Friday 23 September 2011

Cities where I got an unexpected........ 'welcome'!

In a previous blog I've told about my one and only visit to New York (1969) and the very first time I went out of the hotel when, within a couple of minutes, I was menaced for money by a gang of youths who surrounded me, one holding out his hand with a big grin on his face, knowing they had got 'easy meat' - which they indeed had. In my naivety, I'd gone wandering out alone, camera hanging round neck, looking up in wonder at this famed place, which everyone knew of and, at least at that time, few non-Americans had visited.. I was a sitting duck - and I'd advertised it..
    That was an unpleasant lesson which I've never forgotten. Ever since then I've tried to look as inconspicuous as I can and walk purposefully, even if it's in a place where I've never been before.
   However, there have been experiences less alarming, though not particularly edifying - like my first visit to Amsterdam when, again after leaving my hotel for the time to take in the marvels of the city, the first 'marvel' to greet me was the sight, in broad daylight, of a man having a wee into a canal.

In the mid-1980s I went to Vienna for the first time to spend a week and a half in this city, surely the ultimate destination for those with cultural tastes and aspirations. Arriving at the Westbahnhof (by train from Munich) my mind was buzzing, overwhelmed with thoughts of "Ah, Vienna! Here you are at last! Glorious home of sophistication, beauty, elegance, incomparable history. What wonders have taken place here!" (My distracting inner musings somehow made me take an 'Ausgang' which was not the main way out. But no matter. Here I was!)  - "......Ah, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Johann Strauss, aristocratic delights....balletic horses......towering intellect.....Freud! Einstein!.......
I walked out of the station - and lo!.....there, facing me, chalked on a wall in clear letters at least two feet high, was a somewhat unsavoury graffito. And what did it read? It read:-

                                              F U C K   O F F       


It was a few years after that when I made my first visit to Bonn (I was shortly to take up a three-year residence in nearby Cologne.) A major reason for visiting Bonn was it being not only the capital of the then West Germany, but more importantly for me, it was the birthplace of Beethoven, one of my two ultimate 'music-gods' (the other being Bach, since you ask.)  I'd already visited the great man's shrine-grave in Vienna but here I was in the very place where he first drew breath. I knew that in Bonn's Beethovenplatz there was this statue (left) of the hero. Her gracious majesty, our Queen Elizabeth herself, had left a bouquet at the foot of the statue on a state visit a few years earlier. So I approached, camera at the ready, hardly able to believe that after all these years I was about to achieve one of my longed-for goals, to be present here in person at this hallowed place.
 I was nearing the statue from the side, my heart thumping in anticipation. But I had to get a full-on front shot first. So, camera poised, I moved to the front. And there - below the glorious name of 'Ludwig Van Beethoven', was spray-painted in large red letters:-

                                       " .......IST EIN ARSCHLOCH"
                                       (Translation:   " an arsehole".)

Well, all I can say is "Is nothing sacred? Really!!!"

Tuesday 20 September 2011

No, don't worry. I am NOT going to get all Bible-preachy!

I couldn't let this 'event' go without a few pithy comments:-

I've just completed my SIXTH cover-to-cover reading of this book.
This time it's been read over 14 months, a couple of pages (sometimes more) per day - with my making, or rather, adding to, notes from previous readings.

My first time of reading was when I was around 20 and, being then a still-practising and seriously devout Catholic, read the 'Church approved' version - the Douay-Rheims translation. The exercise was more of a 'duty' on my part then, though there was no outright instruction, as such, that one ought to read it through. At that stage of my life the reading would have been unquestioning and blinkeredly uncritical .

My next two forays were into the more modern Church of England 'New English Bible' published in the 1960s with translations claimed as being not only up-to-date but also more accurate. (Even the Lord's Prayer was revised! - And why not?)
I suppose after then, at around the age of 50, I was having serious doubts about the veracity of the Bible. (I'd kept my Catholic faith up to my mid-20s, but even after discarding it, still considered myself a Christian for about a further 25 years, being quite an active member of the Gay Christian Movement for some of that period).

Then it must have been on my fourth read-through (now it was the turn of the authorised King James version) that I felt that my disbelief was starting to outweigh any residual faith I was still clinging onto. Some of the narrated incidents, claimed as historical fact, were striking me as not just implausible but practically inconceivable, even preposterous. Furthermore my notes started throwing up inconsistencies and contradictions (just within the four gospels alone, for example) as well as, frankly speaking, obvious injustices being held out as being manifestations of 'God's wisdom' - and therefore not to be challenged.

