So Near and Yet So Far

Phew! We got within a point of beating the world champions. closer than tht, we scored a brilliant try which was disallowed after the TMO overruled the ref, but the TMO’s not supposed to do that unless there’s a clear…blah blah blah. On the other hand, if you have a 15-0 lead against the all blacks and you let it slip, maybe you don’t deserve to win. and we did get a one-point win against the Springboks, on the basis of a very flukey TMO decision, so maye that’s quits. We had chances, we made mistakes, the line-out was a shambles, and the All Blacks are very resilient. and maybe if th weather had been dry and more conducive to really good rugby, they’d have thrashed us. but it was exciting, and much more cheering than the slough into which the vaunted England team has slipped over the last year. so maybe a bit of the Eddie Jones magic still survives. It was certainly worth watching.

Better than Bodyguard?

People keep referring back to Bodyguuard as the revival of watercooler Tv, the moment when we were all spellbound by great television. As I’vve explained in a previous post, I don’t share this enthusiasm (though I’m a massive Jed Mercurio fan), but catching up with other stuff makes me even more mystified by this chorus of praise. Informer, for instance, seems to me much better. As it happens, there are a number of close points of comparison. Paddy Considine also acts the part of a troubled male with a grim past, but he does it with more conviction and variety, and the impact on his partner is much more carefully traced. The working context of the two main detectives is depicted in much more plausible detail than the endlessly complex netwioorks hinted at in The Bodyguard. And as for the depiction of Asian characters - Informer wins hands down. One of its triumphs has been the close, heartbreaking depiction of a very particular family with Pakistani roots - light years ahead of the extreme cartoon of the woman in Bodyguard - look, she’s a passive female stereo type - oh no, she isn’t, she’s a calculating killer! So if I end up buying the box set of one of these, it won’t be The Bodyguard.

Unity and Peace

Oh dear. It would be almost funny if it wasn’t serious. Donald Trump is slowing the pace right down, looking even more self-important than usual, and asking his citizens to come together. Yeah, right. If you say that someone who bodyslams a report is “My kind of guy”, then it’ not totally surprising that another of your supporters thinks it’s a good idea to post a pipe-bomb to CNN. Which makes it slightly tricky if you then want to do the wise leadership thing of asking your countrymen and women to join together in unity and peace.

Making connections, planning consequences, is not something he’s ever had to do, because he’s bought his way out of it, or pretended that the messy results don’t matter. But the running the country stuff really is quite complicated, and you need to think about what you do and say in advance. There may still be enough intelligent adults left in the administration who know this, and could explain it, but somehow I don’t think they’ll get the chance. Trump doesn’t want to listen to anyone except his chanting fan base, and to them he’s bragging about how well he’s behaving, because he and they know this is just a short charade before he goes on the rant again. But we all hold our breath,wondering if the mid-term elections will make any kind of a difference. Experience warns that we shouldn’t be too hopeful. There are, it seems, plenty of Americans who really think this is the best they can manage.

Television Riches

I’ve said it before, but we really are being spoilt with the drama. some diappointments, admittedly. I wrote about Bodyguard on 26.9.18. I had high hopes of Black Earth Rising (spending time and effort exploring the complex morality of Rwanda’s emergence from mass killings, but it’s drifted into self-important solemnity, with Hugo Blick’s vanity being fed right over the top:look, he doesn’t just write, produce and direct - he’s also an actor!

But don’t despair. there’s also Killing Eve, Vanity Fair, The Cry and probably other good stuff I’ve missed. Certainly Informer was far better - tougher, livelier, more complex - than I’d feared it might be, and thanks to reviews I’ve been able to catch up on Butterly. No, a three part drama about a transgender boy/girl on ITV wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it is by Tony Marchant, and it’s definitely worth a look. So, blessings to the gods of television drama, who are keeping us generously supplied. And there’s still Little Drummer Girl to come.

House of Assad

A series of three documentaries, about the recent history of Syria. But with a strong emphasios, and for good reason, on Basher’s family. He’s not meant to be running the country; older brother is being groomed for that, but older brother dies in a car crach. Basher, the shy eye surgeon with the liberated, modern wife, suddenly has to fit in the mould that’s waiting for him - heir to the hawkish, defiant Dad. Ruthless suppressor of criticism or dissent, which actually means he will end up opposed to all the things that he and his wife originally intended to support. Through a series of crises and accidents he blunders his way into destroying large parts of his country, killing his subjects, driving them out of their homes - and all thetime he sounds like an amateur actor who hasn’t learnt the script. There were moments when it could have been different, when advisors with more vision offered him alternatives, but no. He chose to keep his mum happy, to fit into the mould, to make the lying speeches claiming he was defending the country from terrorism, while driving it relentlessly towards oblivion. Heartbreaking, but also fascinating in a morbid kind of way.

