Sunday, 31 December 2017

12 Films At Christmas - 9 & 10

Two films of relatively recent vintage today, but of very different provenance. The big studio production first. Disney is mining its old back catalogue of cartoons and making shameless real life + CGI rehashes of them. I reviewed the new Jungle Book favourably last year but reserved greater affection for the hand-drawn original. A similar conclusion applies to the new Beauty and the Beast. The action (and the songs) have been broadened slightly but to no telling effect. Plus we have the casting of a bankable star in the shape of the tiresome Emma Watson (a very poor man's Emma Thompson) whose weakish voice has to be augmented by the chorus. Don't get me wrong it's a perfectly entertaining film but, when all's said and done, why bother? 6.5/10.

Confession time. My estimation of Beauty and the  Beast was driven down with each passing second of the next film I watched. I can't recommend Hunt for the Wilderpeople highly enough. Set in the wilds of New Zealand this is by turns tragic, uplifting and very, very funny. A genuinely great picture. 9/10.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

12 Films At Christmas - 5, 6, 7 & 8

There is as ever  a lot to choose from at this time of the year - I find thumbing through the festive bumper edition of the Radio Times almost as exciting as watching the films. We have a mixed bunch to review today. None dreadful, indeed one potential GOAT, to return to the sporting vernacular of my advent efforts. But first a British caper that amuses but doesn't fully take off  - yes that pun is intended, I just can't help myself. Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines merits 5.5/10.

Oh the joys of Christmas that lead us from that to the boisterousness of Oklahoma! (yes it does have an exclamation mark, rather like all of Trump's subliterate tweets, though with rather more reason). This is the film of the first Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration and the singing and dancing are superb though the translation onto the widescreen (it was the first feature shot in Todd-AO) somehow shrinks the spectacle. I love a good old musical. 7/10.

And now for that putative GOAT. It has twice appeared in my advent calendars, in fact was the first ever door 24. It has to be rewatched every Christmas because it speaks of human potential and of the possibilities of film as a medium. I awarded It's a Wonderful Life 10/10 when last I blogged about it. Should I temper this by saying nothing is perfect and downgrade to 9.5/10? No, I'm sticking with last year's verdict. Still 10/10.

Last for today and not by any means least, something more modern. Hidden Figures is 'based on the true story' so presumably takes some Hollywood liberties with the truth, but the core of it is about the vagaries of the American Dream. As the USA reached for the moon it also reached haltingly for racial and sexual equality - in this film the two journeys are intertwined. A reassuring text in the modern context of America. Giant leaps for mankind remain feasible, notwithstanding the passing fashion for moral backsliding. 7.5/10.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Advent 24

In academic circes one is (quite properly) told never to quote Wikipedia. But these are not academic circles and on this occasion Wikipedia gets it spot on:
Bradman's Test atting average of 99.94 is often cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.
 Obviously I never saw Bradman play but the sheer weight of the statistical evidence is there for all to view. He scored twenty-nine centuries in just fifty-two Test matches. His first class career average was ninety-five. A very select club of the greats have a Test average in the sixties - Bradman is fully fifty percent better than all his challengers. I have been fortunate to see some great batsmen - Tendulkar, Lara, Steve Waugh, Viv Richards - but the figures cannot lie: Don Bradman was by a ludicrous margin the supreme batsman of all time.

 Happy Christmas and may your god go with you.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Advent 23

I've thought long and hard about this one - today's entry on the list could easily have been held back for Door 24 on the old calendar. The sport in which he excelled can leave me queasy but also at its best delivers a fearsome nobility. It is, of course, boxing and he, of course, is Muhammad Ali.

Olympic champion at light heavyweight, professionally he went to war with other big beasts in the heavyweight division - the list of the vanquished is compelling: Liston, Cooper, Patterson, Frasier, Norton and, most memorably of all, George Foreman. Ali was the most famous man on the planet. GOAT.

Who will it be tomorrow?

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent 22

Those boooming spin passes that liberated two great fly-halves (Barry John and Phil Bennett); the raking kicks from the base of the scrum; the surging and irresistible breaks; that try. From schoolboy champion athlete to national icon, Gareth Edwards gets the OG vote as the greatest rugby union player there has ever been. Ferocious poetry.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Advent 21

Tiger Woods may have been the golfer who most dominated his opponents but his body and his temperament (off the course) let him down short of the peak of Olympus. And who can we still see standing there at the summit? Jack Nicklaus of course. Eighteen professional major championship victories over two and a half decades. GOAT.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

12 Films At Christmas - 3 & 4

Robert Zemeckis directed A Christmas Carol about which I was complimentary the other day. Animated Christmas films are obviously up his street because he is also responsible for The Polar Express which we have also now enjoyed. It has enough jeopardy and darkness to lift it out of the saccharine. There is a particularly well realised scene where a discarded rail ticket blows in the wind - highly reminiscent of the feather we follow at the opening of Forrest Gump. You can't call it a rip-off because Gump is, of course, another Zemeckis film. Good but not great. 6.5/10.

