Notting Hill

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had just watched Notting Hill.

I actually started watching it on Friday, 8th May and, after watching a little more of it a few days later, finally finished it at the weekend.

On the 8th, I paused the film at the end of the scene when Will Thacker and Anna Scott break into the private garden. I did so because I knew that the sad scenes were coming up and I didn’t want to watch them. Yes, I am that soft.

My softness was aided and abetted by my ability to get distracted easily – to drift from one thing to another, to do the thing that is easiest on my effort.

You might think that nothing is easier than watching a film, but even a ‘simple’ romantic comedy requires thought – and concentration. That’s why, after managing to watch a few more scenes during the following week, I made myself lie down (I watched the film on my laptop on my bed) and watch the film to its finish.

I am happy I did so as the sad scenes passed and the happy ending came. I am angry with myself, though, for having to say, ‘right, Malcolm, lie down and watch.’. It shouldn’t have to be like that. Especially not at my age (49).

Sadly, though, it is. What to do about it? Not watching films is not an option. So, this week I am adapting. Instead of lying down expecting to watch the whole film, I am doing so with the aim of watching at least 45 minutes or an hour of it. If I can watch the whole thing, great, but I am not going to expect myself to do so.

By setting a target, I will – hopefully – make better progress than if I lay down to watch a whole movie, didn’t manage it and got annoyed with myself again. This has already worked with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which I watched over the last couple of nights and has got off to a good start again this evening with Blue is the Warmest Colour, so we’ll see how it continues.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back A Very Quick Review
Tom Cruise is a great action star. His Mission Impossible films are to die for. Never Go Back, however, is a second division picture. While the story holds together well enough, Jack Reacher has none of Ethan Hawke’s wit or charisma. He broods his way through the whole film. I don’t want him to be Ethan Hawke Mk 2 but there needs to be more to him than just his ability to beat up the baddies. 7.5/10

Some Kind of Wonderful

I have two favourite films – two that stand head and shoulders above all others no matter how good or dear to me they are. The two are Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) and The English Patient (1996).

As far as films go, The English Patient has a fairly high profile. It is the screen adaptation of a Booker prize winning novel and won no fewer than nine Oscars.

Some Kind of Wonderful, on the other hand, not only didn’t win awards, but isn’t even its own film – the story is a retelling of Pretty in Pink. Instead of Andie, we have Keith Nelson. Both are outsiders at school. Duckie is replaced by Watts. And Blane becomes Amanda Jones. In the original ending of Pretty in Pink, Andie walked away with Duckie. Test audiences hated this, however, so in the revised version, she fell in love with Blane.

80s teen-film maestro, John Hughes, who wrote both Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, however, was determined to see his original ending on the big screen, so he wrote Some Kind of Wonderful. As a result, Keith and Watts come together at the end.

I first saw Some Kind of Wonderful in 1989 it immediately resonated with me. Why? Because I identified very strongly with Keith and because I fell in love with Watts. Why do I still love the film so much today? I am, after all, now old enough, to be Keith’s father. I guess it’s because although I am no longer a teenager or even ‘young adult’, in terms of my age, I am still the same person as I was then: creative, a bit of an outsider, shy. In essence, I’m still Keith. I imagine the same will be the case should I reach the age of 70 or 80.

Why do I mention the film now? Well, a few days ago, I went on to You Tube to see if there were any videos about the making of the film. I had just watched one about Notting Hill – another favourite film – and was in the mood for more.

I didn’t find a ‘making of’ video, but did get something just as good: a fan of the film visiting some of the film’s locations:

This was a joy to watch! The host, Jordan the Lion (rawwwr) is clearly a big fan of Some Kind of Wonderful as he peppers his commentary throughout with quotes from the film. I’m so happy that I found someone who loves the film as much as I do.

After watching the video, I continued my search on Google. There, I had a bit more success. In 2019, Entertainment Weekly published an interview with the several of the film’s leading cast in an ‘oral history’ of its production. You can read it here. A website I had not heard of before, Moviehole, also published this ‘behind-the-scenes’ account of the film’s making.

Both articles contain some great insights into the making of the film. My favourite concern the development of Watts’ character. Here is what Mary Stuart Masterson says:

This version of Watts presents a much more radical version of the character than the one we see on screen. To be sure, some elements of ‘Keith Watts’ remain in the final film: she still wears men’s underwear and is known only in the film by her surname (in the book of the film her first name is revealed to be Susan) but while still a tomboy, the film doesn’t emphasise either her ‘butchness’ or her relationship with Keith as that of, practically speaking, two guys.

I’m not surprised Watts’ character was softened – ‘Keith Watts’ would surely have been too radical for studio executive to accept in a straight-down-the-line teen romance. On the one hand, I’m not disappointed because I love the Watts that we are given. On the other, what an interesting film it would have been had the original conception of Watts been maintained. It would have allowed Some Kind of Wonderful to transcend its status as teen-romance and offered the opportunity to explore the nature of identity and love in a far deeper way: a way that would have been ahead of its time.

We Have Arrived!

