December 31st; New Year's Eve. Bela & I alone. I discover that the brown-paper-bag-and-ironing-board trick works. I vaguely recall my mother doing this, or perhaps talking about having once done it. Bela is fascinated as I iron through hot brown paper and the splashed wax stains on my nice soft black pullover lift right out hey presto. He asks do I think anyone elsewhere on earth is ironing out wax stains as New Year begins? My rather boring thought is if our time zone has 500 million+ people in it, there might well be a hundred or more folk tackling wax marks with irons and brown paper right now on this longitude. The wonder of large numbers.
December 30th; Monday. Robin & I watch 'Valerie & Her Week of Wonders', another film I've been meaning to watch properly all the way through for a few years. Although events are a little overdone halfway through during a set of crypt scenes, the magic-realism mood pulls the whole thing off. Something very odd about the Bohemians. This film about a girl coming of age occurs in an esoteric place and time, a village in Bohemia at some point in a perhaps rather unhistoric (give or take a straw hat) 17th-to-19th century span.
December 29th; Sunday. Robin & I watch 'Les Biches' (also known as 'Bad Girls'). Have been meaning to watch this for a few years now, not quite having the stomach to check out any of Chabrol's more blood-splattered films. Lots of buried psychological conflict between two steely beauties. All set in luxurious haute-bourgeois hipster France around 1968. Lacking subtitles, we didn't really follow the subtleties well with our very rusty French. Quite fresh, simple cinematography, not unlike some 1970s TV dramas. Clear, compelling opening credits and first scene.
December 28th; Saturday. I think it's today I make my first ever Yorkshire puddings, working from both a copy of the Constance Spry classic cookbook Robin inherited from his mother, and a Youtube video. Quite tasty for a first attempt, although the smoke I fill the kitchen with is a bit alarming. Especially worrying since, if anything, the puddings are underdone not overdone. Robin & I watch 'A Matter of WHO'. A very interesting 1961 black & white Terry Thomas comedy thriller we stumble across and watch on a whim. First of all, he is oddly new, yet different as a cheerful bowler-hatted, moustachioed English "germ detective" (an agent of the UN-affiliated World Health Agency of all things) hot on the heels of a smallpox outbreak between London and the Austrian Alps. Though he is clearly playing himself, the rogueish, witty Terry Thomas Naughty Gent of at least a dozen movies, something else stirred at the back of my mind. There is a gangstery scene in a cable car above the Alpine slopes vaguely reminiscent of the (made later, though set in WW2) 'Where Eagles Dare' movie, and as Thomas a couple of times surprises us wielding his furled umbrella, it snaps into focus. He is a prefiguring of the dapper British civil-servant/spy John Steed, also with comic bowler and umbrella, from the TV show The Avengers, also starting 1961. WHO is portrayed so mysteriously and approvingly, I wondered if they actually helped sponsor the film. This odd film is in fact both entertaining and clever, with some plot twists and genuine character development. Also something like an early Bond villain, a year ahead of the first of that franchise, 'Dr No', in 1962.
December 27th; Friday. Robin & I watch 'Baby Driver'. The director for over a decade wanted to make his pop video with the same concept into a full-length film. Finally he got the chance, and the result is nothing if not slick. Many scenes were shot & edited to fit round the soundtrack, rather than the other way round. The whole idea is a clever piece of identification fantasy. As so often, the trailer gives away much of what the film has to offer, and there is a definite loss of discipline halfway into the story. Towards the end, parts are cartoonish, and something goes wrong. The other bank robbers are too butch or villainous, for one thing.
December 26th; Thursday. Boxing Day. Drive after dark into flat, windswept countryside of central Hungary with Robin and Bela, discovering Cserkeszolo neighbour Comedian Dave with two daughters and ex-wife in a restaurant. Russian dog walks 200 miles to find girl who nursed it to health. But how?
December 25th; Christmas Day. Short, dark, sleep. Augustine & free will.
December 24th; Tuesday. Christmas Eve. Festive lunch with Textile-designer Edina, her mother, and her daughter. Later on, splendid feast at Irish Michael's antique-packed apartment, attended by Mark & Zoe and their two daughters. Remarkable Christmas pudding, soaked in rum & Cointreau. Michael & I natter late into small hours, discussing philistines, scholars, and
December 23rd; Monday. Possible forgotten influence on Edward Hopper.
December 22nd; Sunday. Depressing humour: the Married Kama Sutra.
