The Maybot goes all giggly, chummy like.


Quite the funniest thing you will see this week.

Insincerity on a monolithic scale.

The Maybot says she’s got to compromise and agree on things that Labour and she agree on (always have it seems).

Perhaps this video should have really been an apology for not doing what she claims she is doing now and not three years ago. (Although if Labour is to be believed, and why should we, all this compromise is a figment of the Maybot’s imagination.)

The Establishment (And how they get Away With it) by Owen Jones: Book Review


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I began this, now slightly out of date, polemic by Owen Jones slightly half-heartedly.  I was expecting a tirade of Trotskyite abuse that would provide some titilation before quickly descending into irritation.

I was wrong.

This is a monumental anti-Establishment treatise that is outstandingly researched, compellingly argued and carefully structured so that his observations steadily underpin each other and make the whole extremely robust as a result.

It takes us on a journey from 1979 – 2016, but he underpins it with important historical footnotes from the 19th and 20th centuries that shed important light on his views.

(One that stopped me in my tracks was that the political classes were an elite – you had to have property to vote and you had to have money to ‘serve your country’ – in fact politicians, until Victorian times, were unpaid.  Once that had changed and the Labour movement had begun, bringing working class men into the house they were paid minimal salaries so that a political career was not an aspiration, rather it was a vocation and a duty.  However, with rocketing salaries becoming an MP is now an extremely well paid job – £79,468 at the time of writing.  This has begun to attract the Establishment as a career for those who may have opted for journalism (essentially broken) or the City previously – the much despised career politician with absolutely no experience in the ‘real world’.   This is a very bad thing and results in Establishment politicians being helicoptered into seats that they care not a jot for.)

Jones’ book is essentially a deconstruction of the Free Market Capitalism that rose in popularity by a group of economic outriders in the 1970’s when socialism in the UK was at a low ebb; principally as a result of unmanageable and extremely strident trade unions and appallingly badly run nationalised industries, managed by bureaucrats.

This paved the way for Thatcher’s Free Market Capitalism policies, denationalisation of almost anything that moved, the crushing of the unions, indeed their complete vilification (and in some cases murder of their members – Orgreave anybody?) and the fuelling of an unhealthy reliance on the UK’s financial sector as its engine of economic growth, despite appalling regulation.

The book takes the key pillars of the Establishment and systematically challenges their morality, efficacy and value.  It clearly makes the point that this country serves a small and wealthy elite at the expense of fair societal sharing of opportunity.  In turn he deconstructs:

  • The political outriders of the 70’s, and later, who espoused free market economics
  • The Westminster Cartel (now bubble), and not purely the Conservatives.  The entire thing is roundly criticised with New Labour coming in for particular vilification and Nick Clegg’s selling out of the Lib Dems – indeed the whole rise of neo-Liberalism is roundly attacked
  • The police with their endemic racism, (stop and search gets a right good kicking and rightly so), bullying, the harassment and occasional death of protestors – including trade unions, the forming of undercover sexual relationships and so on
  • The oligarch-driven media ownership of the UK and their cosying in with Blair, Brown and Osborne in particular
  • The appalling abuse of corporate tax laws, including the, again, cosying up of the ‘Big Four’ to create tax laws for government that only they understand and can quickly exploit through the loopholes they know for their corporate clients
  • The finger pointing at state-‘scroungers’ whose collective abuse is but a grain of sand compared to the tax avoidance of the wealthy Establishment elite
  • The destruction of the NHS and the outrageous funding of corporations through lucrative private sector deals and the ongoing scandal that is PFI
  • The lining of politicians’ pockets by private industry in non-exec or other paid roles that seem wholly a conflict of interest – particularly in healthcare and defence
  • The Banks – he calls the City ‘Masters of the Universe’.  Here’s a fact for you.  The bonuses of London City bankers (even after the crash) far exceed the combined bonuses of all of Europe’s banks put together.  The post-crash regulation is limp-wristed and ineffective and it was The State that took the toll, not the banks through completely unjustified ‘Austerity’.

Throughout he argues how Free Market Capitalism despises the state yet uses it as its mop to clean up the failures of the banks through the public purse.

But it’s not just a rant, indeed it’s not EVEN a rant.  At all times Jones is calm in presenting what is essentially a one-sided argument; but of course it is.

In his brilliant conclusion he posits clear and compelling arguments for media control, police control, re-nationalisation with employee and customer boards, a re-empowerment of the Unions – or at least reasonable rights for them and an impassioned plea to support left wing Outriders.  Right wing policy was not popular (even on the right before the 70’s) and he argues that everything is cyclical.

We need not give up.

This is a powerful polemic and is a superbly enjoyable read.  I only wish it was up to date and included the whole Brexit catastrophe that the Establishment and The Westminster Cartel has created.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Movie Review.


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Of course any production starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is worthy of consideration because she is a great actor and has been since her breakout performance in Secretary.

Her Deuce (which she produced) was one of the great TV series of recent years and she really goes for it in whatever she does.  That invariably includes getting naked and she doesn’t let us down in that respect here either.

It’s a star vehicle for Gyllenhaal who plays Lisa, a Kindergarten teacher who has a growing up family that are typical millennials; caught up in their own teenage angst and disengaged from Mom.  Her husband is a good soul (a nice performance by Michael Chernus), but he’s become a comfortable home bird who’s get up and go has got up and gone.

So the highlight of her week is her Tuesday night poetry class in which her hunky Spanish tutor likes her, but not her poetry.

It’s a drab life, although clearly Lisa is a good and dedicated teacher.

So imagine her surprise when a five year old pupil, Jimmy, (a pretty wooden, frankly pretty rubbish, performance by Parker Sevak – this is no McCualey Culkin in the making) recites a poem he has created.  She is transfixed and appropriates it for herself and reads it at her poetry class.

Her fellow students and tutor are impressed with the complexity and quality of her creation and so begins a process where she nurtures Jimmy’s talent and champions his talent. She does it for him, not for her despite her initial subterfuge at poetry class.

It’s lovingly directed (female director Sara Colangelo) and is achingly slowly developed as a story.

I didn’t see the twist coming in Act Three.  A twist that draws your breath and makes for a truly epic (although quietly so) denouement.  It takes us into areas of such taboo that escalates the story from a delightful study in teacher/student connection into something way more challenging but it is handled deftly and sympathetically despite the horror of what is unfolding in front of us.

This is an intelligent movie with a commanding performance by Gyllenhaal.  She copes effortlessly with the ‘wooden’ Jimmy and creates a character that you are deeply sympathetic with, and that makes the denouement all the more shocking and sad.

Highly recommended.

Us: Movie Review


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The ‘tethered’ family who come to terrorise their human (or are they) doppelgängers.

The Us of the title are Jordan Peele’s ‘tethered’ doppelgängers of North Americans (pictured) who live underground. After many years underground the Rapture has arrived  as predicted in Jeremiah 11:11 and the human race faces a challenge that it will struggle to overcome.

Peele’s second horror is every bit as intellectually challenging as Get Out And like that debut features a fine central performance; this time in the form of Lupita Nyong’o, her family and their ‘tethers’.  For quite long sequences of the movie Nyong’o shares the screen with herself in absolutely seamless editing and post production that takes your breath away. In fact much of this film does that with its incredible design and vivid photography.

The main cast is almost exclusively black, but a fine cameo by Elizabeth Moss and her family is the exception.

A starting point may have been Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Nyong’o, as a young child in 1986, is drawn into this sinister underworld in a beach-side fairground show on Santa Cruz promenade. Wearing the Thriller T shirt her dad has won in a coconut shy she is taken from this world to a backdrop of Hands Across America, which was supported by Jackson.

It’s not the scariest horror you will ever see (although it has enough jumps to keep your heart going) but it’s one of the creepiest.  It sits neatly in the latest greats of the genre (Get Out, It follows) that treats its viewer with respect and keeps you guessing right to the end.

I won’t say much more as it will only lead me to spoilers but, put it this way, we are in the hands of a master craftsman here – his next movie project is a rewrite of Candyman by the way.

Competition and being competitive


I am the competitive dad Amy mentions. I meant it as humorous motivation. But hey, you reap what you sew. I am incredibly proud of Amy though and she can kick my ass fitness wise on anything now, And her siblings – not that that is the point of this.

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It’s not always a good thing.

My family are all pretty competitive. Sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously. Sometimes it starts playfully and we get carried away and then someone ends up in tears (sorry mum).

With a sociable twin brother and sister who were pretty good at sport, had each other to make it easy to get involved in activities at school, they were reasonably competitive. And rightly so, they were talented and put in effort.

I remember as a kid, my sister and I were in a group singing competition and my dad said to us “it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s beating the shit out of the competition”. This was funny at the time, but maybe not the best message for a 10 and 13 year old girl. We’ll put it down to character building and an explanation for my now sarcastic sense of humour.

To say…

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Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

“Computer says no” culture alive and kicking at Ryanair.


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Empty.  Like their customer service soul.

If I were attempting some sort of covert or criminal undertaking by attempting to sneak, unnoticed onto the 12:35 Ryanair flight from Stanstead to Edinburgh today the least I could have done was attempt to fake my identity.

Then the sullen ranks of Ryanair’s “customer services” team could at least feel sullied.

But I was too honest for my own good.

Rewind 24 hours.

I’d flown to Stanstead from Edinburgh, using my Passport as photo ID as I headed to an appointment at OIS in Fleet Street to have my Passport checked in advance of my trip to Nigeria next week.

Armed with a bag of application forms, letters of authorization, passport photographs (two of which remained in my possession) and other sundry items of proof of my existence, and tolerable citizenship credentials, the appointment passed without incident.

Relieved of my passport for 48 hours (for official reasons) it wasn’t even then that I realized I had faux passed.  That was the next day on the coach to Stanstead when I realized that with my passport now in the hands of the Nigerian Government I was identity-less, unless you consider;

  • The letter from The Nigerian High Commisssion acknowledging temporary receipt of my passport
  • All my bank cards
  • My boarding pass from the previous day – proving I had travelled from Edinburgh and was simply returning
  • My phone and laptop
  • A printed card with my photo and place of work
  • My Tesco Clubcard

But no, they weren’t to know who I was because I didn’t have

  • A library card
  • A bus pass or
  • A driving licence

Or my passport.

I made the mistake of getting to the airport early and taking the ‘opportunity” to wait for 20 minutes in the Ryaniar “Customer Services” queue (now there is a misnomer if ever you’ve seen one).

As one particularly sullen faced operative finished with the customer in front of me I tentatively stepped forward, eyes wide looking for approval to enter the Stalag.

“No!” she barked.

Not another word or gesture.

It was the end of her shift, it would appear, as she then packed up her ‘stuff’ for the next five minutes before disappearing without a nod, wink or how do you do.

Home, to her loving family for a giggle in front of Pointless.  (A programme she must think, on a daily basis, is a metaphor for her life. )

Upon finally being seen I desperately explained my predicament only to be told

“God, we’re getting everything today, this is all I need.”

The operative, assumed the facial expression of a Wild Boar, speared through the ribcage in a prehistoric hunt with the spear having just missed its vital organs, as she vainly sought advice for a while and eventually said “Well you don’t have ID so you can’t fly”.

She sort of grudgingly suggested I could maybe get an ID from the train station but wryly noted, under her breath, that would mean I would miss my flight before adding “…but you don’t get ID for travel passes, do you, anyway?”

So, I took fortune into my own hands, reasoning that ID isn’t always checked, and even if it was perhaps I’d receive a warmer reception at the Gate.

So I thought I’d just chance it.

After all, it’s not as if I was going to Scotland to do anything criminal or as reckless as bungle its constitution and economy (there are people better at that here in London who don’t need photo ID for that).

Security was a nightmare.  I had left a coin in my pocket that bleeped, but then the full body scanner broke down.

Tick tock tick tock. 

Re-runs of Midnight Express pricking my sweat glands into action.

Nevertheless, thanks to my excellent earlier time-keeping, I got to the gate at the allotted time and tried the old confidently shoving the boarding pass forward whilst moving at speed, without a care in the world trick.

“ID?”

“Ahh. I have a small problem here” I responded. “ I don’t have any.”

“Did you tell customer services this?”

“Yes, but they weren’t very helpful.”  (Unless you consider “the computer says no” as helpful.  Informative yes, helpful, no.)

I got the distinct impression that that was a fatal error (going to the Stalag).

Being honest had cost me my flight.

They didn’t actually say it but they might as well have – “Really?  You didn’t tell customer services, did you?”

In their defence the ladies on the gate at least TRIED to help, but eventually had to concede “the computer still says no.”

They suggested I look for a more sympathetic hearing at Customer Services, ( a sort of Meaningful Vote 2 if you like), so back I trudged only to be met by the stone wall of Gomorrah.

“You don’t have ID?  Then you can’t fly.”

Nothing had changed.  The speaker had spoken.

“How can I get back to Edinburgh though?”

“The train?” she shrugged and at that I left.

£166 later, I got the train.

It’s my fault.  I didn’t figure out that I needed TWO photo IDs to get from Edinburgh to London and back via a Nigerian High Commission Visa office (and it wasn’t on the checklist).

Yes, entirely my fault.

But, you know what, I think with the right attitude and the right people we could have found a workaround. (Seemingly BA have a form you can fill in but no one at Ryanair had heard of such a thing.)

And did I mention the signaling problems between Peterborough and York?

(That wasn’t Ryanair’s fault either.)