Finding Colin

Dexter

What with Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse books, dying today – peacefully, aged 86 – it seemed like the right thing to do to watch a TV Inspector Morse.  I suppose the rightest thing would have been to read one of the books, but doubt I’d be able to polish one off in an evening.  I’m not sure I’d want to; savouring Dexter’s adept use of the language is one of the pleasures.  Dexter himself used to fit in nightly bursts of writing in-between listening to the Archers and his nightly visit to the pub.  He’d write a page a day, 360 days a year.  It all added up.  No need to rush these things.

Which Morse to watch?  And it will be a Morse; not a Lewis or an Endeavour.  No offence to either shows, but I fancy a dose of the original.  A drop of John Thaw.  He’s been dead 15 years now, John Thaw; 15 years back in February.  Morse himself was killed off on TV in 2000 (1999 in the books).  His creator wasn’t in any hurry to follow him.  Dexter gave up the booze – on doctors’ advice due to diabetes – around the same time as he gave up Morse.  Neglected diabetes was what knocked off the great detective in the books.  Dexter obviously had a better survival instinct that his creation.

Apparently Morse and Dexter had a number of vices in common: beer drinking, crossword solving and a love of classical music for example.  But they were also very different in character; Dexter was self-effacing, gentlemanly and quiet, compared Morse’s short-tempered, arrogant and stand-offish nature.

So yes, definitely proper John Thaw Morse, not either of the two pretenders.  Not Robbie Lewis or Morse junior.

Did you know that Lewis in the books was originally older than Morse and Welsh?  Dexter later said that he much preferred Kevin Whately’s interpretation and so incorporated the younger Geordie iteration of the Sergeant into the later books.

But I’m letting myself get distracted: which episode?  There are eight series worth, 33 episodes.  I discount the ones based on the books, I know them too well.  I also reject anything from the third series.  I don’t like the Dr Grayling Russell (played by Amanda Hillward) who replaced Max DeBryn (played by Peter Woodthorpe) as the regular pathologist in the series.  She was soon written out as the production team came to the conclusion that it was a bad idea to give Morse a regular love interest.  Which suited me as I really resented the loss of Max and she, the character not the actress, seriously got on my tits.

I also decided to avoid any of the later episodes not based on the later Dexter books as they tend towards the  bizarre including devil worshippers, trips to Australia and the unlikely spectacle of Morse attending a rave.  There was a fair bit of shark-jumping in some of those later episodes.  Mad as cheese, some of them.

I eventually settle on “The Setting of the Sun”.  Series 2, episode 3.  The first episode not directly based on a Morse novel, although based on an idea by Colin Dexter.  It’s got Max in it, not Grayling-bloody-Russell, and has a strong cast including Amanda Burton (playing a femme fatale), Derek Fowlds (playing a German) and the mighty Robert Stephens (playing one of his many variations on Robert Stephens, which is always a good thing).

Best of all I can’t remember whodunit.

And in there, somewhere, will be Colin Dexter.  He had a non-speaking cameo appearance in nearly every episode of Morse and many episodes of Endeavour and Lewis.  A small vanity on his part, but a pleasing one.  He only stopped doing them this year, missing out on this year’s series of Endeavour due to ill health.

I won’t spot him in “The Setting of the Sun”.  I never spot his cameos.

Still, it’s nice to know he’s still in there somewhere.  Waiting to be found.

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Eugenia @ The Shoebox Theatre – Behind the Curtain

I thought I might be late to the show.  Time seemed to get away from me, but, in the end, I got to the Shoebox with about ten minutes to spare.  There was a voluntary contribution bar and so I thought I’d grab myself a cider.  The suggested price for a can of Dry Blackthorn was £2.  I handed over a tenner to the lad at the bar.

“How much?” he asked brightly.

I gestured two fingers.  He handed over £2 change.  From a ten pound note.

Did I politely correct the misunderstanding?  Did I amiably request a further £6 in change?   No.  Being British I thanked him and unsteadily took my seat.  I’d just paid eight quid for a can of Dry Blackthorn.  I felt slightly light-headed and nauseous.

I enjoyed the play.  I’d have enjoyed it more if the gobshite sat behind me hadn’t been loudly chatting with his missus throughout.  He was too busy looking forward to his post-show doner kebab to give the play his full attention.  It was his main topic of conversation.  Christ he was loud.  He didn’t have a “whisper” setting.  He probably thought that sotto voce was a pizza topping.

