06 May 2010

Thursday 6 May 2010 - Election Day

I’m reminded of a scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
It is Election Day in Shinbone and John Qualen, playing his usual comic ‘Swede’, prepares to vote by donning his best suit. Waved off by his wife and daughter he presents himself at the polling station (the saloon) where he proudly flourishes his naturalisation documents and announces that he is an American citizen.
The scene is amusing but also moving because I too find the act of casting my vote rather special. Call it a right, a privilege or a duty, I cannot understand those who do not bother to turn out to play their small part in what we can still just about call our democracy.
Even before the rise of UKIP, when I was inclined to abstain in European Parliament elections, lest I should seem to be giving legitimacy to continental imperialism, I would take my ballot and politely but firmly spoil it.
So. Today. Who will benefit from my support? Not being tribal in my party affiliation, on what basis do I decide?
My political instincts are conservative. I hate big government, the nanny state and political correctness. I believe in the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the market.
I also would like to see a much stronger Parliament and greater independence of individual MPs. I admire maverick MPs, even Labour ones like Bob Marshall-Andrews and Alice Mahon
But the fundamental policy issue for me is opposition to membership of the European Union.
There’s a UKIP candidate standing. My decision should be easy then, shouldn’t it? Well, maybe.
What about the other local candidates?
We have a fascist parson, an embittered ex-chief executive of a hospital trust, an English Democrat (the saloon bar party) as well as the UKIP man.
They are the outsiders and I will consider only UKIP, although I know nothing of the candidate himself.
Lincoln is just about a three-way marginal. Of the three leading candidates, I eliminate the Libdem as a euro-fanatic.
Gillian Merron, Labour, and MP for 13 years, is a careerist yes-woman. There’s no way I will vote for her on any grounds, personal, partisan or political.
The Tory candidate looks to be similar to Merron, a well-fed party loyalist who has made no secret of his ambition to be in government.
So it’s still UKIP, is it? There’s no way that he will be elected, but a high number of votes nationwide might have some impact on future government policy.
Who am I kidding?
In fact, strong support for any of the minor candidates will simply make it more likely that Labour or the Libdems will take Lincoln. It’s possible that Labour’s national and Merron’s local unpopularity will, allied with the Clegg-factor, let the Libdem in.
Therefore, reluctantly but realistically, I shall vote Tory - the song, not our local singer - hoping against hope that a Conservative government will decrease interference in our daily lives and stand up to the Eurocrats.

18 April 2010

Standing outside the pub on Friday night, staring up at a bright crescent moon with Venus twinkling directly beneath it, I realised that I’d forgotten to look out for the sunset earlier.

One of the benefits of the cloud of volcanic ash allegedly covering the country, along with a decrease in aircraft pollution and the lessons that we can get along without exotic fruits and foreign holidays, is the prospect of spectacular sunsets.

Never afraid to demonstrate my ignorance I wondered aloud to N whether the ban on flights across Europe was more panic than precaution, a decision based more on fear of blame than real danger.

‘After all,’ I said the RAF is still flying out of Waddington, ‘isn’t it.’

Apparently not. Even the AWACS is grounded.

‘But what about our protection from a sneak attack?’ I recalled the Sunday morning attack on Pearl Harbour and that surprise gift to Israel from the Arabs on Yom Kippur.

‘I don’t think there’s much danger from the Russians,’ said N. They’ve got enough troubles of their own.’

‘To hell with the Russians. I’m worried about the French.’

Saturday evening, just before 8 pm, there she was, a huge, bright, red sun, sinking beneath the roofs as I walked westward to the pub. Truly magnificent. Thank you Iceland. What we we need now is our money back and all is forgiven.

The pub was packed. It’s an ordeal that has to be endured until about 9.30 when, having ‘pre-loaded’ on cheap Wetherspoon’s lager, most customers stagger off to the city’s ‘clubs’ and other knocking-shops.

Outside on the smoking patio, the sun had set and there was the moon again, WNW I calculated, with Venus a lot further northward.

A gaggle of middle-aged women sat in a circle, cackling and honking. They seemed to have dressed in the belief that attractiveness is directly linked to the display of bare flesh. Not true when it reveals arms, according to GY, like those of Geoff Capes.

With them was a one solitary male, surrounded, as the same friend said, like Custer.

At the bar I stood next to a guy who was ordering a long list of ciders, lagers and shorts. I couldn’t be sure whether he was having trouble with the language – not unusual in Lincoln these days – or just drunk. When he started telling the barmaid how beautiful she was I decided ungallantly on the latter. Then he put his arm around me which I hope confirmed that decision. Nevertheless, I shall make a point of getting my hair cut on Monday.

It was a pretty quiet evening after that. I learned about the hallucinogenic effects of nutmeg. I wonder if, like aspirins and glue, there’s a limit on how much you can buy at a time.

A woman caught my eye. She was quite good-looking, I thought, but perhaps that was merely the lateness of the hour. Just an excuse for inaction. Why have I become so lazy?

