Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is an old Chinese saying that goes, ‘I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.’ What brought it to mind was reading about nature’s mistakes and, let’s face it, nature can make some pretty bad mistakes. William Blake’s poem is brought to mind, ‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ The question to ask is how or why does this ‘immortal eye’ make so many truly dreadful mistakes? One thinks also of that awful soppy Victorian hymn, ‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.’ The final verse of which goes, ‘He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell, how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well.’ Note that – God Almighty who made all things well – all things?

Right, having digressed somewhat, back to what started off this train of thought: bodies that are born with parts missing. Oscar Pistorius, the young South African athlete was born without shin bones and had to have his legs below the knee amputated at an early age. But that has not stopped him from engaging in sport, in particular, running, which he does wearing what are called his ‘Cheetah Blades’ over which argument still rages as to whether or not they give his normal limbed opponents an advantage. Whether they do or whether they don’t what an inspiring story this is so stop honking like a gaggle of geese, and where was God Almighty when this unwell child was born? Another case that I have just read about: a young lad in the UK who was born with no arms below the elbow who is evidently quite a lethal bowler at cricket. He can evidently tuck the ball away where the forearm should begin and send it hurtling down the wicket. This is another inspiring story and surely once again one must ask where was this all merciful all powerful God who makes all things well? God I’m afraid, has absolutely nothing to do with it. It’s all down to nature and nature’s mistakes except where men interfere as with the thalidomide tragedy, and think how brave so many of those victims were.

Now Pistorius, when he’s not wearing his cheetah blades in competition can wear ordinary prosthetics but my mind can’t help imaging what life must be like without hands. Does the boy, like foot and mouth artists, use his feet for certain procedures? How does he eat? Just as he can bowl at cricket but obviously can’t bat, he can’t manage knife, fork, and spoon so does he go down to his plate? How does he dress? How does he undress? And on a more intimate note, how does he unzip to have a pee and how does he control the direction? On an even more intimate note – how does he shit and just how does he wipe his arse? All things we able-bodied take for granted.

Nature really has thrown up some whoppers: Siamese twins for example that cannot be separated, small but damaging disfigurements such as a decided squint, a hare lip or cleft palate, or too may fingers and too many toes, a crooked back; and think of Joseph Merrick, the elephant man, in whose time anyone unfortunate not to have been well made by Almighty God had to suffer most cruelly in the freak show for the entertainment of the so-called normal.

I am sure those who are of a religious bent and believe firmly in God, the all-merciful as far as Islam is concerned, will find reasons or excuses for these phenomena but, if I were to believe he exists, I would consider him to be a cruel, vindictive sadist.

I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

After posting my last Blog I received the following e-mail from the UK and I hope the writer won’t mind my broadcasting it but I thought it interesting and worth repeating.

“Thanks for the interesting piece about the film, Skoonheid.

Interesting that the prize is called "Queer Palm".

Derogatory words have been used against us since the Semitic religions began, including that aberration of true Christianity, the Pauline version normally accepted as mainline Christianity today. The favourite among gay-bashers is "queer".

They are used to somehow dehumanise us. Give us an appellation that somehow implies we are not proper people, but somehow weird and "sick", and the next step is you can abolish our freedoms, put us into concentration camps or insane asylums, impound our property, hang us, burn us at the stake (in France only 400 years ago, gay men, if they weren't upper clergy or high aristocrats would have their tongues torn out with red-hot pincers before being burnt alive - to make sure they didn't confess and thus get into "heaven").

As someone (I think John Lauritsen - find him on the net) has written, the last thing a gay man hears, before he has his teeth kicked in or his head smashed open, is "fucking queer".

There are several, used by what Christopher Isherwood called "the enemy". Australians used to call them "squares". I call them "heteros" or "dismals". Some still cling to "normal", as though we're abnormal.

I am astounded at the glee with which some gay people have decided to "reclaim" some of these insulting appellations, "queer" being their favourite.

But there is one word that we were using to describe ourselves for decades, perhaps for centuries, and until 1970s, without the Dismals' being aware of it, namely "gay". The word is not a variant of the word that means light-hearted and carefree, though I am sure that overtone is always present, because it does describe us, too.

In this sense, it is cognate with the German and Dutch word "geil", pronounced differently in the two languages and meaning "horny" (US) "randy" (British); this relationship makes me wonder just how long the word would have been used in the perforce secret gay world before it surfaced generally in gay bars and pubs throughout the English-speaking world in the 1930s, when gradually the threat of persecution was receding. We know it was used in the 18th century to describe something sexually off-colour.

English and German or Dutch were last mutually intelligible almost a thousand years ago, but there have been several waves of German and Dutch immigration into England and Scotland since then. As I do not regard myself as "queer" or "bent" and the heteros as "straight", I describe myself as "gay", and avoid the pseudo-clinical term "homosexual" when I can, as I do not regard myself as "sick", either.

I'd love to see the film, but I'm pretty sure it's unlikely to surface here, though the town is full of dentists and doctors with Afrikaans names and S.A. degrees.”

Any comments? I believed ‘gay’ in earlier times was used to denote a prostitute.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It would seem that South African movies have finally come of age. I don’t mean foreign ones shot there but the home grown variety. I remember as a schoolboy watching Afrikaans films in their infancy that were truly dire, especially the so-called comedies, but an Afrikaans film recently out, “Skoonheid,” which means ‘Beauty,’ is causing shock waves.

