(Er, yes, that's it! And thanks to my 'archivist', JK, who reminded me of it and Andra who sent it in the first place. Just click on it and be made happy - instantly!)
(Er, yes, that's it! And thanks to my 'archivist', JK, who reminded me of it and Andra who sent it in the first place. Just click on it and be made happy - instantly!)
To be clear, I am referring to the late Christopher Hitchens and also to the now equally late Gunter Grass, Germany's pride and joy - sort of! Herr Grass spent sixty years of his post WWII life pontificating on how it was the duty of all adult Germans to come clean about their lives and actions during Hitler's regime. He, himself, spent most of his adult time writing books which, with their anti-Nazi message, charmed the liberal elite and eventually led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. He spent most of his life espousing Left-wing causes and prating about the 'crime' of so many Germans failing to be honest about their personal histories and in particular not telling their children what they had done and why. It was assumed, of course, that Grass, himself, was too young to have been any sort of participant in Nazi activities.
So it was a bit of a shock when, in 2006, this German humbug owned up to the fact that in 1944 he had joined the Waffen-SS and fought as a tank gunner with the 10th Panzer Frundsberg Division until he was captured by the Americans in May 1945. Of course, he was only 17 when he was called up but it is also worth noting that previous to that he had volunteered for the German submarine service. Well, so far, so normal, for Germans of his age and older struggling to come to terms with a history which was all too real to them. However, the vast majority of them simply kept 'schtum' as they tried, in the privacy of their consciences, to reconcile personal actions with massive political forces. Grass's confession after decades of moralising went down like the proverbial Scheisse sandwich!
On the news breaking, Christopher Hitchens, who it would appear was just waiting for an excuse to beat Grass up with a lead-filled bratworst, let him have it in the pages of Slate magazine. This, perhaps, gives you the flavour of Hitchens' view of Gunter Grass:
For all this, one was never able to suppress the slight feeling that the author of The Tin Drum was something of a bigmouth and a fraud, and also something of a hypocrite. He was one of those whom Gore Vidal might have had in mind when he referred to the high horse, always tethered conveniently nearby, which the writer/rider could mount at any moment. Seldom did Grass miss a chance to be lofty and morally stern. But between the pony and the horse, between the stirrup and the ground, there stood (and stands) a calculating opportunist.
Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeees, quite so!
I am grateful to my e-pal and regular commenter, Ortega, for pointing me to this story in The Mail which somehow I missed. It concerns a diorama of the battle of Waterloo which was constructed in the early '70s before the age of cgi-effects. It shows the field at Waterloo and illustrates the five main actions that took place although, of course, in real-life they took place at different times of the day.
This amazing model is on display at the museum of the Green Jackets regiment in Winchester thanks to a truly dedicated couple, Kelvin and Mary Thatcher, who undertook the massive task of cleaning it up and repairing the ravages of time, and now they have finished their painstaking work it's back to its glorious original state.
From these pictures you can gain some idea of the monumental task they set for themselves. There are 21,500 soldiers and 10,000 horses on the 25m/sq table.
The oddity is that despite all the sophistication of modern cgi-effects, this rather quaint, old-fashioned diorama with its tiny model soldiers, horses and guns is actually ten times more compelling to see. You really do get a 'feel' for the battle. The Green Jackets museum is in the old barracks at the top of Winchester and should you find yourself in the town I recommend a visit - particularly if you have 'kiddie-winkies' in tow!
Hougoumont - holding out to the end.
Apparently this shows two British soldiers trying to sneak off with the Regimental gin ration - surely not!
This shows poor old Gen. Ponsoby meeting his end at the hands, or rather the lances of the famous Polish Lancers. Sorry, General, but you should have controlled your head-long charge!
A small oasis of calm on the edge of the battlefield.
For anyone travelling to the West Country, Winchester is a super place to break your journey. Apart from the magnificent cathedral you now have this fascinating diorama to visit.
Thanks, Ortega, for the link.
[Sorry, sorry, I started this post first thing this morning but the sun kept shining and the temperatures kept rising and so, ignoring the complaints of the neighbours who simply don't know a good thing when they see it, I stripped to the waist and wearing my shorts, I began planting my garden - all five square feet of it! Hence the 'blogitis interruptus'!]
It goes without saying, of course, that all the regular readers of this distinguished blog are ladies and gentlemen of impeccable taste and discernment but, come on, people, 'fess up and admit that back in the'80s you all watched "Dallas". I didn't, of course, because, as I recounted the other day, I was always engrossed in my books on 'ekonomiks and flosophy'. Unfortunately, despite my complaints, the 'Memsahib' insisted on having the TV on to watch it every week so, shrug, what's a body to do but go along with it? Needless to say she was right and I was wrong, so no change there, then, because the series was total tosh - but terrific tosh! As 'our Will' discovered with Richard III, you can always push a relatively second-rate play up the popularity polls if you can invent a truly evil but witty villain. 'JR', played superbly by the late Larry Hagman, was just such a charming but deadly 'baddie'.
Richard III Larry Hagman as 'JR'
But alas for writers of all eras, including 'our Will', no matter how wicked their plots, 'True Life' comes along and shows them there is nothing new under the sun. Thus, as regular readers of the Lafayette Advertiser - er, you are regular readers of that distinguished Louisiana paper of record, I trust! - will know already, a cruel family crime has taken place involving what looks like fraternal hatred.
The story involves two brothers who were co-directors of a company founded by their parents called Knight Oil Tools. Last June, the younger brother, Bryan Knight, was arrested following a police stop and search on his car which produced two magnetic tins hidden under the bodywork and containing a large stash of illegal drugs. However, in December the case was dismissed and now the plot really sickens thickens. Now, it is the elder brother, Mark Knight, who stands accused of bribing a company employee and two policemen with over $100k to plant the drugs under his brother's car.
I can't wait to see the next episode and if Larry Hagman makes an appearance I will be delighted - yes, yes, I know he's dead but that man is capable of anything!
Actually, in this house what you hear a lot of between 6.00 and 7.00pm, Monday to Friday, is a stream of ungentlemanly moans and groans and grumps because, just as I sit down to my supper, the 'Memsahib' insists on having Murder She Wrote on the TV. Yeeeeeeeees, quite! Did you know that the series ran for 12 years and a total of 264 episodes - 264!!!! Oh my Gaaaaaaard!
Anyway, there I am trapped between my desire for grub and my loathing for Murder She Wrote which features, of course, the amateur detective, Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury. In every episode I quietly pray for the arrival of a maniacal axe murderer who will execute every single person 'living' in Cabot Cove, the fictional New England village where-in the series is mainly set.
Truth be told, even if it is through gritted teeth, the series is mostly very professionally written, acted and directed but Angela Lansbury is the pillar that holds it all up. So, not just on behalf of the 'Memsahib', I am forced to get to my feet and applaud the lady for winning an Olivier Award last night for her performance on the London stage in Noel Coward's play Blithe Spirit - at the age of 89!
Jolly well done, Jessica, er, sorry, I mean Angela. I just wish I possessed a fraction of your skill and professionalism, you are, in the very best sense of the phrase, 'a real trouper'!
"That there's some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever ..." filled with the bones of a psychotic sex maniac who could have shagged for Britain at the Olympics! Yes, I'm afraid that is Rupert Brooke, the poet who penned arguably the most patriotic poem since Shakespeare wrote Henry V's speech upon St. Crispian's day. According to Nigel Jones, a biographer of Brooke, in today's Daily Mail, the man was a raving 'shagaholic' and either sex would do! I know, I know, how one's illusions are shattered.
He was a lot more than that, though. Brooke’s fevered letters to his lovers and friends reveal a tormented mind which, in stark contrast to his Greek god looks and seemingly straightforward personality, descend into the dark depths of a sick hatred of women, anti-Semitism and sometimes sheer madness.
He was, of course, on the fringes of what would be known as the 'Bloomsbury set' which included such worthies as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and John Keynes, another multiple 'shagger'. I'm no expert but one is forced to ask if there was a single member of the Bloomsbury set who wasn't 'away with the fairies' - in the full sense of that phrase!
One particularly interesting item in the article, well, it's interesting if like me you have a fondness for esoterica, is that one of Brooke's 'shagees', so to speak, was the Irish actress Cathleen Nesbit who, much later at the age of 86, would star with Gene Hackman in the film 'French Connection II'. 'Nottalotta people know that!' so you could confirm your reputation as an 'A1 crasher' by dropping that into the conversation at your next dinner party.
Amongst his other conquests was a cousin of Laurence Olivier and the daughter of the then Duke of Wellington. Where he found the time - and energy - to write poetry I have no idea. Perhaps, on the whole, it was better that he died young and somewhat obscurely on a hospital ship in 1915 whilst on his way to Gallipoli.
However, I am delighted to be able to tell you that, indeed, there is "honey still for tea" at the Old Vicarage, Grantchester but you will need to be awfully good chums with Jeffrey Archer to get a taste. Yeeeeeeeeees, quite!
Not too much time now because I am under orders to get this pig sty garret of mine cleared-up, tidied-up, cleaned-up, hoovered-up and polished despite my whining complaints that if I do all that I will never find anything ever again!
Anyway, whilst I slave away here I would like to urge you all to read an excellent essay on the subject of the late and very great Peggy Lee by Terry Teachout at Commentary. He places her up alongside Sinatra and even though I don't know the difference between a crotchet and a quaver I would agree with him. I particularly liked the way, according to Mr. Teachout's article, that she dealt with noisy audiences in the clubs she worked as a young singer. Instead of trying to sing louder to get above the noise as most new singers did, she sang softer and gradually the audience quietened in order to listen to her. Smart girl and it seemed to stay with her because her rendition of songs always seemed to have an intimate, one-on-one feel to them, as though she was just singing for you.
An excellent article and well worth reading.
I'm sure I have mentioned before that my garden is the size of a postage stamp - thank God! - and that most of it is taken up by a patio - well, I'm not daft! - but I don't want you all thinking that I am unappreciative of nature at work. As part of my programme for extending my green credentials I feed the birds. It's true, unfortunately, that I have quite possibly the most boring-snoring set of birds anywhere consisting as it does of blackbirds, chaffinches, collar doves and - dammit - the biggest, fattest, most waddly set of 'flying pigs' anywhere, aka, wood pidgeons. I wage a never-ending war against the latter because they are forcing up the bird seed bill in excess of our household food bill! To be fair, I do have occasional visits from robins and tits but basically it is 'blackies', 'chaffies' and 'luvvie-dovies'.
Sitting in my semi-conservatory on constant guard duty against incoming pidgeons I have become a sort of latter-day Charles Darwin when he spent all that time holidaying working on the Galapagos Islands watching his finches. Studying the behavior of 'my' birds it is now quite clear that they are entirely driven by the four Fs. They are, in no order of priority: Fighting, Fucking, Fleeing and Feeding. So not too different from us humans, really! I'm wondering whether my very astute and learn-ed observations would gain me entry into the Royal Society and, with a bit of luck, a holiday in the Galapagos Islands.
Oh, take that as a 'no', shall I?
By which I mean that this post is not for 'kiddie-winkies' or those of a nervous disposition, and this blog refuses all responsibility if, after viewing, you require the services of a psycho-babbler or a constant supply of Prozac. If you need to sue some one then allow me to point you at my regular commenter, 'BOE', who in a thread to my post on that well-known old-age-pensioner, 'Madonna', he left the following cryptic comment which I can only describe as Arkansian:
Just look at blazingcatfur for a lovely pocture of the next US president!
Flummoxed because there was no link, nevertheless, I deployed my considerable brain, trained in its day by Army Intelligence (taps side of nose and winks!), to my computer-thingie and looked up blazingcatfur which turned out not to be anything to do with red-hot pussy fur but a news blog - pity! Anyway, dutifully I scrolled down and ... you will have to excuse me for a moment because I really must take another six Prozac tablets ... I came across this which was, I assume, BOE's reference:
Yes indeed, "The horror, the horror!" Of course, this blog would never countenance being rude to grandmothers, well, at least not before raising our hat first, although I admit my previous post on that raddled old 'tranny-granny' Madonna did contain some impertinences but, and this is crucial, they were not my words but someone else's. Anyway, to cheer you up and make amends, here is a picture of Granny Madonna stroking her pussy. (Sorry? What? Eh? What did I say? . . .)
And here she is in semi-religious mode thinking hard about her zillions of fans:
And be honest, don't you wish your Grandmother looked like this:
Well, if all that is far too stimulating for you then let us return to the graceful beaty of the POTUS-in-waiting as here she describes Bill's pecker, er, that's a baby woodpecker that nests in the trees surrounding the multi-zillion dollar home she was forced to retire to when she was "dead broke".
And here she is playfully mimicking Nancy Pelosi, another glamorous Democrat lady, well, sort of lady:
Of course, Nancy is one of America's favourite Grandmas and why wouldn't she be given that she is nearly 107 years of age although some unprincipled rat bags have hinted that she has been in receipt of treatment from surgical friends:
Alas, sometimes the treatments did not entirely succeed but as they say 'over there' with admirable stoicism, "Shit happens!"
She should call in Steven Spielberg from Hollywood, his make-up boys would solve her problem. After all, they rescued Victoria Beckham from that dreadful E.T. look she once went in for:
Victoria Beckham E.T.
Well, to be honest, I have rather lost the thread of this, er, thread. All these gorgeous grannies have left me in a rather over-excited condition, more Prozac, methinks and then a little nap!
Now, now, don't start popping the champers, I don't mean that I am giving up blogging, oh dear me, no, I'm much too much of an old bore to do that, all I mean is that I am giving up trying to be rude to people. Ever since I served my apprenticeship on various Trot-lot blogs years ago I developed what I think is a rather good, vicious, underhand line in how to insult people. But today, at Taki's Mag, I have met my match in Mr. Jim Goad who is Goad by name and exceedingly goading by nature!
Of course, by and large, being an old-school, British gent I tend to draw the line at bashing old ladies, or to be accurate, at least I try to raise my hat before doing so. But not Mr. Goad! He picks out a dear, sweet, old lady and proceeds immediately to unleash a bombardment of insults starting with his heading!
