Deep Space Nine: s07 e07 – One More unto The Breach


A Warrior

A simple episode, and a highly predictable one, played only on notes that we have heard before and in the same combination, but not, for all that, a bad episode. But then I am, and always have been, a sucker for sacrifice, moved intensely by those who give up their lives to save others.

‘Once More unto The Breach’ brought back John Colicos as the Dahar master, Kor, a role he had first played 31 years earlier in the Original Series, and which he had re-created for DS9 in seasons 2 and 4. It was the actor’s last performance, and he was reliable to the end.

This was also an episode that centred upon Worf who has had little presence since Jardzia’s death. Kor approaches him, willing to beg, for a role in the War: he has lost all his influence, he is the last of his House, there seems to be no way for him to die as he wishes, as a Warrior. Straightway, we know what will follow: that Worf will bring him in to the raid proposed by General Martok, even as a lowly Third Officer, that Kor will be shamed by his age and frailty, and that at the last he will redeem himself, taking the place of Worf on a suicide mission that confounds the enemy and secures the escape of his battlemates, and a death that will take him to Sto-Vo-Kor.

If it’s predictable, then it was well performed, especially by J.G.Hertzler, nursing a thirty year grudge against Kor for blackballing him out of the Klingon military on class grounds. He is barely able to tolerate the old Klingon, even before his crew look at the hero with awe, and when Kor, in battle reveals his mental frailty and begins re-fighting an old action against the Federation, Martok is merciless in his scorn, but answered by Kor’s pained, yet quiet dignity, against which Martok cannot take the pleasure he has longed for in decades.

Though the scene where Kor, pretending to congratulate Worf on a glorious death to come, knocks him out with a hypnospray is just another example of old wine in a new bottle, it is carried out in a touching manner. Kor promises his unconscious friend that the first thing he will do upon arriving at Sto-Vo-Kor will be to seek out Jardzia and remind her that her husband is a noble warrior… and that he still loves no-one but her. His last words before he teleports to his stolen command are ‘Long Live The Empire’.

And then he’s gone. How he does it is unknown, passed into legend, like that of Davey Crockett, debated by Miles and Julian in the open, as a foreshadowing of this moment. Bloodwine is drunk by all, in toast to the Warrior, and the ritual song sung, save by Martok, who cannot let go of his anger so easily.

Back at the station, there’s a hint of a B story that really doesn’t deserve that name, when Quark overhears Ezri talking about Kor and wanting to spend another day with him, and thinking she means Worf. I’ve seen a spoiler that I’d really rather have not, not because I didn’t want the surprise blown, but because I really do not want to sit through three-quarters of a season of Quark mooning over Ezri, even if I’m reassured he doesn’t get off with her (whilst hinting that pretty near everybody else does, which bodes not well).

At least it leads to a decent opportunity for Nicole de Boer to cement her growing confidence by confirming she’s not interested in Worf (nor Quark, phew) and that she recognises just how generous a speech the Ferengi has just made, not to mention how embarrassing for him.

Like I said, though the story was older than Kor himself, its subject is one that has to be handled pretty badly for me not to feel it, so this week got a pass from me. And a fond smile.

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Brainfart


For the past four weeks I have been getting up early on Monday mornings to go to Chinley, in Derbyshire, for counselling sessions organised through Occupational Health at work. It’s very CBT oriented, and I don’t do CBT, but I’ve managed to orient the last couple of sessions towards orthodox face-to-face counselling, which has been a lot more useful.

The point is that Chinley – which is the nearest place the organisation actually has a Counsellor – is very difficult to get to from Stockport by public transport. There’s no direct route. After a lot of online research, I worked out that I needed two buses – one into Stockport, then one to Marple – and the train from Marple to Chinley, each way. And be back for work in the afternoon.

There’s only one train each way stops at Chinley every hour, at 14 minutes past for Sheffield and 5 minutes to for Manchester. Given that my appointments are at 10.45an, and there’s a twenty minute walk from the station to my Counsellor’s cottage – 95% of which is uphill in the current heatwave conditions – I can only arrive on time by leaving Stockport bus station on the 9.14am to Marple, and hanging around Chinley for the 12.55pm train back.

Given that my shift starts at 1.00pm, this has meant that, except for the week I was on leave, my manager has had to book me an hour’s Medical Appointment Leave from 1.00 to 2.00pm.

All has been well so far until last week when he started querying this. He was certain there was a direct train from Stockport that would be quicker, cheaper and more convenient, and he found it for me on Network Rail’s Journey Planner.

