Tuesday, 30 December 2014

TBR Challenge 2015 - Pagan Style

Just when you thought you'd seen the last of me from 2014, here I am again.  Well, it is the other side - Christmas is over, and the spacious plains and meadows of 2015 loom.  Pathways, crossroads, new things, old ghosts. I still like the whole New Years vibe. By this time of year, the old year is starting to run out of steam, and the new year is starting to catch hold of me. 

I borrowed this idea for organising my thoughts on some of the things I'm planning on reading next year from a blog I've loved for years, and which is in my blogroll- Spiral Spun. Please check her out.  She's the calmest blog, the simplest, and one of the most walk the walk blogs I know.  She's doing the challenge, so I thought, I too have MANY unread books (shelves full, a house full, as I have begun to be a person that keeps very few books when they are finished, unless I'm convinced I'll read them or refer to them again). So it's as well to organise a read for a few of them that have been calling to me for some time.  And they have been calling to me in batches, too, which is handy.

The idea of the TBR pile as the hosting site Spiral is using, RoofBeamReader.Com has it, is that you pick 12 books plus 2 alternates. Obviously I went over that, in my usual over the top way.   I'll show them to you in chunks, as Spiral did in her post, and explain a small bit about why each book.

After Witchfest this year, I had a most interesting experience with Hekate.  Now she and I are getting acquainted, which being me, involves a fair bit of booky research.
1) Hekate Liminal Rites, by Sorita d'Este and David Rankine - on the list because Sorita d'Este of Avalonia books, is highly into Hekate (small understatement), and publishes some very interesting works about her.  I've read several Avalonia books on Hekate already and this book is one of the ones I haven't got to yet. Comes highly recommended via devotees.
2) Hekate Soteira, by Sarah Iles Johnston - a scholarly work on Hekate as represented in the Chaldean Oracles and other classics.  Obviously I need to actually read the classics too, but the list is long as you'll see, and I did fancy putting some historical analysis books on it.  Gives my head things to occupy it.
3) Bearing Torches: A Devotional Anthology for Hekate, ed. Sannion and the board of Bibliotheca Alexandrina - always interesting to hear reflections and essays on a deity from modern adherents, be they reconstructionists or UPG experentialists. Either way, always interesting. This press do a large series on various deities and their work is thought provoking whether you agree with views expressed or not.  Also historical analysis.
4) Thracian Magic: Past and Present, by Georgi Mishev - In case you have forgotten Thrace, its (mostly now) Bulgaria, an area rich with folklore. This may not seem directly Hekate related, but its author is a Hekate devotee and the work is recommended in various reviews as heavily Hekate related. (Also he did a very interesting essay in Hekate: Her Sacred Fires, another excellent Avalonia Hekate book.)  I am looking forward to the history of an area I know little about as well as the local slanting on this goddess who I am coming to see, gets absolutely everywhere and permeates so many different cultures.

The more I look into Hekate, the more I come across the darkness into light, light from darkness  aspect.  Choices, pathways, illuminating the shadow self, the parts of ourselves we find hard to reconcile.
5) Spirits of the Sacred Grove, by Emma Restall-Orr - you may be thinking: 'but this is a book about being a Druid Priestess', its not a dark goddess, dark moon or particularly dark anything book.  There, you'd be wrong. Emma Restall-Orr is one of the most consistently challenging spiritual authors I read. Every single thing she has written has caused me massive internal argument, and lots of hard thinking.  She does not shy away from the dark anything, and she writes very much from a female perspective.  She is also very earthy, very 'get your hands dirty if you're going to say you love the earth' in tone. She also writes like an angel. I have been reading this book for 3 years now, and its about time I finished it...and possibly started it again. Its rich with ideas and information.  I am never less than fully connected when I read this woman. (She's written a book on the Dark Goddess previously which I could have put here...had I not already read it.)
6) The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine, ed.by Fred Gustafson - this book has been sitting and waiting patiently for some years now.  Drawing from spiritual writers, psychoanalysts and artists, these are essays on aspects of the dark feminine in daily life, celebrating its usefulness, and calling for its integration as a vital part of the female psyche. Looks interesting, will let you know.
7) Dark Moon Mysteries: Wisdom, Power and Magic of the Shadow World, by Timothy Roderick - this actually got onto the list because I rate highly a book he wrote ages ago, a sort of magical primer to be followed a year and a dayish, and I enjoy his blog.  He has a background as a psychotherapist and makes lots of references to Jungian theory (I have time for Jung), so when I found this book, about integrating and learning from those parts of yourself you fear, and those emotions you fight,  I bought it.  And then it sat quietly, waiting. And now it’s time to read it, it’s called again.  (Once to be bought, once to be read, that’s usually how it goes with my books.)
8) Mysteries of the Dark Moon, by Demetra George – this is not only about the actual time of the dark moon, its traditional associations and why (death, isolation, waiting); but about the embodiment of fears about this time, this part of the female psyche into goddesses. Specifically those goddesses known in general as dark, scary, manipulatively clever, or violent: Hekate, Lilith, Morgana, Kali.  The idea of the unconscious is explored through these goddesses, with reference to psychology, myth and symbolic perspectives. The book explores why the female psyche was split (Madonna and Whore is a good starting point), and how it can be reintegrated with the 'dark' parts as a valuable part of the whole person.  I’ve read several reviews of this book and it seems to split people, it has its lovers and its haters.  I’m eager to see if I feel I’ve learned anything.

Hmmmm, are you getting a theme here, this next year?!  Am I being a bit single minded? Bear in mind there'll be thousands of other books between this lot, so it won't feel as singleminded as it looks; and probably just as well. For anyone wondering why I don't have a GODS pile, its because the Gods were always my friends; its the Goddesses I've always had a bit of trouble connecting with, simply because culturally, in a Christian household, I was not brought up to think there were any goddesses. So its still relatively new to me, after all this time.  I feel I am brushing up on another part of myself that was ignored, or left fallow. The Gods have walked with me all this while. So have the Goddesses, really, I just wasn't aware of it. We're all getting to know each other. Having tea.

