Saturday, 7 July 2012

Return to 'normality'

Got back yesterday from my annual few days away to visit my sister and her hubby, with whom I stayed - plus a visit to my elder surviving bro and his wifey. Also took in funeral (by fortuitous timing) of my late friend who was my mental sparring partner and stimulus of the last 52 years.
   Funeral was okay as funerals go. Refreshingly, a humanist one, with the crematorium chapel cross having been removed. About 80 people there, but I'd only known his brother (younger by 3 years) - and his wife whom I'd only met twice before, the last time being 35 years ago. Shocked by how much she'd visibly aged. She was quite a beauty when I'd briefly known her, but now she has completely grey hair and is already walking with a pronounced stoop, although she's several years younger than I am. Sad.
   Not knowing anyone outside family I sat alone on bench at back but was pleasantly surprised to hear my name being one of only two mentioned in the address other than immediate family. (Apart from Mary and his brother no one else would have known who I was). Paul leaves two sons, 25 and 30, whom I'd never seen before. Both as yet unmarried but he confided to me that he thinks the younger one, who's not at all bad-looking (with goatee-type beard), might be gay. 
   'Ceremony' began with my choice of the playing of the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording of the 'Et in Spiritum Sanctum' from the Bach B minor Mass, which I knew Paul particularly loved - as I do.

Guests were invited to convene at a certain pub afterwards for a 'wake celebration' but, having a phobia for such social functions - even worse when I don't know anybody else - I made my excuses and left.
  Anyway, so that's over and done with.

My sister and her large family (sons and daughter, all of whom are grandparents themselves) have a number of important issues in their lives at the moment, as I have, (when aren't there any?) so it's hardly been a relaxing time.
   I wanted to be left alone with my thoughts for a while. So the day after the funeral I took a train some 40 miles away to an area of the North Yorkshire moors where we used to holiday for three consecutive years when I was a boy of around 9 to 11. In that steam-train-age of yesteryear, going a distance which these days would be considered no further than one's own doorstep was an enormous adventure. Here are some pics, including self looking very serious and almost alarmed - and the farmhouse we used to stay at. The hills around it were where I and my two younger brothers would play and whoop, running up and down hills with no trouble at all. Now I can barely walk up those same slopes, needing to halt every few steps to recover some puff.
  The deluge of rain we've been having since Spring hasn't left this part of the country unaffected either. Walking off road was an unpleasantly squelchy business. However, it all looks lush and green - very photogenically picturesque.












Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Recent film release - 'A Royal Affair'

Superior historical drama of slice of late 18th century Danish history (and in that language) of which I knew nothing, involving affair between the reluctant queen of a naive, mentally unstable, young Danish king and that king's own free-thinking physician. Drama revolves around the power struggle between those who wish to retain their own influence in the form of a royal protectorship of the king (notably the latter's mother) and the said physician who, being in the king's trust and affection, wishes to allow the king unrestrained power under his (the physician's) influence - as well as the subterfuge employed in keeping the queen's affair secret, including the truth behind her pregnancy. 
     Absorbing film (rather long, at around 2 hours 15 mins) with an air of realism. Could easily have been a clunker but it wasn't.
  It's good to see an actor of the calibre of Mads Mikkelsen, who isn't exactly endowed with knock-me-down good looks, given a part he can really get his teeth into - and he doesn't disappoint.
     I went to this film heavy-hearted in the wake of the sad news, the subject of my previous blog. Although these thoughts were never far below the surface I was still able to appreciate the film as a worthwhile watch. In other circumstances I might have given it a slightly higher score but in terms of my own 'enjoyment' (if that is not an inappropriate word) I award it a rating of........7/10.

Just one curiosity I noticed. At one point the king's mother, suspecting the Queen's adultery, has four of the maids lined up and sternly warns them that if they withhold any information from her it will be a 'mortal sin', and then adds "You'll end up in Purgatory!". Now anyone who knows anything about Christian doctrine will realise that Purgatory is reserved for those who die with venial sin on their souls -  sinners of the 'mortal' variety are consigned to the other, lower place. A curious lapse - of translatuion or an error in the original script? Anyway, that was the only glaring mistake I noticed. Not something to get too worked up about.

Overall, a film I'd certainly recommend.

Monday, 25 June 2012

R.I.P. Paul, my dear friend of the last 52 years.

Paul's wife rang me this morning to give me the very sad news of his passing away yesterday. It still hasn't quite sunk in.
   I'd spoken to him only a week ago when I rang his mobile to hear from him that he was in hospital. (He still lived in north-east England where I come from, and where he's been settled since being an immigrant from Canada [Simcoe] when he was 13, the time I got to know him at school). When I spoke to him, as he was under the influence of sedative drugs he was struggling to explain what had happened but he had to terminate the conversation as he was about to receive some more treatment. I asked him to ring me when he was able.
     From what I could gather from his distraught wife, Mary, the principal cause of his demise was liver failure. I'll get more details later.

Paul was the most influential person in my life, outside my own  family. He was 66, one year older than me.
At school I wanted to make friends with him as we were both loners - he because, being a 'foreigner', he didn't know anybody else, and I always finding it difficult to make friends with anyone at all. I found out that he was interested in Astronomy, as I was but, even more important, that he knew a lot about classical music. I was an ignoramus on the latter subject but, because of wanting to be appreciated by him, determined at the age of 13/14 to acquire some knowledge about it, forcing myself to listen to the BBC classical music station night after night. It worked. After my tastes had settled we found we shared the same adulation of the music of J.S.Bach.
Paul was the most intelligent person I've ever known, solving mathematical problems in his head in an instant. He was also widely read in philosophy. What was alarming to me at the time was that he was a professed atheist already while we were still attending the R.C. college. (It was to take me another 10 years to see the falsity of the Church of Rome, and a further 25 years to doubt the very existence of any God, but Paul got there miles in front of me.)
      After leaving school in 1963 we saw each other every week until I left the area 12 years later, maintaining contact mainly through telephone. I've seen him on every one of my annual visits north-eastwards in recent years.
     I've only got a handful of photos of him. I took the above one a year ago, which I had posted in my blog at the time. The following couple were taken around the ages of 20/21.





















2012 is turning out to be possibly the worst year of my life so far - or should that be 'the most challenging'?
It started with my being diagnosed as diabetic last January. More recently I've had the very unwelcome significant hike in the rent I must pay, forcing me to start using sacrosanct savings which had been ring-fenced away - and to be used only after my own departure. In addition the wife of one of my nephews has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing aggressive and painful radio therapy treatment - and this is bringing my sister (her mother-in-law) down, whom I'll be visiting next week. And now this massive blow of Paul's death. I hardly dare think what is coming down the line next - and the year is only halfway through!  












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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Something to lift the spirits (unlike some of my recent posts)

Blackso: "Awwww! I'm so tired!"

Noodles: "Play me a lullaby".


And there's still Ginger, the 'Problem Pussy':-

He comes in every day and spends quite a bit of time here. I think he still has his proper home which he returns to now and again as he sometimes disappears for many hours at a stretch. At least that's what I want to think. I cannot afford to take on yet another cat, and besides, he's not been doctored. Even if I wanted to take him in and the owner (whoever it is), consented,  I can't afford the fees to have him done - and anyway, my landlord would be sure to put his foot down and could even insist on my parting with the other two, and that would totally devastate me.
     I suppose Ginger comes here because he gets it easy, with as much to eat as he wants, as well as receiving the ready affection from me which may be lacking in his own home. In addition, being youthful in cat years, he provides high quality entertainment with his antics in taunting, running after and jumping on Blackso and Noodles, both of whom, in their advanced adulthood, are never particularly amused.  He's such a little sweetie himself  that it's impossible to ignore him, not to say horribly cruel too.
    I'm going away for the annual visit to my sister for a few days in a couple of weeks time and have booked my own two for the cattery, but I fear that Ginger will be sitting on the window sill, pawing at the glass and wailing to come in. So what I'll have to do is to ask the chap who lives under me to keep an eye out for him and see that he gets fed occasionally with food and milk which I'll leave for him.

    These three have taken over my entire life - but they also help in a big way to make life worthwhile and more tolerable, bless their little furry paws!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Holidays? If only they knew!

I know that when people wish me '"Have a nice holiday!" after I've told them I'm going to be away for a few days, they are being polite rather than being malicious or sneering, their not being aware that I haven't had a true holiday since 1991. However, their comment still gets under my skin and I wish it didn't. It's just happened again when I told a nurse that I would be away for a short while at the start of July.

