12 Rules for Life

12 Rules for Life

I watched an interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman recently and was rather surprised by what I saw. I was bewildered by Cathy Newman’s approach to her subject, she obviously found his views distasteful and was trying very hard to trip him up and reveal his dark and unpleasant, presumably misogynistic, side. She failed to do this and he remained placid, un-rattled, and replied fully and reasonably. Now I have seen her interview many people over the years and she is usually an excellent interviewer; able to debate with the best and able to handle herself in an argument She is, without doubt, one of the best news journalists we have on British television.  I was therefore surprised to see her have such difficulty with this subject, to the extent that at one point she was literally struck dumb and at a loss for words.

At this point I had not heard of her subject Jordan B. Peterson, a Professor of Psychology at Toronto University, nor did I know of his views. But, spurred by this interview, I read a little about him. It became clear that he has become very popular on account of his most recent book and also for his lectures on psychology which are available on YouTube. He is a clinical psychologist and academic who has made a bit of speciality of examining the role of religion in culture and personal psychology. But it became clear that this was not the reason for his widespread, and increasing, fame (or notoriety), this was because of his position on the issue of “compelled speech” (in regard to pronoun usage with transgendered people) and because he has recently published a book which has become a surprising best seller “12 Rules for Life : An antidote to chaos”.

The book, a self-help psychology text, has been very successful with young men and his position on free speech has caused him to be seen as a darling by the “alt-right“. The latter problem is a common difficulty experienced by those of us who try and safeguard free-speech. Those on the far-right often like to profess a support for free-speech as they think it protects them when they spew their bile, particularly their misogynistic or racist ideas. They do not realise that those who support free-speech do so specifically to be able to debate with such hateful ideologies and, through debate, destroy them. The best way to get rid of hateful erroneous ideas is to debate with those who hold them and make them, and their fellow-travellers, feel embarrassed and ashamed town such thoughts.

The fact that his book was popular with young men was interesting as this is a demographic not often drawn to reading. This in itself did not cause me concern, despite Cathy Newman’s obvious distaste for the book, but it did suggest to me that I should read his book. A quick trip to the kindle store and three days later  I was finished. It was a gripping read and one of the best books I have read in a long time.

To be fair this is a “pop psychology” book. It is written in easy chapters, each describing a basic rule. For example  “Chapter 6 : Set you house in perfect order before you criticize the world“, and so on. He writes well and is an erudite thinker with a wide knowledge base. He starts each chapter with a story to outline his thinking on the subject or rule. He then considers the cultural history and scientific knowledge about the issue before completing the chapter with practical advice on how to apply this knowledge to your own life.

Much of his thinking is based on current knowledge of scientific psychology but it is mixed with practical experience of working in clinical psychology, especially in working in the field of deep insight orientated psychology. He refers back to Jung, Neitzsche and Adler as well as to recent neuropsychologists. But perhaps more interesting is his use of knowledge of religious history. He looks at how the major religions have addressed psychological issues such as suffering, death, guilt and happiness and points out, whether you believe in a deity or not, that religion was mankind’s way of making sense of our life experience and many of the lessons learnt millennia ago are just as applicable today.

In essence, I discovered a very readable and wise book. I am glad it has been successful as it will prove much more valuable that many of the faddish self-help bibles which have come and gone. The chapter on parenting is a valuable counterpoint to many of the prevailing mistakes we are making today.  I found no evidence of misogyny or racism at all. Certainly there were some areas where he suggests that our evolutionary history has meant that some biological factors continue to influence our gender behaviours and he does not agree that this is entirely a social construct. Indeed, this might be his heresy. Today, we are meant to believe that all aspect of gender are socially constructed and that, barring organs of reproduction, there are no differences between men and women. This is clearly not true and the scientific literature attests to this. Unfortunately this is becoming a rather inconvenient truth and one that is not allowed to be said. I think this was the dynamic underpinning Cathy Newman’s interviewing style.

