Friday, 11 June 2010

Thank you, ma'am!

Got a bounce in my step this morning. Just heard on the news about the Queen's birthday honours list (which is issued, I think, three times a year - as recommended by the Prime Minister at the time). Three names jump out at me who are well worthy to be so recognised:-
The lovely, talented and still-young actress, Sophie Okenedo
The American writer/commentator Bonnie Greer - always acutely and eloquently perceptive.
The young astro-physicist Professor Brian Cox - left-leaning atheist whose boyish enthusiasm and cheeky charm has rapidly endeared himself to us on our TV screens over just the last couple of years. When the time comes for the revered Richard Dawkins to hang up his clogs, Cox would be a worthy successor - and could well win his laurels by being the primary hate-figure of all those pesky God-botherers. One can but hope.

Of course being 'honoured' with the title of 'Member/Order/Companion of the British Empire' these days carries an absurd incongruity (what Empire?). Even when there was an Empire to speak of, it was hardly something to be proud of - but nowadays everyone recognises it's just a symbolic recognition of excellence.
Before Tony Blair such awards were largely confined to crusty old retired politicians and entertainers - the notable exception was the Beatles being awarded M.B.E.s in the mid 1960s, which saw significant numbers of retired army-majors and generals etc returning their honours in disgust. But then a few years later John Lennon returned his own anyway.
Even if I myself had achieved something in public life which had been considered worthy of being recognised by a title (ah, if only!) I don't think I'd have felt comfortable accepting it. There have, indeed, been quite a number of high-profile refusals, one of the more noteworthy ones being the Jamaican Rasta populist-poet, Benjamin Zephania (one of the few people alive whom I'd most like to meet). But even so, it can't stop my rejoicing at the public recognition of people whom I admire. Congratulations to all!

Beautiful Occasion.

I was on the verge of tears (of joy) this afternoon watching the opening ceremony of the Football (Soccer) World Cup live from Johannesburg. It's still very much a novelty for me seeing people of different-coloured races mingling in this former pariah country. Even a decade and a half since the end of apartheid it seems a miracle that it happened at all - especially to people like me who, during all our politically-aware lives, had seen South Africa as a living, suppurating scar on the face of humanity. Sure, we have other 'scars' now, some of a different quality, and some indeed still within that very country, but for so long South Africa was the litmus-test for a person's attitude towards justice. I recall Mrs Thatcher, as she tried every which way to block sanctions, actually denouncing Mandela as a 'terrorist' ("Anyone who thinks the ANC will ever rule in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land!") Then there was the famous Conservative Party conference which she presided over as Prime Minister where T-shirts were widely sported bearing the legend "HANG NELSON MANDELA". (Ha ha! What a joke! What fun!) When I was working then, my colleagues would try to wind me up by bringing in sanction-flouting South African apples to eat with their lunch - announcing that they were doing so, of course. I just sat there and seethed.
Anyway, thank heavens those days are well truly past. (Thatcher shortly afterwards had the gall to claim that it was her influence that helped to end apartheid. ["Talks, yes - sanctions, NO!"] But then that same 'gracious lady' also claimed that it was her influence and that of President Regan which were paramount in bringing down the Berlin Wall and Communism in Europe. Well, as she is now in quite advanced dotage, let's allow her that comforting view of her former megalomania, shall we?)
South Africa today, despite it's searing difficulties, still offers a brilliant symbol of hope demonstrating that man, at least in some respects, can advance out of darkness. I salute you all - well apart from those Afrikaaners who want to turn the clock back. Dream on, losers!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Dreading a very likely future health situation

