Tokyo Girls, Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by Kiyoko Miyake

magna images.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08w9lvb/storyville-tokyo-girls

This is creepy and weird. Japan is the kind of insular society that a oriental version of Nigel Farage would approve. In stereotypical fashion the Japanese are polite, but they don’t like foreigners much and tend to stick to their own kind. But they have an aging population and the number of births falls lower every year. Tokyo has one of the highest population densities in the world. Old housing is knocked down and rebuilt, smaller, every thirty years. London bedsits by contrast would be seen as roomy and inexpensive. Every year there is a scandal about houses the size of a coffin None of this is in Tokyo Girls. It’s a simple storyline with the tag ‘Pop idol Rio Hiiragi’s journey toward fame’. I’m giving you the context.  She is a quite pretty girl, twenty-one when the programme ends, but ironically, far too old for many otaku, Japanese idol fans who tend to be middle-aged men with an obsessive interest in young girls.

Otaku originally described a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills. The so called lost generation stuck in their coffin-sized room, locked in with their aging parents, never meet females in the real world but have an obsessive interest in anime and manga fandom. The shy kid that doesn’t go out, but locks himself in. Pop idols like Rio are ready made anime images that they can interact with for a price. They can subscribe to their channels and even attend meets and greets, but they tend to be super-fans such as ‘Pidl’ a middle-aged salary-man who left his job to dedicate his life to Rio. He reckons he spends on average $2000 a month on following her.

Meeting idols is big business, fans such as ‘Pidl’ get to shake their idols hands and look them in the eye. A bouncer is on hand to move them along after about another minute another middle-aged man takes their place and holds the girl’s hand.

Take, for example, Amu, who is thirteen and an idol in a band called Harajuru, where each child has to compete with other children wanting a spot in the band and on stage. She is successful. Male fans get to hold her hand. Amu’s mum, said at first ‘she was scared’ but now thinks of Amu’s fans ‘as fathers to her’.  One of the father-figures declared that he preferred the much younger idols. My guess there’s a Gary Glitter on every corner and this feeds that crazy. To misquote  Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, ‘the silt of tomorrow’ grows in the shit of today.

 

Robert Lautner (2017) The Draughtsman.

the draughtsman.jpg

This is simple fiction based on a first-person account of what if, running to almost 500 pages. In a way it fits in with other books I’ve been reading, with the idea of the self and better self, living the same life, but making different -moral- choices. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First Century was at it quoting reams of Balzac and the conundrum if you needed to torture a Chinese person on the other side of the world, to get what you wanted… Julian Glover was at it in the biography Man of Iron, Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Thomas Telford’s mum reckoned if you were an honest man you could look the devil in the eye. I’d laughed at that because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I know my limitations. I’d skulk away.

But what if you were Ernest Beck, it’s April 1944, you’ve graduated from university, newly married to Etta, the honeymoon stage and your living together in a cramped room, short of money, reliant on handouts from your parents, looking for work as a draughtsman and someone offers you a dream job? ‘A contract. Real work.’

You’d take it, right? We all would. But what if your dream job is designing ovens for Buchenwald and the other death camps. Your remit is to make them more efficient. The body fats of the victims can be used as fuel rather than gas or the other less cost-efficient fossil fuels.

But what if you’d already moved into a new house, rent free, much bigger and better than you could afford. What you are doing is not illegal. In fact it is classified as so secret your boss, who runs the department under the auspices of the well know Topf’s industry, takes the file from you every night and locks it away. Topf industry benefits from contracts with the SS, but they do not run the camps. They do not herd inmates into the gas chambers. Topf industry simply fixes the machinery and suggests innovations. They have competitors and if they didn’t do it, their competitors would undercut them and step in and take the work away from them and they would lose the profit. Everything is done by the book, following the rules. German efficiency.

What if you’ve moved into your new house, outside your work, and sometimes you can work from home and your wife Etta tells she has false papers. She is a Jew. She is also a Communist sympathiser and knows other dedicated to the overthrow of existing social order.

