Parasite (2019) screenplay by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, directed by Bong Joon-ho

Parasite won the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. And it won a stack of awards at the Academy Awards. Best Picture. Best Director. Best Screenplay. In other words it was a critical and a box-office success. It made money.

This is a film about money and class. But when we talk about theme we sometimes get lost and wander away from the main purpose of a film (and often a book) which is entertainment. I hooted with laughter and had those moments when I cringed. In other words, I was hooked and wanted to see what happened next.

As working class I identified with the Kim family. Being bottom of the pile isn’t some metaphorical concern for the Kim family. They live in a sub-basement in South Korea. Most of us don’t really know what that is. It’s below ground. But not in that fancy way the rich in some parts of Kensington, London, for example, are burrowing to create carparks and swimming pools and tennis courts that are carefully modulated by air filters and heating. Below ground in the way domiciled servants used to live, hidden away from the main house. The highest part of the Kim family home is the toilet pan. Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) and her brother Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo (Kevin) scramble up on the toilet pan to try and—fail—to get a signal for their phones, at below pavement level. Song Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek (Mr Kim) and his wife Ang Hye-jin as Chung-sook are watching a video on their phone about how to fold and pack takeaway boxes. While the woman onscreen makes it look easy. They have less success. But with all the family helping, they figure they’ll make enough money to eat. A drunken man comes and pees against the bins above them and against their ‘window’. The Kim family are below shit level and being peed upon.

The metaphorical becomes played out in the film’s denouement to great effect. Shit travels downward.

Meanwhile, Lee Sun-kyun as Park Dong-ik (Nathan) father of the Pak family and business executive lives on the top of a steep hill. He has all the markers of wealth. But he has inherited the live-in housekeeper of Namgoong, the architect and previous owner of the house. The housekeeper, Lee Jung-eun as Gook Moon-gwang is competent and suitably deferential. Park Dong-ik tells his wife Cho Yeo-jeong as Choi Yeon-gyo there’s a line between being deferential and being over-familiar that he would never allow his employees to cross. He’s the boss and they should know their place.  Choi Yeon-gyo certainly does. She knows her husband is in charge. But with her housekeeper, she’s in charge of domestic matters and taking care of their son and daughter. Jung Ji-so as Park Da-hye is also a deferential daughter, with a closeted and controlled life. Jung Hyeon-jun as Park Da-song is the spoiled baby of the family, with an obsession with North American Indians.

There is grass outside to set up a tent and trees. There is also a bunker room built below the house big enough to contain the basement housing and street the Kim family are crammed into.

The two families mirror each other, but the distance between them is so vast that it would easier to travel from North Korea to South Korea.

How the Kim family gets inside the walls and protectorate of wealth is beautifully worked and quite simple. They fake it. And as an audience we want the plucky Kim family to succeed.

Kim Ki-woo makes the first breach in the wall. He is recommended to the family by Park Seo-joon as Min-hyuk, a friend, and Da-hye’s English tutor, who is going to study abroad. His sister helps him to Photoshop some suitable accretions. He poses as a Yonsei University student, and is hired as a replacement English tutor, and dubbed ‘Kevin’ by the Park family after Choi Yeon-gyo sit in on their first lesson.

 His sister follows the same route. When ‘Kevin’ overhears Choi Yeon-gyo speaking about being unable to get a suitable art therapist for her genius of a son, he respectively suggests that he might know. Kim Ki-jung (Jessica) ‘an art student of Illinois State University’ might be free, but she’d need to come and interview them.

With the Kim brother and sister inside the house they have more leverage, and find ways to oust the chauffer and housekeeper and replace them with their dad and mum. The Kim family have gone from being unemployed and unable to pay their phone bills or eat to being in full employment at rates of pay they could only imagine. A new equilibrium has been reached, but everybody is faking it.

So far so good, becomes so far so bad, when the Pak family go on a suitably high-class camping holiday.  Gook Moon-gwang buzzes the door just when the Kim family are relaxing in their new ‘home’, spilling drinks, smashing glasses and behaving uproariously. The old housekeeper asks to get in claiming she’s left something in the basement she has to pick up. She knows the master and mistress are away, but claims it won’t take her long. Letting her into the house changes everything again.

Appearances need to be kept up, when Choi Yeon-gyo phones home and tells the new housekeeper that the camping trip has been a wash out and there’ll be there in eight minutes, and demands a cooked meal, the clock is ticking.

Drama and comedy combine. Every scene adds to and fits in the other like a Babushka doll. There is no one denouement, but a series of denouements. Superbly crafted and a joy to watch. The question remains who are the parasites and for what reason? Discuss.  

Green Book (2018) screenplay written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly and directed by Peter Farrelly.

