TV Review: “A Very English Scandal”

If you lived in the U.K. in the ’70s, you would have been enthralled by the “Jeremy Thorpe Affair”. Thorpe was leader of the Liberal Party, a party which was truly liberal and not hard right-wing like the Australian party of the same name. Thorpe was, I think, generally regarded as a good guy by progressive people. If there was preferential voting in the U.K. I might have voted Labour 1, Liberals 2. He was anti-hanging, pro-immigrant, pro-Europe and critical of oppressive regimes such as South Africa and Rhodesia.

This three-part series starts at the time when Thorpe was doing well, and close to gaining significant power. The scandal that brought him down was his affair with Norman Scott, which developed into a serious relationship, but later turned ugly.

Thorpe is played by Hugh Grant and Scott by Ben Whishaw. It is based on a “true-life novel” by John Preston. I’m no fan of Hugh Grant but he makes a great Thorpe. Grant has an uncanny facial likeness to Thorpe (see below), although at times his English upper-class mannerisms kept reminding me of Hugh Laurie’s Prince George in “Blackadder”.

jeremy-thorpe-and-hugh-grant-d122798

Whishaw also does well as Scott. It’s impossible to know if Scott really was as effeminate as portrayed, and again, at times, the mannerisms were very “Ooh Betty” / “Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em”. Nevertheless, it is a performance of great sensitivity, and I emerged having a great deal of sympathy for both Scott and Thorpe.

This is a gripping series, worth watching as a thriller even if you don’t know the background to the events.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

Image: https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2019-01-15/the-real-history-behind-a-very-english-scandal-and-the-jeremy-thorpe-affair/

Book Review: “Milkman” by Anna Burns

MilkmanMilkman by Anna Burns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Milkman” was a Christmas present from my sister, who lives in Northern Ireland. It’s a perhaps contentious winner of the 2018 Booker Prize. It’s drawn a mixed critical reception and at least one friend has told me it’s “terrible”. Well, in one sense it is “terrible” in that it ingeniously gets inside the head of a young woman living through terrible times: The Troubles. I think I’m right in saying that no place names, and only one character name (Peggy) are used in the whole the book. We never learn the name of the main character. She is referred to as “third sister”. Other family members are Ma, Da, Wee Sisters, Eldest sister, third brother-in-law, Somebody McSomebody, maybe-boyfriend etc. Her persecutor, “Milkman” is not a real milkman, but there is another character called “real milkman”, also referred to under other names such as “the man who didn’t love anybody”. Belfast is not mentioned, but I’m assuming the action takes place in that city, where Anna Burns’ grew up. Places are referred to obtusely: top-end reservoir, the ten-minute area, most-popular-drinking club, the hutment.

What Burns does brilliantly is to capture the insularity, the suspicion, the distrust, the incestuousness of that city at that time. She shows how people shut down, conform, deny and are prepared to believe the worst of other people. In particular she shows how a woman can be intimidated by a stalker with little effort by the stalker himself. The menacing figure of the Milkman appears only a handful of times in the book, and yet looms over her as an ever-present threat, reinforced by the gossip and mean-spiritedness of the community. A woman who reads a book in public, a man who is interested in cooking, another man who collects pieces of British cars are all regarded with suspicion, as “beyond the pale”. Intimidation by armed men, whether Army or paramilitaries also pervades the community. Violent deaths and suicides are everyday events. Men believe they can bully women into submission. Women are drawn to violent men.

This is not necessarily an easy read, although there is a great deal of humour throughout. Perhaps it requires some knowledge of The Troubles to appreciate the achievement of portraying those times. But I think she has done it brilliantly.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019




View all my reviews

Parliament House – Cleaning Contractor Report

Parliament House – Cleaning Contractor Report

August 24th 2018

Claim for Additional Payment

 

Our monthly charge for cleaning Parliament House covers the items, areas and services recorded in our contract (CC2018PD345/13). This additional claim is submitted for the extraordinary work of cleaning and refurbishment on the evening of August 24th 2018, identified herewith:

  • Large bloodstained areas around, under and immediately behind the front bench.
  • Deep incisions in the furniture inflicted by several sharp instruments.
  • Blood spatter on walls. More than usual.
  • Several areas of severe soakage, some still warm (urine?), others cold (tears?)
  • Around the opposition benches, also areas of severe soakage (tears of laughter?).
  • Deep indentations on walls and the backs of seats, as if inflicted by members’ foreheads.
  • Extensive deep drag marks in the carpets leading to the exits, as if a body, maybe several bodies had been pulled, heels down, out of the building, to be disposed of.
  • Unusual amounts of rotten tomatoes, banana skins and crumpled ransom notes.
  • Several piles of vomit in the public gallery.
  • Most difficult to deal with are the heaps of excrement. They resemble those found at another of our clients, an abattoir, at the point where animals realise their fate.

We attach our bill for additional payment, in the amount of $22,000, due to the need to call in specialist staff and equipment to deal with the above, and to provide trauma counselling to those staff.

Yours Faithfully,

 

 

 

__________________________

F. Carpenter
Manager, Canberra Corporate Cleaning Pty. Ltd

 

 

 

 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Note to Australian Federal Police - this is a work of fiction
Special thanks to Rachael Mead for the workshop in which this was drafted.

