Ten new Doctors better than Kris Marshall


I refuse to believe for one second the rumour about Kris Marshall. He’s a nice guy and a good enough actor, but come on – this would be the most bland and vanilla choice for the Doctor in the history of Doctors. It would be just silly. Might as well recast Peter Davison.

That said, everyone’s posting their own Doctors lists, as is the custom whenever the regeneration is mentioned, so without further ado, here’s mine.

1. Tamsin Greig

At the moment, she’s my definite favourite for the role. She does funny, she does sad, she does drama and she looks good in suits.

2. Joanna Scanlan

A Thick of It alumni, she’s proven her acting chops definitely in No Offence. In that leather outfit, she’d give Eccleston a run for his money as the best Northern Doctor.

 

3 & 4. Nina Wadia OR Sanjeev Bhaskar

We really need an Asian Doctor, like RIGHT NOW. Either of those would do perfect. “TARDIS? I can make TARDIS at home! All I need is a black hole and a small aubergine.”

5. Sacha Dhawan

He wants the role. He played in the anniversary special. He’s got sci-fi experience. Make it happen.

 

6. Daniel Kaluuya

Probably too big now for BBC, after the breakout success of Get Out… But I thought that of Peter Capaldi, so I’ve been wrong before.

7. Reece Shearsmith

We’re in the white dudes territory now, but Reece Shearsmith could play as literally anyone – imagine the Doctor in a different costume every episode… Reece would probably make a better Master, though.

8. Julian Barratt

Noel Fielding is always bandied about in these lists, but Julian Barratt is the better actor of the two, and does “alien” far more effortlessly.

9. Michaela Coel

Was the casting call for Bill Potts “somebody like Michaela Coel”? Plus, she’s already played an alien.

10. Benedict Wong

He’s just about the right age now, and the right face… and he’s got the Hollywood clout now.

 

Silence: Not Silent Enough (review)


Scorsese’s Silence is a movie naturally within my sphere of interest, so of course I knew I had to see it, but between this and that, it took me over a month before I found time for it. Was it worth it? Weeeell…. kinda.

First, the good bits: the visuals are verging on genius. Rodrigo Prieto fully deserves his second Oscar nomination for cinematography. Japan (or rather, Taiwan playing the part) hasn’t looked that bleak, cold and unwelcoming on screen in a long while. It’s a welcome change from the usual way of portraying its landscape, especially in western cinema. You can feel every lashing of the cruel ocean, every damp waft of fog; the light, the wind, the rain, all play at least as much part in the first half of the movie as the actors themselves (it did help that the weather in London these past few days was the bleakest I remember). Somewhat jarring in all this is the use of sounds associated with Japan’s hot, dry summer – cicadas, summer birds – for the ambience, but I’m guessing it’s not something most viewers would notice.

Speaking of actors: there’s no bad acting in Silence (it is a Scorsese, after all) but of the three Westerners, a woefully underused Adam Driver steals every scene he’s in – I won’t be the first reviewer to note he should’ve gotten the lead; Andrew Garfield is mostly adequate – though he comes into his own the nearer the climax we get – and Liam Neeson plays “Liam Neeson’s priestly figure” – though more Qui-gon Jinn than Father Fielding. The entire middle act of the movie hinges on the performances of the Japanese, and what performances they are! A veteran comedian Issei Ogata is ridiculously brilliant as “Inquisitor” Inoue – easily a role of his life. Tadanobu Asano, here without his trademark goatee, is almost his equal, his polite, disarming smile hiding the cold, ruthless efficiency of a government official; it’s lucky he came in to replace Ken Watanabe, whose overbearing charisma would likely imbalance the scenes with the interpreter. Yosuke Kubozuka‘s Kichijiro is a shining light of the movie, a tragically comic character of which we learn tantalizingly little: a movie with him as the main protagonist would make a much more compelling story, if not exactly the story either Endo or Scorsese wished to tell.

So in terms of pure cinema craftsmanship, from cinematography to acting, Silence is a very good movie. Where it fails is the script – a script which Scorsese and his pet writer Cocks developed for decades, but which nonetheless suffers from several major drawbacks.

