Monday, 16 January 2012

Crossword ability - still there!

I think I've got some justification in feeling a bit chuffed with myself. I've just completed a certain crossword in under 24 hours without resorting once to a dictionary, reference book or the internet (as well as having completed the 'Speedy Crossword' from the same paper).
    Doesn't sound very remarkable, but when I was between my late-teens and mid-20s I did manage, or attempted to finish, the 'Everyman' competition crossword from our Sunday 'Observer' newspaper every week, occasionally sending them off to try to win the prize - though it was never won by me. Then when I moved house and lived alone, away from my parents, the habit fell into desuetude. I'd always kept the resolution to resume this satisfying practice sometime, but it never transpired (through always thinking about lack of time) - at least until yesterday, some 40 years later!
The 'Everyman' crossword is by no means the most difficult around, though I don't think many would classify it as 'easy'. Clues are in the direction of being 'cryptic', though anagrams, letter sequences, abbreviations also all appear - and it helps to have a reasonable grounding of general knowledge.
   So, now that I know I still can do it, I'll probably make it a weekly feature. Flexing and using those brain 'muscles' and achieving the desired result is oh so very satisfying!

Now while on the subject, how about if I offer, purely for entertainment, three classic clues and publish the answers in a few days time? The first has become a bit of an old chestnut by now, but it's possible that some of you have not seen it before. It was posed to me by a friend all those decades ago. Even though I say myself that I did get the answer, eventually - that 'eventually' took some time to come.
The second I heard on the radio some years ago where the very clever answer was given immediately. I'm dead certain I would never have got it - but it's a word we've all heard and used.
And the third was one I did eventually get - but only after considerable research in the local public library. I should imagine that, using the web, it would be possible to come up with the answer in a very short time, perhaps even a few seconds.

Clue 1)    H I J K L M N O                 (5 letters)

Clue 2)   heggs                                   (11 letters)

Clue 3) What Methuselah and Madame de Pompadour had in common?         (12 letters)

So, if you're inclined have a go. None of them is impossibly difficult. Well after all, I got two of them!
If you work them out or want to offer an answer please don't write them in a comment (otherwise I might have to delete it) , though a comment that you'd got them, without giving away the answer(s) would be nice. But if you want to suggest anything to me by e-mail I will respond through that medium. However, I will be posting the answers here in a few days time anyway. Good luck!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

My two classical music 'gods'.

I've postponed it too long. Because I've considered it something of an academic subject which may not interest many of my followers, only now, on my 240th blog, do I talk a little about the two composers who have meant so much to me through at least five decades, one of whose music I can never get enough of listening to, the other who gets into my mind with such force that I actually go out of my way to avoid listening to him, feeling emotionally drained by the experience.

     It's a bit odd that J.S.Bach, surely being one of the ultimate 'cerebral' composers does not tire me in the least, even though most of his music appeals on an intellectual level. His music has been called "mathematics in sound" which, I suppose, can be dismissed as absurd, though I think it contains more than a germ of truth.
There is a purity of vision in his compositions, an inevitability and a perfection which I think outdoes every other composer who has ever lived (a point of view that admirers of Mozart would undoubtedly challenge, but which I would maintain). There is practically no composition of his I can think of that could be improved. Yet it is difficult to believe that in the years following his death his worth was not recognised and his fame was far surpassed by several of his composer-sons. It was left to Mendelssohn, a century later, to re-claim him out of the obscurity to which he had sunk and to place him on his rightful pedestal  from where he has towered ever since.

   Beethoven, by contrast, is the eternal voice of the human spirit, aspiring for perfection, but never quite getting there. I can hear such greatness in his music while simultaneously recognising the faults in it - and, not only that, but arrogant as it may sound, in my mind I think I know how it could have been even better. While Bach is, for me, the supreme intellectual composer, Beethoven appeals on a combination of the intellectual, spiritual and emotional levels. For this reason, virtually anything by dear Ludwig is such an 'event' that listening attentively to his music simply tires me out.
   One of the very first live concerts I ever went to (I would have been maybe 16) was an all-Beethoven programme of the 'Egmont' overture, the 'Emperor' concerto and the 'Eroica' symphony. Not just three 'Es' but the two major works were in the same key of Eb, which by itself would be a challenge! Being so young my tastes and preferences hadn't quite settled yet and I thought the whole experience was wonderful. However, I know full well that I couldn't listen to such a concert these days. I'd feel mentally suffocated after nearly two hours of such passionate intensity!

  But these two, for very disparate reasons, are two beings who have given such meaning to my life that I cannot imagine what it would have been like not to have experienced them. If I had to live with one of them to the exclusion of all other composers it would just have to be Bach because he always leaves me wanting more - even though Beethoven may occasionally have the ability to penetrate even deeper.

