by Catriona Mills

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Nine

Posted 9 February 2010 in by Catriona

Ever wondered what happens when Nick fails to respond quickly to an IM? Of course you have!

NICK: Sorry! Was just out at the loo.
ME: Yeah, right. Probably off having an affair or something. I know you.
NICK: Oh my!
ME: Well, it’s obvious, innit? Mysterious absences . . . Um. Some other stuff I can’t think of right now . . .
NICK: Hah! You got nothing!
ME: Unlike you. You’ve got your mistress. (Zing!)
NICK: Ha ha ha.
ME: Hang on, that wasn’t a zing at all! That was at my own expense! Bugger.
NICK: Self-defeating zinging.
ME: Yeah. No wonder you’re having an affair.
NICK: Oh dear.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Eight

Posted 8 February 2010 in by Catriona

NICK: Now. How’s our coffee situation? Oh. Enough for one cup but not for two.
ME: Hello! I am home all day.
NICK: Working hard for the money.
ME: Excuse me?
NICK: I’m just singing a song lyric! Didn’t mean nothing by it!
ME: Then why that song? Why not belt out “Blame it on the Boogie”?
NICK: Don’t blame it on the sunshine! Don’t blame it on the moonlight! Don’t blame it on the good times! Blame it on the boogie!
ME: Shut up.
NICK: Treena?
ME: Yes?
NICK: You asked for that.

World's Smallest Water Dragon

Posted 7 February 2010 in by Catriona

Well, perhaps not. But he’s certainly the smallest of the ones we have running around.

Look at his enormous head! It’s really not fair that baby things should be so dang cute.

Cloudy Night

Posted 7 February 2010 in by Catriona

Longer updates might be a little intermittent until the current crisis has settled down, but don’t abandon me just yet. There are always strange conversations and photographs of the moon.

Live-blogging Torchwood, Season Three: "Children of Earth" Day Five

Posted 5 February 2010 in by Catriona

Okay, really late start to this. This has been, quite literally, a terrible, terrible week. I can sum it up in two words: legionella pneumonia. No, not me. But it’s been a frightening, tiring week. So please excuse any vagueness or confusion in the live-blogging.

Also, we have Wagon Wheels for dessert again. So, finally, I might be fed Wagon Wheels during my live-blogging, and fulfil an ambition that is all of three weeks old.

This episode contains violence. I have given up all hopes of nudity.

The children chant and point.

HEATHER: We are coming. To a television near you.

There’s alien vomiting.

MICHELLE: Vomiting lobsters. I can cope with anything else, but it’s revolting.

Now we have Gwen’s monologue, in black and white, direct to the camera, about how she always wanted to ask about the Doctor, about how he sometimes appears, and sometimes he doesn’t.

GWEN: Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and look away in shame. I’m recording this in case anyone ever finds it, so you can see. You can see how the world ended.

The PM tells the country that they’re planning a series of inoculations for the children. Ianto’s nephew asks about inoculations, and Ianto’s sister says they’re injections. He says he doesn’t want to go, and Ianto’s sister says he’s not. Ianto’s niece says the man said they had to go.

IANTO’S SISTER: And I know for a fact he’s lying.
HEATHER: Because his lips are moving.

In the PM’s office, the American general says that all decisions go through him, because the PM’s staff proved they couldn’t cope.

ME: Americans.
HEATHER: Steppin’ in. Takin’ charge. Just like in WWII.

[Heather subsequently told me I should have written that as “Dubya Dubya Two,” to bring across the full force of her wit.]

UNIT are taking charge at Thames House, where they can still smell the stench of the bodies, which were, as Decker (still alive) says, piled ten deep around the doors.

The UNIT general heads into the ambassadorial suite, and there’s more vomiting. He asks the 456 how they take the children, and the 456 show the fiery Icy Pole from an earlier episode.

Then the UNIT general asks what they want the children for, whether they keep the 456 alive.

And the 456 say no. They want the children for the “hit.” The what? the general asks. The hit, say the 456. The children produce chemicals, and the chemicals make the 456 feel good.

HEATHER: That explains the vomiting.

The American general, in the PM’s office, tells the PM to remember that the U.K. started the trade.


