Category Archives: Television

An Austen-free upbringing

After wondering why I didn’t read the books by Jane Austen or the Brontës in my early teens, I suddenly realised why, and who I could blame for this regrettable shortcoming. (Always important, because it certainly wasn’t my fault.)

My Swedish teacher when I was 15, is who. The last year of secondary school we had free reading once a week. I am – with my mature adult hindsight – guessing it was a way to get the non-readers to read. Anything. At. All.

We were allowed to read whatever we wanted, and could bring our own books or use the school library. I generally sat down with an Alistair MacLean, or similar. Generally in English (which is odd for a Swedish lesson, but never mind). Naturally the teacher would have preferred me not to.

So she suggested books I might try. The only one I remember is Pella. I am sure the Pella books were fantastic, and the teacher had most likely loved them when she was young. But I was 15, and I was reading MacLean. Pella would – possibly – have been right for me about three years earlier.

All these years I’ve remembered the teacher’s badly chosen suggested books and I have understood what she was hoping for. I just haven’t thought of what she ought to have pointed me in the direction of instead, because she was quite right in wanting me to better myself with something other than MacLean.

I already loved all manner of romances; the kind where a young governess meets her new employer who is a brooding and somewhat strange man, and where they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after. The Jane Eyre copycats. Reader, I had no idea there existed the real thing and that it would have been much more satisfying. (Not better than MacLean, obviously, but as good…)

We knew of Pride and Prejudice because it had been on television. At that point I was of an age where understanding there’d be a book as well was too much to expect. We knew about Vanity Fair, because that too had been on television. Also, Heathcliff ran around the moors on television, and I knew there was a book, but it didn’t tempt me at all.

I knew about Dickens because we had children’s abridged versions. And yes, he’d been on television.

Mother-of-witch was many things, and for someone of her background she had an astounding number of proper books and books in English. But she had not been brought up on the classic governesses, and so she could not point me in their direction. Which is fine.

But my well educated mother tongue teacher could have. And should have.

The deposit

I found my thoughts straying to Seacrow Island the other day. About how handy it would be to be able to put down a 10p deposit on a house, because you’re a nice person and the house owner is another nice person. And you can afford it because you didn’t have that third ice cream, leaving you with 10p for those unexpected needs.

Hands up, if you know what I am talking about! Do you know your Seacrow Island? Any Swede my age, and quite possibly every generation since, knows Saltkråkan very, very well. That’s the book by Astrid Lindgren which started life as a television series, and that’s how we all know it. And because it’s a symbol of everything that is Swedish. And because it’s repeated on television every year, or so it seems.

Snickargården

At the end of a wonderful summer on an island in the Stockholm archipelago, Pelle – a boy of seven or eight – finds himself at a loose end on the mainland, while his father Melker and his two older brothers are running around town trying to find an estate agent. The house they have rented and fallen in love with, is to be sold to some rich man who wants to flatten it and build a new, grand ‘bungalow.’ A last minute windfall means that Melker is ‘in the running’ to buy the house as well. If he can get there first.

Pelle and his friend Tjorven spend some of their money on ice cream. Then they have a second ice cream each. When Tjorven – hopefully – raises the question of a third ice cream, Pelle says it’s good to save some money for a rainy day. And then they set out to find the owner of the house. After climbing onto the balcony where the old lady is dozing, they tell her everything.

When the estate agent and the rich man, with Melker close on their heels, arrive at Mrs Sjöblom’s, it turns out they are too late. The house has already been sold. The rich man is furious and Melker cries. At least until it is explained to him that it is Pelle who has put his last krona as down payment for their holiday paradise.

What’s more, it was Tjorven who earned that money from the rich man for tying up his boat so expertly. He should learn not to tip the natives…

Musketeering

Here I was, ready to have a go at what they’ve done to The Musketeers, and then it struck me that it was on at nine pm, and not at half past six on a Saturday. It’s intended for adult consumption. Hardly surprising the ladies on facebook were sighing with delight over the handsome ‘young’ men in The Three Musketeers. Except it’s called The Musketeers, and is only ‘based on the characters’ of Alexandre Dumas.

