The Infinite Jukebox: Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’


Once upon a time, I fell in love. Of itself, this wasn’t necessarily an unusual thing but what made this unique was that, for the first time, she had fallen for me. And before I’d done been smitten.
She was a very private person so, even now, over twenty years since the last time I saw her, I’m not going to give her name, nor any personal details. Loving and being loved was a new experience, and a formative one. For the first time, I had somebody to whom I was responsible, for whom I had to be strong. That experience changed me out of all recognition.
I was very into music, and it was inevitable that I would play loads and loads of it at her. The first day, I gave her a lift home after work and automatically shoved the cassette into the player when I started the car. The tape was of REM, Document, and I can still remember the eagerness in her voice when she turned to me and said. “You do know you’ve got some great music here!”
With some exceptions, it was me playing music to her and she revelling in all the new things she heard off me. Not everything, of course, and there was some feedback in the other direction: given her heritage, I started appreciating The Chieftains a bit more, though I had seen them in concert less than a decade previously: my second Chieftains gig was one of our first formal ‘dates’.
As we drifted further apart, in later years, our tastes diverged. She got heavily into Maria Carey, which was not something we were ever going to share. Sadly, given that our first musical bonding was over REM, I never got to take her to see them, but we did share a 10,000 Maniacs concert, which she loved to bits, and loved the band even more than she did REM. There was a second gig a year later, but the date coincided with something family, and family always came first with her, and no matter how close we were, one thing I was not and never would be was family.
Sometimes, music is pure, unadulterated nostalgia. ‘Wonderful Life’ reminds me of her, first and last and always, because she loved it. It’s rich, romantic sound, it’s easy, smooth chorus, Colin Vearncombe’s singing. I loved the song, but not as much as she did. Now, though, it is indelibly associated with her, whenever I hear it she is in my head, and all that we did to change each other’s lives.
The odd thing is that it was more her song than mine, but my love for it persisted, and hers waned, until putting it on on a pub jukebox for her produced only indifference, as indeed did I. So it’s a memory of her for that reason too. She changed her opinions about a lot of things in those last few, sporadic years, and we never got to discuss what led to that, about any of them. One day, she put the phone down on me, and that was it. We spoke together, on the phone again, only once, years later.
But ‘Wonderful Life’ has us both in it. It is a talisman into which we vested what was best and finest about our time together, so it is both light and shade to me. Like the stone axe in Alan Garner’s Red Shift, Jan’s ‘Bunty’, it is something real. Except that it cannot be taken away and hidden in a museum.
Does she remember me when she hears it? Does she still remain to hear it? She was older than me, and I no longer have any idea if she is alive. But as long as I have ears for this song, she will always be alive, and everything that was sad and bad and destroyed no longer exists, only our love and our passion. When things were good, when they were right, it was indeed a Wonderful Life, and I owe poor Colin Vearncombe, who is no longer with us, a debt for encapsulating what was in his song.
And sometimes I cry like a baby for what never will be again.

Lou Grant: s02 e05 – Murder


There’s a killer on the street…

I’ve said before that Lou Grant is ‘impeccably liberal’, meaning that it associates itself with liberal points of view, and positions itself on the worthy side of every argument, especially in an era where various underdogs needed to have a voice raised for them. Since this is a view point with which I have every sympathy, I enjoy the show. Most of the time, it manages to be just short of heavy-handed in making its points, some of which derives from the strong, well-characterised and familar cast. Some might argue that this splits the focus, detracts from the real point of the story, which is to show the underlying injustice of life, if we are only seeing it through the filter of Lou, Rossi or Billie. I’d argue that the framework of the cast keeps the story from being too ‘issue’-oriented, and grounds it in real life.

That kind of stabilty was threatened by episode 5 of the second series, which revolved around two crimes, one of them murder.

In the long opening sequence, we see a young woman, a mother, going about her business, a man looming, threatening,  chasing and ultimately breaking down her apartment door. The killing, which remains unseen or undetailed, is evidently brutal and nasty. Billie, picking up the report, sees her story rduced to one paragraph on page 26.

In contrast, Rossi covers the story of an older woman who, having surprised burglars in her property, drives them off with a golf club. She gets page 1. It’s not just that Mrs Walker’s story is ‘feelgood’ and Marla Evans’ is downbeat. Mrs Walker is rich and white, Marla was poor and black.

The contrast is self evident. It’s in your face and the show does everything to telegraph that, without actually going so far as to state it out loud, not that it can resist edging near to that step. One’s a comedy, the other a tragedy, as Billie builds up a picture of a thoughtful, intelligent, combative young woman, against the somewhat self-centred old moneybags who is enjoying being the centre of attention, so much so that at one point I was wondering if we were going to discover the robbery never took place, and she had made it up for the public recognition it got her.

Ultimately, the show’s biggest failure was in its ending. Mrs Walker’s case ended with a Police stake-out that, far too easily, captures thegang, only for Rossi’s story to be shunted inside because Mrs Walker has outlived her welcome (one point at least where the show practiced subtlety), and Marla’s story, after a genuinely moving tribute paid by her Pastor at her funeral, was rounded out by having her killer caught in a manner that spurred the witness who’d kept her mouth shut for fear of retaliation now come forward to point the finger at him. That was too comfy, too cozy.

Not, therefore, the seris’ greatest ever, the heart on its sleeve playing more of a part than professional television writing. But, as I had occasion to say multiple times whilst watching Deep Space Nine, we don’t know how much of that can be attributed to the demands of writing weekly Network TV, as opposed to letting your emotions get the better of you.

Worrthy is indeed the best word for this episode, but the nature of the story itself called for something a bit more grounded than worthiness.

The Last *Last* Eagle


About two years ago, I celebrated buying the last issue of the classic Eagle comic that I needed to build the collection I had long dreamed of. And how it was incomplete, missing the centre sheet.

