Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

Tomorrow sees the publication of Boneland, Alan Garner’s second sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a novel that puts “long-awaited” into perspective: half a century. Of the many fantasy books I loved as a boy, the Weirdstone perhaps always felt closest to home, and in the last year I’ve found myself rediscovering it – as has our friend Nick, who’s encouraged several of his friends (including author Paul Magrs) to re-read the originals in preparation for tomorrow. He interwove our views last week, including a few of mine, and this is the full stream of consciousness that I sent him. Nick’s is rather a lovely piece – as is his new one returning the favour for our Time’s Champions blog this morning – and Paul Magrs’ thoughts on Atlendor and Durathror’s Capulets and Montagues (or is it Sharks and Jets?) relationship are particularly enlightening. Look out, though; if you’ve not read the Weirdstone, there are spoilers below, even if only about the end itself and not how to get there…


I grew up with several fantasy books – first my Dad reading them to us, then reading them for myself – but I think The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was the one that felt most personal. I was born about ten years after it was written, and raised about ten miles from where it was set, in a town at the top of Cheshire or the bottom of Manchester… So more than any other story I knew, this one seemed to have an immediacy, one that was almost familiar, only just out of reach in space and time. There’s something about a lot of adventure stories that grab you as a child, the feeling that it could happen to you, in a place you know – one of the reasons I have a soft spot for little-loved Doctor Who story The Android Invasion is that it felt, watching it, like the sort of village Mum and Dad might drive us to on a Sunday – but this was different. I think we only actually went to the Edge a few times when I was a child, but knowing that it was there, and real, almost close enough to touch, gave this tale a special magic. So many of the stories I loved, even if they were set in our world, seemed distant from us: the mystic fringes of Wales, Scotland or Cornwall; England always somehow meaning ‘South-East England’ on the page or on TV. But no legend was as powerfully evocative as that of King Arthur (greatest of our four great national myths), and to find that he was buried not at the other end of the country somewhere but in our own North West, now, that was marvellous.

For Richard, who I met in London and fell in love with half my life ago and only then found he’d gone to school not much of a walk from my parents’ and grown up almost on the edge of the Edge, the book is even more powerful. As a boy, he’d lived not ten miles away (close, but beyond the travelling power if not the imagination of a child), close to Lindow, not quite in one of those “mean dwellings” that Cadellin disparages but only just up the road. So if it was special to me, it was literally close to home for him – and, building on that strange coincidence into sheer improbability, for the lovely Nick’s other half Jon, who Richard knew as a boy and who Londoner Nick met quite separately long after we had, in turn, become friends.

I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen many times when I was a boy, and it stayed part of me – instinctively, getting the train up north to see family I always look out for Shuttlingslow as I get towards the end of my journey – but I’d not thought consciously of it for some years, despite having discovered Mr Garner’s Red Shift in a peculiarly vivid way in the early ’90s as a relationship of mine was nearing its end (with his even, improbably, taking me to visit Mow Cop for the only time in my life). Then, in the last year, it’s strange – first I felt the Weirdstone pressing on my mind, with details suddenly flashing back to me, and then almost as if it was intruding insistently into reality. For the first time in decades, I re-read it and its first sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, last September, a little before turning 40, still thrilled.

Then I discovered CDs of both books read by Philip Madoc, always a favourite actor of mine, and gave them to Richard for his birthday early this year. I’d not anticipated just how thrilled he would be, and we listened to them swiftly, enraptured at Madoc’s marvellous voice telling such marvellous tales (and, after a lifetime for each of us pronouncing “Gowther” with a hard ‘th’, changing our minds).


And then, astonishingly, after so many years, Alan Garner announced that he was writing the third – and not just that, but around Jodrell Bank. Alderley Edge was a magical place from Richard’s childhood; both of us had always admired Jodrell, a marvellous scientific achievement of the area; but even more, over the last couple of decades my Dad’s worked there, deploying his natural charisma in public speaking (something I’ve always had to work at) in enthusing and informing people at the Planetarium. Last month I visited my parents; my Dad had just glimpsed an old gentleman who he thought was Alan Garner being shown around, ready for a big event there on the release of Boneland. I found a picture online: “Oh, yes, that was him.” It was all I could do not to squee. And “Do you know the Wizard?” asked my Mum just last Monday. They’d just been to the Inn for a wedding reception at the weekend, for an old college friend of mine for whom Richard and I had attended a very different dedication ceremony some years ago. So it’s as if the trilogy is closing in around me, slipping through the interstices of folk memory to press on my reality.

