I finished watching arguably the best British drama in decades, Peaky Blinders (2013–2022). For me it should be the gold standard for future British television, the high bar other productions measure themselves against.
The shows strength hangs entirely on Steven Knight’s writing. Its power is in the myths he creates, they go beyond simple dramatisation, and into the wider cultural mind. A shiny example of John Ford’s maxim, from his western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.
While the thirty-sixth episode is supposed to the last we see of the Shelby clan, I’m not convinced it’s the end. There’s too much story left to be told, much more mythology to be created.
Knight has said in interview, he has a vision of Sir Thomas Shelby standing on the steps of the House of Lords, as waves of bombers fill the sky above him, all heading off to fight Hitler’s Germany.
That’s too good an image not to be used, and the final episode leaves way too many loose ends for this to be it. There’s Duke and Finn, Tommy’s infant son and Ada as an MP.
I for one want to see Sir Tommy take on and foul Mosley’s ambitions.
“What makes you unique?” is one of those questions asked by potential employers to catch you out.
Whatever your response you’re doomed to come off as an idiot. That said, I tried to be interesting.
My knee-jerk reaction to the question, “What make you unique?” is to reply nothing. To misquote Chuck Palahniuk we “are not special… not a beautiful and unique snowflake” we are “the same decaying organic matter as everything else”.
That’s not going to get me the job, is it?
So I go looking in a dictionary for clarity and inspiration. The word unique is written alongside words like individual, special, idiosyncratic, eccentric, solitary, exclusive, rare, peculiar, novel, and strange.
I could easily make a list of personal characteristics that correlate to these synonyms, but you don’t have the time, and I don’t have the hubris, to start telling you about my idiosyncratic taste in anything.
Uniqueness I realise is dependant very much on context.
In a room full of writers, being a writer is not unique. The same can be said of artists or photographers, managers or technicians. But in a room full of specialists, I’m a polyamorous generalist, a creative thinker chasing novelty, and that makes me a bit of an alien.
So to answer your question, what makes me unique? I’m gonna say, I’m an alien!
There’s a class conflict at the heart of the plot that reminds me a little of Terry Nation’s seventies virus thriller “Survivors”. Nation’s bad guys are all working class union leaders, imposing their collectivist ideas on the middle class survivors of the apocalypse.
Christofides takes a similar tack, as we follow his salt of the earth landowner, battling to protect his family against the ruthless socialists imposing their land reforms, and trying to steel his ancestral home.
I’m not entirely sure how any of this links to the Border Reivers, other than the location of the story. For me the reivers analogy stretches thin under the weight of contemporary political reality. When the riding families were active, raiding across the border lands of Northumberland and Cumbria, they fought and feuded, murdered and robbed, to survive harsh conditions. They were organised and ruthless, the mafia before the mafia was a thing, demanding protection from raiding, taking hostages and extorting ransoms. As likely to take up arms and fight for the King as against him. From the things I’ve read on the subject the reivers were less the lone wolf and more of a pack animal.
All of that aside, it’s a well written thriller that keeps you reading, and I liked it.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
These days, all of our heartbeats are governed by the pulse of electricity, strobing through wires buried deep in the concrete and steel that surrounds us. The safety of the walls that envelope us, work to keep us away from, safe from, anything Natural.
Generations ago we hitched ourselves to, became completely dependant upon, the unnatural Nature of Culture. It was sold to humanity as the solution to all of our problems. Offering safety and protection from the dark nights of Nature.
The price we had to pay for this apparent comfort can best be described as the tyranny of rents and taxes, laws and society, structures and institutions that have become worse than any dark nights of Nature.
Realise, if you dare, we are all hostage to our fears of the dark.
Note: When I started writing this, I didn’t realise where it was going, or the conclusion I’d come to. It’s a surprise but not surprising.
For those who’ve been living in a bunker, afraid Vladimir Putin will escalate the conflict in Ukraine to the rest of Europe, this is the moment actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face.
Moments earlier Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. She was not happy. So Smith walked on stage, in front of the assembled crowd, on live television, and slapped Rock across the face. He bitch slapped him. On television. In front of an international audience. I don’t think anyone has ever seen the like, and rightly or wrongly, it will go down as one of “the greatest moments in television history”.
