Is it just me or are houses getting uglier? Today we got promotional material for an estate agent, with this picture of a house that’s for sale in our neighbourhood. Presumably it was designed by an architect. Presumably that architect’s course had touched on the perfect proportions of the Parthenon, the distinctive grace of the Duomo di Firenze, the simple elegance of the Eiffel Tower, the soaring splendour of Barcelona’s unfinished Sagrada Familia (pictured). Was he/she away sick for all those lectures?
I blame Grand Designs, that TV series that glorifies rusty iron sheeting, half-burnt timber, floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete floors and exposed girders. At the start of the Industrial Revolution factory-owners were proud to build cotton mills that looked like houses, with well proportioned windows and decorative flourishes. Now people are building houses that look like carelessly stacked shipping containers and architects point proudly to “industrial” interiors.
Am I alone in thinking that this period of residential architecture will be looked back on with bemused revulsion? I’m sure Prince Charles agrees with me – but what about you?
Yesterday was a sad day: 2 January 2021. Our local cinema closed. We moved into the area in 1985, when The Trak and its associated video store (remember those?) had been open for 10 years. I won’t say we moved here because of The Trak, but it was one of the factors.
Its three screens occupied the upper floor of a modest commercial building. Nothing fancy, no art deco styling, no sweeping staircase. It’s close to the mighty Burnside Village shopping centre, which is about to be expanded – with a cinema complex to be added. Although The Trak specialised in non-mainstream films it could probably not have survived competition from across the road. But it was Covid-19 that delivered the killing blow.
We went to the last show of all, of course, and bought chocolate coated ice-cream cones at the candy bar. We’d become used to being the only two people, perhaps with one or two others scattered around the auditorium, but last night most of the seats were filled. The show was a 1957 film called ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ whose cast list is a Who’s Who of British comedy in the 1950s. Appropriately it was about a young couple who inherit a small, dilapidated cinema and try to make a go of it.
There was not a dry eye in the house when the final credits played, even though it was a comedy. Adam (pictured above), the owner, gave a final speech and explained why he had not closed the curtain that covers the screen. This is a cinema tradition, signifying that resurrection is not impossible.
And indeed The Trak will live on, in name at least. Adam and his partner are looking for a new venue to lease; and if that fails they will try to run it on a ‘pop-up’ basis. Wherever, whenever, Mrs SG and I will there for the next show.
Like everyone, I suppose, I have very happy memories of Christmas as it was when I was a child. There are things I miss. Let me list a few…
Unpacking the Christmas tree lights, plugging them in, and finding by trial and error which one had gone lame since last Christmas – because if one bulb went, none would come on.
Receiving dozens and dozens of Christmas cards, delivered twice a day by children hired in their school holidays to cope with the tidal wave of greetings.
Hanging those cards over strings suspended between lintels and light fittings, not putting two with the same dominant colour side-by-side, mixing up the big and the small, the sacred and the profane.
Opening up the big cardboard box (that one of my father’s tailored suits had come in) and choosing which of the familiar sheets of wrapping paper I would use for this year’s gifts to my family. Parcels were secured with string in those days, so wrapping paper could be recycled forever.
Emancipating nuts with heavy steel nutcrackers. Hazel nuts were easy; walnuts needed precise application of pressure; brazil nuts needed brute strength, but only up to the moment of fracture or you’d be left with a handful of mash.
Merry Christmas to you and yours – and a reminder to make your nomination for next year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (known in the popular press as “The Stroppy”). Closing date: 15 January (midday GMT).
There have been many celebrations about the overthrow of tyrants. We always expect that when the tyrant has gone there will be a flowering of righteousness; that good people will step into the light, take the vacant helm and steer the ship of state onto the right course.
The right course always means our own – of course. In the Western World the right course is towards democracy, capitalism and individual rights. We felt cheated when China adopted our technology and business models, moved into our markets and grew rich, but failed to adopt our politics and morals. That wasn’t the deal! And what about Russia? Iraq? Libya? Myanmar?
Now we rejoice in Joe Biden’s victory. Another tyrant has been overthrown. Will we be disappointed again? Will the unhealthy miasma that produced the phenomenon of Trumpery be blown out to sea by the Bidon/Harris breeze? Or will it linger? Will the honest efforts of good people be brought to nothing by an infection that they barely understand and lack the tools to fight?
Let me change the subject, but only slightly. I have tried to think of an instance where bitter fighting has been brought to an end without a clear victory and decisive defeat. I cannot. Can you?
I think not. I think one side must win and the other side must lose. Clearly and decisively. Like Donald Trump, the loser will have to surrender before the fighting can stop. Usually this means fighting until one side is too exhausted, broken and broke to carry on. Then a kind of healing can begin. Some of the closest allies were once the bitterest of foes.
And this brings me to a conclusion that surprises me. For all the things that Trump did wrong, history may judge him well for siding uncritically with the Rogue State of Israel, climaxing in a deal with the UAE. Much as one weeps for the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people, perhaps they have to accept and acknowledge defeat at their oppressors’ hands before they can heal and rebuild – helped by generous gazillions from Israel’s friends.
At last! My smash-hit fifth opus – Bobby Shafter – is now available as an e-book. It costs a derisory US$2.99, which works out to 0.003 cent per word. You can buy it on almost any e-book sales platform except Amazon (but I am working on that).
I suggest getting it from Smashwords by clicking here.
Four days ago I had my second cataract operation, and have 20/20 vision for the first time in my life. The operation took about 15 minutes for each eye, there was no pain, and between them Medicare and BUPA paid for everything except the eye-drops.