Riiiiiight, Mr.Goad, take it that you do not care for the lady overmuch! Well, if we were in doubt he soon settles the matter:
Geriatric whore Madonna, that Italian slut who sucked and fucked her way to the top of the pop charts sometime wayyyyy back in the early 1980s and has been pooping out hits ever since, fell flat on her 56-year-old ass last week during a performance at the Brit Music Awards. This rapidly led to several cruel variations of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” jokes on social media.
Oh, come on, Mr. Goad, don't go all feeble on us, tell us the way it is:
After carefully adjusting her hearing aid, swallowing her water pills, fastening her colostomy bag, and arriving late for an interview on her Rascal Electrical Scooter, Madonna accused her tormentors of engaging in “ageism,” which she likened to racism and homophobia.
Oh my Gaaaaaaaard, as they say 'over there', I'm almost feeling a teensy-weensy bit of pity for Madonna even as she enters a plea in self defence against the excruciating attacks on her but Mr. Goad shows no mercy:
To be fair, the bloated, liver-spotted, stretched-out, rapidly dying hag has a point. The official rules dictate that we are no longer permitted to mock, discriminate against, or tell jokes about anyone due to their “innate” characteristics, with one stark exception—those who are advanced in years.
Pheeeeew, they really don't do subtlety 'over there' but at least you are in no doubt as to what they are thinking!
Last night I went to my cinema complex to see the 'simulcast' of Much Ado About Nothing which the RSC insist on calling Love's Labours Won. The evidence that 'our Will' titled it thus is thinner than a really, really thin thing and so I will call it by its proper title and thus enjoy the sly word play on "Nothing" which in Shakespeare's day sounded like 'noting'. As you all know - er, you do, do you not? - the entire plot depends on people 'noting' things but getting either completely wrong or completely right.
I am now even more convinced that this is the very greatest comedy 'our Will' ever wrote. For a start it has a genuinely threatening black thread running through it which is exactly right in order to set off the comedy. It confirms my view that 'our Will ' might have used romantic love as a ploy in his plays - one thinks of Romeo and Juliet - but he preferred the love between Beatrice and Benedick based as it was on deep knowledge of each other and a shared sense of humour. Yes, they love each other but more important, they like each other. By and large, liking lasts longer than loving!
It was the same company from the RSC who performed Love's Labours Lost about which I drooled a few weeks ago. Based on those two productions the director, Christopher Luscombe, is the new Trevor Nunn - I can put it no higher! The two leads, Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett, are simply superb. But above all, from both productions I had the very strong sense that here was a team of very intelligent, witty and creative people, on stage and off stage, who had combined their talents to produce two master-pieces.
There are bound to be video-thingies of these two productions, probably direct from the RSC, and I do urge you all to treat yourselves to both of them. Shakespeare and the Royal Shakespeare Company at their very best.
The Israelis win again: Yes, sorry, America, but last night I watched the first two episodes of the original Israeli TV series of 'Hostages'. The 'cousins' attempted to remake it but after about four episodes I gave up. However, so far the Israeli version seems pretty good and anyway the lady doctor in it is hotter than the American one. You see, you do need that sort of keen artistic judgment to really grade these things!
This man really could shag for France at the Olympics: Yes indeed and I look forward to the formation of the SKP, the Strauss-Kahn Party - no, no, not that sort of party, I mean political party!
Assuming Dominic Strauss-Kahn gets off all charges which looks likely then I think he would be mad not to run for the Presidency. After all, he'd get every true-blooded Frenchman to vote for him and also, I suspect, ahem, quite a few of the ladies! Vive La France!
In which I help keep Oliver Kamm in style: Well, it's the least I can do, really. I mean, he used to be a City banker but then he fell on hard times and became a scribbler for my ex-best friend, Rupe, and we all know that he only ever pays peanuts even to his leader writers - Rupe begged me to write some leaders for The Times but he never even got close to my fee! Anyway, in an obvious attempt to put some caviar on the table, Oliver has written a book which I will have to buy. It is called:
This is a book I have been waiting for because, according to the reviews, it will make me feel better about my 'Eng. Lang'. This is a subject which has given me severe psychological problems ever since Miss. Woods, Eng. Lit & Lang, circa 1950-55, transfixed me with terror and a feeling of inadequacy as she lasered me through her rimless bi-focals. With Oliver's book, all my phobias will vanish.
However, in case he fails to cover it I have one question for you all. As you know I over-use commas, particularly inverted commas. Normally that's OK but when the object I wish to emphasise in some way by placing it inside inverted commas is itself a possessive word, say, Roger's, then I am flummoxed. Do I write 'Roger's' which seems a bit excessive in the comma department even for me? Or do I write 'Roger's? I dunno - ooops, bad spelling, don't tell Miss Woods, I beg you!
The DUFF: Not to be missed! It's a film, 'stoopid'! And no, I haven't' the faintest idea what it's about because on the Youtube video-thingie the language is incomprehensible. Well, it's spoken, or regurgitated (hey, that word again!), by sundry American teenagers who might as well be speaking Martian for all the sense an elderly British gent like me can make of them. But anyway, with a title like that it's bound to be a huge hit and I'm only surprised that it's not up for an Oscar tonight!
More Eng. Lang. commentary from Dr. Dalrymple: And he's like Oliver Kamm, you would not voluntarily wish to cross him! The good Doctor now writes regularly at Taki's Mag. He's always worth reading and here he is on the subject of written English:
Whether looseness of language is a consequence or a cause of looseness of thought I cannot say. No doubt it is sometimes the one and sometimes the other. Perhaps—to indulge in a little looseness of thought and language of my own—the relationship between them is dialectical. But certainly there is often a hinterland of notions, even an entire world outlook, behind certain loose ways of putting things.
Looking at the Guardian website I noticed two instances of looseness almost straight away. The first was in an article reporting the death of a New York Times columnist, a man called David Carr, in the newspaper’s office. He was a man unknown to me, either personally or through his writing, though a passage of his work quoted in the Guardian’s article, presumably selected as a representative sample of his style and wit, does not encourage me to read much further in his work:
"If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it—that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working."
Oh dear, even I could do better than that but would I want to work for the New York Times? Yes, you can take that as a 'No'!
Do those 'Warmers' ever read each other? Two items from the excellent - and hilarious - Climate Change Predictions site:
Fire strongly influences carbon cycling and storage in boreal forests. In the near term, if global warming occurs, the frequency and intensity of fires in boreal forests are likely to increase significantly.
Eric S. Kasischke and others, Ecological Applications, Vol 5, No 2, (May 1995) pp 437-451
Despite increasing temperatures since the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850) wildfire frequency has decreased as shown in many field studies from North America and Europe. We believe that global warming since 1850 may have triggered decreases in fire frequency in some regions and future warming may even lead to further decreases in fire frequency…
The simulation and fire history results suggest that the impact of global warming on northern forests through forest fires may not be disastrous and that contrary to the expectations of an overall increase in forest fires there may be large regions of the Northern Hemisphere with a reduced fire frequency. M.D. Flanagan and others, Journal of Vegetation Science Vol 9, Issue 4, pages 469 – 476, August 1998
Well, you won't catch me having a picnic in a "boreal forest" - whatever that is?
No more rumbles today
Blessings be upon the 'saintly' head of James Roose-Evans who is, apparently, a priest as well as a theatre director. He deserves a place in heaven for restoring my faith in theatre following the inept production of Arcadia about which I have been moaning and groaning on this blog for the last few days. By brilliant contrast, Mr. Roose-Evans' production of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is simply superb. This is theatre at its very best. You can tell that the director and his team, especially the actors, have worked together so that every move, every gesture, every bit of business, is just so natural and so right. This is a play in which two actors dominate and yet there are five others to play the small roles. Very easy for them to take it easy! But not a bit of it, they all maintained their high levels of energy and concentration. The two leads, Janie Dee and Clive Francis are absolute pros to their fingertips and their performances are terrific. Without make-up changes, Clive Francis in particular seems to age before our eyes simply by his skill in acting.
The play is, or seems to be, a very slight piece, based as it is on the real-life correspondence between Miss Hanff, a 'Noo Yawk' resident struggling to earn a living as a writer, and Frank Doel, the manager of antiquarian bookshop in the Charing Cross Road in the years following WWII. Through letters alone these two, and in the end the entire staff of the shop, build up a deep relationship. Gently but inexorably the play moves to its sad conclusion and despite its absence of histrionics it is intensely moving. Twice I was close to tears.
If this production comes anywhere near you, beg, borrow, steal or murder for a ticket!
Following on from the abysmal production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia of which I saw only half, as I told you in an earlier post, I have been in correspondence with 'a person in authority'. I will not name the person because the correspondence is, so to speak, private, or at least that person's half of it is, so I will confine myself to my half and one or two discrete quotes from the other half. I wrote this:
This production constituted no less than ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, not only on unsuspecting members of the audience but also on poor Sir Tom Stoppard – I mean, what has he ever done to you? It was inaudible, badly acted (Ms. Flora Montgomery an honourable exception) and not so much badly directed as not really directed at all judging from the non-performances I witnessed. I can only urge you to return Ms. Blanche McIntyre to the role of ASM which, based on the little I saw yesterday, is just – but only just – up to her abilities.
I also directed my correspondent's attention to my blog-post review in which, along with virtually everyone I told about it, I snorted in derision at the casting of two black actors in roles which were obviously white. My correspondent replied thus:
I do however, find your view of mixed race casting staggering. Here in the 21st century we don't allocate roles according to colour of skin but on ability to play the part.
There you have it! The living proof that the 'intellectual'(!) metropolitan bubble exists and under no circs will common-sense, artistic judgment or loyalty to a writer's aims be permitted if they cross in the smallest way with what is considered by the PC Commissars to be in line with their 'Dogma-of-the-Day'! I replied thus:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my ‘grump’. My psychiatrist has urged me to bury the memory of your production of ‘Arcadia’ so let us set the pros and cons of it to one side.
I am sorry you were “staggered” by my views on mixed race casting. But given your exemplary and politically correct views on the subject I am equally staggered that the two black chaps were only given the tiniest roles. Bit condescending, don’t you think? Were they what they used to call ‘stat blacks’? So why not a black girl to play the role of Thomasina? Or a Chinese actor to play Septimus? Or an Indian actress to play Lady Croom? [All early 19th century characters and part of an Earl's household.]
In the meantime I await your next production of Three Sisters [by Chekhov] in which each of them will be played by ladies of different ethnicities. But why stop there? Why not let men play the roles, I mean, ladies insist on playing Hamlet, er, despite the sniggers.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the bubble in which these people exist is not metropolitan but Martian! Anyway, I'm off to Salisbury today to see "84 Charing Cross Road". Surely, I mean, please, pretty please, they can't fuck that up too, can they?
And so we bid farewell to Louis Jourdan, resistance fighter and actor who died recently at the grand age of ninety three. I think I only ever saw him in one film but happily it was, in my opinion, one of the greatest and it occupies a place in my Top Ten Favourite Films, er, in which there about 32 films, actually, give or take 10 more - well, I can't make up my mind! But Gigi is definitely in there, a charming and bitter-sweet tale in which I fell in love with Leslie Caron and envied Louis Jourdan his effortless French charm. The story, based on one by Collette, is beautifully filmed with several nods in the direction of the French impressionist painters of old, and Paris never looked so good. The songs were witty and sharp as well as romantic, and the performances simply terrific. I don't know why, because it's none of my business, but I am delighted to find out that in 1945 M. Jourdan married a lady he had met in the resistance and they shared a life together until she died last year.
Farewell, mon brave, and thank you!
Woman's vagina widened: As you regular readers know, this blog prides itself on being totally non-sexist and thus, following my earlier report on penis reduction, I am pleased to tell you, courtesy of The Daily Mail, that a lady has just undergone a vagina enlargement procedure. Sometimes, just sometimes, there are no words . . .
Carry on up the Vistula: This was going to be a deeply serious comment on the dangerous strategic tensions mounting in eastern Europe as news comes through that the left-wing candidate in the forthcoming Polish presidential election has made it clear that she would be prepared to do whatever it takes to improve relations with 'Vlad the Impaler'. As you can see, she is hot! Alas, given that 'Vlad baby' is as queer as a nine bob note, her looks will availeth her naught.
Also, and alas, the fact that her surname translates as 'cucumber' in English reduces me to giggles, as it appears to do to the Polish electorate where so far she has only 5% support. She is, apparently, a part-time actress so just think what those rascals on the "Carry On" films would have made of her and her surname!
'Don't cry for me, Mother Russia': Instead, save your tears for yourself, according to James Jackson at Taki's Magazine. Incidentally, Jackson sounds like an interestin' fella'. His summary of all that is worst in 'Mother Russia' is worth reading.
This about sums it up:
The country remains what it ever has been: a third world state with oil and nukes and a lot of resentment. Gangsterdom reigns. To do business there, you must climb into bed either with the politicians or the mafiya, and relying on protection won’t prevent you being screwed or feeling violated. My twin brother previously had dealings in Moscow and once or twice had meetings with a strange and unappealing government minister named Vladimir Putin. “Everyone sniggered that he had a voice like a woman,” my brother recounts. Perhaps they are not so ready with the laughter now. Incidentally, the charming right-hand man of my sibling ended with several hollow-point rounds in his head. Sad how things turn out.
His final paragraph had me nodding in agreement:
That man [Vlad] has issues. Bare-chested and riding a horse, wrestling a bear, the martial arts poses, the chaperoning of migrating geese from a microlight: perhaps if he just came out of the closet, he would spare himself a great deal of angst and the rest of the world a headache.
