Category Archives: History

Pride

You can’t go wrong with solidarity on a day like today.

And when there isn’t as much of it about as we could do with, it can be necessary to timetravel.

I watched the film Pride over Christmas, because it was on television. If you’ve seen it you know how heartwarming it is. How warming of just about anything it is. And how much we need this right now.

This week has been hard in several ways, and the only solution I could come up with was to introduce the Resident IT Consultant to Pride, while it’s still available on iPlayer. (Five more days, people!) I could tell he had his doubts as we started, but by the end we blubbed side by side, the way you do when you’ve been watching an extraordinary film; one based on true events.

I’m sorry to say I was far too unaware of this when it happened in the mid-1980s. I wish I’d realised quite how big it was. But glad I had no idea how much we’d need this today, when things have changed for the worse.

If you need something to take your mind off things today; try Pride.

Pride

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Will Duffy be riding into the sunset at the end of Adrian McKinty’s sixth novel about our – well, mine – favourite RUC detective? It’s quite obvious throughout the book that Duffy has had enough. More enough than before. You read and hope Adrian isn’t paving the way for killing Duffy, because it’d clearly be easier to kill someone tired of his current existence. But then he has a girlfriend and daughter to live for, although the relationship with Beth isn’t going well.

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Duffy is forced to dig his own grave, but as it comes first in the book, you hope it won’t be as final as it is made to look. Life in 1980s Northern Ireland seems harder than ever, and it’s not just the IRA or their Protestant counterparts. Duffy has always annnoyed his superiors, but never more than now.

Two attacks with bows and arrows, leaving one man dead, are mystifying the police, and as always it is hard to get witnesses to come forward, because they ‘didn’t see anything.’ Healthier that way.

I could be wrong, but the religious division felt worse than ever. And ironically some of Duffy’s strongest support comes from the Protestants around him. Although school friends are not always wrong, even at times like these.

He swears a lot, drives too fast and he drinks far too much, but Duffy is still someone you want for your friend. Just like Carrickfergus in 1988 appears to be more attractive than I suppose it was, back then. You want it to end well, even if this could be Duffy’s final mystery. You want his two fellow detectives to survive, too, and you’re even hoping for a rosy future for us all.

Hah.

And the bow and arrow thing is obvious once you know how and why.

Did I ever mention how much I love these books?

Another A G

She looks nice, my saviour from Not Reading. And the odd thing is that I – who obsess about meeting the people I admire – have never even Googled Ann Granger to see what she looks like. But by complete accident I came across this short interview with Ann talking about her new crime novel, The Dead Woman of Deptford, a couple of days ago.

There are a number of authors, whose books helped make me the Bookwitch I am, and Ann is one of them. In fact, she is the only one to encounter me at the stage when I was not reading books. At all.

With both Offspring fairly young I read to them, and perhaps managed a quick glance at magazine if they had the decency to sleep. At the same time. (I think we can deduce that I didn’t cope well with stress.) The Resident IT Consultant travelled a lot, so it’s not as if I was going anywhere.

Ann Granger, Say it with Poison

One day I went into the newsagent’s and bought a magazine purely on the basis of the free crime novel that came with it. This was the first Mitchell & Markby book, and as soon I’d got rid of Offspring in the evenings (by which I mean putting them to bed), I read one chapter every night. Even at such a slow pace, sooner or later you get to the end.

Not only did reading make me feel calmer, but it showed me the error of my ways; that I needed time for me, and that reading regularly – however little – was A Good Thing.

Because I really liked the Mitchell & Markby books, I worked my way through every one as they appeared. The drawback being that after the first few I had to wait for them to be written.

Then came the Fran Varady books, which I liked even better. And in between waiting for Ann to write, I read other books, and when Son started reading, I moved on to Roald Dahl with him, and then further upwards and outwards.

By the time Ann Granger began her third and fourth crime series, I was no longer able to keep up. But I always intended to give them a go…

Thank you, to the other Ann G! I owe you a lot.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This was absolute bliss. Whereas it is generally ‘quite nice’ to revisit a film and its characters, the concept of J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them beats most that I have seen. Even though I obviously read the book [by Newt Scamander] however many years ago it was published, almost as an afterthought, the new film is such a tremendous bonus!

It’s something you didn’t see coming, separate but still belonging to Harry Potter’s world, and it couldn’t have been better. I never thought of Newt Scamander as anything but an obscure historical character, with an interest in animals. The film about Newt shows how wrong I was, and how Rowling’s magic just carries on and on.

As someone said the other day, it’s rather a relief to have a film like this with almost no children in it. It meant we could see Muggles and Wizards in the New York of 1926 as it might have appeared in just about any film; it was all about adults going about their business, which in Newt’s case was rescuing creatures at risk, and trying to teach other magic people that the beasts have a place in the world too.

Kowalski, the wannabe baker Muggle, was a Rupert Grint kind of man. Quite ordinary but also quite brave and someone who adapted well to the seemingly crazy world of magic. The two main female characters, sisters Tina and Queenie, were just as intelligent, kind and beautiful as you needed them to be. And Eddie Redmayne’s Newt was mysterious and enthusiastic and kind, with a nice sense of humour towards his ‘walking stick insects’ and dragons and all the other creatures.

The bad guy was so charmingly bad that you almost believed he might be all right. And the remaining characters made for a rich background.

Isn’t it wonderful how you can have a spin-off like this from a ‘mere’ children’s publishing sensation? Something so good and fun and mature, which wasn’t born from the usual film mould?

I don’t often float away from cinemas, especially not in the middle of the night. But I did this time. And I felt happy.

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.

Ethel & Ernest, the film

From this,

Raymond Briggs, Ethel and Ernest

to this.

Raymond Briggs, Ethel and Ernest

It’s enough to break your heart. You know that might very well be you one day – unless it already is – and that day is getting closer every minute.

I read the Guardian interview with Raymond Briggs at the weekend, and it was refreshing to discover what someone like him is like. I suppose we ‘knew’ it already, through The Snowman and Father Christmas, but meeting his parents and the young Raymond is far more illuminating.

The book is tremendously powerful. I’m trying to work out if the film is more so, and I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that I prefer the book. Somehow they became overly loud in my mind, when I could hear them speak.

But it is still a marvellous film, and it does a great job of showing us the middle half of the last century. It’s not everyone’s 20th century, but I guess many people will recognise their lives, or the lives of a generation before them. We were discussing whether people like Ernest and Ethel could really have done so well materially, but I reckon you could, if you had a steady job and lived carefully. Once you had your cooker or your sofa you had it. No need for new ones all the time. And by the time they bought the car, the mortgage will have been paid.

It would have been easy to see this as proof of how much better we have it now, except I believe it proves we’re heading in the complete wrong direction.

Carl Larssongården

It’s probably a fair assumption to make that most Swedes would like to live in Carl Larsson’s home. And of those who don’t, quite a few might not actively object if they ended up there.

I have friends who used to live next door to Carl Larsson’s home, and it was they who gave me this book, by Torsten Gunnarsson and Ulla Eliasson, about his house for my birthday this year.

Sundborn

In a way Swedes don’t need books like these; we seem to be sufficiently familiar with Carl’s home anyway. But the pictures are nice to look at, both the photos of the house and the paintings by Carl. And looking at them we see not only a home that would still be just about perfect to move into, despite it now being more than a hundred years later, but it looks pretty much like some house many of us have known at some point in our lives.

It makes me think of my grandfather’s house, which was nowhere near as big or fancy, and it was more recent, but there is still that Larsson vibe in my memories.

Swedes know the house from countless postcards and Christmas cards, not to mention Christmas wrapping paper. We have all torn pictures of the garden or the Larsson family in our eagerness to see what’s inside our parcel.

At some point I talked to Nick Sharratt about this. Maybe when he heard where I come from, he told me about having slept in Carl’s bed. It appears visiting artists can do that, under some circumstances. When I heard about it I felt this seemed quite reasonable. But I understand the bed was short. Nick isn’t. Oh, well.

The bed is in the book (and somehow I can’t stop wondering what the guest artist does when visitors who’ve paid to see the house turn up.)

As I said, Carl Larsson’s style is never wrong. Except it wasn’t his, but his wife’s. She did all the work, and we still know it by Carl’s name.