Thursday, 14 December 2017


Possibly the weirdest, most macabre, spookiest of poems ever written. Composed by William Hughes Mearns, an American teacher born 1875, died 1965. "Antigonish" realises in its fourteen lines the essence of a ghost. The way a spectre seems to be there at the top of the stair but when you look again, it's gone. Each time one looks for that which was only a short time seen the image has faded.

"As I was going up the stair

I met a man who wasn't there!
He wasn't there again today,
Oh, how I wish he'd go away!" 

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door...

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn't there,
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away...

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Monday, 11 December 2017

At The Movies - Me and Squid 7, 8, and 9 - "Wonder Woman" - "Despicable Me 3" - "Paddington 2"

Yeah, I know, the first film here came out back in the spring. At the time I was occupied with reading all manner of spiritual books so neglected to maintain my blog and these posts which highlight mine and my daughters visit's to the cinema. Bear with me, please.

I never much liked Wonder Woman as a kid. It wasn't that Marvel seemed so superior back in the 60's, although they were streets ahead of DC, nor was it because she was a girl. I thought she seemed lame compared to Batman, Thor, The Flash, Green Lantern and the X-men. After all, when confronted with Phoenix there is little room left for female superhero's whose abilities are so much weaker than their male counterparts or simply don't match the competitions female characters. I feared a film that would portray the Amazonian in skimpy clothes portraying her as a young man's wet dream come to life. The film simply isn't like that.

Any fears I had of Diana Prince being shown as anything less than a match for Marvel's Thor or Superman's equal were soon dispelled. The same goes for there being a hint of sexism. The one scene and there are many that put all thoughts of Wonder Woman being a sex kitten created for chaps to drool over is the one where Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, settles down next to the warrior woman secretly hoping he might get laid. Diana confesses she has had sex with men but intercourse with men is only for procreation whereas with a woman it is for pleasure. As for her abilities, her courage, her skills and strength in battle, she is indomitable.

The film is set during the First World War.It follows on from "Batman vs Superman" where Bruce Wayne discovers a photographic plate of her standing with four other men. This device allows the audience viewing the photo to sit and observe as the past story unfolds revealing how and why Wonder Woman came to be.

Unlike many of the superhero films, Squid and I have watched, some lack a strong plot with a believable script along with well-defined characters. "Wonder Woman" excels with all three. This year has seen a bevvy of costume characters battling supervillains, notably "Logan" and "Guardians of the Galaxy 2." Squid and I both enjoyed this film. There is some fine action supported by moments of emotional impact. The relationship between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor has a nice touch. I like the naivete Diana displays. She is not stupid but a little unsure of things. This layer of her character lets us see her compassion and also makes for some great comic moments, it also provides the vehicle by which our favourite Amazon demi-god shows what a fierce fighter she is. 

Not sure about David Thewlis, fine actor though he is, cast as Ares.

For me the film gives feminism, without the unnecessary attitude, all the clout it needs for seen here is surely a great feminist icon? 

Squid gives "Wonder Woman" 4 stars.

The trouble with sequels is that all too often the longer the franchise continues the sooner the steam that made it great in the first place dissipates. Not so here. This may be the zenith of the Despicable films but if it is, and I suspect it isn't, what a truly great way to go.

Bringing Gru's brother into the ever-growing family mix was a great move. Making him Gru's twin was brilliant.  

Faced with a character from the past, a young TV star turned bad when his hair left a bald patch where a luxuriant growth used to proudly sit, Gru and his partner, Lucy are assigned by the AVL (that's Anti-Villian League for all you schmucks) to set a trap and capture Balthazar Bratt (him of the ever-growing chrome dome.) Although they regain the stolen world's largest diamond from the ageing Mister Bratt, they singularly fail to nab the creep. This isn't received well by the newly appointed head of Valerie Da Vinci (great name) who sacks the two lovebirds. This leaves Gru aching for a chance to make amends but also to enjoy again the thrill of the life he has so actively embraced. Enter Dru, Gru's twin brother (with long blond hair.)

