I’ve awoken from a terrible dream…

While the United Kingdom seems to be undergoing some kind of mass delusion/extreme crisis of faith (breaking news: she’s still dead! Rumours are that she will remain so!! Hold on for our next breaking news!!!)…

…Where were we? A mass delusion in which topical mots du jour include ‘$12 million’ (or was it £12 million?), ‘civil sexual-assault case’, ‘paedophile Prince’, ‘no sweat’, ‘Pizza Express Guildford’, ‘sent to Siberia’, ‘borderline senility?’, ‘abdication?’ and so on, whose origin date of 15 February is a day short of 7 months old (sample Daily Mirror headline 16 February: ‘Royal Sex Scandal: Andrew Does £12m Deal To Halt Sex Claim’)…

…People may be relieved to know that Al-Jazeera is still running a news service on freeview on channel 235 (well, it is on my TV). Latest report: political legitimacy in Iraq! It’s almost as if I’ve awoken from a terrible dream…

(And we’re still speculating so hard about whether or not there’ll be another series of Succession? 😉 )


Pépé & Viggo: whinnies of love

(This was written as a reply to Lizzie Francke-Daniels’s posting of a photo of Viggo with his pet pony)

Viggo had that pony with him on the set of good. He got to know him on hidalgo.

pépé was so good. he was a human in pony form. i can see why viggo loved him so much. he was a fanatical san lorenzo supporter and an addict for that argentinian tea viggo drinks all the time, mate. that and very pure dark chocolate.
pepe came everywhere with viggo. even to the auschwitz set. when viggo put his ss uniform on, pépé knew something was wrong. he whinnied constantly in his rough, raspy voice. even when all the jews were howling during the takes (that was the time when the robin hood set sent over word: a bit less howling, please! those were the days…)… you could tell there was a pony in there. a pony at auschwitz!
viggo – in character – fought for it: what worse sign of human stupidity could one ask for? he had final cut too. but with time for 1 take left before sunset, he agreed – under horrendous pressure – to have the pony sedated. the take – all 4 minutes of it, in and out of the blockhouses – worked. i turned to my companion – a sky news newsreader who was only there because her husband arranged the mahler tune they used so brilliantly for the concentration camp band to play, and who was recently on tv round the clock giving updates for the late queen (she has short, blonde hair, looks a bit like charlize theron if you close your eyes 😉 ) – i turned to her, tears in my eyes, and embraced her…
and the awful thing was, the pony died of complications from the sedation. he had a pet passport which prohibited use of codeine, but in the confusion he had left it at the hotel, which was up in arms about having to put up a pony in the same bed as the star! only viggo’s smile calmed the whole furore down…

so with viggo in character, between the 7th and 8th takes, the sun racing towards the horizon, someone gave pépé codeine… and the rest was history.
viggo was barely present for the last day’s shooting. and then he went straight to the set of appaloosa in arizona, which happily for him was full of horses. and where he’d also arranged to meet his human partner, ariadna gil, with whom he’s been happy ever since. so maybe pépé’s demise was a good thing?
(but that ‘no animals were harmed in that shoot’ credit on good? hmmmm) 😉

(with apologies to simon gray)

the red shoelogy

in 1950 dick wrathall received his official discharge from the black watch, in which he had been serving his 2 years’ national service, latterly as a lieutenant. he enrolled as a student at corpus christi college, cambridge, a short distance away from trinity hall, where his grandson alex is now a student.

he soon discovered ‘the red shoes’, a film that was still playing 2 years after it was released; a film so splendid in its technicolor and its vision of a war-free south of france that it became the *ultimate* film for dad. he saw it at the arts cinema in a falstaffian rising figure, at least 10, 15, no, 20 times. for those who – amazingly – *haven’t* seen it, i’ll give you a taste.

we’re at a party where the impresario boris lermontov, played by the sublime anton wahlbrook, is talking to lady neston:

– how would you define ballet, lady neston?

– ooh well, one might define it as the poetry of motion, perhaps, or…

– one might. but for me it is a great deal more. for me it is a religion. and one doesn’t really care to see one’s religion practised in an atmosphere such as this.

lermontov stalks off, prompting lady neston to sigh: attractive brute!

for the more romantic: taking a moonlit ride by the mediterranean in a horse-drawn carriage, julian kraster – music-student-turned-resident-composer for the ballet lermontov, played by marius goring – says to victoria page, played by moira shearer:

– one day when I’m old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me: where in your long life, mr kraster, were you most happy?

and I shall say: well, my dear, I never knew the exact place. but it was somewhere on the mediterranean. I was with victoria page.

what?! she will say. do you mean the famous dancer?

yes, my dear, I do. but then she was quite young. comparatively unspoiled. we were, I remember, very much in love.

fast forward to the end, when tragedy takes over. as she’s about to dance the ballet ‘the red shoes’, boris purrs in victoria’s ear: vicky, little vicky. there it is, all waiting for you. sorrow will pass, believe me. life is unimportant! and from now onwards you will *dance* like nobody ever before!

but it’s too late. she’s doomed. it’s monte carlo station. vicki has thrown herself from the terrace – and been hit by a train.

a frenchman says: pas d’espoir.

the crowd gasps.

