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How to trap Trump.


This is a rhetorical strategy based on the idea that Trump will always be Trump and cannot stay on message. He’s predictably unpredictable.   So this is a sting operation.   It is to be used at a press conference the next time Trump says something sympathetic about far right demonstrators.  There will be many opportunities to use this… if you miss one… wait a week (or less) and you can try it again.

The sting consists of a simple question.

“How can you possibly defend people who have anything good to say about Adolf Hitler?”

What would Trump want to say in response to a question like that?  What would he be desperate to say?  What does he in fact, truly believe?  Isn’t it something like…

“You know, people say a lot of bad stuff about Hitler but he didn’t do all bad stuff.  Sure – Hitler was bad, but you know – it’s complicated – he built a lot of infrastructure – he turned his country around and got things moving again.  Later on things turned out badly, but he started out great.  You gotta see both sides.”

Can you imagine Trump saying this?   I feel very sure he’s said it in private any number of times.  I think it’s the sort of statement that is primed and ready and could be released any moment.

I think I have the question right.   You won’t get Trump to defend Hitler by asking him to defend Hitler.   But if you were to try to goad him into saying that Hitler was altogether bad – preferably with an annoying nagging tone of voice – then you can get something like the hideous truth of Trump’s relation to Fascism out into the open.

So here it again, with a particular stress on the word “anything” – and you should sound like an annoying liberal when you ask it.

“How can you possibly defend people who have anything good to say about Adolf Hitler?”

I think Trump wants to defend Hitler.  I think he wants it so much that this trap could be baited and sprung even in the bizarrely unlikely event of Donald J. Trump actually reading this post in advance.  (This won’t happen.  I’m have no real influence in the wide wide world and only a few dozen very discerning and beautiful people read my blog on a regular basis.)

He’ll say it because he hates saying things that are sane and reasonable.  Remember how miserable he looked when forced to read out a formulaic denunciation of Fascism from an auto-cue?  Compare that with the ebullience he demonstrates whenever he’s saying anything vicious or insane.

Is this sort of sting operation unethical?  I think it’s wrong to trap people into saying something they don’t really believe… I think it’s wrong to photograph pictures of reaching for something on a high shelf and then print the image as though it’s a Nazi salute.  I think it’s wrong to quote people out of context and supply your own context to warp the reception of the quote.

But this sting is about inviting Trump to be true to himself, and giving him a cue to say what he really feels.  This is a man who apparently slept with a copy of Hitler’s speeches next to his bed.  (He’s not capable of reading whole books, but it’s possible that feels Hitler’s proximate influence might be absorbed through the pores of the skin.)  This is a man who is happy to encourage violence against his enemies.  This is a man whose rallies seem nonsensical to outsiders but are wildly successful in motivated his supporters.  This is a man who believes in scapegoating foreigners and minority groups for economic hardship, who lies and obfuscates and contradicts himself all the while promising to restore a vaguely conceived “lost greatness”.  Trump’s political career depends on people feeling angry and frightened all the time.  It is impossible for him not to admire Adolf Hitler.

So, with the headline “Trump defends Hitler”, cabinet resignations follow.  In the accelerated rush to disassociate, his executive office becomes impossible.  He’s gone, along with anyone who defended him for too long.

Let’s drag Trump into the open and let Trump be Trump.  I think my “anything good” question might drag him into the sunlight where he will burn.

Incidentally, if this does happen, then don’t try and thank me.  Instead thank Rob Reiner, Aaron Sorkin and Tom Cruise.  Because this exactly how Jack Nicholson was trapped in A Few Good Men.

Bruce Forsyth helped me sleep at night…


Bruce Forsyth helped me sleep at night.  I had absolutely no personal contact with Bruce Forsyth.  I have nothing anecdotal to bring to the wake of a man who was was one of the longest continuously serving television stars in the world (that mantle is now the unambiguous property of Betty White, I think).

