Do you fire that missile?

YOU have the opportunity to eliminate some nasty terrorists who are planning to kill dozens of people. All you have to do is pull the trigger and launch the air-to-ground missile that will blow the terrorists and their house to smithereens.

However; it’s pretty certain that some innocent passers-by will also be killed in the blast, including a young girl selling loaves of bread outside the walls of the terror house.

What to do? That’s the dilemma at the heart of Eye In The Sky, the film that The Current Mrs Feeney and I went to see this week.

I thought the film made a good job of balancing the demands of an action thriller and a more thoughtful examination of the moral compromises required to wage war – especially drone warfare conducted by politicians and soldiers sitting in rooms thousands of miles away from the explosions and the blood.

The film targets a single US-British operation. The plan is to capture a group of Islamist terrorists in the Kenyan city of Nairobi. The rules of engagement, however, change from capture to kill when it emerges that the terrorists are about to send two suicide bombers out into the city.

It sets up and explores a dichotomy at the heart of the plot; the British politicians are racked by moral uncertainty about the kill, while the British Army officers have no doubts about the justification of the proposed action. Meanwhile, the US politicians are absolutely certain that firing is the right thing to do, while the US pilot in charge of the drone’s payload of Hellfire missiles is almost paralysed by guilt.

So, what would you do? Decide, than go and see the film and find out what happens.

RB Rating: Good ***/5. 

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Another suitcase, another hol.

WE have booked our summer holiday; two weeks in Rhodes in June. This will be our third Euro trip of 2016, after the mini-breaks in Krakow and Barcelona. Those who know The Current Mrs Feeney well will be wondering what’s got into her; in the past, she has welcomed the prospect of travelling and holidays with all the enthusiasm of an NHS junior doctor for one of Jeremy Hunt’s new contracts (apologies to non-UK readers who are slightly bemused by the above comparison; if it’s any consolation, the current dispute between doctors and the UK Government baffles me too.)

Anyway, I ventured to ask what had brought about this sea-change in her attitude to packing a suitcase and jumping on a plane. She said she thought it was important, at this stage of our lives, to “make memories.” Fair enough, though in my case hanging on to the ones I’ve already got is enough to be getting on with, thank you.

We rolled up to the travel agency with resort and hotel already decided. So booking the holiday was straightforward. It only took an hour, after a pleasant diversion by way of Ibiza, Kos and Croatia. How do they do that?

I went for a swim last Friday, for the first time in a fortnight. I overheard one of the Retired Blokes Swimming Club regulars telling a fellow denizen of the showers that he had swum half a mile in twenty minutes. That is a remarkable feat on his part, not least because it took me twenty-two minutes and I overtook him twice.

On Saturday, TCMrsF and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary (thank you so much) with lunch in a pub-restaurant on the beautiful Gower peninsula.

We knew that the pub in question, the Britannia Inn, was in the remote village of Llanmadoc. So I’m not entirely sure why we drove to the village of Llanrhidian, where we stopped the car, said decisively “this isn’t the right village,” and headed back along the Llangennith road.

We came to a fork in the road; Llanmadoc was signposted right; the Britannia Inn was signposted left. Dilemma. “Go left” said TCMrsF. Dilemma resolved.

Ten minutes of increasingly empty road later, I broke the Retired Blokes first rule of the road; I stopped and asked a local if we were heading in the right direction. Over the hill and first right would bring us to where we wanted in about a mile, was his considered opinion.

Another ten minutes of soaking up the wilderness later, we arrived. The meal was delicious.

Something odd happened on Tuesday; I went to work. Up to a point. I’ve been asked by Citizens Advice to help develop a communications strategy for the media. It was strangely enjoyable to be talking about brand identity and client awareness again.

Don’t tell Mrs F, though. She’ll think I need a holiday.

The Wine List #25 Delicious little devil

DSC00256Grape: Malbec

Wine: Pont Du Diable 2014, Cahors, France. Bought from Laithwaites.

