Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 17

When I recorded the first Lost 70s CD, over a decade and a half ago, I had no idea that it could, let alone would stretch into a seventeenth volume, and when I look at some of the tracks included in this latest set, I find it even harder to imagine that I could have gone so long in time and digital recording without having placed such songs. There’s more than the usual number of songs that did chart and a record of of numbers that made the top 10, but as ever the definition is down to me and I doubt too many people would argue that these songs aren’t lost in one way or another. On with the motley!

Carey      Joni Mitchell

I didn’t really like “Big Yellow Taxi”, and it’s not really grown on me that much down the years. I didn’t like Joni Mitchell’s breathiness, nor the seemingly uncontrolled way her voice would shoot up and down the scale, and the frantic guitar strumming didn’t suit me at all. It was all over Radio 1, all the time, and I was musically naïve and still tied to simple, pop melodies. But I was surprised to find how much I liked its follow-up, “Carey”, much more straightforward, sung in a narrower range, but contained and constrained, but the mixture of the guitar, the sweeter melody and the misty romanticism of the lyrics about a relationship coming to an end, with regret mingled into the need to go home. There was a last-nightedness to it that even then I responded to. For years, I had to rely upon a taped version in which I’d managed to cut off almost the last minute of the song and despite decades of the full version I still marvel that the sound does not abruptly cut-out. Some habits are buried deep.

Liar      Three Dog Night

The most recent piece in this jigsaw puzzle, I caught up with this song via a YouTube sidebar that instantly released a chunk of memory. The song was exactly as I remembered it, or hadn’t remembered it for almost fifty years. That said, I don’t actually remember anything about this song except that I remembered it. Like so many Three Dog Night songs, it’s a cover, the original being by Argent and the arrangements being pretty much identical, leading me to wonder whether I’m remembering this or Argent. It was their first single, released in 1970, but then I’m convinced I never heard of Argent before “Hold Your Head Up” (which is never likely to be appearing in any future compilation, so don’t worry: if that one’s lost, it can stay there!) score one for the song, not the singer then.

Which way You Goin’, Billy      The Poppy Family

Strictly speaking, this is a 1969 song, and given that the band was led by Terry Jacks, he of the incredibly nauseating “Seasons in the Sun” number 1 hit in 1974, “Which way you going, Billy” starts with two strikes against it. As to the first objection, this wasn’t a hit in Britain, where it reached no. 9, until late 1970, placing it firmly in my wheelhouse, and as to the second, it’s not Terry singing but Susan Jacks, his then-wife, who has a superb, smooth voice, and who I’ve recently discovered was a total blonde babe (The Poppy Family never visited Britain to promote their success and certainly didn’t do Top of the Pops). This is yet another one that I didn’t like at the time, finding it a bit dull and slow, but which has forced me to rethink it after years of experience. I’ll no doubt be burnt at the stake for even suggesting this but, whilst the two voices aren’t actually similar, I find Susan Jacks has many of the same qualities as Karen Carpenter, except that in this story of a husband confused, rootless and leaving to find himself, Susan conveys much more emotion than Karen ever could.

More than a Lover      Bonnie Tyler

This is an odd inclusion. I loved the song at the time, but the course Bonnie Tyler’s music has taken since this minor 1976 hit has left me with an incurable prejudice against her husky tones. Yet I still love the sound of this song, with it’s carefully layered acoustic guitars, it’s precise, understated drumming and the overall restraint of Ms Tyler’s histrionics, which you’ll never hear again after “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. It’s here despite Bonnie Tyler, because of her. And because I recall a mild argument with my Grannie over this song, in the last year of her life, because she thought it was disgusting, and I tried to defend it as being about being more than a lover, meaning a partner and, by implication, a wife, but she wouldn’t go beyond being a lover when not a wife. And Bonnie Tyler’s real name is Gaynor Hopkins, a curious coincidence because at Primary School I had a crush on a girl in the year above of the same name. But it’s not Bonnie: the years of birth don’t match up and besides, ‘my’ Gaynor was definitely Mancunian. Still, and all…

It’s Raining      Darts

I’d forgotten Darts until not long ago. And it took me until 2018 to realise that that pulsing, dum, dum-dum bass rhythm that introduces the song is a direct rip-off from “My Girl”, as is the spindly guitar that cues up the medley. Darts, for those who don’t remember the Seventies, were a doo-wop revival/rock’n’roll group, four vocalists, led by bass-voice-and-loud-suits arranger Den Hegarty, a tight rhythm section led by drummer John Dummer. “It’s Raining”, which reached no 4, for the last of four hits in 1978 with Hegarty. They had further success after he left the group to look after his father. The new bass voice was much more laid-back and the group suffered for the lack of Hegarty’s intensity. This was a down-tempo ballad, lyrically in the rain-hides-my-tears mode, lit up by some gorgeous solo and ensemble singing. This is the extended version, because you can’t have enough of this good thing. It takes me back, and I’m happy to be there.

Vahevela       Kenny Loggins & Jim Messina

Another one glimpsed on a YouTube sidebar, flicking a switch onto a half-heard memory. A jaunty, clean-written song, an open sea chant. When you check the date, it’s 1971. There are other years of my life I’d choose to relive first, but something powerful is obviously calling me back here.

China Grove      The Doobie Brothers

This is just another memorable, rockier, Doobie Brothers track, belying my lazy assumptions that they never amounted to anything but ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘Listen to the Music’. This kind of mid-Seventies American rock is forever bound to sitting up till 2,00am, listening to James Stannage’s late night show on Piccadilly Records, when that was still showing Radio 1 how to present different types of pop and rock. Nothing lasts.

