Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Elegy for a Young Woman Assassinated in Iran

Although I write fiction, I have a love of poetry instilled in me first by my father, and fostered by the brilliant English teachers at school. One of my best discoveries since joining Twitter has been coming across a wonderful poet who blogs here. Alot of poetry can be pretentious or difficult. Semaphore writes of things that matter, so beautifully and simply, he can reduce you to tears. He's very kindly allowed me to post this moving poem about the young woman killed in Iran. Read it and weep. And if you like it, check out his other stuff, it's amazing.

Elegy for a Young Woman Assassinated in Iran

Yours the first death, the messenger, the voice,
Crying out of Persia,
By a single shot from this life untimely ripped.
Louder now than that gunshot grows the noise,
Neda, rohat shad,
Anguished lamentation, by sorrow swept.

Where now your heart, bullet sequestered
Like a stricken love
In your severed auricle?
Sister, you fell
Burning, but with that fall you shattered
Our glass lives, removed
From our unseeing eyes the folded veil.

For now we cannot mourn you at Haft-e Tir
Or Behesht-e Zahra,
Instead commemorate you from our homes.
With prayer we recall you fallen, martyred
As if in Karbala,
Solitary voices raised, no longer alone.

Thus we offer up our invocation
To your final breath.
Beyond the seventh and the fortieth day,
Let resound life’s majestic insurrection
Against this first death –
Be not afraid, be not afraid, be not afraid.

Monday, June 29, 2009

All. Partied. Out...

We have just reached the end of our party season (actually not quite, mine is still to come, but I don't count mine!). We inconveniently chose to have three of our children in a six week period, so from May to the end of June every weekend it seems has been spent corralling groups of little girls to bowling alleys and cinemas. On top of which this year we have also had the excitement of mil's 85th birthday party.

Mil's birthday was at the start of June, but we couldn't fit in a party till the 21st. Given that at Christmas we were slightly concerned she wouldn't make it past January, the event took on a much bigger significance then it might have done. Spouse nearly drove me demented in the weeks leading up to the big day, so anxious was he for everything to turn out perfectly. I ended up using it as an excuse to clean the house, which retains its sparkly shine over a week later (result), and Spouse, bil and sil went on an epic trip to Macro to buy in provisions. Normally sil and I would have provided puddings but we took an executive decision that as we were catering for 60+ we'd save ourselves the time and effort.

Mil invited pretty much everyone in her address book, so the guest list was for 80, but given their average age was also 80, there were quite a few no shows. However, to our absolute delight, thanks to much help from children and grandchildren, two of mil's cousins and two of her friends were able to make it. So the day before the party saw Spouse and I at Heathrow at 9am to pick up one friend, a sprightly lady of 83, who managed the trip alone and could pass easily for 15 years younger; bil and sil at Gatwick at 3pm to pick up the cousins, plus granddaughter; and mil's school friend was brought to us by her son and his girlfriend. We found them all space in the local Premier Inn, and Saturday evening found us feeding everyone, plus some English cousins from the other side of the family. Sil kindly provided a stew so I didn't have to cook (I quite like providing my house for entertainment and not having to do the catering (-:), and we had a German table in the kitchen and an English table next door in the conservatory (not because we can't mention the war, but because those who only speak their own language end up nodding at the foreigners and it all gets a bit complicated trying to translate). As there were rather a lot of people, Spouse and I found ourselves unable to get round the table so ended up dashing in and out of the back doors to pass plates and food around. Still a good time was had by all, and by the end of the evening all the German I had forgotten was slowly coming back.

The party itself was a great success, barring a collapsing swing seat (which had three elderly people on it at the time, it could only happen to us) and a collapsing guest (rather more alarming. I am going to issue health warnings for our next party). I don't think mil stopped talking all day long, and as ever when she is in the presence of her country folk she gets very confused which language she is speaking and ends up speaking English to Germans and German to the English. We sat in the sunshine all day, and the gazebo that Spouse and bil had erected (with much hilarity from me and sil - every time they put a pole in one place another pinged out from somewhere else) didn't collapse, no small children fell in the pond, and mil was treated to Happy Birthday in English and German. Have to say Germans did it rather better, as we all started at different places.

Party over, Germans stayed on for a bit. So last Monday saw me ferrying them back and forth from hotel to our house, via a quick tour of the area. Spouse had the day off, so I thankfully sent him to no 4's Sport's Day (after nine years you really can have too much of a good thing) and then we all had dinner in the hotel.

