Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland, Part 1, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, director Mike Reily.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bwzhy6/billy-connolly-made-in-scotland-series-1-episode-1

Billy Connolly is one of our most successful exports. A bit like Sean Connery, but with a beard and a lot more hair. Nobody comes away with the usual shite, oh, I can’t understand what he’s saying, he doesn’t speak proper English. Well, fuck off then. I must admit I wasn’t a fan. Obviously, being that age, I got what he meant by The Crucifixion, that LP which was meant to be, oh, so funny.

You know it’s one of those jokes when somebody tells you all about it, I think it was Summy and they’re laughing so much, you think it must be hilarious. Judas goes up to the cross and Jesus tells him to come closer and closer and the punchline is Jesus sticks the heid on him. Ho. Ho. So fucking what?

As Billy Connolly admits, you get guys telling you funny things like that all the time. Only now do I appreciate when I’m a grumpy old cunt do I appreciate what Billy Connolly was doing then and is doing now. He’s telling it like it is, or at least like it was. That’s your da, that’s my da, when they’re pissed. Here’s your daft auntie, singing at the Christmas party, a song without any words but lots of shoulders and tear-filled emotion. Billy Connelly gets it, which is initself a gift, but his genius is he translates it into Glasgowese. Don’t try and get above yerself or somebody will knock you down.

He was a welder in the shipyards, those men only spaces where everybody let rip and you had to shout to be heard. And everybody took the piss out of everybody else because that’s how you got through the day. Dour men would find their voice in that other men-only space of the boozer. And of course there was bigotry. I’m not a Billy, you’re a Tim.

Billy recalls calling an old guy in the yard a blue nose and being held down and his nose painted blue. That’s funny in a lot of ways. It couldn’t happen now? Keep parroting and peddling that line until you believe it.  Billy called bigotry ‘a hobby’. The best of men, became the worst of men, for a few hours and after a few drinks brought their life back to normal. We’re still here. Especially in the build-up and aftermath of an Old Firm game. We’re still here today. Billy Connelly tells it like it is. Long may he last. Truth will out.

Rangers 1—0 Celtic

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I love Celtic and hate Rangers, but nobody can deny Rangers deserved to win yesterday’s Old Firm match.

Brendan Rodgers in the post-match interview stated plainly. ‘We didn’t play well,’ which is a bit of an understatement. ‘We made too many mistakes.’ Now we’re getting warmer. And most shocking of all. ‘Rangers were better than us.’

Steven Gerard, after the victory, took a line out of Martin O’Neil’s old phrase book. ‘Celtic are the benchmark.’

Celtic have regressed in the last two years and Rangers are better. They currently sit on the same points, with Celtic having a game in hand. A title race is on.

We’ve been here before of course. Remember Rangers win on penalties are Hampden Park in the Scottish Cup under Ronny Deila?

Yesterday’s team is always tomorrow’s dream. Rodger’s track record of domestic dominance, seven trophies out of seven and undefeated in the previous twelve encounters with Rangers, while handing out quite a few scuddings, gives him the kind of leeway that a rookie coach like Deila could never hope for.

But all over the pitch we were rotten yesterday. Craig Gordon was our man of the match, which tells you all you need to know.

Our left back, Calum McGregor, was the only other outfield player that got pass marks. He actually got a shot on target and scored, only for it to be disallowed for offside. He kept his composure when all around him, his Celtic team mates, were losing theirs. That’s why he should have been playing in central midfield where he usually plays. Helping to control the game. Johnnie Hayes should have played left back.

Scott Brown, who has been a top man in these games in the last few years,  had one of those games were his nuts were literally in a twist, from a Alfredo Morelos kick.

And on another day Morelos might have been sent off for his stupidity. He’d two other flicks and kicks that went unseen by the referee. But overall Morelos had the run on Filip Benkovic, who had the kind of game where we’d be sending him back to Leicester early and demanding a refund, but it didn’t last, he went off injured.

Mikael Lustig also went off injured at half time. We’ve been saying for two years we need a new right back. Every big game he gets the runaround. Go back over the years and you’ll see a recurrence of Ranger danger comes down the right wing. Here Ryan Kent had Lustig running in circles.

The worst defender of a defence that  you couldn’t defend ws Dedryck Boyata. He’s one of the best headers of the ball in Scottish football. The problem is he thinks he’s a football player. Martin O’Neil had a simple plan. Don’t play the ball back to Bobbo, unless you flick it up in the air and he can head it like a seal. The same stipulation should apply to Boyata. Over the years we slated Effie Ambrose for the kinds of mistakes that Boyatta made yesterday and regularly makes. Look no further back that to the 3-2 win at Ibrox, when Boyata had a hand in the two or Ranger’s goals. But such is the paucity of our options that he is being hyped as something special. Bang average on a good day. And yesterday far below the standard you’d expect of a Clyde, never mind a Celtic player.

