Monday, February 25, 2013

A little piece of Pi

I’m back from the Isle of Man now, and having been on trains, planes and automobiles, I’ve had plenty of time to finish ‘Life of Pi’ but since my return I’ve had no time to blog my thoughts. So here goes:

How often does a film disappoint if you have read the book, or a book disappoint if you have seen the film? On the back of watching the movie I was very keen to read the book, but mindful of the above, my intention was only to alleviate my fear of being shallow, as the supposed depth of the story had sailed serenely over my head!

Very early on, Pi says ‘Let me tell you a story. A story that will make you believe in God!’ but I had left the Multiplex perplexed, as I didn’t see how the story achieved this boast. Perhaps the book would enlighten?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I really am that shallow! I cannot see how this story of a young indian boy, named after a French swimming pool, who plans to emigrate with his family to Canada, and who then tragically loses them when their ship sinks, and ends up the sole survivor in a lifeboat apart from a Zebra (with a broken leg) an Orang-utan, a Hyena and a full size Bengali tiger proves the existence of God!

Notwithstanding, Pi’s attractiveness (In both film and book) is his innocent search for the truth of who God is. And there’s certainly an argument for a pluralistic faith which is what he ends up having, following both Hinduism and Islam as well as Christianity. This creates a delightful comic scene (tragically omitted from the film) where he bumps into his priest, his imam and…whatever Hindu leaders are called, all at the same time! I suppose as a Christian I shouldn’t be so blasé as to suggest a pluralistic faith could work but does God reject earnestness?

I gave a talk this morning about the Dominican Republic in a little church in Bedford. An elderly man did the bible reading and announced it as ‘Today’s reading is from the book of Ecclesiasticles’ These sound like slang for male genitalia, but I’m sure the bearded wonder looked down from heaven and had a good chuckle. This poor old man was earnestly doing his best, no harm done.

I’ll take it no further than saying that for Pi, being able to draw on the good of all three religions gives him the strength and the hope to battle through this epic encounter with both nature and beast. It works for him, but he is only a fictional character.

Let’s not get too heavy. This is a surprisingly enjoyable yarn, which at one level is simply a manual on survival, but interspersed with wonderfully lucid descriptions of his ever changing, ever challenging surroundings. No small feat when all he is surrounded by is sea and sky!

Yes, this book is deep, both spiritually and philosophically, but it’s a free country and you only have to address it at this level if you really feel you have to. But I don’t. I want to read so that I can conjure up colourful vivid images in my mind that allow me to escape to where the author takes me, and in ‘life of Pi’ I would at times, sitting up in my bed, think I could feel the rhythmic movement of the waves, gently rocking my bed as if I too had become cocooned inside a lifeboat.

You’ve probably missed it at the cinema, but I would certainly recommend buying the DVD.  But a cheaper option is to apply that most pleasing of cocktails, picking this book up in a charity shop and using your imagination!

There was a vastly over rated (in my opinion) book a few years ago called ‘The five people you meet in heaven’ and  if there were limitations on the number of inhabitants I was allowed to meet, the central character of this book would be on my list. To hear him regale this tale first hand would be celestial!

Y'know, Pi in the Sky when I die!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lincoln, The film, not the city!

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Douglas Isle of Man. You know the type of hotel which has two sides: The one in the brochure which boasts of panoramic views of the coast and the other which looks out onto a car park which the hotel shares with the local cinema.

Now, it’s nice to look out of the window every once in a while and be reminded that last night, out of sheer boredom (I’m here on my own on business) I went to said cinema and watched Lincoln. I was reminded of the picture house of my youth in Harpenden which is now sadly a petrol station. I would suggest the fittings were original, as are the ticket booth, the rest rooms and maybe even some of the staff. Sadly, the prices were still very much twenty first century, but I intend to put this night on the Company!

If you want an authentic treat, and ever find yourself (ironically) in the county of Lincoln, do visit a quaint old market town called Louth. (I have never known a place with so many charity shops, with such good selections of second hand books. There really is nothing else for the good people of Louth for recreation other than to read!) Well, that’s not strictly true as it has this fantastic old cinema of which the screen is so small, I have seen bigger tv’s in peoples houses! Add to that it has an intermission half way through the movie, in which two girls come round the aisles selling confectionary out of their trays suspended by ribbon round their necks and you really do re-visit your childhood.

