Nothing to be done

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 1000 words.

When Don came home from the war in 1945, the first thing he did was to rush over to Maggie’s house. They soon arranged the wedding. It wouldn’t be a big affair. Just the service, and some sandwiches in the parlour afterwards. But they didn’t care. They had waited long enough, and despite the hard times they would go ahead and get married, as they had always promised each other they would. For Don and Maggie, there could never be anyone else. They had been in love as long as they could remember.

Those first few years living above Don’s grandma had seemed blissful to them. They both had jobs, and saved hard for the future. One night out a week, often to the cinema, was all they needed. When baby William came along, they managed to get moved into a new flat, on the estate close to the river. Maggie enjoyed making this new home their own, and Don worked weekends to get extra money. That summer, they took William to see the Festival of Britain exhibition near Waterloo Station, and they both agreed that life was good.

When William became ill, they both sat by his bedside at the hospital. The four-year old boy was distressed, and the doctors could do little for him. Don would go straight there after work, and it broke his heart to see the sick boy, and his distraught young wife too. The doctor took them into a small room on the morning that William died. Meningitis, he said. They had done all they could. That night, Maggie and Don hugged each other, and cried themselves to sleep.

After that, Maggie decided she didn’t want anymore children. She couldn’t face that hurt again. Don agreed of course, and they gave William’s things away, then put his large framed photo over the mantelpiece. Don bought an old car, and took Maggie away to a caravan holiday on the Kent coast. They liked that a lot, so the year after, they decided to buy their own caravan on the site. Maggie went back to work, and Don no longer had to work weekends. Every Friday, they would load up the car, and make the trip down to their caravan. When they had their two-week summer holiday, they would also spend it there, soon becoming well known, part of the community on the site.

Others started to take the popular package holidays abroad. They returned suntanned, clutching sombreros, and talking of sandy beaches and cheap drinks. But that wasn’t for Maggie and Don. They were content with their caravan, and enjoyed each others company. They could be happy with fish and chips at the seafront, and an evening at the site club. They never wanted much.

The 1970s were the golden years for Maggie and Don. After saving hard for so many years, they had managed to buy the small house in the suburbs a few years earlier. It meant travelling longer to work, but they could come home to the small neat garden, the tomato plants, the rose bushes, and cosy evenings watching TV. Despite problems with industry, strikes, and petrol shortages, they remained unaffected by the changes. Both of their jobs seemed secure, and they were careful with money. Don paid into an extra pension scheme at work, and now they had the garden, they sold the old caravan on the coast.

When Maggie retired, she threw herself into making the house nice, and spent many happy hours pottering around in the garden. Don promised her that when he retired, they would take longer holidays, perhaps get a dog that they could take for walks. When he finally did retire five years later, he came home from work with an attractive carriage clock, and a nice card. Everyone had signed it. They put the clock on the mantelpiece, just to the left of William’s photograph. Then they sat for a while, looking at the photo, and watching the clock.

The holidays never happened. Don woke up one morning with pains in his legs, and found it difficult to walk. The doctor said it was something to do with his spine. He showed them a plastic model of some bones, and told them where Don’s problem was. Nothing to be done, he had said. Don would just have to learn to live with it. Maggie had never learned to drive, and Don could no longer manage it. They sold the car, and she had to get the bus to the shops. Don did his best, but he wasn’t able to help around the house any more, or with the gardening.

Maggie was tired all the time. She seemed to always have a headache, and after a lifetime of being the sweetest woman he had ever met, Don began to notice that she was short-tempered, and often spiteful too. She forgot their wedding anniversary, for the first time ever. And it was their fiftieth too. Their Golden Wedding. Don had struggled to the shop to buy her a card, and sent off for a special bracelet to mark the occasion. But Maggie wouldn’t read the card, and she refused to try on the jewellery. Don wasn’t angry with her, but he felt sad and confused. This wasn’t like Maggie. Not like his Maggie at all.

She had been in the home for almost five years now. Dementia, the doctors had said. Nothing to be done.
Don had to get a woman in to do the cleaning, and he managed on what he could buy from the small shop up the road. His legs had not got any worse, but they hadn’t got better either. Once a week, he got a taxi to go and see her, emerging from the car with a heavy heart, taking a deep breath as he walked inside.

