Monday, 30 January 2012

Deal Or No Deal?

If you know me or you read my blog regularly you would expect me to say that RBS boss Stephen Hester was a bit of a greedy bastard in his reluctance to part with his £1 million bonus. Although the thought of a bonus of such an unjustifiable size is anathema to me, he would not have been offered it if it was not in the terms of the package he agreed when he took over the job. I used to employ almost forty people and it was customary to present them all with an outline of the terms and conditions when they were taken on.

Hester works in a world where big salaries are the norm. I imagine when he got home from the RBS interview his conversation with his partner went something like this.

'So how did the interview go dear?'

'Very well. I think I'm in with a good chance.'

'What are they offering you?'

'Well its only £X million salary - a bit less than I might have got at Y PLC. But and it's a big but, if I hit the targets that they set I'll be in line for a million quid bonus in a couple of years.'

'That sounds good. Are you going to take it?'

'Well I think the targets are realistic so I'll give it a go if they offer it.'

Now Hester finds himself being pilloried by the whole country for presumably hitting the targets that he was set in order to trigger this obscene sum and having to forego the payout to assuage politicians and every Tom, Dick and Harry who has jumped on the bandwagon. I'm not going to shed any tears for Hester's loss but surely the fault lies in those who came up with his remuneration package and not in him for accepting it. When footballers score the requisite number of goals to trigger their equally obscene bonuses does the whole country jump up and down and demand that they pay it back? Until bonuses are outlawed, capped or punitively taxed, employees are entitled to take whatever they are offered and, if they don't like it and think they can do better, they can go somewhere else. Hester has given a couple of years of his life working towards a goal in which the posts have been shifted and he has good cause to be angry about it.

I mentioned football. There are still seats on the Kop at Anfield in my name and my son's name but we won't be sitting on them any time in the foreseeable future. I was disappointed to hear Kenny Dalglish refer to a huge proportion of the Anfield crowd's incessant booing of Patrice Evra during Saturday's cup tie as "banter". My dictionary defines "banter" as 'Good humoured playful conversation or the exchange of mildly teasing remarks'. When screaming profanities is deemed good humour, playful or mildly teasing, I know that I was right to give up my fortnightly pilgrimages throughout the season to a ground that has changed beyond recognition since I first set foot there in 1967. The place hasn't changed but the atmosphere has. Where you once genuinely did have "banter" there is now total hatred. When the United fans chanted at the weekend 'It's never your fault'  they made a extremely valid point. Anfield has become a place where everyone from the manager downwards believes themselves to be victims. It's time to do some soul searching. If Dalglish had stepped onto the pitch the minute that the booing started and signalled to the crowd to tone it down, he and the club could have gone up immeasurably in everyone's estimation.

Perhaps footballers and bankers might learn a lesson from sitting down together and seeing how the other half live (kindly emailed to me by a reader).

Above and Below from Stefan Werc on Vimeo.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hitting The Decks

It's sadly been way too windy for us to get out on our bikes during our week here at St Andrews but we've managed to fill our days less athletically with writing, playing on the Nintendo DS and, of course, visiting the family.

To get the most out of their static caravans owners are encouraged to fit decking alongside. This provides some outdoor space for perhaps a small dining table or a sun lounger. Being unable (or too soft)  to cycle, we've spent some time walking around Craigtoun Meadows and photographing some of the existing decks in order to decide on the style we want for ours. 

There's a massive variation in quality and style and some look like they've been knocked together by somebody with as much joinery skill as me (not this one I must add)

Do we want steps at the right or steps at the left? What style of gate do we want?

Do we want the base boxed in or open? We found a couple of fitters on the internet and then went to the local timber merchant and asked his advice. We told him one of the names from the web. This elicited a sharp intake of breath with a shake of the head and we got the impression that our web selection was one of the few people in the world who knew less about screwdrivers than me. The friendly timber merchant did give us the names of some "real joiners" so now we're awaiting a couple of quotes and when we get back up here in March we hope to see the results.