Thank God this nutter is 'down under there': But first let me urge you to bookmark a new-ish site called http://climatechangepredictions.org/. On this excellent site you will be able to read many of the ga-ga predictions made by 'Warmers' in previous years. I intend to reprint a few of them from time to time and to start us off, here are the words of an eye-ball swivelling Aussie loony who should be put back on the prison ship on which we Brits originally 'exported' him:
Australia’s Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, believes we must move towards a global ant’s nest, regulated by a global intelligence, and sharing all resources equally. In this world there will be no room for individual choice, individuals will have their specialised roles defined and limited and world population will be massively reduced.
interview 2011- link - – see also BBC News article
The 'Right Hitch' gets it right: I call him the 'Right Hitch' to distinguish him from his late brother who was, for most of his, er, exuberant life, a 'Left Hitch' - but no less interesting and amusing for that! Anyway, brother Peter sums up the source of some of our problems in his usual trenchant style:
After more than 40 years as a journalist at home and abroad, often experiencing history at first hand, I am certain of only one thing – that most people in power are completely clueless about what they are doing.They seldom, if ever, think. They know no history. They are fiercely resistant to any facts that might upset their opinions. They take no trouble to find out what is actually happening.
Step up, Dave 'n' Ed 'n' Nick and take a bow!
Spiral's nearly out of control: I watched the last episode of "Spiral" last night and unfortunately, for the first time, I sensed that the multiple story lines were getting away from the writers and director. Everything was rushed to a (sort of) conclusion, well, I say "sort of" because of course there is another series to come. One thing is for sure, if "Spiral" is even roughly accurate as a description of the French judicial system and the Parisian police force then La France is in trouble!
The 'Kraut' on Obama's non-policy: I would urge you all to read 'The Kraut's' latest essay on the non-policy pursued by Obama in the field of foreign affairs. Whilst I am risking a severe case of lèse-majesté in going against 'The Kraut' I am prepared to defend the President - to a certain extent. I will risk that next week in a full blog post. Until then, nightie-night!
No more rumbles today
Well, they didn't actually but they bloody well should have done! I have just returned - early - from the English Touring Theatre production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. I left at the interval but if I had been sitting in an aisle seat I would have left halfway through the first act. The director, Ms. Blanche McIntyre, should try her hand at directing traffic because based on this production directing actors is obviously beyond her.
It's difficult for me to go into critical detail because it assumes that you know the play which probably not many of you do. Suffice to say that one of the main 'characters' in the play is science, or to be precise, the Second Law and also Chaos Theory. (Fermat's Last Theorem also makes an appearance but only as a running gag - and yes, Stoppard is witty enough to make you laugh at such an abstruse subject!) But the first two, Chaos Theory and the Second Law are amongst the most fundamental and exciting theories in all of science. Yes, they're difficult to grasp in detail but Stoppard writes some terrific dialogue which if delivered in the right way will get across to an unscientific audience their general principles and their huge cosmological importance.
Ah yes, 'delivery', and like all other plays, everything depends on delivery which in this case we did not get! They all rattled off their dialogue at the speed of machine guns which gave the audience no chance to grasp the tricky concepts with which this play is concerned. The actor playing the young maths swot whose job it was to explain Chaos Theory sat throughout that particular scene at one end of a table facing across stage to the actress facing him so he had no chance to move, to hesitate, to point up certain facts and to show that the subject whilst difficult was also incredibly exciting. The fact that he, like virtually all the rest of the cast, was incapable of throwing his voice clearly to the back of the auditorium (where I was sitting - fuming!) meant that the stage-hands off stage left might have heard every word but I didn't!
I felt sorry for Dakota Blue Richards(!), the actress playing the key role of Thomasina Coverly, a character who starts the play on the eve of her 14th birthday. It's not Dakota's fault that she has such a dopey name but her daft parents deserve a slap! But anyway, she made no attempt to act the part of a 13-year-old girl. She looked and she sounded and she moved like a modern young woman. What Ms. Blanche 'Blind-as-a-bat' McIntyre was doing during rehearsals I do not know but directing she was not! Part of the emotional impetus of this play is that we see Thomasina as a very young girl in the first half but in the second she is on the cusp of her 17th birthday and is now a young woman and on the edge of falling love with her tutor. Thus, the contrast in ages is critical. Of course, in line with most of her fellow actors you couldn't hear much of what she said so the absence of any sort of 'body language' didn't help.
Finally - because I could go on and on and on - there was the final piece of contemporary political correctness which saw two black actors playing roles which are indubitably white. Sorry chaps, actually as actors you weren't too bad compared to some of the others but despite what The Guardian might tell you, black is black and white is white and you two stuck out like sore thumbs!
The only unalloyed pleasure I drew from this dreadful production as it slowly murdered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century was that as an amateur actor/director I need never take snooty condescension from professionals.
I am writing this late on Friday to warn you that tomorrow this blog will fall silent because I am taking the 'Memsahib' to Bath for a combined shopping (dread thought!), lunch (ah, that's better!) and theatre visit (excellent!) so posting will be minimal to nil. We are going to see one of my very favourite plays, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and as I know it backwards, forwards and sideways, having directed it myself, it had better be bloody excellent or there will be ructions in the Dress Circle! I shall return to these distinguished columns on Sunday.
And so off we tootled last night to our local cinema complex to a see a 'simulcast' of the current RSC production of Love's Labour's Lost which is running in tandem with 'Love's Labour's Won' (or Much Ado About Nothing as it is more usually known). Within minutes I wanted to vomit! No, no, not from disgust but from that "green-eyed monster" - jealousy! The set was magnificent, designed in impeccable detail by Simon Higlett, and no expense had been spared. Of course, it was my money the RSC spent, well, and yours too unless you're shrewd enough to stick your dosh in a Swiss bank account, but I didn't mind because the end result, with different sets sliding in from the back, from the sides and even up through the stage, was simply theatrical excellence at its very best. My nausea arose when I looked back on the sets I had to work with which cost about £300 max!
The production was directed by Christopher Luscombe, a new name to me although he has a long and distinguished theatrical record as an actor and director. He set the play, as others before him have done, in Edwardian England and simply ignored the fact that it is actually set in France! But Mr. Luscombe is shrewd enough to know that 'our Will' set several of his plays in various parts of Europe but they are always and forever about England or London! This is an early Shakespeare and frankly it is a conceit! 'Our Will' had arrived in London as a 'wannabe' playwright and found almost instant success. He was the 'new kid on the block' having written some popular successes featuring blood and guts, or blood and patriotism, to keep the groundlings happy. But this play was aimed at the young bucks in his audience. The type of well-educated young gentlemen who, for example, hung around with the equally young Earl of Southampton who was to be such a help to 'our Will' when times were hard. In an age without any mass media of any type, these wags and wits loved word-play particularly when it was constrained by the iambic pentameter form.
This play, featuring four young men of noble birth making total asses of themselves as they attempt to woo four ladies who instantly see through all their nonsense, is jam-packed full of wit and puns but if the slightly archaic language passes over your 21st century head then Mr. Luscombe's production points up the meanings and adds to the hilarity with some terrific comedy business. He really is a very, very good director and he is blessed on this occasion with an equally excellent cast. Well, if you missed it in your local cinema last night - tough! However, you can see it's 'sister' play, Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing) in cinemas - around the world! - on the 4th of March - book now!
Only one thing jarred slightly last night. In the play, three of the four ladies are the Elizabethan ideals of beauty being of fair complexion - like the real, red-headed Queen, herself. But one of them, Rosaline, is dark and she is the one fancied by our 'hero', Berowne, a very witty, handsome, young man with great skill in word-play - I wonder who Shakespeare had in mind when he invented that character?! Anyway, he instantly falls for the dark Rosaline and it's worth noting that when this play was written 'our Will' was being "a very naughty boy" with Emilia Lanier (née Bassano), a lady of Italian and possibly Jewish descent who was to become the "dark lady of the sonnets". Anyway, Berowne's three pals tease him like mad for fancying this dark complexioned lady - not Negroid, mind, just dark - but he defends his choice with passion. Now, for some reason the actress playing Rosaline was not dark and the entire passage concerning her looks was cut. I do hope it wasn't political correctness that made Mr. Luscombe lose his nerve! Here is the text, I leave you to judge whether it is acceptable in this, er, 'delicate' age we live in!
By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.
Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
A wife of such wood were felicity.
O, who can give an oath? where is a book?
That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
If that she learn not of her eye to look:
No face is fair that is not full so black.
O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons and the suit of night;
And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well.
Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light.
O, if in black my lady's brows be deck'd,
It mourns that painting and usurping hair
Should ravish doters with a false aspect;
And therefore is she born to make black fair.
Her favour turns the fashion of the days,
For native blood is counted painting now;
And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise,
Paints itself black, to imitate her brow.
To look like her are chimney-sweepers black.
And since her time are colliers counted bright.
And Ethiopes of their sweet complexion crack.
Dark needs no candles now, for dark is light.
Your mistresses dare never come in rain,
For fear their colours should be wash'd away.
'Twere good, yours did; for, sir, to tell you plain,
I'll find a fairer face not wash'd to-day.
I'll prove her fair, or talk till doomsday here.
No devil will fright thee then so much as she.
I never knew man hold vile stuff so dear.
Look, here's thy love: my foot and her face see.
O, if the streets were paved with thine eyes,
Her feet were much too dainty for such tread!
O, vile! then, as she goes, what upward lies
The street should see as she walk'd overhead.
And yes, apropos those last two lines, a bit of filth always had both groundlings and toffs rolling in the aisles. He knew his audience, did 'our Will'!
From a former radio operator: Yes indeed, that was one of my jobs in the army but I have been a radio fan since I was about five! Of course, prior to TV, radio was the most immediate mass media available and the habit of listening to it became ingrained. I have remained a radio fan even to the extent of going to bed with an ear-piece shoved in one ear tuned either to 'TOOOOORKSPOOOOORT' or BBC Five Live. The former frequently bores me which helps me to drop off, and the second frequently infuriates me (well, it's the BBC, isn't it?) but either way I just like to hear speaking voices. In the last few days the annual radio ratings figures came out and both of my favourite stations lost listeners. Is it anything to do with me being a regular, I ask myself? Gillian Reynolds in The Telegraph comments on the statistics and offers some shrewd commentary, not the least of which is that most regular radio listeners are small 'c' conservatives who do not like sudden, wholesale changes to schedules they have grown used to. Keen, young, whipper-snapper radio-controllers please take note!
Vive Marine! Well, if not three cheers for the lady likely to be the next president of France then let's give her one and a half based on the report of her speech to the Oxford Union a few days ago by young Miss Carola Binney for The Coffee House. Mde. le Pen seems eminently sensible in much of what she says even if she might have difficulty spelling the word 'economics'! Also, I can't help feeling that "she should have gone to Specsavers" given that she lives in a disaster area brought about by government control of trade and industry and yet she wants more of it. Incroyable!
Jack bananas: Actually, I refer to Mr. Jack White and no, me neither! Apparently he is a pop singer who recently appeared at the University of Oklahoma, a state where-in, I am reliably informed, "the grass is as high as an elephant's eye" ... now where was I? Oh yes, the student body of Oklahoma University are all 'very naughty boys' - and girls, I assume - because they laid hands on a copy of Mr. White's demands prior to his concert performance in which he insisted that a dish of guacamole be made to his own special recipe. In addition, he insisted on a contractual proviso that there be absolutely no bananas anywhere in the building. The man is obviously a raving 'banana-ist' of the very worst sort. I mean, what have bananas ever done to him? The Daily Mail has the details if you're not sleeping well!
'Dim' Dave was not invited to the party: And a jolly good thing, too! At least the 'Kaiserin' has a dog in the Ukrainian fight given the very close relations between Germany and Russia; and little Hollande is fulfilling the traditional purpose of French presidents by trotting along behind Germany like a French poodle. We have an interest in the outcome but it is a very detached interest. Alas, young 'Dave' can't be trusted not to get over-excited if he is invited to a grown-up's party so it is very much better that he stays at home and watches from a distance.
Don't wound your enemy, kill him! As Seth Mandel points out in the twinned stories of Scott Walker and Elizabeth 'Fauxcahontus' Warren, it is not a good idea to simply attack and wound a political opponent. By doing so you merely arouse national publicity for them which leads to national support. Gov. Walker was set upon by his local public service unions and the wilder fringe of the Democratic Party and this has brought him a huge influx of donations from the really 'Big Spenders' to tens of thousands of small but admiring supporters. He is now well 'moneyed-up' to run a serious campaign for the presidential nomination. Similarly, the Republicans attacked 'Fauxcahontus' and stopped her from becoming the Chief Exec of some ghastly government quango dreamed up by the Democrats. She promptly decided to run for Congress and on the back of revitalised and sympathetic Democrat support she won - beating a much fancied Republican. So, kill them, then drive a stake through their hearts, then quarter them and burn the bits - er, metaphorically speaking, of course!
In the meantime, 'down under there': All is confusion! Prime Minister Abbott appears to have have upset just about every one including his own political party many of whom want his head. Pending informative and highly analytical views from my Aussie correspondents, Andra and 'AussieD' I am at a loss. However, the Spectator Australia, whilst not wholly denying Mr. Abbott's failings, points out that none of the possible usurpers show the slightest ability to do any better than him. Bring back Julia Gillard? Oh no, say it ain't so!
No more rumbles today
No, no, I don't mean the rifle, I mean the film! In fact, I left early, the first time I have walked out of a film for decades. It was eye-stabbingly tedious throughout, and that included the action scenes, and in places it produced snorts of derision from me. (Well, I mean, chatting to the wife on the 'phone whilst on duty as a covert sniper on a rooftop in the middle of a hostile town?) I blame 'Clint-baby'! But where to start ... ?
Films and plays are an art form. In other words, a writer/director stretches reality, sometimes to the level of unreality, in order not just to show a literal 'truth' but to uncover a greater hidden 'truth'. From what I saw, 'Clint-baby' failed even to attempt such artifice. Well, he's been around films long enough and so I can only assume that the decision was deliberate. It's interesting, and perhaps indicative, that he has made his acting reputation playing silent, moody he-men of the 'a man has to do what a man has to do' type. They worked extremely well but, of course, these films being fiction were laced with artifice which made their potentially boring heroes more interesting. I regret to say that 'Sniper' Kyle in this film could have saved his ammo and simply bored his enemies to death!
