Because Life's Too Short

Christopher Fowler
When I was young there used to be (and for all I know may still be) a peculiar little chapbook held together with rusted staples that listed the calendar of England, predicting what your sheep would do, what your birth sign would reveal, lighting up times, tide-tables and so on. I recall that Old Moore's Almanack was also peppered with obscure events, rituals that included the Bubble Sermon, the Fishmongers’ Procession, Swan Upping, Doggett’s Coat & Badge, the London Bridge sheep drive, the lion Sermon and various presentations of boar’s heads, hats, fruit etc., once again proving that we are indeed mad or very bored.  On the 1960s radio show 'Round the Horne' the host would start each episode by listing imaginary events, like the 'Over-Eighties Nude Leapfrog Championships'. Quite a few of the real ones are explored in 'Bryant & May's Peculiar London', coming soon in paperback. Clearly London caters for the obsessive, the crank, the outsider. When it comes to film, the auteur is favoured over the commercialist, which is probably what prevents us from hardly ever making a decent movie. We followed the snooty Cahiers du Cinema auteur approach instead of the US independents. When discussing LGBT issues in film we have to say 'queer cinema' for some reason. I grew up as a gay man, not a queer, which for most of my life has been a pejorative, but I'm happy to change if it's that important. If the 1960s represented the peak of commercial British films (for 'commercial' read 'can be flogged to America') the nadir is, well now, I suppose. After two years of virus-related high drama and zero funding there's little decent product about, and no-one can afford to go to the movies anyway. With anything vaguely commercial hived off to the streaming services, the largest screens are showing barely adequate lockdown fodder comprising three actors in a room arguing. The only film I paid to see in a real cinema during the on-off lockdowns was 'Saint Maude', a gonad-shrinkingly awful drama about a mentally ill girl in an Irish coastal town. So it was with great excitement that I picked up the BFI London Film Festival brochure and had a thumb-through. If you do so, I suggest you keep the phone number of the Samaritans nearby. I'm leaving out the film titles to give them a fair shake at an audience. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the films and indeed many may be undiscovered gems, but surely their synopses need to be a little more enticing? 'A punk feminist kickstarts a new life in the world of guerrilla motocross racing.' 'A delicate study of deafness in the amateur boxing community.' 'A brain, an intestine, a breast, a gland...we are submerged in innermost matter.' 'A young foley artist goes on a voyage of self-discovery while growing the tail of a horse.' There are an awful lot of transformative personal journeys, self-discoveries, enigmatic, bold, surreal and haunting experiences, but very few sound even vaguely appealing. Rather, they seem solipsistic and unrepresentative. Me, I love good arthouse movies, but too many are lazy, slipshod productions with too few script passes. Even David Lean wasn't afraid of staging a two minute long blurred wide shot, but discipline and experience had taught him to perfect it first. I loved 'Lamb', 'Benediction', 'The Innocents' and 'Bad Luck Banging' because I took a chance on them and was pleasantly surprised. But now I'm off to watch 'The Batman' again. There'll be plenty of time later for those angry avant-garde political collages.


Ian Mason (not verified) Sat, 15/10/2022 - 19:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A lot of my gay mates (who are, *ahem*, a bit younger than you) were quite militant about reclaiming "queer" and, all power to them, it seems to have worked. Anyway, I'd never think of you as "queer" when "peculiar" is just sitting there begging to be used. Puts a whole new spin on a "Royal Peculiar"...

Roger (not verified) Sat, 15/10/2022 - 19:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think "queer" now has a wider meaning than "gay". It incorporates any way of looking at life from an odd angle. Kenneth Horne wasn't gay, but as a successful businessman who also made radio programmes as a sort of hobby with a very strange bunch of people he was queer by modern standards.

Button (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 01:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And in Trans-Atlantic News this week: PBS TV is about to debut a new British mini-series by Anthony Horowitz called The Magpie Murders for Sunday evening viewing. His claim to fame is that he wrote the first handful of eoisodes for Midsomer Murders. Good, Bad or So-So, Admin?

