Seriously Good!

Understandably, this page may be a little shorter than its counterpart!  Do I take responsibility for that?  Absolutely not.  Take a look around.  In the words of my friend, Tom Cruise, in Jerry Maguire, ‘We live in a cynical world.  A cynical world.’  Perhaps, then, all the more reason to look for the good.  For, where there is darkness, somewhere, there is light.  Isn’t that what makes the world go round?  So, while it is cathartic to vent – oh, so cathartic – it is positively uplifting to applaud.  Below, then, are my ‘Oscar’ nominations – don’t think anybody would thank me for a ‘Trish-Trash’! 

‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

Roald Dahl.

Sunday, 11th February 2024

One Life

As I sat in the New Picture House in St Andrews on Sunday afternoon – the day on which one was encouraged to support the cinema in a bid to avert any imminent closure – I counted a maximum of ten.  For my own part, relieved, precluding enforced proximity to strangers, it also served as a reminder of a world which no longer cares.

 Not for the quieter Sunday afternoon viewing slots, the preferred blockbusters of today, multi-million-pound productions relying on extravagant special effects in a bid to transport one to a land of fantasy, violence, sex, strong language – let’s face it, mostly, the lot: fiction, sadly based on reality.  Oh, and let us not forget the overt submission to the obligatory diversity remit, so subtly observed …

Always one for a true story, such films are few and far between now.  However, occasionally, there are those which cry out, reflecting a more gentle cinematic era of romance, manners and morals; films with a message or which, merely, touch the heart.  Living (2022), with Bill Nighy, was one such wonderful film, embodying qualities of old. One Life?  Oh, that it were compulsory viewing.

However, as we sat in Screen 2 – a smidgen past lunchtime, I might add – I found it hard to reconcile the irony before me.  Perhaps, naively, I assumed that those in the small audience would be familiar with the incredible story of Nicholas Winton; one deserving of respect.  Clearly, too much to ask, for the somewhat strapping girl across the way would have been better placed in Greggs as she shovelled the enormous bucket of popcorn into her mouth – for half the film – in between schlurping her chemical cocktail!  Meanwhile, on the screen in front of her, was the story of a man who – aged twenty-nine – masterminded the rescue of 669 Jewish children from certain death in the Holocaust; a man who, to date, has enabled the lives of four generations.  More popcorn, anybody?!

In 1938, with the threat of war imminent, a young stockbroker by the name of Nicholas Winton chose to forego a planned ski-ing holiday and, instead, travel to Prague in a bid to help refugees from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, an area which had just been appropriated by Germany.  Shocked at the conditions in which these people were living, there and then, he – together with a handful of other selfless volunteers – committed to rescuing the children from Hitler’s evil.  Evacuation efforts were already in place in both Austria and Germany but it was Winton who, both, instigated and co-ordinated the children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia.  Known as the Czech Kindertransport, the operation masterminded the transportation of unaccompanied Jewish children under the age of seventeen to Britain, securing a foster family for all, subject to the proviso of a £50 guarantee for their eventual return ticket.  A pipe dream, for most would never go back; would never see their parents again.  Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

One Life.  The story of a young man who was driven by a compulsion to help others and whose altruism saved the lives of so many.  It is hard to put into words the significance of his life; the far-reaching impact.  This was a man so humble that he never spoke of his part in the rescue of these children for nearly fifty years.  Even his wife knew nothing of it until 1988 when she came across an old scrapbook in the attic which he had kept.  Battered and worn, it contained photographs, letters from the families and names of all the children he had saved – he had merely failed to mention it!  With his permission, Grete passed the precious artefact on to Elizabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust researcher, married to newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell.  A subsequent article in the Sunday People alerted the That’s Life team to the story, following which the show went on to cover Winton’s heroic achievement in two episodes.  Only now did most of the children learn of their benefactor, the remarkable man who had enabled their escape from the Nazis and certain death.  Who hasn’t seen that famous clip of an unsuspecting Nicholas Winton and his wife, seated in the front of the That’s Life audience, when Esther Rantzen asks:

‘Is there anyone in our audience tonight who owes their life to Nicholas Winton?’?

Not a dry eye in house, the entire audience is on their feet.  It should be noted that, in the film, many of said audience are, in fact, the genuine article!

So it is that One Life brings this incredible, moving story to life.  One of selflessness, courage and astonishing humility, it must never be forgotten for more than 6,000 children and grandchildren – descendants of the Czech Kindertransport – owe their lives to the choices, dedication and actions of Nicholas Winton …  Anthony Hopkins takes the starring role as the latter-day Winton, the one request of his daughter, Barbara, who died in September 2022 before the film was completed.  A fitting performance from the master, he adeptly portrays the deep-thinking, sensitive man who is, at once, very private and extremely humble.  Tortured, too, until the scrapbook comes to light and – finally re-united with the ‘children’ he rescued all these years ago – he is afforded the closure he sought.

In the most heart-warming of endings, this extraordinary old man is, at last, granted peace in the knowledge that those 669 children – now parents/grandparents – went on to lead happy lives.  He had always wondered.  Moreover, he, too, was the missing part in their lives – and they, immediately, loved him for it.  Growing close to many, they would remain friends until his death in 2015 at the age of 106.

Forever insistent that it was never about him, this silent hero, born to help others, finally received the accolades he deserved.  He was knighted by the Queen in 2003 for ‘services to humanity‘ and, in 2009, a private passenger train named The Winton, in his honour, travelled from Prague to London following the original Kindertransport route.  Perhaps most fittingly of all, though, is the statue of this lovely man – protectively looking after two children – which stands, proudly, in Prague’s main railway station.  I would like to see that, one day.

Save one life, save the world.’ 

A quote from the Mishnah, these words were inscribed in a gold ring presented to Nicholas Winton in 1988 at a Holocaust conference in Oxford.  A gift from some of the children he saved, he wore it for the rest of his days …

 

 

 

Sunday, 25th November 2023

Nostalgia, Perspective & Take That!

Who would believe that a boy band could warrant my first entry on this page for a yearTake That.  Formed in Manchester in 1990, they were the brainchild of Nigel Martin-Smith who, with seasoned club singer and talented songwriter Gary Barlow as his centrepiece, advertised for four others to join him in a bid to produce Britain’s answer to the American New Kids on the Block.  Manufactured, in the true sense, Robbie was only sixteen as the chosen five, now, signed their lives away in the name of fame and fortune.  A very different look and sound back then, gay clubs were their forte, dance music their thing until 1992 and their cover of the 1975 Tavares hit, It Only Takes a Minute, gave them the breakthrough they craved.  At last, Gary’s songwriting prowess came to the fore and they went on to sell nineteen million records, worldwide, before calling a halt in 1996.  Nigel Martin-Smith had done it.  He had created a pop sensation but, in turn, it had destroyed the dream.  Robbie had left, broken, in 1995, the others holding it together for a matter of months.  Had it all been worth it?

Take That.  The boy band synonymous with the Nineties.  Who doesn’t remember A Million Love Songs, Pray, Everything Changes but You and … Back for Good?   The soundtrack to the school runs, they are lodged in our hearts – especially Robbie – and then, of course, came Angels and my favourite, She’s the One.  It seemed Robbie had been the real talent all along.  Meanwhile, the others floundered until 2005 when, almost ten years on from their break-up, Take That re-formed as a four-piece, their new mature sound building on their past catalogue of hits and cementing their place in pop history.

The point of all this?  My Saturday night – last night – was one of tears and hankies as I watched Take That: Reel Stories on BBC 2 in which Dermot O’Leary sat with Gary, Howard and Mark as they watched old footage of their remarkable career on a cinema screen and discussed what it meant to them.  Pure nostalgia and the cleverest of formats.  Thirty years on, they are now in their fifties – and they look it – but individuals, all, what shone through was how comfortable they are, not only in their own skins, but with each other.  Gone is the pressure and angst and, in its place, are three ‘old’ guys who literally grew up together and shared so much.  More than anything, their continued success is borne of a friendship which has endured, and deepened.  Brothers in all but blood, what finished me was Mark saying that Take That will always, at its heart, be a five-piece, the door forever open for Robbie and Jason …  Tissues.  More tissues!