Social media was awash with condemnations for Smith. One account censured him three times in quick succession. “Imagine if Chris Rock was a woman.” “Violence is not acceptable.” “I always condemn.” Imagine if Rock had been a woman? What if he’d been white? What if Smith was white, or a woman? If anything about that event had been different, the intricacies of race and gender politics would’ve changed the nature of “the slap”. But it wasn’t. It was two “equal status” men going toe to toe. Chris Rock insulted Will Smith’s wife. Smith reacted. Verbal violence got a physical response.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider how deliberate Smith was. It was a slap not a punch. He didn’t charge at Rock, knock him to the floor, and beat him to a pulp. There’s a certain chivalry, a nineteenth century formality, to his action. If he’d been wearing gloves, he would’ve thrown one at Rock’s feet, and demanded satisfaction. Perhaps not doing that was Smith’s biggest mistake. He punished Rock before giving him the chance to apologise?
Now consider Rock’s response. Smith slapped him across the face, and he took it. He could’ve taken a swing at Smith. Why didn’t he slap him back? Everyone would’ve understood. Was it a sign of weakness, or some inner moral strength? Could it be, he knew he’d demeaned Pinkett-Smith, so accepted his punishment? Was it his instincts as a comedian? Did he recognise in that instant “the slap” could become a set up for some yet to be written monologue? More likely, a lifetime of social conditioning kicked in, and stopped him returning Smith’s favour?
Parking all of that for a moment. I think “the slap” and the subsequent reaction to it exposes a much deeper truth. The constraints society puts on violence aren’t always enough to keep it in check. It’s always there, bubbling under the surface, ready to boil over. Anyone who denies this fact is fooling themselves. Injecting novocaine into a clenched jaw. Hoping if they can’t feel it. It didn’t happen.
Make no mistake violence happens all of the time. So often in fact, aggression and his corollary, are an ever-present part of life. How often has someone cursed at you on public transport. Barged past you in the street. Reached across you in the supermarket. Almost clipped you with their car. Ridden into you with their bike. A million random acts of violence, stopped from going postal by the rules most of us live by. The irony is, the society that doesn’t want us punching some fucker who offends us, is the same society that doesn’t even pretend to practice what it preaches.
Violence goes far beyond these everyday aggressions, and glides like oil on water through our lives. There’s economic violence. The tyranny of low wages, souring rents, doubling utility bills, unaffordable travel, expensive food. There’s political violence. The litany of lies told, truths withheld, corruption ignored, treachery dismissed. There’s the violence of exploitation. The labours wrung, minerals extracted, waters poisoned, environment destroyed. There’s physical violence. The accumulation of slaps, punches, and kicks; head butts, sucker punches, and right hooks; cracked whips, swung bats, stabbed knives; gun shots, bombs dropped, and ordnance exploded; woman against man; men against women; men against man; woman fighting women. Unrelenting violence happening all the time, and there’s no escape.
Reading that back, what strikes me is a simple truth, there’s profit in violence. To have one you use the other. If you don’t see this, you’ve chosen not to look. And that tells me you’re either an aggressor or protected by privilege. Those comfortable souls, who toss out condemnation like emotional hand grenades, are hiding behind their privilege. They don’t even realise, if you can occupy some high moral high ground, capture a hill and protect it, that’s only because a million acts of violence have been done to protect your stronghold.
Why’s any of that important? Because if you don’t understand how violence is used, you can never change anything. Hell, you probably won’t even survive. The sad reality is, you have to first survive the violence done to you. Only then can you sue for change. And if you want change you have to engage in violence to get it. Try telling me, honestly, I’m wrong? You want a raise at work, you have to fight for it. You want somewhere to live, you have to battle a hundred other desperate families for the privilege. You want your kids to inherit a planet they can live on, you have to got toe to toe with multinationals and governments who don’t care.
Think about Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, or Black Lives Matter. Three groups trying to make social changes. Demonstrations after disruption all designed to raise awareness, and the consciousness of wider society. Each time the vested interests that govern us throw every level of physical, legal, and social violence at them. Fighting that weight of power, thinking violence isn’t the answer, doesn’t understand the question.
My conclusion. The people of the United Kingdom need to recognise the violence that is being done to them. If we are not strong. If we do not burry our reluctance to respond, to fight, those forces of wealth and privilege, tradition and power, will use violence to destroy us all.