Monday, 18 February 2013

Ancient Lights

In the past I espied a sign on the side of a house, "Ancient Lights", it read. Puzzled, I asked around (long before Google) and was told it was to denote the ancient "right to light" accorded to those who enjoyed continuous natural light through a window for 20 years. I now hear that this right is under threat from a government whose intent is to make it easier to build and disregard the wishes of neighbours who may object. The right to light is currently enshrined in law and can effectively kill off a planning application for a building which is likely to occult the adjacent one.

The law of Ancient Lights goes back to the Prescription Act of 1832 and relates to protections in place, should the said light have been enjoyed for a period of 20 years or more.

I can imagine that this was rather a crucial piece of legislation, for, as a wiseacre once said, if you have to have a law there is a problem. (For example, the law against sex with a porcupine, allegedly, in Florida)

Go back to the 1830s and you might easily imagine that the need for natural light was a matter of survival. If you were dependent on light to do your work, for example watch making and repairing or needlework, then I suspect that the removal of such light, due to the encroachment of another building, might be taken as very serious indeed.

So how about now? Surely there is no such fundamental need. We can have as much light as we need at the flick of a switch, even if the EU has decided it should be dim and inoffensive.

Well, I don't know about you, but I need natural daylight as sure as I need air and water.


Today I walked in the sunshine, alongside the river that runs by the bottom of my garden. I am lucky to be free to do this.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Television doesn't get much better than this..

I have been watching House of Cards on Netflix. Three episodes, perhaps enough to know where it's going and whether it is worth another look. And, oh boy, it is worth another look.

And as if political drama is the new black, there's Borgen as well.

But first, how about this phenomena? How about the idea that a streaming movie website has commissioned a first-rate drama, with the best writers, actors and director? Apparently, Netflix have spent $100 million dollars on the series. This must be an enormous punt for a company which hitherto has relied on being a mere platform for, let's face it, not all the best movies.

As loss-leaders go, this is one of the better ones. How else can you describe something that has pursuaded me (me of all people) to sign up for an entertainment package? All I can guess is that they have done their market research. They have gone for the older audience, and an older audience with a brain. That in itself is enough to give me hope for the future of digital media.

As for terrestrial channels and traditional television, well, I have to say again that I have not had a Television for over ten years and do not intend to. Neither do I wish to support an organization - the British Broadcasting Corporation - which is not only bankrupt of ideas but appears to have become a job creation scheme for Marxists and perverts.

From time to time people call for the abolition of the TV license. Well, if things carry on the way they have been doing, the BBC will become obsolete by its own hand. On Friday night, the way we watch television changed forever.


For those of you who saw the original series of "House of Cards" with the incomparable Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart, the new Netflix production, with Kevin Spacey will be something of a delight. It is as if FU is a sort of Dr Who, someone who can metamorphose into a new character who, whist referencing the past is wholly and utterly novel. This is Francis Underwood - Southern style. Of course, it references West Wing - it has to - but in that kind of inter-textual way that all great art references other great art. The writers understand us as an audience, meaning that they take us as former West Wing fans and begin by showing us the darker side to places where the saintly Jed Bartlett never went. It is, nevertheless, the same Washington with the same limos and the same muted lighting. Refreshingly there are few visual tricks or tedius corridor tracking shots. The only innovation, if you can call it one, is the clever way they allow us to see the text messages. (I am sure it has been done somewhere else, but I don't know where.)

Is Kevin Spacey convincing? He is worse than convincing, he is likable. You know he is being a despicable shit but you cannot help but admire the way he does it. Maybe some of the plot lines stretch believability; episode three hangs on a particularly implausible premise, but perhaps it was something lost in translation. As for the direction, there was a little bit of business near the end of episode three concerning white tulips and the bodyguard that demonstrates the economy and artistry with which the writers and the directors are not spoon-feeding us, but allowing the viewer to do the work. We are being treated as grown ups, and that is as it should be.  This series is a hit. It is the best thing since The West Wing and for all I know, it will surpass it.

Talking of Ian Richardson, I have just finished watching the original TV version of Tinker Tailor, followed by Smiley's People, followed by A Perfect Spy. Despite the very very good recent movie remake, Alex Guinness is the only genuine article. Those productions still stand the test of time and it is so sad that nothing on terrestrial British TV has come close to them since.