When I set out to read Eagle in chronological order, I also started a list of those that were imcomplete, or badly damaged, or in just too poor a condition. There were about two dozen or slightly more of them.

Today, I have replaced the last of them, ironically from the same seller as last time. Volume 11, no. 1, whole, intact, complete. As is my collection.

What am I going to do now?

Person of Interest: s02 e04 – Triggerman


Love in the Mob

I was looking for a simple episode of Person of Interest to accommodate a need for simple thoughts and, so far as any such episode may be regarded as simple, I was rewarded. We’re still early in season 2, the calm after the storm of Finch’s kidnapping, here linked in the still extant concerns Finch has about going outside the Library, and his adopting Root’s definition of humanity as Bad Code, to refer to the Number of theWeek, Riley Cavanaugh.

The episode begins in media res. Reese is observing Cavanaugh (guest appearance by Jonathan Tucker). The Number is a stone-cold killer, an enforcer for the relatively small-time mob boss George Massey (Kevin Conway). He’s an obvious choice for a perpetrator, but in this instance he’s a victim: Massey suspects him of something he doesn’t like, and sends his son Eddie to kill Riley.

And also to kill Annie Delaney (Liza J Bennett). Annie’s the hostess in an upmarket restaurant that pays to George. She seems to have attracted George’s attention, probably because she’s an attractive wide-mouthed dark-haired woman. She’s also the widow of one of George’s men, Sean, killed nine months ago. Annie had a lot higher opinion of her late husband than George appears to (‘degenerate gambler’) but then George is a man of firm opinions, all of them centred on the gratitude and respect due to him for, well, for being George essentially. He sends Riley to make Annie disappear and Eddie to make Riley disappear.

This is because Riley and Annie have fallen in love, and he is protecing her, and the two of them having the lack of respect to not tell George, when they know George has a thing for her, which is an affront that a petty tyrant like George cannot take. George, George, George, George, the man cannot have his ego flattered enough.

Once the tide turns, and Riley kills Eddie before Eddie can kill him, Reese has to protect a killer. Finch is not sympathetic and neither is Carter. Both see only the callous killer, and who’s to say they’re wrong? John Reese sees other things. He sees Annie, the innocent dragged into this, not a Number herself (why didn’t the Machine pick up both? A logical slip overlooked for the sake of the story), but who needs to be protected. He sees that Riley is, truly, in love with Annie, who brings out that spark of decency in the triggerman, for no-one is simply one thing, and we are all multitudes. And he sees the trained killer with the eye of a trained killer: John and Riley may be chalk and cheese, but they will understand each other better than any outsider can understand either.

But this is too simple for Person of Interest: there is a twist. Sean Delaney wasn’t killed for getting caught in Russian Mob territory, he was stealing, and he was stealing from George, skimming off the take. George had him killed, and it set-up to look like the Russians. The killer was Riley.

He was supposed to keep an eye on Annie, told her to call him if she needed anything. He was reliable (if useless with water-heaters!), he never let her down. The outcome was inevitable. Riley has never told her he killed her husband.

And he never intended to get out with her. Despite her refusal to leave him, Sean always meant to send her alone. He knew what he was – the Bad Code that Finch calls him – but she was the best thing ever to happen to him. So the ending was inevitable: Annie is taken to George, who’s on the point of telling her Riley’s secret when the triggerman and Reese, now working together, conduct a raid. Shots come from all directions. Reese gets Annie out. Riley doesn’t make it. But he kills George: Father like son.

At the end, Reese queries Finch’s use of the term Bad Code. Without disclosing that it came from Root, Finch repeats its definition in computer terms but says it doesn’tapply to humans: humans can change, can grow, can repair themselves. The reference to Riley is clear.

This was an almost entirely self-contained episode, in regards to the deeper concerns that have been building up over the last few episodes, but there were a couple of returns, laying trails for what is to come. The first of these was Detective Szymanski (Michael McGlone), returned to duty after being gut-shot last season.

But of greater significance was the appearance in the guest star list of Enrico Colantoni, of Carl Elias. George has put a bounty out on Riley and Annie, Finch (as Harold Crane) visits him in prison to request a favour. Elias might be in prison but he retains control of his empire. He’s intrigued to meet John’s ‘boss’. He puts the word out, but there is a price. Elias has had the need for possessions and material things stripped from him. He has time to think. He plays chess, but no-one in prison can give him a good game. Harold ‘Crane’ can…

Film 2019: The Red Shoes


I’ve stayed with the Powell/Pressburger box set for a second week for two reasons. The first is that this is a working Sunday, which means I wanted something familiar, a known quantity. The other is that this is the biggest box set in my collection, with as many films as four of the other six put together, and if I just watch one every few weeks, there’s going to be a long series of these films at the end.

The Red Shoes is a classic British film, released in 1948, and starring Archers regular Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and ballerina Moira Shearer in her first acting role. It’s a film about ballet, for which The Archers effectively created their own ballet company, choosing rightly to cast dancers who could act rather than actors, and incorporating an uninterrupted fifteen minute ballet, composedand choreographed for the film, based on Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Red Shoes’ – as is the film, naturally.

I’m in no position to comment on the ballet elements of this film because I’m a complete ignoramus in this sphere, a true don’t-know-art-but-I-know-what-I-like. Better people than I have praised the film in this regard (and dismissed it contemptuously) and I’m happy to go with their interpretation.

The three principals are Boris Lermontov, Director of a ballet company (Walbrook), Julian Craster, a gifted musician and composer (Goring)and Victoria ‘Vicky’ Page, a dancer with the capability to be a great dancer (Shearer). The latter is the girl in the Red Shoes, both in terms of the ballet and in her own life, and though Shearer is by a distance the weakest actor in the production, the story centres upon her.