As long as you are willing to suspend belief an animation, which supplies all the excuses with its modern day technology you need for that purpose, then the game is up and fun is the order of the day.

Squid and I laughed our underwear off. This is one funny film. The only problem I have is that I suspend a tad too far. I forget who the actors are. Hell, I even forget actors are required to voice the parts. That says it all, doesn't it? Great film.

Squid gives it  4 stars

"Paddington 2"

So good we paid twice to see it. One week after the next. I didn't think they could maintain the high standard set by the first film. I loved that movie and have watched it countless times since its release on DVD but this is so close to perfection as its predecessor that you can't slide rice paper between one or the other.

Excellent effects, slapstick and comical, with action aplenty to feed a zoo full of action deficiency dependants.

The cast is a wonderful array of actors from Hugh Bonneville to the lovely Sally Hawkins, the unsurpassable talents of Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent (incredible accent) and of course Brendan Gleeson. However, it is Hugh Grant, ageing perhaps but as handsome a devil as he ever was, taking centre stage. Portraying a villain suits him. He, in fact, excels as the slightly camp Phoenix Buchanan playing the part with glee.

This is the kind of film Christmasses were made for. It takes you out of yourself allowing the hard facts of life to fade from thought albeit momentarily as a fiction filled with unlikely events, unlikely characters and incredibly unlikely action pieces to take place.

Phoenix Buchanan lives near the Browns. Those amiable folk who took Paddington into their home and family. One night, as the Brown's visit a Fun Fair, so Buchanan, a moderate success as an actor who now spends the autumn of his career plying his trade in adverts selling dog food where he dresses as a dog, has attracted a crowd of onlookers. During his performance, he seeks assistance from one of the audience. This of course just happens to be Paddington.  The bear makes mention of a book he recently saw when taking tea at Mister Grubber's shop. This sparks a keen interest in the also-ran actor's mind as he has long sought to star in a one-man-show at the West End. Following a sequence of events that lead to Paddington being detained at Her Majestys pleasure where he meets a raft of villains as unlikely as the Cockney accent of Dick Van Dyke, events take several manic turns including the dying of the inmate's attire pink, escaping from prison and a railway chase involving two steam trains. What could be better?

Mention should be made of those other actors, supports I guess, who bless this production with their presence. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins (her on Doc Martin), Tom Conti and Ben Miller. Those I have missed - sorry.

Go see this film. It zings.

Squid gives it 5 stars.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

'Devil's Day' by Andrew Michael Hurley

At first, this disappointed. It was not what I thought it would be. For once, or so I believed, the label, or in this case dust cover, did not reveal the content. I persisted. Any book once purchased should be worked at. This doesn't mean you will like it any more or any less but at least give it a chance. The one exception was Paul Kingsnorth 'The Wake.' I really did my best as it came so highly recommended, even being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Nothing wrong with the novel. It just wasn't to my particular taste. I was concerned that the same would be true of 'Devil's Day.' 

The whole fabric of the narrative depends upon and is defined by the landscape, the language, the character of those individuals who inhabit its telling. It is rather like watching a tapestry in all the stages of its creation. Blades of grass, dew drops on their tips, worms riddling the soil with their burrowings, moles too, hawks and crows, crisscrossing the solemn sky set beneath a sullen sun., all add to the story. The flavour and colour are exhaustively honed if not with colours or tastes but words. 

As a generalisation, American's often tend to think of spoken English being defined by two, perhaps three dialects. The upper-class received pronunciation of the monarchy; the flat east end cockney as portrayed by Michael Caine, or the Estuary accent as spoken by David Bowie and myself. If you really believe there is such a thing as American or Australian English if that conceit comes deceit really fools you, then here is Yorkshire English. With its owd, its thee's and thou's, its nowt and owts, with its rumbling,  rolling swerve and sway of an accent. It is a dialect unlike any other, a language unto its self and deserves, as does Geordie, Brummie, Derby, Irish, Scot's and Welsh, along with Cornish and Devonian English, to be recognised as such. What's good for our American cousins is surely good enough for Yorkshire?

