Wednesday, 26 April 2017


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This came out last year and was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. It was on in the tiny cinema in Ambleside, so we went.
It is a story of suppression set in Turkey, probably in the south nr Antalya, by the sea. The narrative outline is soon . . . what? . . . adumbrated by the family dynamic: an unmarried middle-aged uncle, an elderly widowed grandmother who has taken the sisters in and largely lives under the thumb of her son, said  unmarried uncle, and five pretty girls all orphans, coming up to puberty. Okay, rather contrived. The girls are accused of flirting with local boys and we see the event: as they are going home from school, they horse around with the boys in the class and get soaked in the sea. Wet t-shirt stuff. A surly neighbour reports all this to the gran who decides to ground the girls but when the uncle hears about it, he decides to lock them up, imprison them effectively, in their room. With steel bars at the windows.
There is a strong sense of intimacy between the sisters: even when imprisoned, they are tactile with one another, playful completely unsophisticated and ingenuous in one another’s company. This gives we the audience some lovely scenes of the girls which in turn makes what happens next, all the more unbearable.
At first we see the narrowness of their gaolers thinking; soon they are being married-off, at sixteen, even fifteen, to young men they have never even met before, older, working, serious, not the schoolboys we saw them having fun with earlier. This is the solution: get them married while they are still virgins and the ‘problem’ will disappear.
I liked it a lot. Wouldn’t have given it 5* but four would be about right. Critics seem divided about the contrived story-line and the inevitable plot-holes such a narrative will unavoidably produce. One reviewer claims it isn’t subtle enough but this is one of those times when tell not show is the perfect approach.  
 I went to Antalya once and to be honest didn’t find the population as conservative as they are portrayed here; they receive millions of summer visitors from Europe plus as well, many, many Turkish citizens work in Germany and surrounding countries and they are very well aware of the liberated attitudes of young women. But that isn’t what this film is about.


This might be the worst film I have ever seen.
Not even sure how to describe it without resorting to adjectives such as excessive violence; unrestrained aggression; pornographic; profane in the extreme: no sentence is spoken by anyone in the film without the word fuck. You never get, ‘We’re out of milk, and I’m just walking across to the shops to get more’. Every time it becomes, ‘We’re out of fucking milk, I’m just walking across to the fucking shops to get more’. God, it’s tedious. Was that funny, by the way? Everyone but me thought it was hilarious.
I mean it is so far from any terms of reference I can recognise or relate to and okay, adults clearly aren’t its core audience but even making due allowance for all that, it is terrible within its own terms. What I think it is trying to do is play on a theme of anti-Superhero so that instead of say Batman saving the World and combating bad-guys intent on destroying the World, Mr Pool has no such concerns. He is a Lad: chasing girls, inhabiting bars; fighting [and picking fights . . . very subversive for a Superhero]; boozing and being abusive to every straight section of society. But . . . he does all of this to excess using [in fact misusing] his superpowers.
Trouble here is I have never seen any X-Men films or real Superhero films [Spiderman, for example] that this sets out to diss so I don’t/can’t get the ironic humour and I am a million miles from the subculture being referenced in the motormouth quips.
Eventually, one becomes aware of the homoerotic references. In a scene in a bar he asks the bar tender for a blow-job and he is given some kind of cocktail with whipped cream on top; turns out a blow-job means different things to different people: it’s all about context. But the point is, he asks the bar-man for the blow-job. Really not sure what is going on with this, it occurs a lot although Pool is in a relationship with a woman for the whole of the first half of the film and its pretty full-on: as per always in a Fox/Hollywood film she is full-frontal at all times but he is more modestly filmed. Christ, this double-standard Century City insists upon. There is a quasi-academic article buried in the Guardian claiming that it is all about bi-sexuality; pan-sexual the author calls it. Completely passed me by. The academic article I would like to have read is the one about why and how this ultra-violent pornographic ‘comedy’ pulled in $742m Worldwide against a budget of $58m. Who watches this stuff? Young American men? In the first twenty minutes at least a hundred people are gunned down in a hail of bullets; without consequences. In the next twenty minutes when the women appear, every one is dressed like someone’s call-girl fantasy and spoken to like . . . like . . . slags/objects. Sexualised objects. I thought, I really did, that this kind of talk went out decades ago but here it is in Superhero films [and Westworld and GOT]. It never goes away: women make one step forward and six steps backwards. And it’s no use telling me I need to contextualise the film by the laws of its own universe . . .
The person I went with liked it and laughed a lot; laughed loudest when the guy pulled the sword out of his own torso. The sword that should have killed him. She laughed at the scene where the camera turned to reveal Ryan Reynolds’ bum: he wasn’t wearing trousers. Tee-hee.

