Saturday, November 10, 2012

Upstairs Downstairs

The last few months have been a little challenging. In addition to the usual stresses of dealing with our oldest son, my wife developed pneumonia and during her treatment, blood tests seemed to reveal a condition that used to be fatal, but can now be treated with chemotherapy and steroids. We weren't told this straight away, but I had a feeling that something was wrong when my wife's GP started phoning us in the evening to ask how she was feeling.

I was pretty upset at the prospect of seeing my wife undergo chemotherapy, but she was more concerned about the steroids: "I can cope with the treatment, but I can't bear the idea of becoming fat."

At one point it was all looking pretty grim and, selfishly, I wondered how I was going to cope with caring for four people, including an 83-year-old woman and a boy with special needs. At least I now had a working life with flexible hours, but was I really up to the challenge? I found myself becoming increasingly grumpy and anti-social towards the world at large.

During this period, one of the things that helped to keep me sane was a boxed set of the original 'Upstairs Downstairs'. I am now halfway through the fourth series and when I reach the end, I'll probably feel compelled to write a blog post about the programme. In the meantime, here's something else that has been a source of huge delight.

This is from the BBC Radio 4 website:

'Upshares, Downshares', the PM programme's daily business and economics slot with Nils Blythe, charted the economic crisis daily from November 2008. Once the listeners (David Cartwright in fact) had named the slot, we began to play the original theme fromUpstairs Downstairs but then, unbidden, listeners began sending in their own renditions and interpretations of the tune.

Here's the original:

And here are some of the different versions created by Radio 4 listeners:

First, "in the style of George Shearing":

Next, Spaghetti Western:

Third, Bossa Nova:

And crumhorn trio:


Organ fugue:

One of my favourites - 'acid house':

Ancient handbells version:

The Elvis version:

Morris Dancing:

Junior school recorder club version:

And finally, the splendid 'Retro arcade game' version:

This is only a small sample of the wonderful selection that bears witness to the ingenuity of BBC Radio 4 listeners. If more people devoted themselves to harmless pursuits like growing roses, collecting stamps and creating different versions of theme tunes, the world would be a better place.

My wife and I are rapidly working our way through the 68 episodes of Upstairs Downstairs and when we reach the end, I feel that the it will also mark the conclusion of something else. Further blood tests have now shown that my wife doesn't have the condition that was initially diagnosed. There is something, but it's not life-threatening and won't require a gruelling regime of medicines (we hope).

My wife is delighted that she won't have to put on weight. Sadly, I have, as a result of several months of comfort eating - those Waitrose macaroons are like crack cocaine - and I shall have to resume the tedious business of dieting. I'll make sure that the next drama series I watch isn't mainly set in a kitchen.

However, it will have to have lines like these:


sukipoet said...

so glad things are not as grim as you first thought. and that the boxed set helped get you through grim times. re: weight loss, too bad we are going into winter. for me, winter means a bit of weight gain. good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that things have been so tough and worrying for you and your family; I do hope that the new, better news about your wife's condition is just the start of much better times...
Ah, the certainties and cosiness of Upstairs, Downstairs would be just the thing to lose oneself in when life gets rocky. I'm sure that's the reason Downton has been so popular. The story always works out in the end...

Annabel (gaskella) said...

What a nightmare for you & yours - I'm so glad to hear your wife's health isn't as bad as you thought - fingers crossed for ongoing treatment.

I loved listening to Upshares downshares every day. It was bloody brilliant. Love the Bossa Nova, Crumhorns and Morris dancing ones in particular of those you've posted.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Oh, dear, Steerforth, I am sorry that things have been so ... well, fraught of late. There is nothing like a health crisis to put things into perspective. My best to you and Mrs. Steerforth, combined with a prayer for continued improvement on all fronts.

PS - I totally agree with you about the macaroons ... they truly are addictive.

PPS - As you can probably imagine, all at our house are mightily relieved that President Obama was re-elected. He definitely has his work cut out for him, but it's a step in the right direction ...

Take care and God bless, xoxo Carol

David said...

Sorry to hear what you (and your wife) have been going through - but glad it is better than first thought. That's got to be the right way round.

I'm afraid I don't agree about "Upshares...", it used to annoy me no end - I like PM, but the arch, punning, too-clever-by-halfness of it just irritates and I class "Upshares" as part of that.

However, at least they're not in the same kind of mess as Newsnight.

When you have finished "Upstairs, Downstairs", remember there was a follow up that ran for a couple of series about Rose and her young man. Can't remember its name. And of course the recent revival, though I could never really get into that.

zmkc said...

Yay, so glad your wiff isn't badly crook. The man responsible for creating Upstairs Downstairs was our nextdoor neighbour all through my childhood and probably one of the nicest, most good natured men I've ever met + brilliant singsong round the piano type pianist:

James Lomax said...

The Clangers version?

Steerforth said...

Thank you Suki - winter means weight gain for me too, so I've got to think of something. Anything but exercise!

Anna - Yes, it's cosy, but I respect the writers for tackling difficult subjects like suicide, class, adultery, the suffragist movement and homosexuality. It's a great social history as well as wonderful entertainment.

Annabel - The Bossa Nova is beautiful isn't it. The singer's website is here I'm quite tempted to try her album 'The Girl From Wolverhampton'.

Carol - Thanks. It's certainly been eventful here, but I feel lucky compared to some of my friends who are going through an awful time.

