Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body Joseph Addison, English Essayist, Poet, Dramatist and Statesman. 1672 - 1719

'Clarice's Book Page' is the 'reading room' of the 'Elizannie' page at:

Friday, 16 March 2012

Roger and Val Have Just Got In

To the disgust of Eldest Daughter, I have never been a great fan of Dawn French. Neither her comedic or straight acting. The first series of Roger and Val Have Just Got In made me think slightly differently, although I would have reserved any grand bouquets for Alfred Molina as 'Roger' for best actor and of course the writers Emma Kilcoyne and Beth Kilcoyne for such wonderful, intuitive writing. But whilst not forgetting that the idea for the series originated with Dawn French.

The second series has been for me a real relevation. Dawn French has out acted everyone [well since there were only two of them, and since 'everyone' until the last episode comprised the fabulous Alfred Molina, that could sound like damning with faint praise. But Dawn French really was GREAT!]

Goodness, I am using an awful lot of superlatives! But watching a series like this makes me wish I was still lecturing. If you haven't watched any episodes yet, you do have a treat in store. How do I describe Roger and Val Have Just Got In to you?

Maybe it is easier to tell you what the two series [first one shown in 2010, second one finished this week, both on BBC2. I believe the first series is being re-shown on UK Gold at the moment] are not. They are not the sort of 'comedy/drama sit-coms' that one may expect. First of all no studio audience or canned laughter. Any humour is the gentle, embarassing sort - the sort of things that we might recognise from our own domestic lives. Secondly there are - apparently - no big issues over which the couple argue or spend time discussing. There are not any glamourous, 'set' scenes. No grand reconciliations when there has been a falling out.

Each half-hour episode covers in real time the first half hour when the 'ordinary' married couple, Roger & Val, return home after their day out of the house - usually at their individual employments but sometimes other activities. It comprises the conversations and little quibbles that occur when two people who have lived together for years but are both tired, irritated maybe and also have underlying 'issues'. These are happening as small domestic jobs are carried out. Sound boring? It really isn't!

However as the first series developed the viewer realised that there was something underlying this marriage that the death of Roger's father was bringing back to the surface, something very deep and important. And the last episode of the first series made one want to go back and watch it all again for all the 'clues' and revel in the clever writing and planning. [If I sound enigmatic it is because I am trying to keep to the 'spoiler alert' rules!]

The second series started with the return from a family wedding. The balance between Roger and Val seemed to have shifted subtly because Roger is now trying to keep his job and Val is looking to promotion. But an additional underlying emotional,family 'issue' which sort of parallels but opposes that which surfaced in the last series begins to take over. Even Other Half got capitivated by this series and the final denouement was - and at the risk of sounding really over the top - was magical. [And had nothing to do with the fact that two old hippies were made very happy by hearing 'We Shall Overcome' being sung, albeit from inside a Wendy House] The connotation of the Wendy House with Peter Pan, the little boy who never grew up, and that implication was not missed. You can see why I wish I was still lecturing. I could have got this into both my English Lit courses and my Popular Culture days.....

I really hope that there is not a third series. No-one should attempt to improve perfection. Thank you Dawn French.

Another blog which shows that Essex girls appreciate great writing and acting. Elaine comes from the north of the County and I from the south east. She lives on the River Colne, I on the Thames Estuary. So don't believe all you see on TOWIE....

Photograph courtesy of Metro

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy Birthday Mr Dickens!

Dedicated to my friend Joan from the US, who stood with me at the National Portrait Gallery looking at the young Dickens with tears in her eyes. Hope you feel better soon.

Try to imagine a world if Charles Dickens had not been born 200 years ago today. Think of all those characters and the phrases associated with them, often referred to in ordinary conversation, that would have to be replaced:
Jarndyce and Jarndyce; Uriah Heep and his 'umbleness;
Mr Micawber and his famous quotation:
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds
nineteen and
six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual
expenditure twenty
pounds ought and six, result misery.

Think about those characters whose names became household words or gave rise to things now enshrined in popular culture:
'Sarah Gamp' - whose surname became synomous for an umbrella.
'Dolly Varden' - who inspired a fashion style, which in turn gave rise to popular songs etc in the late 19th century.
'Sam Weller' and 'Samuel Pickwick' - between these two there have been over the years several household items named for them and the adjective 'Pickwickian' and several Christmas card scenes can be traced back to the book The Pickwick Papers!

Other authors could not always leave Dickens alone:
Oscar Wilde said:
One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.
William Thackerary, who was knonw to turn a harsh phrase at many a writer, said about A Christmas Carol that
Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness

Anthony Trollope satirised Dickens as 'Mr Popular Sentiment' in The Warden.