I’m hugely excited by the looming Boneland. My one regret is that poor old Philip Madoc passed away this Spring, and will never be able to gift it his marvellous voice.

I’d meant to write about The Weirdstone of Brisingamen itself. I haven’t. I’ve always been one for plot, but somehow this book’s always been most present for me in feelings, in moods and mental images. Just as I felt on the edge of its world, it feels between ours and somewhere else, and not just because of its plot, that like much of the best of Doctor Who it’s not about a great event but on the fringes of it, seeing the knights of one war and preserving them for the next. Think of Selina Place, both something like the Cailleach of legend and a modern woman using the highest technology in the novel – a car – and at the heart of a witch brood that’s also a conspiracy of ordinary blokes you might meet down the pub (or be listening in one as the local gossip gives you away). Think of Gowther and Bess, earthy, reassuring, thoroughly normal… But, into the ’60s, almost the last time you can imagine it in ordinary life (I can just, just remember a rag and bone man calling at our road when I was very small), still driving a horse and cart, as if for all their ordinariness they’re half in a time of legend and not awake to the fact.

And the moods and images are because the story deliberately takes you into fears and places that a child could or would get into, of course. The cause of a Wizard’s sorrow may impress itself into ordinary people naming it a “Tear,” and the hooded one in his mist may be right out of a horror film and a pleasurable thrill of fear – with what’s under the hood always staying with you as worse than all the horrors you imagined, because you imagine your own – but it’s the fears of things that could get you playing out in the woods, or the mud, or in caves, even under skies of birds, that strike at the familiar and make your own life feel claustrophobic. Though almost everyone feels utterly claustrophobic after Plankshaft. Throughout my childhood, I loved, but also somehow felt threatened by, winding my way through tiny caves and passages. I’ve been a fat man for a long time, but I was a very thin and gawky boy, and I found a strange satisfaction in twisting my way through places that I couldn’t really twist through. I still have vivid memories of trying to get around a ‘chimney’ in an educational museum that I was really too tall for, or my parents wearily calling me to give up as I forced myself around tiny, chilly cracks between caves in the Peak District. I suspect all that, both fun and fearful, something I enjoyed but dreaded, was a child’s way of dealing with that extraordinarily long, unforgiving account of Colin trying to make it through the dwarves’ improbably horrible tunnels Where no Svart will ever tread.

Coming back to the book as an adult, many of the people and images are still as powerful as ever – putting your trust in Cadellin, being unable to forget being part of his world, the black and terrible storm of the climax as the Morthbrood fly from something greater that we only have a whisper of. I can also feel things to kick against, and wonder if I’m meant to, torn between agreeing with the condemnation both spoken and metaphorical of pollution, and thinking that if elves and dwarves shut us off from magic and then slag us off when we find other ways to live, aren’t they just insufferably up themselves (oh, just wait ’til the sequel)? And the most distinctive, most jarring thing structurally about Alan Garner’s writing, that you’ll find here and throughout his early children’s books: where you might expect a moment to catch your breath after the climax, a coda, some resolution that takes in the aftermath of the grand adventure and adjusting back to our world, for both the children taking part and the children reading… None of that. Every time, within a few short lines of the big finish, the book simply stops – the wrath of Nastrond is coming, it’s coming, it’s nearly here… Firefrost withstands it, it blows itself out, and seventy words later all the bodies have been swirled away,
“And this tale is called the Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And here is an end of it.”
I’ve never known if that abruptness was a deliberate choice, an unpolished craft before books on storytelling structure abounded, or a sign of an author exhausting himself. To me, such Garner books feel like they finish before their time, almost a slap in the face, yet it’s that very incompleteness – a sense of certainty about the big things, and merciless uncertainty about everything else going back into ordinary life – that’s a strangely powerful signature, telling us that, no, people don’t live happily ever after, or if they do, it’s no business of ours, and not easy to find out. The end of the book, like Colin and Susan being separated from the magic, feels like loss rather than comfort in victory. And if anything I’ve heard about Boneland is true, it sounds like Colin’s felt as unresolved for several decades as the readers.

