Sunday 31 October 2010

Britain is now no country for old stags aswell as old men

The magnificent 12 year old, 300lb stag which stood 8 feet high and was known as 'The Emperor of Exmoor', was shot dead by a mystery stalker in the cold, misty dawn of a moorland valley on October 8th.
Here the killer sits alongside the dead stag clutching an antler, possibly to position the head after ‘sticking’ the animal – slitting its throat – to drain the blood and preserve the quality of the meat.

The photo was taken moments after the stag broke cover from woods, which had long been his haven and where deer shooting is banned and is thought to have run straight into the sights of the hunter.
Newspaper coverage has ensured the Emperor's immortality :
The Guardian :
Dead or alive? The Emperor becomes an Exmoor legend.
The Independent :
Michael McCarthy: With the death of the Emperor we mourn the passing of an ideal.
The Daily Mail :
Is this Emperor? Tantalising picture that suggests the great stag of Exmoor might not have been shot dead after all.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Britain is a country with a county called Kent and a castle called Sissinghurst with a garden tailor-made for old men

We visited Sissinghurst Castle with its Garden in Kent this week. It is one of the most famous gardens in the world, the creation of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicholson in the 1930's. It has neither children, dogs, advertising nor extraneous sounds - it is a paradise for old men.

Vita arrived here in 1930, looking for an old house where she could make a new garden, fell in love with Sissinghurst Castle and bought it, along with 400 acres of farmland.

It was an old place. The name 'Sissinghurst' came from Saxon times before 1066 and meant : a 'clearing' (sissing) in the 'woods' (hurst). In the Middle Ages a stone manor house surrounded by a moat was built.

In 1480 it was bought by the Baker family who were related by marriage to the 'Sackvilles' of Knole and in the 1500's an Elizabethan house built by Sir Richard Baker, was said to be one of the most magnificent in the Weald of Kent.

In 1756, after a change in the families' fortune, the house was let to the Government and used as a camp for French prisoners of war.
Over 3,000 inmates were held there over 7 years and it was from them that the title of 'castle' was given, since the house was similar to a French 'chateau'.

After the French had left it was occupied by the 'poor of the parish' working on the estate farm and in the neighbouring brickyard. Then, in 1855 the estate reverted to the Cornwallis family who built the new farmhouse.

The Twentieth Century :

* Vita and Harold made a garden which reflected their different personalities. He, the 'classicist', who designed the layout of the garden using the walls & buildings already in place and she, the 'romantic', who favoured profusion and surprise.

* On first seeing the castle she wrote : 'I fell in love; love at first sight. I saw what could be made of it. It was Sleeping Beauty's Castle, but a castle running away into sordidness and squalor, and a garden crying out for rescue.'
Here you hear her voice, reading her poem, 'The Land'.

* The garden is a sequence of 10 separate gardens linked by vistas : the White garden, Rose garden, Lime walk, Cottage garden, Tower lawn, Yew walk, Herb garden, Moat walk, the Nuttery and the Orchard.

This video gives some idea of its magic :

And my photos might give some idea of that too :

The tower dates from 1573 and was built for Elizabeth I's visit to Sissinghurst.
At its base a tablet simply says 'To Vita Sackville-West, who made this garden'.

Friday 29 October 2010

Britain is a country where old men say "Happy Birthday" to Peter Green while, remembering Fleetwood Mac an 'Albatross' and a' Man of the World'

Peter Green is 64 today. You probably know him as a blues-rock guitarist who founded the band 'Fleetwood Mac' and withdrew from the world after the success of his beautiful 'Man of the World'.

What you possibly didn't know was that he :

* was ranked 38th in 'Rolling Stone's' list of the '100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time'
* played in 'John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers' and left in 1967 to form 'Fleetwood Mac'.

* had a distinctive playing style and tone, as witnessed in 'The Super-Natural', an instrumental he wrote for 'The Bluesbreakers' in 1967 for their 'A Hard Road' album.
_ harmonic feedback
_ shivering vibrato
_ 10 second sustained notes achieved by him controlling feedback on his Les Paul guitar[7]

* in his new band 'Fleetwood Mac', produced 'Albatross' in 1969.

* struggled with success and his personality changed after LSD, which may have caused schizophrenia.

