Archive for October, 2009

The English murder

14 October 2009

theforceIn The Decline of the English Murder, written 60 years ago, George Orwell reflected on how murder reflected the times. The celebrated pre-war murders typically featured respectable men who had got themselves into unrespectable affairs with women, often of a lower social class, who were done away with by poison. The wartime murders which prompted the essay, in contrast, were done by an American Army deserter and his British girlfriend, who seemed to kill their victims – almost existentially – because they could. The randomness of war re-enacted as a celebrated crime.

The thought is prompted by Patrick Forbes’ documentary The Force, shown on Channel 4 this week, about Hampshire Police investigating a body found burned beyond recognition in the village of Dummer. This murder also reflected its times. The victim was Polish, the murderer Bangladeshi, who had worked together in an Ibis hotel in London and had started having an affair. Her mobile phone had been used to delay suspicions about her disappearance; his by the police to piece together his movements around the time of the murder. Fragments of the story were pieced together from CCTV footage, most compellingly when the police traced the film which showed him dragging the suitcase with the woman’s body in it to his car. But the breakthrough came from traditional policing, knocking on doors and handing out photos. And the motive was also traditional: he killed her out of jealousy. As a by the way, some of the housing conditions seen or reported during the film were quite shocking.

I need to declare an interest; I work with Patrick Forbes’ wife, and she had reminded me the programme was on. But – in contrast to most of  the factual programming on British television – the film used the people and the pictures to tell the story. Even the rhythm of the events – with only a small amount of programme-maker’s artifice – provided the cliff-hangers. And what a relief all of that was; no celebrity presenter, no urgent voice-over, and none of those horrible post-ad break intros which now seem compulsory at Channel 4, in which you’re told, again, what the programme is about, which have the unintended aesthetic effect of making every programme seem the same (“I’m Kevin McCloud and I’m on the trail of the 18th century aristocrats who transformed the way Britain thinks about design”. Please).

In other words, it was a proper documentary. It’s repeated late on Friday and there are two more to come, on the next two Tuesdays. [Update: There’s a reflective review in The New Statesman.]

The picture at the top of the post is courtesy of Channel 4.


Escaping from metaphor

5 October 2009


I was leafing through  the Autumn edition of the Poetry Book Society bulletin, admiring the title poem of Don Paterson’s latest collection, Rain (more on this podcast), when I stumbled across a poem by Toeti Heraty, an Indonesian poet, philosopher and campaigner whose work had been – until that moment – completely unknown to me. But then, one of the virtues of magazines is their potential for serendipity.

The poem – in its English translation, courtesy of the Poetry Translation Centre – is about the gap between words and meaning.

Post Scriptum
by Toeti Heraty

I want to write
an erotic poem
in which raw words, unadorned,
become beautiful
where metaphors are unnecessary
and breasts, for instance,
do not become hills
nor a woman’s body a sultry landscape
nor intercourse ‘the most intimate embrace’.

It’s quite clear
this poem is written in the space
between exposure and concealment
between hypocrisy and true feeling.

There are more poems by her at the Poetry Translation Centre. If I find a way to buy the pamphlet this was taken from I’ll add it here.

The picture at the top of the post is Body Landscape No. 2, by Maya Barkai, at the Saatchi Gallery Online.

Long distance cricket

2 October 2009


I followed most of the Ashes, the one-dayers against Australia, and the Champions Trophy games via the ball by ball coverage on cricinfo, so I was amused to read an account of the so-called ‘synthetic broadcasts’ constructed by the Australian broadcaster ABC to cover the Ashes in Australia in 1934 and 1938. (I’m indebted to Gideon Haigh’s excellent book Inside Out for this).

A panel of broadcasters convened in the studios in Sydney and reported more or less as live the ball-by-ball information sent by means of coded telegrams by Eric Scholl at the Test match grounds. Sound effects were provided by a pencil and a block of wood; crowd noises came from a gramophone record. The listening public was enthralled, staying up to listen until the small hours of the morning. Employers complained.

And how unlike the coverage on cricinfo, much as I depend on it in the absence of a Sky Sports subscription. Reading between the lines of some of the summer coverage, they have a team of writers based in Melbourne, who watch the television coverage and transcribe it into ball by ball updates. In 70 years we’ve updated the technology but the method seems all but identical. Cricinfo, it should be said, does have a journalist at the ground. He (almost invariably he) feeds colour into the ball-by-ball commentary from time, but his main role is to write the Bulletin, the analysis pieces at the end of each session of play. To describe the action, it doesn’t really matter where you are; to understand it, well, you still have to be there.