Friday 29 May 2009

Blatant theft...

I haven't linked to this I have copied it. Here is what A.L.Kennedy (a great writer and commentator with an excellent website) says about the demise of The South Bank Show. It's spot on and I wouldn't attempt to write anything myself in its shadow...

"The South Bank Show's gone. Is this wise? I know SBS didn't involve yelling or tits, and was therefore unsuitable for British television, but I've met so many people who sat at home like me when they were nippers and/or teenagers and had their sanity saved by that show. There we were, possibly feeling we were slightly strange, compared with our surroundings, and there Melvyn was with his diddly theme tune and a weekly blast of things we'd guessed we might like, but ended up loving, along with stuff we'd never heard of and worlds of unimagined possibility – there other people were, imagining those possibilities. When I was young, unsure of most things, buried alive in Dundee and showing no sign of being able to find a job that wouldn't make me crazy and then fired, SBS delivered a weekly jolt of oxygen and hope. To say nothing of it enthusing me about things I'd just plain assumed I wouldn't enjoy. It's our loss if we let it go without at least an equivalent replacement and some kind of thank you.

No, it's particularly the loss of the generation from whom we have already stolen an education system, a functioning and credible democracy and a variety of other things they might have found useful. It's not that I like all children indiscriminately – some of them are appalling – but I would rather they didn't grow up being more than averagely miserable and underfullfilled."

Home Truths

Second home...flipped home...servants' home...this Palestinian boy is playing by the ruins of his family home in Gaza. The house was destroyed by Israeli bombardment earlier this year. The bombing was of course "within the rules".

Thursday 28 May 2009

Trouble in Bromsgrove II

Oh well, it seems Mr Cameron didn't stand by her after all. The curse of the Blog strikes again -- she could only last an hour after my devasting criticism! I wonder how Cameron decides which ones to stand by and which's one theory anyway.

Trouble in Bromsgrove

Why is David Cameron trying to hold onto Julie Kirkbride? The drip, drip of allegations has been fairly constant and it's said that 5,000 of her constituents have signed a petition asking her to go. But for me the simple and killer fact is that she is married to Andrew McKay and must surely take joint responsibility for the misdemeanours he has been punished for. They played the system together so if he was in the wrong so is she, morally at least. How does the marriage vow go again...?

Soup II

Well the borscht was nice, but I am leaving it to "mature" and have a feeling the flavours may be better tonight. I made plenty.

Maasai Misery

The Manchester Maasai have been drowning their sorrows...

Wednesday 27 May 2009


I am going to attempt borscht tonight. My greengrocer had some wonderful looking beetroots so I thought I'd give it a go, never having tried making it before. Of course the complications start when I look for a recipe...Russian, Ukranian, Hungarian, meat or not meat...? I can't really face going onto a foodie website and reading reams of posts about the virtues of South Ossetian borscht over the Kazakstahni version so I am going to try a bastardised Russian recipe as the best I have ever tasted was in Moscow.

The Big Match

I am told, although this is probably erroneous information, that ALL my Maasai friends will be supporting Manchester this evening. Perhaps it's something to do with red -- their favourite colour -- or perhaps it is Juma taking it upon himself to speak for the Maasai Nation. Suffice to say that beer will be drunk and there may be a bit of "bouncing" later on. I will switch my phone off tonight.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

An Audience with Genius

My next excursion to Hay is on Saturday to see David Simon (creator of the Wire). I can hardly contain myself. This year's (decade's?) hero comes to Wales ! I am also seeing Alan Bennett and normally that would be the highlight bar none but in this instance Mr Simon eclipses even our great NT*.

Nice to see, as well, in last Friday's Guardian that I am not the only one that makes poncy comparisons between The Wire and classic literature.

*National Treasure

Glastonbury for Geriatrics?

Thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Hay. Lisa Jardine and Roy Hattersley the highlights. Before I went someone asked: "What sort of people go to the Hay Festival?" Now that is a dificult one. It would certainly be easy to categorise them as elderly Guardian readers -- easy but not correct. A single definition is not possible but there are definitely "tribes": a small dungaree brigade, a lot of linen suits and summer dresses, intellectual power-brokers with BlackBerrys and important calls to publishers, literary groupies and a lot of families. If anything drew them together they were there for the same reason as me, the chance ot spend some time out of the normal rush to listen, think and talk -- books, ideas, politics, food and weather.

