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Book: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Moving on from his usual tales of the second world war, Ishiguro turns to sci-fi with a story about a group of young people destined for lives as donors. Beautifully, this is not really speculative fiction, Ishiguro is less interested in how human cloning has come about than in his usual themes of childhood, memory, loss and friendship. Given that many male writers can't write female characters, here he creates the world of teenage girls with their rivalries, intimacies, trivialities, preocc... (show more)

Moving on from his usual tales of the second world war, Ishiguro turns to sci-fi with a story about a group of young people destined for lives as donors. Beautifully, this is not really speculative fiction, Ishiguro is less interested in how human cloning has come about than in his usual themes of childhood, memory, loss and friendship. Given that many male writers can't write female characters, here he creates the world of teenage girls with their rivalries, intimacies, trivialities, preoccupations, hopes, fears and dreams extremely realistically.

Film: Monsters

Song: The Sun Was High - Best Coast

TV: Coronation Street. The street celebrated its Golden Anniversary by sending a CGI tram off of a viaduct with explosions and death galore. The live episode was extraordinarily good with stellar acting even from some of the less talented cast members (fortunately, Kym Marsh stayed away), and I was blubbering into my hotpot at the Peter Barlow death fake-out.

The best storyline this year was the John Stape/Colin Fishwick/Charlotte death 'n' teaching plot. John, desperate to go back into teaching (not just for the 13 week holidays) pretended to be his erstwhile colleague, the bizarrely named Colin Fishwick. Then Colin came back from Canada. Then Charlotte, the hippy-dippy HRT-crazed equine-face teacher accidentally killed him. Instead of reporting it to the police, the two rolled him up in John's nan's carpet and buried him in the knicker factory. It was tragedy played out as farce with John going slightly mad in the background whilst trying to keep everything from his wife. John was brought in as middle class boyfriend for ditzy Fiz, to evolve her from ginger barmcake wild child to mature (i.e. suffering) woman. John was an extremely tedious character with his specs and his tank-tops and his love of Romantic poetry. Then he had an affair with teen strumpet Rosie. Fiz forgave him. Then he kidnapped Rosie in a Ruthless People kind of move (he was quite a kind kidnapper, he provided her with Heat magazine and pasta salads). Unsurprisingly, he was jailed and put on the sex offenders register, despite having kidnapped Rosie because he was having a nervous breakdown rather than for nefarious purposes. Fiz forgave him. She chained herself to the prison until they let her see him in order to propose marriage. Then he had to be rehabilitated into society and was a boring character all over again. But the writers and producers worked out that he's hilarious as a man out of his depth, as he struggles to be Colin, assuage Colin, hide Colin and lose Colin, all the while avoiding amorous landladies, irate sofa salesmen, prying neighbours, angry builders, even angrier wives and nosy Norris who didn't want him to fly-tip a carpet on the cobbles. It seemed to be all over when John bashed Charlotte on the head, but as he pretended to be her fiancé to her grieving parents, it looks like he has to go 'round for Xmas Day and see them on birthdays, anniversaries etc. You can't impersonate a teacher (and kill people) and get away with it in Corrie, so he will one day have to leave, but I shall miss his Clouseau-esque homicidal bumblings.

I also watched the first 6 episodes of 1960 Coronation St which are, wonderfully, available on youtube. It's strange comparing 1960 with 2010; there are far far less characters (only Ken, Elsie and Ena stick in my mind, the rest are flotsam) and much longer scenes. Most of the episodes were filmed live and it shows with actors fluffing their lines and directors filming characters having a row without seeing either of their faces. There's no outside broadcasting and no establishing shots, just the two or three people in the scene filmed very close up, very claustrophobically, perhaps to emphasise the tight insular lives the characters lead. It's far more kitchen sink than soap opera-esque. There's very little drama, it's all character and dialogue led. Needless to say, Ena has filled the Blanche shaped hole in my life:

 "That feather duster is mine on account o' the fact I won it at a beetle drive."

"If yer thinking of moving inter my bed, you better move out sharpish because I'm coming 'ome to die on it!"

