Archive | March, 2013

Easter Sunday

31 Mar

It’s officially British Summer Time (BST) The clocks were set one hour forward last night. But you wouldn’t think it as the rooftops, roads and gardens are still covered in ice and snow. With a possibility of more to come. Apparently it has been the worst March for British weather since the records began.

I woke up late. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I eventually prised myself away from the warmth and comfort of my king-size duvet and traipsed downstairs.

Vegetables were prepared and lamb  marinated in a thick minted yoghurt with garlic cloves, rosemary and thyme was ready to roast in the oven.

The house was given a good Spring clean and we waited for two friends to join us for Sunday lunch.

 

Easter Simnel Cake1

Then we ate, and ate and ate. Roast lamb with all the trimmings followed by trifle, Easter Simnel cake, Victoria sponge and cupcakes. Good job I didn’t bake any more hot cross buns. That’s all I’ve been doing in the last few days; baking cheese scones, blueberry muffins, Hot Cross Buns and the rest.

20130330_214933

 

But do I need to be a Christian to celebrate Easter? I just know that I believe. And if I can believe in celebrations that can make the days so much more bearable and happier for it, then is that such a crime? To have a celebration, a meal with close friends, time to look over a few photos and chat about nothing in particular. That’s all it takes to  makes the days so much more productive and worthwhile. Is that too much to ask?

 

The Learned Kat

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Syria & The Playstation Generation

27 Mar

It’s snowing. It has been snowing everyday since last Friday and we are fed up and cold. Fed up with the fact that the cold penetrates through the walls and no matter what we do, no matter how high we set the temperature on the thermostat or combination boiler, the chill remains and we worry about the utility bills and how much it will cost to keep the heating on as the prices are spiralling out of control and the vulnerable and elderly are left to fend for themselves…The roads are icy and only the other day, my other half slipped and fell onto his side. There are people slipping and sliding everywhere and some are even literally snowed under or in their own houses. There have been reports of several deaths and some communities losing power supplies for several days…The Met Office reports that the cold snap and Siberian type weather maybe here until mid-April.

In Birmingham alone, 100 schools closed down due to the inclement weather and many stores have either closed due to lack of staff or slashing prices due to lack of sales. Many people have reported that they are not able to get into work due to their cars not being able to start, trains running late, flu or a number of other excuses or reasons. Valid or not, I’m not sure… I know I sympathise with those communities who are stranded up North or on several isles of the UK. The rest just seems petty. The snow in the City is not that deep. Maybe about 10cm or just above the ankle. But it seems as if life comes to a standstill…

Rock star and former hell raiser Rod Stewart (not that I’m a fan of his) was being interviewed last Friday on The Breakfast News by Charlie Stayt. Rod was asked about  a story in which it was reported that he had a swimming pool filled with blancmange and $100 bills thrown in so that his daughter and her friends could dive in to retrieve the money. Of course, Rod dismissed the story as newspaper fodder, stating that his children are brought up properly: ” to work hard and are allowed a small allowance”. He said children today “know the price of everything and value nothing!”

How right he is, I thought.

As it happens, the next day I spoke to  —–, a mother and business woman of two daughters.  She was attempting to scrub clean the stains off a pair of UGG boots, which cost £200. They belonged to her 16 year old daughter but unbeknownst to her, her 21 year old sister had borrowed them, walked in the snow, and had accidentally damaged the worth of the boots. There ensued a horrendous row and arguments apparently. So mum ended up cleaning the boots because if the perpetrator ( the older sibling) of the whole saga was to do it herself, “she would not do it properly”. “You’re spoiling the kids.” I said. “That’s what parents do” she replied. And carried on brushing and buffing the boots.

We are breeding a “I want” culture and there are many services and marketing brands out there that caters to these demands. LoveFilm , for example. caters for Games Consoles such as Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Smart Televisions, Blu-Ray Players, Tablets like Kindle and iPad and other devices such as PC, and set top box. When I was a child or even in my teen years, having one an item like the ZX Spectrum within the home, never mind the bedroom, was deemed to be a luxury. Today, children want them all. If not in the bedroom, in the lounge or kitchen or on their mobile.

The Playstation Generation would rather VIEW their lives away rather than DO.

In complete contrast, The Channel 4 News on Monday 25 March at 7pm ran a news story on Syria. I have to admit I am somewhat ignorant about Syria, its histories and conflicts, the current crisis. But I do know that the story which it covered had a deeply disturbing and profound effect on me. It formed part of a short series of films by German filmmaker Marcel Mettelzefan. The news reporter, Jon Snow, provided the introduction and  verbal warning to say that the item contained distressing images.