Monday 25 May 2009

Festival Fun

Off to the Hay Festival today. It's always difficult to choose which day to go and which events to book on that day. I hope I have chosen well.

Friday 22 May 2009


We have had "it was all within the rules", then "it was all cleared with the Fees Office". Now we are being told that MPs have been suffering from "lapses" of judgement, no doubt there will soon be the confessions that they were struck by "moments of madness".

On the whole I am well aware of human frailties and sympathetic. Of course we all make mistakes. But for years now citizens have been suffering from an onslaught of bossy, punitive government and other authority. In its predatory way excuses are not accepted. We are continually reprimanded and usually fined -- for late tax returns, by speed cameras, for not displaying parking permits on the "right" side of the windscreen. Petty bureaucrats proclaim zero tolerance on all manner of misdemeanours. You are too fat to foster a child, you stole some sweets when you were a kid, even though you are an Old Age Pensioner you can't buy booze without ID. Try asking for clemency here, try proffering simple human error, try explaining your momentary lapse of judgement, try common sense... The citizen has to be perfect under the tyranny of ever more dysfunctional authority. And I haven't even touched on the many more serious incursions on our civil rights and freedoms that we cede every year.

MPs have willingly overseen this sea change in the relationship between state and citizen under Major, Blair and Brown. Why should we forgive them?

Drunk Magic Arsenal

Zaharani is my enthusiastic chef when I am in Zanzibar. He is also one of the star strikers in the football team. Back in 2005-6 I sponsored him through The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar Catering and Hotel Institute. He graduated with flying colours. When I am there he loves the run of a good kitchen and the budget to buy things like meat and eggs.

Among his mates Zaharani is known as Juju which gives you some idea of what he does when not cooking. As a msungu I can't ask too much about that side of things. If he's away the others say "he is doing Swahili culture" as fine a euphemism for witch-doctory as you will find.

Anyway he called last week to ask if I could buy him an Arsenal shirt with the number 4 and "Jujubwai" on the reverse. If my interpretation of local slang is correct this means something along the lines of "drunk magic" -- strange as he doesn't drink. That I did today and took the shirt in to a man in Llanelli market to get the name and number stencilled on. The man with the machine didn't recognise Jujubwai from the usual Gunners squad: "There again mate it is Arsenal, they have some funny ones."

The Call of Africa

My friend Stephen is off to Africa today. He is taking his teenage son to Senegal and Gambia. I am very jealous, a bit of African heat and chaos would go down well just now. I hope that he keeps us posted on his blog. Stephen is, by the way, a member of one of the world's most exclusive clubs -- he represents 50% of this blog's followers!

Stephen also does proper writing and has an interesting assignment for a newspaper while he's in Africa. His work will start on the premise that the movement of people out of Senegal today is greater than at any time during the Atlantic slave trade. It shocked me. Historians, economists and African nationalists have used slavery's mass forced migration as an explanation of many of the continent's ills. If that left a wound that still festers two or three centuries later, what can the current migration be doing, econmically, socially, culturally? Worst of all perhaps, because this is an illegal traffic we know next to nothing about it. Today's Atlantic "cargoes" are truly the most invisible of people -- in Africa, in transit and at destination. There are not, yet, the equivalent of slave narratives. In the communication explosion of our time where are the Twitter feeds from these people?

Stephen will investigate. I look forward to seeing the results. But ultimately it is here in the destination countries where we must really work to understand and document. These are the people that clean our offices, buses and trains. They are the nocturnals, the cogs so deep in our economic machine that we never see them. I would love to hear their stories but I suspect it is easier for me to heed my own call to Africa than listen here in the West.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Spud You like

I have been feasting on Jersey Royals and now the first Pembrokeshires. Lightly boiled with a little butter and fresh herbs from the garden nothing could be nicer. Mint and parsley are the traditonal accompaniments but I have also been enjoying them with chives, chervil, marjoram and lovage (the latter only in small quantities). I am quite happy to eat these sweet little spuds as a meal in themselves.

Faith in Politicians Restored...?

