Spiritual Matters

Lockdown restrictions will continue to be eased this week. Of particular interest to me is the resumption of public worship in our churches and the re-opening of pubs – both of which will happen on 4th July.

Reopening of Churches
The Diocese of Westminster has not yet, as far as I am aware, issued any guidelines regarding measures to keep priest and congregation as safe as possible. I imagine, though, it will look something like the Diocese of Portsmouth’s:

(I nabbed this from my friend Stuart on Twitter, so thank you to him!)

Portsmouth’s guidelines mention that there will be limited numbers at Mass ‘based on capacity with 1m between seats’. They also say that the church should be cleaned between Masses.

My parish church can seat several hundred people. It isn’t a huge church but cleaning it between each Mass might take a fair bit of time (depending, of course, on volunteer numbers). If we currently have four Masses on Sunday, I wonder if the Parish Priest will reduce it to, say, two to allow time for cleaning to take place. I could only see four Masses happening if there were two in the morning and two in the afternoon, and I am not sure there will be the volunteer numbers for that. Any reduction in the number of Masses, and the more limited numbers allowed to attend, as required by the one metre spacing rule, could make attending at all difficult. What to do?

Our cardinal offers an answer in this video.

He says that the obligation to hear Mass on Sunday remains suspended, and suggests going during the week. I think that is what I might do. Although I live very close to my parish church so could probably guarantee getting a seat every week, I like the idea of combining Mass attendance with exercise and walking to the cathedral. It would be a three hour plus round trip.

Happily, the cardinal also says that confessions will resume. This is very good news. I last went to confession in February so am in good need of a spiritual scrub.

The Reopening of Pubs
Like any other sane Englishman, I like visiting the pub (!). I doubt very much, though, that I will visit one after they reopen. Not for a while, anyway. For privacy’s sake, I am not enthusiastic about passing my contact details to the bar staff. The pubs will be very clean and tidy in order to ensure that they are safe places to be. I respect that but the thought of drinking beer in such a sterile environment does not appeal to me. In time, I might become reconciled to the thought of doing so. In the meantime, I think I will stay at home and stick to sipping a little wine in the manner of St. Paul (1 Tim 5:23) even if my stomach is in better shape than Timothy’s.

Bringing The Two Together
In the past, I have often celebrated being absolved of my sins after going to confession by going to the pub for lunch and a glass of wine. I don’t think I will be doing that next time but I wouldn’t bet against it! Being in a sate of grace is a rather marvellous state to be in and well worth celebrating.

It’s Lights Out…

On-Line Gaming
As I have probably mentioned before, I love watching people play video games online. My current favourite is Codemasters’ F1 2019 – soon to be replaced by this year’s iteration of the game. The lock down period has been a blessing for discovering Formula 1 Twitch live streamers.

As I write these words, however, I am listening to an LMP 1 car race around LeMans in a virtual 24 Hours of LeMans live stream. Each team has four drivers, each of whom drives for a certain number of hours before handing over the to the next person. I don’t know who organised this race but it must have taken a lot of work. I imagine the stamina required to race is also pretty high!

The Last of Us Part 2
I discovered Twitch in 2014 when I started watching The JHN Files play the original Last of Us game. I was captivated by both game and the live broadcast. The Last of Us Part 2 finally came out on Friday, and I can’t wait to play it.

The game was originally meant to be released at the end of May but earlier that month was suddenly and indefinitely delayed. A specific reason wasn’t given for this, which led me to wonder if it was because the game – in which your character has to survive in a world that has been ravaged by a pandemic – might not sell so well in a world currently being ravaged by, well, a pandemic.

Fast forward a few weeks and all of a sudden, Naughty Dog, the company behind the game, announced that it would come out on 19th June. Why? Probably because an irate developer who had left the company/been sacked published spoilers about the game online. Thankfully, I managed to avoid those so can still look forward to diving into the game as soon as I have a chance.

The Path to Rome
Today is 21st June. In 1901, Hilaire Belloc is eight days away from Rome. I have written my tweets (@PathtoRome1901) covering his journey up to the 25th. Today, I hope to write the last four days worth. Then, I will be able to relax and think about ‘what next’? I want to read more Belloc. Do I have the time? If I do, what should I read?

Protests
The protests that started out as a reaction to the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis (USA) are now in some places morphing into a wider campaign against statues of people from various periods and backgrounds.

Predictably, statues of slave owners have been pulled down – here in the U.K. a statue of Edward Colston was dropped into Bristol Harbour by protesters.

Less predictably, I have seen photos/footage of a statue of Union General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant being pulled down; the same treatment has been meted out to a statue of George Washington and St. Junipero Serra. A bust of the novelist Cervantes has also been defaced. All these have happened in America.

What’s going on? I have read that Grant only ever owned one slave, who he inherited, and who he set free as soon as he was able. Cervantes was not a slave owner but rather, held as a slave for several years. Maybe these details are incorrect. But if they are right, they provide proof that for some people, what started out as a Black Lives Matter protest is dissipating into a campaign against anyone they happen to dislike. If that is the case, their campaign, lacking any solid foundation will surely collapse in due course.

But maybe they know perfectly well what they are doing and these acts of destruction are part of a deliberate campaign to destroy public remembrances of the past. Is this a good thing? No. Individuals or unauthorised groups who destroy statues are declaring that they have the authority to shape how society remembers the past. But this authority belongs only to the people as a whole (through the government) or the private organisation that owns the statue. Individuals who destroy statues or any public remembrance make themselves petty tyrants.

If the government or private organisation takes down the statue without considering first the pros and cons of doing so also acts in a tyrannical fashion. Once a statue goes up, it should only come down after the matter has been given full consideration. Nothing else will do.

When we ask ‘what is going on’, there is, of course, another option that we should be alert to: that agent provocateurs are acting in order to discredit their rivals.

Football Returns
The Premier League returned last Wednesday. Sky Television is broadcasting its games on two channels – one with fake crowd noise and one without. Neither are satisfactory. Hearing the fake crowd noise and seeing the empty stands is too distracting to be acceptable. Watching a game without any crowd sound at all takes away any sense of urgency and almost all the excitement. With that said, I prefer watching the games with no sound as at least its more honest.

I am not fond of the fact that all the players take the knee/have the Black Lives Matter wording on their shirts. I dislike particular causes getting so much publicity when there are so many others out there that are extremely important and necessary yet get little or no publicity at all.

Sainsbury’s
Up till last Friday, the queue for Sainsbury’s was getting shorter and shorter every week. On Friday, though, it was a rather longer. A sign of things to come? Probably not. I think I just arrived at the wrong moment. For example, a week or two ago, I arrived at the store when there was virtually no queue and left when it was as long as this week’s.

Also, per Government guidelines, I have started wearing a face mask when in store. Strangely, though, most people are now not doing so! The other week, one of the Sainsbury’s staff very kindly showed me how to wear it in a way that reduces the amount of fogging over on my glasses. Very useful! (I’m probably the last person in the world to realise this but in case you don’t know, you just bend the metal strip so that it follows the contour of your nose).

The Camino
I have heard that the Camino is opening again in July, which is great news. It won’t be like before, though: face masks must be worn in albergues, and I think there will be a reduced number of beds available. Next year is a Holy Year for Santiago. This should mean that pilgrim numbers go up, up, up. It will be interesting to see what happens if the coronavirus remains an issue (as will likely be the case bar the discovery of a vaccine). I would like to walk the Francés again next year. In the current climate, I really don’t know if that will happen.

An Unexpected Letter
This week, I received a letter from HMRC saying that I had paid too much tax over the last year. The reimbursement will be very gratefully received. This week, I found an old USB stick and on it was a document with my Government Gateway number on it. This means I can finally sort out my tax status for my current job, which is a great relief.

The Path to Rome and Other Journeys

Last Week
It has been a week of up and downs. I won’t go into the downs; I’d rather leave writing about those to another day, but they have certainly made me grateful for the ups.

What ‘ups’ have there been? Chiefly, Duolingo and Efrén Gonzalez.

Duolingo
Last Sunday I reached the one year mark for my streak on Duolingo. For 365 days in a row I managed to earn a minimum of 50 XP every day in learning German. On Monday, I set my account to private so that I would be excluded from the league system and took the day off learning anything. From Tuesday to Friday I started learning at my own pace without having to worry about relegation (I was already in the top league). It was great! No more doing the same stories over and over again just to learn the XP to stay above the relegation zone. I know I should not have been concerned with that in the first place; I am too competitive for my own good.

Films
I think The Bookshop and Corpse Bride have worn me out in terms of watching films while exercising for the next few days, or foreseeable future. I just wasn’t inspired to watch any this week. Instead, when I did exercise (because my Belloc work – see below – is taking up the time that I would use for that), I started watching my favourite Camino series on You Tube.

In 2017, Efrén Gonzalez walked the Camino Francés. He recorded his journey and then uploaded it to You Tube. You can watch it here. It is really well edited and even includes some beautiful drone footage. Gonzalez brings out the joys and pains of the Camino really well. I watched the first five episodes in one exercise session last week and was so lifted by seeing the places that I walked through last year.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome
On 4th June 1901, Belloc left Toul in eastern France at about 8:30 in the evening to begin the first stage of a pilgrimage to Rome that he hoped to complete on 29th June – the Feast of SS Peter and Paul. The Path to Rome is his account of that journey.

Four or five years ago I started reading the book on the anniversary of his departure from Toul through to 29th June when he did indeed arrive in Rome. The book doesn’t contain any chapters but Belloc always states (with only one exception) when his day started and ended so it is easy to follow him on a day-by-day basis.

Almost as soon as I started my tradition of reading The Path to Rome on the anniversary of Belloc’s pilgrimage, I started writing about it. In previous years, I did so on my Tumblr and Twitter accounts. Last year, I followed his journey on this blog.

This year, I created a new Twitter account (@PathtoRome1901) to tweet his journey from there. I was inspired to return to Twitter because the platform has just introduced a scheduling function, meaning that I can now fulfil something of a dream by tweeting his movements as close to the hour as possible in which they occurred.

In truth, this is a fool’s hope. Belloc does sometimes say ‘it was noon when this happened’ but he rarely names the hour so precisely. A lot of guesswork is therefore involved in working out where he is at any given time. Sometimes, you can’t even guess – you just have to plump for a likely sounding time.