 9) The Triple Goddess: An Exploration of the Archetypal Feminine, by Adam McLean - I've had this one recommended to me left, right and centre, and it turns out its been quietly on my bookshelf for over 10 years and I have no memory of how I got it.  Its time has come!  Very exciting!  And who is that on the front there? Not Hekate again...
10) Voices of the Goddess: A Chorus of Sibyls, ed. by Caitlin Matthews - this also comes highly recommended - several priestesses, authors and artists from entirely different paths tell of the goddess in their lives: how they found her, what she does, how she has changed them. At least 3 of the contributors are women I admire greatly for their writing already. Looking forward to!  My copy of this book is very old and second-hand, and has a gift inscription inside from one woman to another, including a bit at the end about blessings of Sekhmet and Hathor - two goddesses I have heard good things about.
11) Warrior Goddess Training, by Heatherash Amara - this was an impulse purchase, based on the fact I liked the title.  I think its more in the vein of a sort of earth-based self help book, we will see. If it's about accepting yourself and becoming more of a person, it may have some good nuggets: I will report back.  This is the wildcard book.
12) Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality, by Carol P. Christ - I spent time earlier this year, before my Hekate experience, of trying and failing to find THE goddess book that would get me properly started on my idea of female deity studies.  I would buy one that had a perfectly simple title and it would turn out to be about Qabalah (that keeps happening, so clearly next year or sooner I shall have to read about that in more depth too).  Buy another and it would turn out to not have the historical basis I wanted...each of them was not the angle I was after..  This one might be. We'll see.

There's a tangent, eh? Not really.  I've been stalled on my Ovate OBOD studies for some while now, and I think my goddess reading, allied with some druidry reading might help kickstart me again. Druidry isn't easy, as this first book will show...
13) Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics, by Emma Restall-Orr - yes, she again.  If I'm to have a trying year wrestling with a difficult taskmistress of a goddess (if she asks me to do something I find scary or difficult), someone who will hold me to account, I think I can do no better than to make myself read a book I bought some time ago, but have not yet had the gazonkas to read, as I think I am going to feel fearful, compromised and be reminded of how far I fall short in my attempts to be ethical.  I lie.  I often think its a good idea, too. I'm manipulative on many occasions.  I sneak about.  I wish I was a person of my word - and oddly, to some people in my life without question I always am. And to some others, I view ethics as unecessary, they don't deserve it.  Yet I don't see myself as a bad person; I am... pragmatic, opportunist, realist.  Scared.  (I kind of wish I was Quark on many days; yet I respect honourable Odo so much more.)  I have a feeling if I met Emma Restall-Orr she would terrify me if we had a proper conversation.  But dammit.  Maybe its about time I was terrified by someone else and not the shadows of my own head.  Let her talk to me of history and ethics. Let me not run away.  This is a woman whose voice I deeply respect. I'm going blinkin' well sit down and listen.  Can't be brave and/ or less fearful if I don't practice, right??  Its not going to just miraculously grow out of my arse, now is it?? No. Practice.
14) The Druids, by Ronald Hutton - Got to have a bit of Professor Ronald Hutton if I'm going to read pagan history, as related by a highly respected academic (who is dead nice in real life too).  I had a bit of a choice here: read his first book on the Druids in general historically - perceptions of them as a concept (this one), or the subsequent thicker and more in depth study he also did, of the Druids in Britain as a whole, which has a different emphasis. I decided to err on the side of chronology and begin here. I also wanted to read his latest and hugest book, Pagan Britain, and who knows, I may do.  But there are already some challenging books on this list, and I don't want to rush anything Ronald Hutton writes.  He has a divinely easily read style and I like to immerse and swim in his books. In my own time. So I may have to stick with just this one.  I'm bound to enjoy it (I have never found a book of his boring yet), and I am bound to deface it with notes and reactive comments till its barely legible and I have to get another copy (you should see my copy of Triumph of the Moon - even he was quite impressed at the way there was practically nowhere for him to sign it for me as I had taken so many notes!!). Can't wait to get to this one!
15) In the Grove of the Druids, by Philip Carr-Gomm - what is this with Druid writers being double-barrelled? As an aside.  I've read several books by Philip Carr-Gomm and I always find him stimulating.  Some of the books I love, some I found odd, some I found troubling.  I love his blog too.  He's the current leader (thats not the right word) of OBOD, and he is deeply readable. Another one with a background in psychology and humanism.  This book, one of a few of his still waiting to be read, focusses on the teachings of his teacher and OBOD leading predecessor, Ross Nichols.  Since in my Druid studies with OBOD, Nichols is often referred to and quoted, I thought it would be an idea to read Philip Carr-Gomm's assessment of the man's ideas. Could be very interesting.
16) The Mount Haemus Lectures,volume one, 2000-2007 - this is an OBOD publication, featuring several essays on contemporary Druid research and scholarship.  An essay by Professor Ronald Hutton inside!  Caitlin Matthews too.  A contribution by Philip Carr-Gomm on shadows and light that sounds relevant to my year's focus - though its actually about the composer Tippett! I bought this from the OBOD shop, to see what sort of things were engaging the thoughts of the academically minded in the Order.

And there we have it...will I ever get through ALL these fat and wordy books??

Isn't it hilarious I did a post this long introducing you to books that I will review later??

And how hard it was to pick - so many OTHER goddess books, other Druidry books, other history books (have a most interesting looking newly published one, for example, called Daughters of Hecate, about the gendering of magic as a female activity in antiquity, and whether this was actually so, or just culturally perceived, and if so, how and why...its enormous,and very heavily footnoted and looks...fascinating.  Sigh.)

