December 2013
28 December 2013 ~ Slava's Snowshow


Sue saw Slava last year and was so enthusiastic that I wanted to see for myself. I was not disappointed.


Looking at Trip Advisor showed a number of people had slammed the show. Some moaned that it lacked a consistent story, humour and left kids bored. So I added the following review.


I found Slava's Snowshow brilliant from start to finish. I don't think I saw a different show from the reviewers who knocked it. Perhaps they went expecting something like a pantomime or circus clowns with knockabout humour.

Pantomimes can be fun when they innovate rather than rely on minor celebrities to wow an audience. And circus clowns have their place. Slava draws on tragic clowning, mime, physical theatre and Russian traditions, one of which is Litsedeyi, a form of mumming. I also suspect links to Samuel Beckett's plays.

A good show doesn't require a story. A number of shorter pieces that are loosely linked can work when the artistry is of a high standard. And tragic clowns evoking sadness along with much humour is not a failing. They are portraying aspects of life.

As for children not enjoying the show, I saw kids laughing and applauding no less than the adults. Some people, old and young, may not be used to slower moments in performances when so much television is dumbed down and seeks to batter attention with constant froth.

I'm sorry for those attending who felt cheated, but I don't think the show was lacking. I am grateful for the education and life experiences that enabled me to appreciate it as stunning. And press reviews from around the world and the shows longstanding international success seem to support my view.


I might have added that the creation of drama with almost no language is another of the show's achievements.

The star of the show is Slava Polunin. For some reason Wikipedia doesn't list him under Slava, but you will find an interesting listing at

It is great to see something so positive and wholesome associated with Russia. I wonder if the brilliance with which the show communicates without language owes something to the history of repression in that country?

26 December 2013 ~ Upper Limits & Stevenage


Much of this month has been devoted to two short stories, both of which both are long and have involved much rewriting.


Fleeing South is about refugees from WWII Poland, modern Iran and the flights that others make in less troubled countries. The story is just short of the 8,000 word limit for Willesden Herald competition.


The second story, Beholden, makes it under the bar of 12,000 words set by the Labello Press for their second competition. The story deals with social obligations and as well as being more contemporary than many of my tales, the central character is a woman of twenty. I found it harder writing about her generation than I did writing about a woman's experience.


So many short story competitions require less than 3000 words that a 5000 word competition seems very generous. Some of my stories benefit from being trimmed to meet entry conditions and I struggle to cut the word count in others. Because of the latter, I am very grateful to the few competitions that allow for longer stories.


One study of the word length of some famous short stories found they ranged from 710 to 12,261 words. The mean of selected stories was 4052. However, the list also included H.G. Well's Time Machine, which, at 33015 words, I would call a novella.


Part of Xmas was spent in Stevenage, a town I have often visited. Yesterday we drove through the commercial area called Gunnels Wood and saw the other side of this area  from the A1. What struck me was the high proportion of buildings to let.


I can't see why Stevenage would have an exceptionally high rate of vacant business premises. My assumption is that it is typical of the South East at least.


Empty offices, factories and warehouses are not just a wasted asset, they also mean that many jobs have disappeared. The same is true of the shops that have closed or given way to charities, something I have seen in London boroughs as well as further afield.


I accept that in some cases premises are empty because a firm has moved elsewhere. And occasionally, a high street shop becomes purely an ebusiness. Even so, I cannot accept George Osborne's claims or those of others who suggest the economy is recovering when so much commercial property is unoccupied.


20 December 2013 ~ John Lewis


I went to Oxford Street today to collect items ordered on line from John Lewis, as I had done a number of times over the last five years. What was different today was the huge number of people collecting.


I presented an email confirming the order, the assistant logged the number and asked me to take a seat. The process was rather like Argos, but less well organized. There was no display to say when an item had arrived, just unamplified voices shouting names over the hubbub. It was just as well I had asked the person sitting next to me to listen for my name; my cloth ears would never have heard it.


I had ordered two small and related items at the same time. Neither was fragile and both left the factory mounted on card (22 x 11 cm) with a plastic cover. One came to Oxford Street in a jiffy bag placed inside a plastic envelope 45 x 30 cm. The other was inside a cardboard box four times the size needed. I explained that my bag was already full and I didn't want the excessive packaging. The assistant stripped the items down to their factory wrapping and was about to place my purchases in a new plastic bag. I pointed out that the plastic envelope, which was intact apart from one end, would be more than adequate.


One of the downsides of buying on line is a huge increase in packaging. I have a filing cabinet draw dull of padded envelopes, most of which came with items bought via the Internet. At the least, on line retailers need to give more thought to using packaging that can be recycled. Composite envelopes, plastic envelopes and oversize containers lack green credentials.


15 December 2013 ~ Borgen


The third season of Borgen concluded on BBC 4 last night. Sue and I enjoyed the latest eight episodes just as much as the earlier series. It is no small feat for a country with a population of 5.5 million to make in a language other than English a programme that sells around the world. To create a series that sells internationally is a great achievement and to deliver three of them without any loss of quality is very remarkable. I note that Borgen was produced, like that other great Danish series, The Killing, by DR, the Danish public broadcasting organization rather than by a private TV company.


