Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

gr8 rItN

The Mail on Sunday has gone into full "hell-in-a-handbasket" mode once again deploring the use of txtspk on a poster designed to encourage kids to think about safety and security when using mobile phones and the internet. The poster uses text message spellings to list a number of safety points. This, of course, will make our children illiterate, undermine the work of English teachers the length and breadth of the land and probably cause the total collapse of society as we know it.

I don't really want to get off into a rant about one of the Mail's rants. Whether it's education, immigration, the economy or the national health service there's rarely a week passes without the Mail climbing onto some reactionary hobby-horse or other. It's almost too commonplace for comment.

The bit that intrigued me was on the poster itself.

Most of it I could only work out with extreme difficulty, but after all the tips have been given, we see this.

"Responsible adults include yr tchaz, parNts n d carers W whom u liv"

Apart from the lack of txtspk on some of the words (presumably because the adults who designed it couldn't work out a readable version) I love that "W whom u liv" a blend of a now uncommon grammatical construction (for most people, especially teens, in spoken English, "that you live with" or just "you live with" is far, far more common) and the txtspk of the poster.

Of course had they put that, the Mail could have had another complaint. Ending sentences with prepositions? The end really would be nigh!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Seeking a simile

I spent my Metro ride home this evening trying to think of a suitable description for how I felt.

"I feel like I've done six rounds with Mike Tyson" is rather too well-worn a cliché.
"I feel like I've been run over by a steam-roller" doesn't really capture the all over weariness.
"I feel like a house fell on me" is a dull and prosaic simile.
"I feel like a ball in the lottery machine" would be open to too many alternative interpretations.
"I feel like I was standing in the way when the buffalo started to stampede" is getting pretty close.

I never did come up with a suitable answer but there is an upside. The next time I feel like this I'll know just what to say, "I feel like I've just done a day's ESOL enrolment."

Monday, 25 August 2008

Peloponese and the Ionian Islands:Part 2-The Day That Nothing Happened

And now, after five weeks, term time is almost upon me again and so I'll be resuming my normal service of travel blogs interrupted by other more random musings. And to start with, here is part two of my old write up of my trip to Peloponese.

The Day that Nothing Happened

Athens has two bus stations, imaginatively called the 'A' bus station and the 'B' bus station. We were at the 'A' station which is a large, dirty crowded and noisy building in that depressing style of architecture that in Britain we associate with the sixties - all box shaped buildings and lots of concrete. Inside it isn't as bad the outside leads you to fear. We sat in the cafeteria sipping cold drinks and waiting around. We had by now been introduced to the final member of our party, Andy, who was the walk leader for the trekking part of the trip. He was employed not directly by Explore but rather by another company who were contracted to supply the guide. A modern languages graduate in his late twenties he spoke perfect Greek although, as he told me later, that was not one of the modern languages in which he had graduated. He had been in Greece for two years and learned the language 'in the field'. When I had met him he had been reading a local newspaper which is printed in Athens in English. Glancing through it when he had finished I discovered it to be a bizarre affair.


declared the front page headline above a picture of a little old man surrounded by people dressed up as cartoon characters. John O. and I speculated on whether Bugs would be too traumatised to continue with his career. Apparently his father was also the father of Tweety Pie, Sylvester and Elmer Fudd. He must have had a very cosmopolitan taste in partners.
Page two had a story about a woman who had swapped her baby for a car, page three a tale of a group of vampire wannabes on a trip to Transylvania and the centre pages a series of descriptions of some of Athens' night spots.

(".....the common mode of dress is techno-rave but other fashions should not attract too much adverse attention......the decor resembles a sterile bathroom and the ice is kept in a urinal on the bar.)

The bus ride itself started off through Athens city centre, quickly moving out through the suburbs to follow the main road which leads to the Corinth Canal. Greek scenery is an odd mixture. The undoubtedly beautiful landscapes will suddenly be blighted by a partially built house standing stark and skeletal in the middle of a field of empty cement bags. Every corner has at least one shrine on it and every shrine represents an accident, which given the local disregard for rules of the road comes as no surprise to anyone.
After an hour of travel we came to the Corinth Canal which is an impressive bit of engineering, especially as it was originally opened more than a hundred years ago. And then we were on Peloponese which is either an isthmus or an island depending on your opinion of the canal.

At Liato we peeled ourselves from the sticky plastic seats of the bus and transferred to taxis to take us on to Bouzi where we were to begin our trek. I sat in the front of our taxi and was struck on entering it by the number of crosses, rosaries and icons twined round and hanging from the mirror. Given that every time we passed a church, a chapel or a shrine (about every hundred yards or so) the driver let go of the wheel with both hands and fingered the cross that he was holding I can only assume that they were doing some good. I can think of no other explanation than divine intervention for his continued survival. At one point he let go of the wheel and nudged me. He pointed off to a dome shaped building on the horizon and mimed a man looking through a telescope, all without slowing down.

"Observatory," I said through gritted teeth.

He nodded happily and took the wheel again to continue on along a twisting road that led through fields of red soil and groves of olive trees.

At Bouzi, grateful to still be alive, we got out of the taxi and discovered that the next part of our journey was even more down market than the Death Race 2000 taxi driver. We were to be driven up the side of the hill to our starting point on the back of two pick up trucks. We bounced up the hillside, reversing a couple of times to make way for herds of goats and flocks of sheep that provided an unusual road hazard. Half way up was an apparently abandoned car which carefully negotiated our way around although if it was abandoned then Greek car thieves dump their stolen vehicles in some very odd places.
At the top of the hill our lift threw us out and turned to go back the way that it had come. We stood around putting on sun cream and drinking water while Andy explained to us about the optional ascent to a peak that we were all about to do, Andy's definition of 'optional' being somewhat at variance with the accepted one. Leaving the rucksacks in a heap on the ground we walked for about ten minutes up a reasonably steep hillside to come out onto a flat grassy peak affording a magnificent view of Ziria. After Andy had pointed out and named one or two of the mountains we could see and shown those who can tell the difference between a Dandelion and a Daffodil a couple of orchids we descended by more or less the same path and set of on the first part of the trek. This led, for some distance, along a slightly descending red dirt road, with occasional short cuts off the road to avoid lengthy loops. Every now and then Andy would discover another flower and those who were interested, especially Kate, would stop to look at it or take a photograph.
We stopped for lunch in the shade of a stand of trees at the head of the Flamburitsa valley. Lunch, which we had all been carrying scattered through our packs, consisted of large slabs of Feta cheese, tins of Sardines, tomatoes and onions with fresh oranges for desert. It was a delicious picnic and none of could know then how soon the novelty of such food would wear off.

