Saturday, April 30, 2011

“There are no supernatural answers to natural problems” – Edward Bond,

Pope Benedict XVI has made history as the first pontiff to take part in a televised question-and-answer session. The pre-recorded programme was broadcast on the Italian Rai channel on Good Friday afternoon. Seven questions were chosen from thousands submitted for the Pope to answer during the 80-minute programme. Most of the questions, from people across the world, dealt with struggle and suffering. TV viewers saw a split screen, with the Pope sitting in the Vatican library and those asking the questions filmed near their homes. The first question was asked by a seven-year-old Japanese girl traumatized by the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami. She asked why she and other children should have to feel afraid. The Pope replied that he had also asked himself the same question and his answer was ‘we know that Jesus suffered as you do.’ That is – no reason given, no answer.

Another question came from the Italian mother of a boy in a long-term coma. She asked if he still had a soul, to which the Pope replied that, yes, his soul is still present in his body. "The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play," he said. "The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present." Well, we cannot prove this one way or another, the existence of the soul never has been proved, so I hope the Pope’s metaphor was enough to satisfy a grieving mother.

To a Muslim woman in the Ivory Coast who asked his advice about how to cope with the conflict that has afflicted her country, he said people should look to Christ as an example of peace. –again an answer so anodyne as to be totally useless. The questioner is Muslim as is a great proportion of the population of West Africa to some of whom Christianity is anathema.

He told Christian students in Iraq - when asked how to encourage fellow Christians not to flee the country - that the Church was encouraging dialogue between religions. Another virtually meaningless response.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy, watching the programme, said it would be viewed by critics as very controlled and a little sanitised. That’s putting it mildly.

There was no opportunity to ask tough questions of the Church, such as about the priestly sex scandals that overshadowed the Church's Easter celebrations last year. But the Vatican will have viewed it as a first step in their overall effort to be more accountable and transparent, arising from accusations that the Church was failing to be open about the abuse scandal.

But, as far as answers are concerned, as Mister Bond said, there quite simply are no supernatural answers.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Well, yesterday went down like a damp squib, a lead balloon. There were no celebrations due to ill-health and almost a visit to the hospital. The festivities will have to come later. So many birthday wishes I will never get around to answering them all so my thanks to those reading this who thought of me.

There is a song in the musical “Sweet Charity - I love to cry at weddings.” I know I said I wasn’t going to mention it again but I would think there will be millions blubbing into their handkerchiefs tomorrow. Britain’s stiff upper lip is evidently a myth. Take for example the national outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana. That is often said to be the moment the UK lost its stiff upper lip and the British started being comfortable crying in public especially for mass outpourings of national grief?

Has Britain recently become a nation of cry-babies, despite its long-held reputation for keeping emotions firmly under control? For politicians, public figures, anyone being given an award and not forgetting to thank their mothers for begetting them, and just about everyone on a TV talent show, and the tears flow thick and fast.

Often this shift towards public crying is linked with the death of Princess Diana in 1997. This collective moment of mourning is seen as releasing a nation from the restraints of being reserved and stoical. But the British actually have a long history of very public grieving and their reputation for being emotionally reserved is only a relatively recent thing, says historian Dr Thomas Dixon, who is researching a history of crying.

"We've been a pretty weepy country through the centuries until the 20th Century," says Dr Dixon, “when there was a lot of stoicism and reserve. But if we go back before the 20th Century, we have other peaks of sentiments, emotion and weeping in the late 18th and up to the mid-19th Century. There's been more crying than you might think.

Even in the 19th Century there were large outpourings of national grief in response to the death of famous figures, the death of Lord Nelson in 1805 for instance. "There was a huge state funeral and there were many pieces of journalism reporting the event in the national press and many of them talk about 'tears gushing from every eye' and the 'nation's tears', 'Britannia's tears' at the falling of her hero and poems about Nelson and so on," says Dr Dixon.

“The UK is currently in a middle of a new wave of weeping in public life,” he says. It started in the 1990s, with incidents like Margaret Thatcher leaving Downing Street with tears in her eyes in 1990. In the same year the footballer, Gazza bawled his eyes out at the World Cup. Then there was mass crying when Princess Diana died.

So where did Britain's reputation for the stiff upper lip come from? "That came from World War II," says Dr Dixon. "The 20th Century is where the tears started to dry up. A time of war is no time for weeping, whether you're on the home front or fighting the war against Hitler.

"It's at that point that however much private grief one might have, this ethos emerges that British people don't cry because they are strong and determined and resilient and stoical."

Social historian Dr Julie-Marie Strange says that until the mid-19th Century, it was considered fine for men and women to cry in public.

"It's particularly surprising for us when you get Victorian men crying in public. It was deemed fine to cry at bereavement, at a particular situation, for example because of the death of a child. Lots of people admitted crying at the death of Little Nell in the Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens."

Byron and Shelley were men who made careers and reputations from being very emotional, and when Byron died in 1824, nearly 20 years after Nelson, lots of young men wore black armbands and wept openly,” she says. But by the end of the century, the tone had changed so much that such behaviour was characterised as weak and intellectually stunted.

From the 1880s onwards, it became less acceptable for men particularly to cry in public, she says, partly due to the emergence of what has been called "muscular Christianity", which emphasised a vigorous masculinity in the face of anxieties about the decline of the Empire and the degeneration of Britain as a nation.

This change was best symbolised by writer Oscar Wilde, who sneered at the grief displayed by fans of Charles Dickens over Little Nell.

"One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing," he famously remarked.

What Wilde would make of today's blubbing, one can only imagine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tomorrow, April 27 is my 80th birthday. I look on every day as a bonus. I doubt anyone will ever name a rose after me.

