Friday, March 31, 2023




Mestizaje, the officially-sanctioned method for biologically blending European and American bits in these parts, would arrive as something of an afterthought. 

For the first Spaniards to show up on the peninsula, indeed anywhere in what is now Mexico — albeit via the misadventure of the 1511 Valdivia shipwreck — were fattened up in cages and ritually eaten by a ravenous Mayan cacique.

All but two that is, for a pair of them escaped and found shelter with rival chieftains who seemingly saw them as more than a source of sacred protein.

One of this famous duo of survivors, Gonzalo Guerrero, went properly native and has since earned himself the dubious honour of being the subject of an endlessly “in production” biopic entitled Maya Lord, to be directed by 2012’s Roland Emmerich.

The other, Jerónimo de Aguilar, a man of the cloth, bumped into Cortés on Cozumel 8 years on and became a key part of his mammalian ‘babel fish’.

This two factor authentication system started with La Malinche — forever the sour aftertaste of Mexican miscegenation — who would translate Náhuatl into Mayan for the would-be conquerors, and then the recovered priest duly provided the crucial second stage of the process, rendering Mayan into Castellano.



​Although I communicate textually in English pretty much every day, all day, and do still tend to think that language, in the six years since I was last in the UK, significant opportunities to speak English, at least with other native speakers, have dried up a bit...and when they do occur — such as in Belize last September — the conversation typically commences for me with a worrying sensation of impending jaw malfunction. 

Glaring Ghosts

Back in the day Antigua was full of small bookshops selling rather small books, many of which were about its famous fantasmas

It was then possible to speculate that the city belonged to its disembodied inhabitants, the rest of us just passing through. Nowadays of course, if any ghosts remain, they must have moved out to special gated communities laid down on the fringes, and will tend to limit their time spent haunting the historical centre...avoiding Antigua at the weekends, heaven forbid, so to speak.

It's been one of those weeks when I have been attentive to our own ghosts, in particular to the frankly absurd number of people of our acquaintance here in Guatemala, lost to either acts of senseless violence or silly, avoidable accidents.

One family has become emblematic of this dark phenomenon for us. Three brothers: one died in his car outside a bank in the capital, riddled with bullets. Just a few years before another had perished an insidiously dumb industrial accident. One remains.

Yesterday I had a sudden flashback to an evening at El Manhattan, a night club (panic not, the British rather than the Guatemalan kind) here in Antigua, which now goes by the name of La Bodegona. (You can still see the little arched niche of the taquilla out front).

The bar was located more or less where you'll find the cured meat refrigerators nowadays. In my reminiscence 'R', a love rival, is seated at a small round table giving me the stink eye as I pick up a drink. I guess it would have been positioned roughly where the Bodegona now stacks up the stuff from Pricesmart, on sale here at considerably scruffier prices.

I can't recall how long 'R' spent haunting me at the Manhattan that night, but in retrospect it seems like ages, especially as a few years later I learned that he'd met his end violently.

He was alone then, but was usually accompanied by his regular wing-man, a lanky lad named 'T', almost always at his side when we'd run into them on the streets of Antigua, usually part of a group of four, all of them 3-4 years our junior.

This whole package of memories that seem hard to distinguish from hallucinations came back to me yesterday because while we were standing at the corner of our local park engaged in conversation with some locals, a motorbike rounded the corner and its rider took a significant pause in order to gawp at us, his face a picture of nascent heavy processing. It was 'T'. And of course he wasn’t wearing a helmet. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Tár (2022)


I went into this knowing that numerous people whose opinions I really care about had absolutely loved it. 

And yet I struggled, a little bit.

There are undoubtedly some extraordinary scenes, some gorgeous pieces of dialogue (“I made sure all the hangers in my closet were facing in the same direction”) and then there is Blanchett's performance to admire, but also, somehow even more marvelous, that of cellist Sophie Kauer, who played her own pieces even as she gave depth to a character I could so easily have had more from.

There’s some dark comedy, but somehow not enough.

What's the problemito here exactly? Mark Kermode said "an interesting film that takes itself too seriously" and that knowingness is definitely a starting point, along with the fact that there needed to be more dramatic connection between the events we are shown in series. 

There are abundance of audiovisual cliches, not just belonging to the classical music scene but also the arthouse movie genre. Elisions, because we can. 

That the director was the bloke in Eyes Wide Shut playing the piano whilst blindfolded is possibly a symbolic suggestion that I will leave readers to ponder.  

Some, like conductor Marin Alsop, have objected to the fact that Lydia Tár a woman. I'd tend to agree with Kermode that this is in fact what gives the story its frisson of agreeable contemporary ambiguity, yet I do in the end have a bit of an issue with the fact that she is a lesbian. That part seems ill-chosen. Some of the cancelled classical giants of late (James Levine...) were indeed homosexual, but Domingo and Dutoit are not, and it seems fundamentally obvious why those in positions of power with minority desires, even in the arts, might tend to adopt a more predatory strategy. 



Saturday, March 25, 2023

Justicia Para Vero

This week Diego Ariel Stella, 'gerente' at the Ni Fu Ni Fa steakhouse in Antigua, was convicted of rape and sentenced to 8 years in prison.   

This was ample vindication of the courage, determination and persistence of his victim and not only also a significant victory for all women of this nation who believe that "No means No!", but also a slap-down for the cabal of public officials, professionals and small business owners in the city who live as if constantly exploring what they can get away with. 

Not just rule benders and breakers, but ratas bereft of basic common decency most of the time.

It goes without saying that anyone who participated in the smear campaign against Verónica Molina should be ashamed of themselves for the rest of their days on this earth. 

No matter how much one might desire to support or show basic loyalty to a friend or family member, in cases involving rape or other types of sexual aggression, any kind of victim shaming and/or online abuse is the lowest of the low.

Llegó tarde, pero llegó

Friday, March 24, 2023

Gradually, then suddenly

Two important lessons one can easily learn from the history books, if one is that way inlined.

1) Beware of governments claiming to have reassured the markets.

2) Sistemic flare-ups like wars, revolutions and banking crises often sport an apparently singular trigger event. Yet these are no more the ‘cause’ of the eruption than Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination caused WWI. 

These moments simply make unavoidable something which was already there before, but was being avoided. 

“Gradually, then suddenly,“ as Hemingway put it.

Monday, February 27, 2023


This week has seen protests — for which I harbour strong sympathies — against the Cayalá-zation of Antigua. 

The phenomenon is, I suspect, less the result of some dastardly dictatorial masterplan than a knee-jerk reaction to developments which have been in the pipeline over in the capital for almost a decade and which the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated. 

Cayalá itself is the flagship project amongst several aiming to being strong clusters of very aspirational entertainment and consumption to Guatemala. Our mayor, who owns a crib there, has been well placed to see the writing on the wall. 

Ever since I first came to Antigua in the 80s there has been a pattern of weekly migration from Guatemala City. Young affluent capitalinos would flood the place on Friday and Saturday nights and then a more family-orientated herd would trot around the streets on Sundays, congregating at for coffee and cake at Doña Luisa X. or for traditional forms of tooth decay at Doña Maria Gordillo's sweet shop opposite.

These places have been feeling staid and/or passé for quite a while now, but more modern and swanky city-based chains have always struggled to establish themselves in this town, on their own at least. 

Covid brought an extended halt, not just to the flow of tourists, but also to the more domestic transfer of disposable income from the other side of the hills. At the time I predicted that things would not go back to precisely how they were, pre-pandemic, and so it has transpired. 

The likes of Cayalá have established a loyal clientele. Meanwhile, here in Antigua many businesses had to pitch themselves just a little bit more down-market to survive, and this has stoked the underlying reaction. Antigua has been shedding its USP of tranquil authenticity for decades anyway, which makes it easier for the mall mentality to encroach. 

What we now see happening all around us is thus a consequence of Antigua being forced out of its economic comfort zone. If it is to be properly discouraged we need to understand that telling people to be content with what they had won't cut it, because many are currently looking for ways to assuage the anxiety which has slotted into the space previously by occupied by contented complacency.

Sharper (2023)


Several of the films we've sat through recently have begun with some serious intent, yet it has soon become clear that — rather like Newcastle United today in the Carabao Cup final —  there is going to be no end product, so to speak. In other words, a decent set-up slipping relentlessly into a disappointing resolution.

Fortunately this is not the case with Sharper, a movie that has a clear plan and seems to know what it is doing for every moment of its running time. It's no masterpiece, but the dialogue, the locations and the just non-linear enough section splicing by character perspective all work as they are supposed to. It’s the kind of production critics tend to call ‘slick’, which is almost always a slightly back-handed compliment. 


If you go to see a film about grifters on the loose in the stupidly rich parts of Manhattan, you surely know what to expect. Here we get the familiar nested cons and then the con-ending-con, all exactly as we probably should have expected, but with no leakage of the entertainment value, even if the ending isn’t exactly triumphant. 

Julianne Moore is the biggest star, but perhaps the stand out performances come from Sebastian Stan and Briana Middleton. One might say that Moore, after her biggish reveal, becomes a diluting agent in the dramatic mix. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Knock At The Cabin (2023)

And, here we go again...



Another fairly high-tension, potentially high-concept thriller which in the end is content to be merely ludicrous. (Having once landed one of the best endings in recent cinematic history, M. Night Shyalaman has missed a few since.)

For some of the way there is some pleasing dramatic tension between the propositions posed by Faith and Reason, but this is ultimately resolved unsatisfactorily, especially as the kind of Faith we see here is largely of the Qanon variety. Indeed, we find ourselves at the end of a world that has turned out to be one big, rather nasty conspiracy. 

