Category Archives: Television

ABCs and much more

I do miss Sesame Street. We used to watch every lunchtime; me in the corner of the Klippan sofa, lunch balanced on the armrest (I think it only fell off once or twice), Daughter on my lap and Son nestled next to me.

Presumably we moved away from it gradually, or school got in the way. I can’t recall. And when I woke up missing it, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I have been thinking about Sesame Street on and off over the years, trying to convince myself I’m too old for it. That I don’t need it.

But when I read about their new autistic character, I was seized by a strong wish to start watching again. This time I researched a bit more. And it is on, but only on some pay channel I’d never heard of and that I can’t get. I mean, I suppose I can, but we don’t believe in paying for parcels of programmes that will rarely if ever be watched.

So I’m feeling a bit disappointed, to be honest.

I’m wondering, too, how it ended up on a pay channel. Is it because it is so valuable that you must pay, like for new movies and sports events, or is it because it’s so uninteresting that none of the regular channels could be bothered? Had a quick look at a typical day on CBBC and it was dire. I used to enjoy watching after school. Not everything, but quite a lot, and would have to drag myself off to cook dinner. Mornings were also good, but I could rarely fit in more than a minute here and there as we were getting ready to leave the house.

Whereas I’d actually sit down for Sesame Street. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ…

Eurohearing

They call it Eurovision in Sweden these days. I’m sure it used to be Melodifestivalen, even when it was the European finale, rather than the qualifying rounds at home. What’s more, each country had to sing in their own language. Maybe it’s ‘fairer’ when all can be heard in English. I don’t know. Sometimes there is a lot to be said for the sounds of home.

People rarely sing in local dialect. Somehow you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when singing, despite speaking with a local accent. In my teens there was a [political] rock group who sang in dialect. It just wasn’t my dialect.

So to find HishultaBörje on a local [to me] CD some years ago, was quite refreshing. Gunnar Bringman (who seems to be a local dentist, of all things) sings the sad story of Börje from Hishult (southern Halland, in southern Sweden) with a Halmstad accent. It’s a catchy tune and the tale is sort of fun, as long as you’re not Börje himself. But it’s the accent I like. It takes me home, every time.

And I believe there is something important being lost. Not only do most people not sing in dialect, but they often sing in English. It does bring the lyrics closer to more listeners, but still. In my part of the world as I listen to children talk, I have discovered they are ditching the accent, and swapping it for some ‘posher’ sounding mongrel dialect which only tells me someone is ashamed of what they are and is trying to sound ‘better.’ Except by now it’s so general, that children will believe it’s the real deal. And if it has usurped the way we used to speak, then by definition it probably is the local dialect today.

So I rather wish they’d remove the English from Eurovision, except from the UK, Irish and Maltese entries. The UK one won’t win anyway. (And Swedish songs are always great, no matter what language.) Oh, and maybe the Australian song.

This well know European country is most welcome if only for their enthusiasm for the whole thing. I’m still not sure about Brugel, though. I was under the impression this tiny state had never been allowed to enter, but on checking my facts I see that [author] Ebony McKenna describes her small country as never having won. Maybe. Possibly they are so small we never see the Brugel entries. I’m a little hazy on what language they would sing in. Although the lovely part-time ferret Hamish speaks with a Scottish accent, so perhaps that is it. And ferrets are tiny, which could explane why Brugel is less visible.

Ebony McKenna, Ondine books

I do like an author who isn’t too cool to admit to a fervent love for Eurovision. This is presumably the attitude that brought Australia into the midst of the European Azerbaijanis and Israelis and so on. Soon it is only the UK who will neither win, nor be able to call themselves European.

Sweden hasn’t won for year at least. Must be time again?

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.