Schrödinger’s cat, observational effect and superposition, the multiverse, and our place in the universe to the power of…Einstein’s God doesn’t throw dice. Enough quantum physics to fill half a teaspoon. This is the backdrop for a routine murder mystery, with unsolved serial killer cases and socialites Detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) is called in to investigate as a possible homicide Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer). Hoolihan has issues and is a reformed alcoholic, but she’s grown old dis-gracefully. She’s the best in the business and has a preternatural talent for linking disparate clues. Almost a one-hundred percent success rate.
Ticking in the film noirish background there are the cases that got away. A serial killer that was never caught and grown silent over the years. It’s personal, Hoolihan’s childish memories trigger clues she picks up in the case, and, vice-versa. In particular a Brenda Lee I’ll Be Seeing You soundtrack that sends her off into past and present. In the foreground, Col Tom Rockwell’s (James Caan) a Vietnam War hero and well-respected family in New Orleans whose astrophysicist daughter’s case she’s investigating.
A closed-box mystery of the Agatha Christie variety. Jennifer Rockwell, with a gunshot to her brain, had been found dead in observatory in which she worked. The door locked. Prof Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) is the main suspect. Being Toby Jones, we know it couldn’t have been that killed her on this or any planet.
The case is solved not by plodding, but great intuitive leaps of faith by the troubled Hoolihan. Cynical colleagues such as Tony Silvero (Aaron Tveit) can only look on in wonder. This is a pleasant enough way to spend an hour-and-a-half of your allotted time, if you’ve nothing better to do. Turn your brain off and enjoy, as I did.
A French film, with English subtitles. Set on the cusp of the swinging sixties, it begins as a coming-of-age drama. We are told in voice-over by Chantal (Estelle Lescure and the older Chantal played by Jehnny Beth) how her mother, beautiful, young Rachel (Virginie Efira) meets Philippe (Niels Schneider) at a local dance. He’s down from Paris to sub-rural hicksville and works as a translator on the American army base. Rachel’s friend teases Phillipe and asks him to translate a phrase into Spanish, into Italian, and even Chinese. Phillipe obliges her, but it’s Rachel he’s after.
She’s an office worker and admits the boss hates her and demoted her after he tried to have an affair with her. Philippe waits for her to finish every night. They make love, or have sex, whenever and wherever they can. Rachel is in love. Philippe doesn’t believe in love. He gets her to read Nietzsche. Dazzles her with notions of the Übermensch, Beyond Man, the philosophy adopted by Nazis apologists. Philippe tells her he doesn’t believe in marriage and will never marry. He’s above such notions. And Rachel, with her lower-class Jewish origins, should be above such things too. As a parting gift, Rachel lets him cum inside her, rather than on her stomach as they agreed.
Inevitably, Rachel gets pregnant and gives birth to a girl, Chantal (our narrator whose story this nominally is). Chantal is registered as a bastard, with father unknown on the birth certificate. Rachel begins a crusade to get Philippe to legally acknowledge Chantal as his daughter. Perhaps even be something of a father to her?
Years pass. Rachel ages and Chantal grows from being a baby to a young girl. Philippe, like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray looks and sounds much the same. He agrees to be named as father but then changes his mind. They make love or have sex, again and again. It suits him, and he tries to convince her that’s what they agreed to. He’ll never marry. And she’ll going on working in the same old office and living with her mother, waiting for him, hoping to rekindle that great passion in her life.
The lies we tell ourselves are the most difficult to unravel. Her life is on hold, waiting. The older Chantal narrates in voice over the changes that come in their relationship and hers with her father. Blink and you’ll miss it, when Chantal tells the viewer when it started. A smooth transition. Intention and desire unpicked in the movement towards the denouement. Elegantly done.
