Saturday


The date was August 15, 2020.

Some readers here will already know the significance of that date to me. It is the first date I look for each year, when the new holiday entitlement is made available. August 15 is the date I go to Dukinfield Crematorium to commemorate the death of my father, from cancer, when I was 14.

There was no need for holidays this year as the 15th fell on a Saturday, when I do not work. But that lent an extra emotion to the day. Not only was this the big Anniversary, fifty years since that day, but it had been a Saturday too in 1970. And in the days leading up to the Anniversary, the weather had done an almost perfect job of replicating the sun and rain of those terrible days to Saturday.

I was already in a heightened state of tension, because of the pandemic. I’ve worried, for months now, about whether in August I would be free to observe this Anniversary in perhaps its most important year. Would I be able to leave the flat? Would I be able to catch the bus? Would the Crem be opened or would I have to stand by the gate and project the words I would find to say from there? Many times I have confessed my worries, telling people that if it was the forty-ninth, or the fifty-first, it wouldn’t matter so much. But it was the fiftieth, a half-century. And it mattered immensely.

Perhaps it was that which set me up for the days that preceded Saturday. I was conscious of more than just the day itself, but the memories of the days that led up to it, that horrible last week when, on top of everything else, Dad – who was at home – contracted pneumonia as well.

I am not going to list the things that happened. These are private. But they were more vivid in my head than at any time I could remember. The first part of the week is lost, but from Wednesday onwards, things fell back into my mind with terrible force.

Thursday was horrible. I was completely unprepared for the flood of flashbacks that overtook me once I settled in to work. It was immediately obvious that if the more pointed memories of Friday were to affect me as badly – for Friday was the last day I saw my Dad alive – I would be completely incapable of working.

Getting the day off was difficult. I now work for a team with a very small pool of advisers and special arrangements have to be made for leave. I was turned down but had my leave forced through by my line manager. As for Thursday, my mind dealt with the issue by simply shutting itself off. As calls came through and I needed to respond to these, it opened enough for the technical knowledge and experience. Otherwise, it was as if my mind was now shielded by a lead bunker, impervious to x-ray or other radiation.

By that means I got to 9.00pm and the bus home. It is not yet the middle of August but already sundown has ridden back so far that I walked down my street in the dark. I logged in to the internet, to e-mails and comments on my blog, but I chose not to reply, to go off-grid for a few days, until this time was over.

Friday was like Thursday, in that the lead shield was still operating. I remained mindless all day, lowering the barrier only once, deliberately, to relive that moment of my last few words with Dad, the undeliverable promise to come and see him in the Hospital when he was only being taken back in to die in the most comfort they could provide for him. Then back to deliberately obliterating all the rest of that day.

And Saturday. I was awake early enough to open my consciousness to the moment that I was always told was the last, and then, freshly-shaved even though this was the weekend, off on the bus, a 203, then a 330, followed by the long, slow walk up the hill under a blazing sun equal to that of fifty years ago.

Not until the final bend in the winding road that leads to the Crematorium gates could I see that these were open, though the room in which the Book of Remembrance is kept is now only open for inspection on weekdays. I know what it says, but reading it anew is still a part of this ritual.

An elderly couple were leaving as I walked towards Plot C. The hills loomed up around us, looking strangely higher than I had ever seen them before. It seemed as if I was the only person in the entire Crematorium. My ritual is to talk about the last year, about where I am and who I am, all the things he never knew about me, but I was incapable of that. The sense of loss and hurt that is inescapable on this day was overwhelming and I could barely speak at all. In part it was an intensity I conjured for myself in focussing upon the fifty years, the gulf that was unimaginable to the boy I was, and which is still in some measure impossible to understand for the man I am. All the things that have happened in fifty years, the accumulation of life. And still…

That day, in 1970, I was due to go to a football match at Droylsden with a mate. I didn’t want to go, but my mother insisted, identifying correctly that Dad would have wanted me to do normal things, and to enjoy myself, and more than that, that I needed to take my mind off things for an afternoon. There’s a certain, personal, irony that such a thing would, for the first time ever, be impossible, given the recent news about Droylsden suspending all football, probably never to return.

So it was back down the hill, and buses home, via Tesco’s and some food shopping, to the lead shield and the radio silence for the rest of the day. Sunday became the day of going back to normal. Though I think of my Dad, and his absence, often, these concentration of these feelings will not arise again until August 15, 2021, and I can hope to be free of the flashbacks and the stream of memories of those final days. And I can go back to talking to people in an ordinary fashion, both here and in real life. Apologies for my silence.

The Infinite Jukebox: Burundi Steiphenson Black’s ‘Burundi Black (Part 1)’