I was stunned. none of this had shown up on my research, and I’d sat at Chinley Station watching trains not stop enough times to be dubious, but there it was. I didn’t need that hour’s Medical Appointment Leave.

So, despite many misgivings, I put his plan into practice this morning, going out later to catch the 10.02am train at Stockport Railway Station, to arrive at 10.21am. I’d just have to be that bit more brisk up the hill. Atleast it was cooler today, and I was better able to maintain a decent pace than I’ve been lately.

On the other hand, I nearly made a mess of it and triggered that old paranoia by suddenly realising I should have started off sooner. The 203 being late, for the millionth time, didn’t help. I sweated, strained and marched to the Station, baulked at the queue in the Tucket Office and paid on the train. And at 10.21am, I hopped off. At Disley (for Lyme Park). On the A6. Nowhere near Chinley. With no chance of getting there for 10.45am.

How did this disaster happen? That’s why this post is titled Brainfart. Because last week I had one. I completely lost the word Chinley and talked about my Counsellor being in Disley. I couldn’t even remember the name Chinley until my Counsellor mentioned it when I rang her from Disley Station to apologise.

So, it was all my fault. My mamager’s well-meaning help – he’s in the process of moving to Disley, hence his knowledge of its train links to Stockport – was correct, but for the wrong parameters. If i get charged for missing thissessio on less than 48 hours, I have no-one else to blame.

And one more thing to worry about. I’ve noticed that I can forget things I know, usually in matters trivial, but this is a bit more important.Did I just have ‘a senior moment’? Or is it the first sign of something a bit more sinister? I really don’t need that on top of everything else.

 

Film 2018: La Lectrice


The latest in my French Selection came to me as a recommendation from the unlikely source of a mate who has never been the sort to be interested in foreign films, but who had seen and been very impressed by this: and I thoroughly agree with him.

La Lectrice (translated as The Reader) is a 1988 film directed by Michel Deville and starring Miou-Miou (real name Sylvette Henry and most famous for Les Valeuses alongside Gerard Depardieu). It’s based on the book of the same name, by Raymond Jean, which provides the spine of the film by being read by Miou-Miou in one of her dual roles.

La Lectrice is a story about a young woman who sets herself up as a professional reader, for those who cannot read, due to age or infirmity, or other circumstances, and about her encounters with her readers. It sounds terribly dry and passive, but the film is the exact opposite of that, thanks to both an intelligent screenplay by Deville and to a superb, many-faceted performance by Miou-Miou.

Miou-Miou plays both Constance, a pretty young wife who has, that afternoon, had a minor scrape in her husband’s car, and who he asks to read the short novel, La Lectrice, and Marie, a pretty young independent semi-attached woman, who decides to make use of her clear and attractive speaking voice to become the aforementioned reader.

Immediately, her decision is treated with suspicion, beginning with the advertising manager for the paper in which she places her advert. He’s far from the only one who seems to think that reading to people can only be provocative, and with devastating results, an opinion shared by a wild-haired and bombastic surgeon, Marie’s cool former Literature Professor (with whom she did not have an affair) and a sharp-suited Police Inspector.

Maruie’s effect on her clients does go some way towards giving the suspicions of these worthies weight. Her first client is Eric, a fourteen year old boy confined to a wheelchair long-term. Eric is clearly attracted towards the older Marie (Miou-Miou was 38 when she made this film) and on their first session, reading Maupassant, he catches a glimpse of stocking top and concentrates so rigidly on that that he faints!

I say stocking top since that is the effect sought, but the truth is that Marie dresses in a very antisexual way that nevertheless amplifies how attractive Miou-Miou is. Her blonde hair is cut boyishly short, topped with curiously close-fitting woolen hats, she wears loose, over-sized long-sleeved tops, calf-length shapeless shirts, long dark woolen socks, from thigh to ankle, merging into bright-coloured ankle socks, flat shoes and heavy, enveloping coats. The effect is superficially asexual, determinedly so, throwing all the attention onto Marie’s face, and yet I can’t take my eyes off her, off her eyes and her mouth and the range of subtle, fleeting expressions Miou-Miou commands (though there’s another reason for that which I’ll come to). It’s an effect that is considerably more sexual than the later scenes with the CEO with whom Marie has an affair, in which there’s some far from unwelcome nudity.

Marie’s aware of the effect she is having on Eric, and there’s a scene in which she plays up to that, allowing herself to get soaked on the way to his home, having to borrow his mother’s robe in which to read and allowing her legs to become exposed.

