Saturday, 25 June 2016

Ser Pounce explains #Brexit

[Ser Pounce-a-lot is a British shorthair cat who earned his Knighthood defending his dim-witted sister, Cat-a-tonia from a bunch of ruffianly dogs. A feline of rare wit and sharp insight, he often condescends to share his wisdom with his human slave, Percy the Slacker (the man behind this blog). In an ongoing series, Ser Pounce's wisdom shall be presented in the form of conversations between him and his scribe, the aforementioned Percy. Below, is one such...]

Cats, Dogs and Brexit

“You’re looking rather peaky, Ser Pounce. All is not well? Did I forget to feed you? Did I brush your fur the wrong way? Did the big tomcat from the street bully you?”

“No, no, nothing of the sort. Just feeling sorry for my old pal Larry the Cat.”

“Larry the what?”

“Cat. C-A-T.”

“Ah ok, got that. What happened to Larry the Cat? Run over by a car? Skewered by a stray Masai Mara?”

“No, he lost his job as Chief Mouser to the Cabinet.”

Larry, just before David came out to address the press
In happier times

“I…wait, now I remember! Wasn’t he in the news for not actually catching any mice?”

“Yes, which was ridiculous because catching mice was never his job, as Chief Bureau-cat he is actually the top advisor to the Government and reports directly to the Queen.”

“Fascinating. Is he the only one?”

“There’s a lot of them. Freya is the Cat-cellar of the Exchequer. Palmerston is Cat-in-charge at the Foreign office.”

“I assume that’s George Osborne’s cat, and she’s also out of a job?”

Palmerston of the Foreign Office
Freya from No. 11 Downing Street, George Osborne's cat.

“It’s all a huge tragedy.”

“I take it you refer to #Brexit. Yes, it’s unfortunate. The economic implications alone..”

“Many good cats will lose their jobs. Larry and Freya are only the cusp of a full-fledged cat crisis. Ollie the Brockley cat might be next, if Sainsbury’s shuts down.”

Is Ollie next?

 “You’ve lost me.”

“Sorry, I forget sometimes that I need to speak at your level. British cats and humans have lost access to the rest of the EU in the job market, you see. It will be phased, I suppose, but it will happen nonetheless.”

“I suppose there will be trade barriers too?”

“It depends, I don’t know how Germany and the other EU countries will treat UK now. I suppose they would want to balance the need to continue to do business with them with the fact that they need to deter poisonous politicians in other countries. Like when I catch a mouse and play with him for hours before eating him because I can’t make up my mind whether to eat him myself or leave him on your living room floor as a gift to you.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. But why would the people of the UK vote for something against their own self-interest then?”

“Because humans are stupid?”

“Easy for you to say, you are a cat.”

“Half a billion Indians voted a bunch of lackwits to power in India two years ago.”

“To be fair, it was 31% of the turnout, about 171 million out of a turnout of 500…”

“Don’t make excuses for your own species, the fact is when you allow people to choose for themselves, they often make a choice based on fear of the other, or believing in an impossible dream. Now us cats, we do everything with our eyes wide open.”

“You cats don’t actually do anything but sleep. But I see what you mean. It’s like Nigel Farage and Michael Gove and that asshat Boris Johnson, who promised that they would have 350 million pounds to pump into the Healthcare System by voting to #Brexit and after winning the vote, they pretended they had never actually said that?”

“Or like how the chaps you voted for said there would be fifteen lakh rupees in every Indian’s account, and the Rupee would grow stronger against the dollar, and taxes would reduce, and the price of gas would come down, and…”

“Uh right, so you’re saying the British people fell for the #AchheDin fallacy.”

“That and flagrant bigotry.”

“The #Brexit people also went full steam ahead with an anti-immigrant rhetoric, didn’t they? It’s amazing that they won in cities like Birmingham and Bradford, which have such large Asian Muslim populations.”

“Not a surprise at all, human, it’s often easiest to polarise people in the areas where there is a significant population of the ‘other’. Fear is a more powerful motivation than hope. A sleeping cat sees a passing fisherwoman. Maybe she will throw a fish the cat’s way. Maybe she won’t. That’s hope, and most cats will keep sleeping. But see a bigger cat or a dog on the horizon…”

“And the cat will run for the hills, I see. Sad, though.”