Certainly Dickens detractors have criticised him for illustrating problems without proposing curative measures. But the mere fact he alerted Victorian Britain to its shortcomings meant others like Lord Salisbury picked up the baton and ran with it [Olympic metaphor in 2012] to lobby for and make the parliamentary changes.
Dickens did a lot of charitable work himself, founding a home for Fallen Women with Angela Burdett-Coutts and Dickens did pick his targets. He wrote A Christmas Carol after several societal ills had been massing in his mind including the Royal Commission on on the working of the Cornish Tin Mines which showed the iniquity of children's working and his concerns on the conditions of the working classes generally. [Also in October 1843 Dickens had been fund raising for the Manchester poor, sharing a platform with Disraeli and Cobden, and speaking about Ragged Schools which he had visited during the previous month] Little Dorrit satirises the awful supplies system to the military in the Crimean War where stocks rotted not far away from where soldiers were dying from need. Bleak House illustrates the verbosity of a legal system which in the end favours only those who practise the law and not those who need its help.

Many biographical facts about Dickens are known now, thanks to the biographies written in the years since his death in 1870, which were unknown in his lifetime. F'r instance we now know that his childhood was not as happy as it could have been due to his father's 'liberality' with money [like Mr Micawber] and how Dickens was set to work in a factory at a very early age. This was a secret which Dickens guarded during his lifetime. We also are led to believe that Dickens was not a good husband and father, certainly he had a least one mistress in Ellen Ternan. However the affair with Ellen seems to have been a real love affair. When judging Dickens we should try to do it with 19th century eyes and taking all facts into consideration!

So I want to thank you Mr Dickens if you are listening to me for all the pleasure you have given me with your writings over the years so far. I miss you and may you sleep gently.
Picture above courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum, London

Thursday, 19 January 2012

If It Wasn't For The 'ouses In Between

Something my twin Elizannie has written on her blog inspired me to remind you all of this lovely old music hall song by Edgar Bateman and George LeBrunn. Sung in 1899 by Gus Elen [photo courtesy of wikipedia as linked]

If you saw my little backyard
"Wot a pretty spot", you'd cry
It's a picture on a sunny summer day
Wiv the turnip tops and cabbages
Wot people doesn't buy
I makes it on a Sunday look all gay

The neighbours finks I grow 'em,
And you'd fancy you're in Kent
Or at Epsom if you gaze into the mews
It's a wonder as the landlord
Doesn't want to raise the rent
Because we have such nobby distant views

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the Eastward could be seen
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see to 'Ackney Marshes
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

We're as countrified as can be
Wiv a clothes prop for a tree
The tub-stool makes a rustic little stile
Ev'ry time the blooming clock strikes
There's a cuckoo sings to me
And I've painted up "To Leather Lane A Mile"

Wiv tomatoes and wiv radishes
Wot 'adn't any sale
The backyard looks a purfick mass o' bloom
And I've made a little beehive
Wiv some beetles in a pail
And a pitchfork wiv the 'andle of a broom

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Rye 'Ouse from the cock-loft could be seen
Where the chickweed man undresses
To bathe 'mong the water cresses
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

There's the bunny shares his egg box
Wiv the cross-eyed cock and hen
Though they 'as got the pip and him the 'morf
In a dog's 'ouse on the line-post
There was pigeons, nine or ten
Till someone took a brick and knocked it off

The dust cart though it seldom comes
Is just like 'Arvest 'Ome
And we made to rig a dairy up some'ow
Put the donkey in the wash'ouse
Wiv some imitation 'orns,
For we're teaching im to moo just like a kah

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And 'Endon to the westward could be seen
And by clinging to the chimbley
You could see across to Wembley
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

Though the gasworks is at Woolwich
They improve the rural scene
For mountains they would very nicely pass
There's the mushrooms in the dust-hole
With the cowumbers so green
It only wants a bit 'o 'ot 'ouse glass

I wears this milkman's nightshirt
And I sits outside all day
Like the ploughboy cove what's mizzled o'er the Lea
And when I goes indoors at night
They dunno what I say
'Cause my language gets as yokel as can be

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And soapworks from the 'ousetops could be seen
If I got a rope and pulley
I'd enjoy the breeze more fully
If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year

I will let Ella Wheeler Wilcox* in her 1909 poem wish in the New Year 2012 to you all, she does it better than I can! Wishing you all Happiness, Joy, Peace and Love.

New Year: A Dialogue
Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1909)

“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

“I am Good Cheer.”

“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless. Pass on.”

“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth. I cannot use it.”

“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

*Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American Poet, 1850 - 1919. Photography courtesy of the website: