I have never really stopped to think about what films would make it into my all-time “top ten”, but as and when I do—and it looks like it might be now—there’s a pretty good chance that half of the movies will be black and white. I am by no means an expert in any matter related to the big screen, and (although it has been known) I rarely delve too far into the deeper meaning behind the obvious story, or the merits (or otherwise) of the main performers—I either enjoy a film or I don’t; and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
The interest that I have acquired in certain films from the first five-and-a-bit decades of the twentieth century probably stems from two people: my grandmother, and the author Michelle Morgan.
My Gran, who was called Gertrude, or “Gertie”, was born on March 7, 1911. As part of my family history research, I would always look to see if anybody of note was born on the same day as a particular relative (or a few days either side); and when I discovered the American actress Jean Harlow was born just four days before my Gran, I decided to find out a little bit about her.
That “little bit” ended up being translated into a self-published biography, a collection of about eighty cigarette cards and, at the last count, nine DVDs. Jean’s life was every bit as fascinating as it was tragically short. Her stunning looks either belied or overshadowed a gifted actress, who possessed great comic timing; and one of her films (possibly Platinum Blonde but I reserve the right to change my mind) would definitely be on my list.
I credit Michelle Morgan with introducing me (albeit inadvertently) to a Canadian actress named Marie Prevost. Our paths first crossed after Michelle found out about a biography I had written about Marilyn Monroe. Michelle is a genuine authority on Marilyn; she’s also a fine writer and a lovely person, and it’s wonderful to see how her career has taken off over the past couple of years. Anyway, Michelle mentioned Marie Prevost in a blog, or social media post, and after reading the briefest outline of her life, I was hooked yet again. Cue a few cigarette cards, two vintage photographs, a couple of DVDs….and another book—this time professionally published in the USA (much to the disgust of a self-styled Marie “expert” on the other side of the pond, whose research I respected but, bar confirming her actual date of birth, had no inclination or need to source).
Marie passed away in 1937 (as did Jean Harlow), another young Hollywood star to die in terrible circumstances (buy my book if you want to find out more!), and she too was a far better actress than many critics would have you believe. Two of her silent movies from the late 1920s, The Racket and The Godless Girl, would be in my top ten. The latter, which stars Lina Basquette, is one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I have ever seen.
Marie and Jean appeared together in the 1932 film Three Wise Girls, and as well as being underrated performers who died within months of each other, both were undeniably beautiful. It’s hard to look at a photograph of a celebrity these days without wondering what has been digitally enhanced or removed to try and achieve the “perfect look”—well that perfect look existed… and it existed naturally. And if you don’t believe me, let me take you back in time and show you the proof… oh and these young ladies could all act as well!
There are one or two of you out there that will be able to name some/most/all of these actresses who all appeared on film before the end of the 1920s. Even if you don’t recognise all of them, the fact that the likes of Clara Bow and Carole Lombard are not in this collage will almost certainly elicit a reply from a certain successful young author…
As for the other possible entries in my top ten, the following would be most definitely under serious consideration: They Won’t Forget (Lana Turner’s 1937 debut, which is based on a disturbing, but true story—the full movie is on YouTube… and is highly recommended), Don’t Bother to Knock from 1952, quite possible Marilyn Monroe’s finest hour on film, the Hitchcock classic Dial M for Murder (1954), The Three Faces of Eve (for which Joanne Woodward won the 1957 Best Actress Oscar—despite the film not being nominated in any other category), the brilliant 1967 Hammer version of Quatermass and the Pit, Star Wars (1977)—surely it’s in everybody’s top ten?!—and the ever-nail-biting Apollo XIII (1995).
All of which means there’s nothing from the past twenty years. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any great movies… only that I’m not cultured enough to have seen them; but if you had to twist my arm to include a recent film, then there can only be one choice: Paddington…. “ROARRRR”!!!!!
A little over twelve months ago, I hadn’t played darts in public for something like a quarter of a century.
I love the game, and I wasn’t the worst player in the world, but my mind kept betraying my left hand and the ever-present chance that I would stand at the oche and not be able to release my darts was enough to make walking away a far easier option than the risk of (what I perceived to be) public embarrassment.
Last year’s series of “challenges” presented the ideal opportunity to test myself in a number of different ways; and however reluctant I was to face my darting fears, playing a leg of 501 in public just had to be on the list. Not just any leg of 501 though... it had to be against an international player...
Step forward Glen Durrant, the Middlesbrough-based player who had (at that time) just returned from the Lakeside, having been knocked out of the BDO World Championships by eventual runner-up Alan Norris.
Glen was not only happy to help—and we duly played several games at North Ormesby WMC last January—but he was also keen to push me even further. Playing in a pub or club is one thing, but playing Glen (by now a regular fixture in the England team) on stage in front of a three figure crowd... well that was an altogether different matter; but it was also an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Three months later, Glen arranged for me to play a leg against Deta Hedman, a lovely lady who, at that time, was ladies world no.1. Glen told me it would just be a practice game before her exhibition started... but on the night, he revealed the game would be part of the actual event. It’s quite hard to squeeze several weeks of growing panic into a couple of hours, but trust me I tried!
But when the moment came, I got up and gave it a go. I didn’t play particularly well and was beaten fairly comfortably, but that wasn’t the point. With Glen and Deta’s words of encouragement and Elaine’s presence in the crowd, I was so pleased just to have given it a go.