So that’s all right. They can do what they want with them. And they have. If I hadn’t read – and actually remembered – the books, I would have no complaints. Other than it being rather 21st century in spirit. But if that’s what viewers want, it’s what viewers get. Enough swash was buckled and it was an excellent action film/episode/whatever you call it.

How I loved my Musketeers! The real ones, that is. For 25 minutes every Saturday evening Swedish children had something good to watch. It was usually British dramatisations of classic novels. We thought it was great. (Well, we didn’t have much else.) I lived and breathed Musketeers. I quite fancied being Milady. I drew Musketeery clothes for my paper dolls. I was in heaven when I found a ring that looked like you could keep poison in it, just like they did on television.

The Three Musketeers, 1966

The television series started me reading all the books, and in this case I really read everything I could lay my hands on. It’s good if you get a push like that, trying a book you’d never have noticed otherwise.

Is there anybody old out there? Someone who can tell me if there was a slightly earlier television version of The Three Musketeers than the 1966 one? I want it to have been a couple of years before. But I suppose it was that one. I have no recollection of Jeremy Brett as d’Artagnan, but I remember what Constance Bonacieux looked like. And it’s definitely Kathleen Breck.

So, anyway, what with the more mature ladies getting the hots for whatever Musketeer took their fancy last Sunday, I presume it’s fairly unlikely that younger people – real children – will look out a copy of The Three Musketeers and read it? I’d been so pleased we were due more televised Musketeers, because I thought there’d be a reading revival.

Me, I’m off to fantasise about Cardinal Richelieu. He’s the only one old enough for me, this time round. Or possibly Captain Treville.

Dumas can’t have had an inkling of what later generations could, and would, do to his action heroes.

Darcy, death and the literary discussion

Death Comes to Pemberley sparked a literary discussion chez Bookwitch, and doesn’t that make us sound ‘intellectual?’ The Grandmother had read the book by P D James, and didn’t think much of it. She was keen to see what they’d done to it on television, though, and I am under the impression we all liked it.

That’s the thing with quality. A good book can be ruined on the screen and vice versa. You just never know. Daughter objected at first that we weren’t getting the 1995 cast from Pride and Prejudice, but warmed fairly quickly to this new Darcy. I didn’t know what to think of dear Wickham, because I need to dislike him, and I happen to like Matthew Goode…

But anyway, it made us talk books for a while (because we never ever mention the wretched things at any other time!)

Who counts as an author of classics? Jane Austen obviously does. Her books are really old. Victorians count. They too are old. But after that my ‘misguided’ companions wanted to put the classic label on all sorts of books by all sorts of recent writers!

I realise that classic-ness is a moving feast. What wasn’t a classic before, will become one at some point. My own gut measure is somewhere around the 100 years mark. If someone alive today was also alive when a novel was written, it becomes questionable. I know that the 1950s was a long time ago, but I happen to have personal experience of part of that decade and the people who wrote books then are not at all old, thank you very much!

So I’m not ready to consider Astrid Lindgren a writer of classic books, whereas I feel that Selma Lagerlöf might have been too recent fifty years ago, but is now definitely to be considered a writer of classics.

On the other hand, I see the flaws in this. Someone younger than me will share that same 100-year-old, but will also see Astrid Lindgren as dreadfully ancient. Is there a right way?

We’re on track

More or less, anyway. The morning will be spent sorting out desserts (because they matter) and putting vegetables in the oven. The rest was done days ago.

Our other main day for Christmas was yesterday, and it went well, despite – or possibly because of – lack of presents. The Resident IT Consultant went into town to pick up a pair of Cats, free of charge, which rather trumped Son’s 20% off his Clarks. So they count as almost presents. He also treated himself to a remaindered Historical Atlas, and has happily browsed through history.

Daughter went along to watch over the Cats, and managed to find a Quiz book to buy. Because we just didn’t have VERY MANY books in the house before!!

Anyway, her quiz book provided us with our Christmas Eve entertainment as we competed against each other to see who knew the least about whichever topic came up.

