The End. Maybe.


Once upon a time I was a little boy in East Manchester who read comics, which made me completely undistinguished. I collected them and read them and discovered football and music at different times and I stopped collecting them and reading them, which also made me completely undistinguished. Then, one early evening in the second term of the first year at University, an unlikely combination of unconnected events started me reading and collecting them again.

This phase lasted all my life from then on, eighteen months short of fifty years. There will be those who challenge the use of the word in this context, but that interest in comics coming from an adult does qualify as a distinguishing factor, even if it’s only really been in the last decade or so I’ve felt able to admit it in public.

But fifty years is a long time and things change all the time. Remarkably, throughout all the changes I underwent and comics underwent, we managed to keep enough in common to remain associated. Until the COVID pandemic started in 2020. Amongst its many effects on life was closing the comics shops. Some shops were allowed to take telephone orders and hand out purchases to customers outside the door: Manchester’s Forbidden Planet were not among those. For a full twelve months it remained shut and I was cut off from the series I was then collecting.

I still had the DVD runs I’d been picking up, old series I had neglected aand overlooked and now could explore and enjoy. And I did. So much fun. And so much innocence. Not a word you can use about contemporary comics without a horse-laugh. The end result was that when the closure was rescinded, on 13 April 2021, I had come to a conclusion. At the age of 65, I joked, I had finally grown out of comics.

There were still series I was collecting. I would finish those off. One of them I waited for the Graphic Novel Collection rather than buy the single issues. The other two were both written by Tom King. Strange Adventures, a terrible disappointment, finished in December 2021 and I sold it on eBay only for the Buyer to claim non-delivery.

That left Batman/Catwoman. The only comic between me and the end. A monthly comic with, supposedly, a skip month during which a special would be published, drawm by another artist. But, due also to COVID and restricted paper availability, schedules have been shot to shite. A series that should also have concluded in December 2021 has dragged on, its last two issues having taken six months to appear.

But today I have received issue 12. The series is over and so are my comic collecting days. The delay has been so extended that any trace of regret at terminating an enthusiasm that has lasted practically my whole life (and which was indirectly responsible for my meeting my wife and leading to the best ever days of my life) has dried up and blown away. The prevailing emotion is, So What?

The delay though has had some unfortunate side-effects. It has taken so long to get to this point that Astro City is fast approaching its return, and one special already exists that I could have bought more than a month ago. No worries: for those extremely few comics I still want to read, I will no longer buy the floppies, I will wait for the Graphic Novels. I did that with Azzarello and Risso’s final Moonshine: it didn’t kill me and I didn’t end up buying it twice which, on a pension now, is a pertinent point.

But, damn you King and Mann, you have dragged this out so fucking long that not only has it damaged the story, but you have given Marvel the chance to announce that Miracleman is coming back, and not just that but Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham are finishing off the story they were forced to abandon thirty years before. And considering that I have all the published reprinted issues so far in comic book form, and Marvel’s prices for the GNs were extortionate to begin with and two of them fetch three figures a time now, waiting for the GNs is not an option.

So The End is not The End after all. It is The End but there’s a contingent coda consisting of twelve more single issues to get to The End End, and that I find hard to forgive.

BC

All the Fells: Loft Crag


Loft Crag – The Central Fells 2,270′ (46)

Date: 8 September 1986/10 September 1996

From: Pike O’Stickle/Pike O’Stickle

Loft Crag is the third universally acknowledged Langdale Pike but, by its position and height, it is the overlooked member of the family, rarely if ever climbed for its own sake. Of course, it enjoys a popularity it’s elder brothers cannot touch by bearing the famous rock-climbing grounds of Gimmer Crag, but climbers and walkers are two totally different creatures and only one of them visits summits. I climbed Loft Crag twice, both times as circuits of the Langdale Pikes, from different ends. On my first ascent, Loft Crag was the last of my five planned summits, starting from Mill Gill and Pavey Ark. I came down off Pike O’Stickle, thankful that I’d got down safely, and after that the narrow and short ridge to Loft Crag was a bright stroll, full of energy, and the little summit a pleasure to visit. Not an unalloyed pleasure: I was in inadequate training to run the Manchester Marathon in a few week’s time but my suspect, now-arthritic right knee had blown up with fluid. Surprisingly, it didn’t affect me on the fells, except in certain moments when I stepped wrong, though it was a constant niggle on flat streets. Nevertheless, on my descent towards the valley, and despite the path being on the level, I diverted towards Gimmer Crag, to see it at close range, just because I was there and could. Climbing interested my Dad far more than me: he would have stayed there far longer than I did. My other circuit started from Stake Pass, making Pike O’Stickle the first top and Loft Crag, by the same route second, but there was to be no close up glimpse of Gimmer that day, for I went on to cross Thorn Crag en route to Harrison Stickle and another great day.

