Monday, October 13, 2014

The Director, the Cameraman and the one legged man in Wolverhampton.

 Long John Silver
Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

Do you know I am sure I have written this before; I looked and looked but it seems I haven't. If you have seen it somewhere let me know but I can't believe I left it till now; maybe it's just one of those stories I have bored people with in the past.
I was sitting in a pub in Wolverhampton with a film director, a cameraman and a sound guy; in the corner was a one legged man. He wasn't a frail looking thing and he made a lot of noise with the mouth, with the chat, and with the big piss taking laugh.
He was a rough looking customer and you would think by looking at him, with his tattoo patterned shirt and scruffy demeanour, that he lost his leg in a fight or had it sawn off for a bet or even lost it in a game of poker.
We were touring the country, the bare bones of a film crew, visiting wonderful locations like Leighton Buzzard, London Docks and Gravesend; to name a few of the places. The cameraman had taken time off from working a camera when he reached his thirties and went to study wine, becoming a wine expert in the process. As we sat eating dinner one evening in the Gravesend hotel, drinking his chosen wine, he suddenly went off and ordered another bottle of red.
Delightedly he poured, after a decent wait for the wine to breath, a glass for each of us. We didn't know that it was a special vintage as we drank and after we drank, our expert looked at us and asked what we thought; well it tasted a bit smoky with a gentle hint of sulphur and a slight bouquet of a six month old baby's poo.
He looked at us; we pulled faces and he got the message: “Don't you find it interesting?” he said.
We were touring because we were making a film for a fork lift company called – I think – Lancer Boss. Their headquarters were in Leighton Buzzard, which is why we were there, and other locations where there were companies using the Lancer Boss fork lift trucks. I had to drive one at each place and then go in to the studio, with the director, and work in a blue screen studio – that is being superimposed into each scene.
His studio was in Buckinghamshire and when I worked with him I had to stay over night at an hotel near by; he came and had a drink with me, told me he was also a pilot and I told him that I could never be a pilot, as I am too slap dash and would never have the patience to check things three times. “Oh it's easy” he said.
That's when I made the mistake of saying “Why? What do you have to do?”
He went through everything he had to do when sitting in the cockpit and I was wondering when he was going to stop.
“I'm not boring you, am I?” he said.
No no!” I said, and on he continued.
When we sat in the pub in Wolverhampton that day, a small dingy hotel really, I didn't know what I was going to have to listen to after the studio day but I should have.
As we sat there in Wolverhampton – and he didn't talk quietly – he explained to us what his job as a director involved: “I direct the actor; he is in the charge of the photography” he said as he referred to the cameraman, then pointing at the sound guy he said “and he is in charge of the sound.”
Everybody in the bar could hear him pontificating away as if he was giving a lecture. He was smoking a pipe and said his doctor had told him it was okay to smoke as it relaxed him because if he didn't relax he would probably have a heart attack – heaven forbid.
Word got about in the bar that porn videos were to be shown in one of the other bars after the pub closed to the public for residents. The one legged man asked if he would be able to stay and our director asked the landlord if he had a licence.
“What for?” said the landlord.
“You can't show videos without a licence” the director said.
I went off to the loo and left them to it. When I came back, the director had trickles of blood on the outside of his nose “what happened?” I asked.
“Long John Silver dropped the nut on him” said the sound guy.
I looked around and the one legged man had disappeared.
“Yeh; he just hopped over here and head butted the big mouthed sod.”
Can you imagine it?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to be a Movie Star.

  Laurence Olivier.  