Still, I love The Path to Rome to heaven and back so reading and tweeting it is a joy. The latter is also a labour of love. One thing it means I don’t do, though, is read each entry on the appropriate day (as I write this post, I have written and scheduled the tweets for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday). I wouldn’t have time to both read and tweet it on the same day. That’s a shame but a small sacrifice.

ChurchTalk
Churches open again – though only for private prayer – from this Monday (15th). As matters stand, I doubt I will return to my parish church just yet. I can pray at home, after all. My heart yearns for Mass and particularly confession.

When Carlo Maria Viganò burst onto the scene two years ago he seemed to have something important to say. Nowadays, though, he increasingly resembles a character from a Dan Brown novel. He has hit the headlines again with the claim that ‘that restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were part of a Masonic plot to establish a new world order.’ (The Tablet). Because of course.

In the last few days, Church Militant – to which I will not link; you can Google them – has accused the Archbishop of Washington D.C., Wilton Gregory, of lying over an attack on Donald Trump’s visit to the Pope St. John Paul II shrine last week. In so doing, it called him an ‘African Queen’. African because he is black, and queen because he is allegedly gay.

I saw Church Militant’s response on Twitter to criticism of this racist and homophobic appellation, which was that it was fine because that’s what homosexual seminarians used to call him.

Where does one start with this wicked and spiteful nonsense? Church Militant don’t deserve to have the name ‘Catholic’ in their title. They are as bad as the Militant organisation that ruined Liverpool in the 80s. Every member of it, every supporter of it, ought to get him and herself to confession. I want to hate them but all that would do is ensure that the cycle of hatred continues. So, I gotta pray for them, instead. This is all the more needful because I’m a sinner, as well. Maybe one day one of them will pray for me.

In the meantime, I hope Archbishop Gregory is gay and that this was known as he progressed up the clerical ranks and that because he was celibate it was not seen as a reason to hold him back let alone push him out because then the Church would be a lot more loving and open armed body than it currently gives the impression of being.

Books (I)
I can’t end this post on an angry note so let’s talk about books.

A few weeks ago I finished Anthony Beevor’s account of The Second World War. It is very long (just over 900 pages) and very readable. So much happened in the war that despite its length the book almost feels like a glorified overview. When I closed it for the last time, these were the things uppermost in my mind:

  1. All the leaders – political and military – made big, big mistakes. We were very fortunate that Hitler’s were the biggest of all
  2. Allied soldiers committed war crimes. Only a few and not for the same reason as the Nazis (for example, some Allied soldiers summarily executed Nazi guards after entering a concentration camp and seeing what they had done there) but it still happened
  3. The Allies were sometimes hardly that (unsurprising in respect of the USSR and Britain/USA but surprising in respect of Britain and USA) and some of the generals had monumental egos.

I learnt a lot from the book – chiefly about the Pacific campaign, about which I hardly knew anything, the eastern campaign (of which I only knew a little), and one or two other aspects of the war. For example, I never knew that only the Red Army entered Berlin at the end.

Books (II)
Over the past few months, I have been engaged in a programme of cleaning my book shelves and getting rid of books I no longer want. I have got rid of a lot. As a result the shelves are now looking a little more tidier and cleaner. I’m sad to have got rid of so many books but I decided to do so because I knew I would never read them. I only want to keep those that mean something to me. It doesn’t matter on what level, but they have to mean something.

A Post About Lives

Protests Continue
The ‘Black Lives Matters’ protests have well and truly supplanted the coronavirus as the current Big Thing. We can only hope that COVID-19 does not make a comeback over the next few weeks.

In my last post I predicted that the protests would soon die out and that nothing would change. Watching footage of mobs pull down statues does make one think that something more profound and long-lasting is happening but I am not going to abandon my prediction just yet.

This is because I believe that whatever future the protesters want to see, they won’t get it by staying on the street. Not in America, not in Britain. At some point they will have to enter the democratic system either directly or through those already there.

In fairness to the protesters, it is too early for them to have done that, but I think, ultimately, they will need to do so. Their only alternative would be to simply overthrow the current order by force of arms, and I don’t see that happening.

Statues: Stay Up or Come Down?
This question can only be answered one statue at a time. What can be said in general is that mobs should certainly not be involved in the decision making process. Those who pulled down the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol should be ashamed of themselves. Their actions were profoundly anti-democratic and anti-rule of law.

If Colston was that bad an individual then there should be no problem in either persuading the local council to remove it or seeking election with a promise to do so themselves.

I read on Twitter today (so a little pinch of salt, just in case) that Bristol Council has in the past debated removing the statue but been unable to come to a final decision. That’s not an excuse for mob action but an inspiration to get involved in politics in order to get the decision one wants.

The United Kingdom is a democracy. The only way she will remain so is by embracing democracy completely and utterly, not by allowing anyone or group retreat from it whenever they have the chance. A failed state and tyranny lies that way.

J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter author caused a great deal of controversy with the tweet, below.

The reason why the website referred to people who menstruate is because people who are pro-transgender believe that transwomen can menstruate. But how can they if they were not born female? I found this post on Quora useful in terms of understanding. Perhaps predictably, the answer depends on how one defines the word ‘to menstruate’: does it refer to the discharge of blood or to the symptoms surrounding that discharge?

Depending on which definition one takes, J. K. Rowling is both right and wrong to believe that the website should have said ‘women’ instead of ‘people’.

Either way, Rowling is entitled to her view, as are those who believe the opposite. What is more important here is how the two sides talk to one another. Is it with respect? With a desire to inform or with a desire to put down?

Of course, it ought to be with respect, and with a desire to inform.

Unfortunately, public discourse around trans issues has become corrupted. Why? Perhaps because the two sides have become so utterly entrenched in their opinions/prejudices that they only see the bad in those on the opposite side, and speak accordingly. Why has this happened? Perhaps because supporters of trans people don’t want to be put down like they and/or their brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ movement were for so many years before finally achieving their breakthrough and so have decided to approach the issue aggressively? Perhaps because their opponents spoke aggressively towards them first? I don’t know the answer. I do know, though, that one day, the two sides will need to find peace in their disagreement (because there always will be disagreement). If they don’t, neither side will ever achieve justice for their cause.

Films
The Bookshop (7.9/10)
Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a widow, who decides to open a bookshop in a small northern town in England. She does so despite opposition from Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), a rich local woman, who wants the premises for her own purposes.

Opening it, however, turns out to be only half the battle, and unfortunately for Florence, she loses the second half. Mrs Gamart gets the premises. But then… well, I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say, although Mrs Gamart wins the battle, she doesn’t wan the war.

The Booskhop isn’t a bad film but I struggled with it. For a long time it was just so plain; so kitchen-sink. Once again, the ending saved it.

Would I watch it again? Part of me thinks not but I have to remember that when I first saw Lost in Translation I thought it the most boring film ever. Like The Bookshop nothing seemed to happen in it; it was all so dull. Now, however, it is one of my most favourite pictures.

Corpse Bride (8/10)
Animation directed by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp as Victor, a young man who accidentally marries Emily, the corpse bride.

Once again, I struggled with this picture. Again, it wasn’t bad, but I suspect watching it during the coronavirus crisis possible wasn’t the best idea.

In truth, the film is very sweet love story. The puppets were beautifully made and the animation top-notch – I still can’t believe it wasn’t a digital production.

Veni Sancte Spiritus

Sainsbury’s
Yesterday, I toddled off to Sainsbury’s and found virtually no queue to get in. Such a queue as there was wasted no time in moving forward and I was able to start shopping within five minutes of my first arrival.

What can we put this down to? Well, although lock down remains in effect, restrictions on movement continue to be eased so that may be one reason.

I suspect, however, that I just got lucky. When I left the store about twenty/twenty-five minutes later, the queue had grown again – although happily only to about the length it was when I joined it last week.

While I am on the topic of Sainsbury’s – the store where I shop has now put up clear plastic partitions between the self check-out machines. As someone behind me said, they made the self check-outs look a bit like voting booths. I don’t like the partitions – even though they are transparent, they feel very confining and vaguely sinister; I don’t know why.

***

Home Life
It has been a good-difficult week at home.

Good because everyone remains well; difficult because, especially as the week has gone on, I have found myself with little motivation to do anything creative. I have had ideas but when it comes to writing them down – no. All things considered it’s a little bit of a miracle that I am writing this. Perhaps I am more motivated than I realise.

***

A B&B in Dorset
As I was writing the above, I saw a business card sticking out of a book on my desk. I pulled it out and found that it belonged to this B&B cottage in Dorset. I can’t remember which year I stayed at the cottage but I do remember enjoying my stay there. I hope the couple who ran it (David and Jackie Charles) are still there. The cottage is a little way outside of Dorchester; I remember walking along the winding road to get there from the pub in the pitch dark: a bit of a thrill! Fortunately, the thrill never became a nightmare and no cars suddenly appeared from around the bend.

***

America
A few days ago a black man named George Floyd died in police custody in the city of Minneapolis. During his arrest, a police officer restrained him by placing his knee on the man’s throat. Floyd’s death is the latest to involve a black man being killed by (white) officers or white people. Rioting has followed his death. I predict that the violent protests will soon fade away. In a few weeks or months from now, another black man will die at a white person’s/police officer’s hands but whatever happens in the immediate aftermath, nothing will change then, either.

America, such an innovative country yet so utterly unable to find an answer to her ills.

Actually, that’s untrue. She knows perfectly well what the answers are but is unable or unwilling to apply them. I’m tempted to say that for as long as Donald Trump is president, she never will, but, here we are after eight years of President Obama. What was he doing? What could he do?

Once upon a time I respected America, looked up to her, even; yes, she had faults but she was a country that was always seemed to be striving forward. The Trump Presidency ended that perception. Under him, the country has chosen to look backwards.

Or has it? Trump lost the popular vote. He became president due to the Electoral College system. And I like to think that the people who voted for him – or most of them, anyway – probably didn’t vote for him because of his character but because politically speaking he offered them something that Hilary Clinton didn’t. This uncertainty means I can’t dislike the country but I’m sad that I can’t view her as once I did: with admiration. The West needs a great America: someone has to be able to stand up to the substantial threats posed by Russia and China. The E.U. should, but won’t. The world needs a great America because in being the best version of herself, she shows the world what it is capable of. I hope one day the U.S.A. finds a president, politicians, police officers who are able to meet that challenge. Make America great again, indeed.

