The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written and directed by Liza Williams.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003m0l/the-yorkshire-ripper-files-a-very-british-crime-story-series-1-episode-3

Episode 1, Chapeltown.

We all know what happened to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed in the late seventies the Yorkshire Ripper, he was arrested in January 1981 and sent to Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, for thirteen murders and eight other attacks on women. Although we sometimes hear in the press of him getting fat or going blind with diabetes or being attacked by other inmates – I can’t remember, whether he’s alive or dead, and I guess like many others, I don’t really care – case closed.

Liza Williams re-opens the case and looks at it through a lens in which journalist Joan Smith sum it up as ‘a conversation among men about dead women’.

Listen, to example, this conversation between Michael Greene, a senior officer in the investigation of the murders and a prostitute in Moss Side in October 1977, when at least nine victims have been linked with the Ripper. A police operation costing an extra two million has been given to the police and 150 000 car number plates logged, 4000 cars a night on Moss Side alone.

Greene with a film crew approaches a prostitute on a street corner and asks,

‘Are you on the game?’

The prostitute replies, ‘Yes, I am.’

Greene replies, ‘Don’t you know that’s silly!’

This sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but nobody was laughing. You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts, is one response to today’s political shenanigans. There was no amnesty for prostitutes. Arrests of prostitutes increased even as the murders continued. The idea of arresting kerb-crawlers was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

The murder of sixteen-year-old Jane McDonald in Chapeltown on 26th June 1977, we were told changed the mood of the nation. Here was an ‘innocent victim’. There was an open letter from Jane McDonald’s mother printed in the mass media asking Sutcliffe to hand himself in. It followed his usual pattern, hitting the victim with a ball-peen hammer to render them unconscious or incapable or both and stabbing them with a screwdriver and molesting them. This was regarded as an honest mistake.

Prostitutes weren’t regarded as innocent. A fat women from Chapeltown summed it up for viewers, there were bad men she said, but bad women…were a different breed. Them and Us. Jane McDonald was one of us. Everyone else killed was a prostitute and one of them.

Ironically, it was women jurors in the 1950s and 1960s that were far more likely to acquit another serial killer, Peter Tobin, for crimes of molestation, assault and rape, because he was clean cut and the woman brought it on themselves.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Browne was attacked by Sutcliffe at Silsden farm before he began his serial-killing spree. He hit her over the head with a hammer, but a car came over a hill, which disturbed him and her flung her over a wall. She gave a description of him as a dark-haired, with a beard and dark, dark eyes. Later she went to the police, again, after another victim had an identikit sketch of the Ripper and told the officer it was the same guy that attacked her. She was told it couldn’t have been. He only attacked prostitutes was the narrative and the police were sticking to it, regardless of the evidence. Another survivor, a black woman with learning disabilities lost her child after the attack, her description of the attacker was a white man with curly hair and a beard, but she was told she was attacked by an unknown black man.

Joan Smith managed to get a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued to other police forces out with Moss Side and Leeds by the police forces dealing with the killer. It was a fishing operation, to find out if other police forces had anyone they might know that committed similar crimes on their patch. Smith noticed a term that kept cropping up in the ‘Special Notice’ was ‘loose morals’. Olive Smelt, for example, a mother that went out to drink in a local boozer, could not be classified as a prostitute, but she had ‘loose morals’ because she was not at home.

One of the first victims Wilma McCann’s son, Richard, who in 1975 was just a kid of five, appears in the programme. One of the things he noticed was the black-and-white photograph the mass media used of his mother, Wilma, made her look like Myra Hindley.  For me that had resonance because in my unpublished novel (The Cruelty Man) one of the ways the press mocked the accused and inferred she was guilty was to make her look like Myra Hindley. Misogyny was meat and drink of the seventies cops and red-top newspapers. Innocent until you got your tits out for the boys. At least when we used to watch The Sweeney they got their man. Yet we know Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by the police. Sutcliffe didn’t have to be very smart. The police just had to be incredibly dim.

The story Liza Williams tells isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a reconstruction of a different kind of misogynist crime, against women in general, in which women also play aid and abet the culprits. It’s a fair cop guv.

 

 

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Storyville: The Internet’s Dirtiest Secrets – the Cleaners, directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003f2f/storyville-the-internets-dirtiest-secrets-the-cleaners

I’m a big fan of Storyville and BBC 4, in general. That tells you a lot about the type of person I am. Big data companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter (Amazon and Apple) mine data points for personal information the same way Archimedes used mathematics and mechanics (Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world) not only to tell us who we are, but what we are, or think we are. This is the shit end of the spoon, or fulcrum.