Done more research. Its American teenage girls that form two-thirds of its audience. They love Ryan and they love his bum. They feel sorry for him, for being disfigured and they love his grungy lifestyle. The endless sexual references and profanity are a guilty thrill; the aggression and violence, being sprayed with bullets from a high-velocity weapon and coming out completely unharmed, just goes over their heads [or they shut their eyes]. Anyway, it’s funny. The boinky-boinky? Well it’s everywhere now. What doesn’t go over their heads is the referencing of their own lives, their current concerns, current culture; the buzz, the noise, the relevance 

This is a 2015 film with a largely British cast that we watched on Netflix: it has 99% positive approval in the Rotten Tomatoes echo-chamber. I’m afraid I found it heavy-handed and tedious.
Long, long before it became the National Shrine it is today I visited the Lorraine Motel; just a cheap run-down hotel for the underclass. Said more about the forces ranged against King than any book, film or Oscar-nominated performances.



Saturday, 22 April 2017


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We went to see the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre last night; it’s an adult comedy using sock puppets to deliver the lines. They gave us their versions of Hamlet, Titus Andronicus, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. The groanworthy gags are studiously silly, and non-stop and the constantly bickering socks digress at any opportunity they are given rather than actually do Shakespeare. There’s some great audience interaction and they also took on the likes of Michael Jackson  . . . which I personally found hilarious . . . and which are probably staples of the act. Too long by twenty minutes I don’t think I would go again: you only have to get the joke once.


Monday, 17 April 2017


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I am not homosexual; never had any inclination in that regard. I mean, I wouldn’t have any problem saying so on the blog or acknowledging some long-ago flirtation with the idea but it never happened.

I can recall three encounters with Gay men in my life; a Chief Architect at Northumberland County Council who had a huge project on the boards that we thought we could become involved in, Arthur Lamb and the three guys in Berlin.


Architect guy was decades ago, what a temper he had in fact it was only after he had flounced out of a meeting for the umpteenth time that I realised he wasn’t normal. Seriously, have you ever held a meeting with a project architect, already stressed out of her mind because they are running three months behind and she is having her period? To be honest, I have probably met many gay men [1.7% of the adult male population] through my work but you really never knew. Anyway, people steer away from talking about their personal situation in business meetings. After, later or over a lunchtime sandwich they may open up a little but with me at least it took the form of, ‘I’m moving house soon and could do with a few high-security locks’ rather than, ‘No, I don’t have kids and never will’. Plus, some men [Gareth Wright comes to mind] are terminally effeminate and you know, you just know that they are bent until he tells you how expensive it was to take all four kids to France for a ski-ing holiday this year. But this architect, Jeez, I just didn’t know how to handle him: he posed, he pranced but he was my client and I was obliged unfortunately to manage shall we say, his changeable nature. You soon realised you were in a minefield and could upset him with a word or a gesture . . . and you better not ignore him. If he asks you a question, no matter how idiotic you have to formulate a reply without him realising he has just asked a stupid question. I still remember to this day what a handful he was.


Arthur Lamb was everyone’s idea of a poofter; he worked in the same office as me but his real existence was played out at night, as a cross-dressing cabaret act available to hire for pubs and back-rooms. I never saw his act but colleagues who had said he was pretty good.

I think Arthur went through hell as a gay man in sixties Newcastle. And it couldn’t be concealed or hidden, or managed. He had no option other than to be who and what he was with a genetic fault that meant he was a woman in a man’s body. I sometimes think that homosexuality and its various sub-strata has become a lifestyle choice now: the same HMG Poll that found 1.7% of adults identify as Gay also found that 2.4% of 16-24 year olds identify as Gay, mainly in London of course. The whole gay/lesbian ethos is strongly biased towards London; its 1% here, God knows what it was in Newcastle in the sixties. Statistically unmeasurable, I expect. I’m not saying that people should resist these urges, it’s out-there now; acceptable socially . . .  just about . . . and I don’t know, the media, Hollywood make it all seem so positive: there are no penalties any longer unlike in Arthur’s day when penalties lurked around every corner. But you will never have your own children; you will now and forever be stigmatised by 90% of straight society. Is this really, really what you are, what you want to be?

