Saturday, 20 November 2010

Does over-generous tipping signify a need to be liked?

(I'd be very interested indeed to hear of other opinions on this issue.)

I've always been one to over-tip in restaurants, taxis etc - and I've wondered many times if the reason originates from a subconscious desire to be approved of, and specifically, for being gay, even if the waiter, taxi-driver etc gets no 'clue' that I am such. - Or is that too simplistic?
I regularly give tips of around 20%, but if the original charge is a relatively small amount I may give 50% or even more. Although at the time it makes me feel better, I then get to wondering if it's having the opposite of the desired effect; for example, are they going back and laughing at me with their co-workers for being such a 'soft-touch'?
I'm not proud of what I do but it's a kind of compulsion. Perhaps it's a compensating for low self-esteem? When I regularly used to go to restaurants with a group of gay friends they would look aghast at the amount of money I'd leave, and they'd try to get me to take some of it back, saying that they would never leave so much.
The etiquette of leaving tips in British restaurants is a mess anyway. No one knows what the correct way to act is, where you can never be sure that the money you pay on top of a bill will go to the waiter or to the business, and whether a so-called 'service-charge' (usually 10%, but sometimes 15%) has already been added to the menu prices when you get the bill, whether you think it's deserved or not (an infernal cheek, if you ask me!). In cases where I want to register my disapproval of a particularly poor quality of service, I just give them a mere 10%. (Hah! That'll teach them a lesson!). But the whole thing needs seriously sorting out. It's even been found that in some places the staff are watched on CCTV to make sure that they declare any cash picked up, which, if they are allowed to keep, is then deducted from their wages!; which rather takes away the whole point of giving a tip in the first place.

This issue connects to my previous blog about Lionel Bart who, also gay, was likewise profligate in his generosity - perhaps for the same reason as me; though of course, mine, in its relative modesty, can hardly begin to compare in scale with his!

I'd really like to know how others react to giving tips generally and how much they usually do give; always on the assumption, of course, that it's going to end up in the pocket of the person whom you want it to.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lionel Bart - A story of what might have been.

Born in 1930, Lionel Bart did have one enormous success on both stage and on screen with 'Oliver!' before dying in 1999, having been rescued from penury a few years earlier in a daze of alcohol and drugs which had blighted his life and practically destroyed him back in the 1960s. Even as the film of the musical was up for numerous Oscars in 1968 he had sunk so low that he wasn't even invited to attend the ceremony, remaining at home alone in his small, dingy apartment. (The film won 'Best picture' Oscar as well as 'Best Director' for Carol Reed.)
But it all could have been so much better. If he'd made more sound judgments he could well have ended up as the British answer to Irving Berlin, who, like Bart, couldn't read music, but who also had a great talent for both melody and words. Just look at the internal rhymes and half-rhymes of one of the lesser-known songs from 'Oliver!' - 'Oom-pah-pah'. Aren't they just so brilliantly clever?

There's a little ditty they're singin' in the city
Especially when they've been on the gin or the beer.
If you've got the patience your own imaginations will tell you just exactly what you want to hear.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, that's how it goes.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah, everyone knows,
They all suppose what they want to suppose, when they hear 'Oom pah pah'.

Mister Percy Snodgrass would often have the odd glass
But never when he thought anybody could see.
Secretly he'd buy it and drink it on the quiet and dream he was an earl with a girl on his knee.
Oom pah pah, Oom pah pah etc
What is the cause of his red shiny nose?
Could it be 'Oom pah pah'?

Pretty little Sally goes walking down the alley
Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men.
They could see her garters but not for free and gratis.
An inch or two and then she knows when to say when.
Oom pah pah etc
Whether it's hidden or whether it shows,
It's the same Oom pah pah.

She was from the country but now she's up a gumtree.
She let a fellow beat her and lead her along.
What's the use of cryin'? She made her bed to lie in.
She's glad to bring a coin in and join in this song.
Oom pah pah etc
She is no longer the same blushing rose,
Ever since Oom pah pah.