I read a biography of Laurence Olivier at one time and the writer opined that he was the greatest actor in the world for one reason and one reason alone; because he wanted to be.
Now there is something to that.
Not too long ago I wrote a post about Mark Rylance whom it was considered was the current (then) best actor in the world; same reason! He wanted to be - or people wanted him to be - or whatever floated their boat or, to be more precise, filled their theatres.
There was something else I read about Olivier and it opened (not opined this time) by saying 'he was no intellectual' – I mean how could he be he left school at 15? Okay he went to drama school but so did I.
Even though Olivier may have been considered to be the best actor etc, at one time, he had to do about 30 or 40 takes in a film with William Wyler and when he got frustrated he said to Wyler “Willie; I did it this way, I've done it that way. I've done it faster and slower - what do you want me to do?” And Wyler said “I want you to do it better!”
Best actor in the world?
The thing is – and it might have been whilst getting the above direction – he stamped his character on Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights – Samuel Goldwyn called it Withering Heights, according to Olivier. In fact the anecdotes above are from Olivier himself.
The thing about Heathcliff is that he was from the back streets of Liverpool – a bit of rough – and he fell for the lady of the house, the posh girl and Olivier played him with a posh English accent. Today he would be played by someone from Liverpool.
There are people – actors – here who still worship him; of course there are others who don't like him at all but he had the two or three things it calls for to be a star – he was ambitious, talented and not very clever. I think the latter is very important because, according to the great playwright Brien Friel, to be a star to have to have huge huge ambition, a talent that is sensational and unique (there's only one Sir Laurence) and no brain.
And when you think about it, it has a lot of truth.
I know – and I am bound to know – a lot of actors. A lot of them are friends but none of my friends are huge stars – I have a very famous cousin, whom I have never met and when I think about him he may be as thick as two short planks too, for all I know; I don't know which is why I won't name him, but Friel's view is that brains get in the way. 
Maybe they do and maybe they don't!
If you wanted to be a movie star, you are good looking and you think you have what it takes, what kind of a reaction would you get if you took the idea to the bank? What kind of business plan would you present to them and if they fell for it, what advice would these very clever people give you?
Imagine, for one wonderful moment, going on to the TV show Dragon's Den.
The people on Dragon's Den – the so called Dragons – are the most ambitious kind of people there are, but would you really want to have a drink with them? They'd be talking about the business plan, the yield, the profit, the bottom line – I have been in the company of such people and I have seen the attitude and the way their face changes if you give them a good idea.
I was on a train once and standing next to me was a businessman with the suit, the brief case, the Financial Times, the whole nine yards, and he complained about the train.
It was British Rail then and he said they had no idea (BR that was – look at it now) how to run it. 
And I said “why don't they put advertisements at the back of the seats” and a bulb went off in his head; I could see it.
Advertise!” he said.
His name?
I have no idea who he was! But that bulb!!
As I was saying I know loads of actors and I have known briefly well known ones on the way up: pains in the arse, stars up there: pains in the arse and stars who were stars here and when I met them in Hollywood they were nice people again; they were lost, they didn't know where to go, where to network (arse hole creep) but when I pointed them in the right direction they became pains in the arse again. Not being able to look you in the eye in case an important casting director or director came into the room so they could talk to them and you know it's a sight to see. What happens is, they sidle up to their prey with a big smile on their face and start a little chat; after about 3 minutes or so another person will come up and take the head honcho away - I'm sure they are hired to do this – leaving the networker marooned in the middle of the floor.
But you will see others, other networkers, dappled throughout the room, waiting to pounce like hyenas on the savanna – in fact looking like hyenas with their teeth, ready to smile, and their eyes widening and scrunching so as to show them off at their best, waiting for their victim to be alone.
I think the reason I don't know the big big stars intimately is that they don't seem to have many friends; on the way up they twitch and walk around, can't sit down for long, they worry that they'll miss a phone call or a casting and they are no company at all and in any case, as in Hollywood, they drop you and forget you as soon as you've shown them the way.
They pretend to forget you as they know that you know what kind of a prat they really are.
I met quite a few stars in Hollywood and some of them were nice – George Clooney is charming and quite well informed – so it doesn't happen to everybody.
The radio is on at the moment and as I typed they didn't know where to go, where to network, a trailer came on (a trail as they call it) to say that next week on Radio 4 a new series starts called Networking Britain – what a coincidence.
Oh well – back to John Tavener and his beautiful music.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Esther Sullivan - nee Tuite born 1914.

As you might have noticed, if you read this on a regular basis, I don't usually mention any of my family, or friends, by name; I have done this once or twice with my parents, Christy Sullivan Dublin Barber and my mother – Essie Sullivan – in previous posts of those names and I think I mentioned the brudder's name once.
Well today is the centenary of my mother's birth – our mother's birth – Esther Mary Tuite, born October 5th 1914 in Dublin, Ireland.
Later she became Esther Sullivan – Essie from the Alex and previous to that Esther Sullivan, company director of the Lawden Manfacturing Company, Broad Street, Birmingham.
She died in 1993 on December 19th so may she rest in peace.
1914 was the year the great war broke out – the First World War – and my grandfather, Patrick Joseph Tuite, went off to that terrible war with the British Army and getting gassed in the trenches for his trouble; I think that was in 1916 and who knows maybe it was the Battle of the Somme.
I have no details as to whether he was invalided out of the army because of that but he went on to live till 1974.
As there is a lot of publicity concerning the first world war at the moment, I tried to find out if he was listed anywhere and, even though I can find two Tuites, with more or less the same forenames who were in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and another Irish regiment of the British Army, I can's find him in the war records because those two soldiers died in 1917.
In 1916, in Dublin, there was an insurrection called the Irish Uprising where Patrick Pearse (Padraig MacPiarais) read the famous proclamation from the steps of the General Post Office in O'Connell Street Dublin and then fighting broke out.
Padraig MacPiarais
I looked through loads of photos of him and they're mostly like this, as maybe posing for his portrait in profile - maybe posing for his portrait on the stamps and coins.

The English attacked the post office using their long range guns as they sailed in through the foggy dew – sound familiar? Yes the words to a song. Oh look – there I am singing it - (do you know my hair is that long now; I'll get it cut next week).
In France an officer called my granddad in to the office and said “There's a 'bit of trouble in your country.” And that's all granddad knew about the uprising back home; I would fire questions at him but that's all he knew.
One of the things I found out recently was that nearly all the men who were killed in that war from Britain didn't get a vote - and don't forget Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom - they gave their lives without their permission; the only men who were allowed to vote were the gentry or property owners.
Men were given the vote at the same time as women which was after the war in 1918; men at 21 and women at 30.
It stayed like that for about 10 years and then the women's voting age came down to 21; this was, so they say, because too many men were killed in that war and they thought those voting ages would make things more even.
The reason my granddad went off to fight in the war – and I remember pictures of him on the sideboard at my Grannie Tuite's house wearing a skull cap – was because they were broke. My mother was born the same year as the war and then when the war was over there she saw a lot of fighting in the streets.
She told me a lot about that and how she saw men carrying their comrade from the battle of the Forecourts and how they used a door as a stretcher to carry him out.
So today (October 5th 2014) would have been Esther Mary Tuite's 100th birthday, Essie Sullivan, Essie from the Alex and previous to that Esther Sullivan, company director of the Lawden Manufacturing Company, Broad Street, Birmingham.
What would she think if she suddenly came back and saw all the apps, the internet, the smart phones and the smart arses using them and coming up with the answers to the Universe.
She died in 1993 on December 19th and may she rest in peace.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Maps to the Stars.

Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars

Today I saw one of my favourite films – for the first time.
I know it will be one of my favourite films already as it's in the genre of the films I like. Films about films that is, maybe set in the film capital of the world, namely Hollywood, California with a hint of the sordid side of things with corruption, horror, maybe a bit of incest and murder – all those things which would be a bad description of this film but I think you know what I mean; and they're all in this.
As you can see by the title of this post I am talking about Maps to the Stars by the great Canadian director David Cronenberg. His films have always been outstanding, although I can say I didn't like Cosmopolis at all but one thing I can say is that you may like it so don't let me put you off. The film starts as it goes on, nothing happens but there's one thing I noticed about both movies.
Robert Pattinson plays the lead in Cosmopolis and a smaller role in Maps to the Stars; he's a limo driver in the new film and gets into a limo in the former, and in each film there is an eerie silence outside the cabs as if there is a sound proof barrier around each vehicle. This is a technique I remember Tarantino using in Reservoir Dogs and I think it's quite affective.
One of the things that really seduced me about the film is its location; some scenes were shot in Runyon Canyon right behind where we used to live and for a period of my life I climbed every day. I suppose I will love all films – and I do – of movies shot in places I know and where I can recognise locations but Los Angeles is one of my favourite places on earth.
I sat transfixed and saw some great performances from everyone of the cast; Hollywood is so false, synthetic and subtle and when you see John Cusak with his middle aged large very white face and the jet black hair and then the brilliant Julianne Moore being so false and conniving you see right through the whole charade.
Now I'm not a film critic or reviewer but you must go and see it and the acting, by the way, is real; nobody asking if it's the right accent and it is so good you don't notice.
And the script – an Oscar nomination at least.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Final Prayer of an Atheist.

Chairman, I love you; your comrade is coming to see you.
Strange thing to say isn't it? The comma and semi-colon are mine as the phrase was written in Chinese: something like, 主席,我爱你;您的同志来看您or maybe 主席,我愛你;您的同志來看您。
This was written by Mao's widow, the leader of the gang of four, who was supposed to be an atheist, who followed him and his little red book, when he was alive and then when she killed herself she left that as a suicide note. 
Who and how and what was she going to do about seeing him if she didn't believe in the afterlife?
I wish I believed in the afterlife then I'd know that Jimmy Savile was burning in hell!
But back to Mao's widow. Mao Zedong as they say, written in English, was married to Jiang Qing (pronounced King, I reckon) and known as Madam Mao; she was also an actress and was dumped in prison after Mao's death when she and 3 others carried on doing what they were doing when he was alive. 
Madam Mao
before                                     after
Namely murdering people – she was accused of killing 34,274 and that she was her husband's attack dog. She would kill those that tried to get near him. She stated this after his death and, as I say, she and the other members of the gang of 4 were sent to prison.
She was, in fact, on temporary release from prison for health reason and killed herself before returning.
So let me go back to the original question – did she pretend not to believe in God so she could spread the communist message or did she, in fact, think that Chairman Mao, with his little red book, was some kind of god who was waiting for her in communist heaven?
I mean, the reason communism didn't catch on at all in America is that the only things some of the American people knew about communism was that communists were 'godless.' So there it was, killed at first base!
I just looked it up on line and her quote should have been Chairman! I love you! Your student and comrade is coming to see you!
So there! I was wrong; but as I've said before I don't know a lot about anything.
Let's leave Mao for a moment: when I went to India I was told not to drink the water and not to put ice into my drink; why would I ever put ice into any drink? – anything that is chilled like that is tasteless; like stuff being too hot.
So when I got there I didn't drink any water at all. I drank beer; drinking beer in hot weather is not good for you, really, which is why people who live in hot countries drink tea. Except in California.
The other people in my party didn't drink any beer but now and then they would clap their hands or swipe the air – and what were they doing? Swatting mosquitoes, of course, and getting bitten or sucked by them or whatever a mosquito does!
But the mosquitoes didn't like me; didn't come anywhere near me. Maybe it was the alcohol they didn't like. I could understand if it was something a bit more potent than the glass of Kingfisher I was drinking so I looked up the connection between malaria and alcohol and it seems that if you drink beer the odour your body/breath gives out, actually attracts mosquitoes; so what can I say?
A doctor once told an alcoholic patient that he had drunk so much gin he was malaria immune.
Now – I have just realised that gin is made from juniper; it was invented by a doctor who mixed juniper berries with grain alcohol and every time I hear the word juniper I think of the following lyric:

We'll just lay there by the juniper 
While the moon is bright 
Watch them jugs a filling in the pale moonlight
My daddy, he made whiskey
My granddaddy, he did too
We ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792

How did we get away from Chairman Mao? Just shows that you should concentrate on what you are doing and not to let your mind wander. But it is a beautiful lyric isn't it? Written by someone called A.F. Beddoe – and his brother. Sung by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan etc.
Someone said it was written during the prohibition era but was in fact written by the fella above and in a letter to Time Magazine in 1962 he wrote the following:
"Sir: I am extremely thrilled that you printed my song in your folk singing article . . . . . Copper      Kettle was written in 1953 as part of my opera Go Lightly Stranger. A. F. BEDDOE, Staten Island, N.Y. "
Now isn't that something, the business of it being written during the Prohibition years is totally false but, as you can see, was written during the years Chairman Mao was distributing his little red book and his acolytes would hold a copy of the book firmly in their right hand and go around shouting happy, happy, happy to all and sunder - or words to that effect – and taking no notice of some of the wonderful songs and poetry being written in the west as well as in his own country and that word I use wisely there – acolyte (s) – is what his followers were and so the dying note from Madam Mao – or Jiang Qing - Chairman! I love you! Your student and comrade is coming to see you! was really the final prayer of an atheist!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland, the brave!

