31 May 2024

The Blogger Sees a Terrible Movie and Here Shares His Misery

Zendaya in Challengers. That was my expression while watching this dreadful film

Last Summer after surgery I got an infection in my foot that caused excruciating pain. Sitting through the film, Challengers (2024) Guadagnino was worse.

Simply awful.

I almost walked out on it. 

How do you enjoy a movie in which the three main characters are so detestable? Is that what makes for popular American cinema? Arrogant, angry, selfish, soulless people incapable of finding joy in life? It was impossible to say what motivated the characters or indeed if anything beyond sudden impulse did. Very few of their actions made much sense. One would spit at the other in anger, vowing eternal hatred then seconds later they'd make love. It was ridiculous how they shifted from one mood to the next, not over the course of time but over the course of a millisecond. 

Challengers is the story of a two good friends….my god what a difficult story to summarize, I say this because it makes so little sense. Here’s what IMDb said: "Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach, turned her husband into a champion. But to overcome a losing streak, he needs to face his ex-best friend and Tashi's ex-boyfriend.”

Tashi is played by Zendaya, whose work in Euphoria I enjoyed. That she chose to do this film makes one question her judgement. I never for one second understood her character. There was an emptiness to her and for that matter the whole film. What the bloody hell was the point of it all? Were there some truths meant to be found in Challengers? Was there supposed to be a lesson here? Surely we weren’t meant to root for any of these people. We couldn’t have been expected to care about them. 

This was also a failure as a sports movie — good ones are hard enough to make when you have a clear good guy(s) versus bad guy(s) situation. Absent that…. Many of the tennis scenes looked real and were interesting enough but the climactic scene was pure drudgery to watch. Painfully long scenes of a player bouncing a ball before that crucial serve. I wanted to scream at the screen, "serve it already!" Long shots of sweat pouring off a player. (WHY????) A laughable shot of the two players from below as if they were playing on glass. (WHY???) And in this supposedly dramatic conclusion both players going from seeming to wanting desperately to win to looking indifferent about the result. (WHY???)

Speaking of inexplicable…Why the occasional slow motion and montages? They seemed to be for the sake of it. And the overtop rage of some characters after one missed shot or losing a set. What tennis player bashes their racket to pieces in the middle of a match? 

Is Challengers in actuality a mirror into a certain segment of American society today? Is it reflective of the upper class? Was this a movie about the one per cent? Is it an Antonioni like existential examination of the ennui and lack of heart in the privileged? The shallowness at the heart of the upper crust. For the life of me I can’t come up with any other explanation for why this film was made. I also find it astounding that it was so well-received somehow garnering an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Did critics feel obligated to like it? If so, why?

Maybe the most shocking thing about Challengers was that the director was Luca Guadagnino who directed Call Me By Your Name, a picture I greatly admired. Was he drunk every day on the set of this one?

My god that was a terrible movie. I'm going to spend the rest of my days trying to forget I ever saw it.

27 May 2024

Hey Everybody! It's Time for Another Edition of: `Some of the Films I've Watched Lately a Few of Which I Enjoyed Greatly

Evil Does Not Exist

Evil Does Not Exist (2023) Hamaguchi. Is the title meant to be ironic? This is just one of many questions posed by this the latest film from the Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose previous effort was the brilliant, Drive My Car. This is a shorter film but it packs in a lot. A corporation wants to set up a glamping (glamor camping) site near a small, tight-knit rural community. The local's reactions ranges from skepticism to outright hostility. We focus on a handyman who is single dad to a young daughter. But plot points don’t do this film justice. I don’t know, it is a complex story simply told or a simple story told with complexity? And the ending. I’ve never been so challenged. But it is a film that stays with you. It’s been six days since I saw it and it hasn’t left me yet and I can’t wait to revisit it.