She’s also aware the effect she’s not having on her old Professor, one of those late fifties’ highly-intelligent guys who you can believe seducing every female student, but who has a rigid code against seducing any of them, which clearly disappointed Marie then, as much as does his failure to approve of her now. His disdain is neatly conveyed by a very late scene in which he teaches her how to properly cheek-kiss.

Marie’s other major client is Madame la General, the near-blind widow of a Marxist General, a hoarse-throated but lively woman with a penchant for Lenin and Marx. The film has already moved from strict realism by having Eric’s mother and a hassled father she’s seen collecting his daughter from school be the players in the enactment of the Maupassant short story she’s reading, and this pair, plus the mother of Eric’s blind friend, extend that role erotically later, blurring the lines between story-layers. But the General’s Widow has a maid(?) named Bella who suffers from spiders, crawling up her legs at night, leaving bite-lumps on her thighs and, eventually, in her hair-line.

Another client is six-year old Coralie with her over-committed, over-busy mother. Coralie inveigles Marie into taking her out to the fair, which leads to panic and police involvement when  Corlie’s mother comes home to find not only daughter and reader missing but a generous helping of her jewellery, which Coralie has draped around her neck under her coat!

I’ve mentioned the CEO, a harrassed and nervous half-balding guy played by Patrick Chesnais, who won the only one of the many Cesar Awards for which the film was nominated. The man, unnamed, wants Marie for her body as much as if not more than her mind. For him, even before this becomes apparent (to the audience, that is), she has dressed very differently: heeled shoes, flesh-coloured tights, a knee-length fitted skirt, a blouse and cardigan combination. The pair have an affair in which Marie is very much in command, in a way that, gently foreshadows the film’s ending, with a libertine retired Judge trying to trap the by now notorious Marie by having her read from the Marquis de Sade.

That, if you wish, is the film’s only real problem. Not de Sade, but the lack of a plotline that makes for an ending. The ending of the book Constance is reading, the reading of which has interwoven with Marie’s readings, comes when the Judge invites the Surgeon and the Inspector, as town notables whose word is allowed the judge for all, to repeat the already-read passage from de Sade about anal tonguing. Marie ends her career by refusing the read, and leaving.

And Constance ends the film by ending the book. But she’s enjoyed reading it aloud, and she has a fine, clear voice. She turns to the camera, smiling at us complicitly: she hasn’t finished yet.

La Lectrice makes good and effective use of the extracts from literature that it uses, and which reflect subtly on the settings in which  Marie finds  herself. We know little of Constance, save that she is married where Marie doesn’t marry, but the film encourages us to equate the two, and Miou-Miou’s ever changing face makes that an inviting prospect.

I don’t know anything like enough – make that anything – about French literature to comment on the literary side and I do get the sense that I am missing a very large part of the film because I do not share the cultural background. Nevertheless, I find the film fascinating, and not merely because I find Miou-Miou in it fascinating in and of herself.

One aspect of the film that I can’t ‘explain’ as it were is the sheer amount of screentime given, repeatedly and cumulatively, to Marie walking the streets of the town where this is set, old, narrow streets, squares and places, going to and from her appointments, usually in the middle to long distance. Miou-Miou makes her walk confident, almost to the point of sassy, a bold, cheerful stride, frequently decorated with a half-skip.

All together, it adds to my private reason for enjoying Miou-Miou so much, for she is so close in appearance, in face and expression, style of hair, outward confidence of manner and even her determined rejection of feminine clothing to my first long-term love. The resemblance is only that, she’s not an exact duplicate, but she is a constant reminder of my old, once dear friend.

That alone is enough to make La Lectrice an unalloyed pleasure to me, but the film’s manifest qualities are themselves enough to make this a very satisfying Sunday morning experience.

 

Doomsday Clock 6


At last we’ve reached the halfway point of this cardboard cut-out attempt to steal Watchmen‘s clothing. had this excuse-for-a-scheduling disaster that’s supposed to tie-in to the entire DC Universe been appearing monthly as it is still advertising in its indicia, we would by know be ‘enjoying’ issue 9, and the writers of DC who are not Geoff Johns would have a lot better idea of just what they are supposed to be gearing all their series towards.

In that respect, Doomsday Clock is an even bigger disaster than Sandman Overture, which took twice as long over half the number of issues, but was at least a standalone series, its ‘tie-ins’ being collections available for decades before hand.