As if that weren’t enough, immediately after came Take That: Radio 2 in Concert.  With a new album out and an upcoming tour next year, their latest songs were on the set list, testament to their life experience and maturity.  More equal now, collaboration is key, the writing shared – and the songs are good.  One has come to expect nothing less.  However, it was the old ones which hit home; pulled at the heart strings on the trip down memory lane.  I found myself singing every word out loud.  Fitting, then, that their anthem will forever be Never Forget.  I still hear Robbie in that song, his voice always so distinctive – and effortless.  Howard sings his part – for now.  For now …   A manufactured boy band who survived the madness and stood the test of time.  Five young boys who, thrown together, shared it all and became lifelong friends; more than that, a family of sorts.  Last night, I realised the impact of Take That …

Beloved, their songs transcend time.  Their music will last forever; what’s more, deserves to last forever!  Their story?  Like millions of others, I lived through it all – and they carried me with them.  Yesterday, I saw a derogatory comment on Facebook suggesting they could be auditioning for a remake of Last of the Summer Wine!  I, too, thought they looked old but … that is them.  No plastic surgery, no botox, no hair transpants required.  Rather, in this fake world – a world of clones – they stand tall!  Talented individuals who have made a fortune yet remain humble, grounded by family and friendship.  Not bad for a manufactured boy band.  I, for one, confess I under-estimated them but Saturday night brought perspective, reminding me just how much their music means to me.  A legacy assured.  Take That!

Monday, 21st November 2022

Living

Last Thursday evening found me in the New Picture House, St Andrews, familiar to me since I was a little girl.  In fact, as though stepping back in time, nothing has really changed and I suspect the nostalgic surrounds only served to enhance the charm of a film set in 1953; one which appears so quintessentially British.  In truth, the screenplay – courtesy of Kazuo Ishiguro – was adapted from the 1953 Japanese film, Ikuru – directed by Akira Kuwosawa – whose inspiration can, actually, be traced back to 1886 and a Russian novella penned by Leo Tolstoy!  Not an inkling.

So, as ever, while impelled to sing the praises of this wonderful film, I am humbled by the need to do it justice.  Quite simply, it represents one hour, forty-two minutes I could neither have spent more wisely, nor, indeed, more enjoyably.  Captivated from the start, I loved every second!  In fact, I would question any view to the contrary.  Then, again, in this bleak, depraved world in which we find ourselves today, I know nothing of what motivates most to subscribe to the commercial blockbuster films littered with gratuitous sex and violence, special effects proving more important than either acting or story.  Escapism or just mind-numbing?  Perhaps, a little like taking one’s children to the zoo – learn nothing but takes care of a couple of hours and the snacks are good!

Then, there is Living, a film whose very simplicity enables it to soar.  Set in a post-war London, the era is captured so perfectly, the cinematography, magical, as one is transported back to the days of gentlemen and gentility; bowler hats, manners, service and reserve.  Reserve.  Mr Williams (Bill Nighy), the protagonist, embodies the very word.  Austere, unapproachable, he is nothing if not refined, but, resigned to a life of pointless tedium, he is also shy and desperately lonely, unable to interact.  Nearing retirement, his entire life has been spent as a civil servant in the Town Planning Department, a prisoner to his desk and a tower of pending files- day-in, day-out – world without end, Amen.  Call that living?

Of course, this is a film with a message, a warning as it were, but the sensitivity with which it is delivered has one captivated from the onset.  Yes, this poor, lonely old man who is all but dead from the neck down – already – having, seemingly, wasted his life, is delivered a death sentence but that is the bare bones of it.  The magic of the film lies in its narrative structure and delivery, both of which are exquisite.  Thus, it opens as a young Mr Wakeling (Alex Sharp) joins his new colleagues on the train journey into London for his first day in Town Planning, County Hall.  Nervous, enthusiastic, the young colt is the very antithesis of Mr Williams who, too, joins the train but not his colleagues.  It seems there is nothing endearing about this character of few words who spends his days at a desk merely going through the motions, devoid of any desire to make a difference.  So it is that he is responsible for Mr Wakeling spending much of his first day deflecting three persistent mothers in their long-held bid to have their petition for a local playground addressed.  Inevitably, Mr Williams returns the file to the pending tray …  A metaphor for life?

The terminal diagnosis delivered by his doctor, initially, has little impact on a detached audience; that is, until one learns a little more about the man behind the mask.  A widower, his son and daughter-in-law continue to live with him but there is no love lost and, as a shell-shocked Mr Williams returns home having been delivered of his sword of Damocles, he is mistakenly privy to a conversation anticipating their future inheritance.  Now, as this lonely, scared man contemplates imminent death – and a life filled with regret – one cannot help but feel compassion.  As the mask drops, so Mr Williams becomes a human being, deserving of pity.

Reflecting on a pointless life, a money-grabbing son and an impending, lonely death, this buttoned-up gentleman is completely derailed, so prompting the story of his path to redemption, as it were.  Initially, ducking work for the first time in his life, he finds himself in Brighton befriending a wayward writer whom he accompanies on two days of drunken debauchery in a bid to escape his lot.  Cue the pivotal scene in the film – for me – as an intoxicated Mr Williams, stripped of inhibition, delivers a heartbreakingly melancholic rendition of The Rowan Tree, an old Scottish folk song.  The poignancy.  The vulnerability.  Not a dry eye in the house for an audience, now, completely won over.

Returning to London, the focus moves to his uncharacteristic but burgeoning friendship with the young, vibrant Miss Harris (Aimée Lou Wood), a former colleague who sought more from life.  Proving a much-needed companion for this lonely gentleman with a desperate need to feel, in a way, she serves as a mirror, reflecting both the man he has become and that he could have been.   As a catalyst, too, for, in the process of their friendship, Mr Williams emerges as a sentient human being; one who, now, determines to expedite the long-standing petition for the children’s playground as his one meaningful legacy to a life unlived …

He fulfils his wish.  That’s the thing, this beautiful, moving film is a story which leaves no loose ends.  Thus, Mr Wakeling is not on course to lead a pointless life, emulating his late boss.  On the contrary, meeting Miss Harris, once again, at Mr Williams’ funeral, the two embark on a romance while, in County Hall, the pending tray is no more the burial ground for all files!  A pointless life?  Oh, no.  For, ultimately, that lonely, buttoned-up old gentleman dies having learned what it is to live and, unwittingly, his wasted years serve as a lesson to all.  Ironically, the children’s playground he has dismissed for so long becomes his swan song; a fitting metaphor for this tale with a moral.  Too late, he allowed himself to feel and to experience the joy in helping others.  He made a friend.  He watched the children play … and he understood.  Living ends as one learns that Mr Williams spent his dying hours on one of the swings, lost in song: The Rowan Tree, of course.  The sadness and the vulnerability in that beautiful song, clearly evoke memories of childhood; a time of innocence, of being loved and secure.  The idyll.  The circle of life.          

Deserving of every accolade, Living pays homage to a cinema of the past.  Gentle in genre, its strength lies in the skill of the actor and the power of a very human story which needs no special effects.  A story of regret and great sadness, it is one which, also, tells of a vulnerability bowed beneath a propensity to judge.  A film with an important message, Living, quite simply, speaks to the heart …

The End   

 

Thursday, 25th August 2022

MAD HOUSE, Ambassadors Theatre, London.

How does one do justice to a piece of literature which penetrates the soul?  Words which trigger a plethora of emotion, characters all too recognisable within one’s own family?  Scarily, like a reflection in a mirror …  Two hours of escapism or, in truth, a reality check?  A play penned by the award-winning American writer, Theresa Rebeck, this is the world premiere of Mad House, which opened on the 15th June for a strictly limited run.