A Cape Newspaper The Daily Maverick that proudly describes itself as ‘Politically incorrect since 2009 (Hurrah!!! Hurrah!!! Long may it flourish) describes the film as confronting truth both beautiful and ugly.

It exposes the private shames and secret obsessions of a conservative white Afrikaner named Francois van Heerden who has quite a neat life. He is a family man in his mid-forties who lives in Bloemfontein and is well established. Van Heerden has all the trappings of a peerless Calvinist existence, but beneath the veneer of this seemingly faultless Afrikaner lives a seething nest of internal conflict.

“The dénouement in the film is violent and could prove difficult for people to watch, but may make audiences wonder about the choices they make in their own lives. I am so curious to see how people in South Africa experience the film. They may be compelled to see the movie from a sense of pride or because of the language, but the film will definitely challenge them. The characters are people they will know. They will recognise Francois and the fabric of his world, but his private life and thoughts will make for an unnerving ride,” says the young director Oliver Hermanus, who has insisted that “Skoonheid” not be relegated to the art circuit.

“This will predictably cause sectors of the community to take umbrage, but for those mature enough not to succumb to knee-jerk reactions, it could prove to be an epiphany.”

It was a bizarre advert in the classifieds section of a Cape Town newspaper that gave writer and director Hermanos the idea. The advert was specific; its author was looking for white, married Afrikaner men to join in a twice-weekly all-male orgy. You had evidently to show your marriage certificate to prove you were legit.
An all-male orgy of married Afrikaners is just one of the scenes from ‘Skoonheid’ that shocked -- and impressed -- the Cannes Film Festival judges recently. It won the Queer Palm award, a prize that acknowledges movies that deal with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues.
The Queer Palm judges did not mince their words: "It is a true cinema film, a quite unpleasant one at first sight, and very disturbing, hard-hitting, radical."

The main character in the movie distances himself from homosexuality, identifying himself instead as a "straight man who has sex with men". The movie demonstrates his struggle to deal with his desires, which run counter to his cultural upbringing as a traditional Afrikaner with deeply embedded conservative, heterosexual values.

He meets Christiaan at his daughter's wedding in Cape Town and becomes obsessed with this beautiful young man. His desire unravels his neatly compartmentalised life, ending the movie with his violent possession of the "beauty" society will not allow him to have.

Francois might be a fictional character but he is not the only man dealing with these issues. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, more than three million men in the US who identify themselves as straight have had sex with other men and I would imagine there are many more who were not canvassed or who will not admit it.
And well-known American sex columnist Tristan Taormino says heterosexual men have sex with other men for many reasons. In his column in the Village Voice in 2008, Taormino says they do it "for anonymous, no-strings-attached sex; to explore homoerotic desire without a gay identity or relationship; or to fulfil a fantasy, including one of dominance and submission".

"The reality of the film is that the main character is not gay," says Hermanus. Rather he is infatuated, "like a 15-year-old", and dealing with the object of his love being considered inappropriate by society. The actor says he never played the character as a gay man but as someone who is very confused. "It's a story about a man going through a difficult time in his life, and I hope that the audience feels empathy for him." But the film explores more than just sexuality in the Afrikaner community -- its title comes from the concept that "beauty is poisonous". Francois's desire for Christiaan is the start of his spiral to self-destruction.

"We all want something, and invariably it is something beautiful," says Hermanus. "Beauty ruins you."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Politicians do come out with the most senseless sound bites, meant I suppose to sound erudite. That multi-millionaire socialist Tony Blair playing the elder statesman whose New Labour brought Britain virtually to its knees has entered the debate about the riots. Writing in the Observer, (I’m truly surprised it wsn’t The Gaurdian) he warned that "muddle-headed analysis" of the riots may result in wrong policy responses. A guarded ye-es? In a rare comment on British politics since standing down as prime minister in 2007, Mr. Blair said the riots were "an absolutely specific problem that requires a deeply specific solution. Another guarded ye-es? Well do carry on from there Mister Blair don’t leave us in suspense."

Meanwhile back at the ranch David Cameron pledged a fight back against the “bureaucratic nonsense and destructive culture” which led to current problems. Okay, Mister Cameron can you take that a step further please and tell us in detail exactly what has to be done?

Blair also said that towards the end of his term in office he realised that society needed an "intervention family by family, a reform of criminal justice around anti-social behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs". Well, haven’t we heard that all before, time after time after time? And just how do you go about it, family by family? And is Cameron not saying exactly the same thing now? The prime minister also said that his commitment to tackling the "greed and thuggery" seen during the riots and episodes of looting would be backed up by "the full force of the law. We need a stronger police presence on the streets, deterring crime and catching criminals instead of filling in forms or wasting time on phoney targets," he said. And just how many times have we heard that one? Is it any wonder that one becomes a cynic as far as politicians are concerned?

