Category Archives: Media

Welcome back my friends to the show that never, ever seems to end……

I am finding that getting old doesn’t actually have a lot to recommend it, by and large.  What’s more, it’s not just the physical battles engendered by a lifetime of bodily abuse, though it has to be said that those are challenging enough.

There are other aspects of ageing which are just as problematical as trying to cope with bits of one’s body that no longer bend or stretch or function the way that they used to.  These are often personality traits or behavioural tics that whilst considered amusing enough back in the day have now become entrenched and calcified.  For want of a better expression, this might be referred to as the Victor Meldrew paradigm. 

Thus far, I have managed to avoid mentioning the word ‘Olympics’ in this blog.  That I need to say this reminds me of the old jazz buffs’ joke about the definition of a gentleman being a man who can play the banjo – but doesn’t.  So, it might reasonably be asked why someone like me,  who is generally well-disposed towards a number of top-line sports – football, cricket, baseball – is so negative about the London Olympics. 

There are quite a few reasons, actually.  One of the main issues would be that I find  so many of the Olympic ‘disciplines’ unutterably tedious to watch – diving, fencing, archery, gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting – to name but six.   I have no interest in any of these sports generally, so why, during the Olympics, am I supposed to fill my day with endless hours of the BBC’s coverage of such events?  Then, there are the politics and corporate skullduggery going on behind the scenes, but I can (reluctantly) accept that without the likes of Microsoft and the Coca-Cola Corporation and suchlike, the Games probably wouldn’t be viable at all.  It’s the way of the modern world and whilst I may not like it, I just have to shrug my shoulders and deal with it.  Then again, I (happily) don’t live in London and won’t have to contend with an artificially inflated level of Council Tax for the rest of my lifetime in order to pay for the inconvenience and hassle and the Limo Lanes.

Watching paint dry – the latest Olympic ‘discipline’

So, having little interest in the Games as a whole, I just cherry-picked the bits I wanted to watch – specifically, the football and Usain Bolt – and ignored the rest.  Elsewhere in the house, the Partner was gung-ho for it all from the Opening Ceremony onwards, whilst the Princess slowly became an enthusiast as well.  I was doing pretty well, reining in my cynicism and disdain as the BBC milked the popular mood and ran the emotional gamut from A to B.  Somewhere along the line, everyone seemed to have forgotten that about a year ago, there were areas of London just a few discus throws from the Olympic Stadium that were going up in flames.  Instead, we were invited to join in this media-orchestrated Hallmark Cards Love-In which insisted that everyone in London was suddenly being nice to one another.  In the broadsheets, I caught a passing glimpse (and then avoided) articles by heavyweight columnists who were suddenly writing about ‘the Olympic effect’ and how we had ‘learned to like ourselves a little more’.  People even began to talk openly of ‘the mood of the nation.’  Oh dear. 

“I love everyone and I want to give all my cash to Boris Johnson”

Anyway, I was feeling quite pleased with myself, having avoided pretty much everything except the few events that did interest me – and, incidentally, all the gushing drivel from the BBC presenters.  Then along came the final day of the whole thing and we accepted an invitation to go and have dinner with friends – the only friends we have who have openly espoused the Olympics.   They had actually been to London to attend the Archery at Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Synchronised Shove Ha’penny or something similar at some other venue.   Fortunately, having not seen them for some time we had plenty of other stuff to discuss, but the TV  in their flat was relentlessly glued to Olympic coverage and I realised to my horror that dinner had been timed to ensure that we were all fed and watered in time for everyone to sit down and watch the Closing Ceremony.

I had heard much about Danny Boyle’s choreographed opening ceremony and the largely positive response it received.  Expecting something similar, I suppose I just thought ‘How bad can it be?’  and sat back in the hope that it wouldn’t be too long and that conversation could then resume or that we could then go home.

What I got was unmitigated Hell.  If anyone ever asks me – and they probably won’t – how I envisage Hell, I can now simply refer them to the three hours that ensued.  This was Hell made flesh and some of the participants – Russell Brand, Liam Gallagher, Brian May – are among its minor demons as far as I am concerned.  Of course, you can talk about the scale of the operation, the logistics of cramming thousands of athletes into the stadium during the course of two Elbow songs, the brilliant lighting and pyrotechnics and the willingness of the biddable audience to get on board with the constipated spectacle.  However, no amount of discussion could make any sense out of what unfolded.

Hell.  Note kitchen sinks being parachuted in…..

And, my, how it unfolded…and just when you thought it had finished unfolding, it unfolded a bit more.  Apart from the ceremonial bit at the end where Sebastian Coe thanked everyone for their efforts and support and the faux-sombre dousing of the Olympic pilot light before the fireworks started, the whole deranged smørgåsbord seemed to be built around British pop music of the last 50 years.  Having said that, everything still seemed to be locked into the 1960’s and 1970’s – thus, we got Ray Davies and The Who for real plus creepy necrophiliac footage of John Lennon and Freddie Mercury and The Kaiser Chiefs playing a respectably feisty version of ‘Pinball Wizard’, though, as  far as I know, pinball is not an Olympic sport – yet. 

There were those whose music was played – notably The Beatles and David Bowie – who were conspicuous by their absence and those whose music never featured at all – most glaringly, The Rolling Stones.  I was, however, pleased that rumours of an appearance by New Order proved unfounded; the last thing the happy-clappy throng needed was being serenaded by a load of miserable Mancs.  There was no reggae either;  instead we got a token rapper and some dhol drummers to remind us of  how multi-cultural we are.  

