Uncollected Thoughts: Black Adam


Black-Adam-1-1

I will be 67 years old next week. I discovered superheroes through DC Comics before the age of ten. That makes a long time fascinated by these colourful, impossible creations. And I am both frustrated by and resigned to the fact that the only cinema film that conveys any of the wonder and excitement of these DC characters I’ve followed is and always will be the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, which came out almost forty-four years ago.

I didn’t go to see Black Adam for Black Adam, nor yet for Dwayne Johnson. I went to see it for the Justice Society of America. I didn’t see the Justice Society I wanted to. There were only four characters and two of these belonged to latterday iterations. I didn’t even feel that Hawkman was the JSA version. But the other one was Dr Fate, and for the chance to see Dr Fate on screen, live and in person, I would have gone to a film with worse previews than this. And Pierce Brosnan was excellent in the role, though I disagreed utterly with not only killing him off at the end but also disintegrating Fate’s mystical golden helm so that he can’t appear again, if continuity has any meaning any more in the DC Cinematic Universe.

It’s doubly – trebly – frustrating that in all the years doing this, Warner Brothers haven’t learned a single thing from Marvel Comics’ extremely successful translation of their characterts to screen. Black Adam is just a heavy-handed, serious, violent and clunky story. I shalln’t even bother summarising the least part of the story because it was immaterial. It was about presenting a violent anti-hero who kills with the same indiscriminatory attitude as any supervillain, and the trappings were there to provide minimal context for him doing that and the Justice Society trying to stop him.

The film lacked any wit. That’s not to say that it was entirely without humour – there must have been nearly half a dozen pseudo-superhero quips, not one of which would have survived the First Draft in a mid-level Marvel film – but rather that the film lacked imagination, intelligence and thought. it took its characters and background from contemporary DC continuity but merely sludged them all together for endless CGI fighting.

Though I never ever want to see any Zack Snyder slow-motion sequences again, the film’s insistence upon having every punch thrown at ‘realistic’ superhuman speed made for what was probably the most authentic battles we’re never going to see in real life whilst establishing beyond question that a real superhero knock-down, drag-out, ding-dong would be fucking boring to watch.

Structurally, the film kept its plot fairly basic and linear, so as not to get in the way of the fighting, but it broke its own back in the last half hour (was it half an hour? I couldn’t tell, it felt like at least half an hour) by going off at a tangent, introducing a new and previously unsuspected villain and throwing itself into mindless violence long after it had abandoned any point that resembled a story.

So, no, it was not a good film. I got to see Doctor Fate. I also got to see Sarah Shahi as the human lead character, Adrianna Tomaz. She seems to have aged a lot more years than have actually gone by since Person of Interest ended, though she’s still very attractive. In the comics, Adrianna is actually the human form of the goddess/heroine Isis (based on a short-lived mid-Seventies TV series), whose costume is basically a short-sleeved white micro-shift and grecian sandals. They could have put Shahi in that and it would have improved the film 100%, and brought it up to the level of still-bloody-dull-but-at-least-you-could-perv-over-her.

The film was preceded by adverts that treated their audience as utter morons and which had the effect of having getting me to commit to never patronisising any of the products. It was also preceded by trailers for future films, some of them next year. Black Adam was only the second cinema film I’ve seen all year, the second since before the pandemic. I am not anticipating extending that record any time before 2024. Not even for Black Panther – Wakanda Forever.

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The Infinite Jukebox: Madness’ ‘(Waiting for the) Ghost Train’


You wouldn’t, at first sight, see a connection between Madness and Sam Cooke but it’s here, in this song.
‘(Waiting for the) Ghost Train’ was the last of the band’s singles in their original heyday. It was written by lead singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson, it was billed as the band’s last release, and it featured the one-time return of the band’s former leader, keyboardist Mike Barson, who had left Madness after their penultimate album.
Even after you listen to it you might be hard pushed to spot what this has to do with Cooke, a former gospel singer whose musical path came out of the deep South, as opposed to a band immersing themselves in the buoyant ska and bluebeat of the Sixties, Jamaica out of London. It’s a song with a shuffling beat, elliptical lyrics, and one of those pull-you-in-to-bellow-along choruses that were Madness’ calling card since their emergence in 1979. Weren’t these the Nutty Boys? Weren’t they a good-time band, fun music, danceable music? Lightweights?
Well, no, by 1986 Madness were no longer lightweights. Originally, yes, their music had been just about the sheer fun of it, but even as soon as the second album, the sixth single, there were shades of grey permeated through some of their songs. Perhaps they didn’t necessarily come out and say exactly what they were singing about it, preferring to skirt the edges of their more serious matter. ‘(Waiting for the) Ghost Train’ was like that.
It was about South Africa. It was about Apartheid, that great dividing line between liberalism and equality on the one hand, and conservatism and white supremacy on the other. Though musically it was a thing of opposites, ‘(Waiting for the) Ghost Train’ was in the same line as Sam Cooke’s finest, most shining hour, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.
It’s about what we are as human beings. About whether we divide ourselves against each other, take the colour of our skins as a sign that cuts right through to the marrow of what we are, telling us that white skin automatically means superiority, inviolable superiority, or whether we treat that as the damned and bastardly ignorance and selfishness it is. About whether the persecution of races can stand.
Things were different. Sam Cooke was writing and singing as a black man in and about the land of his birth, seeing persecution and repression, and saying for all to hear that it could not go on. Graham McPherson and his mates were white boys singing about another country, recognising that you could not love the music of a black culture without simultaneously aligning yourself to the cause of those people, and Madness like Sam Cooke were saying that a time was coming. That this must not go on, that it could not go on. I hear the Ghost Train rumbling along the tracks. Set them free.
And in an inspired directness they sang that it was Black and White, and don’t try to hide it. Black and White for the people in that land, Black and White for the facts of Right and Wrong. And the song shuffled along, with more and more people following the Ghost Train along the tracks to that inescapable end, voices joining the chorus. A time is coming when all this will be unopposable.
Though the song faded, its endless chorus disappearing into the distance, the Train was in motion. A Change was going to come. It was further away than Sam Cooke’s vision, and who’s to say that there isn’t still a very long way to go, both here and there, and then and now. But the rails lead from the past into the future, and one day, eventually, we’ll stop being so fucking stupid about what the colour of a man or a woman’s skin means.
And at long last that Ghost Train that passes between histories will reach its final station.

There were years still to come, but one day the Ghost Train did arrive at that station. It was a day that Madness were not alone in foreseeing, though most of us at the time feared a bloodbath of a kind unbearable, the inverse of peaceful. It wasn’t easy. Thirty years later it still isn’t easy but the gulf between expectation and realisation was more than we could have dreamed in the years when Madness, bold and bright, sang unhesitatingly that it was coming towards us, and we clung to the doors and windows and waited to arrive.

