Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And now for some light relief.

Ok, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I just HAVE to post about this year's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. I know: terribly puerile programme, watching overpaid, undertalented people shame themselves all so they can secure that tv/book/record deal. It's totally reliant on schadenfreude and bad jokes by Ant & Dec. And it is my guilty pleasure. Oh yes, it is.

I remember first watching it the year Peter Andre & Katie Price were in it (2004?). I had never really seen it before, and I only started watching because no 4 was in hospital, and there was bugger all else to do of an evening when you are tied to a hospital ward with a coughing two year old, other then watch crap tv in the parents' room. Meanwhile, Spouse at a similar loss at home ended up watching it too, and we were quickly addicted. Admittedly Spouse now watches it, grumbling all the time about the lack of sensible things for them to do - he would rather it was about proper survival skills and working together, rather then sitting round all day bitching and then taking part in the odd trial - but I think that is part of the fascination of the programme. Throw a bunch of egotistical people with something to prove or sell, who don't know each other together for three weeks, give them hardly any food, and nothing constructive to do, light blue touch paper and retire.

And boy this year, has the action been explosive. In case you have been inhabiting Mars for the last two weeks and hadn't noticed, Gillian McKeith (aka once-upon-a-very- long-time- ago- before-she-got-found out as "Dr" Gillian McKeith) has rather stolen the show this year, or certainly the column inches in the newspaper. By dint of being the absolutely wussiest person ever seen on the programme (previous contenders include Paul Burrell and Natalie Appleton), and having phobias about everything you can think of, and probably several you can't, Gillian McKeith has been chosen for every single bushtucker trial apart from the ones she's exempted from on medical grounds. (FFS, she's 51, Jenny Eclair is 50 - what's so wrong with her she can't do certain trials?) At every single trial Gillian has screamed, shuddered, and three times "fainted" and been given oxygen. The last time was live on air, and perfectly timed. She's clearly an actress manquee.

Up until last night I just thought she was a self delusional, slightly mad, selfish old bag. But then she gave herself away. Having been sent to Jungle Jail for cheating (Oh yes, you did cheat, Gillian, but then you've made a career out of that), she went hysterical - and if the Sun is to be believed, declared she was pregnant - and then spent the next 24 hours bitching about being there. When confronted by Stacey Solomon (who has turned out to be one of my unexpected favourites on the show simply because she has such a sweet personality) as to why she didn't go home, given how many phobias she has (indeed, given how phobic she is about insects why go on the programme at all, huh, Gillian??), she revealed that if she breaks her contract she'll "never work in TV again" (You're doing a good job of ensuring that anyway, Ms McKeith) - ie, there's a new tv programme in the offing.

She then went off to do a trial with Dom Joly (who's behind her back comments have been absolutely hilarious), revealing when it turned out to involve water that a) she couldn't swim and b) she's phobic about water. Surprise, surprise, thanks to Dom's help (the man has the patience of a saint. Dom for King of the Jungle, on that trial alone), Gillian "overcame" her phobia, and got 5 stars for the camp (a damned sight better then the nul points she brought back the other night when she couldn't even be arsed to do the trial). She is now so much "better" she was able to walk calmly across the bridge rather then crawling across as she has done previously. Later on she mentioned to Stacey that the person who will understand her position most is Katie Price, who got endlessly voted to do the trials last year, thereby giving away that far from having never seen the show before, she's clearly studied it carefully to see how she can maximise her airtime. And guess what it's succeeded.

My prediction is that as soon as she's out of the jungle we will hear she's signed up a deal for a new TV show in which "Dr" (she'll probably make up some degree in psychology or something) Gillian McKeith will help poor unfortunate sods more desperate for fame even then she is, to overcome their phobias too. Given her caring empathetic manner, they will be in for a very very bad time.

It's actually quite a shame that Gillian has taken over the show like that, because it means we've seen less of Lembit Opik (or Lemsip Biscuit as my genius niece christened him) , who is clearly as mad as a box of snakes, and possibly the most irritating person in camp after Gillian. Nigel Havers found him so annoying, he's claiming he would have killed him had he stayed. (That I would have liked to have seen.) Neither has there been a chance for Jenny Eclair to really dig her nails into Kayla wotsit (the Playboy model, only there for the gratuitous shower scenes by the pool), and you can see she's dying too.

My favourite slebs are Shaun Ryder (hilariously rude to Gillian, and then all politeness in apology, which she rudely rebuffed, as well as doing a good line in bitching about the other campmates with Nigel Havers), Dom Joly (just plain funny, down to earth, and I don't know why you're there Dom, unless you're putting your kids through private school), Britt Ekland ("she's a better actress then I am" surely one of the quotes of the series), Sheryl Gascoigne (gracious, kind, and you have to like someone who said about Lembit Opik when put in Jungle Jail with him, "I think he's got a touch of OCD. That's ok, I'm used to that.") and Stacey Solomon (who's cheery good nature might be a bit annoying, but is so well intentioned you can't help but like her - says the woman who found her infuriating on X Factor, so that's a bit of a turn up for the books).

