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I hope you’ll find something in these pages to make you laugh, or at least leak some description of bodily fluids. I write about a broad range of nonsense, but find myself most often drawn to the absurdity of existence, the wonder and chest-thumping terror of parenting, and the world of TV & film. I also occasionally write for the mighty Den of Geek: https://www.denofgeek.com/authors/jamie-andrew

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‘I didn’t kill my wife either, but I WOULD have if she’d tried to stop me from reading Jamie Andrew With Hands!’ – Dr Richard Kimble

The Race for PM: Brexy’s Midnight Runners

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer holds such a deep grudge against Mo that his senses are hijacked to the point where everything he sees, everything he says and everything he hears is ‘Mo’.

That’s how most of us have come to feel about Brexit.

Brexit is everywhere. Brexit will always be with us, and it’s always been here. Brexit is infinite and eternal. It’s in our DNA. It’s in the Domesday book. It’s in the Bible. It’s there standing next to Jack Nicholson in the photograph at the end of The Shining. It’s in our brains. It’s on our lips. It’s all over social media.

It’s been around for so long that I’m actually starting to form sexual neuroses around it. I heard some European lady on radio 4 recently trying to sum it all up, and found myself getting turned on: ‘Wha kine of Brexeet you wan, baybee?’ she asked me, and me alone. ‘You wan a soff Brexeet, baybee? Or har’ Brexeet?’

By this point, of course, I was fervently masturbating as I shouted indescribable filth out of the window, catching some funny looks from the rest of the people in the traffic jam: “Yeah, that’s it, restrict my movement, baby, oh yeah, yeah, I’ve been a bad voter, I’ve been a bad, bad, MISINFORMED voter, take away my rights, yeah, make me feel worthless, defund me, DEFUND ME, give me your sexy Brexit, HARD, come on, HARD, don’t stop, don’t STOP… BREXIT THE EVER-LOVING SHIT OUT OF ME, YOU DIRTY WEE COW!”

Brexit’s on the radio, it’s on the TV: every channel, no matter the programme.

‘Will sparrows need a visa after Brexit?’

‘Tell me, you’re a headteacher: after Brexit, will maths still exist?’

‘Reverend, if Jesus were here today, would he… be fucking sick of hearing about Brexit too?’

I swear David Attenborough’s even released a Netflix special called: Life After Brexit.

There’s… nothing to eat here, so the poor… have started… to eat the rich. The very rich have… already left, migrated to Monaco, and Switzerland, leaving… just the middle classes. A group of young council estate lads have seen the crest of Phillip from the tennis club’s Pringle jumper, and they head off in pursuit, eventually catching him round the back of Lidl and tearing him apart like a chicken. It’s probably the first time that anyone in this group has ever eaten anything fresh… or free-range. Clive from the squash club will soon be round the corner in his… Nissan Navara, but by then… it’ll be too late for Phillip. This… is what Brexit Means Brexit… really means.

We reached the point of critical Brexit fatigue a long time ago, but we might very well find ourselves looking back on these days with great fondness once we’re loping round a smog-clouded Hell-scape chewing the heads off rats, and aiding in the summary executions of anyone we suspect can speak French even to primary school level; once our kids are standing up in school assembly and making their daily pledge to President Katie Hopkins to hate foreigners in all their hideous forms, as their teachers watch on with machine guns.

Poor Theresa May. It seems like only last week she was begrudgingly commenting on inner-city knife crime, with a look on her face that seemed to say “What’s this got to do with fucking Brexit? Why am I being asked to comment on something that ISN’T Brexit? Ask a local councillor or Piers Morgan about this inconsequential nincompoopery: I’m a god damned board-certified Brexitologist!”

Ironically, one of the main reasons she had to stand down this week – besides finally realising how tragic and ineffectual she was as a leader – was due to the sheer number of times she’d been stabbed in the back by the squad of Machiavellian hypocrites lurking behind her in the shady, murky undergrowth of the party.

There’s now a gaping hole in the Tory leadership, which admittedly isn’t anything new. At least ten Tories have expressed interest in taking over as PM – Brexy’s Midnight Runners, as I like to call them – and there isn’t one among them that doesn’t send a shiver of terror or wave disgust down the spine. They range from the ridiculous to the sublime; from the ‘Eewwww!’ to the ‘who?’, and a multitude of possibly illegal swear words in between. I’m afraid that only the least favourite crisps are left at the bottom of the multi-pack, and all of them are Evil Flavour.

Welcome to the next phase of the Brexpocalypse. It’s going to get worse before it gets… well, an awful lot worse. The UK, already isolated from its friends by a coterie of abusive, power-hungry psychopaths, is now about to be gang-raped. And all we can do is stand by and watch. On the BBC, as it happens. Good old BBC.

Brexy’s Midnight Runners

One of the few Tory big-hitters not to come out swinging is Jacob Rees-Mogg, which is a shame, because that might have been very funny. It’s easy to see why they left the Dark Lord on the bench. Rees-Mogg’s voice is suggestive of a Persian cat who just woke up after a nice long sleep by the fire, but an evil Persian cat – one who kills baby mice. He’s a haunted ventriloquist’s dummy who only speaks Latin; he’s a demonic pinky-finger; he’s Hitler’s butler; he’s a harvester of children’s tears who likes to relax by downing a refreshing pint of homeless man’s blood. But, strangely, he’s not considered quite depraved enough to throw his top-hat into the ring.

So who have we got? There’s Michael Gove, the man who finally answers the question: ‘But what if Rick Moranis was an oily right-wing bastard?’ (I could just as easily have used ‘Pob’ instead of ‘Rick Moranis’. Or a hollowed-out wank potato with glasses.) It’s not widely known, but Gove was the world’s first successful recipient of a full Scottishectomy. All vestiges of Scottishness were removed from his mind and body in 2005 – which unfortunately has raised his life expectancy by 20 years.

There’s Boris Johnson, naturally. He’s the favourite. Imagine if the Honey Monster had sex with both the Dulux dog and a naughty school-boy character from the Beano: Boris would probably masturbate to that, right? Still, he’d make a good prime minister because his buffoonery was mildly amusing on Have I Got News For You a few years ago, eh? Once he’s in the top seat maybe we can appoint Andy Parsons as the Home Secretary and Gina Yashere as the Business Secretary? Yeah? YEAH!!?! (suddenly remembers we live in a world where Donald Trump is president in the US and a stand-up comedian was elected as the president of Ukraine)

Ah, and there’s Jeremy Hunt. People have milked so much comedy from Jeremy Hunt’s wonderfully rhymeable name over the years that there’s nothing original left to say, so I can probably just dispense with the witty wordplay and come right out and say what an absolute c**t he is. What an absolute c**t he is.

Barring her views on fox-hunting and Brexit, Andrea Leadsom is actually quite progressive for a Tory, which is a bit like singling BTK out for praise in a group of serial killers because he’s quite good at pottery.

Then there’s Sajid Javid, a brutal little man who looks like the aborted attempt of a small child to draw The Rock’s face onto an egg. He’s Doctor Evil, but thrice as evil, and about as popular in Scotland right now as the idea of Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Hill being brought back from the dead so they can be installed in Edinburgh Castle to rule as King and Queen. Good luck, you little fucker.

Rory Stewart has the resigned, vaguely apologetic gaze of an archbishop who’s just been snapped by the paparazzi coming out of a brothel. For the eighth time. He looks like the end result of someone getting a jigsaw of Steve Buscemi’s face mixed up with a jigsaw of Wilhem Dafoe’s face.

There’s Dominic Raab, a grinning thumb with the face of Buzz Lightyear and the soul of Alan B’stard. There’s Matt Hancock and Kit Malthouse, who aren’t even real people, but two detectives from a cop show set in 1970s New York. And there’s James Cleverley, Esther McVey, Mark Har…oh, fuck this, I’m falling asleep (but also still oddly terrified).

To quote the tagline for Alien vs Predator: Whoever wins, we lose.

Even Ken Clarke’s had enough

The Tories shouldn’t be allowed to install a new prime minister without a general election, and the general public should never have been allowed to weigh in on such a complex, multi-layered issue as membership of the European Union, at least not without years of preparation, education and honest campaigning.

This is what the average man and woman on the street make of Brexit:

“What is this Brexit thing?”

“It’s somethin’ to do with pomegranates or something, too many pomegranates coming in to the country.”

“Pomegranates?”

“Aye, and bananas too. They’re too bendy or they’re no bendy enough or somethin. Oh, and they’re worried about some door-stop in Ireland.”

“A door-stop?”

“Aye, they want to put one in, so Ireland doesn’t close or something.”

“That’s a bloody big door-stop.”

“Aye, but it’ll keep the foreigners out. SOMETHING SOMETHING FOREIGNERS! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!”

They’re the lucky ones. Imagine living in blissful ignorance of this almighty cluster-fuck. Mind you, half the people brokering it don’t know what the fuck it’s all about either. It’s like when you say a word or phrase so many times that it starts to lose all meaning. ‘Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Workers rights, workers rights, workers right, workers rights, workers rights.’ You see? Totally meaningless.

So, in summary: we’re all fucked.

Except for us lucky blighters up here in Scotland, who might yet manage to avoid Brexit with the aid of a swift and timely Ukexit. That’s if Donald Trump doesn’t declare war on us and nuke us out of existence for not letting him turn the highlands into a giant golf course or something.

If we have to endure a No Deal Brexit with Boris Johnson at the helm, a nuking might start to seem like a small mercy.

Geeks may rule, but *that* ‘aint cool…

Being a geek, or being interested in geeky things, isn’t the albatross around the neck it used to be when I was at school. As a teenager, I hid my love for Star Trek like it was a secret identity. Not a sexy secret identity like Superman’s, but one that if discovered would almost certainly prevent me from losing my virginity before the turn of the millennium. The third millennium.

I remember sitting in the opticians with my mum when I was about 15 or 16. I was browsing through an Argos catalogue when I spied the complete first season of Star Trek Voyager on VHS. I hinted that it might make a nice gift for a space-loving chap such as myself, but my mother never gave it any serious consideration, preferring instead to launch into a tirade about how I didn’t appreciate the value of things, and how her parents had never bought her box-sets of popular American science-fiction programmes when she was a girl growing up in the Glasgow tenements. I think the closest she’d ever got to flying saucers was when her mum got angry and threw plates at her.

About half-way through this parental primal-scream, the shop door tinkled to announce the arrival of a new customer. It was a girl from my class at school. She took a seat next to us. This wasn’t good. Mum was still in full, red-faced swing, a few ‘and another things’ leaping from her tongue. I couldn’t let this Star Trek-shaped secret get out. I mustered every sliver of verbal dexterity I possessed in a desperate attempt to derail the subject of conversation.

And I failed.

Miserably.

Have you ever tried to stop a mother from talking, much less a Glasweigen one? After a few awkward hellos, my mum turned to the girl, jabbed a finger at the Argos catalogue and said: “He wants me to buy him these bloody Star Trek videos. Look how expensive they are!”

She might as well have said: “Honest to God, I don’t know how I’m going to stop him from wearing his granny’s knickers to bed every night, and touching himself as he watches Prisoner Cell Block H.”

The girl was now an Athenian herald, sure to take news of my plummeting sexual stock back to school, where it would be met with frenzied murmurs of ‘… Jamie…Jamie…which one’s he again?’ This was the bitterest pill to swallow. The realisation that I probably didn’t have stock to plummet in the first place.

How times have changed.

Not in terms of my sexual stock, you understand, which still remains low, but in terms of the things that impact on a young lad’s sex appeal. These days, admitting you like Star Trek isn’t going to stop you from boldly going to bed with someone; admitting you like Star Wars isn’t going to stand in the way of you getting a good Chewie.

It’s a brave new world for the geeks of yesteryear. Superhero movies routinely gross billions at the box office. Sagas like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are almost universally adored, or at least universally respected. Sci-fi shows and comic book adaptations are everywhere. Fewer and fewer people are confusing Star Wars with Star Trek while wearing dismissive sneers on their faces.

Arguably, geeks have inherited the earth because technology has finally caught up with the dreams, visions and what-if-eries at the pulsing core of geekdom. Fans have finally been able to say to a scornful population (whose perspectives on sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy worlds had perhaps been shaped by stereotypes like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons): ‘See? This is what’s been happening inside our heads all these years. This is what it looks like. It’s pretty cool, right?’

So geek is now cool.

Except… not all of it.

Oh god, not all of it.

Even factoring in mainstream acceptance, there are still elements of the best sci-fi and fantasy shows, and moments within them, that make me want to take up sports, bin my books, burn my DVD collection and never contemplate the fantastical or the high-concept ever again; there are things out there that must remain hidden from new geeks and the yet-to-be converted; things with the power to turn me back into that embarrassed, shame-ridden boy sitting in my local optician’s, ready to curl up into a ball that’s roughly the same size as the smallest letter on the bottom line of the eye-chart.

Strap yourself in. This ‘aint going to be pretty.

Kling-a-long-a-ding-dong

I watched the first season of Star Trek Discovery last year, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t instantly convince me of its Star Trekkiness. It seemed to owe more of a debt to the 2004 series of Battlestar Galactica (and perhaps even The Punisher) than to its franchise forebears. Some of the violence is nauseatingly brutal, with frequent scenes of bloody torture and merciless bone-crunching. The characters even swear. OK, it’s not a Star Trek first. Data once uttered the word ‘shit’ to comedic effect in the The Next Generation crew’s first cinematic outing ‘Generations’, but until 2017 that was – to the best of my knowledge – the one and only swear word that Star Trek had ever dropped.

Now, not only do Star Trek crews say shit, they say ‘fuck’, too. The ‘f’ word?? In fucking Star Trek? What mirror-universe trickery is this? I can only posit that the creative team behind the show must once have been teenage Trek fans and found themselves sitting in a version of my opticians’ office, timidly browsing through a catalogue of Star Trek box-sets, terrified that their shameful secret would be exposed, and vowing to themselves: ‘When I’m eventually in charge of this show it’s going to have tits and it’s going to have blood and broken necks and shagging and people saying ‘fuck’ all the time, and everyone’s going to think it’s edgy and hip, by God! And the geeky kids who watch it are going to be drowning in sexual effluent – AND NOT THEIR OWN THIS TIME, DAMMIT!’

Despite being self-conscious as a lad, I always thought Star Trek was cool. Well, OK, not cool, exactly, but worthy, cerebral, exciting. If only the majority of people in my school and neighbourhood would set aside their preconceptions and give it a chance I was certain they’d grow to love it.

But not if they ever, ever, ever, EVER tuned in just as a bunch of Klingons started singing. Then all bets were off. They’d be left thinking to themselves that they’d accidentally started watching a documentary about angry German death-metal fans, or the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Finally convincing someone to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and having them randomly select an episode with lots of Klingon sing-alongs is the equivalent of talking about how cool, friendly and funny your best friend is to a group of new acquaintances at a formal occasion, only for your friend to turn up dressed as half-Ike Turner, half-Tina Turner, and caked in human shit from head-to-toe.

Mind you, any episode from the first season of TNG would have a similar effect on the uninitiated. Almost without exception the episodes were hammy, crummy and execrable, and in one infamous instance really rather quite racist – looking at you, Code of Honour.

Deep Space Nine was – and still is – my favourite incarnation of Star Trek. It quickly became a gritty, dirty, rough-and-tumble, serialised saga filled with flawed and imperfect heroes and relatable villains, an obvious spiritual predecessor to the revived Battlestar Galactica… but let’s not forget that it, too, began its life as, well… shite. The first season episode, Move Along Home, in which some of the principal characters become trapped in a weird alien game that can only be defeated by playing hopskotch and singing daft otherworldly nursery rhymes, is so cringe-worthy that even a young Russel Brand would’ve been killed by all the vicarious shame compressed and distilled into its ferociously fucking awful forty minutes.

Red Face in Space

I loved Red Dwarf as a lad, and was never happier than when out in the playground imitating the cast and trading catchphrases. I used to tape episodes from the TV so I could watch them with my grandfather, a continuation of a sci-fi-watching tradition that had started with repeats of Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. I had a deep, symbiotic relationship with Red Dwarf, as we all have with our favourite things, be they TV shows, football clubs or Gods.

My grandfather’s laughter wasn’t just a vindication of the writers and a salute to the comedic chops of Craig Charles et al; to me it signified acceptance, validation. As we bonded over those half-hour nuggets of space-based hijinks, my being became indivisible from Red Dwarf. If he hadn’t have liked it as much as he did, or actively hated it, I would have taken it as a personal insult, and left my grandparents’ home nursing a psychic wound an inch deep around my soul.

Watching Red Dwarf slowly die from 1997 on-wards was like finding out that all of my favourite childhood entertainers had been prolific child abusers, which isn’t just an extreme analogy, because most of my favourite childhood entertainers were prolific child abusers. I remember watching an episode from season seven with my Dwarf-sceptic sister and becoming increasingly angry at the show for being shit, and at my sister for not laughing anyway. Then came season eight – aka Chuckle Brothers in Space – featuring slapstick that was about as funny as watching your gran being beaten to death by angry werewolves with cricket bats.

After season eight the show was quickly and quietly (and completely understandably) dropped by the BBC, only to be resurrected ten years later on the satellite channel Dave. Red Dwarf’s come-back special was Back to Earth, a made-for-TV movie told in three parts. Creator Doug Naylor took the bold step of removing not only every shred of laughter from the new show, but all of its humour, too, replacing it with a mixture of existential dread and Coronation Street. Fuck, it was dreadful.

Seasons ten and eleven were a mixed-bag, but in their defence there were a few diamonds strewn among the rough, just enough to justify the show’s continued existence. In season twelve, though, Doug Naylor successfully squandered every dollop of goodwill he’d managed to build up by dropping a single episode that was so gut-grindingly, skull-breakingly, world-endingly awful that it made all of the shittest episodes he’d made up until that point seem like comedies co-written by Steve Coogan, Graham Linehan, Billy Connolly, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and the Marx Brothers combined.

It was so bad it made Mrs Browns’ Boys look good; truth be told it made having your eyes punched in by a spike while a crocodile rips off your cock look good. That episode was, of course, Timewave, signalling to even the show’s most ardent fans that it might be time to wave goodbye to the show forever. Red’s dead, baby. Red’s dead.

Oh, come on, was it really that bad, Jamie? Really?! WELL YES IT WAS, ACTUALLY, YOU DOUBTING THOMAS! So exquisitely terrible that if a nuclear missile were to wipe out half the planet as you watched it, the end of mankind wouldn’t be the worst thing to have happened to you during that half-hour; so bad that my grandfather came back from the dead to throat punch me for ever making him watch this shite when he was alive.

If you haven’t seen Timewave, I beg you not to seek it out. I don’t even want to describe it, lest the plot when written down opens a portal to Hell or something. Trust me and just forget it ever existed. It’ll make you hate not only Red Dwarf, but puppies, kittens, freshly-baked scones, rainbows, laughter and even your own children.

I worried about being exposed as a Star Trek Voyager fan, but being caught even talking about this episode could set back a teenager’s sex life by at least 65 ice ages.

An arrow through the ear

I stopped watching Arrow during its fourth season, so who knows, perhaps it broke free from its strange blend of cheese, grit and ridiculous character trajectories to become a slick, gritty Nolan-esque powerhouse… 

I always thought it was funny that there wasn’t anyone in Oliver’s orbit that didn’t eventually become a crime-fighting, vigilante superhero, complete with their own brand-name, trademark and costume. The roster was as impressive as it was improbable: the dude who used to be his driver, his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend’s sister (who is also his ex-girlfriend), his sister, his sister’s boyfriend, his employee (and now girlfriend), his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that in season five a new janitor started at Queen Consolidated and within two episodes was fighting off baddies with a titanium broom and calling himself ‘The Sweeper’.

If you’ve watched shows like Daredevil and Punisher with their cavalcade of brutal, hyperkinetic, technically impressive fight scenes, then you probably find it hard to appreciate Arrow’s fight scenes, which in comparison look like they were staged by a local Morris dancing troupe.

By far the most embarrassing element of Arrow, though, was the Canary, aka Laurel, the ADA, not only the least likely and least plausible crime fighter among Oliver’s friends and relatives, not to mention the most irritating character by a country mile, but also the crew-member with the very shittest ‘power’. Her method of dispatching the baddies was to open her mouth and shake her head around like a nursery teacher pretending to be a dragon, while making a noise that sounded like a vacuum cleaner with tonsillitis.

Canary, you have failed this.

Shitty.

O Batman, Where Art Thou?

Gotham the series was a bubbling mish-mash of tones, vibes and characters that didn’t quite manage to simmer into a particularly flavoursome or satisfying pot of soup, lacking pep and sustenance. It didn’t taste awful. Some sips were quite tasty, even sometimes had a bit of a kick, thanks to a sprinkle of salt here, a dash of pepper here, the Penguin with a rocket launcher there… but in a medium awash with such a glut of delicious televisual fare it regularly failed to justify its existence.

However, despite occasional bouts of cheese-scented preposterousness, it was rarely cringe-worthy. It’s actually pretty hard to come over as embarrassing or ridiculous when you’re already a show about people in costumes trying to kill each other in the campest ways imaginable.

There were exceptions. Like when Ben Mackenzie was called upon to play anything other than stoic. In a set of sequences near the end of the second season Ben Mackenzie was called upon to play the face-morphing baddy Clayface masquerading as Jim Gordon. Mackenzie’s acting technique was to channel a sex-addled Popeye after an entire brick of cocaine, which admittedly sounds awesome when I describe it like that, but really wasn’t. It made me cringe to the point where I wanted to take a whole brick up my own nose, but an actual brick. The kind you build houses with.

Doctor Oooooooh, that’s nasty

The first 26 seasons of Doctor Who gave us some truly great science-fiction, a vast multitude of episodes and ideas that were thoughtful, imaginative, resonant, frightening, exciting, funny and unapologetically weird. It also gave us potato-headed monsters, great snuffling genitalia beasts and men wrapped in tinfoil chasing screaming women around cardboard spaceships.

Even allowing for the technology that was available at the time, and the limited budget, some Who serials looked like they were knocked up by a gang of hobos between bouts of under-bridge boozing. There are episodes in the Classic Who canon that are about as welcome as an actual cannon would be if you found it pointing up at your arse cheeks from the bottom of the toilet bowl seconds before it fired.

I watch an episode from the early years with my kids every morning at breakfast time. They love it, no matter what they see. They’re too young, and their imaginations too immersive, to let a silly little thing like a man in a rubber suit with big googly eyes selotaped on to it ruin their enjoyment.

My partner, though, occasionally wanders in when something really, really, really shit is happening, and she always judges me for it. Like Bonnie Langford screaming as a giant cock waddles towards her; Jon Pertwee’s face bulging out hilariously as a sentient telephone cord tries to strangle him; London being invaded by the shittest dinosaurs ever imagined; Tom Baker being subsumed by a pulsating testicle; a man being eaten by an evil plastic seat; a human eye peering through the neck of the Jagaroth; Sylvester McCoy; Jon Pertwee again, singing a gibberish Welsh lullaby to a man in an unconvincing Singing Telegram costume whilst waving a dentists’ mirror in his face.

‘How can you watch this shit?’ she’ll ask me.

‘How can… YOU… watch this shit?!’ I sputter, flouncing out of the room, all red-faced and agog.

It’s still tough being a geek sometimes.

And don’t you forget it.


Please feel free to recommend your own most cringe-worthy moments from otherwise serviceable fantasy and sci-fi shows in the comments below, or over on the Facebook page.

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Tuca & Bertie

Two barmy birds land on Netflix and make a virtue out of perseverance

Tuca & Bertie: from the people who brought you Bojack Horseman.

That’s how easy it was for the show to snag me. Cards on the table. If a new show was to come along carrying the tagline: ‘From the people who brought you Bojack Horseman comes back-to-back clips of old ladies receiving painful enemas on rusted gurneys round the back of the supermarket’, I’d be on my couch with a bucket of popcorn ready before you could say, ‘I think we’ve reached something of a cultural nadir.’

Tuca & Bertie is helmed by Bojack Horseman alumni Lisa Hanawalt, who helped develop that show’s trademark look. While T&B shares an aesthetic flair and a penchant for anthropomorphised creatures with its cartoon cousin, the two series couldn’t be more seismically different.

Bojack – eclipse black

Bojack Horseman is a deliciously dark study of existential angst, addiction and depression filtered through the id and ego of a washed-up, middle-aged actor on the cusp of his last chance in life, love and Hollywoo (sic). Tuca & Bertie, on the other hand, is a bouncy, breezy, larger-than-life look at the zany exploits of two female friends as they try to ‘level-up’ into their thirties without losing themselves, or each other.

The two friends are mirror opposites: Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an extroverted, fleet-footed toucan who’s taking her first tentative steps towards sobriety and self-reliance; Bertie (Ali Wong) is an introverted career chick (a songbird if you want to get literal about it) who’s just started cohabiting with her drippy but dutiful boyfriend, Speckles (Ex-Walking Dead favourite Steven Yeun).

If Bojack is storm-cloud black, then Tuca and Bertie – in style and execution, if nothing else – is a magical rainbow swirling inside a nuclear-powered kaleidoscope.

I disliked Tuca & Bertie’s first clutch of episodes, feeling meaner towards it precisely because I expected to love it so much. Maybe ‘disliked’ is too strong a word. It’s perhaps more accurate to say I was confounded, puzzled and nonplussed. I scouted online for reviews, and could find only frothy-mouthed outpourings of acclaim, which made me dislike the show all the more.

Was I the lone voice of dissent? What was I missing here? Was there something wrong with Tuca & Bertie, or with me?

While I loved the show’s arresting, vivid, and inventive visuals, I felt that the characters were broadly drawn to the point of caricature, and largely unlikeable to boot. The narrative was wispy and meandering, more dawdling behind the action than driving it; and the themes seemed fluffy and inconsequential. The absurd elements and sight gags, which should have been the show’s greatest asset, felt over-laboured. There was nothing of substance to orient the madness. It felt like going on a blind date and discovering that your partner is one of those people who describes themselves as being ‘certifiably mental’ or ‘totally up for the banter’.

But by far Tuca &Bertie’s biggest sin was that after four episodes the show had barely teased a titter out of me. Sure, I sniggered once or twice, especially at the unexpected introduction of some rather unorthodox sex bugs, but for the most part I sat grinning at the TV like an agitated gibbon, trying to trick my brain into making my mouth laugh. Was I over-thinking it? Was I not giving it a chance? Was I condemning it for not being Bojack? Was there an element of subconscious chauvinism afoot? Was it possible that Tuca & Bertie’s funny message was being broadcast at too high a frequency for my despicably male ears to hear?

As quickly as that last thought tapped a toe into my brain, my mind snagged it with the teeth of a hungry coyote and shook it until it was dead. Firstly, one team of women isn’t going to be representative of all women, everywhere, in any case. Secondly, I’m a veteran of The Golden Girls, one of the funniest sitcoms ever made; I’m Team Roseanne (the character, not the increasingly loopy lady who brought her to life); I’d happily watch and re-watch a movie called ‘Carrie Coon Cooks Prunes in Pantaloons’ over the output of most male stars; I have a fierce love for Captain Janeway; I think Happy Valley – created by, written and starring women – is one of the most compelling, uncompromising, and rich crime series ever produced; and I regularly read and rave about the works of great female novelists (or just novelists, as I prefer to call them).

I’m conscious that all this is starting to smack a little of the old ‘all of my best friends are black’ defence, and my list is quite possibly patronising and self-consciously right-on to the point of pukiness, but I’m simply trying to call attention to the fact that while men and women are physiologically and psychologically different, and subject to a host of different stresses, triggers and dangers throughout their lives, we aren’t so different that our inner worlds are closed off to each other.

Men and women aren’t really from Mars and Venus. Just because something’s about women, or by women, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ‘for’ women (or at least not only for women), and vice versa.

To rule out the patriarchal angle once and for all, I asked my partner to watch episode five with me: the episode where Tuca and Speckles (Bertie’s wishy-washy architect boyfriend) go on a road-trip to visit Tuca’s boozy, caustic and unspeakably rich aunty. I wanted to get some female perspective, see if there were things I might have been missing because I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be looking for them.

We sat stony-faced and silent for most of the episode’s twenty-six minute run-time, swapping and sharing the odd strained smile or apologetic grimace. Afterwards my partner said that although she wasn’t a big fan of Bojack Horseman, if she ever happened to catch a stray episode with me she at least ‘got’ the show. She could see what other people saw in it, and why they liked it. Tuca & Bertie, though, was a different kettle of ornithoids entirely. ‘What is it supposed to be doing or saying?’ she asked. ‘The whole time, I just wanted it to be over.’

I went back to trawling the net. There had to be others out there who shared my feelings. Not rabid incels or trolls who rebelled at the mere suggestion of a possible male hegemony, but normal – well, comparatively normal – people like me. I found a review of the show by critic Alan Sepinwall, the Head Ed for TV over at Rolling Stone magazine. He, too, had struggled with the first few episodes, but felt that the show deepened as it progressed, becoming steadily richer, funnier and more coherent, striking a rich nexus of quality about four or five episodes in. By this stage I was already five episodes in, and whatever Alan Sepinwall had found in Tuca & Bertie still eluded me, but I was now more hopeful than ever of finding it – whatever ‘it’ was.

‘OH YEAH!’, I hear the more ideologically trenchant among you roar. ‘Long live the brotherhood, is that it, Jamie, you SCUM BAG? You were prepared to keep hating it right up until the point another MAN came along and said that it was good, so it MUST be good, right, because a fucking MAN said so?!! PIG! YOU PIG! YOU PENIS-POSSESSING, MANSPLAINING, MUCK-SPREADING, PATRIARCHAL PIG!’

Please lower your pitchforks, folks. I know how this looks, but I can assure you that my reverence for Alan Sepinwall has nothing at all to do with his penis, an item which I can only assume he possesses. I’ve followed his career ever since his humble beginnings recapping (among other shows) The Sopranos for the Newark Star Ledger, the very same newspaper that Tony Soprano liked to read in the show. I followed him from HitFix to Uproxx to Rolling Stone, picking up most of his books along the way (I even reviewed his latest, The Sopranos Sessions, for Den of Geek, which you can read HERE). I utterly respect Alan Sepinwall, and usually agree wholeheartedly with his reviews and recommendations.

As I finished episode six, though, I started to suspect that our tastes might have reached their first point of opposition and impasse. Tuca & Bertie still hadn’t clicked for me, and it had a scant four episodes to leave its mark. I’d never give up on a show mid-way through a season, but season finales are handy check-points at which to decide whether to push on or switch off. I figured I’d be switching off. Surely it was too late in the game for a last minute save from the plucky, flocky ladies, and their world of sentient trees and building with great big pairs of tits bouncing from them?

Turns out it wasn’t.

My revelation came later than Alan Sepinwall’s, hitting me somewhere around episode seven or eight. It was around then I started to feel that the show was going somewhere, and saying something.

Tuca started to seem less like an obnoxious, sassy, single-friend composite and more like a rounded, damaged person whose denial-scented psychopathology sprayed out of her whenever she was confronted with pain or truth – the sort of person who, say, goes to a mindfulness retreat and accidentally turns it into a murderous cult. True story.

Bertie began to feel less like a 2D, Diet Monica-from-Friends and more like a living, breathing, relatable mix of conflicting wants, duties and desires. As the season drew to a close, everything started falling into place. The stakes became real, and finally there was something solid to counterbalance the crazy and the zany, which only served to make the crazier and zanier elements seem crazier and zanier, and funnier – much, much funnier – too.

I watched Tuca and Bertie mesh and unmesh, attract and repel, laugh and cry, rant and rage, love and hate, playing out the complex and familiar dance of female friendship in a winsome, winning and truthful way. There were fears. Secrets. Some key #metoo moments were handled sensitively, powerfully and, most importantly, with humour. Was this a different show I was watching?

The laughs were coming thick and fast, too. Not just titters or gently expelled puffs of nasal air, but real, booming, take-you-by-surprise, do-I-really-laugh-like-that laughs. A scene in the hospital between Tuca and a rather frantic medical appliance had me losing my shit quite considerably.

I fell in love with the way the show adds fresh dimensions of humour and tension to the humdrum and the ordinary through its hyper-inventive visual style: text-messages walking to their recipients; characters tussling with themselves inside their own brains, or suddenly becoming live-action puppets; and frenzied NOOOOOOOs growing animate and hurtling their way across town, with characters sometimes hitching a ride on them.

Tuca & Bertie will be back for a second season next year. I didn’t expect to say this way back at the mid-point, but, do you know what? I’m really looking forward to it.

The birds have nested. Now it’s time to watch them hatch.

Dead Celebrity Round-Up: Alive Edition

It’s not very tasteful to mock the dead, so I’ve decided to mock these guys for being dead while they’re still alive. I tried to imagine how the tabloids would cover their deaths on the front pages, if the tabloids were owned by me and I didn’t care about things like being sued or being universally despised.

Apologies to anyone outside the UK reading this, because you probably won’t have a bloody clue who most of these people are.

Without any further ado, take THAT, you alive bastards!

On being a Dad who sucks at sports

My son can throw a ball. Big whoop, right? Well, it’s a big whoop for me, you poo-pooing, party-pooping, poopy-pants, because it’s a god damned miracle that I’ve managed to sire a child who can run more than 100 yards without falling over and smashing his teeth out, much less demonstrate a modicum of sporting prowess.

I was – and very much still am – a handless, footless bastard: as graceful as a new-born calf trying to roller-skate on unset jelly; as co-ordinated as a one-armed man with a dagger jammed in each eye. My playground contemporaries oft remarked that I ‘threw like a girl’. If only I’d been born a couple of decades later, I could’ve had the little bastards prosecuted for gender-based hate-crimes. As it stands, I had to follow the old sticks-and-stones adage, and throw sticks and stones at them, which of course missed them, because I threw like a girl.

Most Scottish dads are expected to inculcate their sons into the ancient, dark arts of football, readying them for an adult life of meat-pies of dubious origin, strong lager, weak bladders and soul-shredding disappointment. Well, I don’t have any football-related skills or passion for the so-called beautiful game to pass on to my two boys. The reason? There are many factors, but I suppose the key ones are that a) I’m shite at football, and b) I think football is shite.

These things usually reach you by osmosis. My father was a football fanatic, but he was largely absent from my childhood, so he couldn’t pass on or light the torch. My uncle was a football fanatic, too, but he lived quite far away, and worked abroad most of the time. My grandfathers were both footballing men, but their footballing days were far behind them by the time I came along, and they certainly didn’t go to any matches. What avenues did that leave? Outwith the ball-kicking bosom of their families, Scottish kids tend to learn the bulk of their fleet-footed craft in the streets and parks of their neighbourhoods, playing kerbie, keepie-uppy, and world cuppy with their friends – jumpers for goal-posts and all that jazz – but I grew up in a semi-rural area, far outside the comfortable door-knocking range of my peers.

I was always picked last when football teams were being assembled in the playground. I was usually put in goal, the rationale being: ‘He’s tall. That’ll make it easier for him to stop things going past him.’ Well, the joke was on them, because everything got past me. Well, everything except their cruel – though admittedly accurate – jibes about how shite I was at football.

But was I bad at football because I never played it, or did I never play football because I was so bad at it? Nobody cared, least of all me. After a while I stopped lining up for draft, and went off to play ‘Japs and Commandos’ instead. Js & Cs is one of the many playground games we Scottish school-boys loved to play in the days before we realised just how massively racist we all were. PC notwithstanding, I was pretty good at the old Js & Cs: miming machine-guns, diving about, doing commando rolls. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too proud of that, though, given that the only real skill involved in the ‘game’ is the ability to mimic the noise of an old, fat Englishman with a stammer having an asthma attack as he falls down a hill.

The power of the ‘He’s tall’ principle extended beyond football into other ball-based sports. It was also responsible for encouraging the belief that I might be good at basketball. Unfortunately, height alone is no indicator of prowess, otherwise an electricity pylon and the Eiffel Tower would be among the best basketball players of our time. That being said, I’m painfully aware that both of those inanimate structures are almost definitely better at basketball than me.

The ineptitude doesn’t stop there. In my early twenties I went with a group of friends to the local pitch and putt. The pros went first, whacking their balls with poise and precision (settle down!), sending them arcing and speeding into the grey sky like reverse hailstones. I decided to go last. You know what they say about saving the best, right? (coughs)

I was a little apprehensive, but only a very little, because – seriously – how wrong could it go? Swinging a bit of metal behind your head and thwacking a ball? Easy. My confidence reigned supreme, even when I adopted a teeing off stance that was so low to the ground it looked like I was about to take a shit. I concentrated hard, and started to swing. Just as the club reached its apex above my shoulder, a chorus of laughs erupted behind me. I froze mid-swing, like a statue of a really bad golfer. ‘Fuck it,’ I said, dropping the club to the ground. ‘I’ll just watch.’

Christ I’m awful. I even suck at darts. Not much of a tiddlywink player, either.

Sport was never my thing, but that’s okay, because growing up I had plenty of other things in my life to occupy my time. I would explore the countryside: roaming through forests, chasing badgers with sticks, jumping over burns and streams pretending I was some famous Peruvian explorer. I would stroll into the middle of farmers’ fields and sit down in the grass, waiting to be encircled by a herd of cows, who’d come up and sniff and lick my shoes as I sang to them, usually a song by the Righteous Brothers (good job I never chose Phil Collins else they might have stampeded me to death). I grew into an almost evangelical atheist, but as a young nipper I’d stick a sign on my door that said ‘Do not disturb – playing for God’, and I’d spend long hours entertaining the big man with snippets of off-the-cuff theatre. I wasn’t religious. Just lonely. I’d write comics and stories; I’d record little sketches on my cassette player. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I was an absolute fucking weirdo.

I don’t want my sons to be weirdos like me. Well, not entirely. Perhaps just weird enough to be compelling; just weird enough to be able to peer through a dark mirror of imagination into a world of beautiful and terrible possibilities. Weird, but not cows-licking-your-shoes weird. I want them to be ‘regular’ to the degree that they participate in physical pursuits that will help them stay happy and healthy throughout their lives.They’re Scottish. They need all the help they can get.

I’d rather they side-swiped football, though. Sectarianism and tribalism are potent forces in Central and western Scotland; states of mind and ways of life that football often serves to magnify. That’s why I bought my eldest son, Jack, a baseball when he turned two. And it’s why my partner and I will encourage both brothers to take up sports like badminton, skiing, swimming and Taekwondo. In the time honoured tradition of contrary children, this probably means they’ll become world-class footballers.

