A Portsmouth Expedition: Day 2


HMS Warrior

I wake up in Portsmouth, after a soothing, warm night’s sleep, to a sky that couldn’t be bettered if I could afford to order it from the most exclusive Harrods catalogue. It’s a  clear blue, with trace amounts of cloud around the edges, and that sharpness of sight that only comes in the cold. If I were in the Lakes, I’d be looking to get up Scafell Pike and strain my eyes for the Irish mountains.

But I’m not in Cumbria, I’m in Hampshire, where breakfast is a continental affair of fresh crusty baguettes, ham, soft cheese and orange juice, and there’s a bus stop round the corner to take me to the Harbour in fifteen minutes. The route number is 1: I’m 64 years and two days old and this is the first time I’ve ridden on a number 1 bus.

It’s a single decker which means that from my lowly position I don’t get to see much, and what I can see is mostly meaningless to me, even when we’re going through the City Centre. Later, maybe. At least I know how to get back, not to mention how close Fratton Station is for tomorrow morning.

I get off the bus under the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower, which defintely wasn’t here in Dad’s day and would have scared the seagulls if it was. Near at hand is HMS Warrior, the Navy’s first steel-plated ship according to its plaque, and it is the subject of the first photo I take with a camera loaned to me by my mate Andy after my own digital compact packed up on me.

The entrance to the Dockard is near at hand. After I’ve had my bag searched – Alan Moore doesn’t appear to be contraband, though the Counter-Terrorism Status – Heightened signs are prominent – I’m free to wander the public areas as I will, though some attractions, such as HMS Warrior, or the mock-up of HMS Victory – yes, that Victory – cost an additional fee to board and explore, the latter in guided tour parties only.

HMS Victory
And again

I’ve paid for two Attractions and the most importnt one is at hand, the Harbour Tour. First trip is 12.00, which is the best part of two hours away, so I take a leisurely stroll along old buildings that have manifestly not changed since my Dad was here, inspect the Victory from outside (without, sadly, feeling the least breath of History) and step into the Royal Navy National Museum.

Strangely, or perhaps not strangely at all, I find I cannot take ny interest in any modern history, that is, anything post 1949. It strikes me that what is missing is one man I came here hoping to see in some sense. I would give the world to have him here beside me, to see these souvenirs and relics through his eyes, to have him lead me around, making everything come alive for a boy who wishes to be ten years old again. You can never have the things you want most.

I come outside and stroll back towards the Harbour Tours wharf. It’s still more than early, but this is me, hey? I buy a Diet Coke from Costa Coffee and sit myself on a three-stone bench that’s like a shortarse trilithon from Stonehenge to drink it and draft some of this piece. I’m under the sun, unexpectedly warm for mid-November, and the tide is washing in, a constant surge that’s a backdrop to my thoughts. Near at hand are buildings my Dad must have known, yet the wider sky-line screams of the modern age. I find the past invisible.

Old buildings in the Dockyard

That is until I board the Solent Cat. There’s a closed saloon below, with hot and cold drinks available, and an open deck above, and I am up those steps to where the real views will be available. And this is where I start to feel something more. I’m on the water, and this is where I will find that link.

And that’s before we back out of the wharf and into the Harbour proper, and I can see the sheer expaanse of it, from the prominent harbour mouth close by on our left, backed by a low skyline of green hills and wooded slopes that I surmise (correctly) is the Isle of Wight, to the immense spread to our right.

We turn in that direction, leisurely following the east shore, the Naval side, diverting around a Police Boat with flashing blue lights that’s supervising divers. There are yards and wharfs and steel-coloured destroyers, with docks and bays beyond, identified by a commentary from the nearby cabin. It should be cold up here, on the water, and yes I’m got a thick maroon pullover on under a big coat, but I feel no cold.

The Naval Side

I’m not usually good on water. On the last day of our honeymoon on Madeira, my wife and I went on a Dolphin Watch cruise off the south of the island, in the more placid waters below Funchal. As soon as I sat down, I grabbed hold of a thick coil of rope and would not let it go the whole time we were on the ocean. I didn’t relinquish my life-line until we were once again docked at the Marina, at which point my sympathetic wife said that she wasn’t going to say this whilst we were sailing but she didn’tthink the rope was attached to anything. To which I replied, “I didn’t think it was either but I damned well wasn’t going to check!”

Portsmouth Harbour’s a long stretch from the Atlantic Ocean but today I’m my father’s son, without the slightest concern for what we’re floating upon, up the Naval side and back down the Commercial side, the Gosport shore, and I am taking photograph after photograph.

