Sunday, September 25, 2016

An entry for all of you who like a bit of twee crap about Mother Nature’s bounty

My sister’s husband works for a pharma company, and don’t worry, I regularly harangue him on the evils his employers perpetuate, their cynical pricing and how in an ideal world we would all be going to the grizzled old wise man who lives by the stream on the moor for some concoction or other when our ill health demands it. (The only respite he gets when I visit my sister is to retire to the loo, ostensibly, to take a dump, but even then I’ve found standing outside and yelling through the locked door can be quite effective. No man must be allowed to hide from the truth.) He has been posted abroad three times, which means my sister and her family have spend around five years each time in Manila, in the Philippines, Istanbul, Turkey, and are within weeks returning from a stint in Warsaw, Poland.

Holding down the job he does, my brother-in-law is very well-paid (and it has to be said the Germans do look after their own), but their lifestyle in Manila was truly colonial, paid for, of course, by her husbands bosses: a guard at the gate (no doubt armed), a man to take care of the pool, a driver, a great many maids (I think eight in total, one for each bathroom) and a superbly uniformed major domo who had merely one duty, to stand by the door when guests arrived looking very grand (and my sisters tells me he was very good at his job).

My sister insists the set-up wasn’t quite as outrageously swanky as it seems and, anyway, her domestic arrangements were quite modest compared to those of others. She also tells me (and I believe her) that employing so many folk (I won’t call them ‘natives’ or else I’ll have the Guardian on my back) is a real boost to the economy and at least 12 Filipino families are supported who might otherwise have nowt.

Life was similarly pleasant in Istanbul, where the family, or at least those of her four children still at home, lived in a rather splendid palace on a hill overlooking the city with impressive views of the Bosphorus. Warsaw sounds less attractive, however. But this entry is not about the why and wherefores, hows, whens, whatevers, which ways and whereforuntos of my sister and her husband’s gilded and unmistakably capitalist existence but - you guessed it, you are way, way ahead of me - seasons. My sister (who like me is half-English and mainly grew up in England until she married at 22 and moved to Germany) tells me that what she missed most while living high on the hog in Manila were the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter.

There, she says, there were no seasons. The weather was the same throughout the year, hot and muggy, with the occasional muggy and hot interlude. There was no spring and twee poems from readers in the Daily Mail;s Peterborough column about the rebirth of Mother Nature, no summer with the endless chatter we are accustomed to here in Britain when a fine day makes it through to second and we all tell each other how splendid it is to live in Britain. There was no autumn and more twee poems in the Mail about rosy apples, hoary hawthorn and Mother Nature’s beauteous bounty. And there was no winter with poems about ragged Robin Redbreast pecking pitifully against the window begging for a scrap or two and when our transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt and we all manfully struggle to work by foot through inches of snow. She missed all that (though she assures me, and on balance I believe her, that she was tempted to write a twee poem about ‘God’s glorious seasons’ only rarely and resisted the temptation each time).

Istanbul did have seasons, however, though a geographical oddity meant that in winter when her palace and its grounds on the hill were covered in a foot of snow, she could look down onto the bustling city itself where there was no snow whatsoever. Warsaw, it seems, also has it seasons like Britain, although the weather each brings, especially the winter and summer is pretty extreme: temperatures regularly hit -15c and in the summer hover at around 35c.

(She also tells me that about the only meat you can get in Poland is pork. The Polish eat pork several times a day, for breakfast, lunch and supper, and as soup, hors d’ouvre and for the main course. There are even some traditional desserts involving pork, she says, and not all of them are quite awful. On the other hand beef is rarer than a smile in Scottish kirk, though she did track some down a year or two ago, a restaurant in the red light district of Warsaw whose proprietor is regarded as decidedly odd by everyone else and, naturally, universally shunned. But this entry is about the seasons not meat.)

. . .

I mention this because we are officially now three days into autumn and it is quite noticeable. And here I should admit that autumn is my favourite season. I no longer care as I do in the summer when I sit outside with a glass of something and a Wilde Cigarros and shiver that the are is remarkably damp: after all, it’s autumn. You’re allowed to shiver - even supposed to - in the autumn. Down here in Cornwall, the autumn brings a marked reduction in the number of sodding tourists clogging up our very narrow lanes, although from now until the end of November we still get quite a few anglophile Dutch and the occasional German who arrive for a week or two because they ‘love Cornwall, we always have’ and want to ‘avoid the tourists’.