This is a buddy movie and a road movie based on an odd coupling of two different cultures. It draws its authenticity from a friendship between a classical pianist and his chauffer, and one of the writers, Nick Vallelonga, witnessed it. The former is black and the latter is white. The year is 1962. John F Kennedy is newly elected, regarded as a progressive and a liberal. Voters proved that even a Roman Catholic can become President. But while JFK can schmooze with the Rat Pack, and advocate for liberal causes, he would never think of inviting Sammy Davis Junior to the Whitehouse, in the same way he could his buddy Frank Sinatra. Even though the latter had, alleged, Mafia connections.

I’m rambling on here. Trying to illustrate how deadly and dangerous the South was, and it didn’t need to be that Deep, for Dr Shirley (Mahershala Ali), the classical pianist. On the playlist of Southern Caucasus of Senators was hating Communists and, as Senator Old reminded them keeping ‘uppity nigras down’ (quoted in Robert A. Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson). Senator Jim Eastland also suggested ‘[he] could be standing right in the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he’d say the niggers caused it, helped by the Communists’.

Lyndon B. Johnson despite bringing a draft of civil right bills and pushing them through the Senate wasn’t much of a believer in equality. He’d a black driver, and the future President made sure he knew his place. Having a black driver was acceptable. But, of course, they couldn’t stay in the same place, they couldn’t use the same toilet, or drink water from the same faucet, don’t even think about them drinking in the same bar.

The Green Book in the title refers to the Negro Motorists Green Book (the cover was green). A roadmap, literally a lifeline, listing where black and coloured could stop off for something to eat or drink and stay overnight, without being whipped, or lynched, or jailed on trumped up charges. Out of the way spots where they could relax.

That’s the set-up. First up is showing ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) at work as a bouncer in the Bronx. He’s handy with his fists and gives a petty gangster a beating and flings him out of the Copacabana nightclub and into the street.

‘You don’t know who I am?’ the petty gangster bawls.

Tony shrugs. He’s old school, in with the bricks. He knows all the old Dons that run the numbers and run large parts of street life. He doesn’t take shit. But the Copacabana is closing down and he’s looking for another job.

Black workmen are doing carpentry work in his kitchen and all his Italian relatives are watching a ball game in the living room. They explain (in Italian) that it wouldn’t be right leaving his wife alone with these ‘eggplants’. His wife gives them a glass of lemonade before they leave. Tony picks up the glasses the workmen have used and puts them in the trash.

Tony’s a racist. But he’s also a slob. He wins fifty bucks beating another guy in a contest to see who can eat the most hotdogs. The other guy ate twenty-three. And his wife berates him for losing that amount of money, but then he admits he ate twenty-six and pulls out the note. He’s hitting the high notes.

When he goes to see Dr Shirley he finds out he’s not a real doctor. But he’s impressed by where he stays. Above Carnegie Hall, it’s something like a castle. And Dr Shirley has a manservant and sits on a throne. As well as playing the piano, Dr Shirley speaks several languages, fluently. In other words, he’s upper-class and refined.  He’s got connections so far above the petty Dons of Bronx street life that makes small town dictator’s heads spin. When they are jailed Dr Shirley springs them by using his one phone call to phone JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General of the United States.

I’m not sure this happened in real life, but it makes for a dramatic scene, and sense of different worlds. When rubbing chalk against cheese something is sure to give. The period detail is great. And the most important thing of all, this movie is great fun.

George Saunders, A Mastercraft in Writing and life in conversation with Max Porter.

George Saunders, A Mastercraft in Writing and life in conversation with Max Porter.

Chop a Chekov story into pieces.

Echo of class at Syracuse. Break up a story, a page at a time. Forces us to ask that question, why do I keep reading?

If I read a paragraph I’m in a different place than before, where is it?

Granular level. More irritating if the story is really good (cf, working with a shit story).

Forcing the pause.

Sit there for a few minutes asking, where am I now? What bowling pins are up in the air?

Why do I want to stop? Why do I want to keep going?

Noting emotion, I’m irritated. Wondering why?

Setting the baseline. For the rest of the year, that’s the kind of way we’ll be reading.

Read something, react to it, and try to articulate it.

There’s an intuitive noting we’re always doing, even if we don’t articulate it.

At a very basic level, we like it or we don’t.

Success in creating digressions, emotions into something worthwhile?

Second kind of noting. Rather that yes/no, remembering those reactions. And articulating them.

You can’t go into a class and say, shut up and listen. You can say I’m bringing you an object I think is worthy of consideration. Let’s see what sparks fly.

Put them in the path things that can show them the writers they were meant to be.

Touch on the obstructions they may be having.  Or they dynamic they’re trying to figure out between being funny and being serious.

The job is to put explosive devices in front of them.

You’re going to get a lot of pushback.