Due South: s02 e04 – Bird in the Hand


Due South

Sometimes, especially with a show like Due South, by its nature, there isn’t really anything new to say about a specific episode. This is the case even with episodes that hover on the border between very good and excellent. They are great episodes, precisely because they so fully embody the things that make the show so watchable, but because they represent the show at its best, they offer little or nothing by way of insight.

‘Bird in the Hand’ was a perfect example of this. It ofered a serious story, as demonstrated in the open, showing the escape from an airport of a prisoner in chains who, after the whole thing was filmed with cameras at midsection, we were shown to be Gerard (Ken Pogue), the corrupt ex-RCMP Officer who had Benton Fraser’s father Bob shot and killed in the Pilot episode.

As I suspected, the continuity thread of the past few weeks has been allowed to lapse, at least temporarily. Camilla Scott is absent this week so Fraser’s status at the Canadian Consulate is slightly uplifted, especially as he now has to deal with Constable Turnbull (Dean McDermott, later husband of Tori Spelling), playing a junior Liaison Officer of startlingly limited intelligence, a new recurring character.

Gerard has been brought from Canada to give evidence before a Grand Jury, it is believed to be to testify against arms smuggler Lloyd P Nash (Philip Williams), who is the person most likely to want Gerard silenced. Though not necessarily in the eyes of Agent McFadden (Dick Anthony Williams) of the ATF and FBI Special Agent Borland (Stewart Arnott). Given that Gerard had Bob Fraser killed, they believe that the person most likely to want the escapee dead, preferably at this own hands, is our favourite Mountie.

They’re not alone. Even Chicago’s most cynical detective, Ray Vecchio, assumes Bennie wants Gerard dead and explains his consummate willingness to collude with his partner in certifying any termination as being either accidental or in self-defence, whichever suits the circumstances best. Only the audience gets it, which is that whatever his personal feelings, Fraser’s moral code, and his dedication to his duty – mirroring that of Captain Carrot in Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books – is absolute.

But that’s Fraser. Fraser is a paragon, a parfit gentil knight, the man who is himself not mean, to an even greater level than Philip Marlowe. He’s impossibly good, which is why we find him both admirable and funny, as he navigates daily contact with humanity in all its everyday, low-level meanness. Nobody except the audience – and, it turns out, the manipulative Gerard – expects him to so determinedly navigate the temptation. Certainly not his mentor, inspiration and first teacher, Bob Fraser himself, turning up with ever-increasing frequency as the ghost in Bennie’s head, pleading, urging and demanding that his son kill the man who had him killed.

I mean, this is a serious story. It will slowly be unravelled as a tale of corruption. Nash will tell a hypothertical story of a shipping of arms into Canada, where he had a deal with a high-ranking Mountie, that got hi-jacked, the guns stolen off him by either the ATF or the FBI: Gerard isn’t testifying against him. Agent McFadden brings his weary resignation to Bennie and Ray, determined, despoite the embarrassment, to clean up his own house, against the separate agenda of the FBI, but he turns out to be the villain.

But the Due South style is to lean into such things, and of course the seriousness of Fraser having to protect the man responsible for his father’s death, and to make you laugh, immoderately, in so doing. Fraser’s conversations with his father, especially the ones carried out in public where other people can hear his side of things, are hilarious. Fraser is the fish-out-of-water but Fraser Sr. is the fish-out-of-water to Bennie, especially in his ineffectual attempts to get his son to do what he can’t physically do, even if that’s only kick Gerard in the ribs.

And then there’s Ray, always along for the ride, backing up his buddie, confident that whilst Fraser is always getting everything wrong because of his Canadian demeanour, he nevertheless doesn’t get anything wrong wrong. Ray supplies the last and funniest joke, which is both insanely implausible yet utterly natural.

But to get there we have to go through the shoot-out. The bad guys have come out of the shadows, everybody’s going to get killed, Fraser will be the patsy, and that’s when he delivers one of those monologues that stops everything, wierding everyone out until he can get them off balance and then all hell breaks loose. Fraser stops a bullet in his leg, doing wvhat Fraser does, risking his life to save even a villain who is under his protection. And writer/creator Paul Haggis deliberately blurs lines, by having Bob Fraser first shout for everyone to clear out, and seemingly implant the idea in McFadden’s head, and then actually appear to Gerard, dangling from a window, offering him a hand that the man actually tries to grasp in his desperation, but which, thankfully, isn’t real. It still saves the day.