What are you, then? I always want to ask them. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact the Cornwall depends almost entirely on sodding tourists to provide work and keep widespread famine at bay for at least another year, there’s a good case to be made for erecting a barrier across the Tamar bridge at Launceston and turning back everyone who can prove beyond doubt that they are not a tourist and do have legitimate business in Kernow. Bloody tourists. I know for a fact that several magistrates here in North Cornwall treat with remarkable leniency anyone appearing before them charged with violence against a tourist.

Autumn also means the run-up to Christmas (although strictly a short part of that run-up is in winter, which officially begins on December 21), and the occasional bad weather is made a little more bearable because you have something to look forward to. And here in Cornwall October and November are usually very pleasant. OK, they aren’t warm and they bring a fair amount of stormy weather, but once you are holed up in a warm cottage with the woodburner on, it’s very pleasant to hear the wind howling outside and the rain beating against the windows. I have a theory that you prefer the time of year in which you were born, and my birthday is November 21, pretty much slap in the middle of autumn.

Anyhow, autumn is here and we should make the most of it before we have to soldier through the usually very dull and very trying months of January and February. Having said that, of course, it was even those nastier months which my sister missed when she still live in Manila. My cousin (I call him my cousin, but he is actually my stepmother’s nephew) lived in Taiwan for some time and once when he came back and we were sitting outside having a drink and it began to drizzle, he refused to come in but stayed outside to ‘enjoy’ the drizzle, because, he said, he had missed it so much while in Taiwan.

Here for those who like that kind of thing is an ‘autumnal’ photo, though a strongly suspect Mr Photoshop has had a strong input in this picture. Nothing’s that red.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meanwhile, back on dry land I reflect on whether or not too substantial breakfasts should be subject to an EU directive: Jack Tar's diet might have been abysmal, but it did mean Britannia ruled the waves for several millennia (though I’m told the Dutch take a rather contrary view on the matter). Then there’s the matter of snapped photos and an accusation of insanity from my daughter (so to speak)

First the good news I wasn’t seasick, not even a little. But then you don’t get too many storms in the Markenmeer north of Amsterdam, and when you do, I’m sure some EU directive or other comes into play ensuring that not only do certified landlubbers stay well and truly on land, but that we take the time allowed us by the enforced period ashore as an opportunity to mug up the texts of various EU directives with which we might not yet be familiar. Such high-handed nonsense was one of the many reasons why in June Britain voted by an overwhelming majority of 0.05 per cent to tell the EU it could stick itself, its constitutions, its directives and it ‘open borders’ where the sun don’t shine. This nation of seafarers (©Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) refuses to be told when, where, with whom and why it can go to sea: enough is enough, Johnny Foreigner!

I must say I enjoyed my two days on the high seas (we put into harbour during the night). Thirty of us set out from Enkhuizen on the Friday afternoon in the Novel, a


converted flat boat of the kind which before the days of mass tourism and pretty much unlimited leisure time (i.e. in the days when we all still worked) would sail along the north coast of Holland and Germany, delivering stuff to Hamburg and bring stuff back from Hamburg, the stuff being pretty much anything which it was easier to transport in bulk by sea rather than by land, clogs, edam cheese, dirndl dresses, that kind of thing.

Anyone who has heard of Erskine Childers famous novel The Riddle Of The Sands but hasn’t read it will know what I am talking about. Incidentally, I did briefly try to start a discussion with some of my sister’s German friends about the feasibility of Germany and England jointly invading Scotland by sea in the event of an independence vote but was smartly sent away with a flea in my ear. Make no mistake: today’s German is a sound democrat who has put his country’s past well behind him and her. If there is to be any invading, it can only be done under the auspices of the EU and by the EU invasion force Jean-Claude Juncker is putting together as I write. (Oh, and by the way, Juncker is not an out-of-control boozer as some malcontents are suggesting. If and when he falls over, it is merely because he has had a gammy leg after a car crash in the late 19th century and often finds it difficult to keep his balance with a glass of brandy in his hand. I think we should be clear on that.)

All those flatboats, and there must have been several hundred of them at Enkhuizen from where we set out and at Monnickendam where we spent the night, have since been converted for accommodation, and ours had 15 cabins. The Novel was a three-master with six sails (I am not speaking with any greater nautical authority, it’s just
that I can count quite well up to 100 and there were certainly not 100 masts and sails on our boat) with a crew of three - the owner, his wife and a crewman, Mick. Mick, by the way, a lad from The Hague with Indonesian heritage, had a degree in economics, one in infomatics - I don’t know what that is either - but then worked as a roofer before deciding his destiny lay in a life on the high seas, or at least on seas that get as high as they do on the Markenmeer.

