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Friday, 30 April 2010

The Story of Boris

Boris, left, with his brother.
I had an Uncle who was a rare book dealer. Several years ago, after his father's funeral, my cousin John told me this story.
Uncle Ben was interested in Russian literature and was reading a volume of poetry by Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago. My grandfather came from Russia in 1906 in the wave of Jewish emmigration from that place at that time and, although he spoke good enough English, he never learned to read or write it. He saw the book had a photograph of the author on the back.
"That's my cousin Boris!" he said. "No, Dad, that's Boris Pasternak" said Uncle Ben, smiling indulgently.
Grandad (known to our large family as 'Pop') insisted it was his cousin so Uncle Ben set about researching it. Pasternak's father was an artist of renown and his mother a famous concert pianist. While he was growing up Tolstoy, Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Rilke were regular visitors to the house.
His father converted to Christianity and Boris went off to University and Pop never saw him again but he was proved to be right; all of the facts he gave Uncle Ben were verified and it turns out that Bazza's grandfather was Boris Pasternak's first cousin.
I think it means that I share about 1.5% of my genes with a Nobel Prize winner. Explains a lot don't you think?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What is the Dunmow Flitch?

The Dunmow Flitch
Great Dunmow is a lovely town in the county of Essex, UK.  What is a flitch? Well, in this case at least, it's a side of bacon that is awarded to a married couple in a ceremony that takes place in the town every leap year. So the next one is in 2012.
It is awarded to a couple who "in twelvemonth and a day have not wisht themselves unmarried again"!
There are many stories about the true origins but it was mentioned by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales (The Wife of Bath's Tale).
An American couple whio won in 2004
The first recorded recipient was Richard Wright in 1445 (strangely, her name is not recorded). There is evidence that there could have been 12th century awards.
The award was discontinued and reinstated several times but has been fairly constant during this century.
After WW2 a side of bacon was sent by New Zealand, presumably because it was in short supply here.
Formerly chosen by the Lord of the Manor, these days the couple are chosen by a jury.
There was a heated debate in 2006 when it was proposed that gays be considered for the award.
A jury of 6 maidens and 6 batchelors!
A member of the organising committee has said "We have not yet had a Jewish, Muslim or Sikh couple apply, but we are such a diverse society that there is no reason why that day should not come."
Really? I'm not sure about Sikhs, but what would Jews or Muslims do with a side of bacon?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

My Heroes (25): Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau (1920 - 2000) was one of those film actors who was always very watchable even in a bad movie. He had a long career and has a large body of work to his name. My personal favourites are:
The Fortune Cookie. Directed by the wonderful Billy Wilder, one of Matthau's dozen or so collaborations with Jack Lemmon. He played a shyster lawyer who attempts to gain exhorbitant damages for his reluctant brother-in-law, played by Lemmon, who gets 'injured' while working as a TV cameraman at a football game.

Charley Varrick. This time he is a crop-duster who robs a small town bank that just happens to be where the mafia keep lots of their cash. The twists and turns of plot as they try to get their cash back from a wiley Varrick (Matthau) is hugely entertaining.

The Sunshine Boys. This time Walter is paired with George Burns. They portray a pair of former vaudeville comedians who once had a famous double-act although they have not spoken to each other for many years. Matthau's nephew (Richard Benjamin) is trying to re-unite the pair for a TV special. Great stuff, scripted by Neil Simon. "Enter!" (You had to be there.)

The Odd Couple. Felix is a neurotic divorcee who moves in with his slob of a friend Oscar, (Matthau.... of course), after the breakdown of his marriage. The comedy ensues from the interplay of the two chalk-and-cheese personalities. The writer Neil Simon claims that he based his original Broadway play on stories told to him by Mel Brooks after his own divorce. Thirty years later they made a sequel excitingly called The Odd Couple 2.

Other superb Matthau performances were given in Hello Dolly, Little Miss Marker, The Bad News Bears, The Front Page, Plaza Suite and many others.
For me, he could hardly do any wrong and I feel good just talking about these films.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

'Daddy' by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath 1932 - 1963
Prologue: This is the hardest blog post I have ever done and I have had it in preparation for a long time and I have been putting off publication until the time felt right. The circumstances of this poem are so desperately sad that it may move you to tears; but how do we know we are alive unless we let a little pain into our hearts?
Read the poem now and I will tell about the heart-rending background at the end of this post.
Have the kleenex ready!

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time ----
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You ----

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two ----
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
                 -Sylvia Plath. Written October 12 1962.