A forest of masts – Gosport

Is this why he joined the Navy? To be on the water? How much was he influenced by Uncle Arthur, who served in the Navy in the War, in the South China Seas? Could he choose that freely? Questions coming too late to be answered, but in a way my pilgrimage has fulfilled some of its purpose. I will not be frightened on the water again.

As we turn to cross the Harbour entrance, and again as we lie ‘at anchor’ at Gunwharf Quay, there’s a gentle swell rocking the boat evenly.Though the cloud has the sky more or less surrounded by now, there’s a broad shaft of sun beaming down on me, and I’d be content to sit here the rest of the afternoon, on the edge of this vast, circumscribed expanse.

Gunwharf Quay

The last lap to the Dockyard Quay is just a crossing from one side of the Spinnaker Tower to the other. After that, there’s nothing more the Dockyard can do for me so I stroll out in search of somewhere quiet and convenient for a spot of lunch. The Ship Anson qualifies on the first two counts but its food is a bit on the pricey side, given its setting, so I take my time over a pint and a bit more of Jerusalem (I have outrun what I managed before by now).

The signpost tells me it’s only three-quarters of a mile to the City Centre and I’ve got the afternoon to play with, so I walk it. It seems I wasn’t as unobservant as I thought on the bus as I remember shopfronts and the splendid gates of the HMS Nelson, but the Centre was a bit disappointing. I definitely fancied a bit of Pizza Hut so strolled round looking for the familiar frontage, without any luck. Another KFC, a Burger King, yes. Also a Waterstones, and I never pass those. For a mad moment, I considered buying a book they had, a souvenir of my visit, but I couldn’t find a price on it anywhere, and when that happens, you know that the price is Too Fucking Expensive.

The need for food was now getting important. I enquired of a nearby newsseller who told me there is no Pizza Hut in the centre now, since it’s dead there after 5.00pm, except over Xmas, they only do online deliveries now. He points me to Debenhams restaurant where they do hot food, except not after 2.30pm, so I say a loud internal “Soddit!” and spring for a double burger with onions from a well set-up cart: pretty bloody good too.

So. I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and nightfall’s visible down the other end of the block so I grab a bus back and get off at the Pompey Centre. I know I’m in the vicinity of Fratton Park, Portsmouth FC’s ground, but it’s not until I walk up to the Tesco Centre, for sandwiches for tea, that I realise, in daylight, the ground’s right behind it!

It all makes for a long evening but this is not the only piece of writing I shall be working on tonight, and an early bed is on the cards. The photos attached to this piece are all my own work (if not my camera!).