So everything works out. Right triumphs and the bad guys, including the corrupt ATF men fall into the lap of justice. Even States Attorney Louise St Laurent, a cameo return for Lee Purcell, smiles at Vecchio.

Who, in the spirit of enquiry, looks at his friend Fraser, in full red uniform with two crutches, and checks that that is, yes, the same leg Gerard shot Bennie in in the pilot. And the same leg in which he got stabbed? Yes. As they walk away, Vecchio pulls a piece of paper out of his coat and slaps in on Fraser’s chest, out of our sight. Fraser reads it: Please shoot other leg. That’s not funny, Ray, he complains, but of course it is. Which is why the serious stuff is so unimportant. You can’t make the show without it. But it would be pointless without the absurdity that it does so well. Please shoot other leg. There’s even a gloriously Milligan-esque quality just to imagine that.

The Infinite Jukebox: Herman’s Hermits’ ‘It’s Nice to be out in the Morning’


If at any time you had suggested that I stock the Infinite Jukebox with a song I discovered on an album belonging to my sister, I would have smiled at you condescendingly over the very notion that she and I could ever have a shared taste in music. And if you had gone on to suggest that I would one day write about a song recorded by Herman’s Hermits, I would probably have invited you to combine sex and travel in the by now traditional manner. Though I’d have tried to do it politely.
So here I am, blogging about Herman’s Hermits. You are entitled to snicker at my predicament.
Herman’s Hermits, like Freddie and The Dreamers, are concrete evidence that during the first half of the Sixties, Manchester just wasn’t in it in any competition with Liverpool over music. There is a Herman’s Hermits song from my first period of getting into music that represents the banality and triteness of my tastes that I have avoided listening to it for over fifty years and still will not speak its title aloud, which since I’ve admitted my first single ever bought was by Roger Whittaker, gives you some idea of the depths to which my embarrassment sinks.
Though I do have to admit to a slight partiality towards the group’s 1969 big hit, ‘Sentimental Friend’, which is where the trouble starts. My sister, six years plus younger than me, had a cheap HH compilation album, named for the song and, one day in the Seventies, I borrowed it, no doubt to tape the title track.
I’m sure it was only curiosity, or an unfathomable boredom, that led me to play other tracks on the album, but there was one that caught my attention, called ‘It’s Nice to be out in the Morning’. At the time, I was a devoted fan of 10cc, and aware that the band’s bassist, Graham Gouldman, had been a successful commercial songwriter in the Sixties, having written hits for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Wayne Fontana.
He’d also written at least one track for Herman’s Hermits.
So I had to play it. And having played it, I had to tape it. For ‘It’s Nice to be out in the Morning’ might not have the world’s most compelling melody, and musically it certainly didn’t rise above the Hermits’ usual level of playing, but it had one astonishing factor to it that endeared it to me on the spot and continues to do so a half century later.
It’s all in the words. There’s a generic chorus, which is actually sung as the first verse, and then repeated in a tumble of words as Peter Noone zips through the subject of the song. It’s Nice to be out in the Morning, when you’ve got somewhere to go, he starts, before introducing a bit of a bummer. But seeing the same old faces, that can make you feel so low.
So far, so nondescript. The music is brisk and bright and breezy, far more attuned to the opening couplet than to the winge and moan, but then the song caught me on the hop by giving me the last thing I’d ever have expected from a pop song: Ardwick Green where the grass is grey, Beswick, Hulme and Harpurhey. Whalley Range where the tomcats roam. Bloody hell! That’s Manchester! Inner city Manchester, names I’ve known, names I’ve grown up with. My Nana lives in Hulme. Every Tuesday when I’m at University, I walk over to spend lunch with her and Grandad! What the Hell is this about?
I was so surprised that I didn’t really pick up on Noone’s shoulder shrug dismissal, that it’s not the sights of Rome. But it’s home. Aye, and it is and all.
But this is just a first outing. It’s nice to be out in the morning, that chorus gets a go again, though this time it’s the places, not the faces, that are too familiar for words, and this time we’re even deeper into the A to Z. Besses o’the Barns where the brass bands blow, Irlam o’the Heights where the chimneys grow (and he pronounces it as chim-e-neys, just like any little Manc kid would), oh Lord, Boggart Hole Clough with its concrete flowers.
I’m in both shock and awe by now, that a pop song should be so eso-bloody-terically Mancunian, singing about these places that are never remarked of, barely even known outside our City itself. Sure, there’s that same shrug, it’s not the Taj Mahal, but yes, oh yes, it’s ours.
Is there more? Oh yes, there is, but first Gouldman reminds us of what really matters, the life in a city. But the town is people more than things, it’s the Mums and Dads and kids and all that give it life.
And, for its climax, the song becomes both beautifully parochial and internationally renowned, for this is the Manchester that is the only English words known to so many across the world, United’s ground where the Champions score a hundred goals and the Reds’ fans roar for Bobby Charlton, Best and Law: it’s a most fantastic day when they play.
And there’s another chorus, it’s yet again nice to be out in the morning, but this time the pall of gloom has lifted, familiarity has been rejected, for this is home, it’s where we are who we are, it makes you feel good when you’re riding to the places that you know, and then we’re back to Ardwick Green and those places that stand beside, and it’s still not the sights of Rome, our Manchester will never be Rome, not even if you look at it upside down in the dark, but it is home and we’re not saying that begrudgingly now, but proudly.
Of course, it’s a silly song in its way, a gimmick song, what else could it be if it brings up Boggart Hole Clough, and besides, I found it on an LP belonging to my sister, which hardly makes it reputable. But I’ve still to find another song that anchors itself so firmly in the places of my home that belong only to us and not to those looking in from outside.
I am, at heart, still a back street kid from Openshaw, and I always will be.

