Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly....

Tra la la la la la... NOT...

Be careful what you wish for.

You know what I was saying about the run up to Christmas being helpful for the old creative juices? I hadn't realised quite how helpful it was going to be...

I hadn't given much thought to it being December next week till Spouse suddenly pointed out what our timetable for the first week of December actually is.

The fun starts this weekend as it is bil's 60th and not only are we out with him on Saturday night, but also hosting a party on Sunday. (Which is one reason December hadn't yet featured on the radar).

In the meantime the children are developing far too interesting social lives/have too many activities.

This term they've all been doing drama at our local theatre, and sweetly they're all taking part in a show. Aaah. How lovely.

No 1 is a singer/dancer in Fame, Nos 2&3 are in Peter Pan (Nana and a pirate respectively. Do you KNOW how difficult it is to get hold of a dog costume for a ten year old? No, I didn't either...) and No 4 is driving the rest nuts by reciting that poem about stirring the Christmas pud.

What I hadn't factored into the equation of seeing my little darlings perform is how many rehearsals they're going to have.

So on Saturday Nos 2&3 are out for the afternoon rehearsing, while I have to get no 4 to a party. I then have to get No 1 to Reigate for a party at 6.30 before going out myself at around 7pm. No 1's party inconveniently ends at 9.30 (I can feel this is the start of Spouse and I spending all our weekends driving the offspring about), but fortunately I've managed to do a lift swap. On Sunday she is then going to miss the birthday party as she is at rehearsals from 12-7pm. I don't think she has a single line but the dancers/singers are in virtually every scene.

Next week her rehearsal schedule goes:

Mon 6-9 (bang goes my swim then)
Tues 6-9
Wed 7-9.30
Fri 6-11

I'm not QUITE sure how she's going to fit in any homework into that.

On top of that no 4 has her star turn in her drama lesson on Wed 5-6 (so at least we'll be at the Playhouse but No 1 won't get any tea), No 1 has her school carol concert on Thursday night, and Spouse suddenly announced last night his work Christmas dos take place on Thursday and Friday.

On the Saturday the middle two have their show at 12pm - I'd bought no 1 a ticket and then realised she needs to be in rehearsal at 12.45pm (as they clearly won't rehearsed enough by then) - and no 1 has a show at 3pm and 7.45pm. Forgetting all about this I some weeks ago accepted a dinner date in the evening. So for the second weekend on the trot I have been scratching my head working out how to be in two places at once.

Fortunately when I went to do the Brownie pick up last night I found a friend who couldn't pick up on Friday night but could on Saturday, so now have arranged a convenient swap, as well as doing some lift sharing for the rehearsals. I can see in years to come Spouse and are going to be turning down invitation after invitation as we split ourselves in two trying to be in three places at once...

On the Sunday no 4 is having her Christmas Fair (the last one I'll ever have to attend. Result!) While no 1 is going out (again) for a celebratory after show Pizza...

(We've decided to skip No 1's Christmas Fair, clashing as it does with her rehearsal this Friday evening and no 6's school disco...)

So that's next week sorted then.

I haven't dared to look at the week after, but at least I have plenty of material to plunder for the book...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PS Music

I'm also finalising the soundtrack for the book...

Currently I have for my married hero and heroine Noel and Cat:

Let's Stick Together, Bryan Ferry - their marriage is in difficulties but they're trying to remember they still want one another.
Your Love Alone is Not Enough Manic Street Preachers - Love itself doesn't save the world, you have to work that bit harder...
Put the Sun Back Coral - where ahs all the joy gone in their life, if only they could find that out, everything else should fall into place.

For my my other hero, Gabriel's s musings on his ex wife and how he is unable to help her:

Other Side of the World KT Tunstall

For Gabriel and Marianne, the other heroine (with huge thanks to Persephone for tracking it down for me), for that joyous tumultous early love feeling:

She's Got You High Mumm-Ra

For Noel's midlife crisis:

This is Where I Came In by the Beegees
and the fabulous brilliant
Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond which is the heart of the book.

Last minute additions from writing the last few chapters are:

Angel by Robbie Williams for the relationship Cat has with her mother.
Streets of London Ralph McTell for a scene which owes not a little to A Christmas Carol.
I Can See Clearly Now Johnny Nash for an epiphany moment for Noel, but also probably a bit for Gabriel and Marianne at different points.

There may be a few more where those have come from. Am thinking I need a song for both Marianne and Gabriel about mending broken hearts, but it hasn't quite found me yet...

Back to it....

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been rather chatty in the last two weeks. In fact there have even been days when I have written more then one blog post. This is mainly because I had finished the first draft of my next book, Last Christmas (which is coming out next Christmas).

I use the word "finish" advisedly. This is the fifth novel I've written (seventh if you include two unpubbed children's books) and over the ten years I've been plugging away at this I've come to realise that my MO tends to be to get the story out as quickly as I can, and then go back and fill in all the gaps, insert a bit more depth and spend lots of time polishing. When I first started out I used to revise as I went and it nearly drove me demented, as well as having the unfortunate effect of editing out any of the energy and impetus of the original version. Plus I usually hated it when I came to look at it again. This way I throw the story out warts and all and then take a long hard look at it when it comes winging its way back from my editor and agent.

Good news this time is editor and agent both like it (What, said Spouse, would you do if they didn't????), phew. Other good news it's coming back in time for me to be in the proper pre-festive mode suitable for writing a book about Chrimbo. I can't TELL you how hard it was writing about Christmas in July. I kept all the kids' nativity bits and pieces and letters to Santa (have been hiding them all year, they've just written new ones which is handy), have got stacks of Christmas books to look at, lists of Christmas carols to choose from and last year's Argos catalogue. But there is absolutely nothing like having that sinking feeling I got to today when I realised there's a month to go and I've barely started, to dig deep into what it really means to plan Christmas in all it's glory(which is vital for one of my characters).

For this book I have created a village in Shropshire called Hope Christmas, which is loosely based on the town where my mother lives, and where I got married. Hope Christmas is both like and unlike my mother's town as I have picked and chosen the bits I like best. I spent a few days with me ma and the sprogs over half term, really trying to get the geography and location really fixed in my head. It was quite weird in a way as I have been visiting my mother's town for twenty years and there were some views I felt like I was looking at for the very very first time. I tried to keep a very strong picture of the places I visited in my head, so I can write them properly into the book, but I also took lots of photos as an aide memoire.

So here are a few of the locations for Hope Christmas, which I like so much now I want to live there...
One of the locations I've made up in the environs of Hope Christmas is a place called Hopesay Manor. It doesn't look quite like this, but Stokesay Castle picture below was a great model.

Here's an outside view

Here's the mediaeval entrance, unchanged apparently since the 12th century. Fabulous.

And here's the Great Hall

I have also drawn huge inspiration from Walcott Hall which has a wonderful drive way and lake in front of it, for the outside of my manor.

Plowden Hall provided me with my initial inspiration, having as it does a mediaeval chapel, which I have used as the basis of the chapel in Hopesay Manor which is a vital part of the plot.

I also scoured the area to find various houses that my characters live in. Two of them live up a lane by a stream, which I found here, just outside my mother's town.

This is the track to my hero's house

And this is the track that leads from his house to the hills where he farms his sheep

And the stream near where he lives, which has a vital part to play in the story...

And finally, here is a valley which my heroine walks in constantly. It's also somewhere I have walked more times then I care to remember over the last 20 years, and for which I have an abiding passion. Every time I go there it looks different, depending on the season, the weather and whether the heather is in flower, or the gorse is going golden. It is the most wonderful magical place, and has had a hold on my imagination since I was a small child and first read Malcolm Saville's brilliant Lone Pine Adventures which are partially set in this area. My parents very conveniently chose to retire here so not only could I have my wedding in the most wonderful location,but also come and visit regularly and use it for my own inpsirational purposes. Thanks parents...

So now it's back to the grindstone. Doing a lot more research to make sure I have got things right. Trying to pull out the depth of emotion I'm after. Making sure my character's dilemmas feel real and true. Having actually the best time of my life, and best of all getting paid for it.

