Who will speak for the fish?

WHAT will Brexit mean for the fish in our rivers? In all the debate about the UK’s exit from the EU (two years and counting down), this is not a topic I’ve seen addressed anywhere.

The only reason that I’ve raised it here is because of a conversation I had in the showers at the pool where I go for a regular morning swim.

A fellow devotee of the early dip, who happens to be a very keen angler, was bemoaning the fact that EU agricultural grants had had a devastating effect on fish stocks. I asked him to explain his thinking.

His theory went something like this: EU grants encourage farmers to maximise the amount of land they have under cultivation – including boggy land along riverbanks that would otherwise be left in its natural state. Along with the rest of the farmer’s fields, this land is given large doses of fertiliser. Then, at times of heavy rainfall, this fertiliser is washed into the rivers because the bogs no longer act as natural sponges. The fertiliser kills invertebrates in the water, and the fish starve.

Being neither farmer nor fisherman, I have no idea if he is right; our son The Gamekeeper says there is something in it, though blaming it on EU grants is pushing things a bit.

Now that we have finally delivered the letter to Brussels, formally starting the exit process, I cannot help wondering if anybody is going to be negotiating on behalf of the fish.

Inquisitive East meets intellectually lazy West

This time last week we were in Stratford-upon Avon, to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Snow In Midsummer, a modern adaptation of a classic Chinese play (it says on the programme notes.)

I enjoyed it very much, but it did get me thinking how little I know about Chinese culture – which, let’s face it, has been around for quite a long time.

My ignorance and my lamentable lack of curiosity about the subject was only driven home the next morning by the large numbers of Chinese tourists on the streets of Stratford, photographing everything of a Shakespearean theme.

The wrong actress in the house

On Friday afternoon I went to the cinema alone; literally so. Not only was The Current Mrs Feeney unable to join me, but I was the only person in the audience.

At least that meant there was nobody to distract me from the film. Viceroy’s House tells the story of the weeks leading up to the partition of the Indian sub-continent into the states of India and Pakistan, as the British prepare to get out after three centuries of colonial rule.

END OF EMPIRE: Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi, and Lady Mountbatten outside the Viceroy’s House in Delhi, in the last days of the British Raj.

The film takes a very Upstairs, Downstairs view of proceedings. Upstairs, the last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, is locked in increasingly urgent talks with Indian political leaders in what turned out to be a doomed attempt to prevent the country being torn in two.

Downstairs, there is a star-crossed love affair between Mountbatten’s Hindhu manservant and his wife’s Muslim maid, while the Viceroy’s House staff begin to divide along religious lines.

The film was competent, but never quite matched the scale of its subject matter. I did very much enjoy Gillian Anderson’s performance as Lady Mountbatten, but unfortunately, when I was discussing the film on our local TV station a few days later, I attributed the role to Pamela Anderson instead.

Now I cannot shake off the image of Lady M in a red swimsuit, bounding athletically along a beach with the Indian Ocean breakers crashing ashore behind her.

Not wisely, but too well

TWO former colleagues tied the knot on Saturday. An occasion of much drinking and dancing. It was lovely to see so many old faces, and catch up with what everyone had been doing over the last four years.

I’m sure the conversations were fascinating; if only I could remember them.



We should have gone to India

WOUNDED ANIMAL: Hugh Jackman gets his claws into the role of Logan/Wolverine

AS yet another skull splintered, splattering blood and brain matter, I reached the conclusion that I would rather have been in British Colonial India.

The Current Mrs Feeney and I had been undecided about our regular Friday afternoon trip to the cinema. Should we watch Logan, the latest in the Marvel Comics X-Men franchise, or Viceroy’s House, the historical tale of the last days of the British Raj?

We decided on Logan. Neither of us had seen the earlier X-Men films, but the critical noise about Hugh Jackman’s third outing as Logan/Wolverine had been loud and positive, going as far as describing it as a work of movie-making genius.

And anyway, TCMrsF wasn’t sure she could stand two hours of Gillian Anderson’s hilariously strangulated English accent as Lady Mountbatten holding court as the sun went down on the British Empire, and the sub-continent descended into religious and sectarian slaughter.

CLASS ACT: Patrick Stewart achieves his usual excellence as the ailing Professor X.

I was very encouraged by the start. The early scenes between Jackman, the ever wonderful Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier/Professor X), and Stephen Merchant (Caliban) were smart and emotionally engaging.

Mind you, Logan’s metal claws had already ripped apart a gang of would-be car thieves. And then the serious stuff started. Two hours later, TCMrsF and I agreed that there had been simply too much stabbing, slashing and decapitation for us.

I could see why some critics had liked it so much; beyond the gore and the well-choreographed fight scenes, there is a lot going on in the background.

It may be coincidence, but at a time when all the talk in the United States seems to be about building walls, this is a road movie about people trying to cross borders. The irony, of course, is that they are trying to evade border patrols in order to get out of, rather than into, the States.

There is also stuff in here about the dangers of “Frankenstein Science” research into gene manipulation of both food and human beings. I got the impression that director James Mangold isn’t a fan of GM crops.

Richard E Grant’s character (Dr Zander Rice) will inevitably conjure up images of the way the Nazis perverted scientific research through people like Mengele at Auschwitz.

So, it is fair to say that this is far more sophisticated and complex than your average superhero film. I just wish it had been 30 minutes shorter and 20 mangled corpses lighter.

As we left the cinema, I asked TCMrsF what she thought of it: “Violent,” she said. Quite.

Retired Bloke Rating: *** OK way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (if you’ve got the stomach for it.) I’m sure other people will rate it much more highly.


The Film Buff Stuff:


Director: James Mangold

Writer: Mangold/Scott Frank/Michael Green

Cinematographer: John Mathieson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant.



Bosnia mission led to retirement degree

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THE old woman dressed all in black sat on the steps in front of her hut. She had gathered wild garlic that morning, and she was trying to sell it to anyone passing her gate. A van drove down the road and stopped near her hut. Some men got out, and the old woman hobbled towards them, offering them the garlic. They shook their heads to indicate they did not want to buy any. One of the men opened the back doors of the van and took out a small parcel. He handed it to the woman, who opened it cautiously. There were tins and parcels of food inside. The woman looked at the men, and smiled. One of the men lifted a camera and started taking photos of the scene.

thumbnail_Bosnia 1995 Destitute2

This was Bosnia, in the aftermath of the Balkan wars that had shattered the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The man behind the camera was Dave Coffey, a manager with a pharmaceutical company in Swansea. He was part of a humanitarian mission organised by churches in the city.

thumbnail_Desperation Final

Dave was already a serious, if amateur, photographer. What he saw on that visit, and on other trips to the war-torn country over six years, ignited a passion that would result in him spending three years of his retirement obtaining a degree in photo-journalism.

Dave’s path into retirement has a familiar theme. After 36 years service in the pharmaceutical industry, changes to his role had left him feeling “like a puppet.” When he asked if he would consider early retirement, he was ready to consider it.

“My only concern was, could I survive financially,” he says. We are in the room at the top of his house where he spends much of his time editing the 45,000 images he has stored on his computer. Once he would have spent hours in the dark room he built at the bottom of his garden. Technology has made some things much easier for the dedicated photographer.

“At 62, it would be another three years before I started getting my state pension. But when I worked it all out, it seemed fine. When I actually retired (in December 2006) I accepted it for what it was. I didn’t have any problems adapting to a life without a paid job. I’m a busy person.”

Retirement gave this former grammar schoolboy from Liverpool the opportunity to pursue his photographic passion, and achieve a lifetime ambition to obtain a university degree.

“My family could not even have thought about being able to afford to send me to university when I left school in 1961.”

It wasn’t just his interest in photography that guided his choice of subject. “The photojournalism course at Swansea Metropolitan University was a modular degree. I didn’t want to be writing essays under pressure.”

He started the degree course in 2007, and gained a 2:1 honours degree three years later.  The work he did for his degree resulted in two books of his photographs, retracing his childhood around Romer Road.

Along the way, the knowledge he had gained in 25 years as a member of Swansea Camera Club meant he was able to help many of his younger and less experienced fellow students.

One of them is now a lecturer at the same university. He and Dave meet up regularly to exchange ideas. “There are always new software systems being launched. You never stop learning,” he says.

It is not only alumni that Dave remains in contact with. During one of his visits to Bosnia, he befriended a ten-year-old boy called Daniel. “Thirty years later, we are still in touch with each other. I want to go back soon and photograph the rebuilding of his town.”

