Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Helen Keller and Nicholas Monserrat's Esther Costello

Tucked away at the end of the free film channel on Sky TV is Simply Movies, a channel which shows quality films produced during my childhood and when a young man. Although I have an increasing number of number of cinema and TV DVD’s waiting to be viewed and which I am look forward with enthusiasm. I delay whenever I come across a gem of a film from a bygone age, especially those with a story which is of concern or priority interest to me.

Such was that of Ester Costello, a film which I have no recollection of seeing before but which combines three issues of profound significance. The film is based on a novel by Nicholas Monserrat, the author of the Cruel Sea.

I was much affected by this World War Two account of a small naval ship whose function it was to try and guard merchant convoys as they crossed the Atlantic and in addition to seeing the film several times over the years I also acquired a copy of the book. I was aware the Nicholas Monserrat had written several books about the war and the navy including Three Corvettes, HMS Marlborough will enter harbour, The Ship that died of shame (also made into a film) and HM Frigate. I knew nothing about the Life of Mr Monserrat 1910 to 1979 or that he had written this important book, albeit a melodrama, The Esther Costello Story..

Monserrat was educated at Winchester College and Trinity College Cambridge which suggests a family upbringing of some wealth and culture. However after deciding not to take up law, his original career intention, he became a freelance writer for newspapers to support himself while completing four novels and a play within five years until the outbreak of the second World War. Nor can I discover information about how be became a pacifist. He has written two autobiographical works which I assume cover his early years and his reasons for rejecting violence. At first he joined the ambulance brigade but then joined the Royal Naval Reserve and then took a commission serving on ships such as the corvettes designed to try and protect the merchant convoys. By the end of the war he had become the Commander of a Frigate. With a love of the sea, from sailing in his youth, he could have continued with a naval career, but in 1946 he resigned his commission and joined the diplomatic service with postings to South Africa and Canada. Then in 1959 after the success of some of his books he became a full time writer living in Guernsey and then the Gozo, Islands of Malta.

I can well understand why his work, the Esther Costello story created such a fuss when it was first released, especially in the USA and that the Helen Keller Foundation attempted to have the book banned and considered suing (according to Wikipedia). This was not surprising given the potential damage the film could have caused, setting back those working for organisations to assist in the care and treatment of the blind, the deaf and deaf blind. I can also understand that the similarity with aspects of the Helen Keller story could have been initially misinterpreted to suggest that author was saying something about the campaigning and fund raising aspects of her subsequent life. Then on considering the film, and the I presume the novel further it would have been appreciated that any similarities were just a commercial coat peg upon which to tell a very different story.

Helen Keller was born in 1880 and was a normal child of a well connected Southern family in the USA whose father had been a Confederate officer and her mother a cousin of Robert E Lee and whose father was a Confederate General. She could have expected a good life from such a background until illness struck her which at the time was not described as meningitis or scarlet fever. She became blind and deaf. She appears to have been about five years of age and would therefore have memory of the visual and sound, a most cruel and traumatic form of disability for both child and for her parents to bear.

I was brought up in a family environment which included an aunt who became deaf, blind, mute and eventually bedridden from meningitis in childhood. And later through my professional and managerial work I had responsibilities and contact with adults who were blind, (visually handicapped and then visual disabilities) terminology which society came to recognise were more acceptable terms, and the deaf, (hearing disabilities) for the same reason and which are also more accurate as it is rare for individuals to live in complete darkness for example. I also grew up knowing that I was different from others, although in my instance the potential disability was nothing like as horrifying, and was became the drive to achieve something with my life more than existing and surviving.

In the true story by good fortune the daughter of the cook, also a child decided that she would learn to communicate with Helen and helped her to learn some sixty signs which enabled her to communicate with the family.

At this point I want to begin the story of the film in which Joan Crawford plays a middle class city based separated married woman with no children who goes on a Family History trip to Ireland and is persuaded by the parish priest to visit the home of Esther Costello who she finds living in poverty with her grandmother after her mother perished in a storm which destroyed part of their home. The priest has worked out that since the break up of her marriage, the character played by Joan is living in a void and searching for something which has brought her to Ireland. He is able to tell her that medical opinion is that the disabilities were caused by the trauma of witnessing the death of her mother and that the experience prevents her from dealing with psychological causes of her condition.

Against her better judgement Joan is persuaded to take responsibility for the girl although at first she sees herself as providing the funds to take the girl to the best doctors and to provide for her upbringing. It is only after Harley Street Doctors confirm the Irish diagnosis that she decided that Esther should attend the best education and training establishment in the USA. It is at this point, given the rest of fictitious story that alarm bells would have sounded by all those concerned with Helen Keller and her story because there is reference to the Helen Keller and what was achieved by one to one teaching In the film this is undertaken by Joan Crawford under professional guidance

In the real life story of Helen Keller, her mother arranged for her daughter accompanied by her father to see the leading specialist and this led to being referred to the same establishment which had been successful with a child which Charles Dickens had written about and which had been read by Helen’s mother. This was the Perkins Institute for the Blind and it was the decision of the school’s Director to ask a former student, visually impaired and only twenty years of age, Anne Sullivan, to provide one to one tuition. Their relationship lasted for 49 years, later as governess and then as companion.

The method used involved touching the lips and throat, and finger spelling on the palm of the hand. It was only later that she learnt to read Braille, not just in English, but also French, German, Latin and Greek. Together the two were at the Perkins Institute for six years and then to New York two attend schools for Deaf, before turning to Massachusetts where Helen attended an establishment for young ladies and then in 1900 Radcliffe College and in 1904, aged 24 years. Helen became the first deaf and blind person to commence work for a Batchelor of Arts degree. This has to be put into the perspective of very few young women receiving higher education at that time, anywhere in the world compared to the number of men. Given the impact Helen had during her life it is fitting that tribute is given to Anne Sullivan who married in 1905 but maintained her companionship with Helen after her health became to deteriorate. In 1914 another young woman was hired to keep house who had not been trained communicate or had experience of working for the visually disabled. However she is said to have settled also became her secretary and remained companion. Anne Sullivan died in 1936 and Helen and Polly Thomson moved to Connecticut where they lived together for over two decades. Polly then had stroke in 1957 and died three years later in 1960. When Polly had a stroke Helen arranged for a nurse Winnie Corbally to care for her and she in turn stayed with Helen until her death in 1968.

In the film of Esther Costello very little is made of training after the opening sequences although she is also shown to have abilities which her disabilities and social position had masked. Very early on because of the interest of a journalist Joan needed little persuasion to use the child to promote interest and attention to the plight of others in a similar situation. From the outset Esther is portrayed as a willing subject who enjoys participating in the fun raising and public education mass presentations which have the appearance of a revivalist service and the herself as a circus novelty and freak. Joan as the substitute mother appears to have never hesitated or debated with the professionals the impact of this upon such a young girl.

This is where the film deviates significantly from the reality of the life Helen Keller which could explain why lawyers decided that legal action would not be successful.

In real life while Helen also campaigned on behalf of those with disabilities, but as an adult and where her main interests were political and social. She became a suffragist, a pacifist, she supported birth control and was fervent socialist being a member of the Socialist Party and supporting its candidate in his campaigns for the American Presidency. She help found the American Civil Liberties Union and founded an international organisation devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. As a consequence of her work and interests she became an International celebrity, known to USA Presidents and to personalities in a wide range of fields, including Charlie Chaplin, Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell. She published twelve books.

I saw the film the Miracle Worker, and other films, including a Disney version either failed to mention or skipped over her commitment to socialism and social idealism, as well as her view of spirituality and religion about which she also wrote at length. Although this clearly was the intention of the book by Nicolas Monserrat Helen would have been very unpopular in the era of Senator McCarthy and anti communism which developed in the USA after the end of World War 2. There would have been many interests, some secretive wishing to discredit, one of the leading spokesperson on behalf of disability in the world.

The Story of Esther Costello is at one level a much more one dimensional feature in order to make a point of the danger that people with severe disabilities can be exploited to their detriment, and that funds raised at spectacular and emotion charged events can be diverted to the interests of others, together with the vulnerability of the disabled to criminal sexual violence as well as sexual exploitation which has been a feature of training establishments, especially those employing the visually disabled. This has been a secretive and dark aspect of specialist establishments in the UK and why I fully supported the approach of integration, not just among all forms of disability, but with the able bodied. I was fortunate to work for a local authority which had one of the best multipurpose centres in the UK, and where I was once the registered publican after a bar was incorporated and which because of suitability of the available space was located next to the chapel and where to the delight of the Bishop of Durham one Sunday morning he enjoyed a pint after taking the service.

Later a magnificent all sing and dancing centre which also provided a range of activities for the elderly was built in another part of the authority and not be outdone a third community helped raise the funds to provide a centre for those with disability to participate in social activities with the able bodied. Given the authority was then one of the smallest in terms of population size in England and Wales the choice and nature of facilities was unique. Nevertheless the local voluntary organisation for the visually disabled resisted involvement in part of the Borough preferring their own facility.