Epilogue: Sylvia's father Otto (1885 - 1940), pictured left, died when she was eight years old. She descibed the poem as being about a girl with an Electra complex. He was a cold and aloof man and she came to learn that he had been a Nazi but she married a man just like him, ( "I made a model of you....and I said I do, I do...."). That was the English Poet Ted Hughes to whom she was married for seven years before he left her for another woman. ("The vampire who drank my blood for a year. Seven years if you want to know.")
The imagery in this poem is mightily powerful and can be read in a variety of ways. The language is visceral and pulls no punches. It can be seen as analogy; her relationship with her father likened to Nazis and Jews; the metaphor of feet and shoes and 'fitting' suggesting body parts and the holocaust. Likewise, the references to vampires and blood.
And, even though the poem grips you with it's stark imagery all the way through, still the last line delivers a hard-hitting punch. She has finally detached herself from the obsession of her life but the price she had to pay was terrible. 

The year after writing this poem she sealed her children's bedroom door with wet towels, stuck her head in the gas oven and killed herself. The ultimate irony was to find her own 'final solution'.

If this leaves you feeling low here is a link to something lighter that she wrote after the birth of her first child: 'Morning Song'....(Love set you going like a fat gold watch.)

Actually, there's even a touch of melancholy about that poem too!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Beautiful Blogger Award

How kind of Gary of  'klahanie' to include this blog in a list of his personal award winners.
Now it's my turn to recommend some of my favourite blogs. I don't always leave comments and even if I do some of them have never been here!

  • Here are my Award-Winners, in no particular order, except that at number one it has to be: The Queen of Bloggingham Palace at Mimi Writes.... and Dating Profile of the Day and she has other blog's too! She is clearly obsessed dedicated to her art!

  • I always enjoys the sketches of animator MattJones.

  • And also the multiple contributors to Urban Sketchers.

  • In a similar 'arty 'vein there is Jesse Mangerson.

  • For some serious mind-extending, infrequently posted reading try the outrageously under-visited An Evolution of Knowledge by Stephen in Australia.

  • I should also mention the interesting writing of David at A Day in the Life although he already has this award!

  • Alicia at Forever Changed was one of the first posters on my original blog and, thankfully, still writes an interesting and varied blog diarising her journey since a traumatic life-changing experience.

  • Another Alicia in Vancouver displays some of her beautiful artwork at The Terra Studios

  • New kid on the block  Tom Eagerly, who currently only posts witty comments and seems to be shadowing me, should get his own blog!

  • And finally a very special recommendation for my long-time blogging compadre Bob at Tolkien's Tree located in Oxford, UK. He is thought-provoking, funny, serious, observant, mercifully brief, insightful and it's always a pleasant surprise to read each new post. Please visit his (and all the other!) blogs listed here
Now I invite all of the recipients to pass the award on to their own favourite blogs! Once again don't forget to vist Gary at 'klahanie'.
I should say that there are many other blogs that I regularly visit and enjoy and I apologise to anyone who should have been here but got omitted somehow.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Quiz Question (5): Literary Inn-keepers

No more Mr Nice Guy; last time the questions were too easy, (or you were too clever!)
Can you name where these two famous fictional inn-keepers can be found and say who created them?

  1. Harry Bailey
  2. Maurice Allington
      The usual rules apply:
  • No prizes, just the kudos
  • Two complete correct answers required
  • No Googling
  • This time the pictures won't help!
Answers are now posted in the comments!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Twenty Heroes (From My Previous Blog)

Something I enjoyed doing in my previous blog (before I took a three year break) was the My Heroes series.
Here are links to the first twenty of them, just click to go straight to the original post. If you feel inclined to comment, please comment in this post, but don't forget to tell me who you are talking about! Thanks:
1) Andres Segovia
2) Paul Cezanne
3) Bobby Moore
4) Albert Einstein
5) Sigmund Freud
6) Charles Darwin
7) Aung San Suu Kyi
8) Michael Johnson
9) Michel de Montaigne
10) Sir Winston Churchill
11) Homer Simpson
12) Antoni Gaudi
13) Andrew Marvell
14) Fiona Pitt-Kethley
15) Maya Angelou
16) William Shakespeare
17) Richard Condon
18) Woody Allen
19) Richard Dawkins
20) E. Annie Proulx

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Painting of the Month (3) April 2010: David Hockney

A Bigger Splash, 1967
David Hockney's iconic painting was made in California in 1967. I enjoy it for it's clean cool lines and it's overall design with strong horizontals, verticals and angles.
For me it manages to convey coolness even though the shadows, or lack of them, indicate that it is noon and probably very hot. The diagonal of the diving board points to the distant deck-chair and the splash itself has become what the picture is about. The diver has been obliterated out of the picture.
Look closely at the different elements that make up the splash - its as if the artist has deconstructed what a splash is made of and synthesised one in paint.
David Hockney was born in Yorkshire, England in 1937 (not 1934 Wikipedia!) and was one the 'pop art' school of London in the sixties.
I will be featuring several other British artists in the coming months