A Cheerful Start To The Week: NOT!

I have just seen this story on The Times newspaper website.

Russian state media threatens UK with ‘nuclear tsunami’
In his Sunday evening primetime show, the Channel One anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said a strike by Russia’s Poseidon nuclear underwater drone could turn Britain into a wasteland by drowning the country in a 500-metre tidal wave of radioactive seawater.

“The explosion of this thermonuclear torpedo by Britain’s coastline will cause a gigantic tsunami wave. Having passed over the British Isles, it will turn whatever might be left of them into a radioactive wasteland”.

This is the monster undersea bomb they are talking about using.

Apparently, this is because Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were both asserting that Russia should be ‘completely driven out of Ukraine’, including The Crimea.

Given the size of the device, it seems like the Republic of Ireland will suffer the same fate.

And I never did learn to swim…

The Media Beating The Drums Of War

My wife was upset this morning. As we watched the news over breakfast, she turned and asked me, “Does this mean the big bang? A nuclear war? The end of everything?”

I appreciated why she was concerned. For so long now, the BBC News (and every other media that I do not watch or read) has been spouting the doom-laden reports of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. They get these reports from our govenment in Britain, and the US government spokespeople too.

To my mind, this fear-mongering reporting is irresponsible in the extreme, as they do not present the other side of the issue.

It would be disastrous economically for Russia to start a war with Ukraine. Sanctions would cripple their huge gas and oil industries, as most of their customers are in the EU.
Ukraine has the largest army in Europe, second only to the much larger Russian army. 250,000 regular soldiers, plus militia groups and armed civilians. A war with them would prove costly to Russia. Both in lives, and financially. And it could well drag on for a long time too.

Using nuclear weapons, suggested in one ridiculous report, does not take into account the geographical proximity of The Russian Federation to Ukraine. Using any nuclear option would be disastrous to those Russians living on the borders, as well as the whole country of Belarus, a Russian ally.

This morning, we heard dire warnings that UK and US nationals should leave Ukraine immediately, as there will be no ‘rescue mission’ should Russia invade. Irresponsible politicians, ramping up the rhetoric, tension, and threats. Panicking ordinary people for no good reason. Then irresponsible media, parroting their words with no balanced reporting.

And why do we consider Ukraine to be an ally? Because it wants to join NATO? This is a right-wing government that has ties with neo-nazis and nazi-sympathising militia groups. Should that country even be allowed to join NATO? I think not. Could it have more to do with trade deals, and Joe Biden and his son having close ties to that country?

I think it could.

Meanwhile, I would like to see less warmongering from all sides, and especially from the BBC.

Another Covid-19 Saturday

A week has gone by in Beetley, with little of note to report. Next door has a man in fixing the roof, so Ollie is constantly barking at the hammering. The supermarket in town now seems to have abundant stocks of everything, including a whole aisle of toilet paper.

I haven’t left the village for more than two hours this week, and driving into town still feels like I am going back in time to when traffic and parking issues were unknown. But the setup at the pharmacy reminded me what is really going on. A queue outside, and a lady wearing full PPE asking why we were there. One customer allowed in at a time, and only her allowed to open and close the doors, wearing gloves. No browsing the cosmetics and toiletries, just up to the counter, get the medicine, and leave. Good to see that implemented.

I spoke to someone yesterday (across the river, on the opposite bank) who said it was good to have a dog, as it gave us a reason to go out every day. That made me wonder. If I didn’t have Ollie, would I bother to go out, to simply ‘exercise’? I can’t answer that, as because I do have Ollie, I will never know.

Having a dog is definitely helpful during this period of uncertainty. It gives me a structure to the day, and someone to play with when he wants ‘toy-time’ in the early evening. And it is a joy to see how he is completely unaware of what is going on, at a time when it is the only thing anyone ever talks about.

The Blue Tits are back in the nest box fixed to the oak tree, and the Wood Pigeons are fighting over available females, as well as any food I put out on the lawn. They wake me up at first light, clattering around on the flat roof of the extension, then crashing into the windows during their bloodless battles.

I watched some news reports, including one from America where people were demanding their civil rights to refuse the lockdown. One man said he wanted his barber to open so he could get a haircut. At first I thought it was meant to be funny. Sadly, he was serious.

China has a second outbreak of Covid-19 close to the border with Russia, in the north-east. They allowed their citizens to return from Russia by train, and the virus came back immediately. They now have a lockdown all over again, in a different place.

The US and UK should take note of that. We are still flying home Britons supposedly stranded on holiday or visiting relatives in places like India and parts of SE Asia. I want to know why those people thought it was okay to travel to those places in the middle of a pandemic, and then expect to be allowed home to potentially bring more infection back with them.

We cannot get anyone to take jobs involving picking fruit and vegetables here. So last week, 400 workers were brought in from Romania to work on farms. According to news reports, none of them have been isolated, or tested for Covid-19.

Do Britain and America have some kind of death wish? Do our governments know something they are not telling us? As death rates start to fall in Italy and Spain, they are still increasing in Britain and America. At least 15,000 deaths in the UK, and 33,000 in the US. Per head of the population, the UK figure is significantly higher than that in the US. That should tell us that our government is doing something very wrong in their feeble efforts to contain this virus.

Enough of that. The workman has stopped banging, and Ollie is no longer barking.

Peace has returned to Beetley.

The Real Cost Of Private Medicine

After my post about going to see the doctor yesterday, my dear blogging friend Kim sent me a link to a very interesting video. This may be of great interest to British readers.

Few of us here know much about private health care, although a percentage of people do pay into a scheme to get preferential, or faster treatment. Having a pet might make you realise just how expensive treatment and drugs can be these days, as I have found out with Ollie’s trips to the Vet.

In this short film, random people on a British street are asked to guess the cost of medical treatments and drugs in America, for example an asthma inhaler.

Their answers are very interesting.

Given the recent publicity about government ministers considering significant changes to the NHS and overall healthcare provision in this country, this is something we all need to be aware of.

In the UK, an ambulance callout costs you £0 in medical bills. The birth of your child costs you £0 in medical bills. In the USA, it’s a different story.

Unforgettable films: Part Three

This is the third, and possibly last, in a short series of posts that are personal to me and to my own memories of unforgettable films. As I mentioned in the first two, I do not assert that any of the following are great films (except where I do just that), or even the best of the genre. However, I will try to explain why I find each one unforgettable.

Before 1968, car chases in films were not the order of the day. They had been popular in the silent era, with the Keystone Cops driving around in pursuit of fleeing villains. There had been some later examples of vehicle chases too, particularly in gangster films. In the winter of 1968, I was 16 years old, and I went to the cinema with my girlfriend to watch the latest film starring Steve McQueen. He was already a big star by then. After first coming to notice in 1960’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’, he had gone on to become one of the coolest leading men in the film industry. If he was in a new film, then I wanted to see it. In ‘Bullitt’, he played a police detective in San Francisco. The film was really good. It had smart clothes, a cool Jazz club, and Frank Bullitt’s urbane and sexy girlfriend, played by Jaqueline Bisset. There were a couple of convincing villains, and a thrilling story about witness protection and high-level corruption. Then there was a car chase. But this was like no car chase I had ever seen. And it would never be bettered, in my opinion. Bullitt is pursuing two elderly but convincing-looking hit men. He begins to drive fast to catch them, and they speed up to escape. What follows is a never to be forgotten roller coaster ride around the winding streets, and up and down the hills of that famous city. Brilliantly filmed from inside and outside of the cars, it is one of my enduring memories in cinema. It left me breathless, and started a trend.
(Part two of this chase follows part one on this clip)

Not for the first time on this blog, I am mentioning a film that still haunts my memories, even though I watched it fairly recently. It had such an effect on me, that not only have I called it ‘one of the best films ever made’, I went so far as to write a review on another site. If you are interested, you can read it here. https://aworldoffilm.com/2014/07/18/everlasting-moments-2008-jan-troell-pete-johnson/
By description, a Swedish film about a woman photographer set before the First World War may not seem the sort of stuff to set pulses racing, or send you scurrying to search it out on Netflix. But you would be wrong. I confess that I like films about photographers. I made that clear with this article too, which also mentions this film

The Camera on Film: Seven Films about Photographers

I enjoy taking photos, and I also love cameras, especially old ones. I like foreign films too, so something combining all of this is almost certainly going to catch my eye. With links to the other reviews, I won’t say much more here. But if you really love cinema, and appreciate heartbreaking performances by talented actors, then allow yourself to be immersed in the magic of ‘Everlasting Moments’ at least once in your life. And yes, I did write that this film was ‘flawless’.

Many years ago, my sadly departed and much-loved old friend, Pete Medway suggested that I might like to accompany him to watch a film, in a central London cinema. I respected his judgement, although I had never heard of the film. After all, he knew me better than most, and was well-aware of my passion for film and cinema. He had known me since 1963, and this was 2002, so our relationship as close friends was well-established indeed. As I had recently bought a laptop, I looked the film up on the Internet. It seemed like my sort of thing. In the original Portuguese language, set in the run-down shanty towns surrounding Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, it sounded like something right up my street. I agreed to meet him outside the cinema for an early showing, and in we went. Perhaps I recall it more fondly because I watched it with my much-loved old friend? That’s a possibility, but I know better. I remember it because it was a truly amazing film. The 2002 film, ‘City Of God’ was like nothing I had ever seen. The terrible conditions in that city, the gangs, the crime, everything was more or less news to me at the time. Standout performances by amateur actors only added to the thrill. Exciting direction was the icing on the cake, and I was spellbound by the visuals, and totally immersed in the story. I can recommend this film without reservation. The scenes stay in my mind, and if you have never seen it, you are in for a memorable treat. Here’s the US trailer. It doesn’t really do the film justice.

Does an English period film really stay in your mind? There have been so many, it hardly seems possible. However, due to the wonderful cinematography of David Lean, and a career-best performance from Sir John Mills, one of these (and others) do remain unforgettable. In an Ireland torn apart by the troubles, a wonderful cast including Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, and Christopher Jones, bring Robert Bolt’s script onto film in a truly unforgettable fashion. The wonderful dramatic scenery of Galway, Mills’ heartbreaking performance, and a marvellous cast of some of our greatest actors, guarantee that this film will never be forgotten. ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ earned Mills an Oscar, and rightly so. It also earned another for cinematographer Freddie Young, again richly deserved. I was around eighteen years old when I saw this at the cinema. Although I have watched it since, that night on the big screen will never be forgotten.

In 1958, Karen Blixen wrote a short story. You may recall her name from the film ‘Out of Africa’, starring Robert Redford, and Meryl Streep. Years later, that story was transferred to a Danish film starring the incomparable Stephane Audran, one of my all-time favourite French actresses. It was released in 1987, but I didn’t get to see it until a few years later, when I bought the VHS. I was not disappointed, to say the least. ‘Babette’s Feast’ is just wonderful. A simple tale of dour Danish folk, entranced by the arrival of a French woman, and the feast that she prepares to thank them for their help. I cannot praise this film enough. The cast is wonderful, the story enchanting, and the cinematography a wonder to behold. If you never thought that you would enjoy a film about a French woman spending her life savings on a lavish meal, think again. It is a memorable wonder. Abandon any prejudices, and wrap yourself up in this heartwarming tale.

Another film that I have featured before, and praised to the hilt. I have yet to find someone else who has watched it, yet I cannot get it out of my mind. Perhaps because I love dogs, this Argentinian film from 2004 is an absolute delight. ‘Bombon el Perro’ (Bombon the dog) is the contemporary tale of a man who takes a prize dog in return for a favour, then spends the film unsuccessfully trying to breed with it. Juan Villegas as the dog’s owner is a complete delight to watch. An itinerant knife salesman who sees his chance for money and fame when he takes ownership of the pedigree Dogo Argentino dog. The dog itself, the titular Bombon, appears to be acting at every turn, just adding to the overall enjoyment of this gem of a film. The scenery and setting of remote Patagonia just piles on the delight, and for me, the enjoyment just kept on coming. A man, a weird-looking dog, and dusty settings in Argentina. Doesn’t sound like much? It is a joy, and a film that I will never forget. Despite this trailer, it is available with English subtitles.

The films of Quentin Tarantino tend to polarise audiences. They either love this ‘enfant terrible’ of cinema, or hate him. I am somewhere in the middle. His version of ‘Rum Punch’ (Jackie Brown) remains as one of my standout films of any decade. I am less interested in his westerns, or his scene-by-scene remakes of modern Chinese classics, like ‘Reservoir Dogs’. However, one of his films made me clap in the cinema, something I had never done before in my entire life. Despite having little interest in Uma Thurman as an actress, and being a little tired of complex crime thrillers, his 1994 film ‘Pulp Fiction’ rewrote the rules, delivering an incredible cinema experience, and showing the world his talent and undoubted love of film and cinema. The individual memories are too many to list, but who can forget Thurman’s dance with Travolta and her killer bob? Or Harvey Keitel’s appearance as Mr Wolfe, ‘The Cleaner’? Ving Rhames, captured by white supremacists and subjected to sexual abuse, only to be saved at the last minute by a then unrecognisable Bruce Willis? The ‘McGuffin’ of the briefcase? I wanted to know what it contained. The memories of this film continue to flood in. I could not forget it, even if I tried hard to do so. And I clapped at the end. In a British cinema too.

