entertainment

The Tune Inside My Head

i. Internal Music

Every so often, out of nowhere and without apparent cause, I’ll get a snippet of a song come into my head. I’m sure it happens all the time to a lot of you out there too.

It may be a line or two, a riff, a solo, or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is but occasionally I rack my brains to remember which song. That’s the fun part.

Other times, it may arouse my curiosity further: as to its origins, who wrote it, whether the version I know well is the original or a cover, who played on the record, and so on. And it doesn’t always turn out to be what I might have believed it to be.

ii. Dreaming

Though I don’t usually remember my dreams, last night was an exception. It was a crazy dream about going into town with a group of youthful mates, exchanging shoes with one of them (don’t ask me why?) and I remember having to run down the street in these odd shoes. I mean they were odd in their appearance – kind of oversized and woollen or felt – AND odd because the left and right ones just didn’t match at all: one brown with black laces, and the other green with white laces!

iii. A Song

Anyway, I rose out of bed singing in my head, these lines,

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school,
or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool,
or find myself a rock ‘n’ roll band, which needs a helping hand…

Of course, that’s an easy one to figure out but it still got my curiosity going.

It was probably among the first chart number ones I really took much notice of as I was beginning to listen to music more intently. On TV, it was mimed by Rod Stewart and The Faces, with the DJ John Peel having a cameo part, sitting on a stool playing a mandolin. This was all fakery.

It was a Rod Stewart solo song recorded with session men, and when it came to crediting the musicians for the album sleeve, he couldn’t remember the mandolin player’s name, only that he was with the band, Lindisfarne. It is Ray Jackson.

Okay, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, both of The Faces at the time, played a part in the recording, but the others weren’t involved. Wood played bass as well as guitars, and the drummer was Micky Waller. Something new, at least to me, is a credit for a “celesta” (Pete Sears).

What’s a Celesta?, you may ask, and it’s a good question. But you’ve no doubt already heard one, quite clearly, and not realised it’s a celesta. It’s the well-known classical piece, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The celesta is a keyboard instrument, looking a bit like an upright piano, where hammers strike tuned metal plates, or bars, which resonate against wooden blocks. Tchaikovsky loved its sound, it seems.

Unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard, I think the lyrics to Maggie May are well crafted, intelligent and imaginative. A proper ballad. They are credited to Roderick Stewart which I wouldn’t have guessed simply as he has recorded a lot of cover songs. The co-creditor is Martin Quittenton who also played guitar on the recording.

At the time, Stewart was uncertain about the song’s worthiness and conceded to the record company’s preference for the session’s other cut, a cover of singer-songwriter, Tim Hardin’s excellent Reason To Believe, as his new single’s A-side. But radio DJs and the public had other ideas, and the single became a double A-side with Maggie May becoming the most air-played and, instantly, the more popular tune.

It was no.1 in the UK for five weeks running, and elsewhere too. It is also reputedly the highest selling single of all time featuring a mandolin, yet only credited as,

“…played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”


I’m sure I can hear the celesta clearly around the 2:35 mark, coinciding with when he begins to sing those very lines I remembered above. No celesta in the tv studio though, nor are their guitars plugged in.

Talking to Strangers

Thanks to umanbn (Mark Hodgson) – whose drawings blog I follow – for highlighting the Humans of New York project, which is fascinating. Brandon Stanton is a photographer who explains the project in his “About” page;

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants.”

In essence, he takes someone’s portrait in the street and gets them to tell their story, a little bit about themselves, and transcribes it below their picture. I see some of those guys are really keen to talk. They must feel a need to tell their story. It’s probably a good deal.

What began in NY has now extended beyond the US; I’ve been reading a few pieces from within Europe. People from all over, happily talking to a stranger with a camera.

I don’t know if he’s approached any Londoners. It’s been a while since I thought about myself being a Londoner but casting my thoughts back, I’m not sure many would easily reveal their personal history to a complete stranger. We hardly dare make eye contact. London is a busy, crowded place and you have to create a kind of privacy within.

It reminded me of a time in my youth when I had to use the public bus to get to work. Normally, you’d look for two empty seats together so you sat alone; if there wasn’t any, you might prefer to stand in the aisle rather than take a seat beside a stranger. But sometimes you’d take a chance, especially if the journey was long.