Trinity College, Dublin, Library.

I cannot let this day go – Thursday September 18th 2014 – without mentioning that today, Scotland are voting to be independent of Britain; it will no longer be part of Great Britain (short for Greater Britain, I suppose, like Greater London where I live or Greater Los Angeles, where I used to live).
After centuries fighting for home rule by politicians like Parnell etc, in 1916 there was an insurrection in Dublin, Ireland, for Irish Independence and today Scotland are getting it without a physical fight; I can't believe they will vote no. 
Thousands died over the years for Irish Independence and Scotland have a chance of getting it by a vote.
The union with Ireland was made through bribery and corruption – let me quote Wikipedia and I'm sorry if you don't like Wikipedia . . . The passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was ultimately achieved with substantial majorities, having failed on the first attempt in 1799. According to contemporary documents and historical analysis, this was achieved through a considerable degree of bribery, with funding provided by the British Secret Service Office, and the awarding of peerages, places and honours to secure votes. Thus, Ireland became part of an extended United Kingdom, ruled directly by a united parliament at Westminster in London, though resistance remained, as evidenced by Robert Emmet's failed Irish Rebellion of 1803.
Now bear that in mind when you read this:
Back to Scotland:
As soon as recent opinion polls reported a rise in the Yes vote the Westminster party leaders, including the Prime Minister, decamped to Scotland like squealing jackals and then the ex-leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, spoke with the passion he should have shown in 2010 when Labour lost to the Conservatives in the General Election. They were there to beg the Scots not to vote yes.
As with Ireland they offered bribes to the Scots – the so called Devo-Max, empty promises and dreams which will turn into nightmares, and there was a Tory MP on the radio the other day who confirmed that promises would be broken, by saying he wouldn't be voting for the so called promises if there is a no vote.
The same kind of bribes from 211 years ago? I think so.
By the way, 30 years after the insurrection, after the uprising which followed and after the civil war which gave Ireland a kind of freedom (they could never claim Ulster – most of it - in the north) and were left with 26 of the 32 counties, the King of Great Britain, Edward VIII abdicated.
A notice was sent to all the countries where he 'ruled' – amongst them Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland . . . yes Ireland!
The transformation from the Irish Free State to the Republic of Ireland didn't happen till the late forties and then in 1974 that ex King – Edward VIII – who had abdicated in 1936 died; and it was only then that he, officially, ceased to be King of Ireland. The reason is that the rest of the Empire and consequently the Commonwealth, ratified the abdication in 1936, but Ireland didn't bother; this is supposed to be true – what is true is that an Irish woman, The Countess Markievicz, was the first woman elected to the UK House of Commons in 1918 although she never took her seat.
I was in Dublin a few weeks ago; we stayed at Trinity College for one night and had a private tour of the wonderful library where we had a good look at The Book of Kells; the oldest book in the world. I had seen it before but my wife hadn't; the book was created in the year 800 AD.
Afterwards we stayed with family and it was wonderful to see them and they really pushed the boat out for us; wining and dining us – well, whiskeying me as I don't drink wine!
On the way back to London, we were waiting in the departure part of the quay, we had travelled by sea, and my mind was transported back to when we lived in Los Angeles when I went to El Pollo Loco on Sunset Boulevard; in fact I wrote a post about it on here a few years ago.
We were having coffee and a fella came in to the place and, as he carried his coffee from the counter to his table, it became evident that he wasn't wearing a belt, and as he struggled with his coffee, whilst holding his trousers up with his other hand, he let them go slightly exposing his arse; I remember that happening in El Polo Loco: a down and out let his trousers go as he tried to make it to a seat but his went almost all the way down which made a poor woman in front of him go hysterical. And as with the fella in Dublin the arse was as clean and tidy as a whistle and you would have been sorely tempted to give it a gentle tap as you went by – but we didn't go by, we travelled across to Wales were we stopped at the following station:

Yes from the oldest book in the world to the longest place name in Britain, in Wales of course and definitely the longest domain name without hyphens; will that be the next place for a referendum? Wales I mean not Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
So what's going to happen today? I have worked in Edinburgh a few times and I have a lot of relations there and love Scotland dearly – it has the 2nd best accent in the world – and we might even have lived there at one time.
Will they vote to get Britain's Nuclear Weapons off their land and keep their own oil and get the government they vote for at General Elections?
I don't know but we shouldn't be giving opinions as to how it will affect us - it's how it affects the people living there that count.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Post Office and Alan Johnson.