Apart from Mama Mia (immensely more enjoyable than Les Mis – see prev blog)) the only other film I saw there was ‘Amazing Grace’ which was about William Wilberforce’s fight to abolish slavery in Great Britain. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by the presentation of such an overwhelming subject, but the film was one I still felt was worth seeing and stood up as an edifying spectacle when compared to so many far less noble subject matters which are turned into movies (C’mon, how long before we get ‘The Killer on the track – the story of Oscar Pistorious) 

Sometimes you just have to let the woman have the last word fella

And so it was with similar expectation that I went and saw Lincoln.

My low expectations were met. It was like watching something on BBC3. Only 24 hours before I had sat cuddled up on the sofa with a Terry’s Chocolate Orange watching a wonderful documentary about the history of Baroque art, but if it had overlapped with the start of Mrs Brown’s Boy’s, my shallowness would have usurped my depth and I would have changed channels. But here I was again (sans Terrys Chocolate Orange) being informed rather than entertained. I was in a cinema, I wanted to be shocked, awed, tickled, inspired but I was none of those things.

'Washington, Jefferson, Watch out baby cause here I come, Abraham, Theodore, You're gonna see my ugly mug on Mount Rushmore Yeah!
Ian Hunters song 'When I'm Presiden

Don’t get me wrong, my admiration for the guy has increased, and he certainly deserved to be carved out of stone on the side of Mount Rushmore, but the film was just too intense, complex in its plot and too many characters who looked like Charles Dickens but with yankee accents. I just didn’t know who was who!

My guess is that the history of the Civil war and the fight to abolish slavery is on the curriculum in every school in the US, and therefore this is a story with characters all too familiar to an American audience. But to this Brit, I was only able to appreciate it at a broad level:

They have slavery, some want to keep it that way, others don’t, there’s a war on, and the two are linked, but which comes first? They abolish slavery, then the Confederates surrender and then Lincoln gets shot.

There you go, just saved you 2hrs 20 minutes of your life and £9.10

Daniel Day Lewis is Oscar nominated for this role, but let’s be honest, no-one knows what Lincoln sounded like, and so if you grew a goatee beard, dye your hair black and wear a top hat, we can all be Abraham Lincoln! Admittedly he has lots of lines to learn, so he earns his fee, and that pretty much sums up the film. A lot of dialogue and in particular a lot of Abe telling anecdotes and saying famous Abraham Lincoln sayings.

I always assumed Lincoln to be a devout Godly man with a deep faith and although there were hints at this it wasn’t laboured at all. He was more interpreted as a deeply principled man with a love of people. Perhaps the best scenes were played out between him and his wife, the role entrusted to the ever dependable Sally Field. Their relationship was strained at times, but the co-dependency and trust in each other was heart warming, although I’m sure by the end, even she was probably ready to shoot him, I know I certainly was!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hair cuts!

I got my hair cut on Saturday. I use this great little barbers in the indoor market in Luton. It’s run by four very working class lasses who are all born and bred Lutonians. Educated in Luton also, which is reflected in the charming little sign on the wall demonstrating their ‘Ernie Wisesque’ command of the English language. However, similarly educated Lutonian mothers have full understanding of its content and happily stand outside in a gaggle, (blocking the door) as they chat away and moan about not being able to smoke in the market anymore. I love the place, the girls are really genuine, very welcoming and do a sufficient job in keeping me trimmed.

I’ve just read that back, and I have to say it does make me sound like a snob. For this I apologise, but I also caveat this with the fact that all my three offspring (that I know of!) were also educated in Luton, and like my hairdressing girls, have not let this be a handicap. However, there are small malapropisms (well, they’re not even really them) which often pop out.

Example: I get a text saying ‘Dad, will you leaf out a key for me’ He could see nothing wrong with this!!

Or, when my 18 year old daughter comes downstairs in a figure hugging outfit, which is revealing far too much of her cleavage, and which she intends to wear to a party, and in which her Father clearly disapproves, I’m told ‘I’m very proud of my figure, I think I’m voLUMPtuous!!!’ The irony is completely lost on her.

Who’d be a parent!

When I first moved to Luton I used a great little barbers called Tulios, who used to be run by lads, for lads. We would discuss ‘lads things’ and it became a bit of an event to go there, drink coffee and have a bit of banter. But Tulio had plans to go upmarket and made a crucial error in introducing two extremely glamorous girls to work with him. Sorry, but in no circumstance am I having some sexy woman massage my scalp, ask me how I want it and money change hands! I’m just not that sort of bloke!