Seeing the title I assumed the content would follow a vaguely familiar pattern. The Devil, the owd feller, comes to the moors where he inflicts mortal harm on any number of innocent victims. I wasn't expecting to find the devil in question to be a Jack 'O Lanterns, a Springheel Jack, a vandal, sheep shagger, one who tries the patience of the local with his mischevious ways. Yet...somehow...a shade or shape begins to form by the actions, sometimes inactions, of the characters portrayed. Simple instances leave subtle clues. Words spoke in conversations evoke sinister undertones. 

The Endlands are a bunch of smallholdings found deep in the Lancashire uplands, bordering closely with Yorkshire, so close in fact one character states that he, and his family, are in fact Yorkshire people. John was born here. John took up teaching and moved away to Suffolk where he met Katherine now his wife and pregnant with their first child. John feels the calling of the land. It begs his return. He doesn't so much beg as insists that Kath and his unborn son return to the lands which no one really owns but simply pass on from father to son to caretake. It is less desire more demand - the lands demand. He feels its pull as though it were religious calling.

As the story unfolds there are several unsettling moments with what might be the Devil's presence, his malevolence, bubbling underneath the psyche. History turns then repeats its mistakes. Crimes of the past permeate slowly and as they do so they define the present.

A masterful book which takes its time to tell a tale worth telling. A novel far better than that which I had assumed it would be.  
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Willful Walks of Russell C.J Duffy - Book 2 - The Whispering of Grass - Chapter 7 - ALL NEW

*Mud Larks, Moody's and the M.O.D*-* Unexploded Bombs*-*The Odd Beauty of Foulness Island* 

Had I looked properly at the Foulness page on Wikipedia I would have read the rules and regulations governing when you can and when you can't visit what is, although there are civilian residents living here, a military base. Sadly, I didn't.  This has caused the long delay in my visiting or at least trying to, the largest island off the coast of Essex. Not bad when all is considered.  The size of the island I mean, not the long delay.

I had intended to visit, along with my daughter Squid, the island back in October. On the day I drove up before parking outside the perimeter fence, the high wire finished off with a topping of barbed wire, I sat in the vehicle debating whether or not to sign into security. I bottled it. God's know why. Anyway, I hadn't taken Squid so told myself I'd return in November. Why November? You are only allowed onto Foulness, if not visiting family or delivering necessary goods, on the first Sunday of every month. 

I returned again a month later this time with Squid. Parking my vehicle outside the security office, I entered it prepared with my passport and driving license. I was greeted by four non-military types all wearing Hi-Vis jackets. I announced who I was and was asked the purpose of my visit. I told them I wanted to see the islands but also take photos of the old and now disused church. The men in yellow jackets chortled. It was not a shared laugh, not a laugh one has the includes all but one raised at my expense. 

"This is a military base sir, you can't take photos here unless you have family buried in the graveyard."

I said I hadn't. They said you couldn't, visit that is with the sole purpose of taking photos. Okay, I replied. I won't.Take any photos that is.

"You still can't enter, sir. You are only allowed on Foulness from April to October. It is now November, sir."

This I knew but thought it best not to enter into a conversation on that subject.

"Thanks,"  I said bidding the gents of fond farewell aware of eight eyeballs following me as I left the office. I swear I could hear their witty rejoinders. "Wanker." "What a cock." "This a military base too."

So then, unable to physically view the island's topography let alone its up-for-sale church, I returned to my vehicle, where Squid sat waiting, and drove away. This then is my thoughts on an island I lived near for nigh on forty years but have never seen.

From the point of view of the observer,  that is one who lives off the island, the appeal for joining this odd community with its military neighbours is the realisation of how safe you are from any form of crime. I mean who is able to break into your home when your home is guarded twenty-four seven by armed soldiers? Who can rob you? Who can assault you? The only people able to steal your car whilst it is parked on Foulness are those unable to drive off in it without first alerting the guards at the gate. I like this 'home security feature.' A bit extreme perhaps. I can't see it taking off in the commercial marketplace as it might not prove cost-effective having units of the British Army patrolling a housing estate. Still, it has appeal.

The church I had so wanted to see up close is now vacant, vacant and up for sale. Interestingly it is not the first church built on the island, not the original. The church as seen today was built in 1850. Its architect was William Hambley. The building bears the hallmarks of being gothic. That, of course, is a Victorian conceit. Quite why that era paid such respect, such homage to a time long before remains a mystery to me. I am very glad they did though for this church has an outstanding quality to it.

As I said, the church is empty now. It has been so for some years. More recently a property developer has purchased the place with the intention of building apartments within it. The following is from the website of Unique Property Agency...

"For Sale - Detailed Planning has been granted for a One/Two Bedroom Apartment over two floors with separate Entrance.  Detailed Planning has been gained but ALL works have still to be undertaken.

They applied for and were granted planning permission to create a fabulous one/two bedroom apartment over two floors (see the plans) in this beautiful old Church, offering unrestricted views overlooking farmland and out towards the River Crouch where the sailing boats are clearly visible. The proposed apartment would suit a writer, artist, celebrity or anyone who longs to get away for a few days at a time from the bright lights, to enjoy the peace and quiet with the bonus of the security and privacy which this project offers. Perhaps it would also appeal to the owner of a substantial house in London who just likes to get out of town."

I am always a little sceptical regarding what I perceive as encroachment onto unspoilt land. I am with this and yet, had I not chosen to give the vast bulk of my inheritance away, had I been unaccountably selfish and insisted my family home be sold, taken my fair slice of the of the properties worth, I could have easily afforded to move to Foulness and into the proposed apartment. Still, I am glad I chose to help my children. Who know's what the future holds? I may still find myself living there one day.

This church, vacant now, represents a large section of humankind's belief in a deity, faith in God. I see no problem with that. I no longer have any issues with people of faith. Nor do I subscribe as I once did to the belief that religion is the cause of wars. In the two thousand years since the birth of the Christian Messiah, there have 1,763 wars. A stupefying fact when you consider that in World War alone 35 million people died. Take into account how shortly after that dreadful war influenza killed a similar quantity of human beings taking the death toll to as near as dammit 70 million, the preciousness of life becomes all too apparent. Out of that 1,763 wars, 123 of them have been caused by religion. That is 7% of all wars. Religion is not the primary cause of war avarice is. All the other wars have either been caused by nations setting out to conquerer other nations thereby seizing their lands and its natural resources or when kingdoms related by their various monarchs have had a family falling out, a feud, and set about settling scores. 

Whether you believe in God as a deity, a father figure who created all known life within this vast universe or, like me the great unknowable, unnameable, everlasting, eternal then what point is their in falling out over who is right when all parties simply want to live and love in the way God/god designed us to. All life is precious. No matter how big or how small. With so many paths, each of them as true as the other, each of them leading to the same summit, what does it matter which path you follow?

In seeking the truth the ultimate goal has to be in letting go of perceived ideas. Primarily, one must seek to forget labels for that which is greater than us all has no label.  All such definitions are man-made therefore are not the thing they try to define. Science, a tool by which we understand the mechanism of how the universe and life within it functions, reveals that the building blocks of life are constant throughout existence. The same molecules connect all life even if that life is diverse. This is unassailable fact. Humankind is related to trees as much as the stars and other animals and to the oceans. We are truly one with all creation. 

Here on Foulness, that fact becomes plainly evident. You are surrounded by water with sea walls constructed to hold the tides at bay. The fauna and wildlife forge an inseparable link with the inhabitants that live here. In many ways, Foulness is very much like those Scottish islands far to the north. Remote and off itself. A lot warmer it has to be said yet the similarity is obvious.

Scattered about are the remnants of what and why the military use this island for. Shells left by the shore are clearly visible.

There is a sublime sense of isolation mixed paradoxically with a curious community feel. You are in a very controlled environment yet one that allows the inhabitants to live the lives they want whilst enjoying the benefits of what has to be the best security found anywhere. There is a single shop, the village general store. It also has a post office and a pub, The George and Dragon. Not very original but still your typical, Olde Worlde English public house. Then there's the wildlife. Wildfowl aplenty with a range of birds enough to make an ornithologist do triple backflips. There are red knot, bar-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, redshank, grey plover, curlew, avocet (the UK's second largest population), sandwich tern, dunlin, common tern, shelduck, little tern, hen harriers, ringed plover and... the list goes on. The very name Foulness owes its origins to the Old English fulga-naess which, when broken down means fowl, or wild birds (fulga) and promontory (naess).