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Dallas – Jumping the Shower

After two decades in limbo, Dallas’ new series will get its UK premiere a week tonight, in what is surely the third-most-anticipated return of the next week, and probably achieve the impossible – get people watching Channel 5. Tonight, John Barrowman meets the cast for an exciting advertising feature; the trailer gives the best line, of course, to J.R.; and now seems the moment to confess that I’ve been watching the old series on the even more obscure channel CBS Drama, where it’s now back in 1986-7 and in the middle of the supersoap’s most turbulent, improbable and infamous stretch.

Dallas’ most famous moment? The end-of-season cliffhanger: who shot J.R.?

Dallas’ most infamous moment? The end-of-season cliffhanger: how showers Bobby?

Famously, Patrick Duffy having decided to leave the series and insisting on Bobby Ewing being killed off in front of so many witnesses that he couldn’t possibly be brought back, ratings dived for the following season… So they brought him back. In that most disappointing of all narrative devices, ‘It was all a dream’ (don’t tell Mr Moffat). So it’s generally said that the series has a problem with its ‘Dream Season’, which everyone now has to ignore. The problem for me is that the season that never was was rather more fun than those either side… And that it’s really all three of those seasons that look shaky as a result. Never mind Bobby; two years earlier, his mother Miss Ellie went on honeymoon with Clayton at the end of the season, and came back a new woman. For the dream season, the gaping void of a screen presence that was Donna Reed vanished with as little explanation as she came, with Barbara Bel Geddes returning to the role that rarely gave her any decent lines or character beyond looking a bit forlorn, but that at least she managed to give a bit of oomph to. So was that all a dream, too?

With CBS Drama currently about half-way through the series’ tenth season, the one that started with the morning after, it’s clear that you can’t just go right back and pretend a season never happened. You’d have to assume viewers remember where every plot had got to and then make each of them go in a different direction so as still to be a surprise, and to undo a year of characterisation, in itself more jarring to many viewers than the plotting. So what we get is an uneasy mix that picks up some strands, drops others and generally ties itself in knots.

A Dream To Some…

The 1986-7 season’s first episode a couple of weeks ago had a big job to do, and was in its way one of the funniest pieces of television of the ’80s, as everyone but Bobby (who wasn’t in it) and Pam (who, waking to find her year-dead lover in the shower, dreamt it all) struggled not to mention anything about the previous year, while the writers threw in masses of exposition and randomly chose which plotlines to carry on with or go back to. So, to match his brother Bobby in the shower, we first see J.R. naked in bed with Mandy explaining at length how Sue Ellen is back to being a hostile drunk he wants rid of and not the love of his life she was last time anyone tuned in, as you know, mistress of mine; cousin Jack and J.R. share exposition about how Jack owns 10% of Ewing Oil and he’s not evolved into being a part of the family that J.R.’s gone through hell and several assassination attempts with, just a con-man; but Bobby’s ex Jenna, having slowly deteriorated over a full year from capable, independent woman into helpless hysteric, now manages to take exactly the same fall in approximately three minutes to get her to where audiences expect her to be. Pam, on the other hand, was a bit stronger than usual the previous year, but has now instantly turned into blancmange who can only say “Oh, Bobby!” in tearful soft focus (that’s nothing to how ‘Pam’ will be at the beginning of the next season, in the series’ most breathtakingly out-of-character plotline). Other cousin Jamie, on the other hand, is back to being the one despicable turd Cliff only married for two-thirds of Ewing Oil and now finds is the only Ewing without any of it, so he’s putting her down at every opportunity. More of that story later.

Three lines stood out for me.