* left Fleetwood Mac in 1970 and faded into obscurity, taking a succession of menial jobs and undergoing electro convulsive therapy.

* enjoyed a late 1990's comeback with the 'Peter Green Splinter Group', released 9 albums and began to play his 'Gibson Les Paul' guitar again.

* began playing and touring again in 2009 with 'Peter Green and Friends'.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Britain is a country where old men now have their very own celebration on 'Older People's Day'.

October 5th was 'Older People's Day'.

Apparently, 'UK Older People’s Day helps celebrates the achievements and contributions of older people to society, with this year’s celebration based around the theme of ‘Getting and staying active’, encouraging people to prepare well in the present to enjoy a positive and active life later on'.

A bit of research revealed a few flurries of activity in some regions :

* NHS Western Cheshire -
Getting and staying active in later life is the theme of host of events in western Cheshire to celebrate ...

* North Wales News ... Anglesey celebrates Older People Eisteddfod.

* Events held in Somerset

* Greenwich celebrates the achievements and contributions of older ...

If we had dropped in on Greenwich, what would we have found ? :

* An 'Age Concern event' where admission was free and included light refreshments and as well as an opportunity to talk to a healthy living team about 'fun ways to stay active', a 'host of other activities' on the day which included :

- dance workshop
- exercise to music session
- blood pressure checks
- massage therapies
- fruit smoothie tasters
- free raffle.

Well, that sounded a lot of fun and practical too, with the 'blood pressure checks', presumably coming after the 'dance' and exercise and all this was at the 'Greenwich Pensioner's Forum'.

Over at Charlton House there was another activity which cost £1 and had the Mayor in attendance. Here the activities included :

* a talk on the 'History of Alms houses' from the Assistant Director of the Alms Houses Corporation.
* a performance from poet Marion Kelly.
* a talk on pensions from Neil Duncan Jordan from the National Pensioners Convention
* a performance from the Blackheath Male Voice Choir
Scottish dancing.

They all sounded jolly exciting and the £1 entrance fee to the event included tea, coffee and lunch and entry to a raffle competition. The Council Cabinet Member for 'Health, Adults and Older People’s Services', said:

" I hope as many people as possible make it along to the events and a great time is had by all."

I bet a lot of old men had trouble deciding which events they should attend : on the one hand would it be dance - exercise - music - blood pressure check - massage - fruit smoothies or, on the other, talk - poetry performance - talk - male voice choir - Scottish dancing. What would I have chosen had I lived in Greenwich ?

Outside London, over in Cheshire they had free smoke alarms - taster sessions for flower-arranging - 'men in sheds' - belly-dancing - walking groups - information about home repairs, adaptations and improvements.

The 'belly dancing' sounded a bit more interesting than the 'home repairs'.

The 'Men in Sheds Project' was more serious and aimed to encourage older men : 'to go along for some 'shed therapy' whether they are lonely, want to chat over a cup of tea, learn new skills or share the skills they have with others or just get out of the house for a while'. I'm still not sure if 'shed' meant that they sat in a 'garden shed' or 'shed', as in 'got rid of' their worries. Maybe it was a bit of both.

I went to the Government's website to see what had gone on within 10 miles of where I live. Sadly, the answer was 'absolutely nothing'.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to John Cleese, with fond memories of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' and 'Fawlty Towers'

John Cleese, actor, comedian, writer and film producer is 71 today.

Things you probably did know about John, that he :

* in the late '60s, was part of the 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' tv team and the 4 Monty Python films.

My posting on 'The Pythons' on this blog : October 17th 2009 :

* in the mid '70s, co-wrote and starred in, with first wife Connie Booth, the tv sitcom 'Fawlty Towers'.

* co-starred with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin in the films 'A Fish Called Wanda' and 'Fierce Creatures' and starred as the Head Teacher in 'Clockwise',who, incidentally was based on the Head of the Secondary School in South London which I had attended some years before.

My posting on my old school on 1st September 2009 :

What you probably didn't know about John, that he :

* was born in Somerset, the only child of Muriel, an acrobat, and Reginald, who worked in insurance sales.

* at 13 and over 6 feet tall, went to a public school in Bristol and is said to have defaced the school grounds by painting footsteps to suggest that the school's statue, of Field Marshal Earl Haig, had got down from his plinth and gone to the toilet.

