“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”
The opening of the final speech in Chaplin’s first talkie, The Great Dictator. Released as the nations of the Earth fell into the horror of the Second World War, it remains a stirring oration, full of optimism, that the tyranny of the greedy and selfish shall pass, that people can be better than we have been. Reposting today to mark Chaplin’s birthday and also because, dammit, we need optimism and hope right now.
Today would have been the birthday of one of my favourite writers, Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve been reading Poe since I was about twelve and still love his work. Here, to celebrate his birthday, enjoy another of my favourite writers, one I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several times, Neil Gaiman, reading The Raven:
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door — Only this, and nothing more.”
Turning of the year also marks my birthday, and yes, it is a bloody rubbish time of year to have a birthday as everyone you know is busy with their own Hogmanay stuff, so it gets largely forgotten, even when it is one of those tedious “landmark” birthdays when you hit some supposedly socially important age. Quite why it is important, I have no idea, and given that, as usual on my birthday, I spent most of it on my own, it doesn’t exactly feel special, in fact it feels like a waste of bloody time, an event more likely to make me feel depressed and isolated than inspire celebration.
And yes, there are people with far more pressing problems than that, I know, but it still does little for one’s sense of self or self-worth or mental health, quite the reverse. What a bloody rubbish day. Birthdays, I wash my hands of you, especially “landmark” ages (Ohh, that’s a special age, you must be doing something big to celebrate!) Yeah, right. What? With whom?). It also really doesn’t help when someone tells you to “pull yourself together” or “others have it worse, what’s your problem”. That really doesn’t help when someone is in a depression spiral, in fact you make them feel worse with that well-meant but idiotic nonsense, instead you make them feel even lower – they’re right, I’m pathetic, I don’t even deserve to feel included or happy, no wonder I am like this, I deserve to be like this. And so on, the black spiral feeds itself, you turn in on yourself and see nothing but mistakes and wrong and it is very hard to pull yourself out of it, in fact you often then attack yourself thinking how pathetic you are to be so lost like this, everything feeds the black dog.
Time for some self pity cake, which of course I had to buy for myself and eat by myself. Wow, birthdays are such fun!
Noise of letter flap on the door opening and closing – ah that will be the postie with all those cards… Nope, pile of junk mail. Oh well, could have been worse, I suppose, could have been bills…
I find my birthday pretty redundant as a ‘special’ day – it’s a rubbish time of year to have it, it’s often forgotten or it is quick afterthought between the rush of Christmas nonsense and New Year celebrations, the latter also meaning even if you feel like doing something special it is pretty hard to do it – restaurants are booked up and also tend to be closing early for Hogmanay, similarly even a night out in the pub with couple of friends is overshadowed by everyone else crowding in there to celebrate New Year.
And that’s assuming anyone is free to be around for doing something, most often they are busy with festive season stuff already. I’ve not been out the door once to do anything on my birthday – did think about going up to the movies nearby, but going tomorrow so didn’t really fancy going up today as well. Considered nipping into town and having a wander around, maybe take some pics, look at the sales, maybe treat myself to something with some money I was given for birthday and Christmas, but rained until late afternoon and to be honest there’s nothing special I wanted so it seemed pointless. Kept thinking I should go off and do something, but everyone else I know in town is busy with family, travelling, getting ready for tonight etc so no-one to meet up with to do anything even slightly special as a treat for the day. If I wasn’t going round to chum’s this evening for Hogmanay I doubt I would have gone out the door or spoken to another human being in person all day.
As I said, it’s a rubbish time to have a birthday, just thinking about it doesn’t make me want to celebrate, it just depresses me. Besides which I don’t really see why I would want to celebrate it, similarly no idea why I’d particularly want to celebrate New Year. Celebrating it infers you think there is something good to look forward to. These days I often feel that I am just waiting for the next bad thing to go wrong, for the next accident, bad illness or worse. Career, finance and romance front all look equally bleak as they have previously and I don’t see why 2014 would be a shining beacon of hope for things being better. Bugger birthdays and bugger the New Year celebrations and frankly bugger life; fed up with it all and don’t see much likelihood of anything changing for better (certainly hasn’t in recent years), and far from happy celebrations days like this just leave me feeling more isolated and more depressed about the grey, oncoming, unfriendly future.