Lermontov – based primarily upon Sergei Diagheliv with elements of J Arthur Rank and Michael Powell himself – is the consummate artiste. He lives for dance, eschews what we would call human emotions, and is contemptuous of those who dilute their potential or their achievement by falling in love: dictatorially, he will sever relations with them instantly.

Lermontov is the incarnation of Cyril Connolly’s ‘Pram in the Hallway’ belief. Dance is his life, and no other considerations must be allowed to divert even the tiniest fraction of commitment to that. And he will not tolerate those who do that.

Which is going to be the cae with both Julian and, especially, Vicky.

It’s a long time in coming. The film takes a realistic amount of time to building this pair up as the different yet parallel successes they are going to be. Julian, a more forceful personality, more convinced of his own genius, is the dominant element in this act of the film: he starts as a music student whose Professor has stolen his work, is offered a lowly musiiical role with Ballet Lermontov and progressing to rescoring ballets and then the composition of the music of the Red Shoes Ballet.

Because of Shearer’s limitations, which the film works around brilliantly (though not unnoticeably), limiting the number of lines she has, and using her as a still point, a point of silence around which things happen, Vicky’s progress is quieter but more determined. She believes in herself and her abilities but, paradoxically, lack’s Julian’s overt confidence in that talent. Only in the ballet senes does Shearer truly come alive, and she is dynamite: passionate, emotive, tireless, dominating the screen.

The inevitable happens: Vicky and Julian fall in love. It comes out of the background, with no open signs to the audience, who are put in the same position as Lermontov, to whom it is no mere surprise but a shock, a shock that threatens to overturn his plans. Julian is fired. Unable to persuade Lermontov to rescind this decree, Vicky quits.

Some critics see this development as springing from Lermontov developing personal feelings for Vicky, and given the sequence of events, it’s a distinct point. I can only say that I have never felt it in the film. Part of it may be from the fact that Walbrook was gay (but so too was Goring), but the careful and complete portrait of him created by the film at every point means that I can only see his interest in Vicky as being her potential ability, and the possibilities of developing that further than any other dancer he has worked with: Svengali instead of lover or husband. Goring is far more convincing as someone wanting to spend his life with Vicky. There is a beautifully touching scene as the pair cuddle in the early hours, in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, moonlight on the Mediterranean Sea, and Julian drifts into the future, imagining an eager and beautiful young women asking him what was his happiest moment…

But this is not just a film about ballet, but rather a film about obsession, and ability, and the drawing of lines, and besides the tragedy of the Red Shoes must be played out. Vicky accompanies her Aunt on a holiday in the Med whilst Julian supervises the First Night of his Opera. Lermontov finds her, draws her back to dance ‘her’ ballet, TheRed Shoes. Julian arrives from London to take her home. He and Lermontov blaze at each other over Vicky’s future. As I said before, Lermontov is concerned with Vicky the Dancer, Julian with Vicky the Woman. His is the deeper, more holistic love, but Vicky is the Dancer and the Red Shoes cannot beremoved whilst there is dancing to be done. Julian accepts his defeat gracefully, unable to move outside his love for Vicky, whilst Lermontov is only triumphant.

Vicky is wearing the Red Shoes. It’s an intentional inconsistency, a moment of artistic unity, not chronological accuracy. Crippled, broken by her loss, by the destruction caused by having to choose at all, Vicky is drawn away by the Shoes: down the stairs, out of the theatre, across the road, and with Julian running with hopeless desperation to stop her, she makes the only choice that is entirely hers to make, and throws herself under the train.

Oh yes, it’s melodrama, but ballet is melodrama, the elevation of feelings and urgencies into emotion that cannot be contained, and so Vicky’s sacrifice is entireky in keeping with the film. The Red Shoes Ballet is danced with an empty spotlight highlighting all the moves Vicky can no longer make. Her last, dying request to Julian is that he undo the Red Shoes, returning herself to him for a final moment.

Though I barely understand half the film, I am absorbed by it. Walbrook and Goring are sensational and so, in her very undetstated way, is Shearer. The film makes not merely a virtue but a triumph of her limitations, relying on her still presence in scenes to create a sense of effect on the other players. She is entirely at home in the dance and in everything that relates to the dance, and of course her fellow dancers, and it is of immense help that, even when stood still, Shearer has the capacity to dominate a scenewith her flaming red hair, her slim physique, her long, pale legs. Though perhaps a little too round in the face for classical beauty, this adds an individuality to her appearance that completes a stunning picture.

In the end, I return to that theme of obsession, of ability, and how or even if this can be reconciled with the massive distraction that is love for someone else. The Archers step back, offer no definitive solution. In their differing ways, Boris Lermotov, Julian Craster and Victoria Page are all destroyed by their inability to find that solution. Modern opinion will find it misogynistic that it is the woman who is singled out for physical destruction, but would you want to be either of Lermontov or Julian afterwards?

The Literal Back O’Skiddaw


The mouth of Southerndale

The first time I climbed Skiddaw, I was in unadulterated peak-baggers mode: maximum summits feasible. This meant the Long Side ridge, coming from the north, in parallel to the western flank of the main summit ridge, and climbing up from Carl Side col. It also meant coming back down to Carl Side col which, given my tendencies towards vertigo and the severe nature of the slope as it actually reaches the ridge, was a test of my nerve. Once I got back down, I didn’t fancy taking the Long Side ridge back, not out of any concerns about safety, but because I just didn’t want to go back exactly the same way I had climbed. My family did that: I covered more ground.

So I chose a line, a necessarily steep line, off the col and directly down into Southerndale. I took my time, stepped out cautiously, switched my line when it looked like getting involved with anything like scree, and arrived at the empty valley head with an easy walk home again. The absence of any paths was a trifling matter.