A family reunion.  Time to pay your last disrespects.’

How lucky was I to catch acclaimed actor, Bill Pullman, on This Morning that day in June, there to promote Mad House?  A favourite of mine for many years, one is guaranteed that his participation denotes a film or play of calibre.  No question.  First smitten when I saw him, almost thirty years ago, now, alongside Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping, it was his portrayal of Joe Keller in the 2019 production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Old Vic, London – with Sally Field as Kate Keller – which sealed my admiration.  All My Sons, arguably my favourite play, is nothing short of heart wrenching as one bears witness to the destruction of a family, powerless in the face of insidious guilt.  The tragedy of Shakespeare’s King Lear, too, lies in the complexity of family and a father’s catastrophic misjudgement of his children.  Family.  No greater source of love, loyalty, jealousy, insecurity, ego and, consequently, oft irreparable wounds.  Universal, a writer’s gift.

I discovered American black comedy-drama, August: Osage County, penned by lauded playwright Tracy Letts, on release of the 2013 film of the same name.  Its impact was such that I, immediately, sought a copy of the play, itself, driven to study the carefully crafted lines depicting the ubiquitous fissures present in every family – and their devastating fragility.  Both remain with me, for pathos lies in the familiar; the ability to touch a nerve, draw emotion from that well of personal experience one would rather forget.  Buried in a shallow grave.  Almost ten years on, Mad House packs the same punch, in spades!

As I listened to Bill Pullman’s synopsis of the play, it was, at once, dangerously close to home: a dying father triggering the return of his three children, one out of love, the other two intent on their inheritance.  Immediate echoes of King Lear, as the play opens, it is the youngest, Michael (David Harbour) who is in situ – childhood home in rural Pennsylvania – looking after Daniel (Bill Pullman).  Immediately aware that Michael is a gentle giant, his embittered father takes a sadistic pleasure in berating him, literally tossing his care to the ground.  One’s sympathy is, instantly, with the youngest son who has, recently, spent some time – self-sectioned – in a psychiatric hospital.  Clearly a troubled family, whatever the history, the patriarch seems devoid of respect for Michael who, consequently, is devoid of self-esteem.  A lifetime labelled mentally unstable, the black sheep of the family, will do that.  The introduction of Lilian, the hospice nurse assigned to Daniel, however, provides an objective eye; in turn, a catalyst for the truth.

There is no place for an elaborate set.  Act I takes place in the kitchen of a family home, unchanged.  Act II, courtesy of a stage rotation, transpires on the back porch/stoop.  Here, the spotlight is on the siblings, Pam and Nedward – Michael’s older sister and brother – having returned to assess and claim their inheritance.  Negating the passing years, all three, once more, adopt their childhood roles – even fighting over bedrooms – and thus the audience is afforded an invaluable insight into the past.  Pam, the eldest, is strong, domineering and capable – but, still consumed with jealousy for the little brother who claimed her mother’s heart, she is cruel.  Nedward, meantime, is harmless but weak; once influenced by his sister, now his wife.  Michael?  The youngest.  Sensitive but beleaguered by a lack of self-belief, he carries with him a childhood of belittlement and taunts in which his mother was his only cheerleader.  Crucially, the audience learns that she died when he was in hospital, never coming to see him.  A grief he has found impossible to reconcile.

As one becomes increasingly invested in this sad, embittered family, it transpires that Lilian has assessed the players and made her own judgement.  A force for good, her allegiance lies with Michael and it is her intervention which, at last, provides the catalyst which sets him free.  Discovering a letter addressed to him amongst family papers, it is from his mother.  In it, she explains her absence, re-affirming her love for and her belief in him.  Cruelly withheld by his father, the envelope contains two pencils.  So simple yet so incredibly poignant.  In the ensuing bitter exchange between the three siblings on the porch, one comes to appreciate the childhood dynamic which lingers; the depth of jealousy carried by Pam, unmistaken as she, sadistically, snaps the pencils.  Drawing a collective gasp from the audience, I surmise mine were not the only tears.

Mad House speaks to the heart – and remains there.  A microcosm of humanity, this play juxtaposes good and bad and the power of love both to overcome and to destroy.  The family dynamic was such that Daniel resented his children for claiming his wife’s love; Pam was consumed by jealousy for her youngest brother, her mother’s favourite and focus, and Nedward, in his weakness, was hers for the moulding.  Michael?  The innocent scapegoat in a troubled family system.  The centre of his mother’s world, he was belittled by his jealous father and taunted by siblings who felt displaced and insecure.  He, meanwhile, adopted the mantle given, carrying the inner turmoil of them all.  Crucially, two pages within the accompanying programme belong to Jordan Dann, LP, a psychoanalyst, author and speaker, entitled Family Systems and the Role of the Identified Patient.  Complicated but enlightening, in summary, ‘at the heart of the phenomenon of the identified patient’ is a family which has ‘”outsourced” the painful feelings onto one individual because they could not regulate themselves.’  Adds a different dimension to the term ‘black sheep’!

In my work as a Gestalt psychoanalyst specializing in attachment trauma, as a patient begins to reveal themselves to me in the early stages of treatment, I am always listening for how their family continues to live inside them.  Just as a director listens to the overarching themes and motifs of a play, I am listening for the echoes of the past underlying an individual’s present symptoms and circumstances.  It is often the ways in which we stay “loyal” to the unconscious dynamics in our family that keep us trapped in the past, unable to move into the future with vitality and freedom.’

Jordan Dann, LP.    

So much which hits home and therein lies the power of Mad House.  The jealousy, self-doubt, greed; the good, the bad.  Siblings, so different – though from the same gene pool – securing Power of Attorney, intent only on monetary gain and the means to punish one of their own.  Lived it.  Seen it.

Daniel and Michael, together, share the final scene.  One of catharsis; acceptance; forgiveness, even.  Daniel requests Michael’s help in ending his life and, ironically, there is warped respect in his choosing the son to whom he has afforded none.  Finally, though, there is honesty – and love; for Michael was never the problem …

There is a form of peace in the ending.  The age-old good triumphing over evil, as it were.  Turns out, as was his mother’s wish, the family home was always willed to Michael.  Seems Daniel, too, knew his children …  The irony is, while Pam and Nedward – oblivious – focus, only, on their elusive inheritance, it means nothing to Michael.  Never did.  All he ever craved was the love and respect of his parents.  Cruelly, he was forced to doubt that of his mother when, without explanation, she failed to come and see him in hospital.  No more, thanks to Lilian and the missing letter.  Thus, as the final curtain falls, he picks up his bag and leaves.  No longer a vessel for the displaced emotions of his troubled family, he is, at last, unburdened; set free.

King Lear.  All My Sons.  August: Osage County.  Mad House.  How does one do justice to a piece of literature which penetrates the soul?  Family.  No greater source of love.  No greater power to wound …

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022

Eagles – Just Too Busy Being Fabulous!

We are glad to be here.  At this stage of the game, we’re glad to be just about anywhere!  There’s not going to be much talking.  No fireworks.  No wind machines. No butt-wagging choreography.  Just a bunch of guys with guitars.’ 

Don Henley, The Legend that is …

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’.  The definition of understatement.

 ‘Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ who walked quietly onto the stage.  No frills.  No fancy backdrop or glitzy lighting.  No backing singers, no dancers, no choreography.

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’, a whole heap of talent and the soundtrack to my life!

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ and a catalogue of songs which will live forever.

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ who happened to conquer the world and grab a piece of history for their own.

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ whose music I love and for which I shall always be grateful.

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ and two and a half hours of glorious nostalgia triggering all the ‘highs and lows’.  A sound so perfect borne of a turntable which transcends time …

Just a bunch of guys with guitars’ … who’ve done ok!

Aware that I may never see them, live, again, I clung to every note, every lyric, every chord.  An absolute privilege and a memory I shall treasure for the rest of my days – and then some!