I wanna stay with you      Gallagher & Lyle

I remembered that Gallagher & Lyle had had two mid-Seventies top 10 singles but I wasn’t sure if this was one of them. I had the vague feeling that it had been a flop, a turntable hit, either just before or just after their brief spell in the spotlight, but I was wrong: it was their second and last biggie, a no. 6 in 1976, just before punk delivered a kick to the head to quite a lot of things, soft, folk-oriented rock by well-mannered duos being one of them. Whether you think that a good thing or not depends on your age and temperament, but I was definitely one of those yearning for more energy and crudeness in music. This came back to me of its own accord, the way old songs seem to float across the corner of your mind when you’re thinking of other things, when nothing has reminded you, and I went looking for it. It’s sweet, and I like its gentleness now more than I ever did. Though, mind you, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still slip on a bit of ‘Janie Jones’…

Spiral Staircase      Ralph McTell

Like when I included the original version of ‘Streets of London’ in an earlier compilation, this Ralph McTell song and performance from the same debut album is technically a 1969 song, but it qualifies for inclusion here because I make the rules and I didn’t hear it until I started to listen to the radio, and that makes it 1970. This is Ralph in a more upbeat mood, the title track, though it’s really a song about frustration. Ralph’s running up and down a spiral staircase but as fast as he runs upwards, the staircase screws itself into the ground, like the screw-fronted Mole in Thunderbirds. The staircase is a metaphor for something you can’t ever beat. Probably it’s Society. No-one’s yet found a reliable method of beating City Hall yet, though we keep hoping, in growing desperation. Ralph’s jaunty little tune is perhaps not quite appropriate for his theme, but I see it as an unconscious appropriation of the future: the optimism of the Sixties, the decade of possibilities remains in the music, but the words are starting to filter through what’s coming. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

Cruel to be Kind      Nick Lowe

Once upon a time, Nick Lowe was hot. From ‘Heart of the City’ onwards, the guy couldn’t write a bad song. Great pop just tumbled out of him, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the country woke up to the man the NME called the ‘Jesus of Cool’. The man was so cool, he took that as the title of his debut solo album. So he went top 10 for the only time in 1978 with the least typical and cool-sounding song he’d got, ‘I love the sound of Breaking Glass’, and then this track the following year, a re-recording of a track off ‘Jesus of Cool’, reached only no. 12 and that was it. This is a fine, straight, pop rock track, given a bigger, boomier, roomier production, with a kicking beat, plenty of acoustic guitar upfront, and a chorus you’d kill your Grannie to have written. In an alternate universe (yes, alright, Earth-2 again), we live in a Nick Lowe world and dammit, yes, it is a far finer place to be.

Delilah      The Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Really, you need to see this as well as just hear it. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (that’s Alex singing, by the way) used to give this a good kicking on stage, so the record company took a live performance, put it out as a single and it smashed into the charts. Top of the Pops didn’t know what had hit it, the last time I saw that much consternation was when Robert Wyatt insisted on singing ‘I’m a Believer’ from his wheelchair. Of course, Tom Jones has got nothing to worry about but, hell’s bells, this really put a rocket into 1975. How on earth could I have forgotten this for so long?

I’d Really Love To See You Tonight      England Dan and John Ford Coley

This one is really a mystery. I know that I underwent a complete musical conversion practically as soon as this smooth piece of California harmony-pop ballad left its brief chart run, but I loved this to bits in 1976 and I still believe it deserved far better than a lowly no. 26. It’s true that Dan (Seals – brother to the other Seals, who teamed up with Croft and produced the original ‘Summer Breeze’) and John were as West Coast American as they come, lush production, smooth sound, sweet harmonies, all the things that I shudder to look back on, but this had control of my ears, with its tale of being reminded of an old girl friend and calling her up to see if she can spend some time with you. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit too casual, even cynical, hoping to arrange a quick booty call, but I was innocent then, and I’m still hearing the call of memory, and better days, and the wish to have even an echo of them that makes this a slice of perfection for me. How could I have gone so long without remember this?

At Seventeen       Janis Ian

And if that one got through the net for so long, how the hell do I account for the fact that it’s taken me seventeen compilations before I caught up with myself and this song? There is too much to say about this song, and you will have to read about it over at the Infinite Jukebox. I let this elude me for a decade and a half? How? Why?

Our Last Song Together      Neil Sedaka

Of all the songs on all the Lost 70s compilations I have curated, this is probably the nearest to home for me. Literally, that is. It was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport under the aegis of Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, then still of 10cc, during the years of the early Seventies Neil Sedaka revival. I remember an interview with Godley, I think, when he was talking about their intention to get Sedaka away from his insistent double-tracking of his voice, and to rely upon it as a solo voice. That’s certainly shown here in this warm, regretful, loving song about things coming to an end, in which the title is completely literal; it’s not about the end of an affair, but a partnership, Sedaka’s long-standing writing partnership with Howie Greenfield. Of course, that’s only the literal meaning. Endings happen all the time, but few are so well celebrated.

Close to You      Phil Cordell

An unsung genius at his most elaborate. Someone should have played this to me during the Seventies instead of leaving me to discover it by accident four decades later. The very definition of Lost.

You are the Woman      Firefall

Firefall, who have featured here before with their soft, immaculately harmonised “It Doesn’t Matter”, were one of the later appearances of California-style soft rock that got such exposure on late-night Piccadilly Radio. It’s gone, they’re gone, the style is mostly something I avoid. This isn’t another “It Doesn’t Matter”, just a pleasant, mid-tempo love song that takes me back to those distant times before I was a working man. If there was a comparable show now, going on until 2.00am, I couldn’t listen to it. I’d be asleep, long before then.

