Official! Beetley Bra beats Jamiroquai

Because I know how many of you simply love to read about the phenomenon of Jamiroquai on this blog, I just had to bring you this stop press. Despite the consistently amazing performance of my post ‘Whatever happened to?: Jamiroquai’, it was soundly thrashed in the stats this past week by the photo post, ‘The Beetley Bra’.

That said, it was still close, with the Jamiroquai post holding its own in third place, despite the amount of time since it was first published. My suspicions that its popularity would decline with the recent appearance of the band on TV seem to have been unfounded.

An there’s an ***UPDATE*** too!

The Bra has gone. Its whereabouts are unknown, and nobody knows if it was retrieved by its owner, or snaffled up by a local collector of female underwear. It is also possible that a passing bra-less lady was able to make use of the garment, but that is perhaps unlikely.

To those of you that celebrate it, I wish you a very Happy Easter from Norfolk.
Seasonal best wishes to you all. Pete.

Significant Songs (132)

Every Day I write The Book

From previous experience on this blog, I am well-aware that Elvis Costello is not favoured by many of my readers. In fact, some of them dislike his work intensely. But I cannot ignore a song in my head, because of that fact.

You might agree that a benchmark of a song is that it continues fresh in your mind. It is evocative of a period, and a time that was important to you, for whatever reason. This song from 1983 was on the album, ‘Punch The Clock’. Elvis Costello was in his heyday, often accompanied by his backing band, The Attractions. This song has never left me. Earlier today, walking with Ollie, I could hear it playing in my mind. I could recall the expressions on Costello’s face as he sung it on TV, and sing through the lyrics in my mind, as if I had heard them only yesterday.

Later this evening, as I was doing the washing up, I couldn’t get the song from my head. The line, “Chapters four, five, and six” kept playing as if it was on a jukebox in the room. Costello went on to do much, much more after this. He is still recording and playing today. But this was his golden hour, at least for me. I could add almost his entire catalogue to this series. But I won’t.

Ollie the gardener

After yesterday’s long walk around Beetley Meadows and Hoe Rough, I arrived home knowing that there was something I could no longer put off doing. Try as I might, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the grass on the lawn had grown considerably during the recent spell of good weather. With the chance of rain over the weekend, I had already decided that Thursday afternoon would be a good time to bite the bullet, and get that grass cut.

Ollie is not too bothered about the garden, unless I am in it of course. He cannot bear to miss out on anything I might be doing, so is always sure to be as close to me as possible, at all times. But to Ollie, boring gardening accessories, like the brown wheelie bin for clippings, the electric hover mower, and the ‘parrot-beak’ secateurs, are just another version of toys. As soon as I started to wheel the bin through from the front, he was off. Dashing around the garden pretending that the bin was chasing him, instead of just being wheeled into position.

Once I started up the mower, he danced around in front of it growling, as if to take it on in a rough game. We all know that a powerful mower, with its huge rotary blade whirring around underneath, is anything but a toy. But to Ollie, it is all a game. Naturally, I make him stand away from the business end of the mower, but I have to always be aware that at any moment, he may decide to rush forward and try his luck. As I move it around, he also likes to examine the areas that have been freshly cut, as if something exciting is awaiting him there, once the long grass is gone.

Mowing over, it was time to sweep up everywhere. The broom and long-handled dustpan I use out there are also objects for Ollie to investigate. He will rush back and forth with each sweep of the broom, waiting for me to create the small piles to pick up and put in the cuttings bin. Once each pile is neatly stacked, he of course has to run through them toward me, just so I have to sweep that pile together once again.

Of course, I could just make life a lot easier, by shutting him in the house when I do any gardening. But then I would be depriving myself of the help from my assistant, Ollie the gardening dog.

Just been watching…(34)

American Hustle (2013)

***No spoliers***

I had this film stored on the PVR for ages, and just remembered it last night. Released to mainly rave reviews four years ago, this period (1970s) black comedy concerns the activities of some small-time fraudsters in America. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play Irving and Sydney, successful con artists, who are also lovers. During one routine operation, they are caught out by the ambitious FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, (Bradley Cooper) who immediately sees a way to use the hapless duo to further his own career.

He embroils them in a major sting operation, intended to bring down a series of corrupt politicians, and Mafia bigwigs. These include a New Jersey mayor, (Jeremy Renner) and a Mafia hard-man. (A nice cameo from Robert De Niro) Irving is out of his depth. Overweight, suffering from heart problems, sporting a terrible comb-over hairstyle, and caught between his affection for Sydney, and his flaky wife Rosalyn, (Jennifer Lawrence) his whole world starts to unravel. Meanwhile, Richie is facing resistance from his bosses, as his demands for the operation spiral out of control, and he finds himself falling for the charms of Sydney too.

