Manchester


The guiding principle about blogging anything on this site is the belief – however misguided – that I have something to say about it that’s worth reading. Over twenty years ago, I didn’t learn about the IRA Bomb in Manchester until hours later, because I was in the Lakes, enjoying a brilliant day of fellwalking.

Because I didn’t read any news-sites last night, and because I’m not on any social media, I didn’t know about the Bomb at the Manchester Arena last night until I logged on this morning and found that one of my forums had titled today’s thread ‘Manchester’.

I don’t really have anything worthwhile to say. No insights or explanations, and this is not a day for smartarse remarks. We have been attacked, our kids and their families have attacked, and children have died and been seriously wounded. This is personal to all of us who live in Manchester. It is raw and hurtful.

But my fellow Mancunians have shown, in their responses, why these bastards will never win. People have come together, shown humanity, generosity and grace, to help those in need.

The bastards who can only hate and destroy, in the name of a God who, if he sanctions this, is unworthy of a second’s respect, cannot beat this, cannot beat us.

That is all I have to say.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e21 – The Muse


Linger on her pale blue eyes

For this week’s episode, we were back to the old format of two completely unrelated stories, alternating for screen time, with the episode as a whole being a budget-saving ‘bottle’ episode, confined solely to the station, with only three guest stars to pay.

Unfortunately, after the impressive run of recent episodes, I found neither half of the episode particular involving.

Given that the title was ‘The Muse’, you’d have thought that the half-episode featuring Jake Sisko and guest Meg Foster as Onaya, a mysterious woman acting as a creative consultant drawing out of the aspirant young writer the beginning of a brilliant novel, whilst mining him for cerebral energy to the point where it almost kills him, to be the A-story.

However, it was a pretty even balance between that and the mostly comic B-story, had Lwaxana Troi turning up unexpectedly, heavily up the duff, and wanting Odo’s protection from a Tavnian husband whose cultural background demands he seize a boy baby at birth, bring it up by and among men only and not let him even see his mother until he’s sixteen. To rescue Lwaxana, Odo has to marry her according to Tavnian custom, which means he has to convince her existing husband that he really does love her.

Both stories were somewhat slight, with the Odo/Lwaxana side being marginally the deeper (despite the above summary!). It was also the more significant in an offscreen sense, for this marked not only Majel Barratt’s final appearance as Lwaxana, but her final appearance in any live Star Trek series, after thirty-two years.

As the summary shows, this is mainly a comic tale, with Lwaxana erupting, yet again, into Odo’s orderly life. I found her description of her life with her Tavnian husband – married on the rebound from Odo – rather familiar: pre-marriage promises of a shared partnership followed by an immediate lapse into a determined stance that he wasn’t going to change and she’d have to accept his ways: someone I used to know had a marriage like that.

Odo’s ‘proposal’ turned upon an obscure provision of Tavnian law, which was that a boy baby belonged not to his father but to his mother’s husband, whoever he may be at the time of birth. And Tavnian divorce is brought about by marrying someone else (they obviously don’t have lawyers on their planet). But in order to marry Lwaxana, Odo has to explain exactly why his life isn’t worth living if she doesn’t accept him, and he has to be convincing because if anyone present – such as her existing husband – objects…

Which led to the story taking an unexpected turn into serious emotion, albeit fruitlessly, with Odo explaining just how much Lwaxana’s faith in him, her total lack of fear or, more importantly, revulsion at him being a Changeling, expanded his world. It’s real, true and wholehearted, and it convinces Jayel to back off, and to do so in an impressively dignified manner, accepting that Odo’s feelings were greater and more important than his own.

Odo then blew it by talking anullment the moment everybody else left the room, which rebounded with Lwaxana blowing out of DS9 for a final time, catching a fortunate freighter back to Betazed. Odo tries to get her to stay, but Lwaxana tells him she knows he doesn’t love her, not as she wants him to love her, and that to stay would only lead her to resent him for what he can’t give her, and to the destruction of their friendship, which is too important for her.

It’s a pity. The complex emotional relationship between this pair was something I would have liked to have seen explored, yet because Lwaxana had been created as an OTT comic role from the very start, it prevented her leaving that role for anything other than brief moments. Which made the kind of story that this episode set up impossible to produce. One of the perils of series television, especially when there are strict limits set to just how much a character can evolve.

So let’s turn to our notional A-story, Jake and the Muse. I’ve pretty much exhausted the actual content of this strand with the summary, and detail is a bit unnecessary, especially given that the episode preferred not to give any expository detail in the first place.

Jake is on the Promenade top deck, people-watching the new arrivals and making brief character sketches out of them, until he is drawn to an exotic woman with incredibly pale blue eyes, who looks back up at him. Subsequently, she joins him at Quark’s, attracts his attention by talking of past relationships with creators of all kind (who created fantastic things under her inspiration but who all died young-but-immortal, hint dropping like a stone into an empty tin bucket).

Onaya persuades Jake to come to her quarters (whilst his Dad is off-station for three days leave) so he can learn certain useful techniques. For unlocking his creativity, you sex-obsessed yahoo, though the episode does try to establish a certain sexual tension about the relationship, especially as Foster speaks in a slow husky voice throughout, and puts on her best allure for him.

That aspect falls more than flat because, though Foster is plainly a very attractive woman, and the alien make-up does its best to render her ageless, she’s equally plainly considerably older than Jake (Foster was 48 to Cirroc Lofton’s 17 when this episode was made) and in 1996 on a prime-time SF series, the audience knows it is not going to get a young-boy-seduced-by-predatory-older-woman story.

But Onaya isn’t interested in Jake’s body, only his mind, and in particular the creative energy it generates. Throwing away his pre-iPad, she hands him a fountain pen and a ream of rather thin and flimsy looking white paper, on which he immediately starts writing, in a flowing, cursive hand that looks completely incongruous.