Our next film is though definitely great and, which is more, an example of that great bar room debating canard - sequels better than the originals. It's a close call but I'd put Toy Story 2 just ahead of Toy Story. Mind you, if you asked me again tomorrow I might have changed my mind. And what about Toy Story 3, the film that proves to Godfather Part III and Return of the Jedi, that momentum can be maintained. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Advent 20

Now we have only the GOATs left on this calendar. Yesterday it was the best English cricketer ever I was privileged to set eyes on. Today we have the game's greatest all-rounder. As a child Dad took my brother and me to Edgbaston to see Warwickshire play Nottinghamshire in the John Player Sunday League. The reason was that we were going to see the world's best cricketer, Garfield Sobers. As it happened Sobers had a modest day whilst Warwickshire were propelled to victory by a century from a lesser West Indian god, Rohan Kanhai. Nevertheless my father's estimation had piqued my interest and I took joy thereafter in everything Sobers did, whether batting (he played what Bradman deeemd the best innings ever seen in Austarlia), bowling (left arm seam, finger spin, or wrist spin), or fielding with cat like reflexes. All of this brilliance was effected with a modest dignity. GOAT all-round cricketer.


Advent 19

A few very special sportsmen break out of the confines of their sport. They become part of the spiritual furniture of society. It was true of Babe Ruth and for an Englishman it is true of Ian Botham. Botham on the cricket field was, at his best, utterly compelling, an irresistible force of nature. In particular he seemed to have been put on the earth to humiliate Australians.

I was away working in America for the summer of 1981 and therefore encountered the heroics of that fabled season at several steps removed. JRS and my father would send me press cuttings and I would read them out loud to my fellow British camp counsellors. The mere statistics of his career are impressive but tell only a portion of the tale. When the mood was upon him Botham could move mountains. Modern attempts to equate the admirable Andrew Flintoff with Botham are I'm afraid off the mark. Flintoff was intermittently very good; Botham often and belligerently refused to lose, in fact choosing to win all on his own. There is a difference and you need to have seen it to understand it. The best English cricketer I have watched and certainly the most charismatic.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Advent 18

Now for one of those GOAT's. To understand Babe Ruth's iconic status I suggest that you spend some happy hours getting to grips with the statistical niceties of baseball - there are a lot of them, even more than in cricket. Ruth had a career batting average of .342. That is good, very good. But, much more telling, he slugged 714 home runs. Until he arrived on the scene the career home run record had been 139. He changed the face of the game he decorated. And beyond the captivating stats there is the sheer largeness of life that he brought to it all. Google 'house that Ruth built', or 'the curse of the bambino' and you will begin to get what I mean. GOAT.

Advent 17

Today my favourite modern rugby player - not the greatest albeit very,very good. Richard Hill was perhaps the least lauded in that famous England RWC winning back-row but for me he was the most complete footballer. He was capped all across the back-row and it should not be forgotten that he was the chosen No. 7 in the Lions winning test sides in South Africa in 1997. On the next Lions tour (Australia 2001) it was the unlawful assault on him by Nathan Grey that marked the turning point in the series. Maybe not the GOAT but some player.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

12 Films At Christmas - 1 & 2

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas - we've even got a bit of the bloody snow still lying around. Thus it is right that we should start this year's dozen with a Christmassy offering. We came to Disney's A Christmas Carol with some trepidation - after all you cannot help but know the plot and the Disney imprimatur can sometimes indicate sentimental schlock. But have no fears, this computer animated version is very good - certainly not one for children (or others) of a sensitive disposition, some of it genuinely dark and scary. 6.5/10. No make that 7/10.

The Groupie was out at her office party last night so I watched L.A. Confidential. This is a very superior noirish thriller with two Antipodeans, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce excelling themselves as very different LA cops who are thrown together in a compromised battle against corruption. A stylish addition to the genre. 8.5/10. In the intellectual near vacuum that currently poses as arts commentary, I suppose we will be enjoined to feel guilt at enjoying this great film because its cast does include the pariah Kevin Spacey. Just as we must not enjoy Wagner. Don't even strart me. 

