I’ve never particularly suffered from a weak bladder or stress incontinence but lately my bladder seems to have stopped being my friend and become my enemy. Have I done something to offend it? Taken it for granted, perhaps? Not shown it sufficient appreciation? Perhaps I should have brought it flowers and chocolates – wait, no, that’s a bit tokenistic; I should have talked to it more instead of getting annoyed every time it gives me a nudge in the middle of a dramatic TV programme or worse, in the middle of the night.
Actually it’s not the bladder per se which alerts you to the need to pass urine but a nerve which begins to tingle. Everyone knows the increasing urgency with which this can make itself felt, and how awkward that can be in the wrong social setting. It ought not to be taboo to need to pee in the middle of something yet it so often is; one of my nightmares is needing to pee in the middle of a live TV show and ending up wetting myself.
But lately my bladder has taken to being perverse and contrary: I only have to drink one extra cup of chamomile and it’s on the war-path: This is unacceptable. You’ve really crossed a line now, and you’re going to pay. Viz: last night I had one – just one – extra mug before bed and it woke me up three times. Three. That’s three periods of struggle where I try to ignore it and go back to sleep, realise I can’t, force myself to crawl out of bed and pee, then go back to bed and try to recover dormancy. Three.
Right, that’s probably more than enough about my bladder. Yesterday we watched another episode of the AIDS drama It’s a Sin, which continues to be tragic and feelgood in about equal measure; it’s hard now to remember the fear and disgust directed at those dying from the disease and the sense that they’d brought it all on themselves. In last night’s episode Stephen Fry pops up as a Conservative MP who’s in the closet; I suspect he’ll turn out to be a total hypocrite, one of those who campaigned against homosexual ‘lifestyles’ while pursuing one in secret. It’s astonishing how things have changed; in the ’80’s most Christians were homophobic, including my mother; two years ago I attended a Pride service in the parish church. We’re rationing ourselves to one episode a night so after that, and purely in the spirit of research, I watched Sherlock yet again. I’m writing a fan-fiction short story in the Holmes canon so I thought it might give me some ideas but in any case I never tire of watching these. They’re so clever and each episode is so dense with action and meaning that they bear watching again and again. Besides, I’m a little bit in love with Benedict Cumberbatch, even if he is gay.
Isn’t he? I’d better check. Nope, apparently not – he’s married to director Sophie Hunter. I have no idea what he’s like in real life but as Sherlock he’s utterly irresistible. I always have these little flings with actors; over the years I’ve been madly in love with John Hurt, Jeremy Irons and Kevin Costner (yes, I know) not to mention Colin Firth. I also had a thing for Paul McGann in his youth.
I’d better get on now; I have a short story to finish editing and send off, about a pair of sunglasses which turn out to be possessed…
I can’t help thinking as Biden signs one executive order after another reversing Trump’s legacy, that he’s been forced to become a much more dynamic President than he might otherwise have been. I suspect in other times he’d have been more like Starmer – cautious, gradual, unwilling to upset big business – but so devastating has the Trump legacy been, so pressing are the problems the US and the world face, that he has had to hit the ground running. So far he’s rejoined the Paris Accord on climate change and the WHO (cheers), reaffirmed the US commitment to NATO (boos because it’s largely a nuclear club) stopped a damaging oil pipeline, passed legislation on racial equality and reversed Trump’s opening of federal land to drilling.
Of course there’s a response to this; Trump has so emboldened his supporters both within and outside government that they have come to believe they are entitled to have what they want. You can’t tell me what to do seems to be their attitude, along with I have a right to make as much money as I want and if I want to take guns into the Senate, I will.
It’s tempting to be smug here; we don’t have the right to carry arms and recent trends are towards curtailing even those limited rights which obtain; nor do we have the death penalty – despite Priti Patel’s yearning to bring it back I suspect that outside Daily Mail-land there’s not much appetite for it. Yet if Biden gets his way we may soon be lagging behind the US in terms of human rights as one key thing he has done is to stop future private prisons and not renew the contracts of existing ones. It has always struck me as completely wrong to privatise prisons; they are a primary function of the state and the idea of some private company profiting from the incarceration of people makes me physically nauseous. And perhaps the best thing of all? Biden reportedly wants the UK to rejoin the EU.
