Monday, August 31, 2020

Miss Blennerhassett

Miss Blennerhassett in the Penrith tearoom in Withnail & I. I'm wondering if her unusual name was suggested by a nine days' wonder in 1933, the libel case Blennerhassett v Novelty Sales Services Ltd and another. I came across it in an interesting book about libel cases - Hatred, Ridicule or Contempt, by Joseph Dean (1953) - and this blog has saved me the trouble of typing it all out for you. There's a picture of the advert complained of, too.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Survivors: You drink what they drink

The official pre- and post-apocalypse healthy drinking programme:

  • whisky (2 - you leave the second glass undrunk while you lie in bed for 5 days)
  • bottle of tonic water (don't look in the mirror)
  • champagne (warm)
  • Black & White whisky (straight out of the bottle)
  • Black & White whisky (straight out of the bottle - while you have your broken legs fixed)
  • vodka and tonic with ice
  • Glenfiddich (straight out of the bottle)
  • Elderflower wine ('last summer...')
  • Hey clarse brandy (for aristocrat use only)
  • Brandy or maybe a liqueur - can't tell, Charmian has her hand over the label
  • Glenfiddich
  • Some 70s beer which I would have recognised back in the day
  • Glenfiddich (out of the bottle)
  • 'Scottish' whisky (in paper cups - have another)
  • Aristocrat-grade brandy again
  • Champagne (Moet - out of a bucket of water which I suppose might cool it a little bit, but probly not enough :anne:)
  • 'Grape' wine (you'll be amused by its presumption) - about half a bottle I think, possibly more, there's a demijohn full of it as well
  • More grape wine, just 1 glass this time it looks like
  • Wine again - probably the grape wine from before (toast: 'Civilisation' 'All of us')
  • Not just brandy but cognac, Rémy Martin ('for a special occasion, for a bigger world, better days')
  • Brandy or maybe a liqueur ('FINE' on the label)
  • Cheap-looking pre-plague branded red wine, giving me a headache just looking at the label
  • More of the above
  • What looks like Charles' 'grape' wine again (sipped while you stand urbanely in front of a fireplace, like you probably used to pre-plague)
  • The same again I think (at least one glass each, and then 'is there any more wine, Pet?' 'Is there?')
  • Another glass of 'grape' wine (just casually in the kitchen as if it's no big deal; you've got engineering to think about)
  • More glasses of 'grape' wine out of a pottery jug in the white house ?Friday evening, while drunkenly singing the rude versions of hymns
  • Old reliable grape wine, in the white house kitchen
  • Grape wine out of a bottle while staggering through the woods with hymn books
  • Communion wine (off-screen)
  • Fascist home-made wine with lunch (a white wine for a change - and a whole bottle for you and partner)
  • Gale beer (in rather small glasses)
  • Bathtub gin (out of a jam jar)
  • Beer, elderflower wine and bathtub gin (toast: 'The future' - the gin btw by mistake for wine, getting you so drunk you have to stop playing the guitar and be propositioned by Pet)
  • Medicinal spirits furnished by Pet (Bell's whisky I think, can't be sure though)
  • What looks like home-made red wine
  • Something that Hubert nicked that tastes like gin
  • Sherry, judging by the glasses and the refill - have another
  • Wine for those that like it, but mostly beer, at least 5 pints, and another offered (in a proper pub as if the plague never happened. Toast: Iechyd da!)
  • Whisky (a dram before lunch)
  • Red wine (I presume with dinner, because lunch was fish)
  • Red wine (by candlelight, which is at last a choice again)
  • Monday, April 13, 2020

    Survivors closing remarks

    At the end of series 1 I was in two minds about whether to carry on watching because I didn't think the show would be much good without Abby. But Charles stepped into the gap - he was equally interesting because he had more flaws and inner conflicts. I actually began fancying him in series 3, up till then only Greg had held my attention in that way.

    Jenny develops quite well. I do like the ways she's become hardened without ceasing to be herself. In 1.3 she can't bring herself to use the gun outside the supermarket, during series 2 John reports that 'Jenny fell over' when she fired a gun, but by series 3 she's unhesitatingly opening fire at Col Clifford's men and telling Charles 'shoot it in the eyes' when they find the trapped pig.

    Put it this way, if I'd wandered up to one of the settlements and joined them, I'd take care not to let Jenny see that I found Greg attractive. I don't want to get shot in the eyes.

    Series 2 was good, I liked the Whitecross ensemble but they didn't make enough of Ruth, and it trailed off a bit towards the end before reviving with Over The Hills and then the astonishing appearance of the balloon.

