Sunday, July 31, 2011

I said fairly recently, probably more than once, that I couldn’t understand why so many Americans are being reluctant to endorse a more comprehensive health care programme. Especially when I think of how the British, European and Greek health services have been lifesavers for us recently. Perhaps an article in one of last week’s newspapers gives the answer. In the UK the figures for Benefit payments 2010/2011 have amounted to £8.7 billion! What for? Well, the answer doesn’t just border on farce, it IS farce. Back Pain took £720million. Okay so a bad back can be extremely painful although it is one of those things so difficult to diagnose that skivers can too easily get away with it.

Unspecified pain took £254.3million, severe stress £215million (don’t we all suffer from stress at times?) Sleep disorders £3.8million. But now comes the truly hilarious bit – alcoholism, drug abuse, malaise and fatigue, dizziness, headaches, migraines, haemorrhoids take up the rest.

“Gee, doctor, I do feel so unwell today. I haven’t had a drink. I’m suffering real fatigue, I’m dizzy, I’ve got such a headache and my farmer Giles are plying up something awful. You wouldn’t credit it.”

It’s no wonder the pharmaceutical companies are rolling in profit.

The Social Security and benefits system is definitely a two-edged sword. A number of school headmasters have said that many children at the age of five arrive at school not knowing their name, do not even know they have a name, and it is all down to poor parenting. Other than shouting at them these parents evidently have no communication with their offspring. One woman said of her son ‘He doesn’t speak to me so I don’t speak to him.’ So much for happy families. Some children don’t know what to do with a crayon other than stab it at someone. One head states the damage is done by the age of three and white working-class children are most affected. Government figures show almost twenty percent of children aged five – more than a hundred thousand – fail to meet the expected level of speech for their age. Part of this is put down to the benefit culture where parents don’t work, have maybe never worked, and have no intention of working as long as they can live comfortably on the amount of money the system is prepared to dole out. All the hot air from the government about getting people back to work is just that –hot air.

So apart from lacking in basic skills for a five year old, what else could possibly be wrong with these kids? Overall statistics for 2009/2010 show the level of violence in primary schools is high with children aged four and under suspended 1210 times and expelled 20 times.

Then what happens when these kids get older? Almost 900 children are suspended from school every day for physically attacking or verbally abusing teachers and classmates.

And after that? These kids who have never known a stable and loving home, a safe environment, or discipline of any kind, take to the gangs and the stabbing crayon becomes a stabbing knife, they are much too quick to use and boast about.

Who would be a teacher?

Or like 16 year old Joshua Davies who for a dare took his girl-friend into the woods and, having failed in his attempt to strangle her, killed her by hitting her repeatedly over the head with a rock. He was then able to boast about it to his “friends” on Facebook, twitter, or what have you. What a larf hey? And you don’t want to tell me the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

Friday, July 29, 2011

When I read American publications and I’ve read quite a few recently, Karen Slaughter for example, no matter how good the writing might be I am always brought up short by American idiosyncrasies in the use of the English language. No that’s not really fair, American is American and why should it be any different to how it has evolved? The way language is being mauled about now by the use of textspeak what does it matter? But like I say it always does bring me up short: for example dove being the past tense of dive; skud being the past tense of skid, spit fit and shit having no past tense at all.

It reminds me of when I was working in Virginia and one of the faculty asked me if I would attend the annual dinner of his fraternity, big occasion, and give the after dinner speech. I agreed and later discovered to my horror that this particular fraternity was one of eggheads: more terminal degrees than I’ve had hot dinners; masters and doctors of this, that, and the other. The crème de la crème of academe. I am here to tell you I nearly shit myself but, having agreed to do it, I could hardly chicken out, fear and trepidation notwithstanding. So I decided that, as words have always been so important in my life I would spend half an hour or however long it took to discuss the differences between American and English English, hopefully with lashings of humour. It went down a treat. Much relief on the part of yours truly. I spit it out in the most friendly fashion. The dinner was very good too.

I must say working at James Madison was a really happy experience. Friends made, and friends kept as I am still in touch with a number twenty seven years later. Hard to think that some of my students are now in their late forties, maybe even early fifties and that an eight years old in the house where I lodged is now a Major in the US Air Force and with a wife expecting their first child. Tempus certainly does fuget. Memento mori.

A short Blog today. I am in the middle of writing something I’ve wanted to work on for a few years and evidently Madam Muse being currently on hand I don’t want her to suddenly take umbrage and do a disappearing act. You all have a good day now. In Greece you can even say have a good half day and, on the first of the month you greet people with ‘good month.’ Talking of language I do regret that I have never in fourteen years learnt to speak Greek with any fluency. Shame shame shame I say.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

There is an old joke about a man who is into sadism, necrophilia and bestiality who sees his psychiatrist and asks, “Am I flogging a dead horse?” I sometimes get the feeling that, although I am not into any of these little peccadilloes, I am nevertheless flogging a dead horse because I am back once more onto that curse of mankind - religion. Maybe my previous remarks, jocular though they may have been, about fundamentalist Christians and Muslim fanatics helping to lesson the world population wasn’t so far off the mark as the world grows ever more mad. (Could it all be down to that other curse of the modern world, the mobile phone addling their brains do you think?) We now have to add some orthodox Jews to the list of the religious bloodthirsty.

But first the massacre in Oslo, in one of the most peaceful countries in the world. ‘The Sun’ puts it down to Al Qaeda. ‘The Sun’ probably puts everything down to Al Qaeda. Others blame Neo-Nazis (another insane lot) the man himself who planted the devastating bomb and then went on a shooting spree killing and wounding so many youngsters enjoying themselves on a vacation island, describes himself as ‘a fundamentalist Christian’! Judging from his photograph he was when younger, blonde, blue-eyed and extraordinary handsome, typically Aryan so maybe he is a neo-Nazi Christian or a Christian neo-Nazi. Whatever he is, he has killed a good number of people, nearly a hundred. He describes his action as “gruesome but necessary.” He said he would explain his actions in court. That should be interesting except there is a call for his rabid views not to be made public.