That Sunday, she was in her usual seat by the picture window. Her white hair was unkempt, and her cardigan stained with food. He sat in a nearby chair, and reached his hand over to take hers. She pulled her hand away, staring blankly past his gaze. When she spoke, it sounded strange. They had forgotten to put her teeth in again. “Go away please, I am expecting my husband. I am sure he will be here soon, and he won’t like it if you are touching my hand”.

Don sat looking at her for a while. As he left, he had to pause to wipe away the tears running down his face.

Film Nostalgia (3)

As 1964 continued the decade that in Britain would become famous as the ‘Swinging Sixties’, I was a twelve-year old boy, heading off with my parents to see a film at the cinema in London. I was understandably excited, as this was a big film, an historical epic. I would probably get a glossy programme, and enjoy an ice cream in the interval. It was to be a special evening, watching the film on the big screen in one of the capital’s prestigious luxury cinemas.

The film that I was anticipating with such relish was the British production ‘Zulu’, directed by Cy Endfield, and filmed on location in South Africa. It boasted a cast of fine British actors including Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, and James Booth. It also featured the first starring role for the then little-known English actor, Michael Caine. As soon as it started, I was enthralled. Swept along in the scenery of the Veldt, and enjoying the authenticity of the period details too.

By the time that the scene had been set, and the small garrison of British soldiers was about to face an army of over 4,000 Zulus, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the action to begin. I was already pleased that there was no distracting love story to slow down the plot. This was based on a real event in 1879, and I had read about if before going to see the film. I was expecting it to be full of action all the way, and the suspenseful build-up was just long enough to whet my appetite.

When the Zulus appeared, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had never seen a film with Zulus in it before. Here they were, tough-looking men, dressed in their ceremonial battle-robes, carrying short spears and huge shields made of animal hide. The sound of their stamping feet reverberated through the cinema, and the panoramic shots showing their deployments had me spellbound. I tried to imagine the terror that those 150 British and Colonial troops must have experienced, to come face to face with such a fierce enemy. When the fighting began, I was in a whirlwind. My eyes moved around the huge screen, trying to make sure that I didn’t miss a thing. I thought it was just fantastic, and one of the best things I had ever seen. More than that, the action continued with very little pause, right until the very end of the two and a half hour running time.

Of course, this is not a review of the film. Neither is it a glorification of British Colonial expansion, or the stealing of land and resources from both settlers and indigenous tribes. It is about how I felt, sitting in the comfy seat, watching a film that I thought was simply splendid, fifty-two years ago. Despite some historical inaccuracies that I was only aware of much later, it has to be said that this film did a fine job of telling the story of an actual battle. Unusually for the time, it showed great respect for the Zulu enemy, portraying them as brave in the extreme, as well as skilled in the ways of war. It also had something to say about the futility of such conflict, in some of the later scenes.

I still enjoy watching this film today. Age and experience might tell me that it is not as great as I once believed, but I never fail to be drawn in once again. Just like when I was twelve.

Just been watching…21

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)

***No plot spoilers***

I couldn’t remember when I had last seen this musical comedy, so I was delighted when it popped up on BBC 4. Even if you are no fan of rock & roll music, this film is a feast of nostalgia, and a window on the time of an emerging pop industry, and when female stars were blonde and buxom. It has many unusual aspects too, including the lead actor addressing the viewers, and famous groups and singers of the time performing on screen. In among the mixed-up tale of gangsters, failed agents, reluctant stars, and leading performers of the day, you might even get a sense of Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ too.

The story is entertaining enough, though only secondary to the real reason behind the film, which is the promotion of the singers featured, and a vehicle for the delightful Jayne Mansfield. For those who might not know her, the underrated Mansfield was a former pin-up model and sex symbol, often compared at the time to Marilyn Monroe. She was an accomplished actress, singer, and performer, with roles on Broadway and TV, as well as her film appearances. She was sadly killed in a car accident, aged just 34.

In this film, she plays the part of Jerri Jordan, a girl being nurtured by the mobster Fats Murdock. (Played delightfully over the top by Edmund O’Brien) He wants to make her into a star, so enlists the help of alcoholic agent Tom Miller. Miller is played by Tom Ewell, who had starred opposite Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch’. He takes her around various nightclubs to get her noticed, but soon discovers that she doesn’t really want to be a star, and tries to get Fats to release him from the deal. It is also apparent that Jerri and Tom are becoming attracted to each other, which makes Tom worry about the gangster’s reaction.

