The Men Who Stare at Goats, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, screenplay by Peter Straughan, adapted from a book by Jon Ronson, and directed by Grant Heslov.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00xhf50/the-men-who-stare-at-goats

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.

Football’s Darkest Secrets, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, director Daniel Gordon.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000ths2/footballs-darkest-secret-series-1-1-the-end-of-silence

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000tjhv

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000tjgr/footballs-darkest-secret-series-1-3-the-reckoning

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.   

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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000sc9j/storyville-whirlybird-live-above-la

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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000s7hd/darren-mcgarveys-class-wars-series-1-1-identity-crisis

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.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00hhrwl

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.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000s083/circling-a-fox

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. But he also gets to travel to the Ukraine where his da was born, to put on the same performance for the natives of his father’s home town. But 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.

One of Zajac’s Ukrainian relatives tells him (and us) how a fox is hunted. Cornered in a field in every decreasing circles until its captors can bludgeon it to death. Money for old rope is a cliché. What it refers to is the rope hangman such as Albert Pierrepoint in Britain used to sell to members of the public per inch, as a trophy, after they have used it to hang convicted criminals.

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’d given up his Roman Catholicism to join the order 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. Syria and up into India an incredible journey in which the good guy prevails. 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.

All the President’s Men, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, writer William Goldman and director Alan J. Paluka.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000rgnx/all-the-presidents-men

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 Untouchablesfollow 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.

A Teacher, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, written by Hannah Fidell.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08xc504/a-teacher-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08xc59p/a-teacher-series-1-episode-2

We all know about the meet-cute, when the main characters collide, and we know they’ll later have a romance. In Norah Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, for example, Sally Albright (Meg Ryan’s character) is sitting waiting in a beaten-up Beatle car filled with junk to give a lift to Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) while he gives a prolonged snog to his latest has-been. Here Hannah Fiddel is more in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita territory with middle-aged literary professor Humbert Humbert having a sexual obsession with his stepdaughter, Dolores Haze, and English school teacher Claire Wilson (Kate Mara) having an affair with her pupil Eric Walker (Nick Robinson).

The first couple of episodes set things up. Claire Wilson arriving at Westerbrook High and Eric Walker and his school buddies looking on and saying how cute she is. But, of course, she’s ‘a teacher’ and they’re eighteen-year-old boys. They know the difference between fantasy and reality. Twelve-year-old Lolita, for example, has still a lot of growing up to do in comparison.

We’re a long way from Texas, but in Damian Barr’s autobiographic Maggie & Me, with Motherwell as a backdrop, he tells the reader how as a spotty sixth-year pupil, one of his teacher was giving him the heavy-come on. Prattling on about her problems at home and how her husband didn’t really understand her. Giving him a lift home.  Does this sound familiar? She didn’t realise he liked boys. Perhaps that would have made a more interesting drama.

Usually, as we know, far away from News of the World type exclusives, around 99% of cases it’s the male teacher leching after the female student. Age does matter. Who does what to whom shouldn’t matter.  But for this kind of drama, phew, every schoolboy’s wet-dream onscreen. You might want to watch how it develops and how the protagonists don’t live happily-ever- after over ten episodes.  Two short and colourful episodes was enough for me.

Traces, BBC 1 Scotland, BBC iPlayer, based on an idea by Val McDermid, written by Amelia Bullmore, director Rebecca Gatward.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08zhgmb/traces-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08zhgs6/traces-series-1-episode-2

‘You’re unbelievably beautiful, you are.’ Daniel (Martin Compston) tells Emma Hedges (Molly Windsor).

It must be dispiriting for a young actor thinking if any series is set in Scotland, I must have a chance, but only if Martin Compston is busy and doesn’t want the part.

She’s got baggage. He’s got baggage. Every character has more baggage than Buckaroo. (I’ve got baggage. Did I tell you I did a forensic science course, elements of forensic science, and somebody stole my course book? I might even be a suspect here.) Molly’s a forensic student in Dundee, Tayside College. Her mum went missing eleven years ago when she was seven. She was unbelievably beautiful then too. Her mum wasn’t bad either. Julie Hedges (Neve McIntosh) she turns up—blonde hair swilling about, print dress, bright colours.  And she’s laughing because she doesn’t know she’ll go missing during The Tall Ship’s Gala and her dismembered body will be discovered by a dog walker, three months later on the beach. She’s not a ghost, like in Randal and Hopkirk Deceased, because then she’d need to wear a white suit.

