Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A Trip To The North-East

Why aye man pet! And that is the last I will attempt of the lyric qualities of north-eastern dialect.

Just back from a trip with some of the usual suspects to play golf and to take in a day's test cricket at Chester-le-Street. A pleasure as always. We had a preliminary game of golf at Melton Mowbray (where AO is a member) which went passably well by my own dull standards until I collapsed as if spineless on the last two holes to hand the win to our host. In the smallness of those two holes I threw in three shots in a greenside bunker and a shanked chip when triumph still beckoned. Defeat was thus wondrously snatched from the jaws of victory.

Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club
Most of Saturday was spent crawling up the A1(M) to our destination of Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club. The long trek was worth it. I have an affection for Dunstanburgh dating back to 1975 when Brother and I played it during a family holiday. The Northumberland coast is a matchless piece of deific design. My golf was matchless rubbish but hey ho.

After the golf we journeyed back to Newcastle to our base at the Grand Station Hotel - a piece of faded glory with high ceilings, large rooms and coldish showers. A reliable base from which to strike out into the wonders of Newcastle night-life. Such life seems to be defined by a lack of adequate female clothing and a penchant for wearing what is available in a size too small. It is rather like our own Broad Street but somehow less self-conscious. This might be me romanticising the northern charm. Anyway I'm glad to say there are some proper drinking pubs where you don't have to shout over the music and climb over prone bodies.

great sliding banisters
Test cricket needs all the friends it can get in facing the tasteless international onslaught of franchise-based Twenty20 slogfests. In that context the spirit shown by Sri Lanka in a losing cause on Sunday was welcome. What is not, on balance, welcome is much of the mirthless humour of the pissed-up crowd in the cheap stands. I don't expect to sit in cathedral hush to watch my cricket and some of the badinage is even rather clever but the constant braying of the same inanities is tiresome and unfair on those in proximity to the noisome bunch. My particular loathing was reserved for a scouse tosser (this is a medical term) in front of me who was under the mistaken impression that his racist under-appreciation of Moeen Ali would be welcomed as humour. As I say, tosser.  It is a sobering thought that he will presumably get the same number of votes as all the rest of us in the forthcoming referendum. No wonder people become patrician eurocrats. In the end you can't let these bastards win.

A Couple More Films - Good Ones

Two oldish movies worth being reminded about and available via the Sky archives.

The Odd Couple betrays its conversion from a stage play (the reliably funny Neil Simon) but the expansive complementary talents of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon lift it rather sweetly. A fine and professional piece of americana. 7/10.

A very different but actually equally sweet comedy is to be had from the swear-fest that is The Commitments. It is a fine essay (among other things) on the use by the Irish of foul language as a means of oral punctuation. The soul music that is at the heart of the film is even more arresting than the profanity. 7.5/10.

Friday, 27 May 2016

A View From Over The Pond

It has been a week of much sound and fury signifying the ramping up of lies, damned lies and statistics in the EU debate. The whole thing has become tiresome and there is something decdedly distasteful about the sight of our Prime Minister getting down and dirty with the lying part of the equation. He will say pretty much anything to win and his motivation is clearly the winning of an internal Tory war. The country's interests can go hang. He is no better than the clown Corbyn whose dishonest conversion to the Remain cause fails to get the scrutiny it deserves.

For a sober neutral view (this time on the Leave side of the equation) try George F. Will in yesterday's Washington PostWill on EU

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Soviet Hamlet

Grigori Kozintsev's 1964 Hamlet complete with its Shostakovich score is proof that good art can be forthcoming in a totalitarian state. That doesn't make totalitarianism acceptable but it does say something about the power of good storytelling. As with Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (a brilliant Japanese Macbeth, which the observant of you will remember being part of my filmic advent calendar) there is a distinct argument that black and white cinematography adds rather than detracts.

The translation used for the film was Pasternak's, so you might say that some pretty talented types worked on this stark and pacy film adaptation. I was particularly taken by the performance of Anistaysia Vertinskaya as the doomed Ophelia.