I can't wait.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Your BBC

Is it just me, or do you think the tabloid press is acting more like a rabid dog running out of control wildly intent on causing destruction whatever the cost, then normal?

I only say this because we've had a spate of mad media events in the last few weeks staring with the Ross/Brand affair and culminating last week with the John Sergeant debacle. (I have blogged ad nauseam about that at the other place, so won't witter on about it anymore). In the middle of which we had the seriously tragic story of Baby P, which has had the tabloids howling for blood. Unable to actually say the people who did this are the ones we should blame ,the tabloids have been wildly lashing out at any one who had anything to do with the case. Sack 'em all I say. And then there'll be no one to look after the next Baby P that comes along.

Baby P probably deserves another post entirely of his own, but the Ross/Brand and Strictly stuff has really made me stop and think about whether there is a really malevolent campaign underway to destroy the Beeb (mind you Auntie's ridiculous responses to these situations don't really help her). As each of these (tabloid manufactured and totally over the top) "scandals" have broken there is an inevitable howling about what we pay our license fee for.

We can all complain about the relevance of the license fee in this day and age of free downloads and iplayer watching (now you can watch TV on your computer how the hell are they going to enforce it?) and TV as we know it is clearly changing frantically fast, so the license fee may well be an outmoded way of funding the Beeb.

However. We don't subscribe to Sky because we quite frankly find it hard enough to keep up with what we do want to watch on the terrestrial channels, but if we did, I wouldn't have a problem paying for it. And equally I don't have a problem paying for the BBC.

As it happens I think I get my moneysworth.

As a regular listener to Radio 2 (and Five Live when I'm on the school run - Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are worth the license fee alone, I reckon) - I get a huge amount of pleasure from my radio. Given that I spend most of the day on my own while the sprogs are at school, I find the radio a great source of stimulus and comfort on lonely grey days like today when otherwise I might be contemplating slitting my wrists.

So the radio makes it worth it for me, but I'd say the TV does too. Since the launch of BBC3/4 there've been a whole host of interesting programming because suddenly the commissioning editors have slots to fill, which means they've had to come up with something other then reality tv and cooking programmes.

In the last year on BBC3 we've enjoyed Pulling and Gavin and Stacey , as well as the one offs like Being Human (yay! they're making a series) and the fabulous Mrs Inbetweeny (which deserves a series) and are currently watching Spooks a week ahead because I go out swimming when the BBC1 episode is aired. On BBC4 we also loved Stephen Fry's programme about the Guttenberg press and the rest of the mediaeval season (including a rare rerun of The Hour of the Pig which we've only seen once) and I am sure I will enjoy Edington and Einstein when I get round to watching it.

On Saturday night I was torn between videoing Edington and Outnumbered (maybe the latter is only of interest if you have more then two children but I think it is the best funniest depiction of modern parenting I've ever seen) as I am sadly obsessed with I'm A Celebrity at the minute. Outnumbered is repeated on Wednesday (damn, just realised I'm going to be out) so I videoed Edington. We had earlier watched Strictly (despite being very cross about John Sergeant - I have to say I am on the verge of quitting on the Strictly front, well done BBC), and Merlin, which is great family viewing. I wasn't sure about Merlin to begin with, but it's really grown on me and this week's episode was cracking. And later on we saw Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Given that we don't often get out on Saturday nights these days,that made for an entertaining evening in - I can remember a veritable famine of good evening entertainment a few years ago when the sprogs were all small. Now I'm more likely to feel I'd rather stay in.

Last night there was an equal feast of riches. We watched the Strictly results show while videoing Top Gear and then watched the first episode of Survivors, which though a tad uneven in places was sufficiently gripping for me to want to return to it next week. Nos 1, 2 and I have also been glued to Little Dorrit,which is helpfully repeated on Sunday in case (as we keep doing)we've missed it.

So I'd say that the Beeb actually offers rather good value for money. And however we have to pay for it in the future, I don't begrudge them the money if they keep providing such topclass entertainment as this (even the dross on the Beeb is better then dross elsewhere).

I have a feeling if the screaming tabloid hacks who are currently baying for the Beeb's blood did get their way and we didn't pay for it anymore, we'd really live to rue the day.