That’s the cold case, but it’s complicated by her boss at the lab at which she works, Professor Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser) is also running a MOOC course in forensic science that has been viewed by over 23 000 online viewers. I might have done it. I like MOOC courses. But she’s made a bit of an error. The case study and corpse they use as analytical material matches the case of Molly’s mum, because it was based on her case. But Professor Sarah Gordon can’t admit this. Nor can she seem to avoid Molly, they bump into each other more than is humanly possible without intercourse.

She’s got something to hide. As has her colleague Professor Kathy Torrance (Jennifer Spence) who also had intercourse with an Australian backpacker, but it was sexual.

The forensic scientists are deep into murder cases at the appropriately named Secret’s Nightclub. Three bodies and the manager of the nightclub jumped off the Tay Bridge after the club burned down.

Emma goes to stay with her pal Skye Alessi (Jamie Marie Leary) while trying to digest all those secrets. Skye is her wee pal in the swirly hair moments when her mum appears. You guessed it. She’s also got secrets her mum, Izzy Alessi (Laurie Brett) doesn’t want Emma to know about. Something to do with the photo of her dad, old rocker Drew Cubbin (John Gordon Sinclair) being in bed with her mother, taken in Izzy’s house, possibly by Izzy, while her mum was married to her step-dad. He’s got something to hide. She’s got something to hide.

The lead detective in the case  DI Neil McKinven (Michael Nardone) was a junior cop when Emma’s mum was killed. But as a favour, he’s helping Professor Sarah Gordon cover up her mistake in using an ongoing case in her course material. He’s got a secret too.

So far every cast member has a secret, and some non-cast members (me), we need to know who the killers are or were, and work out if they were related cases to the person that stole my course book. Taggart would have done it in an hour. Here we’re in for the longer haul of six episodes. Nah, not for me. Too suspect.

Black Narcissus, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Writer Amanda Coe based on a novel by Rumer Godden (1939), Director Charlotte Bruus Christensen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08x8kml/black-narcissus-series-1-episode-1

 Gemma Arterton plays the lead role of Sister Clodagh, famously taken by Deborah Kerr (from Helensburgh).  Diana Rigg, who died this year, plays a cameo of Mother Dorothea. From the safety of Darjeeling she gets to task of warning Sister Clodagh that it won’t all be peaches and cream at Mopu in the Himalayas when the snow sets in. A missionary group of brothers have already failed in their quest to bring Anglo-Saxon English with a sprinkling of Catholicism to the natives. Jim Broadbent even pops up as bumptious, but kind, Father Roberts to add authenticity. Karen Bryson gets to play the token black nun, Sister Philippa. Alessandro Nivola as Mr Dean, the love interest. Nila Aalia as Angu Ayah, the caretaker and cat women, who predicts doom, doom, doom.

Nice scenery and the tolling of the bell that extends, over three nights, to three episodes.  

Documentary of 2020: Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Narrator Andy Serkis and Director James Bluemel.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000kxwq/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-1-war

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000l43w/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-2-insurgency

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr4ws/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-3-fallujah

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr52c/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-4-saddam

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p08kr5t9/once-upon-a-time-in-iraq-series-1-5-legacy

Waleed Nesyif was a teenager when President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein just 48 hours to leave Iraq. He was, like many Iraqi teenagers at that time, infatuated by the West. But while many of his generation grew up enjoying songs by The Backstreet Boys, Waleed formed Iraq’s first heavy metal band. By comparison to the American movies Waleed and his friends enjoyed, life under Saddam was oppressive, fuelled by fear and paranoia. If war meant life would eventually be more like the way it was in the movies, then in Waleed’s words, ‘let’s get this s**t done’.

Omar Mohammed, a young Iraqi student in 2003 explains the difference between the Iraqi and the American soldier during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He thought they were Rambo. Nobody could defeat them.

For others, it was more complicated. Um Qusay, a farmer’s wife from a small village near Tikrit, was under no illusions about the cruelty of Saddam’s regime. That did not mean however that she wanted a foreign army to invade her country to dispose of him. There were benefits to living in a police state. The streets were very safe, and if you did not oppose the government directly, you were free to live how you wished. Life might not have been perfect, but many felt that a war with America would be something that Iraq would not survive. Sally was just eight years old when American troops entered Baghdad. She had been told to be fearful of them, but when a soldier offered her a sweet, she decided that the stories she had been taught at school about the foreign imperialist devils were wrong, as only good people could be this kind.