The film is currently available on BBC iPlayer as part of the general Shakespeare celebrations. Definitely worth a gander. 7/10.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Further Evidence

Further evidence of the Law of Diminishing Returns, as if more were needed. Last night IW and I drank the second of my cherished bottles of La Serra Barolo 2001. It drinks beautifully but is prohibitively expensive for any sort of regular consumption, even if you could get hold of more bottles. On reflection that's probably the point! If someone offers you the chance, drink it but don't guzzle. Nice. It's back to the cheap rioja today.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

It's Time To Stop Dissing Saracens

In fact the time had come some while ago. One of the things that struck me markedly when attending the Toulon v Saracens European Cup final a couple of years ago was the number of English followers of other clubs who so vociferously supported Toulouse on the grounds that Saracens constituted a mercenary oupost of South Africa. Whereas Toulon are, I suppose, the great manifestation of growing your own talent. Yeah right.

Dudes can play
Saracens won the European Cup kast weekend with a functional display in dire conditions against Racing 92's assembled galcticos. It wasn't pretty and the usual plonkers were decrying all things northern hemisphere blah, blah, blah. Saracens did all this with a predominantly English team.

Well Saraces have just furnished an answer with their evisceration of Leicester in the Premiership play-off semi-final. They scored tries, they kicked goals, they were bloody impressive. If there has ever been a club pairing at second-row as monstrously good as Kruis and Itoje then I haven't seen it. And yes I did see Johnson and Kay play. And no I'm not suggesting that either of the Sarries lads is even in the same continent as the deity that is Johnson. Yet. Ben Kay, by the way, has emerged as a sane and sensible commentator on BT Sport. He makes as many insightful remarks as Austin Healey but without the need to signal himself as the biggest tosser in the room. Mind you, I'll take Healey over Stuart Barnes any day. At least Healey displays signs of self-knowledge.  

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Cymbeline ... RSC

Cymbeline is one of the late 'problem' plays in the Shakespeare canon. Hitherto rarely performed, it is in temporary vogue and can be found presently in the RSC main house. I unfolded myself this afternoon in stalls seat J1 for what was a curate's egg of a production.

The play is not easily categorised and its peculiarity seems to have played on the mind of the director so that all sorts of presentational tricks are thrown at the staging. King Cymbeline is given a sex change and becomes Queen Cymbeline. Guiderius gets the same treatment. In the programme notes director Melly Still offers that this is done to disturb the expectation of patriarchal order. Maybe, maybe not - generally I'm inclined to the view that such tricks are a form of showing-off.

To emphasise the inherent clashes of cultures (the play climaxes with a pact between Augustan Rome and a fledgling Britain) some of the text is translated into Latin, Italian and French. At first I thought this selfishly indulgent but then realised that the original words were being projected onto the back wall. The problem is that the thrust stage does not make for ready reading of back projections. My view was blocked at various times and I'm not convinced it's anything other than impolite to put on a show material parts of which are unavailable to a sizeable chunk of the paying public.

So all in all not an unmitigated success. However it is a rare performance that masks the Bard's merits completely and there is plenty to take away from this, not least the comic possibilities of the vile Cloten. Also, in its investigation of national identity, this play has rather nice echoes for those of us intrigued by the EU referendum. When I found an article making this very point in the programme I feared a prototypical luvvie blast in favour of the In campaign (Emma Thompson being the sanctimonious torch-bearer in chief on this front - quelle surprise) but Rachel Sylvester's piece is actually even-handed.

To conclude, this production tries too hard to be cutting edge and thereby gets a tad messy. However an afternoon in Stratford is always to be recommended if only to make one feel young - apart from those on the stage and the gaggle of kilted schoolgirls on an outing, I didn't spot anyone who could convincingly be argued to look younger than me. Result. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Belatedly ... Reservoir Dogs

Somehow or other I have managed to go twenty-four years without seeing this cultural icon in its entirety. I had soundly judged that it is not really the Groupie's sort of thing and most of my film viewing is done a deux. That has not however prevented me from seeing the later Tarantino oeuvre and my abiding impression has been of a talent unfulfilled. I had rather expected that Reservoir Dogs, the director's first project would, thanks to its spareness, be more satisfying. It is not. Not quite. It is stylish and clever but held back by its gratuitous knowingness. I admired it but didn't overly like it. Nonetheless 7/10.