It is during all this easygoing scene-setting that we get to see the big names of the day, as they perform in those same night clubs, or in one case, appear as an apparition to the drunken Tom. These performers really light up the film. We get to see the divine Julie London singing ‘Cry Me A River’, Fats Domino, Little Richard singing the title song of the film, and Eddie Cochrane with his hit, ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. It has been well documented how much influence this film had on future stars too, from Elvis Presley, to John Lennon. As well as those mentioned, we see the rock & roll legend Gene Vincent performing his worldwide success ‘Be-Bop-A-Lu-La’, and appearances from The Platters, Ray Anthony, and many more.

The rest of the story, as well as the ending, is all predictable stuff and is quite frankly of little consequence. This film is all about nostalgia, the toe-tapping performances, great ballads, and the surprisingly good turn from Jayne Mansfield in the title role of the girl who can’t help it.

If you have never seen it, you are in for a treat. (The whole film is available on You Tube)

Check out this great old-school trailer

Films and Cinema: Some more thoughts

Blogging about films comes in many forms and styles. Some bloggers write solely about the subject, often with passion and detailed research or experience. A few publish chatty posts about films or genres that they enjoy, or the latest releases they have just been to see at the cinema. If you want to get serious, you can find blogs and websites where films and the cinema industry are discussed and debated at an academic level. Certain productions and individual directors are dissected with surgical precision, and some scenes, even just on-screen glances, are examined as if seen under a microscope.

Many bloggers, myself included, just have a part of a wider blog dedicated to the subject. They post occasional reviews, overviews of current or past trends, and offer their own opinions on what makes a film good or bad. Many enjoy the ‘top list’ approach, where the blog author suggests their own list of the top ten (or more) films of all time, or in each genre. This often generates lively debate, and comments for or against the published choices. Most people like to be in groups, and sometimes seek like-minded individuals to agree with, and support. You will see the same bloggers commenting or posting similar articles on their own sites, which is all a welcome part of forging a blogging community.

Others like to arrive on these blogs with counter-arguments. They claim to know about the films mentioned, and present evidence or personal experience as to why the review is incorrect, or not to their taste. On many occasions, their arguments are sound, and well-informed, though sometimes they do appear to be rather pointless, and come across as spiteful. Luckily, I have not been the recipient of this, but have seen it happening on many other sites.

After four years of blogging about many things, film and cinema included, as well as having more than twenty articles on the subject published elsewhere, I have not been shy in expressing my own opinions and ideas. As anyone who reads this blog will know, I have little or no time for the comic book franchises and super-hero blockbusters that fill the cinemas these days. I am not a fan of American romantic comedies that I find to be generally unromantic, and unfunny. And I am even less enamoured of the endless and pointless remakes that smack of lazy film-making. Only this year, we have already had remakes of Ben Hur, and now The Magnificent Seven, as well as others.

On the positive side, both British and American serious drama has continued to impress, as well as the excellent foreign films generally known as ‘World Cinema’. There have been some very good historical and period films, and a few inventive horror releases. Despite the reliance on populist films to fill the multiplexes, it would appear that the film industry is in good health overall.

So, why this post?

It recently occurred to me that I was guilty (as are many others) of taking the subject rather too seriously. After all, they are just entertainment. Better acting can often be found in TV dramas these days, and streaming services are changing the face of the industry. The recent crop of ‘Nordic Noir’ drama serials on TV in the UK are every bit as good as anything on the big screen, with each double episode as satisfying as a two-hour film. DVD releases sometimes even offer the viewer the chance to change the ending, or see alternate cuts of the same film. If we are going to continue to write about this subject, we have to be aware that tastes are changing with the times too.

Just because I say a film is a ‘masterpiece’ doesn’t make it one. It is just my opinion. If someone adores a soundtrack because it seems relevant to them, that same music might well ruin the film for someone else. Jarring visuals and camera angles that are thought to be innovative and cutting edge might bring high praise from certain bloggers. But for others, they will make the story confusing, and hard to follow. So in future, I aim to be less pretentious, use less references, and to try to have more fun with the category. It will only ever be what I think anyway, and is unlikely to change anyone’s mind.

After all, it’s just a film.

Good Neighbour Dorothy

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 900 words.

Ever since she and Alan had moved to The Close, Dorothy had always tried to be a good neighbour. In the early days, she would ask Alan to help the old lady a few doors down. He would clean out her gutters to save her paying anyone to do it, or perhaps change a light bulb. When there were power cuts, she always checked on those nearby, to make sure that they had candles, something to eat, and that they weren’t cold. If they had a hospital appointment, or needed to go to the dentist, she would drive them there in her car, and every time she went to the supermarket, she happily picked up a few items for them. At election time, she would round up all the old people, and give them a lift to the Polling Station to cast their votes.

But that was almost thirty years ago. Alan had been dead for over ten of those years, and Dorothy wasn’t as young and spritely as she had been in her fifties. A combination of painful hips and failing eyesight had made her give up the car, so she now relied on the bus service to get into town, or to visit her doctor. During those years, all those neighbours had gone too. Into care homes, moved away to be near relatives, or just passed away with old age. When the first new neighbours had arrived, she and Alan had gone to introduce themselves. But they hadn’t opened the door, even though they could be seen clearly through the windows.

The people on the other side answered the door when they moved in, but a small boy explained that his parents didn’t speak English, and then closed the door in their face. Alan told her not to bother anymore, but when the new people opposite had their burglar alarm sounding for ages, Dorothy had phoned the police. After all, it was the neighbourly thing to do. The family that bought number eight appeared to be friendly. When Dorothy waved at them, they waved back. But when she went to tell them about the dustbin days, they only opened the door a tiny crack, and didn’t ask her in, or introduce themselves by name.

The Close didn’t seem the same anymore, and with Alan hardly able to go out, Dorothy began to feel very lonely. She missed the company, the chats, the occasional cup of tea and slice of cake. She missed being helpful too. It had given her a good feeling to help out, and she had never felt that anyone had taken advantage of her. When Alan died shortly after his operation, there were no flowers from anyone in The Close. Not even a card. They must have known, must have seen the funeral cars and hearse. Alan’s sister Glynis said that maybe Dorothy would be happier if she moved away. She could move closer to them. But Dorothy had said no to that. The Close was her home.

One evening, the bulb blew in the standard lamp. It went with quite a bang, and blew one of the fuses. Dorothy knew nothing about such things, so she went next door, to try to get help. They didn’t answer, even though all their lights were on. She tried at number eight, but the woman only opened the door that tiny crack, and said that her husband wasn’t at home. Dorothy was sure that she could hear a football match on the TV, and equally sure that he was watching it, but she said nothing. She had to telephone an emergency electrician, and the two-minute job cost her almost one hundred pounds.

One afternoon, she was waiting for a bus at the end of the road. It had been snowing, and there was a good chance that the bus wouldn’t come. She had to get into town, to collect her regular prescription at the chemist. As a car pulled out of the junction, she recognised the foreign family from next door. She waved madly at them, hoping that they would stop and offer her a lift. But they all looked away, so she went back home, slipping on the icy pavement.

For the last two years, she had kept herself to herself. Whenever she needed a job doing, she paid someone to do it. If she had to go to town, or to the hospital, she ordered a taxi. Long mornings stretched into the evening, and on to even longer nights. She couldn’t manage the garden anymore, and occasionally paid someone to cut the grass: at least at the front, where it would be seen. She went to the shops when she felt able, and bought as much as she could manage to carry home. When the windows needed painting, she just left it. The house that had once been a lovely home was beginning to look neglected and unloved.

Dorothy had been feeling tired all day. There was a niggling pain in her chest that she suspected was indigestion, and her back was aching too. She decided to have some hot milk, and go to bed early.

Nobody noticed that the grass at the front was over a foot high.
Nobody noticed the pile of uncollected mail behind the front door.
Nobody noticed that the curtains were always closed.
Nobody noticed that the lights never came on.
Nobody noticed that there was never a dustbin outside.

But when the police arrived to break down the door, and the black van came to collect the body, everyone was out on the street, watching.

Significant Songs (126)

Cat People

I have featured David Bowie before on this blog, but make no apologies for doing so again. I had always been a fan of the 1942 film, ‘Cat People’. I heard that there was to be a remake in 1982, and was interested to see it of course. Not only that, the wonderful David Bowie was to provide music for the soundtrack, so it was a must.

His song for the film, ‘Putting Out Fire’ (Cat People) was also featured on his album, ‘Let’s Dance’, in 1983. The song, with a collaboration by Georgio Moroder, was just marvellous. It made me want to watch the film, and I did. It was pretty good, but maybe not as good as the original.

But this is about the music, and the song is just perfect. The guitar work is par excellence, and I could listen to it every day. And often do.

So if you have never seen the film, that is up to you. But if you have never heard the song, here it is. In all its glory.

Revel in the magnificence of Bowie at his very best.

Angry Max

This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 900 words.

Max was always angry. As long as he could remember, things had made him angry. Most things in fact.

As a schoolboy, Max could find much to drive him to anger. Not being selected for the football team, for one. Cyrus getting better grades in History, for another. Max had shown them though. He had burned down the bleachers so they had nowhere to sit and watch the team. Then he had beat the hell out of Cyrus, just because he could. Let him enjoy his grades with a broken nose and loose teeth, Max had chuckled to himself, as he walked home.

His parents looked suitably contrite during the meeting with the principal. They could do nothing with him. He was a difficult child, impossible to control. If the school couldn’t manage him, how could they hope to? Mrs Delancey was having none of it. Max was no longer welcome at her school, and that was that. He would have to transfer to the school in Duluth, and just have to put up with the extra travelling.

That made Max angry. Why should he have to get a bus all that way, and rely on his parents to run him back and forth from the bus station? At least the police had never worked out who torched the bleachers, and although he got a lecture about fighting with Cyrus, nothing else had happened.

As a new boy at the school, Max was teased. He was bigger than many of the others, so that marked him out for nicknames like ‘Hulk’, and Troll’. But he had to tread carefully. This was a tough school, and some of the other boys had to be watched. Not like his small town, where everybody was afraid of his temper. It seemed that everyone had a temper here. In some ways, that suited Max, as he eventually fitted in.

Very soon he was skipping class; hanging out with some tough kids, taking lunch money from younger children, and even helping them steal stuff from shops in the city. Eventually, they ran out of luck, and he was caught by some cops, along with the rest of the gang. They took him to the Juvenile Department, and his shocked parents were summoned. They whined and wailed, but the police went ahead and charged him anyway. He got supervision classes, but he didn’t go. The woman he had to see just made him angry.

By the time he was seventeen, Max was angrier than ever. Stupid girls made him angry when they refused him a date. His parents made him angry when they wouldn’t get him a car. All those missed classes had caused him to flunk school, and according to anyone who was asked, he had no future. They made him very angry. What did they know? He managed to find work in town, in the supermarket. Young people remembered him from school, and kept clear of the angry big guy. The manager seemed to like him though. He could haul boxes, stack shelves, do pretty much anything he was asked to. He never worked on the checkout though, which was just as well. Those customers could sure make him angry.

He got used to his job, and felt relaxed in the big stockroom. After a year, everyone was used to him, and even Mrs Delancey nodded to him when she came in for groceries. Then the manager dropped the bombshell. The company was closing down the store. It just wasn’t profitable, so they said. Shoppers would just have to drive across to the big hypermarket near the Interstate instead. They all lost their jobs, and that made Max very angry indeed. After the last day, he went back at night and fired the place, razed it to the ground. If anyone was thinking of buying it, they would just get ashes, he saw to that.

After drifting around for a while that summer, Max was feeling lost. He was angry too. Angry and lost.

He took the bus into Duluth. Maybe he could find a job there? He could move out of home, get away from his moaning parents, make a fresh start. He wandered around the places he knew in the city, asking in shops and small businesses if they needed help. He had a reference now, and could give the name of his supermarket manager. But there was nothing going, nobody would even come out from the back and talk to him. He was beginning to feel very angry again, so decided to go to Miller Hill Mall for some ice cream. Wandering around after his two scoops, he spotted the Army Recruiting Station. Max thought he would go in and ask about joining up. What did he have to lose, after all?

Max checked his weapon. The sergeant shouted “Lock and Load! Let’s do this!”, and they jumped from the truck. Somewhere in the compound ahead, they might well come across some Taliban, and Max was ready.

Max had not enjoyed the basic training. It had made him angry. To be shouted at, ridiculed, and given field punishment was guaranteed to get his dander up. But he stuck it out, and it started to feel normal. The sergeant was angry too, and so were many of the other guys in his detachment. He was actually encouraged to be angry, to be fierce, to be aggressive, even to fight.

They told him to take point, and he walked ahead of the platoon. He had no idea what was waiting for them in the village up ahead, but he wasn’t scared. He wasn’t angry anymore either.

He was home.