As long as I can remember I've suffered from night cramps (known in the USA , I believe, as 'Charley Horses'). In my family it's been only me suffering among us five siblings, but my father also had the complaint. When I was younger they came on rarely, maybe only two or three times in a year. But getting older, it's become more frequent till now it's a nightly fear. When they were occurring at the rate of about once every week or so, I told my doctor who prescribed Quinine Sulphate tablets, to be taken every night before retiring. They seemed to make little or no difference, but they also aggravated my already debilitating fractured sleep patterns, so I ceased taking them. Of course the threat of oncoming cramps continue to come on regularly and relentlessly, and I still have to jump out of bed to arrest it before it can take hold, otherwise if it's allowed to, the pain is so extreme in it's agony that if there was the means close at hand to end it all I do believe I might be sorely tempted. Anyone who doesn't experience these 'night cramps' just has NO idea! The absurd and inconsequential mild term of description doesn't even begin to reflect the magnitude of the pain. I simply cannot imagine there being anything more excruciating that it's possible to suffer. Only very recently did I become aware that jumping out of bed at some point has become just about a nightly occurrence now. I looked up the condition on the Internet yesterday but it didn't really tell much that isn't already known - suggested preventatives being going to bed well hydrated and doing calf-stretching exercises. So yesterday evening I drank plenty of water and did the stretching. The result? I had to jump out of bed twice last night. Some years ago, for the first time that I remember, I got it in both legs simultaneously and wasn't able to stand up in time to stop it. God, as a result of the absolutely dreadful pain, the sweat poured out of me while I bit and chewed on the pillow. I really thought my heart was going to give up as I heard it thumping fortissimo. I was praying for deliverance - anything, but please take this hideous agony away! After possibly the longest two or three minutes of my life it eventually passed, leaving me drenched, panting for breath but ever so thankful it had receded.
I suppose I can continue to live with this condition (what choice is there?) - but for how much longer? I'm terrified of when the time comes when I just cannot manage to get out of bed in time to stretch the calves before the pain sets in on its inevitable arc of indescribable agony, and even moreso when the time arrives when I've become permanently bed-ridden and cannot rise at all. I'll be screaming and yelling so hard my vocal cords will snap. What a horrible prospect in store. If only a really effective remedy could be found - quickly.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Stephen King - so variable!

In my 'pivotal' decade of the 1980s I liked to consider myself one of this writer's most enthusiastic fans. He could hardly do any wrong (well apart from 'The Stand'). Then he embarked on the series 'The Dark Tower', of which I've read the first three, but felt decidedly lukewarm about them. Also more door-stoppers including 'It, which, after a brilliant start rapidly fades whilst there are still several hundred pages to go. 'Needful Things' wasn't too bad, 'Rose Madder' somewhat better.....Could go on but what I want to say is that I left him aside for several years, then some months ago bought half a dozen at one go to catch up on some that I'd missed. I read first 'Just After Sunset' and felt so excited. This was King back on vintage form! Then 'Duma Key', not as good despite having its moments. Now today I've just finished 'Cell' - and what a clunker it is! I just don't think he can really carry off these novels set in an apocalyptic setting. The further he gets from reality the more boring the plotlines become. I think he's most successful in the 'small town' worlds of novels like 'Christine', 'Cujo', 'Misery', 'Pet Semetary' 'The Shining' and others of that ilk - plus many of his short stories are very fine. Sometimes they are so damned funny! Now in the 'still-to-read' pile beside me are 'Lesley's Story' and 'Everything's Eventual', but I almost hardly dare start them for fear of being disappointed. There's such a yawning gulf between him at his best and at his worst. But he's been so prolific there was bound to be differences of quality. And at his best, for horror writing he's been pretty well unbeatable.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Eurovision delivers entertainment value in spades - again!

Well, so what if the U.K. could do no better than finish in 25th place? - out of 25! It's hardly the end of the world, even though it is happening with alarmingly increasing regularity - it's the 3rd time in the last 8 years. Whilst conceding our song may not have deserved to have been a clear winner (part-penned by composers of all those international disco hits of the 1980s, including Kylie, which had then got so many of us sweaty on the dance floor) I thought it at least should have finished in the top 10, but it didn't help being delivered by an inexperienced and uncharismatic 19 year old youth.
Winner was Germany, only their second-ever win - their previous win being Nicole's dreadfully twee 'A Little Peace' in 1982. Still can't see why yesterday's entry won (sung by one 'Lela', also 19), though I believe it has already been a huge hit throughout large parts of Europe. I can't recall now the 'tune' to 'Satellite'. Maybe there wasn't one.