Which brings us to that other nine-million rated player (figures quotes from supposed bids at the start of the season) Olivier Nitcham. For such a big boy he was bullied all over the park. He looked off pace and in the wrong place, which he was, he shouldn’t have been near the starting eleven.  Still young, he needs to improve massively.

Ryan Christie, before his injury, has been a Celtic talisman. The kind of figure that is held up and said if you wait for your chance and you get it, then you’ll get what you deserve. A goal a game man. Unpicking defences. Setting up goals. Playing the balls to the feet of Ranger’s players or out of the park.

Scott Sinclair fresh from his hat-trick against Aberdeen showed exactly why after five minutes here you were better taking him off. He offered nothing. And gave nothing.

James Forest gave honest effort and little guile. He might have been taken off had we enough subs, or enough bodies to fill the jersey.

Mikey Johnston had lived the dream. Coming on to the pitch against Hibs his cameo performance lifted the team. In his last twenty minutes, at Easter Road,  Johnstone was Celtic’s best man on the park, which wasn’t saying much. Rodgers got the selection wrong that day too. Johnston had the whole game against Dundee and from the Cruyff-like turn for the first goal to his second headed goal, we could see the kid was something special. We expected him to start against the Dons. He didn’t, but started here. Frozen out by misplaced passes and high balls. The wrong game in so many ways for our light star.

Odsonne Edouard came on for the last half hour. Almost single-handed the striker destroyed the Dons. Should have started. Never started. Never got going.

Kristoffer Ayer came on for Benkovic. Ayer has a bit of previous with Morelos bullying him and the Rangers striker did in the second half what he did in the first to Benkovic, only this time with the six-foot-five Celtic giant. To be fair, Ayer wasn’t the worst.

Anthony Ralston is not a polished performer. I’m not sure if he’s a right back. Neither is Rodgers. But sometimes shear sweat and effort as Rangers showed here can be enough. Ralston was better than Lustig.

Rangers were better than Celtic.

The Snow Wolf: A Winter’s Tale, BBC 2, BBCiPlayer, writer and director Fred Fougea, narrator Emilia Fox.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bwqdbg/the-snow-wolf-a-winters-tale

Here we have a Fox, in this case Emilia, talking about a wolf, or Snow Wolf. I know what you’re thinking. Where’s David Attenborough? That whispering presence that adds the glitter and gold dust to so many BBC productions and ensures the gold standard of reportage. Here we have to do with the lesser known relative, of lesser lineage, but admirable in her own way.

The camera work is a miracle. We know how they get up close with tracking collars and cameras that film for twenty-four hours. We see the Snow Wolf’s trek through the Alps, the Dolomites and other European mountains such as the Pyrenees.

In any drama there is equilibrium and then there is chaos. So we have the alpha male and the alpha female, our Snow Wolf, hunting and then we have disequilibrium. Or tragedy. The alpha male is mauled by a bear.

We’re told with bated breath that wolves mate for life. She stays, the wolf pack goes. Her daughter becomes the new queen and the Snow Wolf must leave or the pack will turn upon and kill her.

But the Snow Wolf has a secret, she is with child, or six cubs. She must flee alone and find sanctuary where she can give birth and nurture the next pack of wee wolves.

And so it comes to pass, with a lot of snow and mountain passes. Beautiful, photogenic little puppies, frolicking.  We also see a lynx cat stalking the cubs, ready to make a meal of them for her own cubs. There’s always that wee cub that is more cute than the rest and more liable to stray and not last another day. Good dramatically.

The Snow Wolf has the dilemma faced by many wild animals. Easy pickings on the doorstep, in this case, sheep driven up the mountains by a shepherd and his dogs. Man is the real killer. The Snow Wolf dodges a bullet here. But in dodging the bullet and trying to find enough food and milk to feed her young they stray into another pack of wolves’ territory. They too will hunt and kill intruders.

The Snow Wolf and her cute little cubs need to find their way through city streets and bridges, they need to find their way to open ground where they can be safe. We see them scooting through alleys and bypassing man. They look as if they know where they are going to, which they do, because I’m pretty sure this bit is made up.

Safely, on the other side of freedom, all they need to complete their family is another single male wolf. She Wolf puts up ads. Single male wanted. Please pish on this bush, so I can scent you’re interested. Then we get it, the blood-curdling call of the Snow Wolf. Here I’m over here, she howls. Before you can say jack robin, a wolf is swimming across lakes and striding across lands, he’s looking for a family of six and he now knows where to find them. They’re in a National Park and so safe, plenty of take-aways on tap.

