Spring With Agatha Christie

Some time ago, I had a thought about my favourite author: there is an Agatha Christie story for every season. I thought about Death on the Nile and Evil under the Sun for summer, Sittaford Mystery and Murder on the Orient Express, as well as the play Mousetrap, for winter. Autumn being, of course, as the proper time for mysteries, a no brainer. (Plus the gothic/supernatural/horror stories she wrote that are not as well known as her mysteries–she was a versatile writer, make no mistake about that.) Then there are the seasonal novels Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Halloween Party. But I struggled to think of a story for spring; nothing immediately came to mind.

In recent years, Agatha’s estate have been releasing collections of short stories based on a theme. We’ve had Midwinter Murder and Midsummer Mysteries. And now they published a new one, and guess what! Meet Sinister Spring.

I bought it and did some still life photos of it, as usual.

I hope you’re having a good spring and that if it’s sinister, it’s only in fiction.

Thank You, Manchester

For being my home for twenty years.

Portland Street.

Midland Hotel.

Spire of Manchester Cathedral.

Beetham Tower through the trees of St John’s Gardens.

Ducks and geese in the canals at Castlefield.

Canal Street aka Gay Village.

To (mis)quote Fatboy Slim, we’ve come a long way together and I have to praise you like I should. The city has changed a lot since 2003 when I arrived here to take up a placement as an au-pair. So have I, hopefully, more towards the improvement way.

Note, Manchester is not gloomy. I took these pictures earlier in the year, during winter time. Hence the greyness.

Note 2, the anniversary is not on the day of the publication of this post, but it is this week.

Note 3, the top picture was taken with my smartphone, the rest with my camera.

Sam Claflin In Daisy Jones And The Six

You may have heard of the Amazon Prime TV show Daisy Jones And The Six, an adaptation of the book of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid, about the rise and fall of a fictional rock band in the 1970s.

My favourite guy, Sam Claflin, plays one of the two main roles (or the main male role) in the show, the band’s frontman, Billy Dunne.

This is him with his guitar in the series finale.

Sam is the reason I know about the existence of DJATS in the first place. I got the book on Audible before the show aired, but it’s not something I would likely pick up under normal circumstances–I’ve never been into 70s music, or 70s anything really. I confess right here and now, I only started listening to Fleetwood Mac because of DJATS. They’re that type of band whose songs you know without knowing you know them. The last bit of Chain has been used as theme for Formula 1 coverage, for example.

I became a fully-fledged Sam Claflin fan sometime during the first lockdown. (Based on the posts on my Tumblr, I’m going with May 2020.) At that time, he already had been cast as Billy Dunne, but filming had to be delayed when the pandemic hit. In the end it would be delayed for 18 months. This turned out to be an advantage–the actors had plenty of time to master their respective instruments, and their singing. (And the men could grow out their hair instead of having to rely on wigs.) The band members are :

Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin) – lead singer/songwriter, rhythm guitar

Graham Dunne (Will Harrison) – lead guitar

Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse) – bass

Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) – keyboard

Warren Rojas (Sebastian Chacon) – drums

I knew this would be a big role for Sam, one of the biggest of his career, in fact. I knew he would nail it without a fault. And he did. I also discovered that he can sing, and he’s quite good at it. Sam dedicated himself to the part in full, he lost a lot of weight and learned to play guitar; he transformed into a true rockstar. As far as his fashion choices go, he wears double denim almost exclusively–and he makes it work!

Mild spoilers to follow.

Billy Dunne is a charismatic, talented frontman and songwriter, but he struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. He forms a band in his hometown of Pittsburgh with his younger brother Graham and some friends. He meets Camila Alvarez (in the book she was, I think, called Martinez and the actress who plays her is a namesake–Camila Morrone) and they fall in love. When the band leaves for LA to seek their fame and fortune, she joins them. They get married when she finds out she’s pregnant, on the eve on the band’s first tour. In the book, Camila is a waitress, in the show she is a photographer. Which, needless to say, made me happy, although I think they could have done more with it. (Also in the book, she doesn’t come with the band to LA but arrives later, but I don’t sweat that detail.)

