Here We Go-

Catch up time – again!

What I’ve Been Doing
What’s been happening? In late October I finally attending my first Mass since March-April. A few days later, a deteriorating coronavirus situation put England back into a national lockdown. I saw ‘England’ as the Welsh and Scottish governments have been dealing with their countries separately.

At the end of October, I celebrated my 49th birthday. I did so quietly with a glass of wine.

At the start of November I joined the NaNoWriMo scheme. It’s been an up and down month in terms of writing. As of today, I have managed just over 30,000 words. Unfortunately, I have not written anything this week. I just ran out of steam.

At the start of this week, I had a chat with a dear friend and admitted that I had read hardly any books this year. I’ve been thinking about that since and realised that I have read a few more than I remembered, but it has still been a poor year.

Books On the Go
As a result of this conversation, on Wednesday, I picked up the four that I had started or tried to start since September and read a little bit of each as a prelude to beginning a programme of reading one or two every day thereafter. The four books are:

i. Hilaire Belloc The Servile State. For more on this one, check out my Belloc blog here
ii. Amanda McCrina Traitor. This is a YA book set on the eastern front during the Second World War. McCrina writes with very a very light touch, which is a great blessing given the book’s setting and some of the events in it; her prose reminds me of Hemingway’s in its matter-of-factness.
iii. Adrian Goldsworthy Philip & Alexander. A doorstopper of a biography about Philip II of Macedon and his famous son. I’ve only read a couple of chapters so its too early to give an opinion of it. Goldsworthy is a good historian, though, so I have high hopes for it.
iv. A.B. Bosworth Conquest and Empire. Another biography of Alexander. I wouldn’t normally read two at once but it is the current book for the Alexander the Great Reading Group, which I am a member of on Twitter.

Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton won the Formula One World Championship for the seventh time! A truly magnificent achievement. When Michael Schumacher won his seventh world title I didn’t think anyone would ever get close to it let alone equal it. Hamilton has every good chance of winning an eighth title next year as well.

A few weeks before Hamilton wrapped up his title, Mercedes won the Constructors’ World Championship for the seventh time in a row. What makes their victories so special is that they have achieved them across different regulations. Formula One changes its car rules every few years. This usually allows a new team to break ahead of whoever dominated the sport before (it’s how Mercedes superseded Red Bull who won the Constructors’ title four years in a row between 2010-2013 with Sebastian Vettel). Mercedes, however, have remained dominant since 2014 despite any rule change that the FIA has thrown at them. 2021 was due to be the next big rule change but it has been put back a year due to the pandemic. Next year’s cars, therefore, will be very similar to this year’s. That gives Hamilton the perfect chance to get ahead of Schumacher.

The Presidential Election
Joe Biden won the American Presidential election at the start of November. Since then, Donald Trump has been doing his best to get the result overturned through the courts but without any success at all. He hasn’t conceded to Biden yet but there can surely be no doubt that he will. On Twitter, I did my level best to avoid the election. No one asked for my opinion and I very much doubt it would be of any value at all to anyone. I still nearly managed to make an ass of myself, though, when I wrote an e-mail to an American friend and typed ‘H’ instead of ‘J’ for Joe on my keyboard. Fortunately, I saw the error in time!

NFL
The Cleveland Browns are roading through the regular season in the NFL. Well, kind of. As of today, they have a 7-3 record and are second in the AFC North. First is Pittsburgh who have a perfect 10-0 record. I will just be happy if Cleveland get to the playoffs.

Romance
Since September (and before) I have been listening to the Lesbians Who Write podcast. Earlier this month, I finished reading T. B. Markinson’s A Woman Lost romance and decided to write a ‘thank you’ e-mail to her. They mentioned the e-mail in the 91st episode of the podcast and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been feeling pretty chuffed about it ever since! I enjoy LWW very much – the humour and insight into the writing business especially. Sometimes I think ‘maybe I will write a romance’ but the stories I really want to write are fairy tales. Maybe I will write a fairy tale romance. Mine would be a bi fairy tale romance, though, as this market seems very ill catered for.

