Weak Endings

It was a nice week. I use the word deliberately, despite the advice of our English teacher in Primary 7, Downey House, Belfast. She would set us an exercise whereby you had to come up with adjectives that were more precise and more descriptive than ‘nice’. I was quite good at it and for many years after I would follow her prescription religiously. Until I reached an age when I realised that there are occasions when no other word will suffice.

So it was indeed a ‘nice’ week. Nothing outstanding, just very pleasant: the nights were cold, but the sun shone brightly for several days at a stretch. My wife was on holiday and The Daughter was home, busy making a mess wherever she chose to work on the many projects she brought back with her. Myrtle the cat parked her considerable bulk at the foot of her bed all week, Alf had long leisurely walks and breakfasts lasted longer than the usual cursory ten minutes. Lummy! (as my maternal grandmother used to say), I even learned that my enigmatic best friend is still with us. All very nice.

But then everything seemed to end at once. Not with a whimper, but with a cumulative and muffled kind of bang. First, on Friday evening, we finished off Season 5 of Mad Men. We parents had been handling the box with itchy fingers for several weeks, waiting for the prodigal’s return. And in the fortnight available to Us3, we devoured all 13 episodes plus most of the special features. Now it’s no more and we’re all somewhat destitute.

The girls complained of a rather weak ending that finds Don Draper at a bar, nursing an omnipresent gin, as some ‘dolly bird’ in a floral dress chats him up. Perhaps it didn’t quite live up to the two preceding episodes, which saw Peggie leave the agency to be Chief Copy Editor for a competitor and one of the partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce… Well, I’d better not spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet reached that point.

But then, it’s precisely that lack of incessant drama that I – and we – find so refreshing. It doesn’t rely for its effect on the kind of constant sociopathic mayhem that fed The Sopranos nor the intense neurotic mind-games of Homeland. Nothing of great import happens from one gin-soaked slogan-friendly episode to the next. Daily life at home and the office just turns leisurely and very stylishly around the ambitions of a cast of flawed characters. Personally, I think Don will simply down his drink, smile wistfully at the girl and move on to Series 6. And I shall welcome it back as an old friend once Sky finishes with it and we can invest in our next boxed set.

Last night, alone together once more, me and the missus cosied up on the sofa to watch Charlie Kauffman’s Adaptation. Tilley hadn’t fancied something not a million miles from Shenectade New York, which put her forever off the kind of self-conscious Brechtian stuff that makes a drama out of the act of trying to create a drama. In this case, Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kauffman (and an invented twin brother, Donald) as a screen-writer, struggling to subvert all the rules of plotting and character arcs, to adapt a book about orchids for the cinema-going public. It was very clever and very entertaining without too much actually happening, even if Chris Cooper, as the toothless botanist, meets his end in the guise of an alligator in the Florida swamps.

I’ve read articles recently on the the death of film amidst the rise and rise of the TV drama series. But this was precisely the kind of film that you could never prolong for six episodes or however long it takes to keep an audience sitting on the edge of its seat. And thank God for its structural derring-do. It worked well – and uniquely – as a film. I think my girl would have enjoyed it almost as much as we enjoyed earlier Rebecca Miller’s understated gem, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, another film that could only really be a one-off film. Even less happened and it was even more riveting for it, mainly due to a perceptive script and brilliant performances from Alan Arkin, Robin Wright Penn and, unexpectedly, Keanu Reeves as a feckless overgrown manchild, who is a source of worry and disappointment to his doting mother. ![](upload://mCUidrVwzvbezgNW9Xte0Bq2In1.jpg)

Keanu and Robin drive off west at the end in search of whatever will be. Our daughter headed back for another purgatorial term in Paris early on Saturday afternoon with a heavy heart and an even heavier set of bags. As we drove to the station, we speculated on whether some kind and handsome young man on the train would help her down into the underground and up the other side. It wasn’t to be. She shared a compartment with a gaggle of girls on one of what SNCF laughingly and cynically term their ‘eco-trains’. The tickets cost less, In other words, because you sit squashed up in carriages that are really superannuated couchettes. There’s no heating and, unless you know where the switch is, no lighting. The windows are so dirty that we couldn’t even see The Kid to wave her off. We decided instead to walk away and thereby avoid any potential teenage embarrassment. It was an anti-climactic way to end a fortnight’s happy reunification.

We got back in good time for the Ireland/Italy rugby match. The Italians beat the Irish for the first time in the Six Nations’ Championship. Despite my acquired Norn Irish roots, I was very pleased for the perennial underdogs. I was not so pleased later in the day, when the England team – like so many English sporting teams – flattered once more to deceive and frustrate. The Welsh team hammered the pretenders to the Grand Slam and exposed them as a callow bunch with much still to learn.

I never begrudge the Welsh their success at rugby. After all, rugby, singing and hating the English are three of the only things that they’re good at. Over the years, I’ve secretly revelled in a long line of twinkle toed red-shirted runners with the oval ball – everyone from Barry John and Phil Bennett to the pint-sized Shane Williams – but I do wish they wouldn’t beat us with quite so much passion and they wouldn’t gloat so over the results of their handiwork. I had hoped for a close-fought contest with a narrow but magnificent victory for the valiant men in white. It was all very anti-climactic.

Never mind, eh? That was the week, that was (it’s over, let it go). It was such a nice week, too, right up to the very last day. Appropriately enough, on the way back from Brive, a thick blanket of grey cloud coloured over the blue and smothered the sun. I suspect it’ll be back before too long.

Thank you, Catherine, for your moral and grammatical support. Sometimes I, too, wonder whether I've imagined it. Pedants of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your attention to detail. Sorry, Helen, if I gave a tad too much away, but Peggy's departure must have been on the cards. A clever, ambitious woman like that won't stand for being taken for granted forever. And thanks AK for the tip about The Hour. Good for Arte. They've got class. It was a reet good series. Both of them, in fact. That Ben Whishaw is a fine actor. His performance as Sebastian in Brideshead was top-notch. They were all good, in fact.

Thank goodness for an 'ed' (boxED set!) I was beginning to think I had imagined EDs at the end of words. To my horror I find people eating a pack lunch, watching close circuit television and (earlier today) encasing their field with barb wire! Whatever happened to the 'ed' ending on words? Thanks for bringing it back!

Not too much to add,except thankyou for not giving away ALL the end of Mad Men!It was the' nice 'word that got me hooked -when I was at school we had a fabulous Welsh teacher who taught us English-what else!I learned from her never,ever to use the word 'nice' unless I meant it in it's exact,precise context.It has stayed with me all my life ,and sometimes I curse her (sorry ,Miss Powell) but she gave me so much more-love of my language ,Shakespeare,poetry,Flora Thompson,Dylan Thomas.These delights far outweigh the niggley correctness of 'nice'.