Alc Vol: 12.5%

Hugh Johnson says: “Dark, dense, tannic but fleshy wine capable of real quality…Bringing Cahors back into fashion.”

Label says: A lot of fanciful stuff about legends of pacts with the devil. Some of the flavours – “juicy spiced plum, blackberry and black cherry flavours finishing on a lingering note of liquorice” are almost as fanciful. To quote HJ, from the 2016 edition of his Pocket Wine Book, on this growing tendency towards hyperbolic descriptions of flavours: “it’s a glass of wine – tasting of wine – not a selection from the greengrocer’s.”

Food: “enjoy with French classics such as cassoulet, confit of duck, grilled beef entrecôte and well-matured cheeses.” We drank it with slow roasted belly pork and fried potatoes.

Did we like it? Yes, it was delicious (and I did taste the liquorice.)

One for the wine rack? Very possibly, though I’d like to compare it with some Malbecs from Argentina.

It’s not about the wine: The city of Cahors was mentioned in Dante’s Inferno as wicked, because it was infamous for having bankers who charged interest on their loans. The church said that using money as an end in itself (usury) was a sin.

The Wine List is my retirement project to sample all of the main grape varieties listed by Hugh Johnson in his annual Pocket Wine Book.

Tale of a whale

THIS morning, I went to the cinema alone. The Current Mrs Feeney was shopping with her sister.

I went for an 11am showing of In The Heart Of The Sea, Ron Howard’s film about the wrecking of a 19th Century Nantucket whaler, The Essex, by a giant white whale.

The fate of The Essex was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, and the film starts with Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting the last living survivor of the disaster to discover if the rumours of the whale are true.

As he reluctantly tells his tale, the film opens out and follows The Essex into the south Atlantic, around the Cape, into the Pacific and its fatal encounter with the whale.

The film is part adventure story, part survival tale, with a large portion of Hollywood morality message. It was a pleasant enough way to spend a morning.

The screening was one of those “silver screen” events for retired people. The ticket cost £3, and I could have had a cup of tea or coffee for the price. I declined the offer. As far as I could tell, the rest of the audience (about ten of us) took advantage of the opportunity.

The scenes when the whale attacks the whaler were effectively done, but overall film was ok, but no more than that. I didn’t think it was worth more than two stars out of five.

Visit to Barcelona

WE (i.e. Retired Bloke, The Current Mrs Feeney and The Daughter Who Left) are just back from a three-night stay in Barcelona.

We wanted to be right in the heart of the city, so we selected a hotel on The Ramblas. It was three-star, and had the usual mixed bag of reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. Customer satisfaction was three and a half stars out of five.

We booked in early Sunday evening. Our rooms were in the back of the hotel, which was disappointing. The curtains were closed in RB and Mrs F’s room. I swept them open to reveal this splendid view.

DSC00161You know that feeling when life creeps up behind you and deposits a large bathful of icy water on the unsuspecting head?

A quick discussion concluded that, for a number of reasons, it would be best to allow the curtains to remain in the firmly-shut position for the duration.

It wasn’t what even the cheeriest optimist could accurately describe as the most promising of beginnings. Fortunately, it proved not to be a harbinger of things to come. While the hotel was undeniably worn, or well-used, it was clean and – given its location (which was every bit as conveniently central as we’d hoped for, if a Flamenco restaurant and a striptease club are the neighbours you long for) – remarkably quiet in the night.

We spent our first full day lapping-up the architectural delights of Barcelona’s pivotal role in the Modernist movement, including, of course, the genius that was Gaudi.

On our second morning we went to one of the city’s fabulous food markets. The lack of natural light (I presumed that the summer sun would make the market unbearably hot under a glass roof), the ranks of spotlights on each stall, and the flair with which the produce was displayed, made walking around the market on almost theatrical experience.

We moved on to the city’s Gothic quarter, where we ended up having a drink in a tiny plaza, sat literally in front of the steps of a church, with centuries-old balconied apartments on the other three sides.