– julian?

– yes, my darling.

– take off the red shoes.

what did ‘the red shoes’ mean to dick wrathall? *not*, as you might guess, the wonders of the ballet. elsewhere in life dick quoted winston churchill’s definition of ballet as ‘buggers dancing’.

to penetrate the mystery of ‘the red shoes’, maybe we have to look at boris lermontov himself. he is – to use another churchill phrase – ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. not unlike a certain dick wrathall. perhaps he recognised himself?

a final anecdote: dick was on his way off set. he knew he liked movies, but he didn’t any more know what *kind* of movie.

– ‘violent saturday’. 1955! *in colour*!!

– oh, lovely!

– it’s got *lee marvin* in it!

cue vigorous nodding of the head.

(the discovery – since dick’s death – of a 2008 list showing his top 25 movies, compiled in 2008, has revealed that among them was marvin’s best film, point blank.)

at the end of 90 minutes of ‘violent saturday’, he looked at me with a half-smile and said:

– lee marvin.

and I looked at him and said: *lee Marvin*!

and I realised then that was the point of watching all those films together: we didn’t have to say any more than that.

Not quite a grown woman


I’ve got to go in to work today, a strike day, but really it’s just because I want to see Kitty. She’s so funny with such perfect timing and she just doesn’t realise it. Sheila was in the other day going on and on about drawing down pensions – which she calls ‘pinsions’ – and whatever newfangled thing they’re going to be replaced with in this ‘proactive’ world. Finally she stopped; there was silence for a moment.
And then Kitty said: Excuse me, but what is a pinsion?
She’s 31 and not quite a grown woman. Another time….

The Consequences Of Being Booed

Booing in Walthamstow. This is what happened to prime minister Winston Churchill on 4/7/45. 4 weeks later, he was out of power – despite the country being at war with Japan.

The Tories made a net loss of 189 seats in the General Election of 1945, while Labour made a net gain of 239.

Among Labour politicians elected for the first time in 1945 were:

Harold Wilson, Ormskirk

James Callaghan, Cardiff South

Hugh Gaitskell, Leeds South

Michael Foot, Plymouth Devonport

Barbara Castle, Blackburn.

Flash forward nearly 77 years. 4 weeks after 27/5/2022 – and the St Paul’s incident – is the day after the Tiverton and Wakefield by-elections.

The consequences of being booed. Just saying.

On Zaheer Abbas and Jackdaws

Like many a nerdy boy who grew up in the 1970s, I was a fan of Jackdaws. They were like the internet before the internet existed – collections of historical documents, maps, pictures and trivia about a specific historical event, all in a stylishly designed folder. In truth, I was a collector rather than a reader; the contents of all my Jackdaws, explored before I gave them to the charity shop, were still in order (compared to H, whose collection had disappeared long ago because the contents had been scattered to the winds).

Another reason my Jackdaw collection lasted so well was the fact that it had remained for 28 years at my family home, until it was sold in 2005. Being by that time a father of two, I was presented by my parents with the Jackdaw collection, among many other children’s books (and, oddly I thought, my sister’s doll’s house). But even though my eldest son would in due course be turned into a University Challenge semi finalist via his interest in obscure geography, national flags and historical footnotes, the internet had in the mean time made the Jackdaw totally redundant. Wikipedia and YouTube had made you the editor (rather than Len Deighton, say, who edited Jackdaw no 65: Battle Of Britain).

In amongst The Battle Of Waterloo, Wolfe At Quebec and Votes For Women, one Jackdaw was set slightly apart by its not entirely historical focus: no 101, Cricket. Gary Sobers on the cover, sweeping. I looked through the Jackdaw just to see if anything would take me back to the years between 1972 and 1976 – when I discovered that my father was not to be trusted, and so the attempt to bond with him that cricket represented was not really worth the trouble.

Item 16 pulled me up short. It was about village cricket, as symbolised but one team: Mistley, chosen obviously because it’s known as the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club/Mistley Cricket Club, the sort of ‘joke’ you could imagine Brian Johnston making). The church whose spire can be seen in the photograph of a cricket match included in the Jackdaw is the same spire as I can see now – from the reverse angle – through the ground floor window of my house at no 4 the Green.