Yeah, I don’t think she’s going to stop with this.

Jack and Gwen confront Frobisher, and Gwen threatens him with Rhys’s back up of the video recordings. But Frobisher says that that will only start Earth’s descent into Hell a little earlier. Jack agrees, telling Gwen to call Rhys off.

Rhys answers his phone, and asks if he should send the files, but Gwen says it’s too late. She says they killed him, and not just Clem.

GWEN: They killed Ianto.
ME: See, I want to cry. But the vowels are just too beautiful. It’s distracting.

Jack asks if his daughter and grandson will be released, and Frobisher says yes. He also agrees to take Gwen and Rhys home, but Jack himself is arrested, and imprisoned one cell across from Lois.

Lois calls out to Jack, but Jack says nothing.

The Woman in Black releases Alice, but also shows her Torchwood’s footage.

MICHELLE: I don’t love Jack’s daughter. I just feel Jack’s daughter would be cooler than that.
ME: And wear better-fitting pants.
HEATHER: Can we please not mention the pants? Just this once?

Frobisher is called into the PM’s office, and told that, in a show of good faith, Frobisher’s daughters have been chosen for the inoculation process.

Frobisher asks if this means he pretends to have his daughters inoculated.

Oh, no. That’s not what it means, honey.

The PM says no: that his daughters will then be taken to one of the designated areas, and will become part of the process.

HEATHER: They’ll become units.

I start crying. It’s really hard to live-blog when you’re crying.

Frobisher objects, but the PM says that the government has to be shown to be duped by the 456. And Frobisher has been chosen to take that fall.

So he goes to Bridget and asks for a “Requisition 31.” She asks what for? He repeats, “requisition 31.”

I’m fed a Wagon Wheel. My life is now complete.

Bridget gets a “requisition 31” and hands the closed steel box to Frobisher. He kisses her and leaves.

Gwen, landing back in Wales with Rhys, sees Andy waiting to meet her and runs to him. Gwen is not in a good state here, saying that Torchwood has ruined her life. Rhys asks her how it’s ruined, and she says, “You want to have kids in a world like this?”

RHYS: You’re not getting rid of it.
GWEN: Is that right?

The army begins to move in on schools across Great Britain.

Frobisher is driven through a press cordon.

And Bridget goes to see Lois in prison. She’s come to tell Lois how she met John Frobisher thirty years ago, before Lois was born.

Frobisher arrives home and hugs his kids.

Lois says she was on secondment to the Home Office, and she automatically thought that Frobisher was someone to keep an eye on. It was ten years before they worked in the same office. He asked for her.

Frobisher kisses and embraces his wife, then sends her upstairs after the children.

Bridget says he was a good man. “I want you to know that. John Frobisher was a good man.”

Frobisher removes Requisition 31, and heads upstairs.

Bridget says she thinks people will forget how very good he was.

Frobisher walks upstairs, and we see he’s holding a gun behind his back.

Bridget says, “When you think of John Frobisher, just remember, it wasn’t his fault.”

Frobisher shuts the door.


Three gunshots.




BRIDGET: Now, I think I should get back to work.


HEATHER: Man. she’s a stone-cold bitch.
ME: No, she’s just English.
HEATHER: Can you please put that on the blog? Please?
MICHELLE: And can you mention Gwen’s thighs? Wow. Just to lighten the mood.

Gwen ends up at Ianto’s sister’s house, and we see that as Jack hugged her, as she left for Wales, he asked her to save Ianto’s family.

The army move into the schools, taking the children over the hysterical, terrified objections of the family. And, of course, the backgrounds, as the school buses drive away, are council or former council houses.

In Ianto’s sister’s house, Ianto’s sister weeps, while her husband embraces her. Gwen interrupts, to say that she really knew Ianto. But when she says that Ianto told her his father was a master tailor, Ianto’s sister says he worked at Debenham’s, and if he told Gwen that old stuff, she didn’t know him at all.

Stage one is complete, but many children in the target areas stayed home, so stage two begins. Now they’re coming into the houses to take the children.

Rhys says they’re here, and Gwen tries desperately to convince Ianto’s family to evacuate their children.

