Tuesday, April 19, 2016

All Hell is Going to Break Lose

            So ... in the dim, distant past, Elders (pastors) from the church my mother attended did their best to persecute me. Mind you, I wasn’t a member of their church, and, other than attending because I believed I owed it to my mother, I did not participate in any of their communal activities. Some few years ago, I petitioned the court for a restraining order against two of the local Elders. It was granted.
            One of the reasons I took that extreme step was their attempted interference with my job. They objected to a book I used in my literature class. I worked for the school district, and district policy was to offer alternative reading. I would do that even if it weren’t policy. Students are captives of a system, and it is unfair to subject them to reading they find objectionable. The book in question was Gideon the Cutpurse, a young adult time-travel novel. In the minds of these elders, time travel is  demonic. The school district restated the policy, the parent involved removed her child from my class, and I ask for and received a restraining order. (You Know I’m leaving out details.)
            This week I had another run in with elders from that church. I walked out my front door, stuck my key in the car door, and two of them zoomed up in their car. They’d been waiting for me. And Lo! I know these guys. They’re the two self-entitled creepy guys from my childhood. They’re now old and wrinkled, and one has false teeth and hearing aids. I haven’t seen them in at least 15 years; certainly enough time hasn't lapsed for me to want to see them in any setting. They’ve both moved here in the past few months. They were waiting, lurking outside my house.
            One pretended to be my long-lost friend. He was never my friend. The other was silent through an inane conversation about the other guy’s declining health. His only comment was to ask me where I worked now. I told him. I have no connection to this church. I reject its teachings and I reject their behaviors. I was polite. I will not be next time I see them.
            Some of my blog readers will say, “But we’re not like that.” You are. That’s you. Listen to your videos; listen to what you say; analyze what you think. This is your organization at its best. It goes down hill from this.
            My lawyer is contacting each of the local branches of this church. I will not be waylaid and spied upon by under-educated clergy of any denomination. If you have a comment to make, make it here, not through an email.

Fair warning to religiously inclined, self-entitled old guys who think my personal life is their business. It isn't.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

On being kissy

It's no secret that I love my pet Scotsman. Even if we're not as young as we were when we first met, he still makes my heart flutter. He's touchable. If I manage to live to old age, and he does too, and we're fat and he's bald and forgets to shave, I'll still want to cuddle with him.

His best quality is his ability to listen patiently to me and to our girls. And believe me, sometimes that takes "the patience of Job." Oh, he has his faults. (He never hangs up his coat. It's a nag the tall man moment.) But that only matters when it's cold. It's warming up now. He'll fiddle in the yard, tracking in dirt and being generally smelly. That washes off, and I have trained him to take his shoes off at the back door.

Put him together with his friends and get them talking 'engineer-ish' things and life can become dull. I'm good at un-dullifying it. We played tag around the house this morning. It left me out of breath, and I surrendered first. My current meds leave me short of breath. But he's still fun to chase. And snuggle and Kissify.

Friday, April 01, 2016



By O. Reader

In a reasonably long life (so far) you tend to meet a lot of people. I know that I have. My voluntary work has taken me to different parts of the country and I know literally thousands of people, and far more superficially know me. My secular career involved publishing and lecturing around the country, and doing battle on message boards. But when you look back, sometimes there is the odd individual who somehow stands out.

So this post is a tribute to Una. I remember her from when I lived in London, and recently I used a variety of websites to trace what became of her. (Which is not the easiest of things to do going forward in time, it is far easier to go back).

Ealing Green in West London has special meaning for me on several levels. The religious building I attended and worked from in London was there. The school I went to (Ealing Grammar) was there. And the Ealing Film Studios were there. For a glorious period of about ten years they produced a series of comedy films that subtly sent up the British character, or at least how the British liked to think of themselves. Most starred Alex Guinness before he was a big hit in The Bridge on the River Kwai and went all po-faced and serious prior to finally ending up in Star Wars. By the time I lived there, the Ealing Film Company had sadly gone, but BBC TV had bought the studios. Most old Ealing Film comedies and many BBC comedy programs from later in time have recognizable locations for me; streets where I called on people, familiar buildings, even the interior of my school for a couple of films. And the whole area was peopled with actors, many of them minor players, who could be called into the studio at a moment’s notice just down the road for work. I met many of these people, but name-dropping here wouldn’t mean much - certainly not to an American audience.