Saving Mr Banks (8/10)
Disney film about how Walt Disney secured the rights to Mary Poppins from its author, P. L. Travers.

1961. P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) has run out of money. Her agent (played by Ronan Vibert) advises her to sell the rights to Mary Poppins to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She refuses. Travers can’t bear to let her dearest creation go. Her situation is so bad, however, that in the end she does agree to go to Los Angeles to discuss Disney’s proposed script for a film. She goes, she criticises, she returns home. But even as Travers makes her way to the airport, Disney realises why Mary Poppins means so much to her. He follows her back to London. At Travers’ home, Disney not only tells Travers what he has discovered but reveals how she and he are both connected far more than they knew. This leads to Travers finally signing on the dotted line and the film being made.

I found all but the last half hour of this film difficult to watch. This was because Travers seems to have no redeeming features. She is all recalcitrance and general horridness. What kept me going were the flashbacks to her childhood. As a girl, Travers was a different person. Her life was not easy, and got worse, but it was for a time better, and so was she. The last half hour of the film is when the truth comes out. It is revelatory and freeing for her and me. The screenwriters did really well, there. I would recommend the picture just for the last section. That’s being a bit unfair! The whole film is good and well worth your time.

Delicacy (8/10)
Audrey Tautou plays Nathalie Kerr, a happily married young woman whose husband dies suddenly. For three years, she mourns him. Then, one day, probably while thinking of her husband, she kisses the office nobody. He is overwhelmed and all of a sudden in love. He bravely asks Nathalie out. She accepts and this being a romantic comedy, love blossoms against the odds.

Delicacy is a funny, sweet, and very French film. For proof of this, see the final scene: the hide and seek game in the garden. I won’t spoil it here but suffice to say it involves philosophy. So French.


Faith Seeking Understanding

Correction: In my previous post, I said that Sunday 24th May would be the first anniversary of my arrival home from Santiago. Actually, it was Saturday 23rd. Either way, I didn’t get round to writing my One Year On blog post. I haven’t forgotten it, though, and I hope to write it very soon.

***

I live in London, U.K. and the weather here has been very pleasant indeed for the last week or two. I have even had to sleep on top of my duvet (though under a blanket) on a couple of occasions. British weather being what it is, we enjoy the good times while we can as it is very possible that the sun will decide that’s your lot and the rest of the summer will be grey and wet.

***

Lock down continues… kind of. Restrictions are being relaxed now and some people are returning to work. The streets, however, still remain pretty quiet. I can tell that there have been changes, though: the queue to get into Sainsbury’s is now shorter.

***

After lock down started, the government designated churches as ‘non-essential’ places; as a result, they won’t re-open until July, at the earliest. I read a while ago that the government did not originally intend to close churches: it was happy for them to remain open for private prayer. The bishops, however, petitioned for them to close them completely.

Why would they do this? Well, you might say, because of the infectious nature of the coronavirus, of course. But in respect of private prayer, with appropriate social distancing, face masks, and hand wipes this should not be a problem

In regards Catholic bishops, I suspect that our churches are closed because the majority of bishops – or perhaps just those at the top – do not think as fathers – even though that is what they are supposed to be, both to us and their priests; rather, they think as managers. Their priority is not to let anything happen that could damage the Church in the eyes of the world. Again, I suspect that they petitioned the government to close the churches because they were scared that if a priest or member of the faithful was proven to have contracted the coronavirus on Church property this would be a scandal to the world.

I ought to be really angry about this. I’m not. Firstly, it would be a scandal. Secondly, I have no proof that my suspicion is correct. Thirdly, given how many scandals have hit the Church over the past few years, I can understand their caution. I hope I’m wrong but it’s a nagging feeling that I can’t get rid of.

***

The Interpreter (7.8/10)

Be warned – I spoil the ending of the film below.

I watched this film straight after The American. First George Clooney, then Nicole Kidman – when it came to visions of beauty, my cup overflowed last week.

The eponymous character is Silvia Broome (Kidman) who works at the United Nations in New York. One night, she overhears what appears to be an assassination plot against Edmond Zuwanie, the controversial leader of a fictional African country named Matobo, who is about to visit the UN to give a speech. She reports what she heard but isn’t trusted by secret service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn).

It soon appears that Keller has good reason not to trust Silvia, for although she professes her belief in diplomacy, it turns out that that she wasn’t always so peace loving. Throughout the film, Silvia lies, fudges and dissembles in order to hide the truth from Keller. In the end, however, events force her to come clean. This coincides with Zuwanie’s arrival at the UN for his speech. Zuwanie is very nearly killed but not in the way you’d expect.

Ending Spoiler Alert!

In the denouement, Silvia herself tries to assassinate Zuwanie. She isn’t the ‘real’ assassin – she simply takes advantage of the situation after the real one is apprehended. Although Silvia has good reason to kill Zuwanie – he is responsible for the deaths of her family – I didn’t believe in her as an assassin. This is because the film cloaks her tragic background and subsequent hatred for him up until the moment of their confrontation. As a result, her character felt too lightweight for the role of killer. It was almost as if a character from a light drama had suddenly been dropped into a heavyweight thriller.