After lunch our path continued through green meadows following the river bed and crossing and re-crossing the river so often that it became a joke that we would go on crossing it until Andy had seen one of us fall in. Eventually we cut away from the river and up the side of the valley with considerable contouring and climbing. Andy said that we would take a brief rest stop at a stream where we could fill our water bottles. When no stream materialised we started to wonder if perhaps we were not quite on the right path. Andy's cheerful response,
"We've come a little higher than I intended - its changed a lot since I was here last. Never mind though it all goes to the same place."

was said with such confidence that it was hard not to have faith in him. After a steep scramble up through some trees, during which my knee, which occasionally gives me some trouble, started sending me little 'take it easy...or else' messages, we came onto a brand new bulldozed dirt road and discovered why it had all changed so much. There had been a fire which had burnt down a lot of the trees and blackened the barks of those that remained standing. Several new roads had been bulldozed through either to get to the fire at the time or to act as fire-breaks in future. Andy explored along the road we were on while we took a break. While we were sitting my knee stiffened up and replaced the 'take it easy' messages with 'OK. you asked for it' messages, so that by the time we had started down again it was all I could do to avoid wincing with pain at every step. I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me to strap it up but we aren't always as clever as we ought to be.

The route descended, now mainly on decent quality roads until we came to the small nunnery of Ayiu Viasiu where we went in and looked around for a few minutes. I took the opportunity to sit in the cool shade of the white buildings and rest my leg. I was beginning to think that tomorrow might be a problem. The remaining descent was only about half a mile but by the time that we reached our accommodation my knee was on fire.
The accommodation was in a hotel, a smart looking two storey building with the usual Greek plumbing - which is to say no hot water, no plugs for the sinks and no lock on the shower door. I showered quickly, and then plastered my knee in Ibuprofen gel before going down to dinner.

We ate al fresco and long after the early birds had retired a group of us sat up drinking beer and talking. Anne I found out was a medical sales representative who wanted to train as a chiropodist. As this revelation prompted several people to offer to show her their blisters. it's just as well she didn't want to be a gynaecologist. Eventually we all retired and as I limped painfully up the stairs I reflected that tomorrow could be a difficult day if my knee didn't improve.


I woke from a night of surreal dreams featuring holiday camps and spies and helicopters and dozens of other images that vanished upon waking but always revolving around knees. In one of these dreams I stood at the entrance to a grand white mansion while some sort of combined fireworks display and air show was going on overhead, talking to someone I couldn't see and explaining that I was taking the bus as I couldn't walk.

It was such an obvious solution that I couldn't see why it hadn't occurred to me while I was awake so that half an hour later, washed, dressed and limping I approached Jenni to explain that today I would like to travel down in the truck with the luggage and rest my leg. With Andy's help we organised my lift and soon I was on my way, once again in a battered pick-up but now promoted to the passenger seat. The driver, who turned out to be the man whose house we were to stay in that night, spoke no English and as my Greek was of approximately the same level, we had exhausted the conversational possibilities before he started the engine. He drove, with much more caution than any Greek driver I had seen yet, down the appalling roads and we listened to a Greek radio station which played a mixture of bouzouki music and bland Euro-pop. At one point a string of Greek was interrupted by a jingle announcing in English
"Good Morning from Geronimo Groovy !"
Our route took us along several sections of partially collapsed road and over holes in the ground that were big enough to be considered craters. I tried to make a few notes but it was a forlorn hope in such a bouncing and uneven journey. At one point we passed through a village where a frantic dog was chasing its own tail in circles around a completely unperturbed cat who was asleep in the middle of the road. Somehow we avoided hitting either of them.
About half an hour after we had started we reached our destination and I helped unload the luggage into the front room of one of the village houses.

Feneos, the village, was a tiny place. The main road ran through it for perhaps two hundred yards along which a handful of houses were scattered. In spite of the language problems I deduced that the stout elderly Greek woman who kept wandering in and out probably lived there which meant that it was her home that we would be borrowing for the night.
I sat outside the whitewashed building (which I had the feeling had been whitewashed just because we were coming) and tried to read the book that Caroline had lent me, The Diaries of Kenneth Williams. It was hard going - a mixture of unspeakably mundane observations about his life, anguished whining about how no-one understood him and a kind of snobbish bitching about acquaintances who were naturally not as talented as he was. The impression that I was left with was of a singularly unlikable and arrogant man. It was a relief when we came to the side-show that was lunch.

My hostess brought out a piece of paper on which she had itemised, in Greek naturally, the complete contents of her kitchen. These she proceeded to point at one at a time and incline her head questioningly. When it was obvious that although I understood what was going on I had no idea what any of this food might be she started to explain in mime. She clucked, which could have been a chicken or an egg. I smiled
She frowned and tried to mime some sort of vegetable. I didn't mind what it was I was happy to eat anything.
"OK." I said.
She frowned again and mimed something which could have been anything but was probably a goat and which I assumed meant Feta Cheese.
"OK" I said, and then I realised that whatever I was saying sounded like "no" to her. The next three things she pointed at I said "Ne" instead, hoping it might sound like "yes", and it must have because she suddenly smiled and she went away looking happy.
Lunch consisted of, in spite of all mime to the contrary, Greek Salad (Feta Cheese, Tomato, Cucumber, Onion in about a gallon of olive oil) and two large fried eggs with lots of bread and a bottle of Orangeade. I had managed all of it except for the excess olive oil when she came back from the kitchen and beamed at me. A moment later she came out again with another basket of bread and mimed mopping up the olive oil. I hadn't the heart to refuse her even though the thought of eating half a loaf soaked in oil was fairly repulsive.
Afterwards I sat outside again, still trying to read that book. Briefly I skipped to the end. Kenneth Williams death was probably suicide although officially an open verdict was recorded. I can only believe that the diaries were not presented in evidence. After all of his threats of suicide and his longing for death the diary ends with the words - Oh God what's the point.