There was some surrealism as well – some of it may even have been intentional.  The Pet Shop Boys (well it was supposed to be them and they were possibly singing ‘West End Girls’) were whisked round the stadium in a dayglo rickshaw whilst dressed like a Salvador Dali vision of the functionaries of the Spanish Inquisition.  Then for some unknown reason,  we got a weird piece of video of the late Freddie Mercury doing a bit of rabble-rousing.   This was merely  a prelude to the full-on horror of the remains of Queen singing the loathsomely fascist ‘We will rock you’ – preceded by 2 or 3 minutes of ghastly guitar shredding from Brian May, whose grey curls now look like some kind of ‘Elephant Man’-type fungal growth.   More necrophilia came along via that weird video of John Lennon singing ‘Imagine‘ whilst Yoko does the dusting in the background.  ‘”Imagine there’s no countries…” sang John…….sorry John, but then there’d be no Olympics.   “Imagine no possessions….”   Err, right, John – better not tell the sponsors about that one.

The most stage-managed piece of lunacy came courtesy of Eric Idle who seemed to be dressed as a ‘Star Wars’ stormtrooper, affected to be fired out of a cannon and then treated us all to a rousing singalong of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, which was about as normal as things got – ironic that  after all these years, it should be Monty Python making a stand for normalcy.  After the Spice Girls had stood on top of some modified black cabs and done a couple of  predictably shouty Spice Girl things about how we should take them seriously and not just ogle their legs and their tits in those micro-dresses they wear, things meandered on a bit and I have to confess to dozing through pipe bands, Annie Lennox doing her boring diva thing in a shipwreck, the band of the Grenadier Guards and some ballet dancers doing expressive dance – by this point it really was chuck in everything including the kitchen sink.  What woke me up were the opening chords of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ and there was a moment of dislocation as I adjusted to the fact that this was the real deal and not a Kaiser Chiefs karaoke.

The Spice Girls. On top of taxis. In dodgy costumes.                They’re really serious about their art, y’know.

The Who played a medley of about three songs, concluding with a thunderous rendition of ‘My Generation’ – an interesting choice for the final piece of diced carrot in this musical minestrone, considering its lyrics tell the tale of young outsiders taking lots of drugs as a way of distancing themselves from society.

And then it was finally over.  I was grumpy and tired, an otherwise pleasant evening had been hijacked and I felt as though I’d been beaten up by the Teletubbies.  What manner of impression this ceremony created in the minds of anyone watching from Uzbekistan, Ecuador or Tanzania is open to speculation.  Personally, if I knew little about London and had watched that broadcast, I would have formed the inescapable conclusion that the whole city is essentially an open-plan lunatic asylum and would have shelved any plans to visit any time soon.  And so, the Olympic torch moves on to Rio de Janeiro – and as far as I am concerned, not a moment too soon .

KITV4 Honolulu and the tsunami that never showed up….

“They didn’t think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small
There was no wrecks… nobody drownded
‘Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.”

(Marriott Edgar – ‘The Lion & Young Albert’)

The internet never ceases to amaze me in terms of the way it shrinks our planet,  making yesterday’s exotica seem like tomorrow’s commonplaces, though this, I think,  kills the romance of travel and turns everything into an excursion.  My mate Ade’s eldest is now in Laos and communicating via Facebook as though she was in Leicester.  I was talking to someone the other day about the thrill of ‘Poste Restante’ mail pick-ups, where you’d arrive at some shabby backwater town in the wilds of Whereverland, turn up at the ‘Poste Restante’ desk at the local Post Office and discover one or maybe more letters from home.  There were no cellphones and calls from local landlines were insanely expensive and technically dodgy.  You really felt cut off from your friends and family – OK, so it wasn’t as edgy as Lewis & Clark traversing America to find the Pacific coast, but getting hold of those letters felt like a real treasure trove even though they were inevitably full of parish pump affairs and news of sprained ankles and cricket matches, of  maiden aunts and the British rain in the soft summer afternoons…..

Not for the Facebook kids, who are uploading their photos from internet caffs from here to Mandalay so that you know what they’ve been up to the night before even before their hangover wears off the following day.  Reassuring in these days of Somalian pirates and terrorist lunatics, but it does somehow diminish the romance of it all.

Look out, there’s a senior Superintendent about……

Anyway, I read about the Chilean earthquake on the BBC website just three hours after it had happened and after digesting the fact that the death toll seemed amazingly low,  my next thought was of a potential tsunami.  I saw a show on TV here a few years back where some guy went out to one of the westernmost islands in the Canary Islands archipelago – one of the non-touristy ones – where, due to a geological fault line, half of the island is on the brink of breaking off and dropping into the Atlantic, thereby setting off massive tsunamis.  As there is no land between this island and the eastern seaboard of the USA, the presenter was painting a rather ghoulish picture of cities from Miami to Boston being washed away by a series of 250-foot high waves.