While Pam is gushing and crying about her horrible nightmare in the first scene (“And there was so much more! It seemed so real!”), wet Bobby – who may be just out of the shower, but is far, far less wet than his fully-clothed fiancée – holds her at manly arms’-length, looks compellingly into her eyes (which is the only reason he’s not holding the camera at manly arms’-length and looking compellingly into our eyes, possibly with a wink), and says, with the heaviest emphasis on every word of a sentence ever uttered by an actor:
“None of that happened.”
J.R., having been told by Bobby that he’s remarrying Pam:
“You are the dumbest brother any man could ever have.”
[Pause, considers]
“Aside from Gary and Ray, of course.”
And Pam, in her own little palace, having been railroaded by Bobby telling everyone she’ll live at Southfork, and even her ugly little son Damien Christopher asking excitedly if they can, because he can play with John Ross and the horses and it’s got so much… Victoria Principal, bless her, having talked a few minutes before about the reactions of Bobby’s brother J.R., who hates her, and her brother Cliff, who hates all Ewings, manages to put a lot of meaning into one line, as she answers her son:
“Yes,” she says. “It has everything.”
The Biggest Losers (apart from the viewers)

The biggest immediate change for me was in the feel of the characters and their relationships; while the writers did their best to have Jenna disintegrate on cue, they don’t seem to have thought so clearly about everyone else. With most couples by the end of the previous season having grown together as characters as far as soap couples ever do, all they could do was mark a right turn on each of them by everyone instead getting nasty with each other.

The second-biggest loser, character-wise, is Pam, who it’s difficult to take seriously when one potential husband had improbably returned from the dead only for her to wake up and find it was the other one who’d done it. This leaves the dangling plot of two years’ earlier – that terminally ill fiancé Mark Graison might not in fact have killed himself in an air crash in massively ambiguous and bodiless circumstances, particularly with mysterious people obstructing Pam’s search for him in sinister-but-compassionate ways – forever dangling, and only minutes of screen time after they had for once ponied up for a Southfork wedding rather than it happening, as was the usual custom, between ad breaks, with the minister blessing the happy couple, ‘I now pronounce you moustache, and beard’.

The biggest loser as a character is J.R., who in his brother and rival’s absence had had to become a more rounded individual than the clichéd pantomime villain, however enjoyable; his meanness and petulance in the first episode post-Dream came across as a real let-down after he’d really stretched his impressive acting chops in depth the previous year, despite Larry Hagman as a person being far happier with his friend to spark off against than in carrying the series on his own. One scene since, at least, has stayed with me as evidence other than merely Larry Hagman’s charisma vs Ken Kercheval’s weaseldom that J.R. is a better man (rather than just a better operator) than Cliff Barnes; in one of last week’s episodes, two scenes following close on each other showed both Cliff and J.R. being whining sexists to their estranged wives. Except that when Jamie was clearly proved right, Cliff doubled down as an objectionable jerk. But when Sue Ellen revealed that she was in fact a devious Machiavellian and business genius rolled into one, the person behind a long-laid plot that both despatched J.R.’s mistress (and Mandy being by far the most memorable of those, to boot) to Singapore and made a ton of money… For a few seconds, Hagman looked mean, and sullen, and angry. Then he gave a slight smile and, for the first time all season, quietly congratulated her as being quite brilliant. Then absolutely beamed, simply appreciating her achievement. He’s had too few moments like that since his brother and rival got better from death. Linda Gray really shone, too.

In the meantime, I became suddenly very aware of this season’s main plot arcs and coming mad guest star with bomb – I’m only surprised they didn’t get Barbara Carrera back to play the psychotic mercenary. Or have her as Jock, and Steve Forrest’s Ben Stivers Wes Parmalee as the villain. I miss her – she was so much fun last year, making such a little Fatima Blush go such a very long way, in costumes by TRAVILLA (probably Travis in huge red shoulderpads and a diamanté eyepatch). Anyway, at that point we’d not met this year’s loony yet, to be played as you’ll know if you’ve been watching since by an actor who rejoices in the name “Hunter Von Leer”, but everyone’s talking about how low the price of oil is, and how it’s all OPEC’s fault. Tedious tosser Cliff has been saying how there’s nothing anyone can do about it; Jamie has a brilliant idea; Cliff pours scorn on her as an idiot who knows nothing; Cliff then nicks the idea and has a big press conference with the Cartel. And this brilliant concept, that nobody says ‘Hang on…’ about? Protectionism. She wants all the Texas oil businesses to get the US government to put tariffs on foreign oil so that they can sell at the price they want and not be undercut. How clever! To which no-one, oddly, says, ‘But won’t that mean counter-tariffs that will hurt our trade back the other way, and surely Congress isn’t going to vote to massively increase the pump price for the gas-guzzling ordinary American anyway just so the oil barons can rip them off some more?’

