Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #12 : Dick Turpin season 1 (1979)

Dick Turpin title sequence

When I was twelve, Dick Turpin was the most exciting programme on a TV calendar that included such classics as The Muppet Show, 3-2-1, Tales of the Unexpected and Not The Nine O’Clock News, as well as unappreciated gems Sapphire and Steel (sheer brilliance), It’s A Knockout and Rentaghost ***pause for misty-eyed reminiscences***.

Robin’s Nest and Man About The House – Richard O’Sullivan’s previous shows – had never darkened our black and white screen, which was fiercely policed by my father, who would have no truck with light comedy (Are You Being Served and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum excepted).

Therefore, I had no preconceived ideas about O’Sullivan as a lightweight beta male flummoxed by female flatmates and one-armed kitchen hands. To me, he was a dashing, dandy highwayman with a strong sword arm and a warm heart.

Dick Turpin & Swiftnick

Dick and Swiftnick. What larks they had

I loved the series so much I bought the book (see previous post), and reading must have cemented the storylines in my head, because I can remember every one of them. For someone who regularly forgets where the reverse gear is on my car, this is momentous.

I also discovered  that when it comes to fiction and drama, most of the things I love now are just a midnight gallop away back to Dick Turpin. Outlaws! Swords! Flintlocks! Dastardly plots! Rougeish heroes! Cunning tricks! Feisty women! Inns and ale and pies! Billowing white shirts! And I thought my finely honed writing style was the result of decades of experience and painful fine tuning.

Apart from the nostalgia hit, the programme itself has survived the last 38 years with surprising robustness. The acting is low key but solid, and while all the action seems to take place around the same field and tumbledown barn, it is still exciting and atmospheric.

A favourite episode is The Poacher, when Dick and his sidekick Swiftnick come across a perfumed fop called Wiloughby who has – apparently – just been robbed. Dick later fools Wiloughby by pretending to be a bewigged buffoon himself, but in a double twist, Wiloughby turns out to be a highwayman in disguise. The scene where they are trading quips while swordfighting back to back is sheer swashbuckling fun.

The Imposter, where Swiftnick’s uncle is shot and everyone blames Dick, is both shocking and satisfying, but the best episode is the last one of the series, The Jail-birds. The main characters – both good and nasty – end up locked in a cell together. There is very little action, just a lot of smart dialogue, some real history chucked in, a cunning twist and the re-emergence of a forgotten character as an unlikely saviour.

Scene from Dick Turpin

Richard O’Sullivan punching his way out of a brown paper bag

Dafter episodes involve Dick being mistaken for a prize-fighter and having to beat the local big bully (cue snorts of derision from my father, who hooted that Richard O’Sullivan couldn’t punch his way out of a brown paper bag. Why the colour of the bag mattered, I have no idea).

Having a rogue highwayman who turned out to be a beautiful woman (gasp! how could no-one tell?) in The Pursuit was an excuse to inject some frilly 17th Century lingerie into the show and The Hostages – where big baddy Sir John Glutton suddenly develops a never-before-mentioned niece and Swiftnick is involved in a half-arsed kidnap attempt – felt as if it had been dreamed up on the back of a beer mat.

I was gutted to discover Series 2 isn’t on YouTube, but there is a DVD – and Christmas is coming.

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Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #11: American Gods

Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday in American Gods

Big Neil Gaiman fan here. I especially liked Ocean At The End of the Lane and Neverwhere. I bloody loved Neverwhere. I never read American Gods though, so apart from a big bowlful of magical realism, I didn’t know what to expect.
I still don’t know what to expect.

The thing that I suppose has put off anyone trying to adapt American Gods before, is that it isn’t a start to finish story but a massive ever-evolving circle.

Czernobog

This is Czernobog and this is his hammer

Nothing is explained, and at the start you have to just sit back and enjoy the road trip.
It is the stunning cinematography that kept me watching at first; one tiny but exquisitely crafted scene saw a road map of Illinois swivel and transform seamlessly into the lock on a motel room door.
No-one strikes a match in American Gods without the scene slowing down and zooming in so you can see every particle of the match, hear every crackle of the tiny flame.

