire Preacher, protests it. He’s a well-known, indeed tiresome figure, attempting to overturn French colonial rule, and it’s doubtful for most of the episode whether he genuinely believes in Pelle, or whether he’s just the opportunist Jake accuses him of being.

Unfortunately, I could not find guest actor Jose de Vega the least bit adequate for the role. He had nothing of the force the character required, nor could he conjure up the steeliness that might have sufficed in its place. Given that his role is to re-awaken the islanders’ beliefs, stir them to the edge of hysteria and persuade them to sacrifice Sarah to atone to the Gods, he was just a non-starter without which the episode never hung together.

Sarah became involved because, traumatised by old fears deriving from a childhood visit to Cambridge  with her father for an earlier total eclipse during which she got lost, she stumbles over and picks up a small statue of Pele, which marks her as the defiler, and makes her Pele’s target.

And it is at that moment that Bora Gora’s dormant volcano chooses to wake up and threaten the island.

With Lucien sitting in the centre of things calmly arrogating every incident to Pele’s wrath on one side, and Sarah’s (intentionally) unconvincing refusal to accede to superstition on the other, the episode built up to the inevitable sacrifice, with a drugged Sarah seeing molten lava as clear blue sea into which she wanted to slide.

Jake’s coming after her, alone as usual. Not at first: Corky, Louie and the Reverend Willie insist on joining him. It’s a well-played moment: they care for Sarah too, and will not be left behind, until circumstances are contrived to leave them behind.

And the episode doesn’t help itself by having the easily-misled islanders suddenly see sense and turn their backs on Lucien, who sacrifices himself, lost in his own preachings, for no adequate reason other than the plot demands it.

That’s really all, to be honest. Donald Bellisario pops up in a cameo role as a father whose curly-haired little moppet of a son (played by his actual curly-haired little moppet of a son) engages in a raspberry blowing contest with Corky. Special effects are spared by intercutting genuine film of a volcano and its attendant effects, though the glaring difference in the quality of film stocks draws too much attention to the contrivance. But on the plus side, with only an episode left, the show does at least pick up on the genuine nature of the relationship between Jake and Sarah, with lots of unashamed kissing.

I’m hoping for a better send-off next week. But, having seen the plot outline in imdb, I’m expecting another whimper.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e17: A Simple Investigation


See, I told you so

I was unconvinced about this week’s episode on watching the open, which came over as bitty, and threatening too many elements for an ordered episode, but I was wrong about that side. We went from a hooded Idanian being thumped and eventually disintegrated by two Finneans, all blue skin, holes in their faces and raggedly clothing, looking for It and a woman, to Bashir, Dax, O’Brien and Odo discussing their holosuite programme that’s a sequel to ‘Our Man Bashir’, only for Odo to get all nervous over how he’s supposed to steal the girl and walking out, and ending at the bar with Quark hitting on a very attractive blonde woman of a certain age, who doesn’t need Odo’s help to handle importunate Ferengis, even if the Constable has ‘bedroom eyes’ (now, there’s a term that has gotten seriously out-dated). It didn’t need the camera shifting angle to expose the two Finneans watching the lovely Arissa for us to link the first and final parts of this sequence together.

After that, however, the episode settled into being a well put together two-hander between Odo and Arissa, played with neatness and economy by guest actress Dey Young, a less-than-blatant beauty that nevertheless convinced at least one member of the audience that she was someone that men could get obsessed about at first sight.

Odo is clearly smitten, but his next encounter with Arissa is on a professional basis, when she’s arrested for trying to bypass station security and access data on an Idanian named Torvid Rem, i.e., our disintegrated guy. Arissa tells Odo a bunch of porkies, claiming he was assisting her in tracking down the daughter she’d given up fifteen years ago, but Odo doesn’t believe her, which he’s right to do. And he keeps harping on about strip-searches and the like, to Arissa’s flirtatious amusement.