Infinity Pool also asked some hard-edged moral-philosophical questions* and then provided only rather garbled answers. 

Here, Eric's attempt to explain his Damascene conversion to the worldview of his four committed abusers is particularly silly. His husband Andrew has a concurrent loss of faith — in the tenet that humanity are not really worth saving — which at the very least needed the support if its own mysterious figure in the light.

And again, some of the basics could so easily have been done so much better. For example, the way events outside the cabin are represented via TV news reports. 

The ending is less ambiguous than incomplete, by reason of the trail of incongruities left behind it. 

Reason has been trounced, but the judges in this bout may not have been impartial. 

Fine performance from Dave Bautista. 

 * Spoiler: What if you could pay to have a clone suffer the death penalty for you as a surrogate, yet had to watch 'yourself' die?

Infinity Pool (2023)

This cartoon made me wonder if AI could already be used to produce genre screenplays which don't stutter to a disappointing conclusion, in particular when the final moments involve a hefty dose of ambiguity. 

I mean, humans can do this — The Shining for example — but it is becoming less common. 

Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool is extraordinary and however you feel about the way it winds up, you are going to know that you have been properly movie'd! 

I think the problem here is ultimately twofold. Firstly the basic conceit falls between two stools. It could be used in a movie as it is here, more or less as an extended exercise in visceral, visual suggestion, with considerably more show than tell OR it could be strung out (rather like Dark) across three ten episode seasons with a bit more to-ing and fro-ing between the existential teasing and some actual, if partial resolution. I suspect that the climax would be a bit meh either way. 

The second issue I had is that even in the part I was most gripped by, I was starting to think of simple things that could be done to improve the experience. Several characters needed padding out and as someone who generally loves any story set in a hotel or resort, something felt missing here in the way the location was realised. 

And if anyone should delight in a metaphorical treatment of how comparatively well-off foreigners tend to behave as if they are above both the law and moral censure when liberated from their more native constraints, that would tend to be me.  


My feelings about Mia Goth's performance neatly mirrored those about the whole production. Wow, I had thought at the start, confirmation that X/Pearl were no flukes,  and that we have another strong yet unconventional British-South American silver screen presence to put alongside Anya Taylor-Joy. By the end it all felt a bit over-strained and detached from credibility.  

Ditto Alexander Skarsgård doing his grunty thing. Pleasing to a point, but then it starts to manifest as a cover up for weaknesses in the script. 

The movie designed to terrify North Americans with passports is practically a genre of its own, and while this is a lot more interesting than Hostel or Taken, it doesn’t quite do enough to entirely transcend its tropes. 

I'm not going to say anything more, because in spite of these misgivings I would recommend this film, and I do think it is worth seeing before one has discovered much about the plot.  





Saturday, February 11, 2023

Alice, Darling (2022)

I was genuinely surprised how thoroughly Mary Nighy's directorial debut connected with me.

Fundamentally this is a film about female friendship, and a rather specific urban, North American form of it, so I might have rather churlishly concluded that it is "not for me", but it is just such a clever confection that I was riveted.

Nighy (Bill's daughter) did not write the screenplay herself, and that turned out to be another surprise, because so much of what makes this work is the balance between the said and the unsaid and I cannot imagine anyone would have been all that excited by the words on the page alone. 

Anna Kendrick plays a young woman we are not meant to immediately warm to. Gradually we start to realise that her personality on screen reflects the distorting impact of another character, her smarmy, controlling, artist boyfriend Simon. Alice is in a sense possessed by him, and her alone time is measured by the beeps of his checkings in, by her attempts to be pleasing to him, even at a distance.

Simon's variety of hegemony is enforced by the kind of non-verbal, procedural violence that leaves no visible harm, beyond that which the oppressed inflict on themselves.

Only as the story evolves do we come to appreciate this more directly, and even then Alice remains someone who is never entirely sure from one moment to the next whether she is a victim or her "life partner's" co-perpetrator.

Her pair of increasingly concerned old friends, played by Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn also deliver a masterclass in body language. 





Thursday, February 09, 2023


Carajillo, typically pronounced by its hardcore native adherents with one L acting far more like an L — e.g. Marbelya — is possibly not the best way to start your morning. 


I was first introduced to this brew by my father in what was a sort of right of passage in a working men’s bar in Andalucía behind a beaded curtain: the sort of joint where asking for the version below would be the equivalent of requesting a Pimms at a pub in Paisley. You’d kind of deserve whatever happened next. 
Further north in Spain they make them with the pomace brandy called orujo. Evil stuff. They will tend to offer it to you as an emergency digestif in Cantabria after you’ve finished your fabada and think you’re probably going to die anyway.