Anyway, it seemed to me that the Chilean earthquake could set off a similar pattern of waves spreading outwards across the Pacific.  I soon discovered that Hawaii was only 15 hours away and that there was no intervening land mass to diminish the waves.  A real-life blockbuster began to take shape in my head – I could almost see the skyscrapers collapsing like dominoes into the boiling surf, the ships tossed like empty boxes, the people engulfed like ants in a flood….what a movie this would be.  I had Kevin Costner pegged for the hard-bitten geologist who tries to warn the islanders to take to the hills, with Michelle Rodriguez from ‘Avatar’ as his pouting succulent…. anyway, I digress.

A gratuitous shot of Michelle Rodriguez, who has nothing to do with this story.

To my delight I discovered the website for KITV4 of Honolulu, an ABC affiliate, which was running a live feed from their rolling news coverage of how Hawaii was gearing up for a potential watery Armagedddon still speeding across the Pacific towards them.  For hours, this noble band of journalists – about 4 studio anchors and maybe 6 ‘roving’ reporters kept all the balls in the air, repeating the Tsunami Warning that required evacuation of some of the lowland areas of Oahu and the outer islands, reporting on the good-natured way that the local populace was dealing with all this and trying to make sense of some of the scientific gobbledygook that the experts from the ‘Pacific Institute for Something Terribly Important to do with the Ocean’ were spouting.  Apparently, so we were told, the bays were at a greater risk than the open coastline because of ‘resonance issues’.  OK, fella, so my expensive tropical paradise lodge at Hilo Bay is about to be turned into matchwood by the Pacific, so could you at least try to explain why ‘resonance’ is such an issue?  The scientists, all in loud floral Hawaiian shirts, all looking like members of an unsuccessful Loggins and Messina tribute band,  were all uniformly hopeless in front of the TV cameras, and they were all very careful not to make any statements that would come back and bite them in the ass – phrases like ‘We are confident that….’ or ‘I think we can now say with some certainty…’  were as rare as hen’s teeth.

The TV station people were a mix of indigenous Hawaiians and ‘off-islanders’ and they were trying to project a strong belief in the ability of the population to maintain their cool and do the right thing.  The subtext for them was that there was a community here with the necessary skills to pull Hawaii through any forthcoming crisis.  Inevitably, there were moments where the pace flagged and we were treated to a revolving travelogue from some of Honolulu’s CCTV cameras – well, those close to the coast anyway. and though the horizon was duly scanned, it all seemed totally blameless.  Let’s face it; it was a gorgeous day, cloudless and with temperatures in the low 80’s – and yet the beaches were largely deserted apart from the odd refusenik who just wouldn’t be moved by the police, the media or anyone else.

The names were great, too, in a kind of  ‘Bama-lama-a wop-bam-boom-shang-a-lang’  kind of way.  All the journalistic gravitas these journalists had was somehow punctured when they were introduced as ‘Mahialeohea’ or something similar – and all the local information they gave out all sounded made up.  ‘Kahialeva Bay and Amalapeya Avenue are closed, as is the Rahoriponeya Expressway and the Wahikiwonna Marina.  Just brought back memories of that Spike Jones version of  the ‘Hawaiian War Chant’….

Anyway, the Beardy Loggins & Messina Boys were back on having no doubt mellowed out with a couple of big fat ones full of home-grown and they were confidently predicting that the New Riders of the Purple Sage were going to make a big comeback this year.  Oh, and they also said that the first waves would reach south-east facing (i.e. Chile-facing) Hilo Bay at about 9 pm last night (UK time).  The anchors picked up on this and we started to get some weird pronunciations – Chile became ‘Chill-ay’   (emphasis on the ‘ay’) – making it sound unbearably camp and Hawaii became ‘Har- vy-ee’  (emphasis on the ‘vy’) as you would expect a German to pronounce it.  Maybe they’d just been on air too long…..

An artists’ impression of a Beardy Hawaiian Scientist….

So, I tuned back in for the big Hollywood finale about 8:45.  By now the Beardy Boys were red-eyed and babbling about 6-7  foot waves; not a cataclysm but capable of serious destruction. But for once, nature refused to co-operate.  9 pm came and went and the waves rolled in at a deserted Waikiki Beach, but no bigger than usual.  Most of what activity there was seemed to be happening in one of the rivers – maybe the Wailuku – that flows into Hilo Bay.  Water here seemed to be surging in and out, with large-scale disturbance of silt and sediment and big rises & falls in the water levels within the river.

The Beardy Boys were still being exasive – ‘Does what has – or hasn’t – happened here means that the Japanese can relax?’ asked one reporter  ‘Well, I think I’d have to leave that to the Japanese to decide….’ came the usual shifty answer.  Nothing like Richard Dreyfus in ‘Jaws‘…now there was a beardy scientist who said what he thought and screw the consequences.  The Beardy Boys have clearly had a few lectures on accountability.  As for the TV folks, they did a sterling job and thankfully failed to observe that staple of US television, where, in a discussion, the speaker looks into the camera as though they are addressing their comments to you rather than to a colleague.  So well done KITV4 for keeping us going on the Tsunami that Never Was for upwards of 12 hours….a sterling effort…

A Cautionary Tale: J.T. and the Sanctimonious Whores of the Media

All week, the English media has been full of the lurid details of the sexual misdemeanours of the England football captain, John Terry, with much tut-tutting in the editorial columns about how the England captain should be above such sordid romps, especially when they are with some woman who may just have had a liaison with one of the reserve left-backs…and the bump & grind hacks of the gutter press are promising more revelations to come.

