Old dreams, new dreams

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Where to? Tokyo has long been on my list…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

In your teens, 20s, 30s and 40s, life tends to follow fairly predictable patterns: finish your education, find a partner, marry, have children, buy a home….if you can even afford them, as so many can’t now thanks to crippling student debt and stagnant wages.

If you’re lucky enough to remain healthy and keep finding good jobs, you might be acquiring capital for retirement and watching your income rise. Nothing guaranteed, of course!

But my point is that, for a good long while, the trajectory — traditionally — seems fairly clear, and usually, upward in terms of acquisitions, growth and success.

Then what?

My old dreams, thankfully, have been realized: to own my own home; to have a happy marriage; generally good health (and access to good care); lasting, deep friendships. I was lucky enough to have three staff jobs at major newspapers, doing work I enjoyed, and several magazine editing jobs, and then published two books to good reviews.

I’ve traveled widely, to 41 countries, including places in Africa and Asia. I love to travel and am debating disappearing into a Paris rental apartment in 2020 for months. I love Paris and I miss hearing and speaking French.

 

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We only get so much time….

 

The next bit, if I am lucky enough to remain healthy and solvent, is much less clear to me. Many women my age are corporate warriors earning a fortune, too busy for friendship, or doting grandmothers, cooing over their family. I’m in neither category and that is sometimes both disorienting and very lonely.

I still have to bring in money to meet our exorbitant health insurance costs, although I’d happily hang it up now. I still enjoy writing but have been chasing writing income since university and am heartily sick of that.

New dreams include more global travel, possibly writing a few more books, starting a business of PR strategy and another to sell my photos to interior designers.

Will any of these happen? Who knows?

It’s a luxury, I know, to have achieved so many of my younger dreams.

It’s a challenge, now, to think of new ones — and to gin up the requisite enthusiasm and energy for some of them.

 

Nap time!

 

Some (belated) thoughts on Fleabag

By Caitlin Kelly

I hope by now you’ve heard of this show, and seen it…a two-season television series created by and starring 33-year-old Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who this year won the Emmy for Best Comedy, Best Comedy Actress and Best Writing.

The show’s first season — deeply British — probably turned off a lot of viewers: her character, whose only name is Fleabag, is sex-obsessed, sarcastic, guarded and has behaved really badly at times. She’s mourning the recent deaths of her mother (breast cancer) and best friend and London fellow cafe-owner (traffic accident.)

She’s not perky and likeable. You want to shake her by the shoulders as much as give her a hug.

But the second season, which I recently binged, is much less comedy and so often the smartest and deepest look I’ve ever seen at what we want when we think we want sex — and we crave something much deeper and more lasting.

And so much more elusive.

And, of course, she wants it from….a Catholic priest.

It’s really difficult, if you have a certain kind of family of origin and a certain kind of sexual history — OK, mine — to watch Fleabag and her out-sized and inchoate yearnings and not feel deeply seen.

Her sister Claire is spiky and angry and married to a really awful American. Her father is  unable to share emotions or show Fleabag how much he loves her, instead forever kowtowing to his new wife-to-be, who is (the amazing Olivia Colman, winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Actress in The Favourite) an even more awful person, simpering and selfish and passive-aggressive.

This brought back wayyyyyyyy too many memories for me of how my father (equally allergic to feelings and discussion of same) always makes sure the women in his life take precedence. Fleabag seems to have no pals and her sister is too often freaking out over something to be a reliably loving presence.

Fleabag also bounces off men (literally) like a pinball, until she meets the hot priest. I’ll save you the spoilers, but suffice to say he’s the only character finally able to challenge her and puncture her flip, glib defenses.

I also recently saw the original one-woman show that was the initial idea for all of this and it is astonishing, with lightning-quick shifts in mood and tone.

She is a bloody genius.

 

Have you seen it?

 

Thoughts?

The value of “slow fashion”

 

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My faithful sewing kit

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve never been a fan of “fast fashion” — rushing to snag some of the thousands of garments pumped out by cheap labor for mega-corporate brands like Zara and H & M. Zara, for example, releases a staggering 20,000 new designs a year, the idea to keep luring shoppers in for more, more, more merch.