Advent 16

When writing in this list about John Francome I repeated that old saw about the inadvisability of meeting your heroes. Francome proved it wrong. And so does today's heroine. We encountered Dame Kelly Holmes in the unlikely surroundings of Cheltenham Races and, do you know what, she was lovely. Does that sound patronising? Sorry, but she was, just, really nice.

All she had wanted was to be an Army PTI and only slowly did it dawn on her quite how considerable an athlete she could be. She suffered countless injuries but, as living proof that the good guys/gals do sometimes win, she took double Olympic gold in Athens in 2004. Her sheer unbelieving joy at the first of those victories remains one of sport's great images. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Book Review

As a break from the Advent list, I thought I would share with you a couple of books recently read and which I recommend.

In an earlier Advent list I included Clement Attlee as one of my spiritual (that may not be the best word - do I mean intellectual?) influencers. Citizen Clem is a well-constructed biography of this great man, written with zest by John Bew. Bew I must add is an academic based at God's own King's College London. Any minor eminence by association will be exploited by the shameless Overgraduate.

Very different in timbre is Christopher Buckley's No Way to Treat a First Lady. This rabelaisian tale of unscrupulous American politicians and pond scum lawyers had me smiling and reading avidly. It was written a decade and a half ago but it chimes pleasingly with the present rotten state of America. You have to laugh because the only alternative is to cry. Enjoy in particular the machinations of Boyce 'Shameless' Baylor, 'the man who broke $1000 an hour, the sound barrier of legal billing.' There is a part of even the crustiest workaday lawyer that wants to be like Baylor.  

Advent 15

Some sportsmen become surrounded by an aura of near-invincibility - no one is perfect but some get close. Joe Montana for example. He started four Super Bowls, threw not a single interception and was three times the game's MVP. All of this from someone drafted eighty-third overall in the third round of the college draft amidst doubts about his athleticism and his arm strength. Joe Cool indeed.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Advent 14

Possessed by a Faldoesque craving for perfection, Jonny Wilkinson is an altogether more lovable icon than the golfer. But make no mistake, both were possessed by a devilish attention to detail.

He was self-endangeringly committed to his cause and combined this with a technique honed by hours of practice. That drop-goal says it all - delivered clinically and decisively off the 'wrong' foot. A genuine hero - as revered in his adopted Toulon as on this side of the Channel.

Advent 13

There is no gainsaying the record of Tiger Woods but in all honesty I have never warmed to the man. He dominated golf in an unparalleled manner but it would seem the golfing gods are not to be mocked and his fall from grace was spectacular. He will be back but without his previous psychological edge.

I start with the case of Woods because when I admit my coolness to him it makes my next choice on the list seem a little contrary. I choose a player nowhere near as talented or prolific though nonetheless a titan of the sport. This man had and even more tetchy relationship with the press and he could behave with a stunning lack of grace. However this is what he was: a completely dedicated sportsman who got the utmost out of his game. He was thoroughly un-English in his commitment to professional sport and I admired him for it. Nick Faldo always gave us the spectacle of someone doing his damnedest to win. The contrast between him and Greg Norman in that Masters final round of 1996 was as telling a moment as the crucible of top sport can provide.

Tomorrow another slave to his profession/art.  

Monday, 11 December 2017

Advent 12

I promised you that this boy has a good engine, in fact some of his less charitable critics have alleged that Chris Froome must have a secret motor on his bike.

It is all too easy to be sceptical about cycling's grand tours, what with the industrial scale cheating in which Lance Armstrong participated. However a part of me has to say that you'd practically need to be on drugs to contemplate tackling these races.

Froome won his fourth Tour de France this year, but more enthralling still was his victory in La Vuelta in Spain. This was unfinished business for Froome and by landing that title he embedded himself amongst the modern greats. Not Eddie Mercx but still bloody impressive. Arise Sir Chris?  

Advent 11

The snow is lying all around, deep and crisp and even.

At number 10 we had Bryan Robson, of whom it was surely said (by Ron Atkinson you would expect) that the boy had a a good engine. Well, today's great has possibly the best engine of all time. Sir Mo Farah who can run the last lap of a 10000 metre race far faster than most humans can run that lap fresh. A great champion and a proud immigrant to and advocate for this tired old island of ours. His mien is generally uplifting and it is sad that our beastly press can sometimes be seen to bring down his mood. GOAT? In British terms undoubtedly.

Tomorrow, another good engine who has had trouble with certain elements of the press.