No, flirtatious is not the right word. Odo is beyond inexperience, and is aware of that, which ensures that he is keeping everything tremendously reserved whilst at the same time betraying his fascination in every movement (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar). And Arissa’s ‘flirtatiousness’ is too cool, too grave, to strictly merit the word. Since we’re seeing things from Odo’s perspective, we simultaneously find it obvious that she wants him to unwrap her from that clingy grey dress she’s wearing and do naughty Changeling things to her, and that Odo can’t be sure that it isn’t just an act by which a much more experienced woman strings him along (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar).

The true story (at this point anyway) is that Arissa worked for Draim, a big wheel in the Orion Syndicate but, having realised that the far-removed things she did nevertheless resulted in great harm, she wanted out. The crystal Torvid Rem had contained the super-seriously encrypted information that would enable her to walk away without Draim having her knocked off.

Not that Arissa really believed that. Even with Odo appointing himself her personal protector, willing to take leave of absence to go with her, Arissa knew too much to ever really believe Draim wouldn’t get her. And finally, Odo, after interrupting the holoprogramme to seek advice, works up the nerve to kiss her, after which it’s a night of red-hot sex, so good that Arissa doesn’t even realise Odo’s been a virgin up to that moment (boy, was that not in the least familiar. Or plausible).

But the denouement is rushing towards us. Arissa gives way to her fears, does a deal to trade the crystal for her life, not that Draim intends to keep his side of the bargain. And an Idanian Intelligence agent turns up in Odo’s office to drop the bombshell I hadn’t foreseen, namely that Arissa is actually a surgically-altered Idanian Undercover agent, given a fake set of memories and personality, who’s spent the last two years getting information on Draim that’ll crack his organisation wide open.

What’s on the crystal is the real memories and personalities of not-Arissa. Which, we learn in the close, include the fact that she’s married. Not to mention that, once her sub-Cardassian knobbly forehead is restored, and she’s covered up by the hood all Idanians wear,  Dey Young doesn’t look a bit attractive. Nevertheless, before she leaves Odo alone and heartbroken, she does rather rub a bit if salt in it by telling him that she remembers Arissa very well, and she did love him and that that love is still there, a bit, fat consolation that is.

So this episode is basically a love story, and one of the better-handled ones, given that Dey Young not only looked seriously attractive, but also looked, and played, very intelligent. You could imagine talking to this woman for a very long time, which isn’t always the case.

For all that, and in the grand scheme of things, ‘A Simple Investigation’ was not at all well-planned. In the first place, it should have come whilst Odo was still humanoid, and exploring being human, not reverted to Shapeshifterdom. And it was intended to show that Odo had gotten over Kira, and was no longer in love, an intention that, I am reliably informed, will be reversed less than six weeks from now.

As for Our Man Bashir II, this was restricted to one entirely nebulous scene apparently because MGM had threatened to sue over the original episode, stupid idiots.

Overall, an enjoyable episode, enlivened for me by the presence of the attractive Dey Young (have I mentioned she was attractive?), though I note this is the second one-off episode since the great ground-shifting of ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light’ to not even reference the changed situation. One step up and two steps back, as it ever was.

Dan Dare: Pilot with Another Future


Perhaps if I’d got this cover…

It’s a decade now since the surprisingly successful Virgin Comics attempt to revive Dan Dare in a form acceptable to the contemporary age, and now Titan Comics have discarded the habit of a lifetime, of only publishing comics that have been successful for other people, and have hired Peter Milligan to write and Alberto Foche to draw a new series.

This time, we’re looking at four issues, so that if it’s a disaster, at least it will be brief. Today’s visit to Forbidden Planet included the first issue, so I want to record a few immediate impressions.

Garth Ennis, ten years ago, seemed an improbable writer for a traditionally ‘straight’ character who was born out of the desire to present a truly clean-cut cut, moral yet still quite human hero for young boys, yet he understood the ideals of the Pilot of the Future came from and respected Dan Dare, and his version was worthy of revival.