This is a problem. Womens’ rights have improved over the recent years but there is still a long way to go. If we are to obtain equality and fairness we will have to continue to fight for it. However, if there are uncomfortable facts, if there are biological factors influencing our behaviours, then we need to know about them and discuss them. It will not help our progress to pretend they do not exist and to cry “heresy” when people raise them. Biology is not necessarily our destiny but it has a bigger influence when it is ignored or denied; as a man I may be more prone to aggressive behaviours than a woman (on group averages) but knowing this only means I need to be more mindful. It is not an excuse and has no exculpatory power. For example, if I want to be a good man I need to know how to control and curb my aggressive instincts, to pretend that these  impulses are not there helps no one.

I think therefore, on this occasion, Cathy Newman was wrong. Rather then trying to explore or debate his ideas she tried to shut him down. Others, with a similar agenda, have  tried to minimise his works by smearing it, and him, as alt-right or similar. This means that his genuine insights are not considered but more importantly those young men who find meaning in his writings will be pushed and corralled into the area occupied by those who are indeed of the alt-right. This is a danger, as Peterson is aware, we need to help men to maturity and insight in our society, we need to make them more self aware, strong and confident because if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of”

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr Zhivago

Dr Zhivago

I never thought it would happen. I almost thought it was impossible. But, I have found the situation when the film was better than the book, and not by a small margin : Dr Zhivagio the film is much better than the book. Dr Zhivago is a classic of the film-makers art, the book, on the otherhand, is an overlong and maudlin saga.

I remember well when I saw David Lean’s “Dr Zhivago” as it made an immediate impact on me. The photography was spectacular, there was an epic tale of revolution and chaos, upon which was played a moving love story. The whole thing was bound together by the magical music particularly “Lara’s Theme“, by Maurice Jarre, the leitmotif that glued everything together. Even today I only have to hear a few bars of this, or the opening of “Somewhere my Love“, to be instantly back remembering this film. Although I enjoyed and regarded the film highly it was initially a difficult film for me.

When I first saw the film I was a youth, a teenager, and a firebrand for the left. I found it difficult that a film as powerful as this was not a paean to the great communist revolution, but rather a shocking indictment of the treatment of the individual at the hands of the state. Being obstinate and foolish, as a lad, I omitted to read the book as I had the habit then of only tending to read what confirmed the prejudices I already cultured. I was therefore delighted when our bookclub decided to do Dr Zhivago, it gave me the chance to rectify a wrong and I would read Dr Zhivago, the book.

I knew the history of the book, I knew it had won the Nobel Prize for Boris Pasternak, and I knew that it was an important text in revealing the problems of totalitarianism. I had mentally filled it alongside George Orwell’s “1984” and  Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch“, both of which I had re-read recently and found excellent. It was therefore with expectant optimism that I started “Dr Zhivago”.

The first couple of days were fine, but as time passed my spirits sagged and my reading slowed to a barely perceptible crawl. I found the text dense and difficult, there was far too much detail which failed to add to setting scenes or developing characters or relationships. The frequent use of multiple, different names for characters was occasionally confusing. The story was rather jumbled in its chronography and relied heavily on coincidences for plot development, many of which were very contrived. None of this was helped by the poorly drawn characters who failed to engage with me. In particular, our hero, Yuri Zhivago, is rather dislikable; arrogant, self-opinionated, a philanderer and user of women. He is a poor example of the individual in a book promoting the Tolsoyian ideals of the individual.

I have to confess that I could not continue reading after a third of the way through and I cheated. I switched to Audible and had Philip Madoc read the remaining two thirds of the book to me as I walked the dog, fleshed the sheepskins, or cooked the meals (It’s 18 and a half hours long on audible). But this was the only way I could have completed my task. I found it difficult to see why the book won the Nobel Prize for Literature as I agree with Vladimir Nabokov who found it “a sorry thing, clumsy, trite and melodramatic” and presume it won for its political impact rather then its literary merit. All in all a great disappointment but did reveal that my earlier prejudice that the book is always greater than the film was wrong.


P.S. Since then I have started to reconsider whether Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” is better than Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret“, this is a tight contest.

