Monday, 25 January 2010

Recollection Collection

LORENZO: O dear discretion, how his words are suited!
The fool hath planted in his memory
An army of good words, and I do know
A many fools, that stand in better place,
Garnished like him, that for a tricksy word
Defy the matter.
William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice. Act III, Scene V)

MY YOUNGEST SISTER has been not so much reinventing her childhood as inventing it, with very little of the original being considered. Poor thing wants something worth telling a psychoanalyst (not that she’d know what analysis is, or anything about Freud or Jung ... not even their names) without actually going to a professional in that field. She has told me that she has no intention of speaking to any health-care worker about her past, present or dreams for the future; she just wants the medication she’s taken for decades. Offers of cognitive therapy are declined: She doesn’t want to know. However, she feels compelled to chat about those things that come to mind. (An aunt of mine had ECT, and told me that as she recovered old pictures and memories seemed to float up to the surface, which she found rather pleasant.)

Actually, as I am five years older than this sister, I have a pretty good handle on her life. I remember her being born (I remember our mother’s morning sickness!) and the next fifteen or so years after that. I remember when she was invited to drop out of school. Despite hardships of a financial nature, and the emotional pressures of having an absent father and a present, but rather loopy, mother, we muddled by quite well. We had a house with a garden, we had a dock on the harbour (in Bermuda), and we had more friends than we could keep up with. We had music and, in moderation after about 1960, we had television. We went to the cinema regularly, the Saturday shows could be seen for a florin, and that included sweets of some sort. A florin is 10P, which is hardly worth bending over to pick up if you drop the coin in the street these days.

My sister did not excel at school, but, to her great credit, she worked steadily most of her life and was never fired from a job. We were talking the other evening (on the telephone) about teachers at the school we both attended (so did our sister and one of our brothers) and how one, Mrs Lorna Harriott, was key to starting us reading, reading almost compulsively. Both of my sisters, like me, are never without a stack of books.

My youngest sister tells me that she can read anything (she likes true crime, especially involving child abuse and serial rapists and killers) and within a few days she can no longer recall the book title and author, the plot, the theme, the characters. I’m the opposite, I carry words and lines from things I read forty (and more) years ago about with me and take great pleasure in revisiting them in my mind, and in rereading in part, or completely, books that made my days. They made my years, my life. There is something to be said for having a mind that (apparently) erases what one reads in under a week: one can reread the same books and rediscover them completely, as one enjoyed them the very first time, not knowing the storyline, the outcome. Incidentally, my sister retains little or nothing of films and television programmes. She has favourite actors and entertainers, but it is facial recognition and she’d be hard-pressed to catalogue their work. I have never heard my sister quote from a book, or make a reference to a famous speech (real or invented by a novelist). It’s curious.

Recently my sister asked me the name of one of our neighbours in Bermuda, as she’d been wondering if that neighbour might have been enticing her to visit as my sister walked home from the bus stop after school. She thought the lady had given her mashed bananas on toast. I thought that odd. It got odder. My sister wondered if the neighbour had had a son. Even odder, and disturbing, my sister wondered aloud if she might have been sexually abused or molested as a child, and simply didn’t remember it. “How could I find out?” she wondered. My reply was that after reading hundreds of books about abused children, she was starting to believe that it was in some way normal, or awfully likely, hardly rare. She was feeling left out. I wondered if I should mention psychotherapy! I didn't.

This week, three things from three calls.

My sister tells me she sorts and stores her clothing by colour. Interesting. It suggests that when she feels blue, she could dress from head to foot (Alice band to slippers) in blue. Is there a hyphen in anal-retentive? Has she heard of OCD? My youngest brother once had a Sri Lankan housekeeper, a fellow, probably a doctor or lawyer in real life, who arranged all the items in my brother’s kitchen cupboards and fridge and freezer by colour. That could have been inventive behaviour, to be annoying. Or he might have simply been bored silly at pushing a Hoover around twelve or more hours a day to live in a tiny, shared room.

