Aug 2010


I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I read all of the original stories when I was a kid and again when I was ill a few years back (they’re perfect reading while ill… stimulating but not too taxing, and evocative enough to lift you out of your present circumstances and transport you elsewhere). I’ve also got the complete box-set of the Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett* which is endlessly rewatchable. Brett’s eccentricity in the role is exactly how I imagined Holmes when I first read the stories. Others insist that the rather more restrained Basil Rathbone is the perfect Holmes. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion (absurd though it may be) but for me Jeremy Brett will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued when I heard about the new BBC adaptation. Updated to modern London and given the faintly irritating first-name-only title of “Sherlock”, it had the potential to be rather ridiculous. As I said to Citizen S when we sat down to watch the first episode, “99% of television is utter crap, so statistically this is likely to be utter crap”.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson

Well, having seen the first two episodes, I am very happy to be proved wrong. It’s actually rather good. The production has managed to update the characters and setting while somehow retaining enough of that stately Victorian grace that defined the Granada series. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes far closer to the Brett than Rathbone end of the spectrum. In the first episode he describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath”, a kind of nonsense pseudoscientific phrase that nonetheless suits the character perfectly (and I don’t mean that in a bad way).

There’s a dry humour to the proceedings that drifts just close enough to sheer silliness for enjoyment but never crosses the line and bursts the bubble of dramatic tension. And for those intimately familiar with the source material, there are a vast array of knowing winks and nods to the original Holmes. The “three patch problem” line made me laugh out loud and Holmes’ use of a smartphone to discover that Cardiff was the only place that had the appropriate weather to fit the facts was the perfect update of the original character’s constant trawling through newspapers and reference books.

Interestingly, the heart of the adaptation is Watson. Played wonderfully by Martin Freeman, he’s brought far more to the fore than in previous screen outings, or indeed than in the original stories. Like the original Watson, Freeman is a military surgeon returned from active duty overseas and clearly misses the action. Action he finds aplenty when he teams up with Holmes.

Apparently the BBC have only commissioned three episodes, so the final one will be next Sunday. If you’ve not seen the first two, then I’d advise you to track them down this week (if you’re in the UK then they’re probably on iPlayer… if you’re not, then you might have to wade into the murky waters of the torrent networks, though you didn’t hear that from me) and watch them before the final episode.

It’s a clever, well-written series with new mysteries that nonetheless retain a similar atmosphere to the originals. It’s not the best thing you’ll ever see, not even the best Holmes you’ll ever see, but it is part of that elusive 1% of television that’s not utter crap.

And for that, I am thankful.

* Aside: I met Jeremy Brett once. He was a neighbour of a friend of mine and he invited us in for a sherry one evening. Yes, a sherry! He was exactly as I expected him to be… a wonderful gentleman of the Old School.

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Aug 2010

Exodus. Movement of da people

Back in April I predicted that the collapse of the Irish economy would lead to a new wave of Irish emigration. Figures published a few days ago confirm that this is now underway.

In fact, in a survey of EU members, outward migration from Ireland is already almost double that of Lithuania — the country with the second-highest rate. The Irish per annum emigration rate currently stands at 9 per thousand people. That’s almost 1%. Which is very high indeed. What makes it even more startling is the contrast with a decade ago when Ireland’s inward migration was the second highest in the EU (at 8.4 per thousand).

Of course, this fact suggests that much of the current exodus is a result of our immigrant population returning home. The people who came to Ireland to meet the massive demand for labour have seen that demand dry up, and those who didn’t put down roots are now moving on to pastures new. It’s a strategy that served the Irish well for almost 200 years.

Destination Unknown

But according to the Economic Social Research Institute, while returning foreign nationals do make up the largest percentage of the current emigration, young Irish males also account for a very large proportion. Of course, it’s hardly a coincidence that this particular demographic would usually form the bulk of the workers in the construction sector. When the choice is between an ever-decreasing dole cheque or a job in exotic climes, a lot of young men find themselves choosing a one-way ticket to Melbourne.