David Ronaldson (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 06:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I love all the above events; when I worked in the centre of town I was once tipped off about the Pepys Guy and spent a lunchtime( or a brief part of one) watching a bespectacled, balding middle-aged man in brown reading the day's excerpt from Pepys's diary from St Paul's churchyard (for some reason). Skipping through my own copy, I got myself in place for a particularly short entry and watched him roll up one dark Winter's lunchtime at midday to read something like, "The builders took a day off; I remained abed til lunch".

Bob Low (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 09:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think "Lamb" is the best new film I've seen this year. "St Maude" was a terrible disappointment. It was cleverly made and had a potentially interesting set-up but, to have worked as a horror film, there would have needed to be some ambiguity about the events portrayed - are they supernatural or a figment of Maude's illness? Instead the makers opted to make it obvious from quite early on in the film that the central character is hopelessly bonkers, so the story becomes harrowing and predictable rather than frightening.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 13:57

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Magpie Murders is reviewed by NYT, Crime Reads, NPR, etc. Frequent adjective is "charming." PBS mini-series says it all. Horowitz has written several "mysteries;" usually featuring a waiter collaboring with a detective. I think he also write YA books.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 14:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Film synopses read like blurbs from NYT best seller list.

Des Burkinshaw (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 14:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Solipsistic. That's the word I was looking for to describe the state of things.
I'm guessing a few people on here no linger have children of a school age (or ever had children). Can I recommend a beautiful series on Amazon - Gortimer Gibbons. It is rather timeless and you will love it. Quite the opposite of solipsistic in outlook.
From the script and direction to the music and acting, it is quite wonderful.

A Holme (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 15:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brooke, Horowitz does indeed write YA books ( hateful phrase) . The wonderful 'Alex Rider' series, beloved by my students - girls and boys. Also the mighty 'Foyle's War'. PBS must have shown that in the past?

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 16:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Foyle's War did appear on PBS. My apologies. I should have written that many Horowitz works feature a writer (not waiter; but maybe that too) collaborating with a detective.
A. Holme, my gratitude to you and other teachers. YA is not as hateful as SA, Sub-Adult, a phrase I coined after living with my partner's teenage twins for a week.

Roger (not verified) Sun, 16/10/2022 - 20:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was tempted to look for Horowitz's books if they usually featured a waiter collaborating with a detective.
I've had my fill of writers collaborating with detectives though.

Margaret (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 00:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One of the records my father would play for us as kids, in the 1960s, was Stanley Holloway’s LP “‘ere’s ‘olliway” (1958) which included the song “My Word! You Do Look Queer.” It remains my reference point for the word “queer.”

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 06:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I notice that our minister, openly gay (or whatever other word is current) doesn't use any word, just spreads the welcome as "whoever you love, whatever your self definition..." and when writing about the subject uses the LGBTQ+ which I don't think I have quite right since First Nations refer to themselves as "two spirits" and there's a 2 goes in there as well, yes? but it's awkward to try for a phrase that is all inclusive and one that leaves people out is worse than either "gay" or "queer".
I have just in the last few minutes finished watching the first episode of Magpie Murders and I shall watch the series. We watched Foyle's War and enjoyed it. That's why I turned this one on. It is followed by a British series called Annika about a new police unit starting work so I imagine there will be a lot of "learning about each other", but I'll leave that for the moment.
There is a cartoon film (surely there is a better word than that) called Unicorn Wars in which teddy bears war against unicorns with the aim of drinking the blood of the last unicorn in order to bring God back. Not for any child apparently - blood and gore all over. The poster has a little skull in a corner, a little skull with bear ears. I've been reading Mr. Probert again. Somehow I want to see this.
Oh, a side note. We had a book sale after service this am and I found a copy of Gormenghast in a fiction box. No mysteries, oddly enough.

Richard (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 08:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There are two contemporary authors whose books I purchase only in hardback (so the texts can be read by my great grandchildren, many years from now). One, of course, is Mr Fowler. The other is Anthony Horowitz.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 12:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Waiters collaborating with detectives... Off hand, Rex Stout's Too Many Cooks is the only story I can remember.

A Holme (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 13:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Maybe Holmes and Watson-the-Menu?

Diane A McGuire (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 13:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

omgoodness you guys have such wonderful online conversations. Fascinating.

from older American woman who's read most of Mr. Fowler's works and many of Mr. Horowitz'

Nelle (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 13:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have to say they had me at ‘A young foley artist …growing the tail of a horse.’