Students ask questions. One of the things about getting older is your intellectual sphincter tighten up and you’re already sure you already know everything.  You’re reminded talent springs eternal.

For many years as a working class person I have a reaction and I stifle it, because it can’t be right. (I can’t be right).

You try to override your initial reaction with another reaction. Something you’ve heard by somebody smarter than you.

Intellectual falsification and it can make you a crazy person.

It’s like walking into a party. It seems like a good party. There must be something wrong with you. Do you acknowledge that unease? [Ignoring it is one way of coping].

You can go astray. You can read something with too much defensiveness for example. [I’m not going to like this].

At first teaching was just something I had to do to go on writing my books. When you’re faced with a roomful of strangers you have some choices.

You’re involved in an active projection about those people. Do they hate you and find you stupid? Or are they a bunch of friends willing to be converted.

Connecting across age, gender and class, one of the best ways is looking at a made-up story.

What can happen in a room when the person at the front, trusts them.

In the US there’s been a steady devaluing of certain areas of the intellectual life. Reading and writing. Literature is this gauzy, cute, accessory. Nothing to do with the work of the real world.

Master and Man by Tolstoy.

Editing and re-drafting not the story, but yourself.

The Snowstorm

40 years pass and Tolstoy writes another story set in a snowstorm, Master and Man.

Indebted to the first story, but nothing like it.

Read them back to back. The difference is in what Tolstoy learned in those 40 years.

The latter is a more highly organized system.

What we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to take our first thing (draft) and trying to make it more highly organized.

Eg. Causality is tighter. Less waste. The thing is more universal. More itself. Framing greater truths.

Something weird about revising and the way I’ve come to understand it is you’re giving yourself chances, thousands of chances, to re-decide things at the phrase level.

Read every day with a pen in hand, and deciding whether I like it or not. And change it.  Be a little bolder.

That process causes the work to be more elevated. Smarter. Have more causation. Weirdly, it causes it to ask better questions. And to ask those questions more precisely.

What I try to do in my work is recognise micro-opinions, do I recognize them in my work, do I recognize them when they appear?

Am I fearless in honouring them? Am I playful?

Commit to micro-decisions and the thing will become more like you.

Reconsideration machines. Ghosts, but literary ghosts.  Peering over your shoulder. Your previous versions are haunted by your past versions.

Dialogue with previous selves.

Something close to intuition and iteration.

The great thing is you have to go with your intuition, but you have to come back to it. You’re letting a bunch of different yous act on the text.

It’s not your job to decide what kind of writer you are. It’s your job to write. I don’t have to be committed to theme, for example. I just have to be committed to making those choices again and again. Style will come out.

I’d a particular way of thinking that I thought that was me. Sarcastic way of seeing the world. You can step out of it. And that can happen at this late-stage revision. Literature become more than literature.

Milan Kundera, Super-personal wisdom finding its way in. Something we don’t have access in our daily life somehow find their way in during the cracks during revision.

Editing and writing gives me ideas how my mind works. My baseline idea is the ruminant part of your mind goes quieter. Monkey mind gets quieter. And in that quiet something else comes up.

There’s a little part of me that says, ‘Ooh, the New Yorker will love that paragraph’.

I need to say to myself. OK, step aside, back to the story.

To be aware of those micro-fluctuations in your mind. Like a smiling uncle saying, yeh, yeh, yeh, but you can’t deny it, because you need all of your energy to do this work.

Different minds and martial of this grand parade in your head. The mind is always in flux.

Principal of fiction, if you can get your stories to ask a valid question.

Our first draft is mostly projection and to revise it is a useful thing.

Mood boarding, the changing of the atmospheric lights.

Ben: I wonder if being in proximity to the mystery is useful. Being in proximity.

What I’d say to my younger writer self? Keep going. Whatever I’d have told him, he’d have rejected. The magic of time. We create these problems with our minds. And we solve them with our minds. The 10 000 hours of practice Malcolm Gladwell talks about. Yeh, you’re on the right track, but you’re ego is out of control.

The brain-dead megaphone essay. We should always consider the source and the motivation. He wanted you to buy, but mostly the agenda is to do something lovely.

Social media. The agenda is to be liked. Somebody’s popping something out of their butt. Encourages you to project incorrectly about people.

Short stories change your perceptions.

Revising, like Buddhist meditation. Opening the door to it being no good. Asking the question how can it be better (how can I be better)?

Accept what is. A saner base for being what may be.

Teaching is the kids will get it- eventually- they might not get it at first.

Trick of teaching. Try to imagine those beautiful 19 year olds as being the 40 year old they will become.

That person needs those stories. You’re doing them a favour be seeding in…a love for this work.

The gentleness of Russian writer in dealing with silly people.