I considered carefully and had to admit I agreed with him. There seemed to be no point at all in trying to read any more of his depressing whinging. I closed the book and went for a walk to test out my knee.
Two more incidents struck me as bizarre while I waited. Once, while I was sitting sipping at a cold drink that had just been bought out to me by my ever smiling hostess a strange little old Greek man came out of the building and handed me a piece of Turkish Delight wrapped in paper. He smiled as I unwrapped it and then went away.
Later, as I sat in the same place there was a loud noise that sounded like amplified religious chanting, the sort of thing that high-tech mosques use to call the faithful to prayer. As I sat it got louder and louder and finally a multi-coloured truck came into view with the driver talking into a microphone connected to two very large speakers on the roof. It paused briefly as it passed and then went on to the end of the road where it did a three point turn and came back. Inside it was filled with what appeared to be mattresses and cushions all wrapped up in cellophane. As he passed the woman came out of the house and handed two similarly wrapped cushions to a woman on the truck, receiving two back in exchange. The truck drove on and soon the sound had died down. I could only assume that it was some sort of upholstery cleaning service but I had no way of checking.

Eventually, after I had taken a nice little siesta, all of the others arrived and from the description of their walk which featured a lot of rocky ascent and descent I knew that I had made the right decision. My leg felt greatly improved and I was certain that I could walk tomorrow.

There is a poem that accompanies this which describes much the same incident, or rather lack of incident, that chapter describes. Here, for comparison, it is.

Feneos Afternoon

Imprisoned in the village
I waited for my friends.
Trapped in my monoglot silence
I was a stranger to these people
Trying so hard to be kind
To the injured hiker.

grandmother mimed a chicken
And gave me eggs for lunch

grandfather silently handed me
Bottles of beer
I tried to read my borrowed book
But the heat stole my will
Made me one with the quiet
Still old men of the place.
One of them handed me
A cube of Turkish Delight
Wrapped in paper.
Its sweetness coiled
And writhed in my mouth.

As the sunlight drained from the sky
My friends arrived
And I turned English again
And the villagers withdrew
From our noise and foreign humours.
Tomorrow, healed and rested,
I would move on from here
But for one day I had been
Another figure in a landscape.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Still not a review:The case for overhauling the cinema classifcation system

Once again this isn't a review.

This time it isn't even a review of a review. What it is, is an attempt to make the case so singularly missed in the Telegraph article that prompted my earlier musings about The Dark Knight.

I want to consider three films all of which received the same classification from the BBFC: Casino Royale, Batman: The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Each of these films was passed at 12A which, for overseas readers means that anyone over 12 can see them unaccompanied and anyone under 12 can see them if accompanied by an adult.

The Telegraph article tried to make the point that the Batman film was full of hideous on-screen violence and that it was corrupting the minds and morals of the children who could see it. It did so by listing a number of scenes from the movie which, described as they were, did indeed seem to support the contention. The problem was that the scenes, as described, weren't in the movie. For example it described a scene in which a man's face was allegedly "filleted". The scene is there and what we see on screen is the Joker holding is knife to the man's mouth and talking about what he is going to do. At the moment when he appears to be about to carry out his threat there is a camera angle change to show the henchmen and their reaction before the Joker walks back into shot. We do not see the actual act, we cannot be sure it even took place. Certainly it is very strongly implied, but it isn't shown. The other examples in the article were all the same. They described scenes that would have been hideous, if they had been in the movie, but which weren't, in fact, in the movie.

Let me begin my argument by saying what is in the movie. There are sustained levels of extreme menace and a great deal of psychological violence. There is the constant threat of sadistic action which, it is implied, has been carried out, though off screen. The frequent scenes of this nature are disturbing in their implications and the Joker is portrayed as a sociopath with absolutely no concern about consequences and no kind of morality restraining him. This does warrant giving that certification a second look but essentially the moral of the movie is that no matter what you do to them you cannot take the fundamental goodness out of people. Only the Joker fails to show any goodness with all of the other characters, however flawed, showing their essential humanity. A 12a may well have opened the doors to allow children who could be disturbed by what they see to view the movie. But that's because young children may not as readily differentiate between what is seen and what is implied. However as we now lack a straightforward 12 Certificate, it's hard to see what else could have been given.

Now let's turn to a remark made in passing in the article about the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. This is an entirely different thing. Overall the movie is an action adventure with a rather low level of sustained threat but the scenes that are brutal are very brutal indeed. In particular there is the torture scene in which Bond has his genitals beaten with a knotted rope. This scene is long and very graphic. Though the overall movie is relatively innocuous it does contain enough sufficiently nasty material to merit concern. With the levels of occasional on screen violence the film almost certainly merits a 15 certificate, although in its defence it is an accurate portrayal of the brutality of the book in a way which previous Bond films have never managed.

What about Hellboy II: The Golden Army? This is an action fantasy, with the emphasis very much on the fantasy. The fight scenes almost always involve clearly CGId bad guys and are always almost cartoonish in their execution. There are a couple of swearwords used but they could have been dealt with, with about five seconds of cuts. And that's it. The movie resembles nothing as much as it resembles "The Never Ending Story", and that's a kids' film. There is absolutely nothing in the movie that I wouldn't be happy to let a five year old watch. The grimmest it gets is the scene, near the start, with the tooth fairies, a hoard of ravenous little beasties that like to eat people, starting with the teeth and bones. It's quite graphic but also quite humorous. Personally I found the movie rather too childish for my taste and the overblown CGI effects rather too unconvincing in anything more than a simplistic fairy tale style. I could see no reason to give it such a high certificate when it seemed much more likely to appeal to young children.

I have no problem with any of these movies. My problem is with the fact that they share a classification. This fact alone is enough to indicate that an overhaul of the system is needed. Hellboy could, in my opinion, be given a U. Batman would probably be fine with a 12 (if such a thing still existed) though the 12A may be unwarranted. Casino Royale should have had a 15.

There is a basic inconsistency here. I cannot conceive of any sensible ratings system that would put these three films in one category, yet that is precisely the situation we have.

As I said all along, there is a case to be made for changing the system, and that case has sufficient merit on the actual facts without attempting to support it by making things up.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Part(with your money)works

I've long been puzzled by the idea of Partworks: particularly by the question of who buys them. In the past I have bought a couple that didn't quite fit the normal mould. There was a monthly classic novels which was a reasonably cheap way to build up a hardback collection of famous literature. Similarly there was a CD set of blues recordings that started out well but included a lot of stuff that was too obscure and,frankly, not very good. It was again, nevertheless, reasonably cheap and didn't involve me in any research to find out what I wanted.
I wouldn't do it again, though.