Beautifully done, for a hard-working and single mum.

 

 

Christmas 1944. Ravensbruck.

Night shift in the sewing lager. The guard on duty allows each group of prisoners to sing Stille Nacht. The Poles are reluctant but even the Jewish prisoners join in. Some pass tiny gifts, mangers made out of straw, and stars made from scrap paper to each other.

Hard frost, a howling wind, snow falling and lying on the roofs of the blocks. SS-Untersturmführer Max Koegel’s breathe smells of rum to warm him on the inside. The glitter of death’s-head insignia of skull and crossbones, and braid on the hard visor. His peeked cap is too tight on his balding head.  He stamps his leather boots under his greatcoat to keep out the cold.

Behind him stands Johanna Langefeld and inclines her head towards him and they listen together to the rise and falling beat of the distant choir. They could be a dumpy husband and wife, but she has an adolescent child, out of wedlock. Both have fallen on hard times and risen through the ranks. She has been appointed by Riechsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler as the chief female guard, and runs the camp efficiently. Her bobbed hair is swept up over her head and kept in place with a clasp hidden by a soft envelope cap of feldgrau wool, the kind worn by Hitler youth or women. Her uniform is no different from the other guards, short jacket and white, crisp and open-neck blouse, long skirt and black tights and shiny, black, leather boots. For outside work, she has a black cape over her shoulder and soft leather gloves and she kneads the two arthritic fingers on her left hand back and forth, chafing them to keep the circulation moving.

Rows of shivering prisoners in thin cotton, striped, uniforms stand to attention with their chests out. Langefeld has her spies and makes it her job to know the troublemaker’s faces, but this is an insurrection that demands the presence of the camp commandant. Felt lilac triangles, with a purple bar, on their chests mark them out as Jehovah Witnesses.

Blockova, Bertha Liedmater has them sound Appel off in sing-song fives.  ‘2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.’  The count finishes on a strident note.  Low numbers mark them out as camp veterans. Jehovah Witnesses, forty in total, who have been in the camp since near its inception and learned the secret of invisibility.

Bertha stares inside the underground bunker dimly lit by the reflection of falling snow. Hospital workers scrape skin and cloth and the tattoo of frozen bodies from the stone floors of the cells. Marked as communists by their red triangle, they work as a team, piling corpses on to the back of wooden carts. Nobody will make a run for it.

Laundry workers, asocials, prostitutes from Berlin, with their black triangles, have a cushy number on the sonderkommando. Skilled at massaging ghost-coloured limbs in moonlight, they snap the curved claws of fingers and undress those that have gone beyond the little death of orgasm.  Frozen dummies with their mouths ajar, they search for false teeth and wield a set of pliers for sorting gold teeth and crowns. Spectacles that have fallen from blank faces are flung beside crutches and bandages. Staring glass eyes uncaring of decorum look back at them. Their stiff and bloodied clothes taken back to the Effektenkammer to be quickly washed for reuse. Nothing wasted but lives.

Kogel opens his mouth to address the prisoners, but instead turns to Langefeld, whispers, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and wanders away back to the heat of the office block, with his hands behind his back, whistling  Stille Nacht .

Two tall blonde-haired woman guards, click their heels together and stand to attention as he passes, holding Alsatian dogs. ‘Heil Hitler!

The animals are protected from the cold by a cape fastened under their chin and emblazoned with the lightning shaped, SS. The dogs open mouths show pink tongues, and a guttural growl escapes from the back of their throats as the choke chain is pulled to silence them.

Bertha squints sideways as the chief women guard addresses her subordinates in matching caps and capes. The lorry rumbles away towards the shooting gallery leaving grey slush track in the falling snow.  Bertha takes off her striped hat, while gazing at Langefeld’s feet.  ‘With the greatest respect we have already shown we are willing to work. But it is against the will of Jehovah and contrary to our beliefs to sew uniforms and assist in your war work.’

‘Your refusal should be punished by death. But in this case, someone higher up has taken an interest, and I’m willing to be lenient. We’ll give you a week in the bunker, bread and water on alternate days and check on you next week to see if your answer has changed.’

The head guard nods her head and Bertha takes the lead, the others fall in behind, shuffling in step, snow sticking to their wooden clogs. A prisoner twists her ankle and stumbles. The dogs let off their choke chains, bound and pounce. Her arms shoot up and hands out and fingers clawing to protect herself, but the weight of well-fed beasts and their teeth with the first taste of blood drives them to frenzy. One rips at her face, tears her nose and comes away with a part of her cheek in its mouth, before snapping at her lips and throat. The other savages her thigh and leg, its head jerking her body back and forth, back and forth in the falling snow.