The purpose behind buying the caravan was, of course, to be able to see more of Sarah, Duncan and Rose and we were delighted yesterday when we were able to bring Rose here for an hour or two on her own - a priceless element of grandparenthood that we would have missed completely without the caravan. It has to be one of our best ever buys.

I mentioned that I've spent time writing while we've been here. I have rewritten my novel completely now and have read the completed version three times. Every time I found a few mistakes and Marion is now very kindly reading it again. She has found three or four errors too so it's been very worthwhile. I spent all yesterday writing a synopsis for the book to send in with a competition. If the competition brings no luck I will try and get it published and, if still no luck, I may go down the Kindle route. I've read several self published novels on Kindle recently and the standard is fairly high although many are let down by the sort of mistakes that we are trying to eliminate.

We've also been reading a lot and I read In Search Of Adam by Caroline Smailes yesterday. I loved her third novel Like Bees To Honey when I read it last year and have now downloaded all of Caroline's books. So much has already been written about this, her first novel, that it would be difficult to add anything of any worth. It's as hard hitting a book as I can ever remember reading - poetical, lyrical and at times devastatingly graphic. It's beautifully written, a million miles from my escapist whimsy, and left me quite shattered when I finally put it down. Caroline is speaking at Birkdale library next Thursday at 2.15pm and Marion and I are looking forward to hearing her.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

When the children were young a favourite book was The Trip To Panama by Janosch. It's a beautiful picture book about a little tiger and a little bear who one day spot, floating down a stream, a piece of a banana crate printed with the word PANAMA. They decide that Panama must be a wonderful and mysterious place (after all it smells of bananas) and the book charts their adventures in trying find the land of their dreams where they hope to settle.

When we retired we started telling everyone who would listen that we were going to leave Southport and move down to London which became our very own Panama. After twenty years of living in a small northern town we felt it was time for a change and, with the business sold and our children settled at opposite ends of the country there was nothing to tie us to what has become our home town. We were fascinated by the lure of the big city and the opportunity to take in its museums, galleries, restaurants, exhibitions and everything else that goes on there 365 days of the year.

But first of all I had a hip operation to sort out and the move to London was put on hold until I had made a full recovery. The op went well and I was completely back to normal last spring. By then another distraction had arisen. Our daughter Sarah was pregnant and our first granddaughter Rose arrived in July. We spent the rest of the summer travelling backwards and forwards between Southport and our newly acquired caravan in St Andrews to make sure that we saw the most of our family. So the London move was again put in abeyance.

We were still telling everybody that we were off to London - our Panama but, in the autumn, Marion's mum Flo's memory deteriorated very suddenly and we started to spend time trying to help her and plan her future. She's now settling down in a care home and once again our thoughts have turned to that move. Why do we want to leave Southport? It's a pleasant enough town and we've been happy there but we're getting on a bit now and it would be good to see more of the country while we are in still in good health and the town is too big for us to feel part of the community and too small to compensate for that by having plenty to do. So we stared to look at London again.

It was a bit of a shock to find that housing prices in London have risen tremendously since we retired whereas housing prices in Southport have fallen back. This has now made the sort of modest London property that we had in mind prohibitively expensive and we have missed the opportunity that was just about feasible in December 2010. We'll now be telling our friends, who have listened patiently to our claims to be off to London for the past fourteen months that it's no longer on the cards. No doubt our claims to be going there were, like the boy who cried wolf's persistent claims, starting to raise hidden yawns or knowing nods.

But all is not lost. We've been doing our research on the internet and made lists of the top places to live (there are plenty of reviews). Suffolk comes up regularly in these surveys so now we are thinking about moving down there. And we aren't just saying that. We've booked a holiday cottage in February in a small town that has all the features we want - good local shops, good cycling, plenty of local activities and a pleasant climate. So, will Suffolk be our new Panama? Or will our friends, this time next year, be nodding patiently as we tell them for the twentieth time that we are off there? Watch this space.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Living On A Ghost Site

As I looked out of the caravan window on this cold but sunny day I was struck by a sense of isolation. Okay we are only a mile up the road from the lively little city of St Andrews but here at Craigtoun Meadows we are completely alone. It's not that our caravan is standing on its own in the middle of a field; it is a permanent site and we are surrounded by dozens of similar caravans; but nobody else has braved the Scottish winter to hunker down like us in the comfort of their double glazed and central heated holiday homes and tonight we'll be listening for things that go bump in the night. I imagine it would make a great setting for a crime or horror novel: the dark woods, the wind in the trees, the hoot of an owl on a foraging expedition. It's getting dark now. Marion has just stepped outside..........Marion.............Marion!!! 