As portrayed, and confirmed by people who knew him, Chris Kyle was a man of very few words. Such words as he did utter were only a level or two above the sort of grunts and clicks you would expect to hear from a Kalahari bushman. Now it is possible that the late Mr.Kyle had some interesting thoughts but was simply unable to express them and the script-writers remained true to the man's memory. However, fairly soon into the film, I began to suspect that he had nothing much to say because he didn't actually think much about anything. In fact, I rapidly came to the conclusion that he was as thick as a plank! At this point, another suspicion wormed its way into my head which indicated that perhaps 'Clint-baby' was far more perceptive and subversive than I had given him credit for. I will explain that later.
At this point I must risk upsetting my American friends by owning up to the fact that much as I admire and like most aspects of 'Americana' there are certain types of behaviour that graunch against my old-fashioned (antediluvian?) Englishness. All that 'rar-ra-ra', macho, muscle-pumping patriotism as demonstrated by the American military in this film turned me right off. Shut up and THINK!, was what I kept muttering under my breath. But no-one in this film was thinking, they were all just 'doing what a man has to do' and all that crap! There was one exception (in the first half that I saw) and that was slipped in and could easily have been missed. By accident, Kyle bumps into his young brother who has served a tour and is on his way out. He obviously has been thinking and has come to the correct conclusion that the whole shit-circus is a waste of blood and treasure, although, true to the Kyle family's inability to match words with thoughts, he can't express it very clearly.
This brings me back to 'Clint-baby's sly subversiveness, if that is what it was. The action scenes in and around some wreck of a town in Iraq looked very realistic. There was an enormous amount of death and destruction going on and even after twenty minutes I was thinking to myself what a complete waste of time and effort and blood this all is because it obvious that nothing - zero, zilch, nada - is being achieved. That was exactly the same feeling that crept up on me some years back when Ross Kemp went in with a TV film crew to record 3 Para defending some crappy, horrible village in Helmand. Yes, they fought bravely - as did the Taleban - but at the end of it all nothing was achieved.
So my question is, was 'Clint-baby' being deliberately subversive? Was the message of this film that thick, muscle-bound but unbelievably courageous men like Chris Kyle were too precious to be thrown away on the scrap heap of a useless war by politicians and generals not fit to clean their boots? I don't know the answer to that because I didn't see the whole film. Perhaps someone else who did will put me right.
I haven't indulged in a Sunday Rumble for a while and as I have a few household tasks to execute today it will suit me to just pop up the stairs from time to time and, as it were, 'rumble' (or perhaps 'grumble' might be more accurate) rather than compose one of my usual elegant, thoughtful and carefully composed posts - and don't think I didn't hear that!
'And then they came for the generals': And about bloody time, too! According to The Telegraph, there are plans afoot to cut about a third of the colonels, brigadiers and generals in the army. Needless to say, the chances are that they will cut the wrong third by aiming at the brightest and the best, or 'the awkward squad', as original thinkers are usually known. However, as there are also plans to cut another 20,000 soldiers, then it may not matter much because it is now clear that the British army has reverted to being solely a home defence force. And about bloody time, too!
And here's why the generals must go: My pal and regular commenter, Richard, tipped me off a few days ago that there was a book coming out written by a general who had served in that most dangerous of environments - the Ministry of Defence! The book is now published and was reviewed in The Spectator:
High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Christopher L. Elliott Hurst
In essence, I gather (I haven't read the book yet), he suggests that in future our military chiefs should be less docile and instead stand up to the daft notions of politicians and senior civil servants. In other words, "No, minister" not "Yes, minister"!
'Mamade' should be renamed: Probably most of you MCPs have never heard of 'Mamade' but, alas, this broken-backed, domestic wimp has been forced to learn the hardway.
On the grounds that I am far and away the main consumer of marmalade in this house it was decided by the 'Central Committee' that I should make the bloody stuff! There was no way in which I could, so to speak, start the process from scratch with a sack of oranges so I take the relatively easy way out and use tins of 'Mamade'. It's all a bit of a bore because you have stand around for ages constantly stirring the mixture but, so long as you get the timing right - yes, 'as in sex and drumming'! - the end result is rather good. Of course, the world is full of as many marmalade bores as there are wine bores and dry martini - oooooops! - bores. They would sneer at the ultra sweetness of Mamade - 4lbs of sugar! - and the fact that it doesn't have orange peel an inch thick but I don't care - I love it and this morning, without being nagged, I made another batch. God I'm good!
The Greeks still don't get it: Since my visit last year to the island of Rhodes my liking for Greeks has risen to devotion! Even so, they all seem to be as thick as the pillars of the Acropolis! Peter Oborne in The Telegraph points out that the favourite in today's election, the Syriza party, makes our 'Kipper' party look rather sensible. The Syriza leader is simply promising the Greek people anything and everything even if they are all contradictory. Should he win, he and his fellow Greeks will almost certainly get nothing except more hardship and misery. At that point we, and the Greeks, will find out if he means what he says about pulling out of the EU. Mind you, one can understand his loony stance because acording to all reports, whilst the Greeks loathe the EU set-up and over-rule, in effect, by Germany - they love the euro! Hardly any of them, bar one tiny Left-wing party, are in favour of ditching the euro and returning to the drachma. And that, of course, is their only real way of climbing out of the disaster they find themselves in.
'Greater love hath no man ...': Than that he give up his chance to watch episodes 5 and 6 of "Spiral", featuring the two sexiest women on television, so that his wife can watch yet another boring-snoring Foyle's War story. But that's what I did last night so this afternoon I'm off downstairs to catch up, courtesy of my 'do-flicker-recording-thingie', assuming I can get it to work!
A near catastrophe: So, off I tootled downstairs, settled myself into my armchair, clicked around with my 'do-flicker-thingie' and then - SHLOCK-HORROR! - discovered that I had failed to record 'Spiral'. How could I have been so lax - well, obviously it was all the Memsahib's fault, I'm not exactly sure how but it must have been! Fortunately for her, before my wailing and sobbing reached too much of a crescendo, she quietly mentioned something called i-player - no, me neither. But with a few helpful hints from her I discovered that you can replay any missed TV items on your computer screen - 'waddya mean ya noo already'! Nobody told me. Anyway, fortunately I possess a larger than normal computer screen so I was able to watch my two episodes very clearly and comfortably up here in my garret. I may never descend to the servants' quarters on the lower floors ever again - er, well, except at meal times, of course!
No more rumbles.
It's not often I offer you long-suffering readers a musical introduction to one of my blog bores blog posts but today I give you one of the truly great popular songs performed by one of the very greatest popular singers. Before you read further, just click on this YouTube link, turn up the sound, sit back - and enjoy. It is the musical equivalent of a seriously dry Dry Martini:
Not that you need it, given the clarity of her diction, but below is the actual lyric:
"Is That All There Is?"
(originally by Dan Daniels)
You regulars might have notice a certain amount of erraticism (is that a real word?) around here recently, so, sorry, sorry, sorry but it was those bloody "events, dear boy, events" again. So now, having been 'awol' for a while, I have been forced to smooch around OPBs (Other People's Blogs) to seek grist for my mill and as always Waka Waka Waka (sole prop: Malcolm Pollack) always has something of interest and intelligence to read and thus I have stuck with my usual tactic of only nicking from the best!
Malcolm spotted that Piers Morgan had actually written something rather perceptive concerning the film American Sniper. The fact that it was in The Daily Mail, the Memsahib's paper-of-choice and which, therefore, I read daily, and that I had completely missed it gives you some idea of the harrassment I have suffered recently. Now I must confess - I seem to be doing nothing else these days! - that I have been rather rude about Mr. Morgan in the past, not for any particular reason but because everybody else is rude about him. My pal Richard once sent me a quote from another dislikeable man, Stephen Fry, who said: "I thought 'countryside' was the act of killing Piers Morgan." However, it is mostly my American e-pals who complain the hardest and loudest having, as they do, to suffer his TV programmes. To be fair to myself, I did once watch one of his 'sleb' interview shows and I thought - and wrote - at the time that I thought he handled it extremely well.
Anyway, here are a few of his comments on Clint-baby's latest movie:
Kyle was just told to go and do his job; to aim his expert eye through the eye of a high-powered rifle barrel and shoot people – before they shot him or his fellow soldiers.
It’s what snipers are paid to do.
We may not like it because it’s a dirty, horrible, blood-thirsty job.
But then war is a dirty, horrible, blood-thirsty thing. (My brother is a senior officer in the British Army and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I need no lectures on the horrors of battle, nor on the courage of those who serve their country.) The only thing that matters in war is winning, and fighting within the rules including the Geneva convention.
Kyle was an abrasive, uncompromising character. His book, on which the movie is based, is not for the faint-hearted and makes no attempt to pacify those who worship at the altar of political correctness.
He described killing as ‘fun’, admitted ‘I wish I’d killed more’, and said of Iraqis: ‘I hate the damn savages.’
None of which is very nice, but since when did we demand ‘nice’ from our snipers?
If I can manage to see the film I will judge for myself although I am not looking forward to the experience. Even so, Morgan makes some very shrewd points, not least his final lines:
He repeatedly risked his life serving his country in some of the most dangerous terrain on earth. And by doing his job so well, better than anyone in his country’s history, he saved many American lives.
We should reserve our ire for the politicians who ordered him into the war in the first place.
THEY, if you opposed the Iraq War, are the real villains.
HE is a hero. A flawed hero, perhaps, but still a hero.
Well, certainly an exceedingly brave King Lear played last night by the indomitable Brian Blessed (78), according to the Daily Mail critic, Quentin Letts. Poor chap passed out during his opening lines and crashed to the stage in a faint. The dread words "Is there a doctor in the house" had to be uttered and fortunately there was. Apparently Mr. Blessed has a history of heart problems and the worst was feared. But not a bit of it! Twenty minutes later, at his own insistence, he returned to the stage and 'the show went on'! The cast, not unreasonably, were exceedingly nervous, especially the lady playing Goneril, Rosalind Blessed, his real-life daughter.
I have watched Brian Blessed, off and on, since the early '60s when he played one of the coppers in Z Cars. With his huge, booming baritone (bass?) voice he's a grand actor in the old style. When I heard he was playing Lear I guessed that with his tremendous energy he would sail through the early scenes when the old king has, or thinks he has, his full regal powers but, I wondered, how would he cope with the final scenes when a broken Lear is, so to speak, 'reborn' as a gentle, humble supplicant? Well, perhaps on this occasion the gods of theatre helped a very brave actor:
Despite waves of dizziness and such shortness of breath that he rolled his eyes and occasionally clutched his chest, he then resumed what soon became one of the more remarkable and moving renditions of Lear of all time.
Here, indeed, was a ‘poor, weak old man’, as Shakespeare calls Lear, but also a brave and determined stalwart of our English stage. Slowly, step by step, sometimes with a helping hand from his colleagues, often with visible effort, Mr Blessed did battle with his frailty – and won.
Playing King Lear is the theatrical equivalent of running a marathon. Its demands can be judged by the fact that 'our Will' built in a long central passage in the middle of the text during which the old king does not appear because he realised that the actor concerned needs a break before launching into the final passages. No doubt his shade was smiling benignly on Brian Blessed's courage last night.
I must begin by owning up to the fact that I have not seen Clint Eastwood's latest film "American Sniper". I will also confess that I probably will not bother to go and see it at the cinema, and when and if it comes on TV I will hesitate to watch it. My reasons are entirely visceral, not intellectual. There is just something about the trade of being a sniper that makes one hesitate, or at least, it makes me pause. That is not in any way to denigrate their courage. Anyone prepared to go far behind enemy lines and rely on camouflage to play hide and seek must surely have a surfeit of courage. Then to risk that concealment by actually opening fire on the enemy requires even more bravery. And all that before you even consider the tremendous skill required. Accurate rifle shooting over very long distances is a highly specialist task that most soldiers are not up to.
So why am I so reluctant? Well, as some of you know, or suspect, I am not exactly a softy but there is something intensely cold-blooded about sniping. One cringes slightly on learning that WWII snipers were taught that wounding was more efficacious than outright killing because it placed more strain on the enemy's medical services and demoralised the comrades of the disabled man. It is, I think, a similar feeling to that which many people have regarding submarine warfare when undertaken against 'civilian' ships. Although, again, one cannot doubt the incredible courage of the submariners who, during WWII, had to try and sneak through a ring of sub-killing frigates and destroyers. The German submarine service suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any formation in WWII.
Anyway, it appears my soppy reluctance is shared according to a story in thewrap.com which reports something of a backlash from certain quarters against the film which, out on 'Main Street', is breaking all records. It must be said that if even a quarter of what is reported concerning the real-life hero of this film is true then he sounds like a deeply unpleasant grunt! But, I instantly remind myself, who said that our 'heroes' should all be perfect gentlemen? I shall always remember a tiny incident in the film "Bridge Over the River Quai" in which the attacking commando group led by Jack Hawkins, a British officer and gentleman to his fingertips, is discovered by a somewhat elderly and lone Japanese soldier who stumbles upon them. A young officer grapples with him but hesitates to sink his knife in. Hawkins immediately shouts out, "Kill him!" I always thought that summed up a certain type of upper-class Brit with well-hidden reserves of ruthlessness.
Anyway, there is some amusement to be had watching the arty-farty Hollywood fainthearts reaching for their smelling salts and then joining a chorus of disapproval for Eastwood, his film and the film's hero. Meanwhile, the cinemas are packed!
ADDITIONAL: But before you take any notice of my somewhat muddled thoughts on this film - well, as if you would! - please read the more thoughtful re-actions of The Streetwise Professor.
The other day the 'Memsahib' and I had a row which, happily, only lasted about 37.4 seconds because that was all the time it took for me to know I was on a loser! It concerned several tons of old, not to say ancient, theatre programmes which I found at the back of a cupboard upstairs. I suggested, on the grounds that neither of us had looked at them for decades, that we bin the lot. Cue: a hard stare, narrowed eyes, pursed lips and the beginnings of what might have developed into a tirade but just in time I ran the white flag up and that was that. However, having got that far I thought I might as well plough through them to see what was there. Well, of course, what was in there were scores of memories, well there would have been if I could only remember more than about ten percentof them!