Kate has had a rose named after her, the Catherine of course, pink and scented. William already has one. His is red. It is estimated that over two billion people will be watching the wedding. Two billion! Has there ever been an audience that size? She has also been granted a coat of arms. It’s rather soppy looking as though designed by some art school student and I’m not sure if the College of Arms didn’t devise it with tongue in cheek though, heavens to Betsy, let’s not even think that!

Thomas Woodcock, Garter Principal King of Arms, explains the Middleton coat of arms Kate’s father Michael commissioned and which will feature on a souvenir royal wedding programme. It features three acorn sprigs, one for each of the Middleton’s children: an idea Miss Middleton suggested. Royal experts say the coat of arms - which cost £4,400 to make - marks the increased social status of her parents and her potential as a future queen. Thomas Woodcock helped the Middletons with the design. He said the oak tree was a traditional symbol of England and a feature of west Berkshire, where the family have lived for 30 years. The gold chevron in the centre of the coat of arms signified Miss Middleton's mother, Carole, whose maiden name was Goldsmith and the coat of arms includes a tied ribbon, showing she is an unmarried woman. Katherine that is, not Carole.

Woodcock said Miss Middleton could have been granted her own heraldic design but her father wanted the whole family to be able to use it. A version of the coat of arms, which can only be used by Kate or her sister Pippa as it denotes a Middleton spinster, will be printed on the back of the souvenir programme. Prince William's will be on the front. Overall, it is designed like an elaborate lozenge rather than a shield, a shape reserved for men. She will be able to use the coat of arms up until her wedding day, after which it will be combined with that of Prince William. A hundred and fifty thousand copies of the official souvenir programme booklet will go on sale on the day of the wedding. The booklet will be handed out along the processional route by a team of military cadets and Explorer Scouts. The cost will be £2, with proceeds to go to the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry. But it will also be available to download for free the day before the wedding from the official Royal Wedding website.

Now were it up to me to design the coat of arms I would keep the inverted V ( just to keep Carole happy) but instead of the acorns I would have three Davy lamps, or maybe two pickaxes and a Davy lamp, Or maybe a Davy lamp, a pickaxe, and a quill pen for those ancestors who escaped from coal mining and labouring to become solicitors, bank managers and business types. Which brings me to a couple of questions before signing off and not mentioning this subject ever again. Kate Middleton could not be more common. I don’t say this in a derogatory sense, it just happens to be a fact. Does the marriage mean that once she is a member of the Windsor family her blood automatically becomes blue? And what title or titles will she hold? Eventually if ever she becomes queen, it will be Her Maj of course but until then? Her Highness? Her Royal Highness? This was a title denied to Wallis Simpson for the simple reason that she wasn’t royal, not a drop of blue blood in her veins, but will it be allowed in the case of common or garden Kate no matter how sweetly scented her rose?

I might be wrong but I have a feeling the monarchy will never be the same again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Directors of Greek soaps, well one soap in particular though it possibly applies to others, have made some quite remarkable discoveries. Firstly they have come to the conclusion that as the camera used in the making of film and television programmes is called a movie camera that means it should move, and boy, does it move! It never seems to stop moving until there is the real danger of motion sickness setting in in the eyes of the viewer. The director also likes to have some dressing in the foreground that stands between the camera and the subject, a large glass vase on a table top for example, with or without flowers, which means the camera has to move either slightly left or right, probably one direction after the other and then in reverse, to keep the subject in shot. The subject meanwhile will be talking on his/her mobile phone, American cell, Greek kineto, because this is the other great discovery, and not a scene goes by when actors haven’t got their hands glued to the sides of their heads as they chat away on this wretched instrument. But miracle of miracles as Tevye or Tzeitel might have said they have also discovered the split screen so there is no need to cut from one character to the other during a phone call, you can watch them both simultaneously. But there is more; not only can the screen be split, it can be split again, making four separate pictures and, bless me, even five. Gosh!

