Crying at the ‘Barber – Pretentious moi?

Prepare yourself for one of the most pretentious sentences you will likely ever read. (Unless you’re holding a book by Will Self. ZING!)

I’m not saying I always cry when I listen to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, just most times.

There. But it is true, and I can’t help it. It just gets me every single time. If you don’t know the Adagio for Strings then I can guarantee that you do, you just don’t know the name. It has been used many times in film because it is a profoundly moving piece played on poignant strings. It was used in the film Platoon, overlaying epic battle scenes. The scene however that always chokes me up is it’s use in The Elephant Man. The black and white masterpiece directed by David Lynch. It concerns John Merrick (John Hurt), a man with a terribly disfigured head and body rescued by a surgeon (Anthony Hopkins) from a freak show. If you haven’t seen it, do so. With hankies.


John Merrick dies at the end. Not much of a surprise but it is a sublime scene that even the thought of it makes me well up. (Yes, even now as I’m rattling this out.) Due to his disability John cannot lie down on his back to sleep, his lungs would fill with fluid, but finally he reaches the point of utter exhaustion with his life and suffering and chooses to lie down to sleep. The music sweeps in as he draws his last breaths and the camera slowly pans up as the music climbs in pitch, and slowly zooms out into the night sky beyond, as if his soul is leaving his body and ascending to heaven upon the beautiful music.

Kills me every time.

Every time.

Okay, you’re thinking, it is sad. Get over it. And you are right. I have seen plenty of other sad films that don’t affect me the same way. (Okay, Turner and Hooch does, and Toy Story 3; you know the bit.) But this is where memory starts playing tricks with us, scenes in films bind with memories and make odd connections in your head, sometimes not consciously. To give an example I’ll swing from the sublime to the ridiculous. The other day I found myself alone at home, a rare treat! So naturally my thoughts turned to the risqué and I enjoyed a little binge listen to ‘My Dad Wrote a Porno’ podcast while playing Minecraft on the ol’ Xbox. (Does this guy know how to live!) A week passed and I was back in Minecraft again and went down to the mine I had been excavating to find diamonds. (A boy’s gotta eat!), I entered the chamber and immediately thought of Belinda Blumenthal, the highly sexed and highly improbable central character in ‘My Dad…’ No  association  other than I had been listening to it last time I was there.

So, yeah, when I listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, although I am thinking the Elephant Man, it’s not what I’m feeling. I am remembering someone else lying down, exhausted from fighting a disease they couldn’t beat, and finally letting go. Someone very close to me who I was privileged enough to be with in his very final moments.

I wasn’t going to write about this now. But I had iTunes on shuffle and up it came, and, already being in a melancholic frame of mind, it got me again. No point to make this time, no moral, just wanted to share a a thought about memories. (If you want a moral then take this: Check yourselves over regularly; if you find anything strange then get it checked out quickly!)

And so, yes, it may sound pretentious to say it; that I don’t cry every time I listen to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, just most. But it is absolutely the truth.

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My Dad Wrote a Porno is an incredibly funny podcast, where three friends read aloud an erotic novel written by one of their dad’s. Over 18’s only but the combination of shock, discomfort, sarcasm and terrible writing is ‘snorting aloud on the bus’ funny. You will be surprised at the A list celebrities who are avid fans and have rung into the show!




Am I Rob Titchener – Part 2

With the conclusion of The Archers ‘Trial of the Century’ coming up in an hour-long special this evening I thought I’d have a second go at reflecting on the storyline of Rob and Helen. My first post (Am I Rob Titchener) gives background to the story and talks about coercive control within a relationship, particularly how the dominant figure, usually the man, may not even realise he is being abusive, seeing only his own sense of entitlement and self belief.

During the Trial this week though, it came to light that Rob had raped Helen, not just once, as had been hinted in the show, but many, many times. I know it’s only a fiction but I’m not too brave to admit that when she announced it in court I did get a little teary. The performance was amazing and utterly devastating. Whatever criticism that may be levelled at the show, non can be aimed at the performances of the central characters involved.

So I’d like this time to have a think about consent, be it within a steady relationship or out in the world of dating. Now, I may say some things that could come across as making excuses for men’s behaviour. I want to state categorically this is not the case. As far as I am concerned, No not only means No, but Yes only means Yes. Nothing other than fully Informed Consent is allowable.

I did a little research on the subject of Marital Rape and it makes some deeply uncomfortable reading. There are still dozens of countries where it is not an offence; presumably the view is that, in marriage, the woman belongs to the man to be used as he sees fit and to acquiesce to his sexual demands. I won’t list the countries because, frankly you won’t be surprised by any of them.

Before we feel all superior and morally righteous in the west it was only 1991 that a ruling in the House of Lords outlawed it in the UK. Many other European countries legislated similarly around the same time. Where it is illegal, it is often under a different definition of rape. For an offence to have taken place there has to be an additional use of force or threat of violence such as use of a weapon. Some of the US states have similar criteria. So had Helen even made a complaint to law at the time, would Rob ever even have been charged?

