Category Archives: TV SHOWS

FROM LONGFELLOW TO LONGMIRE


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While tidying my bookshelves, I found  my copy of the poet, H W Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Donkey’s years ago, when I was probably between the ages of 5 and 9 , my Mother introduced me to Hiawatha. My Mum enjoyed poetry, and had a copy of the book. She read aloud to me, and I loved the rhythmic sing-song cadence of the poem, especially the lines:

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,

      Of the shining Big-Sea water.

Stood Nokomis, the old woman,

Pointing with her finger westward,

O’er the water pointing westward,

To the purple clouds of sunset.

For years I mistakenly thought the poem was written in rhyming couplets, but after re-reading, I discover it is not. In fact, the metre of Hiawatha is borrowed from a Finnish collection of poems that Longfellow had studied. The lines are unrhymed … notwithstanding this, the lines have a simple flowing rhythm.  This explanation is from the introduction by D C Browning, to my 1960 J M Dent & Sons (London) edition, in The Children’s Illustrated Classics series.

I picked up my copy 6 years ago, while on a tour to Matjiesfontein, of all places! Matjiesfontein is a tiny, quaint , restored Victorian village in the middle of the South African Karoo. The little village came to prominence  during the Anglo Boer War, but these days it is a prime tourist destination for history buffs, and travellers seeking a jolly good lunch en route up the N1 to Johannesburg. In the souvenir shop there were two bookcases, which I dived into, and to my joy, there was Hiawatha.

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The paper jacket is remarkably intact, given that the book was published in 1960. Insects have nibbled a few holes in the jacket, but all in all, for a 50+ year old book, it’s not bad. The pages are foxed, and there’s a musty smell, despite my airing the book in the sun on a  windy Cape summer’s day.

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It’s a ‘proper book’ in that it has a hardcover, which has a repeat woodblock print pattern of an Indian brave in feathered war bonnet on the inside.  And best of all: there are two-colour line drawings on every page of the text, drawn by Joan  Kiddell-Monroe.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Kiddell-Monroe. As you can see from the photos in this post, the drawings are simple and elegant.

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I think it must have been my early introduction to Hiawatha that led to my interest in the American West. Which was odd, considering I was a child with a British Colonial heritage and lifestyle, growing up in Central Africa. Or possibly it was the influence of the exciting black and white spaghetti Westerns that I was very occasionally taken to see; but only if I’d been good.

In my teen years I devoured every single Western that Zane Grey wrote – and he wrote over 90 of them*. I loved every page. Men were men, and women were glad of it. The horses were magnificent and the villains were real baddies. Nothing complicated. You knew where you were. Right would triumph after tests and trials, and the lone ranger would ride off into the sunset. *His book sales numbered 40 million ! (thanks, Wikipedia).

My Western phase petered out after my Zane Grey teens, but was revived with gusto with the advent of Sheriff Walt Longmire onto our TV screens about 4 years ago. This time we were looking at the modern West – murder and robberies, Indians on The Rez (reservation) gambling casinos, domestic dramas,  and Lou Diamond Philips as the impassive Standing Bear, sidekick and  friend of said Sheriff.  I’m hooked all over again.

Quite what H W Longfellow (an American poet and academic in the Victorian era) would make of the modern shenanigans in the West, I shudder to think. No more exploits of hunting, fishing, physical prowess, warring,  battling with the winds,  wooing the fair Minnehahha . Modern Westerns are much grittier, and far less mythical.  It looks as if childhood discoveries  through poetry have influenced me at different stages of my life. I’m glad Mum introduced me to Hiawatha!

 

 

 

 

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BINGEING ON STAR WARS (JAP) *


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DSTV are currently offering a ten day Star Wars special on a dedicated channel. Yay! An entire channel – Star Wars, 24/7   – how much better can it get? I’m currently watching Star Wars Rebels  which is an animated series, in half hour episodes. Suits me. In between my frantic dashing to and fro, I can collapse on my couch and lose myself in a universe filled with the heroic exploits of the noble Jedi versus the inhuman villains of the evil Empire.  We zoom from galaxy to galaxy, (what would we do without hyper-drives?), dodging gigantic hostile creatures or armies of robotic troopers; we’re hiding behind asteroids, or exploring buried Jedi temples. It’s all so straightforward: Good versus Evil. No deep psycho-social issues, no emotional traumas, no politics,no literary nuances :  just the comradeship of the brave few battling the forces of evil. Whoosh! I want a light-sabre  and Jedi powers for Christmas, please.

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NATURISM


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I’m still shaking my head.   Chiefly in bemused bafflement. Why?

