Thursday, 31 December 2009


A restless night, not helped by a chesty cough and in the early hours I have visions of going to the drop-in centre at Grindon and getting diagnosed with pneumonia -again. I get up at  2.00 and go to the toilet. At 3.30 I get up again, let some cats out and take two paracetemol. Eventually I get back to sleep and wake up at 6.45.

By the time Susan and I are ready to leave, snow is starting to fall and it gets heavier and heavier as we head towards Gateshead. We're both feeling stressed. We get there safely enough and in good time with only one spat and the snow begins to ease. We've provided our own wreath which I hand over and then get back in the car and wait for the hearse to move off.

Usually at these things, after the funeral itself people either repair to a booked room in a pub or the bereaved's house or something like that. However, as we expected, there's no-one there we know and only about a dozen -mostly staff from the home or people who were acquaintances who hadn't seen my mother for years- so we didn't bother arranging anything.

We follow the hearse along snow-swept streets built on the long descent of a fell. To our right in the distance are snow covered hill tops. The crematorium is set back against the fellside with many mature trees. As we drive cautiously through the entrance we see three grey squirrels scampering around the base of a tree and the sight lifts our spirits somewhat.

Crematoriums always seem modern impersonal buildings, solemn but somehow soulless. Susan and I sit on the front row in the centre directly in front of the coffin. To one side, the Weslyan (Methodist) minister takes the service. He's very good and talks of compassion and the individuality of a life as he goes through the details I provided of my mother's life. It's simplistic of course but I've still managed give him enough of the good things to speak about. I bow my atheist's head at the prayers and even murmur the Lord's Prayer with everyone else.

I stand at the exit and shake everyone's hand. No-one introduces themself and Susan and I leave shortly after.

The weather has cleared up and the drive back is easy. We call in at the North Hylton Trading Estate with its south-facing view of the river Wear to visit Aldi for cat food and Pets At Home for a large sack of wood-based litter.

After a lunch of fish and chips -just the one lot shared between us, Susan goes off to the shop and I have a nap. I'm woken by the Post Office van man delivering two parcels for me. One is a 7-DVD pack of 50's science fiction movies. The other is a CD -Dion: Son of Skip James. I'm in a pensive and melancholy mood and so I put it on.

This is Dion who had a string of doo-wop hits with Belmonts in the early pre-Beatles 60's. He moved on continuing a sporadic career broken by lulls and periods of intensive activity. He's not someone who ever registered on my musical radar until about 5 years ago when I heard an early song of his on an Ace Records (UK) cheap sampler and his powerful voice just stunned me. I resolved to check him out but never got around to it until I bumped into this record while browsing Amazon and listened to track samples.

This was only recorded a couple of years ago when he was in his late sixties and is an astonishing piece of work. With a basic lineup of guitar and harmonica (played by Dion) plus piano, organ, and percussion, he rolls out a string of blues standardsaltering their traditional arrangements as he transforms them into something you've never heard before, making songs as familiar to me as my cats into something new and reborn. The music does match my downbeat mood but is somehow also uplifting and it makes me smile.

And that's all I have to say. No conclusion or moral homilies. Life goes on. Until it doesn't.

This posting appears in both blogs.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


I read the John Wyndham novel some time in my early teens back in the early 60's. I immediately read the rest of his science fiction novels like The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalids which happen to be my other favourites of his. Triffids was great stuff but what I didn't realise then is that it became a template for the British disaster story of which more later.

Moving on up the 60's, next came the movie version which kept to the basic structure and plot but added a couple stranded on a lighthouse off the coast where they were menaced by a triffid. Now considering that they discovered that triffids could be dissolved by squirting sea water at them, it's a surprise that  a triffid was able to grow on this little bit of rock given that it would constantly be showered with sea spray which should, according to the movie's own logic, have dissolved it instantly. Still it was fun at the time.

Then, in the early 80's came the tv series, six half  hour episodes about which I remember nothing other than that I watched it. Dougray Scott erroneously attributes the sea water discovery to this version when being interviewed about the lastest version in which he stars.

Which was shown in two 90 minutes parts on BBC1 over the last two evenings. I sat down to watch it, half expecting it to be so predictable that I'd go and watch a DVD instead. Well it was predictable but so well done that I stayed the course. The best special effects scenes came early on with the light show which blinded everyone as they were really spectacularly beautiful. The cgi triffids, however, mostly didn't look much better than the one in the 60's movie version except there were lots of them. But it was well made with a good cast and largely effective. One nice touch was Vanessa Redgrave's mad abbess with her back to basics no technology convent/refuge where she kept the triffids at bay by secretly weeding out the weakest by sending them 'to pass on the message' when she was really sending them to the triffids for lunch.

But what this tv version made me realise is that the British disaster scenario is absolutely predictable and always follows the same pattern. 1. The survivors wander around more or less aimlessly before forming small groups. 2. The big cities become increasingly dangerous. 3. Our heroes go to the countryside where they find something resembling a manor house to live in temporary safety. 4. An unscrupulous individual builds a small army (in the current version it was Eddie Izzard who you know is a bastard when he steals all the lifejackets he can find from the other blind plane passengers and locks himself in the loo and inflates them) and acts as the baddie to our heroes. 5. Our heroes escape -death of bad guy is frequent but optional. 6. Our heroes find a haven from which they can begin to rebuild. The end. Repeat in just about every British disaster novel/movie/tv series.