That this is a cardboard cut-out is demonstrated by how formulaicly Johns follows the template of the series he evidently despises. This issue tells us the origin of Johns’ ‘creations’, The Mime and The Marionette, a straight-up rip-off of Punch and Jewellee with added psychopathia. This alternates with a very marginal advancement of the overall storyline to which I’ll come shortly, but that’s the purpose of the issue and it’s a copy of those historical issues of Watchmen, save that Moore and Gibbons’ accounts of the likes of The Comedian, Rorscharch and Silk Spectre were about life-times, and literally all Johns is interested in is the origin itself, with the most perfunctory of nods to the duo’s subsequent career.

Look, I hate to belabour this point but as I appear to be one of a very tiny minority of people who are not worshipping Doomsday Clock as the Greatest Thing in Comics Ever, it is very necessary, but this whole origin thing is yet more evidence for just how completely Johns does not, cannot or maybe even will not understand what Watchmen was about.

The Watchmen ‘Universe’ was a non-comic book world, built upon the reality and the limitations of human ability. It was given one comic book character and it was a study of what the existence of one such character might do to bend a real world out of shape. Johns’ conceit that he can add new characters to that world is shown as completely misfounded when he gives The Mime and The Marionette a 100% straight-down-the-line comic book origin, completely at odds with everything about Watchmen.

As for the story, our pair of villains have now fallen into The Joker’s hands and, under armed guard (which proves to be utterly ineffectual when they decide to cut loose), are being taken underground to a meeting of supervillains. Remember that the background to this story, to which everyone else is supposed to be writing if Johns ever tells them what it’s about, is the world-disturbing claim that all superheroes are US Government creations. Accordingly, the supervillains are getting a bit worried, and are talking about organising to resist (Credit-where-credit’s-due moment no. 1: The Joker’s sarcastic point about whatever they’re going to call themselves this time).

The Legion of Villainy’s being organised by The Riddler. This is the oooold Riddler, the one Frank Gorshin would recognise, all slicked-back hair, purple domino mask and the green skintight costume with the all-over question marks: nothing at all like the Tom King Batman version, which leads me to wonder if Alan Moore is the only other popular writer with whom Geoff Johns has problems.

Flight or flight? Team up against them, or scoot off to Khandaq? Suddenly, someone blows a hole through Typhoon’s head, killing him. It’s The Comedian. Eddie’s on the trail in good old shoot-first-and-don’t-ask-questions-later mode, blowing away Typhoon, a nobody from The Court of Owls and The Riddler’s right knee-cap (nothing left of that to reconstruct, in case anyone has any stomach for the kind of ground-level continuity Moore and Gibbons brought to you-know-what?)

Eddie wants one of our villainous but loving pair to take him to Ozymandias, who will lead him to Dr Manhattan, but falls foul of a joy-buzzer to the back of the neck off the Joker (remember: being from the DC Universe makes you automatically better than anyone from the Watchmen Universe unless, of course, Geoff Johns created you). End of issue 6 and aren’t you glad you paid so much for it? Mine are all first printings going straight on eBay the moment I’ve read issue 12.)

But Credit-where-credit’s due moment 2, and much more commendable. The moment The Comedian comes out of nowhere, shooting, Johns actually makes a meaningful moment. Immediately, The Mime stars dancing, calling attention to himself, attention that The Comedian is prepared to repay with another high-velocity rifle bullet until Giganta fetches him a ding round the ear.

The Marionette is furious with him. She drags him away, keeps him running, refuses to let himself offer himself as a target. He’s doing it to protect her. Psychopaths they may be, and psycopathy being the complete lack of any human empathy, this pair love each other. He is willing to sacrifice himself for her, and she will not let him do it. Not for her, not for anything. You are not going to die so I can run.

It’s a powerful moment of human love, a genuinely touching moment, and one that is not spoiled by the fact that the pair then promptly rip off their costumes, fuck each other passionately and let the Comedian get the world’s easiest drop on them whilst they’re still naked but for the facepaint. Well, it’s not spoiled if you’re prepared to chop the series up into individual pages or scenes in order to get anything halfway worthwhile out of it.

It’s exactly nine weeks until the next issue of this monthly series, about which the blurb is that ‘the truth behind Dr. Manhattan’s curiosity with the DC Universe is revealed’. I can barely contain myself waiting.