Still, at least he didn’t delay the second act.  That might have been me.  I’d have sworn that I had plenty of time when I popped to the loo during the interval, but the loos at the Shoebox are down a few flights of stars and a few corridors, I stopped to politely hold the door for a few people, waited for the previous patron and, by the time I got back upstairs I was being desperately beckoned towards the auditorium.  A walk of shame back to my seat followed.

Gobshite behind me was equally loquacious in the second half. This time the topics were doner kebabs – again – and stabbings.  No, really, he was jovially chatting to his companion about stabbings.  She was chatting back like talking about bladed assaults while at the theatre was the most natural thing in the world.  They were laughing about it!  God preserve me they were laughing!

I survived the second half without getting a machete between the shoulder blades.  I tarried to chat with Hannah who works at the Shoebox and the chap from the bar walked up to me sheepishly.

“I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding earlier.  I didn’t realise you’d given me a ten pound note.  How much change do you want?”

I smiled:

“Call it a fiver,” I said, gratefully.  With kebab-loving Stabby McStabface wandering the streets of Swindon I thought I’d better hoard as much Karma as I could amass.

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A Cosmic Imbalance – Passport Trilogy 3

The most important thing you need to know about the whole “Logan” debacle is that it was all Chris Dowson’s fault.

After our adventures in Wales (see “Goo-johns” and “A Cymraeg piss-up”) we got back to Swindon and had an hour or so to catch our breaths before we were due to be picked up by Chris and Sasha Dowson to go and see “Logan” at Cineworld, Regent’s Circus, Swindon.

The car arrived at 6pm, as agreed, but Chris wasn’t willing to let me sit in the front passenger seat for the short journey.  He seemed to think that his wife driving the car somehow gave him prior claim to it.  I did my best to explain to him that the front passenger seat is always my prize, by divine right, and that a failure to let me sit in the front would cause a cosmic imbalance that he would be solely to blame for.  It was no good.  Dobson was adamant. Fools seldom differ.

I bet he felt pretty smug as I squeezed into the back of the vehicle.  Little did he realise that his foolish sowing the wind would soon force us all to reap the whirlwind.

Once we’d purchased some soft beverages (£12 for four small fizzy drinks?  Had we accidentally wandered into the Crowne Plaza?) we headed into the auditorium.  After five lifetimes-worth of trailers and adverts the lights dimmed and the film began.

I enjoyed the first 40 minutes of “Logan”.  The auditorium was uncomfortably warm but I had my outrageously priced soft drink to wet my whistle as Hugh Jackman sliced and diced his foes up on the big screen.  But then the picture on the screen started to become fuzzy, like a steamed-up reflection in a bathroom mirror.  I checked my glasses, but they were un-steamed.  I did briefly wonder if I was having a funny turn, but I looked at Caroline and her confusion at the foggy picture was obvious.

The auditorium started to fill with disquieted mutterings.  Some of the patrons filed out to the box office to complain.  The problem was now so pronounced that Hugh Jackman’s rugged countenance was naught but a blur.  And then the film stopped dead.

One of the picture house flunkies sidled in apologetically and told us that the cinema manager was up in the lamp room sorting things out.  That explained the smudged silhouette of a panicked man wrestling with a projector that we could see lit up on the screen.  After more than twenty minutes the picture jerked back into light again.  Not only was it still like watching a film through a London Particular, but the film had skipped forward approximately five minutes to an entirely different scene.

And then the film stopped dead again.  At the point the cinema manager must have wrestled the lens free or something as the picture momentarily resolved to absolute clarity.  This was greeted with a cheer from the audience that lapsed into a groan as the screen fogged up once more.

Eventually it was established that the picture was un-de-fuckable.  Another cinema flunky was sent out to apologise – again – and offered us either a refund or tickets for the later showing at 8pm.  We weren’t in the mood to sit through the opening 40 minutes of the film, so, as they’d bought the tickets, Dowson’s joined the long refund queue at the box office.  I found out later that if everyone had wanted to watch the later sitting then Cineworld would have been stuffed as there were only about 3 empty seats.

We headed back home in the Dowsons’ car.  I was forced, once again, into the back seat.  How we got back without suffering some sort of Karmic calamity, God only knows.  Chris Dowson apparently remains wilfully blind and deaf to the dangers of a cosmic imbalance.