Now, I usually resist blaming the media for social ills; Films, TV, Music, Video Games etc. are often mirrors to society, rather than an influence. But on the subject of consent I am going to throw blame. We are trying to teach our children that a boy should ask if he may kiss a girl, ask if he may touch her, ask if she’d like to have sex. Even just typing that, it seems woefully naive. Almost any film or TV show you care to mention makes this a lie. Where is the romance? Where is the passion, if our hero stops to ask permission to place his hand on his lovers knee? Watch any James Bond film. He is a man held up as the Alpha Male above all others; Men want to be him, Women want to be with him. Has he ever, EVER, asked consent? He grabs and kisses them, even if they struggle and try to resist, he keeps kissing until they melt into his arms and submit? And I’m not just talking about the early Connery/ Moore films. In Skyfall, Bond climbs onto a yacht and slips into the ladies shower without a word, all she’s done is tell him the boat’s mooring! Lucky he didn’t get a shower nozzle shoved somewhere unforgettable. ( I’m choosing to ignore for the moment the equally disturbing lack of safe sex.)

Yes, I know Bond is make believe. I like Bond films, and it’s not just testosterone fuelled action films that are guilty of this. Even in Drama’s, Rom Com’s or anything else there is the belief that two people will just fall into each others arms, which is fine if both people are thinking the same thing. A few weeks ago, ‘This American Life’ Podcast repeated a story about a consent workshop held at an American college, for young men. It was an interesting piece to listen. The guys attending were attentive and genuinely wanted to learn but the stumbling block they kept coming up against was ‘The Mood’. They were concerned that if you paused in your seduction of a partner to ask if they wanted to have sex, it would somehow dispel the atmosphere and ruin your chances. Which seems a plausible concern, ‘cos in the movies it all flows from the kiss to the bedroom. But, if that pause is enough for a girl to rethink and say No, then frankly, she wasn’t that keen in the first place. Forget the mood. Show some respect, and assume the girl is a sentient human being who you haven’t hypnotised into acting against her will with your masculine charms.

Within a relationship though the dynamic changes and there is a certain degree of implied consent. I am going to assume I can lay a kiss on my wife without first asking if I may. However, if she pulls away and makes it clear that the kiss is unwanted, (probably because I’ve got Nachos stuck in my beard again) I’m not going to keep trying to kiss her. Even though we’ve been together since the 15th century she still has the right to say no and I have no right to force her otherwise, whatever the damned law says! (I’m only going to mention ‘kisses’  because my mother reads this and she doesn’t need that mental image)

Is there hope for the future? Maybe, if we can get it into our heads that the ‘The Power of Seduction’ is as much a fiction as magic, Werewolves and tasty low fat Ice Cream. We must start to filter better practice onto our screens. And it is there, not much but it is. There is a lovely moment in the Disney film, Frozen, where Kristoff shyly asks Anna if he may kiss her. It is sweet, and still romantic. In fact most people probably don’t even especially note the moment, but it is a good example to set to youngsters.

Hopefully there will be a happy outcome in The Archers. Helen will be acquitted, Rob will be punished; by the law or some other kind of dramatic natural justice, and a tractor related accident for his father, Bruce, wouldn’t go amiss either.

In the last 50 years or so we have come so far in the field of sexual equality. But to still be in a world where a woman’s protection under law from sexual assault lessens or even disappears,  as soon as she marries, is simply monstrous.

If you would like to talk to anyone on the subject of sexual assualt, or any form of abuse, you will find links to organisations who can help you on this BBC webpage. I have written, in this post, about sexual abuse by men towards women. I am very aware it also happens the other way round and in same sex couples.

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Those horrible youngsters and their young ways

Another little piece from the back catalogue, I never had the nerve to post. To avoid confusing family members, I should point out that I wrote this piece back in 2013. I think the moral is still a good one though..

There is an episode of Star Trek – The Next Generation, that quite nicely illustrates the point I want to make today. I forget the exact details, (I’m not that much of a nerd) but the general thrust was that Captain Picard was gravely injured due to some energy burst or other, effecting his artificial heart. He was given the chance to go back in time to his young cadet days, when he lost his original heart in a bar fight, to change his past and therefore survive in the future. Anyway, he goes back and instead of behaving like a rash, arrogant and thoughtless teenager he acts like a responsible senior officer; with caution, diplomacy and hesitation. Consequently he loses all his friends and when returned to the future finds he is a lowly minor officer with no responsibility and years of bland service.