J.R. stands at the back and says what a stupid idea it is, but only because it’s come from Cliff, before finding someone competent to run it instead (and, coincidentally, to get them out of his hair). Shame. I’d have liked him to say some of the above, because he’s meant to be the bright one. But no, it was merely because a/ it was Cliff's (nicked), and b/ do you think he might have some slightly more direct action in mind that could go disastrously wrong?

Back From the Dead – Haven’t We Already Done This (in two ways)?

And the final arc plot to be crippled by the missing season involved… A much-loved member of the Ewing family returning from the dead. I wonder why they eventually decided people might not swallow it? You get the feeling they only decided to bring Bobby back at the very last minute, as only in the last couple of episodes of the Dream Season were we introduced to rugged old oil-and-cattleman Ben Stivers, played by grey-white-haired Steve Forrest, who everyone is strangely drawn to but who hides an enigmatic secret (or does he?). Pam may be wetter than a very wet thing, but she has at least gained psychic powers: for into this completely different and not-dreamed season comes rugged old oil-and-cattleman Wes Parmalee, played by grey-brown-haired Steve Forrest (no relation), who everyone is strangely drawn to but who hides an enigmatic secret (or does he?). Well, if you’ve been watching, you’ll have found out that he doesn’t, but several of the conflicting reports of what the writers had been planning suggest he really was going to turn out to be the long-lost and heavily plastic-surgeried Ewing patriarch who was not in fact killed in an air crash in massively ambiguous and bodiless circumstances some years earlier. His storyline has been chuntering along for a dozen episodes or more, making it increasingly likely that he was Jock (and with Forrest’s gravelly timbre and manner at times capturing something eerie of Jim Davis, even if his slighter frame never did)… And then, suddenly, it stopped, with a tedious three episodes of exposition afterwards proving that, in fact, the only thing less credible than having someone suddenly return from the dead with minimal explanation is having him suddenly turn out not to have done. Every awkward exposition piled on makes it seem increasingly and incredibly unlikely that he’d ever have been able to pull it off in the first place (he just happened to be there and taking notes while Jock told him his life story in a fever! And so on through all the uncanny physical similarities) and more unlikely still that he’d have thrown it all away.

I suppose we were at least spared Donna Reid crying out in torment to Steve Forrest, ‘But you don’t look like Jock!’

Sue Ellen Predicts New Dallas

One other scene stays with me eerily from early on in this season. With Pam and Bobby remarried and Christopher back at Southfork too, naturally by this week’s episodes J.R.’s son John Ross was beating up the smaller kid. While viewers across the land reeled at how such ugly children could ever grow up to be such buff adults (they crashed into Desperate Housewives and had plastic surgery), Pam became massively overprotective and accused John Ross of becoming just like his father. Later, Christopher asks Bobby if he can teach him how to use a gun. Now, that’s more like J.R. (are we quite sure the abandoned plotline in which Christopher was J.R.’s son as well – no, I won’t go into it, things are complicated enough – truly expired?). But Bambi-eyed Pam’s bouncing from insane optimism to molly-coddling could never compare to Sue Ellen, whose own psychic powers came to the fore a fortnight earlier. That scene had Sue Ellen pouring cold vodka on Pam’s plan to remarry in lines that should surely make the trailers for the new series:
“You’re even moving back to Southfork!”
“Christopher can hardly wait. You know, he and John Ross are going to be great friends.”
“Another generation of Ewing boys. What a picture. Maybe the oil industry will be just a memory by the time they grow up – there won’t be any competition. Miss? Would you bring me another, please?”

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Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)

Something exciting came out of that Olympics closing ceremony after all! Kate Bush re-recorded her second-biggest hit for the event and, astonishingly, Running Up That Hill shot up the charts to become her fifth-biggest hit as well, zooming in at Number Six, with lower but still improbable chart placings for the likes of the Who’s Baba O’Riley, the Kinks, ELO and Annie Lennox Vs Cthulhu (all discovered last week while laid up with painfully inflamed ligaments in my left ankle, a change from the occasional tendonitis: running up that hill? If I only could). But what’s the song about? Well…

All right, so she’s now running down the charts again this week, but it still seems miraculous that a twenty-seven-year-old song from Kate should suddenly be a smash all over again. And, this time, making a point of subtitling it “A Deal With God,” the original title refused by the record company for fear of airplay-death back in the ’80s, when it was the lead single from what turned out to be Kate’s most critically and commercially successful album, Hounds of Love.

