The Birthday Party – Pinter

Toby Jones

Stephen Rea

Henry Goodman

Maggie Steed


Producer/director Gary Brown for Radio 3 Drama


If a radio drama can sometimes rise or fall according to the quality of its cast then this version of Pinter’s is simply triumphant. Toby Jones is fast becoming the go-to man in either radio or television but he is just one part of some brooding and consummate performances.

Irish actor Stephen Rea and Henry Goodman are the menacing visitors who visit a rundown seaside boarding house to confront Jones’ character Stanley – but for what reason is deliberately left obscure. However Goodman at Nat Goldman, the gangsterish Jew, is supremely unsettling with his bleak and sometimes comic delivery. Maggie Steed is a delight as the landlady in a production which is a worthy successor to its various previous incarnations.



The Curious Case of #TheManWhoMistookHisWifeForAHat

A recent series of curious but unremarkable events led me to remember a slim volume sitting in the lower-reaches of one of my bookshelves. On the cover is an illustration; in the palm of a hand are three dominoes and in the night sky above is the constellation of Orion. The dots on the dominoes resemble the pattern of stars above. The book by Arthur Koestler is titled ‘The Roots of Coincidence’.

I leafed through it, reminding myself of its contents and in particular the theories of biologist Paul Kammerer who contends that events in the universe are connected by waves of seriality.

Carl Jung also coined the term synchronicity when pondering what appear to be random coincidences.

Events had unfolded a few days previously. It was a dark and threatening Sunday afternoon, rain in the air and a breeze whipping up from the river. Going to watch cricket or to take a cycle ride held little appeal.

I peeled  spuds and parsnips, simmered a few bones and left some brisket of beef in the slow-cooker. Not much sport on the box and  the internet red light was blinking on the router so Amazon Prime was not available. Terrestrial TV it was.

What a choice; The Simpsons,  showjumping, an American crime forensics drama and an old movie. I switched to the film which had just started. Awakenings. Robert de Niro and Robin Williams in a slow-paced drama about hospital patients in a long state of catatonia being awakened by a drug usually used for Parkinson’s. The effect is temporary however and the patients’ lapse back into their previous state but not before enjoying the bitter-sweet experience that is life for one last time. Most movies I watch these days I reference via the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) on my mobile phone.

I switched the phone from wi-fi to mobile data and scanned the available information on Awakenings. Adapted from the book by Oliver Sacks. Hmmm that rang a bell. I looked him up. A British neurologist working in the Bronx who had administered large doses of the drug Levodopa  and brought patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, or sleepy sickness,  back to life. So it was a true story.

It seems Sacks specialised in writing about his clinical experiences. The reason I vaguely knew his name was due to his most celebrated work:      

‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’. This referred to another medical syndrome involving recognition.

The name of that book had somehow embedded itself into my brain cells at one time or another.

I made a note on Google Keep on my phone where I keep a list of books to buy or borrow from the library. I also awarded the movie 6/10 on my IMDB scoring list. I have never found out why you can’t award fractions such as 6.4.

Outside, drumbeat patterns of rain rattled the windows for most of the afternoon and my newly-planted spring flowers looked  sodden and forlorn. I moved the lettuce container into the leaky garden shed which was already dripping over the plastic covering cardboxes of old books, CDs and VHS tapes.

In the kitchen I used the bone broth and brisket juices to make a rich gravy while the meat rested. I plated up and poured a small glass of Shiraz while listening to the cricket – apparently it was sunny at Trent Bridge – and watched droplets meander down my kitchen window.

That evening I tuned into the Radio 3 drama slot to see what was being aired. It was My Own Life which included a piece read by Joss Ackland on the final words written by….Oliver Sacks.

A few days later I was in one of the three or four local libraries I regularly visit. I returned Richard ll and Hilary Mantel and scouted for any of  Sacks works, unsuccessfully. I had been attending a weekly course on creative writing and was expected to produce a short story during or at the end of the six week programme.

I had read Mantel’s ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’, a collection of short stories, that were, nothing short of tedious. It was interesting to read the comments on

Goodreads, another Amazon site dedicated to book lovers.  Clearly devoted fans,  absolutely effusive. I left a few negative replies, my main point musing how enthusiastic the response would be if these stories were read as if from an unknown writer.