 Holiday: Minehead

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It snowed. People went on protests.

Film: Flashbacks of A Fool Dreamy Daniel Craig vehicle in which his degenerate days as a fading actor in LA are contrasted with his innocent (ish - there is a wanking-in-a-ghost train scene) teenagehood in which the younger Craig (Joe) is seduced by a neighbour which leads to a crisis that makes him leave home. It is beautifully shot with a recurring image of light on water, from the sterile surrounds of Malibu beach to the long hot summer of '76 in what looks like seaside Sussex (although it was actually shot in South Africa). There are many close ups of Craig/Joe's limpid blue eyes.

We see the moment that sets Joe's life in motion as, on his way to a date with the Roxy/Bowie obsessive Ruth, he is persuaded to go into the neighbour's home to consummate their lust. But what would have happened if he hadn't? Marriage to Ruth, never leaving his home town? There is a fantastic scene when Ruth dresses Joe up as Brian Ferry and makes him her backing singer while she mimes to "If there is something". Although he is very much the secondary character in the scene, you can see the showing off gene that presumably led to his actorly ambitions. His life was always going to go the way it did.

Song: Roxy music – If there is something (see above)

Book: Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham. The missing link between Evelyn Waugh and EM Forster.
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19 years later, I became a student once again.

Song: Disco! Disco! Disco!

Discodeine (Feat. Jarvis Cocker) - Synchronize

Punks Jump Up - Dance to our Disco

Book: Me, Cheeta by James Lever. The slightly unreliable narrator dishes up all the gossip that's fit to print (one chapter has been removed on legal advice) about the Golden Age of Hollywoodland, which has its own law of the jungle with the actors trapped in their own golden cages. Scabrous and sad, funny and absurd.

Night Out: Dom and Jen's wedding, Maidenhead

Holiday: St Ives
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Holiday: Guernsey and Sark. When I think about Sark now, I do wonder if it wasn't a dream. It's such an unreal place. I'd love to be rich and have a holiday home there, although I don't really approve of holiday homes. Perhaps a holiday barn.

Book - Mr Pye by Mervyn Peake (see above)

Film - Scott Pilgrim

Song - Furniture – You must be out of your brilliant mind. "I'm at the stage where everything that once meant something seems so unappealing"

Days Out - Open House

TV - Grandma's House, aka:

The Royle Family - The Middle Class Jewish version. The meta fiction concept of this didn't interest me so much; it would have been a lot better if the character Simon Amstell had been a fictional character called Solly, or something. It would have been a lot better if Simon Amstell hadn't been in it at all. His acting was awful, no - atrocious. If he and an average Hollyoaks actor turned up to the same casting session, the Hollyoaks actor would look like Sir Ian McKellen by comparison. But I love character-led comedy, no macho panel show bullying, no catchphrase sketches, no fart jokes or stand up observational comedy, no mushy stuff (I still resent Caroline Aherne for the sentimentality of The Queen of Sheba, and I was in a minority of one for hating that last episode of Blackadder Go Forth) - I've never watched Seinfield but I liked its mantra of “no hugging no learning.” 

I particularly liked Simon's mum's paramour, Clive. The kind of man who's always got a catchphrase and driving tips. He was determined to be friends with Simon but all the while ensuring people knew he wasn't gay, not realizing Simon's Oedipal rage towards him (Simon writes an “abstract" play about an evil egg who inadvertently smashes a homeless egg). I also liked Simon's 14 yr old cousin who was entering his teen rebellious phases by deciding not to become an Independent Finacial Advisor. There were great small details, Grandad reading the JC, Simon taking home a slice of birthday cake in a napkin, and some fabulous lines:

“His wife left him”
“Why?”
“He ran over a tramp”

*

"Can't you go out with Will Young? You could bring him to my wedding"

"I don't know Will Young, I don't have his number.

"You have Daniel Bedingfield's Number."

"They're not the same person. They have separate phones"

*

"He's so thin. I'd love to go on a date with him. He looks like it might be his last date."

*

"You retired at your peak. Who else finished at their peak? Buddy Holly? Fern Britton?"