Hounds of Love

Now, I have to admit that Hounds of Love isn’t quite my favourite Kate Bush album – I’d put The Sensual World ahead of it – and nor is Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) my favourite single from that album – I’d put Hounds of Love itself above it. All right, so Hounds of Love is a less complex, less ambiguous track, but its melodrama always thrills me, and between Kate’s famous two ’80s Doctor Who TV scripts and all her New Adventures it has more than a little Doctor Who feel, too – quoting from an old horror film, not entirely convincing monsters out to get you and an awful lot of running. Listening to her more recent work, I do wonder if Kate’s a particular Troughton fan, doing the Yeti with King of the Mountain and Wild Man, and on her Fish People label, to boot. But that’s another story. And Running Up That Hill is still a terrific, and a very powerful song.

Another minor miracle is that Kate’s new vocal on her remixed Running Up That Hill is a change from but if anything more gripping than the original; I’ve been a bit disappointed with most of her recent Director’s Cut revisitings of old songs, feeling they lack the power and excitement of the previous versions – and, heretically, I’d have said that the harsh, bombastic, very ’80s production on the Hounds of Love might have stood more revisiting than the more inviting sound of The Sensual World (though I don’t know how she’d unpick any of her Arthurian odyssey The Ninth Wave, a continuous piece making up the whole second half and a tour-de-force, much like her later Aerial’s A Sky of Honey).

Ironically, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) may have had so many requests from people who weren’t born when it first charted and become a hit all over again because its powerful beat and chorus sounds like it symbolises the Olympics. I say ironically, because such a prosaic explanation runs against arguably Kate’s most layered and ambiguous lyrics for one of her hits.

Deeper Understanding… Yeah, Right

On the surface, it might sound like it’s about athletics – and it might be, of a sort – but Kate’s previously said when pressed for an explanation that it’s about a wish for a woman and a man in a relationship to reach greater understanding by literally changing places, and that she went for a deal with God rather than the traditional deal with the Devil because, obviously, that would be more powerful. So the meaning presented at the time, to ward off music-burners outraged at the mention of God, was a tender prayer for a more perfect union between a man and a woman. What could possibly be more praiseworthy for lovers of traditional values?

And yet… Some of the words may say that, but the music doesn’t. I’ve read people saying it’s an even more tender wish for a partner, that the “bullet” is about taking on his pain, a song of self-sacrifice. But it doesn’t sound like, say, Deeper Understanding or This Woman’s Work. This isn’t Kate in her tender, frail achingly beautiful mood; this is Kate sounding raw and powerful, and all the more so for not being as fabulously bonkers as she often seems in that style (though bonking may come into it). No – this isn’t a love song, but a march. Listen to those drums, banging away; watch the video, where Kate and a male dancer writhe hip to hip while miming shooting a bow and arrow. If the meaning’s what Kate said it is, then read between the lines and listen to the music: it’s Kate saying ‘How would it feel for me to fuck you for a change?’
“Come on, angel, come on, come on, darling,
“Let’s exchange the experience, oh…”
That’s the less ambitious version. But with Kate being so insistent that she wanted it called A Deal With God, and the ambiguity of some of the lyrics, on top of the pounding music…? This is about power. And it’s not just saying, ‘If I were a man, I’d make so much more use of that power than he would,’ though the physicality of the lyrics might well stand in for other goals. No, to me some of it suggests that Kate merely wanting to take a man’s place would be a chronic lack of ambition. You can read the chorus more than one way – is the “our” referring to an ‘us’ of Kate and her partner, or just Kate and the Almighty? It’s always sounded to me that Kate’s fed up with the lack of ambition on a cosmic scale, and if she only could, would swap places with God.
“And if I only could,
“I’d make a deal with God,
“And I’d get him to swap our places…”
But it’s probably about shagging.