Okay, so okay, having sent that up as far as it is likely to go, let me move on to talk about something really worthwhile. I refer (forgive me if I have written about this before) to the adaptation of Victoria Hislop’s book, “The Island.” Thank God it’s a period piece and there’s never a mobile phone in sight, but more than that, it is beautifully directed and photographed in the exact location, is so wonderfully atmospheric but above all is superbly acted by everyone involved from the leads to the smallest bit parts. By that I mean you simply forget it is being acted at all, unlike I am afraid the soaps where everyone tends to go a wee bit over the top and you can see the wheels turning. The cast is headed by a well-known Greek actor, Stelios Mainas who portrays beautifully and most sympathetically a fisherman whose boat is used to ferry lepers from the village on the mainland to the island of Spinalonga where there was a colony for many years and who early on in the story loses his wife to the dreaded disease. Now Maria, the elder of his two daughters on the eve of her wedding, the village having already celebrated the betrothal, discovers a patch on her leg and a medical examination confirms that she now has leprosy. I don’t have all that long to go I suppose in this vale of woe but, as long as I do live, I don’t think I will ever be privileged, and that is not too strong a word, to see another performance like the one this actress, Gioulika Skafida gives, from the moment of discovering the blemish to her father taking her across to the island. In this particular episode I sat in the saloni weeping uncontrollably. And even thinking of it as I write the tears well up. Oh, come on, Glyn! What’s the matter with you? This is fiction, you silly man. This is television. I don’t recollect ever in my life being moved to this degree by fiction or by anything watched on television. When Miss Skafida is on the screen you cannot take your eyes off her and as though her wonderful performance isn’t enough she is incredibly beautiful and has quite stolen my heart.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Let’s talk for a while about death. I guess most good folk hate to talk abut it but you have to admit it’s an intriguing subject as it lies there in wait for all of us and there is no getting away from it. Peter Pan thought it must be “a very great adventure.” The world’s reputedly oldest man has just died in America aged 114. What he said was very simple - “We are born to die.” For those of a religious bent death is the gateway to a life everlasting. To someone like me who does not believe in any form of afterlife it merely means an endless dreamless sleep, oblivion in fact. So what was it brought this subject to mind? Shock horror headlines in the newspaper – “Outcry over BBC2 Terry Pratchett euthanasia documentary – BBC films man taking his life. Screening the moment of a suicide victim’s (?) death - considering it was a voluntary act he could hardly be termed a victim but that’s journalise for you – is a first for terrestrial television.” Wrong. I remember seeing this on television some years ago, not taking place in Switzerland at the Dignitas clinic but in Amsterdam, the lethal injection being administered by a doctor in the subject’s home. The man was suffering from motor neurone disease, as was the current subject, and his end, with his wife by his side, was dignified and oh so peaceful. He just slipped silently away which reminds me of the Catholic prayer, God grant me a peaceful death.” The article continues to say the programme is condemned by campaigners, politicians, professionals and religious leaders. They accused the corporation of being unethical, of promoting assisted death and euthanasia and disregarding … here comes the big crunch… “the sanctity of life.” I don’t know who the campaigners and the professionals in this instance are, (professional what? Accountants maybe? Dentists? Veterinary surgeons?) But it stands to reason that the religious would be appalled by this, what can one call it? Act of sacrilege? So what is it exactly, this sanctity of life they continually blether about? Where to start? Let’s start with the Roman Catholic Church. Contraception is a sin because it denies the start of a new life. So let’s presume pregnancy takes place. Apart from the miscarriages and millions of abortions, it is estimated that there are 7000 still births worldwide every day. That’s 2.6million a year. Not much sanctity of life there. Until the advancement of modern medicine that all but eradicated childhood illness, infant mortality was universal and a child in Victorian times for example was lucky to get beyond its first year. Not much sanctity there either. There are still any number of children in various parts of the world dying from malnutrition and diseases that haven’t been controlled, or being caught up in the riots, tribal and civil wars and massacres that seem to be forever erupting in various parts of Africa. Not much sanctity of life there either. In the Middle East, the Far East, South America, there are terrorists prepared to die by suicide or to take as many innocent people with them as they can. Northern Ireland seems to have quietened down a little as has Spain but the danger of violence erupting is always there. Similarly the ongoing hatred of Sunnis for Shias and vice versa does not say much for the sanctity of life but what is new there? Religious wars and horrifying persecution in the name of God have been going on for centuries and the world is riddled with gangsters to whom the term would be absolutely meaningless. Let us not forget worldwide wars, Auschwitz, the Gulags, Pol Pot, and more recently euphemistically called ethnic cleansing. It would seem half the history of the world is a horror story with mankind’s total disregard for the so-called sanctity of life not only of his own but of too many other species.
But what has God to say about it?
At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead." (Exodus 12:29) The Lord said to Moses, "Take vengeance on the Midianites... After that, you will be gathered to your people. So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals. Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp and Moses was angry with the officers of the army--the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds--who returned from the battle."Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."
(Numbers 31)
On God’s instructions wanton wholesale, barbaric slaughter and cold blooded murder of helpless captives - the boys and non virgin women massacred.
Ezekiel 9: 4-6 And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem....let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women...."
And there is more of the same and more and more. So much for the sanctity of life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can you believe this? They aren’t even married yet and already a film is being (has been) made about their relationship, from their meting at St. Andrews to their becoming a couple. Has there ever been such a band wagon to jump on? Actors Camilla Luddington and Nico Evers-Swindell portray the pair in the upcoming film “William and Kate” – an original title, no? Already premiered in the states and due to be seen in the UK on Channel 5. Do you think the actors were cast because of their names? It’s obviously going to be a film for the hooray Henrys, the maudlin blue rinses, dyed in the wool royalists, little girls dreaming, and a no no for anyone of any intelligence judging by the clip I have just watched and what the actors have to say about it. According to Nico, take note of this if you please, these are brave words, people are going to “have a jolly good time watching it.” Bravo, Nico.
We have in our village a zaxaroplasteio (we sell sugary things) in other words a cake shop and confectioners and, boy, do the Greeks love their sweet cakes that come in an infinite variety. The shop’s motto emblazoned on the side of their van reads in English, “Beyond Fresh.” Hmn… Yes… well I don’t think it says exactly what the proprietors mean it to say but we do get the intention. As far as the celeb culture is concerned and, let’s face it, William and Kate have become celebs of the very first order, (I’m surprised some enterprising publisher hasn’t offered them a trillion dollars to write their very own book. Guess that one’s still in the pipeline) the motto should read ‘Beyond Ridiculous.’ Am I the only old sourpuss who thinks so? In a way I can’t help feeling sorry for them and there’s Harry’s wedding yet to come. It must now be like living in a goldfish bowl or doing intimate things in public with a million pairs of prurient eyes gleefully watching.
Jesus and the Virgin Mary are constantly being seen in cloud, sand, and rock formations etcetera but a short while ago, I don’t remember if I ever mentioned this, the Prophet was discovered in a tomato! And now, not from the sublime to the ridiculous but from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous; Kate Middleton’s features have been revealed on…Ta-ra-ta-ra…a jelly bean! Of all things, a jelly bean! “Trainee accountant Wesley Hosle spotted her image as he opened the jar with his girl-friend Jessica White. (Jessica is a jar opener?) Her long hair, strong facial features and even her smile are clearly visible in the yellow jelly bean’s red blotches!” As the wedding is only two weeks away Wesley hopes to make a few pounds by selling the bean to a collector. He’s not a trainee accountant for nothing.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, the American illustrator Tom Tierney has created a nine inch Kate doll in her underwear with seven changes of costume and there is also a William with a couple of changes of his own.
It gets worse: phone company T-mobile hired a host of royal look-alikes to make a commercial in a London church. It is so unbelievably tacky I don’t now why I even mentioned it and how on earth did they even get permission to do it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