A Lycanthrope in Wolfe’s Clothing: Gene Wolfe’s ‘Lake of the Long Sun’


Patera Silk enters the manteion to find the senior boy, Horn, waiting for him. He has been imitating Silk to the night chough, Oreb, but Silk is not offended. He tries to explain his enlightenment to Horn, but ends up giving him a lesson about imitation, about what to imitate and why.
Silk is suspicious of Doctor Crane, who he suspects of eavesdropping on the young augur’s shriving of Chenille that afternoon. When he goes to sleep, he dreams of Kypris trying to draw him into a monitor glass. He wakens, thinking he’s heard noises from the room of old Patera Pike above, and seen Oreb fly, though the bird’s wing is still damaged. Suspecting Auk of breaking in to steal Hyacinth’s valuable azoth, he explores and finds a seeming of Pike, which dissolves.
The following morning, it is Orpine’s funeral, a substantial and lavish affair with sacrifices for all the Gods. The large attendance includes Auk, and also Chenille, deeply affected by rust, a drug to which she is addicted.
At each sacrifice, Silk appeals, in formulated words, for the God or Goddess addressed to favour them with an appearance at their Sacred Window. From the entrails of each sacrifice, he divines futures. Several indicate a time of many deaths arriving. Auk is told that, after having acted alone thus far, he will soon lead a body of men. Silk learns that there is a weapon aimed at him. The audience is told that when danger threatens they are to seek safety between narrow walls, which is interpreted as meaning the old tunnels below Viron.
But when Silk sacrifices a white dove to Kypris, the Holy Hues appear for the first time in twenty years, and Kypris visits the Sacred Window. All who see her take something different from the experience. She offers three messages, one private to Orchid. There will be a great crime committed that night in Viron, which will succeed because she will support the criminals, and she will return, before long. Orchid’s message is that someone who loves something outside herself cannot be wholly bad, but that now Orpine is dead, she must find something else.
The service ends: Silk and Maytera Marble remain to supervise the closing of the coffin. So too does Chenille, whose behaviour is strange and detached until she accuses Orpine of being a spy.
Kypris’s visitation arouses talk all over the quarter, increasing the calls of Silk for Caldé. This new attention could be dangerous, since the Ayuntamiento does not like people to get too popular. Silk, having no such ambitions, assumes his lack of interest will be sufficient.
Silk is cooking when Musk and Chenille both invade the manteion. The former is cold and contemptuous, and threatens Silk with a knife. He tells the augur that Blood’s arrangement is off, that he demands the full sum in a week. Silk disarms and punishes him with the stick lent him by Blood: though Musk has a needler, he doesn’t use it.
Chenille wants to talk to Silk. She stayed behind when the funeral procession left for the graveyard, and fell asleep in the garden. The accused spy was not Orpine but herself: she has been gathering information from patrons of Orchid’s establishment for Doctor Crane, who is not of Viron. But Kypris’s appearance caused a flash of understanding. She proposes blackmailing Crane for the 26,000 cards Silk needs.
Their discussion is interrupted by Patera Remora, Coadjutor to Praeter Quetzal, Prolocutor of the Chapter. He is there to promise Silk the Chapter’s assistance and ensures him that the Sun Street manteion will be saved. Silk suspects that the Chapter’s interest is based in trying to take credit for the events at the funeral.
Once Remora leaves, Chenille reveals that, since the ceremony, she has been possessed by Kypris, and that Silk is not to speak of this. She offers herself to him, but he refuses her. Silk must spy on Crane, however reluctant he may be, and they will try to get a hold over the Doctor. She sleeps at the cenoby, with the three Mayteras.
Back at Blood’s villa, Musk, in a vile temper, meets Hare, a kite-builder. Hare is building a kite to resembles the flyers seen in the air above Viron. He wants to train one of his hawks to attack and bring down a flyer, to capture his propulsion unit. The following day, the hawk, Aquila, succeeds in striking down a flyer who was too busy concentrating on the approaching stormfront, two hundred miles away.
That following morning, Chenille/Kypris explains more of the process of possession by Gods, who are in reality programs scanned into the computers at Mainframe. Silk sees the process as quas-hypnotic. For reasons Chenille doesn’t know, Kypris wanted to possess Maytera Mint but only a part of her passed into the shy sybil. The presence of the Gods changes thehost: Mint is not afraid, Chenille/Kypris is free of her addiction to rust.
The plan to blackmail Doctor Crane is now to be enlarged to include money for Chenille to buy a shop, and not return to Orchid. Auk arrives to donate a valuable stolen bracelet: he and Chenille ‘know’ each other already and have pet names. Chenille tells Silk more of Hyancinth, for whom Silk has fallen, heavily.
From what is known of Crane’s movements, Silk suspects the Ayuntamiento having a meeting place at or near Lake Limna. The Lake used to extend to Viron but is shrinking in the ongoing heat. Silk and Chenille/Kypris go to Limna, the town, with Auk to follow. Their departure coincides with the arrival of Silk’s Chapter-sent new assistant, Patera Gulo. As they near, Chenille sees a splash in the Lake, which she attributes to a monster fish. It is actually the flyer downed by Musk’s hawk.
At Blood’s villa, learning from Hare that both have left, Crane searches the cellars, seeking access to the tunnels. He does not find it until Councillor Lemur opens it deliberately. Crane’s needles fire straight through Lemur, who orders him to follow.
In Limna, Silk and Chenille separate to search. At the local Juzgado, Silk learns there is a lakeshore shrine to Sphigx, accessible only on foot by a lengthy Pilgrim’s Way. A friendly couple who advise him not to go in the heat of the day also reveal that Crane goes that way. Accompanied only by Oreb, Silk sets off. The bird sees a man in the shrine when it first appears but, despite the absence of anywhere to go or another way to return, Silk can find nothing of hom when he arrives.