The plot is a road movie crossed with a fantasy quest: An extraordinarily dense ex-con called Shadow Moon is taken up by a mysterious con-artist called Mr Wednesday.
Wednesday is travelling through middle America visiting oddballs and persuading them to meet him in Wisconsin for a war.
They – or, to be precise, Shadow – are pursued by some Bad Guys who take over TVs and talk in riddles.
It takes Shadow a long, long time – the whole series in fact – to suss out that Wednesday is recruiting a gang of old gods to fight the new gods and that his boss is one of the original old-style war gods, Odin himself (the clue was in the name – Odin/Woden’s day = Wednesday).

Put like that, it sounds a bit like a Marvel super heroes movie, but it’s not even on the same planet.
In Gaiman’s world, gods aren’t buff do-gooders with a paper-thin backstory. Instead, they rely on worship – on people praying to them, sacrificing to them, building altars to them.
Once they are forgotten by their disciples, they die. In modern day America, the gods are now technology, media and globalisation, and they are vast and powerful, taking over many of the old beliefs and forging them again – like turning Easter into a chintz-fest of white rabbits and pastel-coloured macaroons.

Is your heart heavier than a feather? Well, is it?

The old gods are muttering in damp apartments or desperately flicking through Tindr in search of worshippers. They were brought to America by settlers, and some of the best scenes in the series depict how this happened.
A boat of early Viking raiders summon Odin, and leave him there when they decide the New World is a bit too rubbish. An Irish woman sentenced to transportation brings with her belief in the little folk; a Muslim woman who heard tales of the Egyptian dieties from her mother holds them in her heart when she moves to America; Ghanian teller of tales Anansi, the spider god, arrived with slaves in the sweating hold of a Dutch cargo ship.

The clincher as to whether I loved this series or just sort of admired it came at the start of episode three. The Egyptian woman – now living in Queens – falls off a rickety stool, dies, and is visited by Anubis, who weighs her heart and invites her to choose which door she will pass through into the underworld. This small scene was breathtakingly beautiful. The camera falls dizzyingly down through the apartment block, then journeys back up the fire escape to a sun-crossed land of ancient deserts. The woman’s face is careworn but beautiful, the colours are like a hand-tinted sepia film reel. I had to watch it three times.

Laura Moon

Laura Moon. Dead wife. With flies

If there is one thing American Gods has, it is depth. We don’t need to see the goddess Bilquis absorbing people into her vagina (yes, she actually does that. Loads of times). We don’t need to hear Anansi, Ghanian god of storytelling, tell it like it is to a sweltering hold of African slaves. But they give the series a boundless horizon, a sense that anything could happen.

And we will have to wait until the next season to find out exactly what is going to happen. Series one ends with nothing resolved and everything still to play for. I can’t wait that long – I’ve started reading the book.

Things I think about as I colour-co-ordinate my pegs

  • If Shadow’s dead wife Laura Moon is brought back to life what will happen to her half-rotted body? And what about the fact she has no organs? How does this resurrection stuff work anyway?
  • She tried to kill herself with fly-spray and is now surrounded by flies attracted to her rotten maggoty flesh. I see that. But don’t get it.
  • And why is Laura so superhumanly strong now she’s dead? OK, enough about Laura now.
  • Shadow Moon is really a bit of a docile thickie, so why are the nasty new gods so keen to recruit him? Why does everyone already know who he is?
  • Is a leprechaun a god? I thought they were just like Little People from the land of faerie, hanging about around rainbows and stuff.
  • That bank job Wednesday pulls, acting like a security guard. Would that work? (Asking for a friend).

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #10: Ripper Street, Seasons 4 & 5

Ripper Street Season 4 (Amazon)

I was SO pleased when Amazon took over Ripper Street after the BBC wandered off. And now I am SO pleased it is over.

Ripper Street had a great cast, a steampunk script and an endless supply of blood and gutsy murders. Season 4 continued this to some extent, luring perpetually troubled Inspector Edmund Reid (consistently good Matthew Macfadyen) and the irritatingly perky Mathilda (Anna Burnett) back to dirty Whitechapel from the seaside backwater where they had been living in boring peace.