I was cruising (is that the right word or should it be browsing, or searching rather?) the internet the other evening looking for off-Broadway theatre companies, of which there seem to be a hundred or more, as I have a new play I want to submit. It is a comedy, I call it my Neil Simon play and laugh uproariously at my own lines, (there’s conceit for you. Oscar had nothing on me) As it is set in America, America seems the obvious route to take but I don’t have an American agent who can push it for me. It was performed as a play reading last month by students at the University of Alabama and looking at the DVD, I am more than pleased with it. The play works really well and the reading has given me a chance to tweak it here and there where necessary – no major rewrites – and to bring it up to date. When I say a new play what I should have said was, it is a play, one of two, I wrote some time ago when working in the states. If anyone wants to read the first one, GENERATIONS, it’s available from Amazon. This one, THIRD DRAWER FROM THE TOP is its title, isn’t published yet but I am sure soon will be. In the meantime here I am in a preliminary search for the right company or companies to send it to. I not only looked at off-Broadway New York but went further afield to Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. It was quite an education reading about some of the various companies as they wrote about themselves and I have never read so much pretentious bullshit in my life. Well, Lor’ bless us, that might be exaggerating a little and I suppose they have to sell themselves in a precarious business but for goodness sake their theatres are not Holy of Holies, they are not a Shinto Shrine, the heart of the Vatican or a Tibetan monastery, a Southern Baptist revivalist meeting or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre– they are theatres and in theatres one produces plays. That’s it unless you definitely need to clarify exactly what plays you produce so that you are not landed with a hundred unwanted scripts totally out of your remit: You produce classical plays or Elizabethan plays or Restoration plays or already established modern plays, or new writing. On your website you could include a few pictures, possibly some reviews so we can maybe get some idea of your work, and examples of plays produced, and that should be quite enough without having to tell the world how you are a centre of excellence and that you encourage young actors etcetera etcetera etcetera as the king of Siam might have said. That sort of thing surely goes without saying. Do young actors need to know you encourage them even if they’re no bloody good but are living on dreams that will be unfulfilled? If they have enough conviction and feel they’re worth it they will fight for themselves. Sir Henry Irving started his theatrical life with everything against him. No contacts for a start, secondly a weak and spindly body, (Laurence Olivier hated his spindly legs and padded them out) thirdly a high pitched unattractive voice and fourthly a not too prepossessing face but he persevered to become the great Shakespearian, what the Japanese would call a national treasure, and the first knight of the British theatre.
There are some lovely (possibly apocryphal) stories about the trials and tribulations of young actors hoping to make it, unfortunately so many don’t but no amount of off-Broadway encouragement is going to make the slightest bit of difference. One of the stories is about a young actor many years ago auditioning at The Old Vic and he had hardly delivered more than half a dozen lines when a voice boomed out from the auditorium, ‘Call yourself a fucking actor? Get off my stage!’
That young actor was Sir Alex Guinness and, should anyone doubt he was every inch an actor, just watch some of his movies, “Bridge On The River Kwai,” “The Lady Killers,” “Kind Hearts And Coronets.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why have I referred to the UK as the Disunited Kingdom you may very well wonder? After all I lived and worked there for the greater part of my life and I suppose I really ought to be grateful for what the country gave me. Yes, I am sure there are still many wonderful and beautiful things about it but on the whole it strikes me as being in an unholy mess and here are a few reasons. God help you if you live close to a pub and have to put up with girls (and boys but mainly girls I’m led to believe) slashed out of their minds puking and urinating over your garden wall or collapsing in the street. There have always been drunks (witness Hogarth) and drunken brawls and the country is not unique in this but they seem to be on the increase with deaths involved. Drugs and turf war between drug gangs particularly in sink estates also seems to be on the increase with knifings and shootings and unfortunately innocent bystanders getting in the way, one of the latest being a five year old girl. Wrong place, wrong time. Evidently in our old stomping ground of Hackney, East London there are more than twenty gangs. There has been over the past few years a massive influx of immigrants, many of whom speak no English and have no desire to do so or to become part of the British community. Partly the ridiculous benefits system is to blame here. Why bother to do anything when you are advised what to do in your own language, can pick up a handy cheque every week, enlarged quite considerably especially if there are kids involved? Or fiddle the books and more than likely get away with it to the tune of thousands of pounds. So go on, have more kids. Fiddle away. The state will pay.
The director general of the British Chamber of Commerce states that school leavers are unfit for work. Firms are spending millions on remedial training. Why is this? At one school teachers have walked out over the level of violence. Another headline reads, ‘Drugs, knives, and a head who believes pupils have more rights than teachers.’ And at another school the head gave out 534 detentions in three days! It would seem that too many pupils are simply not interested in being educated or being part of the system and the disruption they cause must have a deleterious effect on those who are interested. The cost of the national debt is £138,360 for every family and despite firms having to spend millions training kids who don’t want to be trained the government is sending millions of pounds to Pakistan for educational purposes. What education? A liberal one? Lessons in democracy? Or more lessens in Jihad? Are the politicians stark raving mad?
