RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Literary Legend.

It was only a couple of years ago….April 11th 2019 to be exact..as I was heading towards my 60th birthday, that I finally got to visit the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, home base of the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti – writer, poet, publisher, bookstore owner, artist and facilitator extraordinary. Without him, so many poets would not have seen their works in print….without him we may not have even heard of the Beat Writers.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights in 1982.

My purpose in San Francisco was two fold. Firstly to spend time visiting my son and daughter-in-law who had recently moved there from Boston, and secondly to visit the abundance of bookstores that San Francisco boasts. I should have, perhaps, visited City Lights first, but my reasoning for leaving it until last was that, having seen what is broadly acknowledged as the best and most welcoming bookstore in SF, it would spoil the experience of visiting the many other lesser known bookstores. The problem with this was that by the time I finally set foot inside City Lights and was astounded by its multitude of books, many not available elsewhere, I had already bought so many books at other bookstores that my suitcase was over weight for the trip home to New Zealand. As a result, my only purchase there was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island Of The Mind – his 1958 best selling collection of poems from his early days.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti departed this earth on February 22nd 2021 – just one month shy of his 102nd birthday. A life well lived, a literary legend and rather than me re-hashing the many well researched and well written obituaries I will link 3 of them below, from the New York Times…..Reuters…..and from the Guardian as featured on MSN News.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at age 101 | Reuters

Lawrence Ferlinghetti obituary (msn.com)

Actually the Reuters one would probably have made him laugh as he always insisted that he was not a “Beat Writer” as such, he was there but was just a bookshop owner. Many would beg to differ. I never met him, sadly, just visited the shop, picked up a book, sat and read a while in the poetry room upstairs soaking in the atmosphere and wondering about the many writers who had been there before me….before making my purchase and moving on. The outpouring of grief in Jack Kerouac alley outside City Lights by many of his fans and followers after his death, even in times of Covid-19 anti-social distancing regulations, showed the extent of the love and respect they have for the man and the legend.

I close with a few lines borrowed from his poem titled autobiography – which appears in A Coney Island of the Mind.

I have written wild stories without punctuation. I am the man. I was there. I suffered somewhat. I have sat in an uneasy chair. I am a tear of the sun. I am a hill where poets run…….

The Plot Against America – Book Review.

The Plot Against America was written in 2004 by American writer Philip Roth. It’s a novel, but told in the first person, using his own name along with real people from the 1930’s and 40’s – the time in which the story is set. So, in a way it reads more like an autobiography….but not one that is factual. In this story, rather than Franklin D Roosevelt winning the presidential election for the Democrats, it is taken out by Republican Charles Lindbergh (the famous aviator…..and Nazi sympathiser). This of course puts a different spin on world war 2 and which side the USA is leaning toward supporting.

See the source image

Roth is an American of Jewish heritage and in this book he writes a story featuring himself as a child in Newark living in a very Jewish neighbourhood. His main concern and his main passion, at the beginning of the story, is his stamp album….collecting stamps and keeping them safe for posterity. This of course is the period of history where Hitler comes to power in Germany, endeavours to conquer Europe and bring about the “final solution” to what he sees as the Jewish problem.

Once Lindberg looks like becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency, the world of the Jewish population in America takes a distinct turn for the worse. The persecution of the Jews becomes an accepted thing.

We follow the Roth family – Philip, the youngest child, his older brother Sandy and his parents – through a disturbing turn of events in an American history that didn’t happen, but could have very easily. Philip’s parents take in cousin Alvin to raise as their own ( a troubled youth) to try to straighten him out and set him on the right path, but he runs away to Canada to join the war effort against Hitler’s Nazi tyrants. Within a short time, Alvin is badly wounded, losing half a leg from the knee down….(what a stupid statement….it’s not likely to be from the knee up is it?) and returns to the Roth household broken and dejected. Young Philip shares a bedroom with Alvin and helps to dress his stump and look after his welfare.

Roth writes a very believable story of ordinary citizens turning against the Jews in late 1930’s early 1940’s America. The phrase “it can’t happen here” rings out….but fact is, it can happen anywhere and often does. In Nazi Germany, German Jews who had lived quite happily with other Germans for years and were considered friends and acquaintances were abandoned and attacked by their former neighbours and handed over to the Nazi’s and Gestapo. And in “The Plot Against America” the Jews are once again the target of hatred, but this time it’s in the “land of the free”.

Lindberg initiates the Office of American Absorption (OAA)- programs to separate Jewish youths from their families and place them far away from home with gentile families on “work experience” where they become more Americanized. Philip’s brother Sandy is sent away to a farm in Kentucky during the 6 week school holiday to return home later a changed character who has no respect for his father and mother and has become an admirer of Lindberg.