On 16th May 2019, five weeks after leaving Saint Jean Pied de Port, my friends and I finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Today, we went straight to the flat we had booked for the night. Tomorrow, we’ll head down to the cathedral and the pilgrim centre.

Two years later I still think of walking the Camino as one of the two great achievements of my life (the other being earning my degree from university) and I remain as happy and honoured to have been able to do so as I was when we reached Santiago.

I would still like to walk the Camino Francés again, though I don’t know if I ever will – maybe health and financial status will not allow it – but if I don’t, I am immeasurably glad and grateful that I got the chance to do it even just the once.

As I write these words, the coronavirus continues to plague the world. Here in Britain, we are recovering: the government has made many mistakes since COVID-19 started to spread, but has done brilliantly with the vaccination programme. The Indian variant is causing concern but all being well, the country will be fully ‘open’ again this summer. After a slow start (to put it mildly), the European Union is getting on with its vaccination programme as well. As it does so, pilgrims will start to walk the way of St. James again. I applaud their bravery, for they will not only be undertaking what will be at times an arduous journey but doing so at a time when there will invariably be lingering concerns about the virus.

If you are one of those trail blazing pilgrims, or if you are reading this further into the future, here is this one-timer’s advice for making a good pilgrimage:

  1. Don’t walk without water!
  2. Travel as lightly as you can
  3. The Camino isn’t a race. Go at your own pace

There is lots of advice that one could give but I think the above are the most essential. I would dare to say that the above is the most critical, as well. Some advice (like ‘leave your phone at home’) can be happily ignored. The above, I believe, shouldn’t be.

As for me, I bought a little bottle of wine to toast our success in 2019. Here’s to what we achieved and the Camino – long may she be a guide to souls.

Two Parts of the Whole

Writing this blog is both a compulsion and an embarrassment.

It’s a compulsion because I keep coming back to it no matter how long I spend away. Even though I have fewer readers than Shakespeare had Greek, my heart aches to return.

Why? I have a theory: on Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram, I am writing for an audience. Every photo and piece of text is written with other people in mind. Here, however, because so far people read this blog, I am writing for me; only me. That helps me to say the things I really want to say (or, at least some of them, since I am not yet brave enough to say everything).

Sehnsucht and Wine is an embarrassment because of the amount of time between each post. The last one was published on 27th November. The one before that, 11th September; then, 22nd August and 28th June.

Actually, it isn’t the blog that is embarrassing, but me. Why can I never stick to a regular schedule? There is an answer to this: I never create one. Not a proper one that I can look at and say ‘Right, this week, I turn to turn my attention to x’. I tell myself ‘I will write this here, and that, there’, but never make an effort to keep to the plan. A few days ago, I wrote up a blogging schedule for S&W, Hilaire Belloc and The Second Achilles. If I stick to it, I will write one post for each each week. Ideally, I would like to write it over the weekend but I’ll be happy if it just gets done.

I don’t want this post to be just about me having a go at myself so let’s catch up again.

Coronavirus
The U.K. continues to suffer under the pressure of COVID-19. There was good news at the start of December (the 8th to be exact, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) when the first vaccine against the virus was administered. Bad news, however, followed, as infection rates shot up and a new, more virulent, strain of the virus appeared in Kent. As a result, we entered our third lockdown of the year. It remains in place. That isn’t the end of the story, though, as Britain is now pushing ahead with her vaccination process. I think we are currently the leading European country for vaccinations and perhaps one of the world leaders as well. That’s a piece of news that should make us all happy.

Brexit
The U.K. left the European Union last year but the transition process only came to an end on 31st December. From my perspective, it has changed absolutely nothing about my life. Of course, other people will have different stories. Brexit is such an important event in the life of this nation that I feel I should be writing much, much more about it; only, I really don’t have anything else to say. I almost feel guilty about that.

Happiest Season
Watching this was one of the highlights of my December. It stars Kristen Stewart (Abby) and Mackenzie Davis (Harper) as a couple who visit the latter’s family for Christmas. It turns out, however, that Harper has not yet come out to them. The film is a romcom but a bittersweet one as Abby and Harper are forced to keep their relationship under wraps. As you might imagine, doing so almost drives them apart before love wins out at the end. Victor Gerber stars as Harper’s father. As it turns out, Harper is not the only one in the family keeping a secret – thanks to her father, everyone is. Because this is a romcom, though, he is not a villain. He is very cute, however. Dan Levy (John) steals every scene he is in. His character is over the top but he is also a Feste-like figure, speaking the truth to those who need to hear it.

David Hogarth
I attended an online conference hosted by Magdalen College about Hogarth last weekend. I will try and write more about it in another post but I am very pleased to say that the conference was a fascinating event that taught me much about this elusive figure.

During the talks, I took a screenshot of nearly every slide that came up – below is one chosen at random (it shows Hogarth as a young boy; inset is Ben Taylor, the Magdalen archivist who is cataloguing the papers). I look forward to sifting through them.

The reason for the conference is the donation of Hogarth’s papers to his old college by Caroline Barron, who is an emerita professor of History at Royal Holloway University. She is also Hogarth’s granddaughter. What a kind gift to make!

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.