17 October 2018


Vegan fried "chicken" at "Make No Bones"
Our favourite son returned to Sheffield at the weekend. He had a good rest and caught up with some old friends but this morning he took an early train  back to London - specifically for interviews with "The Evening Standard" and "The Metro".

On Monday, we went for lunch in a trendy, post-industrial unit by The River Don. It is home to the "Make No Bones" vegan cafe which arguably has the best 100% vegan menu in Sheffield.

Now I am not a vegan myself but I am not averse to eating vegan meals. After all fruit is vegan and so are vegetables. To enjoy vegan dishes, you do not have to be a card-carrying member of The Vegan Society. It's okay to dabble. The vegan police will not get you.

Ian ordered a Moving Mountains B12 Classic Burger with french fries and fried "chicken" made from seitan. I went for the California Salad - roast tender stem broccoli and butternut squash salad with pomegranate seeds, avocado, quinoa, pistachio nuts, spring onion, poppy seeds and fresh herbs with an avocado and lemon dressing. It was gorgeous - the best salad I have had all year - so many tastes, colours and textures.

Of course I also sampled the french fries and fried "chicken" with its barbecue dip. Also delightful.
My California Salad
There has been a lot of talk recently in the news media about the need to reduce meat consumption for sound environmental reasons. Far too much land and energy is required to produce the meat products we find in our supermarkets. In addition, farm animals create vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane.

Our ancestors did not expect meat to figure in just about every meal they ate. Only refrigeration has made that possible. The majority of people of the past customarily ate vegan meals. Meat was an infrequent treat , usually consumed within hours of the animal's slaughter. We should not be surprised that when the contents of bog people's stomachs are examined they are found to be almost exclusively plant-based.

In May of this year  an article in "The Guardian" said this:-

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

There's certainly a lot to be said for veganism.
Moving Mountains B12 Classic Burger

16 October 2018


Last Friday was a grey, rainy day just as meteorologists had predicted. I donned my new Marmot jacket, grabbed my senior citizen bus pass and headed into the city centre to watch a film at "The Showroom".

It was the two o'clock screening of "The First Man" starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong - the first man on the moon.

It begins powerfully. Armstrong is on a test flight - heading to the stratosphere. It is an intensely physical and noisy experience. The shaking is almost unbearable but Armstrong is focused, calm and determined even when this test flight goes horribly wrong.

Indeed, that is how he comes across in his home life with his wife Janet played by English actress Claire Foy and his young son and daughter. The daughter's name is Karen and very sadly she dies at the tender age of two from a malignant brain tumour. That was back in 1961. The film suggests that Armstrong's private grief over her loss is even present during the moon landing.

He is shown standing by a small lunar crater into which he casts Karen's bracelet. In reality, this never happened. It is a dramatic device dreamt up by the screenplay writer Josh Singer in league with the director -  Damien Chazelle. It adds an element of emotional poignancy but in any case filmgoers ought to remind themselves that "The First Man" is an entertainment and not a documentary.

There are many wordless phases in the film. Armstrong comes across as rather taciturn which frustrates his wife. Janet even has to bully him to speak to his two sons before heading off to join the historical Apollo 11 mission.

Later I watched an interview with Armstrong's sons - Eric and Mark who played an advisory role in the making of "The First Man". They were very comfortable with the way their "old man" had been portrayed. "He didn't say much but he had a good sense of humour", said one of them.

"The Last Man" is not science fiction. It is about an important event that happened in the middle of the twentieth century. Along with his beautiful first name, Armstrong will be remembered forever in the annals of world history. I was gripped by the film and I applaud Ryan Gosling for his studied and convincing portrayal of a rather unlikely hero.

For a different - and in my opinion unfairly damning - review of this film you might want to read Richard Brody's article in "The New Yorker"  His agenda is clearly a big one but the film was only two hours long and as I have already suggested - its purpose is surely to entertain not to win points for political correctness which is partly what Brody's verbosity appears to be advocating.

15 October 2018


Frances and Ian - London - Oct 7th 2018
Shirley and I were blessed to have two normal, healthy babies. They enjoyed happy childhoods and have grown up to become thoughtful adult human beings who relish the gift of life. 

But of course it isn't like that for everyone. Here are some close-to-home references that confirm that reality. Our son, Ian has many good friends - guys he has known for years. Though Ian remains a carefree bachelor, several of his mates are settling down and becoming fathers. 