I don’t want to talk in any detail about the plot as I’d like to encourage you to read it for yourselves and so don’t want to give away too much and spoil your reading experience.

Leaving talk of this particular book just there, many of us look at the slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany and question how anything like that could happen, where right thinking people initially turn a blind eye and then actually support the persecution of a particular group of people based on race, religion, or political beliefs – but it happens a lot. It is often seen as convenient to blame a particular set of people for causing problems to make them scapegoats for something that they were never responsible for. A way for the government, ruling classes, or crazed dictator to drive a wedge between other once peaceful parts of the civilian population. It happened to anyone of middle eastern origin/Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy. It’s happened more recently in Europe with eastern Europeans moving to the west and taking western jobs….and more recently still with Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country and escaping to Europe and Britain in particular. The established residents take an instant disliking to the “invading refugees” and eye them suspiciously because they don’t understand their culture and most people fear, and therefore hate, what they don’t understand.

It worries me that more division, hatred, bullying and other means of victimization will occur, and be encouraged to occur, between those who accept the official narrative and take the covid-19 vaccine and those who question or refuse a vaccination. Already rival factions are attacking one another verbally on social (or not so social) media. The vitriol was already heated with threats of violence even before the various vaccines were approved for use. I wonder and worry what will happen now that the vaccinations have begun in earnest.

Going back to Roth’s book. At the end of the story is a post script in which Roth provides true details of some of the real life characters who appeared in his story. It’s actually uncanny how close Roth’s fictional events came to happening in reality having read the details in the post script. Scary stuff.

There is a 2020 HBO TV mini-series based on Roth’s book. I haven’t seen it yet, but judging by the trailer – link below – it appears to stick closely to the original story.

(408) The Plot Against America: Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

“Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Plot Against America

Blithe Spirit 2020 Film Review

This will be a very brief look at the latest movie offering based on Noel Cowards play.

Blithe Spirit was originally a play written by Noel Coward and first performed in London’s West End in 1941. It was adapted for the screen in 1945 for a movie directed by David Lean and staring Rex Harrison along with Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford.

As with many old movies, it has been revamped and there is now a 2020 version directed by Edward Hall, with Dan Stevens taking the lead – playing writer Charles Condomine who is struggling with writers block and Isla Fisher and Leslie Mann playing his current wife Ruth and first/dead wife Elvira. Judy Dench takes over the Margaret Rutherford role of the medium who conjures up the ghost of his first wife thus causing chaos….which results in a good old fashioned comedy romp.

The review website Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a miserly 31 out of 100 and commented “An indifferent adaptation of classic source material, Blithe Spirit puts a star-studded cast through the motions without capturing the story’s screwball spark.

Other critics also panned it comparing it poorly with the original 1945 movie. Deborah Ross of The Spectator said “Better if she’d been left to rest in peace, and, after seeing this film adaption, you may well wish the play had been left to rest in peace too. Don’t dig it up! Leave well alone!” And Simran Hans of The Observer (UK) said “Edward Hall’s film attempts to send up Condomine for leeching off a female muse, which clashes somewhat with the source material’s “blithe” mood.

In a way I’m quite pleased that I have seen neither the original play performed, nor the original 1945 movie, so I was allowed to enjoy the 2020 movie as a stand alone creation. What can I say? I enjoyed it. It was light, funny, entertaining. The costumes, sets and scenery were first class and the main actors (ably backed up by the rest of the cast), I thought, did a good job and produced an amusing film.

If you just want to be entertained for an hour and a half by something that’s easy to watch and simple to follow with a few laughs along the way, this may be the movie for you. If however you’re a fan of the original movie….beware.

I’ll provide links to trailers of this version and to the 1945 original for you to judge for yourselves. For my money, the acting in the 1945 version looks wooden in comparison….but that’s just my opinion.

A Call to Spy (2019/2020) Movie review

There are a few things that give me pleasure these days, other than time spent with my family of course. Things like having free time to pursue my interest in photography, or to browse in bookshops, particularly well stocked second hand book shops – usually called “preloved books” or “preowned” or “nearly new books”… Or the luxury of sitting in a movie theatre and seeing a really good film.

Yesterday my wife and I….or me and my wife, whichever term you prefer….went to our local Event Cinema in Havelock North to watch the world war 2 spy movie “A Call to Spy”, which is based on true stories about women spies who put their lives on the line, and often made the ultimate sacrifice, for the war effort in defeating Nazi Germany.