Jake writes on, whilst Onaya massages his temples, drawing forth as she does some ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, which she shoves into her own throat. The longer Jake writes, the more of it she steals and eats, and the more his brain starts to overheat, literally. In the end, after a bit of panicky search-the-station drama, thrown in just to give us something like action, Sisko threatens to shoot her ass off and Onaya turns into a rather larger patch of ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, and passes through the wall and off into space.

Leaving behind several questions the show has no intention, such as, who was she, what was she, was she real, can Jake’s creativity ever recover, wouldn’t it have been better and less pretentious if he’d just got his rocks off and why, if she can turn herself into ethereal, golden floaty-stuff, did she need a spaceship to get here in the first place?

In a different context, it would be acceptable to see Onaya for what she essentially is, a version of the Irish Leannan Sidhe (various spellings available), faerie creatures that inspire writers etc for brief periods, sustaining themselves on the poet’s energy but burning them out rapidly. But the tone is wrong: the Leannan Sidhe are creatures of faerie, resonant myth-forms, and cannot be captured by turning them into aliens and putting them into an SF Universe populated by cold hard fact. Ursula le Guin attempted something similar in her first novel, Rocannon’s World, and admitted her mistake quite openly.

The closest we get to having any of these questions answered is the final shot, as Jake entitles his draft ‘Anselm’, which anyone paying attention to every last little detail, will recall was future-Jake’s massively successful novel in episode 2 of this season. Jake the genius writer, we are assured, has not been damaged. Martin, the not-genius writer, who remembers his own ‘career’, remains unconvinced at the thought of a 17 year old boy being that bloody brilliant.

I’m hoping for better next week.

Uncollected Thoughts: Twin Peaks s03 episode 1


I’ve come to this cold. No re-watching of the original two series, of Fire Walk With Me, I’m going in trusting only in my memories. Because these are vivid memories, because Twin Peaks was vivid, and lurid, and that ending was one of, if not the most horrifying experiences I have ever had with any kind of creative form, because it was the end but it wasn’t the end, it was a cliffhanger of Himalayan proportions and I sat there stunned. Special Agent Dale Cooper had gone into the Black Lodge to rescue Annie, and he had got her out, only he wasn’t he, he was Bob, Killer Bob, and the real Cooper was imprisoned behind.

No series has ever ended so awfully as that, so unbearably incomplete. Even though season 2 had dipped so badly throughout its middle episodes, it had come back with a vengeance with the introduction of Windom Earle, a truly terrifying performance by Kenneth Welsh. And that final episode had been one of the most intense television episodes I have ever seen, rivaling the last episode of The Prisoner.

Unbelievably, it’s back. And this is the first episode, consisting of parts 1 and 2 of an eighteen part series that has been described as an eighteen hour film. Well, bring it on! I am as insulated against trailers and spoilers and even promo photos as it is possible to be in this age and I am coming to this with clean hands and composure (as the writer Harlan Ellison is wont to say) and…

Indeed, and.

I’ve already read one review that suggests season 3 will piss off cult fans and newbies alike, with which I profoundly disagree. This is an eighteen hour film and I am getting pissed off at reviewers who expect to have the complete structure and purpose laid out for them in episode 1. This is supposed to be the age of the long-term project, the viewer willing and eager to commit to long series in which secrets and objectives and purposes are only revealed slowly, and in the meantime commit to working out the puzzle in their own heads, as they go along. It was the same for American Gods only three weeks ago, and it was stupid then.

But David Lynch and Mark Frost have gone far out on a limb with this opening episode (as indeed they should: Twin Peaks wasn’t just ahead of the curve in 1990-91, it was the curve and for it to come back exactly the same as before would be to gut it and remove any point to the return). For one thing, at a rough guess, less than twenty percent of the episode takes place in Twin Peaks, or even Washington State, and only a handful of our old friends have put in an appearance, and even then as cameos.

Strange things are happening, but mostly they’re happening elsewhere. In New York City a young man watches an empty glass case, under constant filming from three angles, during which time nothing happens, until he makes out with his girl, at which point something… something… emerges and seems to beat them to a pulp. Later, we see something significant happen when they were both out of the room.

In South Dakota, a murder is investigated, a woman’s mutilated head and a man’s mutilated body in the same bed. The murderer is a School Principal, but there’s a tangle of adulteries behind this. It’s very low-key, slow, undemonstrative, exceedingly normal and except for the brutality of the murder(s). But it’s been ‘organised’ by a shadowy background figure.

Who also pops up in Las Vegas, seeking information of an undisclosed kind, and dealing unmercifully with betrayal by the white trash he has assisting him. He’s due to keep an appointment tomorrow, except he’s no intention of meeting it. It’s been twenty-five years and now he’s supposed to go back, only he has no intention of returning to the Black Lodge.

Because the constant figure is Special Agent Dale Cooper, whether he is the real one, still trapped in the Black Lodge (from where he is to finally be released, once his doppelganger comes back) or he is the doppelganger, following some twisted course in the real world.

Something is being set up, and the whole fucking point of Twin Peaks in the first place is that you don’t go expecting the answers to be dropped in your lap, tied up with pretty pink ribbon. Lynch and Frost take things slowly – just as they always did – but there’s obviously a thread linking things together. Cooper’s coming back. The Log Lady, or at least her log (a fine, vulnerable, final performance by a clearly weak Catherine Coulson, sadly gone before this appears) knows it. Deputy Hawk understands some of it: he has come to Glastonbury Grove in the night and even though the real Cooper can’t leave before his doppelganger returns, the Black Lodge is losing its power.

And we see little vignettes with old faces, ending in the bar, as a band I’d never heard of called Chromatics replace Julee Cruise with a fine song I promptly downloaded, and people talk and drink and dance, and a near shaven-headed James looks across at a gaggle of women, one of whom is Shelley…

It’s back. Whether it can provide the resolutions we want after twenty-six years, we will have to wait until the end. I’m here for the duration, good, bad or indifferent. It’s like Alan Garner’s Boneland, the unexpected, much-delayed, radically different end of the trilogy. If Twin Peaks does as much to disturb the previous two parts as Garner did then, it will be a triumph.