An attractive fellow watergoer – and where they unload the weapons

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Archipelago


According to Continued on Last Rock, Archipelago was R.A. Lafferty’s first completed novel. I did not learn of its existence until about 1980/81 when I discovered a sealed hardback copy of it in a Manchester City Centre Second Hand Shop (still there to this day). It was £20.00 in an era when hardback novels weren’t yet £10.00.
The book was published by Manuscript Press, and the back page blurb explained that it was no 2. (of 2.) in a series of Unpublished Manuscripts.
My first surprise, and revelation, was a list of other works vaster than any I’d seen for Lafferty before. This was the book that listed Where Have You Been, Sandaliotos? and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny as novels. It listed no less than fifteen unpublished novels (including one not named or yet written that, alas, I believe never achieved either state), amongst which list five would in later years appear.
And it told me that The Devil is Dead, which I’d read years before and always believed was a standalone novel, was instead part of a trilogy, and the middle part too, and Archipelago (which does explain certain otherwise confusing references in the original work) was the first book. The third book, though never released under its true title, later formed a sixth book to appear.
Archipelago is on the surface a mainstream novel. It begins in the South Pacific, at the end of the Second World War, with a group of five American soldiers winding down until being shipped back to civilian life. There are five of them, friends from before the War. Each come from different ethnic backgrounds, one Irish, one French, one Polish, one Dutch and one Italian, who is also Irish, because he is living two different lives in different recensions. There is also a sixth man, Jewish of name though not necessarily of religion or ethnicity. The five are known as the Dirty Five, but they are also something more, and their duties and trials in the world that follows are matters of legend and immortal peril, for they are Argonauts, Jason and others, and their duty is to save the World.
This is the beginning of the Episodes of the Argo mythos, one of three inter-connected strands that run all through Lafferty’s fiction that in later years he considered to all be part of an unfinished novel entitled ‘A Ghost Story’. Finnegan in particular, or John Solli, artist, as he is in one version of his life, roams the world, a famous drinker (as was Lafferty in his own life).
The Argo is both the world, and the Church, Church here being the Roman Catholic Church, that Lafferty regarded as the binding institution of the world, its teachings the bedrock from which all that is supposedly liberal and progressive is but a Devil’s diversion, worse still than Communism.
Needless to say, these are beliefs that I cannot and do not share. All of Lafferty’s thinking is in complete opposition to the basic tenets of my socio-political beliefs. Yet I still love his writings, and collect his works avidly.
Archipelago begins with its own creation myth, two men in a bar in the morning in a southern town. That is always how the world begins, according to Lafferty, and who would contradict him? The two men are Finnegan, who we already know and who is also John Solli, and Vincent Stranahan. Both men are Sergeants in the US Army, in the Pacific, and are currently on leave in Australia. Four of the Dirty Five are there, Hans, or John Schulz, who casually wins a drinking contest with a famed Australian Sergeant, one of the heroic labours of the Argonauts, and Casey, Kasimir Szymanski, who is the odd man out in the Dirty Five.
There are the Fivers, there are the Australian soldiers, Freddy Castle and Tom Shire, there are red-headed girls like Loy Larkin and Margaret Murphy, but this is only a context for Finnegan, the first man in the world, who is Jason, and Vincent, the least-outstanding member of his family and yet is Meleager, to appear before our eyes. Then there is the return to the islands, where Henry Salvatore, the Fat Frenchman, a mean Cajun who is Euphemus, and who will stand for ordination as a Priest after the War, has been standing for all.
Originally, I understand that Archipelago was a much longer book, in excess of 300,000 words, including long sections upon the War that is its initial background, all of which is cut out, and that it was rewritten three times. There is a chapter during which the American forces head towards Japan, that concentrates more upon the soldiers off duty, and which introduces Absolom Stein, who is also Hugo Stone and who is also Red in the same way that everyone else is of the Church.
The War itself ends quietly, a long way away, and the Dirty Five go home, all except for one, unnamed but not unidentifiable, who goes into Limbo in a medical ward because he cannot remember who he is. He will remember after several weeks, and go back into the world, as do all those with him, who are sane and stable except on the odd one or two points, such as Private Gregory, who is the same as Papa Diabolus, in his purple-headed glory, and who lives forever.
But it is not until Chapter 4 that everyone gathers together and the book reaches its more-or-less climax, long before halfway. For Vincent Stranahan is to be married to the little urchin, Theresa ‘Showboat’ Piccone, and everyone is in town, which is St Louis. There are the rest of the Dirty Five, including Hans, who is Orpheus, and his bride Marie Monohan, Casey, who is Peleus, with his girl Mary Catherine. There is the patriarch, Melchisedech Duffey, there is Dorothy ‘Dotty’ Yekouris, the Beautiful Barmaid, who is Finnegan’s girl, but their meeting is an ending, Mary Virginia, who would have been Henry’s girl, and more.
This is Vincent and Theresa’s wedding, but it is also Finnegan and Showboat’s first meeting, one that both have dreaded, knowing as they do that their relationship is special. Indeed, they will marry and live together twelve years, and have three children but this not in an world recognisable by what is known of either’s life, not even Finnegan, who lives many lives all at the same time and not one after another.
Of the marriage and the meeting comes the Bark, or Barque, in opposition to the Crock. The Crock is Casey’s paper, printed and distributed to a small but vitally influential audience of 25,000. Duffey used to work with Casey on the Crock, but he has been ousted and replaced by new backers for Casey, the weak link, the proto-pinko. Duffey, with Dotty’s practical experience and a board of editors drawn from the Dirty Five and their girls (Finnegan in absentio, wandering, drinking, on the biggest and most permanent tear, including the period of The Devil is Dead) sets up the Bark, to save the Church for loss, to speak to that same 25,000.
In a sense, the story ends there. This whole story is being told against the background of the post-War period, the late Forties into the early Fifties, the Red Menace, the Communist threat. Lafferty doesn’t make overt reference to the times, relying on his audience’s memories and knowledge for true understanding.
There is no ending, not to this story. There are no endings. Lafferty explores extensively the Dirty Five, one by one, drawing upon their pasts to light their presents, placing each of them in their mythical personae, even when, as with Henry, they are barely present in their own story. In one sense, the book is a ghost story,each person split, most obviously in the case of Casey and Stein, who are rather halves of a whole than persons by themselves.
The book covers a wide area of study, not all of it directly relevant to this introduction of the Argo mythos, but all of it involved. For an ending, Lafferty draws upon The Devil is Dead, and the death of Finnegan, caught in cross-fire between Niccolo Croutos, the left-footed killer, and Dotty, defending him. Eight, nine shots, and nobody’s missed yet. And a brief statement that all stories are improved by destroying their first and last scrolls. The world began on a morning and ends on an afternoon. There are no endings.
There are many ways of reading Archipelago, and none of them conventionally. It is not a novel in the sense of a story. It is in some part a primer, for things to be written. It is in its way an off-angle picture of a time that even when it was first published was a history. It begins in War Physical and concerns itself with War Spiritual. It is funny and it is melancholy, staunch in support of its cause, faithful in its belief in its necessity, yet recognising the precariousness of its position. In shape, in style, in tone and texture, it has nothing to do with The Devil is Dead yet more than Finnegan, the wanderer, the Teras, connects these two books, because they are two faces of a coin with more faces than two.
It would be close to twenty years before I would read the final part of the Trilogy.

