No Time To Die

Before today, my last post was in September. As a result, I completely missed mentioning No Time to Die when it came out at the end of that month. My mother is a massive fan of Spectre (the film, I hope, rather than the organisation) so we went to our local cinema to watch No Time To Die together.

SPOILERS ARE ON THEIR WAY

Once there, we sat back on our very comfy couch (literally) and got ready for the action.

Upon our arrival at the cinema, I had ordered a hot dog. It arrived literally (repetition, sorry) as the gun barrel sequence started. I had to put up my arms in front of my face in order to take the plate from the server behind me. As a result, I completely missed said the gun barrel. I couldn’t believe it! Six years of waiting and I miss what is probably James Bond’s most iconic sequence.

To be honest, though, I quickly got over that disappointment and settled in to the film. Two months on, I think No Time To Die is still my second favourite Daniel Craig picture (after Casino Royale). I know it has its flaws but I really enjoyed it on the day, and as I look back, it still makes me smile.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Except, that is, for the ending. James Bond dying? Never! But no, it happened. It really happened. On the one hand, I would have been very happy had he walked away with the Bond Girl, just as he always does. On the other, I respect the producers for saying, You know what, we’re going to do something different. Very different. As the credits rolled, I stayed in my seat until I had seen the comforting ‘James Bond will return’ message at the end.

When I was young, I so wanted to see the James Bond films reference previous pictures. The Daniel Craig era not only did that but (albeit retroactively) made a story arc that ran from Casino Royale to No Time to Die. Now that his run has finished, what would I like to see the producers do next?

That’s a good question and one to which I have no firm answer. There are a couple of directions that I hope it doesn’t take:

  • No return ever to anything approaching the humour and whimsy of the Roger Moore era. I say this specifically because there are fans of Bond who seem to be completely wedded to Sir Roger’s films. I enjoy them but his style has had its day
  • Let’s draw back from futuristic plot ideas. I didn’t mind the nanobots story line in No Time to Die (and the talk of things like ‘smart blood’ in previous films) but how about we ground Bond more in reality for a film or two?

I hope the producers give new writers a chance in the future, and move heaven and earth to get Christopher Nolan to direct a film! That would be something.

Anyway, whatever they decide, as long as it’s a good adventure, I don’t suppose I will mind too much. James Bond transcends his stories. As long as he is there, being cool, deadly, and fighting for the Queen, so will I be as well.

By the Bye

I know I should have grown out of this habit by now but for a long time I looked at the LGBTQ+ movement and thought, Look at how its members love one another, and indeed, people in general. Some of my fellow Christians compare with them very badly, both ‘IRL’ and online.

But then, times changed and I started paying attention to the B in LGBTQ+. What did people have to say about being bisexual? What was it like for them? I dipped in and out of articles. A decisive moment came when I found the Bisexual Brunch podcast. I discovered that that love is capable of being very partial. There are people who dismiss bisexuality as no more than a ‘phase’, lesbians who will refuse to date a bisexual women, that bi men are often ‘erased’ and so forth.

I shouldn’t have been surprised: people are people, whatever their sexuality. They have their good points, and their bad. We all do. But it was still a really disappointing discovery to make. As a bisexual Catholic you get used to other members of your Church, or the Faith, bad mouthing you: you do your best to stay close to the Lord and carry on. As simply a bisexual you rather expect that you will find there acceptance. Sadly, it is not always so.

The Confraternity of St. James

Three years ago in November, I bought a copy of The Way. A few weeks later, towards the end of the month, I visited the Blackfriars office of The Confraternity of St. James and paid for a three year membership.

A few days ago, I received a letter from the CSJ advising me that my membership was nearly up. I immediately renewed it – for one more year this time – but I felt sad: in the original period of my CSJ membership, I had quit my job and walked the Camino. Between Covid and my precarious finances it is unlikely that I will be able to do so again in the second membership period. That great adventure, therefore, which took me way out of my comfort zone, to a new country, new friendships, the pain and freedom of long walks, may definitively be said to belong to a period that is now over and will not be repeated again, if ever at all. I don’t when or if I will get over this.

Of course, none of us know what the future may bring, but how I wish I was still in that first period of CSJ membership. Then, even though my Camino ended in May 2019, I would still have that point of connection with it.

Two things:
i . Those who say that the Camino begins when you reach Santiago are right. I need to interiorise that more
ii. I know that that ‘point of connection’ is not a real one, that I am as connected to the pilgrimage in the second period of CSK membership as I was in the first, but – but – .