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A Cymraeg piss-up – Passport Trilogy 2

From the ridiculous to the sublime: after our eye-opening visit to the Asda Newport Pillgwenlly Superstore (see previous Flog: “Goo-johns”, or don’t, I’m not your mother) we drove twenty minutes to the scenic village of Raglan, Monmouthshire, and the Beaufort Arms Coaching Inn and Brasserie.

We had the good fortune of discovering the place last year thanks to attending the wedding of friends and it was just the place for a slap-up lunch.  The grub’s a well-judged mixture of Hispanic dishes and pub classics.  I had Jamón croquettes with a bravas sauce followed by a lamb shank of such humble honesty I’d have let it testify for me in a court of law.

Caroline had fish cakes followed by fish.  Not my area of expertise.  The fish had capers on it if that helps?  Caro’ washed down her food with a crisp glass of Marques de Caceres Blanco.  I had a pint of Thatcher’s.

Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that I had several pints of Thatcher’s.  Caroline drove off to see her Great Aunt in nearby Abergavenny for a few hours while I removed myself to the Beaufort Arms’ snug to settle down for a few pints and a read of my book.

That was the plan, at least.  The small bar started to fill with burly Welshmen of all ages.  I found myself in the middle of some sort of family get-together.  Fine by me.  There are fewer things more guaranteed to bring out my inner gregariousness than finding myself in the middle of a Cymraeg piss-up; a testosterone-fuelled blur of drink, piss-taking and laughter.

And lots of furtive checking of mobile phones.  It was 6-Nations weekend and Italy were at that moment playing Italy.  It was then noted that there was a massive flat screen TV on the wall.  A quick look in the bar restaurant proved that no-one was left dining from the lunchtime service.  Turning on the telly for a quick look at the score would be a victimless crime.  Surely we had to try it?  Didn’t we?

One of my new drinking partners pressed the power button and there was a profundo sigh of ecstasy as the TV flickered on to show the Italy vs France game.  It was close.  Italy were giving France a run for their money.  The commentators’ voices were, at turns, hoarse and excited and rapt and urgent.  An eager hush fell over the Beaufort Arms’ snug.  We’d tuned in at exactly the right time; the game was on a knife-edge…

And then the pictured winked out to black, A chorus of groans and “what the fucks” filled the air.

The power button was fiddled with and the picture sprung back to life.  And then the screen failed again.  More discord from the snug’s audience.  The picture was manually restored again, only to blink out again soon after.

Then the penny dropped: one of the barmen had been using the remote control to put the set on stand-by, behind our backs and without explanation.  There was an outcry and some of the meatier spectators were manoeuvred in a line in front of the bar to render the remote useless.

And so another barman was sent round into the lion’s den to unplug the TV.  He didn’t hang around after it had to be said.

Some of the Welshmen in the snug were of the opinion that we should plug the TV back in, barricade the door and damn the consequences.  However, it was decided to send a diplomatic party to the bar to discuss the matter like gentlemen.

“Xander”, a blond monolith of a man in a mustard polo shirt, was sent to parley with the bar manager.  After about ten minutes a compromise was reached: we were allowed the rugby back on provided the sound was killed to silence and that we tempered any rugby-inspired rowdiness.

Which was fine.  Perfectly reasonable.   The TV was plugged back in, the picture restored and the volume reduced to zero.

However such time had passed that France had scored two more tries and the game was now over as a contest.  A fug of bitter discontentment filled the room.

And then, behind the bar, a shelf gave way and a whole row of pint glasses dashed themselves to pieces on the tiled floor at the feet of the barmen.

The resulting cheer was probably audible in Wrexham.

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Goo-johns – Passport Trilogy 1

Saturday morning we were on the road (and bridge) to Newport.  Newport HM Passport Office to be precise.  After the bag snatch in Barcelona Caroline needed a new passport and sharpish as she’s off to Amsterdam in a few weeks (such are the lives of the great and the good).  The appointment was for noon.  I agreed to accompany my wife for the journey.  We got to Newport at about half eleven.  Caroline had been told that the process would take about an hour so I left her to decamp to a nearby Asda to haunt their cafeteria with a good book.

In the cafe I grabbed a bottle of fizzy pop and a postage stamp-sized square of Millionaire Shortbread (because I’m worth it) and lined up to pay.

You know that feeling you get when you join the queue and you just know the person in front of you is going to waste a huge amount of everyone’s time?  Especially your own?

