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.

 

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Jhumpa Lahiri (2000) Interpreter of maladies.

 

jhumpaThis collection of nine short stories was winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2000. It gets my vote. Not that anyone asked me to vote, or even to read the long list or the short list. But if anybody had asked me which was the best of these short stories I would be flummoxed. I’d ask myself if they were all equally good. Janice Galloway, a writer I hold in the highest esteem, in comparison, wrote about the same number of stories in her collection of short stories and I’d have said seven were pretty rubbish, one quite good and one good. Lahari has nine exceptionally good short stories. That’s the kind of batting average that Alice Munro would be proud of.

The first story in the collection, ‘A Temporary Matter,’ takes the European reader into a different Asian culture, near the Muslim butchers, Haymarket, Calcutta, in which Shoba shops. But it is also Shoba who goes out to work as a proof-reader, the breadwinner in the family, leaving the gangly Shukaumar studying to gain academic qualifications, so he could gain tenure, or at least get a foot in the job market. They both have become ‘expert at avoiding each other’. This is classical storytelling, their arrangement is temporary, as is the notice they receive that ‘for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight pm’.

In the darkness of that hour they talk freely for the first time and tell each other stories of the things they would not dare tell in the light. They grow more intimate. When the electricity is fixed there is a pause. The future current could go backwards to the way it had been before, or forwards to a new beginning. And it does seem to be moving in the former direction, but when the denouement comes it is both unexpected and highly plausible as a volte-face typical of Munro at her best.

In ‘When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinner’ and ‘A Real Durwan’ the narrative follows Bangladesh refugees from the war and split from Pakistani, but on different continents. Boori Ma, ‘sweeper of the stairwell,’ is in Calcutta,  Mr. Pirzada is in America studying, as Shukumar also had been. ‘Mrs. Sen’s, husband in one of other stories has an academic position, and in ‘The Third and Final Continent, the first person narrator, leaves India 1964, travels to a job in London and gets a job in the library at MIT, another kind of tenure, but what is common in many of these stories is dissociation, living in one country, but longing to be in another with the family and friends they have left behind. Assimilation is never easy and, in ‘The Treatment of Bibi Haldar’, only occurs after she is raped. There are no chocolate-book answers, but gritty and absorbing narratives that leave you wondering and wanting more.

Blogging 101: Dream Reader.

I was out cutting the grass last week. It was warm and I was wearing shorts. I didn’t notice there was a wasp on my leg, until it stung me. There was a wasps’ nest close-by under the stump of a tree. The wasp was just doing what wasps do, protecting its nest. I flicked it away and stood on it and said ‘tell your mates they’ll be gettin’ more of the same. Come ahead if you think you’re big enough’.

I shouldn’t have done that. We all know about the death of bees and how in China they need to coax small boys up trees to pollinate the fruit trees. But I don’t live in China. I live in Scotland and I was just doing what I do.

Blogging is what I do when I’ve got something to say and no one else to hear it. Writing is a circuit from Reader to Writer.The circuit is not complete until someone, somewhere, reads your work.

My ideal reader would be Jesus, because he wrote a good book, a bestseller and God knows I’m word blind and  he knows the kind of mistakes I’m going to run into before I make them.

Next to God I’d probably put Alice Munro. She’s a Canadian Confucius, a master of the epigram of making something short, but long and outside the boundary to time, but not Jim, as we know it. In other words I don’t know what I’m talking about. That often helps when writing, because writing is a conflation of doing and thinking, but only if you do it right with a bold wrongness.

I must admit that me and Alice go back a long way. She ‘favourited’ me once. I wasn’t really sure it was her. Nobel Prize winners and deities don’t usually tweet and I imagined some bot was used to to harvest all mentions of her and reward her followers with the gold stars we used to get at Primary school to show how special we were. I was delighted, of course. A Spanish-Canadian robotic Munro cleaning up the mess of my writing and putting the world to rights.

You don’t usually lay a trap for God, but science demands it and calls it the experimental condition. I baited a trap for Alice Munro, pollinated it and left it lying on Twitter. She ‘favourited’ it again. Alice Munro does exist.

Tomorrow I will not be the same person as today. I will be living in harmony with the birds and bees in an independent Scotland. You are welcome to visit.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

Alice Munro (2006) Runaway.

I read the introduction by Jonathan Franzen. I can’t remember much of what he said. I’d guess that he talked about the way she makes a long story a short story. I’d guess that he talked about the way characters come to life on the page and just when you figure you’ve got a fix on them they do something that throws you, a poetic volte, and the story switches direction, goes on a different track that lets the reader see the characters—their motivations—more clearly. I’d guess you’d be asking why Alice Munro needs any introduction.

In the first story in the collection, ‘Runaway’, ‘Carla heard the car coming’. She lives in a caravan with Clark and the incessant rain is smothering them and their business of tending horses. Everything in their life is shit, including their relationship and Carla doesn’t know how to fix it. Clark thinks blackmailing the woman in the car, Mrs. Jamieson—Sylvia to her friends—would tide them over. But Sylvia has an eye for Carla and helps her run away. So far so soap-opera, but Carla on the bus leaving Clark is half-cocked, unsure. The denouement shows a breath-taking understanding of human nature and how we fence ourselves in.

The second story in the collection ‘Chance’ gives the reader time and place. ‘Halfway through June in 1965, the term at Torrance House is over. Juliet has not been offered a permanent job — the teacher she has replaced has recovered…’ Juliet teaches the Classics, dead languages, which is quirky and acceptable for a male teacher, but in Vancouver makes her decidedly odd. Juliet receives a letter from a man she met on a train. It’s addressed to ‘Juliet (teacher)’ the man doesn’t know her second name. Somehow it reaches her. On a whim she decides to visit him. There was something between them on that train journey, an incipient romance, and even though her potential paramour is married with a sick wife, Juliet is determines to go and see him in Horseshoe Bay.

‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’ has Juliet leaving Horseshoe Bay. Her husband has died and she is going to visit a friend – and then on to visit her daughter. Juliet’s Classic’s education has, in a curve ball, worked for her and got her a decent job as television interviewer on a local station. Her daughter is taking time out in that well-trodden path ‘to find herself’. Juliet looks forward to seeing her. They’ve always been so close. Here is where Munro stretches time, so by the end of ‘Silence’, Juliet is an old woman looking back on life and the choices she made and asking ‘what if?’

‘Passion’ is in some way my favourite. We are back on Horseshoe Bay territory. Grace is visiting the Traverses’ summer house among the ‘stupid lakes’. She had been engaged to one of the Traverses’ sons, but she wasn’t sure if she loved him. She wanted to be sure, but he seemed so right. Munro picks this love apart and weaves a different spell. Genius.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

 

How I entered the world of the deepnet to sell a ‘favorited’ by a Noble Prize winner

I’m typing this on an old Underwood typewriter, but I decided to leave black and white typewritten sheets  and enter into the dangerous world of the deepnet to do something a bit shady. The deepnet is the world filled with people that worship at the altar of Jimmy Saville and ping encrypted signals from online server to server in order to remain anonymous. No one that enters comes out quite the same.

    Think of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is blown by the gods onto the island of Aenea. He doesn’t know it’s an enchanted island. He just knows the nice lady (Circe)  serves a mighty fine leg of pork. Yum. Yum. His men grow into porkers before his eyes, but Homer doesn’t quite catch on. Odysseus protects himself with the herb Moly and forces the enchantress to restore his men to human form. Homer isn’t quite sure. It smells so nice and one little taste won’t hurt. That’s the deepnet for you.  

    I’m going there to sell my book Lily Poole and to get more pledges. For those not in the know it’s a ghost story without a ghost. The kind of thing the deepnet specialises in. Follow this link if you dare. http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

The currency of the deepnet is the Bitcoin. They don’t really exist, but there are Bitcoin millionaires — usually they’re selling pharmaceutical products.

I’m trying to convert a tweet in which I get ‘favorited’ by one of my favourite writers, Alice Munro. She’s got that old-fashioned Nobel Prize for Literature to her name. I figure if I can convert and sell ‘favorited’ status that doesn’t really exist, into Bitcoins that don’t really exist, into pledges for my book that everybody’s ignoring as if doesn’t exist then I’m onto a winner. Homer did eventually get off that island. The gods were fickle but not too unkind. Yum, porkers. I’d give an arm and leg for pledges.