Yes, OK the people voted to leave, but it was badly done and in my opinion should not have happened in that way. So we’ll see what happens. Meanwhile in a desperate flurry to repair the damage he himself has caused to the union, Boris Johnson plans a dash up to Scotland where no-one particularly wants him.
Far too many people have died here from Covid and pretty much all of us know someone lost to the virus, so let’s take a moment to remember them.
Having found Alice (sort of) we now turn our attention to the new Russell T Davies offering,It’s a Sin. This has been widely trailed and had good reviews; nevertheless I was a little wary because I’d been feeling down last night and didn’t want to get downer. In case you missed the trailers, It’s a Sin deals with the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, a time when homosexuality was legal but still deeply stigmatised, especially in traditional communities. But I needn’t have worried; so far it’s a delight. The series centres on three guys; Ritchie, a sheltered young lad from the Isle of Wight going to university on the mainland; Roscoe, a Nigerian whose family already know of his homosexuality and are planning to ship him back home to be ‘cured’, and a young Welshman Colin joining a London firm of couturiers seemingly staffed exclusively by gay men. There’s a predatory boss reminiscent of Monty in Withnail and I and an older colleague, Henry, who takes Colin under his wing and later dies of a mysterious disease, alone and abandoned by everyone including his Argentine lover. At uni, Ritchie falls in with a wild and joyous crowd and ends up changing from Accountancy to Drama, and as for Roscoe, he leaves the family home dressed in short skirt, skimpy top and headband so his trajectory is already set. I expected It’s a Sin to be sad; I did not expect it to be joyous, but so far it largely is. Episode one concentrates on music, dance, sex, self-discovery and joyous self-expression and ends with the three men plus two of their friends moving into a huge house together. It reminded me of the Small Axefilms, especially Lovers Rock; it has something of that spirit in showing us a marginalised and oppressed community expressing itself.
It’s hard to imagine now just how hidden homosexuality was back in 1981. The Tory government – arguably stuffed with closet gays of which I suspect Stephen Fry’s character will turn out to be one – was vicious in its opposition to gay rights and at least one member of the cabinet, Matthew Parris, found serving in Thatcher’s government as a gay man a deeply uncomfortable experience. So far Thatcher has not been mentioned by name, nor has the Falkland’s war but there’s some anti-Argentine feeling expressed by one of Henry’s neighbours.
So it’s definitely worth a watch.
We’re still working through Mark Kermode’s series on cinema, of which more anon. I can’t help thinking it would have been better to have more episodes and take more time doing it, as it’s a bit of a whistle-stop tour so I find myself pausing half-way through in order to digest. This week’s episode was about cult films – we’re still waiting to see if he mentions Withnail.
And that was yesterday.Today we have no snow and the world is a muddy green.
‘Want to go and make a snowman?’ I asked my 24-year-old son yesterday, fully expecting the answer ‘Nah’ or a reminder that he was no longer six years old. Instead I got a thumbs-up, so fully hatted and scarved we went out into a day as brilliant white as Dulux ceiling paint and started to shovel snow. We made a heap with a smaller heap on top but didn’t have time to shape it properly; I was trying to recall how I used to make snowmen as a child but could only remember the winter of ’63 when my Dad shovelled a pile of snow for me which froze and stayed frozen for weeks before abruptly thawing. After 1947, the winter of ’63 was the coldest on record; we had deep snow in central London and that hardly happens now. The Son declined to engage in a snowball fight but instead invented a game of snow-baseball using a shovel as a bat and splatting the snowballs into a million pieces. I also scooped up the snow on the garden table and made it into a crowd of little people like Easter Island statues (with a great deal of imagination) which reminded me of a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy makes a lot of snow people and then says, ‘I expect you’re wondering why I’ve called you all here today.’ I can’t find that one, so here’s another:
That was fun, and I went back indoors feeling as invigorated as if I’d been for a run. Probably more so.
I also wrote a snow poem which began as a descriptive piece (see yesterday’s post) but ended up as polemic about people who use the term ‘snowflake’ as an insult. This is one of my pet hates.
So all in all a good day. We’ve still got plenty of snow here, have you? If not, do you want some of ours?