Yes they get it wrong a lot. Yes, there is too much inhouse backslapping camaraderie about the place (I like Jonathan Ross, but sometimes it seems he's just interviewing his mates), but on balance I like what Auntie has to offer.

So I'm going to keep watching (though maybe not Strictly Come Dancing anymore...)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A sliver of ice in the heart

Apparently this is a phrase that Graham Greene used when describing artists/novelists. (I know I have read the full quote before, but frustratingly can't seem to find it on the internet this morning). According to Greene the "true artist" possesses "a sliver of ice in the heart" which enables him/her to portray in some way/write about the human condition. It's that little bit of detachment (which to be honest we probably all have to a degree in moments of high stress) that enables the writer ( I think in the main he was thinking about writers) to bank experiences and draw on them later, even if it seems exploitative to do so.

Now I wouldn't claim to be anything as grand as an artist or a novelist,(though I am beginning to think I can call myself a writer now that I've had two books published. ) but I do completely get what Greene was talking about.

I'll give you an example. The day my father in law died was possibly one of the most stressful (and at times unintentionally hilarious) days of my life.I had a phone call from my mother in law to say he was ill while I was in the middle of icing no 4's birthday cake (it was her first birthday). I ran up the road with two small children and spent a very odd half an hour having tea with my mil while she wouldn't let me into see fil as she kept telling me he was resting. My first instinct had been that he'd died, but she covered it up so well I thought I must be imagining things. Suddenly she announced I could go and see him, and I walked into the room and immediately saw he was dead. Don't know how, as apart from seeing my dad's body in the funeral parlour (which was completely different) I'd never seen a dead body before. I was just panicking about wtf I did next when there was a ring on the doorbell. The District Nurse had come to visit him. "Thank god," I said, "I think my father in law's just died." Which was probably just what she wanted to hear...

Now obviously I was in a state of high stress with all this going on, but do you know, even at that moment, a bit of my brain had detached itself and was taking notes and turning it into a tale to be told later. I could even hear Fil's voice in my head, Saying "There was poor old Jules, with Mum, and the children and my dead body." To this day that makes me laugh. (I hasten to add Fil, to whom I was utterly devoted, would also have laughed, he was that kind of person). And I know I tapped right into that experience when writing a scene in Pastures New.

I mention all this because I am about to start a new book. I know it's going to be about weddings. And I have four characters forming in my head. Up until relatively recently though I had envisaged writing a bubbly frothy kind of book. But I am rapidly coming to the conclusion I can't write that kind of story. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I want this one to celebrate friendship - and specifically female friendship, of the sort I have been lucky enough to share with several people over the course of my life. The sort of friendship where you casually trade details of your boring domestic life, but underpinning the crappy boredom of your daily dross is a much deeper bond. I know I've been fortunate to have that kind of friendship at several different points in my life, even of sometimes the friendships haven't for whatever reason stood the test of time. I also know at the moment I have several friendships which are so rock solid I could probably just pitch up on the door at midnight in trouble and each one of the women I am thinking about would calmly put the kettle on and ask how they could help.

So that's what I want to write about. But since I've finished book 3 (well not finished properly -this is the lull before I get to do rewrites) and I've given it more thought, my subconscious appears to be playing havoc with my creative synapses (not sure that sentence makes sense, but I hope you understand what I mean) and I am finding myself drawn to a difficult period in my life which happened some time ago, which I never ever thought I'd write about. It was painful and sad and I don't particularly want to go back and revisit it, besides which there are other people who might be affected by what I write, which is something I'm also not sure I want to do. It's also the only time in my life when I couldn't have found the necessary detachment to write about it.

But suddenly the sliver of ice bit of me is taking hold to a quite alarming extent, and I am feeling quite compelled to write some of this stuff in a way I could never have imagined before. So now I am trying to find a way to harness all this emotion in a positive way, because whatever I may think I want to write, I feel the book will be a shadow of what it could be if I don't let some of this stuff out.

