22 November 2021

London calling

 The First Stone.....

After three years and £57 million, the Courtauld Gallery, in Somerset House, reopened last Friday, and I was able to climb the looping stairs and sample the wonderful collection for an hour or so.....

Of course I was not alone, and the bar (or rather A Bar at the Folies-BergèreÉdouard Manet's last major painting) was busy.  Suzon looks a little tired, and yet I wouldn't mind a Bass.....

One of the mysteries of the painting is how her reflection in the mirror is off centre, but off centre reflections are not unusual, certainly not in my mind.....

It is a dazzling collection, and the renewed gallery is certainly worth a visit, even if only to stimulate reflection, as I do when marvelling at Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c1525–69)'s grisaille,  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565).  This picture has been interpreted as a plea for religious tolerance. Here, light emerges from darkness. Jesus writes, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her in dust before the judges and the accused—in vernacular Flemish.

Forgive my twisting this to suit my thoughts, but given the misadventures in the House of Commons and environs of late, perhaps we should seriously reconsider the idea of tolerance?  In terms of the parable, I have no hesitation in endorsing Christ's injunction.  However, in terms of those who should be setting us all an example, there is surely a limit to how pure we need to be before questioning corrupt behaviour?  Who should be the judge now?

Outside, in everyday London, I am reminded of how tiered our society is.  What price a true levelling up? A girl feeds greylag geese:

While only yards away a man sits hungry on the pavement:

Nearby two well-dressed young people snack beside the Thames:

While others sit in isolated splendour at tables in Mayfair:

On another tack, a little later I pass the old Coal Office, near St Pancras, musing on how this society grew fat on industry and technology:

And then I wander into the cemetery of St Pancras Old Church, in Somers Town, where some great names are buried, like Sir John Soane, and Mary Wollstencraft Godwin, the mother of Mary Shelley.  

But others are disremembered, their stones heaped at the foot of the Hardy Tree, as a memorial more to the young architect Thomas Hardy (who was tasked here in the 1860s with making space for expansions of the railway) than to the names engraved on the stones.  

These are people's last stones.  Let it be remembered that whosoever shall cast the first stone, will also need a last one.....

There's a thought for Christmas......

They hail me as one living, 
But don't they know 
That I have died of late years, 
Untombed although? 

I am but a shape that stands here, 
A pulseless mould, 
A pale past picture, screening 
Ashes gone cold. 

The Dead Man Walking
Thomas Hardy

13 November 2021

The Wild Bunch

 Let's Go!

Just over 52 years ago The Wild Bunch was released. The picture above is a poor reproduction of anything produced by the great Lucien Ballard (cinematographer) and it is an ironic twist on one of the themes of the film.  This is not a picture of 'The Wild Bunch' but an image of the wild bunch of hired reprobates who are pursuing "The Wild Bunch" who are ageing, seasoned, criminals.

Today it will not be a film that everyone is comfortable with - it probably could not be made today (despite a reputed attempt by Mel Gibson) as the currents of mores and attitudes are out of date.

However, I wish to confess, it is (one of) my favourite film(s).  And I just watched it again, my ancient DVD showing signs of wear, though the drama itself does not age.

The cast are universally superb; the cinematography wonderful; the direction extraordinary; the plot tight and supremely effective; the dialogue terse and realistic.  I now watch the Original Director's Cut, 140 minutes of violent escapism.

As you will, no doubt, race to watch it, I won't tell the story, but if you are a first time viewer, note the children - all the children.  At the start there are children laughing at scorpions being tormented by ants, all of which they then burn.  In the middle a child is enormously proud that he can stand by the crass would-be dictator Mapache.  At the end, it is a child who shoots Pike Bishop dead.

Philip French had this to say, in The Observer, in 2006:

Unlike most directors of westerns, Sam Peckinpah (1924-1984) came from a pioneering family. He was a difficult, self-destructive man who commanded the love and loyalty of those he worked with but was hated by studio bosses. His second western, the elegiac Ride the High Country (1962) established his reputation and is his most likable picture.

But the fierce, nihilistic The Wild Bunch, a savage allegory of the Vietnam War, is his masterpiece. A study of violence in American life and the meaning of loyalty, it centres on a band of ageing outlaws (William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Edmond O'Brien) who've outlived their time. They're trapped between revolutionary and reactionary forces in 1914 (1913 Ed) Mexico , and in flight from bounty hunters working for the American railroad company they've robbed.

The first significant line is: 'If they move, kill 'em'; then all hell breaks lose. The use of slow motion in the shoot-outs was unprecedented in its scale and, though much imitated, this uncompromising film retains its cruelty and moral power. It has a rare dramatic depth and kinetic energy and the violence is punctuated by scenes of tenderness and male camaraderie. This is a story of restless men incapable of embracing a settled domestic life....

A related view of the morality of the film comes from Edward Buscombe, in his BFI Screen Guide to 100 Westerns:

....notions of honour seem outdated in a world where technology (motor cars, machine guns) increasingly dominates and realpolitik and business (represented by the rapacious railroad) are more powerful than love and honour. If ultimately the wild bunch reveal the nihilism that lies beneath their heroics, in comparison to Mapache and Harrigan, the railroad magnate, they are giants in the world of pygmies.....

Jim Kitses, in Horizons West, notices that, The Wild Bunch succeeds in arousing in us precisely the world that it explores: an atavistic pleasure, a militant glee, a tragic sense of waste and failure..... the group acts not for Angel's values - the 'dream of love' - but for the dead Angel, their own inadequate code, the past. More simply, they do what they do because there is nowhere to go..... The quiet battle cry of the group is, ironically, 'Let's go': but we can only ask where?....

From a cinematic/entertainment point of view the film is brilliant, if shocking. The final sequence took twelve days to shoot, with 350 extras wearing 6,000 recycled uniforms to represent the mayhem that follows Angel's throat being cut by Mapache.....

And Mapache being shot by Pike Bishop.....

Sam Peckinpah was an uncompromising, difficult man, by most accounts, but he put together a film here which, despite the fifty years since its making, relates all too well to our times.  Few, if any, of the cast are still with us, but I feel that, for instance, they would recognise the protest that Richard Ratcliffe has carried out in support of his wife, Nazanin, to mention just one current piece of news.....

The spectacular finale of The Wild Bunch shows us how far some people will go to support, or avenge, their kin.  What would you do in his place?  He gave his word.....

In my dreams, perhaps, I see myself walking defiantly through groups of unhappy people towards a table of drunken overlords and benighted hangers on. Mapache takes on the face of a fickle and untrustworthy Prime Minister and he kills my angel, my hope for the future, callously cutting his throat.  So I shoot, knowing this is criminal and pointless and that I will die suddenly and soon..... Film and reality blend and we all have our fantasies, but the message from the limited dialogue of this cinematic masterpiece raises significant points of morality:

They?  Who the hell is They?

I wouldn't have it any other way.....

When you side with a man, you stay with him....

I wish I could be Pike Bishop....

[Or perhaps Deke Thornton....]

Let's go!

6 November 2021

A Day in the Life

November Song

The clocks have changed. We are at the tail end of another year. Amanda is wandering in the night.  I take this picture at around five a.m. She sips a glass of water and nibbles a biscuit, then we go back upstairs and try the toilet.  Then she snuggles down for another couple of hours, while I lie restless.

Then it is tea time, and proper waking time.

Followed by some washing and a little breakfast before dressing up to go out.

Twice a day we take her out, whatever the weather - sometimes it's me, though we also have kind carers who vary the diet.

Sometimes we go down to RSPB Snettisham, where whirling waders entertain us as the tide washes them from the mud:

Though Amanda is often more interested in the huddles of twitchers:

Other days we go to the beaches of the North Norfolk coast, where shadows are long 

and space is unlimited:

Sometimes we happen on something dead, like this Guillemot, and I think how peaceful it seems....  No need to worry about death, perhaps, (though dying is a different thing):

Anyway, a couple of hours is usually enough for her, and we need to get back to have a snack, a drink and a clean up.  Then she will snooze until I prepare something for lunch:

Lunch is nothing much - sometimes we have an omelette, or some soup; on other days it is just bread and ham, and a glass of water.....

And then it is time for another rest......

Before another cup of tea:

Then it is time for another walk, round the village, watching the geese honking their way back from their feeding stations to their roosts on the Wash:

Dusk gathers easily this time of the year.  Sometimes there is a touch of menace in the cloud:

Other days the sundown gleams with a warmth and all seems well:

If our carers permit, this is the hour I can slip away for a pint in the pub:

Where if I am lucky a brief conversation can take my mind off the daily round. On the other hand, some days the craic may leave me adrift:

Then I need to hurry on home in my Bugatti to relieve the carer:

While the geese plough their own furrows overhead:

And then it is time to bath Amanda and to make her a bowl of pasta and peas, or something similar, timed to coincide with The Simpsons (well I like the primary colours.....)

The cats help, or try to, in their own ways:

Mr White



And Amanda settles, as her dose of Memantine kicks in....

But the world is not at peace.  Outside the pyrotechnics of the curiously extravagant burst under the stars, terrifying the animals and disturbing the slumbers of those who might wish to be quiet....

Why is it that we remember Guido Fawkes?  Could it be because we would really like to blow up the Houses of Parliament?  Given the shenanigans of the last few days that has to be a reasonable assumption......

It's a sorry tale, and the details are unpleasant, but it is curious that we don't have similarly popular celebratory days (or nights) to commemorate Boadicea, or Hereward the Wake, or Wat Tyler, or even the Tolpuddle Martyrs?

But then I may console myself with a plate of duck breast with broccoli and farro, and a glass of red.

Followed by a glass of Armagnac and a page or two of printed matter.....

Before it all starts over again:

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph