Gormenghast: The Soundtrack

“Hold fast
To the law
Of the last
Cold tome,
Where the earth
Of the truth
Lies thick
Upon the page.”

Mervyn Peake

In an attempt to escape the Murder Mystery Black Hole that seems to have sucked me in, I have chosen as today’s topic: the Gormenghast Original Soundtrack, as performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (I didn’t even know the BBC had a Philharmonic Orchestra) and something called The Academy of Ancient Music, which gives you some idea of what the music is like. No Tinie Tempah here.

For those of you who don’t know, Gormenghast was filmed as a TV series on the BBC a few years back, and this is the music from it. I never saw the TV series, but we had the CD at home, so, given my recent reading of the novels, I was understandably interested in it. (Actually, I think looking at the CD case was what inspired me to read the book.)

Anyway, something that immediately struck me was the order in which the music has been placed: it’s not chronological. At all. Funny thing, I said to myself, surely the Christening was before the Burning of the Library? And Keda is in completely the wrong place. Why they’ve chosen to order it in this way I don’t know. But really, it’s just a pedantic gripe. It doesn’t really affect my listening at all.

Onto the actual music. “Song of Titus” is the first track on there. I didn’t realise at first that the words to “Song of Titus” are actually the words of the Professors’ incantation in Gormenghast, part of which is quoted above. I always imagined that the poem would have a rather different rhythm and feel to what it is given in the music; it should, I feel, be more monotonous, more repetitive. But the middle section is good, capturing the essence of the great kingdom of stone that is Gormenghast.

Other stand-out tracks include “Burning the Library” – I knew what that was even before I looked at the title on the case, it just captures Steerpike’s deviousness so well – and “Cat Room”, which is lovely and sinister. “Irma’s Romance” is good, as well, with a romantic theme on the top countered by a humorous bass line (I’m sorry, I can’t think of any other way to describe it), which is perfect for the ridiculousness of Irma and Bellgrove’s courtship.

Phew. I think I have escaped the Black Hole. Wish me luck on my continued voyage through the perils of L-space. (See The Globe, by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.)

Coronation Street – Live!

“He’d been wrong, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.”

Terry Pratchett

Yes, Constant Reader, for the first time ever, The English Student is bringing you a review…in real time!

Yes, I am that bored.

(Excuse me while I finish my Fruit Pastilles ice lolly.)

Right. Back on “the street”.

Oh, Michelle is accusing Fake Ryan of lying…what a surprise. Welcome, once again, to Soapland, where people are incredibly, incurably stupid. Steve has only just fired Fake Ryan. Finally. One of the only good things about Soapland is that, eventually, all secrets come out, and the bad people get their comeuppance. Hurrah!

Talking of secrets coming out: Thingy (you know, the garage person whose name I forget. Tina’s boyfriend.) has just revealed Kirsty and Tyrone’s secret. Now that’s a storyline that needs to end. I know I have said this before, but I feel it needs reiterating: there are no normal relationships (or pregnancies, for that matter) in Soapland. Ever. Kirsty is pregnant, therefore, ipso facto, she is bonkers. That is the Soapland message.

For all that, however, you have to admit it is mildly amusing. For example, this offering from Sean:

“So you and him are going to be having a kiss and a cuddle on dead Lesley’s sofa?”

Ah, the wonders of Soapland. We may deride it, despise it and deny it, but in the end we’ll  always come back to it. More’s the pity.

Lewis – The Soul of Genius

“Every murderer is probably someone’s old friend.”

Agatha Christie

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE AND INTEND TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

Oooh, this was a good episode. Precocious geniuses, Miss Marple, an unsolvable literary puzzle – it had it all.

Miss Marple? I hear you ask. Haven’t you mixed your murder mysteries?

No, Constant Reader, I have not gone batty. Lewis and Hathaway have indeed managed to find their very own Miss Marple, otherwise known as Miss Marber, Michelle Marber or “lady with bags”. She is an amateur detective trying to find out the truth behind the death of her son, questioning randomers, impersonating police officers and generally being a nuisance. Thing is, after her first couple of visits to the police – “I’ve got something that might help you”, etc. – and subsequent dismissals, you know she’s going to turn out to have a vital piece of evidence which would have enabled the whole mystery to have been cleared up much earlier if only the sceptical police officers had listened, (SPOILER) and so it turns out. An object lesson to policemen everywhere: Do Not Ignore The Lady With Bags.

What else? Oh yes, more romantic entanglement with cases, although this time it’s Hathaway and not Lewis who gets “blown away” (geddit?). The lucky lady is a gardener at the Botanic Gardens (in Oxford, obviously) who is amazed by Hathaway’s knowledge of an archaic medical theory called the Doctrine of Signatures, which says that plants show their medical efficacy by their shapes: so ear-shaped plants are good for ears, yellow plants are good for jaundice, etc. “No-one knows about the Doctrine of Signatures,” she says amazedly.

Well, actually, I do, thanks to the influence of Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky. See? Fantasy. Educational and fun.

Anyway. The Doctrine of Signatures leads to the final essential ingredient of a perfect murder mystery: (SPOILER) the Mad Scientist, complete with futuristic-looking lab in the cellar of a stately home. The answer to the mystery is satisfyingly obscure but not unguessable, the Lady with Bags turns out to have been right all along (well, partly) and life in Oxford goes on. For most people. The perfect murder mystery.

New Tricks

“It’s all right, it’s okay, doesn’t really matter if you’re old and grey.”

New Tricks theme tune

Hurray, a new series of New Tricks. Yes, it’s another murder mystery show. Why do you ask?

This first episode is somewhat unoriginally titled “A Death in the Family.” Really? Couldn’t think of a better title? And I see from the BBC website that the next episode will be “Old School Ties”. “Old School Ties”, that Lewis episode I reviewed (or at least wrote about) a few weeks back. Remember that, writer of New Tricks?

Never mind. The beginning of the episode in question came as quite a surprise. I, for one, was thinking, Is this New Tricks, or has the BBC made another mistake? This is because the beginning of the episode was set in Victorian London.160 years ago, to be precise.

Victorian London? Is this going to be Victorian New Tricks? Sort of like Casualty 1909, except  New Tricks 1909? Are we about to see a young Brian Lane on a penny-farthing bicycle?

Sadly, no. It turns out that UCOS has become entangled with British Intelligence, represented today in the person of Steven Fisher, played by Tim McInnerny (you know, Percy from Blackadder). This nefarious personage asks the team to investigate a 160-year-old murder. Well, not so much asks, actually. More like tells.

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE AND INTEND TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

So, really, this episode contained two mysteries: 1) who committed the murder and 2) why is MI5 so interested in it? Oh, and 3) (SPOILER) why is Jack leaving? (That one’s a shocker.) In essence, it was a particularly mysterious episode.

Anyway, in true UCOS fashion they eventually manage to solve a murder that stumped the original team, with no living witnesses, no murder weapon and no extant scene of crime. If this weren’t enough for one day, they also solve mystery 2), and they don’t like the answer much. (Although Mr Fisher is revealed as a skilled manipulator, ensuring by devious ways that the answer to the mystery is leaked.) Mystery 3), however, (SPOILER) is yet to be revealed to half of the team, although the audience know it: (SPOILER) Jack has something “in the liver”. What? What’s “in the liver”? Cirrhosis? Gallstones? Cancer? I suspect it’s the last one. Whatever it is, it’s a shocker. People do not get cancer in New Tricks. New Tricks is the land of “It’s all right, it’s okay, doesn’t really matter if you’re old and grey.” Whatever happened to that sentiment?

Anyway, it turns out that the actors are leaving New Tricks faster than you can say “Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad.” So it looks like there might be some more people getting cancer in Soapland.

Inspector George Gently

“The…power [of detective novels] isn’t in their final acts, but in the profusion of superpositions before them, the could-bes, what-ifs and never-knows. Until that final chapter, each of those is as real and true as all the others, jostling realities all dreamed up by the crime, none trapped in vulgar facticity. That’s why the most important sentence in a murder mystery isn’t the one starting ‘The murderer is…’ – which no matter how necessary and fabulously executed is an act of unspeakable narrative winnowing – but is the snarled expostulation halfway through: ‘Everyone’s a suspect.””

China Miéville

Continuing the murder mystery theme, today we have Inspector George Gently (no relation to Dirk Gently, proud owner of the Holistic Detective Agency). It occurred to me as I was watching it that almost all detective shows have the same kind of character dynamic: old, experienced copper mentoring a young, headstrong detective. Morse and Lewis. Lewis and Hathaway. George Gently and John. Barnaby and Jones. The only one I can think of that doesn’t follow this format is New Tricks, in which three old experienced coppers are kept in check by a younger not-so-headstrong detective. I don’t know if this format reflects real life or if it’s just a continuation of the old trope of “the hero with a sidekick”. Something to think about, maybe.

The episode title was the usual terrible pun: Gently Northern Soul. Because it had all night soul music parties. Don’t even ask.

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS EPISODE AND INTEND TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!

Anyway, the differentiating characteristic of the George Gently show is that it is set in the 60s, with everything that entails: pudding-bowl haircuts, LPs…and entrenched racism, which also happened to be the Big Theme of this episode.

SPOILER!

So a young black girl is found dead in a ditch, we go through the usual two-hour malarkey – boyfriend? family? white supremacists? – only to find out (SPOILER) that it was, in fact, no one at all, or rather a hit-and-run driver completely unrelated to the case. This feels like cheating, because the answer was impossible to guess, and, after all, isn’t that the attraction of murder mysteries, the solving of the puzzle? Unless, of course, you watch George Gently for its portrayal of 60s social mores. Which, I think, is unlikely.

The lesson for today, then: murder mysteries are for brain-training. Please, bring back the puzzles!

Casualty

“Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove.”

Terry Pratchett

Well, since we’ve had two visits to Holby City Hospital and none to its Emergency Department, I thought I’d amend that. So here is a post from Casualty, the original show that spawned Holby City.

The episode in question is entitled “Cuckoo’s Nest”, presumably in a reference to the patient with amnesia (apparently a fairly common complaint in Holby) posing as a candidate for a woman’s long-lost son. Or something. Sound familiar? Well, it would if you watch BBC Breakfast regularly, because it is almost exactly the same plot as that featuring in a new film called The Imposter, which was recently discussed on the Breakfast show. Now there’s a coincidence. Anyway, the amnesia storyline was cut off somewhat cursorily, given that most patient storylines are wound up by the end of the episode. Was the amnesiac a con artist, or was he really looking for his family? Will we ever know? Very few patients carry over to the next episode, so I suspect the answer to the last question is no. It was as if the producer had said, “Well, we’ve already got 50 minutes of film, let’s just stop there. Nobody will notice.”

Talking of editorial holes, there was yet another case this week of different family members showing up in the same hospital, all unknowing. A lot of the plotlines in Casualty seem to be generated by this kind of scenario: enemies shouting abuse at each other, parent and child reunited, deathbed blackmail. Good old hospital drama tropes. Welcome back to the surrealism of Soapland.

Oh, but I did enjoy the Dylan-and-baby storyline. Dylan is definitely one of my favourite characters: he’s always good for a laugh.

Miranda

“If I did better…I’d be God.”

Miranda Hart

That quote has, admittedly, been taken out of context, but even on its own it’s enough to make me laugh out loud. Yes, as I write this I am laughing like a madwoman.

For those unlucky ones who have not heard of Miranda, I’ll try to explain. Miranda is a sitcom written by Miranda Hart. It follows the adventures of Miranda, a slightly hapless character trying to get a date with Gary, the cook next door, aided by her diminutive friend Stevie and her outrageous mother.

Anyway, the BBC is currently repeating the series. Bearing in mind that I have seen it at least once, it still routinely makes me cry with laughter. It’s hard to define exactly why. Part of it is probably that I don’t see it on a regular basis: once a week when the series is showing, with months between series. Part of it is Miranda’s mishaps: one of my favourites is the one where she gets a necklace stuck in one of those sushi-bar conveyer belts. And part of it is the way Miranda looks directly at the camera and talks to the audience; for example:

“How are you? I can’t hear you and I don’t really care. Back to me.”

All right, it was funnier when I was watching it.

So, in conclusion…bear with…oh yes. Miranda. Such fun.