I met Arthur later in life when I took over as MD of Laidlaws. He was there, older now living in an end terrace in Fenham that I believe he inherited from his mother. I was pleased to see him; a friendly face in that dysfunctional commercial disaster with no stock and nothing on order. He seemed pleased to see me again after thirty years or more. The pantomime Dame was long gone in fact he was quite ill with HIV/Aids and died during the three years I stayed there.


I went to Berlin in 1967 to see the Miles Davis Quintet play its only European gig at the Berlin Philharmonic. They were all there: Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and of course Miles himself, although they left the composer behind in New York. Don’t ask me what they played. Round Midnight was one of them. Mainly for me it was an inexpensive opportunity to get to Berlin, see the wall, Hitler’s Bunker and cross through Checkpoint Charlie to the Eastern side. It was just as you might expect, goose-stepping East German guards, watchtowers, floodlights, the taxi searched underneath with mirrors on poles. The wall was frightening; Hitler’s Bunker remarkably unaltered by the twenty or so years since the end of the war. East Berlin itself scarily empty with bomb-damaged building frontages kept standing with scaffolding.

I was supposed to share my room with Murray [he told me his surname but it is long-forgotten now] a gay man from west London, maybe ten-years older than me. Murray had come over with two of his friends and in fact all three of them bunked together by day, when I was out; one of them was called Michael, an achingly thin older man trying to look younger and a thin, incredibly camp incredibly lithe black kid just a little older than me who tried to steal my passport. Completely forgotten his name: was it Harris? Harrison? For the sake of the story I will call him Harrison.

Murray was a theatre lighting director: had no idea then or now what a lighting director does all day.

Michael owned a successful business manufacturing and selling men’s underwear.

Harrison was a dancer.

The idea that all gay men are theatre fanboys, and everyone who works in theatre is naturally gay is clearly a trope. I had never heard the word gay until I met these three: we called them queers. I couldn’t find a handhold anywhere to connect their sad and corrupted existence with the adjective gay. Gay was the last thing they seemed: Michael almost always guiltily concealing a package somewhere about his person and constantly terrified in case he found Harrison shagging someone else; he never took his eyes off him. Vulnerable Harrison without a penny to his name existing in some kind of after-life in which he always had to look good although someone else paid the bills, bought his clothes, acquired his drugs, fed him and paid the entrance fees to the Berlin Boys Clubs. Yes, I wondered frequently how many people on that trip actually came to see the Quintet. Me, I wanted to experience East Berlin when it was near-impossible to acquire a visa; them, they wanted to get round as many of Berlin’s gay clubs as they could fit in. They lived by night of course which is why it was okay to share my room with them.

They took me to see Hair . . . remember that? The fashionable full-frontal nude musical which at that time was banned in Britain. So naughty.

Michael didn’t care for me; he was much older and I was probably a Northern Oik to him, plus I wasn’t gay. Didn’t even take drugs . . . how straight can you get? Plus I might have been a potential threat and captured the heart of his beloved. His beloved wasn’t even remotely interested in me, as I said, he tried to steal my passport. Murray was very interested: he was funny and I laughed at his jokes. Maybe that’s all you need to make a relationship in Gay-land; laugh at someone’s jokes. But despite the fact that he received zilch signalling from me, he wouldn’t let it go, phoned and wrote me two letters when we all returned to England.

I did see Miles, at the afternoon matinee.

It was very interesting by the way, flying in to Berlin at night, seeing this sea of light approach in a void of darkness where a whole country lay.





Friday, 14 April 2017


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There was a Merlin in our garden yesterday. Incredible. They are rare enough anyway let alone in West Newcastle; it was sitting on the wall just as you open the back door to the garden, about 2-meters away. Turned its head to stare with its golden eye then flapped its wings once and was gone. I thought earlier in the week that I had heard a hawk over the adjacent woodland but couldn’t quite spot it and anyway, it isn’t that unusual at this time of year to hear hawks; this must have been it.