I’ve commented before on the paucity of instrumentals on The Infinite Jukebox, which makes it ironic to remember that they made up two of my first four singles purchased. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember if this example was the third or fourth single I bought, but if this has any significance, it was the first picture sleeve single I ever saw, let alone bought, such were the cultural wastelands of late 1971.
‘Burundi Black (Part 1)’ was a most unusual single and is still among the 10 to 15 most offbeat singles I ever bought. It actually spent thirteen weeks in the lower part of the Top 50, oscillating up and down but only ever getting as high as no 31. That week, Alan Freemen played it, for the only time, on his Sunday afternoon Radio 1 Show, Pick of the Pops, which, at the time, was the first to broadcast the new Top 30. And, to my disgust, he played the wrong side!
Let me explain.
‘Burundi Black’ began life as a 1967 sociological recording of drums and chants of twenty five drummers of the Tambours Ingoma Tribe of Central Burundi. The tape came into the possession of classically trained French arranger and musician Michel Bernholc, who recorded under the somewhat slicker name of Mike Steiphenson. Steiphenson recorded a rock soundtrack over it, using piano, guitar and clavinet.
This track was released as the A-side, as Part 1. Part 2, on the reverse, is just the original drum track, and is credited to the Tambours Ingoma Tribe. This was the side Alan Freeman played when the single was poised at no. 31, when every other Radio 1 play I heard was of the A-side. Grrr.
But what a job Steiphenson has done. The chanters and drummers are given free reign for intros and codas, and it is a full 32 seconds before Steiphenson enters with piano and clavinet. There’s a break for the drums to continue unaffected, a second, shorter sequence built on a screaming guitar, another break and then a furious final section as the three instruments pull together to their own climax, leaving the rhythmic drumming to fade things down.
The brilliance is that at no moment is there a loose spot. Steiphenson has integrated his music into the drumming as if the two components had been planned to be integral to each other, had been written in concert. And Steiphenson’s accomplishment is so perfect that if you listen to Part 2, it is complete in itself. There is no moment at which you sense anything is missing and, indeed, in nearly fifty years of occasionally playing the other side, I still cannot judge when exactly Steiphenson comes in.
The two tracks have the same basis, but they are completely separate. I think that’s a measure of Steiphenson’s achievement.
Though Burundi Black never achieved any commercial success (and the Burundi Drummers certainly never saw a penny), the sound was surprisingly influential. Several records sampled the drums including, of all unexpected people, Joni Mitchell. Adam and the Ants ripped the whole Burundi drumming off for their sound, and even the rhythm for ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’. An ‘extended’ disco remix (!!!!) was released, with ‘additional drumming’ by Rusty Egan. Rusty Egan? Additional drumming? Not in my world, thank you.
And it felt great back then, when people queried what was this odd single that had the same name as the artist, and I was able to tell them all about it. Me, who knew nothing about music, but I knew that thing!

 

Film 2020: Thunderbirds are Go


Some of my memories of my childhood are very specific, up to a point, the point being where the urge to construct the story introduces elements that are true so far as memory insists, but not in reality. I loved the Gerry Anderson puppet shows back to Twizzle. I loved Thunderbirds above all the television series of my childhood, Thunderbirds was awesome. Thunderbirds was so great, they made a full-length feature film of it. When it came out in the cinema, my Grannie and Grandad took me into the Centre of Manchester one morning, to the old Odeon, a proper big-screen cinema, to see it without my waiting for it to come round to the local, cheaper cinema. It was a Monday morning, the first day of the Xmas holiday from school. Xmas Day was on the Thursday.

Or was it?

It was indisputably true about Grannie and Grandad, and the Odeon. It wasn’t the first time they’d taken me to the cinema in Manchester, althugh the only other occasion had been for a reissue of The Wizard of Oz at the even older Gaumont. But December? The start of Xmas? In my memory, yes. Was it then? Aye, there’s the rub, was it then? According to Wikipedia, it almost certainly was. And according to Wikipedia it was an absolute flop.

I can’t think why. I wanted to go and see it as soon as possible and, with a house move literally only days behind us, my grandparents volunteered to take me. But up and down the country, families were failing to take their kids because, according to Gerry Anderson, the kids weren’t clamouring to go see it. Thunderbirds was a TV show. You could watch it at home, in your slippers, with a glass of Jusoda or some other fizzy orange drink without having to traipse out to the cinema and oh, yes, at home it was in black and white and this was glorious colour, but making cinema films of tv series? It would never catch on.

It was more than fifty years ago, it was a TV show made with puppets, and fifty four years later, it is still bloody magic.

Though I’m aware of the flaws and failings in the film, all of which spring from a lack of imagination in the writing, invention having been expended on the models and the sets, I am still awestruck by the size of everything. There is genuinely a different scale to the film, a sense of confidence and of relaxation in the knowledge of time to do everything properly. And here I am, contrarian as usual, for the consensus opinion is that this is padding, bloating, needlessly expanding a thin plot that amounts to no more than a tv episode writ large. The critics have a point.

Take, for example, the opening sequence. The Zero-X spaceship launches on its expedition to land on Mars. There is a massive site built, the Glennfield rocket base. Zero-X is housed in a sliding hangar. It all but comes in kit form, five separate sections that remotely track and cross to complete assembly, the aircraft-style launch, still following Fireball XL5 rather that NASA’s Apollo missions… and then the sabotage, the Hood, the infamous, inevitable Hood inadvertently causing the craft to crash at sea but escaping.

It’s over eighteen minutes in length, up to and including the mission meeting two years later, preceding the second attempt, during which the magic words International Rescue are first mentioned as being requested to guard the take-off and at last we go to Tracy Island and Jeff Tracy saying FAB, and the simultaneous launches of Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 3, which is what we’re here for, and it’s been slow going and still I watch it in utter fascination, for its stateliness, for its improbable but still believable vision of what things would be like in a future than a hundred years hence, for its refusal to go in for unnecessary haste or concern.

The Zero-X mission is the spine of the film and gives it its three act structure: take-off, Mars landing and return/rescue. The Thunderbirds have nothing to do in the first Act except set-up and watch: their job will be to rescure the five man crew on its disastrous return, the usual last-second save carried out with applomb by the youngest Tracy, Alan. Would it have been more realistic to, once in a while, have had a rescue completed with time to sit back with coffee and chocolate digestive biscuits afterwards? Of course it would, but not just ten year olds would have regarded it as a gyp if there had even been time left over to mop a sweaty forehead.

The second Act broke into two unexpected parts. The latter part, the Zero-X on Mars part, heavily foreshadowed the future Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons by having the MEV (Mars Excursion Vehicle) undergo violent attack from native Martian lifeforms, here being one (red-)eyed rock snakes hurling fireballs like spitballs. This was in keeping with the film overall, but the first part wasn’t. In fact, this part of the film is the most controversial bit of Thunderirds ever, a sequence that’s now derided, not without justification, and that even Sylvia Anderson, who conceived it, admitted was a pure indulgence. This is the bit about the Swinging Star.

It starts with Lady Penelope having successfully shot down the Hood after she’s unmasked his second attempt at sabotage (in truth, Parker’s done the hard work but Penny’s pulled the strings, even if all she does is agree with his decisions about timing). She’s congratulating Scott, who’s done nothing, by suggesting taking him out for the night at a night club. Aye aye, we thinks, is someone admiring Scott’s manly (puppet) shoulders, eh? The waters get deeper when Virgil butts in and practically begs to be invited as well. Three of them? Oh ho! I mean, someone once very close to me admitted that as a little girl she had a crush on ol’ Virgil. But poor old Alan’s gone back to base and is left out, and he’s further frustrated when his father won’t let him shoot off to the mainland for a night’s ‘dancing’ with Tintin.

All of which is a set-up for the dream sequence, with Alan, dressed up in a bizarre jacket of many colours, is taken out – on his own – by Lady Penelope (who’s decided she likes them young) to another Swinging Star entirely, in space! Where the house band are, wait for it, Cliff Richard Jr and The Shadows.

No, really. It’s Cliff and the Shads, recreated as Supermarionation puppets, having a whale of a time, playing an instrumental called ‘Lady Penelope’ and then this unbelievably cheesy song, ‘Shooting Star’ (a shooting star will shoot you, and Mars will go to war, the man in the moon will jump on you, if you don’t love me no more’.) Oh. My. God. It’s like Teletubbies: you have to believe these people are on serious drugs to conceive this.

As for Alan, he’s incredibly out of his depth. I can recognise all of it now, the callow, inexperienced youth out with a red-hot, gorgeous, sophisticated, internationally-recognised sexy blonde who might, in his dreams but just faintly possibly in reality, take him to bed and do all sorts of unimaginable things to him (and they say this film has no characterisation), who’s simultaneously enthralling him and scaring him to death, and he has no idea what to say to this almost alien creature!

The really Thunderbirds bit of the film comes in the final Act. Zero-X is descending but one of its Airfix-kit bits breaks off before the glue is set, they’re all gonna die unless International Rescue produces one of its ingenious and genius rescues. It has all the dynamics of the Fireflash rescue from the very first episode, and all is, as we knew it would be, well.

Time for a real nightclub date between Alan and Penny, just the two of them, him a bit more ready. Did I say just the two of them? At their table yes, but at the next table, all got-up in disguise, in one type of beard and/or moustache or another, all ridiculous, are Jeff, Scott, Virgil and Brains. And Tintin, beardless. What chance a glorified adolescent seducing a glamorous aristocrat in front of that mob…?

Yet I loved watching it, even if it’s only the little-boy-just-turned-eleven peeping out of my eyes, amazed at every second he’s watching, the glorious, vibrant colours, the angles not seen on television, unaware or uncaring that the film might be padded, because every frame of film is bigger, older and brighter, and this is not Thunderbirds but THUNDERBIRDS are Go, and Go they do more than half the way to that future we wanted to grow up and live in.

Thunderbirds are Go was filmed alongside the TV show’s second series. All the voices were back except for David (Virgil) Holliday, who’d returned to America and was replaced by Jeremy Wilkin. Among the Zero-X crew voices were stalwarts who’d worked for the Andersons before and would on future series, and one unexpected and unrecognisable voice, Bob Monkhouse, who’d said he’d do the job for nothing: lucky sod.

But it was a flop. And Lew Grade failed to sell Thunderbirds to America, his goal with every ATV series except possibly Crossroads and shut down production, which is why the second series has only six episodes, telling the Andersons to gear up the next one. Which was Captain Scarlet.

But the film was carefully entwined in the Anderson Universe. Captain Black would be part of the next Martian Excursion Vehicle to explore Mars, uncovering an enemy far more hostile and dangerous than rock snakes, and in the weekly comic TV21, Mike Noble would switch from Fireball XL5 to a Zero-X series that lasted years.

For all its flaws, Thunderbirds are Go is still in demand a half century later, and has already continued to be far longer than the live action Thunderbirds film of 2004 that I was so right in refusing to go see. There was a sequel, a much less successful thing, that I’ll be watching and discussing before long. But for today I’m going to stay happy about one of the greatest imaginative icons of my childhood, that holds up in full force today.

Lou Grant: s04 e18 – Violence


Crusher

Sometimes, balance is inappropriate. Sometimes it’s wishy-washy. The impulse to be fair, to let all sides of an argument be aired to enable the viewer to make up its own mind, to demonstrate complexity, is always laudable. But it’s still wishy-washy. Failing to show a clear moral standpoint, or failing to show it with sufficient force is a cop-out.