Misgendering

Misgendering

Our work in preparing the sheep has continued and through the last week we have been fleshing out the skins and salting them. In the last day or sowe have even started to put some of the skins into the tanning solution. At our present rate of progress we anticipate continuing with this work for another fortnight or so.  However, earlier last week something captured my attention and made me pay more attention to the poultry.

Emrys, one of our cockerels, a White Sussex, was looking depressed and dejected. It also looked as if he had been fighting and not always winning. I then noticed that I had mis-gendered one of the “girls” that I had added to his harem after the last batch hatched. One of the girls had grown rapidly and was now as big as Emrys. He had started to crow in the morning, and on further inspection was clearly not a girl but another cockerel.  None of our cockerels, at the moment, will tolerate other males around them and they fight viciously. Emrys and the new boy had started and it was only a matter of time until serious damage, or death, would result. We decided therefore that the new boy had to go and planned that he would be our supper that night (and lunch for a few days after as soup).

I find that the safest and fasted way to DSC_2695dispatch poultry is using a killing cone. This is made by using an old traffic cone, pared at the top at bottom and screwed to a large tree. This holds the bird firmly but not unpleasantly and allows you to use the machete, or axe, in a way that there is no chance of missing or just maiming the bird. From arrival at the cone to the completion of the deed takes about 10 seconds, it does not seem unduly disturbing for the bird, and death is instantaneous. This also allows you to leave the bird for a short period after dispatch, with a bucket below, to catch the blood which flows in a controlled fashion.

The next stage is to prepare your bird. I find that plucking the bird is best done as quickly as possible, it is an easier job when the bird is still warm. If you can not do the plucking immediately then it is best to wait for DSC_2696 (2)quite a while. Birds pluck easier when they are either still warm or are completely cold – a half warm bird can be difficult to pluck.  Although there are ways to aid plucking by putting the bird in boiling water for a short spell, or by buying plucking  machines, it is not a difficult job and most people can pluck a DSC_2697chicken within 15 to 20 minutes (The same, unfortunately, can not be said for ducks.)

Pluck by grabbing small amounts of feathers between your index finger and thumb and pull sharply. I find pulling ‘against the grain’  – from bottom to top – works best. Don’t be tempted to take too large clumps as you will risk tearing the skin and will also find you tire more quickly and the job ends up taking the same length of time. After you have plucked the chicken use a cleaver to remove the feet and scissors to remove the remains of the wings.

DSC_2701Remember, as always, don’t waste anything, even the feet are edible. I find that the chicken feet recipes often call for a lot of work, and often spices that I don’t carry all the time (star anise, for example). However, my two assistants are not bothered by all that culinary pfaff and prefer their chicken feet raw. Also the feathers should have been collected as these have their uses while I will describe in a future post. Now onto the next stage.

After plucking we have to dress the bird. DSC_2703This can be a messy and smelly task but it is not a difficult one. Firstly it is important to cut around the bird’s anus. This will allow is to pull the intestines out without them bursting or leaking which is something we obviously want to avoid. Having done this, make a cut from this cut up to the birds breastbone this will allow you to put your hand in DSC_2704 (2)and remove the innards. Having got the intestines out it is important to put your hand back in and up as far as you can manage to pull out the heart and windpipe. Once these are removed you have largely dressed your bird ready for the oven. Remember to wash the heart, gizzards and liver for use later on. These can be used as the giblets for making gravy, or the liver is an excellent base for pate, and the meat from the gizzards, once fried, is excellent in a salad (salade gésiers).

About three quarters of an hour after startingDSC_2706 the task the bird is ready and can be used in any of your favourite recipes. This one, however, was going to be very simply treated and roasted in the range. Before going in, it was laid on top of a bed of onions and  root vegetables  (parsnip & carrot) and seasoned with tarragon and garlic. It was cooked for the usual time and the juices reserved for making gravy and the cooked vegetables were used as a side dish. Once roasted it was ready to eat.