Advent 10

A great pub debate is to name the best player you ever saw playing. ICW and I have played this game about the best players we saw playing for West Bromwich Albion. For him it is the late Laurie Cunnigham. I think that's a good call but there is one even better in my mind. Bryan Robson was athletic, ridiculously brave and, like Martin Johnson in a different sport, a leader by example. He might, in my view, have been England's greatest centre back had he been deployed there but instead he dominated the hub of midfield and scored a lot more than his fair share of goals. He may be best remembered for his Manchester United achievements but he remains my favourite Albion legend.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

Advent 9

It's the almost legendary Roberts Christmas party tonight so I'm in preparation mode and have little time to blog. I'll be brief. For those familiar with my opinions on rugby football, today's nominee will come as no surprise. For technical grasp of her position coupled with physical equipment, I have never seen a better player than Maggie Alphonsi. I'm not a big one for nicknames but Maggie "the Machine" does convey something of her relentlessness.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Advent 8

Yesterday we had the image that has come to haunt English football. Today we have the picture that warms the heart of English rugby fans but with every passing year makes those fans yearn for the good old days: Martin Johnson lets out a triumphal roar and holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft.

Of all the achievements of Northern Hemisphere rugby (and I include in this the astounding Lions teams of the seventies) I just about rate the 2003 world Cup win as the pinnacle. Johnson was at the forefront - indomitable and suitably vicious, the man others followed unquestioningly. The team was put together with obsessive drive by the frankly bonkers Clive Woodward. Luck played its part - for example Johnson was not Woodward's first choice as captain - that was Dallaglio who got blown out of the water (but not out of the team - Woodward always knew which side his bread was buttered) by that unlamented journalistic coup, a New of the World entrapment. As Millwall fans and Brian Moore have been known to say: no one likes us, we don't care. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Advent 7

A picture tells a thousand tales. Here is the image that has come to haunt English football. Today's choice, Bobby Moore, holds aloft the unprepossessing Jules Rimet Trophy. Moore was an elegant and unhurried defender who was judged the player of that World Cup of 1966. Arguably he touched even greater heights as a player in Mexico four years later. Take a look at that photograph - not a splash of branding on show. We've never had it so good?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Recommended Reading

A couple of things I struggle with: Booker Prize winning novels; authorial ventures into the demotic - the former tend to the overwritten and the latter can be embarrassing. But both these prejudices are triumphantly defeated by Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. In a thrilling exercise in literary ventriloquism, Carey gives Ned Kelly a plausible voice, a voice that can be affectingly beautiful:
That is the agony of the Great Transportation that our parents would rather forget so we currency lads is left alone ignorant as tadpoles spawned in puddles on the moon.
To maltreat someone else's joke, if I could write that well I would never go out, I'd stay at home reading my own words. This is a mighty novel. 

What's Another Word For "Inept"?

I ask because in casual discussion I am running out of descriptors for our government's handling of bloody Brexit. We are being taken to the cleaners by an arrogant cartel that thinks itself invincible. In charge of our project of exit is an impuissant Prime Minister who never believed we should leave in the first place. At this stage we have the inglorious spectacle of the Taoiseach doing Sinn Fein's republican dirty work for it and proving that in the world of the EU a little bitty piss-ant country can, when the mood suits the grand panjandrums, hold another to ransom.

For a bit of insight on how badly we have played this read Lionel Shriver in The Spectator - EU Divorce Bill

The EU would seem to be like the Hotel California - you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. It doesn't have to be this way but we need some sodding strong leadership rather than the craven appeasement which keeps getting chucked back in our face. And my argument here is not with those Remainers who so patronisingly question my sanity (I'm sorry boys and girls but honestly I'm not a political mentalist) but with the soggy middle grounders who can't be arsed to do any job properly. For the record I go back to what I was saying two years ago: I believe in the nation state and I am that annoying hybrid, a Catholic Unionist. The greatest chance of my constitutional nirvana lies outside the EU, just as does the greatest hope for true Corbynite socialism. That's a democratic risk I am content to run. My respect for Corbyn might be greatly increased if he would stand up and admit this truth - a truth he stuck to for all those rebellious years on the back benches but which now conveniently eludes him.

Oh well, there's always Christmas to look forward to. Cheers all.

Advent 6

 My contention yesterday was that Martina Navratilova is the greatest tennis player of all time. I can hear justifiable grumbles on behalf of other notables, but what the hell. It's my list

On the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) front I suspect that today's bold assertion may be less troublesome. Jerry Rice is the GOAT amongst wide receivers. If you ever get the chance, find out about the murderous off-season regime that Rice put himself through to assure his enduring physical prowess.