 

A Severe Test of Patience: Manchester United 2016/2017


I know there’s still another game to go – and, boy oh boy, have I never felt so uninvolved about United being in a Final before – but today’s final League game felt like the long-awaited and much-wanted end of the season for me. We might have won a trophy and we may win another, to give us a complete set of all the trophies it’s possible for an English club to win, but the 2016/2017 season has severely tested my patience with Manchester United.

What is it now? Nearly forty years since I came out for the Red Devils. I endured Dave Sexton, I was up and down with Ron Atkinson, I was impatient with Alex Ferguson until the Resurrection Title, and after that came those impossibly long years of dominance, of being the best, of being *MANCHESTER UNITED*, including that night in Barcelona. I was faithful to Moyes until almost the bitter end, and I screamed and yelled and was utterly frustrated by van Gaal, yet was disgusted at the timing of his sacking and replacing with Jose Mourinho, before we’d even collected the FA Cup.

Jose Mourinho, eh? The one man I never wanted to see managing at Old Trafford and the man who sits in the Manager’s Chair, and guess what? He’s been exactly the dick I expected him to be, and more, publicly attacking players in the exact opposite of the Ferguson way, all but destroying Luke Shaw, mismanaging Anthony Martial and buggering up Marcus Rashford for such a long time.

Mourinho puts up a barrier between me and my team, loosens the ties. I’ve missed more matches this season than since the end of the Eighties, several because I work shifts that keep me in work until 9.00pm, four nights a week, but far too many due to indifference at the way Mourinho has United playing.

We are still too slow, of thought as well as of pace, and we spend too much time passing backwards and sideways, and we still play as if we have no idea how to get past a defence, and even less confidence at trying to go forward. Wednesday night’s game against Southampton was the perfect example: we were abject and dull. With the youngsters in the side this afternoon, we looked tons better, and Josh Harrop’s opening goal is one of not much more than a dozen that I’ve greeted with an open yell of delight. And even then we faded in the second half, albeit whilst staying in command.

It’s not like we can’t do it. The win over Chelsea was the only time this season we’ve looked like United, Manchester United, the team we all in our souls want us to be. But most of the time it’s been tedious and unenjoyable. I feel like asking those fans who welcomed Mourinho if this is what they really wanted? Do they really want this unending miserable negativity that Mourinho spreads relentlessly? Complaining about having to play Premier League games after qualifying for the Europa League Final? What the fuck do you think the Premier League is? Can clubs just decide not to bother playing games if the fancy tales them? You might as well complain that it rains too often: this is Manchester, what do you EXPECT?!

I am so glad this season is over, and I can stop thinking about United, and I don’t have to groan despairingly as we give away another lead to end up with another draw, because we started backpedalling with fifteen minutes to go, ‘holding on to our lead’, like how many times has that blown up in our faces? We used to be the Club that played until the 96th minute, now we’re lucky to get to the 80th with a semblance of effort.

Ground down, that’s what I am. Football is supposed to excite you, to involve you, to awe you and thrill you. You’re supposed to watch the clock because you’re eking out a one-goal lead in a tight match, not because you’re bored to death and just want it to end, please.

And I think that the last few games, when Wayne Rooney has had a run of matches because that enables the resting of players who we do want to see play has proved my point. Have you ever seen so many instances of a player buggering up moves, losing the ball consistently, taking it backwards, slowing things down and constantly slinging forty yard passes out to the wing, because that’s the only thing he can still do correctly?

I shouldn’t be thinking that, because he has done some truly dazzling things for us, and he is our highest ever scorer, though I will go to my grave still insisting that Sir Bobby Charlton is a far more worthy holder of that honour. But if that was his last game at Old Trafford today, I won’t weep any tears. I won’t be nostalgic for him, like Eric, or Keano, or the little Scholesy Man, and I will be glad to see a different name occupy the number 10 shirt next season.

Which can bloody well take its time in arriving, thank you very much. I won’t be storing this one in my memories.

Under a Solitary Tree: Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club – Not Scarlet But Gold


