Tuesday 31 January 2012

'bye, Sugar!

Well, hardly a surprise, but after tests I was this morning officially diagnosed as a diabetic, joining the ranks of many millions all over the globe.
Obviously it's something one doesn't like to see happen but put in the context of people living with the Big 'C' or the Big 'A', my health problems are really quite puny. Indeed, with this latest addition to my little 'list' of high blood pressure and a few varicose veins in one calf, I know that there are very many people with much more serious conditions who would gladly swap what they have with what I've got, so moaning about it would be totally selfish - indeed, it's further reason to count my own blessings. I'm also pretty sure that there must be, among those with whom I have regular blog-contact, several having the same condition. Anyway, I'm now a fully-qualified member of the 'club'.
C'est la vie!

Right, enough of that. Tomorrow, I hope, will be my first film blog, and I'm looking forward to posting it.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Future Attraction - My New Monthly Film Report

    Shame that only now I've thought about sharing my film-watching experiences. Been listing every film I've seen since 1966 (only those viewed in a cinema count), and, rather wastefully, have been keeping it all to myself. (4,353 films to date) For the most recent twenty of those years they've each been given a score, but not so much in terms of being an intrinsically bad/good film (I don't feel qualified to do that), rather more for  its appeal to me alone - in terms of enjoyment, profundity, my being moved or its being clever etc.

     My monthly blog may be particularly useful to avid cinema-goers as they'll be for films which have only recently been given release (at least here in the U.K.) and may well still be in cinema circulation - so if anyone thinks my opinion carries any weight, and s/he was vacillating about seeing it at all, it may not be too late to see it in the format for which it was intended.
    I can't say how long I'll continue going to the cinema regularly. I've long since reduced the frequency of visits, generally because of the expense - and now with question marks appearing over my health, I don't know if there'll be the desire or even the ability to carry on and on. I certainly can't see myself going frequently after hitting the age of 70 in 5 years time - but then when I started at around 19/20 I didn't think I'd be doing much cinema-going after reaching 40! So whether it's for just a few years more, or perhaps even just a few months, I'll post a cinema blog shortly after the end of each month. (2012 has got off to a good start. I've already seen eight films, with possibly two more in the next couple of days).

    I must also acknowledge Stephen Chapman's most interesting and admirably concise monthly movie blog @
http://the state of the nation.blogspot.com  

   My 'reports' will differ from Stephen's in that the choice will be more narrowly focused. Whereas his blog covers a wide range of films, as well as covering a considerable time-range of original release date, mine are biased towards so-called 'art-house' films, and will all be recent releases. I do see certain kinds of block-busters too (e.g.all the 'Harry Potters', 'Missions Impossible' etc) but, essentially for financial reasons, I tend now to avoid films which I'm unlikely to like, because of critics' views or what I already know about them (such as the recent 'War Horse').. Consequently, most of my film scores turn out to get either the average score of 5/10 as a minimum, or higher- though sometimes an occasional low score will get through where it would have been better to have saved the money. Long gone are the days when I used to see everything within reason, whether wanting to or not.

So, in a few days time the first one will appear. We all hope for favourable reactions to what we post, though I'm aware that feelings towards film can be so subjective and I'm prepared for words of disbelief at some of the scores I'll be giving.

Anyway, let's give it a spin and see what happens.

Thursday 26 January 2012

My first ever 'me-me'

This posting comes about via Jason Shaw's rather excellent blog - www.seafrontdiary.com - on 25th Jan 2012, and is my initial foray into the world of revealing 'warts-and-all'.

At this stage I'm just going to dip my toe in and play only one of the items he lists viz answering questions he's set about oneself. I may follow up on the rest of it later.

So here we go:-

1. What is your favourite cartoon character?

    Not the most auspicious start. Never been a particular fan of the genre, but I remember rushing home from school to catch a daily 'Popeye' cartoon - though it was his getting out of predicaments with the aid of that spinach that amused me rather than the character itself.

2. Coffee or tea?

    Tea. Could I have PG tips de-caff PLUS some earl grey, please? (A few slices of lemon as well would be perfect.)

3. The best thing you've ever done in your life?

    Running a London Marathon, perhaps, in 1997  - but renouncing the R.C. faith would also be a biggie. Then there's having the courage of moving to Germany, alone (even though it didn't work out).......

4. The worst thing you'll ever admit doing in your life.

    Easy - but painful, so please forgive lack of detail.
By my careless action in one case and my laziness in another, causing the death of the family pet canary and another family pet, a lovely all-white cat. Both happened in my teenage years, about 3 or 4 years apart. Never forgiven myself since - and the experiences have been hanging around like an albatross ever since.

5. How many people will answer the above question honestly?

   Most would, I think - though those who've committed a heinous act and/or crime may understandably not wish to divulge. I was totally honest with my own answer.

