Things to do During a Pandemic (Part 2)

Some people are born to do certain things. Winston Churchill was a born leader, and Clark Gable was born to play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. As for me, I was born to watch TV. My old dad used to call me ‘square eyes’ because I was glued to the television, or so it seemed to him.

During this unprecedented time -I had to use that phrase because I keep hearing it so much on TV- there is not much to do in one’s own home. Those lovely few warm days have slipped away leaving us in the northern UK a little chilly. The sun is hidden behind grey clouds and it is cold so no barbecues, no more reading out on the lawn.

I’ve have done a little reading and writing and put together a few revised videos for my various internet pages, but mostly I’ve been sipping red wine and watching TV. Some of it has been good, some of it not so good. Anyway, here’s a quick look at what I’ve been watching on TV this week . . .

Young Winston.

I’m not a great fan of director Richard Attenborough but to my mind he has made two really good films: Chaplin and Young Winston. I remember seeing Young Winston at the cinema back in the seventies. Simon Ward plays the part of young Winston Churchill and he plays a good part. He even comes across with a fair approximation of Churchill’s voice, both in his portrayal and also in the many voice overs. The book is based on Winston’s own book My Early Life. I read it many years ago and it was a wonderful read as I remember and this film is a particularly good version of it.

The film tells the story of young Winston Churchill, the son of Lord Randolph, who adores his father who sadly dies young, spoiling Winston’s dreams of working with him in Parliament. The film flips backwards and forwards in time showing Winston’s first day at school and then his exploits in the army. Winston failed to get elected as the Tory candidate for Oldham but later, after making a name for himself as an army officer, correspondent and author, he returns victorious after escaping from a Boer POW camp and finally enters Parliament.

Various familiar names play their parts beautifully including Anne Bancroft as Winston’s American mother, Robert Shaw as Lord Randolph Churchill and many others in smaller roles; Robert Hardy as a prep’ school headmaster and Jack Hawkins as the headmaster of Harrow.

Randolph died at the early age of 45 apparently from syphilis although others have suggested his illness may have been a brain tumour.

This was a wonderful film, beautifully photographed and put together from a script by producer Carl Foreman. What is rather sad is that when I first saw this film there was a scene at the end where the older Churchill falls asleep and dreams of meeting his father who appears free from illness. The scene was based on a short story Churchill wrote in 1947 but for some reason that scene has been dropped from TV and DVD versions of the film which is a great shame.

Bridget Jones’ Baby.

Another film I’ve seen during the lockdown was Bridget Jones’ Baby. The film was based on the book by Helen Fielding and I have to say, I was surprised to hear the TV announcer warning me of some ‘highly offensive language’ used in the film. Bridget Jones? Offensive? Really? Yes really! Even a scene with a child swearing. OK I do swear myself now and again but some of the language in this film was actually just as the announcer suggested and was highly offensive. The other thing was that most of the actors looked really old, really haggard. Now this may have been that we were watching on our new smart TV and the picture quality is just so good these days that it can appear daunting. Sometimes, when Liz and I are at our local pub quiz, Liz will ask why am I watching the TV when its tuned to Sky Sports news? Well, a lot of the time I am just amazed that I can see some football pundit’s pores or some hair that has escaped his razor. Still, the original film in the Bridget Jones series was made in 2001 while Baby was from 2016 some fifteen years later.

Film tends to freeze an actor in time and when you see them on TV talk shows plugging their new film it can be surprising to see just how old an actor has become. A while back I was watching Tom Hanks on Graham Norton and he had grey hair! Tom Hanks? Of course, not long prior to that, I had watched Apollo 13 which was made in 1995, 25 years ago!

Bridget Jones’ Baby finally settled down but I wasn’t totally impressed.

Storyville.

BBC Four have been showing a documentary about OJ Simpson recently. I missed the first few episodes but thank heaven for catch-up TV. The documentary is in 5 parts and won an Oscar for best documentary. Episode one details Simpson’s incredible sporting career and also showed how it was important for him to be seen just as OJ rather than OJ the black athlete. He was apparently a friendly and amiable man who made many friends in the sporting world and kept himself well away from controversy and was never involved in the civil rights movement in America unlike sporting celebrities like Mohammed Ali. Later episodes show how he made a life after sport by becoming a TV sports pundit and by courting wealthy friends in Los Angeles to advise on his investments. In particular he made TV advertisements for Hertz car rentals which were highly popular and did well not only for Hertz but raised Simpson’s profile in the USA even higher.

The series also looks at the climate of race relations in Los Angeles and the activities and methods of the LAPD who clearly were not engaging or even trying to engage with the black community. A ‘them and us’ situation evolved in LA and when Rodney King, a black driver was brutally beaten by a group of white police officers the situation become even more inflamed. The officers were taken to court but found innocent by a white jury causing riots and disturbances in the area.  This was the background of the the later OJ Simpson murder trial.

Simpson divorced his wife and married eighteen year old Nicole Brown, a blonde LA waitress. Their marriage lasted seven years and was not happy, especially in the latter years when Nicole was beaten and abused by Simpson. She called the police numerous times reporting OJ for assault. On June 13th, 1994, Nicole and a waiter named Ron Goldman were found dead. A trail of blood led away from the scene and later blood was found on Simpson’s white Ford Bronco.

Simpson was not as famous in the UK as in America but I do remember seeing the crazy car chase on TV with Simpson in his white Bronco followed by a fleet of Police cars. I have to say that this series has completely gripped me so far and the portrait of Simpson himself and the racial climate in Los Angeles and the attitude of the police is compelling. If you are interested you can still find the episodes on the BBC I-player, at least you could when I wrote this a few days ago. When I tuned in to watch the final episode it was not available! 

Rocketman.

As we are cooped up at home for the duration, why not watch a good film on pay per view? It just so happens that Liz renewed her Sky sunscription recently so we were entitled to a free film. OK, settle back, pop corn at the ready, red wine poured, here we go.

Rocketman was an enjoyable film, well mostly. In parts it was a cross between a music video and a Hollywood musical featuring, of course, Elton John’s music. The first part of the film was very good while the second part seemed to just go on a little too much about Elton’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. Elton’s songs were all presented in an interesting way, some pretty much as we have heard Elton perform them in the past, others in a sort of musical fantasy production number way. I enjoyed all of them.

Elton’s relationship with lyricist Bernie Taupin was shown to be much closer than I realised; Elton, in the film, thinking of Bernie as the brother he never had. Elton’s father doesn’t come over as such a nice character and one sad moment was when Elton was reunited with him and found him to be much closer to his new sons in his new marriage than he ever was with him. Come to think of it, his mother doesn’t come out of the film as being a great mum either whereas before I always thought Elton and his mother were close.  The family member who always believed in him according to this film was his gran. Anyway, even if you don’t like the film itself the rest of the time it’s pretty much like listening to Elton’s Greatest hits, so if Elton’s music does it for you then you should like it.


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Four Writers’ Homes

Clouds Hill

TE Lawrence’s home was a small cottage called Clouds Hill. I read somewhere recently that the house had now been refurbished and open to the public. It is a small place and I remember seeing a TV documentary about Lawrence where someone who visited in the past advised that guests were generally left to their own devices, that food was eaten from tins left in the cupboard and that a lot of classical music was played.

Lawrence of course was more popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, the man who organised the Arab revolt during the First World War. As the feature film by David Lean tells us, Lawrence was dismayed by having to lie to the Arab people, telling them that Great Britain would honour their claims for freedom at the end of the conflict when in fact the UK had every intention of holding on firmly to the Arab lands.

Churchill was impressed by Lawrence and invited him to attend the Paris peace talks.

Lawrence later wrote his classic book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom upon which the film Lawrence of Arabia was based.

A number of elements of the book have interested scholars ever since. The book is a work of history but also a great work of literature and readers have wondered ever since about whether the work was accurate, especially as in one infamous chapter, Lawrence relates how he was captured and beaten by a sadistic Turkish officer.

In that same TV documentary, Lawrence’s brother addresses the camera and sheepishly tells the viewer that not many people can understand how someone can enjoy pain. That was in response to a 1960’s newspaper report about a man who claimed Lawrence paid him to be beaten regularly. Clearly Lawrence was a complicated man. In later life he hid from the public by using the names John Ross and later T E Shaw. He was fatally injured in 1935 after a motorcycle accident.

After a little research I find that the property is now owned by the national trust and is open regularly for visitors. Find out more at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clouds-hill

Chartwell

Nothing that I can add to the mountains of books and articles written about Winston Churchill can make much of a difference, but anyway, here we go. Can there ever have been someone who was not only a great politician but also a great writer and also one of the giants of history? I have always felt a tiny spark of excitement when even now I read Churchill’s words on when he attained the premiership in the dark early days of World War II. ‘I felt,’ he wrote ‘as if I was walking with destiny.’

The amazing thing is that only a few years previously Churchill was a has been, a man written off as a former chancellor who had crossed the floor of the house once too often and now was distrusted by everyone.

As it happened, his dire warnings about Nazi Germany and the impending war made him the obvious choice to succeed Neville Chamberlain, whose policies of appeasement had perhaps led Britain towards the path of war.

Churchill’s home, Chartwell had been bought largely from the proceeds of his books. Indeed he was fond of commenting ‘all this, came from my pen.’

During the time of his so called wilderness years he spent a lot of time at Chartwell and even built some of the walls there with his own hands. He painted there and prior to World War II many informants came to him to reveal information with which he used to call attention to the tragic state of unreadiness of the UK for war.

This is also a national trust property. You can find more about visiting Chartwell here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell

The Boathouse

It’s a long time since I visited Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. The house is in the village of Laugharne and is not far from one of his famous watering holes, the Brown’s Hotel which I’m pretty sure was bought by one of the comedians from TV’s Men Behaving Badly.

The boathouse was bought by a trust some years ago which saved the property from collapsing into the sea. It’s a lovely place and on the day I visited, we had to leave early although I can’t remember why. I came back the next day and the staff remembered I had left early previously and let me in for free. I wandered about Dylan’s old house and sucked in the atmosphere before buying various books and pamphlets about Dylan and his works.

In another old TV documentary I tend to watch now and again, the presenter, a poet himself, thought he could imagine the conversations of Dylan and his wife, the chit chatting, the arguing and the making up later, or so he supposed.

I took a primitive digital camera with me and took a few shots of the house and Dylan’s famous writing shed. I read somewhere recently that the shed has now been removed and taken to a museum with a duplicate shed now occupying the site.

I enjoyed my visit and Dylan’s own poem always makes me think of it:

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds . . .

Click the following link for more information on the boathouse: https://www.dylanthomasboathouse.com/

Mendips.

Lennon is a different kind of writer of course. He did publish a couple of books of his doodlings, one was called In his own Write if I remember correctly but mostly his creative urge went towards his music. Early on, he and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney agreed that all their songs would be known as Lennon and McCartney songs, even though some were written totally by Lennon and some totally by McCartney. Sometimes McCartney would finish off Lennon’s song, other times Lennon would sort out a problem song McCartney couldn’t finish. It was a great collaboration, perhaps the greatest in pop history.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

All the Beatles were from Liverpool of course. Lennon was brought up by his aunt Mimi in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

Many years ago I used to have a cigarette vending machine round and one of my sales areas was Woolton. One of the pubs I used to service there was a small modest place, owned by two former Shell tanker drivers. They had retired and pooled their retirement money to buy this small pub. They made little money they told me, in fact neither of them ran the pub, they employed a manager to do so.

One was a quiet chap, the other a pretty talkative fellow. The manageress never spoke to me much but the talkative owner was always in the bar and he usually made me a cup of tea and we would have a bit of a natter and then I would be off on my way to service some other pub.

One day we started talking about Lennon and my friend mentioned that Lennon had lived just around the corner from that very pub. Later I followed the directions given to me and found myself parked outside a typical 1950’s looking suburban semi-detached house. Surely Lennon came from a deprived background, a rough and tumble council estate? But no, there was a blue plaque on the wall denoting Lennon had indeed lived here. It was somehow not what I was expecting.

Since I last visited here I see that the house is now owned or at least managed by the national trust along with Paul McCartney’s former home. Click this link for more information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes


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