The cost to the environment — terrible!

The New York Times just published a smart guide to buying less, and less frequently:

Even though many retailers say they’re addressing sustainability, “the clothing that they make still doesn’t have any greater longevity,” said Elaine Ritch, a senior lecturer in marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Faced with this reality, the concept of “slow fashion” has emerged over the past decade as a kind of counterbalance to fast fashion. The idea: slow down the rapid pace of clothing consumption and instead buy fewer more durable items. It’s an idea championed, for example, by the fashion blogger Cat Chiang, Natalie Live of the brand The Tiny Closet, and Emma Kidd, a doctoral researcher in Britain who launched a 10-week “fashion detox.”

They are sounding the alarm, in part, because the negative impacts of clothing extend beyond the landfill. The chemicals used in making, dyeing and treating many fabrics are so harmful that the E.P.A. regulates many textile factories as hazardous waste generators. And overall, apparel and footwear produce more than 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions associated with the harmful effects of human-caused climate change.

To anyone living on a tight budget, the suggestion to buy less is risible — if you can’t afford stuff, you aren’t buying it.

But also laughable to anyone who grew up  before the very idea of “fast fashion”, as I did, pre-Internet, in a country (Canada) with fewer retail choices, lower salaries and higher taxes. We just didn’t buy a lot because…who would?

 

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I lived in Paris the year I was 25, life-changing in all the very best ways, and have returned many times since, ideally every two or three years.

French women, beyond the wealthy, are discerning and typically very selective, adding a few key items a year — not every day or week or month. Small city apartments don’t have enormous suburban dressing rooms, for one thing.

They also know that great grooming matters just as much.

Although I live near New York City, with ready access to some of the world’s fanciest stores, I often spend my clothing and accessories budget in Canada (I know where to go!) and Europe. I like the colors much better (lots of navy blue, browns and camel — American color options often glaring and weird) and the styles and, key — higher quality.

I’ve always had a sewing kit, accustomed to mending and sewing buttons back on. I’ve always used a cobbler to re-heel and re-sole shoes; I have one pair bought in 1996 still looking amazing, (OK, Fratelli Rosetti on sale.)

I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes (needing to lose a lot of weight is certainly very de-motivating in this regard) but am a sucker for great accessories: boots, earrings, shoes, scarves, a fab handbag. (My latest — which draws daily compliments everywhere — is a black woven leather handbag found in a Santa Fe consignment shop for $120, less than half the price of a store downtown.)

 

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My beloved Birks, bought in Berlin, seen here on the streets of Rovinj, Croatia

 

I prefer neutral colors to prints, low or flat heels to higher ones, simple cuts to anything with frills or flounces. I shop maybe two or three times a year. I find it tiring and there’s no one to help in any meaningful way.

Recently back in my hometown of Toronto I bought a pair of boots, low, black suede; with tax, $280 Canadian ($211.00 U.S.) Yes, pricy, but with my typical intent of wearing them for at least three to five years, a lot.

This year I finally tossed out a pair of black suede flats that had seen a decade of wear.

ENOUGH!

With CPW, cost-per-wearing; the more you use an item of clothing, the more you amortize out its initial cost. A black pleated ankle length dress I bought in 2016 from Canadian brand Aritizia ($100 on sale, reduced from $150) is still an elegant, hand-washable four-season stand-by for every occasion, from a professional meeting to date night to a very elegant Toronto summer wedding reception.

Were I a wealthy woman, and lost the weight, I would — I admit — buy a few more clothes, but much nicer ones, from my favorite designers: The Row, Dries Van Noten and Etro.

Having terrific style is rarely a matter of being wealthy, but being selective and consistent.

As Coco Chanel once said: Elegance is refusal.

Two new stories of American labor

By Caitlin Kelly

Happy Labor Day!

As regular readers here know, how people work and earn their living — and for what pay and under what conditions — is a bit of an obsession of mine.

I’ve had many staff jobs: at three big daily newspapers and at several magazines, (trade and consumer) — and worked 2.5 years selling stuff for $11/hour as a sales associate for The North Face, by far the most difficult job of my life and the most humbling. It became my second book.