First draft, slighty cartoonish, then as you re-draft that slightly low character comes up a bit.

Chekov, taking somebody you may have overlooked and take them to a higher level.  

Is your story responding honestly to the things you put in motion? Are your characters?

Kindness (of character) requires exactitude.

Flannery O’Connor always fierce in her exactitude. The way people are.

Storyville, Whirlybird-Live Above LA, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Mark Yoka.

Bob and Marika Tur captured the police chase on the Los Angeles freeways and the arrest of O.J. Simpson as he parked up his Bronco. Streamed live, it was watched by over 80 million- largely-America viewers. They were at the peak of their power. They witnessed the highs and lows of the eighties and nineties in The City of Angels.   

It had started off with Bob being just another stringers using police scanners and chasing police cars on the freeway to arrive at the crime scene. Being first was everything. Marika started out as being his front for the footage. She became his wife and junior partner. Every job was their last, and they needed to keep the foot down to make a living.  

Even when they had two children, a girl and a boy, the obsessive and consuming nature of their work meant that the children were drafted into their high-speed chases. Bob admitted to big dreams. He’d squirreled away $50 000 and went to look at helicopters. He didn’t have a license, but he learned and got credit for $500 000.

Up in the air, they could be first to accidents and murders and carnages such as a plane disintegrating and coming down on housing. Forest fires brought in the bucks. Floods were good too. Any kind of apocalypse could be monetised in the continuous news cycle.

Bob employed another pilot, Laurence Welk III. He had the right stuff. Business was on the up and up. Marika’s mum ran the office that sold the footage they created to media outlets.

Bob was hovering above the 1992 riots, after being filmed beating Rodney King police officers were cleared of assaulting him.. Shops were looted and set on fire.  Traffic was stopped and a man in a truck dragged out and his head kicked like a football. No police were seen, but Bob was. His footage resulted in convictions. He was sent hate mail and a bullet through the post. His children remembered him sleeping with a gun under his pillow, and telling them not to touch it.

But it was difficult to imagine Bob sleeping much. He said he went 90 straight days without a day off. He was an adrenalin junkie. The edge, the excitement, kept him going after bigger and better stories, but his life was imploding. He verbally abused his wife continually. They divorced in  2003.

Another narrative playing in Bob’s head was that he’d turn out like his old man that had beaten him as a child. His father had died at thirty-five with a heart attack. Bob also had a heart attack in his thirties. He admitted to hating his old man, but also of having turned into him. He, finally, took time off and attended The Burning Man festival. That was the place he first met trans-women.

Bob transitioned himself with an operation in Thailand in 2013. Bob became Zoey. He was no longer the big man. She hoped for a quieter life…outside the twenty-four-hour-news-cycle.      

The Little Stranger (2018) Channel 4, based on a novel by Sarah Waters, adapted by Lucinda Coxon and directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

All Gothic fiction requires a big house, a crumbling manor, think Dracula or Frankenstein with unruly peasants at the door with their torches. Before they’re invited in, of course, they’ve got to wipe their feet. Here we have Hundreds Hall, and like its master, second world war pilot, scarred and shambling Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter) the centre cannot hold and everything flies apart. He’s been nursed by his sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson) who might once have been a glamourous debutante with a bright future, but is now spinsterish and resentful of what may have been. Mrs Ayers (Charlotte Ramping) straddles two worlds. That of before the first world war when Hundreds Hall was at its peak and masters and servants knew their place. Now a large part of the house has been closed. And they are down to one serving girl, Betty (Liv Hall).

Dr Farraday (Domhall Gleeson) is the central character, the book’s narrator. Like Mrs Ayers, he too straddles two worlds. He’s one of those peasant types. His mum worked as a servant in the glory days and he was brought as a boy to pay homage to their master’s largesse. They were hosting a parting in the grounds. The house was out of bounds, but he’d been sneaked into the kitchens with his mum and filled with cake. A day to remember, but he’d left the grey of the servant quarters and entered the main part of the house, come out of his underground hole and into the light. He’d stolen an acorn from a picture. The daughter of the house had watched him, silently.

The little girl, the little stranger had died as a girl in an accident, but she’s still there in knocking sounds, and scratching noises and spontaneous fires and all kinds of malarkey associated with poltergeist activity. But the little stranger has a big canvas to play with. Post-war guilt and class.

Ruth, it’s generally agreed, is the best of them all. Trying to totter on to the inevitable, but she too wonders if their only servant Betty will leave them for some god-awful factory and processing line. Then she’d be left to do all the heavy lifting herself.  

Roderick rallies that there’s nothing they can do. Labour with their 75% death duties are killing them off. He accuses Dr Farraday of being one of them. Such accusations are, of course, bats.