But on to the Jewish story. Big headline – “King’s Torah splits Israel’s religious and secular Jews.” Rabbis Dov Lior and Yacob Yousef have been detained for questioning and hundreds of right-wingers have demonstrated outside Israel’s Supreme Court over the detention. The Rabbis had endorsed a highly controversial book, The King’s Torah – written by two settler rabbis justifying in certain circumstances the killing of non-Jews including those not involved in violence. A chapter entitled “Murder of non-Jews in time of war” has been widely quoted in the Israeli media. It states “you can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save Jewish lives.” No bones about that. There seems no shame in the use of the word murder. At one point it even suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat. How you ascertain that I have no idea. But it seems Jehovah is still up to his old tricks or, maybe as a Christian, you would put it all down to the devil. Will the Palestine question ever be solved while these right-wing religious maniacs in Israel spew forth their unquestioning beliefs? Somehow I very much doubt it even though everyone knows more blood will have to flow.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why is every new book that comes out advertised and labelled on its cover as “The Number One best Seller”? They can’t all be the number one best sellers. Every paperback I’ve read recently has been labelled the number one best seller and what brought this to mind is that I noticed a WHSmith book of the week advertisement in The Sunday Times, “One day in May” by Catherine Alliott the number one best seller but going at half price. Why is it going at half price, one is tempted to ask, if it’s the number one best seller? I suppose going at half price is better than the old-fashioned remainder table (does that still exist with today’s print on demand?) but no one; bookseller, publisher, or author can get very much out of £3.99, or can they? You’ve really got it made as a number one bestseller when your name is above and larger than the title of your book. I notice Miss Alliott hasn’t got to that stage yet.

Also an interesting article on modern playwrights and London’s West End. ‘You know you’re getting on when the playwrights start looking young.’ I suppose that’s a variation on all the policemen looking sixteen and in this case, not the policemen, the playwrights, are all women. Heading the list is one Ella Hickson, described as shining the brightest and she is only 26. She is followed by seven others all in their twenties or thirties except for the youngest who was nineteen when her first play was produced at The Royal Court. Am I envious? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. On the other hand it’s good to see some original work is being produced as opposed to nothing but revivals and musicals, (I see South Pacific has been back, both a musical and a revival) but I can’t help thinking of Shelagh Delaney whose first play “A Taste of Honey” was produced by Joan Littlewood at Stratford East when the lass was nineteen years old and a very good play it was of its time. She originally wrote it as a novel but says when she saw a production of Terence Rattigan’s “Variations on a Theme” which she considered bland and trivial she thought she could do better and decided to turn her novel into a play.

Has Miss Delaney written anything else for the theatre? I can’t see that she has although she is credited with several television plays and a collection of sort stories.

As for Mister Rattigan who was often pooh-poohed in his lifetime, he is having an Indian summer with a number of his plays being revived both in London and the provinces and receiving excellent notices. I wonder how many of our eight young ladies will still be writing for the theatre in their fifties and beyond or will some of them turn out to be merely one play playwrights? Whatever, all strength to the respective elbows. To be so successful so young? I’m not sure it is such a good thing. But if success never comes that is terrible!

My first stage play “Oh Brother” was produced in Ipswich when I was in my twenties but it never went any further. The second, “Early One Morning” when I was in my thirties and in no uncertain manner shot down in flames by the London critics as was a later play, “The 88” at the Old Vic in 1979. There have been a dozen or so more productions but nothing that has caught fire. The artist Modigliani gave away paintings in exchange for a meal and the moment he was dead they couldn’t be sold off fast enough. Unlike Rattigan, who did have some success in his life, like Modigliani someone might discover my plays when I am dead. Unfortunately I won’t be around to see it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It would appear I owe Mister Pitt and Miss Jolie an apology. I am informed their children are adopted so sorry for the mistake you guys. You all have a good day now.

I am thinking of writing a letter to The Athens News. The Athens news is the only paper that has ever published my letters. The last couple were about vegetarianism versus carnivores like me. My second letter on the subject was written only in response to the veggie’s first onslaught but, after his second that had degenerated into a mainly personal attack I didn’t think the argument worth pursuing against someone so aerated. I think I have mentioned this little episode before but there you are, got to the point more than 550 Blogs on when I can’t help repeating myself. It makes me wonder how someone can write seventy novels and not repeat him/herself. And talking of novels, I have just reread Lynda La Plante’s “Above Suspicion” and, as Chris was complaining that he had nothing to read I thought he would enjoy it too and passed it on. And yes, he was enjoying it until he came to a big booboo which made him pause and gave food for thought. Was there any point reading further if no one, writer, ghost maybe, publisher, or editor let it through? Despite my many visits to The Royal opera House, Covent Garden I hadn’t picked up on it but Chris did immediately. In the book it is mentioned that they went to the ROH and sat in the dress circle, also that they walked up the aisle. There is no dress circle at the Royal Opera House. Presumably what was meant was the grand tier, and there is no aisle to walk up as the grand tier consists of only two rows of seats.

It shows you how careful you have to be. Someone somewhere will pick up your mistakes. For example in the last Thornton King book, “The Cinelli Vases” I use only two words of German and a German reader and correspondent has pointed out that (a) the first word is misspelt and (b) the second word is terribly old-fashioned and not used much anymore, if at all. Slap wrists! I could have checked but didn’t think to do so. They were German words I learnt fifty years ago or more.

But to the subject of the latest letter, at least the one I am considering sending to The Athens News and, more than likely, I have written about this before as well so you will just have to forgive me. It is something that really gets up my nose. Most graffiti is sheer vandalism and I really loathe it but what I loathe most of all is that along the ethnic highway from Heraklion passed Xania there is hardly a road sign large or small that hasn’t been disfigured, in some cases virtually obscured by mindless graffiti. What for example does the figure 13 represent? It appears over and over again and must means something to the pea brains that splash it everywhere in heavy black paint. But what does it represent? A football team? A criminal gang? An anarchist cell? Who rightly knows? I just know that it really is mindless vandalism of the worst kind. These signs to be cleaned up or replaced, especially the giant ones, would cost a fortune and would no doubt not last very long before receiving the same treatment. How come the perpetrators never seem to get caught? Do they go out at four in the morning just in order to do this? It shows a complete lack of respect and I often wonder what visitors to our beautiful island must think on seeing it. Not very highly I’m sure.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another welcome batch of Sunday Times Culture mags courtesy of the Maffins of Huddersfield. Interesting, reading a film review made me wonder again if the “there are only eight basic plots in the world” is true. Maybe one day I will try and list them or would that be a waste of time? The review is of a film called ‘Wake Wood.’ You just know it’s going to be a horror whenever “wood” is in the title, woods are dark magical eerie places, but it’s the basic idea that caught my imagination because it is all about a couple bringing their child back from the dead. How many time has this basic plot been exploited I wonder? I can think of at least two though I am sure there must be more. The first I know of is that little one-act play “The Monkey’s Paw” which I first came across when it was produced at my high school. The second is Steven King’s “Pet Semantary."

When I give my acting workshop to the local amateurs later this year I have no doubt I will mention those moments in the theatre that have remained vividly in the mind all these years: King Lear at the old King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, Donald Wolfitt’s entrance with the dead Cordelia in his arms, also in Hammersmith at the old Lyric Theatre the death of Edward 11 in Marlowe’s play, Jocasta’s suicide in the Peter Brooke production of Oedipus at The Old Vic. All these in the fifties. On a more jocular side, Don Pasquale, a production in Denmark when Pasquale and Doctor Malatesta are having a right old go at each other in a duet watched by a manservant. The entire theatre was in stitches and I don’t think I have ever laughed so much and at what? Not at the two principal figures working their guts off downstage right and left but at the manservant upstage centre, and what was he doing? Nothing overt, merely listening to the argument and completely stealing the scene. I’ve wondered where, as a director I would place him to lessen his impact. Obviously upstage centre was wrong if the audience were meant to concentrate on the two principals downstage. I haven’t come to any conclusion but what a happy memory. Now I can add another unforgettable performance, not in the theatre this time but on television. I think I might have mentioned it before but it bears mentioning a second time. The performance I refer to was by the actress Gioulika Stafida, in the series based on Victoria Hislop’s book “The Island.” Not only is Gioulika the most beautiful women (the camera adores her) but an actress par excellence. Her performance was extraordinary. From the moment she discovers the sore on her leg and realises just before her wedding that she has contracted leprosy and she must go to the island, she had me blubbing like a baby. Oh, come on Glyn, this is television for God’s sake. Maybe so, maybe so, but unforgettable nevertheless. The whole series is unforgettable, one of the best things I have ever seen on the box, riveting even though one’s Greek is so limited.

The reason I mention this is that last week we went into Xania to a comprehensive exhibition about the series. Douglas was allowed out of hospital for the evening - he wasn’t going to miss it for the world – and it was worth attending with photographs, costumes, designs, models, prosthetics etcetera and what is more I got to meet the divine Gioulika who is as beautiful in the flesh (as it were) as she is on screen only I was surprised to find her smaller, more slender, waiflike even, as on screen she appears much more solid.

Her personality is delightful and bubbling and, in between talking to us, she was quite happy to have her photograph taken innumerable times by fans. She informed me that she is going into The National Theatre in Athens so, if ever I make it there, that will be first port of call.

How I would love to see her in one of great roles for women in classical plays: Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Antigone, Medea, Phaedra, Electra, Iphigenia, though maybe she is a bit young for some of these. Even so I think she would be brilliant. You can tell, can you not she has completely stolen my heart?

Happy birthday Ceri Wiercx.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

So the population of the UK is now more than sixty-two and a half million. How many more can that tiny island accommodate? In Australia the government is giving financial incentives to anyone prepared to leave Sydney and go live in the country.

Does the world really have twenty years left? The population explosion is a hellava lot more frightening than so-called global warming. In fact global warming could be put down to the population explosion; all those bodies breathing. Perhaps, if nature doesn’t take her course with ever more violence – earthquakes, mud slides, floods, tsunami’s, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etcetera, the Christian fundamentalists and the Islamists have been put among us to, in the name of god of course, help reduce the population with more bombs, decapitations and the cutting of throats; there’s a thought. Perhaps the intelligent design lot can intelligently get us out of this mess. Sorry to sound so pessimistic today. None of this really concerns me. It’s a real shame though that people in the public eye like Brad Pitt (six children) and the Beckhams (four children) and others haven’t set an example in restricting their breeding because what other problems are caused by there being too many people on the planet? Have they ever stopped for a moment to wonder what their children’s futures will be? And cannot Popey boy see what damage his church creates in the banning of contraception? I should imagine heaven is getting as full as earth or soon will be at this rate.

A student in his final year at university fully expecting to get good results when he takes his exams has much lower expectations for his future prospects. Speaking at his campus in West London, he acknowledges that his chances of landing a job when he leaves university are very slim. "There will be 200 of us leaving at the same time," he says, "and we will all be chasing after the few positions that might be available. "Looking for a job is a plight all too familiar to millions of young people around the world. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), youth unemployment has been rising dramatically and the trend is set to continue. It is a global phenomenon, with many countries experiencing youth unemployment figures in the region of 17-25%. In countries such as Yemen it is even worse, with youth unemployment figures estimated to be closer to 40%. Youth unemployment has been one of the underlying causes behind the political upheaval across North Africa, which began in the middle of December.