And even the fact that an increasing number (albeit still a very small number) have chosen to join the British army and seek their action in Helmand province rather than the nightclubs and beaches of Australia doesn’t surprise me. Personally I don’t ever get bored, but I’m told it can be a powerful motivator*. After all, what other explanation can there be? I can get my head around young British men signing up to be shot at, half a planet away from home. Misguided though they are, I assume they believe that at some level they are protecting British interests, and that’s important to them.

Presumably though, that can’t be the motivation for the average Irish lad who signs up. So it must be boredom. Either that, or they just want to do violence to strangers.

I dunno, maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe they seek a kind of nobility… the life of The Warrior. Honour in duty and all that stuff. Frankly I think it’s all a big con. Defending your home from attack… yes, there’s an honour in that. But flying to Central Asia to kill people who pose no real threat to you or those you love? There are vested interests who want young people to do that, and they’ve fed them a bunch of lies to get them to willingly comply.

It’s been the same for millennia.

Of course, the youngsters getting shot at beneath a British flag in Afghanistan don’t exactly form a significant proportion of the new wave of Irish emigration. They are merely a dramatic example of the desperation that faces many, now that the corpse of Celtic Tiger has finally begun to stink. For me, growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, Ireland was a place that promised little and delievered even less. The generation born in 1990 were raised in a completely different Ireland. One that offered excitement, prosperity and fulfillment. Leastways, that’s how it seemed.

The reality, of course, wasn’t like that at all. Built on debt and absurd claims of everlasting growth, it was the hollow promise of consumerism. A dark, gaping emptiness that gnawed away at the soul of Irish society. Better to be promised nothing and take delivery of it, than be promised happiness and fulfillment only to take delivery of alienation and neurosis. The Celtic Tiger was a hoax from the start. Even the good days weren’t all that good. Yeah, we’ve got plasma screen televisions and BMWs but we’ll be paying for them long after they’re landfill.

Trouble is, the generation leaving their teens now have been raised on those promises. Indoctrinated — like so many others, the world over — by celebrity culture and advertising. Genuine fulfillment in family, friends and community becomes almost impossible to achieve when you’ve been raised in a culture that savagely undermines them. From infants they’ve been shown a world where wealth equates with happiness. And denied the opportunity to test it for themselves, they simply don’t understand it’s a lie.

* In an interview he gave in 1980, JG Ballard said “everywhere is infinitely exciting, given the transforming power of the imagination”. I recall reading that and nodding vigorously; it’s something I’ve felt my whole life.

Image copyright: prozac1 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Aug 2010

It Says Here

Imagine switching on the TV at quarter to nine some Tuesday morning and seeing this.

I thought I’d share an odd slice of the 80s with my one remaining reader. The song and the performance are classic Billy Bragg. Strident, no-nonsense social commentary that remains as relevant now as it ever was (more so, in fact). But the context is just so bizarre. BBC Breakfast Time television… a cultural vacuum designed to do nothing more than fill air-time between news bulletins. Possibly the most conservative (small ‘c’) broadcasting environment outside US televangelism; certainly not a place you’d expect to hear a hard-hitting assault on tabloid media culture and conservative (small ‘c’ and capital ‘C’) politics.

Introduced by Selina Scott in a positively restrained hair-do (bearing in mind the year) holding an album in a manner which suggests she’s never seen one before. And followed by Mike Smith (Princess Diana’s favourite DJ, let us not forget) looking bewildered; no doubt trying to work out how to segue between a song telling us that “politics mix / with bingo and tits / in a money and numbers game” into Russell Grant’s astrology segment.

Anyhoo, enjoy the song. It’s a bit of a belter.

It Says Here — Billy Bragg
Live on BBC Breakfast Time, 1984

1 comment  |  Posted in: Media » Audio, Video