Sally Rooney (2018) Normal People.

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I spend more of my life reading than any other activity, but then, promptly, forget everything I’ve read. I’m useless.  So, of course, I’m interested in new writers. Unfortunately, I also do a bit of writing. There’s a biblical quote for every circumstance. ‘For where your treasure is, your heart will be also’. Sally Rooney is one of the new big things, Normal People was long-listed for The Man Booker Prize.

I never claimed to be normal, but it’s one of those twisted things smart young folk would say. I’d six pints of Guinness and dived into Normal People and got to page 162.

Marianne had accepted an offer to spend her third year of college in Sweden. She’ll be leaving in September and depending on their plans for Christmas, Connell might not see her again until June. People keep telling him he’s going to miss her, but until now he’s been looking forward to how long and intense their email correspondence will be while she’s away. Now he looks into her cold interpretive eyes and thinks: Okay, I will miss her. He feels ambivalent about this, as if it’s disloyal to him, because maybe he’s enjoying how she looks or some physical aspect of her closeness. He’s not sure what friends are allowed to enjoy about each other.

I’ll simplify the story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which I’ve never read) and use it as a template. Here we have Marianne, the rich kid, fucks Connell, the poor kid, whose mum works as a clearer for their family. This begins January 2011, when they’re still at school and jumps forward every few months. Connell fucks Marianne. They’re both fucked up in a different way, but both are brilliant scholars and go to Trinity College, Dublin. Role reversal. Connell, the poor but popular kid, is just poor and unpopular at Trinity. Marianne flourishes like a herpes virus and like one of those daft films where the ugly kid takes off her specs and everybody realises how beautiful she is…Yeh, well, let’s carve on a tree with a love heart around it: Connell lvs Marianne: Marianne lvs Connell. Now he wants to send her fucking emails. Must have been that outbreak of classic show and don’t tell and cold interpretive eyes.

These are not my kind of people. There’s a story. What happens next? The secondary characters are scrawls on a page, an there’s  little difference between somewhere in Germany, Canada, Dublin or the bog streets of some little Irish town. The sense of place that is vital for me to care about the characters, well, who knows? Normal People? It’s not that bad. I’ve tried it, didn’t work. You might be more normal. Read on, or wait and watch the film version.

Naomi Alderman (2016) The Power.

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I bought this book when it first came out. I’ve picked it up and put it down a few times. It’s got an impressive list of broadsheets such as The Guardian who proclaim it ‘a big, page turning, globe-trotting thriller’ and a leading author of a dystopian future, A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood,  calling it ‘Electrifying’. I read most of the 339 pages, missing out chapters, here and there, and scooting to the end, which I knew was going to be some kind of Armageddon.

The idea is a simple one. Rise and fall.  The world is turned upside down. We are no longer talking about his-story, but her-story. Women, all over the world, develop the power to discharge electricity from a skein in their body. Men can no longer physically dominate women in the same way that they couldn’t dominate a cobra. This physical inversion of women dominating men becomes much more pronounced and is translated into the social and economic realms. Men no longer run the world. Women do. End of… beginning of. A rewriting of history and religion in which patriarchy become matriarchy and men’s contribution to progress and civilisation is distorted, overwritten and erased. A new world order.

The Power of inversion is a grand idea.

The shape of power is always the shape of a tree…This is the shape of rivers leading to the ocean…It is the shape that lighting forms when it strikes from heaven…The same shape grows within us, our inward trees of nerves and blood vessels…Power travels in the same manner between people…

As it is written, ‘She cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’

from the book of Eve 13-17

The quasi-religious book is the new bible for the new age. Women can throw lightning- bolts from their hands, inflict pain and death. The roots of the evolutionary tree is not gender neutral.  Nine out of ten terminations are male because female children are wanted and male children an unnecessary expense.

But The Power fails for me, in fact, becomes boring, because the characters never get beyond the one dimensional. We begin with Roxy, head soldier of Allie, the prototype Eve. Roxy’s dad is a cardboard gangster and I was about 100 pages in before I realised Roxy was English. She was visiting the new women’s messiah in a convent somewhere in America. Allie’s got the measure of Roxy in a way no one else manages. She morphs into Eve. Cor blimey. Allie hears voices. I found that quite interesting.  Then there’s Margot, the second of the triumvirate of female leaders. She’s a politician. She speaks with a forked tongue. Ho-hum.

Lots of folk like this book. It was a New York Times bestseller. Read on.