Mrs Ayers reminds him that he should know his place, but in a nice way. Servants weren’t servants in those days, but bits of grit she made into pearls.

Dr Farraday is a strange fish. He admits her mother worked herself to an early grave to give him the education (and accent) he needed to get on in life, but he was ashamed of his parents.

Light the touch paper and watch it all burn.   

The Battersea Poltergeist, BBC Sounds, investigated by Danny Robins

An ornate key turns up on your pillow, it doesn’t fit anything in the house. You ask other members of your family. Nobody knows how it got there. Did it teleport from somewhere else?

You hear knocking sounds. Your neighbours come to complain. It goes on all night. It goes on for weeks on end. Months. Who’s doing it and why?

Your Irish granny says it’s the work of the devil.

A young pretty girl is the fulcrum of the investigation. Does she need to be pretty? No. But it helps sell newspapers. Front page news. Questions asked in the House of Parliament. Ronald Maxwell, of the Daily Mail, for example, picked up Shirley Hitchings from her house, 63 Wycliffe Road, and took her to his office in Fleet Street. He took numerous photographs without her permission. She was sixteen, or thereabouts. But when she said she wanted to go home, he said her elder brother John wanted to speak to her on the phone. John said it was alright, and she should do as Mr Maxwell asked. He took a picture of her holding her shoe.

Maxwell concluded she had double-jointed phalanges and she was using the heel to make the tapping sounds. Knock, knock, wink, wink. ‘Donald’ was her paranormal sweetheart. He took her to see a consultant who confirmed that she was deluded, her unconscious was reaping havoc in the real world, without her knowing it. But the consultant ran away from his own office when a wind blew against the curtains from the inside and scattered objects from his desk.

We know this because Shirley Hitchens is still alive. She can take the investigators and presenter Danny Robbins back to that first day when the key had appeared on her pillow. 27th January 1956. She was able to confirm that her brother John hadn’t made that phone call, but an associate of Maxwell pretending to be him.

Harold Chibbett, the paranormal expert of the day, who’s offer to help with the poltergeist (noisy ghost) suggests that in most cases the paranormal can be explained by many of the things that sceptics suggest. But in very few cases, this being one of them, there are no rational explanations. And that poltergeist activity usually follows certain rules that a teenage girl, or girls, are in the house. Their psychic energy is tapped by this unknown entity to display certain behaviours. The girl acts a kind of battery which allows it to happen. In other cases such as the Enfield Haunting of 1977 reporters claim also to have been attacked by the poltergeist. Wally Hitchings, Shirley’s dad, for example, was taken to hospital with burns to his leg. The surgeon asked where the three claw marks inside the burn had come from. ‘Donald’ as the poltergeist was named, had a nasty streak.

That was then, of course, we’ve left all that behind. Shirley’s botched exorcism by a spiritualist friend of Wally’s dad was described as the wrong thing to do by Harold Chibbet, who concluded we should be seeking to communicate with the entity, see what it wanted, and not try to assault it. Ciaran O’Keeffe, an expert in parapsychology (if there is such a thing) suggested that exorcism was akin to rape. An account of this procedure is given by Jeanette Winterson in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,  but most of us are more familiar with swivelling heads, green bile, and The Exorcist.

The sting in the tale, whatever you believe, was British exorcist Robert Keenan telling us he gets around a 100 phone calls a day and 30 emails asking for his help. He suggests there are evil entities out there and inside people and some he’s no match for and they have attacked him. Has seen cases of levitation and spontaneous combustion that feature here.  

Evelyn Hollow, another parapsychologist, (if such a thing exists) offers the usual array of explanations of group dynamics, train tracks running underneath the house, mine shafts to someone faking it, whether consciously, or unconsciously.

I’m with Hollow in all this, until it gets dark and I hear the crunch of footsteps outside and hear the drag of fingernails across the window. Then I’m shitting myself, like everybody else. The question of why didn’t they run away from 63 Wycliffe Road came up. The simple answer was it was their home. Why should they? Emmm? Listen, and tell me you’d have stayed. Listen, there’s no way I would have. Makes you think. You’re on your on mate.

Darren McGarvey’s Class War, Episode 1, Identity Crisis, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, presented by Darren McGarvey.

Darren McGarvey from Pollock admits he’s lucky, incredibly lucky. And he’s right to do so. He’s on a roll after Poverty Safari. The go-to man when the BBC, or any other media organisation, wants to signal that they’re doing the right thing. Giving the working class a voice. The equivalent of a black woman in the moron moron’s cabinet of his 45th American Presidency debacle. The alternative view. The Fool in Shakespearian plays, such as King Lear, who is allowed to speak truth to power. Invisible, but a place holder. Greta Thunberg addressing delegates at the United Nations, patted on the head, before they get back down to adult business of maintaining the status quo. Class War?