So.  I will get back to you at the end of the year with a review of those I definitely did actually manage to read.  I should imagine barring disaster, all the specifically Hekate ones will be read ('cos when you say you'll do something to someone you are making friends with, you best do it, its polite and will otherwise create a bad impression - see, this is how people should teach me ethics: remind me its rude and unEnglish to be..impolite; even though, historically, I immediately fall into many holes there...ah, a whole 'nother post - how the English perceive themselves and their morality; compared with what we have actually been like, historically, when interacting with the world!  BlackberryJuniper combusts in a puff of unbearable satirical paradox.)

And obviously, I have a Doctor Who marathon also consisting of thousands of books to read still this year (and likely still until I am dead)...

Well, I have books to look forward to.  Happy New Year, all!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Doctor Who Books Read and Heard, Part 14!

This post: treats from the eras of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors. 
A note on order.  Target Originals are not read in order of publication (which was all over the place), but in order of each Doctor, and each Doctor is read in order of their stories broadcast on TV.  However, I jump about in terms of which Doctor I read at any given time.  The Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester will be read in order; as will the BBC 8th Doctor series (as though they had been on TV, see?  I’m trying to get an arc flavour).  The BBC Past Doctors series and the Virgin Missing Adventures are simply read in terms of which one I fancy next, as they are stand alone adventures slotting in-between the TV ones.

Oh, and in case you forgot, I’ve taken to recording which books I read that are actual paper copies, and which are Kindle or other electronic.  I’m being social historical for my own benefit. I want to see how long it is before I just plug books straight into my brain, how many years before I’m a reading cyborg.

As always with these rambly reviews: OFTEN LARGE SPOILERS ON ALL BOOKS IMMINENT!!!!

1.   Doctor Who: The Sea Devils, by Malcolm Hulke (Target original)
(3rd Doctor.  This is one that I experienced as so Boys Own when I was watching it with Stanley ages ago, that I huddled up under his arm and went to sleep.  The book was a whole different matter!  I loved the book!  I experienced it as a very learning read.  I learned that the equivalent of privates, squaddies in the Navy are called ‘ratings’ [which kept making me think of reality TV shows, I kept expecting there to be a vote].  I learned how to turn a receiver into a transmitter [p.49]; and what exactly sonar is and how it works –I shall now understand ‘pings’ [p.96].  I really enjoy Who when it tells me things, little snippets, that I didn’t already know[and there’s so much I don’t know, or misunderstand, that this is always joyful].  ‘May Day’ is French for ‘aid me’: maid’ez.  I did not know that!

I enjoyed several of the secondary characters too - Jane Blythe, the W.R.N. helping Captain Hart [who was also a nice character], and her “suspicious mind” helps Hart work out that Trenchard is deceiving them about the Master, and that something is wrong at the prison.  They work nicely together.  Trenchard himself is an inept man – and a sad one, who died an inept death.  I thought it was very nicely done, when he had died and his body was discovered by the Doctor, that the Doctor surreptitiously removed the safety on his gun, so no one would know that even in attempting to do the right thing at the end, he had once again messed it up. He thoughtfully preserved Trenchard’s reputation.  Walker, the Man from the Ministry, with his two major qualities of gluttony and changeable cowardice, was also a nice addition.

Both the Silurians and the Sea Devils are quite tragic creations – the Silurians felt more fleshed out in their story [novelised as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters], since the Sea Devils portrayal suffered from an excess of The Master injecting himself into almost every scene they are in.  I really sympathised with their feeling that the planet was theirs despite their long absence, and their warlike [and desperate] attempts to get it back.  [I know some will think this is a reading too far, but I kept thinking of the Middle East while I read this; alter the outcome at the end of The Silurians or The Sea Devils, and you have a similar situation, which would be reacted to in a similar way by the Earth inhabitants…anyway, that was just a thought that kept popping into my head while I read.]  They were very sympathetic creations, despite their arrogance.

The taking of the submarine read as a real action episode, and not remembering this bit at all [I must have been well asleep by then], it read as a real page turner. I was surprised when the incident wasn’t developed further.  Also, for some reason, this section vaguely reminded me of The Sea Wolves, with Roger Moore.

The Doctor reverses the polarity of the neutron flow TWICE in this book, which clearly makes the story a Total Classic!  Actually, the presentation of the Doctor here WAS archetypal Pertwee era: very much politeness on his part, an awful lot of saying, “oh my dear chap”, or “I’m a scientist”, or subverting equipment while he is fixing it, so that it helps his cause - much tinkering with technology.  Also, after he has blown up the base at the end, he is stoicly and sorrowfully silent when the Master accuses him of mass murder, because he knows it is true; and later, when the Navy try to thank him for his help, he is brief and subdued: “I did what I had to do to prevent a war. I don’t want your thanks.”  This is Pertwee; one moment so flamboyant and bossy; the next reflective and resentful at what he has had to do to save the Earth inhabitants; his lack of choices, the necessity of bad actions.  In this way, Who used to quietly teach the children of the 70s…grey morality.  20/10, totally recommended.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.  Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead, by Peter Grimwade (Target Original)
(5th Doctor. I always enjoy watching this one: partly because Turlough is a most interesting character - hostile yet vulnerable, and I do not quite understand his mind, yet I understand his opportunism.  Partly because the Brigadier is in it, not once but twice.  Partly because I really enjoy his interaction with Tegan, and I find the device of the landing in the same place in 2 different time zones very nice to watch.

The only problem I felt on reading, and Stanley disagreed with me, but I felt it counted, was that the story suffers from a Maguffin! The Blinovitch Limitation Effect – the reason the 2 Brigadiers must not meet up, is harped on a lot - something terrible will happen if they do. Then they…do, in the climax, and it actually fixes everything [allowing Mawdryn and his compatriots to die; whilst simultaneously generating enough energy to right Tegan and Nyssa’s ages].  So it was referred to a lot, and then did the opposite to what it was supposed to, and was all very convenient.  I agree I am mislabelling it in the sense that it did serve a purpose and appear in the story consistently [not discarded like the famous ‘Rosebud’ example from Citizen Kane] – but I really objected to its convenient fixing of everything. 