 

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Film: Whip It

Song:

Jens – The End of The World

OMD – History of Modern. The oldsters do it better than Hurts, La Roux etc

Caro EmeraldBack It Up. The best thing to come out of Holland since DJ Miker G. Amy meets Lily in a sexy fun time.

TV:

When Hollywood does remakes it makes a terrible hash of them. See The A Team (all people want is the catchphrases and Mr T to beat someone up) or The Karate Kid (with that creepy Smith kid). When BBC does remakes, it does a wonderful, stylish (loved the texts on screen and the sliding doors/frames) ‘reboot’ of Sherlock Holmes as “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath” complete with beautiful noir-ish shots of London and rather dark, interesting plots. Loved seeing Rupert Graves as Lastade too. My only complaint was the dearth of interesting female characters – there are the archetypes of The Girlfriend, the lovelorn girl-geek, bolshy policewoman and motherly landlady (Una Stubbs!). More good girl characters, Moffat!

Benny Cum - as no-one seems to have dubbed him - was a fab Sherlock and Tim from the office was, as usual, great as Tim from the office.

Book: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Preferable to other novels detailing grim realities under the Nazi regime such as The Painted Bird and The Tin Drum. It details the small and unsuccessful rebellion by an ageing couple who go to their deaths having failed to convince anyone in Berlin to join their cause, rise up and overthrow Hitler. However, the book points out it is better to try and fail than collaborate and capitulate. The novel is "dedicated to life, invincible life, life always triumphing over humiliation and tears, over misery and death"

Days Out: Lea Valley, Theydon Bois

Holiday? Yeah, right.

 

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There was a heatwave. I melted, unhappily. I got heat bumps, styes in the eye, heat-stroke on the walk home from work. I got fed up of the noise and the heat and wrote a rant in which I called the Great British public Tory-voting, Diana-worshipping, celebrity-gawping, high-street shopping, sweat-shop buying, sheep-like fools. I don't think I was wrong.

Book: Mark Steel - What's Going On? Tony Blair....moan....Joe Strummer's dead...moan...I'm 40....moan...my girlfriend makes me sleep on the settee....moan. Amongst the complaints is a very funny, intelligent book half way between diatribe and memoir; skilled political analysis of the New Labour years on one hand and self-deprecatory anecdotes on the other (the time he had to get a Tory shadow minister to open his bottle of beer, when he made friends with Bob Monkhouse) with many amusing similes along the way.

Film - A Single Man

TV: The IT Crowd

Although it has the same themes as a regular BBC1 7 p.m. sitcom (misunderstandings, white lies, black lies, people wanting to get ahead,  social embarrassment), the beauty of The IT Crowd just involves putting the characters in insane situatoins. It got a  better once Mr Linehan got Moss, Jen and Roy out of the office (there's not that much humour in IT once you've made: "have you turned it off and on again" into a catchphrase) and into the world where they can be awkward and riduculous and hilarious.


Songs: Johnny Boy - You are the generation. Can't believe no-one told me about these 60s/80s kids before
Belle and Sebastian - I know where the summer goes. This song got into my head when it was hot and refused to leave until it cooled down. "The smell of hot desk and the glitter of your step"
Fake Blood - Fix Yr Accent 90s retro is here already

Days Out: Wayland Smithy, Field Day

Holiday: Ironbridge
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Apparently, there was some kind of election. Nobody won. I surprised myself by caring, particularly as I'd expected Labour to lose the next election since (i) David Cameron took over as leader of the Conservatives and (ii) Gordon Brown took over as Labour leader (not because I thought Brown was awful, but because I believed Blair to be too canny to be presiding over a Labour defeat). At that point, I didn't know that the Tories were going to turn their schtick from Caring Conservatism (sic) to taking advantage of the economic downturn to prune back the public sector to less than zero (that was probably in their plans for their second term).

The rise and fall of Nick Clegg, from hero to zero in a matter of weeks, was pretty interesting. I feel bad for the people who voted Lib to keep a Tory out, but I find it hard to condemn him too much - he's a career politician after all. When the Liberals were positioning themselves to the left of Labour, I did consider voting for them, but there's always been something so icky about them, that I couldn't bring myself to do it. Now I understand that ick.

