Follow by Email

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Do I Believe In Angels?

I have not written a blog entry since June 2016 and it took something very special to motivate me into re-opening The View From The Hill. My usual tongue in cheek humour (sarcasm as some would call it) has been sidelined. I write about a serious subject and one that recently overlapped very nicely with one of those pastimes that brings the greatest of joy into my life…theatre.

On Saturday 29th July 2017, I entered the National Theatre in London to watch their production of Angels in America. Two plays, almost 8 hours of powerful and moving theatre. The acting talents of Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, James McArdle, Susan Brown, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Amanda Lawrence (amongst others) were incredible….but wait, let’s just have the blog entry please Mr B:


I’m not sure there is anything I can write about Angels In America. Certainly nothing that hasn't already been penned by people with more skill and expertise at reviewing theatre than I.  There is just one thing I can offer that nobody else can: a personal insight as to why these two plays have been and still are so important to me. 

In Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika,  just before Roy Cohn dies, (I don't think that’s a spoiler is it?) he is laughing; laughing at his ‘Win’ over Ethel Rosenberg. 

As I watched that scene unfold, beautifully played by Nathan Lane and Susan Brown, I couldn't help but suspect that if it were possible, Roy Cohn must be laughing his ass off as he looks up from his grave and sees what’s happening in America today.


Thirty years on, there is evidence that the real Cohn helped shape and mould the present occupant of the White House, but I’m not sure that even Tony Kushner could have imagined characters like Donald Trump and the coterie of super bigots that surround him.

The spectre of Cohn and his ilk also hangs over our own government and the deal they made with a party who espouse some very unenlightened opinions.

So it was with the dark angel of Roy Cohn circling over the Trump presidency and with me sitting only a short walk away from the seat of our own parliament, that I was present in the Lyttleton Theatre, joining an enthralled audience and a company of excellent actors as we revisited Angels in America, Parts One & Two. 

I use the word ‘joining’ as it did feel like a joint enterprise in which we were necessary witnesses to the past as it played out before us. It was a long day but I felt we were carried along for what was the best part of those eight hours.  Not carried on the wings of angels perhaps, but on the talents of the performers, technicians and those who brought their vision of these great plays back to the National Theatre. It was simply theatre at its very best.


This is where I have to declare an interest though, this is where the personal insight is revealed. 

As some of you will be aware, thirty years ago I was part of the Lincoln HIV/Aids Support Group. I saw at first hand just how devastating HIV & Aids could be. I lost friends. I carried the coffin of one of them into his funeral. So this is a story that already had a hold over me.

I also know people living happy and productive lives today, people who are HIV+ and whose prognosis for a long life is much better than we could have hoped or dreamed thirty years ago.

So, with plenty of emotional baggage, I let myself enter the world of the play, the world of the characters (all beautifully played by this mega talented cast) and I laughed really loud and I cried very quietly.

It was not easy to witness the  pain and suffering visited on those dying with Aids in the play, even the reprehensible Cohn; not easy to separate this portrayal of reality from your own memories. 

Cohn is portrayed, quite truthfully it would seem, as a man who hates others, and he does so with ease and relish. 

Thirty years ago the abuse and hatred hurled towards the people I knew (and had grown to love) was just horrendous. It was a real battle to try and change perceptions and to grant these very ill men (I only knew male patients at the time) some dignity. 

Physical and verbal abuse, property attacks, broken windows, Police refusing to take action - people being treated as less than human by people who were displaying their own lack of humanity. You may call it fear or ignorance but that is no defence. How can there be a defence when there were many, like me, who decided to try and learn all they could learn about the illness and more importantly the people affected by it?

By the way, we were not angels, we were just people helping someone in need.


Anyway, returning to the present, or rather the past as shown to us in the present, a past so precisely depicted through the words of Tony Kushner in his plays. 

There is a speech towards the very end of the play which should resonate deeply within anyone with a social conscience and most certainly should be shouted from the rooftops as well as the stage of the National Theatre. 

You might say it is just a political statement from a political play but in a world where some in power enjoy using that power to diminish others rather than raise them up, it becomes a clarion call for decency, acceptance and common humanity.