As Bennet Drake (best side-kick ever Jerome Flynn) is now the boss of H Division, and Reid a mere special constable, tensions are inevitable. This is compounded by the fact that Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) is about to be hanged and Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) is acting all drunk and not bothered and their son, Connor, is to be brought up by Rose (Charlene McKenna) and Drake. Oh, and Mathilda is making all the eyes at desk sergeant Drummond (Matthew Lewis), who resorts to reading Dracula to try and impress her.

Jedediah Shine, Ripper Street

Don’t dial 999 for him. Jedediah Shine, brilliantly played by Joseph Mawle

So far, so Ripper Street. Storylines involving amateur footballers and blood splatters, an evil workhouse owner and a blood transfusion gone horribly wrong recapture the grisly magic of Ripper Street of old.

However, there were some sneaky storylines underlying it all that should have alerted me to what awaited in Season 5. Firstly, there is Augustus Dove (Killian Scott), an unbelievably young and even more unbelievably reasonable assistant commissioner. Then the cold case involving the murder of a local rabbi and talk of a Whitechapel golem. Finally, there is Long Susan’s execution. She killed 52 people just so she could put a hospital in her front room! We don’t feel sorry for her, and Jackson is better off without her. Instead, he comes up with a daft plan and saves her from the rope. Boo.

Season 5 has a single storyline. Even the title music has changed, and Reid keeps forgetting to shave, just so you know that everything has taken a darker turn. Pantomime villain Jedediah Shine (played terrifyingly well by Joseph Mawle) turns up to take over when Drake is killed, Rose – who seemed to be a completely different person than in previous seasons – turn traitor then trundles off to Blackpool and Augustus Dove decides to bring up Connor, with the help of a cruel governess. Reid, Jackson and Long Susan hide out in a theatre owned by Jackson’s previous amour, the witty Mimi (Lydia Wilson), who had some of the best lines in the series.

It all trundles along, with everyone knowing what is going on but no-one able to bring anything to any kind of conclusion. In the end, I forgot I was watching the final series, wandering over to iPlayer documentaries and YouTube film noirs when I was ironing instead. Then a severe sinus infection knocked me flat into bed for three days and all I could do was stare at the iPad and sniff. It seemed the ideal time to finally cross Ripper Street off my list.

Long Susan and Nathanial Dove

Long Susan and Nathanial Dove – we know what awaits them, and it ain’t a happy ending

It wasn’t all bad. David Threlfall as Abel Croker was an excellent addition to Season 4, and jaunty Sergeant Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahony) made up for the absence of old favourite, slimy journalist Fred Best, who was killed in Season 3. Nathaniel Dove (Jonas Armstrong), Augustus’s murderous brother, was brilliantly portrayed, as you wondered who was the real animal – the man who couldn’t help himself, or the one who could but killed children to cover up his brother’s madness.

As always, the staging and photography was a treat. The smoke of the Thames Ironworks, peeling plaster of Newgate Gaol and billboard-plastered alley walls were all atmospherically recreated. But the final series just wasn’t Ripper Street, it was a two-episode storyline stretched so much you could hear the whalebone snapping.

A lot of critics disliked the final episode, but I thought it redeemed the series somewhat. By wrapping the storyline to its obviously inevitable ending half way through, it left the second half open for flashbacks (Drake and Best reappear!) and a lingering farewell. Reid carries on, his best friend dead, everyone else he cares about moving on and moving away. He remains at Leman street, haunted by the one crime he could not solve – Jack the Ripper – and spending the last minutes of the old century alone, reading through the night’s crime reports.

Things I think about when I sort through the linen basket:

  • Did Augustus Dove’s lisp get more pronounced as the series went on or did I just become more attuned to it?
  • Who caught the eels for the Sumner family before Nathaniel turned up? Thatcher said they were the ‘best eels in London’…
  • I lost track of Rachel Costello (Anna Koval) that determined new reporter who was on Dove’s trail. Where did she go after Shine menaced her? Why didn’t she scream blue murder to the people in the next office when he had his hands up her petticoats?
  • Why did clever Mimi have to go and marry some old bloke? Why couldn’t she carry on having cosy suppers with poor lonely Inspector Reid? Why?

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #9: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Seasons 2-7

RuPaul

***NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS***

I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race by my step-daughter, who said her proudest moment would be if her brother ever appeared on it.
I don’t know why it isn’t more of a (female?) phenomenon in the UK, because it combines everything you could want from a hard-fought reality show, as well as providing for all your comedy, high fashion, emotional backstory and killer bitchiness needs.

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

RuPaul Charles is a drag queen (read ‘Drag Superstar of the World’). Out of drag, he is a very tall, slim and slightly geeky black man. In drag he is an amazing glamazonian with blonde hair, model-looks and sequined designer gowns. We are not talking Danny La Rue here.
The programme is sort of a Great British Bake-Off for drag queens, of which America seems to have an unending supply. At the start of the series, 12 men dressed up as women pitch up in a large workroom and are giving various tasks to do. At the end of each week, one is sent home until the season finale crowns the Next Drag Superstar.
RuPaul is the Mary Berry in heels and a corset presiding over it all, helped by a panel of C-list judges. He offers inspiring advice and killer put-downs in equal measure.
It is as hilarious, eyebrow-raising and gross as it sounds – as well as inspiring and touching.

Courtney Act

This is Courtney Act. She. Is. A. Man

In the UK, we see drag queens as little more than pantomime dames. In Drag Race, where drag is an art, it is obvious they are so much more than that. There are the comedy queens, of course, but there are also the pageant queens, in foot-long false eyelashes and over the top prom dresses, the fishy queens who look so much like women (fish=woman, you don’t need to know why) it is unnerving, the East Coast queens in their weird, edgy drag that usually involves sticking bits of hairdryers all over a bodystocking and talking about My Art and the plus-size queens with their Large and In Charge ethos.
The tasks are either silly, hilarious or just ewww.

The queens have to dress non-drag men up as fellow queens, take part in mini-Broadway shows or exercise videos, record a song (promoting whatever single RuPaul has just released), dress puppets up as fellow queens or guess the colour of a load of beefy assistants underpants.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy was chunky but not very funky

At the end of every show there is a catwalk, where they have to strut in their best drag to a different theme each week, ranging from Gold Eleganza to Executive Realness. After telling each queen how she had let herself – and, more importantly, Mama Ru, down, RuPaul selects the bottom two who will have to Lypsynch For Your Life.

Cue over the top dance moves, splits (‘she dropped it like it was hot’), and wig swinging (in one memorable Lypsynch, one queen dragged off her wig only to reveal another wig underneath). Ru delivers her verdict, telling the losing queen to ‘Sashay away’, which she does with her head held high and a few bitchy words for the camera back in the workroom. You don’t get that on Strictly.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy Layne out of drag. Or is she?

The show’s production values are as trashy as the queens’ outfits. Sponsors get any number of mentions, the stages are tiny, the audience, when they have one, is about a dozen people. Everything is held together with hundreds of catchphrases you will soon find yourself incorporating into everyday life, such as remember – don’t fuck it up, or no tea, no shade, no pink lemonade and can I get an Amen in here? Oh, and a phrase for every situation – don’t blow your nose on the fabric, baitch!

Stuff I think about when sewing on my sequins:

  • You need a suitably draggy name – try Pandora Box, Sharon Needles, Milk, The Princess, Ginger Minj, Shangela, Penny Tration and Jujubee for size.
  • You have to be gay. You don’t have to be, but they all are.
  • You have to be able to read – give someone a dressing down in the most bitchy way possible (usually preceded by donning a pair of plastic glasses and announcing ‘the library is open’).
  • You have to say fuck a lot. All the queens swear vilely, all the time.
  • You have to know how to tuck (go look it up) – a meaty tuck is to be avoided at all costs. You also have to cinch (to avoid hogbody) and pad. It’s a whole new world.
  • You have to have a tearful back story. Actually, this isn’t true. Some of the queens have lovely, supportive families, but they are in the minority. Most were bullied at school for being gay and effeminate, many have parents who can’t accept their lifestyles, some are totally estranged from their families. Ah, the shade of it all…
RuPaul season 6 lineup

The Season 6 line-up – fave series so far. Every queen was a winner (except Laganja Estranja, obvs)

OK, so I was very wrong about the weather…

But that’s a good thing, yes?