Still on the subject of politicians, that three-ring circus the Republican primaries has come to town and is in full swing and will continue with brass bands and razzamatazz for a full year I believe. Is it the best way to choose the person who, if the Republicans are returned to power, will be the most powerful politician (I won’t say statesman, it’s a long time since the world saw one of those) in the world? It seems anyone can enter the race providing they have enough money and of the original eight there have already been some drop-outs. That very odd-bod Donald Trump is a contender no more, neither is Tim Pawlenty and it’s even Stevens Newt Gingrich might fall at the next hurdle. But that leaves, horror of horrors, awful people like Michele Bachman. How close is she, people are asking, to right wing Christian fundamentalist philosophy known as Dominionism, one proponent of which argues for the death penalty for homosexuals and adulterers. Now this is really going to cause the most gigantic problem as it will entail the deaths literally of thousands so how do these Christian bigots suggest the state manages it, especially as the companies who make the drugs currently used in executions have suddenly gone all hoity-toity, po-faced, mounted their moralistic high horses and stated they will no longer supply those drugs if they are to be used for that purpose?

Oh, dear! Life really does throw up some weird creatures and even weirder problems.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two young men inciting others to riot by placing messages on Facebook have each been sentenced to four years in prison and already there have been howls of outrage that the sentences are too severe. The barrister representing one of the men said ‘the family were somewhat shocked at the sentence.’ But are the sentences that severe? It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It was a joke. If that is the case it was rather stupid to say the least. What if someone hell bent on mischief did start a riot with its concomitant looting and arson in their home town, so far free of any disorder, and just say a family trapped in one of the buildings set alight died in the fire, would the sentences then still seem to be too severe? The accused intend appealing against their sentences. It will be interesting to see what happens. The men both admitted encouraging crime in Northwich, although there were no outbreaks of disorder in the town and he judge said he hoped the sentences would act as a deterrent. In that case hadn’t they better stand, appeal or no appeal?

Solicitor Rebecca Tanner said ‘No actual riot did ensue as a result of the post that the defendant posted on the Facebook site.’ As though this excuses their actions. The appeal will evidently be on the grounds that the sentence was disproportionate to the offence. "Obviously, as a 22-year-old, in his situation, knowing that ultimately whilst he'd been extremely foolish, I think he was shocked, given that his view would be he hadn't actually caused any physical hurt, or physical harm, or caused any damage as a result of his actions."

The Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Carlile, president of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said he was "surprised" by the sentences. The Chester sentence was handed out by a very experienced and highly regarded judge who was reflecting the views of the community he serves. But the sentences are heavy, and there are no guideline cases for judges to work from for this situation.

There has also been criticism of the men's sentences from MPs, barristers and campaigners, who have said the sentences handed down to some of those involved in riots across England were too severe. Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said sentences "should be about restorative justice", not retribution, while Labour MP Paul Flynn said the government was "throwing away sentencing rules".

And leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC said he believed some sentences were "over the top" and likely to be overturned by the Court of Appeal. But Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said "exemplary sentences" were necessary and that people needed to understand the consequences of rioting, looting and disorder.

People need to understand the consequences of any anti-social behavior, that is knowing right from wrong, even if it doesn’t involve the law – but of course they won’t.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I read in the paper that the English actor Brian Bedford, now 75, who has spent a great deal of his time in the states and Canada, is on Broadway playing Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Ernest” and has been nominated for a Tony. We’re back to the issue of casting. Sometime ago I was in the acting company at the Derby Playhouse and had played three very different types of inspectors – van Helsing in “Dracula”, Inspector Truscott in “Loot”, and the Inspector in J. B. Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls.” The fourth play scheduled was Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” and I thought, aha! I thought. Here’s my chance to play another inspector of a very different kind – Madam Arcati. So I duly trundled along to the director’s office and made my pitch. ‘Mark,’ I said. ‘I’ve come up with a fantastic idea for “Blithe Spirit” a piece of casting that will be talked about in Derby for years. I’ve played three inspectors so I would like to play a fourth.’ I could already see his eyes glaze over as he realised what was coming so, of course I never, much to my regret, got to play Madam Acarti. In fact I’ve never ever had the chance to play a female character or one in drag such as in “Charlie’s Aunt.” Now I’m too old by a good five years to even play Lady Bracknell but I’m sure my rendering of ‘in a handbag?’ would be exactly the same as Dame Edith’s so probably just as well.

In this grossly overcrowded profession no one has yet come up with a better way of sorting actors out than that dreaded phenomenon – the audition! Of course there are actors who sail through auditions with never a care though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be any good when it gets down to the nitty-gritty. And then there are those, like me, who find auditions nerve-racking. Even if I have said a thousand times before even leaving home – ‘you’ve got the job or you haven’t. It’s truly in the lap of the gods,’ nerves still played a part. It’s like the character sings in “Chorus Line” ‘Oh God, I need this job.’ Consequently I got few engagements from auditions on stage. Most of my work came from interviews and readings. There’s a sad theatrical story about the girl who auditioned a hundred times and was never cast. Then one day she was offered a part and she said, ‘no I don’t do parts, I only audition.’ When I was teaching in the late eighties I made no bones about what students faced when they ventured into the great big world. I would say to them, ‘When I was a young actor, for every part I went up for, there were at least twenty others equally suited. Today you’re more likely to find two hundred.’

A number of times I have been on the other side of the table and that can be just as distressing, particularly where kids are concerned. I’m thinking in particular of the films for the Children’s Film Foundation and the TV series ‘The Double Deckers.”

