And all of a sudden, the season that had no endings in sight pulled a shitload of them out of its back pocket and spread them round like there was nothing to it, and we rolled through an extended eighty minute finale of ups and downs and a sideways or two, and the ground is free and clear for another base to be laid in season 3. Sometimes it’s like magic, but what it really is is art.
I really didn’t think you could have done it. There have been twelve named cast members in season 2 whose mixings have often, over the past eleven weeks, seemed to be following no particular route, just bouncing off what I’m trying desperately to avoid calling the vicissitudes of life, but that’s been the effect David Simon and Eric Overmyer have been concentrating upon.
But one after another carpets started to get rolled up under certain people’s feet, and in both satisfaction and disappointment, things rolled round to places not unadjacent to where they began. Take Antoine Batiste in a memorable open: after Wanda’s walkout on stage last week, the rest of the band, or at least too many follow her out of the door. In no time at all, there’s no band and no point and a massive fuck you from the man with the ‘bone, who don’t need this shit.
And Davis sees his precious band slide out from under him by the most basic law of talent: when everybody’s a Mississippi river width better than you, you’re looking at the door. Praise the lad for growing up a little, stepping out on stage making fun of himself and embracing his white privileged background on a truly non-funky ‘Sex Machine’, immaculately swallowing the ‘ess’ word.
Delmond gives up his New York apartment, and his New York girlfriend to fund his share of the fake royalties that can pay for Albert to fix up the house.
And Nelson has the rug spectacularly pulled out from under him, in a manner he still doesn’t quite understand. He’s played the game, taken the opportunities vouchsafed to him and now he’s been cut off. ‘For now’. Because the FBI are investigating Councilman Thomas, who’s rolling over and resigning, and Nelson’s fed the jukebox in that corner so he’s no longer Mr Anonymous through whom the big boys can weave their nets. And his cousin’s asking him what is it he actually does, and Nelson doesn’t have a real answer for him. He makes deals. He makes money. He makes, in actual fact, nothing. Ever heard of a President like that?
But they’re the obvious losers, though Desiree gets what she wants, she and Antoine moving into a house of their own, and he’s leading a new bad, the more talented kids from school, setting up on the streets.
Others have a more equivocal time of it. Janette flies down to N’Awlins for Jacques’ bail hearing and helps him get loose. Later, they go to the Jazz Festival, and later than that they shag each other’s brains out. This is a bad move, because you never, never, never sleep with your sous-chef, and this guy’s setting up an offer to finance a new restaurant for the fair Ms Desautel, back in New Orleans, and she#’s wavering.
And Terry turns up at Toni’s, demanding the shell-casings so the Arbrea case can be properly matched in ballistics. He tells his Captain they could have a match, two linked Police shootings, and, guess what? A casing goes missing. Colson’s had enough. He’s taken it to the FBI, wants the Department swept clean in the Augean manner. Toni’s taken Arbrea to the politicians, but there’s an Election coming up. Sofia’s taking things seriously, hurt enough again over Councilman Thomas to talk about her Dad. As one door begins to swing open, the one between Toni and Terry is now firmly shut.
But others fare better. Sonny gets traded to Linh’s Dad’s shrimp boat for the weekend, an ordeal that results in his being given permission to pursue his suit with her. Though the collapse of Antoine’s band leaves him hocking his guitar.
And Annie’s starting to work on Hawley’s music.
But best of all is LaDonna, LaDonna who drops into a bar five blocks from her own and finds one of her rapists sitting there drinking beer. Who demands the Police in to haul him back, and then taunts the bastard and starts kicking him. Who unloads an expletive laden tirade at the DA over the technical cock-up that let him out, who’s breathing fire and flame out of every nostril, and Larry follows her out with this quiet little grin on his face and says they ain’t selling that goddamned bar, instead they’re moving back to New Orleans, because maybe he hates that goddamned bar but it’s a part of LaDonna, and she’s who he fell for again, nd she looks at him like she’s shell-shocked and as the lift doors slide shut, we catch this glimpse of her going to him and hugging him, and she is back and man is it glorious!
In the end, Davis can’t sleep. He’s back at the radio station, playing a little slow something old and mournful, that’s New Orleans to the core and the soul, and maybe it’s not what it used to be or what it ought to be but where else would they go and who else would have them, and that’s David Simon saying that through him, and the last is an apology for dead air, because that kinda got Davis there, and it did anyone.
Next week, we go into season 3. Maybe I ought to slow down, space them put, make it last, but you know I won’t be able to. Down in the Treme, down with the Treme. And the music goes round and round.
I don’t know where it’s coming from, sang Kate McGarrigle in ‘Kiss and Say Goodbye’, a song about snatched time with an out-of-town married lover, here for a few hours. Her line was about the urge to kiss (him) until (her) mouth gets numb. I’m talking about the words.
There are times when I can barely write a word, when the emotional energy that underpins writing is lacking. And there are times when, to use the word I find most apt, I am fecund, when writing is fluid, fluent and prolific.
But I can’t remember a hot spell like the current one.
What triggered it is unknown. I started last week, off work, in a dull state, exhausted and empty, physically and mentally. It was a waste of opportunity.
But I finished a course of counselling on Monday morning. Wednesday I visited Dukinfield Crematorium, paying my eternal respects to my long-gone Dad, talking to him as I usually do, at first with awkwardness, then with increasing fluency.
Then Thursday was the Eskdale Expedition, and I wrote all day, almost obsessively. Between what became the blogpost for that day, a crucial section of my current novel, and blogposts you haven’t seen yet, I must have written something like six thousand words. And I’ve not stopped since. Any moment in which I wasn’t actually doing anything, my thoughts turned to writing. As I draft this, I;m on a coach to West Kirby to do a Beach Clean. This is already the third different thing I’ve worked on.
I don’t know where it’s coming from. All I do know is that I am now only two scenes, one substantially rough-drafted and one transitional scene, from completing that novel’s First Draft, my first completed work of new extended fiction since 2011. I have five Infinite Jukebox posts to polish and post. I have other articles scheduled. Every dead moment for the past seven days, I have turned to screen or notebook with a buzz in my head, written a line, and, like pressing a button, it has spilled out, until I resent interruption, because every line has a line that just has to follow it, compelled into being.
Like this little piece, which yet furthers my belief that what I write comes not from my consciousness but instead some place out of conscious control or reach, so that I am ultimately a conduit, not a source.
If that’s the case, sobeit. ‘He’s obviously in good nick this past week. Sit back and let it happen. What will be this coach-ride’s fourth piece?
And suddenly, later in the afternoon, on our way back, I complete a scene from the novel and it all goes silent in my head. Subject only to juggling the pieces to fit, I have finished the First Draft. And everything is still and it feels weird. I’ve finished a novel again. The drive is done, for now. A different use of my imagination is required now.
