"Ah," said Howard, "Well, now. That's the question, isn't it? We've got ourselves a casual vacancy, Mo, and it could make all the difference."
"We've got a...?" asked Maureen, frightened that she might have missed something crucial.
"Casual vacancy," repeated Howard. "What you call it when a council seat becomes vacant through a death. Proper term," he said pedagogically.
(JK Rowling, The Casual Vacancy)
It was also perhaps an attempt by JK to show that her life hasn't always been that of a multi-millionaire; she was once "poor". But we knew this already; it's well documented, however little she likes interviews. And then we have also been to the Elephant Cafe on George VI Bridge in Edinburgh, where JK apparently wrote much of the first draft of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone. She may well have been a single parent living on benefits, but the cafe where she was "forced to write" to save money on heating bills is far from the seedy, godforsaken greasy spoon the image conjures up. The Elephant Cafe has deep red walls, serves delicious mains, cakes, tray bakes and herbal teas, and has a hot chocolate cocktail menu and a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle from its back room. So (since she has never resorted to use of Class A drugs) I don't believe that JK has ever stooped to the sad life of Krystal Weedon and her family. If she had, she might not have given Krystal such a puerile name.
After two episodes, I am finding the television version is equally depressing (and know that there is worse still to come), but it has highlighted the touches of (rather black) humour in the book and these make it a tad more bearable. Some characters or character traits and some unpleasant incidents have been left out to condense the rather wordy novel into three one-hour episodes. But the GP's husband is now a plastic rather than a heart surgeon, presumably to make him less likeable too.
The storyline concerns the election of a replacement councillor in the town of Pagford after the death of one of its members, Barry Fairbrother, creates a "casual vacancy". The three rival candidates are (1) the rather wet and malleable son of the larger-than-life council leader, (2) a neurotic asthmatic school teacher, and (3) the abusive half-brother of the man who died. They all have secrets and motives, none of them are happily married, and they all have what they see as problem children, who are really just teenagers being teenagers. (They just don't play Quidditch or save the world from people who cannot be named.) It's a battle between the town delicatessen and the community centre's methadone clinic. It's about posh folk trying to open a hotel and luxury spa in the medieval manor that houses the community centre and therewith keep the town's undesirable council estate, The Fields, further "afield". (The hotel appears to be a further diversion from the novel, where Howard's aim is simply to move the Parish boundary.) An unknown blogger claiming to be the ghost of Barry Fairbrother exposes all the candidates' darker sides in turn, wreaking havoc and leading to serious consequences.
The Chair of the Parish Council and First Citizen of Pagford, Howard Mollison, is played by Michael Gambon. Gambon of course played Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films after the death of Richard Harris. Despite his respectable position, Howard has none of the gravitas of Dumbledore (though none of the pure evil of Voldemort either), and runs a delicatessen in the market square. He is building up a foodie empire throughout Pagford by opening a new cafe and wine merchant's. He loves his food and ignores any health warnings attached to it, despite already having cardiac issues. He is wealthy and not ashamed to flaunt his financial success or use it against others.
Now, I once thought I would quite like to run a delicatessen, or more specifically a cheese, wine and chocolate shop, otherwise known as Maison de Migraines. I think this has more to do with me wanting to sit and consume cheese, wine and chocolate all day long rather than having a serious desire to run my own business, manage my own ordering and accounts, stay solvent and be on my feet from dawn to dusk serving impatient customers. Customers who don't know their Stilton from their Stinking Bishop or their Malbec from their Merlot. Rather like the customers my brother used to serve in a bookshop who would come in and say "I'm looking for a book. I don't know who it's by or what it's called, but it's green." You can see why the owner of our local deli in York has a reputation for grumpiness.
But I do love my cheese. One of our wedding cakes was made of cheese, and the other of pure unadulterated chocolate. I would rather have good food than possessions. That's just how I am.
|Cheese wedding cake|
|Unadulterated chocolate (with figs)|
|A model Cotswolds village in a model Cotswolds village|
(with thanks to Jane Goodwin)