Interestingly, I also wrote the first rough scene yesterday, which actually I didn't write. It kind of wrote itself. It's a wedding day scene which seems a good way to start a book about weddings dontcha know, and features the bride tensely waiting with her father for the wedding car to arrive. I freely admit to plundering my own wedding day experience here, though my heroine's reasons for being tense with her dad are somewhat different to my own. I can't recall ever having felt so gripped with the need to write something down. It was most peculiar.

Then last night I had a very long complicated dream which featured long walks in the country in different locations, with various members of my family, and some of my children. I ended the dream in a house opposite where our walk had started, and I was worried that the rest of the family who were behind us wouldn't catch up. Then the door opened, and I went expecting to find the children. Instead I found my dad. Which was weird and unsettling because in all the years since he died I've only dreamt of him a handful of times, and never have I seen his face. But here he was facing me. It was him in the flesh. Something I've subconsciously wanted for the last thirteen years.

And yet.... my subconscious is unfortunately far too realistic. "You're not supposed to be here," I said. Which wasn't how the planned reunion was meant to go. I think I told him that twice and he crumpled and fell. So I felt a heel and went to hug him. Now, when my father was alive he gave the best bear hugs going, but here he was dead, in my dream, and the hug was completely insubstantial. And I knew as I hadn't noticed before that I was dreaming. And I felt a howl of anguish such as I haven't felt since he died, and I was fighting, fighting through layers of filmy water to reach the surface and wake up. And I knew. Absolutely, categorically that somehow somewhere, that experience is going to find its way into a story (my parallel universe one will do nicely thank you) - so it's as if for me the sliver of ice is still operating even when I'm asleep.

And in a funny kind of way it solved my dilemma about the current book. I am going to tap into the emotions that are calling me. And I'm just going to see where they take me. Because I have a feeling where I'll end up is somewhere a long way from where I started, but the story forming in my head just wants to be told.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Things you think you'll never do.

I was five when David Cassidy shot to fame. I can (just) remember the Partridge family, but I have never ever got the teenyboppyer adulation which so many of my peers fixated on him in my formative years. And I've certainly never got into his music which is far too saccharine for my tastes (if you have to have your hair long sing, Bed of Roses or Dead or Alive. That will do it). So things I thought I'd never do included going to see a concert by David Cassidy.

However. My very lovely friend who bought us tickets for Stratford is a fan. And some months ago she bought two tickets to David Cassidy. She was having trouble (I wonder why) getting anyone to go with her, so in the interests of girly friendship (and quite frankly when someone buys you tickets to see David Tennant a girl will be obliged to go a very very long way to repay that act of extreme generosity), I said yes. I was rather assuming she'd find another fangirl to go with her, but sadly she didn't.

Having said all that, I also think it is beneficial from time to time to go and do/see things you wouldn't normally do to break down the barriers of prejudice that form in your mind. I have discovered in the last year that Neil Diamond who I had hitherto regarded as churning out the same cheesy crap as DC is actually fabulous. I loved his last album, have used Pretty Amazing Grace as a key soundtrack on my latest book, and even discovered I liked Love on the Rocks. So anything is possible...

I have to say I haven't had a Pauline conversion to DC's ouevre, NONE of which I even recognised (how odd is that? Going to a concert and not knowing a single hit, apart from the covers he did). I realise that this is partly because I was too young (I was 7 when he had most of his hits), partly because I didn't hear him at the right hormonal moment (though I was a late developer in that area - it was Sting who turned me onto music and by then I was 13), and partly because his hits are the cheesy crap I thought they were. However, it is quite clear that though I don't get it, thousands of women (mainly middle aged and older then me, phew) obviously do. So like Mills and Boon which I don't read or write, but I know lots of talented people who do both, I accept that David Cassidy is a strand of the music industry who entertains royally, which is just fine and dandy. I don't have to listen.

What I will say though, which was a bit of a revelation, was that 1) DC was highly entertaining, keeping up a constant patter throughout the show 2)He was quite daring (well if he wasn't full of bullshit anyway), taking himself out of his comfort zone and (allegedly) playing songs he hadn't rehearsed, trying new stuff for the first time and 3) he has a great voice, plays guitar AND even went and did the drums when his drummer (a really foxy chick) got up and sang Brass in Pocket.