Notes on the Late Summer

Despite Covid, life continues to get back a little more normal…

Two weeks ago I visited the London Library for just the second time since the pandemic started. Being there was bittersweet. On the one hand it was great being back among all the books. On the other, walking among them reminded me of how rarely I have visited the Library these last few years. Since 2015, when I finished my four year career break (yes, it was that long), you could probably count the number of times I have visited the London Library on one or two hands. Disgraceful.). I made a commitment to visit the Library at least twice a month. I will see how that goes.

One week ago, we had a joint family visit to Bateman’s, the home of Rudyard Kipling. It is a lovely little country house in the deeps of Sussex. Representing my side of the family were myself and my mother. Representing my sister’s family were her, husband, and children.

Kipling is famous, of course, for the If poem as well as for being the author of The Jungle Book. He is infamous for his views on imperialism. Not surprisingly for a man of his age, class, nationality, etc he was very much in favour of it. I don’t know if it represented reality, but I was very heartened by the overflowing waste paper bin in Kipling’s study (above). I discovered that T. E. Lawrence once annoyed him by flying low over his house – Kipling was unimpressed by the plane’s noisiness! I came away from Bateman’s with several books including Puck of Pook’s Hill, which I read while at university, and am enjoying reading again.

Six weeks ago, I had a two hour appointment at my dentist’s. A lot of work was done on my poor teeth. Unfortunately, not every problem has been resolved, and I have to go back. Due to the backlog caused by Covid, however, the earliest appointment I could get is at the end of the month. Ouch.

The coronavirus caused a year long delay to my scheduled appointment at the optician’s. Things went better there, when I finally fulfilled it this week; I damaged my main pair of glasses in late 2019 and was finally able to replace them. The frames of those glasses were inspired by John Paul II when he was still Karol Wojtyła (appropriately enough they were made by a company called Religion). The new frames were inspired by Hugh Grant’s in Notting Hill. I love that film and I love Charles Thacker’s glasses even more. What can I say; that’s the truth!

Oh, I almost forgot – I actually had a night out in the pub! This happened a couple of weeks ago with E., my best friend. We don’t see each other very often these days (not a Covid specific thing, just life) so it was a great pleasure drinking and chatting with him. We met on a Saturday night in a pub that would otherwise have been packed. It was instead rather empty. I guess it will take a while before people pick up their social lives again. That’s understandable.

So, life has been getting a little back to normal. It hasn’t been perfect – family members with ill health has seen to that – but I am grateful for what I have all the same. I think I will end this post on that note: being grateful. It’s something I know I am not as often as I should be.

Alex Strangelove

Here Be Spoilers!

Alex Strangelove is a 2018 rom-com about a high school student who agrees to have sex with his girlfriend. He is a virgin, so, unsurprisingly, the thought of sleeping with her threatens to overwhelm him. There is also another problem – a gay friend has a crush on him, and he rather likes them. What will he do?

I started watching this film last week and, while I enjoyed what I saw, I didn’t feel invested enough in it to keep watching. However, when I picked it up again a day or two ago, I watched a little more of it very happily before watching the last 55 minutes in one go today.

It’s funny how that can happen – only to me? To others? I don’t know: I like a film but find it hard to carry on watching it until I actually do and then all is well. Maybe there is a level on which I don’t like it? Or am nervous about how it will turn out? Who knows.

Back to Alex Strangelove. It is a very sweet and engaging film. This is chiefly due to the actors who all inhabit their roles really well – I think here particularly of Daniel Zolghadri, who plays Alex’s clownish friend, Dell. The script is at its best with him.

Ah, the script. Hollywood’s bane. Alex Strangelove is a coming out story. For the most part, it tells Alex’s story well, if not brilliantly. Where it failed, though, I think it failed in a very annoying fashion.

At the end of the film, Alex accompanies his girlfriend, Clare, to the school prom. By this point, he has come out to himself and her as gay. They attend the prom together pretty much for old time’s sake. Except, Clare has invited Elliot, Alex’s crush, with the intention of getting the two boys together, because she knows they won’t manage it themselves.

After meeting Elliot, Alex is once again overwhelmed – this time by the people watching them – and he flees to the toilets to gather his thoughts. Elliot joins him there but when Alex is unable to commit to him, he leaves suddenly, I think in annoyance. Moments later, Alex catches up with his friend. They kiss passionately: it is the start of a, hopefully, beautiful relationship.