    Series 3 I found very disappointing and badly connected. There were one or two good episodes in there, and the conclusion was - adequate. I have been much worse pleased with the final episodes of things.

    What did impress me was that they managed to keep me with them even though the theme had changed. In series 1 it was mainly about the breakdown, the aftermath, scavenging and foraging. And when I got to the end of series 1 I said that that was what interested me and I'd been less engaged by the self-sufficiency theme which is beginning to emerge.

    But I did get engaged by that theme in series 2. By the time we got to the end I wanted to stay with Whitecross and see them make it succeed. And I didn't really want to buy into the emerging theme about reconnecting communities and restarting technological civilisation and preventing malign forces from seizing control of it.

    Yet again though they managed to engage me - though with less success this time, series 3 was much less cohesive than the other two, some of the episodes had very little connection to the main arc at all.

    I only started watching this because I was trying to deal with the start of the coronavirus crisis. I'm glad I did, it's been a transformative experience which has helped me to face up to my fears. Thank you, survivors.

    Survivors - 3.12 Power

    The survivors reach Scotland, and we learn some startling things about what's been happening north of the border. The death ratio is only 90% (500 times lower than in England) so the Scots now outnumber the English 15:1.

    Basically Charles and Macallister, the 'laird', argue back and forth about who owns the hydroelectric power, and about whether this is really the time for nationalism, while evil Sam from ep 3.9 tries to sabotage the whole project. Alec is disheartened by the nationalist quarrelling, but Jenny argues that, while bare survival was endurable when it was the only option, it won't be if they know they needn't be living that way. 'Let there be light,' says Alec as he pulls the big switch.

    The closing scene shows Macallister and his chatelaine turning off their dining room lights and sitting down to dine by candlelight. I suppose the moral is that their experiences have taught them that, while they've got electricity again, they needn't be dependent on it. But of course it's all right for them. They live in a stately home with people bringing them, as Macallister says, salmon and whisky and oatcakes. I bet they haven't spent the last 3 years living in cars and looting supermarkets and struggling to raise crops and making soap out of mutton fat and dying from flu. If that's how I'd spent the last 3 years, I think I'd keep the lights on while I ate.

    The writer has a lot of fun with the Scotland/England scenario. Charles accuses Macallister of planning to hold the English to ransom, and he replies 'How could you afford a ransom?'. Later Macallister says he'll consider Charles as his Secretary of State for England.

    Jenny gets to dress up nicely again, and wash her hair, disconcerting Hubert with her new appearance.

    Macallister exposits that the Scottish islands weren't affected by the plague at all. Though of course the idea of plague-free pockets of civilisation was raised and dismissed in ep 1.5 - the premise then was that if any of the survivors visited such a pocket, they'd give everyone there the plague. But we're a long way from Terry Nation's ideas now.

    Jenny inexplicably chooses not to come and live in Scotland. What's the matter with her? After my remarks about the previous episode, it's oddly fitting that Survivors ends by holding up Scotland as the promised land.

    Sunday, April 12, 2020

    Survivors - 3.11 Long Live The King

    A lot has been happening since the previous episode. After some initial manoeuvring we discover Agnes in paramilitary uniform hoping to set up a currency and national council in Greg's name. As Agnes points out, it doesn't matter whether the currency is really backed by a million gallons of petrol any more than whether it mattered the Bank of England could have really paid out everyone who held its notes. For a fiat currency to work, people just need to believe in it.

    And bringing forward the currency first is a clever writing move, because it prepares for the larger step that, because people met Greg in the past and trusted him, it doesn't matter whether he's still alive or not, which is good because he is revealed to be dead, though that wasn't difficult to guess from the beginning.

    The bombastic GP posters and badges, and the flag with GP on it, are quite clever too, they seem very ridiculous, but they're meant to be over the top, they're deliberate propaganda to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of stability.

    The world was ravaged by the plague and since then the survivors have coped with typhoid and flu and smallpox. But they also appear to be extraordinary susceptible to fascism, this must be the 5th or 6th time we've had people calling for order and strong leadership (from them). I think it's a bit cheap to push all this onto Agnes just because she's blonde and Nordic.

    The Captain (namechecked in the previous ep) is in this to show us that one danger of order and strong leadership is that they can be hijacked by gangsters. But in person he doesn't present the threat that he should. Why is he up and walking around if he's had smallpox for weeks anyway? Remember how ill Dr Adams was at that stage. And no-one reacts with alarm to his pustules.