Free Man in Paris      Joni Mitchell

I usually try to avoid having two tracks by the same singer or band on one of these compilations, but the difference in sound between this and “Carey”, travelled in a bit less than four years, is like two different singers. Mitchell’s vocal swoop and glide seems much more suited to this free-form, jazzy, hazy song that borders on being a love song about leaving and regret – much the same territory as “Carey” then – but differs in being about a place, a life, a time. Mitchell’s narrator finds living in Paris intoxicating, but his job – stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song, as unlikely as that sounds – drags him back to New York. Mitchell was rapidly outgrowing, had already outgrown, the popular song. This song makes it easy to imagine eating rolls, sipping coffee, casually drawing on a cigarette in some pavement cafe on the Champs Elysee, even before I went to Paris to see for myself. On the other hand, I never have smoked…

Rainbow      The Marmalade

I don’t think I’ve ever previously tried to define as Lost a single that got to no. 3 in the Chart, but this is nevertheless a persuasive example. Like some of the other late Sixties pop bands, The Marmalade have a bit more behind them than their commercial songs. The Marmalade had a string of unsuccessful, yet fascinating and appealing singles before they were threatened with being dropped by their label if they didn’t come up with something that would be a hit. They turned down “Everlasting Love”, giving The Love Affair their big chance, in favour of the similarly-arranged “Lovin’ Things”, which started a burst of four hit songs, including the traditional small-time identical follow-up and a no. 1 – first Scottish band to top the Charts – with an identikit Beatles cover. This, and a change of label, bought them the chance to direct their own career and write their own songs again, leading to a phase of mainly acoustic, reflective, music until a change of personnel shifted their direction yet again. The first fruits of that period was the band’s other no. 1, the justly well-remembered “Reflections of my Life”. It was almost a year later when this song followed it: musically gentle, mid-tempo, low-key, decorated by harmonica, a fluttering acoustic guitar and keen harmonies. “Rainbow” has a minimal tune and minimal lyrics, yet buoyant and confident ones, about love and joining. Whether the rainbow of the song is the rainbow in the sky, or a symbol of harmony, or just another of those girls of weird names, like Windy, who decorate rock’s storied history is for you to decide. The song’s softness, almost unassertiveness, has slid it into the absence of memory, and maybe it is, after all, only a minor track, for all its success, but it is worth taking time to listen to, and to escape into its laid-back milieu.

I’ve Still Got My Heart, Jo      Tony Burrows

Once upon a late 1970 morning, making breakfast before going to school, I had Radio 1 on my transistor radio, Tony Blackburn’s Breakfast Show, as was my wont. In the first half hour of the show, he played the new solo single by Tony Burrows, he of the lead voice of Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, Brotherhood of Man and The Pipkins. It was an up-tempo jaunty, professional song, with a commercial chorus, typical of the times, and well-suited to my slowly-developing tastes. Almost immediately, Blackburn played the b-side, a slow, sentimental ballad that didn’t appeal to me anything like as much, and gave his opinion that this was a much better song, and should have been the a-side. About forty minutes later, to my consternation, he announced that he’d received a call from the record company, who’d said that they were going to take his advice and flip the record, so that the ballad would now be the a-side. I liked the other song andresented that I now wouldn’t get to hear it again, and would never have the chance to tape it off the radio. This sudden emergence on a YouTube sidebar, bringing it all back to me, is the ballad. It didn’t sell. I still prefer “Every Little Move She Makes”.

Carolina’s Coming Home      Vanity Fare

Another from that first year of learning about music, another simple, melodic pop song that was already outdated before I had the chance to get to grips with it. I have versions of this song from Vanity Fare and White Plains and no way of knowing which it is I know, but I’ve gone with Vanity Fare because this was never a single from White Plains. I’m still square in that year that changed everything too much, either way.

Wade in the Water      The Ramsey Lewis Trio

When it comes to my tastes in music, jazz trios playing instrumental music with nothing more than a piano, drums and an upright bass don’t usually count. And tracks from 1966 don’t usually count for compilations like this. But “Wade in the Water” was reissued in 1973 as a single, and despite it mainly being used as an excuse for Radio 1 DJs to talk over (and these boys didn’t need an excuse, I never even heard an intro unless I bought the single), it nearly reached the Top 30. Those introductory horns, blowing their cool descending phrases, then retreating to add nothing but little flashes of musical colour gave way to Lewis’s expert fingers, rippling up and down and across and around the melody. It was never a sound of the Seventies, but then it wasn’t really a sound of any time. It’s a palette all of its own.

It’s True      The Meanies

This is the last time for the token punk endings. I can’t see there being any more, because there’s nothing left now of that time that I can justifiably call Lost, and even this is only Lost in the sense that I don’t remember hearing it way back then. I still regard those last few years, turning the Seventies into the Eighties as the most fun time I had out of music whilst it was still being made up for me. Not just Punk, nor New Wave, but all the forms of music that seemed to be inspired by that wave of energy, that demand to seize music back from those who seemed to want to be worshipped for knowing more chords than you did, or playing in odd time-signatures. It was the only time I really felt in tune, and even then I was nothing but a rebel, kicking back at those who owned us. Didn’t look or sound or live like one: it was only ever in the music. This is a bit too smooth, too polished, a bit too Powerpop perhaps, but I’ll allow that as an exit-line.

What will volume 18 contain? Is there still more?



This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap:
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

(c) Ted Hughes


This is what it sounds like tonight

In the Shadow of Black Banner: Geoffrey Trease’s ‘The Gates of Bannerdale’

Malcolm Saville gradually aged the Lone Piners, over the last half dozen books, until the series ended with Peter’s coming of age, at eighteen. The last Bannerdale book, The Gates of Bannerdale, takes a leap forward over its first quarter, which disguises the fact that, by the time Bill Melbury and Penny Morchard embark on the story that will, subtly, between the lines, determine their future, our friends will no longer be children, but adults: young adults, responsible for themselves.
And though it might be seen as a retrograde step for the series to end as it began, with the discovery of treasure hidden centuries ago, I agree entirely with Jim MacKenzie’s argument that it is not the silver and plate that is the treasure, but the truth and the honesty that it brings to both Bill and his unlikely partner, the initially unscrupulous Snaith.
The Gates of Bannerdale is the fulfilment of Bill’s ambition to go to Oxford University (Geoffrey Trease’s alma mater) for which he will need to qualify for the Scholarship without which the cost will be way beyond him. Tim has joined the Police Cadets, Sue is engaged to Johnny Nelson, but Penny arrives at the station when Bill leaves for Oxford and his examination, with a sprig of white heather for luck. She claims to be collecting a parcel for her father, and it’s all a coincidence, and Bill is still so obtuse that he believes this.
The first section of the book deals with Bill’s first visit to Oxford, to sit for the Scholarship (in Classics). He finds himself opposite Gardiner (later to be named Paul), an amiable young man whose background couldn’t be grander, a family steeped in theatre and diplomacy, a major Public School, but who couldn’t be more straightforward, unlike other representatives of such class.
Bill does have to go through things like examinations, and an awkward interview with the Warden et al of Hereford College, his choice of destination, but apart from that, this part of the story is just a love letter to Oxford, so much so that even someone like me, with a lifelong inexplicable preference for Cambridge, drinks in everything of which Trease delights with a sense of the devotion he feels. How this would have gone down with me as a youngster, I have no idea: I suspect I would have been bored to death!
It’s a Schol. or nothing (Bill could not afford Oxford on any kind of fee-paying basis). Bill expects it to be nothing, but the glad tidings are announced to him by Mr Kingsford, in Assembly, before the whole school, and with the whole school’s cheers (and these are not only for the half-day holiday Bill has won for them!).
Relief follows, though Oxford is as yet a long way off, with the rest of the year to go through, and then two years of National Service (this last book was still only published in 1956). But first, there’s an unusual scene, one of those few ones that Bill is not privy to, between Penny and Miss Florey. On the surface, it’s a conversation between a Head and her pupil who has declared an ambition as to her academic future: Penny wants to try for Oxford herself, and is ready to put in whatever effort is required.
The subtlety is that Bill is not present, and the larger context of the book makes it plain to us that Penny has not revealed all this to him at the time, nor has Miss Florey spoken of it then, for it is entirely private. Only when we start to ask ourselves just when, and why, Miss Florey would have related this to Bill, do we begin to see an underlying structure to the book that Trease never brings to the surface.
This is where that National Service plays a valuable role. Bill and Penny are of different ages – seventeen months separate them – and in different years. The era in which young British males had to go through National Service slows Bill down enough for he and Penny to go up together. In the meantime, throughout his posting overseas, he and Penny trade regular letters and his fellow servicemen refer to her as his girlfriend, but even then Bill can’t see it. In fact, he can’t see it as being anything but ridiculous that the free-spirited and independent Penny would be a ‘girl-friend’. Sometimes, you do rather want to slap him around the head!
Once Bill and Penny are both in Oxford, they’re immediately separated: Penny’s College is in North Oxford, well away from Bill at Hereford, and the press of settling in and getting to grips with their respective courses allows them little time to get together. Bill is delighted to discover himself opposite Gardiner again (though he doesn’t learn his new friend’s first name until Penny uses it), and his first renewed contact with Penny is via a fortuitous encounter with her new friend, Carolyn Staveley, a robust and attractive blonde with those really old-style glasses with little horn-wings that can’t help but conjure up an appearance both neutral and silly.
Bill spends a surprising amount of time with Carolyn for the duration of the book whilst, being Bill to the hilt, never once thinking of her as a girlfriend or in any romantic light whatsoever. And he barely sees anything of Penny, who sees rather more of Paul than Bill. Of course, the theatrical connection to Gardiner’s family underpins Bill’s response to that, but his description of their relationship does sound like boyfriend and girlfriend. Then, so would Bill and Carolyn’s if we weren’t seeing that through Bill’s eyes.
It does make you wonder just how Carolyn feels about the friendship, but Bill’s reticence on such subjects means that that book will remain forever firmly shut!
However, there is a significant exchange that those who are used to reading between Bill’s lines will seize upon. With the traditional First of May looming, Bill proposes hiring a punt and making up a foursome with the girls. Casually, he leaves it to Paul to speak to the girls, but, much as he likes the idea, he’s oddly reluctant to do so. Indeed, without explaining why, he’s insistent that the suggestion would come better from Bill, at least, so far as Penny is concerned… It seems that Paul is aware of something that Bill isn’t, something to do with Penny.
Indeed, Carolyn is Bill’s ‘partner-in-crime’, so to speak. Whilst Trease continues to be thoroughly lyrical about Oxford at every turn, in a way that he has never extended to his fictional version of West Cumberland, he does introduce a mystery for Bill, on behalf of the old gang, to resolve.