It is turning colder now. November is moving leisurely from autumn to winter. Nature's time passes at a different rate to man's mechanical invention. I had planned writing these additions to my original walks within the framework of a single year. This hasn't happened largely because of my foolish lack of researching the facts of Foulness Island's visitor protocols. Nevermind. I shall attempt to squeeze the final four churches within my area into a single month - December.     

Next - Rochford

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Monday, 27 November 2017

"Can You Hear Me Mother?" - Sandy Powell

"Can You Hear Me Mother?"
Apart from the above poster bearing such a comical image, there is also a series of questions it poses from the modern day viewer. For one, who the hell is Sandy Powell? Second, was there really a film called "All At Sea?" And thirdly, who on earth were Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr?

Sandy Powell had roots that went deep into the music hall tradition. Born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire in 1900 (January 3rd as it happens) he owed his first break, his foot-up to the footlights as it were, to his dear old  mum Lily Le Maine (very possibly not her real name.) Christened Albert Arthur Powell, Sandy being a feature of his hair colour rather than the area he was conceived or born in, the young chose to have Sandy as his forename rather than Albert. Understandable really when you think of it. Not particularly cool to someone of my vintage, I mean Elvis or Dylan would have struck a certain chord, but better than Bert or Albert.

As part of his routine, Sandy would wear a kilt whilst pretending to be a Scottish comedian. I am unsure why? Was being funny as an Englishman not sufficient or was this a case of Imperial Britain having a laugh at the Scotish expense? I'd like to think not.

Sandy had some success as a recording artist making something like eighty-five 78rpm records. These were released between 1929 and 1942. The deal was hardly great but then again, in those days, it was all about the contract and the man managing the artist rather than the artist making money for himself which the manager then had a percentage of. At a penny-a-side Sandy would have made £60,000. Good money then but hardly anything like the money you might make now. Mind you he did sell half-a-million copies. Not bad eh?

It wasn't until the 1930's that Sandy, whilst working on the radio, introduced his catchphrase "Can you hear me mother" it was to follow him to his grave.

Sandy died at age 82 having insisted he had been suffering from bad indigestion for a number of days. A heart attack killed this popular entertainer on 26th June 1982. A fading memory now perhaps but a man who made a great many people laugh until they cried.

Image resultJimmy Kennedy is a name that should be writ large upon the world of songwriting for he was a songwriter of great talent only being beaten into second place by Lennon and McCartney as the biggest selling Irish or British songwriter in the good old US of A.

His hits should ring a bell but if they don't then the bell you listen to is the wrong one. "Barmaids Song," "Red Sails in the Sunset," "South of the Border" (down Mexico Way don't you know!), "We're Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line," "The Isle of Capri," "Teddy Bears Picnic" ("If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise"), "My Prayer," and of course the "Hokey Cokey." 

He was born in Northern Ireland on 20th July 1902 near Omagh. Now when I say songwriter, I guess what I really mean is a lyricist. Yes, he occasionally composed the music too but he predominately wrote the words for someone else to write the tunes too.

In a career the lasted more than fifty years he wrote a staggering 2,000 songs. That alone is an incredible achievement.

Now of the many creative partnerships Jimmy had none were much better than the one he shared with Michael Carr.

Maurice Alfred Cohen, or Michael Carr as he liked to be known, was born in Leeds on 11th March 1905. His father, Morris "Cockney" Cohen, was a boxer and cabinet maker. A man capable of knocking a man down before knocking a piece of furniture up. Michael's mum was Irish and as a child, his family moved to Dublin where he grew up. 

The partnership of Kennedy and Carr or, if you prefer, Carr and Kennedy is one remembered as being not only prolific but also one that crossed many genres. Their songs may seem dated now but remain classics all the same.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.