How foreigners speak English, continued...

Reading the promotional blurb for an infusion pitcher, I was charmed by this statement: 

Remove the lid and insert your fruit of desire, it’s that simple.

There's something about 'fruit of desire' that is just more appealing than the prim and proper 'desired fruit'. Anyway, it's a bargain price and a nice design, so I'm buying it. It turns out that, with so many infusion possibilities presenting themselves continually, one infusion pitcher isn't really enough.

A doesn't-get-it review Of 'THE MERCY'

Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz star in a new dramatization of the Crowhurst tragedy familiar to many through the documentary Deep Water, through the book A Race Too Far, and through the 1970 first edition book (which years ago I plucked from my grandfather's study shelves), The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. I've seen and read all these resources, and a lot more: I know quite a bit about Crowhurst and his times, at this point. I doubt many people know more about him: I have even contributed original research (from an Exeter library, now digitized by Wikipedia)  that is on Rodney Hallworth's Wikipedia page. Rodney Hallworth, for those that don't know, was Crowhurst's publicist, and he features prominently in any documentary as well as in the new movie.

I believe on the evidence that in 1968, Donald Crowhurst was labouring under considerable financial pressures. Yet, according to Dave Calhoun of the TimeOut publication in London, Crowhurst embarked on the Golden Globe Race of that year in order to 'spice up his life'. Mystery 'still shrouds Crowhurst's story' -- I think it doesn't so much, actually, if you are willing to spend more than two minutes of lazy thinking on it -- and what's more, according to Calhoun, it's a story that is really about 'why a man would risk everything for an unattainable sense of personal satisfaction'. Give me a bloody break. If there is anything that motivates Crowhurst, it's the need to provide for his very young family of four children and a wife in broken, inflation-prone, not-very-affluent post-war Britain.

Where do they get these reviewers? What knowledge of the world do they have? Dare I ask how old they are? What sort of 'everything' does Dave Calhoun know about 'risking'? Callow youth, they spring eternal.

My own review of the new film will be posted in the Book & Film Review section, once it has come to America and I've had a chance to see for myself!

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Preparing for the new puppy's arrival


Just a few days to go. Most of puppy's toys and games will be homemade, but when they are very young and everything is new, some store-bought toys are worthwhile, as well. It's also a good idea to have a box or hamper to store them in. This water hyacinth hamper contains a handful of toys that were bought by well-meaning family, long after my Darling Chummy had lost interest in that sort of play. But we held on to them, and the new puppy, I'm sure, will be delighted. In addition, a few recent purchases for her are waiting to go in the hamper, until the day they come out again....

Dog Ear Cropping Is Pointless, Unkind, And Immoral

There: I've said it. I know that American Boxer dogs are required to have those ridiculous unnatural ears in the show ring, but nowhere in Europe are they so required these days -- in fact, ear cropping is forbidden -- and Boxer parents that do not show their dogs prefer the natural and beautiful floppy ears by a wide margin. The fact is that cropped ears are out of date. They subject vulnerable dogs to a completely unnecessary, uncomfortable surgical mutilation -- and surgery should never be resorted to except for the health of the dog. Why the American Kennel Club continues to tolerate this mutilation of innocent animals is a mystery. Perhaps the American Veterinary Medical Association has something to say on the matter? How about Congress? 

And while I'm at it: I don't approve of tail docking, either. A dog should not be mutilated. What else need be said?

Well, one more thing. How do people that claim to love dogs do this with an easy conscience? How can they? It's a mystery. And it's a testament to human stupidity at the same time.

tarot cards as bookmarks

 Cards from the Marseille tarot deck (in the book and lying on the cover).

Cards from the Marseille tarot deck (in the book and lying on the cover).

If you read a lot, and there are two of you (or more) in the household, and you have more than one book on the go at a time (I usually have several, to match my varying moods and broad interests), then the question is: What do you use for bookmarks? A wispy strip of paper may do the job, but it's not very satisfying. A decorative bookmark can have bits that get in the way (I don't want strings and danglies, thank you) or be too thick (I want a bookmark to keep my place and otherwise mind its own business). 