6. Is there a god?

   Probably not. But if there is, then he/she/it hasn't made a very good job of 'Creation'. I reckon that I, and most people with even average intelligence, on being given total omnipotence and omniscience could have done a great deal better.

7. Do you like Brussels sprouts?

   Love em! But then I live alone!   ;-)

8. Would you lend me £150?

    I think so, but I'd first need convincing that it was absolutely vital for you (or for anyone else) to have it.  I'd also be telling you (or whomever) what a nuisance it was pulling it out of my funds which are being kept sacrosanctly intact for a particular purpose.

9. Would you lend a politician £150?

   You've got to be kidding! But if said person was also a friend I probably would.

10. Peanut butter or jam (American 'jelly') ?

   Peanut butter. Crunchy, please.

11. What has been the most memorable place you've ever visited?

    So many to choose from, but could well be St Petersburg - or Leningrad, as then was (1974). Only there for 3 days but it's lingered in the mind, moreso than Moskva did.


So there we are. It's been fun, Jase. Thank you. Must do it (or something similar) again sometime!

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Lightening the mood - solutions to those Xword clues

I cannot leave my previous blog sitting there as my most recent posting, giving the impression that nothing has changed.
I've replied individually to all the messages of support so I'll now just make the general remark of how I was immeasurably moved and deeply humbled by those who assisted me with their kind words through the last few days - all the more remarkable because no one pressed me to be more specific than my very vague indications of the root cause. Even though I lack friends here in person I know now more than ever that I'm incredibly lucky to have such lovely friends in Blogland. Thank you all!
One very last thought - at least for now. It's the sort of thing that comes round for me, thankfully, only every few years. Something equivalent probably will happen again sometime but I'm not going to live the life that's left to me by quaking behind the settee in case it does.
Okay, enough! Let's move on!

Now, what seems like an eternity ago (though it was just 9 days), I posed three crossword clues and said I'd be giving the solutions after allowing a chance for anyone to come up with answers. The fact that I didn't get one single solution suggested may be an indication of apathy to crosswords (though I know in a few cases that it's not so) or too difficult - or even too easy? (but I doubt it)
Whatever, just to round the subject off I think you'll find the solutions entertaining:-

Clue 1  (which I think a number of you may already have known)

  HIJKLMNO    (5 letters)               

Solution -' water'    .

This was posed to me by a friend who was another crossword fan when I was about 20. I'm one of those people who won't give in. ("Don't tell me! Do NOT tell me!")
After mulling it over for some considerable time, my friend and I retired, as was our wont, to a certain local establishment to imbibe some 'liquid refreshment'. We chatted on then I suddenly recalled the riddle and said "Okay, now let's get back to this crossword clue. So the clue consists of all the letters from
H to O?".......................(clink!) 

Clue 2

heggs      (11 letters)

Solution - 'exasperated'  (explanation = 'eggs' aspirated.)    Isn't that just so neat?

Clue 3

What Methuselah and Madame de Pompdour had in common?     (12 letters)

Solution - 'antediluvian'     (explanation = Methuselah is classified as one of the 'Antediluvian [i.e. before The Flood] Patriarchs. The most famous saying of Madame de Pompadour [though it is sometimes attributed to her 'lover', French king Louis XVth], was "Apres nous le deluge.")
I did solve this one myself after a long time rummaging around in a public library. I should imagine it would be easier to solve nowadays with, should one need it, the use of the internet.

So, I hope some of you have been entertained by this little diversion. If I've put the slightest smile on any of your faces (rather than grimaces of puzzlement!) I'm a happy chappy.

Monday 23 January 2012

Hurting like hell, deep down inside.

It's one of those occasions when having a friend here in person would have been so nice.

I've been lying awake in my bed the entire night. No exaggeration.

Can't go into details for fear of breaking confidences but yesterday evening had the singular worst blogging experience since I began here 6 years ago - and I'll be carrying a weight around inside for at least a few days until it hopefully dissolves, but it'll surely  leave scars.

During the night, with thoughts whizzing here, there and all over the place, had made up my mind to close down the Raybeard blog permanently, as well as blocking e-mails from all my blog-pals. Now in the cool light of day I've put that plan on hold as being unlikely, as I'm now possibly better placed to get the whole incident into proportion. The other person involved in this calamity may actually read this blog and, could, in fact be suffering as much as I am, or even more, so I'm going to halt any burgeoning appeals for sympathy.
    Even my dear little Blackso, maybe sensing that something was not quite as it should be, unusually refrained from coming into bed with me, until around 5 a.m. Before then he was sleeping and snoring in the living room. I would so have appreciated the comfort of his presence throughout the long night.