 

 

Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editor Gwyn Jones, episode 1 of 2.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0004gpl/miriams-dead-good-adventure-series-1-episode-1

There’s a simple rule in life, don’t get old and don’t get fat, which becomes a commandment on television. Presenter Miriam Margolyes is the exception to the rule. She looks a bit like Grotbags, the witch, but without the green hair. Margolyes has become something of the flavour of the month on BBC, a kind of low-rent-a-gob, fat and Jewish and a lesbian version of Louis Theroux that is sent to comment on the crazy American trends that perplex and amuse us.  Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, for those not in the know is a play on words, mimicking Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the rewriting of history into something groovy. Groan you might.

Miriam starts episode one and ends it in Wren Hall, a place where men and women with dementia spend their last days. As you’d expect with television cameras there’s plenty of activities and the staff all smile. Nobody beats the patients or steals from them. And they even feed them regularly. They get involved in old-fashioned sing-songs. It would break my heart, if I had one. This more than anything else scares the shit out of me. My partner argues it wouldn’t matter that much because you wouldn’t know what’s happening to you. Geoff who visits his wife June most days is a case in point. Miriam went away to America and came back about a month later and they were still repeating the same conversation. You is no longer you, but somebody else. We get the usual stuff from Miriam about how in love they are. Past tense?

In California they take the dictum never get old and never get fat very seriously and test them to breaking point.  The Revolution Against Ageing and Death (RAAD). Miriam usually begins the conversation by asking what age the plastic man or women is and what beach did they wash up from. Then she says they don’t look that age. Plastic people and Domestos bottle never do. Miriam aged 77 looks her age. She has always looked 77, even when she was 57. Plastic people’s pouts give them away. No they haven’t had surgery they were born with a heavenly, fish pout. They all seem to be that certain age where they plan to live forever.

Miriam jumped from California to Arizona. This is the place to go if you want to freeze your body, or if you can’t afford that, your brain for future generations to marvel about how stupid you were.  Pioneers of the super longevity movement plan to live long enough to outstrip our current body’s capabilities by freezing the balls off themselves and achieve escape velocity. Science will have the cure for death and dying and they’ve just got to wait until they can pick up the keys at the nearest showroom.  82-year-old Bernadene, who seems more plastic mannequin than person and cryotherapy enthusiast Jim, her youth partner, who discovered the secrets of eternal youth in his freezer and you’ve only to look at his hair to know it’s true. Bernadene is honest, for those schmucks or poor folk that can’t afford to pay for treatment and live an eternal kind of life, well, the world would be a better place. The secret of eternal life is only for some rich, white folk. Here is Trump’s America in a freezer bag. There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it. Nothing I’ve not seen before.

Climate Change: The Facts, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, presented by Sir David Attenborough, produced and directed by Serena Davies.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00049b1/climate-change-the-facts

The facts are global warming is taking place now and the concerted action to limit it 1.5 degrees centigrade by reducing fossil fuel emissions, which was agreed by the Paris Accord, 2015, looks highly unlikely to happen.

‘What we do now will profoundly affect the next thousand years,’ David Attenborough tells us.

Fossil fuel companies have already been working hard to smear the science behind global warming. They employed the same tactics used by tobacco firms to dispute that smoking was bad for your health. And their propaganda has been highly successful. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, for example, withdrew from the Paris Accord and denied there was such a thing as global warming. America, as you’d expect, has the highest carbon emissions in the world.  Paradoxically, those countries that produce the least carbon emissions, in the equator, for example, are likely to experience drought and mass starvation.

Not only can we expect mass species extinction in land and sea. Attenborough in his programmes has shown it is already happening. Coral, for example, bleaching and dying. Species dependent on this underwater ‘rainforest’ dying. With warmer oceans we can also expect an increase in wildfires, Antarctica to melt, sea levels to rise, increased severity of hurricanes and tsunamis and storm surges. Apart from modelling, we’re not really sure how this will play out. What we do know is that all the methane locked in the ground will bubble up and lead to a vicious circle of ever increasing temperatures.

Professor Tim Lenton’s model predicts that with three to six degrees and runaway global warming taking place we can expect about 600 million people to become refugees. Let’s round it up to a billion or more. How we treat refugees now does not bode well.

The question of how we can turn a vicious circle of inaction, greed and ineptitude into a virtuous circle of carbon capture and the eradication of fossil fuel from our energy diet is not convincing.

The one clear cause of global warming is mankind.