The usual run of the mill stuff sold this way seems to be aimed squarely at the same mathematically challenged people who think the adverts for consolidation loans are a pretty neat idea. The one that has brought this to mind has just begun to be advertised - a combined set of Buffy and Angel DVDs with a magazine. The first issue is £1.99. Subsequent ones are, as it says on the ad, (£7.99 ).
Now given that there appear to be four episodes per disc and given that I know how many episodes there are in total, I make that a little over £500 overall. You can buy the whole lot in boxed sets from any number of on-line vendors for around £120.
I don't know how much value the magazines add but I'd bet it's a good deal less than £380.
So, a small word of advice for anyone contemplating any Partworks purchase: check the prices, do the maths.

A Summer School Poem

It's come to my attention that I've recently been shamefully neglecting the poetry side of this blog. I shall rectify that immediately with a brand new poem which has the somewhat-less-than-snappy title

"On Being Joined In The Pub By Two Female Colleagues Whose Limited Range Of Conversational Gambits Had Previously Been Remarked Upon"

It is, of course a true story, and the title sums up what it's about. The only other thing I can say is, "you know who you are!"
Actually so does everyone else who taught at Harrow this summer.

I'd have really loved to talk
To someone about something,
And I thought, before they entered,
That I didn't much care what.
When they sat down and joined me
I found their conversation
Was on topics they thought jolly:
And topics I did not.
There was colonic irrigation,
Beauty treatments, oral sex
And what to do with boyfriends
Come to visit for the day.
One turned to me and murmured
"I forgot your not a girl, Bob!"
But it didn't stop her finding
Some more similar things to say.
So I finished up my beer;
Said, "I don't think that there is much
I can contribute to this, or
Any other conversation.
So, if it's all the same to you,
Though it's early, I'll be going."
There's a lot to say for silence
In that kind of situation.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Television for the Eloi and the Morlocks

I could very easily say that I hate reality TV – Big Brother, The X-Factor, Last Choir Standing, I'm A Celebrity, the whole plethora of low-budget, low-content scheduling that has filled the airwaves in recent years. I could easily say that I hate it, but that would be lending it an importance that it doesn't have.

I don't hate it because to hate it I'd have to care about it. I care only to the extent that the success of these programs says something about the mind set of the people who watch them. It's bread and circuses, entertainment for the undiscriminating, lowest common denominator television. That does bother me. I suspect that we may well be evolving into Eloi and Morlocks. If you didn't understand the reference, don't worry. Be a happy Morlock.

Anyway, while I was away from television for the summer, it seems that there was a program called Maestro. In this program, so I'm told, celebrities took up the baton and pretended to conduct orchestras. The most convincing lasted throughout the competition. I can't help asking, "Why?" What can possibly be the purpose of this exercise? It has me baffled. It's too esoteric for the Morlocks and too prosaic for the Eloi. Where is the audience?

On the other side of the coin if any executive is interested in my concept of "Celebrity Surgeon" where people with no medical training perform a variety of increasingly complex operations, I am willing to negotiate a suitable fee. If a patient dies the celebrity is automatically eliminated. Patients who live get to vote on the best celebrity to keep in.

I think it's a winner. Offers above £10,000 only please, to buy the format.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Psycho Buildings redux

Just a quick note to say that the Psycho Buildings entry (below) now contains a couple of pictures. Whether these will make you more, or less, likely to want to visit, I couldn't say. Check them out anyway.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

What the well-dressed EFL teacher is wearing this season...

...or at least what he's wearing when he's doing a lesson about clothes and descriptions and one section is discussion of whether what a person wears influences your opinion of them.

The looks from the kids were priceless, although they rather inexplicablely said I looked better this way than in my usual attire of white shirt, grey trousers and black shoes.
They did agree that I didn't look like a teacher though.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The wonders of Word

My previous post about archaeology contained this sentence.

“Hey, what about these cows on the railway tracks.”

Word underlined it in green. I thought perhaps Word wanted me to put a question mark. Possibly an exlamation mark.
Apparently not. The two suggestions offered were.

“these cows on the railway track” and
“this cow on the railway tracks”.

It seems I can have multiple cows on a single track or a single cow on multiple tracks but not multiple cows on multiple tracks.
I am constantly amazed at the oddness of Word’s grammar checker.

Some musings on archaeology

Today is a very slow, very dull day. Harrow-on-the-Hill isn’t exactly overflowing with entertainment possibilities.
It’s the kind of day when I would, were it possible, be gazing from my window at the sky and sighing wistfully for the open road and unfamiliar places.
Sadly my window overlooks a blank wall with an uninteresting section of black plastic drainpipe. By twisting my head at a neck-breaking angle I can look up to a mere sliver of sky or, with an only slightly less painful contortion, down to the number 258 bus stop where, every ten minutes or so, I can watch the upper deck passengers picking their noses and staring blankly ahead.
So instead I have to make do with playing some relaxing music (a YouTube video of fish accompanied by the soothing ambience of a Terry Oldfield composition), closing my eyes, and looking inward.

Free associating.

Blank wall: Chan Chan.
Chan Chan is a pre-Colombian city in Peru. Wikipedia has, I’ve discovered, an article about it. It’s full of fun facts. Chan Chan covered twenty square kilometres. It’s a World Heritage site. It consists of ten walled citadels.
What it doesn’t tell you is the single most important thing about it. It isn’t real. When I was there, we were shown around by an enthusiastic, if barely comprehensible, guide. After a remarkably dull hour and a half of trying to follow her impenetrable accent, we were almost finished when she led us to a corner and pointed at three slightly darker orange bricks near to ground level.
“And these,” she said with great pride, “Are what remains of the original structure.”
The rest, we discovered on questioning her, is reconstruction.

Free associating.

I remember visiting Knossos, a particularly well known archaeological site on Crete that attracts thousands of tourists every year. Once again we can turn to Wikipedia for information. There is an extensive article about it, though this time it’s a bit more upfront about the true nature of the place. There, in paragraph one, it says that it has been “substantially but imaginatively restored”. This is apparently a little known use of “imaginatively” which means “rebuilt in concrete and painted red”.
As you may gather, I wasn’t especially impressed.

Free associating.