When I was a child, Bruce Forsyth’s  job was to calm me down after Doctor Who.  Because at seven or eight years of age, I was exposed to the very best and the very darkest of the Holmes-Hinchcliffe era of Gallifreyan horror.  Everything that a crackling script, delicious acting, spooky music and  strategic lighting could do (on a limited budget) to scare a seven year old – was done to me.  And of course I loved it and was grateful for it.  I’m still grateful.

But I was also grateful that after the show was over, Bruce Forsyth would come on with Anthea Redfern. Anthea would wear a very long dress and Bruce would request a twirl.  Families would then be introduced and made gentle fun of.  Then they’d be asked to make some pottery on a wheel or some other such task which conventionally requires more than ninety seconds training.  After some mess and some more laughter, they’d often be asked to perform in a play.  Finally one family member would sit in a booth and watch as prizes went past on a conveyor belt.  Anything they subsequently remembered they could keep – including and especially a cuddly toy, which was on the belt every week.  When a buzzer sounded, Bruce shouted “didn’t they do well” (even if they’d only remembered three items) and the show was over.  By this point, all memory of Tom Baker’s cliff-hanging agony had dissipated and I knew I could sleep soundly.

Ronnie Hazlehurst had vanquished Dudley Simpson.

Bruce Forsyth triumphed on television in the 60s and 70s in an age when a hefty percentage of a nation’s families gathered round to watch the same shows at the same time on a Saturday night.  He was a celebrant in something like a liturgy.  And it helped that most sets did not have a remote control.  Without the ability to zap back and forth between the bewildering three channels available, sofa-bound families tended to settle in for the evening with a particular station.

In the eighties and nineties, Bruce struggled but never surrendered.  He was committed to the idea that old fashioned glitzy contest-variety type family entertainment could survive, amid the eclectic confusion of hi-tech postmodernity.

As it happened – he was right.  He’d never gone away, but he was back – with Strictly Come Dancing.  And oddly enough, the kind of entertainment show he’d never given up had been given a new lease of life thanks to the internet and online discussion more generally.  Having been marginalised by a world of satellite television that destroyed any coherent viewing community, he has been vindicated by a world a social media in which it once again matters when you are actually watching the programme.  Nobody tweets or responds to tweets about a live show several days later.  The great joy of a twitter stream is its real time element.  Furthermore, Strictly – like Generation Game, is something you can chat during.  You’re not going to miss a crucial plot development.  1990s technology drive Forsyth to the margins.  21st century technology brought him back front and centre.   It also revived Benedict Anderson’s concept of an “imagined community” which  is a liturgical temporal community – originally based on a morning read of a newspaper – and now revived in the form of a twitter stream.

My problem with Strictly is that it’s on before Doctor Who these days.  That’s the wrong way round.  Completely the wrong way round.  Just ask the 1970s.

Brexit and Borders again. It just gets worse.


The latest phase of revelations about Brexit and frictionless border has excavated the bottom layer of my expectations for the future and installed an additional basement.

As I understand it, Britain (and yes, I’m going to have to go back to the sous rature thing), is trying to use the Peace Process in Northern Ireland as a hostage so as to negotiate an unfeasibly asymmetrical  set of trade terms.  This unfeasiblity is not the issue for Britain’s repulsive government so long as they think they can wangle some short-term factional capital out of blaming the EU for the plan’s failure when things go wrong.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney is already talking about preparations for a new hard border.

I wonder how these Harder Brexit “negotiators” sleep at night?  How do they remain vertebrate? When they glance at their own reflections in mirrors-  how is it that they do not immediately disintegrate into puddles of liquified shame?

Sooner or later a choice will have to be made.  Either the British government acknowledges that it has an absolute ethical responsibility to fulfill the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and stay in the customs union so as to prevent a peace-threatening barrier across Ireland OR they must take moral responsibility for the decision they’ve made to betray the peace process.

“We must discuss how to maintain the common travel area and protect in all its dimensions the Good Friday agreement of which the United Kingdom is a co-guarantor. It is essential that we have a political discussion on this before looking at technical solutions.”

The above statement comes from a member of the EU negotiating team, trying to remind the British government of its most basic obligations.