December 21st; Saturday. Slightly dizzying photographs of Persian mosque ceilings.
December 20th; Friday. Unreported in Britain's largely pro-EU press, French strikers cut power to their central bank; French generals accuse Macron of treason.
December 19th; Thursday. Doctors euthanising patients to harvest organs? Hilarious to recall pompous medics angrily telling me such a thing was impossible.
December 18th; Wednesday. Have some researchers found a fifth force of nature?
December 17th; Tuesday. Interview with US Navy pilot who filmed a UFO he charmingly dubs the Tic Tac.
December 16th; Monday. Late at night with Andras, interesting discoveries about internal affairs at funny old Centrum.
December 15th; Sunday. Naked Mexican hero painted on perky horse: patriots irate.
December 14th; Saturday. Senior Labour figures reproach British voters for letting them down in the election. Ken Livingstone chides Britain's Jews as "unhelpful".
December 13th; Friday. Exit polls turn into proper counts and it emerges that the Tories did well and Labour did very badly. The only seat in the entire country won (as opposed to held) by Labour is wealthy London suburb Putney. Oddly enough the Putney Debates in 1647 saw the emergence of a kind of radical 'left' inside the Parliamentarians' New Model Army. A sort of prefiguring of the famous 1944 mock Parliament organised by British soldiers at Cairo, late in WW2.
December 12th; Thursday. A
general election in Britain.
December 11th; Wednesday. Warning on sexual morality - long essay, thoughtful.
December 10th; Tuesday. China forces face scans for phone users. Fraud, right?
December 9th; Monday. Charming, plausible American fraudster on a radio show. His style in interview eloquently shows how he did it.
December 8th; Sunday. Social-media vegan lady eats meat. Feels much better.
December 7th; Saturday. Man claims his farts kill or repel mosquitoes.
December 6th; Friday. While we discuss US politics back in the 1990s, Dr D. is momentarily unable to recall the name of Monica Lewinsky. "You know who I mean," he says, snapping his fingers as he tries to remember, "You know, you know --- the fat girl." Not how most English-speakers remember Bill Clinton's impeachment scandal, but: Continental values. Meanwhile, this politics chart claims to show the network of extremists on the Labour far left. Supposedly by some "retired spooks".
December 5th; Thursday. A cheerful talk about why cooking for yourself matters.
December 4th; Wednesday. Thought-provoking talks by Alan Watts, the inspiringly lucid Anglican/Buddhist active in the 1950s and 60s, some with low-key bits of instrumental music in the background.
Mystery of Time /
The Veil That Conceals Reality /
The Joker /
Outwitting the Devil /
Spectrum of Love.
December 3rd; Tuesday. Got to the end of 'The Devil Rides Out' by Dennis Wheatley (an interesting interview with him here). A mid-1930s novel which marked Wheatley's first foray (he had already successfully published 3 or 4 other thrillers) into the supernatural. Greeted by critics at the time as "the best thing of its kind since Dracula", it was adapted for film, along with later novels of his like 'To The Devil a Daughter'. Although big handsome motor cars with style and horsepower are a feature of the tale, there is something also of the 1880s Holmes stories: chilly, foggy outdoor scenes contrast with stuffy interiors. The indoor scenes are cosily padded out with comfortable old furniture, cigars, cheroots, deferential servants, and some totally routine heavy drinking. Even young vigorous characters, for example, find it quite a testing ordeal to stay inside a pentacle for 12 hours without their usual refills of wine and brandy. An unspoken dread in the background of the novel is that there should be another great war in Europe. Published in 1934, the threat that the magical beastliness unleashed by the chief villain might bring forth again the horsemen of the apocalypse, is explicitly part of the plot. Both the love-interest characters are East European totty - the young almost-English wife of one of the thoroughly decent eggs is in fact a beautiful girl "brought out of Russia", while the other exotic lass "mixed up in" the dark arts is a Hungarian girl named after a moon goddess. She must be rescued in all senses of the word by Rex, the bluff good-hearted American chum of "The Duke", chief warrior against the forces of evil. Main message of the tale is: Don't Look Into His Eyes!
December 2nd; Monday. Lunch with Tim. Snowy streets. Apparently coral makes a sound, and is encouraged if you play that sound back to it.
December 1st; Sunday. One of those articles claiming hot baths are as good as exercise. Looking forward to professional athletes abandoning training for hot baths. Could this be any link to zero gravity killing cancer cells?
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