No matter what was going on around them, the young children and teenagers continued their lives as normal as possible. They didn’t whine, complain or show signs of fatigue. They didn’t WANT anything. Didn’t want anything but peace and the war to stop.

I saw children, young adults and older men pull dead, bloated bodies out of the river. Women crying and children playing in the debris and the remains of an exploded bomb…

I saw innocent young children talk as if they were mature beyond their years, boys as young as 11 wipe away the blood stains of a wounded adult. I heard a child say that when he first saw the blood running, he was scared and frightened but afterwards, he saw the blood “like running water”.

I saw a brave little boy lying dead on a table, his face contorted with shock and pain.

As I said before, The Playstation Generation would rather VIEW their lives away rather than DO.

The Learned Kat

View :  Aleppo: a city abandoned by the world? on link.brightcove.com

My Verdigris Chair is like an Old Maid

20 Mar

The Verdigris Chair sits in the room

Like an Old Maid, waiting for her groom

It has been loved and cared for

Through the years and many doors

It sometimes brings happiness

Other times, a little loneliness

The Verdigris Chair is a throne.

The Verdigris Chair has expectations

Like an Old Maid, in desperation

It has brought warmth and solidarity

Like a dame, a big part of the family

Through the tears and many floors

It sometimes brings  memories

Other times, a  handful o’ histories

The Verdigris Chair is alone.

Chair by window

The Learned Kat

Don’t shun the shuns

19 Mar

There are many things that we require, assets and purposes that can take us further.

Once in a while I feel that I lack these particular qualities. But I know that if I could hold onto them in abundance, I would do well and possibly be more successful. Lately though,  I’ve  been ignoring or shunning the shun.

My ‘shuns’ are : Attention, Determination, Motivation, Consideration, Aspiration, Exploration, Co-operation.

Now, if I could re-ignite the Shuns in my life, I know I would regain my confidence and  be a happy man.

 

 

 

The Learned Kat

Shopping and the road to nowhere

15 Mar

I was sorting out my clothes the other day, and found a slip of paper, torn out of a note pad and with a perforated edge, in one of the pockets of my quilted brown jacket. The jacket that, when I wear it to go out and it gets too cold, I lift up the collar to keep warm. The only snag with that is the fact it muffles the sounds around me. It’s almost as if I’m wearing headphones and sometimes it makes it impossible to hold a conversation…

Anyway, I found this piece of lined paper and had written a shopping list on the one side:

Distilled clear vinegar

White wine vinegar

Chocolate for baking

Chicken

Ginger

Soya milk

2 litres of milk

For some reason, on the other side, I had written this poem or was it lyrics to a song, I’m not sure?

We could wind up on the road to nowhere

We can’t build castles in the air

We could wind up on the road to nowhere

Cos there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide

And there’s nowhere we can call our home…

The Learned Kat

Oz The Great and Powerful

12 Mar

 

I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz (1939). As a child, I read most of the Oz books, and over the years, have watched Judy Garlands’ Dorothy time and time again. 

From the technicolour  trailers, I thought and assumed this is one production I must watch. After the complete hash job of ‘Return To Oz’ in 1985, the “unofficial sequel” to the 1939 production, I thought they could not or would not attempt to make another attempt to return to Oz, so to speak.

However, this version was touted as a “prequel”. Naturally, being an avid fan, I expected great and powerful things. We arrived at the cinema and handed our tickets to the attendant. “Just follow the yellow brick road” he said. I thought he was being sarcastic until I looked down and saw a vinyl yellow road taped down onto the hardwearing industrial carpet. It led us to the IMAX screen. We’d never been in there before. We had to have a different type of 3D glasses to the ones I had brought in especially for the occasion. We settled down and watched the large images in front of us.

Sam Raimi, who brought us ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and the ‘Spiderman‘ trilogy , created his version of how a mere mortal, Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, a small time Kansas con-man/magician with an eye for the ladies, came to be the wonderful wizard of Oz.

Taking inspiration from the original classic, this version also starts in black and white. The scene is set and we catch a glimpse into the world of late 19th century entertainment with a menagerie of circus acts which includes contortionists, strong men, hoopla and clowns. I couldn’t help but feel that it was “too staged” for my likings. In comparison to The Artist, which was shot completely in monochrome and silence which added to the feeling that one was watching a silent movie from that era or transported back in time , the use of black and white here was too clinical. It appeared to lack depth and had a touch of a modern day soap opera. A little bit hammy and lacking in chemistry between the character actors.

