Just finished the first draft of my third book, A Scourge and a Shield. Coming in at 127,500 words, it is just two weeks shy of four years ago when I first started writing. And now I am late for the Brownies pick up. It was ever thus…

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #4: The Man In The High Castle, eps 1 & 2

Why aren’t there more ‘what if’ programmes out there? The scope to be clever and deep is endless when you are weaving an alternative world. Maybe that is why – are they just too intricate to do properly?

The Man In The High Castle builds a world where the allies lost World War II and the Germans and the Japanese divided the United States between them.
Set in 1962, it is based on a Philip K Dick novel I have never read, centred around a banned book describing how the allies actually won the war. In the programme, the book has become a reel of film, a necessary morph using a more visual medium for the screen.

When building a different world, it is the tiny things that make it real. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has two Oxfords, one character is confused by the small round marks all over the pavement. It is discarded chewing gum, something we never notice but which did not exist in her world.
In TMITHC it is the friendly highway patrol cop who is actually an autobahn cop, and the endless ballads on the radio – because rock ‘n’ roll never happened.

But cripes, it’s bloody dark. The ice-cream coloured, big-refrigerated America of the 50s never happened, so everyone lives in poky, dirty apartments and everything is falling apart and frayed. Jobs are precious, especially for the native population, and everyone has to keep their heads down and keep quiet.

The main characters are, naturally, frowning and anxious and not particularly engaging.
There are also aspects of the plot that left me – even after two watch-throughs – frowning and anxious myself. The origami man on the bridge – how did he get there and know so much? The thief who stole Juliana’s bag from the bus – how did that save Frank from the firing squad? And the diplomat pretending to be from Sweden who came to visit the Japanese fella and talk about Hitler and I Ching? I mean – why?

Confusing? You betcha. But the cinematography and direction is utterly impressive, and the whole premise is so damned intriguing there is no question that I’ll be clicking onto Amazon Prime and binge-watching as soon as the whole series is released.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #3: Ripper Street series three, episodes 6 – 8

The last three episodes of Ripper Street were pretty ludicrous, but in a Ripper Street way of ludicrous that has me pleased I kept faith with the series while the BBC lost theirs.

Episode 6 had a rare glimpse into the life of the toffs, slumming it down Whitechapel. The make-up plastered on Lady Vera, to say nothing of her very un-Victorian flirting with nice Constable Grace, struck a bit of a silly-arse note, but all was saved by the use of the new-fangled finger-print device (I knew we’d get a finger-print plot sooner or later – knew it).

Episode 7 was a belter – abortion, illegitimacy and transgender issues, all wrapped up in an intriguing plot that also included the phrase (describing the London poor) ‘rascally multitude’. I expect that will be making its way into some of my own writing before long.

Episode 8 was bloody ridiculous. So Long Susan’s wicked father finally turns up, and she suddenly goes from proto-feminist hard-hitter to weak little simperer? No Long Susan, no! Why didn’t you just shoot him like you do everyone else? Or shove him down a cellar or poison his port? At least we had Captain Jackson and the crafty finger-print trick, which only confirmed what he already knew but couldn’t bear to believe about his estranged wife.
I was devastated to see Fred Best killed, as it means he won’t be sliming his way around series four, but at least he had a brilliant send off. And while Drake and lovely Rose finally do the decent thing, spirited Mimi dumps Jackson because he just can’t cut the ties with Long Susan, despite her being a bit of a cow (and a multiple murderer to boot).
The final scene has back-from-the-dead Inspector Reid and the drippy Mathilda on a chilly-looking beach – finally, he has everything he wanted.

Things I think about as I fold up the ironing board:

  • Just who is going to clear up all the mess in Long Susan’s horrible house?
  • What’s going to happen to that well-meaning but humourless doctor?
  • When is series four on?

We put our faith in dentists and car mechanics

I had toothache on and off for weeks. Well, it was more earache than toothache, and some days it was fine, others it wasn’t. The dentist said he couldn’t see anything wrong and I felt better, because I thought, y’know, there was nothing wrong.
Then it got suddenly worse. I was waking in the night and counting down the minutes until my next clutch of painkillers. I got an appointment with my GP, which was marginally easier than getting one with my dentist.
She said it wasn’t an ear infection and sent me back to the dentist. He said again he couldn’t really see anything but that it was probably an abscess in my gum and he gave me lovely cure-all penicillin.
I felt better because, y’know, he told me what was wrong and gave me medicine.

root canal work

Oh gods, I can’t even bear to look at this

It got worse.
It was agony. I had to stop drinking whisky AND vodka because that was even worse than agony.
I went back to the dentist who sort of shrugged and suggested root canal work. I have never had root canal work, but figured nothing could be worse than the pain I was in right then.
Yeah, right. That was a lesson. I would have sold my soul to the devil – or the Tories – to make him stop when he pulled out the nerve, millimetre by vicious millimetre.
And now the toothache has gone.

Meanwhile… the car started beeping and saying there was a battery fault, but it kept going so we cleverly ignored it. Then it broke down in dramatic style on the motorway at 5am while my partner was on the way to work. He had to get towed home with no lights.
The garage called later to say there was nothing wrong – they had looked, it had started when they turned the key, the battery and all the engine stuff was fine, so did we want to come and get it.

an alternator

This is an alternator thingie. It is worth its weight in GOLD

He said no, and asked them to please do something or we would never drive it again. They said they’d give changing the alternator a go, at massive cost.
They rang the next day to say once they had taken the old alternator off they found a corroded wire and a dodgy thingie. So that was the problem after all, and now it was totally fixed.
I drove it today. It beeped once, damnit, but then was fine.

The thing I am getting at is the thing in-between – the bit where the experts shrug their shoulders and tell you there is nothing wrong – when you know damn well there is.
But I never went to dental school, and I’ll never be a mechanic, so what the hell are you supposed to do here? I suddenly felt totally at sea.
If the experts can’t fix it them you are on your own, mate. You are vulnerable and abandoned and out in the cold.
We know so little about stuff, and there is so much stuff to know about, anyone who is an expert in anything becomes a surrogate parent – they are the ones who can fix the boiler and its ‘intermittent fault’, or sort out your four-way-shunt insurance claim. And when they can’t – even when you are chucking money at them – you suddenly feel very bewildered in a very big, very over-complicated world.
We need less stuff, and the stuff we have needs less to go wrong with it.
Don’t know how this would work for teeth, but it fits for everything else.