The deadliest sin is the use of narration. Ironically for a movie titled “Silence”, there’s barely any silence at all, especially in the first and third act. There were moments where I prayed for Andrew Garfield to just shut up and contemplate his predicament quietly for a while. I haven’t seen a voiceover narration this pointless and distracting since the producer’s cut of Blade Runner. There is virtually nothing that the voiceover adds to what’s already shown on the screen; at times, comically so, when we are literally told what’s happening before our eyes, as in the scene where some prisoners are given sake and the narrator comments: “they were given sake”. Scorsese keeps slavishly to how Endo’s book is written – the narration follows Father Rodrigues’s letters and diaries at first, then the voiceover keeps quiet where the book is written in third person, to return to voiceover at the end, just as Endo returns again to letters. I can’t fathom what made Scorsese film it this way, as if forgetting he was making a movie, not an illustrated audio-book.

The script is too uneven to be fully enjoyed; the movie’s a little bit too long, a little too repetitive at times, and the climax falls flat due to pacing problems. Its treatment of Driver’s Father Garrpe is criminal. A potentially crucial secondary character is reduced to a few bits, and in the end, it’s not even certain why he was there in the first place. I can see why Garrpe is important in the book, but in the adaptation his role fizzles out with barely any consequence to the plot or character development. Again, it seems like a matter of slavishly following the written source: Garrpa’s in the book, so he must be in the movie, even if his presence amounts to almost nothing. (Father Ferreira is similarly underused, though his role in the plot is more clear; Liam Neeson fails to switch between two versions of his character, and if his decision has any negative consequences, they are never clearly shown. He may have wanted to play it subtle, but subtlety at this point was not necessary.)

The one moment where Scorsese decides to modify the story – the final scene – belies both the message of the source material and the movie itself. The ending is far too unambiguous, far too easy, considering the complex and multi-layered psychology of everything told before. And, I feel important to note, it is a false ending, at least as far as the history of Christianity in Japan, and the Far East in general, is concerned. The sapling did not take root in the swamp, other than in the hearts of a tiny minority whom Endo himself represented.

What other problems I have with Silence are problems with both Shusaku Endo’s narrative and Christianity in general, so they don’t belong in this review. Despite these criticisms, it’s still a good movie – and definitely worth seeing on the big screen, if at all; I really can’t praise the visuals enough. It’s just a pity that it falls short of the brilliance it could have been if only Scorsese had more faith in his own skill as a cinematic storyteller (I mean, come on! You’re Martin Fuckin’ Scorsese!) and less devotion to the source material; although judging by that change to the last few seconds of Rodrigues’s story, even that’s not certain.

The Top 10 Teenage Albums meme


So this has been doing the rounds around the internet recently: ten albums that mattered to you the most in your teenage years.

My teenage years, as defined by the meme, fall between 1991 and 1997, which is not an all too shabby period to have grown up to. I mean, it starts with Nevermind and ends with OK Computer: what more could you ask for? It’s certainly the last time music was any good, if you ask me, but then, that’s what everyone says about the music from their youth.

It was also a period of transformation from tapes to CD, so these first albums I’ve consciously listened to were also the first CDs I ever bought… although by the end I would switch again, to downloading mp3s (1998 – Audiogalaxy!) I admit, my memory being what it is, I had to google a bit to find out when the albums I remember best were released, and it turned out that some of my all-time favourites either haven’t been around until 1998 or were already released before 1991, so don’t fall into this meme’s remit. With this in mind, here’s the list (I’d say feel free to add your favourites in the comments, but nobody ever comments on this blog 😉 :

  • Sting – Soul Cages (1991)

A toss up between this and George Michael’s “Listen Without Prejudice“: two final pop albums of the 1980s, released the same year as Nevermind, both marking a change in the air. A definite ending of an era in music.

  • Bjork – Debut (1993)

    This is such a powerful album, still! There’s not a single song here that’s not a timeless work of genius. Not much to say, except that, through Post and Homogenic, Bjork was always a key presence in my soundtrack all through the 90s.

  • Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dreams (1993)

    Like most people, I missed Smashing Pumpkins first album, and only heard of them when they released “Today” video, but it was only when I started exploring their back catalogue after Mellon Collie that I got hooked up on Siamese Dreams. As you can tell from this and the next few selections, 1994-96 was definitely the culmination of my Emo Teenage phase.

  • Nirvana – Unplugged (1993)

No, I wasn’t that unaware of contemporary music to not notice the fucking Nirvana until 1993. It’s just that, somehow, I was more of a Pearl Jam kid for the first couple of years. It wasn’t until In Utero that I began switching my allegiance, and of course, Unplugged was the one that finally made me see the light – just a little bit too late.

  • Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

 

Yeah, it doesn’t really get any happier, does it? This is the “Hurt” one. For a moment this was my most-listened to album of all time. I actually had this in a double CD, with “Further Down the Spiral” remixes, most of which I vastly preferred to the original. This version of Piggy is from the remix album:

 

  •  Body Count – Born Dead (1994)

Ice-T‘s Body Count was a gateway drug to hip-hop for all the white kids hooked on grunge and metal. If you liked Rage Against the Machine or Atari Teenage Riot (and who didn’t?), Body Count was the next thing to bang your head to. And then you’d start to wonder, what else did this guy record? Wait, you mean there’s more?

  • Tricky & co. – Nearly God (1996)

The ultimate trip-hop album, and possibly the weirdest thing to listen to in the mid-90s. I was deep, deep into trip-hop at the time, but this one was definitely my favourite one of the lot. A bizarre project led by Tricky off of Massive Attack, but with co-singers like Terry Hall of the Specials, Siouxie Sioux or Alison Moyet. Trippy and dark as fuck.

  • Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

The greatest album of the 90s? Yeah, I believe so. 2nd most acclaimed of the decade after Nevermind, apparently (and no other than these two in top 30 of all time). Nothing was ever the same after OK Computer. This is where the 90s end the 2000s begin in music.

  • Yoko Kanno – Vision of Escaflowne OST (1996)

1996-97 is when I start to listen to anime soundtracks and J-Pop/J-Rock, downloaded from primitive early internet. By chance, it’s also the time when some of the best anime soundtracks of all time become available: Kenji Kawai‘s Ghost in the Shell and Yoko Kanno’s Vision of Escaflowne. Later on, I’ll start discovering the classical influences behind this music, while Yoko Kanno would go on to produce the masterpiece that was Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, but at the time, as far as I was concerned, this was as good as music got:

  • Genesis – Selling England by the Pound (1974)

I have to mention this one, or my story of the 90s music wouldn’t be complete: it’s also the time when I was introduced (by my then gf) to progressive rock, in the form of the first four Genesis albums (FGtR doesn’t count!). Unlike our relationship, this was the love affair that would last for the rest of my life.

#2016 – summary & playlist


(header image (c) Chris Barker)

Not exactly a New Year‘s Eve party playlist, but then again, it didn’t exactly feel like a party year, for all sorts of reason. Rather than celebrate its passing, we breathe a sigh of relief and hope that 2017 at least won’t get much worse…

gettyimages-591717242_custom-2b1934dac188b7266281132abf838e0c4c8aa8fcIt’s not going to surprise anyone reading this blog how I felt about the political developments since January, and frankly there’s little cause for optimism for the near future. But hey, at least we’re still here (well, most of us), and who knows, maybe 2017 will surprise us. At first, let’s see how long that ceasefire in Syria is going to hold…

KingFor me personally, it was a fairly mixed year. Artistically – very successful, considering I wrote and published two full novels which ended the Year of the Dragon saga, and even found the time for a collection of haiku. I hope to keep this pace up going into next year, although I’ll be starting my new novel from scratch – something I hadn’t done in over five years. AN ENTIRELY NEW BOOK! Every time I realize this, I get terrified at the very thought.

 
KamogawaIn the more mundane part of my life, very little happened. I stayed and worked in London all year, excepting the summer trip to the Hokuriku region of Japan, which was predictably awesome. I changed jobs in the summer, I started listening to comedy podcasts and… that’s about it. This is the first time in a long time that I’ll be spending two consecutive New Year’s Eves in the same place and circumstances. Feels weird!