All the Fells: Loadpot Hill


Loadpot Hill – The Far Eastern Fells 2,201′ (145)

Date: 28 April 1992

From: Wether Hill

Without checking, I sometimes find it difficult to remember which of Loadpot Hill and Wether Hill is which (Loadpot is the northerly one). In a way, it’s entirely understandable: these fells are the only ones in the Wainwrights to share the word Hill, they sit side-by-side as the northernmost extension of the High Street Range, they are near identical, broad, swelling, almost exclusively grassy fells requiring miles of walking to reach, even from Ullswater, and they offer little but the prospect of long walking across country that is hardly characteristic of Lakeland. As an expedition on their own, unless part of walking the High Street Range in full – an impossibility for a lone walker intent on returning to his car – the most enjoyable way of visiting Loadpot Hill was as part of a circuit of Fusedale, using Steel Knotts to gain the ridge, and Arthur’s Pike and Bonscale Pike to tie things off. Although the traverse from Wether Hill was nondescript, it nevertheless had the inextinguishable delight of being out in the open, higher fells at a respectable distance, other folk at a distance (excluding a woman fellrunner in her fifties, shooting past me from ahead, with a big grin and a local accent), and halfway through the first serious walk of the year, striding out untroubled and fit. The chimney, the proud remnant of Lowther House that Wainwright so distinctly depicted, was long crumbled in 1992, and no trace was left to show anything but the cairn had ever been there. Only walkers with access to a TARDIS will ever see it now.

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies: 30 – The Devil Rides Out