Painted red:Alta

Alta is another World Heritage site, this time in Norway. It consists of several large areas of rock carvings; flat stick-man pictures covering the rocks of the area. They are, we are told, between two and a half and five thousand years old and there are more than five thousand of them. Around one section a series of wooden walkways has been built and the carvings painted orange to make them stand out visibly against the grey rocky background. I was there with a bunch of equally sceptical friends as an attractive blonde Norwegian named Monika gamely tried to convince us of their authenticity. This task was somewhat undermined by our own interpretations of the images.
“Look, here’s a prehistoric carving of Mickey Mouse.”
“Oh, come and see this DC10 airliner.”
“Hey, what about these cows on the railway tracks. Don’t they know how dangerous that is?”
“Isn’t this the scene from The Day The Earth Stood Still, with the robot outside the spaceship?”

Considering their age, it seems unlikely that they apparently went unnoticed until 1972. Our theory was that a kid borrowed his dad’s hammer drill and made them as a joke.

Free associating.

Hoax: Chucuito

And so we return to Peru and to Chucuito. Chucuito is, so the guides will tell you, full of 15th century Inca relics. A whole archaeological site of stone phalluses that are, how shall we put it, anatomically accurate in all except scale, ranging as they do from about two to about six feet tall. They are arranged in circles around the site and leave no doubt at all that this was used for some kind of pagan fertility rituals.
Only it wasn’t. There are many sources around that claim that pre-1990s they didn’t exist, that they were built by the locals to drum up some extra tourist bucks. The guides did such a fine job of convincing people that the guide books picked up on this “newly-discovered” site and started promoting it.
Personally I think they’re more interesting now that I know they’re fake than I did when I saw them believing them to be real.

I’ve only just realised how strange an approach to archaeology I have – the only site I’ve mentioned that is vaguely interesting is interesting precisely because it’s an acknowledged fake. The others, claiming to be real but of, in my opinion, decidedly dubious authenticity, are considerable less interesting.
Oh well. Maybe it’s just me.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Peloponese and the Ionian Islands:Part 1-Athens

In 1995 I did a hiking trip package tour to Peloponese and the Ionian Islands. As always I wrote it all up in great detail and now, over the next few weeks, you will get the chance to share it again with me.

Incidentally the best thing about putting all this old stuff in a blog is I get to re-read it myself and live it all again without having to move out of my study. Of course, all names have been changed. I wouldn't want any of these people tracking me down!

Peloponese and the Ionian Islands (c) Robert Hale 1995


I've been to Greece a few times and the pattern has always been roughly similar :- fly to Athens, leave the city as quickly as possible, go hiking in the islands, end up back in Athens and leave the city for a second time as quickly as possible. From this you might form the opinion that I don't like Athens. You wouldn't be far off the mark. Once you have visited the various famous ruins you realise that there is little of interest to keep you in the city. It's probably my least favourite city in the world which considering that it's the capitol of a country that I like so much is really rather a shame. This particular trip took me off hiking on Peloponese and around the Ionian Islands.

The Athens' air was still too warm and had a sultry humidity that had eased only slightly with the sunset. I reached out and used my fork to break a corner from the large slab of feta cheese that lay on the single Greek salad being shared between five of us. The other two had chosen taramasalata. Greek salad consists of quartered tomatoes, onions and cucumber with feta all drowning in olive oil and is also known as Peasant's salad. (It is wiser not to enquire too closely about the contents of taramasalata.) The group as a whole was split between two tables at the restaurant - ours with seven on it and the other one with eight. We were eating outside in the warm Athens air while inside, clearly visible through the ornate railings, a Greek wedding celebration was taking place accompanied alternately by ersatz versions of up to date pop music and authentic versions of traditional bazouki music. I chewed on the highly salted cheese and considered the initial opinions I had formed both of my fellow tour members and the city in which we had spent the day.
Jenni, the tour leader, had met us at the airport - a model of personable brisk efficiency. She was in her early twenties with short dark hair, a nice smile and the kind of tan that only holiday guides can get other than from a bottle. Throughout the day she had done exactly what all good tour leaders should do, which is to say that she had organised everything invisibly and given the totally false appearance of having done nothing. Tour leaders have a terrible job. There is so much work that they have to do, especially on the first and last days of a tour, but they must still be around whenever you want them and look as if they are having as much fun as the punters even when they aren't. Jenni was managing the trick with skill. From the airport, at two O'clock in the morning we had transferred to our Hotel, the Hotel Evripides in Athens. During the bus ride I had talked briefly to a couple of people but had no chance to form an opinion about them and had not seen any of them since then until the start of the meal.

We had arrived at the hotel at about three in the morning local time and the hotel seemed to be fairly basic by normal standards which made it positively palatial by the standards of trips I was used to. The only real problem with it, the reason for which would not become apparent until our return visit, was the noise. Considering that it lay at the junction of a minor side street and a very minor back street it sounded as if it was in the middle of a monster truck racing circuit. A swift night-cap of John's booze deadened the noise a little but not enough to make sleeping easy so that our already brief rest was broken into ten minute fragments of almost sleep.

Then the alarm call came and it was time to be up and about to visit the Acropolis which is of course more or less mandatory for Athens first-timers. The Acropolis is probably the best known ruin in the world. Started in the 14th century B.C. and demolished and rebuilt with astonishing regularity until about 400 B.C. it has an image identifiable the world over. The fact that all modern Greek buildings seem to be in a state of similar disrepair simultaneously sums up the abilities of the ancient and modern Greek builders. Every conqueror of the Greeks has had a go at a bit of DIY modification to it.. The Parthenon was modified slightly by the Christians into a church of the Virgin. The Franks built a new palace around the Propylaea which was in turn occupied by the Aga when the Turks occupied the country. In 1466 a minaret was added turning it into a mosque and in 1678 some rather more heavy duty alterations were done accidentally when the besieging Venetians hit the Parthenon with a cannonball which would have had less effect if it hadn't been being used as a gun-powder store at the time. Having captured it the Venetians tried to remove some of the statues to send home but managed only to break them in the attempt. The efforts of our own Lord Elgin in the early 19th century to 'acquire' statues and antiquities at a knock-down price stripped away all of the good stuff and managed in the process to give his name to the Elgin Marbles which have lived in the British Museum ever since. From 1855 onwards the Acropolis has once more been in the hands of its rightful owners, the Greek people, who have made considerable efforts to restore it to its original form. Their lack of faith in ever retrieving the Elgin marbles is shown by just how many of them they have had re-carved from modern marble and replaced in situ.
We were joined at the gate by our guide for the tour who spoke with the kind of over-precise English that only foreign tour guides ever really manage.
"Please take every possible care when you are walking, the marble steps are sometimes extremely slippery." she said cheerily leading us up the sometimes extremely slippery marble steps. Once through the gate the ruins are the second thing you notice. The first thing is the crowd of people that you are going to have to get through to get to them. These may be impressive ruins but the thousands of people that fill them are more impressive, representing as they do almost every nation on Earth all gathered to look at the ruins of a long dead civilisation. There was an air of smugness about them, an air of 'that couldn't happen to us'. I wonder if the ancient Greeks used to run guided tours to the ruins of Atlantis ?

Once you have managed to get through the entrance, which is the major bottleneck, the people thin out a little into more clearly defined scattered tour groups, each one following its own guide speaking the appropriate language. You can take a moment to survey what is certainly a spectacular sight. The most impressive building in the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the one that you always see on post cards, the rectangular array of columns perched dramatically on top of a hill with the visitors artfully air-brushed out. At the moment it is being renovated and reconstructed so that bits of it are scattered around like numbered Lego bricks waiting to be slotted back into place. So as not to spoil the viewing pleasure of the public the crane which sits inside the Parthenon and which will be used to pick up these pieces, has been painted in the same shade of grey as the marble of the monument itself. It hardly shows up on the photographs at all.
Away to the left as you approach the Parthenon are the restored temple of Athena, the restored Caryatides and the restored Erechtheum - all restored because of the previously described incidents of war, occupation, vandalism and outright theft. There is also museum on the site in which all of the best of the surviving original pieces are displayed.

After the Acropolis our brief guided tour took us back to the city via various other sites of interest. ("This is the hill where Saint Paul preached to the Corinthians, that is the best preserved temple in Greece and is dedicated to Phoebus, this is a large hole in the ground.") We were then left to our own devices for the afternoon..
The two Johns - who knew each other already -, myself and Drew sat at a pavement eating Souvlaki. The second John was a tall amiable bearded bird-watcher. Throughout the trip he would suddenly raise his ever-present binoculars to his eyes to track a distant, almost invisible, speck and then declare in satisfied tones 'Greater Crested Warbling Grebe' or some such thing. He was also a classical music buff, as was John number one who corresponded with him and exchanged tapes from time to time in spite of a major schism on the subject of Beethoven. Drew was a quieter one, harder to fathom although apparently easy-going enough. Even at the end of the holiday I had little more idea about him than I did there, right at the start.
The tables had been laid out in a row along the low railing topped wall that surrounded a churchyard filled with orange trees whose branches were bent low under the weight of the fruit and the blossom. No sooner had we started to eat than a thin cat with large sad eyes came from the church and put its head and paws through the railings. It 'maeioud' and then waited politely. John the birdwatcher peeled a piece of pork from the skewer and dropped it onto the wall. The cat delicately picked it up and ate it. Then it disappeared for a moment before reappearing with a friend. Between them they probably ate as much of our lunch as we did although both of them refused the slices of lemon.

We took an after lunch stroll down through a market which seemed to be the Greek equivalent of a particularly down market car boot sale. Stalls selling bits of broken cameras were laid out next to stores with cardboard shoe boxes full of used telephone cards. A wooden doll in Victorian clothes had been placed on a rocking chair overlooking a table laid out with seedy Greek pornography showing semi-naked young men with rippling muscles. At other stalls second hand clothes and shoes were piled higgledy-piggledy into mountains that people were burrowing into like miners in search of gold lamé. At one end of this street was the entrance to the temple of Phoebus where the ticket kiosk appeared to be unmanned so that we strolled in without paying the 400DR asked for on the notice. This temple is small but exceedingly well preserved, in fact it is in considerably better shape than the section of modern Athens which surrounds it. It is in the centre of a park which has been landscaped around a number of excavations. We wandered round taking photographs until it was four O'clock when the park closed then we went back to the real world in search of a quick drink in a shady taverna.

Another cat was begging. I tossed a piece of my mixed kebab a few yards away and it followed it leaving me alone. I had already come to realise that Athens is the cat capital of the Universe. While I ate I flicked my eyes from person to person in our group trying to summarise them in my mind and checking that I could recollect their names.
There were three Johns. The first, my current roommate, was a camera shop manager from the Wirral and was a friend of the second who was an architect and bird-watcher. Drew was an enigma. Keith was an average height average weight I.T. manager. Roy and Louise were a couple of ex-hippies who had, as ex-hippies do, mutated into barn dancing folkies. The third John and his wife Angela were a pleasant couple with a cheerful good humoured outlook. Jenni was the tour leader. She had short dark hair and an efficient way about her. Kate was a small thin slightly older lady from Canada. Ann was about my age with a nicely dry northern sense of humour. Caroline had a boyfriend somewhere in England and a self-possessed manner. Kristine was a pleasant enough thirty-something. Simon, a Wolverhampton train spotter with a patronising ‘matey’ attitude towards the locals was missing having chosen to eat elsewhere.
I went back to my dinner and tried very hard to ignore the small army of cats that had now gathered.

Psycho Buildings

“So, Bob. Did you have a good day off?”
“Excellent, thanks.”
“What did you get up to?”
“We went boating.”
“In London.”
“Ah. In one of the parks, I suppose.”
“No. In one of the galleries.”
“That’s right. The Hayward.”

It’s an interesting concept. In the latest exhibition at the ever-reliable Hayward Gallery, one of the works has been to line one of the terraces with waterproof material and fill it with water so that people, in limited numbers, can sit in a small wooden boat and paddle around for a few minutes. The artists, a collective from Austria calling themselves Gelitin, call the piece “Normally, Proceeding And Unrestricted and Without Title”. Very pleasant on a sunny day, though even I am struggling to see the art involved. Thankfully, I don’t have to. They say it’s art, and by my definition that’s good enough.
There are, of course, many other pieces in an exhibition that’s called Psycho Buildings and consists of a series of installations that fill the spaces (or in one case dramatically emphasise the space by not filling it) and are all connected by an architectural theme. If you want to find out about all of them I suggest that you visit the web-site or, better still, the exhibition, as I intend to only mention a few that took my particular attention.

Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist, working now in the United States, has two very different - but equally striking - pieces. In one, he has created one fifth scale replicas of his old house in Korea and an apartment that he had when he first moved to America. Then he has crashed the Korean House through the side of the American one. The rather obvious culture clash symbolism is muted by the incredible detail of the recreated interior of the American house. His other piece, Staircase V is simpler but, in some ways, rather more remarkable. A red net has been stretched across the entire space of a rather large gallery at about the height where a normal ceiling would be. From this , in the centre of the room, hangs a sculpture – there is no better word – which is a recreation of a stairwell complete with light switch fittings, sockets, and a landing balustrade, all done in the same translucent fabric. It is stark, simple and mesmerising. The ghost of a staircase.

Perhaps my favourite piece is one that many of my less open-minded friends would denigrate as “not art” or “anyone could do that” or even “utter rubbish”, Mike Nelson’s, “To The Memory of H.P. Lovecraft." The artist describes it in the program as being “like the set for a non-existent film.” It consists of two rooms. They are coldly white and stark, like stripped rooms in an abandoned building. One has a cellar style hatch leading down. The other has had a series of holes smashed through the (false) walls, and the debris of the attack is everywhere on and around the floor. One review has described it as appearing that someone – or something – has made a frenzied attempt to break out of the room. To my mind, it’s more in keeping with the title if some monstrous extra-dimensional thing has tried to smash into the room, tried to destroy a fragile sanctuary.
However you read it, it’s a powerful and disturbing image.

Naturally, the piece that’s getting all the attention is the Rachel Whitehead in which a large number of wooden dolls' houses, totally empty of furniture, have been arranged and lit as a village – albeit a rather claustrophobic one. It’s OK, but to my mind a little contrived and twee. It wasn’t one of my favourites.

There are other pieces: a room caught in the middle of some unspecified disaster (perhaps an explosion) with shattered stone and furniture suspended on near invisible wires; a transparent polythen geodesic dome that you can stand inside, a forest of bizarre multi-coloured tissue paper shapes, and so on. The successful pieces outnumber the unsuccessful ones and on the whole the exhibition is well worth a visit for anyone open to the idea that art doesn’t have to be about “paintings of things”. I had a great time and next week, when I’m at home and near my scanner I’ll revisit this entry and add some pictures.

Bottom line? Not as interesting as last year’s Gormley and a lot less focussed but pretty good nevertheless.

And you can say you got to go boating on the roof of an art gallery.

Friday, 8 August 2008

So that's how it works...

I'll be reviewing the Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward next week when I'm back at my own computer and able to add a couple of pictures. For now I'll simply relate one small item about my day out in London yesterday.
I have solved a mystery that has perplexed me for some time: how do all those half-price ticket booths in Leicester Square manage to make enough profit to stay open?

I have personally never used one and, had I been alone, probably wouldn't have yesterday. Brenda and I were, after all, only a hop,skip and jump away from the Criterion where the play* was on. But we were seduced by the fact that it was listed on the board with a full ticket price of £42.50 and a discounted price of £18. OK, when we paid, there was an extra charge of another pound to use a credit card, but that's hardly news, is it?

What we receieved in return were vouchers to be exchanged at the theatre for the actual tickets and what we received in return for them were tickets clearly, and undeniably, labelled as £15.
So now I know exactly how they make their profits.

They were closed by the time we got out of the theatre so instead of trying to complain (it was only a couple of quid, after all) we went for a drink.

(* And the play, in case anyone is interested, was the four player adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps which is gloriously silly and just the kind of thing, that by accident or design, we usually end up seeing on our infrequent days out. I'll probably review that later too.)

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Reviewing the reviewers: addendum

I’d like to show how easy it is. Here’s a description of a film.

The opening scene shows a man describing the murder of his father, brutally gunned down by a laughing killer, dying attempting to shield his son who had been callously shot in the lung by the same crazy maniac and left for dead. The narrative is interrupted by the arrival of a third man who immediately dies in agony from drinking poison.

Other scenes in the movie include a man and a small boy being dragged behind a speeding vehicle, a young man beating up an older man until he can no longer stand – watched by a crowd of jeering onlookers including the child, and the same man shooting someone in the hand and then beating him, chasing him until he drops and beating him some more before he’s pushed into the line of fire from four gun wielding hoodlums and dies riddled with bullets.

Sounds pretty violent to me.

The film? West of the Divide starring John Wayne and made in 1934. And, just as in the Dark Knight review, nothing I’ve said is exactly a lie and everything I’ve said is completely misleading. I think it's about time we banned entertainment altogether. That or reviews.

What I would say if they asked me.

I've bought Wanderlust Magazine since issue 1. I can't remember exactly when I started to get it on subscription but it was certainly early on. It's the only magazine that I still get every issue, without fail.

Although it hasn't always been there, and the questions and format have occasionally changed a bit, there is a regular feature in which they ask the same set of questions of various people. They do include subscribers but I have no idea how they pick them so I thought I'd just answer them here, just as if they'd asked me. Practice in case they ever do, I suppose.
Anyway, the answers in the magazine have to be quite short. Here I can stretch out a bit. And add some pictures.

Mountain, desert, ocean, jungle… which are you?

Didn't have to think about it for a second. I love them all but I have this terrific memory of waking up in the White Desert in Egypt. I hadn't bothered to pitch a tent and I'd dragged my groundsheet far enough away from the people that I was travelling with that it felt as if I were alone in the desert. The night was cloudless, the sky was endless and I fell asleep staring at the stars. I woke up as the sun was poking its fingers through the distant mountain tops and watched the night mutate into the day. It was marvellous. I even wrote this poem about it.

Awake on the bone ground
In shattered geometries of stone
Alone, surrendered to the night,
In the White Desert
Starfish stranded, darkness bound
The centre of the silent dome
Of scattered, ancient frozen lights
In the White Desert

A falling star, a spark
Ignites the breaking fire
Pours flame over the circling heights
Into the White Desert
Drives wedges through the dark
Until it's clutching hand expires
And reveals again the sight

Of the White Desert.

What was your first great travel experience?

That depends on what you mean by great. The first memorable one was my disastrous trip to the United States but I'd hardly call it great. No, the first one where I remember it being truly amazing was actually a two week package deal in China that took in Beijing, Guilin, Shanaghai and Xi-An. I fell in love with China and though I've only been back once, it was for two months. My favourite memories of it include the Terracotta Army, the Reed Flute caves and chatting to a sign writer in Beijing who wanted me to help him fix the grammar in his delightful sign that read "Everywhere to be looking around tickets".

What has been your favourite journey?

That of course is the hard question. I would have said the nine months travelling in North and South America but as you may have read in a previous entry there were parts of that that were utterly miserable. I suppose I'd have to go for my first trip to Peru and Machu Picchu. Hiking up the Inca Trail in the pre-dawn and arriving at the Sun Gate as the dawn broke was one of the most memorable things I've ever done. I remember about half an hour later we had walked down into the ancient city. We were standing just looking at it when the mist rolled across and cut off the view and filled the world with silence and for a few eternal moments it was as if we had been transported back in time to when the city was new and full of life. Unbelievably wonderful.

Which are your top five places worldwide?

Machu Picchu, as in the previous answer. Yangshou, in China, which Paul Merton hated but which I thought was terrific. Bryce Canyon National Park in the USA which is so alien it could just as well be the planet Mars. The top of the Empire State building, looking down at the city. The Iguassu Falls which are quite simply the most spectacular natural thing on the planet.

Which three items do you always pack?

The first is very mundane. Earplugs. Sharing a room with a snorer is always bad news. Sharing a tent with one is worse. I've done more than my fair share of both. You can look here for some good advice on what to do about snorers.

The second is a thick new unlined notepad and very fine point pen. I always keep a diary when I travel and I write a lot. I use it right side up and from the front for the diary and upside down and from the back to write poetry.

The third I don't actually take any more but I always used to travel in a green New York Jets shirt. I had it for years and took it everywhere with me, usually wearing it for the plane journeys. Now my expanding girth means it's way to small for me. It's buried in the bottom of a wardrobe somewhere.

Not El Salvador, Roatan where I went instead.

Which passport stamp would you most like to have?

That's another easy one. El Salvador. When we were travelling around the Americas the single regret that I have is that I passed up on the chance to visit El Salvador with my mate Manu. He went and when we met up again was full of how good it had been. I on the other hand had had a thoroughly miserable week on Roatan that led to this poem being written.

Nothing Under The Sun

There’s nothing here, nothing under the sun
Not a damned place to go, not a thing to be done

One day in this ‘paradise’ drags on like a year

A man could go crazy from boredom out here

Read every word on every damned page

Of every last book to be found in this cage

Lay down on my bed unmoving for hours

My energy sapped, my life’s will devoured

I don’t want to be here, what more can I say

I live for the moment when the plane flies away

There’s nothing here, nothing under the sun

Not a damned place to go, not a thing to be done.

Where or what is your guilty travel pleasure?

It has to be Las Vegas. There is no reason on Earth for me to like this glossy, tacky ludicrous temple to conspicuous consumerism but I do. I can't help it. I love the place. It's Disneyland for grown-ups. I love the bright lights, the shows, the roller coasters. I love it all. Does that make me a bad person?

And that's it – all questions answered. I hope it's given you an insight into who I am. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Reviewing the reviewers

I don’t do reviews.

Well, to be strictly accurate, I don’t often do reviews. So let’s make this clear, this isn’t a review. OK. It is a review. But it isn’t a review of the Dark Knight. It’s a review of the review of the Dark Knight that appeared on the Telegraph website. Suckered by a false promise of no plot spoilers I read it before I’d seen the movie. I don’t want to talk about the wealth of plot spoilers – or at least scene spoilers – that it contains: why add to the problem?

I’d like instead to examine the root premise of the article which is that the film contains scenes of extreme violence and that it should not have been given a 12a certificate. The question divides into two parts. Does the film in fact contain extreme violence? Regardless of what it contains, does the film fall within the BBFC guidelines for a 12a?

The trouble with conflating the two questions is that by doing so you are confusing your own personal moral stance with an objectively defined standard of morality. You are deciding on what constitutes unacceptable violence for you and then using that as a standard that others should apply.

So let’s separate them. Let’s tackle the easier one first. Does it fall within the guidelines? The classification decision can be seen here. The film contains no sex at all so we only need to discuss violence. As the decision says in a 12a film “violence must not dwell on detail”. The decision of the BBFC was that the film does not dwell on detail and therefore falls within the guidelines. Whether you agree with the assertion that it does not dwell on detail or not, if the board decided that it doesn’t then their decision to give it a 12a was the correct one.

So, what about the harder question? Does the film contain extreme violence? It’s impossible to discuss this without mentioning some scenes from the film but –unlike that review – I will restrict myself to the opening scene. Let me quote what the Telegraph said about it.

“…the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown – The Joker - stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth...”

True enough in its way. Men in clown masks do carry out a robbery. As they do so each of them, in turn shoots one of the others. The Joker does end the scene by putting a bomb in the mouth of an employee. I read that and thought – well, they have a point don’t they? That’s a totally unacceptable level of violence for a film that any child, however young, could see with a parent.

The trouble is that I’ve seen the film now and the statement is disingenuous at best and positively misleading at worst. Let’s consider exactly what we see – and more importantly don’t see - on screen. In each of the clown executions we see some discussion of the act about to take place, followed by a scene of the gun being pointed. Then we hear the shot. We do not SEE as much as a single drop of blood. The violence level is no worse than – in fact considerably less than – most westerns. But what about the bomb? What we see is the employee who was previously wounded, lying on the floor. We see the Joker push something into his mouth, presumably a bomb. We see the Joker leave in a bus that is pulling a string tied to the bomb. We see an exterior shot of the building which blows up. Is this violent? Yes, of course it is. But do we actually see any violence? No, we see the preparation for violence and the result of violence but NOT the violence itself and that’s the crucial point.

All the other examples given in the review, which I don’t intend to repeat here, are just as disingenuous and just as wrong. As presented in the review the scenes would certainly merit the criticism levelled at them, but they aren’t presented on screen as they are in the review. In every case what we see is a build up to the act and the aftermath of the act but NOT the act itself.

It’s true that psychological violence can be just as disturbing and inappropriate as actual physical violence and had the article made that the heart of its case then it would be harder to disagree, but it doesn’t. By giving the misleading impression that the physical violence is far more severe than it actually is, the review not only lies to us but severely undermines its own point.

There is a good case to be made for re-examining our classification system. Later the article discusses a brutal torture scene in Casino Royale, also a 12a, and having seen that movie too I would be more inclined to agree that a different classification was deserved. But it’s chalk and cheese. You cannot compare the two movies in style or content or in any way other than their common classification.

I wish someone would write a serious piece discussing all of the issues surrounding film classification but this wasn’t it and no amount of misleading rhetoric will alter that.
Oh yes, one last thing. The movie? It's good. Go see it.