Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Corner of Some Foreign Field

When you watch a good film, it hangs around in your head. Sometimes for years. I had 'Johnny Got Your Gun' imprinted on my mind for a few decades. The imagery of Jesus riding in the guard wagon of a troop carrying train on its way to the front line of the first world war, the paralysed soldier hallucinating that rats were jumping on his face. The horror was bald, raw and quietly excoriating. It was brought up again a few months ago when my son told me he had watched an horrific film the night before. I just knew what it was, and I was right.

I've read quite a lot about the horrors of war, the conditions in the trenches,the lives of the fighter pilots in the second and what Vietnam was like. It astonishes me that with so much literature and other documentary evidence available, young men and women will still go to war. Or maybe it is us, society, that is belying belief to still be sending them, to expect them to donate their limbs, lives or sanity for whatever cause is politically correct at the time.

That is not to diminish the bravery of those who take risks and show great courage in times of immense stress, but more to diminish all of us who's failure to find a better solution sends young men and women into their own personal armageddon. There are many MPs we can't trust not to fiddle their expenses, yet we trust them to make the decisions to send our best into situations so grotesque we may never be shown them. Heavy censorship will prevent us ever really understanding the conditions in places like Afghanistan, what we see in the press will always be a thin truth.

We need the artists, film-makers, poets and writers to find a way to bring the reality home.

And all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride. Bertrand Russell 1914

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Writing a Note to the World

I like words, it's a way of getting to who you really are, beyond your physical envelope. Behind a blog it doesn't matter about your age, your race, any disability and so on.

Being able to use words well is a gift. They don't have to be long words, or showy words. Some of the best writers can use plain words with great eloquence. The real skill starts more with observation. A person who can detect nuances in behaviour, and then is equipped with the tools to describe them from their unique viewpoint, can make for stirring stuff.

It used to be the pen that was mightier than the sword, but now its the keyboard. You can lie in bed and write a note to the world from a tiny little computer. Having access to the internet is like having the fountain of all knowledge tucked next to your pillow - a torrent of facts and feelings.

Using the web is more reliable than sending a message out in a bottle. The latter did have a certain romance about it when I was younger, the idea you could send a letter to someone you had never met. And now, here we bloggers are, throwing our bottles into the waves with shattering frequency.

It's intriguing to think which shores the messages are washing up on.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Princely Sum

There was a magazine in a clinic that caught my eye recently. There was a slogan writ large, 'Get Older, Go Faster!' accompanied by a glossy photo of a silver haired, lycra clad chap sporting a rictus smile. He was on a lightweight, vastly expensive bicycle that must have cost him a good proportion of his pension. He was also half way up a mountain track.

While I waited to be seen, I had plenty of time to contemplate the cause of the grin. Were his lycra shorts too tight? - they would have been a courageous choice on a man half his age.

No, I decided that his expression was down to the immense effort of attempting to pedal back into his twenties.

It made me think about how we know when we are old.

Is it when you start finding Nicholas Parsons funny?

Is it when the NHS have a more intimate knowledge of you than your lover?

I saw another magazine today, an out of date photo of Wills and Kate superimposed on a tropical beach backdrop to look like a honeymoon exclusive. One day they will be on the throne.

That's when I will be old.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Positions of Authority

Henry VIII knew that if he stood tall, with his hands on his hips, he exuded confidence and magnificence. Judges wear wigs to make them look taller and austere in their anonymity. Some people are awarded gongs by the Queen to wear on their lapels, the rest of us have to do the best we can with whatever crumbs are thrown our way.

With this in mind, I am very pleased to announce that I am going to be a Sargeant at Arms. How magnificent. I am already dreaming of gilded maces, a uniform with enough gold braid to overshadow Prince Harry, and to have everyone in awe of me.

The harsh truth is that it is only Sargeant at Arms of a local Speakers' Club. I only actually have to book a room every so often and make sure the lectern is assembled. There's no mace, no gold braid.

I'll have to make do with standing with my hands on my hips, with my chin in the air and wearing a haughty look, rather than an embellished uniform.

A crumb maybe, but possibly holding the promise of exciting things to come?

I'll carry on dreaming.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Hazy, Lazy and a tiny bit Crazy

All this sunshine is quite amazing. The weather seems to have gone back to how I remember it being as a child - really cold winters with snow and lovely hot summers. I know we should all be worrying about the climate, but it is hard to maintain anything resembling genuine concern while your skin basks in the warm glow of a hazy afternoon, or long shadowed evening on someone's patio.

The weather has lead me to alternate between extreme laziness and extreme (for me) exertion. Over the last two weeks I have been punting, skiffing (generally to the oldest pub on the Thames for bacon butties), cycling and walking in the New Forest (been going for years and never explored so thoroughly as I did in three days last week), swimming, picnicking, partying (thank you Wills and Kate) and generally having a bit of a ball.

It has to be said that punting is rather a tricky art, balancing in the grandly named saloon - which is about as deep as a fruit crate and equally as well appointed - while trying to retrieve your punt pole from a particularly gluey patch of mud. I managed to astound the cynics and have remained both dry and upright throughout my first two lessons.

All this activity has been combined with a concerted effort to reduce the birthday left-over champagne, which I have to say added to the jollity of the whole holiday period.

The royal wedding was fantastic, apparently watched by over two billion people worldwide. It is as hard to imagine two billion human beings as it is the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead. All those people, concentrating their thoughts on one event and one couple at the same time - I couldn't help but wonder whether that many people sitting still by their TV sets changes how the earth moves at all.

But maybe that's just me being a bit crazy.