Last night we watchedWho Do You Think You Are?a programme which explores the family history of famous people. I don’t often bother with it but this one features Daniel Radcliffe so I was interested. It’s a fascinating watch; he comes from Jewish ancestry and there were letters from his great-great-grandparents, some of whom were killed in the war, and a touching suicide note from someone facing bankruptcy. In those days it was deeply shameful to be a bankrupt and his widow changed her name shortly afterwards; the letter referred to suicide as ‘the coward’s way out’ which is how they used to think of it. So that was interesting and I was also, as ever, impressed by Daniel Radcliffe’s ordinariness and lack of vanity.
We have snow here; about three inches of it fell steadily yesterday and today it remains. Snow covers everything – rubbish, dirt, grime and junk; it softens hard outlines and falls like forgiveness on the land. Snow two-tones trees and silhouettes webs; it sits like abacus beads on our trellis and balances improbably on the washing line. Snow scooches up on rooftops and huddles thickly while icicles of Damocles hover below; it sits like icing on the garden table or heavy jewellery on the Christmas fir. Snow makes antlers of forgotten twigs; snow follows the line of everything but rounds it with a sleep – and when it thaws, snow sifts from branches like a second fall, tinkles down to earth as silent song.
I’m cold, but it’s totally worth it for the poetry it affords – and now, as I go off to write the poem I have thus begun, I’ll leave you with this wonderful passage from James Joyce:
Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Beautiful.And just for laughs, here’s a picture of a snow Dalek someone made yesterday:
Stay safe, and remember, boots may warm the feet – but only poetry can warm the soul.
ROSPA, or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, strikes me as a peculiarly British organisation. True, the Americans can be as risk-averse as anyone but it’s impossible to imagine, say, the Spanish or Italians or even the French having a society to prevent accidents. Nowadays, thanks to the machinations of insurance companies and our attachment to material goods, we are more risk-averse than ever and much more inclined to blame the other guy for fear that if we accept responsibility a slew of lawsuits and expenses will fall on our head – but ROSPA pre-dates the so-called ‘claim’ (or ‘blame’) culture and in the small hours of the night I found myself wondering what it actually does. Do they hover around people getting in their cars saying ‘Careful now,’ like Father Ted? Do they stand at junctions holding up warning signs? Do they stalk building sites with clipboards talking about ‘death traps’? (Actually building sites are known to be among the most dangerous working environments, not just because of the inherent hazards but because of poor working conditions and inadequate supervision, not to mention illegal employment practices. I wouldn’t be a builder today for any money, not even if I was allowed to wolf-whistle men in tight trousers walking down the road.) But what is it that ROSPA actually do? I guess it’s time to head over to their website and find out.
Well, it’s pretty much as you might expect; a combination of education, persuasion and trying to change legislation so that avoidable accidents don’t happen. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? You can’t argue with that, especially when you read some people’s stories about how their lives were changed completely by avoidable accidents. And yet…
Much of the debate around current safety rules, especially the wearing of masks, has centred on the right of governments to dictate what we should and shouldn’t wear. There have been similar debates in the past about issues such as smoking in public places and the wearing of seat belts. I remember both of these debates; and even though at the time I was a smoker and relished my freedom to smoke in pubs (a pub without smoke? Preposterous!) I couldn’t help acknowledging the arguments of bar staff that they should have the right to work in an environment that is not injurious to their health. And there’s the rub: I might argue that I have the freedom not to wear a mask and that I am entitled to take risks if I wish. I could make the same argument about seat belts; it’s my own life I’m risking and I’m entitled to risk it. But we do not exist in isolation; if I don’t wear a seat belt and I’m seriously injured as a result that has an effect on the NHS, not to mention others who may be traumatised by the event; and in the case of mask-wearing I definitely don’t have the right to put other people’s health at risk.
And yet… coronavirus aside, there is something here about the freedom to take risks – and somehow I feel that without some risk, life is not worth living. One of the major items on my bucket list is to get a motorbike again and travel round Scotland (I’d have to do this without OH, sadly, who refuses to countenance riding on one) – and this is undoubtedly a risky thing to do. I’d be much safer in a car or better still, on a train. But there’s nothing like a motorbike! To travel at speed, to feel the air around you and the wind in your hair (I wasn’t keen on helmets either when they became compulsory) it just doesn’t compare to sitting inside a metal box travelling from A to B. Of course I’d be careful; I’d take the risks seriously and ride as sensibly as I could – but there’s something about living on the edge that appeals to me and nobody is going to tell me not to.