Not in my lifetime. Capitulation would be a better word. All the post-war gains since the second world war taken away. Marxism, is like liberalism or capitalism, difficult to summarise, but Marx argued that the point wasn’t to philosophise or interpret the world, ‘but to change it’.

The crudest formulations of class are clichéd.  If I working class man throw dice and keep throwing double sixes. Then the dice are taken to be loaded. The system flawed. He’s regarded as a crook. But if an upper class man throws six after six after six. Dice aren’t taken to be loaded. The capitalist system not flawed. When actors such as Darren pop-up they are pointed at as the exception to the rule-rule. They show how fair the system can be.  The end of history. The end of theory. The triumph of capitalism.

But clichés are also reservoirs of meaning. Darren flings out a few ideas and asks various characters—one of whom looks out of his face—what their thinking is on particular topics. ‘Buckfast’, for example, brought a satisfying chortle. Lower class, of course. But hey, it used to be a tonic wine, for middle-class folk.

I like the parody of class that features in The Frost Report: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett.

The first thing to be noted is height. The upper class with better diet and access to proteins lived longer. Literally, walk taller. Those that own the land, own the people on the land. Windfall profits of billons for our monarch who also owns large tranches of our offshore sea, where windfarms will be situated. If you need to work for money, you’re in the wrong game. Money for the richest one-percent makes money by investing capital. After reaching a certain mass it’s a no-lose gain. It’s in all of Belzac’s books. And try a bit of Jane Austen. I’m a fan of Emile Zola, although he has a tendency to assume the working class get more sex and are sexually active earlier. Maybe they are. I must have missed that bit.

  Darren gets pulled up about his posture. Watch any programme about long-lost families. You’ll find those that went abroad, including those transported to Australia, are taller, more muscular. Fish and cheap cuts of meat for the less well off at home. Starvation is back in fashion in Old Blighty. Food banks as a solution to hunger. In Shakespeare’s day people that got to around thirty-eight were the equivalent of our old age pensioners. Thirty-nine was ancient. Gladstonian liberals allowed for a pension for those aged over 65 in 1909. Less than a fraction of one-percent of the population was expected to live that long to collect it. We know now that is no longer the case and pension age has risen to over sixty-eight. But for the first time since records began the average age of British citizens has stopped increasing annually. It’s a class thing. A working class thing. Our babies die first and in greater numbers than their middle-class or upper class cohorts. A negative impact that carries on throughout life.  Like those infected with Covid-19 we’re dying off quicker and pulling down the average age of our general population.  

The second thing to be noted is dress. Darren plays that dressing up game too.  All of our characters wear hats. The upper class character wears a bowler. A marker of rank. Bowler hats were a useful tool in preventing directors, such as Stevens of Steven’s shipyard, knocking his head. His father would have worn a top hat. Workers in the yards didn’t wear hats. Their heads were thicker. They wore overalls.  

Winston Churchill wore a top hat to his public school. Accent speaks of breading. Churchill was regarded as a bit of a thicko. But he had the right kind of accent, Received Pronunciation. He famously barked at an opposition Labour MP to take his hands out of his pockets. And as a reflex action to the upper-class demands the MP complied.  Here a butler is brought in to give Darren the once over when he’s dressed as a toff. The butler demands he take his hands out of his pockets and pull his socks up. Ho-hum, bit of playing to the camera.

Then we have the big reveal. The butler reveals he’s one of us. He’s working class. But he worked harder than everybody else at learning to be a butler. He got up to bed earlier. Went to bed later. He’s using Thatcheristic language reiterated by George Osborne in his debate about ‘strivers versus shirkers’. The universality of a Dickensian appeal to an imagined past that never existed. One hand destroying the welfare state, and the other clapping NHS workers, before crashing the economy into Brexitland and calling it a triumph.

Darren does cricket. I’m working-class enough to hate it. Just a little reminder here, wasn’t that the Malcolm Rifkind that was caught selling access to our British Parliament for ready cash? Cash for questions?  Like the whisky priest in Father Ted I can’t help jumping out my chair and shouting ‘Tory Scum’, and for good reason. In a propaganda war they set out to destroy us, and largely succeeded.

Darren touches on it with the seeming contradiction of the ever-shrinking working class.   Two-thirds of the population at the end of the nineteen century to around a third today. A mix and matching of definitions of what is meant by the working class relating to income. Weberian definitions as opposed to Marxist definitions where those that need to sell their labour are authentic working class. The proletariat. Academics toyed with these ideas in the sixties, the embourgeoisement thesis. Luton car workers because they were so well-off were the new middle class. Yet, when interviewed they claimed still to be working class despite having enough money to be considered bourgeoisie. Ronnie Corbett instead of wearing a bunnet would wear a flat cap and vote Tory. Corbett’s working class character, ‘I know my place’. You hear that kinda crap all the time, rich folk have money and they must know how to manage it. The answer is simple. By claiming working class origins, the middle (or indeed, upper) class gain greater kudos for achieving what they have achieved. They’ve rolled more sixes in life because of their skill. Look how far I’ve come, narrative.