Incredibly, the current British position and trajectory seems to represent the most dishonourably tactic imaginably and it seems to involve vandalising the peace process while blaming others for the damage.

Remaining in the customs union does not betray any democratic principle.  Britain did not vote to leave the customs union in June 2016.  The culpably stupid and vague referendum did not offer any clear plan to the British  people at all and there’s no democratic imperative that demands leaving the customs union.

Wrecking the Good Friday Agreement, on the other hand not only risks lives, but it tells the world that Britain is a faithless nation.  Alien to any concept of Hard Brexit patriotism is any concept of honour.  A nation that does not keep faith with other nations, that thinks only of short term national interest is, I would have thought, too squalid and selfish to command or deserve anything resembling love.  How can anyone love a nation that doesn’t know itself to be part of anything bigger than itself?  How can anyone respect a nation that doesn’t respect the rights of other nations?

It’s long since been acknowledged that Hard Brexiters are ready and willing to wreck the economic future of the nation whose flag they wave.  Now it seems that they feel the need to piss all over the moral and spiritual future of Britain as well.

I’ve no idea what the future holds for Ireland and Britain.

There are several things that need to happen.  There’s a lot I don’t know.

Do we know if the DUP is sane enough to realise that the threat of a hard border is greater and more ruinous than anything they stand to gain from supporting this minority Tory government?  (There’s an “if” that deserves to be chiseled in letters of granite roughly a mile high.)  They find an excuse to pull the plug.

Can Labour’s young membership possibly influence the next party conference sufficiently to steer it away from Hard Brexit?  Just how Brexity is Jeremy Corbyn?  (Less than McConnell I’m thinking – but we’ll see.)  In 2016, the lame support that Labour gave to Remain was largely the result an inability to stand on the same platform as David Cameron.  Guess what – becoming less Brexity will not result in Jeremy Corbyn sharing any kind of platform with any member of the Conservative Government.

But if hard borders go up around Northern Ireland with the all the attendant mortal dangers and miseries that will result, no future historian will blame the EU.  They will blame a British government so bereft of honour and so inured to shameless posturing that they will have accelerated the deserved disintegration of Britain, the “nation” that will have died of shame.

Bring back “Our Dad’s the Pope!”… the greatest sitcom that not quite ever was…

Reblogging this elegy for a not-quite sitcom on the sad anniversary of the death of Pope Alexander VI.



This was not a sitcom.  It was terminated before it had a chance to be?  Is it too late to bring it back, in the form it was always meant to be?

Our latest satellite upgrade gave us access to a  bunch of box sets, and so the pair of us thought we’d catch up with a lavish costume drama that was cancelled three or four years ago.  The creation of Neil Jordan (no less), The Borgias throws everything at the wall and probably less than half of it sticks.  But secreted within this hubristic saga is, I believe, comedy gold.

Renaissance historians watching The Borgias can be found crouching in the corner with their jackets over their heads emitting low moans. Fact-checking The Borgias is almost as onerous and impossible as fact-checking Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway.  Almost.  From any sort of a historical point of view, in this…

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The Drugs DO Work. The 1981 BBC “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”


Director, Elijah Moshinsky, really does like his seventeenth-century Dutch interiors.  You can also see them in his All’s Well that Ends Well and Cymbeline.  Moshinsky’s Athenian palace of King Theseus has been designed by Vermeer and belongs securely in Northern Europe.  The stiffness, precision and clarity of this court is evoked as well by the sound of a clock ticking very obtrusively for much of the first act.   Nowhere feels less like Greece than this setting – a deliberate strategic staging which works rather effectively in the context of any production that wants a really sharp distinction between waking reality and dreamy fantasy.

As the production moves out into the forest, Vermeer disappears and is replaced by a mixture of Rubens and Rembrandt.   If you’re a fan of luxuriant drapery and the play of very limited and strategic light upon diaphanous fabrics, then there’s much for you to enjoy about this staging without you even having to listen to actors talk.