How quickly the joyful anticipation of pregnancy can be replaced with a massive weight of anxiety. One of his old school friends became the father of a very premature baby that struggled to survive through his early weeks of life and is now permanently impaired both physically and mentally. Another friend's new baby has been in and out of hospital since birth. She has had two corrective operations because her organs were somehow arranged incorrectly within her chest cavity. She is bound to have breathing and digestion problems throughout her life.

A friend of mine's ex girlfriend has a four year old child who cannot walk, has a floppy head and drools when he eats or drinks. It is unlikely that there will ever be much improvement

Though we did not know him personally, a  local young man well-known to friends, recently leapt to his death from a multi-storey car park in Manchester. He  was a university student - just twenty one years old. Imagine how his parents must be feeling now.

Yes, we were blessed even though Shirley suffered not just one but two ectopic pregnancies in the eighties. One before Frances came along and one after. Sometimes I think about those little flames of life that burned so briefly and then went out but it is as nothing compared with the stories I have alluded to above.
Reading News
I have just finished "Time and Time Again" by Ben Elton. It was well-written fiction that poses the question - if there was a moment in history you could change what would it be? Hugh Stanton has the opportunity to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914. He hopes to stop The First World War and for good measure carries on to Berlin to kill  Kaiser Wihelm II, the German Emperor. But does his mission work and what kind of path will history take if he is successful?

It is I suppose a kind of fantasy novel - not normally my cup of tea but this was a stonking good read. Very well-considered by an intelligent  author whose roots were in comedy script-writing for the BBC - including "The Young Ones" and "The Thin Blue Line". Let's leave it at that.

14 October 2018


Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd
in "The Last Picture Show"
I first watched Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" in Suva - the capital of the Fiji Islands - back in January 1973. It was spellbinding. And over the years I had remembered the understated and rather melancholic atmosphere of this iconic black and white film. However, after forty five years, most of the fine details had left my mind. 

Although it's not my habit to watch any film more than once, I finally made an exception for "The Last Picture Show" after noticing that a DVD copy of it was available quite cheaply via Amazon. My copy duly arrived and last night I turned off the lights and hunkered down to watch it once again. 

My nineteen year old self had not been wrong for the sixty five year old man who now occupies this body was equally absorbed by the film. It stars Timothy Bottoms as Sonny, a young Jeff Bridges as Duane and Cybill Shepherd making her screen debut as Jacey Farrow - the most beautiful girl in town.

For years I thought that town was Abilene in  central Texas but it's not - it's a fictional place called Anarene in  northern Texas - closely based upon Archer City where Larry McMurtry grew up. In 1966, he published the novel on which the film is based - also called "The Last Picture Show".
Sam the Lion with Sonny and Billy
at the lake or "tank" where he once swam with Jacey's mother Lois
Though there's usually country music playing in the background, this is a quiet film set in the dusty heart of America - miles from anywhere. Analene is a small town where people endure private struggles for contentment and love. It is wistful, subtle and if not heart breaking then certainly heart aching. 
Though released in 1971, the film is placed twenty years earlier. California and New York City are a million miles away and they are never mentioned. The horizons of the inhabitants of Anarene are very restricted. Somehow this reminds me of  Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" where the enormity of distance seems to weigh down on the lives of the people. Only Duane really gets away - to fight in Korea. Sonny is left behind running the decrepit old pool hall once run by Sam the Lion played by Ben Johnson.

As Sonny admits, "Nothin's really been right since Sam the Lion died". Sam the Lion had also run "The Royal" - the town's only cinema. In his will he left it to his longtime employee, Miss Mosey who soon called time on the failing business - "Nobody wants to come to shows no more. Kids got baseball in the summer, television all the time. If Sam had lived, I believe we could've kept it goin'. But I just didn't have the know-how."

"The Last Picture Show" - still five star brilliance in my book.
"The Royal" - former cinema in Archer City, Texas - courtesy of Google Streetview

13 October 2018


In the latest jaw-dropping edict to emerge from The White House, President Trump has instructed that henceforth the language name "English" will be replaced by "Trumpish".

Trump said, "We need a great language that is businesslike and speaks clearly to people... like the word 'sidewalk' for example. It's what you walk upon by the side of the road. Hence - sidewalk". Trump went on to outlaw the words "pavement" and "footpath" calling such terms "British bullshit".

