Category Archives: Television

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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.

Go girls!

A big Christmas thank you to the ladies of St Hilda’s, Oxford, for wiping the floor with Magdalene, Cambridge, in the Christmas Day Christmas University Challenge!

A Bookwitch obviously supports team Adèle Geras and Val McDermid. Even if they left me feeling stupid and uneducated. But that’s all right. Sort of.

It just goes to prove how much you learn if you read books. And, dare I say it? If you are a product of universities past. OK, OK, I know all of the participants are from the past, but some more from the past than others.

When she discovered that Adèle was taking part, Daughter was really excited. That’s until she realised Chris Lintott was also going to be on. On the same day, on the opposite side. Real conflict of interest there.

Chris did do well on the science/maths questions, and he might have had a misspent youth as regards Christmas number ones, but books rule. As did Adèle’s drama and music background. Not to mention Val’s intimate knowledge of comics.

Go St Hilda’s!

Old Bear

Occasionally I can be so forgetful that I surprise even myself. I mean, how could Old Bear slip from my conscious mind so completely? We lived for Old Bear (and all the others; Little Bear and the various non-Bears). Both Offsprings loved him and I definitely did. We read the books countless times and when Old Bear became a television star, we were with him all the way.

30 years of Old Bear by Jane Hissey

And yet, when a few weeks ago I read about the exhibition to celebrate 30 years of Old Bear – in Brighton later this month – I realised I’d not thought about Old Bear and his friends for a long time. Natural, I daresay, for ancient people with grown-up children, but I write daily about children’s books and there can be absolutely no excuse.

‘You must be jolly tall,’ was the spontaneous comment* when the others met the giraffe. And Jolly Tall he was. That, to me, epitomised the whole series of books. Humorous, warm, normal, and very enjoyable. Books that you can read again and again and not be bored.

Just thinking about Old Bear once more, I can feel the love flooding back. Little Bear who is so, well, little, and bouncy. And Old Bear who is old and sensible and a true father figure to all. And the others; Jolly Tall and Sailor and Duck. I suspect there’s the odd new character I’ve not been properly introduced to, who has arrived during the intervening years.

A new book to celebrate the 30 years, Happy Birthday Old Bear, is available now. Hip hip hurrah!

*Please note I still remembered this quote.