A tad prickly off the field, Rice was devastatingly elegant on it. And all of this having been drafted out of unfashionable Mississipi Valley State University. Poetry in motion.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Advent 5

Fifty-nine, count them, fifty-nine Grand Slam titles, including eighteen singles titles. Here's a bold assertion - Martina Navratilova is the greatest tennis player in history. Athletic and using the classic one-handed back hand, she was nevr less than compelling to watch in action. Off the court this political refugee from the privations of the old Czechoslovakia became a standard bearer for the inclusivity that marks America at its best. These days this sane, generous commentator can be found railing on her Twitter feed about that arch git Donald Trump. More power to her tennis elbow.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Advent 4

I'm afraid I fear for cricket - proper cricket that is. Apologies for repeating myself but the ghastly charade that is Twenty20 is nothing less than the bastard child that will devour its own parent. Along with much else this is one of those things about which Michael Holding is right. Holding, by the way and despite his murderous grace, does not make the countdown. Instead we have a bowler at the other extreme of velocity. Shane Warne was the magician responsible for the single best delivery in my lifetime. Always worth another look.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent 3

There will, you will not be surprised, be more rugby players in this list than from other sports, but today's entry is the only one from the thirteen man code. So you might mischievously argue that amongst the many prejudices overcome by Mal Meninga is my own inborn prejudice in favour of rugby union.

Of South Sea parentage Meninga had the double handicap of being a Queenslander in the days of separate Premierships. Having conquered all in his home state, Meninga moved on to the Sydney league and did it all again. He fitted in a still fondly remembered spell at St Helens and was the goalkicking fulcrum of two undefeated touring Kangaroo squads. His was the last hurrah for straight on toe-poke kicking but the accumulation of kicked points should not obscure the magisterial centre play that is his legacy.

Just yesterday the Australian team he coaches won the World Cup with a hard-fought 6-0 defeat of England. YouTube has plenty of evidence of his talents - give it a look.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Advent 2

Part Canadian (he won his Olympic gold as a Canadian), part Englishman (he was born and initially schooled in London), Lennox Lewis sometimes struggled to enthuse his British audience but the fact is that he was the last undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, unifying the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies and honourably standing above the machinations of the crook Don King. He lost twice in his professional career and avenged both defeats.

Boxing always leaves one grubbily sceptical - should we really be entertained by the sight of men (and women these days) battering each other around the head? Possibly not, but notwithstanding the brutality and the promotional excess, it can give us a rugged nobility. Lewis got out with his marbles and his fortune intact and by the standards of the sport behaved at all times with an outstanding dignity. And eventually he won over the British public who acclaimed him Sports Personality of the Year in 1999. Quite right too.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Advent 1

Horse racing may not be, as is sometimes claimed, the only sport where the competitors are followed round by an ambulance, but I think we can agree that it is bloody dangerous. That danger does add a frisson to the spectacle, an uplifting (both literal and metaphorical) alliance of man and beast.

I cannot see that it is really possible to argue against the formidable Sir Tony McCoy as the greatest to have been legged up, but my list is based rather more on the emotional involvement I feel/felt in the endeavours of my subjects. Which brings us to that supreme and courageous stylist, John Francome. He carried his gifts into the realms of television and fiction after retiring from the saddle and I can confirm (don't you just hate name-dropping) that he is as wry and amusing in person as he is on screen. At least he was for the fifteen minutes I spent with him. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this case they would seem to be wrong.

He rode (at 5/1) the first on-course winner I ever backed and that financial gain - one pound blissfully transformed into six - had me hooked. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Advent Calendar 2017

Yes it's that time of the year again and I can just tell that you are yearning to know what this year's theme will be. Pregnant pause, drum roll, further pregnant pause.

This year I will give you my twenty-four sporting heroes. No, not the greatest sportsmen (or for that matter women) but those whose stories/efforts/art most captivate my imagination. I will apologise at the outset in the face of my bias. After all it is my bloody list. We will start on Friday with one of the two chosen I have actually had the honour to meet.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

I Think I've Just Been Exploited

In fact I know I have. We've just watched Love Actually again. It is clever, knowing and cloying but it is so very well done. in amongst the ensemble cast we have Hugh Grant doing a good Hugh Grant impression (comme toujours) and Emma Thompson doing a masterclass in one particular scene in the power of silent screen acting. If you've seen it you know what I mean and if you haven't then  this enjoyable film is worth it for that scene alone. Makes you feel Christmassy as well. 7/10.

Is There Any Sight Better Than A Whingeing Aussie?

We may as well take comfort while we can, because I'm pretty sure that being an Englishman is going to become uncomfortable once the Ashes cricket starts later this week. In the absence of the fabulous Ben Stokes, England are in for a hiding. I hope I'm wrong because it would be nice to laugh in the face of Australia's gifted gobshite in chief, David Warner.