I now realise that I’ve been seeing the world through a yellow-brown filter for years, maybe decades. Every day I walk round the house gazing at the pictures on the walls, marvelling at their true colours. I amuse myself by staring out of the window and counting the leaves on distant trees. I can sit at the back of a cinema and see every pixel.
But I know the euphoria won’t last. Already perfect vision is already becoming my new normal. I call it the MG Effect.
When I was a boy I wanted to own an MG, a real MG, preferably a TC or a TD (left). But my first car was a Bond Minicar (below: a 3-wheeler powered by a 250cc 2-stroke engine mounted on the front wheel), My second was a Fiat 500.
Then I got married, took out a mortgage and had a baby. Sports cars were off the agenda. Fast-forward 25 years: the children grew up, the mortgage was paid off, and an MG became a possibility. But in my heart I knew that the novelty would wear off and I’d be left with an uncomfortable, under-powered, environmentally unfriendly machine that would need constant repairs and long hours globally Googling for spare parts.
PS I’ve just come from the Trak Cinema (Adelaide) where Mrs SG and I sat at the back and watched a French animated film called ‘The Swallows of Kabul’. We recommend it, especially if you are in any doubt about the Taliban’s true colours.
Covid-19 inspires dread and may bring about the deepest economic recession of the twenty-first century. But it also inspires creativity, kindness and a true sense of community. Oh, and criminality and cruel hoaxes too, but let’s leave them aside for now. Let me mention two examples of what I mean…
Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, when we recognise the heroism of our armed forces and mourn the fallen. The day starts with a Dawn Service in every city, every town and everywhere worldwide where there are more than a handful of Aussies and Kiwis. These are always well attended.
Because of Covid-19 the normal gatherings were not allowed today, so our local RSL (Returned and Services League) delivered invitations to surrounding houses inviting us to stand in our driveways at 0615 holding candles, to at least hear the sounding of Last Post and the reading of “They shall grow not old…”; and then walk to the RSL Club for tea and an Anzac biscuit and a chat with club members – observing the obligatory 1.5m social distancing rule of course.
We accepted the invitation and it was a moving experience. We also got to meet neighbours whom I usually see only when I’m collecting for the Salvation Army. I’m expecting a repeat, without the social distancing, in future years.
My second example is the astounding success of an old soldier’s fund-raising on behalf of the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service). 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore resolved to walk 100 laps of his garden, with online sponsorship to raise a targeted GBP1,000 before his 100th birthday. He has actually raised close to GBP30 million. And to top it off, he now holds the record as the oldest person to have a single at No.1 in the British charts. If you haven’t seen and heard the video-clip already, click here now.
This is not the same record as ‘Ground Control to Captain Tom’. Click here if you haven’t seen that one.
Tom Moore’s effort is not directly related to Covid-19, but I have no doubt that the stupendous scale of the public response has everything to do with it.
Covid-19 is at the top of everyone’s agenda, so I’m going with the flow. Here are some miscellaneous musings of mine…
There’s no standard way of writing it yet. I think the fully-capitalised COVID-19 is ahead, but I’m sticking to the Guardian’s upper/lower case version: Covid-19. After all, it’s not as if each letter stands for a word (as in ‘Carelessly Opened Vial of Incurable Disease’).
The artistic world, amateur as well as professional, has responded with amazing creativity and diversity. One might say that from adversity has been born a new genre. Click on these links for the Covid-19 versions of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘One Day More’ if you haven’t seen and heard them yet.
Newspapers and magazines are full of advice on how to fill one’s days of home-incarceration, as though we’ve all become so dependent on our work and external stimuli that we’ll go bonkers if deprived of them. I do hope that’s not the case.
We’ve suddenly been made aware of how numerous and big cruise ships are. At any time on the oceans of the world there’s a waterborne population the size of a fair-sized city.
Due to panic buying our usual supermarket was out of low-fat milk, so Mrs Stroppy Git went elsewhere and bought a different brand. I compared the nutritional information (that’s how I find amusement in these trying times) and saw the list of ingredients: “Skim milk, milk, milk solids. Contains milk.”
The Queen’s speech-writer should get an MBE (or better) for the final line of her Address to the Nation: “We will meet again.” With those four words she referenced Vera Lyn’s great wartime song, evoking an ocean of memories and associations that still resonate powerfully with her British subjects.
Relative to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, Australia has a handful of Covid-19 cases. But intense media attention and Government exhortations to keep calm have predictably given rise to panic buying. Hand sanitizer disappeared first from supermarket shelves, followed closely by… toilet paper. There have even been scuffles in the aisles as people try to prise the last pack of this prized commodity from the arms of rival shoppers.
This morning I received an email from the Australian supermarket chain Coles, where we do most of our shopping. It informed me that the limit of 4 packs per customer had now been replaced by a 1 pack limit, and they had told their suppliers to concentrate on the 30-roll pack size. The email added:
“… a pack of 30 rolls should last an average family for around 3 weeks.”
As is my habit, I did a little arithmetic. Let’s say that an average family has 5 members. The toilet paper we have in stock (bog standard, and not a stockpile), has 180 sheets per roll. So if 5 people get through 30 rolls in 3 weeks they are each using (30×180)/(5x3x7) = 51.4 sheets per day.
What on earth are they doing with the stuff? Eating it?!
Sometimes I wonder if I was born into the right species. Do you ever feel like that?
I can’t stop these songs writing themselves in my head. Passing them on to the world is a kind of exorcism. Here’s another in the same genre and to the same tune as before…
Solzhenitsyn was another;
He was friendly with my mother.
I don’t know if he kissed her
But he looks just like my sister
And a little bit like my brother.
No Russian authors were harmed in the writing of this song or the last one. Nor is it intended to allege, imply, suggest or hint that any person, extant or extinct, has behaved in any way that could be characterised by a reasonable person as dishonest or immoral.