Last night I watched a BBC programme entitled The Naked Village. The title says it all. The documentary dealt with a 12 acre Village called Spiel Platz . I watched – drop-jawed, initially, I must admit, but it was amazing how soon I got over my initial – what? astonishment? shock? distaste? Believe me, elderly wrinkled genitalia are much better of hidden behind clothing!

The tone of the programme was matter-of-fact and not a hint of innuendo, humour, bias, or anything whatsoever other than straightforward reporting on a small group of villagers going about their daily round – painting fascia boards, gardening, sunbathing, swimming, working in their kitchens, reading the paper over a pint in the pub. Except that everybody is stark naked.

Spiel Platz village in Hertfordshire is the home of Britain’s oldest naturist colony. Situated a few miles outside St Albans, and is a permanent home to the owners of 34 of the little bungalows. There are another 24 houses ­available to rent to summer visitors.

The mainly two-bed bungalows come with all mod cons, including mains ­electricity, water and sewage.

Splashing in the swimming pool, mowing the lawn, even enjoying a pint in the local, its inhabitants are always stripped for action. The village was founded by Charles Macaskie, who bought the leafy 12-acre site for £500 in 1929.

The heart of the village is its club house where the residents get together in the altogether for discos, karaoke sessions, quiz nights and pool tournaments.

Firstly I’m amazed that the famously changeable British climate hasn’t put off the naturists. They all had nice tans, and the documentary showed gorgeously sunny scenes – all well and good in summer, but what about the remainder of the year, I wondered? Visitors to the village may remain clothed, and the villagers refer to them as ‘Textiles’.  However, when the  Villagers venture into the outside world which they do periodically (shopping, dentists’ visits and the like) they turn into Textiles, like the rest of us. Mercifully. Imagine geriatric shoppers in their birthday suits in Tesco?

Secondly, Spiel Platz needs to recruit new members. The current community in middled-aged to very elderly. As part of their recruitment drive they hosted a Naked Yoga Day and about half the participants appeared to be in the 20 – 40 age group, but whether any of them signed up as residents, wasn’t revealed. One of the residents was of the opinion that today’s youngsters were so influenced by peer pressure that they were not inclined to even give Naturism a try.

When Spiel Platz was started way back in the late 1920s, Naturism was seen as a fad, or a daring declaration of rebellion. But nowadays? I think its time has passed, what with the proliferation of Nudist Beaches, topless beaches, and scanty revealing clothing. Not to mention the relaxed attitude to nudity in Art, cinema and so on. I remember back in the 1960s a gentleman called Beau Brummel started a Naturist resort in South Africa, which was (mainly) seen as sinful, sexual and/or disgusting at the time. The apartheid government closed it down, but it resurfaced years later. Definitely under the heading of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, har-har.

Times have changed, and it seems Naturism is alive and well in our country : http://www.timeslive.co.za/lifestyle/2014/03/03/south-africas-five-favourite-naturist-hangouts .

While I’ve enjoyed skinny dipping on the odd occasion (swimming nude is a delicious sensation) but going about your household chores, or gardening, or DIY, well, I can see practical difficulties arising.

So: to each his own, but on this topic, not for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on Relationships – FAMILY


The Grey Family (Judging Amy) Tyne Daly 2nd left front row

The Grey Family (Judging Amy) Tyne Daly 2nd left front row

 

I’m a fan of an old American TV series Judging Amy , I suppose it’s in the  soapie category, charting the family life of the Grey family in Massachusetts. Late thirties, recently divorced Amy is a judge in the local Children’s Court; daughter Lauren is cute and curious; grandma Maxine is a magnificent feisty social worker with the Department of Children and Families, There are three other direct family members, but they’re not so central, nor so interesting, to the stories.

Thinking it over, I watch the series chiefly for the pleasure of seeing the redoubtable Maxine in action. Tyne Daly fills the role to perfection.  She first hit the limelight many years ago in a TV cop show, Cagney and Lacey; languished in obscurity for some years, then made a comeback with the Judging Amy  series and quite recently starred in the feature film about Maria Callas.

In her character as Maxine she is a commanding presence who stands no nonsense from anybody and robustly states her forthright views to children and adults alike. One scene shows a confrontation between Maxine and her daughter-in-law Gillian who – for once – turns on Maxine and gives her an earful, starting off with the declaration “I know you don’t like me …” Maxine replies to the tirade by saying “Yes, it’s true, often I don’t like you, but you’re family, and I love you.”

