Saturday 31 July 2010

When Noodles wants a snooze there's no stopping him.

This afternoon, for my own entertainment and relaxation I was playing the wonderful Irving Berlin when Noodles decided to jump up and 'accompany' me. The song? - 'I Love a Piano'!

Thursday 29 July 2010

Great news from Spain

I was so heartened to hear yesterday that the Catalonian regional Government has voted to ban bull-fighting throughout the area. (Actually I thought that it had already been outlawed in Barcelona but it seems that there was one officially operating bull-ring in that city - until now.) I've said before in these blogs that I personally extend the usual rule-of-thumb that one "should be able to do as one likes as long as it doesn't harm another" beyond just humans but to all animals too. I appreciate being in a minority here and that my views on not using animals for 'pleasure', be it their slaughter to provide food or clothing, most especially when there are alternatives available, or for 'entertainment' purposes (circuses, hunting, shooting, even fishing) are enough to give a perception of me as being nothing but a crackpot, a spoilsport, a fuddy-duddy interferer, and probably even an over-fanatical 'enemy'. But I do feel bull-fighting has always been indefensible - with the entire pack of cards in the hands of the matador - not to mention all his other assistants waiting on the ring periphery to rescue him if he gets into trouble. Blunting the creature's horns so that it can't even defend itself, indeed! If one is going to argue that it's a sport of 'skill' then at least have the guts to grant some equality of attack and defense and have the option of allowing the animal to escape. That might be more plausible, though it's still grossly unfair as the bull is not given a choice whether to participate or not.
But I know that even with this particular banning move there's still some way to go. I hear that bull-fights (fights? Ha!) are most popular in the south of Spain as well as in Madrid. But I'm still encouraged by this start - and I feel and fervently hope that it's the sort of move that is rather more likely to spread to other regions rather than being overturned. Surely, in time the sport is doomed. All progress on this and other so-called similar 'entertainment' can only move in one direction.

Monday 26 July 2010

Surprising revelations re my downstairs neighbour

When he moved in almost exactly a year ago I was immediately complaining about the disturbance he was making, mainly by frequent playing of loud music into the early hours. Well, that has abated, though not stopped - it's now about once a week at the most instead of most nights. (And it's still usually the Stones or Susan Boyle - such an unlikely combo!).
I feared worse things about 10 days ago when, hearing me going out - "Hey, Ray, have you got a computer?" I wished I'd been a good liar but had to admit it. (I just can't tell bare-faced untruths, especially to someone in my physical presence - stuttering, red face etc.) It turned out he wanted a favour as he'd just got a job as a solar-panel salesman and needed to be informed each evening of the addresses of potential clients to call on the following day, though he did offer to pay me. So, unwisely perhaps, I gave him my e-mail address to pass onto his firm. But after a week of giving him daily details he jacked in the job. He now intends to be a double-glazing salesman, work he says he's done before, so I may still be needed for the same reason. Anyway, as he was telling me all this I gently enquired about his previous life. It seems that not only did he used to own a pub in the west of England, which, he said bitterly, had to close down due to loss of business following the national smoking-ban of a few years ago. But before that he'd been an army 'tank-commander' in the first Gulf War. However, to cap even that, it turns out that he is also a published author - and he gave me as a gift a hardback copy of a book published in 1998, which he inscribed to me. It's a 220-page modern fable of animals and humans fighting to prevent a motorway being constructed through a rural area. It's not a children's book, even though the animals are anthropomorphic - wearing clothes, talking among themselves, even smoking and drinking. All this is witnessed by one little girl who, uniquely, is able to interact with them - the other humans see the animals as 'normal' (unclothed and only making animal sounds). Notable, though, is how most of both the animals and the humans are continually smoking - cigarettes as well as cigars and pipes. There's hardly a scene in which one of the characters of both types isn't lighting up. (It's clearly an issue with the writer.) The obvious comparison of the book is with 'Watership Down' though I think my neighbour's book is better. (I found 'Watership' a difficult and actually quite a turgid read.) But I'm very impressed by my neighbour's command of language with such vivid imagery that's so alive - writing which is quite at odds with what I would have expected from a man who's not infrequently the worse for drink. But so many writers were (and are) heavy drinkers - and, indeed, smokers. But it is a pretty good book, I must say! I've checked on the web and this is the only book of his I can find. Even so, it's an unlikely and welcome surprise.
I don't know much about his personal life at all - whether he's married, been married, and/or if he's gay - though there's no 'indication' of the latter, and no acknowledgement of 'gayness' in any characters in his book, even while reading between the lines and looking for 'hints'. But additionally the guy, who must be about 40, is just not my type. The only visitor he ever gets is an old (older than me, that is!) fellow who sometimes comes round to walk his dog. I've never seen or heard any other visitors in the year that he's been here. His beautiful dog, by the way, still comes out to give me a sniff, but no wagging tail now - and then she walks away. I'm clearly just a crashing bore! It gets occasional excitements out at the back by lunging at my two furry flat-mates when they sit on the garden wall, but who scamper off at lightning speed as soon as they see her.
Before he moved in below my landlord had told me that one of the potential tenants was a guy who'd hit financial rock-bottom and had been reduced to living in a tent on grass verges. I reckon it must have been this guy - who had came back to this, his birth area, after his pub business collapsed. For that I have some sympathy as more than once I've come within a whisker of being in the same situation myself. So learning more about him has altered my perspective quite favourably. But I don't think we have enough in common to make me want to socialise with him. (He did invite me in for a whisky and a chat but I excused myself) Besides, there's all that smoking!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Wallowing in premature self-pity?

