30 September 2014

Starmaker

"The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)
It was a pub friend's funeral today. Mick was only sixty seven and the last time I saw him he was as right as rain. But there was something happening secretly, quietly in his lungs and when this thing announced itself he was whisked into hospital and then soon after that  his vital organs began to surrender. He hung on for a few days but then he died. The doctors could only help with his pain.

He was married for forty five years and leaves a distraught wife, two grown up daughters and four grandchildren. He was a bus driver and for his sins a Sheffield United supporter.

Funerals can be awkward affairs for resolute atheists like me. We are invited to go along with religious verbal rituals such as "The Lord's Prayer" and Psalm 23 and by the way I know for an ironic fact that Mick himself was an atheist too. But I rather liked this nice piece below. We were invited to read it along with the Reverend Jane Sharpe who conducted the service:-

Michael
Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go
Into the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go
Into the wind's breath and the hands of the starmaker
We let you go.
We love you,we miss you, we want you to be happy.
Go safely, go dancing, go running home.

I wonder who the "starmaker" is. Perhaps Simon Cowell or Walt Disney though I must admit I thought the stars were a by-product of some mammoth, almost unimaginable conflagration when the universe was swirling in a soup of time and energy and had no form. Farewell Mick.

28 September 2014

Spider

Garden Spider Araneus diadematus seen this afternoon by our wheelie bin - sitting in the middle of her web waiting for lunch to arrive. Also known as the cross spider or diadem spider because of the characteristic symbol on its abdomen. These spiders are very active in the early autumn in the British Isles before the first frosts arrive to end their short lives.

27 September 2014

Photos

Before time moves on too far, I want to share some more photographs with you. I took them this past week. On Monday, I strolled around the centre of Birmingham - England's oft-neglected and overlooked second city:-
Chamberlain Square, Birmingham
In Victoria Square, Birmingham
Victoria Square, Birmingham
The Hall of Memory, Birmingham
Then on Thursday, I thought I would test out my left knee with a three mile walk in The Hope Valley - along the River Derwent and up to Offerton Hall. I am happy to report that the knee endured this test magnificently and it was lovely to walk without a trace of the housemaid's knee pains that I have been living with the past month. Fingers crossed I am through it now though I know I mustn't overdo it and henceforth will be even more careful about kneeling down to do jobs around the house or in the garden:-
Stepping stones across the River Derwent
A view of Offerton Hall from its gates
Another view of Offerton Hall
Autumn leaves beneath the surface seen from Leadmill Bridge

26 September 2014

Pride

"Pride" is a very British film. I saw it yesterday morning in "The Showroom", sitting beside my friend Mike and his wife Jill. All three of us enjoyed it immensely. It is in the mould of some other successful British films of recent years that focus upon working class life - such as "Brassed Off", "Sunshine on Leith"  and "Made in Dagenham".

Of course nowadays we associate the term "pride" with the ongoing struggle for gay rights but it is also a word that has older associations with trade union battles for example. Pride is something that people need in their lives - pride and dignity - the ability to hold your head up high and to feel proud of who you are.

In the film there is an unlikely gelling between two communities that at first appear to inhabit different planets. There's the gay and lesbian community of Camden Town in North London and there's a desperate South Wales coal mining community who are in the throes of the bitter 1984-85 miners' strike.

The colourful Londoners raise money for the Welsh pit village but at first their charity is viewed with prejudice and antagonism. As the plot progresses there is a coming together and both sides find themselves enriched, educated and enthused by the other.

It's based on a true story and when the London Pride march was held in the summer of 1985 - after the miners had been starved back to work - the parade was headed up by coal miners with their union banners. The two communities' struggles had many similarities. Both saw the establishment and Margaret Thatcher in particular as their mutual enemies.

There were some notable performances in "Pride" from Bill Nighy and Dominic West for example but also from the lesser known Jessica Gunning as the obstinate coal miner's wife Siân James (now a Labour MP) and Ben Schnetzer as gay activist Mark Ashton.

One or two phases of the film were laboured - especially in the middle section - but mostly I was well-entertained. There was laughter and there were tears and at the end the cinema audience burst into spontaneous applause. Though it is entertainment, "Pride" has some important things to say about how we should live our lives - supporting one another, maintaining a sense of humour, being fair-minded and kind. The quest for freedom is a continuing struggle for everybody.