In the film, because of the publicity surrounding the success of Esther being able to communicate, the separated husband reappears and soon takes over responsibility for the exploitation of public interest in Esther and does a deal with someone who acts more as an Impresario than the chief executive of a charitable foundation. The role of the husband is played by the text book Latin Lover Rossano Brazzi. He and his henchman ignore pleas by Joan and Esther that the tours are too much with Rossano exploiting that Joan had remained in love with him despite his departure five years before. When Joan insists that they will give up the circus when the present worldwide tour ends and they return home, so that Esther can go to college, Rossano and his henchman plot to persuade Joan to change her mind. However Rossano has become more interested in the attractive sixteen year old than he has been about the money and lifestyle they are enjoying.

When he learns that his wife is away for the evening and he has the cover of taking a flight to Scotland where the tour ends, he returns to the hotel and rapes the girl before making the journey. When his wife she returns and finds Esther in distress she discovers one of her husband cuff link in the bed she work out what has occurred and takes a hand gun to meet him at the airport the following day. Although not shown it is understood that she kills him and then herself although their deaths are reported as a car accident on their way from the airport.

Early on in the film a young reporter takes an interested and as Esther develops into a young woman he falls in love with her and is hostile when his editor expresses concern at the money being raised and the lack of accountability. The reporter offers to investigate in order to prove his boss wrong and then finds the position is as bad as suggested. The two travel to London to expose the situation as a major event is scheduled to take place the following day. However before setting off to meet her husband at the airport Joan has arranged for the journalist to call at 3pm and we later learn she has also arranged for the Irish priest who introduced her to Esther to either fly over or call as he it had been arranged for him to attend the London event beforehand. The journalist expresses his horror at the way he believes the couple have exploited Esther for their own ends and Joan already intent on what she plans, does not attempt to explain that she has been ignorant of what has happened but fuels his concern by adding that things are far worse than he could have realised.

Given what has happened to her and the news that the woman who rescued her and became a substitute mother has been killed along with her husband, Esther is understandably hesitant about appearing at the show, especially as the shock of the rape has brought back her sight and speech as quickly as it was taken away. The film ends as she make her way towards the auditorium where she is now able to speak.

This 1957 Columbia released film was nominated for a Golden Globe I suspect because of the issues raised and the performance of Joan Crawford. I am not being unfair to Joan in saying as he was never part of the Hollywood glamour set, but she always delivered fine performances and in this film she brilliantly communicates the horror, grief and betrayal at what happens to Esther for the second time of her life and her feelings of guilt at allowing her emotions to have prevented her realising what was going on in terms of the funds raised and her husband’s criminal interest in her ward.

Nicolas Monserrat wrote two books about his life, the first a decade after the writing of Esther and the second a further decade later, so one of these might explain why he choose to switched from writing about the Navy and the sea, or Africa and the then colonies, what seems an unusual story for him and set primarily in the USA, especially as it was sandwiched between his wartime novels with the Cruel Sea earlier and the Ship that Died of Shame seven years after.

I will leave to another occasion further discussion of some of the issues raised in the film, and that a distinction has to be made between those charitable organisations, often religious led where those raising the funds live similar lives to those they are trying to help, from the professional organisations which have the same kind of executive and administrative and professional structure as their public sector colleagues, are remunerated to the same extent but have significantly less accountability.

A very different film on the same channel is If only you could Cook and 1935 piece of whimsy, the USA expression is screwball comedy, featuring Jean Arthur, one of the great actress of the Hollywood Golden era. Jean Arthur was born in 1900 and appeared in over 80 full length films as well as being an outstanding theatre actress. She is known for her appearances in the Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Me Deeds goes to Town as well as The Plainsman, Only Angels have Wings, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Talk of the Town, A Foreign Affair and in 1953, her only film photographed in Colour, Shane. She also appeared in two Dr Fu Manchu tales! In the late 1960’s she taught drama at what became Vassar college where one of her students was Meryl Streep. Her first marriage was annulled after it lasted one day. Later she married a producer which lasted for 17 years. She had no children.

In this silly film she plays an educated young woman searching the newspaper for work at the time of great depression. Herbert Marshall heads a corporation making cars and when his latest designs are rejected by the board as being too adventurous for the times, he walks off in a huff and joins Jean on the Park Bench. Mistaking him for someone also out of work and looking for job they come across a residential position for a cook and a Butler. She can cook and passes a sauce making test at thee interview with flying colours. I mention this because in the only review discovered the opposite is stated that she had to fake the cooking to get the job which suggests the reviewer was paying insufficient attention to the work. The Herbert Marshall character also takes his role as Butler seriously, returning to his home to study the work of his own man servant.
Given this was a Pre Second World War film, when Hollywood tried to pretend that sex even between married couples did not exist so they were frequently filmed in bedroom situations with twin beds how the couple cope with being married for their employers is part of the whimsy which many will find funny, ha ha

The situation quickly becomes farcical when they discover their employer is the head of a criminal gang and one of his henchmen is suspicious of their new Butler and finds out who he is and that he is due to get married, without knowing that this was to have been a marriage of convenience and that he is disenchanted with the idea and the way his life has developed. There are several twists, including the arrest of Jean Arthur and the kidnapping of Herbert Marshall before his wedding can take place. The outcome is a happy ever after relationship between the two.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Fame and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Although I did not have an early evening sleep that I can remember and went to bed at a reasonable hour for me I could not sleep because of thinking about outstanding matters particularly the premature and preventable death of my aunt. It is out of my hands but I need to try and work out what my reaction will be to as many of the possible outcomes

I decided I was not going to sleep and got up and played some chess against the computer to take my mind off the subject. Since finding the game and deciding on achieving 101 games I have played about 1000 games but the statistics have not been recorded on screen for two reasons. First I did not commence to record all games until after the first 150 were completed and now in a misguided effort to switch between levels I successful obliterated all the records games of levels one and three but at least I can register now that on level three I played 242 games of which 205 were won,26 were drawn and significantly an atrocious and unacceptable number of 11 loses. At level two I am still showing 519 games played of which 482 were won, 32 drawn and only 5 lost.

I have worked slowly including cleaning the front room and hallway. Food as so far comprised a ham omelette and smoked salmon on toast with lashings of lemon. I have listened to football and the less said and slept and have commenced the sorting out of accumulated work with ten sets registered. I have watched the last part of Firefox with Clint Eastwood yet again and I had a preliminary look at the Radio Times for the next two weeks and the plethora of films and programmes I want to see all at the same time depending on mood and inclination, and will celebrate this Saturday of Christmas with a lager. I was about to have a Pizza or some fish cakes with beans when I remembered the Tex Mex purchased yesterday at Lydl with 24 pieces of garlic mushrooms, spices potato wedges, chicken wings and onion rings and it was best cooked from frozen for under 30mins and was yum yummy yum yum. However coupled with central heating surround warmth and the three tenors original with I have been there Luciano Pavarotti Torna Surriento but hope to go to Grenada Jose Carreras, El Lucevan E Stelle from Tosca Pacido Domingo: such power such beauty, such intensity, such gloriousness. This performance, the first at the tome oft eh World cup in that magical setting in Rome was dedicated to Pavarotti. Carreras is appearing at the Sage in February. It could be my only ever chance to hear a great tenor live. Tomorrow I will decide.

I then watched the film version of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I have not read the Douglas Adams books. I never tired of re-watching the six half hour episodes TV series for they contain a splendid mixture of absurdity, the kind of wry humour which makes me laugh and a good story. I remember being tired when I watched the film in theatre which explains why I could not remember opening aspects of the film which was slanted towards the American and British audience which is a polite way of saying that the essentially British humour was dumped down. The great theosophical question which is at the root of the book and TV series is the meaning and purpose of life which involves the deep thought computer taking several billion years to consider the answer as 42 and then spend another odd billion years working out what the ultimate question should be and for this the human race is created by mice to live on earth and do the thinking. Unfortunately the Vogons to work for the President of the Universe over look the importance of the earth in this respect and demolish it as part of the creation of a new space superhighway. Although the plans were a available on a nearby planet system had earthlings found out how to space travel earlier, a bit like planning systems for new by-passes in the UK although since the Adams books everyone has become more sophisticated about the process although the planners and those making the applications have also become more clever at achieving their objective

The question I have is whether it was just accidental that the Home Secretary is to put to Parliament that the police should have the power to detain terrorist suspects for 42 days rather an the present 28 or the originally proposed 90 which was so heavily defeated on the last occasion it was put to Parliament. Was this a civil servant or political inspired moment of inspirational madness by someone who did not know the significance of 42? Or is it deliberate? Or a coincidence? The rational pick a different period of days would have been 45, half the original 90 but my money is on a civil servant who whispered at a briefing meeting who go for a 50% increase from four to six weeks and it was only when the politician or civil servant went home and told their teenage children of their bright idea or suggestion which a minister had taken up that they learnt of the Douglas Adams books, TV series and films. The film ends in such a way to have provided a sequel as Arthur Dent decided not to go back to the recreated earth back to its original condition just before the moment of its demolition in a new location, i.e. the one we presently know, thus explaining why many of believe we have experienced the same situation before, we have.

