Monday, 22 February 2010

A Singular Man

This weekend I went to see 'A Single Man', a beautifully sensitive portrayal of a gay College Professor in the early 1960s secretly mourning his partner of 16 years who has just been killed in a car crash, but to whose funeral he is unwelcome because that's how it was in the 1960s.

There are various poignant flashbacks to their idyllic life together replete with a couple of dog 'children', juxtaposed with the progress of a momentous day in Professor George Falconer's life where his emotions are writ large against a day of extraordinary happenings and burgeoning awareness for George, even amidst his normal fastidious routines. All set against his beautiful designer house - surprisingly see-through for a man in the closet - his beautiful vintage car with a walnut dash to die for, his exquisite English-tailored suits and an early 60s California re-created down to the brave new architecture of the College he works at. Every human encounter, however brief, suddenly takes on a new meaning from greeting his (you suspect equally repressed) attractive housewife neighbour to the girl in the bank with a hopeful lilt in her welcome. Everyone exudes an early 1960s lushness. No one's latent sensuality is ignored, whether male or female, the relentless sunshine enhancing it even more, and contrasting still more starkly with George's inner mourning, despite being slightly cheered by each distraction and proof that perhaps he is not alone if he doesn't want to be. As the film goes on, you realise George's heart is broken in more ways than one as he downs an alarming number of pills amidst the drinks, yet outwardly he remains impeccable and impassive, until a concerned male student begins to perceive all is not as it should be and makes it his business to interfere.

Having started off by thinking 'How sneaky of director Tom Ford to cast Colin Firth as George to lure we heterosexuals into the cinema to see a film we might otherwise not have seen', I came to realise what a perfect choice Mr Firth was for the role with his understated elegance and disarming ability to switch from dry, nondescript College Professor to dewy-eyed romantic lover, brimming with a heady mix of longing and loss. Mr Firth is also at that perfect age - still physically handsome, but with an emotional maturity that makes up in male beauty for not being 25 any more.

Naturally George has a straight best friend (SBF) he turns to in times of trouble in the form of the stunning Julianne Moore, who plays the hapless, semi-alcoholic but amusing and devoted Charley, who has trailed him from England, seemingly in the forlorn hope he might again bat for the other side one day, having herself been married and deserted by someone else/the American Dream along the way.

The film carried echoes of Mrs Dalloway in the subtle dreamy quality of the filming, but with less surrealism. In A Single Man, you know exactly what is happening, although the end comes as somewhat of a surprise. And like Mrs Dalloway it is based on a classic novel, if by Christopher Ishwerwood rather than Virginia Woolfe.

But I won't spoil that ending by revealing it. Go and see this rare film about true love. It's more universal than you might imagine with its demonstration that love is love, whatever one's sexuality. And loss is loss. It has no need to bang any drum and it doesn't. As a breathtaking cinematic experience, it also takes some beating.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I Was A Teenage Hunt Saboteur

Since it's still that season, I thought this might be a timely post...

While other teenagers were enjoying all-nighters with assorted contraband and unsanctioned strangers, I was often to be found shivering in the back of some ropey white Transit van in the early hours, stomach lurching queasily, desperately trying not to need a wee. Last to leave the van in whatever misty wooded bit of copse we had managed to conceal the vehicle, crampy-legged, I half fell out onto the moist forest floor, fastened the back door padlock hasp and set off with my Citronella spraycan to spray my area of the map territory. The purpose of this was to throw the hounds off the scent and confuse them. I comforted myself it was the most useful thing I could do in the name of saving the fox and that it was quite alright to abstain from the nastier stuff later on where confrontation and physical obstruction and distraction of the hunt were involved. And in the days before camera phones, where video cameras were as large as sideboards and pricey as cars, anything could happen. At around that time a member of a fellow group was killed on a hunt sab when he jumped onto a hunt trailer to unhitch it and was allegedly pushed off to be crushed beneath the moving wheels. Unfortunately images either didn't exist of the incident or were too grainy for anything to be proven. He was not the only casualty.
So did I care about the fox?
Dare I say - it's never been my favourite of creatures, heart wrenching though the idea of a vixen being ripped apart by hounds was, when her cubs might be left to starve to death in their den without her.
No, I was actually more affected by the hounds being shot the moment they could no longer run fast enough (usually around the age of six) and the cubbing that preceded a hunt - where the hunt would train the hounds in bloodlust by encouraging them into dens to drag out fox cubs to rip apart.
Eventually though, I just couldn't go on hunt sabs in any capacity. They shredded my sensitive poetic nerves and I saw some very unpleasant sights when the hounds did get their fox.
So what did I learn from these experiences - except that I was the worlds' most pants hunt saboteur?
Well primarily that fox hunting as a valid form of pest control just doesn't stack up economically, no matter the valiant excuses made by huntspersons.
Urban legend has it that a lady in the Isle of Wight looked up Pest Control in her Yellow Pages to get rid of a fox that was taking a little too keen an interest in her chickens. A Master of the Hunt, six men in hunting pinks and ten women in black turned up within the hour.
This formation then proceeded to take the best part of four hours to seek out the fox, eventually finding nothing but a domestic cat, but causing damage to four boundary fences and a pool of Koi carp as they traversed private property in their pursuit.
Their customer's face was said to be a picture when the invoice dropped through her letterbox
Hunt master @ £90 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Whippers-in x 2 @ £60 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Assorted Pinkcoats x 6 @ £50 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Blackcoats x 10 @ £35 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Followers x 50 @ £10 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Hire of 20 pairs x hounds @ £5 per hour x 4 hours + travel
Damage to fences, 5 x replacement Koi and 1 x replacement cat
Policing bill to beat up saboteurs = £25,000
Subtotal: You must be joking
VAT: Never!
Total: Aaaaaaaaaaarrgh!!!!
(and that’s not counting the champagne buffet she was expected to lay on for the hungry huntspersons afterwards!)

Whether these pest controllers bothered to inform her there were no foxes in the Isle of Wight until they were purposefully introduced there for hunting purposes over a century ago is dubious, since that would mean that really she should have just sued them, rather than paid them.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Right To Why

A major debate currently rages over whether legalised euthanasia should be introduced for those with 'life-limiting' illnesses (other than life itself, that is!)

It strikes me as quite shocking that what should be a last resort is blatantly being advocated as a first resort, in view of the fact that at least half the country has no access to proper palliative care, let alone in the speciality of geriatrics (a vastly understaffed field to begin with). Therefore the majority of patients in extreme pain have no effective means of pain management in order to gain the mental equilibrium necessary to arrive at such an irreversible decision. Still others are simply depressed and may not realise it, so this too needs to be ruled out as a factor in their decision making, particularly if treatable.

And no one in the country seems to have access to such a thing as cognitive therapy specialising in the treatment of those with dementia (many of whom couldn't give their consent in any case, even if the highly vocal author Terry Pratchett is choosing to give his ahead of time.) But if there is such a thing as the Peto Institute in Hungary to aid neurologically-impaired children into becoming more functional using conductive education, why not an equivalent rehabilitation system for dementia utilising this, perhaps combined with cognitive therapy? And why are drugs such as Aricept costing only £2.50 per day - considerably cheaper than 24/7 nursing care if it retards or plateaus the condition - being stinted on or outright refused to save money because the patient 'is not yet ill enough'?

Now we hear that for every £144 spent on cancer research, a mere £12 is spent on dementia research, no matter that dementia actually costs the nation a great deal more in care costs. Furthermore 60% of dementia has actually been linked to vitamin deficiency if an older person suffers from mild to severe malnutrition owing to their diet narrowing and liquid intake falling due to an inability to cook once widowed or lack of appetite owing to pre-existing medical conditions. Even long term hospitalisation where nursing care is inadequate is proven to leave patients malnourished, which means dementia could theoretically be a temporary and reversible condition for many sufferers, not least those who go into hospital with their marbles and come out without.

And even if a patient has had the luxury of being able to exhaust every alternative there is and has met every last legal and good practice criteria decided upon to be passed fit for assisted suicide, what right does he or she have to ask of a medic trained to heal rather than harm, to become a killer? There is no right to die, merely a perception that there is. Although not religious myself I still acknowledge that life is a gift and therefore not necessarily mine to take, however dire it may become.

My father (although not malnourished) has dementia but is lucky enough to live in Northern Ireland where you basically get whatever you ask for when you enter a Doctor's surgery and they don't seem to have heard of drug budgets. My mother requested Aricept for him and within the day was holding his first prescription of the stuff. It is early days in terms of knowing whether it is doing anything yet, but at least he has been given the chance and has not suffered any adverse side-effects. Meanwhile I have sent my mother a hypnosis CD on developing a better memory which I have suggested she tries playing softly under the bed as he sleeps and have also found a book optimistically entitled The Alzheimers Prevention Plan, which looks like it might be quite useful for people of any age. Though having been a bit of a late developer in life, I'm rather hoping I will be a late developer re my diseases as well!

Though just in case you thought life was becoming a little too disposable, at the opposite end of the spectrum you can always take this,solving all your health problems and living to 100 at a stroke.