Jewel Robbery (1932) Dieterle. I have no idea how this picture eluded me until now. What a delight. William Powell is always fun, in this case as a jewel thief, and my appreciation for Kay Francis grows every time I see her. These two co-star in this very pre-code film. Criminals escape punishment, marijuana is smoked (though not named), and premarital sex is most strongly suggested. Damn the production code! Depriving movie goers the rich variety of stories that could have been told for the thirty or so years of its enforcement. In Jewel Robbery Powell is charming, Francis sexy and together they are great fun. Like a lot of films from this era it's short, but what there is is choice.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (19480 Huston. One of the great films of all time. Maybe seen at a dozen times now. Maybe more. Who counts? Walter Huston won a much deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance but that fella Bogart was pretty damn good too and so for that matter was Tim Holt. There’s simply nothing wrong with and everything to love about this movie. Some films are classics and  you couldn’t make them any better in a thousand years. Primary credit to the director — Walter’s kid — John Huston. One thing I love about the film is the depth of the story. Madness, greed, companionship, trust, luck. Themes aplenty beautifully rendered.d

The Master. (2012) P.T. Anderson.  This was my third (perhaps fourth) viewing of The Master. I keep hoping for more but it doesn’t quite deliver. It feels like director Paul Thomas Anderson was holding back. There was more power to this story of fictional L. Ron Hubbard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and one of his weirder acolytes (Joaquin Phoenix). Two powerhouse actors giving bravura performances but the whole does not live up to some of the many great pieces within this oft compelling film. For me Anderson has made a number of excellent films (notably Licorice Pizza, Punch Drunk Love, Phantom Thread, Boogie Nights) but keeps falling short of a masterpiece. One may be coming. I wish it were The Master because there's so much to it, yet there could have been more.

A Taste of Honey
A Taste of Honey (1961) Richardson. An unwanted pregnancy. Premarital sex. An interracial couple. An openly gay man. In a film from 1961? Who’d have thunk. A Taste of Honey must have been a bit of a scandal when it released. It was something of a forerunner of what was to come in the decade. This was my second viewing and I reckon not my last. There is a bleakness to the story furthered by the dark, grimy setting of urban London. There are unattractive characters, rotten luck, dashed dreams and desperation. But there is also love and hope. It’s a British Jarmusch or Kaurismäki without the lightness. It’s melancholia on film. It’s damn good not just as an early telling of controversial issues, but on its own merits.

Great Expectations (1946) Lean. This movie is positively ruined by one piece of disastrous casting. John Mills (Hayley’s dad) plays Pip starting when the character was nineteen. Mills was twice that age and looked even older. It’s damn ridiculous. You can never get past it. To top it off Mills didn’t give much of a performance. Everything else about the film is excellent and it does Dickens’ novel justice. Notably the cinema photography, the set designs and most of the cast. A fifteen-year-old Jean Simmons features and she’s a delight. But Mills…come on. 

Il Posto (1961) Olmi and I fidanzati (1963) Olmi. Two masterpieces from Ermanno Olmi. Two testaments to the fact that the simplest of stories told simply can carry immense power and make for great cinema. Il Posto is the story of a young man starting a life-long (and secure) position working at a desk in a big firm. Along the way he meets a charming young beauty who he hopes is the one. I fidanzati is about two finances who are separated when the man takes a job that he can’t pass up, out of town. It is a test of -- and ends being a testament to -- love. Olmi was primarily a documentarian and those sensibilities help inform these nominally fictional tales. Everyday life, the city, the factory, the office, the cafes, the hotels, the streets, the passing crowd, are all key characters in these stories and they are in their own way powerful and beautiful and interesting. Two great films.

Postcards From the Edge (1990) Nichols. I’m not even sure what the movie is supposed to be about. Whatever its purpose it widely missed the mark. Sure, Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep are wonderful and there are some excellent supporting players in the cast and boy howdy don’t we love that rollicking song at the end but….What are we seeing here? An interesting mother-daughter relationship? Sorry, friend it’s more like two big stars vamping. The perils of addiction and the difficulties of recovery? As one who's been there I can say we get little sense of that. The prices of fame? Yawn. There’s nothing to see here and it reminds me that director Mike Nichols had a lot more misses than hits in his career.