Time came and went. I climbed Skiddaw again via the Tourist Path, returning over Little Man and Lonscale Fell. I would do that walk once more, omitting Lonscale Fell on the descent, the summer I set out to climb all the 3,000’ers in one season (I fell one short by forgetting to bring a drinks bottle the day I reserved for Scafell).

But my favourite day on Skiddaw was a much more expansive version of the ascent from the Long Side ridge, a longer walk that in earlier days I thought beyond my stamina, which introduced me to lonely parts of the massif that weren’t in the least bit exciting, but which I had to myself for long hours. And that’s always worth having on Skiddaw.

For its first half, the walk was more or less identical to my first visit to the Long Side ridge. I parked in a layby on the Orthwaite Road that conveniently holds nearly half a dozen cars, walked up to the gate giving access to the fields, and strolled towards Barkbeth Farm, at the mouth of Southerndale. Here, as the valley mouth narrowed, there was a gate giving access to the valley, and an immediate ascent on grass to the low ridge.

But between then and then I had acquired Bill Birkett’s Complete Lakeland Fells. Not a book to carry around when walking, unlike Wainwright, but nevertheless containing many more points to visit than the Blessed had considered.

So, on achieving the ridge, I turned in the ‘wrong’ direction, following the pleasant little switchback of grass hummocks known as Watches, with its charming views towards Bass Lake, until I reached its highest point, on the furthest hummock. It was a diversion that only added to the length of the day, and I had to walk all the way back to start my circular course, but it was an enjoyable ridge to follow, gentle underfoot, and well worth the small effort it took.

Ullock Pike rose steeply above. It’s a true steep, straight approach, with a narrow crest along which the path ascends, occasionally changing sides between Southerndale and Bassenthwaite. The angle is unremitting, though the slope is not long. It was here that, quite by chance, I fell into an effortless comfortable rhythm, that ate up the slope with almost no expenditure of energy. All it required was a deliberate, slow pace, and I could climb and climb and climb without the least amount of weariness, nor need to stop. It felt like I could have gone on forever.

The Long Side ridge from Ullock Pike

Ullock Pike’s compact little top is a lovely place to halt, but it is better as the prelude to Longside Edge, a ten minute walk along a narrow but completely safe ridge, with steep slopes to either side. It’s a bit like a monorail, without the actual monorail, and it’s only flaw is that it is too short. It literally is no more than ten minutes when it is so enjoyable it should be at least twice the length, and there is the real temptation to turn back to Ullock Pike for the pleasure of doing it again.

From Long Side itself to Carl Side is equally enjoyable to begin with, but I’d barely left the former’s top before the ridge started to curve inwards towards the main body of Skiddaw. Carl Side itself is a rounded, flattened lump, much less inspiring as a target than Long Side, and the ridge loses itself in the final pull-up onto Carl Side itself. The path turns inwards, heading for Skiddaw, and to visit the summit it is necessary to divert over a low horizon onto the spreading heap.

From here, there’s a bit of a dip over a gravel field, and then it’s straight uphill, up the side of Skiddaw, on an increasingly steep path. This is at best a tedious climb and at worse an exhausting one, with nothing but stones beneath and no views to attract the eye unless you stop and look behind you. I was ever so glad that I had found that rhythm on Ullock Pike, for I was able to settle into it again, and the climb was an absolute doddle. I just stepped upwards, ever upwards, without the slightest sense of strain or weariness, without needing even to pause until I came out over the steepest stage and found myself on Skiddaw’s summit ridge.

Skiddaw top

The hard work done, I wandered along the ridge to Main Top, the highest point, and visited the cairn. Like all my previous visits, the place was crowded and I had to wait my turn with the viewfinder. It wasn’t like fighting my way to the cairn on Scafell Pike: crowds seem to be a bit more tolerable on Skiddaw and Helvellyn, which are more easily accessible by the casual pedestrian. Anyway, I didn’t intend to stay any longer than to register my presence, and I wandered on to the North Top to leave the crowds behind, enjoy an uninterrupted panorama, and scoff my sandwiches.

It was already quiet at the North Top, but as soon as I left it, moving forward, and down a long green slope, I was on my own, and I stayed that way from that point on. It felt strange after Skiddaw’s summit to so swiftly step into isolation. It felt as if I was stepping out of the world.

I walked away down an easy and broad incline that I quickly realised would have been hellishly tedious to walk up, and that without a look back or two towards the retreating skyline. It wasn’t long before I was at Broad End, an elevated platform on Skiddaw’s northern slope, of no great shape or significance save in its emptiness. It wasn’t even a pretence at a subsidiary summit, with virtually no downfall behind it to the path I’d walked down.

Broad End

This flank of Skiddaw is not necessarily steep, but it doesn’t take long to realise that you have lost enough height that you really wouldn’t want to turn round and climb back. Before you know it, the path is levelling out, and there is a mini-crossroads, at which the return route turns left, into a broad grass valley that starts to narrow the further along you get.

The crossroads is on the back of Bakestall, another of those features that are geographically only a part of a larger mass, Wainwright chose to treat individually, and we are better for it. I’d visited Bakestall already, the hard way, from the head of the Dash Valley, thinking thoughts that had gone into that day on Lord’s Seat when I’d unsuspectedly begun writing a novel, and this was a bit of a cheat, a short walk up the slightest of slopes to the summit cairn, an undeserved summit visit, but I did it. Then back to the crossroads and down that valley.

This was a quiet walk between increasingly enclosing walls, until the valley debouched upon a miniature replica of the scene above: a tiny crossroads, marked by a five stone cairn, the path onwards turning left into another green valley, a miniature top a few yards directly ahead, to be approached from the back, this one named Cockup, and vaguely parallel near the mouth of the Dash Valley to Great Cockup.

