Tag Archives: love

Movie review – A United Kingdom

Based on a remarkable true story, A United Kingdom opens in post-war London.

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Young black African Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is coming to the end of his education, and about to be recalled to his home country – Bechuanaland, later Botswana – to rule the British Protectorate as hereditary King of nation and tribe.

But he falls in love with Ruth Williams (Rosamund  Pike), who is from a very humble background and who is most definitely the wrong colour, alienating many in Bechuanaland and in Whitehall.

If the story told in the film is remotely close to the truth, it is yet another episode in British colonial history of which we should be ashamed. Driven by the burgeoning cold war, the new policy of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and the possibility of finding valuable minerals in Bechaunaland, Seretse is banished by the British government from his own land, initially for 5 years and then for life.

But Ruth has remained in Africa, where she gives birth to a daughter and where she slowly wins round the local people.

The only British politician or diplomat to emerge from this shameful overbearing behaviour is a young Tony Benn, who fights Parliament for the right of Seretse to return. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill reneges on an earlier promise to overturn the exile, and Jack Davenport deserves credit for his reptilian portrayal of Sir Alistair Canning, a devious – though fictitious – career diplomat who thrives on wielding colonial power over subjugated nations.

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The film moved me to tears. It is a powerful tale rooted in reality, and told with vivid cinematography, particularly of the African landscapes. But it is related somewhat in stark black and white tones – the evil colonial masters against the wholly good Seretse and his pale skinned wife – when I suspect there were many shades of grey in the truth of history.

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No matter. Good wins out, Seretse returns to his homeland and facilitates a new democratically independent country.

And Ruth is even finally reconciled with her own family.

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Book review – The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

Love. Hope, Passion. Evil. Loss. Loneliness. Isolation. Displacement. Genocide. Survival.

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Edna O’Brien’s latest novel weaves all these disparate themes, and emotional extremes, into a story that will leave you gasping for air by the time you turn the final page. And shaking your head in disbelief at the evil man can perpetrate.

This is masterful prose from a gifted story-teller at the peak of her considerable powers, honed in 19 novels and much other garlanded literary output throughout her 86 years.

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The first part of The Little Red Chairs takes place in a small village in rural Ireland. A stranger arrives in this peaceful community. He is an enigmatic presence but a poet and a healer, who soon becomes an increasingly popular figure.

His name is on everybody’s lips, Dr Vlad this and Dr Vlad that. He has done wonders for people, women claiming to be rejuvenated, just after two treatments. It is tantamount to a miracle, what he has done for Hamish’s wife. 

Jack McBride is a good man, but much older than his wife. Fidelma longs for a child, to become a mother before that option is no longer available to her. She comes to know Vlad, but the consequences are a scene as shocking as I can remember reading in any work of fiction.

The second part of the story is told on a broader canvas, both geographically and in its themes. War. Genocide. The asylum process. Immigration. Revenge. These are communicated effectively by the writer, but I preferred the subtlety of quiet, brooding, parochial scenes in rural Ireland – and the difficult to endure, heart-piercing shock of the pivotal scene – to the more sweeping story that develops afterwards.

This book has been called Edna O’Brien’s masterpiece. I’m not sure about that, I’ll have to read some of her other work to compare. But it is a fine novel, memorable and haunting.

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Movie review – Lion

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A 5 year-old boy lives in poverty in rural northern India, but is much loved by his hard-working mother and older brother Guddu.

Tragically, he is accidentally displaced to the mean streets of Calcutta, where he survives with other lost children, until swept up into a secure facility. Unspeakable things happen here, but young Saroo is fortunate and is adopted by a caring Australian couple.

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He settles in well – Nicole Kidman as your new Mum can’t be a bad experience, after all – but the family unit is destabilised by another arrival from India. Saroo’s newly adoptive brother Mantosh struggles with demons that he sadly never really overcomes.

Saroo thrives in Tasmania though, and qualifies to study hospitality management at university in Melbourne. He embraces the cosmopolitan environment there, and meets and falls in love with Lucy, sympathetically played by Rooney Mara.

But 25 years after being separated from his real family, Saroo becomes desperate to track them down, with inevitably damaging consequences for his Australian family and friends.

Based on a true story, this is a charming film, if a little mawkish at times. I defy you not to be reaching for the Kleenex when Saroo, played by Dev Patel, finally locates his village and family in India.

