When is it ok to stop counting the years?

I SPENT a morning cutting back and removing weeds and other sorts of vegetation from my parents’ and great-grandparents’ graves. It would have been my parents’ 75th wedding anniversary that day. But does this actually have any meaning? When do we stop recording ‘would have been’ birthdays and anniversaries? There are Birthday Memories notices in local newspapers, with families remembering somebody’s birthday, often decades after that person’s death. Why do we do this? Does it help to keep their memory alive? But memory is malleable; how we remember, changes; what we remember, alters.

Group therapy

I HAVE joined two Facebook groups, for people who like to discuss books they have read and films they have seen. So far, I have written about two books and two films. I can see me doing more of this, with other groups dedicated to the things I have been writing about on this blog. Perhaps, eventually, these groups will replace the blog; in the meantime, I’m toying with the idea of changing the name of the blog (if I can summon up the energy to make all the alterations that seem to be required for something apparently so simple.) The working title is It’s A Retired Life; I am undecided about an exclamation mark.

Awkward relationship

I HAVE started a new photographic project. The Gower Peninsula, just west of Swansea, was the UK’s first designated Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My Gower Churches project will try to look at how some of the peninsula’s oldest buildings fit into that landscape. It has got off to a less than promising start; the first church was wedged between a hotel and a modern house; the second was on a busy road junction.

Never on a Sunday

RETURNING to the first topic in this post, last Saturday would have been my mother’s 97th birthday. We put yellow roses on her grave. The next day, we went to the cinema to see the latest Tom Cruise film. My mother was probably turning in her grave at the thought of her boy going to the pictures on a Sunday.

Out of harmony

CHATTING with the other retired blokes after our regular morning swim, I discover that Posh John (He Went To Boarding School) is teaching himself to play the piano, using tutorials on YouTube. This sparks shared reminiscences about schoolboy piano lessons. Dave The Photos recalled his relief when his lessons came to a sudden end after six months, when his teacher unexpectedly died. I recall my teacher, who was the village vicar’s wife, advising my mother that she stop wasting her money on piano lessons, and buy me a new football instead.

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Prepare to be appalled and angered

DETROIT ****

What’s it about? The brutal interrogation and murder of three young black men by white racist police officers at the Algiers motel during the Detroit race riots in August, 1967.

Who directed it? Kathryn Bigelow, who is best known for her powerful dramas Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Hurt Locker (2008), for which she became the first (and still the only) female winner of the Best Director Oscar.

Who is in it? Two of the three leading roles are played by British actors Will Poulter (The Revenant 2014) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015). The third part is played by American actor-singer Algee Smith, in the biggest film role of his career to date.

My view: I did not enjoy this film. That is not a criticism. ‘Enjoyment’ would be entirely the wrong word to describe the range of emotions I experienced. I was appalled at the police brutality – and the way other men in uniform turned a blind eye to it; angered at the failure to bring the guilty men to account; and left with a sense of profound pessimism over whether much has changed in race relations and civil rights in the 50 years since the events portrayed in the film.

Bigelow presents the story in three acts. The first part – the police raid on an illegal drinking club that sparks the rioting – is gripping. The central act – the 60-minute real-time action in the motel, as events spiral downwards from racist abuse to murder – is suffocatingly tense. The final part – the trial of the police officers and a black security guard – inevitably suffers from a slackening of the tension.

There are strong performances from Poulter as the out-of-control racist cop, and Boyega as the black security guard who is seen as compromised by his uniform in Afro-American eyes. Smith’s performance, as the lead singer of the Detroit group The Dramatics, may just be an Oscar nomination in waiting.

Watch this film if: You want to see a masterful filmmaker in action; have any interest in racial politics; want to understand the back story to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

St Mary’s, Pennard

THE original,  medieval church of St Mary’s became overwhelmed by sand, and a new church was built further inland in the early 16th Century.

The building contains 13th Century stonework. Perhaps the building pre-dates its use as a church, or stones from the original church may have been used in the construction of the new church.

Today, the church stands on a busy road junction between Southgate and Bishopston.

St Teilo’s, Bishopston

Situated at the head of the Bishopston Valley, St Teilo’s occupies the site of one of the earliest Christian settlements in Wales. The Bishopston stream, which winds for more than two miles to Pwlldu Bay, runs past the church gateway.

St Teilo’s dates back to 460-490 AD, when Teilo established a church hidden in a dell above the stream. The current building was built in the 13th Century.

 

Drugs, Guns & Politics. There are no more good guys.

AMERICAN MADE ****

Plot: A TWA pilot is recruited by the CIA to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions over South America in the 1970s, and ends up smuggling drugs for the Medelin Cartel and running guns for the CIA.

Director: Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow 2014)

Cast: Tom Cruise (The Mummy 2017, Jack Reacher, Never Go Back 2016, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation 2015): Sarah Wright (Walk of Shame 2014): Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015)

Thoroughly entertaining, and based on the real-life story of pilot Barry Seal. Cruise is back on top form after the disappointment of The Mummy last time out. The role of Seal, who apparently was an adrenaline junkie, suits him perfectly, and Cruise gives every impression of having thoroughly enjoyed himself.

The film is deliberately un-slick, with handheld camera work, scrawled text on screen, and even that old ‘plane-flying-across-map’ technique to track Seal’s increasingly complex nefarious dealings.

In a world where everybody sees everybody else as a means to financial or political gain (or both), Seal’s feelings for his family are the honourable exception, and Wright is very good in the underdeveloped role of his wife.

The title, like the film, casts an ironic and cynical sideways look at the West’s great ‘defender of democracy.” “Is this legal?” Seal asks; “It is if it’s for the good guys” replies Gleeson’s CIA officer. Except, there are no good guys.

Verdict: A light touch on very serious issues, this is a perfect vehicle for Cruise.

 

A mental landscape of guilt and terror

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World, concentrating on the sense of place created by the author.

FRANCE

Three Days and a Life, by Pierre Lemaitre, Translated by Frank Wynne.

Plot: Antoine, aged 12, lives in a provincial town. In the last days of the departing century, a series of events unfolds, starting with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog, that inextricably links the fate of Antoine and the neighbour’s six-year-old son.

When and Where: The novel is divided in three parts, set in 1999, 2011, and 2015. The town of Beauval is set in a “region of lush, dense woodland which moved to its own slow, ineluctable rhythms.”

Sense of Place: Beauval is one of those small towns where “nothing ever happens”, and where people conform out of their desire for respectability in the eyes of their fellow townspeople; and where anyone who breaks this rigid code is regarded with hostility, suspicion, or contempt. The woods that surround the town are the setting for a shocking event; the death of a child (the killer’s identity is immediately revealed; this is not a ‘whodunnit?’ crime novel.) The physical appearance of the town and the all encompassing woods are well drawn, but the book is really describing the mental landscape of a guilt-ridden, terrified killer. Within this, there are memorable scenes of a Christmas Eve midnight mass, and of the twin storms that devastate the town which (“the landscape was changing fast, too fast”) mirror and act as a metaphor for the killer’s state of mind.

This is a very accomplished psychological study of the consequences of a shocking crime, both on the culprit and on the wider community.