    Jenny has some metatextual lines. 'I'm sick and tired of these everlasting changes of plan. It's always the same' and 'Greg isn't here. Again.' She's as fed up with series 3 as we are.

    There's a freeze frame when the episode title caption comes up shortly after the start. That hasn't been done before - though the delay between the start of the episodes and the caption has been very variable, it takes over a minute in some cases.

    Some of these themes are to be found in David Brin's 1985 novel The Postman, in which a post-apocalyptic wanderer puts on a discarded US Postal Service uniform and finds he's accidentally created a self-fulfilling prophecy of restored order. Don't watch the film of it though, it's shit.

    'We're supposed to be going to Scotland, aren't we.' It's interesting that - the coronavirus having delayed my own plans to head north - I should have found myself having second thoughts about going after seeing the English countryside so much on display in Survivors. And even more interesting that as series 3 comes to an end, my resolve should return when I find one of the subplots is about a quest to reach Scotland.

    Dating: Charles says that Agnes last reported seeing Greg 'weeks ago'. Possibly referring to the events of the previous ep.

    Survivors - 3.10 The Last Laugh

    Really harrowing episode in three acts. Firstly a series of misdirections regarding the true nature of Mason and his friends, and what was going on with Dr Adams. Then the conversation Greg has with Adams about death, which succeeded in making me cry real tears. Then Greg's plan to lure Mason into being infected, which requires him to shower abuse on his friends. My notes here just say 'Fucking hell Greg.'

    Greg does give his friends two clues to what's happening, though; the Norwegian phrase he says to Agnes, which she explains, and the one about following in the footsteps of Paul, which Jack misinterprets. Greg means Paul Pitman not St Paul.

    I'd spoilered myself on Greg catching smallpox, but I didn't see it coming in this episode. I'm really sorry he's dying, I've come to feel a great affection for him over the last 34 episodes. McCulloch really succeeds in selling me him. I wasn't sure what to make of him at first, wisecracking to his dead wife about how he thought she'd stay alive just to spite him, but he doesn't put a foot wrong after that, everything he does I find believable and admirable.

    Resisting Anne's blandishments, accepting Abby as titular 'boss' provided he can get on with the tech stuff, being there for Abby and Jenny during that first winter, drawing his execution straw in Law and Order, dealing with the guilt afterwards without complaining, being the family man with Jenny and Lizzie and John and baby Paul. Rest in power Greg.

    That's a good line Dr Adams has about if you're afraid of death, think of how you'd like to die, then pray for it to happen that way. I'm a hoper, not a pray-er, but I'll try that. Goodness knows I need it at the moment.

    At least Greg gets to drink coffee again one more time. I think I'd miss coffee more than alcohol after the apocalypse. Carrot tea indeed.

    Dating: Adams speaks of winter coming, but I suppose he might mean the previous year.

    Survivors - 3.9 The Enemy

    For the first time on their travels our friends come to the equivalent of an inn. It's kind of nice to see Charles standing by the coal fire in the bar, doubtless remembering pre-collapse pub visits. 'Iechyd da,' he says authentically when served a fresh pint.

    But he goes on to try to manipulate Jenny into sleeping with Alec so that he'll stay and fix the locals' generator. The argument they have about Greg while playing bar billiards was surreal, I thought maybe Charles was hallucinating, or perhaps I was. Jenny ends up shockingly calling him a Welsh bastard in front of everyone. I wonder, would he have had her thrown out of Whitecross if she'd said that while they were there.

    Mind you, they're all at it - Charles refers to Alec as MacSporran and we learn that Jenny has been making Tartan Army references.

    Sam the ex-junkie, saved by the plague is an interesting character. First he's just painted as very right-wing, then he turns out to be resentful and mad, intent on sabotaging the hydroelectric mission. The first time we've had a sort of anti-survivor plot.

    It's a splendid moment when the generator starts and the light-bulb comes on. At the end the pithead wheels are turning again. But that made me think of the last line of the last of the Changes books - 'And the air would soon be reeking of petrol.'

    Sam uses the same expression 'US' (unserviceable?) that Winser does in Claws of Axos.

    Jenny comes in to nurse Frank and asks him how he's feeling. 'Is that a proposition?' he asks. As Adrian Mole said of Bert Baxter once, 'sometimes he is just a dirty old man who doesn't deserve visitors.'

    Dating: Charles says it was last month that Jenny was back at Challenor. Does he mean in 3.6? Did they go back there after the half-way meeting, or is he referring to an off-screen visit between episodes?

    He also says it's been 3 years [since the plague]. He probably means this is the third calendar year since it happened.