Haiku2017, though – well, I don’t do New Year resolutions, I do New Year plans, and I have some big plans for this year. Definitely should be more interesting, but for now it’s all secret. I’ll let you know once it all comes to fruition.

wave_250Until then, here’s the playlist. As you’d probably have guessed, it’s a morbid one – a list of all those artists we said goodbye to this year (I include Lemmy, since I’ve learned of his death in the very beginning of 2016). Bowie, Prince and George Michael are the giants that loom large over the list, though as I’ve mentioned before, there are some lesser known names that have made an equally great impact on me – and some others which have been far less noticeable than they deserved in this year’s onslaught.

The passage of time is remorseless, and we are just at the beginning of the age of the dying celebrities. I expect 2017 list will be at least as full of famous names as this year, and 2018, and so on… but 2016 was definitely the first when the mortality of our childhood idols became such an integral part of reality. No matter who else will perish in the future, there will never again be a year like this – the first year of the mass idol death.

Oh well. Here’s to hope, tenacity and Keith Richard’s good health!

“The Vanished” review: disappointingly cliche.


I first noticed this book because of the traffic it was bringing to my old post about Tokyo’s Sanya district. “The Vanished” seems to be making a lot of noise in the Japanophile, and not only, circles – and the premise of the book is promising: telling the stories of the “Evaporated People” – johatsu –  the deliberately missing people of Japan, those who have fallen through the cracks of the system and ran away to start a new life in a different part of the country.

But from the start, there are a few problems with the premise. For example, is Japan really a place with unique numbers (and categories) of disappearances? The book quotes the number of the missing, for any reason, at 120-180,000 a year. But in UK, with half of Japan’s population and with no natural disasters, there are 200-300,000 people going missing every year. It would seem the French author might find a more interesting story across the Channel, rather than traipsing half-way across the globe…

Another problem I notice early on is that, although the book was published in France just two years ago, there is already a sense of it being out of date. Most of the interviewees “evaporated” during the Lost Decade of the 1990s, out of fear of debt collectors and the mafia, or because of economic hardships their companies had suffered – which is hardly a uniquely Japanese experience. The Sanya as described in the book is not the Sanya I know today, with the slums and “extended stay” hotels being torn down to make place for trendy backpacker hostels, boutique cafes and art galleries. Abenomics may be controversial, but it’s changing the surface of the places described in the book at a pace that’s difficult to keep up with, and it would perhaps be more interesting to read about how the forces of gentrification and a flood of cheap yen tourists impacts the local population, rather than slog through another cliched description of the homeless sleeping at the train station (as they do all over the world), or a woeful tale of the author getting lost in the meandering, narrow streets of suburban Japan (it’s the 2010s, don’t you have a GPS in your phone?).

andon.png
Shining future: one of the trendy new hotels in Sanya

The one unique aspect of the Japanese “evaporation” that is, indeed, worth exploring and reading about – and which is the supposed main topic of the book – is the organized and efficient manner in which it is happening. Instead of the government or the NGOs dealing with the scale of the problem, everything is left in private hands. The stories of the secretive companies engaged in the “night escapes“, which provide everything from unmarked removal trucks to cash-in-hand jobs in remote parts of the country, make for a good, intriguing read, but they are too sparse and too few to make up for the rest of the book, petering out after a few chapters. The authors seem to be aware of it, spending far too long explaining how difficult it was for them to find enough contacts to fill out the 200 something pages.

Half-way through, the narrative degenerates into a rambling sequence of non-sequiturs, brief essays only vaguely connected to the theme of “vanishing” or escaping, and veering dangerously at times into the “wacky Japan” or “mysterious Orient” territory: the seclusion of the hikikomorithe suicide cliffs, maid cafes, the Tohoku earthquake, the North Korean abductees; these are all topics worthy of separate research, and having them thrown in among the other stories only compounds the feeling of not having enough proper material for what is, for the price (£12 in half-price e-book deal) a fairly short collection of words and photos.

These cliches accumulate until, at last, I am almost forced to give up reading further, as Mauger begins quoting from the antiquated and often discredited Chrysanthemum and the Sword“. This only confirms my suspicions that her understanding of Japan is merely skin-deep and full of preconceived opinions. It is a pity: a better author could take the subject and go into some really interesting places with it. Perhaps somebody having more sympathy to Japan and the Japanese way of life might notice that the “evaporations” seem, after all, a better way of dealing with the hardships of modern urbanized life than suicide or turning to a life of crime. That even though places like Sanya or Kamagasaki are considered “slums” in Japan, life there is still infinitely easier, and safer, than that in actual slums of Africa or South America. And finally, perhaps somebody would find a way to write an entire book about this single topic, one more deserving of the hype and raving reviews than this jumble of random, forcefully cobbled-together stories.

japan-maid-cafe1
Apparently, these girls also count as “evaporated”.

The Year the Music Died #ripgreglake


Come share of my breath and my substance
And mingle our streams and our times
In bright infinite moments
Our reasons are lost in our rhymes.

In a year that started with the death of David Bowie, and went downhill from there, I didn’t think anything else would have the power to affect me this much so near the end. We’re still three weeks off, and who knows who else will join the super-group in the sky (Fripp? Wakeman?), but, like the straw on camel’s back, what finally broke for me how horribly awful this year was for all my music heroes was the news of the death of Greg Lake.

Maybe it’s because of the double whammy of Keith Emerson dying in March – you rarely get two sets of #rips under one band’s YouTube videos in one year. Or maybe because Greg Lake was the first actual prog rock singer I’ve listened to consciously – long before I discovered the likes of Genesis and Yes – though back then I didn’t even know his name.

That song was “The Lucky Man” by ELP, taped from a late night radio show to a blue Stilon cassette, and played incessantly until I knew every glissando in Emerson’s mad final Moog solo by heart.

Greg Lake was the Galahad of the prog rock Round Table, with his baby face and an angelic voice. Possibly the only vocalist to match a mellotron’s rising cadence, he was the man without whom King Crimson would probably remain just Robert Fripp’s niche experimental fusion jazz combo – and the history of rock as we know it would never happen. On the 21st Century Schizoid Man he sounded less like the cherubim, and more like a wrathful archangel, come down to fight Satan’s hordes. In those pre-internet days of music copied from radio, it took me a while to realize the same man sang the Schizoid Man and Epitaph. You could always easily recognize Ian Anderson’s shrill or Peter Gabriel’s hoarse bellow, but Lake’s voice was always the most surprising.

In ELP, Lake brought poetic calmness and medieval whimsy to counter Emerson’s feral virtuosity. Like Galahad and Percival, with Palmer’s help, they searched for prog rock’s Holy Grail, and, admittedly, got lost along the way in the end – but before they did, they produced some of the finest music this side of the Beatles, like this little Yes-like ditty from the Trilogy album:

2016 was a bitch of a year, and considering nobody’s getting any younger, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better going forward. Eventually everyone we knew and thought great will die – such is the passage of time… At least their work remains with us forever.

Confusion will be my Epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

DOMÓWKA — Poland’s postapocalyptic answer to Hygge


Or, how to party like it’s 1984

By the end of this terrible year of 2016, the world is fully in the embrace of Hygge-mania. Books, blogs, youtube videos, newspaper articles, all espouse the virtues of the Danish concept of frilly cosiness, pillow-hugging friendliness and cake and cocoa by candlelight. And what’s not to like about the idea of cutting yourself from the all the evils of the outside, and shielding yourself with blankets and woollen jumpers from the encroaching darkness?

Except Hygge is an illusion. An aspirational lie. It only works if everything else works — if you live in a nice, well-organized country like Denmark, surrounded by beautiful Scandinavian people, your candle-lit life supported by a generous welfare state. This isn’t how most of us live — and, the way things are going, the Hygge concept will grow further and further away from reality, another unachievable ideal, made only to stress us out and feel miserable, like being thin or feeling good about the party you voted for.

There is another way. If you want to borrow a way of life from another people used to dealing with cold, dark winters, a way of life that is easier to achieve and more suitable to how things are in this post-Brexit, post-Trump, look no further than to the Slavs — in particular, the Poles.

In the coldest nights of serfdom, Partition, Communism, and post-Communist chaos, the Poles have developed ways to cope with both the harsh weather and the harsh political climate. In the centre of this way of life stands the concept of DOMÓWKA (pron. Domoovka) — literally “House Party”, but not the kind you would imagine. Here, in a few steps, is how you can try to replicate this concept at your own home, when everything goes to hell and the nuclear winter makes global warming a distant memory.

1) SETTING

 

It’s a house party, so of course everything happens in a house — but forget a three-bedroom villa in the suburbs. The closer your house is to a council estate flat, the better (an actual estate flat is ideal). And it doesn’t matter how big or small the flat is — all that matters is that you have a kitchen and a dining room, for this is where most of your Domówka will take place.

For reasons lost in the midst of time, the kitchen is the heart of Domówka. It could be the atavistic longing to be near the fireplace — replaced here by the four-hob oven — or it could be the vicinity of the fridge, but no matter where the guests are when the party starts, eventually all the conversation gravitates towards the kitchen. It makes sense when you think about it — the kitchen is cozy, easily heated, provides access to supplies and fresh water, and often has the best acoustics in the house outside bathroom.

Lighting should be subdued — a night-light is enough. Dimmer switch is decadence. Of course, candles are best — not only because they provide coziness, but also because when the power runs out in the middle of the party, due to the crumbling infrastructure unable to deal with the freezing cold, you won’t even notice.

2) DRINK

 

You probably guessed already that the drink of choice here is vodka — Polish or Russian only, none of that fake French stuff. Only the heat of vodka can truly stir the hearts, loosen the tongues, and beat the cold of a northern winter out of one’s bones. Vodka drank straight, ice-cold — so cold, preferably, that it oozes out of the bottle like oil. This can only be achieved with enough preparation, so only applies to the first batch (see Restocking).

Any other alcohol — beer or wine — is to be used only in the form of “liquid tapas” — variously known as Zapojka or Zapitka — to cleanse the palate between vodka shots.

Soft drinks are fine — the cheaper, the better, though Coca-Cola is still a classic stalwart from the days when it represented the “evil West” and an opposition to whatever regime ruled the country. Mixing vodka with the above is fine if you’re feeling fancy, though only when used as Zapojka/Zapitka.

The only acceptable hot drink is tea — strong, black, with a slice of lemon, drunk from a glass. Have plenty of it ready. Biscuits are optional — home-made cake is obligatory.

3) FOOD

 

Speaking of cake, the food is not to be forgotten. Zakaski or Zagryzki(Zakuski in Russian), which is a Slavic variety of mezze, is a culinary art in its own right. The prevalent taste sensation is sourness, and fattiness, both helping to beat the side-effects of all that vodka. So sour-pickled gherkins, of course, and pickled herrings in oil or sour cream, and pickled mushrooms… Then lots of mayo — on eggs, in vegetable salad, on cured meats. If you want a more Eastern experience, have some salo — cured pork fat. If you’re feeling adventurous, put things in aspic, though since that requires a lot of preparation it’s becoming less and less popular.

Pickled and fatty foods, cured meat and cheese, are all things that keep well, which is another plus in our dystopian future — you can even stock the leftovers from one Domówka to another.

4) CONVERSATION

 

We’ve secured the location, drink, and food — but what are we going to do at this strange party? Not dance, obviously. Talk — but what about?

The conversation topics at a Domówka are deep and tough — the deeper and tougher the better. You can’t be whimsical when you’re downing shots of vodka — this isn’t your auntie’s sherry soiree. Football scores is at light as it gets, at first — but then we’re moving on to the real stuff: politics, history, religion.

It used to be that in the West topics like politics and history were a taboo in polite company. This is a privilege the Poles, and most of their Slavic brethren, never had — and, in recent years, it’s become obvious that it’s the only conversation worth having, anywhere. What else can you talk about when Trump is president, when Putin marches through Syria, when Farage’s grin is plastered all over your TV screens? And politics is steeped in history — you have to understand the past to explain the present. Poles like to think of themselves as experts in every subject, but history is everyone’s true hobby. So as the vodka flows, the conversation will flow from recent elections, to the Communist era, to 19th century oppression, all the way to the arrival of first Christians on Polish soil who, depending on your worldview, are either to blame or to credit for everything that’s happening currently.

These conversations are such a crucial part of the Polish soul, that they are even mentioned in poetry — Poland’s chief poet, Adam Mickiewicz, coined the term “Polish Nightly Conversations” in 19th century, which had since entered the vernacular.

5) MUSIC

At any party, choice of music is important — at the Domówka, no less so. What music is best for vodka and pickles? The answer may not be obvious to you, but it’s obvious to any Pole: shanties, folk and poetry.