     In the years preceding my emigration to Cologne, Germany, in 1988 I used to go away on holiday breaks to various cities in Europe maybe 7 or 8 times a year - sometimes for long week-ends, sometimes for a week, occasionally for longer.  I won't hide the fact that the motivation for most of these trips was essentially for reasons of searching out sexual excitements. I'd spend a large part of the time cruising bars (mainly leather bars, especially those with 'dark rooms'), discos, saunas, parks (at night-time) and other well-known and notorious 'meeting places' - and often spend a significant part of the daylight hours catching up on sleep in my hotel room. (It was always a problem trying to synchronise my daytime naps with the times of the  room-cleaning service.) Even while living in Cologne I'd continue visiting other cities and countries with the same aim as before.
    Well, even if I had the resources to continue in that style, those days are necessarily long over. I just don't have the stamina any more that such a lifestyle demands - and besides, being now in my mid-60s, it would not only look absurd but it would be a succession of humiliating experiences in my being refused the attention I sought. (I don't think that there are that many guys around looking for a 'daddy' - and I don't want to experience the pain of finding how few there really are.)

     But it must sound like I enjoy not having had a proper holiday for long - and am even boastful about it. It seems unlikely that anyone, other than the really destitute, would be in circumstances that prevent just an odd break even once every few years. Sadly, that is indeed the case. Since returning from Germany (against my wishes) in 1991 it has been a continuous 'downer' thereafter. My only times away from the place I was living in at the time was to visit my increasingly ailing mother, which was hardly a 'relaxing' experience, though I did always love to see her. Since my mum died in 2006 my only times away now are annual visits to my sister (older than me by 9 years), taking in a drop-in to my eldest brother and his family. This also, though a change of scene, can hardly be called a 'holiday'. No, for over 21 years I've not had the opportunity to go away with the principal intention of just enjoying myself.
    For a long time many of the dreams I experience are located in the foreign haunts I used to know so well, which must only reflect an intense yearning to see them again. Though I'd only be going as a sightseer if I returned to these places now, I'd so love to re-visit those familiar places, if only to see how they've changed over two decades.
  Then, of course, there's so much of the rest of the world to explore - though one thing in particular would restrict my choice of where to go. Visiting a country where animals are used casually (for example, just drawing a cart - but particularly where it's not absolutely necessary, and, for example, in hot weather where the animal's owner is too lazy), witnessing it would cause me such sorrow that it would overshadow the rest of the time on holiday. So if I'm to avoid that, huge areas of the world must be ruled out. Seeing animals, birds, even live fish, on sale in markets with the intention that they are to be slaughtered, would give rise to such mental suffering that it would be pointless to continue with the holiday.

    But there's also so much of these small islands of my own country to explore. Not just large sections of England, but I've only ever been to Scotland twice - and that was to Edinburgh alone both times (not exactly typical of that country!). And I've never once been to Wales.
   Now I've got the cats living with me. When I do go away to visit my sister the cats are put in a cattery for four or five days, though that too causes me grief to do it. But going on holiday for a week or longer and I'd be spending more time worrying about them than enjoying myself. Pity I don't know anyone who could take care of them, but that is the case.
   Anyway, no point in thinking about the cats while there's still not the remotest chance that I'm going to need to leave them alone for a long time. A holiday is a luxury that is so unlikely - at least unless I win a substantial amount in the National Lottery. Now with my landlord putting up my rent (and which alone now takes up my entire state pension!) thinking of holidays remains, more than ever, just a 'pipe dream'.

    So, when people say to me "Have a nice holiday!", even though they are only assuming the nicest interpretation of my absence, and they certainly wouldn't intend to be deliberately rubbing salt in the wound, although I say it myself, I think I have every right to feel at least a tiny bit peeved.
   

Monday, 11 June 2012

New film - 'Prometheus' (seen in 3D)

I went wanting to like this. I really did.  But what I got was disappointment.
Before getting down to specifics, I freely acknowledge that I am around two generations older than the target audience, so my perspective will inevitably be skewed from a direction the source at which the film makers are not aiming.

