Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Winter's Tale without ending.

I hate this weather - HATE IT! Although for the last few days we in the south of England have been experiencing daytime temps in the dizzy heights of 4 or 5 degrees Celsius, with nights hovering around or just below zero, we're due for yet another prolonged Arctic killer blast in a couple of days, even colder than the one we had at the end of last month, which was quite bad enough, thank you! Yes, I've heard that what we are going through is as nothing compared to conditions in north-east and mid-west USA and, indeed, other parts of north and central Europe, but my tolerance of cold is already low and now it's just plain scary. My nightmare is that the heating in my flat is going to suddenly pack up, blasting away continuously day and night, which would entail me having to get in touch with my landlord whom I haven't spoken to for nearly 18 months following his displeasure at my complaining about the noisiness of my downstairs neighbour (now largely a thing of the past, by the way).
I've never known in my entire life a Winter like this. Usually if we have really cold weather and snow at all, it only starts towards mid or late January, sometimes later; but to begin in November is unheard of. Only wish I could hibernate with my pussy cats for at least the next two months. Actually, waking up just in time for Easter would be even better. Meantime it's got to go on being a case of scarf-wearing indoors, over a 4-layer top of vest, T-shirt, ordinary shirt and sweatshirt, with additional hot drinks: also two duvets at night with hot-water bottle - and yet more teeth-chattering. Brrrrrrr!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

A most welcome thaw but the snow will surely be back

Even though it was forecast, I was so pleased to find on getting up this morning that nearly all the snow and ice has gone. In my entire life I've never known such early Winter snow in such quantities, and with corresponding biting cold, day as well as night. But we are the lucky ones here in England's extreme south; the rest of the country, and Scotland especially, continues to suffer dreadfully. My heart goes out particularly to those poor homeless people, not to mention all those animals, with nowhere warm to go to. The current respite in this area is due to last only a day or so before a return to the big freeze, at least temperature-wise, but thankfully no more snow forecast for at least the next few days. But the white stuff is bound to return before too long; it's far too early to hope realistically for anything else.
I do so dislike extreme Winter weather; all very nice and picturesque when viewed from the other side of glass, but having to go out in it is another matter. Actually the snow itself is not half as bad as ice. I've always been terrified of going arse-over-tit and breaking something, though have managed to avoid taking a fall most Winters.
Our current situation is due, we are told, to a huge 'kink' in the jet-stream which, instead of coming at us direct from the Caribbean area, is now looping right up over Greenland and bringing snow and bitter temps down from there. (I heard yesterday that most of this country is currently even colder than Greenland itself!) There's also talk that it's been caused by this year's erratic behaviour of 'El Nino' off South America's Pacific coast. Whether that's the case or not, all of north and mid-Europe is suffering badly in this extreme, sustained Arctic blast.
I find it intensely irritating to hear people saying that such weather as we are experiencing proves that global-warming is a myth. Even though it's not the case with our current situation, the melting of the Arctic ice is practically certain to divert the mild Atlantic Gulf Stream, which keeps western Europe temperate for its latitude, southwards to the African coast or push it underneath the ocean surface. (This is different from the jet-stream, the latter being air, the Gulf Stream, water, of course). The consequence of a diverted Gulf Stream will be that while the rest of the earth warms up we in western Europe will actually get colder. So, maybe we ought to view our current travails of early severe Winter as merely a prelude (I nearly said "warm-up" - Ha ha!) to what may well be coming. Yes, we live in 'interesting' times.

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.