The possibilities are endless!

Gary Locke (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 14:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Those film synopses sound like a game of Mad Libs.

Brooke (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 18:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Enduring the horrors of teddy-bear army life, a sensitive young teddy goes on a unicorn-genocide rampage so he can become beautiful forever and save his kind.

Kimberly Molesworth (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 19:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Christopher, I love your posts and the unique items you bring to us. Just hearing about the Bubble Sermon or Swan Upping, screams” let’s have some fun!”. I’ve always loved obscure events, breaking away from the everyday. So yes, could be we are just tired of being grownup or just a bit mad. :)

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 17/10/2022 - 20:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I cannot say that I've ever known a teddy bear perform a violent act. Why are amateur detectives almost exclusively writers, medics, or millionaires?

Paul C (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 11:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I hardly ever go to the cinema anymore. I would go every week if there was anything on.

I'm really looking forward to The Banshees of Inisherin released in the UK this week though. It's the new film written and directed by Martin McDonagh who is reuniting Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from his brilliant In Bruges which contains the line:

Purgatory is kind of like the in-betweeny one....You weren’t really sh1t, but you weren’t all that great either… like Tottenham.

Glasgow1975 (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 16:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Annika was a ScandiNoir book or show that the BBC adapted for Radio, then it was made for cable TV with the wonderful Nicola Walker. I found the constant 4th wall breaking a bit much tbh but liked that it was set in Scotland... Magpie etc are cosy crime made for Streaming service BritBox in an effort to encourage us to pay for what is essentially our old shows available if you oay. Unsurprisingly there's not much uptake here so I doubt Admin has seen it yet...

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 18/10/2022 - 20:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Margaret, thank you for the reminder of Stanley Holloway. I can hear the voice declaiming it now!

OMF (not verified) Wed, 19/10/2022 - 18:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"There is a cartoon film (surely there is a better word than that) called Unicorn Wars in which teddy bears war against unicorns with the aim of drinking the blood of the last unicorn in order to bring God back."

What an appalling idea! Someone thought it was worth throwing currency at this? And "in order to bring God back", to which one need only direct attention to Christopher Hitchens.

Karina (not verified) Sun, 23/10/2022 - 20:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Omigoodness, those synopses (synopsi?) could have come straight from the world of B & M...I could barely get through them for laughing. Thank you for that.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 25/10/2022 - 20:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Old Moore’s Almanack still exists, not available online, the cover still has the same design but it is now glossy & has a column of celebrity faces to one side. Still the same list of predictions, now with celeb horoscopes, tide tables, river fishing, horse racing form, UK events. But not to be confused with Old Moore’s Almanac which is Irish. I remember it from back in the day.

Plan 9 from Outer Space, splendid stuff, I recently saw Attack of the Monolith Monsters, an interesting old SF film which I enjoyed and still remember from an old film book. Some of those old stills created a checklist in my mind, The Frozen Dead and Night of the Demon would make a super double bill of Dana Andrew films.

I’ll be off to Festival of Fantastic Films at weekend to catch up with old friends and see some films and guests, Trapped by the Mormons set in Manchester may get a watch.


Liz+Thompson (not verified) Wed, 26/10/2022 - 17:29

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well the last film I watched was the "interesting" interpretation of The Green Knight. I didn't see it at a cinema, cinemas give me migraine attacks. But the dvd on a large-ish screen TV was adequate. I've still not decided my final opinion. Definitely added fantasy elements. Definitely a director who believed darkness heightened effect. Weirdly linked bits - but that I am used to from fantasy/paranormal books. I think, on the whole, I'll re-read one of the better modern translations.....
Snowy - quite right, I do indeed have Carter's fairy tales lurking somewhere on the 14 bookcases in this house. Plus whole shelves of folk tales/lore/song. Goes with the Folklore Society membership - I believe it's a requirement of joining.

Paul C (not verified) Fri, 28/10/2022 - 10:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Banshees of Inisherin released in the UK last week (mentioned above) is excellent and well worth going to see.

Very funny with lots of memorable dialogue and performances but the bleakest and most downbeat film I've seen for many years. It has stayed with me all week. Not remotely commercial and you might hate it........anyone else seen it?