My own favourite compositions of theirs:-

   Beethoven - Missa Solemnis
                      9th symphony (the first movement rather than the last)
                      Emperor Concerto
                      Piano Sonata in C minor Op.111 
                      'Rasumovsky' & 'Harp' Quartets Opp. 59 & 72

   Bach - Mass in B minor
              Christmas Oratorio
              St Matthew & St John Passions
              Preludes & Fugues - 'Well-tempered Clavier' (both books)
              So many of the cantatas, both secular and religious. 

Right, I've set out my 'stall'. Come and comment if you wish.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Was the film 'Bambi' to blame?

Big hoo-ha on this evening's news about the Royal Premiere in London of Spielberg's latest. The big man himself is there, complete with the titular four-legged star-'actor' in all its equine presence - and with Wills and the lovely Kate being the royal pair in attendance. (Btw: Good job the lovely Camilla isn't also there otherwise someone may mistake......No, I will absolutely NOT say it!)
    'War Horse' is another major film I'm going to let pass by me for the reason of its depicting horrific suffering to animals - even though I know full well that any film coming out of North America, western Europe or Australasia would never have been made where actual pain had been caused to any such being. (The roof would cave in on the film-makers if it was made known or discovered to have taken place!)
Nevertheless, though I'm fully aware of this, just witnessing animals being shown as going through hardships and pain, even when contrived, is something I cannot bear to watch. At least human beings have a choice, they are getting paid and, should they be unintentionally injured, they will be compensated.
   The film is based on the stage play of the same name which has been wowing critics for many months. I haven't had the opportunity to see it but in the 1980s I did see the Peter Shaffer play 'Equus' on the West End stage before the Richard Burton film came out. (It's been done again recently on Broadway with Daniel Radcliffe) On stage the horses were stylisedly played by actors carrying horse-shaped frames, in the same manner that horses are being depicted in the stage play of 'War Horse'. In the film of 'Equus' actual horses were used and though no animals came to any harm in the climactic and realistically shot horse-blinding scene, it had been intended to look real and that, for me, was a step too far - and I've not seen the film since or do I want to see it again.
     Generally, seeing what is meant to depict the suffering of animals on screen is something I cannot abide. (There are, incidentally, other things which make me miss films, mainly because they just bore me to tears - boxing, in fact any films which features a sport in a big way, plus films with over-smart or wise-before-their-years kids teaching adults how they should live their lives.)

I think it all started with Bambi. Must have been about 8 or 9 years old when I first saw it at the cinema with my mum. It wasn't until decades later - when I was in my 30s or even 40s - that I discovered that one particular scene which had devastated me on that first viewing, but which I had kept bottled up during all the intervening years, not mentioning it for fear of being laughed at, had also traumatised many of those of my generation, and of both sexes.  Yes, it was that scene when Bambi is told that his mother has been killed. For years after seeing the film I wept inside, and possibly outside too, thinking "How could they do that to her? - and leave poor Bambi to suffer?"  Then I tried to rationalise it by arguing to myself that it was a way in which the film-makers were teaching children about the realities of life and death. Cruel, though it made a sort of sense. But even so, I was deeply wounded by the experience - and have never seen the film since. I wonder if that scene is having the same effect on young children seeing it on DVD for the first time? - or are they all inured against such scenes these days? But DVD doesn't have the immediacy and impact that a huge cinema screen had in my young days.
   I cannot say that 'Bambi' is definitely the reason why I find witnessing the suffering of animals in particular, so hard to take. Most likely I'd be the same way if I hadn't ever seen the film. But the fact is, that particular film left me with a life-long mental scar which, in a peculiar kind of way, I'm actually content, even a little bit proud, to still bear.
    But sorry, Mr Spielberg. I won't be tipping any of my money into your pockets for 'War Horse' - and besides, why do you have to have made such mawkish films in recent years. (The rot started for me  with 'E.T.' - a film I wouldn't see for a second time even if I was paid to!). Let's have another 'Jaws', 'Close Encounters' or even the wonderful 'Duel' please! - but 'War Horse'? No way, Jose!

Saturday, 31 December 2011

My films of 2011

Just before turning the page........
This was not only the year when my cinema visits (56) were the fewest since 1974, but was also the first year during which I've read more books (60) than seen films.
Due to that it would hardly be fair to name a 'Top 10' of films when there were relatively few contenders. However, I see in my 'register' that there were just 5 films which earned a personal score of 8/10. The entry is made immediately on returning home after viewing (my evaluation can sometimes change after time) - and it should be pointed out that they are marked in terms of the profundity and/or enjoyment of my own filmic experience rather than whether they are films of a high standard. (I wouldn't claim to be able to rule on that.) So, in order of seeing them, they are:-

'The Way' (Estevez)

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' (Alfredson)

'Melancholia' (Von Trier')

'Contagion' (Soderbergh)  - apologies to Cubby @ Patently Queer for including this, but there you are!