No matter, for now we have the rugby and a 'lucky' thirty points to six victory at Twickenham yesterday. Here's the news boys - nobody ever lost by that sort of margin entirely because of bad luck. England did get the rub of the green, but good sides do. Whingers in chief were the talented but chippy Hooper and Genia. I think I read somewhere that Hooper became the most frequently yellow-carded player in test history - again, these sorts of stats don't lie.

Elsewhere Scotland got close to a New Zealand side who remain the benchmark in world rugby but have lost that sheen of indomitability. Interesting times in the world's best sport. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

More Films - Great Ones This Time

And I use the term advisedly.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (did you know that the alternative 'dwarves' was Tolkien's invention to give his dwarfs more literary dignity - no, neither did I) changed the face and direction of cinema. It remains an alluring culteral artefact - beautifully drawn, funny and, yes, competently scary. 9.5/10.

Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) is quite brilliant. An innocent man (one of only two such in the film) is trapped underground and a vulpine journalist (Kirk Douglas magnificent) connives to keep him there so that he can prolong the story. An early condemnation of the gutter press and the vile public that sustains it. Find it in Sky Cinema. 9/10.

Here's a bit of news - I'm rehearsing for a very minor role in panto at the moment - Snow White as it happens. Now my usual place as the baddy wasn't available, what with the Queen being female and all, so I'm the largely absent King (I blame him for the whole thing - poor parenting etc) who comes on at the end and dispenses good will. And here's  a tip - don't agree to do the props for a panto. It's bloody murder.  

Monday, 13 November 2017

Fiddler On The Roof

Another moderately ancient film that I have managed not to see until one of those late Autumn afternoons when it is cold outside and you fancy hunkering down in front of something undemanding.

I like musicals and this is a good one. The expansion of a stage hit onto the screen can oddly diminish the whole but this seemed to me not to be the case, not that I've ever seen it on stage either.

Good tunes and a none too saccharine treatment of serious issues. A Sunday afternoon well-passed. 7/10.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Three Films .. Or 'Movies' If You Must

Nothing of earth-shattering credentials but three films that can handily fill a spare afternoon or evening.

The worst first, though only of the three. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, has no pretensions that I could detect. It's an action thriller with some quaint personal background thrown in. I've said it before and will doubtless have cause to say it again - Tom Cruise does a brilliant impersonation of Tom Cruise. You can never accuse him of not trying. The whole thing rattles along and every time it might get bogged down in the back-story, another fight breaks out. OG liked it. 6/10.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter prequels, set in a deftly realised 1920's New York. Whisper it if you must, but I actually thought this better than the overdone later Potter instalments. Eddie Redmayne stars and I thought his performance on the mildly annoying side of winsome. Better to zero in on his co-star Dan Fogler who delivers a great turn as the bumbling No-maj (which is what American wizards call Muggles - and if you don't know what a Muggle is then this may not be for you). 6.5/10.

The best for last. The new Paddington sequel is just out so it is only fitting that OG has finally caught up with the original. I was mildy trepidatious about this because of fondness both for the books and the old television adaptations, voiced by Michael Hordern. As it turns out, no worries. This is a generous, warm fuzzy-feeling sort of a film. 7/10.   

Thursday, 26 October 2017

What's The Collective Noun For Tossers?

A certain Chris Heaton-Harris has written on House of Commons notepaper (so far so good - he is an MP so he's entitled to use the stationery) asking university vice-chancellors to kindly let him know who is teaching European Studies and what they are teaching about our old friend Brexit. You can find a copy of the letter here: Heaton-Harris letter

I've had a good think about it and on balance, all things considered, looked at from all angles, I've decided that this man must, charitably, be a tosser. The information he seeks would be interesting but his method of trying to assemble it is disingenous in the extreme. As I say, tosser.

However, the reaction to it from certain universities is a little pathetic - rise above it, let him do his own research. Bin the bloody thing.

And here's something that isn't a secret - yes our universities are a hotbed of self-pitying leftist tosh. They have been for all of my life and I suspect it will be ever thus - and I include in that disparagement both of my almae matres, the both of which I regard with proud affection. It is always open to people to go against the flow - I did and lost no friends through it. It is when they won't let you speak you should be worried. And I strongly suspect that this is what is in Heaton-Harris's tiny little mind. Certainly the shrill reaction to his tossery suggests that they fear that that tool of the assinine left, no platforming, is to be turned on them by the big bad bear that is the government. Don't worry yourselves my dears - this government has trouble in breweries, piss-up wise.

How about a 'throw' of tossers?  

Monday, 23 October 2017

There Ain't No Party Like ...