* was a student at Cambridge University, studied Law and joined the Cambridge 'Footlights Revue' where he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman.

* briefly performed in the musical 'Half a Sixpence' in the USA, met future 'Python', Terry Gilliam, as well as, American actress Connie Booth, who he married in 1968.

* was a member of the 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' which ran from 1969 to 1974 on BBC TV.

* wrote sketches with Chapman who would suddenly come out with an idea which elevated the sketch to a different level as in the 'Dead Parrot', where the satire on poor customer service, originally involved a broken car, until Chapman suggested they change it to a 'dead Norwegian Blue parrot'.

* in the 'Ministry of Silly Walks' sketch, exploited his height as the crane-legged civil servant performing a grotesquely elaborate walk to his office.

* played the neurotic hotel manager, Basil Fawlty, in 'Fawlty Towers', which he co-wrote with his wife, basing the character on a hotel manager he described as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met." He, apparently, threw Eric Idle's briefcase out of the hotel "in case it contained a bomb", complained about Terry Gilliam's "American" table manners and threw a bus timetable at a guest who asked "the time of the next bus to town?"

* in 1988, he wrote and starred in 'A Fish Called Wanda',along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin and was nominated for an Academy Award for his script.

* has been active to the present day : appearing in James Bond films, acting as 'Visiting Professor' at Cornell University, making a cameo appearances in the computer game 'Starship Titanic'.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Britain says "Happy Birthday" to Bob Hoskins

Bob Hoskins the screen and t.v. actor is 76 years old today.

Things you probably did know about Bob, that he :

* is known for playing 'Cockney' rough diamonds, psychopaths and gangsters.

* starred in film 'The Long Good Friday', Mona Lisa, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' and 'Hook'.

Long Good Friday :
..........and more at the bottom of the page :

Mona Lisa :

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Things you possibly didn't know, that he :

* was born in Suffolk, the son of mother who was cook and nursery-school teacher and father who was a bookkeeper and lorry driver.

* had a grandmother who was a Romani.

* was brought up as an atheist by his father who was a Communist.

* at the age of 25 spent a short time in kibbutz in Israel.

* had his first tv role was in 'On the Move' in 1978, an educational series tackling adult illiteracy and in which he played 'removal man Alf', who had problems reading and writing.

* came to wider attention as a sheet music salesman in the BBC's adaption of Dennis Potter's 'Pennies from Heaven'
* played Iago in Jonathan Miller's BBC's production of Othello.

* for his performance in 'Mona Lisa' won a series of awards.

* made his first appearance to American audiences in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit', for which he received a second Golden Globe nomination.

* played opposite Cher in 'Mermaids' in 1990, boatswain Smee in 'Captain Hook' in 1991 and Nikita Khrushchev in 'Enemy at the Gates' in 2001 .

* made a return to British tv in 2009 in the drama serial 'The Street', playing a publican who stands up to a local gangster.

Talks about his career :

Long Good Friday :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Part 4 :

Part 5 :

Part 6 :

Monday 25 October 2010

Britain, once a country where boys asked for " a penny for the guy ?", is now one where teenage youths threaten " trick or treat?" on doorsteps.

When I was a boy, like all baby boomers, there was 'Guy Fawkes' or 'Bonfire Night' on the November 5th.I've always assumed the fires harked back to the Catholic plotters, who had been found guilty of plotting to destroy the King and both Houses of Parliament, with a gunpowder explosion, in 1605.

Did the fires we burned hark back to the plotters having their entrails drawn from the stomachs and burnt before them at their executions ?
Did the fireworks we lit, hark back to the gunpowder the plotters used ?
I don't know.

When I was a boy, kids on the streets would prop up their stuffed 'guy', derived from 'Guido' Fawkes who was one of the plotters, on the streets and 'ask' for "a penny for the guy ?".

Quite quickly, in the last few years, Bonfire Night's place in the annual 'celebratory calender' seems to have been replaced by Halloween Night.
As the night of Sunday October 31, 2010 approaches, Britain's old men prepare to bolt their doors against teenagers demanding 'money' or a 'treat' and repaying refusal with eggs and flour thrown against doors and windows.

A couple of years ago, we didn't answer the door and had a brick thrown against the window, which fortunately bounced of the supporting strut. The year before that, the eggs thrown against the wall stuck like concrete on the rendering and could only be removed the next day with a power hose.

To me this 'fun celebration' seems to have made its way in from the U.S.A. and supermarkets are selling costumes and other paraphernalia connected with it.

Some police forces offer fliers to be put on doors by members of the public who do noy want a visit from halloweeners. My reaction is that these would act as a 'red rag to a bull', inflame young tempers and invite a barrage of eggs and flour.

There is 'usefulful' advice available :

* 'The simple way of dealing with trick or treaters is to just give them what they want. The premise is that, if you don’t give them treats then they’re allowed to perform a trick, such as pelting rotten eggs at your house, so to save any bother, just give them some sweets and be done with it'.

* 'If you don't want to give them anything, or don’t trust them, then the next best option is to pretend you’re not in. Decamp to the back of the house for the evening, switching off all the lights and closing all the curtains at the front. If the tricksters know you’re in and think that you are deliberately ignoring them then they may be tempted to enact some kind of revenge'.

There is even advice to the trick or treaters themselves :

• Do not knock on the doors of strangers - only go to people you know.
• Always keep to well-lit areas. Wear bright clothing and always carry a torch.
• Unless pre-arranged, do not visit elderly members of the community. Be careful not to frighten vulnerable people.
• Keep your tricks within the law - anything that results in damage is an offence and will be dealt with as such.
* Do not approach houses with the ‘No Trick or Treating’ signs. They are there for a reason.
* Remember, calls, tricks or pranks may be harmless fun to some people but can cause real distress to others. Behaviour such as throwing eggs or flour can also quickly cross the line from being anti-social into causing criminal damage.

What a sad country Britain has become.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Britain is a country where old men remember a 1960's band called 'The Rolling Stones' and say " Happy Birthday" to its guitarist called Bill Whyman

Bill Whyman is 76 today.

Things you probably did know about Bill, that he :

* played as the bass guitarist in 'The Rolling Stones' from 1962 until 1992.

* Since 1997, has recorded and toured with his own band, 'Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings.'

And things you probably didn't, that he :

* was born in Lewisham Hospital, South London (as indeed I was 13 years later)

* was the son of a bricklayer and one of five children.

* spent most of his early life in a terraced house in one of the roughest streets in Sydenham, London and has described his childhood as "scarred by poverty".

* attended Grammar School from 1947 to '53 and left before taking exams after his father insisted that he took a job working in a betting shop.

* took piano lessons from age 10 to 13, then fell in love with the sound of a bass guitar and decided it was his instrument.

* created the first 'fretless electric bass guitar' and played this in a London band called 'The Cliftons' where he used the stage name 'Bill' Wyman, taking the surname of a friend with whom he had done National Service in the Air Force from 1955 to 1957

* heard that a 'rhythm and blues' band called 'The Rolling Stones' needed a bass player, auditioned and was hired in 1962.

* was married and older and remained an outsider in the band.

* kept a journal beginning when he was a child and used it in writing his 1990 autobiography 'Stone Alone' and his 2002 book 'Rolling with the Stones'.

* claims to have composed the riff of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' with Brian Jones and drummer Charlie Watts.

* says that "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was released as a single only after a 3-2vote within the band with him, Watts and Jones voting 'for', Jagger and Richards 'against', feeling it not sufficiently commercial.

* by the 1970s, began solo projects.

* composed the score of the 1981 Ryan O'Neal-Omar Sharif film 'Green Ice' and made a cameo appearance in the 1987 film 'Eat the Rich'.

* left the 'The Rolling Stones' in 1992.

* has a love of art and his photographs have hung in galleries around the world.

* is an amateur archaeologist, enjoys relic hunting and has designed and marketed a 'Bill Wyman signature metal detector'.

* owns the 'Sticky Fingers Café', a rock & roll-themed bistro serving American cuisine in Kensington area and 2 more in Cambridge and Manchester.

* Formed his own band 'Bill Whyman and the Rythmn Kings' and following his 70th birthday in 2006, Wyman undertook another British tour.

