Category Archives: Television

Paint it black

It wasn’t an entirely traditional Easter Saturday, but I suppose it was all right.

The Resident IT Consultant drove across half of Central Scotland searching for black spray paint, and as soon as he brought some home I went outside and sprayed it all over the dining table. After enough cans had been used up, the table looks sort of finished. And black.

The [formerly green] grass is also slightly black.

And my arms hurt. Who knew paint-spraying was so tiring?

I also sprayed some tomato all over myself, causing a red-orange streak down my front. As we didn’t have a bonfire to grill sausages on, we made do with the grill pan in the kitchen. And I didn’t fly over the cooker on my broom, partly because of lack of space and partly because a witch needs a proper bonfire to be sent on her way. Daughter bought one of those foil barbecue things, but I absolutely refuse to broom over that as well.

In-between the countless black layers I read Tanya Landman’s new book. It’s so good I didn’t always want to put it down to attend to my painting.

Daughter decided to stretch Lent as far as she could, so made us Lent buns to have with our afternoon cup of tea. I reckon as long as it was before Easter Sunday it’s probably almost legal.

We watched Doctor Who, which we liked, and then we played The Great Penguin Bookchase, which we also liked, and which I lost.

Tom, George and the others

A long time ago, when the New Librarian had just left school, she came and stayed with us, doing some unpaid work in the local bookshop. One day she came home and mentioned she’d been out on a school visit with some actor who’d written a book. I asked who. She’d clearly not had a lot of interest in an older man she’d never heard of, so the name was some time coming, but once I’d established it was George Layton – and I’d had no idea he was visiting! – I turned green [with envy].

It was so unfair that she’d met him, when I’d ‘always loved him’ and I wanted to stomp my foot.

Luckily, George came back, and more than once. So I did get to meet him (see about lunch here), and I bought his short story collections and got his autograph, and… Well, at the time I liked the stories. I don’t know if I still would.

Same bookshop, slightly later, another of my younger days’ favourites turned up. Tom Conti, who’s even more handsome than George. I know that in book terms this is irrelevant, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. He came because he’d written a novel, and I bought a copy. Obviously.

I sort of wish I hadn’t. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. These days I’d start by assuming it to be just another celebrity book, but then I was more naïve. Besides, it had been written [I hope it had, anyway] by my kind of celebrity. But yeah, I wouldn’t mind if I’d not read it.

The celebrity avalanche is just getting worse and worse. Someone on social media was saying how the latest announcement of a celebrity book [by someone I don’t know] was so welcome, because it had to have been at least 48 hours since the one before it.

The most recent one I received in the post I put to the side immediately. I felt slightly rotten doing it, but if someone is already famous – even when I don’t have any idea who they are – and are getting a good financial deal from the publisher, then they don’t need a review from me. I can’t help them on their way to greater greatness.

I’m very happy to have met Tom Conti and only slightly annoyed that he didn’t sign the book I then went on to not like (there is a farcical story about the non-signing of his books, involving a train). But I got closer than the 20-year-old me would ever have thought possible.

Likewise with George Layton. As I watched Doctor in the House in pre-historic times, I simply didn’t believe that one day I’d meet him. Or that the first thing he’d say was that he needed to pee.

Please enter

The other week I got so furious with everything to do with immigrants not being wanted, that I hunted out a book I’ve had lying around for about seven years and read it.

The book was Floella Benjamin’s Coming to England, which was first published twenty years ago, and tells the story of what it was like for her when she came to England in 1960 at the age of eleven.

Floella Benjamin, Coming to England

At first I was afraid it was going to turn out that Trinidad had been paradise and England was not, but their idyllic life in Trinidad turned sour when Floella’s parents had to leave four of their six children behind, as they didn’t have enough money for all at once. Life for those left behind quickly became hell, which presumably made the reality of England less bad, even if it was cold and grey and unwelcoming.

Through hard work and love they prospered and did well, and as we know, Floella has been very successful. But it wasn’t for England opening its arms and being friendly and giving things away freely, even then.

The facts of this book are more pertinent than ever. The style is rather wooden and boring, but that is outweighed by how important it is to read.


And then, I’d not had time to read the Guardian Weekend two weeks ago, so first picked it up a week late, to find Floella Benjamin the subject of their Q&A page. And the reason she was, was that the book has been republished again.

If that’s not witchy, I don’t know what is.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black

It was the Barbican memorial for Terry Pratchett all over again. In the BBC documentary Back in Black on Saturday we could see an almost Terry. It’s enough to see someone wearing black, with a hat like his, and if there is a beard as well, then for a heartstopping moment it is Terry Pratchett. Here it was actor Paul Kaye doing what Terry didn’t have enough time to do. He did as good a job as you could ask for, speaking in the style of Terry, while not quite being our much missed author who has gone to be with Death.

I was able to point out to the Resident IT Consultant where I had been sitting, and towards the end when Eric Idle sang with the audience at the Barbican I got to see what I had to miss last year. Thank you for that.

Terry Pratchett postcards

Much of the rest of the programme was dedicated to alternately bless the world for having produced Terry, and crying because he’s gone. I have never before witnessed the seemingly unflappable Neil Gaiman even close to tears. We heard part of their story, some of which was new to me, filmed in the actual (?) place where a very young Neil interviewed a not so well known Terry.

And speaking of being not so well known; the clip from a 1990s television round table book discussion where they had the nerve to laugh and tut at our Terry was a real eye opener. If I was that woman I’d be worried about going out in public.

Val McDermid had good things to say about Terry as a lost crime writer, and many other friends shared their Terry with us. How I can sympathise with someone with a waist like the equator!

Rhianna Pratchett spoke about her father, mainly as a father. I’m glad he had time to be a dad in the midst of writing a couple of books a year and touring and getting to know his faithful fans.

And Rob Wilkins talked about the day Terry accused him of having mislaid the s on his keyboard. That’s the kind of thing that not only makes you want to cry, but you quietly begin to worry that one day you will lose your own letter s.

You – and I – have 28 days in which to watch [again] this lovely farewell.

Say what you want

Confession: I don’t know much about Nadiya Hussain. Yes, even I have heard she is famous for baking. At the time I merely believed this was some normal average person who’d happened to bake well. On television.

What I hadn’t understood is the sheer celebrity status when you win this kind of thing, and how everyone – but me – knows you. I realised from an email from a bookshop from my past that hosting Nadiya for a signing was a big thing. I think they did timed tickets, which is something I last encountered in connection with Jaqueline Wilson.

And now Nadiya has written a book. I imagine she has a few baking books out there, but now she has written a novel. I’d like to think she didn’t just decide to do it on a whim. The likeliest thing is that the publisher knew they could shift a good many copies if her name was on the cover, so persuaded Nadiya to ‘write’ a novel.

She had help, as seems to be the case with many celebrity books. A biography based on her life could have been interesting, and any amount of ghost writing would have been quite acceptable. But we only need a novel from the celebrity who can write it themselves and do it well.

So I was surprised how negative people were when Jenny Colgan, who knows a thing or two about writing, reviewed Nadiya’s novel, managing to balance her admiration for this master baker with her feeling that a novel written with help wasn’t what the world needed. I thought the review was extremely well written, taking into account all the angles.

But it would appear that people want their celebrities to take over literature as well. No need to stick to what you are good at.

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.

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.