"Youth unemployment is a serious problem which governments must urgently tackle," says Glenda Quintini, an economist with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is a problem the OECD has flagged up for several years, one it feels will remain for many more years, not least as it was exacerbated by the financial crisis. As governments slash budgets in the aftermath of the financial crisis, about 25 million people across the European Union (EU) have been made jobless. Global prospects for jobs are bleak in these difficult times, particularly for the next generation of workers - those who are leaving education now. Many young people think their education was a waste of time if they cannot find work afterwards

There is the belief that a bachelor degree is now not enough, that a masters degree is needed, then an internship to understand the company, and then there might, just might be an offer of a job. Whatever the situation, there are still more students globally than there are jobs. And it can only get worse.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Which of these would you suppose constituted the greatest danger – Christian fundamentalists or Islamic fanatics? Toss a coin why don’t you? The reason for my asking this question is that, when I wrote about Michele Bachmann in a previous Blog, this comment was posted from a reader in America –

“The current Republican Party is not the Reagan Republican Party. It has been taken over by a cult known as the "Evangelical Christians." Yes, a cult. America's economy may go down the drain, we may be attacked by terrorists, we may have a second class educational system, we may have high unemployment, but BY GOD, WE'LL HAVE NO MORE ABORTIONS.
That is the mindset of the Evangelical Christian Politician. Who are these cultists in America:
Bachmann, Palin, Santorium, Pawlenty, Perry.... God help us all.”

And the reason I was reminded of this? Well…

“Did the election of Barack Obama as US president boost the growth of right-wing and so-called "hate groups"? (For right wing read Christian, not even WASP but something much darker. How they even consider themselves to be followers of Christ is anybody’s guess.

In January, in the little close-knit town of Spokane in Washington where strangers are greeted with a friendly “Good Morning” there was an attempted bombing of a civil rights march. Kevin Harpham, an army veteran with an interest in neo-Nazi groups left a rucksack filled with explosives and shrapnel and, even more horrifying, it was covered in rat poison to stop blood from clotting.

Ozzie Knezovich, Spokane’s sheriff is quoted as saying, “We live in a different world now – hate sees to be a widespread phenomenon.” The difficult truth for Washington State, for neighbouring Idaho and for all of the US, is that hate groups - anti-black, anti-Jew, neo-Nazi - are on the rise again. And nearly everyone, including members of those groups, agrees that the election of Barack Obama has been a catalyst for the increase in support.

"I wouldn't say it surprises me," says Spokane's mayor Mary Verner, "though it is alarming to me. We are seeing resurgence in hate groups because we are seeing democratic activity and empowered citizens who are not Anglo-Saxon Protestants." And it is ordinary citizens - and their children - who are at the receiving end of hate group activity in Washington and Idaho.

Rachel Dolezal, who teaches art and African-American studies, has been repeatedly harassed since word got out about what she taught. Her homes - she has moved several times - have been broken into. Nooses have been left for her, and a swastika was left on the door of her workplace.

"It seems things were kind of hush and sanitized and cleaned up, or something, and then Barack Obama just brought things to the surface that were already existent within people."

In the city of Coeur d'Alene, northern Idaho, Jerald O’Brian sits on his porch, flanked by the flags of the Aryan Nations group And the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian (!)

Mr. O'Brien insists he does not condone or encourage any acts of violence. He calls Jews "the children of Satan". He accuses Barack Obama of being Jewish - he is not - and of not being a US citizen - he is. But he has cause to thank the president. "The day after Barack Obama's election," he says, "my phone would not stop ringing. It was up to four or five a day asking for education(?) and information." Some will dismiss men such as Jerald O'Brien, and groups such as Aryan Nations, as "wackos" and "nut-jobs" but would you not say there is cause for the gravest concern here?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Have just finished reading ‘Damn You, Scarlet O’Hara.’ This is certainly no ordinary biography. Warts and all simply aren’t in it. Never has there been such an exposé. When I read a revue of this book a while back (which made me request it as a birthday gift) the reviewer was extremely snide about the authenticity of the material, almost screaming not true not true not true! But now, having read it, it seems to me the two authors really have done their homework and there is nothing made up. Like I said, what an exposé! Not only of the Oliviers but many of the elite in Hollywood’s star-studded firmament. We always knew about Hollywood and the film world, remember Fatty Arbuckle? ( And see ‘Hollywood Babylon’) but it seems, apart from ambition, blatant egotism, bitchiness, back-stabbing and disloyalty, sex and having affairs was the raison d’etre for living: homosexuality, lesbianism, bi-sexuality, heterosexuality, ménage è trois, orgies – name it. They were, still are I presume, at it like bunny rabbits. I’m amazed, considering what stamina is required work wise, they had any left for actual filming or, when filming, any stamina for sex though the stamina must have been there considering the number of episodes that went on between takes in dressing rooms.

Apart from Olivier’s numerous affairs with both sexes, some of which did embody actual love i.e. his long affaire with Danny Kaye, the red hot nympho of them all was the foul mouthed Miss Scarlet herself. She simply could not get enough and sometimes it would seem from any source when no lover of the moment was around to satisfy her craving.

I originally thought the title of the book was thought up as a put down by the authors but it was in fact something Vivien Leigh herself said. From the moment she read ‘Gone With The Wind’ she set her heart on the part of Scarlet O’Hara. So much so that she even went as far as to tell everybody she was already cast although at the time numerous actresses were being suggested and still being tested and any number of them were after it just as fiercely as Miss Leigh so she was nowhere near attaining her ambition. But eventually, as we know, she did get the part, much to everyone’s amazement and the arousal of any number of green-eyed monsters, and it was a burden she carried with her for the rest of her life, hence the ‘damn you.’