It originally premiered mid 2019 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but wasn’t released to major box office in the USA until late in 2020….hence the two dates in brackets in the main heading. Written, produced by and starring the very talented Sarah Megan Thomas in the main role of Virginia Hall – an American living in the UK who had ambitions to be a diplomat but was repeatedly turned down and was eventually offered the opportunity to help Britain’s war effort by becoming the first female spy to be dropped into France during WW2.

What made this even more admirable was that Virginia had a wooden leg, nicknamed Cuthbert. Curious but true. She shot herself in the foot during a hunting expedition when she tripped and her shotgun went off years earlier. She was an intelligent and incredibly brave individual who risked her life for the cause over and over during her time firstly in unoccupied France, then Nazi occupied France. She was a thorn in the side of the Germans, who gave her the nickname Artemis, was at the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list and was considered “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.” Klaus Barbie (SS and Gestapo officer) aka the Butcher of Lyon was quoted as saying “I would give anything to get my hands on that limping bitch”.

She set up a spy support network, named Heckler, in Lyon, where she became an expert in logistics, resistance organisation, assisting in the supply of money, munitions and weapons, helped airmen downed by German gunfire escape back to Britain, provided shelter and medical help, help break prisoners out of prison, took part in espionage….this woman was amazing. Small wonder then that after the war she was given the Distinguished Service Cross and became the first female agent of the newly created CIA Special Activities Division.

Historical photo – Virginia Hall of Special Operations Branch receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Donovan, September 1945

The movie isn’t just about Virginia Hall though, it’s a tribute to many other women spies and radio operators most of whom lost their lives in the service of King and Country, behind enemy lines.

Sarah Megan Thomas does a wonderful job of writing, producing and staring as the spy with the code names of Marie and Diane. She is ably abetted by Radhika Apte as Noor Inayat Khan – a pacifist Muslim radio operator (SPOLIER ALERT….who was caught and executed by the Germans after being held in Dachau concentration camp)……and this was the point in the movie that a solitary tear rolled down my cheek as I remembered visiting Dachau on a recent trip to Europe and recalled the eerie silence in the camp, despite the presence of hundreds of visitors, a feeling that I had never experienced before and never want to again….. and Stana Katic as Vera Atkins – female spy-master – an intelligence officer who worked in the French Section of the Special Operations Executive from 1941 to 1945…and who later was awarded the CBE.

It was a story long in the making and heavily researched by Thomas who searched through historic records and interviewed surviving family members of Virginia Hall before penning the script. It can’t have been an easy task as Hall was, as you’d expect from a spy, very secretive about her past and shunned the limelight. To quote Craig R. Gralley “Hall left no memoir, granted no interviews, and spoke little about her overseas life–even with relatives. She…received our country’s Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian woman in the Second World war to do so. But she refused all but a private ceremony with OSS chief Donovan–even a presentation by President Truman.”

It’s a movie about bravery, persistence, selflessness, with action and tension about a group of heroic people who I had no idea even existed. We often see movies about the French Resistance fighters, some of whom were women, but I had no idea at all about the British (and American) female spies who put everything on the line. Hall herself had her cover blown and had to escape France over the Pyrenees, on foot, covering 50 miles over two days in the snow, in order to cross into Spain and then to Portugal to get a ship back to England (I’d struggle on two good feet never mind one foot and a wooden leg)…..and then retrained as a radio operator and went back into France. Bravery of the highest order….or insanity? Watch the movie and decide for yourselves.

Although there are men in the movie who also do a good job – including Linus Roache who plays Vera Atkins’s boss Colonel Maurice James Buckmaster OBE – it’s a movie primarily about women, not only written, produced by and staring women, but also directed by a woman – Lydia Dean Pilcher, with music by Lillie Rebecca McDonough. And bloody good it is too. Do see it. Link to movie trailer is below.

(350) A Call to Spy – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films – YouTube

My TBR list.

It’s been a while since I put out a to be read list. Some of these I have had for a while and have been meaning to read for some time.

I’ve never read any Philip Roth, but have heard good things about him….and a few bad things…so I’ll have a read and make up my own mind. I picked up Sabbath’s Theatre at a book sale in November and the other 2 books I bought today at a used book store that I’ve never been in before by the name of Minton Booklovers, in Napier…..which probably warrants a post of its own at a later date.

As you can see there are a few classics there among my picks, all of which I have never delved into before so have been languishing for a while on my shelf begging to be picked up and opened. I have no idea what order I will read them in, but since I have 3 of Roth’s there I guess I should start with one of his.

If anyone has any advice or opinions to share on any of these books, please feel free to comment.

Many thanks.

Woody Allen – Apropos of Nothing (Autobiography) – my review.