Prior Walter: “We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one…”

To each and every one of you, I commend this play and the thought that the better angels in America, in our world, need to prevail. 


Sunday, 26 June 2016

How The Cookies Crumble

So I decided it's time to communicate with the masses, to try and pour some oil on the troubled waters following a rather fractious week and then I'm faced with this:

'European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog'

So there you have it, thank goodness the referendum result will mean an end to all these foreign laws coming over here and taking the jobs of good old fashioned British laws!

I better declare a few things before I go any further, especially for those who are new to this occasional blog. I write mostly tongue in cheek and I can be sarcastic and silly at times but I try and avoid being confrontational if possible.

It is hard to REMAIN totally balanced though, especially when you are talking about religion and politics, subjects where reasonable debate is sometimes made less easy by entrenched and unreasonable views.

There again, it can be the same talking about anything: try criticising Wicked on a Facebook musical theatre group for example.

Back to the referendum...people have voted and the result is not what I would have wished for but not for the first time, I'm on the losing side in an election. Having been a Liberal for many years, I'm used to it.

The millions signing a petition for a re-run are expressing their frustration and there is no harm in it, but of course it cannot happen.

The negotiations will eventually start on how we disentangle ourselves from the EU and those who led the Brexit campaign will likely be in the forefront of those negations. I'm not going to dwell on Cameron's departure and his likely replacement as PM, but I guess whoever it is will eventually have to tell the country what the proposed route for our departure from the EU looks like.?

My fear is that this will be when the crap hits the fan.

It would seem that many of those voting to leave will never accept any hint of free movement of labour as part of a negotiated trade deal. I understand this is what Norway had to accept.

Can you imagine the fuss if the new PM declares that we are leaving the EU but remaining part of the single market and that entails free movement of labour? Yes folks, you won the vote and now you 'have your country back' and you get to make your own laws, but there will still be Polish aisles in the temple of doom. Farage will go ballistic!

My greatest fear is not what will happen to the EU, but what will happen to Great Britain.

The gap between the voters and the political class has never seemed wider and that's partly because politicians decided that the centre ground was the place to be...sadly many of the voters are drifting away from the centre and so what happens when some Pied Piper appears to charm them either further to the right or left?

One of the oft repeated complaints about politicians is that they lie, and it would seem that lies and half truths have indeed fuelled the EU debate. But politicians have to lie to us because we are not ready for the truth sometimes. The truth is too real and so we employ politicians to sell us a view of the world we would like to achieve. They are modern day snake oil sellers but we still queue up to buy their products because what else is there to do?

I said to a friend on the opposite side of the vote to me that, time will tell. It may well be that this all ends well but I have this sick feeling that it can't.

Let's hope that time will tell and perhaps stoicism and patience can be our best friends.

One of the truths that we ignore at our peril is that we live in a world where people hate too easily.
For some people, after buying the magic elixir from our political and religious masters, they find themselves in thrall to the dreams that they tell us we can achieve...if only everyone could see the world 'OUR WAY'.

This has led in recent times to people being killed  for what they believe, killed for who they are and who they love, killed for their religion or for their atheism.

When the day comes that we see only one world and one human family, that will be the day when hatred will end and elections will no longer be needed. Not in my lifetime, not even in Polly's lifetime, maybe it's not even possible?

Tongue out of cheek...perhaps there is no happy ending?

Pouring oil on troubled waters...mission failed.

As I started to write this blog I was determined that I would try and be optimistic but where is that optimism to be found?

We are a divided nation. This is true and we have the votes that prove it.

Do we have a political class that can fix it?

Time will tell.












Sunday, 24 April 2016

It's Not My Fault...Someone Made Me Write This

I was walking across the car park at Sainsbury’s the other day, and I know what you’re thinking, and it’s true. Given the freedom I will always pick that more pretentious and middle class supermarket over the temple of doom! 

If we do have to go to doom, Miss Polly is a now a dab hand at zap and pack. She sits imperiously in the trolly, zapping not only bar codes but passing troglodytes too.  Sometimes she might even be found multi tasking and eating a small apple. With a trail of dribble down her chin, she fits right in with most of the other customers. 