In Sondheim’s wonderful musical ‘Into The Woods,’ there is a lyric, part of which goes

‘Careful the wish you make,

Wishes are children.

Careful the path they take-

Wishes come true,

Not free.’

So true, so true.

In Olivier’s autobiography ‘Confessions of an actor’ confession seems to be the last thing on his mind. Never was there a biography so anodyne, so censored, either by himself or by his publishers, I think probably the latter. After all the book was written when being open about his sexuality could have left his reputation in tatters and affected the book’s sales. He goes as far as to say same sex affaires are okay by him but, as far as he was concerned, there was only one man in his life with whom he could have contemplated it. Did he mean Danny Kaye? If so what happened to Glen Byam Shaw, Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Peter Finch, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and others too numerous to mention? No wonder he steered clear of it and ‘confessions’ was a misnomer if ever there was one.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A while back Douglas bought from friends a collection of records, 52 discs in all. It is called ‘The Classical Mood’ and I suppose it is a bit like the old Reader’s Digest special collections only much better, well more comprehensive anyway. So it should be considering the size of it. What made me start on this is that at the moment he is playing the disc headed ‘Shades of Autumn. Each disc has a definite theme.’ Among the pieces on this one is ‘Autumn’ by Cecile Chaminade and what nostalgia that has caused, evoking such memories of childhood. Later memories come to mind by something like the Elgar ‘Cello Concerto’ which is also on this particular disc. Noel Coward said ‘How potent cheap music is,’ but I think where music is concerned potency applies to more than just cheap. If I listen to Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’ I am truly enraptured. And every time I hear the final moments of Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ I blub like a baby. The word "bohemian" is bandied about these days, applied to everyone from Pete Doherty to Kate Moss, but what exactly is a bohemian? Bohemian was originally a term with pejorative undertones given to Roma gypsies, commonly believed by the French to have originated in Bohemia in central Europe. But the connotation rapidly became a romantic one. From its birth in Paris in the 1850s, and the huge success of Murgier's play ‘Scenes de la vie de Boheme,’ the ethic spread rapidly. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition mentions someone "especially an artist, literary man, or actor, who leads a free, vagabond, or irregular life, not being particular as to the society he frequents, and despising conventionalities generally.".

Although its roots where in France, the bohemian idea transferred easily to other countries and cultures. In Britain, for example, the pre-Raphaelite and the aesthetic movements of the 19th Century imbued bohemianism with a dangerous, dashing, social cachet, and they were followed by the Bloomsbury group.

In America poets and writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, and Paul Bowles led their own offshoot. And the playwright Arthur Miller's prose conjures the musty essence of that temple of American bohemia, Manhattan's Chelsea Hotel, “where there are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and no shame.” Laren Stover, author of ‘Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge,’ has identified five archetypes: nouveau, gypsy, beat, Zen and dandy. “Bohemians might look for work as nude models,” she suggests, “will be banned from fancy restaurants for use of patchouli and will have a bookcase containing all the Romantics, Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums and erotica by Anais Nin. And in the pantry there are obscure grains from South America, medieval spices and a miniature Krishna. Your diet may be considered extreme: macrobiotic, vegan, or a real nose-to-tailer who knows 100 ways to cook and sauté a snout. And nothing you wear was inspired by a fashion magazine."

I hate to bring up this subject yet again but sometimes one truly despairs of the ignorance of people in high places. India's health minister has sparked a furious row over comments in which he described homosexuality as a "disease". Not only a disease but one that comes from other countries. In other words it was totally unknown in India before it was imported! Ghulam Nabi Azad told a conference on HIV/Aids that gay sex was "unnatural". Later he said he had been misquoted. One leading Aids campaigner said the minister was "living on another planet." If not on another planet then I suggest at least back in the nineteenth century. Gay sex was decriminalised in India in 2009 but anti-homosexual discrimination remains widespread. The court ruling overturned a 148-year-old colonial law which described a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence".

Anand Grover, the United Nations special rapporteur on health, criticised Mr. Azad's comments. "It's unfortunate, regrettable and totally unacceptable that a minister of his stature... is still insensitive to such a vulnerable group," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted him as saying. Anjali Gopalan, who heads leading HIV/Aids campaign group the Naz Foundation, said she was "horrified" by the minister's remarks. "He was addressing officials from across the country and this was a golden opportunity to deal with discrimination. Instead he let it slip through his fingers. I'm hoping it will not put us back another 10 years. My blood pressure must have gone through the roof. I'm so angry I can't put it into words. These guys shouldn't be in these positions."

Gay rights activist Mohnish Kabir Malhotra said M. Azad should "apologise immediately" for his comments. "Homosexuality is very much a part of nature and it even finds references in religious texts. To call it unnatural is absurd," Malhotra told the AFP news agency.

I hope I never have to mention this subject again though that might be wishful thinking.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer is really here and, apart from the heat and the mosquitoes, the cicadas are in full cry. They don’t half make a racket though, after a while, it seems you only hear them intermittently. They are well camouflaged being a sort of mucky brown and not as pretty as the ones I remember in South Africa which were a sort of translucent green with a little red ruby on their heads. Though the noise they make is quite shrill it is evidently nothing like the decibels made by some tiny bug that makes a noise equivalent evidently to sitting in the front row of an auditorium listening to a symphony orchestra at full blast. And how does it do this? It does it by rubbing its penis against its stomach. Oh, boy! Phew! And other expressions of amazement. Isn’t nature weird? It is evidently a mating signal but why it doesn’t bring the creature on to a climax before it gets anywhere near actually mating is a mystery. ‘I’ll have that one’ she says, ‘his penis makes a much louder noise than that other one.’