Be prepared, chickens you rear and prepare yourself will not be like the conveyor belt chickens you have come to expect. It will, in the first place, be smaller – a free range chicken which as been active and enjoyed its life will never be as large as its factory counterpart. All the exercise it has enjoyed also means the meat will be firmer DSC_2707 (2)and less tender. These two signs should let you know that you have done better by the bird and you let it have a better, more natural life. The biggest difference, however, will be in the taste – it will taste of chicken. It will not be the bland white meat devoid of interest but instead it will be full of  flavour and this will more than make up for any lack of size.

 

A day of blood and guts.

A day of blood and guts.

Today has gone to plan and has been, as hoped, a day of blood and guts. We dealt with the lungs, heart and livers yesterday and the big shock of the day was eating the billy goat’s liver. I had anticipated that this would be very strong tasting and was slightly worried that it might be malodourous, as I had heard that the smell of billy goats can carry through into the meat. I am glad to say there was no odour whatsoever and, more importantly the liver tasted lovely. We had it pan fried with some onions and only a minimum of seasoning with salt and pepper. It was mild in flavour, rather like lambs liver, and not at all as strong as beef or pig liver.

Today continued with the management of the offal. In the morning we coated the skins again with salt. We have about 10kg of salt over the skins and it is drawing all the fluid out of the skins as brine. They are lying on inclined hurdles so that the brine drips off onto the gulley in the middle of the barn’s floor. At the moment the skins only need a little work each day to top up the salt but after_20180118_200316.JPG the weekend they will start to demand a lot more of our attention and work. The major tasks for the day were the finish off the lungs, make the blood tofu an deal with the tripes.

The lungs had been in the dehydrator overnight and now were well complexly dry and ready to be packed. We vacuum seal these and they last well in the refrigerator. We have found that, doing this, they will keep for at least a year. Our dogs are still enjoying the treats that we prepared last year.

The next task was to clean the stomachs. DSC_2679 (2)To do this it is necessary to cut away the spleen and intestines from the sheeps’ stomachs. Sheep have four stomachs and these will be full of grass in various stages of digestion. This needs to be washed out. We have found that standing in the stream with a sharp knife or scissors if the easiest way to do this. Mind you, however you do this job it is not glamourous.

We have found that sheep tripe is not as good as that DSC07289from cows but we know two who think it is the greatest thing in the world – our dogs. They are very enthusiastic for tripe as can be seen in their rapt attention as I cut it into strips. We then add this to the scrap (old and bendy) carrots we have left over at the end of the year. We boil the carrots and mince them with the tripe to make dog food. (We mince them so the dogs can’t eat around the carrots like children – eating the tripe and leaving the vegetables).

The last job for the day was to make the blood_20180118_200549.JPG “tofu” or “curds”. The blood which we collected had clotted and we cut the clot into lumps with a sharp knife.  These lumps are then put in salted boiled water and they harden. We don’t add anything to make the equivalent of black pudding or blood sausage. This was partly due to lack of planning as we didn’t have oatmeal or seasoning to hand. Next year we hope to do this. The way we have prepared them this time, they are rather bland tasting.  I can see why they are  often used in broths which themselves have a lot of  flavour. In a broth like this the curds bring protein and vitamins to the meal rather than any particular taste.

We had visitors while we were busy this afternoon. The kitchen unfortunately looked a little like a charnel house with tripes on the table and blood being boiled on the stove. I had the feeling as they sat there that they felt that it might be easier just to go to the supermarket. However, as we talked and remembered the meals of our youth they remembered that meat is a precious thing. It is best seen as a special part of the meal a treat not something commonplace.  We remembered meals, like neck of lamb, pork belly or cheeks, which were eaten when we were young because they were the cheaper. They were the bits of meat that people didn’t want to buy and our mothers used these cheaper cuts, or offal,  in recipes to eke out their budget. Unfortunately the methods of cooking using these cuts has been gradually forgotten and this amnesia causes us to miss many excellent dishes. Try and buy mutton now, you will have difficulty. However, it is true to say that most farmers will tell you mutton is superior in taste to lamb but it has fallen out of fashion. If you get the opportunity to try it you should take it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

An offal day.

