I Love The Brittas Empire

While we sit drinking our very early morning mugs of tea, and before starting our working day, my husband and I have fallen into the habit of watching one or two episodes of vintage comedies on Gold. Not only is it much more cheerful than the news, it's far less irritating than the miscellany of minor celebrity stuff that sometimes passes for news on our TV screens each morning.

Our favourite is probably The Brittas Empire, some twenty years old, and hardly dated at all. Still laugh-aloud funny, still clever, still surprisingly relevant (only just realised how much David Brent owes to Gordon Brittas) - however bizarre the situations - containing the brilliant writing, the clever direction, the fine acting and the germ of truth and pathos that all excellent comedies must possess.

Watching this morning's episode, which involved a Ruthenian juggling doppelganger, a trio of born again Christians from the church of Chattanooga, a receptionist teaching herself to play the violin, a child who lives in a cupboard and - among much else - a cycling bear,  it struck me that I believed in it all. Why? Because there's an enchanting self consistency about it. Not once, watching this comic tour de force, are you ever thrown out of your willing suspension of disbelief. Nobody ever puts a foot wrong. Not only that, but although you're sometimes hiding behind a cushion with embarrassment, you find yourself sympathising with all of them - even Mr Brittas. Perhaps especially Mr Brittas who means so well, who has a 'dream', but who leaves a trail of wreckage behind him. I sometimes wonder if it all boils down to the fact that the writers who conceived of these people actually liked their creations. It's what all fine comedies seem have in common: the unique relationship between the writer and his or her characters, even the monsters, a kind of intimate knowledge which makes them absolutely real, and consequently, allows us, as fellow human beings, to identify with them. Without that, not only is there no comedy, there's nothing to engage the viewers either.

Taylor and Burton and the Taming of the Shrew

Was supposed to be somewhere else this afternoon, in fact was supposed to be helping to clean up the Community Garden in our village. Fully intended to be there. Had been promised scones and tea as well.  Unfortunately, I forgot all about it. Fortunately, I had a valid reason. Well, valid for a writer, I suppose. I was watching The Taming of the Shrew. mesmerised by the sheer magnetism of the Burton and Taylor partnership. This film was made in 1967. It had all the sumptuousness of a Zeffirelli production. But most of all, it had Burton and Taylor. I had forgotten just how wonderfully energetic this movie is. Had forgotten how much I love the (now somewhat politically incorrect) play,  And .while we're on the subject of politics, never realised until today,  just how much Will Shakespeare was (to use a good Scots word) sooking up to the monarchy.  But most of all, I had forgotten about these two stars. Real, shiny stars the like of which we will not see again. Today's celebrities and WAGs and soap stars (there's oxymoron for you) pale into insignificance beside them. Can't hold a candle to them, in fact.
Sorry I missed the garden clean-up but so glad I watched the movie!

My Favourite Novel on Normblog - Kidnapped v Wuthering Heights.

Just written a guest post for Norman Geras, for his most interesting Normblog, about my favourite novel. Choosing one book from so many is a very tall order - in fact I could think of a dozen or more, straight off - but if I had to pick one, I think it was always going to be Kidnapped. And you can read my thoughts about it at the link. Actually, I almost picked Wuthering Heights, which is up there as joint first for me, and - if I'm honest - probably a book which I reread even more than my beloved Kidnapped. But it's a different relationship, and the way I feel about WH is somehow more personal and private than the way I feel about Kidnapped, if that makes sense. I love Kidnapped, and admire Stevenson as a writer perhaps more than any other. But I was born in Yorkshire, and trundled over those moors in my push chair, Wuthering Heights was my first love and still retains a special place in my literary affections.

Last week, we had a couple of days staying in an apartment in the lovely Orton Hall, not a million miles from North Yorkshire, and it felt a bit like staying in Thrushcross Grange (with all mod cons, of course!)
A little way down the village street we found the Heights itself, except that you would have to use your imagination, in order to transport it to the hill above the village - but oh, what a magical old house this seemed to be. And as a writer, of course, I'm now busy inventing a story to go with it.

Video Games and Violence - Sense and Nonsense

The other night, my computer game designer son sent me a link to a You Tube video of a television chat show, during which Tim Ingham, editor of Computer and Video Games magazine, was subject to a barrage of suspect statistics and ill founded accusations about the game industry. This programme was, I gather, shown in March of last year and caused a certain stir in the world of video games.
Ingham pointed out calmly, clearly and with a certain amount of good humoured grace, that the vast majority of computer games are neither violent nor sexist nor racist nor unsuitable for children.  That games are given guidance certificates in the same way as films. That parents need to take a little responsibility and refuse to give in to infant nagging, without first informing themselves of the nature of what is being nagged about. Unfortunately, it's the handful of ultra violent games that tend to get the tabloid publicity.
I don't much care for gratuitiously violent movies myself. And I'm not an avid gamer, although I'm fascinated by games, and their creative possibilities. So I probably wouldn't care for gratuitously violent games either. As far as violent movies go, I get squeamish and then I get bored.
But the programme's earnest disapproval of all 'violence as entertainment ' smacks of hypocrisy and must limit the participants' options a bit. Let's face it, Star Wars could be described as violence as entertainment, and where does that leave us with masterpieces such as Pulp Fiction and American Beauty, all the Bond movies, all the Alien movies, every Western ever made, Speed, the Matrix, most of Shakespeare, all of Marlowe, just about every opera ever written, hell, even my all time favourites, Some Like It Hot and Carousel.
It strikes me that, as the present generation of gamers grow older and become parents, this is an issue which will, to some extent, resolve itself. We're in an interim period here, where many parents of teenagers are largely ignorant about the world of games.
But another, perhaps more interesting aspect of this struck me while I was watching the clip, and cringing a little.There was a certain familiarity about it. Looking at it as a novelist I could catch in the solemn listing of spurious statistics and illogical arguments, an echo of other complaints: a long list of activities which have been condemned by an older generation, frightened by something they didn't understand. These included reading for pleasure, which was condemned selectively by the upper classes who loathed the very idea of the lower orders bettering themselves and paradoxically, by some members of those same working and middle classes who felt horribly disturbed by their children wasting valuable work time on books. Read the wonderful Diary of a Nobody for a brilliant depiction of parental disapproval of youthful obsessions, in this case amateur theatricals, from 1892. Then came film, television - still seen as a Bad Thing by some people -  all kinds of music, and a long list of other activities about which people become happily obsessive while others look on with disapproval.
The truth is that the world of computer games is huge and diverse, wildly creative and utterly enthralling. It is, besides, as wonderfully varied as the human beings who create the games. And for the vast majority, games are in no sense a solitary obsession. But most of us know that, already, don't we?