Posts from 7th November 2003
The problem with The Bill, these days, is that even LISTING its problems is hard enough, let alone solving them. Let’s see: no interesting or even likeable new characters; the unease abt when stories are exciting (= endless Kilroy-style folk-panic “BIIIIIG” themes: paedophile rings, serial killing, international drug gangs, the popular officer who’s a demented stalker, the gay sarge in love with the sexually confused copper*, the entire senior-officer-is-a-rapist-turned-pantomime-luny season, zzzz), the problems of canteen-culture realism after Stephen Lawrence; eps no longer half-an-hour and self-contained…
(*Actually I quite enjoyed this story…)
I’ve watched it on and off for 20 years, never recently as religiously as I did 88-98. I miss the rotund and testy old-timers like (especially) Derek Conway. I miss the everydayness of most of the stories: they weren’t all badly-tackled “glamour issues”. And they were SO NEATLY WRITTEN, little half hours of perfect dramatic structure, running the flatfoots’ tale against the tecs’, for deft contrast and implicit comment. I miss its unexpected wit, daring even (their “Fly on the Wall” ep of 1999, I think, with the station’s daily life caught on documentary, was just so excellent).
Anyway I was flicking channels last night, and caught a scene with Ramani de Costa: in a way it was all “actor-business”, ways of doing things, expressions, moves, ideas, but it caught my attention because here was someone having fun again. So that was one thing. I stayed and watched a bit, and the “racist tension in Sunhill” story was actually neatly done, a good thoughtful expectation-reversal which took the issue seriously without being sententious or preachy or (their pre-eminent mode for far too long lately) just stupid.
The lethal station-fire that Barry from Brookside set, all those seasons ago, carried off a whole raft of unreplaceable steady intelligence in this ensemble, and the balance has never returned. There are still far too many histrionic dullards at Sunhill, but they didn’t dominate this episode, which is a good (re)start. The value of long-running quasi-realistic procedurals like this, I think, is that they reflect what we hope and dream the actual World of BritCop could be like today, if only if only if only… It’s not a bad thing to have this expectation crystallised: after all, it only makes you complacent if you go on to ignore everything you know about non-fictional policing culture, rather than contrast and compare and act accordingly.
Things that do not make me proud of my home town. Well apart from it being the burning people alive capital of Britain, there is this lovely story of the convicted football hooligan playing for the local football team. This has caused a slight problem because ver Wood are playing Blackpool this weekend in the FA, and said hooligan is banned from league football grounds. Luckily the FA see no conflict on being tough on hooligans and letting them actually play the game. And possibly intellectually there isn’t (but I cannot see football as an ideal way of channelling aggression elsewhere). The excuses used on the news piece are poor to say the least. And when are the club going to realise that everyone else calls in Borehamwood: ONE WORD.
An update on my cookery course is long overdue. Things have pretty much settled into a rhythm, and most of the narrative interest is anthropological rather than gastronomic.
We’re not really competing on the quality of our cooking, and there’s nothing but co-operation food-wise: I have no trouble getting a lend of some yoghurt when my 12p bargain-pot from the co-op turns out to strawberry-flavour [doh!!], and a fellow student and I are zooming back and forth between our cookers as we keep a close eye on how the other’s rogan josh is doing. (If it looks like there’s too much liquid, just let it cool, and you may find the sauce is a lot more sticky and thick than you think.)
So maybe it’s just me, but I think people are coming earlier and earlier, getting started sooner and sooner, and bringing more and more pre-chopped ingredients (given the first fifteen minutes is always chopping onions, this does make some sense). Are we really racing for some imaginary prize, scoring cheap points out of currying faster?
Funnily, although more and more of what were once obscure secrets are now being revealed to me — how to make a rogan josh which tastes better than a carry-out, how to make those noodles you get in bombay mix — nothing’s losing its mystery or appeal. I can know how to do it, and even know that I know how to do it, and yet I can still find it amazing every time that I actually manage to produce a tasty supper!