I’ve managed to keep my expenditure down in reacquiring the Lone Pine books, not having spent more than a few pounds at a time through eBay (mostly) and Amazon, but Not Scarlet But Gold has been one of two exceptions.
This is because I wanted a specific edition, or rather a specific cover, the original cover that I vividly remember from the hardback edition I borrowed from the library, to take away with me and read one mid-Sixties holiday to the Lake District, when we were still staying at Low Bleansley.
For all this time, since first we met her, Peter has worn her hair in two plaits. We’ve been warned more than once that she’s turning into a beautiful young woman. Now for this book, she has let her hair down, adopted a style more appropriate to both the Sixties and her age, and we are forewarned of this by the cover. Forget the setting, forget David in the background, this is a painting of a lovely girl, with red lips and roses in her cheeks, and the purple sweater she is wearing swells out in front of her becomingly. The cover alerts us, before even we read Saville’s foreword that tells us the Lone Piners will at last grow up, before Johann Schmidt openly expresses to Peter that he fancies her, that things have changed.
I remembered that cover, I was not unaffected by it. I had a crush on a girl at school who was blonde-haired and had rosy cheeks and who I no doubt conflated with Peter. For this book, I had to have the right cover, and if that meant paying a higher price, sobeit.
The book comes from Girls Gone By Publishing, a small house specialising in old children’s stories, long out of print, that are very expensive to purchase. The publishers aim to reproduce the most accurate first edition version, accompanied with editorial material about both book and author, which I found invaluable.
Not Scarlet But Gold represents a sea-change in the series, a point from which it alters irrevocably. Though it was published in 1962, I don’t remember reading it until a few years later, and I associate it with the mid-Sixties rather than its actual time of publication.
For nearly twenty years, the Lone Piners had been having adventures whilst remaining the same age. Indeed, as early as The Secret of Grey Walls, Saville was explaining that his readers had asked that their favourite characters should not age, and as late as Sea Witch Comes Home he was still confirming that they would remain the ages that they had settled into (subject to those mysterious fluxes from book to book: Tom suddenly becomes older than David for this fourteenth story!)
Now, Saville made it plain in his foreword that, whilst the Lone Piners were to remain their fixed ages to satisfy some of his readers, he agreed with others that they – or David and Peter at any rate – should begin to behave as young adults of the Sixties, to grow up, and most of all to recognise the obligations they had to one another.
Though there’s a villain or two, and a Treasure Hunt, and a dangerous conclusion, this is not any Lone Pine book we have read before, far from it. Such things are McGuffins, catalysts for what is the only story, which is how the Captain and the Vice-Captain finally admit to each other what has long been obvious, what they tacitly established at the end of The Neglected Mountain. But there’s a lot of teenage dissonance and awkwardness and very nearly utter disaster to go through.
Saville, as in recent books, begins his story with the villain, one Johann Schmidt, in Hamburg, who will shortly represent himself as John Smith. Johann’s father died in the War, before Johann knew him: his mother died three years earlier and he has looked after himself since in conditions of secrecy that plainly suggest he’s not all that honest. He’s very handsome, arrogant and unfeeling, and has just turned eighteen. He’s about to learn from his only remaining relative, his uncle Hans, that his father left behind a letter, before going on the wartime mission to England during which he died, to be given to Johann on his eighteenth birthday.
Though he behaves foully to his uncle, and foully later on, Saville has already implanted the seeds of Johann’s redemption. He is what he is through circumstance, a boy without a father, without a mother, who has been made to be the self-centred aggressor he is. Though on the surface, he’s black, before we even see how he acts to the Lone Piners, we understand that grey is mixed into the picture. Already, Saville is moving beyond the formula that has suited his children readers for nearly twenty years.
And this is to be a book of altered, and sometimes broken expectations. From Johan, we move to Peter. Much of the book is seen through her eyes, or those of Jenny, whose main concern for once is not Tom but rather her friend (this is a very feminine book, with none of the boys allowed any time as our eyes: even Harriet, becoming an official Lone Piner at last, becomes our focus when the exigencies of the story demand another viewpoint).