On the evening of Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, the Eagles soared …

Friday, 27th May 2022

Top Gun: Maverick – Way to Go!

I heard it said that this film – long-awaited sequel – can stand alone; that one doesn’t have to have seen the original of thirty-six years ago.   True.  For, once again, it is action-packed, in a class of its very own: that claimed by Tom Cruise.  He has it all.  Always did.  The looks, that smile, the hair, the self-assurance, the courage, the edge – and the danger.   Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.  It appears time is no match, but life?  He carries it with him.

So, yes, thirty-six years on, Tom Cruise has done it again.  No stunt double, he is in that cockpit, as is the audience.  Courtesy of outstanding cinematography, we, too, are airborne flying at supersonic speeds whilst diving, climbing, hanging upside down, spinning, constantly alert to a sky full of “bandits”; seconds from death at all times.  Gripping from start to finish, it is escapism in its truest form.  Forget the snacks, there’s no time.  As the lights went up, my glass of wine was, unbelievably, still half-full!

Almost forty years on … and, therein, lies the heart of this film.  It doesn’t stand alone.  It is a sequel to its iconic predecessor but, more than that, it is an emotional tribute to the 1986 blockbuster, referencing the past at every turn.  In a world which, now, seems hellbent on erasing history – or punishing those of their time – Top Gun: Maverick marks the arrival of the cavalry!  From the familiar opening bars of Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, one knows; knows that Tom Cruise remembers.  Like a warm blanket of nostalgia, the audience can relax, content in the permission to wallow.     

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is to be found, thirty-six years on, serving as a US Navy test pilot.  Still the rank of captain, he has dodged promotion in order to continue flying.  Still pushing the boundaries, he is in danger of being grounded at the start of the film, saved only by the fact that he has been called back to Top Gun on the orders of his friend – and former arch rival – Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, now Commander of the US Pacific Fleet.  Maverick is to train an elite group of new Top Gun graduates in preparation for a seemingly impossible mission; a mission requiring life-or-death aviation skills; a mission from which there is no guarantee of return.   Enter Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, stage right.  Son of Maverick’s former RIO and best friend, “Goose” who, tragically, died in a training accident, Rooster not only blames Maverick for his father’s death but, also, believes that he blocked his application to the Naval Academy thus setting back his career.  Maverick, whose reputation precedes him, has a mountain to climb not only in winning over his trainees but in, somehow, making things right with Rooster.

So, Tom Cruise aka Pete “Maverick” Mitchell symbolically pulls the dust sheet from his Kawasaki  Ninja and heads back in time on a journey of catharsis.  Haunted by the death of his friend, he has lived with the guilt for almost four decades.  Now, he carries the audience with him as, ultimately, he repairs his relationship with Rooster and, in doing so, lays the ghost of his father – Goose – to rest.

Why did I love this film?  It embraces the past.  No, it positively celebrates it!  The cinematography is second to none and the flying sequences?  Second to none!  Edge of the seat exhilarating, one is spellbound from the start.  However, at its heart, this is a film about friendship; a love story to Goose cleverly wrapped up in nail-biting action.  An emotional roller coaster, one dreads the inevitable as Maverick and Rooster seek to survive the unsurvivable.  Resigned to no happy endings anymore, Top Gun: Maverick, instead, restores one’s faith.  There is a God and they do live happily ever after!  Gutsy in this age of violence, blood and gore, when sentimentality, seemingly, is consigned to folklore.  But this is Tom Cruise, remember; he, who needs no patch on his arm to have honour and who, once again, unashamedly reminds us of that which is truly important.  An ode to Goose, Top Gun: Maverick is a film about love and healing – and making peace with the past.   Hankies most definitely required. 

Go see it.  It’s superb!  I can almost forgive the elephant in the room: the gaping absence of Kelly McGillis who has morphed into Jennifer Connelly, most definitely not 62 years-old!  Didn’t work for me.  Only weakness in this giant of a film …

Thursday, 29th April 2021

Everything Good!

I refuse to shoulder the blame, here.  It’s just a fact that most of everyday life in this messed-up world is deserving of no praise, whatsoever!  Television may have been a proverbial godsend during lockdown, providing company for millions, but, quite honestly, the evening offerings are increasingly awful.  The wall-to-wall soaps are, forever, eating into screen-time but, far from Downton, they are seedy and depressing; no escape from life, today, rather enforced reflection on everything lost.

Channel 5’s Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, thankfully, has long provided reason enough for a television licence.  Truly superb, of course, at its heart is a series which follows the stories of those who are disenchanted with the world; who have had enough and, thus, seek peace beyond the rat race.  However, these stories are, primarily, of courage and the quest to return to the values of old; as though once ‘blind’ and regaining one’s sight, each is inspiring – and thought-provoking.

Our Yorkshire Farm.  Late to this gem of a programme, hats off to Channel 5, once more.  If New Lives in the Wild is inspiring – an electric shock to apathy – Our Yorkshire Farm is the open fire and cosy blanket on a winter’s night; a much-needed hug!  Ironically, it was Ben who first brought the Owen family to light in one of his early programmes …

Receiving glowing reports all round, the series which follows the lives of Clive and Amanda Owen – and their nine children – on a remote farm in Yorkshire is deserving of every accolade.  Its appeal?  Family.  Family values.  In fact, it could be said that the Owen family are a real-life version of The Waltons!  Shown on BBC 2 in the Seventies – when there were only three channels – some may have regarded it as American schmalz but it was extremely popular, then, and remains well-loved today, fifty years years later.  Why?  Same reason: it was a series about a family who embodied old-fashioned values, loved each other and looked out for one another.  Simple as that.

The Owen family are no different.  Clive and Amanda are hard-working and down-to-earth but, most of all, they are kind, gentle, nurturing and wise.  Their nine children, raging in age from 4 to 20, are products of love and security.  Each with his/her own personality, they are encouraged to flourish, to follow their passions, while always looking out for and helping one another.  Wearing hand-me-down clothes, they thrive on a life filled with chores – whether related to farm or home – learning, every day, about the animals, the environment and responsibility amidst a wealth of fun and companionship. 

Amanda Owen, in particular, is superwoman!  The mother of nine children, each happy and loved, she works on the farm, runs the house and takes care of them all.  The ultimate teacher.  Clive, meanwhile, is the rock: gentle, kind, never-faltering.  Together, their children are an asset to them, both.  There can be nothing more endearing than the hero-worship of Sidney for his older brother, Reuben – and Reuben’s patience and kindness in response; nor anything more privileged than being privy to five-year-old Clemmie teaching four-year-old Nancy how to look after Tony the Pony! 

Pure gold.  The Owen family single-handedly restore one’s faith in human nature.  The epitome of family, they represent old-fashioned values in a bottle – pre-internet and social media!  Not a mobile phone or laptop in sight, instead, these children are growing up as individuals; confident and secure, they have no need for ego. 

‘No man is an island …’.  To me, few words are more important in life that those, attributed to John Donne.  Five words every being on this planet should live by.  Humorously, accredited to Jon Bon Jovi in one of my favourite films, About a Boy (2002), Marcus’ interpretation is that ‘everybody needs backup’.  Not, necessarily, the inference I take from these words but ‘I get it!’.  He’s right.  Everybody does need backup and the Owen family has ensured all eleven of them has it in spades!

Our Yorkshire Farm.  How it should be …

Thursday, 29th April 2021

Everything Good!

I refuse to shoulder the blame, here.  It’s just a fact that most of everyday life in this messed-up world is deserving of no praise, whatsoever!  Television may have been a proverbial godsend during lockdown, providing company for millions, but, quite honestly, the evening offerings are increasingly awful.  The wall-to-wall soaps are, forever, eating into screen-time but, far from Downton, they are seedy and depressing; no escape from life, today, rather enforced reflection on everything lost.