Getting increasingly obsessed with things I want to do before it's too late - like travelling abroad again, particularly re-visiting those old European haunts I got to know so well when I had not only money but also the energy it required to experience them 'properly'. In addition I so much miss not having the means to go to the theatre regularly, particularly to London's West End when I used to see practically everything of note - great plays, big musicals, huge stars, immense enjoyment! Then there's all those books I've yet to read and re-read for maybe one last time, music to hear, all sorts of experiences to have.......
Now as I start to approach my 64th birthday in October I'm becoming terrified of suffering something such as a stroke which would incapacitate me physically while I frustratingly retain all these unfulfilled desires, a true living hell. Not only that, but because I've never had a true 'relationship' or even a single long-lasting deep friendship, there is no one around who would really care and I'd be left to the mercy of one or more carers with all their well-meaning (I hope), but synthetic, sympathy. Particularly heart-breaking would be the fate of my two dear pets. Of course all this is a 'worst case' scenario which may never transpire, but just the possibility of it happening is making life a worrying experience!

Friday 16 July 2010

Today's visit to the doctor didn't help

Just come back from my doctor - a regular visit to check on my blood pressure. (It's satisfactory) In our wide-ranging chat I told him that after a several-month pause I'd resumed occasional morning running again, which he approved, of course - and then I said I'd been wondering about the fact that I'm hardly ever ill from anything. The last time I recall actually even having a heavy cold, which had confined me to bed for maybe a single day, must have been a good 15 years ago. He put it down, after questioning, to the fact that I don't meet and interact face-to-face with other people. In fact any 'social life' at all has been completely non-existent since the early 90s. Then I wondered if it also had anything to do with my having been veggie for nigh on 50 years. I didn't expect the uncalled-for mini-lecture I then got on how it was more 'natural' for man to be omnivorous (like himself, he just happened to add) and that as human teeth are designed for eating meat (Designed? By whom?), my not eating meat (and fish) is more of a fluke to my being in good health than anything else. I wanted to riposte that my reasons for being so were purely empathic, in not wishing to partake, just for a few moments of 'pleasure', of the product of another sentient being's pain, distress and probably terror, often after an entire lifetime of extreme discomfort (to put it mildly!) and anguish - but I was so gobsmacked by his little tirade, albeit with a smug smile on his face, that I was left speechless. I left his surgery doubly irritated by his sanctimonious attitude (and it's us veggies who are usually lampooned for being 'oh so superior!') and also annoyed with myself for not coming out with a ready and justified answer to him. I bet that if he'd taken my B.P. at the end of the session he would have got a very different reading.

Saturday 10 July 2010

'Mockingbird' at 50

There's been a number of radio and TV programmes here recently marking the half-century since the Harper Lee novel was first published and this has been the spur to my re-reading it. But I won't pretend. I only first read it a mere 6 or 7 years ago, though I'd seen the film at least twice and found it pretty good, but maybe not in my all-time Top 100.
There's just been a first-rate TV documentary in which the presenter travelled to Monroeville, where the authoress still lives, and which is almost certainly the town of 'Maycomb' where the story takes place. I hadn't known that the writer had been the direct neighbour of Truman Capote and that he is pretty well certain to be the model of the 'Dill' character in the book.
The cameras went to celebrations of two anniversary events, a party and a fete - but what surprised me was that virtually all the faces there were white, save for two black waiters. How ironic! However, there was only a few minutes of footage so I might have got an erroneous impression. On the other hand it seems that even though there's no more segregation in law there is still a disappointing amount of unspoken 'social segregation'. But I'm hardly in a position to be sanctimonious. It's only just hit me forcefully that not only are all the blogs that I follow exclusively those of Caucasian males (all gay, too!) I've never in my life had one friend who wasn't white. It's not exactly something of which to be proud.
In this TV programme the presenter talked to maybe half a dozen people at the anniversary celebrations - and unbelievably, not a single one of these had read the book! ("I haven't quite got round to it yet." Yeah, right!) But again in just the short time shown it might not have been a representative sample., although I had assumed that 'Mockingbird' would have been one of those seminal books that all Americans would have read one time or another. How wrong one can be, it seems!
However I must say that in this country, for example, I have never met one other person who, like myself, reads Shakespeare for pleasure. I've read one of his plays every single month for the last 40+ years - and the level of profundity astounds me more and more on every reading. ("How could a human mind have thought of that and expressed it in that way?" I'm always saying to myself.) People like to keep reminding me that the plays weren't intended to be read. True, but I'm blowed if I'm going to sit around just waiting for a live staging to come to a local theatre or to watch repeat showings of films (some excellent) on TV. Besides, I like to read at my own speed which allows me to savour the words, and every now and again to stop and marvel at the language. In this country, as I would imagine everywhere else, people find him hard-going, and he certainly does require effort - but what rewards one is returned! Despite the fact that most are put off from the idea of actually sitting down to read him, yet still millions from both home and abroad flock to Stratford on Avon - for exactly the same reason as they do to Monroeville, I suppose.
Anyway, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is even more impressive and enjoyable this time around than before, having, as I do, more background information. If I ever happen to meet someone and the conversation turns to books and I find they haven't yet read it I wouldn't hesitate to make a strong recommendation. It's what I'd describe as "a very good read."

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Woody Allen - never disappoints, except when he does.

I'd been so looking forward to seeing 'Whatever Works' too. It wouldn't have mattered either way that it got critical acclaim here ("Allen back on form!" - what again?) but, on previous experience, I'd been expecting to really like it anyway. As it turned out..... oh dear, what a downer! It must only be me, though. His trilogy of London films made over the last few years were all panned by the critics. Indeed, I recently heard 'Match Point' referred to by a BBC critic as his worst film ever - a mighty big claim, but I really liked it. Same goes for 'Cassandra's Dream' which no one else apart from me seemed to admire. (The third film, 'Scoop', didn't get a theatrical release here, so I'm eagerly watching for it to appear on TV.) But this 'Whatever Works' is back in his familiar NY milieu. Apart from his too infrequent brilliant flashes of wit in the script it largely left me cold. Noteworthy is that in the final few minutes there's a gay character, though the situation and what it develops into in the very final scene is treated so ineptly and rings so false as to jar. I say 'noteworthy' because it's Allen's most up-front acknowledgement that gays exist at all since Meryl Streep played the lesbian mother and Allen's character's former partner in 'Manhattan'. Even just mentioning gays in his other films is very rare and never more than just a passing comment. But I'd given up on 'Whatever Works' long before these final moments anyway.
However, having said all that, I definitely am pleased to admit that the release of any Woody Allen film is a real 'event' for me. I've found that out of all his prolific output there is only a small handful that do not repay further viewing(s) though this latest film will, regretfully, be in that category.
I know that most critics and, perhaps viewers too, consider that his best films are 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan', both of which I also like a lot (though in the former, the scene of the escaped lobster in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable - Laugh at me if you must!) His own favourite in terms of the finished product coming closest to his conception is 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', also pretty good. For me though, his summit of achievement has got to be 'Hannah and her Sisters'. An excellent script that feels 'true', unbeatable ensemble acting (with Michael Caine in particular never having been better and fully deserving his Oscar), great soundtrack music much going for it that I can readily forgive the too-pat 'happy ending' given to Allen's own character. I'd give it an easy 9/10. But 'Whatever Works'....well, 'cos I want to be generous, a modest 4 at most, just for those all-too-few precious moments!