Saville’s first upheaval has already happened, two of them, before we meet Peter, on Sally, heading for Seven Gates and the Lone Pine camp. For some time, Saville has been telling us that one day soon people are going to look at Peter and realise that she is a very beautiful girl, and that day is now. Rain will force her under shelter, bring her into contact with ‘John Smith’, hiker and student, looking for a guide to the Shropshire mountains, and openly approving of the blonde girl he thinks is more than a schoolgirl.
And Peter, unsettled horribly by the news that her father has to retire, to leave Hatchholt, to go to live with his brother in Hereford, far away from these lonely hills she loves, compounded by the fact that David Morton hasn’t thanked her for the Xmas present chosen with loving care, and has arranged the holiday through Jenny Harman, asking her to retrieve the Club documents from above Witchend, Peter responds as would any teenage girl to a lean, handsome man who openly regards her as an attractive woman, not girl.
Even though she has already made it plain to us that, one day soon, she’s not going to be interested in any man other than David Morton, Peter’s hormones fizz. (So have Jenny’s, when ‘John Smith’ came into the shop). It’s all that’s needed to make the reunion with David, and by extension everybody else, even more awkward than it could have been. Both of them are simmering with how unfair the other’s been, Peter doesn’t want anything said about Hatchholt, Jenny’s upset about her friend, Harriet isn’t sure the distracted Jenny approves of her being a Lone Piner: the holiday gets off to a lousy start and it’s downhill from there.
Jenny’s completely open about things: the Club exists because of David and Peter, and they’ve obviously got to get married (at which point I wondered if she’d produce a shotgun!) and despite the awkwardness between the two girls, she enlists Harriet.
‘John’ turns up at the farm, angling for a bed for the night, obviously trying to separate Peter from her friends. Charles Sterling, worried about a sacked lout who’s been threatening his wife Trudie, throws him off, but Peter allows him to stay. In the night, the haybarn is fired, by the cheap layabout bully, Jem Clark, who becomes ‘John’s sidekick when it transpires that Jem’s mother Kate  was the last to see Johann’s father alive, and that she has the only, completely baffling clue to the Treasure’s hiding place: Not Scarlet But Gold.
This isn’t a Treasure Hunt as the Lone Piners know it, no matter how Jenny and the Twins try to make it into one. The Treasure isn’t diamonds, and its discovery won’t make life better for anyone, and the Lone Piners aren’t racing against professional crooks acting out of naked greed. Instead, it’s money, £300.00 in potentially counterfeit English banknotes, meant to be used as bribes for Wartime traitors to sabotage their country, and the person they’re racing is the one with the most apparent right to it.
And everyone’s taking stupid risks, going off alone, riling up Charles (and David and Peter) with their irresponsibility, and their refusal to obey orders, to the point that the younger ones put themselves not only in danger of real physical harm from two young thugs, but of Charles refusing to have them at Seven Gates again.
Harriet, who really should have had more chances to appear than she ultimately did, becomes something of a moral conscience. She is the one most unhappy about the course they’re on, the one most disgusted by the Treasure itself, and the one most keenly aware of the damage being done to all of them in this sticky, awkward venture.
Because though things between David and Peter slowly begin to ease, once she’s worked her way through the combination of her hormonal reaction to handsome John, her instinctive sympathy for an underdog no-one else likes, and her embarrassed refusal to allow herself to agree with everyone’s condemnation of him, until she must. And David, embarrassed by his growing sense that pride is making him behave like a fool, his estrangement from his very best friend and his fear of a rival, nevertheless refuses to be left behind, in a way that will foreshadow Peter’s refusal to be left behind.
‘John’ and Jem have established a camp in the Greystone Dingle mineworkings. Jenny leads a stupid and risky approach by the younger members that finds them. Her reward is to be sent to Shrewsbury, with Harry and the Twins, to buy maps. It’s meant to get them put of the way whilst David, with Peter as lookout, checks the mines to see if ‘John’ is still there. It is the beginning of an extraordinary sequence, perhaps the best in all the books.
But first, there are adventures in Shrewsbury. Jenny sees the upset and bullied Kate Clark, impulsively follows her, is trapped in a back street house when the weakling bully Jem comes home, and is set upon by him. Unbeknownst to her, Harriet and the Twins have followed her, coincidentally bumping into Tom Ingles en route (some very weak plotting there) and dragging him in. When Jem hurts Jenny, Tom knocks him down, realising as he does in that instant that Jenny means to him what he has always meant to her, but he’s horrified at the sloppy and dangerous things everyone’s been doing, and that David has been letting this happen.


Uncle Alf lets him go back to Seven Gates, but soon follows himself, to talk with Charles. David and Peter are missing: they have gone up Greystone Dingle and into the mines. But the rain has been falling, almost as badly as in Lone Pine Five. There is a threat, a serious danger. The Twins cannot go, a threat which devastates them, not out of their usual self-importance and irritating manners, but because this is their brother David, and Peter, who they love and who is as much family to them, and they cannot bear what they will imagine if they cannot see. They are allowed tp follow.
Because David and Peter have gone into the mountain. Things are still not right with them. David wants Peter to act as look-out outside, because he is afraid for her at the hands of their two cruel enemies. Peter lets him believe she will accede just to get them to Greystone without more quarrels, but there is no way she will leave his side. Though things aren’t right, though they can’t begin to explain to each other what they need to until this is over, she has never left his side before and she won’t now: they go together.
And they go into the mountainside together, where Peter once broke her ankle saving David and Mary and he protected her without thought for himself. There are new passageways to follow, a rockfall to scramble over, after which a further fall traps them under the mountain. ‘John’ is ahead, breaking into a chamber where he believes the treasure to lie. He’s obsessed now, maddened. They’re all caught underground. There is no way out. Outside, as Charles and Alf Ingles make a careful way up the Dingle, Tom and the rest a safe distance behind, the underground water breaks through the surface again, landslip and upheaval. ‘John’ makes a crazed attack on a roof support, looking for a way out, but his knife turns and cuts his wrist. Alone in the dark, facing death, Peter’s only regret is that she was not alone with just David, as she tells him that she has loved him since that day she first saw when when she was on Sally.
And above, it all goes crazy, as the ground caves in and Peter appears above ground, calling for help because David is buried, and the terrified Twins face the horror, with Mary’s face buried in Jenny’s arms, sobbing and unable to look, and Dickie more afraid than he’s ever been and the worse for not being able to cry, until Harriet, that calm, quiet girl that I’d completely forgotten, thinking her pallid and characterless, but who is so strong and true a personality, leading him to describe what he sees to his Twin, as Charles, Alf and Tom scramble to a rescue that gets not only David out alive, but also ‘John’.
And Jenny, in the midst of this, sees the holly tree whose berries are yellow not red and solves the clue: Not Scarlet But Gold.
In the morning, she leads everyone bar the sleeping David and Peter back to Greystone to find the Treasure itself, though she’s the only one with any genuine interest in the solution: not even Johann, remade by his experience, wants it now. He will go back to Hamburg, make his peace with his Uncle, remake his life, having gained from his experience with these so-called children and especially the two who saved his life.
As for these two, the time has come for reconciliation, and more. David takes Peter for a walk in the woods, alone. Trudie has told him about Hatchholt and he is aghast. He loved the wallet she sent him, but sent his letter of thanks to Hatchholt, not her school, and was too stupid and proud to retract. And then he kisses her. And again.
Peter has already told him that she loves him. And David, who is soon to leave school, and doesn’t want to disappoint his father’s wishes that he go to Oxford, has grown up overnight. Between the danger and the genuine fear of losing Peter, he has moved on with her. Wisely, Saville doesn’t go into details between the pair. Instead, there a couple of lines that went into the head and heart of a young boy a long way from romance, and which stayed there for over fifty years: “There was nothing new in what they said to each other. Nothing new in the way they mended a quarrel and nothing new in the promises they made.”
Doubtless there were more than just two kisses, but we were left to insert the words we would have used, even those of us too young to know any such words. It was quiet, and calm, as it should be in the wake of what was so nearly tragedy, and the two young lovers had earned the right not to be watched over.
I had never read anything like that before, not in a children’s adventure series, but as has been obvious throughout, the Lone Pine books, without being in the least bit sissy or soppy, were built upon the strong relationships between the boys and girls, whose feelings so clearly ran deeper than the exhortation to be true to each other always, whatever happened.
Of course, Not Scarlet But Gold was not flawless, and I’ll be speaking to that in a moment. But it was the book out of all of the series that I most wanted to re-read, and it is the first of those I have re-read so far that I have wanted to read again, very quickly. It is the book that has most involved me, and whilst I haven’t yet decided what to do with the series when I’m done, I will be keeping this book, come what may.
The biggest flaw is, of course, the flow of time, and Saville himself recognises this, ruefully but helplessly, in his introduction. The Lone Pine Club was formed during the War, and their first adventure was to bring down German saboteurs. Now, their ‘adversary’ is the son of a German saboteur older than they are, and Jenny Harman, whose first adventure with the Club is resolved by the discovery of American soldiers on manoeuvres, has to ask Alf Ingles what it was like ‘then’.
However you approach it, this is a circle that cannot be squared, and to accept it, one’s Disbelief has not so much got to be Suspended as locked away, no doubt in an abandoned cottage, from which, with the resourcefulness of a Lone Piner, it will eventually break free. Or else be released by Tom Ingles happening to walk down the same street…
That really is a poor piece of writing. It happens out of necessity, and it leads to a moment that is in keeping with the book’s major preoccupation, as Tom looks at Jenny, who has been hurt by the bully, Jem Clark, and understands just how important she is to him (a moment I can recognise: years later, I had a similar realisation  when someone started crying over the phone, hundreds of miles away). But it needn’t have involved much effort to reduce the coincidence by having the pursuit pass somewhere where Tom might have been expected to be found if he were in Shrewsbury at that time.
And Jem Clark really is one of Saville’s weakest creations. He’s a cliché from motorcycle helmet to motorcycle boots, weak, lazy, stupid but paper-thin. Saville doesn’t have much time for the ‘modern’ teenager, whose instinct is towards city not country, and makes no attempt to inject any realism into these all-purpose nuisances. Which might be tolerable if it weren’t for the cliched threats, the lack of any realism, the need to talk like a cheap Hollywood hoodlum from thirty years before and the constant ‘She knows too much. She’s got to stay’.
Irritating though such things are, it’s because the rest of the book is so good, so emotional that I pick these up. They’re par for the course, cartoons for a generally unsophisticated audience, the bits that have worn least well.
I’d like to once again praise Harriet Sparrow, to whom my memories have done a great disservice. She may be the new girl, and she may feel uncertain about Jenny, but she has no doubts about herself, and doesn’t allow her inexperience to deflect her from trying to affect what is going on. Her age puts her outside the level of the seniors and the emphasis on their relationships, but she has none of the irritation factor of the Twins. And it’s heartening to see how quickly and openly everybody accepts her: if she’s with the Lone Piners, she must by definition be worthwhile.
Not Scarlet But Gold took Saville and the Lone Piners into a new phase, and one that was, in the long run, unsustainable, irrespective of Saville’s growing inability to understand the modern world. Having paired David and Peter, formally, at long last, having admitted love in replacement for friendship into the Lone Pine series, he had left himself little room for manoeuvre.
The editorial material in the GGB edition strongly suggests that Saville intended for this to be the last Lone Pine Club book, and in many ways it would have been a fitting ending to the series. He had been a professional writer for nearly twenty years. The Lone Pine Club was just one of several series he had written, four of which had already had their final books appear: a fifth had been in abeyance for eight years but would shortly be revived, and he was soon to start another, slightly older series. Perhaps it was time to bring the Lone Pine to an end? Peter herself, in the early pages here, asks, “…why the best things don’t always stay the same?”
But in one sense it would have been completely wrong to have stopped here: David and Peter may have at last declared to each other the feelings we had known about for a very long time, but there were two other couples whose long term relationships would have been left hanging if Saville had intended or been allowed to lay down his pen.
Apparently, Saville was ‘persuaded’ to continue the series. Six more books would follow, in the next sixteen years. The first two of these would resolve matters for Jon and Penny, and Tom and Jenny respectively, but there would still be four more Lone Pine books after that. Not all of these would be worth it.