Anyway, this wasn’t doom, this was Sainsbury’s and it had been a quick visit and this time I had remembered to take my own bag for life. I do find myself worrying when a bag for life starts to look like it’s on its last legs…I pray it isn’t a sign! There again, for 5p, you don’t expect millennia.

And don’t get me started on the 5p charge because actually I’m all for it…it’s just that I keep forgetting to take the ones I have purchased when I go shopping! Mrs B said I should keep some in the car, in case of emergency, like the purchase of olives or wholewheat pasta.

Do you know, wholewheat spaghetti is quite nice and you can eat as much as you like on certain diets. Wholewheat bread and wholewheat cereal are also very much enjoyed these days - that reminds me, I need some moist toilet wipes next time I go to the supermarket. 

You have to be careful of course, I’m not getting caught out like I did last time when I mistook Dettol wipes for Andrex. Nice and clean but the sting lasts for bloody days!

You have to be careful about lots of things at my age, like you do have to be careful as you don't want to be caught in Sainsbury’s with a bag for life from DOOOOM! Oh the ignominy.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I had taken my previously purchased orange carrier bag and filled it and was now heading back to the car.

It was a little after 6pm, and I’m heading back to my car carrying essential supplies ( you know what that means I’m sure), when I spotted a man who seemed to be searching for something under an old van.

Now I’m a very helpful sort of chap as you know, so I started to walk over to see if I could offer assistance.

As I got closer I could see that the gentleman had managed to find a mat to kneel on and I immediately thought about how my own knees might not cope too well on the tarmac of the car park.

I made a mental note to start carrying a nice piece of shag-pile in the boot of my car in case a similar emergency arose in my travels.

It is entirely possible that this will be the case, as I get older I do find I drop more things than I used too.

I always park well way from drains and gratings as I am convinced that either my keys or phone will one day disappear and begin the long and tortuous journey to Skegness…that is where all drains drain I understand.

I drop other things too, (the wholewheat again) but good taste prohibits me from talking about that and anyway, what I do in the privacy of my own front room is my own business.

Mental note made, I continue walking towards the prostrate gent and I’m thinking that I better not startle him as I don’t want him to get a shock and bang his head on the van. I’m thinking about what to say when I actually notice that the man is not searching for lost keys at all, not even his phone…he’s praying.

At this point I subtly change direction and just walk to my car…other people felt that standing and staring was in order and some were even laughing and pointing.

It then occurred to me that even some of the clientele of Sainsbury’s might be supporters of UKIP.

The local UKIP representatives were hanging about outside the bread shop the other morning, I had prepared my speech if they approached me with one of their leaflets…

“I’d rather cut off my testicles with a rusty razor blade than touch your leaflet - bugger off!”

They didn’t approach me, perhaps they can sense that I’m a not their target audience as I have shoe laces not velcro. 

Anyway, a man praying in Sainsbury’s car park will probably be against their beliefs somehow and they can use that as one more reason to hate ‘foreigners.’

It only just occurred to me, but the direction you face when you pray is quite specific isn’t it, in the Muslim faith? You might be in the car park at Sainsbury’s but the line that runs from there to Mecca passes right through the car park of the Temple of Doom. 

I’d stick to Sainsbury’s my friend…you might not have survived the other place.






Saturday, 26 September 2015

Tales From Turkey (2)

Good morning fellow travellers, here is the second of my little thoughts about my recent pilgrimage to the golf courses of Belek in Turkey.

The Plane

We had never been to Turkey before, Mrs B is of the opinion that if all you want to do is sit by a pool, then fly the shortest distance possible to guarantee some sunshine - usually Menorca. But now we were faced with a  four hour flight to Antalya from Birmingham. 

The airport is an hour from our house, but the hours leading up to departure are difficult and dangerous times. There is packing and then there is cleaning - the house has to be hoovered in case burglars break in. 

Packing is Mrs B’s domain - I just lay out some clothes and she folds them all neatly and makes sure I have packed enough handkerchiefs. 

We secure the cases and wrap them with a strap with our name on, allowing easy identification on the baggage claim carousel later. I noticed that some people now wrap their suitcases in clingfilm…why is that? Are they smuggling left overs into Turkey? Does it help keep your knickers fresh?