23 May 2024

I Give a Character a Name and Reminisce About An Old Crush Named Fawn

This is not Fawn but it's a nice enough photo

I’m writing the sequel to my much-beloved novel, Threat of Night. I needed a name for a character. Sometimes a name will just pop into my head. Other times I have to craft one. Sometimes I honor someone from my past by using their first or last name or even both. I spend a
  lot of time on names. They’ve got to be just right in order for the character to come alive for me. I can’t just use a filler and, for example, call someone Bob Jones, until I think of a permanent name. I could no more do that than not know whether the character was male or female, old or young, black or white. So like I was saying I added a character as I was writing today, the secretary for a mob lawyer. I immediately pictured the woman. She was young and pretty. Also reserved, someone more comfortable having tea with a friend than sitting in bar sipping cocktails waiting for a man to come along. She had a good, if in some ways stifling, upbringing. She’ll probably meet the right guy soon enough and let her hair down, so to speak. This will put her through some changes, getting out more, expressing her opinions, having sex, maybe regularly. Things could turn sour but likely she’ll start to enjoy life more and feel closer to a liberated woman, though the novel and thus the character are set in 1942. So the name that occurred to me for this character was Fawn McLaughlin. For half a second I thought I’d made it up out of thin air. Then I realized there was a person of that name in my life many years ago. I was a nineteen-year-old university sophomore at some random party the likes of which were all over Chico in those days (and maybe still are). There was a keg or two or three and a lot of young people milling about. I saw a really cute girl and having had a few was feeling bold. I approached and her said, “don’t you know me from somewhere?” This was, of course, a clever turn of the phrase, “don’t I know you from somewhere?” She recognized my clever wordplay so was amiable to chatting with me. Why not? I was pretty cute in those days.

Her name was Fawn and I thought it the most beautiful and perfect name for a pretty girl imaginable. She was also a high school student, though a senior and only a year younger than me so don’t get any ideas there was anything creepy about this. Actually it was an unwritten social rule that college boys didn’t date high school girls, even if the age difference was only a couple of years or less. After all you were in college to date college girls. But this was a hard and fast rule that was neither particularly hard nor fast. No one said anything or looked at me askance when I squired the young lady about.

The truth is I remember very little about our time together. For one thing it was fifty years ago and for another it came at a time when I was a heavy drinker — indeed most of my youth was at a time when I was a heavy drinker.

I remember having dinner at her house. It was a grand place. Big. Really nice furniture. During the course of the meal Fawn’s step father decided to mess with me by asking the stereotypical question: what exactly are your intentions with my daughter, young man? He was just messing about but it took me a few terror stricken seconds to realize it.

Fawn and I never consummated our relationship. I don’t know why. It could have been that she was a virgin and meant to stay that way for the time being. There were also logistics. For the last time in my life I was sharing a bedroom and of course she lived at home.

A few months later I went to Europe and by the time I returned Fawn had gone off to college. I have a vague recollection of seeing her again and wondering why I didn’t forgo Europe and follow the lovely Fawn to the ends of the Earth. I’d enjoyed every second with the totally unpretentious and charming Ms. McLaughin.

A few years later I had a brief and oh-so-strange flirtation with an evangelical church (that made for this popular blog post). At the church I met a young woman who had been a classmate of Fawn’s and remembered me being with her. She suggested to me that Fawn could have really used some ministry. I’m sure that nothing could be further from the proof.

Of course I googled Fawn and she’s doing well. You can check her out yourself if you’ve a mind to. She’s both a wonderful memory and a source of regret. Should I have made more of the relationship? Could I have? I guess in some respects we were the proverbial two ships passing in the night. In any case she had and still does have, a great name. One she now shares with a fictional character of my creation.

16 May 2024

Toto, We're Not in London Anymore, Re-Adjusting to Normal and Writing About A Couple of Films

Northern Exposure

You can pretty much guarantee that the week after being in Europe is not going to be anywhere near as exciting as what you’ve just experienced. I’ve been to the gym. Fought off a cold. Continued my seemingly fruitless search for a literary agent. Resumed work on novel number four. Written incomplete sentences — as you’ve just witnessed. Helped my wife who is still recovering from her broken patella which means doing my fair share of the cooking and cleaning. Finally. I’ve watched a few movies. I’ve watched some TV shows with the wife — loving Northern Exposure (how did I not discover this gem until now? I love so much about it. Janine Turner as Maggie is not only gorgeous but a fun character, I love Darren Burrows as Ed, the would-be director and Woody Allen fan...I could go on and on and maybe will another time). Finished reading one book, started another. Hung out with daughters (my own). Been doing the grocery shopping. This is something I’d enjoy a lot more were I the only customer. I’m never am. Most people are civilized in a store but others are like coked up Tasmanian Devils. I’ve taken walks. When traveling your walks are generally in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Back home this is not the case. Boring. I’ve also done a lot of sleeping. Why not? Lastly I’ve been thinking and this is something that has been getting me in trouble for many decades. But I can’t resist it. There’s something about thinking that’s so enticing. But if you’re depressed thinking is terrible. Everything is.