'When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.' It might seem rather a soppy poem but it has led to animal heaven being called ‘Rainbow Bridge’ and is obviously meant to bring comfort to those who grieve for a lost pet. Remember Casey Jones? And there have been many since then. The British are reputed to be slightly repressed when it comes to the death of a family member or a close friend but in a nation of animal lovers expression of grief at the loss of a pet can sometimes cause raised eyebrows, but how can one not grieve at the death of a loving companion that has been with one for many years or even unfortunately too short a time? Every one different in nature and characteristics and the funny little ways one tends to remember. Of course there have to be those who go overboard and grieve to an exorbitant extent. One is reminded, fiction though it might be, of the ape’s death in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ Once an animal is dead, no matter how much you have loved it, is it really necessary to spend a small fortune on burial with lavish coffin and expensive cemetery plot? Our first cat is buried in the garden in Richmond Road. Our first dog, Natalie (oh how I grieved over her death) is buried in the garden at Farleigh Road and, here, in Crete, there are quite a few animal graves in the garden. I guess the people who have their animals buried in luxury are the ones who decorate their Poodles with jewellery and keep the pet shops going with all sorts of expensive luxurious paraphernalia. It is a pity that animals here in Greece are not treated too kindly but it seems attitudes are changing and I don’t think that is wishful thinking. Unfortunately the Cretans believe it is unnatural to spay an animal which leads unfortunately to a great many stray cats and dogs. Sadly one can’t rescue them all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Wilton’s Music Hall – still under threat of demolition - can it be saved? There have been articles in various publications but will they have had any effect? For example in the Sunday Telegraph - “The trouble with Wilton’s Music Hall is not enough people get to see it. If they did there would be a national outcry at the news that it faces demolition …… What’s needed now is a plutocrat. Sir Philip Green could have restored Wilton’s four times over with the money he is said to have spent on his 55th birthday party. I don’t begrudge him his fun; all I am saying is, I know a great little place for his next party.”

And in the Sunday Times – “A great shame that the beautiful Wilton’s, in East London, the world’s oldest surviving music hall is threatened with demolition. A second application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £2.5million has been rejected. Opened more than a 150 years ago, the venue has had some great evenings of music and drama in recent times …… some wealthy actors, such as Helen Mirren and Hugh Grant, who have happily gone to awareness events at Wilton’s can dip their hands deeper into their purses or pockets.”

And in The Telegraph –“Here’s an urgent SOS to any wealthy philanthropists out there who might be able to step in and save the semi-derelict Wilton’s Music Hall in east London. It now stages regular performances in its splendid if dilapidated auditorium and is the most magical theatre space in London …… 40 percent of the building is now so structurally unsound that it is not open to the public. In all £3.8million is required to rescue Wilton’s which first opened in 1859 and is the oldest surviving music hall in the world. It was saved from the wrecker’s ball after a campaign led by John Betjeman in the 1960’s and having once again re-established itself as a splendid working theatre it would be wretched to see it go under now. ‘The building cannot wait any longer: we need to take action and raise the money now,’ says Wilton’s director Frances Mayhew. ‘If we do nothing, by autumn this year we would be closed down.’”

To find out more or make a contribution to the appeal, call 020 7702 9555, or go to

Now Sir Philip Green, Helen Mirren and Hugh Grant have been mentioned but what about those who have become billionaires through show business? I refer in particular to people like Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paul McCartney. How about Danielle Radcliffe who is reported to be worth £54million? Will they put their hands in their pockets or will they, despite their wealth, like Lord Nelson turn a blind eye? I have the distinct feeling it will be the latter and, if Wilton’s is to be saved it will be up to the hoi polloi to put their pennies in the plate.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

There is an old saying, ‘man proposes, God disposes.’ I have recently been thinking about ‘if ‘and ‘what if’ and it has nothing to do with Mister Kipling’s poem. I reckon everybody must have moments of if and what if, not necessarily with regrets but more out of curiosity. How different would one’s life have been if or what if? For example what if my father hadn’t had his heart attack when he did and we hadn’t sold the farm, Blue Hills? Would I have never left it? Would I have married Monifay which at nineteen going on twenty was very much on the cards and now be a grandfather as well as a great uncle? When I visited South Africa in 1973 I met Monifay again, happily married to a man named John and with three kids. I was invited to dinner in their house and fell in love with the youngest who had a gravely voice like the actress June Allyson who I always had a thing about, especially as she had eyes like shining pissholes in the snow which always brings me on. I have to admit sitting at that table I did feel for a moment quite a pang of jealousy.

What if I hadn’t decided to make the theatre my career? After all there were previous ambitions, one of which was to be a vet. This was brought about by the death of my dog Casey (Casey Jones?) from distemper which as a child left me ragged with grief. But a vet I was obviously never meant to be. What if I hadn’t flunked university and had gone on to obtain degrees? There’s no answer to that one. Would I have become a school master? Who knows?

What if I hadn’t seen in a Johannesburg newspaper the article about Bud Flanagan Junior and his girl friend hitching to England and decided on the spur of the moment to join them? What if, stranded penniless in Dar Es Salaam, I had never met a good Samaritan; the Dutch school teacher who bailed me out and allowed me to continue my journey to Mombassa. What if working on the farm at Njoro I was wounded or killed by the Mau Mau? Well that would most certainly have been the end of my trip would it not? What if I hadn’t finally managed to get that steward’s job on a ship, the Braemar Castle, enabling me to complete my journey and finally arrive at King George’s docks in London two days after my 22nd birthday? I joined the Seaman’s Union as a precaution in case I needed to take another ship somewhere, anywhere, but of course I never used my book again. I still have it just as I still have a photograph of Monifay and a snapshot of Blue Hills.

What if I hadn’t gone down to the Queen’s theatre in Essex where I met Chris who has played such an important part in my life for fifty one years?

