Peace on earth

A quick round-up of the films I’ve seen in the past week, but which I’ve not had the spare time to review. (It’s all go at the moment.) First, Another Earth, yet another impressive calling-card feature debut in a year absolutely full of them, this time from a writer-director called Mike Cahill, whose background is in editing. Actually, he co-wrote and co-produced the low-budget philosophical sci-fi drama with the film’s star, Brit Marling, so there’s a lot of creativity and interaction here. It’s a simple enough tale: a promising student (Marling) is involved in an accident that changes the course of her life, and the accident takes place on the same night that a new planet is discovered – a planet that turns out to be “another Earth”, and with which contact is made. I won’t reveal any more of the plot, although the trailer, no matter how esoteric, gives away much more. It’s better not to know how it will unfold. Suffice to say, it’s an original mix of fantasy and grounded emotional drama, whose lack of budget means that the impact must come from inventiveness and from smaller moments. Before seeing this film last weekend, I’d read two sniffy reviews, one from Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, the other in my bible, Sight & Sound, both of which picked out Marling for criticism, and seemed to accuse the film of taking on too much. I couldn’t disagree more. I found it moving and involving, and thought Marling to be entirely natural and charismatic. Her co-star, William Mapother – yes, Tom Cruise’s cousin – is a more seasoned performer, but Marling’s lack of experience merely made her character, Rhoda, more believable. The special effects are limited to recurring shots of the “other Earth” hanging, familiarly, in space, but these convey a lot of the film’s mystery and portent.

I recommend Another Earth. I don’t always agree with Peter – although, as I always say, I love his writing – but in this case, I violently disagree. He was way too hard on what is a first film, and which finds interesting and offbeat ways of telling its story visually, and shows great technical promise.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, which I saw on Monday in a big West End cinema, was also a revelation, in that I found Guy Ritchie’s first Holmes reboot tiresome (and I say that as fan of Ritchie’s early Cockney gangster work, and of the work of Robert Downey Jr, who is one of the very few Hollywood stars to have hugged me). However, it was a smash hit, and now has its first sequel, which is much, much better. Unless you’re Eddie Marsan, who had loads to do in the first film, and seems to have been left on the cutting room floor this time. Still, Downey Jr’s back, and is having as much fun as ever, with Jude Law, too, enjoying himself as a bemused Watson, dragged into a globe-straddling adventure when he’s supposed to be getting married. Throw in the redoubtable Jared Harris as the dastardly Moriarty – and yes, it’s the one where the two foes meet at the top of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland – and you have a rip-roaring chase that hops from set-piece to set-piece with witty aplomb. It’s noisy, and fast, and literally very dark, and replete with “bullet time” slo-mo sequences that are more like a director’s showreel than an actual film, and you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to get caught up in it.

I like to think of myself as something of a film writer. But I spent the entire film thinking The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘s Noomi Rapace was Sadie Frost after having had some “work done.” It was Noomi Rapace. She played a heroic gypsy, which was a welcome counterpoint in the week of My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas on C4.

I’m now starting to wonder if I was too hard on the first film. I did, after all, find myself sitting next to a young man who was not just texting or checking his phone during the film but actually having a conversation on it. Could it be that he actually caused me to dislike the film I had paid to see? If so, Guy Ritchie should get one of his genuine gangster friends to go round and sort him out.

I also caught up with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes on DVD last night, but that deserves its own entry.

 

 

 

2011: here isn’t the news

I am incredibly busy this festive season, but keen to do my usual themed reviews/lists of the year. Let’s do TV. In a year where the most exciting stuff happened on the news, I will concentrate on new and returning dramas, comedies and documentaries. Clearly, there are more than 15 TV shows I loved in 2011 – I enjoyed Frozen Planet, like everybody else, and Spooks – but you have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise you would go mad. Here is the line that I drew.