The easiest thing to reach for, I've found, is a tarot card (or playing card -- but tarots may be slightly larger though no thicker). The tarot card is decorative enough without any distracting additions, and it's not going to slide around or fall out or seem either too substantial or not substantial enough. And buying a pack of tarot cards in a style you like is much cheaper than buying individual bookmarks. Bookmarks, like socks, tend to go missing. When you've got a pack to draw from, it doesn't matter.

A neologism I hate

I loathe -- despise, scorn, spurn -- the relatively new verb 'to impact'. I didn't like it when it was new, way back some time in the late 1980s, and I haven't got any fonder since.

Even less do I like this formulation, in a new book about refrigeration: 'Chapter Six considers how the machine has impacted on food consumption...'. IMPACTED ON. In what god-forsaken universe is that English?? As my high school friend Laura would have said: 'Oh, barf!'. I'm more refined, so I'll simply say: Good lord. It's as if the words 'affected', 'changed', or 'irrevocably altered' don't exist. But wait -- they do!

The 'ghost' of Chummy

When we had just lost our girl, a day or two out (I forget now: time blurs), my feather pillow was hunched where I always sleep. Chummy sometimes put herself there: she slept with us in the bed every night, and she would often curl up by my pillows until I got to bed (she and her dad would usually go in sooner). But this time, there was just the dark blue pillowcase, gaping to show the white feather pillow within it. My husband, seeing this, gasped at first: his mind interpreted it for a fraction of a second as Chummy, with the white mimicking the white 'mantle' of her natural coat. And the odd thing is, when he shuddered and I turned to see what he had shuddered at, I had the identical reaction: I almost 'saw' Chummy as the small hunched being with the white at her neck. We knew we had been fooled, but we both felt spooked. We interpreted some ordinary object as being something alive, since we wanted her to be there and were appalled that she was not.

This Christmas night

My daughter is in the Intensive Care Unit with other dogs that are gravely ill. Our Christmas presents sit unwrapped, the tree is unlit, and the rib roast with mashed potatoes and other delights remain unconsumed. The games we had looked forward to playing are still pristinely unplayed in their boxes. We had to cancel Christmas, or at least, if there is time, postpone it. But our girl is still with us, and that's all that matters. 

The late Linda McCartney

has always struck me as odd.

Odd-looking: the feathery-blonde almost-not-there eyebrows; the singularly strange short haircut at her forehead, not transitioning with any grace to the longer hair in back and below; her prominent adam's apple and pointy, elephant-skinned elbows; and those eyes, slanting sharply downward at the far corners -- just like Paul's. I reckon those Paul-mimicking eyes -- how many in the general population have that unusual configuration? -- had much to do with attracting him immediately to her presence.

She also struck me, in an interview that was recorded on their extensive Sussex property many years ago, as rather a princess: most people would LOVE to have her problems (the problems of having almost too much of what you've always wanted). They were sort of non-problems, the problems that only people with more money than imagination and emotional clarity can have. I didn't feel sorry for her. But then, I couldn't understand Paul's deep depression at the break-up of the Beatles, either. 

Still. Linda clearly enjoyed life and she made vegetarianism not only more popular but easier to embrace as a way of life, as well. As a singer she was unimpressive, but she did have a lovely speaking voice. She was mainly 'the wife of', but she modestly made the most of it, in a way that made the world a better place.

My fraser fir Christmas tree

Having said that about Christmas Avoidance Syndrome, I have to confess that I mean that only in the sense of acknowledging the festival publicly, out in public spaces. At home I have long since bought -- and wrapped -- numerous presents, as is my habit, so as not to be swamped when the season is truly upon us. In short, I've nothing against quiet, even secretive, Xmas preparations. And there is one thing you really can't delay on, and that's a fresh fir tree. If you leave it too late you'll be looking at fake ones, and then you'll be looking at only the oddball fake ones that are left when everything else has been sold off. A couple of years back we found ourselves face to face with something that looked like a candidate for the Turner prize. We had ummed and ahhed too long about whether we wanted fake or fresh, or what. So we ended up with nothing.