Yesterday at 7.30 I got off the tube a few stops early and walked into Westminster. Cast in the misty gold of an early summer morning it was difficult to believe this village – and political Westminster really is a village – was home to the skulduggery and shameless greed we have been watching unfold over the past fortnight.

The 45 minutes with Hilary Benn further lightened my spirits. Here was a humorous, honest, committed man untainted by the expenses scandals. We were able to have a good banter about the troubles but there was also no doubt about his senses of serious purpose. It is probably the family heritage but here was someone who still embodies the old fashioned idea of real public service. No doubt there is an ego there, there has to be, but it is subservient to the real task of getting things done. Not getting things “done” for self-promotion, ghastly KPIs or to win a dodgy bonus. Just getting things done because it’s the right thing to do. How refreshing.

My rosy glow lasted about as long as the May sunshine on Westminster. By the time rain was lashing Big Ben I was listening to Hazel Blears and just beginning to understand the complicated world of floating duck houses.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Manchester Maasai

Juma tells me that he has been celebrating Man Utd's Premiership success since Saturday. "Party, Party bwana". Fun all round except perhaps for the goat population...

Amiable Loony

I received my copy of Peter Hitchens' new book yesterday. It is a great pleasure to read good old fashioned polemic. It is a guilty pleasure to enjoy the doom-monger in chief's more absurd theories. It is a surprising pleasure to find I agree with about 25% of what he writes. However I can't help laughing out loud at his notion that because New Labour cabinet members hummed along to the Internationale at Donald Dewar's funeral they were closet Marxist-Soviet-Trotskyite stooges. All of the above with £2000 flat screen TVs perhaps.

Monday 18 May 2009

The Lord of Darkness

Andrew Sullivan wrote an excellent piece in the Sunday Times yesterday. He examined Dick Cheney's high public profile of late. Seeing so much of the former VP is surprising. After all Cheney was the consumate eminence grise, so grise in fact to have been invisible in all but the innermost Washington power suites. Sullivan concludes that his energetic public profile just now stems from fear, fear that he is going to be judged badly by the political elite, the American people, history or perhaps even a judge and jury. Rock on.

I remember a very enjoyable lunch I had back in early 2001 with Peter Jay , amongst many other things, the former British ambassador to Washington. It was just after the Bush inaugration. Peter has infinitely more knowledge of US politics than I will ever have. More to the point he has had real experience -- he remains a friend of Jimmy Carter. However I discussed the incoming Bush administration with him as well as I could. I proffered my observation that Bush seemed so incapable that surely it was Cheney that would run the show. PJ disagreed. He said that people always argued this if they didn't like the President. The VP wasn't a powerful post in any real sense.

I haven't asked Peter if he still thinks that. I will. I don't blame him at all nor claim any prescience. I don't think anyone could have predicted the arrogance coupled with incompetence of the Bush regime. It simply broke all the rules of past behaviour. One of the manifestations was a VP running his own "dark side" administration. We are only learning about it now and I guess there's a lot more to come out.

The Fees Office Excuse

The guilty ones are trying to divert the tide of blame towards officials at the Fees Office. "I acted within the rules" is no longer acceptable as an excuse. The public won't buy it. But they are still whining on about having agreed their misdemeanours with the Fees Office.

I wonder. The officials they discuss these things with are relatively low-ranking civil servants. The one thing you can say with certainty is that MPs are expert in arguing. They have all spent years, decades even, getting their point of view across. They have fought in debating societies, smoke-filled rooms, on doorsteps and many, as lawyers, in the courts. It seems to me a rather unequal battle pitting these professional arguers against expenses clerks. To then blame the clerks for losing aforesaid argument really is low.

Let us hope their tide-turning is as effective as one King Canute's.

Sunday 17 May 2009


I received my BNP election leaflet this weekend. Full of happy smiling white British people -- except as it turns out the wholesome British subjects were actually posed by American and Italian models.

In a darker fantasy I imagined there actually were some BNP MPs and they got caught up (as no doubt they would) in the expenses scandal. So far the bogus claims have been, most reassuringly, running along party lines -- Tories clean their moats and stay in their Pall Mall clubs; New Labour MPs are obsessed with very expensive flat screen TVs; old Labour buy bookshelves; and the Lib Dems go for trouser presses and scatter cushions.