Meanwhile, Dave is keeping busy, despite recent operation to remove cataracts from both eyes. A regular swimmer, he also walks daily and works out with weights in his garage three times a week (“They’re not heavy weights,” he points out.)

His next target is to be awarded a Fellowship by the Photographic Association of Great Britain. “I need to select a project, but I’m looking forward to getting on and taking my photographs.”

This is a retired bloke who remains in focus.

It’s good to see things differently

IF the secret of a successful marriage is to agree on some things, but not on everything, then the Afternoon Cinema visits undertaken by The Current Mrs Feeney and I should be doing wonders for the state of our union.

Yesterday’s trip to see Oscar Best Picture winner Moonlight is a perfect example. I was captivated by its stillness. TCMrsF was bored by its slowness.

And fair enough, if you like a lot going on, then this is not the film for you. The main character, Chiron (played by three different actors as a young child, teenager, and young man) rarely says more than a few words at a time.

This is one of those films where what remains unsaid is as significant and important to the story as what is said. The characters reveal their complexities and contradictions with looks and gestures as much as words. Chiron, in particular, looks at life through sideways glances or long, silent stares.

THREE AGES OF A MAN: Chiron is portrayed as a child by Alex Hibbert (top), as a teenager by Ashton Sanders (centre) and as a young man by Trevante Rhodes (bottom).

The film takes us through three stages of his life; as a young boy (Hibbert) neglected by his drug-addicted mother (Harris) and befriended by the dealer (Ali) who is supplying his mother with her drugs; as an awkward teenager (Sanders) who falls in love with his best friend Kevin; and as an externally-tough young man (Rhodes) who has adopted the business and persona of the drug dealer who rescued him, but has not resolved the issue of his own sexuality.

As much as the excellent performances by all of the actors, it is the visual quality, delivered by director Barry Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton, that will remain with me.

As for TCMrsF – well, the season of summer blockbusters isn’t far away now. There’ll be plenty going on then.

Retired Bloke Rating: ***** An excellent way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (But don’t tell TCMrsF that I said that).

The Film Buff Stuff:


Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali.

OSCAR WINNER: Mahershala Ali took Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drug dealer who befriends the neglected child Chiron.

Oscar wins: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Adopted Screenplay.


Didn’t we have a lovely time

CHEERS: “British pubs” in Los Cristianos. Not to be confused with tapas bars.

AS I sidestepped the mobility scooter making its unswerving progress in my direction outside the Queen Vic pub, at the same time and by the narrowest of margins avoiding a nasty spearing from the Nordic Walking Stick borne by the octogenarian making her determined way to buy that day’s edition of the Daily Express from the local Spar shop, it occurred to me that an early March week in Los Cristianos was neither the time or place to get the authentic Tenerife experience.

Or to meet anybody who was going to see 70 again. Imagine Eastbourne meets Benidorm, and you’ll get an idea of what greeted me when I stepped outside my hotel.

The street had several examples of the sort of establishment that is appreciated fully by the holidaymaker who goes abroad only to seek that which is familiar from home. Hence the bars that insisted of calling themselves pubs and offering “full English breakfasts”.

Judging by the number of mobility scooters and walking sticks outside, they were very popular with both factions.

Drivers and walkers alike favoured a distinctive look; to start, a baseball cap of striking hue, preferably with a pair of mirrored sunglasses perched jauntily on the peak. Below that, a short-sleeved shirt (of which only the two middle buttons should be done up), above a pair of comfortable shorts. The whole ensemble to be finished off by a pair of brown sandals, worn over beige socks.

ALL GO: a busy morning on the crazy golf course

I had already got an inkling that I had arrived in a place that could make even a Retired Bloke feel like the junior representative when I came across the daily morning aqua aerobics session.

A pool of peroxide heads were clinging to their noodles (apparently it’s a flotation aid) and their dignity, urged on by a blonde, tanned and lean German fitness instructress whose routine of jumps, twists and hops provided testimony to her vaunting ambition, in defiant disregard of the floundering reality that splashed about before her eyes.

When faced with such a situation, there is only one thing for a Retired Bloke to do. Join in. When in Tenerife, do as the Brits do.

Bacon sandwich, anyone?