Back in the really good old days of Sounds of the Sixties, when production of the show and the choice of music was firmly in the hands of Roger ‘The Vocalist’ Bowman (which tells you how far back I’m going), there was a regular feature that came along about four times a year, when SOTS would clear its middle hour, from 8.30 to 9.30, to play a full Sixties American Top Twenty, for the week of the show.
This was usually absolutely fascinating, as long as we weren’t going too far back into the decade. It was a complete guessing game as to what the chart may contain, with the date of no help whatsoever, except as to what ‘British Invasion’ songs we might get. Lots of American records that went big in Britain didn’t even get released over here until a couple of months after they were hits at home, several only scored on reissue, years later (Louis Armstrong’s classic ‘What a Wonderful World’ was a UK no. 1 in 1968, but it was an American hit in 1964).
And of course there was the unfailing fascination of the songs that went big in America yet meant nothing over here. Listening to the full Top Twenty gave such records an immediate context: what they were up against in their homeland, with the British tracks a marker for what time of our chart history this was.
Sometimes, it was obvious why a record wouldn’t have appealed over here. And naturally it’s impossible to know what may or may not have been released in Britain, and what did or didn’t get airplay. But the most interesting of all are those records that were absolutely massive in America but which were completely ignored over here, but should have been equally celebrated and loved by us.
The Association, for me, are an obvious example: ‘Cherish’, ‘Windy’, ‘Never my Love’: why on Earth did none of these singles even reach the UK Top Fifty? It wasn’t even as if British bands were doing the old trick of recording their own versions and pushing them out, trying too snatch hits before the record label could do a deal to licence the original. That’s what Amen Corner did, inaugurating their brief commercial phase with a cover of The American Breed’s ‘Bend Me, Shape Me’ (though I happen to prefer the rawer, more energetic version by Andy Fairweather-Low and co).
The Young Rascals were one of those bands that never really crossed the Atlantic. They started out as raw, energetic blues-blasters, blue-eyed soul with a distinct New Jersey/Italian twang that linked them spiritually with The Four Seasons, but in 1967 they were among those who reacted to changing times by going psychedelic: not the full-out Pink Floyd psychedelia but a broader, hippyish approach, incorporating softer soul and jazz sounds, that brought a sense of space into their recordings, as well as a lyrical shift towards peace and freedom themes.
‘Groovin” was the only Young Rascals song to make it in Britain. Though it was recorded as The Young Rascals (the name chosen when a band called Harmonica Rascals objected to them being simply called The Rascals) and was the title track of an album under that name, by the time it came out over here the band had shortened their name to The Rascals and it was released under that title. It reached no. 8, a single week in the Top 10, in the first Summer of Love.
‘Groovin” is pretty much the perfect summer song. It’s slow and lazy, lit-up with a quavering harmonica that repeats three wistful notes, it’s the sound of picnics and cool drinks, and boats on park lakes, the sound of the sun beating down on an endless day.
It’s a song in which Felix Cavaliere’s piano carries the rhythm and Dino Danelli soft-handedly pats out the conga drum, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish sing sweet and yearning ah-hah-hahs over, clear, bell-like notes. Felix sings soulfully of groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon and you slip down Alice’s rabbit-hole into a golden trip with someone who means all there is to mean, in a time and a place that is neither time or place because there’s nothing to do and forever in which to do it and the only thing that is to be done is to let the day go around you. Sometime it will end, but whilst the song plays that sometime is never and there’s no better time than this.
All in less that two minutes and thirty seconds.
This isn’t a song, it’s a transport. It’s a summer and a memory of a summer and every summer there has ever been in which a clock or a calendar has ceased to matter
We gave a track like this a single week in our Top 10, at no. 8. One Saturday morning, on SOTS, I listened all the way to the end of an American top Twenty and when we got to the Number 1, it was ‘Groovin”, and not for its first week.
Sometime I am deeply ashamed of the musical preferences of this country.
Yet again I’m going to cut across the grain and diss a very highly-respected DS9 episode that the rest of the world worships, and for no better reason than that I cannot stand Vic Fontaine.
Also, I find it demeaning to Nicole de Boer that, having been introduced as a new character, and as a Counsellor, not only is her role usurped by a hologram but she’s depicted as so incompetent at her job that a hologram of a 1962 lounge singer is not just better than her but vastly better.
And whilst this may just be twenty more years of watching television drama, I found the beats of Nog’s story of trauma and rehabilitation predictable.
So, no, I didn’t enjoy this, and when the DVD glitched with another of Vic’s songs unable to be sung, I did not feel any sense of loss whatsoever. In all of Deep Space Nine, that’s two minutes and twenty-six seconds (including the credits) I still won’t have seen.
As a concept, the episode – which mutated almost out of existence a ‘bottle’ episode idea arrived at several seasons before – was intelligent and important. Two episodes ago, Nog lost a leg in battle. This is the future: such things can be replaced perfectly. Physically, he is as good as new. Mentally, it’s different. Nog has PTS and the episode is about his recovery, which is first achieved by hiding himself away from real-life inside Vic Fontaine’s holosuite programme, and then by forcing him to be open about his fear of a real world that has reared up and bitten him and about which he is now very much ‘once bitten, twice shy’.
Everybody but me, it seems, agrees that this worked, and worked brilliantly.
Kudos to the show, in its last season, and not far off halfway through it, for setting aside an episode to be a two-hander between two recurring characters, with minimal involvement from the cast: Ezri had the largest role here, much good it did her.
But my aversion to the milieu of Vic Fontaine and its/his elevation to near godhead status in this distant future series – he’s even got self-will as a hologram – made it impossible to take seriously as intended. My loss, no doubt.
I had decided upon something serious this week for my film viewing, but Nic Roeg’s Walkabout is more dream-like than documentary. Though there’s a story, of sorts, to it, it’s more a state of mind or a state of being, that begins with a tragedy and ends with a double tragedy, all of which are handled in a low-key, emotionally neutral manner, reliant primarily on vibrant, surprisingly colourful and natural images.
Surprisingly, for a film that is essentially a three-hander (and in which the third of its central trio is not introduced until over a half hour into the picture), it has an incredibly young cast in which Jenny Agutter – fresh from her virginal success in The Railway Children – is the oldest, and she’s 17, playing what I’ve now learned is a 14 year old girl. David Gulpilil, playing the Aborigine boy (and miscredited as Gumpilil) was only 16, and playing his first film role, whilst Agutter’s younger brother was credited as Lucien John but was actually Director/Cinematographer Roeg’s 8 year old son, Luc, and was bloody good with it.
There are so many ramifications to this story that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. The ‘plot’ is minimal. John Mellion plays an unnamed man, married, wife and two children, an Englishman emigrated to Australia – Adelaide is mentioned once or twice – but seemingly determined to bring his children up as English, as identified by their straitened natures and the English-style school uniforms both wear (though Agutter’s skirt would have been considerably too short for the home country, even in 1970). For reasons unexplained, but which we may infer from his brief, silent scenes in the City, he goes mad. Driving his children into the Outback for ostensibly a picnic, he starts shooting at them: Agutter drags her brother into hiding. When they refuse to come back, he uses petrol to set the car alight and shoots himself in the head.