So what would we see from our BNP representatives? Swastika bedspreads, skin-whitening cream, extra tight lederhosen or perhaps entertaining evenings with Max Moseley...?

Saturday 16 May 2009

Masoudi's Underwear Crisis

A call from Masoudi in Zanzibar. He is a young man and an old friend who I am sponsoring through catering college at the moment. "Hamna chupi bwana" he tells me which is "I have no pants". Now this may sound like some naughty come-on but...

... actually the reason he rings me is that he has a problem. No decent pants. Underwear in Zanzibar ranges from the unreliable to the useless. Western pants therefore are one of the most tradable items in the modern missionary's armoury. It is clearly an emergency otherwise he wouldn't ring. Perhaps he is on a romantic quest or maybe he has to change into his chef's kit in front of his peers so wants to show off real Calvins. Anyway I had better jump to it and dispatch some forthwith.

Man Utd v Arsenal

Today's match will divide my village in Zanzibar. There's a very strong Arsenal following but the ubiquitous Manchester fans are probably not far behind in numbers terms. Zanzibaris take team allegiances very seriously.

I am sort of grateful that I lost my mobile yesterday.

Friday 15 May 2009

Last night and The Wire

I spent a very enjoyable evening with old friends in Brixton. We ate and drank well and talked late in the night -- an academic, a scientist, senior civil servant and me. As the glasses and then bottles emptied we covered a heroic range of topics -- the collapse of politics, Berlin, India, the science of happiness, depression and therapies, swine flu and the periodic table.

Later in the evening we discovered we were all Wirers and a sort of relief wave rose over the table. It was a bit like -- I imagine -- the way they used to say "Gentleman you may now smoke" - we at once relaxed and livened into talking about a shared passion. I cannot remember any TV show doing that for years. They asked me, as someone who has a connection with the media, why Britain can't produce anything like The Wire. I bumbled some suggestions but didn't even manage to convince myself. I must have a think.

Becoming a Maasai

I am considering my Africa travel plans for the rest of the year. Maasai Juma wants to take me back to his village for my "initiation". It will be a real treat even if certain aspects are a bit daunting.

I feel very privileged. Juma's father has already given me a cow as a sort of "herd starter pack". He has even asked if I want male or female. Juma tells me cattle are very cheap at the moment so I could build up my herd quite cheaply. He reminds me as well that the current going rate for a wife is 22 cows. Juma's father has also set aside a plot where I can build my hut.

Juma is keen that we drink blood together so that we become proper Maasai brothers. I think I can cope with that. I am imagining it will be warm and slightly frothy straight from the cow's neck. I shall pretend it's a strange herbal tea concoction. I don't like the idea of it cold and semi-congealed so I shall be quick.

The ritual area that does concern me is circumcision. Maasai boys and young men are circumcised in batches somewhere between early teens and early twenties. It is a crucial rite of passage on the way to becoming proper warriors. The circumcision is fairly public, done without any anaesthetic and with ritual rather than surgical instruments. Most importantly the circumcisee must not cry out -- to do so would be most unwarriorly and condemns the squealer to a lifetime of humiliation. Juma had his at twelve or thirteen (African are never very sure about their age). He spent the preceding months cutting and stabbing himself with anything that came to hand to practise the steely nonchalance of manhood. I am not sure I could do so well. I just have to hope that the old, fat msungu* is considered exempt.


* Swahili: Msungu = white person

Thursday 14 May 2009

More African Footie

Whilst Maasia Juma is ecstatic with the way the Premiership is coming to a climax, Gerrardi is distraught. As you may be able to guess from his name Gerrardi is a Liverpool fan. He is really called Mzee Mohammed Mzee.

Gerrardi is a good friend. I feel for him. He does a fairly miserable job on a cargo ship sailing out of Dubai. For less than £25 a week he works 11 months out of 12. The work is hard, bakingly hot, the hours long and he gets to sail to places like Iraq and Mombassa -- pirates or Al Quaida, take your pick. He is an intelligent, charismatic, lively guy and could really contribute to the world. But he has a job which in Africa at the moment is something and Liverpool FC keeps him going...even when they don't top the Premiership. A true fan.