What was that? 

Oh she was just putting the rubbish out.

We've had a great day in the company of Sarah and our granddaughter Rose who is growing up so quickly. She's over six months old now and changing every day. It's fascinating watching her discovering real food after six months of breast feeding. Today she tried pasta, tuna, cream cheese, cucumber and pepper. Some of that would have left me with severe indigestion but she seemed to love it and ate very well. 

Just a short blog today as we're off to the chippy in a few minutes to treat ourselves to some fish and chips. It's one small luxury that we always start our stays here with. I know that fish and chips are not a luxury but eating them is certainly a luxury if you eat as healthily as we normally do.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Great Performance From Leo Can't Make Up For A Dull J.Edgar

An Oscar winning director and a five times nominated leading man are the perfect ingredients for an excellent movie. So when we went to our favourite cinema FACT in Liverpool last night for a preview of J.Edgar we were hopeful of seeing something special. Well, we did  see a preview of FACT's new publicity film and that was very exciting and demonstrates brilliantly what an outstanding arts venue it is. But when it came to the main event I am afraid that we were less than blown away.

Leonardo plays FBI chief J Edgar Hoover as a stuffy, priggish repressed martinet of a man and Hoover may well have been all of those things. But they are all things that make Hoover a thoroughly dislikable man and, with a lead for whom the audience has little or no empathy (echoes of The Iron Lady here), it is very difficult to warm to the film. DiCaprio is excellent and creates a cowardly character whose real ability is in organising filing systems and forensic investigative resources instead of being the heroic, machine gun wielding  G-Man that he wants to project.

Throughout the film it is clear that Director Clint Eastwoood has decided that the rumours of Hoover's closet homosexuality are true and an almost Brokeback Mountain relationship develops between Hoover and his right hand man Clyde Tolson played by Armie Hammer. For me this relationship is ruined by both the schmalzy music which accompanies scenes of tenderness between Hoover and Tolson and by Hammer's make up as the older Tolson which make him look as if he is wearing a particularly uncomfortable latex mask ( which he probably is - don't expect any Oscar nominations on this front).

Eastwood hints that Hoover's incredible forty eight years as head of the FBI was achieved by his method of digging up dirt on anyone and everyone and keeping it in files maintained by his loyal secretary Miss Gandy who stuck with him for the whole time and was a beacon of discretion. But nobody ever dug any dirt on Hoover which implies that, in view of the machiavellian scheming of some of the presidents he worked with like Nixon and Kennedy, any closet gay tendencies that he had were, as the film depicts, totally unfulfilled. 

There is not a lot of excitement in the film which is all about Hoover's relationships with Miss Gandy (Naomi Watts), Clyde Tolson and his bullying mother (Judy Dench). There are mentions of the Lindbergh  baby case and Capone et al but in the end it's all about J.Edgar (what else do you expect? - look at the title dummy) and I am afraid that Hoover's lack of charisma is the downfall of the film.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Credit Where Credit's Due

I don't like to criticise. My son and my daughter in law have worked in television for some time and I know how damaging to morale criticism can be (especially when it is not justified). But if you read this blog you'll know that I did have a bit of a go at the BBC's Sherlock Holmes last week after the terrible Hound Of The Baskervilles episode. I ended my criticism by saying that I hoped that the next week's show would be better and I have to say that it most certainly was. A devilish battle of wits between the genius criminal mastermind Moriarty and the genius sleuth Holmes was great entertainment and so much more in the spirit of Conan Doyle. There were two great performances; Cumberbatch was, as ever, perfect in the role of the flawed genius detective and Andrew Scott was almost Shakespearean in his depiction of the villainous Moriarty. So well done to all involved - it was good to see the programme back on track after the previous week's disappointment and the BBC must be delighted with the amazing publicity that the fate of Sherlock has brought - there was even a discussion on PM on Radio 4 this afternoon.