A Portsmouth Expedition: Day 1


Portsmouth Harbour

I’m off on another Expedition, a longer one than any before, for I’ll be away three days and two nights and blogging each day’s experience. This Expedition is to a place I’ve never been before, in a County that’s one of the handful remaining that I’ve never visited before, and it’s less a break at an odd time of year for holidays than a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage wiithout religious significance, save only in my own head. I am going to Portsmouth, to HM Naval Dockyards. Seventy years ago, my father completed his post-War National Service, stationed here. As some of you already know, he died before my fifteenth birthday, after a long illness, before I could sitand talk to him about experiences I would never share, even vicariously. I am here to see what he saw, or what is left of it seventy years on. I am here to try to capture even a tiny fragment of what was taken way.

Most of today’s episode is going to be about travelling, and that means paranoia. I have now defined myself as a twitchy traveller. It comes from the independence and control I enjoyed as a car driver, until ten years ago, and from my experiences with the decaying public transport of this country. When you have to rely on the 203 to get to Stockport Rail Station, you set out early, which is how I ended up composing the first draft of this on Platform 2, a half hour before the London Euston train is due.

Counting the 203, this journey had five legs. I don’t get to relax this early. But the 11.43 is on time and, at risk of spoiling the dramatic tension, the whole journey goes off without a hitch.

The only thing resembling one is that  I’m supposed to have a reserved seat in Coach F, the exact midpoint of the train, only it’s not reserved. It’s still free, mind you, but then so are nearly fifty percent of Coach F’s seats, so hardly had we set off but I transferred myself to a table-seat, though this meant the suitcase I’d struggled to lift into the luggage compartment opposite ‘my’ seat, was left a way down the coach. Twitch.

I’ve done this journey mny times, but never quite this lte in the morning, which I suppose explains the empty seats. Usually, London is a visit, back in a day, but this time it’s a way-station. So I don’t bother with the scenery, which is damp and dull under expectant clouds.

Having finally completed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I need another massive book to read on railways rides, and I have the perfect replcement in Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, a 1,000 page hardback. This was a Xmas gift to myself back in 2016, but I only got about 200 pages through it then. Having no other reading material on me, I anticipate serious headway this time.

Between the music and the reading, the journey goes well. The next twitch starts on coming into Euston, five minutes late. I have forty-five minutes to get to London Waterloo, which is six stops on the Northern Line, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Can’t keep the boy from worrying but I’m at Waterloo with fifteen minutes to spare, which is positively last minute for me, panicking because I can’t see the teleboard to learn which platform I need, and then I can’t find the entrance which, in keeping with the pantomime I’m descending into is, yes, behind me. Platform 13. Good job I’m notsuperstitious.

I’m now in new country, South of the River for maybe only the third or fourth time in my life. I’ve only ever been to the South Coast once before, to Worthing, to deliver a letter.

But this is flat country. First there are London streets and skyline cranes, then nondescript hedges and fields that are not made any more appealing by the slowly fading light. There are no heights to look up to in wonder, looking for routes to ascend, not any to be crossed, providing no vistas to look across and upon. Everything is of a level.

We pass through Woking, Guildford, Godalming and lessr places. A gaggle of schoolchildren get on at Petersfield, including one tall, long-haired blonde with an appealing face who looked like it wouldn’t take much effort to make herself look sixteen, though she might be pushing it for eighteen. They depart at Fratton, which puzzled me slightly given Portsmouth FC play at Fratton Park. But the last few stations are thick and fast and, almost bang on time, I debouch at Portsmouth Harbour.