An Interesting Anniversary

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the simultaneous release of two seminal albums. The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde.

Friday, 13 May 2016

And The Good Stuff Keeps On Coming

Tom Hanks
Desert Island Discs can bring out the best in people as well as catching out those charlatans such as politicians who have had their selections made by a focus group.

This morning's edition certainly cast Tom Hanks in a very favourable light. He came across as a thoroughly decent and deserving sort of a cove. Worth a listen at Tom Hanks Desert Island Discs

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Another Shaft Of Light

I have linked to very little on the EU debate because there is so much cant on both sides, but here is a piece that is at least coherent and clear in its motives - Let's Vote In - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor . I'm not convinced as yet but at least, unlike the proto-canonised Obama, the Cardinal speaks of what he knows.

A Shaft Of Light In The Valley Of Sin

boy done good
Of all things I heard a front-bench politician being sane and generous on a mainstream news programme. Honestly. It was Andy Burnham of all people. I have previously been unkind enough to do little more than point out his remarkable resemblance to the Thunderbirds puppet Scott Tracy. But yesterday he was impassioned, lucid and moving about the Hillsborough disaster and its disgraceful denouement. He made no party point (perhaps serving the clownish Corbyn leaves Burnham more inclined to fly his own kites than the absurd earthbound leftist creations) and unbidden praised Theresa May for her conduct in the matter. More of this please.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Manic Depression

I saw my doctor this morning. He's rather marvellous and has a clever manner by which he tries to keep me on the straight and narrow, which in my case broadly means keeping me medicated, though not up to the eyeballs.

I came off my dual medication back in December (that is to say off both uppers and downers) and was even so presumptuous as to trumpet the fact. Big mistake. I fell rather spectacularly off the mental health wagon in mid March. I won't bore you with the sordid details but suffice to say it was ugly and scared the shit out of the person closest to me. So now I'm back on the drugs (just the Olanzapine - my anti-psychotic of choice - no anti-depressants this time) and the better for it. Fingers crossed.

spare us a thought - we're not making it up
As it happens next week is Mental Health Awareness Week but Radio 2 has been marking that fact this week and so it was that I caught a rather beautiful little segment of the Jeremy Vine Show as I drove home from university today. It is available to listen to at Vine Show for the next month and if you skate around the less than learned debates about what Churchill would make of the EU, and whether first-class travel on trains should be banned (seriously), you should catch the sensitive little interview with a bipolar sufferer called Steve who was sectioned only a few weeks ago. Vine, as a good journalist should, had mastered his topic and Steve was both brave and disarmingly honest about how the condition can utterly fuck with your mind. I hope Steve will get it under control and that he comes to appreciate what Olanzapine can do for you, even if it does make you fat. God bless you Steve, wherever you are. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Taken 3 ... A Very Silly Film

Taken 1 was high adrenaline tosh but diverting, Taken 2 was a chaotic rehash but mildly diverting. Proof of the Law of Diminishing returns, Taken 3 is, when push comes to shove, merely pretty rubbish. It is fast-paced and has lots of crashes and bangs plus the compulsory multiple body count. Mind you the pedant in me does have to point out that nobody actually gets 'taken' in this episode. Liam Neeson is reliably good in the lead though hardly plausible. Forrest Whittaker adds gravitas as the wise detective but neither can rescue the movie. It's pretty much pants, a sort of Fugitive meets 24 but less involving than the former and lacking even the trace of morality of the latter. 2/10 - and I'm being generous. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Back On The Road ... Yet Again

Big Fat Pig has been struggling recently on the exercise front. Not for the want of trying, but sadly the pesky calf muscles (particularly the left one) have never recovered properly from the Royal Parks Half last year. This is a most damnable thing. A coupe of weeks ago and at the accustomed twenty-five minute mark the calf tweeked as I ran. Not for the first time I announced that I was giving up running. For now I'm sticking to that vow but I strongly suspect I will be tempted to do at least one more sprint triathlon. All of that is for tomorrow.