This statement was a lightbulb moment for me. How many of us, I wonder, have had similar thoughts, but have been too tactful/cowardly/nervous to voice them? Just because people enter our family – usually through marriage – does that mean that we will like them? Or have to like them? Or are able to like them? Perhaps, perhaps … And even if we don’t like them, are we capable of loving them, just because they’re now FAMILY?  It’s a big ask.  It’s a huge stretch.

I’m still thinking about this question. It remains unresolved.

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LOTTO DREAMS


 

What would you do if you won the Lotto? Don’t tell me you haven’t spent the odd moment dreaming about your new life with those infinite millions? I’m sure most people have, whether they admit it or not.

I’ve watched a few episodes of the American TV series How the Lottery Changed my Life. As usual, I’m fascinated by the responses of ordinary people when presented with a LOT OF MONEY. Some of the prizes are beyond grasp: telephone type numbers running into six digits, while other prizes have been a mere 3.5million dollars.

Many of the winners act predictably: a new home or car for their Mum; gifts to immediate family, an upgrade from their modest suburban home to something bigger and much grander – this usually means an explosion of extraordinary bad taste, but each to their own, I suppose.

Some of the men indulge their passion for fast cars – not one, not two, but stables of fast cars. Hello, Lamborghini!  Others – mainly bachelors, but I don’t think they remain bachelors for long! –  buy property that allows them to build huge swimming pools and their own private golf course, and these guys are tanned, and smiling from ear to ear. Golf every day and no work – gotta be good!

And then you get the mavericks. How about the family man who was in a syndicate with workmates – five guys in total. They won.  Four of the men went golfing but Number Five, the family man, continued with his job, which was operating a road-cleaning truck. He upgraded the family home, and explained he still had to put kids through college. I can’t decide whether he’s a shining hero, or an unimaginative idiot.

A farmer in Iowa, struggling to maintain the family farm, spent a fortune on a state of the art combine harvester, and a lovely new tractor. I notice they didn’t interview his wife – I hope she at least got a few new dresses, or something!

A woman living in a trailer with a large family didn’t change her lifestyle at all – just bought plenty of adult toys like quad bikes and motorbikes,  which were shown rusting away on a derelict property, guarded by a pack of dogs, numbering over twenty, or something. She fell into the category that decided: winning the Lotto isn’t going to change my lifestyle – I like it just the way it is.

Lastly, the couple who bought a monster – and I mean a monster – mobile home (I think they call them Winnebago’s in the USA). The vehicle was over forty feet long, and contained as many buttons, switches and gadgets as a NASA space vehicle. The couple took to the roads and were happily exploring America and delighted to be living on the road.

What would you do, I wonder? I’m still working on my wishlist.

 

 

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STAR TREK RE-VISITED


 

The one & only: Mr Spock

The one & only: Mr Spock

I know I’m way too old and sensible to be watching re-runs of Star Trek (Series 3) but I thought: why not? Just for fun while my eyes are playing up. (Recently I’ve had to curtail my reading – sigh).

So far I‘ve watched two episodes and I’m stunned at just how bad they are  – the plots are laughable; the acting is terrible; the dialogue is even worse; the make-up is truly dreadful; and the sets are visibly ply-wood. And yet, at the time, during the late 60s/mid-70s we watched eagerly, dying for the next episode.  If it’s proved one thing it’s that we’ve become so accustomed to very sophisticated special effects and techno wizardry, that the fore-runners in the genre  – by comparison 40 years on – come off a very poor tenth best. Sorry, Mr Spock, but logic tells me so.

I’ll probably watch a few more episodes. Because I’m an avid fan of The Big Bang Theory, which has constant erudite references to the series, I’ll press on, going where no man has gone before ….. wait for me, Sheldon Cooper!

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THE MORMONS & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL


I have to confess I’m fascinated by the American Mormon polygamists. I read Carolyn Jessup’s  account of her escape from a fundamentalist sect – yuck. I read David Ebershoff’s third novel, The 19th Wife — Brigham Young’s history updated. Then I read Brady Udall’s entertaining novel The Lonely Polygamist and actually felt a spark of sympathy for the hapless man, whose unruly tribe of children rang rings round him. Literally. I watched  a season of the TV series Sister Wives about the Brown family with their poster boy dad, Kody Brown (nuff said) and now I’m watching National Geographic’s documentary series Meet the Polygamists, which chronicles the lives of fundamentalist Mormons living in a small, remote town in Utah. The desert scenery is spectacular, the town itself is uninspiring, and I notice nobody appears to do any *gardening – I suppose when you’re coping with meals and laundry for 22 people you don’t have the time for inessential extras. But a life without flowers has got to be a dreary existence, don’t you think?  However, apart from this minor quibble, the people involved appear to be genuinely devoted to their religious ideals, and there’s no abuse of women and under-age girls. The participants are at great pains to emphasise that their life style is a voluntary choice.  Hmm. No accounting for peoples’ notions.