The band, initially called The Dunne Brothers, renames themselves The Six, even though there are only five members. (They explain why. This is a change from the book–the bass player, Pete, doesn’t exist in the show and in the book they have three guitarists, in the show one of the three guitarists plays bass instead, but let’s not complicate things, I’m here to talk about Sam.) Billy’s addiction spirals out of control and this is when Camila, wanting to surprise him on tour, catches him in a… situation (Boris Johnson’s initials) with two groupies. She tells him he has until the baby is born to start behaving himself. When she gives birth to their daughter Julia, Billy, unable to face the child in the state he’s in, enters rehab. He comes out, having missed out on the first months of his daughter’s life. Now I get to what is my most favourite scene in the show. Billy is at home, now sober, but can’t seem to be able to bond with baby Julia. This is when Camila sits him down and orders him to pick up his kid.

Billy gets teary-eyed. When Camila asks him what he’s afraid of, he replies: “what if she loves me and I fuck it up”, to which Camila says: “welcome to the club.”

The emotions are strong in this scene and Sam gives it all. But I let the man speak for himself:

(Embedded from my Tumblr blog, but the source is linked.)

Anyway, Billy does pick his daughter up–and doesn’t let go of her again.

At this point, the band is sort of dead in the water, as their tour was cancelled when Billy went to rehab. The music producer Teddy Price (Tom Wright), who develops into a sort of a father figure for Billy, suggests collaboration with an up-and-coming singer Daisy Jones (Riley Keough). So they collaborate, she joins the band, they are now Daisy Jones and The Six, they record an album titled Aurora and hit it big. Here’s the thing, Daisy is also a songwriter and she and Billy work together on songs for the album. They clash more often than not, she laughs at him for writing songs about his wife (Aurora is meant for Camila), he points out that she can’t work without drugs. But they’re also drawn to each other. It’s not clear, however, whether anything took place between them or not. Not in the book.

The book is written as a series of interviews. The band abruptly broke up after playing a sold out gig in Chicago in 1979, after which they never performed again. The interviews take place in the present time, around mid 2010s. (In the audiobook, the characters are all voiced by different voice actors, making the listening experience that much better.) In the show, the last concert happens in 1977 and the interviews are set much earlier–probably because if the characters were supposed to be in their late 50s/60s, the aged up actors would look ridiculous. In the show, they are being interviewed for a TV documentary. But the interview scenes are minimal and what we see is what went on back then in the 1970s. Or at least one interpretation of it.

Unfortunately, here’s where the show’s writers screwed up big time: they decided to focus solely on the Billy and Daisy relationship, at the expense of everything else going on in the story. To make matters worse, instead of keeping it entirely platonic, they had them kiss twice or three times, I don’t remember exactly, I purged it from my memory. Whether they aimed to appease the Billy/Daisy shippers (who are of the insane, rabid kind), or they’re Billy/Daisy shippers themselves, or hate Camila, or don’t know how to handle her (she is a very strong character, make no mistake), or whether they’re idiots, I can’t tell. Worse, all the official channels are promoting this relationship. I understand they’ve got a product to sell, Amazon will make money from selling the music and the merch, not just from the streams. But I do wonder why they’re so carefree about elevating what is essentially infidelity.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan of the Daisy/Billy ship and the writers’ obsession with it has soured my viewing experience. In times the show descended into ridiculous, soap opera style melodrama and cringey lines. It was like a fist bursting out of the TV screen with Daisy and Billy have INSANE connection written on its knuckles, hitting you in the face. Forget the shipping wars–this type of in your face stuff just cheapens the story. The actors deserve better than that.

