A great book about a Hindu saint, queer cinema, and jog-runs

Mon 1 – Sun 7 July 2019

My weekly blog detailing 3 books read: 1 excellent, 1 intriguing, 1 bloody hard work. Also 3 films watched (2 of them queer cinema) and an interesting exhibition visited. As well as details on my exercise routine including my much loved jog-runs.

Books and Reading

‘Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany’ by Norman Ohler

pills

This is the intriguing book. It’s an analysis of drug taking in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Moving onto the use of stimulants in the Nazi armed forces and by the Fuhrer himself. It was criticised for its broad brush claims and for providing an excuse for Hitler’s behaviour. It also suggests the Blitzkrieg was almost accidental and based largely on narcotic stimulation.

However, I think there is an element of truth here. One cannot doubt that people coped in many ways with the horror of living under the Nazis – I’m pretty sure drugs and alcohol were part of that. Similarly, many military escapades were assisted by drugged up troops. You cannot stay active for 48 hours just on Coca-Cola. And clearly Hitler was crazed and evil but throw in reliance on ‘medication’ and that may well explain some of the paranoia and mania that got worse as the war came to its final point.

‘Murmur’ by Will Eaves

This is the bloody hard work book. It was the one to be read for the Velvet Page book club on Thurs night that I actually went to. Though it turned into a strange one with attendees coming and going to catch a ‘queer literature’ event in another part of Waterstones.

The book has had huge tributes and even won prizes. I don’t really understand why; if it it’s ‘clever’ then basically it is too clever. It is extremely ‘literary’; fundamentally the story of Alan Turing’s last days as he is chemically castrated for being gay and nears suicide. Though it plays clever by trying to say it is not specifically about Alan.

It is supposedly a book about the dreams Alan (or not Alan) would have been having. As such it is incredibly audacious – the unknown and guessed at mega-personal dreams of one of the most intelligent men of the twentieth century. For me and for most of the group, it didn’t work being confusing and overly ambitious. Perhaps a decent short story but not a good short book.

‘The Cauliflower’ by Nicola Barker

My excellent book and the best of the three I read last week. Indeed, I read this interweaved with Murmur and there are some similarities particularly the lack of a linear story. Cauliflower is the deconstructed story of the life of a real nineteenth century Hindu saint, Sri Ramakrishna.

I love Nicola Barker, she is one of my favourite contemporary authors. But she is not to everyone’s taste with her slightly weird books. This is the story of his life seen from different angles by different people at different times. It’s like a kaleidoscope but works so much better than Murmur. You have an overview of a very complex individual. I’m not sure if he is a ‘saint’ but I was left wondering about a spiritual life – how much is explicable solely by the laws of nature and science? A fascinating book.

Art and Culture

Movies

Queer

‘Knife + Heart’

So a type of films I particularly like is ‘queer cinema’ – stuff about LGBT+ issues but often with a surreal twist; something that challenges the ‘norm’. This movie is a newly released piece of French queer cinema. Me and Dave went to see it at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square. He doesn’t really share my taste in movies rather preferring stuff that’s in colour, has a story starting at the beginning, and would ideally include singing and dancing. So he wasn’t mad about this movie.

I quite liked it though it is not the best film ever. Starring Vanessa Paradis, it is set in 1979 and centres on the production of a gay movie. But there’s a murderer picking off members of the cast and crew. Totally bonkers but with wit.

And it is wonderfully reminiscent of the ‘artistic’ gay films made in the 70s & 80s and the ‘arthouse’ cinemas they were shown in – nearly all filled solely with men smoking and their flies undone. 🙂

‘I dreamt under the water’

My other piece of queer cinema last week, I caught up with this movie from 2008. French again but this time focusing on a young man in love with another member of his band who overdoses and dies. The grief drives him to promiscuous gay sex and becoming a rent boy before meeting a woman who, literally, straightens him out. Though turns out she is a recovering drug addict with major issues. The ending is totally up in the air as to what is going to happen next – perhaps it’s saying he has to decide whether he is gay or not?