So a footballer has crossed the line and done the nasty with some bimbo or other….this is hardly news.  Since George Best downed his first champagne cocktail, there have been plenty of footballers ready to parlay their ‘status’ for a quick knee-trembler out the back behind the dustbins and plenty of young girls ready to do the horizontal mambo with any Premier League journeyman they can lay their sweaty little maulers on.  So what’s the real story here?

Is it because John Terry was the captain of England or is there something more to this?  Is there a connection with the undeniable fact that Terry’s family have had a collective malfunction over the last 12 months or so?   To recap: Mum & Mum-in-Law done for shoplifting, Dad done for selling cocaine and good ol’ JT himself implicated in backhanders for tours of the Chelsea training ground (not proven) and some wretchedly dodgy promotional scam to maximise his status and earning power as England captain  

And somehow in the midst of all of this, he wins an award for being ‘Father of the Year’…..you have to laugh, really…..

“Your Mum wants to know if you wanna  buy some flip-flops”  JT and his Dad share a tender moment

Whatever the case, you have to ask if there is there anything more repellent than the attitude of the media in all of this…to paraphrase someone from some movie I cannot recall ‘God save us from the sanctimoniousness of whores…’

These wretched lowlifes (journalists, paparazzi et al) are the same people who wait outside nightclubs until 4 am for the likes of JT to emerge, who then try to ‘rehabilitate’ him by doing  fluff pieces ‘at home with the England skipper and his delightful family’ and who are now crucifying him on the moral high ground they suddenly seem to have temporarily rediscovered until it suits them to abandon it in favour of something juicier…

Poor old JT just doesn’t get it, because like a lot of footballers, he’s actually not very bright.  His family’s antics over the last year suggest that he never had much in the way of moral guidance anyway.  In America, the Terrys would be dismissed as ‘trailer trash’ or jumped-up hillbillies.  The press have hung JT out to dry and he just doesn’t quite realise it yet.  He’s been so used to having things his own way (apart from that penalty miss in the Moscow rain…ooops!) and he hasn’t had to cope with hardship or setbacks or anything much that has been negative for some considerable time.

Moscow 2008: JT’s finest hour….and we love him for it….

And now, the granite-faced Italian who manages the England football team, Fabio Capello has stripped Terry of his captain’s armband and made him look as pathetic he did after missing that Moscow penalty (see above).  No-one will be too surprised as Capello has a reputation for being a bit of a disciplinarian, but Fabio needs to be a little bit careful, because if he’s fishing for moral probity and stiff-upper-lip characters in the England squad, he’s trawling in a very shallow puddle.  Terry’s successor, Rio Ferdinand, has a habit of missing drug tests and next in line Steven Gerrard recently got acquitted by a jury of moustachio’d men with perms in shellsuits in a Liverpool courtroom for battering some hapless DJ who refused to play ‘The Birdy Song’ for him (allegedly).

However, the most desperately depressing aspect of all this is not the sullying of the ‘Corinthian’ values attached to captaining the England football team – that process probably began in 1970 when during a pre-World Cup visit, England captain Bobby Moore was nabbed in Colombia for apparently stealing a bracelet from some bling shop in Bogota. Then, the nation reacted with horror.  Naval squadrons were despatched to the Gulf of Maracaibo, stiff diplomatic letters were exchanged, there were sharp intakes of breath from Tunbridge Wells to Tewksbury and mutterings about ‘bloody dagoes’….no, the truly depressing aspect of all this is that Terry failed to ‘do the right thing’ and resign, because he probably doesn’t understand what the ‘right thing’ is in such circumstances. 

Like many people (myself included) Capello thinks the whole captaincy issue is overrated.  It actually doesn’t really matter who captains the England football team as long as they are ‘a safe pair of hands’.  However, some people see the captaincy as some kind of Grail and therefore being seen to do the right thing is important.  Terry did not do the right thing about this extramural affair and therefore should have stepped down, making lots of  face-saving comments about spending more time with his family and putting his family ahead of anything else.  Then at least, he might have retained a few shreds of dignity, shown a little humility and retained a modicum of respect in some quarters.

Instead, he hung that glass jaw out in the wind, insisting that he would do nothing until he had spoken to Capello, thereby forcing Capello to display the ‘cojones’ that Terry so obviously lacks by firing him inside 12 minutes at their Wembley showdown yesterday.

John Terry with the Daddies Sauces Dad of the Year title for 2009

“Who’s the daddy?”

Apologists for Terry (who, oddly, seem to support Chelsea for the most part) will no doubt say that the media have stitched their beloved JT up, whilst the rest of us are left to reflect on a ‘Father of the Year’ who is clearly without any real moral compass at all, who thinks that he can do what he likes and have it all without fear of rebuke or recrimination and who has simply added to the stereotype of the ‘thick’ footballer with too much money and too little common sense.  He leaves the armband behind him, bereft of dignity and scuttles back to Chelsea to lick his wounds.

Rio Ferdinand takes on the poisoned chalice, but I’d at least have offered it to Beckham; for someone who was supposed to epitomise that ‘Thick Footballer from Outer London’. David (and his much-maligned Missus) showed themselves to be extremely savvy operators when it came to dealing with the media.   Safe hands, but hands that may not play anything more than a cameo role in this summer’s World Cup.

For the last word on JT, it’s perhaps worth revisiting this quote….’I definitely see my success as a chance to repay my family.’   One can only wonder how much he owes them….must be loadsamoney….