I returned  the book via the automatic machine now installed in some libraries, presumably part of the unrelenting campaign to oust people from their jobs. Mind you, in this part of town at least they have to employ a security guard. The baldy bouncer is none too friendly though. The other week I left my laptop momentarily in the computer suite as I searched for a book next door and he collared me, eyes popping, loudly berating me for enticing thieves; ‘they’ll rob you as soon as look at you round here’.

As I was dispatching Mantel into the letter-box mouth of the machine and marvelling that for the first time the patio doors were open into a garden area, I was touched on the elbow. A chap was in my face, carrying books under an arm, round-faced with glasses, straggly grey-hair.

‘Look at this’, he said, gazing about,  ‘It’s not like Liverpool is it?’. No, I agreed. How could it be? Liverpool’s jewel of a library has had £50m lavished on it. He seemed vaguely familiar. I noticed the shaking hand and recalled I had sat next to him at the medical centre some time ago. I didn’t mention it, no point encouraging him and off he went.

I thought it might be an idea to try another volume of short stories and went to the section where they are all kept. I toyed with Julian Barnes,  Ali Smith and JG Ballard. I like Ballard but his unremittingly bleak vision of an apocalyptic future sometimes needs light relief. Of course his vivid and imaginative prose is sublime but impossible to replicate.

I decided on Chekov. I’d never read any of his short stories but he was reputed to be a master of the art. I do like Russian literature but I realised that much of my experience had come from listening to BBC radio dramas and adaptions rather than actually reading the works. I mean, how many of us have time to trudge through ‘War and Peace’. However you can notice with some long and complex works that abridged versions cannot give you the full flavour of the text.

Not like say a Pinter play which is the same on the page as it is on the stage or to the ear.

I borrowed a book called ‘The Undiscovered Checkov’, so called because many of his earlier stories in Russian had not been translated into English before.

The young master, who came from poor stock, was a prolific writer. In his early days he bashed out the stuff  like crazy just to bring some cash in. You think of him as a genius but even he would pay friends and family to come up with ideas, even plots.

One very short story is about when the American actress Sarah Bernhard visited Moscow. A simple but brilliant idea – actually ideal for social media now – involved different views of her put forward by people telegramming each other.

You can easily imagine doing this using Twitter of Facebook but Chekov came up with this more than 130 years ago (check).

I think magazine subscribers at the time found him readable as he was full of observations and vignettes rather than producing simple stories with a start, middle and end.

During the days following my visit to the library I was busy with one thing and another. One evening, I dined late and watched Newsnight. Donald Trump in hot water again, this time for yet another conspiracy involving Russians. Clearly his intention to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington had incited the swamp-dwellers to get in a few shots. I wondered how long he would last.

I went off to bed and decided on a few pages of Chekov. I read the story about Sarah Bernhard and another set on a train. I then backpedalled to the introduction page, penned by an American actor.

I hadn’t heard of the guy, an American with a distinctive name called Spalding Gray. I Googled him on my phone. It’s always a bit uneasy when you read words that appear in your head immediately and then learn the writer died soon after penning them.

Gray had suffered injuries in a road accident while visiting Ireland in 2001. He suffered a broken hip and fractured skull which left him with a huge scar on his head. But just as damaging was the depression he sunk into. Gray’s work was personal, he liked to bare his soul in monologues. Later he struggled to come to term with his injuries.

One night in January 2004 he took his children to see Tim Burton’s Big Fish, a fantasy movie about a dying father and his son. It ends with the line: ‘A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way he is immortal’.

After seeing the movie Gray disappeared. Two months later his body was dragged from the East River and it was assumed he had probably thrown himself off the Staten Island ferry.

Gray had sought medical help following the accident. His neurologist later said that his patient seemed to crave some sort of creative suicide. The neurologist was Oliver Sacks.