Devil Rides

30: THE DEVIL RIDES OUT/aka THE DEVIL’S BRIDE: 1968. Director: Terence Fisher. UK. Horror/Supernatural. Christopher Lee. Charles Gray. Niké Arrighi. Leon Greene. Patrick Mower. Sarah Lawson. Paul Eddington.
A Hammer Film Production, adapted by American author and screenwriter Richard Matheson (1926-2013), from the 1934 Dennis Wheatley novel The Devil Rides Out. Screen time: 96 minutes. Matheson specialised in the fantasy/horror/science fiction genre, both as novelist and scriptwriter. He wrote the 1954 novel I am Legend. He worked on many major television series from the 1950s to 70s, including Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. He also worked with film-maker Roger Corman. Originally proposed in 1963, it was only after censorship laws were eased on depicting Satanism that the project went ahead. Filming started in August 1967. Christopher Lee regarded it as perhaps his favourite work, and apparently lamented he would have like to have done a remake with modern special effects. Wheatley, who was critical of other attempts to film his novels, apparently liked it enough (given the restraints and compromises between a lengthy novel and a watchable movie), that he gave Christopher Lee a first edition copy of the novel.
Here’s Kim Newman on the website empireonline.com: “A spirited bit of demon-busting, with a solid Richard Matheson script that streamlines Dennis Wheatly’s once-popular but deeply stodgy novel into a pacey occult thriller. This is a more ambitious effort than the average Hammer horror film. Christopher Lee is cast against type in the Van Helsing role of the heroic, authoritarian goateed wise man who clashes with Charles Gray’s suave, sneaky Satanist. Set in the 1920s rather than the 1880s, it has a Bulldog Drummond touch as heroes dash about the Home Counties in period cars while decedent aristocrats worship the goat-headed one in decorous mass rituals. The exotic-looking Niké Arrighi is Tanith, predestined to be groped and stabbed on the black altar by the villain, and there’s an early example of the revoked plot development as she is killed, then resurrected when white magic rolls back time to provide a happy ending. Terence Fisher, the most prolific of Hammer’s in-house directors, does especially well underlining the religious aspects of the epic conflict. As often happens, an inadequate but heroic hunk (Leon Greene) was dubbed by voice-of-the-week Patrick Allen, but the two-fisted secondary hero still spends most of the film being patronised or shouted at (‘You fool, Rex!’) by the pompous Duc. In an unforgettable climax the heroes (including Sarah Lawson and a young Paul Eddington) huddle in a magic circle while demon entities rage all around and Lee barks out magic gibberish (‘the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual’) to see off the skull-headed Fourth Horseman…With the classic team of Lee and Hammer Horror you know this is set to be a classic whether for being good or even being bad. Thankfully it most definitely falls into the former category, with Lee giving a memorable and unusual performance as the sorcerer, the hero of the film.”
And this is David Pirie for the Time Out Film Guide: “Over the years, this film’s reputation has grown enormously, and its cult status must be as high as any horror movie. Richard Matheson, who scripted it, was able to improve immeasurably on Dennis Wheatley’s ponderous novel, and it is consequently the best film Fisher and Hammer ever made, an almost perfect example of the kind of thing that can happen when melodrama is achieved so completely and so imaginatively that it ceases to be melodrama at all and becomes a full-scale allegorical vision. Christopher Lee has never been better than as the grim opponent of Satanism, and the night in the pentacle during which the forces of evil mobilise an epic series of cinematic temptations rediscovers aspects of mythology which the cinema had completely overlooked.”
The cast are as follows: Nicholas, Duc De Richleau – Christopher Lee (1922-2015), best known for his Hammer Film Dracula movies; Star Wars; and the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun. His filmography from 1947 to 2015.
Former Canon Damien Mocata – Charles Gray (1928-2000), character actor specialising in villains, his filmography 1958 to 1998. He played arch-villain Blofeld in the James Bond movie Diamond Are Forever.
Tanith Carlisle – Niké Arrighi (born 1947), French artist and former actress, her filmography is from 1967 to 1989. This was her first movie.
Rex Van Ryn – Leon Greene (born 1931), actor and opera singer. His filmography 1965 to 1989.
Simon Aron – Patrick Mower (born 1938), actor, filmography 1968-2000, television work 1964 to now.
Richard Eaton – Paul Eddington (1927-1985), actor, filmography 1956 to 1974, best known for television performances, in The Good Life, and Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister.
Peggy Eaton – Rosalyn Landor (born 1958), filmography 1968 to 1990. Worked in the USA from the 1980s.
Marie Eaton – Sarah Lawson (born 1928), actress, filmography 1951 to 1978. Later television work.
Countess d’Urfe – Gwen Ffrangcom-Davies (1891-1992), actress, limited filmography 1936 to 1970, mostly stage work until 1970, television and radio thereafter.
The Goat of Mendes at the Salisbury Plain sabbath was played by Eddie Power, Christopher Lee’s stunt double in the 1958 movie Dracula.