Nigel Davenport did gravelly-voiced authority figures with some assurance.  From the outset of the play we are reminded that the Royal Marriage is a forced marriage – and that the bride, played with exquisite unease by Estelle Kohler, is also a Prisoner of War.  In this Dutch-looking Athens, patriarchy rules supreme.

There are some familiar faces among the rude mechanicals, faces that evoke a sense of warmth and affection on sight.   Geoffrey Palmer, past master of world-weary exasperation, has surely appeared in more BBC comedies than any other human, making the face of Geoffrey Palmer perhaps the most cosily familiar face on the planet.  As he endeavours to keep Bottom in check we connect with an authentic passion for his new found craft of playwriting.  The wonderful Don Estelle is Starveling, which has the effect of injecting something rather special into Pyramus and Thisbe – his own superb singing voice – which we all know from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.  I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the aristocratic sneering that punctuates this performance and Moshinsky tones down the snarkiness considerably.  Any performance where Don Estelle gets to sing cannot, after all, be all bad – and the Flute/Thisbe death scene is a similarly straight-faced affair.  I don’t think I’ve seen John Fowler in anything else other than as “Boy” in the BBC Henry V.

Brian Glover was born to play Bottom.  His immense bulk and inescapable presence is always accompanied by a kind of innocence and benevolent intent.  I was lucky enough to see Brian Glover play God in Tony Harrison’s highly immersive Mysteries at the NT.  Part of me still thinks that Brian Glover is God – or that God is Brian Glover – or hopes that he is.  Well, I suppose I will eventually find out.  The love scenes between Brian Glover and Helen Mirren seem remarkably natural and unaffected.  Above all, it is the nonchalance with which Glover’s Bottom adapts to his new situation that appeals.

The four lovers in the forest have a terrible time of it, on the whole.

Robert Lyndsay surely appeared in more of these BBC Shakespeare productions than anyone else?  He plays Lysander as something of a wet fish, a rather shy and soppy youth who shows few signs of being able to think past his own amorous clichês.  Disturbingly, he appears liberated by his love drug, and addresses Helena with far more energy and enthusiasm than he’d ever shown towards Hermia.  Indeed, his sober and supposedly pure love for Hermia seems more fake than his chemically induced state of passion for Helena.  Nicky Henson (remember him as the medallion-man antagonist of Basil Fawlty?) has a very different task since Demetrius is quick-tempered and irrational from the beginning.  But it’s Pippa Guard and Cherith Mellor who really shine, as they are various bedraggled and dunked.  They are the ones who have to bear with and survive the madness of their druggy menfolk.  They are the sober ones at the party – if you like – the designated drivers.

Titania is not the hardest role Helen Mirren has ever had to play.   (See her also enjoy starring roles in the BBC As You Like It and Cymbeline.)  The “Indian boy”, incidentally, is only a toddler, which de-sexualises the contest between her and Peter McEnery’s Oberon considerably.  The most terrifying thing is how quickly she recovers from the shock of seeing an ass’s head (the word “donkey” was not known until the later eighteenth-century oddly enough) on the pillow next to her.  “What was I drinking last night?”

Ah me, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, after all, the most beautiful play ever written about massive hallucinatory drug taking and sex with a donkey.

And then there’s Phil Daniels as Puck, stripped to the waist like Sid Vicious on the 1978 Sex Pistols’ US tour, but with a vestigial ruff around his neck – a punk Elizabethan – perhaps a refugee from the set of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1977).  Daniels has been instructed to play up the malice implicit in Robin Goodfellow’s mischief.   Here is a practical joker you should insure yourself against.  I’d say lock your doors against him, but it would be of little use.

My main main issue here is the music.  Stephen Oliver’s.   There is too much of it and it’s too tasteful and “appropriate”.  I don’t mind musical interludes and I certainly don’t mind musicians on stage (or onscreen), but what I can’t stand is music which merely amplifies a conventional or familiar “tone”.  If music is to be superimposed over the sound of an actor speaking, then that music has to offer some sort of startling, original and downright unexpected commentary on the words being spoken.  Otherwise, the lily is being gilded and syrup is being poured on ice cream.  The verse is being cloyed.  In this production, there’s a particular problem with the fairy speeches, which are scored in a way that can’t help but suggest a lack of confidence – a lack of confidence in the power of the poetry and/or a lack of confidence in whoever is charged with reciting the poetry.