One day my sister called to tell me that she was thinking back on schooldays when she was a member of the school’s Brownie troop. Running around the playing fields in her uniform. I had to break the bad news to her: the school had no extra-curricular activities, no Brownies or Scouts, and we were not permitted to wear anything but our school uniform. Moreover, I knew that she’d never been a Brownie or Girl Guide or Scout. It may be, over forty years later, she wishes that she had been a Brownie (healthier than wishing to have been molested!) and has invented that part of her past.

This morning’s call concerned a film that she remembered seeing decades ago, she wanted to know if I knew the title of it, as she wanted to see it again. I asked who was in the film, and she thought it starred John Wayne.

“It had an unhappy ending,” she noted. “Everybody died of the Blue Bonnet Plague.”

“The what?”

“The Blue Bonnet Plague.”

She’d actually said that. I wondered if she meant the flowers that Lady Bird Johnson had been so fond of, or the margarine. I resisted the temptation to ask.

“I haven’t a clue,” I replied.

No doubt my sister thinks I have a brain like a sieve.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Machine Starts

The Colossus at Bletchley Park

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
“I’d rather not try, please!” said Alice. “I’m quite content to stay here—only I am so hot and thirsty!”

Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking-Glass)

I REMEMBER A SCIENCE-FICTION FILM that featured a small group of people travelling from Earth to some distant planet. The passengers stood for the journey (the forerunner to Ryan Air?) and the males wore ankle-length dressing gowns. The females, of course, showed a bit of leg. The cabin walls were smooth, except for windows resembling portholes. There was a spiral staircase down to the engines. No sign of a computer.

Looking at that photograph (above) of the reconstruction of part of the Colossus Computer that dominated Bletchley Park during World War Two, one imagines the science-fiction writers in Hollywood preferred to go without any computer at all. The Colossus was clearly too big to fit in a tiny set (the Tardis had not been imagined yet, our rocket may have been ten or twelve feet in diameter). For some reason, the writers could not think small, miniaturization evaded them, except for the film set itself.

The rocket in this particular film did not land, pointy end down, in the Moon’s eye. Rather, the passengers, hardly tired after standing for light years without comfort-food and drink, or a visit to the toilet, found themselves lowered onto some hostile surface. No computer, of any size, was used to test the air outside. A hatch we’d not noticed opened and someone put his head out and took a sniff. For the sake of the film, the air was as fresh as Southport on the Lancashire coast. Everyone headed down the plank for a look-see. Sir Richard Branson is promising a similar service one day, isn’t he?

I recommend E.M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops”, first published in November 1909, a century ago, if you’re computing. Forster’s world with people living in pods, trapped by their dependence on technologies, has television, video-conferencing and the Internet (with different names, of course, Forster was a writer and not a scientist, and the boffins who followed felt no need to acknowledge Forster’s earlier work). Forster’s story was not filmed until 1966, for British television. By then, computers were shrinking a bit, transistors had been invented. As tied to our computers as we are in 2010, I’m guessing that we’ll reach Forster in my lifetime, or not long after it.

God knows, when Internet Explorer is down one panics. I recently had a more serious problem. My computer, a Compaq Presario purchased only four years ago, was slowing down faster than I could keep up with it.

The Compaq was my third computer. The first was a Gateway bought in late 1995 with a friend. It was so expensive that we could only get a computer by sharing the cost. Three months later the apartment was struck by lightning. The computer survived, sort of. (Other electronic and electric equipment in our apartments and next door were fried.) The Gateway needed a good deal of nursing to run after that.

I bought a second computer a year or so later, on my own: Another Gateway. My youngest brother, a computer technician, managed to keep that second machine humming for five years, and then it began coughing. I could not afford a replacement, and for several years used a computer at the Reference Library. I also was a semi-professional house- and pet-sitter, and my clients usually wanted me to send daily updates on their dogs and cats and swimming pools from their home computers to their hand-held Blackberries.

Four years ago I managed to buy the Compaq, which came with accessories left over from the year before. For free, if I’d just buy the Compaq, which was going out of date faster than a spaceship to Southport. So, I bought it.

The new computer arrived this past Wednesday. It is a Zoostorm PC, and rather nice. Bigger and better monitor, great scanner/printer, terrific sound system. Now, I know bugger all about computer specs, but it’s fast, really fast. I have Windows 7, and Bill Gates seems to have got this one right. I’ve used Macs when on house-sits, and the Windows 7 is a bit Mac-ish. I’m a fan of 7! I’m using Office 2007, which is new to me. I’m using it at this moment. I quite like it. I trust I can transfer this document to the Barking Mad blog. If I have trouble, I will be more Barking Mad than usual.

My computer technician says I should get three good years out of the Zoostorm (assuming I don’t get struck by lightning). I’m going to do a good deal more genealogical research, so the speed and design improvements will be much appreciated.

What will I do in 2013 if The Machine Stops? My eyesight is already dreadful; I might need bigger everything in three years’ time. I cannot manage a mobile phone easily now, and as much as I’d like an iPod, I have a feeling it will be awkward. My generation is wearing out; our physical abilities are becoming more limited. But I’m in thrall to this fucking technology. Aren’t we all?

Ever see the 1976 film “Logan’s Run”? People wear out at thirty in that one, according to the rules mandated by the technocrats. That was a bit of a stretch, but a young age was needed to be suitably shocking.

In three, five, ten years, my generation may turn up at Computer Central for a new model and instead of getting a sales pitch we might just be recycled as dog-food.

“Sorry, buddy, but you’re over the limit. First hatch on the right. Have a nice trip.”

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Diary Another Day

Virginia Woolf at Home

Dishwashing Liquid
Skimmed Milk
Pomegranate Juice
Ross Eldridge (Shopping List)

THE FIRST DIARY I EVER SET EYES ON belonged to my grandparents' landlady. This woman, Miss Emmy Gray, died in the 1960s, and I think she was probably no older than my grandparents when she passed on, sixty-something. I did not really know her, she might have known my mother and her children by sight, but I don't recall ever having conversation with her.

Miss Gray's apartment in the house next to the cottage where my grandparents lived was emptied at her death, and renovated. The contents were removed, perhaps sold, but it turned out that several boxes were stored in the basement of the house (now owned by the landlady's niece, Miss Mary Gray). I knew nothing of these boxes until a stack of notebooks turned up at our home, in my youngest sister's room. My sister made no secret of her curious find, and I think she must have very nearly boasted about it. My sister had somehow found a way into the basement of the house where my grandparents' landlady had lived, and had carted off a box that she just couldn't resist … stealing … there is no other word for it. My sister had the handwritten diaries of a lifetime left by Miss Emmy Gray.

Now, Miss Emmy Gray was a member of one of the old Bermuda families, big homes, large estates, and dwindling male heirs. She had a history, however, being part of something by birth that, by the late 1960s, was coming to an end: The white ruling class, one might say.

I looked at the notebooks, dozens and dozens of them, piled up in my sister's room (she was reading them diligently, though she was hardly a teenager) and they were not at all remarkable on the outside. My sister showed me a few open pages of neat handwritten entries. I asked her what they were about. My sister would not have appreciated any history that might have been found in the pages, but told me that Miss Gray used to say her little friend had come to stay about once a month … And meant that she was having her period. That's the only thing I know for a fact was included in the Gray Diaries. I had no interest in reading them, and never asked my sister for more information.

My sister must have been satisfied with her project eventually, the diaries vanished. She'd thrown them away. Over forty years later, I wonder what might have been lost.