Surprisingly, and disappointingly for some, it’s a reversion, or maybe a regression, to the first book: a lost Treasure, to be discovered. Trease approaches it as a different tack, making it a mystery to be solved, with the slow uncovering of clues that eventually point to the hiding place from which the silver and plate of Hereford Collage is re-found after three hundred years.
The impetus for this is a book. Through Paul Gardiner, Bill meets Snaith (whose first name, Roland, is not revealed until the penultimate chapter). Snaith is the epitome of a whiz-kid, a self-promoting, witty, intelligent but cynical man on campus, an instinctive controversialist. Snaith plans to write a book, to coincide with his graduation, a biography, of Richard Talbot, former Master of Hereford, Master during the Civil War when the College silver went missing, presumably captured by the Roundheads and melted down.
Snaith sees Talbot as a rogue, trying to play both sides off to his own advantage, and plans a cynical, debunking biography. Bill disagrees, partly out of College loyalty, but largely because he cannot see anything but intelligence and integrity in the former Master’s portrait. The two enter into a rivalry over their respective interpretations.
What makes the book succeed over its mundane notion is that the evidence Bill first uncovers supports Snaith’s theory but that, after an initial prompting from Carolyn, he accepts that integrity, and a loyalty to the truth, demand he make it available to Snaith.
And whilst Snaith initially doesn’t seem to be the sort to reciprocate, he too is a man of integrity, and when the evidence begins to swing in Bill’s favour, he’s unhesitating in bringing it forward. From rivalry, the pair become effectively research partners, leading to the astonishing realisation that the silver may still be hidden, and the discovery of clues that suggest its hiding place.
This is where both strands merge. The presumed hiding place is behind the panelling in the current Warden’s rooms, but the Warden, Mr Withers (based on an actual Don Trease had to work under in his days at Oxford), is obstructive and dry.
As well as his studies and his detections, Bill has joined the Dramatic Society, and is to play Ariel in an open-air production of The Tempest, whose finale ingeniously uses the College Lake to create the effect of a galleon, ‘sailing’ away with Prospero et al on board, whilst Bill as Arial, runs out across the water (boards placed a couple of inches under the surface) to make a mute, unavailing appeal for his master’s return. Trease makes it sound wonderful, and the effect on the audience is exactly as you’d expect, but its point for the story is that Paul has arranged a small but significant role for Penny, of all people, as a living figurehead to the ‘galleon’. It calls for no acting, merely maintaining a fixed position, but when Bill expresses his surprise, Paul has to remind him, with justifiable tartness, that ‘Penny is one of the most striking girls in Oxford’.
It’s a reminder that Bill needs, and during the first performance, he admits that the sight of Penny is so astonishing that he is grateful not to have to speak the next line, because it would have been driven out of his head.
It’s about time that he realised what the rest of us have already worked out, but being Bill, it has to be virtually rubbed in his face, and acknowledged without acknowledging it openly.
Penny’s appearance brings Bill to something of his senses about her. Typically, his approach is almost accusatory, asking why she’s been avoiding him all year. It’s a stupid, short-sighted and hurtful thing to say, and Penny is nearly in tears explaining that she has been obeying what he wanted.
Penny came to Oxford to be with Bill, yet on their first proper social meeting, she and Carolyn invited to tea with Bill and Paul, the latter expounds on treating University as an opportunity to grow, to meet new friends, have new experiences, and Bill takes this up, enthusiastically, and naively, going to the lengths of saying that, no matter how important they may once have been, you can grow out of friends.
Poor Penny, hit by that, has kept her distance in obedience to Bill’s wishes. Only when she is forced to explain this to the dear old fathead, and he hears how close it comes to bringing her – Penny! – to tears, does he finally realise everything. And though he isn’t going to put it into words, it is, finally, everything.
But there’s a resolution to be reached, and for it the old gang and the new gang (with the sad exception of Cadet PC Darren, T.) have to band together. Bill invites his mother and Susan, plus the Drakes down to Oxford, to see the city, to see the final performance of the play. Bill takes his family punting, feeling good and relaxed and happy, and not only because he has finished his exams, and they are there…
Tea for all, with Paul and Carolyn, is interrupted by Snaith with the final evidence that the missing silver is walled up in Withers’ rooms. How to get at it? It’s the girls who plot, relying on Withers’ one known human interest/weakness: he is a fan of dowsing.
So he’s eager to admit a professional dowser (Mr Drake, playing his role superbly) to his rooms, where the hazel wand finds more than the gold watch planted for the demonstration. Of course, Withers is too smart not to realise there’s been a deception involved, but the rediscovery of the long lost silver prompts him to forget that side of the matter.
The treasure is found, but most importantly, so is the truth about Talbot.
The title of the book comes from a new geographic feature Trease has never previously mentioned, which he openly admits has been pinched from real-life. The famous Jaws of Borrowdale refers to a point just south of the head of Derwentwater, where the valley narrows, between Castle Crag and King’s How, until there is almost no room to get through. Trease imports this to the mouth of Bannerdale, where it stands as a symbol. Gates open to let people in, and they close to keep them there, but gates also open to let people out, and it is time for Bill and Penny to go out into the world. Just as, in the closing chapter, it is Sue and Johnny Nelson’s exit from their old lives, when they marry.
And the old quartet are there at the end, as they should be. Bill to give his sister away, in the place of their forever absent father, Penny to be her bridesmaid and Tim to be Johnny’s best man, for the symmetry of it (Johnny’s elder brother, who didn’t return to Black Banner Tarn Farm, doesn’t get a look in). The most overt moment of the book comes when Tim complains about the obligation to kiss the bridesmaid, and Bill smoothly offers to take his place… We assume, from the look he gives Miss Morchard as the story and the series ends, that it wouldn’t be their first.
A wonderfully naturalistic series, that leaves readers wanting there to have been more books, rather than wishing that not quite so many had been written.