Since losing my last staff job in 2006, I’ve remained freelance, which means I am only paid for whatever work I can find, negotiate and successfully complete. Pay rates for journalism are now much lower than in the early 2000s,. when I easily brought home $60,000 a year. Not now.

It’s crazy.

 

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I grew up in Canada — a country with unions! — and moved to the United States in 1988. It is a truly eye-opening experience to live in a land of such brute, bare-knuckled capitalism! No paid maternity leave and very little unpaid. No paid vacation days, by law. At-will employment, which literally means anyone can fire you anytime for no reason at all.

Then, no severance!

Weakened unions at their lowest membership ever.

Stagnant wages — while CEOs “earn” 254 times the pay of their lowest-paid staff.

So, hey — try these!

Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, a friend, has finally just published his new book about American labor, The Big Squeeze.

I can’t wait to read it.

Just one of its many rave reviews…


“The power of Greenhouse’s book lies . . . in its reporting, especially on low-wage workers . . . his best material vividly focuses on the always difficult and often abusive working conditions of low-paid employees. Such stories get far too little airing and rarely are they so well told.” —Business Week

Here’s an earlier book on the same topic, from 2014.

And a new documentary,  American Factory, takes a close look at one American factory taken over by the Chinese.

From The New York Times’ review:

In 2016, Cao opened a division of Fuyao, his global auto-glass manufacturing company, in a shuttered General Motors factory near Dayton, Ohio. Blaming slumping S.U.V. sales, G.M. had closed the plant — known as the General Motors Moraine Assembly Plant — in December 2008, throwing thousands out of work the same month the American government began a multibillion dollar bailout of the auto industry. The Dayton factory remained idle until Fuyao announced it was taking it over, investing millions and hiring hundreds of local workers, numbers it soon increased.

The veteran filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, who are a couple and live outside of Dayton, documented the G.M. plant when it closed. They included the image of the last truck rolling off the line in their 2009 short, “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.” That crystallizing image also appears in “American Factory,” which revisits the plant six years later. The feature-length story they tell here is complex, stirring, timely and beautifully shaped, spanning continents as it surveys the past, present and possible future of American labor. (This is the first movie that Barack and Michelle Obama’s company Higher Ground Productions is releasing with Netflix.)

 

Hoping that you have work you like, and well-paid!

Learning to say no

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By Caitlin Kelly

Anyone poorly parented and/or the victim of bullies and narcissists knows how extremely difficult it can be for their victims to say no.

Ever.

To anyone.

To anything.

To the most absurd and unrelenting demands.

 

Because what happened after I’ve said no is…abandonment. Estrangement. Rejection. Verbal or physical cruelty. Job loss.

I’ve lived in fear for decades — and readers know I express plenty of strong opinions here and in my writing and books and on social media — of these outcomes in my personal and professional life.

My industry, journalism, is in such utter chaos — with the most job cuts in 2019 since 2008 — that those with jobs will do anything to keep them, and the hell with us freelancers, seen by many as disposable commodities, easily and cheaply replaced with someone, always, terrified and docile.

I have never seen such shitty behavior.

The past two weeks made me snap.

First, a baby editor with zero social skills — who I later found out has been this rude and aggressive with other veteran writers. Then, this week, a source decided it was appropriate to throw me and my skills under the bus.

Then stalk me on Twitter.

 

Done.

 

In both instances, their entitled behavior — unprovoked and insistent — left me shaking and shaken.

From now on, I’m just walking.

This is,  a great luxury, and a measure of privilege because it’s possible only with the explicit agreement and financial and moral support of my husband and a bank account plundered to make up the lost $1,050 in anticipated/needed income from these two stories.

Most Americans don’t even have the savings to say…I’m gone. I’m not putting up with this.

Because without savings, and the ability to never engage with them again, we’re all left groveling to bullies.

 

DONE.

Getting older, becoming invisible

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By Caitlin Kelly

I live in a building dominated by older people.