Every production of this play reminds me of what a bastard Oberon is.  Someone who spikes their partner’s drink so as to dupe them into having sex with a donkey just to win an argument is an abusive sex criminal and should go to prison for ever – immortal though they be.

Peter McEnery plays Oberon in a big shirt and with very long dank looking hair – an amphibious creature who eschews all mortal markers of regality.

The highlight of the play I think is Helena’s pleading speech to Hermia, evoking the truest, longest, and least drugged up love in the play – the lifelong passionate friendship of two old schoolfriends.  Yes, Cherith Mellor, in a scene blessedly free of any musical accompaniment, gives the most loving speech of the night, a speech devoted to willed co-dependence and tied and tested comradeship.

                                                … is it all forgot?
All school-days’ friendship, childhood innocence?
We, Hermia, like two artificial gods,
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song, both in one key,
As if our hands, our sides, voices and minds,
Had been incorporate. So we grow together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest.
And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?

 There is, at the end of the night, no love as important as the love of Helena for Hermia a  And, one hopes, vice versa.  And there’s nothing more important than this love’s preservation.

I’ve written about some other of these 1978-1984 BBC Shakespeare productions.

Here’s Julius Caesar:

King John:

Here’s Richard II:

The BBC Richard III could not be more unlike the BBC Richard II…

Here is Henry VI Part III

Henry VI. Part Two:

Henry VI, Part One:

Here’s my review of the BBC Henry V:

Here are a few more blogs musing on this old BBC project…

BBC Henry IV, Part TWO:

But here’s my review of the BBC Henry IV Part ONE:

And the BBC Antony and Cleopatra:

And the Cymbeline:

Not to mention a somber but intensely homoerotic Coriolanus:

Here’s Comedy of Errors:

And… All’s Well That End’s Well:

Helen Mirren in the BBC As You Like It:


of these 1978-1984 BBC Shakespeares:

Like Julius Caesar:




About Last Night. Follow the Feudal logic… if people support Donald Trump – then they can’t be racist…


When Trump gave that interview last night, he wanted to talk about infrastructure.  He claimed that red tape and planning restrictions and safety inspectorates are getting in the way of a building boom that could create millions of jobs.  This, in itself, is an important topic – though somebody could have waved a picture of the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower in London at him – to show him what happens when you get rid of all those tiresome “restrictions”.   Then came the other questions though, about the events of last weekend.  Trump didn’t want to answer those questions, so he did what he always does under pressure, he effectively threw out the strained, belated, and forced denunciation of Nazism that he managed to make yesterday and instead said what he really thinks.

Starting with Steve Bannon:

“And look, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine, but Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist – I can tell you that. He is a good person, he actually gets very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. He’s a good person, and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.”

It’s very important to grasp how this kind of justification works.  Bannon is “not a racist” – not because he, Trump, Trump, likes him.  And because Bannon likes Trump.  Trump does not attempt to defend Bannon’s record, does not quote Bannon being “not racist”, does not engage with Bannon’s long association with race-baiting and paranoid nationalism, but merely repeats the phrase “good person”.

This is how Trump’s mind works.  If a racist is a “bad thing”, then Bannon cannot be one, because anyone who helps me, Donald Trump, must be a good thing.  “Goodness” equals that which advances the power and prestige of Donald Trump and his immediate family.  Encouraging white people to hate black people cannot be a bad thing if it is done in the service of Trump.  It’s a feudal mentality, where the only virtue is personal loyalty.  Trump’s warped God complex regards personal loyalty as something that over-rides anything that might be regarded as a crime.

Rule of Law means nothing to Trump.  He does not inhabit a Republic of Laws and he despises of Constitution of Rights and Entitlements.  He is incapable of patriotism or religious belief.  That which serves Trump is good.  Many Nazis support Trump.  They are good.