How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV


As long term readers of this blog will know, I have been a long-term comics reader, with a lifelong allegiance to DC Comics, going back over fifty years. I’ve even had a soft spot for Green Arrow, going back to the days when he was still a non-entity with a Robin Hood costume and nothing but elaborate trick arrows to his name.

To see these characters being put on screen, these past few years, starting with none other than Green Arrow, has been delightful. The kid in me, still lying on his bed in the back bedroom of the long-demolished 41 Brigham Street, Openshaw, Manchester, is forever awed by the fact he’s watching these colourful characters ‘for real’, without having to turn the pages.

Since those early days of Arrow, which maintained a substantial distance from the actual comics to portray a gritty, urban outlaw drama, the cast has expanded, and the palate has broadened. First off was The Flash, given a backdoor pilot in Arrow series 2 then unleashed to its own brand of goody, good-time fun, showing the underlying excitement and fun of having such crazy, more-than-human powers.

Then the hodge-podge that is Legends of Tomorrow, a ragbag, shambling assemblage of characters, none of them massive successful but most of them dating to the years of my youth and adolescence when my enjoyment for this genre was at its most pure. And Supergirl, initially kept separate, with the delightful Melissa Benoist and that short-skirted costume.


And off to one side, because it derives from Marvel, I have from the first enjoyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and over its first four seasons I have particularly relished the performance of Ian de Caesteker as Fitz: he has been knocking it out of the park on a regular basis for years now.

So during the main American TV season, I have regularly been watching five superhero shows. And enjoying myself immensely, especially when I spot an Easter Egg, designed for us long-term knowledgeable fans, planted in such a manner as to not interrupt the enjoyment of those not in the know. Two of the finest of these have come in The Flash.

None of the series have been perfect, nor have they fallen exactly into line with my own, longstanding impressions of the characters, even where I understand the imperatives the series are working under. I don’t like the way Mr Terrific is being handled in Arrow, because the character is a long-term favourite of mine, but he’s also an obscure figure and I’m weird.

And like all series, there are good and bad episodes. Supergirl had a lot of the latter in season 1, mostly in relation to the Girl Power side of things, but it upped its game in season 2, at least to start with.


The first real problem started with Arrow season 3. One of Green Arrow’s problems is that the character doesn’t have an impressive Rogue’s Gallery. The show has compensated by ripping off a lot of Batman’s mythos to cope, which is irritating yet somehow approriate, given that Oliver Queen originated as a knock-off of Bruce Wayne. Season 3 used R’as al-Ghul and the League of Assassins for its arc.

Not many people liked Matt Nagel’s portrayal of R’as, but I was an exception. Nagel played the character very low-key, with an air of world-weariness. This is someone who has lived long enough to have seen everything, done everything and worked everything out. He can’t be surprised any more, he is completely in control and whilst slightly bored with his absolute command of everything, has no intention of relinquishing that control.

The problem was with the overall arc, Oliver Queen’s actions, and the feeling that Arrow‘s characteristic grim’n’gritty approach was getting a bit too heavy. Having such a superficially passive villain contributed to the general downbeat tone. Much the same could be said about season 4, though Neal McDonough’s vigorous performance as Damien Dhark was a much-needed uplift.

Frankly, the series was getting boring. I decided to stick with it through season 5, just to get to the end of the flashbacks, though these had dipped into the ridiculous with the revelations that Oliver’s five years of exile on Lian Yu had been interrupted by a year in Hong Kong, and another in Russia. Oi!

Back at The Flash, I thought season 2 was excellent. This had a lot to do with it featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is going back to my roots with a vengeance: the scene where the two Flashes both respond to a call of ‘Flash!’ and run either side of a wall, was Easter Egg number one, a glorious chocolate extravaganza with its deliberate echo of Jay Garrick’s first Golden Age appearance in The Flash 123, unveiling the DC Multiverse and starting a revival I lapped up avidly.

But even this season had problems. Barry’s romance with Patty and its abrupt cut-off, the increasing angst being developed in Barry himself, moving the show’s tone closer to that of Arrow when it’s ethos should have remained the opposite. But it was still fun and I still looked forward to it avidly.

Supergirl‘s first series was a bit damp, though the revelation that Hank Henshaw – a villain in Superman’s continuity, especially prominent in the Death/Rebirth of Superman sequence in the early Nineties – was actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was a trick I didn’t foresee and a lovely touch.

Season 2 started more strongly, except for the loss of Callista Flockhart after production and filming moved from LA to Vancouver. It got about halfway and then started to sag, badly. The Mon-El storyline was tedious, and the threat posed by his Daxamite origins and his possessive parents got less and less interesting as Teri Hatcher camped it up as the Queen, and Kara Zor-El/Danvers constantly refused to wise up as to what needed to be done and kept putting a brave ‘we can work it all out’ face on things that manifestly could never be worked out.

Back to that in a moment. Let’s switch to Legends of Tomorrow. This show has problems. It’s clunky, crowded, awkward and silly. And I love it. You can criticise Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Ray Palmer as a socially awkward, shallow and ineffectual person when the comicbook Atom s routinely treated as the scientific expert in the Justice League, and you’d be correct to do so, but I still love every minute of it and my old The Atom comics haven’t been affected.

The thing is, Legends is throwing in kitchen sinks worth of people who I would never have even dreamed I’d see on screen. I mean, Jonah Hex, people! And B’wana Beast! The acting is OTT, especially when Wentworth Miller drops in, but I am having the time of my life with this show and wish it a very long future.

I haven’t mentioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, because it’s the outlier. It’s Marvel, it doesn’t connect in any way to the other shows, it’s perennially in danger of cancellation, but I’ve enjoyed it all along.

Until season 5. I’ve always admored the show’s ability to re-invent itself every season, and indeed every half-season. Season 4, which basically consisted of three different mini-seasons, ended with the gang captured by the authorities. Season 5 started with them in prison. In space. In the future. Orbiting a half-destroyed Earth. Without Fitz.

I really don’t know quite what happened, but I watched the season-opening two-parter with no feeling whatsoever. I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t in the least bit intrigued. I haven’t even looked up what has happened from episode 3 onwards, because I simply have no interest in what happens to the programme. It’s as if it’s under gone a mental cancellation in my head and is no longer there.


I’ve given up Supergirl too. I said I’d get back to the season finale. To be honest, I was struggling to stay with the show during its second half, but the final episode was the killer. Supergirl and Superman battle it out to see who’s strongest and who will challenge the Daxamites. Supergirl wins. That’s right, Supergirl is stronger than Superman.

Now, I’m not stupid. The show’s name is Supergirl, not Superman, so she’s got to go up against the Daxamites. But in no universe that I can recognise is Supergirl stronger than Superman. This is one of those baseline conditions on which existence is based. So that was that series crossed off the list and no longer of the least concern to me.

So that was already five down to three. I had already made plans to exit Arrow at the end of season five. Though this was much better than the previous two seasons, the show was stuck on a downwards trend. There was little to distinguish one season from the next. Oliver had long since turned into a bore, with his self-obsessed demeanour and his constant gloominess, and whilst I still fancy Emily Bett Rickards more than somewhat, her scatty performance as Felicity is starting to get repetitious.

With the flashbacks finally curling back in on themselves to meet season 1 episode 1, I planned to drop out. But the cliffhanger, threatening to wipe out potentially all the cast, dragged me back in to see who survived (answer: everybody). I decided to give the show a four-episode test. And was promptly screwed in episode 4 when Michael Emerson turned up as Caden James, the new big bad.

Now, I love Michael Emerson and have done since he first emerged as Ben Linus in Lost season 2, so that committed me.

Meanwhile, back at The Flash. This lost a certain amount of lustre for me in season 3, where the big bad, Savitar, was cleverly but ultimately wrong-headedly revealed to be a twisted future version of Barry Allen himself. Adding to this Barry’s ongoing and ever-increasing insistence on blaming himself for everything that goes on, his slow merging with Oliver was the wrong path for the series to take.

The current season made a smart move by switching to The Thinker as big bad: a super-intelligent villain instead of the usual super-speedster. And Clifford Devoe, even though he bears no resemblance to either of the comics Thinkers, is certainly way ahead of everybody, although we still have no idea what his big, bad overall plan is.

But he’s run rings around Team Flash for the first half of the season, and he certainly has a mad on for Barry Allen. The midseason finale had Devoe transferring his consciousness out of his physically failing body into that of a thought-reading metahuman. His dead, stabbed body was planted in Barry and Iris’s flat and Barry has been framed for Devoe’s murder and arrested.


This week, the superhero shows started to filter back from the Xmas break, or at least The Flash and Arrow did. It’s Barry Allen’s trial. And, like it did when The Flash was tried for murder in the mid-Eighties, immediately prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, he’s found guilty. And it was pure crap.

As a former Solicitor, I am always sensitised to the presentation of trials on TV. I’m also aware that dramatic licence will be flourished and that I can’t expect pure realism, but there are degrees and there are degrees, and this was ridiculous.

The Prosecution has substantial, indeed convincing evidence. Not a single attempt was made to challenge that evidence in any respect. The Defence’s case throughout the Prosecution was literally no more than ‘Barry Allen is a good guy’. Even when this was challenged, by pointing out 72 instances of lateness on his personnel record and his recent unexplained six months absence, the Defence is not prepared for this and has no explanation.

The Defence is being conducted by the DA, by the way, acting as a private lawyer. This is not a novice.

The Defence case is no case. Barry won’t testify. He won’t admit to being the Flash (which everybody assumes will get him off the hook, the Prosecution evidence notwithstanding, because nobody will convict the Flash, gee, the respect for Justice), he won’t perjure himself, he won’t lift a finger. This is beyond stupid. No lawyer with the least amount of self-respect would fight this case in this way. No lawyer who expected to be taken seriously as a lawyer ever again would fight this case in this way. It’s a joke, a complete failing of the writer’s imagination, interest or willingness to demonstrate any plausibility – and in a show based on superhuman powers, everything else has to retain plausibility so as to underpin it.

No, the name of the game is to get Barry Allen into prison (choke, sob, irony, into his Dad’s old cell) with no delay. Now, one assumes Barry has some cunning plan, despite the absence of the least evidence of this. Or is he just indulging his Oliver Queen-esque guilt trip to the nth degree? Where is this going?

I will find out because I intend to stick with The Flash, because it can’t possibly be as bad as this again, or if it is I will bail out.

But what this episode has done has killed me on Arrow.