In conclusion, I never want to see a version of The Day of the Triffids ever again.And I'll probably avoid the second series of The Survivors despite quite enjoying the first.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


This post is appearing both my blogs.

So, Christmas is over. It was a bit of a non-event for me as I felt as if I was just killing time waiting for today. It was even quieter as just about everyone in Susan's brotherNick's family were ill with sickness including and diarrhea, including his wife Viv was was supposed to be cooking the dinner for us this year. Luckily we'd bought a small turkey crown so I cooked the dinner here with just Susan and her mother.I did little else during the weekend except potter about.

I did get three orders from Amazon buyers over the weekend and popped out early to the post office to put them in the mail. When I got back Susan was being harrassed by a phone call from Carol. When that subsided I started with my phone calls, first to the doctor's surgery to arrange to pick up the death certificate. The receptionist didn't have it to hand so she told me she'd get the doctor on call to ring me back about it. Five minutes later the phone rang and it was Carol again. I said, "Carol, I'm waiting for a call about my mother's death certificate. Bye," and put the phone down. He did ring back about 20 minutes later and after checking a few details confirmed it would be okay for me to pick it up whenever I got there. This was about 9.15. Next I rang Gateshead Civic Centre to arrange to register the death and agreed an appointment at 11.00, figuring if I left the house at 10.00 that would give me plenty of time. The phone rang again, this time the Methodist minister who would be taking the ceremony as per my mother's request. He would have come through here from Gateshead but I didn't want to put him out and had suggested a couple of days earlier we do it over the phone. We talked for about twenty minutes and he sounded like a nice bloke. This took me up to ten so I was out of the house and on the road. Apart from having to wait for the large refuse disposal wagon to get out of the way, the drive through was easy enough and I found the surgery equally easily. The receptionist had the certificate to hand and I was on my way. I knew where the Civic Centre was and parking there was free. Found the registrar's office easily. Had a painless session with a nice lady of not far off my age who was, like I had been, a Unison steward. Then to the funeral parlour whichw as just around the corner but I went the wrong way. Didn't matter though as Katherine, the director, wasn't there and the staff didn't know where the paper was that I had to sign. She was at a funeral so they texted her and I had to wait for her to call back which, fortunately was only about 10 ten minutes.

Home, Susan said I had to ring the solicitor immediately which I did not quite immediately having to scrabble through all the bit and pieces of paper on my computer desk before I could do so. Of course he was on the other line and would call me back. Then Carol rang.

I've tried to steer clear of being critical about people on this blog but this time I can't avoid it. Carol is known for being difficult and alienated the local charity Pawz for Thought who used to sponsor her. But she's the only person in Sunderland who looks after large numbers (i.e. ten or more and usually it's around twenty) so I tend to makes allowances and, as everyone in Animal Krackers knows, I'm her biggest supporter. However, she has no sense of proportion. Her heart is in the right place, but her head isn't. She started ranting on about a cat that had died this morning and how awful Vets4Pets was and she knew my mother had just died but I had to put that out of my mind as the cats came first. I've omitted the frequent swearing and the fact that this was screamed down the phone at me. When she started on about my mother after I told her I was waiting for a call from the solicitor I just put the phone down. I few minutes later she called Susan on her mobile and ranted on to her for several minutes. Eventually, after telling Carol that I didn't want to speak to her, Susan also put the phone down on her.

The solicitor never rang back and I slept for most of the afternoon.

Monday, 28 December 2009


Well, at least at the time I'm writing this.

Apart from the first, the rest are in no particular order other than how they occur to me. Whether or not this in itself is a kind of order, I'll leave that up to you to decide. What they are are albums I can up any time and play and always enjoy whatever my mood.

SANDY DENNY: Fotheringay.
Fotheringay is actually the name of the band and the title of the album. It's my favourite because Sandy has never sung better. The songs are brilliant. The arrangements are superb. The rhythm section of Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson on drums and bass are great. absolutely brilliant lead guitar by the American Jerry Donahue. Sandy's husband the Australian Trevor Lucas has a great soulful gruff voice and actually takes the lead on my favourite song with Sandy harmonising beautifully. Sheer perfection, sheer magic.
Alternate selection: Fairport Convention: Rising for the Moon (Sandy back on vocals/piano/guitar with them for the last time.)

His anthemic and also wistful masterpiece.
Alternate selection: The Rising.

His proto-grunge vastly underrated masterpiece with Crazy Horse.
Alternate selection: Decade (anthology 1966-76, or thereabouts).

LIGHTNIN' SLIM: Rooster Blues/Bell Ringer
Many of Lightnin's songs tend to sound familiar because they are often thinly disguised versions of other peoples. This is electric blues at its most basic: rudimentary guitar by Lightnin', harp (often by Lazy Lester), and percussion. But oh that voice, that grainy world-weary voice and the thinly veiled wry humour, that wonderful wonderful voice.
Alternate selection: any of ACE UK's reissue compilations, they all sound the same anyway and I love 'em all.