Andrew Scott - A Perfect Moriarty

Remember this? It's my Roman gold bracelet clasp and two bracelet links that I found with my metal detector last summer. It's now in line for "Find Of The Year" on the UK Detector Net website and I could find myself the proud owner of a year's subscription to Treasure Hunting magazine. Voting closes on Friday so if you haven't voted yet you can vote here. I didn't vote for my find but quite a lot have done and, it was ahead last time I looked.

I haven't been detecting for over a month now but I got an email last week from a man in East Lancashire who said that his wife had lost her wedding and engagement rings in the garden and asked if I could help her to try and find them. I set out the following day. When I arrived at the house the young woman said that she had lost "a ring"(her husband had said two). When I asked if it was two she said it was but she was extremely vague. Our conversation went something like this.

'So when did you lose the ring(s)?'

'I don't know but it can't have been long ago as we only got married in December'

'So you didn't suddenly realise that you weren't wearing them.'

'No. I could have lost them anytime. I noticed last week.'

'So you don't know that you lost them in the garden?'

'No but I've looked everywhere else and can't find them'

As you might imagine, I didn't have a great deal to go on but I spent an hour plodding up and down the small patch of back garden. There were at least three enormous iron manhole covers plus a big metal trampoline in the garden so the detector could not perform easily near them. It also seemed that there was a big pipe or cable running near the garage so that was out of bounds too. This left an area the size of a couple of decent rooms. I found plenty of bits of foil, nails and builders waste (it was a newish house) but no sign of any elusive rings. The woman was very pleasant but I just wasn't convinced that the ring or rings were lost in her garden and felt that there was another explanation to their disappearance. Oh well. At least I tried. Last time this happened many years ago the vicar of a parish where I sometimes go detecting asked for help with his lost wedding ring and I was delighted when it turned up on the vicarage lawn.  

Before we head up to Scotland we've got another cinema visit tomorrow. Our favourite cinema FACT in Liverpool has invited me and Marion to a preview of Leonardo Dicaprio's latest film J. Edgar. We're always delighted to go to FACT and, it's great to get the chance to see a big movie like this before it goes on general release as we can see it with no preconceived opinions formed by the reviews. And, as we were so impressed last week, we can go and have a snack at Leaf before the film.

Monday, 16 January 2012

And I Thought Golf Was Just A Gentle Stroll

My lovely daughter in law Josephine kindly treated me and son Paul to a beginner's golf course as an extremely generous gift. I travelled down to the James Andrews School of Golf in Seddlescombe near Battle in East Sussex on Friday and met up with Paul who travelled from London to Tunbridge Wells. The course comprised two full days of tuition and we both enjoyed it very much despite neither of us having picked up anything other than a putter for a round of crazy golf or a visit to a seaside putting green before. Our inexperience certainly showed but by Sunday afternoon we were both able to hit the ball (well most of the time) and we even played five or six holes of a short course with the other two novices in our group before we headed back for home. I don't think that the instructor would describe either of us as "naturals" but we had a good weekend. I didn't realise that hitting golf balls for maybe ten hours in all would have such an effect on my body but my hands (especially my thumbs) are very sore today and I've got an enormous bruise on my hip (probably damaged a blood vessel with all the swinging backwards and forwards). I'm also extremely stiff and struggle to bend over but that could be down to the six hundred miles of driving.

I would recommend the course to anybody interested in learning the game. The instructors are very knowledgeable and they have courses to suit all levels - even advanced. They've got video linked to computers that allow you to study what you are doing wrong and train you to put it right and at the end of the weekend I was able to hit the ball straight for about 150 yards most of the time with the club we trained with (7 iron for anyone interested). That's not bad going for a complete newcomer so the instruction must be good. The hotel was okay too and the food at the school was fine so all in all a pleasant way to spend a weekend. Will I now be taking up golf? Probably not as it seems to take a long time to play a round and I've already got one time consuming hobby in metal detecting but I will certainly go and do a bit more practice when I'm at the caravan in St Andrews and if Marion is interested then perhaps we could take it up together. It's not quite as stuffy as I thought although I'm not keen on the no jeans in the clubhouse and that sort of formal attitude that still seems to prevail.  