Writer Jimmy McGovern guarantees quality, his production company is a must have drama factory for BBC, and his series gets the full marketing treatment and premium billing on Sunday-night telly. Our viewing habits have, of course, changed. I watched the first episode of Time last Sunday and during the week watched the other two episodes on iPlayer. That’s the new norm. Unless it’s Line of Duty, (none of which I’ve watched) expecting upwards of ten million viewers to tune in on a Sunday night is economic and entertainment madness. As consumers we want to watch when we have time. Or so the theory goes.
The Howard League for Prison Reform tells us there are currently 78 037 people in prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales. David Leslie in Banged Up (published in 2014) tells us there are 120 prisons in England. Scotland has the highest number of people in prison or probation in the UK, and the highest in Europe. Statistics from the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation, show Scotland’s “correctional rate” is 548 people per 100,000 – behind only Russia and Lithuania. The correctional rate for England and Wales was 459, while the Europe-wide median was 318. That’s all the boring stuff nobody much reads. Jimmy McGovern knows this, people want stories they can relate to, and that’s what he’s selling us.
I’m sure I passed an ex-lifer walking down Duntocher Road on Thursday, who had been serving a sentence for two murders. He drunk in my pub, and he’ll be out on license. I talked to another guy whose son is in prison for murder. His date for release was put back because he got involved in a gym brawl. Then there is the ongoing case of a twenty-six-year-old Dalmuir lad, who was said to have been put in a bath of what was described as ‘a corrosive substance’, and later died. The number of murderers on license has doubled in the past five years. The Probation Service was privatised and renationalised because it was in such a colossal failure that couldn’t be ignored even by Tory scum. But here’s the rub, our prisons are in a permanent state of siege and overcrowding. Yet crime levels are generally falling. I live in a very quiet bit of Dalmuir with other old folk, nothing much happens, and that’s the way I like it. I don’t want drama.
Jimmy McGovern’s day job (most writers’ task) is not just making something happen, but to make things worse. So here we have the new fish, Mark Cobden (Sean Bean) sent to prison. He’s killed somebody, after drink driving. Is he mad, bad, or sad?
Well, he’s remorseful, but not really bad, after all he’s a middle-class schoolteacher and most prisoner are working class and come from deprived backgrounds (or ex-school teacher, McGovern had Sean Bean dress up at night as a woman and recite The Lady of Shallot [https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45359/the-lady-of-shalott-1832] to his pupils in a previous production, which is a poetry crime in extremis, so they have previous).
The twin strand of the storyline has prison officer Eric McNally (Stephen Graham) on the wing that Mark Cobden is imprisoned. ‘You were hard but fair,’ a former inmate tells him when he’s picking up drugs. But that’s to jump ahead.
Then you have the mad, Bernard (Aneurin Barnard). ‘Top bunk or bottom?’ Mark Cobden asks when he’s introduced to his new cellmate. Bernard’s body is covered in scars. He cuts himself, self-harms and is dragged away to the hospital wing regularly. He’s sick in the head. Prison officer McNally tells his mum, he’s sorry about what happened, but they were doing the best they could. The truth was most of the folk in prison were sick in the head. She doesn’t care. She only cares about her son.
In the preface to David Leslie’s Banged Up, he explains prisoner’s crimes range from the farcical to the terrible, but prisoners have one thing in common. Time. How to beat the boredom of being locked up 23 out of 24 hours, how to do time. Boredom is a killer. Drugs and bootleg booze a welcome relief. Cobden finds himself being stuck in his cell a bit of relief (like many others), because he’s been bullied by Johno (James Nelson Joyce). He steals his grub. Jumps in front of him in the queue for phones. And threatens to set his feet on fire with turpentine. He’s already flung a kettle of boiling water and added sugar so it sticks to a fellow prisoner he calls a grass. Cobden hides in his cell as a coping strategy.
The local Glaswegian kingpin on the block tells him that ‘his life will be hell’ until he hits back. Prison officer McNally’s life is already hell. His son is in a Young Offender’s and he’s told he’ll be assaulted unless McNally brings in stuff to the prison. McNally arranges with his governor for his son to be ghosted to another institution. But he’s sent a reminder that didn’t work. McNally isn’t trying to protect himself, but his son, and family. Hard choices.