An offal day.

Life, as a small-holder,  is obviously seasonal. Tasks come around with an inevitable regularity and we have busy and quiet spells. We seem to live between peaks and troughs; periods when things are going well and life seems good,  and times when everything seems to be wrong. The latter is usually related to problems with the animals and their health. It is rarely due to anything else.

Sometimes it is just busy and it is difficult to squeeze everything into the available daylight. Haymaking, especially by hand, is one such task -we are bound by the weather and the sunlight and I don’t recall ever working as hard (physically or mentally) as when we try to get the hay into the barn before the rains come and we lose it. Another such period started today with the dispatching of our lambs and our billy goat (He had done his allotted task as we think our nannies are now both pregnant, though we don’t have the certainty or luxury of scanning).

Each year we meet this busy week, where the fruits of the labours of the past year have to be gathered in. The tasks have to be done in a set order and within a set timescale and there is little room for error or we risk spoiling our harvest.  The work starts the day before we dispatch the lambs. We need to create a holding pen and  bring them in for the night. This allows us to dry their fleeces so they will be easier to work with and ensures they fast overnight which makes the following mornings job much easier.

I used to fear this part of the life, and even considered vegetarianism, but now I am quite happy with the process we have. The lambs never leave our farm, they move into the barn on their last night and this is not a strange place for them and they have experience of being fed and sheltered there. In the morning they move into the holding pen and are brought in, one by one, for slaughter. Thankfully, they seem blissfully unaware of what is about to happen and they have only a few seconds of worry before it is all over. Had they lived, they would have had more distress during the year when I would have to go through the same process to shear them, give them their antibiotics or trim their hooves, so I am certain they have had a good life and a reasonable good death (Probably a better death that I will experience I am sorry to say).

The morning that we dispatch them we startDSC07277 early and work quickly to minimise the time this all takes. But this is only the start of a very busy day. As we are trying to be self-sufficient, and out of respect to the animals, we do not want to waste any part of the animal if it can be avoided some things that would be considered waste in a commercial abattoir are important to us. Even the blood that occurs at death we collect; after this has clotted, this can be made into blood meal and blood curds which helps feed our vegetable garden and our dogs. But all the while the clock is ticking and time is against us.

The carcasses we have to hang for a few days. Therefore DSC_2670 (2)after dressing the carcass we have relatively little to do to it for the next two days. It is the offal that needs our attention. However, before we even start the work on the offal we need to protect the skins. Once the skins have dried we cover these with salt. This is the start of a four day preserving process for the hides. Later we will tan the hides and hopefully turn these into throws and rugs. But for now we must salt inspect the hides daily.

Salting the hides is a pretty ‘hands on’ job as you need to work the salt into all areas of the skin. However, at this stage the hide is not that unpleasant to work with. The same can not be said fo the next task. We need to separate out the various forms of offal, the liver, the tripes, the hearts, and the lungs.  Parting the offal into its component parts, DSC07272and discarding the gallbladders (we have not found a use for bile yet) is not a task for the squeamish or delicate but it needs to be done to keep the tripes away from the other components. The tripes we will wash and prepare tomorrow as there would not be enough time today

The next part of the offal to work with is easy – the hearts. These are just  washed then vacuumDSC07280 sealed in bags and put in the freezer. We find that the dogs are very partial to heart meat but we too enjoy it.  However, we find that they need to be cooked very well – even though these are very young animals – slow braised stuffed hearts is a good recipe to try with this meat.

Next we deal with the lungs. We cut theseDSC07281 and the windpipes into very small pieces and then dehydrate them.  This produces a treat for the dogs which can be vacuum packed and which lasts for ages. We were still using some a year after we make the batch. The dogs go wild for these treats which are nearly all protein with very little fat at all. All our friends’ dogs, who visit the house, know where we keep these treats and also vote them a great favourite.

