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Friday 31 March 2017

Another world

London, where I once lived, isn't Hereford, where I presently live. London isn't even Britain. It's a crowded corral where an elite endures extreme circumstances. An elite that includes the poor and the rich.

Two nights ago I stood on the south bank of the Thames taking in this sight. These flickering decorations are the headquarters of banks - detestable institutions rendered slightly less inhumane by their remoteness.

VR and I had just heard a free Schumann recital by musicians based on an elegant campus influenced by Sir Christopher Wren. His other works include St Pauls Cathedral.

Previously a taxi driver had driven us through an area disfigured by long-standing construction work. What are they making? we asked. "Probably a cycle track," he said. The joke was he knew quite well.

We were staying with friends in the south-east of the city (part of the elite, I suppose). To reach the city centre we'd propitiated robots by waving plastic symbols of wealth at them; our railed carriage took us from one concentration of light to the next. In London light is profligately disbursed.

Two small plastic containers of strangely citrousy beer and a teaspoonful of malbec from Argentina would have paid for a week's labour from a Lithuanian working in Hereford. But not for long now.

Non-residents - both fearful and envious - are constantly aware of their role as transients in this city. From London Donald Trump becomes a black hole: menacing but distant and apparently empty.

Sunday 26 March 2017

RR circumscribed

Life has been reduced by a heavy cold. The sort people who've never had flu say is flu. I once had flu, a near-death experience; heavy colds are unpleasant but nowhere near.

Going outdoors becomes a struggle. VR wanted - post-birthday - to buy a summer jacket and we went down to Hereford by bus. I made one outrageous suggestion after another and the project foundered.

I played music by Hovhaness and John Ireland, to prove my intellect was intact. The stool (see pic) allows me to sit at the mini-computer, browsing through 8046 tracks that form the extremities of my musical taste over sixty years. Previously I'd have shuffled back and forth on my knees, looking at CD spines. Now the CDs are in the attic, their content transferred to the mini's hard disc. Let's have no nonsense about the presence of CDs being a comfort.

Once I'd have eschewed drugs. But I'm old and these days I'll reach out for any solace. Day Nurse followed Night Nurse and I was disturbed by a highly charged nightmare about lost luggage. We share a bottle of champagne but I fret because VR doesn't consume her glasssfuls quickly enough.

I recognise pathos in Donald Trump. Earlier he described Alec Baldwin's Trump-parody as "unfunny" despite TV audiences roaring with laughter. When his infamous healthcare bill was withdrawn a day ago he seemed distrait, drumming his fingers and saying there'd been "no help from Democrats", as if this was surprising.

Handkerchiefs. No, I’d better not go into that.

My blocked-up sinuses create a novel, resonating cathedral nave inside my noggin. This allows me to sing entirely plausible low notes without effort. But are these notes for real? I record them on to a CD for playback on V’s machine. More later.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Scrapbook day

For complex reasons VR's birthday falls on a diet day and the celebrations are muted as we hang around, feeling the cold invade our bodies deprived of calories. I buy her a bonsai plus a Beatrix Potter owl pendant which I (brilliantly) imagine can be draped round the branches in decoration. But VR says the pendant is "good enough to wear" and I have mixed feelings about that. Instructions accompanying the bonsai suggest the mini-tree will be a demanding companion and we might as well have had a baby (I jest). Seamus Heaney's poetic translation of Aeneid VI represents a less equivocal prezzie.

I reflect on times since 1959, mostly repeats, I fear.

In London, that year, we both have Thursday off. We take the Metropolitan Line westwards, get off and walk to Amersham. Misty October, the month Britain does incomparably. Decades later I recall the day’s tactility and write a SONNET. Not my best but heartfelt.

Evening omelettes in Soho. Beyond the restaurant window a lady of the night disappears and reappears, plying her trade. We watch detachedly, unembarrassed by each other.

Delivery room, Charing Cross hospital, London. I hold VR's hand but heat and an incautious midnight hamburger combine to make me queasy and I'm sent to the viewing window. A nurse says, "It's a girl".

California: finalising a book for publication (It's about valves.). I drive a hired Dodge Charger between redwoods worried we're running out of gas.

Linden Crescent, Kingston-upon-Thames, our first owned house, December. The plumber’s finished and switches on the new central heating. To Hell with open fires.

Anytime. VR makes Eggs Mornay.