Whenever one of these tech gods deigns to appear before some select committee in Washington or London— Mark Zuckerberg refusing to appear before Members of Parliament for a third time at the end of March 2018—then they or their minions offer up a salve, they’re doing everything they can to clear up the internet, they’re not publishers, but providers. They take no responsibility, but because they’re good guys they’re going to help us create a brave new world by wiping clean the slates we leave behind.

Here’s the mechanics of it, our digital trace. Zero or One, remove or retain. Epsilon is the lowest caste in Brave New World and they live in Manila. Facebook, Twitter and Google, don’t employ them directly. Alpha tech in California hands that job to Betas, who delegate to Gammas and Deltas, all who take a cut and the poorest paid are those that labour in booths, looking at screens in our digital age. These are our smoking beagles forced to test the safest of cigarettes, that don’t really give you lung cancer.

For every worldwide scandal on the net the number of Epsilons increase, a knee-jerk reaction, until we look the other way. Forget about them. We don’t count them, or look at the ways tech companies like to hide their dirty washing.  They clean the internet for us in the same way the untouchables in India clean away the shit of the highest caste.

What do they do?

They look at porn. Child porn. A six year old girl sucking a man’s dick in a cubicle.  Remove or retain? Yes or No. Twenty-five thousand images a day on average. Maybe more. Do less and it’s the door. Hi-tech knows how to milk the flesh of our eyeballs.

Beheadings. Suicides. Animal cruelty.  Murder. Genocide.

Porn. Porn. Porn.

Hate speech.

Self-harming.

Classify terrorism according to the latest diktats from corporate heads, based on cash.

‘Algorithms can’t do what we do,’ a cleaner explains. Three strikes and the cleaner is out, sacked, offscreen.

Beagles don’t really get lung cancer and cleaners don’t really get post-traumatic-stress disorder and kill themselves. It’s just a job. Somebody’s got to do it.  Poor people don’t count.

Mick Kitson (2018) Sal

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Sal, Mick Kitson’s debut novel is set in Scotland. It’s  a first-person narrative about Sal, a thirteen-year-old kid trying to take care of her sister Peppa, who’s only ten. When I picked it up, it reminded me a bit of Sylvia Hehir’s, soon to be released, debut novel, Safe Ground, before it was Sea Change  I’d read a few bits and very early drafts of Dr Hehir’s novel and I look forward to reading more.

Sal’s story is simple to explain. She kills her mum’s boyfriend because Robert is a paedophile who tells her he’s going to start on Peppa, now that she’s old enough. Their mum is an alcoholic and doesn’t know about anything but drink.

There’s a lot Sal’s mum doesn’t know. Sal is dyslexic, probably on the autistic spectrum, but a prodigy that can turn her hand to most things. Nobody will split her and her sister up. Sal will take care of Peppa and she’s learned enough from YouTube videos and the SAS Survival Handbook to live off the land.

I worried about the fire and people seeing it, not so much in the day but at night. It your woods dry there isn’t a lot of smoke from a small pyramid fire, it’s just smoky if the wood was wet or too new. And also the wind blows it away. And also we were in The Last Great Wilderness in the UK and we were exactly eight miles from the nearest human habitation and roughly four miles from a forestry track and five miles from a road…

The sun was up now and it was bright through the trees and steam was lifting off the wood floor in little white wisps.

I’m not sure about the transition from present tense to past tense. And if I was being picky you don’t pay for internet access in libraries as Sal does, the constant repetition to SAS Survival Handbook and Bears Grylls doesn’t need to be hammered. The reader gets it.

Everything else seems to be going swimmingly, too much so for my liking. As soon as Sal puts out a wire trap a large rabbit jumps into it. She skins it and they eat it. Rods go into the clear water and they pull out fish. And it’s too good to be true. Then they catch a pike. A gigantic pike with big teeth. Haul it ashore. Job done. Another fine catch.

First major setback. Peppa is too eager to help and the pike bites her. Sal has prepared for that too. She has bandages and iodine and painkillers and antibiotics, but it’s not enough, she needs to trek into town and get more.

The unicorn appears. Well, not an actual unicorn, but an old witchy woman the just happened to be a qualified doctor that is living off-grid in a nearby bender. She has treated other patients who were bitten by pike and happens to have the surgical instrument that are needed to lance the wound and remove pike’s teeth that are brittle, break off, and cause infections. The unicorn’s story must become their story.

The unicorn is a defector from the East Berlin and the Stasi state. She agrees to help them, mother them and keep their secret. A real unicorn would not be allowed to practice as a General Practioner in our NHS after a year’s training. I’m sure the BMA would have something to say about that.

In a way the reader knows how the story is going to end. Murder is murder, even of a paedo that deserves it, and Sal will need to face the forces of law and order. Her mum is drying out and she’s the key to their future and that of a happy ending. Fairytale stuff, the question you’ve got to ask, does it happen? Aye, of course, it does, every day, but not in this magical way. Can the characters of Sal and Peppa and the witchy woman also carry the story to its conclusion. Aye, again. More power to the Sal and Pepper’s of this world.

 

#Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me, Channel 4, My4, director Dan Reed.

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https://www.channel4.com/programmes/leaving-neverland-michael-jackson-and-me/on-demand/63905-001

It’s easy to condemn now that we know that Michael Jackson was a serial paedophile. Money and fame kept him safe. I remember reading something and it went along the lines of one of Michael Jackson’s advisors warned him not to have young boys in his bed. To stop having sex with them. And Michael Jackson said, ‘No’. There’s a line here that rings out. Michael Jackson is on the phone to Jody Robson, the mother of Wade Robson, the seven-year old child he’s sexually abusing, and he’s asking her to let Jody come and stay with him for a year. And she said ‘No.’

The idea seems so outlandish. Why would an Australian mother of a seven-year-old boy let him go and live with Michael Jackson? But the answer is here. She trusted him. In a way she felt sorry for him. As did the mother of James (Jimmy) Safechuck, who was also sexually abused and appears in the programme. They felt that despite his vast wealth and success he was lonely, vulnerable and childish too. They could mother him. But Michael Jackson warned Jody, Wade’s mother, he always got what he wanted. And he was right – he did.

There’s no need for the usual tools of drama Re-enactments, using actors, child actors in this case, playing the part of Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson. They speak for themselves. Grown men, now, telling you how it worked. Their mother’s appear too, older and wiser.  Pattern recognition is always easier when you know what it is you’re looking at.

You couldn’t get in touch with Michael Jackson is the message they knew. Michael Jackson got in touch with you. He was a sexual predator, looking for cute kids.

December 1986, a neighbour of Jimmy Sandchuck, said how cute he was and how she knew an agent that would get him into adverts and TV. ‘I’ll take him,’ the agent said

Michael Jackson said the same thing. Jimmy Sandchuck appeared in a Pepsi advert with Jackson. Then Jackson got in touch. He’d be on the phone for hours. Buddy up. Part of the schmooze wasn’t just changing Jimmy’s life, it was charming the mothers of the child he wanted to abuse. Promises were kept. Trips on flights and fancy games and whatever the heart desired was laid out and laid on. Neverland was like the island where Pinocchio went and the kids turned to asses and Michael Jackson’s nose never grew bigger. His skin got whiter. He always got what he wanted.

Second stage of buddying up was staying overnight. Michael convinced these kids and their parents there was no harm in it. He was such a lonely man-child. He needed company. They were buddies. And slept in the same bed. That’s when he got physical.

Third stage. Touching on top of the child’s pants. Fondling, inside the pants. Sucking the child’s penis. Then having the child perform oral sex on him. We know this because we have verification from Jimmy and Wade.

Jimmy reminds us, I was seven-year old, for christsake, and I’d a man’s penis in my mouth.

Michael liked them to squat on the bed with their ass cheeks pulled apart. Sometimes he’d rim them, which is too adult a description. Michael liked getting his nipples tweaked. Pattern recognition.

He’d tell Jimmy and Wade to shelf their feelings, like he learned to do. To distrust their mum’s. They wanted to keep them apart. God had brought them together and they were in love. So much in love. They had to practice drills. Get their clothes on, quickly, without any noise, when they thought somebody was coming. Michael had warned them, he’d go to jail if they got caught and so would they. But they’d be together forever.

Fourth stage, the replacement part. Jimmy gets dropped for Wade. Wade gets dropped for the child actor, Macaulay Culkin, who insisted nothing had happened between him and Mr Jackson. Brett Barnes replaced Culkin and Jimmy met him, but by that time he was an older boy and relegated to the kind of rooms his mother was forced to sleep in. Jimmy and Michael still had sex. But he was growing older and wiser and Michael Jackson was going for younger and prettier. Pattern recognition. Barnes denies he had sex with Jackson. Good boy. Watch your nose grow. Part two tonight.