And here’s the paragraph about “good and bad” in Charlottesville:

“I am not putting anybody on a moral plane, what I’m saying is this: you had a group on one side and a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”

This is well calculated.  The message he wants to get out there is that the people who protest Nazis are violent left-wingers.  These people are as bad or worse than Nazis.  On occasion this past year or so, I’ve had some online arguments with Trump supporters.  When I have put forward logical and evidential statements suggesting that it’s wrong to support a disgusting and delusional race-baiting sex criminal, the most common reply was “yeah but Hillary is worse”.  After November, this turned to “Hillary would have been worse”.  Trump’s defenders do not really defend him – they turn to something that is apparently much much worse than Trump and then say that Trump can save us from that thing.  For such people, incidentally, “you can tell just by looking at her” that Hillary Clinton is Satan’s representative on earth and guilty of crimes so obscene in their scale and detail that Trump’s multiple lies, frauds, sexual assaults etc. etc. etc. do not deserve a moment’s scale.    Now Trump has constructed anti-Nazis as “worse than Nazis”.  The people who oppose Nazis are no longer to be imagined the overwhelming majority of the sane and humane population – but as some radical fringe – a radical fringe that the lamestream fake news is not investigating properly.

Nazis and other cognate white supremacist groups are already emboldened by this speech which talked of the legitimacy of groups protesting the removal of Confederate statues (there are no politically “innocent” groups protesting these removals), and which attacked anti-Nazi organisations.  They will hold more demonstrations in the near future.  They will kill more people.

Of course, nobody has any right to be surprised by this.  Given the logic of his campaign, I knew that Trump’s election would result in hate groups killing people.  So did you. Everybody knew it. The people who voted for Trump knew it and some of them were looking forward to some cleansing violence while others rationalised these forthcoming deaths with the lazy “Hillary would be worse” mantra.

Good people can do bad things.  Reasonable people can make mistakes.  But time, spiritually speaking, has pretty much run out for those who continue to support Trump.  If you are still willing to support this creature who has no moral boundaries and will flatter Nazis so long as they sound loyal to him, then kindly prepare to surrender your immortal soul.

Here’s the full transcript…

Beatles at Shea Stadium, 50 Years on. Oh, and Sarah Siddons

Now 52 years on…



Fifty years ago today, The Beatles played Shea Stadium.  The Rutles on the other hand, played Che Stadium (named after the famous Cuban revolutionary leader – Che Stadium).

This was the first of two performances at the Shea Stadium for the Fabs,  The set list as as follows.

Twist and Shout

She’s a Woman

I Feel Fine

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Ticket to Ride

Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby

Can’t Buy me Love

Baby’s in Black

Act Naturally

A Hard Day’s Night


I’m Down

Sadly the movie documentary does not include “She’s a Woman” – one of the more extraordinary and entertaining songs of this period.

In broader terms, events fifty years ago are thought to represent the inauguration of Stadium Rock which is generally regarded as something to be deplored.  A band that had honed their live skills in the Cavern Club in Liverpool were now supposed to…

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Sometimes in Game of Thrones, the important stuff just gets lost… “Eastwatch” reviewed.


I’ve learned by now that the most important thing to remember while reviewing an episode of Game of Thrones is to ensure that no crucial spoilers appear in the first paragraph, just so that when the post appears as a Facebook link, nobody who has recorded the show to watch later will accidentally learn something they shouldn’t – just by scrolling down their own feed.

Sometimes, a big reveal is granted the end of an episode.  Sometimes it is granted mid way so that the oohs and the aahs can be registered.   And sometimes, rather delightfully, the most important revelation is blurted out almost accidentally by someone who doesn’t actually register its importance and is in any case ignored by whoever is in earshot.

Because what we learned, so deliciously and understatedly, really is a “game changer”. And I think now, with the help of a few laborious subordinate clauses and unnecessary qualifications, I’ve reached the point where someone scrowling down Facebook will have to click to read on a link to read what I’m writing, will have to make a personal decision to have the story spoiled, so that we can ponder the implications of Jon Snow’s legitimacy.

