Category Archives: Television

but I would love a talking horse!

I read Sunday’s Observer’s New Review with rising levels of panic and and a feeling that I really didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to anything. There were films recommended. Television programmes. All the kinds of things that reviewers review, in fact. Books, even.

They didn’t leave me cold, as they might once. I just didn’t want to read or watch or listen to any of that. It sort of confirmed that while this ghastly situation continues – and it does; we are not out of it yet – it is preventing me from doing most of the things I’d normally be doing.

Until I came to the page about Kit de Waal, whom I saw – heard – in Edinburgh (was it last year? No, it was two years ago) and liked very much. She said good stuff. But towards the end she says ‘as soon as you introduce a talking horse … I’m just not interested.’

I mean, that’s fine. Kit doesn’t need to like talking horses. In fact, what she wants in books are things that can happen in real life. That’s totally fine.

But I can’t help feeling that a talking horse would cheer me up.

End of Review

It’s not good news. The Guardian is about to stop publishing its Saturday Review.

It’s also not surprising. Costs everywhere, for everything, are escalating. Newspapers are not made of money any more than we are. You have to cut somewhere. It would just have been nice if the Review could stay. It means a lot not only to its readers, but to authors whose books are reviewed by them.

I understand that the other smaller parts of the Saturday paper are also disappearing, with plans for all to find some space in a new supplement. Hopefully this means that some of our most favourite bits will survive in some form or other. I know I have several that I really don’t want to lose.

Back in 2007 they published a lot of [paid for] blog posts. I know, because I was one of the paid people, having been introduced to the idea by Adèle Geras and Meg Rosoff who both wrote for the Books section. I also strayed into the film and television and music sections, because ‘I obviously knew so much about those subjects’.

It was fun. Chatting to other commenters was fun. Being able to earn the money to pay for my first laptop was rather nice. I know that the Resident IT Consultant would have been happy to pay, but for a non-earner like myself earning a bit of money was nice.

But I could tell when things went south. Most of their blogging needs were taken care of in-house. It was their version of not buying grapes every week when money gets tight. It’s just that as their purse shrank, so did ours. We’ve tried to be as supportive as we can. But it’s not enough.

Personally I am fine with there being fewer pages to the paper version of the Guardian. I like the idea of saving on paper; I don’t mean waste, but still it can be a lot of paper. The news  section could save some of its speculation on ‘what will happen’ to online pages. We will know soon enough what happens.

But I do like some of the more literary pieces on paper, and the recipes for things I won’t cook because I don’t have the latest outlandish ingredient. Some things are meant for paper. I won’t say whether I think the price could be allowed to be raised again, because I don’t know what people can afford.

Sitting in Limbo

How can those people working for Immigration, and in detention centres, live with themselves? Can you really do what they do at work and then go home and be normal? The politicians are obviously a lost cause.

I knew I had to watch the BBC drama Sitting in Limbo. I’ve been following the Windrush scandal in the Guardian for the past few years, but I still felt I had to actually ‘see’ what they put totally normal citizens through, to prove they are just that.

This was the story about Anthony Bryan, who came to Britain at the age of eight in 1965, and who went to school here and worked and paid taxes and fathered British children, and who suddenly lost his job and subsequently his home, because the Home Office wanted to get rid of a few people who don’t belong.

First, that’s not a nice thing to do. Second, this was not such a person. Anthony has the right to live here. And just think how much tax payers’ money was used on ruining one man’s life. Not just his, either. His family were in bad shape after all they had to go through, trying to save him from being deported to where he no longer belongs.

There is a passport at the end. It made me suddenly think of my own, which will expire far too soon, and of the one I actually threw away after decades of hanging on to it. I’ve been to Lunar House, which was very similar to where Anthony had to report every two weeks. And I carry a plastic card, showing my entitlement to live in the UK, acquired through the Windrush scheme, without me being black or West Indian. None of this should have had to happen.

Today is Empathy Day. Please use it well.

All locked down and nowhere to go

Forgive me for mentioning another 64th. But I am simply gasping for events to write about, and I have no handy authors or launches* or anything at all.