Milligan, on the other hand, has always been an iconoclast, an underminer of all things established, and a trickster of a writer. I’ve read very little of his work, it just not being to my taste, so I was doubtful of the choice from the moment I heard of this.

His set-up does, at first, promise a different approach. For one, there is no Prime Minister appearing as a veiled depiction of David Cameron or even, thanks all the ghosts of Spacefleet, Theresa May. On the other hand, we have the Mekon: of course we’ve got the Mekon, we always have the Mekon. It’s like only ever having Doctor Who face up to the Daleks.

Milligan’s included a lot of the old cast already: Dan, Digby, Peabody, Hank Hogan, Sir Hubert, Flamer Spry, though he’s jumbled some of them around. Digby, or ‘Digs’ is now an engineer and openly calls his Colonel ‘Dan’, Peabody’s a Special Science Advisor who walks around in uniform and carries big guns, and Dan only ever calls her Peabody. Hank’s had one line so far, and already sounds out of character.

Then there’s the Mekon. Milligan’s story, subtitled ‘He Who Dares’ actually starts five years ago, with the Mekon as the democratically elected President of Earth and Dan’s little band declared terrorists. That is, until they expose the hypnosis machine by which ol’ Greenbean has cooked the result.

He’s been in rehabilitation for five years, concentrating his supreme intelligence on growing food on the moon. Even when a Liberation Army comes to free him, he orders them to disband and hands them over to Dan for incarceration.

Can the Supreme Brain overcome the Genetic engineering that made him into a power-crazed overlord? Has he? Milligan’s certainly come at things from a previously unexplored angle (for what it’s worth, I’m going for No).

But the only problem is, if the Mekon is beaten for good, there are no enemies left. No obstacles to Galactic peace and harmony and progress. Nothing for Dan Dare to be Dan Dare for, and Dan’s actually praying for something for him to do, to get back into space for.

Which is when a dirty great spaceship appears out of nowhere, Crypt-like, and destroys one of Saturn’s moons, just like that. Dan’s prayers have been answered, or so it seems. No hint yet as to whether Tharl and his empire exist in this Future, though again I’m going for No.

Apart from this bit about Dan Dare wishing for violence and enemies, which is not, never has been and never will be any part of any legitimate version of the character, it’s reasonable enough so far. Certainly worth suspending judgement over until we see more.

As for Foche’s art, I’m always going to start off by looking askance at anything not authentically Hampsonian, and it’s fair to say that this art in no way draws from the master. Apart from a token effort with Digby, and an even more token one with Sir Hubert, oh, and of course Dan’s eyebrows (that’s all anyone ever cares about: get the eyebrows properly crinkled and it’s Dan Dare, no matter how wide of the mark everything else is), Foche makes no effort whatsoever to follow any existing design work.

And his Mekon, redesigned to make the big brain a bit more organic, has immediately become less frightening, less distinctive, less alien. Even at his most evil in the flashbacks, this guy just doesn’t look in the least bit evil: Hampson’s Mekon, indeed his Treens, were unnatural. It’s why they worked so bloody well in the first place.

But I won’t judge until the series is over, unless it takes an irreversible nosedive into the sludge to the point where it’s obviously a schtumer. There are two pages of Foche’s designs featuring half a dozen and more characters we’ve not yet met, none of whom thrill me with anticipation, but we’ll see. It won’t take long, at least.

Mage III: The Hero Denied (and an apology deserved)


Just over three years ago, and as part of the series on Uncompleted Stories, comic book series that have never seen their full intentions come to fruition, I commented on Matt Wagner and what we had all, in the beginning, was going to be his most significant work, Mage.

Mage was conceived as three series, each of fifteen issues (the last of which being double-sized), representing different stages in the life of everyman, Kevin Matchstick (a metaphor for Wagner himself), who learns that he is the modern incarnation of the Pendragon: of King Arthur.