Next I moved to Carmens in High Town but he made the mistake of taking too much off my forehead and received a visit later that day from the wife! The shame was too great, I had to find somewhere else. I don’t think I have a particularly ugly forehead? It’s not as if I have 666 tattooed across it, but whenever I go to get it cut, I’m sent off with strict instructions ‘leave some at the front to cover your forehead’

The only time I ever deviate from my Luton lasses is when I go to Dominican Republic and because of the heat I’m allowed a Number 1 all over. Having a son who was a skinhead in a previous life, we have the equipment for a DIY job. I think most men would go for this look if they thought it was attractive to girls, as its certainly practical, saves on shampoo and most importantly makes you look hard! I hadn’t realised, but whilst skinheads were a reaction to the long haired look of the hippies, it fitted in with their violent lifestyle, as, in a fight, your opponent has no hair to grab hold of.  

I've been told I look like a Serbian war criminal!
Perhaps the most unique experience I had was getting my hair cut in a settlement called Ascension village in the Dominican Republic. This community is primarily made up of Haitian refugees, a collective which I have come to dearly love, and so to help boost the local economy I agreed to get my locks pruned.

On entering the shack I was greeted with a bare room containing only an office chair held together with masking tape, and a broken mirror precariously balanced on a couple of nails. On a small shelf sat a small black comb and a Wilkinson sword razor blade. (ha! On cue, a merengue song by Theodore Reyes, a heartthrob in DR has just shuffled to the front on the ipod!) My new friend Isaias took the comb and the razor blade and in a deft slashing motion, transformed me to my favoured war criminal look, and all for about one pound.  

Had I known at that time that HIV was running at about 20% in the village at that time, I might have been less keen!

Gosh, I’ve just written a whole post about getting my hair cut. I’m surprised you got this far. Thank you! Perhaps to counterbalance this, I’ll make sure I reveal some dark secret about me in my next blog. You have been warned!

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Ok, it’s a few days on from my angry rant, and I’m still smarting, but with every day, a little more dust has been kicked over the bonfire, the bathwater has cooled to below scalding, and I’m in the mood to write something positive. Well, I’ll rephrase that, perhaps we should just say that I don’t feel like having another rant.

When man lets us down, what is required is a counter-balance of human action which reminds us that we’re not all bad, that the same propensity that serves us ill can also restore our faith in our fellow man. Within minutes of posting, I received kind words from concerned friends: Text, email, blog message, all assuring me, through the simple act of contact, that people care. In a world where it is easier to contact someone than ever before, albeit, based on the level of inanity on twitter and facebook (guilty as charged) these are mediums for the self publicist (err, Jon, you’re writing a blog!) Shouldn’t we all make the effort to be an encouragement to someone each day. How difficult would that be?

I’ve just started my fourth book of the year, and its Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I don’t tend to ever buy a current new release (unless someone un-imaginatively buys me a WH Smiths voucher) and I have a ‘back catalogue’ of novels which I feel I should have read. I have to be careful, as reading books can certainly make us become elitist to the point of foppishness. I always think that individuals who, in conversation ask ‘Have you read….?’ are the height of insensitivity or arrogance. How many books are there out there, so what are the chances of the recipient to the question being able to answer in the affirmative unless the subject is Harry Potter, The DaVinci code or Lord of the Rings. Interestingly, Wikipedia sites ‘A Tale of two Cities’ as the best selling book ever, and I’ve read that. To my shame also in the list was ‘The joy of Sex’ and ‘The Happy Hooker’ which I clearly remember doing the rounds among all my compatriots (including me) when I was about 13!

I was invited to a ‘Think tank’ discussion this week which included some fine food and wine (fortunately) some brilliant minds and little old me. When I got the invite, I actually phoned up to check that they hadn’t mixed me up with a relative of the racing driver John Cobb who tragically died in 1952 at Loch Ness trying to break the water speed record. (Some people believe the accident was caused by the craft hitting a wake caused by a large animal!) Anyway, no, it was me they wanted, but here was a conversation peppered with references to great theologians and philosophers. The height of postulation!

Conversation which included the words ‘it is my assertion that when Aristotle said…’ or ‘the existentialism in your theory dear sir borders of the verge of being Nietzschest’ resulted in Jon nodding sage-like, whilst rubbing ones chin as if in contemplation mode. How very Machiavellian of me!! (geddit?)