Funny, until you consider 170 million Americans voted for the moron’s moron, and ‘red wall’ constituencies in deindustrialised areas such as Yorkshire voted for the equivalent here and for Boris Johnson and Brexit. Racist, dog-whistle politics, triumph. Eugenics is back with a bang, but dressed up in the clothes of morality.

In short, follow the money and the stories of machismo. Boris Johnson shouting through a microphone about returning £165 million a week to the NHS, while pedalling the same old bullshit as the moron’s moron, the other side of the Atlantic, about making America great again.

Marxism follows the evidence. Going against the grain. Prejudices are so engrained they need to step back and look at them.

Gramsci’s view of popular culture. Class is ideology in action. Pattern recognition of narrative the stories we’ve been told again and again until they have substance. Truth is relative.

 Cul-de-sac of boring, often impenetrable theory to develop ideas of what is meant be class. Premises, methodology, perception.  Examining the ideas behind our assumptions. We better be quick talking about class before we all become middle class tomorrow.  

Darren examines the idea of marrying outside our class. It happens less often. Money becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands Remember 7:84, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil?   The history of Scotland in Brechtian theatre. How our sovereign wealth went to pay for Unemployment Benefit in Thatcher’s Britain in the mid-80s. Eighty-four percent of the land owned by seven percent of the population. We’d expect that figure to be a lot higher, now. And with green energy relying on having access to land, we can also expect those that hold the people to ransom, the capitalist and rentier class to become even richer. Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty-First Century documents this process. To be working class is to be powerless and treated as expendable scum. I’m not sure I learned anything here. But it’s a reminder of how far we’ve fallen. More of a hotchpot rant than a review. But this class stuff gets in my wick.

Circling a Fox, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Presenter Matthew Zajac, Director Brian Ross.

Matthew Zajac is an actor. Acting is a precarious profession. The same old faces crop up with regularity. Trying to make a living from acting is akin to trying to make a living from writing. I’ve did a few shifts as an extra. I’ve no interest in being the next what-ever-you-call him/her. Writing, well, that’s a different story.

Writing is my game. I don’t expect to make a living from it. And with over one million self-published books appearing on Amazon every year if you’ve been paying attention, as I have, then you’ll know why.

Matthew Zajac in his downturn between acting and being invisible wrote his own play, The Taylor of Inverness. He took it to the Edinburgh Festival, and with the help of a fiddler, and some projections acted out the part of his dad. It received plaudits. Plaudits don’t pay the rent.

Next his—let’s call it an award winning play, because if it didn’t win something Edinburgh’s culture elite have fell asleep at the wheel—is taken up by BBC Scotland. The peasants up North, us, receive a fraction of the BBC budget to produce content for the fraction of the British population that are interested in that type of thing.

Matthew Zajac gets to play his dad again, for the cameras, in his award-winning play. He  gets to travel to his father’s birthplace which was part of Poland until 1939, then in Stalin’s pact with Hitler, became part of the Soviet Union and designated as part of the Ukraine. His dad, Matthew’s grandfather, was Polish, and his grandmother, Ukrainian. The programme also becomes one of those finding about your past kind of road trips where the viewer see nice scenery and meets quaint folk that don’t speak our lingo.  Money for old rope.

Zajac’s  father told him (and us) how was fox is hunted in his birthplace. Cornered in a field, a fox runs in ever decreasing circles until its captors can bludgeon it to death.

Ukraine used to be thought of the bread-basket of Russia. Soil so rich that to plant a stick was to grow a tree. I’m going off at a tangent here as Zajac did with his da’s story. His dad was buried in Inverness. Whisper it, as a head mason. He was flexible about religion and risen through the ranks. (My understanding is you can be both a Roman Catholic and a Mason, as my da’s pal, Jimmy Mac, was). Zajac’s dad, despite coming from the Ukraine, fought with the Polish army for Britain in the second world war against their common enemy, Nazi Germany.

It all kind of adds up. Before the first world war Glasgow was booming and growing at a rate faster than London. In the interwar years this growth declined, but it was still enough of a metropolis to take a refugee from the Ukraine and for him to find a job as a tailor in Glasgow. And then head to the back of beyond to Inverness to find a shop of his own, a life of his own, a new life and kids. It’s the refugee made good narrative.