Her shrieks echo around the quadrangle, the high walls and beyond the low-pitch roofs of the SS guard’s houses, outside the camp, and is taken up by wood pigeons cooing in the lindenbaum trees, and the cobbled lane that marks the path to the camp, and out beyond the vast and frozen lake, where the church steeple of Fustenberg can be seen in the distance and catches the eye from the camp gates.

Colson Whitehead (2016) The Underground Railway.

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Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway was a winner of The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017. There’s not a lot of room on the front cover for namedropping, but Barrack Obama describes the book as ‘Terrific’ and the New York Review of Books, ‘Dazzling’.

I guess it resonates for a number of reasons. In some ways the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia in the nineteenth century, before the American Civil War is a Bildungsroman. It deals with her formative years and that of the American nation. A Hobbesian world in which life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.  It’s six years, for example, since her mother left, when the novel begins Cora’s narrative, which makes her around sixteen. Jokey, the oldest slave in the plantation, possibly the world, is fifty-two he said, but negroes birthdays aren’t kept track of, and it’s two years since she had been ‘seasoned’, which is another way of saying held down by young black bucks and gang raped. This isn’t a kind of black Jane Eyre, although issues of class are overwritten by issues of ethnicity and race which provide a kind of moral justification for actions. The white man was the devil, but the black man was the devil too.

‘This was a world there was no place to escape to, only places to flee from.’

The cotton crop was as important to the American South as oil is to Saudi Arabia and was built on the back of the genocide of the Indian nations and the labour of Africans stolen from across the seas. To be black was not to be a person, but a thing. There’s a cruel joke here that a black man is only treated a person when dead and his body sold to medical schools for student dissection. And Cora’s nemesis, the slave tracker, Ridgeway, never referred to a slave as a person but as an ‘it’.

Ridgeway’s eugenic ideology is the kind of the thing trumpeted by Trump supporters. Cora is a suitable test of his skills because she dared to escape, as her mother did before her. The only slave Ridgeway never returned to his master. The Fugitive Slave law allowed him to cross state lines and he had a legal right, much like bounty hunters and bond bailsmen have today, to return property to its owner. Where Cora ran, Ridgeway followed.

But here we have what a writer’s conceit, in that the Underground Railway that helped slaves escape from their brutal masters was not figurative, but actual. A railway network ran underneath the state lines of America, much like the subway system runs underneath London. We have moved from traditional narrative to something more surreal, bordering on science-fiction.

Lumbley’s words returned to her [Cora]: If you want to see what the nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America.

Cora, like many of the hobos of 1920s and 1930s rode the lines, trying to find a better and more forgiving place. A utopian world, predating John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ were Okies could not make a living or find freedom and were black people were invisible.

This then is also a novel that holds a different kind of mirror up to America. Cora’s America is a place built on genocide and slavery which sells fear as a panacea and people as things. A free black man walks different from a slave. The distant pass isn’t that far whatever way you travel. Trump that?

Celtic 1—2 Red Bull Salzburg.

Celtic 1—2 Red Bull Salzburg.

Celtic players have squandered three penalties in a row,  in their last three matches and missed another last night, but the rebound from the goalkeeper was netted by the latest penalty takes, the substitute Ntcham. Ironically, that would have made it 1—1 on the night, if it wasn’t for a howler from Gordon, when the keeper went to make a quick throw out, stuck the leg of the Red Bull forward, Fredrik Gulbrandsen who easily netted to make it 2—0 and game over. A score line that reflected Red Bull’s overall superiority. Moanes Dabbur scored the first goal in the second half, with Celtic clinging on to a half-time draw.  Gordan had made three top class saves, which had kept Celtic in the match. None of this mattered, of course, that’s his job, what we remember is his error.

But all over the park Celtic were poor. Tom Rogic was simply dreadful. Ayer came on for an injured Lustig, set up a chance for Red Bull, passing the ball backwards towards the Celtic goal only for Gordon to make a great save on a one-to-one. Later Ayer missed a sitter from six yards. But all night he looked nervous and out of sorts. Even Tierney was poor. Sinclair went missing. Christie, who got pass marks, got injured, which is a big blow. Only Forrest stood out. Edouard might just have done enough to wear the Celtic shirt.

Overall, as Brendan Rodgers was keen to point out, we collected nine points from a difficult group, which was enough to give us another European tie and nets a few million in the bank. That’s the positive. Negatives. Same old, same old. Off night and no dazzle, under the disco lights.