It was also a second, third , fourth , fifth, probably tenth viewing of Fame with Ms Cara who went on to have success with Flashdance. The success of the film is that for once is conveys the reality of a four year course combining performance arts and basic education with something of the reality of what happens afterwards, for every 50000 perhaps 500 making some kind of living with perhaps 50 a good living and 5 international success and wealth. The film also communicates that to be able to give any kind of performance which will be recognised one has to know the self. If you are not prepared to work very hard, to give of yourself without inhibition and to fail, regardless of your talent, then forget it and going into banking and stocks and shares, or learn to sell rice to the Chinese. I am not sure what Ms Cara gas done and for the others who did their post Fame international tour. Where are they know?

I listened to part of a brief Five Live chat about the latest alleged rape at a footballers party, this time the Man U Christmas Party. Opne caller explained that those arranging the party cancassed leading stores for beautiful young girls to willing to go and be photographed at such events which are notorious for getting drunk, perhaps some drugs and some sex. Self confident girls will know how to deal with such situations just as the Debs developed a simple code to pass on such he is a NSIT Not safe in a taxi. Both sides should expect casulties on and off the field of play. The office Christmas Party held on Friday or Monday si another such occasion, At the age of sixteen I was taken to the pub which Nestled into the seven story building which now houses the Ramdom House publishing company and was given several gin and oranges. I the felt distinctly unwell and was put in a darkened room where at one point although in no fit state other than to hope my head would stop spinning I was kissed by a married woman old enough to be my mother. On the way home I was sick in the toilets of a railway station and stayed so long trying to recover that I received a note under the door offering me some fun. It was the only time that I experienced a handover although not the only time that I became sick drunk. When at Ruskin I was invited to a dinner party of a private dining group of post graduate university staff who did not have a college. Each was expected to bring an interesting guts and my memory was of one who played jazz piano and who used ro runa few girls in Soho. I was expected to say what it was like to have gone to prison. It weas a great feat wih different wines after each course and afterwards I watched the others play billiards at the top of Nuffield tower. I was staying in digs arranged by the college with a lady who had been a female scout at Lady Margaret Hall and who knew every inch of her spotless cottage type terrace dwelling. I had once entertained a female friend to tea in my room when she was out, although the young lady called unexpectedly, we were on the same committee trying to persuade the Labour party not to join in the capitalist European community, and afterwards my lady quizzed about having a young lady in my room, not because of the possible immorality but because she had noticed the stiletto heel marks on the lino up to the first floor. I had told her about the dinner party invite and she had agreed not to lock up on ten understanding that I did so. I just about made it to the room before bringing up the excellent meal in the basin unable to reach the toilet in time, then spending time slowly getting rid with water. I got the same kindly disapproving look on both occasion. I can only recall being really drunk as opposed to merry on one subsequently occasion. It is good to sin now and again but only if you are able to write about it and publish.

Raiders of the South Seas, Higher Grond, Magic in the Water, The Undefeated and the Great St Trinian Train Robbery.

I am back to wanting to write about the trivia of my experience before trying to write something of significance for me and could therefore begin this piece different ways. Now for example I should abandon writing anything an go out for a brisk walk in the cold blue sun shinning morning of the day before Christmas eve. I thought I needed to go for a walk to buy some sauce to make a dish for Monday with the half of chicken breast from the roast for today. I then checked and discovered that I had a bottle of a concoction for pasta which will do with some rice if I decide that Christmas Eve should be a practical kind of day the foresight to buy a second bottle of a concoction intended for pasta. I shall stay in and do some work and thinking while watching the Great St Trinian's Train Robbery.

This film is being shown by clever programme planners who know that a new St Trinian's film is being released at the cinema? Who are these films aimed for, especially this latest to contribution to our individual betterment and understanding of the importance of all girl residential schools, their staff and their problems? The first films were vehicles for Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell about delinquent girls with parents who cannot be bothered to bring up their children or care what they do or who looks after them. An entirely appropriate subject for Christmas consideration in any year. I know I am being a spoil sport.

The opening of the mid 1960's film features a gang of train robbers stashing two and half million under the floor boards of a derelict building and then switches to the Ministry of Education where the civil servants are applauding the arrival a Labour Government because it will mean the abolition of all private schools especially St Trinian's. However they have not bargained for a Minister who has a special relationship with the former head of the school who has turned to a more tradition occupation shall we say. He insists on a giving the school a second chance new labour type of grant for £80000 circ 1966 prices, several millions today. Even in those days there are baby doll bedtime wear and gym slips so one wonders what present cinematic inflation will lead to! Alas I am likely to be departed before the new one will appear on the small screen. Time for lunch with seasonal quality over quantity. Some smoked salmon and Italian ham with some sauce included in the purchased pack.

I did not expect to experience such a good night after sleeping through the Hitchhikers guide and staying up to just before 3am, There was one waking in darkness and then again around 7,30 feeling awake again but I decided a Sunday lie in which worked as it was just before 9 am when I awoke again feeling fresh and ready for work

Ho Ho Ho I decided this was the day to begin to win 101 games of chess against the computer. This is rather like running 100 yards in under 10 seconds or 100 metres in under 9. You did it once, you still know how to run, but you forget the concentrated effort you put it to do it for the first time. I must remember never to use the reset button on the Chess game because it seems to reset every level so that this morning I commenced with a blank series although on the bright side this means no draws and no losses to remind me that once I was good enough to lay and win without losing or drawing games along the way. I like to look back and reflect but I am not sure nostalgia is good for the soul.

Back to St Trinian's after the opening frisson the film became a traditional cops robbers experience plus Trinian's girls involving trains. It also has a 1960's offensive racist moment about having a Pakistan English accent. The girls get the reward money, the baddies get caught and the teachers go back to their former occupations and the government Minister his come uppance. The film features Frankie Howard and a young George Cole long before the Minder Days.

The afternoon fare was a New Zealand wartime boy's adventure film Raiders of the South Seas. The story concerns community attitudes towards an Italian treasure hunter off the coast of New Zealand as World War 2 breaks out. His craft is fitted with an imaginative Captain Nemo type auto pilot which enables him to sail the craft on his own as well as undertake diving operations. The community are supportive towards the Mayor whose son has joined up and fighting in North Africa. However he is the baddie and a ruthless one at that for when the young people become suspicious of his smuggling activities to fuel the black market he is the force behind a witch hunt against the Italian which leads to being prepared to kill the young people when they attempt to thwart his attempt to tranship the merchandise. The outcome is inevitable and includes the essential ingredient of a parent who does not listen and adventuresome young people become the heroes. Oh for Enid Blyton and the famous Five or Biggles. I could switch off the telly and listen to the Leone Lewis LP.]

I then watched the first part of Higher Ground. I liked John Denver's music and he used a greater part of his life to promote environmental issues in the US and abroad. His documentary about Alaska was influential but I am not sure about the 1988 film Higher Ground which was a pilot for a TV series. Although he appeared in several films singing and playing his guitar he was no actor and this a conventional story of someone driven into illegal activity who pays the price leaving a wife and son. John is the man to bring justice and perhaps marital and fatherly solace. However I then remembered that the Newcastle Derby game was on TV but should have stuck with the film although the game reminded of the wise decision not to invest £500 in a season ticket and experience disappointment after disappointment. Even though the Sunderland offering has also been a disappointment I have faith in Roy making it and big Sam not. Boxing Day could be a humiliation though.

This is rapidly become a family film day with Magic in the Water which featured a creature, bit of a whale, bit of a dolphin wit a kind heart, and this time the baddies are dumpers of toxic waste and this time the dad who is a psychiatrist who is trying to write a book on vacation and cannot get passed the full stop after writing the words chapter 1 until he starts to find himself as a child again, gets in touch with his children and with the creature from the deep.

The final film of the day was The Undefeated with the great man himself who they called the Duke, John Wayne as an ex Yankee Colonel turning to wild horse collecting for the army whose agents want only 500 and the 3000 available, offering only two thirds of the market price. He chooses to sell the herd instead to the Mexican President whose army is about to rebel at his dependence on the French. Wayne then encounters a Confederate Colonel played by Rock Hudson with a moustache who for some reason I confuse with Gregory Peck and who is also seeking to do a deal with the Mexican President to allow his men and their families have a new start and guerrilla opportunities against the new United States and men such as John Wayne. There is a young love sub plot (just to rub in how racist were the southerners) involving the daughter of the Dixieland colonel and the adopted Indian son of Wayne the new American, and the two enemies are drawn together a series of developments which sees various battles against renegades and the French. However the Colonels their men and their families are forced to return home empty handed but the richer for the experience to the benefit of their new nation.