Tomorrow night CB and I are going to experiment on two guinea pigs, sorry, friends of ours — I think the only danger will be in trying to do too much at once. But if we do achieve the culinary equivalent of falling of your bike while trying to do a particularly impressive wheelie, you can be sure I’ll pass on the gory details…
Turning a book into a film presents the adapter with a fundamental problem. How do we represent internal narration and monologue on the screen. The usual method is to not bother, and just be content with cramming the screen with the action. But what if you have a book that does not have much action? I’ve not read it, but from the film version I am pretty sure that Young Adam is a book with a lot of internal voice. It certainly has not got much action.
It is a film of two halves, as directed by Douglas Mackenzie, who also helmed the worst film I have seen this year: The Last Great Wilderness. It is a massive improvement on that pile of tripe, there is real power in the central performance by the end. This is where the two halves come in. The half where we are shown Joe (Ewan MacGregor) and slowly shown how this cheeky but haunted chap is really just a bit of a philandering cunt is pretty unengaging. It centres on an affair which you know will be discovered so you wait, fingers over the eyes, for the eventually rather anti-climatic reveal. The fact that Peter Mullan’s character does not beat the crap out of Joe is the moment the film changes. This is also the moment you get the feeling that this is going somewhere interesting.
Actually it doesn’t even get that interesting. But the potential that any moment Joe may make the decision that would be morally right but might end his life keeps you gripped. The fact that there is enough ambiguity about Joe leads the second half a real tension. One perhaps spoiled by the ending. But nevertheless Ewan wanders tortured though this part of the film as I would imagine the book cranks off pages and pages of tortured internal dialogue. The film probably never reaches the desired depth of the book, but convinces us that often people aren’t always bad, shit happens to bad people, and that the bad guys may sometimes torture themselves with their very badness.
OK, I ‘fess up: professed Timberlake-hata that I am, even I warmed to him on the MTV Europe Music awards. I can see there’s something about him — the little boy lost looks and the floppy-limbed mobility — which is going to win over the women, but I was more impressed by his apparently easy rapport with the Neptunes. (Although obviously I could be being fooled by the smoke and mirrors of the production — check out Xtina and Kelly’s stagey faux bitch-fest) I’ve found myself in a laddish and male-dominated working environment for the first time in my life recently, and what I felt I was getting from JT was a glimpse of someone so comfortable in his shoes that women would love him and men respect him for being himself, rather than toughing it up like the preposterous Vin Diesel… but then if I had the money, and the press, that JT’s had over the last year, I’d be pretty damn comfortable too.
So when did Christina become such a star? I suppose the big clue was Britney ripping off *her* looks for her latest video (watching BS with Madonna is like watching your teenage sister’s best-friend copping off with your mum: unedifying for all concerned). I guess I won’t be surprised if she’s vanished without trace in eighteen months, but just for one night, she sassed and preened like she was born for it rather than made for it.
Low point of the awards was the attempt to ‘include’ the host nation in the glitz and glam of the televisual world. Where the Darkness can cut it in this modern-day neverland, Travis (Londoners anyway) really fucking can’t. Their piss-weak anti-war demo (in both senses of the word I suppose) was more memorable for the arses of the models than the slogans on the placards they were hiding their personals with. Certainly the Tartan Army’s run-throughs of the ‘best song’ nominatees trumped Travis’s half-hearted Thom Yorke-literock mannerisms. This was ‘issue’-raising tokenism at its worst: absorbing the horror of war into the other-world of MTV defuses it and reduces its scandalous reality.
For what is really nothing but a giant PR-stunt for all concerned, I don’t think Edinburgh came off as well as it might have done: a few pretty backdrops; a hideous ‘och aye the noo’ from Kelly Osbourne, whose accent is approaching Vicky from Eastenders levels of absurdity; the aforementioned TA singing their painted hearts out; Vin Diesel pretending to be a movie-star pretending to be a movie-star pretending to be someone’s idea of a Scottish legend by shouting ‘freedom’. But the virtual award-a-ganza was always going to win in a fight with any actual town it might have visited. Let’s hope the cabbies and hoteliers made a packet, because the thought of all this happening about ten minutes walk from my home just didn’t do much for me.