Jack’s four now, and after a few years of playing catch with his baseball he’s got pretty sharp hand-eye co-ordination. He hasn’t quite mastered the catching part yet, but when it comes to pitching he’s consistent, powerful and accurate. Pitch perfect, if you like. From near, from far, he sends that ball spinning straight to your hands like a spherical homing missile, time, after time, after time.

I guess you could say he throws like a girl. Because that’s a compliment now.

I hope they continue to be more girl-like as they get older, mainly because their mother likes to run and work-out, and I like to sit down and write about how awful I am at not getting any exercise.

I’m probably going to die a fat, awkward bastard, but I’m glad my kids have got a sporting chance.

Still… it could be worse…

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 4, Eps 4 – 6

Part 16: Tryons, and fighters, and bears, oh my!

Wherein old friendships are rekindled and new enemies are made

Race, culture and tribal identity have been major talking – as well as flash – points thus far in season four. Hardly surprising, given that Outlander began its first season with indigenous peoples being subjugated by an aggressive neighbouring nation, and now finds itself relocated to a country where the indigenous peoples are in the process of being displaced and decimated by white European settlers (not to mention the infrastructure of this brave new world being erected upon the backs of countless thousands of African slaves).

Literature from the early days of white colonisation, and of course books and movies from our own recent past, could avoid tackling the more uncomfortable and unpalatable aspects of America’s birth and ascendance, but Outlander and its contemporaries cannot, and should not (and Outlander certainly doesn’t). We can no longer ignore history’s competing perspectives, and the winners, losers, villains and victims left in its wake.

In the opening moments of episode four, then, we revisit the racial tensions of Outlander’s first three seasons. It seems churlish to describe an incidence of racial tension as ‘classic’, but I suppose it is within the context of the series so far. Real venom simmers between Jamie and governor Tryon; a partial re-kindling of the conflict that reached its apex with the battle of Culloden.

Ostensibly, Jamie and the governor are discussing a land deal, one that will see Jamie becoming a laird-of-sorts once more, and the closest thing this new world has to a nobleman. The conversation between them is cordial on the surface, but unfolds in a very mafia-like way, everything they say to each other carefully guarded behind a fortress of plausible deniability (lest ye olde wire-taps be listening). They bury their threats and insults behind smiles, which flex across their faces like muscles. The governor keeps making disapproving remarks about the Highlanders, even going so far as to call them savages. Jamie won’t take the bait, but he won’t back down either.

Jamie’s new status as a landowner, for all its excitement and opportunity, is at times an uncomfortable burden for him to bear. He’s used to being the rebel, the fighter, the righteous man. Now he’s one of ‘them’. Not just a nobleman but, in the eyes of the Cherokee, an invader; a stealer of ancestral land to which he has no legitimate claim.

The Cherokee don’t waste time in showing up for a couple of grizzly stand-offs on the Frasers’ new turf. They behave menacingly, shout indecipherable threats, and hurl chibs and knives around. If nothing else, I’m sure it cures Jamie’s homesickness somewhat. Throw in some whiskey and bagpipes, and the Laird of Lallybroch could’ve made a proper night of it.

I don’t know if it’s culturally insensitive to say this – which, if I have to ask, probably means that it is – but the Cherokee look more like Chinese drag queens than bona fide Native Americans. I guess that’s what happens to your world-view and perspective on other peoples when you get all your lessons on aboriginal North American cultures from the Hollywood westerns you used to watch with your grandpa as a child.

I’d like to balance out any offence I may have caused to readers with Cherokee ancestry by pointing out that my own ancestral people did, and still do: a) wear itchy skirts, b) eat deep-fried chocolate for breakfast, washed down with a cup of hot lard, c) drink so much alcohol that our livers have the consistency of vinegarised paper, d) exalt a musical instrument that when played properly sounds like a dying cat trapped inside of a Whoopee cushion, and e) have to take language courses in order to understand even other Scottish people the next town over.

Oh, and f) we all have vast ginger beards. Even the women.

There. An eye for an eye… makes the whole world laugh. Or else it should.

So how did Jamie manage to avoid hostilities with the Cherokee? Well, in the usual, boring, predictable way, of course: by hunting down and killing a mentally-ill old warrior who, in response to being banished from the Cherokee settlement, had taken to masquerading as a bear, stalking the forests and killing anything that crossed his path. Oh come on, Outlander. I think we’re all getting a bit tired of that old chestnut.

How satisfying it is to see an incidence of sexual assault being suitably and swiftly punished for a change. How laudably sage and just of the 18th century Cherokee to have banished Bear-man-to-be for the crime of raping his wife, when sexual assault in our own time seldom attracts the punishment it deserves. That being said, though, they really should invent social workers and probation officers, in case their next sex-criminal turns into a leopard or something.

Claire and Jamie quickly forge a friendship and an alliance with the Cherokee, but their community outreach program isn’t limited to the natives. Claire also befriends the Muellers, a nearby family of German emigrants, and finds herself assisting in the delivery of the family’s first grandchild. So far, so beatific. Unfortunately, the first meeting between the Muellers and the Cherokee doesn’t exactly hint at a friendly future. When Mueller sees a group of Cherokee drinking some water from the river that runs past his property, he demonstrates an early Teutonic talent for neighbourly love by threatening to shoot them all.

Jamie’s out of town trying to round up prospective tenants, so it’s down to Claire to mediate peace between the opposing groups. Maybe she would’ve managed it, too, were it not for the heady mixture of illness, misfortune, superstition and mistrust swirling around the Mueller home.

When Herr Mueller’s daughter and new grand-child are killed by an outbreak of measles, his racism, grief, and ignorance of all things epidemiological combine to make him a crazed savage. He attacks the Cherokee in the dead of night, believing them to have cursed the river-water. He scalps their healer – a gentle woman, who had become Claire’s mentor and friend – proclaiming her a witch, and the architect of the curse.

Instead of turfing Mueller out into the wilderness dressed as a buffalo, or something equally absurd, the Cherokee decide to burn down the Mueller house with flaming arrows, and kill both husband and wife. As the flames lick at the bones of the house, and the flesh of its inhabitants, a little girl’s doll sits in the foreground, silently watching as the family to which she almost belonged is purged from the earth. I remember thinking to myself at that point, with a mixture of sympathy and sadness: at least that’s one less trip on the Christmas-card run for the Frasers this year.

There’s a moment just before the fire where we’re tricked into thinking that Claire might be the Cherokee’s target. We’re ready to embrace that possibility because of an earlier scene in which Roger learns that Claire and Jamie died in a fire at Fraser’s Ridge at some point during the 1770s.

The discovery of the newspaper article that announces the Frasers’ fiery demise (which Roger and Brianna come across independently of each other) propels Roger and Brianna back to the stones: Brianna first; Roger hot on her heels. It’s going to be interesting once Brianna finds out that Roger tried to keep her parents’ immolation a secret from her. It’s not really something you could credibly claim to have slipped your mind, is it?

There was something I had to tell you… em… nope, it’s gone.”

Was it about dinner tonight?”

Nope.”

Em, did you make plans to go out somewhere, with your friends or something?”

No. No, I don’t think so.”

[silence]

That’s really going to bug me.”

Don’t worry about it. It can’t have been that important.”

That’s it! [smiles and snaps fingers] That’s it, I’ve got it… Your mother burned to death!… I knew it would come back to me.”

[stony silence]

What do you fancy for dessert?”

Roger and Brianna’s reunion is one for the future (or the past, I suppose), but there are quite enough reunions in this trio of episodes to be getting on with.

Jamie is in the nearby town trying to drum up support for his big land giveaway among a clutch of ex-pat Scottish farmers and emigres. It seems like a generous deal indeed, but the fish ‘aint biting. Maybe Jamie needs his own advert on public access TV, and one of those big wibbly things that dances outside used-car lots.

I’m Crazy Jamie Fraser, and I’m so crazy I’m about to give away 100 acres of land, THAT’S RIGHT, you heard me, 100 acres of land, to YOU, with no rent to pay! That’s right, NO rent to pay! Didn’t I tell you I was crazy? They don’t call me Only Mildly Mentally-Compromised Jamie Fraser, by God! You’ll pay NO rent, that’s zero pounds, until God himself serves up the first good harvest. Boy, if I was any crazier, I’d be disembowelling people in the forest whilst dressed as a fucking bear.”

No-one will take any land, though, because they see governor Tryon, to whom they will ultimately be in thrall, as yet another in a long line of English oppressors, taxing the farmers and their land to oblivion while growing fat and decadent on the ill-apportioned proceeds. Another rebellion is brewing, and this time Jamie won’t find himself on the side of people like Bryan from Banfshire, or Murtagh… Wait a minute, IT’S MURTAGH!!!

HOORAY!

Old grumpy-pants is alive and well, and living in Carolina as a blacksmith. He looks a lot older, like a Medicine Man-era Sean Connery, but he hasn’t lost any of his grit and fire. Murtagh’s the leader of the regulators, now: a tax-rebel; a righteous Robin Hood, still socking it to the man. Jamie won’t join Murtagh’s uprising against the unscrupulous tax collectors – he’s establishment now, after all. But neither will he stand in the way of the regulators’ efforts, because he’s still James bloody Fraser, ye ken.

I found Jamie and Murtagh’s reunion to be a lot more affecting than Jamie and Claire’s the previous season. Even Murtagh and Claire’s reunion was at least on a par. It’s all very lovely, which makes me worried, because if something’s lovely on Outlander that usually means that death, or rape – or someone being raped to death – is just around the corner.

Anyway, we’ll see. Back to happy. Before long, the whole gang’s kicking back in Fraser’s Ridge: Claire, Jamie, young Ian, Murtagh, John Grey, and Willie – Jamie’s little bastard (in more ways than one). John Grey has been raising Willie as his own, as he promised Jamie he would, the noble son-of-a-bitch.

I don’t understand the weight of suspicion and hostility that Claire directs at John Grey. Or why the show paints John, first and foremost, as some sort of love-sick stalker, ready to risk his adopted son’s happiness and sense of self for another shot at capturing Jamie’s affections. It devalues the character, and generates conflict where none exists. Sure, John obviously loves and admires Jamie, but can’t the writers simply let that be a facet of John Grey’s feelings and character, rather than the thing that dictates and defines them both? His motivations are surely a lot more complex than: ‘I wonder if this’ll be the thing to get my cock in Jamie’s gob.’

There’s hostility, too, between Murtagh and John as they tussle over the subject of the regulators, although John has no idea that the man he’s dining and debating with is the leader of the agitators. Jamie, as a new member of the landing gentry, finds his loyalties divided along lines of class, status and friendship. Murtagh wants him to use his influence with John Grey to get useful information from about Governor Tryon, but Jamie doesn’t want to betray his friend, especially in light of John’s role as father to his young son. Between John and Claire, and Jamie and Claire, and John, Jamie and Murtagh, it’s all a big chess game, and HEY, THEY’RE PLAYING ACTUAL CHESS, WHAT A GREAT METAPHOR!

Jamie gets a chance to bond with his son when John’s struck down with the measles. He takes Willie out into the forest to participate in stereotypically male pursuits like suffocating fish and shooting defenceless animals through the heart. Jamie systematically strips away William’s rank and privilege by forcing him to get his hands dirty by doing things like gutting and dressing the deer. It’s a very paternal urge, to reach out, to teach, to instill a little of himself in the boy’s character.

Jamie needn’t have concerned himself too much. There’s already plenty of him in there. When William sneaks off by himself to snag a fish he incurs the wrath of the Cherokee, who demand his blood as penance for the theft (that river’s a dangerous bloody thing – stay away from it in future!) William is only saved by a combination of Jamie blurting out the truth of the boy’s paternity, and his own honour and fortitude. Instead of walking away from the incident with his throat slit from ear to ear, he leaves with nothing more than a cut hand, a symbolic warning.

This traumatic event jogs William’s memories of his childhood, and Helwater. When William asks why Jamie didn’t look back at him when he was shouting and running after him on the day he left Helwater, Jamie says it was because he didn’t want to give false hope that they’d ever see each other again. It’s nice, then, that the episode ends with William leaving with John Grey, and turning to look straight into his father’s eyes.

That represents hope.

Which means you’re dead, William. Dead, dead, dead.

Sorry, mate. You’re in Outlander, not Downton Abbey.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • I was a little disappointed in Myers, the forest’s resident wilderness expert, during the bear saga. His knowledge of the natives, local wildlife and survival techniques didn’t count for much when he was dripping with blood and trying to squeeze his innards back into his ample belly. You failed, Fake News Bear Grylls, so move aside and make way for the real survivalist hero, Jamie Fraser: the mighty Bear-Batterer of Lallybroch.
  • Ah, you Americans and your famous ‘delicacies’. ‘Jerked meat’ means something a lot different in modern-day Scotland. As does ‘meat shed’. I think it’s a gay bar on Byres Road.
  • They made rifles bigger in the olden days, didn’t they? Mighty me, they were like bloody javelins.
  • I laughed when the subtitles popped up on screen when Murtagh was talking. He said, ‘Haud yer wheesht!’, and the subtitles said, (speaking in Gaelic). That’s not Gaelic, you silly sausage of a subtitler. That’s just slang. Póg mo thóin… now THAT’S Gaelic.
  • When Graham McNeil’s wife answered the door to Jamie in town, she gave him a look that suggested she was hankering after his little Greyfriar’s Boaby. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of her.
  • Young William, with his long hair and half-confused pout, looks like Boaby, the man who works behind the bar of The Clansman in the Scottish comedy series ‘Still Game’. As a Scotsman, it gives me immeasurable pleasure to say that Willy looks like Boaby.
  • Jamie and Claire’s bawdy banter in the bath at the close of episode six was excruciating. Is it my imagination, or is there no longer any chemistry or passion between the two leads? It all seems so rote, so forced. Maybe that’s just a realistic portrayal of a marriage, I don’t know. What I do know is that young William looking back should’ve been the image to end that episode.
  • I’m looking forward to Brianna and Roger’s escapades in the past, which I’m sure must be coming in the next episode.

If you’ve got kids, grandkids or little people in your lives, read them this funny little story I wrote, Roy, Boy of Earth, and consider making a small donation to charity.

Follow me on Twitter @nottheclimber


READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 11 – 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 4, Eps 1 – 3

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

Jamie on the Box

My pictorial review of Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 3

‘The Battle of Winterfell’

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Game of Thrones, Barry

Westeros gears up for death, while Barry tries to stall it

HBO used to dominate the prestige TV market, and it very much knew it, even going so far as to rub the networks faces in it with their slogan, ‘It’s not TV: it’s HBO’.

HBO was entitled to crow. After all, it gave the world Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Larry Sanders Show, and many more ground-breaking smash hits besides.

Unhampered by network focus groups or the vested interests of advertisers, HBO could afford to take greater risks with its output. Once show-runners, writers and producers had been freed from the burden of having to please most of the people most of the time, or of having to play to the lowest (or most conservative) common denominator, creativity became king.

The televisual landscape is different since HBO’s heyday, seismically so. Network television has upped its game, and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are taking the sorts of bold risks that used to be HBO’s exclusive calling card. It’s a testament to HBO’s enduring creative clout that even among this dizzying proliferation of content two of the best shows currently on TV – Game of Thrones and Barry come from the HBO stable.

As Game of Thrones enters its endgame, it’s gifted us the most hotly anticipated team-up this side of Infinity War. Every hero, villain, vagabond, brother, bastard, king, queen, drinker, thinker, miscreant, meanderer and murderer that ever lifted a banner or a broadsword is assembled in Winterfell for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, which basically serves as an hour-long breather (and an opportunity for us to hold our breaths) before a wave of wights and walkers descends from the north to reduce all of Westeros’s problems to one: survival.

An episode of Game of Thrones never feels as long as its run-time. Whether it lasts 48, 58 or 90 minutes, the narrative always twists and clicks around as fast as a man having his neck broken by the Mountain. In the beginning I attributed the greater share of that feat of time-dilation to the show’s vast and sprawling geography – the action flitting from desert to forest to castle to cave over distances of thousands of miles, essentially telling six or more loosely interlocking or wholly separate stories within each episode; keeping the pace brisk to distract us from any mounting sense of boredom – but it quickly became clear that the thing keeping us hooked was purely and simply the sheer, breath-taking quality of every element of the production.

There’s no flitting between locations in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. The whole hour (an hour for us, a day for the characters) unfolds in and around Winterfell, where the characters meet, talk, drink, lament, commiserate, drink, and drink some more. There are no battles or blood-shed, but the episode holds us utterly spellbound as it weaves together and pays off dozens of plot-lines, reunions and partnerships, sometimes calling back to feuds and fuck-ups way back in the first season.

There’s not a word or gesture out of place. Everything counts, everything builds, everything works. As always with the show, the rich dialogue springs from character, not circumstance. Some characters are clipped, some garrulous, some truthful, some false, some terse, but every word that comes out of a character’s mouth sounds and feels like it belongs there.

Emotional responses from the audience – whether they be joy, panic, relief, fear, tears or sadness – are worked for and earned. Shows like Star Trek Discovery and The Walking Dead might roll out some emotionally manipulative montage over-played by some puffed up, expository, wholly contrived speech in a bid to stir our souls, but Game of Thrones can provoke the same response with a word, a grunt, or even just a look.

If we became misty-eyed when Brienne of Tarth earned the respect and recognition of her friends and peers, felt touched yet again by Arya and the Hound’s rather gruff and grudging father-daughter act, laughed when Tormund told tales of suckling milk at a giant’s breast, and shouted ‘no’ at the screen as Arya’s final layer of innocence was stripped away, think how we’re going to feel next week when everyone starts dying. I trust you, Game of Thrones, but I’m not ready. Can’t it be summer again?

When you start to describe Barry to someone who’s never seen it, you become conscious of the molten gimmickery at the show’s core. Isn’t this just a Saturday Night Live sketch with too thin a premise to sustain a whole series? (apposite, as the show’s star and co-creator, Bill Hader, is a SNL alumnus). Barry seems like the kind of crazy idea two friends would cook up one night between bongs and back-to-back episodes of Rick and Morty.

So there’s this guy, right, and he’s called Barry, and he’s a cold-blooded killer, right? I mean he does it for a living. And this one time he wanders into an acting class when he’s stalking a target, and he decides he wants to become an actor, give up the killing business. But he has to kill someone in the class, that’s his target, right, but he falls in love with this acting chick who’s friends with the guy he has to kill, and he ends up betraying the Ukrainian mob, and his handler won’t let him quit, and the police are hunting him and every time he tries to walk away from killing and murder he gets pulled in ever harder and… em… [scratches head] are there any more Cheetos?’

Barry, though, is much more than just a quirky premise. It’s a smart, wicked, wickedly funny show that’s got just as much room for fatal and farcical shoot-outs and misunderstandings as it does meditations on mortality, culpability, life, love, death and fate. Grim reality goes toe to toe with macabre fantasy in a heightened world populated by characters both urgently real and grotesquely cartoonish. Instead of conflicting with each other, all of these elements coalesce into something beautiful and funny and horrifying and black. It’s a show that makes you feel. Really feel.