In Viron, Gulo reports back to Remora, including a seeminly compromising perfumed letter from Hyacinth to Silk. Remora educates him on the Ayuntamiento’s takeover of Viron after the last Caldé died. He reveals that, before his death, the Caldé purchased one of a variety of frozen embyros stored on the Whorl, unusual strains with unusual characteristics, some of them human. Gulo suggests this to have been Chenille.
Silk is contemplating the Lake when the shrine floor opens and he is thrown down into the tunnels. He is attacked by a talus, the same one he escaped at Blood’s villa. Returned in disgrace, it is violently resentful and tries to kill him, before he destroys it with the azoth. Unable tp regain the shrine, Silk follows the tunnel for hours, growing disoriented and tired. He briefly sees Mucor, and finds himself dodging an unseen mechanical creature. After the tunnel starts to rise, he is captured by two chem soldiers, Sergeant Sand and Corporal Hammerstone, who force him to name Crane as a spy. Silk’s guilt is alleviated when he finds Crane has already been captured by Councillor Lemur.
Above ground, Auk arrives in Limna to find Chenille. She is drunk and disoriented and in need of rust: her possession by Kypris has ceased as has her memory of this period. He forces her, sometimes brutally, to accompany him to the shrine, but when she refuses to walk back, he abandons her. Briefly she calls him back, to request a new start at Orchid’s: they have never met before. When he leaves, she realises he is her mate. Playing with a brass plate, Chenille finds a screen displaying the Holy Hues.
Underground, Silk is left with Corporal Hammerstone, who shows him ranks of unused chem soldiers, programmed to defend Viron under the Caldé’s orders. All cities have them, but Viron’s is the largest contingent. Pas has arranged things to prevent any one Caldé gaining enough power to attack Mainframe.
Hammerstone also shows Silk doors locked with the seal of Pas, the highest stricture of confidentiality in Silk’s beliefs. It guards a room of bios in suspended animation, a new ‘crop’ of humans to re-seed the Whorl at necessity. He forces the door open a crack to enable Silk to see inside: someone is moving. The soldier forces his way in, shattering the Seal. AA naked woman is strangling inside her crystal chamber: Silk cracks it open so she can breathe.
Her name is Mamelta and, recognising her surroundings, she seeks the lifter, but these are memories of her uploading to the Whorl, back at the Short Sun. Silks wants her to escape Hammerstone with him, and retrieve the azoth from the tunnels. He leads her into the belly of the Whorl where they find a ship, embedded in the shiprock wall, with a control room and evidence of stolen embryos. Mamelta begins to repair it. To do so, she needs more of the cards Viron uses as currency: these are really circuit boards.
In Viron, Remora instructs Patera Incus, a black mechanic, to travel to Limna and find Chenille.
Auk, working back towards Limna, hears Chenille call from behind, before she overtakes him, running furiously. When he catches up with her nearer the town, she has stripped naked preparatory to diving into the Lake. She is possessed again, this time openly and contemptuously by Scylla, eldest daughter of Pas, patron of Viron. Scylla identifies ‘Daddy’ as Typhon the First, Autarch of Urth. Pas is dead, wiped out of Mainframe by the family thirty years before. She leaps aboard the boat carrying Patera Incus and takes control of it.
At Sun Street, Maytera Marble is cooking breakfast but her perceptions are wavering. Upstairs, she discovers Maytera Rose is dead and, automatically, begins to transfer working components to her own part-mechanical body. The glass monitor in the bedroom shows Scylla approaching in her boat.
Silk has been recaptured and placed with Crane after being tortured and beaten for some time by the giggling Councillor Potto. Crane thinks Silk is also a spy and wants to know who he is working for. Silk is more concerned with Mucor. Crane confirms that legally she is Blood’s adopted daughter, and one of the frozen embryos, stolen and bought. They are under the Lake in a submarine. Silk relates the story of his enlightenment, which pleases Crane as something that divides and weakens Viron. However, he thinks it an hallucination, caused by a bursting blood vessel in the brain.
Silk is praying when Councillor Lemur enters, offering the return of both prisoners’ possessions, needlers included. He mocks the Gods as obsolete, to be replaced by himself. His body is artificial, superior to human. Silk will be the next Prolocutor, and he takes Crane to be a man from Palustria.
They are taken to another prisoner, the downed flier, Iolar. Crane will treat him, Silk administer last rites if he is dying. Silk will be Caldé, but under Lemur and the Ayuntamiento. Lemur wants flying troops, but Iolar has ditched his propulsion unit. Crane confirms that, with proper medical attention, the injured flier could walk again, but when he still refuses to talk, Lemur ejects him into the Lake, at seventy cubits, to die horribly.
Lemur leads Silk and Crane to where the Councillors’ bio-bodies are maintained, artificially alive. Heis smug at his power until Crane informs him his bio-body is dead. Lemur panics, dropping the azoth, which Crane snatches and uses to destroy the chem-body. Crane and Silk escape with Mamelta. They escape to Limna, but Mamelta is lost.
At Sun Street, troopers arrive to arrest Silk, mistaking Patera Gulo for him. A stone is thrown from the crowd and the troops open fire. They are forced to retreat into the manteion when the Sacred Window opens and the Goddess orders them to support Silk.
At Limna, Crane admits to encouraging support for Silk as Caldé, hoping this would avert a war. Silk has worked out far more of Crane’s plans than the Doctor anticipated, but not that he is actually spying for the female-dominated Trivigaunte. Eventually, they are apprehended by the Guard, but their Captain is there to take his Caldé into protective custody, to escort Silk and Crane back to Viron to be protected against the Ayuntamiento.
As they leave Limna, the rains come at long last, violently. The troop is ambushed and Crane is killed. Their assailants are Guards, here to rescue Caldé Silk…