I am beginning to think lunacy has taken over. Consider this – Councils say they are desperate for money because of Government cut-backs but the Labour Council of Lambeth in South London decided to lay speed bumps and has sent out a questionnaire consisting of no fewer than five documents. It is available in large print, Braille, audiotape, and a wide range of languages (for those who do not wish to learn English of course) including Portuguese, Bengali, Yoruba and Twi! Then there is a map of the area, but document five is the real humdinger. In order that the council might be aware of everybody’s thoughts on the matter it is ‘important to ask a few questions about yourself.’ (Why?) Assuring readers that the answers will only be used in relation to the traffic calming consultation, (which they’ve already decided on anyway) it asks – How would you describe your ethnic group? (16 options). Which of the following best describes your religion? (9 options including ‘no religion,’ ‘atheist’ and ‘don’t know’)
And lastly, ‘which of the following best describes you? ‘I am heterosexual/straight;’ ‘I am gay or lesbian (homosexual);’ ‘I am bisexual;’ ‘Other;’ ‘Don’t know;’ ‘Prefer not to say.’ And what, may I ask, has any of that got to do with traffic control? And how much money do you suppose was squandered on this little exercise in Politically Correct futility?
Four in five town halls plan cutbacks on libraries and waste removal now for most people is once a fortnight with a number of different colour bins and God help you if you put the wrong thing in the wrong bin! Your wrists will be severely slapped. Here, in our little town of Vamos on Crete bins are emptied twice a week, Monday night and Friday and no restrictions as to what you can get rid of. Bins for recycling are placed in convenient places, like car parks for example.
I haven’t touched on the National Health – the foreign doctor who didn’t know about the kiss of life – the doctors who can hardly speak English - and what is happening with the law? A knife wielding thug has had his conviction and sentence squashed because, on appeal, it was said the judge was ‘too rude’ to him! Can you believe this? The judge in this case was evidently ‘rude, harsh, and sarcastic.’ What he actually said was ‘Shut your mouth and listen’; and this left the defendant, who already had a string of convictions for various offences, so shaky and traumatised he was unable to give proper evidence. Oh, dear, oh dear! Oh, dear! It simply beggars belief. Do I hear the sound of laughter in court as the members of the legal profession waltz their way to their various banks? And is it beyond reason that the criminal left the court with a twos up and a broad smile on his face?
In the meantime at least sixty schoolgirls have been groomed by Asian men, mainly Pakistanis, for sex, some as young as eleven and, until two girls were murdered, thus forcing their hand, police hid the abuse for fear of being thought racist; that is how fraught and divided the country has become. And also in the meantime, just to put things back on an even keel as it were, in a supermarket in Glasgow, a black woman took umbrage to something said to her by an elderly white lady, was immediately on her mobile phone and within minutes two policewomen and a policeman were on the scene of this apparent outrage. Three supermarket security men, the club card seller and a female worker, having traced down the old girl, she was quizzed by the police in front of other shoppers and escorted from the premises while the black lady went sweetly about her own shopping. Now you have to agree this was policing of the very highest order despite the forces also complaining bitterly about the lack of funding. PC stands for Political Correctness. It also stands for Police Constable. It also stands for…But no, I won’t say it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Greek playwright has just died at the ripe old age of 88. His name was Iokovos Kambanellis: an honorary professor at the universities of Cyprus, Athens, and Thessaloniki; in 1999 he became a member of the Academy of Athens. But in the list of 20000 or more playwrights just how well known is he outside Greece? I read in The Athens News that ‘he wrote over thirty plays, many of which have been performed abroad (?) and are being taught in theatre schools of international universities. Among his best known plays are ‘The Courtyard of Miracles,’ ‘Fairytale without a name,’ and ‘In Ibsen’s Country.’ It would seem to me that very few playwrights achieve even a modicum of recognition despite prolific and possibly highly talented work. I don’t know in this case as I have never read or seen any of his plays.
But to another writer I read about, this time in The Sunday Times: evidently a very successful writer, her last book, ‘I Feel Bad About My neck’ being an international best seller and she writes screenplays (When Harry Met Sally) and directs. Her name is Nora Ephron and her latest book ‘I Remember Nothing’; is reviewed in the Culture Section of The Times. Yet, despite all her success, she still has something to say about failure that makes quite interesting reading. A chapter in the book is called Flops. “It’s horrible to have a flop,” she writes. “It’s painful and mortifying. It’s lonely and sad. Failure they say is a growth experience; you learn from failure. I wish that were true. It seems to me the main thing you learn from a failure is that it’s entirely possible you will have another failure.” Every time she thinks about the failure of her play about Hellman – “the best thing I ever wrote”- she starts to cry. And believe me, I know exactly how she feels.
And in the same section a review of a new biography of Joan Crawford, the author offering this as an attempted balancing act against “Mommie Dearest” a real horror story written by Crawford’s daughter and a huge bestseller, also made into a film and totally destroying Crawford’s reputation. Reading this review I have a horrid feeling the author has not exactly achieved what he set out to do.
And, to end, another heart warming animal story only in this case, birds, namely the American bald eagle, once thought to be an endangered species. In January this year the weather stayed so cold in St Louis, Missouri that the eagles, unable to access fish from the bottom of the river, were cruising over houses in the hopes of a quick meal. Some kind souls decided to feed them. They gathered fish and started to feed the birds gathered on the shore. At the outset there were about half a dozen but word soon got around and soon in a photograph one could count twenty and after that goodness knows how many. Certainly no impression of being an endangered species.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blog 282