Billy and Camila discussing having more children

But let’s get back to my guy, because that’s what I’m here for. Sam’s acting was flawless, which is no surprise, because it always is, but this role demanded more than any of his previous roles did. In the last episode, especially. The finale was nail biting, even if you had read the book. It was a well done episode, they showed us the last concert in Chicago, with flashbacks to what was happening earlier, events that led to the band’s inevitable breakup. I actually panicked two days before the finale upon seeing a particular picture on Instagram (which I was afraid might mean the show would split Billy and Camila up) so I looked up a spoiler-filled review from a critic to reassure myself that it would still end the way it should end. And I was still stressed. Even my cat was stressed. Pepper, who’s normally very chilled at night (I watched the episodes as soon as they dropped at midnight, they released them in chunks of two and three), kept running around like crazy, getting under my feet and on my nerves. And she wasn’t even watching it.

At the end of the book, there is an amazing scene between Camila and Daisy (note that the two women never fight for Billy, they have a lot of respect for each other) in the hotel after the Chicago gig. The show did it differently. They opted for tension more than anything, but the good thing is that we got the best out of Sam. Anger, despair, love, hate, jealousy, grief, the whole spectrum of emotions. And he still gives the rockstar act on the stage. Instead of the Camila and Daisy scene, we got a scene of Billy and Camila on the hotel balcony, discussing their marriage. I’m willing to sacrifice the Camila and Daisy scene in the book for the Camila and Billy scene on the show. As they talk, little Julia, having woken up from her sleep, comes out on the balcony, and they instantly switch to being parents. It was so heart-warming, and Sam and Camila (the actress) gave it all.

It’s disappointing, not to mention frustrating, after having waited so long to see one’s favourite actor in a career-defining role, only to be let down by bad writing and bad fanservice. But I have decided to make the best of it. I’ll extract Sam and all the things I liked about it and (try to) forget the bad. If anything, DJATS the show can be used as an example how not to do things.

The Music

The music is another gift. The show hired a team of songwriters for this, led by Blake Mills. The album Aurora actually exists, and not only that–there are songs by The Dunne Brothers, songs by The Six, solo Daisy Jones songs and even a track from another fictional band, The Winters, who were the keyboardist Karen’s previous band. There’s even a song written by Daisy, stolen by a guy she was dating at the time and released by him as his own. Last but not least, Simone Jackson (played by Nabiyah Be), an aspiring disco diva and a close friend of Daisy, also sings.

Official discography playlist on Spotify:

Is There More To Life Than Billy Dunne?

Well, yes, obviously, but this post is about Sam. I like many of the other characters. Camila, of course, then Karen, whose story matters to me the most (but that’s another topic that I might blog about in the future). Billy’s younger brother Graham is an absolute sweetheart and Warren the drummer, unbothered by all the drama going in the band, just want to live his best life and sign women’s tits.

I loved Teddy, he was a true rock for Billy, Daisy and Simone. Simone’s storyline was the best change from the books. In the show, she is a lesbian and has romance with Bernie (Ayesha Harris), who is a DJ. It’s technically a spoiler, but it’s important to note that this is a black gay couple that gets a happy ending. I liked Rod Reyes (Timothy Olyphant), the band’s tour manager.

I would say I feel mostly no particular way about Eddie, but he provided a good conflict. And, honestly, I don’t care for the titular Daisy much. I like messy women in fiction, but not her.

Riley Keough is the granddaughter of Elvis Presley, the king of rock’n’roll himself. This is where I get bitchy. And you know what, I think she was the weakest link for me, both in acting and singing. Contrast the nepo baby with Sam Claflin, a most ordinary boy from Norwich. This is where I end being bitchy.

Let me end with my personal favourite song of DJATS, The River, here on YouTube.

Two Geese Take A Trip To Town

This weekend’s challenge on Weekly Prompts is Two.

My contribution is two (ahhh double fulfilment) shots of a pair of geese that I saw casually strolling in the Manchester city centre.

It’s the geese that were casually strolling, not me. I was on my way home from work (I work in the office one day a week.)

Geese are not an unusual sight in Manchester, they occupy the city’s canals (the other day, when out photographing, I witnessed what I’m pretty sure was a geese marital argument), but they don’t come to this location, Piccadilly Gardens.

I wonder what they were doing.