Anyway, bags packed, loaded into the car and off we go, at 4am, to Birmingham. We park and walk the short distance to the terminal, Mrs B dragging two suitcases and me dragging my golf clubs….oh yes, I took the golf clubs to Turkey.

So far, so good. We know that you have security checks and so you allow time for that process - although it did take longer as Mrs B beeped. She had to be swabbed  for explosives and just for a minute I thought I might have to enjoy my holiday without her. Not sure why the explosives detector went off, unless it was due to  all the cleaning products she had been throwing around the house before we departed? That combination of bleach and air freshener and multi surface cleaner is now on the watch list I guess.

Having already checked in online and paying extra for our seats (you’ll be expected  to pay extra to breathe on a plane soon) we didn't rush, as many do, when the flight was called. We just made our way to the gate, and low and behold our seats were just waiting for us…why do people rush and push to get on the plane?

I have an answer…hand luggage. Limited space in the overhead luggage compartments is soon taken up with mini suitcases. People who have just bought 14 bikinis and some sun tan oil don’t check their bags, they carry them on board so they can rush off at the other end…rush rush rush. The idea of holiday for me is to not rush, but to relax…and I find it hard to relax as a sweaty fellow is trying to squeeze his suitcase into a space designed for a satchel! 

You can choose your seat but you get no choice who sits next to you sometimes…I was lucky on the flight out, less so on the way back. A walking tattoo and his harridan wife, who constantly argued in a thick Wolverhampton accent were my travel companions.  I plugged my earphones in and watched Life of Pi but that only took care of half the journey…

They argued about duty free, they argued about some aromatic oil leaking in her handbag, they argued about the meal, they argued about electronic devices…oh yes, she refused to turn off her mobile phone, as requested by the aircrew, during landing, as mobile phones are not electronic! She then hid her phone in her bag and continued texting someone about her dogs that needed feeding.  Idiots. 

On the flight out, which left before 9am, the couple who sat in front of us had devoured three cans of lager before we’d reached cruising altitude! The battle to get to a toilet between the trolley going up and down was amazing - what a palaver.

I always worry about what I will breathe in on a flight, hence the handkerchiefs - well, this time it was not germs but farts.

Someone dropped the smelliest fart just as we took off for Antalaya on the return leg - that fart was so strong it was still doing the rounds as we landed in Birmingham. I fully expected the oxygen masks to be deployed!

Just a word about some of our fellow travellers as this will lead into the next section which will be about the British abroad.

In Antalya airport I saw a man striding about Burger King with some crutches tucked underneath his arm. He looked happy and was obviously British because of the tattoos and the straw hat perched on top of his shaven head. He was also wearing cut off denim shorts and a vest tee shirt exposing his hairy shoulders….British. 

Anyway, there he was nipping happily about Antalaya but the flight must have been a terrible experience for him because after we landed he no longer carried the crutches under his arm, he now dragged himself along on the crutches like a zombie. It was like a reverse miracle…in Turkey he could walk, in England he could claim disability benefits. (Cynical old me). He looked exactly like the sort of bloke who would be interviewed on BBC Midlands complaining about people 'coming over here and taking advantage of the benefits system'.

Oh well.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Tales From Turkey

Greetings my loyal band of idiots...I have been prompted into writing a few words about our recent trip to Turkey and so please be prepared to be amused, amazed and aroused as I expose the truth about what people get up to on holiday in the vain belief that nobody is watching...I AM ALWAYS WATCHING!


So, let us begin this series of  pen portraits describing our weeks holiday in Turkey. I made notes about various aspects of the trip, from the British abroad, to the food, the hotel and the staff but as this holiday was mostly spent around the pool I want to start by talking about what people wear in and around a holiday pool.


Poolside attire…or The Things You See When You Haven’t Got Your Gun.

During the course of this recollection I will be talking about the poolside attire of ladies and I don’t want to be accused of sexism so I will begin by talking about the men who graced the pool at our hotel in Turkey.

Now, perhaps I’m a snob but I cannot stand people who wear swimming trunks when not in or near a swimming pool…seeing some ageing hairy fellow wandering through the foyer of a posh hotel, shirtless and wearing only swimming trunks and flip flops is just plain wrong! Put a shirt on man or cover yourself with the lovely soft white dressing gown that the hotel provides and which you will invariably smuggle back to the UK in your suitcase!