Naturally I remembered the ones that I had actually played in - well, darlings, how could anyone forget? Although, and here I must throw myself on the mercy of my regular commenter and pal, 'Miss Mayfly', for forgetting totally that she was the lights and sound operator for a production of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray by Arthur Wing Pinero in which, of course, darlings, I played the critical role of Mr. Tanqueray. (I can't help thinking that dear old Arthur would have done much better to call his play 'The Mr. Tanqueray Story' or some-such in order to emphasise the importance of that leading role!) Alas, truth be told, I can't now quite recall all the plot but I do remember being riveted to the stage on opening night when, at the emotional climax to the play, the superb actress playing my wife actually cried real tears on stage. Gobsmacked at her skill I nearly forgot my next line and asked her, 'How do you do that?" Then I remembered we had an audience!
Anyway, continuing my trip down theatrical memory lane - joy of joys! - I came across the programme for the show that brought me - for good or ill - into theatre. It was the original 1978 programme from the old Mermaid Theatre for Tom Stoppard's brilliant play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Some years later I had the tremendous joy of directing it myself - but alas, not with the full symphony orchestra on stage as specified by Stoppard and Andre Previn, the originators of the idea. I had to 'make do'(!) with extracts from Shostakovich which, given that the play is set in a Soviet psychiatric prison for dissidents as well as loonies, was not inappropriate.
However, that still left scores of other theatre programmes which either raised the dimmest glimmerings of memories - or absolutely none at all! As a theatre man (albeit amateur, some would say very amateur) I feel somewhat shameful. All that effort, all that work, all that skill, all that talent - and I can't remember the first thing about any of it! Then, of course, the dreadest of dread thoughts occurred. Is there someone, somewhere, who is even now picking up a copy of the programme for The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and wondering what in hell that was all about because they can't remember it - not even my superlative performance? Oh no, say it ain't so!
Don't tell me you missed it! Last night on BBC4! The best crime series bar none! All in French, of course, but with excellent sub-titles. But most of all, featuring two of the most attractive women on television. Not perfect beauties, you understand, indeed our heroine chief detective is a real old scruff bag but she has that je ne sait quoi, if you follow my meaning, like so many French women. The other one is a drop-dead gorgeous lawyer - and yes, I forgive her dastardly legal trickery because she is is just so ... so ... sexy!
Oh dear, I'm in danger of becoming over-excited so let me also add that the series - and this is #5 - is a superb example of complex story-telling. There are various threads running through but the writers and directors are so skilfull that you never lose track of them. They, and the actors, have the ability in a few lines of dialogue to fill in the background to the plot-lines and round-out the characters involved.
Put simply, this is the very best show on television. My only criticism is that I wrote regularly to the two ladies involved using my very best 'O'-level French (which I passed, er, just!) but received no reply. Obviously my own thespian triumphs have not yet filtered through to France! Quell dommage!
(Also, I have just noticed that you can buy DVDs of previous series at Amazon.)
During 2014 there was only one TV programme on and that was the crime thriller 'Broadchurch'. Well, that was according to the shrieking, excitable, so-called critics (heh!) who never stopped ululating in praise of it. Needless to say I didn't watch it not least because since the late and truly great Bernard Levin went to that 'Great Theatre in the Sky' I have never trusted any of his successors - although Quentin Letts in The Mail isn't bad. Also, I must confess, the fact that its 'star' was David Tennant put me off immediately. He is the only 'luvvie' I know who acts with his eye-balls. They bulge, they stare, they swivel and I will not be surprised if one day they revolve! I once watched a TV version of his 'acclaimed' Hamlet. 'Dire' is the only word that springs to mind.
Anyway, over the holiday period the congregation of Broadchurch worshippers in the media waxed lyrical over its genius and urged us all to watch the second series which began last night.
It was beyond awful!
To be fair, Tennant's eyeballs did not play the full part usually demanded of them and so that was a relief. However, the rest of it - storyline, story-telling, directing, sound, actors' enunciation, background non-music ... all of it was atrocious. Regularly throughout but for no particular reason a deep reverberating sound effect would build up which drowned the already indecipherable voices of the actors. I suppose this was intended to build up moments of tension but as there were virtually no such moments in the story so far told they were pointless.
As my mind wandered - well I couldn't make out half the dialogue so what's a body to do? - I took notice of the action. Two incidents raised a cynical snort from me as being typical of some arty-farty director determined to make his film 'look good' even if it defied commonsense. Thus, we had two scenes in which characters in the story met with each other. Instead of doing so in their homes or offices or the pub, they did so on a beach beneath an enormous cliff - such a lovely shot, darlings! We have such beaches round here and you would no more choose to meet anyone there than on the peak of Mt.Everest because it takes forever to get down onto such a beach and even worse, it nearly kills you climbing back up again afterwards!
The other scene that defied reality showed a late middle-aged lady sitting alone in her countryhouse wearing earphones as she listens to a 'talking book' with her back to the french windows. A lady friend calls and helping herself to the 'hidden' key outside opens the doors and enters. The lady inside, instead of yelping in surprise, dropping the 'talking book' and giving her friend a bollacking for startling her, simply raised an enquiring eye-brow. Realistic - or twaddle?
And then there were what I might call the, er, 'artistic' moments which reduced me to giggles. One was a long shot of our 'hero', Mr.Tennant, striding manfully after his eyeballs across a green field. What that was supposed to signify or add to the story I do not know but, darlings, it did look very, very artistic! Then there was a fairly long close-up shot of Mr. Tennant's half profile as he stared off into the wild blue yonder. I imagined the dialogue on set ran something like this:
DT: What am I doing?
Dir: You're thinking, darling.
DT: Yeah, OK, but what am I thinking about?
Dir: Well, darling, your, er, problems ... or something like that.
DT: But in this story I seem to have a lot of problems so which ones do you have in mind?
Dir: I don't know, sweetie, I just want you to look, you know, brooding . . .
And so we looked at Mr.Tennant brooding, and Mr. Tennant looked at whatever he was 'brooding' at, and he thought whatever it was he was thinking, and I thought - what a load of bollacks!
By and large I am an admirer of those people who run big businesses - and I do mean BIG! For example, I look upon supermarkets as the cathedrals of our age - well, some of the fat waddlers to be seen in them remind me of gargoyles - because in both cases I ask myself the same question but with a differing context - how do they do that? In the case of cathedrals it is the unbelievable skill of the designers and builders to erect such massive structures in a period rightly categorised as 'the dark ages' that raises the question. In the case of supermarkets, it is how do they deliver, 365 days a year, clean, fresh, reasonably priced produce from all over the world ready for me to pick and choose from? Of course, in both cases sometimes disaster strikes but that only re-enforces my admiration for those that succeed.
Nor should you take this as an endorsement of all leaders of Big Business. Some of them are poltroons and fools promoted far beyond their abilities which, in a fair world, would leave them running a whelk stall. But many of them, probably deeply unpleasant as human beings, are damned good at what they do and given the brain-curdling complexity of their businesses I admire them immensely.
All of that waffle brings me to arguably the most hideously complicated Big Business of them all - Hollywood. The first and obvious difficulty is that if even half of what you read about is true then almost everyone involved in it is an eye-ball swivelling loony! Well, a good proportion of them are 'luvvies' - need one say more? I am prompted to these ruminations by an article in Variety - well, yes, darlings, I do keep an eye on it just in case those useless talent scouts go to 'SpecSavers' and finally spot my obvious talent! - which reports that box office receipts for Hollywood films dropped 5% in 2014.
I'm not surprised. I think I have noted here before what a deeply unpleasant experience it is to go to the cinema these days. Even if you choose your film very carefully - as I always do - you still have to endure half an hour of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques as you are pulverised by reverberating sound systems turned to FULL ON along with blinding cgi effects all produced to sell you things which, within five minutes you hate for ever. Of course, some of the things being sold are forthcoming films so you would think that Hollywood would use more subtlety in designing their trailers. Alas, 'subtlety' is as rare as a spare dollar inHollywood!
Well, that's just the opinion of one grumpy old man and I do realise that the making and selling of films must heed a much wider audience:
Although there were some blockbusters such as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The LEGO Movie” and “Maleficent,” many of the big films and sequels didn’t give off as loud of a bang. Franchises such as “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Hunger Games” put up impressive global numbers, but showed some signs of age when they couldn’t match the domestic grosses of previous installments.
“The old standards didn’t live up to what was expected,” said Dan Fellman, domestic distribution chief at Warner Bros. “Maybe it was franchise fatigue, but when you look at hits like ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘LEGO Movie,’ they offered something new.”
Maybe it was too much of the same, but there are troubling signs that moviegoers, particularly younger ones, are more reticent about making the trek to multiplexes. Americans aged 12 to 24 saw 15% fewer films in theaters during the first three quarters of the year, according to Nielsen. And in 2013, according to a Motion Picture Association of America report, the number of frequent moviegoers between the ages of 18 to 24 fell by a record 17%.
Sniff - no mention of 75-year-olds, I notice! However, the reporter does draw attention to one factor which even I have noticed - the improvement of TV series. The very best writers and directors of TV series like True Detective and the like are now attracting the Big Stars from Hollywood who hitherto would have considered TV work as beneath them. And for us punters, how much easier it is to sit at home in the warm and watch it all on TV especially now that TV screens are nearly as big as those in cinemas!
So the Big Shots in Hollywood, yet again, are facing some major problems and it will be fascinating to see how they overcome. I'm just very glad it's their problem and not mine!
Really, there's no excuse for me to keep forgetting the excellent Donald Pittenger and his superb site Art Contrarian but I do despite him being there on my blog-roll! Mind you, it adds to the pleasure of viewing his site when there is so much to catch up on.
Today, I have chosen one of those excellent English artists some of whose work appeared on those elegant posters between the wars. His name was Norman Wilkinson (1877-1971) and here is a picture of his executed in poster style:
He served in the Royal Navy during WWI so in a sense he knew where-of he painted! Here is another very evocative painting from WWII:
Flying boat rescuing the crew of a Liberator
Oh, would I love to have that hanging on my wall!
And here's an aerial one from between the wars:
Hawker Harts of 601 Squadron - c. 1936
As Pettinger puts it, "The sky is vast and the Harts are small."
Alas, 'age does wither them', in this case, Beatty's famous flagship from Jutland, HMS Lion, probably on its way to the scrapyard in 1924. The end of one of his "big cats!"
Finally, a picture of the Coronation review in 1953. As Pettingers adds, ruefully, "I'm sorry to say that the next coronation review probably won't be as impressive as this one was." Quite so, they'll probably hold it in the Serpentine!
An excellent artist by any standards but a supreme one when compared to any winner of the Turner Prize in the last 30 years!
'Ha-ha!', or should that be 'Ho-ho!', anyway, bet you don't know what that is! And if I tell you that it an example of Benesh notation I'll bet you still don't know what it is! Don't worry, it doesn't reflect badly on you because only sad old coots like me with more time to spare than is good for me could be bothered to pick up this unconsidered trifle.
So, let me tell you that for years now, only off and on, mind, I'm not obsessed about it, I have wondered how, or even if, ballet choreography can be notated. Today, feeling even more idle than usual I took a quick dip into The Telegraph obits - well, it reminds me that I'm still alive - just! There, alas, I found a summary of the life of Joan Benesh who together with her husband, Rudolph, developed what is now the standard notation for ballet movement. It is based on the musical five-stave layout and, happily for me because I never understood musical notation either, is even more abstruse so my chances of becoming a ballet dancer have vanished.
See, if you just live long enough and be patient all the great questions are eventually answered. What a mine of totally useless information this blog is!
The controversial writer, and critic of classical music, Norman Lebrecht, slaps a Sachertorte in the face of what passes for high society in Vienna in this week's Spectator. Apparently, all the, er, 'Great and Good' of Vienna gather together on the morning of every New Year's Day in the Musikvereinssaal concert hall and at 11.15am - precisely, verstehen! - the Vienna Philharmonic kicks off on a concert whose programme consists entirely of works by the Strauss family. Yeeeees, quite, and no, I'm not passing the sick bag because I might need it! As Lebrecht puts it, and he, unlike me, knows where-of he writes:
The music is strictly bar-room, written by members of the Strauss family as social foreplay for the soldiery and serving classes in low taverns. Like most forms of dirty dancing, the music rose vertically from barroom to ballroom and was soon performed as encores by symphonic orchestras to dowager purrs of wie schön.
The New Year’s Day concert is an annual jellybox of waltzes, polkas, galops, marches and any old tritsch-trash. It is watched by 60 million people in 90 countries, a triumph of brand marketing over musical substance, with a smiley tag of ‘hope, friendship and peace’. Its cultural value is equal to a double-dollop of tourist kitsch. Harmless, unless you are weight-watching.
Well, fair enough, all countries have their share of cultural oddities that are incomprehensible to outsiders but Mr. Lebrecht is not satisfied with merely giving the Strauss family a whack for inflicting 'cruel and unusual punishment' on Mankind, he is more concerned with the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra itself:
The tradition, however, is decidedly pernicious. This concert came into being as a gift to Nazi criminals, a cover for genocide. The Vienna Philharmonic was quick to sack Jewish and leftist musicians when Hitler came to town. More than a dozen were sent to concentration camps; seven of them perished. The orchestra unanimously endorsed the Anschluss with Germany, exhorted by the conductor Karl Böhm to declare ‘a 100 per cent “yes”’, and proved a willing executioner of cultural cleansing, removing Mahler and other giants from its walls and histories.
But racist revisionism yielded no instant reward. Vienna was downgraded by the Nazis to a provincial capital and the Philharmonic feared losing status. So the players went wooing Baldur von Schirach, the Vienna Gauleiter, a lover of music who would send 65,000 Viennese Jews to their deaths.