Season two is all about redemption, betrayal and root causes. Can Barry be redeemed after his multitude of murderous sins, the first of which – his first government-sanctioned kill – is coaxed out of him at acting class by his mentor, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Gene uses Barry’s pain as a way to explore and over-come his own; the grief he feels at the disappearance of his girlfriend who, unbeknownst to him, was dispatched by Barry at the close of the first season. Gene, too, is trying to redeem himself. He’s reaching out to his estranged son, who Gene abandoned long ago in pursuit of his own selfish wants, needs and aspirations. Meanwhile, Barry and Gene continue to develop a deep bond, more father-and-son in nature than mentor-and-student. Given that Barry is the root cause of Gene’s pain, he may be looking for love and absolution in a particularly ill-advised place.

Barry (the show) is good at making you feel complicit in the crimes of its eponymous lead. A few episodes ago, Barry decided against carrying out a hit, and we applauded his personal growth. Then, he declined to pull the trigger on Hank (the hilarious Anthony Harrigan), even after the metro-sexual mafioso had just tried and failed to assassinate him. Again, we admired his restraint. Good for you, Barry, we said. But, in episode four, What?!, when Sally’s abusive ex shows up, we found ourselves cheering ‘KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM!’

It’s a delicious irony that Barry – an angry, empty, clinically-depressed man with PTSD who’s probably murdered far in excess of 100 people – has more scope for redemption and capacity for empathy than the wannabe actors with whom he shares a class, especially his girlfriend, Sally, who is so self-absorbed that she can walk into a room that’s been riddled with bullet-holes and not even notice.

The whole show is a joy to watch, and Henry Winkler and Bill Hader continue to turn in exceptional performances. Westeros may be preparing to draw the final curtain, but I hope there’s plenty of life – and death – in Barry’s future. If the rug-pulling ending of What?! is anything to go by, I’d say the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Roy, Boy of Earth

A free, funny story for you and your kids to enjoy together at bed-time.

 

An alien boy had grown sick of the sight,

Of the food he was served every day, every night.

His tummy would rumble and grumble and churn.

Couldn’t they give a new chef a wee turn?

 

The things that he ate on his planet of Munch,

For breakfast, and dinner, and supper and lunch,

Were mushy black nuggets that tasted like sand.

All crunchy and gooey and horribly bland.

 

I won’t eat these nuggets,” he shouted one day.

Then jumped in a spaceship and went on his way,

Heading to Earth, where the eating was good

And he’d heard boys in jammies made wonderful food.

 

 

He zoomed into orbit, then dived to the planet,

Not even stopping to survey and scan it.

Crashed down on a roof like a hungry green Santa,

Dreaming of human washed down with cold Fanta.

 

He leapt in a window, he followed the snore,

(Which meant there was one boy, he’d hoped there’d be four).

The room smelled like sneezes, old socks and a fart,

Delicious, in other words: food for the heart.

 

In his hurry he tripped over toys on the ground,

Which hurled him, and bumped him, oh boy, what a sound!

The little boy woke, and rubbed hard at his eyes,

Which grew wide and excited and full of surprise.

 

Hello there, strange creature, well, my name is Roy.”

The alien scowled, “You’re my food, stupid boy.

I don’t need to know what your name is, you see,

You’re nothing to me but a new recipe.”

 

 

Are you from space?!” the young chappy exclaimed,

From which planet? And won’t you please tell me your name?”

There’s no point in that, boy, because humans can’t say it,

But if you really must know it’s Frass-Jassa-Mump-Frayvit.”

 

I’ll just call you, Frass, then, it’s so nice to meet you.”

The alien laughed, “Boy, I’m going to eat you.

I’ll chop you all up like a tasty risotto!

Don’t greet ’em, just eat ’em: that’s my planet’s motto.”

 

Roy let out a laugh, it soon filled up the room,

And hit Frass’s ears like a big sonic boom.

You’re laughing,” growled Frass, “I don’t think that you get it,

When I make you a sandwich you’re going to regret it.”

 

You’ll make me a sandwich?” said Roy, “Thank you, please,

My favourite is tuna, or pickle with cheese.”

No, no,” said the alien, ready to crack.

YOU’LL be my sandwich, my tummy’s next snack!”

 

 

Roy smiled a big smile, asked: “Why can’t we be friends?”

The alien prayed for this moment to end.

I feel like my words are all stuck in a loop,

But perhaps that will end when I make you some soup.”

 

You’ll make me some soup? Oh Frass that would be great.

Can you butter some bread up; I often have eight?”

No, no,” said the alien, “My soup will be YOU,

And I’ll mop you all up, with a slurp, bite and chew!”

 

Roy reached out behind him, and scooped up a bear,

And handed it over, while saying “There, there”,

Which made Frass so angry he wanted to squawk.

He’d never expected his supper to talk.

 

Now look, boy,” said Frass, “Let’s just make something clear,

I need you to listen, I need you to hear.

I’m not your best pal, not your mucker or mate.

I’m going to cook you; you’ll be on my plate.”

 

 

I’ll start with your cheek, oh my, c’est magnifique!

I’ll heat it up nice, with a fat plate of rice.

I’ll use a big wok… no a pan, no a skillet.

I’m drooling already… I want my cheek fillet!

 

I look at your nose, and my appetite grows!

I’ll make a big pie with your fingers and toes,

Then garnish it all with a sprinkling of lips,

Maybe throw in some ankles, some thigh-bones and hips!

 

One leg or two? Well, I’m going to have both.

I’ll carve them like turkeys, I give you my oath.

Your eyes can be sprouts, then you won’t see you’re thinner,

Once I’ve gobbled you up like a hot Christmas dinner.

 

What to do with your teeth? Why, I’ll stuff them with cheese,

Then I’ll grill them with mushrooms and one of your knees.

I’ll fry you like bacon, I’ll braise you like steak,

And your eyebrows and eyelids I’ll bake in a cake.

 

 

I’ve said all I can, I can’t say any more,

All of this talking’s an arduous chore.

I hope that my meaning is clear on this day,

I say what I mean: and I mean fricassee!

 

Prepare to be eaten…

Roy, boy of Earth!”

 

Roy started laughing, he just couldn’t stop,

He thought that his tummy was going to pop.

And Frass stamped his feet, like a paw-thumping bunny,

And jumped up and down, shouting, “Why is that funny?”

 

Frass tried his best to stay fierce and defiant,

Even when Roy scooped him up like a giant,

And held him right up to the ball of an eye,

Saying: “How will you eat me, you’re two inches high?”

 

 

Oh… Erm…”, said Frass-Jassa-Mump-Frayvit of Munch,

Suddenly losing his hunger for lunch.

He wondered, with fear, what his wee life was worth.

And he said, “…please don’t eat me, kind Roy… boy of Earth.”

 

Roy didn’t eat him, he fed him instead,

Fetched him some honey and small bits of bread.

Which Frass gobbled up with the greatest of ease,

Before reaching his main course, some hot mushy peas.

 

Those peas were the best food that Frass ever tasted,

And finding them meant that his trip wasn’t wasted.

These things are sand nuggets, but tasty and green,

I’ll take a load home in my flying machine.”

 

 

So Frass said goodbye, and then loaded his ship,

Thanking his friend for a wonderful trip,

Roy said, “You’re welcome, and hurry back soon,

I’ll find you more peas than can fit on the moon.”

 

Frass was delighted, he’d found a new food,

On a lovely new planet where people were good.

He smiled to himself, feeling happy and fine,

I’ve done it,” he shouted. “It’s peas in our time.”


Thank you for reading ‘Roy, Boy of Earth’. Hard to believe the pictures were drawn by me and not a professional artist, right? RIGHT??  If you and your kids enjoyed reading my story, all I ask is that you donate a minimum of £2-4 to CHAS (Children’s Hospices Across Scotland). You can do this by calling 0141 779 6180 or visiting www.chas.org.uk/donate.

This isn’t an official CHAS campaign. CHAS isn’t affiliated with me or this website in any way. I just wanted to help the best way I knew how: by writing something silly. CHAS does such important, admirable work for people and children in heart-breaking situations that I’m sure none of you will grudge digging deep for donations – even a shallow dig for £2-4 is a tremendous help. Every penny counts.

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Santa Clarita Diet 

Netflix’s popular zomcom is back for its third season, and it’s bloody good

Years ago I worked with a lady in her early sixties, who told me that the secret to her long, stable and happy marriage had been variety, pacing and always having something to look forward to. She and her husband courted, they married, they got a house, they had kids, they moved, they grew, they became grandparents – the beats of their lives perfectly timed and arranged to minimise monotony and banish boredom whenever it threatened to rear its head.

Variety, pacing, something to look forward to. See? The secret to a successful marriage.

It’s also the secret to a successful TV show. The best ones keep moving – quickly, powerfully and with purpose – forking off at just the right times and in just the right directions to keep the journey rolling forwards and the scenery fresh. In gourmet terms: giving you just enough to fill your belly, but never enough to make you sick.

Two recent shows that have been exemplars of this pattern are the super-slick, high-concept comedies The Good Place, and Santa Clarita Diet. The former is due a welcome return later this year, while the latter dropped its third season on Netflix at the end of March: even zanier, funnier, and gorier than ever before. This time around there’s also a surprising amount of heart to proceedings, and I don’t just mean the kind that’s ripped from a victim’s chest and snacked upon by the ravenous undead.

The aftermath of Officer Anne’s desert-based pledge to serve as Sheila’s disciple (season two’s cliff-hanger) is dealt with in typical fast and funny fashion, paving the way for this season’s trio of real and credible dangers: the FBI, sniffing around Eric and Abby’s explosive political statement; the Knights of Serbia, an ancient order dedicated to the eradication of the undead, in town to ply their post-fatal trade; and Dobrivoje Poplovic, the Serbian colonel who wants to capture Santa Clarita’s ‘zombies’ and subject them to a fate worse than… well, undeath.

As always, Santa Clarita Diet deals zippily with its many perils and conundrums, putting them front-and-centre just long enough to wring the maximum amount of interesting and hilarious moments from them, but always wrapping them up and burning them off before they threaten to become humdrum.

This season’s enduring philosophical and ethical question centres on the morality of immortality, specifically if it’s ever right to pass zombiehood on to another person, even with their consent. As the season unfolds it’s clearer than ever before that the power of life over – and life after – death is a heavy burden to bear, for biter, bitten and bystanders all.

Good old Gary

Jonathan Slavin is brilliant as former mental-patient Ron – a maniacal, bug-eyed cross between Peter Capaldi and the Dean from Community – who dupes literal talking-head Gary into biting him, before going out proselytising in the name of zombiehood. Despite Joel and Sheila’s very active opposition to Ron’s reckless behaviour, Sheila has a crisis of conscience when she meets Jean, a prickly old lady with a terminal illness. Jean’s prickly because she won’t live long enough to see her first grandchild born. To bite or not to bite. That is the question… the question that Joel and Sheila have very different answers to.

And Joel finds himself under increasing pressure to join the ranks of the undead, so he and Sheila won’t find themselves separated by his inevitable natural death. Will they or won’t they renew their wedding vows to read ‘Til undeath do us part’?

Incidentally, having loved and admired Timothy Oliphant as seasoned tough guys in both Deadwood and Justified, it’s a joy to see how good he is at comedy. He’s pretty much done a reverse Brian Cranston.

One of the many brilliant things about Santa Clarita Diet is how the big questions about and dangers to Joel and Sheila’s marriage are dealt with as if they were the sort of minor irritations more typically encountered on tea-time soap operas. In Santa Clarita, as in real life, we absorb the horrors of our lives and shrink and tame them until they seem as ordinary to us as Uncle Frank farting at the Christmas dinner table. The very funny juxtaposition between the absolute, blood-splattering insanity of the undead life-style and Joel and Sheila’s sanitised, almost cliched existence in middle-class suburbia is made funnier still by the couple’s tendency to react to the misfortunes and people around them with the forced jollility and fixed smiles of a cutesy couple in a 1950s sitcom.

Laughs, gore, fun, shocks, head, heart, soul: Santa Clarita Diet’s third season has got the lot. Not to mention a healthy, hefty dollop of empowerment.

While representation in media is important, the recent glut of male-to-female character transformations on the big and little screens has felt less like a cultural revolution and more like an effort on the part of media financiers to adjust to the shifting demographics of cinema attendance and merchandise spending. In short, they’re going where the money is. And all the while radical feminists, right-on lefties, chauvinist assholes and slobbering incels battle each other beneath market capitalism’s steely glare…

Santa Clarita Diet proves that you can approach the whole subject of gender and representation without being gimmicky; without even making it obvious that’s what you’re doing. It’s quietly subversive; a highly polished, very funny, wildly entertaining show that just happens to have strong female characters at its helm. And not strong in a ‘look, I can bench-press a body-builder, and I know 6 kinds of karate’ sort of a way, but strong in a ‘we’re regular women surviving and keeping our family afloat in these unique and highly dangerous circumstances, and sometimes we fuck it up’ sort of a way.

Sheila and her daughter are the lynch-pins of the show: strong, flawed, fierce, funny, likeable women who drive the action forwards through a combination of their tenaciousness, kindness, curiosity, compassion, intelligence, impulsivity and thirst for activism. In contrast the men – while also very likeable, and occasionally heroic in their own bumbling way – are neurotic, over-cautious, angst-filled, and frantic. Joel and Eric evoke the Jay Pritchett and Phil Dunphy dynamic, except both of them are Phil Dunphy.

Toxic masculinity – whether it’s located in lecherous lotharios, serial abusers or actual Nazis – is always punished, and always fatally. It doesn’t get much more right-on than a recently empowered woman literally devouring the very worst the patriarchy has to offer. I look forward with great relish to see how the squeamish and squirrelly Joel reacts to joining the ranks of the post-living.

Here’s to the variety and exquisite pacing of season four. To Joel becoming Sheila’s newest pupil, to Abby embarking upon a fledgling romance with Eric whilst rising through the ranks of an ancient order of zombie-killers, to Sheila’s new ass-kicking team of an old lady, a camp coward and a reformed zombie killer.

Definitely something to look forward to.

It’s awful when your kids fight; it’s worse when they don’t

When Christopher, our second child, was still wibbling about in his mother’s yolk, a fish-faced lump of stubby proto-limbs, our first-born, Jack, was already manifesting signs of fraternal protectiveness. He’d rub his mummy’s tummy and tell us how much he was looking forward to his baby brother joining the family. This reassured us, even though he was clearly just parroting back at us the many words of enthusiasm and encouragement we’d chirped into his ears.

In the beginning, things were great. Jack doted on his baby brother, and seemed to harbour zero resentment towards the little guy for jumping on his being-born bandwagon. I know ill feelings and jealous reactions don’t always manifest themselves straight away, but I know they can because of my sister. When I was born, my then eight-year-old sister didn’t shit for a month. The child psychologist said her wildly conflicting feelings of love, anger and jealousy were playing havoc with her insides. She was bottling things up, physically as well as mentally. In a weird sort of a way, the shit she stubbornly refused to release represented her love for me. Love won, in the end. As it always does. I guess you could say I literally loved the shit out of her.

My partner and I realised, as Christopher developed more and more autonomy, that it had probably been easy for Jack to love his brother when he was nothing more than a tiny creature who spent his days either asleep or variously shitting and screaming, because there was no competition between them. Sure, there was competition for time and attention at a basic level, but we always strived to mitigate Jack’s ill-feelings as best we could by giving him plenty of one-on-one time with each of us, not to mention oodles of cuddles with his brother. We wanted Jack to see his brother as a part of him, and a part of the family. An addition, an enhancement, not a replacement.

And it was a success. Maybe Jack wasn’t considered the cutest kid on the block any more, and maybe the greatest share of the ooos, aaaaaaaas and cooooooos now went to Christopher, but Jack was still king. A ruler of absolute power, at least as far as the Kingdom of Little People was concerned. And if the going got rough? If Jack grew tired of this wide-eyed, swaddled little jester? He could simply walk away, go someplace else, be by himself… with brother, no brother, with brother, no brother, as quick and easy as an optician replacing lenses in those weird Meccano glasses they put on your face at the eye test… better with, better without, with brother, no brother. The best of both worlds.

Unfortunately for Jack, Christopher became mobile, and discovered that he didn’t have to live life passively like a leaf on a river. He could be the river. At least until he learned how to be a boat… I’ve really lost the thread of this multi-part metaphor, haven’t I? And why didn’t I say ‘flow’ instead of ‘thread’? This is what happens to your mind when you spend the better part of a year shouting endless variations of ‘LEAVE HIM ALONE!’, ‘LEAVE EACH OTHER ALONE’ and ‘STOP FIGHTING’ at the future WWE stars your children have become.

Christopher, although absolutely bloody adorable, is fearless for his size. He’s always ready and able with a hoarse rebuke or a swinging slap. Thanks to Jack’s campaign of brutal dominance, Christopher learned to fight back at an incredibly early age. He’s a honed, toned battle-machine in a way that Jack never was, or needed to be. If Christopher is occasionally a little monster, then he’s a monster of Jack’s creation [nothing to do with us, you understand, we’re just the parents].

That’s not to make the mistake of assuming that Jack is now the helpless victim in the face of his brother’s revenge-based brutality. Just the other month we heard Christopher screaming, and ran upstairs to find a chunk of his hair matted with blood. Jack had clonked Chrissy over the head with a bulky Chief Wiggum toy, not realising that the sharp points of the policeman’s hat made him more of a blade than a chib.

Different numbers of siblings, and different combinations of genders and ages, make for wildly different sibling relationships. A young girl rounding off a squad of elder brothers might become a tomboy (I hope it isn’t now considered a hate crime to use that word); a young boy at the end of a big litter of sisters might find himself traumatised for all the rest of his days, god help him.

My sister’s role and status as related to me shifted with age, mood and circumstance. Sometimes she was my protector, sometimes my aggressor. Sometimes she was a second-mother, sometimes she was a mother-fucker. But everything was built on a bedrock of love. For every act of torment there came a larger act of kindness. She may have told me there were dead flies in my sandwich to make me hand it over to her, or occasionally bent my legs over my stomach and attempted to pin them behind my head, causing pain that was suggestive of a particularly gruesome interrogation by the Spanish Inquisition, but she also took the rap for me. Hid things for me. Stood up for me. Absorbed the strikes of lightning for me.

When I threw a pillow and broke a bendy, retractable ceiling light of which my mum was especially proud, Alison took the blame. When I was struck with the crippling fear of death, frightened and sobbing, it was her bed I crawled into for peace and reassurance. So I can forgive her for teaching me how to do the fingers and then sending me off to show mum, who went predictably apoplectic.

Siblings fight, siblings grass, sneer and prank, but they love. At least in my experience. (Love you, sis)

Jack and Christopher’s age gap isn’t sufficient to make a second-tier father out of Jack, but their relationship is definitely changing, evolving, growing – away from violence and towards something else entirely. Something great, but something terrible, too. Our greatest hopes for a loving, peaceful union between the two brothers are in the process of being made reality, but it’s a boon that carries barbs. What I’m trying to say is: they’re joining forces.

While whirlwinds of fists and kicks still occasionally erupt from them with the barest of warnings increasingly they’re a team – though not always one where its members enjoy equal standing. Predictably, Jack is the puppet-master. He’s realised the esteem he’s held in by his brother, and the influence this affords him. The fine-print of their accord is less like ‘Why fight, when we can embrace fraternal harmony?’ and more like ‘Why fight, when this pliant young whippersnapper can be the willing and able instrument for my evil bidding?’ They’re like Batman and Robin… if Batman was a total shit.