The enduring impact of T.E.Lawrence…..

The Legacy of Lawrence of Arabia’ (presented by Rory Stewart in 2 parts, BBC 2010)

With Lawrence in Arabia’ by Lowell Thomas (1924)

The BBC have just broadcast a two-part documentary film hosted by Rory Stewart, a highly intelligent 35-year old ex Etonian already co-opted by the Tories to stand for a safe Lakeland/Borders constituency in the forthcoming election.  Stewart is certainly a colourful character; his USP appears to be to trek on foot (perhaps he ‘yomps’?)around his potential constituency, much of which is wild moorland.  This will no doubt play well among the isolated rural communities still recovering from the winter floods.

 Prior to circumnavigating the Lake District, Stewart was based in Kabul.  Known locally as Lawrence of Belgravia, his role in Kabul was to try to preserve what is left of the city’s old buildings for posterity.  Heaven knows what the Afghans made of this tousle-haired boy-man with his cut glass accent and rumpled suits – frequently abandoned in favour of native garb.  Before taking on this role in Kabul, Stewart had already walked across Afghanistan in the footsteps of Babur, one of the Mogul emperors, so trekking round Cumbria clearly didn’t present too many problems.

Rory Stewart – ‘Lawrence of Belgravia’? 

And there’s more on his overcrowded CV – until 2004, Stewart worked for the Foreign Office and was acting Governor of an Iraqi province in the wake of the invasion.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of his heroes is T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, who pretty much wrote the book (literally & figuratively) on Brits going native in the Middle East.  The fact that it is Stewart rather than some dull but worthy Oxford don who has been selected to present this show is not without significance.  As the picture above suggests, Stewart, too, is not blind to the potential propaganda gains of ‘going native’ and he  has no doubt acquired a whiff of glamour by association as we are invited to see him as a 21st century reincarnation of Lawrence.  A surefire vote-winner up in the Borders, no doubt.

Given his involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stewart’s  fascination for Lawrence is hardly to be wondered at.  Many Englishmen over the years have bought into the whole Lawrence saga and Stewart will not be the last to do so.

However, his particular interest in Lawrence arises out of yet another Allied invasion of the Middle East which, like the one in which Lawrence was embroiled, has brought highly dubious results to the area in political terms.  Hardly surprising therefore that those compelled to spend time out in the Gulf are studying Lawrence’s writings as never before – indeed, as Stewart himself points out, these days, US soldiers are fully expected to read some, if not all, of Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ (or perhaps the abridged version: ‘Revolt in the Desert’) .

Myself, I am currently reading Lowell Thomas’ ‘With Lawrence in Arabia’, published in 1924 as a companion piece to his narrated ‘son et lumiére’ piece, ‘With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia’ with which Thomas toured the world and which featured incense burners and exotic dancers cavorting before murals of the Pyramids as well as filmed footage shot in Arabia and Syria by Thomas and his cameraman, Harry Chase. 

 Lawrence with Lowell Thomas

In 1914, as war engulfed Western Europe, Thomas was a reporter based in Chicago.  He was deputed by President Woodrow Wilson as one of a number of journalists whose official task was to ‘compile a history of the conflict’, but whose real mission was to find stories in the European theatre of war that would whip up enthusiasm for the War in the USA.  Thomas’ plan was to use the exciting new medium of film to record the story of the War.  However, the US Government balked at his budget and he instead recruited the financial support of a consortium of Chicago businessmen (they owed him a favour or two, but that’s another story) to finance his trip – it is to them that ‘With Lawrence in Arabia’ is dedicated.

 Thomas found little in Flanders to thrill his American readers & viewers, so he travelled on into Italy, where he first heard about Lawrence and his exploits in the desert from an Australian naval officer.  Thomas swiftly gained accreditation as a war journalist and travelled to Jerusalem where he first met up with Lawrence.

 In a series of skilful newsreels and written pieces, Thomas set about creating the romantic image of the white-robed adventurer who was leading the wild Bedouin tribesmen of the trackless wastes of Arabia in an extraordinary revolt against the moribund Turkish Empire.  American (and British) audiences bought into this amazing saga with huge gusto, propelling their country towards war.

 ‘The uncrowned King of Arabia’

Of course, it wasn’t quite that straightforward.  In reality, Lawrence was having to pay out huge quantities of gold to the tribesmen in order to dissuade them from returning home to their desert camps.  Their view of the conflict was purely tribal; only Lawrence and the Royal Family represented by Emir Faisal appeared to have a real belief in an independent Arabia governed by Faisal and his descendents.

 Elsewhere, the French and the British were already quietly planning to carve up the post-war  Middle East along colonial lines with the French assuming control of Northern Iraq and what we now refer to as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, whilst the British would take control of Arabia, Palestine and Mesopotamia as well as retaining their foothold in Egypt.

 Those principally responsible for this were a French bureaucrat called Picot and a minor Tory MP and Yorkshire baronet, Sir Mark Sykes.  Sykes was (somewhat laughably) considered to be an expert on Middle Eastern affairs and, as Rory Stewart points out, had published several books on the Middle East, including one where it’s possible to find the following index entry; ‘Arab, character of – see Treachery’

 Lawrence was well aware of these clandestine moves and was clearly enough of a romantic to have a greater loyalty to Feisal than to the British authorities.  He felt that if he could get the ‘Arab Army’, as it was now called, into Damascus before the Allies got there, then Faisal could claim the symbolic secular capital of the Arab world for the Arabs and the Allies would have to respect that claim.