They arrive in their hundreds and have to be whittled down to six and, as the numbers decrease you can sense the desperation and the hope. I remember in particular one little girl who immediately burst into floods of tears and was virtually inconsolable. We discovered later it was her third rejection that week.

Of course as someone auditioning you can sometimes miss the wood for the trees. I was casting my play “Women Around” for production at Worthing and we were interviewing in an office at Spotlight. The part of the youth who all the women are in love with obviously required someone who was pretty, even somewhat dainty and a young man sat opposite me who I was about to reject when the agent Rolf Kruger, who was sitting next to me whispered, ‘Ask him to take his jacket off.’ I did. He took off his heavy leather jacket to reveal a floral shirt (all the rage at the time) and got the part then and there. Rolf had seen the potential. I hadn’t. And he turned out to be very good.

When I was working at The Wayside Theatre in Virginia I directed a play called “Tribute.” The play is about a man dying from cancer who is visited by his estranged wife and for the last time they make love. Now I had no say in the casting of this particular production and, to my surprise, the actress cast as the wife was, to put it simply – enormous! She was so big part of the set had to be removed to allow her to get through. Not in a million years, if it had been up to me, would I have cast her in that particular role. Not for a million other actresses would I have exchanged her. Her performance was so moving not only did she have me in tears every night but virtually the entire house. It was stranding ovation time. It was truly beautiful. How wrong I would have been to reject her because as a director I had in my mind’s eye what I thought the character should look like. Really so facile.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Coincidence can be quite amazing sometimes. You hear a piece of music you are totally unfamiliar with and within days you are quite likely to hear it a few more times. I really am enjoying Mister Crawford’s “Cecilia” despite the fact that as a non-believer in things mystical I find his premise of reincarnation far-fetched, Cecilia having once been a vestal virgin, but I can live with it. However, almost immediately after writing the last Blog I picked the book up once more and this is what I read – ‘Thou shall so act as to be worthy of happiness, said her favourite philosopher. She could undoubtedly marry Guido despite her imaginary vows. Would that be acting so as to deserve to be happy? What is happiness? The belief that one is happy; nothing else. As Guido’ wife would she believe that she was happy? Yes, if there was happiness to be found in marriage. But she was happy already without it, and would always be so she was sure. Therefore she would be risking a certainty for a possibility. “Who leaves the old and takes new, knows what he leaves, not what he may find” so says the old Italian proverb. To act so as to be worthy of happiness, meant to act in such a way that the reason for such action might be a law for the happiness of all. That was the Categorical Imperative, and Cecilia believed in it.’

In another passage he comes up with a theory, nothing to do with coincidence, that as an ex-actor, I would find interesting – ‘There are great actors who become so used to a favourite part that they go on acting it in real life, and have sometimes gone mad in the end, it is said, believing themselves really to be the heroes or tyrants they have represented. Only great second-rate actors (I’m not too sure great and second-rate go together but never mind) “learn” their parts and attain a sort of perfection in them by mechanical means (!) The really great first-rate artists make themselves a secondary existence by self-suggestion, and really have two selves. One that thinks and acts like Othello, or Hamlet, or Louis the Eleventh, the other goes through life with the opinions, convictions and principles of Sir Henry Irving, or Tommaso Salvini or of Madame Bernhardt.’ Do I take it from this that these three in his opinion are not really great first-rate artists and where oh where does it leave me? I don’t think I even come into the second category. Maybe with the also-rans.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It’s a great shame that political correctness and the rules that apply to nine to five type jobs have been foisted on the theatre. The theatre is unique and nine to five simply doesn’t apply. Sometime ago I thought of submitting a play to the Hampstead Theatre but when I read the crap on their website, equal work opportunities etcetera, decided not to bother. It strikes me that these do-good policies sometimes backfire and do not produce the expected results. A play is cast using the best actors available, it is not cast with consideration towards minorities be they racial, sexual or handicapped. If two actors audition for a certain part, which one is not only likely but has to be selected? The one with the most obvious talent and suitability for the part. The fact that the one rejected happens to come from one of the minorities simply cannot be taken into consideration.

I saw a girl in a London theatre obviously cast because she was one of the minority and who was like a fish out of water she was so excruciatingly bad. Did getting the role do her any favours? I doubt it very much. And I bring up again the casting of a black actor as an English king. What happens to suspension of disbelief when everyone in the audience knows (no matter how talented, how good the performance) there has never been a Black English king. If the entire cast was black that would be a different matter. There are in fact any number of parts in Shakespearean and Elizabethan drama that can legitimately be played by black actors. After all the first blacks entered the country with the Romans and Elizabethans I believe were complaining that there were to many in the country so lots of opportunities there - but an English King? I can’t buy it. A black actor joining in this argument was heard to say why not? White actresses play Cleopatra but that was a bit of a misnomer as Cleopatra was not Egyptian but Greek. Now if he had complained about white actors playing Othello I would tend to agree with him.

Having directed a number of musicals for an amateur company in England their next production was to be “Showboat.” Now there was no way in North Yorkshire that enough blacks would be found to play in it and the picture of all those ladies, delightful as they may have been, putting on dark makeup and doing the mammy act filled me with such antipathy I refused to direct it and that was the end of me and that particular company.