What if your boss, Hans Klein, with the best suits, best car and a finger in every pie, tells you he put his own father in the camps because he hired Jewish workers on his farm. Your boss is as psychopathic as Donald J Trump. Would you work for him?

You know the war is coming to an end and your boss knows about you. He asks you to do a little favour for him and it ends badly. The thing your boss values most, the only thing he values, money, his money has been lost and it’s your fault, but you need his help. Do you run or do you stay?

What if you had to make a deal with the devil, what would it be?

Lautner takes us through these various scenarios. There’s echoes of  Stanley Miligram’s famous experiment. Most of us fold (65%) when dealing with authority. And the propaganda and hatred whipped up by, for example, George Osborne against the poorest in our unequal society, given the blame for making us in Britain poorer has modern day echoes. I’ve often asked why doctors worked for Atos, when, as skilled workers they could get jobs elsewhere. But, of course, it’s easy to blame others. Or in Osborne and the Nazi’s case the Other. That’s a double act as old as Old Nick. What about the compromises we make ourselves? Accepting packages and shopping with Amazon. Using Google. Eating processed meat and eggs that comes from animals bred, bled and killed in a cruel manner never seeing sunlight or grass. I wouldn’t look old Nick in the eye and I tend to look away from these things. We make sense of the world by telling ourselves lies. Don’t be fooled into thinking your any different is the message Lautner is peddling. I’m buying that one. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a happy ending. It’s one of the few wars the Americans wore the white hats, good guys, who could look at themselves in the mirror.  Can you? asks Lautner

The Summer of Love: How Hippies Changed the World, directed and produced by Mike Connelly, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer.

how hippies changed the world.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08tb97c/the-summer-of-love-how-hippies-changed-the-world-series-1-episode-1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08tr64x/the-summer-of-love-how-hippies-changed-the-world-series-1-episode-2

I loved this nostalgic look back at the The Summer of Love and How Hippies Changed the World, but I think there should be a question mark at the end of it. I was five in 1967. Pyjamas had not been commercialised to the extent that Superman pyjamas existed, but even if they did I couldn’t have flown to Haight-Ashbury in California to drop out. I hadn’t even been to school yet and I wasn’t much of a hippy, short-back and sides haircut and shiny shoes (well mostly shiny, until the toes got kicked out of them). Now we have the moron’s moron in the White House and a world which F Scott Fitzgerald would be familiar with and wrote about in The Great Gatsby. The Tom Buchanan’s of the world are in public office and run the world. Gut prejudices about race, gender and religion are public policy and we in back in the l920s where money routinely runs from the poor to the rich at an increasing rate. Hate has pretty much conquered love. The third world war has already begun with global warming and there’s been rearmament of hypocrisy.  Money talks. Aristotelian and Christian ideas of wholeness in the service of self and the community, well, it’s just went to pot. And I’m not even sure it ever existed, but here is the evidence in Part 1 that it was more a fad.

Patron saint of Haight/Ashbury Aleister Crowley. ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. John Sinclair sums it up by talking about the church of weirdness, perhaps as an antidote to the church of white supremacy and middle-class spending to get ahead of the rat race. The anthem of course sung by Scott Mackenzie and written by John Philips of the Mamas & Papas, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear a Flower in your hair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bch1_Ep5M1s) and that’s what hundreds of thousand young people did. LSD, opening up the portals of the mind and being one with the ‘gentle people there’, ‘a whole generation, people in motion.’ Different tribes the nature boys, students from Berkeley, radicals from left-wing ‘Diggers’, New Agers and old agers like Aldous Huxley and coalesced around pop music and the need for change. We get the likes of  Jimmi Hendrix’s ripped version of the Star Spangled Banner and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin being nothing but herself, but strangely no Nobel Prize winning Bob Dylan, who more than any epitomises zeitgeist change from 1967 to now, the rise of the economic opportunities created by hippies and the cultural appropriation of their music and lifestyles to create money for the fat cats. For a moment San Francisco might have been a scene not from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (Heaven and Hell) but his less well known novel, Island, in which young people are taught to love their bodies and explore their sexuality from an early age together, without guilt and live at one with nature on their Island. Island ends with a young Trump like figure coming on gun ships to rescue them from all that depravity and lack of respect about who owns what.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World looks a bit worn now, no longer new, bypassed by Anthony Burgess’s  violence for violence’s sake in  A Clockwork Orange and George Orwell’s 1984, with its idea of DoubleThink and betrayal looking the best bet to explain alternative facts and false news. The world now is less utopian, but the second episode shows the backlash against dropping out and opposing the system. The Black Panthers, Yippes and other left-wing groups were no match for Hoover’s FBI surveillance, police batons and bullets. Those that dropped out of sight –politically- and retired to remote communities in the American countryside were largely left unmolested. Unless you were a woman. Then patriarchy still prevailed. Put up and shut up being the underbelly of hippydom. And those tens of thousands of crazy kids than went to San Franciso were cannon fodder for poverty, abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and the gurus like Charles Manson. You can’t fuck with the government and get away with it was the message, but you can fuck up someone else’s life, as long as you lie low. Did Hippydom change the world? Did David Bowie? Did Punk? Did Oasis or the Stone Roses? Discuss.

 

John Cornwell (2015) The Dark Box. A Secret History of Confession.

the dark box.jpg

I was looking for a review I’d written for John Cornwell’s autobiography Seminary Boy, a fabulous book, but it seems I haven’t written it. Nor have I written a review for The Hiding Places of God (Powers of Darkness, Powers of Light). An unsettling book. These are sins of omission. Ah, you may ask, what do you mean by sin? That’s really the crux of this book.

My personal definition of sin is selfishness. Selfishness in thought or deed or word. That may sound vaguely familiar. I’m a Catholic and, in an earlier incarnation, was even an altar boy. I’ve got a whole Cathedral inside my head of rote learning and memes for every eventuality.  Non-Catholics can take a shortcut and watch Jimmy McGovern’s Broken series (I watched the first one). There is a better self, somewhere inside me.   The quote by Aristotle taken up as a mantra by the Jesuits,  ‘give me a boy at seven and I will give you the man’ couldn’t be more apt. Michael Apsted’s  7-UP series was based on that premise and it did show consistently that this was the case. Sin, John Cornwell, tells us is derived of the notion of being ‘wide of the mark’ and the priests in his book, generally, are very wide of the mark. It’s no coincidence that the Irish priests on Craggie Island in Father Ted came in three recognisable stereotypes, old and alcoholic, Father Ted, a bit cynical and not yet alcoholic and then there is bumptious Dougal. Cut off from life and childhood and the outside world is something Cornwell is familiar with, a process Richard Holloway also writes about. It’s unnatural enough to produce a generation of sexual predator priests protected by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. And Cornwell has personal experience of being groomed to be abused. He outlines how it happened in his autobiography and here. The sickness in the Roman Catholic Church is systemic and derives from a hatred of the human body and a plague of priests steeped in hypocrisy and schizophrenic thinking. It wasn’t me that done it but the devil made me. God will forgive me, as long as I confess my sins.  Michael Foucault argues in History and Sexuality,  Confession shaped the modern perception of sexuality.