One of Borgen's attractions for me is that the programme depicts politics in a credible way, as hot and moist rather than the cold arid view that many spokespeople seek to convey in front of a microphone, as if all they did was rational and in the national interest. There are insights into how spin doctors, politicians and senior civil servants work. The Thick of It did something similar, but was always playing for laughs. Borgen leaves no room for thinking what is depicted is merely a lampoon. It also looks at how smaller parties struggle to gain influence.


The weakest part of Borgen for me was when Birgette Nyborg acquired an English boyfriend and they conversed in English. Her voice changed as she spoke effortlessly and without any trace of a Danish accent. The drama went for me. Their conversations appeared to be on a par with the triteness served up by The Archers.


If there is to be another series featuring the nice - it's the best word for him and his acting - English architect, I hope the producers will get him to speak Danish with Birgette.


14 December 2013 ~ The Reporting of Mandela's Death


Many people have complained to the BBC that the coverage of Mandela's death and laying to rest is excessive. It would not surprise me to learn that many of these moaners are racists who would have ignored the achievements and personal qualities of Mandela had he danced across the waves between Robben Island and Cape Town. But I agree that the coverage has been excessive from the start. BBC's ten o'clock news ignored other events on the evening they announced the death and hung around to carry live Obama's first public response to the hardly surprising announcement. BBC local news focused on parts of London that had links with the great man.


My main problem was that little of what was on the news was news. The drawn out final stages of Mandela's life might have been one of the factors that turned his death into a media-fast; editors had plenty of time to prepare. Reporters had bulging files and contact lists and having done the preparatory work were not going to waste any of their efforts. By all means make documentaries or cover aspects of the ceremonies, but don't use massive amounts of news times to do this.


The wall-to-wall coverage has persisted and much of it has not been news but rehashed snippets, anecdotes and recollections. And I don't believe there was a public demand for this other than the one created by the news blitz that followed the announcement that the great man had died.


Would Mandela have wanted so much publicity if, as many have claimed, he was a humble man? I think he would have preferred real news about the Central African Republic and  Syria, for example. He had experienced his name and the  political struggle it represented being shut out of the media by the apartheid regime. I am sure his sympathies were with those who use the news to inform rather than seek audience share.


One good thing from the coverage is more awareness of the issues in South Africa. But that could have happened without Mandela's death and should continue along with better reporting from other parts of the world, such as the Channel 4's Unreported World.


The issue of non-news cluttering news programmes started long ago and the arrival of twenty-four hour news channels has not help. In fact, twenty-four hour news channel is a misnomer. Apart from the advertising - and even BBC 24 includes at least an hour of trailers per day - much of the content is repetitious even within a single hour and a major event becomes an exercise in tedium while live crews wait for something to happen.


Mandela deserves admiration and gratitude. He is the most remarkable political leader since Ghandi as far as I am concerned. But whereas the pacifist brought his country to independence marred by colossal disruption, the freedom fighter prevented the bloodbath so many had expected.


Honour him through persistence and not merely as a flash in the news pan.


1 December 2013 ~ The Bible as told by Bibblywood


Channel 5 has started to show a version of The Bible made for television. Compressing the Old and New Testaments into ten hours has allowed for some useful editing. Even so, there are howlers aplenty and I suspect the overall result will do little to recruit new people to Christianity and contribute to more lapsing from acceptance of the Bible as in any way divine.


The mini-series begins on an ark commanded by Noah with a Scottish accent telling the tale of creation in six days. The ark is shown to be about the size of a super tanker. Just how such a large vessel could be made with the minimal technology available at this point in history - copper tools at best - is not explained in the film or the Bible. God is helpful with the measurements without hinting at construction methods other than specifying gopher wood and pitch.


And how is Noah able to share the beginning of the Bible? As he appears in Genesis and his death is recorded there, it seems unlikely that God had got round to dictating that book at the time of the flood.


Later we see steel knives and swords being wielded by Abraham and family. The Iron Age is usually accepted as having begun around 1400 BCE. By this time, Joshua was leading the Israelites after their flight from Egypt.


There is plenty of smiting. The film accurately follows the Bible in this at least. Much is made of Sodom and Gomorrah including the angels, one of whom knows kung fu, who visit just before God wreaks destruction. We are shown Lot sheltering the angels, but not the way he invites the crowd pursuing them to ravish his virgin children instead.


"Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” Genesis 19:8


Children who watch television on a regular basis will find the stories and characters rather similar to other ancient epics on the box. The effect of this will be to encourage youngsters to see the Bible as another set of legends.


The crankiness of a jealous god comes through the first episode more loud and clear than from simply reading the Old Testament. For example, the trauma experienced by Isaac as he expects to be slaughtered on screen will raise questions about the wholesomeness if not sanity of Jehovah. Even adults who lean towards Christianity or Judaism will have second thoughts about the origins of their religion after seeing some of the scenes.


The married couple who produced the series both have Catholic backgrounds. If they had wanted to promote religion perhaps they should have considered what happened when the mass went from Latin to living languages. Many Catholics found the mystery disappeared and cracks began to appear in their faith. Others became disenchanted because their longing for the old liturgy brought them into conflict with the church hierarchy and the laity in favour of the reforms. I suggest  the Bibblywood Bible could sow similar seeds of disaffection and discord across Christianity and Judaism.