I was really liking Nigel Havers till he walked, but after his hissy fit in the courtroom, and revelation of how much the others bored him, I went off him. Plus I think he should have stayed a bit longer. I still haven't worked out what Alison Hammond does, but she seems quite cheery. Jenny Eclair makes me laugh, but I haven't seen enough of her to form a proper opinion. Linford Christie was awesome on the trial he did, but I suspect is a bit of an arrogant tosser. Kayla is a blond bimbo unless proved otherwise. Aggro Santos is the male crumpet, unless proved otherwise (but seems harmles enough). And Lemsip Biscuit is in a category all his own. He does give me the creeps a bit. He's my age ffs, with a 21 year old girlfriend. Plus he has a very strange chin. And to think he was in parliament all those years. Dear god, we get what we vote for...

Am disappointed to discover that thanks to some football or something, I'm A Celeb isn't on tonight, but it does mean I won't have to choose my other guilty schadenfreude pleasure of The Apprentice, which makes me laugh equally.

Grown woman gets her kicks from watching the insanely desperate slug it out on TV.

Sad, but true...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est

When I was 12 years old I was really fortunate to have an incredibly inspirational English teacher. Among the many brilliant writers he introduced me too, Wilfred Owen remains one of my favourites. At that age, of course I knew about World War One and was dimly aware of the great sacrifices that had been made (whenever we were on holiday, my father used to make a point of finding the local war memorial and taking a moment to honour the dead), but I hadn't really grasped how terrible and futile it all was. That was until Mr Ward introduced me to this poem:

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time:
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes, and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

I think it was the image of the man's drowning face that really brought it home to me. Up until then, my notions of warfare were very much based on old war movies, and boys in the playground playing out war fantasies. Ever since then, I've been simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the stories I've read about that particular war, which seems to have been more pointless then most.

Normally on Remembrance Day I tend to think about my dad and fil who were both lucky enough to survive World War 2, but yesterday, I found my thoughts straying to those two great uncles I mentioned in my previous post.

Ernest Ophir Clark (or "Ophie" as he rather sweetly appears on one census when he was small) joined up in 1915, serving in the 5th Battalion of the London Rifle Brigade and died in December 1916. He wasn't killed in battle, but died of an illness (I'm not sure what) that he presumably contracted from being in the trenches. He was 20 years old, and Jemima's third child, and second son, and is buried in Merville Cemetery in France.

Alfred Thomas Clark, enlisted with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in 1915, but ended up with the Hampshire Regiment. He was Jemima's oldest child, and she must have thought she'd got away with it, as he survived all the way to the last week of the war. He died on 4 November 1918 in the Battle of the Sambre - the same battle Wilfred Owen died in.

Last night we caught a wonderful programme that Jeremy Paxman had made about Wilfred Owen. I knew he had a period suffering from shell shock, but I hadn't realised how thanks to some progressive treatment from the doctor who treated him (normal treatment of shell shock at the time consisted of firing your frontal lobes with electric shocks to reprogramme the brain to get back to battle), he started to write the war poems for which he is remembered today. Neither did I realise how influential Siegfried Sassoon had been on his work. Ironically, Sasssoon ended up in the same hospital because the government didn't want him writing any more anti-war treatises, only for him to influence a poet who went on to write some of the greatest anti-wa r poems ever written.

It was an incredibly moving programme, not least because it was cut through with readings from letters Owen wrote home to his mother and sister, in which he spared no detail of the horror of what was happening. Touchingly, in the last letter he wrote, just before the battle of the Sambre, when he and his men were sitting in a dugout, he talks of the peace he has found with them, and how unafraid he is, though the battle rages above him.

The Battle of the Sambre was the last offensive of World War 1. The aim was to take the German line on the other side of the Sambre-Oise Canal. But as the British approached to put up temporary bridges, they came under heavy fire - and it was in that bombardment Wilfred Owen (and I'm guessing Alfred too) lost his life. Tragically, Owen's mother got the news as the bells were ringing to announce the armistice. He was, by all accounts exceptionally brave, having opted to go back to the War so he could keep reporting how it was through his poetry, and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Alfred on the other hand, as far as I know, didn't have an exceptional war, and won no medals that I know of. His loss though, for his mother and family must have been equally catastrophic. I found myself wondering about how he and Ernest would have been, had they lived. I knew all their surviving siblings: Mabel(May) my grandmother, her sister Madge, and youngest brother Herbert. I recall them all with much affection, though May died when I was relatively young. It seems strange to think there were two other great uncles whom I might also have known. And that is the tragedy of World War 1 for so many families, no one in the country was unaffected by it. Owen's phrase "the pity of war" was an apposite one.

Another great poem speaks to me of their loss. It's an almost tender lament for the loss of so much of the nation's youth. Read it, remember, and weep.

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.