 He succeeded as well, though in the end it was a futile gesture.  Allenby just waited for the putative ‘Arab Government’ of Damascus to fragment into a series of tribal squabbles before graciously accepting Faisal’s desperate plea to assume control of the city.  Lawrence left Damascus for the UK the following day and never returned to the desert.

 However triumphant his successes against the Turks, Lawrence was to find that his next opponents – his own government and associated allies like the French – were to be far more obdurate.  Lawrence attended the Versailles Peace Conference as a special envoy to Emir Faisal who was there to press his claims for an independent Arab state even though he was worldly enough to understand that the British and French were unlikely to co-operate. 

 

 Emir Faisal (front centre) at the Versailles Conference with his staff.  Lawrence is to his immediate right.

Has there ever been a Peace Conference more guaranteed to set down markers for multiple future conflicts? Versailles must surely stand as a watchword for the kind of bumbling incompetence and vainglorious, short-sighted bureaucratic stupidity which has subsequently fuelled the comic creations of everyone from the Goons to Monty Python, except there was little humour for those who struggled to cope with the complete lack of understanding displayed by Sykes, Picot and their cohorts.

 The maps of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn to suit the imperial pretensions of the victorious powers without any regard to the feelings of the vanquished or, apparently, some of the Allies.  After all, the Bedouin had fought at Allenby’s side to free themselves of one imperial infestation, only to immediately be saddled with another.  Lawrence had promised all who fought alongside him an Arabia for the Arabs, but thanks to the bureaucrats, the maps of the Middle East were redrawn by men who had no conception of the tribal boundaries or loyalties that Lawrence had wrestled with as he pushed the Arab Revolt northwards.  Lawrence & Faisal struggled in vain to overcome the tides of red ink that were carving the Middle East into parcels for either the French or the British to administer as they saw fit.

 In the end, Faisal the pragmatist took the Mesopotamian olive branch the British offered him, becoming King of Iraq in 1921.  Lawrence the dreamer, the idealist, the romantic – he attempted to retreat from public life altogether, trying to lose  himself in academia or in the anonymity of services life just as Lowell Thomas was turning him into one of the 20th Century’s first media-constructed celebrities.  However, unlike Valentino, Chaplin and Lillian Gish, Lawrence was by no means always  a willing accomplice to his own public persona. 

 

 Lawrence initially retreated into the academic world in order to write ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, but then enlisted in the fledgling RAF in 1922 under an assumed name.  His cover was soon blown and he then enlisted in the Tank Corps where he spent 2 unhappy years before returning to the RAF in 1925.  The publication of ‘Revolt in the Desert’ in 1926 brought a further surge in public interest and Lawrence was posted to a series of obscure RAF bases in modern-day Pakistan….and so the unhappy tale continues until Lawrence finally left active service in early 1935.   

 After the War came the peace, but not for Lawrence.  Like many before and since he found that war had defined his life whether he wanted it to or not. He died in a motorcycle crash near his Dorset home just a few weeks after becoming a civilian for good.  He was 46 years old.

 Amongst the many papers Lawrence left behind was a map now housed in London’s Imperial War Museum showing his vision for a post-war Middle East.  Significantly, the colonial influence of all the Great Powers – especially the French- is diminished.  Lawrence had also envisaged a separate homeland for the Armenians and British influence extending along the Tigris/Euphrates valleys.  It’s tempting to suggest that Lawrence’s vision for the post-war Middle East would have proven less of a disaster than the Sykes/Picot version, but of course, second-guessing history can be a dangerous game.

 Lawrence’s map of the Middle East as he hoped it might be after the War

My fascination with Lawrence is in itself, of course, a media-fuelled vision.  The main impact was created by David Lean’s magnificent ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) where Peter O’Toole’s tormented adventurer storms unforgettably across the screen , re-igniting the whole Lawrence saga for another generation. Even Lowell Thomas gets in on the act as ‘Jackson Bentley’ in the film, played to good effect by Arthur Kennedy.  Had it not been for this film, Lawrence might just have been seen as another British eccentric like Sir Richard Burton. 

 What might Burton’s reputation be today if Lean had made a film of his extraordinary life?  One of the first ‘infidels’ to visit Mecca, discovering Lake Tanganyika and one of the sources of the Nile…it’s every bit as compelling as Lawrence’s exploits…..

Sir Richard Burton 

And then of course, there’s Indiana Jones; surely Steven Spielberg’s hybrid blend of Humphrey Bogart and T.E. Lawrence…..

 Meanwhile, Rory Stewart wanders the desert pensively or discusses Allied policy with Iraqi shopkeepers whilst reflecting on how right Lawrence was to try to prevent xenophobic pen-pushers like Sykes getting their hands on the keys to the map room. 

 Too late, Rory; that die was cast before you and I were even born…..

Album cover of the week……..

Young Ideas?   I don’t think so, somehow…..  The problem with something like this is that you just can’t tell if there’s any irony involved.  Not sure of the year – early 60’s maybe?  That being the case, probably no irony, in which case the image they are promoting here is just so dumb and so fake as well. Ukelele Boy and Hat Girl represent the kind of “innocence”  that their parents would want to believe in, but surely nobody else could. 