I also found the Doctor’s behaviour; his fear at Mawdryn’s wanting to steal his lives odd.  I mean, if someone wanted to steal my life I would hate it; and Mawdryn did want to steal all the Doctor’s lives…but it seemed such a craven human base reaction, somehow out of character, coming from especially Davison’s Doctor – usually so calm.  I’m not criticising this bit of the writing, I just didn’t get it.  It felt forced.  His judging of them, that they should take the consequences of their actions…when he interferes himself all the time, and had stolen his own TARDIS: it was a bit…hypocritical…I didn’t truly understand his behaviour there, I was hoping the book might elucidate, but it made it no clearer than when I watch on TV.  Otherwise, an enjoyable read – and really typical story of the Davison era, I always felt. ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.  Doctor Who: The Two Doctors, by Robert Holmes (Target Original)
(6th and 2nd Doctor. Before I ever saw this one, I kept hearing about how people felt the Spanish location had been underused, that they could have been tromping about out in Devon in summer and it would have been the same.  I don’t really know. Devon couldn’t really look like the dryness that Spain has in certain regions.  I can tell they aren’t in England; and the story does have a feeling of difference, a sort of hot brooding sweaty intensity for this atmospheric change in location.  And I also think of the Spanish as a nation full of rich rich meaty juice-iful foods – so this is a good location for Shockeye, surely?

I am in two minds about this story and reading it has not changed that.  This is one of the ones that Fluffhead quite likes to watch, so I’m very familiar with it. I do think it’s very enjoyable; and I do think it’s very flawed!

Troughton’s Doctor seems to spend the whole time he’s on screen puffing and blowing through his cheeks, a sort of overtired petulant child.  There’s little of his more subtle qualities on show, this story. Which is a shame. I also don’t quite understand why he dislikes Colin Baker’s self so much.  Obviously, there’s a tradition of the Doctors riling each other when they meet [the amusing insultings of The Three Doctors always come to mind].  I didn’t like him turning into an Androgum, it was one of the less enjoyable times the Doctor has been taken over by something other; in that it was more disturbing watching him not care at all about violence and killing, and snooze through it, than for him to actually be made to do any.  Oddly.  I felt his scenes were a bit of a missed opportunity, and the book played it the same way.

The portrayals of Shockeye and Chessene I have always felt were troublesome too, and been unable to put my finger on why. I know it was felt that the vegetarianism that Robert Holmes was using Shockeye’s grossly sensual and basic character to promote was overdone, but the book made that somehow more smooth.  On screen, the endless detailing of bloodied meat juices, and the viewing of Peri as a ‘little jill’ and Jamie as a ‘jack’ getting his skin marbled and tenderised by torture [because it works better on a live animal, the tendering] was a cacophony of gluttony and meanness, but I get the odd impression that it didn’t put anyone off their pork chops for dinner.  This I think was because the makeup [eyebrows and the coarse features etc] chosen for the Qwancing Grig was possibly the wrong decision. In the book, Shockeye simply sounded like an obsessed chef – annoying, but that’s his thing: eating all meat. The thing about Shockeye that really leapt out in the book, but less so in the watching [due to the makeup and costuming decisions, I think] was his sheer strength, physique and his boorish implacable physicality.  THAT is what made him formidable and worrying, to read. His ruthlessness in the cause of Dinner…

With Chessene, she was simply too smug all the time. I disagreed with the 2nd Doctor at the beginning, when he said to Dastari that you “could augment an insect until it understood nuclear physics; it would still not be a very sensible thing to do”.  I thought that changing the brain capacity of any creature would OF COURSE change its nature, therefore Chessene would no longer be obsessed with food…yet it did seem very natural when she started to lick the doorstep at the end. What was more interesting, was her getting of the large devious streak out of nowhere. That seemed a plausible thing to pop out of a brain augmentation.  After all: if you can reason more, with more knowledge- you would start to strategise more, be more wily, wouldn’t you? I think I would. [Also, I was brought up on Blakes 7, and I kept expecting her to identify as Servalan any minute, which was distracting, as the 2 characters weren’t all that far apart.]

I learned from the book that the 6th Doctor made up Gumblejack, and it isn’t a real fish!  I’m pretty sure it’s been referred to as a real fish of the Who universe in subsequent stories [I think Sylvester mentioned it?], so this is a bit of retro-history that will quietly annoy continuity obsessives [of which I can be one when I take it into my head - enough to note this detail, anyway!]

While this story does skip along, it was sad that Oscar died, and in the book he is properly gutted – I am very surprised that Shockeye didn’t take him with him for cooking elsewhere, it seemed a waste knowing his character. Anita is never seen again after that scene, weird.  Peri and Jamie could have had much more of an interaction than they did, but for some reason they don’t- which is almost the most missed opportunity of the whole story.  And the Sontarans, well, tsk.  They don’t seem as clever or as menacing as I always remember them from the story where they kidnap and torture Sarah Jane.

Actually, unsure why I do like this story so much, there’s quite a bit wrong with it. But I do.  Colin Baker displays a lot of energy this story, and drives his scenes well, maybe that helps.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.  Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell, by Alan W. Lear (Big Finish Monthly releases, no.18)
(8th Doctor.  Another one of those stories that started well and then as it went on – despite the presence of the Brigadier, for who I did indeed perk up - I felt…languished a bit.

