I’ve returned to this blog after a long layoff. Partly this has been because life has been quite busy in recent times and partly because I inadvertently deleted the photos from this blog when I thought I was freeing up more storage space for uploading pics for future posts (so if you are wondering where the pictures went from previous posts-there you go!). Lesson learned the hard way. Anyway, hope you enjoy the following. I’ll be writing a couple of shorter pieces in the near future.
I don’t as a rule watch a great deal of television-not out of snobbery (how could I, when we’re living in a televisual golden age?) but more so because I just fell out of the habit a long time ago. Nonetheless, largely due to welcoming home this week a baby daughter who likes to sleep on us for extended periods of time and the fact that it’s the time of year where the cold, inclement, weather drives one indoors, I’ve watched the most T.V I’ve seen in years this week. And rather decent it has been, too.
First up, I’m going to talk about Cartel Land. I’ve had this on my (criminally underused) Netflix account for a while, but I finally got round to it the other day. It was nice to hear Latin American Spanish being spoken aloud once more. I also found the parallel narrative structure quite interesting-the leader of the ARF militia must undoubtedly be quite a pro-Trump figure with his lamentations about the porous nature of the US-Mexico border, whilst the leader of the Autodefensas, Dr Mireles, reminded me greatly of a guy I used to work with in Peru (who wasn’t even Latino), but there was also something tragic hero-esque in his rise and fall.
If truth be told, the two areas of history I probably find most interesting are contemporary Latin America and dark ages Britain, so as well as the show(s) mentioned above, I’ve also been indulging in the BBC’s, The Last Kingdom, an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s series of the same name. I actually read one of the books in this series, The Pagan Lord, when it was bought for me by uncle and aunt for Christmas in 2013 and I remember enjoying it, regardless of the prejudicial stench that often hangs over the historical fiction genre. I think I also enjoyed the first few episodes because-although inevitably the protagonist Uhtred is a bit of a killing machine a la Cornwell’s other famous literary creation, Major Richard Sharpe-neither he, nor anyone else in the series, appears to be undefeatable. Last year, I tried to get into the series The Vikings and, despite the gorgeous production values and attention to detail, its overall tenor of ‘behold the invincible norsemen’ stuck in my craw so much that I stopped watching it a few episodes in. Being from the north of England, I’m deeply interested in/proud of the Scandinavian influence and like the idea that most of us are half-norsemen and it’s still littered throughout our place names and what dialect still survives-I’ve more than once comforted my crying daughter and told her she has no reason to ‘skrike’ (from the norse word to cry) this week, but as anyone who’s lived a bit knows, no one is truly invincible and I think The Last Kingdom does a better job of acknowledging this fact and getting to grips with historical veracity a little bit more.
Another aspect of northern identity I’m proud of is our radical political lineage and the evergreen BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? Has provided a couple of good episodes tending in this direction recently. The last two episodes shown on BBC One (separated by a gulf of some weeks due to the festive period) have focused on two figures who hail from within the (pre 1974 butchery/border realignment) borders of Lancashire, Ricky Tomlinson and Ian McKellen. The episode on the former figure was interesting in its own right, but for me personally there was a couple of added dimensions of interest due to some of my own reading and research over the past year. The episode focused upon Tomlinson’s family background stemming from the once-numerous carters of Liverpool and also the apparent involvement of some of his kinsmen in the great strike of 1911-a pivotal event in the city as it was the first time that the otherwise antagonistic protestant and catholic working-class communities formed common cause in order to challenge for their labour rights. This in itself for me is a very interesting historical event, but it is also a centre-piece scene in a novel I read last year, James Hanley’s The Furies, a story of an Irish immigrant family (loosely based on Hanley’s own) living in Liverpool in those times.I’d first got the book out from the local library 20 years ago (and had never quite finished it) but in this wondrous age of e-books, I’d managed to track it down again. Hanley himself was born in 1897 in Kirkdale-then as now a working-class area closer to Liverpool’s docklands-the same year and place in fact as one of my great grandfathers, as I recently discovered (my father’s mother’s father). My great-grandfather was in fact the product of (certainly on ethnic grounds) a mixed marriage-his mother, despite being born in Birkenhead, was the child of Irish immigrants and firmly identified with that culture (I know as much as my grandmother used to say her gran was Irish) whereas his father had at some point in his youth come down to Liverpool from the very area of Lancaster we by pure coincidence are looking at moving to when my job starts. Who’d have thunk it?
In The Furies, Denis Fury the father of the family takes great delight in visiting the music halls and this provides a link with the Ian McKellen episode as he learns of his ancestor Frank Lowes, a respected actor in his day who was eventually reduced to penury and the degradation of appearing as an opening act in the music halls. Like the other episode mentioned, there’s radical political history here, too, with another ancestor being the man who successfully coordinated the warehousemen and clerks of Manchester in the mid-19th century to agitate for a half-day off on Saturdays-which was subsequently granted and became the first successful holiday of its kind anywhere in the world-essentially making him the father of the modern weekend. Going further back, his father was a Lakeland artist at the time of Wordsworth and shared many of the same romantic sensibilities. The episode ends with McKellen travelling up to Bassenthwaite lake (that Norse heritage creeping in there again) following a passage where he talks about trips up here in childhood being part of Lancastrian culture as part of a dichotomy with the grim satanic mills. I couldn’t agree more.