I went to bed on Friday, feeling quite unusually chirpy. Actually, it was more like Very Early Saturday, and the strange thing was I wasn’t tired. I’d made the Resident IT Consultant watch the programme about Tom Jones turning 80, until he pleaded for permission to go to bed.

I allowed myself to sleep in, but I woke bright and early – for me – feeling chirpier than normal. When the Resident IT Consultant finally joined me for breakfast, I asked if this was a thing when you’re 64, but he assured me it wasn’t.

Could have been Tom Jones?

We spent the day eating.

After morning coffee Son FaceTimed, and we discussed lockdown haircuts and friendly, but incomprehensible Danish literary agents. Then lunched on the Lebanese food he had sent over. Son, not the agent.

Hung around while Daughter finished the special birthday cake.

Did the first two laps of my Land’s End to John O’Groats walking round the block, which I imagine should have me somewhere in their car park. As I need about 3000 laps, I will have to up the number per day. Or give up. That would work too.

Met the neighbour from across the road. She was wearing the mask we’d got for her, colour co-ordinated to go with her coat. We discussed who the man who keeps saying hello to her might be. (It’s her son’s virus-denier pal.)

Ate the cake in the garden, because it didn’t rain and it wasn’t too cold. West side New Neighbour kept singing all afternoon. It was nice. Just weird, because for her first year here she’s not done any of that. Maybe it was her birthday and she was feeling happy?

We finished the day with pizza from Papa John’s – who, by divine intervention, opened up in town mere days before lockdown – and a film. Took a break from Star Wars and Marvel and had great fun with the nuns in Sister Act.

By then I really wanted the day to end, because all this good stuff was simply not normal. (Luckily I felt wiped out in the ordinary way when I woke up today.)

* Last year I launched the Edinburgh International Book Festival on this day. The year before I hung out with Children’s laureates past and future in Glasgow. Most other years I attend the public flag day for me in Sweden.

Malory Towers

Speaking of fluffy entertainment, we tackled the first episode of Malory Towers the other evening. It was thoughtful of the BBC to stream it immediately, rather than wait. There are many of us needing light fun, and not all of us are school age.

I am very sure I read Malory Towers when I was the ‘right’ age. It’s just such a long time ago that I remember nothing. Because it wasn’t the only boarding school book for young girls to read. I read many of them, thanking my lucky stars I didn’t have to go there.

The funny thing was, when I suggested watching this new adaptation, both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant went blank. Not as in they wouldn’t want to, but more ‘what is it?’ So I explained about Enid Blyton and midnight feasts. The Resident IT Consultant could remember how the other children staying at the holiday centres he went to as a child, would want to organise midnight feasts in the dormitories. The poor boy didn’t get it.

Neither did Daughter, although she vaguely recalled something similar at the place her Junior school took children for a few days for outdoors fun and education.

Episode one was fine. Except if it was set in the 1930s the train rolling stock was too modern… Well, at least the Resident IT Consultant got to contribute his usual ‘they’ve got it wrong on the trains’ and everyone was happy.

But Darrell. As a name, I mean. I didn’t know it, until six years ago when we sold the old Bookwitch Towers to a woman by that name. Now I understand. Her mother was presumably a Malory Towers fan.

Malorie tweets

And for those who happen to believe that the world in Noughts & Crosses is fantasy, made up and not in the slightest real or likely to be:

Malorie Blackman – mostly – flipped our world to her alternative world, so what happens to white people in the books/television series, happens to black people, right here, right now.

Also, for anyone who feels she must be OK, because she’s famous, here is an earlier tweet from Malorie about what it’s like to be her. I’d like not to believe it, but I’m afraid I do. I mean, not that I ever expect Malorie to tell lies; I’d just want our world to be rather more advanced than her tweet suggests. The many replies to that tweet, should you decide to go and have a look, show quite how many black people are not expected to do anything except clean, and serve the coffee. Not even drive the buses.

Noughts & Crosses

It was good. What am I saying? It was great. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses on BBC 1 was just as I’d have wanted it to be. It doesn’t quite follow the plot of the book, but the feel of it is right. And that’s what matters.

Sephy and Callum are perfect, as are their respective parents and siblings with all their flaws. Jude is promising as the terrible man he becomes [at least in the book]. As with the novel, even when you know that black and white people have swapped places – from our reality – you still have to work at seeing what’s going on. The brown plaster scene was illuminating in its simplicity.

I hope the next episodes will be as fantastic as the first one. It’s about time we had a really great dramatisation of one of our best YA novels.

The Bookwitch and Pullman screen adaptations

This time twelve years ago I was full of the latest Philip Pullman adaptation on BBC television. It was The Shadow in the North, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I persuaded the Guardian to let me blog about it for them. There was a lot to like, and I went on and on.

The Shadow in the North - Guardian blog

And now? I still like the various televised Pullman books. But the recent His Dark Materials I have almost managed to push from my mind. Not actively, but I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve thought about it. I never went back after the first two episodes, preferring to do other things when the Resident IT Consultant sat in front of the television for another six Sundays.

I’d happily watch the Sally Lockhart films again, not to mention I Was a Rat. ‘All’ we need now is The Tiger in the Well. Except I guess Billie Piper is too old. The Tin Princess might work, though, as Sally is older in the last book. And dare I say it? There was meant to be another book or two, or so Philip said a long time ago.

Lost verse

‘I can’t find the Oxford Book of English Verse,’ the Resident IT Consultant said one evening.

‘Well, I don’t know. It must be there, somewhere,’ I replied.

We searched. ‘Could it be we don’t actually have a copy?’ he asked.

While we do seem to own a fair few copies of these large, worthy, Oxfordy type tomes, I concluded this was a possible explanation.

Because it wasn’t upstairs with the other poetry. And not downstairs with the large books.

‘What did you want it for?’ I thought to ask.

‘I wanted to read Paradise Lost,’ the Resident IT Consultant said. ‘I suppose it’s lost, heh heh.’

‘Which part?’

‘The first two.’

‘Well, I have those. It was set reading at university. I don’t remember culling my copy, so it’s probably still here. Upstairs with the rest of the poetry.’

Turned out I was right. It was. And Bookwitch had saved the evening. She, who doesn’t do verse much.

I guessed the whole thing was set off by letting the Resident IT Consultant read The Secret Commonwealth when I was away for a few days. And he got to watch the first episode of His Dark Materials on television, also without me. Goes without saying that Paradise Lost is his next port of call.

Whereas when I got to the Smyrna bit in Philip Pullman’s second Book of Dust, I couldn’t help thinking of Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost…

His Dark Materials on television

His Dark Materials BBC

No one could be more surprised than I am. But – so far – I don’t like His Dark Materials. Not one little bit. If I hadn’t read the books, I’d have no idea of what’s going on. If I hadn’t read the books I’d not be tempted to continue watching.

Having missed the first episode live last week I took to social media on Monday morning. I was upset to see that some people didn’t care for it. At all. But having time on my hands I read every status and every comment and came to the conclusion that more people liked it than not, and they’re people whose opinions I trust.

The Resident IT Consultant had liked it, and Son tweeted his approval. But then came the delayed viewing of Lyra’s Jordan, and separately from each other Daughter and I both found it wanting. She, charitably, said she’d give it one more chance. I have just done that, the second viewing, and, well, goody, they have already moved on to The Subtle Knife with some content.

Seeing as the first episode began with a scene from The Secret Commonwealth, I have to say we are getting a wide and varied diet here. We have a square alethiometer. And already Lyra has been told who her father is. Could have kept the suspense a bit longer, I feel.

Apart from Lyra, who’s very well played by Dafne Keen, they seem to have got most of the casting wrong. And there’s a definite lack of daemons everywhere. For instance, we’d never have been shown Billy Costa’s daemon last week if it didn’t have an important role to play later. Poor Ratter…

Meanwhile Lord Boreal is already climbing through windows.

Will I make time for episodes three and four? I am not sure. Can’t watch them live, but possibly curiosity will bring me to the television to catch up before the second half of His Dark Materials, by which I suppose we really mean The Northern Lights, not the whole HDM, is on.

But oh, the disappointment.