The chap in question, an older gentleman, was ordering food for himself and his family who were sat about two three metres away from the till.  Despite their relative immediacy to him, the toothless loon seemed to feel the need to bellow at them as if they were on the other side of Newport.  The order of lunch, for him and his brood, wasn’t going smoothly:

It was pie week, so £7 for two pies (reduced from £8), but they’d had a run on steak pies, due to it being pie week, so two of his family had to have chicken pies, also £7 for two (reduced from £8), thanks to pie week.  Negotiations over who was to have chicken and who was going to have steak were ongoing when his daughter decided she wanted chips instead of mash and it all went to hell in a hand basket.   The order had to be taken, essentially, from scratch.

And then he needed to order a children’s meal for his horrible, squealing grandchild.  He wanted fish fingers.  He was offered “cod goujons”.

“Goo-john?” he queried, “What’s a goo-john when it’s at home?”

He turned and bellowed over to his clan: “They’ve only got a goo-john!”

“It’s a fish finger, dad!” came the reply, “French for fish finger.”

It was settled.  The child would have a goo-john.  With beans if they had them.  They did.

The order was finally settled.  He paid with a twenty from his moth-eaten wallet.  I finally got to purchase of a tiny square of sickly confectionery and a bottle of fizz pop.

I sat down to consume my meager rations when I was distracted by a peculiar noise.  A high-pitched chirruping almost like a chick separated from its nest.  It was accompanied by some gummy cursing.

The toothless loon was trying to dispense a Doctor Pepper from the self-service drink dispenser.  Unfortunately all he was getting was a Doctor Pepper flavoured gust of air into his cup.  Staff were called and, for them, the machine produced a stream of beverage on cue.  They departed, but as soon as he tried to operate the machine himself but all he got was air.  The staff returned and the machine expressed Doctor Pepper at will.

I have literally no idea how he was achieving this.  There was one button.

At this point Caroline returned early from Newport HM passport office.  They’d processed her with deft efficiency she’d been in and out in less than half an hour.  I hadn’t even touched my fizzy pop.  We left before the toothless loon and his family got their lunch.

I hope he was okay with the crusts.

 

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Emma Watson’s Tits

In honour of International Woman’s Day yesterday I’ve decided to give my own hot take on Feminism.  Enjoy!

So…  That Emma Watson “topless” pic in a photoshoot for Vanity Fair seems to have caused a bit of a fuss, then?  She’s not actually topless, obviously.  I lapsed into Tabloid-ese for a second there. She’s blatantly not topless in the picture.  I checked for research purposes.  She is demonstrably wearing a top.  What appears to have happened is she’s put on a sleeveless crocheted cardigan that’s three sizes too small for her and forgotten to wear a vest.

Easily done, we’ve all been there.

Unfortunately, as a result of “exposing parts of her breasts” (I mean really?  I’ve seen worse/better as a boy while perusing the Freeman’s catalogue underwear section) she has been accused, by some commentators of being “Anti-Feminist”

That’s the problem with living through these modern times of ours; I can’t keep up with the jargon.  What’s the difference between “Anti-Feminists” and “misogynists”?  It’s like the Dulux colour chart.  What’s the difference between “Woad Walk” and “Cornflower Bunch”?  They’re both blue, aren’t they?

AREN’T THEY??

There seems to a thing for “male feminists” these days as well.  That’s a new one on me.  I read this book a while back and this fellow co-writing it started virtually every opinion of his with: “well, as a feminist…”.

I mean, mention it once or twice if it matters that much to you, it’s obviously at the forefront of your mind,but virtually every paragraph?  I’m not suffering from short-term memory loss.  I didn’t cry: “My God, he’s a feminists!” anew as though faced with a fresh revelation each time.

I have this theory: most heterosexual males under thirty who loudly proclaim themselves to be Feminists (and they are usually under thirty) are – in reality –  using this as a cover to cop off with lady Feminists.  That’s my theory.  Probably a flawed theory, but then I have a very dark opinion of human nature.

Or maybe they genuinely think they’re Feminists with willies.  Perhaps they think that’s possible  for a man to push back as ‘Male Feminist’ from within the present Patriarchal structure without trapping themselves in the collapsing paradox of their own hegemony?

But I think they’re in it for the copping off, personally.

Not that being male and pro-feminist/anti-sexist is necessarily a pose.  I’m down with all that business.   I can afford to be, I’m a white middle-aged male and we rule the world.  It’s just the “male Feminist” thing that gets on my wick.  I vaguely remember someone saying once: “There’s no such thing as a male Feminist; you’re either a misogynist or you’re not.”  I think I’m in tune with that, broadly.