Okay, I've always got to grin and bear it when I see spacecraft audibly rumbling across the screen. (I believe that the only science fiction film which recognised that there is no sound in space was '2001: A Space Odyssey'. Surely, after over 40 years, it's more than high time that another film bit the bullet and attempted to depict reality?) But I tried to overlook this and not let it get in the way of my 'enjoyment'.
I found the first hour of this film, frankly, tedious. The dialogue alone was more than tedious, it was occasionally risible - and not just the pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. Even 'normal' conversation was bland and unimaginative.
  Then in the second hour we get a series of grisly, sometimes ingenious, deaths - accompanied by ear-splitting sound effects and crashing, distracting music - and all brought about with no purposeful progression.
   I am an admirer of the original 'Alien' film from 1979 - with the qualification that its most suspenseful section for me is the first 3/4 hour. As the alien creature metamorphosed into a larger being I found the scare factor proportionately decreasing. Even the final section with Ripley (plus cat) alone against the alien didn't compare with what preceded the iconic 'meal scene' and the scenes immediately following it. But what this original film did have throughout was a clear sense of direction and movement towards a climax. The plot was simple and easy to comprehend - and it had shape, which 'Prometheus' lacks.
      Now - splitting hairs again. If the crew of the spacecraft had woken up after being in cryo-sleep for over two years, where had been the starting point? Certainly not Earth. Even travelling at the speed of light it takes over four years to reach the nearest star - and their destination must, presumably, have been way beyond even that.  (Maybe there had been several intermediate stopovers, to enable them to wake up and return to hibernated state again?)
        And why do we hear later that they are 'half a billion miles' from Earth. That distance would hardly take us halfway out of our own Solar System - not even as far as Saturn when it's at its closest. Was it just a throwaway phrase which we weren't supposed to take literally? Then why say 'half a billion miles' ?- why not say 50 billion, which would certainly have been nearer to where this craft was supposed to have reached? Maybe I'm being too pernickety, but you'd have thought that with such a large budget to make 'Prometheus' they might have been able to afford an astro-scientist, even an amateur, to check on their facts.
    And, by the way, why is it that in all films set on another world, gravity is always at the force of precisely 1g? Well, I suppose that the real reason for this oddity is that it would be too much trouble and too costly to attempt to replicate smaller gravity forces. However, I do look forward to seeing the first film showing human space explorers  trying to get around subject to a gravity of, say, double that on earth. (Already a number of rock-giants in other star systems have been detected with masses several multiples that of Earth.) It shouldn't be too hard to show - and it would be interesting too, with these people getting tired out easily,  lumbering about painfully, where falling objects, which might have been harmless on earth, on a more massy world have become lethal in their velocity....and so on. There is such potential here for original situations . But I fear it could be a long wait to see it happening on screen.             
              Must say that I also look forward to the time when pre-and post operative analgesics, self-applied during continuous consciousness, are so effective as to enable one to function practically normally, even immediately after really major surgical procedure which has literally eviscerated one! The extra-strenuous physical efforts required to engage in a body fight with an alien creature wouldn't present a problem either. Pity I shan't be around to see it.
              The acting I found generally satisfactory or more. (Must admit I was for some time confused by the seeming non-appearance of the wonderful Guy Pearce - then the penny dropped!) I've not yet seen Michael Fassbender give anything less than a good, sometimes remarkable, performance - and this film continues his line of accomplishments. Charlize Theron, who, with her impeccable make-up in the far depths of space - where it's still so important to look stunningly attractive to the other members of her crew - didn't appear to have her heart in the role. (Maybe she too found it all a bit silly!). There was also a number of other names in the cast with which (apart from English Rafe Spall) I wasn't familiar. They were largely pretty good, I thought.
    
         I did start to derive some satisfaction from spotting the conspicuous nods to other films in the 'Alien' series, particularly the original. But after a while they became distractions that seemed to be grafted onto the screenplay to create an 'in-joke'.

       Overall then, I found 'Prometheus' a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas, some not too bad, some just crackers - but the driving force of the film seemed to me to use it merely as a vehicle to show grotesqueries in non-human and part-human beings, and in manner of violence and death. All so passe! (Sorry, but how does one type an acute accent?)

                   Finally, my rating - and I'm going to be extra-generous here - a 4/10!