So despite the fact that I have a rotten cold, didn't know a single song, and still think his hits are rubbish, remarkably, I had a really great time...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ashes to Ashes meets Top Gear

Somehow we managed to miss this in Friday night.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Children in Need

Tomorrow is Children in Need Day. I know it's tacky and cheesy and Pudsey is a mushy sentimental little bear, but on the plus side you get to see newsreaders doing things you'd never ever imagine they'd do, we're getting an extra Dr Who episode and fans of Strictly Come Dancing can finally see Tess dance(and Terry Wogan for that matter - do you think he'll be as good as John Sergeant?).

We always watch every year as the kids love it tacky and all as it is, and despite the tack it also does an enormous amount of good for charity. Not least my favourite one, Tadworth Court's Children's Trust who do amazing work with children with very severe needs. I hadn't realised till today that Tadworth Court benefit from Children in Need, but if you go here you can find out all about it.

So I know it's credit crunch time, the economy's in a downturn etc etc, but if you even if all you can do is spare a few coins tomorrow, do it. So many children are helped as a result of CiN every year and despite the cheese I think it's a fantastic cause.

As sadly I couldn't afford to take part in the Things That Money Can't Buy (I don't think Spouse would have been happy for me to pay ten grand on The Strictly Come Dancing experience somehow) I am planning instead to get hold of a copy or two of this as well as phoning in a request the 24 hour music marathon on Radio 2 tomorrow ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest we forget

Ninety years ago at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Armistice was signed to end the war that was meant to end all wars, but which of course sadly did no such thing. I think whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of war, it is important that we do take this time to remember and honour the dead from all wars, and particularly the ones being fought currently.

Like most people in this country, I suspect, if they dig a little into their family background, I feel a strong connection with the men who went to both world wars. Both my father and father in law fought in WW2, and my maternal grandfather was taken prisoner in WW1. Not only that my children are probably very lucky to exist at all, given that their great grandfathers on their dad's side faced each other across the Somme (when they met after WW2, they got on famously and compared gun positions).

So it is of them I think on Remembrance Day. In our immediate family we were very lucky as my father and his two brothers both came home from the war unscathed, and my grandfather probably owes his survival in WW1 to having been taken prisoner. Spouse's grandfather was also incredibly fortunate to be wounded just before the Great Push on the Somme, therefore missing the worst of it.

But scratch the surface and tragedy does lurk underneath. My maternal grandmother lost two brothers, as well as her fiance.

I am fortunate enough to have in my possession a letter from the padre to my grandmother telling her of the loss of her fiance, which moves me to tears every time I read it.

His name was Jack Towns and having been hit in the stomach in a battle (I don't know which) on 26 March 1915 he was left on the field by the captain who bound him up, as there were no stretchers to bear him from the battle field.

The padre who wrote to my grandmother later went back on the field to look for him in the dark, and despite numerous enquires couldn't find a trace of Jack. I think it's the sparseness of the prose, and the total unsentimentality of it that affects me. The padre speaks of the men he talked to "Some wanted water, others a smoke, others just a few moment's talk. So you see, I walked up and down the whole fo the field. I spoke to as far as I can make out every living soul there. Dead men I did not examine for time was valuable, and there was no light." The next day he returned to what he describes as "the continuation of the strafe"where he describes things as being "a little hot". Obviously at this point he was unable to continue searching for Jack, but when things got calmer he continued to make his enquiries and drew a blank, and so the padre concludes that Jack is dead. The letter ends: "The only chance would appear to be that he might be a wounded pensioner; but one point which I have not mentioned settles that . 1000 men were extended line upon line across a battlefield on the night of the 26th. They linked hands & walked slowly across the field picking up every living man. After they had passed only the dead remaned. And the Turks supplied us with a list of wounded prisoners. Jack was not one of them. I optimist as I am, am absolutely convinced that poor old Jack died where he fell."

My grandmother went on to marry my grandfather, who I think I am right in saying was one of Jack's friends. I'm glad for her that she found that peace and happiness, but this year more then ever, I think about Jack and honour the memory of the man who might have become my grandfather, but who like so many fell too soon and too young.