I mentioned watching movies. One I watched — for the first time in decades — was The Wizard of Oz (1939) Fleming, a film I grew up with. It used to air once a year (that was a lot in those days) on network TV (there wasn’t much else) I believe around Easter. Of course the wicked witch scared me as did those damn flying monkeys. There was a lot about the film that was relatable to children of both genders (I guess I should say of all genders). There was the love and security of family and home. There were the outside threats. Miss Gulch/the witch epitomizing cruelty and evil that can upset our world. There was the hope of the yellow brick road and the wizard. There was kinship with new found friends sharing a quest. There was the disappointment, the sham of the wizard. But then there was hope again when the man behind the curtain turned out to be benevolent and then the final rescue by the good witch who teaches us that power lies within us and always has. There are universal truths in The Wizard of Oz as well as classic good versus evil. It’s a film that taps into a child’s fears and hopes and dreams. It’s a road picture, a buddy film and it has a few songs mixed in (my favorite: "If I only Had a Brain" -- brilliant). You also have to appreciate the Lollipop Guild and other such touches. It’s still a good film all these years later. There’s been nothing like it, or at least nothing of its kind as good.

Last night I watched Boom Town (1940) Conway with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert and Heddy Lamar (supporting roles by Frank Morgan, who was the wizard in the previously mentioned film and Chill Wills are to be applauded). I’ve never warmed to Tracy. He was a fine actor who appeared in a lot of really good pictures but his characters have never appealed to me. I suppose I’m in a minority here but I don’t find him all that interesting. Gable on the other hand is a dynamic film presence who has made many a mediocre movie watchable and enjoyable. Boom Town is amusing and interesting but it certainly stretches credulity well beyond the breaking point with so many huge fortunes being won and lost with such ease. Colbert is always a delight and Lamar spices up the film considerably. A better director would have done more with the scenic backdrops. As it was this was a competently directed movie.

Anyway, to paraphrase Dorothy Gale, we’re not in London anymore. Life trudges along. One finds pleasures everywhere if not thrills. You never know what awaits. Circumstances have changed in the last year. They’ll doubtless change again. Change, after all, is life’s only constant. 

09 May 2024

Home Again, Home Again Jiggity Jig, But First One More Museum, The Sixth and Final Part of London Calling 2024 (Plus a Bit About Baby Reindeer)

Inside the Wallace Collection

(I’ve gotten cards, letter, telegrams and missives asking me about the title of this series. It is unrelated to the song by The Clash which I’m unfamiliar with. Here’s where it comes from: “The phrase “London Calling” is a reference to BBC reports that were broadcast during the darkest periods of World War II. 'This is London Calling,,' a voice would say, before delivering the news to people who worried about their very survival amid the most destructive war in human history.” Or so says Wikipedia.)

That was fun. 

Nice to be back home with the missus who’s healing nicely from her injury. I’m not ashamed to say that it was difficult being apart, me having grown so used to and happy with her company.

It was a very good trip highlighted by the Arsenal match and everything surrounding it. My last full day was Tuesday. I went to see the Wallace Collection which, as they say on their website, is: “a national museum housing unsurpassed masterpieces of painting, sculpture, furniture, arms and armour, and porcelain.”  The museum used to be the house of a bloke named (drum roll) Wallace, who compiled a fantastic collection of art. 

I happened to be there when they had their daily “highlights” tour. The tour was led by Maggie Smith’s cousin or at least someone who could play her in a biopic. She was so very prim, proper and British. Definitely someone’s stern but kind aunt and perhaps a grandmother as well. She lives for tea. She also knows one helluva lot about everything in the museum and all the origin stories. She knows the gossip of the Wallace clan and shared it and some was even juicy but coming from the dowager it came across as racy as Queen Victoria. As it was the lady rambled on too much. Much too much. She was still yapping away when I broke away after the designated hour was up. Fully half the others who started the tour had already taken their leave.