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Two things linger in my mind after seeing Lion. The scene where Sue Brierley tells Saroo that she and husband John could always have had children of their own, but wanted to offer a better life to parentless children from a poorer society.  And the caption – as the closing credits roll – that 80,000 children are lost in India every year.

 

 

Book review – Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith burst onto the literary scene, like a dazzling meteor, with the publication of White Teeth in 2000, written while studying English literature at Cambridge.

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That debut novel captures perfectly the complicated relationships between the English and migrants, particularly those from the old colonial countries. Based in her native north-west London, as most of Smith’s novels are, friends Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal are beautifully drawn characters, with depth and warmth. Their story and the writing linger long in the memory.

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Swing Time also has its roots in north London. Two young brown girls (mixed race, like Smith herself) meet at a community dance class. Tracey is talented and wild. The never-named narrator is smarter, but not such a great dancer.

The novel tracks their stories and relationship over the next 25 years of adolescence and young adult life.

Tracey has some brief but minor stage success, but descends into council estate poverty, with bitterness and with several children from different fathers.

The narrator finds that a weird globetrotting existence, as PA for a Madonna-like superstar, suits her aimless ambition. With no life of her own, she is glued to Aimee’s whims and changing directions. Based mainly in London and New York, as the writer herself is, the story takes on a different dimension when Aimee decides to fund a girls’ school in West Africa.

The lesser characters in Swing Time are subtly drawn. Aimee is besotted with much younger Lamin, from the African village, and wants him to become part of her inner circle. Beautiful young Hawa, also from the village, chooses a different escape route. Intellectual philanthropic facilitator Fernando from Brazil falls in love with the narrator.

The novel has been well received, but I’m afraid it falls short of the lasting impression I had after turning the final page of White Teeth. Zadie Smith’s novels have won prizes, she is often included in most influential people lists, and she lives a gilded life spanning New York and London. But somehow Swing Time feels a little too much like a hook for her personal concerns and political beliefs, than a well-formed story with wholly believable characters.

Maybe I’m being excessively critical, but you set the bar very high with White Teeth, Ms Smith. Can you please find another meteor?

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Movie review – La La Land

For once the hype is justified.

Well, almost….

Winner of a record 7 Golden Globes – in every category for which it received a nomination – La La Land is surely bound for Oscar glory too.

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The movie is written and directed by the enviably talented Damien Chazelle, still only 31 and the creator of Whiplash, another jazz-themed original piece of artistic brilliance from a couple of years ago.

La La Land sets out its musical stall in the dazzling opening set-piece. Gridlocked LA commuters jump out of their cars and onto the freeway tarmac, bursting with colourful, choreographed energy.

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Chazelle has created a musical drama very much for the 21st century. There are too many nods to old-time Hollywood song-and-dance classics to call out, but La La Land is a brilliant and original updating of the genre.

Emma Stone is Mia, a wannabe actress pouring coffee for stars in the Warner Bros film studios between her own unsuccessful auditions .

Ryan Gosling is jazz pianist Sebastian, forced to betray his musical principles to pay the bills.

Mia and Sebastian meet, They fall in love. They break up.

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So far, so very Hollywood. But the freshness comes from Chazelle’s use of music, dance and lush cinematography – and the chemistry between Stone and Gosling – to bring the story to sumptuous, vibrant life.

With a critic’s hat on, the movie feels a little like a game of two halves. The first is musical, the second more conventionally wordy. And I’m not totally convinced by the Sliding Doors-like alternative ending to the love story…..

But these are churlish observations.

Leave your cynicism at the cinema door, open your cold English hearts and embrace the cloudless skies and musical warmth of highly original La La Land.

And start counting those Oscars……

Book review – In the Café of Lost Youth

This is my first post for the blog at TripFiction (many thanks for the invitation, Tina, and for the book!).

What a great website this is, combining twin JustRetiring passions of books and travel.

Books set in a location help us get under the skin of a place in a way that is quite different to a conventional travel guide.