G was outside talking to a woman, whose daughter is about to go out with the army to Afghanistan. I thought his little lecture on improvements to IED’s was somewhat tactless, but it did remind me of how the Taleban throw a party. There’s no dancing, no music and no booze, but they play a bloody exciting game of pass-the-parcel.

18 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan. Tall, dark, handsome and suave. And British, wherever he was born and whoever his parents were. Therefore, born to be a villain.

That's how I knew him. I never saw The Prisoner or Danger Man, but I noticed he turned up on Columbo pretty often, superior and arrogant as four different murderers.

I read that he turned down the role of James Bond when Connery relinquished it. I wonder why. He would have appeared slightly better-bred than Connery, but that dark side of his would have suited the role perfectly.

I'm sure he enjoyed his career, but he could have done so much more after the cult success of The Prisoner, not coasted along as guest villains on TV and in films like Escape From Alcatraz and Braveheart.

I relish him most for his 'Red' in Hell Drivers.

Hell Drivers is one of those small films, British but with the pace and tautness of an American B-movie, though even grittier, that you come upon by chance on a wet Wednesday afternoon and never forget.

It features an array of well-known actors at the start of their career, Gordon Jackson, Alfie Bass, Herbert Lom, Sid James, David McCallum, Jill Ireland and Sean Connery (straining a little, I thought, to gain attention).

Peggy Summers too, perhaps better known as the Bonny Parker-type character in Gun Crazy.

Stanley Baker stars, and Patrick McGoohan is the villain, sporting a threatening Irish accent, a boxer's ape-like stance, and a roll-up which stays glued to his lip, even during a punch-up.

He is gloriously over the top, as all good melodrama villains should be.

Farewell, Mr McGoohan. You were great.

14 December 2008

Mud and sky

I’ve continued working my through my DVDs by watching All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1979 version directed by Delbert Mann, and starring Richard Thomas.

It’s along time since I saw the original 1930 film by Lewis Milestone, but I remember being impressed, mainly by the battle scenes, not, I’m sure, what the director would have wished of me.

Being the first and one of the best (reputedly) anti-war films, it had the privilege of inventing the clichés: idealism trampled in the mud of Flanders; stupid old people banging on about honour and patriotism without the need to die for it themselves; bullies exposed as cowards and artists revealed as heroes; the idyllic pastoral interludes; first sex experienced as a taste of life before it is snuffed out; death’s random choices of victim; and the sheer filthy waste of it all.

Lew Ayres, the original 1930 star, was so affected by his role that he became a pacifist himself ten years later when ‘the bitch was in heat again’.

Aces High regurgitated all of the clichés to little effect and it needed something more than Delbert Mann and Richard Thomas possess to make this old warhorse come alive again. It doesn’t say much for this film’s impact that I merely laughed to see Thomas hoisting Ernest Borgnine, of all people, on his back and carrying him back from the front line.

That was when war did indeed become hell.

12 December 2008

A little harmony

I was told how to fix my email by a broadband Medic online advisor. My ISP being Virgin, I went onto their website where I was able to log into my email account and view my messages. I, naturally, had been unaware of this possibility.

I was advised to delete what was not that important because the trouble was probably down to a long or complicated email clogging up the system. I couldn’t see any fitting that description, but I did some weeding and went back to Outlook, which is now operating normally.

Thank you, Jason.


My first childhood hero was Davy Crockett, as incarnated by Fess Parker. By the age of ten I was reading Lon Tinkle’s book, Thirteen Days to Glory, which was re-issued to accompany John Wayne’s movie, The Alamo.

The story of the Alamo is what we like to call epic and Wayne wanted to give it epic treatment, in other words make it long. Unfortunately, apart from the final assault, not a lot happened. So the film is padded out with extraneous action and a perfunctory love interest to help pass the time until the spectacular finale, which is packed with stunts and interesting deaths by sword and lance.

I thought at the time that Wayne made a great Crockett, but then he was my second childhood hero.

John Lee Hancock’s The Alamo (2004) version of the siege is notable primarily for Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal of Crockett. Not only is there a striking resemblance but he plays him as I like to think Crockett was, charismatic, gregarious, moderate, talented, brave and wise.

His fiddle accompaniment to the Mexican Deguello is a marvellous moment of cinema, and his meditation on the distinction between ‘plain ole David’ and ‘that Davy Crockett feller’ a succinct commentary on the curse of fame.

11 December 2008

I’m having problems with technology.

It’s not quite as bad as last week when I followed the advice of a TV energy-saving ‘expert’ and began switching my computer and internet off at the mains overnight. I wouldn’t recommend it because I found that whether I could get back on line was very much a matter of chance.

I was disappointed about that because I’ve discovered that my IT equipment uses over 1 kWh of electricity every day. That’s according to my consumption meter which also, as a matter of interest, tells me that my freezer uses much the same, as does the TV/DVD/VCR when left on standby.

This is out of a total daily consumption of about 7 kWh/day, which is in itself pretty low.

I was about to write that my internet connection is now behaving, when it cut off the Radio 5 broadcast of the test match, which I had to recall. However, the main problem is Outlook, which has about a dozen emails waiting but keeps timing out. The solutions I’ve found on the web are either technical beyond my understanding or ‘increase the time out period’ – in other words, instead of waiting 90 seconds to be told the system has failed, why not wait 5 minutes?

I’ll treat it the way I’m treating my cold, by ignoring it and waiting for it to go away.


I haven’t commented much on my economy drive over the last few weeks, primarily because failure is embarrassing. The trick is to stay out of the pub, naturally, and the tactic is to replace that pleasure with another, namely re-viewing my DVDs from A to Z, my other great pleasure being temporarily unobtainable and in any case rarely lasting two hours at a time.

Which brings me to the next technical problem: there’s something wrong with the colour movies; they’re either washed out or tinged with green. To someone who tinkers for ages to get the screen ratio correct, this is bloody irritating. Is it the disc, the player, the TV, or is it me?

Why the hell does everything go wrong? It’s enough to drive you out to the pub.


So enough moaning and a few comments on what I’ve watched over the last day or two:

Above Us the Waves, 1955, directed by Ralph Thomas. Starring John Mills and the usual crowd.

One of the crop of British war films made in the fifties, including most notably The Dam Busters and The Cruel Sea. It’s a fictionalised account of the midget submarine attack on the Tirpitz, documentary in tone, understated and restrained. As you expect from movies of this period it’s efficient and economical. When I compare it with the dizzily edited and CGI’d action films I’ve seen recently, it’s refreshing to see an attempt at character, plot and pace.

And it makes you proud!

Aces High, 1976, directed by Jack Gold. Starring Malcolm McDowell.

If the typical WWII film is about the heroism of war, the typical WWI offering is about its horrors. The former celebrates victory, but the latter doesn’t care, because it’s not worth the cost. Everyone dies.

In Above Us the Waves the different classes rub along, where to know one’s place is to know one’s function in an effective team.

In Aces High the class division is rigid and divisive, even within the small squadron. The larger picture is one of a vast divide so great there is no hope of understanding or trust bridging it.

The African Queen, 1951, directed by John Huston. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

When I made that sweeping comment about WWI movies being about the horror rather than the heroism, I should have known there were exceptions, but I hadn’t expected one to come along almost immediately. For The African Queen has to be one of the most accomplished feel-good films to have sent audiences home with lighter hearts.

It’s set in Africa, well away from the trenches, with just a few comic Krauts at the end. In fact, it’s not a war film at all; it’s a love story, with a happily explosive consummation at the end.

This, one of my all-time favourites, deserves more than a paragraph. Which, in due course, it shall recieve.

10 December 2008

It took me a long time to get the latest Flashplayer downloaded, not an uncommon problem I gather from other people’s blogs. And how I succeeded I still don’t know. So, sorry, no advice to be found here.

I needed it to be able to access BBC iPlayer, which has now become my main source of TV programmes. In fact, I’ve noticed that my considerable leisure time is not squandered on television anything like it used to be. Apart from the odd football or rugby match, and news programmes (which I usually switch off in disgust halfway through) I watch very little live. I have to admit I’m the sort of sad character who will sit and watch a whole Parliamentary debate.

Next July and August will obviously be spent following the Ashes ball by ball. I resent having to pay Sky for that privilege, but I mustn’t let self-interest influence my views on the freedom of the market, must I?

A series I’ve been keen to follow is The Devil’s Whore, a drama set in the English Civil War. Partly because it was written by the man who created Our Friends in the North ten years ago, co-starring Daniel Craig, now of James Bond fame; and partly because I wanted to see how it portrayed my flawed hero, Oliver Cromwell.

Ho-hum is my verdict.

Incidentally, although ‘The Devil’s Whore’ is a nickname given to the heroine of the plays, it is also what Martin Luther called Reason, one attitude at least that he shared with the Pope.

She might be a whore to you, Herr Luther, but I married her.

World War II: Behind Closed Doors has been fascinating. Excruciatingly honest interviews with war criminals and victims, new military footage (possibly enhanced by CGI) and dramatised scenes of the diplomatic manoeuvrings, which despite one reviewer, who called them intrusive, I find to be the heart of the series.

If nothing else, they turn it into ‘The Uncle Joe Show’, which I feel World War II to have been.

It’s sad to see an increasingly weak Churchill, sidelined by Roosevelt and Stalin, protesting to no avail against the imperialism of Russia. Sad to see Britain, which went to war for Poland and suffered so much in consequence, emerging into a bankrupt peace having failed to preserve her. Was Roosevelt obtuse, or was he playing his game of appeasement?

Stalin, of course, always knew his goal, and had no qualms about how he achieved it. His cynical, ruthless vision is as terrifying and admirable as that of a shark, and just as inhuman.

Watching the actor portray him I was often reminded of newsreel I’ve seen of Saddam Hussein. There is that same calmness and quietness of demeanour, the same menacing watchfulness, the same wariness of all around in case the wrong thing is said, or even thought.

Absolutely chilling. I must obviously practise more.