As usual, captioning the couples in the background is far more interesting…the couple to the left are seemingly involved in some ritual humiliation game, with the girl abasing herself, whilst the couple to the right are clearly involved in a dispute about something he wants her to do but she’s reluctant.  Now that’s much more realistic in terms of ‘Young Ideas’  than the image promoted by the pair of  happy fuckwits in the foreground!

Also, it doesn’t help that Ukelele Boy looks like Michael Ballack……

Twin Peaks Pt. 3: “That gum you like is going to come back in style”

Shortly after ‘Twin Peaks’ came to an end as a television series we got news that David Lynch was making a ‘Twin Peaks movie.  This seemed fanciful and yet in 1992, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me’ duly appeared.  The film got almost universally negative reviews and yet any committed ‘Peaks’ fan just had to see it.  I prevaricated for a while until I realised that all the negative reviews meant that the movie’s cinema run wasn’t going to last long.  My mate Serge and I went along to a multiplex in town and shared a ‘cinema’ about the size of a large wardrobe with (appropriately) two teenaged girls who sat behind us, whispering and giggling throughout the film.

 As for that……The opening half hour of the film lulls you into a false sense of familiarity.  The film begins with the murder of Teresa Banks in Deer Meadow some time before Laura’s death.  From what happened in the TV series, we can guess that Leland is the killer but all we actually see is the TV in Teresa’s trailer being smashed – very symbolic.   

 Due to a sulking Kyle McLachlan, Lynch rewrote the opening sequence with Chris Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland as FBI agents investigating the Teresa Banks murder instead of Agent Cooper.  Deer Meadow is a kind of ‘anti-Twin Peaks’; the local sheriff’s office is incredibly unhelpful, the local diner is a sleazepit….  Even so, it’s all within that recognisably quirky Lynch style.  After carrying out an autopsy that links Teresa Banks to Laura Palmer via the presence of a typed letter inserted under one of her fingernails, Isaak’s Agent Desmond appears to vanish into thin air and though Cooper tries to track him down, he has no success. 

The prequel: “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me”

At the trailer park in Deer Meadow:  Kyle McLachlan as Agent Cooper, with Harry Dean Stanton looking amazingly like Spike Milligan.  

The movie then relocates to Twin Peaks and features the last seven awful days of Laura Palmer’s life.  There is absolutely no humour here; no cherry pies or Dictaphone messages to Diane.   The film rapidly becomes one of the bleakest pieces of celluloid that I have ever witnessed and yet is totally compelling for all that.  Sheryl Lee is absolutely riveting as Laura and Ray Wise is again outstanding as Leland.  Apparently, many of the cast from the TV show appeared, but did not make the final cut due to time constraints.  In truth the antics of Andy & Lucy or Bobby & Shelly would not have been appropriate here. 

 Laura with James Hurley  – all the accessories, none of the insights…..

Ironically, one of the TV cast who does have a crucial role to play in the movie is Donna Hayward, who tries in her own way to ‘save’ her friend Laura from her seemingly inevitable doom.  It must have been all the more galling for Lynch that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna in the TV show, would not reprise her role in the movie, due to either ‘scheduling difficulties’ or the fact that the script for the movie required her to appear topless in one scene – believe what you will….Moira Kelly takes on Donna’s role, but it somehow just isn’t the same…

 Forced by running time issues to concentrate almost exclusively on Laura’s growing plight seems only to redouble the movie’s power.  Lynch takes on the issue of incest that was only alluded to in the TV show and shows the appalling impact it has on the lives of all concerned.  As we know from Cooper’s investigations at the start of the TV show, Laura’s life is unravelling in a series of drug-fuelled encounters with random men, not to mention competing teenaged lovers in James Hurley and Bobby Briggs…..and then there are her nocturnal visits from Bob…  It really is grim stuff at times. 

I get this a lot.

 Windom Earle meets his match in Bob…..

I left the cinema somewhat bewildered that evening and I don’t recall that the film had offered me any sense of closure.  All I knew was that it was actually a much better movie than any reviewer had been prepared to admit.  It was also a movie that I would need to revisit because there were so many things that it was simply impossible to assimilate on one viewing.

 Although ‘Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me’ has been released on videotape and subsequently on DVD, enabling us all to become pause-button experts, I’m not sure that it’s ever been properly re-assessed.   Originally, the film was the first of three Twin Peaks movies that Lynch intended to film that would bookend the TV series and help to resolve many of the red herrings and loose ends that were scattered around.  However the initial negative reaction to the movie, both from critics and at the Box Office, have caused Lynch to describe the whole ‘Twin Peaks’ Project as  being ‘as dead as a doornail’. 

 Recently, though, I heard that Kyle McLachlan, whose career effectively went into a nosedive after ‘Twin Peaks’, has been talking up the prospect of putting together a whole series of 5-minute ‘Twin Peaks’ podcasts where he will reprise his role as Agent Cooper.  This seems to be without any involvement from David Lynch, so I guess we can probably forget it.

 But that’s not really the end of the story.  For some years I have been the happy owner of the whole ‘Twin Peaks’ saga, first on video and now on DVD.  I also happen to be the father of an intelligent and curious daughter with a strong interest in movies and a taste for post-modern weirdness.  At about age 16, said daughter discovered ‘Twin Peaks’ in a major way – and proceeded to introduce all of her friends to it as well.  Suddenly, the house seemed to fill up with gangs of teenagers embarking on marathon viewings that would stretch into the early hours, involving much between-episode hysteria, usually in the kitchen– ‘Oh my God, WTF is going on with James & Laura?’  ‘Is Leo going to get Shelly?’, ‘Where can we get Cherry Pie at this time of night?’  ‘Ben Horne is, like, so TOTALLY Bob…’ and so on.  