Film 2022: Girls of Shame


Girls

You know that feeling you get when something catches your eye? Everybody tells you that it’s rubbish. You can tell yourself, just by looking at it, that it’s rubbish. But your curiosity has been aroused. You want to find out for yourself just how and in whay way it’s rubbish. And maybe, perhaps, given that you rarely go with the tide, might you discover that it’s actually not as bad as they say? And the DVD is so cheap on eBay…

Intriguingly, the film (which was also released as School for Unclaimed Girls in America, but began life as, ludicrously, The Smashing Bird I Used To Know) still has an 18 certificate. It’s clear from the most cursory glance that it would have been X-Certificated on release in 1969 but for it to have maintained that certificate into an age where standards are very much looser than they would have been then must mean either that it was much raunchier and explicit than expected for the Swinging Sixties, or that it’s so insignificant that no-one’s bothered to update the certificate for the Twenty-First Century. Without even removing the wrapping from the DVD (it’s not brown paper, in case you were wondering), I suspected the latter.

Ninety minutes later, curiosity has been satisfied but curiosity alone. Frankly, to talk about the film at all is to give it a significance it no way deserves, except as an example of the peculiarly staid genre of British sexploitation films. It is indeed rubbish, but perhaps the worst thing about it is that it is not bad as bad goes, but rather stupid, tedious and, at worse, guilty of setting itself up with a genuinely serious premise that is no more than window dressing for the supposedly sexy stuff. Which, for the prurient, consists of sexual predation on older women, attempted rape (twice) and lesbianism (about ten seconds of actual kissing between two young women, one of whom is a young Maureen Lipman). For a screen time total of about thirty seconds, at most, bare breasts on about three different women are seen. That’s your sexploitation. It might have been risque in 1969 but it’s about as racey as a broken Matchbox model now.

The film ‘introduces’ Madeleine Hinde in the lead role of Nicki Johnson, a sixteen year old schoolgirl. Hinde had one previous credit, in two episodes of the long-forgotten BBC soap, The Newcomers. A very large part of the film requires her to sit around looking blank and saying nothing, which is the only part of her role that doesn’t task her acting abilities beyond her capacity. Nicki’s story is the set-up: at age nine, visiting a funfair with her parents, her father takes her on the roundabout, with ‘ponies’ that go up and down. Nicky is terrified and wants to get off, but when her father leans over to reassure her he falls off and is kicked to death by the ‘ponies’ hooves. It’s an accident, but Nicki blames herself for it.

That’s the film’s worst part. This is a genuinely disturbed, seriously traumatised girl, about whom a serious film could and should have been made, and instead it props up crap like this. When we meet Nicki at her present age, she’s being further traumatised by hearing her mother Anne (Renee Asherson) enthusiastically and noisily fucking the younger Harry Spenton (Patrick Mower), a sleazy con-man who preys on older but still attractive women, getting money out of them to bribe his non-existent wife into a divorce and buy some money-spinning business, such as a launderette.

Nicki hates and resents Harry. It’s all down to him ‘replacing’ her father in the film but frankly he’s like all the sleazy bastards in films, as obvious a fake and phoney as he could be without a neon sign over his head (it’s not like Mower was casting against type now), with only the besotted women he’s screwing unable to see it.

Anyway, despite the trauma horses induce in her, Nicki’s favourite place is the local stables. With the assistance of her boyfriend Pete (Dennis Waterman, suppressing large amounts of his cockney accent) – who hasn’t and won’t shag her – she sags off school, goes for a ride, gets traumatised when the horse starts going too fast, has a fall, bangs her shoulder, comes home and takes off her blouse to rub linament into her shoulder, revealing her small white bra. Harry’s lounging about in his short dressing gown and tries to rape her, smacking her about along the way, but she manages to grab a peeling knife off the cocktail trolley (for slicing lemons) and stabs him in the stomach with it.

This gets her into the remand home among half a dozen other girls, all working class unlike the distinctly middle-class Nicki. For a long time she and we are allowed to think she’s killed Harry but she hasn’t, even though she stabbed him in the stomach. She’s here for what we’d now call a psychiatric evaluation, at the hands of Dr Sands (Faith Brook), who’s kind and sympathetic, except at the point Nicki starts to explain what happened and the good Doctor immediately goes up the wrong track, suggesting she came on to Harry to separate him from her mother…

(Incidentally, in a surprise development that falls flat instead of being a dramatic denouement, the Doctor breaks the news to Anne that Harry is an unmarried con-man with a track record for ‘false conversion’, saving Anne’s little money before she hands it all over to him. Unfortunately, this is the same day Nicki and Sarah break out. Counterproductive.)

But this is the main point of the film. Young, nubile, skinny-legged, bad girls, pent up together. Sex! Violence! Sex! Lesbian sex! The bouncers are outside, throwing them in. But it’s all a fake as I’ve already said. Hinde’s not getting them off and Maureen Lipman’s going no further than short skirts and knee-length boots (and pajamas in bed). Lipman is Sarah, aka Killer, the bad girl ne plus ultra of the dormitory. She’s a lesbian with a lover sneaking into bed with her for the aforementioned kiss, but she’s fallen for Nicki – genuinely – at first sight.

I have to mention the scene where Sarah sneaks into the oblivious Nicki’s bed (I swear that girl wouldn’t notice if you slapped her across the face with a wet fish) to talk. Talk is all they do, a whispered monologue by Lipman in best emoting style, showing her vulnerabilities and a background of sexual abuse. I listened to the whole thing, wondering if this was an excellent con job by Sarah to play on Nicki’s sympathies and get her to undo her pajama top, but that would have been a subtlety on a level way above anything the film could conceive: she was being genuine.

Anyway, let’s move on. The pair break out but Sarah is captured. Nicki manages to get to the antiques shop where Pete works, seeking his aid. The shop is owned by Geoffrey Burnham (an even pre-Basil Brush Derek Fowlds) who plays the role with such camp archness, especially towards Pete, his furniture restorer, that you instantly think that the reason Pete hasn’t had Nicki’s knickers down is that he’s getting it far more often from Geoffrey, but no. Geoffrey’s just as straight as you or I, as he demonstrates by breaking Nicki out of another hysterical fugue, brought on by sitting on an antique rocking horse by trying to rape her. Tut tut, Mr Derek.

By now we’ve been going for almost ninety minutes, though trust me it felt longer than a Lord of the Rings Extended Version, so we need an ending. Dennis Waterman gets to sum up the psychological element by identifying Nicki as someone who doesn’t want to be helped, who gets herself in trouble (thank heavens he didn’t descnded to Janet and John level by pointing out she wants to be punished for killing her Dad). She agrees to let him take her back. Immediately you know what’s going to happen, especially as its telegraphed by random irrelevant shots of a bloody big lorry driving along and, except that I expected her to suddenly yank Pete’s steering wheel to cause a crash, actually they meet the lorry at a bottleneck, Pete swerves, crashes through the wall and the car plunges off a viaduct and falls approximately two thousand feet (it must have been to accomodate how long the pair were in freefall) to their deaths in flames. Cheap ending or what?

Except that, cynically and clumsily, we cut to Harry at the racecourse, pulling a con job on another woman in her mid-forties who’s not getting it from anyone more trustworthy, and that’s the credits, and I can take the DVD out now.

Somewhere in this film, Lesley-Anne Down, aged 15, made her screen debut, under the name Lesley Downs, as someone called Diana, but was neither recognisable nor distinguishable. In 1974, the screenplay writer, John Peacock, would script the adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter: by all accounts, that’s atrocious too.

Still, my obsession has been resolved by experience, which is usually the only way to get rid of it, and my expectation has been justified. I know now what once I only suspected, which is usually a good thing. I have one more highly disregarded British film ‘comedy’ that exerted the same effect on me yet to watch, but that won’t be next week. Next week, we’ll have something I expect to be good.

Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: 05 – Operation Saturn


Dan Dare

The worst one so far, on so many levels.

Scripter this time out is Patrick Chapman, whose little write-up about him and Dan Dare is longer than that of the previous scripters, and whose eplanation of how the character is great but needs to be updated for each new era comes over as more defensive than anyone else’s, and just a bit pleading to be let off for the atrocity he’s about to perpetrate.

And atrocity it is. It’s not quite on the level of the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, which was notorious for only taking the title from the book it ‘adapted’ but it’s close. Chapman obviously has to set the story in the form of an expedition to Saturn, but otherwise its relation to the original consists of nothing more than throwing in three names – Blasco, Vora (as The Vora) and the Black Cats (completely different etymology), the first two of whom bear no resemblance to their originals – and having Sondar pop up out of nowhere part way.

Some of this was necessitated by the decision to bring forward ‘Reign of the Robots’. In Eagle, ‘Operation Saturn’ originated as an exploratory mission following an incursion by small, black, cylindrical flying robots nicknamed ‘Black Cats’ for their purring sound. It’s clear that the name is a nickname, human levity, probably coined by someone at infantry level, and catching on. The point was, the Saturnian menace arose in isolation. Here, it follows on from ‘Reign of the Robots’ and is linked to the previous adventure.

Basically, a lost spaceship suddenly drifts back into human space after ten years absence, broadcasting briefly an alien signal. The troubleshooting team of Dare, Digby and Peabody is sent to investigate and finds seven of its eight man crew dead in horrible fashion. The eighth is the chief Scientist on board, a ‘post-human’, his body augmented by nanobots, Blasco. Not an autocrat, instead an Eagle Corps man (oh FFS, that self-serving bunch again, it’s like reading a Seventies Marvel Comic). The return of the Nautilus is clearly a trap but since Eagle Corps… I’m sorry, Earth and Interplanet Space Fleet want Blasco back, the trio are given Valiant, a sister ship also equipped with lockwave technology – here a kind of teleportation system rather than a hyperdrive – to go to Saturn and get him back.

So far, dull and unimaginative, exchanging Hampson’s ingenuity and imagination for triteness and bog standard Hard SF cliche. We stay with triteness and cliche once Blasco enters the story (voiced by Jonathan Rhodes) because he’s a looney. I know we don’t use that word anymore but it’s the accurate descriptor. He’s a good, old-fashioned, two-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic, off-his-rocker, completely unbelievable in real life caricature of a mad scientist, and he sinks the story faster than the iceberg did to the Titanic.

In order to introduce unnecessary continuity, Blasco turns out to be the one who designed the robots of ‘Reign of the Robots’ for the Mekon. He had a deal whereby he’d get Earth but the Mekon would get everything else, except the Mekon reneged on that, Blasco having failed to foresee that with all his nanorobot enhanced intelligence, so he’s lured Dan Dare here because the Mekon will follow him and Blasco will get his hands on him…

That’s all I’m going to give of the story. If your gorge hasn’t risen by now, it never will, and I don’t intend to reconstruct the crap that follows. A few essential points do need to be made. Firstly, The Vora, when it appears, is a gigantic, metal suited superbrain, of a race that ruled the Solar System before the Treens came. it teleports away, short-circuiting the Black Cats attacking Earth, so as to consitute a second intergalactic threat alongside the Mekon. Secondly, in a nauseating sequence, Blasco turns out to be an active ultra-sadist, testing the races of the Saturnian moons to destruction to determine their pain thresholds and enjoying it. Thirdly, we’ve got bloody Eagle Corps back, being as sinister as all get out (they get to claim the inert Black Caps because Blasco was their employee). Fourthly, we can’t do without continuity as the episode ends on a subtle cliffhanger leading to the last episode.

And whilst it was probably thought to be a nice tribute to Dan Dare’s creatorm, this shitstorm of a story was not the best moment to introduce Earth’s new satellite centre of spatial defences, Hampson Station.

The story ended seemingly prematurely, with several minutes rnning time remaining. Much of this was frittered away on making Dan an even more complex and multi-layered character by indulging in his philosophical musings in a recorded piece to his Dad (who I thought was supposed to be one of the victims of the Mekon, last time?), before meeting Sir Hubert. Dan’s to be kicked upstairs, from Colonel to Admiral. This is so he can attend the treaty conference between the races of Saturnia and the representatives of Earth, who are of course Eagle Corps. Not more than a couple of minutes before he’s decided never to rust anyone or anything ever again except Digby and Peabody (will he ever get round to using her first name? This is not the Fifties, you know) even though she’s reverting to being Eagle’s employee again…

To call things a mish-mash would be over-generous. There’s one extra-length episode left, which I shall be glad to dispose of, then the set can go back on eBay and good riddance. As far as I’m concerned, the whole thing was a mistake, and one that Chapman’s nervous introduction underlined that even the ‘creators’ shared, albeit subconsciously. As for the public, I shall merely note that with four more Hampsonian stories in the canon left for adaptation, there wasn’t another series recorded after 2017…

Lucifer, The Morningstar: Introduction 2022


Lucifer

This is an introduction with a difference.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be looking in detail at the DC/Vertigo Comics series Lucifer, written by Mike Carey and drawn, for the most part, by Peter Gross, originally collected in a series of eleven Graphic Novels.
I came late to Lucifer. I’d loved the interpretation of the Morningstar by Neil Gaiman in his classic Sandman series but never thought to start collecting Lucifer until the series had concluded – 75 issues, exactly paralleling Sandman. Book by book, I found it brilliant. Then, in 2015, Lucifer was adapted for television.
I started to watch it with mixed feelings. My reaction after four episodes, as previously published on here was ‘My instincts suggest that every foot of film shot so far should be digitally erased, every writer, producer, director and actor even peripherally involved with the project be sacked and then either do a radically different version of the show or, better yet, forget the whole thing completely. Use hypnotism if you have to.’
The basic problem was that, from the moment the TV series was first announced, I knew that it would be impossible to translate the elements that made the comics series so great onto screen. I wasn’t talking effects and budgets, I meant the storylines, the essence of Lucifer Morningstar, first and proudest of Angels. The comics’ themes stretched deeply into religious areas, into issues of Free Will versus Predestination, and ultimately about a rejection of God so deep that no TV network in any at least nominally Christian country could ever broadcast.
Carey’s Lucifer was a genuine subversive figure. You couldn’t put him on the screen.
So I knew, from the outset, that the TV Lucifer couldn’t even remotely resemble the Lucifer that impressed me so, and even before I learned that the TV Lucifer was to be a Police Procedural, case-of-the-week, amateur-shows-up-the-cops of the kind that we have seen dozens of times over, no different in concept than, say, Castle, where the Police relied, week-in, week-out, on a crime fiction novelist.
Ho hum.
I did, at least, hope that they could capture something of Lucifer’s voice, something of his effortless arrogance, his disdain, his irony and his unbending superiority. At least that would have given us dialogue that cut, that would sharpen itself on other people’s pretensions and foibles. Alas, no.
The TV series did draw, very superficially, on the comics for its setting. Lucifer was first used by Gaiman in Sandman 4, when Dream, visiting Hell to retrieve his stolen helm of office, aroused Lucifer’s enmity, causing the Morningstar to swear to destroy him.
This set up the later ‘Season of Mists’ storyline, when Dream returns to Hell to free a prisoner he had unjustly condemned. He expects reprisals from Lucifer, but is stunned to learn that the Morningstar has used Dream’s visit as a pretext to close Hell, to send away the dead, the damned and the demons, and to end his reign. His revenge is to give the key to Hell to Dream, making him responsible for what next happens to it (what an unbelievably evil idea!). Lucifer has had enough.
Mike Carey would make even more of this, and it would be the underlying theme of his entire series. Lucifer had, after millennia of rule in Hell, long since recognised that even in rebellion, he was fulfilling the role created for him by his father, God. Dream’s approach was the catalyst for Lucifer rejecting the manipulation that had governed his entire existence.
Having renounced his part in the Divine plan, after Hell had passed under direct Angelic control that subtly altered the nature of the domain, making it worse, Lucifer retired to run a nightclub in LA, called Lux (Light). His series was set in motion by the visit of his brother, the Angel Amenadiel, bearing a commission from God, seeking Lucifer’s aid in a task. In return, Lucifer would be given a Gateway, out of creation.
This is the only thing Lucifer would accept. He itches under the fact that he has been created, that he is beholden to another. This time, he is seeking the ultimate rebellion, the complete escape beyond all reach of God, of his Father. Lucifer is self-willed, arrogant, puissant beyond belief, insistent upon his independence from all but his own will. He faces vast and powerful forces seeking to exploit a time of great change, forces that, in the end, will destroy all creation, Heaven, the Silver City and the Primum Mobile, despite all the efforts of Lucifer and his demiurgic brother Michael.
You can see why TV can not only do that justice, it can’t do it at all.
What did the series actually do? Frankly, it cheapened and trivialised Lucifer out of all recognition. The Morningstar had not closed Hell, he had not resigned his post, Hell had not been changed at all. He was just taking a vacation. Lucifer simply got bored, that’s all.
He brought with him Mazikeen who, in the comics, was a complex character with a long history, who had a massive role to play both as an adherent to Lucifer and independently. On TV, she was a demon with no apparent reason to have accompanied Lucifer, and who wants him to go back to his day job.
And what does Lucifer want to Do On His Holidays? He wants to have sex. That’s all, basically. A quick shag here, a quick fuck there, the Prince of Hell can have any woman he wants, but in the cheapest of nasty traditions, he doesn’t want more than sex. Once you’ve had someone, they cease to be at all interesting.
There was an interesting moment in episode 4 when Lucifer, trying to deflect a security guard, pulled his usual stunt of directing the man’s attention to all the gorgeous, scantily-clad women wandering around, and asked him what his desire is. The guard, who was gay, replies that it was Lucifer. Oh boy did the show give itself away there. Lucifer, the sexual magnet, the one who can have anyone, visibly recoils. Sex, it appeared, was only for heterosexuals, no gays need apply. Even though Tom Ellis played the Morningstar as an absolute collection of outmoded gay stereotypes in his nervous, fluffy, innuendo-dripping, giggling manner.
I need go no further. Shortly after that time, I had a bad week, when I was more or less unable to function, but having had the TV series in mind, it at least gave me the opportunity to binge-read the entire set of graphic novels, and remind myself of the qualities of what I cannot but think of as the Real Lucifer. And having re-read the series from start to finish, I wanted to introduce it to those of you who have not yet discovered Lucifer for yourself, as a guide to why I found the TV series so poor.
Even that far back I’d gotten into the habit of wanting to write all instalments of a series before posting the first of them. I started off, I made slow progress, for this was dense and detailed stuff. It took quite some time. And then, somewhere around the start of book 9, when the story was getting very dense indeed, I stopped.
That’s not wholly uncommon. There have been other instances where I’ve been deflected off series and left them untouched for lengthy periods before returning to finish them. It’s just that this lacuna happened to last six years. The good intentions were there, I kept meaning to pick up the threads, but never did. Until this year.
So the blog series is finished. So too is the TV series, thank… er, the Lightbringer (you can tell the Devil doesn’t exist because nobody associated with that excrescence has been dragged into Hell. Not that I’m aware of…) The purpose has passed. On the other hand, it took a lot of writing and I’m reluctant to let that time go to waste.
And given the arrival of the Netflix Sandman series and in particular episode 4, which put a whole heap of noses of the Lucifer fans out of joint for not casting Tom Ellis in the role, the series gains a contemporary point. The very idea of casting Ellis to play the part as written in the comic, is utterly ludicrous: his simpering and preening and woofling and complete lack of seriousness would have destroyed the Netflix series in an instant.
So, as of next week, I shall be explaining exactly what was wrong with Lucifer by explaining what was right about the comic. Compare and contrast.

Due South: s03 e03 – I Coulda Been A Defendant


Due South

After last week’s utter debacle, I was actually trepidatious about another Due South episode, and very slow to start to play it, but this week’s effort reassured me that all was not lost, and that the show could still produce episodes as good as last week’s was bad.

‘I coulda been a Defenfdant’ guest-starred Brent Carver as Bruce Spender, whose life was under threat and who required the protection of Benton Fraser and Ray ‘Vecchio’ from a source that was both unexpected and yet completely predictable. Carver played Spender as a kind of holy innocent, a deeply intelligent but unworldly man, soft-spoken, often almost childlike, a mathematical genius and unworldly. He first appeared saving an eager child from running into the street and killing himself. Unfortunately for him, he did so not merely in front of Bennie and Ray but a roving reporter with a cameraman who wanted to celebrate him as the hero he was. Their efforts to congratulate him led to him running away, being knocked down by a car, ironically, and being arrested by Ray for possession of a gun and multiple IDs.

Spender was highly nervous, primarily of being on TV. That was why he’d run away. JHe mustn’t be seen on TV. The episode’s weakest point was that it wasted several minutes before admitting what was obvious from the outset, that Spender was in Witness Protection – Deep Witness Protection, his death faked – and receiving the attention of a Deputy Director at the Department of Justice. Not for the seriousness of his crime, which was merely Bank Robbery for which he’d turned State’s Evidence, but because the Deputy Director was his brother, Kevin (Ron White).