What if, when we were selling the house in Richmond Road, we had been able to buy Shepherd House in Marden, Kent, a most beautiful Georgian house we fell in love with going for £12500 which today is more than likely worth millions especially when one thinks Richmond Road is now up to the million mark? What if Jeremy Nightingale had done what he promised to do, that is attend the auction of the old Rectory at Wood Norton in Norfolk, another beautiful house, part Georgian part Victorian which had everything, and I mean everything. We planned to share it. But he didn’t attend and the house went for £35000 that, with the sale of Richmond Road, we could easily have afforded. We never knew at the time that he was in desperate financial straights but kept that to himself. So, instead, we bought the house in Farleigh Road, not a mile from the old house. What if Chris hadn’t been in ‘Cats’ and we hadn’t met Andy Leach who was a big fan and, through Andy, Tom Arthur and through Tom my going to work at James Madison University in Virginia? And it was going to America that caused us to sell Farleigh Road and move elsewhere and so we ended, having never considered that possibility for a moment, buying Hollings Farm in Yorkshire. And what if Chris had not been asked to go to Newcastle to choreograph a production of ‘West Side Story’? We would not have met Douglas who has been a part of our lives for more than twenty-one years now.

And what if I hadn’t managed to unload Richmond Road at a handsome profit which enabled me to buy Farleigh Road which enabled me to buy Hollings farm without the encumbrance of a mortgage? Well, the answer to that is simple; we would never have been able to buy the house in Vamos and so move to Crete, something else that was never dreamed of until Chris and Douglas came out on a cheap package holiday and repeated it and, finally, my coming out as well. What if they had gone to one of other Greek islands instead? Where would we be today, fourteen years later? So many ifs and what ifs and so many many more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dutch parliament has passed a bill banning ritual slaughter; that is the killing of animals by bleeding for kosher and halal meat. Naturally, as it impinges on religious beliefs thousands of years old, it has caused uproar with both Muslim and Jewish communities. The Jewish community have been given a year to prove that this system of slaughter is no more cruel than having the animal stunned so that it doesn’t experience its own death. I should think this an extremely difficult thing to prove if at all. A Rabbi has said they will just stop eating meat which can’t be a bad thing. Millions of animals won’t suffer an early death and it will be one up to the vegetarians who are forever fighting a losing battle.

Now those of you who have kept up with these blogs know by now that I have absolutely no religious convictions of any kind. I doubt mankind will ever be free of these superstitions, more’s the pity. It would seem for most people that they are a necessity in coping with the vicissitudes and pain of living or an effort to keep recalcitrants on the straight and narrow. So, as I am an atheist, a non-believer, I do not apologise to anyone for my thoughts and comments. What has brought this to mind, apart from the mentioning of ritual killing, was the news that the actor Russell Crowe has apologised for criticising the ritual of circumcision on his Twitter account. He said the procedure was "barbaric and stupid" but later lessened his comments by writing: "I'm very sorry that I have said things on here that have caused distress. My personal beliefs aside, I realise that some will interpret this as me mocking rituals and traditions of others. I am very sorry," saying later that his comments were insensitive, especially when he railed against circumcision as an aid to hygiene.

I see absolutely no reason for Crowe to apologise. This is what he believes and he is entitled to say it. What is more I entirely agree with him. Circumcision in the twenty first century is an anachronism unless necessitated for medical reasons - phimosis. In the same way, tradition or no tradition, ritual slaughter is out of date and the Dutch parliamentarians are the first to do something about it. In his tweet to filmmaker Eli Roth Crowe wrote, "I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting your babies." In a statement Roth defended Crowe against his detractors "Russell and I are great friends, and often tease each other publicly. Not one person from any media outlet contacted me to ask if it was a joke or not before running their vicious stories, which is indicative of a much more serious problem," Roth added. How true that is.

Now San Francisco voters are due to face a proposal in November on banning circumcision for under-18s. Would this be a step in the right direction to protect babies and adolescents who have no say in what happens to their own bodies? Opponents say such a move would violate the rights of groups including Jews and Muslims who consider the practice a sacred religious rite. Circumcision of babies, don’t tell me they feel no pain, and adolescent boys is barbaric, almost as barbaric as the circumcision of females which still takes place in various parts of the world. Imagine major surgical procedure on the most sensitive part of the body without anesthetic carried out in the most primitive of conditions. And, religion or no religion, hygiene or no hygiene, tribal custom or no tribal custom, circumcision can lead to serious complications that hospitals try to set right, unfortunately not always successfully.

On a lighter note to quote an old joke told me many years ago by a Jewish friend – two men standing at the urinal, one turns to the other and says, ‘You were circumcised by Rabbi Greenberg?’ ‘Yes,’ says the other, ‘how do you know?’ ‘Rabbi Greenberg is cross-eyed and you’re pissing on my foot.’

Sunday, July 3, 2011

As far as finance is concerned I am the world’s biggest klutz. I will never understand the intricacies of it all. The sums involved are so enormous they simply boggle the imagination; not necessarily national sums but some private ones as well. How can a country like America get into debt to the tune of 16trillion? How can an individual garner a fortune running into billions and billions? How come the oil companies BP and Shell are simply awash with profits? The price of oil has gone down but the price of petrol at the pumps doesn’t move?

Poor George Papandreou – he tried for so long and worked so hard to become prime minister of Greece and, eventually having made it, has landed himself in a positive hornets’ nest of problems. Greece’s financial difficulties I can understand. They are the direct result of nepotism, cronyism, corruption, the fakelos or envelope was an accepted part of Greek life, and jobs for life for the boys with generous pensions to follow. It is also the result of defalcation, the illegal lining of pockets, and the Greek’s determination to avoid paying taxes wherever and whenever possible. Evidently French banks, followed by the Germans have offered to give Greece a reprieve by granting thirty year loans (The UK is not following) but the big question to ask is, will it get the country out of trouble or will most of it go to line the pockets of those greedy totally immoral characters whose motto seems to be, to hell with everybody except me?

