The Bridge – whose truth, whose story…

The Bridge - Opening credit imageA body is found on a bridge. Except later we discover it is two bodies waste up and hip down of two different women. One half-body found in Denmark, one half-body found in Sweden. For the bridge the bodies are found together on is the Oresund Bridge, the bridge which joins Sweden and Denmark. Where the killer has arranged the bodies so that the line of their decapitation is also the border-line of Sweden and Denmark. Two different women then from two different countries and indeed from two different worlds, the upper-half a high-profile Swedish politician, the lower-half a low-profile Danish prostitute. A crude point perhaps being made by the perpetrator about politicians and prostitutes being indistinguishable.

So begins the grim premise of this new crime drama The Bridge currently airing BBC 4 of a Saturday night. It was broadcast originally in both Denmark and Sweden on a Wednesday night. The opening music Hollow Talk is by Danish band Choir of Young Believers. They really should have had a Swedish band for the closing music if not a collaboration between bands from both countries?! The dialogue for the show is in both Swedish and Danish.

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Crime is a staple of the TV schedule in the UK – we have many home-grown TV cops – some of which I have reviewed on this blog – Identity, Scott and Bailey – see what I am doing here?! – and we have as many US imported crime dramas, again some of whom I have reviewed on this blog, Castle, well okay one of whom I have reviewed on this blog – but anyway  they are very many and that is just the good ones and we will all have our favourites – a few favourites off the top of my head – Cold Case, The Closer and Law and Order, in particular the spin-off series with Vincent D’Onofrio, oh and Dexter, and well see it is endless. Euro-cops on the other hand are a more recent import – and I am not going to get into a Geopolitical discussion here around the fact that the UK itself is part of Europe and so Rebus and Morse are actually Euro-cops too!

In the last few years we have had Swede Wallander which also had its own UK adaptation with Kenneth Branagh in the eponymous role. From France we had Spiral and from Italy Inspector Montalbano. And most critically acclaimed from Denmark, The Killing. And BBC 4 to their great credit has been responsible for airing all of them.

Have I missed out any other Euro examples reader? Any Spanish Sleuth or Icelandic Homicide Detective I should get myself acquainted with?

The Bridge - credit sequence imageAnd now with The Bridge we get further crime sleuths from Sweden and Denmark.

The Swedish lead cop in The Bridge is called Saga Noren. Saga is almost literally literary – Scandinavian story. Would I name a child of mine Story I ask myself. A child is a story made flesh and blood – we are all stories, each others tales – in the beginning was the word or at least before there was the word there was no way of events being described let alone made sense of – without the word there can be no thought, idea, sense – instead a brew of feelings, wonder and terror admixed – the world about us an inexplicable indistinguishable joined up mass – not that language will necessarily make it more explicable – but it will try.

Our life itself is terminal but its story is always left unfinished…how much are we the authors of our own stories and how much the characters purposeful and purposeless in other author’s stories…well The Bridge writer Hans Rosenfeldt if you will name one of your main characters Saga I will go there!

The Bridge - Saga

I could sleep but…

The Danish lead cop is called Martin Rohde. And Martin is not such an innocent name as you might think alongside Saga – Mars, Martial, War – but I am not going to get on board that train of thought – the story you want to hear about if you are reading this is that of The Bridge – what is it about and what do I think and feel about it and likely not even that latter part you dry information seeking travellers of the web! – unless you are one of my subscribers who perhaps long forgot what it was they signed up to in the first place. I wish I could tell you but I am only the writer of all this.

Well, some dry synopsis then. Martin Rohde is married to his job but then that is another definition of a vocation – he is having a part-time affair with his wife and sometimes baby-sits his children. The criminals he seeks and sometimes catches are better known to him than his own sons and daughters whose many mile-stones more often than not will pass him by.

The Bridge Saga Noren & Martin RohdeAnd Saga his Swedish counterpart is not even having an affair with a husband. Her job is as devoted to her as she is to it. They hardly spend any time apart.

In one scene we see her in her bra as she changes her top – she is not changing her top in her bedroom, or in anyone-else’s bedroom, she is at work. And she is not changing her top in a rest-room or any other clandestine space but at her office desk which is open-plan with only computer terminals dividing one worker from another – it is not just that this is unremarkable to Saga but it is to her colleagues too – they are used to it and her, only visiting Dane Martin feigns to hide his incredulity. Saga is an astute detective in spite of her lack of personal skills and empathy – or perhaps because of it – think an unselfconscious Monk.

Their teams have established that their victim is not one but two and will begin to wonder if the perpetrator is also not one but two, or more.

The perpetrator later identify himself/herself/themselves – trying to describe a plot whilst not spoiling it at the same time is a delicate tightrope walk we critics (even of the ‘so-called’ and ‘self-styled’ varieties) have to balance – as Truth Terrorists or TT. They come with their own website too! And with two web-addresses – one SE and one DK.

I had to see if the show’s creators had gone to the trouble of creating the websites too but the risk with typing Truth and Terrorism into the Google search engine is you are inevitably greeted with websites and articles titled surprisingly ‘The Truth about Terrorism’ and then wary in a quite reasonable and not remotely paranoid way about attracting the attention of the FBI and the intelligence services of other countries as to why it is you are searching for such information in the first place! – so Intelligence Services of whichever country if you are reading this post as well as snooping my web-browsing then you now know my Google search was a very innocent one!  My search was a fruitless one too, or rather I could not find any such site listed on page one of the Google search results – is that a new definition of invisibility – if you are listed on page two and beyond of Google search results you might as well not exist at all?! Or just that I am lazy-assed and would not know research if it slapped me hard across the face with a wet kipper…!

The Bridge

Homeless…

As it transpires the self-titled Truth Terrorists are committing their crimes – as there are many others to come beyond these decapitations – to make political points – specifically that both the Swedish and Danish crime prosecution and detective agencies will pursue some crimes more than other crimes dependent on the demography of the victim – in one episode the homeless are subject to poisoning alongside property owners and developers being kidnapped for high-ransom – making the deadly point that if a crime is committed against the underclass it is more time and effort than it is worth to investigate – the death of such people is prioritized far less than any petty crime you care to think of committed against the wealthy and powerful. Likewise such priorities are expressed by the media – it is the kidnapping of the wealthy property owner that makes the news not the serial killing of the almost invisible homeless.

The Bridge Kim Bodnia

Father and son…

An additional point is made by one of Martin’s sons – that each year far more homeless die of cold and hunger than the body count in this sick Truth Terrorist killing spree – and that this is not investigated because its perpetrators are politicians or more amorphously societal indifference. If someone is murdered in the woods and no-one witnesses it did the murder take place sort of thing…that is if a deed goes unreported on mainstream media did it not take place. Further if the victim is not sexy or cute then they are not meriting of air-time – or if the perpetrator is not obviously a cartoon villain and so not easily vilified then it is passed over for some other more inconsequential news item. Is the News Industry in the Information Business or the Entertainment Business. This question is damning not just of them but we the viewers who clearly in the main could quite happily live on a diet of gossip and tittle-tattle alone.

For the other main character in The Bridge is a tabloid journalist (funny how when I write out the word tabloid journalist the shortcut hack comes instantly to mind) Daniel Ferbe or rather his newspaper or news media in general is the main character – Daniel Ferbe one pawn of many – the term ‘useful idiot’ is applied against those who support a cause they do not fully understand but whose charisma and popularity none-the-less will still promote that same cause and sadly applies to many journalists too – except here it is The Truth Terrorists who are trying to make a useful idiot of Ferbe and his newspaper for their own criminal ends rather than the traditional arrangement where political parties do such.

The Bridge

…the journalist…

Paradoxically the Truth Terrorists are doing some of the investigative journalism that Ferbe and his colleagues should be doing themselves, providing him with incendiary internal policing documents – as typing this and having watched four episodes I only now have made the connection to Wiki-leaks and Julian Assange – it is not that I am slow on the uptake but that I take my time to process and percolate information – urgh! – instead of the crony journalism and lazy cheer-leading of the incumbent ruling political party that his paper usually indulges in.

We have the suspense of the Swedish and Danish detectives seeking to catch the killers, we also have the suspense of what crimes the TT will commit next and for what purpose – what crimes of society will they be looking to illustrate next by committing crimes against those crimes as they try to make an ultimate right out of multiple wrongs multiplied against multiple wrongs.

The other notable presence in The Bridge is the décor – both interior and exterior painted in shadow. Police, villains, media, all moving among the gloom – in some scenes their faces barely visible, characters distinguished instead by their shapes and their sounds. And also their smells (our imaginations filling the gap that TV technology cannot provide, yet).