Often using "sidewalk" as a guiding principle, the revered president has begun his Trumpish war on English by outlawing several commonly used words. From January 1st 2019, these changes will be required by law.

roof                     housetop
window               lookiethrough
ladder                 upwalk
staircase             downwalk
tightrope             cablewalk
kettle                  waterboiler
Democrat            Redmouth
lucidity               covfefe
tax evasion         initiative
important            trumpant
illusion                wall
intelligence         trumpence
trump                  fart
librarian              book stamper
crab                     sidewalker

His Regal Majesty Emperor Trump is seeking further additions to his new Trumpish  lexicon and welcomes suggestions. Make Language Great Again!

12 October 2018


You might not wish to accompany me on an urban walk as I am always pointing my camera at things. You'd be yelling, "For heaven's sake Pudding! Let's move along mister!" But I wouldn't care. Though I have now reached the grand old age of sixty five, my eyes are still filled with childlike wonder - an insatiable appetite for the endless eye-catching images I see around me.

How should one capture London in a group of photographs? Perhaps Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Tower Bridge and The Shard? Or maybe it's better to drill down and record little things - the details of the city. Yes - perhaps that's the way - to discover the essence of a place through details that are so often overlooked.

Up at the top of this post there's a lion's head from the facade of The Alexandra Palace near Wood Green and below a box of heritage tomatoes I spotted at the farmers' market in the adjacent park.
Above - as we were walking through Ravenscourt Park on Tuesday morning, I looked up to the leafy canopy above - painted in gorgeous autumn sunlight. Below, a young seabird explores the edge of The River Thames near Albert Wharf, Hammersmith. I like the way she is reflected in the water as she seeks nourishment before nightfall.
Above - in The Rose Garden at Alexandra Palace there's a fountain with carved lion heads on each face of the supporting column. I was attracted by the green algal growth on one of those heads. Below - this picture was taken in Kew Gardens from beneath the incredible "Hive" structure designed by Wolfgang Buttress for the Milan Expo of 2015. There's a man standing in the very heart of the structure and he has no idea that I am beneath him pointing my camera towards the sky.
Finally, this is The Dutch House at Kew Palace. On the lawn in front of it there's a sturdy bronze sundial like a sail upon a circular pool of water.

11 October 2018


On my birthday, after an exquisite breakfast in "The Ritz", we ventured to Kew Gardens. I guess the last time we were there was in the mid-eighties when Ian was riding in his pushchair like The Prince of Siam.

We arrived at eleven in the morning and left at five in the afternoon but we could have stayed much longer because we missed certain things such as The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of botanical art and the Bonsai House. It would be impossible to cover everything in a single day at Kew Gardens.

The gardens have been in existence since 1772. They emerged from old royal estates that would at that time have been in open countryside west of London. The famous Palm House was constructed between 1844 and 1848. The establishment of Kew Gardens coincided with imperial exploration of the planet. Exotic plants were being brought back to London from every corner of the world.
The Palm House - after applying "Waterlogue"
Kew Gardens are much more than a leisure venue. Run by The Royal Botanical Society, they are underpinned by science and the thirst for knowledge and preservation of species. The gardens cover three hundred acres south of a loop in The River Thames near Richmond and they contain over 14,000 trees.
In the rafters of The Palm House
If you were to make a heat map showing which parts of Kew are most visited you would I am sure find that the three main glasshouses come top of the list - The Palm House, the newly refurbished Temperate House and The Princess of Wales Conservatory. On my birthday there were a lot of schoolchildren in these locations - holding clipboards and pens. They were also on The Treetop Walkway that I had been specially looking forward to.

It was a joy to stroll under majestic trees, along grassy avenues. There were redwoods, black pines, mighty English oaks and sweet chestnut trees. In the Victorian Palm House the tropical trees battle for light, soaring up to the glass rooftop and the air is warm and humid like a jungle.

One of my lasting memories of the birthday excursion will be the titan arum in The Princess of Wales Conservatory. This bizarre plant hails from the now shrinking jungles of Sumatra. It emerges from the earth like a mighty column, growing perhaps six inches a day until it finally bursts into bloom emitting a powerful odour like rotting meat that in the wild attracts varied pollinators. If you would like to know more about this amazing plant go here.
Titan arum -  Amorphophallus titanum
Seeing so many different plants together - from cacti to carnivores, from water lilies to pampas grasses, plants from every continent - it reminds visitors that we live on an amazing planet. Each plant is different and in its own way truly wonderful. Without necessarily spelling it out in written words, Kew Gardens announces the awesome majesty and incredible variety of the botanical world and says - Cherish and Save or Lose!
Nelumbo - "Baby Doll"
Sweet chestnut seen from the Treetop Walkway
Callianthe picta in The Temperate House