Dennis Yeats Wheatley (1897-1977) was a prolific novelist, extremely popular from the 1930s to 60s. He wrote 52 novels, of which eleven featured the Duc De Richleau; political thrillers mostly, between 1933 and 1970, Forbidden Territory, set in the Soviet Union, being his first published work. Another eleven featuring spy Gregory Sallust, from 1934 to 1968, the first being Black August, Wheatley’s favourite theme of a communist takeover in Britain. It is said that the Sallust books inspired Ian Fleming to create James Bond. Twelve books featured Roger Brook, from 1947 to 1974, in the historical espionage genre. He wrote two science fiction novels – 60 Days to Live (1939) and Star of Ill-Omen (1952) – I’ve read both, but many years ago, the latter was especially awful space opera. Wheatley, wisely, never went near that genre again. Three more novels come under the ‘lost world’ genre – one is Uncharted Seas (1938); three are occult novels; another seven are ‘general adventure’, which includes many of the early novels, for example The Eunuch of Stamboul (1935). Two books are non-fiction – one, Red Eagle (1937), I still have – Wheatley’s very hostile take on the Russian Revolution. All of his books that I’ve seen or read are long – 300-plus pages at least. Wheatley wore his politics on his sleeve; he was very High Tory, pro-monarchist, pro-imperialism, pro-class system. He was a snob, who thought the working classes “lazy”. He opposed both Nazism and communism, but strangely thought the latter to be controlled by Satanists – odd, given most Marxists were atheists, whereas there is evidence to show leading members of the Hitler regime (Himmler, for instance) were fascinated by the occult. Perhaps Wheatley’s obsessive hatred of communism clouded his judgement. In 1947, in the early years of the reforming Atlee government, he predicted a socialist ‘tyranny’, to which he actually justified the killing of “tyrannical officials” – right-wing ‘White terrorism’ to you and I. He served in World War I, was briefly a wine merchant from the 1920s to 30s, before realising he could make more money from writing. In World War II he worked in the London Controlling Section of the War Office, and had the rank of Wing Commander, RAFVR. As a young man he was a womaniser and rake, even keeping a check-list of his numerous conquests. Of his novels, six were filmed – Forbidden Territory in 1934, made at Lime Grove Studios, London; The Secret of Stamboul in 1936, from the novel The Eunuch of Stamboul, also known as The Spy in White, made at Shepperton Studios; The Devil Rides Out; The Lost Continent (from the novel Uncharted Seas), in 1968, also by Hammer Films, but of poor quality; To the Devil – A Daughter, in 1976, a UK/West German (Hammer/Terra Filmkunst) production, starring Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee and a nude, 14-year-old Natassja Kinski. From the 1953 novel of the same name, Wheatley utterly disliked it – rightly so, it was crap – thereafter forbidding any further movies to be made of his books, while even the scriptwriter admitted it was “an awful mess”. Finally, in 2006, The Haunting of Toby Jugg was made for BBC4, titled The Haunted Airman.
Wheatley’s books weren’t literature, but dense, complicated, and well-researched blockbusters, if indisputably class-ridden and snobby. He could soon go from interesting to tiresome and long-winded. By the 1970s they were already falling out of favour – as was his political/historic stance, although perhaps – in blinkered, backward-looking, Brexit Little Britain, he might yet enjoy a renaissance. The Matherson/Terence Fisher movie is perhaps one of those very rare examples of a movie being as good, if not better, than the book. Being already set forty years previous (in the novels Wheatley’s Jean Armand Duplessis, the Duc De Richleau, was born 1875, died 1960), the film still remains enjoyable and not dated. Even the special effects of the forces of evil besieging our heroes, most memorably the giant spider and the Angel of Death – given the period, and decades before CGI – are as good as anything of that time. The very nature of the story – occult fantasy – requires a good hefty suspension of belief. There have been plenty of such movies since – perhaps starting with Spielberg’s Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), all noise and shouting and over-the-top set-pieces, but with geography, mythology and 1930s political history as written by a not-very-bright 12 year old schoolboy. At least Wheatley set his novels – no matter how fantastic the plot – in the real, factual world. He wouldn’t have had armed German soldiers tramping about 1936 British protectorate Egypt! On the other hand, the ending – where the forces of good turn back time, and then (again rather like the last reel of Lost Ark) literally vaporise the bad guys – is a cop-out. White magic can turn back time! Come on! Why not turn back time far enough to stop Simon from meeting Mocata in the first place? The Angel of Death takes the soul of black magician Mocata rather than the dead Tanith? How considerate! I admit that I read the novel so long ago now, as to not recollect any details. Wheatley, the author, was not a Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer, or even an H.P. Lovecraft recluse, extracting his mythos from books. He had done his research on black magic, white magic, and the occult. Moreover, he had met both the so-called ‘Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and Catholic priest occult expert Montague Summers (1880-1948). He claimed to have seen things, met people, and experienced evil at first hand. He made a big thing of warning readers not to dabble in the occult. If nothing else, it sold copies – on average a million books a year, 40 million books overall. Once read, rarely re-read, however – unlike the Matheson/Fisher movie, which can be watched and enjoyed time and time over. Wheatley wrote pot-boilers, fast, frantic plots featuring comfortable-off middle- to upper-class types, but his books are – in retrospect – racist, xenophobic, sexist, class-ridden, and with a reactionary, right-wing political bias. Quite rightly, as an author, he has passed out of fashion, although superseded by younger – not very intelligent or knowledgeable – upstarts who are more likely to have the bad guys win. In the movie world, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby also came out in 1968, and this time there was no wise Duc De Richleau or his ilk to save the good people. The hope and optimism of the 1960s gave way to the darkness and despair of the 1970s. After this, pictures didn’t just get smaller (as Norma Desmond remarked in Sunset Boulevard), but darker also. The Devil Rides Out was probably not only the best Hammer movie ever, but reminds us movies were once still more positive and upbeat.