Still with me? The moral of the story is that without the rashness, arrogance and stupidity of youth he never would have become the bald legend he did. I recently attended a 21st birthday for my nephew, one of those family affairs that features a guest list aged from 6 to 70.. There sat in the corner a little gaggle of teenagers, 16/17 year olds, giggling and gossiping and being impossibly young. We smirked and tutted at how they dressed, we rolled our eyes at their pretension and we frowned at their almost concealed contempt at the opinions and knowledge of old farts like us. Okay I’m being unfair, they were all a nice bunch of guys and once I started playing the fool with my own brand of comedy karaoke and Dad Dancing, giving them a legitimate grown up target to openly laugh at, they opened up and chatted with the rest of us nicely.

It is an oft repeated axiom that ‘youth is wasted on the young’. I suggest that this is Grade A bull-chunks. I’ll admit I envy their vigour, it would be great to spend an evening partying, get two hours sleep and be as fresh as a daisy the next morning. It would be great to get out of a chair without an involuntary groan. It would be so refreshing not to look in the mirror and spot a new batch of grey hairs sprouting (usually from somewhere hair has no place growing at all).
But think back to those days just before you reached legal maturity. You’ve no money (Okay, bad example, I’ve got no money now either) Everything you do is still governed by parents, teachers and bosses, if you are lucky enough to have some terribly paid job somewhere. You’re old enough to have formed your own opinions and beliefs, but every adult around you instead tells you what your opinions should be or accuses you of being naive. Naivety is a harsh accusation; it suggests lack of experience which by definition the young have not yet got.

And that leads me to my final point. Think back to the heartaches, the worries you had then. Sure, in hindsight, they don’t amount to a hill’o beans but they felt like they did. Think of all the harsh life lessons they have to go through in the years too come, the disappointments of adult life, the stresses of learning who they are, getting together and breaking up, leaving home and standing on their own two feet. Would you really want to go through all that again and not end up as a dull Captain Pickard figure?

Let them have their youth, it’s a fair trade for the crap they’ve got coming.

Three years later I should point out my nephew has grown into a thoroughly wonderful and brave young man. My step niece, as she is now, one of those 17 year olds, has become a delightful and talented young woman. I doubt neither of them read my crusty old blog so their blushes are saved.

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DumTeeDum – The Archers Fan Podcast

My last blog post (Am I Rob Titchener? The Archers Trial of the Century) was rather long and serious, concerning the trial, this week,  of Helen Titchener in Radio 4 soap The Archers. I thought I would balance things up with a look at DumTeeDum, the Archers Fan Podcast. (If you don’t know what The Archers is, take a look at the beginning of the last post. I give a description of the drama.)

DumTeeDum is a weekly podcast, discussing the previous weeks events in The Archers, along with current themes in the show and predictions of future plot lines.

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve only recently discovered the podcast, so have only heard a few episodes. When I first downloaded I was ready to dislike it. I thought I’d find it annoyingly middle class and smug, rather like The Archers.  And….well, it is a bit to be honest. But despite that I found myself enjoying it and have become a regular subscriber. (The title incidentally derives from the the theme tune of The Archers, which, of course goes.’ Dum Tee Dum tee dum tee dum’ etc..)

What I like about it is the genuine feel of community. The regular hosts Roifield Brown and Lucy Freeman have a warm and friendly style, bantering together in an engaging and charming way. They marshal a gang of Archers fans who regularly ring/ email/ text/ tweet into the show, as well as wandering off topic as the whim takes them. It does come across, at first, as a little clique-y, with lots of inside jokes about character names and regular contributors but once you get beyond that it is fun. And, as a lonely Archers Fan in a scary world, it is lovely to listen to the opinions of other like-minded people. It is a surprisingly global podcast with contributors from all over the world. There is a general structure to it, from a comedy monologue by Lucy summing up the weeks events, segments on the Forum, Facebook and Twitter activity of the week etc.

What strikes me when listening, just as when I’m listening to a podcast like Plumbing the Death Star or West Wing Weekly, is how fans quite often seem to actively dislike the thing they claim to love. Whether it’s comic book fanboys tearing apart the latest Superhero Movie,  or tweedy middle class Archers fans, they complain about how they dislike this character and that plot-line, how it has become too serious, or too trivial. I guess it’s just the same as Star Trek fans arguing over Original Series or Next Generation, or Star Wars fans bickering about original trilogy versus the prequels. (Original Trilogy obviously, what are we? Animals?) My thought on this is that we are always trying to recapture that initial feeling that made us fall in love with something, that first bite of the apple, and nothing that follows on from that can ever really be as sweet.

Whatever we feel about it, if you are a listener, a fan, of The Archers I would recommend giving this a try. It might not be the highlight of the week, but it’s an enjoyable hour in the company of witty people. (If only for the wonderful nickname of Hooty Jill they’ve given Jill Archer.)

You can find DumTeeDum on the usual podcast places, ITunes and so on, or direct from their website DumTeeDum.

If you are not an Archers listener, but think you might want to be, this is definitely the week to jump on board, with ‘The Trial’. Check out my last blog entry for more on that.

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