November 17th, 2019

Wandering In My Mind

I dreamed I was thrown out of church by an overbearing priest because the surplice I was wearing was too lacy. "But," I protested, "There was nothing else in the vestry cupboard." It cut no ice. In another dream there was a woman who had painted her face in vivid colours to look like an African tribal mask.

I was channel surfing yesterday evening and happened upon Carol Reed's Odd Man Out- which is one of my favourite films. I know it's a favourite because once I've locked into it I have to watch it through to the bitter end- and there are very few movies that have that sort of grip on me. How could I miss Robert Newton's wonderful turn as Lukey the painter- who doesn't turn up until well into the second half- or- indeed- the downbeat ending- with Katherine Ryan choosing death by cop for herself and her lover, the wounded gunman, Johnny McQueen? It says in Wikipedia that the censor objected to the violence of that ending and Reed had to tone it down. I wonder what his original concept was? Would we have seen Katherine and Johnny go down jerking like Bonnie and Clyde? As it is we only hear the shots and the reaction of Shell and Father Tom, then see the bodies on the ground, at a distance, featureless and discarded. To show or not to show acts of violence- which has the greater impact?

Incidentally, James Mason, star of Odd Man Out (though he does very little in it except stumble about the streets of Belfast like the conscience of a nation) always reminds me of my old friend Professor Stephen Bann. It can't be accidental that they both grew up in Huddersfield. Neither retained a Yorkshire accent but there's something in the tone of voice, the phrasing, the mannerisms (I can't exactly put my finger on what it is)- that sparks a recognition. Mason speaks a line and I think "that's exactly how Stephen would have said it". Must be something in the water.

I've paused in my ruthless culling of old colour slides, having come up against the sentimentality barrier. Pictures of people are harder to chuck than pictures of churches. Specifically, I ground to a halt when faced with a sequence of fairly rubbish pictures (I didn't take them) of my daughter in her pram.

One of the only clergypersons who carried on talking to me after I left the church (one neighbour wrote a piece in his parish mag comparing me to Judas) was the Rev'd David Quance. I googled him yesterday only to find he'd died at 69 as long ago as 2012- by which time he was working in the Middle East. He and I didn't belong to the same wing of the church- he was a lacy surplice man and I wasn't- but he was a gentleman and a Christian. Cheers, David. I imagine you'll be aware that I'm giving you this shout-out. See you around.


Jennifer Arcuri, the American businesswoman who received grants of public money whilst enjoying a close relationship with Boris Johnson, complains that he has now tossed her aside like "some gremlin". I love the image that conjures up.

If Johnson were an ordinary politician he'd have been sunk long ago by one or other of the incoming missiles from his colourful past- but- like Trump and a very few others- he seems surrounded by a force field from which everything just bounces off. His forward march has seemed- in hindsight, anyway- to have been inevitable, irresistable. People don't particularly like him (he's too tricky, too disloyal, too amoral) and he has shown no very great aptitude for any of the positions he's filled- and yet on and on he goes- with everyone accepting that- in spite of everything- he's a man of destiny.

It's a kind of magic. And I mean that literally. People like Johnson, like Trump, have such self-belief, such fixity of purpose that they bend the world around them.