With no spoilers, that’s about it. So, what else? A lot else, actually.

This film is based on real events, with the names changed. It is so well rendered in period, that at times it feels not only like it is set in the 1970s, but was actually made back then too. Bale is amazing as Irving. Getting fat, stressed-out, calling upon all his talents as a con-artist to survive. Amy Adams convinces completely as the sexy sidekick, attracting admiring glances from all around, the perfect diversionary tactic. Yet her loyalty to Irving is never in doubt.

Cooper gets it all right as the obnoxious FBI agent; using curlers in his hair, treating his mother and fiance appallingly, and prepared to step on anyone to get his operation approved. He is impossible to like, and we are not meant to. Jeremey Renner, sporting an incredible Roy Orbison hairstyle, has a good stab at being the misunderstood mayor, just trying to do the best for his people. This was sold as a black comedy, but it has some moments of fine drama. Many moments, in fact. Throw in Lawrence’s portrayal of the wife, De Niro’s coldly terrifying gangster, and you have it all. It’s a really satisfying old-school con-men drama, with an equally satisfying conclusion.
And the soundtrack of contemporary songs is just right too.

It’s not ‘Nine Queens’, but it is very good indeed.

The Beetley Bra

(The photos can be enlarged, by clicking on them)

Last Sunday, I noticed this strange object dangling from a tree branch, over at Hoe Rough. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a bra. A blue one, as you can see, including some substantial padding. It was still there the next day, and had become something of a talking point for the dog walkers who frequent the area. Everyone was speculating how it had got there, who might have discarded it, and why they had not taken it home with them. The most popular theory concerned some possible open-air sexual activity in the small dell below the tree. This is where I usually take a short break on my walk, and as it is very close to the main path, the risk of discovery would be high, should you be indulging in something of that sort.

It is therefore safe to assume that this probably happened at night, when the whole area is in pitch darkness. Perhaps the lovers took a torch along, or used some form of light from a mobile phone. It could be that their ardour was so powerful, they were prepared to risk the dangers of the unlit night. We are never likely to know. I resolved to photograph this bra, if it was still in situ today. As you can see, it is in very good condition, and still has a lot of use left in it.

Hopefully, the person who abandoned it will see this post, and return to claim the undergarment.

Non-Fiction: Published online

I have recently submitted an article to Longshot Island. It is a non-fiction piece about my former life in London, followed by my move to Norfolk. I am pleased to say that it has been published online, and may be considered for future publication in the magazine. Please follow the link, and read it at your leisure. I am really happy to give publicity and support to this venture. They are undoubtedly helping new writers.

Many thanks, Pete.

Top Ten Films

When I first started this blog in 2012, Top Tens were all the rage. Most days, it seemed to me as if there was a Top Ten of everything on the blog. This ranged from the top ten cute cats, to the top ten favourite film stars, through to the top ten favourite places to go in the world, and the top ten best snack foods. Top Ten mania had hit blogging, and could not be avoided.

Not long after I started to write posts about film and cinema, the ‘Top Tenners’ came knocking on my door. They sent me links to their own top tens, and asked to know my own preferences. Who were my favourite actors? My list of best directors? The questions went on and on. The barrage was relentless, for a while. Some blogging sites were even called ‘My Top Ten’, and other variations. These Top Ten addicts went into almost everything you can imagine, believe me.

But I resisted, I refused to play ball. There was no way that I could think of my personal top ten films. After all, I had seen so many, how could I choose? I offered them categories. I would suggest my top ten films by Japanese directors, or my top ten war films, and so on. But this did not satiate their desire for me to provide that list. Even when I said things like, “my tastes are constantly changing”, they refused to accept that I could not provide them with a ready-to-order selection.

Almost five years later, and I hardly ever see Top Tens anymore. Maybe they ran out of subjects to place in order, or perhaps they just stopped blogging once they had got all the answers. They should have waited for me though, as I have just decided that I WILL list my top ten favourite films after all. There are some thoughts accompanying this list though. I do not claim that these are actually the best ten films ever made, far from it. Nor do I claim that their subject matter will suit everyone, even the most ardent film fan. They are just the films that I remember fondly, and always enjoy seeing over again. I will also state from the outset that those people who do not like subtitles will be disappointed. You lot better not bother to read on, in that case. And everyone should also realise that these are personal favourites at the moment, so that does not preclude new films appearing, and knocking some of these from their spot.

So, here goes, in ascending order. Feel free to add your own top tens in the comments. Let’s keep the spirit of those Top Tenners alive, in 2017!

10) The Conformist (1970)
Bertolucci’s political drama has long been a powerful memory for me. Fascism in Italy, amazing sets, and the portrayal of a man prepared to do almost anything to move up in the world. Memorable performances from a talented cast, and everything feeling just right, at the hands of one of the best directors. The period is recreated impeccably too.

9) The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
This unusual British film, written and directed by Peter Greenaway, can best be described as having a ‘cult following’. The amazing costumes, the wonderful musical score, and the unusual construction, all surround a baffling ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery, set in England in the 17th Century. I have heard it described as the ultimate case of style over substance. I don’t care. It is fabulous.

8) Great Expectations (1946)
David Lean had to feature here, and this film is undoubtedly one of his best. Beautifully filmed in luxurious black and white, this is a masterclass in how to bring the work of Charles Dickens to the big screen. Add to that a great cast at the peak of their form, stunning imagery, and a faithful depiction of Victorian England, and you are left with a work to treasure; one to watch over and over again, and never tire of.

7) Carmen (1983)
I have always loved to watch Spanish Flamenco. I admire the percussive dancing, the hand-clapping, and the wonderful guitar work. Carlos Saura took the story of Bizet’s opera, and transplanted it to a modern flamenco school. It was a stroke of genius, and works so well, with the flamenco rhythms replacing the operatic score. This is a very personal preference of course, and I will understand if you are baffled to find it in my list. But it is a great film, in so many ways.

6) Kagemusha (1980)
Akira Kurosawa is one of my all-time favourite film-makers. I could have probably populated this list with ten of his films, and left it at that. Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior is a visual feast. This is how to make an historical epic. Set in the turbulent days of feudal Japan, this film left me reeling after watching it at the cinema. Sweeping vistas, a riot of colour, and the use of countless extras in the cast. This feels completely authentic at all times, and the plot, about a small-time crook who resembles a warlord, is almost unnecessary.

5) GoodFellas (1990)
I have admired many of Martin Scorsese’s film over the years, but none more so than this. In my opinion, this is the ultimate gangster film, and the best ever made in the genre. (You will note that it managed to squeeze The Godfather trilogy out of this list) From the opening scene, it had me gripped, and I watched every second of the film with the same fascination. This is the seedy side of the hoodlums who do the dirty work for organised crime, with a succession of first-rate actors taking on every role as the film unfolds, as well as the performance of a lifetime from Ray Liotta. Throw in some of the best long-shot scenes ever put on film, and the constantly convincing changes in the eras covered, and you have what can only be described as a modern masterpiece.

4) Touch Of Evil (1958)
I have always loved to watch Orson Welles. I write about him a lot on this blog, from his twinkling-eyed smile in ‘The Third Man’, to my own admiration of his performance as Falstaff, in ‘Chimes at Midnight’. I really rate him as an actor, though he is best known as a director. His work on this film is second to none, in both areas. From what is perhaps the best crane shot in cinema, as the film opens, to his portrayal of the run down bloated detective Quinlan, Welles has crafted a film that is complete in so many ways. There is a seen-better-days Marlene Dietrich to enjoy too, and you can even forget that Charlton Heston is in it.

3 ) The Lives OF Others (2006)
This Oscar-winning German film deals with life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. It is about surveillance, dissent, and living in a very controlled society. But you can now just forget that, because this film is high on my list for one very good reason. The acting of the star, in the main character of Wiesler, the Stasi captain. Ulrich Muhe might well have been unknown to most of us, were it not for this film. As he sadly died the following year, aged just 54, we are left with this amazing performance as his legacy. His depiction of the obsessive captain is second to none, and he displays such nuance, that at times it appears that he is not acting at all. One of the great films of all time, without doubt.

2) Come and See (1985)
Regular readers of my blog will hardly be surprised to see this Russian film so high on my list. This is a war film like no other. A haunting, surreal production that will live on in your memory, and is unlikely to ever be erased from your mind. It is almost impossible to describe. You just have to see it, to experience its terrible wonder.

1) Blade Runner (1982)
A film that has had its own post here already, and been praised to the hilt by me so many times, it just had to get the top slot. Few films have stayed with me like Ridley Scott’s dystopian film noir. Part science-fiction, part gumshoe detective story, it just has it all. Wonderful performances, amazingly-rendered sets, and fantastic ideas. When I left the cinema after watching this, I knew that I would never forget it. And in all those years since, it has never been bettered. There is a sequel due out soon, but don’t wait for that. See the original, and marvel at the invention.

There you have it. My first ‘real’ Top Ten. No great surprises, for anyone who knows my taste. I hope that you will play along in the comments, and maybe even watch the ones on this list that you have never seen. Let me know if you want more Top Tens too.