Bakestall face

Then down the second valley, between gradually encroaching walls, until I came out in the open, and onto a long path making its way around the northern boundary of the massif, above the intake walls.

Nothing now but distance to negotiate. The heights, and the heights of excitement, were a long way behind. The bottom of Southerndale was a long way ahead. The sun was sliding down the afternoon. There was no-one to see, nothing to do but follow the trail, a long march in unfamiliar surroundings, quiet and peaceful.

I’d rejected this particular route in the past, because of the long walk home round the northern perimeter, but I was a hardier walker now, with greater stamina, or at any rate greater confidence in it and I  strode along unconcernedly. The walk, in the terms I normally define walks, was long over and this country stroll a mere extended coda, under a high sun, in perfect peace.

My only moment of doubt lay in the crossing of the mouth of Barkbethdale, where the path dipped to the beck, then had to climb a low incline of its far bank on ground that was wet and soft. This short climb, so many hours after I’d last had to go uphill, proved more wearing than it normally would have been, but once I crossed the miniature watershed, the familiar skyline of Watches appeared directly ahead, with the narrow ridge of Ullock Pike beside it, and a short walk across the fields back to the car, and my cassette copy of The Distractions’ Nobody’s Perfect to repeat whilst I removed my boots.

Lou Grant: s02 e04 – Mob


There wasn’t much doubt from the title what this week’s episode was going to be about, but for a long time, main writer Leon Tokatyan kept the story at bay with a number of parallel strands that you knew were all going to fold together.

There was Rossi getting het up becauuse a couple of LA mobsters got off scot free in Court. There was Mrs Pynchon, enthused about young Senate prospect Jack Patterson, although his campaign manager Paul Thackeray was under investigation for possible financial improprieties at his Savings & Loan company. And there’s Lou getting inveigled into an all-expenses paid weekend at the luxury resort, El Sirrocco, and all he has to do is organise the Trib’s annual tennis tournament.

It’s all kept pretty light hearted. Lou works all the way through his address book, looking for someone to take with him to El Sirrocco, but winds up with Rossi. Patterson’s ease and naturalness impresses Billie. The tennis tournament is a doddle, Lou’s only decision being about dessert, and there’s some overdone byplay about not being able to decide between chocolate or strawberry mousse (which is ridiculous: everybody knows you should go with strawberry).

It’s all a bit disconnected without setting up a mystery, until Lou recognises a familiar figure from twenty years ago, Detroit mob boss Patsy Reese (guest star Nicholas Colosanto, four years before striking it big in Cheers), all gladhanding and nostalgic about Louis Grant, his old pal, his old buddy, which Lou doesn’t seem to share.

Suddenly there’s known mob bosses all over the show, starting with Rossi’s Feressi brothers and then from all over the nation. Something’s going on. There are hostesses swarming over Lou and Rossi, ready to set them up. There’s a mysterious arrival at night, by private plane, whose identity is secret. I’m afraid I was slow there: even though I’d already made the connection as soon as Thackeray’s financial issues had been raised, I didn’t see the certainty that the mystery guest would be Senate hopeful Jack Patterson until he was pushed on us.

The revelation was made by Animal, turning up in immaculately ridiculous white suit (it was ridiculous then, though people who should have known better did that sort of thing, but now…) as a fashion photographer, complete with model, actually a hotshot blonde from Accounting: two single rooms. Animal gets the goods, Lou gets them out of there, but not without a final confrontation with Patsy, who still protests he (and they) have gone legit, clean businesses. Including El Sirrocco.

The story depends on proof, but Lou’s been too angry and too open with Patsy about the story. I thought so the moment he kicked off and, guess what, Animal’s film of Patterson and Thackeray has been swapped out. Lou’s only ‘satisfaction’ is to pull the tennis tournament, a loss that will harm El Sirrocco not a jot.

In the end, the episode tries to have it both ways, ending on the forcedly light-hearted joke of Lou finding somewhere else for thhe tournament that offers no choice as to dessert, just after the self-same character delivers a totally serious short monologue on the danger of allowing the Mob to take over every business by joking about them to shield the problem (which had the distinct feel of being the whole reason Tokatyan developed the story, as a vessel to let me write those few lines).

The ‘bright’ close misfires, but the episode doesn’t quite have it anyway. Whilst I applaud its realism in not getting to score a win over the Mafia, it makes the Trib and the programme ineffectual as a consequence: liberal hand-wringing about a subject with no effective solution, and for a distinctly liberal series, that’s not a good look. Not the series’ finest hout.

A man and his shopping bags


It’s been a week for anniversaries this week, though yesterday’s (26 years since Shane Warne delivered that ball to Mike Gatting)and tomorrow’s (Lara’s 501) are sporting anniversaries and, as such, are matters of great entertainment but of significance limited only to the sport.

Today’s is a different matter. I don’t mean the D-Day Landings in 1944, but another, more recent and equally resonant moment, thirty years ago today. A man whose name we never knew nor likely will ever know, carrying a laden shopping bag in each hand, stood in front of a line of tanks seeking to gain access to Tiananman Square, Peking (as we still called it then).

It is an image of extraordinary power that even today, thirty years after its failure to make any difference whatsoever, is still a reminder that force has to be opposed. That we have to stand in the face of what is wrong. Whoever he was, and whether he is still alive or was even allowed to live much longer that year, is, barring a reversal of stupendous proportions, a mystery that will never be answered.

But here was a man doing something a man could do and, in the process, becoming a pure symbol, someone we cannot and must not forget. A short man in stature, but one of the largest whoever lived in the shadow that he cast, unhesitatingly.

And a reminder of that unbelievable year, 1989, of Tiamanmen to Timsioara, that only those of us who lived through it can do more than just imagine it once happened.