Now after the sixth read my notes have expanded even more. Each time I see a lot of things not noticed before. It would be easy to say that I'm now only looking for things to criticise (which was certainly not the case for at least the first three readings) but I do make a conscious effort to stand back and observe the subject-matter dispassionately.

   I'd be willing to bet that most people in the U.K. who define themselves as 'Christian', even Church-going Christians, have never read the entire Bible through even once. So why do I do it?  Simple. Intellectual curiosity! I can't stop wondering why it is that so many people find this book so appealing. There's a compulsion about this inquisitiveness.
At the beginning my own readings started as a self-challenge. Then it became a desire to share what others were experiencing, as though I am the one missing out on something. (I still get this feeling of exclusion when there's a piece of music, or even a type of music - in my case, jazz - which I can see gives enormous pleasure to many, yet I myself cannot appreciate it.)  But the result of my Bible-study has been that every time that I notch up another reading I become even more convinced that it's largely fantasy (not completely - I do believe that Jesus actually existed, - and was almost certainly crucified) but masquerading as fact.  It's hardly the reaction which might be hoped for by those hard-line Christian zealots who exhort us all to read the Bible every day!
Well, who's to say that my views won't change sometime in the future? But time is running out for me - and fast. Anyway, I don't particularly want to undergo a re-conversion, feeling perfectly comfortable (in fact, more comfortable) in my current highly sceptical state of mind.

I was actually going to make this blog into a listing of some specific examples of things I've found in  the 'Holy Book' which are inconsistent, unjust and contradictory. I may indeed do that in a future blog, but I know it's bound to raise hackles in some quarters and I don't particularly want to offend any of the score or so of the band of kind followers to my blog, each of whom honours me with their time, something which really causes me to feel humble. But we'll see......

Okay, then. Now that this particular task is over, tomorrow I'll start on my eighth through-reading of the Koran. So, let's think -  which of the six translations I possess shall I read this time round?

Friday 16 September 2011

EEK! - The invasion has begun!

In this part of the globe September is Spider-month.
I've lived in this present flat and (surprisingly, considering the state of the place) I had never seen a spider in here - until about five days ago. In the bedroom, parked motionless high up on a wall, was one of these creatures, at least 4 inches leg-tip to leg-tip.
I've always been an arachnophobe but, since my teens, have avoided killing one. As for all non-humans, I always automatically put myself in THEIR place and try to see things from their point of view. And anyway, I shun any thought of snuffing out a life when it just isn't necessary.  So,  gritting my teeth, I got a small brush and a plastic bucket, stood up on the bed and, hardly daring to look, tried to give it a gentle sweep into the bucket, intending to tip the creature through the open window. Of course the spider was easily dislodged but, naturally, it missed the bucket, landed on the carpet - and ran under the bed. I wasn't going poking about under there while still shuddering inside.. When bed-time came round I just had to block out the thought of where it might be. Forcing myself to dismiss any thought of it, I haven't seen it since.
   I was just starting to recover my composure when last night, while watching 'Watchdog' with Anne Robinson (the very same who had a moment of worldwide glory as questioner when 'The Weakest Link' started on American TV), I detected a a movement in the corner of my eye. Then - a similar sized arachnid scuttled over the carpet, right in front of me, and lost itself among the stacks of cassette tapes amassed below the T.V.  My blood ran cold - an automatic response. Usually at this time my faithful friend Blackso is sitting in my lap for a couple of hours nap before his nocturnal prowling, but it would have to be that last night, very unusually, he wasn't in the room. He might have solved the problem for me. If he hadn't noticed it I could have let him sniff around - though even if he did find it, after a moment or two's curiosity, he probably would have got bored and returned to his slumbers.
  So here I am this morning, knowing that as I type this somewhere behind me, lurking in a cranny, is a creature that makes me recoil with seemingly hard-wired, uncontrollable revulsion. It's very probably waiting for evening time to come out and run around again - and somewhere in the bedroom is still that other one. One? I suppose they could well be the same one. But couldn't they also have families? - There could be dozens and dozens of them......Oh NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Monday 12 September 2011

Biding my time.

Last week, sitting on a blowy Autumnal-feeling sea-front at Brighton (well, Hove actually) awaiting emergency dental appointment to replace filling which fell out, just 5 days following six-monthly routine check when I was given the thumbs up. Even under our admirable National Health Service had to pay for both visits. Oh well. Better that than no treatment at all.

Friday 9 September 2011

She who gives an extra polish to the word 'lovely'.

Doris Day was an integral part of the soundtrack of my infant and pre-teen years. How clearly I can recall every one of her dozen or so hit records, even her very first British hit in November 1952  - 'Sugarbush'  (with Frankie Laine). Actually this was at the time of the first ever official British 'pop' chart - Number 1 was 'Here in my Heart' by Vic Damone, which I also recall. 'SugarBush' reached number 8.
    I mention this beautiful lady today because tonight on one of our BBC channels there is a three-hour D.D. splash. A documentary with film clips, a 1992 interview of her talking to Betty White (of 'Golden Girls', of course) which I've never seen, and a 1971 TV show of hers, with guest stars Perry Como - and Rock Hudson!  But, dammit, the Doris-fest starts at 9 p.m., a time when I'm preparing for bed.
I'm an early retirer (this morning getting up at 3.15), so if I can't stay awake tonight I'll have to watch the progs on the computer later. Fine, but it's never as comfy as watching TV. (Being on a digital channel I can't video them.)
    The Divine Doris reaches 90 next April. (Or is it 88? - the sources I look at differ.) When her time is up I know I'm gonna weep buckets. She was - and still is - mine!

Growing up as a devoutly-practicing Catholic boy, it seemed that from about the age of 11 or 12, whenever I went to confession I was owning up to having 'impure thoughts'. I never ever got round to confessing actual acts, except just the once when I got so tongue-tied and stutteringly incoherent I was berated by the priest for not being 'explicit' enough. He wanted to know ALL the details - sitting there behind a wire grille in his little darkened box. (Any further comment is superfluous!) After that humiliation I never dared attempt verbalising any 'impure' actions again. (Oh, the mortal sins that deliberate omission must have brought down on my head, further compounding the 'evil' of those unmentionable acts! And it gets even worse. I was still going up to receive Holy Communion every Sunday - so that my family and school mates wouldn't ask questions about why I didn't go. Horror upon horror! I reckon that when I meet my Maker, being condemned to an ETERNITY in hell still wouldn't be long enough.) Anyway, what I was going to say was that whenever I mentioned these sinful thoughts, my penance, in addition to being instructed to say one or two 'Our Fathers' and a few 'Hail Marys', was always to pray to the Virgin Mary to deliver me from this wicked temptation, which I always did, but which never seemed to work. I can't help feeling that a more efficacious target of my prayers would have been to Saint Doris, who at least she was easier to picture. It certainly couldn't have been any worse. (Sorry to have taken so long to get back to the subject of this blog. I admit the connection is tenuous, to say the least.)).

Btw: I remember when there was talk about the filming of 'The Sound of Music', around 1962/63, they'd narrowed down giving the role of Maria to either Julie A. or Doris Day. If they'd gone with the latter I wonder how it would have looked and worked out. I don't know if their respective ages had anything to do with the final choice (Doris was elder by 13 - or is it 11? - years). I imagine it would have had quite a bearing. But it's an intriguing thought.

And now, my friends, let's have a chorus of a song whose lyrics resonate with a lot of us:-


Tuesday 6 September 2011

If you want a thumping good read......

(I'd better post this quickly, very soon after my blog of only yesterday morning. With a bit of luck it might distract attention from my '5 on the Fifth' entry which must have raised a few eyebrows.)

I've just finished reading this remarkable trilogy. (I realise it's probably old hat to other avid readers who may have been through them when they first started being talked about in literary circles, a couple or more years ago.) But I've just read them through uninterrupted by other reading - around 1700 pages in all - in just over a fortnight. No, I didn't read some every single day, but they do have to be read in order. I cannot recommend them too highly. If you want a meaty thriller that's involved without being so over-complicated that you give up trying to follow the twists and turns, this trilogy is for you. Such a shame that the author died in 2004 at just 50, not knowing what a phenomenon these books were to become.
   I saw all three Swedish films (in the correct order). They are currently being re-made in America. One question - why? Well, we actually all know the answer - because they'll be in English. (Sigh of resignation!) The Swedish originals were themselves significant accomplishments and I'd be very surprised indeed if they can be improved upon.
    So, as I say, if you like thrillers - here is my strong recommendation for a cracking read.


Monday 5 September 2011