So I sat down besides this guy, a very vocal, slightly drunk, probably, middle-aged Irishman, and he immediately began telling me his life story. When he felt he’d exhausted that subject, he went on to tell me my own life expectations – even though he didn’t know me from Adam! He invented all kinds of bollocks, all of it implausible. I mean, I ought to be famous by now, as rich as Croesus, and a great political statesman to boot. It was excruciating at the time – but funny afterwards.


I’ve just remembered, our BBC have done a similar thing with The Listening Project, a series of short interlude pieces recorded for radio. I think they set up a recording booth in a chosen place and people go in, often in pairs, to talk about themselves.

The whole world wants an opportunity to talk, it seems. They ought to start a blog.


Humans of New York

The Listening Project (BBC)

image of two people on bench in Osaka, Japan, by Andrew Leu via Unsplash.com

More, more world wide watchables

Maltese: The Mafia Detective (Italy, 2017)

Delighted to have the random selector pick out this Italian cop drama. There doesn’t appear to be many Italian shows featured, not in proportion to German ones, say. The Italians are naturally theatrical: whatever they do, however mundane, like ordering a coffee, it all seems like a catastrophe which could have been averted. It’s as if argumentative is the default dialogue style. Maltese: The Mafia Detective is no exception.

The story is set in 1976. Commissario Maltese is a Sicilian born detective who’s been working in Rome for the last twenty or so years. His boyhood best friend, also a senior cop, is getting married and so Maltese returns to his home town. After a family dinner, his friend and his fiancee are shot by a hitman on their way home. Maltese, suspecting Mafia involvement, is determined on justice and requests a secondment to take command of his old friend’s squad.

Despite what I say in the first paragraph, this is a polished drama with a good script and storyline; nothing is too implausible.


Inspector Falke (Germany, 2016)

Like I said above, it seems German shows are over represented on Walter Presents.

Inspector Falke is not a stereotypical German: he’s scruffily dressed, doesn’t drive a nice car, he drinks glassfuls of full-fat milk instead of coffee, he gets easily stressed and doesn’t appear to be intellectually, emotionally or psychologically in-tune with his rank. My first impression was he isn’t played to be a likeable character but as the show progressed, I felt more sympathetic towards him.

But the show is really odd too. The first episode deals with something quite mundane, normal grist for the procedural mill. Thereafter though, in each subsequent episode, Falke, and his more reasonable partner, find themselves dealing with all kinds of implausible police cases like hi-tech espionage, an anti-terrorism plot, and a mass hostage situation.

Judging by the last episode, there must be a follow up series but it’s not available on All4 yet.


Locked Up (Spain, 2015)

The Spanish title being Vis-à-vis (Face to Face), and often I don’t understand why they need to tinker with titles for the benefit of English speakers. I mean, Locked Up – how ham-fisted was that committee meeting? It’s also, I feel, a tad condescending.

Never mind, this is good telly, if a trifle on the long side – 35 episodes over two series. For me, when things run on for too long I tend to develop viewer fatigue, the drama begins to feel like a soap opera and I can sometimes detect diminishing performances in the key players. There is also a tendency to “jump the shark”. I’d say this just about manages to survive to the last on the plausible side of shark jumping but I trust there’s not a further series in the offing.

It’s a drama set in a women’s prison but with a parallel story running on the outside with police and family. There’s also a third angle, presented within the series, which takes the form of interviews of the principle actors in character, as if a documentary or a journalistic piece on women prisoners was being made by persons unseen. This is strange as it offers some light relief from the tense and often harsh drama, but is compelling too as it offers backstory to the drama as well as commentary on prison life for women.

Without giving too much away, the story is centred on Macarena Ferreiro, a young naive businesswoman who finds herself sent to a high-security prison for fraud and embezzlement after her boss hets away with the firm’s cash. Naturally, she is out of her depth and a target for the harder, experienced lags. Matters are made worse for her when she accidentally finds information on hidden loot from a robbery committed by a cellmate. She then becomes the focus of Zulema Zahir, a ruthless murderer and the most fearsome inmate on her cell block. Intense stuff to begin with and manages quite well up to the end.

(oh, no – I’ve just noticed two further series, another sixteen episodes. Not yet available here and likely won’t be watched by me anytime soon.)