Svetlana Alexievich (1985, 2017) The Unwomanly Face of War, translated by Richard Pewar and Larissa Volokhonsky.

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Books are holy relics and none more so than this love letter to the lost. The Great Patriotic War as it is sold to the Russian people by the capitalist oligarchs is something to which they can hold on to. Something to which they can be proud. Forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Stalin’s deal with Hitler and the division of Eastern European countries such as Poland. Forget the millions killed in countries such as the Ukraine by Stalin’s policy of mass- starvation ‘Death-by-hunger’ when parents ate their children. The Second World War started in earnest for the USSR with Operation Barbarossa on Sunday, 22 June 1941 with the Nazis attacked their former allies looking for a swift victory. Stalin and the USSR held on at Leningrad.  Twenty million Russians died. Think of that for a second. Millions more mutilated.

These are the fragmented memories of a forgotten race. Women who fought in the war. Women who survived and had to remain silent, because it was a man’s war. And women who fought were not real women, but front-line whores. There is a heart for love and a heart for hate. Many remember a sign by the side of the road when entering German territory for the first time, crosses. ‘Here she is accursed Germany.’

Fragments.

SUDDENLY WE WANTED DESPARATELY TO LIVE

Tamara Stepanovna Umnyagina

Junior Sergeant in The Guards, Medical Assistant.

I already went barefoot. What did I see? The train station near Mogilev was being bombarded. And there was a train carrying children. They started throwing them through the window, little children – three or four years old. There was a forest nearby, so they ran towards the forest. The German tanks drove out and the tanks drove over the children. There was nothing left of those children.

Bella Isakovna Epstein,

Sergeant, Sniper

I came back different…For a long time I had an abnormal relation with death. Strange I would say…

They were inaugurating the first streetcar in Minsk, and I rode on the streetcar. Suddenly the streetcar stopped, everybody shouted, women cried. ‘A man’s been killed!’ And I sat alone in the car. I couldn’t understand why everybody was crying.

Albina Alexandrovna Gantimurova

Sergeant Major, Scout

Berlin…a boy came running towards me with a submachine gun—a Volksssturm. The war was already over. The last days. My hand was on my submachine gun. Ready. He looked at me, blinked and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it—I was in tears, too. I felt sorry for him; there was this kid standing with his stupid submachine gun. And I shoved him towards a wrecked building, under the gateway: ‘Hide,’ I said…He took my hand. He cried! I patted his head.

Fragments of the past make our present. Read on.

 

 

John Kennedy Toole (1980) A Confederacy of Dunces

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I got to page 35 of this book and gave up. The tale of Ignatius J. Reilly who has a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of humanity and his poor, put-upon mother whom he lives with, and is dependent on, could be described as farce. Anthony Burgess on the cover describes it as ‘A Fine Funny Novel. This is the kind of book one wants to keep quoting from.’ I don’t feel any great need to do that.

The story of how I and so many others came to be reading this book is more interesting to me than the book itself. Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland mentioned John Kennedy Toole and A Confederacy of Dunces as being the kind of book he loved. He’d he’d given it to one of his friends and he loved the fact he heard them laughing through the walls of his cabin (he was on a cruise, Billy Connolly is loaded, but he’s still one of us – kinda- Made in Scotland is his swansong).

Libraries across Scotland were swamped for requests for A Confederacy of Dunces. It jumped up the Amazon ratings like a Yeti coming out of cold storage.

The foreword by Walker Percy is the best part of the book. I’ll quote it rather than the book.

Perhaps the best way to introduce this novel –which on my third reading of it astounds me even more than the first – is to tell the first encounter with it. While I was teaching at Loyola in 1976 I began to get telephone calls from a lady unknown to me. What she proposed was preposterous. It was not that she had written a couple of chapters of a novel and wanted to go to my class. It was her son, who was dead had written an entire novel during the early sixties, a big novel and she wanted me to read it. Why would I want to do that? I asked her. Because it’s a great novel, she said.

…somehow it came to pass that she stood in my office and handed me the hefty manuscript.

The rest is history, or her story, the story of John Kennedy Toole’s mother, whose persistence, like the mother or Ignatius J. Reilly,  paid off. Her son’s genius was recognised. Not by me, but people that matter. All readers matter, but some more than others.  There’s a lesson there for all us would-be novelists. Have a persistent mother and be friends with the god of luck and The Big Yin above.   Read on.

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