Straightway there was something funny about this, some indefinable reluctance on Kevin’s part with Bruce in private that didn’t sit entirely with his otherwise gung-ho, I-go-to-the-mat-for-my-brother professions. Bruce will be cut loose immediately but it’s too late, the damage has been done, his face appears on TV. His three former accomplices, violent men all and all on the loose, will be heading directly to Chicago for terminal revenge.

Thus far, not much room for comedy, but the show aimed for it in an unexpected area. Catherine Bruhiere had been a member of the cast since the first episode though she rarely appeared, played only cameo parts and never had a story about her. Though she wore uniform, she was only a Civilian Aide, working towards eventual graduation as a Police Officer. Now her time had come, her graduation tomorrow, and we were being introduced to her inexperienced, much slower and much sassier replacement, Francesca Vecchio (Ramona Milano). This would be Bruhiere’s last appearance, and she would at least be granted a decent send-off as the climax overspilled the rain-soaked Graduation Ceremony and Elaine got an arrest on her record even before she graduated.

But that’s for later. Kevin’s arranged for Bruce to be flown out of the State under full security headed by Ray, yet still snipers get a handle on him and he’s only saved by Ray, Bennie and Diefenbaker hauling him out of there and taking him into their personal version of Protective Custody, staying one step ahead of every attempt to find them, however Official, whilst Elaine firstly identified the three accomplices, and then slowly ticked them off one by one, as either dead, back inside or, in the last case, screwing a Chicago hooker all night.

So if they’re not the ones out to kill Bruce, then who? The answer had been tipped off in that first private meeting between Bruce and his brother but the story logic had nowhere else to go. Kevin Spender loved his brother and protected him, but whilst Bruce had planned the Bank Robbery with elegance and precision, it had been Kevin’s idea to carry it out. In six days time, Kevin was going before the Senate for confirmation as a Department of Justice Director. They would investigate his background rigorously. They would question his brother. Who would not beable to keep the secret that would destroy everything Kevin had worked for.

That was the reason why, not revelead until the climax approached, in a rain-sodden wood. It was a MacGuffin: all we really needed was to know that Kevin was behind it, and Fraser was ahead of everyone (except the more experienced in the audience) in suspecting it, his deduction coming from, of all things, from a wooden coathanger of a kind Kevin had once convinced his naive and hopeful brother was actually a boomerang (improbable and absurd, but in the context of theepisode and Carver’s brilliant performance, entirely plausible and sadly moving).

In the end, the outcome was predictable. There are only so many ways to tell a conventional drama, even when you aim for the quirky, and the shape of this story was all too familiar. That didn’t spoilt it: Carver’s performance already elevated things above the usual, Bruhiere’s departure added a note of melancholy not to mention a foreshadowing of the chaos Francesca will inevitably lead to, and when you’ve got a story that depends on a classic but foreseeable shape, the trick is to do it better, and this episode did that.

The Infinite Jukebox: Kate’s ‘Strange Girl’


There are all sorts of reasons as to why a song winds up on The Infinite Jukebox, and sometimes it’s out of amazement.
If you have read thus far, you’ll have grown very familiar with the individuality of my tastes in music, especially when set against those of the Great British Record Buying Public. Obviously, this is yet one more example.
‘Strange Girl’, by Kate, who were a band not a girl, was released as a single in 1968. I know practically nothing about the band, not even whether they wrote this song themselves, nor where they got it from if they didn’t. And though the song is over fifty years old, I first heard it about a decade ago at most.
‘Strange Girl’ appeared on a 2007 CD compilation, curated by Bob Stanley of St. Etienne, titled Tea and Symphony, with a sub-title of The English Baroque Sound 1967-74. The collection took as its theme the other half of post-psychedelia, the acts and bands who retained interest in the gentler, more complex, frequently woodwind-decorated sounds as opposed to the more visible and successful lean towards heavy sounds and heavy metal.
This compilation is very rare. I did read once, if I recall correctly, that it was withdrawn almost on the point of release, so that very few copies were ever actually made. I discovered it via YouTube, downloaded it and loved it. More recently, a revised version of the compilation, still titled Tea and Symphony, still curated by Bob Stanley, but with a slightly different sub-title, The English Baroque Sound 1968-74, and a different selection, was released in 2020 and is still currently available.
Both from greater familiarity and its, to me, superior selection, I prefer the original. ‘Strange Girl’ is one of the songs on the first version.
Why have I picked it out? I’m not about to claim any great significance for it, certainly not in its lyrics. I pick it out because it is fantastically good. There are hundreds of great songs out there from the back half of the Sixties, little known gems that didn’t deserve the obscurity which was their lot, for whatever reasons, songs I’ve discovered and pursued for the last dozen years, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any that sound so much like a lost classic, a lost opportunity, as this. In sound, in voice, in its totality, this song is performed with the confidence of a band that already have a long and shining career behind them and who are now recording their masterpiece, their classic. Their ‘Good Vibrations’. Their ‘A Day in the Life’. Their ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.
Yes, the record is that good in my estimation.
It’s constructed on a stop-start basis, the song built up in phases. It has a complex arrangement, using full orchestra, and in particular a swooping saxophone backing track, and the band pull together for some brilliant harmonies on what, for want of anything more apt, has to be regarded as a long chorus.
‘Strange Girl’ is a love song, to the girl of the title, whose name may or may not be Angeline, and with whom the singer wants to have, well, a life it seems. She is, by virtue of both herself and her strangeness, a total fascination, and with music such as this set out to lay at her feet, it’s wholly understandable.
I play the game sometimes, with songs such as this, of trying to imagine it as being a hit, featuring in the Top Five, appearing on Top of the Pops. The game is not simply to fit these overlooked records into what actually sold, but then to imagine what effect they could have had, how they would have changed the music of their time, where they would have influenced the sound into going. Naturally enough, the effect would always have been beneficial, as this is my game, but at the end of the day it’s a painful game to play because it always comes back to what we got instead, which in the case of a world not affected by records like this, is bloody drab.
There are always better possibilities if you look for them. You don’t always have to wait for an accident, even if sometimes the best discoveries happen that way. Listen. Just listen. And imagine…

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge – My 40 Favourite Movies: 38 – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Women on the Verge