Channel 5’s Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, thankfully, has long provided reason enough for a television licence.  Truly superb, of course, at its heart is a series which follows the stories of those who are disenchanted with the world; who have had enough and, thus, seek peace beyond the rat race.  However, these stories are, primarily, of courage and the quest to return to the values of old; as though once ‘blind’ and regaining one’s sight, each is inspiring – and thought-provoking.

Our Yorkshire Farm.  Late to this gem of a programme, hats off to Channel 5, once more.  If New Lives in the Wild is inspiring – an electric shock to apathy – Our Yorkshire Farm is the open fire and cosy blanket on a winter’s night; a much-needed hug!  Ironically, it was Ben who first brought the Owen family to light in one of his early programmes …

Receiving glowing reports all round, the series which follows the lives of Clive and Amanda Owen – and their nine children – on a remote farm in Yorkshire is deserving of every accolade.  Its appeal?  Family.  Family values.  In fact, it could be said that the Owen family are a real-life version of The Waltons!  Shown on BBC 2 in the Seventies – when there were only three channels – some may have regarded it as American schmalz but it was extremely popular, then, and remains well-loved today, fifty years years later.  Why?  Same reason: it was a series about a family who embodied old-fashioned values, loved each other and looked out for one another.  Simple as that.

The Owen family are no different.  Clive and Amanda are hard-working and down-to-earth but, most of all, they are kind, gentle, nurturing and wise.  Their nine children, raging in age from 4 to 20, are products of love and security.  Each with his/her own personality, they are encouraged to flourish, to follow their passions, while always looking out for and helping one another.  Wearing hand-me-down clothes, they thrive on a life filled with chores – whether related to farm or home – learning, every day, about the animals, the environment and responsibility amidst a wealth of fun and companionship. 

Amanda Owen, in particular, is superwoman!  The mother of nine children, each happy and loved, she works on the farm, runs the house and takes care of them all.  The ultimate teacher.  Clive, meanwhile, is the rock: gentle, kind, never-faltering.  Together, their children are an asset to them, both.  There can be nothing more endearing than the hero-worship of Sidney for his older brother, Reuben – and Reuben’s patience and kindness in response; nor anything more privileged than being privy to five-year-old Clemmie teaching four-year-old Nancy how to look after Tony the Pony! 

Pure gold.  The Owen family single-handedly restore one’s faith in human nature.  The epitome of family, they represent old-fashioned values in a bottle – pre-internet and social media!  Not a mobile phone or laptop in sight, instead, these children are growing up as individuals; confident and secure, they have no need for ego. 

‘No man is an island …’.  To me, few words are more important in life that those, attributed to John Donne.  Five words every being on this planet should live by.  Humorously, accredited to Jon Bon Jovi in one of my favourite films, About a Boy (2002), Marcus’ interpretation is that ‘everybody needs backup’.  Not, necessarily, the inference I take from these words but ‘I get it!’.  He’s right.  Everybody does need backup and the Owen family has ensured all eleven of them has it in spades!

Our Yorkshire Farm.  How it should be …

Sunday, 17th January 2021

Treat People with Kindness

Harry Styles.  On my ‘Seriously Good!’ page?  Who would have thought?  The next question being, why ever not?!  I loved One Direction –  yes, all young enough to be my sons – in the knowledge that, had I still been in my teens, they would have been plastered all over my bedroom walls!  Suffice to say, their music spanned the years, melodic, upbeat, catchy, they could sing!  A force for good in a troubled, digital world, they were nice boys …

Harry Styles.  It was a toss-up for my favourite – Niall or Harry?  Niall?  Boy next door.  Good-looking, twinkle, kind – and extremely talented.  Niall grew up on my music of choice, citing Eagles amongst his favourites and Don Henley, now, a mentor!  His solo catalogue is true to self and reflects those childhood influences.  Checked shirt, stubble and a guitar – what’s not to like?

Then, there was Harry …  Like Niall, good-looking and possessing of boyish charm, although not over-endowed on the. height front?  Well, you learn something every day!  Apparently, he is 6′!  Anyway, since the demise of One Direction, Harry Styles has been intent on establishing his own style which pays no heed to conformity.  Daring and different, he dons his own thing, whether it be dresses or pearls, and, rather than being suggestive of one who grows his own herbs – so to speak – it is very much the choice of someone who values just that: the freedom to make his own choices.  I like that!

Treat People with Kindness.  I remember the great anticipation which preceded his debut single, Sign of the Times, in 2017.  Any scepticism was, immediately, buried with this unique offering, so clearly influenced by the sound of the Seventies and, David Bowie, in particular.  The album, too, was very reminiscent of that decade and stood apart from the modern norm, so much of it computer-driven.  Once again, hats off to Harry for going his own way!  One questions whether it is a pre-requisite of the name?

Prone to disappearing under the radar, for a while, then, suddenly, he is back!  This latest single, though, is perfect; exactly what the doctor ordered.  Treat People with Kindness is a smile in a bottle; it has everything!  The best title, an upbeat, catchy tune, the man, himself and the video … 1940s, black and white, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and fun, fun, fun!  Thank you, Harry Styles!

In my vast research, I came across the live video for my favourite song of the moment!  Harry, on stage, with a screen backdrop of old One Direction footage displaying kindness.  Not for him to shy away from his boy band past.  Most would.  Harry Styles?  That boy band made him; is part of him.  He is his own man and, somehow, I like to think he does practice what he preaches – Treat People with Kindness …

Thursday, 10th September 2020

Not All Heroes Wear Capes …

Easy like Sunday morning …. I have never liked Sundays, purely because they’re not Friday – or Saturday, for that matter.  Sunday mornings bring Sunday evenings and Sunday evenings bring Monday mornings and, in the words of my friend, Bob, I don’t like Mondays!  There, glad to have that off my chest.

My efforts to focus on the here and now, however, have had some success and, thus – of late – I, actually, look forward to Sunday mornings spent listening to Radio 2 from 9am to 1pm, when I switch it off, immediately, before the onset of EP and two hours devoted to the American twang seemingly obligatory in all musicals of the modern day!

That brings me to Michael Ball – whom I have grown to positively adore.  He did rise to fame courtesy of West End musicals but he is not guilty of adopting the American twang …  He is guilty, however, of being an all-round good guy, though; one can just tell.  Twinkly, kind eyes and a readiness to laugh – particularly at himselfhe is a friend and a trusted voice of calm, albeit on the airwaves.  No matter how bad things may seem, he’ll make them seem better.  Full of fun, he just cares!  Bottle him, quick!

It follows, then, that I was listening, last Sunday, when he devoted the second hour of his show to an ‘interview’ with Captain Tom Moore, whom he is, clearly, so proud to call his friend.  Pre-recorded, it is an hour which will stay with me, no doubting the warmth and respect emanating through the radio.  As they chatted about the incredible life of this remarkable man – spanning a century – I was transported back to a gentler time; not only through Sir Tom’s choice of music – including one of Pop’s favourites, Frank Sinatra singing You Make Me Feel So Young – but by Michael, himself, who was a natural in his interaction.  He simply has it!  Something, seemingly lost to the generation of today: a respect for one’s elders; an appreciation of their wisdom and a thirst for their stories.  The stories of those who fought for our freedom.  Time is precious and ours is the least we can give in return.

Sir Tom – as he, now, is – was in his element!  Rightly proud of a life well-lived, he lapped up every ounce of Michael’s homage and seemed invigorated by his new-found fame.  That’s the thing about his generation; those we are lucky still to have with us into their 90s and beyond: a little nurturing and they, positively, come alive!  I have witnessed it, myself, many times and it is one of the greatest joys.

Sir Tom and his sidekick share an obvious bond – that twinkle!  They were always going to be friends.  So it was that, last Sunday, while one remarkable centenarian basked in the spotlight, the hell-of-a-nice guy by his side was happy to hold it.  Their story is heart-warming and I felt privileged to spend an hour in the company of both.  They made me smile and my Sunday a whole lot brighter.  For that, I am very grateful.