“And yet, it works every time, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t even start, Ser Pounce. Don’t even start.”

“Well, don’t you get depressed. I mean yes, I know your stock in Tata companies would have nosedived…”

“They sort of depended on being able to access the European Markets through London.”

“They and many others. But the British people are not obligated to think about Indian companies and their access to the ECM, any more than Fish-market cats are obliged to worry about meat-market cats.”

“In this case, the fish-market cats have cut themselves off from the people who actually buy fish, haven’t they?”

Protecting her turf

“And the people who actually…well, fish.”

“Well, it’s all very sad.”

“That is true, human. Had this been a result of economic considerations it may not have been so bad as the fact that the underlying factors consisted to a large extent of hate.”

“You’re one to talk. You won’t let me keep a dog.”

“I love dogs. Some of the best friends are dogs.”

“Listen to yourself.”

“All I’m saying is, dogs should stay on their own side of the fence, that’s all I’m saying. The dogs, they come and take the job of honest, hard-working cats.”

“Your ‘job’ consists of sleeping for eighteen hours a day and making supercilious comments to me. A dog would actually fetch and carry and keep away burglars.”

“Cats would do that too, but these dogs, they come in waves over the fence, and…”

“You could always hold a vote on whether you want to leave my home, you know.”

“Aw, come on, human, where would I get a more devoted slave than you? Now go, mourn over your ravaged investment portfolio. I have to catch up on my sleep.”

Monday, 20 June 2016

Movie Review: The Nun's Story

Movie Review: The Nun’s Story.
The problem with Audrey

IMDB, which has for twenty-six years been applying modern sensibilities to movies released decades before it was launched, is nonetheless more generous to ‘The Nun’s Story’ than it is to some other movies of the era, giving it a rating of 7.6. Rotten Tomatoes is kinder, going as high is a 93% favourable rating.

The Nun’s Story takes us through the life of Gabrielle Van Der Wal, an intelligent and spirited girl who struggles to balance her skills in the medical field and her sense of duty to her patients with the faith and obedience that her calling as a nun places upon her. Slow-paced but meticulous in its detailing, it takes the viewers from Gabrielle’s early days as a postulant to her taking her vows and becoming ‘Sister Luke’, from there to her work at a mental asylum and later in the Congo and then back to Europe as the Second World War is breaking out. Whether in the genteel streets of Brussels or the heart of the Belgian Congo, Gabrielle Van Der Wal preserves her dedication to the practice of medicine and impresses one and all. When circumstances force her to return to Belgium, she confronts the greatest challenge to her vows – maintaining neutrality in the midst of the Nazi conquest of Europe.

If that sounds like Oscar bait, let us remember that it was released in 1959 when it was not the practice to release movies specifically with the golden statuette in mind. Nevertheless, it got nominated for 8 awards, and had it not been up against no less a behemoth than Ben-Hur, might well have picked up one or two. It did win a BAFTA and a New York Film Critics’ Award for Audrey Hepburn though, and therein lies the problem in making an assessment of the film on merits. For a movie with Audrey Hepburn is fundamentally different from a movie without her, a fact that is like an article of faith for some, and utterly incomprehensible to others.

Why do I (and a lot of other people, trust me) consider a woman with a waif-like figure, broad forehead, wide nose and mouth and a husky voice to be the most unbelievably beautiful woman in the history of film-making? I could not say. Maybe it is the fact that those features came together so uniquely in Audrey, but beyond a luminous, truly beautiful pair of eyes, it’s hard to pinpoint why she was, and still is, considered an iconic beauty. As for her acting prowess, there are those who have been critical of her abilities, though with 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe, 3 BAFTAs and 13 nominations over and above the wins, one would think that should not be contested. It does not matter anyway. It was the charm she brought to every role that makes her immortal; whether as Princess Anne, Holly Golightly, Sabrina, Gabrielle or Jo Stockton.

With Peter Finch as Dr Fortunati

In The Nun’s Story, however, the extent of her ability to transcend the movies she was in is very much brought to the fore. Though based on a novel, it can easily be argued that the movie stretches too long (speaking of which, future generations may be very harsh towards The Revenant on this count), that the scenes where Gabrielle is in the Belgian Congo gloss over the brutality of the occupation and that the ending is ultimately abrupt.