U2: The Joshua Tree (extended edition)
Don't need to say anything more.
Alternate selection: The Unforgettable Fire (extended edition)

LUTHER ALLISON: Live In Chicago.
2 hours of the most electric rocking blues you ever heard in your life. Luther roars like a lion and his guitar screams like a banshee. Tragically he didn't have much longer to live after these 1995 performances.
Alternate selection: Reckless (or any of his three 90's  studio albums for Alligator).

Their first album of post-punk jagged rock. I've just ordered the extended edition along with extended editions of their next two albums.
Alternate selection: Porcupine.

MUDDY WATERS: Hoochie Coochie Man -The Complete Chess Masters vol.2 1952-1958.
This is actually a relatively recently purchased 2-CD set, a supposedly limited edition on the Hip-O Select label, and it's as fine a compilation of Muddy as anything. Even though the CD is new, I'm pretty familiar with the tracks.
Alternate selection: Authorised Bootleg Live/ Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco 11/04-06 1966. (Another new addition but as good a live album of Muddy's as any and unusual in the lack of a keyboard player.)

THE LEVELLERS:Best of the Levellers -One Way of Life.
Another recent purchase but I've been a fan of this band for ages with their socially conscious left-wing crusty/folk/rock with its great tunes and great fiddle & guitar playing.
Alternate selection: Headlights, White Lines -Best Live.


Originally a triple vinyl album, now on 2 CDs with two extra tracks and, despite having several other live sets which are pretty damn good, this remains my favourite.
Alternate selection: Steppin' Out with The Grateful Dead -a 4-CD set from the UK leg of the 72 tour).

THE WATERBOYS: A Fisherman's Blues (extended edition)
 Probably Mike Scott's masterpiece of Irish folk/rock fusion, packed with memorable songs wrenched raw from his throat.
Alternate selection: Mike Scott & The Waterboys -The Whole of The Moon.

R.L.BURNSIDE: A Bothered Mind
Hill country Blues patriarch on one his strangest records, it being pretty much created in the studio from overdubs, looping and all the other tricksof the producer's trade with contributions, and good ones too, from the likes of Kid Rock and Lyrics Born.
Alternate selection: Come On In.
The classic groundbreaking, if highly derivative, album and the first record I ever bought (though my current version is the extended CD).

In the 60's you were either a Stones or a Beatles fan and that answers that question.

ZZ TOP: Eliminator
Classic sexist grunge blues/rock with the amps set to 11 which is a place, when you get right down to it, is where I'm happiest.

Post Script

Potential future candidate for this list:

HEADLESS HEROES: The Silence of Love.
A collection of covers, brilliantly arranged and produced, with a bunch of highly talented session musicians and featuring the revelatory vocals of Alela Diane who is possibly my favourite singer since Sandy Denny. Check out my Amazon review of this and her two solo albums.

Thursday, 24 December 2009


My mother died just under an hour ago and Jackie from Hawksbury House has contacted the funeral firm my mother specified and they've been given my phone number. I was asked if I'd like to see her but I declined. I'd said my goodbyes yesterday. The funeral director will make arrangements as per my mother's instructions and sort out any minor details with me, but other than that I doubt if anything will really happen until the New Year.

And that's it.

There's been a slight thaw this morning but not enough to make much difference to the snow other than to make it a little slushy under foot. Lynn is happy with her two temporary guests, pleased at how friendly they both are.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day and I hope you have a good one.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


This post appears here and in my cat rescue blog for reasons which will soon become apparent.

Jackie from Hawkesbury House rang me late on Tuesday to say that my mother had taken a turn for the worse and was now in bed all the time, semi-conscious at best and it was really only a matter of time. I said I'd call round today.

Then I got a call from Carol who had been rung up from an old people's home to say that a possibly pregnant cat had been coming in but they couldn't keep it there on a night. I rang them back and found out the home was about 20 miles or more away deep in the snowy Durham countryside and there was no way I was going to go there to a place I'd never been before in the pitch black on icy roads. Fortunately one of the staff who lived near the home agreed to take it for the night.

Then Susan took a call from Honour of Vets4Pets who was concerned about a cat that Carol was looking after as its blood tests did not bear out that it had been getting the prescribed medication and she wanted it away from Carol asap. I called Lynn the fosterer who lives not far away and she kindly agreed to take both cats. Then I rang Carol and told her. Needless to say, it wasn't an easy conversation as she didn't want to let the cat go and that she was caring for it properly. I told her bluntly that whatever the truth of the matter, if I didn't get the cat -Hettie, an old thin friendly tortoiseshell- Honour would refer the matter to the RSPCA and Animal Krackers would have them on us, not her. Carol gave way. There was another problem that evening which involved me going out but as it involves money I won't go into further detail.

Got up this morning, cleaned and refreshed several litter trays, had breakfast -porridge in the microwave- went for a quickish -half hour- swim, then to the post office to top up my mobile which had run out the previous evening, then home to sort out what I'd need. Ian F turned up with the van just after 9, we went to get some diesel then I had to go back home to get my mobile which I'd forgotten and then finally it was on the road down the A19 dual carriageway, with the sun shining brightly in my eyes, heading south. Missed the turnoff and added ten minutes to the journey before I could double back. Found the place okay, and country roads were all passable with just a little extra care, the cat was slightly plump and possibly pregnant -a young friendly soft-furred tabby. Drove back to Sunderland without further incident and dropped her off, along with some extra food and litter, with Emma, Lynn's 14 year old daughter.

