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 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.
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.
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 – 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last Friday (2nd July), I received my second dose of the anti-coronavirus vaccine.
Earlier that day a friend sent me a text message asking if For Whom The Bell Tolls was a good book – one worth having. I love Hemingway and have read several of his books but have tried and failed three times to get on with this one. I don’t know why – perhaps the Spanish Civil War setting doesn’t grab me, or maybe Hemingway’s use of archaic language (there are lots of thees and thous) to illustrate the (presumably) old fashioned way that the Spaniards are speaking puts too much distance between us. Anyway, after admitting that I hadn’t read the book, I couldn’t help but take it down off the shelf again to give it another go.
I took the book with me to the vaccination centre and started reading it after I had received my jab: I presume this is happening over Britain: everyone who receives the vaccination has to wait at the centre for fifteen minutes afterwards just in case they have a bad reaction to the vaccine.
Fortunately, I felt alright, and was able to leave when the time was up.
The worst that I felt on Friday was that my arm – the one that had been jabbed – hurt a bit. This had happened in April when I received the first dose, if not quite as much, so I just got on with my day.
That night, I slept terribly. In fact, after three am I didn’t sleep at all. When I got up in the morning on Saturday, I felt achy and at one or two points shivery, even though it wasn’t cold.
As a result of this, Saturday became a rest day: no daily physio for my dodgy leg, no exercise, no anything: just rest. As the day progressed, I started to feel better but went to bed that night still aching, somewhat.
Rather to my surprise, I woke up on Sunday morning as if I had never been ill. I felt just fine, and have continued to be so, since. Now, I guess I just have to wait two weeks (or one and a half now) for the vaccine to fully kick in.
And then? Well, it looks like the government will end as planned all the restrictions relating to the coronavirus on 19th July, so I’ll be able to go and paint the town red. Of course, we can already go to the shops, pubs, etc but the truth is it will be a long time before I fully integrate myself back into society. I also need to wait until work pays me (even in a pandemic, some things don’t change!) before I can buy any paint. I won’t, of course, that’s not my thing. What I might just do instead is buy a celebratory bottle of wine, and maybe a new book. I like the sound of that.
Speaking of books, I read Chapter One of For Whom The Bell Tolls on Friday, and Chapter Two on Saturday. Since then – nothing. Why? Not actually because I still don’t like the book but because my reading at the moment has stalled. I’m determined to kick start it again but that is a topic for another post.
A few posts ago I mentioned that I had just watched Blue is the Warmest Colour and would review it in my next post. I held off doing so because I then decided to buy the graphic novel on which the film is based and wanted to review them together.
Unfortunately, I am not enjoying the graphic novel very much and am only reading it a glacial pace. It’s not that the story is bad but the style of artwork and lettering are taking a lot of getting used to. I just need to push on: the illustrations have a slightly unfinished and loose feel to them, which I am sure I will get used to, or at least get over, if the story is good enough. As for the lettering – my complaint is against the cursive text employed for the captions containing one of the character’s diary entries. It doesn’t make the writing impossible to read but does demand concentration, which is more than I want to give in the evening – the only time of day when I have time to look at the book. With that said, I looked ahead when writing this post and saw that the diary entries will soon give way to regular capitalised speech bubbles so, I just need to be patient.
Patience is not always my strongest point, so here I am. I hope I will finish the graphic novel, In the meantime, as patience is not always my strongest point, here I am. I hope I will finish the graphic novel, but in case I don’t, here are my thoughts about the film.