Bad Boys of Brexit

That’s the title of Arron Banks account of the campaign, and it catches his self-image perfectly - the cheeky rebel who sticks it to the posh guys who think they know more than he does. It has its down sides. People who work for and with him are frequently exasperated, but he cheerily waves that aside as one of the perks of the job - theirs, presumably.

There is, though, interesting stuff on the details. There’s a mass killing in Orlando, by a Muslim fanatic. Banks and Co surge into gear, offering this as a warning against uncontrolled immigration - though the guy responsible was born and bred American. Farage produced his Breaking Point poster, but has reservations - Banks says it’s fine. It just states the facts. (Really?) Jo Cox is shot. Banks tells Farage he needs to go on radio and apologise for the poster - which has been misinterpreted.

It’s all ruthlessly calculated. don’t say what’s true, say what will get the topic on the agenda. People being horrified is great - it extends the coverage. Banks insists he’s personally charming, not a racist bone in his body, Russian wife etc etc but the impact of what he does and what he spends is massively divisive.

Arsenal Poetry

We have, it must be said, paid our dues. Arsenal fans have put up with a load of rubbish and heartbreak over the past few years, so it’s good to have something to warm the cockles of our hearts. Our third goal (from a 5-`1 demolition of Fulham, admittedly) was a thing of beauty - the ball caressed from one player to the next with a series of deft, outrageous touches which somehow transported it from one end of the pitch to the other, enabling Ramsey to guide it into the net with a sublime conjuror’s flick. OK, we haven’t beaten anyone good yet, and the defence very much remains a work in progress, but emery works and he cares, and he’s got the team looking a lot more lively than they have for years. We’ll settle for what we can get, and count ourselves lucky.

Russian spies

That’s right, you can’t escape them. They’re always on the news. But seldom as graphically as today, with tons of footage of them plotting surveillance in the Netherlands, and being tracked every step of the way. Receipts for Russian taxis, compromising documents and equipment - if you were setting out to frame them you couldn’t do it better.

They are, of course, shameless. they will deny everything, scoff and obfuscate, and part of the point of doing it is to show that they can get away with it and they don’t care, but there must nonetheless be some murmurs of discontent swirling around. and there’s news of Putin’s failing popularity - nothing to do with spying on the West, or spending a fortune propping up Assad - he’s not looking after the people at home, and they’ve finally begun to notice. Whether anything will come of this we can only guess - or hope - but it’s cheering to see a few cracks develop in that forbidding edifice. On the other hand, there’s no way that he’ll go quietly or calmly - contriving an end to his supremely profitable control is not going to be easy.

Ryder Cup

Yeah, all right. There’s always a pleasant little frisson in Europe beating the USA at anything, but particularly at golf, and this year, when everything on paper seemed to point to an American win. and this year there’s the added poignancy that we apparently care less about Europe than ever, thanks to this daft vote bequeathed to us by the lovely David Cameron - and the one benefit of Brexit, So far as I’m concerned, is that it rid us of Cameron and Osborne. But back to the golf…

It seems to have been a total triumph for Thomas Bjorn. the simple prooof of that is the number of points gathered by the “captain’s picks” - golfers who wouldn’’t automatically expect to be there on their current record, but players whom the captain backs to come up with the goods on the day. And the points score for captain’s picks goes “Europe 9 and a half, USA 2 and a half.” Which is seven points difference, almost exactly the difference between the two teams.

Furyk picks Woods and Mickelson, which doesn’t seem like a bad idea - but he doesn’t have the warm, intelligent planning for teamwork which Bjorn has obviously put in, and is passionately appreciated by everyone in the team. All of them contributed, even if they weren’t all used all the time - and keeping those restless egos happy can’t be easy. A stunning triumph of leadership.

The end of Bodyguard

Oh dear. Always a Jed Mercurio fan, from Cardiac Arrest on, I have to confess that - despite the hoopla - I thought this was the worst of the lot. It’s partly that although killing off Keely Hawes is a brave, intuitive move, she’s far and away the best of his leading pair, and being left with Budd to rant on his own isn’t that great a pleasure. It’s partly that it takes on far too much. There’s the bodyguard and the minister; there’s the police and the secret services; and now there’s organised crime as well; and if we follow them closely we’ll find who the mole is that’s been leaking all the police secrets - oh, it’s her…whoever she is. There are so many people involved in this intricate web that we don’t know any of them well enough to care. In Line of duty there’s a clear context within which characters work, and we have some sense of their interaction and relationships. Here Budd is always on his own, occasionally meeting up with odd police officers, but not really working with anyone. And then there’s a massive set piece in which he decides to defuse a suicide vest which is far too risky for the explosives expert to tackle - his estimate of his own powers is roughly on a level with Donald Trump. But hey, give the guy a break. He’s been in Afghanistan, he’s suffering from PTS - oh no he isn’t, he’s back with his wife and kids, driving off happily into the sunset….sorry, Jed. It’s dangerous for you to be left alone with all this power. Somebody needs to be reining you in.