Martin has a brief encounter with the perpetrator – they are inevitably masked and brutally dispatch a beating to Martin – though only to injure, almost as if he wants his pursuers alive, to continue to investigate and by doing so to continue to publicize – and I write perp but is this one man TT or one of its many hiding faces?…

A later episode has a crime committed simultaneously in Sweden and Denmark – so it must be more than one person mustn’t it? Must it? We will find out. Maybe.

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The Sarah Millican Television Program – a little bit of what you fancy

The Sarah Millican Television Program Audience shotThe Sarah Millican Television Program is TV about TV – yes Meta TV – and so this blog post to be a TV appraisal about TV appraisal – the Meta-Meter is going off the dial here! – as if said critic hoisted up their big fat lardy tv-watching ass from their oh so comfortable armchair and stepped through the screen to chance their thoughts with both a studio and TV watching audience at large.

A potential infinite loop of the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah Millican Television Program reviewing the Sarah M…

It is not quite as if Caitlin Moran or Grace Dent took their TV critic routines from their respective newspapers to the Telly Box as Sarah Millican is already a star of sorts of the TV screen – she has been a regular guest on comedy panel shows popping up on Frank Skinner’s Opinionated, Jimmy Carr’s 8 out of 10 Cats… in fact it would be quicker to list the British comedy shows over the last five odd years that she has not appeared on. She even appeared regularly for a while on Loose Women which really is no laughing matter. Some relief from its cheery banality I guess. But this show is her first where she is as they say stage-centre.

This is a Telly show about Telly but one that is not embarrassed to admit that affection and that it is a near-all-consuming one. For many a TV critic it seems TV itself  is far too low-brow and a temporary gig where they will be calling themselves a Culture Critic whilst waiting to be taken more seriously reviewing Art or even Film. Not Sarah Millican.

She begins this show by commenting

I love TV, it has taught me everything I know. I spend so much time with my TV it is like family. Take Eastenders. Eastenders has taught me many things. Turn off the baby-monitor before shagging your neighbour. And at some point we are all going to have to marry Ian Beale!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Opening Couch sequenceWhen Eastenders is not being the most watched TV show in Britain it is only because Coronation Street is being the most watched TV show in Britain  – we Brits like our Soap Operas. Perhaps this is true of all Countries – that we all love our Soap Operas more than any other format whilst at the same time all of those said shows being incomprehensible outside the country they were made in – and not just because of their native language! I understand that Coronation Street for example never took off in the USA – and indeed had to be subtitled! – last time I checked Mancunian was English! Of course I know we don’t all love our soap operas, there are likely far more that never watch them than do, but we can take that as a given that when we mean most watched what we really mean is least unwatched. Clear?!

She then comments how she uses the TV schedule to plan her day, like the One Show.

When you hear the music for the One Show you know that technically it’s okay to start drinking!

For those of you not familiar with the One Show, which is as likely to apply to those living in Britain as outside of it, it kicks off at One in the afternoon not the morning! And for those of you outside of Britain she is not meaning drinking tea! I will let Sarah Millican explain what it is about

It is a magazine show. You know, those magazines you can get that are about spiders, different types of ham and what JLS think of dry-stone walling!

In each episode of her show she will be looking at different aspects of TV viewing – previous episodes have looked at wildlife and dating programs, and yet another  costume dramas with special reference to zombies. Alas I missed that one! This episode will be looking at food and survival programs – another natural coupling!

And so on to the aforementioned main courses. Though as she explains the closest she gets to both is

Eating chips outside

She describes cookery shows as like ‘food porn’ saying that she is not really interested in the making of it just ‘the money shot at the end’! Next in her sights is Nigella Lawson where the TV camera often seems more interested in how she is shot than any meal she might happen to be preparing. Or has she more pithily describes –

Nigella is shot like an episode of CSI. Only shot from the waist up! I love those bits when she comes out in the night for a snack, like a sexy badger!

A sure sign that I watch too much TV is her next joke about Gordon Ramsay’s corrugated forehead ‘from constantly looking under the grill’ reminding me of another  joke about the Scot Chef’s washboard forehead  from Sean Lock’s  Lockipedia Live show ‘the shit that must have gone on with Gordon in his past’! Yes it is quite a specialized hinterland of comedy the comedy about Gordon Ramsay’s creased forehead that I have found myself in!

On meals for one she commented that she did not like them

Not because they make me feel lonely. I just don’t think they are big enough!

As with a lot of comedians ‘it is the way they tell’em’. I am writing her jokes down but that may not really do justice to them. Or be the point. These jokes have to be heard not read, you cannot hear the vocal inflections nor see the facial ticks, when the words are rendered cold on the page or screen. Perhaps too you need to hear her accent, its jaunty Geordie (North East England) melody. Likewise the interaction with the TV audience – the laughter, and whether uproarious or embarrassed or hesitant and the pauses in the jokes to allow for all of that too.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Olly Smith

Olly Smith

As well as her stand up comedy routine she also has guests. Her first is a Wine Expert – Olly Smith from Saturday Kitchen and Iron Chef UK who she describes as having ‘a firm body, nutty top notes and a lovely nose’!

Her opening question sets the tone for what is to follow

Olly, do you ever worry that you’re encouraging people to drink wine a bit early in the day?

A few questions later she asks him whether he prefers

To spit or to swallow

The questions in between did not depart too much from that Graham Norton vein. Despite Olly ostensibly being invited on to talk about wine she had told him early on that she did not actually like wine – unless it was sparkly – heathen!

Her humour being a playful white wine rather than the dark underbelly of a red wine.

A Sarah Millican interview is not really a dialogue rather a comedy monologue with her guest as much a victim as an equal partner but as ways to die being tickled toward it is not a bad way to go!

She ended with a joke about her being a boozing lightweight

The last time I had a pint of Shandy I went to Tescos afterwards and I was a little big giggly and I bought furniture polish and I don’t even have furniture to polish!

She then moves on to Survival programs

My phone died last week and I had to use a Pay Phone, I felt like Bear Grylls

On advice from her father following passing her driving test.

You should always have in the boot of your car at all times, a blanket, a shovel and a flask. And he’s right because whenever I’ve killed a man I’m always parched!

The Sarah Millican Television Program Charley Boorman

With Charley Boorman

Her guest for this survival part of her show is Charley Boorman as much it seems for his motorcycle adventures  in Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. He talks about one episode in Mongolia where desperate for something to eat they got themselves invited into the home of a Mongolian family and were presented with 200 testicles – we learn that they pop when you eat them! Mmm – I would have to be very hungry.

It is during this section that we also meet Sarah Millican’s dad which is also another regular part of this show. They hook up via Skype. I am not sure that this section works – it feels a bit folksy and the genial family banter not really translating out of their family home to our homes, family or otherwise.

His relevance in this section however revolves around the survival skills he taught her when she was a young child such as how to escape a burning building! Charlie Boorman when asked whether he has given any such advise to his children answers only ‘that they should get marshmallows’!

She then moves on to another comedy routine about food commercials. Commenting on the (upmarket) Marks and Spencer TV advert with sexy female voice-over ‘It’s not just chicken’ she compares to (downmarket) Aldi and suggests that they should have their own version ‘It’s not quite chicken’!

We then move on to the Great British Bake Off and her final guest Celebrity Baker Paul Hollywood which culminates in them preparing a scone-mix which leads inexorably it seems to a recreation of the Demi Moore Patrick Swayze Ghost scene not forgetting the Righteous Brothers crooning over it all – only bread-dough filling in for clay! Finding out more about Paul Hollywood (is that name for real, really?!) and by that I mean looking him up on Wikipedia I discover that before studying as a baker he studied as a sculptor. Spooky?!  Or more likely the show’s researchers also use Wikipedia! And apropos of nothing the other key fact about him it seems is that he was responsible for creating the most expensive bread in Britain, Almond and Roquefort SourDough, selling for £15 a loaf at Harrods – now you know, whether you wanted to or not!

The Sarah Millican Television Program with Paul Hollywood

With Paul Hollywood

Sarah Millican asks him if he were a bread what kind would he be. She states that his fellow baker on the show Mary Berry would be a sour-dough. He replies a Baguette. I mentioned Graham Norton earlier but this really is just another strain of Oo-er humour running back through Julian Clary and Les Dawson all the way back to the Carry On movies – perhaps it is Protestant humour – that necessary mix of risque and repression…she adds that she thinks she would be a Crusty Bloomer. After a while of this sort of humour every household object in eye-shot becomes a symbol of some sexual adventuring. He adds that he prefers the dough wet to dry, if it is too dry it does not work – your mind is now working over I am sure – innuendo is insidious!

The episode ends with some closing jokes.

How Soufflés are like boyfriends – you can always try again but it is annoying thinking about the time – and eggs! – you wasted on the last one!