1. The Shadow Line, BBC2

I spent much of the year watching British drama on television and failing to really passionately engage with it. And not all of it could blame its own hype for in-built disappointment, like The Hour. As a writer who can currently only dream of writing serious drama, I want everything to be great. I will it to be so. But much of it seems designed to be understood by idiots, which is likely to be down to pressure from broadcasters and producers, and I understand that. Meanwhile, Hugo Blick’s near-Shakespearean police corruption potboiler moved about familiar territory with such panache and confidence, it put all those identikit new cop shows like Vera, Case Sensitive, Case Histories and even The Body Farm in the shade. And required you to think at every turn. Even though none of us guessed the ending – surely! – it wasn’t a whodunit. It was so much more than that. I can never forgive it for seeming to drown a cat, and the fact that I have made it number one despite this shows just how good, and resonant all these months later, it is.


2. This Is England ’88, C4

This could have been more of the same from Shane Meadows, who found a comfortable spiritual home on TV last year with This Is England ’86. But he raised the emotional bar, and wrung so much more out of his gang, not least Lol, perhaps the most inappropriately named character in modern drama, through whose troubles Vicky McClure played a blinder. Lovely use of The Smiths on the soundtrack, too.

3. The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, More4

A truly epic undertaking, Mark Cousins filled a void we didn’t even know existed by providing a history of cinema that was at once personal and polemical, but strove for mainstream legitimacy and arguably achieved that, constantly criss-crossing continents to show echoes bouncing around the globe concurrently, but firmly placing entirely original and thrilling comparisons into context. His lilting voice – which I love – conveys “pretentious” to his detractors, but its softness and sense of wonder humanised a big subject. I didn’t want it to end.


4. The Killing, BBC4

I’ve only seen the first season. The second is stacking up in my Sky+, deliberately, so that I can watch it box-set style in big swathes – that’s how I devoured this one. I sense that Forbrydelsen II is not the equal of the original, but how could it be? It’s half as long, for a start, whereas the first one, out of the blue, took us into a whole other world and allowed us to linger for 20 episodes, all the while changing our minds about whodunit, and learning Danish as we went. Sophie Grabol was superb as Sarah Lund, but it wasn’t just about her and her jumper. This was a window on the parallel universe of Scandinavia, where grisly murders don’t happen as much, politics is all about coalition and the rain seems never to stop. Who knew that a subtitled drama would be one of the year’s best? (It originally aired in 2007, of course, but it’s new to us.)


5. Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic

I apologise to all of you who diligently snub all of Rupert Murdoch’s works and thus cannot join in the chorus of approval for what is, effectively, our own little HBO: Sky Atlantic. Its launch was, for my household, one of the best bits of news of 2011. Whether it’s oddities like Bored To Death, from-the-start re-runs of the likes of Big Love and The Wire, TV movies of the quality of Too Big To Fail or Temple Grandin, or brand new, still-wet broadcasts of the best US stuff, like this, or Mildred Pierce, the stopcock of quality never stops flowing. What’s most astounding about Boardwalk Empire is the way the second season has turned it on a new pivot, with Jimmy taking over from Nucky, or attempting to, and Van Alden starting a new life. Also: the best opening credits on television. You can probably see those on YouTube for free.


6. American Horror Story, FX

Delighted to see this get a Golden Globe nomination today. I have a soft spot for FX (more Murdoch, I’m afraid, but he’ll get his comeuppance in hell), which this year brought The Walking Dead back and went all BBC4 with its thrilling French cop import Braquo. But American Horror Story, one of the few truly chilling pieces of mainstream television since Twin Peaks, pretty much instantly became a favourite, with Jessica Lange bringing some Hollywood ballast to a cast otherwise made up of familiar folks from other TV shows, like Connie Britton from Friday Night Lights, Morris Chestnutt from V, Zachary Quinto from Heroes, Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under, and on it goes. The haunted house standby gets an eerie makeover from the creator of Nip/Tuck and the now off-the-boil Glee (with both of which it shares a delicious sense of camp), with a gimp seemingly living in the attic, and everybody who ever died in the house living in the cellar.


7. Game Of Thrones, Sky Atlantic

I’m really not one for fantasy lit. And I doubt I’ll ever pick up one of George R.R. Martin’s novels. But this epic saga, based upon that very source material, provided a stirring narrative in its first season, with a parallel world of warring factions so complex the opening credits (which won an Emmy) are based upon a map. Perhaps a little too fond of soft porn nudity for its own good, it’s full of British and Irish actors – and shot in Northern Ireland – so has that instant appeal. And it’s got Peter Dinklage in it – another Emmy winner – so what can go wrong? Season two due to air on HBO in April 2012, and that means we’ll get it almost concurrently, something that never used to happen, did it?


8. Fresh Meat, C4/Rev, BBC2

Hedging my bets a bit, I realise, but these two comedies, so very different, cannot be separated in my mind. Fresh Meat, which showed Campus how to do a student comedy – mainly by doing it about the students and not the staff – will surely win Jack Whitehall a Comedy Award on Friday, and if not, it doesn’t matter, he’s redeemed himself in the eyes of anyone who had him down as a smug, preening, fast-tracked, over-privileged stand-up hunk, breathing life into the monstrous but lovable JP. (Zawe Ashton also a revelation as Vod.) Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong created the template and, we may assume, the characters, but other writers, some much newer to telly, took on individual episodes. This programme is actually like a university. And Rev I’ve raved about very recently. It continues to delight.


9. Top Boy, C4

Although arbitrarily broadcast across successive nights when it should have been allowed to bubble and simmer across the same number of weeks, Top Boy was writer Ronan Bennett at his dramatic and journalistic best, translating what he learned from residents of estates in East London into a story that – in bravely dispensing with the police (or “Feds”) – found a human story among the hardship. Along with Attack The Block, another fiction about black youths by a white writer that sidestepped caricature, this dared to look beyond the cliches. Also, what an atmospheric piece, so brilliantly founded upon the insistent, ambient riff from Ghostpoet’s Finished I Ain’t. (It’s interesting that this came so soon off the back of The Jury on ITV1, also by Bennett, but replete with cliches and clunky exposition, almost as if someone somewhere decided that ITV1 viewers needed their food cutting up into chunks for them, which I would argue they don’t.)


10. Treme, Sky Atlantic

Like Boardwalk Empire, here’s another sprawling drama that manages to keep a number of stories spinning, and was not defeated by a second season, despite a spectacular first. So very different to The Wire, whose Ed Simon co-created it, and yet so similar in many ways, it concentrated on the black experience, but not exclusively, and did a unique thing in narrative drama in letting the music tell the story. There is clearly music in the veins of New Orleans, and this aspect was what made Treme so different. It’s not a musical, but it is.


11. All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, BBC2

I saw a lot of documentaries this year, as I am drawn to non-fiction. But Adam Curtis is more than a documentary maker, and his latest, esoteric, uniquely paced three-part opus took in everything from Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan and Buckminster Fuller to President Mobutu, Richard Dawkins and the Club Of Rome, all the while taking the back off our obsession with computers and machine-age utopianism. This is a filmmaker who joins dots that you didn’t even know were dots.


12. The Promise, C4

Sometimes, ambition is not enough. But in tackling the Israel-Palestine question from both a historic and a contemporary viewpoint, without ever decisively demonising or lionising either side, Peter Kosminsky – a dramatist who likes issues – created a compelling story that asked as many questions as it answered. Claire Foy came of age (did that sound patronising enough?) as the initially apolitical tourist in Israel who delves into the past via the death of her grandfather. I didn’t feel brow-beaten – terrorism, cruelty and prejudice was shown on both sides – but came away feeling pretty sad about the whole situation. (It made me re-attempt Martin Gilbert’s epic account Israel, but it defeated me again. The Promise was in that sense far more successful.)