I couldn’t believe that all this time, this coincidence had been lying hidden. I moved to Mistley in 1999, and the Jackdaw had been unread for all this time (and another 20 years before that, at least).

I flipped over the A4 page, printed on card to resemble a page from a photo album, and there was a picture of the village team on August 15, 1969, giving a toast to an old lady. And third from the left was A, the man who’s lived since 1963 next door at no 3! He must have been about 30 then; he still had hair.

I immediately strapped on my splint and went to A’s back door. I showed him the Jackdaw. In typical village-cricketer fashion, he was matter-of-fact about the discovery that his photograph was in a publication from 1971 that had just been found in the house of his next door neighbour.

On impulse, I presented him with my copy.

He nodded: Thank you very much, I’m sure. He hadn’t seen it before and he’d look through it later, after tea.

Or something.

I was obviously far more excited about it than he was, and soon withdrew.

As I write this at 2.08am on the last day of May, I hear A calling for help. I sleep on the ground floor at no 4, with my bed head up against the wall with no 3, where A is in bed downstairs as well (knee trouble, and more). His wife, an excellent woman who was a nurse at Colchester and Ipswich, popped round to chat yesterday, the postbox at the end of the road providing the excuse for her temporary escape.

He’ll be shouting for me soon, she said.

It’s alright, I replied. We’ll hear him through the wall.

She laughed. All that time at Colchester and Ipswich hospitals have given her (and me) the same sense of humour.

All this cricket stuff, which happened 4 years ago, came back to me this week as a result of a chance remark I made to H. He lives in a maisonette in Ladbroke Grove with his dementia-afflicted mother. (H is 59, though he looks to be in his late 30s; which means she is at least into her 80s.)

We occasionally go into WhatsApp reveries. This time, we were discussing his evening at a garden party in ‘his’ back garden, one of those splendid Notting Hill inventions that is only accessible to neighbours (as immortalised in Notting Hill the movie).

(You need to know that the church visible from H’s home – St John’s, Notting Hill – was also filmed by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1974 when Jack Nicholson walks past in the film The Passenger.)

I wrote: Should have remembered you could see it from Locke’s house [a reference to the Nicholson character]

H: Yeah I’m in that over the shoulder shot, sitting in my front room watching England v Pakistan 1974

I: Zaheer Abbas scoring a double century

H: Didn’t want to say – but “drinks party” + “Zaheer Abbas”

And with that came a photo of that night: H, his arm round Zaheer Abbas, at the party!

I couldn’t believe it.

I: Is that really him?

H: It is. Two hours ago

Zaheer – the ‘Asian Bradman’ who had been out of my life and thoughts since 1974 – was also back!

Why there’s a portrait of myself looking at me

The portrait of me on my wall. It stares down at me. I was 19, in my second year at university, and slept with the painter. Hence my modelling. She used to buy old frames secondhand and then cut the canvas to match. Hence the unusual shape.

The fireplace behind me in the portrait informs me that it was painted in the first-floor front room at 13 Divinity Road, Oxford. Her bedroom. (Mine was the ground-floor back.)

When she exhibited the painting in a gallery near Holland Park, my parents liked it and paid £50 for it! (A bit steep, I remember my mother saying, considering she’s only a student.) The portrait was duly hung in their dining room, where it remained for 23 years.

In 2005 my parents sold the house in London and, rather surprisingly, said: Did I want it back? (Apparently it was no longer required in their Suffolk house.)

I said OK, we’d have it back. The portrait was duly hung in the sitting room of my family home, where it proved a good talking point among the painters who my wife knew.

Fast forward to 2018. I’ve had a stroke, moved out of the family home and set up house 5 minutes away. A van arrives from my previous home, with all my worldly possessions. The portrait is among them. Not required there anymore either. A slightly bittersweet experience, if you’ve never had it.

I hang it on an existing hook, straight across from my bed. Which is why there’s a portrait of myself looking at me.

What jubilee?

So, yesterday was the 70th Jubilee, right? 70 years since HM Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne.

Actually, no.

George VI died (Wikipedia tells me) on 6 February 1952. Which means that yesterday we celebrated the 70 years, 3 months and 27 days since Elizabeth came to the throne. What 2 June represents instead is the 69th anniversary of the coronation. So, what exactly are we celebrating? The 70-year, 3-month, 27-day anniversary? Or the 69th?

Is the jubilee now in line with Johnson’s revival of imperial measures? A system that everyone thinks they prefer despite the fact that no one really understands it. Is this what ‘the British people’ have become? With their Queen of England who doesn’t even go to the service at which 400 people are at this moment celebrating her quite meaningless 70-3-28th anniversary – because Liz would rather stay at home with her feet up, watching her only real interest, horse racing?

She’s havin’ a laugh, as Andy Millman would say.