It now seems a near pointless detail to include what time TV shows are broadcast, even on which channel they are broadcast, such are the endless ways they can be subsequently seen. But if you want to catch it when it is first broadcast, or indeed are able to, The Sarah Millican Television Program is a BBC Two broadcast, of a Thursday evening, of about thirty minutes and for a six week run.

The Sarah Millican Television Program Logo

Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia – Jonathan Meades on France

Jonathan Meades on France BBC 4 Web page imageEveryman has two countries – his own and France.

So proclaims Jonathan Meades in the opening of the opening episode of his new series.

The BBC web-page for this program describes this series as

Jonathan Meades scrutinizes the 95 per cent of France that Brits drive through and don’t notice en route to the 5 per cent that conforms to their expectation

Its opening episode ‘Fragments of an Arbitrary Encyclopaedia’ explore one of France’s regions, Lorraine, where the episode page advises

Jonathan Meades travels through Lorraine and explains why, although close to its eastern border, it has become the symbolic, or even mystical, heart of France and a stronghold of a romantic nationalism that is also expressed by such diverse means as typography, music, engineering, exquisite urbanism and, above all, a sensitivity to Germany’s proximity.

Jonathan Meades on FranceThis program was broadcast without fanfare or farewell in January and February of this year.

Jonathan Meades is not well known, even in his home country of England, even in his own home county of Wiltshire. He is an unphotographed entry in the Internet Movie Database, but perhaps that just means he is barely known to North Americans. But he does at least have an entry, so he can be said at least to exist.

They describe him as a

Caustic journalist who writes on food and several other subjects, as well as presenting television documentaries

Though oddly despite this information being pride of place in his entry it comes under the section of trivia! Most of his listed TVCV is Television that broadcasts without much ado – fame is not going to seek out someone so little interested in it.

His most recent work prior to this ‘On France’ was Off Kilter which title describes his work well. His longest and perhaps most known or I should say least unknown series was Jonathan Meades Abroad in Britain exploring Britain from the outside looking in – its stop-offs were not usually the usual ones and whose episodic titles may give you an inkling of their content – The Case of the Disappearing Architect, On the Brandwagon and Heaven: Folkwoven In England – then again perhaps they give you no inkling of the content and Mr Meades might be disappointed if they did.

Meades is a literary presenter who is more writer than presenter. It is his words that make him telegenic.

And in this first episode Meades begins by listing what this episode is not about. It is not about

springs of onions, no Dourdogne, Boules, Piaf, ooh la la, Gallic shrugs, street markets, nor check-table cloths

And before I begin this review I own that my knowledge of France does not venture too much beyond the realm of cliché. Sadly France remains unvisited to me despite country-wise being on our Eastern borders save a Channel of water and if I did visit her it would probably be with those 95% seeking Paris though not at least to confirm any expectations I may have of it. I have at least got to know Serge Gainsbourg a little deeper than his carnal duet Je t’aime – though whether Gainsbourg is quintessentially French, or quintessentially Parisian or quintessentially anything I am not sure.

And what this opening episode will be about will be established and knitted via an alphabet soup but not starting at A ending at Z but beginning and finishing with V. Perhaps because we are going on a vacation, if of sorts. Or because we will be veering via his vertiginous vocabulary V to V. Well, you figure it out!

And so to the first V. Valise. To the strains of La Marselliase – some comforting familiarity. For now.

Valise as marker in his words for War and Death and for Statehood – a suitcase both literal and symbolic then – declaiming

Everyman has two countries – his own and France

Quoting a line put into the mouth of Charlemagne from a late 19th Century play La fille de Roland, by Henri De Beugnier, who has Meades note was French himself, so a predictably chauvinistic boast. And perhaps an unpredictably chauvinistic comment about chauvinism from Meades.

Jonathan Meades on France OASExcept Jonathan Meades tell us that in his case (that really was a very subconscious pun!) it is true, sharing with us that his childhood visits to France were many and various including ‘weird sojourns with his granddad’s elderly business friends’ and that he was forever hauling a giant suitcase. That 1962 (half-a-century old as of time of broadcast) in particular was the year that France became his second country, when he arrived in a war-zone – France being in the throes of a terrorist bombing campaign led by the OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète), a secret military organization committed to keeping Algeria French. This being the year Algeria was to be granted its independence. Algeria was to become free from France if its people not free from its subsequent authoritarian government. The Arab Spring has only blown a little over this country…

When reviewing Meades it is very easy to just bask in his luxurious language and to merely repeat its mazey lines verbatim without comment save the occasional sigh of inhalation, sigh of exhalation. And perhaps that at times should be enough.

For him though the politics of Algerian Independence was of little import to his adolescent mind rather it was in his words the shameful thrill of its awful randomness…next V.

Jonathan Meades on France VallinVallin, Eugene – he was a furniture maker turned architect.

Nancy was we are advised a celebrated arts and crafts centre – Art Nouveau was favoured of Vallin’s time which genre depending on your disposition is at best reverentially revivalist at worst plagiarist.

Nancy though had its own version and took the English Arts and Craft movement as its model if a little less averse to utilizing emerging industrial technologies. This movement we are told is the  preferred style of the Caviar Left, translation Champagne Socialism.

By coincidence BBC 4 have a new series recently commenced Sex and Sensibility: The Art of  Nouveau presented by Stephen Smith who goes into much more detail, three one-hour episodes, as oppose to the several minutes that Meades passes over the subject. But Meades though voluble is nearly always concise. And has a lot of V’s to get through, here comes the next. And on to the next V.

Vaulan, Marquis de – economist and military engineer building battlements on Frances borders at a time when France was rapidly expanding – this V is not dwelt on long.

Jonathan Meades on France VaudemontOn to another V. Vaudémont – a small area of Lorraine and a place of worship or in his words

it has a tower that has a Mary on top of it!

He elaborates or continues in similar vein

A hill south of Lorraine is holy, or spiritual or mystical, one of those superstitious things anyway

He ends that it is the only hilly area for miles around which topographical prodigiousness is routinely claimed for God when in fact it actually belongs to the marvels of geological happenstance.

We spend some time with Maurice Barres one of Vaudémont’s inhabitants and politicians and described by Meades as ‘a clubbable bigot, a xenophobe steeped perhaps paradoxically in German literature’ and has ‘a Lorraine supremacist’

I am not free to think as I wish. I can live only in relation to the dead of my race. They, and my country’s soil, tell me how I should live

Meades thinks that much that he wrote was absolute tosh, but captivatingly written tosh. He notes that Barres influenced not just the gullible but an entire generation – and in him the hill was proclaimed the sacred hill of the nation.

We are advised that Joan of Arc also came from Lorraine, in nearby Domremy. And that Charles De Gaulles was a disciple of Barres too and chose to live on the border of Lorraine though on the other side of that border! Like loving the ideal of someone yet sensing even the briefest time in their presence would disappoint if not appall. Describing then from his border-vantage it has having

a melancholic emptiness where nothing changes, not the spirit, not the place

eulogizing a vapour…

Like Barres De Gaule was described as a solitary being who sought solace in the signals of nature leading Meades to conclude therefore that destiny here was a delusion prompted by

birds chatter, leaves gusting through forests naves, dappled, shafts of sunlight, raucous twigs, sprinting clouds and a multitude of furry animals scurrying nowhere in particular…

And then we look at the Lorraine Cross – a Christian Cross variant which we are reminded the Swastika was too. This Cross was a symbol for the Free French precisely because it defied this German Nationalist Imperialistic Invasion. This neighbourly violation.

This V comes to a close and next Vaugeois. Founder of ‘LAction Francais newspaper Meades lists that he is

anti-Semitic, anti-Corporatist, anti-Republican, anti-democratic, anti-Protestant, anti-Masonic, (pauses to add) goes without saying – it was Catholic and Monarchist

Meades muses on identity has a perennial concern of the far right

whose enemies are rootlessness, cosmopolitanism. A form of communitarianism which defines people by their race and inherited cultured rather than by their individuality, their aspirations, and their talents. It’s a kind of prison.

One of its street-hawkers Meades tell us was Jean Marie Le Pen subsequent leader of the French National Front and youngest ever member of the French Parliament who in turn was inspired by rabble-rouser Pierre Poujade – the deafening voice of the silent majority.

Meades proposes this eternal stance of victim is always with us, always impotent – like Philoctetes its wounds will never heal. Even those merely imagined, especially those merely imagined.

Jonathan Meades on France VedetteAnd on to Vedette –  that is the Simca Vedette – as any lover of mid 1950’s French cars needs no further explanation! Here used as a symbol of Les Trentes Glorieuses (Thirty Glorious Years)  – today an everyday phrase it was originally coined in the book of that name by economist Jean Fourastié from the late 1970’s – and described approximately the period from the liberation of France in the World War II through to the Liberation of French Women in the early 1970’s  – decades that experienced exponential industrial growth amid the rush towards modernization and va-va voom (had to get those V’s in – not a crowbar in sight!) both public and private.