The challenge of playing Glen on stage was never far from my thoughts over the next few months. Again, it’s hard to put into words just how nervous I was. It doesn’t matter how well you play behind closed doors, it only took one pair of watching eyes for all the old doubts to resurface. Come the evening, even several measures of a well-known Russian spirit had little effect, but when the time came and the music started, my wobbly legs somehow carried me up the steps onto the stage. Obviously the first objective was for the darts to leave my hand and hit the board somewhere reasonably close to where I was aiming, but the personal goal was to register a three figure score from one of my throws.
My top score against Deta was 92, but although I improved on that against Glen, I couldn’t manage anything better than 95. After the game was over, Glen took the microphone and said some very kind words, but what was telling was that my overriding feeling was not relief at having got up and played Glen in front of all those people; it was frustration that I hadn’t done better....
I’ve kept on practising—firstly in the garage, but now in the more comfortable surroundings of the conservatory—and as many of you will know, I’m working towards attempting a 12 hour solo darts marathon next month. A difficult test, but a chance to do support others (in this case Grangetown Netball Club) the same way that Glen has encouraged and supported me.
My last “public appearance” before the marathon came last night, with the chance to take on the current BDO World Champion Scott Mitchell. Scott and Glen actually sat next to Elaine and I and it was great to be able to chat to both of them, and to ask Scott about his recent success.
It is nothing less than fascinating to try and understand what goes through the mind of someone who has in his hand a dart that will change his life forever... if it lands in the 8mm width of the right double. I have so much admiration for Scott, Glen and those other top players whose physical and mental self-control is strong enough for them to produce the same levels of performance under extreme pressure as they do away from the bright lights and cameras. And for Scott Mitchell, if hitting that winning double top and lifting the trophy didn’t make him appreciate the scale of his wonderful achievement, then surely having the wonderfully named Piddle Brewery producing a beer in his honour (“Scotty Dog”) must have been the moment of ultimate realisation!
For me however, last night’s goals were pretty much the same as when I played Glen back in August; to do myself justice (i.e. not make a fool of myself), and hit a ton....
Well I’m chuffed to say that missions (plural) accomplished. It was Scott’s opening game of the evening, so he was not (thankfully) at his best, but I managed to stay in touch and thanks to a (fanfare, drum roll etc) throw of 140, was actually first to a finish. On 85, I wasn’t good enough to get a shot at the bull or a double, and with that the chance was gone, as Scott stepped up and hit the winning double six.
No disappointment this time though—I’d given the world champion a half decent game; and recorded that elusive ton plus score in the process. After the marathon, I’ve no idea if or when I’ll play darts in public again, but thanks to Scott Mitchell, and particularly to “Duzza”, I took on a challenge, and I didn’t fail—and that’s a great feeling.
It’s been quite a while since I posted a blog. I’ve been extremely busy getting to grips with my new job, researching and compiling two books, as well as crushing the odd piece of candy here and there. But I’ve been inspired to put fingers to keyboard by an old friend of mine from Gateshead Thunder days, Chris Hood, whose debut blog was uploaded yesterday.
It’s far from easy to lay yourself proverbially bare in such a public domain (it means you’ve got to remember your English grammar lessons for a start), but whilst it’s nice to receive positive comments or words of encouragement, I’m pretty sure that Chris’ initial motivation was some kind of personal release... and I have a great deal of admiration for his candour and courage.
From my own point of view, I certainly think I benefited from highlighting my own (very different) situation by way of a blog back in December 2011. I remember writing the article in question and suddenly realising that literally anybody could read about the way I was feeling, and the mental struggles I was facing. That prospect is actually quite scary, but if you go ahead and post the blog anyway, then it surely highlights or reinforces the significance of the content. If how you are feeling is so strong, so important that you’re willing to share innermost thoughts with friends, family and strangers alike, irrespective of the potential response, then taking that first, most difficult step becomes just a little bit less daunting.
Three and a-bit-years down the line, quite a lot has changed. Being open about my feelings... and yes, I can say it... illness has arguably led me to better understand what (and who) is a positive influence in my life. I’m not sure that necessarily makes me more self-aware, but it has given me enough clarity to become more self-accepting and (slightly surprisingly) the confidence to test myself – albeit belatedly – almost to prove to myself that the progress is real.
Interestingly, the sense of achievement on completion of certain tasks breeds a need to do more. I can’t commit to anything on the scale of last year, but as well as the books, I’ve decided to attempt a solo twelve hour darts marathon next month.
The “good cause” for which I want to try and raise some funds is Grangetown Netball Club. I’m well aware of the dedication and determination that it takes from volunteers for sports clubs simply to survive, let alone prosper, but Grangetown not only offers opportunities to netball players of all ages, they are also showcasing local sport on a national stage, as members of Premier League 2.
There are so many charities and worthy causes to support, but in hoping that some of you will be willing to donate just £2, I can promise that whatever is raised will make a difference to a wonderful club, but it will also give me the incentive to keep going and complete a challenge that will be incredibly tough. Twelve hours doing anything isn’t easy, twelve hours on your feet is even harder… twelve hours on your feet when you have a degenerative hip condition is a guarantee of considerable pain, and I’ll be genuinely surprised if I can actually walk the following morning.
But that’s my choice. The more you test yourself, the harder (be it physically or mentally) the challenges have to be to get that same sense of achievement, and any support I receive will only make the completion of the marathon even more worthwhile. My targets are 100,000 points, 300 scores of 100+ and raising £200. The first two are down to my trusty left hand, but if you can help with the third, I would be incredibly grateful.
Please follow this link to donate securely on-line… one hundred lots of £2 gets me there. Thanks for reading this… and “good luck” to you as well Chris. It was a great blog, and I’m sure you’ll do whatever it takes to reach your goal.