Good. But the toilet scene – that annoyed me. I dislike how the script makes Alex look like the ‘baddie’ for not immediately committing to Elliot and making him run after him in order to do so. I felt the script was saying you should not be in the closet; if someone falls in love with you, it’s only right that you go with them. If you don’t, you are acting in some sense badly.

Perhaps in an ideal world everyone would be out, accepted, and living their best life. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Some people are in the closet, and in the closet for good, or at least necessary, reasons. Alex Strangelove isn’t the first movie I’ve seen where I’ve felt that the script was subtly trying to push the viewer, if he or she was closeted, into coming out, and it’s very unfair.

If I had written the film, I would have kept the ending, but had the toilet scene take place earlier so that Alex had more time to process his thoughts, come to terms with his sexuality, and fall more deeply in love with Elliot. At any rate, I would have made Elliot more understanding of Alex’s position so that he didn’t leave so peremptorily.

That’s my gripe. I would rate Alex Strangelove 7.5/10. It isn’t in the first division of teen films (where John Hughes’ pictures reside) but is funny and gentle picture all the same. Worth a shot.

G. K. Chesterton’s Anti-Semitism

A few days ago, Dawn Eden Goldstein published a thread on Twitter regarding G. K. Chesterton’s anti-semitism. The thread begins here. As a fan of Chesterton’s writings, I read the thread with great interest and little shock.

That may seem odd: shouldn’t I be aghast at this dismantling of a beloved writer’s reputation? No. Firstly, neither Goldstein’s thread, nor any book that focuses on the issue of Chesterton’s anti-semitism are the last word about his character. Secondly, while I am by no means an expert in his life, I know enough about it to be able to say that there was a very great deal of good in him. None of it can excuse, much less wipe away, the stain on his character that his anti-semitism brings, but it does put it into perspective.

Dawn Eden Goldstein has done me and all who like Chesterton a favour.
She’s done him a favour as well.

She has done us a favour because she has shone a light on a part of GKC’s character that needs to be known so that we can know him more fully, deeply, and authentically. And she has done Chesterton a favour because a fuller knowledge of the person he was allows us to pray for him more effectively. Lord, forgive Chesterton his sins, particularly those committed against Jewish people through his anti-semitism; remember the good that he did in his life and bring him to the peace of your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

What does all this mean for G. K. Chesterton’s cause? The issue of his anti-semitism has been highlighted before and not prevented its promotion so I don’t think it will again. I still support his canonisation, and will continue to do so unless I see evidence to the effect that anti-semitism poisoned Chesterton’s whole heart.

The Saints, after all, are not people who were perfect on earth. They are people who were centred on God. They were people who committed sins, sometimes many, sometimes serious, but always picked themselves up and turned back to God. The Saints knew they were sinners – even if they did not know all the ways in which they were sinful, because we all have our blind spots – and this informed their actions: a turning back to God, through His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Afghanistan

The Taliban are on the march, and as matters stand, it is only a case of when, not if, they win Afghanistan’s civil war. Once that happens, such freedom as Afghans have enjoyed in the last twenty years will vanish and a new age of oppression will begin.

I am ashamed of how the western powers, specifically America, has treated the country. And not only Afghanistan, but their own soldiers, too. Those western soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Those who were injured: What did they die for? What were they injured for? No more, it seems, than for our leaders to renege on the commitment they owed to that country and leave.

Maybe, though, Joe Biden et al, had no choice: the cost to the West was too high. The cost? Of making Afghanistan a safer, freer place? But these things are either priceless – worth any cost – or they are valueless – not worth anything at all. If the latter, we should never have gone there to begin with.

Recalling the anti-war marches in London in the early 2000s, I know that many people would have preferred we didn’t. Not me. I was very happy to see the overthrow of the Taliban, and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, after the 11th September attacks. We won the war in both countries but lost the peace – comprehensively so in Afghanistan. It didn’t need to be like this. It still doesn’t – not that I’m expecting the West to do anything – but the way we have thrown Afghanistan to the wolves is deeply, deeply shameful.

Unfortunately, international politics is littered with deceptions and lies. Afghanistan isn’t the first country to be betrayed by the western powers and won’t be the last. All because we went in without a proper plan, commitment, and desire to do whatever needed to be done for the country. I hope Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden, and their allies, are pleased with themselves tonight.