I have long been interested in the English Civil War. This long conflict from the 17th century is hardly mentioned these days, but it resulted in the execution of a king, and a complete reformation of British politics and religion, at least for a while. There have sadly been few films made about these wars that divided the country, but one of them has stayed in my mind, since watching it at the cinema when I was only eighteen years old. The Irish actor, Richard Harris, might seem to have been an unlikely choice for the role of Oliver Cromwell, but he tackled it with flair. He was ably assisted by a stellar cast, including Alec Guinness giving a career-best performance as Charles I, and the wonderful Robert Morley as the Earl of Manchester. Credit also to to the brilliant Charles Grey as Essex, and Michael Jayston as Ireton. The film examines the complex politics of the time, and the eventual decline into civil war, with authentic battle scenes. Where it excels, is during the trial and later execution of King Charles, when Alec Guinness delivers a spellbinding performance as the deluded king. A wonderful old-fashioned epic, that remains a personal favourite after all this time.

I have to end on another American film. This is well-known, and I make no apologies for that. The Vietnam War was the war of my formative years. It was on the TV news every night, and I became as used to watching it as I did any soap opera or drama series. The difference was that real people were dying. And they were dying live, as I watched. I got so used to it, I almost forgot it was a real event, so frequent were the broadcasts. To recreate this on film and to make it more convincing, seemed to me to be an almost impossible task. Then along came Oliver Stone, and his enthralling 1986 film, ‘Platoon’. I went to watch this at the cinema, in 70 MM, with some colleagues from my job in the Ambulance Service. It was amazing. Hard to watch at times, yet fascinating. The brilliant cast, including Tom Berenger, the wonderful Willem Dafoe, and even a convincing Charlie Sheen, gave their all in a no-holds-barred examination of the role of the American army in the region. It had it all. Battle scenes, atrocities, the confusion of war, and the spitefulness of man. We left the cinema in the afternoon light, aware that we had seen something very different.

I hope that you have enjoyed this selection. I don’t know if there will be any more like these, but you never now.

Dark all day

It’s pretty hard to summon up enthusiasm for the day, when it is dark at 10 am, and doesn’t get much brighter all day. This time of year, before the shortest day, must be like living close to the Arctic Circle, with its six months of night. You go to bed in the dark, wake up in the gloom, and tolerate increasingly reducing levels of light, until the dark returns.

This morning, we needed lights here by 11 am, and the day continued to be shrouded in a grey, depressing blanket of cloud. Mind you, compared to the north-west of this country, we have been fortunate. Cumbria experienced rainfall that broke all records, in just twenty-four hours. Houses flooded up to the first floor, emergency services rescuing stranded people all over, and a city of over 100,000 inhabitants returned to the Victorian age. Literally. Roads and bridges washed away, no rail service, no electricity, and just doughty people, making the best of their unenviable situation, three weeks before Christmas. And similar events occurred in southern Scotland.

Life has a way of making you appreciate your situation. Just when you are a bit fed up, because the light is absent, and with it, the will to do things, someone else gets it really bad; and you begin to realise that things are not so difficult after all; in fact, more than acceptable, considering the alternative. Looking at the TV news, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were seeing a scene from a deprived third-world country. But this is Britain, in 2015, unprepared for civil disaster, and finding it difficult to cope with the aftermath.

The ‘Blitz Spirit’ endures, and nobody really complains. In the UK, in the 21st century, this should never be allowed to happen, even if our weathermen and weatherwomen have been ‘surprised’, for the umpteenth time. I was sitting here, upset because it was dark and dull. People in Cumbria have lost everything, and are not complaining. I wish them well, and apologise for bemoaning my lot.

Significant Songs (94)

Just A Little

Despite many years spent pontificating about the musical greats, the Jazz giants, the old-time Blues artists, and various torch-song divas, I do allow a little mindless pop music into my life now and again. The odd song that doesn’t need thinking about, require analysis, and isn’t struggling for its place in the history of modern music. As with many others recently, a television advertisement brought this one back into my consciousness, and reminded me just how much I liked it at the time. As someone who takes his music very seriously, I suppose that I should be writing this with a tinge of embarrassment, perhaps even an advance apology. No need. It’s just a fun pop song, and I am not claiming it is anything but.

The three women and two men who made up the group Liberty were the losers in a television talent contest called ‘Popstars.’ They formed the group in 2001, then had to change the name to Liberty X, when challenged by an existing group named Liberty. Like many ‘losers’ they actually did better than the winners, (the group Hear’Say) with significant sales of their debut album, released in 2002. By 2005, they were no longer that popular, and had already been dropped by one record label. They formally split in 2007, but have since reunited for occasional tours with groups from the same era.

This song was from that debut album, and had considerable success around the world. It represents a certain kind of forgettable chart music that was very popular at the time. But it won’t hurt you, and it doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.