Sunday, February 05, 2023

Don't Look Deeper (2020)

I know plenty of grown ups who’d be reluctant to sit through this and I myself reached the end feeling rather chuffed that I’d skipped the full 14-episode series that this represents a condensation of.

In spite of the spectral presence of all those narrative excisions, the limited amount of science in this SF proposition plus a modicum of wokeishness, I really rather enjoyed it.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, known for Thirteen and Twilight, always handles adolescent angst with acuteness and style, and left me pondering why the replicants of the Blade Runner franchise have never been so subtly ambiguous, ethnically and sexually as Aisha here.



Sunday, January 29, 2023

Dark (Netflix)

And so we made it through to end of Dark, and shortly afterwards I learned that 1899 had been cancelled by the Netflix algorithm-keepers after just one season, ostensibly because only 32% of viewers had turned out to be completers.

I cannot say I am entirely disappointed about that, as I think we've both had our fill of the creators's metaphysical schtick for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the longer Dark went on the more it started to echo some of the obvious weaknesses of its successor show. It was perhaps at its best in the first season when time was taken to show characters' emotional evolution, engaged in activities not entirely related to the build-up of plot convolutions. 

It then reminded us of previous European explorations of the uncanny, such as Les Revenants. It had the seemingly obligatory spooky child, lots of characters chasing their tails and others, apparently a bit more clued up, who'd occasionally interrupt proceedings to deliver expositionary set-piece speeches which, when you thought about it, didn't really explain that much at all.

If much of the dramatic tension in the first season had derived from characters withholding information from each other, there was an open declaration of a new season's resolution to share the truth more liberally as the second set of episodes kicked off. 

I'm not sure that the story was either scientifically or philosophically as sophisticated as it wished to appear. The balance between intellectual complexity and representational simplicity was often off and I did let out a sigh when Schrödinger's cat popped up for a late cameo. 

At least the eventual landing was a lot more satisfactory than that experienced by the passengers of other puzzle box shows I could mention, such as Lost

Yet loose ends there were, and there was more than a whiff of rotting red herring in the background throughout the last few installments Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese resisted the temptation to devote the very final episode to resolution and instead introduced an entirely novel plane of complexity. There was even a small gag about the loose ends which would not be tied up right at the end (regarding one character's damaged eye). 

I think they had an outline of where they were going from the start (always a good thing) yet the route taken was a bit more 'on the fly'.  

If one borrows from Einstein in the rather condensed fashion they seem to approve of, the whole of spacetime might be viewed as a series of discreet, disconnected units. There are thus any number of pathways through this 'labyrinth' yet, crucially, from the perspective of a human storyteller, some are bound to me more satisfying than others. 

And this in the end is one of the issues I have with their style: the order and flow of the scenes seems somehow sub-optimal, and increasingly so as one proceeds.

Add to that the presence of parallel realities in which narrative arcs are scrambled and certain characters alive and dead at the same time, it's not surprising that a significant chunk of the audience might tend to become rather less sticky.

Spoiler alert...

Perhaps the biggest issue that I had with the finale was the rationale for the choice made by Jonas and Martha. They seemed to be doing it ultimately to secure a happier middle age for a character called Regina, a relatively minor personage overall I found I cared less about than her mother. And it was never clear that happy Regina in the originating universe would not have simply got on with her ordinary fate even if the split worlds were also permitted to persist. Indeed, all the more likeable characters had been tied up in 'the knot' and so were in a sense erased by Adam and Eve's sacrifice.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Wrong Prison

Sadly J.K. Rowling is unlikely to be moved off the naughty step she has been placed on for consistently flagging up where this kind of madness has been leading us.

Let's face it, the majority of people that have been pushing or at least protecting this agenda have little interest in the wellbeing of a vulnerable minority.

They are instead either parroting fashionable nonsense to shore up their own position or, more disturbingly, attempting to establish a world where ideas can flourish detached from fact — and the trans community are simply their most recent and perhaps useful accessories.

At Cambridge in the 1980s these people had, after a difficult thirty years or so, largely been purged from the History faculty, but retained relatively strong outposts elsewhere, most notably in the Anthropology department. It would seem that now almost the whole of academia is infected, even when apparently asymptomatically.

All they really crave is a situation where no set of facts can ever disturb the ascendancy of their ideology. One where people who attempt to contradict their creed with verified information are persecuted.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

M3gan (2022)

Meghan, Meagan or Megan is a long-standing Welsh diminutive form of Margaret.  

The first time I came across it was as the name of a character in a Clint Eastwood western in the 1980s, but it thereafter became one of the most popular names for North American girls and for reasons I will not go into here, there has always seemed to me to be something inherently phony about this suddenly bloated prevalence of the name. There is a crucial scene in this movie, involving a toy bow and arrow, that I think vindicates me in this petty prejudice.

