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.

What it’s really like sometimes

There are days when the depression can’t be held at bay, when no matter how much you’ve put into accepting that this is the way your life is, and the prospects of change are beyond your influence, the reality of the situation is too stark to be resisted, and you have no mental energy with which to do anything.

These are days when the job becomes tiresome and frustrating, when the calls that aren’t even for your discipline get harder to handle, when the manifest errors of the new diagnostic system become too wearisome to fight back against, and when that determination to go the extra mile in pursuit of the customer’s need becomes a tired inability to even reach across the desk.

And the shift that has already lasted most of your life, because your head is emptier than an empty shell, still has two more hours to last, and you’ve run out of the telephone voice and the energy to sound concerned, and identify what’s wrong, and talk them through without wanting to scream at them down the phone, because you’ve promised to do what is needed to fix the fault, what they’ve been asking you to do all along, and they’re still not satisfied.

There are many different categories of clients and on different days you hate different types more than others but there is a special hell even on good days in dealing with the customer who won’t take Yes for an answer.

Sometimes, most days, when it gets like this I can carve out a little time in the day to write something: for my blog, for one of the several potential novels I have had in mind for the last few years, for the sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand that I have been cheerfully batting out, about which I’ve yet to decide whether this will be a publishable project, or a personal indulgence.

But my head is empty. I have no energy for words, no concentration. This is as far as I have gotten because I can’t think of anything else. Call it a little reality implant, in amongst the generally comic attitude I usually try to display.

Charlie Dickinson of Liverpool wrote this. This whole country needs to read it #Grenfell

Charlie Dickinson of Liverpool wrote this. This whole country needs to read it #Grenfell

Reblogged to Martin Crookall – Author for Sale


grenfell isolationThe text below was sent to the SKWAWKBOX by a Twitter follower. The people of Liverpool have a particular affinity with the victims of the Grenfell fire, because they know what happened at Hillsborough, how the Establishment tried to blame the victims – which they see happening already over Grenfell Tower – and because they know how hard it is to get justice when the rich and powerful close ranks.

One Liverpool man wrote his thoughts on Grenfell Tower, on how it fits in the overall pattern of what’s happened to this country over the last three decades or so. It’s powerful. It’s damning.

And its final lines need to be a wake-up call for a country that has tolerated the Establishment narrative for far too long.

Read. Share:

then they came.pngThe SKWAWKBOX is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers. If you found this information helpful…

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Saturday SkandiKrime: Department Q – The Keeper of Lost Causes

Ooh, seriously moody…

One of the nice things about waking early on a Sunday morning is the chance to enjoy a SkandiKrime series in pale blue comfort, and to write about it unhurriedly.

The latest of these is Department Q, a film series ninety minutes in length, starring Nikolas Lie Kaas (The Killing 3, Follow the Money 1) as Carl Morck and Fares Fares as Assad. The films are based on a crime series written by Jussi Adler-Olson and there have been three to date, which BBC4 have bought for the next couple of week’s entertainment, and are apparently very popular as exports, though they don’t, on this evidence, offer anything particularly new.

What we have is another Cold Case set-up. Homicide Detective Morck, who is a maverick, albeit lower on the spectrum than the egregious Mads Justesen, refuses to wait for back-up as ordered and leads his two colleagues into a seemingly deserted house. All three get shot: one dead, one crippled for life, and Carl takes a bullet to the head that leaves a fetching scar and a case of shaking hands. After the statutory minimum three month sick leave, Carl wants back to work (his wife has also chose to divorce him).

But his superior Jacobsen won’t put him back on Homicide, even if anyone of his colleagues there would work with him. Instead, he’s chosen to head up the newly-created Cold Case squad, Department Q.

As Cold Cases are when they’re first established, Department Q is a joke, a pseudo-section, not intended to be serious. It’s a way-station for police edging, or being edged towards retirement. Carl’s only assistance is Assad, whose background is left completely obscured, save that for him Department Q is supposed to be a step up, poor bugger: he has spent the last two years in a depot stamping things.