38: WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN: 1988. Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Spanish (with sub-titles). Black comedy drama. Carman Moura. Antonio Banderas. Maria Barranco. Julieta Serrano. Fernando Guillén.
Written by Pedro Almodóvar, based on a 1930 French play, The Human Voice, by Jean Cocteau. Cinematography: José Luis Alcaine. Edited by: José Selcedo. Music by: Bernardo Bovezzi. Production Company: Lauren Films. Screen time: 89 minutes. Box office takings: $8million (Spain); $7.2million (US and Canada). The Spanish title is: Mujeres el borde de un ataque de nervios – literally ‘crisis breakdown’.
Tim Clark, for Time Out Film Guides, takes a valent stab at trying to unravel the film’s manic madness: “To attempt a synopsis of this extravagantly stylish farce would be daft and forgettable: suffice to say that a lot happens in the absence of anything actually happening. What lingers in the memory is a sustained desperation, and scenes of Wilder-like sophistication dotted with improbable props, actions, inflated campery, and most of Almodóvar’s usual repertory-style company. Somehow a deranged and oddly distanced plot is contrived from elements including infidelity, tranquiliser-spiked gazpacho, interior décor, bad fashion, beds on fire, caged animals, demented telephone answering machines, Shiite terrorists, motorbikes, sentimentalism, property rental, and madness. Don’t expect the delirious, hilarious eroticism of Almodóvar’s previous Law of Desire, although the two films share a taste for the thriller elements of high comedy. This is an altogether stranger film – looser, more dream-like, as if directed in the state to which the title refers.”
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die perhaps does a slightly better job: “Thanks to the Oscar nomination it received for Best Foreign Language Film – the first in Pedro Almodóvar’s career – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown confirmed the international statue of the Spanish writer-director. The film certainly improves on the most worthy aspects of Almodóvar’s previous works: the radical subjectivity of feelings, the exaggeration of emotions, and the bizarre mixture of melodrama and comedy. The story’s premise obviously belong to melodrama, Pepa Marcos (Carmen Maura) and her lover Iván (Fernando Guillén), a married man, make their living dubbing films. One day he announces that he wants to break things off, leaving a message on her answering machine. Deciding to meet him one last time for an explanation, Pepa investigates Iván’s family life and discovers that his wife, recently released from a psychiatric hospital, plans on killing him. Despite his betrayal, Pepa runs to the airport, where he is about to take off with his new love, and saves his life. Expressing his gratitude to Pepa, Iván tried to make up with her, but she turns him down. Although Women on the Verge is full of melodramatic situations, the way Almodóvar develops it reveals his particular sense of humour, based mostly on the eccentric characters populating the film. While Pepa is on the phone investigating her missing lover, her apartment fills with all sorts of people: Candela (Maria Barranco), a friend who is running from the police because she had an affair with a Shiite terrorist; a stuttering young man who wants to rent the apartment after Pepa moves out; and Iván’s mad wife, with a gun in her purse. Everyone is so desperate, and the sheer accumulation of such despair in one place is so exaggerated we can only roar with laughter. The quid-pro-quos and the vaudeville situations might make the movie seen like a farcical comedy, but Almodóvar’s sure touch is there to make the difference, with its exaltation of kitsch, excessive colours and hyperbole. Beyond its delirious humour, Women on the Verge is a moving female monologue about happiness and loneliness. Loosely inspired by Jean Couteau’s 1930 play The Human Voice, the film showcases the tremendous talent of Almodóvar’s muse, Carmen Maura. Not should we forget Antonio Banderas, who took an important step here towards international stardom.” – Dana Duma, film historian.
Pedro Almodóvar Caballero, Spanish filmmaker, director, screenwriter, producer, former actor, was born 1949, coming to prominence following the death of fascist dictator Franco, in 1975. His family had hoped he might become a priest. He found the cinema instead – that became his ‘education’. In 1967 he moved to Madrid. Franco had closed the National School of Cinema, forcing him to find other jobs, and for 12 years he worked for the phone company, Telefonica. In 1974 he made his first short film, a sexual narrative, with no soundtrack. He initially became part of La Movida Madrileria – ‘the Madrid scene’ – the counterculture movement that spring into being, experimenting with political, sexual and personal freedoms – discovering punk rock, synthpop music, sexual expression, drugs. His first proper feature film was in 1980: rather in a comic strip mode, but already with his blend of kitsch elements, campy outrageous humour, and explicit sex, Pepi, Luci, Bom, made on 16mm film, blown-up to 35mm, with actress Carmen Maura, his early muse. She had previous appeared in Folle…Folle…Fólleme Tim! (1978). Maria del Carmen Garcia Maura, born 1945, a former cabaret singer, whose filmography is from 1969 to 2021, and was eventually to appear in eight of Almodóvar’s twenty-plus movies, including her star role as Pepa Marcos in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, by then her seventh with him. Apparently they fell out soon after, and it was to be nearly two decades before her final film with him, Volver (2006). From then on, a succession of Almodóvar films followed: Labyrinth of Passion (1982); Dark Habits (1983, with an almost all female cast); What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984); Matador (1986); Law of Desire (1987). In 1986 he founded his own film company, El Desco, with his brother Agustin. But it was Women on the Verge which gained him international recognition and acclaim, film awards, and a cult following. Eventually there followed two US Academy Awards, five British Academy Awards, six European Film Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, nine Goya Awards, four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, the French Legion of Honour in 1997, the Spanish Golden Medal of Merit in Fine Arts in 1999, the Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001…The list goes on… Almodóvar is an auteur in the Hitchcock or Jean-Luc Godard mode, but has never been afraid to tackle controversial subjects in his works. In a range of genres including comedy, drama, melodrama, film noir, thrillers, ghost stories, and psychological horror, he has explored rape, revenge, prostitution, lesbianism, homosexuality and homophobia, child abuse and paedophilia, death, family breakdowns, bullfighting, violence, madness, transgenders and transsexuality, infidelity, urinating, loneliness, perversion, bondage, injustice, and murder. That said, his works are often labelled the ‘cinema of women’. They are female-centric films, with sympathetic portrayals of women, and especially of women as survivors. Almodóvar himself is unashamedly gay, living with his long-term partner, Fernando Iglesias, since 2002, but he has said he was surrounded by “strong women” as a child and in his youth. Needless to say, there still exists a conservative backlash against him and his work, and French and American critics are more appreciative than some of his fellow countrymen in his homeland of Spain. In a forty-plus year career, there are inevitably some movies that work better than others, failures as well as success, but Women on the Verge is probably still his masterpiece – a totally goofy, surreal, madcap comedy drama, events following each other fast and furious, in quick succession, colliding with each other, all coming together in one crazy climax, followed by a calm of sorts. But Pepa’s life is changed forever, and with her closing scene confession she is pregnant with Iván’s child, only going to get more complicated, not less. For me, one of the most memorable craziness is her hurling things out of her apartment window or from the balcony – almost always inadvertently finding (or only just missing) its target! Even with sub-titles, this was a joy to watch.
Almodóvar’s subsequent movies include: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990, with new muse, Victoria Abril); High Heels (1991); Kika (1992); Live Flesh (1997, based on a Ruth Rendell novel of the same name, with Penélope Cruz); All About My Mother (1999); the psychological thriller The Skin I live In (2011); Julieta (2016); and Pain and Glory (2019). Spanish actor, director, producer, and political activists, José Antonio Dominquez Banderas (born 1960) also appeared in Women on the Verge, his fourth movie with Almodóvar (Labyrinth of Passion, 1982, being one of his first movie roles from theatrical work). In Law of Desire (1987) he played a gay man, but it was after Matador (1986) he began to get recognition outside of Spain. Following his role as the obsessed mental patient in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Madonna introduced him to Hollywood, and – despite still then learning English – his international career really took off. He appeared in three more Almodóvar movies – The Skin I Live In (2011); I’m So Excited (2013); and Pain and Glory (2019) – in total eight movies. Another cast member in Women on the Verge was Rossy de Palma (born Rosa Elena Garcia Echave, 1964), who played Marisa – her second film role, after appearing in Law of Desire. She, too, has appeared in eight Almodóvar movies, the latest being Julieta, with another apparently being filmed, making nine. Maria Barranco (born Dulce Nombre de Maria Magdalena da los Remedios Barranco Garcia, 1961) played Candela, and this was her first film. Her filmography was 1988 to 2006. She also appeared in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Kiti Mànver (born Maria Isabel Ana Mantecón, 1953), played Pepa’s lady lawyer, who is also Ivàn’s new lover. She appeared in over 100 films and television shows from 1970 onward. She subsequently appeared in Almodóvar’s The Flower of My Secret (1995). Theatre and cinema veteran Julieta Serrano [Romaro] (born 1933) played Lucia, Ivàn’s mad wife. She also appeared in Almodóvar’s Matador. Finally another veteran Spanish actor, Fernando Guillén [Gallego], 1932-2013, played Pepa’s older, unfaithful lover, Ivàn. He also appeared in All About My Mother.