Beyond the Pine Tree: Malcolm Saville’s The Buckinghams Part 2


It seems that I was prematurely pessimistic in doubting I’d be in a position to read and review the other half of Malcolm Saville’s Buckinghams series, as copies of A Palace for the Buckinghams and The Secret of the Villa Rosa appeared on eBay at more or less the same time, both for less than £10.
On the other hand, I suspect I have not been remotely pessimistic enough when it comes to the sixth and final book, Diamond in the Sky. Three copies of this were available through eBay: the cheapest for £110, the next more than twice that figure and the third more than ten times the price of the second. Quite frankly, I am not going to spend £2,500 on a book when I can get it for £110, not that I can afford to spend £110 on a book in the first place.
But I am willing to pay £30 to enable me to complete a series, even if it means having to go on Amazon Deutschland for it.

The fourth Buckinghams book, A Palace for the Buckinghams, was published in 1963, nine years after The Long Passage, though the edition I acquired was the 1969 Armada paperback that, at 158 pages, was self-evidently much-edited, Armada-fashion, from the First Edition. The story takes us back to the core characters, Juliet and Simon Buckingham, and Charles Renislau. A very familiar time-shift has taken place, with Juliet settled at age 16 (and her hair now buttercup yellow), Simon retrogressing to twelve and Charles out in front at 17.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in book 4. I had enjoyed the first two Buckinghams books for their complete change of atmosphere, their closer and more personal adventures and the individual characteristics of the three youngsters. The Long Passage had veered towards Lone Pine territory, with its expanded cast, the introduction of a criminal organisation that the trio stumble upon and set out to defeat, and A Palace for the Buckinghams completes the job of absorbing Lone Pine Club characteristics.
The scene this time is London. Juliet and Simon arrive to spend a fortnight with Uncle Joe, the artist, at his Chelsea flat, and arrive as he is entertaining Sir John Villiers, England’s greatest contemporary portrait painter, albeit one who has not painted in three years. The beautiful Juliet attracts his eye, but not so much as, surprisingly, Simon. Uncle Joe is trying to get Villiers to agree to have his paintings catalogued. Between these two things, and the fact that the family name of the Dukes of Buckingham is Villiers, the three Buckinghams are invited to stay at Sir John’s home on the edge of Hampstead Heath whilst he flies to Italy where his only daughter is ill.
As for Charles, he’s on his way back to London after accompanying his father on a continental concert tour and gets roped into the invitation (he shares a bedroom with Simon, not any other member of the Buckingham family, what did you think?). Sir John’s big old house is the titular Palace.
So far, so good. But then Saville overloads, perhaps even over-eggs, the adventure side. On the plane back to England, a stranger eavesdrops on Charles reading Juliet’s letter about all this to his father. The stranger is Barry Salter, and he just happens to be the lazy, greedy (and crooked) stepson that Sir John has already mentioned he has disowned. Barry is a smuggler, working under and with one Arnold Ball, who has the goods on him (all very The Doctor and John Robens). He’s trying to sell Ball on the idea of getting into the ‘Palace’ whilst Sir John is away, stealing as many paintings as they can have away with on their toes, and making a real search for the legendary Villiers family treasure that Sir John could really do with.
Hidden treasure being sought for by professional criminals: you see what I mean about a Lone Pine plot, don’t you? And it is made all the worst when Saville reveals that Arnold Ball’s real name is Septimus Bland, the erstwhile Master of Maryknoll.
With one significant exception, the adventure side of the story proceeds conventionally. That exception comes when Simon discovers the Villiers’ Treasure – a Highwayman’s booty of jewels – only for Bland to instantly seize it from him, bash him and leave him trapped whilst he goes on the run. This precipitates an all-night Police chase from London to the South Coast and a climactic scene where Juliet is directly threatened with death at Bland’s hands, by being throw over a cliff edge into a 300′ deep chalk quarry.
But Charles’ cricketing abilities come to the rescue, with the throwing of a cricket ball sized lump of rock that hits Bland under the heart, enabling Juliet to escape. She takes refuge in Charles’s arms, and within moments she has slipped away with him into the woods and is signalling to him to kiss her. My Armada copy is promoting their edition of Not Scarlet But Gold in October 1969, but David and Peter’s epiphany had been written had been written a year before.
Charles and Juliet had not had to wait anything like as long for their friendship to turn into romance. Though it’s never brought up as such, the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic is there throughout, and Juliet in an unusually modern way asks Charles to take her out on what has to be a date. Besides, after a token mention that Charles is half-Polish as well as half-English (as an explanation for him being more handsome than a purely English boy), his foreign nature is virtually forgotten. Simon gets to refer to him as moody, but Juliet isn’t continually losing her temper with him for being so unEnglishly emotional: certainly not in the wood at the end.
Having left the Buckingham group out of it for nine years (during which he’d written seven Lone Pine books and six Susan, Bill books), their unexpected revival did not lead to a resumption of the series, not at any rate for another eight years, when the fifth book, The Secret of the Villa Rosa, was published (four more Lone Pines, six of seven Marston Baines books).