Out of This World

Hey, here’s me checking in. How are you?

As I write these words, the clock reads 6:46am so I have beaten my previous early post record by a clean twelve minutes. In these days of lock down we get our pleasures where we can.

Who am I kidding – I would have mentioned this anyway; it’s an easy way to get into the post, after all (blogging-wise, there’s nothing worse than knowing that you want to write something but don’t know how to start).

***

So, how are things here? Well, my parents and I remain well, for which I give thanks. Overnight, one of my fillings fell out. I wasn’t surprised – the same filling has come out several times before. The shape and, I think, shallowness, of the filling has made it an impossible one to stay in. My tooth doesn’t hurt so I might just leave it be until my next scheduled dentist’s appointment.

***

Last Sunday was the first anniversary of my arrival at Santiago cathedral at the end of my first Camino. As soon as I am able, I will write a post about this. I know part of what I want to say so just have to work out the rest before I put finger to keyboard. Next Sunday is the first anniversary of my return home so I shall try to do it by then. If you want to know how I felt last Sunday, though, well, I teared up when I listened to ‘Santiago de Compostela’ on The Way soundtrack. This music covers the arrival of Martin Sheen et al at the cathedral and the swinging of the Botafumeiro, which always moves me deeply when I watch the film. Here is the music:

I feel so much for people who intended to walk the Camino this year but whose plans were scuppered by the coronavirus. I hope all of them are able to reschedule to next year or the year after.

***

Yesterday, 19th May was the 85th anniversary of T. E. Lawrence’s death following a road accident: he was riding his motorbike home down a country road when he turned a corner and was forced to swerve to avoid two boys on bicycles. Lawrence was launched from his bike and suffered head injuries that would prove to be fatal.

Unsurprisingly, there is a conspiracy theory regarding his death as a car was seen driving away from the scene of the accident, but I don’t think it has gained any traction among Lawrence scholars. At least, not among the few that I have read. A new film about Lawrence is due out soon – Lawrence After Arabia; judging by its IMDB synopsis, it will take a deep dive into the conspiracy theory:

Retiring to his cottage in Dorset Lawrence hopes to forget his past fighting in Arabia but soon he is drawn into political intrigue and his many enemies begin to plot against him. Was a motorcycle crash an accident or attempt at assassination by the British Secret Service? 

IMDB

According to IMDB, Lawrence After Arabia is due out on 16th October this year so going to see it might just make a nice early birthday present for me.

***

Apollo 13 (9/10)
I have wanted to watch this film for ages but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere. While I was looking through our DVD shelf the other day, I found that we owned a copy of it. A very nice surprise! The film is as good as its reputation. Tom Hanks leads the way as Jim Lovell, captain of the ill fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon. The acting, script, special effects, music… everything about this film is pretty much spot on.

The American (8/10)
Okay, the facts:
Stars: George Clooney and the Italian countryside.
Directed by Anton Corbijn.

The American is about an assassin named Jack who is ambushed by unknown assassins outside his Arctic hideaway. He manages to kill them but is forced to kill his lover: she didn’t know his profession and there can be no loose ends.

Jack heads south to Rome where his handler tells him to go a small Italian town and await further orders. Not long later, Jack is given another job: to make a rifle for another assassin. He does so, but realises that it is to be used on him. In the denouement of the film we see what he does to get out of this very unpromising situation.

Anton Corbijn is a photographer so The American looks very good. I mean, George Clooney is in it. It is set in Italy so of course it was going to look good but under Corbijn’s directorship it looks even better. The story is told very tightly. Music is used only sparingly. This means we really focus on Jack – despite knowing so little about him – and become much more unsettled than we would if we were watching a Bond or Jason Bourne film.

I found the denouement of the film quite confusing. One or two parts of it still are. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the picture. It was very different to standard Hollywood fare, and while I like that, too, I appreciated this.

***

Finally, Monday just one (18th May) was the one hundredth anniversary of Karol Józef Wojtyła, more well known as Pope St. John Paul II. Fifteen years on from his death (15 years already!) I still miss him. He was pope when I became a Catholic so will always be special to me – even though nowadays I am not as right on in my Catholic views as I used to be. I think in the end it will be people like him (rather than many living clerics – and laymen for that matter) who keep me in the Church. Pope John Paul: Ora Pro Nobis!

As You Write It

I am writing this post at 6:58am. I usually try to do a little creative work early in the morning but thought I would turn to the blog today as I need to catch-up again.

Well, a few things have happened since my last post on 3rd May.

Last week, one of my aunts died. She had been suffering from dementia and latterly had moved to a care home. I don’t know the cause of her death although in the current context one might hazard a guess. I wasn’t close to her – I hadn’t met her since the 90s – but one of her sons is an occasional visitor to our house and I keep up with his and some of his family’s life on Facebook so I feel for them.

A few days ago, my brother’s mother-in-law died – I believe of natural causes; she had been very ill for sometime. I never met her at all but I am sad for my brother’s wife.

A couple of days ago, I was just about to start my daily exercise when an e-mail notification flashed up on my screen: my parish had started livestreaming a Mass. Very unusual as it was 2:22pm. Afternoon Masses are not usually until much later, and then at the top of the hour.