When Chris directed “Blitz” he couldn’t find Indians to make up even one family and that was in Leeds that has a huge Indian population.

The other trend in theatre is sometimes unfortunate as well. Some time back it became known as ‘director’s theatre’ and indeed that is what it is; too often the directors being fart-arsed egotistical trendies, who believe implicitly that they are God’s gift to the theatre but who never trust their material.

Some year ago we saw the most diabolical production of ‘Parsifal’ at The Royal Opera House, direct by Terry Hands. It truly was appalling. Now every director knows what it is like to have a bad hair day some time in their career and come a disastrous cropper but what added insult to injury in this particular instance was, when question about it, Terry Hands had the gall to say, ‘Well who’s interested in Wagner?’

If that was the case why did he take on the job? For the money? For the kudos of working in such a prestigious house? Who rightly knows?

What has brought all this to mind is Stephen Sondheim’s reaction to news of a forthcoming Broadway remake of that wonderful folk-opera Porgy and Bess.

After reading an article written about the show in the New York Times, he penned a letter to the newspaper criticizing the project. The title of the show is now “The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess,” which Sondheim said was "dumb". He also criticised plans to write new dialogue and introduce a happy ending.

Artistic director Diane Paulus, evidently said that in the opera you don't get to know the characters as people. Putting it kindly, Sondheim said, that's wilful ignorance. "These characters are as vivid as any ever created for the musical theatre, as has been proved over and over in productions that may have cut some dialogue and musical passages but didn't rewrite and distort them. I can hear the outraged cries now about stifling creativity and discouraging directors who want to reinterpret plays and musicals... but there is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting."

"In the interest of truth in advertising, let it not be called 'The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess'," concluded Sondheim, in his letter. "Advertise it honestly as 'Diane Paulus's Porgy and Bess'. And the hell with the real one." I can’t help the feeling Sondheim is absolutely right.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I have discovered a new author. Well hardly new as he died in 1909 but new to me. One of his books has been nestling in the bookshelf upstairs for goodness knows how long and who can remember where it came from and why, but I took it down the other day merely out of curiosity. At first I thought it was by an authoress because I can never remember which Francis/Frances is male/female and I read the second name as Marian. So, as I was rather impressed by the writing, I decided to look her up on the internet only to discover she was a he. Francis Marion Crawford - Marion not Marian.

The book I am reading is called “Cecilia – a story of modern Rome” and was copyrighted in the states in 1902.

Evidently our author was born in Italy of American parents but was brought up and educated in America, finishing at Harvard. He went back to Italy to live and write; the author of a number of novels and short stories.

It made me think, unless in your period you come in the top five or six writers of any nationality, for example a Charles Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austin, Oscar Wilde, Tolstoy, Gogol, Pushkin, Chekhov, Alexander Dumas, Stendhal, Mark Twain, Henry James etcetera, or unless you have written some classic, even if in some cases only a one off; Frankenstein or Gone With The Wind or Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz for example, you will merely for the most part disappear among the thousands of other writers of your time unless somebody discovers and decides to resurrect you. Such is fleeting literary fame. How many female novelists in the Victorian era are remembered today and how many of those writing chic-lit or Mills and Boon type romance be remembered in fifty years time?

Starting as a third former in 1945, I spent four years at Glenwood High School in Durban. Today as an Old Boy (and I must be one of the very few still left of my generation) I receive e-mails keeping me up to date with all the news. My goodness what a change is there! Have I mentioned this before? In my day there were four sports – rugby, cricket, athletics, (two fields, upper and lower) and swimming for which one had to go to the municipal baths downtown or at the beach. Today the school has its own swimming baths plus tennis courts, no such thing as hockey or squash in my day and the furthest a field sports teams went to play away matches was to Natal schools: Maritzburg College, Michaelhouse (very posh Church of England) Hilton College (also very posh), Kearsney. I don’t really remember but I think this one was Presbyterian. These days the teams tour Europe and I see the first fifteen rugby team is due to tour Argentina for the second time. The school has expanded in every direction, both in building and ex-curriculum opportunities including drama and music. And of course the biggest change of all is that, with the ending of apartheid, the school is no longer whites only but has a fair sprinkling of Zulu and Indian pupils. I’m sure, even though it will take time, that there is hope for South Africa yet.

Since writing the above I have found another Marion Crawford in the bookshelf! This one is titled SARACINESCA. One Marion Crawford in the bookshelves is a mystery; two is a quadruplicated mystery! According to Google he is being rediscovered, his books recently reissued so bang goes my theory. Anyone can be rediscovered. The first editions are worth a few hundred bucks which is nice to know. If things get really desperate we could try flogging them on e-Bay. I’ve discovered in life though that buying something is easy, trying to flog something is another story altogether.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I never cease to be amazed at the amount of genuine acting talent amongst young kids these days. Hot on the heels of Freddie Highmore comes a new one to add to my list, up till now unknown to me, Asa Butterfield. Watched a film called “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” in which he gives a tremendous performance as the naive eight year old son of a concentration camp commandant who befriends a boy his own age the other side of the wire. He brings his new friend food and they play games together with the wire separating them and he simply can’t seem to get it together what it is all about.

He asks what the boy has done to be in prison to which the reply is nothing. Then why is he there? “I am a Jew” is the answer.