Considering the amount of cruelty there is in this world it is really heart warming when one reads about moments of compassion for animals such as the story of Anne the 54 year old elephant, arthritic in one leg, kicked, beaten and stabbed with a pitchfork and club by her groom in the circus’s winter quarters where she was chained 24 hours a day so has been transferred to the animal park, Longleat where she no longer has to suffer that sort of treatment. The secret video filmed showing her treatment has quite rightly caused an outcry and once again a call for wild animals to be banned in circuses. About time is all one can say. Poor old girl, she had to just stand there and take it and why? Why? There appeared to be absolutely no reason for it, it was pure sadism, but now a happier life I hope except that she might be lonely, there being no other elephants about. However a fund has been started to make a place for elephants in the park and is being well patronised And on a happier note three dog stories. After the tsunami in Japan two dogs were found in the wreckage, one injured, the other fiercely guarding his injured comrade. They were eventually rescued and placed in a shelter. The dog’s dedication to his fallen friend has acted as a symbol to the Japanese to stand together in the tragedy. Still in Japan another dog was seen a mile out to sea stranded on a floating rooftop and was rescued by helicopter. That is quite fantastic, that a helicopter and crew could be used to rescue a stranded animal. There were great shots of the crew making a fuss of the animal after the rescue. And this is a story my sister sent me. In 2003, police in Warwickshire opened a garden shed and found a whimpering cowering dog locked in and abandoned, dirty, malnourished and quite clearly the victim of abuse. They took the dog, a greyhound bitch to the Nuneaton Wildlife sanctuary run by a man named Geoff Grewcock and known as a haven for animals abandoned, orphaned, or in need. Geoff and his staff went to work with two aims: to restore the dog to full health and to win her trust. It took several weeks but eventually both goals were achieved. They named her Jasmine and started to think about finding her an adoptive home. Jasmine however had other ideas. No one can remember how it came about but she started welcoming all new arrivals at the sanctuary. Any lost or hurt animal, Jasmine would peer into the box or cage and if possible, deliver a welcoming lick. Puppies, foxes, badger cubs, guinea pigs and rabbits all get the same welcoming treatment. She even lets the birds perch on the bridge of her nose. Jasmine, the timid, abused, deserted, waif, became the sanctuary’s resident surrogate mother, a role for which she might have been born. The list of youngsters she has cared for comprises five fox cubs, four badger cubs, fifteen chicks, eight guinea pigs, two puppies, fifteen rabbits, a barn owl and a roe deer fawn. Eleven weeks old, the fawn named Bramble was found semi-conscious in a field. Upon arrival at the sanctuary Jasmine cuddled up to her to keep her warm and then went into full foster mother role.
Last story: this one from Viet Nam. An ancient turtle that the Vietnamese revere, reckoned to be about 100 years old, in ill health and injured has been captured at about the third attempt and removed from the Hanoi lake in which it lived so that it can be treated. Thousands of people lined the lake to watch the rescue and that is the last heart warming story for this time.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I know I said it before, a year ago and possibly even the year before that, but I say it again – April is a yellow month. It’s almost that, by its colour, it is welcoming the spring sun: beneath the olive trees and the grape vines there are carpets of yellow and helianthus, freesia, crocus, ranunculus, narcissi, forsythia and the wild sage are in bloom and a tree laden with quite spectacular furry yellow berries as big as marbles that I don’t know the name of.
On TV back in England we used to watch a documentary programme called Arena. There being nothing worth watching on Greek TV at the moment we put on an old tape and a recorded Arena programme came up. It was called ‘Caesar’s Writers’ and really it was a tribute to Sid Caesar but it was most interesting in that there were ten writers of television comedy of the fifties (and sixties?) such marvellous shows as ‘I Love Lucy’ that used to have us all laughing away and every one of these writers was Jewish. Not a goy in sight and here they were, all old men reminiscing about their younger days and still cracking jokes. Now isn’t it interesting that all those rednecks out in the boondocks who are so anti-Semitic probably watched and enjoyed the programmes these men wrote without even thinking of them being written by Jews. This is all apropos of what I wrote a few Blogs back. My computer has just informed me that “who” in this context, three lines up, is wrong and I should have written “that.” Now my mom who was a teacher taught me that a thing is a that but a human being is a who. “The cat that sat on the mat.” “The boy who stroked the cat.” Also that things are “hung” but human beings are “hanged.” Rules might change but I will never get used to writing “that” when I know it should be “who.” It’s ingrained.
Mom, teaching in a boy’s junior school, used to tell a lovely story about one day having to take a scripture lesson because a certain teacher was off ill, so she decided to combine it with her art class and told the kids they could draw or paint anything they fancied as long as it was something to do with the Bible. I’ve told this story in my autobiography but not many people would have read it so I repeat it. Anyway, it would appear that one of the boys was familiar with Millais’ painting “Christ in the house of his parents” a beautiful painting which he had tried faithfully to reproduce adding a bit of authentication as over the top he had written “J.Christ and Son, Limited, Carpenters.” Well for a ten year or however old he was it’s quite logical when you come to think of it. If Jesus’ surname was Christ then Joseph’s must have been too. I presume Mary had she been mentioned would have been Mrs. Christ.
Is it our imagination or is air travel becoming more and more unhygienic? When any of us flies back to Crete we invariably go down with something nasty like a vicious cold or a virus infection. It’s all that recycled air I suppose carrying other people’s germs. I really do hate flying. And now I learn that certain strains of virus (brought back mainly from India it seems) are totally resistant to any of the antibiotics available. Life gets more complicated and more dangerous by the minute.