13. British Masters/Art Of America, BBC4

It would be churlish to separate these fine art series on the channel that does them best. The former gave us a new expert, Dr James Fox (with whom I entered into a pleasant correspondence when I contacted him through the faculty of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge while trying to ascertain his actual age, which is a sickening 29), the latter set a well established one, the persuasive Andrew Graham-Dixon, at another part of the world, this time America. So we had Dr Fox, not that one, moving from bathhouse to terraced street in search of the great, in some cases unsung, British painters of the 20th century, from Nash, Spencer and Freud to Hamilton, Bomberg and Hockney, while Graham-Dixon hopped in the statutory open-top car and went from coast to coast to get to the heart of Hopper, Wyeth, Rockwell and Warhol. Both utterly absorbing – the former knocked on forums by certain academics for sanding down the rough edges (a criticism my new friend Dr Fox refutes) – and both pulled off, with aplomb and approachability, in just three parts apiece. I could have watched either for twice as many. Can’t wait for their next LP. In a year when BBC4 had a large chunk of its pocket money taken away by a government that hates it, we have to hope they have ringfenced funding for this type of thing. Sky Arts do an ever improving job, but we can’t have Murdoch taking over the whole sandpit. Even Sky Atlantic disciples understand that.


14. Modern Family, Sky1

Still the best US import, Modern Family has been a constant in my life all year, and, when a run coincides with 30 Rock and Curb, as it did this autumn, I feel spoiled by American wit. Favourite character? Still Cam.


15. Celebrity Masterchef, BBC1

You know I have a soft spot for this, and it gets into the Top 15 partly because it had such a likable and impressive bunch of contenders in Kirsty Wark, Hollyoaks‘ Nick Pickard, Danny from Supergrass and eventual winner, the sweet and soft-spoken retired rugby captain Phil Vickery, but also because the show was exiled to the salt mines of daytime from the early evening and I think this was a bad move. It deserves to be reinstated.

Prickgate

I’m wary of writing about this yet, as when I read the paper this morning, the BBC had received about 5,000 complaints about Jeremy Clarkson‘s bons mots on Wednesday night’s The One Show, but having just checked the story on the Guardian website, it appears to have snowballed to 21,000. I sincerely doubt he will be sacked, as Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand were, but whether it was a pre-emptive attempt to promote whatever his latest book of columns is called or a more spontaneous glimpse into his soul, the outcome is certainly getting away from him. He left the country for Beijing yesterday, but it’s in this country that his human rights are being most severely challenged.

We all “get” Jeremy Clarkson. Whether or not we share his country squire’s right-wing views, we know what he’s doing. He was once merely a car reviewer on a car review TV programme that took off and became a hugely profitable international brand. In the midst of this, because he was the definitive presenter of that programme (and, I say objectively, a very good one), and because it was his cocky, arch, pause-laden presenting style that had helped brand it, Clarkson also became a brand. They gave him his own chat show. Short-lived, but a mark of the BBC’s investment in him. I sincerely hope the Sunday Times gave him a pay rise, as they suddenly had a superstar car reviewer; he was given his own column in the main paper, where he could let off steam about whatever was on his country squire’s mind. And off he went.

He must now live up to his own reputation for reactionary, steam-coming-out-of-his-ears, middle English thinking and supply rants by the yard (or inch). His books are huge bestsellers, and they are mainly his columns collected together. The idea is: you read his views because he speaks for you, in a humorous manner that usually stretches an armchair-political point – such as boo hoo hoo, there’s a “war on motorists”, or environmentalists are “killjoys” – until it snaps. On one level, it’s harmless fun; it doesn’t really matter; he’s just mucking about; he’s a clown and a jester. On another level, when he calls, humorously, for striking public sector workers to be “shot, in front of their families” for having “gilt-edged pensions” while “the rest of us have to work for a living,” on the day of a national strike, he crosses the line from knockabout to incendiary. Here’s the clip, if you haven’t seen it.

