The Hunchback of Notre Dame (The Sivier Review)


200429 Hunchback

“Sanctuary!” Charles Laughton as Quasimodo (right, as if you didn’t know) and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda in the 1939 movie version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There’s a lot more to this than Charles Laughton shouting “Sanctuary!” in the famous movie.

Victor Hugo’s great travelogue of 15th-century Paris, and tragedy of mistaken identity. The Archdeacon of Notre Dame is actually an alchemist. His adopted son, Quasimodo, is thought to be a devil but is (of course) the most noble character in the book. The captain of the guard is thought to be noble but is a womanising liar. The Bohemian gypsy Esmeralda is something else entirely. The King of France is more interested in his money than his subjects. And Notre Dame itself is not just an edifice but also a book – the story of its inhabitants etched into its stones.

It’s a simple story, given epic scope by the way the writer ties it into its setting and historical context – and quite an easy read.

Be warned that if the Disney cartoon is all you know of this story, you may have a few surprises.

Lapsing into lassitude (Pandemic Journal: April 19)


200416 Lin fire

Mrs Mike, burning all my possessions. This coronavirus lockdown is murder on relationships!

I’ve been having trouble motivating myself lately.

The lockdown seems to have deprived time of its meaning, and I’m not the only one feeling that effect.

So although I started with many good intentions, it is proving hard to follow them through.

I set out to clean the house – carefully, making sure I did a good job. While I took a week to scour the master bedroom, it has taken two to finish off the bathroom, and I’m not completely satisfied with it.

It has proved increasingly difficult to keep up with developments in politics and the news, despite them being my business; no sooner did I try to get to grips with one development than another reared its head.

Or – worse – the latest news was almost entirely similar to what I had already reported. How many times can a writer interestingly describe the government’s failure to provide proper protective equipment for medical staff fighting the coronavirus?

How many times can one convey public frustration with an administration that insists it is doing a good job, then confesses that more people have died every day – including medical staff who had contracted the virus due to the lack of protection?

At least, last week, we had the diversion of the leaked Labour Party report on how right-wing factions among that organisation’s staff had interfered with its affairs in order to corruptly affect the result of the general election in 2017 (last December’s was not covered by the report).

But coverage of this story was hampered by strident denials on the part of those mentioned, and by a certain lawyer who asserted that he would sue anyone discussing the report, on their behalf.

It’s an empty threat. The Labour Party is well within its rights to publish the contents of emails written and sent via its network, and the publication of WhatsApp chats is also protected; whoever did it is a whistleblower who passed on information that may refer to criminal acts. It is a crime to corruptly influence the result of an election.

The combined effect, to me, was similar to that of wading through treacle; it felt as though I was getting nowhere and the effort made me feel dirty.

I’ve been trying to keep myself from going to fat by weight training at home, with the result that I have developed a strong pain in my right knee.

I read a book! However, I should admit that my enjoyment of Very Good, Jeeves! by PG Wodehouse was facilitated by the fact that I had the Audible spoken-word version – I listened to it while I was battling to clean the bathroom and struggling with the weights. Now I have started The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. I’m around one-sixth of the way through, again with the help of Audible.

I have tried to keep in touch with my friends. There is a group who maintain constant contact – strewn with profanities and lewdness – online and via video chats every few days, but I didn’t have the stamina for the most recent call because of my recent illness, and I have found it hard to get in touch with others. It feels like intrusion.

And yes, I have been ill. It came on around April 16 – a malady of the stomach that has caused me a large amount of discomfort and made me considerably more irritable than usual, hence the image [above] and its caption.

And the government has announced that we must have at least three more weeks of this. Will we survive?

Last train to Mornington Crescent (Pandemic Journal: April 12)


200412 The Goodies

Top-class comedy: Tim Brooke-Taylor with fellow Goodies Graeme Garden (left) and Bill Oddie (right).

The death of a family member due to the coronavirus undoubtedly brings its implications home to anybody affected – but the death of a “household name” who has brought joy to millions over decades… perhaps that brings us all together.

This morning, comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor died of the coronavirus at the admittedly grand old age of 79 and I confess, it hit me like a brick wall.

Tim had been a member of the UK’s comedy establishment since the 1960s, when he appeared on the radio in I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again with future Monty Python John Cleese and both the other future Goodies, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.