The first series, ‘The Hero Discovered’, appeared between 1984 and 1986, from Comico. The second, ‘The Hero Defined’, did not arrive until 1997, a delay engendered in large part by Wagner’s struggle to regain the rights to his work after Comico went into bankruptcy in 1990.

And after that a long silence, still prevailing in 2014 when I wrote. I had anticipated/resigned myself to another decade, but we were well beyond that period, and so I categorized Mage as Uncompleted, and that was that. Thankfully, I am not a prophet.

About four or five months ago, Wagner announced the appearance of ‘The Hero Denied’, to the same fifteen issue format, again to be published by Image Comics, who brought us the second series. And today, my visit to Forbidden Planet in Manchester has seen me bring back issues 1 and 2 of the final story.

It’s far too soon to pronounce. Wagner is still drawing in the same style he used for ‘The Hero Defined’, with his son Brendan as colourist. A decade has passed since the events of that story: Kevin may still go in for the same black-and-white Captain Marvel influenced t-shirts, but he’s bald on top. He’s also married, to Magda, witch and one of the Weird Sisters of Mage II, and they have two children, Hugo, aged about eight or nine, and Miranda, about two. They’ve been in hiding from the nasties, but chance has exposed Kevin, less than a week before Magda’s potion of pure protection will be ready, after eight years preparation.

The Umbra-Sprite is once again moving, as are the Sprite’s spawn, but these are now Grackle-thorns, and all six are female. They still hunt for the Fisher King, who was absent from series 2, but they still seek revenge upon the Pendragon, and especially now his children, of whom Hugo, by the end of issue 2, has learned that neither the world nor his Dad are what he’s so far been let to believe.

No sign yet of the Third Mage, he who will follow Mirth and Wally Ut, nor yet a glimpse of anyone who may be that Third representative of Magic, and no attempt yet to come to even a premature verdict on what I have read, nor will there be until Mage, but in this year when Twin Peaks came back, and when I took a thirty year old manuscript and made it something on the verge of publication, here’s another moment of unexpectedness, and resignation refuted, to make this world, at least momentarily, less of one where faiths fail, possibilities close and stories go without endings.

To Matt Wagner, my profound thanks.

 

Brief (and thankful) update 5


At the umpteenth time, I have finally completed the bloody formatting.

The novel now goes on to Cover Design, for which I’m now reliant on a work colleague who, working from some vague visions I have that I have no technical ability to execute, is designing a cover for me.

My target is still publication by my birthday, next month, so I hope the next announcement will not be too delayed and will have the link to where you can buy it.

Fingers crossed.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e19: Boragora or Bust


It’s getting late. What Saturday Morning staple have we not yet had? A Treasure Mine? Let’s throw one of those in.

The ingredients are familiar: veteran prospector, been digging for decades, faithful creaking mule and eccentric methods, strikes it rich. Old Dowser’s an Aussie with a slightly variable accent and his mule is of course called Matilda, though it’s not gold that he’s struck, it’s platinum, way up in the mountains on Boragora. Forty years he’s been prospecting and on the edge of giving up, dynamiting the mine and himself inside it, and Dowser strikes it rich.

And there was Jake Cutter, who loves the old geezer like a father, complaining that his piloting career in the Maravellas is boring and lacking in excitement and recalling those old days of red hot jazz on a Friday night.

Overnight, Boragora becomes a creditable impression of a boom town, with all sorts of hopeful and ignorant would-be prospectors, and the usual gang of hangers-on, including an outfit offering ‘French’ ladies to entertain the prospectors and arousing the fighting ire of the Reverend Willie Tenbaum when they start using his ‘children’ to supply ‘blessings’.

And what you really need for a story like this is a claim-jumper, and we got one, the unruffled, immaculate smooth-as-snake-oil Mr Hastings. There’s only one problem: he’s in the right. He can take Dowser’s claim, within the law, because Dowser forfeited it thirty years ago for his complete failure to ‘improve’ it.