I make no secret of the fact that I am an admirer of the work of Woody Allen. I also make no secret about rejecting the ridiculous claims of child molestation against him…..allegations that have been investigated and rejected twice, by the way. It seems to me to be an injustice that has marred the reputation of an otherwise gifted and celebrated artist, who has put out over 50 movies as an actor, writer and/or director over his lifetime. Now in his mid 80’s he sees no reason to slow down and is still hoping to produce “a great film” to cap off his career.

After reading several biographies of Allen’s life, we are finally presented with the autobiography by the man himself.

In the autobiography, Allen takes us through the history of his movies from the conflict of What’s New Pussycat his first produced screen play – which was butchered so much by the director Clive Donner and some of the perceived “stars” of the movie….that Allen wanted nothing to do with the finished product – to the present day Rifkin’s Festival (which I have yet to see), and the autonomy he demanded to have the final say in every movie he signs on to make in order to preserve and protect the integrity of his original scripts. He is not a dictator though who must have his own way. He has always maintained that he will never make an actor say words that they are uncomfortable with and allows them, even encourages them, to say things in their own words – adlib a little as long as the original meaning of the script is conveyed.

The book takes us from Allen’s birth in 1935, through his childhood years and an early career as a writer of gags for established comedians – while still a school boy. His love of magic, his early stand up routines in clubs and of course his career as an actor, writer, director of some wonderful and diverse movies.

My copy, the Arcade Publishing hard cover version of 392 pages, was in my humble opinion informative and a delight to read and is peppered with some very funny one liners in typical Allen manner. Being humble, sometimes perhaps too humble, is I believe a fault of Allen’s. He is one of his own worst critics and is seldom, if ever, satisfied with the work he produces, even when it is hailed by other critics and given awards. Had he not been over ruled by the companies which produced his movies, some of them would have never seen the light of day. I do understand that some people don’t like him or his work, or are influenced by the lies and innuendo in the scandal pages of so called news papers and magazines, but in my opinion the are misguided and are missing out on the work of a modern day genius. I can imagine Allen himself cringing at those words “modern day genius”, but we all have our heroes – those we find worthy of putting on our own particular pedestal to be revered. Allen’s heroes are directors such as Fellini and Bergman (particularly Bergman’s 1957 movie The Seventh Seal), the writers Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and Henry Miller, iconic actors Marlon Brando, Cary Grant….and jazz musicians such as Sidney Bechet and Bud Powell among others. He looks at their work and views his own efforts as inferior…but I beg to differ.

He is a creature of habit when it comes to writing and writes every day whether he is inspired by a particular idea or not. However he has been unpredictable over his choice of, and methods of, making movies to the point, he claims, that his financial backers visibly cringe when he tells them he wants to make this or that movie in black and white rather than colour, or to make a drama or documentary style movie, rather than a comedy. He’s certainly not shy about experimenting, as you’ll see when you read his autobiography….something I encourage you to do.

He is often complementary about the actors, co-writers, editors, camera crews and others who work with him to give his scripts life and produce the finished movies and yet puts down his own efforts and fixates about not being as good as Bergman and Fellini.
Like most of Allen’s fans – although I hate the word fan as I think it conjures up the image of an airhead who blindly follows their hero regardless of the end product….I’d rather say I have been appreciative of Allen’s work over the years – we tended to like “his early funny movies” such as Sleeper, Bananas and Love and Death and were stunned and initially disappointed by his more dramatic efforts on first viewing. But like a fine wine these mature with time, and a second or third viewing brings out the previously missed depths of the movie which we can now appreciate so much more.

The book of course covers his various marriages and relationships through the years with honesty – sometimes brutal, but mostly endearing, towards his ex’s. He continues to hold Diane Keaton in extremely high regard and is still quite obviously in love with Louise Lasser – to whom he was married for 4 years (1966 – 1970). He is very complimentary about Mia Farrow as an actress but is understandably less enamored with her as an ex lover or as a human being, particular after she put forward false accusations that Allen had molested her 7 year old daughter Dylan. This was after he had begun a relationship with Farrow’s grown up, adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Mia Farrow was understandably “The Woman Scorned” and did all she could to destroy Allen’s reputation by coaching Dylan Farrow to say that Allen had molested her. Something disproved twice over and declared false by two different judges. However this has been recently rehashed by Farrow’s son Ronan, a journalist who has dredged up the false accusations once again. It really is a very sad state of affairs brought about by a clearly mentally disturbed Mia Farrow brainwashing her children and poisoning them toward a man who had only loved and supported them in the past. You have to read the whole story to get the big picture about the scandal.

