Four Funerals and a Wedding

To my amusement, I recently realised that since my retirement I have only worn ties for four funerals and a wedding.

This was a strange thought, as I used to wear a tie every working day as a teacher. I always felt that dressing up for work concentrated my mind better. I hated non-uniform days, which I always felt were counter-productive.

Four Funerals and a WeddingTies were at one point the only way an English gentleman (I cannot speak for gentlemen in other countries) could express any individuality in dress, especially formal dress. Traditionally, ladies (or perhaps traditional ladies) had to spend ages choosing an outfit. It was easy for us chaps. Get out the good suit, pick a colourful tie and maybe a new shirt, shine your shoes and off you go.

There has been a move away from ties in recent years. Former England cricket captain (and all-round Clever Chap) Mike Brearley was famously against ties, even in the hallowed precincts of the MCC.

I can see his point. They really are a thing of the past. They really are only a decoration. However a letter to the Times this week noted that ties were becoming unfashionable, but advocated them for older men to cover their ‘chicken-like’ necks.

No comment.

I have also just read that neurologists have discovered that wearing a tie for as little as 15 minutes restricts blood flow to the brain. (The male brain, the report said. Do women never wear ties?)

I shall probably pick a tie and go thus attired to the few remaining formal events there will be in my life. I have a huge number still. Reasonable hire or purchase options are available.

The Fashion Police reserve the right to comment.


Drop-Dead Serious

My ire has been roused. My cage has been rattled. I’ve tried to keep this blog positive, but I must have a rant. Much good will it do me.

Two recent related news items have started this off- or re-ignited it.

The first was about an atrocious incident in Eastleigh. Ambulance crews were called to a report of a 13-year-old girl having a cardiac arrest. On arrival, they were bombarded with bricks, chairs and other missiles. They were injured. Two girls of 13 and 14 were arrested. At the time of writing there was no further news.

Following this was the news that paramedics in England are to be equipped with body cameras, to help protect them from violent attacks. Assaults have risen by 34% in four years, according to the Sunday Times.

This is of some concern to me, as Miss Oblique #2 and her partner are paramedics. I cannot tell any of their stories, for reasons of confidentiality; nobody has attacked them, but the disrespect they are sometimes shown is breathtaking. (As is the time-wasting.)

What do I feel about this? Furious? Incandescent? Mildly peeved? To be honest, above all I feel utterly bemused, confused and uncomprehending.

Why would anybody want to attack people who are trying to help others? Why would anybody want to hurt them? Why would they want to stop patients from being treated? Surely self-interest should come into play. Surely nobody would want to hurt a paramedic who was trying to treat their loved ones- or themselves.

I have, obviously, no answers or solutions. There is no logic or reasoning I can see behind these acts. Is it idiocy? Madness? Total lack of empathy? Evil?

The biggest question of all is: what good does it do writing this? I don’t honestly think it will make things better. I can’t imagine anybody who might read this who would approve of such acts. I would love to know if anybody can explain them, or find a practical solution.


Theatre is magic. It breaks rules.

Sadly- for multifarious reasons- I don’t go to the theatre much these days, but I still treasure some memories of past performances. I saw a very young Kenneth Branagh in ‘Henry V’, Derek Jacobi in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, and, possibly the most memorable of all, Antony Sher playing the Fool in ‘King Lear’; as well as that excellent company ‘Cheek by Jowl’ doing ‘Macbeth’ in the Theatre Royal, Winchester, with no props, in which they created rain just by drumming with their fingertips. I could go on, but that’s enough for me to realise that my most memorable experiences were of seeing Shakespeare plays.

Theatre 2 William Shakespeare

This was all triggered off by a report that a white actress had withdrawn from the part of Maria in ‘West Side Story’, after a furore (I love that word) because the character is Latin American. There is an article here:

Sierra Boggess in ‘West Side Story’

My first thought is “fair enough”. To make a parallel, people of a certain age still wince at the memory of Laurence Olivier blacking up to play Olivier. (Look it up; I can’t find a copyright free picture.) The only production I have seen had a black actor; but he wasn’t a Moor. So how authentic do we need to get?