To keep us company over the evening grazing, Son found us an Ealing comedy about trains. And then he wanted to watch Due South, and with all of us at different points in its viewing history, we needed a ‘used’ episode. I can thoroughly recommend All the Queen’s Horses, and not just because it’s the craziest episode. It felt pretty Christmassy, what with the snow and the trains and those red Mountie uniforms. The horses. And the singing! ‘Gonna riiiiide, foreeever..!’

The Resident IT Consultant helped to finish the evening in style, as he’d missed last week’s Christmas episode of NCIS, and Son had been too busy to watch, which meant I got to watch it again. It was Santa who did it.

Gibbs

Where will you go?

Well, it sort of depends where you take me, doesn’t it? What it really means is that DSB – Danish State Railways – need a translator who does not have Danish as their mother tongue.

In the end I never went anywhere with them, but hopped on the Öresundståg to Sweden, rather than up the other coast to visit Hamlet. And – apart from the fact that Swedes are seemingly incapable of boarding trains with a view to seeing the bigger picture, and getting out of the way, preferably a little quicker, please – things were fine. The couple in front of me were making out before we even got to the middle of The Bridge. That’s the place where corpses are cut in half…

Before the train muddle we’d been on a couple of planes, the Resident IT Consultant and I. It’s a blessing, really, that our electricity bills are so big. (If you are reading this dear, of course they are not…) We hardly ever shop at T*s*o, so it’s primarily the electricity which made our ‘free’ flights possible. And I learned such a lot about the stewardess’s new boyfriend with the seven bedrooms.

The BA mozzarella wrap kept me going all the way ‘home’ in the end. Though I’ve never quite grasped why they are so cautious with their meatfree food. It was assumed I’d be wanting the dead bird.

Their onboard toilet had a faulty light. I was informed that they thought the light would still come on when I went in and shut the door. (It did.) It reminded me of the flight when I left three-year-old Son alone in his seat on the plane as I went to use the facilities. The WC was at the front of the plane, which made me look especially inept when I had to buzz the steward to come and get me out. There was no way I could find the ‘door handle’ from the inside…

The loving couple and I sat in the coach displaying a picture of a man picking his nose. I believe that is why it is often easier finding free seats in that part of the train. People are put off by the finger. After having stared at it for a long time, I worked out it’s someone trying to shush you. Not digging out snot.

Just to be safe, the Resident IT Consultant and I conversed in whispers, and when I needed to switch on my very noisy holiday mobile (to call the vet for a car) I stepped outside for a minute. Outside the nose-picking zone, not the whole train.

In Ängelholm we passed a train, bearing the name of an ancient easy listening singer, going in the opposite direction. None of this Flying Scotsman business when you can have Östen Warnerbring. Tyrolean hats come to mind.

We finally got to our penultimate destination, where we swapped Stilton and oatcakes for a Saab. Mr and Miss Vet left a party to deliver us a car, while Mrs Vet sensibly stayed and had fun. We had narrowly missed Miss Vet two days earlier as she was ‘held hostage’ at Manchester Airport in between flights.

With a bus strike just beginning, we were very happy to have some other means of transport. (I forgot the broom, again!) We stopped at ICA Maxi for fermented milk and other necessities, after which the poor Resident IT Consultant most uncharacteristically collapsed into bed.

It was only later I discovered what his chosen reading matter had been. A book with the title Why Most Things Fail.

(Whereas I read a fantastic new book. Find the review here. Soon. Very soon.)

Ach, it’s Auchtermuchty

‘Did you bring even more books I have to read?’ asked Daughter. ‘Yes!’ I did. With a car you should make the most of not having to carry stuff back and forth.

It was student moving day. While the more normal parents had come from Berkshire and beyond, to convey their little darlings back home after a year at uni, us abnormals traversed half the country (in the last few days I’ve been on more scenic routes than I thought possible) in order to give a lift to someone’s belongings from one room to another, two minutes down the road. And then go home again, with as empty a car as when we arrived.

So naturally I took the opportunity of providing more reading material seriously. Meanwhile, the Resident IT Consultant checked out the new landlady’s library, and found it reasonably satisfactory.

En route for this mini-move we stopped in Auchtermuchty for elevenses at the Tannochbrae Tearoom. Very Dr Finlay it was. Strangely quiet little town, but with lovely cake, and a refill of coffee for the Resident IT Consultant. I was a little taken aback to find a portrait of Alex Salmond perched on the cistern in the toilet, but each to their own, I suppose.