Anyhow, also on Ealing Green lived Una.  She was in her middle years, and was extremely short. She’d spent her life on the fringes of the film industry. She’d acted in one film - she’d played The Infant Phenomenon in the 1947 film version of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, a part for which she was perfectly suited. For those who don’t know their Dickens, the traveling players of Vincent Crummles have as one of their star turns a somewhat elderly infant prodigy, who “though short on stature had a comparatively aged countenance” who “had been kept up late every night and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy to prevent her growing tall”. Nicholas looks a little too closely and asks how old she is?  When told she is only ten, he remarks “How extraordinary...”

But probably the most resonant part of Una’s background for me was her parrot - a particularly vicious specimen which invariably advanced menacingly whenever we called. Una’s parrot had been Mrs Wilberforce’s parrot ‘General Gordon’ in The Ladykillers. Forget the unsubtle re-telling with Tom Hanks - the original film version with Alex Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom had it all. Or at least for a British audience, which could appreciate the nation-specific subtleties and stereotypes. (Just watch the scene where a team of hardened criminals are overwhelmed by a gaggle of twittering old ladies handing out cups of tea and cakes while playing Silver Threads Amongst the Gold on an out-of-tune piano.) The director, Alexander Mackendrick went back to the States on the strength of it, and directed the extremely cynical Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis straight after. Anyhow, I’m getting off the point - which is an Occasional habit - the original film starred Una’s parrot.

Most of her family were in the film industry in some way. One relative I believe was a set designer, and when he died I was given a copy of Jerome K Jerome’s Sketches in Lavender from his library, which I still have. Her brother was a film producer. Yet another relative was a stuntman, who did David Niven’s jump in The Guns of Navarone. As a film junkie and long-time member of the British Film Institute, I had lots to talk about. And I saw specific films again on the strength of the information she gave me.

Only that wasn’t actually my official reason for meeting her. I’d called in our ministry work with a young lady with whom I was an item at the time, and we had been invited in. Una made excellent coffee. And we debated this and that and the other, and each week for number of months got on (as we say in the UK) like a house on fire. It wasn’t our reason for being there, but we read some of the pieces she had written, and she heard some of the humorous verse I was writing at the time before I grew up. Una’s philosophy was best described as agnostic - and just so that my posts impart a tiny bit of erudition, that’s a word that actually comes from the Bible - check the Greek for Acts 17 v.23.

I realize now, that Una wasn’t really all that interested in our message. She was interested in US. Two young people who were idealistic and wildly enthusiastic and - as goes with the territory - probably came over as planning to change the world. (In actual fact, our message was specifically that WE were not going to change the world, but the subtlety of that probably got lost on her.) We were also greatly interested in the arts, or at least of her two visitors, I was.

How did it come to an end? Una went back to work, so was not available at the times we were. The young lady and I broke up. And soon after that (although no connection whatsoever) I said goodbye to London and headed off for the wilds of deepest Berkshire, working my way over the decades to the even wilder wilds of Wales.

But I always remembered Una. And when doing historical research, I wondered if I could trace what happened to her? Her film contacts as well as Ancestry should help. Well, they did. I found from IMDB that she had been a composer. There had been a grand piano in the back room and I’d never asked and she’d never volunteered. Her published composition work however was not remotely classical, but in popular music of the 40s and 50s. It seems surprising that had not come up in conversation, but maybe I had just been more interested in the movies at that time.

Like everybody else I knew from that era, Una ultimately left London. She lived to be 98. I discovered that she had put her memories down on tape for the British Film Institute History Project, one of many groups for which I was already a member. As I write I am waiting for them to digitize the two cassettes her tale is stored on, so I can hear her in her own words as recorded for posterity back in 1991. I am looking forward to that. She appeared on the outside to be a very happy person, with a happy family around her. Perhaps, several decades ago, I should have tried to regain contact. But I remember her now.

Baby Sitting

The Warrior and her Pet