We then see Meades statue-like in a French supermarket or hypermarket or megamarket you get the picture – as My Way in French or perhaps the French song it was based on Comme d’habitude, no matter, plays on its sound-system

For this economist glory relates to the spread of affluence, the triumph of consumerism, medical advances, education, improved working conditions, improved public services and so on.

I own, therefore I am.

Though ownership at least that includes and acknowledges taxation – a visceral verbal volley usually hissed from the individualists, the delusional individualists against taxes – there is no such thing as individuals – we are all social beings, inescapably so, and all the stronger and more diverse and, perhaps paradoxically, the freer for our endless interdependence.

I am happier and healthier now that I drive a Simca Vedette and have plenty of plenty, the state is no longer solely an ideal to which I bear quasi-religious fealty and adolescent resentment. It is also a supplier with which I enjoy a near commercial relationship in exchange for my taxes. My heavy taxes.

Glory then in an economic ideal not a nationalistic one of soil and pomp with vaunting exhortations to patriotism

Just as well Meades notes as this was a quite inglorious time for France.

Though as an side is this not the way of history? – it is that nostalgia thing again – we experience always our national life has anxious and disappointing and inglorious, it is only when it becomes past with the increasing distance of space and time that its ingloriousness sheds its first syllable –  embellished by unreliable memory and variously motivated cherry picking.

Back to Meades. France, both at home and its (colonial) abroad, specifically its military forays which as Meade succinctly calls it

France played 4 lost 4.

Surrender becoming habit forming and we are now given another language lesson this time a list of German words that have invaded and or been integrated into the French language.

Jonathan Meades on France VerdunAnd on to Verdun

Starting with  a song Verdun by Michel Sordou over footage of this World War One battle.

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A battle in 1916 that claimed 300,000 lives. It is to France as to what the Somme is to Britain. But whereas the Edwin Lutyens Monument  to the Missing of the Battle of Somme remembers it in an architecturally appropriate way the architecture commemorating Verdun Meades thinks does not . This being the Douaumont ossuary. Not that it is frivolous but that it lacks solemnity, lacks gravity. It is the architecture of pleasure placed in a cemetery, inimical to meditative remembrance – the architects lacked the nerve to address the awful purpose of the monument , they made light of it, a 140 metre long betrayal of the dead.

They were also victims of the Modernist Century’s incapacity to devise a commemorative mode Meades adds and that no century ever needed one more.

Verlaine – Paul not Tom.  And his ode to Metz. Site of an earlier military surrender from 1870 – the invader again Germany and as before we looked at how language was invaded too this time we look at architectural invasion. Such as the Metz station – described by one critic memorably as an immense squat meat-pie!.

Further time is spend looking at renovations of existing buildings to rewrite history and render them Teutonic.

Jonathan Meades on France Metz VerlaineVersailles – and back to 1962 and Jean Bastien-Thiry who attempted to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle and which spawned a book The Day of The Jackal  in 1971 by Frederick Forsyth and a few years later a film by Fred Zinneman starring Edward Fox and we are going off track. Back again then to 1962 and the failed assassination attempt and as much of note was his trial (also for treason) was that the General to preside over it killed himself rather than sit in judgement and the firing squad tried to miss the target, that is Bastien-Thiry!, taking half an hour to eventually kill him – because perhaps he used to be one of them, the French Military Establishment that is, having served in their air-force. He was the last person to be killed by firing squad in France. And why Versailles? This was the location of the cemetery he was buried in which tombstone now has an annual ceremony and remembrance of sorts as attended by his fellow surviving outcasts and which routinely prompts protests. As heroes and villains are often the same person.

Jonathan Meades on France StrasbourgVexatious litigants – and Strasbourg  and the location of the European Court of Human Rights – its building is disparaged for its architecture and then for its purpose.

The latter explained away has a Court of Special Pleading and that we are showered at birth with the promise of potential entitlements and should those entitlements not be fulfilled we can come here and complain and so line the pockets of the pious shysters of the Human Rights Industry!

And the architecture is described as being indistinguishable from buildings on the Polish-Lithuanian border, a comment only helpful if you are familiar with the architecture of the Polish-Lithuanian border!

Multiculturalism in the name of diversity is the next to find itself under the sun-glassed gaze of Jonathan Meades – and this one is a vituperative verbal volley – brace yourselves!

the constant injunction to celebrate vibrant diversity is moronic. It is shared qualities that should be appreciated. To emphasize differences merely consigns people to their background, to where they’ve come from, to their tribe, their caste, their religion. It creates ghettos.

France’s regionalism is then addressed. He notes that it is exacerbated by its absorption of its many bordered countries – Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

What is noticeable he then observes is the absence of reciprocity – these countries do not absorb France as France absorbs them. Universalism in his words does not travel!

By way of example and a dig at German cuisine – what do you call good German cooking? You call it Alsacian cooking. Alsace enjoys a reputation as the most gastronomic region of France, arguably the most gastronomic country on earth. But noting the dishes themselves are all originally German but Francofied… Alsace though a border region with perhaps inevitable ambiguous loyalties to both France and its border boarder Germany.

And another French region, another V – Vichy.

Cue old British Empire-style war footage with a plummy English accent voiceover describing Pierre Laval, French Prime Minister during wartime, second world wartime, and who had to negotiate with Germany whilst his nation vanquished by them, and being described by said plummy voice as being in the habit of eating Frogs and thus making him technically a cannibal – casual cringing racist diplomatic humour!

Most French Meades advise were neither collaborator or resistance  rather at varying degrees between those two outer poles but the extremes having greater story value to history prevail. He notes though how its war criminals stealthily changed sides and suits and rose through the peacetime political ranks. And that though subsequent generations of Germans have expressed much shame for the culpability of their ancestors subsequent generations of France’s citizens have expressed no such shame for their collaborative role. Rather it was but another episode in France’s interminable civil war – right against left, monarchism against republicanism, catholic against an alliance of masons, protestants and secularists – the aforementioned AOS we are advised included both former collaborators and resistance fighters – men who had been deported to Dachau, men who had deported them.

Vienna! – the baguette is not French! You may have guessed then that it was introduced to Paris from Vienna in 1830.

Vietminh – not to be confused with Vietnam – though they were of that country and set up to establish independence from France – and during World War 2 against Japan too. And this Meades tale is about Georges Boudarel, a French teacher in Saigon who in 1950 defected to the Vietminh soon to become a war-criminal being responsible for the death of 300 or so of his compatriots. Reminding that the heart of darkness is not a geographical place but the darkness of the heart. He was sentenced to death in-absentia. And later recognized in Paris by one of his surviving victims was tried non absentia – in the interim he had been living in France having embarked on a university career as an  historian, revising his own history too, put on trials for crimes against humanity and now defended by his academic colleagues in the name of colonial revisionism. He was freed under the terms of an amnesty. This was a common French fate for colonial misadventurers. And veer off again to another v.

Visionary Visionaries – we see a ticker-tape pictorial parade of those so selected – Andre Godin, Le Corbusier,  Pascal Hausermann and Claude Nicolas Ledoux, to the sound of I Close the Door Upon Myself by Susumu Yokota.

He then elaborates a little or a lot as his fancy takes on each.

We first cut to Ledoux and his salt-works – a utopian salt works! Described memorably by Meades – though Meades has so much that is memorable that by virtue of its quantity it becomes unmemorable! – as exhilaratingly sullen.

He talks of the talking architecture – Architecure Parlante – giving Meades play to riff on model examples such as

a public toilet in the form of a syringe, a new house of commons in the form of a suitcase of money or cash dispenser, ‘that sort of thing’!

Jonathan Meades on France Le CorbusierOn to Le Corbusier described as a Swiss peasant who according to Meades wanted to be a French genius, a cultural colonialist and these the more flattering terms he has for him!. His works are treated more favorably – buildings that use machines but do not worship them. Described as

plastic, expressive with deliberately rough edges. Purity of form is suppressed, impurity of form is more interesting.  The meeting point of France and the Future.

In his second country Meade declares the future had already arrived. Or rather a future had already arrived. One that looked like it had suffered multiple amputations! But one at least that the French had a share in, not imposed from without. The future existed in the present.

Jonathan Meades on France HausermannOn to Hausermann – also Swiss – and Meades then reminds that many from Switzerland are mistaken for being French listing Rousseau, Godin and others before deliberately trailing off as a long list. Like many Scots who are thought by non-Brits as English but I veer. And what did Hausermann do? It was he that created the architecture of that French future now!

On to the next V.

Vitrine – the arrival of white Goods to France and seemingly endless household gadgets or rather appliances.