Clearly, my sister was guilty of theft; a theft she told us about, she had no second thoughts about having committed it. In fact, to this day I would not trust my sister with my keys. You have been warned.

At school we had come across the Diary of Anne Frank, and I had had to read it. I did not care for it at all, finding it girlish and not being interested in knowing more, at that time, about the Nazi deportation of Jews to the Death Camps. We also had to get into the Diary of Samuel Pepys in our history lessons. He buried a cheese that he rather valued in his garden when London caught fire. That's all I remember of that famous journal.

Diaries didn't interest me, though I have always found brief quotations from, and references to, the diaries of people that interested me added to the pleasure of any biography I might be reading. I have been interested in the Bloomsbury Group for forty years now, and some of them kept diaries. More wrote letters that were eventually published, which might be personal accounts of a kind. Perhaps the most famous Bloomsberry, and diarist, was Virginia Woolf. I've never read her diaries, only excerpts. I intend to do that soon, if permitted.

Virginia Woolf notably said that nothing becomes real until one writes it down. She also said, of course, that one should not publish until one is at least thirty. I suppose that provides a safety valve if one is tempted to put one's private entries in print.

Joe Orton at Home
In the 1980s, I finally discovered diaries. That was about the time I pretty much gave up reading fiction, so that diaries and biographies (and autobiographies) kept me busy reading. I read a fair bit of documentary history, natural science and that sort of thing as well; I've not worked my way through the DNB.

Harold Nicolson's hefty diaries came my way because I was already interested in his wife, Vita Sackville-West. Nicolson was a brilliant read. People, history and politics, Nicolson seemed to know everybody.

I picked up The Orton Diaries (Joe Orton, the playwright) after seeing What the Butler Saw performed on stage. I continued reading Prick up Your Ears. What fun that was. I realised that when Kenneth Halliwell was murdering Joe Orton in their miniscule flat in Camden Town, I was wandering around London enjoying that Summer of Love. Perhaps on the very day. I must have read about it in the papers and seen the news on the telly, but it hadn't really clicked at the time. The death of Brian Epstein had made an impression. Orton was a joy, his relationship with Halliwell was doomed, his death seemed unavoidable bearing in mind their troubled relationship.

After Kenneth Williams died, his diaries finally became public. I gather he'd threatened people with them for years. I'll put you in my diary! One had heard that wisecracking Kenneth Williams, of Carry On … fame had been something of a miserable shit in real life. Real life to Kenneth was hiding in his flat, allowing few visitors, and then not permitting them, for example, to use his toilet. Kenneth couldn't bear the thought of germs, he did not like to be touched, avoided, apparently, all intimacy, though he was a chronic masturbator (noting in his diaries the Cockney rhyming slang "Had a Barclay's" frequently). Kenneth Williams was the classic sad bastard. Back in the 1960s he'd been a gay chum of Joe Orton, though hardly gay meaning happy, or chum meaning devoted in any way. Orton boasted of his outrageous sexual exploits, and I wonder if Kenneth Williams dared shake his hand!

I'm presently reading selections from the diaries of Alan Bennett. Bennett has published these in two autobiographical works, and he suggests that his diaries, as a whole, were not written, and are still not written, with an eye to publishing them before or after his death.

I kept brief diaries for twenty-five years, though hardly containing entries with well-rounded sentences and proper grammar. I also kept scrapbooks with photographs and souvenirs. All gone now. I burned the diaries, and only regret that when I try to recall the exact date of something that happened in some period I have a vague idea of. I don't know the day my father died, but think it was in March of 1996.

When I wrote a weekly column - My World and Welcome to It - for the Bermuda newspaper The Mid-Ocean News, I first thought to keep a kind of public journal going, to be a commentator on recent events. As it happened, I found myself rehashing my years growing up. My editor seemed to like dredged up memories of my schooldays. I don't have copies of any of those columns, but recently found something I wrote at that time (between five and ten years ago) and was appalled at my discovery. My style of writing horrified me: I was writing rather under the influence of bouts of mania, I think, pouring thoughts about old personal history onto the page as fast as I could. Literally: I'd leave my column not just incomplete, but usually not even begun, until the evening before I was to hand it in.