'We Need to Talk about Kevin' (Ramsay)

The film I 'enjoyed' least was - with apologies to Andrew @ The Widow's World, who was knocked out by it -  I'm afraid, it bored me beyond stiff:-


There were regrets in missing two particular films which had praise lavished on them -
Tyrannosaur' (Considine) which I couldn't bear to go to when I read that in the first few minutes the excellent Peter Mullen plays a character who kicks his own dog to death. I was thinking about going but staying in the foyer until after about 10 mins, but will now have to catch up on it when TV time comes.
Also 'The Deep Blue Sea' - Terence Davies' take on Terence Rattigan's play, which I know quite well. (This gay playwright, is certainly coming back into fashion now after a few decades in the doldrums)  My excuse for not seeing this film? The timings of showings were such that I'd have returned home in the dark and my pussies would have been wondering, perhaps even fretting, about what had happened - and we couldn't have that!

So that's it with this year. Will 2012 mean more frequent cinema visits or is this an indication of my slowing down?  Can but wait and see.

Wishing an exceptionally happy 2012 to ALL visitors to my humble blog. Thank you so much for your visits, my dears. Your presences are very much appreciated indeed. (Mwah, mwah!)

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


This is one of several dozen books I picked up at various car boot sales this year but one which I've only now got round to perusing. All his most acerbically entertaining ones are here - as well as new ones (at least to me), many of which raised a smile  Though I haven't been through the entire book yet, this is one which I hadn't known and which begat a loud guffaw this very morning.

The background is that Churchill and playwright Bernard Shaw enjoyed a mutual antipathy which went way beyond politics - the playwright was profoundly socialist, while Churchill, at around this time in his early political career (1914) was hopping back and forth between the Conservative and Liberal parties.

The London premiere of Shaw's latest play was a major event and Churchill was already a prominent politician by this time.

Thus, in telegrams:-

GBS to Churchill: "Two tickets reserved for you, first night Pygmalion. Bring a friend. If you have one."

C's reply: "Cannot make first night. Will come to second. If you have one."

                           ( Sounds like a case of 'handbags at dawn'!)     

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve nosh.

I've just devoured my main Xmas Eve meal and here are the ingredients. A special one this year - cauli, sprouts & garden peas (my 3 favourite vegs) all mixed up with Bombay pots (to give it a bit of body) with a large fried onion added. Was afraid it might turn out to be uneatably awful but it was really nice. I finished all of it and it took less than half an hour to make - a very important quality.
   For tomorrow it'll be the greatest meal ever devised - fried eggs, chips (fried potato) + in a separate bowl, baked beans, with a generous pinch or two of curry powder for that 'zing'. Could there possibly be anything nicer?

I wish a VERY happy Christmas to those who grace my blog with their presence by reading and following it. I am  honoured indeed. And may 2012 be a year of peace, happiness and harmony for each and every single one of you. Love to all.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Why do false memories get to be so hard-wired?

I don't think I'd be a reliable witness to a crime or an accident taking place right in front of me. I wonder if many others feel the same way.
A couple of nights ago I watched 'The Big Lebowski' (left) for what must be the seventh or eight time. (One of my very favourite films of recent years - surely counting among the Coen brothers' very best to date.) Yet, as in other films which I re-watch, there were so many points where I was mistaken in what I thought had been the actual dialogue, as well as being in error in my recalling the visuals of certain scenes. I find this curious phenomenon in nearly all films which I watch for a second time or more. It usually takes until about the twentieth time of watching for my mind to stop resisting and to give in to mentally recording what was actually the 'truth'. In my case it's films like 'Gone with the Wind', 'Citizen Kane' and '2001 - A Space Odyssey' (which just happen to be my all-time favourite films) where my visual and aural memories have eventually gotten into sync with reality. But why does it take so long? I'd be willing to bet that my own mind is not so unusual in this.
    So if this is the situation in cases where all one's attention is fixed on what one is watching and listening to, (and with minimal distraction, hopefully), how about witnessing real life incidents  which just happen to occur unexpectedly? How can one reasonably expect to recall with accuracy such events - and give true descriptions of those involved? But, furthermore, why on earth does the mind do this? Does it serve some purpose? It's not as though one's recollection has to be 'softened' as a means of self-protection to make the recollection any more comfortable (though it might indeed be that in certain circumstances). But in witnessing a harmless film, even if it's a comedy, why does the mind keep adjusting or distorting things? There must be some reason behind it - but for the moment it beats me.

Further thought added on following day:-
I know that training in observation is (or used to be) given in the Scouts (presumably also in the Guides) - and, importantly, in the armed forces rigorous practice in acute and accurate observation and recollection is done for what might become life-and-death situations. I assume that when one has undergone such training it remains for the rest of one's life. Those of us who have not received this privilege must necessarily stumble on through our days with all the vagaries to which our undisciplined minds are subject.