Crossing the bridge above the platforms, I see the first sign of ships, masts and riggings, and I emerge from the sttion overlooking a prt of the Harbour and queues for the Gosport Ferry to the Isle of Wight. Under my breath, I speak to someone who is not there: “I’m here, Dad. Took a long time, but I’m here.”

The entrance to the Dockyards is only a few minutes walk away. I head there to buy a two-attractions ticket for tomorrow but I cn’t bring my suitcase through the gate: security, it might contain a bomb (it doesn’t). I was allowed to leave it in charge of a helpful lady whilst I nipped inside for tickets.

I’m staying at the Ibis Budget Hotel on Fratton Way. The hotel sent me directions on how to get there, but after pretty near five hours of train travel, not to mention lugging a suitcase around with my laptop in it (as well as a shoulder bag with a 1,000 page hardback in it), I bottle out and get a taxi. Long before I get to the Hotel, I’m bloody glad I didn’t try walking. And along the way, I discover I’m only about five minutes walk from Fratton Station, so I know what I’m going to do on Thursday morning.

When I arrive, I get a choice of rooms on three floors. The Ground is good enough for my arthritic knee and hip and it’s real close to Reception. It’s a  triple room, which means it could  have slept three: someone to share the double with me and a voyeuristic third sleeping cross-wise in a bunk-bed single (or maybe sneaking down to join us if she’s a she… first night away from home in nearly two years and I’m already having erotic fantasies).

There isn’t a Pizza Hut within easy walking distance of the Hotel, but there’s a KFC opposite (there’s a MacDonalds too, but I’m talking food here) so that’s tonight’s evening meal sewn up.

I’m here. There are no photos to post because the light was bloody miserable by the time I got to the Harbour. But tomorrow’s the big day, and I hope it’ll do me a favour and be drive. This is where my Dad served his country, and I’m damned glad he never got to see what his country has become. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll catch a sight of a spectre, a face I’ve not seen in nearly fifty years. It’s what I’m here for.

Person of Interest: s03 e04 – Reasonable Doubt


Is she or isn’t she?

I’m a little of two minds about this latest episode of Person of Interest, and not simply for what it did not do. What it did do it did very well, yet in its desire to show us a Number that hovered on the edge of being Victim or Perpetrator until almost the very end (a very skilful performance by Kathleen Rose Perkins), the episode left a few of its convolutions unanswered in the rush to be clever.

What it didn’t do was more than play lip service to only one of this season’s ongoing concerns. Much as I enjoyed the episode, it was still a bubble, with nothing to do with the larger part of season 3. It’s the same scenario as the early part of season 2, post resolution of Finch’s kidnapping: revert to the procedural to begin with.

So, nothing of the menace of Root, who escaped confinement last week, to Finch’s consternation, but who is wholly absent. Nothing of the mysterious organisation fighting back against surveillance, introduced in episode 2. And of Officer Carter, once Detective Carter and still referred to as such by Finch, only the briefest of updates, as we but not she learn that her rookie partner, Laskey, is part of HR.

What we got was Vanessa Watkins, our Number, a tough, aggressive, very effective Prosecutor, married to Jeremy Watkins (Daniel Cosgrove), an equally brilliant Defence Attorney who gets the worst kind of defendants acquitted on technicalities (it’s always technicalities in these stories, and the lawyer is always a sleazebag on some level, that or a crusader on behalf of poor people, usually having dragged themselves up by their bootheels: as a former lawyer, I should be used to how my former profession is depicted by now).

But Jeremy’s dead, fallen from the Watkins’ boat in Long Island Sound, panicked message radioed by Vanessa. Except that she gets arrested for murdering him, by an obsessed Detective Cameron (Paul Ben-Victor, formerly of The Wire), who’s determined to get Vanessa to the point that, when she escapes the Station in typically inventive fashion, that he’s willing to have her shot on sight, despite the fact that the ‘murder’, if it is murder, was purely personal, and she isn’t armed in any way. Cameron wants revenge for a courtroom humiliation, but this?

And Vanessa’s first act of freedom is to procure a brick of cocaine from a drugslord she a) put away and b) helped get released, who gives her the drugs for free and hugs her. What the hell is that all about? Answer, it’s all about puzzling the audience, blurring the decisive question of which one Vanessa is, Victim or Perpetrator. The scene has no logic except in that respect, it’s a surprisingly lazy contrivance unbacked by rationality.