Like millions of people I was glued to yesterday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden. There’s lots to say about the event but perhaps the most important thing is not what happened but that it happened. The transfer of power took place peacefully, with dignity and decorum and without a single protest, violent or otherwise; a fact which was celebrated throughout by all commentators. I don’t normally watch these events; they’re rather too heavy on God, flag-waving and my fellow-Americans schtick for my liking, but this time was different. Completely different. First of all, there was the sheer heartfelt relief of waving goodbye to the little orange would-be dictator and seeing him head off into the sunset not having got the send-off he wanted and about to see many of his key policies reversed. Phew. Then there was the event itself. Disregarding a lot of the ‘we are the fathers and upholders of democracy’ – ahem! I think you’ll find that’s us (though just don’t enquire too closely into what sort of democracy we had) it was nevertheless important to state and restate that the democratic process had been upheld in spite of strenuous attempts to topple it. This was underlined by the presence of past Presidents including Bush, Clinton and Obama and not least by the attendance of Mike Pence. Reactionary Trump-enabler though he was, he at least understood that the first rule of politics is to show up: show up when you win and show up when you lose – and the handing over of Vice President Pence to VP Harris as Pence and his wife left after the ceremony was almost as moving as the ceremony itself.
There was a great deal of good stuff here; anthems sung by Lady Gaga and Jenifer Lopez and humorous introductions by Senator Amy Klobuchar but I’m just going to mention two things; the poem and Biden’s speech. The poem was written and delivered by Amanda Gorman, the youth Poet Laureate, and was the highlight of the entire ceremony. And there could hardly be a more important keynote speech than this one, delivered on the steps of the Capitol building and setting the tone for the years to come. Biden did not disappoint. He avoided triumphalism, saying this was a victory not for a candidate but for the process of democracy. He called out racism and misogyny, mentioning Native Americans (who don’t often get a look-in) and heralding those women who marched for the vote; he flagged up climate change and the virus as the most serious challenges and called for a moment of silence for the victims of C19. But perhaps most importantly of all were two key features of his speech, the call for unity and the call for truth. It should not need saying but after the last four years it does: there is truth and there is untruth. There are truths and there are lies. I can’t think of a thing he said that I disagreed with, nor a single thing he left out that he should have included; the speech was bang-on. The full transcript is here.And video highlights of the event can be found here.
Biden has hit the ground running – as indeed he needed to – signing a slew of Executive Orderson rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and the WHO and on immigration, Covid and the environment. But there is much more to do and it causes me to wonder: could Biden under these circumstances be a better President than he would have been in other times? History will show; he may be too timid and his best instincts may yet be stymied by the Republicans in the Senate, but as the phrase has it, well-begun is half done and Biden has begun well.
Here’s the brilliant poem by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.
Look up to the sky: is it raining? No? Then it’s about to rain. Yes, storm Christof is upon us (who chooses these names, and why? I know they’re going through the alphabet alternating male and female names but why Christoph? It reminds me of the creepy director in The Truman Show.) If you have flooding I sympathise; we are not affected here but I have in the past sat and worked out what it would take to flood this house. The park over the road is low-lying and often reduced (or increased) to a swamp with streams running where joggers once ran, so in theory the water only has to cross the road for it to be knocking on our door. But under the road there’s an underpass so that would have to be filled right to the top first, so I guess it’d take a while.
I can’t imagine anything worse than being flooded out of your house in the middle of winter, losing furniture and carpets and just drying out in time for the next lot of floods, not to mention being denied insurance cover. It’s horrid, and all the more reason for us to strain every sinew to halt and reverse climate change. I go round this house turning radiators off (I would turn the heating off but we have an elderly person in residence) and I’m thankful that in the current situation we are not damaging the planet at the usual rate.
A propos of which OH and I have been greatly enjoying David Attenborough’s latest offering, ‘Perfect Planet.’ I’d gone off watching him because so much of his work was – quite rightly – dedicated to showing the damage we are doing to the earth, and it made me feel sick at heart. When I see images of a deformed turtle unable to grow because it got caught in one of those plastic rings we use just to keep cans together – just something convenient, not even fulfilling a need! – I feel deeply ashamed to be human.
But Perfect Planet is not like that; it’s a global sweep focussing each week on a different aspect of life on earth; volcanoes, oceans, the sun, and so on, and showing how different species survive under these conditions. Global warming is there but in the background, as it were, so it’s a much more heartening series to watch.
My brain goes into a bit of a spiral when I try to remember the finer points of the compass. The first principles are easy; North, South, East and West (incidentally, should they be capitalised? I’m never quite sure) and if you bisect those you get North-West, North-East, South-West, South-East and so on. It’s when you bisect each of those that I get confused; I know that half of North-West and North is North-north-west (I’m getting tired of doing capitals so I shall stop) but after that I’m a bit hazy on it. There’s a thing called north by north west (not to mention a film) but I’m not sure where exactly it lies. Sure, I could always google it but where’s the fun in that? Besides, I’m sure OH will enlighten us all later.
Anyway, having reorganised the study over the weekend I am now, my phone compass informs me, facing almost exactly north-east. This house faces North-north-east (I think) so we get the sunrise through our bedroom window, and in the evening I can sit at the study window and watch the sunset (weather permitting.) It’s important to take time in the day to notice the coming and going of the sun, to reflect, to watch the moon rise and notice its fullness, to observe the clouds and the winds. So whether it’s the direction I’m facing or whether it’s the desk at which I am sitting I don’t know, but it feels sooooooooo much better to be here. The desk is old, made of solid wood and until the weekend covered with dust and layers of abandoned papers not to mention desk paraphernalia; but these have now been swept into a box and the desk dusted. After this I went to Sainsbury’s intending to buy Pledge * but found instead some proper beeswax and turps-based polish, which I proceeded to lovingly apply with a soft cloth until I could see my reflection in the surface. It’s very satisfying. Like sunsets, wood should be cherished and appreciated (*other brands are available.)
I don’t know about you but I actually had a brilliant weekend. Nothing much happened: I ‘attended’ a Quaker meeting and a Quaker Meeting, both on zoom; I carried on knitting my latest project, a purple jumper, and I watched the launch of Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice project which featured Noam Chomsky, Yannis Varoufakis and of course the man himself. It seems a worthwhile project so I’ve signed up to it. It’s idealistic of course, but so am I – I subscribe to Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy: ‘build your castles in the air where they belong, then build the foundations under them.’
April may be the cruelest month but January has to be the longest; I started back at work last Monday with great enthusiasm but somehow by the middle of this week I was thinking, ‘is it still January? Surely it must be nearly the end of the month!’ Nope, not even close. We’re only just in the middle of this interminable period and already we’ve had snow, sleet, ice, freezing winds and more bad news than any soul can reasonably be expected to bear. So today I shall be steering clear of all that; no politics or weather or political weather, no news or current affairs. This will be a virus-free zone. Vaccines will not come near, neither shall impeachments or inaugurations. Violent insurrections will not touch it…
You get the picture. I got slightly into Monty Python mode there like the sketch from The Holy Grail: ‘Three shall be the number thou shalt count. And the number of the counting shall be three. Five is right out…’ and so on; this was perhaps in my head because of last night’s TV, as Mark Kermode touched on the Python films in his whistle-stop tour of British comedy, one episode of the BBC Four series on British cinema. And very amusing it was too. If there was rather too much in the way of Carry Ons, there was also a gratifying amount of Withnail to balance it out, and what the programme lacked in critical analysis it made up for in sheer nostalgia value. I’m tempted to go into a rant about how much of current TV is banal waffle, but this is going to be a light-hearted post so I won’t. As well as this, OH and I have really enjoyed Staged, and I hope you’ve caught up with this as well. It’s a brilliant spoof reality show with David Tennant and Michael Sheen chatting on zoom and trying to score points as they compare their careers and lives in lockdown. Series two expands to bring in a number of guests as they explore the making of a US remake: David and Michael are most disgruntled not to be cast in this themselves but it means we get cameos from people like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Cate Blanchett, Whoopi Goldberg, Judi Dench and Samuel L Jackson. Staged reminded us of Episodes, which I’ve reviewed before, though there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between the two series, but is part of a common trope where actors play a supposed version of themselves, usually a much nastier version (or so we hope.) This is a total contrast to when I was younger when comedians such as Frankie Howerd and Leonard Rossiter who seemed so pleasant on screen were in fact utter rotters in real life.
As for me, what am I like in real life? Now that would be telling – but for the moment, as Charlie Brooker so endearingly says, go away.