Alice is talking to the Woman in Black, and Michelle is enthusiastic about the idea that this scene would be improved if the two women kissed. She also has ideas about Lois meeting a woman in prison, but, in fact, Lois is just beating on the door while soldiers take Jack.

Gwen and Rhys take the kids out the back door, while Andy heads out the front door to find out what’s happening. Ianto’s brother-in-law heads back to cause a diversion. He mobilises all the men on the estate, telling them the army are coming to take their kids.

The army bring out their riot shields, as soldiers bring screaming children out of the houses.

The army and estate men clash—and Andy rips off his police gear to join the fray, as Gwen, Rhys, Ianto’s sister, and the kids run and hide.

Decker—who was knocked down in an earlier scene, which I couldn’t recap—is marched past Alice and Steven by men in black, followed by Jack. Alice tells Steven to stay behind, as she follows Jack.

Jack asks what’s going on, and the Woman in Black says that the key to the 456 is the wavelength. Can he come up with something?

Decker says he’s been investigating the wavelength for forty years and there’s nothing, but the Woman in Black shoots him (not fatally) and, without pausing, asks Jack if he can do something.

He thinks so.

Decker says they hacked into Torchwood years ago, and there’s nothing, but Jack and the Woman in Black ignore him.

In the warehouses behind the housing estate, Gwen is recording the direct-to-camera address that we saw at the beginning of the episode. We see now that Rhys is the one filming it, and that he’s crying.

RHYS: You didn’t mean it. About getting rid of it.
GWEN: No, I didn’t. I would never ever do that to you, sweetheart.

And they embrace.

The PM’s office says that they have 80%, but people are starting to fight back.

MICHELLE: [Redacted] oath!

They ask the 456 if 80% is acceptable, but they say no: “All of them.”

Bridget is in the PM’s office, though Denise tells her she needn’t be there. “It’s what he would have wanted,” says Bridget. “I can’t imagine why,” says Denise. But Bridget looks determined.

In the Men and Women in Black Headquarters, Jack has established that the link with Clem hurt the 456, which is why they killed him. So they can create a feedback loop, but they need a child.

ALICE: No. No, Dad. Dad, tell them no.

Decker is gleeful: “That child is going to fry.”

Alice runs for Steven as, elsewhere, the soldiers come for the children Gwen and Rhys are hiding.

Soldiers pin Alice to the wall, and grab Steven.

Soldiers grab the children in Wales, holding Gwen, Rhys, and Ianto’s sister away from them.

And in Men and Women in Black Headquarters, Alice can’t do anything but pound on a locked door as Jack uses his grandson to trigger a high-pitched frequency aimed directly at the 456. A frequency that all children pick up, but, as Decker pointed out, Steven is in the centre, and he’s shaking, shaking and vibrating, with blood running from his nose as Alice watches and Jack weeps.

And the 456 explodes, all over the ambassadorial suite, before the Icy Pole of light reverses itself, sending itself back up into the clouds.

The American general demands a report from the UNIT colonel, who is not, as I have said all recap, a general.

And Rhys and Gwen embrace the Welsh children, who now seem safe.

But when Alice is let into the room, there’s no happy ending for Steven.

He’s dead, no matter how much Alice weeps over his body.

She weeps, and she rocks, and she screams “Why?” but no one answers her. No one even looks at her.

MICHELLE: Being Jack’s kid would suck.
MICHELLE: And being Jack would suck.

Everyone leaves the PM’s chambers, except Denise and Bridget. The PM is delighted, because he says that the U.S. took charge without ratification from the United Nations, so they can blame everything on the Americans.

Heather says nothing.

But Bridget is not thrilled that the PM is only trying to save his own neck.

So Bridget reminds him that she went to see Lois, and, while there, signed out some important evidence: the contact lenses. Oh, so that’s why she thought Frobisher would want her to hang around the PM’s office.

Denise backs Bridget up, telling the PM that she thinks she’ll be taking charge of many things around here.

HEATHER: Man, she is one power-hungry bitch.
MICHELLE: And there are a lot of chin dimples in this show.

