Monday, 29 August 2016


Image result for italian cars c 1950

MOTHERS AND SONS [By Colm Toibin]. God, this is a boring book. When did he write it? When he was sixteen? I finished it but I struggled with the last story . . .  the one set in Spain. . . where everyone stares at one another’s crotches. He certainly isn’t going to let you forget about his own sexual orientation . . . even in a collection about mothers and sons. Reviews on Amazon are pretty good but several people talk about a flat tone [code for boring?] the Guardian says he captures moments of longing and loss. Where? Peoples Parties [Joni Mitchell] captures more longing and loss in its two minutes fifteen seconds than this does in its entire 309 pages.

It’s all contrived. Okay, okay all novels are contrived. The Book of Strange New Things is contrived Tinker Tailor is contrived, Earthsea is contrived but they are rooted in a believable world set on solid foundations. The author has done his or her research and you know that such characters could really exist and that they would behave exactly like this; with integrity and coherence.

I never believed in anyone in this collection.

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND [By Elena Ferrante]. I really liked this. If your usual taste is Jack Reacher, you will find it painfully slow but I love character-led stuff and of course it shows, never tells and you have to use your intelligence to understand the nuances of what we are reading. It’s a kind of Neapolitan My Struggle [Knausgaard] taking the reader through the very early years of two girls in a poor neighbourhood; Elena is still playing with dolls when we first meet her  . . . and then on through the decades until she and her brilliant friend Lila, reach sixteen years of age. It has a great sense of place; the cultural aspects of Southern Italy, Camorra, honour, vendettas are also fascinating. The time of the late 50s and early sixties is also one of change both social and economic and you can sense these events happening behind the scenes.

I see that some reviewers think that there are too many characters, a trap that Knausgaard didn’t fall into and I agree that whilst she is giving us the whole picture and you have to pay attention to detail if you are writing about how nuanced our lives can be, it can get a bit turgid and unrewarding at times . I felt the stuff about the shoes didn’t play well but was tremendously interested in the relationship with Nino. Why do girls do that? Why do they disregard the skinny, rather shabby but interesting one in favour of the tall good-looking one? What are they going to talk about for the rest of their lives?
Of course the title My Brilliant Friend is slightly misleading: it’s really about Elena, not Lila.

There are three more books but I think I have read enough of Elena for this lifetime.

GAP CREEK [By Robert Morgan]. Dare I say it again? Yet another totally humourless American novel. Re-published in 2012 this was a number one [American] best seller when it came out in 2000 as well as being an Oprah Book of the Month. Very nicely written by Appalachian author Morgan it is unsurprisingly set in rural Appalachia at the end of the nineteenth century, in fact one of the key scenes takes place on New Years Day 1900. He is strong and good on description, Here for example:

On the fourth day of the cold spell, when the sky was clear as a big bubble the sun played its light on, there was a knock on the door.  

One example among many.

It’s about the pioneer life, the struggles against the elements, the land, bad luck, the weather, con-men who will kick you when you are down and a Christian community who will pray passionately for you but offer no practical help when you need it most. I found it formulaic; conflict; conflict; conflict. They have a flood, they have a fire, you can almost hear Robert Morgan thinking, ‘what else can I throw at them?’ and none of it is sufficiently mediated. It soon becomes a one-note drama of simmering resentment. As I said at the beginning, very nicely written and the central character, Julie is a wonderful creation but really what am I reading this for? To suffer their hardships along side of them? To wonder if I would have her fortitude? To learn what it was like to try to make a living on a smallholding in North Carolina in the late nineteenth century?

Not honestly sure it was worth the effort.

Sunday, 28 August 2016


Image result for earthquakes

I have experienced two earthquakes, both in Italy. The first was quite mild insofar as the epicentre was probably a long way away and we were affected only by a brief, sixty seconds or so of shaking. We were outside our house on the terrace and you could feel the ground moving . . . we knew exactly what it was . . . and then it passed. Nothing broken, no plaster fallen off the walls. Later that week when we visited Cingoli, a nearby hill town which is around 700m[2200ft]above sea level we saw where some low walls had crumbled and fallen but that was it.

We were completely unaware of the devastating L’Aquila earthquake in 2009 until we read about it. We drove right past L’Aquila last year and it is still in ruins with temporary portakabin-type housing on the nearby hillsides for the nine-thousand residents still homeless. Waiting for the Mafia to rebuild their homes with the European grant money.

The second time was much more serious. It occurred early in the morning around 4.00am just as it was getting light and we were fast asleep in bed. The whole house was shaking violently and it seemed just a matter of minutes before the roof would cave in and bury us. It is hard to explain in words what it feels like; you can’t stand up, you need something to hold on to. It’s like being on a ship in rough seas, swaying, pitching and diving . . . very, very frightening and no time to think about how to save oneself, where to shelter, where would be safe. You just have to endure it.

Our house, Casa del Prete [the Priests House] had been extensively damaged by an earthquake in the eighties; it had lost most of its roof and it was the ruin that we purchased and rebuilt into a holiday home. It was semi-attached to the church [now abandoned]. This was not the original church, the Casa dated from the 15thC and the church from c.1880 but the church had also lost part of its roof in the eighties and the bell from the bell tower. It was this bell tower that was our overriding concern. We were terrified in case it came down on top of us.

I read today that the recent earthquake in Amatrice had its epicentre only 4km underground which is why it has caused so much devastation. In this region, earthquakes are usually 12km or more underground.
I never found out where the epicentre was for the one that scared us to death but it was the single event that compelled us to sell up in 2014.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


Image result for grouse hunting

We went to Teesdale today, across the wild moors, where we saw something we have never seen before . . . a grouse shoot. Beaters, dogs, people in 4x4’s armed to the teeth all moving in a line across the horizon. We stopped to watch.

The beaters seemed to be young men dressed in jeans and trainers, carrying white pillowcases which they waved in the breeze. There could have been twenty of them. There were a lot of gun people, at least thirty. We didn’t see any shooting or killing; I think it had only just started.

According to The Guardian, it costs £7000 [yes, seven thousand pounds] a day to go grouse shooting so if I am right and there were thirty shooters on the moor today, that’s err . . . a lot of money for whoever owns the grouse moor. It’s still controversial, birds of prey even protected species such as hen harriers and peregrine falcons as well as eagles and kites are trapped by gamekeepers because they prey on young grouse and the estate owners don’t want the numbers of birds reduced. It would affect the value of the moor and the price they can charge per gun.

It is never going to stop however. There is too much money being made.


Image result for time to die

There is a fascinating series running on Radio 4 at the moment on the subject of great cinema speeches. They have a poet who explains the syntax and why the words work so well. So far we have had coulda been a contender; don’t forget . . . we’ll always have Paris and my own all-time favourite, tears in the rain, which ends Blade Runner. I don’t know what’s up next but I would certainly add to that list, ‘. . . in this life or the next’ . . . the pivotal moment of Gladiator and possibly another pivotal moment, ‘I’ll give you my answer now. My answer is no’, from Godfather 2 .I am tempted to mention another crucial cinematic moment, ‘ . . . we need more bullets in the gun . . .’ from Deer Hunter but it’s a line, not a speech and it definitely isn’t poetry.

I’m not big on lists. I know that lists are very often the staples of blogs; is Dylan more important than Miles? Were the Beatles better than the Stones? Is Clint Eastwood a better director than John Ford? I couldn’t care to be honest but the Internet is full of these best speeches lists so there is no shortage of material. For what it’s worth, the American Film Institute [AFI] have a site here listing the Top 100 Movie Quotes of all time so if you are interested, click on the link. These are not speeches, they are quotes, stuff like, ‘You talkin’ to me?’ and ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’.

So, all caveats taken into consideration, this is my list:

From On the Waterfront: Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger; screenplay credited to Budd Schulberg.

Charley Malloy [Steiger]: ’Look, kid, I - how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast’.

Terry Malloy [Brando]: ‘It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money’.

Charley Malloy: ‘Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money’.

Terry Malloy: ‘You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley’.

If the link works you can view the scene here.  

From Casablanca: Ingrid Bergman and Humphey Bogart; screenplay credited to Casey Robinson.  

Ilsa [Ingrid Bergman]: ’But what about us?’

Rick [Humphrey Bogart]: ‘We'll always have Paris. We didn't have it before...we'd...we'd lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night’.

Ilsa ‘When I said I would never leave you...’

Rick ‘. . . And you never will. But I've got a job to do too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now. Here's looking at you, kid’.

I always thought Casablanca was rather overrated but one can’t deny the power of this scene. Is Rick sincere? All those little smiles.  Is the delivery too quick? There is a sense he just wants to get it over with. It feels rehearsed somehow but of course it would be . . . he was probably up in his room rehashing it all day. Judge for yourself. There is a link here.

From Blade Runner: Harrison Ford  and Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford silent throughout. Screenplay credited to Ridley Scott and David Peoples but this speech attributed to Rutger Hauer from a draft presented to him on the day of filming.

Roy Batty [Rutger Hauer]: 'I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannh√§user Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like

Time to die’.

You need to see it performed to understand the import of the words. Here is a link. I hadn’t realised until the poet pointed it out, that Tannh√§user Gate is from William Blake.

There is a link to Godfather 2 here but I can’t find a link to Deer Hunter. I may return to this as the series progresses.

Meanwhile, here is the link to Russell Crowe:

‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance -- in this life or the next’.