Brexit

OK, it may not be the end, but it could well be the beginning of the end. Theresa May’s beloved Chequers deal, enthusiastically supported by hardly anyone in the UK, is no more attractive to anyone in the EU. They’ve been constructive and polite, but they are finally deciding that time is short and the UK government needs to face reality. Ministers, meanwhile, are chasing around like eager school boys, trying to do solo deals behind the EU’s back - such a cunning plan, that. It has been a total embarrassment, and it’s not surprising that Labour have been happy to stand back and let them make very public fools of themselves, but we really are getting closer and closer to some kind of crash. As I indicate in my current poem, The Brexit Bus (see Poems from the News, elsewhere on this website), where for once I find a suitable central image to convey what I want to get across. It’s not cheering, but it is convenient.

The Mighty Redcar

More documentary gold, more pleasure available on catch-up. Didn’t fancy it from the title - “who do these northerners think they are, calling themselves mighty” - but was totally wrong and am delighted to have the chance to change my mind. There’s incidental stuff which isn’t incidental at all - like a brilliant overall commentary, some fabulous photography and really classy contemporary music, all of which add to the pleasure. But the real joy of it is the sympathy with which people are dealt, sometimes even dozy, loser-type people who delude themselves entirely. The stories centre on young people at a very tough time, some of them ludicrously talented, others not so much. but they’re all treated sympathetically, and we get to know and care about them. There’s also a powerful strand running through it, of older mentors, relatives, friends who are looking out for these kids, and trying to help them succeed against the odds. it’s on catch-up. It’s not too late. Go and have a look.

Passage to Britain

There’s a ton of stuff to watch at the moment, lots of it drama, so I tend to skim over the documentaries. But Linda’s much keener on them, and sometimes as I clock in at 10.00pm to pick up some news I catch the end of something she’s been watching. This is how i latched on to “Passage to Britain” and I’m so glad I did. Kid simple idea. Pick three passenger liners, coming from India to Britain, in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Pick out some interesting characters, and tell their stories. Except there’s a lot more to it than that, hours of work and research, and presumably an endless budget. Yasmin Khan is talking to a woman in England about her childhood in India, when hey - she takes her back to Calcutta. All right for some. and Yasmin’s a bit special. she looks like an eager sixth-former, all round faced and enthusiastic, but she’s very clear about the bad stuff - the racism experienced by these people who came here to better their lives, often with our encouragement or at our invitation. It’s a really good, detailed, informative story, and i thank the telly gods yet again who have given us catch-up.

Change of Gear

I always have a number of library books on the go, and of course I enjoy some more than others. Yesterday I went into Telford, and saw on their new books shelf "Normal People" by Sally Rooney. I'd reserved it already from the Wenlock library, but hey, why wait if you don't have to.

I had a nighttime novel I was in the middle on - William Boyd's  "Sweet Caress". It's decent, readable, interesting - covering a huge watche of history, with a neat use of photogrphs running through the book - the central character is a photographer. But it's a man pretending to write as a woman without total conviction, and it feels a bit pedestrian.

Finding myself awake in the middle of the night, I pottered downstairs and gave myself a treat - started "Normal People." Oh, wow. The electricity of reading a writer who really knows what she's doing.  The reviews all raved about this, and they're not wrong. Utterly convincing, compulsive reading - this is the real stuff. It'll break my heart when I finish it, but it's not going to take me long.   

Mother's Day

Lots of hysteria about Bodyguard, which is fine. I'm a big Mercurio fan, and will happily watch anything he's created. But won't someone say just how clear, careful and intelligent Mother's Day was? the story of the Warrington bombings, and what followed from them. Irt actually suggested a closer link between the parents of the teenager who died and the Irish mother who campaigned as a result, but that's OK. There was nothing articicial or contrived about this, just a measured, slow look at what was happening to the people involved.

for which you need really good actors. Anna Maxwell Martin, Vicky McClure and Daniel Mays is a good start, but the whole thing oozed class and care, avoiding all the plentiful booby traps into which a quicker, louder, shallower production might have fallen. We didn't have to watch people endlessly sobbing to the sound of violins. But they did turn away, restrain themselves, disagree, and have moments of utter helplessness - just like real people. Nobody else is making much fuss about this, but I will - catch it while you can. 

