The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th February 2021

We are having lots and lots of sudden heavy downpours of rain, usually at night, and out of the blue. Toady was more like the end of March than the start of February: blue skies, warm sunshine, a gentle breeze. The flowers are all appearing, hyacinths pushing their heads through the damp earth, snowdrops in clumps and drifts, crocii, even daffodils, and others I can’t name. Why didn’t I take pictures? Soon. Tho’ tomorrow it is set to be damp and there is even talk of snow on Sunday.

It’s J’s birthday today. Celia and I were able to present her with a bunch of flowers were had been invited to take from St Peter’s across the Walworth Road. Yesterday there had some filming there for a new tv series called Tailspin which will be on Apple TV. I don’t have Apple TV so I doubt if I shall see it. The member of the crew I spoke to yesterday could/would only tell me the title of the programme, but another today told Celia the church featured in a scene where a bride was arrested by the FBI at her wedding. Is the FBI allowed to arrest people here? I asked. Sounds unlikely. As Celia doesn’t have Apple TV either we shall probably never know.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 28th January 2021

I finished watching It’s a Sin. I think I wept through at rest 50% of the final episode and a fair amount of the others too, so it may seem perverse to recommend it. There is humour, The acting and writing are uniformly excellent. The 80s soundtrack is wonderful. In case you hadn’t realised, the series title comes from a Pet Shop Boys’ song.

Back in the day when I did my postgrad journalist training it was in an outpost of the London College of Printing (later the London College of Communication, now part of the University of Applied Arts; sometimes it’s hard to keep up), in an old building that had once housed the Daily Mirror in Back Hill, Clerkenwell. On the other side of the road was another building which had been repurposed as we’d say now. Neil Tennant lived there. That’s before Clerkenwell was trendy. I know he was a journalist before a pop star, did he have an affiliation with the LCP? Perhaps, or maybe it was the proximity to the Guardian offices, or just a quiet part of town to live in away from the starry folk in more obvious locations. I don’t think I ever saw Tennant while I was there, but as I started to write that sentence I thought perhaps I had, but Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian at the time, was someone we saw frequently. Also Rebekah Wade, who had studied at the LCP and swept in to give a guest interview: a mass of red hair, a confident stride and an intimidating stare. The room was packed, but I don’t recall a word of what she said. Nothing about getting your scoops through phone hacking anyway.

Anyway, back to the tv programme. I’d love a Q&A with Russell T Davies about some of the characters and how they develop. I never watched Queer as Folk, so I have some catching up to do there.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th November 2020

I’ve just finished watching another episode of the Brokenwood Mysteries, an episode I wanted to watch last night, but UKTV wouldn’t play, saying I needed an HDMI connection. I checked it out today, was pleased I had the said equipment in my random assortment of leads etc and thought I was good to go, only to discover no HDMI socket on the back of the television set.

A search inline suggested solutions, but as I read on they seemed less and less likely to succeed. I am a user of technology rather than someone who understands how it works. I gave up. The iPad wouldn’t play either giving me a thumbs down message when I tried to watch the programme (series 6, episode 4 if you’re interested, and actually even if you’re not). Fortunately the laptop was more compliant. I am mystified as to why suddenly the HDMI cable is needed when it hasn’t been before. A mystery I am unlikely to solve.

I am also unlikely to solve the mystery in Passenger to Frankfurt, an Agatha Christie novel I picked up. Unlikely because I don’t think I’ll be finishing it. It’s a book which makes me want to clean windows, wash floors, tidy cupboards. In other words, it fails to grip. I take it Ms Christie disapproved of trades unions, the Labour party, the Beatles and many other aspects of life in the sixties.

I have never been a big fan of her novels, although I enjoy the tv and film adaptations. She had a habit of withholding clues until Poirot did his great reveals which irritated me. So I thought her books fine to pass the time on a train ride, but that was about all.

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Why flavour a condom?

Having a bit of a sofa slump this evening after a good, but long, day at work, and catching up on last night’s tv. First up, Gogglebox which had me corpsing with the reviewers as they watched Fizz, three of the four person line up which was the eminently forgettable Bucks Fizz., then gasping with shock and shame at the terrible crisis walruses are in thanks to man made climate change. Of course of not just walruses, and it was a very sobering moment at the end of a programme which had been light and frothy. Then on to Let’s talk about sex, a programme about sex education down the years, with excerpts of past sex ed films being shown to parents and adolescent and pre adolescent children. Danny Dyer and his eleven-year-old daughter Sunnie, are for me the stars of the show. When Sunnie learns her father and her mother were having sex at fourteen, her face is an oh of shock, swiftly followed by asking him if they used protection. He looks at his hand and rubs his nails against his trouser leg as he affirms. You just know he’s lying. Here’s the clip.This is followed by a discussion on how old she should be before she has sex for the first time. Thirty, says Danny. She bargains, beating him down to twenty-two, he’s ready to get her sign the contract. Another glorious moment is when they see an info film about condoms, and different flavours are mentioned. Again her eyes widen; flavoured? Why would you flavour a condom? Her father’s discomfiture should be bottled. Continue reading