Tomorrow will be a good day …’

The words of Captain Tom Moore, now Sir Tom Moore.  Little wonder we won two World Wars …

Wednesday, 9th September 2020

Longhand

Handwriting, the preservation of which I cannot advocate enough.  There are relatively few posts on this page – a reflection of modern-day life – but scroll down and ‘Handwritten Letters’ takes pole position as my very first entry on this page on the 4th February, 2019!

I fear, in this mire of technology, there are few of my children’s generation and beyond who will ever receive, let alone write, a proper handwritten letter and that is so sad.  For how much longer will little ones even be taught to write – are they still?  Let’s face it, in a world in which potties come with ipad holders on the side, the message is clear…

I received a handwritten letter only on Saturday – what a joy!  The script on the envelope was instantly recognisable as that of my dear friend, Ginny – now 89 – the busiest and most amazing lady one could ever hope to meet who has always been a prolific letter-writer and sender of thoughtful cards.  Her writing is beautiful; so artistic; so feminine, it is immediately telling of the character behind the hand.  Educated, intelligent, compassionate and thoughtful, it is all there – and that’s the thing about a pen and paper, writing by hand.  It is personal.  Totally unique to the individual, one’s character is reflected in every detail.  Big and bold?  Denoting flair and exuberance.  More delicate, artistic; more considered and thoughtful?  It’s obvious and a wonderful, personal flag.  So much pleasure to be had at Christmas – once upon a time – when the cards arrived through the letter box and we would compete to guess the sender.  I do the same, to this day, when those still handwritten have become increasingly precious.  A printed address label – or, God forbid, card – just smacks of indifference.  Why bother?

One cannot imagine, then, how happy I was to learn of a new book, entitled Longhand, the genius of writer and comedian, Andy Hamilton (he of Outnumbered and Drop the Dead Donkey fame.)  At last, something worthy of this page and, most definitely, Seriously Good!  Published entirely in the author’s handwriting, Longhand is believed to be the first novel of its kind.  It takes the form of a farewell letter, written by the protagonist to his lover, explaining why he must leave so suddenly.  What’s more, it is full of crossings-out and the odd spelling mistake and grammatical error which only adds to its authenticity.  The character is upset and rushing with no time to go back and, thus, these mistakes add depth to the narrative.  So clever.  It looks amazing, too!  Aesthetically, the beautiful italic handwriting is warm and inviting; the perfect antidote to this: black, one-dimensional print revealing nothing whatsoever about the hand which pressed the keys – let alone the fingers!

Andy Hamilton does not own a mobile phone or a computer, claiming that he spends a lot of time daydreaming – beneficial to his job – and technology is, quite simply, counterproductive.  He writes all his scripts and novels in longhand, cynical as to the privacy element online.  Quite simply, Andy Hamilton needs to be cloned!  I know, that word stands for everything I abhor but I simply mean that this guy is old-school and old-school is about the individual, advocating character, talent and standards!  Forget autopilot; copying everybody else and taking the easy route.  Dig deep and be different.  At the end of the day, one’s handwriting is just an extension of oneself.  It does take more effort but that effort brings reward in the pleasure it affords the recipient at the other end; the reader.  As a photograph captures a moment in time, a handwritten letter is a treasured reminder of a loved one no longer here.  I found one of those recently: one of only two letters I ever received from Pop (see Voice in My Head); no reflection on me, I might add, more that his handwriting was illegible thus precluding the habit!  Suffice to say, he is right there in that unmistakable, barely legible script; his voice inherent in every word he chose – and took the time to write to me.

Friday, 13th March 2020

The Little Things …

For some reason, I had no idea it was Friday the 13th.  The most glorious day – bright blue skies, sunny and crisp – somehow, the weight of the world just seemed lighter as though to balance the all-consuming gloom of the Coronavirus.  The omnipotent hand of Nature restoring calm.

I couldn’t bring myself to write, this week, as I searched, in vain, for positives.  The endless winter together with more of the same constant battering of the good guys … better to refrain and ponder the reasons why we live here.  Not really much scope for travel at the moment, as it happens, and, as Italy declares a lockdown, our hopes of seeing Andrea Bocelli in Rome on 21st June are fading fast.  He will re-schedule, I’m sure.

So, how did I come to be writing on the Seriously Good! page?  Well, it was the perfect morning for a walk on my beach and that’s exactly what I did.  The colours were stunning.  The faded golden hue of the dunes flowing into the wet sand, taupe from the tide now miles out; a glorious, deep blue, the waves capped in white as the water merged into a cornflower sky.  The perfect day, once more consigned to memory as I bemoaned my inability to paint.

I have an old, old photo album which takes two photos on each page.  On one such page – captured in a moment in time – there is my friend, Morag, and myself on the tube in London.  It must have been 1984/5?  Below it is a photograph I took of Pop on the West Sands, deserted and stretching for miles.  A day just like today.

Suitably buoyed, I nipped to Marks for supplies and it was, here, that my faith was restored.  Weighed down with my basket of vegetables and everything wholesome – only one bottle of wine, I might add – I was heading for the checkout when, out of nowhere, this lovely, older gentleman stopped me and asked if I could use a £5 off voucher!  Yes, yes, I know.  I had made no effort with either hair or make-up, this morning, so, perhaps, he just felt sorry for me.  Regardless, I thanked him profusely.  He will never know how much that small gesture of kindness meant to me as I steeled myself to cross the road to the Funeral Directors to collect the ashes of both my parents.  It is the little things …

Thursday, 27th February 2020

Feel Better in 5

You know me and my books but this one was definitely not of my usual genre.  However, I happened to see the author promoting it, and discussing its concept, on television and it was one of these ‘had me at ‘Hello’ moments!  Well, not in the same context, obviously, but Dr Chatterjee spoke my language and was utterly convincing.  What was it about him?  Despite being a long-time practising GP, he just connected.  He seemed kind and, more than anything, full of common sense.  Life is hard.  Fast-paced and stressful, the tendency is for over-medicalisation.  Time is limited and it is quicker to treat the symptom rather than ascertain the root cause.  Here’s a prescription for a drug which will definitely have side-effects – you can’t pump chemicals into your system and not expect that – but if the symptoms don’t improve (may take a while until you feel sufficiently numb), then come back in a few weeks’ time; or a few months’, depending on your ability to break the cold, impersonal wall that is Reception in a bid for a five minute debrief!  Not at all sceptical …

Dr Rangan Chatterjee breaks the mould.  For starters, it is the first book I have bought – and loved – and given away almost immediately!  I knew the perfect recipient and have, since, been proved right.  The fact that the dedication inside reads, ‘To my mother, Thanks for everything.’ comes as no surprise at all …

Feel Better in 5 is a programme that doesn’t force you to bend your life around its demands.  It bends around your life.’

A beautifully presented book, it is inviting and easy to read.  As Rangan (feels like a friend; sure he would be!), spends the early pages explaining his reasoning and the justification as to why ‘Just five minutes of your time, three times a day’ will change your life, it all make sense.  That’s what it amounts to, though, good, old-fashioned common sense!  He takes you back to the values of a bygone era; a life pre-technology and social media when ‘mindfulness’ wasn’t a word but a given.

Divided into three sections – Mind, Body and Heart – he covers all bases and there is a glossary of ‘Health Snacks’ from which to choose one’s three.  The names, themselves, are evocative and endearing!  For my part, I chose ‘5 Minutes in Nature’, ‘The Classic 5’ and ‘The Gratitude Game’.  How could I not?  Takes me right back to Pollyanna and ‘The Glad Game’!  He is right, too.  It is so do-able and, one week on, I am still doing it – and I feel almost human!

So, in the words of Dr Rangan, ‘Ditch the pills, beat the sleepless nights and banish the yo-yo diets.’  I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough.  In fact, I loved it so much, I bought two!

Saturday, 22nd February 2020

That Extra Mile

In a world where you can be anything, be kind.’  Jennifer Dukes Lee.

The quote of the moment, and rightly so.  In a climate of gloom, subjected to the daily onslaught of depressing news emanating from every medium before even venturing out into the incessant storm, it is hard to remain receptive to the positive.  A page entitled Seriously Good!?  Laughingly, a challenge but, realistically, all about one’s mindset.  If you look, you will see … 

I welcome the opportunity to flag up little gems I come across in everyday life …’.   One such ‘little gem’ is Scott!  A Personal Trainer by trade, he is, for so many, the face of the gym at the Old Course Hotel, St Andrews.  Young or old, fat or slim, beyond help or just there for the apples, he has gauging one’s personality down to a fine art – and, so, engages!  A natural with people, he is in the perfect job and his success rate is testament to his expertise.  Obviously, however, there are those who prove more challenging!  Persuaded into joining in August, I am the antithesis of a gym person but, for some reason, a Boxercise class seemed the perfect induction.  Gloves on, image in mind, it is therapy – but no doddle.  The ‘music’ is horrendous and would drive one to the brink while Scott, seemingly, has eyes in the back of his head as I use every excuse to slack off.  Astute, he knows exactly what’s going on.  Sense of humour?  A necessity! 

So, now svelte and fit, Scott’s work with me is done – in another universe!  Things took a turn for the worse when swimming in my pool before Christmas, I was, repeatedly, joined by hairy, fat members of the male species.  I’ve never moved faster!  Then, there is the Coronavirus.  Suddenly, the North Sea seems more inviting …  Yes, I have returned to the outdoors and the sanctity of the West Sands, ever frugal, saving on a mask and anti-bacterial wipes.  Should summer ever return to the sunny land, however, I shall need Scott on speed dial!

Seriously, he is long overdue for a mention on this page.  One of the good guys, he has been an inspiration to Becca and shown her kindness beyond any call of duty.  His expertise and encouragement are responsible for her disciplined attendance as she strives for herself and the trainer who has become her friend.  Testament to someone who, naturally, goes that extra mile.    

Tuesday, 4th February 2020

Always Look Up!

Just remember to always look up.  The advice of Ben Fogle, one of the most inspirational speakers who should be bottled – or, at the very least, available on the National Health!  His list of achievements are deserving of huge respect but, aside from successfully summiting Everest, his captivating programme, Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, is one of the only justifications for a television licence!  Intelligent, good-looking, courageous, classy and kind, he is of that outdoor, manly breed; a lover of animals, of course, he, also, happens to be self-deprecating and humble.  Phew!  Could he give Jack Savoretti a run for his money?  Put it this way, along with Piers Morgan, they would top my dinner party guest list!  Confused?  I am!

Back to the point …  Ben Fogle: Tales from the Wilderness.  Touring the country, one is privileged to spend an evening listening to this man as he speaks, openly and honestly – and with great humility – about his life and the path from self-appointed failure to conquering the likes of Antarctica, the Atlantic and, most recently, Everest.  In his quest to prove to himself that he could, he not only overcame immense challenges but discovered his design for life.  Never one to run with the crowd, he is, now, confident in singing to his own tune whilst adhering to the values he holds dear – and which he is determined to pass on to his own children.

Two hours in the company of Ben Fogle is nothing short of a detox!  At one with Nature, he found himself in its midst, gleaning strength, self-confidence and the knowledge of what is truly important in life.  There is a great big world out there and we, alone, can choose whether to succumb to the rat race or to get out there and experience it.  Ben Fogle is living testament to the latter.  The pride he has instilled in his children and the stories he has to tell, no money could buy … 

It’s simple.  Just start by looking up!

Saturday, 25th January 2020

Alice & Blair

Anyone for headbands?  Becca has become obsessed with them so much so that she has a whole drawer devoted to them. Am I responsible?  Well, I did make her wear a padded red one with her school uniform throughout primary – ensured I could pick her out in a crowd!

Anyway, this is a deserved shout-out for Alice & Blair – ‘specialist designers of headbands, hair accessories and jewellery, expertly made by hand using Swarovski crystals and pearls.’  Real statement pieces. 

I think, perhaps, the fervent interest in designer headbands may have been sparked by the Duchess of Cambridge who, last year, often favoured one instead of a hat.  Comfortable, so pretty and no ‘hat hair’!  Inspired, Becca found a beautiful blue velvet one, encrusted with Swarovski crystals, in Anthropologie – an Alice & Blair design.  Yes, they can be found in exclusive stores, too, as detailed on the website.  Her go-to statement piece, it lifts any outfit – casual or otherwise – and is subject to compliments galore.  Surely reason to purchase another?

She chose a black velvet one, this time, encrusted with pearls and it arrived beautifully packaged in its own black Alice & Blair pouch.  It’s the little details …  Disappointed to discover it was too wide, she contacted the family-run company by phone, speaking to James who couldn’t have been more helpful; in fact, he sent her a video demonstrating how to tighten said headband.  Successful, up to a point, Becca being Becca decided she needed to be able to compare so … back to James who, no questions asked, immediately sent her out another one.  Amazing!  I was so impressed.  James doesn’t know Becca from Adam but, having chatted to her on the phone, he used his own judgement offering the personal touch – and there’s the difference.  A family-run business prepared to invest in each customer ensuring a return of positive feedback.  It’s a win-win.

So, remember that name; better still, take a look at the website – https://aliceandblair.co.uk/.  Highly recommended.  In a world obsessed by everything disposable and fast, Alice & Blair pride themselves on unique, handmade, quality pieces offering not only comfort but the personal touch to boot.  Definite ‘must-have’s – or a special present!  

Friday, 24th January 2020

Why?

Entries to this page have been a little thin on the ground of late!  I have no shortage of negative criticism on life today; let’s face it, a thesis entitled ‘Manners: the demise of …’ would keep me occupied from dawn to dusk.  Add to that the significance of John Donne’s words, ‘No man is an island’, seemingly unrecognised by 99% of the human race, and the onus is firmly weighted on one page – ‘Seriously?!’.  I have tried, I really have but items newsworthy in the positive have proved somewhat rare – seemingly, a worldwide phenomenon!  Mankind is complex and the constant struggle between good and bad ever-present thanks to one little word – ‘ego’.  Meanwhile, the great irony is that Mother Nature is the ultimate power for whom a lack of respect is dangerous folly.  As one contemplates all the ‘Seriously?!’s, the ever-changing palette in front of me is forever worthy of ‘Seriously Good!’ but anything human-related?  Time for some recommendations …

Saturday, 5th October 2019

Wild Geese

Autumn has always been my favourite season.  As the year draws to a close, I relish the crispness in the air, nature’s colours which abound and the encompassing cosiness.  Time to wrap up and enhance both character and mood with warm jumpers, jackets and beautiful scarves. No more guffawing at the horrific fashion faux pas summer produces, the over-spilling flesh and the characteristic orange fake tan.  A season naturally demanding of more decorum, it is, moreover, one of reflection: reflection on the joys and inevitable struggles of another year as thoughts turn to those we have lost or who are no longer with us … and Christmas!

The wild geese, too, are creatures of habit.   Have wings will fly.  Who needs Thomas Cook?!  Follow the sun …  Forever one of my favourite sights – and sounds – wild geese in the autumn sky.  So it was, last Saturday, as I was upstairs on the phone to Manny, I heard that familiar sound and rushed to the window to see two large groups flying overhead, one formation behind the other.  Why? How?  A sight and sound of which I shall never tire, these wonderful creatures are just another reminder of our place.  Nature is incredible; all-powerful and deserving of respect.  We are privileged to be a part of it.

Sunday, 15th September 2019

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeremy Clarkson

It’s back!  Jeremy, though, is taking no prisoners and even draw breath at some of his remarks.  It is addictive viewing, however – and largely due to his characteristic unpredictability. Sunday’s episode was proving bleak for those who made it to the chair and one such contestant was not prepared to sacrifice £4,000 in a bid to go further.  Jodie said “I’ll take the money.  Final answer.”  To which a typically frustrated Jeremy quipped, “It’s who wants to be a millionaire not who wants to win four grand!”  Made me laugh and I understood exactly where he was coming from.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. At least have the guts to go for it instead of wasting a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Sometimes cautious is just another word for boring.