There was an incredible amount to see and wonder at. Great artists, great craftsmanship, great wealth. Paintings, sculptures, candelabras, furniture and a knick knack or two. I bloody love a good museum and the Wallace is right up there even if their tour guides need editors.

That and walking about was pretty much the day. I had a great final dinner at an Italian restaurant called Bella Italia on Queensway in Winchester. Check it out.

Yesterday I got to the airport ridiculously early given that I — as is always the case in such circumstances — had a book handy, this was not a problem.

The flight seemed excruciatingly long because I stayed awake for all but about 45 minutes of it, wanting to be tired enough at home to get back into sleeping at the right time. I’m damn good at fighting jet lag. I tried the in-flight video fare and will now return to ignoring it. Piffle.

My least favorite part of my journey was the two times I stood at the baggage carousel waiting for my suitcase. I live with a dread fear of lost luggage. Returning home the experience was made worse by the fact that we were sent to the wrong carousel. I then took the BART ride from hell back to the Easy Bay followed by an Uber ride with a driver who couldn’t be bothered by helping a passenger with his luggage. Hmph.

One of the things that most impressed me on this trip was how very nice all the Brits I encountered were. Very helpful, especially at tube stations, but really at anyplace where one deals with the public. I love London and the UK in general though as I write this I realize I’ve a lot more to see of the island.

I hope to do it soon.


At night alone in the apartment I needed company so naturally turned to Netflix (Hulu doesn’t work over there). At younger daughter’s recommendation I watched Baby Reindeer which has been quite the popular show.

It should be.

You probably know that this seven-part series concerns a British comic who is being stalked by a portly older woman. You may also know that it’s based on a true story which only makes the telling more remarkable.

I was blown away by the story which is much more layered that I’d imagined. One of its themes is obsession. Many of my favorite films center around an obsessive character. Such stories are naturally cinematic. It’s also about loneliness, sexual desire, sexual confusion, anger, revenge, compulsion and more such as mental illness which we all have dalliances with in one form or another. The amazing thing about Baby Reindeer is that I’ve had nothing like the main character’s experiences but I related to virtually everything he went through. How is that? I’ve never been stalked or sexually abused, nor dated a transsexual nor lived with my ex-girlfriend’s mother, yet as I watched his struggles I kept relating to them, him and even those around him. That’s a direct consequence of first class storytelling but also suggests the universality of certain themes and feelings that we experience in different forms. The story reminded me of a relationship with a woman I had in my early twenties that was seemingly unhealthy for both of us, but did us no harm and helped us make sense of ourselves. The woman was then a closeted lesbian, we sometimes slept together out of shared loneliness. When her younger sister visited town I seduced her and they both were in love with me. It was always so complicated between us. It had very little to do with Baby Reindeer but everything was exactly the same. I love a show/film that brings up feelings and makes me think and makes me wonder and makes me reflect and ponder. What a great series. 

07 May 2024

I Don't See Chaucer But I Have My Own Canterbury Tale, Part Five of London Calling 2024

The author in front of the Canterbury Cathedral

Naughty boy, I didn’t post the latest update on my trip last night. Truth is I was exhausted from having walked over seven miles through Canterbury plus my stomach was still not reacting well to the large and delicious lunch I’d had. Anyway it’s the morning of my last full day. I have to vacate the lovely rooms I’ve stayed in since Thursday and move to a hotel for my last night, the reasons are not worth bothering with here but related to our aborted trip to Spain. Speaking of which, if my wife had not fallen and broke her patella we would have “enjoyed” a lot of rain in San Sebastián. Blessing in disguise (well disguised mind you) I suppose. Here it is sunny, yesterday it was not.

I took the train from London to Canterbury. It’s a scenic ride of just under an hour. It’s amazing how you can go virtually anywhere in this country by train and that trains are running all the time. Not expensive either.

From the railway station it was a short walk into town and what a beautiful town it is. Inevitably it has been polluted a bit by tourism and so much of what you see there is blatantly directed to the tourist trade. But the town’s charm overcomes this. I loved Canterbury.

The must-do stop is the Canterbury Cathedral. A church was initially build there in 570 (it’s older than me!) but the Cathedral went up in it’s current form (give or take) in 1070. It’s a magnificent structure. I happened to get in just in time for one of the mini-talks that are provided and it was on the topic most of interest to me among those offered: Canterbury Cathedral during World War II. Our lecturer was an older gentleman straight out of central casting. He was made for the role. He told us about the brave souls — mostly either boys or old men — who were stationed on the roof during the Blitz to put out fires. There was little that they could do about direct hits but there was a big job to do putting out fires from incendiaries. The Cathedral sustained little damage during the war although the library was destroyed. Fortunately they’d had the sense to clear out all the books, documents and artifacts housed there before hand.

The Cathedral is massive and there’s much to see. Both overly ornate and beautiful. Including the many who are entombed there. Sacred ground everywhere. 

After my visit I found a pub that served an appetizing looking plate of fish and chips. The plate I ordered came with a side of breaded scallops along with smashed peas. My god the meal was delectable. I had a pint of N/A beer with it. I was full. Very, very full. For the rest of the day full.

I then went in search of the Roman Museum. It was virtually under my nose both a few minutes from the cathedral and from the pub. But it was on a side street that I ignored so I managed to traipse all over the city in search of it at one point being given directions that sent me to the far end of town. No matter. I’d planned a stroll after the museum, this simply meant reversing the order.

The museum was fine. Lots of artifacts from when the Romans ruled the town, a fascinating era to be sure. There were also exhibits related to pre-Roman times during the Iron Age.

The Blitz was also mentioned here for some of the bombing resulted in many Roman ruins being unearthed. As also happened with the construction of the Marlowe Theater (Christopher the playwright, not Philip the fictional detective).

From there I made my way back to the railway station and returned to London. I felt like a native coming back. I knew how to get to the tube station, I knew which train to catch in which direction and then I knew where to get the bus home.

I’ll be checking out of here and into there later then I plan to go see the Wallace Collection. I’m sure you’ll look forward to hearing about my further adventures as I look forward to having them.

05 May 2024

Where the Dickens Did I Go Today? All This and More in London Calling 2024 Part Four

Charles Dickens' Writing Desk

I’ve now stood in rooms once occupied by Charles Dickens! 

Visited the Dickens house today. There I saw Dickens’ bed (kind of short), his writing desk (functional) his toiletries (not too exciting), his commode (um…okay) his kitchen table (nice)  and, as they say in advertising, more. It’s one of those deals that’s everything and nothing. As a fan of the great writer since I was a teen I found myself awestruck and underwhelmed. I suppose it’s like that sometimes when you visit famous places or see precious artifacts. They were actually his! They were just things. I’m still glad I went. Dickens has meant so much to me. Sure as a writer but far more so as a person. I felt like I was honoring his legacy and impact even if it wasn’t wowed by his razors. 

(The downside of my visit to the Dickens House was the threesome of obnoxious American tourists who made up for what they lacked in erudition and sophistication by acting like total yokels. Woman walks into a room and says: is this just paintings? In another room noting shelves of original copies of Dickens novels she blurts out: did he write all of these? Picks up a key that is part of the display and not to be touched, holds it up and asks: aren’t these for a prison?)

Having paid my respects I found myself near Russell Square which is a a very nice part of London called Camden that I’ve only passed through in the past. I strolled around the park on what was a very pleasant late morning. From there to the British Library. My second visit. I beheld the Magna Carta and other historic artifacts such as Henry VIII’s bible. I also saw the original lyrics of some Beatles songs such as A Hard Day’s Night and Michelle. There was Oscar Wilde’s original draft of The Importance of Being Ernest, the original copy of a poem by Sylvia Path, part of the third draft of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (in her own hand). But somehow what impressed me most was seeing Michael Palin’s original scribblings for the famous Spanish Inquisition sketch. Some of my favorites, The Beatles, Wilde, Plath, Eliot and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Take that Magna Carta.

I returned home in mid afternoon so I could take a nature walk on the Parkland Walk which is a very short distance from where I’m staying. The missus and I walked it last year and it’s lovely. Check out my Instagram for photos from today’s stroll. (If you’re not a follower put in a request and I’ll okay you tout de suite.) It was good to do something that did not involve riding somewhere, standing in a queue or being in a damn room. Fresh air and nature, call me a fan.

The trail was developed out of a former train track. The tracks there were in use through 1970. Many people use the Walk today as a jogging or running course while many others simply go for leisurely strolls often with dogs or children. As has been the case all over London I heard many languages on today’s walk and still more accents. The city averages 200,000 tourists a day (I begrudgingly admit to being one despite always feeling so at home here). In addition London is full of immigrants from all over the world. Plus there are a lot of international students here.

Now I’m heading out for dinner. A few days ago I walked by a restaurant that caught my eye — actually it was the sea bass on the menu that caught my eye. I’m going to check it out and perhaps eat it. Yum.

04 May 2024

An Emotional Blogger Basks in Victory, Part Three of London Calling 2024

Photo by author (that's me)

Outside the stadium after the match I was so happy that I almost wept. Instead I composed myself and called the missus. It was such a grand day that I had to share it with the love of my life.

I had worried far too much about getting to the stadium. And needlessly. It was as easy as it looked. Fifteen minute bus ride then an eight minute walk. All straight forward. I was there ridiculously early (somewhat by design) and started by popping into the Armory, Arsenal’s superstore, to buy some goodies — for myself. I could have spent much more than the seventy pounds our account was reduced by. Most important I got a new Arsenal scarf. Scarves are de rigueur among footie fans and have been for many decades. I'd left mine at home, it’s getting on in years.

My ticket had been purchased through the good folks at Champions Travel which means I paid a small fortune but got to seat in the club level among all the posh people. I note how especially nice all the employees are when you’re among the monied. Wasn’t going to fight the class war today, I excepted their deference. The ticket came with a meal. My choice was a Thai dish of glazed prawns. Yummy.

I love proper football (soccer to you Yanks) I played as a lad and all the way through college and was a very good player. A developing fondness for drink derailed my career. Later I coached and again met with considerable success. Coaching was one of the things I’ve enjoyed and done really well in my life. I miss it. 

I’m also accomplished at being a fan of the sport and since I was a lad and saw them on Wide World of Sports, I’ve been a supporter of North London’s Arsenal. I saw my first match 51 years ago -- an intoxicating experience. With the advent of the internet and Premier League matches being televised in the States I’ve been able to become absorbed in the game and particularly in my favorite team. I don't live and breathe Arsenal but -- never mind, I do. Today marked the sixth happy occasion I was able to take in a match in person this century.

There’s nothing that compares with the atmosphere of a British football match. The songs, the chants and the vibrant cheering are constant and send chills down my spine.

Today’s was a another dominant performance by the Gunners who currently top the league though having played one more match than their closest competitor. The final was 3-0 and it could have been much worse for the opposition.

When I finally tore myself away from the stadium I was, as described earlier, nearly weeping. It’s difficult to describe or explain the love one can have for a team. I have a deep undying love for Cal football and Arsenal. 

I strolled around a bit and found a pub filled to the brim with Arsenal fans. Wanting to soak up more atmosphere I entered and had a beer (non-alcoholic in my case). It was fitting and good that I did that.

I’ve now returned from a delicious dinner at a Japanese restaurant with the interesting name of, Wow Japanese. There’s something endearing about such a moniker. The two pieces of sushi, the salmon teriyaki and the passion fruit ice cream desert were all superb.

My goodness but it’s been a bloody good day.

03 May 2024

War, What is it Good For? A Museum! Part Two of London Calling 2024

Imperial War Museum, photo by author

The much anticipated meal was…okay. I was hoping for more than okay. I was also hoping for more food. The three oysters I got were evidently newborns. I studied them with a microscope. The main course was delicious — what there was of it. Desert was literally more filling. Thank god they gave me bread or I would left the joint hungry. I did enjoy my first ever non-alcoholic cocktail. The tab for this quick bite was seventy-two pounds. The night before the fish and chips I had that pub was about fifty pounds less and a better meal at that. 

Started the day with a trip to the Imperial War Museum. It’s one of the best museums of any kind I’ve ever been to. As much as such a place can, it brings home the horrors of war more than it glamorizes it. I was especially interested in and impressed by the World War I section which featured a replica trench of sorts. They have an amazing array of helmets, rifles, knives, uniforms etc. that were actually used in battle. Likewise in the WWII section. I also appreciate the time they give over to people of color who fought in the wars and the role of women. They further acknowledged atrocities committed by all sides. I’d be tempted to call them fair and balanced if that phrase hadn’t been coopted by a Rupert’s Propaganda Network. The Holocaust section was brilliantly done. A heavy emphasis is placed on showing the lives of Jews and Roma before the war (many of whom perished in camps) thus giving greater context for the whole awful mess. It would be too easy for Holocaust displays to feel exploitive or trivializing. Not an issue here. The museum also boasts some of the better gift shops I’ve come across. I am a sucker for museum gift shops.

From there I hopped one of London’s ubiquitous double decker buses for a short ride to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and a slew of statues. I snapped many a photo of the sites there and in this I was neither a pioneer nor alone. I ambled over to Trafalgar Square then took quite a long bus ride home.

It rained virtually all day though never hard. I’ve been in London on at least seven different occasions and seen only a few days of worth of sunshine. At least it’s not too cold (it is May, after all) and the rain is supposed to take a rest for most of tomorrow. It works hard around here.

Speaking of tomorrow, I’ll be off to the Emirates to see some proper football. You can likely read about it on this space tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

02 May 2024

I Barely Miss a Bus and Am Thankful, Part One of London Calling 2024

A Clock Tower in North London

I almost got hit by a bus. It happened so fast that it’s impossible to recreate exactly what transpired. I do know that it was entirely my fault. I was gathering wool and confused by an intersection — simultaneously. The driver broke just in time. He pulled to a stop and gave me what for, concluding with “yeah, you’re very lucky.” I suppose so.

(Note to self: be more careful when crossing streets.)

That moment — for that’s all it was — was a lowlight of the first 24 hours of what I’m calling London Calling 2024. There’ve only been a few others so far. As seems always to be the case when I travel there are WiFi issues. I’m staying at the same Air B&B the missus and I bunked at least year. Lovely place in North London, convenient to lots of things including eateries and transportation of the public variety. But I don’t recall an issue with the WiFi last year. In the booklet the host left there is listed the access server. Funny thing, you can’t find it when trying to log on. No problem, one thinks, for when letting me in and giving me the keys the “host” told me that if there were any problems someone was home “ninety-nine per cent of the time.” I seem to have hit what is a rather long one per cent. It’s been four hours since I last popped up and still no one’s home. A text has to yet be responded to as well. I know I can use my phone as a hotspot and likely will later to post this but that runs into money I already blew a king’s ransom on a cab from Paddington Station to here.

The flight was fine. It did not crash. There were three small children across the aisle including a baby and they made a bit of a racket but I’m not so much bothered by children making noise, although an occasional screech can be a turn off.

The meal was maybe the best I’ve had in-flight which is to say on a scale of one-to-ten it actually achieved a five. Maybe a six. I finished reading a book on the flight and slept pretty much the rest of the way missing breakfast in the bargain. After claiming my luggage (I hate watching a million suitcases go by before mine finally shows up) it was the Heathrow Express to Paddington and the million dollar — er, pound — cab ride.

Unpacked. Went for a stroll. Meandered the aisles of a bookstore as is my want. Found the fancy restaurant where I’m dining tomorrow (Mr. Bigshot here has a reservation). Bought some provisions: cereal, milk, yogurt and the like. Returned to the temporary abode before going out for din din. Or dinner as you sophisticates call it.

Dined at a pub called the King’s Head for the second time in two years. Best fish and chips I’ve had in many moons. A pleasant ambience too.

Surprisingly for London it’s foggy (I know, what are the odds?). But not too cold at all and so far the rain has held off. How long that will continue is not worth thinking about.

Listened to a podcast and made further attempts to get the WiFi issue settled. To no avail. I’ve had WiFi issues in Paris, Bologna, Amsterdam, Berlin and Neptune. The horrors of traveling.

I’m enjoying myself though I miss the wife who’s at home recovering from a broken kneecap (the patella to be specific). Traveling with her can be frustrating at times (mostly for her) but is always a great joy and integral to our wonderful marriage. Originally we were going to be here for a week and then head to presumably sunny Spain for two weeks with a stop in Bordeaux mixed in. Alas. The injury ruined all that. But she insisted I do the first third of the trip especially since I had a very pricey ticket to a football match. So here I am.

Tomorrow I’m planning a trip to the Imperial War Museum and Westminster Abbey and there’s that dinner I have reservations for but not about.

Maybe being on my own will do me some good. I traveled alone a lot when I was a young man. Did me no harm. This time I just have to watch out for busses.