In short, I enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Colour a lot. At three hours, it is much too long but as an exploration of the rise and fall and aftermath of a relationship it worked really well. Full credit go to the writers, director, Abdellatif Kechiche, and principle actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
The film follows Adèle (Exarchopoulos) from her mid-teens to late twenties as she has a brief relationship with another student (male) at her school, before falling in love with a girl with blue hair who she saw one day in the street. That girl is a slightly older student called Emma (Seydoux). One night, they meet in a lesbian bar. They become friends, and then lovers. All goes well until Adèle and Emma are driven apart by the pressures of their work. Adèle sleeps with a fellow teacher. When Emma finds out she immediately throws Adèle out of the house. In the last act of the film, Adèle tries to win Emma back, but it is too late: Emma has moved on. The love that once existed between them has been extinguished. They can be friends but no more.
The film contains a number of graphic sex scenes. While some of them can certainly be justified tin terms of the narrative, I’m not sure the same can be said for all. The sex scenes also vary in length, with the longest being nigh on ten minutes long. The obvious chemistry between Exarchopoulos and Seydoux make nearly all them easy to watch but, of course, that is no justification for their presence.
I say ‘nearly’ all of them: the first sex scenes, which take place when Adèle is aged 15 felt very awkward to watch. Why? After all, 15 is the age of consent in France so while the scenes were right on the limit of acceptability, there is no question of the viewer being made to watch underage sex. Here in the UK, however, the age of consent is 16 so the scenes were underage for us, hence the awkwardness.
While watching the film Blue is the Warmest Colour I wondered how the French viewed it. For me, the fact that it was set abroad and, more to the point, was in French, made it something exotic. Okay, not as exotic as a fantasy film set in a faraway land but certainly different. The film is very down-to-earth, however; it is about a real life issue, and is set in equally real life places. Would a Frenchman (or woman) watching this see the film as akin to a kitchen-sink drama? It’s not really important, but I’d love to know.
As I mentioned above, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux had great chemistry together (both in and out of bed). Physically and in terms of their acting, they were both completely convincing in their roles. It was particularly interesting seeing Lèa Seydoux play a tomboy in this film as I previously only knew her as the far more feminine Madeleine Swann in Spectre.
Inevitably, Emma invited comparisons for me with Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful, and truth to tell, Emma is Watts but from a different angle. And that was fine. Complete originality in a story is both nigh on impossible and unnecessary. The important thing for a writer is to bring something new or different to the tale. How does Emma differ from Watts? She is older. Wiser, perhaps. She definitely has more of the cares of the world on her shoulders.
I haven’t seen many LGBTQ+ films but Blue is the Warmest Colour ranks highly among the ones I have watched. I would put it just behind Carol, my favourite in this genre. I would say that I appreciate the fact that it has – like Carol – a bisexual lead (in Adèle), though I bet if I looked up reviews of the film, they all – as with Carol – call her a lesbian. Anyway, though too long, a very good film, and well worth three hours of your time.
Twenty years ago this month I started working for the Public Carriage Office (PCO). I hadn’t wanted the job: at the same time as my interview for the PCO, Robin Baird-Smith of the Continuum Publishing Group interviewed me for a position there. That was the job I really wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.
I probably did badly at the interview, but to this day I associate the failure with one question that Baird-Smith asked me: did I like (the then) Cardinal Ratzinger? I did, and told him so. Afterwards, I reckoned that in terms of working for Continuum saying so was a mistake as Continuum was more in the liberal Catholic line. Why would they hire anyone of a more traditionalist bent? Like I say, I probably failed the interview for other reasons, but that has always stuck with me.
The funny thing is that because I didn’t want the Public Carriage Office job, I was very free with my answers there, as well. I was asked if I approved of positive discrimination. Absolutely not, I said, it’s just another form of discrimination. When I thought about that answer afterwards, I was very happy: they’ll never hire me, now, I thought, I just need Continuum to come through and everything will be perfect.
The good Lord had other plans, however, and in the middle of June 2001 (I think my start date was either the 13th or 18th, I can’t remember which), I started at the PCO.
The Public Carriage Office was founded in 1850s to oversee the regulation and licensing of the taxi (black cab) trade in London. It used to be part of the Metropolitan Police. When Transport for London (TfL) was founded in 2000 it took over control of the PCO*.