The two children set off across the Outback, Agutter keeping her brother from the reality of what has happened. They are utterly unequipped for life in the desert. Even when they find an oasis, dirty, muddy water that nevertheless refreshes them, it dries up overnight, leaving them helpless.
Agutter is gently insistent on their being English, and keeping up standards. Some of it is sensible precautions against the sun that is horrendous for their pale complexions, but there is the “We don’t want to look like tramps” aspect: Agutter retains her school hat and blazer throughout, and her tights until nearly halfway through the film, young John his full school uniform, cap, blazer, satchel, shirt and, incredibly, tie.
Whilst they’re stranded at the dried oasis, Gulpilil arrives over a sand-ridge. He is on what the pre-film title card has defined: In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT.
The English siblings are also on a Walkabout, except that their’s is not deliberate and they are not aware of it. That will dictate their end.
The Aborigine boy is lean and lithe. He is also practically naked, and well as richly, deeply black. He speaks no English, but talks in his native tongue. Agutter is immediately English with him, assuming that he MUST understand her, because she needs him to understand her. John, less inhibited by his background, is able to convey certain things by mime. He’s also not hindered by a nascent sexuality that creeps in between the slim, long-legged white girl and the near-naked black boy.
Roeg is never direct about that, preferring to let the camera do that part of the telling, supplemented only by a few shots of Agutter and Gulpilil’s faces, and by one of the film’s few cutaways to other folk: meteorologists in a not-too-distant part of the Outback, working on weather balloons etc., where the attractive blonde, who we very clearly see is wearing stockings and suspenders, is the overt object of every man’s attention.
Gulpilil leads the two children. There are occasional encounters between him and other white folk, though the boy and girl do not get to see these, each of which emphasise the gulf between the arrogant, intrusive white Australians and the Aborigines who are part of Nature in this inhospitable place.
Roeg foreshadows the tragic endings and amplifies this theme in the film’s most lyrical and controversial scene. Left by the boys at a beautiful, remote, rock-surrounded deep pool, Agutter takes to the waters and swims naked, turning and twisting in the water like a pale fish. The whole thing is beautiful, and not just because Agutter was (and still is) very beautiful, but because she has allowed herself to give in solely to the pleasure of the cold water over all her skin, free from expectations and reservations forced on her by the presence of others, or by her own upbringing. It is one of only two times Agutter is allowed to be completely natural.
And Roeg intercuts Agutter sliding through the water with Gulpilil, in his entirely different way as lithe and graceful, delicate and almost formal in his movements, which are dedicated to hunting: hunting and killing animals, kangaroo, with explicit spearing and dismemberment.
It’s after this episode that Agutter starts responding more openly to Gulpilil’s evident masculinity, and the film starts moving towards its climax. The Aborigine leads them to an abandoned farm, which at least provides the girl with the illusion of civilization: walls, roofs, rooms, shelter. He shows the boy a road.
He then paints his body with signs, decorates his face with a white clay mask that is initially fearsome. So it is to Agutter, who is on her own, washing, topless. Gulpilil dances, a strange creeping and leaping mating ritual dance. Agutter has been edging nearer to her sexuality, but she is still too young, too reserved, too restrained. She panics, running into another room, frantically twisting away as she struggles to get her school top over her wet torso.
Still Gulpilil dances. Agutter recovers her self-possession when her brother returns and she’s no longer alone, even though it’s already been clear even to those of us completely ignorant of such rituals, that the aborigine will not touch her, will not even enter the farm until she accepts him. Agutter doesn’t know that. She wouldn’t even know how to signal that acceptance if her sexuality hadn’t been scared right back down inside.
It goes on all day, under the sun. Gulpilil tires, drops the foliage he’s been wielding, lacks the strength to pick them up. To the English children, he’s become part of the landscape. Agutter has already brushed him away, plans to go on alone the next day. They sleep. His dance falters.
In the morning he’s not to be seen. Agutter automatically starts to lie: he’s gone home, that was his dance of farewell. Maybe by now she believes herself. But her brother knows better, knows that he’s dead, like their Dad. He leads her out back, to where Gulpilil’s body, the white clay markings cracked, ants already on his cold flesh, hangs from a tree.
Agutter shows no reaction to the death that she has caused, by not understanding, not communicating, not even trying to communicate, for it was his job to understand automatically. She brushes an ant from his chest, and then turns away, all practical and civilised, looking forward to plates and tables and knives and forks, sleeping in sheets, pop music radio, wearing her own clothes. She takes nothing of the Outback, of their survival, with her.
At the ‘town’ they discover, there is nothing for them either, a broken ruin, and abandoned mine town, a single, surly caretaker with no time for them.
I said there were two tragedies at the end of this film, didn’t I? The little boy disappears, and we are left to wonder about how this experience will affect him. But we have not finished with Agutter.
We’re back in Adelaide, another businessman, in suit and car, much younger than Mellion, returns to the same apartment block where the children’s family lived. In a lower floor apartment – the stratification of the block in age and status is deliberate – his wife is cooking at a stove. She reaches out for a cigarette, takes a quick drag. It is Agutter, older, maybe twenty-two. The businessman arrives, hugs her, starts talking about Office matters. After a moment, Agutter’s eyes go vacant and she tunes him out. He realises sheisn’t listening, asks her what’s wrong, to which she replies, nothing, and he resumes, and once again she tunes him out.
This is the girl who, for all her flaws and inadequacies and her inability to merge into her surroundings, survived her Walkabout, and came out of it with nothing. Now she has merged into her surroundings properly, become an Australian housewife. She will never say, do or think anything out of the ordinary again.
But in her daydreams she is fourteen again, and back at the rockpool, and all three are there and all three are naked, and there is an unforced joy and contentment between them that this woman will never experience again in her life, and that is unreal in her daydreams, an idealisation of what never happened. And that is so sad. With uncanny rightness, for it is so English a verse, as we watching this trio in their Eden, we hear A E Houseman’s words:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Walkabout was a commercial failure when it was released, but has always had critical acclaim. The scenes of Jenny Agutter swimming nude, and appearing topless, were treated as shocking in the press, fresh as she was from The Railway Children, in which she’d been the perfect English Rose, the lovely and innocent Victorian girl whose only male interest was in her Daddy: virginal Roberta strips off was the Press’s reaction in an era when the prurience wasn’t quite so overt. Agutter even said that she hadn’t realised just how much the camera could capture.
The scene has only become more problematic since, particularly since the Sexual Offences Act 2003 prohibited the distribution of sexual material featuring people under 18, which had the potential to drive the film underground, illegal to sell without a Certificate. But the BBFC decided the scenes were not ‘indecent’ and Walkabout was re-certified. (It would have been embarrassing if it hadn’t, given its inclusion in the British Film Institute’s 2005 list of ‘Fifty Films to see before you’re 14’.)
The film is on dodgier ground with the scenes of killing, dismembering and cooking animals. The depiction of inflicting pain or terror on animals had been illegal in Britain since 1937, but the film passed because, to quote Wikipedia, “the animals did not appear to suffer or be in distress”. And the fox enjoys the hunt as well, doesn’t he?
At the end of the day, Walkabout is, if it is about any one thing, the inability to communicate. Even between the two children: Agutter represses and lies, John is in a big boy’s adventure in his head. Neither communicate with the land where they live: once they reach a ‘town’, they turn themselves back into good, fully-uniformed schoolchildren as if they had never been anything else. Perhaps I’m wrong in speaking of three tragedies: the entire film is tragic in every moment.
But its reputation is justified, even with the hunting. I have never been to Australia, though I have cousins living there. I don’t doubt that Adelaide, if that is the city we see, has changed somewhat. The land behind and between is still the same. I would still like to see it, only from a safe distance, and not from a black Volkswagen Beetle. Not even with Jenny Agutter.
Sometimes, discovering new music is as simple as hearing a song on the radio. At other times, it can be a bit more convoluted.
In the summer of 1986 I was working for a Manchester City Centre firm. An Articled Clerk at our London Head office had qualified and was leaving, but his replacement couldn’t start until a month later, so I was asked to go to London to fill the gap, run the departee’s workload down and leave the new guy a clean slate.
It was a very interesting experience, the most time I have ever spent in London at one go, and whilst it was very disruptive to many plans I had at home, I’m glad I did it. Not that it got me anywhere with the firm, given that I was made redundant in December the same year!
Being in London gave me the chance to meet up with some of my comics fandom friends based there, including an invitation to tea one night in the wilds of north-east London: so far that by the time I got to the terminus the Underground was running above ground. During the evening, the conversation turned to music, and I proclaimed my love for R.E.M. (whose fourth album would unexpectedly appear in the Oxford Street Virgin megastore, the night before my last day).
Ah, it was said, knowingly. So I’d know about The Hindu Love Gods and The Golden Palaminos then? This was presuming a bit more knowledge than I actually had, knowledge I set about remedying once I was home. The Hindu Love Gods was an ad hoc solo project by Berry, Buck and Mills with Warren Zevon, an IRS single, but the Palaminos were an ongoing ad hoc project, put together by drummer Anton Fier and bassist Bill Laswell, with a mixture of guest musicians: Michael Stipe sang on their latest album, ‘Visions of Excess’.
It was only available on Import, and thus both a bit difficult to track down in those primitive times, and more expensive when you found it, but find it I did and bought it.
The first thing I discovered was that Stipe sang on only three of the album’s eight tracks, the first three. The second was that the rest of the album held very little appeal for me, except for one track on side two, ‘(Kind of) True’. It was one of two tracks sung by someone called Syd Straw.
Syd turned out to be a lady, and ‘(Kind of) True’ turned out to be a bloody good song and perfectly suited to her very individual voice. I loved it and, despite the fact that her other vocal wasn’t much of a song, kept an eye out for anything else by her.
Which continued the Stipe connection when this turned out to be a single called ‘Future 40s (String of Pearls)’ with a substantial guest vocal from Michael. I grabbed it of course, and later the same year (which is now 1987), a follow-up called ‘Think too Hard’, equally excellent, that I discovered at Sifters. Then, towards Xmas, I picked up the album, ‘Surprise’, that both came from.
I found it disappointing. The two singles were the two stand-out tracks, because they were the most fully realised as songs. Both had direct, strong melodies, and a degree of energy to them. The rest of the album, although I liked the sound of it, felt unfinished, in the sense that each other track had the seed of a good, powerful song in it, that had just not been developed because of an urge to divert the melody away from fulfilling its implications, diffusing its energy in a self-conscious attempt to be different. I still have the album but I don’t play it much.
Jump now to 1996. I’m in my own home, I’m in the last few months of a job I loathed, and I’m off to Nottingham on Boxing Day, because I have a ticket to see Manchester United play. I had a ticket for a United away game at the City ground back in 1979, when I was living in Nottingham, which I’d never got to use, between snowstorms, FA Cup replays and being back in Manchester when the game was actually played, so I was looking forward to this.
About ten days or so before the day, I was browsing around in Sifters when I discovered a new Syd Straw CD, this one called ‘War and Peace’. Naturally I grabbed it. I planned to keep it for a Xmas ‘gift’ to myself, and then, realising that I was going to be on the road for a few hours on Boxing Day, going down to Nottingham, I decided that I would record it onto cassette tape, with the sound off, so that it would be completely new for me once I was in the car.
Boxing Day was perfect. It was cold, clear and crisp, the roads weren’t busy, it was ideal driving weather. I got to Nottingham about midday, parked up in the City Centre, and had a leisurely and very satisfying hot lunch at my favourite pub, ‘Ye Olde Salutation’, the second oldest pub in England.
Then a long but fulfilling and nostalgic stroll down to Trent Bridge, the City Ground being on the far side of the Trent, which technically puts the ground in West Bridgeford as opposed to Nottingham, but who cares?
I was in the United end for about 2.00pm and it was a great game, United running out 4-0 winners. The pitch was cold and hard, the bounce vigorous. I saw Ryan Giggs standing under a clearance from Peter Schmeical that went so high it was coming down vertically, and he trapped it under his boot, killing all the momentum stone dead. I saw Eric Cantona nearly score one of the best goals I ever saw, catching the ball on his instep, playing keepy-uppy with it for three beats and then nonchalantly flicking it over the keeper’s head: it rebounded from the bar and Andy Cole headed it into an empty net.
What has this to do with the Infinite Jukebox? I headed off down the A6 in the morning, stopping to fill up with petrol on the A6, and as soon as that was done, I rammed my Syd Straw tape into the cassette player, and turned the volume up. And, gloriously, it was ideal driving music, and it was everything that ‘Surprise’ wasn’t. It was composed, sure of itself, full of energy and the songs had been allowed to develop their ideas organically.
It wasn’t a complete success, with the energy tailing off towards the back end of the album, but it was a hit with me, enough so that I stuck the tape back on for the return journey.
Two tracks from the album stand out for me, one of which is the subject of this essay. In some ways, the other, ‘CBGB’s’ is the better track, a straightforward, driving sound, with plenty of attack from The Silhouettes (who provide the music for the album). I’ve always had a personal video in my head for the song, which is a one-sided conversation between Syd and an unknown man she used to know at the legendary CBGB’s, and who she’s met again for the first time in ten years. She’s reminiscing about then and the difference to now and whilst the music is powerful and direct, the words are unbearably sad, shot through with unspoken loss.
But in the end, it is ‘CBGB’s’ immediate predecessor that, for all its laconic ease, it’s slow, sometimes disjointed formlessness, that is for me the most important and most effecting song on ‘War and Peace’, and the song that represents Syd Straw’s peak. That is ‘Love, and the Lack of It’.