(For anyone who fancies running a tearoom, I gather it’s for sale.)

Oddly enough it was my second ‘Finlay sighting’ in two days. Helen Grant lives near a street called Rintoul Avenue, so my mind was already on Dr F.

David Rintoul

If I’d had my wits about me you could have been admiring a picture of the tiny, but lovely, Auchtermuchty Library here. But I didn’t, so you can’t. I blame it on the lemon & lime cake. And the portrait in the WC. (I’d have understood if they’d put David Rintoul there.)

While all this was taking place, Son and Dodo set off for Sweden, to cut some grass, encountering rather hot weather. Son had a meeting to go to, so parked Dodo in the library park in the sunshine while he talked business.

Halmstad Library

It strikes me that that’s two pretty long trips for two small jobs. I’m glad insanity seems to be hereditary.

Isol and Victoria

If I rant about the lack of television coverage of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ceremony in the UK, someone is bound to tell me it was on somewhere. (Was it?) I was lucky several years running in that I went to Sweden for half term and there it was, right on time. Big celebration with royalty and everything.

Music. Speeches. Foreign award winners shivering under blankets. With so much rubbish readily available, why not broadcast a little ceremony and very little pomp, even if it is rather foreign?

Argentinian winner Isol even danced the tango. Apparently. I bet Seamus Heaney didn’t do Riverdance for the Nobel prize.

She’s short, Isol. Although that sounds both too personal as well as rude (nothing wrong with being short). What I probably mean is I had no idea Crown Princess Victoria is quite so tall. We’ve not yet had cause to meet up, so I didn’t know. Taller than the minister for culture.

Isol and Crown Princess Victoria, by Stefan Tell

You see, if I’d been able to watch, I’d not have to resort to going on about what people looked like in the official photographs.

I expect there was less shivering, and possibly no blankets this year. They appear to have moved the whole shindig indoors. It doesn’t matter about the Swedish royals. They have practised sitting out of doors – totally umbrella-less – and smiling through almost anything. But foreigners, they are a more tender species.

As well as short. I can think of several non-tall winners. Philip Pullman, on the other hand, turned out to be taller than I had expected, so he probably beat Victoria.

And I still worry about the sheer amount of money. Is it right to give that much to one individual? I’d almost decided it wasn’t, but then I thought about people winning the lottery. All they’ve done is buy a ticket. At least these winners are professional writers and artists; one of whom is chosen every year.

Perhaps it is OK. Especially for someone who tangoes.

Stamps, Who needs them?

When someone on facebook got disgruntled about his most recent trip to the post office a few weeks ago, I had no idea I would be agreeing with him quite so soon. I mean, I was already gruntling along, and have been for years. But this is getting silly.

I have been concerned that I am single-handedly closing down post office branches. But I can’t be that powerful, can I? Besides, I wouldn’t want to.

The fb friend had been the target of the over-selling they engage in these days, even in the tiniest sub post office. I forget what, but have an inkling he wanted stamps and they wanted to sell him insurance. I generally pop in (although it has to be admitted, with increasingly longer gaps between visits) for stamps, other letter services or cash. So I don’t need to be asked if I require a top-up or if they can do anything else for me today? It makes me so uncomfortable I try and work out ways to avoid going in at all.

And if I avoid too many times, then closure of the branch is sure to follow. We don’t even get a newspaper any longer, although the chap on the ordinary shop counter is much more relaxed and never suggests I need a chocolate along with that copy of the Guardian. (The pick-and-mix sweets went three postmasters ago. Unhygienic.)

What I miss is the staff who would tell their colleague that ‘Mrs Bookwitch likes her cash in tens.’ Staff who sold me the stamps I wanted, and if I had forgotten to order them they would get them in anyway, because they knew roughly what I’d be wanting.

Jane Austen stamps

Anyway, on the day when fb friend wanted no insurance, I went in to buy the new Jane Austen stamps. I’d not double checked the issue date, but fb had been awash with comments on the postal Miss Austen, so I felt I was about right.