One can undoubtedly find something a bit Kar3n in this android and her creator. I was anticipating a more open ending, but in the end we are only left to ponder who might be held legally responsible for this trail of bodies, human and canine. 

You might think it is an AI-era update on Chucky and Child's Play, but in truth this is less a sermon on our increasingly inappropriate bonding with devices that appear designed to talk to us but are in fact fairly malignant listeners, than yet another piece of classic squeaky-bum entertainment for pedophobes. 

It is said that it is the arbitrary nature of children that makes them so horrifying for some adults. That unpredictability is perfectly encapsulated here in two of M3gan's key kill scenes, the first featuring another inauspicious child and the second a CEO who encounters her in the corridor of his own corporate lair. 

In spite of a slightly frustrating slow build, I do think this will likely become one of the more memorable flicks of the its kind this decade. 


Monday, January 23, 2023

At the summit...

The problem with the Mexica (Aztecs) is not that they revealed themselves as primitive savages via the medium of human sacrifice atop their Templo Mayor, it is rather in the manner that they had seemingly industrialised mass murder there. 

Very close to the ruins of this sacred site, on what is now the Zócalo, Hernando Alonso would become the first person to be burned alive by his apparent compatriots in the New a heretic (closet Jew), on October 17, 1528.

Thanks to the Inquisition, his was a fate that would be suffered by many conversos in the Americas, yet the dispersed Jewish community would not experience the full production line until the twentieth century, and this is a distinction we need to bear in mind when we loosely deploy the term ‘genocide’, even here in Guatemala, or indeed in Ukraine.

Hernando Alonso had helped bolt together the brigantines which participated in the final assault on Tenochtitlán. And he had thereafter been above-averagely rewarded with a substantial cattle ranch north of the city and a new wife named Isabel De Aguilar, said to be “very beautiful”.

But when Cortés was taken out of the picture by nebulous accusations which forced him to return to Spain, factions remaining in the colony turned on some of his former favourites, and Alonso was accused by a Dominican monk of having attended a strange anti-baptism of his son in Santo Domingo before the mainland invasion — a ceremony said to have involved the washing away of the young lad’s earlier baptism with Holy Water using a quantity of red wine.

A key participant in this rite of reverse passage was Alonso's first wife Beatriz, taken by a fever during the conquest. Her illustrious brother Diego Ordaz was the first European to check out the view atop the Volcán de Popocatépetl.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Heghan and Marry

Back in the early 90s V went alone to a party in the (London) Docklands which consisted, as Harry & Meghan notes in that toe-curlingly condescending manner of the Commonwealth, mainly of “black and brown people”. Later she reported back to me with interest how many of the people she might have considered ‘black’ at this event, didn't appear to identify as such.

A couple of years later we were holidaying on Saint Lucia with its “black and brown” majority, and again she noted how skin colour did not seem to her to be such a predominant obsession there either.

However, on that same trip she found her own identity placed under siege by complete strangers for the first time since leaving Guatemala, on a sailboat packed with Americans. 

She had so grown used to being treated as an individual in London, essentially as an indeterminately mildly-exotic foreigner, that this sudden (highly) aggressive imposition of tribal qualities (Hispanic stereotypes galore, etc.) was really rather unnerving for her. 

And she would later go on to be shocked how US Immigration officials, almost all of them Hispanic in descent themselves, behaved with her whenever she passed through Houston — they clearly fixated on the identity, the one they wanted to see, and not the person.*

She would compare this disconcerting experience with the first time she crossed into Italy — high up on an Alpine pass — where the official seemed genuinely thrilled to stamp an unusual passport, and to flirt a little. 

Prior to that, the only awkwardness she had come across traversing borders in Europe was the “what does your father do for a living?” question posed at Calais, a form of interrogation which reminded me of a visit to the grandparents of my then girlfriend on Long Island in 1985. 

Ask any Guatemalan — from almost any social background — to choose between the Consulate of the US and that of other developed nations in the capital in terms of a place where they are likely to be treated primarily as individuals, and you would not be particularly surprised by the result.

In the six-part documentary the Duchess of Sussex claims she did not identify as black until she moved to the UK, one of the most disingenuous statements
of many that the couple made during these interviews.

It struck us that if you are going to tell the story of race relations in the UK
Stephen Lawrence, offshore slave economies and so on you might also mention how racial mixing is currently more commonplace in Harry’s country than his wife's, and how many people of mixed-heritage just quietly get on with being British.

Yet thanks in part to a cultural obsession with this matter that is broadcast from across the Atlantic, even Rebecca Hall now feels the need to talk about “passing”, as if she were a converso living in New Spain back in the early days, dodging the Inquisitors lurking behind every cactus.

The notion that Meghan, regardless of any other aspects of her persona and history, should have been treated by Britain as a biological gift, is one I am pretty uncomfortable with. 

