Category: Good causes


This being the festive season, this tree looked from a distance as if someone had decked it out with seasonal lights – close to it turned out to be a trick of a lamp-light.

arI have committed myself to the Advent Running Challenge which is to run for at least 30 minutes every day from 1st to 25th December.

Actually, I doubt that I’ll actually be running much; you are more likely to see me striding out briskly.

A couple of years ago I pulled a calf muscle badly which meant I was laid up for 2 months. I am more or less healed now but after this injury I decided that I should take up fast walking rather than slow jogging. I soon discovered that the benefits to mind and body were on a par.

I swim and go to the gym regularly but there’s something special about exercising outdoors. This December challenge appealed because it’s a month whent it’s all too easy to hibernate and avoid going out when the weather is cold and wet.

‘Tis the season to be lazy but I reckon wrapping up and facing the elements is preferable to nodding off in front of some crappy TV show.

Normally, I would go out first thing – at about 7am –  but today I had a dental appointment at 9am and had to work afterwards. The best time was therefore directly after my lesson at 4pm. I parked my car by a riverside path and stripped Clark Kent style from teaching wear to  walking gear. It had rained on and off all day so there was the need for some puddle dodging but the gravel paths were not too muddy.

To clear my head like this straight after work was invigorating and I now look forward to another three and a bit weeks in the run up (literally!) to and including Christmas day.

Maggie Thatcher and Hilary MantelThe best kind of  killer is one who can hide in plain sight  and  is able to pass unnoticed in a crowd.

Hilary Mantel does not look like an assassin. On the contrary, she seems so prim and proper.  I’m sure she often gets mistaken for a Tory.  She is always well turned out, wears pastel shades and her hairstyle is not so dissimilar to Thatcher’s.

This is what makes her short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983,( published in The Guardian) seem so out of character.

It has caused a minor storm in a tea-cup among those who still misguided enough to argue that Thatcher saved, rather than ruined,  the nation. To those who merrily sang Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead las year, Mantel is an unlikely heroine. Continue reading

The late, lamented Frank Zappa preached about the need for constant vigilance against the repressive, self-righteous, bigoted forces who censor what we can see, hear and read.

Zappa was an articulate and outspoken critic of religious fundamentalists who seek to restrict our freedom claiming they are saving us from the devil’s work.

He explained his views during an interview with Larry King which you can see below.

As a way to counteract the Parental Advisory stickers on rock albums, Zappa wrote his own ‘Warning Label’ for a Mothers of Invention album.

VINYLMANIA:WHEN LIFE RUNS AT 33 REVOLUTIONS A MINUTE directed by Paolo Campania (Italy, 2012)

vinylmaniavinylVinylmania is a lively, good-humoured documentary  which was chosen as the official Record Store Day film in 2012 and is also being shown at many stores this year. When it comes to music, Italian director Paolo Campana passionately believes that there is no substitute for the analogue sounds of vinyl. At the beginning of this 75 minute documentary he rejects the digital alternative saying “a click is not enough”. CDs were originally marketed as offering a superior sound to the established format, something that even non-audiophiles now recognise as baloney. London-based DJ Eddie Piller puts the case in simple terms : “nothing sounds better than vinyl”. Continue reading

12 YEARS A SLAVE directed by Steve McQueen  (UK/USA, 2013)

The Academy members undoubtedly did the right thing by naming 12 Years A Slave the best picture and, if there was any justice, Steve McQueen would have been awarded an Oscar for best director in place of Alfonso Cuarón. Gravity is a remarkable technical achievement but directing technology is less deserving of a statuette than man management.

McQueen not only gets the best out his actors but he also knows how to pace a movie. The huge temptation in telling Solomon Northup’s story is to revert to Hollywood clichés and crank up the sentimentalism. It is to his credit that he doesn’t milk the emotional content and heroic lines like “I don’t want to survive, I want to live” are few and far between.

In one remarkable scene, Northup is strung up and has to desperately cling on while waiting for ‘the master’ to cut him down. In conventional films there would be dramatic music and close-ups of the man’s life and death struggle. Instead, the camera pulls back so show life going on around him and makes us realise how commonplace such torture was.

Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor) quickly learns that maintaining a low profile and keeping schtum about his education are the only ways to guarantee survival. Patience and will power are the main reasons why he lived to tell his remarkable story.

It is only right, therefore, that the movie never has the quality of an action movie. The power of the drama comes from the systematic abuse and degradation he and his fellow slaves have to endure. Continue reading


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