Friday, April 8, 2011

More news of the great event –
Prince William has chosen to not wear a wedding ring, St James's Palace says, (Did you know a palace could talk? Miracles will never cease) but Kate, will have one made from gold from the Clogau St David's mine at Bontddu, in north Wales. You learn something everyday. I never knew there was gold in North Wales. Evidently the Queen was presented with a fresh supply of gold by the mine in 1986 and it is from this that Miss Middleton's ring will be made. William's father, the Prince of Wales, wears a wedding band, but his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, does not. Terrific piece of information that you have to admit. With just four weeks to go the Ministry of Defence has revealed how the armed forces will play a role:
• more than 1,000 members of the Army, Navy and RAF will line the route from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace
• they will be joined by a series of military bands, including those from the Royal Marines, the Grenadier Guards and the Scots Guards
• inside Westminster Abbey, eight Household Cavalry state trumpeters and eight RAF fanfare trumpeters will play
• after the service, a select few personnel - chosen because of their personal relationship with Prince William or their outstanding contributions to their service - will line the path along which the newlyweds will walk as they leave the abbey
• a guard of honour, made up of members of the Welsh Guards, will await them outside Buckingham Palace
• at 1330 British Standard Time, a fly-past involving the Battle of Britain memorial flight will take place over Buckingham Palace. Two Typhoons and two Tornados will also be involved
Gen Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, said: "It is a huge honour for those servicemen and women taking part and one that they and their families will remember with great pride. For those in the path-lining party it will be a particular and poignant honour as many will have served alongside Prince William, and I am sure they will take great delight in being among the first to see His Royal Highness alongside his new bride."
In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can buy Kate Middleton dolls and in New York evidently jewelers and hairdressers are being rushed off their feet as women queue up to acquire the Kate Middleton look. Do you mind? With the big day nearing the internet is abuzz with royal wedding stories and his Royal Highness says it is giving him sleepless nights. At a rehearsal his knees were going like the clappers. While invited guests are studying their manners guides, some of the uninvited are plotting ways to get around security and through the door on the wedding day. The entire ceremony will be available on iTunes and other digital-download sites just hours after the service, after which it will be available on CD, cassette and vinyl on 5 May. And for the wedding obsessives who just can't get enough royal news in the run up to the big day, developers have created countless royal wedding-related smartphone applications. While the US and Britain are obviously the largest markets, people are downloading the apps (trendy that, no?) from as far away as the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. Looks as though people all over the world simply can't help but keep track of how many minutes there are until Kate and William say "I do". And now go out and buy one of those sick bags ready for use.
PS: I wonder if Putin has been invited?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blog 279

Some fascinating news out of the Disunited Kingdom (why, when there is a queen on the throne, isn’t it called a Queendom I wonder? Women’s Lib should have something to say about it, no? I’m surprised Queen Victoria didn’t but then, like Elizabeth the First she probably believed she had the heart of a prince so it really didn’t matter.) But that is a digression. The wonderful piece of news I have to relate has nothing whatsoever to do with him, her, and the pending you know what. I’m surprised we haven’t learned what toothpaste they are going to use so that they have sparkling gnashers when they whisper those magic words “I do.” I suppose part of the reason why there is such a fuss and palaver is that the country hasn’t had much to smile about for a good many years and other parts of the world are in pretty bad shape and in need of something to lighten the gloom even if it is just the Cinderella story come true. Only in this case it wasn’t a glass slipper that did the trick but a see-through dress of scanty proportions.
No, the good news I have to relate, hip hip hooray and three hearty public school type or regimental cheers, is that the bacon of the good old Cumberland sausage has been saved, there’s a mix-up for you, and it can join the ranks of all those other products known by their place of origin, champagne for example and various cheeses or, in the case of Feta, a fierce battle with the usurper Denmark that Greece eventually won. Genuine Feta is Greek and only Greek. How dare the Danes call their cheese by that name? Greece seems to have problems with names; there is also the question of Macedonia still to sort out. Anyway, the Cumberland sausage, evidently enjoyed for more than five hundred years has become the 44th British food product to be given protected status. Now how could you possibly get a snippet of news more fascinating than that? Peter Gott, of the Cumberland Sausage Association, said: ‘This is a great milestone for the country and a well-deserved place in England’s food history for a truly sensational diverse food product.’ Wow is all wot I can says to that! There must be literally hundreds of different sausages in the world but none as diverse as the Cumberland, originally two feet long and in a coil, nice and peppery and eighty percent meat and three quarters of an inch thick, nothing less will do. If discovered as not being up to standard it will lose its protected status and what is more it should be produced only in Cumberland to be authentic as well as diverse. Now this creates a problem. Our butcher in Hebden Bridge made the most delicious Cumberland sausage which we used to thoroughly enjoy. His coils were a work of art, but does this mean that he can’t make them anymore or just that he has to call them a different name, like Macedonia is known by the Greeks as Fyrom?
I am simply fascinated that a singular type of sausage could have its own association. Is there a board of directors? Do they have an annual general meeting? Is there a general secretary? Are there shareholders? Are auditors employed to look after the finances? When will someone undertake the onerous task of writing an authentic history of this great British product? Soon I hope. I simply can’t wait.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Speak no ill of the dead. Is that an old saying? I believe it is. Of course there are the dead who it is impossible not to speak ill of; and if Gaddafi, or Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmajinedad or Kim Jong Il* and a few others like them were to drop dead tomorrow the world would be a cleaner place and I doubt very much if anything good will be said about them. But it would seem open house without fear of retaliation for slandering the dead when there really is no need. I am thinking in particular of a biography just out that purports to give the low-down on Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and which sounds just too horrendous for words. By Darwin Porter and Roy Moseley it is called “Damn You, Scarlett O’Hara” and is reviewed in The Mail by Roger Lewis who has, among other things, this to say of it- ‘Their book subjects the Oliviers to ridicule and contempt the like of which I have never known. It claims that Larry was a shameless and rampant coke-snorting rent boy turned predatory homosexual. Viv was a gibbering manic-depressive nympho who liked to be taken roughly by everyone, from the Oxford Boat Club to a taxi driver in the Libyan Desert.’
It so happens that Mister Lewis has himself written a biography of Oliver and in all his research and talking to Olivier’s contempories he says, ‘Nowhere did I come across evidence that Olivier leapt into bed with Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Novello, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton to name a few … so many willing partners from the Golden Age of Hollywood…Distinguished actors such as Charles Laughton are made to appear, in this book, as filthy and foul-mouthed. Details appear to be wrong – dates, addresses, London topography, cockney slang. The whole enterprise is awkward and anachronistic. So perhaps it is best to disregard the book as biography and reclassify it as an imaginative interpretation obsessed with sex. … Needless to say we get a lot on the alleged Olivier affair with Danny Kaye…’ But so what? We’ve known this for years. As time passes more people (both dead and alive) are outed one way or another and really does any of this matter? Princess Margaret, another of the dear departed, is reputed to have joined Kaye and Olivier in jolly threesomes. I’m sure they enjoyed them. ‘What Moseley and porter seem to have gambled on is that as the dead are not protected by the laws of libel, you can say what you want about them with impunity.’ But wouldn’t it be possible for Oliver’s widow. Joan Plowwright and his son to take these two smut merchants to the cleaners? ‘“Damn You Scarlett O’Hara launches a dangerous new genre which can be called bioporn. Let’s hope no one is taken by a single word of it.’
At the same time a book on the life of Mahatma Ghandi by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld has been banned in India. Banning books is a bad thing at any time and the reason for banning this one is the same old knee jerk reaction. The same knee jerk reaction evinced by a group of homophobic Greek lawyers who objected in no uncertain terms to any idea that Alexander the Great had a male lover and threatened to sue Warner Bros., when Hephaestion, Alexander’s friend from childhood and for life is a known historical fact. In this book maybe there is a suggestion that Ghandi might have had an affair with one Hermann Kallenbach, a German architect who emigrated to South Africa where he met Ghandi in 1904. Ghandi’s great grandson Tushar Ghandi said he was against banning of books and “it didn’t matter whether Mahatma Ghandi was straight, gay or bisexual, he would still be the man who led India to freedom.”
One of Ghandi’s letters reads, “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.”
The awful thing is the book has been banned when it has not yet been published in India and has not even been read by those doing the banning but who have only read newspaper reports. Sad isn’t it?