Theatre 1   Abbas Miras Sharifzadeh as Othello (no idea when)

For the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, in 2016, the Royal Shakespeare Company put on ‘Shakespeare Live’. It featured a skit in which Paapa Essiedu, playing Hamlet at the time, was interrupted by various actors who thought they could do the “To be or not to be” speech better. It was hilarious- but I was stunned by how at the end, after all the fun, he did the soliloquy brilliantly and movingly. See the clip here (without his last bit):

To be or not to be?

But hang on- wasn’t Hamlet a Dane, presumably blonde, not black British? No, Shakespeare’s actors were all British, weren’t they? But black? Should white parts be played by white actors? Confused yet? What about Shylock? Shouldn’t he be played by a Jew? Hang on, Antony Sher is a Jew, and he famously played Shylock, so was that alright? Oh dear. To widen the discussion (because I have seen such a small amount of theatre in recent years) a recent, rather good BBC TV production of the Trojan Wars (‘Troy: Fall of City’) featured a superbly acted Achilles, who was black. Hey, wasn’t Achilles a Greek? Were there any black Greeks? I wouldn’t have missed his performance for the sake of ethnic authenticity. (Of course, since writing that, I have found that the whole issue of Achilles is far more complicated and contentious. See this link: No, the BBC is not ‘blackwashing’ Troy: Fall of a City )

Perhaps ethnicity doesn’t matter in the case of Shakespeare, because perhaps Shakespeare is a special case, being timeless and universal. So what about gender?

It’s always a shock to remember that Shakespeare’s female roles were always played by men in his day, especially as so often some of his comedy seems to depend on role reversal: so Viola in ‘Twelfth Night’ was a male actor playing a woman who dresses as a man and has a woman fall in love with him/ her. ‘Cheek by Jowl’ did do some Shakespeare with all male casts in recent times. I wonder if there was a fuss about that.

Recently there have been several instances of women playing the “big” Shakespeare male roles, and, indeed the new director of The Globe, Michelle Terry, says that her productions will be gender-blind, race-blind and disability-blind. She herself will play Hamlet.

Again, disability is tricky; Sher played Richard III as a hunchback on crutches amazingly, apparently, and he is not disabled. I saw the Graeae, a theatre group of deaf and disabled actors, perform Frankenstein quite astonishingly many years ago. There were however protests against Eddie Redmayne, able-bodied, portraying Steven Hawking, who was confined to very limited movement with MND.

So what are the options for theatre casting? Should directors cast only strictly according to the correct race, gender and level of disability of a part as written? That would be very tricky in our diverse society, especially for Shakespeare, which would be largely the preserve of white men. Or should they be gender-blind, race-blind and disability-blind? I rather like that, despite it overturning my traditional ideas of theatre- or perhaps because it would.

I do however wonder if there is another, hidden, point of view, which says casting can be fluid as long as it doesn’t favour white, able-bodied males. I imagine this argument would run: “There are too many white male actors, because there are too many white male roles. Therefore actors of other races and genders- as well as disabled actors- should take some of those white male roles to redress the balance. Other roles should only be taken by actors whose race, gender of disability fits the role as written.”

I’m not sure that’s appropriate; but of course I speak as a white, able-bodied male. I think on the whole I would go for the gender/ race/ disability neutral approach.

Mrs Oblique and I have discussed this at length. I leave the last words to her. Take them as you will.

“Theatre is magic. It breaks rules.”

Shakespeare Chandos portrait by John Taylor – Official gallery link, Public Domain,

In Praise of Postcards

Three or four years ago, we were on holiday with friends. There was some surprise that we went looking for postcards. It seems that these are going out of fashion….

(Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what a postcard is. For the benefit of future generations, it’s a small piece of card with a photograph of a holiday destination on one side and a space for an address and a message on the other. You sent it through the post. This is a picture postcard, as opposed to an ordinary postcard, which doesn’t have a picture. Got it? Any queries on a postcard please….)

I like both sending and receiving postcards. So, it seems, do some others. On our kitchen cupboards (where else do you put them?) there is an admittedly small selection from last year. Here they are:

In Praise of Postcards 1

If you squint carefully, you can see that the destinations they represent range from Bognor Regis to Australia. What you can’t see is that there are only seven senders, all very close to us. I really appreciate that they all took the time to think of us; they selected a postcard, thought of a suitable message, remembered to pack our address, found the appropriate stamps and posted it.

More than that, it’s a real object that has made its way from foreign or other parts to generally dull Hampshire. I can well understand that it is much easier to take a photo on your phone and put it online for all your friends. I’ve done it and do it myself. However, it’s wonderful it is to get something physical, which gets displayed, talked about and remembered, not scrolled past and forgotten. To be sure, you reach more people through social media; but sending postcards means you have thought of each recipient individually and specially.

Yes, I do like sending them too. I actually enjoy the process of selection; is that suitable for Aunty Flo? I like thinking of an amusing or interesting few words. I like putting them in the postbox, when I can find one. We have been known to bring them home, rather defeating the point.

Eventually, of course, most of the postcards end up in the bin. I was fascinated to find that my mother had, however, kept many, including ones I had sent her.

In Praise of Postcards 2

Going further back, I have a collection of postcards sent by my grandfather, who I never met, to his mother and family. He was in Persia, now Iran, in the first decade of the last century, a time of great upheaval. One of his postcards, which I won’t show here, has the photograph of a hanging. The text tells how the criminal took twenty minutes to die. Different times? Or perhaps not…

In Praise of Postcards 3

In Praise of Postcards 4Thank you to the people who keep on sending us postcards. They are much appreciated. I leave you with the first of this year’s cards. Many thanks to MSC.

In Praise of East Enders (BBC TV)

It may come as a surprise to you that I like East Enders and watch it regularly…

Well, my mother-in-law, a lady of great discernment and taste, was also an avid watcher; but it was only recently that I discovered the pleasures of this TV programme.

For those who don’t know, it’s a UK “soap opera”, set in the fictional Albert Square, in the East End of London, and has been running for many years. It has a fictional borough (Walford), a fictional pub (the Queen Victoria) and even a fictional London Underground station. It chiefly features members of fairly close-knit but intermarried families. It may be that some of the settings, storylines and characters are stereotyped, but well… it’s a soap opera. Isn’t that the point? Given that it’s on for two hours every week, it maintains high standards. It’s quite astonishing that it stays fairly fresh.


Again for those who do not know England (yes, excitingly, there are some among my readers) the East End is a traditional dockland and working-class area, now largely taken over by businesses and expensive housing. The programme portrays a community still largely rooted in the working-class history.


Watching it over a period of time gives some insights. Firstly, I would mention acting standards. These are variable, but I think generally good. There is one actor who steadfastly plays him or her self (I guess) but we’ll let that pass. In some cases- like a half-hour confrontation between a father and a son- there is real class and conviction.

Next, I am particularly interested by the overlapping story arcs, of varied lengths, that a soap opera can use- the stories within the story. It is possible in a soap opera to have really long plot sections and it’s fascinating to see how they develop and interact. Some of these story arcs are years long. Characters leave, return and have existences off screen. For a relative newcomer, like me, this can sometimes be disorientating but fun. Who is Mo? Who is Jean? What do they have to do with Stacey? Why does Phil shut the door on Mo? Looking these questions up leads me to a wealth of information, for example on Wikipedia. I love the idea that these fictional characters somehow do exist, in a strange alternative reality. What I really want, however, is an East Enders character/ family tree guide. It can be difficult to understand and remember relationships.

The morality of East Enders is complicated, or perhaps it would be better to say that the moralities are complicated. There is a surprising acceptance of criminal activity at varying levels, although baddies do often get their just desserts. Recently we have witnessed the foiling of plots by the dastardly Willoughby-Brown to buy up large parts of the Square, and by the dastardly Aidan Turner to use the Queen Vic as a drug dealing centre, among other things. We cheered when they finally were defeated.

If that sounds sarcastic, or ironic, it’s not meant to be. I genuinely like it. Perhaps there’s an element of escapism in my pleasure. My middle-class background in leafy Southern England has given me little knowledge of the East End, so I could not with confidence say how accurate the portrayal is; but I will be watching with interest how the latest twists and turns turn out.

Title picture by Kelvin 101 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria pub by Matt Pearson (Flickr: The Queen Vic) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s Not Cricket

That great cricket commentator, cricket writer and oenophile, John Arlott, was of the opinion that cricket reflected the times it was played in.

Thus, in Victorian times, there was much apparent rectitude- “Play up, and play the game”- but much cheating and betting. Post World War I, there was a sense of abandonment and relief after the horrors of the trenches. Class distinctions, between paid professionals and dilettante amateurs, were apparent. After World War 2 these started to fade. Political conflict was reflected in the “rebel” tours to South Africa, defying sanctions on apartheid. A more fluid economic situation led to increasing commercialisation and the end of amateur players at the top levels. The attention span of the public grew shorter. Spectators- many spectators, anyway- wanted games that finished in a day. Thus one day cricket became much more popular.

These are just my uninformed interpretations of Arlott’s idea. Moving into the modern age, the proliferation of independent TV channels led to the rights to international cricket being sold to the highest bidder. There was an increasing amount of experimentation: night cricket, white balls, fielding restrictions, coloured clothing and the like. Now the formats of cricket have again changed to include 20 over games, shorter than even village cricket. (My son, a keen amateur player, tells me that decreasing numbers of amateur cricketers want to play games that last even as long as a day; they want them to be over in an afternoon.) We now have pink balls, free hits, power plays and technological umpiring decisions. There are bidding wars for players in some competitions. Even that core of the game, Test matches, is changing, and some players are saying they are only interested in one day cricket. It may be that, by the time I die, there will be no more Test cricket.

What aspects of the modern world are reflected in all of this? One could speculate, for example, that it is globalisation that has led to the IPL (the Indian Premier League) employing foreign players at huge salaries; but of course your guess is as good as mine and probably better.

I try hard, especially in this blog, not to be a “grumpy old man”. However, I find myself less and less interested in a game I used to love beyond reason. Perhaps, if cricket reflects the times it’s played in, I am just behind the times, or out of touch with them.

It's Not Cricket

An English Block Paved Garden

Down our way another two gardens are being grubbed up for hard surfacing….

This is a modern trend. All over our green, middle-class, and, it must be said, tree-rich borough, there are gardens being paved over. The reasons are fairly obvious.

To start with, every household seems to have at least two cars. There are only two options. (Well, we’re not going to give them up, are we?) One is to leave them on the street if there isn’t enough room in the drive. The other is obviously to increase the paved area. A third option, to put one in the garage, is so often now not possible as modern cars are so big, and the 1970s/80s garages round here are too small. Besides which, we’ve got all those important things in the garage. Or it’s a home gym. Or it’s now converted into a spare room.

The second reason is that a lot of people just don’t like gardening. Once upon a time homeowners just accepted that they had a garden and they had to look after it. It was also a popular hobby. Now, perhaps with more affluence to afford it, back gardens are paved over as well as front gardens.

It’s probably obvious that I don’t approve of the trend. This is partly just personal aesthetic preference. I consider that just about any green space, however untidy, looks better than paving, especially some of the awful spaces I have seen recently. I do have more reasoned objections.

The first is the drainage issue. All over our country we have problems with ground water. I am sure that hard paved areas, however well they may be be drained in theory, are worse at dispersing heavy rainfall than grass and other plants. (Some areas I have seen recently make no attempt to drain water; they are simply tarmac. Isn’t there some legislation about this?) (There is. I just looked it up. It has to be permeable paving.)

Then there is the huge, insidious impact that paving over has on wildlife. Insects, birds, small mammals; all have their habitats reduced. Of course, there is also the loss of vegetation.

Oh dear, I don’t feel I’ve put my case particularly well here. Anyway, I don’t suppose that my little rant on my little blog (last post: 6 views) will make any difference. At least it goes a little way towards easing my conscience, although that won’t change the situation. “The decline of the British front garden” on the BBC website puts it better than I have. (According to the RHS, as quoted in the article, the number of paved gardens tripled from 2005 to 2015.)