It begins slowly, Syd singing with at first no backing, then minimal, guitar, organ, drums played mostly on the rim, until the band kick in fully on the line ‘my heart’s in the wrong place at the wrong time’. A solo, first on organ, then guitar. It’s all loose, mid-tempo, but as the song goes on, it picks up strength.
And then it goes quiet again. Love and the lack of it, I can’t keep track of it. The music slips into the background. Straw is alone. She sings about a woman of uneasy virtue, taking her chances when she can. This woman sits on the end of her bed, explaining her scars to another stupid man, and the bitterness pours into her voice as she sings the last three words and the moment she hits the word ‘man’, the music explodes in a righteous fury, a tearing, screaming, battering electric guitar backed by the full force of the Silhouettes, ramming the point home in the least subtle and most scorchingly effective manner, with a scream of rage and pain that lasts to the song’s end, and Straw adds the clinching line, with despair that this man, by being a man, is someone ‘who will never understand’.
The song’s supposed to be about someone else but we know it isn’t. You can’t say and sing things like this by imagining them. Imagination can take you far and wide but it can’t take you as deep as this.
And in those last three words there’s an anger and a bitterness and a despair that’s taken a lifetime to raise and maybe a man, without being stupid, can never understand where that springs from because we don’t have to deal with the treatment women get from men.
It’s pain, and it’s despair, but it’s also rage, rage that things should have to be like that, rage at not being understood. Even nowadays, rage is still not felt enough from women, but in 1996, this was a very new explosion and it’s heat is undiminished twenty years later.
Yet the song ends, again on Syd’s voice only, a couplet that tells the future beyond that terrible anger and despair, fading into nothing. She dreamed of a life, every day of her life.
Not so much a song as a lifetime. Of despair that is quiet not because of self-containment but because of the utter lack of someone who will hear and understand. I am surprised this song is not better known, among women, that is.
There is no YouTube video of the recorded song: the live performances simply don’t cut it.
I usually title my dodgy links to articles in the Guardian ‘Crap Journalism’ but this one demands a completely different category.
Each week, in the Weekend Magazine, the paper spotlights a different place and puts it forward as an area to consider moving to. This time, I had to look twice to believe that I was reading ‘Let’s move to… Openshaw‘
Openshaw. East Manchester. Run-down. Neglected. Isolated. No facilities. I lived there until I was eleven, went back often. It’s a hole, even now. It’s not a fashionable place where you can get ahead of the smart investors. It never will be, or if it ever becomes that, then the world will have changed in ways of which we cannot imagine. This can’t be serious. The comments can’t believe it either.
But this is a serious and long-running feature.
Somebody has got to be having a laugh, but if they are I’m hanged if I can tell the punchline.
Once upon a time, going to Eskdale for the day would have been simple. It would have been alarm at 6.00am, behind the wheel at 7.00am, cross the Cumbria border at 8.00am and, depending on which of the many short cuts available that I chose, Eskdale for about 10.00am, early enough to climb Scafell, if that was my thing for the day.
But let’s not pretend that’s my option now. Public transport won’t do that sort of thing for me. Today’s expedition is going to cost a lot in terms of traveling time, the best part of ten hours on trains, or waiting for connections. And that’s not counting the Ratty.
Given that, at the very best, I’ll only get two and a half hours in Eskdale itself, some have asked if it’s going to be worth it? That’s before we throw in factors like being on a week’s leave, which means that this year’s extraordinary heatwave has vanished out the window, leaving cool, cloud-laden and frequently wet conditions all round, or that I’ve been feeling drained and dozy all week, the wet weather has brought out my arthritic knee and hip, not to mention that I’ve been finding sleep as elusive as the point to Boris Johnson, and I’m asking myself the same question.
It’s not merely tradition that sees me keep too the 6.00am alarm, which has to drag me awake. I’m booked on the 8.30am train from Piccadilly but I intend to catch the bus at 7.00am: it’s a 203, remember, and my paranoia about that service is entirely justifiable. I then excel myself by painfully half-jogging to catch the 6.50am bus which, with a clearly energised driver charging through traffic lights instead of slowing down in a bid to get them to turn red, drops me off with over an hour to spare.
Of course, if I had taken even half of that hour for additional sleep, I would not have been here for 8.45am.
My bag is full of all the wants and requirements for the day – scotch egg barms, water bottle, mp3 player with old-style ear-covering headphones and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I want to read in readiness for the English publication of The Labyrinth of the Spirits next month – except for cold drinks. I acquire two small bottles of Diet Coke and take up position in Platform 14’s ‘Departure Lounge’ by 7.50am, wondering how I’m going to get to Lancaster on a train bound for Blackpool North.
The mystery is solved when this is fully announced as one of those split services: from Preston the rear two carriages will detach and head for the seaside and the front two carry on for, ultimately, Windermere via my first change. Needless to say, Piccadilly announce that the other way round and we’ve reached Bolton (hack, plew!) before the conductor interrupts my musical reverie to tell me I’m in the wrong half of the train. I’d snagged myself a nice window/table seat too, but then I get another one further up, albeit with the surface sticky from spilt juices.
The day’s early tension faded out once I was on the train and everything was out of my hands, but the relaxation didn’t last.
There were some hints of blue streaks in the sky, pale from a hundred washings, and they grow a bit until, by Horwich Parkway the forward sky looks very promising.
We’re six minutes late at Preston and by the time the carriages are separated, we’ve eaten up fifteen of the twenty-five minutes I have between connections at Lancaster, enough to set the butterflies off again. The sky’s getting better and hotter, though there’s still enough cloud ahead of us to leave it all balanced.
I leave the train at Lancaster with that ten minutes still preserved, debouching onto the same platform the Barrow-in-Furness train will arrive at, but I relax only for moments. The Edinburgh train immediately before it is running late, enough that it will inevitably delay mine. For which I have a five minute connection at Barrow…
The Edinburgh train is processed out quickly, but next on the board is the bloody Glasgow train, which, as an express, takes precedence. A friendly porter confirms the Barrow train will follow it, about ten minutes late: they do try to hold the Coast train connection.
What can I do? Nothing but play it as it lays. I’ve been on a hot streak with the pen all the way so far, and I’m loving the music. So what if the bloody Glasgow train is itself five minutes late? My careful plans didn’t factor in checking alternatives, so until I get to Barrow, I won’t know when the next Coast train is. Every hour? Every two hours? Even if all I can do is turn straight round at Dalegarth, I’ll get my Ratty trip if it kills me.
At last, no more than seventeen minutes late, we move off. I’ve grabbed another window/table seat, from which I’ll be able to see the hills inland, once we’re around Morecambe Bay, but until then the views are through the other windows.