But, above all, it was the OTT campery which always makes this event so watchable - surely the gayest thing on TV which is not explicitly defined as 'gay'.
The event of the night just had to be the 5-man (repeat, 'man'!) Greek entry, 'Hopa!', delvered by this clutch of foot-stomping, testosterone-bursting, all-white-clad HE-MEN. They must all have been surely rugger-buggers, heavyweight boxers or knitting champions - possibly all three! What with their grunts and orgasmic-sounding, deep-throated repeated cries of "UGH" they were just too TOO! And the hunky lead singer with his glorious facial fuzz - OMG! I just wanted to shout out to them "HERE I AM! TAKE ME!" As a song it would have been my runner-up.
I actually voted for Serbia, with its epicene, blond boy (I think) lead singer - and four dancers including an hilarious constant smiler of a cloney-bearded type whom I could just have eaten up raw. In the event they finished about half-way.
The other eye-opener was the male half (natch!) of Romania's double act, sitting at each end of a double-keyboard, see-through, grand piano. Boy, he was good looking! A bit more mature than 'Smiley of Serbia' but with similar-style short beard. Every time he opened his fur-rimmed mouth I just wanted to fill it! Nice song, which actually finished 3rd.
As for the women - Iceland's entry takes the honours for me - a lady at least well into her 30s, maybe older, and carrying more 'embonpoint' than Mama Cass, Sophie Tucker and Montserrat Caballe combined - with Susan Boyle thrown in! To see her daintily side-stepping and gently swaying to her song amid her sylph-like supporting dancers held me in awe.
All in all, then, a memorable evening. Pity it's only once a year, but I suppose that's what makes it even more anticipated. Great fun!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

See-saw newsday

There haven't been many up-and-down news days like today before.

First thing this morning - and it's still the main news item this evening - is the revelation that the biggest rising 'star' and most popular politician of this barely fortnight-old coalition government has been claiming accommodation expenses to pay to his male lover of the past 9 years, whose rooms he had been renting. He says he didn't say anything about it because he wanted to protect his privacy and didn't wish to reveal his sexuality - though I'd never heard anyone question it, and if they had, so what? He hadn't been married to a woman, and he doesn't even now consider his partner to be a 'spouse'. But it's a fact that though he may not strictly have broken the law, it does contravene the spirit of it, as the practice is explicitly prohibited. David Laws is in his 40s, highly intelligent and competent, and widely respected, even outside his own Lib-Dem party - but it doesn't help for him to have been the very Minister slated to warn the country of the stringent times ahead and to publicly announce cuts in government expenditure. Oh dear. At the moment he is still in post but I don't see how he can stay there for long before David Cameron, our new Prime Minister, tells him he has to go. Great pity. I still quite like him - but if he does go, as he should, I suppose there is still time for him to bounce back. (By the way, I've heard no talk at all that he ought to go just because he's gay - something that probably would have been argued prominently until a little more than a decade ago.).

Then this afternoon there was the very happy news that the gay Malawian couple have been released from their 14-year prison sentences - pretty well certainly because of international pressure. Truly wonderful news! I only hope they can find somewhere to live safely and peacefully - though that's unlikely to be in their own country as there'd be far too many people, even the majority, who would wish them harm.

Then just an hour ago I heard the sad but not entirely unexpected news of the death of that marvellous maverick, Dennis Hopper. A legend in his own lifetime who managed to lift any film he featured in - including the ghastly 'Waterworld'. He'll never be forgotten by me and many others.

And now, in just over an hour, we have the glorious annual campery of the Eurovision Song Contest, live from Oslo. It's always guaranteed to be outrageous, - and that's only the men in the audience! I've been watching this since 1958 when it was taken far more seriously than it is now. It's not so important which country wins, but it's now 13 years since the U.K. triumphed. Last year we came 5th, with a specially-penned Andrew Lloyd Webber song. The actual winner was a cheekily good-looking and boyish singer, for Norway, but he did have a good lively song too. In this year's semi-finals my two choices of Netherlands and Slovakia both sadly failed to get enough votes to make tonight's final. The favourites to win are Azerbaijan and Germany - though the U.K. isn't such a bad entry either, unlike in some years. So, should be fun - and there are always some surprises.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Being a 'loner' v being 'lonely'.