Lastly, for today, we prepare the liver. DSC07279This means little more than removing any membranes, washing and packing. However, it also gives rise to the best part of the day and also one of the highlights of the year. Fresh liver, lightly fried on the day it was collected, is one of the best meals you can imagine. While I think our lamb, chicken and duck all taste fine I know that I have tasted equally as good meat from the butcher or supermarket. However, fresh liver like this is way superior to any liver we might buy and at the end of a busy day, and the start of a busy fortnight, an ample reward for all the work.


P.S. This was the first time I had tasted goat’s liver. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very like lamb’s liver though, if anything, a little milder in taste.

 

 

 

 

Boycott the racists.

Boycott the racists.

In civilised society we like to think that racism is a vestige of our barbaric past, a hateful  thing which has no place in modern society. No-one would admit to holding racist views and we can presume that all reasonably minded people would consider racism a stain on their character. We know that it was responsible for the worst aspects of mankind’s behaviour and feel ashamed and sorry about it. While we know it should be a thing of the past we are still aware that it is encountered today and it continues to blight the lives of many. Few things are as unambiguously wrong, and potentially evil, as the belief that your race is superior to other races. It can be the first slipepry step on a slope that descends to barbarism. It is for this reason that we need to be vigilant and decry racism whenever it raises its head.Untitled picture

I was therefore distressed when I saw reports that there were calls to boycott H&M on account of a racist advert which I have included here. Normally I would not repeat a racist image or text but it is important in this case. I looked at the advert for quite a while trying to see the offense which was intended but failed. All I initially see was a handsome young man modelling a hoodie. I wondered if it was the association with the “hoodie” that was the problem but after reading the text and other articles I discovered that it was the slogan which was causing concern – “The coolest monkey in the jungle“.

The hoodie was part of a range that had the theme of animals and the jungle, some of the other hoodies had featured lions and giraffes and some had been modelled by young white kids. I discovered that the outrage was at the use of the word “monkey” in an advert using a young man of colour. Now lets be clear, the phrase “monkey” and “cheeky monkey” are commonly used to describe kids, especially boys, of any colour or race. It is an affectionate term and, at worst, the mildest of terms of opprobrium. I found it hard to see that this was an insult.

On reading further, it was clear that some people thought that this use of “monkey” and “jungle” was a slur on people of colour but one has to consider who has made this into a slur. It is inconceivable that H&M intended to insult its customers and estrange a large part of the buying public, especially as this advert was aimed at its South African market where they would be the majority of its customers. It would be for this reason that it had a young guy of colour as the model as previously they had been criticised for their lack of diversity in their models. Their intention would have been to be more diverse and more inclusive not to insult or mock.

This is reminiscent of when Benedict Cumberbatch said “I think as far as colored actors go it gets really difficult in the UK.” His intention had been to draw attention to the racism that exists in the media industry (Having just worked on the film “Ten Years a Slave”), but he was drawn over the coals and called a racist for the use of the term “colored”. No-one genuinely thought that he had racist intentions but some people thought that they could call out the race card and increase their own social standing.

This is what happened here. A number of celebrities saw the opportunity to use racism to further their own careers. Choreographer Somizi Mhlongo, the singer Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, Rapper Diddy,  and others saw the opportunity for cheap self-promotion through calls to boycott H&M. In their minds there was a connection between jungles, monkeys and young men of colour even if no-one else had thought this. They started the calls for attention, not so much to fix and evil, but to praise their vigilance and to raise their own profiles. Their campaign was vociferous and in a very unpleasant twist lead to the mother of the young boy in the advert being at the receiving end of racist abuse.

If there was racist thinking here, it was in the minds of those that started the campaign against this advert. It was they that thought such unworthy thoughts and it was they that tried to use the issue of race to their advantage : no-one else. As the boys mother said :-

“[I] am the mum and this is one of hundreds of outfits my son has modelled. Stop crying wolf all the time, unnecessary issue here. Get over it.”