At Arnside, we begin the crossing of the Bay, wide, flat expanses of water to both sides, long horizons. Kent’s Bank, where (Great-) Uncle Alfand Aunty Marion used to live, is an isolated platform in the middle of nowhere. I detect we’re approaching Ulverston (where I was once offered a job I declined) by the sight of the monument we only knew as Hoad (pronounced in a deep and serious tone not unlike Hoder), and this is where I get my first serious views of the fells. I have to puzzle out exactly what I’m looking at before I realise it’s the Conistons – this is an unusual angle to see them at – with the Old Man and Dow Crag cloud-bound.
Dalton, where we holidayed with Uncle Frank a couple of times before the bust-up over Aunty Lily Bunting’s Will that split the family, is much more extensive than I ever remember it. It’s alsowhen my connection should be leaving Barrow.
The train eventually crawls into Barrow, not that that matters when the conductor announces that the next Coast train leaves from Platform 2 at 12.06. So much for the 12.10 or 12.45 Ratty. So much for two hours in Eskdale.
If I have to sit around for half an hour in Cumbria, I wouldn’t choose Barrow Station (or anywhere in Barrow, come to that). It’s now bright, breezy and sunny and I’m filling in page after page in my Notepad with almost manic determination, swapping from the first draft of this post to a vital scene in my current novel, to another ‘Infinite Jukebox’ blogpost, inspired by one of the songs on my new, extended playlist.
The train arrives and the station announcer reels off a list of stops that takes almost as long to read as we were late in getting here. The driver wanders off for a cup of tea, leaving us standing on the platform, listening to the recitation over and over, until a couple of minutes before departure, when we are finally allowed to board. I score my fourth window/table seat of the day but I’m planning from here to spend more time gaping at Black Combe than writing.
At first, the Combe’s on my left as we swing north to cross the Duddon Estuary. A long line of rounded fells extends beyond it, and the predatory cloud keeps picking it its summit as I try to work out just what I’m looking at in the darker distance, but I’m unable to orient the angles to my satisfaction. On my side, the shrouded Conistons reappear.
I’m seeing the Duddon Fells again. It’s been a while. Proud and shapely little Stickle Pike, so easy to access from the top of the Broughton Mills road. Caw, beyond it, that I wanted to desperately to have been included in Wainwright and which I finally climbed from ‘The Outlying Fells’.
Next stop Foxfield (‘all change for Broughton and Coniston’, at least until Dr Beeching swung the axe that had so recently cut off that branch line when first I sailed past here). Shy red deer, a long long way from Martindale, peer at our train from an overgrown field, startled into stillness.
Millom, where one Friday teatime of a cottage holiday we went for fish’n’chips, stunned at the silence, the emptiness of the streets, as if we were in a ghost town, and indeed we were for though we didn’t know it then, this was the day they closed the Ironworks, throwing practically the whole town out of work without a word of warning.
This land is full of memories and the train just a line on which to peg them out.
Now we’re properly in the shadow of Black Combe, the cloud still snatching and retreating, and I can see the line of the path from Wicham by which we climbed it, without fuss or bother, in 1974, was it, when the haze was too great for the extensive view from the top, and then Silecroft but not its beach of stones, so perfect for two kids to try to hurl back into the sea. Rolling grass undulations keep us from seeing the sea.
Bootle, where Uncle Alf and Aunty Marion moved to, and to which I drove, in two successive Aprils, for their funerals. Some of the lower Eskdale Fells are now visible as we finally pass the Combe’s mammoth footprint, Muncaster Fell (which we climbed one morning before paying a duty visit to our elder relatives), a denuded Irton Pike, cloud behind.
I see more when we cross the Esk estuary. I see the gates into Eskdale, I see the shape of reclusive Miterdale, where last I reached its head I took my then-wife and her children. I see Scafell is cloud-choked.
And then it’s Ravenglass, and I may be way behind on my carefully planned schedule, but I am nevertheless here. Because this is where I come from, in whatever an atheist has for a spirit. Great Grandad Robert, who I never knew, was Station Master here. Grandad Arthur was born here in 1894. This is where the Crookalls are from, for all that the rest of my lineage is pure Manchester.
Do I recognise the Ratty? Not a bit of it.
It’s changed and grown, and I’ve seen too little of that, and nothing for the last fifteen years or so and everything of the ramshackle little organisation with the two trains, run by Volunteers from a Preservation Society, the members of which included my Dad, descending to me after his death, is gone. Only the lines and the turntable remain. I’m booked on the 1.30pm from Platform 3 (Platform 3!). There’s a green steam train hooked up to it.
I hasten down to see it (and take a photo), though it’s ‘Northern Rock’ and not the familiar and very old faithful, ‘River Irt’. The surroundings may have changed, but the small of coal and steam is instantly recognisable.
There are a variety of carriages: open, closed, roofed. I stake a claim in an open carriage with ages to go. I am going to see everything the clouds will allow me to see. And this really is how it used to be: I remember roofed carriages first being introduced. I remember ‘Northern Rock’ being introduced to the line, and the debate about what to name it: it was suggested that, to harmonise with the three steam trains already operating, it be called ‘River Bleng’, and wondering where the heck the Bleng was.
How long is it since I actually rode on the Ratty? It isn’t this century, but Hell’s Bells, it could be as long ago as the Eighties! It was a cold, frequently wet day, with the fells out of the question and I made up my mind on the spur of the moment, killing time with a there-and-back-again to Dalegarth that I remember for getting chatty across two carriages with an attractive young blonde (wearing a wedding ring) who was up from Lancaster for the day. At Irton Rose, she invited me to sit with her in her carriage to continue the conversation, an enthusiasm for my company I wasn’t used to. Alas, to my everlasting regret, I took the ring pretty seriously, and let her go off wandering from Dalegarth instead of volunteering to accompany her: what else was I doing with my time anyway? Frequently, the kindest word I can say for my younger self is ‘chump’. Absolute chump.
There are no blondes today, attractive or otherwise, and the conductor reckons it will rain before we get to Eskdale. So what? If it rain, it rains. (And it doesn’t).
Steam starts to be produced up top amidst a regular noise more like clicking than chuffing. I’d worried about getting a train in mid-August, even on a midweek day, remembering crowded carriages and sharing compartments but we’re not much more than half-full. It never used to be like that on the Ratty in August.
We’re only waiting for the line to clear, for ‘River Mite’ all handsome in gleaming maroon, to draw in the down train. Oh God, I remember ‘River Mite’ being introduced, and the shock of seeing it not being in green livery, before the decision to repaint ‘River Esk’ in black.
Then we’re really off and outside the station everything is as it was fifty years ago, and if you think I’ve waxed nostalgic this far, now I’m mainlining times that were. Parents and Uncle and kid sister crowd me into the corner of this little compartment and for a moment, several moments, eyes sting and my cheeks are wet.
Irton Road (where I am shocked to find we don’t stop) means we have swung away from the line of the Mite and the miniature crags and cliffs of Muncaster Fell, and are entering Middle Eskdale. Harter Fell stands proud, taller than its real height, and Green Crag’s Cullin-like ridge commands the eye. Eskdale Green has, shockingly, been renamed ‘The Green’ (and we don’t stop there either, what is this place coming to?) But we do stop at a station that never existed in my time, Fisherground Halt, because these intermediate stations are now only request stops.
Next is Gilbert’s Cutting, which flabbergasts me by being so green, moss and fern having softened the bare rocks of its creation in 1963. And Beckfoot Crossing, where the line of ‘Owd Raty’ runs parallel for a stretch before diverging to Boot village, a section deemed too steep for ‘Laal Ratty’ when it was rescued from oblivion.
At last I’m in Dalegarth, for 2.10pm, giving me only eighty minutes among hills and fells, rock and grass and woods not seen in like forever, that I’d honestly given up hope of seeing again, and I was wrong about that, and glory be, ‘River Irt’ is sat here, bright as ever, waiting to pull the next down train.
Where our walks to Boot tended to be more of an amble, I haven’t the time now to be anything but brisk. I cross to the right hand side to face the oncoming traffic, little of it that there is, but nobody else does. Boot has been heavily re-developed, and they’re still knocking it about now, scaffolding over the bridge: tourism. I don’t recognise much.
But the path I want, up beside the Whillan Beck (we always called it ‘the’: I wonder why) has to be the only one on the right. The cascades and torrents, the rushing, milk-white water crashing down over broken rock is immediately familiar, but it’s inaccessible now, and I’m sure there used to be a monkey-puzzle tree along here. And surely this wasn’t a tarmaced lane? Often steep, it leads me almost to Gill Head Farm (National Trust) and the real footpath, to Eel Tarn and Scafell. A half day scrambling around here, that forlorn week of going away after Dad died, me with my little transistor radio in my anorak front pocket, my mother disgusted.
From here I should have the perfect view of Scafell’s least interesting side but for that bloody cloud. It’s not much, it’s not far, it’s maybe 500′ at the very best, but it’s all I can do in the time I have.
So, down to Dalegarth again. The steep bits of the lane are worse for my knees than in ascending, but its still quicker downhill. The Whillan Beck cascades are too screened by trees for a decent photo but I take one anyway. Back in Boot, there’s a big pub with a big beer garden, full of benches and tables full of people, with parasols advertising Robinson’s Bitter (our Robinson’s Bitter? Robbie’s from Stockport?) and that’s just wrong, completely wrong. My parents would have had a fit.
The first thing I do back at the station is to leave a little liquid reminder that I’ve been here (TMD, I hear you cry but I couldn’t resist the alliteration). I’ve just finished buying replenishments when my train steams in: this time it’s ‘River Mite’, to my disappointment, having hoped to see the old holy trinity of trains (‘River Esk’s driver is off ill, I later hear). Three rivers three trains, three memories.
I transfer the contents of a bottle of cold Harrogate Spring Water (what’s wrong with Buxton, then?) to my water bottle and drain the cold can. As I recycle plastic bottles and cans fervently, I have to take these home. I’m now accumulating quite a stock.
As we pull out, the first fine spatters of rain hit us, but we quickly outrun them. So much for showers in Eskdale.
I sit with my back to the engine, looking back at where I’ve been, at Eskdale for the longest possible time. At the end of the line, bordering the Mite estuary, there behind me is Nether Wasdale, free from cloud at last. Seatallan, where it ended, and Middle Fell, where it started, side by side. Unseen, all the other Wainwrights crowd between them.
As I cross the the mainline station that Great Grandad would probably still recognise, I’m gratified by one last reminder that not everything has changed: ‘River Mite’ has edged onto the turntable, and the driver still has to turn it round by applying his shoulder and pushing!
It’s all about going home now and retreat is never as interesting as advance. It should be straightforward as I have only the one change, at Lancaster, ahead of me, with a forty-six minute connection to sit out. Of course, that depends on the 4.25pm train turning up on time and it doesn’t. A clearly disgruntled customer with a smartphone reports it is running twenty-five minutes late. Still, if i have to hang around a railway station, Ravenglass is my preference.
Once the train arrives, correctly late, it’s chocker with homebound workers from Sellafield. There’s not a seat to be had and I’m bloody lucky that I only have to stand until Silecroft. It’s now a beautiful evening, glorious traveling weather: beyond Bootle, I can catch glimpses of the sea from my ‘extra’ height, sparkling and light, but we’re both too low and too far south for there to be the remotest possible chance of glimpsing the Isle of Man.
Coming this way, I remember a Sixties holiday when we all drove up as usual in Uncle Arthur’s car on Saturday, but he had work commitments and couldn’t stay the week, so on the Tuesday morning after the Bank Holiday Monday we saw him off from Silecroft to Manchester on the ancestor of this train, and he left his car keys for Dad to drive the rest of the week.
At long last, my non-stop writing is slowing down, not that it stops for a very long time yet. But this is Barrow again, and it’s now nearly twelve hours since that alarm dragged me awake. And still hours to go before I get home.
After Barrow the train becomes an express, stopping only at Carnforth, which I’m sure it wasn’t originally. We flash through empty station after empty station, chasing the sun and the glitter on the Bay towards a mainland dark with cloud that we nevertheless brush away. The train was originally scheduled to reach Lancaster for 6.26pm, then forecast for 6.44pm, and it pretty near exactly splits the difference when it does arrive. Which means another thirty minutes hanging around before I grab my last window/table seat of the day.
Even with all the stops we have to make, I’m not sure why it’s supposed to take us more than ninety minutes to Piccadilly, but I get my explanation at Preston, where we arrive at 7.30pm. In a symmetrical moment I would normally appreciate if it hadn’t been so long a day already, we are to be joined by a Blackpool North train and depart at 7.44pm. Trains, eh?
I’m still writing away, though the energy level has dipped. A quick check at the end of the day confirms I have covered fourteen and a half two-sided sheets of the Reporters Notepad, which is going to make for a lot of typing up and redrafting over the next couple of days. Not looking forward to that.
Sunset is now advancing like a Roman Army conquering Gaul, and will coincide with my arrival at Piccadilly. There’s Rivington Pike and the Winter Hill transmission mast to the right, and to the right are the last sunlit clouds, the ice cream castles of Joni Mitchell’s words and Judy Collins’ voice, earlier in the day, massive vanilla ramparts. When I worked for Bolton Council, one of our Chief Surveyors took me up our private road to Winter Hill. It’s bloody flat up there, no place to be on foot in cloud.
Finally, it’s Manchester. I’m lucky enough to drop onto a 203 bus after only a couple of minutes and now I’m really tired and glad to get in for more or less 9.30pm.
Could it have been better? Of course it could. Would I have preferred to have had a companion? Yes, I would. Was it worth it? Course it bloody was, and I’ll do it again, and there’s the full Coast train run to Carlisle to try.
Because it’s possible. And because when life hands you lemons you make lemonade, even if it takes you ages to work out the recipe. I’ve been back to the Ratty, I’ve been back to Eskdale. What’s next?