The World at War: e07 – On Our Way (USA 1939 – 1942)


WAW

At first, I was expecting another episode of lengthy build-up, introducing the final major player in the Second World War and the story of its transition from the extreme Isolationism of the Thirties into the strongest military force and the ultimate arbiter of the fate of the War. This we got – the open consisted solely of a television speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt, a head and shoulders shot throughout, as he promised determinedly that America’s men would not be sent to War in Europe – albeit in a very simplified form, much of it concentrated into the 1940 Presidential campaign between Roosevelt and his very Isolationist Republican rival, Wendell Wilkie.

This was a more than usually fascinating episode for me because, for the past forty years, I have had an interest in American history, usually indulged through books and very rarely television, which made the footage here of the likes of Roosevelt and Wilkie in the era, and talking heads such as Averell Harriman and the sardonic J K Galbraith, not to mention General James ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle, doubly interesting for bringing names on pages into actual life.

I was mildly surprised that the section on the 1940 Election did not even hint at the factor that has always most distinguished it, namely Roosevelt’s unprecedented – and now unconstitutional – decision to stand for a third term as President, but quickly realised that this would have been a distraction from the main point, namely the overwhelming feeling in the United States that it had been wrongly dragged into a European War not of its making nor affecting its interests once, and would not do so again under any circumstances. None of our business. Ordinary men and women were seen making that point determinedly, Wilkie very forcefully, even Roosevelt bowing to public opinion and promising to avoid being sucked in… yet leaving that last inch of refusal untouched, knowing better than many of his countrymen that it may not be possible to make that unbreakable promise.#

Of course we know what precipitated the United States of America into World War 2, we saw that last week. Even then, when Roosevelt spoke to Congress, demanding the consitutional Declaration of War, it was with the Japanese Empire alone. No mention of Germany. The Pacific was to be America’s War, in parallel to, but not conjoined with the European War. There was no national stomach yet for that, even though the President had long since recognised the danger of Hitler, had instituted numerous methods of assisting Britain – the famous Lend-Lease provisions, Naval escorts for convoys, relieving Britain’s defence of Iceland – and in return suffered attacks by German submarines that sank American ships, leading to the repeal of the Neutrality Acts. But not War.

Of course, Churchill wanted America in on Britain’s side. Within days of Pearl Harbour he was there in Washington for talks, impressing on the President, who already recognised this, that Hitler and Germany was the more dangerous enemy. Yet it might all have been in vain if it were not for one more of those instances we’ve already seen several times: Hitler declared War on America.

Why was not explored. Perhaps this will come up in a later episode. Because it was one more of those moments where the modern audience would react with an almighty WTF?! Because it relieved Roosevelt from having to convince his country to go to that European War they had for so long been adamant they would not do and which, in the absence of Hitler’s act, he may never have been able to achieve, or not until some postponed time in unguessable circumstances.

Like the throwing back of the initial German advance in Russia, this was one of those moments when the outcome of the War was decided beyond the power if History to deflect. From hereon, it was only a matter of time, a part of which was hinted at in the episode’s closing moments.

For the moment, what followed was the massive escalation of American industry – not without doubts and resistance from the business community that had always seen Roosevelt as differing from Stalin only in degree – into War production. This was the true end of the Great Depression, not the New Deal, and the beginning of American economic strength that extends to today. There were seens that paralleled those from Britain in an earlier episode, of the American public cheerfully, almost joyfully, collecting raw materials that would be in demand – rubber, i.e. tyres, tins and paper – overlaid not by commentary but by songs of the era, popular music, the big bands and their singers responding to what was on their audience’s minds. It came over as a game people were joining in for their amusement, very different, yet understandable from a people in no real fear of invasion.

Of course, there were fears on the West Coast, black-outs, gas masks, practicing taking shelter. And this led to the shameful issue of the Japanese internments. It’s understandable, following Pearl Harbour, if not justifiable, and several of the witnesses to what happened, who suffered through it, and worst of all the disgusting way they were treated by their grasping and exploitive neighbours, made the point that it was not just Japan who was at War with America but Germany and Italy, and nothing was done to persecute those ethnic-American groups, whose size and skin colour and lack of stereotypical features made them less easy to distinguish from their fellows. A blot. A disgusting blot.

Meanwhile, the Japanes Empire was widening its circle. We heard of the invasion of the Phillippines, the retreat of the American forces onto the Bataan Peninsula – another name, and not the last, of fame to which I was now to learn proper context – where ultimately, with reinforcements and relief never coming, 80,000 men – America’s largest surrender ever, just as Singapore was Britain’s – were taken and treated with abominable cruelty.

But though the War in the Pacific was America’s War, it was treated as unimportant next to Germany and Europe, given less attention and far fewer resources than the stalemated War across the Atlantic. This was the Navy’s War, ultimately, and it would be the aircraft carriers that would eventually prove crucial to victory. For this was 1942, and the Japanese Empire was at its zenith, its borders as wide as they would get. Until the Battle of Midway, another famous name given its proper place.

The Japanese Navy had grown arrogant, over-confident, insufficiently careful. They assumed victory was theirs as of right, but they didn’t know America had cracked their codes and were waiting. Doolittle had already led a raid on the Home Islands themselves, sixteen B-52 bombers with one bomb each, launched from these carriers: a scratch and nothing more, but a sign. Now, at Midway Island, the carriers and the planes defended the island from invasion, took the fight to Japan and turned them back, defeated.