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
--Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

Monday, November 10, 2008

Of course, I forgot to mention...

Barack Obama is of course, Irish....

Historic victory indeed...

Silly Money

If you are having trouble understanding the current credit crunch, who better to explain it then Bremner Bird and Fortune. Last night they hilariously turned their attention to China and the unholy financial alliance the West has made with the Chinese. Bird and Fortune did a fantastically uneasy skit on the morality of cheap goods both here and in the States being available as a result of the exploitation of people in China. I couldn't find it on You Tube this morning, but I will keep looking. But in the meantime, if you haven't seen this and didn't know what the subprime nonsense was all about, here Bird and Fortune explain it in their inimitable and brilliant style. Satire at is very very best. Enjoy

I realise I am totally behind the times...

... but have been very busy finishing off Book 3 and therefore didn't have time to blog as I'd intended to about the US election last week.

As it's all over bar lots of photo ops of Barack meeting Dubya (how weird is that? Since when has the outgoing incumbent been so friendly to the incoming one?) at the White House and whole rainforests have been cut down in the reams of copy various hacks throughout the globe have been filing about this "historic" occasion ("historic" - most overused word of the week. Discuss.), I'm not going to say too much.

Except this. While I do think it was a great day for America last week (and more importantly a FANTASTIC day for democracy. Would that people would turn out to vote in such numbers in this country. Would that we had a politician who could inspire us to turn out in those numbers), I don't think Barack Obama is the Messiah, and I also think he is possibly too inexperienced to lead the world's largest democracy. On the plus side, he's not Dubya, and he also has the opportunity to rebuild bridges that Dubya and his cronies have burnt in their squandering of the world's goodwill towards America during their two terms in office. He also represents the best of America. If a country that forty years ago was segregating its citizens because of their colour can overcome its problems sufficiently to produce a black president (though technically of course he is inconveniently half white but its more dramatic to present the black heritage of course), then that can only be a good thing. However, I doubt very much the troops are coming home from Iraq any time soon, despite what Obama would like to do, and there's a hell of a financial mess to sort out when he's got time.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the US public fall out of love with Obama when he demonstrably fails to deliver (well he'd have to be superhuman to sort all the problems out in his lifetime let alone in four years), and whether he can manage to make a difference at all. Saying "we can" and actually effecting change are after all two very different things.

Still. It was a great day for the world last week, and here's hoping things turn out better then the cynic in me imagines they will. A president who actually turns out to have as much integrity as it appears he does, and can actually bring about positive changes in his society and to the world at large. Now that would be historic.

Monday, November 03, 2008

And another little bit of news I missed...

I really picked a bad week to go away...

I suppose it wasn't totally unexpected that David Tennant was going to leave Dr Who, but, sigh... rather like Rose (and Donna for that matter) I wanted to travel with him forever. I suppose I've got a year to get used to the idea...

But on two utterly more positive notes...

Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon again. Hurrah. I wish she could get it together for the Olympics, but hey, at least she's back on winning form...

And double hurrah, Lewis Hamilton is the youngest formula one world champion EVER. By the skin of his teeth admittedly, but what an exciting finish... A world championship decided two corners from the end. Fantastic. (And fantastic sportsmanship from Massa who thought he'd nailed it, then realised he hadn't).

I love Lewis Hamilton. He appears to have riled lots of people in the notoriously competitive and ruthless world of F1 (that's because he's winning y'see, they HATE it), but he deals with all the stuff that comes his way good and bad with politeness and dignity and never lets any of the crap get in the way of his singlemindeness about winning. When we have so much bad press about young black men, Lewis Hamilton is a welcome relief from all that and a great role model for the young (particularly in the light of the appalling racism to which he's been subjected this season). I couldn't actually watch the race because it was so close to the wire anyway I couldn't stand the tension, but hurrah, hurrah. It was a close run thing, but this year, the right guy won.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Boys will be boys

I've been away since Wednesday and only caught the periphery of the scandal that has engulfed the Beeb and most specificially Radio 2 this week.
I am as readers of this blog are probably aware a big fan of Radio 2 (such a big fan it features rather large in Pastures New), and part of the reason I started listening to it in the first place was Jonathan Ross' Saturday show. Yes, he's rude, he's edgy and often puerile, but he does (usually) make me laugh. I generally enjoy his chat show as well, though it does sometimes appear he's just interviewing his mates, and he can appear arrogant. Despite that, I think old JR can be quite engaging when he's interviewing someone he genuinely admires. He's such a fanboy and you can almost see him pinching himself that he is actually interviewing whichever idol it is, though to be fair this tends to be more evident on Film 2008, where his love of film is genuine and his reviews (though never as good as Mark Kermode's) are always worth taking note of.
I am not, it has to be said a huge fan of Russell Brand, and I did rather groan when I heard that Lesley Douglas had hired him - someone chasing the young vote, methinks. (That being said I did actually find his turn in St Trinians rather sweet because it was so against type that he couldn't chat up the head girl).
I therefore have never listened to Russell Brand's show, but figured it wasn't for the likes of me anyway, and was reasonably happy to have it on the edges of Radio 2, as he clearly has an audience, even if I'm not it.
Having said all of that, I think his and Jonathan Ross' behaviour towards Andrew Sachs was totally inexcusable and the pair of them (particularly Jonathan Ross) showed a lamentable lack of judgement in thinking that their "prank" (which I have seen defended in terms boys will be boys type terms) was funny. It wasn't. It was crude, offensive and utterly puerile.

BUT.... apparently before the story broke, only two people actually rang in to complain. After it hit the Sundays over 30 000 did, fed and whipped up by an hysterical tabloid media who clearly can't forgive Jonathan Ross' joke about earning more then they do. (Yes he earns silly amounts of money, but more fool the BBC bosses for giving it to him). Furthermore, there does appear to be some misunderstanding as to whether Andrew Sachs had given his consent to the programme going ahead, the producer was only 25 (poor cow, I hope her career isn't stifled at birth), and Andrew Sach's granddaughter has sought the offices of Max Clifford to tell "her side of the story". Said granddaughter also appears in a band called The Satanic Sluts, which is of course her right and doesn't mean she or her grandfather should be subject to abuse, but is it cynical of me to think that this publicity can't exactly be harmful to her career? Without all of this no one would even heard of her.

My feeling now is that the whole thing has got a bit out of hand, and I cannot STAND it when politicians start pontificating in a self righteous manner about this kind of stuff - when was the last time a politician took the flak and resigned as Lesley Douglas has done? I think she showed integrity in doing so - this did, as she said, happen on her watch, and she appointed Russell Brand and apparently didn't reign him in - but by all accounts she has been a brilliant Controller of Radio 2 and responsible for most of my favourite listening over the last four years. It seems a pity she's had to go as a result of this debacle.
But the thing that sticks in my craw most has been the gleeful malicious joy with which the tabloids have greeted Wossy's fall from grace. Maybe his fault for alienating them, perhaps, but I personally find it distasteful. (I saw a headline yesterday screaming its outrage that the Disgraced Star had dared to have a Halloween Party with his Showbiz Chums. Erm - why shouldn't he???)
I don't for one minute condone what Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand did, and think their punishment is probably fair. But hell. There are far more important things to worry about right now. This could and should have been resolved with an apology by both of them to Mr Sachs and Miss Baillie. The self righteous howlers should have shut up and left well alone. And I really really hope that Terry Wogan isn't right in saying as he did yesterday, that the damage to Ross' career is terminal. He has made a very very bad error of judgement, but he is certainly paying the price. One hopes that in time the great British public might be able to forgive him.
But I also hope that the result of this isn't the Beeb playing safe with everything. Comedy should at times shock and disturb us. Maybe we've had too much of that of late on the Beeb (I like Little Britain, but am growing tired of the insatiable need to shock), but it would be a great pity if the output becomes more anodyne as a result of this show. Auntie hasn't come out of this too well, either it has to be said, having first tried to ignore the problem then (in my view) added to it by navel gazing ad nauseam (they did the same after the Dr Kelly affair). There are lots of problems with the Beeb - not being regulated by Ofcom being one of them, but it still represents broadcasting at its best, and I for one would hate that to change as a result of this nonsense.