As soon as I posted last week, miserably predicting that the weather always collapses into dank and dismal Autumn when the new term starts, we have ourselves a genuine Indian summer.
Not only that, but one week in and we are steaming on the hottest day of the year.

This is brilliant. Instead of turning the radiators on, I just have to open the windows in order to warm up House of One Million Draughts.

Free heat! Yesssss!

But if me just saying the weather is going to get cold and horrible means the weather will get record-breakingly hot and lovely, what other Powers of Opposite Happenings does this blog have?

So here goes:

  • The Walking Dead Season 6 will NEVER make it onto Amazon Prime.
  • I’ll wake up tomorrow and my hair will be short, dry and lifeless.
  • The Government is about to make daily ironing compulsory.
  • Anyone who doesn’t have double glazing is NOT to be given a £10,000 grant and a free cardigan.
  • Scientists will discover raspberry vodka is actually a very bad thing that makes you old and fat.

Just putting these out there for starters… in a week’s time my life should be transformed.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #8: The Walking Dead (Seasons 1 – 5)

The Walking Dead started out as perfect ironing fodder. It didn’t matter if I had to go and pull stuff off the washing line cause all I’d miss was another zombie being spiked.

But as the show went on it gradually moved, like a slowly rotting corpse, into something much darker and grittier. So much so that by the time I came to the end of Season 5 it had become my favourite Thing I Watch When I Am Knitting show – and for some episodes I didn’t get much damn knitting done.

When we started leaving old-world style relationships behind (ie: as soon as Lori bit the dust) it really took off. I couldn’t buy into the love triangle between Lori, our hero Rick and his best friend (who left him to rot in a hospital and then seduced his wife) Shane. The world was imploding around them, they were living in a tent in a layby with a load of oddballs and eating grass. Weren’t there more important things going on down?

Thankfully, despite Glenn and Maggie getting together, and Bob and Sasha having a bit of a sweet thing, there has been no cringe-making lurve scenes (I don’t count Andrea and the Governor. I don’t think they did either). It has been about loyalty, family, filthy t-shirts and very tight trousers.

Michonne turned up to the party with a sword, a hood and two pet zombies. Beats a bottle of Frascati anytime

Michonne turned up to the party with a sword, a hood and two pet zombies. Beats a bottle of Frascati anytime

And talking of the Governor, while he was a great pantomime villain (eyepatch and immunity to death as standard), things were much more complex when the bad guys were the Terminans and the Claimers and those nutters at the hospital who took Beth. They all had harrowing backstories or warped codes of ethics and more nuances than you would expect from a blood-spattered zombie-fest.

In this world, the law of consequences is a killer – literally. Forget karma. If you don’t take someone out when you have the chance you are sure as hell going to regret it. Morgan can’t bring himself to shoot his undead wife – and we find later she is the one who kills his son. Dale’s death is totally Carl’s fault, for messing with a walker, and letting the Governor live wasn’t a good move for anyone, ever. This doesn’t half mess with your humanity.

Another reason it is so compelling is that anyone could die at any time. Except Rick, obvs, because he appears on the posters for Season 6. Knowing you can lose a major character means you never relax – I was fully expecting to see Glenn go down in the finale of Season 5. And you can’t bond with new characters because you never know if they are destined to be a regular or not. Why does Moses have to die when  Tara and Rosita make it?

Kickass Carol. Don't look at the flowers on that jumper

Kickass Carol. Don’t look at the flowers on that jumper

Bits that made me drop my cable needle

  • Finding Merle’s severed, still handcuffed hand on the roof.
  • The CDC centre going into lockdown and then blowing up.
  • Carl getting shot straight after seeing the stag. So there is still beauty in this world? Nope.
  • Shane reanimating without being bitten. WTF? Did I miss something? Combined with the revelation of what Dr Lister had whispered to Rick, this was jawdropping.
  • The first apperance of Michonne, hooded, with a katana and two chained, armless walkers. Bloody awesome image.
  • The Governor killing Martinez, proving he wasn’t redeemed at all, despite calling himself Brian.
  • Beth getting shot. A perplexing surprise.
  • Rick biting out Joe’s throat. He didn’t see that coming.
  • Bob telling the Terminans they were eating infected flesh after waking up to find they’d barbecued his foot. Right back at ya there.
  • Moses dying in the revolving door. This was horrible. He was a great character, with a strong back story. The revolving door was a brilliant idea and Glenn watching him die through the glass was too harrowing.
  • Carol’s flowery jumper in Alexandria. It was hideous.