The fifth book was prefaced by a Lone Pine-style foreword, in which Saville addressed his readers on the subject of the three characters’ ages, as well as referring to The Master of Maryknoll as having been written over ten years ago. That was accurate but misleading: the book was first published twenty-one years before The Secret of the Villa Rosa. But Saville is mainly concerned with the ages of the participants. Juliet, who was fourteen in the first book is now seventeen, and Charles six months older (the boy must always be older than the girl), whilst Simon is the same old thirteen he always is, no matter what age the other two. Saville actually acknowledges that the trio’s ages have bounced around a bit but confidently asserts that this is how old they will be in future.
I can only shake my head.
The Buckingham series has taken place in a different part of the country each time, but after a brief prelude in London, our friends are headed to Europe for the first time, to be precise, Orvieto in Italy. Juliet, whose hair has now settled upon being ash-blonde, and Simon have come to stay with Uncle Joe, the artist and the bachelor brother (it appears that novelist father James is no longer interesting enough), only to find that Joe has been offered a startling commission, to paint murals at the Hotel Villa Rosa in Italy. Furthermore, he may bring his niece and nephew with him, and invite Charles Renislau, son of the great composer and musician Alex Renislau (the Villa Rosa is very exclusive in its choice of guests). Charles is currently in Paris.
Well, this is something different by way of set-up. The Buckinghams make their way by car, through France and Switzerland into Italy, stopping off in Florence. Saville is lyrical about the countryside they pass through, but we know this is not what the book will be about. Sure enough, the trio attend a Florence museum, where Uncle Joe wants to show them one of his favourite paintings ever, Fra Angelico’s ‘Nativity’. Joe’s reaction is strange, but when a loudmouth American know-all joins them in the little side-room where it is displayed, he immediately agrees. The painting is a forgery, and a poor one at that.
So the story is to be about international art theft, and the Buckinghams and Charles will uncover the secret gang responsible, through the chance of Joe being the first person to identify the theft of the original (despite the American, art dealer Anderson, trying to aggrandize himself over it), and through the chance of Juliet and Simon, taking a late evening walk along the ramparts of the former monastery, the Villa Rosa, and coming across a half-conscious man with a livid bruise on his head, a man who appears to have been struck, but who disappears without explanation before Simon can bring Uncle Joe to help.
That the leader of this international gang will either be the obnoxious Anderson, himself a guest at the Villa Rosa with his daughter Sally, or else the smooth talking manager Bernini, so insistent that sordid matters involving the Police should not besmirch the Hotel in the eyes of its ultra-exclusive clientele, is pretty obvious. I went for Bernini on instinct alone, but Saville had me fooled this time, despite putting Bernini in the frame until very near the end, when the real brains turned out to be the Contessa: white-haired, wheelchair-bound, his mother. Anderson and daughter are involved, naturally. Good and evil are pretty bluntly drawn in Saville, and obnoxiousness of character is never far from overt criminality.
The book has good and bad points to it. Saville repeats the exhausted trope from the Lone Pine series of the grown-ups not believing the unusual experiences of the children: and he was doing so well in The Buckinghams at Ravenswyke, when the Police immediately investigated Alex Renislau’s disappearance. Joe Buckingham doubts the existence of the injured man that Juliet and Simon encounter, leading to near hysteria on his niece’s part, and why not?
Charles, at least, believes her immediately, but then that’s a good point. There’s no coyness in depicting the pair, they are accepted as girlfriend and boyfriend as if that were completely natural, they kiss unfussily, they can say how much they are glad to be together. There’s an unnecessary scene where an exhausted Juliet kicks off at Charles when she sees him sat talking with Sally Anderson, but Saville buries that offstage, only explaining what has happened after Juliet has apologised, instantly, openly and unaffectedly, for her tantrum. Clearly, he felt constrained to have Juliet act jealous because Charles even acknowledges the existence of another ‘eligible’ female, but couldn’t bring himself to actually write it, because it was a ludicrous waste of paper.

Though he lived another decade after completing this book, Saville wrote only five more children’s novels in the next seven years. The third of these was a sixth and final Buckinghams book, Diamond in the Sky, published in 1974 and set in Europe again, this time in Amsterdam.
After international art theft comes international diamond smuggling. James Buckingham (who we learn, after so long a time, is a writer of thrillers) has had two books successfully translated into Dutch, and is invited, with his whole family, with his Publisher, Pieter van der Straat, to do publicity and research a new book, set in Amsterdam. Pieter’s stepdaughter Carla, aged 18, has already stayed with the Buckinghams in England (are they still in Shropshire, or did they ever move to Sussex) and become firm friends with Juliet, so much so that when the action starts, Charles Renislau, who is already in Amsterdam (of course he is, as is his father) has his nose put out of joint when Julie refuses to abandon her troubled friend for him.
There are only three Buckinghams to travel. Mrs Buckingham is yet again off the scene, this time having an ailing sister to attend to, whilst Mrs Renislau is similarly absent. After all those years separated from Alex because of the War, she never travels anywhere with him and her still-teenage son. It’s a shame that Saville was so reluctant to let the mothers appear, from the moment that the thriller aspect started to dominate this series.
The triggering event is that Carla, at the request of her elderly bookseller friend and would-be mentor, Josef Herman, has asked Juliet to pick up a rare book bought by Josef from a dealer in London, and bring it with her. The book, and the name and address it comes from, are kept strictly secret, which appears to infuriate Pieter even more than Carla’s announcement that she will shortly leave, intending to move to England, and to work for Josef, occasionally as a carrier, like Juliet, of books too precious to entrust to postage.
Indeed, it gets properly up Pieter’s nose and spoils the holiday for everyone, from James on down.
Why he’s so huffily insistent on knowing about this transaction, and angrily apologetic to Juliet over her having been involved inappropriately, is a bit sinister, and everyone expects it’s something to do with professional rivalries, but of course it’s not. On the plane, and several times after, the Buckinghams bump into a pretty young woman named Jean Smart, who appears inordinately interested in this tale of Juliet Buckingham lumping a book around. This is not because she’s a nosy bugger, or has a sinister role to play, but because she’s a young British Customs Officer, assigned to liaise with Amsterdam Customs over the aforementioned diamond smuggling, which might take place by hiding a diamond in the spine of an antique and rare book carried by an innocent dupe.
This leads to a rather awkward scene when Jean meets the somewhat eccentric Dutch Head of Customs, Hans van Loön, who she ends up accusing of not taking her seriously, because she’s young (and pretty), and of making up her suspicions about the Buckinghams to attract attention. It’s an ill-judged scene, which feels like Saville dragging in one of his stock situations, that are plausible-ish when it’s the children heroes who are being disbelieved, but not with an adult, and professional figure.
Before the plot plays out, and the kindly-seeming Josef is revealed as the smuggling mastermind with Pieter as his subordinate who he’s trying to double-cross, Juliet and Carla are drugged and kidnapped, only to be trailed and saved by James, Charles and Simon in a virtual replay of Peter and Jenny’s kidnapping in Where’s My Girl?
But all’s well that ends well, and James Buckingham gets a title for his new thriller, Diamond in the Sky, which is a cue for his brazen hussy of a daughter (well, maybe not, but it is surprisingly forward of a Saville heroine) to drop a heavy hint to her boyfriend Charles that the diamond she’s been rewarded with ought to be part of the ring she’s expecting him to give her before too much longer…
And that was it for the “Fabulous Buckinghams”. Though Saville wrote as if this was merely another book in a series that would naturally continue, he was now 73, and would write only two more novels, both published in 1978, a final Marston Baines, and the last, elegiac Lone Pine story.
Though I found the books enjoyable as Malcolm Saville stories, the second half of the Buckingham books do not match up to the first. Though I also strongly suspect that the very things I like about the first two books would have bored my young self, who would have been much more uncritical of the increasingly thriller-story tone.
I find it very interesting to see the common characteristics between the Buckinghams, and Charles, and the Lone Piners. There’s the same time flux as the three character’s age relationships elide and expand, or should I say Juliet and Charles in relation to Simon are all over the show whilst he is the perennial 13 year old, and increasingly irritating at it. And the obvious relationship between Juliet and Charles (once we get rid of this crap about him being not entirely English) is a fraught-free version of Peter and David (as is Mandy Jillion and Guy Standing, though they poor dears, never saw their series survive into the Sixties and consequently never even got to kiss, let alone plight any troths).
Should the opportunity (here defined as a set of first editions at cheap prices) arise, I’d like to go back to the Jillies series, and later still perhaps try an adult sensibility on the Marston Baines series I rejected as a kid. If I do so, you’ll read about it here.