Moving to TV in 1970 he, together with Graeme and Bill, created one of the most popular and successful sit-coms of them all, The Goodies – playing a “conservative, vain, sexually-repressed, upper-class Royalist coward” (as Wikipedia puts it). The series was enormously popular – but then strangely fell out of favour as certain critics dubbed it the children’s version of Python.

The show is responsible for the only incident I know of a person being found to have died laughing at a television comedy. On March 24, 1975, Alex Mitchell sat down to watch the episode Kung Fu Capers, in which a kilt-clad Scotsman with his bagpipes battles a master of the Lancastrian martial art “Eckythump”, who was armed with a black pudding. After 25 minutes of non-stop laughter, Mr Mitchell died of heart failure.

His widow later sent The Goodies a letter, thanking them for making his final moments of life so pleasant.

Some might say his greatest contribution to comedy was as co-writer and performer of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, with John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman, originally for At Last the 1948 Show! on ITV. The sketch went on to become a fixture of Monty Python‘s live shows, generally performed by Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

But it is as a panellist on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue that Tim should, perhaps, be best-remembered – adorable but slightly inept, with demonstrations of this ranging from his inability to string together an “ad-lib poem” to his undeserved reputation as the world’s worst player of Mornington Crescent, according to long-term team-mate Willie Rushton.

Now the last train to Mornington Crescent has pulled away, and Tim has gone to join Willie (who passed away in 1996) and former chairman Humphrey Lyttleton (2008); and we have another reason to hate the coronavirus and our government’s pathetic response to it.

Unlike so many of our own nearest and dearest, the person might be gone, but the recordings survive. I’ll be spending some time listening to Tim’s greatest comedy hits over the next few days – and I’ll try to drop a few of them here for you too.

Hey you! Get some culture! Patrick Stewart is reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets on Twitter!


I’m not sure how interested people will be but I think this is a lovely idea.

Sir Patrick Stewart – best known as Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Xavier from the X-Men films – has been reciting a Shakespeare sonnet every day since around the time we all went into coronavirus lockdown, on his Twitter feed.

It’s a far more accessible way to get to grips with the Bard’s poetry than I ever met before – although that may not be saying much; the language is dense, and it takes a bit of work to get to grips with it.

But, I don’t know, I think it might be worth the effort.

Here’s Sonnet One:

And why not have Sonnet Two, too:

1,001 Songs number 14: Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra (The Sivier Review)


This is a blow for all those 60s hippy bands who filled their songs with drug references, thinking they were being original – Minnie the Moocher is full of them!

And a lot more fun than most of ’em, too.

Most of you will know it from the version in The Blues Brothers:

But here’s the original:

1,001 Songs number 13: El Manisero by Don Aspiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra (The Sivier Review)


“Pea-NUUUUUUUUTS! (They’re jungle-fresh)”

Remember that advert? (I think it was an advert, anyway.) This is the song – and when I was a kid, we all used to sing it. Eric Morecambe sang it in a skit.

And it has been covered more than 160 times, so I imagine EVERYONE has sung it at one time or another.

So, yes, this is a classic pop earworm. There’s hardly anything to it but it stays in your mind.

1,001 Songs number 12: Pokorekare by Ana Hato with Deane Waratini (The Sivier Review)


A Maori love song, apparently – and New Zealand’s unofficial national anthem, according to the book.

Not sure it’s a must-hear classic, though.

What do you think?

1,001 Songs number 11: Lagrimas Negras by Trio Matamoros (The Sivier Review)


(I promise I’m going through this really old stuff as fast as I can, to get to the good stuff you’ll like. I notice that hardly anybody’s looking at these mildewed oldies, which kind of puts the lie to the claim that this is a song you need to hear…)

The chord progression from this one has become something of a latin music cliche, which provides a clue as to this song’s longevity (it has been covered as recently as 2003).

It’s a heartbreak song – the title translates as ‘Black Tears’.

1,001 Songs number 10: Allons a Lafayette by Joe and Cleoma Falcon (The Sivier Review)


I guess there are the ingredients of a good song here – but to this listener’s modern ear, that’s as far as it goes.

One has to conclude that this has historical significance as the song that brought this particular musical influence to the masses – but I’m really not sure I needed to hear it before my demise.