Here’s my essay published this week about it on nbcnews.com:

If you really want to know what old age looks like and feels like and sounds like — forget playing around with FaceApp, whose AI technology can age your appearance in seconds on your phone. Simply plug in a current photo and the app will generate a falsely wrinkled face, sagging jowls and wispy white hair. But while the app has quickly gone viral, with artificially aged photos of celebrities and friends alike popping up all over social media, such images have almost nothing in common with the true experience of aging in America.

You just can’t imagine old age. You have to live it firsthand.

I was prompted to write it after our next door neighbor, Flo, died last week, at 91, after a final year at home bed-ridden. All we ever saw were visits from her daughters and the Russian woman who was her in-home aide.

Flo was deeply private, with a head of thick white curls and bright eyes. Only at her funeral did I learn she’d been widowed at 44 with three daughters to raise, aided by a large and supportive family.

Living in a place surrounded by seniors — a word I dislike (we don’t call people juniors!) — has shown me what aging really looks like. The same week my first husband walked out, some 25 years ago, was the week L’s husband had a stroke and never spoke again. He later died and she dated a jaunty older man who wore cool sneakers. He died.

She is now so impossibly frail, sitting with her aide.

It’s sobering. It’s instructive.

As someone with no children, I’m acutely aware, should I live into old age, I will need money and physical help to live well, safely and independently, if lucky enough to do so — my 90-year-old father does.

I lost my grandmothers the same year, when I was 18 and never met my grandfathers.

So this is what I know.

But we also have people here in their 80s looking great and living an active life.

You can’t understand what you don’t see.

The altered body

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By Caitlin Kelly

This week, a year ago, a female surgeon — wearing monkey socks she proudly showed me beforehand, sharing a laugh I needed — removed a small growth from my left breast.

Today it’s a thumb-length pale pink scar I see every day. Since the end of 20 days’ radiation treatment in November 2018, my skin there is now brown and freckled, unlikely to change. The skin is also still orange peel-ish in texture, odd and unpleasant to the touch or appearance.

The minuscule black dots on my back and stomach, used to guide the radiation machine, are still there as well.

And there’s nothing to be done but accept it.

Serious illness will knock any vanity out of you, no matter how we hope to remain forever pretty or thin or strong.

If we survive it, we’re forever altered, our bodies a map of our journey.

After a decade or two, our bodies bear witness: scars, wrinkles, a few persistent injuries that twinge us on a rainy day.

My two favorite scars are maybe half an inch in length, almost matching, one on the inside of either wrist — both the result of great adventures I thoroughly enjoyed at the time.

One, falling off a moped in northern Thailand, as I and my first husband rode to the Burmese border. The other, sustained by scraping against a metal cable while crewing aboard a Long Island yacht in a fall race.

I have three little scars on the top of each knee, like the top of a coconut, from meniscus repairs, also the result of a highly active life.

Friends who have faced multiple surgeries know this all too well.

Our bodies demand repair.

If we’re fortunate, we’re treated with skill and kindness and heal.

As long as my body is able to function freely — and thank heaven, for now it still is — I don’t care as much how it looks as what it can do.

Grateful to be here, scars and all.

 

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Oh, a rodeo!

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a pretty American way to spend a summer evening — and, despite years of living in the U.S., albeit in the Northeast — I had never been to a rodeo.

It is, I discovered, a huge sport, with its own governing body and men kept loping past us bearing huge golden and engraved belt buckles, evidence of their earlier prowess.

The idea is to showcase, competitively, so many of the skills that ranchers and cowboys, men and women, use in their daily life.

 

 

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So Jose, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought us box seat tickets, which meant  two battered bare metal folding chairs in the shaded section, at the front ($27 each) and took me to my first rodeo.

I knew, intellectually, competitors could get badly injured and hoped they would not, and only one man limped out of the ring.

 

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The first event had very small children — ages four or five, each wearing a helmet — each trying to stay on top of a large sheep for as long as possible, clinging to as much muddy and matted wool as possible. Most lasted about a second!

 

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Then men came out on bucking broncos and here’s a video of what that’s like! They have to stay on the horse for eight seconds to qualify and each are scored.

More men came out, racing, to lasso a steer, jump off their horse and lash three of the steer’s legs together, fast.

Then men came out in pairs to do the same job.

There was a rodeo clown.

 

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The rodeo clown, a legend in his field                            photo: Jose R. Lopez

 

There was only one official photographer in the ring, a man in a pink dress shirt; it was very difficult (as you can tell from my cellphone images here!) to get good photos as only cellphones were allowed for the crowd to use to take pictures.

The rodeo queen and princess thundered by on their horses, with gorgeous turquoise chaps.

Women rode around the ring with large flapping flags of each local advertiser.

 

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Could she possibly be more badass?!

 

Then a woman came out — of course — riding atop two racing horses at once. Then jumped through flames.

 

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The winner!         photo: Jose R. Lopez

 

The barrel racing was my absolute favorite, with women competing to gallop into the ring, round three large barrels at top speed without knocking one over (a loss of five points for each accident) and gallop back out; the fastest, of course, was a 10-year-old girl who did it in barely 17 seconds.

It was so much fun!

It began at 7:00 pm and was done about 8:30 as all the kids went next door to the visiting carnival to enjoy the small Ferris wheel and other rides.

 

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There were corn dogs and tacos and soft-serve ice cream and (!) deep-fried Twinkies and we had a great chat with a woman who — of course — had lived in Toronto when I did, and a woman named Stephanie, wearing layers and layers of spectacular Navajo jewelry (some of which she was selling), who had hoped to barrel race her horse, Teller (she showed us his picture on her cellphone) but registered too late. She was, for sure, in her 50s, maybe beyond.

There were little boys in chaps, old men in cowboy hats, women in mini-skirts and weathered cowboy boots. The sun set over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sky became a watercolor wash of violet.

 

 

 

 

Can women handle 10,000 words?

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Frozen out…

By Caitlin Kelly

Just a taste of the obstacles so many women writers still face.

This, from Vox, quoting the editor in chief of The Atlantic magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg, which is considered one of the most prestigious outlets in American journalism:

 

It’s really, really hard to write a 10,000-word cover story. There are not a lot of journalists in America who can do it. The journalists in America who do it are almost exclusively white males. What I have to do — and I haven’t done this enough yet — is again about experience versus potential. You can look at people and be like, well, your experience is writing 1,200-word pieces for the web and you’re great at it, so good going!

That’s one way to approach it, but the other way to approach it is, huh, you’re really good at this and you have a lot of potential and you’re 33 and you’re burning with ambition, and that’s great, so let us put you on a deliberate pathway toward writing 10,000-word cover stories. It might not work. It often doesn’t. But we have to be very deliberate and efficient about creating the space for more women to develop that particular journalistic muscle.

 

I really don’t have a lot to add to this.

I will say that any woman, like me, who has already written and published a non-fiction book — mine are each around 100,000 words — is fully capable of producing a terrific magazine piece one-tenth that length.

This kind of gate-keeping is annoyingly prevalent, and the magazines still deemed career-making in choosing and promoting their writers are extremely difficult to penetrate. When top editors are male, many keep choosing the guys they know already, not the fantastically talented proven women beyond their narrow purview.

His comment, not surprisingly, provoked a torrent on Twitter. The women writers I know, admire and respect flung up their hands…business as usual.

Here’s an analysis of it from The Cut:

You don’t even need to leave the Atlantic’s archives to see how wrong it is to believe the journalists in America who do this Very Special Thing are “almost exclusively white males.” (It’s Sisyphean to list all the writers out in the wider world he’s overlooked.) But it is also sadly true that Goldberg’s record on this front is better than the one that preceded him, when, of the 17 issues directly before his tenure, only three of the cover stories were written by women. That’s fewer than the number of men during that same time period who wrote cover stories AND attended Yale at some point during the 1980s, as did the magazine’s then-editor-in-chief James Bennet. (Boola boola to you, Messrs. Haidt, Beinart, Frum, and Rauch!)