As the statue to their former dictator falls in Firdos Square, there is a real sense of hope felt by many Iraqis. Maybe, just maybe, Iraq would emerge a better country – perhaps even as one of the best countries in the world. That was the very real hope of Ahmed Al Bashir. Now Iraq’s most famous comedian, as a teenager in 2003, Ahmed was excited by the opportunity to speak English with real Americans, waving at the invading troops and inviting them into his house. From his hotel room in northern Iraq, photographer Ashley Gilbertson watched, along with the rest of the world, as Saddam’s statue was torn down. ‘I’ve missed the war’ were his initial thoughts. What he and many others did not realise at the time was that this was not the war. The war was still to come. The initial hope, felt by many Iraqis, would be tragically short lived once the realities of occupation with no postwar plan hit the streets of Baghdad

When Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman arrived in Iraq in 2003, his belief in the task ahead – of delivering democracy and stability to the Iraqi people – was unquestioning. Sassaman was an inspirational leader to his men, and many felt that he was destined one day to become a general. Six months into his tour, caught in the political and literal crossfire of the insurgency, his good intentions and belief systems were shattered. Unprepared for the hostile environment he found himself in, with little support coming from Washington and taking daily attacks from insurgents, Sassaman was pushed to the very darkest regions of his psyche.

Alaa Adel was 12 years old in the summer of 2003, when she too was caught in crossfire on the streets of Baghdad. She suffered life-changing injuries when she was hit in the face by shrapnel from one of the first roadside bombs, which were planted by insurgents and intended for American forces.

Looking back at that time, both Sassaman and Alaa question the benefits of the war in Iraq. While one struggles with the guilt of their actions, the other lives with bristling resentment and ongoing anger.

At the start of the Iraq War in 2003, over 600 journalists and photographers are given permission by the US government to follow the war as embedded reporters. Dexter Filkins and photographer Ashley Gilbertson are working for the New York Times when they enter Fallujah with Bravo Company in November 2004.

It is the most intense battle of the entire war and the biggest the marines have fought since Vietnam. For the duration of the battle, both journalists live with the marines, filing their stories as they are constantly shot at. Illustrated by thousands of photographs taken by Gilbertson that week, many of them never before published, as well as unseen material taken by the marines themselves, this film takes viewers into the heart of the battle. Gilbertson’s decision to capture an image of an Iraqi sniper shooting from inside a minaret changes not only his life but the lives of the soldiers with him.

Nidhal Abed has lived in Fallujah her entire life. On 4 November 2004, her two-year-old son Mustafa is running a high fever. She leaves her home to take Mustafa to the doctors just a few streets away. What happened next ensures their lives too are never the same again.

With unique archive of the battle itself, this story is told through the marines, journalists and residents of Fallujah

CIA analyst John Nixon is the first person to interrogate Saddam.

The emergence of ISIS concludes the legacy of the Iraq War. But it has begun before this by what David Armstrong describes as the Bush administration ‘Drafting a Plan for Global Dominance 2002,’  in response to 9/11,  a strategy of threatening and attacking countries in pre-emptive strikes to prevent terrorism. ‘Iran would be next, then Syria, North Korea, even China…Sweep it all up’.

Felicity Arbuthnot, reports in Iraq: The Unending War 1998-99, humanises it by reporting on the case of Jassim, the Little Poet – R.I.P.  

Until he’d been ill he’d been selling cigarettes in his home town of Basra, in northern Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Gulf War and Desert Storm.

A six-fold increase in childhood cancers linked to the use of missiles and bullets coated with depleted uranium, which remains radioactive for 4500 years.

‘Iraq’s childhood mortality rate will go down in history as one of the great crimes of the twentieth century, alongside the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden and the excesses of Pol Pot. Between 6000 and 7000 children under five are dying of embargo-related causes,’ said Denis Haliday, a former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN.  

Jay Gordon, Cool War, Economic Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction 2002, reminds us before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s government, despite the well-known mass murder of Kurds and Shi’ites would not have survived without substantial backing from the United States, especially with an expensive war with Iran from 1980-1988.

After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War, in 1991, the US secretary-general envoy predicted ‘imminent catastrophe’. Immediate crises in food, water, sanitation, and infrastructure. His report concluded with the suggestion of ‘epidemics and famine’.  According to a Pentagon report that was the intention.

In the Oil for Food Programme, for example, around $170 per person per year was allocated. Around half the annual per-capita income of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti. Less than the $400 spent on dogs UN used on de-mining operations.

The destruction of the fresh water system caused outbreaks of cholera and typhus, which disproportionately killed infants and children. Prior to 1990 around 95 per cent of city dwellers had drinkable water. By 1996 all sewerage-treatment plants had broken down, confirming the Pentagon report’s analysis. Thirteen percent of Iraqi children died before their fifth birthday.

Jassim, the Little Poet’s last written words, ‘Identity Card’.

‘The name is love,

The class is mindless,

The school is suffering,

The governorate is sadness,

The city is sighing,

The street is misery,

The home number is one thousand sighs.’