Now we have a tree that's in the region of 6 feet tall, if you count the spike on the top. And I'm so pleased with it, I'm going to get one next year, and this is going to be a new tradition. I love the fresh tree because I am someone that prefers the real, given a choice. I love it because I like the subtle aroma, and the hardy branches that won't drop and break my ornaments like the 'pretend' Norfolk Island pine did one year. I love it because all my decorations that have been hidden away in a box for years can finally be seen in all their sparkly charm. I love it because it will make Christmas seem more present in our home. I love it because the fraser fir is native to the Appalachian mountains, in various spots of which I have spent many enjoyable summers. And finally, I love the fact that when it's dry and the New Year is here, we can take it to the kerb and get rid of it. No need to box it up and try to find a place for it in the attic!

Christmas is now a month not an event

Witness the fact that late in November, a customer at a supermarket near us wished the nonplussed checkout cashier a 'merry christmas'. And the fact that the National Park Service in America has a Tree Lighting ceremony at the White House -- on November 30. This is on top of the fact that many millions of Americans think that the right day to start Christmas decorating is the day after Thanksgiving, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of November. With all this disorienting and unwelcome bathed-in-Christmas-constantly feeling, I'm developing Christmas Avoidance Syndrome. Please someone, make it stop!

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The demeaning of actresses is an industry problem, not just the fault of individual men

Has it occurred to anyone that 'the Weinstein treatment' of actresses and other women in any employer's orbit might be related to the 'pornographization' of movies in our era? Well, it's occurred to me. 

Acting has for centuries had a reputation as being disreputable. But acting in past centuries had a Christian eye sharply fixed on it, in ways that we would probably consider absurd (the prohibition on female roles being played by actual females, for a start). But all that changed, and there was a long time when acting could lead on to greater prestige, in politics or diplomacy, for instance. Shirley Temple became U. S. ambassador to Ghana and, during the fall of Communism in Europe, Czechoslovakia. (And even she, in an interview with Larry King on his show in October 1988, claimed without rancor that both she and her mother were imposed on sexually by the top men of MGM.)

But something has happened in my lifetime -- the past half-century, let's say -- that is surely unsavoury. Women have become more than merely attractive or sexy actresses; they have been required to act in ways (witness Blue Is The Warmest Color as Exhibit A, not that I have seen it nor ever would) that mimic pornographic prostration, or even become indistinguishable from it.

It wasn't that way when Grace Kelly was in films -- when she was rightly allowed to be a lady on screen, such that a prince of Monaco could see her, fall in love, and invite her to join him in as consort in his realm. In her day, acting was seen as a reputable profession, not as a gauzy form of visual prostitution. 

The selling of women in the lowest moral terms is degrading to the women in film. It is also degrading to our civilization.

Dame Maggie Smith said, in March 2017: 'I think they are so brave, the young actresses of today. They seem to have to strip off every second. I can’t imagine how they cope with it today, I really don’t. They are required to do the most extraordinary things'. Extraordinary is a lady-like word for the many un-lady-like things actresses are 'required' to do. And they ARE required, since there is only one Hollywood, and if you don't please the right people at the right time, you may find yourself cast out of your vocation for ever. The fact that several of the more famous and established actors have insisted on unadvertised body doubles is neither here nor there.

Julia Roberts agrees that nudity should not be part of an actress's job description. ''I wouldn’t do nudity in films," she once said. 'To act with my clothes on is a performance. To act with my clothes off is a documentary.’

Indeed. But more than that, it is to elevate prurience above any other motive for watching a film or following a narrative. 

It is past time that a woman of freedom should be able to say 'no, I won't mimic the accessibility of a whore, just for the privilege of being an actress'.