I had time for a cup of coffee so I went back home and checked my email as I drank it. The post arrived and also the happy resolution to the previous evening's money business. Plus a tax demand. Back in the van, reversed around a tight corner, misjudged it and smashed the rear driver's side lights. After picking up the shattered plastic, I got back inside and drove to Low Fell to see my mother.

She was in bed, not asleep but not really conscious, just making unintelligible sounds from time to time, a hand opening and closing on the blanket. I stayed twenty minutes, kissed her on the forehead which she never noticed, and left. A nurse is visiting three times to a day but it's really a formality. The staff expect her to develop pneumonia very soon and that will be it. Mentally, she hasn't really been here for a while now, just a vestige, and now it's time for that to go too.

I picked up Hettie from Carol's on the way back and gave her to Emma. Happy to have attention, Hettie was purring loudly when I left.

Viv, our sister in law, whose turn it is to cook Christmas dinner, spend all last night vomiting. Alex, my student nephew, has been in bed with bronchitis almost since he got back from university last Friday. I thought it was our turn anyway so it looks as if I might be cooking the meal after all. This isn't a problem, it just means we have the mother in law all day.

I've a feeling that somehow this isn't going to be our best Christmas.

Monday, 21 December 2009


I went to see my my mother on Sunday morning, using the charity van, after I dropped off three large boxes of cat food at Carol's. The main roads weren't too bad but the side roads were. The two-lane Washington Highway was down to one, apart from one idiot in a landrover. but it didn't take me much longer than usual to get to Low Fell. I did park the van on the main road rather than try it up the very steep bank to Hawkesbury House. I'd brought a large tin of biscuits for the staff and a token presentation box of fancy soap, chocolates and card for my mother.

While she smiled at me, she showed no interest in the bag I gave her. She seems to lost the abilility, or will, to speak instead just making sounds that might be words but aren't. She reacted to little, really only the staff member who pressed a cup of tea against her mouth which she briefly accepted and drank. Most of the short time I spent there, she just looked down at her feet. The most she would do was sometimes smile when I talked to her. After twenty minutes I gave up and came home.

This afternoon, about half an hour ago, Jackie, the manager, phoned me. My mother had taken a turn for the worse so they'd put her to bed and rang the doctor who, without seeing her, suggested that she be taken to hospital. Jackie rang me because, as next of kin I have to authorise this, or not. While she couldn't give me direct advice, from what she said it seemed to me that my mother would get more personal care and attention by people who knew her than on an unfamiliar hospital ward. I did say that if the doctor actually saw her and still recommended hospitalisation then I'd go along with it.

But really I'd sooner have her slip away peacefully in a place where she's comfortable as that seems the kindest thing to do. On Jackie's advice I'll ring the home late tomorrow morning for a status report.

When my mother does go, I'll have no other close relations left on her side of the family. On the other side I have a half-sister I've never met and two cousins I haven't seen in over 30 years. If I hadn't met Susan I think I'd be feeling very lonely right now.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Despite the title which is the same as my latest Cat Rescue blog posting (plus grammatically correct comma), this isn't a repeat of that entry. It's taken from a Sandy Denny song but I'm buggered if I can remember which one, and neither can I remember the next line. I'd know it as soon as I heard it of course but as I can't remember the title I can't play it. It's even more appropriate today than it was yesterday. While I can't say the snow is out in force, it has been cold with chilly winds and the occasional snow flurry or light fall (as it is doing this moment). It's nearly half eight in the evening and, from the number of cars in the street, that, and the fact that the snow is lying even in the middle of the road where the cars drive up and down suggests that just about everyone is tucked up warm in their houses.

My poor brother in law, Nick, along with Viv his wife, and son Alex are currently stuck in traffic on the A1 near Wetherby in North Yorkshire. No doubt the snow is slowing the traffic and it's very likely to be much heavier where they are rather than on the coast where I am which is much less prone to extremes of weather, bad and good. They've been to Hull to pick Alex up from the university where he's just completed his first term about which we might just extract a little information from him if we're lucky as he's not the most forthcoming of kids. Nice enough lad, though.

The snow, though still light, is thickening and I may be going through to Gateshead in the morning. Hope it's better by then.

The reason I'm going through is because I got a phone call from the manager of the home where my mother resides. She has, I've been told, been eating very little for a few weeks now. They've had the doctor out to see her but appears not to be medical. It may be that she's just forgotten that she hasn't eaten anything or it may be that she's finally given up. The manager, though she didn't state it bluntly, clearly believes my mother doesn't have very long and rightly thinks I should see her for one final time.

I feel sad. I feel relieved. I feel guilty.

She's been suffering from dementia for a number of years now. Quite probably she had it long before it was actually diagnosed. That could account for certain things she did which rather alienated me. Over the last three years it's been getting noticeably worse and the worse it got the more it pained me and the less I visited. I've never been the most dutiful of sons and even now, in this blog, I can't admit to you how little I have been to see her.