Green River :

Stuff (Can't Get Enough)

I put a spell on you :

Groovin :

Groovin' . . . on a Sunday afternoon.
Really, couldn't get away too soon.
I can't imagine anything that's better,
The world is ours whenever we're together,
There ain't a place I'd like to be instead of . . .
Groovin' . . . down a crowded avenue.
Doin' anything we like to do.
There's always lots of things that we can see,
We can be anyone we want to be,
And all those happy people we could meet just . . .
Groovin' . . . on a Sunday afternoon.
Really couldn't get away too soon.
Ah-ha-ha [3 times]
We'll keep on spending sunny days this way,
We're gonna talk and laugh our time away.
I feel it comin' closer day by day,.
Life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly . . .
Groovin' . . . on a Sunday afternoon
Really couldn't get away too soon.
Ah-ha-ha [3 times]

Britain will become less and less a country for 'poor' old men as the Government's 'fairly apportioned' spending cuts take hold

It was on Thursday morning and below freezing as news of the' implications'of the Government's proposed cuts of over £80,000,000,000,000 arrived on my doorstep in the shape of the Guardian newspaper.

Age Concern has made the following points :

* the cuts will hit the poor over 75 year olds harder than any other group and will lose an average of £2,030 worth of public services a year or the equivalent to about 33% of their household income.

* if social care spending is cut by 25%, as threatened, a funding gap of £2.2billion will open up in the next 4 years, leaving half a million of the most frail and vulnerable without the vital home-based care they need to stay safe and well.

* things don’t look much better for the 65-74 age group who, it is estimated, will miss out on £1,870 worth of services by 2014/15 just under 29% of their net income.

Counsel and Care, which specialises in information and advice for elderly people and their carers said :

* cutting access to care and supporting fewer older people will only cost more in the long run. Older people will be left to struggle on their own and more will end up being admitted to expensive and often inappropriate hospital and residential care.

Nigel Edwards, Head of the NHS Confederation said :

* elderly patients would have to stay on in hospital for longer as there will be no after-care available in the community and hospital beds will be blocked for those who badly need care.

As the temperature falls, many old men will be asking themselves is there another cold, long winter ahead ?

Friday 22 October 2010

Britain is a country where old men can reflect on the coming of their autumn and listen to James Melton 'in the rain'

I took this photo of the chestnut trees at the bottom of our garden their colour pressages the onset of what we Brits call 'autumn' and American call 'the fall'.
Who is correct ?
To answer the question we must go back to the roots of our practical, flexible and beautiful English language :

* originally the English word 'harvest' meant that 'autumn had arrived' and linguists have traced it back 8000 years to an Indo-European root, 'karp' meaning, 'to pluck or gather'

* by the time of Shakespeare, 'harvest' began to be associated with 'gathering crops' rather than 'the season' and many English people preferred to use the old German word 'fall' with its association with the leaves falling from trees.

* those with a more noble vocabulary might have used the word 'autompne' which arrived with the Normans in 1066 and is derived from the Latin, 'autumnus' which the Romans probably took from the Etruscans before them.

* when the English colonists settled in Virginia in the early 1600s, both words were in use, but over time 'autumn' became the favoured word in England while the American settlers adopted 'fall'.

P.S. I use the word 'fall' to help me remember whether the clocks go back or forward an hour in Britain in the spring and autumn by the simple expedient that : We spring forward and fall back.

Old British poets inspired by Autumn :

* Elegy IX:The Autumnal

* An Autumn Rain-Scene
Thomas Hardy

* Autumn And Winter
Algernon Charles Swinburne

* Autumn: A Dirge
Percy Bysshe Shelley

* Dolor of Autumn
D.H. Lawrence

* Autumn
Siegfried Sassoon

* To Autumn
John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

P.S. James Melton, the U.S.A. and a record from 1937 my Mum and Dad played on an old manually wound gramophone record player :

Thursday 21 October 2010

Britain says "Happy Birthday to Manfred Mann"

Manfred Mann is 70 today. His band was popular from 1964 to 1969 and he went on to lead Manfred Mann's Earth Band in the 1970's and is still performing with it 40 years later.

Manfred :

* started The 'Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers' with Mike Hugg in 1962.