Driving through the Sussex countryside on Friday reminded me what a beautiful part of the country it is. Marion and I are planning to move away from Southport soon as we've been here for most of our lives and it's time for a change. If Sussex was not so far from St Andrews I'd put it at the top of the list as, scenery apart, it has plenty of great villages, castles, abbeys and other tourist attractions. You can get to London in about an hour by train and it has a very pleasant climate. As it would turn our regular trips to Scotland into extremely gruelling treks, we won't be putting Sussex on the list of possibilities but it's certainly a wonderful place to visit. 

Speaking of St Andrews, we got a letter from the caravan site this morning. It seems that over twenty trees on the site blew down in the recent winds but most of the caravans escaped unscathed. The site closes for the whole of February so we're going to go and spend the last week of January there. It will be great to see Sarah, Duncan and Rose although it will be the first time that we've been away from Flo for any length of time since she went into the care home and we wonder how she will cope.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Circle Of Life

'I'd like a cup of tea'

'I don't think we're going to find one now Mum. It's four o'clock on a Thursday evening, I think the cafe will be shut.'

'But I want a cup of tea' 

'I know you want a cup of tea but the cafe will be shut now and it's half a mile to somewhere we could get one and I don't think your legs will be up to it.'

I'm taking Flo out for a walk. When I went to visit her she was very agitated and said that she never goes anywhere so I suggested that we stroll down to the newsagents and back which is about as far as she's capable of walking. Our conversation felt like one between a parent and a child - although I have to say that our children were never as persistent as this.

'Why can't I have a cup of tea?'

'Because we can't walk all that way.'

'I want a cup of tea.'

'I'm really sorry but you aren't going to be able to have one until you get back to the rest home.'

'But I want one.'

This continues for five minutes or more and by now I'm desperate to change the subject. 

'Well I'm really really sorry. Next time we'll go in the car.'

'I want a cup of tea. My nose is running. Have you got a hankie?'

My mistake. I've forgotten one but at least the conversation has changed.

'I want a hankie.'

'I know. I'm really sorry. It's my fault but I forgot to bring one.'

'But I need one. I'm sniffing. I want a hankie.'

And so things continue. 

It was a parent/child conversation (at least in terms of the generation gap) but the roles had become completely reversed and reminded me of how Shakespeare described old age so perfectly as  "second childishness and mere oblivion." 

It's very strange to experience this stage of Alzheimer's. Flo can be almost normal one day and on others she can be depressed, angry and agitated. A major problem lies in her being completely aware of what is happening to her and her anger at the inability of the doctors or anyone else to do anything to stop it. I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Tears Of Joy

It's been over two years since we both cried in the Movies (apart from when we saw the price of the hot dogs at Vue) but yesterday's showing of The Artist at FACT in Liverpool had us both reaching for the tissues once again. But this time, instead of being emotionally drained as were when we went to see Pixar's Up in October 2009, Michel Hazanavicius' movie brought tears of joy and delight. When the trailers to this film started cropping up a few months ago I was puzzled; were the cinema really trying to sell us a silent movie in black and white? - Never; not my cup of tea. And yet, as the reviews and the plaudits for the film started to roll in it was clear that that was precisely what we were being sold.