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano, novel set in Paris

You know those enigmatic, slightly pretentious French language films, with lots of silences and meaningful looks between the protagonists, played out in a smoky café on the Rive Gauche?
This book reminded me a little of one of those.
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The central human character is the young, lost soul of Jacqueline Delanque, nicknamed “Louki” by the cast of regulars at the tacky Café  Condé she wanders into one day. The louche bunch of actors, writers and poets take her under their artistic wing, without ever really knowing her past or helping her figure out her future.
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But through flashbacks and other characters – and in one of the four chapters, from Louki herself – we gradually come to understand her troubled and impoverished upbringing. She becomes known to the police, wandering the streets of Montmartre alone and too young, while her mother works at Le Moulin Rouge. Gradually she explores further afield, bumping into the drug world through a chance meeting with Jeanette Gaul, known ominously as “Death’s Head“. Louki fails in her ambition to study, when she is rejected by the esteemed Jules-Ferry lycée. She drifts into a brief, doomed marriage with Jean-Pierre Choureau, director of a real estate agency.
 
But through Roland, a lover she lives with after she walks out on Jean-Pierre one day, we sense she might finally find a little happiness.
 
Roland binds the narrative together, through his obsession with the real star of the story – Paris. He talks about the Neutral Zones: “intermediary zones existed in Paris, no-man’s-lands where you were on the fringes of everything, in transit, or even suspended. You enjoyed a degree of immunity there. I could have called them free zones, but neutral zones was more exact.” 
 
Louki lived with Jean-Pierre in the affluent, sterile suburb of Neuilly, where there is an inevitability that the marriage will fail. She and Roland find a temporary peace wandering the grimy streets of the neutral zones late at night, but a tragic ending to this sad, short novella comes as no surprise. 
 
You may not fully engage with the human characters of In the Café of Lost Youth, but TripFiction fans will love the book’s insight into Paris. Stroll along the sleazy side streets of la Ville Lumière, drink with the regulars at the Café Condé and share Louki and Roland’s aimless meandering through the dark underbelly of the city.
“We were wa;king without any precise aim, we had the entire night ahead of us. There were still glimmers of sunlight beneath the arcades of of rue de Rivoli. It was early summer and we were going to go away soon. Where? We didn’t yet know. Possibly to Majorca or Mexico. Perhaps to London or to Rome. The places were of no importance, they all merged together. The only purpose of our journey was to go to the heart of the summer, to where time stops and the hands of the clock are set forever at noon.”

A Day To Remember

Well, I’m glad today is nearly over….

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Leonard Cohen checks out on Remembrance Day.

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We get back from the funeral of Victor Sayer, a wonderful old friend of Gill’s, and who will be sorely missed….and find out that my dear father is in hospital again.

In the prescient words of Jools Holland and his ever brilliant Rhythm & Blues Band, who we were lucky to see in Guildford last night with good friends Chezza & Dave: Enjoy yourself….it’s later than you think.

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Theatre review – Spillikin

Can there be a more rewarding artistic medium than live theatre?

I love a good movie. Occasionally there’s something interesting and thought-provoking on TV….Damilola last night was certainly an emotionally engaging experience. And of course reading a good book is one of life’s  greatest pleasures.

But watching live theatre – particularly in a small, intimate venue – engages the senses more completely, perhaps, than anything else.  And seeing Spillikin tonight at The Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor certainly left no emotional stone unturned.

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Sally has Alzheimer’s. Her husband Raymond, a genius and academic, is away at a co-co-co-co-conference. A colleague of Raymond’s has just installed a robot with Sally, to keep her company.

Of course it’s soon clear that Raymond is dead. But his love for Sally ran so deep that he has programmed the robot with his own memories, to ensure Sally is not alone as she spirals further into confusion and isolation.

As Sally gets to know and engage with the robot – now Raymond – the story of their real life is movingly played out by two younger actors alongside them on stage.

This emotionally charged drama, written by Jon Welch and produced by the innovative Pipeline Theatre company, raises so many questions about love, loss, betrayal, memory, dementia, caring – and Artificial Intelligence! – that a Q&A session after the play, with the writer and the cast, barely begins to blow away any clouds.

But that’s the beauty of theatre. Interpret it as you will. Which is likely to be different from everyone else.

Huge thanks to friends Jonny & Laura Lees for letting us see Spillikin with them. And to Will Jackson, the robot maker, as well as the writer, cast and crew. A brilliant and thought-provoking experience.

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So long, Marianne

One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent years was I’m Your Man, an expertly crafted biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons.

A significant part of Cohen’s early life was spent on the Greek island of Hydra, where he met Norwegian beauty Marianne Ihlen in the 1960s. She was his muse and inspiration for two of his best known pieces of work, So long Marianne and Bird on a Wire.

She died in Norway on 29th July, aged 81.

A close friend of Marianne’s – Jan Christian Mollestad – had contacted Cohen a short while earlier, letting him know his old lover was close to death.

It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne. We brought it to her the next day and she was fully conscious and she was so happy that he had already written something for her,” Mollestad said.

Mollestad read Cohen’s letter to her before she died. “It said: well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”

And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Mollestad told CBC that when he read the line “stretch out your hand,” Ihlen stretched out her hand. “Only two days later she lost consciousness and slipped into death. I wrote a letter back to Leonard saying in her final moments I hummed Bird on a Wire because that was the song she felt closest to. And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said “so long, Marianne.”

So Long Marianne

Leonard Cohen

Come over to the window, my little darling,
I’d like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy
before I let you take me home.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you’ve gone and changed your name again.
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
to wash my eyelids in the rain!

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

RIP Johnny Barnes – Bermuda legend

I lived in Bermuda through much of the 1980s. Every day on the way in to work – wearing canary yellow shorts and long, dark blue socks as I fidgeted on the hot plastic seat of my Honda 80 cc moped – I’d pass the Crow Lane roundabout, the main access point in to Hamilton, the island’s capital.

There, happy, smiling, white-bearded Johnny Barnes would wave to everyone, so close that he would often also high five motorists, cyclists and bike riders. Every day.

He did this for more than 30 years. He became a legend, for locals and for tourists alike. A statue was erected near his waving spot.

Sadly, Mr Happy died recently, aged 93. He only stopped waving and smiling at the roundabout in December 2015.

RIP Johnny. Thanks for the memories and for the love.

Below is the full text of an obituary printed today in no less a publication than The Times. A fitting tribute.

Bermudian bus driver known as ‘Mr Happy’ who became a tourist attraction after years of cheerfully greeting the traffic.

For 30 years Johnny Barnes woke each day before 4am and walked two miles from his house to one of the busiest roundabouts in the capital where he spent several hours waving at commuters and telling them, “I love you, God loves you”.

With his white beard, arms thrown wide and broad-brimmed hat, he was familiar to most of the islanders. His large smile and cheerful greeting were infectious and he became known as “Mr Happy”.

“I enjoy making people happy,” he said. “I like to let them know that life is sweet, that it’s good to be alive.” Tourists often came to be photographed with him and a group of local businessmen erected a statue in his honour near the roundabout in 1998.

He was born John James Randolf Adolphus Mills in 1923 and raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, a sect that preaches the return of Christ to Earth. His mother often told him that — according to the children’s rhyme — as he was born on a Saturday, he would have to work hard for a living. Once she sent him to deliver a message to an elderly lady. He successfully handed it over but his mother still scolded him on his return. “I delivered it but I didn’t speak to her,” he recalled. “My mother said never, never, let no one come to her and say that I didn’t speak to them. She said I must speak to everyone.” It was a lesson that he took to heart throughout his long life.

He became an electrician on the Bermuda Railway. Later, he worked as a bus driver. Full of the joys of life — and his mother’s words — he made it a tradition to wave at passers-by from the bus depot as he ate his lunch. “If we learn how to love one another, there would be no jealousy, no anger, no envy. Everything would be just right,” he said.

Barnes married in 1949. His wife, Belvina, was also a happy woman because, as he said, he “covered her with honey” all her life. He always told visitors to their house how much he loved her. They had no children.

He became an electrician on the Bermuda Railway. Later, he worked as a bus driver. Full of the joys of life — and his mother’s words — he made it a tradition to wave at passers-by from the bus depot as he ate his lunch. “If we learn how to love one another, there would be no jealousy, no anger, no envy. Everything would be just right,” he said.

After his death his wife read out his final message: “My mind and heart would have liked to continue at the roundabout forever, sharing love, cheerfulness, happy wishes and prayers with each of you. However, our Loving Heavenly Father knows best, so He said, ‘Johnny, it is time for you to rest’.”

Johnny Barnes, Bermuda’s “Mr Happy”, was born on June 23, 1923. He died on July 9, 2016, aged 93.