By Steven Tulip, College Office
I’ve always had a passion for reading books and watching films based on them; a passion which earned me an offer to study English at Leeds with nothing more than a pass for my Mature Access Course (which I smashed with a distinction).
More because I’ve always liked the film The Shining, I decided to read the book of the sequel Doctor Sleep and then watch the film. The only Stephen King novel I’d read previously was Misery, ahead of the film featuring James Caan and Cathy Bates.
Stephen King seems to have always been resentful that the film of The Shining is more celebrated as a Stanley Kubrick film or a Jack Nicholson film than as a film based on his novel. I couldn’t help but feel for him as the film progressed and broke from the source material, increasingly drawing influences from the Kubrick film, complete with a Jack Nicholson lookalike. I couldn’t particularly recommend either book or film but nor would I warn against either.
Another book I’ve read and film I’ve watched during this period is On Chesil Beach from the Ian McEwan novella. It’s a bit of a coming of age drama about choices we make, and I feared it may be another postcard from the Swinging Sixties; however, the book and film are very readable/watchable and the end of the film, while predictable, is very moving.
I’m sure ours can’t be the only household where it’s sometimes difficult to find things to watch on the box night after night. My long suffering, much better half doesn’t like anything too violent and I don’t like anything too soppy, so no stereotyping going on there.
There’s a multitude of box-sets to choose from, all with recommendations from somebody or other. She likes a good detective yarn and Alienist, about a psychiatrist assisting the police to catch a serial killer in late C19th New York, is very atmospheric and just about fell short of upsetting her too much.
After a few near misses, we ended up with Homeland, about the trials and tribulations, ups and (mostly) downs of a bi-polar, on-off maverick CIA agent called Carey Mathison, played extraordinarily over eight seasons by the remarkable Claire Danes. As of writing, we’re nearing the end of season six which is set in New York, following previous seasons in Washington, Pakistan and Germany, by way of Afghanistan, Palestine, Venezuela, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen. Each series is very much a roller coaster ride, with cliff-hangers at the end of many episodes, and occasional graphic violence (and sex).
We have one son in lockdown with us and he watched the first series with us, then binged the rest and is now reading a book I’d seen on Book Review on the BBC Parliament Channel about the troubles in the Middle East over the last forty years. If further recommendation was needed, we planned to buy the complete DVD for my brother-in-law, agreeing he would love it, before my illustrious sister confirmed they’d watched it all on Channel Four and were big fans.
Another one with a reputation is Justified, about a Stetson and cowboy-boot wearing cop called Raylan Givens who finds himself back in Kentucky after killing a gangster in Miami. Some of us oldies will remember the Clint Eastwood film Coogan’s Bluff and the spin-off series McCloud with Dennis Weaver, and recognise certain similarities.
Again, there’s some graphic violence (and sex) and I was surprised my wife wanted to go past season one, until I suggested it’s because the lead looks like a slightly older Jack Hepworth, which she conceded doesn’t do any harm. Jack has confirmed he doesn’t receive any royalties.
It’s a little on hold because I found out it’s based on an Elmore Leonard short story, so I need to read that first; but then I found out that the author has since written a novel called Raylan based on three of the stories in the series, and the jacket of that novel confirmed the character had previously appeared in two other novels. Perhaps I’m a little fastidious about this, but I now need to finish one novel, read two more and a short story before we resume the series, so we’re looking for suggestions again.
One film we have lined up to watch between series of Homeland is Contagion which obviously passed us by. I came across it when the scientific advisor on the film was featured on Hard Talk and – for anybody else who hasn’t seen it – it’s apparently eerily prophetic of current events.
Another film which is topical at the moment is Beloved, based on the celebrated Toni Morrison novel about ghosts and slavery (or ghosts of slavery). I actually studied the book as part of my degree and have had the DVD for years without watching it, so now would seem an appropriate time.
Anybody who’s looking for film recommendations need look no further than Amy from Catering who’s no doubt gearing up for trips to the drive-in cinema in Newcastle. Who knew Newcastle had a drive-in cinema? I bet Amy did.
So, with all this reading, listening and watching, how have I retained my sylph-like physique which keeps me in contention with Jack? Living in a small hamlet between Durham and Barnard Castle, the restrictions barely impacted on our freedoms, which is a way of saying we may have left the house more than once a day on occasion. Luckily our eyesight held up, so we didn’t need any day-trips.
Between us and the next village, there’s a large field with a huge figure-eight, offering a number of alternative routes and some pretty tough banks to scale. Our target was to do three long walks a day but to ensure that, weather permitting, we do at least two. We’ve managed three on a number of occasions and have only slipped to one once. For the third, and sometimes the second, we generally need our son to join us; by then, the little dog is too tired for the final hill, and he’s the only person who can still manage to carry him.
What have I missed most in lockdown I hear you ask? A few beers at a small venue with some live music. My big drinking days are long behind me, but the wine intake is up a little. Turns out that, in amongst learning to play jazz guitar at Birmingham Conservatoire, my eldest also learned to cook a mean pasta and a mean curry, far fierier than his mother – who can’t walk past an Indian restaurant or takeaway without ordering chicken tikka masala – is accustomed to.
The piles of books, CDs and DVDs are still there, but the weeks are starting to blend into each other and my sleep’s all over the place so, although I’m still troubled by the apparent absence of social distancing and face coverings on the news and in the towns and villages round-about, where it seems the government are lifting restrictions to catch up with where most people already are, I’m looking forward to seeing you all on the other side.