Patrilineal primogeniture being the ruthless, unfair, but applicable beast that it is, the legitimate son of Rhaegar son of Aerys Targaryen is the rightful king.  A younger daughter of Aerys wouldn’t get a look in.  Of course, Jon has never been interested in that uncomfortable spiky chair.  Oddly enough, the last Targaryen to refuse to sit on the iron throne despite his legitimate place in the succession was Aemon Targaryen, the beloved maester of Castle Black, mentor to Jon Snow, and the only person in Westeros to have actually died of natural causes – at an extremely advanced age – surrounded by people who actually liked him.

The way this stuff is blurted out is wonderful. Gilly is new to literacy and will reads anything she can find with unfeigned relish.  Samwell, on the other hand, has become frustrated with the best library in the universe and is preparing to leave.  Despite his stated resolve to search that library until he finds “something really important”, it is Gilly who finds something pretty darn crucial.  I’m reminded of  the narrative convention in all those bad Mummy movies whereby a handful of American teenagers on a two week vacation are bound to uncover stuff that the Egyptian department of Antiquities has been unable to excavate in the course of careful back-breaking decades.

I found the break up between Samwell and the Library the saddest thing about last night’s episode.  Theirs was a love that was meant to be, a love that seemed pure and good, a beam of unblemished light in a wicked world.  Nobody over the course of seven series has ever looked as happy as Sam looked when allowed into the library for the first time.  I just hope and pray that they are reconciled one day.

There was of course a bunch of other stuff happening.  Jon exposing his Targaryenish dragon-whispering intuition was something of a highlight.  The camera luxuriated over dragon skin to the extent that not only was Jon seeing a full grown dragon very close up for the very first time – we felt that we were as well.  After this creature-bonding, his departure for the Wall to lead a bunch of disconsolate misfits into a zombie infested wasteland on the strangest and least plausible mission imaginable, was almost an anticlimax.

I believe I will call them “The League of Inappropriate Gentlemen”.

Meanwhile, Littlefinger is attempting to turn Arya and Sansa against one another, just as Bran has actually used his oh so wonderful gift to communicate something of concrete strategic importance.  Littlefinger’s duplicity is so globally notoriously, that only some labyrinthine quadruple bluff could possibly prove successful?  Or could it?

I like bathos.   I like being disappointed.  And nothing was more cleverly disappointing than the very beginning of the episode, where our suspense over whether or not Jaime Lannister was dead was instantly resolved.  It’s not that I wanted Jaime dead, because obviously Jaime can only die in the presence of (or at the hand of ) Cersei.  And vice versa.  But I was intrigued to see what would happen if Cersei thought Jaime was dead.  Because once the last, the very last human being that Cersei cares about is gone, we might yet again hear the immortal words “burn them… burn them all…”

Instead, we learn that Cersei has not one but two other Lannisters to be concerned about.

So next week we get to see the League of Inappropriate Gentlemen in their bid to capture a wight.  A few weeks ago, Davos made the rather more obvious suggestion of using a dragon or two or three against the walkers.  Some of us are shouting “send a dragon to Eastwatch!” rather loudly at this point.  But Davos and Gilly are Cassandras it seems, and people will only pay attention to them when it’s almost too late.  Or actually too late.




A happy and fugitive anniversary – 130 years of listening to recordings of “The Lost Chord”.

One of the most successful songs ever written was showcased as one of the very very first bits of music ever recorded on this day in 1887.  Indeed, today is the single most significant anniversary of the fact that a performance of a song can be recorded.

You can hear it here…

This cylinder was sent by Edison to be played at a press conference in London on August 14, 1888.

A few months later, another cylinder was sent back to Edison, by way of reply.

On this cylinder you can hear a bit of an after dinner speech by Arthur Sullivan where he accuses a previous speaker of being drunk and thanks Thomas Edison for this wonderful invention, though he can’t help feeling anxious about the amount of “hideous” and “bad” music that is likely to be preserved for posterity as a result of it.