Care, BBC 1, BBCiPlayer, written by Jimmy McGovern and Gillian Juckes, directed by David Blair.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bvbf5n/care

I like Jimmy McGovern’s dramas. Apart from Brookside, I’ve probably seen most of them. Care, well, it’s in the title. As a dramatist he’s got to make us care about single mum Jenny (Sheridan Smith) her elderly mum Mary (Alison Steadman) and the distant sister Claire (Sinead Keenan). And he begins with a car crash. Mary crashes the car with two kids in the back. Cue drama as we find out that the kids are fine, but Mary has suffered a stroke and now she has dementia.

A fragile family structure is smashed. Mary is no longer herself, but what McGovern does here is quite cute. The curled lip of Mary is given a voice. You know those text messages that appear onscreen to show the viewer what the protagonist is reading, texting, or thinking, that’s Mary thoughts as she gazes out at a world full of strangers she no longer understands or trusts.

I’ve got a bit of previous here. My mum, God bless her and may she rest in peace, had dementia. Like this drama my sister was the main caregiver. I felt that guilt and relief it wasn’t me that had to put my life on hold that Jenny dramatizes. Alice Munro draws on this experience for a number of her short stories. And the more courageous women walk away. It’s always women, of course, that does the care giving. That’s a given. And at one point Mary escapes from the dreadful home she’s been shoved into. My mum also escaped from the home twice, but it wasn’t that dreadful and I liked the staff. I felt guilty about not visiting my mum much, it was just up the road, but I reasoned she didn’t recognise me and someone else was doing the caring. I admit I was and still am a selfish bastard.

At one point my brother phoned and I’d the sound down for about fifteen minutes. The drama went on much as expected. There’s a builder in to convert the family home to make it a fit cage for Mary, and to make it easier for Jenny to care for her daughter and her mum. Jimmy McGovern (I think) once said it was his job to make things worse. No help needed in the chaotic fudge of the care system, but there’s got to be moments of light. So it’s pretty much a Mcgiven that the fit builder is going to fancy the pants off battling Jenny and is someone that shows he cares. He is handy enough to replace the feckless husband who left her penniless, stranded and got his new girlfriend pregnant.

We know that battling Jenny is going to overwrite all wrongs and find her mum a place of safety and a place of care in sunny, green countryside.

So who’s the bad guys here? Well, first up, is our glorious NHS. Even Tory scum know they are unelectable if they are shown to be killing off the NHS, but they do it by privatising the bits we don’t really care about. Old people are the ultimate bed blockers.  Like Mary and like my mum, they have multiple conditions that need treatment for which there is no cure. Bed blockers need to be gotten rid of, pronto, so here we have the professionals, the consultants, the physiotherapists, the social worker, the nursing staff all lining up like good little bureaucrats passing the buck and blaming each other, the fall guy, is always a woman, and in this case it’s Jenny’s mum. But it could and will be any of us. Richard Holloway says it openly we go to war against individual medical conditions and lose the war against common humanity. We are kept alive, but with no proper life at the end of it.

Back to the storyboard. Which icon takes on a polemic role of actress? Well, we’ve got the well-meaning woman that works in the shitty home Mary is sent to. She explains that she loves her job, but she’s expected to do too much and there’s not enough time and too many residents all crying out for attention and the owner is really a nice guy but he’s barely making a profit. That’s a lot of targets on anyone’s back.

Care work is low status, low paid work, done mainly by woman on the minimum wage and it’s the one growth area of the economy. The maximum wage is the minimum wage. And let’s face it we just don’t care.

The second part of the polemic that some poor home owner is doing his best but is getting ripped off by local authorities not willing to pay enough and a government that doesn’t care. Let’s just say most care homes are run by corporations that make honking profits for their shareholder and the money taken from poor people in taxes could be better spent elsewhere. So don’t look for any sympathy here.

Let’s get back to the real issue. Bed blockers. For that part of the polemic we have a nurse that doubles up as a demagogue that does what she has to do to make sure the NHS doesn’t pay for personal care. Let’s just say the middle-classes have this sewn up. They demand and get the best of things and don’t want to pay for it. If your mum or dad rots in a chair, they talk about personal responsibility. When it’s their mum or dad we start talking about resources and care deficits. Let’s talk about class and those that lack it.

Care as an hour-and-half drama is alright. As propaganda it falls far short of the clear-farsightedness we need. The simple facts are poor people get screwed. Poor sick people are doubly screwed and most folk don’t give a fuck, until it’s them and theirs. But with this happening to more people it becomes part of the political issue. It even pops up here as a BBC 1 drama.