Maltese: The Mafia Detective (IMDb)

Inspector Falke (IMDb)

Vis a Vis (Locked Up) (IMDb)

More World Wide Watchables

More from All 4’s Walter Presents…

Deadly Money (Germany, 2018)

When this one came up on my random selector, I thought there must have been a mistake. One series and only two episodes, less than 50 minutes apiece?

It’s a concise drama explaining a fictional version of the 2008 banking crisis. A high-flying executive investment banker expects to take over as CEO.

It’s portrayed as a ruthless business and our banker has to secure a big deal with a Middle Eastern organisation to improve the bank’s share price. He has a team of acolytes to help him but one in particular is a young protege, Tom, who has a talent for maths. Things appear to be going their way but, as we know from the real events, it’s all a dodgy business.

In true German style, the Frankfurt finance quarter appears here as a highly polished, ruthlessly efficient, awesome monster. It makes Wall St. look like the City of London, and the City of London look like the Post Office.


The Team (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, 2015)

I think, perhaps they bit off more than is chewable with this international crime drama. Three senior detectives and their respective bagmen – or women in most cases – go after a Lithuanian human trafficker following a spate of identical murders of sex workers in each of the detectives’ countries. This latter guy has aspirations about being a city banker, running his own respectable bank. Reluctantly, on the nefarious business side, he is in partnership with his ex wife, a rather callous bitch on her own terms.

It’s not bad but it’s not as cool as old Walter made it out to be. One problem I had with it was because the three protagonists had different native languages, interaction is done in English and it sounded a little awkward, like people reading something they didn’t fully understand. Of course, this is probably what would happen in real life, difficulty in communicating, and had they played it that way all would be well, but they didn’t. Also, there were implausibility issues, but I’d let that go as its a drama, and each detective had a messy life story running concurrently, which was, well, messy.

Hey, dismiss those niggles and it isn’t a bad series, and a majority of lead roles for women for a change.


Liberty (Denmark 2018)

Set in Tanzania in the 70s, I initially thought this was made in the 70s. Or my broadband wasn’t functioning as it should. It had a real low-fi feel.

Centred on a social group of Scandinavian expats comprising of exploitative businessmen and do-good aid workers, the brevity and abrupt changes in fortune of the characters saves the drama from being a soap opera in my view. Everyone’s life is dysfunctional and everyone’s hopping into his or hers neighbours’ bed, but fear not, there’s only a modicum of explicit sex.

The main story is the friendship between Christian, the teenage son of aid workers, and, Marcus, the “houseboy” servant of a neighbouring couple. They share an interest in music and getting stoned. Marcus makes mix tapes to sell on the side and aspires to be a DJ. The two then have the idea to set up a dance club in town. They name it “Liberty”.

With the adults falling out and falling in with other spouses, Christian drops out and falls more in with the Tanzanians. Naive, exposed and vulnerable, he finds he has to deal with violent rival forces and a corrupt police force, all the while testing his new friendships.

Yes, I had to check the year of production. 2018. But it’s the 70s. Africa is backwards and corrupt and the whites are exploitative and openly racist. Nevertheless, it’s a drama which has its moments.


Mama’s Angel (Israel 2016)

I have to say this is more like it. If it were a stick of seaside rock, it might have plausible written right through it. Yet there is still a great sense of tension.

The setting is a suburb with a mixture of white and black residents. The police chief has a twenty-two year old daughter in a casual relationship with a young Ethiopian art student who himself intends to leave to study in Holland. The police chief in turn has a tense working relationship with the able head of the criminal forensics team. While she is away undergoing surgery, a seven year old boy from a neighbourhood family turns up dead on a nearby hill, beside a monument upon which someone has recently sprayed graffiti. The police chief exploits the absence of the capable forensics head to arrest and accuse the Ethiopian of murder, ignoring all other likelihoods. When the forensics head returns to work, she finds she has this mess to contend with.

So if the Ethiopian didn’t do it, who did? Our suspicions are teased.


Deadly Money (All4)

The Team IMDb

Liberty IMDb

Mama’s Angel IMDb

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)

More World Wide Watchables

Here’s a few more international telly dramas featured on Walter Presents…

Contact (France, 2015)

This is another police drama but with a supernatural twist. A frenchman has a gift for sensing people’s memories by grasping an item they’ve recently touched. He’s convicted of a crime in the US but is freed on condition he works for the FBI. However, he has unfinished business in France; the murder of his parents and a missing younger sister. He absconds, returns home and teams up with his police detective brother’s squad, solving crimes while they hunt for the family’s killer and their lost sister.