marque of distinction
Swimming is lovely and undoubtedly easy on the battered old joints but the whole process of finding clear water in a public pool is wearying and so it is back to the Precious Bike. Those of you with long memories will recall that my state of perma-puncture had worn down my enthusiasm but having received an expert diagnosis (the ever reliable John Bedford at Park Cycles) of under-inflation I finally bit the bullet and bought a shiny top-rate track pump (another boy's toy) and this morning inflated the tyres to within an inch of their lives. I donned the lycra and hit the streets for an hour. Eureka, no puncture! Admittedly with the high pressure I felt every undulation of our poorly metalled roads in a rather personal manner and I am saddle-sore now, but it felt good and I will try to keep it up so as to do justice to the skin-tight gear. I am very mindful of the speed at which another middle-aged lycra-man pedalled past me this morning but you've got to start somewhere. I have celebrated in true BFP style with a bacon sarnie and a glass of Freixenet Cordon Negro. Isotonic cava naturally.

Testament Of Youth

Great films are few and far between and it is sometimes tempting to categorise a film in this way when in the first flush of enthusiasm after watching it. It is for that reason that I have held back for a week before venturing that Testament of Youth is a great film. I have therefore been lucky to encounter two such films in a relatively short time - first The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, and now Testament of Youth.

This film gets it right in so many ways, barring one grammatical infelicity put in the mouth of someone who would never have so spoken. It places Vera Brittain's pacifism in its full context but does not go over the top. War is Hell, of course, but the film does not labour the point - the point makes itself without any need for clumsy assistance from the lions led by donkeys school of gore. Beautiful touches abound, from the off-screen wail of Vera's father at news of his son's death, to the hospital clearing-station crane shot that pays homage to another great film about a woman caught in war, Gone With the Wind.  

At the centre of all of this is a stunning performance by Alicia Vikander. Top stuff. I came to this film expecting it to be worthy and probably preachy. It is worthy but not in any reproachful way. It is clever, compassionate and moving. A great film. 9/10.  

Thursday, 5 May 2016

A Passing Thought

He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.

(Proverbs 11:28)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Sun Shines On A Troubled World

Our expensively remodelled garden is bathed in evening sunshine and all the world can do is cast metaphorical shadows on the lovely scene.

Donald bloody Trump seems to have worn down all opposition to achieve the GOP nomination for President. It will not have passed you by that I do not regard this as good news. The man is a foul-mouthed, misogynistic, rabble-rousing bully, and the best thing that can be said of him is that he is not Hillary Clinton. Clinton seems his presumptive opponent for the leadership of the free world - a serial charmless liar, of whom we can very positively put it that at least she is not Donald Trump. How the hell did it come to this? Should we stand back and laugh or should we howl at the moon. There but for the grace of God etc. Oh but hang on, we go to the polls ourselves tomorrow (local elections so most of the enfranchised won't bother) and our choice is between parties led respectively by the smug, patrician Cameron and the utter buffoon Corbyn.

Just to illustrate the bleakness of it all, let us consider the nearest alternatives to the Donald v Hillary show (for Heaven's sake, it's not even the proper spelling of Hilary, ask Wedgwood Benn) - on the right there was the more than vaguely terrifying Ted Cruz, an evangelical Christian libertarian, if that's possible; and on the left there was (or remains, just) Bernie Sanders, a pacifist quasi-nutter graduate of the Corbyn School of Utter Bollocks.

For reasons not important to my current whinge, I have this afternoon been immersed in the total crapfest that is the Education Act 2011 and its doings. What baloney and proof if it were ever needed that politicians as a breed are actually opposed to any education other than their own. 

Do you know, the FTSE fell by 1.19% today and I am past giving even the vaguest toss. Such things used to vex me.

On the very bright side has been the triumph of Leicester City's millionaires over the multi-millionaires of the bigger Premier League clubs. Apologies if that sounds overly cynical - I do in fact acknowledge the Leicester victory as the best story in professional team sports for several decades. Football eh, bloody hell.

I am just listening to Donald Fagen's The Nightfly, one of the greatest albums ever cut and proof positive that mankind is capable of wondrous things to offset and overshadow the omnishambles that is modern politics.

Goodnight sweet prince.