To wander dimly back towards the initial topic ( vis-à-vis Emma Watson’s top bollocks).  Dumb male that I am I can’t work out how the ex-Harry Potter star, who is a well-known campaigner for women’s rights,  can suddenly be decried as Anti-Feminist for showing a bit of bosom.  Not when Feminism (with a big “F”) is such a broad church.  I’ve heard it said that if you put five woman who self-identify as Feminists in a room and ask them what Feminism is then you’d get five different answers.

And then they’d have a cat fight in a paddling pool full of blancmange.  Butterscotch flavour.

Sorry, my mind wandered there for a second.

I think in many ways Feminism is like Doctor Who fandom.

No, wait, work with me here.  I know where I’m going with this.

Doctor Who fandom is often thought, by outsiders, to be one cohesive group.  A collection of souls all bound by the unifying notion that: “Doctor Who is great.”

It’s not at all.  It’s a seething pit of discord, rage and unsettled scores.  A lot of the Classic Who fans hate the “Nu Who” with its actually special special effects, proper budget and real acting.  The Jon Pertwee fans hate Sylvester McCoy and visa-versa.  The 1980’s Who fans bicker with the 1970’s and 1960’s Who fans and any discussion about what is or isn’t ‘canon’ can lead to an all-out riot.

And that happens because Doctor Who fandom is a loosely bound confederacy under a very broadly defined banner.  And if someone under that banner does something that some other people under that banner don’t like – even if it seems hypocritical to them – that doesn’t give them the right to excommunicate them.  There’s no such thing as an Anti Doctor Who fan, just a Doctor Who fan you don’t agree with.

And I think that’s what I think Feminism may be like.

A bit.

Although I think Feminists tend to be less into dressing up like Colin Baker.

Probably.

Does that mean Russell T Davies is Doctor Who’s answer to Emmeline Parkhurst?

Maybe.

I’m starting to think that I may have let this tortured and extended metaphor run away with me a little.  Sorry.

What’s my personal opinion on Emma Watson’s vaguely revealing photoshoot?

I don’t really care.  She gets on my tits to be honest.

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‘Whimsey’ @ The Shoebox Theatre – Behind the Curtain

I was invited to “Theatre Folk Drinks” after watching Wimsey at the Shoebox Theatre.  “Highbrow drinks at Swindon’s most exclusive Weatherspoons” was how it was sold to me; a chance to mix with the members of Swindon’s vibrant artistic community.  How exciting, I thought, a chance to schmooze, to chit-chat, to network.  This is what I do now.  I am an arts journalist, Swindon’s answer to Jack Tinker.  And the Savoy was Swindon’s own Studio 54.

Only I didn’t do that, did I?  Instead I gravitated towards some of the cast from Dissocia.  You remember?  The play I did last year?  The one with the scene with the goat?  If you saw it then you’ll definitely remember the scene with the goat.  Anyway, it was nice to see Katie and Levi again – and Katie’s boyfriend Elliot with whom I’ve struck up quite a nice little bromance with – and so had a good chin-wag with them and drank far too much Black Rat Perry while Swindon’s artistic luminaries talked amongst themselves.

We did join the remaining members right at the death of the evening.  They seemed nice.  What do they do?  No idea, can’t remember.  Details are sketchy.  One of them (Shaun?  Again: sketchy) suggested that the group head down to the bottom of town when the Savoy shut.  I wasn’t keen, but they didn’t seem to be taking ‘no’ for an answer.  But I wasn’t up for a boozy actors’ piss up until the early hours.  I hadn’t recovered from the last one back in December.

So I resorted to guile.  As we walked through the town centre to whichever backwater dive we were headed, I slowly drifted to the back of the group.  Once so located I allowed clear air to develop between them and me.  I was now divorced from the main party.  Out of sight and out of mind.  A handy side street presented itself so I ducked down it.  To them I must have disappeared like a shadow.  Thus liberated I changed direction and started to head back in the direction of home.

Text book; absolutely text book.

I was home before 2am, which felt like a small victory in context.  My attempt at Theatre Folk Drinks had been a bit of a failure.  Still, it was nice to see Katie, Elliott and Levi again.  I’ve been cast in the next Shoebox Theatre Community project so maybe our paths will cross again.  The next play is “When the Rain Stops Falling” by an Australian playwright called Andrew Bovell.  It’s a very different play to “The Wonderful World of Dissocia”,

Fewer goats if nothing else.  Lots of fish, no goats.

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