Indeed, that’s the problem. Vanessa, as we might have expected, is not either/or but both. The whole set up is a scam, set up between the Watkins, to escape debt to a mobster (a convenient McGuffin, again without any consideration of how Jeremy has run up such debt), fake Jeremy’s death and run away under new identities to be filthy rich). Except that Jeremy’s screwing Vanessa’s lifelong best friend Nicole and double-crossed Vanessa to run off with Nicole.

It ends up on the yacht. Jeremy has emerged from hiding, expecting his blonde shag, only to be confronted by his lawfully wedded and a gun. He claims the marriage to be a contract, presumably on the basis that it was there to be broken by both parties (Vanessa herself has had an affair, as represented by a text exchange about missing items of intimate wear found under a fridge – it’s always the fridge), but she loves him, genuinely loves him (without the episode once giving us any reason to suspect that’s true: Ms Perkins is just too damned good at slipping away from any conclusion about Vanessa).

Enter Mr Reese. Rather than intervene in this scenario, he leaves another gun within easy grabbing reach of Jeremy, defines his role as stopping bad things happening before stating that he’s not sure this qualifies, and walks off, pausing only to unmoor the yacht, which floats out into the basin, and not react to the sound of two gunshots coming from that direction: fade to black.

I’ve made it sound as if this was a bad episode, and that I didn’t like it. On the contrary, I was held by it throughout, especially thanks to Perkins’ performance as Vanessa: an attractive woman, hard-shelled, with a face that was strong rather than beautiful, emphasised by unfussy short hair that left it unconcealed. When Vanessa was finally confirmed as Victim, I saw it coming, not from the performance but from the fact this was Person of Interest, twists a speciality, but I couldn’t get out of my head the lack of foundation for the convenient acquisition of cocaine, and from there the show’s eagerness to skate over improbabilities for the sake of the outcome mant that it unravelled more than somewhat afterwards.

Still, a lot of merit, especially for Kathleen Rose Perkins, and some sidebar humour – Bear pretending to be sick in order to protect a Vet, the look Ms Shaw gives Reese when Bear goes to him instead of her, her seizing of a paperknife when faced with an ultra-slow Bank Manager making mistakes logging into a computer, Fusco’s preventative hand grabbing it off her – was fun. I just wish the writing hadn’t got carried away with itself in confusing the audience, to the point where it did confuse one member of that audience.

We are being lied to


Generally, I avoid Political Posts, but comes a time when you can’t just let it slide.

Yesterday, at the Cenotaph, it was reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned up with his hair unbrushed and his coat open and flapping. He stared around during the one minute silence whilst everyone else had their head bowed. He walked forward before he was due to do so and he presented a red wreath which he placed upside down.

Hardly respectful to those we choose to honour on that day. In the past, various Labour leaders have been sharply criticized, by the media en masse, for what has been deemed to be insufficient respect for this ceremony. I need hardly tell you there has been no such en masse criticism of Mr Johnson.

Once upon a time, the BBC was the envy of the world for its honesty and impartiality. Under Electorl Legislation, following the calling of a General Election, it is legally required to be neutral.

This morning, on BBC Breakfast News, coverage of the ceremony was shown. At the moment it fell to the Prime Minister to lay his wreath, the footagecut to Mr Johnson, his hair and apparel immaculate, place the wreath corrrectly at exactly the right moment, before cutting back to the rest of the ceremony. In this sequence, Mr Johnson was dressed differently from before and after, moved forward from a different place and carried a green wreath, instead of the red one in the other footage. This exactly placed footage came from the 2016 ceremony.

Why did the BBC conceal what happened and insert replacement footage of something three years before? If you listen to their explanation, it was a ‘production error’. Doesn’t everyone carry around with them news footage of old events and in error cut them into modern film shot less than twenty-four hours previously?

We are being lied to. We are the mushrooms in the old joke, because the BBC kept us in the dark in a General election campaign, and when such a blatant and shambolic trick was exposed, so disrespected their audience that they threw shit into our eyes.

Is this ‘error’ the only ‘error’ the BBC have made? You don’t have to be a cynic to answer that one when the crudity is blatant.

Film 2019: They’re a Weird Mob


As the year and the run are fading out, this is the first half of the last double-header from my Powell/Pressburger box-set, and there couldn’t be a much greater contrast between this and next Sunday’s offering. For those who have been enjoying this weekend feature, acquisition of further DVDs has been going on all year, so there will be a Film 2020 for  couple of months.