If he was a comedian, which he isn’t, you could chalk it up to saying something outrageous in order to be funny, which it wasn’t. It was merely a rant. There’s no need to reheat the arguments about when is humour entitled to shock and when isn’t it, as Clarkson was not rehearsing a new routine, he was – let’s be generous – pretending that he thought striking nurses and ambulance crews should be executed for effect. Well, it had an effect. Well done, Jeremy.

Apologies have been made. The One Show – whose presenters Matt and Alex looked pretty uncomfortable after his rant – apologised. The BBC have apologised. And so has Clarkson (“If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I’m quite happy to apologise for it alongside them”). Unfortunately, liberal Britain has Clarkson between its teeth, in the same way that right-wing Britain frothed into a mushroom cloud of dissent and disgust after Sachsgate. Different constituency, same outcome: exponential fury, outrage leading to more outrage. My guess is that it will die down. After all, apart from bad timing – or good timing, depending whose team you’re on – Clarkson is only sticking to his own party line. He’s probably said something similar, if not exactly the same, in one of his columns, which means it’ll be in one of his bestselling books. I certainly can’t be bothered to check. Life is too short.

If you did anything other than call for Clarkson’s oblong head on a spike yesterday, you were accused of being an apologist for his views. I’m merely an apologist for free speech. I don’t agree with his idiotic views, but I don’t think he should be sacked. What from? A motoring show? A newspaper? On what charge? Saying something I don’t agree with? If he’s done anything, he’s proved himself to be something of a prick to a larger audience than would normally choose to read or watch him. I’m sure he makes similar remarks when his Witney neighbour David Cameron comes round to dinner, and I’m sure David Cameron laughs, secure in the knowledge that they’re on the same page but Jeremy doesn’t have to watch what he says. And because they’re in private, and you can say what you like in private.

It would be much more shocking if David Cameron, or Baronet Osborne, said that they thought strikers should be shot. They might well think it, but they are not going to say it. They are politicians. Jeremy Clarkson is not. I didn’t vote for him, by buying his books, or watching his television programme, but millions did. I doubt he’s lost any voters in all this. He’s in a safe seat.

In many ways, the ridiculous speed at which calls for a man’s sacking hardens from Twitter outrage to national orthodoxy, and then dies away, means that things go crazy for a couple of days, and then stop. Just as records go straight into the charts at number one or they might as well not bother. Clarkson just went straight to number one. There’ll be another prick along in a minute. (Somebody wise commented yesterday: Clarkson says what Cameron thinks. So true. Interesting that the Daily Mail have been slow in coming forward on this one. It’s almost as if … they agree with Clarkson. It’s almost as if … they all wish they were more like him, and lived in the countryside too.)

I think the strikers should be applauded, in front of their families, but nobody is going to quote that, or complain about it. I Tweeted something about Christmas trees and George Osborne the other day and a man I have never met or heard of who had made the tactical error of following me responded, “Less of the leftist bile, thank you.” I advised him to stop following me, and he did. End of local difficulty. I say to Jeremy Clarkson: less of the rightist bile, thank you. But, until he left his political comfort zone and went on The One Show (which I didn’t even watch!), I wasn’t following him.

And I am still not following him.

Oh, and if you want to read the full transcript, the Guardian ran it here. For context, you understand. Because I haven’t put Clarkson into enough context.

An interesting postscript: in July, I reviewed Top Gear in my weekly Telly Addict for the Guardian. If you can be bothered to watch it, you’ll see my positive assessment of his presenting style – in context! – and even if you can’t be bothered, have a look at the comments beneath, many of which railed against the Guardian for having a party line against Clarkson without bothering to watch my review, which, if they had done, rather disproved that very truism.

A Christmas miracle

Boring, but true: two Saturdays ago, I lost my 2011 diary. It was my favoured model, the really tiny WHSmith “Week to View” with a little pencil in the spine, in black. (One year I went nuts and opted for the silver one.) It costs £4.49. It is not through abject Luddism that I choose to enter my appointments in a book, made of paper, which you cannot “tether” or “sync” without laboriously copying information from it into another document using the pencil. It was Saturday 19 November.

