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Mark Brumby’s Cultural March

Hello again from a meteorologically confused Yorkshire, where it’s 20 degrees and sunny one moment and minus two with flakes of snow the next. Here we have a look back over March and our various cultural doings.

Lockdown put the kybosh on plans re travel, socialising, visits to the cinema and the like, but we still managed to get a few things done and, with the clocks moving forward and the nights drawing out, it feels as though change is in the air.

Let’s hope so, at least; so what did we do?

The world of books:

Between cutting the grass (in March, for Pete’s sake) and feeding the dog, we did make time to read.

The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson – 1952:

Hard to believe this was written nearly 70yrs ago because it’s as hard hitting as they come.

It may lack the explicit language and graphic descriptions that would in any case have prevented its publication in the early 50s but it is very, very real. And somewhat disturbing into the bargain as it’s a first-person-killer narrative and, whatever our narrator may be, a nice man, he isn’t.

No spoilers but you’ll get the picture within the first ten pages or so and, perhaps fair to say, our anti-hero starts out a bad man and moves rapidly downhill from there.

Built on a Lie – Owen Walker – 2021:

A non-fiction book by the FT journalist who broke several bits of the Woodford story over the period during which the famed, fabled and feted investor’s wheels fell off.

Taking as its title Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s statement that the fund was built on the lie that you can make illiquid investments and get your money back whenever you need to, Walker charts the rise, rise, rise and fall of Mr Woodford.
Hubris and greed are there aplenty and combine to create an interesting and informative picture as to why there are none so blind as those who refuse to see (particularly their own limitations).

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams – 1987

As Mr Adam’s will live forever as the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, this is his lesser known work. I might have got more out of it as a younger man but it’s arguably nonetheless interesting for that.

The line informing us that Mr Gently ‘was rounder than the average undergraduate and [he] wore more hats’ almost makes the book worth reading on its own and, mashed together as the book is from two or more Dr Who scripts that Mr Adams wrote, there are plenty of surreal twists and turns to keep the reader on his or her toes.

What’s on film?

A couple of originals followed by their sequels here alongside an old favourite (that we found now wasn’t).

Zoolander I and II:

Good stuff as Mr Stiller, ably assisted by Messrs Ferrell and Wilson lambasts the world of fashion. We’d seen them both before, of course, and had previously thought that II was better than I. We’ve reversed that opinion and, though both had their moments, to say the least, the sequel was perhaps feeding off its own fame just a little bit too much.

That may have been at least partially intended, of course, as both Zoolanders are about the shallowness of fame and the paucity of real talent, however that is measured, in fashion.

Bladerunner I and II:

Both still excellent films, the second made some 35yrs after the first.

The original Bladerunner is a true and deserved classic. Better, many would suggest, than the book on which it was based, the shoulder pads may have aged somewhat but Vangelis’s soundtrack hasn’t and the atmospherics remain spot on.

And if the world in 2019, when the first film was set, had been anything like that portrayed by Ridley Scott, I’m not sure many of us would have wanted to inhabit it. Still, rain, a lack of daylight and the post-apocalyptic backdrop may have had a certain charm if there had been nothing else on offer.

Bladerunner II, set in 2049, was also very entertaining. No spoilers as the main thrust of the film, that Ryan Gosling is a replicant with attitude, is front and centre from the very beginning. It had a lot to live up to, but it’s well worth a watch.

Total Recall (1990):

But Total Recall, perhaps, wasn’t.

Despite the certain fondness that comes from having watched it first in one’s youth – and the fact that the central premise is a very interesting one – it’s hard not to conclude that the critics might be right when they call it a crass, teenage gorefest.
Throw in a few catchy lines (‘consider that a divorce’ and, well, that’s about it), the odd boob or, in this case, three, and you know that the director recognises his audience. It is what it is but maybe we should give the remake a watch.

And on television?

Terrestrial TV isn’t the force it was a decade or two ago but it’s still worth tuning in from time to time.

Although one has to question that assumption occasionally if the content reviewed on Gogglebox is anything to go by with its steady diet of Love Island, the Circle, First Dates and their various derivatives, all of which seem a) awful and b) popular.

But Gogglebox does keep you up to date with the odd drama such as Line of Duty. The watchers seem to narrate it in real time (‘she’s putting gloves on…she has a knife…she’s going in the house…’ etc) but be warned that, either for better or worse, there are spoilers aplenty.

Food & drink.

Well, there’s not much of that going on, is there?

Certainly not out of doors but we’ve managed the odd hot beverage in central York.

Still, as it seems to be 20 degrees in the sun with frost still in the shade, you have to get both your timing and your location right otherwise it’s just an exercise in shivering whilst drinking cold coffee.

Roll on next Monday when we can at least sit down in a pub (garden).

Conclusion.

Hopefully April will see some, at least, of our freedoms return.

We’ll try to stay outdoors a bit but we never did get around to digging out the 80s classics Withnail and I and Spinal Tap, so they remain on the to-do list and there’s no shortage of books backing up. The intention is still to infill with the odd Elmore whilst trying a few authors that are new (at least to us).

Those are the intentions at least but, in the phrase that was coined nearly 900yrs ago, intentions are what pave the road to Hell.

Let’s hope not…