They’re A Weird Mob is an Australian film, directed by Michael Powell, for which the screenplay was written by Emeric Pressburger, using the pseudonym Richard Imrie. The film came almost a decade after the formal split of the Archers, during which time Powell’s career in Britain had undergone a terminal decline  in the response to his controversial 1960 film, Peeping Tom. To contine his career, Powell had to leave the country, which saw him working Down Under.

The film is based fairly closely on the novel of the same name written by John O’Grady under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, the leading character. Both film and novel are classics in Australia, and the film is credited with revitalising the Australian Film Industry, paving the way for the Australian ‘New Wave’. Rights had been optioned by Gregory Peck as far back as 1959 but no workable screenplay could be produced.

This is the only film in this box-set that I had not previously watched, and I’m sorry to say that my instincts on this were right. If it weren’t for the fact that this is an Australian book/film/production/classic, I’d call it a nasty, cliched, condescending and cheap piece of crapthat makes me feel like apologising to Superman IV for thinking it the worst film in this entire run.

Italian actor Walter Chiari stars as the ‘eponymous’ Nino Culotta, an Italian sports writer who arrives in Sydney to work on La Segunda Madre, an Italian language magazine owned by his cousin Leonardo, only to discover that the magazine has folded and Leonardo has fled the country, owing nearly £1,000 to Kay Kelly (Clare Dunne), businesswoman daughter of bricklayer-turned-builder Harry Kelly. In order to pay Kay back, Nino becomes a bricklayer himself, leading eventually to their engagement.

That is, pretty well, all of the plot, though the film is fleshed out by Nino’s fish-out-of-water bafflement at Australian ways and, most heavily laden on, their slang. That was very much the point of O’Grady’s novel, but to say that it’s laid on with a trowel in the first half of the film is to understate it. It’s relentless, and to the audience outside Australia (which didn’t give a damn for the film) it’s as incomprehensible as it’s meant to be for Nino.

I found it more or less easy to follow, but then this wasn’t my first introduction to ‘Strine’. On the other hand, I’d already found myself prejudiced against the film, from its introduction, a tiresome piece of overripe cheese, that first pushed the Down Under idea literally, with footage shot upside down, and then started singing songs about Australia being a man’s country. And if you think that means the songs were putting over the notion that it was not a woman’s country, them my bloody oath, that’s dinkum, blue.

The longer the film goes on, the more it runs out of steam. It is very much a male movie, in which Kay is the only substantial female role, and she has to play against any feminine aspects for most of the picture. Judith Arthy (in her screen debutahead of a decade’s career in British TV) plays Dixie, Kay’s flirtatious friend, and Chiari’s wife Alida Chelli just scraped into the film as the glamorous Giuliana after it was decided she wouldn’t overshadow Claire Dunne (and to make sure of that she’s kept in a minor role and only given Italin to speak). As the female’s start to come more into the picture, the energy starts to drain out, and the film runs dry for the last three-quarters of an hour.

This bit is devoted mainly to the unconvincing romance between Nino and Kay. She starts off angry with him, over how she’s been conned, in a way that had me predicting they would end up in love, and indeed they do, but all that is is fulfillment of the cliche. The film cannot establish any grounds on which you start to believe that Kay has changed her mind or begun to care about Nino. He’s willing, polite, dedicated and determined to pay her back what is after all not his debt, but he doesn’t even start looking at her romantically until after she’s supposed to have started to take a fancy to him, and it never remotely feels real.

Even their own kiss is shot through the back of Chiari’s head, which draws attention to itself as indicating that the actor and actress don’t actually kiss. How can you believe in at after that?

So They’re a Weird Mob – the title is meant to refer to Australians in general – goes back into the box-set, never to be watched again. Frankly, I will watch Superman IV in preference to this. Next Sunday’s Film is a corrective I much need now.

Lou Grant: s03 e02 – Expose


A good woman doomed

Due to the nature of the story that introduced Lou Grant season 3 last week, it wasn’t really possible to bring in the new credits and theme music this year, without making an even more awkward segue than usual, but I can lead with that for this episode as the subject played a part in setting up the story.

Between seasons, the LA Trib has undergone an upgrade. Out have gone the typewriters, in have come the first computers, although they’re more likely to be word-processors, and not everyone is taking to them easily. As a consequence, the credit sequence has been completely reshot, with everybody playing the same role but from different angles, and different takes (all except Dennis ‘Animal’ Price, who has been given a more serious introduction, developing films in the dark room instead of goofing around with flashes). And the theme music has been reearranged to closer to the season 1 sound, elimination most but not quite all of that annoying guitar overlay.