The solution depends on mankind working together. It means rewriting the history books and the rich sharing with the poor and the lion lying down with the donkey. James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis comes into effect here. Everything we do is connected. Our planet, our blue planet, doesn’t really care what we do. It’s a self-regulating system and since we can’t regulate ourself it will send out shocks and reminders. It will not be ignored. We keep hearing the same thing, no pain, no gain. The earlier we act the less costly will be the costs of climate change. Our children and our children’s children will pick up the tab. I guess we’ll have sucked the life out of the planet and it will have sucked the life out of us and them by then.  Climate change is the most important fact of our time. You can stand with the moron’s moron or you can stand with the ninety-nine percent of scientists that agree it is happening and it is happening now.   We need more than consensus. We need action now. What we’ve had is inaction and drag-back to the status quo. Conservatism has never been so stupid. Do nothing and die. Do something radical for your children. And their children’s children.

Dynasties BBC 1, BBC iPlayer.

Blue Planet II, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Presenter David Attenborough.

Television Programme of the year – Planet Earth II

Book of the year. Peter Wadhams (2016) A Farewell to Ice. A Report From the Arctic.

Frances Hardinge (2014) Cuckoo Song

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Cuckoo Song is the second Frances Hardinge novel I’ve read. The other was The Lie Tree. Their target audience is Young Adults and Children. I’ve not been that for fifty years, but I guess we’re all children at heart. And Hardinge is a terrific and must-read author.

The question of who we are becomes what we are? Doppelgangers and memory is spliced with folklore, fairy tales and warped visions of reality. Violet, Sebastian’s left-behind fiancée, is also a magical character. Hardinge has a fondness for strong women and weak-minded, egotistical, and foolish men such as Mr Piers Crescent, architect, and father of all the trouble and strife.

The template for her books seems pretty similar. We tweak and just write the same book, again and again (well, I do, hoping I’ll get it right).  We have upright, Victorian dad, a pillar of the community, but is not quite what he seems. Flawed and rotten. Mother is a dependent on the father, a purveyor of Victorian society and the class system, where one knows one’s place. Women, in particular, are frail beings. Triss is a sickly child, mollycoddled by both parents after the loss of their son Sebastian in the First World War. A sick family. Mother and father ‘teach her how to be ill’. The book begins with Triss having an accident. Her younger sister Pen, a spiteful tomboyish ball of energy, insists Triss that emerges from a stretch of water called the Grimmer, after a near drowning, is not Triss.

His children, real and created, need to put the pieces back together again and the world to rights.

Hardinge has some great descriptive phrases such as, ‘Neglect had given the Old Dock a dangerous air, like a half-starved dog’.

Triss in finding herself Not Triss and finally, a separation of self, as ‘Time Runs Out’ and she falls apart, Trista (which means sad) must defy the Architect, and bind the others to herself to stop the world and not become the monster she was meant to be. Read on and it will all fit together with in a jigsaw, picturesque, kind of way.

Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

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Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.

 

My Loneliness is Killing Me, BBC iPlayer, Next Big Thing, Series 1:7, directed by Tom Courtney and written by Michael Richardson.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00039vv/next-big-thing-series-1-7-my-loneliness-is-killing-me

This short film won a Scottish BAFTA, which pleased me because I’d met the writer, Michael Richardson, a few times on a writing course I got turfed out of for not being able to write or spell bafta. Fair enough. I often go off in daft tangents that have no relevance.  It’s not Dennis Nilsen, killing for company, and blocking the drains with body parts, or, bottle blonde, Britney Spears belting out that anthem of the pre-teens.  But My Loneliness is Killing Me is, as the title suggests, a bleaker vision of our society.

Everything about the film is dark. It begins in a gay disco. Elliot (Luke Elliot), on the dance floor, is dressed like a woman, but he’s a man. Elliot propositions another man in the toilets, but is rejected because the would-be fuck-friend, ironically, prefers his men to be men.

Jack (Jamie Robson) is fucking another man, a knee trembler in a dark, locker-room. He checks through his stuff, his wallet and money gone, but he’s still got his wedding band.

Jack is back in his penthouse apartment, looking over the night lights of Glasgow. Meal for one.

Eliot hooks up with Jack over the phone, as easy a Pizza delivery. Male for one.

‘You got somewhere better to go?’ asks Eliot.

Jack beats a retreat, after they meet. It’s a repeat of what happened to Elliot in toilets of the disco. Elliot warns him he’ll not get anybody at this time of night. A fuck-you and fuck-me of the iPhone generation.

Selfies don’t mean selfish, but a way of getting your hole. Jack fucks Elliot, but then feels that tingle down below. Yeh, he’s lost his gold ring and checks his reflection in the mirror of the toilet. Symbolism. Elliot ends up in a bath holding the gold ring. Enter Gandalf. Yes, it’s Lord of the Rings. Well done Michael Richardson. Now, after BAFTA, to conquer Mordor. The ring that binds us all. But watch out for the orcs.