In a biography of Tennessee Williams the author who knew the playwright well states that Williams was adamant that always the right, the exact word had to be found no matter how long it took - a synonym or something close was never good enough – and how right he was.

Had the boy said “Because I’m Jewish” it simply would not have had the kick in the guts that “I am a Jew” has. A moment that virtually brings home to one the whole beastliness of the holocaust. Naturally the film has to end in tragedy and I give it five stars in every department, unlike the previous evening when I actually sat through one of the most stupendously silly movies I’ve ever sat through – “Black Swan.” What a load of crap. Not even one star and never mind the swan bit but a solid lead turkey. Going back to the child actors I think I’ve said this before but I sometimes wonder what effect this early success, wealth, and adulation will have on their future lives. Didn’t do Shirley Temple any harm. Despite the cheesy ringlets, the good ship lollipop and animal crackers she became a US ambassador.

The first overcast day in weeks and a little rain to relieve the heat. We shouldn’t complain really because evidently parts of the United States have been having heat waves that leave our temperatures standing. In Texas evidently there has been a rash of air conditioner thefts, in one case at least leading to the death of an elderly lady two days after hers was stolen.

People so rarely seem to think of the possible results of their actions. The recent rioters in English cities never stopped for a moment to think that people lived in flats above the shops they set alight. I haven’t heard of any deaths but there could have been major tragedies there, or did they stop to think that it was their own neighbourhood they were trashing? Insurance companies reckon the damage in tens of millions.

There was unrest in other cities including Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Birmingham, with shops being looted and set alight, in some cases the looters being masked and girls laughing and boasting hysterically about the violence and there are allegations of incitement to riot on internet social networking sites..

Metropolitan Police have arrested 768 people and charged 105 in connection with the violence in the capital and there are more in the pipeline as CCTV film is studied. Groups of people attacked officers, wrecking cars with wooden poles and metal bars, setting some on fire and looting shops.

The big question apart from what can be done about it is – will it happen again?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The British parliament has come up with a spiffing new wheeze for the advancement of democracy and giving ear to the voice of the people in the electronic age, though perhaps not necessarily heeding that voice. If you want the politicians to discuss something that’s important to you and can get 100000 signatures on a petition on line they might consider it! It has to be approved first by a committee of MPs of course so obviously if it’s something they don’t like the sound of it will be junked. There has evidently already been a terrific response and, quite naturally the demands go from the positive to the ridiculous. Top of the list so far, (over seventy percent questioned), is evidently a return to the death penalty and continuing on the law and order theme someone suggests that prisoners should be fed a diet of bread and water – as they put it ‘like in the good old days.’ Why not bring back flogging while you’re about it, the treadmill and picking oakum?

One of the reasons given for originally getting rid of the death penalty was the fact that if there was a mistake, once the execution had taken place, it was too late to do anything about it. Today, as someone points out, with the advances in science, in particular the discovery of DNA, the likelihood of that happening seems pretty remote.

Did hanging ever discourage murder? With certain categories definitely not, especially those with psychiatric problems – serial killers, necrophiliacs, those with cannibalistic urges – the Mansons and Jeffrey Darmers of this world, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, and probably the most infamous of them all because he was never caught and nobody knows who he really was- Jack the Ripper. They will kill because they have to. Nor will the death penalty put off those determined to rid themselves of an encumbrance like a no longer wanted husband or a wife, or those who hope to gain something from the murder like an inheritance or claiming on insurance: Crippen, Haigh, Hanratty. So what would be the advantages of bringing back the death penalty? Well, firstly it might just make those street hoodlums and gang members only too eager to use their knives and guns, just a little more cautious and a number of innocent victims, especially it seems among teenagers these days, would be saved. Secondly, without appeal or reprieve, it is a definite and final punishment that means what it says. These days there seems to be a strange anomaly in the sentences courts hand out to killers. You will go to prison for life and serve a minimum of eleven years and you will be out in three. That is what a human being’s life is worth? Thirdly the prisons are grossly overcrowded and it would mean a few less to ease the situation and fourthly to be absolutely logical it would save the state an awful lot of money. Keeping a murderer in jail costs thousands of pounds a week.

Junior killers, eleven year old Mary Bell, Robert Thomson and Jon Venables, no matter how disgusting their crimes would of course be exempt from capital punishment.

I find this a fascinating subject and will no doubt return to it.

P.S. After writing this Blog we received the following e-mail from a friend in London. It isn’t to do with capital punishment but it is to do with the complete breakdown of law and order.

So upset with the local vandalism amid all this anarchy. Ealing Broadway very badly damaged last night. West Ealing effected. Money Shops, Jewellers, Mobile outlets, all trashed and everything stolen. Boots window smashed and all their perfumes stolen. Wilkinsons everything type store broken into, Specsavers and even the Pets Charity Shop. Kids as young as 10 and 11 out at 3 and 4 in the morning. These are not deprived kids. All have mobiles and, in most cases the very expensive Blackberry type and all on twiiter.

Too many children's rights. Ineffective policing due to interference over the past 20 years, too many Health & Safety rules, Political correctness, etc., etc., Hopefully, changes will be introduced to remedy all - but I suspect nothing strong enough will transpire. Anyway, all too close to home and hope won't get murdered in my bed tonight!’