Once everyone had arrived by 8pm on the Friday, we were shown how to secure the many, many ropes which seem to make up most of such a ship and told the names of the different sails. When I say the Novel had a crew of three, I should add that we were also part of the crew in that when directed to we, en masse, would pull on whatever rope we had to to hoist sails or lower them as necessary. And there was quite a bit of that. The rest of the time, though was ours, in which to do nothing but relax, eat and drink.

I sure there is a proper nautical term for food and booze brought on board to feed passengers - ‘provisions’ and ‘victuals’ sound far to land-based to my ears - but whatever it is there was a hell of a lot of it. Everyone contributed - wine, champagne, Sekt and beer, in particular - but there was more than enough for three square meals a day over two days with a lot of it brought back home again. My brother-in-law, who is a rather good cook, prepared a supper for the Saturday night (with help) of fillet steak, courgettes and risotto, with a very nice Rioja followed by pudding and cheese. It was very good indeed. In the morning everyone (except me - I don’t like to eat at all before noon) sat down to a substantial German breakfast (Brötchen and Schwarzbrot, Schinken, Käse, Konfitüre and Marmelade, and Kaffee) and the snack lunch consisted of bacon and eggs.

This all took a great deal of organisation, and I fell to wondering just what a similar group of Brits would come up. Years ago, at the beginning of term at university we were four in a flat and as nothing had yet been bought, we sent one of our number out to get ‘essentials’. He returned several packets of crisps, a jar of marmalade and a bottle of orange squash. I rather think had this been a Brit excursion, we would all have mucked in and survived on any number of Batchelor’s Cup-a-Soup Extras (‘A big hug in a mug’ apparently), loads of crisps, Morrisons ready meals and Angel Delights. Or perhaps the German in me is coming out and I am just being nasty.

I’ve got to say as far as food is concerned, give me the German way of life any day. I should add, though, that the Brit in me doesn’t take to well to some aspects of German organisation: it was regarded as slightly odd of me to skip breakfast and lunch on both days. (One helpful soul even tried counselling me and remained unconvinced, though diplomatically silent on the matter, when I explained that I simply prefer to eat when I am hungry, not according to some timetable. She definitely thought I was now just a few steps from the funny farm and gave my arm a charitable, knowing squeeze when we all said goodbye to each other on the Sunday afternoon. It assured me she would be there for me if, you know, if . . .).

I’ve got to say I enjoyed it. The only downside was that whereas I once spoke German as fluently as I speak English and was always taken for a German, that complete fluency has, not to make too fine a point, has gone, and I found I couldn’t converse as freely as I would have liked. Certainly all Germans and most of their pets can speak English (although not always as perfectly as the imagine), and like to do so, but, oddly, it just felt wrong to me to be speaking English to a German. That’s as best as I can describe. Although I know, or at least tell myself, that were I to live in Germany among Germans for several weeks I would regain that fluency - the German is most certainly there, but deep down - that seems unlikely to happen. Oh well. Now I must be off to pore over my charts of the North Sea. There surely must be some way to get the fleet up the Tay without causing too much fuss.

. . .

I have long like taking photographs, and now that everyone one of us carries a smartphone (or even two or three) and each has a camera, it is easy to take a snap of this or that when and if. What particular catches my eye are patterns in our surroundings. They might not be obvious at all, but I will see something and in a matter of moments take a picture (and usually then dicking around with it a little, usually giving it a judicious crop. Here is one such picture, taken at work a day or two ago:

I pasted it on Facebook and it immediately drew the following comment from my daughter: You are so strange wtf have you taken pictures of stairs for (sic).

My repy was ‘Elsie, it is not ‘a picture of stairs’. It is a picture of light and shadow and lines and curves. Try to look at it that way. Try to look at it as thought it were an abstract picture, not a picture of something you can recognise.’

My question is simple: am I getting soft-headed? I like the picture, as I like this one

and the same applies to each: don’t look at it as an object you might recognise, but try to look at it somehow in abstract. I suppose rotating a particular picture might help, to break that link between what we see and what we think we know. Like this

Here’s another question: am I losing it? I don’t think so, and for me all three pictures hold a certain, though it has to be said trivial, interest? But I do like the ‘light and shade and lines and curves’. Is there a lot wrong with that?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Just killing time with a rant about tattoos . . . and then I get to hear John Scofield again

I'm sitting in the Wetherspoon's in Heathrow's terminal 5 waiting for my flight which is not for another hour, and I find the best way to get the time to pass fastest is by writing entries for my blog. I don’t have anything in particular to say, but don’t worry, I’ll say it anyway. (That remeinds me of the observation of committee life I heard years ago: when all is said and done, some cunt will get up and say it, delaying everyone’s departure by another 20 minutes.)