Christ but I could do with snuggling up with my purring kitties again…
I’m trying very hard not to think how today I should be hearing my mother’s delighted voice, so happy with the flowers I always got her for her birthday. What mum doesn’t like getting flowers from her wee boy, even if that wee boy is a little larger these days? Passage of time doesn’t really make it any easier – the old addage of time healing all wounds is a fiction. You find yourself distracted increasingly by the day to day of mundane life but you never forget and the pain never really leaves you, especially when you didn’t just lose someone but had them taken from you so suddenly. And of course certain dates are harder to bear than others – like the birthday of a loved one you lost, anniversaries, the date you lost them on. And Christmas doesn’t bloody help either. It should be mum’s birthday today, then Christmas, then my birthday, then New Year and each of those dates hammers in the fact that she isn’t here with us where she should be and it’s oh so bloody hard for me and I know even harder for my dear dad. Happy birthday, mum, we love you so much and miss you more than I can put into words.
Today marks the 100th birthday of one of my all-time favourite actors, the distinctively silky voiced Vincent Price. I’ve loved Vincent’s movies since I was a teen; even if the film he found himself in was cheesy he, like Peter Cushing, always treated it seriously and gave the fans respect and that always shone through. Dr Phibes, the Tingler, Witchfinder General, the fabulously colourful collaborations on Edgar Allan Poe with the equally legendary Roger Corman, right up to his final role, a small cameo in Edward Scissorhands, as the gentelman inventor, there because Burton adored him too and had made his first short animated film called Vincent and asked him to play this little cameo as a homage and tribute. Away from his horror roles he was, again like Cushing, a very gentle, gentleman, refined, thoughtful and also a world class expert on arts and antiques, so much so that Jackie Kennedy sought him out as a consultant in the 60s. Still adore Vincent and oh, that voice… Here he is in his collaboration with another of my faves from horror, the great Alice Cooper, lending that distinctive Price voice to The Black Widow…
It should be my mum’s birthday today. She should be here with us and delighting in the flowers I always arranged to have delivered to her. I’m trying my best not to dwell on it, but it’s bloody hard. She should be with us and she’s not, she was ripped away from us. I don’t think I’ll ever really come to terms with that. I miss her every day and I worry about hard it must be for my dad.
I’m trying not to dwell on it, but of course it wells up. I’ve planned ahead a little and made sure I don’t need to spend free time doing extra work as I often do of an evening. And I’ve picked up one of my favourite films cheap recently and kept it aside especially for tonight: Singing in the Rain. It’s very difficult for the Black Dog of depression and despair to get it’s foul smelling fangs into you when you have Gene Kelly singing and dancing with that wonderful, big smile of his. I think I’m going to try and ignore most everything else and go and watch my film.
It’s the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, a favourite author of mine since I was about ten and thumbing through a collection of his work. One of the real ale pubs I regularly drink in has a poem extolling ale written by Poe, enscribed up on the wall, which always makes me smile. I wonder if the Poe Toaster made their customary, secretive appearance today? For half a century someone has left cognac and roses on Poe’s grave, a rather lovely little tradition, I think; they have become known as the Poe Toaster. I will raise a glass if single malt in his honour myself later on (any excuse).
Last summer the Edinburgh Film Festival had a retrospective of Roger Corman and the great Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe films from the 60s in their wonderfully lurid colour and with Vincent’s velvet voice. In fact I usually tell people who don’t get Poe to read his short fiction and to do so slowly, imagining in their head the voice of Vincent Price narrating it to them. If they still don’t get it then they are beyond help.
Poe has influenced and inspired many later writers, not just in the phantasmagorical, horror and fantasy realms but in establishing one of the great literary successes of the last century and a bit, the detective tale, setting out many of the rules and procedures of a proper, modern detective for fiction; without it probably no Sherlock Holmes, no Maigret, no Rebus…
He’s been directly referenced by generations of authors and other artists, including some of the finest, such as the immortal Ray Bradbury, who explored one of his favourite, lifelong themes – the battle against ignorance and censorship – in the short story Usher II, where there is a world where all fantastical tales, from outright horror to children’s fairy tales, are banned, only the logical and rational is allowed. One rich eccentric builds a replica of the House of Usher and staffs it with robotic versions of Poe characters, inviting the great and good from this new rational society to a party.