Here’s another old Polish term: “sung poetry”, also known as “gentle music” or “author song”. It’s a pan-slavic phenomenon, originating with Soviet Bards – a mixture of French chanson, Russian poetry, Celtic folk and scouting songs. Leonard Cohen, Vladimir Vysotski, Jacques Brel are the godfathers of this music genre. Sombre, serious, flowing, often, again, with political overtones. Born as a form of escapism back in the Communist era, the songs tell of a gentler, imaginary land, of nice, decent people, freedom and fresh, unpolluted air. Shanties and Celtic folk stem from the same need of escape — when all else around you is dreary, cold and dark, sometimes all you have left is to imagine yourself on a tallship off the coast of Ireland. (nb. the popularity of these songs goes a long way to explain why, after joining the EU, so many Poles flooded Ireland — it was as if suddenly Neverland turned out real.)

If your Domówka is going well, at some point in the proceedings, one of you might want to pick up a guitar and start making ready for a sing-along. This may be a good point to pause the party for Restocking.

6) RESTOCKING

 

A key moment in every Domówka is when the vodka runs out. It is considered bad form to have “enough” alcohol to last all night — it suggests you imagine your guests drunkards, which they most certainly are not.

This is not a moment to despair. On the contrary, a pause is necessary for the party to continue in peace. What you need to do is mount an expedition to restock the fridge. In the old days, this meant finding out a neighbour stocking a private stash of alcohol, often contraband or home-made, in a melina (private speak-easy). These days, you need to seek out a 24h off-licence or, even better, a petrol station.

The restocking expedition is an essential reset button. It’s a chance to cool heads heated up in the middle of a political argument; an opportunity to let the cold wind freeze the alcohol from your veins; a moment to appreciate the quiet of the winter night, look out to stars and realize the insignificance of our problems in comparison with the vastness of the universe. Without this pause, the guests at Domówka would soon degenerate into drunken, slurring stupor.

7) TRUST

What happens at Domówka, stays at Domówka.

Domówka is a one-night carnival, a place and time when established rules and relationships are suspended. There’s no other way. With the amounts of alcohol drunk, with the sea of existential despair that needs venting, nobody can be held responsible for their actions. Whether it’s an ideological argument gone sour, or a sneaky, desperate tryst in the bathroom, all is forgiven in the morning — or whenever the headache passes. The one thing that is not tolerated at the Domówka is violence: this is where the line is drawn. Violence is for the enemies, there’s no place for it among friends.

This concept of trust makes Domówka what it truly is — a way to survive the unsurvivable, to escape the unescapable.

8) ŁAPU-CAPU

 

(pron. Wapu-Tzapu) This is another important Polish concept, one that requires a whole separate article, or a book, and one which stands at the heart of Polish aesthetics, much as wabi-sabi stands at the heart of the Japanese one. Another similar word is “prowizorka”, or doing something as a shoddy, makeshift, temporary one-off: a concept crucial in a land through which foreign armies have marched for centuries, burning and pillaging everything in their path. Like the Japanese wood and paper houses, everything in Poland is made not to withstand the pressures of history, but to yield to them, and be easily replaced. The less attention to detail, the more make-shift the solution, the better. As the old Polish saying goes, “prowizorka holds out the longest”.

In Domówka terms, this means — don’t sweat it. Don’t prepare too hard. In the end, it’s the mood that matters, not how nice the mayo is spread on your eggs. As long as you have enough alcohol, and enough friends to drink it with, all else will come on its own. Life in our incoming dystopia will be hard enough without having to worry about things like precision and sturdiness. Embrace the Łapu-capu — it may be the only way to survive what’s coming.

Black Mirror series 3, ranked.


[spoilers ahead]

[subjective personal opinion ahead]

.
.
.

mv5bnjy4ndmxmtiwof5bml5banbnxkftztgwode3mzgzmdi-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

6 (6). Hated in the Nation

Boring, predictable and overlong, this one feels like a one-sentence pitch forcibly extended into a 90 min episode. The foreshadowing is very on the nose, the twists are straighter than EU bananas. The main idea could have been executed in a number of better ways, and the inclusion of the ADIs felt somewhat silly. I’d have expected more of the episode spent on exploration of the social media-mob-like mentality, rather than hard sci-fi gimmickry and bad CGI. I can’t help but feel that this is one of those episodes than in the previous, 3-eps long series, would have stayed on the cutting room floor.

mv5bmtq3otq5otixnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzi2mzgzmdi-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

5 (3). Shut Up and Dance

None of the reminding five are bad episodes – but some are better than others. In this one, a simple – a bit too simple – idea is made decent by good directing and acting (I’m a sucker for Jerome Flynn). A nice double twist at the end redeems its lack of substance. It’s got one other thing going for it – I’m sure it made thousands of people tape-over their laptop cameras!