We never have sex…


The year I moved to Nottingham, to start my Articles, Woody Allen released his first masterpiece, Annie Hall. Co-starring Diane Keaton in the title role, critics all over hailed the film as the first complete integration of Allen’s comedic style with a consistent and coherent story.
I went to see it, a few weeks into my life in Nottingham. I think it was the first Woody Allen film I’d seen at all. It was followed by a number of re-releases in the cinema, in double-bills, each of which I watched, though I had to wait for Take the Money and Run and Play it Again, Sam on TV.
Despite the critics’ approbation, I didn’t find Annie Hall particularly funny. Indeed, given the expectations built up, it was actually disappointing, and his older films were much funnier (I had near hysterics at the opening shot of Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) when it dissolved from a pure white screen into a couple of dozen white rabbits hopping around.)
Time passed, as it does. That long ago, given that three years had to elapse before feature films could be shown on television and that videos were still a pipe dream by a man whose wife was typing up my files for me (didn’t know that until some years later), it was common for popular films to get a second release about six months later, and thus Annie Hall came round again in the November of 1978, and I watched it again.
The circumstances were unusual. I was back in Manchester for the weekend, to watch Droylsden in the FA Cup First Round proper, drawn away to Rochdale. The Bloods won the match and I came out of the ground feeling like I could run all the way back to Manchester, though practicality reasserted itself and I took the bus instead.
Back in the City Centre about six o’clock, I didn’t feel like just heading back for a quiet evening in so, being on my own, I decided to stop off for a film. There was nothing current that appealed to me, but Annie Hall was back, and I knew I could at least sit through it, so I bought myself a ticket.
This time round, I loved it.
What was the difference? Some of it was that I was in an elevated mood to start with, but most of it was that I understood it all this time. Between April and November, I had fallen in love.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. My first love had been a half decade earlier, when I had been 17: naive, immature, inexperienced, terrified of making mistakes and making the fundamental mistake of doing nothing out of fear. I had denied it to myself for years, trying to wipe the embarrassment from my memory.
And then I’d fallen in love again, equally unrequitedly, though this time it was due to external factors. But I was in love, enough so that I had been able to relax myself, to admit that my earlier feelings had been genuine and not some kind of dismissible puppy love (the amount of emotional energy I’d been using to repress that had been incredible, and I felt literally transformed by accepting the truth).
And watching Annie Hall whilst being in love, whilst having experienced those feelings, made the whole film understandable, gave me insight that opened up both story and jokes, made me laugh where previously ignorance had kept me silent.
The film is about the relationship between comedian Alvy (Allen) and the eponymous Annie (Keaton), who were then a real-life couple. It covers the beginning, the middle and the slow but inevitable end, when she goes off with Paul Simon. From the point of view of an unrequited lover, whose inamorata wasn’t interested in him as anything but a friend, there may have been nuances of which I wasn’t aware, but at the time I felt like I got pretty much everything, right down the middle.
And, with the exception of the serious one that nobody likes (not even the aliens in it) I was a regular for Woody Allen’s films in the cinema for most of the next decade. My last one was The Purple Rose of Cairo in respect of which I remember most the sober and serious atmosphere of the first twenty minutes or so of the film, until Jeff Bridges turns away from the plot of the film in the Depression-era cinema and speaks directly to Mia Farrow, in the audience, saying that she sure must love this film she’s always watching it. And he walks out of the screen and the cinema I was in erupted in a glorious gale of laughter which the film sustained from that point on.
Allen’s next film after this was the new one to be acclaimed his absolute masterpiece, Hannah and Her Sisters. For reasons I can’t recall, I didn’t fancy this one, and didn’t go to the cinema to see it. I have never seen a Woody Allen film in the cinema since, and when I did see Hannah on TV, I was by no means impressed by it. It fell even flatter with me than did Annie Hall, first time.
I haven’t seen any Woody Allen film, in any format, for a long time. Annie Hall belongs to my long ago novel in more ways than just the relationship inspiring understanding. I downloaded the film last year, but circumstances have prevented me from watching it until now.
Two scenes in particular stood out in my memory. One is the split screen scene that gives this post its title: Alvy and Annie’s relationship is slowly but certainly stumbling towards its conclusion and the mean time, each one is discussing the matter with their therapist. Alvy complains that they never have sex: three times a week. Annie complains that they are always having sex: three times a week. I have never actually had this as a direct problem (this is not a boast, just a reflection on incredible good luck) but the joke is simple but incredibly deep.
The other scene holds even more meaning for me.
Alvy and Annie have their final conversation as a couple, things slowly going wrong, the two heading in different directions even as they speak. The film goes on, showing Alvy not taking it very well. Suddenly, the scene switches to an artificial setting, two younger people, each superficially resembling younger Alvy and Annie. They speak the same dialogue as the early part of the scene we’ve just watched, a little stiffly, a little awkwardly. But, at the crucial instance, where the breach happens, ‘Annie’s dialogue changes. She gives in to him, does what he wants, preserves the relationship.
Before this, we know that we’re in a rehearsal room, that Alvy is sat over to one side, watching this performance, that it’s a play he’s written. Breaking the fourth wall, as he often does in this film, he addresses the audience, candidly confessing that he obviously wasn’t too proud to make things work in art where they didn’t work in real life.
But the real sting is that, from the moment the conversation goes in the ‘right’ direction, it ceases to be convincing, to be real or natural in any way. We don’t need to have seen the original to instantly realise that, from the moment Alvy forces his ‘Annie’ surrogate to respond against her natural instincts, she ceases to function as a believable person. For me, it’s the most impressive moment in the film, indeed in Woody Allen’s film career.
I’d like to credit Allen with all the layers I discern in that scene. There are many critics who, especially in later films, would argue strenuously that it was not intentional, but then that was the great thing about Woody Allen in those years. To me it was fully understood, inside and out, and it’s a lesson I took to heart.
When I came to write The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel, years later but dealing with the feelings that affected me when I saw Annie Hall that second time, I was too proud. I could have made things work for my character Steve, could have awarded him his Lesley in return for his being in love with her, but that’s not what happened.
Lesley wasn’t the woman I fell for but she was close enough in enough ways for it to matter inside, and it would have been false to have concluded the novel in any way different to how life had concluded things. I learned that from Woody Allen, which is why I hold Annie Hall in high esteem, even if I haven’t watched it in easily twenty years, or maybe more.
Rewatching the film after twenty years or however long it’s been, halfway back to when it was made, I only laughed occasionally, like the first time. Some of it is impossible not to laugh at: I knew it was coming but the sneezing the coke bit still had me roaring out loud. The scenes I’ve outlined above weren’t quite as I remembered them, but their essence was intact in my head.
But this time round, though I recognised the love in the relationship, how Allen made Alvy and Annie into a pair that you could understand loving each other’s presence, what I was most aware of was the incompatibility, the mismatch of this two that was always going to last longer than the things that brought them together. I’ve just had too much experience of seeing that to remain unaware.
In a way, it makes the film even greater, that Allen can show these two opposing forces blended into one relationship, so smoothly, that he can illustrate how great it is to be together with the only one you want to share things with, but that the places where the wavelength is not right, does not mesh, are the places that will endure. The sand and the rocks make an idyllic beach, but when the wide comes in, it’s not the rocks that wash out.
And I think, in a world where I have become sometimes unbearably negative that I no longer find Alvy’s negativity, Allen’s negativity towards everything to be as funny as I used to find it. They couldn’t have stayed that way, the targets in this film have been swept away by those forty years, the argument rendered invalid by time, but I’m only too aware of the utter self-centredness of Alvy’s running commentary, the ego that stipulates that only what I approve is worthwhile.
It’s still Diane Keaton’s film, though. It’s a wonderful performance, in every respect, and Annie Hall rightly made her a star. And she was ideal: an attractive woman who wasn’t unbelievably, film-star gorgeous. You believed that you could meet Annies playing tennis, and that they could fall for you. And you can get incredibly sad at the distance that grows between people when they stop being in love with each other. Which is worse, loathing or indifference? The final scene makes me think it’s the latter.
In the end, it comes back to that scene, when Alvy rewrites what wasn’t perfect for his own benefit and it doesn’t work. I’m working on the second draft now, having realised so many things that lie under the surface. I could make a plausible case, in psychological terms, for giving ‘myself’ more than I had, but I’d still know that it was wish-fulfilment. And wish-fulfilment doesn’t work: Woody Allen taught me that forty years ago, one November Saturday when I was young.

The Prisoner: Other Media – The Prisoner’s Dilemma


Several years ago, when I did my series about Patrick McGoohan’s landmark TV series, The Prisoner, I wrote about attempts to portray Number 6 in other media. I mentioned, in passing because I hadn’t then read it, a 2005 novel, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, written by Jonathan Blum and Rupert Booth and published by Powys Media, and intended to the the first of a series of new stories about everybody’s favourite Village.

Time has passed. The series never materialised. The anticipated book two, The Outsider by Lance Parkin, never appeared. Powys Media’s website list book three, Miss Freedom, written by Andrew Cartmel but not how to get it. Google turns up some mixed reviews of this, at GoodReads and Google Books, but a search of eBay, Amazon and BookFinder turns up no copies, and whilst Biblio.com lists a signed and numbered copy of the book, it is out of stock.

A mystery worthy of the series, perhaps?

Nevertheless, I had acquired and read a copy of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it’s time to supplement the series with a few words about it.

On balance, the book is worthy of its good reputation. It’s plot is complex and well-managed, springing from a single, ingenious action that involved Number 6 with Number 18, a tense, troubled young woman who is, in a completely different fashion, every bit as much a rebel against the Village as he is. The story starts with Number 6 on his ceaseless mission to monitor the Village’s ever-developing  surveillance for blind and deaf spots, when he is almost witness to Number 18 murdering a man: her Observer, it transpires, but also someone who has been sexually abusing her for some time.

This trigger’s Number Six’s chivalrous instincts, as do similar but less serious situations in the series, but it also triggers the classic impasse that forms the title of the book, and its underlying theme. Two prisoners are held in separate custody, facing common charges: do they trust each other in order to prevail against their captors, or race each other to sell out and shift the blame onto the other? Trust only works if both come to the same decision, but they cannot communicate with each other, cannot agree to trust.

Number Six finds himself accused of the Observer’s murder, both by reason of who he is and where he was and because Number Eighteen has, allegedly, claimed he killed the man.

Neither is charged. This set-up is but a preliminary to the main novel, a more-than-McGuffin that serves not only to connect Numbers Six and Eighteen but to introduce the central dilemma of the entire novel: does Number Six learn to trust Number Eighteen? Can he?

That’s as far as I’m going to go in describing the story. This pairing, having been forced by the Village, is put through a long series of variegated tests, designed to work on that question, as they try to combine opposing approaches to the objective of bringing down a new Village system that infallibly controls people by accurately predicting their responses. Can Number Six trust Number Eighteen? I’m not telling you, but the book itself gives away the ultimate answer in nearly every page.

Blum and Booth are good, very good indeed, on the minutiae of Number Six’s Village life and the overwhelming paranoia with which he has to live in order to survive on the terms he has demanded for himself. The book is thick with detail of what the Prisoner thinks and does, the extent to which he is completely self-isolated by the approach he has chosen.

Number Eighteen’s approach is radically different, and Blum/Booth provide plenty of arguments in its favour as a viable approach. And the further we get into the book, the more those arguments become objections to the flaws of the persona Number Six has adopted, that blind him to any option that is not generated by himself in accordance with what are very narrow criteria. The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

It makes for a dense, very intense book, sometimes a bit wearyingly so. Number Six’s attitude is complete and fully coherent, but the endless vigilance, the refusal/inability to compromise even for a second on the most minor of things asks the reader to raise their game to an inhuman level. Nor does the undisguised contempt for any alternate concept help us ease into the story: inevitably, some of what Number Six says comes over as the most rigid egomania, and the longer the book goes on, the more despairingly and more often Number Eighteen points this out to him and us.

Can he really trust her? That’s where the ending is really clever, making her disappear in ambiguous circumstances that could be anything from escape to reassignment, leaving us with the same dilemma as Number Six.

I do have some specific complaints about this book. The first is that its Number Two never rises above being a cypher, and that too much of the book leaves him on the sidelines, depriving us of the direct clash of minds that underlines each of the television episodes. At different times and in different ways, Number Six’s battles are against Numbers Fifty-four (the honest cop) and Number One Hundred and One (the ultimate double agent), so that when Number Two begins to play a direct role, in the last phase, it comes too late to share the personal element so important to the rhythm of the series.

And I am seriously concerned at the uneven tone of the book in one serious aspect. The Prisoner was made and set in 1967/68, in an era of Cold War rigidity, in the still-living aftermath of a War that had turned on ideologies, spawning a world in which ideologies were even more prominent. It took its politics from that, it took its colours and concerns from the edge of the counterculture that was feeling its way into being, it pointed us towards the future that was bearing down, as a warning that we all ignored.

Blum and Booth were writing almost forty years on, in a world in which the Village has spread to encompass our lives. There have been massive leaps in technology and culture. Unfortunately, the authors try to have it both ways, trying to retain the ambience and the politics of the Sixties whilst folding in the computerised world of the Twenty-First Century. It sets up a tension that they can’t resolve, with a Reality Show employing fantastic technology that resembles nothing but state-of-the-art CGI switching to an attack on high-powered computers so primitive that their back-ups are still on tapes.

And what Blum and Booth don’t seem to realise is that by introducing their Reality Show (and a coy reference to The Kumars at no. 42), not only are they irretrievably mixing incompatible cultural periods but the defeat they concoct for Number Six is as crushing and final as they portray it as being. Number Six’s credibility on every level is shattered, he is completely defused, his privacy is destroyed, in a manner that cannot be reset.

The idea is too good.

Overall, though, I’d rank The Prisoner’s Dilemma as much more representative of the series than any of the official, contemporaneous tie-in novels, and in its incorporation of futuristic themes, tons better than the Shattered Visage comic. It’s a shame the series wasn’t continued as envisaged, especially as the ending of this book looks to be foreshadowing the non-existent Lance Parkin novel. Or is it?

That is, appropriately, a matter of trust…