Sanity Television

Tonight there are more moves in Parliament to try to resolve the difficulties of Brexit. Ideally, we shan’t leave the EU at all, but leave or remain, the fallout will continue for years, probably decades. The referendum revealed schisms, rifts so deep in our social fabric they make the Grand Canyon look like a ditch. If we leave, the campaign to rejoin will begin at once; if we remain, the campaign to leave will begin all over again. The EU has been our whipping boy, our scapegoat, our blame hound. You could be forgiven, listening to some virulent leave supporters, for believing that the UK has had no say in EU legislation for the past forty-seven years.
That meaningless yet emotive phrase, the will of the British people, has made a recent reappearance. It is all profoundly depressing. The Labour Party wants a general election. I’m with Brenda of Bristol on that one. I’m not all that keen on a second referendum either. Our positions have become so entrenched we could have a similarly narrow result to leave, which leaves us just where we are now. Companies are leaving the U.K. the damage has been done. But it can be stemmed.
I’m no fan of Tony Blair, but I do agree with him that we elect our MPs to work for us, and having looked at the consequences of leaving the EU, I have little doubt that a cross party consensus would agree that we should cancel the whole shebang. Continue reading

Monday Miscellany

I was watching Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 news interviewing a woman in Syria who is sticking absolutely to one line. Krishan is polite but insistent when she claims that her side is suffering few casualties. He’s witnessed the fighting, the casualties cannot be as minimal as she suggests. It’s frustrating all round; for Krishnan who isn’t getting answers; for the interviewee who is not a fluent English speaker.

The gap between different sides is evident in so many of the arguments we see on the news. Brexit is once more grabbing headlines. I just heard that dread phrase ‘the will of the people’ again a few minutes ago. It’s a phrase that simultaneously makes me rage and makes me depressed. The will of the people is presumably all the people. So as the referendum result was so close, I cannot see any justification for a Hard Brexit regardless of what Jacob Rees-Mogg and his 61 cronies want; talk about the tail trying to wag the dog.

Across the pond there has been yet another school shooting, where a young man with evident mental health issues combined with a taste for guns and the politics of the far right killed seventeen of the students at the school from which he had been expelled. This is horrific on so many levels. It seems that concerns were raised about this youth; this massacre could have been avoided. We have seen composed and articulate survivors speaking out against the culture of guns in the US, we have seen less of survivors who have injuries that will scar their bodies as well as their minds for the rest of their lives. Continue reading

Stonking Good Television, Stonking Good Drama

There have been some stonking good drama series on television in the last few months. While I was in Northern Ireland Cousin introduced me to Love, Lives and Records. Over Christmas I caught up on the episodes I’d missed. It was just great and has helped me accept the fact that The Detectorists has come to a definite end after three wonderful series. Then last night Derry Girls began. Heaven.

On the face of it the three drama series have nothing in common. Love, Lives and Records is set in a registrars’ office in Leeds; The Detectorists is about two blokes who are keen members of an amateur metal detecting group; Derry Girls is about a group of teenagers growing up in Derry City in the 90s. But like all good dramas they take a group of people in particular situations and explore universal truths. They are gentle yet challenging; the characters become people you care about very quickly. They are flawed, silly, wise, troubled, funny. Continue reading

Play For Today

My parents weren’t theatre goers. They had neither time nor money, though my father attended music concerts in his youth, and as a pupil midwife my mother enjoyed London’s West End theatres courtesy of free tickets left at the nurses’ home. I got the bug for watching plays via the BBC. There used to a programme called Play For Today. Every week, on Thursday night, I think, there was a new play written for television by writers that included Dennis Potter among others. It was magic. My sister loved the Regents Park open air theatre and introduced me to that, and I became a supporter of my local theatre in Guildford, where five minutes before curtain up for 50p I could get a seat in the house.

Unsurprisingly, in London theatre has been a constant since I moved here.

My friend Tony and I went to see Twelfth Night last night at the Globe. Last year we were blown away by Emma Rice’s Bollywood Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as this is to be her final season at the Globe, we wanted to see Twelfth Night as she has directed it too. I bought tickets as soon as they became available and have been really looking forward to this production.