I wasn’t happy that Paul McGann spent so much of the story absent, it felt like almost a third all told, where he quietly sat, having lost his memory, all confused and looneybinned. While Charley started to figure out what was going on. That was ok, but what was going on involved an awful lot of very fake Southern accents, and a lot of one character, Becky, talking to her ‘granpappy’ about things at length. I’ve said in another Who review somewhere, that I think it’s always a big risk to start ventriloquizing other very close but not ours, cultures.  The Americans read lots of our books; we read lots of theirs; same with TV and film. They would be forgiven for thinking our entire reality is a cross between the new Who episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, where Agatha Christie 20’s it about in a flapper dress solving the crime where we all live in a country mansion….OR a hard and manly cockney based world where we Lock and Stock and Barrel it about, swearing loudly, with Vinnie Jones and Danny Dyer replicas nutting each other all the time.  Those are some very LOUD stereotypes I just evoked there.  But this story had some very loud stereotypes of a certain sort of US culture and historical point, too. And I know it’s just shorthand, code, but its tired, and old and I would like a hugely less clichéd way of seeing the South - even if it is an imaginary scifi South of the Good Old US of A.  So that impinged on my hearing this play.

I liked the way the demon wasn’t a demon, but just another life form, with his 21st century slang and his casualness to go with the hellfire voice.  That was amusing and annoying; but mostly amusing.

I liked the way the story skated close to the idea of Charley and the other girls being sold into prostitution in the HellFire Club - it managed to imply it vigorously without actually saying it at all, and it was quite horrifying.  Her reaction, an outraged ‘I’m British!’ in tone, was almost clever, in that it managed to take some of the horror off what was a quite nasty situation.

Not only is the Doctor not really the Doctor for much of the story, but someone else –having come too close to a device – DOES think he is the Doctor, and much of the 8th Doctor’s scenes in this play are trying to convince himself and others, notably Gideon Crane, the other Doctor, that he is himself.  This could have been a whole topic in itself: one of those madness episodes that all scifi progs seem to deal in after a while, and always effective in my viewing [both Charmed, Buffy and Star Trek Next Generation have pulled this one off nicely, the idea that you aren’t special at all, you just think you’re a special person with a mission, but really you’re a sad loser in a mental institution escaping your reality – and those were just the shows I thought of off the top of my head].  They choose not to go this route, fair enough-but it does leave the Doctor weak and ineffective through quite a chunk of the story, which I feel was a mistake.

Hmm, I can’t say much else. This had some interesting ideas: the US politics, the cerebral surgery, the technology of it; but it was not dealt with very well, I felt. Oh well. Onward…ON DOWNLOAD.)
  1. Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil, by Philip Reeve (BBC 50th Anniversary Short Stories, e-story)
    (4th Doctor. A very small and succinct self-contained story.  Satisfying, if brief.  The Doctor and Leela [yay, Leela!], go to visit a huge and beautiful tree world that has been subverted by one of the founders into an everlasting revenge scenario, awaiting the Doctor to return so its inhabitants can kill him [because of something he hasn’t done yet].  But he is too charming, too helpful, and too honest – when the planet’s spores attack, he helps them, and soon he fights with them.  The portrayals of Leela and The Doctor were spot on, and I felt this could have been expanded to a much larger old style story – it felt in keeping with the mores of Leela’s story period. ON KINDLE.)

  2. Doctor Who: The Rescue, by Ian Marter (Target original)
    (1st Doctor.  I had absolutely no memory of having ever seen this one, though I know I have.  So I watched it again, directly after I read it.  Which gives light to the realisation that Ian Marter greatly increased the story.  There is a whole section at the beginning of the book, where the rescue ship experiences strange difficulties trying to get to the Astra 9; and again at the end where the silver beings are unceremoniously killed by accident by the rescue team – and then the novel ends with an ironic Christmas wish – all out of nowhere.  In addition, there are many more references to the silver beings, they keep being seen around the place, notably by Vicki and Barbara.

    I felt the bit at the end where they are just…killed, was an oddly postmodern and bleak little addendum. Unnecessary, harsh and sad. I don’t know why Ian Marter decided to put it in – it’s completely absent from the TV presentation, and it changes the whole tone of the end of the story, from one of joy at finding a new companion and the excitement of another adventure beginning; to the crapness of humans and the lightness with which we take life on occasion.  To add the Christmas message onto that was loading some irony heavily. I wonder why he did that…

    The best scene in the book, for me, as well as the TV version, was the Doctor’s confronting Bennett in the Temple, and unmasking him, before Bennett tries to kill him. In the book this scene is much enlarged and made more of, to good effect, both in description and the dialogue.  The silver beings are stranger here, and they look morealien in the books description; more helpful of the Doctor, albeit silently, without explanation.

    There are enlarged scenes too, where Ian and Vicki struggle to get out of the various places they get trapped in- impossible scenes of her clinging onto his back as he tries to climb up a vertical tube, balanced by bracing his hands and knees to breaking point. There was something very modern about all this action, and it oddly fitted in perfectly with Ian and Vicki’s characters.  Barbara’s sadness at killing Sandy is also elaborated, as is the strength of Vicki’s reaction, the initial instability of her character.

    I got the impression Ian Marter really enjoyed having some room to play within such an otherwise short story; and apart from the sad epilogue, I loved what he did with this underrated story.)

Note, unrelated to Who but related to this blog - Christmas: This will probably be the last post of this year, unless I suddenly gain a swathe of time by pretending to be dead or somesuch.  Do you remember this post?

Well, I don't feel like that anymore, and haven't for a while.  Its become a time of year where people want me to do things to please them (and I don't mean my children).  Its become about pressure and expectations of others, instead of the lovely Christmases Stanley and I used to share, unbothered by others, with our ideas in tandem.  Its very odd, that this idea of the Christmas Spirit, and giving, and family time etc should have become such a time of overheated pressure to be jolly, pressure to happyhappyhappy, and pressure to be with others and do things their way - to not be alone if thats how you want it (and I know at least 3 people who would prefer that).  And before anyone corrects or disagrees with me - if you have the freedom to spend your Christmas how and with who you CHOOSE, then no wonder it goes well!  Mine used to, for that reason. Its not that way anymore, and the pressure and expectations of others seem to get worse with every year...As Fry would say: the bloody politics of it all, not the right emphasis for the season.