It’s something that’s been a characteristic of Lou  Grant  from the outset. The show’s innate, small-l liberal mindset demands that it doesn’t slant stories, as much under President Carter at the beginning as under President Reagan now and until the end.

But the determination to be ‘fair’ sometimes, as in this week’s episode, undermines the story. The violence of the title was primarily about American Football, and the way the game had changed by the early Eighties to de-emphasise the skill of passes and runs in favour of pumping up the violence: the blocks, the tackles, the ‘hits’

The lead was LA’s star defensive back, Cliff ‘Crusher’ Carter (Fred Williamson), who starts the show on a B&W TV at McKenna’s Bar that was so dark you could have thought the game was being played at night without floodlights. Crusher ‘spears’ Ron Templeton, who winds up in a coma from which he eventually wakes, paralysed from the neck down for life and refuing to support his wife’s $3.5 million lawsuit because it will hurt the Club.

Rossi’s doing a story on Crusher, who he already idolises, for Sportsweek. Charlie wants the Templeton story treating as news instead of Sports, where everybody is ganging up to support Crusher in his hour of need. Lou’s on their side so he assigns Billie, who can’t understand or stand American Football, and then objects when she examines the background of violence and injury in the sport instead of treating it like the ‘freak incident’ it is. Some freak: the more finessed defensive back Mike Hauser (Fred Dryer) puts another plyer into hospital with an undisputably clean block and resigns immediatey, sick to his stomach.

We know Crusher’s the bad guy. He is open about how he intimidates opponents, hits them hard. He films a Public Service Announcement about the importance of family then, off camera, slaps the ball out of the kid’s hands (‘You hold like a girl’). He gives tips to college players on how to get away with illegal hits, focussing on breaking the star kid who’s broken Crusher’s college interceptions record. And when he wants to kill Rossi’s interview, in the wake of Hauser’s retirement, he orders Joe around, slams him against a car and steals his notebook.

Yes, the show does paint Crusher as he is, a vicious, arrogant thug not all that concealed under his surface bonhomie. But it hedges that truth around with a mixture of Football’s own denials about itself, its attempts to squash Mrs Templeton’s lawsuit, the sports writers’ overlooking details, Lou’s own refusal to confront the genuine issues in the game, and the fans’ preferemce for violence and thuggery. Crusher has boxes of fanmail applauding him from wht he did to Ronnie Templeton.

There’s a counterpoint to this in the form of a B story. Lou bumps into the Trib’s film critic, the attractive Melissa Cummings (Tyne Daly, about to star as Lacey of Cagney and…) and they start dating, despite the fact that they have no apparent opinions in common. The problem is that Melissa isn’t a character, she’s a viewpoint, she’s 100% supportive and promoting of violent films, all of which are masterpieces, reflecting not influencing audience’s underlying violence and providing catharsis.

In short, she’s the advocate of the slasher movies and video-nasties of that era, in the face of the regular cast’s more mainstream tastes, but beyond her taste in films and ability to spout lyrical, she doesn’t exist.

(Case in point re the show’s unwillingness to get too close to genuine issues, not to mention the American character: we see an excerpt from ‘Carlos and Wendy’, about a couple on honeymoon attacked by three bikers, who beat Carlos and rape Wendy before driving away on their hogs, respecting the speed limits in a subruban area, allowing Wendy to drive up behind them and ram at least two of the bikes in a cathartic release of vengeance. The drawback is that whilst this truth-telling ‘film’ shows Carlos being punched, clubbed and kicked, Wendy is dragged off behind a suitable outbuilding to be raped invisibly, offscreen. I never was an aficionado of video-nasties but I lived through that era and the sex was always upfront. The show tried to exemplify something by introducing evidence it could never ever show.)

There were some decently subtle moments in the episode, including the reporter who, when Hauser announced his retirement and why, immediately tried to brush it under the carpet by asking if this was just a ploy in salary negotiations,and Crusher’s turning on Joe, who was starting to have doubts about him, was in the face of hassle from the Press and the Club over Ronnie Templeton but come on now, did you really think we’d see him get his comeuppance? Even a defiant supporting/lionising of him would have gie the episode some heft by giving us a form of closure – any form – but we know better than to accept that after nearly four full seasons of Lou Grant.

Wishy-washy.

Person of Interest: s04 e20 – Terra Incognita


Now? Then? When?

We’re now only two episodes from the end of Person of Interest‘s fourth and last full season. Based on the pattern of the past two seasons, I have long been expecting some form of overriding arc but this has not materialised, except in little, background moments. Against such concerns, ‘Terra Incognita’ is an unusual choice of story, coming so late and, except in a little-pursued B story that occupies Finch, Root and Fusco, in keeping them off screen, is detached from any progress. And it’s one of the best, most deeply hypnotic, and saddest episodes ever produced.

The episode digs into your emotions in several ways. It lays John Reese bare for us, and shows us the man, the living, feeling man, beneath the hard-armoured shell that he wears to allow no-one near him. It brings back Taraji P. Henson as a guest star, for what is essentially a two-hander, to remind us of how much we miss her, and to point to a present that never existed, a phantom limb of life never expressed, a could-have-been that never could have been. And it points to a future that never would be, a phantom path through the woods ahead that had to be choked off the minute Person of Interest received a qualified, do-what-you-can-with-this renewal for a half-season to bring it all to an end.

The structure combined undated flashback, a present winter day and hallucination that allowed those so minded in the audience to incorporate the supernatural.