I’m off to Germany for a week to help my sister and her family and friends celebrate her 60th birthday. My, don’t we all get older fast. I can still remember when she was very young taking her for walks in the country near our home. This will have been in the winter of 1958. She was born on September 2

The plan is very German (though I don’t doubt it will also be very entertaining): it seems there is some kind of small coastal cruiser with cabins for about 30 which you can hire in Holland, just over the border from where she lives in the far, far North-West of Germany, so my sister Marianne, her family, my brother Mark and I, and many of her friends are taking to the high seas for three days. There isn’t really far to sail so I should imagine we shall be going around pretty much in circles, but then when you have a glass of Sekt in one hand and a Laz Paz Wilde Cigarros whatever in the other and, crucially, fuck all to do for the next ten days – I’m not due back at work until Sunday, September 11 – who cares. If going round in circles it must be, going around in circles it will be.

. . .

I saw something yesterday which to me looked thoroughly ridiculous. But first, o give it context, I must admit that as I m now undoubtedly over 30 – oh, OK, over 65 – I am most certainly a candidate for hating change of any kind, at least on paper. In fact – and you can believe me or not – I am not really like that, and if in some small ways I am, I can assure all that there are far, far worse cases.

One change in life which has occurred in the past ten years is the proliferation of tattoos. Now, being the character who, at the age of 29 and challenged to do so by my girlfriend, got himself a single ear stud and wore one for several years after, my aversion to tattoos – yes, I do have one – might strike some as hypocritical. All I will say is that you can take an ear stud out in a matter of seconds, but getting rid of a tattoo will take a lot longer and also set you back quite a few shekels. I shall also admit that until they became popular, tattoos were only sported by those who went to sea, hard-as-nails whores and criminals. Oh, and the occasional plumber though, it has to be said, plumbers who cared little about making their way in the world much further than the station they had already reached.

Then, courtesy of rock stars and other trendsetters, getting a tattoo caught on and before you knew it everyone under 30 and their sodding dog had a tattoo. And it was not a single anchor they sported or ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed over their knuckles. Most people go the whole hog and get some scene from The Hobbit tattooed all over them, that or some piece of cod Chinese philosophy they don't understand but like the sound of, something 'The butterfly is to life what the butter never knows'. But what I find most ridiculous is the claim made by many that their tattoo somehow highlights their individuality at, that somehow they are marked out from everyone else.

Well, not as far as I am concerned, they’re not: they just look like every other crud with a fucking tattoo all up their arm, on the back of their neck and (as I noticed just yesterday while getting changed in the gym) on one buttock cheek: superficially it looked like a football club crest, but I didn’t particularly want to linger much trying to make it out. It’s not that I don’t like the sight of butt cheeks, it just that I would have had some difficulty explaining what I was doing had the chap sporting it turned around. ‘Just admiring your arse’ doesn’t go down too well as a rule.)

The tattoo I saw yesterday which caught my eye was on the right leg of a young lass just outside the office in Derry St., Kensington. Picture it if you can: there were no other tattoos there, just the one. It was face, about three or four inches across and about five inches above the lass’s knee. She was wearing a skirt (it’s summer her in Britain for a day or two) so you could only see the bottom three-quarters of the face. It looked very, very daft.

But I must now go to my gate so I shall post what I have written and carry on later…


Arrived a few hours ago in this back of beyond, though I have to say I very much like being in the back of beyond, especially as in these modern times most back of beyond, if they aren’t in Patagonia, have broadband internet. Which is why I can continue this account.

Picked up a car, which went super-smoothly, it being a mid-week pick-up, then high-tailed it off to the German frontier from Schiphol airport and finding out what I did once I arrived, I wish I hadn’t been in such a rush to get the journey over with. I was given a small Citroen C1 which is a fine enough car and even though it has a small engine, you can still crack on at a fine speed. The trouble is, as my sister told me once I had arrived rather sooner than anyone expected, is that the Dutch police are very hot on speeding. The rule is ‘don’t go above 130kph. And guess why I arrived so soon? It was – well, you are way ahead of me: I has driving at – despite the small engine a smart 150kph whenever possible.