Bart's troubles began soon after his first successes, penning big hits for the likes of Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele. Apart from 'Oliver!' he had success (at least in Great Britain) with other musicals, notably 'Blitz' and 'Maggie May'. His sudden wealth in the 1960s when drugs were just about de rigueur for any successful person, coupled with his alcoholism, led him to throw parties for the rich and famous, where his habitual generosity accelerated his downfall. It was reported that at the door he'd leave bowls full of money (and drugs), telling all to help themselves to what they wanted. The bubble was destined to burst soon anyway but the ultimate crushing blow came with his ill-fated comedy-musical 'Twang!', based on the Robin Hood legend, which cost an absolute fortune to stage and bombed immediately, creating a mountain of debt for him, from which he never ever recovered. As part of the bankruptcy arrangements he was required to sign away the rights of any future royalties for 'Oliver!' in perpetuity (both stage and film). So while this show in particular was being feted around the world (I saw a really fine production in German at the Munich Opera House) he was living in poverty in a basement flat in London, just eking the humblest of existences. But a belated salvation of sorts came in the early 1990s when the theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh discovered the state Bart was living in and managed to negotiate an arrangement with his debtors to allow him a modest share of future royalties of 'Oliver!'. Although he was only to survive a few more years a slightly more comfortable life was thus secured for him before he finally died in 1999.

Lionel Bart was Jewish and gay, the latter at a time when all homosexuality was criminal. It's said that he wanted to marry one of England's biggest singing stars of the late 1950s and early 60s, Alma Cogan, as a 'cover', but nothing came of it. (She was also Jewish, also never married and died from cancer at the tragically young age of 34.)
It's a very sad tale of how things could have been so much better for Lionel Bart. To those of us who love musicals, he passed through our lives as brilliantly but as short-lived as a meteor. We were deprived of a formidable talent, though such tragic tales are not an uncommon story. What we can do is to cherish and enjoy what he did leave us and toast his memory and achievements.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Yet more pills to take. I'm starting to think I ought to feel unhealthy!

Like so many of us who've seen more than a few dear friends depart this life prematurely, I do feel grateful my good health; never having had a serious illness; never having been in hospital; never having broken any bones - yes, I'm truly fortunate. However......
My doctor has now put me on yet another medication, which like the others prescribed, are designed to keep my blood pressure in check. So with these newly prescribed statins to go with the 3 others he'd previously prescribed, and with the recommended daily aspirin, as well as the multi-vitamin supplement (which I've been taking for over 30 years to top-up my vegetarian diet), the daily odourless garlic tablet (I dislike garlic in food, but know it's purported to have heart-beneficial properties) and daily cod-liver oil for my ageing joints (my sole contravening of veggie lifestyle, something I do feel guilty about) and quinine tablets (to prevent those dreadfully agonising night cramps, which I've had a lifelong tendency to suffer) - I now take a total of 9 different daily tablets. Compared with some people that's not many at all, but for someone who is otherwise healthy? It does seem oddly excessive.
Whenever I tell the doctor (or nurse) that I sometimes marvel that I don't rattle as I walk I always get the same answer, along the lines of "Well, it's better than being dead, isn't it?" which sounds to me somewhat melodramatic though I do understand the reasoning, even though the efficacy of all these tablets can't be positively proved. It's a bit like being on a vital life-preserving drip needed to keep me alive, albeit a mental drip. Oh well. Quit moaning, Ray, and count your blessings! "One, two, three, f........"

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Jazz - Why can't I 'get it'?

The scene: An Oscar Peterson concert about 30 years ago. Myself in the audience.
He starts playing piano. (I think it might have been 'Deep Purple'.) He's playing it straight, just as it was written. I think to myself "Crikey, this is so good." I settle down in my seat letting the glorious melody waft over me. He plays it once, straight through, his small group accompanying him unobtrusively. Then......
He starts from the beginning again, only this time, it's, well, different. I feel a bit let down. Why did he stop playing the way I liked it? But, hang on. There are mumbles of satisfaction from the audience - "Oh yeah......Mmmmm" - a few smatterings of applause, even audible laughter, heads start moving this way and that. I look round and see practically everyone else wearing what appears to be beaming smiles, almost ecstatic. The man himself turns to the audience with a wide grin and gives them a wink of complicity. But it wasn't meant for the likes of me. I was totally not part of it, excluded, shut out from this 'conspiracy' of shared pleasure. And so the rest of the concert proceeded in like fashion - me sitting there, cold and unmoved whilst everyone else was in raptures of delight at the master's dexterity in giving them just what they'd come for.