Jonathan Meades on France VitrineCar colours expanded – there was a time when every other colour was Cobalt Blue

somewhere between the colour of Gitanes and the colour of Gauloises! Two of the country’s predominant scents!, along with urine, sewers, two-stroke fuel!

Jonathan Meades on France MistralMeades then veers to typefaces and that they are as much logos charged with political regionalistic significance as functional fonts and we arrive at Roger Excoffon and Script Fonts. Script fonts are based on hand-writing and Excoffon devised a script font based  on his own handwriting – Mistral – the real inspiration being that each letter alongside any other letter appears joined up – any word comprising them appears legible yet any letter detached from the word can appear illegible – the letters work as words not as letters! Each part of each letter has a universal joint.

We then look at the Choc typeface which takes this legibility to the very limits of almost-scrawl!

Mistral is now a common place on shop-fronts and menus.

Voltaire – finally a V I have more than passing familiarity with! And back to Nancy – the city that most physically embodies the enlightenment.  Meades first reminds of Stanislovas Leščinskis, King of Poland, amongst other royal titles, and patron of many of these enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and also Montesquieu and Emile du Châtelet.

This king was described by Meadesas an epicurean philosopher and counseled happiness, optimism, virtuous hedonism, philanthropy, good fellowship, and self-regard.

Nancy was described as his greatest work – a Versailles for the people.

Jonathan Meades on France Voltaire

This statue of the Polish king is improved by the long-distance view. Up close you'll see a pigeon-poo tear-stain running down his cheek!

We spend time looking at his main commissioning architect Emmanuel Héré de Corny and his various creations described by Meades as ‘vectors of happiness’.

He notes his architecture was dated even before the final stone was laid – by at least half a century indeed – and, ‘so what’ – the worth of art he contends is not about novelty and being ahead of the game.

To the penultimate V – Vosges – a  vineyard rural area – this one included not so much for its place in French life and its history but in Meade’s own memory, charged childhood nostalgia – such as Nonagenarian great-grandmother and her seventy year old daughter who cooked a dinner of him of hare

telling him that this was the house that she had been born, and from which she had never moved, yet she had changed nationality four times, French, German, French, German, French. She told it to him without rancor it was merely what had happened to her. She hoped to die French. She did.

La Valise ou le cerceuil and we are back to that suitcase again.

This time, to the statement everyman has two countries, his own and France he answers ‘Wrong’.

Some men have no country – has in the aforesaid displaced Algerians – as this v fully translates as ‘The suitcase or the coffin, expatriation or death – hundreds of thousands left Algeria, hundreds of thousands were murdered. The authors of this overlooked genocide he advises were the terrorists of the FLN (National Liberation Front) and their new friend Charles De Galle.

The program now vanishes. This post vaporizes too.

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter?

Books: The Last Chapter?With the rise of electronic books is the final chapter about to be written in the long love story between books and their readers?

So asked Books: The Last Chapter? –  the questioning title of a seventy-minute episode of the BBC 2 series Imagine from December of last year, posed by the program’s human incarnation Alan Yentob. Adding

Will the app take the place of the book?

Anecdotally both my sister and her husband bought Kindles for each other’s Christmas 2011 present and both loved them and both are forty-somethings and if not technophobic then certainly technoskeptic. And well as we know there is no evidence quite as compelling as anecdotal evidence.

Books: The Last Chapter? Imagine - web pageImagine is the BBC’s flagship Art series – I think that means it is expected to aim for a viewing figure at least comparable to a midweek midnight episode of a British Bowling regional meet – Art Programs for Art Programs sake. Imagine was I presume the BBC’s alternative – or complement as we are civil Arts types after all – to ITV’s South Bank Show the brainchild/lovechild of the ubiquitous Melvyn Bragg. Or it was until that show and or Melvyn Bragg were axed with its final broadcast in December 2009. Channel 4 have plenty of shows about classic and contemporary artists but perhaps surprisingly no regular series devoted to it. A gap in the market perhaps. And Channel 5 – be serious!

I am sure I read somewhere that the real name of Imagine’s presenter (and creator/writer/producer) Alan Yentob is Alan Botney but that he reversed his last name to make it sound more exotic! But now wonder whether this might be one of those urban-myths propagated pub-to-pub as afterall if your first name is the modest-sounding Alan I would think you should be going the whole-hog and reversing both names – Nala Yentob certainly sounds exotic – if perhaps to these ears female. Moving on!

The program starts with examples of analog technology – a crackling vinyl copy of David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, a film camera, a land-line telephone, even a letter! before cutting back to Alan Yentob with iPhone in hand – commenting that

Technology expands the mind but shrinks the world

and

Making things that were once pleasurably different more or less the same

He portends that books are to be next with the profoundest change since Guthenberg as they ‘become consigned to the dustbin of history’!

Books: The Last Chapter? First book...We then get a potted history of the book. We start before the printing press, before even the physical object of a book, in the form of a scroll. A very long scroll. A second century AD roll of Homer’s The Iliad housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. Then we move forward three centuries to a very early example of a physical prototype of the modern day book in the antique form of Eusebius’ Chronicles.

A book very much more convenient to hold and to read than the scroll it was to replace but for all that still only marginally more accessible as this book was literally the ‘one and only’ of its kind. Mass production of copies was not yet upon us. Nor indeed was typography. These original books were all hand-written.

Books: The Last Chapter? CaxtonUntil William Caxton. With him appears the first book published and mass produced in the English language.

This technology propelling the producing and publishing of ever greater volumes of books in ever shorter periods of time. All the way to the modern day. With books at the digital threshold or precipice. Which is what this program will then take its remaining time expounding on.

Books: The Last Chapter? - Alan Bennett Uncommon ReaderWe are at the here and now and the here being at a book reading by Alan Bennett of his The Uncommon Reader.

Alan Yentob then remarks that

we made books and books made us

It is not yet clear to me how the aunt and uncle of an analogue book is able to shape us where the niece and nephew of the digital book with same content just different form will not be able to make us also. Let us hope this program is more than a curmudgeon’s moaning about the passing of all things.

This program takes some curious detours in its narrative. We are advised that books are 99% water 1% fibre so that like their readers they are organic too!

Books: The Last Chapter? Moma Book SmellingWe then detour further from the reading of books to the smelling of books – yes you read that right! – this might sound like some surreptitious sniffing activity undercover of darkness but no there are people who do this and get paid for doing so. We meet one, librarian Rachael Morrison of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She records her verdicts of the books she samples and smells into a ledger. I write samples but in fact she at one time or another smells each and everyone of the library’s books, each and every three-hundred thousand of them! Olfactory overload!

Her comments are in the same spirit as a professional perfume-smeller or wine-taster. And the prose as purple. There is a ledger column for ‘Olfactory Essence’ –  and entries such as ‘burnt Tortilla’ (for The Order of Things by Michel Foucault!) and get this ‘a hug with an elderly relative’ – this ledger it seems is worthy of publication in itself or at least as pretensions of.

She explains this last entry with the quite subjective experience that her parents usually wear and smell of wool (I was not even aware that wool had a smell, I guess I just have a base olfactory system!) and that her grandfather smokes and the way that his smokes sticks to his woollen clothes! For this librarian at least it is not just the physical tactile nature of a book that no digital version can provide but also its very peculiar aroma. During this curious sequence it was never asked why the Museum of Modern Art felt the need to take note of the smells of individual books let alone studiously record them. Was this something particular to MOMA I mused or standard practice of all libraries?!

Alan Yentob himself then mused that there might be a special Smell App for all those book-readers who find themselves seduced to read The Importance of Being Earnest on a Kindle or Nook but nostalgically miss its literal (as oppose to literary!) pungency.

He then alludes to Apps again as

a bland little word like Tweet, Blog and Search that are all quietly changing our world

Books: The Last Chapter? The ElementsAnd by way of ‘is it a book, is it an app’ we move onto The Elements by Theodore Gray. Formerly a glossy coffee-table book it has now become a content-rich multimedia application which since its application incarnation inception eighteen months ago has seen sales of over a quarter-of-a-million copies – nothing to smell here he notes except the ‘sweet smell of success’. Ta da!

Books: The Last Chapter? Theodore GrayAnd so Imagine – Books: The Next Chapter? As we then meet its publishers (or perhaps producers) Touch Press whose speciality is in touch screen versions of  books such as The Elements. The company was established by a former TV producer (Max Whitby) and a scientist (Stephen Wolfram) and by the aforementioned author Theodore Gray among other illustrious founders and we see them in a development meeting with author – and again do the usual descriptions break down here? content producer? Multi-media magician?! – Simon Winchester. They are discussing his latest app Skulls, this one specifically for the iPad. Simon Winchester is there in the meeting or rather he is ‘there’ – being as he is a disembodied video head on a laptop screen – quite fitting of course.