Jack now wants his little brother to share bedtime stories with him, to lie like best buds and greet the world of sleep together. We often walk past to find Jack whispering in his brother’s ear, usually thinks like ‘Get the pencil and draw on that wall’ or ‘Go slap mummy’s bum’, but, you know, as far as conspiracies go, it’s incredibly sweet.

Last week we’d asked the boys to go upstairs and tidy their room. We knew the chances of them actually tidying their room were a million to one, but – cards on the table – we just wanted ten minutes’ peace. While I expected the room to be actually slightly messier at the end of those ten short minutes, what I didn’t expect when I went to check on their progress was to find water pooling on the floors and carpets, dripping down the walls, and running down the light-bulb and lampshade of the hall light. Christopher stood in the upstairs hall with a giant pump-action water-pistol, his clothes soaking wet, as Jack retreated from his ear with a big goofy grin on his face.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, and they decide to be best pals? I’m sure we’re going to spend the next fifteen years praying for a return to war.

Jamie on the Box

TV Review: Puny Gods

A half-time appraisal of American Gods’ second season

Last week I said that Ricky Gervais’s new show After Life was greater than the sum of its parts. This week I’m here to tell you that American Gods (Starz, Amazon Prime) is less than the sum of its parts.

Two seasons and five episodes in, I’m yet to make a meaningful connection with its main story or its characters. That’s not to say that it’s a bad show. It’s not. It just doesn’t inspire awe or devotion, which is a grave sin indeed for a show about old Gods battling new for their share of mankind’s awe and devotion.

On the plus side, American Gods looks fantastic. The direction and cinematography are always exquisite; the weird hybrid worlds of man-and-God-hood are mesmerisingly realised and intricately rendered. There are no clunkers among the central or peripheral cast either, whose performances range from perfectly serviceable (Ricky Whittle as central cipher Shadow Moon; Peter Stromare as Czernobog) to terrific (Orlando Jones as Mr Nancy) to tremendous fun (Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney and Emily Browning as Laura Moon/Dead-wife) to, appositely enough, God-like (Ian McShane).

Securing Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday/Odin was a major coup for the show. Like most discerning pop-culture fanatics out there I’d happily watch Ian McShane in pretty much anything: a ten-hour-long art-house movie called ‘Ian McShane Sleeps Peacefully for 12 Hours’; the new 22-part Netflix documentary series, ‘Ian McShane Silently Making Cups of Tea Before Surrendering to the Inevitability of his Morning Shit’. Anything.

McShane is captivating and commanding; his face hangs rich with menace, even when he’s playing relatively benign characters – not that he’s called upon to play many of them these days. His cat-and-mouse/man-and-God game with Shadow has provided most of the best lines and moments in the show so far. My only worry is that Shadow has been denied depth and agency for so long that the de facto star and audience proxy is in danger of being eclipsed by the far more dazzling ensemble around him.

I said American Gods was less than the sum of its parts. But, boy. What parts. The show has a masterful line in cold opens: beautiful, brutal chunks of phantasmagoria that blend fact and fiction, truth and legend, love and horror; powerful polemics on race, greed and corruption; haunting paeans to loss and pain. We’ve had Vikings slaughtering each other on distant and unforgiving shores; Mr Nancy addressing a doomed galley-ship full of slaves; the sad story of Techno Boy’s electro-literate musical prodigy, and, most recently, the tragic tale of a black man being snatched, strung up and burned by a confused and hateful mob, only for his death to carry the flaming torch of hatred far into the future. Each of these artfully-crafted short stories packs more of a visceral, lasting punch than some whole episodes or seasons of other shows.

Like FX’s series about lesser-known X-Men, Legion, American Gods is often a triumph of style over substance. At times the series feels like a patchwork of uber-cool vignettes; mini music-videos and visual slam-poetry that’s been stitched together by a mad Swedish auteur. That, believe it or not, is a compliment. I only hope that the narrative ups its game so the show can coalesce into something truly special.

Later this weekend we go from Gods to monsters, with season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet

Jamie On the Box

TV Review: After Life and after death

Ricky Gervais’ new show on Netflix, and the season nine finale of The Walking Dead

You can trace a loose autobiographical line through most of Ricky Gervais’ TV characters, from the cauldron of arrogance, delusion and fragility bubbling away inside of David Brent, to the sudden success and equally-sudden disillusionment of Andy Millman, right through to the pain, bitterness, contempt and disdain of Tony, the main protagonist of Gervais’s new Netflix series After Life.

Tony used to be a fun-loving man. He was content to coast through his small-town life as a journalist on a bargain-bin newspaper, because he was lucky enough to be married to his best friend, Lisa, a woman who made his life feel complete and worth living. Since her untimely death, Tony’s lost all sense of purpose, and now the only thing stopping him from killing himself is the existence of his pet dog. He’s miserable and angry, and doesn’t just want the rest of the world to know it; he wants the rest of the world to feel it, too: his co-workers, his boss (who’s also his brother-in-law), his postman, the local sex-worker, the local heroin addict, his own father. All of them.

He doesn’t care whether he lives or dies any more, which makes him unpredictable, unpalatable and pretty much untouchable. He’s free to take up heroin, threaten school-children, tackle criminals and tell people openly and unabashedly exactly how he feels about them. Don’t worry, though. Like all of Gervais’s characters, there’s just enough humanity lingering in Tony to guarantee his eventual redemption – though I wouldn’t characterise it as deserved. His grief takes him to some pretty dark places, most worryingly to a suicide by proxy that lightly skirts the fringes of premeditated murder.

After Life, then, is something of a tonal mishmash. It’s A Wonderful Life meets Groundhog Day by way of Trainspotting. The comedy possesses elements of both the farcical, rage-filled wish-fulfillment of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the grotesque absurdities of The League of Gentlemen, with generous portions of Gervais’s own time-tested, world-weary shtick leveled into the mix.

Some of the situations are so cartoonish and the characters within them so buffoonish and broadly drawn that they seem painfully incongruous when set against the many scenes of real grief, sadness, depression and anger. Paul Kaye’s rubbish therapist and Diane Morgan’s dippy office worker (or Kath Pilkington, as I call her) in particular, while very funny characters, don’t feel ‘real’ enough to exist inside a show so pregnant with death, pathos, suicide and sorrow. Many of the characters seem like their only function is to be totems and stress balls dotted along the trail of Tony’s spiritual journey to redemption, a journey that culminates in a sickly-sweet ending that’s somehow just the wrong side of twee.

But do you know what? It works. It shouldn’t – and it sometimes threatens not to – but it holds together, much greater than the sum of its parts. It made me laugh – boy did it make me laugh – and it made me feel real, unbridled emotion, many, many times. While it’s true that Gervais populates Tony’s world with a legion of convenient idiots, Gervais is at his funniest when he’s tearing the world a new one, and meeting insanity with molten sarcasm – so who cares? His antics at the school gate, or in the cafe ordering a children’s meal, or trading caustic barbs with his workmates had me laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. On a few occasions I almost laughed and cried at the same time, especially when Tony visited his dear, demented dad at the nursing home to tell him he loved him.

Gervais doesn’t always exhibit tremendous range as an actor [I should clarify: as a comic actor, he’s terrific], but he’s surrounded himself with great talent here, exceptional actors who add range and depth to the show, and bring out the best in him. David Bradley does so much with so little as Tony’s dad; Penelope Wilton is exceptional as Anne, the widow with whom Tony strikes up a warm relationship through their regular trips to the cemetery; and Ashley Jensen brings grit and humanity to her all-too-brief role as the hard-working nurse who looks after Tony’s dad.

I don’t know what Gervais has in store for season two – now confirmed – but I’m looking forward to it. There’s definitely life after After Life.

Now we move from the dead, to the undead. The characters of AMC’s zombie juggernaut The Walking Dead spent the season nine finale walking through a winter wonderland, but instead of sleigh bells and snowmen, the emphasis was very much on hypothermia and zombies poking out of the snow to eat them. Most seasons of the show have ended with either a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger or some form of ultra-violent wrap-up, so it was a refreshing change for The Walking Dead to drop pace and close out with a quieter, more thoughtful coda. Since the big shock had already dropped in the penultimate episode (“Don’t tell him, Pike!”) there was time and room for mournfulness and soulfulness.

‘The Storm’, despite pitting our survivors against nature itself across a wide and deadly canvas, contained – amid the howling horror – a lot of strong character moments: Michonne made some tough calls, the freeze between the King and Queen kept deepening, Negan continued his evolution from deadly to cuddly, and a simple snow-ball fight made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Aesthetically, ‘The Storm’ is radically different from anything the show’s attempted before; and it’s haunting, beautiful and horrifying in equal measure. Very apt, too. You can almost hear the words of Robert Frost’s snowy, death-tinged poem scoring the group’s slog through the unforgiving wilderness:

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.’

With the exception of a messy stutter-step to accommodate Rick Grimes’ exit, The Walking Dead has been back on track this season, recapturing the ever-spiking, uneven hit-rate of its hey-day (which goes a little like this: two great episodes, two good episodes, three mediocre episodes and one awful episode, repeat, and not necessarily in that order).

While the show is still stitched through with that same wobbly mix of logic-defying decisions and plot-before-character (sometimes even cool-thing-happening-before-plot-AND-character), it’s managed to claw its way back out of the grave it found itself rotting in throughout its seventh and eighth seasons to become a show to be reckoned with once more. The whisperers have been terrific – if occasionally implausible – villains, injecting a welcome air of threat, unpredictability and menace back into the narrative.

It remains to be seen whether season nine will prove to have been the catalyst for the re-animation of The Walking Dead, or simply ‘one last scare’ before the final head-shot. For now, though, we can tip-toe ahead into apocalypse with a sense of cautious optimism.


Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 4, Eps 1 – 3

Part 15: The Unicorn Meets the Eagle (or ‘America… f*** yeah!’)

Wherein Claire and Jamie are slaves to fortune, and others are just slaves

The shape and boundaries of Outlander’s story changed in steady increments throughout its third season, building to a wave (a literal one) that swept the show off its axis and into the raw, thumping heart of America’s pioneering past.

Drawing purely on internet chatter from the many Outlander fan groups I follow, season four’s new direction seems to be the site of the greatest schism yet between fans. Some consider the season to be an evolution, others a metamorphosis (from a butterfly back into a caterpillar). Some see it as a revelation, others an abomination. The fans have split into factions as surely as the two warring sides at Prestonpans or Culloden, a fierce, head-on battle for Outlander’s heart and soul. The question keeps coming up: is season four a blossoming, or a blooming disgrace?

So far, I can’t see what all the fussing and fighting is about. Sure, the show looks and feels very different in many ways, but it’s still solidly and undeniably Outlander. As a litmus test I spent the duration of ‘America the Beautiful’ playing a game of Outlander bingo: pointless Claire monologue? CHECK! Soft-core pornography? CHECK! Occasional bouts of yukky, stilted, over-literary dialogue? CHECK! An irredeemably psychopathic bad guy? CHECK! Hanging; misery; betrayal; death; wonky accents… BINGO!

Characters may live, characters may die; characters may come, characters may go; here, there, back, forth, but there’s one absolute constant in the world of Outlander.

Rape.

We’ve already established that the old world was a minefield of sexual assault (plus ça change) with defilements and debasements round every corner, so kudos to Diana Gabaldon and the writing team for always finding new and inventive ways of putting a fresh spin on the horror. I swear that Diana’s rolodex must be a veritable encyclopedia of assault-based flights of fancy. I wonder what ideas lurk in there yet to be employed? Hot-air balloon rape? Man serially abused by evil trees? Elks held in sexual captivity?”

This time around the horror belongs to young Ian, who admits to Jamie he’s still traumatised by the Bakra’s blood-soaked predations. The knife to his neck was but the final straw in a campaign of bodily terror that saw his spirit broken, his pride punctured and his memories hijacked, all of it garnished with a liberal sprinkling of shame.

Is it really any wonder that the Outlander fandom idolises Jamie? He’s a thoroughly good egg, isn’t he? Jamie is more progressive, patient and understanding than many social-justice-seeking millenials I’ve met. “Some ghosts can only be banished by naming them and their misdeeds aloud,” he tells Ian, shooting for spiritual guidance and in the process stumbling across modern psychology and the healing science of talk therapy. Jamie’s own experience with sexual violence has given him greater empathy for people in general, and victims of sexual assault in particular, but more than that: he’s a man who’s always been several hundred years ahead of his time (give or take a few ill-judged slaps).

Black Jack Randall may be dead, but his spiritual successor is alive and well in pre-revolutionary North Carolina. Step forward Stephen Bonnet, Outlander’s latest dastardly villain. Bonnet’s a mad, bad Irishman with the nervous, twitchy energy of a thousand Rik Mayalls, but none of his zany, humanising humour. There’s something more shark than man about this greedy, thankless scoundrel, who repays vulnerability with attack, and kindness with death.

After Hayes hangs for a crime of passion, Bonnet – next in line to swing – takes advantage of a diversion caused by Hayes’ angry, grief-stricken pal to flee his own pendulum-based destiny. Claire and Jamie later discover that Bonnet has hitched a ride in the back of their wagon, and against their better judgement agree to hide and harbour him, smuggling him past squads of redcoats.

When they next encounter Bonnett, he’s a robber, rascal and all-round rotter. He boards Jamie and Claire’s riverboat with his crew of criminals and proceeds to beat, terrify and humiliate his saviours, taking Jamie’s gems and Claire’s wedding rings, and even slitting the throat of the aforementioned grief-stricken pal to whom Bonnett indirectly owes his life. He’s… well. How shall we put this?

He’s a bit of a c***, isn’t he?

I wasn’t entirely sold on the use of Ray Charles’ ‘America the Beautiful’ over the scene of the boat rampage. While I understand that the juxtaposition of the song’s cheery melody with the visceral horror unfolding to its accompaniment serves to amplify the senseless horror of the attack, I really needed and wanted to hear the angst, the screams, the threats, the slits, thuds and cracks. Not because I’m an irredeemable sicko, you understand (although in many ways I am). I just felt that the music both dulled the magnitude of Bonnet’s betrayal and softened the impact of the violence. I wanted to see, hear and feel it the way Jamie and Claire did, no holds barred. I wanted to share the totality of their pain, anger and thirst for retribution.

[Granted, though, there was something irresistible in hearing a song about America, performed by a black man in segregation-era America, playing over a scene that typifies the violence upon which modern American was built.]

It’s clear that Bonnet has much in common with the fabled scorpion who hitches a ride on the back of a too-trusting frog, but team Fraser’s not exactly lacking for stings. I’m sure there’ll be a reckoning, and soon. But I fear that before that day comes, Bonnett will do much worse to the Frasers and those close to them. Much, much worse.

So far, barring the obvious robbery-homicide, the very worst thing that Stephen Bonnet has done is… speak. What is it with this show and accents? If they aren’t always going to hire Scottish or Irish actors to play Scottish or Irish parts, they should at least seek to hire actors who can turn their tongues to multiple dialects with ease. Ed Speleers is a good actor, but his Irish accent is a little… off. It isn’t in the same league of aural atrocities as Geillis Duncan’s ear-murdering lilts, but it’s just out of alignment enough to hamper the suspension of my disbelief. I’m sure the people of Minnesota, Rhode Island, Durban and Tokyo aren’t all that bothered about a few stray Oirish (sic) intonations, but I know one picky, prickly Celt that sure as shit is.

Ditto Aunt Jocasta. Now, Maria Doyle Kennedy is a talented actress, still in the midst of a long, varied and successful career – and I adored her in Orphan Black as the world-weary, murky, but deeply maternalistic Mrs S – but her Scottish accent is too clipped and staccato to scan as wholly authentic. Again, it’s just… just… a little off. Ever so slightly. But enough for each syllable to boom in my ears like a bomb.

Anyway, enough nit-picking. It’s time to… well, whatever the opposite of nit-picking is. Putting nits back? Making nits great again? Establishing a comprehensive nit-breeding program? WELL, RELEASE THE NITS, because I think that the fourth season’s second episode ‘Do No Harm’ is among the best the show has ever done.

It’s exquisite: a harrowing tale of conflict, prejudice, hatred, hope, despair, tragedy, ignorance and helplessness, for which there are no easy answers and from which there is no method of escape for Jamie or Claire that won’t leave them drenched in the blood of innocents.

Jamie’s experiences suffering under the jackboots of the English forces in Scotland has given him an affinity with subjugated and dispossessed peoples the world over, which predisposes him to stand up for the slaves’ humanity and freedom. Claire cannot abide injustice, and seeks to overthrow it wherever she encounters it, by any means necessary, and no matter the cost or the futility of the act. But here their noble impulses are prostrate in the face of a system that won’t budge, no matter how firmly they press their pasty-white shoulders against it. Jamie knows that even if he could rally the slaves to overthrow their masters, he’d most likely get them all killed in the process – maybe even his beloved aunty, too. Claire, from her vantage point in the future, knows in which direction this particular path of history is winding, and if Culloden couldn’t be stopped… then neither can this.

With each fresh attempt to do the right thing, Claire and Jamie only succeed in making themselves more complicit in the unfolding horror. Their impotence in the face of systemic racism and cruelty is grueling and horrible, though as a narrative choice it’s delicious: a rich seam of conflict and tension.

What does justice mean, who does it really serve, if its points are calibrated so crookedly? When blind white hatred outweighs black lives and freedom? Slavery is a system and a way of thinking that’s a danger and a detriment to the bodies and souls of all men, women and children, irrespective of colour; although the heavier burden rests, of course, upon the shoulders of those with darker skin tones. Sometimes that burden rests upon them literally, forcing them to exist as human cart-horses.

Jamie can’t abide the sight of Rufus hanging from a hook, awaiting excruciating torture and death at the hands of his hate-filled ‘masters’. It sickens and angers him. Hayes being hanged was one thing, this is quite another. He saves him… or so he hopes.

Claire takes an equally bold stance – placing the Hippocratic oath before the hypocritical oath of hatred – by using her surgical skills to heal the wounded man. I thought Ulysses – Aunt Jocasta’s slave of slaves – was going to thank Claire for her efforts, but he instead rebukes her for having intervened. He tells her with some anguish that when the angry crowd gets its hands on Rufus now, which it will, the boy’s fate will be much worse… that they’ll make an example of him to put all of the slaves in their place

It reminded me of the time I stood up for a homeless person who was being verbally abused and threatened on a cold, Aberdeen street. ‘Thanks,’ the homeless man said to me, once I’d warned his would-be attackers off, ‘They’ll probably come back later and kick the living shit out of me now.’

The only choice open to Claire if she wants to safeguard the rest of the slaves, preserve the time-line and ensure a less harrowing death for Rufus is to kill her himself. Jesus, that’s dark, Outlander. Commendably dark. A different show might have seen Claire and Jamie fake Rufus’ death and smuggle him out of town to safety, but this show likes to revel in its impossible choices.

On that note: Claire’s turning into quite the little serial killer, isn’t she? A real Harriet Shipman. They’ll soon have to rename the show ‘Take Me Out-lander’. Who’s she going to poison next?

‘Claire, young Ian’s got a bit of a sore leg. I think he’s grazed it.’

[Claire nods] ‘You get the kettle on, Jamie, I’ll go fetch the [wink, wink] special ingredient.’

‘NO, CLAIRE!!! JESUS CHRIST!’

Claire’s send-off for Rufus was agonising but tender. In death, she handed him freedom, and returned him to his family – even if it was only in his mind’s eye in the brief moments before it winked shut forever.

Then the lynch mob are handed Rufus’s body. Nothing sums up the insanity of racism more than a bunch of angry, mad bastards hanging a corpse. What awful, terrible bastards we’re capable of becoming given the right (or wrong) circumstances. It’s no great surprise that Jamie and Claire decline Aunt Jocasta’s offer to join them on her estate.

I always start these diaries worrying that I won’t be able to write enough and then, once I hit my stride, I always worry that I’ve written too much. Outlander lends itself well to analysis, and because of my closeness to the country that started it all, and my love of TV and pop culture, there are always multiple routes to journey down off the main avenues laid down by the episodes. And, as you’re by now well aware, I do so love a good segue.

However, whenever Roger and Brianna dominate an episode my anxiety about writing too much vanishes. I’ve never found their arc especially compelling, a lack of enthusiasm that’s only been compounded by my indifference to Brianna – both the character and the actress who portrays her. I feel like I could get away with writing, ‘Roger and Brianna did stuff, and then they did some more stuff, and then all the stuff was done, the end.’

Well, blow me down. What a difference a year makes. Brianna and Roger seem really good together here. And I like Brianna now, both the character and the actress. Sophie Alexandra Skelton has really settled into the role, and the character seems at once more relaxed, and significantly wilder. Brianna definitely has Claire’s tunnel-visioned, devil-may-care-ness, but it’s untempered by the anguish of wars and death. I’m sure her impulsivity will spell trouble for Roger in the long-run.

He’s a real love-sick little puppy, isn’t he? That’s when he isn’t being all whiny, passive-aggressive and entitled. I thought their burgeoning romance, with all its confusion, angst and heartache, was handled very well. And Brianna’s blouse landing on the deer’s antlers like some sexy parachute made ma laugh. Still, say what you like about Roger, there aren’t many men who would travel all the way to North Carolina to attend what appears to be a Scottish-themed church bazaar.

The song that Roger sang on stage for Brianna made me cringe. The lyrics were horrible, the tune was crud, an assessment obviously not shared by Roger’s audience, who sat enraptured; smiling, nodding, and staring ahead with unblinking zeal. I’ve been at concerts, recitals and karaoke nights. At least fifty per cent of the people in any given audience are chatting among themselves; twenty per cent or more are off at the bar; fifteen per cent are asleep; and the other fifteen per cent are staring down at their shoes like they’re trying to figure out how to use them to kill themselves.

Anyway, Roger and Brianna did stuff, and then they did some more stuff, and then all the stuff was done. The end.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • As Claire and Jamie’s first big bonk of the season got underway, my partner shook her head and said, ‘Why is Claire always just wet? No preamble, no foreplay: plop – in he goes.’ ‘Maybe because they’re constantly surrounded by the aphrodisiac of death and danger, and he’s got big muscles?’ She was still incredulous. ‘That’s not how vaginas work.’ It was my turn to shake my head. ‘Maybe this says more about me, than it does about Claire and Jamie.’
  • When the Scots were all gathered together drinking booze and singing Gaelic songs in a phlegmy warble, it reminded me again of how many similarities there are between Scots and that other long-haired, often-indecipherable warrior race, the Klingons.
  • So, the historical genesis of the drum-roll is as an accompaniment to hangings, is it? Thank you in advance, Outlander, for helping me to win a pub-quiz at some point in the future. What a wonderful, though slightly disconcerting, sprinkling of detail. I’m more used to hearing drum-rolls during a magician’s act. It’s a bit jarring to hear it accompanying a horrid, neck-snapping death, although what is hanging if not a magic trick without the ‘ta-da’ bit?
  • I hope we see more of John Quincy Myers – Hagrid’s little brother meets the bearded music teacher from the Walking Dead.
  • Ditto Phaedre. Good actress, good character. Wise and spirited beyond her years. I hope we see a lot more of her.
  • I wish Lt Wolff had been this season’s baddy. You can just tell he’s going to be a complete, unbridled arsehole.
  • What a big man-child I am. I found myself snickering away at the subtitles when they were describing animal noises. My partner shook her head in despair. Come on, though, ‘horse nickers’? A horse wearing a big pair of ladies pants? Who can blame a man for chuckling like a child? And the less said about the ‘gobbling softly’ the better.
  • Claire see the ghost of an Indian, and it leads her to Jamie. I’m sure that presages the appearance of some real-life native Americans in the show.
  • Frasers’ Ridge! Now I understand why that Facebook fan group calls itself that!

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READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 11 – 13

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

 

Sunshine Over Dalkeith, Dark Clouds Over Jamie

If, like me, you’ve got young kids, and little money for exotic travel and indoor pursuits, the winter weather can act as your jailer. Although we’ve ventured out as a family to local parks and lochs over the last few months, it’s been a long time since we’ve been on any of our customary mid-to-long-range adventures.

In the fairer months we try to visit a brand new place at least once every couple of weeks. It doesn’t have to be hours away. Scotland is a small country, but you could still comfortably spend a lifetime exploring its nooks and crannies (although if you want to free up a little of your precious time, you won’t be missing much if you skip Airdrie. Spoiler alert: everybody dies).

I’ve been feeling stir crazy. Yearning for the wide skies and the open road. Recently, each drop of the seemingly never-ending rain has fallen from the sky like a punch; each and every dicky tummy or runny nose that’s kept us housebound has felt like a personal affront. It’s a conspiracy, that’s what I came to believe, a conspiracy to keep me away from the wider world. What’s out there, hmmmm?? What are THEY hiding, hmmmm? Why don’t THEY want me to go out there?? I’ll show them… I’ll show ALL of them. Fetch me my tin-foil!

Last weekend, my weather forecast app showed me a jackpot of yellow suns. It almost rained from my eyes. I was so happy. Finally. We were free. Free to explore new and exotic places like… em, er… Dalkeith.

I’d been having a wee Google to myself. Dalkeith had a big country park, on the grounds of which was an old estate house, miles of forests, trails and tracks, beaten and otherwise, and a giant adventure playground styled after a fort that looked like it was absolutely terrific fun to run around in, and climb, and explore… for …the kids, of course.

The mid-range adventure was locked in. On the morning of the trip I could feel the stress lifting from my body like mist rising over the mountains. I knew the faster and farther we traveled along the motorway, the more the winds of change would blow that mist away, scattering it to the vast, swallowing jaw of the heavens. I was looking forward to testing out my new beatific smile in a car full of shiny, happy people.

We first had to make a stop at Asda, though, so I knew my new monk-like demeanour was going to be put to the test. Supermarkets are places where stress goes to shop and peace comes to die. I kept telling myself it was going to be OK, though. For starters, my partner, Chelsea, would be running the grocery gauntlet, venturing in for a low-carb, pre-pack salad while I stayed in the car with the kids.

But a car makes for a fragile cocoon, and the clenched fist of irritation soon smashed its way inside, hell-bent on pummeling my heart into action. My blood started dancing the moment we pulled into the car-park.

I surveyed the scene, and it was war-like in its horror and intensity: cars scuttled across the tarmac like giant dung-beetles; pedestrians infested the walk-ways like hordes of angry zombies, sniffing for the warm blood of their next kill. My fingers clenched the wheel. Reality had elbowed optimism out of its way and straight into the path of an oncoming shop-mobility vehicle.

I rolled the car to a stop at the front of the building to let Chelsea leap out. It was a swift, slick operation, necessitating the car being stationary for less than three seconds. Even still, just as I was driving off, PARP PARRRRRRPPPP! The mist of stress, which had been drifting cloudward, turned into a mountaineer, and slammed a pick-axe into the base of my amygdala.

I looked in my rear-view mirror. A fat, middle-aged woman in the rickety-old car behind me stared ahead with a look of wide-mouthed ferocity. Three seconds was an unacceptable amount of time for me to have made her wait. I summoned all of my powers of diplomacy and restraint. The kids were in the car with me, after all.

‘COW!’ I shouted, balling my hand into a fist and extending my middle-finger into the mirror. ‘FAT COW!’

I drove off as slowly as possible, relishing her continued anger. If only mine had abated, I could’ve claimed the moral high-ground, but I was just as angry as she was, with an added rainbow of righteousness rushing through my snarls.

I was still fuming about it long after she’d gone, even once Chelsea was back in the car cradling her low-fat salad. ‘Well, we know she’s impatient. She clearly can’t wait to shovel the next cake into her fucking mouth.’

‘Jamie, the kids!’

‘Well,’ I said, in a tone of voice that suggested I’d just crafted a profound and eloquent justification for my ongoing rage.

Soon enough we were on the motorway, and my stress was hovering somewhere above the car, never able to lift entirely on account of the tail-gaters haunting my back-bumper like towed ghosts. A few hundred near-miss heart-attacks fluttered by. After an ice-age of irritation, the SatNav announced that our destination was a little ahead of us, just off the main road.

I drove through a stone archway, and down a long, single-track road fringed by tall grass and trees on either side. Far down the track the road bent out of sight, so far down, and under a wide expanse of blue sky to boot, that we might as well have been in some remote segment of the highlands, instead of a mere minute from a busy dual carriage-way. There were no other cars or people in-front or behind. Bliss. Sheer bliss. About half-way up the track, I trundled the car to a stop. There, at the side of the road, was a young buck, nibbling leaves from a tree, its big antlers perched incongruously atop its little head, like he’d just picked them up from a joke-shop.

‘Look, kids,’ I whispered, even though the windows were all up.

We gazed in wonder at the innocent and obliviouslittle creature for a few seconds. Well, I gazed in wonder, anyway. Chelsea’s eyes were centred on her phone, and the kids didn’t really seem to give a monkey’s. It’s not like it was a monkey, after all.

‘It’s a wee stag, and it’s eating some leaves,’ I said with a smile, very much stating the obvious.

‘Let’s get a picture,’ I decided, because of course get a picture. This is 2019.

The stress was gone, whirling high above us on an unstoppable trajectory to Mars. And all it took was the simple sight of a tiny animal, nonchalantly munching some greenery.
I edged the electric window down an inch or so. The nyee-whir-thud made the buck flinch, but after a few seconds of consideration it went back to munching the leaves. I edged it down some more, figuring that the buck was inured to the noise. I was right. Nyee-whir-thud. Munch, munch, munch.

‘Use your phone,’ I said to Chelsea through gritted teeth, careful to trap as much sound as possible inside my mouth. I wanted to capture this beautiful, peaceful moment. To preserve it for all eternity.

PARRRPPPP! Went the car behind us. WHOOOOSH! Went the buck, disappearing into the trees. PARRRPPPPPPPPP! Went the car behind us again. I looked in the rear-view mirror to see a fat, middle-aged woman glaring angrily ahead, her vast white monster of a car trundling and revving beneath the impress of her impatient fat foot.

I instinctively, and rather bizarrely, made the wanker gesture in my rear-view mirror, as I ranted like a maniac. ‘ANOTHER IMPATIENT FAT COW! WHAT, ARE YOU IN A RUSH TO GET TO THE COUNTRY PARK? IS THERE AN EMERGENCY WITH A FUCKING SPARROW OR SOMETHING, YOU FAT COW? WE. WERE. TRYING. TO. TAKE. SOME. TIME. OUT. TO. SMELL. THE. ROSES.’

Chelsea shook her head, and glanced back at the kids. ‘We do NOT say that someone IS fat. We say that someone HAS fat. We don’t teach our children to judge people like that.’
I nodded. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said to Chelsea. ‘I’m sorry, kids,’ I said to them. ‘Daddy gets angry sometimes, and he says things he shouldn’t.’ I let that percolate before adding. ‘She shouldn’t have peeped though.’

I rolled on, as slowly as possible, so slow I was almost going in reverse. This time, my anger had turned to wicked delight. I could see the woman behind’s anger mounting and mounting the more slowly we trundled up the long, long single-track.

‘Boy,’ I said, grinning at myself in the rear-view mirror. ‘That cow sure has a lot of fat.’
‘JAMIE!’

I laughed.

Maybe it isn’t the great outdoors and the wide open skies that bring me peace. Maybe it’s something more primal than that.

Maybe I just like being a dick.

I’m pretty good at it.

And that makes me happy.

A Rave for Kids?

© Photography by Khristopher Morgan for Here & Now (fb.com/weareherenandow)

Falkirk nightclub ‘Temple’ recently applied for a variation to its license to allow it to operate as a venue for children’s ‘rave’ events during the day. Councillor Robert Bisset, sitting on the Licensing Board, said he wanted to delay a ruling until more and better lighting had been installed in the club.

I understand the health-and-safety implications of a horde of hyperactive kids jumping around in a dark room, but it’s obvious that not one single member of that board has ever been to a rave, else they would have known that darkness is something of a prerequisite, not to mention a necessity.

If adults were to have a rave in a brightly-lit room, the cumulative effect of all those illuminous togs, jutting limbs and sweating, gurning faces bouncing up and down to a thumping, whizz-bang beat would be too disgusting and absurd for its participants to bear, and they’d all have to go home and sit in a corner for three days, rocking back and forth while trying to peel the skin from their faces.

Light burns; darkness salves.

Do we really need to inculcate our kids into raves, anyway? I understand that the ravers of yesterday want their kids to follow in their footsteps, but so soon? I did a lot of things in the late 1990s, most of them entirely unsavoury. I wasn’t once inspired to think, ‘You know what, I hope my kids get the chance to go hunting for drugs one day, too. But, you know: when they’re six!’

Surely the adult world can wait. What are we going to do to them next? Put them in little suits and see if they can blag mortgages for their Wendy houses? Make them sit through an awkward-as-fuck dinner party? Send them to the vet and force them to witness a series of increasingly harrowing hamster euthanasias?

What would a rave for the under 6’s look like anyway?

Let’s just imagine that for a moment or two…

Come regress with me.

At the kids’ rave

The beat drops for Baby Shark. There’s a scream and everyone starts juddering like crazy across the dance-floor, except for one boy sitting cross-legged at the side of the hall, who rolls his eyes and mutters something about Baby Shark being ‘soooo 2018’ and a ‘passing fad’.

‘It’s too commercialised now,’ says Felicia, a little girl wearing an ‘In the Night Garden’ T-shirt. She squats down next to him in solidarity.

He rips open his buttoned cardigan to show her his ‘Teletubbies’ T-shirt, and then gives her a disgusted look.

‘Don’t try to rave with me, newbie. I’m old school. I busted moves to Pingu, shufflin’ it penguin-style, when you were still swimming in your dad’s nut-sack. I watched Postman Pat before the pube-headed, speccy twat went airborne. OLD school. You feel it?’

‘I’ve seen Rugrats,’ she says haughtily.

‘Bitch, I’m wearing Rugrats mother***ing Y-fronts.’

He gets up and starts strutting away, shouting back over his shoulder:

‘I can’t be seen with you. You’re a fraud. I’m going home to listen to DJ Peppa Pig’s Sick Licks. ON FUCKING VINYL!’

He struts away, his finger held aloft behind him. ‘BYE Felicia.’

It’s the wrong finger, but she gets the idea.

A new tune bangs out across the room. The crowd are going wild, joining hands and jumping up and down, side to side, like one massive conjoined entity: a ska-beast, its veins pulsing pink-and-green on the dimly-lit dance-floor. “PAW PATROL, PAW PATROL, BE THERE ON THE DOUBLE! PAW PATROL, PAW PATROL…YEAH, LEMME HEAR Y’ALL MOTHERFUCKERS SING IT! YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT, SAVE THAT MOTHERFUCKING CHICKEN, Y’ALL, DOGGY-STYLE!”

Wayne, a stocky five-year-old, is out on the dance-floor in the middle of the throng, dancing like a boy possessed. Mainly because he’s absolutely off his tits on E-numbers. He’s had a line of Sherbet, a pure rock of Twix, and a half-bar of Milky Way that’s been cut with Smarties. Not to mention shit-loads of Coke. He’s throwing some shapes. Literally. He’s throwing squares, triangles, circles, rectangles, right at the other kids’ heads. Big thick Fisher Price plastic shapes.

A few feet away from him is Kade, a nursery kid with rhythm in his bones. The crowd’s created some distance between itself and Kade, not because Kade’s such a good dancer that he deserves space to ply his art, but because Kade’s shat himself. Violently. He’s flicking grotty smears of butt-gravy each time he shakes his hips. It’s splatting out of the sides of his nappy like Beethoven’s drool. A little girl a few feet away from him gets a splat of it on her dress, but because her parents are hippies, it goes with the pattern and she doesn’t notice. And still Kade dances, his arms thundering like pistons, his head bobbing like a Churchill dog in the back windscreen of a race-car.

‘CROWD SURF!’ he shouts, and everyone edges further away from him.

Back over at the side of the hall is Isaac, who’s been trying to blend into the wall. He’s wearing designer sandals, khaki cut-offs and a long face. He sees Felicia looking sad, and shuffles over to her. He’s no gentleboy, though; no knight in shining armour. He just knows a captive audience when he sees one.

Isaac sits down next to Felicia and tries to introduce himself over the din. ‘I’m Isaac, yeah? I’m 4 and a quarter. I love these things. You can’t just feel the music, sometimes it feels like you ARE the music, yeah?’

Felicia picks at one of her nostrils and stares at him through one heavy-lidded eye, sighing audibly. Undeterred, Isaac continues: ‘Yeah, you probably haven’t seen me around. I’m actually taking a gap year from nursery this year. It was sapping my shakra, man, I needed some room to grow, you know?’

She jams her finger up the other nostril, and plucks out a runny dollop of squidgy bogey. She grinds it into Iggle Piggle’s eye, all the while staring dead ahead at Isaac, who hasn’t noticed a thing. In fact, he isn’t even looking at her anymore.

‘Yeah, I’m working on a novel, actually, it’s a conceptual piece, my Dad says it’s the best thing he’s ever read, it’s all about how school doesn’t actually exist, yeah, and there’s this dog, but it can talk, yeah, and you find out it represents the main character’s grief at his gran dying, man, but really it’s a love story for our age, yeah?’

‘PSSSSSSST,’ hisses a boy standing over them. He opens his jacket to reveal a row of lollies above a row of packets of sherbet.

‘How much for the jacket?’ asks Felicia.

In a perfect turn of events, the 2017 club remix of ‘Johnny Johnny Yes Papa’ thumps into life around them.

The dealer looks down at Isaac’s shorts and sandals with a sneer. ‘Who buys your clothes? Your mum?’

‘Em, yeah,’ he says. ‘I’m four. Our mums… all our mums buy our clothes. Who… who buys your clothes?’

The dealer smiles. ‘Good point, son. Want to get fucked up before our mums come to pick us up?’

Isaac shoots to his feet. ‘Let’s party like it’s … well, right now.’


Click here for the news story

Entering ‘Leaving Neverland’ with an Open Mind

Depending upon the preconceptions about Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence you bring with you to HBO’s Leaving Neverland, you’ll find it either a harrowing how-to guide on the grooming of children, or a show-case of the acting skills of two very cynical and greedy con-men.

Wade Robson and James Safechuck claim to have suffered years of abuse at the hands – and various other body parts – of Michael Jackson, a campaign that went hand-in-glove with a relentless charm blitzkrieg that saw the boys and their families showered with gifts, money, love and attention.

Because the documentary offers no physical evidence or conclusive ‘proof’ of Jackson’s alleged crimes, it was natural for viewers to slip into the roles of arm-chair detectives and amateur psychologists: scrutinising Robson and Safechuck’s every motivation, facial twitch, hand gesture and intonation, hoping to discover the truth somewhere in that web of cues.

Do Safechuck and Robson seem upset enough? Do they seem too upset? Is their tone too lively? Too flat? What are they doing with their eyes? Are they being too emotional, or too clinical?

It’s a very human impulse: to seek; to search; to pull apart; to judge. We like nothing better than to impose and transpose our ideas and ideals about the world and human interactions on friends and strangers alike. We know people, right? We’re great judges of character. Aren’t we?

Most of the time, though, our moment-to-moment ‘instincts’ or knee-jerk reactions are wrong, or only ‘right’ within the narrow parameters we set for ourselves based upon the limited information to which we have access; all filtered, of course, through our biases. It’s too easy to imagine certainty in the shadows when you’re busy being blinded by the light of your own self-righteousness.

Wade Robson

Cautionary examples of micro-scrutiny and projection abound, in fiction as in real life, the most striking example of which can be found in Albert Camus’ exemplary work ‘The Stranger’. The story’s narrator is condemned to death for a crime of self-defence; judged guilty almost entirely on the basis of his muted reaction to his mother’s unrelated death a few weeks previously. He didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral. This perceived lack of feeling was witnessed by the townsfolk, twelve of whom went on to serve on his jury. A man who doesn’t weep for his dear, departed mother, they reasoned, must be a man capable of limitless evil. He’s guilty, they proclaimed. He’s a liar.

Case in point: I found myself occasionally sceptical of Robson’s testimony, particularly the uncomfortable level of detail he delivered unflinchingly to the camera, but then found myself softening towards him when a) I discovered he was married and, b) he cried in the second part of the documentary. That’s when it hit me. I don’t know what a typical abuse victim sounds like, or how they typically feel or behave. Who am I to pick apart every micro-gesture, or judge this man based upon his tears or lack thereof?

[And so fucking what if any of them are after ‘Jackson’s’ money? If I’d been offered fame and fortune, and found out too late that the price for achieving this was serial sexual abuse and the disintegration of my self-esteem and trust, damn right I’d try to take every single fucking penny of that bastard’s money. And don’t forget this – it’s all about money for those feeding from the Jackson estate, too. It’s not only the victims who have a ‘vested interested’ in safeguarding that ‘fortune’]

In the end I found it best simply to listen to the two men and their families; let their stories wash over me in their entirety, and then try to place them in their proper context: that context being Jackson’s supreme power and status; and the myriad public allegations that have been made against him since the early 1990s.

Looking back at Whacko Jacko

It seems as though the wider public’s greatest sympathies have always lain with Michael Jackson. His fans and supporters have always held him up as the proto-typical abuse victim, an almost Christ-like figure. Having been brutalised and beaten by his mean drunk of a Dad, and forced to perform in the public spotlight like a cross between a circus monkey and a cash cow, Jackson then arose – free from bondage, free from suffering – to usher the world into a new era of love and peace. Jackson was meek and mild. He’d known pain, he’d known terror, he’d known subjugation, he’d known powerlessness, and he was here to tell the world, ‘From now on, I will demonstrate my ethos of kindness and happiness, and I will do it by surrounding myself with hordes of pre-pubescent children, and sleeping with them in my bed.’

Erm… sorry, what? This has always been the snagging point, and the point around which Jackson’s legal and PR teams have spun the hardest. There can be few parents whose alarm bells fail to ring upon learning of this aspect of Jackson’s behaviour, and the fact that many of the parents of the boys who went on to claim abuse at Jackson’s hands found themselves fooled or dismissed around this point is a testament to the toxic power of money, success, and worship. Jackson seems to be above and beyond the scope of the #metoo movement. He’s like a pope; a prophet; a holy man. Jackson isn’t a mere Kevin Spacey: he’s the Catholic Church itself.

The abused often become abusers. Often, but not always, those who have been hit, hit; those who have been subjected to anger and intolerance go on to subject their nearest and dearest to anger and intolerance; those who have been touched, touch; those who have been brutalised, sexually or otherwise, go on to brutalise others in turn, or else allow themselves to be brutalised again and again and again, in a horrible escalation of the original pattern. Or both.

There’s a reason Dexter’s titular serial-killer-in-disguise brings in a tray of donuts for his cop-station co-workers every morning; there’s a reason real-life monster Jimmy Savile ran so many marathons and donated so much money to charity. It’s over-compensation, misdirection. Smoke, mirrors. Schmoozing.

Grooming.

We Brits tend to be a bit more cynical about these things given our recent experiences not just with Jimmy Savile, but with seemingly every male celebrity who ever graced a stage or set between the 1960s and the 1990s. We know that abusers can hide in plain sight, skipping over fields of whispers to shake hands with pop stars and princes alike.

I know men and women are capable of lying about rape; I know kids can lie about abuse, for all sorts of reasons. But more and more these days (excluding the TV and film industry) it seems as though our sympathies lie more with the abusers – the rich, the powerful, the savage – than they do with the victims. The poor and disenfranchised of America cheer for Donald Trump – ‘He’s just like us!’ – as all the while his unfeeling foot moves to crush them. The working-classes of the UK pour platitudes upon the Queen, a woman who likely wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.

And when a weak and spindly Michael Jackson celebrates a Not Guilty verdict by clambering on top of a parked car like a vampiric Willy Wonka, or a mutated Mister Burns, his fans erupt in a chorus of cheers, whistles and applause. That VT footage is in the documentary. It’s sickening. Jackson raises his arms aloft and makes himself into a lightning rod with which to absorb the explosive adulation of the crowd, a happy smile plastered across his plastic face.

You were accused of child molestation, Michael. And it’s not the first time. You’re not on stage. It reminded me of when Rolf Harris started singing excerpts from his greatest hits while testifying in court. Not just wildly inappropriate, but callously inconsiderate and narcissistic.

Won’t somebody please think of the children…

I’ve heard a lot of people ask, in response to this documentary, ‘Why didn’t the accusers say something sooner? Why did one of them actively lie in support of Jackson and then change his story? Kids blabber and talk, about everything and anything – why didn’t they?

This ignores the role that shame and fear play in our lives. It ignores the work that an abuser does to normalise abuse and/or to isolate their victim from their friends, family, and even reality itself. It ignores the conflicting feelings of love and loyalty a child may have towards their abuser. It ignores the fear a child may have of not being believed, or of hurting their family, even of hurting their abuser. It ignores the fear a child may have of losing that connection to their abuser that on some level they’ve been conditioned to need – a feeling of being loved, of being special – not to mention the material gains it affords them: the bribes, the promises, the luxuries. It’s a horrible, sickening process that makes children feel complicit in their own debasement.

The answer to those three questions posed at the turn of this sub-section lie in our own lives and relationships. We all come through power structures when we’re children: family, foster homes, care institutions. Even without the spectre of abuse, it can be hard to assert yourself within those dynamics. Maybe there’s an old uncle whose views you find repellent, whom you nevertheless tolerate as an adult because those hierarchical cues keep working to constrain your responses.

Maybe a single look or stray tone from either or both of your parents can seal your lips in silence or get your heart pumping like a drug-addled disco-dancer. I know grown adults in their forties and fifties who still won’t spark up a cigarette in front of their elderly parents for fear of reproach.

Look at Tony Soprano, pop fiction’s most iconic and well-rounded mob boss, a man of ferocious and absolute power who still nevertheless finds himself at the mercy of his mother’s narcissistic machinations and infanticidal fury.

Wade Robson, James Safechuck and director Dan Reed

Think about the working world. School and higher education, despite their lofty claims to unlock the unique power of the individual, serve largely as tools to mould kids into the workforce of tomorrow. What little vestiges of non-conformity still exist in a person by the time they join the job market are usually chipped away quickly by the iron hand of the corporatocracy (the only place where creativity is encouraged is in the banking system, and even then its greatest artists usually end up either in jail or in the government). We have no loyalty to our workplaces beyond our wallets. There are no childhood entanglements to complicate our relationship. But, still, most of us toe the line, and work hard not to rock the boat.

In our workplaces we’re forced to accept things and people that under different circumstances we wouldn’t have the inner-reserves of self-control to bear. Workers imagine that Human resources departments function like unions, looking out for the little guy, helping to keep bosses in check, but in reality they exist to preserve the status quo and minimise a company’s risk of haemorrhaging money to lawyers. Ditto appraisals, which are promoted as a boon for the worker, the equivalent of a wish-list to Santa sent up the chimney-spout. To your employer, though, your appraisal is simply a stored record of either your compliance or your mistakes, ultimately a form of insurance against any future legal action. ‘But what grounds do you have for this tribunal? We have three years’ worth of testimony here as to your happiness? You never spoke up before.’

Now imagine that instead of being at home or at work you’re in the orbit of one of the most iconic, powerful and adored human beings who ever lived.

Systems trap us. Our homes and possessions and families make us slaves. Most of the time, most of us take the path of least resistance. Battles are draining, and the reality is: most of them we won’t win. Even if we’re right. Even if we’ve been wronged.

That’s why we admire rebels: James Dean, John Wayne, Larry David. They blaze the trails we can’t. We’re weak. Abusers and psychopaths know this. Especially the rich and influential ones.

That’s why they invariably win, time after time. And will doubtless continue to do so. In a sense, we’re all victims; and few of us even realise we’re being abused.

We’ve now left Neverland

By the end of those four harrowing hours of interviews, interspersed with archival news and home footage, it becomes finally, painfully clear that Neverland wasn’t a waking dream for these kids, but a living nightmare; a factory disguised as a gang hut; where hungry serfs found themselves ferried along rainbow-coloured conveyor belts, on which their childhoods were plucked from them like rhino horns.

Michael Jackson’s power, fortune and legacy are all waning now, which is another reason why the bubble he tried to seal himself inside is ready to be popped once and for all.

He’s still the King of Pop. But the ‘aedhillia’ isn’t silent anymore.

Remembrance of Brexit Days Past

I think Brexit Day always seems a lot more magical when you’re a child. You know, it’s a real family occasion: the celebrations, the procession, the executions, all of that.

I remember one of the early ones, I must have been seven, eight. Can’t remember precisely, but it was the first Brexit Day my parents thought I was old enough to take part in the ‘After Dinner Death Match’. The prize that year was the last chocolate in the box, well, the only chocolate in the box. And it wasn’t a box, it was a piece of toilet paper. And it wasn’t a chocolate, it was some rat shit. But anyway, it was my turn to fight that year, and I drew my gran’s name out of the hat. Sounds like an easy win, but it wasn’t. She was tough as old boots, my gran. As a fighter and as a meal. Food was scarce, you see, so whoever lost got eaten.

Mum made gran into a curry, or maybe it was a Balti – it was definitely something hot and spicy – to mask the taste of that leathery old skin of hers. Dad wasn’t happy. ‘A curry?’ he said. ‘A bloody curry? What’s wrong with good old British faggots, or a fry up? You’ll get us marched off by the Lizzie Lynch Mob yet, Cynthia!’

Even with all the spices, gran tasted worse than my cousin Bill, and that’s saying something, because Bill was a big old fat guy with hundreds of moles and welts and psoriasis and smegma and everything. Still, waste not, want not, and each to their own. I think smegma is vile, but my mum always said it was an acquired taste, like blue cheese – whatever that is.

My gran on the campaign trail for UKIP, in happier times

Gran’s last words to me as she bled out under the dining room table were, ‘I hope you choke on my tough old tits, you weak little shit-bag.’ For some reason those words have always stuck with me… There was a funny little moment too, just as she slipped away, when my Dad shouted back at her, ‘Brexit MEANS Brexit, Brenda,’ and we all laughed. Even gran cracked a smile. Gran was like that, though, always up for the banter.

I remember being very sad that day. Very, very sad. Not because of gran, you see. My dad was right, Brexit DOES mean Brexit, that’s just the way it is. No, because my pet – and best pal – Russell, had died the day before. Oh, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. You look at any picture from my childhood, and it’s me and Russell. I’d take him walks, we’d sleep in the same bed, we’d stay up late and watch movies together. Mum tried to console me as best she could on Brexit Day morning, because she could see how upset I was. She said: ‘We’ll get you another carrier bag, son, maybe a John Lewis one this time,’ and I just lost it, because Russell wasn’t just any old carrier bag. He was an M&S carrier bag.

Mum and dad told me about the times just before I was born, before Brexit, when people kept cats and dogs and things like that as pets; my parents had a pet, too. A little Bichon Frize called Steven. But when the economy crashed that first time, and money didn’t exist anymore, nobody could buy food, so they rounded up everybody’s pets and ate them. It went into law, actually. There were big barbecues and cook-outs in the street. Dad said it really brought communities together and it was like the Royal Jubilee, only with more of an emphasis on dog eating. My parents said it was hard to eat Steven, but only because he was so dry. ‘A little bowl of smegma,’ mum said, ‘That’s the secret.’

Dad loved flame-grilled spaniels best, but mum always had dangerously exotic tastes, so she preferred things like spicy cat-arse kebabs. One time a next-door neighbour of theirs brought some garden snails to a cook-out, and they shot him, because snails were too French, you see. He should’ve known better. The rules were clear. You weren’t even allowed to call small things ‘wee’ anymore, just in case anyone thought you were  a French agent.

A few Brexit Days after that – I can’t remember the year exactly, but it was around about the time they moved the capital city to Bolton, and dissolved Wales… not the assembly or anything, they just dissolved the whole country – I lost an uncle. What was his name? Ah, Uncle Simon, that’s right. It was good riddance anyway.  He’d had a bit too much to drink, and I remember him sitting there, wearing his Union Jack paper-hat , and he just shook his head with a little smile and said, ‘Ah, Brexit. What was that all about, eh?’ My mum snuck off to the kitchen to use the phone. I could see my Dad was trying hard not to lose his temper.  Ten minutes later these six big guys, all dressed like the Queen – with matching handbags and everything – marched in and carted him off. Uncle Simon was terrified, you know, he was screaming and everything. ‘I’m a loyal subject! I’m a loyal subject! No! No!!! Listen to me, just listen: send ‘em back; too bloody cold for ‘em; they tried to straighten our bananas. See??? I’m one of you!! I’M ONE OF YOU! I’M A BREXITEEEEEERRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrr!’

I don’t think I can do justice to the amazing atmosphere at the Brexit Day processions. You know, there would be the big bus with the ‘£350 million’ sticker on it, and it would go past and peep and everyone would wave; there would be people dressed in top-hats and monocles carrying gilded canes around, just like King Rees-Mogg (peace-be-upon-him). There would be a guy dressed as Churchill kicking blacked-up homeless people up and down the street as someone played God Save the Queen on a lute. Sometimes Nigel Farage would drop in and stoat about with a pint of piss, grinning at everyone. Oh, it was wonderful.

One Brexit Day, though – I think it was around about the year that King Rees-Mogg first announced the building of the sea-wall in the ocean between Dover and Calais – they had to evacuate our street because one of the kids in the neighbourhood found an old time capsule someone had buried in 2006, and there were apparently pictures of people smiling and eating food and going to hospital and stuff like that, so they did a controlled explosion of the time capsule. And of the little kid who found it, just to be safe.

The procession always ended with a big bonfire in the village green, where they’d do the ‘Burning of the Obama’ –  he was a French muslim, you know – and they’d round up anyone who looked a bit like Jeremy Corbyn and hurl them in, too. That was how they got my other gran. We warned her to use the Remington.

I really liked the arena combat, where people fought against horses, but my favourite was always the ‘Annual Execution of a Remainer’. There was always so much excitement around it. They’d choose the executioner from one of the local primary schools. They picked Graham McPhail from my class one year, I was so bloody jealous. I think that was the year they finally abolished Scotland and renamed it ‘England the Second.’ Anyway, for weeks afterwards people would run up to Graham in the playground, and ask to touch his strong and stable trigger-finger.

Graham went on to become a member of the Lizzy Lynch Squad, you know, those guys that dress up as the Queen and take people away to be shot for treason. Years later, he was the one who killed my mum. Someone had overheard her saying that she liked ‘smegma pasta’, and of course Italian food is unpatriotic, so off she went. That was that. I didn’t hold a grudge against Graham, I really didn’t. He was just doing his job. Brexit means Brexit, after all.

Anyway. What did you say the half-life of nuclear radiation was? It’s a bit stuffy in this bunker. I’d like to get out for some fresh air, maybe wave a few flags around for old time’s sake. Actually, there’s a thought. I could use my Union Jack to waft away the radiation… What a great idea. That’ll definitely work. It is the most powerful flag in the world, after all. BRITAIN SAVES THE DAY AGAIN! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! GOD SAVE THE UNITED KINGDOM!

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 11 – 13

Part 14: Return of the Aye-eeee

Wherein some people are nuts, and some people talk to nuts, and they’re the less nutty ones

These days, it seems there aren’t any American actors in lead roles on US TV. Even the characters that are supposed to be American are played by British or Australian actors.

Before Idris Elba hit stratospheric levels of fame, he teamed up with Dominic West to fool The Wire-watching world into believing both were natives of the Baltimorean landscapes over which they battled and hustled; Hugh Laurie expertly masked his middle-Englishness to play the embittered, brilliant, ebullient and quintessentially American Gregory House MD; and two Australians, Aden Young and Adelaide Clemens, convinced absolutely as a pair of tragic, star-crossed souls from the deep-south in Showtime’s exquisite crime-and-redemption series Rectify. These actors and actresses are all exemplars of the craft of transatlantic (or transpacific) tongue twisting.

There is, however, an ever-growing roster of Brits and Antipodeans who’ve less than impressed the great American public with their efforts: Rick in The Walking Dead (especially in the first season, where he sounded like Forrest Gump’s even dippier cousin); Ewan McGregor in the third season of Fargo; Charlie Hunnam in Sons of Anarchy; and Gerard Butler in… well, in just about anything in which he isn’t supposed to be Scottish.

Except in the most heinous of cases, my untrained ears can’t seem to discriminate between good and bad attempts at the various dialects of the US. It got me wondering if people outside of the UK accept on the same unconditional terms the attempts of non-British actors to mimic our native accents. Did people in Rhode Island detect anything amiss in Dick van Dyke’s famously shite attempt at Cockney? Did the people of Florida notice that the Northern Irish accents in season 3 of Sons of Anarchy were so bad they almost constituted a war crime? And what do the people of New York, Nevada and Hawaii think of the Scottish accent issuing from the mouth of Outlander’s resident death-defying witch, Geillis Duncan?

I’ve no way of knowing. I can, however, tell you what the people of Thisguy, Scotland think of it. How can I put this? Hmmmm. Well, em… Lotte Verbeek has a good stab at the Scottish accent. The trouble is that she doesn’t stop stabbing. She stabs it again and again and again and again. Until it’s dead.

That may sound uncharitable of me, and that’s because it is, but in my defence it’s impossible not to feel a little combative considering that the character of Geillis contributes to how my kin and culture are conveyed to the world. Outlander is, after all, one of the most widely popular Celto-centric TV series of all time.

Don’t get me wrong, Verbek is a good actress, and she makes a commendable attempt at a Scottish accent considering that she hails from mainland Europe, but Geillis’s dulcet tones are so off-centre that, as a Scot, it takes me out of the performance entirely. It’s like listening to a symphony being played off-key on un-tuned instruments by a drunk orchestra.

Of dogs.

There’s one way you can judge the quality of a Scottish accent, and it’s this: the more syllables an actor adds to the one-syllable word ‘Aye’, and the longer those syllables are drawn out, the worse the attempt. Case in point: if Geillis’ ‘ayes’ were elongated any further they’d basically be the death throes of a Japanese Anime character.

Anyway, we’ll return to Geillis later in the run-down. For now, let’s kick things off with a ship-wrecked Claire, who wakes up shaken and stirred on a strange island; singular in her purpose, alone in her terror. The island Claire finds herself on is a mish-mash of Biblical tropes: it’s Eden after the fall; it’s the wilderness through which Jesus wandered for forty days and forty nights, warding off the temptations of the Devil himself. There are indeed snakes here with Claire, but they aren’t much interested in tempting or talking: just in throttling and biting.

For the first 16 minutes of Uncharted, Claire is on her own. There are no people in this strange environment, only hunger, and a landscape littered with prickly plants and biting ants. Basically, she’s Mowgli, but without the singing animals.

I’m a sucker for the Robin Crusoe narrative, especially when it’s riven with religious symbolism. I love to see snapshots of our primal past and renderings of our post-apocalyptic future: the isolation; the struggle. HBO’s The Leftovers delivered this brilliantly, twice: once, when it showed the plight of an early human female navigating a deadly, antediluvian landscape with her newborn child, all the while surrounded by threats and augurs, and again when it showed us Kevin Garvey Snr wandering the Australian outback in the third season episode Crazy Whitefella Thinking. Even the Discovery Channel’s Game-of-Thrones-But-A-Wee-Bit-True series Vikings got in on the game when Floki first discovered the empty, roaring majesty of pre-colonisation Iceland, a rugged landscape he first mistook for Valhalla.

Scott Glenn as Kevin Garvey Snr in season 3 of The Leftovers

Silence, and paucity of speech, if used sparingly, can lift and liberate a piece of television. Silence has a great transformative power; it can sharpen our senses; open our minds; direct our focus to all that’s profound and terrible at the heart of the human condition.

Outlander couldn’t get Claire to stop talking long enough to give that a try.

I know Claire’s narration is a device that creates a bridge between the book and the TV series, but in this case… to whom is she narrating? And what does her narration add in way of shade or nuance to what we can already see and intuit with our own brains and senses? Surely one of the main benefits of Claire having no-one to talk to is that we don’t have to hear her moan or state the obvious for a while. But no. We’re shoved inside her head, like it or not.

“I was hungry. That means I needed food. I needed to find some food. So what else could I do? I decided to find some food. I had to try. But it wasn’t easy. The longer I went without food, the hungrier I got, and the harder it was to find the food. And the more I missed Jamie. Ow, an ant just bit me. That was sore. Still, at least it took my mind off how hungry I was for a moment there. I really need a shit now. I wonder if I can risk wiping my arse with any of these strange leaves? Goodness, I’m hungry. Did I mention that?”

Next we meet Father Fogden, the foppish Englishman of aristocratic stock who has a close, personal relationship with a coconut we pray isn’t sexual. He’s eccentric, he’s adorable, he’s sinister (the man, that is, not the coconut): he’s a Richard Curtis character who’s been inexplicably written into The Shining; he’s the newest owner of the Caribbean Bates Motel, but instead of his mother being dead, she’s an angry fat Cuban lady, who isn’t really his mother, but his almost-mother-in-law. Imagine losing your wife and being trapped forever with your mother-in-law. No wonder he’s on the yupa.

Mamacita – the mother of Father Fogden’s lost love Ermenegilda – wastes no time in cursing Claire to Hell and back, switching it up between English and Spanish so as to inject a bit of variety into her scorn. It becomes clear why Father Fodgen is so fond of fraternising with coconuts (although the hallucinogens might have something to do with that as well). As Claire heals, Mamacita cooks for her, serving up stank with a side-plate of sass for every meal.

Thankfully, Mr Willoughby’s goat-killing proficiency alerts Claire to the presence of Jamie’s ship. Claire’s dash through the jungle to catch Jamie’s ship before it ups anchor and sails away is commendably tense. Thanks to Outlander’s historic cruelty towards its central lovers I really wasn’t expecting a happy re-union. As the action cut between Claire’s panic and Jamie’s preparations, I prepared myself for the old time-delay trick (making it look like Claire was about to catch the boat with seconds to spare, when in reality she’s missed it by a whole day) or the different-place trick (they’re in the same time-frame, but on completely different islands).

Claire is a lot of things – stubborn, haughty, sometimes dangerously myopic – but she’s no damsel in distress. She’s brave, cunning and, above all, resourceful, the latter quality proving the difference between Claire being marooned with Lord Coconut and Mama Sass for all eternity, or sailing off into the sunset with Jamie once more. All it took was a wee waggle of a mirror through a sunbeam, and Jamie was rousing the troops to rescue her.

‘MacDuhb’s wife turns up in the most unlikely of places, does she no?’ says this season’s Angus to this season’s Rupert. Outlander knows fine well that we know that they know that we know how delightfully preposterous the show can be sometimes.

Father Fogden – my very favourite Caribbean-crack-smoking, coconut-nattering nincompoop – again gets to a shine when he presides over the union of Fergus and Marsali. I love Fogden, and I sincerely hope two things: a) that he returns next season, and b) that he’s free to officiate my real-life wedding later on this year. What a unique occasion it would be. I don’t know many people who have been joined in holy matrimony by a man who’s off his tits on gin and yupa.

I laughed heartily when Father Fogden tried to marry Marsali to a different guy on account of Fergus’s missing hand, and then laughed again when, his mistake having been corrected, he shrugged and said, ‘Not as though he’s lost his cock… you haven’t, have you?’

While I saw it coming – and it was a long time coming – it was still hellishly sweet when Jamie asserted kinship over Fergus by handing him the Fraser name.

Uncharted, then, was like the Fall of Eden in reverse: beginning with a silent, lonely journey through deadly and inhospitable terrain, haunted by the specter of a serpent, and ending with two characters joined together in hope, innocence and love, but also – you know, haunted by the specter of a serpent… if you know what I mean (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

The state of Eden is a distant memory for the poor Africans caged and enslaved in the sweltering heat of the Jamaican sun. The very best life they can hope for, at least for the next few centuries, is one serving drinks to snooty, cruel or indifferent aristocrats. It goes without saying that slavery is a repulsive practice. That human beings treated other human beings like that is disgusting, that it happened not so long ago in human history is chilling. For once, Claire’s inability to tolerate any act of injustice irrespective of the times and irregardless of the consequences is worth championing – even if it will almost certainly draw unwelcome attention to Jamie’s visibility and presence on the island.

Deliciously, though, history might think differently. In order to free a slave called Temeraire, Claire had to buy him, which means there’s a physical record of the vehemently anti-slavery, time-travelling firebrand buying a slave and therefore, on the surface of it, actually contributing to slavery.

So, Geillis then. She was never a particularly nuanced character to begin with – Lady Macbeth with a touch of murderous New Age Earth Mother – but in her latest (and last) incarnation as a blood-bathing black widow and purveyor of black magic, she’s positively ridiculous. When she isn’t chasing after the shiny MacGuffin fastened to John Grey’s coat, she’s waving her hand in the air in a dismissive manner and storming through a crowd of party-goers in her big flouncy dress to a chorus of giggles and gasps, like some cartoonishly wicked pantomime dame.

Let’s talk John Grey here. Until now we’ve seen him as a noble but dopey, love-sick little puppy, holding a candle (or indeed a sapphire) for Jamie across time and across continents. The moment where Claire works this out is incredibly sweet.

But the man also has a steely side, shown here when he delivers a rousing, stinging, brutal dressing down to the status-hungry Captain Leonard, saving Jamie’s skin into the bargain. I was almost out of my seat cheering.

Once Geillis’s three-stage-plan to immolate Ian, infiltrate the future and bump off Brianna was foiled, I half-expected her to turn to the Frasers and snarl, ‘And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for you pesky kids!’ But she was far too busy being decapitated for any of that malarkey.

Well, almost decapitated. In the books I gather Claire sees the job through with the business-end of a blunted axe, but in the TV show she only manages a partial chop. That’s not a criticism. I know how hard it is to cut a cantaloupe under ideal conditions, so kudos to TV Claire for trying. There are thin religious parallels here that are probably more explicit in the book on account of Claire’s more successful stab at decapitation.

In the Bible, John the Baptist – who as his name suggested loved a good baptism – prophesies the coming of the Messiah; a great ruler of legend for whom he is the fore-runner. A little later, he’s beheaded. In Outlander, Geillis – who performs baptisms of sorts upon herself, and always in goat’s blood – prophesies the coming of a great ruler. A little later, she’s beheaded. Did I mention the parallels were thin?

I guess it’s easy to see God-shaped shadows everywhere in a season that’s been so awash with Biblical imagery, from Jamie’s hellish print-shop fire to goats to prophecy.

Outlander is usually pretty good at making its sex scenes tell a story, but here – in their last bout of bump n’ grind before their boat is engulfed by waves; the ‘clam before the storm’, if you like – it felt gratuitous. Yes, I know I can’t grudge them some tenderness after all the many hardships they’ve just endured, but it didn’t feel like their passion was informed or fuelled by the cocktail of emotions that undoubtedly would have been swirling around in their hearts and bellies, particularly since Claire had just killed a woman. Oh, and FYI, the use of the word ‘breeks’ is never sexy. Never. In Scotland you’ll most often hear it in this sentence: ‘Whit’s wrang, have ye shat yer breeks?’

That storm was breath-takingly realised, though. It looked and felt dangerous, deadly and horrifying. I got a real sense of the dizzying, frenetic, claustrophobic terror the crew must have felt. Really made me feel on edge: the raging power of the waves, the hopelessness and helplessness, the shrill whistling of the wind, a deadly world drained of colour, and alive with life-smothering danger. Bravo. Spectacularly well done.

Oh, hi, cliched-kiss-of-life-under-the-water, we’ve been expecting you!  And then, later, on the shore, Jamie manages to bring Claire back from the brink again with his very own patented brand of CPR – a very gentle kiss on the cheek.

At least Outlander has kept its two lovers together this time, first at the eye of the storm, and then in bewildered exile, where they always seem to find themselves. Where are Fergus and Ian? What are they going to do? Is Jamie safe from the King’s men?

God Bless America.

See you soon for season four.

A few final, disjointed thoughts

  • I mentioned the TV show Rectify way back at the start of this article. Please, please watch it, I beg you. It’s haunting, raw, poetic, visceral, and agonisingly beautiful; in this scribe’s humble opinion one of the best TV series of all time (if that isn’t too blasphemous a thing to say out here in Outlander-land).
  • I could tell pretty early on that Mark Hadfield wasn’t Scottish (the actor who played Mr Campbell, Margaret the seer’s brother) but never-the-less Mark does a very good job, never letting the accent drift into the realms of parody or exaggerated stereotype. English fans: is Claire’s accent good? It sounds pretty spot on to this set of Scottish lugs, but let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.
  • The bit where Jamie has to deliver penicillin to a poisoned Claire is nicely done. His reluctance to pierce Claire’s skin with the needle coupled with his baffled astonishment at the whole realm of modern medicine I’m sure made the Outlander-watching world erupt in a sonic-boom of ‘Awwwwws’.
  • On the subject of Geillis: if I can just let my carnality shine through for a moment, I found it particularly pleasant when she rose naked from her pool dripping with blood like some sexy mash-up of Hellraiser 2 and Cleopatra. I wasn’t a big fan of her feet, though. Not a foot man in general, I’m afraid. The moment Geillis started stretching and rubbing those veiny numbers in Ian’s face, allegedly in a bid to seduce him, I began hurling pairs of socks at the TV screen.
  • “Your nipples staring me in the eye, the size of cherries…” Em, smooth line there, Jamie. You should somehow try to work the word ‘breeks’ into there. It’s a good job you’re handsome, son, because your patter is awful.
  • I keep forgetting about Jamie’s disfigurement at the hands of the horrible Black Jack. Every time Jamie and Claire bonk it must cost the make-up department a small fortune. “Hey, we’ve got a big sea-battle coming up… maybe Jamie could keep his dressing gown on for this fuck?”
  • “Where did you find him? I must know, is he genuine?” – the look on Mr Willoughby’s face here was charming and funny.
  • I liked the closed circle of discovering that Claire had already investigated the murder she’d just committed.
  • Margaret tells Mr Willoughby: ‘You’re a rare soul’, which makes him smile. Be careful though, Wlloughby. You’re still not adept at decoding the Scottish accent. She might have just called you ‘an airsehole’.I hope Willoughby and Margaret are very happy together. In years to come I’m sure they’ll delight in telling their kids all about that time Daddy murdered their uncle.
  • I’m not sure about WIlloughby’s or Margaret’s arcs. Seems like it was all a bit too convenient. Ultimately, I don’t think either of them, separately or together, were handled particularly well.
  • When Margaret goes into full prophecy mode, I always burst out laughing.

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READ THE REST – Click below

Why I want to binge-watch Outlander

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 5 – 8

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 9 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 1, Eps 13 – 16

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 1 – 4

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 5 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 8 – 10

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Eps 11 – 12

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 2, Ep 13

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 1 – 3

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 4 – 5

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 6 – 7

Jamie’s Outlander Binge – Season 3, Eps 8 – 10

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Scotland

Humanity: Instagramming Ourselves to Death

This week I learned that there are people out there in the world – actual real people, mind, not robots, not actors, not reptilian imposters from hidden realms hell-bent on our destruction, but people…actual, confirmed people – who use ‘Instagrammable’ in everyday conversation. Not satirically, not in sentences such as this one: ‘When I find out who it was that said it was okay to start using the word “Instagrammable” I’m going to wrestle their head off their shoulders like a bottle-top,’ but in sickening, humanity-damning sentences like this one: ‘Look at these new £500 trainers of mine. They’re so Instagrammable.’

I’ve only recently learned what Instagram is – fire-worshipping troglodyte that I am – and now I’m being forced to accept Instagrammable as a verb. It hardly seems sporting.

We’ve been taking photographs of ourselves for a long-time, even before photography existed. Hundreds of years ago, only the very richest or most alluring could hope to have their portrait hemmed within a gilded frame and hung on the wall of some castle or stately home. In my day, you had to wait a couple of weeks between taking a photo and seeing the results, so instant gratification was never a motivation. Even with the advent of Polaroids, there was still no easy way to weaponise and disseminate your photos to a wider audience for the purposes of stock-piling serotonin.

Next, we started taking selfies – with our phones, no less. I remember how long it took for me to teach my 1920s-born grandparents how to use their VHS player. Thank Christ they died before phones became cameras, computers and shopping lists all rolled into one. It would have killed them.

With the dawn of selfies we became both trophy and target; big game hunters hunting ourselves. We snapped ourselves next to famous landmarks, influential people, gaudy palaces, plane-hijackers wearing bomb belts, and the edges of cliffs, sometimes literally dying in the pursuit of the perfect photo.

Now it seems we’re living in an age where an object’s only worth is in how it buoys our image, builds our brand, raises our social stock or makes other people feel unworthy of the gift of existence.

What cunts we are.

First there was MySpace, and Bebo, and Facebook, and Twitter, where at least some semblance of meaningful dialogue was, and is, possible among the preening and screaming, but now there’s Instagram: where pictures reign and words die. Instagram is a corporate hell-scape over which celebrities flog designer hand-bags and douche-bags, and little people wave filtered snapshots of their little lives in a desperate bid to convince themselves and others that they actually matter. Spoiler alert: they do matter, but not because of a fucking dress or a designer milkshake.

It was milkshakes that brought this nightmarish new lexicon to my attention. I heard a segment on Radio 4 about ‘activated charcoal’, the practice of adding intensely-heated (or, to put it more wankily, ‘activated’) charcoal to foods because there’s some evidence that it aids nutrient absorption, and thus improves general health. They’ve been adding activated charcoal to milkshakes, and if you’re wondering who they are, the answer is = cunts.

My apologises for having dropped two c-bombs on you thus far, but believe me I’m exercising admirable restraint. This entire article could’ve been a Jack Torrance-esque flood of that same awful word over and over, forever and ever. ALL INSTAGRAM AND NO PLAY MAKES JAMIE AN ANGRY C***T.

During the segment they interviewed a chap who was marketing active-charcoal-enhanced milkshakes – as black as tar – on account of how ‘Instagrammable’ they were. Not only were they ‘Instagrammable’, but ‘Instagrammability’ is, apparently, ‘WHAT EVERYONE WANTS.’ A part of my brain died when he said that; the part that contains the concept of hope. If that’s really what everyone wants, I thought to myself, then allow me to plough my car into the nearest petrol station. Please feel free to upload my smouldering remains to Instagram. You can even crumble my ashes into your drink first.

Where does all of this end? Are we about to enter the era of ‘Instagrammable’ funerals? Posing for selfies next to the Gucci-branded coffins of our dearly beloveds? Or worse, next to their waxy corpses, their cold skin daubed with activated-charcoal?

“Oh. My. God. Kymbyrly, you’ve got to tell me the name of your mother’s Funeral Planner.”

“Delgado de Laga. He’s terrific. Costa Rican, gay, vegan, almost prohibitively expensive. He’s the whole package.”

“I absolutely MUST have him for my mother’s funeral.”

“Oh, did your mother die, sweetie?”

“She’s absolutely fine, but I hope she goes soon.”

“Oh, me too, I do so love an occasion!”

(both clap hands together and squeal)

The most depressing thing about the whole look-at-me ethos behind Instagram is that it works. We’re big fans of the veneer, the slick surface. We love a bit of flashy, flashy, shiny, shiny. If we weren’t so superficial as a species, so susceptible to flim-flam and illusion, then psychopaths would never be able to ply their trade, and Donald Trump would still be a virgin.

It works – it shouldn’t, but it does – as much as oldies like me who are teetering on the brink of total irrelevance hate to admit it. We’re peacocks, that’s what we are: preeners, strutters, rutters and nutters. Our big, beautiful brains are in thrall to the whip-hands of our bodies, and the broth of chemicals surging through our blood-stream. We’re horny skin-bags full of hot, angry soup. Everything we do these days seems to spring from a misfiring of the perfectly reasonable impulses to love, couple, copulate and procreate. We’re corrupted and corrupting.

The problem is that our technological innovations are taking us places that our Amstrad-ian bodies and brains aren’t ready to go; our inventions are evolving faster than we are, and it’s making us take pictures of cars and clothes and milk-shakes in a misguided attempt to fuck – and fuck with – each other. No species in the galaxy can beat us when it comes to taking something simple, and making it hideously over-complicated and painful.

We’re Vulcans trapped inside the bodies of Klingons at the mercy of evil supercomputers. Things are probably only going to get worse.

One day we’ll either be dead, or better.

Get the picture?


Read my scathing piece on greed and capitalism here: ‘To the Emperor, all but the Emperor belong in the gutter.’