*All heterosexual you will note.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Golly gosh, the wonderment continues unabated and one is completely gobsmacked by it all. We have just been privileged to take a peep into the kitchens at Buck House where the wedding breakfast will be prepared. I must say the kitchens are vast, I guess they need to be for state banquets etcetera, and I lost count of the number of cooks mucking about, all in their white duds each doing their own thing. The one dishing up a hundred pounds of green peas into stainless steel containers got some good close-ups. His mum’s probably very proud of him. ‘Here, Masie, did you see our Ken on the telly last night?’ Didn’t notice any pepper being thrown about though. How does one get to be a cook in a royal establishment I wonder? Out of the kitchens there were shots of crystal glasses being lined up in a banqueting room, a ruler taken to each one that obviously is not allowed to be a fraction out of position. I have never been anti-royalist but this bloody wedding might very well drive me to it. Maybe it’s time to call it a day. Maybe kingship really has become outmoded. After all a number of other countries have successfully got rid of theirs even if their princes and princelings and other bits and pieces of royal flotsam and jetsam still mooch about using their meaningless titles. But if William was not to be king what would he do I wonder? Work in the city most probably and earn enormous bonuses. Also one shudders to think who might become head of state when one thinks of what other countries at various times have elected as their leader. Not that that would matter to me. I’m too old even to worry about the Muslim takeover of the world and the founding of Sharia law in what was once Christian countries, never mind whether or not British royalty is going to survive the decade.
Now I have received an e-mail from American friends Tom Hendricks and Harrison Paris to say that my last Blog was a repeat so, checking up on it, it was indeed! Now how on earth did that happen? Senility with the merry passage of time I guess and I can’t tell you how fast it’s travelling. When I write one of these small gems (Tee hee hee!), I head it with Blog and number and, when it is posted, I delete the heading so I know it has gone. This one is Blog 277 so 276 must have been repeated because I forgot to delete the heading and thought it hadn’t gone out. Q.E.D. I shall make sure my mind stays focused in future; what mind I have left that is what with losing 6000 cells a day? Is that right? My apologies to readers for the cock-up. The weird thing is these two numbers occurred that night in one of those vivid but crazy mixed-up dreams one has; this one involving truckers on a highway, a violent rugby match and state troopers firing rifles from roof tops. There were other elements too but forgotten. Don’t ask me what the significance of all that was.
The weather yesterday went completely bonkers. We had what in South Africa we used to call a monkey’s wedding; that is rain and sun simultaneously. We had a thunderstorm and we had the most violent fifteen minutes of hail that I thought was going to come right through the roof. Guess there won’t be much fruit this year. Even without my very expensive hearing aid the sound was deafening if that is not a contradiction. I only mention the fact that my hearing aid was very expensive because that is what I am always told when I refuse to wear it.