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Mark Brumby’s Cultural February

Welcome to meteorological spring and to the second My Cultural Life where we’ll have a trawl back over February and our last month’s doings.

Lockdown still had us in its grip and, whilst holidays and the big screen were off the agenda, there were still things to be done such that the four walls of our existence didn’t close in on us – at least no more than currently mandated by government.

February’s highlights, Valentine’s Day for some, the chance to get away skiing or for a bit of winter sun for others, simply didn’t happen so it was Netflix, Amazon Prime, the odd bit of terrestrial TV, the continued smirk-fest that is Mr Trump’s demise and a good book or two, to keep us going.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…

The world of books:

Books, yes. ‘I have no time to read,’ I once complained to a colleague. ‘For books,’ he said, ‘you simply have to make the time.’

True, that. So, what did we get around to absorbing in February?

A Boy in Winter – Rachel Seiffert – 2017:

A good book and one that will stick in the mind. No spoilers here but the boy in question, and his brother, have the misfortune to find themselves Jewish and friendless in wartime Ukraine.

A comedy it isn’t but, if you enjoyed The Book Thief, this is one for you.

And it certainly brings home the benefits that we often take for granted. Like food, shelter and not being hunted down like an animal in your own country.

The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson – 2015:

Back in the UK, Mr Bryson reprises his 1995 classic, Notes from a Small Island, to journey across the UK and, ever the professional, he does it well.

There’s more fruity language (though not much in absolute terms) than there was in his earlier pieces and, at times, there are notes of the sadness, regret etc that you may expect to find in the doodlings of a sixty-something writer.

However, as Mr Bryson writes extremely well, this can be taken in one’s stride though, at times, there is a certain lack of concentration that gives some chapters a formulaic, in-there-to-hit-the-page-count, feel.

The Twelve (US title The Ghosts of Belfast) – Stuart Neville – 2019:

A debut novel, it reads a bit that way but is nonetheless good for that as former IRA thug, Gerry Fegan, exorcises his demons by creating, how else, more demons for future excision.

The action is paced, the violence is, well, violent and the storytelling is good. This all happened on our doorstep, in the recent past, and the people who did these unforgivable things are still among us.

What’s on film?

The Blues Brothers:

We watched The Blues Brothers again and it brought home that a) it’s been 20+ years since we last watched it and b) it remains an exceptionally good film.

The music’s spot on, the cartoonish nature of the action works very well, Belushi is a nutcase, the deadpan humour is great, and the cast actually look as though they had fun making the film.

And the last shouldn’t be underestimated.

The clothes & hairstyles may have dated but none of the above facets of the film have and, if we can say the same about ourselves and what we did and looked like back in the late 70s and early-80s, we’ll be abnormally lucky.

Indeed, check out Spielberg in the film we’ve just mentioned. He has a cameo at the very end and it’s a wonder he didn’t use whatever sway he built up in Hollywood subsequently to have the last five minutes of the film destroyed.

The Dig:

Enjoyable in its own way but one, perhaps, for lovers of scenery and slow-moving plots where the with 21st century nuances regarding gender politics, sexuality, endemic 1930s deference and other baggage seems a little bit clunky and threatens to get in the way.

Mr Feinnes did a grand job as the digger of the title. His Norfolk accent had me convinced and Carey Mulligan played the troubled, distracted and widowed mistress of the house well.

Maybe it’s the accountant in me coming out but I couldn’t help noticing that we saw plenty of mud but nary a glimpse of the treasure.

And on television?

Still not watching a great deal of terrestrial TV.

Having said that, we enjoyed the Trump legacy three-parter on The Beeb, bringing home as it did just what an unwise decision it was to elect a crackpot to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue & then have him pack the nuclear button and swim with sharks such as Messrs Putin, Erdogan and Kim Jong Un, who all knew, instinctively, that he would be jealous of their authority and receptive to flattery.

Food & drink.

Alongside just about everyone else, when it comes to eating out – or even to having a beer away from the domestic sofa – we think a chance would be a fine thing. Holidays, for the moment, ditto.

Conclusion.

This month we might dig out the 80s classic films Withnail and I and Spinal Tap. Elsewhere, we seem to be ignorant as to what’s on TV these days but there are dozens of books backing up, some from Christmas 2019, 2018, 2017 and beyond, that need attention.

And, as far as reading material is concerned, we’re still spoiled for choice. Do we infill with Elmore or do we branch out & try a few first novels?

Maybe a mix of the two and then there are the factual books. We don’t do real crime books often, but we might give White House Farm a look. We rated the 126yr-old The Crowd, by Gustave le Bon on first reading and might give that another spin. It’s dated language, yes, but it brings home that there’s nothing new under the sun.

And, by the way, the quote ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ comes from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is itself some 3,000 yrs old. On to March…