Bits that made me throw my stitch holders at the screen

  • Lori telling Andrea that ladies don’t shoot, they do the laundry and the cooking. Waytogo Lori.
  • Beth singing miserable songs. How about a version of Knees Up Mother Brown to cheer everyone up, eh Beth?
  • Beth’s odd and pointless death. Why’d she stab Dawn? Why’d Dawn shoot her? (I read later the Beth actress had a singing career to pursue).
  • Everyone believing Eugene was a top scientists despite his cowboy accent and totally unscientific hairstyle.
  • Bizarre domestic violence plotline at Alexandria. Failed to engage or even interest me.
  • Aiden and his crummy chum Nicholas at Alexandria being dangerous arseholes and no-one talking about it or apparently believing Glenn and Eugene. Infuriating plotline.
Terminus - don't go there. Seriously. DON'T GO THERE

Terminus – don’t go there. Seriously. DON’T GO THERE

Bits that made me cry into my tension swatch

  • Carol telling Lizzie to ‘look at the flowers’ before shooting her. I mean, that whole episode. Sob.
  • Tyreese’s death. That whole episode. More sob.

Things that make me lose track when I am counting stitches

  • The superclean, fully stocked chapel of rest where Beth and Daryl stayed. Who looked after it? Where did they get the bargain bottles of cola from?
  • The hermit in the woods who threatened to call the cops. Had he really been asleep all those months, with a dead dog in the room, and no idea there was a zombie apocalypse going on?
  • The hitchhiker outside the prison they ignored, then stole his bag once zombies had taken him down. He had managed to get that far, alone, and they let him die. That still bothers me.
  • The one-eyed dog at the chapel of rest. I hope it’s ok.

Stuff you end up with

Green laundry basket

Gods know how we got onto the subject, but someone was telling me about their laundry basket the other day. It’s green (this isn’t relevant) and it is old (this is) and she was dumping stuff in it when she noticed it for the first time in years. She hadn’t bought it, it had been her husband’s, and he brought it to the marriage along with a box of U2 CDs and a potato allergy.
When she asked him he said it had been in a house he rented and he used it pack his stuff in when he moved out (probably those CDs). This was FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.
Look around – how much stuff have you got that has been around for years that you never knew, never imagined for one minute would still be with you?

I bought my ironing board as a student in an emergency dash to Safeway when the old one broke after me and my housemates hilariously used it as a cat obstacle course. Tried ironing on a table, burned the table, had to walk through the streets of Sheffield carrying an ironing board (didn’t have a car. Another hilarious anecdote). It was the smallest, cheapest board in the shop and I still bloody have it, five covers and four irons later.

1930s coffee percolator

This is it! This is the actual percolator!


Another friend has a coffee percolator (she is a posh friend) given her by her aunt after she broke her cafetiere. She was visiting the aunt (actually, I think she was a great aunt) the day it broke and was telling her about it so the aunt dug out this old percolator, the last remnant from a 1930’s breakfast set (she must have been a great, great aunt). It had those old black and red wires (which I think are probably totally illegal now) but everything worked perfectly, and made much better noises than the cafetiere, which she never got round to replacing. Twenty-years later, Aunty Elsie is long gone, but the percolator still gets used every morning.

But I can top all that. Me and my then partner had met while working in the same office, but he thoughtfully got a new job forty miles away. We tried living there for a while, but the commuting was a killer (almost literally – I drove into the back of a lorry trying to get home late one night) so we stuck a pin in the map exactly half way between the two towns. A biggish (for two people) crumbly old house was going cheap, and these were the days of 100% mortgages.
It will be a good investment, we said, we’ll do it up and move on within five years. That’s exactly what he did (the moving on, not the doing up) and I am still there, in my stop-gap, investment buy, un-done-up house, one marriage, four children and TWENTY YEARS LATER.