There were good things - Caroline Lucas winning the first Green seat in Brighton and Nick Griffin not winning the first BNP seat in Barking.

Anyway, I spent my first birthday under a Tory government since my 23rd and we did a little East End tour including the eclectic Dennis Severs' House.

Film: Kiss Me Deadly

TV: Luther. 

Stringer on the other side of the law in a somewhat clichéd police procedural complete with estranged wife, drinking habit, maverick intuition, innocent sidekick, Juliet Bravo-esque mockney detective inspector, protagonist-hating police chief and Idris Elba, mooching magnificently around with his sexy Sarf London accent. Ironic that Mr Elba moved to the US because there weren't enough good parts for black actors in the UK (Patterson and Kwame had got them all) and then, because of the Wire's success, the Beeb have created this drama around him – he's carrying the whole thing. If they'd got in, say, James Nesbitt, it would have been pretty awful. It's less the British Wire and more the urban, gritty Morse. Oddly no-one mention Luther's race – on one hand it's good that a show about a black cop isn't about him being black, but on the other, I'm sure some of the bad men Luther comes across would not all be, shall we say, post-racial.


Song: Plastic Bag from Tescos - The Wilderness Children. This song got into my head and wouldn't leave. Perhaps because it's a song of nostalgia, perhaps it's the rush of the guitars. I hate the title though, it should be called On the West Coast.

Day Out: Leigh on Sea

Holiday: Edinburgh, where they refused to take me in as asylum seeker.
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In April, Dave and I celebrated the fact that no-one would have put up with either of us for so long our ten year anniversary, then he promptly set off to tour the country with another woman (and man). Bereft, I got obsessed with crisps. I never did find out the best flavour as I couldn't find Welsh rarebit and Irish stew flavour, which was probably for the best.

Book: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky - Patrick Hamilton. The stories in this trilogy are 80 years old, but Hamilton sees into people's souls more acutely than Amis, Self, McEwan or other modern writers.

TV: Dr Who

A kind of reboot as the aggressively heterosexual Steven Moffat took the helm, Scottishness becoming the new gay. I had a slightly hard time with Matt Smith, I like him as an actor, but I wasn't convinced he was quite right for the job but he kind of grew on me. He is sort of a cross between the manic niceness of Tenant and the intense meanness of Ecclestone. On the other hand, I loved Amy Pond like an incestuous sister and I liked the new story-telling which like, y'know, told a story without getting (too) mired down in slushiness. Cracking dialogue between the Doctor and Amy, and the Doctor and River; one of the things I liked about Mr Moffat's Press Gang was the Julia\Spike screwball dialogue.

You Have Been Watching. The king of overstatement, Mr Charlie Brooker, hosts a skit-com panel show in which he and 3 comedians (one always a comedienne, unlike QI, Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week etc etc etc) riff amusingly about TV, without the boring poetry bits or the Explaining How Telly Works of Screenwipe, but just by making scabrous comments, e.g. comparing Hannah Montana to Nazi architecture and: “Coach Trip is like the Frtizl house – on wheels!”

 Song: Crystal Castles – Vanished I could have picked any CC song. They're all pretty much the same song. It's a great song though.


Archie Bells and The Drells – Tighten Up. Fab slice of Northern funk. I love how Mr Bell introduces himself and his band at the beginning of the song.

Film: The Killers

Days Out: Great Bricett, Dorsey Wood

 

 

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Song: Dum Dum Girls - Jail, la la. Much better than those young pretenders The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart. Sassy!

Film: Hollywoodland

I loved this film. It featured some of my favourite things: Old Hollywood, the sleazy underbelly of Old Hollywood, and noir. Adrien Brody played a detective investigating the mysterious death of George Reeves, the first Superman (no relation) in 1959. Brody was slightly irritating; he seemed to be playing the character through a series of facial ticks and mumbling, but on the other hand, Ben Affleck, as Reeves, was just wonderful. Perhaps the character of a washed up Hollywood star resonated with him (remember when it was Ben that was the star and <Team America voice>Matt Damon </Team America voice> his sidekick?). Brody investigates a world of corrupt studio men, unfaithful studio wives, the obligatory Femme Fatale and the dark downside of fame without, of course, coming to any conclusions about Reeves' death.