There were then several competing interests with top of the list of films Pans Labyrinth and two and half hour version of Vanity Fair. I settled for some work and occasional looking at another of the 30th Anniversary Antique Roadshows and the lasts episode of the Queen at work although the programme concentrated on the Royal Firm with interviews with the three sons and daughter, the children of Prince Charles and Diana, the Duke and other relatives. The programme was very effective in its contention that we get value for money although the aim is for excellence rather than an economy model. I tried to work out the number of combined visits to organisations and plaque openings carried out by the Royal Firm and believe it is of the order of 5 to 7 a day between 1500 and 2000 a year which created a difficulty for the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire who admitted to one of the visiting Royals that their sister had come the previous day. Based on the series a good case was made but the gulf between the careful modernization according to changing times and the average yob on the street is wider than ever. Spare a thought this Christmas for the Lord Lieutenants of your nation and all those expensive hats.

No so young Leon the winner of the X factor who we followed through his week after being the victor in what some are claiming to be a fixed vote, I can see if one wanted a winner with a good story and potential rather than a winner who came across as too professional and destined to make it regardless of the competition. Surely they would not dare try it on with the public paying voting system after all the fuss earlier in the year. The same was said about political party donations. That one has gone quiet as well. The instant adoration of young Scottish females for Leon was incredible. And he continues to come across as a decent young guy who will look after his mum and family and not go down the Amy Winehouse route. But then he will sound like Michael Bubble and not Amy Winehouse and there is a difference.

For several years when my enthusiasm for British Football waned I became interested in American Football, their national game along with Baseball and basket ball. I supported two teams such is my way, the San Francisco 49's and the Washington redskins and I have the shirts and made trips to watch pre seasons games at Wembley. Continuing my support through to the attempt to create a British and European league based on out of season and former American game stars. This resulted in a few Brits making it over there, I mention this because I stayed up to watch the Washington game against Minnesota but went to bed before the second quarter ended but with my team was 16.0 up and had a score denied over a coach appeal. Now if in our national game we could lodge appeals against scored goals on the basis of a managers appeal as there is now in cricket, that would be interesting.

This continued to be a good food day and I enjoyed half chicken crown with trimmings and divided the remaining roast spuds between today and Christmas Day It is time to remember a supper of cold meats sent from Gib before midnight mass at which the community turned up in standing room only numbers. I have been trying to avoid writing about Christmas because I will upset others as well as myself if I do.

Y Tu Maria Tambien, Goodbye Paradise and Fredericke Street South Shields

A good title for this piece is fishy tales of Fredricke Street. When I arrived to work in South Shields Fredericke Street was a thriving mixture of local shops, second-hand stores and specialist enterprises. Now half the buildings at the southern end of this long street perhaps with 100 business opportunities have become vacant and the buildings themselves showing every symptom of dereliction. At the northern end there is the post office, some public houses and some take aways to serve a lower income community of rented accommodation inhabited by Muslims who worship at a Mosque where Mohamed Ali had a marriage ceremony with a few days of the visit of Queen Elizabeth to mark her year on the throne. The reason for the decay has been the closure of the Plessey Factory then its reopening by another hi tech firm, then its gradually reduction of staffing through a management out to its present demise, and the rebuilding of part of the area with lower income home ownership with cars to use Asa at Shields or Morrison's at Jarrow.

(I am writing this against a background of Broadway to Bob Fosse musical theatre choreographer who died in 1987 at the comparatively early age of sixty Pyjama Game. Damn Yankees, Big Spender from Sweet Charity and my favourite where I watch the film version once a year Cabaret which he directed but was not involved with the stage production. He was involved with Chicago but had died before the film version. He was also responsible for Kiss me Kate on screen, Lenny and all that Jazz. An early musical involvement was The Bells are ringing (for me and my gal).

At the northern end of Fredericke was the Green Street L shaped area of post war development of look alike shops with flat above and which recently have an a make over and anew lease of life, although the transfusion of a mini supermarket was necessary which involved demolition of one side of Green Street to accommodate the building and car park. The advertising of the Lidl store which opened in mid December has been intensive. Lidl goes in for special offer weeks of everything from kitchen equipment to back to school and office equipment at exceptional discount price. However my interest was not in the special offer low cost staple food fare but their low cost special offer of luxury items especially fish and cured meats.

Tonight I purchased a pack of four Sea Bream for 6.49 and four sea vase at 6.99 with two packs of 200 grams of smoked salmon each 1.69. Tonight I commenced to enjoy the thick cut slices with a twist of lemon on crackers. The Italian ham slices are also excellent value but the great surprise was to find that they had a stock of Spanish Turron at 1.49 where both my British and Spanish suppliers charge around £4 for the same slab. I shall stock up for a year or two. Commencing the first Thursday of January there is to be a sale of office supplies and my eye fixed on photographic paper.

The smoked salmon was delicious in what became a fishy day as with a cup of tea on returning home I had a carton of shell on prawns and then later a defrosted bass which had been the only fish planned for the day. The main purpose of the afternoon shopping was to collect my suit from the dry cleaners after not remembering where I had put the ticket for several hours. I managed a little work but late evening was given over to two films. I have not seen Ray Barrett the Australian actor for at least ten years, the last occasion was an Aussi film which had a wild aspect but more than that I cannot remember. My first cultural encounter with Ray was when he came over the UK but again what for? This evening he was in an Australian Graham Greenish Raymond Chandler offering with a good script in which he provided the thoughtful commentary on the events of an attempted coup for commercial interests.

Then I did some research the first shock is that Ray is now 80 12 years my senior and the film Goodbye Paradise is some 20 years old and the second is that he had a role in Emergency Ward 10 as well appearing in everything that was popular during the late 50's, 60's and early 70's, Dixon of Dock Green, Thunderbirds, Dr Who, Till death do us part, Play of the month and armchair theatre. However I knew most for the over 100 appearances in the series The Troubleshooters 1965-1972 in which appeared with Geoffrey Keen and Brian Latham. And the wild film, well it was for 1976, Don's Party. Despite his age he continues to act, mostly on TV but he has a part in a major film due for release in 2008 Australia which stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Good on you Ray, I mourned the fact that you went home after making your name in the UK.

The second film is a Spanish Mexican rites of passage film featuring the relationship between two young upper class Mexican teens around 17 18 before going to university and their holiday adventure with a newly wed in law whose wedding party they attend along with the President Y Tu Mama Tambien. At one level this is well trodden story as the teenagers vie for the attention and affection of the older girl whose husband has admitted an act of infidelity while away on a conference, as they head for an idyllic beach. What they do not know, nor did the husband when he phoned his admission, is that the young woman has just been told she has an incurable disease. The relationship between the young men changes when she gives herself to one of them but even when she decides to balance up it is too late and the final scene is reminiscent of so many other films, usually about college life, where a group become close but they go their separate ways, never to recapture past moments of collective harmony and shared visions and sometimes shared loves.

There is also a is a reminder that everything has its season and it is wise to accept this is so and not attempt to journey back or stay fixed at any point within one's time span, in Goodbye Paradise as Ray says goodbye to his young companion and settle for being an ex was somebody once.

The Last Armoured Train, Black Eagle and The Good Cop

Wednesday has been a solid work day with almost all Christmas cards completed, several with (for me brief letters. One trip to post these later afternoon was also used to buy some fruit and some inexpensive still bottled water, some prawns, and fresh veg. Early evening seems to be a good time for although it is the week before Christmas there is no indication of the customary rush which used to be experienced in greater London and Sunderland Morrison's. The task should be completed in the morning followed by an important afternoon trip and then I can try and relax. There have been two Myspace new friends whose profile and work merits relaxed attention and the ending of seasonal greetings. There are also all those missed birthdays. My equilibrium has been disrupted but do I need want equilibrium any more?

Part of the reason for believing there will be a relaxed few days is the confidence that both the matter which has lasted five years and the more recent concerns re the bank appear to be addressed in such a way that progress has and will continue to be made, hopefully with at least the bank situation being sorted by New Year. I dare not become hopefully about an early resolution of the actual circumstances of the misadventure of the premature and preventable death of my aunt. What is of different concern is the issue of attempted cover up and involving who and at what level?

I have stayed up, half watching cold war meets kung fu nonsense because it was set in Malta, the land of my fathers, so to speak, It is called Black Eagle, after a form of Kung Fu and a vehicle for its exponent Ken Tami. It is a familiar tail of F1 spy plane secret electronics coming down in neutral waters and both sides risking all in clandestine operations to recover the equipment with the Russians, mob handed, and the USA only a magnificent trio involving a priest and multilingual female specialist operator who has to also become a child minder for the sons of the Japanese Kung fu multi talented assassin and recovery man. There is a kind of pretend relationship between the two which is never taken beyond a hint.

Slightly better was a re-showing of the Good Cop in which in keeping with the American mythology of the genre there are two levels of Mafia murdering thieving and gangster, the ones who have codes of honour and gangster integrity recognise that police are only doing their job that is those who cannot be bribed along with the majority of the US justice system from Judges to prison guards and then there are the really bad guards who do the same but have no honour and in this instance it is the brother of the traditional Mafia terrorist. There is also a Marta Hari high class whore who has a soft spot for the good op who gets himself in prison for contempt in order to find out which the various levels of villains is responsible for shooting up his hi fi system. May have the title wrong as research to find out how critics reacted produced One Good Cop and Copland and Good Cop Bad Cop all with different storylines.