Most of the audience were enraptured. We less so. After Malovolio had blown his whistle for the sixth time, I wanted to leap on the stage and take it away from her (a female actor is playing the part of the male steward, whereas up river at the National, a female actor is playing Malvolia, the steward’s gender having been changed).

It was a less than subtle production. Emma Rice seemed to have decided to throw everything at this one, and for me it was a case of less would have been more. There were bits I loved; the shipwreck, Antonio rowing through the groundlings in his boat Bewitched, some of the music. There was a lot of music. At one point in Act I, we wondered if the play had been turned into a musical. Twelfth Night is a light, frothy sort of play, to my mind it didn’t need, or deserve, to be whipped up further and half a ton of cherries put on the top.

It’s part of the Globe’s 2017 Summer of Love season. Ironic in more ways than one, but with the upcoming general election on my mind, it’s the disunity on painful display across my country, the distinct lack of love among our separate parts that seems most obvious this summer. The talk is all of a Tory landslide, Labour wiped out, Theresa May measuring up for new curtains at Number 10 and settling in for a long stay. Some of her admirers speak of her as the new Margaret Thatcher, a divisive politician to the power of n, and although Mrs May says she is no Margaret Thatcher, her constant harping on about unity while spelling out policies that obviously divide, punish the metropolitan communities who so stubbornly don’t vote Tory, and reward the Home Counties and shires who do, reminds me of Thatcher’s little speech when she quoted St Francis.

But for those of us who remember the days of Thatcher as leader, and I do with a shudder, we know that unity was the last thing she achieved. My country was riven. There were riots across the country. Greed and ostentatious wealth were praised, poverty was obviously the fault of not believing in Mrs T strongly enough, of being feckless enough to think the weak and the vulnerable were deserving of respect and dignity, of working in the public sector. Continue reading

Square Eyes

After a day spent staring at a screen as I start on my tax return, an unispiring experience where I am shocked at how little I earn, this evening I have turned to the slighter larger screen in the corner of the sitting room. It’s been mainly Channel 4; the news, the Paralympics, The Last Leg, shortly the Paralympics again and I’ll be watching until Ellie Simmonds races just after 11.30. But I had a bit of a break on ITV remembering how much I loved Cold Feet all those years ago, and finding that this return series is again reeling me in.

I didn’t watch the first episode last week. Call me a coward, but I didn’t want all those wonderful memories spoiled by a crass revival. However the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so tonight I decided to give it a whirl. It is rather wonderful to find that your memories are not rose-tinted, that the writing is tight and the performances warm and convincing. Hermione Wotsit (not her real name, but I can’t think of it at the minute) is great as the buttoned up Karen, now estranged from her husband David, played by Robert Bathhurst as an overgrown prep schoolboy who functions well in high finance but badly everywhere else. Born into a different class he’d could have been Arthur Daley. Widowed Adam has a new much younger wife, who despite the misgivings of his old friends turns out to be a good sort. Pete is crumbling into depression, struggling to make a living and working as a cabby and a carer. His client is a crabby James Bolam, obviously enjoying himself in his role. At the rate I am acquiring TV programmes I want to watch, going to Australia is going to be a bit of a wrench. Continue reading

In Praise of Good Telly

Downton Abbey? You can keep it; Eastenders in posh frocks. Coronation Street? Never watched it, though Ena Sharples was a well known name in my primary school playground. Holby City? Phuh.

I am not the greatest television watcher, mostly because I have a very small television that makes it less of a relaxing pastime and more of one where you have to stand up and close to the screen so as to see what is going on. And I write as someone who only has myopia in one eye.

But every now and then I am gripped by a series. Wolf Hall earlier this year hardly counts as it was a transcendental adaptation of two transcendental novels. Anyway, I saw most of it on Celia and Charlie’s proper sized television. For a series, other than things like Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs to which I am completely addicted, to get my full attention it has to be pretty good. Or the Olympics.

Short silence while I relive the joy of standing a foot (31cm to my metric readers) from the television screen while Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Hannah Cockroft and David Weir did their stuff while I shouted encouragement to their unhearing ears.

Back in 1996, quite by chance I caught the first episode of This Life. I was gripped. Immediately. I spoke about it to everyone I knew. No, no one else had seen it. Zero interest. So it was with a degree of cynicism some weeks later when This Life had become an unmissable televisual event in the circles in which I swim that I listened to those same people swearing that they had been into the programme from the word Go!

Today, out and about in London, where mid-afternoon I got drenched in the unforecast heavy rain shower, I noted several unmarked police cars flashing those distinctive blue lights, and racing along the streets. I don’t know what they were doing, and tonight’s Channel 4 News didn’t help. Somehow I think it’s probably connected to our understandable nervousness following events in Paris both on Friday and today. Continue reading