So much has already been written about the film (and I see that I am not even original in my "tears of joy" comment as the film's newspaper advertising carries a similar quote) that it's difficult for me to add to it. Suffice to say, you will find very few films that bring tears of joy but from the opening scene at the Premier of George Valentin's silent action picture in which Jean Dujardin silently shows more about Valetin's character than most actors achieve in an hour on screen, the film simply oozes charm and this viewer was hooked. The film charts the downfall of the silent movie and its stars through the introduction of the talkies. In a world that contains so much unpleasantness - today's news has soldiers urinating on corpses for God's sake - The Artist is a breath of fresh air that is funny, dramatic, happy and sad. It's a love story that's as old as the hills but what's wrong with that? There are strong supporting performances from John Goodman as the movie mogul, James Cromwell as the old retainer and Berenice Bejo as the young film star but it is Dujardin who steals the show and, although initially I thought it was a joke when I heard that he was being suggested for an Oscar, having now seen the film, I would be surprised if anybody else is in the running. If you only see one film this winter, make sure that you see this. And if you don't love it, you've got no heart.

While we were at FACT we had a look at their fascinating Republic Of The Moon exhibition and saw Martin Scorcese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. This was another love story. It had a slightly harder edge than The Artist but was enjoyable and had a great cameo from Jodie Foster before her Taxi Driver fame. 

Continuing the day's arty feel we walked a few yards down the road from FACT to have a look at the new artwork that was initially being hailed as Liverpool's new Banksy but is now suggested to be by street artists Mustard Tiger. I'm not sure that Banksy would put his work on a few flimsy plywood panels and no I'm not going to make any snide remarks about it being in Liverpool.

As a change from our usual trip to Salt House Tapas we tried Leaf in Bold St for a late lunch/early dinner. It's our first visit but it won't be our last. Very impressed. Very friendly nice food, good choice, lively atmosphere and I see that they're holding a writer's workshop in a week or two. Would be interested but we'll be in Scotland. May try another time.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Don't Leave Us Fair Alba

It's been a second home to us since we bought the caravan in St Andrews and I hate to think of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom and going all independent. I haven't had time to listen to Alex Salmond's arguments in favour of the break. He was on all the screens at the gym last night but I had forgotten my headphones and couldn't hear what he had to say; I entertained myself on the exercise bike playing Words With Friends on the iPhone and watching his face inspired me to SMUG (42 points with a double letter and triple word) - thanks Alex.

The Scots have always had a reputation for being dour and my experience of some Scots (or to be honest one particular Scot) in England backed this up. But perhaps this perceived dourness has been due to their being fish out of water and away from their homeland as, in Scotland, I have never found the people to be anything but cheerful  and friendly. I'm not saying that in a patronising way it's just that, even in a big supermarket, you are a hundred times more likely to strike up a conversation with a fellow shopper than you are in England (in Southport at least - unless it's your best friend - and even then you might just nod); and the conversation does not end the minute they hear your English accent.

The other type of Scot, the stereotypical beer swilling, whisky drinking, deep fried Mars bar munching lard arse is certainly not in evidence in St Andrews. Okay so St Andrews in not exactly typical but the same goes for all the towns we've visited including Dundee and the wonderful Edinburgh which, London apart, has to be Britain's most exciting city; I'm pretty sure that he's a figment of some lazy journalist who has never been north of Watford's imagination.

There is certainly a strong sense of pride and national identity in the country and it's good to see the traditions and local costume - long may they continue. I know that we English have got a lot to apologise for but Culloden was almost three hundred years ago now and we've been quite a united kingdom for the last hundred years. I'm not going into all the political or economic arguments about the referendum here. I'm sure that there are strong arguments both for and against but, however eloquently the politicians express them, I very much doubt that the vote will be won on those arguments. I'm sure that it will be won on how much Scotland feels wanted by the rest of the UK. So now and for the next 1,000 days it's time for us English, Welsh and Irish to let the Scottish people know that we really want them to stay.

We're off to one of our film days in Liverpool today. We've got The Artist at 1pm and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore at 6.30pm at the wonderful FACT in Wood St.  Hopefully that will give us plenty of time to have a decent lunch as well and have a look at FACT's Republic Of The Moon exhibition. We can also go and have a look at the latest "Banksy" that appeared the other night just down the road and guess if it's genuine or not - it'll have to be a guess as we won't have a clue.

I'll end with a message to all my Scottish readers from Jimmy Somerville with my favourite vicar the Rev Richard Coles on piano.