Now I am going to appear to be the complete racist but I’m afraid that cannot be helped. Looking at the pictures of the riots in various London boroughs and elsewhere and from a phone conversation with a friend in Hackney who inadvertently got caught up in it, it would seem that any city with a large black and immigrant population may suffer the same phenomenon some time or other. Is there any way to stop it happening? Someone had better come up with an answer to what is sheer mob criminality.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I am in danger of repeating myself here but, considering the number of Blogs I’ve churned out over the last few years, I think a couple of repeats are inevitable and I hope excusable. I’m back again on the topic of money and also the subject of world population – this time together, and what brought it about was an article by a Mister K. Myers in the ‘Irish Independent’ headlined – ‘Africa is giving nothing to anyone except AIDS.’ The article was sent to me by Ceri Wiercx.

It’s not quite true; other bad things come out of Africa such as bush meat and poached ivory, every pair of tusks meaning the death of another elephant. But Africa also produces gold, diamonds, copper, and various minerals necessary to modern industry, particularly I believe in China, the mining of which destroys both the natural beauty of an entire area and the wildlife that used to inhabit it. But there you go, industry is paramount. Africa also exports various fruits, some excellent wines from the Cape, rubber from West Africa and coffee from Kenya.

However, Mister Myers in his article gives some quite astonishing if not alarming statistics about Africa, hence his headlines. In particular he focuses on the Horn and famine aid and I wish I could reprint his article verbatim but that would be breach of copyright so I can only tell in my own way what he says. He admits quite frankly that his views will undoubtedly raise the hackles of the self-righteous but basically his argument (as is mine) is no more charitable aid to Africa, pictures of wide-eyed starving babies notwithstanding. As he says, the wide-eyed starving baby saved from starvation twenty five years ago is now ‘a priapic Kalashnikov bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him.’ In those twenty odd years the population of Ethiopia has grown from 33.5million to 78million! That is a lot more mouths to feed in a drought stricken country and by 2050 the population will be 117million. Is the rest of the world still expected to feed them? Why on earth, he says, should he do anything to encourage further catastrophic demographic growth in that country? Where is the logic? There is no doubt a good argument why we should prolong this predatory and dysfunctional economic, social, and sexual system, he says, but he doesn’t know what it is. Thanks to food aid (that has to be paid for so is the same thing as handing out loads of cash) the population of Ethiopia has more than doubled.

I must quote verbatim here because there is no way I could possibly better Mister Myers’ writing. ‘Alas that wretched county is not alone in its madness. Somewhere over the rainbow lies Somalia, another fine land of violent Kalashnikov-toting, khat chewing, girl-circumcising, permanently tumescent layabouts. Indeed, we now have almost an entire continent of sexually hyperactive illiterate indigents with tens of millions of people who only survive because of help from the outside world. This dependence has not stimulated prudence or common sense. How much morality is there in saving an Ethiopian child from starvation today for it to survive to a life of brutal circumcision, poverty, hunger, violence, and sexual abuse?...Of course it might make you feel better which is a prime reason for so much charity but that is not good enough. For self-serving generosity has been one of the curses of Africa.’

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The British Broadcasting Corporation, that stalwart upholder of all things British (albeit maybe a little too leftwing at the moment even if not actually flying The red Flag) is intent it seems as everybody else in business and governance in mutilating the English language. It has advertised three jobs as: ‘a category manager’, ‘a content release co-ordinator’ and ‘a release manager, core services’ to which I can only say what on earth do they mean? The Guardian is usually full of job adverts like this. Nobody can speak plain English anymore, leastwise not those in a position where they feel insecure and need to show their education and intelligence by inventing gobbledygook. ‘You don’t know what I mean? Oh, dear! And I always thought you had a little more intelligence than that. Tut tut.’ So what job description would the BBC dredge up for someone who really makes a fabulous balls up? Some years ago a member of staff I believe wiped the tape of a very special one-off star-studded opera production thereby losing it for good. I remember doing a TV commercial once, I think it was for ‘Three Nuns’ tobacco and it was being shot a few miles out of town at some sports field. There we all were, shivering at seven in the morning only to find someone had forgotten to bring the film. There’s an old joke about shooting the blowing up of the bridge in ‘Bridge On The River Kwai.’ Because it could only happen once, David Lean the director used three cameras all in different positions. On action the bridge was duly blown up and he rushed to his first camera and said, ‘Did you get it? Did you get it? And the camera operator said, ‘Sorry, Mister Lean, I didn’t know it but the clapper-loader hadn’t done his job properly and the film jammed’ So Lean rushed off to his second camera. ‘Did get it? Did you get it?’ ‘Sorry Mister Lean just as we were about to shoot the camera tipped right over in the mud.’ So he rushed off to his third camera. ‘Did you get it? Did you get it?’ And the operator with a big smile and a thumbs up said. ‘Ready when you are, Mister Lean.’ Okay, so it didn’t really happen but what reminded me of it is that the Beeb, or the production company concerned, has just produced ‘Room At The Top’ and would have broadcast it if the lawyers…wait for it… hadn’t suddenly found out that nobody had thought to apply for the rights and came down like wolves on the fold. Now that is a momentous balls up. Give it a job description. It was probably the release manager- core services wot ought to have dun it and, having failed so to do, the release co-ordinator had to abort the release.