It began in the past, Reese and Finch on stakeout over a number, a bar owner in danger from HR. There’s a third person in the car, Detective Joss Carter. Finch leaves to walk and feed Bear. Reese and Carter talk as they wait. Or rather they don’t talk. Carter wants to know more about the Man in a Suit, who he is, what and why.

In the present, two members of the Brotherhood are shot dead without Numbers coming up. Is the Machine defective? No, it was murder by oportunity, not pre-meditated. A hint, no more. The Machine has been distant this season, in hiding, delivering mainly offscreen. We see everything through Samaritan now, though there’s one brief moment when the Machine’s eyes become ours again.

But there is a number and John Reese makes it his own business, his and his alone, all others excluded. Because Chase Patterson, former junkie, suspected of killing his parents and sisters, is a cold case, removed to the freezer when he fled the country. He was Carter’s case, her first, working with Detective Tierney. Hohn wants this to himself, to close the case in Carter’ honour. And to be close once again to the woman he liked, admired, felt an affinity for and who, in another life without the walls he has built, scared and alone in War, he might well have fallen in love with.

Reese follows Carter’s trail, the episode flipping between then and now, distinguished by a colder, bluer, more washed-out colour scheme for the past. it ends at a remote family cabin, in the snowy Catskills, off grid. No-one, not even the Machine, knows where John has gone. Long ago, Carter disturbed the real killer, who didn’t have the courage to kill a cop. Now, Reese finds Chase and the set-up for murder by drugs overdose. This time, the killer shoots John, badly.

The killer? An out-of-left-field older half-brother, son to a mother abandoned by Chase’ father for the woman who was Chase’s mother. An embittered psycho, of no importance, a nobody, a nothing. is this going to be the man who kills John Reese?

Another flashback to Reese and Carter, on stake-out, in the car. John unbends to start talking about Jessica, the real and unbelievably sad reason why he pushed her away, the woman he loved and who loved him. This cannot be fiction, it cannot come out of even the most sophisticated and deepest of writers, only real life can produce thoughts like this: two dead platoons, one from each side and every man carries a picture, a girlfriend, wife or kid they would never come back to, and the man who would become John Reese thinking that if he had no picture, no future he longed to last to see, it might make him more invulnerable. The heart cries at that thought.

nd we realise that we are no longer in the flashback, that like the Pacific Ocean canoists and the NASA astronauts in Pete Atkin’s ‘Canoe’, we have moved between times. John has killed the killer. He has broken into Chase’s car for refuge. He is bleeding to death, though he’ll die of the cold far sooner. And Joss Carter’s next to him, digging at him, poking and prodding, continuing a conversation they never had in life, despite John’s hazy recollections, opening him up. Keeping him alive long enough for someone to come out and find him.

Is Carter really there? Is John so close to the border with death that she can come back for a time, fighting to keep him from crossing over? Or is John’s mind constructing for him an hallucination, by way of self-preservation, not merely of his body but of his… well, would you call it soul? Forcing him to understand that he cannot remain so detached, so concealed from anyone and everryone that he is literally killing himself, seeking a death that he sees as inevitable, determined from the start?

There’s a mention of his psychologist, of Iris Campbell, a story that would have gone far further in the season 5 that wasn’t to be and which had to be abandoned, as we shall see in the season that was. Phantom relationships, stretching forwards and backwards. Elsewhere, people are looking for John. Headlights approach. he won’t die. Neither will Chase Patterson, who will reach a hospital before the pills his half-brother forced him to take can end him. No music, just a fade to a Person of Interest caption card.

And a long, silent ascent towards our own reality, full of thought.

The Infinite Jukebox: Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’


This is a personal story.
Though I had a lot of mates in the early Seventies who played more progressive music at me than I now care to remember, none of them were into Genesis. Not until the late phase singles like ‘I Know What I Like’ and ‘Counting Out Time’ did I hear or like anything of their music. But I was interested in Peter Gabriel solo from the first time I heard ‘Solsbury Hill’.
Like millions of others I didn’t buy a Peter Gabriel album until So. I loved it then, I love it now. My favourite track is ‘In Your Eyes’, an almost spiritual piece of uplifting music, in a completely different vein to ‘Solsbury Hill’ but not less inspiring.
On the album, it is track five, the former opening track of side two. It’s followed by ‘Mercy Street’, a completely different experience, quiet, mellow, slow, gentle. Though it’s inspired by the works of the poet Anne Sexton, its lyrics, about taking the boat out across the waves has always echoed for me lighthouseman’s daughter Grace Darling.
My first long lasting, serious relationship with someone who loved me as well was with a woman called Mary. She was a couple of years older than me, and we have had no contact for almost twenty years: I have no idea if she is still here. Overall, we were together just short of ten years, although the last half of that period was what you might call volatile: on and off with longer periods of off than on but underneath it all a friendship that kept drawing us back to each other, mostly as friends but irregularly with our all-too-familiar passion. Even when it seemed our love was finally behind us, I would pick up the phone to her inviting herself round, and we’d sit and talk and sometimes it would end up where I still wanted it to end up.
It was a light midsummer evening and, for some reason, rather than share the couch we were both sat on the floor. I had put on So which we both liked, and when ‘Mercy Street’ started, I began to sing along, gently, quietly, and as close to keeping the tune as I could. I could do that sometimes, with some songs, then. She sat and listened to me. In a way, absorbed in the song, it was almost as if I was in a form of rapture.
I had begun singing instinctively, forgetting as I did a line of lyrics that I would eventually reach. I became very conscious of it a few lines ahead. She would hear Peter Gabriel sing the line, and to stop singing abruptly would only draw attention to it. So I carried on singing, closing my eyes but ultra-aware of where she was in relation to me. Dreaming of the tenderness, the tremble in the hips, of kissing Mary’s lips.
Nothing was said, and I continued to the end of the song with my eyes closed. We neither of us spoke about the song or the line. There was, indeed, a kiss from Mary’s lips. Maybe we went upstairs, I no longer remember nor does it matter. Ever since, the song itself, which is still a great favourite, takes me back to the moment of realisation when I knew the line was coming, and the uncertainty of singing it. And to kissing Mary’s lips. Which was once of supreme importance.