‘What?’ said the girl on the counter. ‘I would like to buy the new Jane Austen stamps, please,’ I said again. ‘Uh,’ she said. ‘We don’t have them. We only have the Doctor Who stamps.’ ‘OK, I’ll have some of them then.’ (I didn’t recall the issue date, but had no wish to argue.)

She went behind the scenes to speak to the boss, returning to say that they are such an insignificant post office they don’t get the Jane Austen stamps. ‘And we can’t even sell the Doctor Who stamps yet,’ she finished. I thanked her (for what?) and left, with no sale made. Not even a little top-up.

Once home I looked up the dates. Jane Austen was the day before my visit. Doctor Who is today. So it would have been very surprising to get them five weeks early.

This is precisely why I don’t want to go there. I can’t get what I want, and I can’t want what they can let me have.

Doctor Who stamps

The last literary stamp debacle was a couple of years ago when I rashly decided I’d like the fantasy book ones, featuring Nanny Ogden and Dumbledore and all the rest. So I ordered them from stamp headquarters in Edinburgh. The professionals. OK, so it cost a bit extra to have them sent, but I saw this as saving on the bus fare to the main post office.

These professionals sent me only some of what I ordered. I emailed to demand the rest I’d paid for. The automated reply suggested I should expect to wait five weeks for a reply. I emailed back telling them to get their skates on. They apologised and sent me some stamps.

Not all of them, obviously. I wrote back. Had another offer of a five week wait. I mentioned the skates again. They sent some more. Not all of them, obviously.

And so we went on, until my order had been fulfilled. The lovely thing about stamp headquarters is that they sell to philatelists, so wrap every stamp very nicely and well. That’ll be why they charge extra. This way, I had beautifully presented – albeit in short measure – stamps every time they posted some more out. That must have cost them a lot, in the end.

It was with this in mind that I really didn’t want to bring Jane Austen up at the local PO. Nor did I want to renew my email correspondence with those incompetent professionals up north.

One solution is to send no post. I suspect that far too many of us already do this (don’t do this?), and that’s why they are going under. My old postal heart is bleeding, but what can I do?

The Talent

I don’t watch talent programmes. Can’t stand them. I’m also becoming wary of too many dystopias, so an ebook that combines the two wasn’t going to be at the top of my shopping list. But since it’s that very busy bee Philip Caveney who wrote The Talent, I decided to give it a go. Published a year ago, you can see how long I’ve taken getting started, but I had my reasons.*

Set in Manchester some time in the not too distant future (a parent character recalls going to the kind of concert we have today), people are hungry and poor and live in crowded conditions, sharing flats with strangers. Tobacco and alcohol are illegal, and corruption is rife. Joining the Army is almost the only guaranteed job, but a very bad one. Police brutality is a daily possibility.

Josh plays the guitar, and caterwauls his own songs on the roof of his block of flats. His grandfather believes in him, and now that Josh is old enough, he will try for The Talent, the television programme the whole population follow avidly. If you win, you have a future.

If Josh didn’t get in, there would be no story, so it’s no spoiler to say he ends up taking part. I won’t say too much about what happens, but Philip has added all those things we already worry about, or can see are happening, and this makes his future vision a very realistic one. I can see all this coming, rotten tomatoes and everything.

Not quite totalitarian, but close. Many of the characters are stereotypes, but I believe that’s what makes this effective. We already know these people. We see them on the news and in the talent shows today.

The plot has several interesting angles apart from the competition itself. Is it rigged? Will they fall in love? Is Josh’s MIA father dead? What to do about Holly’s father? Can society even survive?

There are some surprises, and some fun solutions to the problems. Mostly it’s simply an exciting story about musical talent and honest behaviour.

And it’s not only the dystopian future that Philip has portrayed accurately (as we see things today). One of the characters says that he ‘could eat a horse.’ I wonder how he knew?

—-

*Somehow I had mixed in some of the ingredients from the Hunger Games with this book. To put it bluntly, I was under the impression that anyone who didn’t sing well enough was likely to be shot. Or something like that. Not tempting. Sorry to be such an idiot. (And now that I have done all the silliness for you, you can just get on with the reading.)