I had noted down a couple of online booking references in my diary, with the pencil, and for that reason I took it out of my bag when I was picking the tickets up at the Curzon in Soho, on my way home from 6 Music. I know I put the diary back in my bag, in a zip-up compartment, but that was the last time I could swear that I still had it.

I noticed on the following Monday morning that my diary was not in its normal pocket. I panicked. I don’t lose things very often, and I know where all my things are. I don’t much like the shoulder bag I am using currently. The strap broke on my last one, which was a promotional item given to me by the kind people at FX, so, rather than fork out for a new one, I put an old one given to me many years ago by the kind people at record label V2 back into service. It’s a bit bulky and badly designed, and I can’t say I like the zip-up pockets on it. I occasionally think to myself, “I’m going to lose something out of the bag at some stage.” Well, it had happened.

Here’s the weird part about losing a diary – that is, a physical diary, and one that is not backed up electronically – even one that only has about five weeks left to run on it: you suddenly become insecure about your life. I had a lot of fairly detailed appointments and reminders pencilled into it – Radio Times schedule changes in the run-up to Christmas, some moved Guardian recording dates, one Christmas lunch and a number of cinema bookings. By checking back through emails, I was able to recover most of them but, for instance, on Thursday, which I spent all day in the British Library, writing Mr Blue Sky, I could have sworn I had something in the diary. All day I imagined my phone vibrating and somebody asking those dread words, “Where are you?”

Thankfully, I survived the week. Last Saturday I bought a brand new diary for 2012 – yes, a tiny black one from WHSmith for £4.49, “Week to View” – and planned to use the frankly lumpy iCal program on my MacBook to see me through to the end of 2011. I don’t much like it, I’ll be honest. I like to write things down. In pencil. In a book. And carry the book around with me at all times. And lose it. I knew all this already, and I didn’t need to lose a diary to discover these self-evident truths about myself. I felt stupid and careless for losing it. I’d had a pretty grumpy week, and this simple material loss seemed to sum up my self-pity.

And then …

On Sunday – that’s eight days after losing my diary – I found it. Where? In another pocket of my bag? No. Under my bedside table? No. Beneath something on my desk at Radio Times? No. I was walking down my street on Sunday afternoon, and, by glancing down at precisely the right moment, I caught sight of a small black book just sitting on the pavement, in the shadow of a wall, in a patch of moss. It’s black. It hides in shadows. But I saw the “2011″ picked out in traditional silver. For a split second, I thought it was somebody else’s diary, and then, in the next split second, it dawned on me that I was a very lucky man.

Oddly, my street had been swept by the council only last week, but they had missed this little black book in the mossy shadows. And I got it back. It sort of doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things, but, you know, in the current economic gloom, it’s good to find something that you lost. It’s uplifting to experience some good fortune. I could easily have walked past the diary and never seen it. It was a tiny bit damp but I’ve dried it out and it’s back in service until the end of 2011. Hooray.

I don’t believe in miracles. But this was one.

24

Well, what a turn-up. Recent experience at this time of year tells me that I am either losing patience with new music, or else new music is getting less and less essential, particularly in long-playing form. I usually struggle to come up with a meaningful Top 10 albums at the end of the year, as you’ll see from previous year-end roundups. Individual songs, yes, but not full albums, which have come to disappoint me more often than thrill me this century.

Not this year. It’s only November, and I’m only gathering contenders together at this point, but look at how many albums of 2011 I’d call brilliant. I won’t even list them all yet, but I’ve counted 24 so far. In any other year, I’d be grateful for a substandard Radiohead album to make the numbers, but King Of Limbs, which I must have listened to about three times since it came out in February, doesn’t even make the longlist. As for Arctic Monkeys, not this year.