Now that’s obviously unfair. Why should Arrow suffer for the failings of The Flash? To which the answer is because my enthusiasm for the universe of DC on television has been badly disrupted. I have given up one of their shows because I lost belief in it, and I have been suffering from diminished expectations for this show for several years, and this cord is easy to cut. I cannot recover interest in Oliver Queen, and Team arrow, and their latest horribly convoluted mess. It’s getting harder to access these shows after their original broadcast, and frankly, if I’m going to have to struggle, I’ll do it for shoes that I still have some connect to.

I mean, DC series number five, Black Lightning has started this week, and I’m not even interested in checking it out.

So, from five series, I’m down to two, one of which is limping along on residual goodwill, in the space of half a TV season. What happened to the lifelong DC fan, relishing the fun like a pig in clover?

Some of it is the issues I am dealing with personally. I am growing less and less interested continually on the entertainment of the current day and more and more attracted to what I used to enjoy. The juice is going out of new things for me, and this is part of it. But the shows themselves, and perhaps the fact that there are so many of them, with their inherent limitations, their imperfect representation of my individual interpretations, and the law of diminishing returns are all combining to reduce my interest overall.

But the common factor between The Flash and Legends is that they are the most fun. I’m not too enamoured of the deep angsty stuff. I want the thrill I got out of these gaudy mountebanks. The Flash has been sliding away from fun for a couple of years: Arrow never had any.

I’m slowly falling out of love with Superhero TV. The problem is mutual.


Roll on Xmas Day

We’re rolling onwards towards Xmas Day, and I’m looking forward to my usual peace and quiet-ful Xmas alone. It’s eight years since I last shared Xmas Day with other people, and that was in a homeless shelter, eating an unexpected traditional Xmas roast, drinking non-alcoholic lager and enjoying a surprising camaraderie with a bunch of strangers.

Ever since then, I’ve done Xmas day in solitude, and I’m looking forward to that again this year. I am prepared: there’s no-one to buy me presents so I have accumulated a pile which I shall unwrap on the day, unwrap here being a word that means tear off the Amazon and eBay packaging.

I have a turkey in the freezer which, on the day, I will cook (having defrosted it for the required period), sticking it in the oven somewhere between 12.00 and 2.00pm, with the aim of eating at about 6.00pm, back-scheduling all the necessary steps with that time in mind.

I currently have the booze in the fridge and the imperishables bought, except for the jam sponge pudding and custard I intend to have for dessert (can’t eat Xmas Pudding/Cake, just can’t stomach it) which I will buy tomorrow, leaving the carrots, brussells, potatoes, bacon (for the turkey breast) and sausages until next Saturday.

Like last year, I will be working Xmas Eve, technically until 9.00pm, even though this is a Sunday, though I expect/anticipate/hope we’ll get out about 7.00pm, or at least whilst the busses are still running.

But once I shut the flat door behind me, whatever time I arrive on Xmas Eve, I go into a pleasurable purdah, undisturbed by other people. I am responsible to no-one, beholden to no-one, able to relax completely and do my own thing. And I like it that way.

Between the closing of that door behind me on Xmas Eve, to the moment on Boxing Day when I decide to go out and buy that day’s Guardian, I will not see nor speak to any other person. On the Day itself, I will probably browse my regular sites and forums, and may make a couple of indolent posts if anyone is about.

But aside from that, this is the extreme of me-time, and I look forward to it.

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed Xmas days in company in the past. A couple of them stick out in my memory. My Mother’s last Xmas Day, only four days before she died, when we were invited to my brother-in-law’s parents, which I recall with pleasure at my gradual realisation that everyone was looking forward to the premiere of the first Michael Keaton Batman film in the evening, the one with Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and that they all thought to was going to be an Adam West/Burt Ward, Biff, Bam, Pow affair and watching all their faces as the truth slowly dawned on them.

Or a few years later, invited to friends for the Day, and in the afternoon playing either Risk or that other strategy game that isn’t called Risk, getting knocked out fairly early on, starting to assist their younger son and helping him to Complete World Domination, with his ex-Army father complaining this was the first time he’d ever lost.

And then the big film was Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, which I am here to tell you is the very best film to watch on Xmas Day when you are halfway pissed and cannot take it remotely seriously: he lands at the Cliffs of Dover in the morning, sets off to walk to Nottingham and by the evening is camping at Hadrian’s Wall? After that, the film had no credibility whatsoever and we took the piss out of it unmercifully.

But the fact is that I first started to spend Xmas day on my own in the mid-Nineties and did it often enough to coin the aphorism that you should always spend Xmas day with your family every three or four years so that you can understand how much fun you can have on your own.

Roll on Monday week, or rather Sunday week night at some point, where I shut out the world and for the space of a couple of days, it and I can have nothing to do with one another. Bliss.

Sometimes it’s not Crap Journalism

I’m quick to call out the Guardian for Crap Journalism (although I’m thinking of maybe renaming it Crap Above And Beyond The Call Of Everyday Crap Journalism because I let so much of it go), but I try to be equally quick to point out the ones that should be praised, for intelligence, for sensitivity, for just being human in a way we don’t see often enough.

I’ve always liked Hadley Freeman.

Brief (and thankful) update 5

At the umpteenth time, I have finally completed the bloody formatting.

The novel now goes on to Cover Design, for which I’m now reliant on a work colleague who, working from some vague visions I have that I have no technical ability to execute, is designing a cover for me.

My target is still publication by my birthday, next month, so I hope the next announcement will not be too delayed and will have the link to where you can buy it.

Fingers crossed.