4 (2). Playtest

A straightforward horror. Great acting from Wyatt Russell, overshadowing everyone else. What makes this episode falter is its length – paradoxically, it would’ve been much better as a feature-length movie, with plenty of time to explore the inner horrors of Cooper’s mind. As it is, it feels a bit rushed, but still good.

mv5bnzi2nda3mta4of5bml5banbnxkftztgwmja5mzkzmdi-_v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_

3 (1). Nosedive

Classic Black Mirror, this one wouldn’t be out of place in any of the previous seasons. Let down slightly by the ending, but for 90% of its running this one is a nail-biting ride in the vein of Fifteen Million Merits or White Christmas. The design and special effects are pitch-perfect – from sleek phones that make the iPhone look like an old Nokia, to the run-down “retro-futuristic” “old” cars. And the message is one that affects everyone who’s ever done anything “rate-able” on the internet – which by now, is pretty much all of us.

 

mv5bmjg1nteymdi3mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntg2mzgzmdi-_v1_sx1500_cr001500999_al_

2 (5). Men Against Fire

Not so much a cutting edge of satire, as a bludgeoning sledge-hammer. This is the world won and ruled by the likes of Katie Hopkins and her followers – only with better AR technology… but the chilling realization here is that the AR is not really necessary in a world where a publicist can compare real people to cockroaches and keep the job. And while every episode of this season attempts to tackle several social and technological issues at once, only a few juggle all of them as successfully as this one.

mv5botm1mte3nmutownlny00zjuxlwizzjatyjczn2i3m2m0ywiyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntqymdczmzy-_v1_sy1000_cr0014991000_al_

1 (4). San Junipero

A beauty of the episode, this is Brooker at his most poignant and life-affirming. You’d never guess there’s so much warmth in the man made famous for throwing insults at a TV screen. The 80s visuals are as perfect here as the future in Nosedive. And it’s a great reminder that, for all his warnings and pessimism, CB is not some tech-hating Luddite.

Writing Inspirations, 2 – Podcasts


Right, so here’s the second installment of my “writing inspirations” series. This time it’s the podcasts I listen to on my headphones. Continuing last week’s theme, these concern artists and artistry – in particular, once again, comedy and comedians.

The one I’ve discovered first, and probably because of that my favourite, is RHLSTP (RHLSTP!) – catchily-named Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theater Podcast, which originated out of Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe interview podcasts.

People of my generation, of course, remember Richard Herring from his 90’s double-act with Stewart Lee; his further career – and he’ll be the first to admit – had its ups and downs, but at some point he moved on to internet-kickstart-podcast presence, which was a great decision for everyone involved, as it gave us, by now, well over a hundred interviews, plus additional podcasts, sketch shows like AIOTM (*aiotm!*) and more.

If you know Herring, you’ll know the kind of humour to expect at first – but among the questions about a 6-foot dick and hands made of ham, it moves subtly towards discussions about creativity and comedians’ life in general.

avatars-000157297342-wxmv6e-t500x500

The other podcast, despite having “comedy” twice in its title, is much more serious. Stuart Goldsmith’s Comedian’s Comedian tends to be much further on the “sad clown” spectrum. Stuart doesn’t shirk from controversial subjects and guests; the interviews are more serious and heavy. My definite favourite is his conversation with Shappi Khorsandi (who’s one of my favourite people anyway) – touching deeply on such subjects as depression, self-harm, bullying and racism, all painted with a contagious optimism.

podcasts_sitcom_geeks

The last podcast I have to mention is Sitcom Geeks: a long, ongoing conversation between  James Cary and Dave Cohen about the art of writing and editing – sitcoms, in their case, but most of it is applicable to any sort of writing.