I'm hugely relieved about Obama (partly because the Derek diaries made me a little nervous about having a Mormon elected as President). From an outsider's perspective, he has done a generally good job and his 'Obamacare' is something to be proud of. Let's hope he really pulls the stops out for the second term and fulfills the promise of 2008.

David - It was Thomas and Sarah - a commercial success, but a critical failure. Filming began on a second series, but it was killed off by an ITV strike and that was that. The original sequel was going to feature Hudson and Mrs Bridges, but the actress died.

You can tell I'm a fan.

zmkc - We've just watched an episode written by Shaugnessy and it was extremely well written (and had my son in tears, which is a first). How nice to discover that a name I've grown to admire was a lovely man too.

I've heard that Sandy Ferris - who wrote the theme music - is also a good egg.

Steerforth said...

James - Clangers version? Is there one? I suppose you just need a few swanee whistles.

Grey Area said...

Delighted to heart that the news about Mrs S. has a more upbeat resolution - I had a cold, tight knot gripping my stomach for the first half of this post - all better now.

I LOVED 'Upshares', the more abstract, bizarre and silly the better - it came at a time when the general economy was threatening to destroy my industry ( and business ) and listening to something silly and absurdist after the news helped me retain some equilibrium through a very dark time. I found Upstairs Downstairs comic and detached from reality at the time, and gained much amusement when half the cast went down with the Titanic, however - seeing episodes more recently they seem to have matured with age - and frankly, piss all over the fanciful farce of Downton ( which I'm happy to dismiss as trash even though I could only brear to watch one episode )

JRSM said...

I'm so pleased that things have turned out to be not as bad as you expected.

We also recently binged on all the original Upstairs Downstairs, and have Thomas & Sarah on order.

You might appreciate -- hundreds of reinterpretations of the Doctor Who theme.

Steerforth said...

Richard - I haven't seen any Downton Abbey, which is a source of tension with my mother as she lent me the DVD over two years ago. But a 15-second trailer was enough to convince me that it would just make me angry.

I agree that Upstairs Downstairs has aged well. I didn't get a lot of the references when I first watched the repeats in the late 70s, but today I'm struck by how well written most of the episodes are. I think the limited budgets helped rather than hindered.

James - Thanks for the Who link. I particularly liked 'Downtempo'. I'm tempted to order a midi keyboard and have a go myself.

Re: Upstairs - I'm tempted to try Thomas and Sarah (if only they'd made an Edward and Daisy too). In fact, I could quite happily watch a spin-off featuring any of the characters, from Sir Geoffrey to 'Bunny'/

Canadian Chickadee said...

Steerforth, it will be interesting to see what does happen in the second Obama presidency...I think he will feel freer to say what he really thinks, because he doesn't have to worry about being re-elected, since the President is limited by law to two terms.

I also was a little leery of the Mormons myself. It wasn't that long ago that they were considered a cult, not a religion, and some of the stuff they espouse still seems kind of extreme to me. But hey, what do I know? I'm a lapsed Lutheran/Catholic myself!

I am glad too about Obamacare. I think it was definitely time. I know the law isn't perfect and may need to be tweaked, but I think throwing the whole thing out, as the Republicans kept wanting to do, would be a mistake. It's already helping my daughter's family, because my granddaughter can now legally stay on her parent's health care insurance until she's 26, as long as she stays in school. A double incentive, it seems to me.

And we got a (small) check for our insurance company to reimburse us for a medical proceedure which is covered under the new law, and which I had paid for last spring. The check wasn't much, but it was enough to take me to lunch.

I hope all is going well for you this Remembrance Day weekend. Take care and God bless, xoxox Carol

Andrea said...

Very glad that your wife's tests were negative. Kind of a random reader here, but your posts are fantastic. Hope you and your family have an easy winter.

Never seen Upstairs/Downstairs before - but was delighted to see Gordon Jackson outside of The Professionals.

Anonymous said...

I am pleased that you have had some good news in what must have been a dreadful time.

I watched Upstairs Downstairs the first time around. I know. That makes me old, but I loved it then and now I am older I love it even more. Last winter I watched a few DVD s from my local library. I am now determined to buy the boxed set after reading your post.

I wanted to like Downton, but I thought it was dreary and badly written and simply couldn't watch it.


Steerforth said...

Carol - I hope that a second term Obama will be more determined with his adversaries in Congress. I've never understood the hysteria about Obamacare - it's far more conservative than our National Health Service - but has still prompted people to accuse him of 'socialism'. Madness.

Andrea - I clicked on the link to your site out of curiosity and was completely blown away by your beautiful illustrations.

You have a new customer.

Sue - The box set isn't cheap, but I think it works out at around 70p per episode - just over a penny a minute. I do silly sums like that to justify buying things I want. I can warmly recommend it.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

My what a rollercoaster lately. So relieved to hear Mrs Steerforth is not as seriously ill as first thought. I guess there was also a risk of losing her hair as well as getting fat if chemo was involved in the original treatment plan on top of the steroids.

Yes the original Upstairs Downstairs is superb. I watched the whole thing when the Yesterday channel showed it back to back over several consecutive weekends a few years ago.

Saw Simon Williams (aka James Bellamy) do a wonderfully entertaining show paying homage to the music hall at Sonning Theatre a couple of years ago. He is now in his early-60s, but still a handsome dog!

Will give Upshares Downshares a listen later, including listener's interpretations.