Now I blog here. And I trust it's not a diary. A diary, I think, entails writing about yourself as you pretend to be, as you are expected to be, regularly. There's no let-up, day after day trying to be the version of you that is expected. Every month, if you are Miss Gray, your little friend must come to stay. You come to expect this sort of writing of yourself, you cannot get away from it.

So, I blather on the blog. Perhaps I do get up one day and walk through the snow to the minimart to get the items on my shopping list … but I don't think I must tell you about it. That said, an honest diary might best be, simply, just one's shopping lists. There is no emotion in it; one does not trip over it. Rather, twice a week I get skimmed milk, once a week I buy bread, and occasionally some pomegranate juice. That best describes my life. I have no intention of spending eternity buried below a tombstone, having requested that my ashes be scattered in the wild somewhere, but if I was forced to, I'd like the inscription to read "Toilet Paper if on Special This Week".

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Klass Act Frowned On

This is all-round (well, that's obvious) entertainer Myleene Klass, who has just been warned by the Hertfordshire Police that she could be charged with assault for waving a knife at her window when some trespassing teenagers were being a nuisance outside. I cannot for the life of me think what teenagers would do if they actually got close to Ms Klass, surely they'd be more adept at wanking to her photo in Hello! Magazine, or to an old recording of The One Show.

This is not nearly Myleene Klass, but they've probably met somewhere. This is our beloved Queen (all be upstanding!) who has houses a tad bigger than Myleene's Hertfordshire home all over the flipping country. She probably appears in Hello! Magazine too if the price is right. You know, I've actually never read Hello! I don't plan to.

Queen Elizabeth has plenty of antique knives around her houses, along with swords, axes and pikes. She also has a great many cannons, at least some of which are in working order because the damn things are fired from time to time. Happy Birthday, Your Majesty!

The cannons in this picture are at Windsor Castle. Just let some rowdy teenagers carry on on this lawn ...
And if the Queen runs short of cannon balls, there are bagpipers, and corgis.

Yes, I do recall a homeless nutjob got into Buckingham Palace and sat on the end of the Queen's bed for a chat. However, I believe the guards may have thought he was a member of a former ruling House in Europe. Security has improved, we're told, a portcullis on every floor.

So, Myleene, tough luck on the kitchen knife and ridiculous laws. Get a bloody great cannon!

Friday, 8 January 2010

That Ice & Snow: The Swiss Role in It

Exhibit A: Large Hadron Collider

Exhibit B: Euro-Tunnel

Exhibit C: Amble Minimart Item

WE'VE ALL GOT A WINTER OF 2009-2010 STORY, haven't we? I'm hoping this is the winter I remember a few years from now when the promise of Global Warming is honoured and I'll be sitting down by the River Coquet in January watching the flamingos mucking about. I'll be wearing my Bermuda shorts.

Amble in the Ice is somewhat off the beaten track. The Northumberland Council is only gritting vitally important roads (and paths and pavements are not even mentioned at County Hall). The A-1068 is getting a very little grit now and then and one can slide through the edge of town. Our few shops and the minimart are not getting much attention.

We don't have a supermarket. We have a minimart operated by the Co-op. A year ago the Co-op managed to cram a great deal of food and drink into their small space. In early summer they closed for renovations: out came about a quarter of the shelves and one of the check-outs, and in came … Well, less of everything and none of some … And a large empty area was created for people to queue in unhappily, and a few racks of rubbishy children's summer gear were tucked just inside the door. The liquor section was extended (successfully, I think, as our only off-licence has closed at Christmas) and the butcher's section vanished under shrink-wrapped packets of slightly off-colour meat products.

