Corrie (again)

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”

Albert Einstein

You’ve got to hand it to the Coronation Street scriptwriters. The show’s been going for 50 years and you’d think it would have exhausted every possible storyline. But no. Heroically, the writers continue to boldly go where suspension of disbelief has never gone before.

(Yes, I know that’s a split infinitive.)

So we have the husband-beater. “Go to the doctor,” says her husband. “No-one will know. That’s what doctors are for.” Um, no, Tyrone. Doctors are for making you better.

And Tracy, who locks old men in their bedrooms. “I’m not feeling very well, otherwise I would insult you.” Sound familiar? That’s because Regan uses that exact excuse in King Lear: “Lady, I am not well, else I would answer from a full-flowing stomach.” Shakespeare in Coronation Street: who would have thought it?

Ryan the druggie, who a) is not Ryan and b) steals money from his mother’s purse and thinks she won’t notice. “I’ll buy the drinks”, says he, to forestall her opening her purse. What was the point of stealing the money in the first place? These days, a couple of pints will cost you at least £6. If he’s given all the money to the drugs dealer, where’s he got £6 from?

I could go on. But I won’t. It’s amusing, but it’s not real life.

Last Night on Earth

“On my last night on earth/I want to look to the sky/Just breathing the air/And blinking in light.”

Noah and the Whale

This is a CD that I bought quite recently because I vaguely remembered liking one of the songs on it, “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N”, which was in the charts some time ago. When I like a song, I tend to buy the accompanying album, since this is an excellent way to discover new artists that I might like. Often this backfires. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Well, the first time I listened to the entire album I was quite disappointed. There were a couple of songs I really liked – “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”, which I played endlessly so I now know all the words, and “Waiting For My Chance To Come” – but the others seemed a bit insipid compared to them.

However, on repeated listenings I changed my opinion, as usually happens. I like this album. I like Charlie Finch’s distinctive voice. I like the pragmatic but optimistic tone of “Life is Life” and “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”. I like the way the songs tell stories about people who feel real, who could be real. Most of all, I like the way the music sounds real: it doesn’t sound like it has been synthesised or edited. And there is an instrumental track, which is a good sign: it shows that the music itself is worth hearing.

Of course, there are a couple of tracks I don’t like: “Old Joy” and “Wild Thing” both lack energy. But the other songs more than make up for them.

So, Noah and the Whale: a new favourite to join The Killers and Paloma Faith.

Olympic victory!

“Holding an Olympic Games means evoking history.”

Pierre de Coubertin

Yes, and last night Britain made history at our very own Olympic games.

I’m sorry to keep going on about the Olympics. But really, I feel they are quite important. In a spirit of international cooperation and harmony and accusing each other of cheating. And they are inspirational and patriotic and a wonderful thing for the countries concerned.

Like Britain when we won three golds last night! Hurrah! I take back my harsh words about Britain’s uselessness in sport. Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Mo Farah in the 10000 metres and Greg Rutherford in the long jump collectively managed to win all the events in which we had athletes last night.

It was, however, quite amusing to see that someone had been confident enough to make a Union flag that said “Jessica Ennis Olympic Champion”. Did they not think this a little premature? And, I notice, no one had made one for Mo or Greg. Which probably feels like a kick in the teeth for them.

Never mind. Olympic history has been made. Now everyone can go home happy. Well, nearly everyone. All the British people, anyway.

The other day, we were halfway down the medal table. Now we are third. That has to be a good thing. So for that we say thankya.

Keep going, Team GB! Only another week to go!

PS Apparently people have started saying that our athletes should be paid more than our footballers. Well…to be honest, being a professional sportsman (or woman) is a particularly useless profession. Are you helping anyone? No. Are you doing anything for the economy or government? Not really, seeing as most foreign visitors are not here to watch our athletes, but theirs. So no sportsperson should earn more than any fireman, for instance. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Coronation Street

“So, please, oh please, we beg, we pray,

go throw your TV set away,

and in its place you can install

a lovely bookcase on the wall.”

Roald Dahl

Yes. Yes, I am that bored that I have to write about Coronation Street. There is nothing on television. Fifty channels and nothing to watch except American sitcoms and English soaps. And there will be nothing on for the forseeable. Merlin and Doctor Who, I’m told, are returning in the “autumn”. Please, please let “autumn” mean September!

And I am currently reading The Gormenghast Trilogy. So there’ll be no book reviews for a while. (1000 pages, people!)

Therefore, we are stuck with “the street”. Coronation Street, where no one has a normal marriage and the people have screaming matches in the street and there are caring messages over the credits. “If you have been affected by Tyrone’s story…”

And have you noticed? No pregnancy is straightforward. Kirsty is bonkers, Katie had her baby in the middle of the nativity play and Hope was premature.

Oh, and the other day someone beat her husband up with a plastic hoover tube.

Now, I’m sorry, but a plastic hoover tube is simply too light to do any damage. Or even to hurt that much.

The other main story of the week is Ryan taking drugs. Ryan, that is, who is plainly not Ryan. My sister tells me that this is because real Ryan didn’t want to come back to the show. So they got someone else to play him. That’s just ridiculous. If he won’t come back, don’t write him back in. Getting someone else is annoying and unbelievable.

What am I saying? It’s all unbelievable.

I give up.

Lewis

“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

Euripides

The quote today is a bit of a cheat, since the title of the Lewis episode in question is Whom the Gods Would Destroy. It transpires that it is the first episode ever, which is mildly interesting since…well, it’s always nice to see where something begins, don’t you think?

Anyway. Lewis is a spin-off from the Inspector Morse detective series, which I haven’t actually seen. But since Morse does not in fact feature in this series, it doesn’t really matter. Lewis also happens to be one of my favourite detective series, mainly because it is set in the beautiful city of Oxford. Also slightly because of Laurence Fox, who plays Hathaway, Lewis’ sidekick. Hathaway is an intelligent detective. He knows things about ancient Greek and Euripides and things. Which allows the whole series to take on a slightly more intelligent feel, because you can have riddles and all sorts of other puzzles to think about. About which to think. (Sorry, pedants.)

So this episode, as the title suggests, had a slightly ancient Greek theme to it. There are references to Furies and Greek gods and Sophocles. One of the characters wears a Dionysus ring. “I’ve seen that before,” says resident genius Hathaway. So they go off to a museum to look at a similar one.

As you do.

Why take all the trouble to drive to a museum, pay the entrance fee or at least flash your police badge at the receptionist, find the right gallery and find the right exhibit when you could look it up on the internet, or, God forbid, a book? They seem to spend all their time in libraries anyway.

There are some unexpected twists and turns, but, via several grisly deaths of the kind you only see in murder mysteries, an angry wheelchair-bound drunk and a chamber music concert, eventually, of course, the mystery is solved and everyone goes home.

So. Lewis. The thinking person’s Midsomer Murders.

At least all those murders are more plausible in a university city than in a small Somerset village.

Could Do Better

“I love the Olympics, because they enable people from all over the world to come together and – regardless of their political or cultural differences – accuse each other of cheating.”

Dave Barry

How true. Already in these Olympics – and it’s only day six, remember – we’ve had at least two serious accusations of cheating. The first was that Chinese swimmer whose name I forget, who was accused of taking drugs, a charge that she roundly denied.

And then we had that badminton business on Tuesday.

Eight players from China, South Korea and Indonesia (who are to badminton what Jamaicans are to running) were disqualified from the tournament for, essentially, not trying hard enough. None of them wanted to win their games because losing would allow them to play a weaker team in the finals, thus giving them an easier route to gold. So, as far as I can tell, in one game the players took turns serving into the net, which is frankly unbelievable given that even I can hit the shuttle eight out of ten times over the net, and in another game the teams simply kept hitting the shuttle off court. Again, for the same reason, unbelievable.

Now, I think there are two sides to the debate. Of course, such playing is against the Olympic spirit and disgraceful and just awful, as previous Olympic badminton champion Gail Emms keeps popping up on BBC1 to tell us. And this is what Yu Yang, one of the disqualified Chinese players, has to say about it:

“This is my last competition. Goodbye Badminton World Federation (BWF), goodbye my beloved badminton. We … only chose to use the rules to abandon the match. This was only so as to be able to compete better in the second round of the knockout (stage). This is the first time the Olympics has changed the (event’s format). Don’t they understand the harm this has caused the athletes?

You have heartlessly shattered our dreams. It’s that simple, not complicated at all. But this is unforgiveable.”

Surely this is a little melodramatic? There are hundreds of badminton players, good ones, who never make it to the Olympics or get knocked out of the early stages. Their dreams are shattered, but they keep going to the next Olympics. And there are plenty of athletes who get disqualified for as little as a false start – just look at Usain Bolt. But he is still running this year. He hasn’t left the sport.

And even if your dreams have been shattered – what about the dreams of all those spectators who crammed into Wembley Arena to watch what they thought would be good badminton? They spent money, good money, to come to the Olympics, to watch what they thought would be the event of a lifetime, and instead they got top-level players playing like six-year-olds. I mean, they could have lost with a little more subtlety. It can’t be that hard, surely, occasionally to drop an easy shot rather than hitting the shuttle obviously in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, however – doesn’t it seem a bit sinister, a bit Big Brother-esque, to disqualify someone for not trying hard enough? Yes, this case is a shameful one, and an obvious one for sanctions. But I think it sets a dangerous precedent. How long before an extreme government somewhere begins prosecuting its athletes for having a bad day? “You didn’t try hard enough.” How long before a host country disqualifies other countries’ athletes for not achieving their personal best? “Well, you won gold last Olympics. This time you only won silver. Obviously you weren’t trying hard enough. Disqualified. Oh look, that means our athlete gets silver instead.”

I think the point of this post is to say that, well, cheating is bad for the sport. It disappoints spectators, and it corrupts sportspeople. By all means, stamp out cheaters – but don’t let it go too far.

The Simpsons – Series 13, Episode 18

“I didn’t lie, I was writing fiction with my mouth.”

Homer Simpson

I recently received a request for a post about the Simpsons. So here it is. This is one I watched last night. For some reason best known to Matt Groening, it is called Hunka Hunka Burns In Love. And I’ve just realised why that’s funny. It’s a pun.

You see, this is one of the “vindicate Mr Burns” episodes. Mr Burns, the archetypal evil millionaire figure, goes through most Simpsons episodes being, well, evil, dredging the sea bed, poisoning fish, sacking staff randomly, etc. But just occasionally you get an episode where he comes out quite well. Like this one.

Something I’ve always liked about The Simpsons is the elaborate sequence of events leading to the main storyline of the episode, so the story often ends up in quite a different place to where it started. For instance, in this one, a visit to Chinatown leads to a meal in a Chinese restaurant, which leads to the Simpson family’s complaints about the rubbish fortunes in the fortune cookies, which leads to Homer writing his own fortunes, including this one: “You will fall in love on Flag Day.” Mr Burns picks this one up and…well, you can see where this is going. Mr Burns goes on the pull and tries to impress a younger woman.

This isn’t one of the best episodes ever. The best ones have some kind of message, like the ones where Homer declares his love for Marge. Or they have a political comment to make, like the one where Bart’s behaviour gets corrected by big pharma in an experiment that goes wrong.

But it was OK. I particularly liked the bit where Kent Brockman, the TV anchorman, said “two citizens have been missing for over 20 minutes”. Which is more of a satire on plot devices than anything else. But you know. There has to be some satire, or it wouldn’t be The Simpsons.