Edith Stein + Julius Caesar

Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – is one of my favourite saints and yesterday (9th August) was her Feast Day. This called for a glass of wine in her honour. Before that, however, I went to confession and Mass at Westminster Cathedral. Before continuing, I must here confess two things, though:

  1. I had originally intended to go to confession last week or the week before but for one reason and another had not managed it. When I decided to go yesterday, I hadn’t thought of connecting the visit to Edith Stein’s feast day. I’d love to say that I went to the cathedral in her honour, but this time round, it was just a happy coincidence.
  2. I didn’t only drink a glass of wine last night in honour of St. Teresa Benedicta. 9th August is also the anniversary of The Battle of Pharsalus, the decisive battle in the Roman civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. Had I been alive in 48 BC, I would certainly have sided with Caesar against the Pompey and the Optimates so I am very happy to celebrate his victory every year.

Back at the cathedral, things are returning to normal. Confessions are no longer said standing up in one of the side chapels (usually in the chapel where Cardinal Hume and Bishop Challoner are buried and the baptistry next door) but back in the confessional boxes in front of the Lady Chapel. We still need to wear our face masks while in the cathedral, but are allowed to take them off while making the confession. A piece of glass over the grill protects priest and penitent.

Before COVID, you sat down while queuing for the confessional. Now, you have to stand. That’s a bit rough of people who might find standing for any length of time but, of course, it’s easy to understand why they have been removed. While queuing, I looked up to the domed ceiling above us. If you visit Westminster Cathedral, go to where penitents queue, and look up; you’ll see a net. Behind the net are chalk marks. Before the net was put there, they formed what seemed to me the shape of Africa. I noticed this some years ago. As a result, every time I have gone to confession at the cathedral, I have looked up and prayed for Africa and her people. Unfortunately, the net makes the outline harder to see, but the habit is now ingrained in me.

Traditionis Custodes

A couple of weeks have passed since the Vatican published Traditionis Custodes, the Pope’s motu proprio in which he restricts access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

When the letter was released, I could not see how it would serve ‘to promote the concord and unity of the Church’ as intended. I still can’t. As a leader, you do not unify a divided people by taking sides in their dispute. You especially do not unify them by discriminating against the other side. This is what Pope Francis has done.

According to the Pope, Traditionis Custodes is the fruit of a ‘detailed consultation’ with bishops. This has to be taken seriously. If the Extraordinary Form really is causing problems worldwide then I would reluctantly agree that restricting access to it, or even banning it, would have to be considered. Unfortunately, and to the best of my knowledge, absolutely no information about the consultation has been released, so we don’t know how many bishops took part in it, where those who did take part came from, or whether they were men sympathetic to the EF Mass or not, etc etc.

I’m very disappointed by what the Pope has done. I say this as a Catholic middle roader – I appreciate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass but am perfectly happy with the Novus Ordo, even if it could be greatly improved (after all, nearly all things can). I feel very sorry for Catholics whose attachment to the Extraordinary Form is much stronger, especially if they are now in a position where they are no longer able to attend this Mass. If that was me, I would sooner go to a SSPX Mass than Novus Ordo one.

Of course, the Pope’s decision to restrict access to the Extraordinary Form did not come out of nowhere. Catholics who have loudly expressed their love for the EF Mass by denigrating, even to the point of saying it is invalid, the N.O. need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror and do a little repenting. Traditionis Custodes has probably burnt no few bridges. They need to be rebuilt by both sides as quickly as possible. If only the Pontifex Maximus had chosen this course instead of issuing this moto proprio.

Feeling Blue

I have finished the Blue is the Warmest Colour graphic novel!

Having not touched it since I wrote my post about the film (here), I opened it earlier on today, and read it from page 38 to 156 – the end.

So, how did I manage to read the last 118 pages so quickly?

Well, I will admit that the desire to get it out the way so that I can start another book that I’ve been looking forward to reading helped my motivation considerably.

However, I have to give credit to writer/artist Julie Maroh. I never did get used to her artwork but despite some narrative choices that I didn’t agree with (the story jumps from teenage Clem to thirties Clem and the breakdown of her relationship with Emma much too quickly), the story was a strong one. It made the graphic novel un-putdownable.

I was particularly touched by the way Maroh focuses on Clem’s struggle to accept her sexuality. It is a great trial for her and threatens to derail her relationship with Emma. Maroh doesn’t try to sugar coat Clem’s emotions or gloss over the consequences of her actions. This made the story feel authentic and relatable.

This focus on Clem’s inner struggle defines the graphic novel and means that it and the film can be seen as complimentary to each other, rather than the latter being a straight adaption of the former. It also means that I would certainly read the graphic novel again.

Front cover of Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh. It shows Emma with her distinctive blue hair looking over her shoulder slyly at the viewer.