So, Amblers tend to shop out of town. Goes without saying, though I've said it anyway. There's an ASDA Superstore miles south of us. I don't have a vehicle. I use the bus and get lifts. I rely on our Co-op minimart for basics.

For over a week, the minimart has had the look of shops in East Germany before Reunification. Empty shelves 98%, some unusual items 2%. Just after New Year, our minimart had no dairy products, no fruit or vegetables, no meat or poultry or seafood. It did have a very large heap of butter-substitute products: spreads as they are referred to properly (margarine is toxic, hasn't been sold for decades). And there were many two-litre bottles of Co-op Diet Lemonade. For fuck's sake, I thought, and came home with Lemonade and two cartons of I Can't Believe it's Not Butter, and my Lotto ticket.

Yesterday I trundled (there's a good word!) through ice and snow across to the Co-op minimart and found … well, I didn't find … Except for a considerable quantity of Toblerone Chocolates in different sizes (the shape remains the same or it ain't Toblerone). I'm the odd person who doesn't much like chocolate. Go figure. Already having this week's Lotto ticket (the winner, I hope!) I trundled (still quite a good word) back to the flat empty-handed.

Last night the BBC told us, early in the evening, that it was the same temperature as Moscow (-20C). Later in the night they updated this to the same temperature as the South Pole (-22C). This is cold fucking comfort for you! And, today, the story is that it will get worse. And how? Polar bears ice-fishing in the Thames? "I am the Walrus" becomes the new National Anthem? Gordon Brown attacked by penguins. Wait, I'd pay money to see that.

A month or so ago, once the baguette that had been dropped accidentally into the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland had been picked out, a crumb at a time, the scientists in Geneva fired up that fucker. And then we hear some star a few thousand light years away is going super-nova and will destroy all life on Earth with an inter-galactic fart. Some Nigerian nut-job sets his knickers on fire in the name of God (Allah-ing matter!) while flying above Detroit*. Trains freeze to a halt in the Channel Tunnel. Ice and snow come rolling over Britain from the east. Food vanishes from the Amble minimart. Toblerone bars suddenly appear in an otherwise empty shop.

Vortex is a good word, like trundle. I'll use it, never mind I'm not sure what it means. I think the Large Hadron Collider is to blame, we're in a vortex, and while Switzerland may be spitting snow and chocolates at us today, any time now a Black Hole will open there for business, dairy cows will spin around us, and Global Warming will start to look pretty mild by comparison.

Turn the Collider off! Well, just after the penguins get the Prime Minister.

*The fuckwit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as 'No-Diddy' to his mates, has pleaded not guilty to charges filed against him ... claiming the incident was just the result of a Vindaloo he'd had in Amsterdam.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Urchins on the Stairs

"The child lying dead in the little sleeping room, which is behind the open screen. It is winter-time, so there are no flowers; but upon her breast and pillow, and about her bed, there may be strips of holly and berries, and such free green things. Window overgrown with ivy. The little boy who had that talk with her about angels may be by the bedside, if you like it so; but I think it will be quieter and more peaceful if she is alone. I want it to express the most beautiful repose and tranquillity, and to have something of a happy look, if death can...I am breaking my heart over this story, and cannot bear to finish it."
Charles Dickens (Instructions to illustrator George Cattermole for the Death-Bed of Little Nell)

every autumn for at least ten years now; late in 2008 I had a jab for pneumonia, supposed to protect me for ten years (I figure the year it wears off I'll most likely die of a severe lung infection, unless someone invents a new vaccine that will carry me into extreme old age).

Because I've had those flu jabs (not for the so-called Swine Flu though, which is by invitation only so far), and because I have a runny red nose, streaming eyes, a headache and tinnitus, a cough, a good deal of wheezing, and I've been unable to breathe easily for days (and, worse, nights) I'm guessing it's not the flu, but a truly stinking cold. My appetite is fine. My mother used to chirp: "Feed a cold! Starve a fever!" I'm not consciously stuffing myself full of healthy food, but I am dining very well and enjoying it. Sure things taste a bit odd, but not so awful as to be inedible. I think that if I were going against the rules and feeding a fever, I'd know about it.