There was a small delay when the cops had cordoned off one lane of the motorway (probably because some twat had been speeding at over the limit and got himself into a crash) and we were all obliged to crawl along at around 10kph for several miles – at least ten – but apart from that the road was clear for me to zoom along and, as it will turn out, attract several stiff fines for speeding. Fuck. That’s about the only word for it. Still I got here about 19 minutes earlier than expected, so thank the Lord for small mercies.

Everyone else has gone to bed, but I have stayed up listening to John Scofield playing with Miles Davis (on Spotify), and Daryl Jones playing with Miles Davis (on Spotify) and John Scofield playing with Daryl Jones (on Spotify). I have already, on the strength of what I’ve heard bout one CD by John Scofield, such is the ease – the nasty ease I should say, ‘cos I ain’t rich – to buy CDs on a whim on Amazon. Still, I like the music, so what the fuck.

I should already have gone to bed and I know that I shall have a thick head tomorrow after drinking several bottles of Krombacher (Lidl’s finest lager, I think), but what the hell. It will still be another nine days to do absolutely fuck all except schmooze with friends and family and go goo-goo over my nieces/god-daughters four-month-old son. Pip, pip.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Recommended (for a second time): Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States. And I give Michelle a copy of it

I’ve always been sceptical when folk talk of something changing their lives, a book, an encounter or whatever it might be, and I am not about to make a similar claim. But a few years ago, I did come across a book which slightly shifted my views on some things. It was A People’s History Of The United States by US historian Howard Zinn.

I have mentioned it before, in a blog post I wrote around six years ago when I first came across the book, but it is worth writing about again because it is a rather different kind of history. Zinn was avowedly and unapologetically left-wing. You can read up a potted biography of him here, but in brief he was a Jew from Brooklyn, the son of two immigrants who had a limited education but for whom Howard’s education was important. When he left school he became an apprentice in a shipyard and because of low pay and conditions there he became active in union politics. But it was World War II which gave him his chance of a good education and to make his way.

He served as a bombardier in the US army air force and after the war got a place at Columbia University through the GI Bill. He gained an MA and then a Phd and began teaching history. And it his take on history which makes him interesting. In his People’s History Of The United States, he criticises histories which view the progress of history from the points of view of kings and those at the top while ignoring the unnamed masses (and I have to say he puts the point far more elegantly).

So he tells the history of the US from the point of view of the indigenous people of the Americas massacred in their millions from the time of Christopher Columbus, of the millions of blacks brought over from Africa to work the land for the whites and the thousands of dirt-poor indentured whites who signed up for a number of years to work in ‘the New World’ in the hope of escaping poverty back home, only to find themselves once again at the bottom of the pile.

Like almost all revolution, the American Revolution which began in 1765 was pretty much a middle/upper class movement of those who resented having to send back much of the money they made ‘in the colony’ back to Britain. And unsurprisingly the great unwashed, the slum-dwellers of the new American cities – for conditions and overcrowding had become as bad in ‘the New World’ – were pretty lukewarm about supporting a revolt in which there was bugger all for them: it simply meant replacing one set of uncaring overlords with another, so why bother?

Now that is not the received view given – as far as I know – to US school children about the genesis of the United States. They – as far as I know – are instructed that the American Revolution was a blow for freedom and intended to throw of the yoke of British tyranny. Zinn disagrees. And I must say I find his interpretation far more convincing, given what I have so far learned of life and seen in my 66 years.

I would not want to give the impression that Zinn’s history of the US is some kind of leftie diatribe, because it is anything but: he writes well and clearly, cites contemporary source material, acknowledges that there are other historians who do not agree with him and, in my view at least, comes across as a man of integrity.

I mention it again (here is my first mention) because circumstance the other night reminded me of it. I have mentioned before that when I drive home to Cornwall from my four days of work in London, I stop of for a drink, a break and a smoke, so far usually at the Brewers Arms in South Petherton, but occasionally at the Taw River Inn in Sticklepath in Devon (which is only 40 miles from home). Because I have been stopping off for some time at both pubs, I have made the acquaintance of several regulars and will pretty much chat to anyone.

I was the Sticklepath pub the other night when I got talking to Michelle, a local probably in her late thirties. We talked this and that for a while before I ventured to ask her something specific. For Michelle is white but has unmistakable Afro-Caribbean features and I was curious. I asked her as tactfully as I could whether she had any Afro-Caribbean heritage. She did: her grandfather, who she never knew, was an black US serviceman who had been stationed locally on the edge of Dartmoor in the run-up to D Day. Her grandmother was a local Devon girl. I can’t now remember whether it was her father or mother who was the offspring of that coupling. Once the serviceman left Devon he never came back. Her other parent was a local.