So, to get to the point, I'm having a bit of a seasonal descent into worry and anxiety and the feeling of pressure; not to mention school holidays soon, so I won't have blogging (or reading, where Who is concerned) time.  So I may well call hiatus till January 2015.

I may be back before then, but don't hold your breath. As I said to a good friend of mine, I am becoming Worf until next year. Seething and worrying about Duty and Honour Obligations and other such things. (I love Worf...)

Worf's extremely valid and important point, which in this case I apply to interminable 'fun'games of Scrabble or Cribbage or Monopoly played at Christmas with relatives who seem to think endless talking, togetherness and competitiveness, plus a complete lack of downtime or privacy (usually mixed with alcohol) is a good idea.

I hope you all have a Good Christmas - and you get to spend it where and with whom you want to be. See you on the other side.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Dylan Moran: Some Things With Him In

Things With Dylan Moran In…that aren’t Black Books or Shaun of the Dead.  He’s an Irish comedian and actor I’ve been following for ages, as I love his quirkiness and I love his vagueness, as well as his flights of weird fancy.  He made his mark over here in the UK with Black Books (with Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg) which is marvellous; and also his appearance as an arsehole boyfriend famously torn to pieces, in Shaun of the Dead. So here I’ll ramble about some other stuff he’s done, less well known, as well as the controversial recent film, Calvary (2014).

  1. Good Vibrations (2012)
    (This film made me sniffle. We can dispose of Dylan Moran immediately, as he was hardly in it and had very little to say - the one line that he had that did make me laugh was: “I don’t want that sort of carry on in here”, in a wonderful prissy voice.  Nope.  This film was not a Dylan Moran film, he was just in it; but I’m very glad that this idea of a post for Things With Dylan Moran In, a good excuse to watch loads of TV, got me to this film. 

    Never have I seen such an uplifting film with these elements in it before: Punk, Belfast, the IRA, the RUC, the bombings, shootings, beatings and the terrible daily ongoing mind-grinding brutality of the whole thing.  When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing punk wasn’t born right there; it’s not surprising it took off right then and there.  I’d never heard of Terri Hooley.  I’m amazed that he managed to make music such a binder in this area at this time.  What an incredibly brave person.  I had no idea this was where Fergal Sharkey started, or that all those band members from Rudi and the Outcasts ended up in Thin Lizzy or Wings…I just did not know about any of this!  I love learning new things and I am happy that today brought me someone who said get lost to sectarianism and taking sides and just wanted to play music. He comes off as incredibly naïve, and yet because of it, got things done that other people - and I suspect that friend of his worrying about money was meant to be the rest of us, with our practical attitudes - just wouldn’t have thought doable.  I can’t believe this little bit of good history is true - this is why the news is so rubbish; only the bad stuff, the despair – they do not show us that “victory doesn’t always look like others think it does” as Terri’s dad said to him - this man and his music accomplished so much in a small way, in a bloody awful period for the people living there.

    Such a hopeful film.  You can stand up to bullies. You can stand up for something you want to believe in: something like the power of art, music, words, to unite us rather than divide us.  I was most impressed.  Can you tell?!)
  2. Dylan Moran Stand Up – Yeah Yeah (2011)
    (I’m a great fan of stand up.  You can really drink in someone’s mind, or persona.  It’s weird, as I’m watching these gigs backwards, because I’d previously seen the earlier ones and wondered what his newer work was like as I’d not yet seen it, so suddenly…he’s aged.  No idea why I was surprised, I’ve not seen him for a few years and he’s changed his outfit a bit and his hair has grey. 

    This is one of the best things about Dylan Moran: he embraces however he is at the time.  I remember the last gig I saw he was beginning to talk about age, but now, he’s got it perfectly – he echoed so many of my own thoughts, but better, more bitter, more accepting, funnier [obviously].  He referred to the Voices that plague myself and Fry, and mocked them: “Why do you want breakfast again today, you fat fuck?  You had breakfast yesterday?”  Followed by the competing voice that just wants “More Jam! More Jam!  Put it in your pocket and run off to the toilet and eat it there!  No one will see!” He kills the paranoia with absurdity.  Only the Irish do language this way. He sums up the voices: “it’s just age”, he says, waving his hand vaguely.  It doesn’t matter.  It just happens to us.  Don’t take it seriously, is what that hand is saying.

    He gets both more accurate and more distantly philosophical, and appears - so artfully – to be both bored and half cut in his performances [I’m privately convinced he IS definitely this grumpy, but also much more sober].  It was lovely just watching him meander about, demanding cake.

    I took issue with him though.   He managed to do the hand gesture of dismissal over the whole of feminism with one joke.  Which of course pissed me off.  He mentions equal pay, equal rights, this and that, this and that, and then says we could have had all of that if we females weren’t…basically…so bitchy to each other.  Illustrated by an anecdote of he and a woman listening to a story about an inspirational woman, and he turning to the female and gushing with praise about how wonderful the accomplishments of the woman were; his female companion just says: “yeah, but her calves are kinda chunky”.  “THAT”, he says, pointing at the audience smugly, playfully – “that’s the fucking thing, there”.