OG and Groupie bust some moves
An Irish party. Went to a proper old hoolie on Friday night. A sad event (car crash/serious injuries etc) had provoked a life-affirming benefit evening of drinking, dance and music. Daughters 1 and 2 were both back to attend and it was nice to see old friends. Even did some quasi-dancing myself - throwing shapes is, one believes, the vernacular. Once you've got rhythm it never leaves you. Stop laughing at the back!

I'd actually worked quite hard last week on the old thesis - who'd know that Antonio Gramsci could be so diverting. That's the thing with those old Euro-Communists - they had a good story to tell and for all that they were wrong, at least they had some optimism. And that in a world that can give us Trump is some solace. Here is Gramsci on Caesarism:
Caesarism can be said to express a situation in which the forces in conflict balance each other in a catastrophic  manner.
Something in that when you come to think of it.

Well anyway, what I was going to say was that after my alco/dancefloor endeavours I had a fabulously lazy weekend watching lots of televised rugby. First up was the pleasing sight of the Australians beating the All Blacks. I say this not because I find it anything other than weird to support Australia but because the New Zealand hegemony has spawned some hubris and it needs deflating (if that's what you do to hubris). Wayne Barnes was refereeing and it was quite funny to hear the half-blind Aussie commentators trying to rein in their instinctive (and ignorant) disapproval of his officiating. Talking of hubris and ignorance, we can hardly complain about the antipodeans whilst Stuart Barnes is still taking the Murdoch dollar - I loved him as a player but, really, what a pain he has become. Only Austin Healey comes close and I rather suspect he knows exactly what he's doing.

Also spotted this weekend: a top class official giving a free-kick for a crooked feed into the scrum. About bloody time. Hardly surprisingly it was Nigel Owens. Sometimes the wisdom of crowds is right - Owens is the best referee in the world.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

God Was In His Heaven

The sun shone, God was in his Heaven, The 1st XV won, and all around was the company of good men. I took Dad to the rugby club yesterday and it made me feel glad to be alive and to be part of the brotherhood that is Aston Old Edwardians. We are far from consistently perfect but the small moments of perfection still thrill me.

Where is rugby football at? Well, the administrators in their attempts to confect things for television have bound themselves into an injury crisis born of the supposed ingenuity of coaching. The way I was taught to tackle by that great man of Neath Ray John (still going strong - I saw him earlier this week) has become unfashionable, notwithstanding that it is the safest and most effective way of grounding an opponent. Oh well, what do I know?
not actual gameplay footage

To continue the theme of satisfying experiences, today I have cut the lawn. Stripes a-go-go.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Back On The Chain Gang Again

Holiday well and truly over. Post-holiday sulking almost over, situation not assisted by the bloody right calf straining itself when out for a run on Tuesday. Doesn't seem too bad, certainly not as marked as the repeated injuries I used to suffer, but all intimations of mortality are unwelcome. Particularly unwelcome as the wider Aston Edwardian community tries to negotiate two significant deaths.

Harold Jessop was described to me (by a man who would know) as 'the first modern school teacher'. But he was so much more than that - as a rugby master he inspired umpteen generations and was counted by the genius that is Gary Street as his greatest influence. But above all else, he was a complete and unmediated gentleman. He led a full life but the world is nonetheless harsher for his passing.

Terry Green was another schoolmaster, not one who taught at Aston but a man who played his rugby at Aston Old Edwardians - an inspired and beguiling captain of lower teams, an urbane referee, and a cheerful and always encouraging chairman of the club in my year of captaincy. He was serving as a governor at School when he was taken too soon from us. His funeral was a celebration of a life well-lived, and definitely the only such occasion I have encountered where an Elvis impersonator was part of the proceedings. Beautiful. Terry was one of the two most artfully amusing men I have known - both are now dead. As I've had cause to quote before: ' I have the only cure for life/ and the cure life is joy/ I'm the crying man that everyone calls laughing boy.'

Saturday, 7 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 9

We're back at home now after a drive that couldn't have been much different from the difficult journey up to Northumberland. Then we seemed to be in one traffic jam occupying most of Yorkshire whereas yesterday we sailed home with minimal delay. We had pizza for tea to ward off post-holiday blues. I washed it down with a nice chianti.