Hot baths, of course, with various fragrant oils which I cannot appreciate being unable to breathe deeply. I'm kind of panting, which has Cailean puzzled. The sneezes really have the poor dog anxious for my wellbeing. Aleks was the same way: He knew when I wasn't up to scratch. Cailean has been sitting quietly at my feet, or lying next to me on the sofa. No leaping about. I tried bunging some sort of ointment that is the Boots equivalent of Vicks VapoRub in my nostrils last night, and smeared some on my chest. I noticed no relief. (I couldn't get to sleep till four this morning when I must have passed out from exhaustion after several nights without rest.)

I did go up to Alnwick on the morning of New Year's Eve, got caught in a snowstorm. It has snowed regularly ever since. We had a white Christmas and Boxing Day (my last was in 1994 in the Rocky Mountains) and I gather the temperature in rural Northumberland hasn't been in positive territory for a few weeks. I don't think snow and cold weather gives one a cold (my mother would have chirped that it did), but I've been freezing and thawing so often lately that I imagine it cannot be the best way to live.

I've hunkered down at home with the television. I've pretty much ignored my computer. I'm finally making headway with stacks of DVDs that I've bought over the past four years and haven't seen. I'm into box-sets: "Absolutely Fabulous"; "Jonathan Creek Mysteries"; "The Mighty Boosh"; "Two Fat Ladies"; etc. And I've bought a fair number of modern classic films: "2001: A Space Odyssey"; "Women in Love"; "The Full Monty"; "Close Encounters"; "Strictly Ballroom"; etc.

I've also watched a number of films on the telly. I finally saw "Citizen Kane", and I rather enjoyed it. The British television stations have taken to airing tired old American films that, I suppose, are no longer under copyright. Those and Disney-shit. So, I've passed on "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (Pat Boone's version, and the one starring Treat Williams). I have not watched "The Guns of Navarone" either, or "The Italian Job", which have British actors in them. Not one "Carry on …" film, I had enough of Barbara Windsor's tired old tits decades ago.

I did decide to watch a recent version of Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop" for no other reason than I'd never seen it, or read it, but that I knew Oscar Wilde had said of it: "One would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell." "Shop" aired on or near Christmas Day, and I couldn't see anything Christmassy in it. Derek Jacobi plays Nell's simply awful grandfather who gambles away every last penny the family has, and even gambles away Nell's virtue. Almost. Fortunately, Nell, by then a waif begging on the street, collapses in the mud and muck. Is Dickens suggesting it is better to collapse and die (yes, Nell pops her clogs) than to struggle towards the sun? Dickens somehow makes death attractive, something the Victorians would really appreciate.

Was Dickens religious? Did he believe that what we do here, and deal with in this lifetime, is rewarded in the afterlife? He certainly created some monsters. Nell's grandfather has no redeeming features; one senses he'll be playing cards before the girl's corpse is cold. Seems to me the grandfather should be bumped off. My mother would chirp: "The good die young." So Little Nell has the silliest deathbed scene (adding insult to injury, surely).

Earlier in the film there's a scene that is classic Dickens. In the entrance hall of a lodging house one sees a small, scruffy boy - he might be twelve at the most - on the stairs, looking through the balusters at the filthy goings-on below. There's always an urchin on the stairs in Dickens. And on the landing, at the top, there's a young servant girl looking through a keyhole with hopes of improving her station in life. Always in Dickens, the lower orders at the keyholes.

Well, Little Nell, a little holly on your bed and the angels there to collect you, you are a laughingstock.

Be a fine thing if this cold does me in. I should get some holly from the hedgerows. Cailean can play the urchin.

Happy New Year!