Theodore Gray clearly has no attachment sentimental or otherwise to the printed book – referring to its readers as ‘fetishisers of the printed page’ (well really!) – and adding that

it’s kinda annoying to have to hold the book open!

Speaking as someone who owns and reads books on an iPad I can tell you the paperback, even a hard-back Russian novel, is kinder on the wrists!

All this tiresome physical interaction with the external world. A future of cerebral interaction only where Megamind’s flourish, our craniums expanding as our limbs and torso diminish…

The program then explores the current publishing model in more detail. It is noted that a publisher is focused on getting books on shop bookshelves. The author of books should not be impacted too much by the ‘digital switchover’ but those involved in its physical manufacturer distribution and sale most certainly will be. And indeed already are. Most notably and iconically the book shop.

Books: The Last Chapter?And not just to paraphrase the You’ve Got Mail universe where the Kathleen Kelly small book shop resists succumbing to the Joe Fox corporate chain of books but where both are at the mercy of the online retail behemoths, most notably Amazon, laying the likes of Borders and many other casualties in their inexorable wake.

Publishing consultant – when there are more consultants than there are professionals they are consulting on you know an industry is in trouble – Mike Shatzkin notes that we are a literal crossroads as five years ago most book sales were in store whereas five years from now most will be online, though he notes that that does not mean online sales are only digital as with Amazon itself hard and paper back sales still match those of their Kindle equivalents. For now.

Most bookstores we are reminded are limited by their physical space, whereas an online store is usually a portal to a global distribution network – all that you could want, all that you could need.

Books: The Last Chapter?

The program then cuts to a meeting with the old guard of the book industry – agents and publishers – as they discuss where they find themselves currently and where they are likely heading within the next decade.

Generation Y gets ifs first mention – also known as the Millennial Generation – those born after Generation X and vaguely dated as being born some time in the last quarter of the last century – as those who consume (I hate that word – not even food should be consumed) near three-quarters of their textual information (another urghh phrase!) online. They note that the three main publishers in ten years time for books are not going to be Penguin, Harper Collins and Faber & Faber but Google, Amazon and Apple.

Concern is then expressed about the discovery of new literature for readers asking that with no face-to-face local presence of book stores are we are all then just cast adrift in a sea of information, where finding books becomes evermore hit and miss?

I am not so sure about that. One of the notable aspects of buying a book on Amazon or other online stores is the review process, more specifically the feedback of previous readers. Their own reviews can provide a more informed and authentic review of a book than the more usual hype of the publishers and their cherry-picked favourable reviews? And the algorithms they employ which suggest that as you recently bought this you may like this are pretty impressive I have to concede no matter how complicated and difficult to understand I like to consider myself!

We then come to the issue of copyright and whether all digital information will become free or should become free – inevitable allusions to Napster are quickly made. If you live in a country with Libraries like Great Britain then to an extent, a tax-subsidized extent, books have always been free. Will this be their digital destiny too? Will there be a Spotify for books for that matter, that allows us to read (stream) books freely for a limited period of time funded by relevant targeted and or irritating advertising?

But will that itself become an academic desire as the very concept of digital ownership fading cost to zero establishes itself? Another way to say that books will become worthless? At least economically. Worthless perhaps but not valueless. The program itself wonders what we will pay for if not content. It proposes this will be context and community. Not entirely convincingly I thought. The suggestion was that an author will be paid to read their work in person or that readers will subscribe for them to discuss their work as they go – I like this idea but not quite buying that an author needs to ‘turn up on the page’ – their writing should be speaking for itself and we the reader will take from it what we will based on our own experiences and beliefs – I am not sure either author or reader would want this extra if you like meta-story on the page.

Books: The Last Chapter? Gary ShteyngartWe now switch sides as it were. Following the digital reading utopia of Theodore Gray we now go to the digital reading dystopia of Gary Shteyngart and his book Super Sad True Love Story referred by Alan Yentob as working on his new novel in upstate New York

far from the tweeting crowd

Another grand comparison was made to EM Forster’s ‘only connect’ plea from his 1910 novel Howard’s End

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

where his plea is ‘only disconnect’. Shteyngart makes great play of being off the digital grid, forced free from the ever widening deepening web. Though disappointingly for me when I googled him I noted he had a Facebook page – well who knows perhaps it was an impostor account – I wonder if I will ever be famous enough to have impostor social media accounts!

He talks of ‘the party in your pocket’ of your smart-phone that is

binging and pinging and clinging and singing and dinging

But not ringing! I noted though he did have a Television – so a selective disengagement or perhaps just a slow weening. Like in turn those who make great play of not having a TV in their homes – so what do you do with your evenings? Oh, you know, we listen to the radio!

He thinks in generalisations which makes him entertaining if not always insightful demurring that ‘we live in a culture where youth is the only thing that is important’.

He is quick to add though that he is not against progress rather its speed. Though at the risk of speaking in generalisations myself I don’t think we can equate all progress as positive or negative. Whatever works. For us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Institute for Future of BooksNext we are introduced to someone from the Institute for the Future of the Book – yes, really! – its co-founder and director Bob Stein and back on the other side of the digital divide. His line was it is the message we should seek to preserve not fuss overmuch over whatever medium happens to be carrying it at any given time, at any given place – the book just a mechanism for the transmission of ideas – so to get hung-up on any one particular format is silly and obstructs us from grasping all the other exciting formats available for its propagation.

The program then puts forward the view that the digital format takes books from the private to the public, from an intimate one-to-one with a paperback to a shared digital experience – we can read a book together and annotate and comment on it together. I guess! Whereas our highlighting of passages in books is for own benefit only (leaving aside striving to impress (upon) others that we may want to lend the book too!) – with a Kindle for example all of our individual highlighting is recorded and stored in Amazon’s database so that we can see the most commonly highlighted phrases of any particular book of interest to us.

Books: The Last Chapter? Marshall McLuhanWe then arrive at McLuhan. Marshall McLuhan. Of the Medium is the Message. Primarily he was referring to Television as against its predecessor of the mass-printed and mass-circulated word but the program suggests that digital technology and the world wide web is even more revolutionary. The program discusses the overload of information. Its overwhelming force and presence. It is commented that in this context the word becomes more emotional and collective where on the paper page it remains more solitary and analytical.

Books: The Last Chapter? Douglas CouplandSwiftly we move on – or back – to Generation X and its Canadian author (and visual artist) and proponent Douglas Coupland.

Books: The Last Chapter? Coupland Twelve StatementsHe thinks that McLuhan’s medium is the message is now more prescient with the web than with TV too. He then comments that human attention span is now the length of one Beatle song – dating himself as very much of Gen X by so doing! – and that the Web even perhaps unintentionally panders to this in a way that the analogue world of books and vinyl never could. It is much easier on the web for us to flit about from one  object of interest to another – very easy for you dear reader to have left/fled this piece many many words back! He casually throws in that Artificial Intelligence is not ‘ever just beyond the blue horizon’ – well he did not quite say this but I am paraphrasing! – but already with us – the web our collective memory, presence, consciousness. Where does it end and we begin, where do we end and it begins…

Remembering too though that Marshall McLuhan did not approve of these changes – he saw TV as the enemy even in its black and white infancy broadcasting a handful of channels only.

We now find ourselves in San Francisco and to meet an entrepreneur and inventor and who is like an anti-McLuhan. And who believes

that friends are electric

We now hear inevitably Tubeway Army.

Books: The Last Chapter Brewster KahleAnd this is Brewster Kahle founder and digital librarian of The Internet Archive – whose mission is to scan every book that has ever existed and make them free to all comers on the web – subject to copyright. Unlike Google who also do this they seek to preserve the original ink too – an analogue back up. Alan Yentob prior to meeting him ponders what book to bring for the man who likely has every book there is to have and decides on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which books burns – as an appropriate choice as it describes a world where books are banned and burned and an underground establishing itself to preserve them as heart-learnt human memories – though I am assuming such a book would already be in such an archive but it makes a good poetic point for the program.

Kahle likes the gifted Ray Bradbury book though comments it is not the burning of books but the proliferation of books and information that is a greater problem. Adding too that we become the books we read – how we invest in them emotionally, intellectually, and how we can then recite them back. He then plays a game of ‘if we could be any book what would it be’. He himself thinks he would be either Euclid’s Elements or Ben Franklin’s Autobiography – so not committing to one then! Alan Yentob thinks he would be Voltaire’s Candide. I am not going to play along though – I cannot be constrained and described by any one book – urgh!

Books - The Last Chapter? Internet Digital ArchivesThe building use to be a Christian Science temple which I only note as we are shown a part of this Digital Archive where we see clay figures sitting in temple pews. And who are these figures? Everyone who has ever worked at the archive or is still working for five or more years! Imagine that as an incentive to stay with a company! In the very same room are all the digital servers stacked up to the church ceilings each blue bleep a digital download or upload of a book (and audio and video) somewhere in the world. Millions of books ‘up there’, ‘in the cloud’.