Basically, Department Q are supposed to go over the last twenty years worth of Cold Cases, write a two-page report on each and close them. They’re not supposed to investigate anything. In short, and despite the absurdly romantic sub-title, ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’, with its suggestion of the quixotic that had me wanting to like it, this series doesn’t have an original idea to it. Over the course of ninety minutes, everything happens that you would expect to happen. The maverick cop in charge refuses to do what’s expected, people don’t want the case re-opened, he’s impatient and abrasive, his boss orders him to cut it out, he lies and cheats, he’s suspended but carries on the investigation and, naturally, is completely vindicated.

The chosen case is that apparent death-by-suicide of politician Merete Lyngaard, five years ago. Merete is played by the lovely Sonia Richter, which was good enough for me, though I was rather disappointed (and not only for the obvious reason) to find the show adopting the American trope that women never ever take their bras off when screwing.

Merete, an attractive and sexually active woman in her mid-thirties without a regular relationship, was also the only support and carer for her younger brother Uffe, brain-damaged in a car accident that killed both her parents. Carl is disbelieving that a woman like that, who has so comprehensively cared for her helpless brother, would commit suicide by jumping off a ferry on which she was taking care of Uffe. And he’s right to do so, because as he and Assad piece the witness reports together, we the viewer get an extended version in which Merete is attacked but, rather than be murdered, be imprisoned in a mysterious dark place, in which she has been kept alone for five years.

My lack of technical knowledge prevented me from recognising her environment as being a pressure chamber, or from totally understanding the significance of her being kept under increasing atmospheres. Once a day, her captor exchanges food and toilet buckets, once a year he increases the pressure one atmosphere and speaks to her. Merete manages to keep her sanity, determinedly reminding herself of her identity, and that of Uffe, every day.

The purpose of the pressure chamber, and the slow way in which Merete is being gradually acclimatised to six atmospheres pressure, is to duplicate the effect of deep sea diving: ultimately, her captor intends to kill her by depressurising the chamber completely, forcing her to go through an extreme version of the Bends, and die horribly.

We cut back and forth between Merete’s endurance of her imprisonment (excellent work by Richter, both mentally and physically) and Carl and Assad’s investigations that gradually uncover Lars ‘Lasse’ Johnsen, a former foster-child who, under an assumed name, got close to Merete at a conference (hence the screwing scene). But why, apart from the increasing evidence that he was a psychotic, would this man torture the poor woman so?

I’m afraid that the film tipped its hand, to me at least, far too early. It was meant to be subtle, fleeting, a brief foreshadowing, but the moment I saw that the car accident that killed the Lyngaard parents had also involved a second car, whose occupants had also suffered deaths, I expected the bad guy to be a survivor of that other car, out for revenge, because of some misplaced belief that Merete, though only a child, was responsible.

In that respect, I got it wrong. We saw the accident through Lasse’s mind, late on, when he was trying to keep the defrocked detectives from stopping him killing Merete: the girl had been playing from the backseat, with her hands over her mother’s eyes in the front seat when the Lyngard car was overtaking the Johnsen one. As they drew alongside, the two children stared into each other’s faces. The girl stuck out her tongue, then reached across and put her hands over the eyes of her father, who was driving…

Afterwards, the only unscathed survivor, the girl wandered around unconcerned. To our eyes, she was clearly in shock, but to Lasse…

So Carl, and to a lesser extent Assad, redeemed himself, got offered his Homicide job back, but turned it down in favour of Department Q. Which will now be run according to his rules: he chooses what cases he works and he works them how he wants. Just him and Assad, and a secretary.

So that’s Adler-Olson’s set-up, that’s Department Q‘s set-up, and that’s the next two Sunday morning spoken for. Hopefully, it can correct some of its cliches in the two subsequent films, and an injection of pace wouldn’t go amiss either: I mean, there’s deliberate, there’s measured, there’s tension-inducing and there’s sixty-minutes-of-story-filling-a-ninety-minute slot, and that was rather the case here.

Incidentally, the books have been translated into English, with Adler-Olson having written seven to date since 2011, so given the film’s popularity in Denmark, we can probably expect more in the future.