Sullivan’s famous tune, which I’ve heard performed in drafty church halls for as long as my recollection stretches,  was written in 1877 in response to the experience of keeping a death-watch for his sick brother.  The verses were written 19 years before that in 1858 by Adelaide Anne Proctor, one of the most popular poets of her age.  She died young, admired by Queen Victoria, and patronised (in every sense) by Charles Dickens.
Here are the lyrics.  Here is the poem.

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I know not what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one  chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an angel’s psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit
With a touch of infinite calm.

It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

It linked all perplexèd meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ,
And entered into mine.

It may be that death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again,
It may be that only in Heav’n
I shall hear that grand Amen.

There’s a paradox attached to taking a poem about a musical moment that cannot be retrieved (at least within this sublunary sphere), and then turning into a musical moment that can be endlessly reproduced in the form of sheet music.  There’s an even more delicious paradox about the fact that “The Lost Chord” is the first significant melody ever to be distributed as an actual sound recording.  A fleeting unretrievable musical epiphany – preserved on a wax cylinder for all eternity.

Can we actually hear the chord?  Is the chord that is supposed to be lost actually embedded in the melody?  The best candidates are in the repetition of the line “sound of a great Amen”.   Yet when the song is sung with compete integrity, the insufficiency of this line and the chords within it, manage to still communicate themselves.  We can’t hear that chord, and neither the singer nor the organist will ever find it again.

A great singer will sing this great song and make you feel that something is lacking in it – that “Art” is not a self-sufficient realm.

This is not in itself a wholly original idea.  Wordsworth and Shelley were equally convinced that no expression of an idea worth having can possibly be satisfying – that the supreme realisation of any elevating sentiment or rousing suggestion is always just over the next horizon.

Walter Benjamin said something else about mechanical reproduction and the arts, something that might have benefited from citing the fact that the first musical artifact to be nailed down was a song about the inability to nail down transcendence.

The Great Factotum Amusing Himself. Happy Birthday to Loose Cannon James Gillray.


William Pitt’s right leg is supported by uncrowned King of Scotland Henry Dundas and his toe is being avidly kissed as though Pitt were Pope.  His left leg crushes James Fox and his few supporters.  Pitt doesn’t even bother to glance down at his parliamentary colleagues. The world is a sort of yo-yo to him.

But this is not a man who knows how to have fun.  His (potentially) obscene stride with legs bizarrely far apart, only accentuates the fact that he has the Royal Coat of Arms, the symbol of state authority – where his genitals should be.  This is a man who cannot even masturbate in his spare time, and he “amuses himself” therefore with the fate of nations instead.  He has no private land, no “hinterland” (as Denis Healey) used to call it, and behind his public, political persona there is nothing.  There is no “behind”.

William Pitt is not a man you’d want to have a drink with.  Although he did drink.

James Gillray is perhaps better known for his anti-Jacobin and anti-Napoleonic cartoons. He is one of the main sources for the general perception that Napoleon was a little man. (The available evidence suggests that Napoleon was only slightly under average height and that his stature was the least interesting thing about him – not like the massive eyebrows of Charles James Fox and Denis Healey.)  But perhaps Gillray was making a more interesting point – that the pursuit of power for its own sake is itself a symptom of more significant kind of “littleness”.

The more famous cartoon showing Napoleon and Pitt carving slices out of the world (Napoleon takes the land, Pitt the sea), is an image which depicts the earth and its people as playthings of a handful of power-brokers, but diminishes those power-brokers at the same time.  If power-politics is merely an “amusement”, then what on earth is to be taken seriously?  Ever?  The world is governed by gamers, whether fleshly epicures like Fox or ascetic obsessives like Pitt, or nobodies with something to prove like Napoleon.

The Pitt cartoon illustrates how Gillray was unwilling to be appropriated by William Pitt or anyone else, and was fully capable of biting any hand that offered to feed him.  He demonstrated the pictorial application of the first principles of Mock Heroic – amplify and diminish at one and the same time.  Pitt ludicrously tall and ludicrously thin at the same time.  He crushes, yet is weightless, dominant yet empty.