The Ukraine of the interwar and postwar years was one of bloodshed. Let me fling some figures at you. 20 million dead. Stalin brought the Ukrainians to heel by mass starvation. Most children under ten would die first. Millions more sent to gulags such as those in Siberia. Ukrainian nationalists fighting the Soviets who had ‘liberated’ them shot and their families deported. Acts of savagery, mass murder and rape. Teenagers, in particular, in the vanguard.

Let’s remember the death camps in the East and the Jews. Jewish tailors that had trained Zajac’s dad. We know around six million Jews were exterminated. But around half, as they were here, were taken into forests and fields and shot.

Zajac finds in the old reels of his father’s tape something unnerving. His story of being swept up by the Soviet machine and being deported to Uzbekistan has a facsimilia of truth. His escape along the Soviet railway, with its own gauge system for train that took three months, seems possible. He joins the British Army.

An alternative story and shadow self emerges that is completely compelling as narrative, as history, or as drama, and a combination of all these.   This is much-watch TV. It shouldn’t be given a graveyard slot on BBC Scotland, but a Sunday night slot at 9pm. The kind of slot Small Axe: Mangrove demands and gets because Steve McQueen is a somebody. Zajac is a Scottish yokel, he’s give what he’s got and likes or lumps it territory. Listen up, I watched both and Zajac is better.  Watch and learn what a thing man is.

Dona Marie Thompson 1959-2021.

dona marie thompson

Dona was much the same age as my older sister and was born in 1959, on the cusp of The Swinging Sixties. Nineteen men died in a whisky explosion at a warehouse on Anderston Quay the following year, one of Scotland’s worst fires. Real Madrid were Kings of Europe after the Spanish champions went a goal down, but beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden in front of 127 000 mostly Scottish fans. Hearts were Scottish champions. A packet of fags cost around three shillings and sixpence. A pint of beer a shilling and fivepence. To post a letter cost threepence. And if you wanted buy a car it would cost you around £700. Dona wasn’t big on cars. She never learned how to drive and left that kinda stuff to her older brother Leo. Fags and beer, well that was a different story, and more to her liking.  

I only saw Dona in denims and t-shirt and a jacket, she didn’t dress up. A smidgen of lipstick for special occasions. Often she’d have a fag in her hand, her ginger frizz a fox’s tail that gathered around her face. She looked the world square in the eye and spoke bluntly, but not unkindly.

Beauty she left that to her daughters Michelle and Cheryl to fuss about. Men were like tortoises, a bit slow, easy to pick up, but harder to get rid of. She’d a soft spot for the underdog. The kind of drunk guy that couldn’t find his pockets. Candidates for the last train home. That would argue with the train guard that they’d moved Dalmuir to the wrong place, and he could call the police if he liked, he wasn’t for moving. Donna was father and mother to her children.

Michelle was born during the mass furore of Thatcherism and the introduction of the Poll Tax. Only one of them was wanted. Fags were hammered by tax and cost almost £2 for twenty and a pint was almost a pound. Phone calls cost ten pence.

‘I’m gonnae kill that Cheryl,’ Dona’d say.

She used to bring Cheryl into the Drop Inn in her stroller to play a game of pool and have a pint. Her youngest girl with her shiny long hair, big smile and knee-length skirts soon had the run of the place. Dazzled by the lights of the fruit machines, crisps in hand. Wheeling and dealing, coming back, knowing her mum was there for her—always there for her—filled with grace, but crushable. She knew how to press the buttons in the machine and what the jackpot was. When all the coins tumbled out, the world was hers to divide.

 Dona made a bit of money cleaning the stairs in the tenements around Castle Street where I lived and the other tenements in Dalmuir. The cash-in-hand job my own mum had done, and generations of mothers before that. Dona liked to keep busy and worked hard.

The high flat beside the station. An island in which her daughters Michelle and Cheryl also had houses. An enclave of Dona-ness. Mother and granny. Her girls got her and she got her girls and grandchildren. That was enough.

Dona’s friends and muckers were special to her. She wouldn’t let you down, but if you let yourself down, well, there was that shrug. But injustice left her fizzing. Especially, against women. Everybody in Dalmuir has at least one fight with Rab Adair. I’d punched him with a pint glass in my hand and cut the meat of my hand. He picked up a ball from the pool table. Donna just knocked him out in The Horse and Barge, which made me laugh.

When Dona’s brother Leo died in Thailand there was nothing much she could do, but bring him home to be buried. Just the same as she’s been buried with honour and dignity.  

Dona wouldn’t thank you for sympathy or allow you to look down on her. Last time I saw her, I did just that at the Co-op, beside her flat. She was in a wheelchair. But, hey, it was the same old Dona, bright as a brass button with warmth in her voice. She was always glad to see you. I’m sorry to see her go. RIP.