Along the Loire Valley, France, in the newly acquired Scirocco. Beethoven’s Andante Favori playing from a cassette. View and music in harmony.

Anytime. Me writing, VR fiddling with the Hudl.

Friday 17 March 2017

Wrapping up Borderline

Rest of 23 movies seen at Borderline festival.

Jackie. Well-dressed, much smoking, I couldn't mesh. Jackie K, we must remember, soon became Jackie Onassis.

Frantz. In effect a post-war film of Wilfred Owen's war poem, Strange Meeting. Character study of two nations, now uneasily peaceful.

The Olive Tree (see pic). Feelgood, best-appreciated Borderline movie (97% pro). Youth's tribute to age; rural Spain vs. urban Germany.

Julieta. I've always enjoyed director Aldomovar's special strangeness but found this too complex, slightly hysterical. VR and Ian liked it so who am I to belly-ache?

Return to Ithaca. Two or three long conversations by four middle-aged post-Franco Spaniards who all suffered. Grew on me.

A Quiet Passion. See post: The Surprise Factor

The Handmaiden. Luxuriant Oriental lesbian porn (sadism added) with awkward flashbacks. Don't take your grandchildren.

A Simple Life. Modern-day Tokyo realism at its best. Age as an ineluctable force. Characters you wanted to hug.

Personal Shopper. Séances, high fashion and young folks' misery.  I'm too old for this, always was.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Youth buddie-bonds with age in NZ escape movie. Amateurish, less charming than it thought it was.

It's Only The End Of The World. Claustrophobic (too many close-ups) acount of Canadian family's failure to communicate. Stellar performances, though.

A Taste Of Cherry. Man in a car, on a mission in arid Iraq, puts dilemma-ish proposition to three others. Couldn't take my eyes off it.

Sunday 12 March 2017

Magically transformed

Modern-day Eldwick. The self-conscious rock is very new.
As if it were a pebble in my shoe I grumble about my advanced age too much. Stupid. Here, in my blog I may be any age.

Bingley, Yorkshire, circa 1953. I wear a dull brown mac (short for mackintosh, ie, raincoat) like most local males. Not through lack of imagination, that's all there is in the shops. My hair, as dull brown as my mac, has been cut by a barber; it sits like a wedge atop my head. The sides are shorn bare. I'm on a bus for which I've paid pennies, climbing away from Bingley's mills to a village called Eldwick. Part of my weekly schedule as junior reporter with the Keighley News.

I call at Eldwick's newspaper shop, run by Robin Teasdale, once huntsman with the Airedale Beagles. "Any news?" I ask. He says no, as he always does. Outside I ignore rolling farmland leading up to moors which, I suppose, are exhilarating. For me familiarity has bred contempt.

The school’s headmaster sees me as a relief; he leaves his classroom and smokes a pipe in his office as we chat. He has an appropriate surname (Stone?) which I have now forgotten. Also a nervous tic causing him to grimace every couple of minutes. He seems unaware of this and does it in public before audiences, once caught in full contortion by the photographer from my newspaper.

For news of Eldwick Amateur Dramatic Society I call on one of two quite lovely women, blonde and brunette, in their thirties. One invites me in, the other keeps me on the doorstep. I'm a teenager, full of teenage juices, and I fantasise about both, leaving reluctantly.

These people must now be dead.

A long wait for the return bus. I may walk, since it’s downhill.

Thursday 9 March 2017

The surprise factor

We may be impressed or moved or disgusted by great works of art. More rarely are we surprised. Even if we've led wilfully sheltered lives we've usually absorbed a host of trailers before we come upon the Rembrandt self-portraits, Boswell's Life of Johnson or Citizen Kane. We are prepared and this can interfere with the way we respond. After all, no one wants to admit - at first sight - that Hamlet's a right old load of rubbish. I should add in support of my High Cultural Virginity this wasn't my initial reaction to the great Danish time-waster.

But I was surprised by Madame Bovary. Oh I knew it was a French classic, a true "modern" novel. But even now, forty or fifty years on, I remember my first act on finishing it. I turned back to the title pages searching for small print that confirmed I hadn't read what the French call Texte intégral but rather an abridgement, perhaps even by Reader's Digest. There had been no hindrances, the story moved at great pace and with fearless clarity. Classics usually demand concentration, some allowances for obsolete language; Bovary moved like a rocket.