On Tuesday after school pick up, I picked all the Germans up and left most of them with mil at our house, while I took my sprightly friend to Heathrow. I managed half an hour sitting in the garden before the school run, then provided Kaffee und Kuchen ( a very German experience if you've ever been there) before bil pitched up to take the cousins back to Gatwick. Mil's schoolfriend then stayed with us for a couple of days while her son toured the UK. I left them together at mil's all day on Wednesday, and told them to come back to ours at 6. When I got in, there was no sign of them. So I rang them up and got no answer. Thinking they might be in mil's garden, I went round to fetch them. Got there, to discover garden and flat empty, and zimmer frames missing. Two 85 year olds had decided to do a bunk. I can't blame them really. It must get very tiresome having your offspring and outlaws fussing over your every move.

Went across to the park, and couldn't see them, which was a little bit worrying. I was just working out how to say to the son, by the way I appear to have lost your mother in German, when I spotted mil at the far end of the park, which is nearer our house, but nowhere near a crossing. Deciding it was going to simply take too long for them with their zimmers to take the safe route and having several hungry children at home, I ended up turning into a traffic cop and standing in the middle of the road halting traffic so they could cross.

Mil's friend eventually went home on Thursday, both of them having talked themselves hoarse. I'd just about got to grips with German by the time she left, but there always seems some point in a conversation where I have no idea what's going on.

Mil had a fantastic time, which was the whole point of the exercise, and we were able to return some of the hospitality we have had on our German visits.

The week ended with no 3's birthday, which was so overshadowed by the big party I hadn't got her presents until Thursday. However, having eventually succumbed to the pressure of a Nintendo DS, I don't think she was too bothered, particularly as we had a cinema trip to Nigh at the Museum 2 followed by a splash in the pool back at ours on Saturday.

Yesterday was Race for Life, and a barbie at friends, where it was very nice not having to do the entertaining.

Am just about partied out. Think I might lie down in a dark room while I recover, so I can have enough energy to survive the onslaught of this week's excitements, which include: no 1 taking part in a school production for the next three nights, a possible trip to the downs on Thursday to watch Status Quo, Nos 2&3 doing a show on Saturday morning at the same time as no 1's grade 2 singing exam, and no 1 doing another show on Saturday night.

The end of term can't come quickly enough...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Where were you when...

the news came through? Have a feeling people will be talking about it for years to come. Prosaically we were watching tv and a newsflash came up. As a kid I wasn't a huge Jacko fan, but my early teens were punctuated with the sounds of Rock With You and Don't Stop Till You Get Enough, both of which remind me of boring Mondays spent at the local youth club playing pool (or rather watching boys I didn't fancy playing pool).

I have to say though, iconic as Jacko is (and much as I've grown to appreciate the music more - I hated it at the time), I'm actually sadder about the death of Farrah Fawcett. When she and hte other Angels burst onto our screens in 1976, I think it was probably the first time I'd ever seen a programme where girls kicked ass. I know, I know. It was incredibly sexist and they all had to run around in little bikinis (unlike my other heroines of the time, Purdey and Jaime who kicked ass but didn't have to demean themselves quite so much to do it), but.... here were these really pretty feminine women going around beating up villains and solving crime, which was a bit of a revelation frankly. Plus I wanted Farrah's hair. I have to fess up to liking Kate more, because she was the nerdy dark haired one and I know my place, but... really Farrah was just so cool and we all wanted to be her.

So, while I think it sad that Jacko has died so suddenly, and I think his whole life was quite a tragic one in a way, I feel sorrier that Farrah has died. She was inspirational for a generation of little girls, and I was certainly one of them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Where's their vote?

I have recently joined Twitter. Normally a place for wasting time/pr opportunities. However this week has been very different. If you're not on Twitter, you're still probably aware that it and other social networking sites are being used very effectively to get information/pictures out of Iran which otherwise we wouldn't be seeing. It has been very odd reading about things happening in real time, and then watching the news catch up on events.