Alan Johnson; MP.
I suppose in a kind of a way this is a bit political; but what is politics – or what are politics? They are our every day relationships and meetings with people. 
I mean if you never read anything more than the 'red top' newspapers or listened only to snatches of news on a pop music radio station you will believe all the BS that the barrack room politician, the loud mouth in the pub – you know the one with the loudest voice who's only argument to your point of view is a very loud Wrong!! - you will believe all that: that immigrants are taking your jobs, that we - the royal we – are paying for all that.
Well, you know that kind of stuff is not true – but that's not all I want to say. 
There he is above – Alan Johnson, MP – the Right Honourable Alan Johnson, I might add; Right Honourable meaning that he held high office in the British Government and he is a member of the privy council which means he is or was, privy to all the top top secret top secrets of this country. 
If that isn't all correct look it up and write in.
He has a similar profile to mine except that he passed the 11+ and I sat through it. I had to get my 'O' levels (and an A/O level) years later and then only because I was interested in the subjects – Sociology, English Literature and Film Studies (that was the A/O and the hardest).
He went to work at the post office when he was 18; I started to wind down my career at the post office at that age as it was mandatory for us to leave the telegram motor bike delivery service then and become a postman, I did not want to be a postman but I stayed for 3 years and still can't believe it.
But my point here is that in those days everything was done by hand at the post office apart from the automatic machine for date stamping the letters. And that automatic date stamper – or whatever it was called – had to have the date changed by a very trusted supervisor; a postman higher grade or a PHG – or even an Inspector - and why?
Let me tell you.
On the walls of the sorting offices were big signs warning us that we were not allowed by law to do the fixed odds football pools. And I can hear people from other countries saying 'call that a free country' etc or what are the pools?
The Fixed Odds were what they say – fixed odds. Every football match on the coming Saturday fixture list had odds for the outcome – betting odds. All legit. All Kosher. If you wanted to take part you would get the fixed odds coupon from a newsagents or the like, look at the fixtures for the coming week and then predict what the results would be, say Manchester City to beat Manchester Utd having odds of 2-1 or Utd to beat City having odds of 3-1.
Then you would put a stamp on the envelope and mail it but . . . . if you worked at the post office what you could do was get the envelope on the Friday, put it through the date stamping machine and then put it in your pocket. Then on Saturday you see the football results, fill your fixed odd pools coupon with the correct results, put your postal order in the envelope and then put it in the mail when you go back to work on Monday. 
The pools company would see that you've won, check that the stamp on the envelope is date stamped prior to the date of the matches and hey presto!
To be honest I can't remember anybody doing it or even heard of it but the opportunity was there.
In those days letters would be delivered to every part of Britain by the next day. That's if they were fully paid (or first class) and the second class would get delivered the day after.
That's all it took. That's when the post office was run by the government before it was made into a corporation by the Conservative Government in 1970. The first thing they did was to sack the chairman and then later in 1970 there was a short post office strike. In 1971 there was another strike which lasted about 6 weeks which coincided with the introduction of decimalisation – you know no longer 240 pennies to the pound but 100 new pence or eventually pence and if they'd have left it at that or maybe left the post office as a governmental organisation with all the workers being civil servants my auntie may have had testicles and been my uncle; who knows?
That's why you will never see the first decimalisation stamps with the first day date stamp on them - unless, well I've explained it above.
I mention Alan Johnson as he is an inspiration; he was orphaned as a child and he and his sister fought to stay together (she was 16) in their house and that's what they did. He got a job as a postman and eventually joined the UPW (which I did) then he became a Labour MP and eventually Home Secretary after other cabinet jobs; Home Secretary being one of the big four jobs in the government.
I kind of listened to his accent – which is a well spoken North London one – when I was doing my cockney accent for the play I did last week; I kind of took something from him but eventually did all the bits of the London accent except for the glockel-stop.
Bit ironic really as I had promised myself that when I came back from America I wouldn't do any accents in my work; you never hear them in America (apart from being done very badly) unless it's Meryl Streep, and because you are not putting an accent on, it makes the naturalism in your performance easier. 
There is always a little bit of an impersonation, a caricature in a performance if you have to do an accent which I hope I overcame on Saturday when I did my secret play. 
20 pages of a monologue all learned - that's why I didn't write anything here lately.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Official Hostage.

King Charles I before he lost his head.

I'm still rehearsing the play, learning many many lines but I'm getting there and . . well I forgot to write a post here didn't I?
So I'm starting this with no idea of where it's going to go so we'll see; this morning on the radio, I heard a little radio quiz and the answer was Kate Bush – just a few sound clips and the clue for Bush was our man himself; the fella we all laughed at up to 2008, George W. Bush.
His little quote was typical of the man; he said something like 'a single mother has a very hard job to do; she has to work all day to put food on her family' – I mean I know it was a slip of the tongue but if he wasn't so dangerous he would be funny. I am now waiting and fearing the day he comes into fashion the way Reagan did a few years ago and Thatcher did recently.
There are loads of people both here and in America who worship both of them; we might find it a bit of a stretch thinking of Reagan but no – a lot of Americans worship him. He was an interesting man but head of state??
At least Thatcher wasn't the head of state. She was the head of the government – the Queen is the head of state. That gave me a bit of comfort to know that she had to answer to someone besides the once in a while message from the electorate.
The other night I was cutting some chips – okay you guys, French Fries – and the potatoes weren't very big so my chips were only about three inches long. I mean they all taste the same, don't they, whether they're short or long, as long as they're not overdone or crispy.
When I got them ready (I put them in the oven, by the way, on a baking tray with a pudding spoon of oil) and looked at them, they reminded me of a TV programme I once watched about the Queen's chef.
He had to cut her chips that size whenever he served fish and chips. He would also serve it to her on a tray and she would sit in an arm chair and eat – more or less – from a tray on her lap.
Makes her kind of human doesn't it?
And I thought I wonder if she knows what she missing? Good old fish and chips from a seaside fish and chip shop; anywhere in the British Isles but not in America.
Everywhere she goes she smells paint, sees people in their Sunday best and everyone on their best behaviour – wouldn't it, once in a while, be nice for her to see people as they really are.
I know she's done that after a fashion but I don't think there is anywhere on earth where she wouldn't be recognised – well maybe places in Africa like Gabon or Somalia and you wouldn't want her travelling there incognito.
One little story about the royal family bemused me or should I say amused me or . . . well a cross between the two: there was an MP (Member of Parliament – hi America!) who, when she was first elected, had the job of going to Buckingham Palace on one of the days the Queen opened a session Parliament.
This is a tradition going back a few hundred years; the MP has to stay there till the Queen gets back; take a guess why.
When they Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen were due to leave, the Duke went to the MP and said 'they'll probably shoot you if we don't come back!!'
Of course that is the tradition because one of the monarchs didn't come back; they chopped his head off so the MP was a hostage – now I always thought that the tradition wasn't literal that it was only a tradition but . . .
Recently there was another MP in a documentary on the radio and he said that when he had to do it it was a great day for him. He had the free run of the palace, he could do anything he liked but he couldn't go out.
The officer in charged was asked what he would do if the Queen was, in fact, kidnapped or killed and he replied without giving it much thought 'Oh we'd kill him; immediately!'
Have a nice day!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good Night Vietnam!