Take, for example,  Maria Goreti murdered by a lodger, but at least she died a virgin. Rape is a sin against chastity. A far more serious sin is the sin of masturbation. ‘Pullito’.  I, of course, have never masturbated, but I have had a few wanks. Pope Pius XI also warned against the dangers of motion pictures. This was before Dirty Dancing, but of course, any kind of dancing was frowned upon, a breaking of God’s rules. A model priest was someone like the ascetic parish priest of Ars, near Lyon, Jean-Marie Vianney. Born in 1786 Vianney heard tens of thousands of confessions and had preternatural knowledge of who was going to hell. He could tell who the masturbators where before they dared open their mouths or their flies. My favourite story of Vianney was his believe that the best thing to do to stop hungry children stealing apples was cutting down all the apple trees, which he did. Some priests attempt to, or have, cut off their penis.  God likes virgins. So it seems do many priest, based on the premise that you can’t hurt an altar boy because they are the equivalent of Barbie’s Ken.  Adam and Evil in the garden. I’ll let you guess which of the sexes was evil. The Virgin Mary balances that out. Cathars of course thought the Virgin Mary sprang from Jesus’s ear. I’m not sure how that worked. I just hoped it wasn’t a sexual thing.

Cornwell calls for the sacrament of Confession to be brought into the modern world. Children should not make their first Confession when they have no idea what sin is and therefore have as much chance of committing a sin as a banana. Childish innocence should be cherished.   He doesn’t hold out much hope of that happening. And I’m with him on that one.  I also think there is a role for the confessional, but I’m not sure how it would look or how it would work. But I’m willing to be proved wrong. As the agnostic Richard Holloway has consistently argued the most dangerous man is one who refuses to believe he might be wrong. Fundamentalists are Us.

don’t look down

grenfel.jpg

don’t look down—

poor people who work for little—

and expect little more—

don’t look down—

refuge bees like you and—and—and

shrinking away to god knows where—

don’t look down—

look up at the skyline—

glossed hegemonies timeline—

don’t  look down—

the beginning of a which hunt—

all the things you knew—

taken away from you—and

don’t look down—

piety and talk of sacrifice—

 

—  the latest trend

of the many lessons learned

don’t look down

resist the feeling of déjà vu

because it never happened to you

don’t look down

don’t expect remorse

but silence please

 

Alan Judd (2017) Deep Blue

deep blue.jpg

 

Any book with a cover showing a submarine in a loch gives me that sinking feeling. I’ve never read any of Alan Judd’s books. He’s prolific and has a whole stack of fiction and nonfiction published. Deep Blue was West Dunbartonshire libraries novel of the week (here’s where I do a bit of boasting and tell you my novel Lily Poole was also a novel of the week https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356) and that’s how I heard about it, from the library’s website. It’s a topical novel, dealing with fringe groups of the SNP, terrorism and the bureaucracy of government and in particular the work of M16 and M15.  The hero and narrator is Charles Thoroughgood, head of M16. He’s looking back to a time in the 1980s, when the term Deep Blue, first came into play, a relic of the Cold War, still on file, but a dead end, until, of course, it rises up again.   Narration  alternates between Thoroughgood’s past and present and the plotting is superb. I read almost 300 pages in two gulps.

Any book about agents and the Cold War automatically gets compared with John Le Carre. Judd handles superbly well the backbiting of politics, turf wars between government departments, the Home Secretary, and the heads of M15 and M16. You’ve probably never heard of special government advisors (SPADs).  Unfortunately I have. David Cameron and that other spawn of the devil, George Osborne were SPADs, unpaid lackeys, waiting for their chance to enter the House of Commons.

The Sovbloc file on Deep Blue also has a narrator, codename Badger, returning to his gulag to check out his bunk and the guards that still watch over it in Gorbachev’s era. He’s a fixer in the Politburo named Federov and has climbed the greasy poll to the top of the Kremlin. Federov, also, incidentally, writes like a novelist and his copy of that visit is pasted verbatim in English into the file on Badger.  The young Charlie finds from an old Russian crony, Joseph, elderly Russian émigré and British agent in Paris who shared the gulag with Badger that the latter can be tapped for information.  He can be turned. It won’t be easy but isn’t that difficult either, but following false trails and Josef getting drunk and nostalgic the past becomes the present and Deep Blue is something Badger mentions as a long-term piece of KGB sabotage.