I put a call out on Twitter for music of black origin, ie. hip-hop, earlier this week and thanks to your recommendations – and Spotify – Death Grips and Das Racist are the most recent additions to the runners and rider. I am only really just discovering their albums, Ex Military and Relax, but I love them already.

Still plenty of time, but if you think I’ve missed something, by all means give it a shout-out, as they say. (Oh, and I should thank Josie Long for her positive influence on my appetite for forlorn-looking indie music, an almost random selection of which I now force myself to listen to on a weekly basis; thus far, it’s mostly given me individual tracks to love, such as singles by Fireworks Night, Rob St John and Ian Humberstone, but Jonnie Common is a great example of an artist I might never have listened to a year ago, and whose exquisite Deskjob album I have come to adore. Lymes are another example of the potential riches of the tiny label netherworld.)

Without planning it, I seem to have a lot of Mercury nominees in here, too. I will never again dismiss the Mercury prize. They clearly got something right this year.

Ding, dong, the witch is dead


What a Bank Holiday that was. Two globally significant events, one planned, one a surprise, both of which I was expected to celebrate: a Royal Wedding on the Friday, and a Man Killed on the Monday. I am not a royalist, but neither am I a party pooper, and I think it’s nice that people had the day off because Prince William married Kate Middleton. I personally chose to avoid all live radio, TV and internet coverage of the wedding itself, because I didn’t really feel a connection to it, nor any urge to get involved. I watched the Royal Wedding in 1981 when Prince William’s mum and dad got married, and I was happy for them, even though I had no real reason to be, as their marriage was one of convenience and lies, and doomed to fail. I was 16, and not yet fully-formed, politically, so I failed to spot the hypocrisy of it all. I enjoyed my day off school (or at least, that’s my idealised memory of it – in fact, it happened during the school holidays, as has been pointed out to me, so I was off school already). This time, with a more measured view of the whole circus, and a massive problem with hereditary privilege, I felt it was time to make a quiet protest against it by going to the cinema to see Meek’s Cutoff instead, which we did, at lunchtime, enjoying the post-apocalyptically empty streets. (We passed three street parties on the walk home, which looked to be mainly for the kids, which is fine, and I was happy to see little bursts of community spirit. I am not against that.)

Yesterday looked like it would be one of those Bank Holiday Mondays that meant nothing, and would just pass without anything special to remember it by. Wrong. Having heard on Smooth Radio that Henry Cooper had died, I went online and actually scrolled obliviously past the first story on the BBC News website, which was about Osama bin Laden, to find out how old Henry had been, and how he had died. It was only when scrolling back up that I discovered that bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces inside the walls of his compound in Pakistan. Big news. Poor old Henry Cooper.

I know a lot about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, having read, among other useful tomes, the definitive Al-Qaeda by Jason Burke (whose services were quickly pressed into action by the Guardian – he’s all over this morning’s edition and his obituary, with Lawrence Joffe, of bin Laden is superb, albeit clearly on file, as these biggies tend to be), and The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, which traces 9/11 back to Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutb’s visit to America in the late 40s and its impact on his influential fundamentalism within the Muslim Brotherhood. In the latter, Wright records Osama bin Laden at a wedding before the 9/11 attack quoting a line from the Qur’an: “Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower,” which has added potency now. We know quite a lot about bin Laden, at least up until the point where he disappeared into the caves and became number one folk devil in the West. To me, he is more than a symbol. To most, that’s all he is. So his death probably appears symbolic too.

You can understand why those revellers at Ground Zero and the White House felt that bin Laden’s death – not his capture, but his death – was cause for spraying beer into the air and painting their faces red, white and blue in the middle of the night. Many will have experienced the 9/11 attacks at close quarters; maybe some of them had links with people who died. But I don’t mind admitting that I was instantly troubled by the scenes being bounced back from the United States of this unseemly and ill-thought-through triumphalism. At least our street parties on Friday were in honour of a wedding between two people we have never met; these street parties were in honour of the death of a man they have never met. I know how many deaths bin Laden is said to have caused. And I know why Americans, in particular, feel that bin Laden deserved to die, but I am physically unable to cheer and whoop at the death of a person, whoever they are. Surely by wishing death upon someone, we are no better than bin Laden himself. Or, as I wrote on Twitter yesterday at the height of the euphoria, am I being a big softy?