I've always found difficulty in living in the presence of others - and, I admit, a significant part of that is the ever-present fear of being hurt by them. Consequently as long as I can recall I feel more comfortable in being alone, or in the company of animals, neither of whom have the power to hurt. At the same time I'm aware that an extensive range of life has been missed out on, foremost being the capacity and satisfaction of sharing experiences, and that definitely is to be regretted. However I'm getting increasingly apprehensive that it may not be very long now before I become physically less able to see do everything for myself - shopping, washing, cleaning etc. It may be that the time I fear is yet some years away, but come it will. It would now be so nice to have someone emotionally close who is at a similar stage in life and whose support would be mutually reassuring, not necessarily physically here all the time but available when needed.
The word 'loner' these days carries such negative connotations. It has come to be seen as, at best, unhealthy and suspicious, or at worst, just plain creepy. (Only today in the news, a suspected serial killer of prostitutes is described as being a 'loner'. Similarly, so many of those convicted of downloading under-age porn, or even actually carrying out sexual assaults on children, are given the same epithet.) Yet I can only be truly happy and relaxed when alone. I hardly ever feel 'lonely' in the sense of desiring company, which I know would only give rise to stresses and anxieties about what that person is thinking and may say to me. Simultaneously (and ridiculously?) before I say anything to that person I will be trying to weigh up the effect of my own words in advance, in order to avoid offending them - the curious result of this 'tightrope act' being that my words will sometimes come out gauchely and give rise to the very effect that I'd been trying so assiduously to avoid - which in turn would cause yet further anguish to myself. I'd then think "What's the point? Better to retreat back into my shell where I can't hurt others and they can't hurt me."
I so much envy those I know, particularly in these blogs, who are managing to live with others. Not so much because of their partners per se, but more in that they have been able to make adjustments to and compromises in their own lives in order to achieve a fulfilment far superior to what it would have been had they remained single. Makes me realise with some sharpness that the defect is in my own psyche - but I suspected that all along.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Grizzly pic, grisly news - but maybe not entirely.


Yours truly - taken yesterday shortly after hearing the appalling news from Malawi, which still weighs heavily inside me. You'd think that even Christian leaders would be dismayed and be speaking out against the obscene sentences. Perhaps they are - but I think that the local ones at least would be too afraid of bringing down the wrath of their own congregations. Just hearing the viciously hateful comments made by people outside the courts, as well as the judge, fills me with despair.
But on the other hand, and to raise the spirits, wasn't it great to hear what Laura Bush had been really thinking on LGBT issues during those eight dark years when she was First Lady? I'd always seen her as a robotically obedient 'Stepford Wife' but now it seems she just might have been instrumental in restraining the worst excesses that 'Dubya' could have been influenced to enact. Or am I being naive - and should we withhold any gratefulness to her because she didn't do still more?

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Sorry, I don't find it funny!

Why is it when a film depicts a character going into a shop or supermarket, that person inevitably does a bit of shoplifting? Moreover, in every case the deed is portrayed as something we should chuckle or laugh out loud at, or even applaud when the thief manages to leave without being detected or escapes a following pursuit. I grimace when I hear the audience give the 'desired' reaction, equivalent to "Ha ha, what a lark! How cool!" Don't they and the film-makers ever entertain the thought that thieving is wrong? I'm prepared to accept that there may be life-and-death situations where robbery is the only means to prevent starvation, but this is hardly ever or never the case in films. At the risk of sounding really goody-goody, I've never in my life stolen any article, certainly not from shops, not even in the days of fooling around as a kid. Could this be one of the positive results of having had a rigid Catholic education? Maybe, but I doubt it - in the U.K. Roman Catholics represent a disproportionately high percentage of the prison population, and have done so for decades.
I raise the subject because I've just seen an otherwise rather good new Australian film, 'Samson & Delilah', which includes such a scene. In fact the only single film I can recall off the top of my head where shoplifting was depicted as undesirable, was in another Aussie film, 'Muriel's Wedding', when Muriel's mother, beset with mental health problems, absent-mindedly takes an item from a shelf without paying for it. She is nabbed but returned to her home by the police, excused on this occasion when her mental problems become evident. But she is portrayed as a rather pathetic and tragic figure, a far cry from the 'bravado' of a gutsy 'true heroically successful thief.
Maybe I'm just a reactionary fuddy-duddy, and stealing is nowadays regarded as a bit of harmless fun. But nevertheless it does disturb me that others think the whole subject is so light-hearted it can be simply laughed off. Or is it a case of me not 'changing with the times'?