* was close to the British blues boom which was sweeping London's clubs and also spawned 'The 'Rolling Stones', 'The Moody Blues' and 'The Yardbirds'.

* had Paul Jones fronting as lead vocalist and harmonicist and changed the band name to 'Manfred Mann & The Manfreds'.

* was asked to provide a new theme tune for the ITV pop music television programme 'Ready Steady Go!'and responded with '5-4-3-2-1'.

* moved their sound away from the blues to a pop hybrid.

* replaced Paul Jones with Mike d'Abo from 1966 to '69.

* saw the group split in 1969, while their final hit, 'Ragamuffin Man', was in the Top 10.

1964 : Do Wah Diddy Diddy

1964 : 5-4-3-2-1

1966 : Semi-detched suburban Mr James

1966 : Pretty Flamingo

1966 : Just like a Woman

1967 : Ha! Ha! Said the clown

1968 : The Mighty Quinn

1968 : My name is Jack

Lyrics of this quirky song :

My name is Jack and I live in the back of the Greta Garbo home
With friends I will remember, wherever I may roam.

And my name is Jack and I live in the back,
Of the Greta Garbo home for wayward boys and girls.
We all love Jack, we live in the back,
Of the Greta Garbo home for wayward boys and girls.

There goes Fred with his hands on his head cause he thinks he's heard the bomb.
And here comes Superman who really puts it on.
There's lots of fun and I love to run up and down the stairs,
I make as much noise as I want and no one ever cares.

And my name is Jack and I live in the back
Of the Greta Garbo home for wayward boys and girls.
We all love Jack ,we live in the back,
Of the Greta Garbo home for wayward boys and girls.

There's Carl over there with his funny old hair and he's never sad at all.
And when he I grow up I want to run as fast as my friend Paul.
There's the prettiest girl in the whole wide world and her name is Melody Mend.
And here comes Ma with Brother Tom, who's probably my best friend.
Well, Tom is my best friend, my best friend, well, Tom is my best friend.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Britain is a country where old men remember their teens, the 'Swinging 60's' in London and a film called 'Blow Up' by Antonioni.

The Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni died in 2007 at the age of 94 on the same day as the 89 year old Sweidish Director, Ingmar Bergman.

In a career spanning six decades, he is mainly rembered for his Oscar-nominated 'Blowup' in 1966.

The film starred David Hemminings and was set in 'Swinging 60's London'. I lived as a 19 year old in the family home in South London at time.

This was :

* Antonioni's first English-language film.

* inspired by a Julio Cortázar's 1959 short story, 'Las babas del diablo' - 'The Devil's Drool' and by the life of London photographer David Bailey.

* scored by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.

* nominated for several awards at the Cannes Film Festival and won the 'Grand Prix'.

The story :

A day in the life of 'Thomas', a fashion photographer who :

* spends the night at a doss house where he has taken photos a for book of art photos.

* is late for a photo shoot with 'Veruschka' at his studio.

* is late for a shoot with other models later in the morning.

* grows bored and walks off, leaving models and production staff in the lurch.

* drives to an antiques shop.

* wanders into Maryon Park and takes photos of two lovers.

* finds the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) is furious at being photographed and is startled when she stalks him back to his studio and asks for the film. He hands her another roll instead.

* 'blows up' negatives of the film which seem to show a body in the grass and the killer lurking in the trees with a gun.

* has a visit from the two girls again has a romp with them in his studio and goes back to the park and finds a body.

* returns to his studio to find that all the negatives and prints are gone except for one very grainy blowup showing the body.

* at a drug-drenched party in a house on the Thames, can't put across what he has photographed.

* waking up in the house at sunrise, goes back to the park alone to find that the body has gone.

* watches a mimed tennis match, is drawn into it, picks up the imaginary ball and throws it back to the players.

Interesting points about the film :

* 'The Yardbirds' perform 'Stroll On' with Keith Relf singing and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck playing to either side, along with Chris Dreja.

* Michael Palin of Monty Python can be seen briefly in the nightclub crowd and Janet Street-Porter dances in stripy Carnaby Street trousers.

* A poster on the club's door bears a drawing of a tombstone with the epitaph, 'Here lies Bob Dylan Passed Away Royal Albert Hall 27 May 1966 R.I.P', harking to Dylan's switch to electric instruments at this time.