Actually, when I stated that I do not celebrate death, I was pleased by how many spoke up in agreement. One person called me a “big girl” and “a twat” for my views, and another said he disagreed with my views and hoped that Osama would “burn in hell.” Well, if the second person believes in Hell, he must also believe in Heaven, and in what I see as a fairly arbitrary system of qualification for those two destinations, so that must cloud his judgement. I do not believe in Heaven and Hell, so my judgement is clear: murder is wrong. To murder a murderer is to relinquish the moral high ground. I am better than a murderer because I have not murdered. The moment I celebrate his murder, I am no better than him. (It’s the same with the death penalty – if you support it, as many of the beer-spraying patriots at Ground Zero possibly do, then you lose the authority to condemn a murderer, for you too are a murderer, by proxy. Also, bin Laden did not bloody his hands with the dead in the Twin Towers; he also murdered by proxy.)

There’s another troubling issue here: celebrating the death of a leader of a terrorist organisation is an act of the purest hubris. Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda still exists. If anything, his death – and his burial at sea – make the world a more dangerous place. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. Enjoy your celebration of a murder, I thought, for tomorrow, you will be held up at airports and on your way into public buildings again – let’s see how far you will wish to spray your beer then. (Hey, I know, many American citizens welcomed the curbing of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11 and were more than happy to give them up in the name of the War On Terror.)

I found the dialogue on Twitter to be rigorous and interesting. It took up more of my Bank Holiday Monday morning than I’d planned. Meanwhile, about 50 people forwarded a joke to me about bin Laden making the sea homeopathically evil by being buried in it. This is not unfunny, but it hardened my killjoy position. I really didn’t think this was a time for levity. Also, when a joke has been Re-Tweeted at you that many times, it goes get annoying. Nobody’s individual fault, but it does. So I became a misery yesterday, and wanted to have a serious discussion about the events of that morning, when all around – or so it seemed – triumphalism abounded. I made the mistake of watching some Fox News. I switched over pretty smartly. Most commentators on the proper news sounded notes of caution.

The word “evil” was bandied about. How many people do you have to kill to be officially categorised as “evil”? Are you evil for killing one person? I might say you are evil for swatting a fly. Bin Laden is, or was, “evil” apparently. Having masterminded the deaths of many, he is certainly not nice. You don’t want a bloke that at large, masterminding more attacks on people from his cave. You want to round a bloke like that up and make sure he stops masterminding. But people who use the word “evil” seem confident that they are qualified to decide who is and who isn’t evil. I don’t have that confidence. My moral compass is bound to be different to yours. It’s safer not to use the word “evil”. It gets you in trouble. It’s like Heaven and Hell. Life isn’t that easily partitioned. It’s like the word “hero”; use it too freely and it loses its meaning. Not every soldier who dies can be a “hero,” or what are we to call those who perform actual acts of heroism?

Anyway, the dust has settled somewhat. I suspect, and hope, that the initial euphoria of flag-draped bloodlust has died down a bit in the US. I don’t particularly want to see it, but has anybody seen bin Laden’s body yet? Just asking.

And is Pope John Paul II in Heaven? He’s currently being fast-tracked to sainthood, and was beatified in Rome yesterday. But wasn’t he in charge when all that child abuse was being covered up, and its perpetrators being protected from the police? Surely a man who lets that happen cannot go to Heaven? This is why it’s better to not believe in Heaven and Hell – that way, you can cover up child abuse with impunity, and nobody can call you a hypocrite! Sorry, where was I … ?