But the fact is, her presence makes the viewer lose track of time. Shorn of the spectacular fashion sense and Givenchy gowns that she was famous for, sans make-up in a time when no actress at the time dared to be seen on camera without it, and dressed for almost the entirety of the film in a Catholic nun’s habit, Audrey Hepburn still shines. No ‘sexy nun’ here, no flatteringly-cut cassock, no showing of the hair – we do not see her trim figure or those lovely tresses at all.

All we see is a face, and in that face and those eyes, in the movements of her hands, the shrug of her shoulders, we feel every emotion as it courses through Gabrielle’s soul. It is important then, to realise that this movie is not about the convent or the Congo as much as it is about Gabrielle herself, about the conflict between her desire to truly be the best she can be at what she is good at (the practice of medicine) and her commitment to the restrictive, obedience-enforcing Church that allows her to actually carry out those noble ambitions.

And the scene at the end – when she stops at a fork in the road, and chooses one direction over another – even in a long shot taken from the back, Audrey is still acting, still conveying that for the first time in over a decade, Gabrielle Van Der Wal is making a decision.

To choose whether to watch a film like The Nun’s Story is also a decision for the reader of this piece to take. It is not an easy movie to watch. The pace is slow, lingering long shots introduce scenes and faithfulness to the novel seems to have been prized over making an exciting movie. Present-day sensibilities may find a lot to dislike about the scenes in the convent, wondering why Gabrielle’s rebellion is so passive, or about the non-judgmental approach she takes to the inherent racism and condescension of the whites in the Congo towards the native population.

So maybe this two-hour long odyssey is not for you, but whenever Audrey Hepburn is on the screen, you know you are watching one of the greatest love stories of all time – that between Audrey Hepburn and the movie camera. The Nun’s Story is an episode of intense passion between those two lovers, as a movie, perhaps it is much more than that and certainly, it is no less.

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Lost Boys of Aiden

I abhor poetry. To clarify, I consider most poetry a cheap way to garner praise, and far too many poets parasites, leeching away the greatness of the few real poets who still inspire a sense of awe. For poetry - the real thing - has a grace and power to it that prose can rarely match.

Whether the lines below show me to fall into the category of a parasite or of a poet, I do not know. I have never called myself anything other than a hack.

The Lost Boys of Aiden

The boys of Aiden can always be found,
Lurking around the pier.
Or swimming in the Cold Stone Lake,
Without a trace of fear.

But there’s been something in the air,
These past fifteen years,
For on their faces I often see,
A distinct hint of tears.

They pine for a vision of beauty, I heard,
Of a child, an actor,
Who lives with her troupe on a barge,
But often performs here.

Silky-smooth are her golden tresses,
Her gaze is crystal-clear,
And when she smiles, the boys do say,
She is without peer.


The young men of Aiden can always be found,
Lurking around the Pier,
Or by the banks of the Cold Stone Lake,
Selling wares from far and near.

But when the day’s work is done,
They sit with mugs of beer,
And sing sad songs, like dirges,
All dedicated to her.

She lives in the Undercity now,
An errand-girl for a smuggler,
But on that face – still sweet, still peerless,
There is no hint of a smear.

Fair of skin and rosy of cheek,
Her gaze, sharp as a spear,
A body that promises so much,
In gossamer robes, so sheer.


The old men of Aiden are often to be found,
Lurking around the piers
Or by the banks of the Cold Stone Lake,
Drowning in their tears.

For sons they have lost, sons who loved,
A woman for many a year,
An errand-girl who became a noble,
A mage without a peer.

Still, she is lovelier than ever she was,
Tho’ now love is mixed with fear.
Yet, when she calls them to arms, they go,
For these boys still love her.

For who can resist that hair so golden,
Eyes so crystal clear?
A voice so sweet, a face so charming,
Words so full of cheer?


The men of Aiden can now be found,
Lying upon their biers,
Or at the bottom of the Cold Stone lake,
Sullying the water, once so clear.

For they fought in the streets, on the docks,
Brave indeed, they were.
They fought to defend their city,
But even more, for her.

From Aiden's Palace did she rule them,
So far, who was once so near,
And I heard, when she sent them to die,
She shed copious tears.

Years pass, and she still lives, though –
Her grief, I’m told, was sincere,
But I wonder - does she ever think about them,
Those Lost Boys of yesteryear?