We’re almost at the end of season 2 and this felt like a downturn episode, a low-key affair whose strongest element was the aftermath of Hawley Watt’s killing. Annie T seems to have become, by default, his legatee, responsible for clearing away what little he left, taking on the part-written songs and music with a view to completing it, seeing away most of the rest of it to Goodwill, all with a calm emotionless that worries Davis. And me: it’s all very well for her to protest that everyone’s treating her like a china doll, in need of special handling, that she’s fine, but people rarely are when someone important to them is gunned down in front of them.
Hawley’s death impinges on other branches of this story. Colson’s arrived in Homicide and this is one of the cases that’s not being worked too seriously, what with the complete absence of evidence or leads and the investigating detective at least unconsciously dismissing it as unimportant: only a street musician, shoulda kept his mouth shut.
Toni’s already trying to use him to get the Arbrea case file. Terry’s none too happy about it, a sense that he’s feeling a bit used, especially after last week’s rebuff. He finds a more-than-sanitised file and a prefab full of mixed evidence, left to rot, but he swings by Toni’s to tell her there was no file.
Sofia’s talking to her now, though the attitude’s not left town totally. She’s working as a part-time barista, enjoying it too, fancies the guitar player in the street band outside but, sensibly and reluctantly, turns down the offer to go out backk and smoke some weed.
There’s been an FBI raid at City Hall, over the weekend, with has got Toni worried and excited. Not Councilman Thomas, though.
Sonny’s affected by Hawley’s death too, still using equipment borrowed from him. He wants to return it, talks a little with Annie, keeps the guitar a couple of weeks longer. He’s trying to get a date with the Vietnamese girl from the fish market, Linh, but he has to ask her father first, and he has to approve, and Sonny doesn’t want to have to do that.
Antoine’s show-stealing gets him a mid-stage walkout by his singer Lucinda and the band don’t want him taking over. When he lets Alison fill-in – a young, attractive woman, Toni’s assistant – Desiree kicks off at him, fearing the worst. LaDonna’s kicked off at him too, denouncing him for everything. She’s full of sudden aggression, against salt on the table, underlining her interactions with her therapist, and the failure of an attempt to resume ‘relations’ with Larry: both breaking off thinking the other wasn’t into it. Dark times lie ahead.
Davis’s musical ambitions are slipping away. Lil Calliope’s dance track has to go on the sampler and one of Davis’ two has to make way. Delmond’s shipped everyone, including Doctor John, down to New Orleans at Albert’s insistence, killing any chance of the record ever making royalties: Albert’s happier than we’ve ever seen him, Delmond can’t hear the difference, but everyone else can. Janette’s earned the nickname ‘Gator at the restaurant, and is being encouraged to expand her repertoire. Nelson’s slowly compiling a parcel of land for city redevelopment.
In a week’s time, we’ll see what temporary resting places these stories come to. But we come back to Hawley, in the end as the beginning. From Susan Cowsill leading a funerary rendition of ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken?’ to an unexpected sister arriving to collect the ashes and Hawley’s favourite guitar – This Machine Floats – and spring a gentle laugh on us, blowing Hawley’s pretence at a Texas accent, when they came from Washington…
I usually like Kira-centric episodes, in large part for the entirely shallow reason that I like looking at Nana Visitor. Unfortunately, the unfortunate hair-style she has adopted for the Seventh Season has changed Ms Vistor’s appearance rather more than the traditionally Runyonesque somewhat, and it’s not so much fun.
Neither was this episode, much of the point of which went over my somewhat unfocussed head. After an intense sermon about forgiving one’s enemies, delivered by her old and much-respected teacher, Vedek Fala, Kira is then kidnapped by Fala and beamed to Empok Nor, to be delivered into the hands of the one unforgivable enemy, Gul Dukat.
But Dukat is a changed Cardassian (or is he?) Touched by the hand of the Pah-Wraith that occupied him in the last episode of season 6, Fukat has gotten that old-time religion. He believes that the Pah-Wraiths are the true Gods of Bajor, not the Prophets, and has assembled around himself a cult of fifty Bajorans, which includes Fala, and who belieeeeeeeve.
Unfortunately, they also believe in Dukat, and when Kira gets a gun and the drop on the Big Bad, they positively queue up to shield him with their own bodies.
Which is doubly unfortunate because, even though Dukat has genuinely become a believer, he’s still Dukat. Benyan and Mika are about to have the cult’s first baby, Dukat having kindly agreed to permit them to set aside the Vow of Abstinence, for reasons that become obvious when the baby proves to be half-Cardassian. It’s a Miracle! shouts the hastily inspired Gul, a sign from the Pah-Wraiths.
Then he tries too drop Mika out of an airlock before she tells anyone else (she escapes explosive decompression and the instant expulsion of all the air by clinging on to the carpet – not one of DS9‘s most sparkling plot points – and despite several minutes of oxygen depravation, will make a complete recovery. Well, ain’t that just soooo Pollyanna?)
Dukat’s next bright idea is for the entire cult to go meet the Pah-Wraiths by slopping down Obsidian Order suicide pills. He’s meant to be part of this pact, which had me recalling the Reverend Jim Jones and the Jamestown Massacre but which was actually inspired by the considerably more contemporary 1997 heaven’s Gate cult mass-suicide. But Dukat, however much he is a believer, is still Dukat, and his pill’s a Parma Violet or something equally innocuous. Kira jumps on him from a balcony, upsets the pill-cart and throws Dukat into a rage as his cultists transform from worshipful and adoring mugs to a howling mob in an instant, demonstrating yet again that the key characteristic of a fanatic is fanaticism and that the actual ‘belief’ is irrelevant.
The whole episode was built around restoring Dukat to his role as Deep Space Nine Big Bad Number One. Repainting him as a true believer is supposed to make him even more dangerous, and it’s apparently foregrounding for the ten episode concluding arc, coming up on this blog in less than two months now. Myself, I was not convinced, by the episode in general, and especially not by Kira’s closing statement that Dukat was now more dangerous. When these things have to be spelled out to the audience in such a paint-by-numbers fashion, it’s a sign that the writers haven’t got their point over half well enough.
As for Colonel Kira and Nana Visitor, and leaving aside shallow concerns, it was not a good episode for either. I’m afraid Dukat brings out the worst in Kira, worst for the audience that is. She goes all one-note, shrill and almost hysterical, losing the point in the determined, monomaniacal insistence on painting Dukat far blacker than the Rolling Stones could ever have imagined, and the fact of it being true has nothing to do with how tedious it quickly becomes.
The fact that we have, now, seven episodes ahead that, by definition, have nothing to do with the endgame sequence, doesn’t thrill me. Rightly or wrongly, it gives the impression that these are unimportant, that they’re just filler until we get to the real story, the grand finale, the completion of the seven-year design. A drag, just waiting for the real stuff. I’m almost tempted to skip them…
But, of course, I won’t. This time next week for the next episode, ok?