They are all shocked by his lawbreaking but take it as a delightful piece of bad taste for one night. What they don’t know is the robot characters are murdering them all, one by one, in the style of Poe deaths – a robot ape stuffs a screaming victim up the chimney and the rest of the guests applaud assuming it all artifice. The final victim only realises the trap they have come into as he is walled up, buried alive, at the end. His host explains that if he had read the books instead of burning them, he would have known what was happening and saved himself. Ignorance and embracing censorship has killed them all. He exits and the walls of Usher II rip asunder and fall into the mere…
Anyway, for Poe’s birthday, enjoy The Raven, here interpreted in a fine manner by Omnia:
Today marks my ‘Douglas Adams’ birthday – 42. This, of course, means I now am perfectly at one with The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything. Mind you, as anyone who knows where their towel is can probably guess, I still don’t understand the bloody Great Question, rendering it all pretty pointless (an apt metaphor for life, really – puzzling, frustrating, disappointing and pointless). At least I know my Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster from my Old Janx Spirit. I’m not really sure how I come to find myself at this age. On the one hand it seems like just the other year I was a happy mid 20s student drinking my way through college and quite happy, other days it feels like a lifetime ago. I suppose it was. Can’t say I especially feel like celebrating; truth be told I don’t really give a damn about my birthday, its on such an awkward day its a bit of an afterthought so it hasn’t really meant much to me in my adult years, different when you are a kid. And these days it doesn’t feel like there’s much reason to celebrate.
Today should be my mum’s birthday. I should be hearing her delight at the flowers I always get her for her birthday, instead on a cold, misty winter day dad and I are taking flowers to her grave. I still don’t understand why she isn’t here, I don’t understand how someone you love so much can be ripped away from you just like that. Why is her name on a bloody cold stone?? The world without her I don’t care for; it feels like nothing has really gone well since we lost her, just seems to be one thing after another, more strain, more bad things, even someone who was so important to me letting me down very badly and always just under the surface the raw hurt of having her taken from us. There are honestly some days when if it weren’t for dad and taking care of the mogs I really wouldn’t care if I went to sleep and never woke up again. I don’t see anything in the future to inspire me or encourage me and it feels like just waiting for the next bad thing to happen all the time and that really isn’t much reason to keep going on, makes you wonder why bother.
Happy birthday to a writer who has been one of my favourite authors since I was a boy – happy 200th birthday, Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19th 1809 and died October 7th 1849. Or perhaps he didn’t die but was simply bricked up alive in a catacomb… Dead for a century and half and still influencing other writers, comics artists, movie makers, not to mention setting out the basic template for the modern detective several decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Holmes.
In fact it seems to be quite a year for anniversaries on the literary calendar – there’s Poe, of course, its 200 years since Charles Darwin was born too, 150 years since On the Origin of Species was published and 150 years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born. Conan Doyle’s delightful adventure yarn of explorers and dinosaurs, The Lost World, is the central plank of this year’s One Book, One Edinburgh campaign in February (Doyle being a local lad – in fact he would have studied not far from where I work), following on from the last two years where Cam Kennedy and Alan Grant created graphic novel adaptations of Stevenson. There will be events, free books, school events and other happenings.
This time it will also extend to Glasgow and ties in with the Darwin 200 events across the UK, including a graphic nove biography of Darwin by Simon Gurr and Eugene Byrne, all of which I hope helps gets younger readers excited and reading and maybe the Lost World will give them an interest in dinosaurs then natural history (so they know to tell ‘intelligent design’ eejits to feck off when they encounter those brain-damaged idiots). It certainly did for me a kid, leading me to look for factual books on dinosaurs, then geology, evolution, which tied in with interests in astronomy and space exploration, being able to apply that learning to other bodies and… Well, that’s kind of the point, once you start a chain of reading like that it sparks off more and more ideas and questions, leading to more reading and a continually growing link of reading and learning that goes with you through life. All from a good adventure yarn and some dinosaurs.
Its my birthday today, my age clicking over in time with the ending of the year. I’ve never cared much for my birthday, always feels sort of squeezed in there as everyone darts around getting ready for New Year and this year I can be bothered even less with it. Dad warned me that my card was one mum picked up ages ago – she had the habit of seeing something she thought perfect for someone for a birthday, Christmas etc and she’d get it then and put it aside, often months and months in advance (or even years – one of my cousins doesn’t know it but she had put aside a certain something for her to be given on an upcoming special occasion, its just sitting there ready). So I opened the card today and there it is signed love mum and dad. And I felt as if someone hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer and that was me out of it for quite a while. I’d much rather have it than not, of course, but it was still bloody hard and I was struggling already (birthday is bad enough but New Year is often depressing at the best of times). The last birthday card I will ever have signed by both my wonderful parents. Goodbye 2008 – you started so well, with the promise of a trip to Paris and I was very happy. Then you became the worst year of my life and I don’t even remember half of it going past because even when I think I am functioning okay I don’t think I am and am still running on autopilot a lot of the time. Go away 2008, you’re not welcome here anymore, although somehow I doubt 2009 will make me feel any better. I no longer want the future.