So it's been all my life. I have a passion for most types of music, - in particular classical, pop (well,, say 1950s up to around 2000) and musicals (Good heavens! Who would have thought it?). Country and Western I can listen to with ease and pleasure - rock, yes, up to a point, though not Heavy Metal (predictably). But jazz (I mean true jazz - 'trad' jazz is no problem) has always been a 'blind spot (deaf spot?) to me which I wish wasn't there. I've tried and tried over many years, not just attending the occasional jazz concert like the one I've just described, but also deliberately listening to jazz programmes on the radio. All the time I'm unable to tune in to that special jazz 'wavelength' in the brain which clearly gives so many people so much pleasure that I want to be a part of also.
I once met in Germany an American guy about my age, a serious jazz aficionado, and told him of my feelings of 'inadequacy'. He suggested concentrating on listening to the bass line rather than the embellishments that went on above it, which (he said) should automatically carry one along. So I tried that method. I mean really tried. But all to no avail. No matter how I listened it was always the same feeling of not being able to 'tune in'. In fact I was shut out.
I haven't re-attempted to overcome the problem for some years now and am wondering whether I ought to give it just one more go. Or maybe I ought to accept that I'm too old now and that if one hasn't 'got it' yet, one never will.
It still bugs me a bit that there's obviously something there that's giving pleasure to so many millions, yet because of some 'blocking' I can't be part of it. Well, perhaps I just ought to accept that we're all different. I bet there aren't many around who'd care for me to lecture them on the sublime, supreme perfection of Bach's choral and keyboard music - and why should they?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Films which spooked me the most.

(I was going to post this as a comment on Cubby's excellent 'Patently Queer' blog as an entry under his 'Hallowe'en Meme', but I found it kept growing and would have overshadowed his own original blog - so here it is separately, re-worded, with acknowledgement to Larry/Cubby for providing the idea.)

In chronological order of film release (all seen for the first time by me in a cinema, of course) :-

Even I was too young to see 'Psycho' on its first time round, but it was re-released in 1966 (in a double-bill with the 1953 'War of the Worlds'). To date I have still never seen a film which elicited so many screams from an audience. The film may appear to be old-hat now, having been dissected and analysed over and over again, and when we watch it again (it really does stand up to repeated viewing with Tony Perkins' performance surely being his best ever) it's more admiration for Hitchcock's artifice rather than for the original raw emotions, which can never be re-captured. If I watch it now, it's in an forensic way, observing how and why it was so brilliantly effective.

Seeing 'The Exorcist' in 1973 for the first time caused me more ensuing sleepless nights than any other film. It still holds up, nearly 40 years later - though it's a shame that the head-swivelling scene looks so artificial in those pre-CGI days. But that's only a few seconds out of a very disturbing and, yes, a good and extremely powerful film.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (original version, 1974 ) - banned from showing anywhere in Oxford (where I was living at the time) and also in many other areas of the U.K.. - and when I eventually did see it I could see why! Nightmare stuff!

John Carpenter's 1982 'The Thing' - the blood-test scene above all. Even though I know which scientist is the replicant it's still as chilling as hell!
Btw I could never understand why the same director's 'Halloween' (1978) is so highly regarded. One of the leading British film critics has called it 'the greatest horror film ever'! I agree that it's certainly a good film but I doubt if it would find a place in my 'Best 500 Films of All Time'.

I'm with Larry in nominating 'Paranormal Activities' as probably the scariest film of recent years. I'm going next week to see the sequel, but it's received poor reviews here, largely because the 'shocks' delivered are due more to sudden loud bangs on the soundtrack rather than skilful film-making. That's not clever, it's just lazy and it's cheating!

Honourable mentions:-
'Alien' - shame that after John Hurt's spectacular stomach-bursting scene, all the subsequent killings seem to be anti-climaxes.
'Poltergeist' - would have been more effective if curtailed before the final half-hour which culminates in the overblown cemetery upheaval and graves- and coffins-opening scene.
'The Amityville Horror' (1978 original) - despite less than enthusiastic reviews I thought it was probably the best among the glut of 'haunting' films made over the following decade. (My main concern was hoping that the family dog would escape unharmed.)

Looking forward to other suggestions by anyone who reads my blog. (Thanks again, Larry)


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Tuesday, 26 October 2010