I read the text accompanying the notificaiton: RIP Derek Vitali. This cut me to the quick. Derek and his wife were regular attendees to the 8am Sunday Mass – the one at which I altar serve. Derek himself was a reader. He had an amazing voice – deep, clear, and authoritative. It was always a pleasure listening to him. We often spoke ‘back stage’ before or after the Mass as well. He was a very kind and happy person; full of good humour. As with my aunt, I don’t know the circumstances of his death but I will miss him very much.

Requiescant in Pace.

My parents and I remain well. I continue my social media work, exercise, reading and preparation for creative writing.

Howards End (9/10)
After watching The Martian, I turned to this Merchant Ivory classic. Leonard Bast’s death remains incredibly sad and frustrating. If only the Wilcox family had had an ounce of compassion it need never have happened. It’s worse because I can identify with Bast – I am not as poor as he is but without the help of others I probably would be. I appreciate his love of literature and nature, his day dreaminess as well. I try not to think about how it is not just the Wilcox’s but society itself that brings him down because then I might have to ask questions about my own society – not so much or only in connection with me but in regards all of us.

K-19: The Widowmaker (8/10)
My second Russian submarine disaster film. This one is set in the early 60s. The K-19 is the USSR’s latest super-sub. It has also been badly constructed. It should remain in port but the Soviet Navy chiefs want it at sea to conduct missile tests so off it goes. Predictably, disaster follows: Piping in the nuclear reactor breaks. Water coolant can no longer get through to the reactor itself. As a result, its temperature rises to catastrophic levels. The crew undertake a race against time to repair the piping before the high temperatures cause a nuclear explosion that could in turn lead to nuclear war – rather unhelpfully, the sub’ is close by an American spy station.

K-19 is a solid action-drama. Harrison Ford acts against type as Captain Alexei Vostrikov who seems to care more about the Party than his crew. Liam Neeson’s Mikhail Polenin is the noble submarine commander who does his best to defend his crew’s interests against the captain.

In the end, Vostrikov comes good: he puts the men first. If I have one criticism of the film it is that it didn’t develop Vostrikov’s character enough. We know that despite his party loyalty he has a suspect background but in the film he goes from being cruel to kind in fairly short order.

John Wick 3: Parabellum (8.5/10)
I finished watching this yesterday. John Wick 3 is very stylish, and violent. It has a very interesting internal mythology that raises the film above being just about the violence though I don’t know by how much. I think I need to watch the first two films in the series.

Happy Birthday Formula 1!
Formula 1 turned seventy years old, yesterday (13th May). The first ever F1 Grand Prix took place at Silverstone in the presence of King George VI. There was big news to go with the birthday, of course, with the announcement from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel that he would be leaving the team at the end of the year. Let’s hope we can go racing and he can get a win (after Hamilton has won his seventh title, preferably) before the year’s end.

Part One of The Darling Blogs of May

I have fallen behind again so here is another catch-up.

Do you notice anything different about this blog? No adverts! I finally had the money to upgrade the blog. There’s more besides – welcome to sehnsuchtandwine.com. My own domain name <3.

All remains well in the family house. From one day to the next we just go about our daily business. For me, that means work and exercise, Duolingo, reading and creative work (I am still inching forward with that). Some days are more productive than others. It’s hard to write about it here as I have done so before and I would only be repeating myself.

Thankfully, I have not been scammed again.

In the twelve days since my last blog post I have watched some more films during my exercise:

The Sting 9/10
In my post of 18th April (here) I mentioned that I was watching this Robert Redford – Paul Newman classic but then forgot to review and rate it in my post of the 21st (here). I first saw The Sting back in the 90s and remembered it very fondly. Sometimes, films that we saw years ago don’t live up to our memory of them when we watch them again but I would say that The Sting more or less did. I say ‘more or less’ because while the film overall is extremely well written and acted, the actual sting at the heart of the picture is over far too quickly. After two hours of build up, it’s over and done with in ten minutes. Nowadays, the sting itself would take up half an hour of screen time, if not more. Perhaps that is my problem – I am not looking at that scene in terms of how it fits into the picture as is but as a contemporary film lover.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows 8/10
After watching Sherlock Holmes, I moved straight on to its sequel. Game of Shadows is very much more of the same but the film never gets boring thanks to a witty script, Robert Downey Jr, and a strong support cast, most notably Jude Law as Watson and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.

Sense and Sensibility 9/10
W
e have been blessed by some great Jane Austen adaptations over the years – the BBC Pride & Prejudice, the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma and this version of Sense & Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee and starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. It is almost the perfect film. Seriously, I can’t think of anything greatly wrong about it: the script, the casting, the performances, the music… it all just slips into place perfectly.