 I’m actually torn, because whilst I am grateful to Messrs Lynch, Frost et al for what they gave us, it seems to me that there was a potential for so much more.  Maybe one day, someone will pick up this particular torch and breathe life into it again.

Twin Peaks Pt 2: “Leland’s daughter was murdered and the Norwegians left.”

Truman: You saw a giant?
Cooper: Yes.
Albert: Any relation to the dwarf?

N.B. New readers should begin with the post from 5/12/09“I just know I’m going to get lost in those woods again, tonight. I just know it.”, which, in case anyone was wondering, is a quote from Laura Palmer’s diary.

 It’s difficult to believe that it’s actually 20 years ago that ‘Twin Peaks’ was entrancing us for the first time.  As is often the case these days, I find myself wondering where all that time has gone….

 Right from the start, watching ‘Twin Peaks’ was a very ‘clubby’ affair. Those who ‘didn’t get it’ probably wondered what was keeping the rest of us so amused/fascinated.  I found myself  discriminating in favour of new acquaintances if they  were fellow ‘Peaks’ fans and found that – with some notable exceptions – I could almost predict which of my friends would or would not be aficionados.  Lynch would no doubt have been amused to observe this phenomenon; being a ‘Twin Peaks’ fan became a bit like a peculiar kind of freemasonry with its bizarre rituals, greetings and discussions.  It wasn’t that we all rushed round babbling about ‘damn fine coffee’ and baking awful cherry pies – it was more subtle than that.  ‘Twin Peaks’ became almost a state of mind that could be applied to the rest of our lives as well.  We were like ‘The Bookhouse Boys’, I suppose, members of a strange and (almost) secret club..   Maybe Lynch’s relentless focus on the sheer bizarreness of what we like to call ‘ordinary life’ was educating us to find not only our inner Log Lady, but also to recognise that Major Briggs lived just down the road.

The legend that is Albert Rosenfeld

 Also, it wasn’t as though, like ‘Star Trek’ fans, we had to don prosthetic pointy ears and polyester Starfleet costumes.  There was undoubtedly a huge potential for ‘Twin Peaks’ geekdom in this country, but to my knowledge (and I might well be wrong) it never quite tipped over into the customary trappings of fandom – conventions, costumes, cherry pie bake-offs etc.  As I recall, this was in the very infancy of the internet and we simply weren’t conversant enough yet with what it could do to mobilise ourselves that way.

 However, that wasn’t the case in the USA, where from a very early stage there were conventions in Washington State attended by members of the cast and crew. Maybe Americans are just better at that kind of stuff than us.

 Meanwhile back on our screens, I was quietly rather pleased with myself for identifying Leland as Laura Palmer’s murderer about 3 episodes ahead of when it was officially revealed, though of course I had to keep fairly quiet about that for fear of being howled down by other friends.  The episode where the whole Laura thing is resolved was a high-water mark for hyper-ventilation in our house; people had to be hosed down afterwards for fear that they’d self-combust.

 That came in the middle of Series 2 of course and because we weren’t really privy to the shenanigans that were going on between Lynch & Frost and the networks, we had no idea where the whole project was heading.  Looking back on things now, I get the feeling that even those most closely involved with the series were probably in a similar state of confusion.

The Odd Couple…..

In fact, what we got was a Surrealist’s Tour of the Twin Peaks Universe.  The episodes following Leland’s unmasking had an unreal quality about them, a sense of treading water whilst Lynch decided where to go next.  Things that had been subplots and details were investigated more thoroughly; there was almost an element of thinking out loud (or on screen) here.  The arrival of Annie Blackburn, the whole Major Briggs/Project Blue Book saga, Windom Earle, the James Hurley/ Evelyn Marsh subplot, Ben Horne’s comedy Civil War psychosis, the S&M overtones of Josie’s relationship with Catherine Martell, Audrey falling in love with Billy Zane’s idealistic multi-millionaire…… all of these were recognisably Lynchian ingredients, but lacked that key flavour to unite them into a convincing gumbo. 

 In the end, the whole Black Lodge/White Lodge thesis probably raised more questions than it answered, but whereas with – for example – Hitchcock, that would have been a problem, with Lynch, it somehow just added to his reputation for unreconciled weirdness.  Cooper was left with Bob in control of him, which was probably as big a cliffhanger as could be contrived from the final series, but the networks had seen enough Lynch ‘traumzeit’ for now, thank you very much and let’s get back to gameshows and ‘Cheers’.  Oh well…….

The Odder Couple….. 

So rather like that stupendous love affair of your salad days that begins by shuddering the foundations of your universe, but then creeps meekly out of the door a while later, it seemed as though the whole ‘Twin Peaks’ adventure could be consigned to the memory banks, though it was interesting to see the way in which TV companies began to market things as ‘the NEW ‘Twin Peaks’ (‘Wild Palms’ anyone?).

 However, what few of us realised at that stage was that David Lynch hadn’t quite finished with the town of Twin Peaks yet and wasn’t going to let us off that lightly…..

To be continued…..