The day I cheered Robert Mugabe

It was around January 1982. I had gone to Zimbabwe in 1981 to help the company I was working for, Memory Ireland, to establish a branch there. Memory was a fast growing Irish computer company. I was a software developer. They had a director who had been raised in Rhodesia. When Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, Memory thought it would be a good base from which to expand sales into developing African economies. Their intentions were not philanthropic. Memory was an entrepreneurial company in the worst sense of the word.

So I put my hand up for a four-month stint in the recently independent Zimbabwe. In my early days in Zimbabwe, I stayed in various house-shares and house-sits. I recall this particular time doing a house-sit for a bloke called Derek Bardot. I remember the name, of course, because of the beautiful actor of the same surname. I also recall that the house came with a cook and a gardener, whose names, I think, were Stephen and Crispin. Stephen and Crispin lived in breeze-block structures at the bottom of the garden, the other side of the swimming pool. I was curious about everything in this exotic country. I was in my late twenties. I was idealistic. I was socialist. I was vehemently anti-apartheid. I was unsure about having a cook and a gardener dedicated to looking after me. I fraternised with them, which was frowned on by the white “Rhodies”, as the remaining whites in Zimbabwe were called.

One Sunday morning, Stephen and Crispin were dressed in street clothes, as opposed to their uniforms (Stephen usually wore a white cook’s outfit, Crispin a green gardener’s outfit). I asked them what was happening and they informed me they were going to a ZANU-PF rally at nearby Borrowdale, where Mugabe would be speaking. I asked them if I could come and they were unsure, but when I said I’d drive them there, they agreed. First we drove to Borrowdale shopping centre to a cafe and drank Cokes from the old-fashioned curly glass bottles. I remember I played them at table football, which I used to be pretty good at. I won, several times, to the great amusement of the assembled African onlookers. This was a cafe not frequented by Rhodies.

Then we went to Borrowdale, to a “vlei”, an open, grass area  that can turn marshy in the wet, but was dry and flat at this time. A large crowd had already assembled. There might have been a few other whites there but I don’t recall seeing any. The ZANU  Youth arrived, running from one side in a phalanx, with flags flying (picture below). A ZANU  official was rousing the crowd with some oratory in Shona, of which I only understood the odd word, such as “victory”, “people” and “ZANU”.

I don’t remember how Mugabe arrived, but in those days he always travelled in a large black limousine, preceded and followed by armed soldiers and police outriders, sirens blaring. You got off the road in a hurry if you saw one of these motorcades coming. He must have been delivered to the back of the stage directly from his limo.

In the picture above, which I took from within the crowd, Mugabe is seated on the wooden stage. I’ve put an arrow over his head. I’m not sure who the crowd warmer-upper is, but it would have been a senior ZANU official. I recall Mugabe speaking. He was, is an orator. He is a highly educated, intelligent man, an ex-teacher. Like Nelson Mandela, he languished in prison for years as punishment for resisting white oppression. Like Mandela he spent that time furthering his education, burnishing his political ideas, gaining several university degrees by correspondence.

Mugabe knew how to get a crowd going. He spoke only in Shona, so I’ve no idea what he said, but he soon had the crowd shouting “Pamberi, Pamberi” (forward, forward) in unison, fists pumping the air. It was an impressive performance, and I have to admit, that with Crispin and Stephen’s encouragement, I joined in with the fist pumping and slogan-shouting.

This was early in Mugabe’s reign. He was Prime-Minister in those days. Canaan Banana was President (yes, really, it was President Banana). Mugabe had some similarities to Mandela. He said that he wanted to retain white expertise to keep the economy strong. He said he wanted to improve the lot of the masses of poor Zimbabweans. He was strongly committed to improving the education system. Even now, Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.

In those days, the Zimbabwe dollar was worth about one U.S. dollar or about 75 pence. Now it is a joke currency, which you can’t exchange for anything.  Theoretically you need 363 Zimbabwe dollars to buy US$1, but I’d be surprised if you found any takers.

Mugabe still had a war mindset in those days, was obsessed with the threats from his perceived enemies, especially Joshua Nkomo and the murky, capitalist foreign governments that he was convinced were trying to undermine Zimbabwe. There were signs then of his ruthlessness. I recall nurses going on strike for better wages and conditions. He sent his ZANU  Youth (think Hitler Youth), to round them up on the backs of trucks, take them to remote camps and ‘re-educate’ them.

I don’t think Mugabe ever got out of this liberation war mindset. I doubt if his successor, Mnangagwa, has got out of it either. If you weren’t involved in the great struggle against the whites in the war, if you are not a veteran, then you have not earned a stake in the new Zimbabwe. If you are not for us, you are against us. This constant battle against perceived enemies, internal and external, is prioritised over any concern for developing the economy or providing decent housing and infrastructure for the people. It also comes with a sense of entitlement, which is used to justify diverting millions and millions of dollars into their off-shore bank accounts (allegedly).

My four-month stint eventually turned into four years in Zimbabwe and Malawi. I ended up as General Manager of the Zimbabwe company, but work permits were becoming harder and harder to renew and foreign currency had all but dried up. Memory’s few business ethics were being further eroded. Mugabe was showing his true colours. I got out in 1985 and returned to Ireland, where the economy had nose-dived and Memory was rapidly going bust.

A few years ago, when he was apparently on his death-bed, I wrote a poem about him, “Robert Mugabe’s Last Words“. No doubt he’ll die in some luxurious foreign hospital in one of those countries where deposed dictators go to die. I’m still waiting to hear his last words, but don’t expect them to include “sorry” or “I fucked up didn’t I?”

 

---
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017