And I simply cannot get my head around the phenomenon of bonus culture. A man by the name of Iain Croucher who headed Network Rail for only three years has been given a pay-off packet of £1,075000. It’s no wonder that rail fares in Britain are constantly going up and up. What did he do to warrant this enormous pay-off? Gerry Docherty, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said, ‘Passengers will be furious that he has walked away with over a million of taxpayers’ money after years of failure. During eight years at the company he received more than £7000000 in pay and bonuses and to show how well he earned his remuneration, Network Rail received £3.7 billion in subsidies from the tax payer as part of a £30billion total for the years from 2009-14. No wonder Great Britain is almost as broke as poor old Greece but it’s all right for some.

Even more mystifying than Mister Croucher’s pay-off is that of the offshore drilling firm responsible for running the Deepwater Horizon rig that has given its top executives bonuses for its "best year" for safety. Transocean was blamed along with BP and Halliburton after last year's massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers, nine of whom worked for Transocean, died when the Deepwater Horizon exploded. In the days and months that followed millions of gallons of oil poured unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, prompting President Barack Obama to call the incident America's environmental 9/11. Before the well was capped the spill fouled the coastlines of four states, scared tourists away and closed countless fishing grounds. The true environmental and economic impact may not be known for years. A presidential commission concluded that the explosion had been caused by cost-cutting and directly blamed Transocean, BP and Halliburton for the disaster. But what did Transocean have to say? “We recorded the best year in safety performance in our company's history” and so, despite this disaster of mega proportions, huge bonuses were paid to company executives. Now you must admit the mind definitely boggles especially when you consider the human and environmental cost is still being counted. But you will realise how much money there is in oil when you think that, despite this tragedy, BP is still well in profit.

And, finally, the former boss of Lloyds Banking Group is being paid £100000 a month for doing absolutely nothing while the bank is shedding 1500 jobs. Eric Daniels last year took home £1,122,000 in basic pay and benefits, equivalent to £93,000 a month. In addition he was paid a £1,450,000 bonus and his pension is worth £210,000 a year. Lucky for some huh? But not those about to lose their jobs.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My, my, how time flies! In conversation at tea the other day it came up that it is nine years since Chris was in Athens producing the demo disc of ‘La Belle Otero’ and nine years since my visit to Australia and South Africa. The times coincide because I remember the disc was delivered to me in Cape Town. If it takes an act of God in convocation with all his angels and archangels to get an original straight play produced, what does it take to get a musical on? Maybe the cherubim and seraphim have to cast their vote as well. I doubt very much now that it will be produced in my lifetime but, after about thirty years of gestation, at least I have had the satisfaction of writing it and knowing it contains some of my best work. When one thinks of the number of revivals in the West End and over the years the number of really bad musicals that deserved to flop, one can’t but have a slight feeling of despair; the latest evidently being ‘Spiderman’ of course.

A slight feeling of despair also talking about time and some folks’ reaction to times they are a changing, refusing to acknowledge this fact and harking back, indeed even trying to go back in time, an impossibility. Apart from Mistress Palin I refer in particular to another sympathiser and pet of the Tea Party lot, Michele Bachmann who has put herself forward as a possible Republican candidate for the 1012 presidential election. What are her policies? Well she is all in favour of family, friends, and neighbours and dead set against abortion, expensive healthcare (as she puts it) and gay marriage. Evidently you ought to rely on family and friends to get you out of any trouble you may be in and not rely on any government aid. She wants America to go back to more simple ways which is a bit like Canute trying to push back the waves. Ms Bachmann said she was announcing her candidacy because she was "so profoundly grateful for the blessing I have received, both from God and this great country." Evidently she is a born-again Christian and, as I think I said once before, look what happened the last time one of those sat in the White House. "More than ever, Washington is the problem,” she says “and the real solutions will come from our businesses, our communities, our schools and the most basic and powerful unit of all-our families.

Americans agree that our country is in peril today and we must act with urgency to save it," Ms Bachmann added.

Can family and friends really be relied on in all circumstances when someone is in grave difficulties? Some can of course but not all and not at all times and this “basic and powerful unit” as she calls it has too often in itself been the cause of producing some pretty sick people in this world, as any psychiatrist will tell you. Of course one fervently wishes that all marriages and families were sweetness and light but I am afraid that simply is not the real world even if Ms Bachmann would like it to be.

And what would happen if abortion (there’s nothing new about abortion) was made illegal again? Backstreet abortion with all the pain and dangers it entails would be back to take its place as in the good old bad old days.

And finally gay marriage. In my opinion it is a great pity that gays and lesbians wishing to be recognised as a couple have used the word ‘marriage.’ It was bound to create antagonism among the straights even if fairly liberal and not exactly homophobic. I’m reminded of an old joke about a gay walking down the street and seeing a prostitute touting for trade yelling out, ‘Hello prostitute!’ to which she replies, ‘Hello substitute!’ That is very much a straight joke. It would have been much more politic to have used a word like ‘union’ rather than ‘marriage’ which immediately caused outrage among “decent people.” So if Ms Bachmann had her way and gay marriage was abolished what purpose would it serve? Come on Ms Bachmann, are there not far more pressing problems in this world to worry about than getting your knickers in a twist over gay marriage? Homosexuality after all has been with us since the beginning of time, is not as extraordinary or uncommon as wishful thinking bigots would like to believe, and homosexuals when all is said and done are not conjured out of thin air or brought into existence by magic. They have fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. They are the result of heterosexual marriages, of what you call that basic and powerful unit – the family. So, Ms Bachmann, what do you make of it? Had that never occurred to you? Roll over Anita Bryant.