It’s also painfully obvious that some of the most interesting magazine-style journalism is happening, of course, at places that don’t have cover stories. The Atlantic is the most Establishment of the Establishment magazines, and the fixation on a print cover story as the sacred, locked tabernacle to which only a few are granted a key is revealing of a certain value system. (As is the notion that high word count correlates with quality or importance.)

 

If this issue is of interest to you, to see how many women are getting their work published, read the VIDA reports; VIDA is a 10-year-old organization founded on the principle of getting more women published.

 

 

All the best British cop/crime series: must watch!

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been bingeing of late on British crime and cop shows, so much so it sometimes feels like all-Nicola-Walker all the time.

I just finished the amazing 2015 series River, about a London policeman named John River — who has an unnerving habit of seeing dead people — which also starred Walker as his partner, Stevie. I then watched the final episode of Unforgotten, starring Walker as the lead investigator on a cold case of the murder of a young woman in a small town.

I like a few qualities of these shows: the focus on solutions and complications, rarely on endless gratuitous violence; little to no gun play and much more psychological story-telling than the usual cops/street chase drama and glimpses of beautiful British settings.

In every show, also unusual, the police are shown as human beings with their own complicated emotional lives — whether with their spouses, parents, siblings, children or co-workers.

Some of my favorites:

 

Broadchurch

How can you resist anything with Olivia Colman? This series, initially set in Dorset, with the second season also shot in Somerset, Devon and Berkshire, stars Colman as detective Elie Miller with David Tennant as her partner. The settings are spectacular and the familial twists add to the tension.

Unforgotten

This series stars Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stuart and her partner DCI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar.) The opening theme music is especially haunting. I’ve watched the second and third seasons; both involve complicated plots and multiple characters.

River

This one might be my favorite, now four years old. The premise, a partnership between an older man with some significant mental issues and no friends or family and his fellow detective partner, a younger woman (with a secret) from a crime-ridden family, is interesting enough. I loved Swedish actor, Stellan Skarsgard, 67, as the lead, an actor I haven’t seen much of since his super-terrifying role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — although he has appeared in many of the Avenger films.

Nicola Walker, 48, is surely one of Britain’s best-known and most-seen actresses on television — less so in film.

The Daily Telegraph critic raved “Creepy yet ultimately uplifting, River stands alongside London Spy, Humans and Wolf Hall as one of the year’s best home-grown TV dramas.”[21]

 

Shetland

The windswept and isolated landscape alone made me want to hop into a very small airplane and go see it for myself. So much of the appeal of these shows, as someone living in an American suburban town, is the dense interplay of characters living in small towns in impossibly picturesque places.

The Bodyguard

From its terrifying opening episode, this one is full of twists and turns, following the life of bodyguard David Budd as he guards a politician whose values he loathes, played by Keeley Hawes.

The Tunnel

I would watch French actress Clemence Poesy read a recipe card. She’s amazing in this two-season series, (an adaptation of The Bridge), which involves detectives from France and England after a body — cut in half — is found lying at the exact midpoint of the Chunnel, forcing both nations to investigate and work together despite cultural and linguistic differences. Poesy plays a woman who is somewhat autistic, maybe even someone with Aspergers’, whose single-mindedness confounds many of her co-workers but helps her be a great cop.

Happy Valley

Starring Sarah Lancashire, (who, like Nicola Walker, also stars in Last Tango in Halifax), as a weather-beaten divorced small-town policewoman in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire in northern England. Between the thick accents and speed of speech, you might need sub-titles! Her character, Catherine Cawood, lives with her sister Clare, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict. Cawood’s adult daughter committed suicide after being raped and impregnated.

I know…this all sounds horribly grim! But Cawood is a great character and every scene is shot on location.

 

Grantchester

Edward Norton! Need I say more? He plays Sidney Chambers, a small-town minister helping local detective Geordie Keating, solve crimes. A much less grim and dark series, with lots of humor and domestic issues as well. Also set in 1953, so lots of period costume and details.

 

Endeavour

This is — of course — the detective’s first name, an Oxford drop-out. Set in 1968, 1969 and now 1970 for the latest season, it offers gorgeous glimpses of Oxford and surroundings. His partner’s name is Fred Thursday and they drive around in a stunning vintage Jaguar.