    You know why that pissed me off??  Cos it’s so 100% true.  We women are our own worst enemies.  And the face he pulled after he did that joke, the look of ‘I’ve nailed you, ha’ and the hand of dismissal…GRRRRRRRR….Thing is, yes, he is totally right, we don’t help ourselves at all with that stupid behaviour; we’re brought up to care for others [mostly men and children, not ourselves or other women] and compete with others [women]. We’re brought up to be a bit schizo…cos of the culture we’re in.  All of us, everywhere, are products of our time and place and culture.  Some of us blend right in; some of us are behind times, and some of us seem light years ahead - the pioneers, the inventors, the Harvey Milks etc.  Some of us stand outside and watch and analyse, some of us find the pressure crushing, feeling stuck inside and not fitting.  We can’t all be perfect feminists – and his joke was accurate with no background, no explanation.  It dismissed feminism with no history, or understanding of [groans as I am about to say this], no understanding of being a woman. Ok sorry about that. True though.  And he touches on it, cleverly.  This is the way some humour works: it’s funny cos it’s true; but sometimes it manages to do a universal truth, to cut through all bullshit - and other times, it cuts through half the bullshit, derails the issue and blames the underdog for his predicament without context.  Victim blaming;though I don’t want to take the role of victim, that’s annoying.  That’s lazy jokes though; that’s how Bernard Manning works.  Yeah, I didn’t like that joke.[1]

    But I loved the rest of the gig. I loved the way he opened with words to the effect of: “hello hello….[pause] oh I don’t know…There’s too much…of everything.  And not enough, you know?”  Could he be in my head any more? I loved his delineations of political stances [lefties are boring and have no friends as they are the voice of conscience; righties look at anything and just say with great honesty: ‘do we fuck it or eat it’, and Liberals have no purpose as they are neither one thing nor the other].  The way he sums up nationalities seen through English eyes. Why women wear tiny little dresses to go clubbing: it’s all about winter. How belief in science has ignorantly replaced belief in religion; we understand neither.  I won’t give away anymore of the jokes - go and watch it.  He is clever, and sometimes mean – but I can’t deny he’s spot on, and I laughed all through this - even at the bit I got cross with.)
  3. Dylan Moran – What It Is (2009)
    (This was recorded in Sydney, so has lots of references to locations and manners of the Australians.  I found it funny he spent most of the show demanding cake - and by the later show Yeah Yeah, that I watched earlier, just to be awkward, someone had fed him some, which he joyfully eats on stage while still talking. 

    Some excellent jokes about the recession and its morbidity and boringness; a lovely aside about religion “a formalised panic about death” fought off by camp gold hats - “I prayed very hard then the fairy came, good for you, have a biscuit”. He decides we need God as an idea because as children we had our parents to notice and validate us; as adults we need an idea that big and all encompassing, so we invented God, to miss us when we’re gone, keep an eye on us - it all rang scarily true. A sad joke about small beans…

    Some lovely political observation - the scariness of actually believing in a politician, hence Obama gets nothing done because we all watch him with starry eyes and say, “no, you do it!  You are Super Jesus!” and give up any personal responsibility.

    I really don’t want to keep quoting the jokes, as it must be very annoying to be a performer, spending what must be ages composing all this, then some thoughtless blogger comes along and summarises years of work and says all the punchlines, badly no less, etc.  Sorry. They are just such good jokes, delivered so well, and with such thought behind them, and such excellent use of language and imagery [if I was a teacher he’d get an A+], that I want to pass them on.  I want you to go and rent or buy the DVD.  But you’ll be disappointed if I’ve ruined it for you by telling you all the jokes. So I’ll stop. This gig is well-paced, it’s clever, its bang on as usual, and it’s worth watching.  Off you go.)
  4. A Film With Me In It (2008)
    (A series of beautifully unlikely household accidents, 5 of them, kill a dog, a brother, a landlord, a girlfriend and a policewoman.  Everyone in the house who isn’t Dylan Moran [out of work writer, drinker, better on the horses], and Mark Doherty [likeable loser type, also out of work actor].  Because this amount of accidents can only be considered farce and doesn’t work as a plot for film or real life [says Dylan], they start to try and come up with other scenarios to explain the accidents so it doesn’t look like they killed everybody. This is so simple, and so funny. It also reminds me that this is the second thing I have seen where Keith Allen ends up dead and his body is a problem; a weird niche for anyone to be in, actingwise. 

    Two of my favourite lines - which you probably need to see in context to appreciate properly:
    “This isn’t a lie!  It’s the new truth!  Right?”
    “I borrowed these trousers.  Mine are covered with forensics.”

    The film has a stupid ending [even though it involves Jonathan Rhys Myers], but other than that, is a lovely little character based farce, as Dylan Moran’s character says.  When you think about it, it could have been an Ealing comedy - the delicious little set ups to the house accidents [like living in our house where the landlady fixes nothing], and the unlikely but inevitable deaths as a result of disrepair.  Or a Hammer horror from the old days, say: ‘The House That Ate People’. Why haven’t I seen Mark Doherty in more things?  And why hasn’t he written more things? He wrote this, and it was very funny.  Recommended.)
  5. Dylan Moran: Like, Totally (2006)
    (I know I’ve seen this gig before, but for some reason I just can’t remember it properly.  There was one joke that was just so funny in his telling of it that I have to spoiler it for you here - don’t worry, my rendition of it is so banal, his is much better! 

    He was talking about different kinds of imperialism in the past, and now.  The English, he nods indulgently at the audience, tended to go about to foreign places and simply be horribly rude and superior - ‘hey! You, you and you!  We’re having tiffin here, fuck off! Go and get water’.  Whereas today, the Americans…he imagines a country where lots of Americans have just turned up and started to buy everything and do things their way with no words to the people of the country. Some people of that country get together and come to a place to have a meeting and discuss this cultural imperialism. As they talk intently, the Americans appear, and quietly, oh so quietly, build a Starbucks round the meeting, and bring them drinks. Before the people know it, they are addicted to macchiatos and tall skinny soymilk lattes with sugarfree hazelnut syrup [that was my drink there].  Imperialism: accomplished.  He told it so baldly, and smoothly…I was barking with laughter.

    There were many good truisms in this gig.  As I go backward and backward in the gigs, I see how much more animated he used to be - never as mad as Ross Noble or Lee Evans, never that sort of physical comedy; just more animated.  Now, in the most recent available gig, it was as if I were watching him have tea from far across a room: still as relevant as ever, wiser and both more mellow and sharper.  Also, back in 2006, proving it was another world, he smoked on stage.  It’s so weird to see that now…)
  6. Calvary (2014)
    (This is going to be a hard review to write because I have to say, this was a very good film, but I hated it, really hated it. I’ll try and explain.