I stress that I tried, and I hope succeeded, in being as sensitive as possible when I broached the subject and I’m glad I was because Michelle then went on to tell me how, as a young girl she had been teased about her looks at school and although there was nothing of complaint in the way she spoke, it soon became apparent that the teasing and being a little bit different had hurt her when she was growing up.

That is when I thought of Zinn’s book, and I told her about it, and especially of his account of the despicable way ‘freed’ black slaves were treated one the American Civil War ended until – well, as far as I am concerned, until the present day. It

You might perhaps subscribe to the view that all is now
sweetness and light for blacks since they were ‘freed’ after
the American Civil War. Here’s a reminder from the Fifties
that you might well be very wrong indeed

seems to me no coincidence that a disproportionate number of blacks (and now men and women of Latino and Hispanic origin) in the US are in jail, suffer mental health problems and are unemployed. And as Michelle was interested in reading it, I asked her for her address and that night, once I was home, I logged into my Amazon account and bought a copy, to be delivered to her home.

You reading this might have heard of Zinn’s book and you might even have read my previous entry. Either way, if you haven’t read it, I would urge you to do so, as it might change the way you view history as it changed mine.

. . .

I’ve been trying to track down my original post about how I came across Zinn’s book, but I can’t yet find it and it would be simply just to recount the how here again. I was on holiday on Ibiza (which is not all a drug den as many assume) and the weather was terrible: of the two weeks I was there we had innumerable thunderstorms and gallons of rain came pouring down. But I have to say that I didn’t really mind. For one thing I am not the kind who likes to lie gormlessly in the sun, getting red and hot, but also a break is a break is a break and you take it as it comes. If you start getting uptight about things, you’ve pretty much wasted your money taking a break.

The trouble was I had brought nothing to read with me. Wandering around the hotel I noticed a bookshelf in the communal area and went over to investigate it. All I could, at first see, as any number of bodice rippers, historical fictions by women called ‘Amber’ and the usual Jack Higgins crap. But then I noticed a volume which looked thicker than the rest. I pulled it out and took a look: it was Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States. And I began to read it. I have since re-read it once and ever since sending Michelle a copy I am re-reading it yet again.

Oh, and let me reassure you, I don’t think anyone who knows me has marked me down as some bleeding-heart lefty liberal.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gomorrah, a few necessary comments. Very necessary comments

After my last entry recommending Gomorrah as a great series to watch, and having watched two more episodes of the first series, I thought it was perhaps a good idea if I added a few comments. OK, Gomorrah is Sky entertainment and I still think it is good. But it is a million miles away from your Sopranos, Goodfellas and the rest where, however ‘brutal’ the guys we are watching are, there is still oddly apparently a modicum of sympathy for them, although a sympathy of a strange kind. Gomorrah is very different indeed. The gangsters portrayed here are not nice, not nice at all. They are scum, each one of them and do not give a tuppenny fuck about others. None is in the slightest bit admirable.

Series of this kind are often described in the TV columns of our national press as ‘gritty’ and so we are able to sit back in the comfort of our own homes to ‘enjoy’ the grit, safe – very, very safe – in the knowledge just how unlike it all is in the home life of our dear queen. But Gomorrah is portraying real misery, real despair, and real unmitigated brutality. Moreover, as far as I know I is a misery and despair and a brutality with which thousands of blameless folk living in the ‘projects’ of Naples have to put up with.

In the episode I have just watched, a rather pleasant though impressionable young lad is suckered by one superficially charming gangster into shooting dead a high up gangster in a rival gang. He is told lies in order to persuade him to do it. Eventually, once he has cottoned on and realises he is about to be bumped off, too, he hides. So the superficially charming gangster then gets hold of his girlfriend, an innocent teenage schoolgirl who also works in a hairdressers and beats her to reveal his whereabouts. She doesn’t know. So our superficially charming gangster beats her to death. When the young lad discovers this and realises he has nowhere to turn, he uses the automatic given him to shoot himself.

None of this is shown in anyway in some kind of TV glamour way. It happens in slums and derelict warehouses. Of glamour there is none. And although it might be fiction it is more documentary. But there is no encouragement whatsoever to feel even the slightest admiration or sympathy with the lowlife scum. That is probably which marks it out so much and makes it so different to US fare. Just thought I’d add that. It shows a truly horrible life.

  PS The lad doesn't kill himsekf. He is murderdd inbtge next episode.