A Kindle Bonanza


I’ve been busy the past couple of weeks but the job is done. I have upoloaded three novels, a more-or-less trilogy, to the Amazon Kindle Store, and these are the links to find them and download them.

Firstly:

Followed by:

And lastly:

Feel free to coment.

Film 2020: Chariots of Fire


Until the last moment, I intended something different for this weekend’s viewing, but my head wasn’t there for that DVD. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Chariots of Fire, too long in fact when it still shares the record for the film I saw most often in cinemas, and the choice was inspired.

Chariots of Fire – produced by David Puttnam, written by Colin Welland, directed by Hugh Hudson – appeared in 1981 and was voted Best Picture at the Oscars, a deserved award. It’s an historical drama, depicting the efforts of two British Olympic runners who won Gold Medals at the 1924 Paris Olympiad. The film is historically true where it can be but no historical picture ever reflects history with fidelity, and many things were changed, for dramatic effect, for simplification, because figures of the time refused to participate or allow their name to be used (in one instance out of modesty), and due to a complete error.

The film starred a cast of more-or-less unknowns, though Nigel Havers as the fictional Lord Andrew Lindsay, was already familiar from television. But the film’s two principal roles, Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams and Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, had no great footprint with the public. This was Puttnam’s intention: the senior players are veterans of great skill, such as Ian Holm as the trainer, Sam Mussabini, and Sir John Gielgud and Lyndsay Anderson as two Cambridge Masters, and there are well-established actors like Nigel Davenport (Lord Birkenhead), David Yelland (the Prince of Wales), Peter Egan (the Duke of Sutherland) and Cheryl Campbell (Jennie Liddell, Eric’s sister), but the runners at the centre of things, which include Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell), have no face recognition, no prior associations, making them better able to be these bright, gifted, sometimes privileged young men of that first generation after The Great War, who helped to forge a society severed from its own past by the destruction and death.

The film begins with an awkward device: not just a flashback but a double flashback, which constitutes the majority of the film. Harold Abrahams, who became the elder statesmen of British Athletics, died in early 1978. The film begins at his memorial service, with a laudatory address from the aged Lindsay, referring to himself and Montague, as the only survivors of that running squad, before dissolving back to that iconic scene, accompanied by our first introduction to that extraordinary theme music created by Vangelis Papathanassiou. Twenty or so fresh young men, running in slow-motion along the water’s edge on a curved beach, dressed in the athletic gear of the early Twenties. They are Atheticism in motion (all the runners received three months intense training to make them look authentic and brother, they certainly do), and their heels splash water and wet sands into the faces of those in the rear, as the camera slides back through them, resting on faces we will grow to know.

The spine of the film is real. Aubrey Montague (in real-life he used hids first name, Evelyn) wrote to his mother daily. When Welland was researching the film, his son provided all these letter, and they are read through the film to link the various stages the Cambridge runners go through.

And through Montague’s letters, we pass through our second flashback, to 1919, to the simultaneous arrival at rooms in Cambridge of Montague and Abrahams.

The tone of one part of the film is set instantly. Abrahams, no matter how English he is, even to being an Army Lieutenant, is the son of a Lithuanian Jew. Moreover, he is a Jew. He sees prejudice and anti-Semitism all around him, and is engaged in a constant fight to prove himself, to force them to accept him. Which ‘them’ is that? The film constantly shows, in carefully drawn, bordering upon but not quite overt manners, that Abrahams is looked down, his achievements carefully diminished. In a fictional version of the Collee Dash, Abrahams succeeds in racing round the Quad in the time it takes midday to strike, raced by the last-minute Lindsay: Abrahams succeeds by a whisker, Lindsay fails by the same margin (in real life, Abrahams never did this and Lindsay’s original did, several years later, one of only two people to do the challenge). The Masters, looking one, openly express regret that the ‘wrong’ person has succeeded.

This is Abrahams’ life, the force behind his drive to win, to run them off their feet. He can be their equal, but only by being their better. Cross expresses this intensity, this obsession, even the petulance in the face of failure, the prospect of defeat, to perfection. He is what you imagine Abrahams to be, and you are on his side from his first appearance.

But this is only one half of the film. Abrahams and Liddell were both gold-medal winners but they were both, in their differing ways, unusual characters, driven by a force both within and without themselves. Eric Liddell is a gifted sportsman, anationally known Rugby player, a Scottish international. He’s gifted elsewhere, a China-born, Scotland-educated son of a Christian missionary, who has inherited, perhaps in even greater magnitude, his father’s faith, his father’s vocation. He will go back to China, he will be a missionary, he will preach the love and honour of the God in whom he believes so devoutly. He has a purpose.