Moby Dick also surprised me but this was less admirable, I ended up smug. I'd been warned about the density, the detours and the fog coefficient but I read it straight through as if it were an Agatha Christie. What, I wondered, was the problem? Yes, you're right: utterly insufferable! Alas, Tone Deaf is frequently just that.

Nobody in my group much cared for A Quiet Passion, a recent movie about Emily Dickinson, the poet whose external life was a nothingness. I stayed silent, saw it as a masterpiece. Surprise may be incommunicable.

Sunday 5 March 2017

Easy going

The Cherry mechanical keyboard, above, represents an act of pure indulgence. It replaces a perfectly good membrane unit - recently cleaned! - which cost almost two-thirds less. It offers two barely justifiable advantages: a longer, more positive key-stroke with a noisier, clackety action.

In my lifetime I've typed millions of words and intend to type millions more. Only my toothbush is a more intimate companion than my keyboard. Its businesslike rattle is indirect yet audible proof of a brain doing what brains do. It is the sound of work, my kind of work, both reassuring and pre-emptive. If I were a dentist I'd buy a decent drill, the Cherry is my equivalent.

I jab the keys and their descent is abruptly arrested. I sense this dissipation of energy and it comforts me. Saws rasp, mowers drone, kettles sing and things get done. I'm getting this post done.

The surface of the keys is slightly rough, perhaps promoting a better link with my finger-tips. Certainly I type more confidently.

And more quickly. On a roll the clacks become continuous and this, I suppose, is a measure of my efficiency. Necromantic yet familiar labels - Caps lock, Scroll lock, PgDn - emerge and disappear beneath my flying fingers and I know I'm at home.

I type therefore I am. I type to say I am. I type for the sheer novelty of it. I am not a roomful of monkeys.

Friday 3 March 2017

A real biggie

At Borderlines we could have booked for Abel Gance's silent five-and-a-half-hour epic, Napoleon. The breaks were kindly (50 minutes for late lunch, 20 minutes with optional tea/coffee and cake, 10 minutes for minor surgery) but we worried about the eventual state of our backsides. I bought the four-DVD set instead and we watched in upholstered comfort at home. In one go from 6 pm to near-midnight.

The film first appeared in 1927 but this version had been digitally restored over decades and includes a musical background adapted mainly from Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Submitting to this ordeal might have seemed masochistic but if you care for movies in the widest sense and feel you need to know more about French history you should take a punt.

Ironically this was only half the story, no mention of Trafalgar or Waterloo, of course. But never mind, for several years Napoleon retrieved France's glory and the preceding events are told with great passion. The central character (played by Albert Dieudonné) becomes part of your family by the end.

But the over-arching drama is the way director Gance pushes movie potential to the absolute limit. If you forget the mainly static camera and the lack of spoken dialogue this becomes a very modern film. Huge crowds are handled with great conviction (The Convention: France's maniacal revolutionary government; the siege of Toulon; and - grandest of all - Napoleon addressing the exhausted French army in Italy) yet the face-to-face scenes involve real people.

At nearly six hours for £22, it's a snip. With whatever wine you care to choose. Bring in the neighbours and gain a reputation for cultural philanthropy.

UPDATE. Checked with Borderlines management and discovered that 73 hardy souls with cast-iron bums (= half the Small Studio) had booked Napoleon. Felt mildly proud of Hereford.

Thursday 2 March 2017

Worldwide films

Ordered a moderately expensive Cherry keyboard - works mechanically and clacks, just like the old Underwoods in the news-room at the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford. Said to be therapeutic.

The Borderline Film Festival continues:

Alone in Berlin. Middle-aged couple distribute anti-Nazi messages in Berlin during war. Despite predictable ending their dogged courage is uplifting. (See pic; yes, that's Emma Thompson!).

Graduation. Slippery moral slope for doctor and family struggling to live in corrupt modern Romania.

The Unknown Girl. Idealistic Belgian doctor, racked by guilt at single minor act of negligence, investigates death of young woman immigrant.

The Salesman. Won Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. Yet another masterpiece from Iran (How do they do it?): assault on woman is explained by couple appearing in production of Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Detailed and persuasive.

La-La Land. Doesn't live up to hype. Musical with feeble tunes, modest dancing by principals and vestigial show-bizz plot lapses into inanition. Jazz sub-plot looks like five minutes spent on Google.

The Headless Woman. Mis-titled, over-ambitious and opaque  story from Argentine about woman whose personality is affected by car accident. Repetitive, uncommunicative and somewhat irritating.