 

She is also right on the big risk here. We all remember the little boy who cried wolf so often than when the wolf really did arrive nobody believed him. When people call “racist“, knowing that this was not intended nor the case, they make it more difficult to be aware and ready when the real call to action arises. Repeated false alarms lead people to ignore the warning signs. Watching what is happening in the world, in America and the Middle East especially, we know that racism is sometimes just bubbling under the surface of our lives. We need to remain vigilant and campaigns like this are a dangerous distraction we need to be able to hear the signal over the static.

I’d be tempted to boycott The Weeknd and Diddy to teach them a lesson but given I never buy any of their products anyway I guess it would have a negligible effect.

 

 

 

 

The Death Of Stalin

The Death Of Stalin

We try to go to our local cinema in the town on a fairly regular basis as we wish to give it our support. Like many small communities we are loosing many of our services as they are concentrated in the cities and larger towns where the economies of scale make them viable. So we go regularly, not because we are film buffs (though we do enjoy cinema), but to try and keep up the audience numbers. It will be another thing certain to disappear in the near future.

The car and personal transport led to the decline of public transport systems; the railway has long gone and the bus services are very rudimentary. Shopping malls and internet shopping have decimated the local towns shops. Internet banking is now taking the banks and building societies away from the small towns and, at the moment, plasma televisions, film streaming and on-demand viewing are banging the last nails of the coffin of our local cinema.

Therefore on a cold Friday night in January we joined the six others who made up the audience to see the latest film on offer. Including the two staff on the evening the number of people just, and only just, made it into double figures ! The cinema itself is pleasant, the seats are comfortable, the screen is large, the sound is state of the art and the prices are reasonable. The film we saw was also very good, but  I fear our hopes of saving our cinema are rather forlorn.

The film was saw was The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci. This is a comedy and political satire based on the events surrounding the death of Stalin and the consequent scramble for power after his demise. The script is historically accurate and the tensions and power-plays of the time are used to good comedic effect. In the early part of the film the difficulties of knowing Stalin are well shown, how do you live with a paranoid psychopath who has total power ? The feelings of tension and fear that this would engender are skilfully drawn. The acting is first class and it was a wise move to forgo using Russian accents as it left a natural feel to the performances and allowed some excellent comedy turns (especially Jason Isaacs as General Zhukov). It was a pity there were only eight of us in the auditorium to enjoy it.

However, after the film I noticed I had a nagging doubt. There had been nothing amiss with the acting, direction or production and, as I said above, the script was extremely funny. The anxieties of some of the characters was revealed but there was a huge gaping hole in the story. The experience of Soviet citizens living through this nightmare. Although there were scenes which alluded to the terror, these were slight and almost dismissed at times. The assassinations, the firing squads, the tortures, the secret police, the destruction of families, the corruption and the sexual abuse were there but only on the edge of the frame.

While recognising that this was a comedy I can see why many would say that there is no need to spend time on the horrors of totalitarianism. But would we have made a film of this nature about the difficulties of power battles in the Nazi high command ? Would we have had a comedy character for Mengele ?  Lavrentiy Beria was at least Mengele’s equal. Stalin introduced him as “our Himmler“, at the Yalta Conference, and he would not allow his daughter to be alone with this known sadist, rapist and mass murderer. This man was the head of the dreaded NKVD which organized the terror which engulfed Russia and he was also responsible for the ethnic cleansing which followed after the Second World War. Is this really a suitable subject for a skit?

It is surprising that we have quite clear double standards when we look back at the atrocities in our recent past. We have no difficulty in condemning the horrors of Nazi Germany but seem to have a blind spothouse-of-terror-2084 when we remember the horrors which arise from the left field : the horror of the Gulags, the horror of the cultural revolution in China, or the horror of the killing fields in Cambodia. The totalitarianism of the left has not been kinder than that of the right nor has it been less industrious. They are equally responsible for mass murder and abuse. The House of Terror, established in 2002 by Maria Schmidt in Hungary reminds us of this fact lest we forget. So, although I concur that this is a well-made and successful satire, I was left feeling uncomfortable as I am not entirely convinced that life under Stalin was a laughing matter.