I can bring this up because this upgrade helped spur one of the two stories this week that seemed to be of no relevance to each other, and which mde it hard to get an angle on which way the episode was going.

First in appearance was Rossi’s pursuit of Bonita Worth (Louise Troy), a very effective and down-to-earth County Supervisor with a substantial future ahead of her. Mrs Worth was straight-talking, a successful businesswoman, honest and open, in short a public asset. Rossi, constitutionally incapable of believing a public official can be all of those things, is worrying away looking for something that plainly didn’t exist. So Billie was brought in to interview Bonita, and produce a genuinely admiring piece. But in a cleverly unforced irony it was Billie who found Bonia’s achilles heel, her husband Mark (William Schallert).

Mark Worth ended up being the story, costing Bonita Worth her public career. Mark was a lush, a business failure, a racist and a fool. He was an albatross whose exposure in public and a drunk, and as openly unfaithful to his wife, left her te impossible choice of abandoning him and showing wifely disloyalty (a powerful thing, forty years ago) or abandoning her career. No wins either way: Bonita fell on her sword and resigned. A good public servant was lost.

You could look at Mark and find him a complete idiot, even despicable in some lights, and I wouldn’t argue with you. But Schallert took on a difficult role and, with the aid of some inspired scripting, rose to the challenge of making you see him in a different light. A clearly bombed Worth invades the Trib’s budget meeting to insult and carp at the way he has been made a public fool. It’s simultaneously embarrassing and painful, for Worth is a failure at all things, unable to do more than mouth empty threats, but worse, he is aware of this, and his bluster falls apart under his understanding of his own ineffectiveness, rage at the unfairness of being made a laughing stock in the Press and the unfirness of being unable to do anything aboout it. He ends in tears at his own humiliation, asking the question, “Why me? What did I ever do to you to pick on me?”

And the answer is the painful truth that everything written about him is true, but he is only news for how he may, and does, drag down the career of the woman he’s married to, a woman in a position of authority. The sexism inherent in this is alluded to but not rubbed in our faces, and could indeed have done with being a bit more openly expressed.

All this would have its parallel, in completely different form in the other half of the episode, which took a very long time to show its hand. It began with an argument between Lou and Mike Norvette (Richard Berstoff) over a line that wasn’t acceptable. Norvette was an asshole, seeing Lou as dictatorial, conservative, an obstacle to reporters like him, rewriting the rules, sticking opinions in unburdened by real facts. Lou was threatened by the every existence of Norvette, overturning every hidebound precept of his life and career.

So, when Mrs Pynchon was forced to trim staff to get the loan needed for all this new technology, Norvette was let go. He took it well. No, he didn’t, actually: the Norvettes of this world do not take anything like this as anything but personal, which it was in a way. Lou didn’t like him, but he fired him for not being a good enough reporter.

Which Norvette proved by immediately joined Pacific Magazine, a trashy, sensationlist magazine. We already knew about Pacific Magazine through the attractive, vivacious Barbara Benedict (Julie Cob), who thought Lou was ‘cute’, and had lunch with him, all attention and big eyes. The set-up led you to believe she was after a job at the Trib: it was a job alright but not the one you thought it was. The lovely Barbara was Rossi’s heavy date, she was having a meal with Donovan, had had a coffee with Charlie.

And everyone had talked, including Billie to Norvette, telling the stories you tell, the funny ones you share with colleagues. Except that the episode finally came into clear focus when everyone joined the dots of Barbara’s attentions and realised that Pacific Magazine was building up an expose on the Trib. When it arrived, everyone was in denial about saying what was quoted of them, and it took Animal too point out that they had said what they said, not as shaped here, in cold print. But the words were the same.

It took Mrs Pynchon to draw the two stories together. The hatchet job Pacific Magazine had done on the Trib was not far enough removed from what theTrib and others had done on Mark Worth. Lou and Charlie disagreed, and this viewer did too, but also saw the side of the coin that Mrs Pynchon was seeing: what was done to Mark Worth, hoever true, was going to bring down Bonita Worth, whose only crime was to have fallen in love with and married a weak man, years ago, and stayed loyal to him.

No, her crime was to be a woman in authority, and the show let you see that for yourself. It’s still not different enough forty years on. It would not take much adaptation to put that side of the episode into production in 2019. A superior episode with very strong guest performances.