Reel History


I was enticed by excellent reviews to see the Canadian "art house" film  Meek's Cutoff  recently. It was one of the most tedious pieces of cinema I have ever endured without a beginning, an ending or a plot and featuring only two just about recognisable characters. The director, Kelly Reichardt , was quoted as saying she wanted to portray a different, feminine view of the great trek westwards in mid-nineteenth century America. Sure enough she has a heroine who challenges the macho trapper and guide Stephen Meek's crude and bloodthirsty attitudes towards Native Americans and attempts to bring some civility to the desperate lost wagon train that is the cast of the film.

In itself, the film made no sense at all. We just saw the three ox-drawn wagons rumbling over a barren landscape not at all sure where it was headed as their guide seemed to have lost his way. What they are short of is water. We have no idea where their food comes from or what it is. A lone Indian ...

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swifts are back and all is right with the world. I wait eagerly for a first sighting at the end of April and then for the morning when they are suddenly all there wheeling in the sky and dashing about with their excited screeching. As the arrival of the swifts excites me so much I mention their return to people in the local shops. You can tell they think I am mad. They have seen and heard nothing:oblivious. These birds have travelled 14,000 miles from Southern Africa to nest in the rooftops of London, to perform nightly fantastic aerial displays and to inject excitement into any evening. Yet few take the slightest notice of them. I have been in the gardens of houses about here in the evening drinking and talking and the swifts will whizz by with a great shriek: when they are very low you can here the waft of their wings. I will follow them with a quick turn of the head and say: Did you see that? The answer invariably is: Did they see what? 

One of the remarkable things ...

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Spelling it out


Spelling it out



Quite often we are asked to spell out our name or an address over the phone and to make sure the person on the other end gets it right we do it letter by letter. Like many other people I just say the first thing that comes in to my head. I live in Highbury: that is H for Harry, i for, er, Ink, g for George, er h for harry again, er b for er, Bertie, u for, er Uraguay, r for Robert and y for, er yellow. When the word is read back to me a familiar set of representative words is used which I always think I should remember but never do. H for Hotel, i for India, g for Golf.........fragments of the so-called International Phonetic Alphabet float in from the memory bank: Oscar, Whisky, Tango.

The other night we had a game trying to remember the agreed alphabet that was adopted internationally in 1956 and is both familiar and difficult to remember if you don't use it every day. I wonder how many people can rattle it off. I also wonder how the decision ...

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The Hazards of the Street Party

Gavin Weightman

Here is a litte verse I wrote in May 1977 when I was working on New Society magazine. I had been sent a press release by the Environmental Health Officers' Association with dire warnings of the hazards of the street parties planned for the Queen's Silver Jubilee.


The Hazards of the Street party by Gavin Weightman

Beware, beware, the Jubilee

The hazards of the street party

Heed well those men of cleanly stealth

Officers of Envirnomental Health


Don't let your cough

Pollute the broth

Cook well the frozen fowl

Keep down the toll

Of sausage rolls

Safeguard the festive bowel


Use paper cups

You don't wash up

And bandage well your sores

Yours boils and spots

Could spoil the lot

' Tis rash to flout these laws


Beware, beware the Jubilee

The deafening noise of revelry

Keep amps within 200 watts

And aim them at some central spot


Too fierce a noise

Will spoil our joys

Don't drown our loyalty

Heed the frown

And " Turn it down!"

In ...

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The Call for Silence

Gavin Weightman

The stories of the discovery of survivors in the rubble nine days after the tsunami bulldozed whole townships in Japan are a reminder to all rescue teams that, even when hope is fading, they should remain alert to the slightest signs of life. This was a lesson learned in London during the Blitz when after every air raid there were people trapped alive in bombed out buildings. Finding and excavating survivors after a raid fell to the Heavy Rescue teams composed chiefly of men too old to fight but with knowledge of the building trades and still vigorous enough to pick their way through rubble. They had nothing in the way of sophisticated search equipment but evolved a way of working which is still of value.

Firstly, they tried not to disturb the flimsy structures of collapsed buildings by trampling over them. They moved very cautiously using a kind of careful "pick-a-stick" approach. And then, at regular intervals, there would be a call for silence, an appeal would be made ...

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