I did not expect to find out anything out about what was presented as true story the Russian film The Last Armoured Train. There have been the last Train Home films, Across Canada From Madrid, From Gun Hill and simply the Last Train, also El Ultimo Tren, which does not need to be translated However I was soon on the trail and discovered that the film was originally shown in 2006 as four part series each of 52 mins and is regarded by those interested in Russian cinema as part of the recent new wave with new interest in World War 2 much as in the US and UK we have flocked to Saving Private Ryan or the series Band of Brothers. The core of this film are the characters who successfully and against all manner of odds get the train through to where German army has encircle a Russian army during the first month of the war and the group, with help, enable an honourable retreat. Each of the principal characters has a back story which makes them unlikely to become heroes and heroines Given that this is a film from contemporary Russia it had all the hall marks of the kind of one sided heroic struggle of the people against everyone else which used to be the feature of Stalin culture, in which individual lives are recognised as indispensable for the great good and in the great scheme of things, however having said this the film does not attempt to portray the commanders as soulless and ruthless and the principal characters do not give their lives up willingly, but have a mature understanding of the reality of a war which has only commenced. The leader of the group reacts to the embrace of his new lover at the end of the film, you are alive, with well for the next few days.

I also discovered that there was such a train called the Hurbran used in the Slovakian uprising against the German army in 1944 and as in this film it had too take refuge for a time . The Polish Army also had such a last train at the commencement of World War 2 which had been used in the Polish Soviet War of 1919/21 when they had built 15 new ones after losing 8. This famous survivor was captured when Germany invasion of Poland, and was inspected by Hitler and much photographed. Another armoured train features in a site by Henry Louis Gomez set on "uncovering the truth from the propaganda and dimming memories" of an incident during the last days of the Baptista regime in Cuba. This is the armoured train of Santa Clara. Another article claimed that the Soviet Armoured Trains used in the Great War were used as rear guard weapons because the Germans were better trained. Had I not been so busy I might well have decided to pursue the role of armoured train in World War Two, or its importance in World War 1, something which I cannot recall has ever been a feature of films or documentaries before now. I thought the correct spelling was armoured and then changed when the articles were all under armoured and then changed back when using spell checker,

Wikipedia lists all the armoured train information known for Poland, Russia, Japan Slovakia, Iran, Croatia and France, In 1942 GB used an armoured train for an advance into Siam in an attempt to resist the Japanese advance in Malaya and closer to home an armoured train was used on the Romney Hythe railway as part of coastal defences in WW2.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


I was surprised when the DVD of Carrington arrived on Friday as I had just added to my list of some fifty films I wanted to see over the next year, if I decide to continue with my subscription. I may take a break as I have the 4400 series to view as well as The West Wing and the Jazz history and I have added further trips away arising for an autumn sale of Travel Lodge rooms for £9.

Critics are divided about the merits of the film and after experiencing I reached the conclusion that I agreed with both wings of the debate. I usually agree with what James Berardinelli has to say and I concur when he describes the film about the seventeen year relationship between Lytton Strachey played by Jonathan Pryce and Carrington (Dora) played by Emma Thomson as “a special love story that challenges the intellect with as much vigour as it touches the heart.”

I cannot remember if I acquired my copy of Lytton’s great work Eminent Victorians, the brief biographies of Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Gordon before or after Michael Holroyd’s Lytton Strachey, but it is a decade or two since I read either. Once I reopened the Holroyd and read his account of what happened when he first visited the psychoanalyst younger brother who translated the complete works of Freud into English and whose wife was also a psychoanalyst. I wanted to read his book again.

Lytton Strachey remains known for having created a new approach to the writing of biography which was honest, contained the latest psychological insights and which combined irreverence and wit with a sympathetic understanding (Wikipedia). Born in 1880 to Lieutenant General Sir Richard Strachey, he grew up as part of a large upper class Victorian family. Lady Strachey had a total of thirteen children of which Lytton was the fifth son and eleventh child, ten of whom survived into adulthood. His mother is described as a enthusiast for languages and literature and a leading supporter of the women’s suffrage.

Lytton was a child prone to ill health and his frail, nervous and quiet personality which led to a number of schools before spending six years at Cambridge where he wrote verse and was a member of the Cambridge Apostles who included, Bertrand Lord Russell, the philosopher educationalist, writer and activist, the economist James Maynard Keynes, the writer E M Foster, Leonard Woolf, the political theorist, write and publisher, civil servant and husband of Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell, the Art Critic. Together with Virginia , Bell, artists such as Roger Fry and Duncan Grant they formed what has become known as the Bloomsbury Group which in a addition to representing an important aspect of art and literature between the two World Wars, was also known for their complex bohemian behaviour which at one level was frequent bed hopping crossing sexual boundaries.

Lytton was not typical of the upper classes at this time, because although hopeless at the practicalities of life. used to servants and what to day we describe as “carers” he possessed a genuine concern for the plight of others and maintained a wish to express the realities of life and relationships. He was an open homosexual with a love of young men and a succession of relationships of varying length and quality.

Dora Carrington was an artist who painted for the enjoyment of working and what she achieved and did not wish to exhibit or sell. I know that feeling well. It is my work, it is me, it part of me. She attended, through scholarship, the Slade School of Art in London where she became part of a set who decided to abandon the concept of Christian and Surname and be known by a single name, in her instance Carrington. Boyish in appearance she was sexually chased by male artists from the Slade former students Paul and John Nash, Christopher R W Nevinson and the most passionate suitor of all Mark Gertler with whom she became “engaged.”

In the film she encounters Strachey, thirteen years her senior, at the home of a mutual friend. He was attracted to her seeing her as boy until realising she was female but this led to him testing his sexuality with her. A virgin until her twenties, unique for an art student in that era. Gertler turned to Strachey for advice and help in his seduction of Carrington but this led Strachey and Carrington to set up home and share a bed together straddling the period when Strachey moved from poverty and dependence on family support and his self described dark period to comparative prosperity after the Eminent Victorian and to full independence with his subsequent work on the life of Queen Victoria.

While the film depicts some of her work and approach to art and makes reference to Lytton writings, the film concentrates too much on attempting to portray the sexual life of the duo and complex entanglements which followed. Dora married an army man who is depicted as a fascist who wanted all pacifists shot, yet had a relationship with Lytton despite knowing he had refused the army call up and was saved from imprisonment, unlike Bertrand Russell, whose trial he attended, because of medical unfitness. Later after divorce the husband married Francis who became a fully fledged member of the Bloomsbury set and contributed to the biography once the younger brother and literary executor agreed to the venture. Although he film makes no direct reference, Dora is known to have been a lesbian as well as enjoying heterosexual relationships.

This bring me to the review of Christopher Null who asks who was this Carrington and why make a film about her, and more fundamental, what was the point being made in the film? Why make a film about her and not Lytton Strachey? I asked the same question but agree with Barardenelli that the sex scenes are more artistic tableaux than erotica and to which I add that for me the point of the film is two fold. First that it is possible to love and live with someone without owning them or exploiting them sexually and psychologically and secondly that it is possible to have a rich loving life with someone without having what is regarded as normal sexual relations. The problem with this outlook and behaviour is not religious or moral as such but the impact of such a lifestyle on children if there are children and on others if the individual is a role model of some kind. One can imagine how the international media today would have treated the lives of those in the film and all those part of the Bloomsbury set, however loosely an involvement an individual had.

I wrote this before reading Holroyd’s introduction to his revised work which separates the biography from the Literary Criticism and had to force myself from abandoning the rest of my day and week and reading the work in order to complete my intentions for the day and week. Although I have now a growing pile of books to read or reread before I die in one corner of this room and which I suspect will continue to lat there unless I am able to complete my main work and live on, this one I need to tackle after finishing the book about Durham cricket Club as I am to spend so much time watching matches this season unless the team falls apart and reverts to providing other teams with points and cup final places as of old. I can barely find a passage way across the room to the door or reach some bookshelves because of the quality of stuff on the floor. I need to ration the time between activities as I do not have the inclination or energy to devote myself to just photographing work or attending to half completed work sets and will take off into a flight of fancy. The hardest thing is to ignore something appealing which will stimulate and distract me further away from what I need to do. I need to finish this, wash and get myself out into the sunshine as there is roast chicken for lunch with the Boro at Arsenal on TV the Bahrain Grand Prix, Blackburn and Wigan, The London Marathon highlights, the TV Bafta and a Lost Special, There is also a Friend’s Provident cricket match. Durham have a day off before their trip to Somerset.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Assisi Undergorund

After a relaxed morning I thought disaster had struck. Since moving I have hot water and heating at the flick of a switch, although at a price, and then this morning I suspected the switch had fused or worse. I had to boil a kettle for the washing up. It took a few minutes to gather myself and determine the order of priorities for the rest of the day. There is another clear blue sky outside although the weather is changing on the west coastal and inland areas. We had the best of temperatures yesterday and the south east today. I will have to find out what the weather is going to be like for the cricket. I needed good soulful music.

Billie Holiday A to Z Volume 2
Don’t Explain
Easy Living
No Good Man
The Blues are brewin
Big Stuff
Where is the sun
I must have that man
Sun Showers
He ain’t got rhythm
The last affair
Let’s call the whole thing of
I am painting the town red
I wished on the moon
If you were mine
Twenty four hours a day
Life begins when you are in love
Miss Brown to you
Mandy is two
Am I blue
Let’s do it

My tendency when faced with a plethora of things to do which I do not fancy is to leave them all rather than work out an order of priority and work through that. Yesterday I tried to do better

I vacuumed the downstairs and paid off the credit card. Then it was time for a very boring job, sorting out the passwords for this and that, deleting removing ones no longer used or replaced and getting then in some kind of list. Then I had great success with sorting out the telephone account finding that I was over £80 in credit and this be paid direct into my bank account, I also reduced the monthly direct debit. Next week I shall concentrate on the gas and electricity account although I am less optimistic about a similar outcome.

I then spent the rest of the morning sorting our financial records and enjoyed three lamb chops with vegetables for lunch before tackling the heating and hot water problem. I first tried the switch before making the telephone call and it was working again, and has since.

Later I tackled set finishing and made good progress, maintaining the target of three new sets a day. I need to undertake some more photographing of completed sets as there is now a substantial backlog. I also need more artman cards.

I went to Wilkinsons’ in the hope of finding a replacement coffee filter pot without success and on return found that I and some filter papers, over five years old, and the filter paper holder which could make more than the one cup should the need arise and meanwhile I will continue to use the single cup filter pot which uses less coffee. At Azda I bought a gammon joint which I decided would make a better filling for rolls and which I cooked in the evening in readiness for the morrow. I bought some grapes, lettuce, milk, stir fry prepared vegetables, stir fry sauce, olives, ginger spice, crackers although may have lost one box perhaps it is still in the car! It was.

I paid attention to the politics show where the build up is for a savage middle income hitting budget and reduction in public expenditure. My bet if for major hits on the very rich to assuage public anger. I shall take a radio with me to the cricket just in case it is not shown in the Members lounge.

There was a fuss about the Prime Minister making a film for You Tube about his idea to abolish the second home allowance but instead pay members from out of London constituencies an attendance allowance. He then asked to the see the other party leaders to discuss the idea and theirs No one was fooled by this last minute attempt to wrestle the initiative away from the opposition and attempt to placate the angry masses

It is rare for a cinematic film to be faithful to the true story being depicted. Father Rufino Niccacci 1911 1967 was a friar and priest who became the Father Guardian of the Franciscan Monastery of San Damiano in Assisi. In 1943 he was directed by his Bishop Placido Nicolini (James Mason) and the secretary of the Bishop, Aldo Brunacci, who was also chairman of the Committee to Aid Refuges to provide help to Jews fleeing from the Nazi extermination. In the film, the Assisi Underground, Rufino is played by Be Cross and communicates his understandable concern at the implications of such a mission, not for himself but for the clergy and parishioners who would do the looking after, provide the false documentation and try and help them reach the allied forces who were making their way through Italy from the south. When the Germans made leaving the town almost impossible a total of 300 Jews were hidden in local monasteries and convents and in the homes of individual Catholic Parishioners who all risked execution for what they were doing. As Ronald Regan former US President remarked at a gathering of Holocaust survivors in 1983, a slip of the tongue by anyone could have condemned the entire community to the camps, yet they did not yield.

Billie Holiday A to Z volume 3
My Man
Easy Living
Travelling Alone
I’ll get by
My First Impression

After the war he founded a small community of destitute Christians and Jews near to Assisi and later became the parish priest at his birthplace town of Deruta where after his death a street was named in his memory. A year after his death a book was published on his experiences written by Alexander Remati who went on to direct the film

When a woman loves a man
I’m gonna lock my heart
On the sentimental side
You can’t be mine
I can’t believe that your
If I were you

It is impossible know if the priest was satisfied with the portrayal of his role which goes a considerable way to reminding that there were many priests in Europe, including Germany who sacrificed their lives in the true practice of the Christian faith and the film states that some 30000 priests were executed by the Nazi regime. In the film the local commander is portrayed as a Catholic with an understanding of the importance of city and does what he can to protect the church and the priest, together with the city which the German High Command wanted devastated before their departure.

I’m pulling through
I’m all for you
Some other Spring
You are just a no account
You are so desirable
Say it with a kiss

There are two matters which are factual. One of the nuns at her convent is played by Alessandra Mussolini born 1962. The grand daughter of Mussolini became a controversial conservative politician and is at present a member of European Parliament. Sophia Loren is her aunt. She was educated at the American Overseas High school in Rome and is a graduate of Rimini. She has three daughters and a son Benito who has also taken her maiden name. She also won a Golden Globe for A special Day in 1977

Under a blue jungle moon
Hell my darling
More than you know

The second fact is that the portrayal of the Italian International cyclist during the war is accurate. Gino Bartelli 1914-2000 won the Tour de France 1938 and the Giro Italia in 1936 and 1937.

Georgio Nissim, a Jewish Italian, founded an organisation to help Jews escape the persecution, after meeting the Pope and with the help of the Archbishop of Genoa and the Franciscan friars. After his death his sons discovered from his diaries that Bartali had used his training runs to visit where the Jews were hiding, and collected the photographs needed for the forged identity papers and travel permits. He also used his position to learn when the Germans were raiding safe houses and warn those at risk. He also assisted Assisi underground and helped in the escape of Jews heading for the Swiss border. Regardless of the risks there are always human being prepared to risk and give their lives because of beliefs, for the welfare of others or as in the case of Rufino and Bartali, because it was the right thing to do at the time, and the situation in which they found themselves.

Monday, 20 April 2009

the Human Factor and Oliver Twist

I awoke and could hear what I interpreted as a nearby house alarm but it seemed to continue on and on as I dozed and came too several times and there I wondered and then I realised what it was and that from 8.30 until 9.48 the buzzer had been my unpacked disconnected alarm clock, but with battery, in the one of the travel bags, somewhere in the house. Just as well the neighbours on the side of the house are away and there is the open patio space on the other.

It has been a leisurely day and commenced with opening and sending a Christmas card and the decision to write an overview of the year, something I used to do, but stopped two years ago. There was no attempt to be comprehensive, and it proved a longer than had time for experience, as I attempted to distil priorities and summarise.

I made do with soup and then there was another letter and card and decisions to sort out this and that, a visit to the Council's environmental centre to dispose of accumulated rubbish, but the pong from the decaying prawn heads and shells was such that I decided to do the supermarket first and acquire some air freshener, but before that I took my suit to the dry cleaners, also my main car wearing coat, but the label was machine washable so it came back via the post office and supermarket where a lot of time was used finding the air freshener, which proved essential once the rubbish was in the vehicle.

It was not until just before the new five day production of Oliver Twist that I felt the need for food, Chinese style chicken wings, a generous carton followed by a puff pastry mince pie. The Oliver Twist is yet to compete with the most recent film production strangely omitted from the Daily Mail Role Replay information which mentions the original 1948 film and the 1968 musical. Oliver Twist is the story of the Male Supremacist nature of early Victorian society ranging from the attitude of the mother of Oliver Twist and the abuse and exploitation of Nancy and the way the ready way in which the upper and middle classes relished sending street children who committed offences to the gallows, on prison ships to the colonies or to hard labour in prisons, or the workhouse. The pervading attitudes of those are still heard on daily chat shows such as five live.

I was then looking forward the last Spooks as there was no advance showing last week but fell soundly asleep. I woke again in time of a gem of a programme about three women who went in search of their parents, two fathers and one mother. The two fathers were found through the Salvation Army service both with positive outcomes but sadly the woman who has spent nearly two decades trying to find if her mother is alive and two years actively enquiring since the death of her father had by the end of the programme failed to make any progress. The national release of a photograph tonight will hopefully produce the breakthrough for her.

I have written before about the power of this drive to know and how society makes this difficult by allowing mother to register births without information about the name and known circumstances of the biological father

Of course there will continue to be deceptions with false information provided and circumstances where the information is not known or where the circumstances are tricky, but as with adoption there should be opportunity when a young person reaches adulthood to be given the option to obtain the available information, with advance counselling provision if requested. The secrecy is often from the best of intentions and there are sometimes other children or family members whose protection is just as significant at the time, but the power to know should carry a right. The kind of crude bestial justice which is part of the Muslim faith in many countries and supported by national laws in relation to the behaviour and position of women, and as used to be and still is the attitude towards the female in predominantly Catholic nations and which underlines the hypocrisy of the male attitude to the Mary's in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, is symptomatic of male supremacist societies. The way the House of Commons is organised with the gladiatorial combat of Prime Minister's Question Times is another and oh for a Prime Minister with the self confident guts to refuse to perform for their party and for the benefit of the medias, for opposition leaders with similar self confidence, guts and integrity.