P.S. The park scenes were shot in Maryon Park, Charlton, south-east London and close to the school I went to, till the age of 11.

P.P.S. Movie mistakes :

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Britain is a country whose old men thank Ronald Ridout for their ability to speak 'good English'

Britain is a country where old men like me know the distiction between the use of the word 'shall' and 'will' and 'which' and 'that' and the difference between "speech" marks and 'quotation' marks. For our accuracy in 'English' we have to thank a socialist called Ronald Ridout, who died at the age of 78 in 1994 and whose books sold 91m copies world wide.

In the late 1950's and the early 1960's his textbooks were on my desk in my 'English' lessons in secondary school. I can still hear my teacher at the start of the lesson say :
"Take out your Ridouts."

Things most people people don't know about Ronald, that he :

* always considered himself a socialist and at the beginning of his teaching career, had to move from job to job as headteachers objected to him discussing Marxism in the classroom

* appears in the 'Guinness Book of Records' as the most prolific British textbook writer who wrote more than 500 books and sold 91 million copies

* was born in 1916 and died in South Africa in 1994

* was educated at a grammar school in Surrey, gained an Oxford degree, entered teaching and became 'Head of English' at a Portsmouth secondary school.

* produced his own worksheets, which he submitted to the publisher 'Ginn' and whose editor wrote back saying : 'Mr Ridout, we think that this is the book we have been waiting 25 years for.'
(shouldn't that have been : 'for what we have been waiting' and observing the rule : don't end a sentence with a preposition ?)

* had his books turned into the 5-part 'English Today' and the course which directed English teaching in secondary schools for 20 years

* when his books began to sell overseas, set off to learn about Africa and walked across Nigeria and Sierra Leone in baggy shorts and sandals, carrying a huge basket of his books

* in Africa, realised how inappropriate some parts of his books seemed and produced new ones without references to 'snowball fights' and 'skating'

* was, apparently a dapper, bronzed man who could be puritanical but, was neither proud, nor arrogant

Britain is a country where 'some' old men can stave off dementia by exercising body and brain, but 'many' cannot

There was an article in the Guardian newspaper today entitled :

Dr Luisa Dillner's guide to . . . signs of dementia
It concluded that, you are less likely to develop dementia if :

* you are mentally and physically active and get out of the house

* have friends you socialise with

* read

* play an instrument

* take courses

* play bridge

* play golf

*walk regularly

The problem is : where does this leave the thousands of old men who are possibly widowers and :

* have no friends

* don't read

* can't play a musical instrument

* don't want an adult education course

* can't play bridge

* can't play golf

* can't walk

The answer is :

Facing the prospect of dementia on their own.

Monday 18 October 2010

Britain in the Middle Ages, a country for Donald Sutherland in 'fiction', was no country for real old men in 'fact'

Watching the 75 year old Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland, play the character 'Batholomew', in the tv series. Pillars of Earth', set in England in the Middle Ages, prompted me to ask the question : was Medieval England a country for old men ?
In answer to my question : were most people dead by the age of 40 ? The answer is :

Perhaps as many as 40% died before they reached adulthood, but if they did survive childhood and adolescence, they a good chance of living to their 50's or early 60's and there were even some who lived to 70 or 80.

Further investigation revealed that the old :

* were labelled among the 'weak' members of society, along with children, on grounds of age, women, because of their sex, peasants and shepherds because they belonged to the lowest social strata.

* were there because they were considered to be physically or mentally feeble or both.

Old age was represented, on the one hand, as the stage of life in which a person goes into physical and mental decline and on the other, the one at which they attain wisdom, freedom from lusts, the ability to counsel others and look after the salvation of their soul.

In a popular text in the 1200's, a wise man asked : why did children and old people sleep so much ? He replied that children sleep because they are green and sweet and like a delicate flower which could be blown off a tree by the slightest breeze. The old who are also weak, are like a ripe apple which is liable to fall from the tree at the slightest breeze.

The best evocation of the Middle Ages was in the late Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film, 'The Seventh Seal'. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death, who has come to take his life.
The flagellants try to raise the punishment of The Black Death :

The most humorous evocation is in the film 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail' :

P.S. A link for those who want to learn about the old in the Middle Ages :