    It was about a good man, a priest, in Ireland, trying his best in a community that I am not exaggerating, hated his guts, for all the wrongs the Catholic Church had ever perpetrated on their country and themselves. The film starts when he is hearing confessions, and someone comes to tell him graphically how they were abused by a priest all their childhood; a priest now dead, so no justice was or can be done, personally. Brendan Gleeson, playing the good priest – and magnificently too – doesn’t know what to say, he is horrified but also, you can tell, deeply depressed himself about the state of his life, his faith, the Church, the country, the people he has to deal with.  His reaction is quiet.  The confessee then goes on to say he will take his pound of revenge/justice flesh from Brendan Gleeson.  “I’ll kill a good priest”, he says.  He gives Gleeson a week to set his house in order, and then he will kill him.  That’s quite a premise to start a film with.

    But then…you go with Gleeson through his week. You meet all the people he has to deal with. They are all [with the exception of his suicidal daughter, gained from before he was a priest], horrible people – filled with anger, and bitterness and hatred, all focussed on Gleeson, as the representative of the Church. The only two other Church characters you see, are a daft priest a little a la Father Ted-ish, in his naivety and prissiness; and a Cardinal who will take responsibility for nothing, and help no one, while sitting in his plush apartments.

    The characters are all exceedingly well done - haven’t seen Aiden Gillen spit such venom for a while, for example; Chris O’Dowd has never been so funny and so sad.  They all feel real, they are all different, they all have perfectly plausible axes to grind against the Church, and after an hour of them bullying and mocking poor Gleeson [he’s mistaken for a paedophile at one point, after an innocent conversation with a girl child], I just wanted the film to end.  It was depressing the hell out of me.

    It was billed as a very powerful black comedy, and while it did have some very funny lines [e.g. Chris O’Dowd on his nymphomaniac wife, who acts out sexually at all times due to a horrible Church influenced childhood, he says: ‘I think she’s bipolar, or lactose intolerant…one of the two’, as if these are equal things, with equal results], it was by no means a comedy. O’Dowd burns down the priest’s Church - everybody seems quite happy about it, joking and watching raptly; someone kills the priest’s dog [the point at which I genuinely started to hate the film, as I don’t do animal or child cruelty in anything I watch – though they did make good hay of the point of crying over a dog as opposed to crying over children victims of priestly paedophilia, later, a very good point].

    I was going to describe all the characters here, as they were all well painted.  But I won’t, I’ll leave it to you to go and watch.  I’ll stay with Dylan Moran’s character.  He was interestingly cast as the rich ex-banker who has bought up the big house down the road.  Nothing means anything to him.  He pisses on his exquisitely expensive paintings [literally, and as Gleeson says, ‘people like you have pissed over everything else’], and he makes donations of vast amounts of money to the Church for guilt he imagines he should have over his part in the mess of Ireland’s finances. The arrogance and sad disaffectedness of this totally unpleasant character, his weakness and lostness, is done brilliantly by Moran. I hated his character, and I’m sure I was sposed to.

    The thing is, I just finished watching the BBC comedy series Rev, which has some similarities to the aims of this film, vaguely.  The vicar in Rev is utterly decent, human and irrelevant, there’s no respect for him anymore, but he tries his best – at the end he loses his church and resigns his job, yet he kept his faith [just about] and there is a palpable feeling of hope, of a nebulous but real kind. Here, in Calvary [obviously aptly named], Gleeson is a good man, suffering personally for all the Church has ever done wrong to everybody everywhere - the Missions are mentioned several times too, the Church abroad.  At the end, bad things happen [not to spoiler]. There is also a glimmer of hope at the end, but it’s a glimmer, that’s all, and it doesn’t feel like it makes up for the rest of the film, filled as it is with vitriol and such such bitterness.  I see why this is. 

    The C of E over here in England, is, unless it revivifies itself in some way very soon, so increasingly irrelevant and neutered, as to not be a threat to anyone; as the priest who does Thought for the Day on Radio 4 – himself mocked in Rev as media whore - said in a review of same programme, we English, since the Civil War, prefer our clergy sweet and neutered and ineffectual; because we associate muscular and strong clergy with a wealth of bloodshed and strife.  The C of E are…dying, in my opinion [please note, no angry comments – just my opinion, brought up amongst C of E, and more evangelical and scary strains of Christianity], unless something changes this, and I’m not sure what that would be.  Whereas the Catholic Church and its empire are not yet dead – they are still powerful, still extremely wealthy while some of their best populated countries live in squalor, and still not properly apologising for all the paedophilia past and present. 

    THAT’S why this film is SO ANGRY - because the war still rages, the damage is still being done.  I read somewhere that this film was atheist criticism of the Church, just propaganda.  It doesn’t NEED to be, the sins of the Church are great enough that anyone can find evidence of them just by googling respectable news sites – and I don’t think it is atheist propoganda – what it is, is a howl and a kicking from a whole section of a whole country at an institution it feels has betrayed them in the worst, multiple, ways.  This is previous believers feeling horribly let down and angry and unsatisfied with the response from someone who was supposed to be trusted and reliable, to protect them…and who didn’t.  And even the good ones stood by. That’s why the end of this film had to happen.  And why the whole film feels so horribly soul destroying to watch.  Such damage.  Such anger.  Not that funny, really.

    Brendan Gleeson was great, Dylan Moran was great. But I won’t be watching this again in a hurry.)

[1] I went back and watched that section of the show again to make sure I had the gist right.  I didn’t have the same strong reaction to it I had the first time, which was interesting. I also didn’t see him putting as much venom into it as I read the first time I watched.  Which means he doubly got up my nose there, because he was doubly right, that’s a real sore spot for Feminist BlackberryJuniper. Aren’t reactions fascinating?