The (unintentional) break I took away from blogging left me with plenty of time to immerse myself in all sorts – that’s how I judge how good something is, I think. If I can forget the rest of the world while I’m consuming it, if I can slip into that world and feel at home there, then it’s usually an enjoyable experience.
It makes me smile to write about escaping reality through media – as an A-level French student, a question that our class dreaded though it came up far too often, was along the lines of “s’eschapper de la réalité” (escaping from reality) and those four words became a dreaded phrase. There were various things I hated about French (sorry Sir, Miss, if you’re reading this!) but trying to put into words the things that crossed my mind when I was buried in my introverted inner-world ranked pretty highly up there. I can still barely word it in English, the immense pleasure of sinking into an alternate reality and becoming pre-occupied by someone else’s problems for a while. It was infinitely easier, in French at least, to be cynical and try to argue from a standpoint like Carl from Up – reality is reality, you can’t escape from it. When your brain is hardly co-operating enough to get you through the next thirty seconds of speaking in front of a class, explaining the nuances of escaping reality is borderline impossible.
On to the main point of the post: five things that have assisted me lately in my missions to be lost.
1 (and 2) – Life on Mars / Ashes to Ashes
I am decidedly behind the times when it comes to these two BBC dramas, although in my defence I wasn’t old enough to watch them when they originally aired! [Life on Mars aired across two series, from January 2006 to April 2007 and Ashes to Ashes aired three series between February 2008 and May 2010]
Life on Mars appeared in my Netflix suggestions early this year, and it sat in my list unwatched before moving to the ‘Last chance to watch’ section, which finally spurred me into action. I’m so glad that I did! The first three weeks of April 2021 were a rollercoaster of binge-watching (in my haste to stay firmly within the realms of Fenchurch East CID, I neglected to notice that the sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, was not in the ‘Last chance to watch’ area…)
Both series centre around a modern-day police officer sent back in time following a violent incident. In Life on Mars, DCI Sam Tyler of Greater Manchester Police is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973, as a DI under DCI Gene Hunt, whose one-liners alone should be enough to land him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Look at her, she’s as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot.”Gene Hunt, Life on Mars
As you can imagine, a straight-laced, by-the-book DCI from the 21st centrury clashes at almost every opportunity with a DCI embodying every bit of the 1970s. I’m still not quite sure how the character of Gene Hunt endeared to me so quickly – think misogyny, racism, homophobia and excessive violence, and you’ve about got the measure of him. But underneath the bravado there are flashes of humanity that meant I couldn’t help adding him to my extensive cast of favourite characters.
The second police officer swept up in time is DI Alex Drake, a police psychologist who worked with Sam Tyler following his ordeal, in the Metropolitan Police. She is caught up with an old adversary and ends up being shot, only to wake up in 1981 in a sticky situation from which she can only be rescued by a certain aforementioned DCI (which becomes a running theme, as she can’t seem to stay out of trouble across the twenty-four episodes of Ashes to Ashes!) And if Sam Tyler had disagreements with Gene Hunt, they were nothing in comparison with the blazing rows between Alex and ‘the Guv’!
There was so much to like about both series: sharp dialogue, well-rounded characters, the reliable formula of police procedural dramas blended with the suspense and mystery surrounding Sam and Alex and their desire to go back to the future. But these series really envelope you in their timelines, tying you to and making you care about the characters, even when they’re saying and doing things that are so drastically opposed to your own moral compass. Over my three weeks of viewing, I tumbled down the rabbit hole in 1973 and subsequently 1981 with the same ferocious immersion as the two protagonist police officers. And I loved it.
3 – Face Value
I’ve always liked older music, having been raised on tunes from the 70s and 80s (thanks, Mum and Dad!) The soundtracks of all twenty-four episodes of Ashes to Ashes have been rotating on my Spotify for weeks now – brilliant songs from the eighties, many that I’d liked even before I had new favourite characters attached to them. (Seriously, s01e06’s use of Ultravox’s Vienna sends shivers down my spine. The climax of the episode, the cinematography, the suggested chemistry… Every single shade of yes!)
One afternoon, I remarked to my dad that I couldn’t understand why In The Air Tonight had a fade-out ending, after more than five minutes of some of the best lyrics and drumming of all time. I lamented that there wasn’t an ending as iconic as that immense crescendo drum moment.
Well, if you told me you were drowning // I would not lend a hand // I’ve seen your face before my friend // But I don’t know if you know who I amPhil Collins, In The Air Tonight (1981)
Indulging my love of music of that era, Dad suggested I listen to the entirety of the album that song hails from – Phil Collins’ Face Value.
What. An. Album.
Seeing as a lot of my blog readers are older than I am, I’ll guess you’ve probably heard most, if not all, of Face Value. If you haven’t, I urge you to listen in its entirety. It’s raw, emotional, masterful. As songwriters go, few come close to measuring up to Phil Collins – who is not only the master of post-divorce angst-rich songs, but also wrote the soundtrack and lyrics for Tarzan (and recorded them in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German!)
4 – The Queen’s Gambit
Next in my selection of immersive media is a book/TV series pair. Unusually for me, I didn’t read the book first – I know, I know! Last summer I caught onto the huge hype around this unusual series about chess, and then early in the spring this year, I picked up the book, which turned out to be a compelling read. It’s as much about self-belief as it is about chess – the ancient game is the vehicle for Beth Harmon (the protagonist) to find herself, know her worth and conquer her demons.
The series follows Beth from orphaned child to troubled teen to train-wreck young woman and out into the sun again, against the backdrop of the 1960s. I’m spotting a decidedly retro theme to my choices in this blog! I found myself rooting for her from the start, admiring her mental agility and downright envying her ability to not only play chess but understand it, live it and breathe it. I can play, insofar as I know how the pieces can and can’t move. But the chess presented in The Queen’s Gambit has a unique beauty, a magic that cast a spell over me from the first episode to the last. I want to play chess like that! But perhaps cramming more into my head, spinning even more plates, is not my best plan when I’m three weeks shy of moving to the opposite end of the country for a new job!
For now, I might have to settle for working on a Beth Harmon-esque enviable focus instead, which would be no bad thing.
5 – Desert Island Discs
My final addition to this blog is yet more damning evidence that I might just be a little old before my time… I’ve been listening to DID podcasts for a few years, starting before a long car journey for a family holiday. Each episode is an insight into another person’s brain: hearing people talk about music that matters to them, in the same way so much music matters to me, is a pleasure. In sharing their intimate connections to music, the celebrity guests often share details that just wouldn’t be known otherwise: anecdotes from childhood, emotionally charged stories about family tragedies, glances into real life for these figures that become somewhat less ‘real’ for having been so prominent in popular culture. But not all the figures are super-famous and instantly recogniseable. Two of my favourite episodes are those featuring Dr. Sabrina Rachel Cohen-Hatton (firefighter, psychologist and writer) and Sinéad Burke (teacher, writer and disability activist) whose stories really inspired me.
I don’t envy those who have to choose their Desert Island Discs: the premise of the show being that you choose eight tracks that define you and that you couldn’t live without, should you be marooned on a desert island. Music is such a huge part of my life, I wouldn’t know where to start in trawling through my favourites and narrowing them down to just eight, and then to just one! At the end of the show, the guest is always asked which one of their tracks they would save, should all the others be washed away… How would I make that decision?!?