Person of Interest: s02 e03 – Masquerade


A Woman and her Bodyguard(s)
You are being watched. The government has a secret system:A machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up, we’ll find you.
After the three-part interlude featuring Root, Person of Interest appears to be resetting itself back to zero and taking on the shape it had for most of season 1. Finch is back to the Library, and having to adjust himself after his experience, which he expected to end with his death. He has to handle Reese being able to recive and identify Numbers, with his new companion, Bear, and, biggest of all, an agoraphobic reaction to the world outside.
The new Number is Sophia Campos (Paloma Guzman in a succession of short black dresses and pattered tights), daughter of the Brazilian Ambassador and future Presidential candidate, an attractive, intelligent, sophisticated woman in her mid-twenties, who is not merely the light of her father’s life but, if he wins, likely to become President Daddy’s First Lady, he being a widower.
Unfortunately, she is always a spoiled brat (I hesitate to use the other ‘B’ word the episode allows, not entirely undeservedly). Long-legged Sophia is a ‘parteh!’ girl, resentful of her life, impervious to responsibility or duty, who justwantsto spend her time drinking, clubbing and probably shagging into exhaustion the American boyfriend, Jack Hughes, that Daddy doesn’t know about. To which end, Sophia burns through bodyguardslike nobody’s business, behaving with deliberate rudeness and  contempt and constantly giving them the slip.
So, in what role is John Reese going to get close to  dear, sweet Sophia in order to protect her?
Sophia is under genuine threat. Not from political kidnappers or paparrazzi, but from an altogether more sordid source. The episode began with the mysterious and seemingly unconnected defenestration of a man from an upper storey window and the story winds back to that. The diving man was Paul Romano, club owner and designer drug seller, the window was his apartment, the occasion Saturday night just gone, when, in an example of doing whatever the hell you want to, Sophia and her only friend Gabi, had been visiting.
Whilst in the apartment, Sophia had Gabi take a short video on her phone, which captured Paul and a black guy named Monty together. Monty was the reason Paul went through the window. The video’s evidence. Gabi has been killed because of it. Sophia is intended to be next and, but for a combination of Fusco, but ultimately Reese, she would be. Another successful mission. Oh, and who was bankrolling Monty and Paul, who really needed Sophia out of theway if it came down to him or her? It came as no surprise that the twist in the tale was that this was Americano boyfriend, Jack.
I expected an episode like this, go back to what the audience wanted, the seemingly simple one-off story (even if the simple story is admirably convoluted). But the series is no longer about that. It has disturbed undercurrents, and these will continue to muddy the water.
For instance: Fusco wants rid of the Alicia Corwin murder case and dumps it on Carter. At the morgue, she discovers a post-autopsy incision in Corwin’s right shoulder. Her possssions, that Fusco seized ahead of Hersh – who is the person who has removed the extremely small object – include a microchip tracker.
But at the Morgue, Carter sees CIA Agent Mark Snow, last seen being taken captive by Reese’s ex-partner, the supposedly dead Kara Stanton. Snow’s unusually grave, and isn’t keen on talking to Carter: he’s no longer after Reese, he’s been ‘re-assigned’.  However, Snow isn’t answering his celphone when arter rings it, and the woman who does hangs up quickly. A CIA Agent approaches Carter over her contact with Snow, about which Carter is less than openly co-operative. Hersh reports too Special Council that they have a serious problem. And Snow awaits Kara Stanton in an underground room, a basement. He undoes his shirt to enable her to reset the suicide bomb strapped around his waist, whose detonator is in her possession. Alicia Corwin was the onewho sent Stanton and Reese on the final, supposed to be fatal mission to China.
Oh yes, the waters are muddy indeed.