Jack sits and waits in the corridor of the Men and Women in Black Headquarters, but Alice won’t speak to him, won’t even pass him. And he turns to walk out, walking into a bright white light.

Six months later, a heavily pregnant Gwen—“Bloody gorgeous,” Rhys says—and Rhys walk up a hill to meet Jack, who has arranged transport off world on a cold-fusion transport that’s cruising on the edge of the solar system. He just needs to send a signal.

That’s why Gwen’s here: she has his Time Agent wristwatch, found in the wreckage of the Hub.

GWEN: Indestructible. Like its owner.

She had a new strap put on it.

RHYS: Cost me fifty quid, that did.
JACK: Bill me.

Gwen asks him to stay for her, but he’s spent six months shaking off the guilt for Ianto’s death, Steven’s death, Tosh’s, Owen’s, Suzie’s.

She says, “You can’t leave.”

He says, “Watch me.”

And he leaves.

And Gwen weeps, before Rhys leads her back to the car.



Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Seven

Posted 4 February 2010 in by Catriona

Driving out:

ME: William Jolly Bridge is the best name for a bridge ever.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: Because it’s jolly.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: Because “jolly” is an underused word.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: Except at Christmas, when it’s overused.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: It’s a terrible state of being for a word.
NICK: Yeah.
ME: I’m really tired.
NICK: I can tell.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Six

Posted 4 February 2010 in by Catriona

Driving in:

ME: Oh, and I bought a book (mumble mumble mumble)
NICK: What?
ME: You heard me.
NICK: You bought a book with Colin Firth on the cover.
ME: What? No! They make books with Colin Firth on the cover? Actually, all books should have Colin Firth on the cover.
NICK: So what did you say?
ME: I said I bought a book but you might be ashamed of me.
NICK: Was it a Sean Bean cookbook?
ME: Cooking Sean Bean? Or cooking for Sean Bean?
NICK: Sean Bean shows you his favourite recipes. Lots of pictures of him cooking.
ME: Shirtless.
ME: Sorry, were you talking?

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Five

Posted 2 February 2010 in by Catriona

While watching The Darling Buds of May:

ME: Primrose is reading John Donne. I told you so.
NICK: He was an old pervert.
ME: Sweetie, you’ve bought DVDs just so you can look at Kate Beckinsale’s bosom.
(Long pause)
NICK: Her bottom, really.
ME: Fair enough.

Strange Conversations: Part Two Hundred and Fifty-Four

Posted 2 February 2010 in by Catriona

NICK: Bugger.
ME: Sweetie, I just dropped an egg yolk down my cleavage, so it can’t be as bad as that.
NICK: I just made a bit of a mess of the cushion, that’s all.
ME: Don’t eat over that cushion! The cover doesn’t unzip!
NICK: Well, I know that now.
ME: We’ve had that cushion for at least five years.
NICK: Well, possibly.

Let Me Tell You How Much I've Enjoyed The Gallagher Girls

Posted 1 February 2010 in by Catriona

I know you’re dying to hear all about it.

Because you know me, right? (And if not, if you’re new to the blog, hi!) You know there’s nothing I love more than a good girls’ school story. Remember how excited I was when I discovered there was such a thing as vampire boarding-school stories?

This is like that time, only with spies.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is ensconced behind high stone walls, bears all the hallmarks of a posh private (or public, depending on where you’re reading this) school, even attracts the scorn of the town’s residents, who have perfected what the girls call the “Gallagher Glare” whenever they spot a student in the town.

But it’s a school for spies.

And it’s more than that: it’s a school for the daughters of American spies (and one girl whose parents are MI6, brought in at the discretion of the new headmistress). Some of the girls, the ones whose parents aren’t spies, have been brought in because of exceptionally high test scores, so, as far as their parents are concerned, they really do just attend a school for exceptionally bright students. But they’re training all the while for a future career in either the CIA or some other initialism-heavy organisation.

When I first thought about writing a piece on these books, I was thinking to myself, “It would be so easy to write one of those snippet reviews you find in the back of women’s mags. You’d just write, ‘Harry Potter meets Alias‘ and you’d be done.”