From 1941 the New Year's Day concert became an annual event under Nazi control. Post-war it continued but with its, er, unfortunate antecedents well buried! Alas, in 2013 some poke-nose historian dug up all the dirty washing and hung it out to dry:
The Nazi origins were suppressed until last year when a historian discovered that the Philharmonic had given its ring of honour to six mass-murderers, including Schirach; the butcher of Holland, Arthur Seyss-Inquart; and the head of Reich railways who ran the trains to Auschwitz. Those honours weren’t revoked until 2013 and some of the criminals could be seen attending Philharmonic concerts into the 1960s.
Old habits die hard, particularly in central Europe, and so today, despite there being a law against sexual discrimination there are only seven females playing in the orchestra amongst a roll-call of 130 players. Asian and female winners of competitions that earn them the right to play with the Vienna Operatic orchestra are forbidden to play with the Viennese Philharmonic. Apparently they have faced some protests on their occasional tours to the USA but never, ever, has there been a boo or a hiss on New Year's Day in Vienna. Well, if you can sit through three hours of Strauss waltzes and schmaltzes you obviously have a brain made of Sachertorte!
It doesn't matter how old and cynical you get, we all cling to a few shreds of fairytale magic. One of mine is 'El Sistema', the movement in Venezuela which, allegedly, encourages boys and girls from the slums of the main cities and towns to take up classical music training and aim for a place in the world-acclaimed Simon Boliva Youth Orchestra. I still remember a TV programme from a few years back which showed some of these kids from a small provincial town struggling to school each day with their musical instruments as well as their school books. It was a heartening sight.
I should have known better at my age! The other day I read - and alas I cannot remember where - that the whole programme is riddled with 'kiddie-fiddlers' who use their power as musical and instrumental teachers over these aspiring children to indulge their paedophile tendencies. I cannot judge the truth or otherwise of those accusations but there are certainly two schools of thought as to efficacy of 'El Sistema' and whether or not it lives up to the image that suckered me!
Geoff Baker in 'The Graun' complains bitterly of the ultra strict regime imposed on the young, 'wannabe' classical musicians calling it a tyranny and he has written a book backing up his complaints. Meanwhile, Ivan Hewitt in The Telegraph points out that the whole business of producing classical music depends utterly on strict discipline by the players. So, you pays your money and you takes your choice - and both articles are worth reading. But, alas, I will never quite look at 'El Sistema' with the same rose-tinted spectacles!
It's an absolute disgrace! Desert Island Discs has been running since around 1784, give or take the odd century, and literally thousands of 'slebs' have been invited on by the BBC to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. And yet ... and yet ... they have never asked me!
So, as my adoring public is gagging to know what musical gems I would choose - if asked! - then here they are in no particular order.
Beethoven's Fifth: This is Beethoven out-Beethovening Beethoven! If, as we all do from time to time, you feel a bit out of sorts, down in the dumps, just plain fed up - then give yourself a dose of Beethoven's Fifth and at the end of it you will be marching round the room waving your arms and feeling an exuberence beyond description.
Shostakovich's 2nd Piano Concerto: This piece of music, especially the second movement, comes under the rather technical definition of 'knickers off music'! I promise you, give the missus or the girlfriend a glass of wine or three and play the second movement and in a mattter of seconds there will be panties on the floor - possibly yours but what the hell! Actually, dear old Dimitri wrote several much greater pieces of music but for various reasons I have a soft spot for that one.
Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony: Just a few weeks back I heard the BSO playing it at the Poole Lighthouse. I think poor old Pyotr went a bit barmy when he wrote (or tried to write) his Fourth Symphony which is an almighty mess in my untutored opinion. But with his Fifth (and the Sixth, too) he got it all together and produced Mother Russia in music.
Frank Sinatra: "Songs for Swinging Lovers": Any track will do but if you held a gun to my head I think it would have to be 'I've Got You Under My Skin' by Cole Porter. As you will have probably guessed, that album was a backdrop to some of my youthful, er, activities.
Elgar's Cello Concerto: There are no words I can use to try and define the intensity of feeling in this piece of music, just listen to it - and weep! As Tchaikovsky speaks for Russia, so Elgar speaks for England.
Modern Jazz Quartet: Almost any of their tracks but my favourite is "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise". John Lewis was a true giant amongst jazzmen not least because of the restraint he frequently showed in his piano playing.
George Gershwin: Piano Concerto: There are several American composers I could have chosen but this piece sums up for me my early - and perhaps naive - impression of America. Of course, it only 'illustrates' one small part of America - 'Noo Yawk!' - but that's enough for me.
Smetana: River Vltava: The first piece of music I heard at around the age of 14 which suddenly made me realise that, although I couldn't be bothered with it then, I knew that I liked classical music. Some fifty years later I had the great pleasure of sitting by the side of that great river with Smetana's melodies floating in my head.
OK, that's my eight choices and if forced to pick just one, well, it would have to be Beethoven's Fifth.
In any play or film or TV series there is one man, or very occasionally, I suppose, a woman, who stands taller than all the stars, the directors, the moguls and the bloke who sweeps the set - and that is the writer! Of course, the others have the negative ability to ruin what might have been a masterpiece but, in the first instance, it is the writer who creates the potential for a creation that will live in the memory.
So it is a sad fact that according to Thomas W. Hodgkinson - no, me neither, but he is a writer who appears from time to time in The Spectator and that's good enough for me - confirms what I have felt personally for some time and which other 'show biz' insiders have confirmed, that is, that Hollywood, in the 'Big Screen' meaning of the word, have demoted writers in favour of 3-D and cgi effects attached to fantasies which only kiddie-winkies under the age of six would ever take seriously. In fact, the use of cgi effects is to remove at the click of some nerd's mouse all realism and therefor all believability and all tension.
In addition, as I found out to my cost the last time I visited my local cinema, the unwary customer has to sit through these ridiculous inventions which make English panto seem real and undergo torture by means of sound effects designed to shake your dental fillings loose. I know where-of I write because, back in the day, when I was an army interrogator we used to bang-up our 'lab rats' in a sound cell in which they were bombarded with rock 'n' roll at brain-scrambling volumes. (Er, we did encounter one big fail when a couple of SAS types were found inside jiving with each other!)
Now, according to Mr. Hodgkinson, the good writers are departing for the other end of LA where the TV series are produced and where good writing is still valued. Hence the fairly steady production of TV series of some considerable merit, in which the human condition in a variety of situations is explored via comedy or tragedy or a mixture of both. It is also interesting to find that many of the stars, who are generally as thick as a stage door but who recognise good writing because they have to deliver the words, are following the good writers over to the TV series producers. Alas, in my mean-minded grumpiness I have fallen out with my ex-best friend, Rupe, and I no longer have Sky TV but I read the crits and if there is anything good on the go I simply wait until the box set appears. As they only seem to cost about the same as one month's viewing on Sky I reckon it's a good deal.
But Hollywood, get a grip, and go back to making proper films for grown-ups!
It has been a busy day today because, apart from packing for our trip to London tomorrow and Thursday, this afternoon I left yet another unsuspecting audience stunned into submission by my talk entitled Will's Women: A Nun, a Tart and a Dark Lady. It was an all-female audience which, given that the talk concentrates on the fact that William Shakespeare was, in the words of Monty Python, "A very naughty boy", meant that I had to tread carefully and delicately - big fail! The fact is that 'our Will' was as fascinated with sex, in all its manifestations, as the rest of us and so any investigation of his works uncovers simply oodles of naughtiness. Still, never mind, the ladies of the Women's Institute are made of stern stuff and they took it all without blinking, in fact some of the elder ladies were nodding quietly and smiling at one or two points! They even gave me a cup of tea and a home-made cake afterwards!
I'm away for the next two days, back on Friday but, hey-ho, on Saturday morning I'm off again on a special romantic weekend - yes of course I'm taking the 'Memsahib', wouldn't dare otherwise! However, I am conscious of failing to respond to the many comments floating around but be assured, normal service will resume next week!
I knew I shouldn't have stuck my toe in all that heavy stuff about space, life, evolution and really, really big sums but there, I've done it, so now I will jump in head first! The Really Big Fundamental Question remains what it has always been, how did matter/energy come into existence? The swots seem fairly agreed (for the time being!) that it all began with a Big Bang but that, of course, does not answer the fundamental question. Even I can grasp that if you suddenly let loose mega-gazillions of hydrogen particles at high speed in all directions then, assuming (yes, another assumption) that the laws of physics are just sitting around waiting for something to operate on, then some of those hydrogen particles will collide, or attract each other, so that larger particles are formed and then suddenly, hey-ho, we're off to the races. It is worth noting that if this explosion of particles had been absolutely exact and precise the little critters would just have flown off into the big beyond but, of course, it was the tiny little deviations in the explosion which assisted the gradual union of particles. So, in a sense, we are the result of a series of tiny errors. What lies beyond the Big Bang, of course, is silence! Not even the great scientific swots have more than fanciful theories which are no more convincing than those offered by the theists. You pays your money and you takes your choice!
All of that takes us to the Really Big But Second Question which asks how organic life developed from collections of inanimate matter? The swots seem convinced that water was a cardinal requirement which is why there is so much fuss over exactly how and when water came into existence on earth. Those who believe that life began on earth seem to have settled on a theory that the very best conditions were deep in the pre-historic oceans w here various chemical particles and elements under huge pressure and immense heat from fissures in the seabed somehow created replicating organisms from hitherto lifeless matter. But now we return to the current question plaguing the swots - did this process just occur on earth where at a certain moment in time the conditions were just right, or was it that the water from space detritus that crashed into earth wasalready bearing the 'seeds' of replicating cells? The point is, as I understand it, that the parameters for an environment conducive to creating life from non-life are unbelievably strict and limiting and that even the very slightest deviation would result in no result!
All this leads onto the Really Big Third Question which is that if all that frozen water was hurtling about the universe crashing into this, that or the zillion other planets then surely there must be a chance that life exists elsewhere. Alas, to the deep regret of the swots who believe that theory, so far there has been absolutely no, nil, zilch indications of any life anywhere within reach of our observations. It's not so much that we are waiting for the second shoe to fall, we haven't actually heard the first one yet. Alas, well, alas for me, I must now return to sums again! The absolutely essential requirements for life to develop on earth are, as I said before, terrifically strict - even the minutest deviation would abort the attempt. So looked at from an earthly perspective the chances of life beginning here are infinitesimally tiny. But looked at from a cosmological platform with zillions of planets all in different stages of development and with all that water whizzing around, so to speak, to 'fertilise' them then you would have to say that it would probably happen sooner or later - somewhere. And perhaps in several different places even though there are no signs (signals) of it to us. It is necessary to think of the mathematical chances of success when the opportunities for it run to eye-wateringly huge numbers given the size of the universe. It is around this point that my synapses tend to close down rapidly!
And that word 'synapses' brings me - er, are you still with me? - to the Really Big Fourth Question. Actually, I should refer to it properly as The Hard Problem of Consciousness. Thoughts can be explained scientifically as a series of inter-actions between objects 'out there' which are picked up via our sensory perceptions, sight, sound, etc, and are then converted by electrical impulses into our brains where we experience thoughts and images. As Isaac Newton put it:
to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.
It's that old mind/body problem again. When and how - and why - do merely mechanical processes somehow convert into ideas? Perhaps that very intelligent chappie, Tom Stoppard, will tell us in his new play due to open any moment now at the Royal National Theatre. The play is called The Hard Problem!
(I suspect there will be a number of typoes in this for which I apologise and will make every effort to correct as soon as possible.)
I think everyone has been moved by the simple but brilliant idea of filling the moat at the Tower of London with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each standing for the life of one man killed during WWI. At this one hundreth anniversary it added an extra dimension of feeling which seems to have reverberated throughout the land.
On the subject of another day, another war, I was contacted a few days ago by a relative of the late John Bufton RAF who had served during the war flying Hampden bombers. Back in 2002 I had directed a production of Terence Rattigan's masterpiece, Flare Path, and in a blogpost in 2006 entitled Read it and weep! I reproduced a letter from young John Bufton which I had discovered in Max Hasting's excellent book Bomber Command. On this 'day of days' I thought it appropriate to reproduce the letter again:
At last, a spot of time to sit back and answer your last two letters! I can hardly read one of them 'cos I was reading it in the bath after a hard day's work on Friday and I was so tired that it fell in the water and got badly smudged!
I wonder if you were very disappointed at getting my telegram and letter about the weekend? I was mad having to send them, but there was no way out. Maybe we'll have better luck next weekend. Trouble with us here is that weekends are precisely the same as any other time now.
Poor Jenny, I'm so sorry you were upset by my last letter. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so blunt in what I wrote, but I only wanted to put things to you as fairly as I could. You've got such wonderful faith, dear, in my chances and I mustn't upset you by being pessimistic - I've rarely felt happier and more set on a job in my life, and my chances are as good as anyone else's. But I'm not ass enough to assume I'm going to be OK and everyone else will be unlucky, as it's a sheer gamble in the game, but damn good fun whilst it lasts.
Way back, Jen, my idea of the future was pretty idealistic. We've talked about it so often in peace time, and were agreed on what we wanted out of life, and it was a grand outlook. But now it seems such a myth! Like one of those dreams that can't possibly come true. We'll get married and be awfully happy - I know you'll do everything to make it seem what we both want - but there'll be a cloud over it all for both of us, dear, a cloud we can't hope to brush aside. For you, it will be the realization that you've given everything in your life to give me fleeting happiness, and that in accepting I'm condemning you to great unhappiness ahead, when you could have been almost as happy elsewhere, otherwise, with a future both safe and bright.
If the chances were very good, I wouldn't dream of writing like this, but I'm no dreamer, Jen, and the facts are that immediately ahead is the winter, with all the danger that filthy weather invariably brings to flying (your pullover will help immensely there!). Despite this, our bombers are bound to become even more active than they have been in the summer months, and we'll hit harder and wider and more often than ever before. We're the only active force operating against Germany and as it's the only way of striking directly we'll be exploited more and more, especially as the force grows. The RAF, fighters and bombers combined, will undoubtedly win this war in time, but the end isn't nearly in sight yet, and before it's all over the losses will be enormous. I wonder how many people ever wonder what the average flyer's outlook on life is in these times? In most cases it's vastly different from what it was a few months ago. It's almost entirely fatalistic. There seems no point in making plans about the future. The present is all that matters, and in this day-to-day existence there are three things that occupy one's energies most of all:
(1) Intensive attention to one's machine and equipment, ready for the next trip, so that nothing is left to chance.