So, once Dowser is prevented from settling this island-style, with knives, it’s back to plan A: if Dowser can’t have the claim he’s scratched forty years to win, Hastings won’t get it either. He’ll dynamite the mine – with himself in it.

Put like that, the episode can be easily dismissed as a collection of cliches. But first of all, we’ve agreed all along that that is what Tales of the Gold Monkey is, and has always set out to be. It’s about the nostalgic fun of old and hoary adventure stories, played with just the teeniest dose of self-awareness, and tons of gusto. The knockabout fight on the beach starting when Willie dumps the tarts’ tent and ending with him hopping up and down in glee at a great brawl, and roaring in German, in a perfect specimen.

But there was more to this episode than just the fun. There were quieter moments, cameos that addressed, in brief but effective fashion, the emotional realities that lie behind the glorious nonsense. Dowser’s despair at losing what he’s worked for, his emotionalism at the fact his beloved mule won’t be shooed away and will go down with him. Sarah’s for once quiet concern about the risks Jake is taking to try and intercept Dowser, her recognition of the fact that she’s always saying goodbye like a wife, and they haven’t even… Jake’s warm and tender kiss. And in the mine, with Dowser lighting the fuse whilst holding Jake and Corky at bay with his gun, it’s the latter who walks forward, calmly refusing to believe Dowser will shoot him, to cut the fuse and extinguish it.

In the end, the mountain comes down. There’s a death-defying motorcycle leap, the insouciant whistling of a tune I have no hope of recognising, Dowser getting to look aat the face of the legal cheat who failed to rob him. And another boring Friday night in the Monkey Bar, with Jake back to bitching and off to an early bed… until Louie comes up with a stack of red-hot jazz discs, and it’s grab Sarah and let’s cut a rug.

I’m going to miss this show all over again.

What it’s like the day after


It doesn’t last.

By the next day, I’m usually recognisably human again, and I can go into work, and I can talk to people, and joke, and make ironic comments, several of them aloud, and in quiet moments between calls, I can string together dialogue that bridges a gap in the Long Overdue Sequel, and it feels like I’m back to what passes as normal.

And today’s the day when my shift starts and ends early, so that even with a brief visit to ASDA, the chippy’s still open when I get off the bus, and I can have my ritual Wednesday night fish’n’chips dinner, and very nice it is, but I still can’t help but wish that instead of a cold bottle of caffeine-free Diet Coke in the fridge, I had a fucking massive container of Will to Live. Because, people, I have had enough of you today.

No,not you, nor you, or you, nor any of those stalwarts who flatter me with your attention. I mean the people that it is my business to talk to, and to help with the problems that prevent your Broadband connection and/or your telephone line from working. I am a senior advisor, with years of experience, and I know what I am doing.

But you have utterly drained me today. Do you not think, given that I deal with dozens of your calls daily, that I might possibly understand the horrors you are experiencing, the utter, wrenching misery of a life without Broadband? No, you have to explain to me what it means to have your service disrupted, and you are so concerned that I should understand you, when I understood completely before you got halfway through the sentence, that you tell me again, and again, and then again, completely unaware that I can’t do anything to help alleviate your problems until you shut up and let me start asking you the pertinent questions.

And then there’s the ones who can’t grasp that, marvellous as this technology is, and how we’ve lasted a whole seventeen years into the Twenty-First Century, that I can’t just wave Sooty’s magic wand over it, go ‘Izzy-wizzy, let’s get busy’ and it’s all fixed. That the Broadband network in this country is all fucked up and not half as good as it could and should have been, and the reason for that is dead simply, it’s Maggie Bloody Thatcher again.