Broken – Jimmy Mcgovern – Corbyn – BBC

I’m quite amazed that the BBC decided to air Jimmy McGovern’s hate letter to Tory Britain during the frenzy of an election campaign. However the old nanny reared her head before the credits had barely finished rolling as BBC News  at Ten opened with an astonishingly vicious attack on Crobyn. His crime? To forget a figure – and that was apparently the day’s headline news. You can just imagine some of the besuited twits at Broadcasting House thinking ooeer this Broken is a bit political let’s try and even it up.

Scouser McGovern revisits his hometown to deliver a vitriolic piece of drama about austerity Britain. priest Sean Been and single mum Anna Friel are caught up in the maelstrom – Friel gets sanctioned for 13 weeks ensuring she can’t feed her kids. At the end she delays announcing the death of her mother so she can pick up the weekly pension to buy food.

Far-fetched? maybe it is in the Home Counties but from where I come from desperate people would scour the obituaries seeing if they knew anyone who had died and left a job behind.



Cricket T20 franchises – causing a rumpus

Cricket T20 franchises – it’s causing a rumpus down Lancashire way.

I don’t know what is happening in other counties but in Lancashire the in-fighting has erupted. Not about the fact that the club politbureau took a decision to join the T20 circus without consulting members – but what the new team will be called.

The consensus outside Manchester appears to be that many will not follow a team bearing that monicker. Supporters have quickly divided along city, town and football tribal lines.

Opinions on the Facebook fans page include: “I’m a Lancastrian not a Manc” and “Can you imagine a Liverpudlian supporting a Manchester team?”. Even someone from Bolton – part of Greater Manchester – poured scorn on the idea.

Is this happening elsewhere? I can’t imagine so unless maybe Yorkshire. It is staggering that there is more animosity about the Manchester franchise than there ever is about relations with the noisy neighbours.

The ECB has yet to unveil which locations will get the franchise but clearly they will be based around major metropolitan areas. Will counties then consult fans or members on the name?

It seems unlikely, steeped as they now are in marketing speak and jargon – even Colin Graves spouting tosh about stakeholders and the like. You can imagine some sort of p.r. agency being brought into produce the optimum name.

I suppose they could go neutral given the likely backlash – something like Northern Raiders. However the divisions are not just on geographical lines – many followers just don’t want anything to do with the new competition. Probably why many clubs didn’t go out to a public forum.

Many feel that the franchise games, complete with fireworks and boundary hot tubs, will not be their cup of tea and it is hoped that the Lancashire T20 team will help the grass-roots game in Southport, Blackpool and Liverpool.

The ECB is also proposing a new all-star programme for 5-8 year olds to gear them up for the magnificence of the T20 whatsits name. Here’s an idea – pour some resources into state schools where cricket is all but dead.

The Euro is doomed. #yanisvaroufakis

And The Weak Must Suffer What They Must – Yanis Varoufakis

As a business journalist I’ve read a lot of stuff on the economy, the 2008 meltdown and the history of the Euro. This is the best exposition I have read, it left me gasping for air.  Varoufakis looks at postwar European history through the lens of global monetary policy, from Bretton Woods to the ongoing reverberations of the euro crisis. And a powerful lens it is too, to help us understand the turbulence we are witnessing today and why the Euro is a busted flush. Thank God we didn’t join (3)

The book is divided roughly in two parts. It begins with the post-war economic decisions America and Europe took, the role Bretton Woods played for the future of the world in general, the reversal under the Nixon Shock of 1971, and the realities of the current Eurozone and Federal Reserve systems.
The second part deals with the 2008 financial crisis and its impact on Europe (crippled by the very monetary union that was supposed to shield it when such events happen), and what the people in charge ended up doing to make it much worse. In this, Varoufakis is unrelenting in his criticism, but it always backed up by solid economic logic. He saves the most biting of his words on the bureaucrats and politicians of the EU who used the bailout to save the banks, but left the bills to the people. And not just any people, but the weakest people in the weakest of nations (not just Greece, but Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Italy).

I won’t go into detail but here’s one thing; Quantatitive Easing – the printing of electronic money to be pumped into banks and other institutions ( supposed to kickstart the economy but just helps company shares and upmarket property portfolios)

In the EU it is shared out on a GDP basis; therefore Germany – which needs it least – gets the Lion’s Share – and the poor relations like Greece and Portugal get the leftovers.