What will tomorrow’s cloud be the program then wonders. How much more of us, of humanity will be existing digitally, ethereally in some San Franciscan server?! How much of us will remain on earth in analogue, not digitally stored and cloned in the buzzing ether?

Finally or perhaps by way of a nostalgic post-script we are taken to a cyber-cafe on its premises where alongside drinking your simmering caffeine concoction an analogue book can be printed off of any contained in their vast digital archive – taking as long to print off as your coffee takes to brew. The program ends with Alan Yentob drinking an Expresso while reading a freshly pressed copy of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Books: The Last Chapter?The show ends with the disclaimer that no books were harmed in the making of this program!

Imagine – Books: The Last Chapter? dispenses with a traditional beginning middle and an end. This story rambles. Its tale is inconclusive. The current chapter still being written. There is no The End. Perhaps it is a post-modern tale but perhaps too the same as it ever was. Story never-ending.

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Bees Butterflies and Blooms – the quiet catastrophe

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Villages Farms Countryside… the loss of Britain’s wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at around 98 per cent. Have we lost our connection with the wildflowers and habitats that were once so common and supported our pollinators?

So asks Bees, Butterflies and Blooms a new three-part gardening and conservation series from the BBC currently being broadcast Wednesday nights at 8pm on BBC 2 – well first being broadcast anyway and then subject to the usual re-viewing opportunities.

Its presenter Sarah Raven according to the program’s website ‘is on a mission to halt the decline in honey bees and insect pollinators with insect friendly flower power’. Sarah Raven is also a writer and gardener and has her own professional business Online Garden and Kitchen Shop.

When I first checked this on the BBC iPlayer I also saw a program Bullets, Boots and Bandages – the BBC are going in for alliteration I noted and letter B alliteration at that – are they like each subsequent series of the erudition-and-beyond QI (one of many laid eggs from Stephen Fry) going to be working their way doggedly through the alphabet toward this end. I am looking forward anyway to the long overdue Beer Bicycles and Belfries.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Presenter Sarah RavenBack to Bees Butterflies and Blooms. Sarah Raven is aiming to halt this aforementioned depletion in insect pollinators using Flower Power – by bringing flowers back into our British towns, cities and countryside. And this series sets out a crisis and quite an apocalyptic one at that. Sarah Raven describes it as a ‘quiet catastrophe’ – while we are busy going about our increasingly urban lives our farmlands and other rural-scapes have been transformed into soulless food factories producing ever-more efficient food stuffs but of increasingly uniform nature leaving our bees and other pollinating insects increasingly vulnerable to pesticides and parasites.

In Britain alone the loss of wildflower meadows and grasslands is estimated at a startling 98%. The loss of pollinating insects to extinction would be heart-rending enough but it has even deeper implications than that as it threatens our very food supply such is their integral part in its process.

The opening episode is titled ‘Villages Farms and Countrysides’ as it is in the ‘country’ that her campaign to reverse this decline will commence. The BBC iPlayer guide for this episode informs us that she hopes ‘to encourage farmers and village communities to help recreate a network of crucial habitats for struggling bees, butterflies and insect pollinators’. To this end she visits a village called Creaton in Northamptonshire – they will be her pilot as she seeks to convert the countrysides horticultural practices one village at a time. She breezily advises us that

if we can get Brits planting pollen and nectar rich plants throughout the country together we can get Britain buzzing again.

And she starts in the countryside because, surprisingly to me at least, this problem is less pronounced in our towns and cities. We see her in a field, a productive (being the keyword here) habitat of food but also a ‘wildlife desert’ as due to pesticides it is bereft of wildflowers and weeds the very life of our insect pollinating population.

She then demonstrates the effect of this on our everyday eating and diet by visiting a supermarket and filling up a shopping basket with food for a standard British breakfast – no not a half-eaten banana and a few swigs of coffee! – fresh fruit as well as fruit-juice and smoothies, jam, yoghurt, even coffee and chocolate (bees pollinate the respective Coffee and Cocoa beans) and then removing all the insect-pollinated items – all that was left was the wind pollinated food stuffs – wheat, oat – leaving us just with porridge and bread – this is the fate that lies in store for a British breakfast – a Scottish breakfast!  Cue the ever-young strains of Big Yellow Taxi as Joni Mitchell coos its one of many sage lines

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms CreatonSarah Raven’s next call is her first to Creaton – chosen not because it is as typical as any other British village but because of all the villages in Britain it is the one with the largest depletion of pollinating insects – it is in its village-greens, verges and even church-yards where the wild-life has been mown and tidied out of existence. Sarah Raven is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about the subject – as she wanders through a Creaton church-yard with the head of the Parish and other parishioners in pursuit she lists off all and sundry wild-flowers that she casts her eye upon – the rest of her troupe, not very convincingly I thought, nodding their heads in agreement. I was nodding my head too, and I was watching alone!

We then get some history – back near-seventy-years to the end of the second world war and the modernising of food production – meaning taking small-scale agriculture and making it large-scale industrial. Part of this meant creating ever larger fields by removing the previously connecting hedgerows. And it is in these hedgerows and the verges of land adjoining them that the insect pollinators use to live and flourish.

We get some science too. Being advised that it is not just the lack of pollen-producing wildflowers but the lack of diversity in them too – bees for example requiring a variety of flowers to build up their immune system. Professor Simon Potts  (of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science at the University of Reading) explains the symbiotic relationship – a greater diversity of wild flowers a greater diversity of bees, a greater diversity of bees a greater diversity of wild flowers.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Council MeetingWe return to Creaton and a parish council meeting. We are first shown sepia photographs of the village at the early part of the twentieth century with naturally wild village greens and Sarah Raven asking us and them if they will ‘re-embrace its wild-side’! The parish council require more convincing than that and consider a  tie-in with the UN 2010 Year of Biodiversity  – when this series was initially filmed – and creating a pause in their progress – for further consultation must now be had! Meetings about meetings comes to mind.

The program then cuts away to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserve in Dungeness, Kent and Doctor Nikki Gammans of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust . We discover that there are now 25 species remaining, 2 of which are now extinct and a further 7 now endangered. Dr Gammans speaks also of a symbiotic relationship – between farmers and bees – as the farmers help the bees to thrive the bees in turn help the farmers produce richer crops.

We are then given another stat – an estimated 84% of our crops in Europe are dependent on insect-pollinators and especially bees and without this our food chain could collapse.

We are then advised of our role in re-establishing bees in our national life. We are encouraged to collect wild-flower seeds for our own domesticated gardens. Though there is perhaps a rub – that it is assumed we all have homes with gardens. I myself live in a first floor flat with not even a balcony to lay out some seed trays for. And as much as I love bumble-bees, not quite to the extent that I want them living unconstrained about my home. But I digress.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsWe then spend some time in Sarah Raven’s undomesticated garden. We see her cleaning the wild flower seeds by dividing them from their petals – this is not quite my hope for a wild garden – rather untended growth while said wild gardener heads indoors for a more sedentary urban pursuit like a hot cup of tea and even hotter game of scrabble on his iPad while the Lesser Knapweed and St John’s Wort are left to get on with it. While Sarah Raven is cleaning these seeds we learn by way of some nature and nurture that her father was a botanist and an artist combining both loves in wildflower illustrations.

We then revisit Creaton in September to catch up on progress or even if there has been any progress. If you consider meetings about doing things but not actually doing those things has progress then there has been progress. So Sarah Raven then seeks parishioner persuasion with a people-pestering-paper-petition (see I can do uncontrived alliteration too, well okay then contrived alliteration). Most of the parishioners seemed more than happy to sign this petition if perhaps succumbing to the seductive persuasiveness of a BBC camera crew lurking just outside of their eye-shot.

Bees, Butterflies and BloomsHaving successfully gathered and armed themselves with seeming sufficient signatures it was expressed that they could sympathise with the hitherto reluctance. Mmm – you would think the building of dens of iniquity were being proposed for their village rather than a verge of wild-flowers on their village green and little-seen church-yard back-waters. The invasion of the flowery margins!

A Northamptonshire farming family the Farringtons had also been brought on board. The head-farmer Duncan Farrington in particular requires far less cajoling to see both the ecological and economical benefits of re-introducing strips of wild flowers alongside his main crop of arable fields.

As noted Sarah Raven is leading by example and we see her commencing the sewing of her wild-garden in Autumn – this being the optimum time for both annuals and perennials to be sewn – I can see you all nodding your heads in a pretence of understanding you urban lot!