All the Fells: Little Mell Fell


Little Mell Fell – The Eastern Fells 1,657′ (120)

Date: 31 October 1989

From: ‘Great Mell Fell’

Though geographically it’s a more ambitious fell that its higher counterpart, with a subsidiary ridge pointing to the north, Little Mell Fell’s position as an outlier is in no way unjustified. It’s a round lump, having neither position nor height nor any interesting features to make it a worthwhile walk. If Wainwright had excluded it from The Eastern Fells, I would never have thought to go anywhere near it. As it was, I visited it as part of that extremely weird day in my one and only over-ambitious October holiday, when it was the last of three low fells stitched together by driving from one walk to the next. Little Mell Fell’s sole advantage is the ease and simplicity with which it can be climbed. Simply park at the top of The Hause, head for the straight track uphill and walk up it until it levels out on the top, from where the limited view was not improved by the dull weather conditions on a grey Halloween day where twilight was approaching. I never returned, though many years later, on a family holiday, my then-wife and I parked at The Hause and sent her two sons to reach their first solo summit: we could watch them 90% of the way, and they were back inside twenty-five minutes.

Sherlock: s01 e03 – The Great Game


Sherlock

The ending. O my God. Even with the knowledge of it eliminating the surprise factor, the last ten minutes of ‘The Great Game’, Mark Gatiss’ script are still some of the most powerful scenes television has ever committed. This is because, whilst the surprise has gone, the shock remains, and Andrew Scott’s screamingly OTT performance as Jim Moriarty, as divisive as marmite, is one of the great cameos of all time. Gatiss’ writing, Scott’s performance, the lighting and the camerawork emphasising just how spooky a public swimming bath is at midnight. And much less obvious but no less essential, the careful erection of an edifice of preparation to put us here, in this place, alongside our two heroes, in a situation from which they literally cannot escape.
Alongside Scott’s performance as Moriarty, an inconceivable figure, many people complained of finding the episode too confusing, they couldn’t keep up. Well I had no such problems even though my brain is currently fuzzier than wire-wool.
This is the plot. Someone is setting Sherlock puzzles. Puzzles that are completely up his street, that require deep thought, the exercise of the intellect, more than just flashes of inspiration and ingenuity. It’s Moriarty, we know it will be, even if we don’t know who he is.
But they’re more than just puzzles. There’s five of them, five solutions to be found, five deadlines to be observed, and deadlines is indeed literal, because five people, five complete and utter nobodies, having no connection to anything but their own lives, are hostage to Sherlock’s brilliance. And that’s where it goes beyond a game because these are people sitting or standing somewhere, strapped into a suicide vest, the red light of a laser rifle picked out upon them, who will die if Sherlock doesn’t come up with the answer.
This isn’t funny. This isn’t an intricate puzzle. This is you and I dragged into something that has so much nothing to do with us that it might not even be from our own Solar System, made to contemplate the approach of our own death over hours. This isn’t just cruelty, just treating people like things, it’s an indifference to humanity of unimaginable proportions. It’s mad. And I would be mad long before the end if I were one of those victims.
Over and above this there is Mycroft, Gatiss himself, soft-spoken, urbane, condescending to his little brother in just existing. Mycroft has a puzzle, one of national importance: a dead Civil Servant, missing defence plans. Sherlock won’t touch it, even though he has nothing else on, no cases, no spark, no challenge, just the unending boredom of being so much cleverer than everyone around him.
Hence the puzzles. These give Sherlock life. They are more important to him than anything else, including, notably, the lives that depend upon his solving the problems. Along the way, he solves Mycroft’s case, almost in passing, but only because that’s one of the puzzles. The last puzzle even as it was the first one we saw.
The writing and the performances are dazzling, gem-like, but it’s the story’s construction that is the most impressive. Stories curling up inside each other. Plots other series would have been hard-pressed to do justice to in an hour long episode pulled inside out, jump on, next please. And why? We should have known. The episode thrust the villain onto the stage in plain sight, giggling and waving yoo-hoo and even telling us his name: I’m Jim. Psychologically, if not by the application of observation and deductive reasoning, we were ahead of Sherlock. This was the Game. Who’s the smartest, me or you?
Briefly, I flash back, now not when watching, on what Sally Donovan said to John Watson in ‘A Study in Pink’, that one day solving a murder will not be enough for the ‘Freak’: he would end up committing one. So right, about the wrong person.
But this episode was significant in more that just its plot. For this, Gatiss deserves all the credit he can carry, because this episode defined Sherlock as what it was and what it would go on to be, and for that more than just the plot needs to be taken into consideration.
I’ve barely mentioned John Watson before now, yet he’s as deeply involved in what’s going on as Sherlock. The episode set out to precisely delineate the crucial difference between these two unlikely flat-mates, first by showing us and then, not out of a lack of confidence in our ability to understand it, Telling us, in a few, compressed but crucial words, what that it.
From the first post-credits scene – Sherlock, bored, starts shooting the walls, John is outraged – all this pair do is argue. Gatiss is laying out, aided by the brilliance of Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman, every single reason why they are not suited to be friends. The evidence piles up. We never see them but that they are arguing. It’s noticeable that the first thing John Watson does is storm off to kip at Sarah’s for the night.
It was Zoe Telford’s second and final appearance, and it was no more than a cameo. John’s slept on the lilo, she’s joking about how next time he can sleep at the foot of her bed, and he’s a bit more serious about where might he sleep the time after that. It’s light, but it’s genuine, and then it’s gone and so is she.
What was the point of this scene? If what it depicts was so clearly pointless, why not leave it out? It’s a loose end and a dead end. But I think it’s purpose is more sophisticated than that. It’s there to show us what the series is not about. Sarah was normal. A realistic, ordinary person. But she belonged to another iteration of Sherlock Holmes, one bearing much more of a resemblance to the original.
No, what this episode is making clear is that a relationship such as John and Sarah is and can be as nothing besides the relationship between John and Sherlock. And that other, much more intense relationship, the one of equals, between Sherlock and Moriarty.
Like I said, John and Sherlock bicker constantly. Some of it is the way Sherlock rubs other people up, his unconcealed contempt for their slowness. Well, really it’s all about that. Everywhere we turn, every puzzle, is about one thing more than the intellectual challenge: it’s about a human being, facing death from sheer randomness. John Watson sees that, is agonised by that. Saving that life is the only thing that matters. Sherlock ignores it. John can’t stand that, that Sherlock has no feelings, that he is not motivated by the wish, the urge to save that must underline any Doctor’s character.
He even says it. Caring doesn’t save people’s lives, thinking does. So he doesn’t waste even an erg of mental energy on the former whereas John Watson can’t separate what he is doing from why he is doing it and would probably die if he ever succeeded.
And if the sight of all those people trapped in the hopelessness of their situations, if the performances by the extras – dear heaven that we should call them by such a name – did not convince us, Gatiss found the crystal clear line that said it for us, in the bereaved girlfriend of Andrew West, who died from an accident caused by her own brother. He was a good man. He was my good man.
And so by all these ways and many more that I haven’t the space to address, nor in the case of the ludicrous sore thumb of the freakish assassin, the Golem, the episode’s one blatant and unforgivable error, the desire to, we got to the swimming pool. Sherlock had worked it out. He didn’t ‘care’ like John Watson did, caring didn’t save lives, thinking did. Until John Watson stepped out in a parka, under which, before we saw it, we knew he was wearing a suicide vest. John was talking awkwardly, as if he was repeating what someone else was telling him to say, and it all became too terribly human. Suddenly, Sherlock realised that caring did matter.
Enter Jim Moriarty. An intelligent man. Another Sherlock. Maybe even smarter than Sherlock since the Consulting Detective, for all his impatience with it for boring him, worked within the limitations of civilisation whilst Jim operated under no such restrictions. Jim Moriarty operated under no restrictions whatsoever. He frightened you to death. His casual manner. His sing-song intonations. His unbelievable self-belief. His mood-swings from second to second, o Jesus there is nothing this man wouldn’t do. That sudden, knock you back in your seat moment when he screams ‘That’s what they do’ with its implication that they have no other reason to exist. Not for him.
Jim Moriarty was mad, and in a way that scared the shit out of you. Because he was beyond all limits, all controls. It was the death trap. It was a warning. It had all been too easy. Stay out of my way. Moriarty strolls off.
The moment passed. John could be dragged out of the suicide vest. They could laugh about it, weak with relief. The bonding had taken place. It was over. And then it wasn’t. Oh no, it wasn’t. Oh no.
This time round I’m lucky. I only have to wait until next Tuesday morning to resolve things, not pretty much all of eighteen months. Nor the twenty-seven years required by the only other cliffhanger that punched me so vomit-inducingly in the gut.

All the Fells: Little Hart Crag


Little Hart Crag

Little Hart Crag – The Eastern Fells

Date: 10 May 1989 2,091′ (113)

From: High Hartsop Dodd

I say that I remember something about every fell I ever climbed, but that isn’t entirely true. Here and there are a couple of fells where I reached the summit but nothing remains of the experience. Little Hart Crag is one of these. I climbed it in the course of a circular walk around the narrow valley of Caiston Beck, Caiston being the alternative name for Scandale Head Pass. I ascended the western ridge, over High Hartsop Dodd, to Little Hart Crags, which I know from Wainwright has two substantial outcrops on its otherwise level summit, and from there descended to Scandale Head in order to tackle Red Screes from the back and descend over Middle Dodd. Four fells in a none too strenuous day, after getting up High Hartsop Dodd of course, but where three of them impressed themselves in different ways upon my memory, all I remember of Little Hart Crag was that I climbed it.