The Never Ending Story

And on it goes, seemingly or ever. Will Labour sign up to the "internationally agreed" definition, with all its examples? Was Corbyn's comment about irony as bad, or worse, as Powell's speech in 1968? Frothy nonsense, so far as I'm concerned. If there's serious anti-semitism in the Labour party then it needs dealing wih, specifically and rationally, but neither of these sideshows help a scrap. that always say "internationally accepted" - but it;'s never "universally accepted." Why? Because some quite sensible people - numerous lawyers, the Home Affairs select committee, have serious reservations about it. 

Ooh, look. In 2013 Corbyn made a clumsy comment in defence of a Palestinian's art work, criticised by some Israelis. Does Oliver shacks seriously think that's on a par with Enoch Powell? Was Corbyn making a national appeal for people to live in fear of an entire racial group? I don't think so.  

Meanwhile, there's some serious news happening. Israel is calling itself a Jewish state more narrowly and aggressively than ever before. Trump is cancelling desperately needed aid to Palestinians, to persuade them to agree to whatever arrangement Israel plans to impose. Any of that worth putting on the news?  

Rites of Passage

It's been so long. But now Grayson Perry's back, and it's as if he had never been away. He's one of the real TV naturals, talks well, listens well, somehow knows eactly how to react, even with the most potent material - and some of this is heartbreaking. He's looking at funerals, how people face the death of themselves and their loved ones, and how they might devise new rituals of their own. He negotiates this tricky territory with huge charm, sometimes just listening, often laughing, but never imposing himself over the people he's dealing with, always encouraging them to find the words, find the actions, which will help them deal with what they're facing. Utterly uplifting. Don't take my word for it. Watch it. 

Keeping Faith

It's a sad science, working out when and why you give up on a TV series. Keeping Faith looked promising for a while - ravishing settings, camera lingering lovingly on Eve Myles while music played, a steady arc of disintegration carefully outlined...but the simple things were missing, like common sense and plausibility. The police stuff, the child care stuff is deeply unconvincing, and we've seen these things done well so many times that it really shows. Faith's talent as a lawyer seems to consist of looking smart and talking earnestly, which results in some totally incredible courtroom triumphs. she does, of course, cock things up, and one episode finishes with a client's treasured garden totally vandalised, mainly because of her cocky confidence in her own infallibility. "I'm sorry", she intones, "I'm so, so sorry." But in the next episode we don't go back again, to see how bad the damage is. We move on to the next climax, the next crisis for Faith, because she's the only thing the writers think or care about.

Tonight was the parting of the ways. Faith has a crucial hearing in the afternoon, when she might lose her children. She needs character witnesses, so we watch her work through three possibilities, each of which turns her down. Harrowing stuff. But this is on the morning of the actual hearing. Even if they wanted to testify for her, there;'s no way that they'd be available. It's just total nonsense, start to finish. some nice moments, but not enough. 

Vandalism of Art

Are we worse than we used to be? Are we worse than the others? I know I'm getting old and jaundiced, but right now, so far as the UK is concerned, my answers to both the above would be "Yes". The occasion of this is the art project, The List, which has been exhibited in Liverpool , and vandalised - twice.

The List features the names of over 34,000 migrants who died trying to reach Europe. It has been displayed in Berlin, Istanbul, Basel and Athens. Only in Liverpool has it been torn down, and then when it was replaced it was torn down again. Somebody really doesn't want to have this stuff displayed. The organisers will leave it up as it is, with a  notice explaining what's happened, and that may be the best response. All the same, I can't help thinking that tells us once again what a nasty, divided place the UK has become.   

Diplomacy a la Donald Trump

Gradually a pattern emerges. Donald tweets, gets the headline, says why he's the greatest. Over the following days, gradual rumours leak out about what's actually happened. So, this week there's a dust-up between Trump and Erdogan, resulting in massive sanctions which will seriously hit the Turkish economy, and from which many of Erdogan's citizens will suffer far more than he will. 

And now we get the background, from sources in Ankara. Yes, it is about the American bishop, held by the Turks, who Trump wants to be freed. He and Erdogan had discussed this, thought they had come to an agreement, but now Trump thinks that Erdogan has broken that agreement - so he's really hard-pedalling the sanctions. With conventional diplomacy you'd go back tot he record, the minutes, which would tell what had been agreed. But this is the great deal-maker, who can do it on his own, so pen-pushers would only get in the way...So far as the Turkish economy is concerned, it's a really expensive way to do business. 

(But also another quiet little vindication of The Guardian, those remorseless peddlers of fake news, who actually provide us with the information we eed.)