The final quarter of this opening episode jumps forward to May 2011 allowing us to see the progress of the various wild flower projects. The farmer’s field will need a second year for the perennial flowers to establish themselves against the hardy arable weeds. The Creaton village did eventually decide to commence with their project with the tiny baby steps of an area of the village-green being allowed to go wild and native.

The head of the parish council is then called on for his reading on proceedings to date. He shares that a lot of the villagers ‘quite like it’ – an underwhelming sort of endorsement if ever there was one! – and just for good measure adding ‘that there are other’s not so favourable’! Against that though they have instigated a project to increase wild-flower growth in the villagers own gardens as part of a new group ‘Natural Creaton’

Remembering too that Creaton is the program’s pilot and that Sarah Raven is wanting every village in the UK to follow suit – tiny steps indeed.

In the second episode Towns Gardens and Britain in Bloom she will be taking this challenge to our towns and cities and asking that the Britain in Bloom Competition, the UK Garden Industry and Royal Horticultural Society join her in this endeavour. I look forward to seeing how she gets on. And am hopeful that her cause blossoms with this BBC broadcast – sorry but an irresistible pun should not be resisted.

Bees, Butterflies and Blooms Closing credits

The Jelly Fox – Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy E4 LogoLike Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger recreating The Jungle Book. Or a William Blake inspired party-time.

Noel Fielding's Luxury ComedySo describes the associated web-page for Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy from production company Secret Peter showing on E4, the new comedy from one half of The Mighty Boosh, the eponymous Noel Fielding, but though the other Boosher, Julian Barratt, is absent the spirit of Boosh is still very much at play.

Not just its spirit though but also some of the Boosh actors. Michael Fielding (is he more than a name-sake to Noel I wonder?!) who played Naboo turns up here as Noel’s anteater butler – yes you read that right! And Rich Fulcher who played Bob Fossil turns up as William Jessop celebrating his one hundredth birthday and being visited by the ghost of a flea. This may start to give you a feel for what this Luxury Comedy is about – or not.

We are warned that it contains adult humour – in the UK that means only suitable for those over 18 – if you are 17 and British sorry but then this is not for you! Though this show may well not be for you however old you might be – more of that later. It may just as well have warned us that it contains childish humour and that if you are serious-minded-adult-type to watch at your peril.  For Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is for the child in all of us, if, that is, your inner child was expelled from Kindergarten…

Incidentally to establish that you are indeed eighteen and beyond, Channel 4 make the serious demand of you that you click in a box on their online player confirming such and you are then cheerily beckoned in, not a bleary burly bludgeoning bouncer in sight. Anyone seventeen and younger will naturally be deterred by this. Okay that’s enough sarcasm.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox cast

The cast awaits you

The Luxury Comedy starts in musical fashion with the entire cast however significant however insignificant welcoming us to them and their show.

This second episode, The Jelly Fox, then cuts to Noel Fielding in black leather jumpsuit and Aladdin Sane style face-paint dancing around to a nineteen sixties rock song (I could have just said ‘the 60’s’ couldn’t I as I doubt most of you are familiar with the rock music of the 1860’s).

The rock music so alluded is from 1960’s psychedelic group Lysergic Casserole who recorded just one album which ‘no-one has ever heard of’ and described by Noel Fielding as ‘the best band ever’ but then explaining that

they disappeared having took so much LSD they got trapped in their own guitar case

And the episode proceeds from there. There is no linear way to refer to this episode as it is beyond transcription if not description. You will either get tuned in to its own particular madness or look upon it aghast and askance before tuning out toward the lesser insanity of the BBC News at 10 or James May’s Things You Need to Know – James May is very likely in fact Noel Fielding’s TV Uncle – I do not know if that is helpful or pretentious of me – or both.

We see Lysergic Casserole’s guitar-case-trip as they experience Orson Welles having a romantic dinner with a cheese-cake, and then Welles pulling a skipping rope out of his…well I will let you use your own imagination here!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy Lysergic Casserole

Lysergic Casserole – the amount of times I have spelt this wrong over the years

Their music like all the music in the show is provided by Sergio Pizzorno of British rock group Kasabian – I was sceptical when I first heard of this collaboration not thinking Kasabian’s rather masculine swaggering feet-firmly-on-the-ground music would best serve Noel Fielding’s head-in-the-clouds whimsy – Mercury Rev or Polyphonic Spree would have been more fitting I felt – but Pizzorno’s music sits very comfortably with Fielding’s madcap visions.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Diamond Back

Diamond Back

Later Noel Fielding decides to rescue Lysergic Casserole from their Guitar Case bound fate by erecting a ramp made of Ryvita! – it is not just their freedom he has in mind though, he considers that they might make a second album and he could be their manager! But his snouty nosed butler reminds him that the sixties was a half-a-century ago and like Austin Powers their respective mojo’s might not adapt to the transport to the present day…alas they and their Harley’s trajectory is toward the guitar-case of the rock-star they call Diamond Back – Diamond Back having risen from the swamps of Putney, his father a pet-shop junkie and his mother, well she had a hundred eyes. Clear? I hope not.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy has comedy and music, that at least is established. It also has art. Much of the art is provided by Fielding but not all of it. Animation is provided by the show’s director Nigel Coan. Coan is another Boosh connection having provided its animation too.The Luxury Comedy sets are art and there is one scene where Noel Fielding himself is producing art. The most striking and impressing aspect of the program is its look – its visual swagger.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Keep off the Chest

Artist at work – can you see what it is yet?

And as noted in one scene we see Fielding painting on canvas – we can assume this was done in real-time and condensed into TV-time – Rolf Harris used to do this kind of thing, well not quite this kind of thing!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - press-ups

The finished work

If this show is going to work for you you have to take it on its own terms. Concepts like narrative development and dramatic conventions are only going to get in your way. You have to go with its flow, let it get into your blood and nerves, let Noel Fielding get inside your head. If you are not prepared to do that then the Singing Detective and Celebrity Juice are also scheduled alongside it – their own particular brands of madness may be more accommodating of yours. Though these allusions to other channels imply a world before time-shifted TV of  +1 channels and endless repeats, of online players and PVR’s, and as if the most of you would be watching it during its first E4 Broadcast Thursday evening’s at 10 o’clock!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Andy Warhol

With his cleaner

I alluded to the Boosh lineage but not all of them are from that particular ancestral tree. For example Noel Fielding’s cleaner Andy Warhol. Yes that Andy Warhol. Well is there another Andy Warhol?! He is played by Tom Meeten. In this episode he is planning a vacation with Picasso and Keith Haring and has organised a cleaner replacement going by the name of Frida Kahlo! His suitcase was given to him by Jackson Pollack and his rucksack is borrowed from René  Magritte – not at all art for art’s sake this! – Fielding comments about the Magritte rucksack ‘Yeah it’s a nice design but probably gets a bit annoying’!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy René Magritte Rucksack

René Magritte Rucksack

Though this episode is called The Jelly Fox it is only in the second part of the show that mention is made of him! We see Little Chrissie and Spoon Snake and their crew on their way to meet The Jelly Fox. And who or what is the Jelly Fox? Well

he gives you what you need. He lives in a blue-fabric castle with creases in it. He will give you a tablet that dissolves in wine. To wipe away your past…

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Dolly

Dolly and the Warhol-cum-Kahlo Cleaner

We then cut back to Noel Fielding and another new (ir)regular character Dolly. Dolly is played by Doll Wells. Dolly has given him a face-painting of David Bowie. Except that she has painted a Tiger. We then see cleaner Frida Kahlo except that it is Andy Warhol wearing a dress. He wants to wear a dress in public but is uncomfortable in doing so, so passes himself off as Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo! – the usual cowardly recourse of the man in denial of their transvestism! Dolly advises him that he should not be ashamed of this. She then advises that she dresses up as a Fireman and a Baby and calls herself a Firebaby! Noel then wants to know whether she dresses with a fireman top-half and nappy or romper suit and a helmet. She explains the latter, obviously! He considers it a joke, she a serious concept. They then argue over this point. Getting nowhere they decide to consult Hawkeye – the complex technology that resolves the flight of balls in Tennis and Cricket not Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce of M*A*S*H* fame!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Hawkeye

Hawkeye declares

If only all dilemmas could be resolved this way! Hawkeye decides it is a Concept, and that is an end to it!

It is only at the show’s end that we actually encounter the Jelly Fox – the term plot-spoiler has no impact on a show like this but I won’t reveal it all the same.

If you should be watching this on the 4OD online player you may note a ‘More Like This’ option – but other than its previous episode there is almost certainly nothing more like this on E4 or any other TV channel currently….and I am thankful for this.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy happily revels in its own wild imaginings. I am happy to revel along in it too – and I don’t have to take anything to do so. The whole psyche-shifting experience is all perfectly legal!Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox