Explaining my hiatus

This blog is not dead. It has been reborn.

A brief explanation must suffice due to legal restrictions. Put simply someone completely misinterpreted something I wrote, which had significant personal and professional repercussions. For their own reasons, (which appeared a need to validate a theory, like Campbell and the dodgy dossier) a cat was made out to be a tiger. Perhaps a Siberian tiger.

This put me off blogging professional subjects and I’ve been so busy, there hasn’t been much else to write about.

However I’ve got over it and remain driven to write. I’m not naive enough to think this blog is anything other than a personal vanity, but i have always hoped anyone that reads it enjoys it as well.

Cheers all


PS, if you want to know what happened, DM / email / call me


Philip French’s 10 best westerns

I love a western.

The Observer’s soon to be retired film critic, Philip French, himself a renowned scholar of the genre published this on Sunday. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/gallery/2013/jul/27/the-10-best-westerns?commentpage=1

This got me thinking about my response and westerns in general.

There are few things better than an empty afternoon, flicking through channels and coming across an old friend. sometimes the more obscure the better.

This is the heart of geekdom. We all love the classics in any popular culture. Be it great film, theatre, literature, sport; we all know Jaws, Hamlet, Pride and Bloody Prejudice or the World Cup of 1966 with the Russian linesmen and people on the pitch.

How many 30 something’s know who Randolph Scott is, or Joel McRae? How many film buffs know who Ward Bond was, why Ben Johnson was incredible, or even the great Anthony Mann and James Stewart films?

Anyway, I’ve put together my response to the list, my 10, plus a few thoughts. As ever, I’d love to get a response.

1. Bend in the River, Dir Anthony Mann, Starring James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy and the Mann stock company. Great cinematography, not quite as overtly “psychological”, Laramie or Winchester (both of which are virtually Shakespearean), but has a great scene where a near dead Stewart threatens the gang, “you’ll be seeing me”. You care about the characters.

2. She wore a Yellow Ribbon, Dir John Ford, starring John Wayne, and the John Ford stock company. About war, family, remembrance and romanticism. The funeral of the confederate general and the marriage at the end. My favourite of the trilogy, which are all great

3. The Magnificent Seven, Dir John Sturges, starring, Brad Dexter, Horst Bucholz and 5 very famous Hollywood stars. “all I have to do is take off my hat”

4. Open Range, Dir Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. Great, minimalist, tough western. Shows Costner’s love for the genre, with hat tips to Ford (landscape), Mann (Costner’s a psyco), Pekinpah (well staged violence) and Hawks (it’s a mission / lost platoon movie)

5. The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dir & Starring Clint Eastwood. I think it’s probably his best. Has a great line about “Dying aint much of a living” and actually has something to say about post conflict national and character development

6. Ride the High Country: Dir Sam Pekinpah, starring Randolf Scott and Joel Mcrae. It’s about the end of the west and what it is to be a man. Aidan will be watching this in a few years with his dad and granddad

7. The Gunfight at the OK Corral. Dir John Sturges, starring Burt and Kirk (no need for surnames, is there?). Total star power, with Kirk’s .45 calibre dimple and Burt’s 500 MW smile. Actually pretty tough for the time. Great entertainment

8. Rio Bravo, Dir Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan. One of Hawk’s “embattled platoon” films, this is the one with Deano as the drunk, not Mitchum (who is far better in the role) but I actually prefer this version, because it’s got Walter Brennan in it – who pretty much always plays Walter Brennan, but brilliantly – and Ricky Nelson is a more attractive character than James Caan. The song is actually very good.

9. The Naked Spur. Dir Anthony Mann, Starring James Stewart and Robert Ryan. Again, majestic Rockies cinematography, with serious angst from Stewart as the killer trying to be a decent man. Robert Ryan is a great baddie it’s a really tight little film – small cast, small story, powerful film.

10. The Searchers. I don’t particularly love the film, as it’s long, a bit stagey and quite dated. But it is the template for a revenge western, and John Wayne acts against type. He’s a nasty racist that is prepared to kill the niece he’s searched for for years because she’s been racially defiled. This is a film about the development of America and the difficult birth in a savage environment. Wayne walking out of the civilised doorway for the emptiness of the SW desert is an all time great visual metaphor. This is what serious westerns are for – telling the story of America by Americans. This is their creation myth. The Searchers not in a Western top 10? That’ll be the day.

I then thought about other westerns that I love, or that merited comment, having been in the original list.

• Unforgiven. If Eastwood didn’t have such a clear template for his films: dark interiors; use of shadow to create sombre and oppressive mood, graphic violence that often comes from nowhere; I’d have had this in my top 10. It’s a truly great film, with excellent performances by pretty much everyone. However, for me it is slightly less of a western, and more of a film on a western stage (pardon the pun). Josey Wales is a great film that is also a true western. Unforgiven could just as easily be Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby (which similarly is not a boxing film like Kid Gallahad or Fat City)

• Tombstone. A sentimental personal favourite this. For Mitchum’s eligaic and evocative voiceover to Heston’s great little cameo and Val Klimer showing he could really act doing the ultimate Doc. I love getting the chance to suggest that “my hypocrisy only goes so far”. Powers Boothe is a great mad baddie as well, and even Billy Inzane is pretty good. Not sure about Kurt Russell as Wyat Erp. Think they were going for authenticity. Thought it was actually a bit hammy. Suspect Erp was actually far more like Gene Hackmann in Unforgiven.

• 7th Cavalry. Randolph Scott trying to prove his heroism after being accused of running away from the Little Big Horn. Part courtroom drama, part war film, part western. All great for a wet and windy Saturday afternoon. A Blewer family favourite

• Rancho Notorious. A very silly film with touches of genius. Arthur Kennedy as an embattled simple rancher hunting down his wife’s killers. He’s basically channelling James Stewart. A deeply silly musical recurring motif, “Hate, murder and revenge” that keeps on coming. Finally what the hell is Marlene Dietrich doing in a western. That Fritz Lang directed and it’s basically a noirish melodrama is probably the answer. They should be wearing trilbies not Stetsons, and using automatics not revolvers.

• Night Passage. It was meant to be another Mann-Stewart collaboration, and looks and feels it, but he pulled out due to Audie Murphy’s casting. Murphy actually isn’t too bad, Stewart is great, the film looks brilliant and there are a few great toe tapping songs that me and my Dad loved when we first watched this about 28 years ago.

• The Shootist. Really tight film, elegiac farewell to John Wayne and the old west. Great support from Mrs Bogart-Robards and James Stewart. But it’s not a western. Queen Victoria had died the first day of the story.

• Clint’s “supernatural” westerns. Pale Rider / High Planes’ Drifter are nearly two sides of the same coin. Great films, particularly like the echo of Shane at the end of Pale Rider, full of imagery, good pacing and spare storytelling and as we all know, “there aint nothing like a good piece of hickory”

You can tell this is a life long love affair with the genre. I love noirs, war films, modern action films and more, but I keep coming back to westerns. Or as I called them as a small boy, watching with my dad, “cow boys”.

I’ve already watched a few with Aidan asleep on me. Looking forward to watching more with him as he grows up. I hope I pass on the torch. He’s already got a horse to ride.



Chateau Musar

I’ve always tried to work out whether I love drinking Chateau Musar because its a fantastic wine on its own, or whether the great story is so attractive to a romantic lush such as myself.

Firstly, its a great wine. it tastes incredible, smells like a mix of woodsmoke, summer fruit and herbs and goes with My favourite foods.

Then there’s the whole Bekka valley thing, and the fact the Hochar family managed to keep up production throughout one of the late 20th century’s nastier civil wars.

So we’re now at one of the great wine conversations, beloved of the French. That of terroir. Can I taste the dust of the Bekka in CM, or do I just want to? That the wine is unlike many, certainly in price point, is true. As someone that has been to many MENA countries but haven’t been in the Bekka I can’t give a full answer.

What I can say is that this is an incredible wine. I’ve drunk vintages from ’98 to 2003 and they’re all supple, smooth and make you wish for 1 litre wine bottles.

The fact that its “a bit different” doesn’t add to the taste, but does add to the chat around this wine. It adds a lustre and maybe a perfume that other similar grape mixes don’t have.

There’s soul in this wine that I haven’t had anywhere else. It’s like a mix of Bordeaux and Rhone and something intangible. Maybe that’s the terroir, or maybe it’s just my imagination.

But it’s what will keep me drinking it.

Audley Harrison, the definition of madness and why boxing should be grateful

So Audley’s been knocked out again, early in a fight to the derision of the crowd ringside and by the looks of things, a lot of people who have no idea what its like being hit in the face were being very brave on twitter.

Now I’m the first to admit that Audley’s professional career hasn’t been great, certainly not if compared to either his amateur history, or the hype that he’s managed to get going for his numerous comebacks.

One could in fact argue Audley is the physical embodiment of a popular definition of madness – constantly repeating something you know is wrong.

Can you sense a “but” coming?

Ok, here it is

Audley Harrison was a very good amateur boxer. Won the gold medal at Sydney and reignited my interest in a sport which I’d nearly forgotten when it left terrestrial tv in the wake of the benn-McLennan fight.

Audley was the man that started it all again. He won a gold at a great games (Sydney) which raised the profile of boxing in the wider sporting context. Sky had annexed professional boxing and those great middleweight fights of the 90s seemed a long time ago.

Audley made other people think. Sure the bbc thing was hyped beyond all probable success. It turns out that Audley is a very good short format tournament fighter, having won the Olympics and prizefighter.

What he’s never been is a full on professional fighter. I’ll leave why to people with important letters after their names. What it does show is the difference between the different codes, a difference which has always thrown up notable divergences. Some well thought of boxing writers suggest Tom Stalker, previous the UK Amateur Boxing Captain, might not make it as a pro.

My point is that for his failures, anyone that loves boxing should love Audley not for what he couldn’t do, but for what he did do. He he.ped bring boxing back to the top stage. No Audley, then no Kahn, no London boxing medals, less boxing coverage in national media.

Audley raised public interest in boxing and surely that’s half the battle in the pros, and for that, boxing should be grateful

When your son equates you with the phrase “bye bye”

I’ve just had to confront one of the challenges of parenthood when you have a job. A few nights ago, I was playing with Aidan and he waved at me and said “bye”.

I was surprised as I’d got home early so I could see him and Kirsty and we were having fun reading a bedtime story. Kirsty suggested that he connects me with “waving bye bye” as I leave in the morning when he’s been up for 20mins, and I don’t always get back to do anything other than put him in his pyjamas and kiss him goodnight.

I thought she was taking the mick and then realised that apart from weekends, I don’t see Aidan for more than am hour a day, if that, outside the weekends.

I was lucky enough to see his first steps, but I missed his first word (“more food”) and on his first day at nursery, I was there, but talking to some journalists and bankers about whether Russia was going to buy Cyprus. For the record, it wasn’t.

At the same time, I love my job and have worked hard to build a career. It’s intellectually rewarding and whilst they can always pay you more, there are worse paid jobs.

So I finally get to understand the sick feeling everyone gets when they wave ‘bye to their kid(s) in the morning, knowing that they’re not as involved as they might want to be. I now understand why Dad tried so hard to make weekends special when I was young and it also makes me a mixture of jealous of but impressed with what a great job Kirsty is doing bringing up our son.

But this is what being an adult is about – constant compromise to come up with the best solution. The best solution is I continue my career, but try and box as clever as I can so that I get to see a bit more of the boy, but still do all the work that is necessary to keep both the clients and my employers happy.

Come one, how hard can this parenting / career deal be? And who wouldn’t want to spend more time with this kid?

Wk 1 pics KSA 004