UPDATE: 29.11.20 I have written a catch-up post for my Alexander blog, The Second Achilles. You can read it here

Time for Tenet

The last post took two months to write; this one has taken just three weeks. I’m getting better…

Tenet
A week last Wednesday I went to see Christopher Nolan’s new film. Like most people, I came out thoroughly bamboozled regarding the plot but still enjoyed the picture. The two leads, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, were very good in their roles. Washington’s Protagonist is a somewhat distant character; he is all about the plot rather than character so I was grateful for Pattinson’s Neil who is a little more of the reverse, whether it is in his clothing choices or warm smile. Since watching the film, I have learnt that John David Washington is Denzel Washington’s son, which I can hardly believe. And what’s more, JDW is 36, so he has been around for a while. It turns out that that Denzel Washington is 65. How time flies.

What was it like going to the cinema? Tense. Because of the coronavirus risk, I umm’d and ahh’d about going for several days before hand. Had it not been for Christopher Nolan, I probably wouldn’t have. I went to an 11am screening in the hope that it would not be busy. Thankfully, it wan’t – there were just a handful of people in the screen. Why did I feel tense? The cinema was very clean and tidy; if the staff’s PPE was anything to go by, Vue take their health and the cinema-goers very seriously. Of course, the answer is that despite the cinema’s best efforts, the virus may still linger somewhere and I may catch it. This was on my mind beforehand, while watching the film, and afterwards. It won’t start to go away until after next Wednesday – the two week mark when symptoms of the illness usually start to manifest themselves.

While watching the film, I wore my face mask. Doing so will never be enjoyable but at least the temperature in the screen was fairly even. As a result, my glasses only steamed up once or twice.

Why next? I really want to see Bill & Ted 3 (it opens on 16th Sept.) but I have to admit I’m umm’ing and ahh’ing about it even harder than with Tenet. I could easily see myself deciding to wait until it appears on DVD or streaming service. The next film that I will do all I can to go and see in the cinema is No Time To Die. The latest trailer for James Bond 25 looks absolutely stunning. The film is due out on 12th November.

Home Life
Nothing much has changed: in the morning, I work; in the afternoon, I read and write. This week has been different, though. It has gone really well. Every week day for several months now, I have written a list of all the things I would like to do during that day. Rarely have I ever been able to tick everything off before day’s end. This week, I have managed to do so for four days in a row! I can’t tell you how extraordinary that is. As a result, I have managed to :-

read a little more of Rob Johnson’s Lawrence of Arabia on War
develop my plot outline for my as yet unnamed Camino Story
write and schedule tweets for my Hilaire Belloc Twitter account (@SineAuctoritate)

every day. I’m very proud of myself for that. I have no expectation about what I will achieve today, or any day into the future: I don’t want to think about that at all. Every day is a gift so I would prefer to focus on where I am and what I am doing now. If I can tick everything off again, great, if not, not to worry.

Books
A new book about Alexander the Great has been published! It’s called Philip and Alexander: Kings and Conquerors and is by Adrian Goldsworthy. He has written several books, mainly about ancient Rome, so is very solid. I can’t wait to get started on it.

Podcasts
I’ve been enjoying listening to Clare Lydon’s and T. B. Markinson’s Lesbians Who Write podcast. On a practical level, it is full of useful writing tips. Its greatest virtue, however, has to be the warmness of the hosts’ friendship. It is very evident in the presentation and makes for nice, homely podcast. If only Christopher Nolan could make a film that was as friendly! I’d like to start listening to at least a couple more podcasts regularly but I don’t know which ones to choose, yet.

Formula 1
The season continues. As I write this, Free Practice 2 is taking place in Tuscany. Tuscany! The F1 circus is using Ferrari’s test track at Mugello. I have visited Tuscany twice in my life and had a wonderful time both times. Well, almost. My first visit (c. 2002) was my first solo trip abroad. I had a two hour panic attack after I arrived. Once I recovered, though, the rest of the trip was fabulous (except for the time an Italian guy swigged my wine outside a trattoria!).

Twenty-Two and Back

Well, this won’t do. Nearly two months since my last blog post. Time flies. Kind of. In truth, I have spent the last few weeks meaning to write another update but just not got round to it.

For me, not a great deal has changed since my last post. Although we are no longer in lock down (in my last post I said that lock down measures were easing. At which point did they cease? I’m really not sure. I feel like it just happened), I only really go out to go shopping.

Having said that, I have managed to broaden my understanding of what constitutes ‘shopping’; which is to say that a couple of weeks ago I went to Marks and Spencer’s to buy some clothes and have made a couple of trips to Waterstones.

Books!
I decided a while ago that I wanted to have a copy of 1984 and Animal Farm on my shelf for future reading. The way the world is going at the moment these seem to be the most relevant books to have. Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of John Garth’s The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien.

1984 and Animal Farm surely need no introduction. J. R. R. Tolkien doesn’t, either, but John Garth is not quite as famous so I will quickly say this: he ought to be. Garth wrote the brilliant Tolkien and the Great War back in 2003. In this book, he gave an account of Tolkien’s life during the First World War. It is full of insight and information; a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in Tolkien’s life. I thought I owned a copy of the book until I looked at my shelf earlier today and couldn’t find it. Did I loan it out ages ago and not get it back? Or did I accidentally throw it away during my book clear out a few weeks ago? Either way, I rate the book so highly I’ll certainly purchase another copy of it.

That’s Tolkien and the Great War. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien is a coffee table book that looks at all the places that influenced Tolkien in his writings. Over the years, I have seen so many – so, so many – places lay claim to having influenced him; it will be good to finally have an authoritative guide to point me in the right directions.

Spiritual Matters
This was the title of my last blog post. Priests have been celebrating Masses ever since the start of July. I haven’t yet attended one; too nervous of doing so to begin with; happy to keep watching them on-line. However, I can now feel myself approaching the point at which I will head off to my parish church. Will it be next week? I don’t know.

I mentioned before about going to confession. I did that. At the start of July, I undertook the three hour round trip from home and walked to Westminster Cathedral. Confessions were no longer in the confessional. We had to queue up a little distance away from their new locations – the baptistry and the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine – and await our turn turn. I was a bit nervous about how close we would be to the priest and penitents but I need not have worried – a cathedral volunteer stood at the head of the queue to make sure people were queueing in the right place and guide them to the priest after each confession.

The priest in the baptistry and chapel were both standing. They didn’t wear face masks but instead a plastic face guard. The penitents stood up as well. It could have felt really awkward but wasn’t. In the last couple of weeks, the Government has said that everyone must wear face masks when shopping. I think this applies to churches but am not sure. I will have to find out no later than the start of October: by then it will be three months since my last confession and I will want to go back.

Two Unexpected Gifts
I have received two of late. The first was a tax rebate from the Government! These are always appreciated. As I think I have mentioned before, I work as a free lance now. I am very overdue being paid but am very rubbish at chasing money matters up. A few weeks ago, I would have had to have done so, though, because I was nearly at the end of my overdraft. The tax rebate came at exactly the right moment. Thanks to it, I have been able to eat, buy the above mentioned books and some clothes.

The unexpected gift was a bottle of red wine, which my brother decided he didn’t want. It is on my desk right now and I can’t wait to sip it!

Formula One
Just after my last post, Formula One went racing again for the first time this year. The season has been an unmitigated success so far – at least in terms of keeping everyone safe from the coronavirus. On the track, it’s been great for Lewis Hamilton but slightly less good for everyone else. Happily (eh?), there has been off-track controversy as well – something to keep our minds off Mercedes on-track dominance. This has chiefly been provided by the Racing Point team, whose 2020 car is a copy of the 2019 Mercedes. The stewards investigated the matter and decided it was worth a small fine and reduction of constructor points but – even if the team continues to use the same car – nothing more. As I write, Ferrari and Renault are appealing this lenient judgement. Ferrari, rather amusingly, want transparency about how far teams can copy each other. This, of course, is the same Ferrari that got busted using a (probably) illegal engine last year but managed to keep details of its settlement with the FIA secret. (I say ‘probably’ because the FIA weren’t able to work out what the team had done to make its engine so good. They reckoned it was illegal, though, and told the team to make some changes. As a result, they are running in the midfield).

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!