Friday, January 18, 2013


One of the advantages (or possibly pitfalls) of being self-employed is that I can slope off to Brighton Marina in the afternoon and enjoy watching films in an almost empty cinema. Yesterday, I watched this:

I knew next to nothing about the story, but dutifully went as my wife assured me that it was supposed to be good (I'm sure the fact that it starred Ewan McGregor had nothing to do with her choice) and it was. In fact it was so good, I had trouble believing that it could be a British film.

Then I discovered that it was Spanish.

The trailer's rather schmaltzy tone doesn't do justice to a film that was one of the most moving things I've seen for a long time. The child actors were excellent - a far cry from the stage school brats that make you end up rooting for the villains - and there was also a superb cameo from Geraldine Chaplin.

My mother babysat. It's really useful having her live so near, but I'm worried that she's beginning to go a bit dotty. A question she asked yesterday "What's that thing you put things in to make them hot?" (answer - a microwave) reminded me of Alan Bennett's elderly mother, who said "What's that thing you're on your own in?" when she could no longer remember the word car.

Of course, forgetting names is a natural part of getting old and I'm told that I only need to worry when my mother can't remember what things do. If I find her looking at an egg whisk with a bemused expression, then I'll start to panic.

Earlier, I'd shown her a new website that has mapped the location of every known bomb that fell on London during the Blitz. I scrolled across to Richmond - where my mother grew up - and asked her to tell me what she remembered about the bombs. Richmond seemed to get off fairly lightly compared to central London. Look at the map for the City of London and it's remarkable that there are any pre-war buildings left.

I was going to write a blog post about the collapse of the music chain HMV because it's a subject close to my heart (in 2006, HMV bought the company I worked for and merged it with Waterstone's), but it's already old news. One thing I would say is that the chain's collapse wasn't entirely inevitable. If the senior management had possessed the foresight to invest more in creating an online presence during the late 90s, it might have been a different story.

Instead, HMV Media opened 50 new stores between 1997 and 2002 and allowed a new internet seller that nobody had ever heard of to become the first port of call for music and DVD sales. I actually tried to buy something from the HMV website in 1999, as they were the top music brand in Britain, but gave up in disgust as their site was so appalling.

I think the former chairman of HMV - Alan Giles - has a lot to answer for. His lack of vision and short-termism meant that the company was always one step behind the huge changes that took place in 'entertainment retail' during the noughties. Imagine if they'd created their own version of iTunes, ready for the advent of broadband. Instead, they chased after the notoriously fickle under 25s and alienated their core market - blokes who buy a lot of CDs.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I think a lot of high-powered business people are idiots (at least, most of the ones I've met). Read the profiles of top business people in the Sunday Times and their book and film choices are nearly always depressingly moronic for people who are intelligent enough to run a multi-million pound company. I certainly wouldn't want to spend an evening with someone whose favourite album was Brothers in Arms and top book was The Bridges of Madison County.

The people I find interesting and amusing usually turn out to be artists, journalists, ex-military, doctors, diplomats, academics, entrepreneurs, farmers, writers and, of course, booksellers. They're all very different, but the one thing they usually have in common is a sense of humour and an aversion to the sort of corporate nonsense that obfuscates the truth.

It's just started snowing and I have a biography of Roald Amundsen to read. I might as well go the whole hog and put this on in the background:


Sarah said...

I remember my mum asking my dad to put a bottle of milk back in the fridge and he stood, bewildered, in the kitchen looking around before opening the oven door...

He had Alzheimer's. It's a scary ending to life.

I'm not keen on Ewan McG, I can't get over the fact that he's a lot of a prat in real life. So many people are though, maybe it's unfair to hold it against him.

Why do they put totally unreadable numbers in captcha and you have to click click click until you get one you can read? Effing annoying.

Steerforth said...

Sarah - I've removed the word verification. I've always avoided captcha as it's so annoying, but the spam was getting out of control.

Catherine said...

Apparently the bombsite map is not accurate. I knew there were more hits on my area - SE22 - than shown, and it was confirmed by an elderly man who was in the area at the time and who still lives here.

Steerforth said...

That might explain the difference between my mum's account of events - bombs raining down every night - and the fairly poor showing on the map. In fairness, although most of the housing in our area - Richmond, Twickenham and Teddington - wasn't destroyed, the constant threat must have been very debilitating. My mother said that she was constantly tired, rarely getting a full night's sleep without having to go down to the Anderson shelter.

Grey Area said...

Scott of the Antarctic, is one of my favourite films, not least for the excellent, hand drawn title cards - and the full soundtrack / Sinfonia Antarctica is spectacular - and the best way to blot out the misery of a train ride to London via Tonbridge

Steerforth said...

I once listened to it on headphones whilst trudging through heavy snow - superb! I was Scott.

Dale said...

My late father developed vascular dementia after multiple TIAs. One of its effects was impairment of his ability to recognise objects.

Hence he switched on a paper shredder, convinced it was a heater. His best was trying to make a pot of tea with a tin of pineapple for tea bags.

You had to see the funny side.
Many of the other impairments connected with this connection are far from funny, though.Very wearing on all concerned.

Steerforth said...

Dale - I know what you mean. My father's personality changed after a series of mini-strokes, then the big one came along. That's not an experience I'd care to go through again.

Canadian Chickadee said...

My father had Alzheimer's and finally had to be put in a home. He thought he was in a hotel that served really bad coffee! Ah, well, you have to laugh -- the only other alternative is to cry. xoxo

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Amundsen was a real hero. The story of early polar exploration can be read at Time magazine's archive. I once had the job of reading through it and it was a cliffhanger as party after party of searchers went out after lost explorers week by week. Early aviators were brave, too, and utterly foolhardy.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

I love going to the cinema in the afternoon, and I am happy to go by myself too, no need for company. Once, my daughter and I had the whole screen to ourselves - it was fab.