*Since writing this post, I saw another episode which explained that the water supply for the town was tainted at source by minerals and unfit for drinking; all the water had to be imported from clean, safe sources elsewhere.

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HER FAVOURITE PERFUME IS BLEACH …


Last night I watched a British Reality TV Show, Obssessive Compulsive Cleaners, which left me slack jawed in amazement. Not so much at the awful disorder and filth, (I cut my TV Reality teeth on the USA series Compulsive Hoarders, so I’m hardened), but at the lunatic zeal of the Compulsive Cleaners. Surprisingly, not confined to women. One man frequently hoovers his mattress, in some cases, directly after intimate encounters, and complains that his obsession has ruined his love-life. No! – you don’t say? But I digress. I really wanted to tell you about the young woman, who is obsessed with germs and goes through two bottles of bleach PER DAY, plus significant numbers of sponges and heavy duty rubber gloves. She was immaculately made up & manicured, very fashion conscious, and she simply loves the smell of bleach. When the sting of bleach hits the air, then all’s right with her world. Compared to her I rate somewhere between an urban version of Typhoid Mary and the Black Death. So far as I’m concerned, you just can’t beat the pleasing odour of Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, and to hell with the germs!

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THE FAR FROZEN NORTH


Its winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate provides a mild, wet winter which bears no relation whatsoever to what follows, which is a book review of an adventure in the far frozen North, plus my fond recollections of a TV series set in Alaska – Northern Exposure.

Call of the Wild – Guy Grieve

What a fascinating book. Author gets fed up with his job on The Scotsman newspaper. He has a bee in his bonnet and leaves his family (his wife – who deserves a medal; plus 4 year old Oscar, and baby Luke) and he goes to Alaska for a year, to the Wilderness, 90 miles from the Arctic Circle, builds a log cabin – with some help, but not a lot, from the locals; learns to mush a dog team; survives minus 60 degree temps, cold, bears, injuries, loneliness, near starvation and above all – the cold, the terrain and hungry bears. Although there were lyrical passages about dog-sledding through the winter woods, living in a windowless, dark log cabin which was frozen INSIDE, damp and dripping, must have been more than tough. And he progressed from a dog-hater to dog-lover, due to the interaction with Frizzy – his companion, guardian, and helper. A chapter heading said “Dogs are the only animals to voluntarily befriend man”. His wilderness year ends, and he goes home to the Isle of Mull, and can’t really explain why he did it. Why do people do these extreme things? He hated office work and city life and said “there has to be more to life than this, etc”. We’ve all felt this. He seemed to need a challenge, and he sure got one.

Recalling this book brings me to the re-runs of the cult series Northern Exposure, first aired on CBS in 1990 and ended in 1995. I watched the original series, and now years later am enchanted all over again by the tales of life in Cicely, a tiny (fictional) town in Alaska, peopled with a cast of quirky characters. There’s Dr Joel Fleischmann, your stereotypical nice Jewish boy, who takes the job of town medic to repay his student loan to the state of Alaska, and finds life in the far frozen north very different to his familiar streets of New York. His surgery assistant is the taciturn, stocky Tlingit Indian, Marilyn Whirlwind, who hardly ever speaks and has a fluid approach to surgery hours and her duties. She appears to spend most of her time slowly knitting mysterious striped garments. There’s Chris, an ex-convict who’s starting life anew in Alaska, working at the local radio station, reading Whitman’s poetry over the air, reflecting on life and philosophy over the airwaves, in between community notice for lost dogs, snowmobiles for sale and local news items. I particularly enjoy Ruth-Anne, the elderly owner of Cicely’s one and only general store that stocks everything from fishing tackle to tampons and anything you care to name in between. My childhood contained shops like this, packed solidly with a wild miscellany of merchandise. Another of my favourite characters is the adolescent moose that wanders languidly down the street in the opening title sequence, accompanied by jaunty vaguely Cajun accordion music playing in the background. For me, part of the charm of Northern Exposure is the magnificent vista of mountains, lakes, snowfields, conifer and spruce trees; it’s worth watching the series for the scenery alone, never mind the highly entertaining shenanigans of the fictional characters. Apparently the series was filmed in the state of Washington, but to my African eye it looks like I thought Alaska might look. Give yourself a break and take a look : DStv on channel 122. Enjoy!

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