You also have to take into consideration the hoops that needed to be jumped through, the background checks done, for being declared fit to adopt children that Allen and Soon-Yi had to go through to successfully adopt twice, to realize that Farrow’s accusations were nothing more than fantasy, and yet some spineless actors in the industry are now distancing themselves from Allen although they themselves were never subject to, nor did they witness. anything inappropriate while working with him. Others however have come out publicly, despite potential backlash affecting their own careers, to declare their belief and faith in Allen’s innocence – such as Diane Keaton, Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson, who have worked with him many times. It seems so unjust to me that Allen’s life’s work should be tarnished because of unfounded accusations being perpetuated by the Farrow clan and by the gutter press, simply because scandal sells.

A good read and an interesting insight into the life and work of Woody Allen. I thoroughly enjoyed it and give it 5/5.

Happy New Year …. plus 3 book reviews.

It seems like an eternity since I have written a blog post…..probably because is has been, almost, an eternity since I have written a blog post….or read anyone else’s – Please forgive me. A combination of being busy, being lazy and enjoying reading a few good books lead me to ignore my WordPress blog for far too long. However, a New Year deserves a fresh start.

Lets hope that the horrors of 2020 are behind us and let me wish everyone a hopeful, healthy and happy 2021.

One good thing about covid, lockdowns and a change of lifestyle is that I have had time to read a few more books over the last few months, and I’d like to offer up reviews of the last 3 books I’ve most recently finished reading.

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The first of which is a large format (coffee table sized) hard cover book by Tom Shone about the movies of Woody Allen, titled Woody Allen A Retrospective. Bought for me for my birthday, by my lovely wife. I’ve long been a fan of Allen’s movies – yes even the bad ones – and am not one to be put off by the bad press he’s received from the “Me Too Movement” and the police investigation into child molestation allegations. Allegations which incidentally were found by police to have zero foundation in truth. Allen even submitted to a polygraph test to prove his innocence…..something that his accuser, ex partner Mia Farrow refused to take. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned….and I guess when ones partner takes up with your adopted daughter, you are going to feel rather scornful. Readers please draw your own conclusions. I realize that some readers will be thinking something along the lines of “there’s no smoke without fire” but please judge the man by his work, not by unsubstantiated rumours about his personal life.

Anyhow, back to the book. There’s nothing earth shatteringly new to be learned in this book, for fans of Woody Allen, but it is a useful reference guide to his movies from the very beginning of his career in films (What’s New Pussycat? in 1965) up to and including the 2015 movie – Irrational Man. So, his last 4 movies – at the time of writing – Cafe Society (2016), Wonder Wheel (2017), A Rainy Day In New York (2019) and 2020 movie Rifkin’s Festival are not included in this retrospective.

His output is quite prolific averaging a movie each year and since very early in his movie directing career he obtained and maintained the independence to make movies on whatever subject and in whatever manner he wanted to. He is a creature of habit and likes structure. Now in his mid 80’s Allen shows little sign of slowing down and will probably die while directing or writing the script of yet another in his long list of over 50 movies. According to the opening paragraph of the book, he rises at 6.30am, gets his children ready for school, endures a short spell on the treadmill, then sits to write at his manual Olympia SM-3 typewriter – which was bought when he was 16 and still works.

The book is full of anecdotes, quotes, movie summaries and photographic stills from each movie covered and is a must for Woody Allen fans. No one could accuse him of being big headed about his achievements – if anything he is self depreciating, but at the same time, appreciative of the fame and ability to live as he chooses, that his career has delivered him. A couple of quotes to illustrate this are “I would hardly call it genius, but I do sometimes have a sudden flash.” – and – “(1973 movie) Sleeper showed me audiences enjoyed watching me, which I find hard to believe.”

He says that if he didn’t make movies, if he didn’t work, then he’d sit at home and brood and think and his mind would drift to unsolvable issues that are very depressing. On the subject of death a couple of quotes sum Allen up nicely one is “I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.” And the other is “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” I must say I’m with him on that last one.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, will keep it close to hand for reference, and recommend it whole heartedly. 5 / 5 from me.

The second book is a complete change of genre One Second After by William R Forstchen is a fictional tale about a very real threat, an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that sends catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States of America. It follows the life of one man, a history professor and former US Army Colonel and his family, in a small North Carolina town. One minute enjoying every day life with all its modern conveniences and One Second After an EMP explodes over the centre of continental North America they are thrust back into the dark ages….the electrical grid and society as a whole in tatters.

I’ve read a lot of similar “Prepper” fiction before, but where as the typical prepper novel is about people who are usually prepared for an apocalyptical event, in this novel we take a look at the unprepared. At people who can’t even fathom, at least initially, what it is that has taken out the power grid and also caused all modern motor vehicles to suddenly stop….not to mention make planes fall from the skies.

I believe that it gives a fairly life like look at how quickly and how totally modern life, with all it’s morality, it’s rules, laws and principles, can come crashing down into chaos, anarchy and even cannibalism. It’s an interesting book to use as a talking point to discuss disaster preparedness – whether the disaster is natural or man made – with friends and family. As the preppers say “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

There is no electricity – so no ATM’s for getting out cash, no contactless payments, no transport, no refrigeration of food. Even hospital’s emergency back up generators were fried by the pulse and are out of commission. People die in their thousands in a very short time. There’s no power for pumping stations to supply water to cities. Food, water and prescription medication are in short supply. Things go bad very quickly.

I’m not going to discuss the story at all as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I’ll just say that if dystopian or apocalyptic novels are your thing, don’t miss this book. I read it in two sitting I was absolutely hooked. If I hadn’t been so tired I would have stayed up all night to read it. Even if dystopia and the apocalypse are not your thing, it’s still a good book to read so that you can be aware of how thin our moral thread can be. How fragile civilized humanity is. If you’re not a Prepper before you read it….you will be after.

Read it – another 5 / 5 from me.

And finally…..drum roll please…..book number 3

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell. This is Bythell’s third published book about his experiences as owner of a second hand book shop. The first two being Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller – both former books are told in the format of a daily diary. I personally enjoyed both the Diary of and Confessions of a Bookseller as I am a self confessed bibliophile, eager browser of bookshops and a huge fan of Bythell’s rather irreverent humour….usually at the expense of his customers or staff.

Bythell’s latest offering is a change of format, written in paragraphs and chapters instead of the usual diary entries. He attempts to humorously categorize his book shop customers into various types and subtypes as well as taking a self depreciating look at bookshop owners and staff. I was looking forward to my usual fits of giggles and guffaws that I was reduced to when reading his two previous books. I’m not sure why, but this one fell flat and left me wondering if he’d finally exhausted his big box of bookshop anecdotes. There were still moments that made me smile, but no real laugh out loud moments and I must admit to feeling a little disappointed. As a book, albeit a rather small and thin volume of less than 140 pages, it is an OK read and I knocked it off in one evening. If it had been my first venture into Bythell’s world I would have probably been raving about it, but as a third book – sorry, but it didn’t meet the previous standards. I really do hate to say that, because I genuinely like the guy. I met him when he visited New Zealand’s book town Featherston when promoting his first book – the previously mentioned Diary of a Bookseller – firstly having a nice chat in a bookshop where I was doing a little 2nd hand book browsing (and buying as usual) and then at a speaking event to promote the book. He is a genuinely nice fellow and it pains me to speak badly of Seven Kinds of People.

If you’ve never read Bythell then by all means buy this book before you read the others….read it and enjoy it and then move on to the first and second books for a proper laugh.

Sorry Shaun but only a 2 / 5 for this offering.

Not the world ending plague it is being made out to be.

I have just read this article on Microsoft News – taken from the Evening Standard newspaper – about the latest Covid-19 figures. The article is copied here in full, in inverted commas and italics, unedited.

The number of confirmed global cases of Covid-19 has passed 40 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.

The US research institute which collates reporting of cases from around the world said the milestone was passed today.

It said infections had reached 40,050,902. There have been more than 1.1 million deaths.

The actual worldwide figure of Covid-19 cases is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, and many people have had no symptoms meaning they are unaware of having the disease.

Some governments have also being accused of concealing the true number of cases.

The US, Brazil and India are reporting the highest numbers of cases, although the increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe.

An analysis by Reuters has shown the global rate of infection is continuing to rise.

It took just 32 days to go from 30 million global cases to 40 million, compared with the 38 days it took to get from 20 to 30 million, the news agency said.

Record one-day increases in new infections were seen at the end of last week, with global coronavirus cases rising above 400,000 for the first time.

My opinion for what it’s worth, and please don’t attack me immediately – I am only reporting on the official figures and asking questions. I’m not saying that Covid doesn’t exist or that it’s not killing people, but please hear me out. This is an opinion piece….but I am asking you to look beyond the news headlines and fearmongering.

So….another Covid infection milestone to wind up the terror. They tell us that there are now 40 million cases of Covid in the world – Hoping no doubt that the moronic masses will say “OH my god that’s a lot. Quickly lock us down again and protect us!”
But remember, this is out of a world population of 7.8 billion ….so percentage wise, you’re only looking at 0.05% of the worlds population that are said to be infected. But then, realizing that this figure is insignificant, they then add that the infection rate could be higher because many who have covid actually have NO SYMPTOMS.
Therefore, we are meant to fear this virus that is so “deadly” that we may not even know we’ve got it, because it has ZERO effect on many of us. Please think about this. Those telling us to be fearful of Covid, are also telling us that it has ZERO effect on many people.
The article then goes on to say the death count is now 1.1 million…again for a population of 7.8 billion it’s about 0.014% of the world population who are being REGISTERED as covid death cases. I am not belittling the lives lost or the anguish their deaths cause to their loved ones, BUT, the majority of the dead were extremely elderly and/or had other life threatening illnesses.

They are, remember, including in this death count anyone who dies WITH covid in their system, not necessarily that covid was the ultimate cause of death. WITH covid in their system not FROM Covid. So if you tested positive for covid but had a history of heart problems and died of a heart attack you are included in the covid death statistics.
So, with the above in mind, the number of deaths DIRECTLY resulting from Covid is therefore much less than 1.1 million and, if the authorities are to be believed, and the actual number of infections are way higher than the reported 40 million cases ( due to infected people having no symptoms and therefore not being included in the infected figures), your chances of dying from covid, if you are infected, are statistically reduced significantly.

In another recent article, this one concerning the curfews imposed on Paris and several other French cities, one has to question whether this is about health and safety or if it is a social experiment about how easy it is to control the masses.

The article stated that the curfews would be in place from 9pm until 6am and anyone found outside during those hours would be fined. In addition you are allowed no more than 6 people to gather in your own home. BUT outside of curfew hours you can go to restaurants, shops etc. with crowds of other people. Link below.

https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/world/streets-of-paris-deserted-as-9pm-curfew-kicks-in/ar-BB1a9hXU?ocid=sf2

I don’t know about you, but such a news article has me wanting to ask a few questions such as :- Is covid like Count Dracula and only appears after sundown and goes into hiding again at sunrise, hence the need to hide away in their homes between 9pm and 6am? Why is it safe to be among a hundred or more people in other places, such as restaurants and shops, and yet your own social/family group in your own home has to be 6 or under? Is this an attempt to distance friends and family members, stop us talking to one another and forcing us to have less reliance on family ties and more dependence on the State in a bid to divide and conquer? Why is it that, these days, the news media doesn’t ask the hard questions of government anymore, merely parrots whatever they are told? AND anyone who does ask questions about the official narrative are belittled and accused of being conspiracy theorists in order to make their questions appear to be invalid or nonsensical. Why are people not resisting or at least asking questions and are instead blindly following every contradictory rule imposed on them by governments who are meant to represent them, not repress them?

V for Vendetta (2005) a mirror into tomorrow perhaps?

A couple of evenings ago I finally watched the 2005 dystopian political action movie V for Vendetta on Netflix and in this election time (this month in New Zealand and next month in the USA) found it a timely reminder for us all.

The movie, filmed in 2005 and set in 2020 – would you believe – contains some very pertinent scenes and quotes, a few of which I’ll be putting your way very shortly. But first a little background about its origins.

V for Vendetta began life in the 1980’s as a graphic novel penned by Alan Moore, morphed into a series in DC Comics and finally the 2005 movie. The title character V is shrouded in mystery – an anarchist revolutionary who wears a Guy Fawkes mask – who has vowed to bring down the fascist state. The movie is set in the UK after a nuclear war when the government is run by High Chancellor Adam Sutler – played ironically by John Hurt (you may remember him being the downtrodden victim of a totalitarian state in 1984). Here he is the all powerful baddy! He rules with a rod of iron, keeps the citizens in a constant state of fear in order to get their unquestionable obedience and things seem to be going his way until V begins to fight back.

So as not to spoil the plot I am not going to go into the story in any great length, but found some parallels between the movie and real life politics – or should I say rumours about real life politics – some would call them conspiracy theories but “rumour” is defined as – “an unofficial interesting story or piece of news that might be true or invented”. Before I go on, can I ask if anyone else has noticed, particularly over the last few years, how much disastrous news is spewed at us daily via the TV and on-line news media? Climate change, pandemics/viruses, shootings, terrorism, extreme weather events, water shortages, forest fires, the threat of civil war etc. The list gets longer with every news programme. Now watch this clip from the movie where the High Chancellor wants to make sure that the public keep in line….and have a real good look and listen to what is said and what is being shown on the nations TV screens in the movie.

One would have to ask if we as citizens of our countries are all being played by our governments – or the powers behind each nations individual government. WE seem, just like the citizens in the movie, to be kept in a state of constant fear as a result of news reports and rely on our governments to provide the answers and “keep us safe”, even at the cost of certain civil liberties. With that thought in mind I will give you a few quotes from the movie/graphic novel. V for Vendetta.

One would have to ask if we as citizens of our countries are all being played by our governments – or the powers behind each nations individual government. WE seem, just like the citizens in the movie, to be kept in a state of constant fear as a result of news reports and rely on our governments to provide the answers and “keep us safe”, even at the cost of certain civil liberties. With that thought in mind I will give you a few quotes from the movie/graphic novel. V for Vendetta.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

“Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”

“Since mankind’s dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We’ve seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse.”

“They say that life’s a game, & then they take the board away.”

“Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember.”

“The ending is nearer than you think, and it is already written. All that we have left to choose is the correct moment to begin.”

“There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”

And these last 2 are very much worth thinking about…..“Equality and freedom are not luxuries to lightly cast aside. Without them, order cannot long endure before approaching depths beyond imagining.”

And ….. “Authority, when first detecting chaos at its heels, will entertain the vilest schemes to save its orderly facade.”

A movie to watch for entertainments sake, but also for the message beneath….the bones of which are captured in those last two quotes above. Make what you will of it all, but please cast your vote wisely this election.

Again, many thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Comments – even negative ones – are welcome as are likes, shares and follows. Until next time….

Apocalypse How? A book by Oliver Letwin. (Our dystopian future).

Oliver Letwin retired last year after a long career with the British Conservative party. He was involved in Britain’s Emergency Management Planning so has a pretty good idea about what can go wrong and how likely things are to go wrong. In this book he walks us through a Black Swan event – an event that is very rare and therefore often unplanned for.

This book is actually 2 books in one. Every odd numbered chapter tells a fictional narrative of a dystopian disaster brought about in 2037 when our dependence on cutting edge technology, at the expense of analogue/manual back up technology, proves to be our downfall. In this future world we have surpassed 5G and 6G and are now totally reliable on electronics, the world wide web of everything and 7G connectivity. So confident are our political and industrial leaders in modern technology that they have no failsafe, no manual, or analogue fall back in case anything goes wrong. Naturally, being a dystopian story, things do go wrong and when there is no safety net, no back-stop to save us – when things go bad, they go bad very quickly.

Every even numbered chapter deals with the facts of the matter. He writes here about how far our technology has gone thus far and the direction that we appear to be heading in. How politics and budget targets can push us toward the apocalyptic scenario that he has been warning about for several years already.

It seems that the better connected we become, the more vulnerable we become as our reliance on technology becomes a narrower and narrower focus. When we have no alternative back-up, no plan B, we are inviting trouble. Whether that trouble comes in the form of a cyber attack by a hostile state, natural phenomena such as a CME (coronal mass ejection – or solar flare), or an EMP (electro magnetic pulse – by discharging a nuclear weapon high above the earth) – our electrical grid and everything that depends on it could, in theory, fail.

Letwin explains how difficult it is to persuade politicians and industrial leaders to invest large sums of money to upkeep old-fashioned technology as a failsafe, fall back for a disaster that may never happen – especially when the new technology is 99.9% reliable. BUT should that 0.1% event happen…..what then?

In Letwin’s imaginary future world we are so convinced of 7G’s superior technology and connectivity that we don’t have a plan B. The speed that things go wrong, once the first domino falls is very scary with very worrying consequences. He talks us through what would happen from the actions (or inaction) of our political leaders during a disaster such as this, down to how it affects the man and woman on the street, particularly the old and infirm when the temperature drops below freezing and there is no electricity to make the heaters or central heating work. Without power there is no way to convey to the population any message from the government. We’d be on the doorstep of anarchy. Pretty much every service that we rely on fails as a result of the electrical grid going down and because most things rely on internet connectivity – there is suddenly no communication network, no GPS to guide us around the streets, driverless cars would not work, no street lights or traffic signals, no rail network, planes are grounded and those already in the air have no guidance system – chaos is all around. As a result – the food delivery system fails, no one can buy food anyway or anything else for that matter because by 2037 we have no physical cash anymore, hospitals can’t function, neither can the emergency services – everything is digital and relies on electricity and the connectivity of the internet to function. And to add to the problem, in this scenario Britain has gone with 100% renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro – all of which are very difficult to get back on line from a cold start – assuming that the infrastructure is still intact and functioning after such an event (if the transformers have not been fried by an electrical pulse)….but that requires an in depth explanation that I don’t have time to go into here.

This fictional scenario is even more frightening when you remember that the author is an ex politician who was working on preventing this and many other disaster scenarios. He knows how the political system works – or fails to work. It’s a wake up call to shake us all from our complacency. But will it shake us enough, or will we continue to blindly rely on the latest technology without maintaining a reliable alternative….just in case?

For anyone interested in dystopian scenarios, emergency management, or disaster preparedness (prepping), it makes and interesting and thought provoking read.

I read it in two sittings as it was so absorbing….and I am very interested in “being prepared”.