Significant Songs (84)

The Closest Thing To Heaven

The north-east of England has provided us with some of Britain’s stars over the years, but not that many. The Animals spring to mind, as Eric Burdon and the rest of that group were all from this industrial area of the UK. More recently, Cheryl Cole has made much of these roots, and traded on the distinctive accent too. In 1985, another sound emerged from county Durham, a trio that went by the name of The Kane Gang delivered a song that was in the new ‘sophisti-pop’ style. Somewhere between smooth soul, and the British new wave, it appealed to me a great deal, although it was some years before the wonderful ‘Swing Out Sister’ would take this genre to a new level, and mainstream acceptance.

The first Kane Gang album, ‘Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kane Gang,’ had all the right credentials. Produced by Pete Wingfield, (Eighteen With A Bullet) and with backing vocals by stars-in-their-own-right Sam Brown and P.P. Arnold, it also had the excellent ‘Small Town Creed’ (released before my choice), ‘Losersville’ and a cover of ‘Respect Yourself’, all included in a list of tracks that were good enough to be singles. The trio looked serious enough, did not try to appeal to young girls, and wrote some of the tracks that were not covers of existing songs. I was suitably impressed, and bought the album immediately, pleased that the popular single release was included. I played it a lot, and looked forward to the next offering.

I had to wait almost two years, for the 1987 release, ‘Miracle.’ It was more of the same, so still pretty good. The standout track was ‘Motortown’, released as a single, it sold well on both sides of the Atlantic. Then that was that, as the saying goes. With band members seeking solo careers, as they often do, the line-up split in 1991, after less than seven years.

Here is the official video of the emotional ballad that started it all. Love those vocals.

Just back from Greece

I am hesitant to type this, but my problem with Google seems to have resolved itself overnight. After some weeks of being considered by them to be based in Greece, I have miraculously returned to the UK this morning. No more Greek writing on my Google searches, or suggestions based around suppliers in Athens. The legend ‘Google Greece’ has also gone from my homepage, and a quick check on Google Maps has now placed me in the UK. Nowhere near where I live, for some reason, but at least it is presenting me with a familiar map as a starting point.

I cannot claim to have resolved this with some newly-acquired technical skill. In fact, I had given up trying to hurt my brain, by attempting all kinds of solutions offered by the Internet. Google chose not to respond to either my fault-reporting, or my forum contacts. I expect they were much too busy to bother about some old bloke in Norfolk wondering why he had been ‘moved’ to Greece. But when I fired up Chrome this morning, I couldn’t fail to notice that I was back in Britain, where let’s face it, I belong.

In some ways, I liked my time over there. It made me feel a little special, to have been chosen to operate from another country. It also has planted the seed of an idea in my mind, that I am sure Google could to use to their advantage. Perhaps they should move us around in a random fashion, so we are never sure where our maps will begin, or what searches will be thrown up as a result. This would add both novelty and education to our Internet searching experience, and might be more popular than you would imagine.

So, one last thing to say. Αντίο Ελλάδα !

Mothering Sunday

Today is Mother’s Day in the UK. (Maybe everywhere, I’m not sure.)
This is a little poignant for me, as it is also almost three years to the day that my own Mum died.
But it has been a nice day for Julie so far. Although she hasn’t been able to see any of her children, for various reasons, she has received cards, and spoken to them on the telephone. Yesterday, we travelled down to Hertfordshire, so she could take a card and flowers to her own Mum, and spend the afternoon and evening with her.

It hasn’t all gone smoothly though. Returning late last night, we discovered that our heating had decided to stop working, and we have no idea why. There is oil in the tank, it was recently serviced, and appears to be intact in every way, yet it refuses to fire up. Of course, being a Sunday, we cannot get anyone out to look at it. Fortunately, we have the working log burner, and that is now roaring away, providing heat in the living room at least. There is also a back-up electric heater for the hot water, so we are not that badly off. The weather isn’t playing ball either. After the recent brief spell of sunshine and decent temperatures, today is gloomy and chilly, with a chance of rain.

I will try to make Julie’s Mother’s Day special. I have already prepared her a nice breakfast, and later on, there will be a traditional dinner of roast pork. We will be able to enjoy the rest of the day in front of the fire, and have a relaxing evening. I will remember days gone by with my own Mum, who always loved this day so much; anticipating her annual card, and enjoying a visit from her son.

So, here’s to all the Mothers out there. The often unsung heroes of our lives. Their selfless devotion, the undemanding love for their children, and the lifetime of care and attention that they lavish on us. Wherever you are, and whatever language you speak. have a wonderful day.