Is That What It’s Really About? Bernard Cribbins’ ‘Hole in the Ground’


Now that Sounds of the Sixties no longer exists (except in some illusory form, at a godawful hour of Saturday morning run by Tony Blackburn, being run down for cancellation, which I refuse to admit exists), I have to look elsewhere for the kind of prompt to reconsider the hidden implications of a seemingly innocent Sixties song.
Bernard Cribbins has been around as a comedian for over fifty years. My first exposure to him was via a couple of comedy songs that used to appear on the Light Programme (the BBC’s pre-numbered stations’ Music channel) and which both reached the top 10 in the year of 1962. The more famous one has always been ‘Right Said Fred’, which was actually the lesser success, but before that, Cribbins cracked the charts with ‘Hole in the Ground’.
Musically, it’s slight and innocuous, but then it wasn’t recorded for the tune, and Cribbins is no great shakes as a singer. No, this is a comedy record with no other pretensions, and it has to be praised for not having become irritating, tedious or grating in over half a century of exposure.
And what about these comedy words? Cribbins keeps it simple, doesn’t go for actual jokes, just paints a picture. Our Bernard is, by implication, a Council workman who is currently engaged in the manual labour of digging a hole, presumably but not necessarily in the road. Cribbins is keeping it casual, all, ‘there was I’ and ”so big and sort of round it was’. It’s all very low-key and next to pleasant, until we get to ‘Him’.
‘Him’ doesn’t waste time in turning up. ‘Him’ is a superior sort of person, or at least so he thinks. We are once more on that familiar ground for British comedy, the Class War. It’s even being demonstrated visually because the worker Cribbins is stood in the hole, and ‘Him’ is standing up there, upper both class-wise and status-wise.
‘Him’, who is naturally wearing a bowler hat to signify that he is a white-collar worker who does not dirty his hands, physically at any rate, is studying the hole. There’s no suggestion that he has any authority in matters hole-wise, or that he’s a Council official acting like a little jumped-up Hitler, just a better-educated nobody with nothing better to do than to tell a slovenly lower-class labourer what he’s doing wrong.
I mean, he’s polite enough to couch them in the form of a suggestion, but we all know (and boy, did we, in the Sixties) that he thinks he can order this layabout around. ‘Don’t dig it there’, he says, ‘dig it elsewhere’, not to mention that ‘you’re digging it round and it ought to be square’. In short, ‘you’re digging it wrong (and) it’s much too long’. That aside, plus it being in the wrong place, there’s not much else amiss.
Now Cribbins looks on this with the traditional contempt of the British labourer for those who do not get their hands dirty, not to mention the nosey parker who thinks he knows better than the working man just because he’s a bit further up the scale, so to speak. Indeed Cribbins, after a bit more digging, just to make the point that he’s working whilst the bowler-hatted man might be ‘all grand and official with his nose in the air’ but he’s the one not getting on with his job, slows down a bit, scratches his head, lights a fag (and if you don’t remember the Sixties you’ll never understand just how that could be turned into a gesture of political contempt) and replies, in the same rhythm, that the hole’s being dug there and it’s being dug round, because that’s what our worker is doing, and he makes it into a personal preference: he’s doing that because that’s what he wants to do, and that’s the end of the argument, both in fact and metaphor.
So am I suggesting that this seemingly innocuous and lightweight comedy record is in truth an example of the Class war at its height? Of Socialism versus Capitalism? Labour versus the Boss Class? Is it an unsuspected paean to Communism, smuggled by stealth into the British Top 10? Well, yes, I suppose on one level it is, and personally I could do with more of that sort of thing.
But what makes it a question of Is That What It’s Really About? is the song’s coda. There isn’t a hole in the ground any longer. It’s been filled in. The ground is once again flat, the legendary level playing field.
And underneath it is the man in the bowler hat.
Did he jump? Was he pushed? Was he, perish the thought, buried alive and left to suffocate by degrees, his ever-fainter cries unheard by anyone passing? Have we really be amusing ourselves for 1 minute and 52 seconds (including roadwork sound effects) over a murder?
Yes, my friends, we have. Think on that.