It’s bad enough the sights you see around a pool, but at least it is the proper place to see it.

I would never make that mistake, I always cover up when possible (it’s a Health & Safety requirement) but at the poolside I might remove my shirt and even my vest. If the temperature rises above 90 degrees I might even take my socks off.


Being a man of a certain outlook (and waistline) I long since decided that swimming shorts are the best suited attire for me when taking up the challenge of a swimming pool. I think it is much more savoury for others if you keep as much of yourself as possible tucked away out of sight - even under water!

You soon notice, when by a pool, that other gentleman no matter their age or physical appearance, have an opposite view and let as much as possible remain visible to others whilst swimming…or parading near a pool that they might eventually enter.

The dreaded ‘budgie smugglers’ were all too apparent during our week in Turkey and the majority of the gentlemen wearing them had big bellies which hung down in front, often obscuring the ‘budgies’ completely…so I suppose that is a good thing?

The other problem with speedo type trunks is that some gentlemen have rather too much to conceal within such a  small garment and this can cause issues for ladies (and some men). Imagine how disturbing and dangerous it can be if you are reclined on your sun bed and such a chap wanders by. Your eye line is just at the right/wrong height and I’m telling you that it can make you drop you frozen daiquiri as the lycra trunks strain to hold in what appears to be more of an ostrich than a budgie!

I think too big is better than too small (I’m talking about trunks now) and although you have a slight risk of them being left behind in the pool when you emerge, due to the amount of the pool you have soaked up, you can at least grab them easily and secure them whilst you drip back to your sun bed.

One excuse people use for deploying the lycra is that it dries quickly - well let me tell you in 90 degree heat, even the baggiest shorts dry quickly but if you wanted to change there were little changing cubicles in which you could slip into something less wet…so much easier than battling under a towel and flashing your hairy bum at passing Germans.

I guess that some ladies, and men, would find the sight of a handsome, tanned young man in skimpy trunks something that makes the holiday worthwhile? Well, let me tell you that they were very few of them on display around the pool on this occasion…what there was no shortage of was old, fat, hairy men who had forgotten their dignity when they packed their suitcases.

Now, moving on to the ladies…and let me start by reminding you that although Turkey is a secular state, it is a Muslim country and we were reminded of that around the swimming pool.

One couple in particular brought the whole issue into focus…the balding hairy backed husband wearing his little trunk and exposing far too much and his young slim wife, swimming gracefully in the pool in her designer Burqini….yes, a full head to toe burka designed for swimming. The only bit of that lady displayed to the world was her feet…although I didn’t look of course!

Now there is a separate debate to be had about the religious and sexual politics of such a garment but I must admit when I looked around the pool at what some other ladies were wearing, I was almost converted.

Let me again state, as a man I know I’m dipping my toe into dangerous waters, but some ladies need a friend who might just occasionally say - NO! It doesn’t suit you or even fit you!


Take the lady we christened Mrs Dick, (very un PC I know but be honest we all do it, giving strangers names to make talking about them behind their backs easier).

Mrs Dick was a morbidly obese lady who had no fear in displaying that fact to the world. Her choice of bikini left very little to the imagination and good for her I suppose, to be confident and proud enough to just lay there on the poolside…on two sun beds.

She, I could overlook, (if I stood up on tip toes) but the ladies who I found most difficult to deal with were those of any age or shape who insisted on wearing bikini  bottoms that were far too small!

It’s back to the eye line issue again - reclining with a book, you glance up and you see coming towards you something that looks like a small pack of spiders trying to devour a Dairy Lea triangle…do you get the picture?

Of course, many folk had the unfortunate experience of seeing me floating in the pool like some old grey whale looking for a beach to die on…and I apologise if I have over stepped the mark re ladies poolside attire but I have tried to be even handed and who knows, perhaps the time will come when we no longer care about the physical appearance of others, that we don't judge people by looks alone and we embrace the fact that beauty will come in many forms…..no, I suspect Burkini’s all around is more likely!