Our penultimate full day on holiday took us to Alnwick Castle. Fabulous - don't be tempted to do the garden and the castle together in one afternoon. If you must do both on the same day, make sure it is a full day. The state rooms in the castle are particularly impressive - monumental spaces and magnificent art on the walls. Also some of the most knowledgeable and approachable room attendants known to man. As you can probably tell I really liked the place. Hats off to the resident Percy family who seem to me to be handling their great good fortune with an appropriate touch. Oh, and don't worry - they don't overdo the Harry Potter connection.
Dining Room at Alnwick Castle

Our last day took in some beach walks in high winds and an evening meal at the Potted Lobster in Bamburgh. Bloody good, most particularly the salt chilli squid I had as a starter - The Potted Lobster

Final thoughts - Northumberland, a magical county, particularly in the lucky weather we encountered. I have had a monopoly over the company of the Groupie for a fortnight and that can make a magical place seem even more enchanted. Am I glad to be back in the luxuries of home? Not quite yet, but I'm getting there. And anyway we're making a very swift run up to Anglesey tonight to see how the installation of new kitchen and bathroom is going. Not exactly the Percy family but we should count our blessings.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 8

Back to Cragside today, not to revisit the house but to attempt to do justice to the massive estate. You could quite profitably spend the best part of a week getting to know the forests and lakes. There is a six mile road around the estate with numerous parking areas with intersecting walks commencing in them. We found time to do five walks from four of the car parks. Best views are from the Maroon Trail from the Crozier Car Park. What a place.
What a place
We indulged our habit of breaking the journey back here to have a pint of Black Sheep and a large sauvignon blanc at the Victoria Inn. Also a delicious but unnecessary portion of chunky chips. This really is a great part of the world. Gavi going down nicely - will be eating hunter's chicken shortly. As little orphan Annie used to say - it's a hard knock life.

Monday, 2 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 7

Kelso Abbey
We conducted a whistlestop tour of the Scottish Borders today, pride of place going to Kelso which (and I may be miles wide of the mark here because I have done no research) exudes an atmosphere of dignified affluence, nowhere better exemplified than in the strikingly well maintained Garden of Remembrance. Kelso may very well be the pie capital of the world - only £1.10 for a chicken curry pie, this a full seventeen pence less than the excellent chicken and mushroom pie I had in Alnwick last week. Can we take these prices home with us please?

We crossed back into England for dinner and on that subject I have some exciting news for you. It is official, OG has spoken and the Groupie will verify his claim - Lewis's in Seahouses is the best chip shop in the world. Yes even better than the Golden Fry in Benllech. Fabulous chips and divine haddock. Fizzy wine for pudding I think.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 6

Yesterday back to Alnwick but this time to visit the Alnwick Garden, a modern wonder of creativity and monumentalism.
The Grand Cascade at the Alnwick Garden
Today has been one of sporadic rain and high winds but in the face of my lethargy I plodded for four miles this morning. Coupled with our walk this afternoon from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle I now feel ready for pesto pasta and vinous accompaniment. Judging by the clatter of bottles we delivered to the bottle bank at Craster we have been doing well by the vintners of the world.  I'm also doing my bit for brewers - two pints of Black Sheep at the Jolly Sailor in Craster. Bosting.

A two week holiday still doesn't feel like enough to do justice to this fabulous area. It's a hard life being me.

Friday, 29 September 2017

What I Did On My Holidays: 5

Unwooded, ergo imitation chablis
Two days to report. First up we went to Warkworth. Cracking castle, cracking beach. Northumberland really is, well, cracking. On our way back to base camp here in Bamburgh we had a couple of false starts in sourcing an impromptu early dinner (it is out of peak season after all and publicans have better things to do than keep kitchen staff primed for stray Brummies) but got lucky when we found the Joiners Arms at Newton-by-the-Sea. Now styling yourself a "gastropub" can be a hostage to fortune but they carried it off. Only slightly flaccid chips stopped this being a full-on five star encounter. The Groupie and I shared a stellar baked camembert, served with rustic toast. None of the components is difficult to produce passably but to get it as right as this deserves plaudits. Interesting wine list also, including a Chilean unwooded chardonnay, Campesino 2016. A nice change from habitual sauvignon blanc. Altogether worthy of a detour - Joiners Arms

We awoke to rain today, the first daylight precipitation we have seen. This suggested a take it easy sort of  a day so that is what we did. We ventured to Alnwick so that I could indulge my passion for second-hand books - Barter Books in Alnwick is simply bloody enormous. A good outing for me - found a first edition of Friends In Low Places by Simon Raven to add to my unimpressive collection. Also picked up a massive biography of Don Bradman and an early Piers Paul Read - I do love my catholic authors. After taking in downtown Alnwick we accidentally (well we knew we were going somewhere but we weren't aways sure which somewhere it would turn out to be) lighted upon Alnmouth. Quelle surprise, another cracking beach.

Tonight I will mostly be drinking malbec while the Groupie takes part in a terribly important conference call. I must say I'm rather glad that 'Dave the Mogul Years' is behind me.