It’s all very staged and melodramatic with strange local cruising areas and weird dance clubs so common in queer cinema movies. Plus the moral of the story is dodgy – it might just be that he needs a good woman to sort himself out. But I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack music and that is quite unusual for these types of films. And there’s lots of nice gratuitous nudity. 🙂

‘Berlin syndrome’

Berlin

Not queer cinema but another film genre I like is horror (love horror novels too). Really an Australian film set in Berlin rather than a German movie. A young Australian traveller is picked up by a very sexy German man who then basically imprisons her. It’s clever and creepy though perhaps goes on a wee bit. I’m not sure how realistic it is but then how would anybody handle a situation like that?

Exhibition

‘Smoke and Mirrors: The psychology of magic’

So on Thursday after the gym and before I met Jamie (see below), I popped into the Wellcome Collection near Euston to see this exhibition. There is always something good on here and it’s free. This one looks at the how we are made to believe magic has happened but, of course, it’s all trickery. So how we are distracted, hypnotism, seances, mind-reading, etc. It’s fascinating though a bit sad to strip away the supernatural side. However, even with some of the explanations I still don’t understand how all of the trickery is done and, in its own way, that is quite impressive.

Health and Efficiency

Jog-run: Tuesday freestyle

Two jog-runs achieved again last week which is brilliant news. However, first one had a bit of a twist. Tuesday morning out for my run around Green Park. Unfortunately my timer watch would just not connect with the satellite so I couldn’t record the time, distance, pace and calories.

There’s always a danger with recording exercise that you get dogmatic about it. Ultimately, the point of exercise is really to enjoy it. So I just ran for fun. Followed a course that I know covers about 6 km but didn’t even bother keeping a simple time. It felt slow but the important thing was that I did it.

Saturday 10K

lady running in cold weather

My normal weekend 10K on Saturday morning. Out early to miss the crowds and the heat. A decent time of just under 1 hour 3 & a half minutes. Indeed somewhere around an hour and 3 or 4 mins seems to be my new norm. Though I still want to get under an hour.

Outdoor yoga

A really good yoga session on Monday morning. And different to normal in that we did it outside in the park. I was nervous in case people would be watching (and laughing). Totally unwarranted as the park was empty. And it was so less sweaty than being in the studio. Plus distraction came with the sounds and views around. Really good session and I look forward to doing it outside again.

Gym and walking

Gym took place on Wed and Thurs last week. Thurs in particular was a good long session at a time when I wasn’t sure I was really in the mood. Indeed, there was a lot of walking as well on that day as I walked up to see Jamie then walked back to the Velvet Page book club.

I had thought about going to the gym on Fri as well, so three days in a row. But I woke and just did not feel in the mood. Thus no gym but another day of lots of long walks including up to the cinema in Leicester Square and then back again.

Family and Friends

My niece’s 18th

brighton pier

My beautiful niece has turned 18 and she organised a family outing to Brighton on Sunday (Dave couldn’t go as he went to see Barbra Streisand in Hyde Park). Blog readers will know I have a close and not always happy linkage with this city. But it was her day and it turned out lovely, a really nice day out by the seaside.

Didn’t look too good with rain as we drove down. But that dried up and the day was cloudy but dry. Actually worked well with less people around than expected. A hot July Sunday in Brighton would normally be chocca. Highlights included a walk on the pier, lunch, crazy golf, and freshly cooked doughnuts. I stayed over in a hotel on Sun night and went out for a few drinks going to sleep quite merry. 🙂

Jamie

Caught up with my good friend and part-time playwright Jamie on Thursday. He was really well and we had a great chat. He’s got a new series of monologues being performed very shortly and I must get my shit together to go see them.

Personal Development

Hitting zero again on the email inbox and even did a bit of watching some YouTube vids about coding. Also got some language practice in on the Duolingo app nearly every night of last week. 🙂

The Week Ahead

  • Gonna take some time out on Mon morning before returning to London to check out some of my favourite charity shops in Brighton 🙂
  • Dave goes off to Germany for a holiday on Wed for a week so it’s Billy home alone again 🙁
  • Gotta stay in with mum on Thursday as the Housing Association have got someone coming in to do the annual gas check. She’s really nervous about it so I need to be around. 🙁
  • I’ve started reading the follow-up to ‘Rabbit Run’ by John Updike. It’s called ‘Rabbit Redux’ and is the second in the 4 book saga of a life. Should get that read next week as well as another one
  • Will hopefully continue my personal development gains
  • Should get in 2 jog-runs as well as 3 gym sessions. I’ve also got a THT massage booked in on Fri afternoon with my favourite masseur 🙂
  • And I must fit in some art and culture…

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