Two years earlier, the Labour government had passed the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act, which allowed for the licensing of minicabs (or private hire vehicles, to give them their ‘proper’ name), minicab drivers and operators. As a result, the minicab, or Private Hire, side of the PCO was rapidly expanding – hence my interview. Specifically, I was applying to join the Private Hire Operator licensing team.
In 2001, the PCO was based at 15 Penton Street near the Angel, Islington. As it was being refurbished, the PHV teams spent most of the summer working in a former courthouse in Clerkenwell.
The summer of 2001 was a happy time. I joined a team full of characters with an easy going manager in charge and a lot of commitment to the cause. I did well at the PCO with my managers. My first one, D., was a very relaxed guy. I didn’t really have much in common with him but that didn’t matter when he was such an open hearted person. My second manager, P., was a more serious minded man but was always open to conversation and discussion. The PHV (business) licensing team was split in two and the overall manager was KR. She was completely dedicated to her work and her staff. I would have taken a bullet for her. Never before or since have I known a leader as kind or selfless as she. When P. moved on in c.2007, I successfully applied for his job. He and D. were great models to have as I became a manager in their stead. I’m sure I did not do as well as they, but that is not for me to say. The final judgement there, lies with the two or three people who I had underneath me at any given time.
Here is the courthouse we worked in:
It has been converted into a youth hostel now. As you can see from the photograph (for which, thank you Google Maps), guests enter it through the main door. We had to use the side door on Great Percy Street (to the left).
Despite all the teams being in their own offices, we regularly walked through the building on one mission or another and so were able to say hello and have a chat to others. Staff meetings were held in the actual courtroom. I can remember at least one occasion when the head of the PHV teams sat in the judge’s chair! Although I don’t specifically recall it, I’m sure people also sat in the dock. What about the cells? We used those as well – to store files.
As I mentioned above, my team licensed the private hire businesses. There were two forms that they – the minicab owners – had to fill out: a general application form called the PHV/101 and a personal declaration form called the PHV/103. They were very simple documents and easy to process. I say ‘simple’ – yes, for us; many people in the private hire trade, however, were not from Britain and so their command of English was not perfect. For them, the forms were more challenging. Ringing them to query information that they had provided (or not, as the case may be) was a regular part of the job.
The most ‘difficult’ part of the job was the computer system we used to record the information on the forms. It was called TAPITS. I’ve long since forgotten what that stands for. We called it Crapits. It was simple but very user unfriendly. We longed for it to be replaced. Years later, it was – by an even worse system, the name of which I have happily banished from my memory.
In 2001, minicab owners had a limited amount of time in which to send their applications in and get licensed. As a result, we had, for the first and only time during my first stint at the PCO, to process a certain number of applications every day. As they were straight forward, this wasn’t hard. In consequence, I look back at the summer of 2001 and can dwell on the fun things that happened. For example, the fact that my phone number was so similar to the radio station Heart FM that people kept ringing me up to make song requests. For a while, I simply told them they had rung the wrong number. Then, I got bored, and spent five minutes trying to persuade a rock and roll fan to ask for a piece of music by Beethoven instead. Then there was the night we went to the pub to watcWh England play Germany. Incredibly, we won 5-1.
One day in 2001, the world changed. On 11th September, somewhere after three in the afternoon, S., a member of the tech support team, came in to our office and told us that an aeroplane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. I thought he was making a joke, and laughed incredulously. But no, it had really happened. By the time I got home, two aeroplanes had crashed into the WTC. I watched with millions of others as the twin towers crashed to the ground. Another aeroplane struck the Pentagon and one crashed into a field when the passengers heroically fought back against the terrorists. In the days after, aeroplanes all over the world were grounded. It was surreal looking up in the sky and not seeing any aircraft there.
*Around 2009, the PCO changed its name to Taxi Private Hire. I’ll keep calling it the PCO until I come to that period.