As Oscar is a bit of a “player”, he toys with the emotions of a naïve, attractive woman and as a token or gesture of their relationship, he hands her a wooden music box with a sad tale of how it belonged to his grandmother. The young woman is infatuated with him but her real boyfriend or husband finds out and threatens to kill Oscar, who in turn, attempts to escape in a hot air balloon.  He does this with glee, but once again, with reference to the original, is soon trapped in a tornado and is hurtled into the middle of the storm. He prays to be kept alive and promises that if he does survive, he will be a changed man.

Like Dorothy, who moved from the bleak black and white room and through the doors into the wonderful technicolour world of Oz, Oscar is also transported in similar fashion. He is shifted from a crouching position in the basket of the balloon and only when he puts his head above the parapet, does the colour glow into his cheeks and we are seduced by the colourful offerings in this new land of Oz.

Oscar, or Oz, as he refers to himself, is befriended by a young witch named Theodora. She initially believes him to be the saviour of Oz, but he informs her otherwise. They develop a close friendship and he seduces her with his charm. However, any romantic notions Theodora has towards Oscar are short lived when her sister Evanora, informs her that Oscar also attempted to seduce her and brings out a wooden music box.

Theodora becomes upset and cries.  As I watched this scene I thought “Tears that arise from a breaking heart burn and sear the pain”. The tears literally burn her face. As Theodora feels humiliated by the taunts and words of her sister, she becomes more enraged and embittered. Her sister then encourages her to eat an apple in order to seek revenge. This scene appeared to be a rehash of the scene in Disneys’ Snow White, when the evil witch, disguised as an old beggar woman beguiles and preys on the vulnerable and gullible young heroine. Once bitten, Theodora realises  the identity of the true evil witch and the one who wants to rule Oz. She begins to change and turns green with envy. The term “hell hath no fury…” came to mind and it was good to see the morphing of a “good girl gone bad”. Thanks, Rihanna!

It is then that the mood of the film begins to change from a fairly light story into a more darker and sinister tale which again is typical of Disney.

Relying more heavily on being action driven rather than plotlines, Oz The Great and Powerful is a visual feast of delights, an Avatar for the younger children.  There were times when I thought this production was typical of Disney studios. There were scenes when Oscar would walk down the yellow brick road and I almost imagined or expected him to burst into song like “Zip a dee doo dah” . Then, when Oscar is enraptured by the beauty of the land, there were scenes which reminded me of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Introducing new characters like China Girl and Finley the monkey, voiced by Joey King and Zach Braff respectively,  allowed the film to develop themes of family, friendship, companionship and a bit of humour.  Like the monkey in Aladdin and the Gingerbread Man in Shrek, they added the “Aaah!” factor.

James Franco shows what a versatile actor he is with the simultaneous release of this film and with the release of Spring Breakers in which he plays an off the wall drugs dealing character. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was too mature and didn’t really bounce with goodness or charm. Rachel Weisz  looked as if she relished the role of playing the evil witch  Evanora and Mila Kunis as her sister Theodora made the role her own.  I could believe in her portrayal of the Wicked Witch as she demonstrated consistency and, I assume in her research, added cackles and mannerisms to her character which are definitely in line with the Wicked Witch in Oz that we know and love/hate over the decades.

The inclusion of black actors, especially a character named Knuck, played by Tony Cox, made this production and the dialogue feel “too modern”. It was good to see that it was trying to appeal to a wider audience but at times, it felt it lacked the sentiment, whimsical charms of the original but was a more superior and value for money production better than “Return to Oz”.

The Learned Kat

The Best Gift is this White Chocolate & Lemon curd cake

11 Mar

The best gift is one that is made by hand, with love, affection and attention. It doesn’t have to be perfect or made by the professional hands of an expert. It just has to appeal to the five senses…and I know that the best gift for me was the handmade, home baked white chocolate and lemon curd cake which my partner baked for me on my recently celebrated 43rd birthday. It was simple, tasted delicious and ticked all the right boxes.

It was the best gift I could wish for…

The Learned Kat

MOTHER’S DAY

I would normally spend the day with my mother, but since she is no longer with us, I decided to bake a Victoria sponge cake and share it with a close female friend, a mother of two grown-up children. We enjoyed it with a nice cup of tea, after her home cooked Sunday roast.

I also wrote this poem:

Mother’s Day is here
bringing good cheer
and the memories of Lost Ones live on…
Some mothers are near
and others are far
Devotion and care they are always there
so cherish them, my dears
and be thankful for having your mum
So, embrace mums, not just today, but everyday
Men – even the wife!
Be Thankful for the mum in your life.
Happy Mother’s Day xx
The Ultimate Best Gift? A Mother’s Love

The Learned Kat