They are so rare: on the Red List and are thinly spread in Britain around the Southwest, places like Somerset and Dorset. In spring they migrate home to Iceland to breed, perhaps she stopped-off in our garden for a rest.

Lucky us. Almost certainly a once in a lifetime experience.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Image result for andy goldsworthy artImage result for andy goldsworthy art

Been a long-time enthusiast for Andy Goldsworthy’s work. I can’t quite recall the sequence but I became aware of him and what he was doing and then shortly afterwards attended an exhibition, might have been a retrospective, might have been his first major London show and was astonished to find that everything on display was blown-up photography. Huge 2.5x2.5m unframed pictures. Which wasn’t what I thought he was about. But then I realised that if you are going to make a trail of brightly coloured leaves floating slowly down a woodland stream, then how else can you explain it to your audience than by taking a picture of what you just did.

His work has a kind of spiritual purpose and encompasses stone walls [see image] like this one in Grizedale Sculpture Park which is utterly delightful when you see it for real; sticks and pebble arrangements, leaves scattered or woven in some kind of pattern seem to be his most favoured form of expression. He is well worth investigating. There is one of his pieces over in Gateshead amongst some prickly bushes next to the Hilton Hotel car park that no-one no-one knows about. It is from his series of egg-shaped twig structures; it must be worth a fortune but it is not fenced-off or surrounded by opaque security glass, it just sits there waiting to be found.

Many of his pieces only last a few hours but that doesn’t invalidate them in any way, in fact that gossamer-winged aspect to much of his work is probably the thing I love the most about it.
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Sunday, 9 April 2017


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Its years, decades probably since I was bored, as defined by; lacking in variety; tediously unvarying; having very little inflection; limited to a narrow pitch range. I was extremely lucky in my career choice, as one of the characters in my novel Parallel Lines is given to say, ‘I learned something new every day’. Even now in retirement I am more or less never bored.

The Ft published some results from a survey, balanced it must be acknowledged to the Finance Sector which showed levels of boredom as high as 91% in some areas of banking:

Middle-grade banking roles hover around 80% but I suspect that middle-grade roles in almost any industry are probably roughly the same. The most interesting work is in R&D at 45%, followed by Education [50%] and Technology on 56%. Legal Professionals at 81% are surprisingly unmotivated; respondents said the work tended to be boring and repetitive. The best results in the Financial Sector were Asset Managers at 68% where although the job was challenging, it took forever to see any results from your efforts. This was also the main complaint of Architects.

I guess you can be bored by anything. My wife’s cousin flew Jumbo jets for years: the whole bit, across the Atlantic, to Japan and Singapore; the Middle East. As soon as he became of pensionable age he packed it in. The machines had taken over, he said. People say they find the deserts of New Mexico tedious but we found them so interesting that we have returned there four times: the changing light is completely fascinating. So one’s individual threshold must play a part but who wants continual go-go excitement?

There is on the other hand, a lot to be said for monotony. Many people find World Music ‘tediously unvarying’. Chug-a-chug, chug-a-chug one chord stuff played on some ancient one-stringed instrument. But try Tinarawin [hope the link works!] yes, more chug a chug but then they vary it just enough. I can listen to it for hours. Chicago Blues player Jimmy Reed is almost a study in monotony in himself. He had twenty hits in a row playing more or less the same tune, just changing the words. Its more chug a chug a chug . . . try . . . but it is unique and completely original and if you keep listening you will hear him vary it, and like the Tinarawins, just enough. Jimmy Reed understood the magic of repetition; of monotony, transforming itself to become this sort of hypnotic trancelike sound. It’s actually an amazing study in restraint, in my opinion.

I’m not, you know, evangelising for monotony. Just sayin’ . . . it has its place.


Friday, 7 April 2017


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This is a Lotus Cortina, haven’t seen one in years, must be fifty-years old minimum but I saw one today, they were filling up with petrol. When I was a kid, they were the dream machines for every lad. Not cheap but they were the real deal: real Lotus engine; real Lotus gearbox and suspension. All by the big names in racing at the time: Cosworth, Jim Clark, Colin Chapman who did so much later to establish British F1 Racing.

Never so much as sat in one never mind drive it . . . way out of my league. They had a tachometer and a wood steering wheel and of course the touch of genius, the green stripe. What a marketing trick.

They’re worth a small fortune now: there are several on the Internet for £30000 and more; there is even one at £45k.