Millions of cheers

We’ve been listening to some BBC Radio 4 before bed lately: The News Quiz, the fantastic Mitchell & Webb, some odd bits of older archived comedy. It’s wonderful to get a bite of the concentrated Englishness of Radio 4 from so far away. I get a tiny bit cranky when the archived copies of recent programmes include several minutes of the previous programme (what’s the point of that?), but I also get a break from the extreme rigours of acting hammily while reading something out loud before bed, we can turn the lights out and snuggle, and it’s altogether very civilised and satisfying. Go check it out. You might only see the tip of the iceberg, but what a tip.

I played the Shipping Forecast for A. one night, but it was really for myself. I completely adore it. It’s found poetry. It’s wilfully cryptic, a coded message crucial to the survival of the storm-tossed Merchant Marine transmitted in the BBC’s polished RP from some cosy nook deep in the bowels of Broadcasting House, stentorian yet conspiratorial. Sometimes at night I play a game with myself, which goes like this: imagine the least comfortable, least cosy place you might be. Helps if it’s some time and place you remember vividly. For A. and I, there was a bitterly cold night we spent standing on The Mound in Edinburgh, having flown in from LA that day and travelled by train from Kings Cross. We’d not slept the previous night either, for reasons that were connected to a car crash we weren’t involved in. We were exhausted, stressed, needed some warmth, most of all needed to be able to get in touch with the woman whose flat we were renting, but who had (we discovered the following day) managed to find the only square foot in the city where she’d not be able to find a signal for her cellphone. Our only pathetic warmth was a bag of chips I’d gone to fetch. They didn’t help much. See? You make it as hideously unlike being snugly in bed as possible – stuck by the side of the road in the Mojave desert on the way to Vegas, walking miles home in the pouring rain – and then you remind yourself that, oh right, you’re actually in bed, and it’s warm and snug and you don’t need to go anywhere or do anything except be in bed. Those are the best times for the Shipping Forecast. Helps if you’re listening to it live, of course, but I’m not picky. There are always brave little trawlers out cod-hunting in the dark Atlantic vastness, cabin lights aglow, to receive the Forecast with understanding and gratitude.

Millions begins with an ostensibly out-of-context reference to the Shipping Forecast. The sea-regions which anchor the Forecast are co-opted to refer to plots in a new housing development. It’s a delightfully shorthand way to hook into some British quirk; the crypticism is doubled, as the coded Forecast is itself used in a coded fashion. That such a parochial reference – even a passing one – was allowed to remain in a film which clearly has some global ambition is one of very many things to love about it. I’m not going to write much of a review; just tell you to go see it. It spins a captivating magic realism in a suburban British setting of green green grass and blue blue sky and white white clouds. Danny Boyle’s love of filming movement was never better employed.

And there’s not a single sign of compromise in voice and tone for the sake of a larger market. The whole thing has an authenticity that makes me want to cheer, particularly when I see that Ian Rankin’s latest has unaccountably been renamed Fleshmarket Alley for the American market. The British name is Fleshmarket Close, and there’s a very good reason why: it’s a real place, a precipitous street of steps which leads from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile down to Waverley station. Was ‘Fleshmarket’ on its own not lurid enough? Isn’t the point of Rankin’s stuff about setting fictional narrative within a real location? Bah, I say. Bah. I’m only just recovering from reading an Americanised edition of Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, in which ‘petrol’ becomes ‘gasoline’, ‘nappies’ become ‘diapers’, ‘paraffin’ becomes ‘kerosine’, and so on. Never mind that it’s a story of an English boy, set in England, and told in first person, so those are words he’d never use. Never mind that there are concepts in the book that would be new to any kid who isn’t spookily worldly. Authentic voice gets smoothed, homogenised, to some end that I can’t honestly see, but which is clearly imperative to copy editors.

So lots of cheers for the Shipping Forecast. Millions, in fact.

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