Evidently an empty shelf at a Tesco store displays a card that reads ‘Availability problem.’ What happened to good old-fashioned ‘Out of Stock’? It’s like the Chief Constable of North Wales who referred to a motor horn as ‘an audible warning instrument.’ You’ve just got to laugh, hey? Soon there won’t be any policemen at all, they will be forever addressed as ‘crime prevention officers.’ That’s as good as rat catchers being called ‘rodent operatives.’ Hey ho, what a merry old carry on! Quote – It’s a mad mad world, my masters – unquote. In modern PC parlance replace ‘mad’ with ‘mentally challenged.’

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I am once again on my “let’s talk money” kick. Oh, no! I hear you say, not again, boring! Well maybe to you it is but I am forever fascinated by other people’s approach to money, mine included I suppose as, apart from two short periods many years ago, I have never really had any, not to speak of anyway. This time under discussion it’s not the filthy rich bankers who grow richer and filthier by the day, or the filthy rich footballers ditto, or the teenage millionaires (the latest Harry Potter film has already raked in over a billion – what can young Daniel Radcliffe be worth now do you suppose?) or the British politicians on the gravy train, and we’ll leave the Blairs out of it as well, fine socialists they are, but those in charge of the poor taxpayers money. Question – Are they in their right senses? Answers on a postcard please not to exceed five thousand words.

The UK is up to its neck in debt but is still doling out millions in aid to countries from which it will (a) receive little if any thanks (think Pakistan) but (b) much more important those populations that will see very little of this generosity because they are ruled by avaricious vicious dictators, corrupt politicians and always on the make functionaries. For example, with the aid received from the UK, at the last count £133million, the dictator of the Democratic(!) Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso owns sixteen of the most luxurious houses and flats in Paris. Guess how he paid for them. He is only one of a number of African politicians said to have built vast overseas property empires on public funds from their countries’ treasuries, including foreign aid.

Ali Bongo (sounds like a circus act though not as funny) president of Gabon owns nearly forty properties in Paris while Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea owns a six story period building on the prestigious Avenue Foch, reputedly worth £15million. Evidently it is used by members of his family when on a shopping spree in Paris. France appears to be the honeypot for these very nasty people. Gaddafi has property there, as do Hosni Mubarak, now of course on trial in Egypt, and the deposed dictator f Tunisia, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The current £8.1billiom that Britain spends on foreign aid is set to increase £11.4billion in 2014. Why? Are those in charge of dispensing this largesse so freely stark staring mad that they will continue willy nilly and with careless abandon throw good money after bad when it is obvious where it goes and the people of these benighted countries never benefit.

But, property purchases apart, it is said that the monster Mugabe has lashed out over £12million in the last six months in foreign travel while Zimbabwe goes from worse to worse . At his age, (oh, when will he pop his clogs though I suppose someone just as evil will step into his smelly boots), maybe he’s having a final fling, spending as much as he can. After all he’s going down in history as a poisonous toad, he can’t do his reputation much more damage.

Unless it can be proved without any doubt that foreign aid is going to where it is most needed it should be stopped completely right now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When I was at university in South Africa many many years ago, ZIPPO cigarette lighters were known as arseholes because everybody had one. Today I think maybe the ubiquitous mobile phone deserves that appellation. Chris and I went on Sunday night to a concert of ancient Cretan music in what’s known as our “Arts Café” and, within minutes, at least five mobile phones lit up in our immediate vicinity. What gives with these people that they are so hooked on the damn things they can’t leave them alone for a minute? It’s truly frightening. The three musicians were fantastic, Crete is not short of excellent musicians, but I’m afraid, believing it to be a concert, we went with the wrong attitude, that is, British, because a concert it was not. For the Greeks it was a social evening, a get together, a greeting of friends, kiss kiss kiss kiss, and a catching up of gossip and I suppose all the latest news. There is certainly one thing the Greeks are still very good at indeed and that is conversation. Naturally if the music was very loud so were the voices. In the end we succumbed to the atmosphere and, having got over our Britishness, thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Naturally also the liquor flowed and a traditional pilafi was served. I love pilafi. Could OD on it given half a chance. The Arts café does host a number of very interesting performances. We’re not short of culture here. Oh, no, Mister Horne very cultural we are.

It reminded me though of a not so pleasant experience in New York when some years back I went with Gray Lee and his then current girlfriend to the park to listen to opera and after a while had to leave as I just couldn’t stand it any longer. So, okay, enjoy your picnic but do you have to sit with your back to the stage and natter away non-stop and loudly while singers up there are belting their hearts out? Unmannerly people can behave quite outrageously without realising it. Gray and his girl-friend needless to say stayed put to the end.

Suddenly, having passed my eightieth birthday, I am getting fan mail again. I wonder what brought this on. One of my lyrics in a musical goes “It’s nice to be appreciated, nice to swell with pride, when you’ve worked hard, and you’ve worked long, and the world is on your side.” Unfortunately no matter how hard or how long you’ve worked, the world ain’t always on your side but it’s nice to be appreciated even on an individual level especially when you’re told you’re quite quite brilliant, not something I readily believe Mister Coward but I will certainly bask in it for a while.