(2) Getting enough sleep and exercise.
(3) Getting a "social glow" in the Saracen's Head and keeping mentally fresh.
Doesn't sound very ambitious, but I'll bet anything that 95% of the RAF take these as their guiding principles, because only by doing so can they have the most chance of hitting the target and getting back OK ...
Why am I writing all this, Jen? Well, it's the answer to what you asked in your letter: you say 'Do I really want to marry you?' Yes, darling, 'course I do, and we'll go through with it in that spell of leave that may come through when I've done enough trips to qualify. But I don't feel much of a man taking you up on such a bad bargain, lovely tho' it'll be for me. In the meantime, darling, you'll make me easier in mind if you'll promise this - until we're married, if I should be unlucky enough to go up as 'missing', don't wait too long ... if I could only be sure, Jen, that your future would be assured I'd be content, whatever happens.
If anything happens to me, I'll want you to go and have a perm, do up the face, put the hat on and carry on - it'll take a lot of guts but I know you'll tackle it in the right way. And remember that I'd be wanting you to get happily married as soon as you could. And don't worry for me these nights more than you can help. It may buck you to know that I'm bung full of confidence in my own ability, but if I'm unlucky, well I'm prepared for anything. Over the last three months I've got used to the idea of sudden accidents - they've happened so often to friends and acquaintances that the idea doesn't startle one much now. Realizing fully what one is up against helps one along a lot. I'm not really windy about anything now. Anyway, there's too much to do to get windy. I'm longing to see you again, jenny, and we must make it soon! Keep writing, and when you come up, wear your hat, please, and the smile that cheers me up!"
John Bufton never married Jenny, he was killed a month after that letter.
I had booked the tickets for Separate Tables some time ago and I wasn't going to let a sore throat put me off so yesterday I tootled over to Salisbury to see a producton of this classic by Terence Rattigan, directed by Gareth Machin who is, as it happens, the Artistic Director of the Salisbury Playhouse. It was superb! My admiration for Rattigan achieved the impossible by rising a notch or three higher!
The experience of watching these two plays which are loosely linked is somewhat similar to stepping into a Tardis and going back 60 years. It was another time, another place, another England but I just about remembered it. It was a time of stiff, English upper-lips in which swirling emotions are only glimpsed until, suddenly, under pressure, they burst forth, only to be quickly reigned back under cover. You sense the total, consuming anguish involved but Rattigan never gives you time to wallow in it in the sort of sentimental wish-wash that seems to be de rigor in contemporary plays and films.
Both plays are set in the sort of genteel but slightly run-down hotel that was common in English seaside towns in the '50s. In the second play we meet 'Major' Pollock, a former 'public schoolboy' and an ex-soldier who has, according to his owm legend served with the best regiments in all the hotspots of WWII. Soon his story begins to crumble as it transpires that he was a working-class lad who managed, just, to gain a commission in the Royal Army Service Corps. Worse than that, he is hauled before the local magistrates for improper behaviour on the pier at Bournemouth. Interestingly, Rattigan, who was homosexual, made the offence one of importuning women in his early drafts. Only later, as Britain gradually moved into the modern world did he change the plot to his original idea and make the crime one of importuning men.
At that point, everyone in the hotel, including 'Major' Pollock, is, so to speak, tested. Pollock's first intention is to flee the scene as fast as possible to avoid the shame and embarrassment. Similarly, most of his fellow guests are disgusted and keen to have him removed immediately. However, the hotel owner, a spirited lady with a hard core of commonsense makes it quite clear that she will not be asking 'Major' Pollock to leave! Gradually, given that shock, some of the other guests think again. The sight of 'Major' Pollock, perhaps now undertaking the bravest thing he has ever done, by entering the dining-room and sitting expressionlessly at his usual table, is enough to convince the majority of guests to forgive and forget.
I was particularly moved by this play because there is an aquaintance of mine - I don't know him well enough to presume to call him a friend - whom I like very much. He is facing charges of 'kiddie-fiddling' which date back decades. In fact, he has just been found 'not guilty' of the first charge. If other charges stand up and he goes down then I would simply shrug and mutter something about 'if you do the crime, you must do the time'. However, it would not change my mind that he is, in most other respects, a very intelligent and pleasant companion.
So I suppose that what Rattigan's play tells us is that our re-actions to other people's misfortunes tests us as much as it does them.
This week's 'Speccie' is excellent and I make no apologies for ransacking its columns today for material to 'rumble' over. Hopefully, some of you tightwads will be prepared to take out a subscription - it's as cheap as chips - and thereby help keep the world's best - and oldest - weekly magazine going.
Taki's fury at 'Fury': I don't mind a good war film so long as it remains in the realms of a jolly, spiffing adventure but ever since that opening half hour in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan there has been a tendency for directors to sink towards what I can only call 'war porn'. I gather from the reviews that Fury, starring Brad Pitt, is just that. The sub-title to Taki's review says it all: There's enough blood on the screen in Brad Pitt's new blockbuster to turn Dracula to masturbation. To say that Taki is not amused is the understatement of the year but after corruscating everyone connected to the film he turns his fire on us, the contemporary audience;
All I’d like to know is where has all the talent gone? And as always I will answer my own question: movies today reflect what the audience wants to see, and the audiences are imbeciles and uneducated fools and that’s why Fury will be a hit, so help me God.
Ouch, that hurt!
More Rembrandt: Yes, I know I keep banging on about the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery but if you find yourself in London in the next three months or so, instead of wasting your time and money watching 'Fury', pop in and enjoy artistry of the very highest order. Martin Gayford provides not just a 'rave review' but a fascinating analysis of Rembrandt's artistry and technical skills.
Shrewd advice for 'Green Kippers': By "Green Kippers" I mean those increasing numbers of people who think that the 'old politics' is dead and that they, and they alone, are the 'new wave' who will sweep away all the ambiguities and complexities of modern government. Toby Young reflects on the hard lessons he learned as a leader of the Free Schools Movement. It all seemed so simple and straightforward 'back in the day' but reality soon kicked him in the shins:
As a general rule, you can’t bring about system-wide improvements just by being determined and having the right motives. If someone is standing in your way, it’s not realistic to expect them to bend to your will. You have to sit down with them, work out what their concerns are and see what you can do to address them. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you have to make a deal — and that can take a bloody long time, particularly if lawyers are involved.
To the angry outsider, this probably sounds like a rationalisation. One of the most common complaints about political leaders is that they lack conviction. The deals they make are invariably ‘sleazy’ or ‘shoddy’ because they involve sacrificing their principles, something they’re willing to do because their primary interest is to remain in power. But what these critics fail to appreciate is that politicians wouldn’t be able to do much in office if they weren’t willing to compromise. Politics is the art of the possible and what looks like cynicism to outsiders is often just realism to insiders.
He confirms my long-held suspicion that were the Greens or UKIP to form a substantial part of the next government the 'Sir Humphries' will have 'em tied in knots before they've even warmed the seat of their ministerial chairs! Politics is a vastly more difficult and sophisticated business than the average 'Green Kipper' realises.
Peregrine Worsthorne met eight American presidents: And he provides vignettes of all of them from Herbert Hoover to George Bush Snr. See, that's the sort of thing you get from The Speccie - so sign up now! Here's one of them:
One morning I was sitting in the dining car having breakfast when Eisenhower came strolling through and stopped to have a chat with the famous CBS correspondent, Eric Sevareid, whom I was by chance sitting next to. Out of politeness Sevareid introduced me. ‘This is Peregrine Worsthorne, General, the new Times man.’ Clearly finding my name a bit of a mouthful, the general asked me to spell it out, which I did, jumping up to add something I had learnt a very few days previously: that the first baby from Mayflower to be born on American soil, and therefore the first American citizen to be born, was also christened Peregrine. Another long pause. Then came the reply: ‘Well, sonny, that name sure didn’t catch on.’
Perhaps the most interesting historical note is that, 'back in the day', in fact, 'way back in the day', a meeting with the president was almost a given if you were the Washington correspondent of The London Times. Somehow, I don't think anyone told Obama!
Honestly, you just can't rely on the Royal Mail anymore! It was always quite obvious that dear George and his darling wife, Amal, would have invited me to their post-wedding bash at Marlow, not least because we are both world class actors - sorry, did you say something, darling? - but also because the Marlow area was once one of my old stomping grounds.
But, dammit, the invite never arrived which meant that the money I spent having my dinner suit cleaned and pressed for the first time since its last outing circa 1978 was completely wasted. Honestly, they should privatise Royal Mail - oh - er, I gather they have been privatised! Anyway, I'm sure dear George will soon arrange for me to fly to California in his private jet particularly if he tells dear Amal that I have a packet of Greek marbles I can bring with me!
"The Hard Problem" - Tom Stoppard: At long last Stoppard has forsaken Hollywood and returned to his roots, the English theatre. In January his first play since the brilliant 'Rock and Roll' opens at the Royal National Theatre. It is called 'The Hard Problem' and in this brief rumble there is no way I can summarise what that is - but I know a man who can - try Dan Haycock's site. The problems of consciousness are tricky beyond belief but you can always rely on Stoppard to dance wittily around the most complicated of ideas and produce a play that will entertain and move as well as teach. Needless to say, all seats are sold mostly because, I suspect, the bloody-bloody ticket agencies hoover them up. However, it will be shown in cinemas from April 16th - do not miss!
The 'donkeys' of WWI were brighter than this lot: I have just watched the first of the two BBC programmes on the total cluster-fuck that was the British army mission to Afghanistan. I really don't think I can bear to watch the second episode next week, my blood pressure might explode! The level of stupidity, moral cowardice and blind, preening pride within the high command of the British army is sickening to see.
No more rumbles tonight
Who knew? Such goings on in the high brow and high note world of opera! First of all, the entire cast of La Traviata at Opéra Bastille in Paris refused to go on in the second act because there was a woman sitting in the front row wearing a full face veil. An attendant was despatched and asked her to leave pointing out that wearing a niqab is actually illegal in the land of 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité'. Should I surrender to the constant pleas of my adoring public and take to the stage again I might mount a similar campaign against gentlemen - I use the term loosely - who fail to wear a tie!
Meanwhile, 'over there in 'Noo Yawk' the current production at the Metropolitan Opera is "The Death of Klinghoffer", an opera based on the disgusting murder of an elderly and crippled American Jew by terrorists abord the SS Achille Lauro in 1985. This has caused demonstrations both inside and outside the opera house. I have a sneaking suspicion that the demonstrations might actually be more entertaining than the opera itself!
I faced a quandry last Saturday night because it was the second tranche of the Aussie thriller I watched the week before but on BB2 there was Simon Scharma giving a talk on Rembrandt's late paintings. I think I told you that I am booked in to see the current exhibition at the National Gallery, and also, that a previous experience of seeing his late self-portraits made a huge and lasting impression on me. Well, I wasn't terribly taken with the Aussie thriller anyway, so Simon and Rembrandt it was. It was interesting and I did learn several things but, alas, Simon in his frenetic enthusiasm went way 'over the top'.
Even so, I am eager to see this exhibition. Someone described Rembrandt as 'the Shakespeare of painting'. What I think they meant was, that in exactly the same way WS conjured up characters whose depth and internal contradictions made them utterly real, so to, Rembrandt showed you the man behind the portrait, and nowhere did he it do it better than in his own self-portraits:
There is a 'Falstaff' almost in the flesh! Rembrandt was not 'a good man' and somehow in these paintings you can see him, or feel him, reflecting on that bitter knowledge now that the end of his life approaches. Everytime I look at them I am instantly reminded of perhaps the most emotional line of Shakespeare I ever delivered. It was in Act II, scene iv, of Henry IV part II. I was playing Falstaff and this was another tavern scene with Doll Tearsheet sitting on my lap teasing and joshing about what a rapscallion I am, and I am replying in a similarly jocular fashion when this deceptively simple line crops up:
I am old, I am old.
I asked myself, why did WS repeat that phrase, surely once was enough. Then I realised it was because both halves were totally different in their depth of feeling. The first "I am old" is shouted out as part of the badinage with Doll, but then, after a pause, the words sink in through his sack-soaked brain, 'yes, it's true, I really am old', so the second phrase is loaded, redolent with self-knowledge, filled with the grim truth that nothing is the way it once was and the end is near.
Now look at those self-portraits, that aged and ravaged face, and you will see what both Shakespeare and Rembrandt saw.
Those 'damn Yankees' are at it again: I keep telling them but they never listen - all we want are your food parcels and you can keep your hurricanes to yourself. But no, on Monday night and Tuesday morning our 'septic Isle' is to be pounded from the west by another hurricane which, if it knew it's place, would be ripping through Arkansas and blowing the jugs of hooch off Barney Magroo's shelves. But it may not be all bad because according to reports it will mainly hit Ireland and 'ooop north' as far as 'Jockland', and it's an ill wind that doesn't blow up a Scotsman kilt and give us all a laugh!
Why UKIP will ultimately fail: Because deep down, that is, just beneath the skin which counts as profound in 'Kipper' circles, they couldn't agree on the time of day! It is already obvious that Farage and Carswell do not live on the same planet. Carswell's views on immigration would horrify most 'Kippers'. Now we read that Mark Reckless, 'their man in Rochester', is refusing to back 'Kipper' policy in regard to the HS2 farrago. I think the only thing they can all agree on is their detestation of 'Dim Dave'. Beyond that, they're a shambles!