And so should be all those “black and brown” people in the Commonwealth for whom she would also be regarded as a major and now supposedly spurned turning point, though it does not appear to have occurred to her in the least that citizens of nations with relatively few white people might not be quite so inclined to culturally weaponise their melanin or at least not on such a hair trigger. 

The matter would surely have been handled less patronisingly from all perspectives, if Harry’s bride had been say, Malaysian — which reinforces the impression that the Duchess's nationality has been as much a factor as her biracial heritage. 

I can see how freedom would appeal to the errant 'Spare', yet it is also clear that he has allowed the form of it espoused by his chosen spouse to galvanise a telling muddle in his own little head. Yet he’s obviously not really constituted for this way of life, and is likely to suffer from the longer-term consequences far more than she is, not least because he will spend the rest of his days trying to rub out the blood like Lady Macbeth.

Watching the 80th Golden Globes the other night, I was struck how, in the state of California at least, freedom, identity and ambition have become a single conglomerate. 

There is more than a hint of this amalgam in the manner Harry now talks about his own situation. That is what I was referring to the other day about his internalisation of Meghan’s agenda: he married someone with particular needs when it came to the signalling of status and has now 'gone native' in the classic over-hasty manner over in Montecito.

He talks in all restaurants are McDonald’s terms about the Daily Mail, as if the ‘paps’ in the trees around his Californian crib are all paid-up spooks from across the pond, and refers to the public money he benefited from for so many years as if it were a turd that needed to be scraped off the bottom of his wellies. (Writing in the Guardian this week, Rachel Cooke has noted that “gratitude is not something with which Harry seems to be much acquainted”.) 

And then, in spite of its thorough ghastliness, the Netflix documentary could easily be put to use in the future for didactic purposes at film schools — to demonstrate the difference between show and tell, as well as providing useful examples of subtexts, and how narratives can be constructed via withheld information.

* It says a lot that Hispanic would now be swapped with Latinx, a term most Spanish-speakers have little idea how to pronounce.

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

Netflix has given us the first German-language adaptation and whilst the package includes visceral, set-piece representations of trench warfare, it somehow also does some significant dis-services to its source. 

The war movie from the loser's perspective comes with a set of its own self-flagellating tropes (Russia's 9th Company, Germany's Stalingrad and any number of American Vietnam flicks) and these have been generously applied here, along with a bit too much hindsight.

I know, everyone kind of dies in the novel as well, but the essence of that story is the absurdity of the experience from the POV of the individual recruit caught up in combat and this person's national allegiance is never the essence of Remarque's story, yet here we have a parallel narrative of questionable historical value which has been attached and which ultimately tells us little of interest about the bigger picture circumstances at the end of WWI. 



Sunday, January 15, 2023

History on the fly...

Of all the speaking parts in Netflix’s Harry & Meghan the only real class act is David Olusoga.

Indeed, the only one that doesn’t make a fool of himself simply by participating. He struggles though, in part because he has turned up with some big ideas that need more room to breathe. And his contextually-orphaned soundbites have been partnered with those of Afua Hirsch whose disposition is altogether more axe-grindey.


Olusoga appears to have followed the path of many Brits: an immediate and optimistic comprehension of the symbolic importance of the royal match, then a grudging understanding of the structural reasons for its failure. I wonder if he has gone on, like me (largely after watching this documentary) to the realisation that the Sussexes somehow out-caricature their Spitting Image puppets. 

Last week we spotted Harry stating, not without visible conceit, that he had delivered History, with a capital H, of course. I very much doubt Olusoga considers the documentary or the memoir as anything other than a very contestable first hand source that future historians (very sadly for them) will have to pour over.

I suppose we might compare Spare to the Secret History of Procopius, if that snarky Byzantine courtier had found someone willing to pay him with several chests of gold solidi for his recollections, real and specious, and the author himself had not given a monkey’s about the personal consequences thereof.

The documentary does of course have more than one level to it. There is the take being told by its principal subjects, the tale of that telling being told by the film-maker Liz Garbus and the jarringly non-relevant and partial perspective of the social commentators for hire.

Four episodes in and we have been watching all the collaborators for any signs of figurative morse-code blinking, as in a South American jungle hostage video.


The prejudice that dare not speak its name...

The biggest battle in the lives of the upper classes is perhaps not the one between them and the ‘normal’ folk outside their privileged circle, it is more of an internal struggle, between the high brows and the low brows.

There is in fact a third, slightly harder to pin down group: those who are only really interested in horses and other ‘country pursuits’, though this tribe overlaps a bit with the other two.

When our late Queen was on the throne, there was a time of relative stability, because the horses held sway. Charles III however, considers himself a fully signed-up member of the cultural elite, and although his wife used to be into horses a fair bit, she now has a book club.

William and Kate are pretty middle-brow, but now more than ever aligned with Charles and Camilla against the deleterious effects of the dummies, a group Harry in which has always been a stand-out and occasionally problematic member, as indeed was his mother.