After reading this you will agree the Euro in its present format – and probably the whole EU – is doomed.

Cricket? Who gives a toss?


I have a confession to make; I like going to watch county cricket. With spring in the air and a new season looming I have already earmarked likely first and second eleven fixtures on my multi-coloured computer desktop calendar.

I am delighted to see Lancashire and Liverpool Cricket Club appear to have got over their recent spat and a fixture has been allocated to the city’s Aigburth ground even though it is a Royal London cup one-dayer. Despite the contraction of fixtures into cricketing centres and away from outgrounds, the Red Rose still flies the flag with games at Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool. Lancs survival from relegation last year means no bi-annual trek for the fixture with Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay though.

There is little to beat a packed outground on a balmy summer’s day; certainly not sitting alone with a rucksack of sarnies in one of our cavernous Test venues.

I dusted off Duncan Hamilton’s love letter to cricket the other day – A Last English Summer. This doomsday tome envisages 2009 being the last true summer before it all implodes in a T20 galactic supernova. In fact every season since then has seen commentators bemoan crash bang cricket, central contracts, mercenaries and kolpak insurgents.

Hamilton waxes lyrical about the Golden Age of Constantine, Hobbs and Bradman although I’m pretty sure he’s not old enough to have seen any of them. However he superbly catches the deep pull of nostalgia and I am sure sees himself as the literary successor to Cardus and Allott and has worn out his dvd of Death of a Gentleman.

Everyone has a view on the future of the game;  from the crusties who are clinging to tradition like a starving trucker grasping a Yorkie, to the cash obsessed suits at the ECB who scrabble for cash like a beggar rooting around a dustbin.

However times do move on and there is little point thinking that we should be stuck in some sort of timewarp. I agree with him that the long form game is now just a mere trifle to be cut, sliced and crumbled in favour of the right Eton Mess of T20.

The question is; what to do about it? The CC has been allowed to stagnate with little support, marketing or direction. I asked Lancashire’s commercial director five years ago to implement a staggered payment regime for county games to attract the walk-in customer. Last year they finally implemented £15 all day, tenner after lunch and a fiver for the last session.

But does more need to be done?

I now refer to the case for the prosecution. Last August on a bright, searing day I was at Old Trafford to see the last days of the Roses encounter which dangled the carrot of a thrilling finale.

Lancs began the morning intent on setting the auld enemy a target to chase. The precocious Haseeb Hameed wrote himself into the record books with a glorious second century of the match.  The 19 year old shook off his Wall of Bolton nickname to dab and carve his way to 100 not out.  

The declaration left a target of 367 in 71 overs. Surely Yorkshire, hanging on to Middlesex’s coat-tails in the CC title race, would give it a go? Lees and Lyth kept the scoreboard ticking over during the afternoon. At 4 p.m. no wickets down and 219 required off 30. Time for tea. What happened during the break is pure speculation. Afterwards with 180 required off 20 the dig in began. Fifteen runs off  five overs after tea.

I said to a couple of Tykes nearby that this unfathomable act of cowardice could well cost them their championship. It did.

I was amazed with so much on the line that the game was allowed to fizzle out. In other cases the last afternoon safe draw is often commonplace.

Tradition maybe but surely it is time to punish the bore draw. Either no points for those who perpetrate a stalemate or ban draws American-style.

Surely better marketing is needed too but the plan to virtually stop all CC in the summer holidays looks akin to sabotage.

Something has to change if county cricket is to remain relevant.

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British Gas asked my mother if they could install a smart meter that would enable her to monitor her energy usage. She asked my advice. I had only just heard a BG advert on the radio proclaiming that smart meter customers now get free electricity between 9-5 on a Saturday or Sunday. Good idea, I said. My mother has now had the meter installed. She does not get free electricity at the weekend. Why? She is a prepayment customer. You know, they type that are usually a bit less well off than anyone else. British Gas quoted me – ‘technical difficulties’ in delivering the service to prepayment meters. I call it discrimination against the poor. The fact they don’t offer another kind of discount is corporate repulsivesness at its worst.


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