The Martian 9/10
Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist and astronaut who is part of a manned mission to Mars. The expedition is prematurely ended, however, when a violent storm threatens to destroy the astronauts’ martian lander. The other astronauts are able to get into the lander but Watney is left behind after being seemingly killed by a boulder. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, he survives. Making his way back to the ‘hab’ – the astronauts’ habitation unit – Watney uses his botanical skills to make enough food to survive on. At first, he has nothing to survive for as no one knows he is alive. Thanks to satellites, however, NASA eventually realises the truth and tries to launch a rescue mission. It fails. Thanks to China and a soupçon of mutiny among Watney’s fellow astronauts, a new plan is hatched. The Martian is a terrific action film. A great script, characters, and actors. You are really there with them. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I finished Clare Lydon‘s Nothing to Lose this week. It is not by any means her best book but still a good read. 7.5/10
Nothing to Lose is about a woman named Scarlet who is made homeless after a flood destroys her home. She goes to live with Joy, town mayor, while her flat is cleaned up and the two fall in love. Nothing to Lose is at its strongest in the portrayal of Scarlet and Joy’s budding love for one another. It is at its weakest when Lydon has her characters use popular LGBTQ slogans and ideas. This moves them from being ‘real’ people to no more than fronts for ideas that Lydon wants to insert into her story. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a character who believes that ‘love is love’ or that ‘love wins’ but having them use or refer to real life slogans/ideas should definitely be avoided unless absolutely necessary. I also didn’t like how Scarlet pushes Joy to be out but that is a personal thing; if I was her editor, I wouldn’t have suggested she remove that element of the story.

I have started using Zoom. Welcome to the world, MJM! I had a work Zoom meeting last week, which went well; I zoomed with the family the other day and before both those occasions had a wonderful evening doing a dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with friends and friends-of-friends, all over Zoom. Thank you, Liz!

So, it’s now May. I feel okay. My left ear is blocked. I am hoping olive oil drops will soften the ear wax so that I can get it out. If I can’t, I wonder if I will be able to go to my surgery. I may have to wait until it reopens properly (at the moment, doctor’s appointments are by phone only).

Today, Sunday, has been a lazy day so far. I have to admit, even though I encourage myself to be lazy on Sundays – because I am busy the rest of the week – I feel a bit unsettled by it. I don’t like the idea of deriving my happiness by the number of things I have done, though, so I shall have to think about that.

This week, I have started watching Fr. Ninian Doohan’s Masses on You Tube. I love his homilies as he speaks about history as well as spirituality. Last week, I learnt a few things about St. Catherine of Siena (she was not actually an enclosed nun) and heard Father took about St. Alcuin.

It was the 26th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s untimely death on Friday – always a very sad time; all the more so since it was not only the great Senna who died that weekend at Imola but new F1 driver, Roland Ratzenberger as well. Requiescant in Pace.

And here I will stop. Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you are staying safe and feeling well. God bless you and yours.

The Detective and the Tramp

I am at sixes and sevens tonight.

I received a text message from my phone company this afternoon telling me that I owed them money. According to their website, however, I didn’t; I’m all paid up until May. Unfortunately, I only looked at the website after I had clicked on the link in the text message and given them my bank details through it.

Realising that I may have just been scammed, I called my bank to cancel my debit card. I don’t think I needed to do this as I didn’t give the possible scammers my PIN but I was even more at sixes and sevens earlier.

After I had calmed down, somewhat, I called my bank’s fraud line. The fellow who spoke to me put me at ease. There isn’t much they can do with the details you have given them, he said; what you might get in a few days is someone calling you purporting to be from the bank. If they do ring you, hang up immediately. He was Scottish with the kind of rugged voice that one can’t help but trust so even though I’m a bit put out by what has happened, I shall do my best to trust him.

Two final points: firstly, even though I was calling very late in the day, both the fraud line man and the Liverpudlian lady who cancelled my card for me were completely professional in the way they spoke to me. I really appreciated and appreciate that. To be honest, I was half expecting not to get any reply at all because of the offices being closed; to be spoken to as kindly as I was, was really good; much more than I deserved.

The second final point is the obvious: be careful of scams! Please don’t be a dummy like me.

Scams aside, all is well in our house. My parents potter about and do their thing; I get on with my work. I am getting very tired in the evening these days – a product of all the physio and exercise and of the early wake up times. My alarm is set for 5am but over the last few days I have been getting up in the hour before then. Bad form but there it is.

My exercise film over the last two days has been Sherlock Holmes (2009) starring Robert Downey Jr in the title role and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. I saw this film in the cinema when it came out and enjoyed it so was very happy to put it on again; especially since I had forgotten most of the plot. The story is wittily and cleverly written but this film is really about Robert Downey Jr. He is a great actor – effortlessly able to combine the comic and serious in one performance. I guess that’s what Richard Attenborough chose him to play Charlie Chaplin in his Chaplin biopic (a film I would like to watch again because Reasons). I rate Robert Downey Jr 10/10 and Sherlock Holmes 8/10. The sequel is on Netflix so I might just go straight to that next.

My creative life is inching along. I have been thinking more about the Twitter story I want to write. I don’t know if I ever will but I might mention it in a future post.

I am coming to the end of Clare Lydon’s Nothing to Lose romance and continue to plough through Antony Beevor’s account of the Second World War. Every time I read it I am gobsmacked by the amount of death and destruction wrought by the Axis powers, by the ruthlessness of Stalin, and the mistakes made by just about all of the world leaders, all of whom were blinded to one extent or another by their ideology, desires or ego. I might come back to this point as well as the question of what makes a good ruler has been on my mind lately.