TV Alzheimers

I watched the first few minutes of a BBC documentary last night. It was about an auction rooms and whether a son was going to take over running it from his father thus keeping a family business alive. So far, so good, reasonably interesting. But I soon got tired of being told what it was going to be about. In a feeble attempt to "hook" me and create non-existent tension the voiceiver track kept repeating "will he give up his own life and go home and save the family business...blah...repeat...blah...repeat..." Just get on with it.

Perhaps the producer was suffering from alzheimers and had got caught in one of those dementia conversation loops or is it that the BBC believes these days it is only broadcasting to a senile rump of viewers, too infirm to remember the past 60 seconds or indeed to change channels? Anyway I did, change channel that is. Sadly I will never know the fate of the auction house and its prodigal (?) son.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

A Traveller's Tales

On the way up to London. Decide to sit in the Quiet Carriage. For once it is -- mostly -- just that. Except...we have one of those guards -- sorry "Train Managers" -- who is a frustrated broadcaster or something. Incessant bossy inane messages at full volume. I have complained about this before and was roundly told off that it was "for my own safety". I would happily sign a waiver to say that in the event of an accident I wouldn't sue FGW if I was unable to find the Braille version of the "Safety Information".

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Gordon must go

It's brutally obvious but, just in case of any doubt, Polly Toynbee puts forward a convincing argument for the why, how and when here

Manchester United Maasai

My Maasai "brother" Juma has been in even higher spirits than usual with Manchester United's recent run of success. An avid, even obsessive fan, he has been substituting beer for his usual fresh blood tipple and I have been getting middle-of -the-night celebratory phone calls. Maasai are famed for their ability to stay awake.

Half a century ago Evelyn Waugh* visited the Maasai and remarked on how they had managed to retain their strong culture and customs. With characteristic hauteur they disdained almost everything the West has brought to Africa. The exceptions, Waugh noted, were tobacco, snuff and South African sherry. Not a lot has changed in fifty years but I think we can add Premiership football and mobile phones.

* Published as 'A Tourist in Africa' and highly recommended.

My new nephew

Teddy Keir Salkeld into the world

Monday 11 May 2009

Expenses -- Who's the worst?

OK so we now know about our elected representatives. What about other professions?

Bankers, of course, are suitably secretive. It would be interesting to find out the things that Fred Goodwin didn't believe he should have to pay for out of his salary. The city crowd are but one example of those who feel they have scaled the heights - can we count MPs amongst these? - to Master of the Universe status. They believe, once there, they shouldn't have to pay the normal costs of life like the rest of us -- all those boring things like non-work travel, food, drink, parties, restaurants, laundry and clothing. Salaries are for banking, expenses for living. It is a strange irony that the more you get paid the less you have to pay for.

Journalists had a terrible reputation but I think the days of cleft sticks and collapsible canoes are over. Much like MPs they used to see it as an entirely honourable supplement to their "meagre" salaries. I had a mate who started on a Murdoch national in the 1980s and in his first month was taken aside by one of the editors and told his expense claims were far too low. His colleagues didn't want management thinking you could do the job on so little. I heard stories at the BBC about the glory days in the 60s and 70s and there were suspicions about some of the star foreign correspondents but I never saw it myself. The BBC chose instead to waste licence payers' money on management consultants and daft celebrity salaries.

There is one professional group, though, with an obsession for maximising expenses and fringe benefits that has shocked me. Not just shock with the egregious way they go about it but -- perhaps like MPs -- a further dose of horror because one had imagined said profession to be driven by vocation rather than pocket-lining. You may be surprised. I was. I talk of aid workers or development workers or whatever the current buzz name is. They are the sort of people you bump into in Africa, ususally in brand new 4x4s.

Now I realise Oxfam, UNICEF, DFID et al probably employ lots of wonderfully committed people putting up with great personal hardships to make the world a better place. I just don't seem to meet them. I meet a parasitic cadre -- usually self-styled consultants, economists or other "experts" -- living in some luxury (servants, long holidays, tax free salaries, colonial style accommodation ...) who write reports in air con offices*. Their "hardship" postings are in capital cities or at least large provincial towns, they socialise with other expats and most of the contact with the people they are "helping" comes from issuing orders to their African servants. With this bunch there is one subject you can always guarantee to launch an animated discourse... discussion of their allowances, expenses and perks. They will talk for hours about per diems, one-offs, hardship grants, education subsidies, air miles and club class travel. They will spend more time concocting elaborate expense maximisation wheezes than ever actually work. And boy do they go on about it. Ask about poverty and they will tell you off for talking shop.

Now when my coins clink into the collecting tin I also hear the business class champagne softly fizzing and the muffled click of laptop keys as another weary consultant labours over another expenses claim.

*Graham Hancock labelled them "Lords of Poverty" in his book of the same name. It is quite an old work now but if anything what it describes has got worse rather than better.

Sunday 10 May 2009

MPs' Greed

I had actually forgotten that Archbishop Carey was still alive -- well alive enough to write a sermon in this morning's News of the World. His outrage, along with everyone else's, is of course right but permit me not to be surprised at the revelations on MPs' perks. Three simple points are all I can add to the debate. They could have easily been noticed a month, a year, a decade ago, but they weren't.
1. When a system is open to abuse, people will abuse it. Really basic.
2. When a group of people, be they MPs, bankers, Hedge Fund managers, come to believe they are extra special, irreplaceable, in fantastically short supply or whatever, their greed will expand exponentially. This is the City bonus delusion. MPs have fallen guilty of just such hubris. I am so tired of listening to the bleating about politics not being able to attract the right sort of people unless it's very well paid. Bullshit. Do we want a bunch of ever more venal vermin running our politics? And look at the queues of people lining up to be selected in every constituency. Being a member of Parliament is a privilege in itself. Sure it's hard work but MPs aren't the only people who work hard.
3. Lastly there was a time when MPs would have compared themselves with the other public service professionals in their constituencies or even the average voter. Now many consort with the super-rich and over paid. The MPs feel poor and undervalued, hence the "making-up" on expenses. Unfortunately this is just one, small, example of the corrosive social and economic effects of the vast inequalities those self same MPs have been happy to promote.

Friday 8 May 2009

Good News

I am an uncle again. Tom and Nikiki took delivery of baby boy this morning, provisionally named Ted.

Thought for Yesterday, Today

Dear Mr Woolas,

What a great impromptu press conference with Ms Lumley. How clever of you to look at once a] starstruck b] liberal and reasonable c] hard on immigration and d] like a little boy who has just been told off for peeing his pants. I wonder how much your Department spends on PR and "getting its message across"?

Best wishes

A voter

Thursday 7 May 2009

The Wire and Shakespeare 2 - Themes

OK so we’ve talked about the Shakespearean range and depth of Wire characters now the tricky area of themes. I hesitate. There are terabytes of web content out there on this subject already. But then again that in itself is testament to there being something worth talking about – as of course in dear old Shakespeare.

I think the most obvious parallel on the themes front is the number of them. Unlike so much we see on screens big and small The Wire doesn't spout a single, simple message. Its themes are layered and interlocking. Just like life, you can find different meanings all over. Shakespeare did that too.

At its simplest The Wire is about a modern American city, Baltimore. Over the five seasons it slowly zooms-out, revealing the interlacing communities, institutions, generations and moralities that make up modern urban life. To me that evocation of a polis or a kingdom is very Shakespearean. It could be Caesar's Rome, Henry's England or even Prospero's (remembered)Milan. It is place as an overarching character and place as ideas. Like Shakespeare's kingdoms Wirean Baltimore has dynasties that stretch back to a remembered golden past. When we look at this kingdom at a tighter level we come to the institutions - be they the Baltimore PD, labour unions, schools or local politics. The Wire explores in great depth the love-hate, nurture-destroy, structure-chaos of our relationship with institutions. Unlike so much screen fiction, bred as it is from the romantic adventurer tradition, here institutions dominate individuals however strong those individuals are as characters. To me, all this echoes Shakespeare's explorations of kingship, dynasty and the institutions of power in his time.

I don't have space for all the other themes nor Shakespeare parallels for each. The point I think is there are overarching themes, season themes, story themes and character themes, not to mention some plainly random ones. This rich mix is Shakespearean. To finish just two themes I value both connected and both around the drugs trade. First, The Wire uniquely, in my experience anyway, shows the drugs business as just that, a business. "The Game" as it's shown pits Barksdale, Bell et al as ruthless entrepreneurs first and criminals second. Look at their decisions, right or wrong, all motivated by commercial considerations. The second theme is the even darker side of the first. It is the agonising irony that the black drug-businessman have become 21st century slave owners (most of the "slaves" being black too). The slaves? Those lines of hopeless, faceless addicts chained to their next fix. They really are owned by those that supply their addiction.

More soon

The Wire and Shakespeare 1 - Characters

When the BBC started showing The Wire last month (only 7 years late guys -- good old BBC rapid response*) we had all the, now familiar, buzz about "the best TV series ever", we heard the Obama endorsements again but yesterday I heard someone say that it was Shakespearean.

Mmm Shakespearean. I would usually run a mile from such glibbery. I remember the late, and bashfully modest, Eastenders producer Tony Holland claiming that were Shakespeare alive "today" (this was in the 1980s) he would be writing for Albert Square. I can just see "Bill Stratford" (his nom de plume for Eastenders when he was moonlighting from the day job at Corrie) pops into the Queen Vic after filming had finished, he makes straight for his guiding mentor Tony Holland...

BS: Hi Tony fancy a drink?
TH: Yeah Bill mine's a pint of Churchill's
BS: Two Churchill's please Angie. Tony I wanted your advice on that new character Hammy I am working on. He doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind what to do...just found out his uncle Frank killed his old man, is shagging his old lady and Hammy thinks he's next in line. Just can't make up his mind whether to take a pop at Uncle or not.
TH: Look Bill when you've been in the game as long as me you'll know indecision don't put bums on seats. I'd write that out straight away. Have you thought about the old man coming back as a ghost? ... and where does Dot play in all this?

But despite my natural revulsion at Mr Holland's (God rest his soul) hubris and by association most of such claims, there is something in The Wire comparison. How come?

Health Warnings: 1. If you haven't yet seen The Wire I suggest you use your time to watch it rather than read this. 2. If you have seen it, be my guest although equally you might be better to watch it all over again rather than indulge in pointless Wiring and re-Wiring. 3. Finally I am in love with Omar Little (best character ever on TV according to Leader of the Free World - I'm in good company) so excuse any "little" indulgences in that regard.

I think we can find Shakespearean parallels in the characters, the themes, the language and in the overall humanity of The Wire. I am sure there are many more.

The Wire's shifting patchwork of characters could provide a lifetime's material for analysis. Not just because of numbers and range but -- like Shakespeare -- because of complexity. This is no haunt for the usual TV good or evil cutouts. Everyone displays a realistic mixture of traits. Like Shylock even the baddest Baltimorite would bleed if they were cut. This unflinching realism gives us real depth but it doesn't do so at the expense of the drama. Again like Shakespeare, The Wire's writers create a number of extraordinary characters and mix the mundane with the epic. Omar's cry of despair when he identifies his lover's body in Season 1 is the scream of a Greek tragic hero railing against Olympus. This is real drama. So is D'Angelo as our Hamlet playing out his moral confusion amid a wreath of family ties. So are the corrupt politicians and union bosses as they work through the ambiguities of power just like Shakespeare's kings. Even the fools have their depths and their clownish tears. It was certainly my own experience that leaving Wireworld is a bit like coming home from the spicy intensity of a trip to, say, India and finding everything too clean and bland. Mother's Pride after roti and sambal...Others have said the same. After all where else do we find an Omar Little?

Themes soon...

* I suspect we'll come back to that

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Thought for the Day

Whatever happened to the Information Super Highway ? I think we shoudl be told.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Most Hated Man in America

The news on BBC Radio 4 this morning described the hate preacher Fred Phelps as a "Baptist" who has been barred for his "arguments against homosexuality". I hardly call "" an argument. The same goes for the protests at funerals of people who have died of AIDS , gay murder victims or US military personnel (apparently they get killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as a punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality). Arguments should have some reference to reason, some developed thought and show a willingness to persuade. Phelps hectors, bullies and insults in the cruellest way. The man was banned for fostering hate. Why can't the BBC tell it like it is. He isn't even a real Baptist minister. Perhaps the reporter should have watched the BBC's own 2007 programme about Phelps and his spawn. It was called "The Most Hated Family in America".