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Friday, August 10, 2012


London Seethes With Olympic Business – Exclusive Photos!

Yesterday afternoon our router decided it would compete with me for conking out in the heat, so aside from a few minutes this morning this is my first internet access for 24 hours (it’s like a desert, honestly). So here’s a piece of quick news I hope I can get up in time before it rolls over with its tongue in the air again…

The Day of the Olympics 1
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Exclusive photos of the bonus shopping frenzy that the Olympics has brought to Central London!

The Day of the Olympics 2
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You can tune in to the radio version of the documentary from which these pictures originate at 6.30 and 12.30 each evening on Radio 4 Extra.

In other news, while I don’t do sport, and I don’t do jingoism, long-term readers will know there’s one team I do root for – and another I cheer every time they get smashed. So go Team Beeb, and hurrah for the Olympics giving ITV their worst day ever!

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Friday, August 03, 2012


Baby-Banned at the Bamford (but Back a Bit)!

This week (part of a fortnight of holiday indulgence), I ate for the first time in a Stockport hostelry I’ve been aware of all my life but, I’d thought, never crossed the door of before. And it turns out that the reason behind my always having looked askance at the Bamford Arms is the one time I’d previously gone in and been thrown out… Long before I could remember it. My Mum has a longer and sharper memory, but thirty-nine years and several changes of management later, she’s rescinded her boycott and took my niece and me for dinner there.

The Bamford Arms now has quite a pleasant restaurant. The tomato and courgette soup was thick and tasty (if a bit too much basil), the garlic bread vibrant and crunchy, the steaks and sauce fine, with plenty of chips. A very friendly woman took our orders, offered little Caitlin things to play with while she went for the world title in the slowest-ever ice cream-eating stakes, and generally looked after us. She even put aside the photos Mum left behind and the fairy Caitlin left behind and instantly went to the drawer when she saw me come back for them (though when, suggesting that the family was under a bit of a curse that afternoon, I in turn managed to drop Caitlin’s fairy outside, not notice until I came to give it to her, and have to go back for it again, she didn’t appear like a fairy godmother with it in her hand and I had to look up and down Nangreave Road for it, so clearly her magic powers are limited to within the pub).

So I won’t criticise the Bamford Arms of 2012. The inn of four decades ago, though, is a different matter. I was mildly surprised when Mum suggested we go there, having a vague idea that there was something wrong with the place, but I wasn’t sure why. However, Mum said she’d gone there with friends and it was fine – and it was. I don’t know if she sensed my mild scepticism before or mild surprise afterwards, or just wanted to pass on some up-to-the-minute gossip, but after we left I was treated to just why we spent many years never going there and passing by with a cold stare and a disparaging word.

Back when I was thirteen months old, my Nana and Grandad came down to stay for a couple of weeks while my brother Rory (who long since insisted on Richard and then re-shortened to Rick, much as I shed Sandy in favour of Alexander and then Alex) was born. The day our grandparents were due to drive home, Mum booked a dinner for us all minus new baby at the Bamford Arms, which had been recommended, taking care when she phoned to make sure it was all right to bring my pushchair. So Dad drove all five of us to the Bamford, Mum wheeled me out… And a horrified manager stopped her as I trundled over the threshold.
“You can’t bring that in here!”
“What do you mean? I rang to book and asked specifically. We were told it was all right.”
“Who did you speak to? That’s not our policy.”
“Well, I don’t know her name, but I asked if it was all right to bring a pushchair, and I was told ‘Yes’.”
“Ah, that explains it. You can have the pushchair in here. But we don’t allow the baby.”
And that’s why I didn’t go back in there for nearly forty years, having been barred from a pub at a far younger age than everyone else manages it.

Still, I’ve forgiven them now. But while I’ve not been able to blog while away with very limited internet access first in North Yorkshire and then at my parents’, and must soon work out just how much fatter I am as a result of rather more meals out than just the Bamford, I have to tell you that, shh, while they were all right, they’re not a patch on the Whitestonecliffe Inn, which is an excellent inn and restaurant and serves the finest pâté known to humanity. So it’s a good job that, at 90-odd miles apart, they’re not really in competition or the baby-banning bastards would lose (did I just say that out loud?).

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