Book: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. If Carson McCullers had written a murder mystery, this would be it. Instead of the claustrophobic group of overly intellectual young men at a liberal arts college of Tartt's first novel, we have the cloistered and faded gentility of a female family in the deep south where the men have either left or died. The Scout-like younger daughter Harriet attempts to solve her brother's murder using books from the library (in classic two birds/one stone fashion, she also wants to win the Young Reader of the Summer award) which leads her to a redneck religious revivalist family straight out of a Flannery O'Connor novel. Interestingly, the book breaks all the writing rules; adverbs are used liberally, characters are told rather than shown and they "mutter" and "call" and "shout" rather than "say". This gives the book an old fashioned ambience; even thought it's set in 1977, it feels as if it could be in any time during the last 60 years.

Days Out - The Secret Nuclear Bunker, Chalfont St Giles

Holiday - Paris
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Song: Oh the Divorces - Tracey Thorn. Plain Sailing, 25 years on. Love the reference to one Mr J Lekman.
1520
by The Phenomenal Handclap band. Indie-funk
Get Out of My Dreams - The Clouds. Its drum intro and minor-into-major verses just got into my head and wouldn't leave.

Book: On Brick Lane by Rachel Lichenstein. Well-researched exploration of the East End via social and oral history; Lichtenstein tries to bust the heritage myth that the Huguenot-Jew-Bengali inhabitation of the area has been seamless and decries the yuppie-hipster invasion (whilst making it absolutely clear that she moved into her artist studio in the Truman Brewery way before 93 Feet East etc opened.) Her notion of authenticity (criminals selling stolen goods on Brick Lane market) vs inauthenticity (anyone who moved there after 1995 and/or lives in a Huguenot house) becomes tiresome, but all in all, a fascinating tome as she weaves her, and others', stories into the history of the area.

Days Out: Secret Lonodon

Holiday - Gibraltar, nr Spain
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Song: Sara LowesNight Times (Joni Mitchell meets Frazier Chorus)

TV: Walk On By, The History Of The Popular Song. I've written previously about how (marginalised) gay American song-book writers wrote brilliant lyrics for women to sing, but this programme showed how Jewish immigrants combined their traditional melancholic minor key melodies with African-American rhythms and created orchestral ragtime: the sexy syncopation of Gershwin, the pop sensibilities of Berlin, the poetic rhythms of Hart and his sidekick Rodgers. It was kinda ironic that the songwriters were incorporating black sounds into their music seeing as the songs became jazz standards for black singers such as Billie, Dinah, Ella, Sarah. The programme dug up a black musicologist to say that the songwriters weren't stealing from their black compatriots [like R 'n' B becoming Rock 'n' Roll], indeed much was made of the fact that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Showboat was the first piece of musical theatre to have black and white actors on the same stage and that Gershwin wrote the first black musical, Porgy and Bess in 1935 (which led, after protests from the cast, to the first desegregated theatre audience in 1936).

The programme also stated that Louis Armstrong had influenced a pre-White Christmas Bing Crosby to adopt a (black) swing style and Bing persuaded Louis to sing (white) pop music, making Armstrong the first crossover artist; the Smokey Robinson of his day.

The music was avant garde at the time, but when Frank Sinatra recorded (what some people think are) the definitive versions in the '50s, at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, it seems incredibly reactionary, like playing Beatles songs at the birth of punk. But now, the songs are 80 and 90 years old and My Funny Valentine, Lady is a Tramp et al still resonate.

Film: Breaking and Entering

Book: Hypothermia - Arnuldur Indridason. Feck your Mankel and Larsson , I got me an Icelandic thriller, even more dour than Scandi-crime.

Places visited: Epping Forest

January 2017

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