And what is this nonsense of the latest sound bite politics of the Liberal Democrats, power to the people, regardless of consequence in terms of justice as fairness, Hullo just as it is fair, is it? for English families to pay for the Scots to enable their children to go to University without the mill stone of charges or for the elderly to retain the value of their savings when they require residential care or comprehensive care, we are now to support the reactionary Liberal notion that it is OK if those who are interested in power holding decide to introduce fascist approaches to the running of hospital or schools, or reintroduce poor law type institutions, of course liberals don't, so why spout the claptrap echoed by Paddy Ashdown and no doubt the assembly of other former party leaders rejected by heir own members or the country at one time or the other, and two men again after the party demonstrated as all the major parties do their ageism. The hypocrisy of attitudes towards, children, the old and the female has not changed although in society in general there is change with recent examples the Queen demonstrating what a better job she has done than any man or that splendid engineer project coordinator for the St Pancras enterprise. This is not an issue of physiological prejudice but of attitude and approach.
This work of tracing missing parents is one role for the Salvation Army who apparently is able to trace 80% of the 4000 requests for help each year and merits greater public recognition. The figures mean over 30000 quests have been solved in the past decade alone.

I then finished the evening with a poor Le Carre type spy traitor film based on a Graham Green, The Human Factor, the last film of the Man with the Golden Arm Otto Preminger and a screen play by Tom Stoppard. The film has nothing original in terms of story and characterization and is light years away from series such Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The double Spy, is Nicole Williamson an actor who has never been convincing or impressed me with a cast of many talents, Richard Attenborough, Robert Morley, Sir John Gielgud and Derek Jacobi and I could have been better employed with my time but once commenced I felt obliged to see it through.

Yesterday was the penultimate programme about the Queen featured the number of official visits, a Royal Garden Party and an aborted visit to open the new Arsenal Football club and broadened to other family members with Charles and Camilla travelling to organic farmers and them meeting farmers in a local pub. The Garden party was interesting because it is regarded as a treat for those who will not make it to an investiture. People dress expensively and queue for half an hour to get in but are given free entry into the Palace and a scrumptious tea of fine fare before being gathered in lines for a family walkabout in which individuals are pre selected to have a few words said to them by the Queen. On hot days as the summer of a year ago, so distant now St Johns was much in demand. Those who are considered VIP's have their own Marquee and a special walk walkabout session. The one important conclusion from the series which has its last episode at Christmas is the serious effort which the firm makes to fit in and understands contemporary society at all levels. It is difficult for anyone wanting to do the job and to attempt consistent professional perfection for decade upon decade. The nature of his task was wonderful portrayed by one stupid woman who drags her mother and son around the country to wave flags and get a close up of the Queen. At one level she was awful cringing embarrassing and one wondered how many of the flay wavers were of this ilk, but she also fulfils an important constitutional function that our brings in he tourist need for the public flag waver, and in fairness I would rather have her as Queen follower than yet another idiot giving credence that those waste of space personalities to contribute nothing to society except their lack of substance.

At last someone has said in the media what I have long suspected, that just as those behind the TV telephone competitions were able to fix outcomes with thousands continuing to phone with no chance of winning, the question has been asked of the X Factor and were thousands prevented from phoning in order to fix the outcome? How could a margin of 1% change to 10% so quickly? Did the earlier votes still count?

The Good Girl and some politics

Oh dear me after finding time to write I managed to lose everything before saving and decided not to immediately rewrite in disgust with myself and there is no heart for starting to rewrite as there are more important things to do to think and write about.

One reason is that I have spent so much energy earlier yesterday and to day that I need have a break. I watched a dreadful film which as soon it commenced I realised I had seen on TV. This was Jennifer Anniston as the Good girl. Now here is the plot a boring small town housewife with a husband who is a painter decorator finds it difficulty to get out of work clothes because he spends most of the day stoned on pot with his best mate and then watches awful television programmes on a clapped out TV hopping his life will change dramatically for the better when he proves he is a man by his wife giving birth. His wife works in one of those awful small town supermarkets which should make every educated American cringe and seek social asylum anywhere and she is ripe to be allow herself to be seduced by a pretentious young fantasist whose parents consider him to me an embarrassing disappointment although in fairness the film suggests that he is surprising good in bed which the type rarely are.

The film signposts that the husband is going to be tested as infertile just at the time that wife not only is regularly bonking the younger man who is no good as a supermarket assistant but allows herself to be blackmailed by, guess who, of course the husband best friend because he is only is best friend to cast covetous eyes on the Mrs and finding that she is bonking the young man sees his chance to gain the carnal knowledge and of course she is daft enough to get pregnant and hullo, the husband is not as thick as we have been led to believe and works out that she must have been sleeping with someone else.

None of like to move out of our comfort zone for too long so when she has the opportunity to run off with the young after he robs the supermarket leaving the evidence to identify him she funks her opportunity, turns him in so he gets shot dean American style and she is left to stew in her own soup although every indication her husband will bring up the child as his own and turn him into one of those nice young men whom will do is draft and come home in a body bag without understanding why.

I rarely slam something this way but its greatest crime is to set out to be a serious and intense film about USA small town life

Yesterday was bitterly cold and much time was spent after going quickly to Newcastle trying to ensure that I did not catch a cold. It would have been my fault as I went out unprepared, I also made the mistake of going to a long stay car park when the short stay was not only closer to the station entrance but a little cheaper. I found out that the two bookshops within sight of each other are now owned by the same firm with an identical range of books, This worked in my favour because while the first had almost every map except the one I wanted the second had every map.

Earlier I had paid a visit to the home where my mother had been resident for three years to collect a letter that had been sent to her and which made be explode in amazement. However it will have to be left until after my next mini trip as the main item of activity will take up to the last minute to finish.

Yesterday and today the TV has been political. Yesterday I thought the Prime Minister was nearly back to being his own man at Question time and Cameron was off key although what he seemed to be doing si trying to leave the British Public media with the idea that Brown is a loser who cannot cut the mustard. Vince Cable is showing how wrong his party is because he has the Commons feel and ability, an appears a sound man but considered unacceptable because of his age and the belief the country needs another half baked political leader. Tonight was question time where the government spokesperson was put on the rack over the decision of the PM to attend a two hour session with the chairs of Parliamentary committees before going over to Europe to sign the Europe Treaty and because he then flew home staying away from the evening junket leaving it to my local Member of Parliament who happens to the Foreign Secretary. The last political nightcap of thee year did a scrooge with Christmas past present and the future appearing and had Vince Cable dancing with a Come Dancing star. The decision of the show to include personalities with no political background and nothing to say just to. Well I am not sure what. Because this is a programme for the political chattering classes

I also watched an interesting programme of kidology which made much of the ending of debutants in the late 50's because as Princess Margaret was known to say, any tart could get in whose parents had the brass. The object had been to ensure that those of upper class good breeding intermarried with others of the same social class. The girls who also included those from the colonies went a finishing schools, I once accepted an invitation to a social event as a finishing school under the apprehension that it was a home for elderly people, and then a year full of dances and events such as Ascot, Henley perhaps Wimbledon and Polo at Windsor, some hunting and shooting and were expected to remain virgins in the hope of the iond of marriage which would set themselves up for life and where according the rules once you produced to sons, in case the first did not make it for one reason or the other you were free to do your own thing, discretely. Having explained why the event had become redundant, thrown in that out of the past crop of 1400 1500 one had become a communist writer and journalist and one joined the IRA and went to prison, one of four went to university and another had a significant career, two of the last ladies had tea with four of twos crops…. Shush you did not know they existed well it is presented as a different king of event.. The Royals tend to be foreign and minor, the events are branded as good works for charities and the gals, well they want do good work or make money in the city so the evenings are good networking and of course they all go to college and uni, the right uni of course and the right set, is where you expect to make a match if you don't get already invited to the right parties and other social events. Hullo I thought can you explain to the difference.

And Hullo there was this programme which suggested that all the efforts to end social inequality had failed in that surprise surprise children from poor homes went to poor schools failed to make good progress educationally and ended up in poor jobs, irrespective of their ability while children from homes with money, and books, whose parents talked to them etc got them to good schools where they rapidly overtook the children for poor homes, irrespective of their abilities. An hullo there are some educated people who are shocked to find this is so. Hullo don't you know what made Britain great was its class structure, rituals and traditions which was strong enough to embrace the men of wealth, the women who were good in bed and to looked good on the arm. However access was controlled and restricted. The problem is that it was all the open and every one knew their place and how move up or down according to inclination and with the majority content to stay where they were. When you try and ban anything all that happens is that goes underground, becomes secretive and more clever in disguise.