    To cap it all, I've just returned from a visit to the doctor's surgery to have blood taken for examination. My  doctor thinks I may be my exhibiting the early symptoms of nascent diabetes. Results will take a few days, but if it turns out to be so, that's all I need!

  Some individuals here in this situation may have wanted to crack open the virgin bottle of J.D. I have in the kitchen, but I'm not inclined to do that, at least not yet. (When my mum had reached the stage when she was thought likely to go at any time, 7 years ago, I kept such a bottle of 'support' for when the time actually arrived. But when it did I just didn't feel like drinking. In fact don't think I had any strong drink until after the funeral 10 days later, and that was only in moderation.)

   I've got a pre-purchased ticket for an afternoon showing of Clint Eastwood's latest, 'J.Edgar' today. Don't know how I'm going to keep awake for all of its 2hours 20 mins length.

   Also, have to finish off the entry I should write into the book accompanying the Spo-shirt, which is being transferred onwards tomorrow. What I write really ought to be in an up-beat mood, and that is how I've started it. But the way I'm feeling right now it'll be more like a clown wearing a painted smile whilst crying on the inside.
Btw: It would have meant so much if a particular one or two of the previous wearers of the Spo-shirt had at least written a comment under my blog of 2 days ago. I was so much thinking that it had clad their own bodies when I had it on myself. But maybe they haven't seen my blog, have nothing in particular to add - or, as I suspect, their social lives are too busy. But I think of them with affection anyway.

Oh dear, all this self-pity sounds horrible!

Going back now to slide under the duvet and hope that the good god Morpheus grants me maybe a couple of hours of restful shut-eye 'cos, boy, could I do with it!

Sunday 22 January 2012

The Question - opening instalment.

This is the first of Stephen Chapman's - thestateofthenationuk.blogspot.com - latest regular blog feature, and I am pleased to be able to offer a contribution. 

Stephen says:-

Welcome to 'The Question'... a single question to be answered by bloggers on the same day, with the aim of sparking some conversation, debate and shared experiences on various blogs around the world. If you choose to answer The Question, please add your link to my page and therefore, I hope that responses will then be compared.

The question this month is:

What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?

My Answer: I would work towards a significant reduction in the suffering of animals and bring about increased respect for them (e.g. by writing a book on the subject which has a global influence, giving a talk, presenting a TV/radio programme which gets wide coverage....and so on.)

I've given this question a great deal of thought over recent days and my answer will hardly surprise anyone who knows me through my blog. Of course I appreciate that some would be enraged at my choosing animals for attention while there is so much human suffering all over the planet. Or should I have elected to engage in gay issues or AIDS or scientific research etc.? All these are valid questions but here is not the place or time to put forward justifications for my choice. All that will have to wait for a future of blog of mine.

I had thought first about more mundane things like learning to swim, learning to drive. (That's right. I can't do either!) Then I thought about learning to read Sanskrit and that really grabbed me. Reading is more likely to be of greater value than conversing in it as I would love to have the ability to read the sacred texts directly without the need for a translation, which inevitably makes it second-hand. 

But, being honest to readers of this and of Stephen's fine blog, I adhere to the choice I've made.



Saturday 21 January 2012

Spo-shirt reaches England!

Yes, happy times! The renowned globe-trotting garment of Dr Spo touched on Albion's southern shore (in Worthing, West Sussex) a few days ago and I've been ever so proud to have had it in my company - and even moreso since reading the entries in the accompanying book, which underlines how privileged I feel to be a link in the chain of 'celebrities' whom I could only dream of ever meeting. 
Now, with apologies for my inability to 'smile to order', I ask you to take it that what may be interpreted as scowls are, in fact, expressions of being overwhelmed by the honour of being allowed to put on this majestic garment.

Displayed here is the Spo-shirt in close proximity to my most special friend in the entire world, my little (sleeping) Blackso, who, I'm afraid, is quite underwhelmed by the experience.

I took the shirt for an alfresco treat this morning to a location which has an especial significance for many of us. These are the precise environs (saving the extensive demolishment and re-building works) where, during an extended stay in this southernmost part of the country, our Oscar wrote his final masterpiece, 'The Importance', just before his life took that wretched and tragic crash - and what an inglorious fall from grace it was! Those of you familiar with the play will know that one of the two principal characters, John (Jack) Worthing, had his name given by O.W. from this very town.
(You may just notice the blue plaque on the apartment block wall in the background.)
The Spo-shirt greets its master.
No, that's not a paunch. It's the way I'm slouching!
And so, sadly, we must shortly part. My only regret was that the prevailing weather was not conducive to wearing it outside. (Maybe on some future occasion when it circles the planet?) In a few days it makes its way a mere dozen miles or so eastwards along the coast of this scepter'd isle and into the good and capable hands of........

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!