Somehow this is tied in with the Home Secretary’s SPAD, a woman, Melanie Stokes who had no clearance from the Home Office or M16 and whose current partner, James Micklewaite is on file as having worked with the KGB and dissident members of SNP that aim to get Trident missiles moved out of the Scotland and Faslane. Amen to that (sshh I’m also a dissident and have voted SNP and for Independence).  And James’s sister was once Charles’s girlfriend and Charles’s current wife is the former wife of  the head of M16, who died suddenly and was also Charlie’s close friend. Everybody knows everybody, but this is London. This is bureaucracy at work and there’s something of the John Le Carre-ish at work here too, with the kind of overworked head of the service having to investigate Deep Blue whilst ostensibly on holiday to save money and more importantly to save face if anything goes wrong. Deep Blue is radioactive, but not as radioactive as failure, which gets everyone scurrying in the other direction and hunkering down.

The denouement is in my neck of the woods, Dumbarton and the road to Roseneath. The heroic Charles saving innocent children’s lives turns out to be bathetic, which is exactly the right tone. Alan Judd is a wonderful writer, who really knows his stuff. But there were a few minor quibbles, usually involving someone smiling. And someone is looking at someone else ‘interrogatively’. I’ll need to investigate that one myself.

Alan Johnson (2016) The Long and Winding Road: A Memoir.

long and winding road.jpg

I’d like Alan Johnson to be Prime Minster. That seems outlandish as Jeremy Corbyn, but Johnson is not such a Daily- Hate- Mail figure. But he was Home Secretary under the Labour Government 2009-10, a position our current Prime Minster Teresa May held before becoming Tory leader. I guess at the end of polling today she’ll remain Prime Minister. I read an interview with Paul O’Grady on Sunday in which he wished the heads of David Cameron, and his sick sidekick, George Osborne should be placed on display on Tower Bridge. I’m not sure I’d add Teresa May to that list, but I could easily be persuaded. Cameron and Osborne poisoned debate and played to the Tory grandees by using stereotypes of working-class life taken from shows such as Jeremy Kyle to cut the welfare budget and keep cutting it with spurious claims that it was to bring the nation’s deficit down to zero. If black people were portrayed in this way it would be classified as a criminal offence. Inciting racism. The promise to cut the nation’s deficit has been quietly side-lined by May.

The Long and Winding Road at one point tells us how the Conservative Party stage manages its annual get together. That’s when they pick their victims. The usual line-up. Johnson managed to infiltrate the conference. There’s a cartoon Johnson, from The Times, May 1994, portrayed as dog, savaging the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Helseltine who had lined up the Post Office – Telecom, Royal Mail, Parcelforce and Post Office Counters – as the next public service to be privatised. All were in profit, but, of course, it wasn’t about that. It was about ideology. Privatisation is good because it makes rich people richer wasn’t one of their arguments, but you get the general drift. The buzz word is usually efficiency.

That’s two paragraphs and I’ve barely mentioned Johnson’s book. I found it a bit boring and got to page 111 and pulled the bookies slip I was using as a bookmark from the book. The chances of me reading on are slim. It’s Johnson’s third autobiography and there is repetition. He needs to bring those that have not read his first book up to speed. This Boy, which is by far his best, outlines what happens when his feckless father left his sainted mother Lily, and the family was left to fend for themselves in East London slums in the 1950s.  I started with his second book, Please, Mr Postman, and worked my way backwards to This Boy.  Alan Johnson has met his future wife, who works with his sister Linda, but already has a kid, but they settle down in Slough. He starts working for the Post Office, a postman, all childhood dreams of becoming a pop star, put out of his head, with as much overtime as he wanted, leaving little time for anything else.  By the time the reader gets to The Long and Winding Road we know where the story is going, but the narrative drifts into meeting people such as Tony Blair who are going to become famous and blokes we’ve never heard of, but are salt of the earth type. It gets cliched and boring. But that’s my opinion. You May think otherwise. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow Teresa May will still be Prime Minster, but not my Prime Minster and she’ll write a book in later years about her Long and Winding Road. Yawn.