'Lookin' good over there': Shouldn't speak too soon, I know, but me and my big mouth, or perhaps I mean, me and my big keyboard, can never resist the temptation. However, I am relying on Mr. Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia who is, by all accounts, a terrific pollster swot and on Thursday he summed up the electoral situation 'over there' as they run in for their midterm election. His opening paragraph, with his emphasis, says it all:
As we approach the home stretch, 2014 has turned into a tale of two elections. On the one hand, this is a classic sixth-year itch election where the incumbent president’s party is going to suffer losses in both houses of Congress. We’re just arguing about exactly how many. Overall, it is indisputable that Republicans will have more critical victories to celebrate than Democrats when all the ballots are counted, and they have a strong and increasing chance to control the next Senate.
I do hope he's right and if he is, then only a jug of Barney Magroo's Very Finest 12-Hour Vintage, slightly chilled, and served in a tin cup, will do for the celebration.
Take cover, Professor!
Sometimes, just sometimes, I regret never having gone to a university. For example, reading this witty, intelligent and self-perceptive essay by Chris Walsh of Boston University made me regret never having had the chance to be tutored by him, or someone like him. He is writing on the subject of cowardice - mostly his own! Well worth reading. Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily.
And here's another reason why I might have enjoyed university: From time to time I have expressed my irritation, I could use a stronger word but given that I don't know the man it would be inappropriate, at 'Archbishop' Richard Dawkins but anything from uneducated 'me' by way of criticism would be like shooting at a Tiger tank with a pea-shooter. So on this occasion I am delighted, courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily again, to whistle up a proper, heavy weight, intellectual tank-buster - John Gray, the philosopher. In his long but elegant dismemberment of 'Bish' Dawkins, John Gray displays that finesse with an intellectual and literary scalpel that I truly envy:
One might wager a decent sum of money that it has never occurred to Dawkins that to many people he appears as a comic figure. His default mode is one of rational indignation—a stance of withering patrician disdain for the untutored mind of a kind one might expect in a schoolmaster in a minor public school sometime in the 1930s. He seems to have no suspicion that any of those he despises could find his stilted pose of indignant rationality merely laughable.
Honestly, once those university swots go at each other it makes World Wide Wrestling look cissy!
Yet another 5-star corker: Yes, yes, I know I 'm a tad generous with my 'star' allocations but this one really does earn every one of them! It is "Eyeshot" by Taylor Adams, and no, me neither! However, Mr. Adams understands that in a thriller a simple setting and story line can be absolutely terrific - as in terrifying! In this yarn, a young couple are driving across an almost totally empty desert, somewhere in New Mexico, I think. They are diverted by emergency signs off the main road and along a small country road which eventually leads them across a sort of moonscape bowl about two miles across. Waiting for them, well camouflaged, is a psycho, long-distance sniper! The rest is a nail-biter! By the way, I bought it for my Kindle for £1.99! They ought to make a film of it but as much of what goes on is inward thinking that might be a bit tricky to pull off. The chap who made Gravity could probably do it. Anyway, buy it and money back if you don't like it, er, not from me, waddya think, I'm made a' money?!
'Nige' gets some help from - Barroso? So the soon to retire consigliori of the racket that is called the European Union spends all day on our TV sets telling 'Dave' what he can and cannot do. How much of his various interviews will re-appear on 'Kipper' electoral ads, do you think?
No more rumbles today
Honestly, typical Aussies, always "sleepin' in the noonday sun" and never around when you want them! Tonight, BBC4 has finally come to its senses and finished with that 'Yerdie-durble', Scandie rubbish of a thriller on their Saturday night slot and have replaced it with - wait for it - an Aussie thriller! Yeeeeees, quite, but will I understand the language any better than 'Yerdie-durble'? And will it be all about sheep and/or kangeroos? I don't know but when you Aussies who hang around here at D&N finally get your backsides out of bed perhaps you could provide me with a pre-review because it starts at 9.00pm which is usually my bedtime and doesn't end until 11.00pm, so I need to know if it's any good - but don't tell me the ending! It's called The Code and the BBC have given it a rave review but they would, wouldn't they?!
Come on, wakey-wakey . . .
Yes, indeed, your favourite blogger - who snorted? - wearing his carpet slippers but powered by steely determination has finally shuffled into the 21st century. Oh yes, um, I'm, er, with it, man! (Waddya mean that expression went out of date circa 1972?) Look, just take it as a given that despite 'SoD' constantly referring to me as 'an old fart' the fact is that I'm right up there at the cutting edge of 21st century technology and to prove it I can proudly announce that I am now the owner of a Kindle! Yes, I know, you are truly amazed, aren't you?!
Of course, rather like Ed Balls trying to rewrite what he has said concerning the economy for the last four years, I, too, have had to quietly airbrush certain of my sneers and insults aimed at those I saw clutching those ridiculously titchy 'wafers' when they could have been keeping themselves super-fit by carry around, say, Margaret MacMillan's The War That Ended Peace for which a rucksack is required when travelling with it.
Anyway, the 'Memsahib' gave it to me as a gift for our recent anniversary and then enjoyed watching me try to find the on/off switch - which I managed perfectly well - after a couple of days! Honestly, why do these so-called 'high tech' companies produce bits of kit in black and then make the on/off switch both microscopically tiny and equally black? I have written a long letter to Kindle offering my services as a product design consultant and suggesting that in future they should have a big arrow painted bright yellow on the back of their device pointing to a large red button, with the words 'ON/OFF' displayed on it. Thus, elderly Brit gents would no longer be tempted to see if the Kindle can fly by hurling it through the nearest window!
Anyway, having mastered that bit of the machine I then checked out some of the 'books' they were offering and let me tell you, people, I have discovered yet another 5-star corker! Allow me to introduce Mr. Lee Goldberg - and, no, me neither until I decided to try one of his pulp fiction tales offered on Kindle for the somewhat less than princely sum of - £1! It is called King City and I snorted, giggled, chuckled and laughed out loud all the way through! The 'Memsahib' is already regretting buying me the device - particularly as it is registered to her Amazon account so she pays for my books - heh-heh-heh! Back to Mr. Goldberg. Having thoroughly enjoyed that book, I then ordered up two more of his which came in at - £1.90 combined! That's cheaper than my charity shops where I buy most of my pulp fiction.
Let me explain that it is now clear to me that Mr. Goldberg is a wildly original and wickedly funny satirist. I see from his Wiki entry that his working life has been spent almost entirely in and around the TV film studios in Los Angeles. You would imagine that they are beyond parody but not when you read what Mr. Goldberg has done to them! Studio owners, directors, TV executives, 'luvvies', the whole lot of them are put up and then knocked down like clowns batting each other in a circus. It has nearly had me weeping with laughter. If I tell you that one of his hilarious inventions are a couple of knuckle-dragging stunt men who suffer with 'repetitive accident syndrome' you will get the flavour of it.
So go on, get out there and buy Mr. Goldberg's books, er, but don't forget to buy a Kindle first, such a neat little machine, honestly, why people carry around all those hardback books, I'll never know, sooooo last century!
Yes, 'Boring for Britain', that's what I'm doing today which is another, and possibly more accurate, way of describing the fact that I am giving one of my Shakespeare talks to a bunch of unsuspecting ladies. I shall show no mercy, well, they asked for it, didn't they? But actually, I am just slightly nervous. The title of my talk is: Will's Women - A Nun, a Tart and a Dark Lady. There is a tendency on the part of some people, mostly those who are unfamiliar with 'our Will', to place him on a pedestal of reverence because, at his best, he was the greatest poet who ever lived but, of course, he was also a working, money-grubbing playwright trying to produce 'shows' that would pack in the punters. He knew perfectly well, as any Hollywood producer will confirm, that to do that you needed a good dollop of 'sex 'n' violence' and plenty of grand patriotism, too. He provided it - in spades! Or if you prefer, he shovelled it on!
Well, that's what it's all about but my problem is that today my audience is made up of ladies from the Methodist Church in a local country town - yeeeeeeeeees, quite! I did try to gently warn the lady who telephoned me to arrange the booking that parts of my talk verged on areas not normally discussed amongst church-going folk only to receive a polite but robust response to the effect that 'her ladies' were adult women and perfectly able to cope with anything Master Shakespeare - or me - might throw at them. Somewhat abashed, or perhaps just bashed, I agreed to give the talk.
To paraphrase that truly heroic phrase, 'I'm stepping outside, I might be some time'. If I fail to return you might find me in the Town stocks!
Just a few days ago I paid tribute to the late Ivor Brown despite the fact that by then I had only consumed about three chapters of his superb book simply entitled "Shakespeare". Now I have finished it and I have a confession to make - at the end I very nearly cried! Had the tears actually flowed (well, I'm not quite that soppy!) they would have been for happiness not sorrow. All of us latter-day Shakespeareans, both those who love him and those who dismiss him as an ignorant country bumpkin used by some university-educated nobleman as camouflage for the real author of the plays and poems, suffer with the same problem - we know so damned little about him! You could write the absolutely known facts about him on one side of a sheet of A4 - the rest is conjecture. And the problems do not end there as we try to edge closer to the 'real' Shakespeare because there are so many different approaches to be made. The textual scholar will come at him from one angle, the modern equivalent of the 'groundling' from another, the historian from yet another and the actors and directors from yet more directions. And always, no matter how hard you look, Master Shakespeare remains as elusive as ever. However, that is not to say that the exercise is either futile or wasted. Dismissing for now the nonsense that the Stratford man did not write the plays and poems attributed to him, it is possible, if you glean as many of the facts as possible and then study his writings with affection and care and intelligent perception, that you can begin to see the outline of the man himself.
It is with a wealth of "affection and care and intelligent perception" that Ivor Brown approaches the task and his book is a superb. At this point, I must confess that I am, so to speak, parti pris because Brown's conclusions match my own tentative feelings. I think I may have mentioned before that I always picture Will Shakespeare in one of the taverns close by The Globe, joining with his fellow actors and writers in a drink and a gossip after a performance but amongst this no doubt lively company he would be the quiet one, the observant one, the listening one always eager for a new turn of phrase, and the sober one who probably left early in order to continue his night-time writing. Brown sums him up thus:
"[He] is a figure of seeming contradictions: yet to me at least it comes out sufficiently coherent. Many an eminent professor has written of Shakespeare as though he had never been inside a theatre, never cursed and adored the players, never despaired at a rehearsal or rejoiced at 'an opening' where all flowed well, never worn the motley himself and relished the feel of getting his audience, never cursed his clever little critics in the galleries, and never sworn to throw the whole game up - and then been at it again the next morning. The first and simple fact about Shakespeare is that he was stage-struck, as all of his calling have to be: otherwise they would be driven frantic by the madhouse in which they work. Theatre life, with its quarrels and muddles and vanities, is a form of lunacy: but the moonbeams of that lunacy can be of a radiance that does indeed reward. Out of the tantrums and tornado or - even worse - out of the dreary flatness of a really bad rehearsal, out of the egotism and jealousy of the green-room, out of the delay and frustration and confusion inevitable in the staging of plays, grandeur may suddenly spring when the great day arrives. Then the play, which seemed possessed by Caliban, becomes an Ariel and 'flames amazement' on the audience. This occasional miracle of the theatre its inhabitants know: indeed, by it they live. Shakespeare was of that company and knew the pains, the ecstasy, the magic.
Loving beauty, from the eye of the wren to the starry floor of heaven, he loved women and paid for it. His masculine affections were warmed, too, by his eye for elegance. He opened his heart freely. He suffered deeply in body and mind in the middle reach of his life and almost laid laughter aside. He had lost his son and found a dark mistress who turned out to be of 'the sugar'd game'. He was more libertarian than libertine, for libertines fall behind with their work, and he was ever punctual with a new play, even while studying a new part to act for no good reason save his delight in the mumming of it [...].
Let the scholars call him myriad-minded, a visionary symbolist, co-equal of Dante and Milton in his scope of soaring thought, if they will. But they must not forget the player who would not give up, the writer of parts for actors coveting a laugh or 'a round', the enchanted observer of the malt worms and of the tapsters who served them; this was a man not so much omniscient as omniverous of the human scene. It is customary to end books on Shakespeare by remarking of him as Agrippa said of Antony (rather oddly), that 'a rarer spirit never did steer humanity'! But Shakespeare was not at the rudder of the world and never sought to be. A more pertinent line is Romeo's, 'I'll be a candle-holder and look on'. None ever held the candle to throw a subtler ray or better recorded the shadow-play which that illumination gave. He was not for the throne of pomp or the dias of the intellectual; he preferred to be the Gentleman in the Parlour, the vagrant lodger, the man in the wings, the reporter in the royal gallery. In these positions of spectatorship he mingled three elements: a commonsense philosophy of moderation, deep feeling for all folk suffering and all things gay or beautiful, and unfailing power to find the word perfect to each place and subject. Out of this trinity came his unified perfection in the writer's art. He had his solitary moods and would evade the clatter of cups and quips when the writing fit was upon him, which was often. But he was 'Sweet Mr. Shakespeare' none the less and 'known to his own'.
Thank you, Mr. Brown - and thank you, Master Shakespeare.
Last night I went to see the film version of John le Carré's book of the same title. Checking my records I am shocked to see that it was four and a half years ago when I wrote about the book which I praised as a return by le Carré to his espionage roots and as an example of story-telling not just based on a convoluted plot but on a study in depth of a collection of fascinating characters. It seemed entirely right to me that they chose Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the leading role of the German counter-intelligence chief, Günther Bachmann.
I was equally shocked by his appearance in the film which was very similar to this photo taken just shortly before his death by drugs earlier this year. It was painfully obvious that he was, if not a sick man, then a man with great personal problems weighing him down. The fact that this private personna fitted the role exactly must have been a huge bonus to the director, Anton Corbijn.
Even so, and despite Hoffman's superb performance, the film just did not work. In 'Tinker, Tailor' there was a plot that held your interest to the very end in order to discover who was the hidden traitor inside MI6, and the makers of the film took us through the maze with a sure hand whilst still allowing time for us to savour the different personalities involved. In A Most Wanted Man, le Carré keeps the plot simple and instead concentrates on character but the film makers failed to explore this in enough depth. This story is an oddity in that it would probably work better as a long TV series rather than one single film.
All that said, Hoffman, in what was to be almost his final performance, was simply superb. So, a film worth watching but my advice is to stay at home and watch in on your televison.