Jimmy McGovern knows how to save face. Stevie (Dean Fagan) for example is Cobden’s new cell mate. And as part of retributive justice is allowed to tell his story to the victim’s parents. A lad he stabbed in a brawl. McGovern allows us to look at it in two ways. Stevie admits he was skint and took a drink from the man he murder’s pint, but he didn’t have enough money to buy him another. He’s in the sad category, but to save face he challenged him to fight. Took a hammering and stabbed him. It makes the convoluted sense that anyone living in a working-class district well understands.
Prisoners worst enemies are themselves is the message McGovern pitches again and again. And he’s right. But it’s not a vote winner. Locking so many people up, especially women makes no sense either economically (McGovern gets in the cost by admitting for every prisoner inside there’s an administrator’s wage being paid, and of course, added profit for private companies added as we ape the American model) or morally. Next to wrapping yourself in the flag, floggings and beating of prisoner is a sure way to get yourself elected and stay elected. The Honourable Margaret Thatcher, for example, favoured hanging and corporal punishment. Johnson favours whatever makes him sound less like the dim-witted pantomime horse he really is. Back to the drama. Yeh, worth watching. McGovern, as we expect, hits all the right beats in the right way and asks question of what we mean by atonement, and if such a thing as justice is possible outside The Book of Job?
The format for this serious is simple, and it’s in the title. People who have been caught up in some traumatic, life-changing event, and some stranger has stepped in to help them. I’m sure I watched the last series, but can’t remember if I did. It’s a feel-good programme.
The cynical part of me suspects if an American documentary maker made this programme there would be supernatural elements, but the only angels here are real people. Anita Rani meets with Karl and Emina in the first episode and Marc and Peter in the second episode and does a bit of acting: Will we find these strangers, she asks? That’s like asking will Kylie and Jason Donovan marry in the final episode of Neighbours—of course they will—and live happily ever after?
Karl was in the train carriage where 26 people died on London’s Piccadilly underground line on the 7/7/2005 (another 26 died when a bomb went off on a bus). He was a student dancer, training to be a professional. After the explosion, he prayed to God to let him out, ‘I won’t be gay any more’, was his bargaining chip. God knew he was lying, because He was God, but He also had foreknowledge of the 7/7 bombings and that Karl would push past the stranger that held his hand and told him it would be alright, in his rush to escape from the carriage.
God would also know about the atrocities in Sarajevo during the Bosnia and Herzegovina war in 1992. He would know that a doctor would arrange for Emina and her sister, Edina, who required surgery and had Down’s syndrome to escape on a bus, taking young mothers and kids out of the sieged state to live in Birmingham. God would know that some of the older boys would be taken off buses and shot, and buried in mass graves. Buses would be blown up crossing bridges. But Emina and Edina and their mother would make it to safety. He would know that their dad made the right choice not getting on the bus, despite their mother begging him. And he too would join them in Britain. God would know Britain hates refugees—and poor people, in particular, even their own citizens that have the wrong colour of skin— but since this is a feel-good story, we’ll kid on we don’t. He’ll know that Anita Rani will go through the charade of not being able to find the paediatric doctor who now lives and worked in Holland.
God, despite hating gay people, killing them with AIDs, and in the words of former police chief of Greater Manchester, Sir James Anderton, ‘swirling around in a cesspit of their own making’ will know he’ll get the backing of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Brixton born black boy Marc will be diagnosed with HIV at the age of seventeen. Marc will find a saviour in a counsellor called John (Wilks) and a place of safety in the Landmark Centre. God will know that the Tories will unleash savage policies in the name of fiscal prudence which took money from the poor to give to the rich and shut off local authority programmes like Surestart and close places like the Landmark Centre.
God will know about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He’ll know about the Brexit border and every lie that Boris Johnson has told. Yet, God will know that the English voters found the little Trump to be good. He’ll know about Peter being shot in the legs by Ulster Protestant paramilitaries in 1979, and how his wife suffered post-traumatic stress disorder hit the booze and died young. God knows Peter will make it and have a pile of grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Peter will never forget the angel, a nurse called Betsy that pulled him through his darkest days in hospital. God knows Anita Rami will go through the usual hee-haw of being unable to find her, but then, suddenly, a chink of light. Ahhhhhhhhh…that’s nice.
In many ways this is George Clooney’s creation. He’s listed as one of the producers. Producers are the guys (and it is usually men) who get the money together to make a movie. Because he’s George Clooney he can do that kind of thing. Other people will fling money at him, because it’s a no-lose situation, a film starring George Clooney is bound to make money, and if it’s any good, it’ll make a lot of money, but the stars need to be aligned.
George Clooney stars with different haircuts and uniforms, but the same sugary smile he’s perfected over the years. His character Lyn Skip Cassady is ex-American army, and there are flashbacks to the time when the US military set up a shadowy organisation to create psychic warriors and conquer hearts and minds by making love, not war. Army maverick Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) led them to places they couldn’t have dreamed. Bridges re-jigs his role as The Dude, but in army military bases. But The Men Who Stare at Goats is much more fun than The Big Lebowski. I laughed aloud several times, and that doesn’t usually happen unless an old woman falls in front of a truck after jumping over a skipping rope.
We know all this because Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) tells us about his journey with Cassady on the road to enlightenment in an Iraq that is being liberated or conquered by American troops (depending on your point of view). There’s the realist tone Umberto Eco adopts in his masterpiece Foucault’s Pendulum with the ridiculous rubbing shoulders with reality. Cassady regrets, for example, under military orders letting his ego run wild, staring at a goat and stopping its heart. He admits that it might just have been coincidence, him staring and the bleating animal’s heart stopping, but he doesn’t believe in coincidences.
Cassady’s mission is so hush-hush, he’s not even sure what it is himself. He needs to find his former guru, The Dudeless Bill Django in a desert without road signs. The right road is often the wrong road as they are taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists. But that’s a mere blip in Cassady’s inner radar, as Bob Wilton makes the inner journey from sceptic to true believer.
Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is our Judas and nemesis of free-love and free-wheeling Django and Cassady in the military and world at large. (This was before Spacey was publically shamed, some would see that as proof of the dark side. Other examples being the large numbers of cast members that died in strange circumstance after making The Omen).
Whatever—this is a great and fun movie. George Clooney has never been better as George Clooney, Ewan McGregor even gets in on the act. Well worth watching for Dude-less fans. Try it.
Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about. Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.
I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.
I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.
Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.
Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.
Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.
An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.
‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’
Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.
‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.
Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.
Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.
Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.
Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.
Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.
George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.
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.
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 theTwenty-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.
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.
This is an old film, with impossibly young actors. But the same old story of corruption and cover-up, we’re more familiar with now. The 45th Un-United States President could say with some justification that he could ‘stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes’. He was partly right, and always wrong. Let’s leave the twice impeached President sliding out of history and return to the Watergate Scandal.
It was a pretty simple story, as Sean Connery’s character growled in his Oscar winning performance for supporting actor in Brian de Palma’s Untouchables—follow the money.
Two Watergate journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) follow the money, Republican Party Contributions that lead them to the bungled burglary at Watergate, smear campaigns, the bugging of Democratic candidates with the connivance of police forces, the FBI and even the CIA. Everybody knows but nobody is telling, or they’ve been got at and threatened. Unwilling to talk.
Strictly, off the record Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) is willing to meet Woodward and advise him whether he’s on the right track.
On the record, they’ve got to convince a grizzled Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) at the Washington Post to print their story. He tells them the story of how he thought he had something on Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. And he’d ran with it as far as he could, and thought he was getting some place. Then the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson had phoned him up and told him he was making Hoover head of the FBI, for life. That was a fuck-you from the President. He didn’t want them fucking up and bringing down his paper.
We know what happened next with Tricky Dicky Nixon. We’re waiting to hear and see what happens with the moron’s moron. Follow the money. Amen.