It's been nearly two years since she last knew who I was. Her conversation had become increasingly incoherent for some time before that and eventually any meaningful conversation became impossible as she withdrew into her own world. We don't know, we can't imagine, what it is to be like that, though many of us will find out. Having seen my mother in that state, I have now come to understand that there are worse things than death which I now fear less. I don't want to end up like my mother. I would sooner have no existence than that.

Again, I feel guilty. I should be feeling sorry for my mother; instead I feel sorry for myself.

Outside it's cold and the snow continues to fall albeit a little lighter than a few minutes ago. Tomorrow will bring what it brings.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Sitcoms on the whole don't do much for me but I've been watching Miranda since the second show (it finished last night) despite it annoying me at least as much as I enjoy it.

For a kick off, it very much breaks the third wall. Miranda the character is always turning to the camera to make a gesture or comment to the audience. The cast hams it up outrageously as if they were playing to a theatre gallery, and as the credits play the cast all parade in front of the camera acknowledging the audience.

The situation is this: Miranda is 30, six feet tall, acts outrageously while nevertheless suffering from low esteem, is in love with a handsome chef at a small bistro, is a virgin, owns a knick-knack shop run by her dizzy blonde best friend, has an annoying mother. If this sounds awful, it is awful.

But somehow it works.

And the reason is this: the writer knows how to create a character that you manage to laugh with rather than consider pathetic and the character is played with the great skill by the actor. Their names? Oh yes, the writer is Miranda Hart and the actor is Miranda Hart and she's playing a character called Miranda who could become one of British sitcoms' great sitcom characters.

Basically I just think Miranda Hart is great. She looks like a lump of dough in a dress (a really unkind statement, I know) while managing to be really appealing. She is a writer, a stand-up comic, and actor (appearing in tiny roles or in ensemble pieces on tv  for years, more on radio) whose time has finally come and I hope this series is the start of the Miranda Hart invasion.

I love you Miranda Hart.

Monday, 14 December 2009


While I was watching Small Island, my Virgin black box was recording the latest episode of Fringe (and a not as good as I was hoping slasher). I'm not a huge Fringe-fan (little joke for fannish SF fans there) but it has enough going for it to keep me watching. In last night's episode was a little in-joke for horror movie buffs. On a list of names were Stuart Gordon and Deborah Crampton. Gordon directed the Lovecraft-inspired cult movie Reanimator and Barbara Crampton was one of the leads. The next scene takes place at Dunwich hospital. Dunwich is part of Lovecraft's mythos, like Miskatonic the setting for Reanimator.

Okay, so I'm easily amused.

More fun later this week when the third season of The Big Bang Theory starts on C4 (or E4, can't remember which). I've reviewed the previous two seasons on DVD elsewhere in this blog which should tell you how much I'm looking forward to this. If it doesn't, then let me say that The Big Bang Theory is possibly my favourite comedy series ever.

Our heroes were last seen manning an Arctic research station for the summer. The opening episode apparently features Sheldon's wonderful mother as played by Laurie Metcalfe who should be in it more often. I'm sure this won't be the last you'll be hearing from about this series. It's like the programme arrangers have given me a Christmas present.

And then there's Dr.Who for Christmas and Skins:4  starting early in the New Year. Is this the best decade for tv ever? Hmm, now there's an idea for an article.


While everyone else was frothing at the mouth in a frenzy of national mediocrity at the hype and con-trick that is The X-Factor (and shouldn't Marvel Comics sue for the name?) I was watching part 2 of the BBC1 drama Small Island, based on Andrea Levy's highly praised novel of the same name. I came upstairs after it had finished and Susan, who was watching it intermittently (during the ad breaks for X-factor), said she thought it was disappointing as it just stopped and she felt there should have been more. I knew what she meant and on first thoughts agreed with her. On second thoughts, I changed my mind.

The thing is that we had the wrong idea of what it was about. We believed it would be an intelligent but soapish story about the early years of black immigrants in post-war London when it fact that was only part of the point and the present sequences just covered a span of 6 months (in 1948, the year I was born)). The flashbacks, particularly in part 1, spent a lot of time in Jamaica and even in part 2 the present was often shown in flashback making a couple of things a bit confusing.

What it was really about is dreams and illusions and their shattering by harsh reality. It does have weaknesses but still manages to be a highly superior piece of British drama at its near-best. It also touches on aspects of the post-war years which need to be looked at more. The lives of newly arrived immigrants from the Caribbean is an important part of recent British social history and their experiences deserve examination so that both black and white communities can see how it has changed contemporary society. The blatant and casual racism the drama depicts is genuinely shocking to a modern audience.

And just for the record, great performances by Naomi Harris as the proud and stuffy Hortense, Ruth Wilson as Queenie who has a weakness for charming black men, David Oyelowo as witty principled Gilbert, Ashley Walters in a minor but important role as Michael the charming philandering black man who can't resist an attractive white woman, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the compassionate but repressed Bernard, Queenie's husband. It's worth noting that in many ways, Hortense and Queenie are mirror images and the title refers both to Jamaica and England.

If you didn't see it, catch a repeat or watch it on BBC I-player while its available.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


(No photos because for some reason my right mouse button has stopped working.)

Three slasher movies in three days. Having read a variet of reviews the consensus seems to be that they are all deserving of a decent reputation. Note that I use the word consensus and not uniformity of opinion. They are looked at in viewing order.

First off is The House on Sorority Row (1983). The DVD is a cheapo  no frills, no subtitles, region 0 edition.
Plot in a nutshell: 20 years earlier baby experiments go wrong; sorority house end of year; party planned; house mistress horrible and dies when a prank goes wrong; killer kills at the their party; final girl kills him/her/it; last scene, 'dead' killer opens eyes. Very formulaic.
What I liked: generally okay but nothing worth singling out.
What I didn't like: there are no twists, not a one. Is the house mistress dead or not? Answer: dead and stays that way. Is the killer one of the girls? No. Is the killer the final girl's blind date? Can't be, too obvious, must be a red herring. He's a red herring. Is the killer anyone we've met? No. he's the house mistress's deformed locked up son. Decent gore: no, relatively tame and despite mild nudity the 18 rating is unwarranted.

Friday 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986).  Trailer, subtitles.
Plot in a nutshell: you mean you don't know? Okay. Idiot who killed Jason years ago digs him up to burn the body; resurrects Jason; spends rest of movie evading the police who think he's pretending to be Jason; real Jason kills lots of people at camp.
What I liked: the first part which is a horror-comedy. "I've seen too many horror movies not to know that a man in a mask is not going to be friendly," says a soon to be victim. The gravedigger on seeing Jason's dug up grave turns to the camera and says, "The things that some people consider entertainment." Jason's encounter with a group of screwy paint-ballers, where he acquires a nice shiny machete to replace the spear-like cemetery railing he'd been using, is very funny. The sight-gag of the camera panning over sleeping pre-teens clutching teddies, picture books, and one bespectacled girl with an arm over a novel by John Paul Sartre.
What I didn't like: very little, it's just the rest is the usual unimaginative stalk and slash. Sometimes something like an unexpected severed head will raise the game a little but otherwise it's nothing you haven't seen before. The worst thing is a room lacking a body but absolutely drenched in blood leaving you to shudder at what might have happened there. Most of the killing is done in a cut-away shot which reduces the impact.

The Burning (1981). No frills DVD, no subs.
Plot in nutshell: Hideously scarred after a camp prank went wrong and finally released from hospital after five years, Cropsy heads back and begins killing the current group of campers.
What I liked about it: pretty much everything. This is it! This is what a slasher should be. The director piles on the tension, so much so that for the first in ages I was peeping nervously around the corner of a DVD case. Explicit graphic gore, but not really vilely hideous but bad enough, courtesy of Tom Savini. Good cast who portray believable varied interesting shaded characters. Kids act like kids. These aren't formula stereotypes but people you can believe in and care about. It is genuinely scary and for the first time in ages I was actually scared rather than amused by a horror film. I'd nearly forgotten what that was like. I'm keeping this one and will be watching it again.
What I didn't like about it: missing Holly Hunter. Apparently it was her first movie and I was looking out for her but never noticed her. Darn. Oh and maybe they could have shown the hideously scarred killer more than the one brief glimpse near the end.

And so ends my slasher infatuation. If they were all as good as The Burning, I'd be digging out more of this genre but they aren't and so it's back to monster horror movies (see recent posts). However before I leave you, there's this.


Frightmare (1974, UK, dir.Pete Walker). DVD: commentary, trailers, subs.

This is part of a cheapo 4-DVD pack of British exploitation maestro director Pete Walker's early 1970's efforts. All his movies were cheaply and quickly done using good, but mostly then-minor, British actors. They boasted lurid titles -Frightmare means absolutely nothing in the context of this film. It is, however, a genuinely grim and disturbing piece of work. Released after 15 years in a mental hospital, Sheila Keith soon reverts to her homicidal cannibalistic ways, unknown to her loyal husband Rupert Davies. His daughter by a previous marriage lives in London with the couple's tearaway daughter who believes them dead. When the former's boyfriend starts investigating it builds to one of the most fucked-up vile conclusions to a movie that I've ever seen. This has more genuine emotional impact than the three previous movies put together. There is gore but it's more emotionally horrifying that anything else.

All I can say it that I hope the other three in the pack aren't this grim.

Monday, 7 December 2009


I've already been here once and the conclusions I came to were twofold: that we enjoy the frisson, the thrill, the moment the killer strikes, the shock as much as the violence itself, as catharsis; but also we are subconsciously confronting our deepest fear, the fear of dying, of death, and we are laughing at it, laughing in the face death, making it that much less frightening.

But I've been wondering about that and while I still hold it to be true, I've started to suspect that there might also be an uglier truth behind our love of horror movies and I'm beginning to believe that it might lie in my expanding taste in horror movies. Generally I prefer horror movies to have a monster as the threat rather than an ordinary (albeit highly resistant to damage) human -Dracula rather than Jason, things from outer space rather than evil twins, demons not the demented. Titles I can see from where I'm sitting include: The Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Re-animator, Brain Dead, Zombie Strippers, Dog Soldiers, From Beyond, Demons, The Host. To have a human being as the monster brings it too close to home. I prefer my horror movie to be on the level of science fiction and fantasy. Obviously there have been exceptions but on the whole I've tender to avoid the slasher sub-genre which I've seen as a debased form of horror movie.

Until recently.

Recently I've started flirting with slasher movies. There's the Nightmare on Elm Street series, though I regard that as more fantasy horror. I really enjoyed Jason X (Friday13th in space) because of its sense of humour and the robotrix whose nipples kept dropping off and was later programmed to go mano a mano (if that's not the wrong expression) with Jason, so that despite the gore it only got a 15 rating. Obviously I highly rate the original, relatively bloodless, Halloween.

But in general I've regarded the slasher movie as a simplistic debased form of the horror movie that requires little talent or imagination. Isolate a bunch of teenagers, throw in some nudity, and have them gruesomely killed by a masked assailant. And to some extent this remains a pretty accurate description -one recent DVD I watched(courtesy of Amazon Vine was a slasher directed by George Romero's son pretty much fits the bill and was rubbish (see my Amazon review for details and boy am I glad I didn't waste any money on it).

Yet, for some reason, I've started getting some entertainment from this type of movie. It didn't begin with, but it's a good place to start, My Bloody Valentine and its 3-D remake (see a recent post on them). More recently I picked up a double bill on the Anchor Bay label of -well, here's a picture of the cover.

Checking up, The Initiation had a couple of good reviews and deservedly so. Although it ticks the usual slasher boxes -teenagers being stalked in an isolated spot (a department store at night), casual female nudity as college girls get showered and changed, the twist ending (which, annoyingly, is given away by one of the inlay's chapter titles and also by IMDB's character/cast list), it has a longish but never dull buildup to the stalking as the villain has a very good reason for doing what he/she/it does and it isn't because he/she/it likes stalking teenagers, but neither is it overly gory and generally comes under the good fun category and I'd rate it quite close to the original MBV in quality.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre, on the other hand, has a reputation as a stinker which, having watched it, I feel is a bit harsh. At the very least it deserves credit for having the killer being an unmasked 60+ psychotic woman. It's also even more of a literal slasher than the previous movie (where a couple of characters were offed by a bow and arrow) in that her weapon of choice is a rusty scythe -slash, slash. While I did speed up some of the talky bits and won't watch it again, it wasn't too bad and had a couple of good gore effects.

This is a Tobe Hooper movie from the early 80's and I remember seeing a gruesome picture of the killer on a magazine cover. Now I think the cover of this DVD is scarier. Again it ticks the usual slasher buttons: four teens spend the night in the funhouse (UK equivalent: ghost train) at a carnival, brief nudity, masked killer, gruesome deaths. Although I can't say I particularly cared for the film it did have its moments. The killer, who initially wears a Frankenstein monster costume, is retarded and in one scene pays a fortune teller, old enough to be his grandmother, for  sex which, surprise, goes drastically wrong. Not long after that he is revealed as physically deformed. Despite his homicidal rages, his father isn't exactly sweetness and light either.

I have a few others on order from Amazon Marketplace: the original Prom Night (with Jamie Lee Curtis -seen 3 & 4 on a twofer DVD, one a horror-comedy, one just plain crap), House on Sorority Row (which has had some good reviews), Friday 13th 6: Jason Lives (possibly the best of the series with sympathetic characters), and The Burning (heavily cut by UK censors at the time, but now no more) which again is supposed to be one of the better 80's slashers. Hopefully this lot will satiate my desire for slasher movies.

But what worries me is that it won't.


What if another reason we watch them is because they provide a sinister vicarious pleasure that we are denied in our real lives. What if it actually is the gory killing of other people which gives us the pleasure. The movie becomes a vehicle for the pent-up violence within us, within even the most humanitarian of individuals with the highest ideals -and I obviously mean myself here as well all know that to just mention that description and the person with whom you are conversing will immediately venture, "Why of course, you're talking about Ian Williams, that most noble and humanitarian of individuals."

The catharsis doesn't come with the frisson, it comes with the killing and the killer is our surrogate. The slasher movie exposes the darkness within ourselves and we revel in it, in the destruction of another human being which, in our real life, we would never seriously consciously consider doing.

On the other hand, I've never identified with Jason, psychotic grannies, homicidal twin sisters, demented miners, or sexually frustrated freaks, so maybe not.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Susan and I had a rare trip out together today to the -I swear you'll never guess- the Durham Christmas Festival. If you look closely at the picture you could almost see it if it wasn't for the fact that this is a bog-standard picture of Durham which is, I believe and rightly so, famous writer's Bill Bryson's favourite city in the whole of the country if not the world. Although the festival takes place throughout the city over three days (today being the last), the centre of it is a massive marquee on the square in front of the Cathedral. If you look to the bottom left of tower you'll see an arched doorway and in front of it is where the marquee stands.

We couldn't have gone there yesterday as there were tailbacks for ridiculous distances to even get into the city from early on. Brother in law Nick and family went but took the park and ride from a mile outside Durham. Instead we went today, arriving about 10.15 and getting a parking space in a street only a few hundred yards from the Cathedral. Up steep narrow streets mind, but who cares when they involve crossing an ancient stone bridge over the river with the Cathedral (and if you're wondering why I'm capitalising Cathedral all the time it's because it's one of the most beautful buildings in Europe, if not the world) rising majestically to the left. I've been visiting Durham City all my life and I never tire of visiting the city and the Cathedral. Atheist I may be, but I appreciate beauty and I also appreciate the importance of how much places like Durham  Cathedral and the works of the monks therin -not to mention the monasteries of north eastern England such as Lindisfarne and Sunderland -the north side of the River Wear at Sunderland is not known as Monkwearmouth for nothing- had on preserving knowledge during the Dark and early Middle Ages.

Here's another photo of Durham. Our car is just past the bottom of the bridge and just up the street in front of the hotel where the perspective draws your eyes. The view the other way is more interesting.

Here's another one. God, I love this place. Never mind the quality, count the bookshops (even if half of them seem to be Waterstones).

As I said, the marquee was massive and totally packed with well over a hundred (the publicity says 150 but that might be for the city as a whole) arts, crafts, charity, local drink (hot mulled wine £2.00 a cup but alas too early for me), cakes, sweets (fudge it mostly seems) and food stalls. The place was quite full, though not as full as it would be an hour later when we left, and we wandered slowly along checking out stuff but not buying anything (apart from me with a couple of packets of speciality sausages and a carton of sun-dried tomatoes; did I mention the food stalls?). Susan talked to a couple of stallholders as she sussed out whether or not it might be a good idea if Animal Krackers had a stall here next year -answer: absolutely (this seems to be, in contemporary English, a multi-syllabled synonym for 'yes'.

To the Cathedral for a brief wander around its hallowed majesty absorbing the enshrouding atmosphere of tranquillity, followed by coffee and shared cheese scone in the Cathedral coffee shop. Then out onto the  thronged steep winding narrow city streets where we visited obscure specialist shops with strange names such as Marks & Spencer and BHS. And thence home. A nice morning out.

I say farewell for this post with another picture.

Post Script

Forgot to mention that we bought a catnip mouse from a cat rescue charity stall. Arriving home, I tossed it on the living room floor and went upstairs. A little while later I found Leo our ginger cat rolling over with the catnip mouse in his jaws watched closely by three other cats waiting for the opportunity to get it off him. Later, when I put it on top of a radiator to dry, Ted the chunky black and white cat jumped up and lay on top of it as he quite obviously enjoyed the smell of the drying herbs.

Memo to self: buy more catnip mice, sit back, and watch the fun.

Friday, 4 December 2009


I found this on the Net and couldn't resist it.


 Edited from a 4star Amazon review.

Only half the 64 tracks are by Muddy Waters and he doesn't take lead vocals on one of those either. But don't let that put you off as this is a very interesting collection.

CD 1 contains the original (or at least an earlier recording) of a song that became a familiar part of Muddy's extensive repertoire which is followed by Muddy's version, or the version he thinly rewrote/retitled to claim composership (something that was common in the Blues at the time) -Memphis Minnie's 'Bumble Bee' becomes Muddy's 'Honey Bee', 'Catfish Blues' becomes 'Rollin' Stone'. What is particularly interesting about this disc is not Muddy's recordings which will be familiar to any fan, though if you are new to the Man this is a good starting point, but the earlier recordings. Two in particular stand out for me. Hambone Willie Newbern's 1929 recording 'Roll & Tumble The Blues' (which Muddy transformed into 'Rollin' & Tumblin'') is a lovely rocking romp decades before rock'n'roll. The absolute revelation here is, however, Ann Cole's rendition of 'Got My Mojo Working'(1957) which is an absolute gem. Cole had the misfortune to be a soul singer before soul was recognised as a genre. Her All-Music Guide entry adds little to that provided by the CD's booklet. She hasn't, despite recording for several companies in the 50's, even got one CD available which, on the basis of this cut, is a shame. Muddy saw her sing it live and a few months later, just after Cole recorded it, laid down his own version.

CD2 is a good 20-track selection of Muddy from 1948-1958. All good stuff, all familiar to me, but good for newbies and a logical follow on from the preceding CD.

CD3 collects a variety of tracks by different artists who were associated with Muddy, either as regular studio musicians (Buddy Guy) or who were members of his band at various times (Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Walter Horton, etc). Several of these tracks were actually recorded by the Muddy Waters Band, the most famous being Little Walter with 'Juke'. The success of this under his name caused him to jump ship mid-tour to start a career as a solo artist. Harmonica players tend to dominate (14 out of 20 tracks) as, in addition to LW & WH, we have Junior Wells and James Cotton. Either way, it's all good vintage 50's Chicago Blues.

Disc 4 is a just long enough 45 minute DVD of talking heads:  there's musicians, notably harpist Charlie Musselwhite telling tales of his younger days in the Chicago Blues clubs where he watched and jammed with people like Muddy (of course) and the notorious Little Walter who was quite kind to him; and Blues experts like Paul Oliver and Charles Shaar Murray. If the experts tend to recount stuff I already know, the anecdotes more than make up for it.

The neat slim package is rounded off with a good booklet with half of it about Muddy and half about the other featured artists. The third half (ahem) is a 4-page catalogue of other Proper Records Blues box sets. And there's a track listing which in addition to title/artist, usefully  includes running time, composer, and year recorded.

So, a nice all-round package with something for both Blues vets and newbies.