I didn’t take to this one, unfortunately. Despite the supernatural aspect, the characters weren’t interesting enough and the individual cases were pretty superficial, It just didn’t shine. Although I watched all eight episodes, I was beginning to lose track of events explaining the parents’ killer. Judging by the final episode’s shenanigans, I expect there’s a follow up series but I’ll probably give it a miss.

Sorry, Walter, you can’t win them all.


Sr. Ávila (Mexico, 2013)

This one is a slow boiler and had me wondering at first whether I’d hit a scrappy patch in Walter Presents… However, around the fifth episode it began to gel.

It’s an odd premise that a nefarious but organised firm of assassins in Mexico can operate surreptitiously behind a legitimate funeral business, and their best man, the eponymous “Mr. Ávila”, sells life insurance over the phone. His is just a cover too, to explain his ill-gotten gains from cold blooded contract killings. He also has the cover of an ordinary family man, albeit a wife with agoraphobia and confidence issues, and a wayward son, an excluded loner who sticks out as prey for school bullies. It’s also quickly established that Avila is having a casual sexual relationship with a younger colleague who wants more than a quickie in the office loo.

However, for me, the show gets interesting due to the street-wise and aspiring teenager who blags a position as his killing “apprentice”. By coincidence, he just happens to go to the same last resort school as Ávila’s son. Life gets complicated for Avila.

And there is a second series. I am averse to follow ups but in fairness, the plot takes on a different direction. Here, Ávila’s foil is his assistant, the cool and seemingly sinister Ivan. It’s darker, slightly less plausible, but nevertheless entertaining.


Neviditelní (The Invisibles) (Czech Republic, 2014)

A comedy drama. A subset of the human population evolved a gene which allows them to breathe underwater. These are people of the water nation and guardians of the world’s water, though derogatively they are referred to as “nixes”. They have their own religion, running parallel to Catholicism but worshipping John the Baptist instead. Avoiding war and conflicts, they have lately gone underground, hence the invisibles, but in the 21st century, in Prague, perhaps their day has come to take their rightful place in the world.

This notion is given a lift by the failed suicide-by-drowning of a prominent charismatic businessman and lobbyist, Ivan Lausman, under police investigation for illegal activities. It appears he has an incredible affinity for water. Could he be their promised “messiah”?

Lots of fun.


Contact IMDb

Sr. Ávila IMDb

Neviditelní IMDb

Lists: What are they good for? I know, let’s make a list…

I’ve made a start boxing up stuff in preparation for our house move. Lidl’s “Unwaxed Lemons” boxes are a good shape and size for CDs; you may find me in the supermarket, furtively decanting nets of lemons from the top box into the one beneath.

While packing the CDs, I thought I’d make a list at the same time. I don’t like list making but I have a fear of buying a CD I already have. This is a bit nonsensical and made worse by the fact that it’s been a while since I listened to a CD; I’m content to stream these days. But, who knows, I might be tempted by an offer.

It’s become a truism that there’s an app for everything and I didn’t want to be typing out each damn artist and title. The first few CDs I picked up had barcodes….hmm, interesting… but I went down the voice-recognition-transcription route instead, using the Evernote app. on my phone.

It worked so well, it made me chuckle – even when it made the occasional mistake. I was really impressed when it heard me say “J.J. Cale”, initially transcribed it as JJ Kale, then, within a nanosecond, corrected it perfectly. It must have learnt it from some other user, I suspect.

Unfortunately, my little collection of lesser known African artists defeated it. Or maybe it was my bad pronunciation. No matter how many times I said (shouted!) the name of the Congolese singer, “Tabu Ley Rochereau” into my smartphone, sounding increasingly like, and eventually surpassing, Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau, Evernote insisted I was simply saying “Table Lay Rush Hour”. Eventually, I had to type it out myself, just to keep the peace.


As I say, I’m not big on lists but sometimes they can be interesting. I had been looking at a poem on the Lit Hub blog this morning and I noticed how it went into a kind of list of things in the middle part, for about six lines, before returning to its main theme.

I admit that often I regard a lot of poetry as being lists: it’s all that stacking up of words, I guess. I think it was the writer, William S. Burrows, who sometimes wrote using a technique of cutting out words and rearranging them on his desk to make a new work. I also read it was a method adapted by musicians such as David Bowie and Ian Dury. You can hear it in the latter’s Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3; it’s a list rearranged to form a lyrical piece.

Then there’s My Favourite Things, crafted by lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Paul Weller’s That’s Entertainment, a song I’ve always regarded as hauntingly resonant.

Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You is essentially a list. Only three items though, each with accompanying explanatory words underneath, comparing his true desire with the thrills which come into many an over privileged lifestyle.

Leonard Cohen’s Bird On A Wire is another which sprung to mind; a list of similes, if you can bear it. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire; who could forgot that one?

There are so many, I imagine the list is endless but it’s that which gets left off any list which makes lists infuriating.

And that’s why I don’t like them. (Lists, not the songs – they’re okay.)


image by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash.com

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3

My Favorite Things

That’s Entertainment

I Get A Kick Out Of You

Bird on a Wire

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Further World Wide Watchables

A continuing review of dramas from Walter Presents… discovered on All 4.

Les Beaux Mecs (Tony’s Revenge) (France, 2011)

I’ve read many times that one good thing about watching non British and non American drama is that the actors faces are unfamiliar and so their characters are more believable. While I don’t think I enjoy “foreign language” shows especially for this reason, it is probably true.

So, what do you know when I recognise the protagonist in Tony’s Revenge as the guy who played the politically aspirational Afghan crime lord, “Colonel” Amanulla in the brilliant Kaboul Kitchen. The actor is Simon Abkarian.

In Tony’s Revenge, he plays convicted mobster, Antoine “Mad Tony” Roucas, who makes an impromptu prison break with his cellmate, an uppity street gang delinquent named Kenz. His motivation for this is his sudden belief that his one time friend, Guido, who he thought murdered, is actually alive and well.

The drama follows Tony’s quest for the truth and to settle old scores, relying heavily on Kenz for support. Intertwined with this is the back story of Tony’s early life, his introduction to organised crime and why he has to settle those old scores.

It’s typically french in the way it balances nimbly between serious and comedic, the comedy mostly provided by the interplay between Kenz’s street attitude cool and Tony’s old school, cold cool attitude to gangsterism.

It has its moments and is entertaining on the whole.

Les Beaux Mecs IMDb


Crow’s Blood (Japan, 2016)

As I pick these shows purely at random, counting off the list with a random number generator, it’s a lottery which one comes up. I was quite pleased to find a Japanese thriller.

As Walter himself describes it, this is a drama filmed almost as a real life manga, with horror story tropes used to great effect. It’s somewhat Sci-fi too.

It’s set in a girls’ school when a new student arrives whose personality is peculiar and a bit sinister. She is the only daughter of a doctor who, for ethical reasons, was prominently against stem cell research until the daughter was involved in a life threatening road accident. Turning to his adversaries in stem cell research, they develop a means to save the daughter but the process has unforeseen consequences. Cue the horror-thriller events.

I’m not usually impressed by horror-thrillers but this is pretty good though in danger of getting ridiculously OTT at the end.

Crow’s Blood IMDb


Professor T. (Belgium, 2015)

Another drama from Belgium in Dutch (mostly), with a smattering of French, and the occasional English phrase oddly echoed in the subtitles. I was disheartened to find it stretched over three seasons and steeled myself to go only as far as the first, but I was wrong. It didn’t turn out to be a flog-it-to-death concept at all. Each series brought in something new to the drama.

Essentially, it’s a crime drama focussing on a team of police detectives solving homicides. During one case, they enlist the help of academic criminologist, Professor Jasper Teerlinck, a renowned genius in the field but one who also suffers acute OCD and doesn’t suffer fools at all gladly nor tactfully. He solves the case with Holmesian expediency and is soon employed by the force as an official criminologist and criminal profiler.

Not much special in this, it may even seem to borrow from other police dramas, but the Professor’s OCD and the cause of it are played out dramatically as surreal illusions which recall similarities to Dennis Potter dramas – The Singing Detective etc.

There is, I think, a precise blend of seriousness and comedy which works exceptionally well. It’s entertaining and the characters are engaging. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Professor T as well as actor, Koen de Bouw, his measured facial expressions and delivery are perfect to a T.

Professor T. IMDb

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.