A Shot at Glory

I have just watched one of the better films about football and the fans and supporters of lower division clubs although it was full of clichés, it hit the right note, including sound track by Mark Knofler and was a cut above the usual for this genre by a great performance by Robert Duvall, and a supporting cast heavyweight Brian Cox. Through out the film I knew I knew the co star but it was only afterwards I realised he was one of the great Scottish centre forwards of all time Ally McCoist of Rangers who I first saw play as a young lad at Sunderland where he never delivered the high expectation until he went back to his homeland, subsequently following his career as a consequence, enjoying his commentating and pleasantly surprised to find that he was also able to act. Ally played at Ranger for 15 years 581 appearances and 355 goals, winning 8 league titles 9 League cups but only 1 Scottish Cup. He played 61 games for Scotland and after retirement in 1998 he became a TV commentator and pundit until earlier this year he went into Management as an Assistant to Walter Smith at where, Rangers, where else!

In the Robert Duvall never won anything as a player and missed out on big time management refusing to speak to his former colleague now manager of Rangers for two decades or his daughter who married someone of a different religion and where in Scotland Catholics supporting Celtic and the Orange Order Protestants Rangers (the role played by McCoist) who is bought in by a new owner who warns that if they do not get into the big time he will transport the team to Ireland. The team has become the talisman for the small Scottish town with a good Salmon river nearby and picturesque countryside. McCoist the actor has all the problems associated with get rich and famous players, drink dependency and a fierce temper, cannot resist the women who throw themselves at him or engage in fisticuffs with opposing fans, opposing players and anyone who insults or abuses him. However the team to win promotion from division two to one and then aim for the Premiership and get to the Cup Final, against who, why Rangers of course and then what happens you must see the film.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Bella Mafia, Notes ona Scandal, Mandalay

Yesterday I became angry, more angry with myself for being angry. I will restrain myself from disclosure about the details for now, although it is the kind circular administrative incompetence which makes one weep. It concerns a bank. Banks can lose billions and write of billions in debts. But when it comes to sorting out comparatively small amounts of money, they are full of promises and explanations which turn out to be hollow and in some instances false. Watch this space.

This has been a difficult two days for several reasons and I was managing well by making good progress in my work have completed the first 80 pages of mainly descriptions and colour photographs, mostly four a page, of Rivera 2007, the re-emergence of the riverside of the Tyne and the Wear and of the glories of the open spaces and coast in between. The second part will be completed by Christmas. The work has become an escape from the emotions of other experience.

There is a limit to the amount of time devoted to the work and I need a gap between first writing, correcting and redrafting and final rewrite corrections of words. If I do not do this then mistakes occur which I do not seem because what I see is what is in my head and which not necessarily what appears on paper. I had thought I had completed all the writing but when I transferred from album used when there was to be just one volume to a matching pair I reread and needed further amendment and correction although these were minor and only three or four. I could be more precise as I have the drafts, but there is no inclination to check. I have completed the parks and open spaces, except for the photographs of Roker Park and the rechecking of the description. I will have a mini break now and then complete before Christmas.

In between this work I have been watching films of varying interest, impact and quality.

The most entertaining and least significance was a war film Churchill's something in which a British identical twin replaced his German counterpart in order to be in the position to facilitate a combined operation of partisans and parachuted troops to blow up a dam. He is undone when put the test by a suspicious Gestapo man but the mission is successful with the usual Boys won heroics, self sacrifices and nail biting last second luck.

The second was of little more consequence although it has gone down well with fans who have subscribed to GMovies. It was great and sensitive said one, the best Mafia I have seen. I agreed with the comment that this two two hour mini series was helped by having Vanessa Redgrave and Natassja Kinski their spelling, star. The film has a novel idea of what happens when all the men of a Mafia family are killed by ambitions other heads of families and the widows and one fiancée decide to take revenge electing one of their number to head the family after she kills the person who carried out the murders, but only to find it is the son placed for adoption when she was recovering from a car accident. This type of film creates sympathy for the plight of individual characters but must ensure that there is a heavy condemnatory morality in which crime must not seen to pay when all the evidence is that in relation to the Mafia it has.

In this film the reason for the car accident is that a girl is attempting to see the head of the family because she has been left with the child after his eldest son was killed in a vendetta. She then marries another son with the approval of the family head and is thrilled when she presents a son, of twins. These are also slaughtered with the men folk and her first born having run off from the priests after the adoption failed, is taken up by the another family who have a grievance against his father's family. You get the drift? However I liked the notion of women becoming even more ruthless and effective at running a Mafia family than the men. Why should anyone think this would not so? The title Bella Pasta, sorry I mean Bella Mafia, coming to think of it Bella Pasta is a better idea as I have enjoyed several meals in these eating houses. When I have nothing to do I will watch the whole thing in case I have been unfair. sometime.

The daughter of a crime boss is also the subject of the third film Manderlay which I disliked as much as Dogsville first of the Lars von Trier trilogy USA Land of Opportunities. In both films the director uses a small sound stage with a plain surface, so it is play where acting is used to conveys time and place. In Dogsville it is a cut off community who embraces the daughter of the gangster and then turns on her and in Manderlay it is a southern plantation in which the head blackman has conspired with the lady owner to keep the rules of slavery because both feared change and decided that the black workers and their families would not cope in the outside world or in an unstructured set up. The regime including lashings for misdemeanours. As with Dogsville the writer Director is able to attract major stars, Nicole in the first and Lauren Bacall in the second. In both films there is a large cast.

By coincidence, otherwise there would be no film, the gangsters arrive at Manderlay as someone is to be lashed and the daughter sees this as an opportunity to intervene and she stays with some of the other gangsters who act as enforcers and protectors. The daughter creates a commune in which the rest of the white family work for their keep, including the blacking up of faces which was a nice twist, but because of a dust storm their supplies are damaged and they all forced to eat dirt.. However the rescue some cotton plants which produce a good crop. At this point it appears that the gangsters who have been sent away job well done while the daughter decides to stay, only to believe they have stolen the profits. They have not but tell daddy who sends his daughter an ultimatum to leave or stay.

As with Dogsville she comes to realise that the pathway to hell is good intentions and first she is required by majority vote to execute the eldest former slave who has stolen the precious food provided a sick child who dies. Then she discovers the truth that the former white lay boss and head Blackman had cooked up the ongoing slave charter and then she finds that the Blackman previously saved from flogging and who now gives her a purely physical sorting which most women will regard as rape but which she adores, has stolen the money but which is rescued and returned, so she flogs him near to death. With that she goes off to the rendezvous with her father only to find he has been and gone and leaves a note praising for being a chip off the old block and therefore is has no anxiety at leaving in her in the hell she has created. Americans will understand the significance of all this better than me.

The fourth film was of a very different order and received some forty nominations for awards including Oscars in 2006. Notes on a Scandal has three outstanding performances, Dame Judy Dench as the malign vampirish in terms of consuming the personalities of other very lonely seen it done it school teacher which she is good at, especially controlling children, which is why so many teachers leave the profession soon after qualifying because of the absence of good order and consequent impossibility of teaching anything to anyone. I must do a blog about Dame Judy and her excellent actor Husband Michael Williams who sadly died in 2000. In this film Judy longs for a close relationship but is a relationship in which she is in control and seizes the opportunity fro emotional blackmail when she discovers that the new teacher, Cate Blanchette has been more than indiscrete with a 15 year old pupil and decides to sit on the information on the understanding that the relationship is ended. When she discovers that it has not she arranges for the discovery with the consequence of a police investigation, the break up of the marriage and ultimately ten months in the nick.

The part of the younger teacher is played by Cate Blanchette who also merits attention having made some forty films herself of varying quality by always commands great attention for her ability to communicate emotions and the person inside. She describes her character as someone where there is such a gulf between the person on the inside and outside that she commits hari kari as a means to get her to face her inner self. She also describes the problem of needing the imperative of marriage and motherhood but also needing to find a greater meaning and purpose to her life. She has devoted a decade to her older husband where the fire of the early relationship vanished with the task of bringing up a child with Down's syndrome, and a normal daughter into a rebellious teenager. The husband is played by one of my favourite men, Bill Nighy who supports what is essentially a two woman film but he is an essentially component in what makes the sum significantly greater than its parts or subject.

Spooks reverted back to the standard of the rest of the series and clearly si not coming to an end with the journalist now set on course to join the team but in place of who, not Ros me thinks, possibly Adam who was about to going out with a bang anyway before next week's official episode which is about the explosive type of bang. Having suggested it was not of the calibre of the previous outstanding episode there was some grim truth about this one. The Home Secretary has one of his staff arrange the killing of the whole of the spooks team as the price of peace with Iran and when confronted by the head of spooks the Home Secretary explains his dilemma in such a way that Harry, the had, can only agree, but adds the wearing if you step one inch out of line in relation to us in the future we will do you.

I thought Cameron went off the boil or out of steam today, and the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable appeared to flunk his lines whereas Gordon seemed back to his old self which suggests the counter offensive has commenced and this may include those within his own political party.