Just as I was thinking you couldn’t make the situation more of a cliche, a bearded man in a black suit and hat arrived on a bike, sat down on the church steps, and started softly playing classical Spanish guitar. There are moments when life feels very good indeed.

A few more, random images from what was – despite the unusual aspects of our chosen hotel – a very enjoyable visit to a vibrant and fascinating city. We will go back. We’ll just do a little more research on our hotel choice.

The Wine List #24 A favourite easy-drinking summer red

DSC00151

Grape: Gamay

Wine: Les Pivoines Beaujolais Villages 2013 (produced by Boutinot, France). Bought from N D John Wine Merchants (website: ndjohn.co.uk )

Hugh Johnson says: “The Beaujolais light grape, very fragrant wines, at their best young, except in Beaujolais crus where quality can be superb.”

The label says: “Fruity flavours imbued with the scent and colour of peonies.” We’ll have to take their word on the second bit of that, not being especially familiar with that flower. Still, the “fruit flavours” bit was bang on.

Food combination? Nothing on the bottle, beyond a request that we “just open, pour and enjoy.” Which is exactly what we did, initially. Then we finished off the bottle the next day with some of The Current Mrs Feeney’s home-made chicken soup.

Did we like it? We are very fond of Beaujolais wines, especially in the summer (NB: we are not talking about Beaujolais Nouveau, which we definitely do NOT like). Beaujolais Villages is the middle category between straight Beaujolais and the ten named crus, and this was a very pleasant example. It had a lovely colour in the glass, and very light fruitiness on the tongue.

One for the wine rack? Yes, Beaujolais Villages is one of our favourite easy-drinking summer reds. We have been known to splash out on a top-end cru Beaujolais (usually Fleurie) for special summer occasions.

The Wine List is my retirement project to sample all of the main grape varieties featured in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. 

 

The ugly, brutal, racist truth behind the facade

THE latest World Crime Atlas read exposes the ugly truth behind the Rainbow Nation facade.

Country: South Africa.

Book: Nowhere, by Roger Smith.

Plot: An ‘incorruptible’ retired Afrikaaner police officer is blackmailed into helping cover-up the fact that the President of the Republic of South Africa has murdered his wife. In a separate case, a sidelined black detective is sent to arrest an old white supremacist for the murder of a young black farmworker. As the two cases unfold, they are drawn ever closer together as dreadful events from the country’s tortured past are uncovered.

Where and when: Current South Africa. The story ranges from Cape Town to the Kalahari desert.

The detectives: Joe Louw – widowed and living in reclusive retirement after the accidental but fatal shooting of a woman in the aftermath of a robbery; and Disaster Zondi – moved to the police backwater of a department investigating old Afrikaaners for their Apartheid crimes.

Sense of Place: Peopled by extraordinarily vivid (if horrible) characters, this book exposes the ugly truth behind the Rainbow Nation facade. We are shown a country where the inhumanity of the old white regime has been replaced by the venal corruption of the new black government. Everybody is tainted; the wounds – inflicted and received – of the past bleed into the present. The story is as brutal as the setting, whether that is the eponymous Nowhere, an “ugly little town that sat upon the sand and scrub like an afterthought,” the heat-blasted desert, the empty road “liquid with heatshimmer as it parsed the endless expanse of sand and thorn trees,” or the squalid ghettoes on the edge of the cities, where “the sky over the shacks was red with boiling flame, the wind twisting and scattering the sparks of a million embers.”  We are left with a sense of the moral ugliness and ethical emptiness of a land where corruption and tribal prejudices exist alongside the racism that never went away: racism “which wasn’t – contrary to the belief of outsiders – a black and white affair. All colours, and all shades of skin, seemed to be caught up in a complex and never ending dance of mutual dislike and suspicion.”

Where Next? No easy task to follow such outstandingly good storytelling. Perhaps it’s time for our first trip to the United States (so big that surely each state will need to be treated like a separate country for this project). Our next crime read is taking us to Texas hill country, with The Last Second Chance, a new novel by Jim Nesbitt.