I mean, take my word for it, though I can’t be arsed explaining the political decisions that brought us to this, and no, I’m not just being politically prejudiced when I say that. But by now you’re bringing out the “Surely…”s, when I’ve patiently explained to you what can really be done in practice, and you really can’t grasp that it isn’t the way you expected it to be, because, yes, of Thatcher, and I even had to say to one customer, who had explained things to me about a dozen times, that if there was another way, our conversation would have ended twenty minutes ago, because I would already have done it.

At least this guy’s bright, and he realised that I’m also saying that I would really prefer not to have to listen to you repeating yourself for twenty minutes, which is not an exaggeration for effect, I promise you. And Yog-Sothoth protect me from the ones who still think there must be a magic wand and an “Izzy-wizzy” that I’m deliberately concealing from them, just to be spiteful.

No, people, I have had enough of you today, and this is when I’m feeling back to normal, and it’s my one weekday night where I have time in which to genuinely relax. And you don’t know, when you threaten to cancel and go to someone else, even after I’ve patiently explained to you that the fault’s in the network and it won’t magically disappear if you start having their signals sent to you instead of ours, how close you’ve been to be told to fuck off and bend their technician’s ears.

Why do I keep doing this? Because they pay me to, which means fish’n’chips on Wednesday evening,  and Pizza Hut once a month, and all the Caffeine-free Diet Coke I can stomach, just so I can write things that aren’t usually as dark as this and last night.

Your patience is appreciated. Normal temperament will be resumed, just as soon as I can remember what it is.

 

What it’s really like sometimes


There are days when the depression can’t be held at bay, when no matter how much you’ve put into accepting that this is the way your life is, and the prospects of change are beyond your influence, the reality of the situation is too stark to be resisted, and you have no mental energy with which to do anything.

These are days when the job becomes tiresome and frustrating, when the calls that aren’t even for your discipline get harder to handle, when the manifest errors of the new diagnostic system become too wearisome to fight back against, and when that determination to go the extra mile in pursuit of the customer’s need becomes a tired inability to even reach across the desk.

And the shift that has already lasted most of your life, because your head is emptier than an empty shell, still has two more hours to last, and you’ve run out of the telephone voice and the energy to sound concerned, and identify what’s wrong, and talk them through without wanting to scream at them down the phone, because you’ve promised to do what is needed to fix the fault, what they’ve been asking you to do all along, and they’re still not satisfied.

There are many different categories of clients and on different days you hate different types more than others but there is a special hell even on good days in dealing with the customer who won’t take Yes for an answer.

Sometimes, most days, when it gets like this I can carve out a little time in the day to write something: for my blog, for one of the several potential novels I have had in mind for the last few years, for the sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand that I have been cheerfully batting out, about which I’ve yet to decide whether this will be a publishable project, or a personal indulgence.

But my head is empty. I have no energy for words, no concentration. This is as far as I have gotten because I can’t think of anything else. Call it a little reality implant, in amongst the generally comic attitude I usually try to display.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e16: Dr Bashir, I Presume


Happy Families

When the opening shot of an episode features Chase Masterson’s cleavage framed exactly in the centre of the screen, it immediately gives the episode an uplift. Of course, being in the first part of the open, it also isn’t going to be the A-story. What it is is an amusing, occasionally embarrassing tale of the Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name, only it’s got nothing to do with Homosexuality in Nineteenth Century London and everything to do with Rom being so bleeding afraid to tell Leeta he loves her, even in the face of her… heartfelt desire for him to do so, that he’s prepared to let her leave DS9 forever rather than risk his fate to a mere 99.9% probability that she’s interested in him. I knew exactly how he felt.

But that was a B story, amusing as it was and pleasing as it always is to see Ms Masterson showing off her… talents (actually, to be serious, she does bring a genuine sweetness and a perfectly judged strand of self-mockery to a role that is practically the definition of one-note and which, in the hands of a less talented performer, could be an utter disaster), and it struck the improbable note of a happy conclusion as Rom finally finds his voice at the last second, though speaking as the unprepossessing dumb-cluck, I can’t quite get over the notion of someone who looks like her falling from someone who looks like me… sorry, him: somebody’s been at the Magic Wish-Fulfillment Juice with a vengeance.

But, as the story title indicates, that’s not the A-story. Nor, originally, was the A-story seen as anything better than a B-story, itself a comic episode. Special Guest Robert Picardo, already firmly fixed in Star Trek lore as the Hologram Doctor in Voyager, turns up in the person of his human avatar, Engineer Dr Lewis Zimmerman. The Emergency Medical Hologram programme which he’s invented is being upgraded to a Long-term Medical Hologram, and our Julian has been chosen as its template.

As a B-story, it would have been the comedic underbelly to a meatier A-story. The producers weren’t interested in the original A-story, but loved the B-story. It wouldn’t go down as a comedic episode so something more dramatic had to be brought in. In retrospect, the fact that Bashir’s background had never previously been featured, and that a host of small asides down the years fell into place as if there had all along been some secret in his past facilitated quite an explosive revelation.

Quite simply, Dr Julian Bashir is the product of childhood genetic enhancement which, in the Star Trek universe, is illegal. If discovered, he will be cashiered from Starfleet and his medical licence withdrawn. Everything he is, does and has accomplished, everything he could do, will be destroyed.

That it may now be exposed is due to the fact that Zimmerman, whilst he’s not trying to get into Leet’a Bajoran knickers, has to build a comprehensive psychological profile of the good Doctor for the LMH, which means interviewing everyone who does or ever has known him. Which includes his parents, who still call him by his birth-name, Jules.

Now, it’s believable that Bashir has been avoiding his parents out of shame over his blowhard father, Richard (played by Brian George, nowadays better known as Raj Koothrapalli’s father on The Big Bang Theory). But the shame goes deeper than that: Jules was, it appears, backwards, as it would once have been called, both physically and mentally, it would appear. So his father took him off-planet to be operated on, creating the brilliant and talented Julian we have always known.

Now that it’s likely to come out – originally the story would have confined the secret to Bashir and O’Brien, secured by a double-blackmail over secrets Zimmerman wanted kept, but Alexander Siddig insisted on things being brought out into the open and thestory is better for it – the secret comes out when the Bashir’s promise complete secrecy, except that it’s to the LMH Julian. And suddenly, the bitterness pours out.

It’s a deep, corrosive bitterness that seems to be couched in shame of his parents, but it goes much too far for that. Alexander Siddig, who only found out about his character’s secret the day before filming started, is on brilliant form. Bashir is angry, angry about everything, seeing the changes wrought on him by a loser father anxious to make some kind of mark on the world, as arising from Richard’s shame at having a son who appeared to be a failure like him. His change of name to Julian was to divorce his past from his present.

But he’s too handy with words like freak, and unnatural for that to come solely from outside. Siddig shows us that Julian is ashamed of himself, of his difference from others, that he has inflated the deliberate creation of his abilities into a full-scale separation from humanity.

He’s too consumed by his own self-hatred to see anything in what his father has done but hatred of the little boy nature produced. Inevitably, given the nature of Deep Space Nine, this mental state is cured by two things: a simple declaration from his mother, as to the fear they felt, the despair at being responsible for what Jules was born as, and that what was done was simply out of love, for their son, and his father sacrificing himself to two years imprisonment as the quid pro quo for Julian’s career, licence and commission being saved.

Siddig was right: it would have been impossible to play Bashir as a man containing a secret whose revelation would have such drastic effects in a weekly series that would basically ignore this development from week to week. So a string story came together basically by accident and its own internal logic impressing itself by fits and starts. Art is crazily wonderful, sometimes.

Incidentally, until we get to the end of the last episode of the season, this set-up is the last memory I have of DS9 in the Nineties. So it’s back to almost-fresh programming for the next nine weeks.