And his younger sister, Jennie, fears that he will gorget that purpose, that he will ruin himself, by divertig his attention to this meaningless running, this unChristian pursuit of personal glory. (This was a generous consent by Jennie Liddell Somerville who, in real-life, believed in Eric’s running and supported him, allowing herself to be portrayed as a fanatic, the epitome of Scottish Calvinism).

Liddell is faster than Abrahams. Charleson is equally commanding in his part, calm, collected, built around a solid core of unwavering belief. He also did wonders in depicting the real Liddell’s ungainly, ugly running style. His ever word rings of conviction, not an arrogant conviction that because he is a Christian he is right but that honour to his God and a willingness to submit to his lead is right, because God is right.

It’s through Liddell that Abrahams is able to contact Sam Mussabini, a professional trainer, an abhorrance in the face of amateur athletics. Abrahams wants Sam to coach him, to get him two extra yards for the 100m. The rough-cut, Italo-Arabic Sam, sees the potential in Harold, and the two form a partnership despite the warnings of the Masters that it’s not ‘the done thing’. What do they mean? Do they dream of the pure and irreproachable gentleman amateur who contrasts to Abrahams acting like the tradesman, or is their distinction between Christian and Jew? it’s one of the very few times in the film where you could make a case for the former, but the shades are too grey to say that the latter is far from their minds.

Abrahams’ obsession leads to rocky paths in his relationship with Sylvia Gordon, leading soprano with the D’Oyly Carte. Here’s the slip: in real-life, Abrahams didn’t meet Syliva, who he married, until ten yearslater but the film confuses Sybil Gordon with another D’Oyly Carte soprano, Sybil Evers, who Abrahams marries.

In contrast, despite Jennie’s constant onjections, Liddell has the easier path, convincing her with the heartfelt words that ‘God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.’

But this cannot be all. On the gangplank onto the boat to France, Liddell is shocked to hear that the heat for his race will be run on a Sunday: he cannot and will not run on the Sabbath, God’s day. It’s a stance, or rather a conviction he holds to firmly, unflinchingly, even in the face of a committee consisting of Lord Birkenhead (the squad’s mentor), the Duke of Sutherland (President of the British Olympic Committee), Lord Cadogan (Committe Chairman) and Liddell’s future King – though not for as long as everyone would have expected then, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII.

In real life, Liddell knew months in advance and the solution, running in the 400m instead, was agreed in advance rather than coming as a generous, self-sacrificing suggestion from Lindsay that he take the young Lord’s place.

The events of the Games flash by almost impressionistically. Runners run. Lindsay gets a Silver medal, Abrahams is beaten in the 200m, Montague falls and fails. The American pair, Charlie Paddock and Jackson Scholz, collect medals like gundrops.

But Liddell wins the 400m, and his vindication is the sight of his sister Jennie, whose presence is the blessing he so wants. And Abrahams, coming up to the point that everything his life within this film has pointed to, almost as scared to win as to lose, because he hasn’t looked further than this moment, wins the 100m.

But there’s a third person in this film, one who’s studiously placed himself in a background role throughout, but who’s every bit as much a part in Abrahams’ race as the runner himself and that’s Sam. Mussabini’s a professional, unwelcome in the home of the Games. He has to listen to the crowd roar. We inside the film know Abrahams has won, have already seen his friends crowd him to hug, and cheer and back thump, have seen Liddell come to give his hand too, whilst Charlie Paddock gives him a long stare. But for Sam it’s the long wait, until he hears the Anthem being played shakily, sees the Union jack rising, before he knows that Abrahams has done it, that he’s done it, the thing he’s longed for and for longer that Abrahams has been alive, the thing that can nver be taken away.

And after he’s called his charge Mr Abrahams throughout, decent, respectable, man to master, he sits on his bed and half-whispers, ‘Harold’. He punches out the crown of his ubiquitous straw boater. And says, ‘My son. My son.’

I’m going to mention one last piece of historical distortion. Just before he races in the 400m final, Liddell receives a folded note, given to him by his rival, Jackson Scholz. It contains a quote from the bible: “In the old book it says: ‘He that honours me I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” In real life that came from his team-mates and was delivered by a masseur.

And we slide out of our long flashback, that has long since swallowed the earlier one, back to Harold Abrahams’ funeral, as a choir sings Jersualem, and in which we hear the words, ‘Bring me my Chariots of Fire’. The aged Lindsay and Montague leave the Church, Montague who, in real-life, died in 1948 and who went to Oxford, not Cambridge. And Lindsay delivers the final line: “He did it. he ran them off their feet”, as captions record the futures of our runners: for Harold, marriage, success, a commitment to his sport: for Eric, his mission in China, to death in a Japanese Internment Camp in 1945, and Scotland’s mourning.

Then we flashback once again, to the beach and the runners, the young men in the height of their power and glory, captions provided as we pass the faces we now know, withheld to the end so that the athletes could only be the athletes, and Vangelis’ theme, that extraordinary yet strangely perfect intrusion of 1980s electronic music into the lovingly created world of sixty years before, swells again before fading into silence and the dark.

Looking at the film overall, and withut detracting from the fact that I still enjoy it immensely, I couldn’t avoid noticing how musch the early part of the film relied upon exposition. There was a tremendous amount of telling, to establish who these unfamiliar people are, where they are and what background to come from. It was scene after scene of Tell, not Show, with characters explaining themselves for the audience. In Abrahams’ case, it had the effect of sealing Montague’s role in the picture: first he listens to Harold, then he listens to everyone else, and rarely does he get to do more than nod, smile or look grave. Farrell has to go through every expression in his locker, and return for a repeat cycle. I felt sorry for him.

And it can’t help but be mentioned that the Cambridge elite is an elite, and that whilst Liddell is a humble highland Scot, the closest the film comes to including a ‘working class’ viewpoint, his sporting prowess has already drawn him into the elite.

Throughout this review, I’ve gone on about the points at which the film retreats from absolute fidelity to the history. There is a purpose to mentioning these, I’ve not just parroted the details from Wikipedia, you know. There are a considerable number of them, some of them quite fundamental to events. Some are enforced by restrictions: Lord Burghley, Lindsay’s original, refused use of his name, as did another survivor of that Running Squad, whilst the New Zealander, ‘Tom Watson’, was portrayed accurately, but the real Olympian begged the film not to use his real name as he did not wish to be picked out among his countrymen, as being above them. An honourable wish, honoured gracefully.

But go back through those times the film distorts the history. Every single one is dramatically superior, makes the film tighter, heightens the emotion of the scene. The most egregious one is Liddell’s supposed ‘last minute’ discovery of the Sunday heat. Portrayed as such, it deepens Liddell, makes his belief al the more deep and admirable, and effecting, maintaining it in the face of pressure from Peers and Princes, who cannot make him compromise.

That never happened, but it is a better film for it to happen. All the changes do that. The note coming from Scholz, on the track itself, held as he races, makes the emotion of the scene stronger: it is an enemy, an opponent, who steps out of that opposition to signal his understanding and appreciation of Liddell’s belief, not his own team-mates. The dramatic core and the film’s truth are thus enhanced, and the film we watch is so much more noving for these things. Dramatic Licence is not such a bad thing when deployed sympathetically.

On a Sunday morning of August sun, I would read the true story with admiration and enjoyment. But to translate that into a film on the same day, I want the proper emphasis, no matter how ‘fake’ it might be.

A Bloody Shame


A friend has just e-mailed me the following:

“Club Statement

Droylsden FC have as of today resigned from the Northern Premier League and will also take no part in Cup Competitions this season
In a letter sent to the Northern Premier League Chairman Dave Pace described the decision as the  most difficult he has ever had to make.
However the disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis has left him with no alternative.
The closing of the social club and its function rooms  since the start of the pandemic, the main income source with no indication of any restart on viable trading terms along with a loss of income from the club’s main sponsor  has left the club with no visible alternative income stream during the crisis.
“The club may hopefully survive this crisis and continue into the future in less challenging circumstances than we find ourselves in during the present”

The club will be making no further statement at the present time.”

Well, that’s a facer. To be completely honest, part of me doesn’t feel a thing about it, and there’s a little bit of schadenfreude in there. I don’t have any time for Dave Pace who was responsible for separating me from the Bloods, and I swore never to go back whilst he was still there. There’s a bit of ‘serve the f****r right’ in hearing that news. It’s the fans I feel sorry for, who’ve gone through a lot. Some of them were mates, lots of them were acquaintances, and all of them are the undeserved sufferers.

I wonder how many other clubs up and down the country are going to have to do the same.

Lou Grant: s04 e17 – Business


Despite an excellent performance from guest star Edward Winter as a new, progressive business CEO, this was another case of one step up, one step down.

If I were to tell you that this story was about relations between American busoiness and the Press, would you be expecting great drama and edge-of-the-seat watching? Maybe in America, where one President went so far as to define that ‘the business of America is business’, but through British eyes the story failed to convince as a worthwhile one, and ended up coming over as a whole lot of fuss about very little.

We began in media res with the aftermath of a devastating fire affecting plant belonging to long-established Los Angeles company, Cal-electronics. The company’s recently shed veteran officer Lester Sorenson (Phillip Abbott) almost as soon as he’d been appointed President, replacing him with the much younger and go-getting Russell Davidson (Winter) but they’re being intensively secretive about everything, to the extent that they’ve triggered Joe Rossi’s permanently lurking suspicions as to what they’re hiding.

It was at this early point that the episode lost me. There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason in ducking questions, failing to supply information, especially when the truth that was being buried was minor and insignificant. It was all very Watergate, the cover-up creating far more harm than the story being suppressed.

But Davidson and everyone else at Cal-electronics seemed to think that the press was against them, that automatically it gave businessand companies grief, sensationalising stories, slanting them to make the problem out to be more widespread than it really is.

There was an example on the Trib’s side, and this from Adam Wilson, the economics writer and a natural friend to business, with a story exposing the cancer risk to employees that came over as a company-wide thing with potential spread to consumers when in strict fact it was five workers in one division, a risk neutralised instantly.

Without a background of familiarity with press reporting of business in the early Eighties it was hard to viscerally accept that the company were justidfied in their extreme circle-the-wagons approach. Naturally, the company wanted to fight back, buying full-page ads in the Trib to put over their point of view, hassling the Trib over sitting on a Washington State story about a labour dispute that escalated into deaths, because it was at a paper mill owned by the Trib.

To be honest, it all seemed very superficial and the ending – Sorenson explains the humiliating circumstances of his resignation, a breakdown due to promotion to a role he couldn’t handle and the secrecy merely being Davidson’s innate decency over not wanting to expose an old man’s frailties – fell flat because the story, well-acted as it was, was flat from introduction to coda.

I shall, out of decency, refrain from mentioning the thin-to-the-point-of-skeletal ‘B-story’, included assumedly because the actor needed a job.

One step up, one step dow. There have been rather more of the latter this season than any other.