To some extent, that reading still feels accurate to me. These books are like Alias: the insane gadgets, the almost superhuman powers of the spies, the frenetic excitement of the job. And they are like Harry Potter, and not just because they’re set in a boarding school: there’s a point in the series when the focal character Cammie Morgan goes to CIA headquarters with her mother for a debriefing, and accesses the building through a hidden elevator in a department-store changing room. There are shades there, to me, of the way Harry Potter’s world existed alongside, beneath, above, or around our own, but never quite overlapped.

That delights me.

I don’t want spies to be sitting in rooms peering at computer monitors. I want them to be rappelling down the sides of buildings and if, like Michelle Yeoh, they can do it in high heels, so much the better.

Even the titles of the books delight me: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You; Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy; and Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover. (Apparently, the fourth one will be Only the Good Spy Young.)

Oh, don’t look at me like that: you know I love a bad pun from the time I wrote that blog post on Wuthering High (and its sequels, The Scarlet Letterman and Moby Clique).

But I’m not actually here to talk about puns. I want to mention instead the complex and fascinating way that these books negotiate interpersonal relationships.

The books are, according to’s method of categorisation, aimed at nine- to twelve-year-old readers, and that feels about right: there’s no sex, of course (unlike the Vampire Academy books, which are designed for older readers) and precious little kissing. They’re also distinctly heternormative: there’s no indication that any of the girls are attracted to other girls.

That’s not unusual for mainstream books in the 9-12 age range, of course.

But it’s also a stance that’s somewhat problematised by the books’ genre. Girls’ school stories don’t seem to be able to just adopt an unproblematic heternormative stance. Stories from the original burgeoning of the genre (from around the 1920s to roughly the 1950s) are frequently subjected to a kind of nudge-nudge wink-wink re-reading that draws on any hint of suggestiveness in the stories—I’ve done this myself, of course.

Sometimes the stories themselves are suggestive, as in the case of one I read that was a long moral tale arguing against passionate friendships with someone of your own gender: I wish I could remember the title of that one.

Perhaps that explains why more modern variants on the girls’ school stories foreground the heterosexuality of the pupils? In the Trebizon stories, for example, the girls are all paired off with their equivalent in the boys’ boarding school down the road, and the teachers encourage them to socialise together.

That would never happen at Malory Towers.

What happens in the Gallagher Girls series, though, is that these girls, who have been ensconced in a girls’ boarding school for the final seven years of their schooling, have absolutely no idea how to relate to the opposite sex.

None at all.

How would they? The only members of the opposite sex they’ve met since they were twelve—really, around the time you really start noticing other people as sexually or proto-sexually attractive—have been their teachers.

Most of them don’t even have a parental relationship as a model, because their parents are, by and large, spies out in the field. They don’t head home to home-cooked meals, family conversation, trips out to the zoo or shopping expeditions—they spend Christmas helping their parents trail arms dealers on the other side of the world.

Take the heroine Cammie, for example. She doesn’t even know how her parents met: it’s classified. So when she does meet a boy, she has no idea how to get to know him, except to treat it as a mission: she constructs an elaborate legend, presenting herself as a home-schooled, highly religious girl with a cat called Suzie, and she sneaks out of the school every chance she gets to meet this new boy.

It’s more complicated for Cammie, of course, because she’s what’s known as a “pavement artist”: her job is to trail suspects invisibly, or as near to invisibly as she can manage. And she’s good, too, but once she becomes aware of boys, she becomes rather more ambivalent: when a cute boy tells her he’d never have noticed her, she knows it’s a compliment, and part of her takes it that way, but part of her is hurt, too.

Cammie’s determination to pursue a boy who can’t know the truth about her school terrifies the teachers, who go so far, in a later book, as to arrange an exchange programme so the students can interact regularly with boys their own age.

Sure, much of what I like in these books comes down to the pavement-artist heroine, attractive but untrustworthy hero, the spy gadgets, the rappelling, and the occasional Code Red that locks the school down when out-of-the-loop parents drop by unannounced.

But I like, too, the way in which the books recognise that interpersonal relationships are complicated even if you do have a camera in your wrist watch and comms in your fake crucifix.



Recent comments

Monthly Archive