File:Niccolo Machiavelli.jpg
Machiavellian: 'The employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or general conduct'

So, for fear of being presumed literary, here is a list of books that I read in 2012. It matters not if you have read them all, read one, or never even heard of them. That’s the beauty of reading, it’s like running, it can simply be a selfish pursuit which has no other agenda than for our own edification and delectation!

1.      Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
2.      Charles Dickens, a life by Clare Tomalin
3.      Sketches of young gentlemen and young couples by Charles Dickens
Ok, it was the guys’ 200 anniversary that year!
4.      The Long Valley by John Steinbeck
5.      The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (a new discovery for me, loved him!)
6.      The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
7.      The Island by Victoria Hislop (Chick-lit)
8.      Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh (truly excellent)
9.      For whom the bell tolls by Ernest Hemingway
10.  Lady Chatterleys Lover by DH Lawrence (a compromise, rather than reading 52 shades of grey!)
11.  The House of the Dead by Dostoyevsky
12.  Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky (what was my crime to deserve such punishment?)
13.  Farewell my Lovely by Raymond Chandler
14.  The curious incident of the dog in the night time by Mark Haddon (A joy)
15.  The Fear Index by Robert Harris
16.  A skeptics guide to faith by Philip Yancy (the only Christian writer I devour)
17.  Of mice and men by John Steinbeck
18.  To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee (her only book don’t you know!)
19.  The mystery and history of the Arnolfini portrait by Carola Hicks

So, as you can see, I’m working through a back catalogue of a lot of books I feel I should have read. But I look to intersperse them with novels which are recommended, typically through the excellent Radio 4 show ‘A good read’

I can tell when I’m trying to be something I am not, or perhaps I’m doing myself an injustice and I am trying to better myself, but who in their right mind reads two Dostoyevskys?

It’s good to keep my feet on the ground, and I think Life of Pi will do this as I found myself watching this on my own on Christmas eve in the cinema! I could see the canoodling couples, the happy families looking either sympathetically or accusingly at me, Billy no mates.

It is a long story, and for once it didn’t involve an argument with the wife, but I was killing time waiting for my daughter to finish work so we could drive up north to join the advance guard, but I can still feel the shame.

Going to the cinema on your own is strictly taboo! But at least if you go on your own you don’t chat loudly. Cinemas have become such noisy environments! There’s always someone who doesn’t turn off their phone, popcorn cannot be eaten quietly, and neither can anything be drunk through a straw in a similar manor. I hark back to the good old days of a small plastic carton of kia-ora, perhaps some spangles, the air thick with the smoke from the boys smoking their Embassy number tens and the sound of slurping kisses from courting couples on the back row.

Oh, and a movie being a U, A, AA or X!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Not in a good place

Ok, today I am on a low. I’m writing this blog as a form of catharsis, but I don’t know where I am going with it, it may well sound like a rant, or a large dose of self pity. It’s up to you if you carry on.

I have an ache in my heart that is encumbering in the extreme, and which I know will not go away, perhaps ever. But, I also know that I am at the start of a cleansing process which requires others to bestow grace on me the way our maker bestows it upon us. Please be strong, as I am trying to. You know who you are.

I hate hypocrisy. I hate false humility. I feel like I am surrounded by it, but perhaps it is me who is wrong? Perhaps broken promises, disloyalty, double standards, selfishness, denial, failure to admit guilt are the new standards that so called Christians live by when dealing with a subject which is their other God. (Their weakness, but what they put their hope in to be their strength.) Someone who can profess to love God, help others, desire the spirit is not immune in business to completely act in a lowly manner. Oh how I know it to my cost.

I have failings, I have deep failings, but I put it on record that I don’t give a stuff what car you drive, how big your house is, how much you earn. My failings can be pretty dramatic but they do not include the love of money, and its time some of you swallowed your pride and started to do what’s right! You to know who you are!!

I’m reading a little book which accompanies Andy Flanagan’s latest album ‘Drowning in the shallows.’ Each chapter is a vignette based around one of the songs on the album. He is fast becoming a bit of a hero, (no, not a man crush) but I love his desire to become ‘downwardly mobile’ How counter cultural is that? It’s not for everyone, but he’s a young man with a wife who have rejected the idols that this world has set up as paths to happiness. In his song ‘The reason’ is the line ‘…signing over your conscience to free market lies, this trickle tickle. Getting downwardly mobile opens your eyes to really living’

I’m in the mood to really live. That’s something certain people who lead selfish hypocritical lives will never experience. You know who you are.