I think Harry might have initially over-sold Meghan as a way to re-establish equilibrium. There were bridges she could build, but not the ones everyone else was focused on. Yet in spite of her self-appointed role as a voice, it’s clear she has little of great interest to say. An alternative kind of culture war will quickly have erupted within the royal residences as the end of the longest reign ever approached.

Idiots might be counted amongst the most innocent victims of unconscious bias. They can’t exactly help it, can they?

But from the point of view of the high brows they are natural troublemakers, and it certainly doesn’t help that some of royalty’s biggest fans ‘outside in the real world’ are fairly permanently lodged in their camp, which makes this the prejudice that dare not speak its name, more taboo than racism in certain contexts. 




The first time I set eyes on a Twingo was when I was living in Brussels in 1994.

My then business partner quickly acquired a bit of a thing for them and would point them out to me merrily as we strolled through Ixelles on our way to 16-hour workdays.

They never reached the UK market. I don't know what that says about us. 

Guatemala City

That same partner soon had a thing for Shakira around the turn of the Millennium. V has reminded me how we had dinner one night at his penthouse and he promised to download her first crossover hit for us to view by the time we'd finished eating. Melonfarming modems...

Together we would both work for the Ferrari Formula 1 team, but that lingering sense of puppy love for Renault's utilitarian city creeper, whose name is a portmanteau of Twist, Swing and Tango, never quite faded, though like the PT Cruiser, or indeed the Ford Sierra of 1980, it rather oddly ceased to look startlingly original after around half a decade. Aesthetic discontinuity has a sell-by date.
La Shaky was the face of the Twingo launch campaign in South America in 1995.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Harry & Meghan at the halfway house...

The third installment of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan has left me speechless, the kind of speechlessness that is its own antipode, involving an urgent need to yabber about it.

And about one soundbite in particular, where Harry seems to be laying into Meghan’s paternal family on her behalf (where the insensitive, internecine offence was the relatively harmless one of staging silly photographs) and then comes out with something like this: “It’s amazing what people will do when offered a lot of money” (!!!!!!!!!!!.....!!!!!!!!!!!!)

My jaw hit the floor so fast I had to check the azulejos for a dent, and barely heard Harry taking the fall himself for the breakdown in his wife’s relationship with her father. He appears to have internalised her agenda to the point of having no self-awareness whatsoever.

We had just seen Meghan’s niece Ashleigh in an interview clip reminiscent of a staged POW interview in which she avowed, not without obvious inner conflict, that she completely understood that it was her mother’s fault and not Meg’s that she had not been invited to the wedding.

The Duchess of Notmuchness herself added that a cabal of unnamed counselors had effortlessly convinced her of the need to make this regrettable cull, and that she had duly given her niece the dreaded conference call bullet by letting her now of her sudden exclusion “on speakerphone’, no doubt accompanied by appropriate assenting murmurs from the shadowy figures already alluded to.

And all this interspersed with only vaguely relevant expert chatter about the Commonwealth, more insinuation than serious historical analysis. (If it’s such a big scam, why have countries that were never part of the Empire been queueing up to join?)

That and occasional pop up appearances by Archwell executive director James Holt, a man who surely epitomises everyone’s worst nightmare of a new intake Tory MP.

Now, when someone is a victim of genuine racial prejudice they are, by definition, innocent. There is nothing they could have done to deserve the prejudice.

A little lower down the scale of biases, conscious and unconscious, one comes across hings like snobbery and mild xenophobia, which I am certain played a role in the dysfunctional Palace dynamic, but here the Duchess is on less certain ground, because these are prejudices that it is possible to stoke. (There are, undoubtedly, ways I could carry on here that would result in the receipt of the full package of ‘gringo serote’ responses.)

It’s clear from this programme that Harry and Meghan do not want to stray too far into areas where blame might more easily be shared. Criticisms arising from these arguably less irrational biases would be more awkward for them to address in a documentary such as this, essentially their calling card into the California elite.

So it is the injustice of Britain’s external rather than internal socioeconomic system that are emphasised, in order that this tallies with the current American understanding that identity grievances always trump class grievances.

This is the month we discovered, via both 'H' and Shaky, that the vulgar scrubbing of of one’s dirty linen in public is now a massive industry and a potential source of what the talking heads in this documentary refer to as inter-generational wealth. Harry’s tawdry sell-out snaffled 200x his father-in-law’s tabloid earnings, for the memoir alone. (In the case of Shakira, one could at least argue that she commercially integrated her hang-ups into her long-standing ‘creative process’.)

Anyway, there’s very little in all of this that is really in the public interest. All parties could usefully have just tuned out and shut up. Myself included, I suppose. But I have three more episodes to go. The first two were, as many have observed, a snore-fest, but I am wide awake now.