Eskdale: To Go or Not To Go


Oh yes…

Many of you will be aware of (and probably be thoroughly bored by) the number of times I have bemoaned the circumstances that keep me from seeing familiar and wonderful places in the western Lake District. Reliance on public transport to get to Cumbria, and the extreme limitations of public transport once I’ve got there, pretty much rules it out.

But not completely. I’ve long nursed an ambition for a particular day out that can get me by train to the Ratty and thus give me something like two to two and a half hours in Eskdale. And I’ve long put that off because it has always felt like I should be taking someone with me.

If I make that a deal-breaker, I’ll never do it. So, with a week’s holiday coming up in August, I’ve been looking at the practicalities – financial and timetable-wise – of making an Eskdale expedition on Thursday August 16.

Basically, the cheapest and most convenient journey is to break it into two legs: Manchester Piccadilly to Lancaster, departing 8.30am, 50 minute break at Lancaster, then Lancaster to Ravenglass, arriving 12.04pm.

This then gives me the options of the 12.04pm (diesel) or 12.45pm (steam) trains from Ravenglass to Dalegarth, with the former the train of choice, but that’s dependent upon the train being on time as I only have six minutes to transfer over.

Based on the Ratty timetable, I’d have to be back at Dalegarth to catch the 3.30pm to Ravenglass, then retread my steps.

It’s slightly cheaper to get single tickets each way, but that ties me to certain trains and, to keep the costs down, I wouldn’t be back at Piccadilly until 8.45pm. On the other hand, if I buy returns for the two legs, it’s only about £2.00 – £4.00 dearer, depending on which train I get back from Lancaster but I have a free hand catching return trains, including ones from Lancaster that are a damn sight more expensive as single fares.

Basically, I can get, as I said, two to two and a half hours in Middle Eskdale, around Dalegarth for just under £50 in rail fares, including the Ratty. For that, I’m committing myself to about five and three-quarter hours of train journeys, not counting the 40 minutes each way to Eskdale, which doesn’t count because that’s the whole point of the day.

So, do I do it? The weather forecast for August 16 is sunny with clouds, and the day appeals because it’s the day after the anniversary of my Dad’s death, and he is the main reason for my love of the Lakes: I took over his Ratty membership for years after his death.

Having worked out how possible it is, and with enough margins at changeovers to minimise the possible problems with delayed trains, I don’t see how I can’t, partner in travel or no partner in travel.

So, when I go into Manchester on Saturday (expect the latest excoriation of Doomsday Clock), I’m going to purchase my tickets, charge up my mp3 player, make sure there’s plenty of ink in my pen and plenty of clean pages in my notepad: there will be an official Eskdale Expedition report.