By now everybody will know of the tragic death of Robin Williams; it has been a shock but I think a lot of people were not that surprised. Something had to fuel that amount of manic energy; there was only one way to go and that was down.
There have been experts crawling out of every piece of woodwork, skirting board and from under every counterpane imaginable since the announcement; I'm not going to add to that but felt I should say something.
I have always thought that there are a group of performers – genius comedians – who are beyond talent. In the old old days before TV, movies and the rest of it, they would have taken off in to a funny routine at the drop of a hat. There would be no writer, agent, director – nothing.
These people seem to suffer depression these days and some of them go all the other way to the other pole – the manic one. 
I am not even going to pretend that I am in the same league as that bloke standing next to you in the pub when it comes to expertise on the subject but being in this business I have known a few and a few of those have committed suicide.
I worked with a fella on a big movie about 20 years ago and he hung himself too in his Hampstead flat; tragic. He wasn't a comedian but a good actor nonetheless.
The group of comedians these days who are beyond everything and touched by genius include Jim Carrey; he, apparently suffers from depression and also delivers in a manic kind of way, sometimes. Charlie Chaplin was another one – he was a depressive, according to recent newspaper articles so it must have something to do with the comic mind.
To entertain a crowd of people and having them laugh at your every move and utterance is the most wonderful feeling in the world. I know what it feels like to play to hundreds of people but what it must be like to play to millions all over the world is still a mystery.
But put yourself in their place; a tragedy happens in their family and at the hospital they still have to be Robin Williams or Jim Carrey; they may wish to make a serious point in an argument but they still have to be Robin Williams or Jim Carrey.
I heard that people had written Robin Williams off a few years ago – the same old shtick the same old manic humour.
But you know the trouble with some movies of Robin Williams or Jim Carrey? The writers could never keep up.
Jim Carrey was in one of my favourite films of all time – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – which he had to play straight. His type of comedy wasn't required at all and he was good but it was as if he had to prove himself to some of the suits in Hollywood. But he didn't have to prove anything did he? There will always be comedians/comedy actors and people like Robin Williams, Jim Carrey. Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, Steve Martin and Steve Carell who will always be accused of doing the same old shtick by talentless couch potatoes.
There was something about Robin Williams' eyes which I noticed when he did comedy on a talk show; a certain sadness maybe an unconscious lack of confidence. I think he felt a need to deliver a very quick funny response and sometimes his very quick mind/wit was slightly ahead of his delivery and he would have to edit a phrase or an idea half way through a sentence.
I went to a screening of a film he was in (One Hour Photo) at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd and at the end of the film I saw him waiting to come out and meet us for a Q&A and he looked like a regular middle aged gentleman seriously and nervously standing there behind the ushers' curtain.
It was one of his serious roles and, I suppose, he was ready to answer some serious questions about the disturbed character he played.
But as soon as he was announced a huge cheer went up - even though the Egyptian Theatre isn't very big - and he must have felt a pressure to be funny and was; in fact he was hilarious. His first line 'fucking hell' brought the house down and he improvised for the next twenty minutes.
I always noticed his sad eyes from then on, every time I saw him perform; even in retrospect. At the end they couldn't find what he was searching for apart from a disastrous way out; RIP.
Good Night Vietnam!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Crickets, The Beatles, The Hownds!!!!

Buddy Holly.

 A long long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me . . . you know the lines but I have to say that the music did more than make me smile. In fact I suppose all my life I have judged people as to whether they are rock and rollers or not. 
A friend of mine said that once and the phrase kind of made the penny drop.
There are two rail stations in West Hampstead – one overground and the other the tube. All part of London Transport – or Transport for London as it is now called. Between those two stations, on the same side as the tube station, is an alley way and that's called Billy Fury Way. Here it is:
and here is a photo of the man himself.
Billy Fury; great British Rock singer of the 50s/60s.
I was walking passed there last year some time and as I approached it I said to the woman I was walking with 'hey look; Billy Fury Way.'
I don't know what she said but it was something like 'who was that' 'who cares' or something like that and I must have said to myself, or even thought out loud, writing as I spoke, 'what the . . . ay?? ' - I don't know which department of my mind that women went in to.
How can someone of my age – and she was around my age - not know who Billy Fury was, not be impressed by all the music that came when we were young?
I said to a good friend of mine once, 'I saw The Beatles live, you know' and he said 'I saw Nina Simone!!!
Didn't seem to impress did it? – he was my age too but obviously lived in an alternative world the same as the woman I was with that day.
With? I hear you say; no it wasn't my wife. I couldn't be married to someone for this long if she was a non-rock'n'roller – it just wouldn't have worked. Marriage is built more on tastes in music and senses of humour and without those the husband should get some ferrets.
But rock'n'roll music has been very important to me and in a way it changed society here – that and the end of conscription.
I said it did more to me than make me smile – it made me very happy. I always wanted to be a rock and roll singer but I lived in a world miles from any influence even though my parents loved rock'n'roll and pop music in general. 
I went on to appreciate a lot of classical music, the blues, Irish music, Cajun and loads of styles but never background or elevator music - and certainly not music they play over the phone when you are on the interminable wait for your party to answer.
When I was a child I got my dad's mandolin - which have 8 strings (four notes doubled) probably like the tuning of a tenor banjo or fiddle - put guitar strings on it and, instead of a plectrum, I used a penny. 
Yes you know what it sounded like and you would be right. Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!#$%
Also we made a bass out of a tea chest; here's one:

I can't remember what we used as a bass string but the American jug bands used similar things and probably made as much noise as we did.
When I was about 10, I went to a party and one of the party organisers asked if any of us could sing. My brothers shouted 'yes! Chris.'
I went up and stood there. 'Go on sing!' they said.
I stood there.
Eventually I sang the Christmas Carol Away in a Manger on one note.
And that was my pop music career till I joined the army cadets at 14.
After one of the Christmas parties there – and I was a sergeant by that time so must have been about 16 – a singing contest was organised; everybody got up and I won.
I sang the old Emile Ford song What do you want to make those eyes at me for and as I sang I waved my hands around. I won because I had the biggest applause and maybe because I was the sergeant.
Later we were going to form a band – a group really as a band plays at a band stand – and we were going to call it The Hownds. Great name aye? 
Although there was a better one staring us in the face.
I figured the greatest groups were The Crickets and The Beatles - both insects so we would be dogs. The Beatles got everything from the Crickets – well Buddy Holly - in fact Buddy Holly influenced more song writers, guitarists and singers than even they know.
When I was 20 I went with my brother to Butlins Holiday Camp in Pwllheli, in Wales. 
Also along were the other two members of The Hownds.
We told all the girls – and why would we go to Butlins if not for the girls – we were a group and some of them were very impressed.
Don't forget we hadn't sung or played together, hadn't even had a meeting, but my brother's mate, Rod, I was told, was a great guitarist and Dave said he would play the bass.
At Butlins I had a girl friend for a while in a girl group called The Crisdolins, or something like that – a Chris a Doreen and a Lynn, I suppose, and I was out with the Do. 
Do was very attractive but her friend looked like Jean Shrimpton!! 
They may have been a kind of fantasy group like The Hownds, who knows, but I did read some time later that a group who were doing well were once called The Crisdolins!!! You never know.
But it didn't happen did it.
I hardly sung again till I went in to the theatre as an actor and only recently recorded songs; although I wrote loads in the 70s when I learned how to do some guitar chord sequences but I don't know where half of them are.
Now what would be a better name than The Hownds? Well it was staring us in the face. My brother's mate, Rod, the one who played the guitar, was called Rod Gilbert.
We should have been called Gilbert and The Sullivans.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A nice little story of Beckett and Havel.

Here's a nice little story for you.
At least I think it's a nice little story - but I haven't written it yet so what do I know?
First of all not everybody knows everything about everything – believe it or not they don't.
Some people have never heard of Donald Duck or even Bugs Bunny.
In this multi-cultural society it might seem strange to us that they don't.
In fact when I first went to America people there were amazed that I hadn't heard of Mister Ed.
When I saw the movie The Man With Two Brains with Steve Martin, I didn't get the joke when it turned out that Merv Griffin was the Elevator Killer; I'd never heard of him and neither had anybody in the rest of the world.
So let me explain; that man above, Samuel Beckett is probably, and by all accounts, the greatest playwright of the twentieth Century – that doesn't mean to say it's true, by the way, it's just a fact.
Personally I like Brian Friel and Harold Pinter.
Beckett wrote the classic play Waiting for Godot – which is a play that most people don't understand and because nobody understands it that makes it a great play.
It's also a great play because it was produced all over the world (and many other places) by people who didn't understand it, played by people who didn't understand it and watched by people who didn't understand it at all.
But the greatest thing about the play is, if you read it, read about it, then go and see it - you might understand it because it is a play about hope.
Of course the word Godot does not exist – or did not exist; it is, or was, a 'none word' that came to being when the play was written.
It's very close to the word God so maybe they're waiting for God.
Two of the characters in it have strange names – one is like Estrogen and the other like Vulva; they are, in fact (and I'll have to look up the spelling) Estragon and Vladimir. 
Oh well - close. 
The Americans say this made up word – Godot - that came out of the head of Becket, differently from the way the British do; the Americans say G'do and the British say Godo with emphasis on the first syllable GOD which is more to the meaning(less) of the play.
Neither pronounce the last 'T' inferring the word is French.
I suppose this was because Becket, an Irishman, lived in Paris.
Ah ha, I hear you say, but he wrote in French.
And indeed he did. And he lived in Paris because he was an acolyte of James Joyce when he lived there and moved there after the war.
So it is a play about hope and very entertaining it is too, with Irishmen making the best of the dialogue over the years as they did with every other Becket play.
The trouble with Becket's plays is that they, like the James Joyce works, have fallen into the wrong hands and sometimes are more trouble than they are worth to put on when you have to deal with awkward estates.
Thankfully, Joyce's estate is now free of this restriction.
Beckett was part of the Theatre of the Absurd movement of the fifties which included playwrights such as Ionesco, Max Fisch, Pinter and many more including some Americans like Edward Albee.
Their philosophy, if they had one, was to show life as meaningless with meaningless things happening but sometimes there was a subtext - as in Becket's plays.
If ever you get the chance to read, for example, The Caretaker by Harold Pinter, and ask a few 'whys' – why doesn't Mick do this, why doesn't Aston do that, it might all turn out because Davies (The Caretaker) doesn't do something else but if he does do that 'something else' Aston and Mick will have to do something they said they could do but can't.
Of course not.
Beckett witnessed political upheaval on a grand scale; he saw the invasion of Hungary in the fifties and Czechoslovakia in the seventies. He wrote about it in his play Catastrophe.
The play is being presented at the Enniskillen Festival. This is the only play Beckett every wrote that he dedicated to anyone and that anyone is this man - 

and as you can see it's Václav Havel. 
He was a playwright too; a playwright, essayist, poet, philosopher, dissident and statesman and at the time Beckett dedicated the play to him, he was in prison in Czechoslovakia. The play was presented in Avignon in a festival dedicated to Havel. He heard of the festival and was moved
He was in prison because he was a dissident. You get plenty of dissidents over here and in America but they don't go to gaol. Sometimes they may get bumped off but they don't go to gaol.
Václav Havel used the absurdest technique in his plays and the authorities locked him up for doing it.
Simple as that, really.
They saw things in his plays which they thought were leading the populace to a place where they, the authorities, didn't want them to go.
He spent four years in prison at one point but used his plays to criticise communism and was a major influence in the successful Velvet Revolution.
Havel later wrote how moved he was to have a play dedicated to him and how inspired he felt.
He never got to meet Beckett but rose to be the first elected president of the then Czechoslovakia.
On the evening of his inauguration he couldn't sleep so stepped out for a walk around the streets of Prague; when he turned a corner he saw, spray painted on a wall the words, Godot Has Come.
He took it as a sign that all was well and that Beckett endorsed him. 

Godot Has Come 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where have all the Bob Dylans gone?

Bob Dylan.
I have read that a lot of people describe themselves as bloggers and activists; I write this blog but that's not how I would describe myself. I write it to keep up to date with my typing and stringing a few words together and after this amount of time – 5 years – it's become a kind of habit.
What surprises me is the number of people who read it. Not who officially follow it, but those that actually hit it and, presumably go on to read it. 
Last week's post – My Secret Play – really surprised me; it's not like Matt Drudge's blog that must attract millions of hits but I'm satisfied with the people who read it. I have 16 faithful followers but lots more who dip in.
I wrote a post called My Teenage Love Story on February 12th 2012 and within the last month 88 people read it; or one person read it 88 times – here it is if you want to see it and here are my top five posts since I started:
Sep 14, 2011
Dec 7, 2010, 6 comments
Dec 22, 2010
Jan 29, 2011, 2 comments
Nov 11, 2010, 3 comments
Those posts won't be controversial as this is not a political blog because I leave that to the experts but do you know what's missing these days – a singer like Bob Dylan. And maybe Springsteen! Where are they? Where is the voice of youth these days? The voice of a generation?
Just where are the protest singers? Are there any? There's more turmoil these days than in those.
In those days (or doze daze) there was the Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago; the Kent State shooting of demonstrating students by the state police and other things to complain about. The answer, of course, is blowing in the wind but the wind isn't coming my way.
We have image conscious politicians on the UK, they are so image conscious it's hard to imagine any of the UK political leaders in jeans. They're not exactly cool like Obama who apparently does it without effort.
I've never been much of a fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but give their song Ohio, written by Neil Young, a spin; it's been known to make listeners angry and when you consider the subject which was the mowing down of protesting students by Ohio National Guard, it's not surprising:
Kent State.
The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis; enough to make anybody angry especially the parents of the victims when they heard President Nixon call them 'campus bums;' he actually said 'You see these bums, you know, blowing up campuses storming around about the issue.'
None of those shot were bums - all were students in good standing at the university They were only protesting about the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia and it caused a national reaction – they made the ultimate sacrifice as their generation were killing and being killed thousands of miles from America - but did it stop the war? Not for 5 years and the USA lost.
So all those young men with an average age of 19 died for nothing: it is said the people who look at the wall, and see all those names, usually shed a tear.

But what did the Vietnam War teach industry and governments? It taught them that war is money; President Eisenhower (a Republican President, no less) warned of the Miltary-Industrial-Complex; and what is the Miltary-Industrial-Complex?
This is the official answer from Wikipedia:
 The military–industrial complex, or military–industrial–congressional complex,[1] comprises the policy and monetary relationships which exist between legislators, national armed forces, and the arms industry that supports them. These relationships include political contributions, political approval for military spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and oversight of the industry. It is a type of iron triangle. The term is most often used in reference to the system behind the military of the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961, though the term is applicable to any country with a similarly developed infrastructure.
Would anybody do that these days? Would they have the time to look up from their smart phones and Facebook and their 'it is what it is' attitudes and see.
100 years ago, this coming Christmas, German soldiers and British soldiers, on their own bat, decided upon a Christmas truce and played a football match against each other on Christmas Day; this was before America entered the great war – 2 or 3 years – and when the football match was over they went back over their lines – from their so called no man's land – and resumed the killing.
Pathetic isn't it – just following orders.