Sunday, 15th September 2019

‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, James Bay (Radio 2)

In a montage of Radio 2 guests – a filler between acts on A Festival in a Day on Sunday (15/9/19) – there was potentially awkward footage of James Bay who had chosen to sing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, unaware that his fellow guest on the Breakfast Show was to be Noel Gallagher! Fearne, standing in for Zoe, empathised with poor James while Noel seemed to relish his reluctance, finding the whole thing amusing.  James Bay had the last laugh, however, as his acoustic version of the iconic Oasis song was absolutely superb!  As with Jack Savoretti’s acoustic version of ‘Human’, it was haunting and so melodic.  Noel?  You could tell he appreciated the unique take on his song but … he remained in character! Anyway, please type into YouTube – James Bay ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.  Guaranteed to love!

Friday, 13th September 2019

Celia Walden article in The Telegraph

Do you ever feel as though you are a lone voice in this crazy, mixed up world?   Watching Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (BBC 2, 10/9/19) did nothing to help but then I opened my emails and found one from the Editor of The Telegraph online recommending articles I might like.  Come in Celia Walden in possession of not only a voice but a brain!

‘How dare the BBC teach children that there are ‘100 genders’?’ is the title of her article in Thursday’s Telegraph (12/9/19).  Apparently, there are nine new BBC Teach films to be shown in schools in support of the personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum. In one of them, a little boy asks what the different gender identities are, only to be told – by a Relationships and Sex Education teacher (oh help!) – that, aside from the originals (that’s male and female, by the way), the very exciting news is that there are, now, over 100, if not more!  Well, a little poetic licence, perhaps but, still … help!  Or ‘noxious nonsense’, according to Celia.

At last, someone of intelligence refusing to submit to the tyranny of tolerance.  Who knew that ‘your local GP will ‘only’ recognise six genders: male, female, gender-neutral, non-binary, gender-fluid and gender-queer’?  (Have we been infiltrated by aliens?!)  The BBC’s Relationships and Sex Education teacher, meanwhile, suggests – no, insists – that this might be too limiting for children who, rather, decide ‘I am just going to be me.’

That’s it!  ‘I am just going to be me.’  The writer cites this concept as the root of this ‘gender-diversity madness’, fearing that ‘we’ll make this new generation of children as self-obsessed as the supposed grown-ups wilfully warping their minds.’  The new age focus on self-expression gives the green light to a game of identity for which there are no rules; giving rise, in turn, to a generation of selfish, narcissistic, totally confused children.

The article concludes that this supposed freedom of expression is nothing but a con.  All very well if one is seen to conform – the right way: the majority against tradition.

Restored my faith.  At last, an intelligent, sarcastic jibe at the utterly ridiculous but oh, so potentially dangerous world of self-expression. Please read.  My little synopsis has done it no justice whatsoever.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019

That Special Place

Everyone must have a favourite place; that place which is guaranteed to feed the soul and restore calm in this non-stop life which has a habit of throwing curved balls!  I mean that special place, accessible in emergencies of the daily kind rather than one’s favourite place in the world.  For me – and for as long as I can remember – it has always been the West Sands, St Andrews.  I don’t know how many times I have told my children that I want them to scatter my ashes there – morbid, I know, but better prepared and, hopefully, some time away!  Anyway, today was one of those ‘nothing going right’ days so I took a walk and positively wallowed in that iconic backdrop renowned throughout the world.  The most beautiful beach with an expanse of golden sand which stretches as far as the eye can see, it remains as nature intended. Unspoilt, clean and never crowded, one can be totally alone with one’s thoughts.  There were white horses today, as the waves lapped the sand, and the wind was gentle and warm.  I didn’t really want to walk but, rather, just stand still and soak it all in. Unchanged since I was a little girl, I can almost see the ghosts of my childhood.  I stopped to pick up shells, as always.  Truly humbling and still ‘paradise’, Pop!

Wednesday, 5th June 2019

Jack Savoretti’s cover of ‘Human’ (The Killers) – Radio 2 Piano Room

The content of this post was lost in transition but, suffice to say, I can still recall my enthusiasm that day on listening to the above. ‘Human‘ has long been one of my favourite songs – although I am still no closer to understanding the lyrics – and Brandon Flowers is second to none. That being said, who would dare to approach it differently? Jack Savoretti – and the result is absolutely superb! An unplugged version with a slower tempo, as he accompanies himself on the acoustic guitar, one cannot help but listen to the words and the beautiful melody. His wife’s favourite song, I now see Jack Savoretti in a different light. His take on this classic is inspiring and so worth a listen on YouTube!

Monday, 25th February 2019

Jubilee Road, Tom Odell

How often can one truly say that one comes across an album that one can put on and play, start to finish, loving every track?! This is it! Yes, yes, of course I am a huge fan of Tom Odell but, regardless, I didn’t like every track on Wrong Crowd, his second album. Jubilee Road is different. Reminiscent of an early Billy Joel, the personal attachment of the writer to these songs is obvious and, thus, each has a heart. Whether upbeat or ballad, the story-telling is supported by good old-fashioned tunes which, once heard, are not forgotten. Tom’s voice is instantly recognisable lending itself to heart-tugging ballads such as my favourite, ‘Half As Good As You’. Such a good album and, so rarely out of the CD player in my car that I bought a spare, just in case!

Tuesday, 19th February 2019

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeremy Clarkson.

This programme, hosted by Chris Tarrant, outlived its appeal but Jeremy Clarkson … pure genius! Chris Tarrant became too smarmy, oozing arrogance, whereas Jeremy is as he is, an unpredictable grumpy old bear who, I believe, is a big softy beneath it all. Clearly out of his comfort zone, he strives to be affable to the contestants, for the most part curbing his ascerbic tongue, but there is always a chance that … and that makes it more exciting. Add to that the fact that one of the lifelines available to the contestants is – and obviously a source of great consternation – himself, and the recipe is perfect. Self-deprecation is not normally a trait one would associate with Jeremy Clarkson! (A snippet of information re ‘Jezza’ which I find rather endearing: his mother designed the first Paddington Bear – which, apparently, paid for his school fees – and he is the owner of the original! He actually is a bit Paddington-esque) … So, another week of nightly entertainment to look forward to in March. There is a God!

Wednesday, 13th February 2019

The Clinton Affair (More4)

Probably the best thing I have seen on television for a long time, this six-part series finished last night (24/2/19). Look for it on Catch Up, if possible. It is absolutely superb following the build-up to and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton leading to his trial in January/February 1999 on two charges: perjury and the obstruction of justice. How the hell he survived is beyond belief! Such a revolting character, he thought he was invincible preying on women at every turn – Hilary, too, is some independent woman remaining married to a man like that who thought nothing of humiliating her time and time again. With lots of footage of Monica Lewinsky (whom I ‘met’/saw when she came to Waterstones, Edinburgh in March 1999 promoting her book immediately after the trial – I have the signed copy I bought for Pop for his Birthday!), there is a sinister note as one is privy to the political and press machinations at work. Of course, justice is not forthcoming and one is left with the suggestion that this was only the tip of the iceberg as far as Clinton’s ‘mistreatment’ of women – never underestimate the power of smarm!

Monday, 4th February 2019

Handwritten Letters

Sadly, now, a rarity, I received one such letter last week – so exciting! To have the chance to study the handwriting whilst guessing who may have sent it is a forgotten joy. No luck on this occasion, though, it proved far more rewarding when I discovered it was from someone with whom I crossed paths through riding, as a child, forty odd years ago! A mutual friend discovered the connection and gave him my address – hence this wonderful handwritten letter. He has even written the date in Roman numerals. I love it! Now, tell me that doesn’t warrant a mention under ‘Seriously Good!’.