Outside of the Netlfix output it is the sheer exuberance of the double standards that has energised me. Harry would like his dad to have Jeremy Clarkson carted off to the Tower for crimes of public misogyny against a woman he doesn’t know personally, and yet on the audiobook version of Spare refers to Rebekah Brooks as 'a loathsome toad...a pustule on the arse of humanity'. (Which episode of GOT is he referencing?) 

And there is more than a hint of chauvinism in Harry's characterisations of Kate and Camilla and elsewhere the couple trade in the type of stereotyping that they seem to object to so much, especially of British society and its manners.

I think if Harry had come home from the war and, remaining steadfastly single, devoted himself to a campaign of vicarious revenge against Camilla on behalf of his mother’s ghost, I’d be a little more on-side. In strictly literary terms the narrative would have some bite. All those highfallutin references to Hamlet which his ghost writer puts into poor unread Prince Haz’s mouth would be just about bearable. 

But this way he has gone full appendage, his revenge a dish best served as a side salad to Meghan’s own playhouse pains.

Beyond all the horrifically tedious stuff about bridesmaids’ dresses, it would actually matter if publicly-funded press officers were found to have been selectively muck raking. It’s an allegation Harry has consistently used in interviews to justify his own more overt and personal barbs, but there is enough in the Sussex narrative that crumbles under fairly basic fact-checking to make one disinclined to immediately believe other allegations they seem unable or unwilling to back-up. 



Monday, January 09, 2023

Interfuctus Sunt

Almost everyone has weird and difficult relatives; and I think (almost) everyone is prepared to admit that when especially troublesome situations arise with parents, family, friends and other third parties, one is usually never entirely blameless in how they subsequently pan out.

There’s an inevitability to this, even when one feels wholly justified in one’s initial stance, for contentious interactions are by their very nature auto-catalytic: action, reaction, action, reaction...
I think what bugs most Brits about Harry’s media tour right now is an apparent unwillingness to nuance the statements made with any acknowledgment of the ways his own complex sensitivities might have fed into his estrangement from a family group which now has little choice but to endure this torrent of self pity. (As someone who has never been able to abide chippy people, it kind of blows my mind that the most high-vis chippy person in the world right now is a Prince.)

Leaving aside any other layers of prejudice, the Palace were surely correct to anticipate the potential for serious culture clash in Harry's choice of partner. Yet to deny this spare the right to marry his American actress in the manner that they had denied the previous one would undoubtedly have created a far bigger stink.
So whose fault is it really that more effort wasn’t made to make it work? Senior British royals are in a sense born into servitude. To marry one is to accept the spousal version of the employment contract. 
When Harry gripes about not getting a ride on the plane that took William and others up to Balmoral as the Queen lay dying, it’s as if after all these years as a royal he’s never understood the deal. 
And if he doesn’t, who else was ever going to explain it to Meghan without coming across all wrong? 
Yet she’s a smart woman — certainly smarter than her husband — so one presumes that she must have intuited on some levels that the basic requirement was a life of duty to another nation. Princess Grace seemingly got it. Queen Rania gets it. Meghan apparently just wanted the bathrooms, no strings attached.

So instead the Sussex duo attempted to set up some sort of branded hybrid between California-style 'reality' celebrity and privileged aristocracy, more about self-actualisation than self-sacrifice. It was just too adjacent to William and Kate not to be harmful to the value system that underpins the monarchy. 
The spare usually has a modicum of extra freedom from the lifelong bond, but limits remain. Nobody can blame Harry for walking away. But they can blame him for whoring himself out to the American media for cash, knowing that the majority of his selected targets cannot respond directly (or profitably) to any of his recollections.
The recollection he is perhaps most abusing is the near-hagiographic one that persists around his mother. 
The Atlantic Ocean is another of his shields, for he deliberately exploits the American media's lack of understanding of how things really work. Like, how many royals are permitted to travel on a single plane. Then he says the plane in question was 'private'. We watched the coverage live that day. It was not a private plane, at least not the sort that the Sussexes typically use to travel to climate events. It was laid on by the British taxpayer. 
In the UK media it has long been established that the Queen died before the transition was announced officially and that she has already passed when William, Edward, Andrew etc. arrived at the gates of Balmoral, yet here is Harry moaning how he couldn't cadge a lift on an RAF-managed plane and thus somehow missed his grandmother's final moments. 
And when he says things like "I still don't understand what Wills was trying to say," it's genuinely hard to work out if he's playing the fool or he really is the fool. 

In all of this there are also disturbing parallels with Donald Trump. Harry is pumping out very rough and probably unfair caricatures of his antagonists, knowing full well that fact checking of the associated misinformation will be limited or ignored and that true fans will lap it up without much anxiety about the underlying transactions and potential power transfers.

The last ‘Harold’ to have any serious impact on royal fortunes…