Alot of people on Twitter are retweeting information as it comes in, and I have been a bit too, though somewhat warily. By all accounts, the brave people microblogging in this way risk arrest or worse, and it's important a) not to give away identities and locations and b) to be sure that you are retweeting actual information about rallies etc, and not disinformation spread by the Iranian government. The great strength of the internet which allows people in a situation like this the freedom to express what is happening, is also it's greatest weakness: with such a plethora of information available to us, it is often extremely difficult to find out what is going on.
Twitter appear to be doing their best by posting a list of potential dodgy twitterers here, but it's still difficult, so I am trying to be selective about what I send on.
Having said that, what I find incredibly heartening about this situation, is both the mass of support across the internet for the people of Iran, and the staggering courage of those sending out information. We don't know yet how this will pan out. I am sceptical about it being another Velvet Revolution, because sadly the Basij militia have already shown what they are capable of, and I fear this may still be a Prague Spring. However, thanks to the courage of the bloggers, we will know what happens for good or bad, and whatever the Supreme Leader says, the world will know at least some of the truth.
Twitterers are posting green avatars in support of Iran. Opinion is divided as to whether this is a futile gesture or not. It may well be. But I think at a time when Ahmadinejad would have us believe the Holocaust didn't happen, America the Great Satan is bent on its destruction (and let's face it America hasn't actually held the olive branch out till Obama took over), I think it's important that we in the West reach out a hand across the internet to the brave people of Iran and show them as Stephen Fry put it so simply: Iranian govt should at least know we're watching & we care. We're not imperialists, we just care.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Race for Life

It's that time of year again...

I will be doing Race for Life again with the girls on 28 June. I am hoping that my back (now improving rapidly that I am seeing a chiropracter) will not cause me gip, and that I can actually remember how to run. Last year, no 2 struggled and so no 1 was able to take off and beat us both, but am hoping we might all be able to run all the way...
There are two people I think of particularly when I do Race for Life, and I shall be thinking of them again.
If you feel so motivated, you can sponsor us here Any donations gratefully received!
PS Just been for run on downs and relieved to discover despite lack of running for some months due to dodgy back, I can still run 3.5 miles. Phew.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm everywhere, Bolly. I was needed and I was there.

Ok so, now a certain Ms Philips has been unspoilered, please allow me to let a great enormous SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! not only for this luvv-erly pic of the Gene Genie, complete with appropriate cowboy boots (if ever there was a modern cowboy, it's Gene Hunt), but also for the most brilliant series end since .... Being Human. Watching the last episode on Monday night I felt just as excited as I did watching the Dr Who episode when Derek Jacobi was revealed as the Master, and the throughout the whole of Being Human. And TV doesn't get much better then that.
If you haven't yet seen it and don't want to be unspoilered, look away now.


I had intended to review each episode, but then ran out of time, and now I haven't really got time to do a proper overview of the series. However, if you haven't been watching and are one of those people who gave up on Gene Hunt after Life on Mars, on the basis that the spin off weakened it and you hated Keeley Hawes (and I believe there were a number of people who inexplicably thought this), I shall attempt to bring you up to speed.
Series 1 of A2A had Alex Drake a police psychologist who'd been dealing with Sam Tyler's case, shot in the head by a man who claimed to know the truth of why her parents had died. She wakes up in 1981 to find Gene Hunt, Ray and Chris, characters she knows from Sam's notes turning up at the Met. She is convinced they are all figments of her imagination and spends rather alot of time referrring to them as "imaginary constructs" which I found really funny myself, but other people didn't seem to like it.
The story arc of the series involves her trying to find out who had killed her parents when she was a child, as she feels sure that is what will bring her home to her 12 year old daughter. She does uncover the truth, but it turns out that her father having discovered her mother's affair with Alex's godfather has killed them both, and intended to kill young Alex, who just manages to escape. Discovering the truth doesn't get her home, but it does lead her to greater respect for Gene, who tells her: "I'm everywhere, Bolly. I was needed and I was there.", which is a brilliant line for summing up his character I think.
Series 2 started with time having moved on and Alex being more accepting of her situation. She has begun to trust Gene implicitly, but the story arc this time around leads to both her trust in him and his in her being stretched to the limit. Rather fortuitously (given the current crop of headlines about political sleaze) the series has dealt with police corruption and couldn't have felt more timely.

In the first episode which I reviewed here, Gene and Alex uncover a whiff of police corruption, which Alex suspects goes right to the top, but Gene won't hear a word against his superior officer, known as SuperMac. Alex is suspicious when she follows Gene to a Mason's meeting and hears him take the oath, which leads her considering the offer of dinner from the mysterious smoking man who drugged her in episode 1, leaves her roses and promises he is the only one who can get her home. However, on discovering that Gene, too, is suspicious of Mac, and has only joined the Masons to find out more, Alex decides to stick to what she knows, and rejects the advances of the smoking man (a nice nod to the X Files).
What I loved about this series was the constant seesawing between Alex and Gene, and the occasional unexpected turn of events, as in episode 4 when SuperMac is uncovered as the corrupt officer, and shot just when he's being arrested. His dying words are Operation Rose, and Alex therefore links the smoking man to police corruption, and decides he is not to be trusted.
The smoking man, aka Martin Summers tells her that she cannot get home without his help, and reveals that he is also from the future, and is in the next bed to hers, but she says she'll do it without him. And in the meantime, she is hearing voices from her world telling her first that she's been found, and then that she's being operated on. Alex is sure she is close to getting home, and yet every time she thinks she must be there, she finds herself still trapped in 1982.
I can see why others might not have liked her performance in the last series, it's true she was a bit shrieky (I liked her for that. I think I'd be shrieky too), but this time around I think Keeley Hawes brought out the pain of Alex's situation more, and there was a quiet dogged persistence about her determination to get home to her daughter that I really liked. Also she got to wear alot of great 80s clothes, had a hair style similar to the one I was sporting in 1985, and she had red and white mugs on a mug tree which I also owned c 1985. Plus, of course, wonderful and all as the Sam Tyler/Gene Hunt relationship was, it lacks sexual tension, which the Gene/Alex relationship has in spades. (For the record though, I don't want them to ever get together cos that would ruin it totally. They have to end up thwarted lovers, locked in different dimensions a la Doctor/Rose pre Handy Doctor).
I have to say, that although this whole series has been much deeper, darker, and probably if I'm honest, better then series one, which I did love, the last two episodes really took off with a vengeance. It was really edge of the seat stuff, with twists and turns aplenty and a growing feeling that both Alex and Gene were on the rack.
In the penultimate episode, Alex encounters the young Martin Summers who accuses the owner of a building site where a body has turned up of being involved in corruption. Alex is so convinced that he is as corrupt as his future self, she ignores what he says, to Gene's disgust. Her conviction that Summers is corrupt, leads her to meet him at the building site where the older Summers turns up, and in another omg-I-didn't-see-that-coming moment, shoots the young Summers, and puts the gun into the shocked Alex's hands. Not knowing what else to do, she buries the body in concrete. Now get out of that one, Houdini. (I do love those kind of how the fuck do you get your characters ouf of this kind of moments).
In the meantime, Gene has discovered there is a traitor in his team, and sets a trap to uncover the culprit. I wasn't as clever as Marie, and missed this, so it was a genuine shock to see it turn out to be Chris, who had taken a bung because he'd got into debt to finance his wedding to Shaz. I was gutted. It couldn't be Chris, lovely Chris, who's in love with sweet little Shaz (who has a great 80s beret and crimps her hair and everything), and is the only trying-to-be-reconstructed male about the place.
Marshall Lancaster put in a fine and moving performance of someone who had betrayed everything dear to him, and lost all in the process. I thought he must be for the chop, but we got a typical Gene Hunt (have I mentioned how much I love Gene Hunt?) moment of magnaminity, when he tells the rest of the team, Chris made a mistake but as far as you are concerned, I am judge, jury and executioner (which was nearly, but not quite, as good as he's I've drawn a line in the sand moment after SuperMac dies - told you he's a cowboy.)
The final episode starts with a brilliant brilliant Jackanory moment with Gene as a pretty scary storyteller, if truth be told, reading the story of Alex's life. In the meantime she hears her surgeon saying she's going to be injected with 50ml of super antibiotics to get rid of the fever, but it's up to her to fight it off. Interpreting the fever as the corruption of Operation Rose, she wants to go after that angle, leading her into conflict with Gene who's trying to find out what's happened to a missing snout. However, thanks to a lead from Chris, who's been contacted by the people he was informing, Alex uncovers evidence that the major blag they've been expecting is a bullion robbery, and not only that it's one she's studied at Hendon, so she knows and can prevent the outcome.
In the meantime, Gene is getting a little too friendly with the snout's sister, who drops large hints about not trusting Alex. Now it's Alex who has to win back Gene's trust - a task made more difficult by Martin Summers planting one of the tapes she's been making about her situation in his office. Gene is not best pleased to hear Alex talking about her need to fight him.

In a brilliantly tense scene, Gene confronts Alex and asks if he can trust her, and then she tells him the truth. For a moment, I was sure he was going to buy it, however mad it sounded, because I couldn't bear the thought of Gene not trusting Alex (I know, I know they're imaginary, but they are real to me, so there), but of course to him what she's saying sounds bollocks. So he suspends her, takes her badge away, and tells her if she goes near the bullion robbery he'll kill her (which significantly I feel for series 3, everyone hears).
Alex of course ignores him and turns up at the robbery, which turns out just the way she predicted. Gene and co have been misled so are nowhere near the scene of the crime, which allowed for some very fine and absolutely necessary thrashing of the Quattro (who cares if it's not the exact model for the time, it's one very very cool car, and I don't even like cars.), before turning up in the nick of time to arrest all the bent coppers in the universe apparently (it's a wonder there are any left in Gene world, so many have turned out to be corrupt.)
Meanwhile Chris having encountered Martin Summers, who is masterminding the robbery, who tells him the guilt about what he's doing will eat him alive, follows a suspect who turns on him at the top of a stairwell. I was sure that Chris' story would have to end with him being shot, but it was better than that, just as bad cop pulls the trigger, Shaz appears out of nowhere, complete with wedding dress and beret (she's been having a fitting, but it's such an 80s look), and saves the day. Yay for Shaz. I felt like doing a little jig.
Then...because this episode was really twisty and turny and you never quite knew when it was going to stop, Alex follows Summers, who pulls a gun on her and reveals he's come back to 1982 to stop the robbery, because at the time, as a young cop, he turned a blind eye, and has never been able to live with his conscience since. When he discovers how incorruptible Alex is, he sets up Operation Rose to expose the corruption in the Met...
At which point, in rides Cowboy Gene, armed of course with a gun, to save the day, and Alex. Hurrah. He hasn't given up on her. We knew he wouldn't.
I will shoot, says Gene. I know, says Martin, which is of course what he wants Gene to do. So Gene shoots, Martin falls to the ground, cue very touching deathbed scene (I'd like to have Gene at my deathbed, he says the most comforting things) when Gene reminds Martin of being a young idealistic copper again. It's all over, Alex can go home, she sure thinks she can, and then....
... Snout's sister turns up waving a gun, demanding money, and grabs Alex. Alex, escapes, sister drops gun, Gene shoots, and ... whoops, he's shot Alex.
Everything in Gene world goes all white, and distant and heavenly like, and hey, here she is, Alex is back in the real world. Her surgeon's sitting by the bed, telling her she fought off the infection, and look, here's Molly, she's back, Alex is alive and holding her daughter. How very touching.
Spouse made the fatal mistake of leaving the room at this moment. Unlike me, he doesn't pay much attention to gossip about future tv series, so he probably didn't even know there's a series 3 in the offing. However, as a horror film fanboy, he should have KNOWN that everything was far too clean, and white and sparkly to be right - it reminded me far too much of the end of Nightmare on Elm Street to be a happy ending.
And of course, dear reader, it wasn't.
Just as Alex is left to her own devices watching children's tv, the tv screen changes and there is Gene in all his glory saying, Bolly wake up. They think I shot you. Well I did, but... Would it help if I slapped you? Turns out in 1982, she's been shot, and they think Gene did it.

Cue Alex getting out of bed, running frantically through a hospital full of screens with Gene's face on it shouting, Bolly! and that's it. That's all we're getting for a year. I felt properly wrung out I can tell you.
Is she in a coma in 1982 and 2008? Is Gene's world the real world? Can she ever get home to Molly? Does Molly even exist? Does it matter? Do I care? Cos with TV this much fun, the answers are irrelevant. Although I do want to know if the Quattro's number plate JLY IV 1975 is significant. I feel sure it must be...
I have had three days to calm down, but really that was one of the best series finales I've ever seen. And I shall be squeeing about it for a very very long time. Roll on series 3....

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

To boldly go...

Now that Ashes to Ashes has finished I really really want to squee very very loudly about it. However I am deeply conscious that a certain Ms Phillips is waaaayyyy behind and I do not wish to spoiler her in any way shape or form. So I am restraining myself and not reviewing A2A yet. But I promise I will in time, because it has just been brilliant. Last night was edge of the seat stuff, and I felt just like I did when a) watching the Master being revealed on Dr Who and b) during the series finale of Being Human. And you can't get better then that.

In the absence of any Gene genie reviewing, I'll switch instead to my recent trip to see Star Trek, which I'm overdue reviewing anyway.

Split infinitives aside, if you grew up as I did in the seventies and liked sf, there were two must watch tv programmes. The first of course, was Dr Who, and the second was Star Trek. Without ever claiming to be a Trekkie I do love Star Trek. I love the daftness, the stupid uniforms, Spock raising an eyebrow and saying This is not logical, Dr McCoy, saying It's life Jim, but not as we know it, Scotty saying, I cannae hold her captain, she's going to blow, and Kirk for managing to remain (just) on the right side of the ridiculous fat bloke/hero tightrope he walks.

I also love all the films - particularly The Search for Spock and First Contact, and most of the spin offs. I love Star Trek Generations, missed out on Deep Space Nine, and have a fondness for Voyager which whiled away many a winter Sunday when the children were small.

So naturally I have been very keen to see the new Star Trek film, especially as all the trailers I've seen have made it look so much fun. I finally got to see it the other week, and all I can say is I wasn't disappointed.

If you haven't seen it, avert your eyes...












Star Trek the film has basically reinvented the story, and therefore revived the franchise for a new audience, in the same way that NuWho has done for Dr Who. Hurrah for that. Good franchises should be able to keep going for a new generation (tho' we realised our children are a little Star Trek lite when they were getting muddled up with it and Star Wars), and this certainly is a Star Trek for the 21st century.

The story starts with the birth of Kirk, just as his father dies saving his crew from a Romulan mining ship which has unexpectedly attacked them. Hang on a minute, I hear you say, I didn't think James T lost his dad? No me neither. I have to say thanks to details like this, the first half an hour of this was quite confusing, but in a good, what the hell is going on kind of way? And who is that Romulan guy, and why does he seem so angry?

It is quite some time before the answer are revealed to us, so in the meantime we get to watch Kirk growing up as a bit of a rebel, while Spock grows up trying to prove his Vulcan credentials to his classmates who tease him for being half human. In order to survive Spock represses his human instincts and emotions, though he rather sweetly expresses regret about this to his human mother (played by Winona Ryder). When he graduates from the Vulcan Academy, however, being told he has overcome his disadvantage of being half human, he turns down their offer of a place with them to go to work at Starfleet Academy, where he excels.

Kirk in the meantime is excelling at getting drunk and into fights. Encountering a pretty young cadet from Starfleet called Uhura in a bar, leads him into a fight with some of her classmates. The fight is broken up by Captain Christopher Pike, an old friend of his father's. Pike sets Kirk a challenge to see if he can graduate from Starfleet, which Kirk eventually takes.

On his way to Starfleet, Kirk meets and befriends McCoy, a medical cadet (played by Karl Urban, who of all the new cast brilliantly captures the essence of the character best - you could really imagine this was how a young DeForest Kelley would look), and we then switch forward three years to see him graduate by taking a computer test devised by Spock.

We've become used over the years to seeing Kirk and Spock as the best of friends, even if at moments that friendship can become strained, so I loved the twist in this that Kirk and Spock hit it off on the wrong foot from the start. Spock sees Kirk as arrogant and reckless, and accuses him of cheating when he manages to outwit the computer test Spock has programmed. In the middle of the subsequent hearing, a distress call comes through from Vulcan where a lightning storm has been detected and Starfleet is despatched to help out. Kirk is not among the cadets chosen to go, so McCoy smuggles him aboard the ship . (The scene where McCoy is jabbing Kirk with a needle to reverse the effects of the drug he's given him, rates as one of the funniest in the film.)

Kirk in the meantime is the only one who can see similarities between the incident they are attending and the one that resulted in his father's death. He is sure that they are walking into a trap, and is proved right when they get to Vulcan to see the Starfleet destroyed. Nero, (an unrecognisable Eric Bana) the captain of the Romulan ship, orders Captain Pike to surrender, and he does so, leaving Spock (not Kirk!) in charge of the Enterprise.

It is at this point we finally learn what the Romulans are up to. Nero is drilling a hole into the surface of Vulcan and planning to fill it with red matter which will destroy the planet. Kirk, Sulu and the ship's engineer, who isn't Scotty and is wearing red, so is therefore dispensable, dive down to stop the drill. After the dispensable engineer cops it, Kirk and Sulu manage to destroy it (after a thrillingly exciting sky dive, which had me on the edge of my seat), but not before Nero launches the red matter. An excitable Chekov manages to beam Kirk and Sulu on board in time to save them from destruction, but when he tries to save the Vulcan High Command Spock's mother falls and Chekov is unable to save her. As with the death of Kirk's father at the beginning, it was a genuinely moving moment, not least because of the restraint Spock shows, and the tenderness Uhura demonstrates towards him.

Kirk and Spock then row about their next course of action - Kirk insisting they must go back to save Captain Pike (who is being tortured by Nero for the command codes to earth's defences), while Spock sets a course for Earth. Spock then accuses Kirk of mutiny and dumps him on a frozen planet called Delta Vega, where he encounters... an older version of Spock. And here everything that was deeply confusing about this film suddenly becomes clear as mud. The older version of Spock comes from an alternate reality . In his world (ie the Star Trek world we all know and love) , he was dispatched with red matter to destroy a supernova threatening to destroy the universe. Spock's mission is to turn the supernova into a black hole, which he succeeds in doing. However, not before Nero witnesses his home planet of Romulus being destroyed, for which he blames Spock. Nero travels through the black hole to the new alternate reality it has created (one where James T gets to lose his dad early, Spock loses his mum, and they hate each other), and Spock follows him through some 25 years later. I'm a little bit baffled as to how or why Nero decides to blow up Kirk senior's ship, but that's a quibble really. I think JJ Abrams has pulled off a neat trick to breathe new life into Star Trek while playfully reminding faithful Trekkies what was so good about the original.

Needless to say, Kirk manages to get back on board the Enterprise, thanks to Spock telling Scotty, whom they meet en route, how warp factor works. Scotty as played by Simon Pegg is wonderful. I love Simon Pegg anyway, but you can just TELL that he has probably spent his whole life practising for this part. He was made to be Scotty, and a damned good job of it he does too.
Once on board, at the suggestion of Spock the elder, Kirk gets Spock the younger to admit he is emotionally compromised and give over command of the ship to Kirk. Hurrah. We've got there. Finally, James T is back where he belongs at the helm of the Enterprise. Cue typical Kirk behaviour - he and Spock beam aboard the Romulan ship, Kirk frees Captain Pike, Spock rescues Spock the elder's space ship, destroys the Romulan drill and sets it on course for the Romulan ship. Spock, Kirk and Pike are beamed on board the Enterprise just before the explosion, and Kirk offers the Romulans a chance to escape, which naturally they don't take.
Pike gets made an admiral, Kirk gets the Enterprise, and at the suggestion of Spock the elder Spock the younger joins him as second in command. Course set for more Trekkie adventures for years to come. Job done.

I absolutely LOVED this film, despite the slightly confusing plot. The cast all did a really good job of recreating the characters from the original, even where they didn't look at all alike. Chris Pine looks nothing like William Shatner (far too good looking for starters), but captures the arrogance, risk taking and wit of James T fabulously well, so I believed completely it was the same person. Karl Urban as McCoy, convinced the most, but Zachary Quinto's Spock was also really good.
John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov deserve honourable mentions, and Spouse voted Zoe Saldana's Uhuru as much better then the original (I think that may have had something to do with her looks though (-:) I liked Zoe Saldana too, but this being 21st century Star Trek, she gets to be a bit more then just a pretty face with nice legs, so she has an advantage over Nichelle Nichols.

All in all a treat for Star Trek fans, but a great way to introduce kids to the franchise. A rollicking ride from start to finish, and great fun.

Will be very much looking forward to seeing where the Starship Enterprise goes next...

Friday, June 05, 2009

65th anniversary of DDay

Sixty five years ago my father was a gunner aboard HMS Scourge, pictured above. As a child I can remember seeing pictures of him aged 20, tall, dark, handsome, usually with a fag in hand, photographed on deck with his pals. They were always smiling and laughing, and my dad's tales of the navy tended to dwell on the lighter side: meeting a tarantula when he lifted the toilet seat in Sri Lanka, stopping somewhere in Russia and exchanging food and fags with the local peasants, sailing through snow in the Arctic.

His most memorable tale involved DDay itself. Before the bombardment started, there was a blackout. As they waited in the dark, they heard the sound of a German bomber overhead. As the bomber dropped its load, my father counted them off. One, two, three, four... phew a gap, five, six etc. The ship was in a state of electrified tension as the sound of the plane flew off into the distance. When it had gone, from the bowels of the ship, came the voice of one of the crewmen, renowned for his foul mouth. Cor, I fuckin' prayed, he said. At which point the boat dissolved into laughter. My father who was immensely devout always joked that had he gone to meet his Maker that day, he'd have been counting to ten. Like I say, in common with nearly everyone I know of his generation, he made light of it.
As a teenager though, I can remember him frequently dozing in the afternoons (on board ship he only ever got four hours sleep at a time, so he and his mates resolved that the rest of their lives whenever they got an opportunity to sleep, they'd always take it), and having quite clearly terrible dreams. It gave me an inkling that his wartime experiences weren't so very sunny after all, and thinking about it was probably some kind of post traumatic stress syndrome. When HMS Sheffield went down in the Falklands, I can remember him commenting, that terrible as it was that twenty people died, at least they were able to save the majority of the crew. It was the first indication he gave of the horrors of watching boats sinking and being unable to rescue the men on board, either through lack of time, or not having enough room to take survivors.
In some ways, I think he was lucky. Fil, who was in the army saw some terrible sights, particularly during the Italian Campaign, which to this day doesn't get the recognition it deserves (the soldiers used to sing a song about being DDay Dodgers, so resentful did they feel at the lack of acknowledgement about what they'd done). I can remember him telling us how after one battle, the casualties were so great, and so many men and horses were mortally wounded it fell on himself and another officer to go through the battlefield and put them out of their suffering. They drew lots as to who got the animals and who the men. To his great relief, Fil got the horses, which he found bad enough, but he never asked his companion what he had had to do.
My father by contrast, told us when we went to the 50th celebrations of DDay with him, that as a gunner, he spent a month pounding the beaches, and had no idea if he'd even hit anything. He was a merciful remove from the damage he'd done. However, it was clear as he got older the memories of the sights he'd seen haunted him deeply. The Christmas before he died, he suddenly stood up after dinner one night and made us drink a toast to the men of the Scharnhorst.
The Scharnhorst was the leading battleship of her class in the German Navy and in 1943 was attempting to attack the Atlantic Convoys (which my father was part of) which were vital to ensure the movement of food and supplies between the Allies. The Allies decoded the Scharnhorst's plans and HMS Belfast, Norfolk were despatched to destroy it. You can read more about it here. HMS Scourge was one of the 13 allied ships which encircled the Scharnhorst, but I don't know if it was involved in the sinking of it. However, my father was certainly there to witness it sink. Only 36 men survived, and I think from the little my father said about it, it was the worst thing he witnessed in the war. Like all seamen, he knew it could so easily have been the other way round.
In 1994, the year before he died, my dad travelled to Normandy to meet up with his old mates, and take part in the celebrations. Spouse and I had been visiting mil's family in Germany and were able to come across to see him getting his medal at Caen Cathedral. (We unfortunatelyhad to miss the ceremonies on the beaches thanks to work commitments).
The ceremony itself was fairly short, but very moving, and I was immensely proud to have been there, and met some of those incredible men who did so very much for us. The thing that struck me most was how young they all were - we met one old boy who mused, I was here 50 years ago, when I was 20. I'm much happier to be here now. That generation have such a gift for understatement.
I don't have many regrets about my relationship with my father, which in the main was a good and happy one. But I do regret that I didn't ask him more, when I still could. I know roughly were he went and thanks to the internet, I've even found this account of the Scourge's actions here, but it's not the same as asking him. Although, even at the end of his life, I'm not quite sure he'd ever have been ready to tell.
What I do know, though is this. My dad was not a military man. He wasn't by his own account, a very good seaman. He joined up for one reason only, to stop Hitler. And that's what they did. All of them. That magnificent generation. We owe them such a lot. And for that reason we should never ever forget.
And today, you can also Plant a virtual flag as I did in honour not only of my father, but all the brave men on HMS Scourge and all who took part in Operation Overlord. We wouldn't be here without them.