Too much reality? The most extraordinary piece of TV I’ve seen recently was Matthew Kelly turning the tables on his host on the Frank Skinner Show. The shaven-headed giant had a sinister grin on his face as he demanded that Skinner repeat the lame jokes he had cracked at Kelly’s expense during the tabloid feeding-frenzy which had engulfed the other a short while before. Skinner squirmed and wriggled before he consented to recap his own offences, and as Kelly pointed out, his remarks really weren’t so funny when he was actually present. Although Skinner stood his ground and defended his right to make topical humour, I felt Kelly had the better of him: but unfortunately not all the folk ridiculed in the media have the option to appear and face down the finger-pointers. Was this rehearsed? For once, and I almost never believe that ‘live’ means live, I think this might have been happening for the first time. There was a point where Skinner looked as if he genuinely thought Kelly might thump him — and he’s not that good an actor — and his voice had reached its highest pitch by the time his last bathetic plea fell devastatingly flat: ‘I’m a comedian, it’s just my job!’
When did jogging become running? I’m pretty sure there must be some kind of rockism at work — and I know I’ve been guilty of it… especially over this summer when training for the Great Scottish Run. What was supposed to calm me down and help my concentration over a three month period of unemployment became nearly as obsessive as the general angst which the running was supposed to alleviate.
The rewards were a pretty good time for a first half marathon (1hr 50)… and a knee injury which kept me off the streets for a month and a half. Combined with the start of a new job which involves more than an hour and a half of commuting time daily, this had put paid to any continued exercise programme. Until now, that is. So the theory is that if I see myself as a ‘jogger’, I might be able to take my running a little less seriously — and conversely, find more time to fit it into my life.
It had got to the point where anything less than an hour and a half of running + warm-up and cool-down time, seemed like a waste of effort. But a few short jogs a week have got to be a better bet fitness-wise than NO long runs a week. What remains to be seen is whether blogging this is going to help or hinder my progress!
Gastropubs are the desert mirage for the peripatetic drinker (or pubhopper, if you prefer). Wandering through an unfamiliar part of town these days it’s quite possible to spot what looks like a solid boozer, ideal for slaking your deadly burning thirst, only to find when up close that it’s all napkins and cutlery and not right at all. Ragged and thirsty you trudge on, cursing the devilish chimera…
My main reason to disapprove of gastropubs is not really this dirty trick played on the unsuspecting pub prospector. It’s not even that the food is often overcomplicated, overpriced and uninspired. It’s more that a lot of these premises were perfectly good pubs and have been put beyond use*. Too often they’re snob holes and have stamped out any vestige of what’s best about a really good pub: a sense of inclusion, of welcome.
But what if a gastropub takes over an intolerable premises like Bar Citrus on The Cut? What if there’s a really comfortable bar area which lets you ignore the diners? What if the food they serve is simply and beautifully cooked but with adventurous ingredients? What if the staff are so friendly that you couldn’t feel intimidated if you tried? Wouldn’t it all be OK?
Yes. I was in the Anchor and Hope last night, which is the new venture involving the squirrel-cooking marrowbone munchers from St John, amongst others. I ate a lovely big savoury bowl of tripe, almost cassoulet-style with a tomato sauce involving sausage and pancetta and goodness knows what else, accompanied by delicious chips. My lovely assistant chose braised hare which was so strong and delicious it was like eating pate off the bone. We loved it. Not so much that it forced me to change my mind about gastropubs, naturally, but enough to make me think that this is the exception that proves me right.
(*Not as far beyond the pubhopper’s use as the old Crystal Tavern in Surrey Quays, which has been converted into some kind of church which calls itself the Christ-All Tavern, obv.)
Tidying Up Art by Ursus Wehrli will be found in the “Humour” section of your local Waterstones, next to horrors such as The Little Book Of Management Bollocks and Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody. Don’t be misled – Tidying Up Art is a masterpiece.
Ursus has invented a way of interpreting art that I’d like to describe as retentive deconstruction. Put simply, he takes famous works of art, and tidies them up. Magritte’s Golconde is tidied into neat rows, becoming a disturbing dole queue. Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles is given a spring cleaning. Bruegel’s tumultuous village square becomes a ghost town. It’s rare to find such a different perspective on art. Now where’s my dustpan and brush?