Already, the War in the Pacific was won, but the signs were already there of the time it would take. Next up was Guadalcanal, another island, the southern extremity of Japan’s expansion. America mounted its first invasion of the War, taking the island back and surrounding its defenders. Who would not surrender, but who had to be killed, to a man. This was how it was going to be in the Pacific.

But what of Europe? As the episode neared its end, it made explicit about Churchill’s antipathy to setting foot on the continent again. America’s forces had been gathered, its resources marshalled, it was in a sense raring to go, ready to fight. But Churchill, haunted by memories of the Great War, the trenches, the great and terrible slaughters of Passchendale and The Somme, would not think of invading the continent until it could almost be a certainty. A theatre was required where War could be carried out. The Allies, and the fleets carrying American soldiers, looked to North Africa.

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Eccles Line


eccles-1

When I was in Manchester last week, visiting Central Reference Library for another instalment of my current research programme, I noticed that trams were once more running to Eccles. The last section of the Metrolink network left unexplored in my summer expeditions has clearly completed its refurbishment works and I can now complete my travels. Fittingly enough, it’s a beautiful day today, aping those summer travels in appearance if not in sense.

Or that was how it started. By the time I was on the bus, the sky had fikked up with grey clouds. not threatening immediate rain but definitely holding it in reserve for if the mood took it. And it wasn’t too long before I realised that a top covering of sweatshirt and leather jacket might possibly be one layer too few.

To the best of my recollection, I’ve only been to Eccles once before, and it’s never been a place I would have thought of seeking out as a destination. That one definite visit was the first year we formed the Crown & Anchor Pub Quiz team, we being me and John Mott, and Dave and Barry, who was our captain. We joined a League that consisted of eight teams that became seven after the first round. One team, who’d been runners-up twice in succession to a team from the Bleeding Wolf, in Hale, were from Eccles so we went up there on Tuesday night and thumped them easily. I may, it’s entirely possible, have visited other Eccles’ pubs, as a member of the Crown‘s Pool Team, but I can’t remember. Incidentally, we won the League that first season, though we weren’t half as successful the following season, when the Crown entered a B team as well, and they finished above us (Barry’s absence meant I had to captain the team several times and I was awful at it: if two or more of us had tentative answers, Barry was brilliant at selecting the right one whereas I tended to go with my guess, which more often than not was wrong where my team-mate was right).

Trust me, though. Eccles might once more be accessible but at Piccadilly Gardens there were signs explaining that, due to a broken rail in the City Centre, with effect from today until the end of November, the whole network is fucked up. Why that should be, I couldn’t properly tell, but the immediate effect on me, once I’d got things straight, was the discovery that Eccles trams are termination at Deansgate-Castlefield for the duration, and for now the only trams running through Piccadilly Gardens are between Ashton and Crumpsall. The Altrincham trams that go through Deansgate-Castlefiueld are giving us a miss.

Fortunately, one is due to pass through Market Street in three minutes, and even with my knee I can cover the distance in time.

I am, of course, familiar with the line as far as Media City (very familiar with it as far as Cornbrook, having passed through or even changed there on the Altrincham, Media City, East Didsbury, Airport and Trafford Centre trips). But I have only attended Deansgate-Castlefield once before, many years ago. This was when the Royal Exchange Theatre had temporarily decamped to the far end of Deansgate whilst its usual home was being refitted structurally after the effects of the IRA Bomb. I’d invited my former girlfriend on a purely platonic date to see Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (of which I remember nothing), and met her and saw her off Altrincham trams at the station.

It’s started to rain, light, sharp, prickly rain so I crossed two tramlines purposefully and took shelter. The wait could have been longer and the wind colder, but not by much. I was dry and had nothing to drink this side of Eccles.

Media City came as a relief as the short, square, bulky guy who’s been crowding me into a corner gor off. As the tram effectively reversed itself here, I jumped carriges to get a new forward-facing seat for the next leg.

We’d crawled through Salford Quays as usual to get here and I was keen to see if that would now be left behind. Not initially: there are only five stations on this leg and the first of them literally rounfd the corner, but after that we picked up speed, exiting to the Langworthy station, just round another corner on Eccles New Road. That was our route all the way to the terminus, mostly sharing the two-lane road with the cars, who must have been pretty pissed off with us. The scenery was hardly scenic: industrial developments all down the left hand side, new and modern estates set back along the right. The sun came out again at Ladywell station, then suddenly we were pulling into Eccles interchange, exactly as the battery on my mp3 player died!

The routine is by now familiar: a sandwich, a dribk, a CEX and a loo. As the station is outside a Morrisons, the last of these was easily ticked off. I could have sorted out the first two as well, but I prefer a bit of exploring, and finding a proper sandwich shop.

That turned out to be Greggs, yet again. I spotted the Shopping Centre down a pedestrianised street on the right, and then the Greggs on the left. Whilst I was eating my sausage roll, I had to blank one of those slightly dodgy blokes wandering around talking and singing to himself – I heard his voice echoing from trhe oher end for quite a while. Whilst I was finishing my tuna crunch baguette I had to fend off a little kid reaching for it as if it was his and crying in fury when his mother retrieved him. In between, another oldish guy unclamped his bicycle from the far end of the bench, rode past me for about ten yards then wheels round and props it up against the British Heart Foundation shop, unclamped, unchained, un-anything, approximately two seconds walk from where it had been, and went inside. Some people.

Replete, at least for the moment, I inspected the DVDs and Books section in a couple of the nearby Charity shops before walking up the rpad a bit, passing the impressive Parish Church, grimly dark though it was. The economic conditions in Eccles were pretty easy to work out from the profusion of chariuty shops open and the profusion of everything else that was shuttered shut. I paid a brief visit to anorther, tempting charity shop but left it rapidly when I found myself next to the guy with the bike, who was industrially sorting CDs, Yes, he was a volunteer all right, but I didn’t get the impression the shop knew it.

Outside the Shopping Centre, it had come on to rain again. I sheltered under a canopy whilst zipping up my jacket but that did me little good from what hit me in the face as soon as I moved out into the open again. If there was a CEX in Eccles, I was not prepared to put up with this whilst I searched for it so I backtracked firmly. I toyed with going into Morrisons for a coffee in their cafe but a tram was approaching so I said san fairy ann to it and decided to go home.

There was a long wait for the turn around at Eccles, and another at Media City where the tram filled up. Rain came and went. It was dry when I hopped out at Market Street but that lasted no more than twenty seconds before it starting coming down again as if I’d never left Eccles. That decided it: I headed straight for the bus stop, hoping to be early enough to avoid the usual horrors of Hyde Road. Guess what? Leaving aside the long wait for the 203 to materialise (exacerbated by knowing it was sat round the cormer) and another to change drivers outside Devonshire Street Bus Station, there were no horrors. Mind you, once we turned onto Reddish Lane…

But now I’m back, and the mini-ambition of travelling the entire Metrolink Network has been completed (with the exception of about thirty yards of track in Salford Quays for trams – if any – that omit the diversion into Media City), until another line or extension is opened, which doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future. Done, and dusted.