25 September 2014

Dragonfly

Specially for gipsy blogger Adrian of "Adrian's Images", I am posting these two pictures of a dragonfly that landed on our tiled terrace in Gran Canaria. May I quickly apologise for the poor standard of these pictures which will probably cause tech-savvy Dr Adrian a considerable amount of unbridled mirth. As one of the blogosphere's leading authorities on the dragonfly, I would suggest that this one is  a good example of CROCOTHEMIS ERYTHRAEA better known as the Common Scarlet-Darter. Later it landed next to my glass of chilled "San Miguel" and in a squeaky dragon fly voice granted me one wish and so  I wished that the western world's assault upon The Islamic State would not involve very many unreported collateral deaths - innocent  women and children and men who do not subscribe to the jihadist nonsense that has burst from the seeping sores that Bush and Blair created in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The species is widespread in Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and west Asia, extending as far east as Yunnan in China. I am referring to the dragonfly and not the jihadist nutcases.

23 September 2014

Dramatisation

On the left - Ben Turner as Amir
On our recent holiday, not only did I read Bill Bryson's "One Summer - America - 1927" but also Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea" and half of "The Kite Runner" by Afghani- American writer - Khaled Hosseini.

It's a popular book. Published in 2003, "The Kite Runner" has enjoyed phenomenal sales around the world and was even turned into a Hollywood film back in 2007. I cannot say that I was knocked out by it. I had certain misgivings but at its heart there is a readable, engaging tale that transports readers to troubled Afghanistan - a very rare destination for western fiction.

Hassan is the "kite runner". He chases fallen kites and retrieves them for his master's son - Amir. Neither of them know at this time that they are half brothers. Amir has to live with the legacy of his cowardice while brave Hassan finally dies at the hands of the vindictive Talibs. Though now settled in San Francisco, after twenty years  Amir is drawn back to his homeland - partly to atone for his guilt and his weakness. He had seen Hassan subjected to  violent male rape but did nothing. His father, Baba, would certainly have acted. These matters hang over Amir's life like a dark cloud.

Anyway, on Monday night a play version of "The Kite Runner" was presented at Birmingham Rep. Frances invited me over to see it and we were both mesmerised by the production - apart from the moment when a mobile phone rang in the front row disturbing the lead actors' dramatic concentration.

The demanding role of Amir was taken by British Iranian actor Ben Turner who once starred in the BBC Saturday night TV hospital soap opera - "Casualty". He was very good and the production as a whole enjoyed the assistance of some very clever dramatic devices to turn Hosseini's fictional vision into theatrical believability.

Later we had a drink and a natter in "The Brown Lion" - only to discover that this hundred year old pub is to close its doors forever in a fortnight. As George Harrison once said before he himself passed - "All things must pass".

21 September 2014

Instructions


When we were in Gran Canaria, our son Ian bought an inflatable beach ball in "Lidl". It cost the grand sum of one euro. There was nothing special about this beach ball. It had colourful sections and a plastic valve for inflation.

However, it also came with instructions in  five different languages - Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and German. Out of idle curiosity, I perused these instructions wondering what on earth they might contain. After all a simple plastic bladder with a valve is hardly rocket science is it? Such plastic balls have been produced for many decades of seaside fun.

"Congratulations!" say the manufacturers before advising - "Get to know the product before you start to use it!" "When passing the product on to a third party always make sure that the documentation is included!"

We are told about "Intended Use" - "This article is designed as a toy for private use. It must not be used in water!" Oh no! How unthinkable to use a beach ball in a swimming pool or while frolicking in the sea! The idea is quite absurd.
Then we get "Safety Notices" and "Prevention of Damage to Property" with six serious bullet points including - "Avoid contact with sharp, hot, pointed or dangerous objects!" Well I never! I wonder if that includes knives and lighted cigars?

Moving on to "Inflating the beach ball - CAUTION!"  - "Inflate the article using a commercially available foot pump or double action reciprocating pump with the appropriate adapters." Why of course - naturally - who would even dare to think that they could inflate a beach ball simply by blowing into it? Far too risky in my book!

The "Evacuating the Air" section is followed by "Repair" and "Disposal" - "Dispose of this item through an authorised disposal company...Ensure that you comply with all regulations currently in force". You can't help feeling extremely grateful for this advice as I would have simply chucked the ruined beach ball in a dustbin!

A beach ball is a "Pelota de Playa" in Spanish or a "Strandball" in German. Delta Sport who produced our Ian's beach ball also give helpful e-mail addresses and phone numbers to deal with servicing matters. How utterly kind of them! After all an inflatable beach ball is obviously not as simple to own and use as it might at first appear.