Monday, 9 January 2012

Let's Be Honest

Last night's Sherlock was a bit rubbish really wasn't it? Before you start to fling things in my direction and make your troll comments at the bottom of the page, ask yourself did you enjoy it? Really? Did you really enjoy it? Okay so Benedict Cumberbatch makes a cool Sherlock and some bits of the show are great fun. I love the way that he can deduct that a character has just come back from playing squash with a left handed pigmy with a club foot and eczema - those bits of the drama are great. But last night's story was really tedious. A hallucinatory aerosol created fog, a top secret army base that Holmes enters with a fake pass while Watson doesn't even have to wind his car window down! I'm sorry but I was bored rigid. Last week's episode was entertaining and I hope that next week's is too but I suppose I'm swimming against the tide here as Sherlock is virtually untouchable.

A bit like The Killing. Or should I say The Killing 2. The original series was fabulous and deserves every plaudit that it got. Dark, tense, gloomy, suspenseful it was drama with a capital D. But series 2 had very little of what made series 1 so good apart from the magnificent Sofie Grabol who held things together sufficiently for us to stick with the whole series despite a plot with more holes in it than a pair of Frank Gallagher's socks. Last night we watched the new must see Danish series Borgen. To be honest I enjoyed it very much and I'll be back next week but sometimes I wonder how many programmes are as fabulous as everybody says and how many people say they like stuff for fear of going against the flow.

This week we're off to FACT to see The Artist. Despite dozens of five star reviews and award nominations, our local Vue does not see it as commercially viable enough to show in their Southport multiplex. I asked the manager and he said it's highly unlikely to be shown here which gives us a great excuse to visit FACT which is our favourite cinema. They're also showing Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore which is a classic from the past that we've never got around to seeing so we'll make a day of it and take in both films and a bite to eat.

I suppose I shouldn't moan too much about Sherlock. This is what they're showing on Brazilian telly.

Its been a while since I posted a YouTube video on here but, like the proverbial bus, here's another one right behind. I wonder if this will be Marion with Rose in fifteen years. 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

On Racial Harmony, Taxi Drivers And Rooney Mara

It was 1969 when Blue Mink released their big hit Melting Pot. I was sixteen at the time and I can remember clearly how novel it was to see a multi-racial group appear on Top Of The Pops. Despite it being the era of peace and love, it was strange to hear a song about skin colour and racial harmony - this was, after all, a time when black footballers were regularly greeted by monkey chants or worse. Of course we were used to Tamla Motown's stable of soul artists but I don't recall any white faces in their line ups. So Blue Mink were big news.

With all the recent news about racism starting with Luis Suarez' insults (and Liverpool FC's disgraceful failure to accept the tribunal's decision made after a thorough investigation), followed by the verdict in the Lawrence case and the subsequent hooha caused by Diane Abbott's careless tweet plus the Italian train advert with a black family in the new fourth class compartments, it seems that we have hardly moved on a single day since the song was released yet alone forty three years. Never more could the sentiments be more appropriate although the proposed solution that if the world comprised only mixed race coffee-coloured people we would all get on a bit better is somewhat naive (can you tell a Catholic from a Protestant just by looking at them?). So, with race issues dominating the news, politicians should realise that now is an important and historic moment and attempt to do something positive today. And perhaps in another forty three years race discrimination will truly be a thing of history.  

It is said that life imitates art. I am probably not alone in noticing that the two worst cases of murder by shooting in the north of England were carried out by shotgun owning taxi drivers. Multiple murders are thankfully rare so the fact that both these perpetrators drove taxis is statistically alarming. I appreciate that it's a tiny sample and it could be put down to mere coincidence but there could be something about the isolated nature of the work that creates this Travis Bickle like mentality and firearms controllers should perhaps spend a little more time than usual in granting them a license. I hope that does not seem prejudiced but accusation of prejudice would be a small price to pay to stop another Derrick Bird or Michael Atherton.   
At over two and a half hours long, David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo provided plenty of value for our money on our first cinema trip of the year. It has been getting rave reviews and, whilst Marion and I don't think it quite lived up to the hype, it's an enjoyable detective thriller even if the whodunnit aspect of the movie is somewhat telegraphed to the audience throughout. Although Daniel Craig gets top billing, the film is completely stolen by Rooney Mara in the title role. It's hard to take your eyes of this, tough but vulnerable, androgynous but sexy, mental but brilliant, bisexual Goth. She somehow manages to be totally convincing in portraying a character who should really be absolutely unbelievable. As with most murder mysteries that find their ways to both the big and the small screen, much of the plot is highly implausible. But as long as you can accept that, it is very well filmed and edited, and has the best opening credits since the incredible  Watchmen intro. Apologies for the quality but this is the official version.  

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Phone That Will Only Dial My Mother

So we're back from visiting the Scotish arm of the family and we head straight to the care home to check on Flo.

She's glad to see us back as she's had real problems with her telephone while we've been away.

'So what's the problem with it?' I ask.

'I dunno. It will only phone your mum. It keeps phoning your mum.'

Marion checks the phone out and it looks perfectly fine. To prove the point she takes out her mobile and dials Flo's number.

I answer and show Flo that it's all working okay.

We get home and a couple of hours later we're watching the telly. Marion's phone rings. "MUM" flashes on the screen. I answer.

'Hi Mum.'

'Who's that?'

'Its me. John. You dialled Marion's phone.'

'Oh. I didn't know who it was. I checked for phone calls and this was the last one.'

'Yes, remember when we came round and Marion phoned your phone to check it for you'

'No' and then a few seconds later. 'Yes'

'So it's Marion's phone. Nobody else has phoned you.'

'So that's okay then?'

'Yes that's okay.'

She rings off and we switch the tv back on (thank God for Skyplus and the pause button.)

Two hours later  Marion's phone rings. "MUM" flashes on the screen.

'Hi Mum'

'Who's that?'

'It's me. John'

'Oh John. Why am I phoning you?'

'I don't know.'

'It's this blinking phone. It was phoning your mum and now it keeps phoning you.'

'Are you sure?'

'Well I just came back to the room and checked the phone and this number had phoned'

'Yes it's Marion's phone. Remember when we visited you this afternoon and she phoned to check your phone was working okay.'

'Sorry. I phoned before didn't I'

'Yes. Don't worry'

So the phone that keeps phoning my mother is now the phone that keeps dialling Marion. Well at least it was until somebody else must have phoned Flo up and taken over the reins.

On a positive note, the medication that the consultant prescribed for Flo seems to be having a beneficial effect and she is not as panicky as she was before. Had this phone incident happened a couple of weeks ago she would have been extremely agitated and insisted that we drop everything and come round to check the phone immediately. She also seems to be more relaxed when we visit so, whilst it will never be pleasant seeing Alzheimer's run its course, at the moment it is a little less unpleasant.

Our granddaughter Rose certainly brightened the holiday season up for us. Father Christmas was extremely generous and she has enough stuff to keep her occupied until next year. Toys have changed so much since our children were babies but the simple things like a teddy and a rubber giraffe that squeaks are still enough to keep her amused. I had a wonderful couple of hours taking her for a walk in her pram. We had a great chat while I put the world to rights and she listened attentively and threw in a few raspberries and gurgles at appropriate points. When you are with a grandchild of this age it is extremely hard not to wonder what lies ahead for her and, without being too maudlin, how much of it you will see: first school, secondary school, exams. university, marriage, children. I hope to be around for as much of it as I can.

Sarah and Duncan prepared a fabulous late Christmas lunch for us on Saturday. Duncan poured us an aperitif and we were just about to sit down when his pager went off. He's a volunteer coastguard and, after a quick call to his base, he had to leave and unfortunately we had to eat without him. When he got back we had almost finished but he joined us at the table and told us the reason for his call out. It seems that somebody got a new metal detector for Christmas and managed to dig up some unexploded ordnance on the beach near Tentsmuir Forest - bloody metal detectorists eh!

We're off to the cinema now. Our first film of 2012 is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I'll let you know what we think. In the meantime there's a very funny review of it over on meandmybigmouth's blog

We didn't watch much telly over Christmas but for me the highlight was a repeat of last year's highlight.